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The "fruits" of diversity

By Alisa Craddock
web posted July 21, 2008

A University of Central Florida student has garnered national attention by disrupting a Catholic Mass on campus and then taking his consecrated Host hostage for a week, he said because he wanted a meeting with the Bishop to discuss the Church's policies, but more likely it was a protest against school sponsorship of the Catholic Campus Ministry. 

When the student, Webster Cook, received the consecrated Host, he attempted to walk away with it in his hand.  The Catholic Church insists that the Host must be consumed immediately--a requirement of the Church to prevent desecration of the Sacred Body of Christ.  The student was stopped from returning to his seat and told he must consume the Host.  He put it into his mouth, but then removed it a few moments later, and then another woman who was part of the ministry tried to retrieve it, and when he wouldn't surrender it, she apparently attempted to pry it from his hand.  When she was unsuccessful, a man came over and told him to leave, and when he complained of his treatment, he was told why the Church requires that the Host be consumed, after which he decided to hold the Host "hostage" to arrange a meeting with the Bishop to discuss the Church's policies. The student had no sense of the sacredness of the Mass, no deference for the assembly of worshippers, no humility shown for awesome sacredness of the Eucharist he held in his hand.  This is not about the Church's policies.

He claims he had just wanted to show it to his friend, a non-Catholic, who had expressed curiosity about the Mass and had attended with him.  The evidence suggests otherwise.    He is a senator in the student government there, and has complained that the university is giving money derived from student fees to the Catholic Campus Ministry.  He said it himself: "The church feels that I'm the problem here," Cook said. "The problem is actually that this is a publicly-funded religious institution. Through student government here, we fund them through an activity and service, so they're receiving student money."  It is apparent he wanted to cause an incident that would force some type of action out of the administration against the Catholic Campus Ministry because he didn't think the CCM should be receiving funds derived from student fees.  The student did finally return the Host after a week (he claims to have received death threats), but has now filed a complaint against the Catholic Campus Ministry.

This whole incident stinks of exhibitionism and a calculated effort to dislodge the Catholic Campus Ministry from the university community.  His contempt for the Church is palpable, so it is pretty obvious Mr. Cook went in to the Mass to cause an incident that might get the CCM de-recognized as a supported organization, and he knew just what to do to cause such an incident.

He claims to have been raised Catholic.  Those who wish to undermine the Church always do, so they can pretend they are speaking with authority, or speaking for other Catholics, but no Catholic refers to the Eucharist as a "cracker" as he did.  The term is a contemptuous one.  He did the one thing that was sure to outrage the Catholic community on campus.  He violated the Blessed Sacrament.  If he was raised Catholic, as he claims, and he really just wanted to show the communion wafer to his non-Catholic friend (an absurd claim since showing him the wafer teaches him nothing about our faith), he could have simply asked for an unconsecrated host, or asked the priest to show him one before Mass.  Priests are eager to share the faith.  No, I suspect the "friend" was a sympathetic ally invited along to "enjoy the show" and provide a "witness" for the complaint Cook knew he would be lodging.  His explanation rings hollow.  Even if he didn't know he was expected to consume the Host, he knew it after the first woman told him so, and if he didn't want to consume it, he could just have given it to her. 

The complaint charges the Catholic Campus Ministry with physical abuse, harassment, violation of his privacy, and "hazing" (hazing for compelling him to consume the Host, which he actually removed from his mouth and later put in a plastic bag and held for a week) in an absurd accusation reminiscent of the RICO charges filed against pro-life protestors.  "Hazing" rules are in place to prevent fraternities from compelling pledges to consume disgusting food items as part of their initiation rites.  The disciplines of a Roman Catholic Mass are voluntary, but inviolable, and the Eucharist is no mere "cracker" but is our highest form of worship.  That he should call it hazing even implies further contempt for the Eucharist—does he suggest it is disgusting food?  Why did he proceed then to receive it?  If, as he claims, he intended to consume it, then why didn't he just do it?  It is the Body of Christ.  It is not something a Catholic may treat casually.

"Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself." 1 Cor 11:27-29).  

