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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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Peter & the Papacy

Every year we celebrate the feast of the Chair of Saint Peter the Apostle. It is an occasion of great joy for us in the Western Church. Twenty centuries have passed and still this central chair of our Church stands firm. However, the sadness of this celebration and teaching is that Peter who should be for all Christians a focus of unity has instead become a point of controversy and division. Our Orthodox brothers and sisters, while willing to recognize him with their bishops as the first among equals, cannot yet work out among our churchmen a mutually acceptable view of his primatial authority. The Lutherans are willing to admit some sort of role for him as the ecumenical seat of the Church but not as one who could officially and infallibly teach. The Anglicans find difficulty in regards to the tension between the papacy and the role of their conferences and nationalist leadership. And some of our Baptist friends, like the late Pastor Jerry Falwell would not accept him as a full associate unless he dressed in business suits, got rid of the rituals and “costumes,” and slid down slides for money at amusement parks. (Pastor Falwell did that stunt when he took over operation of an amusement park once owned by Baker’s PTL ministry.) I mention all this lest we forget how others sometimes see us and the one whom we discern as Christ’s Vicar on earth.

As a fan of history I cannot help but remark about that title “vicar.” At first, those who were the bishops of Rome were actually called the Vicars of Peter and only later was this term redefined as the Vicar of Christ. After all, he is the one who is visible on earth replacing or better, representing Christ to the Church in the See or Chair of Peter. Of course, Peter had not always been in Rome. Even though he founded his see there, it was the place of his death. Earlier he founded the See of Antioch which was then the capital of the East. Saint Gregory the Great claimed that Peter was Bishop of Antioch for seven years. It is because of this that this feast was formerly commemorated on January 18 in honor of the Roman Pontificate and on February 22 in honor of his governance in Antioch.

Peter in 1 Peter 5:1-4 admonishes his friends to be examples to the flock in their generosity and humility. It is no wonder that the successors of Peter, despite all their worldly titles should still cling to the most humble title imaginable in being called “the Servant of the Servants of God.” Peter learned well his lesson when he at first had refused to allow the Master to wash his feet. The Lord told him that unless he allowed it, he could have no part of him. After the Paschal Mystery, it is Peter who would emerge as the one to most humble himself and to shepherd the People of God. Unlike Judas who betrayed the Lord and despaired; Peter recovered from his denial of Christ, and became the visible and humble bedrock of Christ’s Church. His are the keys of Christ which invite even the most grievous sinner to seek and receive forgiveness. This same Peter would follow Christ all the way to his own crucifixion on an inverted cross. Peter died, but his chair did not. Our Holy Father today wields the same keys to the kingdom which were used by Peter, keys which seek to open our hearts to God’s truth and mercy. The Church shows us the light of Christ in a world still stumbling in darkness. The Church is the compassion of God in a cold world. May we always see in the Chair of Peter the source of our historical and spiritual unity to the living legacy of Christ.

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

The Pope, Condoms & Stupid People

The devil must really be laughing today. He delights in ignorance and sin. He  assuredly has had a hand in the miscommunication of the Pope’s words on condom use. The Pope seemed pretty clear to me in his opposition. But Satan delights in dissent and the numbing of consciences.

WHAT DID THE POPE ACTUALLY SAY?

The Holy Father responded to a series of questions in a book entitled LIGHT OF THE WORLD by Peter Seewald. An over-sexed world latches upon a few remarks about condoms and reads far too much into them.

When asked about the Church’s view of condom use, Pope Benedict XVI replied: “It of course does not see it as a real and moral solution.”

The Pope answered: “In certain cases, where the intention is to reduce the risk of infection, it can nevertheless be a first step on the way to another, more humane sexuality.”

He grants that the use of condoms might reflect the first stirrings of a MORAL SENSE and the desire not to harm or kill others through the spread of infection. He is not giving approval to condom use, merely to a movement away from selfishness and irresponsibility to a more mature regard for the needs and rights of others. Notice that he says this might be the “first step.” Later steps would have such a person come to awareness that condoms are an insufficient answer and that marital monogamy and/or abstinence is the way to go.

He clarifies this with an example: “There may be justified individual cases, for example when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be … a first bit of responsibility, to re-develop the understanding that not everything is permitted and that one may not do everything one wishes. But it is not the proper way to deal with the horror of HIV infection.”

The Pope is very clear, despite misrepresentations in the news media, that condom use is “not the proper way” to deal with the HIV epidemic.

The popular misunderstanding of his remarks reflects this papal assertion: “Becoming simply fixated on the issue of condoms makes sexuality more banal and exactly this is the reason why so many people no longer find sexuality to be an expression of their love, but a type of self-administered drug.”

WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

The remarks from the Holy Father have been sensationalized and misconstrued. The Church’s moral stand on condom use has NOT CHANGED. Condomistic intercourse is always and everywhere intrinsically immoral.

The press seems to think that the Church has changed its moral teaching, at least allowing male prostitutes to use condoms. Some idiots are actually complaining and questioning that if male prostitutes can use condoms then how about female prostitutes and those who live and act like prostitutes? One writer was upset that condoms were now permitted to all except married couples. But the Pope did not say that condoms were okay; indeed, he argued quite the opposite. He merely says that such usage might indicate the beginnings of a moral reflection. What they are actually doing is still condemned as a matter of mortal sin.

Cynics might argue that if you are going to sin then sin wisely. But the Church will never recommend sinful behavior, even to avoid other evils.

God save us from stupid people!

We pray to the Lord… LORD, hear our prayer!

I doubt you will hear this petition any time soon in our churches, but among faithful learned Catholics, it is certainly a plea we make in our personal prayers.

Media analysts and even governments need to be added to this plea. A similar ignorance led to an Islamic uproar over the Pope’s academic remarks back in 2006 in Regensburg, Bavaria when he urged a disavowal of violence as a dictated in the Koran for forced conversions. Protestors proved his point by murdering a nun and chanted, “Death to the Pope!” The Pope makes a subtle qualification about condom use and extremists on one side demand “further” compromise and on the other, chastise the Holy Father for heretical deviation. Even the Spanish government ridiculed the Pope for not going far enough, and yet the papal responses represent no retreat from the moral law. The Pope does not have the authority to declare right something which is objectively wrong. Pope Benedict XVI carefully nuances his words and many today do not have the intellectual savvy to parse his statements.

A United Nation’s top AIDS official said, “This move recognizes that responsible sexual behavior and the use of condoms have important roles in HIV prevention.” It was nothing of the kind. The Pope still rightly condemns the use of condoms as an unacceptable solution. Activists in South Africa judged the statement as a “step in the right direction.” But I repeat, there has been no change of direction. Other enthusiasts for condomistic contraception wrongly rejoiced that this will allow for population control. The Holy Father will most certainly have to offer a grade-school-level explanation of his words to these thick-headed fools. Otherwise, they will spread the lie that we shall see Church approved artificial contraception. Indeed, some voices in the press are talking about this as I speak.

God save us from stupid people!

God save us from the manipulation of truth and the oppression of Satan!

The Price of Truth

We dispose ourselves for the ever-flowing presence of Christ into our lives in the form of grace, which makes Christ alive inside us. Some thought should be given to the quality of our integrity and the substance of our fidelity.

The Gospel informs us that it was John the Baptist who fulfilled the words of the prophet Isaiah: “A herald’s voice in the desert, crying, ‘Make ready the way of the Lord, clear him a straight path’” (Mark 1:2-3; see Isaiah 40:3). The Baptizer knew well that the only path which failed to get lost in detours — the only sword which could cut through the web of men’s lies — the only life-preserver able to preserve us from drowning in our sins — was the commanding authority of the truth. Later, Jesus himself would admit to the Roman procurator Pilate that “The reason I was born, the reason why I came into the world, is to testify to the truth. Anyone committed to the truth hears my voice” (John 18:37). War weary and perhaps tired of governing a rebellious people, Pilate answered as only a stoic could, “Truth, what does that mean?”(see verse 38). And yet, despite his cold manner, he would later admit that he could find no case against this man Jesus. Had the truth begun to break through his armor of indifference or was it merely the plea of a man who no longer cared? Let truth be whatever you want it to be? So many different lands — so many different peoples and gods — so many voices — and so many varying versions of the truth; how could they all be right? Might they all be wrong? Like John the Baptist before him, the peculiar truth of this emerging God would be rejected by most, accepted by a few, and would cost Jesus his life.

