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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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Happy All Hallows’ Evening


I was recently involved with a FACEBOOK discussion on the topic of Halloween.  A college student was challenged by his roommate that the celebration was “evil.”  His friend was a “born again” Christian.  He asked friends to shed light on the question.

A Catholic Reflection on Halloween

Halloween in a pluralistic society means various things to different people.  Indeed, given the contemporary fascination with vampires, werewolves, witches, ghosts and zombies, it might seem that Halloween is now a year-long celebration.  But the question at hand is a narrow one, does Halloween place superstition above authentic faith?  The dialogue is not only between Christians but must confront the values and meanings imposed by a liberal secular humanism and the emergence of modern paganism.

Questions of sectarian faith aside, we have also connected Halloween to the fall harvests, thus the symbols of pumpkins, apple bobbing, corn mazes, hay rides, scarecrows, owls, etc. Such a feast provides a fun dress up for children and the giving of candy, which reinforces the joy of childhood and the solidarity of the community in caring for them.

The Tension over Halloween

Certain reformed Protestants often object to Halloween because of its apparent preoccupation with the dead and their souls.  Remember, such believers reject purgatory and prayers for the dead. Other groups deny even the soul and hell, like Seventh-day Adventists.  Obviously, as Catholics, we cannot play along with arguments focused against our holy faith.  While we might regard ghosts as souls in purgatory, in their estimation the whole business is either a fantasy or a devilish deception.  Since Christ has destroyed death, any preoccupation with it is negatively judged as “popery.”  But Catholicism stresses both a personal and a corporate faith.  The saints live in a communion with Christ and one another.  The souls in purgatory are still part of the Church.  We pray for the poor souls just as we ask the heavenly saints to pray for and with us.  The bond of our unity is Christ, himself.

The so-called pagan foundation of Halloween (as in Samhain) is a modern exaggeration. The roots are actually Christian, or Catholic. The name Halloween is a derivation of All Hallows’ Evening or Eve. Neo-pagan religion, perverse occultists, and New Age believers would attempt to make it something else.  Catholic immigrants from countries like Mexico are also introducing the similar “Dia de los Muerto.”

Some have the peculiar notion that All Hallows’ Eve is a night where spirits or ghosts enact violence.  This is nonsense!  It is the made-up stuff of the occult and/or horror movies.  It probably has roots in the pranks played by juveniles while dressed up and moving from house to house.

Puritans and/or Calvinists associated prayers for the dead with witchcraft and necromancy.  Their religious descendants are still among us.  Today when we think of Puritans, the legacy of Plymouth Rock is tarnished by the legendary Salem Witch Trials.  Religious hysteria brought about the condemnation and execution of innocent women.  Each year witches, real and imaginary, pilgrimage to Salem, Massachusetts. Tourism soars as revelers come to celebrate the holiday.  This has even precipitated seasonal tension between Wicca or naturalistic pagans and those who perpetuate the caricature of witches on brooms. I recall that the Salem Knights of Columbus hall had to cancel contracts when they realized that renters were using their facility for genuine witchcraft, not the make-believe variety.  It is precisely because of such fears that a number of Christian communities have now utterly rejected Halloween.  Of course, certain Christian cults reject any holiday or special day that is not clearly scripturally based.  Others object just to be different from Catholics or to illustrate their disdain for Rome’s authority.  That means that a number of these faith communities do not celebrate Christmas, Easter or the Sunday Observance.

The fundamentalist Christian critic insists that Halloween is a capitulation of the Christian commission.  This seems to be a bit of a stretch, at least in terms of boys dressed as cowboys and girls as princesses.  My only regret is that I would have children yearn for Holy Communion as much as they race to fill their Halloween bags with candy.

While some Protestants politely agree to disagree with Catholicism and about the celebration of Halloween; other Christian groups condemn the festive day as devilish and pass out anti-Catholic “Chick Tracts” to the trick-or-treaters.  Still other Christians, like most Catholics, see nothing inherently wrong with children dressing up and collecting candy.  Certain Catholics and Protestants will pass out alternative treats, like crosses, prayer books, religious stickers, etc.  Concerned about the direction that Halloween is taking, a number of Catholic families and churches urge the children to dress up as saints.  I recall one little boy who was quite upset when Sister at school told him that he could not dress as a monster.  When Halloween came she pulled him aside, angry with his costume.  She lamented, “I thought I told you that you had to be a saint?”  He answered, “I am a saint, Sister— I’m John the Baptist… after the beheading!”

