"I sought among them for a man that might set up a hedge, and stand in the gap before me in favor of the land." Ezekiel 22:30

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Power and Peril of #HashtagDiplomacy

We live in a brave new media world in the year 2014.

The way we conduct all sorts of business has changed dramatically just within the past few years. The recent unrest in Ferguson has shown the power twitter has to connect people – journalists, citizens, law enforcement, protesters and more. Twitter especially has changed politics in local, national, and even international affairs. Long gone are the days of a simple presidential “fireside chat” with the American people. Instead, we are seeing how political leaders can make statements with a few keystrokes and recent social media trends have demonstrated the impact that a mere hashtag can have even on an international level.

Two recent examples are #UnitedforUkraine and #BringBackOurGirls. If you’re on social media or you've paid attention to the news at all lately, you've probably noticed the attention these trends have brought to their respective issues.

On October 17, BBC News reported  that the Nigerian government agreed to a cease fire with the terrorist organization Boko Haram. Part of the deal will reportedly return the more than 200 girls who were kidnapped around six months ago. However, on November 1 international news outlets reported that Boko Haram's leader denied such an agreement every took place, even saying the girls had converted to Islam and had been married off.

It is true that the attention generated by those hashtag campaigns can be a very positive thing. For example, did you know that there are over 2,000 kidnappings a year in Nigeria? That is powerful information to know. However, knowing how to use that information to accomplish something is even more powerful. The peril is that we do nothing with that new knowledge. We ought to step back and ask some basic but practical questions, such as “What is actually being done?” and “Have these campaigns succeeded in real, tangible ways?

While the answer to the first question is a bit more complex, for all intents-and-purposes, the answer to the latter question is “no”, for the simple fact that fighting is still on-going in Ukraine, and the kidnapped Nigerian girls have not been returned just yet, although that could change very soon. In fact, the leader of Boko Haram mocked the hashtag campaign in a propaganda video released in July.

As you’re reading this you might be wondering how this translates into your daily life, so here’s the point: don’t let social media be a substitute for real, tangible, substantive activity. Instead of posting an interesting article on facebook (like this blog post) and forgetting about it, have a conversation with your friends and share what you learned. Instead of complaining or worrying about a societal issue, take action to address it. Volunteer with your local church, food bank, or non-profit. If you can’t volunteer, find legitimate ways to donate to an organization that is working to address the issue.

#HashtagDiplomacy is just the first step towards raising awareness, and that can be very powerful. But there is peril in not acting on that knowledge. So be real! Take action!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Communion with Christ or Others?

A couple weeks ago, I posted an article on facebook from One Peter Five with the headline "Will the USCCB Ever Revisit Communion in the Hand." The article was written after the USCCB announced that the bishops would meet in Baltimore for the fall general meeting with five liturgical items on the agenda. The five items up for discussion would generally change things that most Catholics would rarely, if ever, be witness to or experience. Not that that makes them unimportant; all elements of the Church's liturgical life are important. It's just to say that these changes probably wouldn't affect the average Catholic's weekly Sunday Mass experience at all or that little.

Having said that, I posted the article because I think the question to ask is "why not?" If you're like me, you notice many things at the average Catholic parish's Mass that fall somewhere on a spectrum between "frustrating, but well-intentioned" to "mind-numbingly irreverent and liturgically incorrect." Poor altar servers, the congregation holding hands during the Our Father, an army of "extraordinary" ministers of Holy Communion, a priest who "improvises" during the Eucharistic Prayer, and bad music are just a few items that could use some critique and review.

Of course, that leaves out the main reason for this post: reception of communion in the hand.

It is true that the USCCB has granted an indult (an "exception") for reception of communion in the hand, but that doesn't mean it should be preferable. In fact, the universal law of the Church makes it clear that reception on the tongue is the preferred method for receiving communion.

Expecting to get a little push-back on the post, I received a private message from friend of mine in which he asked the following question:
"In your opinion, (but feel free to use sources [I'm a history major, I love sources]) what is wrong with receiving communion in hand?"
My friend also explained that he was never aware that there this was a "hot-button" issue. I told him I would respond, and well, it's been a couple weeks, but I'm finally responding.

Since my friend asked specifically for my opinion, I will outline them. But there are others, much more educated than me, who have explained the beautiful reasoning behind communion on the tongue. One such example can be found here. Another example written by a co-worker of mine, though not specifically about communion in the hand but on communion in general, can be found here.

So, in my opinion, there are three main considerations in this matter:
  1. Receiving on the tongue is a sign of submission. Think about it: as a child when you are perfectly helpless and can't feed yourself, you rely on your parents to spoon-feed you that apple/spinach/carrot mush or whatever they decide to blend together on a given day (parents, you know what I'm talking about). We must be the same way in our spiritual life. In Matthew we read Christ's words: "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Mt. 18:3) This can apply to any number of things in our lives, but there is hardly a more visible action whereby we can exhibit complete trust in God than by submitting even the reception of our spiritual food to the priest who is an alter Christus. Typically, when communion is received on the tongue it is also received kneeling. Kneeling is another sign of submission, and even goes back to ancient times when soldiers considered the knee a sign of a man's strength. Take out a your opponent's knee and you've reduced his strength and ability to fight. It all makes perfect logical sense. Pope Benedict XVI explains the theology of kneeling in Spirit of the Liturgy.
  2. Vessels that hold the Eucharist are anointed with holy chrism. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia:

    Chrism is used in the administration of the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders, in the consecration of churches, chalices, patens, altars, and altar-stones, and in the solemn blessing of bells and baptismal water. The head of the newly-baptized is anointed with chrism, the forehead of the person confirmed, the head and hands of a bishop at his consecration, and the hands of a priest at his ordination. So are the walls of churches, which are solemnly consecrated, anointed with the same holy oil, and the parts of the sacred vessels used in the Mass which come in contact with the Sacred Species, as the paten and chalice.

