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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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Something About Fatherhood

Every year we have a secular celebration of Father’s Day. While our culture finds much sentiment, expressed in verse and song for mothers, it does seem that fathers are sometimes cast to the side. The most noble of men find no insult in this, particularly in their children’s devotion to their mothers, because it confirms their good fortune and judgment in finding a companion for life. However, it does behoove us to spend a moment pondering upon the value of the man’s role in the family.

I overheard a woman once say to her friend, “What do I need a husband for, I got my babies and that’s all I wanted.” The statement startled me; it even made me ill inside. The man was reduced to a good time boy or to a sperm donor. What a monstrous notion! Many good and loving women know the true joy in having a special friend in their husbands. Spouses can share their lives, with all their joys and sorrows, knowing that they are not alone. They can also be helpmates in becoming saints. Together, they can raise a family. There are too many fatherless homes. Some cities have made it the rule and the complete family, the exception. A mother is the heart of a home. Is it so terrible that a father might be its head? The fragmentation of family life continues. How can we possibly teach young people about the fatherhood of God if such a role is not modeled in the home and in our society? Fathers are special people and are not dispensable.

Big Brother programs came into existence precisely because there was a need for a fathering role among the young. Some fathers die, and we need to know that their love and prayers are not diminished by death. Some are cast out, and we need to be sympathetic to men denied their rights as parents. Other men run away from their responsibilities, impoverishing their families and denying themselves the joy of participating with God and their wives in nurturing the fruit of marital love– children. The role of St. Joseph as foster father to Christ, chaste husband of Mary, and protector of the Church may be a religious corrective in this regard. Let us esteem and cultivate the prophetic courage of fathers that shows us something of the face of God.

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

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Priestly Morale & Celibacy

Sometimes, in the quiet of the evening, I become quite nostalgic.  My thoughts travel back through the years and I look at photographs of old priest-friends.  Most are still in ministry, but a fair number have gone on to other things.  Most went with silence and no fanfare; a few said things that burned their bridges as they went, obviously hurt and angry. All the guys I encountered seemed like good priests, faithful in their obligations (as far as I knew). They defected for many reasons:  an indiscretion of the heart, a lack of support, and/or a hard assignment. Details are always scarce and the archdiocese is silent about these matters (to protect the privacy of the priest). It is peculiar though, to have “brother” priests disappear without a word, their names struck from the ordination lists, and contact information not forthcoming. It is like a death in the family, albeit a somewhat disfunctional one at times.

Fortunately, the archdiocese is doing well right now with vocation applications, no doubt due to young and enthusiastic priests who are reaching out to families and the young. However, such cannot be said in all places, and we could always do better. We must face the truth if we want to plant the seed of hope. A calling is a gift from God, but we must help our men to be disposed in hearing and responding to such a call.

How do you encourage young men to be priests, if priests themselves are unhappy? There are many reasons for the current vocations crisis; but, I suspect that there are no elements more central than this one. The attributing factors toward this lack of joy in God’s service are where the usual laundry list of problems comes into play. Often priests are approached as if they themselves are the ones entirely at fault; and yet, this would be an exaggeration. The current situation would be better served if there were a complete candor in our discussion upon the state of holy orders. A desperate fear of scandal pervades the subject, as if we are afraid to acknowledge the priest’s humanity with all its accompanying strengths and weaknesses.

When I was first ordained, I would quickly go on the defensive when someone criticized the state of the priesthood. The years have taught me that it is better to listen, even if it is a message we do not want to hear. It is in this vein that I took seriously the petition of 163 priests in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee calling upon the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to address the issue of married men in the priesthood. They claimed that it was a credible way to stem the decline in numbers. This proposition, which has not been proven, may itself be a rationalization of lonely, unfulfilled and unhappy men. What was particularly interesting was their acknowledgment that this effort was taken up from a push in their congregations, because of shortages, but more likely in frustration about the scandalous rascals in ministry. The current effort may have inadvertently been fueled by Rome’s allowance for Episcopalian or Anglican ministers to join the ranks of the Catholic priesthood. I suspect we sometimes underestimate how revolutionary such a step was. For about a thousand years in the West vowed celibacy has been an identifying hallmark of the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church. Critics will sometimes contend that compulsory celibacy was the strategy of the “institutional” Church to insure the retention of Church property and wealth against any lawful heirs. However, as in the monastic model, celibacy had always been an element of the priesthood, going back to its periodic usage among the Jews in regard to their sacrifices at the Temple. There is ample evidence that, along the lines of St. Paul, it was held in high esteem and was even considered the best lifestyle for a man called to Holy Orders.

