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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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The Kiss of Death

The title chosen for this subheading might make one imagine a romantic setting where some daring spy has an affair with a deadly enemy agent. Such is how our minds and imaginations work these days. The arachnologist might fantasize in some poor anthropomorphic way about the love of two black widow spiders. The male was under her spell. Did he know that her embrace guaranteed new life and the end of his own? Snap! She bites off his head — oblivion, the end of a relationship — now he is merely fodder for a patricidal cannibalistic brood. Sweet and deceptive is the kiss of death. Perhaps the maiden being drained of her blood by a vampire in a late-night B-movie would think so? I digress enough. While these might make interesting if not sick asides; what I want to mention briefly is a far more realistic kiss, a kiss which has touched the lives of each and every one of us.

It is the story about a lonely figure in a garden. His friends are asleep. He had hoped they could spend awake what little time he had remaining with them, but alas, the flesh was too weak. All are asleep, except for one other. He had called this man friend. He had trusted him with their traveling purse. He had called him to follow him by name. And if Christ most loves the sinner, then this was the one man besides his beloved John whom he held closest to his heart. His name was Judas Iscariot. He came quietly in the night. Drawing near, he greeted his Master with a kiss. It had begun. All the sin that had ever erupted into the world, or whichever would, was a part of that kiss. A thousand, a million, no a billion and more lips touched his check in a gesture which should have meant love. Instead, it was an act of the direst betrayal. Voices in history would echo the cry, “It would have been better if this man had never been born!” (see Mark 14:21). Maybe it is so. Does he now reside beside Satan? I don’t know. What tears he must have cried in knowing that he could not force Christ to be something he was not. No, Jesus would not liberate with arms or with trumpet blasts. He would submit. He would die.

The seeming irony of our faith is that the kiss of death on our part, the hypocrisy of its false love is turned around by real love, a love which gives life and not death. Maybe like the sinner woman who dared to enter into the Pharisee’s home to wash Christ’s feet with her tears and later to dry them with her hair, we too need to see that the strangeness of God’s ways are not always ours? He comes not for the righteous but for the sinner; not for the rich but for the poor; not for the satisfied but for those still hungry. He comes not waving a sword but pierced by one.

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

Our True Treasure

A few years ago, I recall watching a re-run episode of the old series, The Twilight Zone, which I think might help us to appreciate God’s Word. In it, three robbers made an incredible heist of gold bars. It was worth a fortune. However, the gold was too hot to handle. So, one of the men, being a scientist, devised a way for them to go into suspended animation or sleep, to wake up healthy and rich a hundred years hence. They bet their lives on this proposition for wealth. A hundred years later, they awaken from their slumber. Sometime during their stasis, a rock had fallen and had broken a glass cylinder containing one of their friends. He was dead. There were only two left; so much the better. They would be richer for it — they thought. The remaining two men exited their cave in the desert with their loot. The sun was hot. Civilization was no longer where it used to be. The truck they had counted upon broke down. They fought with each other. Greed set in. The water became scarce. A tussle broke out and suddenly, there was only one man left. He laughed. He was rich beyond avarice. He carried the heavy bars in the hot desert sun. Just when he thought he was finished, he met a couple of people in some kind of futuristic hot-rod. He fell to the ground. “Water, water,” he begged, “Give me some water and I’ll make you rich beyond your dreams!” He held out the gold. One of the people whom he met pitied the dying man but found him very curious. For everyone knew that in the latter twenty-first century, gold was easily accessible and virtually worthless.

The story may be science fiction, but the plight is one which has always faced us. It is the need for the proper priorities in our lives — and in the case of the Scriptures, the rightful place of God. Reading Isaiah 55:1-3, the question is asked, “Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy?” We can be like Midas and have everything we touch turn to gold, but if that is our only treasure, we’ll starve and die. We as Christians also believe that unless the body and blood of Christ nurtures us as our spiritual food, our souls will weaken and possibly die. Isaiah uses the image of our natural need for food and drink to make more clear how we need the life-giving nourishment of God. Without him, we are nothing. Without him, our other treasures are valueless. Without him, we cannot be totally the people we are called to be. Without him, we are deranged ants going nowhere, fools without a purpose. Without him, no amount of food or water will keep us alive, for death comes for us all.

In Romans 8:35,37-39, the theme is continued, Paul shows in his questions how absurd it should be that anything might separate us from Christ. Christ, unlike gold or earthly wealth — Christ, unlike power or prestige — Christ, unlike fads and fashion — Christ does not lose his value for us. Paul says that neither death nor life, neither human nor angelic power, neither present nor future, neither persecution nor hunger — shall separate us from the love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus.

