Being Denied Holy Communion Is Not a "Weapon;" It is an Opportunity of Grace

Deborah Sturm
December 10, 2021
Reproduced with Permission

The November 5, 2021 copy of the Catholic Spirit , the newspaper of the diocese of Wheeling-Charleston featured an article entitled, "Draft Statement Stresses Eucharist's Importance, Not a Need to Deny it." This article comes on the heels of Pope Francis's recent statement on not using denial of the Eucharist as a "weapon." Many Catholics are also bewildered by President Biden's claim that the pope said he was a "good Catholic" and that he should "keep receiving Communion.

I am writing to share my perspective, as I have been denied Holy Communion two times in my life - the first time as a child and the second time as an adult. Furthermore, I was a member of St. Anthony's Catholic Church in Florence, South Carolina for nine years, the same parish where Joe Biden, the current president of the United States, was denied Holy Communion in 2019. Fr. Robert Morey, the pastor, released the following statement on the matter:

"Sadly, this past Sunday, I had to refuse Holy Communion to Former Vice President Joe Biden. Holy Communion signifies we are one with God, each other and the Church. Our actions should reflect that. Any public figure who advocates for abortion places himself or herself outside of Church teaching. As a priest, it is my responsibility to minister to those souls entrusted to my care, and I must do so even in the most difficult situations. I will keep Mr. Biden in my prayers."

I want to preface this article by stating that I believe life is a beautiful tapestry and that many events in our lives are, as the late Fr. Benedict Groeschel has asserted, not coincidences or accidents. I believe that if we look back into our personal histories - particularly those events that seemed difficult and daunting--we can see the powerful hand of God beautifully at work. And when we see how intimate the Father is in the events of our lives, we can come to terms with its deepest meaning.

I grew up in a small town, New Martinsville, West Virginia, where, as a child and young adult, I was a member of St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in the diocese of Wheeling-Charleston. It was the early 1970's, so I was probably about ten or eleven years of age. By the way, there were about twenty four boys and girls in my First Holy Communion class. Sadly, today, that same parish is lucky if three children make their First Holy Communion in any particular year. It was also a time when Catholic priests were held in higher esteem and commanded respect. My late husband Mike, who grew up in Grafton, West Virginia and was a member of St. Augustine Catholic Church, told me that his parish priest was highly respected in the community. When the priest came to visit our CCD classes, every child was on their feet, greeting the priest, "Good evening, Father." When I joined the Army many years later, I learned that this same respect was afforded to commissioned and noncommissioned officers alike when they entered the room.

The First Denial

One evening, in the middle of the week, after attending CCD, I went to Mass with another girl, most likely because it was a Holy Day of Obligation. We sat in a pew at the front of the church. During Mass, we were amusing each other and laughing. When we went to the altar rail to receive the Eucharist, the priest looked at us briefly and passed us over. I got the message loud and clear: We must be reverent and attentive while attending Mass. And since we were sitting at the very front of the church, the priest's refusing us the Eucharist also sent a message to the rest of the congregation sitting behind us: "Holy Mass is Holy Ground. The Eucharist is sacred. It is to be treated with the utmost respect and utmost reverence." If we had been given Holy Communion, the message would have been that our disruptive and irreverent behavior was acceptable.

Didn't the priest, Fr. Robert Morey, at St. Anthony Catholic Church in Florence, South Carolina, have an obligation to his parishioners to signal that Biden's public support of abortion is unacceptable and grievous? If a little girl who is only ten years of age can be denied Holy Communion, why can't President Biden or Speaker Pelosi be denied? Doesn't their approach to the Eucharist - and not being denied - send the message to the rest of the world that abortion, the slaughtering of innocent children - a grievous sin that cries out to God for vengeance - is perfectly fine?

I have never forgotten this experience from my childhood. I am in no way traumatized by it. I have nothing but respect for the priest who denied me the Eucharist. I am eternally grateful for what he did. I believe he was truly being a father to me and the rest of his parish.

The Second Denial

When I was in graduate school in the late 1990's at Franciscan University of Steubenville, I attended Mass during a summer conference in Finnegan Fieldhouse. These Masses, by the way, are packed with students, staff, local Catholics, and conference attendees from out of town. When I presented myself for Holy Communion, the priest placed his hand on my head and blessed me, but I was not given the Eucharist. Was I late for Mass? Did he mistake me for someone else? I did not have an opportunity to ask that priest why he denied me Holy Communion. This experience is a mystery to me.

