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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.