We are called to him, to drink and eat of the presence of his love. But, do we always accept the invitation? We might ask ourselves a lot of questions to find out. When we travel, do we attempt to locate churches where we might fulfill our obligation for Sunday Mass? Do we faithfully fulfill it at home? If we have children, have they received the sacraments, learned their prayers, and studied their catechism? When we go to Mass, are we in a state of grace to receive communion or might we still need Confession? Do we needlessly avoid communion when we might be permitted to receive it? Do we pray at home? Do we share our faith with friends? In the day-to-day living, do we live lives of charity to help clothe and feed others — not only materially, but spiritually with Christ? All these things and more are among the questions we might ask. I think a sign of Christ’s priority in our lives is revealed in how readily we want to share him with others. Some people might be more willing to offer a cigarette or a piece of gum than Christ. That shows sometimes just how low on the list we place him. The irony is, that each and every one of us is on the top of Christ’s list. He underwent all the pains of our treachery for each and every one of us personally. By name he calls us. By name he dies for us. By name, he now calls us forward and even offers his own flesh as our food and his blood as our drink.

We notice in Matthew 14:13-21 the multiplication of the loaves and fishes; it says that everyone ate their fill. No one was forgotten. So it is at our altar table. We might try to bring someone to Mass who has been away for awhile or who is searching for meaning and might find it in the midst of the Church community.

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

God Does Not Forget Us

“Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you” (Isaiah 49:15).

Isaiah 49:14-15 has a deep meaning full of touching significance. They are words which can offer great consolation in times of hardship, if only we would really believe them. Jesus lived these words. As the reflection of the Father and His love in our world, he embraced the outcasts and made them his friends; he touched the sick and made them well; he went out to sinners and offered them forgiveness; and he became our brother in dying, so that we might share his new life. In all this, God did not forget us even though His children might turn their backs on Him. Jesus makes reference to these words of consolation, when on his way to the Cross. Those of you who pray the Stations of the Cross will well remember it. He tells the women of Jerusalem not to fear and weep so much for him, as for the children to be born of them. He foretells a time when love will become sterile and the barren womb blessed. He can well say this, for he has realized in his own flesh, indeed, his very person, the love which is eternal and yet which is rejected.

If the Lord is our foundation, if it is his love and constant care that matters to us, then this kind of trust will help us a great deal in the uncertainties of life and in the fickleness of human friendships. Of course, some relationships by their very nature seem to reflect the human/divine fellowship more clearly. Not too long ago I was in the hospital with an elderly man who got to see his wife a few moments before serious surgery. He said to her as he touched her face, “You know who loves you, don’t you?” And then, ever so softly, with tears in her eyes, she responded, “I know, you do– I love you, too.” For half a century they had loved and cared for each other. I don’t know about you, but that says something to me about my commitment to love as a Christian and as a priest. Most important of all, it gives me a glimpse of just how much God loves and never forgets a single one of us– not even for a moment.

He is our rock, our salvation, our hope, our strength, and safety. We are to surrender our lives to him in trust and love– for he loved us first. Apart from him, we would have nothing. No, we would be nothing.

In Matthew 6:24-34, Jesus practically begs us to trust the Father and his unceasing love and concern for us. So much more important are we than the birds of the sky or the lilies of the field. We can respond to God’s love with love. He desires for us to discard our fears and believe in his saving power. How often we must fail him? We worry about so many things. The money is short. The children are difficult to control. The job is boring or too straining. School work is piling up and the studies for tests are driving us crazy. A special friend or even a spouse in their distance to us, might be a cause for fear or loneliness. Our worries are many, too many. We kill ourselves with worry. The Church, having the mind of Christ on this matter and yet so very aware of our tendency to fret over things large and small, even daily petitions the Lord in the Mass, following The Lord’s Prayer, to DELIVER US FROM ALL ANXIETY. Notice the English translation says, not SOME, not UNNECESSARY, but ALL ANXIETY. It is not from God.

No matter what comes, God will be there with us– even if his presence is hidden behind the veil of pain and his will glimpsed only piecemeal through the flickering haze of human history. If everyone we love should abandon us, either through death, pain, or neglect, he will never abandon us. The Lord is our Everlasting Friend. A sign that we truly believe with all our hearts and minds in this friend and in the Father who sends us both his Son and the Spirit who is Love Personified, is that we trust as Christ himself trusted– not just externally for others to see– but to be at PEACE in ourselves.

