NOTE: The following “stream of consciousness” essay contains possible emotional triggers.
I grew up devoutly Catholic. I was an Altar Boy. I attended parochial school. I was spanked by a nun. Seriously, she bent me over the edge of her desk and used the “board of education” on my hinder parts. It only happened once. I’m a quick learner.
Ever since I was young, I thought I wanted to grow up and become a Catholic priest. Then someone shared with me how priests were to remain celibate. I had to look the word ‘celibate’ up in the dictionary, and well, being celibate is a strong deal breaker. I opted to become a pastor instead. I could serve God and still have sex.
Don’t judge me.
Growing up in Catholicism, I had a deep respect for the Lord, and for the Eucharist, in which I now refer to as Communion or the Lord’s Supper. In those early days, as an Altar Boy, I would stand in front of the priest and he would place the communion wafer on my extended tongue, while my nostrils drew in the stench of cigar and his bourbon-soaked breath. I can remember it like it was yesterday, even though it was over 40 years ago. He was the very same priest that administered the Eucharist to my Dad when he was a young man.
That young man, later to be my Dad, witnessed a number of occasions in which that priest made sexual advancements with young men in the parsonage. It wasn’t until I was in my late 40’s (long after the death of that priest), while trying to help my Dad process some deep pain and unresolved issues, that the following came to the surface: in an effort to keep my Dad quiet, the priest paid Dad “hush money” for many years, in the form of expensive trips to Rome (The Vatican) and tuition so my brother and I were able to attend an expensive Catholic school.
Augustine famously stated that “The essence of sin is disordered love.”
We all have sin. We have all fallen short. We all have disordered loves.
My point in bringing up my childhood, as well as my Dad’s childhood, is NOT to throw shade at the Catholic Church. They have, understandably and correctly, had plenty of shade thrown at them. Nor is my point to diminish that sin, the harm, nor the harm that has been leveled against many at the hands of “men of the cloth.” To be fair, the evangelical church and a share of its pastoral leaders have not been innocent in this regard either.
Again, we have all fallen short. Dr. Clark, in reference to a quote from James K. A. Smith, and in conjunction with Vincent Miller, says “better theologies do not necessarily lead to better practices” (Clark, 227). Commodification has a way of separating beliefs from practice (Clark, 228). So, yah, priests can administer the Sacraments while messing with kids. Sad, but true.
Again, the essence of sin is disordered love. Smith asserts that we are, and we are shaped by what we love (James K. A. Smith, Imagining the Kingdom, 22). With this in mind, I’m drawn to a series of questions that Miller asks, which are pertinent to my painful musings this week:
• How does the Eucharist affect believers’ understanding and practice of consumption?
• What similarities and differences do believers see between such consumption and their reception of the Eucharist?
• How is the Eucharist affected by consumption?
Even Miller admits that “these questions are very difficult to answer” (Miller, 227). I agree with him. These questions lead me even deeper into my own personal journey from Catholicism to Evangelicalism. In my early 20’s I worked part-time at a local Christian Bible bookstore, while scrapping by financially as a pastor. I sold Christian music during the era of “If you like this secular band ________, you’ll LOVE ____________ (this Christian band). I sold a lot of Precious Moments figurines, Left Behind books, Lord’s Gym t-shirts, and, wait for it, Testamints (“The Mint with a Message”). That particular Bible bookstore is where our local Foursquare church would purchase communion elements (this was pre-Amazon!).
Even now, once a month, usually the 1st Sunday, ushers hand out prefilled communion cups which contains 100% Concord Grape Juice Blend and an Unleavened Soft Wafer. Gluten free options now available.
I jokingly say to our church: This is Jesus’ Body, Packaged for You.
I appreciate the ease and convenience of these prepackaged elements. But what’s the true cost? What’s happening to our souls in the process? In Catholicism, there is the belief of “Transubstantiation” – the conversion of the substance of the Eucharistic elements into the actual body and blood of Christ at consecration, with only the appearance of bread and wine still remaining. As an Evangelical Protestant, I/we do not hold to this understanding. But here’s what I fear we may hold to, generally speaking: the communion elements are just something we peel back, consume, discard, and move on to other portions of “the service”(even that term denotes consumerism)! Are we, inadvertently, nurturing a culture of consumption: “What’s next? Hopefully it’s my favorite song that I heard on K-Love. Oh, and, next time, can the band not be so loud, the service be slightly shorter, and the preacher be funnier? Please and thank you.”
Do I come across cynical? OK, maybe a little. But, that’s not my heart. I sincerely love Jesus’ church; the BODY of Christ. Not the tiny, hermetically sealed version, however. Jesus’ body was broken for us, messy, disfigured beyond recognition, not packaged and sold in a 500 count box, with free shipping.
I love how Dr. Clark puts it, “The Eucharist is the countermove, and act of resistance, in which the false embodiments of market relationships are resisted” (Clark, 194).
And resist we must. Actually, we must repent.