The Baptizer before Christ would not easily be silenced. Learned men were sent out to spy upon him and to attempt to trick him. Herod pleaded that he would be finished with his ceaseless mutterings against his adultery with his brother’s wife. However, if the conscience of Herod had been softened by lust and ambition; the voice which stirred from the Baptizer’s soul was a reminder that the sin remained. Eventually, the wild dance of a young girl would so clutter Herod’s reason that he would make an irresponsible pledge of evil, and John’s head would be served on a platter. Jesus, the one foretold by the Baptizer, would also seek to remove the blinders from peoples’ eyes; indeed, so similar were they, that some speculated that he was John raised from the dead. The irony of those words had yet to be realized.

The only sin which would raise Christ’s ire, would be the sin of hypocrisy. His anger erupting in the temple, he called the Pharisees “blind guides!” Supposedly, they were the ones who knew the truth of God and lived it; instead, they sought to distort it in order to preserve their comfortable and respected position in society. The message which Christ preached threatened their safe and elitist life. The multiplicity of laws made it impossible for any save themselves to follow them to the last iota. Nevertheless, if they enforced a cruel scrupulosity upon everyone else; they were lax upon themselves. They failed to recall or reserved to themselves that the spirit of the law was love. Messiah or not, this Jesus had to be eliminated — this truth of his had to be silenced!

That voice in the desert and the truth of Jesus did not perish with them. Christ’s resurrection from the dead vindicated him and his prophet. His message prevailed against the verdict of sinful man. His truth would remain alive and because of its great compelling power, even take root in some of those who betrayed or sought to destroy him and his followers. Peter who denied with his lies three times ever knowing Christ, would one day witness to the truth, at the cost of taking up his own cross. Fear would no longer paralyze his thoughts and actions. Paul who had been so closed-minded to Christ that he approved of the stoning of Stephen, would be wondrously blinded by the light of truth. He would join his words to the truth of Christ: “My prayer is that your love may more and more abound, both in understanding and wealth of experience, so that with a clear conscience and blameless conduct you may learn to value the things that really matter, up to the very day of Christ” (Phil. 1:9-10). It is for that day of Christ that we prepare. To do so, we must also testify to the truth of Christ.

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

Catching the Spirit

The Spirit of God descends upon Moses, and then as if contagious, upon the elders gathered in the tent, and even upon two who were not assembled with them (see Numbers 11:25-29). When some want to stop the two from prophesying, Moses cries that he would have them be a nation of prophets. This is precisely what Jesus seeks to make a reality. We are anointed in baptism as prophets of the Good News. The essential mission of the Church, in all her members, is to be a prophetic voice of Christ’s kingdom.

This prophetic role is utterly dependent upon the action of God. It is his word, and not our own, that moves the Christian disciple. Prophesy or the proclamation of the Gospel in our words and actions, is an expression of divine favor or grace. God gives his servants that which is necessary for the acquisition of our ultimate end, union with him. Toward this end, he infuses habits and/or virtues that assist us in our earthly pilgrimage. The Holy Spirit lives in us as in a temple, illumining our steps. We understand the significance of the Spirit’s presence as a participation in the divine nature. God extends something of himself. The one who is ALL HOLY sanctifies us. The one who is UTTERLY IMMACULATE washes us clean and grants us purity. The one who is ALMIGHTY makes the weakest of us into a soldier for Christ, a champion of faith. The genuine prophet surrenders himself into the loving hands of God. It is for this reason that Jesus seems to glorify poverty and the central role of charity. The widow’s mite is the secret to sanctity and to true prophecy. Everything we have is a gift. All must be surrendered, either to others in their need or by the strong hand of death and judgment. Jesus would have us opt for the former.

Nothing is ours. Like a burner on the stove, while the electricity courses through it, the ring radiates a red glow of heat. However, turn off the electricity, it quickly grows cold and dark again. Without the divine energy of the Spirit, we also grow cold and dark. Grace is like the electricity or a burning fire. It changes us and sets us aflame, but we are not consumed. We may put on Christ, but mortal men and women we remain. Sometimes we can be surprised by whom God chooses to move by his dynamic Spirit.

In terms of our relationship to the Holy Spirit, we all play the feminine role. Not taking the analogy too far, as a daughter to God’s Spirit and as a bride to Christ, we are refashioned as members of Christ’s Church. The prophet rejoices in the wedding gown given by the Spirit as Isaiah did in days of old: “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul; For he has clothed me with a robe of salvation, and wrapped me in a mantle of justice. Like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem, like a bride bedecked with her jewels” (Isaiah 61:10). The gifts of the Holy Spirit adorn the soul. We are made pleasing to God and given fortification. We do not need Samson’s hair for strength, but the virtues that accompany the Spirit. God is our armor. Further, the actions– even mundane ones– of just men and women, bring merit, so long as sin is avoided. Christ’s whole life was a saving work. If Christ thoroughly lives in us then everything we do, not just extraordinary virtuous acts, become saving moments. Eating, drinking, sleeping, even taking care of the necessities of nature are viewed in the context of our Lord and know favor. They are part of the wondrous panorama of our lives. All is grace.

Christian prophets are adoptive children of God. Their names appear in the book of life and they are offered a share in eternal life. They proclaim the truth, not merely that others might be saved, but that they themselves might merit salvation.

The grace of God can bestow understanding just as the Spirit acted upon the elders and Moses. As Catholics such an illumination takes into consideration the public manner of revelation and lawful authority. The Holy Spirit inspires Scripture, making it truly the Word of God. As a guarantee of the authentic and accurate interpretation of revelation, this same Spirit guides our chief teachers of faith, the bishops in union with the Pope. It is in this context that the Spirit of God instructs us and makes us missionaries of the Gospel.

Except for Confirmations and the feast of Pentecost, we often neglect to speak about the Holy Spirit. It is an image hard for our minds to grasp. Certainly we are well accustomed to the theme of God as Father from the witness of our families. The figure of Christ on the Cross gives meat to our appreciation of the Son of God. But we struggle in appreciating the role of the Holy Spirit. People can relate easily to a notion of God as their heavenly Father and to Jesus as our elder Brother in faith who surrenders his life for us. But, look at the images of the Spirit. We use fire for light and warmth, but it is regarded as a thing. The dove, while beautiful and free in flight, is still just an animal. Wind might be felt against one’s face, but few of us would talk to it. The Holy Spirit is signified by non-personal elements, and yet, he is the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity and a fundamental catalyst and source of our life, faith, and sanctification. It is true that since the Trinity is a single God, devotion and worship rendered to any one applies to all three. But this does not resolve the struggle in our psychology to embrace the Spirit. It is no wonder that the charismatic movement in the Church exhibits so many elements that speak of mystery: the tongues, prophecy, interpretation, faith healing, etc. However, ecstatic external expressions of being moved by the Spirit need not be present.

The men of ancient Israel felt a need to surrender themselves to the divine movement. Their chanting, dancing, and prophesying uncovered that need. Such actions were in harmony with the times and culture, paralleling the manifestations among the pagans. The one difference was not the external actions but the substance behind them: the true God had shown his face and will to Israel. The truth has prevailed in Israel and the Church while the so-called prophetic messages to others around them have disappeared. If it were not from God, it could not last. Within the family of God, the distinction between a good and a false prophet is noted in Psalm 19:7, “The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul; The decree of the Lord is trustworthy, giving wisdom to the simple.” Such delineation is still valid today. Any voice that claims a divine mandate and yet violates the commandments is that of a false prophet.

