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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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Calumny about Jewels & Shepherds

Herb wanted to share his calumny with us:

What would Jesus’ or Peter’s reaction be today to bishops, cardinals and the popes parading around in excessive jewel-bedecked outfits?

Father Joe has this response to make:

What jewels are these?  Do you know anything about the simplicity of Pope Francis?  The take home pay for most priests and bishops is around 12 to 15 thousand dollars a year.  Those in religious orders do not even own the clothes on their back.  The marks of faith are passed on from one shepherd to the next.  The cross a bishop wears signifies Christ and his redemptive work.  The ring a bishop puts on is a sign of his apostolic authority.  He wears it just as married couples wear a ring.  At a time when certain millionaire Protestant clergy proclaim a prosperity gospel, you attack poor men who do more for charity and human dignity than you ever will. 

Look to your plank before trying to reach for the splinters in the eyes of your brothers!

 

Faith Challenged By Scripture

angrycrowd

A person who is struggling with faith wrote the following:

I was raised “catholic” but now I am considering leaving “catholicism” along with belief in “god.” I honestly cannot come to believe in “god” anymore. I used to be such a fervent believer in him but I have come to the realization that I no longer believe in him. The more I read the “bible” and verses like the ones below the more I become disillusioned with Christianity.

Deuteronomy 25:11-12 / Genesis 38:8-10 / Deuteronomy 21:18-21 / Exodus 35:2 / Leviticus 20:13 / Isaiah 13:13-16 / Exodus 21:20-21 / 1 Timothy 2:11-12 / Colossians 3:22-23 / Luke 14:26 / Deuteronomy 22:13-21 / Isaiah 40:8

This does not seem like the “word of god” to me— of a being who is supposed to be all knowing and perfect. Rather it is the work of an individual with a primitive way of thinking. Many times I tried to convince myself that the “god” of the Old Testament was different but sadly that is not the case since most Christians believe that “god” is eternally unchanging as is expected of a perfect ‘know it all’ being. I have many more problems with the “bible,” including inconsistencies with history and science. I also don’t like the fact that everything in the “bible” has to be watered down especially the negative portions. Why can’t I just read it for what it is, why does it have to be read metaphorically. When Jesus said that we should love our neighbors as we love ourselves I understood the message loud and clear. So why are other portions, which are just so ridiculous, have to be read symbolically or metaphorically? I honestly cannot believe in “god” anymore. I tried but I just can’t bring myself to honestly and sincerely believe anymore. I don’t consider myself an evil person but the more “scripture” I read the less I believe.

Here is my response:

First, the Bible is not dictated word for word in a manner that invalidates the learning and life experiences of the human authors. The nature of the instruments (as human beings) has to be respected. Anything more controlling would be a form of possession, and that devilish business undermines human dignity. We are men and women, not pencils. The light of God’s truth shines through but as through the prism of the human condition. We see this ultimately with the incarnation and the one who is the Light of the World. Consequently, the coarseness and cruelty that upsets us in the Old Testament says more about mankind and sin than it does about God. The passion and death of Jesus is his confrontation with such a mindset. What was tolerated before is now challenged so that it might be healed and perfected.

Second, we must acknowledge that the Bible was written by many authors, exhibiting many styles, over a great deal of time and in many places. The oldest books may go back as far as the 16th and 12th century BC. The Scriptures also contain many forms of literature: histories, speeches, prophecies, legal codes, parable stories and mythology, poetry and hymns, etc. One must understand what one is reading if it is to be interpreted correctly. Jesus gave us a Church so that the truths of faith might be faithfully transmitted without dilution or corruption. While it is inspired by the Holy Spirit, this same Spirit in the Church preserves the truth. The Holy Spirit also grants us the gift of faith. The Bible is not a manual on how to live your life. The Bible is not a science book. It is a library of books that chronicles God’s activity in salvation history and our response. You should not make the Bible out to be something it is not. If you want an easy listing of moral certainties then pick up the universal catechism of the Church.

God as a perfect Spirit is unchanging and has within himself all perfections: knowledge, power, goodness, holiness, eternal, etc. But God must communicate with us in time. All we know is change. One day we are a child and the next we look into the mirror and see wrinkles and white hair. God enters the human family: the Word becomes Flesh. He suffers and dies for you and me. Jesus is the ultimate revelation of the Father. He lowers himself to our level so that we might better know and love him. While you like his words about love, you are ready to renounce Jesus as a divine Person and his real presence in the Eucharist. Why are you more willing to see mankind as a cosmic accident than as a providential creation with an eternal destiny? That is not much of a trade-off.

Old heresies often raise their ugly heads. Marcionism was a dualism insisting that the “harsh” and “bloodthirsty” deity of the Old Testament could not be the same as the “loving” Father of Jesus. This view was rightly condemned by the Church. Jesus is the long-promised Messiah and even our Lord says that “salvation comes through the Jews.”

I would like to say that man’s capacity to understand grows but I am often amazed at the depth of ignorance and error, even in the modern world. The deity of ISIS Islamic extremists is a throwback to the view of God as one of law over love, of forced conversions, and of espousing death to infidels. By contrast, the God of truth, justice and mercy is reflected in the courageous men and women who are tortured and beheaded for their Catholic faith and for the love of Jesus. While you reject God because your interpretation will allow no clash in models; the Christian martyrs witness to the truth with courage. They embrace in their agony what you throw away in your leisure.

Genesis 38:8-10

Then Judah said to Onan, “Have intercourse with your brother’s wife, in fulfillment of your duty as brother-in-law, and thus preserve your brother’s line.” Onan, however, knew that the offspring would not be his; so whenever he had intercourse with his brother’s wife, he wasted his seed on the ground, to avoid giving offspring to his brother. What he did greatly offended the LORD, and the LORD took his life too.

