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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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Reform and Believe

“The Reign of God is at hand! Reform your lives and believe in the gospel!” (Mk 1:14-15). The cry for men and women to reform their lives had long been one echoed in the history of God dealing with his people. With the coming of Christ, we for the first time can fully respond to this admonition.

In the days of Noah the people were also called to faithfulness and yet they remained in their debauchery. I recall a reproduction of a painting my parents used to have of the deluge. A young beautiful woman with long hair clung to a jagged rock while surrounded by heavy winds and thrashing tides. I recall staring at the picture and feeling deeply sorry for her. She was so beautiful. How could God be so cruel? As I have gotten older and hopefully wiser, still sometimes the actions of God in the Old Testament seem like such over-reactions to me. I suppose what we forget is that the more primitive the people, the less sophisticated had to be the ways to keep them in line and to guide them. The story of the flood is not one simply about destruction and disobedience; in Noah and his companions we see an image of God’s steadfast fidelity and love for mankind, despite our disobedience. God sets up a covenant with Noah and promises never to flood the world again; he even sets the rainbow in the sky as a sign of his promise. The words of Genesis convey here the deep love of God. Because of our sins, we deserved death. However, not only are a remnant rescued but later God would send us his Messiah to save us from our sins and eternal death.

I would probably be negligent if I failed to say a few words about the kind of literature which this text in Genesis represents (see Genesis 9:8-15). It is linked with the story of creation, even though there was no scribe or news reporter taking notes in the first days of humanity. It is a later reflection. When the Jewish people were in Babylonian exile surrounded by a people who followed false gods, the story of the flood reaffirmed to them how much God loved them; and that no matter how desperate their situation became, God would not abandon them.

The story of creation and the flood also made up a kind of satire against the Babylonian gods. Much of the linguistic allusion is lost in English. The particular story which parallels ours is called the Gilgamish epic. In it, the hero is not Noah but Ut-napishtim. When the gods, notice the horrendous plural, decree the deluge, the pagan god Ea reveals their designs to Ut-napishtim by speaking secretly through a reed wall. You see, Ea did not want to let the other gods, who wanted to get rid of mankind, know what was coming. He is urged to build a cubical boat of ten cubits. This is not like the rectangular boat of Genesis, just a box. He is warned to take ample provisions, as well as a sampling of the beasts of the field and the wild creatures. This is like Genesis. However, he is also told to take craftsmen lest their skills be lost. For six days and nights the storm persists. Finally, the ark comes to rest on Mount Nisir. Like Noah, he sends forth a dove, a swallow, and a raven, leaving the boat when the raven fails to come back. Ut-napishtim offers a sacrifice to the gods who cluster around him like flies. Instead of a covenant as we see in our story today, there follows an angry dispute among the gods. Enlil, angry about the remnant which has escaped, inquires as to who leaked the secret of the flood. Ea confesses but questions the prudence of Enlil in sending the storm. Upon the sinner, he says, should be imposed his sin, and on the transgressor, his disobedience. Instead of a universal disaster, Enlil, he complains, should have simply sent a wolf or a lion or a famine or a pestilence which would not have wiped out the entire race. Because Ut-napishtim and his wife escaped destruction, they must now be given immortality and transplanted so that they would not mingle with mortals. This and similar stories question the wisdom and goodness of the providence of the gods. The Jewish people believed in one God who was all knowing and all good. The destruction is then not seen as the act of a whimsical god but rather was something which a disobedient people brought upon themselves. God’s response is to save a remnant from further depravity and have them start brand new. You can see from these two stories the resemblance. Fr. John McKenzie, a Scripture scholar (my source), tells us that “The differences between the Mesopotamian and the biblical stories show how the Hebrews took a piece of ancient tradition and retold it in order to make it a vehicle of their own distinctive religious beliefs, in particular their conception of divine justice and providence” (Dictionary of the Bible, p. 189). Although this flood may not have actually wiped clean our planet, it could well be that both stories emerge from some common memory of a disastrous flood of prehistoric times — a recollection which has grown out of all proportions.

Having said this, theologically, the wisdom and faith of righteous man was praised for having followed God who saved humanity from his folly. Noah listened and obeyed God. This is the key. In 1 Peter 3:18-22, the deluge is reckoned an example of God’s patience and is compared to the waters of baptism. Water for us thus becomes a symbol of both life and death. In the history of salvation, it meant death to the peoples around Noah — it meant death to the Egyptians who chased the Jews across the Red Sea — and it even meant death for Jesus who once baptized by John would engage in a ministry which would demand the highest cost. It also meant life — it meant life and a second chance for Noah — it meant life and freedom for those fleeing Egyptian slavery — it meant life in the natural processes of the world where plants and animals perish without water. In baptism, by submerging and dying with Christ in those waters of regeneration, we are promised to rise with him. Like a seed which has flowered, we are born again and made brand new. Our sins are forgiven and we are made members of a new People of God.

