While we were absorbed in family concerns, the rest of the American Catholic world was focused on the accounts that some satanists are holding a black mass at Harvard through the Harvard Extension Society. This is a loathsome publicity stunt, and even though the group claims they will not be using a consecrated host, it is an action so vicious and hostile that even the most committed atheist should find reasons to oppose it on cultural and humanitarian fronts. Elizabeth Scalia has been doing fine investigative reporting on the debacle; do read her reports.
Harvard refuses to shut down the event, in the name of free speech, but I was fascinated by President Drew Faust's statement:
The reenactment of a 'black mass' planned by a student group affiliated with the Harvard Extension School challenges us to reconcile the dedication to free expression at the heart of a university with our commitment to foster a community based on civility and mutual understanding. Vigorous and open discussion and debate are essential to the pursuit of knowledge, and we must uphold these values even in the face of controversy. Freedom of expression, as Justice Holmes famously said long ago, protects not only free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.
But even as we permit expression of the widest range of ideas, we must also take responsibility for debating and challenging expression with which we profoundly disagree. The 'black mass' had its historical origins as a means of denigrating the Catholic Church; it mocks a deeply sacred event in Catholicism, and is highly offensive to many in the Church and beyond. The decision by a student club to sponsor an enactment of this ritual is abhorrent; it represents a fundamental affront to the values of inclusion, belonging and mutual respect that must define our community. It is deeply regrettable that the organizers of this event, well aware of the offense they are causing so many others, have chosen to proceed with a form of expression that is so flagrantly disrespectful and inflammatory.
Nevertheless, consistent with the University’s commitment to free expression, including expression that may deeply offend us, the decision to proceed is and will remain theirs. At the same time, we will vigorously protect the right of others to respond—and to address offensive expression with expression of their own.
I plan to attend a Eucharistic Holy Hour and Benediction at St. Paul's Church on our campus on Monday evening in order to join others in reaffirming our respect for the Catholic faith at Harvard and to demonstrate that the most powerful response to offensive speech is not censorship, but reasoned discourse and robust dissent.
President Faust certainly has more agency than she evinces here to shut down events that are "abhorrent" and "deeply regrettable", but that whole discussion aside: I wonder what other event could have caused the president of Harvard to attend a Holy Hour in reparation for offenses against Christ and his Church? The Eucharist has power; you do not enter the divine presence without being affected. Those who hold a black mass and mock the Eucharist do so at the peril of their souls, because opening yourself to demonic influence, even in jest, even in disbelief, has consequences. And those who attend adoration do so in peril of their own souls, because opening yourself up to the idea of reparations, to the possibility that an offense has been committed against the presence of God, even as a PR stunt, has consequences, because the reparations are for our sake. Make no mistake, even though the whole point of a black mass is to "get back" at God in some way, to hold him in contempt with impunity, we are incapable of hurting God.
Let me say it again: we are incapable of hurting God. God is Love -- not just loving, not just full of love. He is Love itself. He is not just joyful, He is Joy. No human agency, no sacrilege, no desecration, no humiliation, no vile torture, no crucifixion can steal the slightest particle of God's divine Joy. No one can gain an iota of power over God. If Satan has no power over God, how much less do any humans doing anything in Satan's name.
But humans can hurt themselves and other humans, which is why we who believe God throw ourselves on His mercy and implore it for others. God permits free will, and He believes in it more strongly than we do, it seems: He will let us fully experience the consequences of our actions and our beliefs. That is why we do reparation for offenses against Him, even if He can't be offended. That is why we don't respond to violations of the Eucharist with violence but with prayer. Jesus, who gave his back to those who beat him and his cheeks to those who plucked his beard, isn't defenseless. He can take any abuse heaped on Him. He adopts the helplessness of the weakest in order to give each person a chance to respond freely to Him.
There's plenty of discussion to be had about the extents of academic inquiry and freedom of speech and sheer hypocrisy in regards to Harvard's role in hosting this despicable event, but I think that the promoters of the black mass are going to find a lot more spiritual consequences than they bargained for. "And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself," Jesus said (John 12:32). Lifted up in adoration, lifted up in desecration: He draws each one, and each one must respond. Dear God, please soften all the hardened hearts you draw to yourself, including mine.