03 December 2009

Desecrating the Host: another try

OK. . .let's try this again:

A young man comes into my office and tells me that last Sunday he stole a host at Mass and intends to flush it down the toilet.  He will make video of the event and put it on Youtube.

I ask him why he wants to do this.  He reels off all the usual anti-Catholic junk about oppression of women, same-sex marriage, blahblahblah, and proudly proclaims himself to be an atheist.

Rather than trying to persuade him that he is mistaken about God and the Church, I simply ask him if he understands that Catholics will see his stunt as an act of desecration. He says yes, that's why he is doing it.  I ask him what he hopes to gain with the stunt.  He wants to draw attention to the Church's medieval oppression blahblahblah.  By flushing the host he claims he will symbolically flush the Church along with it.

I listen patiently and ask, "Do you believe that the host is the Body of Christ?"  He says, "Of course not.  That's not rational thinking."  I explain the Church's understanding of the Eucharist and why it is important to us that the host be revered and not desecrated.  He just giggles and shakes his head.

He leaves my office and proceeds to carry out his promise to flush the host and post the video on Youtube.

Now, what is the best public response that Catholics can make to this act?

Keep in mind:

He is seeking attention for his anti-Catholic whinings.
He doesn't believe that God exists.
He doesn't care that Catholics believe that the host is the Body of Christ.
He doesn't care that Catholics will be insulted/offended; in fact, he hopes we are.
This is not an argument about whether or not the host is still the Sacrament given his intentions.

My contention in the post below is that the sacramental status of the host is irrelevant to how we will respond publicly b/c Jesus can take care of himself.  God doesn't need us to defend Him.* My suggestion that the bishops' conference issue a statement about the host no longer being the Sacrament b/c of the guy's evil intent clouded the issue.  I should have known that the comments would focus on the issue of "when is the host Jesus and when isn't it."  That was my dumb mistake.

The desecrator doesn't believe the host is Jesus, and he is going to flush it precisely because we believe it is. He is counting on us to rise up in indignation to defend the Sacrament by loudly denouncing him. We can't stop the desecration b/c it has already occurred.  All we can do is choose how we will react publicly.

Here's my point:  if we do what he expects us to do (emails, petitions, demands for the video to be removed, etc.), he wins.  He gets what he wants.  More views on his Youtube account.  Angry, sputtering Catholics sending links over the internet.  Primo PR for his kiddie tantrum.  And how many (rightly) indignant and well-meaning Catholics are going to confirm the worst prejudices of anti-Catholic freaks by saying or writing something theologically dubious about the Eucharist?  I've been told by more than one non-believing friend that Catholics have assured him that a host put under chemical analysis will yield human DNA!  In fact, I was told once by a student that the Precious Blood can be blood-typed, but we dare not do it b/c it would test God.

Best approach:  shrug it off; ignore the whole thing; pray fervently for the descerator;  ask your pastor to celebrate a Mass of reparation, and let God defend Himself against atheist-wackos. 

*Defending our statements about how we as human beings understand God is a different thing entirely.


  1. Ok, so this doesn't involve publicly denying the teaching of the Church (which the Bozo could look up on Wikipedia anyway). So he knows that what he does is deeply offensive to Catholics.

    So we are duly offended, and the suggestion is that we do nothing to protest. The idea is that he'll get bored if there's no reaction.

    Frankly I doubt it. I don't think the Nazis got bored of persecuting the Jews when the Jews were no longer able to fight back. No, they carried right on. The bully doesn't need the victim to fight back, he just needs the victim to feel the pain.

    It is a fact that these guys don't pull these stunts against religious groups which are better organised and more touchy. Why not? Because they fight back.

  2. Concurrence from me.

    I wonder, though, what aggregators will do with the title of your post.

  3. Tom, if I understand your question, nothing. This is a separate post. The earlier one is still up.

  4. Joseph, I agree. The question is: are we taught by Christ to fight back? What do they gospels say?

  5. Joseph, I should add that I think your Nazi analogy is a bit overblown. No one is dragging Catholics out of Churches and shooting them in the head. At least not yet. I firmly believe such a thing is possible...even in the US.

    I'm not sure how depriving Bozo of his fun leads to mass executions of Catholics.

  6. On that last bit you've lost me. My point was that bullies don't get bored just because their victims are helpless. Historically undeniable I think.

