Thursday, May 31, 2007

“Take, All of You, and Eat” (Part II)


My sharing of excerpts from Lisa Nilles’ paper, “Take, All of You, and Eat”: The Recent History of Catholic Clergy Denying Communion to Baptized Catholics,” continues with Rainbow Sash wearers’ “emotional” and “intellectual” responses to being denied Communion.

For Part 1 of “‘Take, All of You and Eat’: Communion and the Rainbow Sash” (including background information about this series of posts) click here.

The images that accompany Part II were taken at this year’s Pentecost Sunday mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, Minnesota.

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What was your emotional response to being denied Communion?

At about half way through mass I began to cry, knowing I would be denied Communion. I was not expecting such an emotional response. I remembered all the years of receiving Eucharist and thought about what that has meant to me. I could remember other times at our Church when I would watch our friends and parishioners in line to receive Christ. I remembered being at the Cathedral for our kids’ Confirmation, and, yes, our gay son was also confirmed there. As all these thoughts came, I began sobbing and could barely control myself. I was devastated when Archbishop Flynn denied me Communion.

I thought I would be sad and feel shamed. But I found that I was more angry than sad. After I returned to my pew, we all remained standing with our hands outstretched. A woman who came after us [and who was not wearing a Rainbow Sash] came to our row and began breaking her host into pieces and sharing it with as many as she could. I felt flooded with acceptance and happiness by her gesture. Of course this action inflamed the ushers who summoned a security guard!

Being denied Communion really caught me off guard. I knew it was coming and yet I wasn’t prepared for the feeling of rejection that I experienced. Being refused the Eucharist, as a Rainbow Sash wearer, was the first time in my white, middle class life when I experienced, in a very small way, what it is like to be singled out and denied because of a prejudice. It was quite sobering and I felt sad.

I felt anger and disdain. Because I have identified as a “Catholic in exile” in recent years, I rarely attend mass or receive the Eucharist because I cannot separate the pastoral church from some of the hideous doctrines, policies, and public statements of the institutional church. I believe affiliating with the Church in any official way sells out both my gay son and my feminist daughter. I was, however, born, raised, and educated through college in the Catholic faith, and claim a legitimate Catholic voice – whether I am in or out of exile.


I felt sorry for the lay people who were distributing the Eucharist, because they did not have a clue as to what they were doing. They were strictly “following orders.” I was, however, furious with the hierarchy.

At Communion, the choir sang Bread of Love (“Joined together as one body . . . every person brings a gift . . . every life is full of merit . . . we are called to be God’s people . . .”) Somehow, I still had hope we might not be refused communion, but when the first of our group approached the Communion distributor, she refused. People in line who didn’t have a sash or rainbow symbol, received. Anyone with even a small rainbow symbol, was refused. When it was my turn, I held out my hands and said, “I am a baptized Catholic and have loved and served God all my life. Will you give me Communion?” The distributor said, “No.” When I reached to take a host from the plate, they covered it with their hand. I said, “Jesus would never deny anyone Communion, and I wouldn’t deny you, either. Will you please give me Communion?” He said, “No.” My whole soul was grieved by the reality of what the Church was doing to me and others.


What was your intellectual response?

It was all so hard to grasp intellectually. I absolutely do not agree with denying Communion to anyone who asks respectfully and in good faith. I think the real sin against the Holy Spirit is to say someone God has made is not holy. I tried to reason with myself that the persons refusing Communion were somehow following orders and not able to reason beyond that to what Jesus would do. I was reminded of those who put people in gas chambers during the holocaust and who later said it was because authorities told them to do it.

Intellectually, I know Archbishop Flynn is taking orders from Rome and has taken a vow of obedience to the Vatican. Even though many priests and nuns totally disagree with the “no Communion to wearers of the Rainbow Sash,” they either won’t speak to the “powers” or they ignore their own common sense. I think Nazi Germany was a little like that.

I don’t remember an intellectual response [as being denied Communion] was so painful for me. I knew it would happen but somehow could not believe it when it did. I was not at all prepared for the emotions I was experiencing.


The patriarchy lives! No one has the right to withhold Eucharist. Did Jesus deny Judas or Peter or the women at the Last Supper? The patriarchy lives – and lives off the burdens it places on others.