The weekend of our Halloween Party at Holy Family Parish, a lady rebuked me after Mass for celebrating the “devil’s holiday.”  If such were true then Christians could have no part of it.  But the case cannot currently be made.  Baptist and Catholic churches both have Halloween parties and trunk-or-treat activities in their parking lots.  As Christians our strength is in the Lord.  The children of light are in conflict with the darkness.  But the game is fixed.  There may be casualties who reject the Lord but the victory over sin and death is already accomplished.  We need no longer be the devil’s property.  We have been redeemed or purchased at a great price.  Jesus dies that we might live.  Prayer and the life of charity are the essential ways that we confront darkness.  God made the pumpkins, the spiders, the bats, the owls and us.  He made candy sweet and gave innocence to children.  God gave us the day and the night. Halloween belongs to God.

The negative critic feels that Halloween gives the devil a foothold in the lives and hearts of Christians.  However, as in our recent parish Halloween party, I saw selfless volunteers running games, cooking, and distributing goodies to children out of a Christian love for youth and their families.  The devil will have nothing to do with real love.

A Christian Understanding of the Symbols of Halloween

Some authorities trace the carved pumpkin to Irish folklore about a drunk who trapped the devil in a tree and carved a cross upon it.  Having made a deal with the devil never to be tempted again by drink, Jack was denied entry into heaven.  He was given a cinder of fire in a turnip for light.  Supposedly the turnip became a pumpkin in America.  The jack-o’-lantern became a visible against compromise with the devil.  It also serves the same function as the gargoyles on the Gothic cathedrals of Europe. They became a type of sacramental to invoke divine protection.

Scary costumes, like the carved pumpkins, fulfill a similar purpose.  These were cultural or folkloric ways in which simple people sought to ward off evil.  While it may be a bit silly, the notion that people had was that evil or dark spirits would be encouraged to pass over their homes and leave their communities undisturbed.  The assumption was that the demons might be fooled by the caricatures of themselves (kids in costume) into supposing that the area was already infested or occupied.  There is no real doctrinal weight to such a practice… just a desire to be holy and not molested by evil.  Today most people just dress up for fun.

The practice of trick-or-treating probably finds its roots in All Souls Day.  There used to be processions or parades on November 2nd.  Christians would beseech “soul cakes” (dried raisin/square bread) in return for saying prayers for dead family members.  They were mostly collected by children and the poor.  Each cake represented a soul being released from purgatory.  Dressing up and singing was often parting of “souling” from house to house.

Some Christians are unhappy with the symbolism of Halloween.  I recall one person angrily upset about skulls or skeletons.  However, this prejudice fails to appreciate that the skull is embraced by Catholicism as both an immediate sign of death and of our dependence upon God. It is used by the Knights of Columbus, in depictions of the crucifixion and even decorates certain European churches.   We do not worship death but are ever mindful of the price paid for our redemption.  Further, our time in this world is short.  The theme of death or mortality is one to which we return on Ash Wednesday. “Remember, O man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.”

It is unfortunate that venerable Christian symbols should be confused by the ignorant and bigoted as satanic.  I was in one parish where a shrine to St. Peter was vandalized, not by crazy kids or occultists, but by Christian fundamentalists.  They ripped the inverted cross from the ground and argued that it was a sign of Satan and of the antichrist.  You still hear such foolishness about the upside-down cross on the back of the papal chair.  But the bigots misinterpret an ancient symbol of martyrdom.  St. Peter did not feel worthy to die like his Lord so he asked his executioners to crucify him with his feet in the air and his head toward the ground.  Critics make a mockery of an inspiring witness to Christ.

Catholics also venerate the relics of the holy dead, wear medals and scapulars, carry and say rosaries and use holy water.  These are not talismans or the accidentals for magic.  Rather, they are visible signs of our faith in the incarnate God, the God made visible in Jesus Christ.

Keep Christ in Halloween

We read in Philippians 4:8-9:  “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you.”  Christians are committed to the pure and the good.

