Reflecting on the Real Presence
I found John Cavadini’s short take, “The Eucharist & the Poor” (November 2023), meaningful on several levels. I’ve been a subscriber for a number of years but have only recently become a self-exiled Roman Catholic who is presently worshipping and communing with an Episcopal congregation in town, for various reasons of conscience. Through this community, I participate in the Episcopal Church’s Education for Ministry (EfM) program, which aims to foster adult lay participants’ discernment and development of their individual ministerial roles in the Church. A central component is regular engagement in theological reflection on topics of participants’ free choice using a format developed by the program’s leaders at the University of the South.
The theme for this year’s study is “living as spiritually mature Christians,” and a recent week’s suggested starting point for a reflection was an idea or image from Christian Tradition. Without intentionally searching for my topic, I turned the page to Cavadini’s article. About halfway through, I realized that not only is the piece itself a marvelous theological reflection on the idea of the “Real Presence” in Catholic theology, but it also flows according to the EfM format perfectly to offer a more mature understanding of this “ancient and intrinsic” Christian doctrine.
The following week’s prompt involved asking where in personal experience I had sensed that I was spiritually maturing. Again, I was inspired by a second reading of Cavadini’s reflection. I felt it moving me to a deeper, fuller understanding of the Real Presence and what this might mean for my life as a maturing Christian.
I was particularly encouraged by the words near the end of the piece that suggest the consequences of overlooking what Cavadini calls “eucharistic realism,” which connects the Real Presence to the preferential option for the poor: that the disconnect diminishes the full impact of the Real Presence and has “fetishized” it as an object “that Catholics have and others do not.”
I don’t know when—if ever—I will return to worship and communion with the Roman Church. But Cavadini’s article gives me hope that this might be possible through movements of the Spirit in the synodal process also reported in this and other Commonweal issues. I pray for the continuation of this process and further theological teachings like Cavadini’s in connection with the USCCB’s ongoing National Eucharistic Revival.
Heather A. Feeney
“We the People” Are on the Hook
In his review of Adam Kirsch’s The Revolt Against Humanity (November 2023), Nolen Gertz claims that most of the blame for humanity’s environmental destruction should be placed on the “large-scale behavior of corporations and governments.” I believe that this view, while not altogether wrong, misses the main issue.
It is true that some large corporations, in particular Exxon and some others in the energy sector, have at times been guilty of disseminating misleading information or outright falsehoods about the science and economic issues related to anthropogenic climate change. They should be condemned for that and held accountable to the extent possible.
But, for two reasons, I believe it is a mistake to place too much emphasis on corporate malfeasance. First, it is naïve to expect a for-profit business to act against what it perceives to be its own best interest. In a capitalist society like ours, the primary goal of any business is to profit and grow. That is true of even a corner grocery store, but radically more so of a publicly traded multinational corporation. It strikes me as almost a category error to ask them to behave otherwise. It is for society at large to place limits through legislation enacted by elected officials on what they can do.
Second, we—the general public—are eager consumers of their products. To focus solely on corporations lets “we the people” off the hook much too readily. We are not helpless victims of the marketing campaigns of giant energy corporations. Gertz claims that “plenty of people” are concerned about climate change and have made lifestyle changes. But how many people have voluntarily made the kind of significant lifestyle changes that will be needed to solve the climate problem? For example, how many people drive cars and live in houses that are much larger than they really need? How many are willing to relocate to cities that offer the possibility of a much smaller carbon footprint? How many are willing to pay more for green energy? How many are willing to greatly reduce or eliminate their meat consumption? How many support political candidates who tell the truth about climate change? The answer to these and similar questions is: not nearly enough. There is a big difference between expressing a vague interest in seeing our government do something about climate change and being willing to make difficult or even just inconvenient lifestyle changes. And there is a big difference between switching to energy-efficient light bulbs (easy) and becoming a vegan (much harder).
I understand that many people face financial or other pressures that place such choices out of reach. But many of us do have real options and, far too often, make the more convenient rather than the more environmentally responsible choice.
My review of climate-change survey data at the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication reveals a U.S. public insufficiently aware of the climate crisis and insufficiently engaged in implementing solutions. This is in spite of the fact that it has been true for at least thirty years now that anyone who wants to know the truth about climate change can easily find it. Far too many choose willful ignorance instead. Half the active voting public is poised to vote for Donald Trump in 2024. We cannot blame Exxon for that.
These considerations lead me to conclude that the “Anthropocene antihumanists” have a much better case for the general destructiveness of our species than Gertz allows. However, the theological arguments presented by Haught and Meilaender in the same article lead me to reject the antihumanist view. Thank goodness for their profound reflections!