But perhaps what ensued from that experience in Finnegan Fieldhouse is more important. Because I was bewildered by being denied the Eucharist, I went to my apartment and called a friend. During this conversation, my friend told me that she was contemplating suicide but that my phone call interrupted her. Today, this friend is alive, well, and successful. She went on to spend several years of her life saving preborn children.

Was this the work of our guardian angels? Did my guardian angel use the refusal of the Eucharist - an experience that harkened back to my childhood - to get the attention of my friend's guardian angel in order to save her life? We know from Sacred Scripture that for those who love God "all things work together unto good" (Romans 8:28). From the Psalms, we know, "For he hath given his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways." (Psalm 91:11). I am also reminded of the words of a song, "Angels Unaware," by Michael W. Smith that came out only a few years before I went to Franciscan University:

Maybe there are things you just cannot know
But can you say there are no mysteries
In that house you choose to dwell?
Maybe we are entertaining angels unaware . . .
Meanwhile on the shores of parallel
There may be a holy conference held somewhere
Discussing all mankind
Maybe we are entertaining angels unaware

Again, in the late 1990's, being withheld the Eucharist - something I will not understand in this life unless I or the rest of mankind experiences an "illumination of conscience" - "snapped me to attention" like a soldier and seems to have saved someone's life. For nothing, not even the most difficult and mysterious of circumstances, is too big for Almighty God to handle.

Being denied the Eucharist did not wreck me. It was not "offensive" to me. I believe it was a deeper call to conversion . However, being denied the Eucharist twice in my life, particularly at such a tender, young age, has caused me to have a serious disconnect with the claim that denying the Eucharist is a "weapon." This claim sounds more like a rationalization - as well as a smokescreen-- to avoid "offending" people. Are the bishops afraid of "offending" the sensibilities of pro-abortion politicians? It's bad enough that pro-abortion politicians have risen to positions of power and influence. If President Biden's and Speaker Pelosi's feelings are that fragile, it is only one more indicator that they should not be in their positions. If I could handle being denied Holy Communion at the age of ten and again in my thirties, certainly a politician can handle being denied.

Furthermore, reception of the Eucharist should not be regarded as an entitlement - "the belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment."

God Speaks to Us in the Recesses of our Minds and Souls

When I left Florence, South Carolina in the mid-nineties and returned to New Martinsville, West Virginia, I had a powerful dream that seems to have spoken volumes. In the dream, I was sitting in the same church building, in the same pew, and with the same girl who I was laughing with in the early 1970's when we were both refused the Eucharist. However, this time, in the dream, we were not laughing. There was no priest on the altar. This time, the inside of the church was dark, the outside world was dark, the wind was blowing, and we were clutching each other for strength. I am in touch with this girl on a regular basis. We have both remained Catholic. We are both concerned about what is going on in this country. We both admit that we need Jesus Christ and prayer in order to remain strong. And while we were not laughing in the dream, we regularly make each other laugh. Yes, those two unruly, silly little girls grew up to appreciate their Catholic Faith.

The Importance of Meaning in our Lives

Can anyone deny that life is crazy and chaotic in the United States and around the world? COVID is now the pretext for nearly every oppressive, tyrannical action governments are taking against their citizens. And it's all in the name of "health." The world is convulsing with anxiety . This collective anxiety has been exploited by governments in order to control them. Bishops have exploited anxiety over COVID to justify closing their churches and denying its members the sacraments. Show me someone with great anxiety, and I'll show you someone who is struggling with the fundamental meaning of their life. To be sure, I am not claiming that I am exempt from anxiety. But I understand that I am on a continuous journey of detachment from this world and being called to a deeper relationship with God. As the Baltimore Catechism says, "God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him for ever in Heaven." Could anything be more important than this truth?

We can only find the true meaning of our lives - and thus resolve any vestige of anxiety, which is a result of fear - through a relationship with Jesus Christ and growing in love for Him and our neighbor. As St. John writes, "Fear is not in charity: but perfect charity casteth out fear, because fear hath pain. And he that feareth, is not perfected in charity." (1 John 4:18) If we don't regularly spend time in prayer, we cannot expect to grow in love for the Lord, for we cannot love someone with whom we are not willing to spend time. We will also grow in awareness of how God is working in our lives and perceiving his Grand Design. Worthy reception of the Eucharist - which requires a thorough examination of conscience followed by repentance - is necessary if we want to grow in the virtues - particularly the virtue of fortitude - and to confront and endure the storms and darkness around us. Admitting that we are not worthy is the beginning of humility. And humility - realizing how powerless and small we are - disposes us to realizing how powerful God is. As St. Paul writes, "For which cause I please myself in infirmities. In reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ. For when I am weak, then am I powerful." (2 Corinthians 12:10)