We must be discerning so that we will not seek to silence the voice of God’s prophets and that we will not be led astray by false messengers. What are the false prophets saying today? We know all too well. “We love each other, how could something so wonderful be sinful? If we don’t live with each other, how can we know if we are sexually compatible or not? The Church is living in the dark ages; we have to use the pill! We can’t have this baby now; we have school and our careers to consider. Is it not better to get rid of it then to adopt it out to strangers? I am sure that if grandma were in her right mind she would tell us to pull the plug. Jim and Jack are sweet guys, why should they be punished for how God made them– especially since they use condoms? Everyone steals office supplies from work, it is expected. That was a great movie, even though they did take God’s name in vain a dozen times. These sexy dresses (what there is of them) will sure get Tom’s motor running. It doesn’t matter if you go to a Protestant or Catholic church– it’s the same thing– what matters is going. I’m not a bad person for sometimes missing Mass; it isn’t like I murdered someone. I only read Playboy for the articles. I wish the city would stop those beggars from annoying hardworking people like me. It would probably be best if their kind were sterilized. This is good stuff; take it, everyone’s doing it.”

Do you recognize any of these voiced statements? It is in the sea of lies that the true prophet raises his voice as a living sign of contradiction. He tells us to follow the commandments and the moral laws of the Church. He tells us to defend the dignity of all human life and the values that most respect human personhood and the family. He also tells us not to compromise the honor that is due to God alone. The true prophet encounters resistance, mockery, and sometimes even martyrdom. The New Testament acknowledges this eventuality: “The shouts of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You live in wanton luxury on the earth; you fattened yourselves for the day of slaughter. You condemned, even killed, the just man; he does not resist you” (James 5:4-6).

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

Prophetic Witness No Matter What the Cost

Jeremiah 20:10-13, taken alone, might make us think that the prophet Jeremiah has something of a persecution complex; however, the oppression he feels is real. No sooner had he warned the people of a coming judgment from the Lord, because of their disobedience and neglect of God, the priest Pashhur had him arrested and scourged.

Upon his release from the stocks, he is compelled by his mission to continue his prophecy. He gives the credit for his persistence against mockery and abuse, not to his own fortitude and strength, but to the Lord whose message “becomes like fire burning in my heart.” The phrase, “Terror on every side,” reiterates that Pashhur and the people who have rejected his message will share the fate of doomed Jerusalem. Jeremiah contrasts the betrayal of his friends with the steadfastness of God. God’s prerogatives will not be circumvented.

Psalm 69 is another testimonial in just how far the love of God might take us. “For your sake I bear insult, and shame covers my face. I have become an outcast to my brothers, a stranger to my mother’s sons, because zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who blaspheme you fall upon me” (Psalm 69:8-9). God comes first and last. This should be a sentiment for us all. However, there are many temptations to such a courageous stand. The greatest of these is our desire for the acceptance of others, especially of family and friends. Jews saw their fellowship with one another and the intimacy of their families as central to their lives. However, the Scriptures counsel us all that the most important relationship is with God. If this fundamental association is compromised, then all the rest becomes a sham and we invite destruction. This is still very much the case. Peer pressure or the false prophets of popular media often sway young people. The rest of us sometimes surrender our good standing with God behind small deceits and the disproportionate attraction to material things and comfort. Toleration and peace can become a sham if behind them there is a disregard for the poor and the dignity of human life.

Are we prophets like Jeremiah or priests like Pashhur? Do we seek to silence the voice of the prophets among us? Such questions we must ask ourselves. Several years ago, a priest friend of mine in Georgia decided that he was going to integrate his church instead of operating two facilities, one for whites and the other for blacks. When he tried to do so, the collection plummeted, threatening phone calls rang at all hours, and letters poured into the chancery office. The situation became so dangerous that he was reassigned to a teaching post in another diocese. The experience wounded him deeply and yet he knew it was the right thing and what God wanted. I know a loving nurse who was harassed and finally lost her position in a teaching hospital because she refused to assist in abortions. She knew she had no other choice as a Catholic and as a true believer in Jesus; and yet, it cost her what she most wanted out of life. Many more stories about the prophets in our midst could be told. Will we add our own stories to theirs? Will we see something of our story in Jesus Christ who embraced the Cross to save us despite the mockery of our sins and the scourging of our infidelity?

Romans 5:12-15 draws to our attention precisely this: that through one man (Adam) sin and death entered the world while through another, Christ (the new Adam), grace and life. Jeremiah and all the Old Testament prophets could warn their people and even suffer at their hands for them; however, unlike Jesus, they could not utterly redeem them. The ancient prophecy, repeated time and time again, is fulfilled in Christ. “Sing to the Lord, praise the Lord, for he has rescued the life of the poor from the power of the wicked!” (Jeremiah 20:13).

Look at Matthew 10:26-33, Jesus admonishes his disciples to follow his example and that of the ancient prophets. He tells us not to be afraid. “Do not let men intimidate you.” He promises that whoever avows him before others, his Father will claim in heaven. What more could we want? And yet, so often we allow the problems and the pressures of the day to master us.

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

Courageous on Behalf of the Gospel

Jesus revealed himself publicly in the synagogue as the promised messiah. Although initially pleased with his learned exhortations, they quickly begin to question his authority (Luke 4:21-30). Those who knew him as a child or knew his family begin to gossip about him. Hidden in these words is their disbelief that the promised one could possibly be one from their own midst, and a poor man at that! Their acceptance of him swiftly soured into rejection. They no longer wanted to hear what he had to say.

Sometimes we as Catholic Christians, making manifest the same Christ, our Savior, will discover similar rejection and even embarrassment. Speaking the words of God will be difficult, not only because we want to be accepted, but because of how they might touch others. Like medicine, the healing of our Lord comes in a package that may include more preliminary pain before any true healing can take place. The presence of Jesus among his own people would work this way. Some would have to earnestly struggle with his message and presence. For most of his disciples, witnessing for the Master would also cost them their mortal lives; however, in return they would receive everlasting life.

I mention this because there is much about God’s truths that can make us uneasy. God tells us, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you” (see Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19). Most of us were anointed at baptism with the holy chrism as Christian prophets. As children, the challenge afterwards was to be nurtured in the faith by our parents. Later, we were to proclaim it to others as adults. I wonder if we always do that, myself included? It is so easy to get comfortable and to allow others to do all the work of evangelization or Christian witness. However, what would become of a world filled with people so poorly motivated? I shudder to imagine.

The particular wording in Jeremiah is reminiscent of other passages which deal with God calling us, even before we saw the light of day. In the New Testament, the most famous is the one in which the prophet John the Baptist leaps with joy in his mother’s womb when he is near to his Savior still hidden deep inside Mary’s flesh. From the very beginning, each and every one of us is called.

Annually, many citizens of this land march on Washington for the sake of the unborn, a very troubling issue to be sure. Those children who for one reason or another are not wanted, have from the very beginning, been called by God to fellowship with him. Those young women who have faced this crisis, and the many that have made agonizing decisions, have also been called by God. The same could be said for those who are often the invisible partners in this tragedy, the men who have become reluctant fathers. All of them need healing. The woman who makes a poor decision, or who was pressured into doing so, needs to realize the wrongness of what happened, so that true repentance and healing might be achieved. The same sense of scrutiny and responsibility also needs to be accepted in the lives of men who are partners in this holocaust. We can be partners in sin or we can be helpers to one another in grace. As for the child, we believe that God desires the salvation of all. If we should abandon the youngest of children, God will not. They are alive. This realization can be the hardest of all for those who have suffered this dilemma. They are alive. Adopted by the loving arm of the Church; touched by the same love which embraced the children killed by Herod in Christ’s stead; they are alive. As such, they pray for their parents and God willing, wait until we are all rejoined together in Paradise.