This might make us reflective of the spiritual elements attached to the secular commemoration of Halloween. We cannot buy the entire package. However, it may yet be reclaimed for Christ. The Christian effort is to Christianize the world, not to run away or hide in a spiritual ghetto. Certainly, there is innocence about children dressing up and finding delight in sweets. My growing reservation is about where adults are taking the festivity. Catholics and significant numbers of other Christians offer alternatives to trick-or-treat and spend All Hallows’ Eve at church worshipping God and recalling the witness of the saints in Christ. I agree with the criticism that there are sinister undercurrents that are seeking to hijack the expanding season of Halloween. As a child I dressed as a clown, a cowboy, an astronaut and as a superhero. It troubles me to see children attired today as characters from “R” rated horror movies. Why do they even know anything about these murderous and blasphemous characters? I am repulsed “personally” by the sleazy costumes that cast derision upon priests and nuns. Adult costumes, especially for females, increasingly celebrate vulgarity and eroticism. If Christians cannot redirect the fun away from these elements then it is true (I would agree) we might have to opt out entirely. It may be that Halloween is escalating in the direction of the occult and vulgarity.  Maybe we as good Catholics and Knights need to campaign for Halloween as we would for Christmas?  We also need to keep Christ in Halloween.  All Saints’ assures us that we can have a share in Christ’s life and in the kingdom.  All Souls’ reminds us that while we are sinners, God is infinitely merciful.  What he has started in us, he will finish.

Halloween Party for Families


We had a wonderful Halloween Party for families and children at Holy Family. Many thanks to the Knights of Columbus and Parish Volunteers. Over 170 people came out!


Faith & Values in the News

Black teen sues over arrest after buying $350 designer belt

If the store had no part with the police questioning and arresting him for a belt he legally bought, then who tipped off the authorities? Somebody at the store must have called it in. Sure sounds like discrimination to me!

O’Reilly: The Holy Spirit inspired “Killing Jesus”

I have yet to read Bill O’Reilly’s book, KILLING JESUS. It was recently brought to my attention and I really do not know anything about it. His KILLING LINCOLN and KILLING KENNEDY books made a lot of money. I hope this is motivated more by a desire to share faith than to advance greed. A number of religious critics say it is filled with errors. I guess I will have to read it for myself. The book purports to emphasize the humanity of Jesus. Christians need to keep the proper balance that Christ is a divine Person who became a man so as to offer his life to save us. St. John tells us that Jesus laid down his life— it was not taken from him… he takes upon himself the cost of sin (suffering and death) so that we might have a share in his victory and life. My biggest worry about such writings on Jesus is that, as the Pope Emeritus Benedict has said, “Theology requires humility.” No matter whether you agree with him or not on political issues, O’Reilly has made a name for himself with his posture of arrogance. That is not how we can approach matters of faith. I wonder, how much did he write, and how much is the work of his co-author?

U.S. Treasury Marks ‘Historic’ Single-Day Record for Debt

Both parties are responsible for this mess. The debt ceiling is long passed and a joke. How will we ever pay back trillions of dollars in debt? When will government learn that it can’t have everything it wants. The many crushing taxes (federal, state, county and municipal) have become a form of stealing. But government takes more and more from the same well. The national debt is compounded by state and county money troubles. This represents a genuine moral issue. Such debt fits the definition of sin. If there were ever a need for smaller government, it is now. Generations of Americans will pay a terrible price for our negligence today.

Bishop obeys govt order to remove Catholic school teaching on sinfulness of homosexual acts

I suspect that worldwide we will see an escalation of such conflicts. Once we take public money, we open ourselves to manipulation from the secular state. Of course, there are situations where the invasion of the new morality (or immorality) is forcibly imposed… as when church properties and schools are nationalized or as in the religious liberty fight over HHS healthcare policies. From Boston to Washington, the regulations mandating homosexual inclusion have forced Catholic Charities to shut down its adoption services. It has amazed me that no one has said anything about the government using Catholic schools as polling places… even when there are crucifixes on the wall and pro-life posters (artwork) drawn by the kids. There are critics who are determined that the Church and biblical teachings will have no place or weight in the public forum.

Sister Antonia Brenner dies at 86; nun moved into Tijuana prison to tend to inmates

An incredible woman who proves that God’s grace can empower us for others even though our own brokenness. Rest in Peace!

