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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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Married & Celibate Priests: Wounded Healers

Given the new pastoral provision for Anglicans who desire to join the Catholic Church, there is a revised focus upon the question of priesthood and celibacy. Episcopalian priests will be ordained (absolutely, if not conditionally) and this will include those who are married men. While bishops must be celibate, some of the married priests (former Episcopalian bishops) will be given authority much like that given abbots of religious houses. Further, while future aspirants from their ranks would be asked to embrace celibacy; it has been assured that the Pope could make exceptions for their seminarians on an individual basis and that he would be generous in doing so. Okay, there is the rub. It seems to some conservative critics, that an accommodation is being given these “new” Catholics which continues to be denied to those with long-standing and family ties to Roman Catholicism. Intellectually, many of us are pleased and excited that there is this reciprocal motion: their movement in faith toward Catholic unity and the Church’s willingness to take them into the fold. Of course, we are not merely creatures of intellect; but, like all people, in possession of emotions and passion. That is one of the reasons that few dioceses, if any, would ever assign a celibate priest to live in the same household with a married clergyman and his family. Celibacy is a sacrifice where a man can know joy and a single-hearted love of God. Nevertheless, the sacrifice is real and like the Cross, it can be painful at times. Many good men have had their heart-strings pulled and yet they remained faithful to their promises. They made distance when necessary and cried their tears in silence. As we make room in the Western Church for married priests, we must be mindful of these wounded celibate men. I would not say that we should feel sorry for them, although I am often tempted to feel such for married men who suffer with the tension between their family needs and ministerial commitments. I suppose in that sense we could say that married priests are also wounded healers. How could any man be “another Christ” to his people if he has not embraced our Lord’s Cross? There is a mystery here: the man commissioned to heal and to bring Christ’s mercy to others must himself be like a bread broken and a cup poured out.

The Priesthood Still Belongs to Christ

Vatican II is often made a scapegoat for the many problems facing the Church. Certain traditionalists will deride priests ordained after the liturgical changes and condemn them as a class— of incompetence, heresy and a lack of fidelity. While such charges are quite unfair, as the original Modernists were ordained before the changes and celebrated the Tridentine Mass, it must be said that Satan and a secular modernity has targeted the priesthood, today. Concurring with the assessment of Pope Benedict XVI, we lament the scandals and the many ways that the desired fruits of Vatican II failed to materialize. There is hope in the new crop of vocations. The grace of God is manifesting itself, after years of turmoil. Truth is returning where a nebulous spirit of the council was often allowed to supplant what was intended by the council fathers. Those who would argue that both the tree and the fruit were rotten must face the fact of corrective truths espoused by Vatican II and imbedded in many conciliar and post-conciliar documents. Oddly they are sometimes ignored by both revisionists and traditionalists. Regarding the priesthood and its importance, we read: “The Council is fully aware that the desired renewal of the Church depends in great part upon a priestly ministry animated by the spirit of Christ” (Optatam Totius 1). This was true then, before and now. Our ministry is not our own. Christ must be alive, present and active in his ministers.

Closed churches and overworked men is the reality that we face with the vocations shortage.  Critics point to the numbers in assaulting celibacy or in slamming the Church as a dying institution without meaning for contemporary men and women.  We must be both sober and optimistic.  Hope is one of the three things that last.  Yes, there are over a billion Catholics on the planet.  Truth would make us admit that while many are baptized, a quarter or less of our people still participate at weekly Sunday Mass.  Among these numbers, there is measurable dissent and religious ignorance.  There is a lot of work to be done.  Priests and laity alike need the spirit of Christ if things are to change.

Intolerant for Christ?

Why is it that some fault the Church and priests like me for intolerance? Certainly, I believe in the ecumenical outreach of the faith to those of other denominations and religions, albeit narrowly defined in terms of peaceful co-existence and cooperation for a society that prizes justice and charity. I do not believe in religious indifferentism. It is my hope and most heartfelt desire that all the world might be Catholic and that everyone might have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. It is about this that some make loud objection. But our Lord acknowledges that he is the Way and the Truth and the Life. He alone is the immaculate sin-offering that makes atonement for all the transgressions of the world. There is but one Redeemer and true Mediator and his name is Jesus Christ. There is no greater name, no other saving name. The Word that I have been commissioned to preach to the world is very clear; “there is no salvation in anyone else; for there is no other name in the whole world given to men by which we are to be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Are We a Christian Friend?