It is true that celibacy is a discipline of the Church and is not made compulsory by the accompanying theology of the priest as a new Christ, the bridegroom of the Church. However, Fr. Stephen Dunn, a spokesman for the Milwaukee priests, exploited the wedge that had been given them when he said, “We do have married priests who are Anglican, Episcopalian, Lutheran converts who are ministers and become Catholic.” Does he have a point? I must regretfully say that he does. What compounds the dilemma is that while no one I know argues for the validity of Lutheran ordinations, even most Anglican or Episcopalian priests are dubious. Old Catholic and Orthodox bishops, with valid apostolic succession, have sometimes participated at Episcopalian ordinations and consecrations of bishops. This has muddied the waters where Cranmer’s intermittent Book of Common Prayer had previously breached the lines of priestly transmission. However, except for the former Anglican Bishop of London, Episcopalian priests under the indult have been ordained “absolutely” and not “conditionally”. This means that, if they were not true priests before, they are now. The petitioners, and probably many other Catholics from among the faithful and the dissenters, are concerned that married Protestant men can become priests but married Catholic men, no matter how good and holy, cannot.

A great deal is left unsaid in the present controversy. If as I suspect, this petition is somewhat self-seeking, the priests may be very disappointed at how the matter will or will not be addressed. There is a good probability that the petition will be ignored. It is the passive way that churchmen deal with important conflicts in the post-Vatican II Church. It avoids direct confrontation and sidesteps giving a voice to division in the American hierarchy. Certain more conservative voices actually side with the left in arguing that the topic should be considered once and for all. The presumption from this camp is that the bishops would assuredly side with the Holy Father and reaffirm compulsory celibacy and then label the case “closed”. I would suspect that this would happen, after much wrangling in private sessions. It is not probable that the discipline will change any time soon, but I would not take bets on it either. Years ago the media delighted in fantasy statistics about the large numbers of gays in the active priesthood. These voices have largely gone mute since the rash of child molestation cases. One somehwat uncharitable critic noted, “They protect their own.” I wonder how many petitioners themselves are heterosexuals who want the comfort of a woman in marriage? Even if the rules should change, they may be in for a terrible awakening. Marriage does not solve all the questions of intimacy and loneliness. Priests who have left the ministry for a woman have an inordinately high divorce rate. It is also doubtful that any change in discipline would be retroactive. Following the Eastern model, men would have to be ordained before the acquisition of the diaconate. Widowers would not be allowed to remarry, as is the current situation with our permanent deacons. Men who have already vowed celibacy would be held to their promises. Unless they are happy with their celibacy, can you imagine the tension for these men to labor side-by-side with married priests with families? There may be many other good priests who accepted the sacrifice of celibacy and are happy, but would feel betrayed by such a development. The hesitation to assign married former Episcopalian priests to regular parish settings illustrates that the Church is not blind to such concerns, even if largely unexpressed.

While there are common denominators, not everyone’s experience of the priesthood is the same. A man may not even recognize himself in a book or article about the priesthood, depending upon his situation and the model or models of ministry that are put forward. One priest remarked how he hated “preachy” idealistic books because they heightened his frustration in not becoming the priest he had fantasized about in his youth. Of course, this begs the question as to whether he fell sort because of weakness and lack of appropriate gifts or because the expectations of some writers are unrealistic. Priests have tended to measure themselves against the saints. This compounds the pain of priests in a society that now largely counts the priest among the hypocrites and blind guides condemned by Christ.

Fallen Priests & Their Women

Choosing the Woman over the Altar

fallenIf any priest in a compromised situation with a woman attempts marriage then he places himself and a person he says he loves into a seriously sinful state. It angers or upsets me that men can reject Church law and teachings when it suits their selfishness. My upset or indignation is in reaction to the hypocrisy, dissent and scandal caused by fellow priests against the Church I love. I am not vindictive about it, only deeply disappointed. If he maintains a brother-sister relationship until (or if) laicization is offered, at least then he shows some respect to the Church and concern about her soul.