Miss World: ‘I’m pro-life’ and ‘Sex is for marriage’

A wonderful witness!

Food stamp glitch leads to Wal-Mart stampede

The store was wiped out because of a glitch? No, it was wiped out because of the greed and dishonesty of shoppers. Such is the result of an entitlement mentality where people take as much as they can get and fail to appreciate justice. Free stuff is the cry of the mob. Such is an offense against businesses and working families who pay their way.

Catholic Charities rejects controversial ‘Ghost burger’ donation

Some people have no good sense.

Mailman fired for throwing away Obamacare mail

Delivery of the mail is a sacred trust. Our society is becoming way too polarized and politicized. We see this in crimes like this and in ridiculing or silencing the voices of people we do not want to hear.

Cardinal Eijk sanctions a priest for excessive liturgical creativity, so why is the cardinal the bad guy?

The Cardinal did what he had to do.

Elementary school cancels Halloween due to ‘religious overtones’

I have fond memories in public school of coloring pumpkins with my crayons… and witches, too. I also liked scarecrows, bats and owls! Talk about party poopers!

Vatican tells bishops not to reform faster than Pope Francis

Yes! It is definitely time to put on the brakes! Giving sacraments to people living in sin is not the answer.

‘Painless death’ or ‘precipitous cliff’? Transsexual chooses euthanasia after failed operation

Look where our nightmare world has taken us!

The Pastor’s/Chaplain’s Reflection: Immaculate Conception

The Mystery of our Lady as the Immaculate Conception is one that speaks to the Church about the identity of Christ and the sanctity of life. Things are not preserved from sin or forgiven, only persons. This dogma reminds us that human life and personhood begins at conception!


Mary is preserved from sin from the very first moment of her existence in the womb of St. Ann. This honor was shown her since the All Holy One would enter our world through her. It would not be fitting that the one who is the source of holiness should be touched by sin in the womb. Therefore, our Lord comes into the world through a sinless vessel. Mary calls the Lord her Savior, not in future tense, but present. The saving work of Jesus on the Cross reached backward into human history and embraced this precious daughter of Israel. That same saving power touches us, forward in time, through faith and baptism. Mary remains the Immaculate Virgin and Mother who intercedes for her spiritual children, we who are still so caught up in their weaknesses and sins. Mary is always about bringing others to her Son.

This appreciation of Mary as the Immaculate Conception is intimately linked to another title of Mary— that she is the NEW EVE. She cooperates in a unique manner with the work of her Son. Just as sin entered the world through a man and woman; now in Jesus and Mary we have a new Adam and a new Eve who are ever faithful. Mary utterly cooperates with the grace that fills her. She never sins but as the faithful handmaid at the Annunciation, always says YES to God.

The image we venerate acknowledges this role and the symbolism in the Book of Revelation. She stamps upon the head of the ancient serpent. This past week Pope Francis consecrated the world to her Immaculate Heart. We pray for peace. We pray for the conversion of hearts and minds.

May we also consecrate ourselves as loving children of Mary— brothers and sisters to Jesus— adopted sons and daughters of our heavenly Father.

Father Joseph Jenkins

Marian Prayer Program: Immaculate Conception Image


The Immaculate Conception icon or image remained on display through Wednesday night, October 16 for services that began at 7:00 PM. We changed the order of the service, starting with a Rosary as is our usual practice. Mass would have been held at 7:30 PM but our chaplain was called away for the meeting of the Bishop McNamara Chapter of Grand Knights in North Beach, MD. He left copies of his reflections. The prayers were adapted as part of a Communion Service presided over by Deacon Tyrone Johnson, a Council member. Knights assisted and participated along with other parishioners. Given that the Rosary had already been offered, we inserted the Novena to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal which is our usual Wednesday night practice. Prayer booklets were distributed and prayer cards were handed out. Thirty-five were in attendance. Two Color Corps members participated.


When the service was over, the prayer booklets were collected and the image and accompanying kit was picked up for use in the next council. Fifty-one people participated in the two services. No money was collected nor was there any social activity in accordance with Supreme’s rules. The Grand Knight recorded the council’s program in the log book that accompanied the image before sending it on to the next council.

