Let's not use the Eucharist as a weapon
A piece of news came across my desk late yesterday afternoon. It was a press release from the American Life League (ALL).
On May 7, Pope Francis issued a letter to the bishops in Argentina, urging them to govern the church in Argentina according to the Aparecida Document. This document, published in 2007 was written jointly by the Latin American Church leaders, and stated, among other things, that "“we should commit ourselves to ‘eucharistic coherence,’ that is, we should be conscious that people cannot receive holy communion and at the same time act or speak against the commandments, in particular when abortions, euthanasia, and other serious crimes against life and family are facilitated. This responsibility applies particularly to legislators, governors, and health professionals.”
The press release from ALL included a request to all of the bishops that they exercise canon 915 and deny communion to "Catholics in public life who persist in their support of abortion."
Now, I want to take a moment here and note that the Aparecida Document 1) does not contain any reference to canon 915 and 2) is 165 pages long. The document also contains instruction on the church's relationship to market capitalism, globalization, and the preferential option for the poor. It includes rather lengthy paragraphs about the priority of improving access to adoption, creating a better safety net, and access to health care.
There have been (so far as I can tell) very few calls to deny communion to those who own corporations that house their workers in dangerous factories and pay them less than a living wage. I have seen no call to deny communion to politicians who support economic policies that will only serve to make the wealthy more wealthy while they cut programs that support the poor.
Furthermore, the letter to the bishops did not include a request that they push for greater legislation to support single and poor parents, or wider access to quality education, or free and low-cost health care. Instead, they went right for canon 915 and requested that the bishops deny communion to baptized Christians.
Let me say this: I am thankful that there have been no calls to deny communion to people who actively participate in unjust labor laws. Because I love communion. I love approaching the table with my brothers and sisters in Christ, acknowledging that we are all imperfect - unworthy, even.
Furthermore, I love the eucharist too much to let it be used in an act of extortion.
Canon 915 has caused a considerable amount of controversy over the years, and the controversy is not likely to go away any time soon. But the canon tends to get picked up by people or organizations who are promoting a particular cause, and then it becomes a weapon, rather than what it is meant to be: a way to honor and uphold the unity of the church. The canon is certainly not a license for priests to withhold communion to anyone willy-nilly. But when it is put into a press release like the one I received today, canon 915 is taken up like so many torch and pitchforks in a political game, rather than as a pastoral tool. Finally, when canon 915 is used as a measure of first resort, then any possibility for conversation and healing is trumped in favor of a divisive and painful non-solution.
We ought to have more love and respect for the body of Christ than to use it as a weapon, even if the cause seems just.
Image By Vid Gajšek, via Wikimedia Commons