I have friends who are priests who left ministry to get married. I would not condemn them. But they would not seek to function without the legal faculties to do so.

Discussion with revisionists who have burned their bridges is very difficult. We may be destined to communicate at cross-purposes due to very divergent premises and convictions. However, everyone on the right or left of such issues should want to facilitate genuine healing in the lives of others. Priests and the women with whom they have had intimate relations or attempted marriages might confess to something of a love-hate relationship with the Church, owning up to their anger, reckoned by them as justifiable.

I wish priests who leave ministry well. Once a man has defected with his beloved, I would hope that such couples would love and be faithful to each other. Laicization and release from the promise of celibacy are important; otherwise, no marriage would be recognized as either valid or licit. I would hope that priests who leave for a woman would reserve their romancing until that time they are deemed free to do so. As for shame, what kind of woman could take a priest from his altar and from the confessional and not feel some sort of remorse? How could a priest, albeit a fallen one, ever really love a woman who took so lightly what he would give up for her?

Doing the Right Thing

Healthy heterosexuals, rightly ordered priests in their sexuality, are attracted to women. They make a promise of celibate love and by discipline, prayer and grace they live out this life of loving service. They might fall in love… heck, they might fall in love with a number of nice women in their lifetimes, but they remain steadfast. Older and wiser men recognize the signs and make distance, even becoming gruff or mean to women they particularly like. This is often misinterpreted. But it has to be done. If a priest falls deeply in love with a woman in a romantic way, he must abandon her friendship and any affiliation with her. He must not play games that will lead the both of them into disaster. He must say goodbye. Often he will not and should not tell the woman why they cannot remain associates or “friends.”

Certain dissenters, who might see some small value in celibacy for misanthropes, refuse to accept that such a mandatory discipline could be in concert with God’s will. My view is clear: “They have surrendered their intimacy and their sexuality to God— case closed.” A priest is not his own man. He belongs to God and the Church. Giving God his intimacy and sexuality means that he will not have an exclusive sexual or intimate relationship with another human being. Priests are still sexual human beings, but they love in a celibate way of service.

I can well understand how those who have become entangled with priests might suffer through my comments. I stand by my words. Celibacy is a sacrificial discipline which priests FREELY embrace. God does not return our gifts except as transformed. In this case, the priest belongs to God and to his congregation but not to a particular friendship or to an intimate sexual relationship. The salvation of souls is the fruit he seeks, not that of his loins.

Is it immature to be a faithful celibate? Is it misogyny to say that a man can be happy and fulfilled without a wife and family? Those who applaud fallen priests and their women are very quick to judge priests like me; they errantly place the greater maturity with those men who broke their promises, perhaps even committing mortal sin? I have many close friendships with women, but I am well aware of the boundaries and I do not play games with them. The trouble today is that many women mistake friendship and kindness as a summons to something more. Given the immaturity of men and women in our society, it is no wonder that there is a problem in this regard. Would we rate the men who stayed celibate as children and those who fooled around with women as the more well-adjusted and mature?

Defection and Redefining the Priesthood

Those who turn their bitterness against the so-called “institutional” Church, as if the properties of the Church can be practically dissected, often forfeit a sense of the sacred and the supreme importance of the sacraments. It is for that reason that renegades will often turn to ecclesial communities with dubious apostolic succession and a questionable or counterfeit priesthood and Eucharist. One critic referred to the sacramental role performed by a celebrant, his action at the altar “in persona Christi,” as an empty caricature of priesthood with no significant or enduring meaning. She would reduce the meaning of priesthood to show that it is a poor trade for a wife and family. Priesthood becomes less a vocation and more a job in this evaluation. But priests are more than clueless figureheads; they truly make Christ present in their own person and in their activity.

Every validly ordained priest shares in the one priesthood of Christ, this is where his ministry finds focus: in the sacrifice, in the consecration (real presence) and in the forgiveness of sins. Dissenters, renegade priests and the women, who run away with them, might embrace a defective religious confession and their rites or they might even brush off any definition of priesthood which places the gravity upon the dispensing of the sacraments. Poor lost souls, they lose a sense of basic Catholicism 101.

