The National Catholic Review
Above: Tim Russert pictured with Catholic school children (CNS photo) In one of the strangest religious stories of the month, Sally Quinn, the longtime Washington Post reporter and co-editor of the Post-Newsweek blog "On Faith" wrote about her decision to receive Communion at her close friend Tim Russert’s funeral. Ms. Quinn is not a Catholic. The whole story is here on The New Republic’s blog here. First, Ms. Quinn’s comment from the original "On Faith" blog: "Last Wednesday at Tim’s funeral mass at Trinity Church in Georgetown... communion was offered. I had only taken communion once in my life, at an evangelical church. It was soon after I had started "On Faith" and I wanted to see what it was like. Oddly I had a slightly nauseated sensation after I took it, knowing that in some way it represented the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Last Wednesday I was determined to take it for Tim, transubstantiation notwithstanding. I’m so glad I did. It made me feel closer to him. And it was worth it just to imagine how he would have loved it. After I began "On Faith," Tim started calling me "Sister Sal" instead of "Miss Sal." Not surprisingly, the Catholic League issued a response. "Just reading what Sally Quinn said is enough to give any Christian, especially Catholics, more than a ’slightly nauseating sensation.’ In her privileged world, life is all about experiences and feelings. "Moreover, Quinn’s statement not only reeks of narcissism, it shows a profound disrespect for Catholics and the beliefs they hold dear. If she really wanted to get close to Tim Russert, she should have found a way to do so without trampling on Catholic sensibilities. Like praying for him--that’s what Catholics do." What’s going on here? On the one hand... One of the key messages of Jesus of Nazareth was inclusion and welcome. During his earthly ministry, Jesus constantly welcomed people from the margins of society into the community, through both word and deed. This is shown over and over in his meals with persons of little social standing; his interactions with beggars, lepers and prostitutes; and in his conversations even with the hated Roman soldiers. His healings, too, were not only ways of freeing people from their ailments but also restoring them to the larger community. Jesus’s deeds gave meaning to his words, and his words to his deeds. And frequently both pointed to the message of inclusion and welcome. It is therefore always difficult to argue for exclusion, at least by the example of Jesus of Nazareth. This seemed to have been part of Ms. Quinn’s motivation. When reached for comment by The New Republic in light of the Catholic League’s response, she said: "Any religious people who purport to be Christians, or whatever faith you might be, would do everything they could to welcome others--in the case of Catholics, to welcome others the way Christ would welcome others. This is a perfect example of WWJD. Would Jesus have said, "No you don’t, Sally Quinn. You’re not going to get away with this one!" So Ms. Quinn is quite correct in asking, "What would Jesus do?" It is an important question for all churches to ask themselves. On the other hand... Catholics believe in the "real presence," the actual presence of Christ in the elements of the Eucharist: the bread and the wine. It is a central element of our faith, and reception of Communion is something that a Catholic does not do lightly. Which is something of an understatement. "First Holy Communion" is an important passage to adulthood; and even afterwards adults are asked to approach Communion reverently and without being conscious of any grave sin. Catholics also know that the very word "Communion" means that you are in "communion" with the rest of the Catholic church, and accept its beliefs. Therefore, it is probably not too much to expect that the co-founder of a prestigious online blog about religion run by two of the nation’s premier journals, would understand something about the most basic practices of the Catholic church. Most intelligent people know a few facts about the Catholic church: this is one of them. And even if one doesn’t know this, one would know to act with great care when in the midst of a worshiping community not your own. (For example, I am always exceedingly careful not to offend anyone’s sensibilities when in a synagogue, a mosque or a Christian church or meeting place not affiliated with the Catholic church.) An essential element of respect for another religious tradition is approaching their holy places, people and ceremonies with sense of reverence, even awe. That’s why the words "transubstantiation notwithstanding" are difficult to hear. If one knows enough about Catholicism to mention "transubstantiation" then one should also know that the word "notwithstanding" makes little sense in that context. At the same time, the Catholic League need not attack Ms. Quinn ad hominem. Ms. Quinn, whatever her personal beliefs, seems to have approached the altar rail out of love for her Catholic friend, not hatred for the Catholic church. The League also has no idea whether Ms. Quinn’s life is "all about experiences and feelings." What is essentially a discussion about ecumenical concerns (i.e. Who can receive Communion?) is not advanced by ad hominem arguments. In short, may I offer some friendly advice to both parties? To Ms. Quinn: Giving tribute to a friend may also mean respecting his religious traditions. To the Catholic League: Giving people the benefit of the doubt is a good way to show respect, too. James Martin, SJ

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Anonymous | 6/28/2008 - 12:50am
It is difficult for me to see how loving Jesus is necessarily conditioned by the belief in transubstantion. Indeed, it is conceivable and therefore possible, that one can love Jesus without believing in the real presence (this being the fact for very many Christians). Furthermore, it is conceivable that one can love the man Jesus without even the belief that He is God (this being the fact for many non-Christians). Fr. Martin put it perfectly: respect for persons includes respect for their beliefs. And yes, it is in order to play down the incident while giving good advice to both parties.
