• Our Blogger

    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.

  • Archives

  • Categories

  • Recent Posts

  • Recent Comments

    Jannete on Ask a Priest
    anonymous on Ask a Priest
    Jody on Ask a Priest
    Anonymous on Ask a Priest
    patrickharrison9064 on Ask a Priest

Celibacy is the Solution

Author’s Note: I am amazed at how much negative feedback, especially from non-celibates, was sent to me about this article– much unworthy of publishing.  It demonstrates to me that there is a real and dangerous prejudice against Christian celibacy and a reductionism from some that minimizes its importance and value.  I was happy to see that a brother priest, who is actively involved with our archdiocesan seminary in Washington, DC, has shared positive thoughts on the topic that are similar to my own.  Fr. Carter Griffin has written a wonderful article first published in FIRST THINGS and now posted at the CERC website: “Celibacy: The Answer, Not the Problem.”

var38While there are trite sayings to the contrary, simple answers are not always the best answers.  This is particularly the case with the assumption of some that the impetus for the clergy abuse crisis is the imposition of an “unhealthy” and “unnatural” celibacy. Despite the deceptive eroticism and deprecation of both celibacy and purity that permeates our modern culture, there is nothing malignant or disordered about celibacy. Acknowledging a supernatural component to Christian celibacy, it is a manner of living and loving that is completely natural.  Given the current scandals, celibacy is not the problem, but the solution.  The answer that many are seeking to our troubles is not the wholesale allowance of married clergy.  That would not resolve issues of abuse; indeed, it would introduce a host of new difficulties like marital infidelity and divorce.  This is not to say that men in good and holy unions could not serve as faithful Catholic priests; all I am asserting is that this is no miracle solution to the Church’s ills.

What is the real solution?  We should demand that celibate priests remain faithful to their sacred promise.  If priests behave themselves then there will be no incidents of child abuse, assaulted nuns, illegitimate children and homosexual liaisons. Just as the Church implores married couples to keep their vows; our priests should do the same and thus give a witness and proclamation devoid of duplicity.

While we cannot demand that all heterosexual candidates for priesthood must be virgins, we can certainly establish it as the Church’s preference.  Sexual activity prior to a life of priestly celibacy is not a positive element in their formation.  We cannot make mortal sin a prerequisite for the sacrament of holy orders.  I have known seminarians so tragically shadowed by memories of heterosexual promiscuity that they felt compelled to discern out of formation for holy orders.

I still do not buy the argument that repressed but active homosexuality is not a major factor in the current abuse scandal.  There are few pedophile cases and way too many instances of homosexual pederasty.  Given this assessment, I think the Church should have a general prohibition against “active” homosexuals in formation and priesthood. When I say active, I mean “one strike and you are out.”  We cannot give homosexual relations the same moral value or weight given to heterosexuality.  Homosexual acts are always sinful; heterosexual relations in the marital act are holy and befitting the plan of God.

Given this distinction, I would argue that a priest who falls with a woman might be forgiven by the Church and returned to ministry.  Prudence and discipline would demand a period of real penance and soul-searching.  That is why I have suggested a few years of suspension in such cases where a man might deliberate with professionals and speak to the Lord about the status of his vocation.  If his priesthood should prove salvageable, then he could reassigned, preferably to another diocese.  Admittedly, some would disagree with me but the problem here is no disorientation and granted consensuality, not a matter of abuse.  It is simply, albeit tragically, a case of mortal sin that can be absolved in the confessional.

The matter of an immoral heterosexual liaison becomes more problematical if there should be offspring.  Whatever determination is made, the priest in this situation has an obligation to both claim the child (fatherly relationship) and to help provide financial support.  Forgiveness does not dismiss the need for restitution.  While discretion is required, there should be no cases of women being paid off by dioceses and children growing up without knowing the identity of their fathers.   Hopefully, God’s people might be forgiving when such stories are inadvertently exposed.  I do not foresee published lists of priests who have had children out of wedlock.

Christian celibacy cannot be identified with the variation in Buddhism which is directed toward spiritual enlightenment.  Christian celibacy is not the same as that practiced in Hinduism for the sake of greater physical strength and longevity. Christian celibacy finds no counterpart in Islam which utterly renounces celibacy. Christian celibacy cannot be compared with the secular or humanistic version that temporarily utilizes celibacy to target one’s energies and purpose toward economic or business success.  More than chastity, Christian celibacy is regarded in Catholicism as a gift given by God and then returned to God by the disciple.  It is a manner of fulfilling the request that Jesus gave to the rich man who went away sad because his possessions were many.  It is the ultimate response to the twofold commandment of Christ.  The Christian celibate loves the Lord with his whole heart, body and soul.  That same love spills out into a loving service of others.  Married Christians can also keep this commandment, although that divine love is first showered upon one’s spouse and children.  It is a love and commitment shared.  The celibate priest sees himself as married to the Church. He belongs wholly to the Lord and to his people.

