Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Eucharist as Medicine of Immortality

(Following is my term paper of Spring 2010. I may revisit the topic again at a higher level in the future. I've seen a number of opportunities for improvement when I have the opportunity to write with more specificity on the topic)

Since the second century, the Catholic Church has honored the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist under the title, “the medicine of immortality.” This teaching that the Eucharist is a medicine of immortality has been obscured or omitted from most catechesis. The concept that the Eucharist is the "medicine of immortality" is a universal Christian teaching of Eastern Christian origin that is a necessary article of faith to fully understand Church teaching on the Eucharist. Although the teaching has been officially taught by the teaching authority of the Church, it seldom percolates down to the laity. Along with a fuller catechesis that teaches that the Eucharist is truly the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus, Catholics need this teaching of the “medicine of immortality” to form a more complete picture of the sacrament.

In his original unveiling of the Sacrament of Holy Communion, Jesus told us that, "Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day.” This is clearest teaching on the Eucharist as a “medicine of immortality”.[1] To call this a simple explanation would be disingenuous, as many of his disciples left him over this teaching, despite the tremendous and gratuitous promise He gave to us.

Perhaps the earliest written presentation of the “medicine of immortality” concept is in St. Ignatius of Antioch's letter to the Ephesians, a non-canonical epistle. This letter is nonetheless of value to Catholics as part of a body of work that helps to interpret the Scriptures by illustrating certain teachings that follow an unbroken continuity back to the earliest Apostles. Ignatius was a “Church Father” who studied at the feet of St. John, the beloved apostle, who in turn had studied at the feet of Christ. Ignatius called the Eucharist a vital, universal part of the faith. He promised to write to the Ephesians a second time, but only, “…if the Lord make known to me that you come together man by man in common through grace, individually, in one faith...breaking one and the same bread, which is the medicine of immortality, and the antidote to prevent us from dying, but [which causes] that we should live for ever in Jesus Christ.”[2] The breaking of this bread continues to be the most important act of worship in the Church.

St. John's Gospel tells us that many things that Jesus did and said had to be left out of the book for brevity's sake, so it is conceivable that Christ himself might be the originator of the concept that His body and blood are the medicine of immortality given to us in the Eucharist. Indeed, St. Luke (notably a physician) and St. Matthew both recount the anecdote of Jesus telling the Pharisees, “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do.”[3] Christ Himself is the Divine Physician who gives us a remedy for death, His Body and Blood to eat. He enables us to one day have eternal life. If we are sinners who are “sick” with sin, our Divine Physician’s medicine of choice has been identified by His earliest Apostles as the Holy Eucharist.

Apocalyptic Scripture alludes to Christ providing a source of a medicine of great power. In the Bible, the prophet Ezekiel spoke of a temple, which we can presume to represent Christ, from whose side flowed water toward the east and then south.

"This water flows into the eastern district down upon the Arabah...Wherever the river flows, every sort of living creature that can multiply shall live...Along both banks of the river, fruit trees of every kind shall grow; their leaves shall not fade, nor their fruit fail. Every month they shall bear fresh fruit, for they shall be watered by the flow from the sanctuary. Their fruit shall serve for food, and their leaves for medicine."[4]

St. John tells us in his book of Revelation that he was shown by an angel a scene that was a clear parallel to this prophet's vision. John clearly identifies the source of the water:

“Then the angel showed me the river of life-giving water, sparkling like crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of its street. On either side of the river grew the tree of life that produces fruit twelve times a year, once each month; the leaves of the trees serve as medicine for the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there anymore. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.”[5]

By the time these words were committed to the page, the apostles had already begun the evangelization of all peoples, bringing this Blessed Sacrament to the lips of all nations. This passage in Revelation has multiple beauties about it. When Christ's side and heart were pierced, blood and water flowed from the wound, becoming our Baptism and Eucharist. This vision of a throne issues water from its side, nourishing the tree of life, a clear illustration of how Christ’s grace provides us with the Holy Eucharist.