    This is part of the reason why confirmation used to be administered along with baptism, or at least before First Communion, because our bodies need to be anointed with chrism in preparation for reception of the Eucharist, just as the ancient temples and our churches today. In the literal sense, we become temples of the Holy Spirit, prepared to receive the body of Christ. Yet, though my body has been anointed, my hands have not been directly anointed. That is reserved for the priests at their ordination. Knowing that the chalice which holds the precious blood is consecrated, the paten and the ciborium which hold the body of Christ, and specifically the priest's hands, how can I, a mere layperson, presume to receive Christ's body in my unconsecrated hands, even momentarily? In moments of emergency, or to save a consecrated host from being desecrated I would not hesitate to touch it, but in the regular reception of communion, I would never even consider the possibility.
  3. Less chance for abuse or sacrilege. Communion in the hand opens up any number of possible abuses, from theft of the Holy Eucharist itself, to unintentional abuses of the Body of Christ. Because the Catholic Church teaches that any part of the consecrated host, even the smallest particle, is completely and entirely the Body of Christ, then care should be taken to ensure that no part is allowed to fall on the floor, or be left unconsumed. Notice the next time you go to Mass how the priest takes care (at least he should take care) to clean the paten(s), ciborium/ciboria, and chalice after communion. Bishop Juan Rodolfo, former bishop of San Luis, Argentina said "With Communion in the hand, a miracle would be required during each distribution of Communion to avoid some Particles from falling to the ground or remaining in the hand of the faithful." Think about it. Why risk it?
I would consider these my main three reasons for receiving communion on the tongue. I know it doesn't address every possible problem, scenario, or explanation. I'm sure that you or my friend who posed the question to me may have other questions or objections to some of my reasoning. Feel free to start a discussion with me about it.

I will also add that none of what I have said should be taken as a condemnation of any of my Catholic brethren who do receive communion in the hand. Again, the USCCB has granted them that opportunity as an exception to the rule. I think there are many, many Catholics who do receive communion on the hand reverently, but probably do so out of ignorance or naivity. My personal belief is that 75-90% of Catholics would stop immediately if they had the proper upbringing and catechesis.

Ultimately, we must remember that communion is a gift, and not a right. Reception of Our Lord in communion is not merely an act of "communion" or unity with our fellow church-goers, but instead it is primarily about a union with Christ. If we could truly comprehend the mystery of that communion, none of us could ever approach with enough reverence or understanding to receive it worthily.

With that in mind, the question then becomes this: 

If that tiny little piece of bread really is the body of Christ, the King of the Universe, the Son of God, the Lord of All Creation, the Redeemer of Mankind, why not make a conscious and visible effort to show as much reverence as possible?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Red, White, Blue, and Black: The Colors of Ferguson

The tragedy and recent social unrest in Ferguson has, among other things, re-ignited a discussion about racial tensions in our society. Serious questions have been raised – rightly so – about racism in general, abuses of authority, exclusionary practices by local municipal governments, and minority participation in politics. While the situation itself is still developing and volatile, within a couple days of the initial rioting political pundits began analyzing the short and long-term political effects of the situation in Ferguson. And a lot of the analysis comes down to colors.

Colors are important in politics. Red typically denotes the Republicans and blue is used for Democrats. With mid-term elections this November and a major presidential election in two short years, there is good reason to think that Ferguson will have widespread political implications. Whether that benefits the Republicans or Democrats is yet to be seen.

One of the most tangible early effects would be seen in additional voting registrations in and around Ferguson. Many observers were anticipating a surge in voter registrations, especially from the black population in the county, and at first it appeared that was the case when it was reported that St. Louis County had thousands of new registrations. But then the St. Louis County Election Board acknowledged they had made an error in reporting the numbers. Pundits will tell you that black people vote Democrat and white people are split or slightly Republican. So at first glance, you might think the Democrats would benefit. But not so fast.

The more dramatic effect of Ferguson may be seen once the votes are tallied on November 4th. In looking back, it is interesting to note that less than a week before the shooting of Michael Brown, incumbent county executive Charlie Dooley – who is black – lost in the Democratic primary election to county Councilman Steve Stenger – who is white – setting up a battle between Stenger and Republican state representative Rick Stream. In recent weeks, it is becoming apparent that a shift may be taking place among the black population, which is a traditionally reliable Democraticvoting bloc. Just a few weeks ago, a coalition of black Democratic leaders lined up to endorse Stream
for the county executive position. The sentiment being expressed by many in the black community is not that they’re leaving the Democratic Party per se, but that they’re ready for change. In St. Louis County in 2014, the Republicans may be poised to benefit. Will that translate on a national level? Will blue become red, or red become blue? It’s hard to say.

Colors are important in politics. The question to ask is this: should those colors even matter? Should we define ourselves by the color of our skin or the color of a party? Yes, it will be interesting to see how this all plays out. The danger here is in politicizing race. White, black, brown, or polka dotted, it shouldn’t matter. No one should be automatically lumped into a group based on the color of their skin. Nor should we lose sight of the fact that a young man lost his life and, guilty or not, a police officer’s life will never be the same. Colors are important. Colors help us identify with each other. But colors can also divide us. They create artificial divides that are sometimes irreparable. Let’s work to build a world where colors are merely superficial.