    Does the Gosepel teach us to fight back? We shouldn't cast pearls before swine: Matthew 7:6. So we should take all possible precautions to protect holy things.

    And since fighting back - I mean protests and petitions and boycotting Youtube etc. - work, as demonstrated by their successful use by other religious groups, I see no justification for Catholics to fail to use these means to avoid the pearls entrusted to them being trodden upon by swine.

    Recall what happens when the swine are finished with the pearls: they turn on the people.

    I think there is a fundamental confusion in your argument. Saying Christ does not need to be protected by us is like saying Christ does not need to be worshiped or praised. What happens to Christ on earth - if he is trodden underfoot or worshiped in a worthy manner - is of great significance. It is something we should care about a great deal and take trouble over.

  7. Short of you jumping up from your desk and beating him to a pulp, Bozo will continue in his course of action no matter what the response from Catholics. His mind is made up. Period.

    You're correct in focusing on the response of other non-Catholics. The undecided ones amongst them who are still able to be swayed in their judgment of the Church can still be reached by acting in a calm, pacifistic manner.

    But wouldn't beating the snot out of Bozo just feel SOOOO good??!!

  8. Subvet, beating him senseless would be my first reaction. Then, I would remember that I am a Christian and a priest. And then, I would remember that I am a Dominican--a Dog of God...then I'd bite this pointy head and refuse to let go. HA!

  9. Anonymous2:35 PM

    The problem with the ignore it/shrug it off approach is that basically every Catholic on the planet with any means of communication has to agree to it. That. Will. Never. Happen. There is always going to be cache in desecrating the sacred. Personally, I don't ignore these things but use them as an opportunity to witness to the Truth.

  10. Joseph, if Catholics were a persecuted minority and the desecrations were signs of increasing persecution, it might be sensible to protest in the hope of gaining attention to our plight. Or, it just might make our persecutors angrier. I was thinking of the Sermon on the Mount.

    Christ does not need our praise. In fact, one of my fav Mass prefaces says exactly that: "Lord, you have no need of our praise..." The rest of the preface makes it clear that our need to praise God is His gift to us for our growth in holiness.

    We certainly need to safeguard the Eucharist from theft and desecration. But that's for our benefit and the benefit of the potential thieves. Not only doesn't God need our protection, we are not able to protect Him. How would finite creatures go about protecting an infinite Creator?

  11. How about this approach? Ignore the perpetrator and boycott the market that allows such on their webpages, newspapers, sitcoms, etc.

    For instance Catholic parents could block the Youtube website for their computers. Or Catholics could boycott advertisers when Catholic-bashing occurs on a television show. (I'm thinking about the recent news concerning the show "Curb Your Enthusiasm")

    Let those who facilitate this kind of garbage feel some pain.

  12. I knew when I read the last post there would be a hot combox . . . just wanted to say thank you for posting, Father. I think the Catholic blogosphere is blessed on many fronts.
    PS I spent a lot of time, personally, thinking about the "He doesn't need us to defend Him" point. If you have time and interest I would love to hear more in that line. Or perhaps some resources?

  13. Anonymous5:20 PM

    To a point I appeciate your passive reaction, Father, but then I remember that although many of today's priests might say it is not necessary, for centuries, Catholics have given their very lives to protect the Sacred Species, [possibly beginning with St. Tarcisius]. The Church is built on the blood of martyrs. That makes me feel that a stronger response is needed.

  14. The desecration videos are indeed a sign of increasing persecution - isn't that obvious? But I'm not sure it makes any difference.

    What will stop Bozo, at least in relation to the big audience he has at the moment, is YouTube applying its own rules in an impartial manner and blocking the videos. They will do that when enough Catholics make it clear that the present policy is totally unacceptable.

    Fr Powell's policy would encourage YouTube to think their policy is fine. This passive response is exactly what the lazy majority of Catholics are doing anyway.

  15. Joseph, you aren't a regular reader of this blog, are you? I'm anything but a lazy Catholic! I can imagine the need to be more aggressive in some circumstances, but the occasional nutcase seeking attention from Catholics isn't one of them.

    BTW, you haven't responded to my citation of the Sermon on the Mount...

  16. Laura8:12 AM

    I think there is a point of confusion in this discussion.

    The "don't give them the satisfaction of a reaction" method is used with two kinds of people: toddlers throwing tantrums and bullies persecuting perceived weaklings.