Christ's cross is the tree of life, the contrast to the tree in the Garden of Eden that brought death to mankind. The fruit and leaves of this tree of life are together the Eucharist that nourishes us and at the same time is our medicine for all nations. Among those who worship Christ it is a particular grace to be able to receive the produce of this tree with the opportunity to share in eternal life with Christ.

As Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Francis Cardinal Arinze remembered St. Ignatius’ words, giving us a rare exposition of the doctrine. He tells us simply that in the Eucharist, Christ gives us “a pledge of eternal life, of our bodily resurrection, since Jesus promised that those who so receive him in this sacrament have eternal life and he will raise them up at the last day. Therefore St. Ignatius of Antioch called Holy Communion ‘a medicine of immortality, and antidote of death.’” [6] Arinze takes it as a given that the Eucharist is a medicine even while it is the sacrament of the altar.

The medicine of immortality analogy is still accepted today, having been listed in the Catechism parallel to other names for Holy Communion, “the bread of angels, bread from heaven, medicine of immortality, viaticum.”[7] The medicine of immortality is also named in like manner in John Paul II's Ecclesia De Eucharistia[8]. For his part, Pope Benedict XVI sees an additional strong tie between the Eucharist and the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. The latter is given to those in such circumstances as imminent death, along with viaticum, the Eucharist given as “bread for the journey” toward Heaven. Benedict states in Sacramentum Caritatis that. “On their journey to the Father, communion in the Body and Blood of Christ appears as the seed of eternal life and the power of resurrection.” [9]

The graces that we receive by taking and consuming the Eucharist are a medicine for the soul. Just as a medicine conforms the body to health, the Eucharist conforms our fallen nature to Christ. It is the stronger substance that turns us into Christs; instead of just being consumed as normal bread, it acts on and consumes those who eat the Eucharist.

It is important for us to go to Christ the physician to be healed. Church discipline has long prescribed a period of fasting before receiving the Eucharist, just as a surgeon requires the same of his patient before surgery. Our fasting better prepares us by causing us to hunger for the Eucharist, allowing Christ's hands to work on our souls. Just as "God formed our inmost beings and knit us in the womb"[10], He also repairs our inmost beings through such means as this medicine of immortality.

For those who revere Christ, there are practical benefits to receiving a medicine that brings us to eternal life. The benefits may not be recognized as immediate, but the effects are certainly lasting, indeed eternal. In the short term of mortal life, the availability of the Eucharist prepares us for Heaven and teaches us to avoid sin. Like periodic Confession, frequent Communion encourages us to seek and to stay in a state of grace by avoiding sin and cultivating an active prayer life, which better disposes us to face our final judgment. So, just as His disciples asked Christ, “Sir, give us this bread always,”[11] we must also ask our Lord to give us this same gift, this medicine of immortality in the Eucharist.

[1] John 6: 54 (NAB)

[2] St. Ignatius of Antioch, “The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians”, New Advent [website]; available from (accessed 21 April, 2010).

[3] Luke 5:31 (NAB)

[4] Ezekiel 47: 9-12 (NAB)

[5] Revelation 22:1-3 (NAB)

[6]Francis Cardinal Arinze. “The Holy Eucharist Unites Heaven and Earth,” September 25, 2004, USCCB, (accessed April 22, 2010).

[7] Catechism of the Catholic Church Second Edition, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, (1997), 1331.

[8] John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Church of the Eucharist (Ecclesia De Eucharistia), April 17, 2003, #18, Vatican,

_20030417_ecclesia_eucharistia_en.html (accessed April 22, 2010).

[9] Benedict XVI, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacrament of Charity (Sacramentum Caritatis), February 22, 2007, #22, Vatican, hf_ben-xvi_exh_20070222_sacramentum-caritatis_en.html (accessed April 22, 2010).

[10] Psalm 139:13 (NAB)

[11] John 6:34 (NAB)

Friday, May 7, 2010

Arizona Law on Illegal Immigration

Arizona has been given a really raw deal. Most of the fifty states don't have a border with Mexico, and none has the amount of crime, human trafficking, and drug smuggling that comes up through Arizona's border. It is WRONG for them to bear this alone, it defeats the purpose of being a part of the United States.