Our faith tells us that all are called. No life is to be wasted. All life is precious. 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13 tells us that faith, hope, and love are everlasting. When it comes to the truths of our faith or the moral values which the Gospel upholds, we need to be courageous. Do we attend Mass every Sunday in order to worship God in the community? Do we pray a few minutes every day? Do we try to be charitable and peaceful? Do we stand up for our beliefs and for our Church when they are mocked or ridiculed? Do we attempt to correct those in error? Do we use or waste the great gift of life with which God and our parents gave us?

In every new life and in ever old life made new by Christ’s forgiveness, hope is born. What might we become? With God, the possibilities are endless. What are our hopes for each other? A time when children can go to school and play safely? A world that does not throw the precious gift of creation back into God’s face? A future wherein we all meet the goals set for us by God, growing in wisdom and grace, just as Christ once did? We work to achieve these hopes, knowing that in God’s will, all things come in his own good time. We wait in hope, knowing that God calls every one of us. One day the hopes of believers will be realized.

When this happens, it will be because God loved us and loved us first. We exist because of love, the love of God and the love of a man and woman. We live for love; if you do not believe this just try to exist without it. Maybe it all boils down to our responding with the same kind of trusting love with which Christ accepted the Father’s will in his life? Of all visible creation, it is only the human being who can respond back to God in prayer and a life of love.

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

A DISCUSSION: About Priestly Fathers & the Church

PLEASE NOTE that this is an apologetical dialogue that does not appeal to everyone’s tastes. No recrimination is intended against the non-Catholic community.

RONIE:

I am sorry, but I will not call you as others address you. Christ said to call no man “Father.” Mr. Joe, can you tell me (as you understand) the meaning of “Church”?

FATHER JOE:

  • The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ.
  • The Church is the great Sacrament of Salvation.
  • The Church is the House that Jesus built.
  • The Church is that community of faith which receives its life from the Eucharist.
  • The Church is built on the foundation of Christ (invisible head) and the ROCK of Peter (visible head).

Turning to the matter of my title, let us look at Matthew 23:9: “And call no one on earth your Father; for one is your Father, who is in heaven” (Matthew 23:9).

This is an example of a Scriptural literary form known as Hebraic Hyperbole. It is like the passage that admonishes tearing your eye out or cutting your hand or foot off. It is a way of speaking to give heightened emphasis. The fundamentalist reads everything as if the primary language is English and the author contemporary. This is also an example of taking a verse out of context and distorting its meaning. Verse eight says to call no one Rabbi or teacher. However, do we not use this word all the time? Further, if this line is absolute against Catholic priests who possess a spiritual fatherhood, then what about our foster fathers and biological fathers? It would have to apply there as well. Almost no one would agree to this. The word FATHER is a wonderful sign of respect and relationship. The matter about which the Lord is concerned is that his disciples not imitate the Pharisees in their pride and hypocrisy, lording their positions over others. God is the true and ultimate Father of all. If any fatherhood does not flow from and participate in divine fatherhood, then it is a lie and oppressive. St. Paul speaks of himself as a spiritual father in his first letter to the Corinthians and admits that there are other such fathers, although not many. The shortage of vocations to the priesthood is still a matter with which we must deal.

[In speaking of our priorities] “He who loves FATHER or mother more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37).

[About marriage] “For this cause a man shall leave his FATHER and mother, and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Matthew 19:5).

[Placing discipleship to Jesus first] “And everyone who has left house, or brothers, or sisters, or FATHER, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and shall possess life everalasting” (Matthew 19:29). {see also Mark 10:29}

[Abraham is called father] “For this reason, it depends on faith, so that it may be a gift, and the promise may be guaranteed to all his descendants, not to those who only adhere to the law but to those who follow the faith of Abraham who is the FATHER of all of us, …” (Romans 4:16). {see also Romans 4:11-12,17}

[Treatment of elders] “Do not rebuke an older man, but appeal to him as a FATHER” (1 Timothy 5:1).

[Enduring trials] “For what ’son’ is there whom his FATHER does not discipline?” (Hebrews 12:7). {see also Hebrews 12:9}

[My favorite and very similar to calling the priest, Father] “I am writing you this not to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children. Even if you should have countless guides to Christ, yet you do not have many FATHERS, for I became your FATHER in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Therefore, I urge you to be imitators of me” (1 Corinthians 4:14-16).

RONIE:

Dear Mr. Joe, I would like to give a clarification of Matthew 23:9. Sorry, but I have to say this, you are out of context. The “Father” in this text refers to “God the Father,” which is SPIRITUAL and the other verses (like Matthew 19:29; Mark 10:29; and Romans 4:16 refer to EARTHLY fathers. The fathers of our flesh must be called fathers, and as such we must give them reverence; but only God is allowed as the Father of our spirits (Heb. 12:9). Our religion must not be derived from or made dependent upon any man. Our flesh fathers do not have authoritative power over men’s consciences, in matters of faith and obedience, as do God and Christ.

Christ’s sense is, that he would have his disciples not fond of any titles of honor at all, and much less assume an authority over men, as if they were to depend on them, as the founders of the Christian religion, the authors of its doctrines and ordinances, and to take that honor to themselves, which did not belong to them, nor even choose to be called by such names, as would lead people to entertain too high an opinion of them, and take off of their dependence on God the Father.

You know, Mr. Joe, the scribes and Pharisees love to be called by these titles. Kindly check 1 Corinthians 4:14-16, and notice the text “for I became your father.” It is not found in the Greek text. I prefer the text in the KJV below:

1 Cor. 4:14 – “I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you.”

1 Cor. 4:15 – “For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.”

1 Cor. 4:16 – “Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me.”

Your explanation about “church” is less clear, different and more complex than that from Scripture. You know “church” is not a house or a building. The Church is called the Bride of Christ, and also is called the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-14). Its members all have different functions. It is composed of saved and baptized believers— that is why Christ loves the Church. The word, “church,” in Greek is “ekklesia” which means “called out assembly.”

Peter is not the rock because the 12 disciples, knowing the Old Testament well, recognized the Rock as a description or name for God. “He is the Rock, His word is perfect” (Deuteronomy 32:4). Also, there is, “The Lord is my Rock, and my fortress…” (Psalm 18:2). Further, we read, “For Who is God save the Lord? Or who is a Rock save our God?” (Psalm 18:31). We see here that there is no other Rock than God, not even Peter. Jesus Christ is the foundation Rock on which the Church is built.

Oh, by the way Mr. Joe, Peter did not even reach Rome. The only Man sent by God to preach to the Gentiles was Paul. Also, if Peter is your first Pope, why are priests not allowed to marry, since Peter had a wife? (Matthew 8:14)

FATHER JOE:

“Sorry” does not make it right. The proper title for a cleric is Father, Reverend or Pastor. Why should I spend any time with a person who begins with a deliberate act of disrespect? But given that our Lord would want repentance and conversion for both the ignorant and the bigoted who blaspheme against the Holy Spirit, I will try to make a short response. Admittedly, I have little confidence that anything I might say will penetrate the walls fabricated by those who are obstinate against the truth and closed to the movement of divine grace.

You write: “I would like to clarify to you in this text, ‘And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven’” (Matthew 23:9). Actually it is best that we look at the entire section and our Lord’s use of Hebraic hyperbole (verses 1 to 12):

Then said Jesus to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice. They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by men; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and salutations in the market places, and being called rabbi by men. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ. He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

The authority of the Church instituted by Christ would eventually supersede that of Moses and his successors in leadership, the Pharisees. The bishops of the Catholic Church sit in the seats of the apostles. The popes govern from the Chair of Peter. Jesus establishes both a new People of God and the accompanying authority. Our Lord was critical about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and pleaded with his apostles that it should not be so with them. He gave them the example of the foot-washing and urged humility in service. The hyperbole stresses that the ministers of the Church should not seek earthly rewards, titles and esteem, but rather that imperishable treasure of being in right relationship with God. The titles rabbi, father and teacher (or master) would continue to be used. Even St. Paul speaks of himself as a spiritual father. Lost in translation is the peculiar Hebrew form of stressing a point by pushing a matter to absurdity: call no man father or teacher or rabbi; if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. These matters were never meant to be understood in a literal fashion. Apart from the truth of Christ, no one is a suitable teacher. In conflict with the fatherhood of God, no fatherhood is genuine.

