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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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Who are the Real Dissenters?

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It pains me to see the Church fighting herself and the lengths to which some will go to attack a faithful priest who loves the Church.

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Why is This Even a Question?

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But the late priest’s writings cannot be reconciled with Catholic teaching… so the warning should remain, right?

Welcome to the Brace New World!

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We just fell off the proverbial “slippery slope.”

Heaven & the Comedy of God

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One definition of humor is this:  “complying with the wishes of someone in order to keep them content or happy with us, no matter how unreasonable such wishes might be.”  It is in this vein that we might understand God and heaven as having a sense of humor.  It may be that in the kingdom that which is serious and that which is comic somehow coalesce or become one.

There is much about the truth of Christ which consoles and challenges, and yet, simultaneously there is much that seems absurd. Creation itself is not immune from the comic.  It should be warned that trying to discern this element in God might inadvertently lead to a kind of cynicism.  For instance, focusing on God as the author of creation, I have heard it remarked: “Why did God make the most fertile females in the world, only sixteen years old?” Teens that are least able to deal with the needs of children easily have babies while established and mature women struggle to have offspring.  Those who work with crisis pregnancies often shake their heads in bewilderment.  We can laugh or we can cry about it.  God’s ways often seem unfathomable. It is almost as if intelligent design took a wrong turn.

Turning to salvation history, the ministry of Jesus begins with a humorous oddity.  His mother tells him that they have run out of wine at a wedding banquet.  Our Lord is curt, what has this to do with me— my time has not yet come?  Mary tells the servants to do as he says.  He has water poured into jars.  The stewards are already imagining the disappointment of the gathering when they get water instead of wine.  But miraculously water becomes wine; indeed it is the best wine so far.  Who would have thought such a thing?  Surprise!

If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out!  If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off! Call no man your father!  You must be born again!  He who loses his life will save it!  He who does not hate mother and father is not worthy of me! Let the dead bury their dead! Hebraic hyperbole gives an emphasis to the demands of Christ, but still they seem crazy to our ears.  If we were to view such matters in a literal way, we would find ourselves set firmly within a Monty Python script.

There are some elements of the Gospel that readily lend themselves to joking.  Even the questions of Jesus can be funny.  A blind man comes up to Jesus and our Lord asks, “What do you want?”  Is it not obvious?  It may be he was hoping that someone would ask for sins to be forgiven, but the given response was more than likely.  He says, “I want to see!”  No surprise in the response here, only in the question.

When a woman is caught in adultery, our Lord tells the crowd, let the one without sin cast the first stone.  The text relates that they all walk away and that our Lord, who could condemn her, forgives her instead.  A contemporary joke version has a stone sailing past Jesus and plunking the woman on the head, knocking her down.  Surprised, Jesus looks around and then says, “Mother, I told you to stay home!” (This is a Catholic joke as we understand Mary to be the sinless or immaculate Virgin Mary.)

Our Lord tells parables that are familiar to us but which were ridiculous to his first listeners.  Which among you would not leave his ninety-nine sheep to go in search of the one lost lamb?  Later, he speaks about the shepherd rejoicing in having found it.  However, in truth, most shepherds would have written it off.  Why risk all the rest to thieves and wolves? And yet, this good shepherd regards the least of his flock as having a value commensurate with all the rest.  This is crazy but it is part of the irony or humor of God.  Then there is the story of the good housewife.  She tears her house apart in search of a lost coin.  When she finds it she has a party with her friends that probably amounted to more than the coin’s value.  Again, his listeners, probably frugal women, would have thought the whole business was crazy or nonsensical.

Take the last place at gatherings.  You must become like little children.  Sell all that you have and follow me.  The one who would be the greatest must become the least servant of all.  Our Lord never lets up.  The absurdity is amplified as the topics become more grave or important.  Thousands have followed him to an isolated location.  When asked to dismiss them so that they might find sustenance, he tells his apostles to feed the crowd themselves.  All they have are a few fish and a little bread.  Nevertheless the multitude are fed and there is food left over.

