On Holy Communion as a Political Weapon

12 09 2008

From Athanasius Contra Mundum:

Part of the reason people accuse us of using Communion as a political tool is that all of Mass and worship has been reduced to communion, rather than worship of almighty God. In other words, it focuses on what we get, and not what we ought to give, and consequently the bar has been lowered so that no one feels “left out”. In that context, politicians tend to be the only ones singled out, because their public acts are the easiest to see. In a world where everyone is worthy, why should a pro-choice politician stand out?

I have thought about this myself, and I for some reason think that this is a truly American phenomenon. Anti-Staretz once told me a story of when he used to live in Italy. He met a friend of a friend with whom he began a bout of idle banter. When the subject touched on religion, Anti-Staretz asked the man if he was Catholic. The man applied in the affirmative. Anti-Staretz then asked the man where he went to Mass.

“Mass?”, the man replied, “I said I was Catholic, not a fanatic!”

And of course, that is the interesting thing. In traditionally Catholic countries, if you don’t agree with the Church, you just don’t go to church. It would be an absurd waste of time to try to be accepted by an institution that doesn’t accept you. Most of these people regard the Church as the enemy anyway. So why bother even showing up to Mass on Sunday, let alone receiving Communion?

Perhaps it is an American phenomenon: church-going is regarded as badge of moral uprightness. And not just going to church, but being in good standing with the church. It is part and parcel of being a “good citizen”. Like being in the Boy Scouts, but holier. Could you imagine a godless person running for president?

That is not to say that people in other countries don’t go to Mass and receive Communion unworthily. But they are more likely not to go at all, as the demographic crisis of the Church in Europe clearly demonstrates. So if our pews are still well-inhabited when compared to our European counterparts, is it really for religious reasons?



10 responses

17 09 2008

“Mass?”, the man replied, “I said I was Catholic, not a fanatic!”

Such a statement only seems possible in a culture whose epistemology of what it means to be good citizen is informed by the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. As in the everyday ins and outs of Catholic life form the moral tableau against which everything is judged as either healthy or unhealthy for the community. A man like this might balk at the idea of going to Mass, but he’s smart enough to know that he’s benefiting from a cultural patrimony that includes the substantial influence of the Church.

I’m not sure that our pro-abortion politicians even know what a patrimony is, although that might be my bias against the baby boomers. Hence some bishops feel like they can no longer be nonchalant toward this group’s public support of abortion rights. There’s no moral tableau setting the background of the stage that allows us to nod and wink at politicians being politicians, and philanderers being philanderers. People aren’t bad any more because there’s joy in transgressing. They’re bad because the bad is the new good.

So, I think they strike out at the most obvious examples of this kind of behavior. It’s most certainly easier than dealing with that eerie silence that prevails when Father finally draws the connection between contraception and abortion. And it makes the conservatives in the pews happy.

16 09 2008

The Roman Catholic Church has always been seen as a threat in American political discourse. When the Syllabus of Error was published, American Catholics were accused of having dual loyalities and there was a fear that Catholic values were incompatible with liberal democracy. By the 1960s, I think many American Catholics were glad that the Church seemed to be “getting with the times” since it no longer meant that their beliefs would be rendered circumspect. You can see this attitude to a certain extent in “First Things” with the way some of the writers trumpet how the Vatican finally realized how great capitalism is (supposedly). I think that many Protestants were also relieved to see Catholicism effectively “neutered” and its adherents turned into respectable suburbanites.

Americans also like a rebel, supposedly. When talk of denying Communion to pro-abortion politicians come up, the lawmakers in question can paint themselves as being victims of a hierarchical, patriarchial institution, which probably resonates with a lot of people. Frances Kissling (she of “Catholics for a Free Choice”) once said something like, “I couldn’t take down the government, so I decided to take down the Church.”