Often cited against the sin of masturbation and/or coitus interruptus, the situation again reflects an ancient code (pagan and Jewish) about raising a child up for one’s dead brother. Onan has no problem with enjoying the sexual act, but his selfishness will not allow a child to be conceived. If there is no progeny then no inheritance will have to be shared with his brother’s family. While Christians do not follow this legal code, and would object to such an understanding of the marriage bed, we can see in the story a divine negative verdict against those who would separate the conjugal act from its natural fertility. In any case, Onan is disobedient to what he perceives as his obligation under the law. Disobedience always invokes a reckoning. Given that he acts against life, his life is demanded of him. Remember that God is the author of life. We belong to him. If he should demand our life, it is his right.

Exodus 21:20-21

When someone strikes his male or female slave with a rod so that the slave dies under his hand, the act shall certainly be avenged. 

If, however, the slave survives for a day or two, he is not to be punished, since the slave is his own property.

The ancient world kept slaves. These rules here were to make the masters of men accountable. While we disagree about such bondage, we can appreciate the yearning for justice. There is still slavery in certain parts of the world. The seed of freedom planted in the New Covenant would take a while to germinate and grow. Christians were urged to treat slaves as brothers and sisters in Christ. Later slavery was tolerated until that time that debts were paid off or savages were civilized and given the true faith. Popes condemned slavery in the 1600’s and yet it would remain an institution in the United States until 1865. Dissent is not something new, as today the full humanity of the unborn is compromised. It became ever clearer that in Christ all are given grace and regarded the same— Jew or Gentile, free or slave, man or woman— all possess a precious dignity. Freedom is our birthright as children of God and everyone has natural rights. Here is one of the clearest instances of the organic development of doctrine.

Exodus 35:2

On six days work may be done, but the seventh day shall be holy to you as the sabbath of complete rest to the LORD. Anyone who does work on that day shall be put to death.

This is part of the Decalogue, although later Jews and Christians would not have any part of a death threat. Ancient peoples often attached the death penalty to matters they wanted obeyed— Canaanites did this, the Egyptians, the Babylonians, and of course, the Romans, etc. The preference would be to imitate God because we want to be like him or because we love him. This particular law also reflects the human condition. Men need rest just as they require work. This law would prevent men from being forced to labor without a day of rest where they could worship God and find their leisure. Today we have forgotten this and poor people are sometimes forced to work seven days a week to put food on their tables and to care for their families. We live in a world which no longer either loves God or fears him.

Leviticus 20:13

If a man lies with a male as with a woman, they have committed an abomination; the two of them shall be put to death; their bloodguilt is upon them.

We should not get caught up with the death penalties enacted by the ancient peoples. While we find it abhorrent, the emphasis is on the accompanying value, not the censure. When you do not have jails and are desperate to keep an organized society, societies typically enact harsh measures. This proposition here comes as part of a much longer list, each with a similar penalty: occult worship (6), dishonoring parents (9), adultery (10), incest (11 & 12), and bestiality (15). Here the prohibition is against the sin of homosexuality. Are you upset because the Scriptures and the Church teaches against homosexuality? Catholicism would say it also conflicts with the natural law. We must love our disoriented brothers and sisters; but we cannot give our approbation for immoral behavior. Those who are truly homosexual are called to lives of celibate love and service. How do you feel about the other sins listed? They have their advocates just as homosexuality did. During my lifetime there has been a major paradigm shift. That which was almost universally regarded as abhorrent and criminalized is now esteemed by our secular humanistic society as a basic right. The Church cannot dismiss objective truths so easily or because of the changing fads and fashions of the day. Doctrine can develop, but a reversal here would be in stark conflict with what came before. The accidentals of faith can sometimes change, the substance cannot.

Deuteronomy 21:18-21

If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not listen to his father or mother, and will not listen to them even though they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders at the gate of his home city, where they shall say to the elders of the city, “This son of ours is a stubborn and rebellious fellow who will not listen to us; he is a glutton and a drunkard.” Then all his fellow citizens shall stone him to death. Thus shall you purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel will hear and be afraid.

Again, note that we are not under the many Hebraic laws but saved by faith and the Lord’s gift of grace. These dictums do not apply to Christians. The ancient society to which they applied no longer exists. While capital punishment clashes with the Church’s ethic for life, what was it that the people of old were seeking to foster? First, this passage is not in reference to a small child but to an adult (man). Second, his rebelliousness is not over minor issues. He is self-preoccupied to the extent of neglecting his parents and the community. He is abusive and dangerous. The stakes were high, life and death. It may be that the threat of ultimate punishment turned many of these men around. The law here was connected to a religious society. They did not make a distinction between secular or civil law and religious tenets.

Deuteronomy 22:13-21

If a man, after marrying a woman and having relations with her, comes to dislike her, and accuses her of misconduct and slanders her by saying, “I married this woman, but when I approached her I did not find evidence of her virginity,” the father and mother of the young woman shall take the evidence of her virginity and bring it to the elders at the city gate. There the father of the young woman shall say to the elders, “I gave my daughter to this man in marriage, but he has come to dislike her, and now accuses her of misconduct, saying: ‘I did not find evidence of your daughter’s virginity.’ But here is the evidence of my daughter’s virginity!” And they shall spread out the cloth before the elders of the city. Then these city elders shall take the man and discipline him, and fine him one hundred silver shekels, which they shall give to the young woman’s father, because the man slandered a virgin in Israel. She shall remain his wife, and he may not divorce her as long as he lives. But if this charge is true, and evidence of the young woman’s virginity is not found, they shall bring the young woman to the entrance of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death, because she committed a shameful crime in Israel by prostituting herself in her father’s house. Thus shall you purge the evil from your midst.

Do you not remember the story of the woman caught in adultery and how Jesus challenged the angry crowd? He said, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” They all walked away. Jesus came to bring mercy, even when the woman was guilty. He also preached against divorce, something that is affirmed here. You wrongly get caught up in the graphic elements. All these things must now be viewed in light of Christ. How is it then that these elements of ancient Judaism would cause you to dismiss your faith in Jesus Christ? Either you have not thought this through, or this whole comment with citations is a ploy from a non-believer to ridicule the faith.