You say that my reference to “father” is out of context. You must be kidding! You are the one who gives no real context at all. Indeed, you treat Scripture as if it were written originally in English. Instead of respecting the message and historical setting, you offer an illogical and contrived explanation that goes against the practices and writings of the early Christians. They were close to the source and were in a position to know the truth. They did not understand this text as you do.

The text cannot be dissected as you attempt. The meaning is that there is no true fatherhood which usurps or conflicts with the fatherhood of God. This includes both spiritual fathers (as with St. Paul) and with our biological or adopted fathers. Matthew 19:29 and Mark 10:29 speaks about the family of the Church and the communion of the saints. Romans 4:15 makes mention of Abraham as our father in faith. God calls him forth and his family becomes a tribe and later a nation. He is a crucial starting point in the history of salvation.

The texts you cite either contradict or do not support your view. The Church sees herself as a family and addresses God in her prayers as FATHER MOST HOLY. Priests, bishops and popes are spiritual fathers in that they perpetuate the teachings and mission of Jesus Christ. The Church fully subscribes to the understanding of her membership as brothers and sisters to one another. In faith and baptism, Jesus is our elder brother and Mary is the queen mother. We are adopted sons and daughters of our heavenly Father. The reference to earthly fathers means any type of fatherhood here on earth. Our mortal fathers, no matter if biological, adopted or spiritual, must reflect divine fatherhood or else they are false. There is nothing here that says that biological fathers are exempt. Further, your citation of Romans 4:16 is in reference to Abraham, not almighty God. He is called the father of all.

Parents are the primary educators of their children in the faith. They constitute the “little church.” You wrong Christian fathers by reducing them to roosters who service hens. St. Paul tells us that the Christian husband/father is the head of the home just as Christ is the head of the Church.

You next write:

Christ’s sense is, that he would have his disciples not fond of any titles of honor at all, and much less assume an authority over men, as if they were to depend on them, as the founders of the Christian religion, the authors of its doctrines and ordinances, and to take that honor to themselves, which did not belong to them, nor even choose to be called by such names, as would lead people to entertain too high an opinion of them, and take off of their dependence on God the Father.

What you write is absolute gibberish. Indeed, your run-on sentence even defies linguistic diagramming. And yet it makes more sense than what you usually write. Of course, you did not write it. You stole it. You plagiarized. You borrowed the work and genius of another to foster the pretense of knowing what you are talking about. These are not your words, but those of one who was a polemicist against Catholic claims. As I said before, you prefer parroting the enemies of the Church instead of learning objectively and directly from her own mouth. These words come from an EXPOSITION OF THE ENTIRE BIBLE written (between 1746 to 1763) by John Gill.

The commentary here is not your own and I dislike dialoguing with cut-and-paste intellectual thieves. However, despite this and the convoluted language, I will try my best to parse it out. Our Lord was not so much against titles as he was concerned that “show” not replace “substance.” The title “apostle” itself becomes one of great distinction. Our Lord was often called “master” or “teacher” or “rabbi.” He explicitly gave his authority to his apostles and sent them out to baptize the nations. He explicitly gave Peter the authority of the keys and the power to loosen or bind over sin. He tells him, after the resurrection, to feed his sheep and to care for his flock. It is quite evident that Jesus gave them such authority as shepherds to the community. This authority would be passed down to others. Failure to see this demonstrates your blindness to important passages in the Word of God. Jesus, himself, was the founder of the Christian religion, i.e. the Catholic Church. He is the ultimate source of revelation. He would send his Spirit to insure the Church’s fidelity to the truth, the doctrines and ordinances that men should know and follow. As I have mentioned before, the great apostle Paul spoke about himself as a spiritual father. There was no prohibition, either about the title or the function. The spiritual title of FATHER given to a priest in no way detracts from the fatherhood of God. Indeed, he becomes a flesh-and-blood symbol of God’s abiding love and mercy in the faith community.

Just because the Pharisees allowed their titles to go to their heads does not mean that such must always be the case for others. The title “father” is an expression of endearment.

“I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you” (1 Cor. 4:14). Paul admonishes the Corinthians as his beloved children. There is definitely a fatherly relationship.

“For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel” (1 Cor. 4:15). This is a somewhat archaic Protestant translation. A better translation is the RSV, also Protestant (but acceptable to Catholics): “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” The reference to “father” is in the Greek text as is the term for being begotten of a father:

ἐὰν γὰρ μυρίους παιδαγωγοὺς ἔχητε ἐν Χριστῷ ἀλλ’ οὐ πολλοὺς
πατέρας ἐν γὰρ Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ
διὰ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου ἐγὼ ὑμᾶς ἐγέννησα

“Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me” (1 Cor. 4:16). More than followers, he is literally urging them to imitate him. He sends Timothy as his emissary and calls him his “Beloved and faithful son in the Lord.” The spiritual fatherhood of every priest is akin to that of the apostle Paul.

I have spoken numerous times about the Church as the bride of Christ. Indeed, the Mass is a sacramental participation in the marriage banquet of heaven. This Church is one and the same with the Catholic Church. The members of the Church have different functions and gifts. We make distinctions between the clergy and the laity. Baptized believers with faith in Jesus live in the hope of their salvation. Your reference to the “saved” might be criticized under the sin of presumption. Jesus loves the Church as his own body.

The term “ekklesia” was originally a political term for the calling together of an assembly. It becomes descriptive of the assembly of the Church. Christ calls us both to a personal faith in him and to a CORPORATE faith as his Church. I suspect that you would tend to minimize this latter understanding. No one is saved apart from Christ; no one is saved apart from the Church.

Moving on, I am sorry, but Peter is the ROCK because Jesus said so. “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it,” (Matt. 16:18). Our Lord is the foundation stone of the Church. He gives something of his own authority to Peter and his successors to shepherd his flock. There is no contradiction in that Jesus is also called our rock of safety and refuge. Peter is literally a chip off the old block.

There is ample historical evidence that Peter reached Rome. The problem you face is that you exclude any information not put forward in the Bible. That would also exclude the works of the Church fathers and the legacy of the saints. Or maybe this is not true? You do seem to esteem the interpretive works of reformation anti-Catholics like Gill even more than the Bible. Excavations have discovered the tomb and the bones of Peter, clearly marked. The Holy See sits upon the twin pillars of Peter and Paul. As for priests getting married, the fact that Peter has a wife says nothing against the discipline of celibacy as practiced by Jesus, Paul and others. Celibacy is not so much a doctrinal matter as it is one of Church discipline. Disciplines can change or even be revoked, doctrines cannot.

Continuing the Prophetic Witness

Someone asked me once if there were any Scriptures where a relationship between a mother and daughter was pivotal. The one that came immediately to mind was in the tragic story of John the Baptist and his execution (Mark 6:17-29). This was hardly something for emulation. Living in an age where so many teenage girls crave things like digital music, computers, shoes, cars, clothes, and jewelry — this figure of Herodius’ daughter is a peculiar one — at her mother’s urging, she wants the head of John the Baptist. I suppose times do change, if just the externals, but this seems a bit over the top to say the least.

I spoke about how the Lord gave his disciples a long list of sins to avoid. He challenged them not to be hypocrites but to be a genuine people in love with the Lord. I mentioned that such lists, if preached upon, can make us angry, the reason being that most of us do not like to be reminded of our sinfulness and weakness. We even try to keep it from ourselves. Herodias was like this, too. John the Baptist would not allow them to forget or to ignore the great sin with which she and Herod had become involved. She soon discovered that the only way to silence him was to have his head on a platter, to force her lover to kill him.

We need to be, not like Herodias, but like John the Baptist. He fully realized that we were all sinners, needing to admit this reality to ourselves and to repent. Indeed, the baptism he offered in the desert was one of repentance and conversion. We should face up to what we do and to who we are, both to the beautiful and to the ugly. If we are not honest to ourselves, how can we dare face ourselves, our neighbor, and our God with any semblance of integrity?