Recall your baptismal promises often and allow Christ to live in you. Have Noah’s kind of faith. He trusted God even in the absurd task of building an ark. Living out our Christianity will sometimes seem absurd to others, but do not allow the storm of sin and death to drown you. Christ has given us a fine ship called the Church and if we remain faithful, it will take this Pilgrim People to the Promised Shore.

For more such reflections, contact me about getting my book, CHRISTIAN REFLECTIONS.

Mother Zion and the Coming Judgment

Isaiah 66:10-14 gives us the image of Jerusalem as a loving and nurturing mother. Similarly, the Church would be viewed as the New Jerusalem, the first glimmerings of Christ’s kingdom breaking into our world. While we find security and comfort in the maternal analogy, verses 15 to 17 speak of the Lord coming in fire to judge all mankind. He shall wave a sword “and many shall be slain by the Lord” (verse 16). It was this messianic vision that many sought in Jesus but he surrendered his life on the Cross and told us to forgive one another. However, the Second Coming of Christ retains the full force of this passage. If we are members of Mother Zion, we can be saved; if we reject her, and here we really mean Mother Church, then we will be subject to fire and the sword. Here we find a serious imperative for the mission activity of the Church. Similarly, the great apostle tells us, “Peace and mercy on all who follow this rule of life (never boasting of anything but the Cross), and on the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16). Luke 10:1-12,17-20 has Jesus sending out the seventy-two to proclaim the Good News. The urgency of the proclamation is illustrated by Christ’s instruction against a walking staff and traveling bag and against wearing sandals or greeting people along the way. He gives them something of his power but warns them not to be proud, just content that their names “are inscribed in heaven.”

For more such reflections, contact me about getting my book, CHRISTIAN REFLECTIONS.

The Church as the New Jerusalem

The message about the Church as a New Jerusalem and the analogy of a wedding banquet has serious doctrinal implications that are not always considered by believers in Jesus outside of Catholicism. While there is certainly an individual component to our ultimate salvation, the institution of the Church reminds us that there are vital corporate components as well. Jesus calls to himself disciples and appoints Apostles who will pass their authority down to the bishops who themselves will ordain priests and deacons. Jesus institutes a new covenant in his blood and commands it be repeated “in memory” of him, not in an empty nostalgic way but in a manner that makes present and available that which is recalled. He gives his message and divine mysteries, not to individuals, but to the Church, and appoints Peter and his successors as the visible head. It is the Church that assembles and declares inspired the Bible. Jesus sends his Spirit upon the Church at Pentecost to empower its leadership and to give efficacy to the sacraments. More wondrous than Isaiah could have ever imagined are the splendors given to the People of God.

What is the Church? We could write volumes and never begin to scratch the surface of this human and divine mystery. She is the great sacrament of encounter with Christ. All that we need for salvation can be found in the Church. Many analogies are used. Marriage is a popular one. Another is that of the Mystical Body of Christ. The faithful are united and interdependent, like the organs and parts of a body. There is a diversity of graces and gifts (see Corinthians 12:4-11). Read also Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 12:13; and Ephesians 4:7. There is mutual complementation (Ephesians 4:15-16). The many gifts are distributed to believers as members of a whole, just as much for their own sake (Ephesians 4:7,12). The two become one, the human and divine, the bride and groom, the Church and Christ. “We, though many are one Body in Christ” (Romans 12:4-5). All is given us “for building up the Body of Christ,” (Ephesians 4:12). Read also 1 Corinthians 12:27 and Ephesians 1:23. Our unity is in Christ (Ephesians 1:23; 4:15-16). The Church is the manner in which Christ is present and visible throughout history. It is for this reason that our Lord so detested hypocrisy. Such a sin blurs the likeness that others need to see in our witness and that the Father hopes to see when he looks down upon us. If He sees his Son in us then we will have a share in his Son’s reward.

During a day when there have been so many scandals, we need to remember that the Church is not only a human institution but also a divine one. The Church is literally the INCARNATION of Christ in a “visible” society, his contemporary earthly state. Those who view the Church as an intermediary that must be gone beyond or even dismissed to find Christ have it all wrong. Instead, it is through the Church that Christ gives himself to us. Jesus is our priest at Mass. Jesus gives us himself in Holy Communion. Jesus forgives our sins in Confession. Jesus is our living and transformative Word proclaimed from the pulpit. Jesus is the one with whom we share the sign of peace. It is in this sense that the second Lateran Council spoke about the Church as necessary for salvation. The Church is important because it is the extension of the person and saving work of Christ. Given this role, it is no wonder that our Lord gave special gifts to the Church: infallibility regarding the interpretation of the deposit of faith and empowerment for the sacraments so as to distribute from the deposit of divine grace. Christ is the Mediator of Salvation and the Church is his visible body in the world along with those in purgation and in heaven.