    In the case of the latter, this is frequently the wrong response. The appropriate one is to humiliate the bully in front of those who admire him so that you take away any satisfaction he receives from his actions (namely, the 'respect' of his toadies). This is why Nazis and others cannot be ignored.

    In the case of the former, ignoring the tantrum is in fact the best response. The Bozo is a toddler, crying out for attention. The desecration has already occurred, so the only possible thing that can be done is the thing he is asking for: outrage and foaming at the mouth. Don't give in to such toddlers. They need our prayers and our love, and we ought to make what reparation we can for the desecration they have committed.

    I don't see such actions as the sign of increasing persecution. I see it as the individual actions of lone nuts who are angry at God for not existing. The true signs of persecution come in the form of sites willing to allow such videos to air while carefully screening for such screeds against other faiths. But then, that may simply be a sign of cowardice in the face of faiths far more willing to be bullies than we ever shall (or ought) to be.

    Should Christians protect the Sacred Species and defend it from desecration? Yes. But what can we do after it has been done? In this case, we are not dealing with jackbooted thugs looting the chapel; we're dealing with a toddler advertising ex post facto his 'daring act against the blah blah blah evil Church blah blah blah'.

    My only point of interest in all this is the question of defending Christ. Some of the better spiritual works I have read have noted that we ought to be "touchy" in regard to the honor of Christ and of Mary. That being said, Fr. Philip is offering what I think is good psychology. In the face of a man who is not rational, and for whom such touchiness would not awaken him to the gravity of his sins, but would rather grant him the response he is seeking, it seems the better course to not grant him the attention he desires.

  17. I'm not accusing you of laziness father! But the majority of Catholics certainly are - don't you agree?

  18. Might I suggest an alternate and slightly less, forgive me, American solution? Might we then all make a particularly public act of reparation? Perhaps the entire affected Diocese could host a Forty Hours Devotion and/or a very public Eucharistic Procession. Appealing in any way to the market will just encourage Bozo. Showing him that he has only emboldened our faith is the precise thing he does not want to happen.

    Just imagine ... Bozo desecrates the Eucharist. Several thousand people march behind their Bishop and their God, praying and making acts of reparation. Bozo, my friend, you just lost.

  19. Anonymous10:59 AM

    In the face of a man who is not rational, and for whom such touchiness would not awaken him to the gravity of his sins, but would rather grant him the response he is seeking, it seems the better course to not grant him the attention he desires.

    I'll reiterate that some Catholic somewhere is going to give him the attention he desires. Ignoring it may be good personal advice to keep one from pulling one's hair out, but a universal Catholic-attention blackout is unrealistic and therefore won't stop the desecrations. Catholics are gonna protest, no two ways about it. Take it as a sign of solidarity and an opportunity to witness to the truth rather than a PR-counterstrategy spoiler.

  20. Anonymous12:41 PM

    Just imagine ... Bozo desecrates the Eucharist. Several thousand people march behind their Bishop and their God, praying and making acts of reparation. Bozo, my friend, you just lost.

    Now this I like.

  21. Hate the sin, but love the sinner. Beware that his sin does not lead YOU into sin.
    Love your enemies, forgive those who trespass against you.
    Remember that God loves that "bozo" just as much as he loves you or me and wants him to be saved. If we display the sort of behaviour Jesus talks about in Matthew 5 then we might succeed in making "bozo" think there might be something in this Christianity thing after all.
    Try and love him into the Kingdom.
    You may feel sorrow at the desecration you think he is committing, but be faithful witnesses and bless him and pray for him. Leave the rest to God.

  22. Laura1:49 PM

    @romishgraffiti: In which case, frival's suggestion of a public act of reparation is the far better course of action than protest. We (meaning Americans) are far too accustomed to believing that angry letters and screedy op-eds are the way to change things. To continue my toddler analogy, going at loggerheads with a toddler is pointless. What (as an experienced mom of toddlers) I know does work with such tantrums is calm, redirection, and acts of love and charity that refute the tantrum not in words but actions.

    I suppose we can't help it that there are going to be our version of lone nuts giving this guy what he wants. I'm generally of the opinion that an attention boycott is about as effective and possible as a commercial boycott. (I have never known a boycott to work except in the most local of circumstances.)

    So perhaps the answer here is that the best reaction to the guy would be to deny him the attention and outrage he seeks, while doing private acts of reparation. Given that we cannot unite the whole of Catholic internetdom however, a public act, not of protest but of prayer, that redirects the attention away from the Bozo and towards the Eucharist, is the best possible way to respond.

