Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Of Bishops and Lofty Titles

Bishop Tobin's recent publicly denying Congressman Kennedy from taking the sacrament of the eucharist in any catholic church resonated poignantly with me. Drifting With Jesus was inspired in part by one of the more profound experiences of my life. When I lived in New Orleans I was homeless for a short time, and was passing one night in a bar on Decatur Street when I met Arthur. He bought me a couple of beers and we had been chatting for a while when he invited me to join him in visiting some friends. Having nothing better to do in New Orleans at four thirty in the morning, I tagged along. We walked to a convenience store where Arthur bought three or four bags of sandwiches, snacks, beer and cigarettes, then we wandered down to the bank of the Mississippi, where he shared his bounty with some homeless people there.

Around daybreak we wandered back toward the French Quarter and into Jackson Square. It was a Sunday morning, and upon seeing the Saint Louis Cathedral I immediately told Arthur that I needed to go in and pray. He followed me, and we came upon a service in progress. In a city of close to half a million, the congregation consisted of about fifteen people. Shortly before the benediction, one of the priests administered communion. I got in line while Arthur remained in the pew. When my turn came up, the priest detected that I was not catholic by my ignorance of the partaker's role in the rite--namely saying 'Amen' when the priest says 'body of Christ.' He asked me directly if I was catholic, and I answered directly that I was not. He pulled the wafer back, made the sign of the cross, and told me that he could not give me the body and blood. I protested that I was a brother in Christ, and he said that it mattered not, and hastened me along. Writing this fifteen years later still makes me say: 'Wow.'

The Catholic Encyclopedia states that the pope, cardinals and bishops are to be formally addressed respectively: His Holiness, His Eminence, and His Excellency. In Matthew 19:16-17, it is written: 'And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.' The same also appears in Ecclesiastes 7:20 For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.

In Luke 14:11 it is written: 'For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.'

Knowing these biblical truths, how will it go for men who insist on being called holy, eminent and excellent? And who did well in God's eyes that surreal night in my life: Arthur, who fed the hungry, or the priest who withheld Christ from a Christian?

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