I recently wrote a letter to my long time friend, and now Monk and Priest in a Monastery in Cullman, Alabama. At his invitation, I took the time to fly there for his ordination. Instead of being a celebration of a joyous occasion it turned into a weekend of misery and sadness due to his reaction after the mass to the fact that I – a non-Catholic – went up and took communion during his service. This is my letter to him, sent today, some two weeks after the event.
Dear Paul. I was happy to be able to attend your ordination but you know that it took a significant effort of both time and money to do so. And although I was aware that I was going to be a bit of a third wheel while there (being on my own) I had no expectation that I would be as devastated by the weekend as I was. The reason for my devastation was your comment, made to me directly after your ordination as I came up to congratulate you. It wasn’t a big comment as comments go, but it hurt me profoundly. What you said was: “You know you really shouldn’t have taken communion.” The feeling I had was that of being kicked HARD in the stomach. Yes, I covered it up. No, I did not tell you in that moment how much what you said hurt but … oh boy did it hurt.
Do you remember saying this? Do you know that I cried for hours as a result of your comment, including crying in the pew during the Sunday service when it came time for communion? What should I do? Go up again, giving you and your community the figurative finger? Go up and be “blessed” by you who had just hurt me so profoundly? Or stay in my pew and shut up? I chose the latter in the interests of leaving this fight for another time.
Do you know that what you said epitomizes everything that I find hateful and evil – yes EVIL – about the Catholic Church (and other churches)? For what is communion if not a chance to break bread together. To celebrate the sacrifice Jesus made for us? What is it if not a chance to bring people together? If your intention was that only Catholics take communion (which is not my experience in the churches I attend here – both Catholic and Anglican) then that intention should have been made explicit so that I would know the rules ahead of time and not get hit over the head with them after the fact.
If you are really interested in taking on the leadership of your community once your current Abbot retires it might be a good idea to work on developing a more Christian attitude towards those of us who are not Catholics. For we all share the same planet. We all bleed if scratched. Many of us are doing our best to make our way in the world and leave it a better place than we found it. I would have expected that attitude to be even more explicit at a community dedicated to serving God, but instead, I encountered exactly the opposite.
If taking communion in the church during your ordination service was enough of a sin that you felt it was important to say to me AT THAT MOMENT then it is not a church and yours is not a friendship I want anything more to do with. I hope you bring this email to your Abbot and discuss it with him. Maybe some good can come out of a very unhappy and harmful experience.
*Cartoon by Daryl Cagle: http://www.cagle.com/