  23. The statement "we are unable to protect God" has got me thinking. I'm reminded of Matthew's gospel when Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt to protect Jesus from Herod. Sure, Christ is God, but He still needed His parents to protect him from persecution, because He was physically unable to protect Himself. I think, likewise, we ought to do what we can to protect Him in the substantial presence of the Eucharist - either by words to proclaim the truth of the reality of the Eucharist, or by our actions to prevent desecration.

    I'm not saying we violently prevent the desecration in Bozo's case - if there's a reasonable solution here, I'm struggling to see it.

  24. Anonymous8:44 AM

    If I saw someone in the act of desecrating the Eucharist I would intervene, regardless of consequences.

  25. Anonymous11:25 AM

    We (meaning Americans) are far too accustomed to believing that angry letters and screedy op-eds are the way to change things

    This is a fair point. As I have mentioned here before, things like the Delphi Technique and Alinsky's rules for radicals are designed specifically to get opponents to react poorly which works against them. So I'm with you 100% in avoiding "angry" and "screedy". However, I will assume you are not against well-written letters, op-eds, or even peacefull demonstrations or boycotts and I'll use the analogy of forum trolls. On Catholic forums, there is always one guy posting for no other purpose than to foment chaos. I am all for banning them, but I will also answer any substantial points that can be salvaged from his spewing calmly and rationally. For one, it demonstrates that he can't get my goat, but also can't muzzle me either. This might get him thinking, but it is really not about him, rather I am answering for the sake of any friendly or neutral lurkers. That is, if we show that we can engage unjust attacks without reacting badly and defend Church teaching, I think that is a powerful witness.

    Scott W.

  26. Anonymous11:48 PM

    Perhaps one solution would be a video response of the culprit receiving a vigorous swirly accompanied by the reverent intonation of "Asperges Me."

  27. Anonymous1:52 AM

    The level of insult hurled about on this blog doesn't bode well for Catholics generally. Subvet's response sounds as if he's a metal toddler. And the schoolyard undertone is disheartening.

    Those of us who receive the Body of Christ should be wiser, smarter, faster, stronger.

    Yes, I'm kidding about the latter but only barely.

    Let's set the example that is so shining no one would think of doing such a thing.

    You know where this hate comes from? [In my own life this was the case — although I never would dream of desecrating a host!] A lot of Catholics who are mean spirited and hypocritical. I've seen it. It scandalized me for a long time and I stayed away from mass. Who did it harm? Me.

    But I watched "Good Catholics" act in the most hideous, selfish ways that I, too, became lost.

    Just my own story and just the facts. Be holy and become so irresistible that people see such LIGHT IN YOU that they wonder where they can find some of their own. Bullying won't work.

    And this place tends to be the ultimate, self-congratulatory bully pulpit. God sees us all.

    He strips you clean every day, every second. Are you really ready for that? I'm still working on it.

  28. "And this place tends to be the ultimate, self-congratulatory bully pulpit."

    And yet...here you are AGAIN!

    Just can't stay away can you?

  29. Anonymous3:16 PM

    Caustic as always. I'm glad the Sacraments are increasing grace in YOU.

    Actually, this is my last visit. Today at mass the theme was "with a new mind there is new life."

    That's what I'm after. I'll never find THAT here.

    I'm astonished at pastors are so much less wise than their flocks. Unless they troll for young newbies who know no better.

    Pax Christi THE END

  30. maryclare10:49 AM

    Really children please!!
    Re the last comment from anon at 10:16. Whilst you are busy castigating Fr. P for being caustic (true) perhaps you could look at your parsimonious holier than though attitude. Pride goeth before a fall...
    I will pray for all of you - the unfortunate who thought that he got one up on God, Anon and Fr. P.
    maryclare :-)

  31. Maryclare, my reason (though no excuse!) for being caustic is that I know who Anon is...in internet terms, he is what is called a "troll." That is, someone who swoops into a discussion, drops a few bombs, and then flies out before anyone can hold him responsible.

    Of course, we should be charitable to trolls. I blame my smart-aleck parents...

  32. Anonymous1:16 PM

    Fr. Powell,

    I visit your site sometimes. I do NOT drop bombs, unless you consider this to be one. But I totally understand the frustration of Anon, aka "The Troll".

