Expell me, Father, or have I sinned?

A couple of conservative news sources are reporting that a college student in Florida is being threatened in this life and beyond for having removed a consecrated wafer from a Catholic Church.  It first was placed into Webster Cook’s mouth during Communion and at some point thereafter, he decided to take it out.  Allegedly, a church official then tried to pry the wafer out of his hands, and Cook responded by putting it in a Ziploc bag and leaving the premises.  He voluntarily returned it later on in the week, after receiving death threats and assurances of eternal damnation.

Bill Donahue from the Catholic League is pissed:

“For a student to disrupt Mass by taking the Body of Christ hostage – regardless of the alleged nature of his grievance – is beyond hate speech. That is why the [university] administration needs to act swiftly and decisively in seeing that justice is done. All options should be on the table, including expulsion.”

And, a spokesperson from the local diocese is calling it a hate crime:

“We don’t know 100 percent what Mr. Cook’s motivation was…however, if anything were to qualify as a hate crime, to us this seems like this might be it.”

Hmm.  Well, that would seem difficult, since a hate crime first and foremost is defined as “a criminal offense”  Oops.  So much for that.  It also must be “…committed against a person, property, or society that is motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity/national origin.” This will also be difficult to prove, given that Cook is Catholic.

Here are my immediate thoughts:

  1. How is this possibly considered a hate crime?  There’s no crime, and no evidence of bias.  These accusers don’t even seem to know what constitutes a hate crime.
  2. There are some really interesting Christological issues here, especially considering the traditional Catholic view of transubstantiation.  If the consecrated bread-become-body of Jesus leaves the church, what happens to it, theologically speaking?  Surely this is written somewhere?
  3. My theology of communion really privileges the sovereignty of God.  In my view, mere humans do not have the power to make – or break – the sanctity of the Eucharist.  Either Jesus will be present to us in the breaking of bread and sharing of the cup, or not – but I absolutely do not believe that humans have the power to defile that which God has made holy.  That limits the power of God too much for me.
  4. If this is a hate crime, what’s the crime?  If this is to be viewed as Cook “stealing” a Catholic artifact (the consecrated wafer), at what point does the bread/wine become transferred to the parishioner?
  5. It may go against Catholic doctrine, but is it also a “hate crime” or “hate speech” for a non-Catholic to take Communion at a closed Catholic table?  I mean, she would likewise be “stealing” a consecrated Catholic artifact too, if that is indeed the root of the problem.
  6. Bottom line: Jesus is a big boy.  If he is so vulnerable that improper handling of the consecrated elements pose a viable threat to his sovereignty, than perhaps Cook should get expelled.  But if the risen Christ is, as I suspect, actually strong enough to survive this affront…perhaps the local (and national) Catholic authorities are going a little overboard here, no?

8 Responses to “Expell me, Father, or have I sinned?”

  1. Cindi Knox Says:

    If the consecrated bread-become-body of Jesus leaves the church, what happens to it, theologically speaking?

    Ladies and Gentlemen, Jesus has just left the building.

  2. thenonconformer Says:

    God’s Word provides us with all the purpose and direction that we could ever need. God also gives us something more to be able to live the Christian life, he also gives us the anointing of the Holy Spirit,.


  3. FranIAm Says:

    I have much to say but no time to say it right now.

    As a Roman Catholic (often a reluctant one at that) I have many thoughts on this subject.

    That said, I would have to say that the potential for idolatry is my church is very great and we can see how this rears its ugly idol head in this situation.

    More later. Prayers always.

  4. Tom Ryberg Says:

    Thanks Fran. I’m really looking forward to your insights.

    Ladies and Gentlemen, Jesus has just left the building.

    Cindi, that was funny. But also really provocative – all sorts of things could happen if Jesus actually got loose again in the streets, wouldn’t they? Imagine…

  5. Erin Grady Says:

    I think the Catholic powers-that-be are taking the same line of thinking which proponents of the flag desecration amendment follow. Sure, the flag isn’t a person, but it should still be illegal to burn one. There are also lots of rules for handling the flag properly that members of the American Legion would get all bent out of shape about if followed incorrectly – letting it touch the floor, displaying the flag of your school higher than it, etc. It makes the flag, an inanimate object, a possible victim, because it stands for something other than itself. Catholics also have a leg up in this argument, from their point of view, because the Eucharist, having been transubstantiated, is much closer to being a person than the flag.

    Anyway, I’m not saying I agree with them, but this might give a way of looking at things from their point of view.

  6. FranIAm Says:

    Well I guess I never came back and said what I was going to say…

    As a Roman Catholic this is a matter of paradox – that is the presence of Jesus in the communion wafer. To me it is Jesus but -paradox alert- it is so much more. Or I should say – Jesus is so much more.

    If I stop at the wafer, I have but reduced Jesus to a slender baked good in need of constant and hypervigilant protection!

    This whole situation went so far awry- the kid did a dumb thing. I mean if you are Catholic, you are in a church, you know the rules. So that is part one.

    Then the ushers went over the top to stop him. Part two.

    As for your question number two – I do not have all the theological explanation needed, but I do know this. The way it appears and years upon years (centuries!) of bad RC teaching have only made it worse… When we come to the table we do not come to “get” something although people tend to view it that way… I came to get my Jesus- k thanks bai! Ugh.

    We come to the table to give something. The act of eating the sacred bread is at that moment to be one with the entire body of Christ.

    So it is not what happens to it but what happens to the one at the table.

    Does that make any sense? Which is why you are not supposed to slip Jesus in your handbag and eat him up later or share him with a friend. That sort of goes to # 4 as well.

    I hope some of this makes some sense. The whole thing got too overblown and then that whole other business as a result. Ugh.

    Jesus is able to take care of himself, but as humans how we so often long to make God tiny, small and impaired!

  7. Tom Ryberg Says:

    Fran, it’s been nearly two years since you wrote this, and I just wanted to say how much I appreciate your wisdom and insight, always. This is so beautiful.

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