Marian Prayer Program: Immaculate Conception Image


The Immaculate Conception Prayer Program

The Immaculate Conception Prayer Program began August 7 at the 131st Supreme Convention in San Antonio, Texas. This program features an image of Mary as the Immaculate Conception, which is a copy of the original painting that is housed in the Cathedral Basilica Notre-Dame de Quebec in Canada. The church and the Archdiocese of Quebec are celebrating their 350th anniversary in 2014.

The Immaculate Conception Prayer Program is the 16th Marian Prayer Program sponsored by the Knights of Columbus, beginning with the first program – honoring Mary under her title of Our Lady of Guadalupe – in 1979. In preparation for the 1982 Centennial of the Order, the second prayer program was initiated, which also highlighted the Immaculate Conception. Since then, the Blessed Mother has been honored by her Knights under her titles of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Our Lady of Czestochowa, Our Lady of Pochaiv, Our Lady of the Assumption, Our Lady of the Rosary and Our Lady of Charity.

These Orderwide programs of Marian Prayer have gathered together more than 16 million people at some 140,000 prayer services conducted at local councils and parishes.
Our District Deputy, Joseph Massimini notified that the state was available to the Third District. We alerted him that we wanted to participate in the Marian Prayer Program and we scheduled the event. It was announced at Holy Family Masses.

The image was delivered to Holy Family Parish/Father Kidd Council, Mitchellville, MD, on Monday evening, October 14, 2013 by Brother Knight Massimini following use in another parish and council. He met with our chaplain, Father Joseph Jenkins and the icon was set up in the parish church.

The icon/image was on display Tuesday morning, October 15 for 8:00 AM Mass. The general intercessions from the prayer service were utilized in place of the regular Prayer of the Faithful. It was the feastday for St. Teresa of Avila. Father spoke about how, along with St. John of the Cross, she was influential in the reform of the Church. At the end of the liturgy, our Grand Knight, Manny Rodriguez passed out the prayer cards associated with the program. The Rosary was recited immediately after Mass. Sixteen people were in attendance.

How a Celibate Priest Looks at Women

Friends have joked from time to time that I seem shy in public. What they mean is that I tend to look at the ground. I am not the only priest who does this. What they interpret as shyness is something more or quite deliberate. Many of us were taught or picked up from other priests what was commonly called a concern for the “custody of the eyes.” The proverb is quite true that “the eyes are the windows to the soul.” Men are both visual and tactile. We like to see and to touch. This starts with childhood. A little boy sees a cookie and his eyes open wide with delight and he immediately reaches for it, even if it is forbidden by his mother because it will spoil his supper. The man appreciates that there are sweeter delights than cookies and candy. The hormones kick in, we pass through puberty, and suddenly we are all eyes and maybe hands for the girls. Women might be drawn to the fact that a priest is one man who does not treat them as a sexual object. He is regarded as safe and as a spiritual man. This is as it should be. The priest wants to save souls, and in this he must regard men and women as the same. More than this, he must give every woman the same regard— young and old, smart and dull, fat or skinny, attractive or ugly, etc. He must look upon them with the eyes of Christ. Nevertheless, the priest is still a man.

I recall that one sensitive woman became hurt because the local priest seemed to have time and eyes for everyone but her. He would glance at her and look away when he talked. She complained that he did not like her. The woman was quite wrong. He liked her very much, too much. The priest thought she was intensely attractive. He looked away so that he might not look her over, up and down. Women can also become upset if they should notice or suspect that a priest (like other men) is devouring them with his eyes. Flattery for one is deep disappointment for another. The priest is concerned about such impressions. He is also worried about his own soul. That is one of the reasons why I (along with many other priests) avoid beaches and public pools. Scantily clothed women make the proper custody of the eyes almost impossible. These images linger in the mind and what enters the mind can quickly move to the imagination.

Priests face many hurdles, but by the grace of God we remain strong and resilient. Celibacy is but one area of challenge but it is a crucial one if we want to continue as shepherds of Christ’s flock. We are faithful, obedient and do our duty.

