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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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Mary & Tradition: Offensive to God?

Recently, I was shockingly dismayed by the citation of Jeremiah 7:18-20 against the Catholic practice of honoring the Virgin Mary. The passage reads:

The children gather wood, their fathers light the fire, and the women knead their dough, to make cakes for the QUEEN OF HEAVEN, while libations are poured out to strange gods in order to hurt me. Is it I whom they hurt, says the Lord; it is not rather themselves, to their own confusion? See now, says the Lord God, my anger and my wrath will pour out upon this place, upon man and beast, upon the trees of the field and the fruits of the earth; it will burn without being quenched.

Because of a similarity in the title, “Queen of Heaven,” this quotation was used against the Mother of Jesus. Talk about silly! The anti-Catholic bigot often mixes his apples and oranges in trying to discredit Catholic teachings and practices. The citation has nothing whatsoever to do with Mary. There is no violation of the worship which is due to God alone. The text in question has to do with Ishtar, the Assyro-Babylonian goddess of fertility. This pagan worship was initiated under Manasseh and was restored after the death of Josiah. Pagan worship, then as now, is considered an abomination by Jews and Christians alike, including the first Christians, Catholics. Such a citation has no other objective than to play on the ignorance of others. Indeed, it violates the commandment regarding the bearing of false witness against another.

Why do we call Mary the Queen of the Saints? The answer is simple. Jesus came to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom. His ministry, his parables, indeed, his very own person, is the breaking of the kingdom into our world. Jesus is hailed as Messiah upon his entry into Jerusalem and marked as King upon his Cross at Calvary. If Jesus is our king, then what is Mary? Obviously, she is the Queen-Mother. The rejection of this title for her is a repudiation of the royal lordship of Christ himself! This knocks down another straw man argument, that the Mary of Catholic faith and piety is not the Mary of the Bible. The anti-Catholic apologist goes so far as to insert the Virgin Mary into any Scripture text or historical chronicle regarding a pagan goddess, as in the quoted passage. This distortion of God’s Holy Word has only one objective, and that is to deceive. Irrational prejudice and the lack of any authentic argumentation propel such a polemic.

Anti-Catholics also suffer from an intensely privatized faith. They cannot stand the fact that alongside our worship of God and trust in our one Mediator, Jesus Christ, that we also address ourselves to our beloved family members who have gone ahead of us into the next life. Mary and the saints are still members of the Church, and having made it to the promised shore, we remember them and they pray for our ultimate salvation. However, tell this to an anti-Catholic bigot, and he will explode— you’re only suppose to pray to Jesus! He forgets that Jesus founded a Church, not simply a multitude of unrelated and separate personal relationships. Such people claim that there is no evidence for talking with others beyond this world. And yet, in the Transfiguration itself, Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus and he apparently enters into dialogue with them. Peter wants to set up three booths, so that this moment can be preserved and that they too might commune with the great prophet and deliverer. But, the image disappears. The transformation of Christ hints at his resurrection, the time when the righteous will be given a share in his life and when the Spirit of God will give birth to the Church. Our unity with the saints is in Christ. Attention paid to members in the Mystical Body of Christ is not detraction from the Lord.

One critic listed 1 Timothy 2:5 as a repudiation of the Catholic practice of calling upon Mary and the saints. It reads as follows:

For there is one God. There is also ONE MEDIATOR between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as ransom for all.

This says absolutely nothing about the Catholic prayer practice. We also believe that Christ is the one Mediator between ourselves and God. He makes possible our prayer being received by the Father. His is the acceptable sacrifice. He is the ransom that buys us back from the devil and opens up the gates of heaven. All this is Catholic doctrine; however, you would not know it from reading those who oppose us. This citation, almost creedal in composition, comes within a contention that “supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings,” particularly those in a liturgical context, are to be offered for all, even for the pagan. Throughout the centuries, the Church has continued to remember in prayer the non-believer and to invite him into her ranks. The presence of Jesus can be found in the Church, making her a singular vehicle for salvation.

An anti-Catholic critic also quoted Mark 7:9 and Mark 7:13 against the role of tradition as understood in the Church. However, since the Catholic Church precedes and was party to the composition of the Scriptures, particularly the New Testament, the continuing role of living tradition makes perfect sense. The Catholic Church assembled the books of the Bible and established by her God-given authority the Scriptural canon. Except for a few subtractions, the Protestant churches retained this canon. We even have a letter from a bishop of Rome (the Pope) written before the last of the New Testament had been composed! The citations from Mark say nothing against the living tradition of the Catholic Christian community following Christ:

And he said to them, “Well do you NULLIFY the commandment of God, that you may KEEP your own tradition!”

“You make void the commandment of God by your tradition, which you have handed down; and many such like things you do.”

These words do not convey our Lord’s full view regarding tradition. First of all, he was speaking about his own Hebrew tradition, particularly the heavy yoke of many laws placed upon the shoulders of everyday people. This sort of tradition protected the status-quo: the Pharisee could fulfill the various rubrics, with a few well-chosen exemptions, but the poor hard-working people would find it difficult to impossible. The Lord came to proclaim liberation; obviously such bondage would run against the grain of this message. However, the Lord also followed certain other traditions, and obviously the commandments, as a good Jew. The same could be said for his family who followed the ritual in regards to sacrifice and his Presentation at the temple. Prior to the verses mentioned here, we read: “For, letting go the commandment of God, you hold fast the tradition of men, the washing of pots and of cups; and many other things you do like these.” The Lord’s concern here is very specific, and does not speak to the living tradition of making manifest the Gospel in our daily lives. The verses following have Jesus challenging the Jewish dietary regulations. He is concerned that people put so much emphasis on external observance that they fail to nurture any genuine faith and love of God in their hearts— a love which spills over in our treatment of one another. All this is lost on the one who hates the Church and her practices; hatred by definition makes the truth of the Gospel obscure.

