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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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Papal Cats & Possible Posers

Given the upcoming abdication of Pope Benedict XVI, I thought I would repost this blog post from 2005. It is about the papal cats. Banned from the Vatican, I suspect the kitties will have a long awaited reunion.

We have come to learn that two papal pussycats presented here as the beloved felines of Pope Benedict XVI may have been imposters! It just goes to show you how far some cats will go to get attention and acknowledgment. What alerted us to the situation was another news article that offered a short description of his cats. Given that changing a cats color through dyes is illegal in Italy, we think we have been had. However, there is so much misinformation going around, we are not totally sure even now.

Here is the inside dope from MSNBC’s Sandy Robins. Pope Benedict VI is “the proud owner of Chico, a black-and-white domestic short hair that lives at the pope’s home in the Bavarian town of Tübingen, Germany.” Agnes Heindl, housekeeper to the pope’s brother, Father Georg Ratzinger, told MSNBC that Chico is currently being looked after by the caretaker of the pope’s private residence. . . . “There’s also a multi-colored tabby cat that hangs around a lot of the time and keeps Chico company.”

The Russian News Agency reported that Pope Benedict’s cats have been barred from the apostolic palace by the Vatican’s administrative services. We read: “New Pope of Rome Benedict XVI, who moved into the papal quarters last week, faced an unexpected problem – the Vatican administrative services did not allow him taking two cats to his new home. . . . Everyone knows about the Pontiff’s love for cats, a representative of the Rome City Hall said on Tuesday. She said the Pontiff now has to pay frequent visits to his old apartment outside the Vatican and take care of his cats. Everyone hopes that the Vatican will eventually grant the cats an access to the Apostolic Palace, she added. Isn’t he the Pope? Isn’t he sovereign? If he says, “I’m taking the cats,” who will say No?”

MSNBC also reported: “According to local news reports, the pope used to walk the streets of Borgo Pio, his former Roman neighborhood just east of the Vatican, where neighbors likened him to Dr. Dolittle with a Pied Piper charm. Stray cats would run to him when they saw him coming and he used to prepare food for them daily on special plates.”

Ratzinger says that while growing up, the pope and his family always had cats. But now, he says, the only cats in his own home are a “collection of porcelain plates with painted cats on them, mementos from different European vacations with my brother.”

The Knight-Ridder News Agency reported in April 2005 that the theologian Karl Baumgartner had once accompanied the cardinal to a cemetery behind Campasanto Teutonica, a church in Rome. He recalls that “It was full of cats and when he went out, they all ran to him. They knew him and loved him. He stood there, petting some and talking to them, for quite a long time. He visited the cats whenever he visited the church. His love for cats is quite famous.”

The Kansas City Star reported that “[His housekeeper] pointed up a staircase to a wall full of painted plates, each depicting a different cat. The brothers collected the plates together, she said. ‘When we were on vacation, a cat, a little kitten, would come by, and he’d be giddy, almost giggling with joy,’ she said. ‘Cats love him; they always go to him straight away. And he loves them back.'”

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone said that the Pope talks to cats whenever he sees them, “Every time he met a cat he would talk to it, sometimes for a long time.” Bertone wondered if the Pope used a special language to talk to cats. “I tried to understand the language he used with cats, who were always enchanted when he met them. I thought maybe it was a Bavarian dialect. I don’t know.”

Once 10 cats followed the Pope into the Vatican. Cardinal Bertone remembers that as the Pope walked into the Vatican with his kitty disciples, one of the Swiss Guards had to intervene, saying: “Look, Your Eminence, the cats are invading the Holy See.”

Michael L. Tan for the Inquirer News Service (May 11, 2005) gave the following background to this story: “Cats do make it into Christian folklore and art. One folk tale has the Virgin Mary asking animals in the stable if they could help put the newborn Jesus to sleep. None of the animals could help, but a gray tabby kitten, itself just born, was said to have climbed into the manager and purred Jesus to sleep. The Virgin Mary rewarded the tabby kitten by allowing all tabby kittens, from that day forth, to wear the letter “M” on their foreheads. . . . Apparently there are two patron saints for cats and cat lovers. One is St. Agatha, an early Christian virgin-martyr. Her connection with cats isn’t clear, except that she is said to appear in the form of a cat to punish women who don’t stop working on her feast day. Nope, she doesn’t sound too nice. . . . St. Gertrude of Nivelles comes through as kinder, a noblewoman who refused to marry and ended up as abbess of a convent. Again her life doesn’t seem to have anything to do with cats, but she was invoked during the bubonic plague and she’s sometimes depicted with rats. She’s also the patron saint of gardeners. . . . St. Ives, the patron saint of lawyers, is often depicted with a cat or, strangely, as a cat himself. Now what does that tell us about lawyers? . . . There’s always St. Francis of Assisi, a patron saint of all animal lovers and who once said, “All creatures are created from the same paternal heartbeat.” Gender-correct language wasn’t in place yet then; he was referring to God. Not surprisingly, there’s a cat story for him as well: During the bubonic plague, he was saved by a cat that sprang miraculously out of his sleeve.”

