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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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Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 23, 2020
Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
[79] Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18 / Psalm 103 / 1 Corinthians 3:16-23 / Matthew 5:38-48

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The book of Leviticus goes back to the second year after the Exodus, around 1467 BC. It would reach its present form after various revisions between 538 BC and 332 BC. We like to imagine that over time we as a people mature in faith and morals; but human nature, while redeemed, remains broken. There are many who still search for meaning or purpose even though the great truth was revealed 3,500 years ago. We read:

The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them: Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.”

Everything that is said afterwards flows from that divine admonition. We are to wholeheartedly love our brothers and sisters. We are to pursue justice while always remembering the need for compassion and mercy. Although later eclipsed because of the hardness of hearts, the command of love that we attribute to Christ was given to Moses. Love is the spirit of the Law.

Holiness is sometimes defined as righteousness or right standing with God. However, this is less a description of holiness itself as it is reflective of the effects that flow from sanctity. Holiness is sometimes appreciated as “sacredness.  This meaning is drawn out in the story of the holy ground around the burning bush. Moses removed  his sandals as an acknowledgment that the ground is holy. However, here too the definition is inexact. The true holiness which is God, himself, could not be contained. It permeates the earth and the Scriptures note that Moses is transformed by his encounters with the divine. One might argue that “holy” is a name of God but one that cannot be truly defined. God is that mysterious and creative transcendent otherness that has deemed to come into a salvific communion with humanity. This otherness is defined in the Christian dispensation as “Holy, Holy, Holy” or the triune holiness. God reveals himself in Jesus Christ as both ONE (nature) and a TRINITY (persons). Seeking to understand the unfathomable, Augustine and Aquinas speak about the Trinity within the analogy of the human person: it is likened to the rational part of the human soul— “the mind, and the knowledge by which it knows itself, and the love by which it loves itself.”

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If there is any value in this speculation, it is in the fact that we must become like God. Our minds need to be enlightened by revelation and grace. We must know God and in truly knowing him, we (by necessity) love him. God takes the initiative but we are required to cooperate in opening our minds and in allowing our hearts to be softened and changed. This knowing God is more than a cold abstraction or an appreciation of the deity proposed by philosophers. The knowing that makes possible holiness is that of a saving encounter. God reveals himself as the one that has delivered the Israelites from bondage to the Egyptians. God reveals himself in Jesus Christ as the one who redeems us from the devil and from slavery to sin. The Father communicates his godhead through the incarnate Word. As Christians, we speak of this encounter with the divine as coming into a personal and communal faith in the Lord. Further, both in the Old and the New Testaments, this encounter with God is accompanied with the giving of commandments and the accompanying demand that we love one another. The Word sends the Holy Spirit upon his new People of God. Those who would have a share in eternal life must be infused by and joined together with divine Love. The one who is holy knows God in a vital and real relationship. The one who is holy obeys the commandments of God. The one who is holy allows his love for God to overflow upon his brothers and sisters. If we are to be holy as God is holy then we must be fully consecrated or set apart for his service— we belong wholly to him.

The responsorial repeats this message of sharing God’s holiness: “Bless the LORD, O my soul; and all my being, bless his holy name.” Blessing here is understood as a praising or adoration of God.  The Hebrews closely associate the name of someone with their personal identity. Names are not capricious. YOU are your name. That is why the calling upon the name of God was and “is” so very serious. We fulfill this command in many ways, particularly at the Sanctus at Mass (a truth I mention in many homilies).

St. Paul carries forward this theme of sharing in God’s holiness. He speaks of us as temples of God, of his holy presence. Again, where ever the divinity is found, his holiness permeates the person and his surroundings. Our jealous God will not share us: “all belong to you, and you to Christ, and Christ to God.”

The alleluia verse speaks of being “truly perfected” in Christ. Our Lord tells us that we must be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. Here too he means holiness. Jesus uses all sorts of language to speak about this, notably how we must be born again or put on the likeness of God. Jesus says in the Gospel, “For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Here again it is love that makes the transformation to holiness possible.

Jesus comes to restore that which was lost but he is also the fullness of revelation. The Romans thought the message of Jesus insane. Indeed, his own people would find him hard to understand. Even Christian believers are quick to compromise the assertions of Jesus. This love and holiness is foolishness to those who belong to the world. The kingdom of Christ stands in stark contrast to earthly kingdoms that do not know God. A fallen world still practices “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Can he really mean what he says?