Our Lord in his Gospel says to those weak in faith: “Your heavenly Father knows all that you need. Seek first his kingship over you, his way of holiness, and all these things will be given you besides. Enough, then, of worrying about tomorrow; let tomorrow take care of itself. Today has troubles enough of its own” (Matthew 6:32-34) — wise words. The troubles may come. But along with them, faith, hope and love remain possible in Christ. If we find it lacking, then let us ask for it, pray for it, live for it. It will be given.

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

Discernment of Spirits

We are called to pursue something of a personal discernment in regards to our sinful nature. Look at 1 Corinthians 2:10-16. The selection begins, “The Spirit scrutinizes all matters, even the deep things of God.” It is a wonderful and insightful depiction of the interior life. We as Christians do not simply follow laws in blind obedience. We are called not to go through the motions of faith; quite contrarily, we are to be filled within by God’s Spirit.

It is difficult for me to convey what I mean here. On the spiritual level, we need to be in communication with the Spirit of God. God helps us to see our failings as well as offers us gifts to transcend them. We pray. In the quiet of prayer our open hearts are clasped by a heart greater still.

We reflect upon our life and ask God for a deeper share in his, by instructing, loving, forgiving, and healing. Anything that would contend against these values of Christ would be from the spirit of the world and not from God. The world’s spirit cannot understand us because it is too restless. It hides sin behind deceit and rationalization.

It is no friend of the truth. It loves its own ends without full consideration of others. It seeks revenge instead of forgiveness and will not admit wrongs. And, instead of healing, it will step on anyone or anything to get what it wants.

In the quiet of our life, we need to know that other Spirit which seeks peace. The fruits for these two rivals in our loyalties are so different, that it should not take long to begin the work of distinguishing one spirit from the other. However, it may take a whole lifetime to detach one. The spirit of the world will not readily leave and it is greedy to possess us. It wants to dull or deafen our consciences with the noise of sin and distraction.

Like the demonic in the Gospel (see Luke 4:31-37), we need Christ’s help in destroying it and demanding it to come out. We cannot do it alone. Christ’s voice alone is loud enough to restore order and peace. He has been given this authority to liberate us and to fill us with God’s Spirit. In this way, we can put on the mind of Christ and not the mindlessness of the world. Consequently, our continuing reflection must rely upon a profound trust in Jesus Christ and his grace in us.

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

Facing the Sins of Our Lives

The message which emerges from our Gospel is sometimes quite unsettling. Take for instance Mark 7:1-8;14-15;21-23. Preachers might even be afraid to bring further attention to it because of the possible angry reactions it might evoke. None of us, myself included, like to be reminded of how imperfect, weak, and sinful we are. We create all kinds of barriers in our lives to protect ourselves from this realization. We try earnestly to project images of wholesomeness and sanctity, even when we realize that we have a long way to go.

We need to be careful not to become a people of pretense, but rather a people of true purity and holiness. This is not some goal reserved to those of past history or to those outside our materialism in poorer nations as in Eastern Europe or Latin America. We here in the capitol of one of the richest, most technological, and powerful nations in the world, we too need to place our trust completely in God, despite the distractions. Christ condemns the Pharisees by using the words of the prophet Isaiah against them, “This people pays me lip service, but their heart is far from me.” Our hearts need to belong to God. It is the only response from us that makes sense. After all, Christ in the Mass comes to live in our hearts by way of the sacrament of his very self, the Eucharist. How contradictory is this miraculous gift to the kind of sad things by which many people are enslaved.

The Lord gives us a long grocery list of the type of wicked designs which emerge from the core of the heart, things which would never allow room for Christ’s presence to reside there. In our prayer and in the sacraments, especially reconciliation, we need to root out these foreign loyalties so that there will be room for Christ to live in us. But to do this, we must also be sensitive to that which does not belong to God.

We need to be on the alert lest we deaden ourselves to the tragic infestation of sin. Throughout this great land, people of all ages flaunt a lifestyle of fornication that Christ noted as the first wicked design to condemn on his list. Perhaps this shows us how serious it is? Elsewhere in Scripture, it is said that no fornicator can have any part of the Kingdom of God. The Church could no more retract this teaching than it could reject Christ’s divinity or his resurrection. People, especially the young, give away their very persons before they even know what they are relinquishing. Our identity is a precious gift. Christ would have any who would share it in the most intimate way, to do so within the secure confines of a holy marriage — a life open to fidelity and receptive to new life.

Also on the list is adultery. If marriage is that special covenant by which the deep relationship of Christ is revealed in regard to his bride the Church, then this is a most serious transgression indeed. It is idolatry. Instead of loving Christ in your spouse, you have turned elsewhere. It undoes everything the Christian is about.