Recent convert rates to the Catholic Church in the United States were dismal. Dioceses where there had been abusive clergy or complacent bishops suffered notable decreases in Church attendance. I know one parish which had counted as many as 5,000 people a week that suffered a loss of 1,380 a week. This should have us worried. Our Lord promised that the Church would endure until the end, but we would hope that it will be more than one Pope and a couple of aging altar boys. I am often reminded of poor St. Augustine, dying as his city was being destroyed. Try to find Hippo today, or even find a Catholic Church in so many places where the Church died, frequently to be replaced by Islam. We find sobering words in the Scriptures themselves about the Lord’s second coming, “But will he find any faith left on earth?” (Luke 18:8). The Church is a witness to this faith. We should struggle to keep all parts of the body intact and alive.

Christ makes use of his Church in human history. Jesus preached and taught; we proclaim God’s Word and instruct with the Bible and our catechism. Jesus forgave sins; we go to Confession. Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with his friends and endured the Cross; we have the Mass. Jesus healed the sick and dying; we offer medical care and the anointing of the sick. Jesus freed people from demons; we offer blessings and even exorcism. Jesus sought out the outcast and poor; we seek social justice and practice organized charity.

Jesus called the little ones to himself; and we seek to protect the dignity and rights of all God’s children, from the womb to the tomb. Individuals may be sinful and sick. Even the ministers of the Church are not immune to human weakness and failure. But the Church remains the unblemished bride of Christ.

For more such reflections, contact me about getting my book, CHRISTIAN REFLECTIONS.

Invasion of the Stink Bugs!

The housekeeper taped up the back door. I must have flushed 50 of them down the toilet. The rectory and parish is being invaded!

The Sacrifice of Jesus and the Church

The Old Testament prophet speaks about the restoration of Zion and Jerusalem (see Isaiah 62:1-5). His words are quite eloquent and filled with hope. Remember that the people of God had been dispossessed and their nation and its temple destroyed. Such a testimony would seem like foolishness to many. It is no wonder that at the end of their exile, if not of their subjugation, they rebuilt the temple and expected the eminent coming of the Messiah. However, a few years after the crucifixion of Christ, Jews and Christians alike found themselves persecuted with vigor by Rome and the temple was destroyed. Along with it the Jewish priesthood and their ritual sacrifices came to an end. Non-Catholic Protestant fundamentalists and certain Jewish authorities view the political restoration of Israel today as the beginning of a more complete fulfillment of the ancient prophecy. Indeed, the Scriptures were publicly cited when the United Nations recognized the re-establishment of Israel. “You are to be a crown of splendor in the hand of the Lord, a princely diadem in the hand of your God; no longer are you to be named ‘Forsaken,’ nor your land ‘Abandoned,’ but you shall be called ‘My Delight’ and your land ‘The Wedded,’ for the Lord takes delight in you and your land will have its wedding” (Isaiah 62:3-6).

As Catholic Christians we do not associate the state of Israel with the promised restoration of God’s nation. Instead, the New Zion or Jerusalem is the Church. Corinthians 12:4-11 recognizes that there are differing roles in the Church and varying gifts of the Spirit. The old sacrifices of the temple are replaced by the one oblation of Jesus who is both priest and victim. We renew and make present his saving covenant by celebrating the Lord’s Supper— in other words, the Mass— in our churches.

Every Christian priest participates in the one priesthood of Jesus. Every Mass is a re-presentation (in an unbloody but real and spiritual way) of the sacrifice of Calvary. Just as Hosea and others in the Old Testament used the marriage analogy between God and his people, Christ is the bridegroom and the Church is his bride. The Mass is a participation in the heavenly wedding banquet that finds mention in Isaiah. St. Paul will speak eloquently about how a husband should love his wife as Christ has loved his Church. The Jews were right in their hope two thousand years ago for a Messiah; the tragedy is that only a few recognized him when he came. When he comes again, he will not forget his own— either in the Church or among the first people chosen by God.

John 2:1-11 carries forward the general theme of marriage with the wedding feast at Cana. Note the intercessory role of Mary, even after Christ’s objection, “Woman why turn to me?” There is no argument. Joseph is gone and Jesus is the head of her household. She brings concerns to him and he takes care of them. He provides. Her answer is a command to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Jesus had said that “My hour has not yet come,” and yet, the power of her faith moves him to freely comply. Jesus would later tell his listeners that if they had faith the size of a mustard seed, they could move mountains. There is no competition or tension between Jesus and Mary. This marriage feast was obviously for dear friends, maybe even relatives, and nothing should spoil its joy. Jesus turns water into wine. This is the first of his signs. At his own wedding banquet, he will turn wine and bread into his body and blood.

