Sunday, December 27, 2009
Christmas, Communion, "Seinfeld" and "The Office"
So this past Christmas the family get togethers were particularly trying. You know what I mean.
On Christmas Eve, the one branch of the family studiously avoided talking to me about anything at all that I do. This is the nominally Catholic branch, the pro-abortion Catholic branch, the pro-perversion Catholic branch. They are very successful, and some of them quite famous, for their secular achievements. They are affluent and comfortable, but touchy and irritable at the same time. You might call them the Kennedy branch.
They spent Christmas Eve bragging about their decadence in many ways, and my tolerance was taxed after the third glass of wine, so we up and left. Usually I don’t mind the “Kennedies” on Christmas, as some of them are likable people, and they let one or two members of their branch lead the way on their liberal stridency, while the rest just tag along. But when we started hearing detailed descriptions of the self-indulgent artistic endeavors of the latest Kennedy concubine, my Christmas cheer sounded a retreat. I was so angry that I refrained from receiving communion at Midnight Mass, as I did not feel properly disposed.
Christmas night was spent with yet another extended family branch, one of whose dinner guests was a practicing Lutheran, and at dinner a quasi-theological discussion erupted. My son Colin mouthed to me, “Don’t say a word”, but when someone asked about the Catholic position on the eligibility for reception of communion, I was obligated to speak. I tried to point out that reception indicates unity with the Catholic Church, both intellectually and morally – both in belief and in practice; thus, holding a heterodox position, which is dissent-in-belief, disqualifies one from reception of the Body and Blood, as does mortal sin, which is dissent-in-practice. The young cousin to the right of me told me frankly that he didn’t know that; and in fact he didn’t know anything about his Catholic faith, despite twelve years of Catholic schooling. I should say BECAUSE OF twelve years of Catholic schooling.
Our Lutheran friend, one of our separated brethren, who was separated in the sense of sitting across the table from me, became very indignant. “I’ll receive communion when and where I want!” she insisted. “I’ll receive in a Catholic church or in a Lutheran! Receiving communion is between God and me!” I could have asked if everything is between God and her, or if there are some lines that God has drawn that apply to everyone and not just to each individual. I could have asked if religion is entirely a subjective thing, or if it refers to any objective supernatural fact. I could have asked what she would say if her husband committed adultery – would that simply be between God and him or would other people – say, perhaps, herself – be somehow involved? But I had only had one glass of wine (by then) and not three, so I held my peace and thereby preserved a possible invitation for next year’s Christmas dinner.
But I began to wonder. Why do the “Kennedies” avoid talking to me about Theater of the Word? Why do certain Protestants become indignant about the line the Catholic Church draws on eligibility for reception?
In the first case, I clearly make the Kennedies uncomfortable. But why? If they’re so adamant about their personalized version of the Faith, why am I a bother, a contradiction to them? Last year the Kennedy matriarch told us that she was furious that our archbishop had announced that a vote for a pro-abortion politician was an action that required sacramental repentance before receiving the Body and Blood. “I was going to march up to receive communion with my Obama button on!” she said. But she did not.
She did not!
Why not, one wonders. According to her rules, it would not have been an infraction. Was it the possibility of being denied communion (a very unlikely scenario) that caused her to refrain? Or something else?
And why do certain Protestants become indignant about our communion? If laxity is the rule when it comes to reception, why not just receive and ignore the rules? Why get mad when the rules are read to you? If the Eucharist has a meaning, then it has a definition and limitations that need to be recognized, limitations that exist as a fact. But if it has no meaning, or if its meaning is subjective (which is the same as having no meaning), then there are in fact no limits, so why get worked up about imaginary ones?
You see, I can understand the liberal position, wrong though it is; it’s the inconsistency that interests me. If they’re right, they have no reason to get upset or angry at the signs of contradiction that the Church and her members present them with. If they’re right, then we’re simply wrong, and so why not just smile and go about their business? Why the fear of bringing up my apostolate? Why the anger over commuion? If religion is entirely subjective, why get angry at the sentiments of another subjectivist?
For that matter, why do atheists get so churned up about God? Why did I, when I was an atheist? Why crusade for No-God, as the character in Flannery O’Connor’s “Wise Blood” does?
The answers to all these questions can be found in California, Oregon, and Washington state. There they’ve passed on to the next level. There subjectivism is such that no one cares about anything beyond himself. No one cares. That’s the liberal solution, and that’s the consistent one.
In the 1990s, the television show that best summed up the decade was “Seinfeld”, a show in which the selfish small-minded motives of the characters appeared ridiculous and funny; but the characters, selfish as they were, were in some sense still friends and still cared about each other, albeit imperfectly. Throughout there was an implied reference point of sanity and virtue that they all fell short of, and that was the source of the humor.
In this decade, the TV show that best reflects our culture is “The Office”, a show in which people’s relationships are defined entirely by a business agreement, a show in which the boss is desperately seeking approval or friendship and is shown to be a buffoon thereby, a show in which the small-minded selfishness - indeed the isolationism - of the characters is seen as normative and the attendant despair of heart and subjectivism of morality seen as a matter of course. There is no longer a healthy reference point with which to contrast the behavior of the characters. They’re all subjectivists.
The message of “The Office” is our intercourse as people is an intercourse of commerce or an intercourse of fornication, and either way it’s just an anodyne for the loneliness of having nothing beyond ourselves or even between ourselves to strive for.
Which is to say, the world of “The Office” is a world in which there is no communion.
But here in the Mid-West we’ve not quite come that far. Here we still argue about what communion means. And that is a good sign. In fact, it’s a sign of hope.
May your Christmas season abound, as our family dinners did, with signs of hope – in whatever annoying form such signs take.