Last time, we began talking about the problem of how a Catholic should respond to deliberate acts of desecration of the Eucharist. We discovered that Scripture shows a curiously double-sided response from Christ and his Church which I sum up as “forgive and fight”. This pattern is laid out for us by our Lord himself, who forgave his very murderers and who used the cross to win the most shattering victory in the history of the universe, defeating all the powers of Hell by means of it.
Depending on the sort of person you are, either fighting or forgiving may be offensive to you. I’m the sort of person who finds fighting much easier than forgiving here. When we’re talking about deliberate desecration of the Eucharist, choice words spring to mind and I’m unhappy to report that I have used some of them with reference to the sort of person who would do such a thing.
But the Host himself is clear here: Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. We do not have the option, as Catholics, of hating those who blaspheme God.
Some Catholics try to wriggle out of this with the “zeal for the Lord” ploy. This is the trick whereby we say, “Oh, I’m not cursing and swearing at this jerk on my behalf! I’m just defending the honor of God.” Sorry, but that dog won’t hunt. If you identify with insults given to our Lord enough to be angry, you must also identify with him enough to act as he does and forgive. You are obliged to desire for God’s enemies what he himself desires: their redemption. He died for them as well.
On the other hand, some people are much more offended by the notion that we are to fight. For such people, any notion of resisting evil whatever is equated with vengefulness. So, for instance, some people were actually critical of the Catholic League for lodging a complaint about the people who threatened to desecrate the Eucharist. They felt it was a failure to turn the other cheek as Jesus commanded.
But this is not so. Jesus was not a doormat or a dart board. He famously resisted evil, even to the point of turning over the tables of the moneychangers when his Father’s honor was at stake. He vented his anger at the hypocrisy and malice of the Pharisees in Matthew 23. And, though he literally turned the other cheek when he was struck on the mouth at his trial, that did not keep him from protesting the injustice.
His disciple Paul did likewise. Obeying the Lord’s command to be “wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove” (Matthew 10:16), Paul dealt with persecution brilliantly and used even it to advance the gospel with complete integrity. We should do the same. Since this is the Year of Paul: let’s use this space to take an extended look at Paul the Forgiving Warrior and see what we can glean from his life for our own situation.
We don’t have to pull our chins and wonder whether desecration of the Eucharist is evil. It is. People who do it are doing evil (though their levels of culpability may vary widely). Our job, however, is not to curse or hate them, but to resist them “in the power of the Spirit.”
Paul took the cosmic perspective when it came to the struggle with evil. Although fully aware of the human capacity for evil (it was, after all, humans who committed all that abuse against him we read about in Acts), he reminded the Ephesians that “We are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness” (Ephesians 6:12). The most despicable person you can meet is still one for whom Christ died. We may have to fight—we may even have to kill—some evil people. But we cannot despise them. We cannot desire their destruction and damnation. We must continue to try whatever we can, however small, to seek their salvation.
That means prayer. Because our task is to remember that the devil is the real foe. And the real battle is going on in the spiritual realm far more profoundly than in the visible world. That is one of the reasons the sacraments—especially Confirmation and the Eucharist—are so vital. For devils are, in the order of nature, vastly more powerful than you or me. Without the “armor of God” that comes from the sacraments, from the practice of virtue, and from prayer we may as well face a fan of machine gun fire with a pea shooter.
But of course, once we pray, we act. Next week, we’ll talk about some practical courses of action, courtesy of St. Paul.