His humor is so severe that one day most of his followers walk away. He says that unless we eat his flesh and drink his blood then we can have no life in us.  Today, the guys in the white suits would be coming to take him away.  And yet, it is precisely this Eucharist that has sustained the Church for two thousand years.  Indeed, these are the rations from the promised shore to which we travel as pilgrims of faith.  We must become a parable people.  We must become fools for Christ.

Everyone likes to receive a gift or reward, so Jesus assures us of a litany of favors. Our Lord gives a series of benedictions, assuring us that we will receive the kingdom, will be comforted, inherit the land, have justice satisfied, know mercy, see God, become God’s children, and one more thing—know persecution, including torture and murder.  It sounded pretty good until that last bit.  But such is the humor of God.  “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven” (Matthew 5:11-12).

“For as I see it, God has exhibited us apostles as the last of all, like people sentenced to death, since we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and human beings alike. We are fools on Christ’s account, but you are wise in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clad and roughly treated, we wander about homeless and we toil, working with our own hands. When ridiculed, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we respond gently. We have become like the world’s rubbish, the scum of all, to this very moment “(1 Corinthians 4:9-13). Our Lord writes his straight lines with our crooked ones.  He shows his greatness, not by calling the best of men but making the least and the weakest into his ministers and messengers.

These are the ones that make up the great saints of heaven.  Yes, the joke is on us, but it is a joke that brings not brief laughter but eternal joy.  The infinite and omnipotent God has filled his house with the likes of thieves, prostitutes and traitors.  Just as he could change water to wine and wine and bread into his flesh and blood, he can transform the weakest of sinners into the greatest of saints.  I suspect, albeit in a spiritual manner, there erupts a celestial guffaw that the children of heaven appreciate and which leaves the devils of hell scratching their heads.  They do not get it and that is why they have cast themselves outside the gates to paradise.

The greatest humor or ironic sign of contradiction is found in the heart of the incarnation.  It is here that we discover the full scope of infinite power, love and humor.  The perfect Spirit, the Creator of this and all dimensions and universes, the one who is truly omnipotent and omniscient, the one that stands outside and yet sustains all that he has made— makes himself almost infinitely small, weak and subject to all the petty jealousies and enmity of humanity.  The devil is the first to distance himself from God in utter disbelief— something ridiculous and impossible happens— the great Unmoved Mover moves… and the Word becomes flesh.

The Dimensions & Appearance of Heaven

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Where is heaven? How big is heaven? What does it look like? Many past believers imagined heaven in the sky, particularly since Jesus ascended and Mary was assumed into heaven.  There was also the biblical presumption that hell or hades was under the earth.  Artists have imagined heaven with cathedral like buildings, where the streets are paved with gold and everything is illumined with an interior light.  As for how big, we imagine a vastness further than the eye can see.  God would certainly insure enough space for all who would call it home.  While God and the angels as spirits take up no space or extension; Jesus and the Blessed Mother have glorified bodies, just as the saints will possess.  These bodies will have to reside somewhere.  We sometimes speak of a new heaven and a new earth. However, I doubt there will ever be a celestial surveyor who could determine the boundaries of heaven or measure the jurisdiction.  How big is it?  It is big enough.  I have often pondered the question in reference to our final end.  We will live within the Trinity.  Any way we turn, we will see God.

Physicists speak about the relativity of time and space.  It is my supposition that when it comes to heaven, this relativity is taken to another level entirely with a signification hinted in the sacraments.  When we speak of the Eucharist, we assert that Christ is present in his person and in his saving activity.  The entire paschal mystery (our Lord’s betrayal, scourging, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension) is made present in the liturgical action and in the consecrated species.  Just as a taste of heaven can be condensed to the sacrament, we might imagine heaven as a spiritual gravity well, where the providence of God is fully realized and we are offered a share in eternal life.  This new signification or meaning makes the question about size inconsequential.  All of creation and salvation history meets in this singularity of the kingdom.  One might argue that material creation mimics this situation with its initial singularity, the release of energy with the big bang, and then the unfolding of the universe. God sustains both his material and spiritual creation.