For more such reflections, contact me about getting my book, CHRISTIAN REFLECTIONS.

Jesus is the Sovereign Lord of Life

Peter stands before us in Acts 4:8-12 much transformed from the miserable figure we knew who denied our Lord three times. We are told that he is filled with the Holy Spirit and proclaims the Gospel without qualification or self-aggrandizing. A cripple is healed as a sign that his words ring with the truth. It is all realized in the name of Jesus Christ. He explains that Jesus, the stone rejected, has become the cornerstone: “There is no salvation in anyone else, for there is no other name in the whole world given to men by which we are to be saved” (verse 12).

1 John 3:1-2 sobers us with the fact that the world still fails to recognize the saving person and name of Jesus. If we are children of God, then we can expect a share in the eternal reward merited by Christ: “. . . we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” Taking upon ourselves in this world something of the rejection that was first directed to Christ sobers us. We are signs of contradiction in a world that still does not embrace the fullness of truth. This is nowhere more true than in the Gospel of Life.

John 10:11-18 gives us the familiar and comforting analogy of Jesus as the good shepherd. Our Lord says, “The Father loves me for this: that I lay down my life to take it up again. No one takes it from me; I lay it down freely. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again” (verses 17-18). Jesus is sovereign Lord. He did not have to die for us, but such was the immeasurable love of God. As Lord, he comes back to life and offers us a share in his life. We need to be a people in love with him and with life.

For more such reflections, contact me about getting my book, CHRISTIAN REFLECTIONS.

The Coming of the Spirit

Acts 2:1-11 gives us the scene of that first Pentecost. There are some interesting elements. First, the day “found the brethren gathered in one place.” There is an unexpectancy to the movement of the Spirit who FINDS them and acts SUDDENLY. On what would be the birthday of the Church, the Spirit finds the brethren watchful and awake. The believers are gathered, no doubt for fellowship and prayer. Since Christ had already instituted the priesthood and Eucharist, they might have been celebrating the “breaking of the bread.” Second, we read that “Suddenly from up in the sky there came a noise like a strong driving wind . . . .” All hear it in the house. Behind the symbolism of the wind, the Holy Spirit literally breaks from the celestial house of heaven and reverberates in the house of the Church. Third, the Holy Spirit is imaged as “tongues of fire” over the assembled. Fire gives off light. The Holy Spirit would illumine their minds and make them sharers in the Light of the World, Jesus Christ. Fire warms the flesh, and again like Jesus, the Church would bring the healing and forgiveness of the Lord to a cold world. Fire also burns and so does the Holy Spirit in that it destroys the old way of sin and builds new with the firm foundation of Christ Jesus. Fourth, the assembled speak in many tongues, a recognition that the Gospel proclamation is meant for all peoples and nations.

The kerygma of salvation can only be understood in terms of configuration to Christ and the movement of the Holy Spirit. “And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of the Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who keep his commandments abide in him, and he in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit which he has given us” (1 John 3:23-24). Faith and obedience is only possible if the Holy Spirit animates us (see also 1 John 4:13). Faith itself is a gift of the Spirit. This is the message of Paul. “Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus be cursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). See also Acts 5:29-32. The posture of the believer to the Holy Spirit is one of humble openness and acceptance.

The Gospel gives the essential elements of the Church’s mission. The disciples are afraid and hiding behind locked doors. However, like Jonah who could not run away from God or his call as a prophet, so too can the disciples not hide. The risen Lord breaks upon them and proclaims, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21). Breathing upon them, another image for the Holy Spirit, he gives them a great commission: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive men’s sins, they are forgiven them; if you hold them bound, they are held bound” (John 20:21-23). This legitimates the Church’s ministry of forgiveness and the power given to priests to absolve sins. Never before had God given such authority to men.

What more do the Scriptures say about the Holy Spirit? As the principle of creation, we read that “the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2). A harmony existed between the Creator and creation. When mankind fell from grace, something of this Spirit was taken from us: “Then the Lord said, ‘My spirit shall not abide in man for ever, for he is flesh . . .’” (Genesis 6:3). The Holy Spirit gives both physical and supernatural life. The gulf created by sin ushered in our mortality as well as forfeiting our likeness to God in grace. God, himself, would not allow this sad separation to remain forever. The Gospel of John has Jesus explicitly speaking of the divinity of the Holy Spirit: “‘God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth’” (John 4:24). This truth is confirmed by Peter when speaking about the deceit of Ananias: “But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit . . . ? You have not lied to men but to God’” (Acts 5:3,4). The Spirit maintains truth and convicts us if we stray away from the path marked by our Lord.

