Recently, the Catholic League complained when a University of Central Florida student walked out of Mass with the Host and held it hostage for several days.
In response to this, a professor named P.Z. Myers, who teaches at the University of Minnesota, Morris, wrote a viciously anti-Catholic post on his blog in which he referred to the Eucharist as a “(expletive) cracker” and urged his readers to “score me some consecrated communion wafers” so that he could “gladly, and with much fanfare … treat it with profound disrespect and heinous cracker abuse, all photographed and presented here on the web.”
The Catholic League again protested, noting that Myers was using university equipment — and therefore public moneys — to spread his malignant views.
Apparently after receiving some heat from his superiors, Myers quickly backed down, telling the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that “the blog entry is more ‘satire and protest’ than an actual threat to defile the Eucharist.” However, he also promised to do “something” and followed up on this promise a few days later by piercing a Host with a rusty nail, throwing it in the trash, and posting a photo on his blog.
It raises the question, yet again, of what our response as Catholics should be to such situations.
The Eucharist is, of course, the source and summit of our faith. It is Jesus Christ, fully and really present in the fullness of his body, blood, soul and divinity. Deliberate desecration of the Eucharist proceeds from exactly the same spirit that nailed him to the cross.
Those who do it, whether they know it or not, are acting with precisely the same malice as those who mocked Jesus in his agonies.
As Catholics, we cannot minimize that. We know who that is there on the altar, however much his enemies may scream “cracker” at us. We have an obligation, not simply for his sake, but for the sake of souls, to see that such a desecration does not occur.
But we live in a world which does not see what the Eucharist is. To the world, Catholic shock and outrage at Eucharistic sacrilege is either odd (like people obsessed with lucky rabbit’s feet), hypersensitive (like the Muslims who rioted violently because they thought Pope Benedict XVI had said they were prone to rioting), or contemptible over-reaction to a real insult (like the Muslims who rioted over cartoons that made fun of Muhammad).
So there is the question of how to confront the sacrilege without encouraging further sacrilege.
However, beyond this, there is the question — really the only question — of what God wants us to do.
And when we start there, rather than with our feelings of shock or our jitters about how to navigate an increasingly post-Christian and hostile culture, we have a clear answer from Scripture: Forgive and fight with the weapons of the Spirit.
Forgiving and fighting don’t seem to go together in many people’s minds. But they were perfectly reconcilable in St. Paul’s mind. On the one hand, he knew that he had been entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation since “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19).
Paul saw this lived out with his own eyes as he looked down with approval on the bloodied face of St. Stephen and heard him pray, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60). And he knew perfectly well that Stephen had prayed that for men who, like P.Z. Myers, are not one bit sorry for what they were doing.
In that, Stephen was like his Lord, who likewise prayed for utterly impenitent men, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
That means, as a fundamental baseline, that we are forbidden from responding like the Danish cartoon rioters. We are forbidden from threats or cursing or vengeance.
When our Eucharistic Lord hung upon the cross, desecrated with the spittle of the mob, the blows of his captors and the mockery even of his fellow victims, he refused to give in to these things. He willed the good of his most vicious enemies. He prayed for them and forgave.
At the same time, however, he was at war in the profoundest way. Because as he was hanging upon the cross, despised by the world, he was in that very moment “despoiling the principalities and the powers.”
What appeared to be a humiliating defeat was, in fact, a crushing victory over the devils. With his cross, “he made a public spectacle of them, leading them away in triumph by it” (Colossians 2:15).
That is what St. Paul means when he says, “The weapons of our battle are not of flesh but are enormously powerful, capable of destroying fortresses. We destroy arguments and every pretension raising itself against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive in obedience to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).
Next time, we will look at some ways Scripture shows how Paul forgave and fought.
Mark Shea is senior content editor