Ask any ICU nurse—sometimes feeding a dying person does more harm than good. The body is beyond the point at which it can actually assimilate the nourishment one would otherwise offer to remedy a patient’s weakened condition.
And yet, as the clock ticks on the final days of the Ordinary Synod on the Family, so many Catholics seem to think that giving spiritual food—the Blessed Sacrament–to the spiritually dying (and in at least some cases the spiritually dead) is somehow going to spiritually revive them.
For two-thousand years the Church has known better. And it has done better than to offer such a glamorous but fatal proposal as though it were a real solution. In a sincere but provocative and deeply misleading post, Elizabeth Scalia goes a dangerous step too far when asking: “Maybe grace isn’t ours to boss around, or to dole out in human measure.”
Scalia actually makes the right point in that statement, but she comes to the exactly wrong conclusion by claiming that “unrepentant sinners” are, in fact, merely among the “weak” rather than among the “dying,” and therefore should be given the Pope-Francis-described “medicine for the weak”—the Eucharist.
She makes the additional mistake of framing the issue as though it is about whether we really can “defile” Jesus and whether being “unwashed” should keep us from eating and drinking, relying on Jesus’ explanation of the miraculous feeding of the multitude in Mark 8.
But “defile” is not the same as “profane” (was the Sacred Divine Son “profaned” when scourged, for example? Of course.). And “unwashed” is not synonymous with “sick unto death.” Scalia does no one any favors by mixing images of Baptism and Eucharist in this way.
Here’s the problem—Jesus Himself knew the difference between “weak” and “dying.” He also knew the difference between the “weak” and the dead.
Question: Did Jesus ever miraculously feed the dead back to life?
Whether it was Jairus’ dead daughter, the widow’s dead son, or his beloved dead friend Lazarus in the tomb, Jesus did not waste time trying to give food to the corpses He encountered. Rather, He powerfully raised the dead to new life. Once Lazarus was alive again, for example, he broke bread with Jesus again in John 12.
This is the proper sequence when one is dealing with the spiritually dying and spiritually dead. Let Christ’s grace raise them to new life and then feed them with food for the ongoing journey ahead—His Precious Body and Blood. Misdiagnosing the dying as merely “weak” will merely add to their pain and suffering.
Why? Because “grace isn’t ours to boss around, or to dole out in human measure.” We do not get to decide whether the Eucharist will be an efficacious source of spiritual nourishment for someone—that’s God’s job, and He already decided that. The Holy Spirit has made clear (1 Cor 11:27-32), through the words of the Apostle Paul, that we are to “examine” ourselves and avoid “eating and drinking judgment” on ourselves.
Objective mortal sin is sin unto spiritual death. This could not be more clear. St. Paul himself says that not taking this reality seriously is “why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying.”
Scalia’s reply to St. Paul is: “I know an atheist, though, who kept receiving Holy Communion because she felt drawn to it; now she is a nun. This suggests that Grace isn’t ours to boss around, or to limit.”
I could not imagine a more saddening reply to the great apostle, one that utterly misses the mark. An atheist who unworthily receives Communion is not an example that contradicts the Church’s perennial teaching that Sacramental grace does not come to one who receives Sacraments (apart from Baptism) outside of the “state of grace.” Rather, an atheist’s conversion is an example of God’s response to that soul via actual grace, which God gives to all—so that we may choose to act in accord with His Will for us. Saying “yes” to actual grace is what permits us to have the door opened to the life of sanctifying grace that begins with the first Sacrament, Baptism.
Scalia and others, despite their sincerity, deeply misunderstand what it means to say that “grace isn’t ours to boss around.” The Church’s doctrine and discipline is not designed to “boss around” grace at all. The Church has merely received what the Holy Spirit has to offer: actual grace that places a life of sanctifying grace and the Sacramental life of the Church within reach.
It’s time for those who would short-circuit God’s plan for us to stop trying to feed the dying and the dead and instead follow the example of Jesus Himself, Who through His own Divine Power raised the dead to life first—and then fed the living, not the dying.