The Holy Spirit is God. He is the power of God that created us and keeps us in existence. The Spirit of God is absolutely dynamic and working. Otherwise, we would cease to exist. The Spirit of God is not fickle. What God has created has a purpose. God does not make mistakes. God respects our tremendous freedom in assenting to his grace or in rebelling against it. The Holy Spirit moves us to faith in the mysterious divine election. He guides human history and ensures the providence of God. He makes possible the miracles of Jesus. He makes real the forgiveness of sins. He is the force behind the resurrection, one with Christ, allowing him to rise by his own power. Showered upon the followers of Jesus at Pentecost, he gives efficacy to the sacraments of the Church and grants the assurance of truth to those appointed as sharers in Christ’s priesthood. That which was lost because of our sin is restored by the intervention of God in human history. The resurrection of Jesus overcomes the stigma of death and allows us to be reborn in the likeness of God as sons and daughters to the Father.

The Holy Spirit makes faith possible and assures those in the Church established by Jesus of knowing saving truth without error. It is a truth different from that offered by the world. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you” (John 14:15-17). The Spirit of God is given to us both individually and as a new community fashioned by God, himself.

Just as the Holy Spirit lives in us, so too does he live in the house that is the Church, the community of faith. It has been said that the Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church. We would do well to reflect upon what the Spirit of God offers us. He gives us wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord [reverence] (Isaiah 11:2,3). Besides the seven gifts, there are also twelve traditional fruits: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, long-suffering, humility, fidelity, modesty, continence, and chastity (Galatians 5:22,23,24). These catechetical listings are quite worthy of mention and annotation at a time when many good Catholics need a booster shot to their Christian formation. We live in the age of the Holy Spirit. Every day we should pray the words, “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful; and kindle in them the fire of your love.”

For more such reflections, contact me about getting my book, CHRISTIAN REFLECTIONS.

Teachings About Divorce

This is a reflection upon a two page document sent to me from Bai Macfarlane entitled INCONSISTENT INFORMATION ABOUT DIVORCE, VARIETY OF TEACHINGS:

Father Christopher J. Rossman

Divorce in itself is not a grave (mortal) sin, however. Jesus says, “… whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery” – Matthew 19:9. It’s not the divorce that is a grave sin rather someone engaging in another relationship after the civil divorce. … If one civilly divorces and remains unmarried and chaste no grave sin is committed and the person is not prevented from receiving the sacraments.

I suspect that what Father Rossman means is that while we are dealing with grave matter, the subjective element depends upon a number of factors. While it might be misunderstood and painful to hear, divorce as such is a sin. Yes, I know there are some who would argue otherwise, including clergy; but we cannot allow pastoral considerations and human sentiment to cloud the truth about the matter. I would take exception to redirecting the focus from divorce to adultery; while the offenses are often related (as in the Gospel of Matthew), they are also substantially different. It is not enough to say that as long as the divorced person does not have sexual relations with a person other than the spouse, that the divorce is an insignificant or neutral matter. Pastors may make an accommodation for divorced people to receive the sacraments; but to be quite frank, they often do not even ask the priest if it is okay. It is possible that some divorced people need both Confession and efforts at restitution before the regularization of their status in the Church. Often the fault for the failure of marriages rests with both parties; but it can also be the case that one is innocent of wrongdoing. A person who loves his or her spouse and is faithful to marital obligations would certainly not be culpable of sin if there should be spousal abandonment. The person who selfishly walks away from marriage is guilty of sin and I would argue that the gravity is probably mortal. Those persons who through temptation and/or bad counsel lead others to divorce would also acquire guilt. What makes separation and divorce so very problematic is that spouses have a pledged duty to fulfill the obligations of procreation and fidelity. Spouses have a right to the emotional, physical and spiritual satisfactions of marital love. Those who use sex as a weapon of manipulation in marriages are sinning in a way akin to divorce. Divorce here is understood as more than a legal status; but as the separation of spouses and as their estrangement from the supports proper to this state. A person might divorce his or her spouse and remain both chaste and celibate; however, a sin is committed because the spouse still has needs and a right to a shared life and sexual intimacy. The sin of divorce is precisely this depravation. Arising from this, our Lord intimates about how a man who divorces his wife can be guilty for his own and for the spouse’s adultery, both in actuality and potentially.

There are cases where marriages are defective and for that reason we have an annulment process. But I would urge couples not to date or to pursue romantic entangles until or unless they are free to do so. It may be that some divorced people can never remarry because the first bond is genuine. Are there reasons why a divorce should be pursued? The various grounds for annulments represent a partial list. It might also be the case that a spouse is abusive, violent and dangerous. I knew a case where a woman had to separate from her spouse because he was a bad drunk. He regularly beat her and threatened to kill her and the children. She wanted to preserve the marriage but the value of life and the safety of her children came first. She did not remarry.