It is somewhat ironic but true that even the necessary measures put into place to thwart the abuse of minors has damaged the actualization of this celibate love.  The priest’s relationship to the Church is spousal.  His relationship to those in the pews is paternal. He is to exhibit a spiritual fatherhood in his ministration of the sacraments and pastoral care.  Unfortunately, so as to protect the young, their access to their priests is seriously undermined.  A terminal distrust and suspicion has walled the priest off from many of his spiritual children— thus hampering spiritual bonding, counsel and even (in some cases) their access to sacraments like confession.

Despite the negative propaganda and the ill-informed solutions that attack the heart of the priesthood, celibacy remains one of the great treasures of the Western priesthood. We should not be quick to throw it away.  Here is the big surprise for many critics— most celibate priests remain happy with their vocation.

The Importance of Faith-Talk in Love

155059121237566314

The manner in which parents and their youth dialogue will change as members get older.  Parents take absolute charge over small children.  As the children become adolescents and teens, it becomes increasingly important that parents both speak and listen.  Parents are still owed respect and obedience, particularly while children live under their roof.  Youth need to temper their natural rebelliousness and desire for independence as they get older.  All should seek a level of patience and true understanding.  Parents need to do all they can to share their faith and values with the young.  However, there will come a time when they will have to let go and hope that it was enough.  Each of us is his or her own person.  Sometimes we will be disappointed or upset at the life-choices of others, but we should never close the door to love and affection.

We must understand that we do not absolutely control the dialogue or the faith-talk.  Given that the conversation genuinely reflects the truth of the Gospel, we must be disposed or open both to listen and to talk.  It is a prerequisite that faith-talk is backed up with an honest discipleship.  Hypocrisy will poison the best of moral arguments and exhortations.  Before we speak, we must first listen.  The conversation is not limited to the parent and the child.  They must both listen to the voice of God that speaks to us in Scripture and in prayer.  Our Lord tells us that there will be graced times when the Holy Spirit will give us the words to say.  Otherwise, the conversation will be entirely horizontal in its scope, focusing on the earthly needs and wants but bypassing the heavenly.  Indeed, if not properly informed, dialogue can become trite and consist of merely sharing banal platitudes.  A mutual sharing of ignorance does little to procure truth and wisdom.  Faith-talk must also engage the head and the heart.  It is insufficient just to be right; we must also be compassionate and merciful.

“‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.’ He summoned the crowd and said to them, ‘Hear and understand’” (Matthew 15:8-10).

When we talk and share our faith and ourselves there is an element of self-donation.  A parent is to pour out himself so as to satisfy the thirst of the children.  What is this thirst?  It is many things— a desire for the truth, a yearning for transcendental meaning, a longing for acceptance, etc.  Preliminary to this faith-talk is having an ear to hear.  We must listen first to God and then to one another.  Too often we hear only what we want to hear.  Listening means a receptivity that alternately summons both satisfaction and great displeasure.

“Do you not yet understand or comprehend? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear?” (Mark 8:17-18).

Members of families may become afraid of what they might hear and they will try to run away— refusing to talk and to listen.  They may surround themselves with noise or distractions.  But running away is not really the posture of Christians.  We are called to take up our crosses and to follow the Lord.  Look at Matthew 16:22-23.  The apostle Peter is remembered for both listening and closing his ears.  After Jesus prophesied his betrayal, passion and death, Peter rebukes, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”  Jesus immediately responds, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

What is the ultimate purpose of faith-talk?  A message is given and received.  Faith-talk is always a summons to greater understanding and fidelity.  It requires a response.  We must each answer the call given us.  Faith-talk is geared to a change or confirmation of direction.  We are called to action.  We are also called to a continuing transformation and growth in holiness.

“Whoever has ears ought to hear. To what shall I compare this generation? It is like children who sit in marketplaces and call to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, but you did not dance, we sang a dirge but you did not mourn’” (Matthew 11:15-17).

Within every calling there are other callings.  Each of us is to called to know Christ and to be holy.  That is the precious gift that comes with faith and baptism.  We all have differing God-given gifts.  We also have varying crosses— mental, physical and social.  While we can know the Lord’s grace, we are each wounded by weakness and sin.  It is within this that we receive our vocations to love and service.  While it might seem a contradiction, there are many paths on the one road to Christ. The specifics of one person’s journey may differ from another’s.  Hopefully, we are all going in the same direction, even if there are detours along the way.  Sharing our faith and values is important as it helps us to get our bearings when our journeys intersect the paths of other pilgrims.

Children will always be obliged to honor their parents, no matter how old they may become.  The nature of obedience changes, but respect and cherishing persons remains the same.  The deepest of pains a person can experience is when a parent is dishonorable or when a child hurts himself through rebellion or walking away from the good, the true and the holy.  Parents weep for their children.  Children suffer when parents fall from their pedestals of honor by giving bad example or by closing their hearts to them.