Catholics believe and affirm that the Host is the Body and Blood of Christ.   We believe that when Jesus said, "Take this, all of you, and eat it--THIS IS MY BODY" that he was being literal, not figurative, that when the prayers of consecration are pronounced by the priest, the wafer becomes the body and blood of Our Lord, though retaining the appearance and flavor of bread and wine.  This belief is as ancient as the Church.  It is affirmed in the Scriptures, and in the earliest writings of the Church Fathers, and those same documents attest that it is heresy to believe that the Host is not truly the Body of Christ. "Intentionally abusing the Eucharist is classified as a mortal sin in the Catholic Church," said Fr. Miguel Gonzalez of the Diocese of Orlando, "the most severe possible." 

This young man claims to have been raised Catholic, but any Catholic knows that to receive Communion, you must be reconciled to God through confession if you have committed any serious sin. It is assumed that anyone approaching to receive the Host has the desire to be united to Christ, but sometimes persons will attempt to obtain a consecrated Host to desecrate it, which is why the Church insists the Host be consumed immediately, and the remaining hosts are kept under lock and key in a tabernacle.  The only situation in which a consecrated host may be taken away is when one has requested to take Communion to someone who is not able to come to Church to receive it, but it isn't just handed over upon request.  Those who perform this function are instructed and are known to the priest.  The consecrated Host is placed into a pyx (a little metal box) and is respectfully handled and protected until it can be given to the intended party.  

Since no one is compelled to attend Mass or to receive Communion, it is the height of audacity for this young man to deliberately disrupt the Mass and desecrate the Sacrament, in violation not only of the Church's disciplines, but of the university's student conduct regulations by committing an act which (contrary to what he might say), he knew would cause great distress and outrage to Catholics, and then to accuse the Ministry of "hazing" him, of abusing him.  In point of fact, since he refused to consume it, the attempt was made to retrieve it, but he would not give it up.  No one tried to force feed it to him.  But he was obliged to either consume it or surrender it.  You see, it's not about him, it's about the sacredness of the Eucharist. If he did not intend to consume it, he had no business receiving it.  (If he's not a Catholic, he has no business receiving it anyway.)  But he was careful to say that he had intended to consume it. 

The Catholic world is waiting to see how the University handles this.  The University of Central Florida cannot alter the Order of the Mass, and Federal law would forbid it in any case.  But the student's objective, it appears, is to get the university to derecognize and/or defund the Catholic Ministry on campus, or to nullify its ability to celebrate Mass according to its own disciplines, effectively forcing it off campus.  How will the university handle the issue of disrespect and desecration?  That is the real object here. 

It does not matter whether or not the University of Central Florida administration believes in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  It is a Truth of our faith.  What Webster Cook did was an act of violence against the Lord and against every Catholic in that room, and he knows it.  But he's trying to paint the university into a corner.  They must either acknowledge that the Host is what the Church says it is, and that Cook's behavior did violence to those present (in which case the actions of the women were justified, or at least excusable), or they deny it, and treat it as a piece of property that, once in Cook's possession was his to do with as he wished.  What a nasty little dilemma.  I suspect the solution will be something in between, something the Church may find untenable, and Cook will have what he wants.  On the other hand, this might just cause enough outrage that something positive may come of it.  I hope it is the latter.  

Acts such as this desecration whittle away at respect for Catholicism by forcing the administration to demonstrate (or not) its respect for the sacredness of our Rite and of the spiritual life of Catholic students on campus.  Whether he intended that or not, (and I maintain that he did) it will have that effect.  The ball is now in UCF's court.  Will they treat this as a serious violation of their "Golden Rule" and of the rights of the Campus Catholic community and the Church?  Will they discipline the student accordingly, or will they claim that the "cracker" became the property of the student once he received it, to do with as he wants, and side with those who would try to undermine the religious rights of Catholic students and the right of the Church to determine its manner of worship? 

We all have the freedom to embrace different beliefs, and the right to express them in a civilized way.  (I say "civilized" because often those who oppose the teachings of the Church "express" them by desecrating icons and images of saints, the Virgin Mary, or Christ himself, destroying nativity scenes, taking off their clothes and performing lewd public "expressions" in front of Catholic Churches, and so on.)  As expressions of anti-Catholicism are permitted to become more overt and go unchallenged, they will eventually take on the character of cross-burnings.  I hope that this incident, and the incidents it has spawned will awaken people to an ominous threat within our culture. ESR

Alisa Craddock is a columnist and activist in the culture war, a convert to Catholicism, and describes herself as a Christian Libertarian.  She may be contacted at alisa.craddock at hushmail.com.

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