As a priest mindful of his duty, I am drawn to Robert Frost’s Poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” A stanza reads:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Priestly Celibacy: A Truth Some Discover the Hard Way

A number of years ago, I had regular association with seminarians. As a young priest, I discovered certain truths which I lamented were not shared with me in my own formation. I passed them on to these good men. The most pressing of these revelations was that the seminarian and priest had less to fear from the bad girl as they did from the good one. Clergy are religious men, generally turned off by overt seduction, fragrant immodesty and sexual vulgarity. However, their hearts are very vulnerable to the woman whose piety is reflective of their own. A pretty girl who loves the Church and the priesthood can very quickly start loving one particular priest. Priests are men and their temptation is ironically found in their seriousness. A religious woman, modest and demure, will come to the priest for spiritual guidance and the sacraments. She will be the first to volunteer and the last to go home. She will sympathize with the priest and defend him against his critics. She never misses Mass and expresses how she is deeply moved and enriched by his preaching. In short, if priests could marry, she is everything he could ever want. He seeks, within the sphere of ministry, to be a father-figure and spiritual physician for her soul; but according to nature, a part of him begins to long for physical intimacy with her, for a shared life, and for a home where he could claim her as wife and mother to his children. The priest has no choice but to minister to her and other women like her. We cannot neglect the very ones most drawn to the faith. However, the priest must be honest about his emotions and very circumspect about his actions. He must not fool himself— this woman is dangerous to his vocation as a celibate priest. And he might pose a threat to her. No excuses can be tolerated so that he can spend more time to be near her. The priest needs to focus less on friendship with such a woman and more upon his duty to her as a priest. His energies must not be directed exclusively toward her. His promise mandates that as a priest, he should remain morally strong, for his own sake, for hers and for the larger believing community. Along with others, he gives her the sacraments; but he should not go out of his way to give her special favors and gifts. The Eucharist is enough for her; anything more constitutes the beginnings of flirtation. He might presume that she is safe with him; certainly more so than with other men who would quickly take advantage of her. But he is lying to himself and placing them both at risk. Unchecked, one day they notice their eyes upon one another and there comes the full awakening of what they have done. He holds her hand or gives her a quick embrace or maybe they even share a tender kiss, and a boundary line is crossed. It is still not too late but to break it off now will wound them both, possibly for a lifetime. He could have spared them both something of this pain. Some priests will leave ministry and if there is marriage, the woman will always carry guilt. She will think, “Did I cost the Church the services of a good priest? Did I selfishly steal him for myself?” If the priest makes distance, then they will be haunted by a love unfulfilled and a friendship that was needlessly destroyed by their weakness. There is a lesson learned. Sometimes you cannot be with the person you love. You cannot have everything you want. We usually associate love with presence and union; however, there is a sacrificial love that lets go or surrenders the beloved. Many priests have had this experience and can say, even many years later, “I loved her so much, I let her go.” Such a business can take a man to the Cross. One priest confided that he accidentally ran into a girl that he had fallen in love with over a quarter of a century earlier. It tore him up inside but he made distance from her to preserve his priesthood and to protect her honor. She was very cordial and introduced him to her husband and children. He tried desperately to keep tears from his eyes. Afterwards he was visibly shaking. Although older he thought she was still beautiful. All his old feelings returned and he spent the night in tears. He realized that he still loved her, that he would always love her. She could have been his. Her children could have been his children. But they went their separate ways. She was happy and had her family. What did he have? Hopefully he would look upon his years of priesthood with a sense of accomplishment and joy. Quickly as possible he needed to shrug off the ghost of unexplored potentialities. The fact that he had not ruined her life should have given him a degree of peace. He did the right thing, for both of them.