I couldn’t believe that Catholic clergy – who are supposed to be the ethical and moral authorities in our faith – would put their position ahead of this act of spiritual violence.

My head tells me that this is not what the Jesus of the Gospels would be doing.

I see the hierarchy of the Church as a dying breed. The denial of Communion is one more reflection of a shallow doctrinaire mentality which seems to permeate the priesthood. I also feel the Church is entrenched in internalized homophobia – so many gay clergy who displace their self-hatred onto our families and their congregations via their twisted policies and unloving public statements like the bishop’s most recent declaration on homosexuality.

The Eucharistic ministers I went to each refused to give me Communion, but each said, “God be with you,” or something like that. I so wanted to tell them I didn’t believe they really meant it, but also realized this was not the time for dialogue, so responded with, “God be with you also.” I found myself in a state of hyper-awareness to the others in the congregation and to the ministers – just watching everyone’s behavior and demeanor. There was a man in front of us with several children. He was acting extremely offended by us. I saw him outside afterwards yelling at one of the other mothers in our group.

Refusing us Communion is a power play by the archbishop against GLBT Catholics. I have stated in multiple letters to the archbishop that wearing the Rainbow Sash is not a statement of disagreement with Church teaching on homosexuality. The Rainbow Sash says that the wearer is a GLBT person, or supporter of those who are GLBT. In refusing us Communion, the archbishop is imposing his own interpretation on what the Rainbow Sash means: that it is a statement of disagreement with Church teaching. In politics there is a saying that they who control the definitions, control the debate. The archbishop is trying to control the definition of the Rainbow Sash over and above what those who wear it say that it means. It’s a power play.


My response was both intellectual and emotional – I really can’t separate them. What I couldn’t help thinking and feeling was: “They successfully denied us Eucharist, but they couldn’t deny us God’s Spirit!” It was Pentecost, and the Spirit of God was so alive, so present, so strong in us. I felt overwhelmed with God’s love and confirmation of who we are! It was also striking before the celebration began when we were handing out explanations of what we were doing and why, that the sash wearers were at peace, full of the Spirit, really celebrating Pentecost and able to reach out in genuine kindness to those who were opposing us, but so many of those who wanted nothing to do with us, or who had words of condemnation or criticism for us, were so obviously afraid, not living in the freedom of the children of God. It struck me as ironic, and I actually felt sorry for them.


NOTE: For the third and final part of “‘Take, All of You and Eat’: Communion and the Rainbow Sash,” click here.


Images: Michael Bayly

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
“Take, All of You, and Eat”: Communion and the Rainbow Sash (Part I)
My Rainbow Sash Experience
“Receive What You Are, the Body of Christ” – Reflections on the Eucharist
Trusting God’s Generous Invitation
Celebrating Our Sanctifying Truth
Truth Telling: The Greatest of Sins in a Dysfunctional Church
Thoughts on Authority and Fidelity
Reflections on the Primacy of Conscience
The Question of an “Informed” Catholic Conscience
Voices of Parental Authority and Wisdom
Who Gets to be Called “Catholic” – And Why?
Comprehending the “Fullness of Truth”
The Many Forms of Courage
Take This Bread


Recommended Off-site Links:
The Rainbow Sash Alliance USA
What Happened at the Cathedral of St. Paul on Pentecost Sunday 2007 – A Statement by Brian McNeill, Rainbow Sash Alliance USA

7 comments:

Winnipeg Catholic said...

I am curious, what is actually done when communion is refused? Is the blessing performed as with small children?

I am not completely sure that I agree with wearing a rainbow sash adn asking for communion. First of all, many of the sash wearers are not even catholic, but are activists and former catholics who are not in communion at all with the RCC.

Secondly I would wear a pin or some taseteful and subdued sign of affirmation as a catholic but I don't knoe if I agree with wearing such a massive display of defiance as a sash, and then organizing with a bunch of non-catholics to got to mass together in a big display.

I'm more of a respectful, obedient change-slowly-from-within sort of person. I know activists hate that type of person as much as the people they actually disagree with, but that's how it is for me.

Winnipeg Catholic said...

Hi Michael,

Have you commented on the documentary Saint of 9/11, Mychael Judge?

I ask this in part because your view point continues to sound more and more like a critical outsider rather than a loving insider, a loyal dissenter as fr. Curran puts it.

