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Commentary: Chaput edict is a sound lesson

I eat God. I do it every week. Sometimes twice. Do you think that makes me sound delusional?

Do you think that makes me sound delusional?

It's radical. Other religions, as they've been explained to me, also involve a powerful God, who may judge us, but from a great distance.

Protestants accept that God not only spoke to us, but lived as a man, once upon a time.

But for Catholics (and the Eastern churches), God is physically and viscerally present when we "eat this Bread and drink this Wine" consecrated at Mass.

Eat God. That's personal. I like it.

I like Jesus' teaching in the Gospels, and the Hebrew Psalms and wisdom books, the broad appeals of the Eucharistic Prayer, the affirmation of the Creed, the prayers of praise and confession. The preaching, not always.

But as a writer, I know truth goes beyond words. For me, the climax of Mass is Communion, God-with-us.

Who can take to themselves this gift of God (Eucharist) and the grace and peace that should flow from it?

God is for everyone, Christ said. But there's a catch, the church teaches.

Since way before I was in Catholic school in the '70s (I got expelled, but they took me back), the church has taught you're only supposed to receive if you're in a state of grace. Which means living within the rules God laid down, as interpreted by the church that gives you God-in-the-mouth.

Among other things, the church, like other creeds and folk patriarchies, teaches that right living includes having sex only with people you are married to. If you're single and sexually active, if you're divorced and sexually active, you have strayed. Better to find a way back to being married. Or stop having sex. And the church hasn't found its way to recognizing marriage between gay people, at all. If they want Communion, they are supposed to be celibate, like priests, who can find that plenty hard.

All of which conflicts with our modern, Western understanding that it's good and healthy for everyone who wants to, to be sexually active, with a chosen partner or partners.

By insisting on these limits, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput has provoked dismay and ridicule. The discussion in the newsroom where I was trying to write an unrelated column and four blog posts Wednesday was acidly critical.

I'm not sure why. This teaching isn't new. Who should care, if they don't see Communion as God, or aren't personally conflicted about whether it's right to receive it in their current living situation?

A lot of people who don't take Communion regularly expressed solidarity (that Catholic virtue) with gay, divorced, or living-together friends who aren't supposed to receive. The directive implies rejection, and that creeps out a lot of good people.

But why should I deny myself God because of someone else? People in that jam can make their own decisions about whether Communion and the abstractions it represents are more important to them than a concrete and universal drive for sex.

Some find pastors and confessors who will help them reconcile, even if the archbishop strongly discourages this.

Maybe the problem is the recent idea that everyone is supposed to be able to take Communion all the time.

I have often gone to Mass and realized I wasn't in condition to receive Communion. Certainly when I was a vigorous unmarried adult, but also since I've been cheerfully married (to a woman who makes that easy). I have quarreled with my brothers and sisters. I have acted in anger. I have spoken untruly. And failed for a time to resolve or atone for these things in confession and in daily life. For all those reasons, I would stay seated and not take Communion.

And that is still the practice, in some places. When I go with my son to attend Spanish Masses in Wilmington and Philadelphia, half the adults typically stay in their seats and don't receive Communion. Often they are young men, sitting or standing in the back. As Kipling wrote, "Single men in barracks don't grow into plaster saints."

Nobody walks over to criticize them. Nobody asks them what they've done wrong. It's their business, and they will presumably work it out and return to Communion, or not. Meanwhile they are showing respect for the rules of the house. Even if they might not agree.

At Spanish Masses, confession is even offered during Mass. You can straighten out in private, then walk right up in public, if you're ready for that.

One of the paradoxes of all this is that people who earnestly believe they can't be part of a faith without following the rules find it very difficult to do right and still live what feels like a personally healthy modern life - while people who lie to themselves, or about themselves, or find pastors or friends who tell them what they do is OK even if it seems to defy official teaching, continue to receive the sacrament.

Dorothy Day, the ex-Communist journalist who founded the Catholic Worker movement, and her collaborator Peter Maurin wrote that they wanted to make the world a place where it was easier to be good.

That could include being less exclusive about Communion - or reinforcing the conditions strongly and broadly to make clear if this is about more than sex.

JoeD@phillynews.com215-854-5194 @PhillyJoeD