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Thu June 3, 2004
Only Say The Word
The recent movement by Catholic bishops to deny communion to politicians whose views are not consistent with those of the church has Paul considering the question of worthiness.
[Click the Listen button to hear Paul's commentary.]
Back in Cleveland, at St. Benedict?s grade school we had this girl in my class named Marilyn. And Marilyn, in the parlance of the day, had a ?reputation.? You know, a supposedly bad girl who would wander into the bushes of Woodland Hills Park and well?do whatever kids were doing in those days. Who knows what. Probably some heavy petting, by today?s standards, pretty mild. Then, mortally sinful.
Yet every morning, eyes downcast,, hands folded before her, fingertips pointed to heaven, she would go to Holy Communion. How, the rest of us wondered, could she do it? This obvious sinner.
But, now, with the wisdom of a few decades of life?and perhaps a bit more insight into this amazing miracle of the Eucharist, I want to holler back across the decades to you, Marilyn, and say: you had it right! You understood exactly what Holy Communion is all about. Holy communion. A perfect God and we imperfect mortals. In communion. On the same page, so to speak.
Holy Communion, Marilyn understood so well, was not a reward for good behavior. Rather, it was food for the journey of life.
And of course, I thought of dear, sweet Marilyn over the past few weeks as bishops of my church have declared that those who support abortion rights, or stem cell research?and I?m sure the list goes on?are to be denied that food for their journey.
But as we look back beyond Catholics like John Kerry or Tom Daschle or even further back than dear Marylyn, in fact right to the supper table where it all began, we might get a pretty good glimpse of the divine intent.
There was Judas, who would turn him over to his enemies. Peter, who would deny him, three vehement times. The whole lot of them, they would scatter like chickens.
And did that man Christ look around and say: ?No, not you. And you? Not worthy. You, you and you? Sorry. Not until you prove yourself.? No, he didn?t.
There is a prayer Catholics say right before receiving Holy Communion. ?O, Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed/?
A beautiful yin and yang. Not worthy, but at the same time, assured of worthiness.
I?m sure I?m not the only Catholic who shudders at the thought of bishops declaring some among us unworthy. Unworthy to have this ?holy communion? with our God. These bishops who, sadly enough, allowed the sexual abuse of children to go on, perpetrated by the very priests who consecrate that eucharist.
I have no great moral lessons to impart. No accurate litmus test to offer. All I can do is look back to the precedents of Jesus, his apostles, and dear Marilyn. And to offer this: that we all approach the altar the same way. Bishop, politician, everyday Catholic. With those words on our lips.
Lord I am not worthy to receive you, just say the word and I will be healed.
Healed and fed, I believe. Both needed. Perhaps both, at the same time.
Paul is the creator of New Beginnings, a church renewal program.