Sacrilege is a potent word. The Catholic Encyclopedia defines it as "a violation or injurious treatment of a sacred object." Now P.Z. Myers, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota in Morris, has decided that Catholic reverence for the Eucharist is a throwback to "Dark Ages superstition."
Plenty of folks think that. But Professor Myers is doing something about it. He’s inviting people to mail him consecrated hosts so that he can publicly perform a sacrilege. Here’s his invitation, under his post, "It’s just a Frackin’ Cracker."
"Can anyone out there score me some consecrated communion wafers? There’s no way I can personally get them — my local churches have stakes prepared for me, I’m sure — but if any of you would be willing to do what it takes to get me some, or even one, and mail it to me, I’ll show you sacrilege, gladly, and with much fanfare. I won’t be tempted to hold it hostage..but will instead treat it with profound disrespect and heinous cracker abuse, all photographed and presented here on the web. I shall do so joyfully and with laughter in my heart. If you can smuggle some out from under the armed guards and grim nuns hovering over your local communion ceremony, just write to me and I’ll send you my home address."
Not a lot of ink needs to be spilled on this. Nor does this blogpost require too many keystrokes. "Res ipsa loquitur," as the saying goes: The thing speaks for itself. His plans are similar to other sacrileges: the desecration of the Koran in Abu Ghraib, or the overturning of tombstones in Jewish cemeteries throughout Europe, or the burning of African-American churches in the South during the Civil Rights era. The expression of contempt for a tradition not your own, and contempt for those who espouse those traditions, is common. And contempt is as old as the story of Cain and Abel.
For me the most fascinating part of his offer is something else entirely: the original name of his post: "It’s a Frackin’ Cracker."
The "F-word" he’s using is "Frackin’," slang that was popularized by the SciFi Channel’s hit television series "Battlestar Gallactica." But why use "Frackin’"? The most likely explanation is that Prof. Myers is concerned about offending others by using the actual "F-bomb" in his post. That would be offensive to many people, and so in respect for their sensitivities he, rightfully, refrains from doing something offensive.
It is an indication that he takes other people’s feelings seriously.
But only some people. Catholic sensibilities, it would seem, are not as important. Or perhaps not important at all. It’s a small indication of how, as Msgr. John Tracy Ellis once wrote, "Anti-Catholicism is the most deeply held prejudice in American history." Or, as others have said, "Anti-Catholicism is the anti-Semitism of intellectuals." Or, "The Last Acceptable Prejudice."
At the end of his post, Prof. Myers writes, "Now there’ll be a team of Jesuits assigned to rifle through my mail every day."
I believe that the Body and Blood of Christ are made fully and really present in the Eucharist through the action of the Mass. I believe in transsubstantiation. Were I nearby and knew the location of those consecrated hosts I probably would try to retrieve them. Just think of the scene in the movie "Romero" which depicts Oscar Romero, the soon-to-be-martyred archbishop of El Salvador, braving machine-gun fire to retrieve the Blessed Sacrament from the tabernacle of a desecrated church. Or think of Walter Ciszek, S.J., the Jesuit priest captured by the Soviets during the Cold War, celebrating Mass in the forests of Siberia, and risking his life doing so. (Ciszek distributed the Eucharist to fellow prisoners in the labor camps--who risked their lives too.) Or simply think of the early Christians celebrating Mass at great personal risk.
I don’t expect Prof. Myers to believe what I believe. It’s an article of faith, and a complicated theological concept. But isn’t it possible to offer people from other religious traditions something simpler: respect and charity? Why is that so frackin’ difficult?
James Martin, SJ