Are we truly a holy people? Do we love our enemies? Do we pray for those who persecute us? Do we turn the cheek to those who attack us? Do we surrender to those who would take from us? Are we quick to give to any who would ask? Are we willing to go the extra mile for those who press us into service? The commands of Christ make us uncomfortable. There is a practical side to holiness that love unveils. It is more than empty words or piety. Indeed, to be holy as Christ is holy and to love as God loves us must always be measured by the passion and Cross.  It is love that disposes us to grace and holiness.  We must be temples or houses for the divine presence in this world if we hope to one day enter God’s house in the next.  Too many merely go through the motions.  It is by God’s power and holiness that we can be remade into the Lord’s likeness, that we might truly become the “holy ones” or saints of God.

German Summit, Shades of Martin Luther

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The recent manipulation of the Amazonian synod by German churchmen and now their own two-year summit hints at a coming religious revolution.  It echoes the division and devastation enacted by Martin Luther.  The disgruntled monk similarly sought alliances with dissenting religious leaders and earthly rulers. The princes of old are gone but the secular politics of the world are still every bit as opposed to the interests of the Catholic Church as they were before. While Catholicism has moved forward at the pace dictated by providence and the Holy Spirit; we are again a church plagued by scandals and not with one heresy but assaulted by all of them under the heading of modernism.

The German Summit Begins

The first assembly for the German summit was from January 30 to February 1, 2020. Pointing to an atmosphere of rebellion, Cardinal Reinhard Marx made it clear last year that this synod would continue despite objections from Pope Francis. Arguably more Protestant than Catholic, the Central Committee of German Catholics rebuked Pope Francis for a “lack of courage for real reforms” after the promulgation of his Post-Synodal Exhortation (To the People of God and to All Persons of Good Will the Church in the Amazon). Disappointed, but unwilling to give in on the reforms he has championed, Cardinal Marx of Münich asserted that the topics from the synod were “by no means off the table.”

If the subject matter is something that cannot be changed then what is the purpose of such discussions? Are we stirring the pot to ferment trouble or might we find answers that respect the truth, tradition and the needs of a changing world?  Praxis must follow and safeguard doctrinal truth.  When it takes the lead there is no assurance that it is in fidelity with what is right or good.  Further, we must be honest as to the sources of formation.  Are new ideas and stratagems emerging from revelation and the sources of doctrine or from outside the parameters of our constant faith?  Religious relativism and indifference have now made space for defection to other “denominations” or even for the faithless slide into the new atheism.  It seems to me that such was unavoidable given the relativism of truth to human whim and secular expediency.

Artificial Contraception

While all Christian churches condemned artificial contraception for 1,900 years, today Catholicism is viewed by her own congregants as backward and out-of-sync among liberal and conservative believers alike. Back in the 1960’s and the first days of the Vatican reforms and Humanae Vitae, the controversy on this issue should have awakened us to the core problem that would revisit us in other matters ready to explode like divorce, abortion and same-sex bonds.

Unfortunately, we did a poor job of communicating the Church’s rich Christian anthropology.  The incarnation of Christ grants prominence to the dignity of human persons and the sanctity of life.  Persons are not interchangeable.  While animated by immortal souls, the body is not unimportant.  We are not spirits operating extraneous or robotic bodies of flesh and blood.  Unlike the angels we are not pure spirits.  A body without a soul is a corpse.  A soul without a body is a ghost.  The integrated human person is properly a body and soul.  This is how we live and relate to one another.  The sacrament of marriage, along with its obligations and duties, focuses on this reality of human beings as corporeal persons.  We are our bodies.  While love cannot be contained to this world, marriage is a reality that ends at the door of death.   We are promised that we will be like angels and yet with Christ’s resurrection, we are given a clue as to the glorification of the body that awaits us and our restoration, body and soul.  Our understanding of identity embraces an intense appreciation of the human person as a corporeal-spiritual composite.