The expression faith-talk is deceptive because sometimes the conversation does not need words.  I remember a family that had lost their five year old son in an accidental pool drowning.  They did not speak English and my Spanish was poor and broken.  I sat with them and we cried together.  Sometimes just a presence can speak volumes about love.  Because of the incarnation, the human-connection makes possible the God-connection.  Family members can be there with each other.  Ministers and friends can enter this circle of love and help with healing when they have no words— yes, even when words get in the way.

When I think of unconditional love I recall the story of a poor woman whose son was sentenced to life in prison for murder.  When everyone was convinced of his guilt, she was the one person who never lost faith in her son.  Guilty or not, she loved him.  He insisted that he was innocent.  Since they were poor the court appointed a lawyer who quickly made a deal and manipulated the young man to take it.  The judge broke the deal and gave him the harshest of sentences.  Years went by and most forgot about the case— but not his mother.  She worked long hours mopping floors and scrubbing toilets for minimum wage to raise money for a good lawyer and a new trial.  She spent twenty years in fatigue and tears but never losing hope.  When she had raised what she needed, she got him an attorney who found problems in how the initial trial was conducted.  Still most thought she had wasted her life for a scoundrel of no worth.  But to her, he was the whole world.  As it turned out, the evidence was mishandled and a follow up investigation ensued where another man was found to be the real assailant.  Her son was released from prison.  The one person to meet him when he passed through the gates was this woman older than her years but filled with joy.  She had her boy back again.

This woman was a living parable of the Christ-story.  She sacrificed her life to liberate and save her son.  Such people show us the depth of unconditional love that God has for each of us as his children.  Along with all the other things shared by mothers and fathers, this may be the most important message to which they witness.  The mother in the story had few facts about the case.  Indeed, for all she knew, her son was guilty.  He did hang out with the wrong people.  He had committed a few juvenile offenses.  He was no saint.  But she became a saint to save him.  She sacrificed herself not because she knew he was innocent, but because she loved him.  Our Lord lays down his life for the guilty.  Again, it has all to do with unconditional love.

Questions for Parents

  • Your daughter comes to you in tears and reveals that she is pregnant out of wedlock?  Is your immediate response anger and condemnation?  Can your love for her and the unborn child overrule your anger and shame or would you counsel her to have an abortion and erase a mistake?
  • Your son adopts a swinging lifestyle.  Would you as a father boast about him “sowing his oats” or would you challenge him to be modest and to respect women as persons with dignity and as potential wives and mothers?
  • Your son lazily hangs around the house and will not get a job.  Would you nag him and label him as a bum?  Would you challenge him to step up, find self-respect, and give him assistance in moving forward?
  • Your teen drops out of school, starts drinking and taking drugs, hangs out with a dangerous crowd, and gets arrested.  Would you throw him out and disown him or would you seek intervention so that he might turn his life around?
  • Your kid tells you that he is gay or that she is a lesbian.  Is your response riddled with words of derision and strong disappointment?  Do you turn your back on him or her? Do you affirm that there is still a place in your home and in the church for your kid?   Most Catholic people who identify as LGBTQ want help to preserve the faith and family bonds.  Do you know how to love someone even when you cannot support all of his or her actions?  Are you willing to witness Christ as one who will never abandon such loved-ones on their life-journey?

Never Be Too Busy for Each Other & God

Eating Clipart Black And White - Pencil And In Color Eating for Family Eating Clipart Black And White

Families are very busy these days.  Husbands and wives work outside the home.  Many feel that two incomes are mandatory if they are to make it.  This lifestyle choice must be balanced with childcare needs and schools.  I have detected from some parents a below the surface resentment toward the homeschooling families where the wife and mother (but more rarely the husband and father) stays home to teach and to care for children. Similarly, a number of homeschooling families are negative about couples who both work and send their children to public or even parochial schools.  There should be a common respect toward all and the basic decisions that Christians make while still preserving their Catholic identity.  There is no one perfect formula for raising children. This is not to ignore the many wrong roads that families might pursue, especially when faith is eliminated as a factor in their lives.  Children may have been baptized, at the urging of grandparents, but millions have experienced no faith formation.  Such families do not pray together and if they go to Mass it is limited to Easter and Christmas.  News of scandals in the Church is taken as validation for the distance they have made with the Church, thus subduing any latent guilt.  The children know little to nothing about Jesus and the saints.  I knew one young woman who was raised in such an environment.  She came to see me as a priest when she wanted to get married.  Everything was about the accidentals of the ceremony; she knew nothing about the value of marriage as a sacrament that pointed to the covenant of Christ with his Church.  I eventually stopped everything to ask a basic question, “Who is Jesus?”  She looked at me with a blank expression on her face and said, “I suppose he was a nice man.”  That was all she knew.  She had no relationship with the God who came down from heaven, was made man by the power of the Holy Spirit, and who surrendered his life so that she might know the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.  Her baptism was treated as no more than magic or spiritual insurance.  No follow up had been made for faith formation.  It would be a long process for her to appreciate the third to get married— that Jesus must be the third ring linking the other two in her marriage if it were to be a sacrament.  Much would have to be unlearned and the vacuum of ignorance would have to be filled.  I did my best to bring her up to speed so that she would know the Lord as she should.  She had yet to appreciate that Jesus Christ was more than a nice man.  He was the Christ and our Savior.  Couples sometimes complain about the six month waiting period before marriage and the preparation required.  However, I not only think it is essential, it is probably not enough.  Pope Francis has suggested that given the impoverished faith of people, that marriage preparation should be more lengthy and in-depth, like RCIA and adult catechetical instructions.  We have to break the cycle of ignorance breeding another generation of ignorance.