Why is it that some many are excited by the new Pope’s love for cats? It may be because most tyrants and despots in the history hated cats. Cats cannot be controlled. They do what they want and yet can show some semblance of affection. The Church’s teachings also come into play, particularly in a world where animals are abused and many species have been pushed to extinction.

Here is a cat who has apparently learned something of the value that belongs to prayer. We should never underestimate heavenly intercession, no matter whether it be for holiness or extra tuna. It seems that Cardinal Ratzinger has taught this kitty its CATechism quite well.

Cardinal Ratzinger’s Bavarian home has a walled garden where a bronze sculpture of the Virgin Mary gazes over beds of flowers across from a statue of a cat next to a sliding glass door. He would regularly holiday there. Back in 2002, he responded to a question about the care of animals, “That is a very serious question. At any rate, we can see that they are given into our care, that we cannot just do whatever we want with them. Animals, too, are God’s creatures.”

The universal Catholic Catechism states that “Animals are God’s creatures. He surrounds them with His providential care. By their mere existence they bless Him and give Him glory. Thus men owe them kindness. We should recall the gentleness with which saints like St. Francis of Assisi or St. Philip Neri treated animals. . . . It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly.”

popekitty21b

Where does the body of a PAPAL CAT go when it dies? The answer is easy, to the CATacombs under the Vatican of course!

Picture of cat watching tv courtesy of Friends of Roman Cats.

Picture of Pope Cat from ASHY1384 at AOL.

More Arguments with Anti-Catholic Bigots

I respond to negative comments from Jorge Ulate and Darren J. Cowley.

JORGE:  Where in the Bible does it say that the Catholic Church is the “church” established by Jesus? If I recall correctly Jesus established Jews to run his ministry. All the apostles, excluding one was not a Jew. So, how can this be? I am a Christian, now with all due respect. Can you answer me? So I would not be so confused. Or maybe I should convert to the right path— the Jesus way, not the Catholic.

FATHER JOE:  The Catholic Church has an unbroken apostolic succession going back to the first apostles. If you read Acts and the epistles of Paul it is obvious that the Church was expanding beyond members of the Jewish nation to include the Gentiles. When the Jerusalem faith community was largely destroyed, the gravity would move to the large numbers of Greeks and Romans. Peter and Paul had already gone to Rome and had become martyrs of the true faith. The historical continuity connects the Catholic Church to the Church directly established by Jesus Christ. Simon is renamed Peter or Rock and Christ promises to give him the keys to the kingdom, warning that the gates of hell would never overcome the Church. Only the Catholic Church still claims a leader who is a successor of Peter, the one we call the Pope. The Eastern churches are also connected to us and have all seven sacraments. The juridical break is over the Petrine See, notably the extent of the Pope’s authority. However, they too see their bishops as successors of the apostles. Christ is called the Way and the early Church also termed the Church as such. This makes sense since the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ. The word “catholic” means universal or worldwide. There is one Church instituted by Christ to perpetuate his ministry and to preach his truths.

HONEST DARREN OF AUSTRALIA:  The Catholic Church is well documented by secular authors as having killed 100 million people during the inquisition and dark ages.

FATHER JOE:  Not true, and what are these secular authorities? Anti-Catholic apologists and certain fundamentalists make such bloated claims, but they are hardly secular or unbiased. The inquisitions were largely civil affairs over which the Church had minimal control. Spain was the harshest and there were probably only seven million people in the whole country at the time. Rome censured them for their severity. The entire population of all of Europe might not have been 100 million. Stop telling lies or do some credible research and put an end to your libelous ignorance. A few thousand people may have suffered capital punishment. By comparison, since 1976, the United States has executed 1,321 people. The United States Catholic Conference of Bishops opposes the use of the death penalty.

HONEST DARREN OF AUSTRALIA:  These people are anyone who did not accept their spiritual authority on earth.

FATHER JOE:  No, these were people who were judged dangerous to civil harmony. The secular leaders viewed religion as a glue to hold their societies together. Spain fought hard to remove the Moslems from their nation and their inquisition sometimes targeted Jews. Freemasons were also regarded as a threat since they conspired against both the state and the Church. Eventually Protestant monarchs would repress the freedoms of Catholics just as Catholic leaders had sought to minimize the damage of non-Catholic factions in their nations. The Inquisition in Italy is regarded by all authorities as the most mild. Crimes were not just heresy but infractions for which today’s civil courts would also render punishment. Of 75,000 cases judged, some 1,250 may have received the death sentence.

HONEST DARREN OF AUSTRALIA:  They have never acknowledged this or apologized.

FATHER JOE:  It makes no sense for the Church to acknowledge your deceit. Having said this, the late Pope John Paul II regarded even one life as sacred and having incommensurate value, took the high ground and offered a series of “mea culpas” or apologies in the hope that others would respond in kind. Read his apostolic letter, TERTIO MILLENNIO ADVENIENTE. He writes: “Another painful chapter of history to which the sons and daughters of the Church must return with a spirit of repentance is that of the acquiescence given, especially in certain centuries, to intolerance and even the use of violence in the service of truth.” It was his hope that this new millennium might be less bloody than the last.

