By Patrick Schmadeke
By the time this paper reaches your mailbox the election will be over, votes will have been cast, we may not know who the victor is, and we may not know what drama will ensue. As remarkable as the political drama has been in recent weeks, a still greater drama unfolds at Sunday Mass: the Eucharistic celebration. This could sound escapist or pietistic — it is neither, though these tendencies could be tempting given the painfulness of this political season. Now is simply a constructive moment to ask how the Eucharist can sanctify our politics.
The Eucharist has always been subject to misunderstanding: it has been relativized so as to be unimportant and dismissed; Eucharistic liturgies have been emphasized such that people neglected to love their neighbor; the Eucharist has been used almost as a
religious instrument of magic. In each case, the sanctifying power of the Eucharist is forgotten. The Eucharist can impact every dimension of our lives — this does not stop short of the political sphere.
The Eucharist is our most radical political act. Not voting, demonstrations or writing to representatives, but the Eucharist. To appreciate this, we need to refresh our vocabulary. By ‘‘political’’ I do not mean a mechanism of party politics. Instead, ‘‘political’’ comes from the Greek word meaning the body of citizens or the community. By ‘‘radical’’ I do not mean crazy or off the rails. Radical comes from the Latin word for root, so to call for radical change means a complete overhaul or a change down to the very root of things. To suggest that the Eucharist is our most radical political act is to observe that our lives are oriented by our concern for the common good.
In the face of any form of injustice, participation in the Eucharist impels us toward healing. In the face of domineering structures of sin, participation in the Eucharist urges that we transform those structures. In the face of social and political division, participation in the Eucharist is a bonding agent that reconciles.
In English, Eucharist is technically a noun, but I find it more helpful to think of it as a verb whose nearest synonym is love. Eucharist is a communal expression of love and love will always take us into unexpected places. It will always take us past what is presently known, calculated or anticipated. It will always cast us beyond what we thought was allowed, permissible or normal. It will always move us beyond our horizon, around the corner and past our present points of reference. Love can sometimes seem unbridled as it directs our course into the unknown. Love does this every time, without exception, because love is fundamentally de-centering. So is the Eucharist.
If Catholics and the Eucharist have something to offer the political world — to sanctify it — it is that our political lives are ordered by the common good. We are enlivened by the all-consuming love of God, not the superficial spectacle of identity politics; we are convicted by the sight of dignity being deprived, not the stupefying exhibitions of worldly strength and power; we are compelled by truths which we had not yet come to know, not vacuous rhetoric.
In our politics, we will know that we have experienced such a transformation when we find ourselves strengthening the bonds of community and kinship that hold us together. God has a history of turning hearts of stone into hearts of flesh — but it’s up to us to accept this painful gift of daily transformation. The Eucharist can provoke and aid us along this radical transformation as we become witnesses of love in the communities to which we belong.
(Editor’s note: Patrick Schmadeke is a graduate of St. Ambrose University (‘13) and a graduate of the Master of Divinity program at the University of Notre Dame.)