There are friends and then there are friends. What do I mean? The fair weather friend hangs near when days are happy and life is easy; but when troubles come and life is hard, he or she is nowhere to be found. Look at how Christ’s apostles ran away and Peter denied him. Fortunately, they would know remorse and the spirit of the Risen Christ would heal their betrayal and give them courage in the days ahead to follow in his footsteps, even embracing exile and martyrdom. What kind of friend are we to others and to Jesus? Are we a Christian only when it is convenient? Do we make sacrifices for others and to witness the truth of the Gospel? Some collect and deliver clothing and food to the poor. Believers work in soup kitchens and shelters. They visit the sick and elderly in hospitals, nursing homes and among the shut-ins. They tutor young people and assist with those having learning challenges. They volunteer for the Special Olympics and summer camps for the physically challenged. They march for the unborn. They try to make a difference.

Responding to the Call to Worship

When I look at the depth of Catholic faith, I wonder why anyone would ever look anywhere else. Everything we need for spiritual meaning and salvation is here. Nevertheless, some inquirers dismiss the Church and others walk away. Speaking for myself, I would not want to forfeit the Eucharistic sacrifice or presence for anything. Why is it then that so many abandon or refuse to come home to the Catholic Church? I think the answer has to do with people wanting to feel wanted and the consolation that comes with close fellowship and the acceptance of others. Catholicism is a ritualistic church. Like the Jews before us, we have our traditions, priesthood, cultic oblation, and authority. We have formulas for everything. We dip our fingers into the water fount, we genuflect, we sit quietly, we cross ourselves, we pound our chests, we touch our foreheads, lips and hearts, we say, “Amen,” “And with your Spirit,” and offer a hand with the words, “Peace be with you.” There is no unnecessary talking in church. We do our duty, try not to snore during the homily, are careful not to drop the wafer and then head out the door. The first one to get to his or her car and start the engine wins. At least, this is what we imply by our mad race to the door.

Responding to Lies Told by the Darkness

The demonic will lie to us, offering a feigned friendship and understanding. Evil is all about seduction, not about well-being and advancement. What is the darkness really saying behind the duplicity and rhetoric?

The Darkness

You are no good.

You are stupid.

You are fat and ugly.

No one loves you.

You are worthless.

You are hopeless.

You can’t do anything right.

No one wants to be around you.

No one cares about you.

We would all be better off with you gone.

You are bad and beyond forgiveness.

You deserve every bad thing that happens to you.

Everyone hates you.

You would be better off dead.

A Response

Enough! Everything that God creates is good. You have value in God’s eyes. Indeed you are precious and irreplaceable. Your worth is immeasurable.

Some are smart about the things of the world but ignorant about the truths of eternity. We know that God loves us and has called us to a relationship with his Son. We should all be, as St. Paul taught, fools for Christ.

God calls us marvelous to behold, no matter what the standard of beauty in the world might be. Nothing else matters.

God loves us and his Church does, too. We must never buy the deceit that we are not lovable.

We have value because God gives us worth. People might not recognize it, but everyone is important. There are no disposable people. Everyone matters.

Our hope is in the Lord. Despair is from the evil one and is poison to faith. There is no Christianity without hope. It is one of the three things that last: FAITH, HOPE and LOVE.

We might make mistakes and fail, but the good Lord will give us strength. Jesus, himself, was judged a failed prophet by the world, a criminal handed over by his own people to be put to death. But the world was wrong. We can share in Christ’s victory.

God wants you near him and the Church wants you, too. She invites you to worship with the community and to know fellowship with other believers. You are not alone.

Jesus cared so much for you that he laid down his life and died for you. Yes, by name, he shed his blood that you might know him and his saving mercy. The Church also cares, from the moment you were conceived in the womb, she was the advocate for your life.