It may be that some women redefine the priesthood to blunt the blow that they have cost the Church a good priest. Of course, the priest has responsibility in all this, and must share culpability. One might feel less guilty if our vision of the priesthood is narrowed to activity that anyone might do. It is wrong to contend that when not saying Mass or hearing Confessions, he is no longer configured to Christ Jesus, the great high priest. A priest is always a priest. As a case in point and it might sound profane, I once heard a Confession in the stall of a bathroom, initiated by the penitent, not me. At the doors of the restroom I gave him absolution.  Yes, I prefer Church confessionals, but if a person is in serious sin, there is no time to waste. Priests are never really off duty. And definitely, there is never time for illicit fun and games with the girls!

Priests who are celibate and expect other priests to keep their promises are not rigid and deliberately hurtful. Every priest is called to be a healer. But excusing or ignoring or offering approbation for failure is not to render true healing. Such activity represents a false compassion. The priestly confessor of souls serves many functions: physician or healer, father, teacher, prophet, and judge. I would not judge myself any less severely than I would any other priest. Such a role is necessary to insure proper guidance and repentance. We are all sinners. We are all weak and poor instruments. But, God’s grace can work the miraculous in our lives.

Truth versus Dissent

I can only speak for God when I echo the teachings and disciplines of faith. I claim no moral superiority over others. I make mistakes and even errors in judgment. We all do. But I do not think my views about this are in conflict with the Good News of Christ. Our Lord has given us an infallible Magisterium to guide and govern the Church. Dissenters cannot speak for God if they oppose the Catholic faith. Dissenters believe they have a special enlightenment in regard to the truth. They do not even seem to fear God in making themselves into little popes in deciding what they will and will not accept. Such a dilemma is clear when dissenters argue for a version of love unhampered by the restrictions of the Church (like vows or promises). Challenge their special enlightenment and they will go further in denying the Church’s charism of truth and the qualifications of faithful priests.

While speaking as if they are a competing or parallel Magisterium, critics insult the Church and every good priest, and yet, seem blind to what damage they are doing. Their rhetoric betrays an anger that moves from the matter of married priests to that of women priests or priestesses. They insist that the Church is depicting women as the enemy and dangerous. They demand that men and women be treated equally. Priests and their women who marry outside the Church and/or move into other denominations are stamped as heroes and not as sinners. There are a few cases where former Catholic priests allow their “attempted” wives to serve as priests alongside them. The first has no faculties to minister and the latter has a counterfeit priesthood severed from apostolic succession. An imaginary and false line is drawn between faith in the true Church and faith in the Lord.

The conflict in such discussions between sides is divergent views of ecclesiology and vocation. Those on different sides of this question place the weight in different areas. My emphasis would be upon the head and the spiritual power of will. I suspect that many women actively involved in an intimate way with priests would give the gravity to the heart and the corporal passions or emotions. On the other hand, I would stress the clear fact that the Church welcomes men to holy orders who promise or vow celibacy. The objective or external situation is that men do this and I feel they should remain faithful to their promises. There is no good escape clause. As far as I am concerned, that is where matters should end. They should behave themselves and if they should suffer emotionally, offer it up with Christ’s passion.

Those who later want out of their promises make all sorts of rationalizations. The business about the heart and/or emotions is only recognition that such seems to play a big part in the decision of priests and women who become romantically entangled. I may be wrong, but is this really such a large leap in reasoning? If this is overly presumptive, then I would apologize but I have dealt with many delicate situations regarding such things and it has been my experience.

We must not be naïve about the fierce physicality in men and the sexual drive which men must daily sublimate to stay chaste. I have never said that priests must hate or fear or universally separate themselves from the female gender. However, there will come times when a priest must break off certain relationships because his heart and fallen nature is taking him in a direction he must not go. A priest is always a living ICON for Christ. The full gravity or weight of his sacramental vocation is manifest at Mass where he operates “in the person of Christ, head of the Church.” He signifies Christ the groom and the Church is his bride.

Critics will insist that the Church and her defenders violate a number of values. However, a clarification has to be made. EQUALITY in grace is not any kind of egalitarian view of humanity. JUSTICE for others also includes following objective norms, of the State, of the Church, of Nature, and of Divine Positive Law. Today many things we call RIGHTS are really just made up excuses for license and sin. Women have no right to priesthood. Celibate priests have no right to either wives or concubines. People of one gender do not have rights to sexual contact with those of the same gender.

What Do Priests Know of Love?

