Different Drummer

On God, gluten and little girls

“You must believe in God in spite of what the clergy say.”—Jowett.

I realize I am about to engage in anthropomorphism—the attribution of human characteristics to a non-human entity—but that said, the older I get, the more I have come to believe that God is just bound to spend a lot of time shaking his head at some of the things we humans do in His name.

I’m not talking about just the big things like waging so-called “holy wars” and conducting inquisitions or burning witches, but rather some of the other things, lesser ones in the big scope of things, that absolutely make no sense whatsoever, on any level outside of dogmatic rigidity for its own sake.

There are seemingly countless examples of this sort of thing, but one of my favored ones and a shining example, took place a number of years back in the town of Brielle, New Jersey.

It seems that in that town, which Google tells me has about 4,700 people, there was at the time an 8-year-old girl by the name of Haley Waldman, who regrettably suffered from a relatively rare disease known as celiac sprue. As I made it my business at the time to learn, that disorder is one which occurs in people with a genetic intolerance to gluten, a food protein which is contained in, among other things, wheat and wheat products. It is also a condition which causes its sufferers not only nasty gastric distress, but potentially serious organ damage should they ingest too much gluten.

Celiac sprue, which can’t be much fun in any instance, in young Haley’s case ran right smack into the would-be celebration of her budding faith, due to what might most charitably be called the doctrinal inflexibility of the Roman Catholic Church.

Like her mother, Haley was attempting to be a practicing Roman Catholic, while at the same time trying to avoid things like throwing up for two or three days or perhaps shutting down her spleen. That, one would think, should not be an insurmountable task, but enter the Trenton, N.J., Diocese of the Catholic Church.

In what made news courtesy of The Associated Press, Haley’s first Holy Communion—a sacred event, for sure—was declared invalid by the having-nothingbetter-to-do Trenton Diocese becauseare you ready for this?—it determined that her Communion wafer didn’t meet specs.

That’s right. Her local parish priest, knowing the child’s condition, allowed her to substitute a rice wafer for the symbolic Body of Christ, rather than the traditional wheat wafer utilized in the holy rite. And the church’s up-the-line muckety-mucks had a hissy fit, declaring that the poor girl’s commemoration of the Last Supper of Christ was officially invalid.

“This is not an issue to be determined at the diocesan or parish level but has already been decided for the Roman Catholic Church throughout the world by Vatican authority,” one of them sanctimoniously pronounced.

What? The pope didn’t like rice?

And see, it is right about at this point that I envision God shaking His head and uttering some providential version of “What’s wrong with these bozos?”

(I am resisting, though just barely, interjecting here the all too often inappropriately utilized pop culture rhetoric of “What would Jesus do?”).

Now, once again I will acknowledge my anthropomorphic folly, but it just seems to me that God has always been a pretty big fan of little kids and of bringing them into His flock, so I’m betting that He just wouldn’t be real big on “His folks” kicking one out on a technicality.

Far be it from halfway agnostic me to question the liturgical judgment of the Trenton Diocese, but logic begs one: Do these jokers really believe that God would be more concerned about the gluten content of a ceremonial wafer than He would the mortal soul of an 8-year-old girl?

Know what I’m betting? I’m betting that God is nothing short of tickled pink that Haley Waldman of Brielle, N.J., wanted to celebrate her first Communion and that He could not care less if her choice of wafer is wheat or rice. After all, didn’t He presumably make them both?

I’m betting that the Haley Waldmans of the world bring a great many more smiles to the face of God than do some of the characters who adorn themselves in robes and jewelry and presume to portray it to the rest of us.

And I don’t know what the divine equivalent of “good grief” is, but I am betting that God says it a lot. Of course, that’s just good ole anthropomorphic me.

Ray Mosby is editor and publisher of the Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork.

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