We would be diminished by your loss. You need the Church and we want you. Christ wants you as a friend in his service. We are all family.

We are all sinners but the mercy of God is infinite. All that is required is a contrite heart and a disposition for faith and conversion. God wants to pour his life into us.

It is not a matter of what we deserve but rather the generosity of God. He gives us his gifts freely. No one merits salvation; grace is a gratuity from the Lord.

God loves you. The Church and the saints love you. There are probably many who love you in this world but you do not always see it. You are surrounded by love.

Life is God’s gift. He alone is the one to number our days. We need to respect this gift in us and others. We know that when our time in this world grows short, we have an eternity with the Lord waiting for us. The saving work of Jesus is a testimony that love is stronger than death.

Same-Sex Legislation Passes in MD

Archdiocese of Washington statement on the passage of same-sex marriage legislation in Maryland:

“The Maryland Senate altered the state’s longstanding definition of marriage as the union between one man and one woman in a vote today. Throughout the expedited hearings Maryland House and Senate members held in consideration of the same-sex marriage bill, Catholics and individuals across Maryland encouraged the lawmakers to protect the longstanding and proper definition of marriage as a union of one man and one woman. Regrettably, this did not happen as the House passed legislation last week, and the Senate followed this evening.

“The Archdiocese of Washington opposes the redefinition of marriage based on the clear understanding that the complementarity of man and woman is intrinsic to the meaning of marriage. The word marriage describes the exclusive and lifelong union of one man and one woman with the possibility of generating and nurturing children. Other unions exist, but they are not marriage.

“The Archdiocese of Washington will continue to strongly advocate for the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Furthermore, the archdiocese supports efforts undertaken by those who uphold the traditional meaning of marriage to bring this issue to the people of Maryland for a vote.”

Fallen Heroes, But Still Trust in Jesus

Going back to our childhood, there were people to whom we looked up. Our heroes inspired and move us. We hoped to be like them. We trusted them and they had a significant impact upon our lives. Unfortunately, heroes also frequently fall from the pedestals upon which we place them. Indeed, we often exaggerate their qualities and achievements, making their falls from grace all the more devastating. The truth is not always well served in hero worship. Men and women are bound to fail us. A boy might think that his father is the strongest man in the world; as he grows up, he is forced to realize that even the best of fathers are still mortal men dealing with sinfulness and weakness. The same can be said about our spiritual fathers or priests. It is only Christ who will never fail us.

The rector of my college seminary joined the Episcopal church and got married and the priest who ran the CCD program in my parish when I was a boy was excused from ministry because of allegations of misconduct with a youth. Priests in the media who meant a lot to me like Fr. Ken Roberts and Fr. John Bertolucci were dismissed for credible allegations. It was all quite devastating to me. These were men who inspired me to be a priest. Indeed, I modeled many elements of my life upon them. When facing the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and elders, Jesus told his friends to do as they say but not as they do. I guess those words still find application in the Christian leadership. When our heroes disappoint us, we become angry and some might even feel duped. Of course, my confidence was ultimately in the Lord. I pray every day that I will be faithful to my promises and charge as a Christian and as a priest. No human relationship or role model can ever come close to the friendship and witness of Christ. The other pieces of the puzzle only fit in place when Jesus is planted in the middle. Instead of wanting to strike out, I pray daily for my fallen heroes and for those whom they wounded, that they might know the mercy and healing of God. I also ask for guidance and strength, that I might be all that I purport and struggle to be.