Tribunal of the Archdiocese of Atlanta

Please remember that a divorce alone would not affect, or hinder in any way, your participation in the Catholic Church. A divorced Catholic is free to receive the sacraments. … However, if you are divorced and remarried without a Decree of Invalidity (and your former spouse is still living) a problem does arise.

Here too the issue of divorce seems confused with adultery, however, I suspect it is simply the bottom line  regarding the law of the Church. Legal norms in the Church have always tended to be minimalistic.  A divorced spouse may be the innocent party or he or she might be the source or agent of the breakup. Beyond civil divorce there are some who remain together but live as if they are divorced. These spouses tolerate living together but are both emotionally and physically living distinct lives remote from each other. This is wrong for many of the same reasons why separation and civil divorce are offensive.  Those working in a tribunal would hope that people from failed marriages would first seek out their priestly confessors. Before calling it quits, couples should do all they can to work out their problems and, if possible, save their marriages. They should also invoke divine grace and assistance.  Attempting (another) marriage without ecclesial approbation is a decisive civil act that places one in conflict with Church teaching and discipline.  Here is an explicit and verifiable act with a written record to which the sanctions of Church law quickly respond.  However, this does not mean that the couple’s faith and discipleship was not already in trouble.  Spouses are supposed to be the first of helpmates in supporting each other in becoming saints.  If a marriage falls apart, it is obvious that this goal and preoccupation for mutual holiness has also collapsed. 

In the Know with Fr. Joe. (America’s Catholic Television Network)

If you are divorced and not remarried, you can receive communion.

This says what the others said, and it is frequently the practice. But just as many priests lament that so many come up for communion without recourse to the sacrament of penance, similarly divorced believers should change their lives and seek out a priest prior to receiving communion.

North American Conference of Separated and Divorced

There are no laws preventing a divorced Catholic who has not remarried from active participation within a parish. This includes receiving Eucharist and Reconciliation, or participating as a Lector, Eucharistic Minister, Parish Council member, etc. You do not need absolution prior to fully participating.

Reception of communion is not just a legal issue but a spiritual one. Is the person properly disposed for the sacrament? If not, then he or she desperately needs to seek out the counsel, and if possible, the absolution of a priest.  

As an aside, the new guidelines reserve the title Lector to those men formally installed and the term Eucharistic Minister to bishops, priests and deacons. Other ordinary ministers would be installed Acolytes. Those who read at Mass are now called Readers.  The laity who assist with communion are called Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion.  No other terms are currently permitted.

Catholic Answers. Jim Blackburn , Staff Apologist

However, in other cases [for the one in grave fault who destroyed marriage], —as with all serious sin—a divorced person should go to confession immediately, prior to receiving Communion.

Yes, this is exactly the case.

EWTN – Pennsylvania Bishop Pastoral Letter. July 29, 1994

Therefore, it is helpful to keep in mind several distinctions among divorced persons whose previous marriage(s) have not been declared sacramentally invalid by the lawful authority of the church. Such distinctions include first of all those who have not remarried, as well as those who have remarried and seek to live in complete continence. These persons are eligible to receive the Eucharist according to the regular norms of the church.

It might seem that the minimalism of law or norms in this instance is based more upon what one does not do than on what one actually does. Instead of placing a lot of moral weight on divorce, it shifts to the avoidance of adultery.  The issue of spousal support and intimacy is not addressed, just the fact that there is no sexual activity. I have to admit that, while the canonists may be correct, such understandings leave me very uncomfortable. The statement here says that remarried couples who “seek to live in complete continence” are eligible to receive the Eucharist. Okay, norms are fulfilled, but serious questions remain. Human laws, even in the Church, may not always satisfy all the prescriptions of divine law. This allowance is probably in reference to those brother-sister internal forum situations known privately to the pastor. I can certainly understand how an older couple might be given such an allowance given mistakes that were made and the approaching proximity of their departure from this veil of tears. But, it could be sorely abused as well. The potential exists for egregious scandal.  We only have a couple’s word that they are not sexually involved. Further, what about all the other satisfactions of married love: a shared life, kisses and small embraces, holding hands, bodies resting next to each other on a couch, intimate words and romantic encounters. Continence might not be breeched and yet all these sweet elements still properly belong to someone else, a true spouse forgotten or ignored. I have encountered men who have wept daily at the loss of knowing that the love of their lives is now in another man’s arms. The Church should not forget these poor souls and the lonely pain they feel.

Diocese of Bismark, ND

Can a divorced Catholic receive the sacraments? Yes. There is nothing in the Church’s law that prevents a divorced Catholic from receiving the Eucharist and other sacraments of the Church. A divorced person is fully and completely a member of the Church.