Anonymous | 6/30/2008 - 12:32pm
I believe Ms. Quinn's act probably falls under the category of ''invinceable ignorance,'' which rather nicely summarizes her understanding of religious practice in general. That the Washington Post chose a woman who publicly proclaims she knew ''practically nothing about religion or the internet'' at the beginning of her ''On Faith'' assignment reveals a great deal about WaPo's assessment of faith, too. It seems unlikely that Leonard Downie would assign the White House beat to someone ignorant of American electoral politics. So Ms. Quinn ought to be cut some slack. She's was chosen by her editors to report on matters she seems proud to be ignorant of.
Anonymous | 6/27/2008 - 7:03pm
At the last judgement, when they publish the list of all the terrible things anybody ever did, this probably won't even make the front page.
Anonymous | 6/27/2008 - 4:08pm
Should I ever invite Fr. Martin (or a Catholic Leaguer) to my house for dinner, I'll ask him to sit in a chair in the corner while the rest of us share a meal. That's the Christian thing to do.
Anonymous | 7/11/2008 - 12:24pm
Gee - I wonder if anyone has actually taken the time to talk with Ms. Quinn? Has anyone had a conversation with her and told her how much God loves her and explained to her that Jesus died for her sin so she could experience reconciliation with God? Has anyone spoken gently and lovingly and kindly with her to help her understand her need for a Savior? Just wondering if (as the expression goes) we're interested in 'walking the walk' as much as we are in 'talking the talk'?
Anonymous | 6/27/2008 - 8:04am
With all due respect, Father, Ms. Quinn approached the altar rail 'out of love for her friend, 'but not out of love for Jesus. I am wondering if the 'slightly nauseated' feeling was not a sign from the Lord that, as St. Paul said, when we receive communion unworthily, we bring judgement upon ourselves. She should have abstained out of respect for Jesus, not received out of respect for a friend. The incident should not be downplayed. As far as WWJD? He would have cared about the state of her soul, and not worried about being politically correct. That said, the incident needs to be dealt with charitably, and we should not condemn, but educate. My family will be praying in reparation for this sin.
Anonymous | 6/28/2008 - 6:47pm
Attn: Media Bill Donohue is a one-man operation, claiming to represent Catholics but I find his vitriol embarrassing and do not see Donohue as an effective spokesperson for the faith. Please place Fr. Martin's name and number in your rolodex. He defends the faith with charity and lucidity and doesn't shame me as a Catholic with name calling and personal attacks.
Anonymous | 6/27/2008 - 11:46am
As I recall the narratives of the Last Supper, there were 12 apostles there, and Jesus shared the bread and wine with all of them. What did they know about transsubstantiation? Did Jesus not share with Judas? And Peter? Most research finds that only two out of three Catholics fully believe in the 'Real Presence.' If truth be told, how many Catholics making their first Communion were as likely to be doing so to please their parents, to ward off the fear of sin, or simply because that is what others were doing? Perhaps we might hope that Ms. Quinn's act may have more positive consequences for her than the judgments that have so far befallen her.