One critic argued recently that priests generally knew nothing about love. She contended that they were ordained merely to fulfill family expectations. But there are many reasons and such anger cannot invalidate the calling of good men validated by the true Church. The truth be said, most priests today entered the seminary against the wishes of family and friends. God is love; however, it is wrong to equate this love entirely with the romantic. Such critics fail to acknowledge human weakness and sin; rather, romantic entanglements with priests are wrongly interpreted as God’s will. This is ludicrous. God never desires sin.

It is not my intention to give a comprehensive treatise on divine love and how we share that love. I believe God can forgive and that he showers mercy upon priests who leave active ministry to marry women. It is rather insulting and “mean spirited” that certain critics think many priests have no notion of love. I counseled a woman many years ago against flirting and trying to seduce a man in seminary formation. She walked out shouting that I had nothing to say to her because I had never been in love! I challenged her on this assumption and she crudely blurted out, “Unless you have gone to bed with a woman, you do not know what love is!” The very reason why I and so many of my brothers embrace our celibacy is out of love for God and his people. The harshest critics are essentially saying that they do not care and that it is a waste of our time. Love brought me to the priesthood. It is love that beckons me to the altar, to the confessional, to the baptismal font, and yes to the sick bed of the dying. I am sorry that such lost people cannot understand or appreciate that.

Attacks against the Church and Her Messengers

What has been my reward for speaking about the value of celibacy and for insisting that good priests keep their promises? I have been assaulted personally as a misogynist and my view of human sexuality has been condemned as immature. Such judgments were not the result of sharing a detailed appreciation of vocations and human sexuality; rather, I was labeled precisely because I placed a negative value on the illicit unions and/or liaisons of priests and their paramours. I am not naïve about priestly formation and human development. Truthfully, I believe clergy should be emotionally whole and integrated. Priests should be comfortable with women. However, and here is the great divide, celibate priests should NOT have sexual relationships with women.

I would certainly not want to generate unnecessary anxiety for others, but sometimes bravery means not denying or running away from our guilt. Ridiculing Church teaching and discipline, breaking the vows of priesthood and/or marriage, are not positive in any honest estimation. However, speak about sin, and there are always many who will insist that no one can judge such things, despite divine commandments and objective right and wrong. Prophets who speak the truth of God are castigated by false prophets who speak their own mind. Broken promises, fornication and adultery, attempted marriages, illegitimate children, scandal… yes, I would say that such sins should make people feel ashamed, particularly for the unrepentant and the guilty.

They want every faithful priest or so-called right-wing Catholic to be caricatured as an angry homophobic and chauvinistic white male. While they excuse their own venom, any use of hyperbole to make a point or indignation about fallen priests and their women is viewed as the most outrageous insult. They share this with certain radical homosexuals who condemn Church teaching as hate-speech. Both camps contend that you cannot judge the sin without condemning them as sinners. They think that faithful and traditional priests value institutions and laws more than people— and yet, must there be a disconnect? However, it is NOT the institutional Church that denies people access to grace. People do this to themselves by their sins and by failing to preserve a disposition receptive of grace. Critics wrongly dismiss the Church’s discipline as just man-made laws. But the Church is both a human and a divine institution. Celibacy is not a purely human fancy but is an element of the divine plan.

I would contend that it is a pretty poor and simplistic synthesis against supporters of the status-quo to say that those who disagree with revisionists on this matter and their agenda are all angry men with a punitive outlook. We can be upset or disappointed without desiring any kind of harm to others. Most priests try as confessors to keep emotions in check. We hear everything, from the lurid details of abuse to murder itself. Our response is that of Christ. The penitent expresses sorrow for sin, makes an act of contrition, and then receives our absolution. Sometimes that healing is enough and at other times, they are placed on the road to recovery. Any upset I feel is precisely because the priesthood means a lot to me and we should not give poor witness.

The Effect of Scandals

Scandals are always thrown into the face of those who argue for no change regarding our discipline. Lately, the recent scandals around Fr. Marciel Macial have been their ammunition of choice. It is true that many regarded him as a conservative, i.e. orthodox. Critics of celibacy are having a field day with revelations that he purportedly fathered a child. This is bad news for the Legionnaires and for the Church. The questions about abuse in his regard are even more serious. However, such poor witness is no absolute invalidation of priestly celibacy. Most priests are faithful to their promises.