Deuteronomy 25:11-12

When two men are fighting and the wife of one intervenes to save her husband from the blows of his opponent, if she stretches out her hand and seizes the latter by his genitals, you shall chop off her hand; show no pity.

And how often do you suppose this actually happened? The religious gravity is not cruelty but upon the gift of fertility and respect for manhood. Destruction of a person’s faculty in the transmission of human life was regarded as a serious crime. It robbed a man of his posterity and remembrance. Remember, the early Jews had a poor understanding of an afterlife. They placed the emphasis upon children and property. This is one of many civil laws that were not unique to the people called by God. It is merely an ancient legal code. God calls us from where we are with all our ignorance or sophistication. Notice the law that follows it forbids carrying different weights in your traveling bag, so that men might not cheat each other when scales are used in purchases. The code that proceeded about marriage would mandate marriage within a family to carry on a brother’s name and linage. As with the Mosaic code on divorce, this would conflict with Christ’s teachings on the nature of marriage. Jesus would speak about their hardness of hearts. God’s passive will tolerates certain weaknesses and sins because of the freedom he gives us. We are not ants or robots. Not everything in the Old Testament reflects God’s direct will. The Bible is not a manual or rule book. It is a chronicle of salvation history. You have to read it as such and place the emphasis upon Christ and the teachings of his Church. God shows us his face and his will over time. While the deposit of faith is now fixed, it develops through our reflection and deepening understanding.

Isaiah 13:13-16

For this I will make the heavens tremble and the earth shall be shaken from its place, at the wrath of the LORD of hosts on the day of his burning anger. Like a hunted gazelle, or a flock that no one gathers, they shall turn each to their own people and flee each to their own land. Everyone who is taken shall be run through; and everyone who is caught shall fall by the sword. Their infants shall be dashed to pieces in their sight; their houses shall be plundered and their wives ravished.

This is part of a collection of oracles from various sources that focus upon foreign nations. While God’s people were indeed guilty of barbarism (we even see this in the psalms), the point here is divine retribution and judgment. The emphasis is that death will overtake everyone. There was also the appreciation that this existence is messy. There is violence and death awaiting us in a fallen world. Our life belongs to the Lord. Because of sin, we deserve to die. Jesus would fail to come as this kind of military Messiah. Rather, he brought mercy and not the sword. However, at the final consummation, he will be the true Pantocrator— the Lord of Judgment. Those who love the Lord need not fear. Those who disobey him have every right to be afraid. It does not mean that God directly desires child murder and rape.

Isaiah 40:8

“The grass withers, the flower wilts, but the word of our God stands forever.”

What do you find objectionable about this? It means that God’s Word does not forfeit its binding force. God keeps his promises. Did you write the wrong citation?

It is at this stage that you turn your disdain to the New Testament. Are you really a Christian? Were you ever?

Luke 14:26

“If any one comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”

This is an example of Hebraic hyperbole. It is an artifact of language. There is no exclamation point for emphasis. Jesus does not mean that we should literally hate our parents and family. That would be absurd. Jesus uses similar hyperbole when he says let the dead bury the dead or to pluck out your eye or cut off your hand. Jesus is actually saying that there is urgency to embracing the kingdom. Now is the appointed time. We should not delay or even allow familial relations to inhibit our acceptance of the Gospel. Jesus takes the family, our most prized human institution, and says that even that should not get in the way of following him. Note that Peter and Andrew left everything to follow Jesus. The boats would have to be used by other family members or friends for fishing. Jesus was making his apostles into fishers of men. It must also be said that in the early days of the Church, pagan families often opposed and tried to block the conversion of members. The words of our Lord would urge strength in the face to opposition and even betrayal.

Colossians 3:22-23

Slaves, obey your human masters in everything, not only when being watched, as currying favor, but in simplicity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do from the heart, as for the Lord and not for others, knowing that you will receive from the Lord the due payment of the inheritance; be slaves of the Lord Christ.

Paul did not invent the institution of slavery but Christianity was altering it. Master and slave have the same dignity. This must be measured with verse three: “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all and in all.” Read God’s word in a contextual way. Often slaves had to work off just debts for their freedom. It was quite different from the tyranny of slavery in America. But as I said before, Paul’s words about our equality in Christ would eventually bring such subservience to an end. Here Paul is sharing his hierarchical view— one that still influences the constitution of Christ’s Church: wives subordinate to husbands (18), husbands love your wives (19), children obey your parents (20), and fathers do not provoke children (21). The mention of slavery falls within such a schema. We are all called to service. We are all servants or slaves of God. Even the Pope is called “the Servant of the Servants of God.” He is literally a slave for the Gospel and the Church. He lives not for himself, but for Christ and his people.

1 Timothy 2:11-12

A woman must receive instruction silently and under complete control. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man. She must be quiet.

While it is doctrine that priests must be male, and I would cite this as apostolic evidence that such male leadership reflects the divine will, it probably refers to an immediate accidental about worship in the time of Paul. Not everything in Scripture and Tradition is unalterable doctrine. There are certain disciplines, even apostolic ones that can be abrogated. I think here about women’s dress or the mantilla veils that were once popular with women in church. Of course, today women are permitted to read the Old Testament and New Testament epistles in church. The citation here was principally concerning pagans or Gentiles who had recently converted. Women oracles and prophetesses (often possessed by demons) were a problem that Paul did not want to see translated to the churches. They would swoon, speak gibberish and cryptic remarks. Paul saw this as distracting from the truth of Christ. It may be that such women were seeking to wrestle authority away from the men who functioned as the legitimate shepherds.

You want a simplified or literal Bible and yet why should revelation be absolute baby talk? The things of God are far more complex than the inside of a car or computer. To reduce their repair manuals to what you would make the Bible would leave everything broken. It is past time to grow up. God’s Word is not broken, you are. We all are as sinners, me too. But in Jesus there is healing and salvation.