One of the most devastating errors of modernity is that religion is peripheral to our lives.  No one has time for prayer and worship but there is always time for work and play.  Sporting activities take precedence over Sunday Mass.  Hundreds of dollars will be spent on concerts and ball games but there are complaints about the five to ten dollars that might be placed in the church collection plate.  Make people mad or say what they do not want to hear and even those few funds disappear.  If that were not enough, the Church has literally shot herself in the foot with the scandals surrounding clergy.

Not only must families make time for the religious formation of their children, by rights, they should be the principal educators in the ways of faith.  The question must be raised, “When do you as parents talk about faith with your children?” While there are parents doing what they are supposed to do, the response from others is often convoluted and unclear.  Why?  It is because this necessary discussion is rarely or not taking place.

How can we resolve this?  I think it is important for families to earmark time to talk about the faith with its members.  Let us look at some suggestions:

While Jesus and the apostles walked from place to place, people today drive almost everywhere.  We also spend a lot of time each day in automobiles.  Hours are spent by many commuting back and forth to work.  There are carpools for children going to school.  Families drive to sporting events, concerts, to vacation sites, etc.  While driving in the car, families can do more than listen to the radio, play on their tablets or list out-of-state license plates.  Families can turn off the gadgets and take out their rosaries.  Praying together is always a fundamental way of growing in the faith.  The mysteries of the rosary are literally signposts to the saving works of Christ.  Families can also talk about how things are going in their lives.  It must also be said, especially given accidents, that we should pray for safety before a trip and render a prayer of thanks at the end.  When I bless cars I invoke the Madonna of the Streets, sometimes humorously retitled, Our Lady of the Highways.  There are also customs that need to be kept while on the road.  When encountering a funeral procession, my father would pull over and we would say a decade of the rosary for the poor soul.  When we saw an ambulance, we would offer a quick Hail Mary for the sick or hurt person.  Whenever we drove before a Catholic church, we would make the Sign of the Cross.  Who knows, if such habits returned, maybe we would see a decrease in dangerous road rage?  If we must turn on the radio, there is nothing wrong with adding religious or Christian music to our driving experience.

We often look at sick time as time wasted.  We lose work hours and children miss school.  God frequently draws good from evil.  No one likes being sick, but we can still extract something positive from the experience.  Indeed, it can become a graced time for spiritual reading, prayer and bonding with children in faith.  It is also an occasion to ponder the sacrifices that Jesus made to redeem us.  Children often think that they are as invulnerable as the superheroes of comics.  However, in truth our mortality and dependence upon God is worthy of reflection and a discussion with family members.

It is said that instead of talking, families become comatose in front of television sets.  As an alternative to the latest sleazy cable show or formula comedy, parents could be more selective about their viewing habits.  Not only do they want to avoid bad witness in watching shows that degrade human dignity; they can deliberately find worthwhile programs and films that depict elements of faith and values for discussion as a family.  Indeed, some families even develop libraries of DVDs and put together their own discussion questions based upon them.  These films do not all have to be strictly religious like The Passion of the Christ or the The Song of Bernadette.  I have given retreats where we have discussed secular films with important messages:  The Boy Who Could Fly, The Mighty, The Perfect Game, Paper Planes, Spare Parts, etc.

There are also traditional times for prayer and gathering that should be utilized in forming the youth in faith.  Grace Before Meals and Prayers of Thanksgiving afterwards remind us that all we have is a gift from God.  Sitting together at the dinner table is not a time for texting on phones or playing on tablets.  Families should share a fellowship meal and share something about each other.  Often imaged as a place of confrontation, the family supper table should be viewed as a precious time for bonding.  That is why inviting a guest to dinner is more than just setting an extra plate.  It is an invitation to come into the intimate circle of the family.  The one guest that should always be there is the Lord.  Another traditional time for prayer is prior to going to bed.  A child should have the habit of saying prayers before going to sleep.  When children are young, parents should help them and pray with them.  When their children become teens it is still good to pray with them from time to time and even to discuss needs to be brought to the Lord.  Especially important in these discussions is the meaning of prayer itself as diversified communication with the Lord.  Too many reduce prayer to petition and neglect praise, thanksgiving and contrition.