Anonymous | 6/27/2008 - 8:47am
Amen, brother.
Anonymous | 6/29/2008 - 4:31am
There's so much outrage in this thread, and so much contempt. And over what? Someone from outside the faith trying to join in and understand the mystery of the Eucharist? Sure, it would have been better if she had consulted someone about the propriety of taking Communion without being in communion. But she did not, and that's water under the bridge; faced with this fait accompli, one ought to implore her to take that under consideration for the next time. But all these attacks in this comment thread, the ad hominems buttresses with cherry-picked quotations - they're a complete disgrace. We must be charitable towards those who intend well, even if their execution stumbles. To withhold charity is to turn away from true Catholicism.
Anonymous | 6/28/2008 - 5:06pm
To ctrent1564... Wait for it. It's also like the Pope said, 'a smaller church will be a stronger church'. Basically the loss of the subjectivists.
Anonymous | 6/28/2008 - 10:59am
Father Martin, I hope you can take these words in the charity they are intended. Blunt certainly, but charitable: You are wrong to criticize the Catholic League on this issue. 'To the Catholic League: Giving people the benefit of the doubt is a good way to show respect, too.' 'Benefit of the doubt.' A weak contention, considering you had conceded earlier that you expected Ms Quinn (a religion editor) '…would understand something about the most basic practices of the Catholic church.' She did understand. And she deliberately, with full premeditation, flaunted her beliefs (i.e. feelings) over those of Mr Russert, his family, and the Church. 'Show respect.' Really? Is that Christ’s calling for us--to respect Sin? To love the sinner, certainly. To pray for them. But we are to admonish them, as Paul wrote (2 Thess 3): 'And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.' Perhaps you consider admonishment unsavory, as it might seem 'ad hominem,' and may make some feel 'ashamed.' Being judgmental is--contrary to Scripture--the one unforgivable sin these days. True, I fear judging another’s soul, lest I be judged. But in order to admonish others, you must have enough conviction in your faith to be able to state 'what you did was wrong.' Truly that is more charitable than a wishy-washy (let’s just say 'lukewarm' ) 'Giving tribute to a friend may also mean respecting his religious traditions.' How about stating 'What you did disrespected his faith, and was wrong”. Ah, but that would be judgmental, now. The shame is on me. Sans Judgment. Father, is that what the 'SJ'after your name stands for? Or does it stand for something more?
Anonymous | 6/28/2008 - 10:45am
Well, again we see that the nebulous 'Spirit of Vatican II' is alive and well with some 'so-called Catholics.' All I can say is Thank God I was taught by Dominicans, and not Jesuits, as I was taught God is One, and three distinct persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Thus, the Holy Spirit which guided the Church to defend the Divine and Human nature of Christ, the Trinity, etc., as expressed in the Creeds is the same Holy Spirit that guides the Church to teach that the Euchatist is the sacrament of Full Communion, as was pointed out by another poster when quoting Pope Benedict. So, the 'Spirit' that you cafeteria 'so-called Catholics' invoke can not be the Third Person of the Holy Trinity and thus I must conclude it is a 'false spirit.' I always notice a sign in cities from the Episcopal Church that states 'The Episcopal Church welcomes you.' My hypothesis is that the Episcopalians are calling you cafeteria Catholics to your true home, i.e. the Episcopal Church, which outwardly looks Catholic but inwardly is Protestant and is the church that affirms everything you all want (homosexual marriage, women's ordination, abortion on demand, etc.) and therefore I think you all will really love it there. In fact I propose a trade, sort of like the NFL draft, all the Orthodox Anglicans for all the cafeteria catholics. Regards and God Bless
Anonymous | 6/27/2008 - 11:09pm
It reminds me of the time that some gay men protested in New York City by disrupting the Eucharistic celebration. Quinn is not as bad as that, but seems surprisingly ignorant. The sacrament is there for people who have had some preparation, learning catechism and prayers, which she has not done. This would be similar to declaring yourself to be bah mitzvahed, without having done any of the study or learning of prayers for that. Her act is a great example of how the creeping secularism makes people think they can do whatever they want. I don't hate her for it, I just feel that she is mistaken and that she should try to understand why.