HONEST DARREN OF AUSTRALIA:  They are an abomination God. The pope is a sinful and corrupt man, he is not God and does not have any authority.

FATHER JOE:  Actually, your bigotry is the abomination. Your hypocrisy damages the Christian witness we are to offer the world. Calumny is a sin and yours is paraded for all to see. The Pope like all good men recognizes that he is a sinner and he has a Confessor. Like Peter, he is a weak man; but also like Peter, the sacred charge is given to him by Christ, all the same. The Pope does not claim to be God. He is the Vicar of Christ, the Servant of the Servants of God. You are probably the unwitting servant of the father of lies.

HONEST DARREN OF AUSTRALIA:  Spend time on your knees in prayer and read the Bible, and you will be led to the truth and a close relationship to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

FATHER JOE:  I read the Scriptures every day and pray throughout the day. As a Catholic, I have both a personal and a corporate faith in Jesus Christ. As a priest, I am God’s instrument in extending the saving works or ministry among men. Christ feeds his people. Christ forgives his people. Christ heals his people. Christ teaches his people. The Catholic Church is the New People of God!

Comments About Demons & Exorcisms

Msgr. Charles Pope recently blogged about pastoral considerations for people who might be battling demons. Some time back I wrote a post detailing an exorcism that was started here in Washington and concluded in St. Louis back in the 1940’s. Here are some recent comments sent to me about the issue of Exorcism, along with my responses:

Kylie – Father Joe, are there really people now-a-days that come in contact with the devil? Do people still have exorcisms preformed upon them? I am very interested in this kind of stuff and would really like to learn more information about it. Nowhere online does it really help me with my research on this. Is it only in the movies? Please contact me.

FATHER JOE:  Kylie, I would suggest that before studying evil, we should be well-versed in goodness. It is only in first knowing God and having a saving relationship with our Lord that one might research such matters with a degree of safety. It is not a subject for casual interest. Movies are often inaccurate and are geared to exaggerate so as to arouse fear. I would start with the Gospels. There you will find the full gamut of Christ’s ministry: teaching, healing, forgiving, exorcizing the demonic and raising the dead. Pick up the Bible.

Martin – I am 15 and want to be an exorcist because it interests me. I hope you reply. I could use the advice of someone with experience. I am lost in this world. I feel like this can help me find my reason to still live in this world.

FATHER JOE:  Martin, You cannot begin to help others when you cannot help yourself. A person who is lost cannot help a person find his or her way out from the grasp of the demonic. Every exorcist in the Catholic Church is a priest. Priests have the power to forgive sins. Never in the history of the world had God given such power to men. However, you must love God and feel that he has called you to a single-hearted love for him and his people. Our purpose in this world is to know God, to love God and to serve God. We will continue to give glory to God in the world to come. Can you give your life to Christ? Say your prayers, go to Mass and study the faith. If you feel at some point that God has given you a calling, see your local Catholic priest.

Edward – To read of the actual experience brings the educational level of one who watches the movie to a height that far dwarfs the power of fear that would otherwise take one further away from faith in God.

FATHER JOE:  Yes, the power of Christ is truly awesome!

Josh – Hi Father Joe, I would just like to ask what role guardian angels play in assisting the exorcism of the person they are charged with, or the protection of the exorcist to whom they are charged?

FATHER JOE:  Joshua, the guardian angels are always about praying for their charges. Of course, the good angels, like their counterparts the demons, are still only spiritual creatures. Their actions are limited by human freedom and the mysterious providence of God. The good angels are messengers of God’s grace, strength and will. Demons still have certain angelic powers but nothing of supernatural grace. That means that any confrontation is spiritually stacked against them. Not all angels or demons are the same, but the real power is always on the side of Christ.

Christian – Hi Father Joe, I believe that exorcisms should be allowed. What other way can they get help? I have never really seen one but I want to experience it. I want to be a help to these people God. Bless Father.

FATHER JOE:  Christian, while there is a need for exorcism to be practiced, you do NOT want to experience it. Such a desire, in itself, would invalidate you. We want to help people. But, in no way is an exorcism a worthwhile experience. Would you like to change the bedpans of patients in a hospital? Could you, hour upon hour, spend your day exclusively changing diapers for the elderly in a nursing home? Is that an experience you want? Exorcisms are far worse. The demons are spiritual excrement. They are vile and they will seek to contaminate you. You mean well but you really do not know what you are saying.

Colleen – Father, my daughter has been suffering from illusions such as people trying to kill her, etc. I have taken her back and forth to hospitals. She has been taken also to prayer warriors. Last night she argued with her boyfriend. Every time she argues, she gets these attacks. Last night was worse as it was dark and raining. She held a knife and wanted to stab anyone who came near her. She was speaking with sounds that I could not understand. The knife she was holding was shaking and her eyes were so red. I have never seen such during her attacks. Please help.