The other sins Christ mentions are also things which should send off warning lights in our lives.

Theft — how many ways, both petty and major, have we stolen during our lives? How often have we taken more than what was our due? How often have we even robbed others of their good name and dignity?

Murder — how many have never lifted a hand to prevent a young woman from destroying her unborn child? How many of us in our words and actions have killed the spirit of such women by not forgiving them afterwards? How many times have we killed others by taking away their hopes and dreams, making them a walking dead?

Greed and Envy — why must we always keep up with the Joneses and decide to insure our lifestyle even at the cost of having children? How often have we made material things into our goal instead of Christ and salvation?

Maliciousness — why is it that sometimes we look back on our behavior and try to justify our meanness?

Deceit — from the white lie and minor alteration to the black and complete dishonesty, how can we justify this as a people who follow a Savior called, “the Way, the Truth, and the Life?”

Sensuality — while not denying our sexuality, why is it so often used as bait for sinful pleasure instead of as an integral part of us? Why do we allow the passions such a free reign in our life, forgetting to mortify ourselves?

Blasphemy — how can it be that our faith and God can be insulted and so many of us fail to be agitated? Why is it that blasphemous movies can be made which distort the image of Christ as a wimpish fool and mock the priesthood and so few seem concerned?

Arrogance and Obtuse/Insensitive Spirit — why is it today that the Word of God and Tradition as interpreted by the teachers in the Church can all be ridiculed with impunity?

How is it that we can show disrespect to sacred images, articles, places, and persons? Why is it that so many of our brothers and sisters can make time for television, movies, dances, sports and other such things, and find no time for God or the Mass? Why is it that we can become callous and cold, even to the needs of others?

If these things convict us of sin, then we must be willing to recognize it and to ask for God’s pardon. He loves us all more than we will ever know. With the gift of his pardon, we will also receive his grace to avoid sin and to become more like that figure in the psalm “Who walks blamelessly and does justice; who thinks the truth in his heart and slanders not with his tongue. Who harms not his fellow man, nor takes up a reproach against his neighbor; . . .” (see Psalm 15:2-3; 3-4; 4-5).

I know a young girl who has just returned to college. To use an old term, she really is a “nice girl.” Some of her friends, especially a few boys she really likes have mocked her values and have alienated themselves from her because of what she believes. She went to church Sunday and they made fun of her. She is decent and they harass her. She called home to her folks and asked, “Mom, why are they doing this to me?” She asked this in tears because she had thought these people were her friends.

We need to pray for such young people who struggle courageously to maintain their faith and values. We know how deeply it can sometimes hurt. It would be good for us in word and example to continue our prophetic witness of Christ’s kingdom breaking into the world; and to pray for ourselves and such young people who need our love and encouragement.

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

Conscience and Conduct

Many parishes celebrate “Come Home for Christmas” and “Come Home for Easter” reconciliation services. Of course, Confession is available all year long. Priests delight in being ministers of reconciliation. The Christian regularly needs to examine his conscience and behavior.

We do this, not in light of some nebulous feeling or even according to the values of the majority of our peers; we do so in comparison to the standard of Christ and his Church. In season and out, popular or not, the truth is proclaimed.

The first realization which must dawn upon us is that we are all sinners. From the last harsh word we uttered to the little lies we tell; from our lack of preoccupation in the liturgy to our passivity regarding the murder of the child in the womb — we are sinners. We need to be honest to ourselves and to God about that fact. In our consciences, we very often try to run away from this reality; after all, it is an admission of imperfection. However, humility requires this acknowledgment, even if satanic pride would deny it.

I use the word “satanic” here because I believe it is all too easy in our lax consciences to reduce all sin to the level of a simple fault, a mistake, or a stumble. All of these words fail to take into consideration that sin is more than our merely tripping over our own feet. We sin because there is a part of us that chooses to do it, likes doing it, wants to do it some more, and will seek to hide it. There is a malicious and wicked quality to it. Sometimes we might be so good at hiding our sins that we even hide them to ourselves. We rationalize that “everybody’s doing it” or “that I am not a saint.” And yet, if we are following in Christ’s footsteps, it was for going against the former that Jesus was put to death and for the latter that he allowed his passion and death. We are all called to be holy and his grace can make this seemingly impossible goal obtainable.

