What will you do, now, with this Gift, freely given?
A decade or so ago, my then-16-year-old son and I headed out for a quick hamburger after a Vigil Mass. Somehow the discussion came up about how the Holy Eucharist is sometimes accepted at Mass by someone only to remain unconsumed and spirited out of the church for use in various – always nefarious – ways.
“How exactly,” my son asked me. “I’ve read that the Eucharist has been stolen for use in black masses — but what do they do with it?”
This is never a subject I like to discuss, but I related a little – that some have put the Consecrated Host upon an ersatz “altar” and stabbed it, so as to “stab” Christ. “They may not admit it, but they believe, as we do, that the Eucharist is the actual, physical Presence, the Body and Blood of Christ,” I explained. “If they didn’t believe, they wouldn’t care — a loaf of bread and grape juice would meet the case, or they could steal the unconsecrated wafers lying on the sacristy shelf. No, they want the consecrated Host — they know what it is. Sometimes the desecration involves tearing it up and stomping on it, or doing disgusting things to it. And sometimes the Host is even abused sexually. Just as sexual abuse is about power and control and domination, someone who sexually abuses a consecrated Host, sees it as controlling and dominating Christ.”
“But, it’s a gift,” my son said, “So they only cheat and hurt themselves.”
I was a little confused. “What do you mean, which is the gift, the Holy Eucharist, or sexuality?”
“Both,” he said. “They’re both gifts, but I’m talking about the gift of the Body of Christ. Christ gave himself to us, freely, of his own free will. A gift freely given. If someone takes the gift and spits on it or whatever — they’re only destroying what is their’s because it was given to them. They don’t in any way destroy the giver of the Gift, or lessen the giver, or the gift. So they have no power over it. They can’t dominate it. All they can do is destroy themselves within themselves.”
I confess, I had never thought of it that way, before. At Communion, we think of “receiving” but we are also being given. If we receive Communion in the hand, as most Catholics do, Christ is literally allowing himself to be “handed over” to each of us, as he allowed himself to be handed over to earthly authorities.
At that moment, we hold the salvation of the world within our hands; how we receive it, what we consent to at that moment, with our “Amen”, is monumental.
This is not metaphor; it is Reality.
To refuse, or to consume? To refuse is to reject a perfect gift of Salvation — perhaps not for always, but even for a day, that is a grave refusal
To consume is to consent to the salvation of the world residing within us, literally flowing through our veins by the pumping power of our own hearts.
What will we do, then, while possessing the Salvation of the World within our own cells and sinews?
Again, not a metaphor, but Reality. What do we do with what we carry? If we have consented to enclose this power in our bodies, aren’t we also meant to allow it to be used through us?
How is it possible that we receive Communion, and then promptly forget about it, and go to a diner for a hamburger?
It was too much to think about — harrowing in ways I had not considered up until then, and almost unbearable to ponder in a noisy eatery with televisions blaring and blue plate specials banging down on tables.
No. It seemed easier to stick with my son’s idea of free gifts.
“Yes,” I agreed. “If I freely give you a car, and you decide to be reckless and smash it up, you’ve lost out, not me. If I give you my life, and you are unappreciative, it doesn’t lessen what I have done; it only reveals the void within you.”
My son nodded. “That’s why even during the Passion, those who wanted Jesus dead could not have victory over him,” he mused. “So, no matter how they mistreated him or misjudged him, or tortured him…Jesus had consented to it. They couldn’t take from him what he had already given. And so they lost, and he won. The Power was always his.”
“Right,” I said, wondering what I was thinking about when I was 16.
“And so, these people who abuse the Eucharist — they have an illusion of power, but the power is always Christ’s, because he is both the Gift, and the Giver.”
“Exactly.” I furrowed my brow, thinking there was a syllogism in there, somewhere.
“It doesn’t make me feel any better to think of anyone desecrating a Host,” he mused. “But if they don’t realize that the power they think they have is only an illusion, then in a sense, ‘they know not what they do.’”
I ordered espresso and wished for whiskey.
“It’s the same with the gift of sexuality, then” he said, eyeing a brownie sundae on the menu. “That’s a gift, too. Abuse it, misuse it and it actually dominates you.”
“Yes,” I said, quietly. “Why don’t you order that thing? Why don’t you eat some chocolate, or something?”
He did and his mood brightened considerably.
“It’s a shame you don’t want to be a priest,” I said, shaking my head, referring to the fact that — at the time — he had a push-me-pull-you going on with that idea. “You have something to say, and you’d sing a heck of a Mass.”
“They’d hate me,” he said, flicking sloppy hot fudge all around him. “I’d jabber on about all these things no one wants to talk about.”
I stirred my coffee and thought… kid, you’d be surprised at how grateful some people would be to hear what you have to say. And how challenged.