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Saturday, October 4, 2008

Sacrilege and sanctity in the YouTube generation

SDG has a great article regarding the videos on Youtube that depict the desecration of consecrated hosts.

To sign the petition asking Youtube to pull the videos, please please go HERE

Here are some excerpts from the article with my own emphasis in bold:


What this means is that we should recognize that we are vulnerable. In the Eucharist, that which is most precious to us is sacramentally available for our reception is also available for others' abuse. We may not like it, but we can't stop it.

In a way, it is Christ himself who has ordained it thus. After surrendering his flesh to the abuse of the passion and crucifixion, Christ was vindicated in his flesh by the resurrection and ascension. At that point, had he wished, he could have made the graces of his passion available on earth through the sacraments without again placing his actual flesh and blood at our disposal. The divine plan was otherwise. He wants to be physically available to us, even at the risk of being subject to further abuse in his flesh by his enemies and ours.

It is important to bear in mind what this does not mean. No injury or suffering is imposed on Christ in desecration of the Eucharist. Unlike Christ's mortal body in the passion, Christ in the Eucharist is not physically vulnerable to harm. Although desecration is a grave offense against the good of religion, the only actual harm sustained is to the soul of the descrater, both in connection with the offense to Christ and the deliberate desire to cause pain and grief to pious Catholics — as well as that pain and grief itself.

At times, the great reverence with which Catholics regard the Eucharist has led Catholics to express the horror of desecration in ways that may be misleading or unhelpful to non-Catholics. Some have compared Webster Cook's removal of the host from the church to an act of kidnapping, or compared desecration to the murder or rape of a loved one. While such analogies are not without merit, they do run the risk of obstructing communication and understanding rather than facilitating it.

Kidnapping, murder and rape all cause immense trauma to the victim, and it is this trauma that causes the victim's loved ones to suffer. Because Jesus in the Eucharist cannot be traumatized or suffer in any way, the grief Catholics suffer from desecration of the Eucharist is not really comparable to that suffered by the loved ones of a victim of violent crime.

The disparity can be seen in other ways. For instance, I would unhesitatingly fight and die or even kill to prevent one of my children from being kidnapped or killed. But I wouldn't physically harm someone in order to prevent him from desecrating the Eucharist. I might courteously approach someone observed in the act of taking the Eucharist away without consuming it (in fact, I did this once), but after the Cook debacle I would be leery of any sort of physical contact.

Even if I believed that violent defense of the Eucharist were morally legitimate, it would still be unhelpful and counterproductive. Although the Webster Cook incident was probably blown out of proportion in several ways on several fronts, it seems likely that things could have been handled better in ways that would have made the situation better rather than worse.


Here are a few thoughts, not only regarding attacks on the Eucharist, but also attacks of other sorts on the Faith and the faithful — including in the comboxes of this very blog.

To begin with, there's nothing like being attacked to remind you that you're in a war. It's not a war against flesh and blood; our enemies are demons, not human beings, but the attacks do come through the actions of human beings. To be attacked in war is not a shocking departure from the norm; it's the expected thing. That doesn't mean it isn't dreadful — they say war is hell — but let's not lose perspective and think that something alarming is happening.

With respect to eucharistic desecration particularly, some practical steps might be in order. Our pastors and shepherds may not all be aware that this kind of thing goes on at all. You might email a few YouTube links to your pastor, or even your bishop, just to let them know, or perhaps write a letter to your diocesan paper. It would be nice to think that heightened consciousness might make a difference somewhere or other.

At the same time, let's recognize that public anger and outrage can be counter-productive. Public outcry can sometimes pressure market-sensitive organizations, or individuals capable of salutary shame, to eliminate unacceptable behavior or to adopt better behavior. It worked with eBay, and it may or may not work with YouTube — but it certainly won't work with the desecraters, or with those who in other ways attack the Faith and those who hold it.

On the contrary, it will only encourage them. In their minds, such reactions — the more passionate the better — both validate their opinion of us and justify the contempt in which they hold us, thereby granting them even more license to punish us further. Our cries of outrage are music to their ears. It is both their motivation and their goal.

Break the vicious circle. Don't give them what they want. Let's respond with sorrow, but not with outrage, and certainly not with anger, abuse, bitterness or contempt. Don't return evil for evil. Don't try, or even want, to hurt back those who hurt us.

Let there be nothing petty, vindictive, spiteful or self-righteous in our attitude — nothing to justify their contempt. Let's show them what is lacking in their disrespect for us by showing them what respect looks like.

I'm not saying to be friendly with people who are trying to kick you in the teeth. I am saying don't try to kick them back. I'm not saying not to call a spade a spade. We can call someone's behavior despicable (or disingenuous or whatever it is). We don't have to spit in their eye as we say it.

Try to respectfully recall people to right behavior rather than simply punishing them for bad behavior. Or, if they're incorrigible, call it like it is, without rancor, and move on. Don't engage in name-calling. Label behavior, not persons, and don't escalate for rhetorical effect. If someone's behavior is rude, say that it's rude — don't call it psychotic or demonic or something.

This isn't just a matter of "taking the high road"; it overlaps with that, but it needs to be more than that. It needs to be a matter of the spirit of Christ, who is perceived in the eucharistic elements only by faith and who relies on us to make him visible to the world.

Zeal for defending the Faith is not enough. There is a right way and a wrong way of defending the Faith; we need to do it the right way. By all means politely complain to YouTube, especially if you're a member, explaining that you feel the videos are inconsistent with their policy against shocking or offensive material. Don't leave scorched-earth comments on the offending videos. If you YouTube yourself, one really good pro-Catholic video is worth a thousand objections to bad ones.

Conspicuous piety isn't helpful either. Let's not make a big show of telling people that we're praying for them or that we forgive them, or go on in a highly devotional way about the mysteries of the passion and the sacraments — I mean, in public discourse engaging attacks on the Faith; of course highly devotional language about the mysteries of the passion and the sacraments is a good thing in itself.

Patience, humility and self-control can go a long way. Charity, of course, is the big thing — the one thing necessary.

Chesterton famously said that the only unanswerable argument against Christianity was Christians. Peter Kreeft has often pointed out that the reverse is also true: the only unanswerable argument for Christianity is Christians. It was an argument that conquered the Roman empire. It can conquer hearts and minds today.

The grace we need is available. Of those millions of Masses celebrated in the US every year, and hundreds of millions of hosts received, only a very few are maliciously desecrated. Even if many more are unworthily received, that's still a lot of grace flowing from heaven.

Pray the rosary. Spend time with the Blessed Sacrament. Read the Bible, the Catechism, the saints. Love God, love your neighbor. Keep your eyes on Christ, not on the wind and the waves. Let the peace of Christ reign in your heart. Yes, we're in a war, but it's already won.

In related news, THIS IS A GOOD ARTICLE.

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