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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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Order of the Dead

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It was the mid-1950’s. Despite certain reservations, Joseph entered the Trappist monastery in Berryville, Virginia. He was a simple but devout man. Pressing family needs compelled him to quit school when he was in the fifth grade so that he could go out and work. He had labored hard ever since. Now he was nearing 40 and wanted to give a definite direction to his life. The hard existence of the monks appealed to him. As for the religious element, that was also firmly grounded in his soul. For a time he functioned as a church sacristan and altar server, earning seventeen dollars a week. Okay, he did not make much money, but material things never seemed all that important to him. Among his occupations, he had been a fisherman and crab-man, a construction worker, a surveyor’s aide, you name the grunt work, he had done it. He staunchly believed that faith and work were the two vital estimations that made up a real man.

After a long illness, Joseph A. Jenkins, Sr. passed away on February 24, 2000. The story narrated here was told to his children many times over. The monks took a vow of silence. This was hard but for Joseph there were some definite benefits. His speech always had been impaired by a cleft palate. It took two surgeries to close it and still his words sounded slurred and awkward. The hardest aspect of this new direction was meal time. The monks were vegetarians and had to ask for bread or water or whatever, entirely by improvised sign language. While they ate less than appetizing food, large dogs ate juicy steaks in front of the monks. He began to envy the dogs.

The monks would sing and say their prayers in choir fashion and while processing. Joseph had yet to fully appreciate what it meant to join the “Order of the Dead.” This unofficial title conveyed not only the fact that these hermits from society were dead to the world, but as a Catholic monastic brotherhood, they prayed especially for the souls in purgatory. Two events would forcefully bring this home to Joseph.

After a long hot day working in the fields, Joseph was eager for rest in his cell. He went immediately to sleep but his slumber was not restful. He found himself looking upon a wall of flame and from the fire he began to see many faces. Wearing monkish hoods, their glowing eyes were red with anguish and their faces were all aflame. Piercing cries of agony and pleading reached him. He abruptly awoke. Sweat covered his skin. He was shaking. Each time he tried to close his eyes or even blink, he could still see them there, on fire– crying out– begging him for something.

Fatigued from lack of sleep, he went to see the superior early that morning. “Do you think I’m going crazy?” he asked.

The superior answered with directness, “Joseph, what you saw, we have all seen. They are the souls of your ancestors crying out for prayers so that they might be liberated from the fires of their prison, purgatory. They know that your prayers here can be most beneficial to their release and entry into heaven.”

Joseph accepted the answer readily. The interpretation explained to his satisfaction the meaning of the vision. It was like no dream he had ever experienced. Like the flash of a camera, something of the image remained for a short time after he awoke. He would devote himself more earnestly to his meditation and prayers.

One day while praying alone in the chapel, he heard someone come up next to him and call his name, “Joe.” He looked around and there was his Uncle George.

Not desiring to be rude, he spoke, “Uncle George, it is good to see you, but why are you here?”

The old man answered, “Pray for me, Joe, that is all I ask.”

Motioning for him to be silent and to return to his prayers, Joseph did just that. Many people came to the monastery for retreats and days of recollection, but it was quite a ways for his dear uncle to come, all the way from Southern Maryland. It was nice to see a familiar face. Maybe he could get permission to visit with him later in the day? Yes, that would be nice. Uncle George was a good man but he was a haunted one. Many years earlier his only daughter had gotten involved with a young man who took advantage of her. Uncle George was furious. He went over to the man’s house and shot him dead. Then he called the police and turned himself in. Rumor had it that his wife, a well-to-do woman, paid the judge off so that Uncle George would not go to prison or worse. He ended up spending a year in a mental health institution and then came home. Those had been days when even society at large took the virtue of a young woman very seriously. Many considered Uncle George a hero, that in his place, they would have done similarly. Uncle George, however, regretted his acting in anger. But, he could not turn back the hands of the clock. What was done, was done.

Joseph prayed for his family, saying as requested a special prayer for his uncle. He was just going to see the superior when he himself was summoned.

“Joseph,” said the superior, “I have some bad news for you. A call just came in that your Uncle George died earlier today. Your family wanted you to know so that you could offer special prayers for him.”

Joseph was stunned. If Uncle George was dead, then he had seen his ghost. He explained what had happened to his superior. He nodded in recognition. Had this also happened with the other monks? Joseph would continue to pray for Uncle George.

Eventually, and he attributed the trouble to the dogs eating better than the monks, Joseph discerned that the monastic life was not for him. He left but retold many times over the two interventions of souls for prayer and penance on their behalf. Joseph felt that he had actually assisted in the translation of all his deceased family from purgatory to heaven.

A few years later, Joseph married a young woman and had a family of seven children, the first of whom was placed upon the altar at his baptism by the priest. No doubt responding to a call from heaven, implored by the prayers of this simple man, this son of his would become a priest. I am that priest.

We are bonded with each other in a way that transcends death. Never should we underestimate the power of prayer and sacrifice on the behalf of others. May we never neglect such offerings on the behalf of our beloved dead in purgatory. While their individual salvation is assured, these souls need to be perfected by the fire of God’s love and by the intercession of the saints and the Church.

A Catholic Ghost Story from Southern MD

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The priest was happy to have a fire burning. It was a cold winter night and it felt good to be settled in for the evening. Pastor of a small country parish in Charles County, Maryland; it was a good assignment. Simple but hardworking and faithful people made up the Parish membership. True, the area was a bit too remote for some, but it fit him fine. He preferred a slower-paced life far from the hectic city and the hubs of power, both of the Government and of the Archdiocese. He had adequate time for his many Parish labors and for quality prayer. He enjoyed the latter in a way that other men could only know on religious retreats. The duties for many priests, in supposedly better-placed assignments, only allowed for a hasty saying of required orations. He was not an ambitious man. It was enough for him to be thought of as a good hard-working priest. This was his humble goal in life.

