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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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The Pope & Questions About Poverty, Politics & Popularity

SIMON: Hello, Father!  In the beginning I have to mention that I try to be a devout Catholic every day. I believe the Pope is the Father of the Church appointed by Christ. But sometimes I have those thoughts, which keep eating at me inside. I’m very sorry in advance as I know these are not appropriate thoughts for a Catholic to have. I feel guilty for that. I pray that these thoughts would go away and leave me alone; but they keep coming back (sometimes even during the Mass, which is quite frightening for me).

FATHER JOE: It is okay to ask questions.  As believers, we should focus on matters of faith and seek to grow in the Lord.  As for attending to the Mass and better participation at worship, maybe a better understanding of the elements and prayers of the liturgy would help keep your mind from wandering?

SIMON: I sometimes think: 1)  If we are followers of Christ then as the Church teaches, we should try becoming more like Christ every day. Christ lived modestly, as we know, and even in poverty. How is it that so many people today are in hunger and poverty while Pope is an extremely rich man provided with everything that he needs. He even has (or had) a Harley-Davidson. Many people could feed their children from the money of Vatican administration. People in poverty could live for a year from the money you would get by selling a Harley-Davidson bike.

FATHER JOE: First, the Pope is “personally” very poor and most everything he has belongs to the Church. Pope Francis, in particular, has very simple tastes. Second, the motorcycle was given the Holy Father from the Harley-Davidson Company to celebrate their 110th Anniversary. The Pope sold it at auction for the Caritas Roma Charity. It went for $327,000. In addition, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle jacket signed by the pontiff sold for $77,485. Money from the sale of the two items went to benefit a hostel and soup kitchen at the Termini train station in Rome. We must be careful not to make allegations that would misjudge the Holy Father. We would not want to add our voices to those who wrongly condemn. Third, the Church is a worldwide organization and as such she must have income to sustain buildings, pay salaries and operate. While there are isolated cases of hypocrisy, many critics wrong the Church which does more globally for the oppressed, poor and hurting than any other institution.

SIMON: 2) Christ was open to everyone he met. How come it is almost impossible to meet the Pope? It seems sometimes like his time is only reserved for “more important” people. In front of God and Christ, shouldn’t every life be equally worthy?

FATHER JOE: I am perplexed by this assertion.  This is the Pope that takes great personal risks in going out to people. He is only one man and there are a billion Catholics. He could never knock on every door.  Are you upset that you have not met him?  Do you feel that this somehow makes you unimportant?  I can assure you that the Pope and the Church cares about you and everyone else.  Everyone has value.  All life is incommensurate.  This is the Pope that washed the feet of juvenile delinquents for Holy Thursday. This is the Pope that served food at a shelter. Similarly, other Popes reached out to the crowds, kissed babies and showed that they care. The late Saint John Paul II even got shot because he wanted to be visible to his flock. Do you understand how vulnerable this makes them? As for our Lord, he did go out to the marginalized, the poor and the oppressed. But he was also silent when placed before Herod. His words might mean conversion, mercy and life. His silence passed a deadly judgment upon the tetrarch. We will all be judged.  Because of this, we must all be careful in judging others.  Do we have the mind and heart of Christ?  Are we unselfish?  Can we see past our own sins?  Is our own posture that of utter humility?  I would not want to judge the Holy Father either from ignorance or malice. He is Christ’s Vicar on earth.

SIMON: 3) Why is Pope dealing with politics? I understand his intentions for a better and more peaceful world but isn’t it bit unfair— in front of God’s face— to take sides? Jesus never dealt with politics— did he?

FATHER JOE: What do you think got Christ crucified? The charge is even placed over his head on the Cross, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” The crowd disowned him and shouted, “We have no king but Caesar!” Pilate was not the servant of the Jews but the procurator for the empire of Rome. When Jesus told them to love their enemies and to forgive those who hurt them, he was speaking a morality that was immediately translated into politics. After centuries of persecution, the Church would arise as the religion of the state. The Pope is the sovereign leader or head of the smallest country on earth, the Vatican, which rests in the heart of Rome. He even has his own representatives at the UN. More importantly, he is the visible head of the Catholic Church and it is vital for Christianity to make an impact upon world politics. The Church speaks against persecution, slavery, abortion, injustice, unwarranted aggression, poverty and oppressive economic systems, etc. She defends human rights, including religious liberty. Our faith must touch all the elements of human existence. We are not just Christians when within the walls of our churches. Ours is a jealous God. The testing of the coin is often misunderstood. Christ is asked if it is right to pay the tax to Rome or not. Rome was the occupying power and government. Jesus never answers the question but takes a coin and asks, whose face is upon it? The people answer, “Caesar.” He says, “Then give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar but give to God what belongs to God.” Ask yourself, what belongs to God? The answer is everything. It is wrong to expect the Pope and the Church to stay out of politics. There may be a separation of Church and state (in terms of a national religion), but they should still work for the common good. It would make no sense for the Church to remain passive or silent, especially as our religious liberty is being compromised both here in the U.S. and around the globe. The Church must have a voice and a part to play in the public forum.

SIMON: 4) Pope should be a servant like Christ used to be and actually on that one I am quite happy with current Pope Francis who seems to be very humble and willing to serve. But still, the Pope is being praised like a rock star. Is that really something that Jesus or St. Peter would have wanted?

FATHER JOE: Jesus was pursued by vast crowds and they cried Hosanna when he entered Jerusalem. While some would turn against him, he was the celebrity or rock star of his time. Thousands wanted to see and hear him. Vast throngs of people sought him for healing. Have you never read the Gospels? Jesus called Peter or the ROCK of his Church and gave him the keys to the kingdom.  He is made the chief shepherd.  Tradition gives him the title, “Servant of the Servants of God.”  As this unique shepherd, the honor given the Pope reflects upon the dignity and place of our Lord, Jesus. The Pope is Christ’s instrument of universality and order in the world.

SIMON: As I mentioned earlier, I know that those thoughts are condemned.

FATHER JOE: I would not use the word “condemned.” Ours is a faith seeking understanding.  We seek to root out ignorance and bigotry.  Only you can answer the quandary as to whether there is a hidden animus against the Holy Father and the Church? If there is resentment, from where does it originate?

SIMON: But I can’t seem to get rid of them. Maybe if I could get rational answers for these questions, then perhaps with the help of God those would leave me alone.

FATHER JOE: I cannot say what the cause of your issues might be.  But we should never be a people who resent the authority and popularity of the Pope. Critics of this sort often display a poor sense of self-worth and want to feel more important themselves. Maybe they are rash and quick to judge others? In any case, I hope the response here helps.

SIMON: Thank you, Father! And please pray for me! Sincerely yours, Simon

FATHER JOE: You are welcome.  Peace!

One Response

  1. Dear Simon, It is quite understandable that you would ask these questions as they come up in the minds of Catholics all the time. That you ask them of a Catholic priest shows that you are not condemning, but seeking answers from right sources. You are right to question the apparent temporal wealth of the vicar of Christ and Father Joe has put your mind at rest on this issue. Most Catholics wonder at times why the Church of Christ, who told the rich young man that the surest way to heaven was to sell everything he owned and “follow me”, would need the incredible sums of money that it does, to operate. The evil that permeates the church at this time may well be as a result of the leaders of the church putting more store in temporal wealth than in the real treasures of the church, Christ’s sacraments. We pray that Pope Francis, a real champion of the poor will root out this evil and bring the church back to the path on which Christ set it. God bless

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