Albert’s Eucharist

He could not have commanded anything more beneficial.
Nor could he have commanded anything more lovable, for this sacrament produces love and union.
Nor could he have commanded anything which is more like eternal life.

Outside the cathedral, on the day that the allegations of another bishop’s bad criminal behavior broke, I spotted the 40 of Olde English “800” by the construction cone. This is what this church is made of, I suppose. Excessive alcohol translated daily into blood.

What a thing, said the seminarian, that God left us to one another. Yeah, I grumble, gesturing to the large modernist stone crucifix, and look at what the results are. I don’t think this God was naive about what would happen if he left men in charge.

Why, I wondered, did these men presume the bishop’s innocence much more easily than I? I think, because, to them, the abuse seems like an anomaly. Whereas, for me, I am more used to men vaunting their power to hurt others, with spectacularly sparse consciousness of doing so: the friend who hit me (playfully!!! Jeeeeeeez) and the date who tells me he’s not looking for a relationship but someone with whom to enact a fantasy. Not all men, of course, operate on such a profoundly selfish level. And women, too, are selfish, in fact, I am often selfish! This seems the perennial curse of the human. So then, why do I lump all these habits of uncaring, self-serving use into one pattern? Why does being hurt myself prompt me to presume that the bishop has hurt others? It’s certainly an emotional presumption. But it is irrational?

Even if the bishop is innocent, I am angry because his brief statement reflects the sentiments that I have become all-too familiar with in all too many interactions with men: a blindness to the person who is hurt, an unwillingness to see the person across from them as someone they are responsible for and to whom their actions are answerable. There seems a stubborn refusal to accept the radical dependence of our actions. Our lives live on in others, says Joseph Ratzinger, as guilt or grace. We are one body, and one member is integrated in the life of the other, whether or not we like it. There’s no escaping hurting or helping other people.

Is this what this church is made of: hurting people and hurting people?

My friend once made fun of internet essays that end with a facile turn towards the Eucharist. But turning to the sacramental meal seems to me not facile but necessary. And, as I felt my blood heat to irate degrees and a fever of rage flush over my face, there was only one place I could turn.

The cold day has warmed slightly as the incubating night clouds roll over the city. I open up the door of the church on west one hundred and twenty-first street. Inside, the eucharistic host hangs in the monstrance. I look at it while recalling Albert’s commentary on Luke.

What a terrible farce, to be united in this broken bread with so many broken people. But at the end of the day, what else is there? Take, eat, share with whoever comes to the table. This sacrament produces love and union, Albert claims. For it is characteristic of the greatest love to give itself as food. Love offers itself not in anger or in rage, but in a humble overture.

Eating is a violent action: breaking apart, breaking down, deconstruction, tearing. It is a brave love that submits itself to violence, accepting that sin, created by weak hearts and fear, takes its toll on every love. It is a brave love that can desire in the face of derision, that can accept and embrace in spite of its own rejection.

The Eucharist does not waste time on anger, on obsessive self-analyzation or on pointing fingers. The Eucharist reminds us that there is something better than our own selfishness, something deeper than our own fear or hate available for us. There is God, present in our neighbor and the bread that binds us to them, in whom we live in with varying degrees of guilt and grace. Whether others curse us or bless us, forgive us, and turn our guilt into love—this is part of our own destiny.

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