This explanation is much like the ones that have come before. Tribunals are only concerned about the canonical norms. However, in practice many questions must be asked. There is much public debate today about the scandal of sin or complicity in regards to the reception of communion. The American Life League regularly petitions the bishops to tell pro-abortion Catholic politicians not to receive the Eucharist. Similarly, like all believers, divorced Catholics must seriously examine their conscience before partaking of the bread of life. Are they living chastely? If not remarried, are they cohabitating? That is sin or at least the occasion of sin. As far as I know, no one denies that divorced persons are still members of the Church. That does not mean that our relationship with Christ and his Church is everything it should be. Our Lord identifies himself with the beloved in marriage. Marriage is a sacrament which points to Christ’s covenant with his Church. Jesus keeps his promises and will never divorce himself from the Church. Divorce is a fractured sign of this mystery. How can it not touch our relationship with the Church? If Christ will never abandon us then should we not also keep our promises, even when it takes us to the Cross?

EWTN, Colin B. Donovan, STL

By itself civil divorce is not an obstacle to Communion. As a civil action all it does is settle the civil legal effects of marriage (distribution of property, custody of children etc.). … those who are actually responsible for the breakup of the marriage and the failure to be reconciled when possible are indeed guilty of sin and have an obligation to repent and confess their sin before receiving Communion, as would any grave sinner.

Yes, this is precisely the true Catholic answer to the question!

Diocese of Lacross, WI.

Divorce does not mean one can no longer receive Holy Communion. A Catholic is barred from receiving Communion only if he or she goes on to remarry after a divorce, while their previous spouse is still living, and no annulment has been granted in regards to a prior marriage.

This is consistent with the other answers given. However, a number of things are presumed: that there is no attempted marriage and/or ongoing cohabitation and adultery. It is peculiar that no one talks about the wrong of neglecting marital duties. Refusing the sexual advances and the various acts of marital support and intimacy are also sinful. Might such neglect constitute serious sin and inhibit one from receiving communion?

Diocese of Charleston

A divorced Catholic who is neither remarried nor cohabiting is free to receive the sacraments and to be involved in life of the parish. In many cases such individuals can help their fellow parishioners who may be going through or have gone through the pain of marital separation or divorce.

I suspect this response is alluding to organizations of Separated and Divorced Catholics. It is true that they can help people through their pain. However, I often worry that they can inadvertently create other problems. People in these situations are very vulnerable. Acts of kindness can lead to special friendships and intimacy. My suggestion would be that such support should be limited to people of the same sex to avoid the possibility of romantic entanglements. I would also resist efforts to automatically minimize the value and authenticity of failed marriages. Some situations cannot be fixed. This is the hard truth we need to face.

Diocese of Arlington. Catholic Herald. Fr. William P. Saunders

Another question arises concerning the status of a divorced person in the Church. Since divorce involves a civil decree by the state and is not recognized by the Church, a divorced person remains in good standing and may receive the sacraments. However, if a divorced person remarries without a Declaration of Nullity, then strictly speaking, an act of adultery is committed: since the first marriage still is presumed valid, remarriage without an annulment places the person in a state of mortal sin and prevents him from receiving Holy Communion. Therefore, the Church encourages a divorced person who may think he may one day remarry to see his parish priest and pursue the annulment process.

Yes, admittedly this is the practice in the United States. Are we too quick to encourage the annulment process? Tribunals will not even begin the investigation until a divorce decree is acquired. Many couples do not seek marriage counseling or some time has elapsed when they finally contact a priest. Often one spouse wants to salvage a marriage and the other does not. Many annulments are pursued after people have become entangled in new romantic relationships. In other words, many if not most annulments are responses, not to divorce, but to what are externally regarded as adulterous situations. Due to weakness and passion, there is often already a second marriage although conducted civilly or in another religious denomination. I heard a priest once joke that we have to teach our people that Catholic divorce is not annulment but murder. The bond is “unto death do we part.” The six month preparation period is precisely to stress the permanence of the bond. However, even at the initial stage, many couples are already brushing aside Catholic teaching by living together and having sexual relations. It is my contention that the disregard for virginity prior to marriage is a poison leading to infidelity and divorce later on. Annulments cannot be assured. I have had a few denied. There were no grounds. It is quite rare that these adulterous couples would then separate or not seek marriage outside the Church. Tell them to separate and they look at you with shock and bewilderment. All the Church is doing is trying to keep them to their word. They promised fidelity to a spouse and before Almighty God. Promises are meant to be kept.

Archbishop of Cagyan de Oro City, Philppines

Archbishop Antonio J. Ledesma of Cagyan de Oro City has strongly criticized a proposed bill that would legalize divorce in the Philippines and said that the move would destroy the moral fiber of Philippine society. “Legalizing something that is immoral will not make it right, but will instead make it worse,” said Archbishop Ledesma.