Critics point to the scandals and the fallen priests and ask the rhetorical question as to whether or not compulsory celibacy is a fallacy or myth? They think it is. Some well-meaning voices play into their hands by recommending optional celibacy. They feel that celibacy should only be permitted to those who feel called to it. However, most priests in the West freely promise celibacy. No one is forcing them into the priesthood. If they do not feel called to celibacy then God in his wisdom would not ask them to be priests. God is not in conflict or battling his Church; rather, he works in concert with the authority he established. The struggle here is to do God’s will, not what our selfishness would ask and not what the dissenters demand. Optional celibacy might see its day; but it will not solve the vocations crisis and it will create new serious issues in itself.

Many of us have had concerns about the secrecy and ultra-regimentation of the Legionnaires. I wonder how much of it reflected the secrecy that Father Macial utilized to cover his own scandalous indiscretions? It is a very sad business. Hopefully Rome will bring reform and healing to the situation.

Celibacy is not a myth, despite what the cynics might say. I believe that God works with his Church and gives the grace of celibacy to any who are truly called to his priestly service in the Roman Catholic Church. Yes, the Church could change this discipline tomorrow and make it optional. But no one should seek ordination with such an expectation.

Why Should We Care?

Why would a faithful priest be upset about those who violated Church rules? Well, first, one can be both upset and still show compassion and empathy. Second, good priests have a responsibility to admonish and to guide people in the moral life. Breaking promises to God and the Church is selfish and wrong. Third, while it is true that no one can absolutely read the inner hearts of others; this does not mean that the Church cannot render judgment about external actions. If you make promises and break them, you commit an objectively evil act. This is more than a sentiment or a temptation hidden in the heart and will. We would suspect that priests, of all people, would be fully cognizant of their behavior and the repercussions. They cannot claim ignorance. Bad priests agreed to the rules but later wanted to change them. Women who become involved with priests, and here I mean actively involved as in sexual encounters, mistresses and attempted marriages, should know full well that they have fallen far from what God and the Church demands. Ladies who have the heartstrings pulled and then do the right thing are entirely different. This latter group deserves our respect and continuing support.

Fourth, a fallen priest’s promises were made to his bishop and before God, not to me personally or to other priests. The actions of one priest often affect all priests and thus, the misconduct of any one priest hurts all priests. That is why the abuse scandals have been so incredibly devastating to the morale of priests. It wounds every one of us personally. We are all sharers in the one high priesthood of Christ. We trust and look up to one another. We expect fidelity, courage, generosity, obedience and sacrifice. We believe all the jargon about the glories of the Roman Catholic priesthood. When men fall short, it pains us more than any of us could properly convey.

Every priest who keeps his promises feels hurt and betrayed by those who do not. This fuels the indignation, along with the insufferable arguments that question the teaching in hindsight. Often personal responsibility is minimized and the Church herself is made the culprit for making the celibacy requirement at all. Broken promises by priests are seen as a betrayal of our brotherhood. It breeches them from their spiritual father the bishop and their brother priests. Those who are not priests might not understand this element of family that is focused upon the presbyterate.

My indignation or upset or anger or resentment or whatever you want to call it is not misplaced, but justified. I may come across as somewhat judgmental, but such is often my response to dissent and attacks upon a celibacy which I believe is worthwhile and should be sustained as compulsory in the Western Church. I would and have supported men who left ministry. I see no contradiction in doing this quietly for individuals while taking a strong general position against romantic entanglements, defections, and laicizations.

Realizing the Love of God

Read Matthew 7:7-12 and you will find a line which should never fail to touch us with the absurdity of being harsh to those whom we love. “Would one of you hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf, or a poisonous snake when he asks for a fish?” Jesus goes on to tell us that if we who are a sinful people know how to give that which is good to our children, just imagine what our Heavenly Father has in store for us.

I wonder though, whether or not Jesus would use this analogy today? It seems that the depravity among men and women has reached such a monstrous point that even the children are no longer safe. Abortion in our society is well into its fourth decade, so commonplace that most of us hardly give it a thought. The papers and television are filled with the news of children being abused both by their parents and by those in whose care they are placed. Recently there was a story about a woman who hired a hit man to kill her husband. Another story told about children placed into animal cages. We are not talking about minor squabbles in families. All these concerns involve murder and abuse. This does not make matters easy for us who try our best in living out Christianity. Jesus taught his friends how to call God, our Father, in the Lord’s Prayer. How do we teach children about a loving Father with situations so bad, with divorce plaguing half of all marriages, or where the mother gives her favors to a different man on any given night? It is not easy.