Angels are discussed as spiritual creatures without physical bodies.  Stories about full-bodied angels are interpreted as phantasms fashioned so as to relate to men.  Like God, they are perfect spirits that exist outside of time and space.  However, God can give them liberty to become involved with human affairs.  Similarly, God as a perfect spirit can reveal himself to us by entering the human family through the incarnation.  The angels and the souls of the dead know duration but are outside of time.  It has been conjectured that with glorified bodies, the clock might start ticking again as matter and time are partners to each other.  But, having said this we really do not know much about the spiritualized matter or immortality of glorified men and women (where souls and bodies are reconnected).  The risen Christ appears in locked rooms and to men on the road— then just as suddenly he disappears and shows up somewhere else.  What would the space or dimensions of heaven matter if we could all travel at the speed of thought?

 

Much of this reflection is speculation.  What do we know for sure?  We have the promise of Christ.

“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be” (John 14:2-3).

 

Art, Poetry & Song in Heaven?

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The question about art, music and poetry in heaven is more complicated than we might initially acknowledge.  These three efforts at creativity can either be directed to the bottom feeders or they can target the heights of inspiration and hope.  There is a vast difference between pornography and the human forms that speak of God’s creation and salvation history in the Sistine Chapel.  There is no comparison between a vulgar rap song that espouses violence and sexism to a sweet solo of Ave Maria or a full chorus and orchestra giving us Faure’s Requiem or Handel’s Messiah.  There is an infinite distance between simple rhymes for children or off-color limericks for dirty old men and Milton’s Paradise Lost, Dante’s The Divine Comedy or Thompson’s The Hound of Heaven.

Believe it or not, I have heard arguments for music in hell.  Indeed, certain authorities intimate that the devil or Lucifer had a certain charge over music in heaven.  If so, this explains something of the terrible depth of his fall from grace.  It might be discordant, but the arts can both reveal and conceal.  I suspect that in hell they do the latter.  A fumbling king might imagine he has real greatness if only the trumpets blow and the fanfare is exalted enough.  Art can give us a counterfeit beauty, as a mask to cover the ugliness around us.  An intricate and moving poem can give a sense of mystery and importance, even to the mundane or hollow.

By contrast, what could an artist in heaven possibly paint that could better express the transcendent than the God and heaven that surrounds him.  His picture would be a poor copy.  The only true artist in heaven is God.  He has painted a masterpiece with the blood of the Lamb.  We are all a part of his great work and yet when one steps back from the depiction of all our faces, only one face is seen, the face of Jesus, God’s Son.

We speak of the Eucharist as a foretaste from the heavenly banquet.  I suspect that the best and most solemn hymns also grant us a tiny sampling from the heavenly choir.  There is something in the soul that vaguely remembers music from before the fall.  A note here, a piece of melody there, and suddenly we are conveyed to another plateau of existence. The celestial choir eternally sings the praises of God.  While on earth music can raise our hearts and voices to God; in heaven, we are already there— music can only express this abiding presence and the truth that we are made for God and must give him the glory.  Singing God’s praises in heaven might be like breathing on earth.

As for poetry, the greatest works seek to crack open the mysteries of God— to apprehend a fleeting truth.  Poetry and music are kindred threads.  The mystery they target is realized in heaven, but when it comes to the kingdom it has swallowed us up— filled us— transformed us.  God is the poet in heaven and we have become his poem.  All poetry in heaven is love poetry.  God takes the initiative because he loved us first.  We are called to the marriage banquet of the Lamb.

“My lover speaks and says to me, ‘Arise, my friend, my beautiful one, and come! For see, the winter is past, the rains are over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of pruning the vines has come, and the song of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines, in bloom, give forth fragrance. Arise, my friend, my beautiful one, and come! My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the secret recesses of the cliff, Let me see your face, let me hear your voice, For your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely’” (Song of Songs 2:10-14).

