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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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Fr. Suarez Does Healing Mass at Holy Family Church

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Fr. Fernando Suarez offered a healing Mass and service at Holy Family last night. We figure about 650 people came out. He is well known in the Filipino community.

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Here I am with Father Suarez on the rectory porch.  I heard confessions from 4:30 to 6:30 PM and made myself available for more after Mass.  Father Suarez offered the healing blessings to individuals in the church and then went over to the overflow crowd in the hall.

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The success of the event was all due to the many volunteers who set up for the event, gave hospitality to the priests and organized the parking and seating.  Chief among these is Monette Roxas-Tharp (pictured below) who took registrations and functioned as the parish coordinator.

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Priestly Celibacy – Awake for the Master’s Return

The bridal imagery sometimes worries us, particularly when connected to men. Of course, the female connection can also evoke nervous giggles, as if Christ is a patriarch who is awaiting his harem of many brides. The Church, as a whole, is the bride of Christ. It does not belong solely to the consecrated virgin or woman religious, individually or corporately. However, there is a spiritual sense in the context of the evangelical counsels that these virginal brides of Christ participate in the great mystery of betrothal just as the ordained priest participates in the high priesthood of Christ. The virginity of our Lord makes possible any and all Christian celibacy. Another bridal image that makes us nervous is that of Mary, who foreshadows all that the Church hopes to become. The difficulty here is the clash of titles. Mary is Mother and yet also reckoned Virgin and as spiritual Bride. Catechesis upon this point requires a degree of precision and discretion. The bridal image emphasizes that the woman’s hand has been given and that the marriage is certain. The bride belongs to the groom. The Church belongs to Christ.

A more common image that is applied to the celibate man is the biblical figure of a faithful servant, a steward or watchman, entrusted with his master’s business, awaiting his return. References in Scripture to the watchful sentinel refer not only to men who put off sleeping but who also dismiss the distraction of the marriage bed. While it has largely gone out of fashion, the use of a personal man-servant by wealthy men, like the comic book Alfred to Batman or the literary Jeeves to Wooster would help illustrate the point. He sacrifices his personal life for that of his master. The celibate priest is the ultimate man-servant, to Christ and to his holy Church. His is a radical response to the Gospel summons, ““Gird your loins and light your lamps” (Luke 12:35). He does not simply work a nine to five job; rather, his commitment is perpetual. He is always on call. Married clergy might do a fine job but they are forced by practical necessity to compromise this commitment. There are facets of their priestly service which they must departmentalize. As I heard one married priest explain, “When I am ministering to parishioners, I am pastor and Father with a capital ‘F.’  When I am home at the dinner table, I am husband and daddy or father with a small ‘f.'” It does not work this way with the celibate priest.

Rectory staff were surprised and amused years ago when my mother called and asked for me as “Father Jenkins,” but such was her respect for the priesthood. My brothers and sisters might call me by my first name, but no one else. It is even my preference that nieces and nephews call me Uncle Father Joe. I am always on duty. I keep a stole in my pocket and oils in the car. Like any good soldier, I keep my arsenal against sin close at hand. Continuing with a military connection, the Armed Services will often restrict volunteers for the most dangerous missions to single men without families. Similarly, the Church must engage in battle with the most dangerous enemy of all and so she calls forth celibate men to her priesthood. This minister of Christ is called to lay down his life for his flock. He belongs to no one woman but to a community of women and men. He belongs to Christ. Every time he processes down the aisle to the altar at Mass, he is Jesus entering Jerusalem to die.

Celibacy is about so much more than refraining from sexual activity, entering marriage and having children. It signifies the urgency of proclaiming the kingdom and the immediacy of Christ’s presence. The celibate priest is the genuine messenger who goes about his assigned task without looking back. Just as the apostles abandoned their father, the fishing boats and their nets to follow Jesus; he also wants to share Christ’s life and mission in a radical way. Our Lord promises to make them fishers of men.

Men are not angels but they can be angelic, an expression going back to the patristic period in the Church’s history. The word angel means messenger and thus, in mission but not nature, men can share with them the sublime duty of manifesting divine truth, glory and will. Angels are not hampered by weak bodies. They are free and move at the speed of thought. While men cannot match their metaphysical properties; the celibate priest is compelled not to tarry in God’s service because of any natural obligations proper to married men.

Priestly Celibacy – Eschatological Sign

When speaking about celibacy, St. Paul often becomes the point man in the argument. Nevertheless, the Gospels also give us much food for spiritual reflection.

Matthew 19:9-12 – “I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.” [His] disciples said to him, “If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” He answered, “Not all can accept [this] word, but only those to whom that is granted. Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.”

