Thursday, August 04, 2005

This Is My Body: Part II

For those just joining us, my friend from college, Ryan, has left me with many questions in a discussion about the Eucharist. I'm devoting a full post to each question so as to answer them appropriately. In this installment, I cover this question from Ryan:
I wonder, are there Protestants out there who don't believe as Catholics do in the Eucharist, but yet long for the Eucharist or something like it?

Interesting question. Do Protestants long for a Eucharist-like sacrament?

I must admit, the idea is appealing if you think about it in general terms. It would represent the epitome of the mystical experience. You're not just interacting with God in some nebulous, undefinable way . . . you are experiencing God in a physical, tangible way.

That would be a mighty aid to faith. It would be the proof that every doubting Thomas seeks. It could be a mighty pillar of the faith, the same way that the apostles and the others who saw the resurrected Jesus had. "It's not just faith that Christ resurrected. I saw him die! And then I saw him live! I touched his resurrected body!" It would be the same in that way; "I don't just have this vague notion of 'faith' . . . I physically interact with God!"

Such a thing does seem desirable . . . at first.

But we really have to ask, would such a thing be a pillar or a crutch? Think Hebrews 11:1 . . . faith is our evidence for those things that we cannot verify tangibly. Would we be dependent on it for verification of our faith? Would we violate the teachings of Jesus, requiring "signs" and "miracles" in order to keep our faith? Would we worship not God, but the experience of the physical interaction with Him? Would we make it a test of exclusion or holiness to our brethren?

Too many questions. Such an idea seems attractive at first, but I almost would say that the desire for such a thing is a product of a weak faith.

The real question in my mind is, how do Catholics really know they are physically interacting with the Lord? But that is a question for another post.

1 comment:

Ryan Herr said...

Well, unfortunately this comment is going to be extremely long, and unfortunately it is going to be more of other peoples' words than my own, but its the best I could come up with.

In my opinion, in both Part I and Part II, your last questions really get at the heart of the matter.

In my opinion, Part II is more foundational than Part I, so I've decided to respond to Part II first.

Hal wrote: "The real question in my mind is, how do Catholics really know they are physically interacting with the Lord?"

I believe that the answer to this last question of yours may be the best answer for your other questions and objections in Part II.

I point you towards this excerpt from Peter Kreeft's book "Catholic Christianity." Then I will follow with some conciliatory remarks.

I do not believe that it will be ultimately persuasive for you to believe what the Catholic Church teaches about the Eucharist.

However, I hope that it will help you to see at least the general good intentions of Catholics and the nature of our faith in the Eucharist.

In addition, with some adjustments this may be helpful material for helping any Christian explain the relationship between faith and feelings. Correct me if I'm inventing this, but I seem to recall that you work at times with high schoolers with predominantly affective faiths ... the type of faith that can be a great start but must undergo some pruning and maturation.

Anyways, here it is:

God’s hiddenness in the Eucharist

In the Eucharist God is both truly present and hidden. Not only in the Eucharist but in all of life, God both reveals himself and at the same time conceals himself. Why?

To elicit our free response of faith and trust. Even human lovers do not give or demand proofs or guarantees. God gives just enough light for lovers, who can find him when they seek him, but not so much as to compel non-lovers and non-seekers to find him against their will. The lover respects the beloved’s freedom.

The greatness of the Eucharist is known only to faith, not to the feelings or the senses or the sciences. Its being (reality) is far greater than its seeming (appearances). “The presence of Christ’s true body and blood in this sacrament cannot be detected by sense, nor understanding, but by faith alone, which rests upon Divine authority” (St. Thomas Aquinas), not on human experience.

Many “once in a lifetime” experiences in this world feel more heavenly to us than what happens every Sunday, our reception of the Eucharist. Many experiences move us to tears of joy and remain in our memory throughout our lives: births, deaths, weddings, honeymoons, reunions, sunsets, even sports triumphs. In contrast, most of us usually feel very little when we receive the very body of God incarnate, even though this reality is infinitely greater than anything else in our lives.