Gender is not an accidental but rather touches the central meaning of who and what we are.  There is a complementarity of sexes, and while there is an equality in grace it is not mathematical.  We are different.  It is this difference that draws men and women together.  How we are made is also how we relate and communicate.  God has a plan for us and we are called to discern this plan.  When it comes to married couples, there is a basic failure to appreciate that the marital act is more than the mechanics of the sex act but is a profound self-donation to the beloved that trusts the will of God and selflessly embraces the mystery and treasure of human life. Couples that would define their relationships by contraceptive acts, short-change their calling and the openness to life that is a hallmark of their vocation.

The problem of contraception is not a new question although technology has come a long way from the Egyptian use of crocodile dung. The Church saw it as an offense against the first command of Genesis to be fruitful and multiply. Families can be both responsible and open to the gift of life. They can cooperate with God instead of treating God as the enemy and his gift and blessing of children as a disease to be medicated away.

Divorce and Remarriage

While it has been very much in the news, especially given an apparent lack of clarity from Pope Francis, it must be proposed that the Catholic Church still accepts Christ for his word when he condemns divorce and exposes its link to adultery. Unless it is unlawful (the reason why there is an annulment process), marriage endures until the death of a spouse. The Catholic Church stands almost alone in this teaching as many of the Orthodox churches permit second penitential bonds and most Protestant churches will bless unions with divorcees or even with persons of the same sex.  As a sacrament, we are supposed to see in marriage something of Christ’s relationship with his Church.  Promises are made and Christ keeps his promises.  We should pursue the same fidelity.

When it comes to marriage, few churchmen are ogres who want to hurt others. We realize that mistakes can be made. Many of the irregular unions also include children and a genuine desire to return to the sacraments. How do we work with them without destroying the basic meaning of the sacrament? Annulments, properly and honestly done, are part of the solution. Just as married priests in the early days of the Church were asked to embrace perfect continence, might this suggest an answer in certain situations? Can we be more proactive at the beginning of relationships so as to reduce the number of failed marriages? We certainly emphasize that even if couples cannot be invited forward to receive Holy Communion, they should still go to Mass and render God the worship due to him as believers. We are all sinners and all sinners should know that they will never be turned away from the church doors even if they should refrain from coming to the altar. The Mass is still the re-presentation of the sacrifice of Calvary.  I suspect that there were many on the hill of Christ’s death who were similarly drawn to Jesus and his message but remained ill-disposed to fully benefit from the sacramental moment.

Same-Sex Unions and Homosexual Acts

Older Christians have experienced a reversal in how homosexuals are viewed and treated.  The revulsion and prohibition against homosexuality once shared between the Church and state has been turned totally on its head. What was regarded as a perversion and as illegal is now reckoned by secular society as good, permissible and as something which must be actively promoted. Those who oppose homosexual sin are now reckoned as bigots.  Indeed, laws are increasingly targeting believers who want to be tolerant or co-exist but cannot find it in themselves to celebrate what they understand as wrong and as grievous sin.

When it comes to the matter of same-sex relationships, is there a way to acknowledge love and friendship outside of the paradigm of matrimony? Might we recover an expanded appreciation of chaste brotherhood and sisterhood? Could it be that the prevalent eroticism of our times has poisoned this issue?

Abortion and the Sanctity of Life

The issue of abortion is particularly troublesome as the news parades Catholic politicians clapping and cheering the removal of any and all restrictions upon the termination of pregnancies. Literally children nine months in the womb and ready to be born are now vulnerable to what is more infanticide than abortion. The Church proclaims a Gospel of Life that is increasing politicized and made one issue among many. The Church would still proclaim that if one’s life is taken then for that person there are no more issues. We are not opposed to the genuine rights of women.  We refuse to engage in the culture of death’s great deception.  The Catholic Church defends the rights of everyone.  We give voice to the voiceless.  The Church speaks up for the rights of all women and some of those women are in the womb.

The issue of abortion can certainly be expanded for a better defense of life in scenarios of war and non-combatants, the elderly and euthanasia and the value or lack thereof of the death penalty in crime prevention, etc. However, this is not a pick-and-choose list. If a person is pro-abortion but opposed to capital punishment, he or she is not pro-life. We need to appreciate the non-commensurate value of human life wherever it exists.