Liturgical Question: Sacrifice from Your Hands

WARRINGTON’S QUESTION:

Dear Fr Joe, thanks for your blog. It’s very useful even in my part of the world!

I had a query about the words, “may the Lord accept the sacrifice from your hands…” so I went to Catholic Answers and read the explanation (attached below). But my query remains: Is not “the sacrifice” Christ himself? If so, did not God send His Son to be the “sacrifice (Lamb)” for our sins? So why are we requesting God to accept “His” Son back to Him?

Unless the “sacrifice” referred to here is “our sacrifice (good works)”? Rather than “good works” (i.e., charity), I would like to think this reference to sacrifice might refer to “our life,” particularly a call to go outside our comfort zone to live a life for Christ.

Would you please clarify whether either of these is on the right track or am I completely missing the point?  Cheers!

CATHOLIC ANSWERS

Question

Why do we pray in the third person instead of addressing our pleas and praises directly to God? For example, the priest says, “Pray, my brothers and sisters, that our sacrifice may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father” and we answer, “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his Church.” Could we say instead, “Lord, accept the sacrifice offered for the praise and glory of your name, for our good and the good of all of your Church”?

Answer

We don’t pray in the third person. The Church’s liturgy is its official public worship of God. Since it is not private worship, the members who are present are acknowledged throughout the service. So every so often, the priest-presider will address them with, “The Lord be with you,” and the people respond, “And also with you.” We are communicating with each other. This is not a prayer.

May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his Church is not a prayer. It is addressed to the priest as an acknowledgement of the sacred action he is about to undertake. It is a response to his request: “Pray, brethren, that our sacrifice may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.” Even though he has just asked the people to pray, their response is to him and is not meant to be a prayer.

The ultimate offering prayer comes later: “Through him, with him and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, almighty Father, for ever and ever.” Only the priest says this, and the people affirm the prayer with “Amen.” Both the priest’s words and the people’s words are prayer and are addressed directly to God.

FATHER JOE:

I would take exception with the assertion that the words in question are not prayer. Even the dialogue sections between the priest and people are parts of the great prayer of worship that is the Mass. The Mass is the Church’s most important communal prayer and it contains within it all other forms of prayer: praise, thanks, contrition, petition, and in a unique manner, propitiation. Let us look at the words that confuse you:

Facing the people, the priest says: “Pray, brethren, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.”

The congregation responds: “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his holy Church.

The priest then says his prayer over the offerings to which the people respond, “Amen.”

The priest is calling everyone to focus on the Eucharist. Implicit in the dialogue is the hope and expectation that God will accept us and our offering.  The celebrant addresses the people but he knows full well that our offering will only be received if God sees it as pleasing and desires to accept it.  We cannot force the hand of God.  The people respond to the celebrant by acknowledging his priestly work in union with Christ.  Yes, they are talking to the priest, but as with any intercessory prayer, its proper object is almighty God.  They are making the priest’s prayer and the work of Christ into something of their own.  This sacrifice is to the honor and praise of God.  It is also deemed efficacious for the local church at prayer and for the universal Church.  The corrected translation makes a distinction between the priest’s sacrifice and that of the people. It does not represent good works as such but targets the work of the Mass. This segment no more stands alone than any other part.  It leads us to the meat of the oration, the Prayer Over the Gifts.  The great High Priest of the liturgy is Jesus Christ. However, the celebrant at the altar participates or shares in this one priesthood through his ordination. While they cannot preside at the Mass, the laity is connected to Jesus and his sacrifice through their baptismal priesthood. Priests may take a stipend for a Mass they offer each day. The fruits that come to the priest may be applied to this intention, for anyone living or dead. You may note these names in the bulletin for the Masses said. This reflects the sacrifice and its benefits that come to the priest at the altar. The laity may come with their own intentions, which they are to bring to mind at the beginning of the Mass prior to the Opening Prayer or Collect. The people participate with their priest who makes possible the Mass and they benefit with fruits of grace. The reference to sacrifice is a direct acknowledgment that the Eucharist is a re-presentation of the bloody oblation of Christ on Calvary, albeit in an unbloody or clean manner upon the altar. The sacrifice of Jesus is not locked into time and place. At the words of consecration, Jesus is made REALLY present in Holy Communion— both in his full identity and person as well as in in saving activity. The only difference between Calvary and the Mass is OUR participation. Now we can offer ourselves grafted to Christ (the Lamb of God) as one perfect sacrifice to the eternal Father. The Mass surrenders to the heavenly Father the only gift that makes a difference and that earns our redemption, his Son, Jesus Christ.

The Mass enters us into Christ’s one-time offering of himself.

Parents as the Primary Educators of Faith

famparent

Third, PARENTS must be the primary educators of faith to their children. I recall a test program over a decade ago in a Southern Maryland parish. The parish procured textbooks and teaching guidelines but instead of scheduling classes and catechist volunteers, the materials were given to parents and guardians. Certain assignments had to be returned to the director and there was an end-of-year test. The whole effort was based upon the home-schooling model which worked so very well for a few conservative and dedicated families. Everyone had high hopes. However, a year later, all hopes were dashed. The program was a dismal failure. Parents did not sit down with their children. Lessons were not covered and assignments were not completed. A furor erupted when sacraments were withheld and all except a small few had lost a year for catechesis that would now have to be repeated. There was a lot of anger. But it may be the effort was bound to fail. Many of our adults in the pews go to Mass out of habit, but not all are really committed or converted. The level of ignorance is amazing. The parish expected the clueless to instruct the children in faith. A few adults that tried remarked that they also learned a lot, even when they were using lower primary text books. They meant well, but they were essentially communicating that they as adults only had the faith awareness of a small child. How can parents give what they do not have? Others complained they were too busy. Of course, there was time to daily assist with Math, History, English and other subjects— but not enough for religion. The learning of the Catholic faith was regarded as expendable. Note that this is the status among those who occasionally attend Mass; many young people never see the inside of the Church, lack sacraments and know almost nothing about Jesus. I recall challenging one parent who came to the church door, made to feel guilty by the grandparents about such lapses. Now she was demanding the sacraments for her children. I said we would work with her, but the children would have to attend classes and participate at Sunday Mass. She became increasingly agitated and shouted, “Are you calling me a bad mother?” I suppose she thought that out of good manners I would fall on my sword and give her any allowance. Instead, I said, “Parents can clothe the body but leave children spiritually naked when they should be clothed in Christ and his grace. Parents can feed their children at the supper table but allow them to spiritually starve without knowledge of his Word and the food of the Eucharist. Parents can give their children computers and phones for all sorts of communication and texting but never enable their children to speak with God in prayer. If this description fits, then yes, such a person is a bad parent.”