This leads us to our second realization, that if we are sinners, we have not been left to despair and to die in our sins; Jesus offers us the grace of his presence, a presence of healing, peace, and forgiveness. Here too our consciences must not collapse between the tension of either being lax or scrupulous. Our appreciation of sin and the sense of guilt or remorse which brings us to confess and seek pardon is a noble human gesture. However, once that forgiveness of God is given, we must forgive ourselves as well. We need to believe that God does what he claims to do. When Christ forgives our sins through the instrumentality of the priest, healing us and dissolving our breach with God and the community, the slate of our lives is wiped clean. Like a newborn baby we are made new. Temporal punishment may remain and so we are given a penance; but our standing in the Church and before God is healed and restored.

Although the seal of confession prevents me from naming particulars, the habit (no matter how rare these days) of keeping mental or written lists containing hundreds of particular sins, big and small, throughout the week, demonstrates an obsession with one’s sins, a sense of inferiority and depravity. We need to believe that God has made us wondrous creatures to behold, a little less than angels. When I was a teenager, I was so scrupulous that I even thought my feelings, beyond my control, were sins calling for remission.

Our sexuality, one of God’s greatest gifts to us, is sometimes cursed among supposedly chaste people because of the intensity of an attraction to others. Can we not praise God for his creation and leave evil thoughts behind? Even at Saint Peter’s in Rome itself, the beauty of the human form is displayed in great works of art. Having said this, it occurs to me that sexuality is one of those issues which we have to keep in tension. If we are not to be scrupulous about it, we must also not be lax. The commandments of Scripture and the natural law more than suggest an objective norm in living out our sexuality, reserving its fullest expression to marriage and in mandating that it always nurture fidelity and new life. I could have spoken at length this way about any of an assortment of concerns and sinful extremes, but it does seem that sex is the most popular topic these days.

If the lax conscience sins by presumption of God’s will and mercy; the scrupulous sins by questioning and even rejecting his forgiveness. We may fall into certain regular or habitual sins that need to be confessed; but, why tell the same sin committed many years and tears ago, over and over again? [I am not talking here about a general confession which seeks to examine the general thrust or orientation of our life.] Could it be that sometimes we do not believe that God can do what he claims? God does not forgive as we often do. Frequently, our offer of forgiveness is tainted by a threat or warning, “Okay, I’ll forgive you this time, but next time, pow!” When God forgives, he acts like he forgets. The all-knowing God puts our sins behind him, and no longer looks upon them. Perhaps we would do better if we tried to forgive in the same way? Years ago, I was watching the 700 Club on TV and there was an interview with a couple whose teenage son was ruthlessly murdered by another boy for what little pocket change he carried. In our own hearts, how many of us would have wanted to respond with violence in kind? They did not; instead, this young murderer, an orphan of the streets, was regularly visited in jail by only two people, the murdered boy’s parents. They prayed and even forgave him. The youth accepted Christ. They fought for his release and when that day came, they took him home and made him their own. How many of us could have done that? Perhaps that shows how much more conversion we still need?

We killed God’s Son by our sins, and yet he forgives us. Oddly enough, no matter how prayerful and devout, the failure to forgive ourselves may be the most dangerous kind of sin of all. How some people must hate themselves! I mean that. Only hate could make people rehearse their past transgressions in their minds over and over. Have they grown to desire the pain it brings? I do not know. If the lax have made themselves fools to their passions of self-love; the scrupulous have become slaves to their own self-loathing. Christ would have us be free. He would have us responsibly love ourselves as precious in his eyes because he has first loved us. Indeed, unless we love ourselves in this way, what becomes of the commandment, “To love your neighbor as yourself?”

I would like to say a few more precise things about conscience. It is neither the comical stereotype of an angel whispering on one shoulder and a devil on the other nor an arbitrary feeling that something is either good or bad. Conscience is an attempt of the mind to make an appropriate judgment about whether an action is either right or wrong. True judgment demands knowing the facts and deliberation over them prior to action. Odd as it may seem, we are obliged to follow our conscience even when a false judgment is made. However, as soon as we learn otherwise, we must accordingly adjust to agree with a now properly formed conscience. Judgment can be flawed for all sorts of reasons; we might be perplexed, coerced, scrupulous, lax, etc. We suspend judgment when in doubt and do not act until a certain conclusion has been reached. The Church maintains that conscience needs to be properly informed and a judgment must be made according to the appropriate law, i.e. natural law, Ten Commandments, and the law of love.

