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Desecration of the Eucharist: a story not worth telling

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Oct 03, 2008

As a journalist, ordinarily I don't like to ignore the facts. Sometimes the news is disconcerting, even depressing. But I generally believe in airing the facts, however sad they may be, and trusting in Providence that the truth will prevail, and the truth is on our side.

There are exceptions, however. Sometimes I conclude that someone is manufacturing a story, simply in order to call attention to himself or his pet cause. In those cases I might make the editorial judgment that readers don't really need to hear this "news," and I might let the story drop. I am especially likely to make that judgment when the individual uses unethical means to gain publicity.

Some weeks ago, for example, a faculty member at the University of Minnesota drew nationwide publicity by boasting that he would desecrate the Eucharist. While some Catholic media outlets shouted out their denunciations, I chose to downplay the story. I didn't want to give this wretched little man any more publicity. I feared that the feverish debate might encourage some other misguided individual to consider the same sort of blasphemous promise-- as indeed the Minnesota professor, Paul Myers, had apparently been inspired by the story of an earlier desecration in Florida.

Eventually Myers carried out his threat. "I pierced it [the sacred Host] with a rusty nail," he reported in an internet bulletin. It was sad and horrifying act. But again I chose to downplay the news, refusing to give this perverse academic exhibitionist the publicity he so obviously craved.

Even in retrospect, I am not sure whether I made the right editorial decision. This week we have heard stories about another instance of highly publicized desecration: an internet site whose creator does demonic pleasure (is there any other way to describe it?) in presenting films of blasphemous acts.

You will not find those films, nor links to them, on this site. It is enough to know that the desecration is taking place. That knowledge, by itself, should encourage Catholics to make acts of reparation.

Why is it happening? I believe there are three reasons.

First, it is happening because it is tolerated. The University of Minnesota has announced that Professor Myers will not be disciplined for his egregious offense. University precepts requiring respect for the beliefs of others do not apply to Catholics. Rules against "hate crime" evidently do not apply to hatred of Christ. Anyone who dishonors the Qu'ran knows that he is risking his life; someone who dishonors the Lord Jesus feels safe.

Second, it is happening because someone-- I mean, Someone-- wants it to happen. Pathetic individuals, scrabbling for their 15 minutes of public notice, find blasphemy a foolproof technique. A generation or two ago, even the most hardened anti-Catholic bigot would have shied away from such a frontal assault on the Holy of Holies. But we live at a time when hatred for the Church is intense, and the Enemy is not afraid to show his face. Father Tom Euteneuer of Human Life International made the point succinctly:

Unfortunately, in the internet age, it is likely that this kind of crime against Our Lord will generate even more profanity. Never in the history of the world has there been such a deep-seated and widespread campaign of blasphemy against Jesus, and there is only one word for it-- satanic.

Finally, it is happening because Christ and his Cross, Christ and his Eucharist, remaining stumbling blocks for non-believers. Paul Myers claimed that he wanted to desecrate the Eucharist in order to show that a consecrated Host is only, in his contemptuous words, "a cracker." But if he really thought that this was only a cracker, he would not be so obsessed with the need to dishonor it. Myers claimed that he only wanted to poke fun at Catholic beliefs, but one does not tease friends by insulting their most cherished beliefs. This was deadly serious, and Myers knew it.

Father Donald Keefe, a Jesuit theologian (whose works on the reality of the Eucharist have been an immense help to me), challenged Myers in a letter that is worth quoting at some length:

Your conduct with respect to the Eucharist is execrable, but that you would spend so much time and energy on that desecration, and yet more upon publicizing your iniquity, is indisputable evidence that you take the Eucharist very, very seriously. So you should: it is the central reality of the universe; more; it represents our only ground for joy. There has been a long line of people like yourself unable to bear its existence and intent upon its abolition, but that is a cause lost from the beginning. You should think on this perdurance more deeply than you have: hatred is shallow stuff.

Exactly. Professor Myers is not the first person to thrust a nail into the Body of Christ. It has been done before, by Roman soldiers, who thought they were eliminating a problem. Crucifixion, they confidently believed, would be the final humiliation for Jesus and the definitive proof of their imperial power. Two millennia later the Roman empire lies in ruins-- with basilicas built on the remains of pagan temples-- and the liturgical calendar includes a feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.

Each one of us offends God every day, and our sins add to the suffering of the crucified Christ. Deliberate desecration of the Eucharist is a particularly grave sin (as well as a grave offense against public decency), but I still cannot accept the notion that these vile efforts deserve journalistic attention. Sins by themselves are not "news" in the ordinary everyday sense.

If we called attention to every sin, to be fair we would also have to call attention as well to every sacrament-- every bid to balance the spiritual ledger. Then we might become more aware that while desecration of the Eucharist is a terrible thing, the celebration of the Eucharist-- every day, in every parish church-- is incalculably more important.

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