Almost any time can be made a time for prayer, spiritual reflection and discussion on themes of faith.  Vacations are especially good because of the control families then have over the schedule.  Indeed, fun in the sun or skiing on the slopes can also become a retreat time with bible reading and special devotions.  Some families make a habit of visiting other churches and praying at religious pilgrimage sites.  Families should not worry about becoming religious “fanatics.”  That is a label or charge imposed by those with little to no faith.  You cannot love the Lord too much.  We belong to him.  He is a jealous God.  All things in this world are passing.  Faith in Christ assures our place in eternity.

One of my favorite “old time” television programs is The Andy Griffith Show.  Not only were the characters sometimes shown at church or praying or singing hymns, but there were also beautiful scenes of one-to-one time between Andy and his son Opie.  The fishing scenes were particularly memorable. When I think back to my own time with my father, a number of conversations come to mind.  My father was a simple man and yet he was a dedicated Catholic.  His faith was black and white with few grays.  He passed on his clarity to me.  He said, “Either get married or be a priest— that is it.  Never abandon the Church.  It would be better to die than to ever betray your Catholic faith!”  His views became my own. My mother complemented his faith with her own values for modesty and prudence.  Together, they taught us to be good and to treat others with respect.

My parents loved each other and sacrificed for their children.  They were dedicated to each other.  No matter what fights or discouragements came their way, they were utterly committed to each other.  They would have as many children as God would give them.  Marriage was until natural death.  Divorce was never an option on the table.  Our home became a real and secure refuge from the challenges to faith and the changing values of our society.

My father encouraged my vocation.  I became a priest.  I remember my father’s great joy on my ordination today.  Parallel to his views about the permanence of marriage, my father remarked, “You belong to the Church now.  You will be a priest, forever.”  My parents taught me to honor the dignity of persons and the sanctity of life.  They also modeled for me an abiding honesty in all my dealings.  They did not have much in the way of money and stuff to share, but they gave me and my siblings the gifts that most mattered— our lives, our faith and our values.

Living the Faith for Our Children

church familyWe often speak about the failure to transmit the faith to children as entirely the fault of the culture in which we find ourselves.  However, this is only part of the challenge.  As ministers, teachers and parents we need an aggressive witness from our families and faith communities.  First, when it comes to those elements in society that are diametrically opposed to the Gospel, we must be visible signs of contradiction with a decisive and convincing alternative message.  We must quite literally become physical and spiritual roadblocks to those who would travel the path to perdition.  Further, we must find ways to make the truths of Christ more convincing and enticing than the exotic and sinful lures of the world.  It is in this that we become signposts to the proverbial “road less traveled.”  While walls against persons and immigrants are controversial; there should be no dispute for barriers against deadly sin.

“Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21).

If these poisons find a weakness in our fortifications then they will raid and destroy us from the inside.

Second, whenever possible, we must make serious efforts to either transform or to dilute the negative or neutral elements in society, making them work for us and not against us as believers.  This requires quite a bit of creativity.  For instance, one critic condemns Harry Potter stories as an introduction to witchcraft and Satanism; another tries to find Christian themes within the metaphors of fantasy.  Admittedly, it will never be as effective as THE LORD OF THE RINGS but since it is not going away, is there a way to read these stories and watch these movies within a Christian worldview and sensibility?  I remember years ago there was a priest on radio who would play the current musical pop hits while giving mini-sermons on them and sometimes pointing out where the sentiments in the songs reflected Christian themes and/or where they could lead us wrong.  Whenever possible, we should seek to further discussions with the young and not rely entirely on the language of prohibition.  The latter often appeals to the rebelliousness that is naturally characteristic of teens.  We cannot utterly protect our children from what our world holds out; however, we can better empower them to face modernity with knowledge and proper discretion.

Too often the negative attitudes of children and teens are merely mimicked from the patterns they observe in how their parents approach faith. Too many departmentalize the role of religion and its values while others practically dismiss it altogether.  Parents and families may not be entirely Sunday Christians and Weekday Devils; but they may lack any fire to take their faith on mission into the world around them.  While the image of the soldier and the Church Militant may not be popular today; we should be even more averse to being reduced to passive pawns of a secular and humanistic modernity that is in enmity with Christ’s kingdom.  The best of Christian parents have a real struggle on their hands and their offspring will be their “own” people; but those that never worship together at Mass, rarely pray and daily live as if there be no God— they have surrendered the battle for souls before it could even begin.  Divine grace may yet save their children, but it will be in spite of them.  It would be so much better if they were instruments for God’s gifts of faith and holiness.