We need a reconciliation and mutual cultural assimilation with the immigrants. The latter is how America is supposed to work. We're supposed to become one people with our immigrants. Assimilation can't happen with people who can't become a part of society. The Catholic Church says that immigrants are supposed to respect and accommodate the laws of their host. So many things have already gone wrong.

I think this problem needs to be fixed soon and a solution needs to include equal measures of generosity and consequences for those who have entered the country illegally. There are some really dehumanizing aspects of this ongoing situation. I'm really tired of Congress failing to fix this decades old problem (but I also doubt that I would like any "solution" that this Congress would come to.)

I fear that the Democrats will be tempted to give amnesty to a broad swath of the illegal immigrants in a naked attempt to buy votes, which would be good for exactly NOBODY. This really wouldn't help illegal immigrants or us because I think becoming documented would price most of them out of a job. (Considering minimum wage laws, historically pushed by Democrats) But I can't be sure of this because I haven't heard anyone make this argument. Certainly, I think there needs to be an expanded guest worker program, perhaps one where they are allowed to work below the minimum wage (as many currently do).

I think some Catholic bishops are tacitly welcoming illegal immigration as part of an ongoing avoidance issue they have. The state of catechesis and the liturgy are pretty much in the crapper. American Catholics aren't passing the faith on to their children. They themselves don't even know what it is they have. The faith is often rendered so bland and inconsequential when Catholicism is rich and other-worldly in its natural form! Many bishops welcome these immigrants as a stop-gap solution to declining numbers of Americans in the pews, but they're going to see that if they don't fix their presentation of the faith, the immigrants' descendants will one day simply drop Catholicism, too.

Back to politics, I really believe in state sovereignty, America's AND Mexico's. Mexico needs SERIOUS reform but I don't know what we can do to help them without reaching in and violating THEIR sovereignty just as individual citizens of their country regularly do to us. We can't unilaterally fix Mexico. It needs to be a country where its own citizens can thrive, instead it's becoming something that can be described as a kleptocracy, a narco-republic, etc.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Greeley: Implementing a revolving door at the rectory

Fr. Andrew Greeley is at it again, or at least this week's reprinting of his article makes it look like he is. Apparently someone at "US Catholic" thinks his 2007 article is timely again. It is an argument for some sort of short term priesthood. And look who commented!
By tour86rocker (not verified) on Sunday, April 25, 2010
Marriages and ordinations are more alike than people are saying here. Catholics can't divorce but they can separate for a good reason. They remain sacramentally married (unless they were never validly married in the first place). It's the same with priests, they can be separated from their ministry for a good reason but they remain ordained.

It is unnatural for man and wife, who are one flesh, to be separated, but it can become necessary if the husband is abusive, for instance. If a priest's actions abuse or scandalize the faithful, he should be separated from his spouse (the Church) as well.

It is unnatural for a sacramentally ordained priest to be separated from the ministry that his nature is indelibly ordered toward after ordination. Why on Earth should it ever become common to make temporary promises with your lips when your very soul makes a commitment for a lifetime? It's like the body speaking a lie against the soul.

I agree with my fellow critics, this is psychologically related to the male aversion to commitment in this culture. So many fathers are emotionally distant from their wives and children and are looking for an out. So many marriages end in divorce due to a privation of manhood! Apparently some priests are looking for an out, too.

(Greeley's reference to monks and nuns who make temporary vows is a big, fat red herring intended to confuse those who don't understand the sacrament of Holy Orders. Religious sisters and brothers don't take part in any sacrament as a virtue of entering a religious order. The religious brothers and sisters are apples and the priest is an orange. Ask me why if you're wondering. It's just really unfortunate that Greeley lumps all forms of religious commitment together into one big ball of "stuff that keeps you from getting married". Religious life is supposed to be freely and joyfully chosen, not burdensome!)