Catechists assist parents but they cannot replace them. The same goes for youth ministers. We want to give a safe and fun environment for our children when so much in our society is spiritually dangerous or poison. Together, parents, pastors and catechists can make a difference. But the gravity is always with the parents. A priest preaches for a few minutes and a catechist may have an hour a week for thirty weeks or so. Those in Catholic schools will have much more formal instruction. However, the numbers have shifted away from parochial schools to parish-based religious education programs as normative. Children come home from school and play. Parents have them seven days a week. Only families have the time and resources to save their children from a hedonistic and materialistic society— and even they have a devilish fight on their hands. There are many forces that would undermine the authority and rights of the home. The Church has no desire to replace the authority and leadership of parents; rather, she would seek to help parents in answering their high calling.

Pastors praise God every day for good parents who make daily sacrifices for their children. They do without much that others regard as essential. However, they know that the family is their greatest treasure. They invoke God’s presence so that Christ might truly live in their homes. They have prayer corners and pray as a family. They open up God’s Word and strive to live moral lives. They seek out families that share their values. They march for life and volunteer time with efforts to help the poor and elderly. Such parents know there is no guarantee that children will stay close to the Church; nevertheless, they do all they can so that if they stray there will be a safe harbor to which they might return.

I know one family where the parents were berated by other family members and friends because they had so many children. There was a huge fight about it when the seventh one was born. I told them to tell the most vocal relatives, “Okay, I hear you. Look, I’ll line up my children and you tell me which ones should never have been born! Which ones would you kill off?” When they looked into the faces of her beautiful children, a few began to cry and one walked out. This tactic reflected back their selfishness, resentments and ugly anti-life attitude as in a mirror. They shut up after that. They were the ones with a problem, not this loving household filled with children. Their critics were supposed to be Catholic. But they had bought the lie that children are commodities to possess instead of being persons to cherish. Any one of them was worth all the money and all the material things in the world. When parents have the right attitude about children, more so than not, they are pious and responsible in transmitting the faith. Certain authorities lament today that most of the young seminarians and priests are very conservative, i.e. orthodox. Why is that? Faithful families did not contracept and abort. Those with more liberal agendas tended to contracept. Thus, they were unable to transmit their views and dissent to another generation. Look at the right to life marches. They seem to get younger every year. Their opponents who reject the Gospel of Life are making themselves extinct.

The Church is seeing a similar process. Because of this, certain analysts believe that the Church will one day contract and get smaller. However, they argue that the movement will be like lungs breathing. It will contract only to expand again— and this time with a more fervent and faithful remnant. Catechesis today is struggling to assist this remnant and to throw life buoys to a few floating outside the boat that is the Church.

There is problem enough with those in the pews, but the dilemma facing the Church goes deeper. If 75% of our Catholics are not going to Mass then it is a sure bet that their children are not praying and not receiving any catechesis. Of course, aging grandparents might guilt some of them into seeking the sacraments for children, but they are often “out of sequence” with their religious formation and quickly disappear after receiving first Holy Communion or Confirmation. There is a sick joke about this. One child was asked for the definition of Confirmation. He answered, “Confirmation is the sacrament you receive before leaving the Church.”

We try to teach. Priests and deacons preach. There is the presupposition that we are all on the same page. But this is not true. We have adults and youth who are only marginally Christian. We want to feed them but they are unconverted and have yet to really sit at the table. This requires a simpler and more fundamental message. We need to know our subjects, share what they need to hear and then submit everything to God. Yes, in baptism we are born again, but I have to wonder if maybe the work of regeneration is sometimes stunted. Children reach the age of reason. Some will go to Mass and be catechized. Others will not. But have any of them truly made the faith their own? Catechists and youth ministers will play a part. But parents and guardians have the greater share of responsibility. Does the family pray daily? Do they regularly break open God’s Word? Do they worship together each Sunday? Are their values and preoccupations in sync with the Gospel? Being made brand new is not a one-time deal. A living faith is never stagnant or in the past tense. It must touch the eternal now or the present. Every minute, hour, day and year is an opportunity for spiritual advancement. When we detour into sin, we beg pardon and return to following the one who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. God keeps us in existence at every moment. Material creation itself is constant and not a onetime event locked into pre-history or myth. If God were to forget us, even for a moment, we would cease to ever having existed. But God does not forget or abandon us. Similarly, he wants to spiritually perfect us in time, that through the gift of grace we might be truly holy. God wants to make us into the likeness of his Son, participating in that holiness or mysterious otherness that is divine. All this is to say that we must be the Christians we claim to be and that we should be God’s instruments in bringing conversion to our charges— that they will fall deeper and deeper in love with God. This love will manifest itself in a missionary manner. Those who enter this process of conversion or turning to the Lord function like dominoes, tipping others into loving and sharing the faith as well. Real love of God always results in prayer and service. If we see neither, then it is likely the faith and love that should be there has yet to materialize.

Do youth ministers and catechists pray for their children by name? Do we cry tears of supplication on their behalf, humbling ourselves on our knees before a divine providence we will never fully fathom in this world? Our youth might be saints. They might also be delinquents who are deep in sin and need help finding a way out. But whoever and whatever they are— they are ours.