15 09 2008
Arturo Vasquez

I used to go to a Russian Orthodox church in Seaside, Ca., that had a sign in the narthex that told the visitor that if he wished to receive Communion, he would have to ask the priest before the Divine Liturgy to do so. Truth be told, even if we went to the most Catholic of societies, we wouldn’t want to just automatically assume that most people who come forward are somehow prepared enough to receive Communion. Indeed, in most histories of the Church now, both liberal and conservative, people express how we have gotten past the “bad ol’ days” when no one received Communion at Mass save for a few times a year. I have heard two versions of why it is good that this is no longer the case. On the one hand, people say that we have conquered that most mysterious and evil of beasts called Jansenism, which took the idea of “sancta sanctis” a bit too literally. I have heard another explanation saying that the world is so evil now that frequent Communion was the Church’s secret weapon to combat this. If the latter is true, I don’t think that it is working very well.

One could then ask whether our modern Catholic tendency of having an over familiarity with the divine is at all a wise idea. If Jesus is my friend, and the Virgin Mary just another chick from Nazareth, where do we get any sense of transcendence out of it. And I think that it is abundantly clear now that a lack of transcendence means that hardly anyone cares about religion anymore. Bringing the Faith and the liturgy down to the people ultimately becomes religion as civic virtue, just like in ancient Rome.

14 09 2008

Speaking of which, there is a short interview with Kerry Kennedy in this week’s New York Times Magazine in which she speaks about her book, “Being Catholic Now,” which is essentially a bunch of essays by prominent dissenting Catholics talking about why they hate the Church, but still remain Catholic.


The best part is this quote:
“This is not a political book. This is a book which includes Catholics ranging from Bill O’Reilly on the right to Bill Maher on the left to someone like Frank McCourt, who claims no longer to be Catholic. I was thinking another title could have been, “We Are All Good Catholics.””

At what point did everyone become a “good Catholic”? I don’t even think I’m a “good Catholic” and I would regard myself as being pretty pious.

14 09 2008
Arturo Vasquez

Of course, I acknowledge that it is certainly a big deal, and the public scandal aspect and all that. The real interesting question for me is why these folks even bother still going to church. Votes, you say, but why would it matter? Seems like a strange cultural climate.

14 09 2008
Simplex Vir

Interesting question! I will tell you why it is such a big deal that this be pointed out. If you call yourself Catholic, and then do not agree with Church teaching, then you are not Catholic. In the example you give the friend of the friend is not a practicing Catholic and most likely was improperly formed growing up. If you are spiritually separated through sin or opposition to church teaching you should still attend Mass. Certianly you should refrain from receiving communion.

These politicians do not do this. They want to claim the Catholic faith in order to gain votes and favor with the progressive mindset of the American Catholic church. While bashing the church for being backward. These politicians are public examples and actually can lead others to believe that their practices of faith are acceptable. They are most cetainly not. This is a big deal and the USCCB is mostly silent and in my opinion cowardly and derelict in their duty to protect and form the faithful in the USA.

13 09 2008

Lincoln believed in God although was not that religious but was into the occult and consulted mediums. Lincoln talked extensively on God, natural law, providence, and God in politics.

13 09 2008
Matthew David Nelson

Abraham Lincoln was fairly open about being godless.

13 09 2008

Arturo asks: “Could you imagine a godless person running for president?”
yes, Barack Obama

12 09 2008

People attend religious services for any number of reasons, only some of which actually involve God. Some go to worship God. Others go because they think that the kids can learn some morality, even if they think that organized religion is stupid. Another segment of the population goes out of a sense of tradition, even if they don’t believe anything. Others go for spectacle. Some go because they live in a small town with nothing to do and there’s bingo in the parish hall on Wednesday nights and contemporary Christian rock on First Fridays. And some go to socialize with like-minded individuals. I don’t think this is a new phenomenon by any means. If anything, it was probably more prevelant in the past when houses of worship were the focal point of life.

I think that many Americans who reject the Church’s teachings but still consider themselves Catholic do so, because they view being Catholic as being Jewish, that is, an ethnicity as well as a religion. According to this view, you can be Catholic and reject key dogmas, but still be a “good Catholic” because your heritage is Irish/Italian/Southern German/(insert some other traditional Catholic ethnic group). This seems to be the opinion of many pro-abortion politicians, many of whom have roots in the old ethnic politics of the Democratic Party.

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