FATHER JOE:  What was the diagnosis given by the doctors? I am no expert on these matters and there is much in particular about this case I do not know. Has medicine been prescribed? If you feel the problem is a spiritual one then I would suggest going to see your local priest. He can pray over her for healing and spiritual deliverance. If this matter is more serious then he can take it to the appropriate diocesan authorities. I am not sure what you mean by “prayer warriors,” as we are all called to be such intercessors for one another. I would avoid anything that smacks of witchcraft or superstition. Such might seem to bring momentary relief but ultimately makes matters far worse. If she is a danger to herself and others then you must take serious steps and notify the authorities. I will keep you all in my prayers.

Charles – Several posters refer to The Rite and Fr. Gary Thomas. Father Gary is in a nearby parish. I attended a prayer breakfast with him and a Catholic group just after The Rite came out. The book ends with two exorcisms, one recurring and routine of an obsessed software engineer, the other of a Venezuelan girl who lived in the (adjacent) Diocese of Oakland (Alameda). The Bishop of Oakland asked for Fr. Gary’s intervention. The Venezuelan girl was totally possessed, he said. She’d been involved in jungle magic in Venezuela, and continued in black magic in the SF Bay area. When he sprinkled holy water on her in the rectory and began to pray, she “manifested.” Her face immediately changed to that of a monkey, she lunged for his collar, was held down on the carpet by her parents, where she writhed like a snake and screamed. Then she passed out. A few minutes later she woke up and had no memory of it. He called her in the following weeks for a full exorcism and she denied anything was wrong with her. He did not hear from her again.

FATHER JOE:  I have neither read the book nor seen the movie.

Edward M – You’re all a bunch a fakes! / You have no files of documentation! / You have no reports or films on camera! / You have no proof whatsoever! / What a bunch of fakers! / God rocks E.

FATHER JOE:  Some authorities do have documentation. I have shared parts of a journal here. But you are entitled to your opinion, even if it includes rudeness.

Responding to a Catholic Hater #3

EVETTE: The ones who are supposed to be so called mediators or intercessors for the people are child molesters. I thank God for the Church of God! I thank God that I can live a life free from sin at 30 years old. Since repenting of my sins 4 years ago, God has given me the grace each day to live sin free in a sin filled world. That’s the God I serve!

FATHER JOE: Hum, well this discussion is going quickly to mud-slinging. Most priests are good and holy men. You do them and the priesthood a great disservice with your slur. It is hardly a Christian attitude, dare I say even sinful? And yet, you still insist upon your own righteousness, despite such an unchristian manner. Christ is the Mediator and men ordained to his ministries participate in his one priesthood. As for intercession, it is true that priests pray for their people, indeed, all Catholics are expected to pray for the welfare and good of others, living and dead. I guess you pray for no one except yourself. The parameters for your private faith allow no room for anyone else to get in. Beware; it may even shut out Jesus. You say thank God for his Church and yet you attack his Church, the Catholic community of faith, the Mystical Body of Christ. You might not believe this, but instead of claiming a share in his “church” by faith and baptism, you want it all for yourself. The Catholic faith would pray for you, even forgive you. Your response to the Catholic Church is condemnation and hatred. That is not from God. I am not sure how you define sin, but despite your protestations to the contrary, I just do not believe you. You might avoid many of the more visible and egregious sins, but you can also commit transgressions in your thoughts and in your heart.

EVETTE: I don’t have to lie anymore, fornicate anymore, cheat and deceive anymore.

FATHER JOE: Are you sure you do not lie “anymore”? If so, then what we are dealing with here is either ignorance or self-deception. You say you do not “fornicate” anymore and that is well and good; but you would condemn me as a priest, even though I still cherish an unbroken virginity that I dedicated to the Lord many years ago. I am a celibate priest, like most priests, who lives out a single-hearted love of God, a love that expresses itself in worship and service. You may have accepted Jesus Christ four years ago as your Lord and Savior. You might have invoked the blood of the Lamb to wash away your sins. But it still matters what you say and do and think. Faith is not a club with which to beat others over the head. Faith is surrendering our lives into the hands of God and divine providence. The difference between sinners in the Church from those outside is that a believer is a sinner forgiven. I hear none of that in your arrogant witness.

EVETTE: 1 John 3:5-10, “and ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin. Whosoever abideth in him sinners not: whosoever sinners hath not seen him, neither known him. Little let no man deceive you: he that forth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinners from the beginning. For this purpose the son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever us born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that Loveth not his brother.”

FATHER JOE: Okay, I fixed of couple of typos, but I fear that it still is not an entirely accurate rendering of the KJV. Let me offer the New American Catholic translation for clarity sake (the translators were Catholic, Protestant and Jewish):

“Everyone who commits sin commits lawlessness, for sin is lawlessness. You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who remains in him sins; no one who sins has seen him or known him. Children, let no one deceive you. The person who acts in righteousness is righteous, just as he is righteous. Whoever sins belongs to the devil, because the devil has sinned from the beginning. Indeed, the Son of God was revealed to destroy the works of the devil. No one who is begotten by God commits sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot sin because he is begotten by God. In this way, the children of God and the children of the devil are made plain; no one who fails to act in righteousness belongs to God, nor anyone who does not love his brother. For this is the message you have heard from the beginning: we should love one another” (1 John 3:4-11).