Jesus explains that many misunderstand the true meaning of marriage. Next he talks about those who were born eunuchs, those made so by men, and those who embraced such a life for “the kingdom of heaven.” We hear angry debates these days about homosexuals and whether they were born with the disorientation or it was inflicted by others through trauma or seduction. At least for the so-called eunuch, both scenarios are true. Jesus is acknowledging that some men are naturally inclined to a negligible sexual drive. Some critics contend that he actually includes homosexuals in this category of eunuch since by nature or intervention, they can only live a moral or holy life if they abstain from improper sexual relations. Slaves who watched over harems were sometimes made into physical eunuchs by the removal of their testicles. A similar practice existed in the Western world where young boys were castrated to preserve their high pitched singing voices. Such a practice would rightfully be condemned today as a form of mutilation. Jesus did not approve of such procedures; he merely acknowledged that these interventions happened. His real emphasis was upon the spiritual eunuch or virgin or celibate. The celibate is a living and visible sign of what we shall become when this world passes away and sacramental signs make way for the beatific vision and divine unity.

Matthew 22:30 – “At the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels in heaven.”

While we shall rise from the dead, like the angels, we will find our completion and union directly in God. There will be no more marriage or giving in marriage. We see this teaching also in Mark and Luke.

Mark 12:25 – When they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but they are like the angels in heaven.”

Luke 20:34-36 – Jesus said to them, “The children of this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. They can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise.”

Right now, in the mortal world, we must have children to insure the survival of the race. However, in the world to come there will be no more death. Like the angels, the number of men and women will be fixed. There will be no more propagation and thus no need for marriage. The celibate priest seeks a spiritual propagation through the conversion of souls. He finds his joy in the regeneration of new sons and daughters to the heavenly Father through spiritual adoption. Men and women will not become a homogeneous humanity in the risen life of the kingdom and neither shall we be strictly angels or ghosts. We shall share characteristics with angelic beings, no more suffering or death, friendship with God, etc.  But we shall be restored in body and soul.  Angels, properly speaking, were never born and have no physical bodies.  Just as not all angels are the same and they are ranked; it is my thought that maleness and femaleness will be ingredients in our demarcation. Of course, our matter has also been informed by our earthly life, our experiences, choices and perception. In other words, we will still have gender and our real selves will be resurrected; but it will be apart from marriage, the sexual drive and the generation of children. That plainly makes it all very different from how we currently understand, employ and struggle as physical-sexual ensouled beings. We count it as true because Christ has revealed it to us. Nevertheless, how it can be true and what it shall make of gender currently remains a puzzle to us. This is a far cry from the graphic and carnal afterlife imagined by many Moslem men in light of promises from the Koran. This makes the Catholic view one that is “in media res,” between a purely spiritual existence and one that merely mirrors, with some amplification, what we currently experience in the body.

Priesty Celibacy – Qualified to Speak on Marriage

No doubt due to the extensive infection of secular humanism, neither Christian marriage nor celibacy is popularly understood or lived out. People think they understand marriage and human sexuality when they actually do not. A person condemns celibacy because the lover left and he or she was forced to abstain. Celibacy is judged in light of their personal experience of abandonment, loneliness and sexual frustration. But, of course, what they endured was not true Christian celibacy. It is as upon the subject of spiritual poverty.  A materially rich person may live simply and exhibit tremendous generosity.  A poor person might be green with envy, dreaming dreams of wealth and a life of luxury.  His heart is troubled because he is only poor by accident or laziness.  This is all very different from a person who deliberately embraces poverty.  Celibacy can be similarly compromised.  There should be a harmony in desire and in action.

Moving on, a person might claim expertise in sexual matters, not because of any philosophical or ethical awareness, but because he has become practically proficient in the mechanics of “love-making.” I recall a person arguing that I was not qualified to prepare couples for marriage because I was not married. “What do you know?” she asked pointedly, “You have never been in love!”  She was presumptuous about my heart.  As she continued, her illogic both shocked and made me shake my head when she said, “I know all I need to know about marriage; after all, I was married three times before!” She must have thought that practice made perfect. Unfortunately, a history of failed marriages testified that she had not learned from her mistakes. It would be funny if it were not so sad.  If anyone needed the full regimen of counseling, she did.