Anonymous | 6/27/2008 - 8:01pm
Typical wishy-washy Catholic response. Sacrilege is sacrilege. The incident brings to mind Jesus' stricture against the giving of the sacred to dogs. (Mathew 7:6) And if Quinn and Co. take exception to the characterization, let them be reminded in their "nausea" of the old proverb about a fool and her folly and a dog and its vomit!
Anonymous | 6/27/2008 - 11:36am
She was nauseated after receiving the Evangelical communion, peaceful after receiving Christ. Even though she didn't know what she was doing.
Anonymous | 6/27/2008 - 10:42am
In 'God is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart of Life,' Pope Benedict takes up the idea that the Eucharist should be for everyone, 'without any limit or denominational preconditions.' He writes: 'however tempting the idea may be--it contradicts what we find in the Bible. Jesus' Last Supper was not one of those meals he held with 'publicans and sinners.' He made it subject to the basic form of the Passover, which implies that this meal was held in the family setting. . . . The Eucharist is not itself the sacrament of reconciliation, but in fact it presupposes that sacrament. It is the sacrament of the reconciled, to which the Lord invites all those who have become one with him; who certainly still remain weak sinners, but yet have given their hand to him and become part of his family . . . That is why there are conditions for participating in it; it presupposes that we have voluntarily entered into the mystery of Jesus Christ.'' (pp. 59-60)
Anonymous | 6/27/2008 - 9:23am
Amen, brother.
Anonymous | 6/27/2008 - 8:49am
No, I think Fr Martin's response is just right. The diagnosis of arrogance should be reserved for God. A Christian might think it, and it might even be true, but it is unseemly for any of us to publicly deliver it. I think this incident is worth downplaying. A person stumbled in wanting to connect with a friend, dead or alive. Like any of us hasn't done that. We shake our heads, say she shouldn't have received, then move on. The best reparation, if any is called for, is to bring someone into the Catholic Church: an inactive believer or someone unchurched. That way, everyone is edified and God glorified.
Anonymous | 6/27/2008 - 6:32am
When I celebrate a funeral liturgy, I always explain to the congregations (some of whom are not Catholics) why they cannot received the Eucharist at present. They can still come forward at the communion line and received a blessing from me by crossing their arms across the chest. I told them to pray for the deceased person, his/her family and the unity of the church.
Anonymous | 6/26/2008 - 9:56pm
I agree with your post, Fr. I think it's very hard to think of an analogy that will help non-Catholics to understand why it is so hurtful to have them treat our sacraments so lightly. Here is an analogy that I hope will not come across as an ad hominem attack. Let's say monogamy became something that only very few people believed in. And I was one of those who thought it was a quaint old tradition with no real meaning behind it, but I found it interesting that Sally should hold her monogamous relationship with her husband in such high regard. Even though I find her commitment to monogamy to be somewhat backward and constraining, I am somewhat fascinated by the discipline and commitment it entails. So I decide to try to experience what her relationship with her husband is by impersonating Sally and going to bed with her husband. I don't do it out of disrespect for Sally, in fact I do it because I want to feel closer to her as a friend and to appreciate more fully her perspective. But by doing so, I destroy in some measure the very thing that Sally and her husband valued so highly. I don't think it could be said that Sally is 'unwelcoming' if she were to object to my intrusion into her marital bed. I admit that this is not a perfect analogy (indeed, I would welcome Sally to fully embrace Catholicism and to receive Jesus frequently and worthily). But the analogy does capture a bit of the feeling I have as a Catholic when I hear of Sally's decision to enter into a false communion with a saviour and a Church that I love dearly. It hurts to have that relationship that I value so highly to be so high-handedly violated in this way.
Anonymous | 6/26/2008 - 9:43pm
Well, I don't agree with your 'even handedness.' Her behavior was arrogant and contemptuous of Catholic teachings. If she did not realize it then she should not be writing the blog 'On Faith' as she is apparently clueless. Also, inclusion does not mean giving the benefit of the doubt to arrogant behavior.