We belong to Christ and this is distinguished against the “lawlessness” that belongs to any who oppose Christ (antichrist). We are not hostile to Christ but love him. Christians might not escape sin but they are aware that it damages or severs their friendship with God. Catholicism speaks about this as either venial or mortal sin. Those who remain in their sinful manner of life show that they really do not belong to the Lord. That is why we are called to be faithful. Such a state is sustained by faith and the abiding grace of God. The sacramental life and God’s mercy in the Church is a way for believers to maintain the “seed” or life in the Spirit. In other words, Christ is alive in them. It may be you read the wrong message in the Hebraic way of speaking, because such here does not support the notion of “once saved, always saved.” Faith can sour. Such is the terrible truth that has been realized, among the ministers and congregants of all the denominations, ecclesial communities and churches. Of course, as long as there is the breath of life, a repentant sinner can come home again.

Responding to a Catholic Hater # 2

EVETTE: In Acts 20:28, Paul speaks on the role of preachers and ministers to “…feed the church of God….” He didn’t say the Catholic Church; but feed the Church of God.

FATHER JOE: The word “Catholic” means worldwide or universal. St. Ignatius of Antioch used the word “katholikos” in his epistle to the believers of Smyrna written around 107 AD. The context makes it clear that the word was used for the Church as far back as the last quarter of the first century in the Christian era. This is the one-and-the-same Church as established by Christ and led by the Apostles.

EVETTE: Furthermore, there is no place in the bible where we are instructed to pray to Mary or any of the saints of old.

FATHER JOE: Asking saints to pray for us is no different than my praying for you. The saints are alive and they intercede for others; it is very simple and logical. The mystery of the resurrection means that mortal death does not bring an end to our existence and caring for others. Turning to Mary, the fact that many people open their hearts to her in prayer was prophesied at the Presentation in the Temple. “The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed’” (Luke 2:33-35).

EVETTE: Jesus said in Matthew 11:28, “come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” We are to cry out to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; all others are idols. The word admonishes us to “flee from idolatry” (1 Cor. 10:14).

FATHER JOE: Our Lord takes upon his own shoulders the yoke of sin so that we might know healing and forgiveness. Jesus is indeed the Prince of Peace. Catholicism has a central devotion to Christ; however, the Lord does not dismiss the corporate dynamic of faith, either. Jesus, himself, did not do everything alone but called to himself his apostles and disciples. He shared with them the truth and extended to his apostles something of his authority. Jesus teaches us how to pray and gives us the OUR FATHER. He also sends his HOLY SPIRIT upon the Church and we also pray, “Come, Spirit, come!” Would you reduce the other divine persons of the Sacred Trinity to idols? As I have explained many times, all prayer has as its proper object, almighty God. However, we can ask our brothers and sisters, living and dead, to pray for and with us. Just as a person might speak to a deceased spouse or parent while visiting a grave; we call upon the saints as members of our spiritual family. They are not worshipped and they are not false idols. Depictions of the saints are no more idols than a photograph of your child kept in the wallet.

EVETTE: Roman Catholicism is full of poison. In the Church of God, there is NO SIN. Can you say that about the Catholic Church?

FATHER JOE: The offers us the saving sacraments.  The Eucharist is the antidote to all the poisons of hate and selfishness.  The Church gives medicine for the soul, not poison.  The Church is holy because Christ is holy. Church members are sinners who seek the mercy of our Lord. Jesus called sinners not the righteous (Luke 5:32). The Church does the same. Do you regard yourself as perfect and without sin? If so, then I would suggest that you look at yourself closer in the mirror. The self-righteous Pharisee thought he was justified too, but he was wrong. He was also quick to condemn others. We read:

“He then addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. ‘Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’ But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted’” (Luke 18:9-14).

To be continued…

Responding to a Catholic Hater # 1

EVETTE: First we cannot pick and choose what and who we want to believe in from the Bible.

FATHER JOE: Well, yes and no, obviously the dispensation of Christ means we no longer have to follow elements in the Old Testament like the Levitical laws. There are also elements of immutable doctrine mixed with variable discipline.

EVETTE: Proverbs 30:6, “add thou not unto his words lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.”

FATHER JOE: Be careful who you call a liar. Proverbs 30 also says, verse 32, “If you have foolishly been proud or presumptuous—put your hand on your mouth.”

EVETTE: The catholic church is so focused on rituals, hail marys and acknowledging priests instead if God, that many souls are being led astray and lost under this false religion.

FATHER JOE: The liturgy begins with repentance, then the proclamation of the Word, next the Lord’s Supper that Jesus commanded to be done in remembrance of him. Every part of the Mass can be connected with an element of Scripture. Similarly, the Hail Mary prayer is a combination of the angel’s greeting at the Annunciation, Elizabeth’s insight at the Visitation and the Church’s response, loving Mary just as Jesus loved her. None of that is false religion. Indeed, it seems to me that you might be the poor lost soul in this discussion.

