19 April 2013

Catholic Cannibalism

NB. Deacon John is preaching this morning. Below is one of my Over the Top homilies from 2007. This is a style I often used back then b/c the audience was mostly college students. 

3rd Week of Easter (F): Acts 9.1-20 and John 6.52-59
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory and Church of the Incarnation

 SECRET DOOMSDAY CULT CANNIBALIZES EXECUTED MESSIAH, CLAIMS IMMORTALITY! The talking-head TV version of this newspaper headline opens with this talking-point: “Religious fanaticism in America today: are your children safe?” Then the talking-heads parade a line of Three-ring Circus Clowns who all demand that the Supreme Court ban religion as a public-safety hazard. The state-owned regulatory nannies and ninnies start squawking like geese frightened on a pond by a gator and before you know it Congress is holding hearings during which otherwise intelligent men and women are asking asinine questions like: “But Bishop, with all due respect, given the recent scandals of the Church, is there a way to tone down your body and blood rhetoric here?” 

Maybe we can forgive the routine ignorance of the media and its oftentimes sensationalistic and even hostile portrayal of religious folks, especially Christians in the U.S. Our faith is not easily understood even by those who have been initiated into it and strive with God’s grace to live it day-to-day! And surely we can forgive those in the Church who would have us curb the enthusiasm of Christ’s Eucharistic teaching in today’s gospel. I mean, are we really helping ecumenical efforts at the international and national level by insisting on all this blood and guts imagery? Wouldn’t it be better to focus rather on the more genteel and less violent imagery of bread and wine? These are great symbols of earth and home and harmony and human work. Besides bread and wine helps to keep us focused “down here” on the domestic community rather than “up there” on an inaccessible Big Scary Father-God. Aren’t we here really just to learn to live together and help each other and be at peace with the environment? 

No. No, we’re not. We’re here to be saved. We’re here to find the Way and walk it. We’re here to eat the body of Christ, to drink his blood and to share more and more intimately in the workings of the Blessed Trinity in human history. We are here…more literally…”to gnaw” on Christ. Not to nibble daintily or to consume politely but “to gnaw.” That’s the Greek. Gnaw. Now, let me see you gnaw symbolically. For that matter, let me see you gnaw a symbol. Let me see you gnaw on a memory, a memorial, a representation. Let me see you gnaw on an eschatological sign, a prophetic image, a metaphor for “making-present things past.” 

The quarreling Jews may have understood better then than we do sometimes now: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” This question actually belies substantial understanding! They understood Jesus to say “flesh.” Meat. Body. And blood. True food and true drink. Not mere symbols. Not just memorial signs. Not mere representational action in history. Not just an “absence of forgetting.” Real food, real drink for eternal life. And this is why they are shocked to hear Jesus teaching what can only be called cannibalism. I don’t think Jesus eases their fears any in the explanation of his baffling claim: “Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood remains in me and I in him…the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.” This is astonishingly clear and simple. And outrageously scandalous! 

From the beginning we have had immediate access to Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist. His real flesh and real blood. We will not eat the bread of our ancestors this morning. We will eat the bread of life from the banquet table of the Father. We will eat…we will gnaw!...as children, heirs, as a people loved, we will feast on immortality so that we may become him whom we eat. There is no other reason for us to be here this morning than this: our transubstantiation into Christ. Just ask Paul: we will not all die, but we will all be changed! 

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  1. Liked the "turbocharged" homily...couldn't remember any in that style. It made the point on the third paragraph positively clear.

  2. I was subjected to the same objection by a Protestant who had spoken like a Roman! Unfortunately, I was so offended that the only answer that I could muster was to deny, whereas a better answer would have been to admit it, like His disciples did and His deserters didn't. What else could I have said? What other short and long answers could I have given?


  3. Reminds me of what Flannery O'Connor said to a sophisticated Christian who held that the Eucharist was only a symbol: "If it's only a symbol, the hell with it."

    1. I love Flannery. Wish I had known her personally.

  4. Greetings Father — I am afraid this homily does confuse the matter of 'Catholic Cannibalism' and what is actually true and what is not. Having lived in the South while outside of the faith, I heard this a lot and a Catholic friend taking grad courses at a Southern Baptist affliated university shared information about her required reading that contains such charges.

    I am no scholar, nor one well verse in all Catholic teachings. I did do some searching for apologetic answers to these charges, because as you stated, it certainly appears this is what Christ is teaching, but 'cannibalism' is against the Jewish dietary laws, so what is really going on here? It seems the homily does not provide the critical nuance that could satisfy the reader (or perhaps a Southern Baptist), and leading Catholics and others to accept the 'cannibalism' charge.

    " ... Not mere representational action in history. Not just an “absence of forgetting.” Real food, real drink for eternal life. And this is why they are shocked to hear Jesus teaching what can only be called cannibalism. I don’t think Jesus eases their fears any in the explanation of his baffling claim ..."

    Below is a link to an article on the same subject which does provide the subtle but significant differences. I have seen this explanation several times in the past by other writers. Are they in error?

    source: http://www.thecatholicthing.org/columns/2011/the-eucharist-a-cannibalism.html"

    " ... But while Holy Communion does involve eating human flesh and blood, it is not true that it is cannibalistic. How so?

    The Eucharist is life. Cannibals eat what is dead. The Aztecs, the most notorious cannibalistic society in history, ate the beating hearts of victims, but they were still eating something doomed to die, and in the act of eating, it did die. By contrast, Christ, is alive. He rose on the third day, and is present in the Eucharist as fully alive (indeed, He is Life itself). Our reception of the Eucharist doesn’t destroy or change that in any way.

    The Eucharist is the whole body and blood of Jesus Christ. Cannibals only take a part of their victims. ....

    1. PML, thank you for your thoughtful comment and question. . .

      The article referenced above is correct. The difference btw that article and my homily is that I only about 4 mins. to make my point! :-)

      Since I'm preaching to a congregation of daily Mass-goers, it's really not necessary for me to spell out the difference btw cannibalism and communion.

      That the Jews were horrified by Jesus' claims is evidence that they understood he wasn't speaking metaphorically or symbolically (as the Protestants insist). He was speaking sacramentally. Something the Jews should have understood but didn't.