Sunday, September 21, 2014

More Intimate Than Sex

St. Therese in ecstasy by Bernini

I went to church this afternoon to pray for a few minutes before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. When I uncovered the small wooden box that serves as a tabernacle, I noticed that the small round Host inside was broken and had crumbled away inside the little round window.

Now, Catholics believe that the Blessed Sacrament is the whole, entire Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus, so seeing Him all broken and neglected in there made me extremely sad. I wanted to open the tabernacle and fix it somehow but it was locked, as it always is. I wondered who would have left Him like that.

Seeing Jesus so pathetic and vulnerable really made me think about what an act of humility He puts himself through in order to be available to us. Jesus, the immortal, all-powerful God of the universe, reduces himself to a flat, bland piece of bread that gets carelessly chewed up in our mouths and stomachs, dropped on the ground, and even urinated on and trampled underfoot during the recent satanic black mass in Oklahoma. 

One of the many ways the Eucharist is desecrated. This man made waffles out of ground-up consecrated hosts.

This should make our hearts cry out with rage and pity. We should do everything in our power to show our God respect and make sure He is respected by others. Most importantly, we must prepare ourselves to receive Him when we go to Mass. This means not only quieting our minds and paying attention during the Mass itself, but making sure our souls are not in a state of mortal sin.

The concept of mortal sin is largely ignored today and likened to a leftover from the superstitious Medieval Church. Nothing could be further from the truth, and mortal sin is just as prevalent in our lives and culture today as it ever was. The Catechism defines mortal sin as something that “destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God's law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him” (1855). This is very different from venial sin, where love and grace are weakened in the soul but not completely abolished. For a sin to be mortal, it needs to meet all of three conditions: 1) The action committed needs to be considered by the Church as a “grave matter” (murder, adultery, masturbation, and abortion to name a very few), 2) The person committing the act must have full knowledge that the act is gravely sinful, 3) The person must completely consent to committing the act even though they know it to be wrong. The last one is tricky as our consent can sometimes be imperfect or impaired (such as masturbating while we are half-asleep) or by having our will compromised by alcohol or force of habit.

It is quite obvious why murder, adultery, and abortion, among other things, are mortal sins, but it may not be so with other sins like masturbation or viewing pornography. But when you truly think about each of these actions, it becomes clear that they all point to a very dark path of addiction, self-hatred, and final despair. They make us slaves to our lusts and deprive us of the ability to receive God’s grace. Therefore, the Church makes it very clear that we must avoid at all costs the things that can poison our souls and eventually drag us into the hell of despair and refusing of God's mercy. 

Thanks a bunch, Adam and Eve...
 If we are in a state of mortal sin, it is am act of sacrilege to receive the Eucharist. This might seem counterintuitive to some, as a soul that has severely fallen from grace needs a Savior more than ever. This is true, but by committing a mortal sin in the first place, we have deeply offended God and need to be cleansed in Confession before taking him into our bodies and souls through Holy Communion. It is a sign of respect to make sure our souls are clean and bright and ready to receive Him. Would you invite God into a filthy house? Also, the deprivation of Holy Communion can be a good motivation to not commit the same sin again in the future. I have spent many Masses weeping miserably in the pew while the rest of the parish trots merrily through the communion line, and thinking about that misery and embarrassment at a later point of temptation prevented me from falling again. Eventually, through God’s grace, I have come to the point where I can say, in the face of ravishing temptation, “No, Jesus—I love You more, and I value receiving You in Holy Communion more than I love this sin.” What power we have if we can say that! It took many years for me but it was worth the wait.

Of course, the most important thing to remember is that no sin, especially not a mortal one, is unforgiveable. You also don’t have to worry about plunging yourself into hell if you don’t have time to get to confession for a week—as long as you are truly sorry, and make up your mind to go to confession as soon as possible, you are ok (but still don’t receive Communion). Jesus will be waiting to welcome you with open arms. He is imprisoned in the Tabernacle in a little piece of bread for only one reason: to make Himself and His mercy available to you. 

The Eucharist is why I am a Catholic. There is no other church or religion in the world that has such an intimate connection with Jesus, that is able to receive His Body, Blood, Soul, Divinity, and everything beautiful and pure about Him into their own bodies. It is humbling and shocking and confusing. It is an act more intimate than sexual intercourse. Yet the highest point of my week is seeing the priest raise the bread and chalice full of wine and say “This is My Body…this is My Blood…” and then consume all of that beauty and purity and holiness into my own broken, fallen body. I feel sorry for non-Catholics; they miss out on having an intimate connection with their Savior by consuming His very Body and Blood because they all dismiss it as a symbol.  There is no unifying force that connects them all the way the Eucharist connects all Catholics--that is why there are so many factions and denominations of Protestantism and every other religion, because they all interpret the Bible differently and claim to encounter Christ differently.

My roommate recently converted to Catholicism and entered the Church last Easter. When I asked her why, she simply replied “The Eucharist.” I couldn’t agree more.

Now that I think about it, Jesus was broken in that little tabernacle in my church for a reason. His Heart is broken with love for us. His body is broken to redeem our bodies. He was completely broken on the cross and continues to be broken even today, at every moment, in all the tabernacles and churches of the world even to the end of time. His mercy and love have no limits. Let us come to Him and let Him heal us.


p.s. The picture of "St. Therese in Ecstasy" has been described by some as a depiction of a woman literally ravished by an orgasm. This might sound disrespectful and almost sacrilegious, but it is apparent that Bernini wanted us to see this great saint completely taken up in the pleasure and peace of encountering the love of God. In a sense, God literally gives us "orgasms of love" if we are open to it, and receiving the Eucharist with a pure and loving heart is one of those ways.


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