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God Squad: Specialized religious education

My 13-year-old grandson is bipolar and suffers from ADHD. He receives medication and is not mainstreamed in regular school but attends an alternative program. He didn't attend Hebrew school, as he could not handle the requirements or structure of the program.

My grandson has always had social issues and has practically no friends. He's always been interested in guns, police issues and war movies, and lately has become enamored with Hitler. My son has tried to discuss this with him from the Jewish perspective, but my grandson has no interest in his Jewish history or culture.

We don't know the best way to handle this situation. My grandson's two younger siblings attend Hebrew school, but the family is not active in the synagogue. Can you offer any advice?

-- J., via email

One of the best tests of the spiritual integrity of a church, synagogue or mosque is the way it approaches the religious education of children with special needs. Struggling with limited budgets and teaching staffs, it's understandable but deeply regrettable when religious education classes are geared only to students in mainstream classes with so-called normal abilities.

I would urge you and your children to talk to the rabbi and try to find a teacher who could spend time teaching your grandson, according to his ability to learn. If your synagogue cannot do this, I'd encourage you to find a private tutor to work with your grandson and with the religious school at the synagogue. This tutor would also need to work with your family to reinforce good moral and religious teachings by bringing your grandson to services and using his interests as teachable moments to help him raise his spiritual horizons.

There's an old Jewish legend that the reason God chose Moses was that when Moses was tending the flocks of his father-in-law, Jethro (a Midianite priest), Moses left the flock to save a single wayward goat. God supposedly remarked, "If Moses is so loving that he left the flock to save one animal, he will surely be the one to save all my people Israel from bondage in Egypt." Don't lose hope. Be like Moses and save your grandson for God.

I'm Roman Catholic. I know Roman Catholics and Protestants can't participate in each other's Communion. However, can members of the various Protestant denominations participate in each other's Communion?

-- T., Buffalo

Your question concerns what's called in Christian theology, "closed Communion."

You're correct that the Roman Catholic Church practices closed Communion. However, an exception can be made in cases where a Catholic is in dire need and unable to attend Mass in a Catholic Church, if "the person being unable to have recourse for the sacrament to a minister of his or her own Church or ecclesial Community, asks for the sacrament of his or her own initiative, manifests Catholic faith in the sacrament and is properly disposed." (Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism, 131).

That means, if the Catholic person attends a church that, though not Roman Catholic, is nevertheless in close communion with the Roman Catholic Church, he or she can receive Communion there. This applies to the Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodoxy and the Assyrian Church of the East.

If, however, they're attending a church which does not accept the Catholic belief in the Real Presence -- namely that the wine and the host are fully and completely and not just symbolically transubstantiated into the body and blood of Christ -- then even in dire circumstances, they cannot receive Communion.

As for Protestant churches, some practice closed Communion, including some Baptist churches, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Jehovah's Witnesses, some churches in the Reformed tradition, the Apostolic Christian Churches and the Church of God in Christ. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America practices open Communion, provided the communicant is a baptized believer in the reality of Christ's presence in the Eucharistic meal.

The main idea behind these theological disputes is the question raised in I Corinthians (10:16-17): "The cup of blessing which we bless, it is not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread." The Eucharist is not a custom or a symbol but a foundational reality, and partaking in it requires proper religious disposition.

Since it would be highly unwise for you to take a rabbi's teaching on the Eucharist to the bank (I mean to church!). I'd advise you to contact the minister or elders of a church in advance to determine if you'll need catechetical instruction or some other preparation for communion.

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