Sometimes to be a prophetic witness like John the Baptist will require hardship for us as well. It might mean that we will also have to die. If not physically, we may have to endure the little dyings that come when we challenge others to a more moral life and one which places God in a central position.

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

A DISCUSSION: About Purgatory, Peter and the Church

Recently I entered into a heated discussion with Dennis on an assortment of topics.  He is very negative to the Catholic faith.  PLEASE NOTE that it is an apologetical dialogue that might make some readers uncomfortable.

DENNIS:

Purgatory is a myth. Peter was Jewish so how could he be the first pope? I am no longer going to the catholic church because it is all symbolism over substance. It will be a pope (HOLY FATHER, WHAT A JOKE!) who will be the antichrist or at least be very supportive. I joined the catholic church before getting married 29 years ago and I told my wife (who is catholic) that many things the church did were wrong. After many years she agrees and my daughter has taken religious courses that prove the evils that exist.

FATHER JOE:

In the course of God’s progressive revelation to his people, the Jews had come to believe in both an afterlife and that atonement could be made for the dead. Jesus speaks about the afterlife drawing from the analogy of a debtor’s prison where none could be released until the last penny was paid. While the passion and death of Christ makes possible our redemption, he desires that we have both a saving personal faith in him and a corporate faith as members of his new People of God, the Church. Purgation is a sign of God’s gracious mercy. We must be transformed by grace and made perfect for heaven. If we belong to God, then he will finish what is started in this world. The saints of purgatory are all destined for heaven. As they approach the fire of God’s love, that eternal flame burns away the last vestiges of sin and vice. Temporal punishment is appeased and we are made truly holy. Such is no more a myth than our abiding faith that our Lord has gone ahead of us and that he prepares a place in heaven for his children.

The first called by Jesus were the Hebrew people. Salvation comes from the Jews. The apostles were all Jewish and yet at the Last Supper our Lord instituted both the priesthood and the Eucharist. Just as there are Semitic Catholics today, Peter was both Jewish and visible head of Christ’s Church, the Catholic Church. The Jews became the first Catholics.

You probably never really understood your Catholic faith to really know what you were rejecting. Did you ever sit down with a priest and ask your questions? Did you take advantage of adult faith formation in your parish? The odds are that you did not. There is no conflict between sacred signs and a faith of real substance. The problem is that you may never have known where to look for that substance or the meat of faith.

The Pope or Holy Father has even written a personal reflection on the life of Christ, now in two volumes. He preaches and witnesses to our Lord. Be careful of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. If God does protect Pope Benedict XVI and the faith and morals he teaches, then you slander not men but God. Only ignorant men filled with hatred would call the Pope by the demonic name of “antichrist.” Be careful that the joke is not on you.

You did not have to join the Catholic Church to get married in the Church. The fact that you entered a Church in which you placed no faith is tragic. It says nothing against the Church but volumes about your own lack of integrity and discretion. Why would you lie and say you believed when you did not? You should have shared your reservations then and withheld your prejudiced venom now.

I suspect that you undermined your wife’s weak faith and now delight that your child has also been stolen from the Church. Am I supposed to take these remarks seriously? I challenge you to bring your family to a strong parish-run Catholic instruction program. Bring your questions to the priest. You assume many things and there are plenty of misguided ministers ready to steer you away from Catholicism… not with a positive message of their own, but with a negative message against the Roman Catholic Church. They build themselves up by tearing others down. My Church preaches love, not hate.

DENNIS:

You tell me I assume many things. What about you? You assume I undermined my wife’s faith. You assume that her faith is weak when she has more faith than anyone. You assume that I am delighted that my daughter has been stolen from the church. WRONG! …AND BESIDES SHE IS HERE TO FOLLOW CHRIST not the church. I will never believe in purgatory no matter how persuasive your arguments. If Peter was pope, which I do not believe, then his successors should have been married like him. Perhaps then all this sick disgusting behavior would never have occurred? I will say no more, but I never personally attacked you like you have me. Some of your responses to others seem almost hateful. Trust me; I have done plenty of researching to draw the conclusions that I have. Stop thinking you are the only one with truths. Thanks for your time.

FATHER JOE:

Your assumptions about Catholicism are not coherently argued. You are working from a prejudiced view of the faith, not as one who is truly informed.

As for myself, mine is a faith seeking understanding. Catholics do not accept a blind faith that is at war with reason. We seek to know the truth from all the pertinent sources: the authority of the Church, the Sacred Scriptures, Sacred Tradition, philosophical and theological inquiry, dialoguing with other disciplines of learning, etc.

If your wife abandoned her religion in light of your postured conversion, it is only reasonable to assume that you undermined her Catholic faith. Indeed, you take delight that you have had a part in your family’s defection. I am sorry if you think I am rude but I find what you did to be reprehensible and dishonest.

Catholics regard our relationship with Jesus Christ to be intimately bound to our union with the Church. Our Lord makes himself and his saving activity present through the sacraments of the Church. Defection from the faith means a certain level of estrangement from our Lord, although as in your wife’s case, it might not be absolute. Only God is the ultimate judge as to whether such actions will cost people their salvation.

Peter was the first Pope, although the title was only used later. Being married or not married is beside the point. You would condemn celibate priests as well as chaste single people. Not everyone gets married. Some choose not to do so, like Catholic clergy, and others never meet the person with whom they want to settle down. Our Lord Jesus never married. The beloved apostle John never married. St. Paul never married. The Pope’s line of apostolic succession runs from both St. Peter and St. Paul, although the universal primacy passes down from St. Peter. You equate not being married with perversion and the child predator. You are a very sick and bigoted man. Why are you so angry? Why would you condemn the virginity of the Pope and so many priests? Yes, there have been a few criminals, but there are many of these among married men, too— even Protestant ministers.

I have not sought to be hateful, only truthful. Your allegations are in themselves of the most vulgar sort. It is hard to make proper responses to such bigoted allegations and ignorance. I suppose you would judge any response, as hateful. Part of the problem may be that you have neither the intellectual nor the spiritual tools to discuss such matters calmly and reasonably. That is one of the reasons why I suggested that you contact your local priest and maybe enter the continuing religious formation program. You should at least understand what you are rejecting.

Research has to go further than Chick comics and the ravings of anti-Catholic apologists who hate the Church. If you have nothing to fear, then go to the source… and speak and act with humility.

DENNIS:

I would love to talk to you personally and see if you would call me such things to my face. God have mercy on you for being so judgmental and hateful.

FATHER JOE:

You are upset with me? Listen, you come to “my” blog and assert the following:

  1. You bluntly stated that Purgatory is a myth.
  2. You illogically argued that Peter was Jewish and thus could not be Pope.
  3. You ridiculed the Catholic Church as placing symbolism over substance.
  4. You mocked the Pope, saying his title “HOLY Father” is a joke.
  5. You fall for the fundamentalist lie that the Pope is the antichrist.
  6. You joined the Catholic Church to marry your wife but never believed in what it taught (where is integrity?).
  7. You taught your wife and daughter that the Church was evil and so they defected with you.
  8. You will never believe in Purgatory no matter what sensible arguments I and others might make.

Either on the Internet or at my door I would tell you the same. I am not being mean to you, only truthful. Sorry if the truth hurts.

DENNIS:

It is not the truth that hurts. What hurts are the many lies the catholic church has told. I am glad I found out in time. Find out about things that go on inside the vatican: statue of Buddha placed on an alter; giving those of the wiccan faith a room to worship; the upside down cross that is satanic. I only want to leave a church. I am not leaving CHRIST. It is only HIS grace that can save us. The church was not built on peter but Christ. “The Rock the builders rejected became the cornerstone.”

Jesus told the criminal on the cross, “Amen I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Jesus did not say anything about purgatory. I asked a priest about this and basically he said he defied the odds. I only laughed at this.