I would encourage you all, as parents and grandparents, as uncles and aunts, as brothers and sisters, and as friends in Christ, to give the kind of witness which will make the Father’s love believable. Allow that love to shine out and to touch others through you. Do this especially for the children. God knows it is a tough enough world. We can help make it easier for them. They are the future of our nation and Church. We have to invest in them. Jesus understood this well when he said, “Treat others the way you would have them treat you: this sums up the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12).

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

Sinless Mother Mary

One of my favorite feasts and dogmas is that of the Immaculate Conception, a teaching of the Church which has had a long and sometimes controversial history. There are even some contemporary critics of this dogma of faith who would argue that it overly separates Mary from the rest of us. Certainly, it is true that sinfulness is a reality ever present in our lives. We find it so difficult to be good. It is ironic that a few of the feminist theologians who image Mary as a strong and liberated woman, would then criticize this teaching and argue that Mary has been used as a device of oppression on the part of a male dominated hierarchy. It seems to me that quite the opposite may be true. The witness of Mary as the queen of the saints would emphasize that the greatest person to ever walk the earth next to the Lord, is this woman Mary. Genesis 3:9-15, 20 recalls the first Eve who with her husband turns away from God in disobedience. Psalm 98:1,2-3,3-4 might remind us that if Eve is the mother of all the living, Mary in her faithfulness is the mother of all who are reborn in her Son. She stands as a model of holiness for men and women alike. Her preservation from sin does not create an impassible chasm between her and us. Sin by definition adds nothing to us or to her. If anything, it is a lack of something which should be there — the grace and presence of Christ. Just as she carried the Lord, now we must avoid sin so as to be filled with his presence and life. Sin is that which divides and alienates. To wish this upon Mary would mean wanting separation from her and the Lord.

Like us, she is totally a creature. The saving grace which washes over us in baptism reaches from the Cross backward to the moment Mary is conceived in the womb. The Messiah whom himself is sinless would enter our world through the sinless portal of Mary.

Rarely do preachers mention how the mystery of the Immaculate Conception celebrates the beauty and holiness of marital love. Nevertheless, this is true when we look at the actual history of God’s intervention. Although Mary would conceive Christ through the overshadowing power of the Holy Spirit (see Luke 1:26-38); Mary’s conception as sinless elevates the significance of marital and sexual love as shared between Joachim and Ann. Couples raising families in this age would do well to recall that their children in baptism become as Mary, and even though they struggle to remain holy; they may be perfected as saints. As Mary is, we may become.

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

The Elevation of Mary

Luke 11:27-28 has had a long and sometimes mangled tradition among those who call themselves Christians. I recall reading some years ago a believer of another Christian community using this very passage to deride Mary, the Mother of God. He criticized stringently the Catholic stress upon her cooperative role with Christ in our redemption. He insisted that we, because of our faith in Christ, are much superior to her. The impression was that she was a stupid girl of which God made use. Of course, if the text were taken simply in how it first impresses us, his argument might have a leg to stand upon. However, we who are called to see things with two-thousand year old eyes, view the text for what it truly is — an elevation of Mary’s dignity and a reaffirmation of Christ’s call for us to be like her.

Although we could never fathom the wonder of this woman who was privileged to carry our Savior in her womb and who would indeed nurse him from her breasts; Mary first became his mother, not physically but spiritually. Christ says, “Blest are they who hear the word of God and keep it.” From the very beginning, that is what Mary did. The angel came to her and announced God’s favor. She responded with her whole being as the handmaid of the Lord. She responded to God by allowing the Word to be conceived in her very person. And she kept it. The significance of this phrase cannot be overestimated during this age when so many mothers choose not to keep the little ones alive inside of them. Mary’s YES extended throughout her whole life, making her Christ’s first disciple. When so many had fled into hiding, where was she? She was where she always was, beside her Son, even as he hung upon a cross.

Now, we are called to place our footsteps beside those of this first disciple. The Word of God needs to take root in our hearts and we need to keep it. Like her, if we nurture this special presence given us, we can give birth to Christ in our world today. And God knows; we do so desperately need him.

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