I know a young man who became a priest because he was once denied communion. A number of years ago, a zealous protestant, he attended a Catholic wedding.
Before giving communion, the presiding priest gave gentle but clear instruction concerning the reception of the Blessed Sacrament. It was the first time my friend had heard that the Sacrament was reserved for practicing Catholics. He felt excluded and was furious. In the weeks to come, that experience continued to gnaw at him, exciting ire with every stinging recollection. As a student, his anger drove him into books. There he discovered for the first time what Catholics profess about the Eucharist. It shook him, but it was also compelling, and the truth of it gripped him. Eventually, he became a Catholic, and then a priest. It’s strangely ironic, but he may never have become a Catholic (let alone a priest) if he had been given communion at that wedding.
Today, we have watered down notions of love. Often they are nice, but they lack power and substance. Saint Paul this weekend exhorts us “to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Hearing that today, many people conclude that Saint Paul means to be kind and tolerant. They would sum up Saint Paul’s vision of love as “live and let live,” inevitably reaching the conviction that “to live and let live” is to “fulfill the law.” This is nice, but diluted (if not deluded).
When Jesus teaches us about love, kindness and forbearance are certainly not absent. Yet neither are truth, correction and even confrontation. There is an insistence, even stubbornness, to Jesus’ love. When a brother or sister falls into error, or sin, Jesus does not respond “live and let live.” Instead, he teaches that some private and fraternal correction should be made, and if that does not work, the whole Church should be involved. If no change of heart results, the offender is effectively removed from the Church: “treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.” Jesus, of course, treated tax collectors with mercy, but he also challenged them to change.
Today Jesus might be labeled excessively dogmatic, as he is inflexible and adamant about that ‘narrow way.’ But his teaching stems neither from a cruel nor hard heart. Rather, his teaching resides in love, a genuine love, which means it has boundaries, expectations and can be harmed. “To live and let live” has nothing to do with love. To love means more than permitting life, it means giving life (Jn 10:10). When my friend was denied communion, the Church loved him. The fruits of that love are readily seen.