In all visible creation, only human beings have been called by God to accept responsibility for their actions. Neither pre-programmed robots nor animals of blind instinct; we have been given free will and an intellect capable of discerning God’s design from the natural order and revelation. Unhealthy extremes in conscience would include the static which would have the Church spoon feed everything, dismissing the enlightening power of God’s Spirit and responsibility; and the dynamic conscience which would go to the other side in embracing revolution or even rebellion in actions. These are the people who think the Church and its bishops are always wrong until they say something about which they agree. No one can tell them what to do, even God and his Church! The true path of conscience is between these two and is surmised by a 1973 document from the Canadian Bishops: “We can qualify this as the dynamic Christian conscience. This is the conscience which leads us to have a responsible attitude to someone, to Jesus, to the community, to the Church, etc. Every person who fits into this category feels a responsibility for a progressive search and striving to live out a life ideal according to the mind of Christ” (Statement on Formation of Christian Conscience #22).

We need to examine our consciences. Look at the blind spots in your life. Only you can make the resolution to change for the better. The power to loose and bind from sin, given to the Apostles, is not a principle of enslavement but of freedom. “The truth will make you free” (John 8:32).

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

Andy Warhol, a Catholic?

CATHOLIC CELEBRITY PROFILE:  Andy Warhol (1928-1987)

This famous pop artist, avant-garde filmmaker and so much else was the darling of Hollywood celebrities and the wealthy. He delighted in what many of us would regard as tacky or mundane. I can still remember his Campbell’s Soup Can picture— ah, made me hungry to look at it! Although some thought his work was cheap, many critics today rank him in the same category of creativity with Picasso, although with more diffused interests.

As a child, his family attended St. John Chrysostom Byzantine Catholic Church in Pittsburgh, PA. When he died, his two brothers had the body brought back to Pittsburgh. During the wake, he was posed with a small prayer book and a red rose. The Mass was held at Holy Ghost Byzantine Catholic Church. The eulogy was given by Msgr. Peter Tay. After the Mass, the priest and procession drove to the old family church cemetery where he was buried next to his parents. Another memorial service was later held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.

If his work was regarded as peculiar, his personal life was no less enigmatic. Many regarded him as a homosexual and yet it is also said that his personal virginity was unassailed.

I have to wonder if he did not purposely exalt the commercial and secular so that we might better see the naked truth about ourselves and our culture. His juxtaposing a religious message and consumerism in his last works seems to demonstrate this fusion and/or contradiction with which we live. Many of us did not like his work and many of his messages, I suspect, because he pushed up into our faces the artificiality and market-mentality that possesses us. Even Leonardo da Vinci’s LAST SUPPER, has become the stuff of home decoration, with cheap rip-offs but void of true meaning. He took this work and multiplied it over and over again with secular signs added. It was awful— it was our society held up against a mirror.

THE LAST SUPPER (1986)

Many people are surprised to discover that Warhol was a practicing Catholic, although of the Eastern or Byzantine rite. He often went to Mass at Roman Catholic churches. He saw himself as a religious person and personally volunteered at New York homeless shelters. A number of private religious works were discovered in his estate after his death. He went to daily Mass at St. Vincent Ferrer in New York. The pastor reported that he would kneel or sit in the back but rarely came up to the altar for communion for fear of being recognized. It is said that, given some of his art and films, he was afraid to bring scandal upon the Church. One of his brothers stated that he was “really religious” but also intensely “private” about his Catholic faith. The art historian John Richardson in a eulogy noted that he was devout, saying, “To my certain knowledge, he was responsible for at least one conversion. He took considerable pride in financing his nephew’s studies for the priesthood” (Wikepedia).

Cardinal’s Hat for Archbishop Wuerl!

Here is a copy of the letter of congratulations I sent the archbishop:

October 20, 2010

Most Rev. Donald W. Wuerl
(His Eminence Donald Cardinal Wuerl)
Archbishop of Washington
P.O. Box 29260
Washington, DC 20017

Your Eminence,

When you first came to Washington, I remarked to you that your TEACHING OF CHRIST catechism was used by many of us in seminary, not only to learn the basics of faith but to give doctrinal content to our spiritual reflection and prayer. Many of us followed your life and the tasks given to you by the Holy See with prayer that God would give you both strength and courage. Sometimes the jobs you were given were hard and you were placed under great pressure; but you did what needed to be done with obedience and professionalism. You became a bishop and then an archbishop, but throughout you have remained a wonderful model of the priesthood. I watched you on television for years and it was readily apparent that here was a man who was in love with the faith and who was moved by the Holy Spirit to proclaim and teach the truth.

Today we got news of your elevation to the College of Cardinals. I cannot express how delighted I am by this news. Although I am only one of many of your priests, and one of no particular renown, please know that as you accept the responsibilities of this office, you will remain in my daily prayers and Masses. I have always taken very seriously, that while configured to Christ, every priest is also an extension of his bishop. I know that you will continue to do much good for both the local and universal Church, building up the Mystical Body in unity, holiness and peace.

