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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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Out of My House! Ever in My Heart!

Many, if not most people, struggle with a sense of inadequacy. I am no exception. We had a visiting priest at my home parish who preached in harsh and very pointed tones. He was right that we were unworthy of a Savior like Christ. A problem is that the most egregious sinners view such indictments as referencing everyone but themselves while those truly struggling to follow Christ place all the guilt and blame upon themselves. The themes in the homilies bothered me and precipitated a type of nightmare. I dreamed that during one of his sermons, the priest began to stare at me and, in front of everyone, demanded that I get out of God’s house! I was overwhelmed with shame. Then I woke up. Years later, when I was accepted for the seminary, I dreamed that I was being vested in the body of the church. The green chasuble was enormous. When I put it on, it literally buried me. Like a blanket, I was lost in its folds. Again I awoke with a deep sense of shame and unworthiness.

During my first assignment as a priest, I was placed in charge of youth ministry. I visited the school classes and ran both a junior high and high school teen group. As a priest, I was assigned to the parish where I had served as a deacon. The children used their crayons to draw me cards of congratulation over my ordination. One of those efforts was by a boy in the fourth grade. He and his sister were wonderful kids. But, as children grow up, they sometimes move in dangerous directions. As a high-schooler, [name deleted] and another boy were coming to teen meetings high on alcohol. I tried to intervene. Nevertheless, I could not expose the other teens to their intoxication and the accompanying vulgarity. When he interrupted a meeting of the CYO leadership in the gym (he wanted to play basketball), he became belligerent when I told him to leave. He charged me with favoritism and then accused a boy and girl on a recent youth retreat of sinning together right under my nose. Again, he was either on alcohol, drugs or both. I told him that until he cleaned his act, he would not be welcomed back. He cried, over and over, “Don’t say that Father Jenkins, don’t tell me that I can’t come back!” The confrontation became loud. He was led out. Maybe a more experience priest could have reached him? Did I try hard enough to save him? I guess I will second-guess myself forever. I never saw the young man again. No, that it is strictly true. I did see his body in a casket. One evening we got word that he and his friend had gotten into a shootout with police. They attempted to rob a convenience store. His friend had a wounded arm. [Name deleted] got hit in the side and it punctured his liver. The alcohol in his system poisoned him. He died. A few of the teens came with me to the funeral. His parents had broken up and he had abandoned the Catholic Church for a Baptist community of faith. The minister offered an hour of praise, but not a word about the demons in his life. I am sure his parents took solace but the sad truth was not satisfied. A few faulted me for not doing more. But I had forty kids to worry about. I thought I did my best. None of this mattered. The experience still haunts me. The years go by and still I regularly bring him to mind in prayer. Did I fail to be as gracious and forgiving to him as God had been with me?

The faces of many young people are replayed before my imagination. Some have passed away, like [name deleted], one fell off the rocks into the water at Great Falls and another committed suicide. A few have stayed with the Church, but a vast number of them have defected from the faith and live lives far removed from the moral mandates of the Gospel. I pray and hope that they will return to the fold. Like parents who sometimes wonder where they went wrong, many priests also feel culpable for not better inspiring their youth to love the Lord and his Church. We rehearse in our minds all the things we did wrong or speculate what we might have done differently. We keep them in our hearts with a priestly and fatherly love, yes, even when there are long periods of silence and detachment.