Only Jesus is HOLY not the pope.

Praying with people who practice witchcraft, worship Buddha, making the Nazi sign with Hitler, kissing the Quran… are these not signs of antichrist?

I married my wife because of love. Since then we have learned that many things the church teaches are lies. Have you never believed something at one time and then found out it was not what you thought?

You state I taught my wife and daughter these things. My daughter learned many of these things at university here in Canada. We still believe STRONGLY in JESUS CHRIST.

My non-belief in purgatory has nothing to do with salvation. It is only by GOD’S GRACE that we are saved. Acceptance of CHRIST as your savior is the only way to eternal life.

The catholic church has collected plenty of money over the years for saying masses for “SOULS IN PURGATORY.” If there is no purgatory then this money will be a testimony against it at the time of judgment. Great pastors and preachers like BILLY GRAHAM, DAVID JEREMIAH, CHARLES STANLEY, I could name many more, (hardly a list of wackos), do not preach about or believe in purgatory.
So the truth does not hurt at all, it sets one free.

FATHER JOE:

Say what you like, you are still running away from the truth (about yourself). I am a Catholic priest, but while convinced of the Church’s claims, I have studied the writings of the Reformers directly and as objectively as possible. I disagree with many of the views of the Protestant churches, but I have never pretended to be a Protestant. I would also not want to build my Church up by tearing down the religious beliefs of others. Christians of various denominations can find points of concurrence and work together for a more loving and just society. Not all non-Catholics are anti-Catholics. But you would fit the profile of a bigot against the Catholic Church. You classify Church teachings as lies. You even gloat about your prejudice. And, like so many of your ilk, you get basic facts wrong.

Someone wrongly placed a small Buddha statue on an altar during the Assisi Ecumenical Conference (not Vatican) back in 1986. Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) was furious about the mistake.

I have no idea what the Wiccan reference is about. Such paganism is in direct conflict with Catholic teaching and worship. Indeed, several years ago there was an incident where Wiccans insisted on using a military chapel for their services. The U.S. Government cannot play favorites regarding the faith practices of uniformed men and women. The military code of conduct required that the Wiccans keep their clothes on. Afterwards, the Catholic priest and several Protestant ministers offered prayers and ritual to spiritually exorcise or cleanse the room and altar-table.

The so-called upside down cross is not satanic. It is the ancient symbol for the first Pope, Peter. Tradition has it that he was crucified upon an inverted cross. He requested it, not feeling worthy to die like his Lord.

I cannot know your conscience, and only God can judge you, but in my estimation, defection from the Church is a departure from Christ.

Christ is indeed the cornerstone of the Church, but Peter remains KEPHAS or ROCK. He says he will build his Church upon him and after his resurrection, he heals him with the threefold admonition to his question, “Do you love me?” Jesus says: FEED MY LAMBS; TAKE CARE OF MY SHEEP; and FEED MY SHEEP.

As for purgatory and the good thief, you are being silly. Temporal punishment can be remitted by earthly penance and endurance of suffering. Given that he had faith in our Lord and was repentant, dying on a cross next to Jesus must assuredly count for something. Our Lord promises a place with him in paradise. As for ourselves, even if we must pass through purgation, we are also promised a place in his mansion of joy.

All holiness belongs properly to God. But God can extend his presence and make us saints. We can be transformed by the mysterious holiness of God. We can apply the word HOLY to the Pope and to all who have a share in the eternal life of Christ.

You fault the Church for an errant ecumenism which the universal Church and Pope Benedict would not condone. Each can worship as his conscience dictates, but we would not blend the Christian dispensation into a mix with those outside the Judeo-Christian tradition. There can be separate acts of prayer, communal dialogue and debate, a cooperative exploration of the truth and a partnership in making a better world. But Catholics do not practice witchcraft, worship Buddha or any of the Hindu deities. National Socialism, along with Communism, was condemned by the popes, even prior to World War II. You hate the late Pope for kissing a Koran as a sign of human respect to the one billion plus Moslems in the world, well, then so be it. But you are chasing ghosts because everyone knows that the Pope places his faith in Jesus and not in Islam or Mohammad. Indeed, when Pope Benedict XVI urged Moslems to disavow violence as a means to bring about conversion, millions chanted, “Kill the Pope!” It seems that you might have more in common with these fanatics than the Holy Father. If the Pope is truly the Vicar of Christ and you oppose and ridicule him, would this not make you an antichrist?

I am glad you married your wife because of love. I became a priest because of love. However, I always tried to act honestly and from conviction. My entire life is dedicated to God’s service, loving God by ministering to his people. While a teacher, I am also a perpetual student. We can disagree about various points, but I do not see lies when I examine Catholicism. As a matter of fact, I would not accuse Protestant churches of lies, either. There are many good Protestant churchmen who study and teach and work with honesty and professionalism. You would not extend such words of courtesy to the Pope or to a lowly priest and pastor like me.

I am glad you still believe strongly in Jesus Christ. That may be the one element we share. The doctrine of purgatory is a facet of soteriology. We must be made perfect. The elect want to be made perfect. Everything is grace. We are redeemed, given faith and perfected by grace. We cannot save ourselves. Prayers for the dead are literally our way of adding our breath to that divine fire which purifies us like the gold in the furnace. In the end there will only be two realities, heaven and hell. Jesus is the way and the truth and the life. There is no other way to the Father. This is basic Catholic teaching 101.

The stipends for Masses are gifts to the priest. At one time they were the only resources he had to live upon. But the priest will apply the fruits of his Mass even without remuneration for the effort. Ultimately, the sacraments are free. The priest is duty-bound to pray for his people, living and dead. It will be upon that, that he will be judged.

I can give you a long list of popes, bishops, priests, deacons and laity who accept and teach about purgatory. Looking at your list, did you know that Billy Graham has said that the Catholic Gospel is the same as his? Did you know that he contacts the local Catholic churches when he does revivals and sends Catholics who answer the altar call to Catholic churches? Did you know that he has shared his pulpit with Catholic clergy? Evidently he does not see the doctrine of purgatory as an impediment in witnessing the faith alongside Catholics. Do you really think that your venom would please him? I would not be surprised that you turn on him now, like so many other Fundamentalist bigots have chosen to do.

Sometimes the truth does hurt. You say it does not. But that is the problem, it is supposed to hurt. The freedom that we know demanded the great “hurt” of the cross. Our Lord invites us to take up our crosses and follow him.

DENNIS:

I can no longer see any point in discussing things with someone who continues to assume so much about me.

FATHER JOE:

I assume nothing; you come out and reveal what you are about to us all.

DENNIS:

As for BILLY GRAHAM, sharing the pulpit with catholics does not mean he believes in purgatory.

FATHER JOE:

But it does mean that he sees no problem with such a belief and views Catholicism as a saving Christian faith.

DENNIS:

By accepting JESUS as our savior he enters us and lives HIS life through us.

FATHER JOE:

Actually, by accepting Jesus, we enter into his life and are transformed.  There is a two-fold movement.  We accept the redemptive intervention of Christ.  We believe in the infusion of divine grace.  We believe that Jesus enters us through the gift of Holy Communion.  Jesus became a man (coming to us) that we might have a share in his divine and eternal life (entering into the divine mystery).  You do not believe in such a transformation or becoming a new creation in Christ.  Those who reject purgatory tend to subscribe to the Lutheran view of juridical imputation.  This has been labeled by one critic as salvation by disguise.  We must enter into and make our own the mystery of Christ.  Christianity is an incarnational religion.  Christ lives in us.  We must give birth to Christ’s presence, proclamation and activity through our lives. 

DENNIS:

We are cleansed by the blood he shed for us.

FATHER JOE:

His blood makes possible the remission of sins.

DENNIS:

But basically you are saying that is not enough and that we need purgatory.

FATHER JOE:

No, you are saying that, Catholic teaching sees no conflict in the redemptive work of Jesus with purgatory. Our Lord makes possible our approach to God and our entry into heaven. We must still participate and accept his gift. Souls that belong to God but are not yet perfected, endure purgation as they approach heaven. Not all souls pass through purgatory.