Similar arguments were made in Ireland. But secularism seems to be winning. Here we do see a “disconnect” from the practice in other nations. Tribunals in the West require a divorce before permitting annulment applications. Meanwhile, in the Philippines, the Church is arguing against legalized divorce. This is the traditional stance and it best reflects Catholic teaching about the indissolubility of marriage. Divorce is not regarded as an option. For better or worse, marriage is for keeps!

Archbishop of Malta and Bishop of Gozo

[From the Archbishop of Malta] As there are those who promote divorce in a pluralistic society, the Church’s mission is to promote the stability of marriage, insisting on the moment of consent as the focal point of one’s commitment. In divorce there is a shift from this focal point towards each moment which is presented as giving the spouse a potential right to consider his/her consent and commitment thus ending one’s marriage.

The philosophical interpretation of the archbishop is on the mark. Sacraments represent special moments where promises or vows can be renewed but not denounced. A person is baptized and becomes a child of God and member of the Church. A man is ordained and he is forever configured to Christ the high priest. A couple is married and the two become one flesh. There is a new and enduring reality. Christianity believes that there are particular moments when we take a stand and define ourselves. Secular society today runs away from perpetual commitments and consistency. No lines are drawn and change is embraced where people are constantly redefining themselves and their lives. These views are incompatible. One promotes order or structure and obedience; the latter brings about chaos and confusion. Christians are people of the promise in a world of broken promises.

Prefect of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Roman Curia, Francis Cardinal Arinze

Divorce tears marriage apart. It desolates both husband and wife. It leaves the children not only in tears but also in misery. We do not deny that there can be serious disagreement between husband and wife, but divorce is not the solution. When husband and wife have a disagreement, they should reflect, pray, sit together and discuss. Accept fault where you are wrong, ask for pardon, or consult a priest or other spiritual adviser, but do not divorce.

Cardinal Arinze, as always, is quite right. The problem that pastors face is that the couples we marry, and the many that get divorced, are only superficially Christian. Large numbers are ignorant of their faith and those who are informed lack a basic conviction to live out their Christianity. If there is rebellion and sin at the beginning of a bond, why should we think it would not show its face when the marriage falls apart? They do not see what is wrong with fornication and later explain away culpability for adultery and divorce. We hear things like this: “Our love died. We grew apart. We married too young. God would not want us to stay in a loveless marriage. I have fallen in love with someone else. It was good while it lasted. It is time to move on. We only stayed together for the children. We are not the same people anymore.” None of these reasons is sufficient for divorce. How many have the mentality that divorce should not even be placed upon the table as an option? Unfortunately, very few think this way. Often it is as if they speak an entirely different language from the priest.

[CCC 2385]

Divorce is immoral also because it introduces disorder into the family and into society. This disorder brings grave harm to the deserted spouse, to children traumatized by the separation of their parents and often torn between them, and because of its contagious effect which makes it truly a plague on society.

[CCC 2384]

Divorce is a grave offense against the natural law. It claims to break the contract, to which the spouses freely consented, to live with each other till death.

The universal catechism also condemns divorce. It is wrong in itself and it acts as a poison to marriage and the family throughout society. The bond of marriage is a facet of the natural law. Men and women were created to enter into a lifelong union. Unlawful marriages by people who are not free violate both natural law and divine positive law. Civil law once reinforced this basic truth, but not so any longer. Indeed, no-fault divorce and attempts to redefine marriage for same-sex couples shows how the corruption is escalating.

Election Vandalism: The Day After

Yesterday our parish hall was a polling place in the Prince George’s County Elections.  Less than 500 voters came out but the campaign workers gave out pamphlets and cards, shouted the names of candidates, littered the property with signs, etc.  When the election was over, they disappeared, leaving all their trash behind.  It was a real mess! 

CLICK THE PICTURE ABOVE  to see the pictures I took this morning.  They demonstrate the level of disrespect they showed this church and the local community.  Another property on 450 is posted against tresspassers and dumping.  It is surrounded by campaign signs.  I guess private property and anti-littering laws do not mean much to those who would be elected officials and to many of those who would support them.

Acknowledging the Holy Spirit

It is sometimes complained that Christians of the West seem apt to neglect the role of the Holy Spirit in their prayer, worship, and reflection. The Catholic emphasis often centers upon Jesus, his mother Mary, and the saints. However, the Holy Spirit is not utterly forgotten and is implicitly invoked every time we make the sign of the cross. The early Church discerned the power of the Holy Spirit in their midst as a personal encounter with God.

When debates arose about the identity of the Holy Spirit, the Church rightly learned from the baptismal formula given her by our Lord. We are baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Repeating myself somewhat, a mere creature has no power to save us. Consequently, the Holy Spirit must also be God: he is the third Person of the Blessed Trinity, the one God who saves us.

For more such reflections, contact me about getting my book, CHRISTIAN REFLECTIONS.