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How Easy Will It Be for You to Betray Our Lord?



Fr Robert McTeigue, SJ - published on 05/27/15

Easier than you might think...

“The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” So says legendary basketball coach, John Wooden. I disagree. I think that more often than not, tests of character come when everyone is watching.

Wooden’s insight is not new. In Book 2 of Plato’s Republic (2.359a–2.360d) we read of the “Ring of Gyges," which allows its wearer to become invisible. Plato uses the story of the ring to ask whether any intelligent person would be moral if he had no fear of getting caught (thanks to the invisibility conferred by the ring). At the risk of putting myself at odds with the great Plato, I insist that especially in our time, the tests of character will most often come when everyone is watching—via streaming video, social media, etc. Let me offer an example.

Lately, there’s been lots of talk about the definition of love and marriage. Most recently, Ireland voted in a national referendum on the re-definition of marriage. One of the rallying cries for those arguing for “marriage equality” is, “All love counts!” That seems hard to argue against, doesn’t it? Everyone everywhere seems at least to pay lip service to the supreme value of love—so how can one intelligibly accept some loves while rejecting other loves?

Before we capitulate to such sloganeering as “All love counts!” or “NoH8!”, we would do well to steer clear of some sloppy thinking. Can “love” truly mean condoning the sin of another? Would anyone respond to my condemnation of child abuse with “NoH8!”? Of course not. Love, properly understood, is more than just warm feelings and outbursts of mutually-convenient esteem. True love is “amor benevolentiae” which is a supernatural wishing/want/willing/desiring the best for the beloved. What is the best for the beloved? Disciples of Jesus Christ, even after a cursory reading of the Gospel of John, know that what is the best for the beloved is eternal union within the heart of Our Heavenly Father. Christians know that real love gets us to the heart of Our Heavenly Father, and nothing else does.

So, what does that real love, the unique path to human fulfillment, which is our heavenly home, look like? To understand real love, we must consider four words: Cross, Altar, Confession and Communion. While doing so, we must remember that Satan desperately wants to confuse us about these, because if we get these right, then we can escape his designs for us and come to rest in our Father’s House.

Real love, amor benevolentiae, requires the Cross. Why? Because of our fallen human nature, we are too selfish to love as we should. We need the power of the Cross to smash open the hard shell of selfishness that surrounds the human heart. Poet John Donne knew this when he cried out, “Batter my heart, three-person’d God…” Where are we best able to find the full power of the Cross? At the Altar of Sacrifice.

We would do well to meditate on the Cross, pray the Stations of the Cross, pray before great artists’ depictions of the Cross, but nothing compares to being at the foot of the Cross at Calvary, as Our Blessed Lord offers Himself in sacrifice. That very sacrifice on the Cross is made present to us again at the Altar during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. There we can see perfect love, the love that clears the way to Our Father’s Heart. There we can take our poor gifts and all of our imperfections and unite them to the perfect sacrifice of Christ. We must join Christ in His perfect offering. If we do not, then whatever we withhold from the Altar of Sacrifice will be devoured as plunder by Satan.

Now I will say something that perhaps very many people will find shocking. The purpose of coming to Mass is
not to receive Holy Communion. The purpose of coming to Mass is to unite ourselves to the sacrifice of Our Lord at Calvary. Receiving Holy Communion is the priceless fruit of that sacrifice, but it is not the purpose of Mass. If we are not clear about this, we can be led into terrible sin.

Let me explain. In very many parishes in the United States, at least, the scene is repeated every Sunday. The time comes for the distribution of Holy Communion. Ushers march up to the front row, and then prompt people to come forward to receive. When the front row empties out, the ushers move to the second row, and so on. It seems very efficient. It is. And that’s the problem.

As I’ve been told by many people (and I’m sure my brother priests will back me up on this), there are people who know that they do not satisfy the conditions to receive Holy Communion properly. These same people suspect that if they sit down as their pew mates climb over them to get in line for Holy Communion, people will notice those who remain seated and will think, “Aha! There’s a SINNER!” And this brings me to point with which I started this column: tests of character more often come when everyone is watching. Or, at least, when we think everyone is watching. (Many people seem to forget that most folks are so caught up in their own concerns and pains that they don’t notice who remains seated in the pews or not.)

What happens next? Individuals who know that they do not meet the requirements to receive Holy Communion worthily yet present themselves to receive Holy Communion, bring condemnation upon themselves. (1 Corinthians 11:27) As a priest, this breaks my heart. Some may add the sin of presumption to their blasphemy, by telling themselves that they will go to the Sacrament of Confession later in the week—as if they knew that they would live that long. But none of us are guaranteed one more second of life. They put their souls in peril when they knowingly profane Our Eucharistic Lord in His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity—all for fear that some Catholic in the next pew might give him a second glance for not presenting himself to receive Holy Communion.

This brings me to my principal concern: If it is so easy for Catholics to desecrate Our Eucharistic Lord for fear that a handful of the faithful might notice that we are sinners, what shall we do when we are surrounded not by the faithful, but by a howling mob, or by men armed with badges, guns and court orders? If we betray Christ now so easily, when a few people might suspect that we are sinners, how much easier will it be to betray Christ when the angry and the violent suspect that we are Christians? We are foolish indeed if we think that persecution will not come for us; we are naïve beyond excuse if we think that the persecution has not already begun.

Do we really think that we will inexplicably rise to the occasion and be heroic resisters to persecution and martyrs for the faith as were the Cristeros of Mexico less than a century ago? Do we really believe that the best preparation for fidelity unto death begins with casual desecration of the Eucharist driven by a fear that someone may suspect we ate a candy bar ten minutes before Mass?

This brings us to our third key word: Confession. I fear that many people view the Sacrament of Confession merely as a legal proceeding that expunges our criminal record but leaves our wicked desires and habits intact. Then we are free to sin again, and presume that we shall live long enough to receive absolution, and then go out and sin again….loving our sin more than we love Our Blessed Lord, fearing the pains of Hell more than the loss of Heaven.

The Sacrament of Confession is meant to be part of the process of conversion—a turning of our whole lives away from our sin. If we don’t leave the confessional filled with a burning desire and fierce resolve to uproot from our lives what has offended Our Blessed Lord, then we are likely seeking exculpation and not conversion.

To love as Our Blessed Lord loves, which is to love while always drawing closer to the heart of Our Heavenly Father, requires that we become transformed. That process of transformation is best achieved through worthy reception of Holy Communion—when the Flesh of Our Lord enfleshes within us, when His Precious Blood flows through our veins, when the life of His Divinity fills our human soul. Holy Communion, received worthily, is the instrument of the indispensable transition to holiness necessary for those who would enter into the presence of the All-Holy God for all eternity. How tragic, how vile, and how unnecessary a loss it is for souls to dishonor Our Eucharistic Lord because of a craven fear that some may suspect that we are not in a state of grace!

Yes, now, a few nosy Catholics might be watching us, to see if we are apparently faithful. Eventually, angry haters, or persecutors operating under the aegis of state power may be watching to see if we are truly faithful. The path to fidelity, the path to our Father’s Heart, begins with these four steps: Cross, Altar, Confession, Communion.

When I write next, I will speak of our response to the persecution of Christians. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.

Father Robert McTeigue, S.J. is a member of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus.  A professor of philosophy and theology, he has long experience in spiritual direction, retreat ministry, and religious formation. He teaches philosophy at Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, FL, and is known for his classes in both Rhetoric and in Medical Ethics.

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