Sometimes There is No Happy Ending

Years ago I knew a young man who battled drugs and alcohol. After getting into some trouble and a car accident, he entered a treatment program. He met a nice girl and he seemed to vastly improve. However, he had merely transferred his dependency from dangerous substances to her. An immature personality, he was unable to postpone the objects of his desires and pleasures. He could not save money and moved too quickly with the romantic relationship. Within short order they were having sexual intimacy and he was urging her to cohabitate with him. The girl became increasingly resentful of his dependence upon her and lack of self- control. While she was fond of him, it was questionable what he brought to the table of their relationship. Everything revolved around what he wanted and his needs. He isolated her from family and friends, being intensely jealous. His possessiveness was threatening to suffocate her. They became engaged and she was at odds as to what to do. She felt responsible for him. His relationship with her had become his chief source of security and what gave his life meaning. His sense of being grounded was attached to her and he acted as if he owned her, sometimes speaking and acting violently when he did not get his way. She tried to bear the situation but matters grew worse. Every time things seemed to get better there would be a relapse. His immediate family and friends would take his side and became enablers for his irresponsibility and problems. They regarded his girlfriend as a means to keep him in check, regardless of what it might personally cost the young woman. When she tried to exert herself, he would become moody and depressed. Eventually matters reached a breaking point and she terminated the engagement. It was probably the most loving thing she could do. He was not ready for what they might have together. He had to face his issues instead of using their relationship to compensate for them.

I wish I could say that things turned out well for the young man I talked about. But he resisted God’s grace in his life. He had a hard time believing that he was lovable, no matter how many times we told him. I moved on to another parish. One day I received a phone call that he had committed suicide. I came back to bury him. The church was filled with his family and friends. The crowd demonstrated the love many had for him but which he refused to see.

A Priest Echoing the Voice of Jesus

Reflecting upon my own formation, we had opportunities for clinical pastoral care but were offered little in the way of understanding human psychology. Priests can certainly become proficient counselors over time but rarely just out of the seminary. The priest learns a great deal over the years as he undergoes his trial by fire. He becomes a master on the human condition, both good and bad. Of course, few clergy are professional psychologists or social workers. We are ministers of the Gospel and priests of the altar. We speak the language of faith in a world that has an increasingly difficult time with translation. We want to save marriages and better people’s lives, but always in terms of the redemptive work of Christ. We desire for people to find healing in a personal and corporate relationship with the Lord.

When a priest or teacher begins to talk about Jesus and religion, some people turn us off. Young people often do this and have not yet mastered masking their distraction. They know from their primary catechism that Jesus loves us but have rarely reflected upon what this really means. The full sacrificial dimension of this love has yet to seep deep into their soul and personality. They can recite the theme but do not feel its significance. If they truly appreciated the depth of Christ’s love, they would be brought to tears and would eagerly try to expunge sin from their lives. Jesus loved us so much that he died for us, to forgive our sins. This was no stoic act, but one filled with conviction and emotion. God would have us receive and return this love in kind. I would pointedly ask each listener, “Jesus loves YOU, what does this mean to YOU?” Jesus dies for them by name. He knows them better than they know themselves. He knows the problems they face and is ready to shower his grace upon them. Jesus can help and he wants to help. But have we truly invited Jesus into our life? Is he real for us or just a name we hear in church and read in the Bible? Jesus had to deal with feelings of abandonment and fear as well. The agony in the garden resonates with our own fears and sense of loneliness. You may have cried in your pillow but he wept at the death of his friend Lazarus and again when he sweated blood on the Cross. Jesus had his own relationship troubles. The leadership of his own people sought his life and his beloved apostle Judas betrayed him. His family thought that he was out of his mind. His friends often failed him. He knew, first hand, what we all go through. Maybe we have sought compensation in material things? Maybe we have raised the value of money and things over the needy and faith? Maybe the desires of the flesh have supplanted a true love of persons and God? Maybe our response has been to turn inward instead of outward? Jesus tells us to look to him. The answer is not to be found in the distractions of the world. He is the Way and the Truth and the Life.

There are many voices in the world that would lie to us. They tell us that happiness can be found in a bottle, drugs or sex. They are traps set by the evil one and his minions. Such paths are dead-end roads that will leave us with a sense of nowhere out. Too many who get lost listening to these voices are tempted to destroy themselves, wrongly thinking that it is one way out of the cage of a painful and meaningless existence. But this is the final lie on the road to hell. Instead, we listen to the voice of Jesus. He knows what you are facing and he wants to help you. Jesus is himself the medicine for the soul. He wants us to share his life and love. He will give his Spirit to any who ask. It does not matter what we have done. God is gracious and merciful.