Looking back, I believe it was a sign from God that I almost choked on the wafer that was put in my mouth at my Catholic first communion. When you’re eight or nine years old this is embarrassing stuff, gagging after the priest put the wafer on my tongue. It stuck to the roof of my mouth when I tried to swallow it and wouldn’t go down. I remember hoping to God (still on my knees, of course) that I wouldn’t spit out the wafer and have it end up on the floor, an inglorious way to treat the body of Christ.
Reading a story in yesterday’s Oregonian about Bishop Vlazny’s (he’s the leader of Roman Catholics in Western Oregon) declaration that any Catholic who is publicly at odds with church teaching shouldn’t get Holy Communion, I was incensed enough to wish that I had indeed coughed out that wafer. (Fortunately, I flamed out on Catholicism before I was “confirmed,” so I saved myself the step of rejecting dogma unworthy of being believed in).
Bishop Vlazny’s letter in which he explains his position is worth reading for the insight it gives into the mindset of those who believe that faith in a religious institution is synonymous with faith in God. This belief is used to control members of the institution and stifle independent thinking. It has no metaphysical foundation, and indeed is completely opposed to genuine spirituality.
I thought Jesus taught that no one should worship false idols, or put other gods before the true God. So how is it that Vlazny can say:
“The reception of Holy Communion is a sign that a person not only seeks union with God but also desires to live in communion with the church. Such communion is clearly violated when one publicly opposes serious church teaching. Reception of Holy Communion by such public dissenters betrays a blatant disregard for the serious meaning and purpose of the reception of the Eucharist.”
Clever. Vlazny links the body and blood of Christ to the body of the tenets of the Catholic Church, so anyone who wants to be united with Jesus and God has to accept every serious teaching of the church also. Though Christ said nothing about abortion, or gay marriage, or stem-cell research, a Catholic who publicly rejects the church’s position on these political issues is a failed Catholic and shouldn’t ask for communion.
If I was a Catholic, I’d say, “Fine. I don’t want communion. I want God.” Taking a step away from superstition (who really believes bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus?) and idolatry (putting politics ahead of spirituality) is taking a step toward God. A hundred or a thousand years from now I’m sure that people are going to say about modern Christianity, “I can’t believe that is how they worshipped God in the old days.”
I think science and spirituality are going to move closer and closer together, so the study of whatever lies beyond physicality will simply be the study of non-material reality, not something called “religion.” I have this fantasy of highly advanced extra-terrestrials signaling Earth that they want to exchange knowledge of the cosmos. When their ship lands, and consciousness-communication links are set up, a United Nations envoy says, “We are happy to greet you. Our scientists and our religious leaders are eager to share ideas with you.”
The extra-terrestrials pause and turn to their Super Galactic Dictionary. They are puzzled. “We understand your term for ‘scientist,’ as we too seek the truth about reality. But we do not know what is meant by ‘religious leader.’ Do you mean ‘story-teller’? If so, we have these too. They entertain us with subjective fantasy when we wish to take a break from objective truth.”
Bishop Vlazny is a story-teller, a master of ancient and modern fables. He should be laughed at rather than taken seriously. There is a lot to like about Christianity, but only insofar as it leads to the reality of God, not the falseness of politics.