DENNIS:

Purgatory therefore is a higher trump card than CHRIST.

FATHER JOE:

Purgatory is no trump card at all. Souls that pass through purgation are all headed toward heaven.

DENNIS:

As for the pope, he is the head of the catholic church, not all Christianity.

FATHER JOE:

The Catholic Church is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. All true Christians are in some fashion, even if tenuously, attached to this Church. In that sense, Catholicism is the purest form and the true Christianity.

DENNIS:

As for calling me silly about the criminal, fine if you want to resort to name calling, but this is an issue I prayed about and this is where God directed me, but as you have little respect for me you probably won’t believe me.

FATHER JOE:

I did not call you a “criminal.” Using the word, I was referring to the few misbehaving priests. What you said (about the good thief) was silly. And please be honest, you never had any respect for me from the very beginning. How could you, since you regard the pope as the antichrist and me as one of his minions. What do I think about you personally? I do not think I actually shared much of anything about that, except for a deep disappointment. You pray, and that is good. Prayer is certainly positive, but remember the posture of humility and the need to feed your faith with truth.

DENNIS:

Also I will repeat, just because I don’t want to attend the catholic church anymore does not mean a defection from Christ.

FATHER JOE:

Only you can know this in your own conscience. As for me, any departure from the Church would constitute turning my back on Jesus.

DENNIS:

Also I will credit you with teaching what you believe, it is just that I do not believe some of the catholic teachings and have moved on.

FATHER JOE:

That is fine, but remember this is my blog, and I have a right to express my faith here. I also get the last word.

DENNIS:

You say yourself there are only two realities, heaven and hell. I guess with purgatory no one will see hell.

FATHER JOE:

Why would you say this? The existence of hell is also Catholic doctrine. Once again, here is a statement that proves to me that you really do not understand Catholic teaching. Traditional Catholic eschatology is very clear. Some souls go straight to heaven (forever). Some souls go straight to hell (forever). Some souls go to heaven but pass through purgation (so that they can be perfect in heaven). Souls in purgatory have been forgiven. Like those in heaven, they have been washed in the blood of the Lamb. All souls in purgatory will go to heaven. When the end comes and the final consummation, there will be two realities, heaven and hell. Purgatory will cease to exist.

DENNIS:

Again, thanks for your time. The many things that you have assumed about me certainly do not demonstrate love. To call someone a bigot is HORRIBLE. I would never refer to someone this way even if I thought that way about them.

FATHER JOE:

You cannot have it both ways. You insult the Pope as the antichrist and imply that Catholicism is involved with witchcraft and false religion. I am a priest; mock and malign the Pope and the Church and you impugn me as well. I call it as I see it. I speak the hard truth in love. Yes, Dennis you are an anti-Catholic bigot. You might love Jesus but you have amply shown that you hate his Church. I am spiritually married to that Church and have given up wife and family to serve God with a single-hearted love. You probably feel that I have wasted my life. You have no love and no desire for priests or the sacrifice of the Mass in your life. I became a priest to offer the Mass for the living and the dead. I became a priest, so that like St. Paul, who was an ambassador for Christ and a minister of reconciliation, that I might bring our Lord’s forgiveness of sins to the lives of God’s people. This is not my job. This is my identity and vocation. But I guess I am talking to the wind. You are too far gone to understand. As you said, you have moved on. I will pray for you. Maybe one day you will wake up, and even if you do not come home to the Church, maybe you will again see that good Catholics are your Christian brothers and sisters? Enough said!

Our Call as Prophets

Ez. 2:2-5 has many interesting elements for us to consider. The Spirit of God moves Ezekiel; he says it “set me on my feet.” In other words, the Spirit compels or moves him to action. He stands before God and must be on his way to the Israelites. God, himself, admits that they are an obstinate and hard-hearted people, but this makes no difference. Come what may, Ezekiel will be the mouthpiece of God and “they shall know that a prophet has been among them.”

It is a wonderful image of the prophet for us who follow that other “son of man,” Jesus, who is also the Son of God. God calls us in our baptism to be prophets to the world. However, do we stand up and take action and speak prophetic words? Or, do we remain at rest and hope that God will change his mind or get tired of summoning us?

How are we called as prophets today? Four thousand unborn babies die in our nation each day through abortion. Do we raise our voices in protest? Do we support the local pro-life efforts and pregnancy centers? Do we lobby our elected officials and hold them accountable? Have we considered peaceful civil disobedience and marching? This is the first and most important issue facing us today, although there are others as well. Do we stand for racial integration and social justice? Do we promote marriage by our lifestyle and counsel over promiscuous and/or disoriented behavior? Do we take the high ground in avoiding and not patronizing pornography in films, television, magazines, Internet, and books? Do we dress, act, and speak modestly? Do we use language worthy of the children of God or instead use words from the gutter that corrupt lips that should praise God? Do we respect the Church’s teaching about the transmission of human life and birth control? Do we worship regularly and support our struggling churches? Do we honor our bishops, priests, and religious or do we mock and joke about the special messengers of God? Do we pray when there seems no time or we find ourselves busy? Do we defend our Church against ridicule or do we ourselves become sources of defamation against the Rock of Christ? Do we speak the truth in love to our families or smother the message under empty human affection? Have we been our brother’s keeper or have we exploited others for our own selfish purposes? If we stand up for what our faith tells us is right, then no matter whether others approve of us or not, they will know that prophets have been in their midst. If we have sometimes failed, we can follow the late Pope’s lead in making a “mea culpa” for the past and in becoming true signs of contradiction in the present. As the psalm response tells us on the 14th Sunday Mass of Ordinary Time (B), we can say: “Our eyes are fixed on the Lord, pleading for his mercy.”

Like Ezekiel, Paul is called by God and, along with a thorn in the flesh against pride, is told that divine grace is sufficient for his witness. All that matters is that we are faithful. Everything else belongs to the providence of God. The true prophet will know persecution. Paul says, “Therefore I am content with weakness, with mistreatment, with distress, with persecutions and difficulties for the sake of Christ; for when I am powerless, it is then that I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). We have Catholics in Chinese prisons for their loyalty to the Pope. We have murdered Christians in parts of Africa and the Orient for daring to make converts. We have believers in American jails for saying rosaries outside abortion clinics. We have nurses, interns, and pharmacists who have lost their positions because of their fidelity to the Gospel of Life. We have children who have been silenced from mentioning God in prayer or listing the commandments in school. We have brothers and sisters in the military that have been passed over for promotion for speaking their mind in disagreeing with the liberal policy on active homosexuals in the ranks. We have Christian friends who have been punished for putting a bible or religious image on their workplace desk. Christians are fined or litigated against for wanting public religious displays of faith during the seasons of Christmas and Easter. Coalitions of Catholic and Protestant Christians are ridiculed as “far right” or “fascist,” sometimes even by those who are supposed to be Christian. The issues are many, and yet the Christian posture should always be the same: fidelity to God in the face of the faithlessness of a civilization that has turned its back on him.

It is a shame that while television programs advertising the possible winning of a million dollars or marrying a millionaire get high ratings, religious programming has virtually disappeared from the commercial and public stations. Indeed, marriage is reduced to sex and money; that which is supposed to be a sign of the covenant between Christ and his Church. The world and certain televison networks minimize it to primetime prostitution. Where are the prophets? Where is the outcry?

Mark 6:1-6 has Jesus going home and speaking in the synagogue. He laments that those who think they know him really know nothing. Their lack of faith reduced his effectiveness among those to whom his heart most wanted to embrace. He healed a few and then went to the neighboring villages instead. We have prophets in our midst, too. However, sometimes we call them fools or fanatics. People who really speak and live their faith make most of us uncomfortable. They remind us about what we would prefer to forget– our own impoverished discipleship. The great Catholic sin comes to mind, not what we have done, but what we have failed to do. Jesus is in our midst, do we recognize him?

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