The family is the “little church.” You cannot really give what you do not have. Catechists and pastors seek to help, but the transmission of the Gospel first takes place in the home. We learn our prayers and are taught the bible stories. We are taken to church. We are taught the commandments so that we might know the difference between right and wrong. If parents fail to do their part, not all is lost, but it is unlikely that a youth will immediately become the Christian he or she should be. God will always make sure the well has water, but what good would this be if no one has ever given us a bucket. Similarly grace is available; conversion and salvation are God’s gifts— but we need the tools to take advantage of them. If parents do not want their children to know Jesus, then I would urge them never to pray or to open their bibles. If parents want their children to engage in destructive behavior and fail in finding the true meaning of life, then I would argue to keep them away from religious education programs or at least never to help them with their catechetical homework. If parents want their children to grow up in a world void of God’s presence and compassion, then I would urge them to avoid any charity service to the poor, the oppressed or the unborn. If parents want their children to burn forever in the fires of hell, then I would suggest they make excuses to avoid the Sunday Mass and live today as if there is no God.

Catechists, directors of religious education and youth coordinators are often tempted to despair. They wonder if all their efforts are in vain. They find themselves struggling with children and even fighting with parents. While there are no guarantees, even in the most Christian of households, there is far more success when the faith is cherished at the center of family life. Peripheral Christianity treats the faith like a hobby or even as a reluctant obligation. The faith must instead be like the air we breathe. One should be no more willing to abandon the Church than one would be to chop off a leg or hand. Faith and God is not like the words written upon paper. No, it is like the paper itself. It is the basis and ground for everything else.

Inviting the Youth to Join and Supersede Us

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Second, the purpose of youth ministry is to ENABLE, not to entertain. It seems to me that much of youth ministry these days seeks to entertain; and yet, too much of their lives are already consumed by pursuing pleasure and gratification. Various synonyms for entertainment are telling: “beguile,” “distract,” “gratify,” “divert” and “indulge.” We do not want to beguile or fool our young people, but to have them encounter the truth. The last thing we want is any additional distraction when they need to be focused on the Lord. While there is a certain satisfaction with being in right relationship with God, this is a far cry from seeking pleasure for its own sake or selfishly losing ourselves in a contrived stupor, spiritual or otherwise. We need to work with our natural longing for purpose and meaning. It is here that we can share the compass setting toward Christ and the kingdom. We were made for God; nothing should divert us from this primary orientation.

Rather than wasting our time and resources on replicating worldly distractions; we should enable or equip or empower our young people with the power and promise of the Gospel. How do we translate these noble sentiments to the youth if we are not authentic and on fire? The youth minister or catechist is not properly an entertainer. Even if he or she is popular or a cult figure, what happens when he is no longer around? Some teachers try very hard to be hip. They will try to entice children with rewards for good behavior and for doing well on lessons. These teachers are also very quick to reprimand when students fail to respond to favors. Many teachers desire to be liked, a few would be satisfied with being feared, and yet the best ones imitate the posture of John the Baptizer, decreasing so that Christ might increase. We want to be successful, but it is by far more important that we be faithful. The true religious mentor witnesses the faith in word and action. He or she shares the faith in the hope that it will be contagious. We are all sinners needing God’s mercy. The ancient cry of the Church is echoed, “Repent and believe!” Youth may or may not like us; more importantly, they should be transformed ever more and more into the likeness of Christ. The good teacher wants his charges to know God’s grace and salvation. The devil could recite from memory the entire catechism— but he would spurn the love that God had for him. We want our charges to know the Lord and fall ever deeper in love with him. If we forget this part of the process, then we have missed the whole point. We seek to make the ground fertile for a saving encounter. God makes the offer; we hope that our youth will accept it. While only the Lord can save us; family, catechists and pastors have a part to play. God would have us be his instruments.

I recall a religion teacher many years ago who was considered dull and “not with it” by many of his fellow teachers. They thought for sure that he would be ineffective and would quickly quit. Instead of being wary of their own shortcomings, they gossiped about him. Later I took delight in their general shock when they noticed his pupils always talking about him in a positive light. Some of the youth saw their attitude and instead of joining in their critique or wanting him replaced, actually defended him. One child even said, “Those teachers always talk down about us, too; but he speaks to us as if every one of us matters.” Yes, he told corny jokes and spoke in a monotone voice, but the young people also recognized that he was authentic. He cared about them and did not pretend to be something he was not. When a couple of the boys were caught parodying his manner or style, he joined the laughter of their classmates. He knew how he was but what was important was sharing the saving faith. The kids began each class by reading about the important saints of the day or week. They took turns leading the class in prayer. They came to appreciate that they were also called to a relationship with Christ and to a holiness of life.

Youth ministry should not fall upon the shoulders of one or two volunteers. Rather, whole parishes with their pastors, catechists, families, and volunteers should engage the youth and others with the saving kerygma. Parishioners are urged to pass out our RCIA flyers for adults who might want to become Catholic or for Catholics missing sacraments. Parishioners are reminded of their need to catechize their children and to share this need with family and friends. I have heard people say that they do not want to nag others about their religious faith and responsibilities. Certainly, while we do not want to turn people off to religious faith, I suspect that a person who escapes hell and enjoys the bliss of heaven will be very thankful for a little well-meaning and needed nagging. We are all to proclaim the Good News. A failure to share the Gospel is a failure to love. If Jesus and the Church matter to us, then why would we not want to invite others to have what we have? Unlike other possessions, one can only hold on to a saving faith by giving it away to others.

Instead of always talking down to youth, we need to welcome and prepare them for full membership in our faith communities. We should not make Christianity easy or excuse opportunities for witness or service. Rather, we must make serious demands for discipleship. Yes, this would include activities and ministries like serving at the altar, reading from the pulpit, welcoming people at the church door, helping out at soup kitchens, volunteering to assist with the Special Olympics, tutoring kids who need help with their school work, cleaning up local streets, shopping for the elderly or doing other chores, visiting nursing homes, etc. It means shining with the LIGHT OF CHRIST in all the many ordinary things of life at home, at play, at school, at work and at church.