Again, many congratulations and prayers on your behalf,

Fr. Joseph Jenkins
Pastor

The Struggles of Priests: A Discussion

I thought the following remarks were worthy of a posted dialogue or brief reflection. 

GUEST OPINION: Sometimes parents and grandparents lament the choice of a young man to become a priest. Given the stories about abusers and gay clergy, will the heterosexual man find himself the odd man out or one among a brotherhood of normal men who embrace single-hearted love? Parents want grandchildren and worry about his happiness.

FATHER JOE:  There is nothing more wonderful than the priesthood.  It is worth the greatest sacrifices.  The scandals around sexuality are tragic and devastating to the Church’s reputation.  But there have always been weakness, confusion and sin.  We see the same with marriage, especially today when half of all unions end in divorce, often under the grounds of adultery.  Scandals should no more prevent men from answering a call to ministry than they should deter good Christian couples from pledging their love to each other within the covenant of marriage.    

GUEST OPINION:  Many berate “celibacy,” while even clergy are often quiet and/or resentful about their chosen lifestyle. They talk about the Church DEMANDING it instead of about themselves CHOOSING and EMBRACING it. It is a discipline of the Catholic priesthood, but sacrifices might be joyfully pursued and can open all sorts of doors for discipleship. Strangely enough, I have known some who were energetic in the defense of our religion and rigorists about the rules, not because they were on fire with fervor for the faith and their promises, but because they were trying to convince themselves.

FATHER JOE:  No sooner do you say something good that you ruin it.  Celibate love opens a man to single-hearted love of God and selfless service to the community.  You are right that it opens all sorts of doors to responding to God.  While a few might be pretentious in living out the demands of priesthood; I would hope that most men do so out of a conviction and excitement about the faith and the part they play in the work of salvation made possible in Christ Jesus. 

GUEST OPINION:  The man looking at priesthood wants to take care of others, but who will take care of him? A priest friend told me that every ordination homily used to sound like a Mother’s Day sermon. The bishop assured the women that the Church would take care of their boys. Today pension plans are strapped for funds and the Church has reneged on long-term care for elderly and ailing priests. Has the Church broken a trust with these women and their sons?

FATHER JOE:  While creative, this writing is also fairly cynical. I understand the frustrations, but we have to be realists about the problems we face today as well. Men do not become priests because we want someone to take care of us. We become priests because the wondrous love of God has called us as caregivers for the salvation of souls. We want to make Christ’s sacrifice present and to be the dispensers of his sacraments, particularly the Eucharist. Empowered to forgive sins, we seek to bring divine mercy to our fellow men and women. When a man is ordained for the altar he is configured to participate in the one priesthood of Christ. He ministers, not in his own name, but as a representative of Christ and his Church. Priests are commissioned by Christ and authorized to function as extensions of their bishops. Instead of seeing tension between the shepherds, we should acknowledge the ministry of the Church as a whole and the unity that exists between her ministers. Mistakes might be made regarding practical matters, but the grace of God remains with his Mystical Body. The Church is still One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. The Holy Spirit safeguards the truth of the Gospel and empowers the weakest of men to teach and pass on the faith and morals revealed by God. Every priest is a servant or slave of the Gospel. We do not live for ourselves, but for God and others. When our lives are used up, we should echo Luke 17:10, “When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’”

GUEST OPINION:

The priest has no spouse or children to rely upon. Canon law says that the relationship of a bishop to his priests should be that of a father to a son. Is that always the case, especially when priests make mistakes, get in trouble, or just face sickness? It seems that legal expediencies and financial threats can quickly cause a vast divide. We forgive everyone, except our own.

We may have to rewrite the parable of the prodigal son. When the prodigal comes home, his father refuses to meet him and sends out a lawyer who tells him that he has severed his ties and must go his own way. Indeed, he has been disowned and can no longer be called his son. “You are laicized and maybe even excommunicated.” The elder son hears that there is a commotion and confronts the father. His father seemingly has amnesia about ever knowing the prodigal. Regardless, anything this person did could not possibly be his fault or connected to him. Unfortunately, there is more bad news because the farm is failing and the inheritance that the elder son expected will now have to go to the lawyers for legal expenses. “You face ever escalating expectations and demands for funds, reprimand for speaking too honestly and forcefully about moral issues from the pulpit, and may face a retirement, not in a priests’ home, but as a ward of the state.”

