One of the most important developments in the life of the early Church was the conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-19). There is an important subtlety though, which is often overshadowed by the dramatic nature of his encounter with Jesus that day. Most agree that the prayer of mercy by St. Stephen as he was being stoned (Acts 7:60) was an important factor in Saul’s conversion. But there was another factor at work in his conversion. According to Paul, he was a disciple of the highly renowned Jewish scholar, Gamaliel, (Acts 22:3).
It is interesting to note, then, that he was swayed by the powerful elite of the Jewish Sanhedrrin from following the wisdom and discipline of this great Jewish scholar, recorded in Acts 5:33-39. Whereas Gamaliel warned that opposing the cult of the Nazarene, Jesus,could result in opposing God, the leaders of the Jews decided to scourge the apostles and to give them stern warnings to stop preaching about Jesus. Sadly, the faithful disciple of Gamaliel, Saul, decided to break from the teachings of this holy man. He went so far as to support the stoning of Stephen and zealously joined with the Sanhedrin in persecuting followers of the Way, even as far away as Damascus. It is worth noting here the intriguing parallel between the words of Gamaliel in Acts 5:39, “…you may even find yourselves fighting against God” and Paul’s account of the words of Jesus to him in Acts 26:14, “It is hard for you to kick against the goad.”
What is overlooked in all this is the fact that Saul most likely had suppressed reservations he had about renouncing the wisdom of Gamaliel. After all, if the “magisterium” of the Jewish people (cf. Matt 23:1-3) declared that this new movement was not of God, it must have indeed been a serious danger to the pure faith of Israel. Yet, if this were so, why would such a holy and wise man as Gamaliel advise against an outright persecution of its followers? Was he becoming senile? Was his keen sense of the sacredness of the holy disciplines of the Mosaic Law becoming dull with old age?
Was it possible that the members of the Sanhedrin, who occupied the chair of Moses, were mistaken?
These and similar questions must have been fermenting under the surface of Saul’s soul, especially as he observed the holiness of life manifested in the lives of those declared to be enemies of the Law of Moses. Thus it was that his encounter with Jesus as he traveled to Damascus was an experience of profound clarification for doubts that haunted the depths of his soul - doubts that were suppressed by the violent zeal, with which he carried out the directions of the Sanhedrin. By the gracious mercy of God, Saul was finally able to see the light, both literally and figuratively.
In reflecting on this, I could not help but to notice a parallel situation in the Catholic Church over the past half century. Specifically, the way Church leaders capitulated to the demands of those who were violating the sacred discipline of receiving the Eucharistic Christ on the tongue. These dissenters insisted that introducing the practice of receiving the Eucharistic Christ in the hand would promote greater zeal and devotion among the faithful. Sad to say, statistical evidence in most traditionally Christian nations in the West indicates that such is not the case.
What should be the manifestation of the Kingdom of God on earth has become more of an amphictyony of ambiguity, where pastoral discretion routinely regards the capitulation to dissent as a sophisticated reverence for the inviolability of conscience. Admonishing the sinner and instructing the ignorant, especially in matters of sexual morality, are all too often treated as grave violations of personal conscience. And holding the baptized accountable to the whole truth of God and to the ongoing discipline of sincere repentance guided by the obedience of faith is discouraged. Instead, people are urged to continue meandering on their journeys of faith, seeking fulfillment and meaning in accordance with their own agendas – with Jesus treated more as their personal mascot than as their Divine Master, Who calls them to accountability to the whole truth of God.
Thus we have a situation where Communion in the hand has led to the treatment of the Eucharistic Christ as a cult object, rather than as the Incarnate Son of God. The Eucharistic Christ is routinely referred to as “it”, rather than as “He” or “Him”. The specific rite for receiving Our Lord in the hand is routinely ignored. Often there is no act of reverence immediately before receiving Him. People grab the Sacred Host from the hand of the priest. And Eucharistic particles are so casually left to fall on the floor that the church vacuum cleaner bag becomes, de facto, a tabernacle. And lest I leave myself open to the charge of being too scrupulous, I need to point out that Christ is indeed truly present in even the smallest Eucharistic “particle”.
Those who ignore this truth put their spiritual lives in grave danger. For, if it is permissible to deny the fact that these “Particles” are indeed Christ, we are thereby given the “liberty” to deny the image of God in the “crumbs of human society. For example, we are free to assert that, if a newly-conceived human being or a child in the womb does not look like a person, the dignity of that person may be denied and its life callously terminated. And if the people in a city look merely like little specks to the naked eye of a bombardier flying 50.000 feet above that city, they should not be considered as persons and thus may be legitimately destroyed in a thermonuclear blast.
Likewise, any special consideration for the poor and the marginalized in our society must be re-evaluated in view of ever-evolving and more exclusive definitions of “personhood” foisted upon us by the elitist progressive secularist agenda. Failure or refusal to recognize and reverence the “particular” Presence of Christ as the Eucharist can promote the arrogance of spiritual autonomy, but it cannot promote the authentic development of any human being or human community.
The Church needs to reaffirm the truth that little things do matter. When we take care of the little things, the big things take care of themselves. And, if those entrusted with authority, such as the members of the Sanhedrin in the time of Saul, assert that basic truths of the Faith, reverently reaffirmed by the Gamaliels of our own age, should be ignored for the sake of getting more power for the Church or building up momentum for the Kingdom, they must be corrected. The Church does not grow through the momentum of hubris, but only through a humble, reverent and repentant docility to the gracious fidelity of the Holy Spirit. And if anyone tries to say that little things do not matter, tell him to try to go to sleep with a mosquito flying around his bedroom.