TRUE STORIES — Beyond the rank-and-file

J.T. Knoll
J.T. Knoll

Were it not for a priest inviting me to go to communion when I was at a very difficult time in my life nearly 40 years ago I would be a far different person today.

He did this despite knowing I was not, as defined by doctrine, “communion material.” When I pointed this out he said with certainty and kindness, “These times of struggle in life are when you need the Eucharist the most.” Followed by, “The church needs people like you.”

It opened me to a journey beyond where the pavement ends and deepened my contact with the eternal source of all things in the Holy Spirit. And, in the process, gave me reason to continue my seeking as a Catholic — albeit a less ideological one who feels empowered to practice the faith with a certain wryness and merriment.

My heart breaks for my fellow pilgrims and struggling Catholics who long to return to the Church, their congregation, their old friends and family, but happened upon a rank-and-file priest in troubling times who turned them away with the phrase, “Catholics in good standing are invited to come forward to communion.”

I’m especially irked when I hear a priest utter this phrase at a funeral or wedding, where non-Catholics are in attendance. It sounds like being a Catholic is akin being a member of a country club, i.e. “Members who have paid their dues are eligible to play golf, swim in the pool and attend the banquet.”

I can only imagine non-Catholics thinking, “Geeze, that sounds a little creepy. I wonder what’s required.”

I looked it up and found the following: Being ‘in good standing’ includes honoring the Lord’s Day and holy days of obligation, participating in the sacrament of reconciliation (confession) at least once every year, receiving the Eucharist during the Easter season, fasting on Good Friday and Ash Wednesday, and supporting the material needs of the church.

Further, one cannot be pro choice; one cannot support contraception; one cannot support redefining marriage (gay); if married, one’s marriage must be recognized by the Catholic Church; if unmarried, one cannot be cohabitating with his/her boyfriend/girlfriend.

Teresa Coda, writing in U.S. Catholic, poses the idea that ‘in good standing’ presents lots of room for interpretation. “Are we not in good standing if we occasionally swear? What about if we fail to pray for our enemies? Or if we support the marriages of our gay friends? By these standards, many of our canonized saints, ordained clergy, and other religious leaders fall outside the box of good standing.”

Indeed, just last week the Vatican warned conservative American bishops to hit the brakes on their push to deny communion to politicians supportive of abortion rights, including President Biden, a lifetime Catholic and faithful churchgoer — the first Roman Catholic to occupy the office since John F. Kennedy.

Antonio Spadaro, a close ally of Pope Francis, said the concern of the Vatican is that access to the Eucharist be used as a political weapon. Indeed, Francis preached this month that communion “is not the reward of saints, but the bread of sinners.”

A third of American bishops signed a letter aligning with Francis and asking that the question be removed from this week’s conference of Catholic Bishops agenda — but to no avail.

Another thing I find tiresome about the Catholic Bishops leading the effort to weaponize the Eucharist is that it comes after four years of giving tacit approval to our past president, despite his abhorrent behavior and immoral leadership. Pretty high handed.

Were the Catholic Bishops to follow the teachings of Christ, it seems to me they would propose a communion announcement that says, “Anyone who’s needing love, compassion, forgiveness and the power of the Holy Spirit in their life is invited to come share in the Eucharist.”

As to the power of the Holy Spirit, I agree wholeheartedly with Franciscan Daniel Horan, who wrote this week in The National Catholic Reporter that by “refusing to believe in the creative power of the Holy Spirit, they (the Catholic Bishops) double down on their own sense of self-assurance and the mistaken belief that they — and they alone — are responsible for the success or failure of Christ's church.”

“This is part of what I see playing out in their reduction of the Blessed Sacrament to an idolatrous token of political partisan approval,” Horan writes. “Or as a blasphemous weapon to be used in controlling the people of God.”

The whole business brings to mind the narcissistic power of ego as expressed in a quote from T.S. Eliot. “Most of the trouble in the world,” Eliot wrote, “is caused by people wanting to be important.”

J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and eulogist. He also operates Knoll Training & Consulting in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 620-704-1309 or jtknoll@swbell.net