Passing on the faith is not simply a head trip, although the importance of facts cannot be eliminated from the equation.  However, this process, if we can call it that, must be to energize the dynamic of the domestic church.  Parents and older siblings should model faith to the younger ones.  All are called to a genuine personal and corporate relationship with Jesus Christ.  Too often the weak faith of children is mirrored in the malnourished faith of the parents.  Many adults suffer from poor or bad catechesis.  Many do not pray as they should or have an impoverished notion as to the importance and meaning of prayer.  If the children have their catechetical books, do the parents have theirs?  Is daily family prayer a staple of their living?  Do families open their bibles so as to create inroads for God’s communication with them?  Do families talk about or even list the intentions that they bring to the Sunday liturgy?

What is the first step in trying to form the child in the faith?  It begins with a transformation and rededication of parental hearts.  Mothers and fathers must acknowledge their privileged vocation as Christian parents and the spiritual role that they should play.  If children are to be spiritually fed and guided, then parents must first be nourished and strong in the faith.  How many times have I heard parents say that they learned something by looking at their children’s catechism books?  This is not bad but it sad when a thirty or forty year old person admits that he or she only has a second grade level understanding of the faith.  It is even more bizarre when children come home speaking with enthusiasm about their encounter with Jesus and the parents are befuddled since they are essentially strangers to the Lord.  The first step in raising a child in the faith begins with the spiritual life and religious formation of the parents.  Their values will become those of the children.  Indeed, often the anger parents express toward children when they fail to do religion homework or when they do something sinful is misdirected— they blame children for what is really their own guilt.

Parents need to get themselves in order so that they will be there in an effective manner for the children.  I often tell parents to share their walk with the Lord in their faith-talk. Some people, usually those with hardened hearts, argue that asking for forgiveness is a sign of weakness.  However, the opposite is true.  It takes courage for a person to admit fault and to ask for forgiveness.  We are all sinners.  One of the greatest witnesses that a parent can give his or her children, especially during the teen years, is the willingness and honesty to admit fault, to fall upon one’s knees, and to trust in the strength and mercy of God.  Our children will also make mistakes and take wrong turns.  This witness will show them the way back home to the Lord.

Questions for Parents

  • Are you witnessing your faith as you should— married in the Church, going to confession, participating at Sunday Mass, leading your family at daily prayer, and involved with charity apostolates in your parish or community?
  • Do you truly cherish the gift of your sons and daughters, not only caring for their material needs but insuring their spiritual and sacramental formation?
  • Do you really see yourself as a role model of faith for your children and teens, or are you embarrassed by your failure to be a fully committed Christian?
  • What is the positive witness you give your children?  What negative examples do you show them?
  • Given the faith and values you live by now, how do you think your children will remember you?
  • How Catholic do you want your children and grandchildren to be?  Do you want them to be cafeteria Catholics and part-time Christians or would you have them ignited and on fire for Christ?
  • Do you ever faith-talk with your children or is there only silence?  How honest are you with your children when it comes to religion? Have your children ever called you out for duplicity or hypocrisy?

Prophets are Set on Fire by God

February 10, 2019

[75] Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 6:1-2a, 3-8 / Psalm 138 / 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 / Luke 5:1-11

154956830224228680 (4)

The setting for the first reading is the temple, imaged as the place where God is both present and honored.  This is not dissimilar to how we regard the “real presence” of Christ in our churches.  Notice Isaiah speaks of seeing the train of God’s garment but no description is given about the deity.  Exodus 33:20 affirms that none could see the face of God and live.  This perspective will change with the coming of Christ who is regarded by Christians as giving a human face to God; he is the revelation of the Father.

Who or what are the Seraphim? While our angelic hierarchy differs from the Jews, the Seraphim are regarded in Christian tradition as angels of the highest rank. Angelology regards these six winged angels as essentially composed of fire and light.  It is in this sense that they share a special affinity with the LORD who is the greatest fire of all.  These angels are in close proximity to God.  They always keep their sights upon him. (A basic tenet of Scholastic philosophy is that when the veil is lifted between creatures and the absolute Good, which we associate with God, all are compelled to embrace it.  It is for this reason that we come to God in the mortal world by faith and not through sight.  At death our status becomes fixed, either sharing the beatific vision in heaven or rebelling to face the pains of hell.  Along these lines, some thinkers propose that a veil or cloud existed between God and his angels.  Tradition suggests that a third of the angels rebelled against God.  Existing outside of time their decision in obedience or rebellion is immutable.  The Seraphim bask in the light or fire of the absolute Good or the divine mystery.  Literally, “to see God” is “to worship God.”  That is why the catechism speaks of the angels and saints giving eternal glory to God in heaven.  The eyes of the saints are locked in awe upon the divine mystery forever.)

The prophet Isaiah acknowledges that he is a man of unclean lips and immediately in response a seraph comes to him with an ember taken with tongues from the altar.  We read, “He touched my mouth with it, and said, “See, now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.”  The prophet is not only chosen but he is enabled for his mission.  Isaiah receives his calling to which he accepts in the context of this worship.  Turning to Catholicism, the priest or bishop is ordained within the rituals of the Eucharistic liturgy.  Lay men and women are to live out their prophetic role in taking into the world that which they are given at every Mass, the message and risen person of Christ.

