On the night before he was nailed to a tree, Jesus joined his closest friends for one last supper. In his final miracle, he lifted bread and wine and transformed it into his body and blood for his disciples – those in the room with him that night and those for thousands of years to come – to join him in the most holy communion. The next day, he was beaten and dragged across town and crucified. His death the final mortal expression of God’s love. Those are my beliefs as a Catholic, and I am proud to join fellow Catholics when I can at church to celebrate this Eucharistic sacrament.
But it would seem that the Church has decided that it might be time to crucify Jesus again – if they think that linking Biden’s progressive pro-choice agenda with his faith as a Catholic is a good idea. As of Friday, June 18, the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops voted to create guidelines on the meaning of Communion to consider whether or not the President should be allowed to receive the sacrament when he attends weekly Mass. Ultimately, Cardinal Wilton Gregory, head of the Washington, D.C. archdiocese, guaranteed that Biden would not be denied Communion… for now at least.
Perhaps we can’t claim that this is the darkest moment of a Church that led genocidal Crusades and conducted an ethnic cleansing that was branded rather lightly as an “Inquisition.” Even in modern times, the Church has so often found itself in the wrong corner in the dialogue about sexuality and, unfortunately, child abuse scandals.
But, like many other progressive Catholics, I have always been able to distinguish between the institutional conservatism of a giant and sluggish international organization and the message and mission of love that it hopes to support. After all, the Church can justly claim credit for the establishment and administration of so many primary & secondary schools and universities that stand today as bastions of progress and forward-thinking for the world. I am a proud graduate of one of these fine Jesuit institutions. On top of that, there are so many charities and missions that the church supports here in the U.S. and internationally that demonstrate sincere altruism. The Church is not without its fair share of wrongdoing in the world, but so many of us Catholics are dedicated to the social justice mission of the Church, and that is the organization that I kneel with in prayer.
When my sister, who was raised Catholic in our rather lackluster parish community, totters between atheism and agnosticism because of how she interprets the Church and religion itself, I still defend Catholicism as a pulpit of Ultimate Love in the world. I chalk up the wrongdoing of the Church as human error that we must forgive (not as good Catholics but as loving fellow humans). Because ultimately, I believe that the true mission of the Church, when you strip away all the bureaucracy and get right down to the Christ of it all, is about recognizing, embracing, and fighting tirelessly for human dignity.
That’s an easy Cross to march behind when it means fighting against poverty in some faraway land – let’s throw a few bucks in the second collection basket (after we’ve put a 10 in for the new church speakers) and call ourselves righteous, huh? But when it comes to something as divisive as politics – sexuality, abortion, immigration – the answer to that perennial question – WWJD? – becomes a bit hazier.
Some say that the Church is not and should not be a political organization. I disagree. I think that all of Jesus’s actions were quite political in nature. In all that he did on earth, he fought against injustice, and boy did he ruffle feathers. If he were not a political firebrand in his time, he probably would not have been crucified. Of course, politics is only a factor when there are multiple sides with opposing messages, and when Jesus made it clear that his position was one of unflinching justice, those in power took a murderous stance against that.
Personally, growing up in a predominantly white and fairly insulated suburban community, I had no idea that the Church could be such an engine of social good in the world, but when I went to college and saw my faith in action, it came alive in ways I never expected. It was a Church, a community brought together through a communion of purpose, that was making a difference, in defiance of injustice. Ideally, there would be no politics about it – but how can that be when there are still such loud voices of evil wielding power in our world?
As we look back on Jesus’s true message two millennia later, it’s easy to see that it was not one of division. It was a message of union. Dare I say, it was a message of communion.
We should be able to count on the Church to help guide us in our decisions, to orient our morality, to help us forge a path of goodness in the world. But wasn’t it Jesus himself who stood in front of the adulterer about to be stoned and challenged the sinless in the crowd to cast the first stone? I guess the Church has determined it is sinless, because this sure seems like they are casting a stone.
Many of the bishops who have spoken out about this are just as outraged and appalled as I am. They know that Jesus embraces us for who we are no matter what. They know that God’s love for us is without condition. They know that the fire of the Holy Spirit illuminates the path of justice. They are my shepherds and I will follow them. But they are few in number, and I fear that the organization is on a dangerous precipice of judgment. Human judgment is tempting and evil. That’s exactly why we ask for the strength to “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” But evil persists.
Alas, here we are again, distanced from God’s mission of unconditional love, and ready to put his message right back on the cross.