The new universal catechism represents no retreat from the orthodox positions of the Catholic Church; indeed it is an amplification and succinct summary of the ancient faith given us by God. While it was hoped that this wonderful work would break new ground among the Church’s enemies, they distort and manipulate it just as they do the Bible. This is most sad. One critic dismissed the whole catechism by quoting Acts 4:12:

[Speaking of Jesus] “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.”

He contended that the matter could not be made any clearer. Again, remember, he was dismissing the importance of the Church and the Virgin Mary. A sure sign that his categorization is “all wet” is the fact that the universal catechism cites the verse from Acts three times: CCC #432, #452, #1507. It sure does not seem that the Church is avoiding it to me.

[CCC 432] The name “Jesus” signifies that the very name of God is present in the person of his Son, made man for the universal and definitive redemption from sins. It is the divine name that alone brings salvation, and henceforth all can invoke his name, for Jesus united himself to all men through his Incarnation, so that “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

What in this statement does the fundamentalist find disagreeable? That Jesus is God? That his alone is the saving name? What?

How about this other reference in the universal catechism?

[CCC 452] The name Jesus means “God saves.” The child born of the Virgin Mary is called Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21): “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Oops! Perhaps here is the trouble? The catechism mentions the Virgin Mary as his Mother! Sometimes anti-Catholic bigots talk as if they are embarrassed that Jesus had a mother. Any good mother can tell us, that motherhood does not end with birthing a child. A true mother’s heart always beats in harmony with that of her child— the joys and sorrows of his life are also her own. Such is the measure of maternal love. Jesus is and always will be, the Son of Mary, and she will always be, the Mother of our Savior.

To this day, the efficacy of the sacraments and the ministry of the Church, hinges upon the powerful and saving name of Jesus. Those who hate and oppose the teachings and work of the Church will discover themselves in opposition to Jesus, himself.

[CCC 1507] The risen Lord renews this mission [“In my name … they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mk. 16:17-18)] and confirms it through the signs that the Church performs by invoking his name. These signs demonstrate in a special way that Jesus is truly “God who saves.”

Jesus continues his work among us. This is most important. Some treat the mystery of Christ as if he is dead and gone. The name of Jesus still commands authority and power. All the mysteries of the Church, the role of Mary and the saints— everything— is founded on the Lord. We celebrate the Immaculate Conception, as an honor given Mary so that the Savior might enter the world through a sinless vessel.

We remember Mary as a special intercessor, just as at Cana, because we know that she is of one heart and mind with her Son. We love her just as Jesus loved her. She is acclaimed as the Mother of God, a title which protects the truth of her Son’s divinity. She is the Mother of the whole reality of her child. Would critics separate Jesus into two sons or deny his divinity? I hope not. She suffered at the Cross. What, not in the Bible? Come, let us be reasonable. What loving mother could see her innocent child betrayed, scourged, and crucified— and not be moved? To the very depths of her being she was devastated; she is indeed the Sorrowful Mother. We turn to her, not because she is more compassionate than God, but because she is a wonderful window to the Divine Mercy which is Christ. What, our family does not make possible our salvation? Well, maybe not a family of mere flesh and blood; but we are members of a spiritual family, looking to God as our Father, Jesus as our elder brother, and Mary as the new mother of many sons and daughters. This family relationship, the Church, grafts us to Christ himself and grants us the sure and certain hope of our salvation.

We would ask that those imprisoned in a religion of bigotry and deceits to come out into the light and to join the faith community established by Jesus himself, the Catholic Church:

“Therefore, come forth from them and be separate,” says the Lord, “and touch nothing unclean; then I will receive you and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:17-18)

One Response

  1. Father Joe: When you mention anti-Catholic critics. who are you referring to? I’ve forgotten a lot about my Lutheran teaching, but I don’t recall ever hearing the Catholic Church criticized. The only thing I know is different ; Marriage of the ministry, The concept of the Eucharist the liturgical year is the same, the profession of faith is the same or the Nicene Creed, so, does my previous denomination pose it self as anti Catholic?

    FATHER JOE: When in seminary many years ago I took classes from Catholic, Lutheran and Methodist professors. The consortium was ecumenical. There was goodwill and dialogue among us. There is nothing anti-Catholic about this or about honest differences. What I term as anti-Catholic is deliberate prejudice where one seeks to build up his religion by assaulting with impunity Catholic beliefs and persons. Instead of seeking common ground, they distort facts and repeat old lies so as to paint a false picture or “strawman” Catholicism that they can attack. Religious anti-Catholics with say that Catholicism is the religion of Satan and that the Eucharist is the food of demons. They label priests as lechers and pedophiles. They tag the Pope as the anti-Christ and the Church as the whore of Babylon. I am wary of naming names because it immediately draws them like flies to a manure field. You can google and get a taste. They buy into old documents promoted by the defunct Know-Nothings who opposed Catholic immigrants to the US over a century ago. You find them in some of the fringe SDA groups and among certain (but not all) evangelical fundamentalists. Some are ex-priests or at least they pose as such. Have you ever seen the Chick Publications cartoons? It is all vile and ignorant stuff. Some of these critics have no church of their own, just a bible and internet access (something that gives a forum even to the least qualified to preach). There is also atheistic anti-Catholicism that attacks the Church as the chief representative of organized religion. One professor urged his students to find new ways of desecrating the Blessed Sacrament. The list goes on and on.

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