You have this awesome, well-written review of Pan's labyrinthe from the perspective of criticizing the church in the tragedies of the spanish civil war, yet I do not see a review from you of the best the church has to offer and perhaps some of the best moments of Dignity prior to the vatican condemnation. In fact, having just viewed the film I feel my own stance towards dignity softening. Where are you on it?

Peggy said...

"I felt sorry for the lay people who were distributing the Eucharist, because they did not have a clue as to what they were doing."

How does she know they "did not have a clue as to what they were doing"? Millions of people believe that the Rainbow Sash crowd has no idea what it's doing!

If a contracepting woman wore her birth control pill case around her neck up to Communion - and told the whole world she was going to do it beforehand - do you think she'd be given Communion?

Kudos to the man who was yelling at those who hijacked the Mass (that's with a CAPITAL M!) for their political agenda. What about his rights and feelings?

I don't feel a bit sorry for this whiny woman. What did she expect?

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Winnipeg Catholic,

First: I have not seen the documentary Saint of 9/11, so cannot comment on it.

Second: “Critical outsider,” “loving insider” – what do these terms really mean?

At different times I’m any number of all four! – “critical,” “loving,” “outsider,” “insider.” The bottom line for me is this: the various Catholic communities I belong to consider, welcome, and accept me as a valued member. What more can anyone ask for?

As for my commentary on Pan’s Labyrinth, I don’t consider it a criticism of the Catholic Church, but rather of a certain mind-set that any institution – political, social, and/or religious can demand from its members – that being, unquestioning obedience. Without doubt, aspects of the Catholic Church has and, in many ways, continue to insist on this type of obedience.

Thankfully, there are Catholics calling for a deeper understanding of obedience. As I write, for instance, in my Pan’s Labyrinth commentary, theologian Diarmuid O’Murchu, in his book Poverty, Celibacy, and Obedience: A Radical Option for Life, notes that, “Obedience is not about submitting our will to a higher authority (why then did God give us a will in the first place?) but about exploring and proffering ever new ways to engage responsibly, collaboratively, and creatively with the issues of power and powerlessness that we encounter in daily life. . . . At the end of the day it is not laws but values that touch the depth of our human hearts.”

My commentary on Pan’s Labyrinth was written, in part, in response to conservative and reactionary critics of the film who charge that it unfairly attacks the Catholic Church. Yet as my research clearly demonstrates, director del Toro’s “rather mild ‘swipe’ at the Catholic Church isn’t ‘unfair’ in the least.”

As for writings of mine focusing on “the best that the Church has to offer,” I’d have to ask, How are you defining “Church”? If you’re meaning Church as institution, then, no, I haven’t many good things to say about it – and I think for good reason. But if you mean Church as people of God, then check out here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

I like to think that all of these posts lift up and celebrate, in one way or another, positive Catholic voices and life-giving aspects of our rich Catholic tradition. True, many of these voices come from the growing edge of this tradition, but that’s okay. After all, this is a blog of “progressive” Catholic thought.

Peace,

Michael

Winnipeg Catholic said...

Hi Michael,

By the power vested in me as your loyal reader I "demand" that you, as a catholic-gay-activist, immediately rent 'Saint of 9-11' and watch it.

Goes well with a Guinness or two, particularly with the whole Irish thing.

Thanks, B

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Winnipeg Catholic,

Shall do! Thanks for the recommendation.

I'm not sure about the Guinness thing, though. The last time I drank Guinness was during my college days in the 1980s. I kept a case under my bed and drank a bottle a night in an effort to put on weight! It didn't work.

Peace,

Michael

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Winnipeg Catholic,

Yes, a blessing is given by the Eucharistic minister when communion is denied to a someone wearing a Rainbow Sash. Those denied then return to their seats but remain standing with hands outstretched (as when one approaches the communion table) until the end of the Mass.

What are the sources for your claim that "many of the sash wearers are not even Catholic, but activist and former Catholics"? That's certainly not been my experience.

As for you being a "change-slowly-from-within sort of person," I think all who respond to God's call to question and transform oppressive structures need to do so as they see fit and according to their own prayerful discernment process.

Finally, I try not to "hate" anyone - not even those who support oppressive and dysfunctional structures of power.

Peace,

Michael