If Good Dogs Can Go to Heaven, What About Bad Cats?

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There are a couple of gentle and devoted dogs I would love to see again.  There is even a horse I miss from long ago.  I am not untouched by the companionship given by animals.  I would be happy to see and to experience their presence again.  But I am also confident that God will satisfy every longing and that nothing is lost on God.

Dr. Kreeft asserts that it is irrational to deny the existence of animals in heaven. He cites C.S. Lewis who assumed that tamed animals might be saved as extensions of their masters.  But Kreeft says it is likely that wild animals will also inhabit paradise.  I suppose in this reckoning, Eden and its harmony is somehow restored.  Man is once again the steward of a creation made invulnerable to natural violence and extinction.

 

Really, is this so?  Call me mean-spirited or illogical, but I just do not know— it is hard for me to take a certain view on this matter.  Indeed, if I lean one way over another, it would be toward a kingdom inhabited by God, angels and men, but not by our furry friends.  But, I might be wrong.  I know Franciscans, true to their founder, insisting that animals will join us in heaven.  If I should find my old cat there I will be much surprised.  She consumed 20 years of my life and was reckoned by most as an evil creature.  She would pretend to have gentleness and then she would attack.  She delighted in relieving herself where it would cause the most anguish. She would literally bite the hand that fed her.  As for scratching, neither flesh, nor paper nor wood was safe.  I have heard hopeful rumors that dogs go to heaven; it would be easier for me to imagine my cat at the head of a gang of feline thugs, patrolling the boundaries of hell.

I have written upon this topic before and will rehash old remarks:

I suppose most Thomists would say that animals do not go to heaven, given that they do not possess immortal souls. This somewhat harsh response is often softened with the assertion that they are not entirely gone in that other animals (like dogs) share their substantial form. Others would say that an animal, like your favorite dog, continues to exist as an idea in the mind of God.

C.S. Lewis remarked that canine loyalty and affection oftentimes put human fidelity and friendship to shame. Because of this he thought that maybe dogs would be allowed to join their masters in heaven. Critics contend that this is just another instance of over-blown English sentimentality.

Why would a priest waste his time talking to people about the fate of dead animals? Well, to be honest, it immediately leads to their views about life after death in general. That is more properly my concern. Animals are often the first reminders to us, usually as children when we have lost a pet that everything that lives in this world will eventually die. We are mortal. We share our physicality with the other earthly creatures around us. Some, like dogs (and maybe cats), give us great comfort and companionship. They matter to us and so the question arises, is this all there is? Will we see them again? Can we find solace in knowing that all we cherish as good in creation will be reflected back to us in the beatific vision of the Creator?

I have had a number of inquiries about people’s pet dogs and the question as to whether they would be given entry into heaven.  I would move the gravity to stress human immortality and our hope for heaven. Animal substantial forms would continue to exist as paradigms in the divine mind. Anything more would be up to God’s mysterious providence and I would not presume to give an answer where the Church has not. Others are free to speculate, but we will not know anything more for sure until or if we find ourselves among the saints.

It is possible that my view would make some angry with me but I am not mean-spirited. Others come down on the side of continued existence of animals because these creatures are a part of our affection and shared existence in this world and thus, the argument goes, they would add to our happiness in the next.

Certain animal apologists cite Scripture and argue for a literal new earth. Some ridicule the whole notion of an afterlife, for anyone or anything. Others agree with me that the stress has to be upon the beatific vision and how we (people) are made for God.

I would not worry much about the fate of animals after they die. If we love animals we should do what we can now to protect them from abuse and suffering. We live in a world where many species are rapidly becoming extinct.

Further, some may err by the sin of presumption about their own salvation. Are you sure that you are going to heaven? Speaking for myself, I have faith in Christ and try to be a faithful disciple in the Church. I worship God and seek to serve him through my charity and sacrifices for others. However, if people forget God, discount obedience to the commandments, and hate their fellow man… well, they may be in for a terrible surprise!