Is a reevaluation in order?  Are we really thinking with the mind of Christ when it comes to expectations for our youth? While knowledge plays a part, passing tests and good behavior are not immediately reflective of one’s spiritual status. How do Jesus and the teachings of faith inform the daily life and preoccupations of our youth? When kids can neither name the commandments nor the beatitudes then how can they live them out? If they have trouble understanding that Jesus is a divine person who becomes a human being to save us, then what exactly makes them a Christian? A believer (over the age of reason) must know who the Lord is and what he does for us. Jesus suffers and dies that we might be forgiven, healed and have a share in his life. We cannot save ourselves. Everything we have is gift and Jesus is the greatest gratuity of all.  Are our youth in regular prayerful communication with him?  Have we helped them in knowing how to pray and how to discern God’s will in their lives?  Are we where we should be in the spiritual life?

Our Lord wants us on fire with the faith. The Scriptures do not recommend any form of nominal Christianity. We read in Revelation 3:15-16:

“I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”

Fanaticism is only really wrong when it violates charity. One cannot be too Christian or overly converted. And yet, adults and youth alike temper their Christianity as something that can be departmentalized or restrained by secular good manners. Christianity, at its very heart, is intolerant to sin, hypocrisy and error. We would not know this from the many ways that faith is compromised or hidden today. It is as if we are ashamed to be Christians. Young people face this temptation all the time, particularly in contemporary language, music, dance, clothing and relationships. It is easier or convenient to forget one’s Christianity when it gets in the way or calls for witness. We treat the faith like a hat that can be removed or exchanged; instead, it should be like the skin that goes with us wherever we go.

Our ministry with youth should be as fire seeking to ignite a candle. This fire is not an empty emotionalism or a pretense at youthfulness. We do not seek to be buddies with them but sentinels to the great lover of souls. The fire illumines Christ and communicates that we should encounter Christ. There is urgency to the Gospel that Jesus constantly referenced and which is pertinent to the work we do. We will only have the children for a short while. We must make the best of the time and resources we have. We need to help them to know and to love the Lord. We must give them the tools to proclaim the Gospel and witness to the faith. The faith is only real when it is being spread. When we keep it to ourselves, it begins to die— no, more than this— we begin to die.

We often catechize the youth to parrot back the right words regarding faith; more importantly, we want them to embrace the faith in an evangelistic manner. Our youth will face far more tensions and opposition than previous generations. They must be enabled to defend the faith with an apologetics based upon a spirit of ecumenism that never compromises the truth. Each according to his or her vocation, we are a priestly people and recipients of the great commission:

“Consequently, from now on we regard no one according to the flesh; even if we once knew Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know him so no longer. So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:16-21).

I was privileged to see something of this fire in college teens that walked down the east coast as Crusaders for Life. They well understood that the Gospel of Life means that every child is a reflection of the Christ Child. All life is sacred and there is no pro-abortion Christianity. Abortion attacks the very heart of the faith, the incarnation of Jesus Christ. One cannot rightly say AMEN to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament while we deny the one made in his image within the womb. Sponsored by the American Life League, they were young and dedicated to this truth— so much so that they were attacked by angry politicians as fanatics and avoided by certain embarrassed churchmen who preferred to play things safe. But Christianity is not a safe religion. Jesus defended the dignity of women, called the children to him, ate with tax collectors and sinners, etc. He healed bodies and forgave souls their sins. He did “good” and that got him betrayed, libeled, scourged and crucified. We must prepare our children as Saint John Paul beseeched us. He told the youth at one of the World Youth Days that he saw blood and martyrdom in their future. In other words, he echoed Jesus who said that any who would come after him must take up his cross and follow. All this is a testimony to the quality of faith, not simply as a mental deliberation or as a verbal expression, but as a profound obedience to Christ and the mandate of love. We are beckoned to be signs of contradiction, loving our enemies and forgiving those who hurt us.

We need to pray with and for our youth. I have recommended in the past that youth compose their own prayers— writing them down and then delivering them. There is a tendency in certain programs for clergy or catechists or youth ministers to do all the praying. This is a mistake. While we need to study the mechanics of liturgy and the ABC’s of faith; inroads must be made for the Holy Spirit to touch our children. The Word of God should be made pertinent to their lives. God’s saving intervention is not locked in past history. Rather, the story of redemption needs to intersect all our personal stories. God is present. God is active. God loves us. When a person is touched by God, he or she will never be the same again. This is all so much deeper than worrying about youth group attendance or frustration that youth are not where we want them spiritually. The pertinent concern must be, instead, where they are now and how God can reach them. We must accept the youth we are given, good, bad and indifferent, and concentrate upon how we can facilitate an awakening to God’s presence and love. Nothing and no one benefits from imagining how different things might be if we only had different or better kids.

God’s Intervention: Conversion

When it comes to parental guidance and faith formation there is no perfect formula. Children from the same household often include both fervent believers and backsliders. The young person has to make choices for him- or herself. All we can do is give them the best witness and tools. Having said this, there are some families who have not done all they could. Sacraments were haphazard and Mass participation was poor. For them we recall the Scripture that says, “Make no mistake: God is not mocked, for a person will reap only what he sows” (Galatians 6:7).

What are my general thoughts about the issue? Certain important points come to mind.

14_to_aFirst, just because a child was baptized as a baby, we must never omit the need for CONVERSION. There is the real need to take the faith that is given us and to make it our own. Catholics might not accept the notion of “once saved, always saved,” but we still treat membership in the Church as a “done deal” that needs little in the way of affirmation or verification. This point often muddies the waters when news reporters and poll-takers ask questions of Catholics. People who have not stepped foot in a church for many years will still identify themselves as Catholics. Their perspective on issues often is more reflective of a secular humanism than Christianity. Catholicism is reduced to a club which refuses to throw you out even when you fail to pay the required dues. In actual fact, while they remain juridically Catholics, many of these people are in practice Protestant or even atheists. They may live as if there is no God.