FATHER JOE: 

The guest opinion writer would normally be regarded as quite orthodox.  Concerned about the priesthood, he is wrestling over certain issues.  I must acknowledge that I deleted a few points of the opinion above because of coherence and my own personal preferences about the nature of this blog. It is for this reason that my response seems to go beyond the perameters of the opinion piece.     

A priest prays for his bishop every day in the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours. Most bishops are good shepherds of the Church and seek to support their brother priests. While there is a fatherly relationship in authority, there is also a brotherly affinity in love and service. The positing of an adversarial relationship is perverse and counter to Catholic ecclesiology. Priests are men under authority. In days gone by and in the present, they go where they are sent and do the work they are charged to do. The promise or vow does not expire when a priest retires. Given the need for clergy, even most retired priests still work hard. Genuine retirement for a priest comes when he closes his eyes for the last time and hears his Master’s voice calling, “Come good and faithful servant.”

It is true that we cannot excuse false teaching, ministerial indolence, or harmful scandal from the clergy. However, neither should the laity ridicule their ministers. God’s people must support their priests and bishops, helping them to become the shepherds we deserve and need. We can witness to one another by example in remaining steadfast in faith and true to our state of life.

Good bishops and priests love the people they serve. Do the people in the pews always love their priests? Are they appreciative of all the personal sacrifices these men make so that we might share the Eucharist and have our sins forgiven? Do we take account of the frightful challenges facing our bishops as they strive to insure the unity of faith, preserve our Christian legacy, and dialogue with a combative secular society?  We have many good people, but some of our worst enemies are so-called Catholics, themselves.  Today, there are critics who have nothing good to say about the Church. They tell jokes about priests and bishops, slandering good men because of a few renegades who played Judas. Particularly sad is how normally pious folk are now joining into the litany of criticism and venomous gossip that was once reserved to the Church’s enemies.

If you would like to share your opinion on this Blog, you can write the message in the ASK A PRIEST comment section or send an email to frjoe2000@yahoo.com. I always take editorial liberties and reserve the right to add a response.

Do Animals Go to Heaven?

I suppose most Thomists would say that animals do not go to heaven, given that they do not possess immortal souls. This somewhat harsh response is often softened with the assertion that they are not entirely gone in that other animals (like dogs) share their substantial form. Others would say that an animal, like your favorite dog, continues to exist as an idea in the mind of God.

C.S. Lewis remarked that canine loyalty and affection oftentimes put human fidelity and friendship to shame. Because of this he thought that maybe dogs would be allowed to join their masters in heaven. Critics contend that this is just another instance of over-blown English sentimentality.

Why would a priest waste his time talking to people about the fate of dead animals? Well, to be honest, it immediately leads to their views about life after death in general. That is more properly my concern. Animals are often the first reminders to us, usually as children when we have lost a pet, that everything that lives in this world will eventually die. We are mortal. We share our physicality with the other earthly creatures around us. Some, like dogs (and maybe cats), give us great comfort and companionship. They matter to us and so the question arises, is this all there is? Will we see them again? Can we find solace in knowing that all we cherish as good in creation will be reflected back to us in the beatific vision of the Creator?

This post is in response to inquiries about people’s pet dogs and the question as to whether they would be given entry into heaven.  I would move the gravity to stress human immortality and our hope for heaven. Animal substantial forms would continue to exist as paradigms in the divine mind. Anything more would be up to God’s mysterious providence and I would not presume to give an answer where the Church has not. Others are free to speculate, but we will not know anything more for sure until or if we find ourselves among the saints.

It is possible that my view would make some angry with me but I am not mean-spirited. Others come down on the side of continued existence of animals because these creatures are a part of our affection and shared existence in this world and thus, the argument goes, they would add to our happiness in the next.

Certain animal apologists cite Scripture and argue for a literal new earth. Some ridicule the whole notion of an afterlife, for anyone or anything. Others agree with me that the stress has to be upon the beatific vision and how we (people) are made for God.

I would not worry much about the fate of animals after they die. If we love animals we should do what we can now to protect them from abuse and suffering. We live in a world where many species are rapidly becoming extinct.

Further, some may err by the sin of presumption about their own salvation. Are you sure that you are going to heaven? Speaking for myself, I have faith in Christ and try to be a faithful disciple in the Church. I worship God and seek to serve him through my charity and sacrifices for others. However, if people forget God, discount obedience to the commandments, and hate their fellow man… well, they may be in for a terrible surprise!

In any case, there is a growing concensus that the outer circle of hell is patroled by cats.  (Yes, that is a joke!)