This is normal, and God-ordained, for a reason. God does not give us heavenly feelings when we receive the Eucharist for the same reason he does not give us heavenly sights. We neither feel nor see Christ as he really is so that faith, not feelings or sight, can be exercised, trained, and emerge triumphant.

The Eucharist does not look like Christ; thus, it tests, not our sight, but our faith: Do we believe God’s word or our human senses?

Sight, taste, and touch in Thee are each deceived; / The ear alone most safely is believed: / I believe all the Son of God has spoken: / Than Truth’s own word there is no truer token.
- St. Thomas Aquinas

Just as the Eucharist does not look like Christ to our outer senses, it does not feel like Christ to our emotions. Here again it tests our faith. A faith that does not go beyond human feelings is not a faith at all, just as a faith that does not go beyond seeing – a faith that says “Seeing is believing” – is no faith at all.

Sometimes God sends us special graces that can be felt when we receive the Eucharist. But he usually does not – not because he is stingy and unloving, but because he knows exactly what each of us needs, and most of us need to exercise more faith, not to “hanker after sensible consolations,” as the saints put it. Feelings are like sweets. They are not our food. Christ himself is our food. Feelings are our jam; Christ is our bread. We must learn continually to turn our faith around and focus, not on ourselves and our own feelings, but on Christ, who is faith’s proper object.

[end quote.]

Now my conciliatory remarks:

#1) If the Eucharist is the literal real presence of Christ Jesus, this is not BECAUSE this belief requires great faith. (And, neither could anyone claim that the Eucharist is Not literally the real presence of Christ Jesus BECAUSE this belief requires great faith.)

There are many untruths which require great faith, such as believing that Elvis was abducted in a UFO.

(And there are many truths which require little to no faith to believe.)

Belief does not cause anything to be true or to exist, and unbelief does not cause anything to be false or to not exist.

(Hal I know that you passionately agree on this point and I am merely attempting to affirm what we have in common.)

#2) Re: "I believe all the Son of God has spoken" ...

I acknowledge that when it comes to what the Son of God has spoken, great disagreements exist among believers with great intentions and great intelligence.

Most orthodox Catholics believe that the Scriptural arguments for the Eucharist are at least stronger than the Scriptural arguments against the Eucharist.

For those who accept some relevancy of history, the argument from tradition is perhaps even more clear and forceful. (Again I admit a majority vote does not create, cause, or change truth.)

I know that we personally aren’t going to settle the disagreement here once and for all.

(Speaking of the Letter to the Hebrews and “once and for all” … this seems to be a divisive phrase, seen by Protestants as a strong argument against the Mass, and by Catholics as a strong argument for the Mass. Also, check out what St. Paul says to the Hebrews about Melchizedek. The Catholic Church sees this as an old testament typology prefiguring the priesthood and gives Melchizedek a “shout-out” in one of the Eucharistic prayers at Mass. Anyways …)

Despite my Catholic upbringing and the Catholic interpretations of the evidence for the Eucharist from Scripture and Tradition , I have struggled for most of my life between belief and unbelief in Jesus Christ's literal real presence in the Eucharist. Actually, that may be giving myself too much credit - for most of my life, I think that I tried to avoid thinking about the issue. (Questions which may be evaded, but not escaped: "What if isn't true?" "What if it is?")

And, my research and reflection is NOT the cause of my faith in the Eucharist.

Here's an illustration:

A popular praise and worship song has these lyrics:

Holiness, holiness is what I long for. / Holiness is what I need. / Holiness, holiness is what You want from me.

However, when I've lead this song, we sing:

Holiness, holiness is what I long for. / Holiness is what I need. / Holiness, holiness is what You want for me.

A switch flipped in my brain when I saw that holiness (and faithfulness, and ...) are not gifts TO God but gifts FROM God.