Many catechists are often disheartened when a child has reached Confirmation age in eighth grade, and he or she still struggles from a glaring ignorance of our religion. We know they were given all the content but it is as if it leaked out. Good Catholic kids go on to high school or college and fall away from the practice of their faith. At a time when the Christians of Mosul are facing expulsion and extermination for their faith; these kids surrender it without the whimper of a battle. As an old billboard used to advertise, a crucial question comes to mind, “If Christianity were a crime, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” Apparently Christian kids begin to talk and act as if there is no God.

The problem comes to a head as the youth matures; however, the seed was damaged from the beginning or hindered throughout. It is choked by weeds or has fallen on poor and rocky soil. There has been little or no watering. Despite all that parents, catechists and pastors did (or did not do); the simple fact remains that the youth may never have had an intimate and reciprocal friendship with Christ. Praying should be like breathing. We do not last long otherwise. We begin to die when we neglect the Lord.

We tend to speak about the “issues” that our children face or the difficulties they create. We need to stop thinking about “issues” and turn to dealing with “persons.” How do we facilitate an evangelical turning or metanoia to the Lord? Must we create a spiritual ghetto around our children, blocking out the distractions from peers, public schools and the media? How do we move religion from information to be memorized to a person we must encounter?

While I like youth groups and activities where young men and women can dialogue and come to a better understanding, as well as mutual respect, it also seems to me that there should be gender-based formation. Young women, mentored by faithful and mature females, can answer questions and speak to concerns that might never be mentioned in a mixed setting. Similarly, in a society that preaches a false equivalence, young men need mentoring by Christian gentlemen who know and practice the values of true manhood. Every young man should look upon the girls as potential spouses and the mothers of their children. Each young woman should seek out men who demonstrate strength of character and responsibility for their actions. While I prefer courtship to dating; young people should not feel coerced into romantic relationships prior to the time that they are ready or able to make genuine commitments. I also think that young men and women should be given a witness for the religious vocations to which God may call them. Do we have priests and brothers speaking to our boys about their callings and the satisfaction they receive in serving God? Do we have religious sisters giving presentations in youth groups and parishes about what it means to be a bride of Christ? I think we could do more in these areas. I lament that the archdiocese no longer has its own order of religious sisters. The fact that we had them seemed almost like a secret. If we want vocations for men and women, then they have to be visible and the word must be shared. They must also be happy. No one wants to join a group of angry old bachelors or cat-fighting spinsters.

I would also suggest the witness of proven Christian laity who live in the world and still belong to Christ. We have many god people who witness the faith to co-workers, family and friends. They volunteer to help the poor, to save and nurture babies, to bring care to the sick and dying, and to pass on the faith to the next generation. Along with the saints of heaven, these must be our role models— not the coarse basketball player or music personality preoccupied with money, fame and sex.

When it comes to youth group gatherings, we sometimes merely want to get a meeting over and satisfy the young people on a superficial level. But every gathering should go beyond entertaining with sports, music, games, movies or free pizza. We do not want to bribe our youth to attend. Youth ministers can make a number of honest mistakes. I recall a fellow years ago who gave a presentation about ministry that focused entirely on himself. He told us again and again that he received great personal satisfaction from the work. If that is simply the case, then we might become parasitical to the very youth we hope to help. But in contradiction, we do not do this work for what we can get out of it. The youth might put us through hell and yet in the end it could produce fruit if we persevere.

Ephesians 4:11-16 gives us our marching orders, both for catechesis and youth ministry:

“And he gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ, so that we may no longer be infants, tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery, from their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming. Rather, living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part, brings about the body’s growth and builds itself up in love.”

There are too many persons and things that would exploit our youth; we must illustrate the highest integrity in equipping young “saints.” We make ready the soil and pray that God will rain down with his grace. After doing all that we can, we beseech God for the conversion of our charges. If our youth do not open the Scriptures, say their prayers, participate at Mass, and help the poor then what exactly would make them Christian? They should be growing daily in the knowledge and love of Jesus. Mindful of the Pharisees, we must be careful of any hypocrisy. The youth will see this immediately and any movement to Christ would likely be stunted.

There are a number of poor models that poison youth work and evangelization. Making demands from authority turns people off and when there is sufficient distance or no longer any stick held over heads, the young people rebel and walk. Similarly bribing falls short when nothing that we can offer comes anywhere near to competing with popular music, large screen televisions, video games or the other stuff that youth and families accumulate. We try placing our message on computers and television, but talking heads and the Mass for Shut-ins just is not attractive or compelling to many. We get all excited about the Internet but then find that there are few hits and no one is reading or watching our materials. We pour money into solutions that really solve nothing and become just another element for critics to ridicule. The universal Church gets caught up in this as well. Are we really making converts or calling souls home with Twitter? I doubt it.

We do not need religious robots. No, instead we want faithful youth who are fully converted and see evangelization as a crucial factor in their lived discipleship. That is one of the reasons why I feel that adult moderators should encourage youth to develop their own programs and activities. This way, when they head off for college, it will no longer matter if parents and pastors are unable to look down their backs. Without any prodding, they will gather their own bible sharing and prayer groups. We want them to form “church” with a graced spontaneity. They need to be self-actuated in their discipleship. They will look around them and develop activities to respond to the needs of the community where they find themselves. All this is to say, that while we have them, we should be thinking… how can we empower these persons to be self-actuated leaders: teaching and serving others? Is this prospect even on our radar?

Saying Goodbye to the Padayhag Family

The Padayhag family are heading out today for Arizona. A teaching job opened up with sponsorship. 

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I am going to miss them very much.

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Prayers for a safe journey! Many blessings and much love!

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