Notice the connection with worship to the fire of incense.  Just as we as Catholics speak of the Mass as our earthly participation in the marriage banquet of heaven; here there is a profound association or parallel between the worship of the temple where God is present and the heavenly adoration rendered by his angels.  The Seraphim offer a resounding hymn of praise, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts.  This formula of worship, called the Trisagion, becomes an important element of Christian worship, East and West.  Some of the ancient Church fathers would even discern something of the Trinitarian personhood of God in the hymn.  The word holy is more than a descriptive adjective— it is the very name of God as all HOLY.  Isaiah associates holiness with the ember that touches his lips.  He is essentially burned by the fire of God.  Fire destroys the old to make room for the new.  There is no space between us and the HOLY God for sin.  Christians associate this fire with the purification of souls in purgatory that approach the throne of God.  As for believers in this world, there is an expression for fervent believers that carries forth this theme— that they are “on fire” for Christ and the Gospel.

The responsorial furthers the topic of collaboration between men and angels in giving glory to God. The posture of all creation, material and spiritual, is one of dependence upon God.  When we as Christians envision the communion of the saints, we list righteous men and women as well as angelic beings.  The pure spirits may stand before us in the natural hierarchy; however, we attain our own privileged status in grace because the LORD becomes a member of the human family.  While the angels might differ from us more than any hypothetical and fictional space alien; they have become our protectors and friends in the family of faith.  The word “angel” means messenger.  While we retain our human nature, those called by the LORD in the race of Adam are also messengers of God’s truth and mercy.  Note how Jesus and his apostles go out to the world.

The apostle Paul is a type of Isaiah.  He says that he gives what he has received— in other words, the message of the saving death and resurrection of Christ.  Those who receive this message are admonished to hold fast to the faith so as not to believe in vain. He does not hesitate to mention his own witness as one who persecuted the Church and now, by God’s grace, to be the hardest working of the apostles.  He attributes his success to the grace of God.  God formed him so that he might also make disciples of others.  This is not unlike the angel’s gift of a burning ember upon the lips of Isaiah.  God forms us and makes us into his instruments. The alleluia verse and gospel reading bring forward the theme:  “Come after me and I will make you fishers of men.”  Following the pattern of Isaiah, both Paul and the apostle Peter respond to the LORD’s call.  Isaiah confesses to being a man of “unclean lips.”  Paul acknowledges his past persecution of Christians.  Peter says, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”  There is in each case a sense of unworthiness.   Jesus calls his first apostles, not within the confines of the religious temple, but while they are in their boats. There is no hesitation on their part.  Jesus tells them not to be afraid, the same words that he shares at the end of the Gospel.  Just like the great catch of fish, it is understood that God’s grace will allow an even greater catch for souls.

Where is Love?

February 3, 2019

[72] Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19 / Psalm 71 / 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13 / Luke 4:21-30

154956830224228680 (6)

How well does God know any of us?  We are told in the first reading that God knew us before we were formed in the womb.  Like Jeremiah, we too have been dedicated to the Lord and appointed as prophets to the nations.  As signs opposed, the Lord says, “Be not crushed on their account.”  We must not surrender our commission.  We must not give up hope.  This message of protection and a fortified city fits in neatly with the psalm’s admonition to take refuge in the Lord.  The Lord will give comfort and save us.

The Lord manifests for us throughout the Gospel what it means to be a sign of contradiction.  Today’s reading has Jesus speaking at his hometown’s synagogue.  The men there know him or at least they think they do.  They know his family and have seen him grow up in their midst.  These were the neighbors and friends that he most loved.  Their amazement at his words makes them question.  “Is this not Joseph’s son?”  Our Lord challenges them to the full truth of his identity.  Indeed, he would invite them to a new way of thinking and loving.  But he knows their hearts.  He relates how Elijah was only received by a single widow in Zarephath and that Elisha cleansed only the one leper, Naaman.   Those who reject the prophets are convicted by their sins.  His listeners become immediately aware that Jesus is placing them under the same conviction.  They have hardened their hearts.  They will not accept the one who is truly in their midst.  These people who mean so very much to Jesus become angry, so much so that they seek to put him to death.  But it is not yet the appointed time.  Jesus has the power and is in charge.  He passes “through the midst of them” and leaves them with murder in their hearts.  There is a sad poignancy here that resonates with the garden when Jesus is betrayed by a kiss from one he loves.

We all like to be liked.  I know that I do.  But sometimes we must speak the truth in love, no matter what the cost.  The commandment of love takes precedence over being liked.  Our Lord says that we must take up our crosses to follow him.  This is precisely done in assuming his likeness, Jesus, the sign that is opposed.  Priests often embrace this role, even before their congregations, and sometimes with their knees shaking. The collect to the Mass today is beautifully expressed:  “Grant us, Lord our God, that we may honor you with all our mind, and love everyone in truth of heart.”  Ah, if only every priest lived out this as an element of his celibate or single-hearted call to service!  Now a minister must speak the truth at a time when the moral authority of churchmen has been direly compromised.  The two-fold commandment of love from Christ is the solution to all our ills and evils— not that it allows us escape from the Cross but rather that it allows our Lord’s victory to be illumined without blemish.