Holy Orders as Restricted to Men

The question of holy orders is frequently considered within the apologetic of power and rights. It should rather be understood in the context of service and gift. The pattern that Jesus gave us is not one upon which we are free to diverge. He selected only men as his apostles, despite the fact that there were notable women who witnessed as prophets to the Gospel: his Mother Mary, the sisters of Lazarus (Martha and Mary), the Samaritan woman at the well, Mary Magdalene and others. The early councils like Nicea forbade the laying on of hands or ordination of women. The solemn proclamation of St. Pope John Paul II on the subject was definitive and infallible. Only some men and no women are called to be priests. However, the priesthood is a gift to all of us who participate at Mass and in the sacraments. We share our differing gifts for the good of the whole body. No one has a right to the priesthood. There is no egalitarian equivalence between men and women, although both are equally invited to faith, baptism and grace.  One can prepare for priesthood but no one deserves it. It is purely a gift. If women cannot be priests or bishops then they are logically also prevented from membership in the third tier of holy orders, the diaconate. The evidence is that women in the New Testament who were called deaconesses were not ordained. They cared for female neophytes preparing for baptism. In certain cases, they were simply the wives of ordained deacons.

We can look for ways to include more women in decision-making, but holy orders will never be open to them.  Not only does the tradition not support it, there is evidence of opposition to the prospect.  The witness of the Anglicans is insignificant because apostolic succession was already compromised and they responded to the cries of modernity, not to the dictates of Scripture and Tradition.

Value in the Discipline of Priestly Celibacy

Further, the gift of priesthood or holy orders cries out for a single-hearted love. While a discipline, there is an integral relationship between the priesthood and the charism of celibacy.  (This subject was of such importance that many married men in the apostolic and patristic age were required to pursue perfect continence when they were ordained.) Given that the Holy Father picked the name FRANCIS for his pontificate, I am not surprised that he has resisted calls to allow married men to serve as priests in the Amazon. Traditionally, celibacy is interpreted as an element of apostolic POVERTY and is appreciated in the context of Jesus’ encounter with the rich man who went away sad “because his possessions were many.”

  • The Council of Nicea (325 AD) forbade the laying on of hands or ordination of women.
  • The Council of Carthage (390) commanded celibacy or perfect continence for priests.
  • The First Lateran Council (1123) & the Second Lateran Council (1139) prohibited clerical marriage and cohabitation.

A Few Closing Thoughts

What is it exactly that the extended German summit hopes to achieve by its assessment of Catholic sexual morality and  the dynamics of priestly life in regard to celibacy and the role of women? The American bishops following Pope John Paul II’s 1995 letter to women also promulgated a pastoral “reflection” on women (after much consultation where dissenters tried to hijack the discussion). The bishops attempted to make appeasement where the Holy Father inadvertently made enemies of certain progressives and radical feminists. However, in the end their effort was so watered down that it was of little lasting value, restricting itself to the unexplored themes of leadership, equality, and the diversity of gifts. The focus moved away from women in the Church to their general place in society. This is not to say that the document lacks utility for future discussions about the extension of praxis that respects the laws of nature and the revealed truths of God. When it comes to the new German effort, it appears that dissenting lay Catholic organizations are being given more a voice than those with a significant traditional faith footprint. Theologians can assist the Magisterium but they are not the Church’s teaching authority, themselves.

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 16, 2020
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
[76] Sirach 15:15-20 / Psalm 119 / 1 Corinthians 2:6-10 / Matthew 5:17-37

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The first reading from Sirach is all about choices. God takes the initiative. He creates us and reveals himself. He forgives us when we fall and puts us on the path of redemption. He calls a people to himself and gives them his law. His providence directs saving history with the leadership of patriarchs, prophets and deliverers. Ultimately he sends his Son so that we might truly see his face and know his love and mercy. Every choice of God enables and calls forth choices from us in response. You can choose to keep the commandments. You can choose to trust God. You can choose good or evil, life or death. It was such in the Garden of Eden when disobedience and purloined fruit from a forbidden tree distorted the spiritual trajectory of the whole human race. It was true in the Garden of Gethsemane when the fidelity of Christ in embracing his mission made possible the saving fruit of his flesh and blood on the dead tree of the Cross; our Lord would restore our course or orientation to God the Father. Between these two choices are all the choices of men and women from the beginning of time to the final consummation.

One of my favorite biblical passages (Deuteronomy 30:19-20) teaches a similar message:

“I call heaven and earth today to witness against you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the LORD, your God, obeying his voice, and holding fast to him. For that will mean life for you, a long life for you to live on the land which the LORD swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give to them.”

