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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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Going to the Desert

Although a priest, I remain very much an introvert, struggling always with the public dimension of my ministry. Clergy friends who are extroverts seem energized by the crowds and speaking in public. By contrast, I quickly feel my batteries draining. While the Eucharist is my life, my favorite times are with small associations or alone in prayer. Looking to the two sisters of Lazarus, I am much more like the passive listener Mary than the active worker Martha. Jesus also took time to climb a mountain or to seek a place of solitude for communion with his Father and to reflect upon what must be done. Both elements need to be nurtured in the disciple, but I am aware of where my strengths and weaknesses are found. There is an essential part of me that longs constantly for the desert. I suppose I have always found sympathy for the Christian hermit, although his vocation is immensely misunderstood. He does not hate people or company. He merely wants to strip away the distractions so that he can be more present and aware of the divine mystery. He knows that as long as he has God, he is not really alone. A privilege that a priest has is that he can enter an otherwise locked church and spend time with our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament any time he wants. It is quiet and often dark. He can talk to God and God can speak to him.

I love praying in a darkened church. While the sacred space is in twilight, there is an irony because the one who is the Light of the World often brings great illumination to the soul. As we begin to see God more clearly, such times of personal prayer can allow us to better focus on the meaning and struggles of our lives. Here I am mindful of St. Anthony and the temptations and conflict he had in the desert with the devil. The more real that God is for us, the less the devil hides in the cracks. Many people rush through their lives with blinders on. They miss opportunities for grace, fail to discern the hand of God and, walk straight into traps planted by the evil one.

As a sickly child, I watched a lot of television. One show that both intrigued and frightened me was called THE NIGHT STALKER with the late Darren McGavin. There is an image from the Firefall episode that has long stayed with me. A man who was being chased by a demonic doppleganger took refuge in a church. The creature could not come in after him but taunted the man from up in one of the windows. That scene has become a metaphor of so many things for me. We seek sanctuary in the church. We run to Christ when there is nowhere else to run. And here is the secret; there is never anywhere else to flee. We beseech God’s help and that of his holy angels against the devil who is prowling throughout the world seeking souls to devour. It is when we draw the closest to God that the devil’s hiding places are uncovered and his part in our life becomes apparent. Of course, this allows us to invite God in and to root the devil out. This is where we find our personal battle with powers and principalities. It also reveals a lie. While the devil is at the windows wanting in, he seeks to desecrate our churches and communities of faith by infesting us. We battle Satan both from without and from within. He sneaks into the churches and even dishonors the Blessed Sacrament by luring us into unrepented mortal sin. Clergy and laity alike must always take sin very seriously. Too many have become comfortable and tolerant of it. All sin is part of that millstone that would bury us in the deep water. All sin is an injury. Mortal sin is death, itself. How can we proclaim the Gospel of Life if we are spiritual corpses? Jesus has come that we might have life and have it to the full.

It sometimes seems to me that a practical atheism has possessed people, including many laity and a few clergy of the Church. I experienced the intellectual side of this phenomenon in seminary where the historical method was abused to dismiss the miracles of Christ and one theologian went so far as to say that the discovery of Christ’s bones would not disturb him because the resurrection was merely a warm feeling in the bosom of the apostles anyway. Well, it would bother me because there are no bones and there never will be. Another theological teacher convinced his seminary students that angels had no metaphysical existence but were merely extensions of God’s power and presence. This reduced guardian angels and the devil himself to empty metaphors. While those who warn about the dangers of Modernism are often interpreted as fanatics; I saw firsthand that their concerns had genuine substance. If the clergy themselves do not believe then how can we expect an informed faith by many in the flock? Many people go through the motions of faith, but scratch the surface and there is a skeptic and/or materialist. They do what they want and no one will tell them what to do, even God and his Church. If the divine is eclipsed then there is no standard to follow and no judgment that can reach us after death. Going to the desert means breaking through all this nonsense. We face our mortality and sinfulness, knowing that there will come a reckoning. We embrace the reality of God and acknowledge that he is the Master of our lives.