Priestly Celibacy – The Virginity of Jesus & Mary

Part of the problem in discussions about virginity and/or celibacy is that most critics have only generic dictionary definitions about these disciplines. The Christian discipline is focused upon Jesus Christ and demands a graced calling. The discipline is not arbitrary. The consecrated virgin has a real sense of vocation to a life of purity and devotion to the Lord as a bride of Christ. The religious finds his calling within the context of community and a certain charism. The celibate priest is centered upon a drastic identification with Christ. He acts in the person of Christ. Our Lord’s celibacy is a profound mystery at the heart of his identity and mission. The celibate priest shares in this mystery. The practical living out of this gift can be assisted by temperament and personal discipline (self-control); and yet, such factors alone would not distinguish it from any secular version of celibacy. It is Christ and divine favor (grace) that makes it distinctive and meritorious. This Christian celibacy belongs to Jesus Christ. Just as the ordained man can participate in Christ’s priesthood; he can also have a share in his virginity. Christ is a divine person; but he is also a perfect man, the new Adam. Despite contemporary stereotypes, the perfect male, indeed the supreme witness of manhood, is in Christ’s virginal masculinity. This parallels the perfection of womanhood in the new or second Eve, the Blessed Virgin Mary. God’s providence is not capricious. Evidently, in the eyes of the Almighty, this quality of virginity and/or celibacy was vitally important for the incarnation. What many regard as expendable and optional was regarded by God as an important ingredient in the work of our salvation. Why is sex or the mechanism for human generation avoided at the incarnation, in the daily life of Christ and finally in his resurrectional appearance? Despite Discovery Channel sensationalists, there is not the slightest hint in the Gospels that Jesus enjoyed any sexual encounter or got married. It is against this backdrop that priestly celibacy seems not only likely but is interpreted as integral to the sacramental equation.

Many models for Jesus are put forward today. While most reflect the biblical witness, a number do not. Our Lord was not a failed zealot or revolutionary. He cannot be recast as a female Messiah as certain radical feminists seek to do. These postulations are a sampling expression of the subjective mentality today; but truth is what it is, not what we might want or imagine it to be. Jesus is not androgynous, containing within himself all male and female potentialities. Some in the East thought this was necessary given the maxim, “Whatever is not assumed is not redeemed.” But God can do as he likes and it is enough that humanity should be saved, not that every individualization of mankind should be immediately realized in the Christ. St. Thomas Aquinas was infuriated by the notion of androgyny.  The scholastics suggested that the distinction between male and female humanity might be a matter of degree, with maleness reflecting the greater or higher perfection of humanity. I think the answer rests instead with the special participation of the Blessed Virgin Mother. Together, we have the new Adam and the new Eve. Mary is preserved from sin by her Son and in turn given a singular role to play at the Cross where she surrenders Jesus, who himself, lays down his life for all of us.

Priestly Celibacy – Earthbound or Heaven Directed

We are not all the same. Personalities, drives, passions, weaknesses, temperaments, hopes and dreams vary among the members of the human family. There is a commonality with our humanity, but men and women are not like ants. We are similar but different. Siblings can grow up in the same household and yet be very dissimilar. We see this with religiosity all the time. We also experience this variation with human sexuality. I do not mean a distinction between heterosexuality and homosexuality. Rather, I mean the level of passion that drives men. Some men find it overwhelming while others know their sexual drive as a nuisance. Still others seem hardly bothered at all. Are these the “eunuchs who were so born from the mother’s womb” (Matthew 19:12)? It might seem that members of this latter group are immediately cut out for the life of a celibate priest; but there is much more entailed with a vocation to the priesthood.

There are various means of holiness and Christian discipleship. Restricting ourselves to this discussion, the Church seems to assume that virginity or celibacy is a more immediate sign of the kingdom, a more direct path than married life. While marriage signifies something of Christ’s relationship with the Church; marriage as an institution is heavily rooted in the material world. Men and women as bodily creatures are drawn to union. It is from this union that we have the creation of new corporeal beings. Husbands and wives are intensely aware of the need for shelter, clothing and food. The spouses become preoccupied with the necessary details of maintaining a home and caring for children. When they get older, one or both may have a special duty and devotion to provide for the medical and physical needs of the beloved. This may come down to providing for feeding, toilet needs and basic efforts at washing. Until death do they part, the emphasis is upon bodily persons. The celibate man, by contrast, is not preoccupied with such basic needs. He has only himself to worry about.  (Although he might embrace a life of such service to others, as with a hospice or missionary work.)  Generally speaking, though, he more easily looks toward non-material requirements and goals. No one completely escapes the reality of being earth-bound, but certainly the celibate is a powerful and evocative eschatological sign.

Father Joe with LaVar Burton & Kate Mulgrew

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Father Joe with LaVar Burton (Star Trek Next Generation/Roots/Reading Rainbow) and Kate Mulgrew (Star Trek Voyager/Warehouse 13/A Time for Miracles – Mother Seton) at Shoreleave in 2012.