Why you should care about the gluten-free Communion fight—even if you eat wheat
As a lucky family with no food sensitivities or allergies, we do not have a dog in the gluten fight. Receiving Communion is easy for us—physically, anyway. We accept the church's strange teaching about transubstantiation because, of all the things we believe as Catholics, transubstantiation is not the strangest. The Incarnation is stranger. Salvation is stranger. Creation itself is stranger.
Of all the things we believe as Catholics, transubstantiation is not the strangest.
It is not, however, always as easy spiritually to receive Communion as it is physically. I struggle; my husband struggles; and my kids will almost certainly struggle with some teaching of the church some day. They may go through storms of conscience that drive them away from full communion.
But the teaching about gluten in hosts? Not our particular struggle. And so it has been a positive and enlightening experience for us to review the rules surrounding valid matter of the hosts. Joanne McPortland does yeoman’s work providing context for the church’s teaching on this issue, and America's explainer gives a good summary, debunking the secular media’s “smackdown on celiacs” narrative and clarifying what recourse is open to communicants with gluten sensitivities.
It is not always as easy spiritually to receive Communion as it is physically.
After watching many secular media outlets butcher these very ready facts, though, and after seeing educated Catholics retreat huffily into their corners, I began to wonder if I have a dog in this fight, after all. Maybe we all do. Because maybe this is not the first time we’ve seen some version of this fight. A few aspects of it seemed awfully familiar:
- The way many media outlets did none of the research and all the flaming, and many Catholics went along for the outrage ride;
- the way many Catholics think of receiving Communion only in terms of what we are entitled to, thinking the rules should be abrogated to suit us, never considering “what we truly deserve”;
- the cavalier attitude of many Catholics without sensitivities, who never wonder how it might feel to be told that receiving the Eucharist is the closest we’ll get to heaven this side of death, but too bad, you can't have any; and
- the way some parishes are careless about the genuine needs of their parishioners, making them feel like needy prima donnas for requesting accommodations that most people don’t need just by sheer luck of genetics.
There are many Catholics who find it physically easy to receive Communion—but spiritually? Not so much. Take L.G.B.T. Catholics, for instance. They sprung readily to mind. But the gluten kerfuffle analogy (minus the medical questions) could apply to just about any issue that causes misunderstanding, strife and bad feeling about and among Catholics.
The gluten kerfuffle analogy could apply to just about any issue that causes bad feeling about and among Catholics.
It is not enough to be educated. Even after we learn the facts, it is still horribly easy for us to take that information, stuff it in our back pockets and retreat to our corners, muttering: The church teaches this, but I do not like it, so the church should change. Or: The church teaches this, and it is what I do anyway, so nothing needs to change.
Information is not enough. The rules are there not for their own sake but to transform our hearts—not only the hearts of those who must change their behavior but the hearts of those who are already following the rules and who are tempted to look down on those who struggle.
If we do not have a dog in some particular doctrinal fight, then we have a serious obligation to be gracious—or if we cannot be gracious, then to be quiet. Do not minimize the suffering of people who just want what comes so easily to the majority. Do not make them feel like they are asking too much when they are asking for what none of us truly deserve anyway.
If what the church teaches is easy for us, then we should rejoice! We lucked out.
If what the church teaches is easy for us, then we should rejoice! We lucked out. Let’s not use that luck as an opportunity to lord it over others. If we feel like we cannot talk about an issue charitably, it is probably best to let other Catholics do that work.
But if we do have a dog in the fight—if what the church teaches is dreadfully hard for us, then.... We should rejoice.
Even Jesus asked the Father if he might be let off the hook because the cup he was being asked to drink was just so bitter and terrible. But after Jesus acknowledged that he did not want to die on the cross, he did it anyway. He assented to God’s will. And that was how salvation came about. It is how our salvation will come about. What else can any of us do, other than to do what Christ did?
This cup does not pass from any of us, this obligation to obey and this obligation to love each other.
Of all the strange things we believe as Catholics, transubstantiation is not the strangest. The church’s teaching on human sexuality is not the strangest. The Incarnation is stranger. Salvation is stranger. Love is stranger.