    The Golden Rule tends to get lost in all the diatribes. I've seen it also and found it frustrating. We are sometimes forced into "cyber fellowship" — by that, I mean we are looking for Catholic companionship. And, please forgive my candor, you can disappoint. Often. Tell me where else to go. And, no, not THERE! [joke]

    I understand the need for people to "move on" and continue looking because they've been disappointed. I, too, am disappointed by a number of Pastors, Homilies and Hierarchy. And your attitude. It doesn't mean that I quit praying or trying.

    I am NOT trying to Holier Than Thou. And I am not a troll. If you take anything to heart, perhaps you should realize that you come off as "dropping bombs" and then sitting back and waiting for adulation.

    This is not Christ-like. How about the Golden Rule? We try to cure one another, heed one another and help one another. And, yes, I'm being critical. But you are ten times so. And insulting to boot. Just to be insulting. NOT to help.

    In short: I identify with Anon. I DO understand how looking for solace can lead one to despair, even scandal.

    Any attempt at temperance seems out of place. And if you had smart aleck parents shouldn't you be over it by now?

    You'll come back and say, "IT WAS A JOKE AND YOU HAVE NO SENSE OF HUMOR!"

    I know how it goes. I haven't commented before but I have gotten the "routine" down.

    It's all very childish. I think this needs to be said.

    If you wear the robes and create a public forum, you should act the part.

    Even people in business have to do as much.

    God help us all.

    Joseph Merritt

  33. Joseph, thanks for the comment.

    Like anyone else I get tired of the trolls and their attempts to chastise me and others. It's really just a way for them to confirm their rejection of the Church. "Oh, Fr. Philip was mean to me so I am justified in not going to Mass." Yes, I've actually been told that before.

    I make no pretense on this blog of being a saint. In fact, I think it's pretty clear that I am not...not even close. 100% of my homilies are written with my own sins clearly in mind. "The preacher preaches to himself first."

    Part of what causes people to get upset with me, I think, is that they expect me to be sweet, harmless, passive, a sort of chubby HallMark priest with no opinion, no thoughts of his own. When I disappoint those expectations by being human, they get upset. I'm happy to be many things--good, bad, ugly--for many folks, but I will not be a projection screen for anyone.

    Another thing that contributes to these occasional dust-up's is the nature of the internet itself. Too many times people read into what I have written some sort of nefarious tone or implied insult when no such thing was ever intended. My sense of humor is weird, I know, but charity works all around...assume the best and go from there. I try to do that, failing sometimes, but there seems to be a few folks here who are just sitting at the keyboard waiting to jump!

    Now, this doesn't excuse those times when I do get fed up and spout off. I freely admit that I sometimes bark when I should just shut up. I'm a lot better than I used to be, but there is more work to be done.

    You will notice that when people offer genuine criticisms of my ideas, I respond with gratitude and take the time to consider what they have said. However, if someone is just going to drop in and call me rude or childish or unpriestly w/o any rationale, then I don't feel obligated to take the time to write something substantial in response. Your comment is a perfect example of the kind of comment I like! I don't mind criticism at all...in fact, I welcome it...IF it is more than name-calling and finger wagging.

    Anyway, thanks again!

  34. Joseph, I meant to comment on the "waiting for adulation" part of your post. I never wait for adulation. Honestly, I don't care about being praised. Never have. I know my gifts and I know my faults. When and if someone benefits from something I've done, then I am happy for them.

    When I was a deacon, I had a long talk with my spiritual director about how to handle praise for one of my homilies. Saying "thank you" seemed to presume that I had done something on my own. Saying "it was the Holy Spirit's work" was too presumptuous to even think about. We never reached a conclusion and to this day, I don't know what to say when people say kind things to me after Mass. I find it all very embarrassing and stumble through saying something inane.

  35. Fr Philip - your final paragraph reminded me of a passage from one of my favorite books, The Sinner's Guide by Ven Louis of Granada. In Chapter 30, Remedies Against Pride, he wrote:

    "Therefore, when men praise you, think whether you really possess the qualities for which they commend you, If you do not, you have no reason to be proud. But if you have justly merited their praise, remember the gifts of God, and say with the Apostle, "By the grace of God I am what I am (1 Cor. 15:10). Humble yourself, then, when you hear the song of praise, and refer all to the glory of God."

    I really need to read that book again.

    BTW - I totally get your sense of humor. It reminds me of when I was at home and living with my four older brothers. I think we would get along pretty well.

    Have a blessed day!