Like a sad woman’s lament the wind howled. It was ever so dark. There was no light pollution as in the city or suburbs. The Catholic cleric opened his breviary to say his prayers; hopefully he would finish them before falling asleep. He had barely begun when there was a knock at the door. Perhaps it was just the branch of a tree? Knock, knock!— no, there it was again— who could it be at this late hour of the night?

Throwing on his cassock he went to the door and opened it. “Yes, can I help you?” said the pastor, somewhat irritated at the interruption.

“Father, you have to come quickly, my daddy is dying!” cried a young teenage boy.“You have to come as fast as you can; he needs the Last Rites!”

The priest became immediately alert. He grabbed his coat and sick call kit and ran out the door with the boy. Journeying to the house, he noted that the boy was only dressed in a flimsy shirt and shorts. He was even barefoot. No doubt the boy had run out to get him at a moment’s notice, thinking only of his father. He put his coat over the pale cold skin of the child. “Goodness, boy, if you’re not careful you’ll catch pneumonia yourself!”

“I’ll be okay, Father. The main thing is that you take care of my old man. He meant to contact you before this, but, well, he never thought his health would go down so quickly. We don’t have a phone so I ran to get you.”

“You’re telling me that you ran all this way to get me? You’re quite some boy. But rest and warm yourself now,” replied the concerned priest. He turned up the heat in the car. The boy pointed the way and the priest made good time driving to their home.

Upon arriving, the priest jumped out and ran into the house. If the fellow was as bad as the boy made out, there was no time to lose. Sure enough, there he was, lying in a small bed near the burning stove and quite sick. The priest heard his Confession, Anointed him, and gave him Holy Communion— it would be his last.

Taking up a lonely vigil alongside the old man, for that was assuredly what he was, the priest chatted with him. “Ah, I see you have a picture here of your son,” said the priest, picking up a photograph near the man’s bedside.

“Oh yes, Father, that’s my boy,” returned the old man.

The priest added, “You must be proud to have a son like that, running all the way from here to the rectory for the priest on a night like this.”

“What Father? What do you mean?” he asked.

“Your boy,” repeated the priest, “rushing half-naked to get me so that you would receive the sacraments— that was quite a selfless feat of love.”

“But Father,” stammered the old man pointing to the old photograph, “my boy has been dead these eighteen years, it was summer and he drowned.”

This story was told and retold to me many times by my father. It is a wonderful testimony of the value of the sacraments and the bond of love which transcends the grave.

A Fun Time at Sacred Heart Council

Here I am (Associate MD State Chaplain) at the Sacred Heart Knights of Columbus Council Filipino Food Fest with Romeo Paternoster (District Deputy #32) and Tony Salvemini (MD State Secretary). It was a lot of fun!  It was a fund raiser for Sacred Heart Ladies Auxiliary. 

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Remembering John Kushner

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B24 crew of Sgt. Robertson. Standing Bob Fromkin, Don Ostrand, Evert Kron and Tony DeRose. Kneeling: John Kushner, Joe Kling, George Lawson, Charles Gill, Joe Kruger, and Bobbie Robertson. All survived the war but Bobbie.

John Kushner was a dear friend and a parishioner of mine at Holy Spirit Church in Forestville, MD. He was a daily communicant. Crippled, partially blind, he still loved to ride motorcycles. He was also an American hero. He was called to report back for active service when he was sick and in his 80’s. It took some arguing that the powers-that-be had made a mistake. No one had the qualifications he had, but they had neglected to look at his date of birth. Had they allowed him, he would have reported to serve. Whenever Andrews AFB had an air show they would call him because no one else knew how to repair the old planes. John was a Flight Engineer and had served 33 years in both fronts of WWII, Korea and Vietnam. He tells the story of coming back from a mission over Germany and the plane is shot full of holes. He held his best friend in his arms as he bled to death. In Vietnam they tied him to a boom and he would grab the wounded while a helicopter made quick passes through the sharp grass. It cut him like razer blades. He had about every medal you could think of. When I knew him, he was an old man who missed his wife Mary and regularly fed the deer outside the church doors. When consulted about lasers on the new planes he insisted that it was a mistake to place them in the nose. No one listened to him. He was an old man. What did he know? A few weeks later the technicians came back to him and asked, “Okay John, where would you put the lasers?” John shook his head, knowing that the poor pilots would be blinded by the light. He said, “There is only one place you can put the laser, in the belly of the plane!” Guess what, that is where they are… now. John is circled in the picture here with his gang from a B24. Miss you John. Rest in peace.

Birth: Dec. 24, 1922 / Death: Sep. 29, 2011 / Forestville, MD

M.Sgt., U.S. Air Force – John J. Kushner passed away on September 29, 2011. He is survived by his daughter, Teresa Kushner.

Spouse: Mary Sue Kushner (1934 – 2000)

Muslims & Religion in Schools

WHOA! This School Allows School Prayer, But Only For…

People are upset that Muslims are given facilities to pray in schools. I am more upset that we as Christians have so easily surrendered this liberty and have allowed the component of religion to be stripped from our lived culture and from the teaching of social studies. Freedom “of” religion does not mean freedom “from” religion. Such a mentality impoverishes us all and represents a sanitized or censored diversity. Removing the factor of religion falsifies history, as with Columbus, leaving us with charges of genocide, forced slavery, and greed but saying next to nothing positive about his faith and missionary mandate to bring the saving faith of Christ to the New World.

Snow? Really?

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The weather is certainly surprising this year!