Too many people say they love others when they really do not know what love is.  Others corrupt the very meaning of love.  The parish church gives us many symbols of love, if we have eyes to see.  There is the poor box, a source of material charity for those in need.  We see a statue in the back with Joseph holding the baby Jesus and a picture of the Holy Family up front with Mary holding her child.  They are witnesses to love within the family.  Mary is the handmaid of the Lord.  Joseph is the protector of the Holy Family.  Families are called to nurture the love of fidelity and the love that gives life in children— receiving them as gifts from God, nurturing them, teaching them, clothing them, sheltering and protecting them.  Spousal and parental love finds its deepest meaning in the crucifix that we find in the center of the church.  True love is always sacrificial.  The beloved means more to us than we do to ourselves.  There is a mutual surrender.  That flies in the face of the self-absorption that mutates love into something foreign from the heart of God— treating children as mere commodities, reducing the miracle of marital intimacy to lust where bodies are interchangeable and both infidelity and pornography poison hearts and minds.  Genuine love always raises up the sanctity of life and the dignity of persons.  If it does not do this then it is counterfeit, not true love at all, not love “in truth of heart.”

 The apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians about true love.  Again and again, he asserts that without love we are nothing— just making noise— utterly impoverished.  It bears repeating:  “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”

These words inspire and move the soul.  However, when we seek to show the practical ramifications, the prophets of this genuine love will quickly find rocks thrown in their direction.  Many wrongly love themselves more than others.  I hesitate to trespass into the area of partisan politics.  But this topic compels me to stressed again that we must belong to Christ before any political party and/or social or humanitarian movement.

“Grandma is taking her time dying and she is so very uncomfortable in the hospital. Plus it is so expensive; there will be nothing left for us when she finally dies.  She has lived long enough.  Let us be compassionate and pull the plug or have poison placed in her IV.”  Is it an impossible scenario?  It is happening right now.  “Those people are uneducated mongrels.  How did they enter this country anyway?  They are all rapists and drug addicts.  We should send them back from whence they came!  At least give them contraceptives so that we will not have to suffer their mangy litters!”  Racism and prejudice of this sort is always a form of hatred.  Nationalism is a similar ailment.  Love can be misplaced. The Lord shows us how to love.

Someone complained to me that her party has no pro-lifers.  Well, I said, maybe it is time for you to run?  We should not be lemmings marching mindlessly into the sea.  When we had the Cemetery of the Innocents display in front of the parish grounds, I received a call from a person complaining about “that Republican display.”  I tried to explain to her that as a Christian community we love both the parents and the child.  We believe in women’s rights and some of those women are in the womb.  Finally I told her that as far as I knew most of the men and women who put up the display were themselves registered Democrats.  Despite the propaganda, one party does not own this issue, even if extremists and their money have taken over much of the leadership.  Of course the Knights of Columbus led this effort, and they are regularly derided despite their good works.  Speaking for myself, I would rather be a good Christian or Catholic before being labeled a good (or bad) Democrat or Republican.

This past week many of us were in shock at the news regarding recent abortion legislation.  A Democratic sponsor of a Virginia abortion proposal acknowledged it could allow women to terminate a pregnancy up until the very moment before birth (during dilation), for reasons including mental health.  Similarly the governor of New York (a so-called Catholic) signed a bill that essentially removed all restrictions from abortion.  Doctors were no longer required and children that somehow survived abortions could now be killed afterwards.  Again, children could be destroyed up to the moment of birth.  Many are demanding the excommunication of the governor.  Why is it that some people cannot see that it is wrong to kill a fully formed baby ready to be born?  Where is maternal love?  What will the future hold?  Can it get still worse?   Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva write in the Journal of Medical Ethics: “When circumstances occur after birth such that they would have justified abortion, what we call after-birth abortion should be permissible. … We propose to call this practice ‘after-birth abortion’, rather than ‘infanticide,’ to emphasize that the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus … rather than to that of a child. Therefore, we claim that killing a newborn could be ethically permissible in all the circumstances where abortion would be. Such circumstances include cases where the newborn has the potential to have an (at least) acceptable life, but the well-being of the family is at risk.”  They write that “There is nothing magical about passing through the birth canal that transforms it from a fetus into a person.”  Certain ethicists would extend the time range where one might destroy the unwanted child to as much as three years of age outside the womb.

Where is love in all this?  It is in Christ that we can find the true meaning of love in a world that has forgotten.  Love and life are as two sides of a coin.  Christian couples are drawn to each other in love and that love brings forth new life.  Christ is the love that conquers the grave and grants us a share in eternal life.  We must witness to the truth of this love.