Former Vice President and presidential candidate Joe Biden was declined Holy Communion at a South Carolina parish this past Sunday. You can read the story here. (There are other recent examples of the denial of the Eucharist related to other conflicts with Church teaching related to sexuality, identity, and marriage.)
I wrestled with this story this evening, trying to learn and better understand the decision of the priest to decline communion in the form of the Eucharist and Biden, as I also try to learn and better understand the decisions of Biden over his political career.
There is much to dissect: the Church teaching on abortion and Biden’s political support that conflicts with this teaching, the “good standing” one must be in to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, and the varying discernment and expression of teachings, tradition, and beliefs of Catholic and non-Catholics as they read this report.
All of this will be debated, and in fact, it has already started- all of which has led to this reflection.
I try to understand the 360-degree perspective of a situation. While my personal beliefs and values may approach conflict or congruence, I try to listen, learn, and better understand- even if I do not agree.
I try to learn from the decision of Fr. Robert Morey in denying the Eucharist to Vice President Biden. I try to learn from the decisions of Biden in his public role of supporting bills that are in line with and against Church teaching.
Not knowing what is on and in the heart of these men, all I can do is try to learn, while never truly arriving at a place of full understanding.
What I cannot understand however, is what I can only describe as the joyful exclamation by many Catholics this evening in the comment section of social media posts sharing this story. (Yes, I know these comment sections are a dangerous exploration of what is often the worst of humanity).
I am left with this question: When we read the Gospel passages of Jesus, when we pray with and understand His ministry, does He ever cheer when one is not in communion with Him?
Let us be careful of not being like the righteous of Jesus’ time who are arrogant in their own understanding of following God’s law, so much so that they lose touch of our human connection. Jesus often holds the mirror to these individuals in the form of parables and teachings, revealing their own lack of understanding of who God truly is.
I am troubled by the joyful reflections of many faithful Catholics this evening that went as far as glorifying God all because one of God’s children was rejected from union with whom many of us call the Good Shepherd.
There are many times that I am proud to be a Christian- many times I am challenged and inspired. Tonight, as a layperson in the Church, as a minister and as a teacher, as a spouse and as a father, I am greatly dissapointed in the cheering of many who fill the pews each Sunday in celebrating the separation of Jesus in His real presence of the Eucharist from one of God’s imperfect, yet beloved children.
This is not about politics, it is not about teachings, and it is not about your specific perspective on Church and life. This is about the unfortunate and disturbing celebration of division.
For the many who celebrated tonight, you have the full freedom and right to not vote for someone based on their public stance on abortion and all other Church teachings that may conflict with human dignity.
While you have the freedom to celebrate as you are this evening as Americans, may I invite you to reconsider your approach as followers of Jesus.
Let us look into our own hearts, for this situation and in all circumstances of life- much of which we can only try to better learn and grow.
Specifically, may we better understand God’s heart that beats within ours so we can truly celebrate as the father of the Prodigal Son did when his son returned. Then, and only then, can we rejoice as our human family is fully reunited in God’s love- not sent away.
One Final Story
When I was a child, there was a short period when a vocal person, likely homeless, would attend Mass. She had a mental illness that was distracting and she, to be blunt, made people uncomfortable.
At one “First Friday” Mass, when many, if not all of the students from the parish school were attending, this lady went to receive Holy Communion. When she approached the priest, instead of saying “The body of Christ,” he asked, “Why are you here,” suspecting she wasn’t Catholic and denying her the Eucharist.
Her response was unexpected, but necessary. She answered, “I am hungry.”
The priest responded by placing Jesus in her weathered hands.