EVETTE: There is ONLY ONE CHURCH, ONE INTERCESSOR: Christ. 1 Timothy 2:5, “for there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” That church is the CHURCH OF GOD!

FATHER JOE:

Yes, this is true; there is only one Mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ. Catholicism does not deny the unique role of Christ as Savior and Redeemer. But your use of the word intercessor does not pass muster here. If you read just a few verses earlier, we find this text: “First of all, then, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered FOR everyone…” (1 Timothy 2:1). Praying for others or supplication is called INTERCESSION. Oops, I guess you missed that one. It is also true that there is one Church of God and it is my firm faith, in light of the apostolic transmission through history, that this is the Roman Catholic Church.

Beware of fundamentalism, Evette. If you make no distinction between doctrine and discipline then I am surprised we are even having this “conversation.” Just a few verses later, we read, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man. She must be quiet” (1 Timothy 2:12). My understanding of this is nuanced, but what is yours?

To be continued…

The Seven Beatitudes in the Book of Revelation

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Grace asks the following question: “Father, could you kindly explain the meanings of the Seven Beatitudes in the Book of Revelation?” Here is my reflection upon them.

Revelation 1:3“Blessed is the one who reads aloud and blessed are those who listen to this prophetic message and heed what is written in it, for the appointed time is near.”

Forming part of the greeting in this book of Scripture, it makes reference to God’s prophetic word that now is tthe appointed time.  The time is near when the Lord will appear in his glory. Like so much of this book, it strikes an apocalyptic tone. Harkening back to the Gospel message and the promises of Christ, it signifies that time is short, we must make ready for the coming of the Lord.

Revelation 14:13“I heard a voice from heaven say, ‘Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Yes,’ said the Spirit, ‘let them find rest from their labors, for their works accompany them.’”

The context here is the warning of three angels. Having admonished the pagan Romans to repent and worship the true God before it is too late; believers are consoled that if they remain faithful then their obedience or works will be a pleasing witness on their behalf before the divine tribunal.

Revelation 16:15“‘Behold, I am coming like a thief.’ Blessed is the one who watches and keeps his clothes ready, so that he may not go naked and people see him exposed.”

This beatitude is uttered at a more ominous part of the book. While there are certainly references to the persecution by pagan Rome, it has also been understood to point to a final reckoning. It is a time of false prophets and the infestation of demons. The antichrist wages war against the saints. After this blessing we are told that the kings will assemble in a place called Armageddon. True believers are urged to keep courage and know that even if all the powers of hell are waged against them and they only see death at every side, the Lord will come to save them. Christ has already conquered sin and death. But there will come a day when their effects will be undone. God’s people will not be abandoned.

The business about Christ coming as a thief at night is also often associated with our mortality.  Even if we are not personally alive at the end of the world, every death is the end of our mortal sojourn.  We need to be ready for our encounter before Christ and our particular judgment prior to the last or general judgment of all. 

Revelation makes allusions to the ancient plagues in Egypt at the time of Moses. But we have an even greater liberator in Jesus Christ.  We must be sentries for the Lord and stay awake. The reference to clothes is a reference to Genesis and the fall. After they had sinned, Adam and Eve hid themselves in shame because they realized they were naked. Apart from Christ we are all spiritually naked. As St. Paul tells us, we must be clothed in Christ. In the Lord there is no more shame or fear, just confidence and an ever-realized hope.

Revelation 19:9-10“Then the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb.’ And he said to me, ‘These words are true; they come from God.’ I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, ‘Don’t! I am a fellow servant of yours and of your brothers who bear witness to Jesus. Worship God. Witness to Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.’”

This beatitude is echoed in every Mass with the final elevation of the consecrated species; the priest says: “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.” A heavenly messenger is so filled with the divine presence that he must warn the visionary not to worship him. The scene is overwhelming. The previous verses speak of the bride who has been allowed to wear a clean linen garment, vesture which represents the “righteous deeds” or works of the holy ones or saints. This bride is the Church brought to perfection by her divine bridegroom, Christ. The wedding feast is the nuptial celebration of the heavenly kingdom. Christ is the Paschal Lamb who is now the Lamb of Victory. He has purchased the life of his bride with his own life. She has been washed clean by his blood. The angelic demand to worship God alone has been the faithful charge given the Church.

We are baptized into the spirit of prophecy, indeed we are reborn in the Spirit and anointed into Christ, priest, prophet and king. This theme of the marriage banquet and the Lamb of God is an integral element of Catholic worship. Our Lord made reference to himself as the Lamb of God, a truth realized between his Last Supper and the hill of Calvary. Every Mass is a celebration of the paschal mystery of Christ, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Again and again, we repeat these words every time we gather for worship. Jesus is made present and his sacrifice is realized or re-presented for believers today around the world. The mystery of Christ refuses to be locked in human history or any one place. It is a piece of eternity that intersects the linear time and world of mortal men, changing the meaning and direction of all salvation history.