A switch flipped in my brain when I saw that understanding may (or may not) result as a consequence of faith, instead of the common view that understanding is a necessary prerequisite for faith.

Yes, I know that true love seeks knowledge of the beloved. And so, I believe that research and apologetics can bear much fruit ... IF used in conjunction with … Prayer!!!

Simply put, I've always liked talking about God, but I haven't always liked talking with God.

I began to truly believe that the Eucharist is the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ when I began to get on my knees and ask God for the gift of faith. Let me clarify that I do not believe because I asked for the gift of faith. I believe because I simply accepted the gift of faith that God already desired to give me.

Therefore I cannot take any credit for my belief, nor do I wish to compare my faith to the faith of any other. Please believe me that do not want to “make it a test of exclusion or holiness to our brethren”. Assuming that Catholic belief in the Eucharist is true, then in the circumstances of my life God has given me a relatively extremely easy road to see Him in His sacrament, for reasons I cannot pretend to comprehend.

So please do not take offense when I say that I believe Jesus Christ desires to give all people the gift of faith in the Eucharist. If we are to avoid indifference, this must be the Catholic position, just as the Protestant position must be that Jesus Christ desires to give Catholics the truth that Catholic Eucharistic belief and practice are idolatrous.

... I don’t know how to transition to this ...

I’d like to further address something you wrote: “I almost would say that the desire for such a thing (like the Eucharist) is a product of a weak faith.”

I’d like to point out that there is a difference between a desire for certitude and a desire for intimacy.

Both a desire for certitude and a desire for intimacy are good, because a desire for heaven is good, and we will have both certitude and intimacy in heaven.

St Paul writes: “Love never ends. But if there are prophecies, they will be set aside; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be set aside. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part, but when what is perfect comes, the partial will be set aside. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. But when I became an adult, I set aside childish ways. For now we see in a mirror indirectly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor 13:8-13 NET)

St. Paul tells us that we will have certitude, but not in this world.

Is intimacy the same? Or, is intimacy available to us now?

St. Paul writes: “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. Whether Jews or Greeks or slaves or free, we were all made to drink of the one Spirit. … Now you are Christ's body, and each of you is a member of it.” (1 Cor 12:13,27 NET)

What does it mean to be a member of Christ’s body right now?

Is the miraculous intimacy of the Incarnation available in the present as well as the past and future of the Christian people?

What does it mean when St. John says that “God is love” and St. Paul says that “Love never ends”? What does it mean when St. Paul writes that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday today and forever”?

(I do not pretend to have the answers. At best, I see ‘dimly as in a mirror.’)

I know I’ve gone on for quite awhile, but I’d like for you to read this foreword by Mark P. Shea from a book on Catholic Apologetics. (I think the foreword is better than the book.) :

Our age is starved for intimacy yet terrified of it. The majority of us live in quiet desperation, hungry for the touch of love and, above all for the touch of the love of God. Yet, such is our fear that the great majority of us also shy away from such contact. On the human level, that has been one contributor to the enormous frequency of failed relationships and shattered families, which in turn leads to a generation of children who grow up anesthetized to the possibility of real union with another.

But on the spiritual level as well, it has led to a safe and lonely view of God. A God who is the Force. A God who is not even a who (that’s too intimate), but is merely a what: a vast, pervasive Something flowing through the ether like solar wind, requiring nothing but that we feel good about ourselves and administer weak salves of “self-affirmation” to our sadness.

This spiritual barricade to intimacy we have built is our comfort and our curse. It leaves us feeling safe from betrayal (and command) by God but also horribly alone as we sit consuming, filling up the void with TV and chocolate chip cookies.

The good news of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist is that we need not starve but can be filled. It is the shocking announcement that God, the Lover of our souls, is more than a vague Force. He is as concrete and specific as a kiss on the lips – or the nails through his hands and feet. It is the astonishingly good news that Love has come to touch us – physically and not just as a disembodied spirit – in the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus of Nazareth, the Word made flesh.