In short, we'd quickly see liturgical and catechetical horrors yet-unheard-of. And I, for one, have heard of too many already. Implementing a revolving door at the rectory is the surest way to keep our shepherds' memory of tradition very myopic and there would be no reason for them to be concerned with episcopal censure, after all, their swing at being a priest would be just a temporary volunteer position (albeit with a lot of educational prerequisites!) that they'd soon move on from. And don't forget, they'd probably move on to marriages with the same privation of commitment. If you thought you'd seen failed Catholic marriages before that day...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Honest Journalism on the Abuse Scandals and Journalism Scandal, A Short List

Church is on the side of the victims, not the abusers:
Tearful pope says church will better protect young: from Associated Press
Cardinal Hummes: ‘Above all we are on the side of the victims’: from Catholic World News
Abuse victim in Malta: Pope Benedict XVI is a 'saint': from Catholic News Agency

Process to protect children is shown to have improved:
Evidence of Renewal: from National Review
U.S. bishops tracking foreign priest abuse complaints: from the Washington Post
Bishop Wenski: "Crisis...has been surmounted": from Orlando Sentinel

Pope was never personally responsible:
Fessio: Let's Get the Story Straight: Defrocking and Divorce: from Insight Scoop
The mob should lay off. The pope is completely innocent: from The Guardian (UK)
Abp Nichols: The Church is not trying to cover anything up: from The Times (UK)

Dishonest Journalism:
Journalists abandon standards to attack the Pope: from Catholic Culture
Ed Koch: Anti-Catholicism Evident in Media: from Zenit
Why is the unashamed child abuser Polanski lauded while the repentant Pope is vilified?: from Daily Mail (UK)

Defenders of Pope:
President of the Italian Senate condemns 'unmerited' attacks on Pope Benedict: from Catholic News Agency

Figures about real abuse prevalence are lower than people think:
How Spotlights Leave Many Other Things in Darkness: from Archdiocese of Washington blog
**Weigel: Scoundrel Time(s): from First Things
The media fires up its inquisition: from the Star Tribune
Forgotten Study: Abuse in School 100 Times Worse than by Priests: from Life Site News
Sex Abuse by Teachers Said Worse Than Catholic Church: from NewsMax

Opportunities for improvement:
Prominent Chicago Catholic Calls On Pope For Tougher Action: from WBBM Chicago

Voris: A Little Balance, Please!

Nobody is comforted about the priest abuse scandal by learning that teachers abuse more, anyway. It's NOT a comfort and I think it makes us look bad to to lean heavily on such an argument.

We should be saying instead that we're doing all that we can to kick out pedophiles and pederasts in the priesthood and screen them out before they make it into a seminary. Our bishops have implemented reforms that have reduced such new cases of such abuse to approach the more acceptable level of zero.

Voris did an interesting thing here. At minute 3:00 he started to explain that there was a reason that there were more abuses by teachers than by Catholic priests: there are more OF them. Instead of doing the intellectually honest thing and calculating the abuses per teacher and abuses per priest, he just sort of CHANGES the subject. I didn't like that he did that. I believe that God is best served by truth.

So I decided to calculate it myself. I had to listen to the video about three times to write down all of the number of abuses and then I looked up the number of priests and teachers (of minors) in the U.S.

Voris (or Shakeshaft?) does us a disservice by giving us only apples to oranges comparisons of abuse figures. But for my calculation I'm accepting their average for the 1990's of 29,000 abuses per year by teachers and 220 per year by priests.

According to US News & World Report, there were about 32,300 Catholic priests in the US in 1995. That makes it about 8 abuses per 1000 priests in 1995. <1>

Another article from the same periodical claims there were 2.5 million teachers in 1996, making it about 12 abuses per 1000 teachers in 1996. <2>

These aren't the best data sources and I failed statistics twice, so I'm open to criticism. I'd say that although teachers appear to have abused more, the rate is too close to say which one abuses more in any given year. And the abuse prevalence of priests and teachers is almost equally unlikely, to such an extent that neither group should be stereotyped by it! I don't have the right data to compare apples to apples but the data I have would have to be off by magnitudes to make a difference, and I don't see any reason to assume that this is the case.


#2 is the best I could find after searching for an hour, an hour of my life that I'll never get back. We don't know what teachers that number includes or excludes, like preschool, special ed, private schools, parochial schools, etc. (or, where it overlaps with priest-teachers)