Signified in his ministers, our Lord is the eternal High Priest and groom to his Church, his bride. Every Mass is a sacramental participation in the heavenly marriage banquet. The risen Christ comes to us in Holy Communion, giving us a share in the bounty from his table. One day sacred signs will pass, as will faith, and we will see face to face and know the one who has called us to share in his intimate everlasting love. This blessing is in regard to that union with God that Christ makes possible.

Revelation 20:6“Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over these; they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for [the] thousand years.”

There are a number of elements that make this book difficult to interpret. It is filled with symbolism and numerology. There are references to the old pagan Rome and also to the final judgment. Chronology is often confused by exegetes, particularly those who read it with a bias against Catholicism or because they want to connect modern-day figures or countries to the symbolic elements. Keeping all this in mind, what can we say about this blessing? First, there will be no literal thousand year earthly reign of Christ. The mention of a thousand years is not literal but signifies the extended period between the chaining of Satan (Christ’s resurrection and victory over sin and death) and the end of days or end of the world. We were reborn in baptism. We were granted a share in eternal life. Becoming temples of the Holy Spirit, Christ lives in us. At the end of the first millennium, many believers took the number literally and thought that Christ would then surely come. But the Lord comes in his own good time. Second, the Church would rejoice that many more souls might be conceived and come to faith in Jesus and have a share in his resurrected life. Just as Moses prophesied when he said that he would have a nation of priests, along with prophet, we are anointed with chrism as priests. Our baptismal priesthood joins us together as a nation of priests.

Verses seven to ten which follow speak of Satan being released: “When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison. He will go out to deceive the nations at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. They invaded the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the holy ones and the beloved city. But fire came down from heaven and consumed them. The Devil who had led them astray was thrown into the pool of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet were. There they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”

There are been similar visions in the history of the Church.  Although the story circulated for years from Vatican staff to others, one of the more influential tales has to do with Pope Leo XIII.  Back on October 13, 1884, Pope Leo had concluded offering Mass. However, when he turned around, he sudden froze in place. Other authorities claimed he collapsed down the few steps and went into a death-like coma. He stayed this way for ten minutes or so. The attending clergy raced to his side in fear for his health. When he got moving again, apparently in some shock, they quickly took him to his private rooms. He sat down at his desk and wrote what has come to be called the Leonine Exorcism Prayer or the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel. He would mandate that this prayer be appended to the “Low Mass” (unsung) of the Roman Rite.

What did the Pope experience during his mystical ecstasy? On the level of legend now, it is said that he claimed he could hear the voices of Satan and Christ in front of the altar and tabernacle. He described the voice of Satan as raspy and deep. The other was manly but soft and gentle.

Here is one version of the supposed dialogue:

The gruff voice boasted, “I can destroy your Church.”

The Lord challenged, “You can? Then go ahead and do so.”

Satan responded, “To do so, I need more time and more power.”

Jesus asked, “How much time? How much power?”

The devil said, “Allow me seventy-five to a hundred years, and a greater influence over those who will surrender themselves to my service.”

Christ consented, “So be it. You have the time; you will have the power. Do with them what you will.”

It is said the Pope claimed to have been shown a vision of demons released from Hell and with the purpose to corrupt souls and destroy the Church. Some suggest that this was all he experienced and the accompanying dialogue was a later embellishment. Fr. Domenico Pechenino, a priest who witnessed the event said as much in the 1940’s. He spoke about the look of terror on the Pope’s face, which had lost all color.

Now relegated to private devotion, although modern Popes have suggested but not demanded it’s restoration to the reformed liturgy, here is the edited or short version of Pope Leo’s prayer in vogue today:

“St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle, be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil; may God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust (or cast) into hell Satan and (all) the other evil spirits who prowl (or wander or roam) about the world for the ruin of souls. Amen.”

What have we endured in the century since the vision? We have seen the devastation of the French Revolution, the rise and fall of European Communism, Hitler’s Germany and the extermination of six million Jews and millions of others besides, Communist dictatorships in Asia and the rise of radical militant Islam. We have seen the massive defection from faith and the eradication of Christian values from Western society. During this century homosexuality became a civil right and abortion became a legal choice. More people cohabitate and fornicate than coming to the marriage bed undefiled. Babylon has returned and the remnant of the saints is again persecuted.  While not underestimating man’s capacity for evil, it certainly seems that the demonic has had free reign to numb sconsciences and to corrupt souls. 

Revelation 22:7-9“‘Behold, I am coming soon.’ Blessed is the one who keeps the prophetic message of this book. It is I, John, who heard and saw these things, and when I heard and saw them I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me. But he said to me, ‘Don’t! I am a fellow servant of yours and of your brothers the prophets and of those who keep the message of this book. Worship God.’”

This blessing at the end of the book parallels similar beatitudes at the beginning and later in Revelation: 1:3 and 19:9-10. The message is essentially the same: this is a prophetic and spirit-filled message from God, it rests upon the authority of John, and an angel of God exhorts that all who receive this message abide in it seriously. The repeated stress on worship is not incidental. Along with the heavenly hosts, our very purpose and the general thrust of creation is to give glory to God. Such calls us to know, to love and to obey the Lord. Our worship in this world joins us to the communion of the saints and to the choirs of angels.

