The spirit vs. the letter of the law

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By KEN TRAINOR

Say it ain't so, Joe. Ex-communication is bitter medicine for someone like me in the communication field. You're in the banking business, if memory serves, which means you're more concerned about deposits and withdrawals.

Is this the ultimate withdrawal?

In our Nov. 17 VIEWPOINTS section, Joe Wemhoff virtually ex-communicated me?#34;along with half of Oak Park's Catholics it seemed. I guess that makes me an ex-communicant. Do I have to wear a large scarlet "A" (for Apostate) so the priest knows not to give me communion?

I'd miss that. Communion is more than swallowing a tasteless, unleavened wafer and sipping a little inexpensive wine, however transubstantiated those species might be. More important to me is the sense of unity I experience with my fellow communicants as they pass by, accompanied by the choir's lovely, gently repetitive hymn refrains.

I find it quite poignant?#34;such a wide array of body types, styles of dress, ages, gaits, and personalities. So many struggles, so much sadness and triumph, evident love and evident pain. So many stories flowing past, all unified momentarily by this shared symbolic feast.

Sometimes I think we're the ones who have been transubstantiated?#34;becoming the body and blood of God. Or God has become our body and blood. Or both. To me, that's what the word "communion" means?#34;coming together in union?#34;a small mystical miracle.

Do you experience that, Joe? I suppose not. You're too busy keeping track of all the infractions the rest of us are committing.

You're a good man, Joe, but you're such a hall monitor, burdened by an unhealthy obsession with orthodoxy. It's the obsession that's unhealthy, not the orthodoxy. I respect the need for rules. I am somewhat less respectful of appointing yourself God's Theological Enforcer. You seem to believe that if only everyone would just follow the letter of the law, all would be well with the Catholic Church.

Long ago, I took a leap of faith and decided that God was too supreme a being to bother playing the Master Bookkeeper of the Universe. Absolute obedience to "the rules" can't be God's highest priority, I concluded. The God I believe in is considerably more tolerant, savvy, and loving. Rules are good if they provide a helpful structure. But they stifle spirituality if the letter of the law becomes more important than the spirit of the law.

At the risk of sounding preachy, Jesus hits this point pretty hard in the gospels. The Pharisees were the hall monitors of his era, and they were always trying to use the rules to entangle him. Jesus clearly loved the spirit of Judaism and wanted to set it free from the prison of smothering orthodoxy?#34;as Pope John XXIII did with an overly rigid Catholic Church when he convened Vatican II.

"Pharisee" has become synonymous with "hypocrite," but I suspect they were sincere, if overly zealous, guardians of "the truth" who forgot what it was they were guarding. At some point, the rules became more important than the truth they were intended to protect.

Though I wish I could say it ain't so, Joe, I think you and all the other Hall Monitor/Tattle-Tale Catholics have turned into modern-day Pharisees.

I'm content to wait until I die to find out whose notion of God is more accurate and then let God deal with us. If you get there and see me on my knees, submitting to the wrath of your Judgmental God, feel free to say, "I told you so." But if I hear God kindly say, "Joe, we need to have a word," I'll be there for support. That's because my notion of the afterlife is basically a grander version of earthly communion.

Until then, even if I am ex-communicated, I'll still say hello when I see you out and about.

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