Priestly Celibacy: In Order to Be Loved, We Need to Love

If the priest feels he has no one who really loves him, he may respond in kind and stop loving. When this happens the priest begins to die. The very meaning of his celibacy and priestly service is as a formula of loving. He should realize the love of Christ on the altar and upon the Cross. Just as muscles weaken with inactivity, a priest’s spiritual heart atrophies if he avoids loving. This can also happen with priest-transfers. It hurts to constantly make friends and then move on. He might reach a stage where he stops loving those around him so as to avoid being hurt again. Complicating the situation is the general understanding of love. The word has too many definitions and yet, in practice, is often immediately and popularly equated with romantic situations. The priest (and the Church he serves) must allow himself to explore the myriad colors of love that are in sync with his vocation as a celibate priest. The issue of scandal, first with defections for relationships with women and second with a failure to adequately protect children, has precipitated a forced dissipation in the priest’s fatherly associations. In the tradition of Don Bosco and Father Flanagan, priests interceded for the needs of children and spent time with them. The ever tightening policies and fear of litigation have stripped the priest of this sacred trust and have thus diminished both his effective value and his satisfaction from ministry. The circle of religious brothers and sisters, as well as other priests, has been devastated by the diminutive nature of current vocations. Like a bubble that has popped, he is no longer surrounded by these supportive relations. The general air of hospitality and volunteerism exhibited in parochial settings has been increasingly strained by recriminations and suspicion toward clergy. The priest is no longer welcome in every home and those that do extend invitations might seek to link their generosity to a manipulative favor, often to the detriment of another parishioner. When the pastor fails to comply or refuses to share secrets that fuel gossip, he is summarily dismissed, never to cross their threshold again, barring the possibility of last rites. Even requests for sick calls are fewer than in the past and are frequently redirected to extraordinary ministers.

Eros is denied the priest, at least in its extreme and consensual manifestation; but also weakened are paternal love and fraternal love. Society as a whole and the Church authorities strip away the priest’s supports leaving little or nothing to replace them. It is no wonder the married-priest movement is picking up steam. Platters are becoming empty and priests are hungry for friendship and sharing love.

Nevertheless, with all the contemporary hurdles, most celibate priests are happy, even if increasingly lonely. They find real and sustaining satisfaction from prayer and worship. While they take care of many, there is an indescribable delight over the absolution given individual sinners. God has entrusted them with the authority to forgive transgressions, great and small. With a gesture and a few words, they can steal the damned from the devil. They have power over hell. Never in the history of the world had Almighty God given such power to men as he did to his priests. He can draw God down from heaven and place him upon the altar as our food and he can plant his Spirit and grace into human hearts, transforming a sinner into a saint. Good priests are always in awe of that with which God has entrusted them.

Priestly Celibacy: Challenges to Priestly Fellowship

I have already spoken about the need for close friendships among the presbyterate. The priest shortage and the busy lives of clergy make this increasingly difficult. But there is another factor that damages efforts at fellowship among clergy and that is ambition or careerism. I have always thought that such was poison to the essence of priesthood as servant. Nevertheless, men get caught up in titles, positions of honored trust, desires for influential parishes and dreams of the purple. The best bishops battle this attitude in their priests, insisting upon hearing their opinions and urging against “yes-men.” Ambitious men might distance themselves from certain assignments and from brother priests who are seen as an embarrassment or possible roadblock to their desired promotion. They fear guilt by association. There is also the dilemma of dishonesty. A priest could be afraid to share personal struggles and feelings because tongues might wag and his reputation would be tarnished. A priest might have personality quirks and phobias. He is relegated to special ministry or a hospital. He wants to be a pastor but he is not trusted. No one shares the truth with him. Rather, he is given feigned praise for his dedication to sick calls or even with secular matters like cutting the grass or watching the boiler. Whatever the reason, certain priests find themselves distanced from their brother priests. This intensifies their eccentricities and their experience of loneliness. Such might also amplify their struggle with feelings of inadequacy and self-worth. Priests should not be so self-possessed that they ignore the needs of others, either parishioners or brother priests. Given the scandals, the current atmosphere is not a healthy one among priests and their bishops. One case of injustice, even if only apparent, resonates in a negative way throughout the presbyterate. Priests view themselves as very vulnerable to allegations and gossip of any kind. This effectively shuts down communication or dialogue. I recall one priest literally bragging about his disclosure to the bishop of what he presumed to be a secret sin or scandal of a brother priest. When I asked if he had privately discussed his concern with his brother, he said no. I was very blunt, which wins me few accolades, and told him that he wronged his brother in ministry. His allegations were proven to be largely groundless and a good man suffered needlessly. He was trying to win points as a squealer; instead he should have followed the Scriptural pattern where Church censure is the final appeal. Both men, in this instance, were now needlessly alienated from others in the presbyterate. Who will share anything with a man who only tattles? Who will seek active fellowship with a man charged with scandal and immorality? Priests need to preach and witness to what is right. But they are fundamentally ordained as healers. If we forget this, then we have lost sight of a truth that resides at the very heart of the priesthood.