The principal activity in the heavenly kingdom is to give glory to God. Here we may find a hint to the deadly sin of Satan. He refused to bend the knee to the Son of God, the one who would be made incarnate. He could seek to slaughter the Lamb of God but he would never render worship. There is an old saying, “Pride goes before the fall.” True for men, it might have significance as well for the fallen angels or demons. And yet, the pride might not be so much between themselves as angelic creatures and the divine spirit as it is with the Second Person of the Trinity who would join himself to material creation. Knowing that angels are of a higher order or hierarchy in the created order, one could easily imagine that the devil would be incensed that an ensouled “animal” of flesh and blood should suddenly trump them and be so honored as to become God made man, reflecting the face of the Father in the Son. God became a man so that men by grace might share in divinity.

Revelation 22:12-15“‘Behold, I am coming soon. I bring with me the recompense I will give to each according to his deeds. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.’ Blessed are they who wash their robes so as to have the right to the tree of life and enter the city through its gates. Outside are the dogs, the sorcerers, the unchaste, the murderers, the idol-worshipers, and all who love and practice deceit.”

While the reference to “dogs” was originally used by Jews about the Gentiles, here it means those outside the faith. We are called to be God’s children. “Sorcerers” are literally those seek to bypass divine providence and call upon the powers of the occult. The “unchaste” touches upon all those mentioned by St. Paul as excluded from the kingdom. Our Christianity demands a life of chaste and moderated love, safeguarding persons and not degrading others or ourselves with lust. Fornication, adultery, homosexual acts, etc. would fall into this category. “Murderers” refers to actual killers but also those who approve of taking innocent life, are passive to such acts. Those who betrayed Christians to the murderous persecution of Rome were murderers. Those who destroyed children as in abortion and infanticide (practiced by the pagans then and now) are also reckoned as murderers. The reference to “idol-worshippers” was a direct attack against the pagan religion of the Greeks and Romans. They could not worship idols of stone or the false deities they signified. Today, we would probably just argue that these deities did not exist in any form and that such worship was empty. However, it was the view of the ancient fathers that the deities of the pagans, while not gods, did have real existence as creatures, the demons. Thus, association with such false worship not only violated the Decalogue but placed one in bondage to Satan. The truth is also very important for the Church. Our Lord said that he came to testify to the truth. As for those who “love and practice deceit,” this is a stark warning to the believers of every age. We must be authentic. The word of a liar has no value. Just as the Lord keeps his promises, we must keep ours. God does not want part-time Christians. We must not simply go through the motions of discipleship. Every liar says with Peter in the courtyard of Caiaphas when asked about being a friend of Christ, “I tell you, I do not know the man!” Fortunately Peter had the opportunity to change his tune. Will we have time to do so?

As in the other beatitudes, we find the theme of Christ’s imminent return, judgment, reward to the just and punishment to evildoers. It has often amazed me that while some anti-Catholic apologists make so much of faith over works, the truth is that the two elements are intimately connected. It is not enough to say one believes. Faith needs to be realized with a movement of the will. There must be a genuine love of God that flows over into charity for neighbor. Christ is the eternal Word of God, the First and the Last. All creation must be consummated in him. The elect of God are depicted as in robes of white, washed clean by the blood of the Lamb. The damage of the old Adam has been healed by the new. Note that while original sin was connected to the forbidden fruit of a tree in the Garden, here too there is mention of a tree, the Tree of Life. This tree makes possible our return to a state of grace and communion with God. What is this Tree of Life? More recently Pope Benedict XVI has spoken about it as the saving Cross. Sin and death came into the world from a living tree; forgiveness and life were restored through the dead tree of the Cross. In other words, the saving work of Christ in his crucifixion has eternal consequences. Nothing will ever be the same. As pilgrims in this world, the fruits of that Living Tree are given to us as saving food in the Eucharist, rations from the banquet table of the Promised Shore and Kingdom. Immediately following the beatitude, there is an acknowledgment of those who are lost on the outside.

We are reminded of the foolish bridesmaids who in the parable allowed their oil to run out and were left outside the marriage banquet. We read in Matthew 25:11-13: “Afterwards the other virgins came and said, ‘Lord, Lord, open the door for us!’ But he said in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

There are also other teachings of Christ that refer to such judgment:

“I say to you, many will come from the east and the west, and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the banquet in the kingdom of heaven, but the children of the kingdom will be driven out into the outer darkness, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth” (Matthew 8:11-12).

“Then Jesus went from that place and withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, ‘Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.’ But he did not say a word in answer to her. His disciples came and asked him, ‘Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.’ He said in reply, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But the woman came and did him homage, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ He said in reply, ‘It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.’ Then Jesus said to her in reply, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed from that hour” (Matthew 15:21-28).

This last quotation connects with the word “dogs,” following this beatitude, actually a word that might be translated even more crudely. It would remind us that even the dogs might come inside from the cold and share from the table, if there is genuine faith, love and obedience. But the time grows short and soon it may be too late. There is urgency throughout these blessings and they are weighed against the possible terrible consequences of the curse and judgment.