Our sins affect us but they also touch others. They hurt our families and the community. Disharmony and iniquity is also passed down from one generation to the next. If we choose life and fidelity then we can help break the chain. As Christians we know that Jesus is the one who has interceded so as to help us exchange an inheritance of suffering, sin and death for one of healing, forgiveness and life.

Willing obedience in charity disposes us to the choice or providence of God to forgive and to save us. The choice to trust God is never made in vain, even if we fail to understand his response. Trust is the opening of our hands to receive the gifts of God. His ultimate gift is life, not just physical life, but a share in the eternal life merited by God’s Son. Closed hands— faces turned away— hardened hearts— such cannot receive the Lord’s life-giving graces. The choice has always been the same: life or death, good or evil. What are the choices we face in the modern world? It may be that many decisions we make have no definite right or wrong. We decide to go to college or a trade school or straight to work. We decide on an occupation or vocation to pursue. We decide where we might live and the lifestyle we want to pursue. We make decisions about friends and relationships. Some decisions have only immediate weight; others like marriage or a vocation have a lasting gravity. Choices are also connected to promises. God promises to restore a fallen people in the book of Genesis. That promise is fulfilled in the Gospel with Christ. Just as God keeps his promises so should we. Remaining true to promises is a statement about commitment and one’s depth of character. Promises can cost us. This truth is realized every time we look at a crucifix. It is the meaning behind our Lord’s summons to take up the cross and to follow him.

The choices we make have a role in defining us and our relationship with God and each other. Those who are war mongers, violent, bigoted, liars, greedy, lustful, jealous, and self-absorbed have chosen sin. While we are all sinners, some are consumed by their iniquity. Those who are deceptive try to escape their promises. Those who are adulterers have broken their promises to a beloved and to God. Those who are narcissistic have no room in themselves to properly love others or to worship God. There are many who make excuses for their sins or have beseeched the demonic to cover up their wrongs and so invoke a spiritual blindness. We often see this, even in people who say they care. About this they lie to themselves. They forget that ours is a jealous God and they substitute the demands of a worldly reign over the kingdom of Christ. Forfeiting freedom in Christ, they choose to become the property of corporations or movements or parties or the devil or what-have-you.

They enable as lawful the destruction of unwanted children or the neglect and castigation of the unsightly poor or the persecution of feared ethnic groups and immigrants. Often they will substitute apparent goods, like a short-sighted concern for women or the need to conserve limited resources or the preservation of national security and identity. The Church is ridiculed for trying to set guideposts to alternative choices, particularly those that safeguard human dignity, the sanctity of life and marital fidelity between men and women. We live at a time, when choices mired in selfishness and sin, are rationalized as lawful liberties and rights. There is even the blasphemy that God would desire or bless murder and sexual deviation. The first reading is clear, “No one does he command to act unjustly, to none does he give license to sin.”

Vector Cartoon of Nun standing with ruler ready to strike.

The responsorial emphasizes how God blesses those who “observe his decrees” and “follow the law of the Lord.” Given that a quarter of the U.S. population currently does not believe in God and many others only go through the motions, it is no wonder that so many dismiss what God commands in Scripture and in the preaching of the Church. Take God out of the picture and divine positive law would be reduced to the impoverished dictates of flawed human beings, capricious and changeable. Those who have embraced atheism or the other extreme (the occult) have substituted something else for the true God, breaking the first commandment. Those who curse and take the Lord’s name in vain have violated the second. Those who take no time out for rest and prayer, only going to Mass when they feel like it, have obviously forgotten the third commandment. Neglect God and we do not know how to love and how to treat others. Parents should be honored but how can they be so treated when they are not honorable, failing in the faith formation of their children and in substituting materialism and pornography for the presence of the Lord in their homes. There goes the fourth. Hatred, violence and abuse are often visited in the family but many also promote abortion, all of which are sins against the fifth commandment. Broken marriages and divorce is widespread. Couples cohabitate and commit acts of fornication and/or adultery— so much for the sixth commandment. Many take what they can get and feel that it is okay so long as they are not caught. Goodbye to number seven, “thou shall not steal.” As for lying, sometimes it seems that people have lost the ability to give a straight answer. Lying to protect ourselves has become a widespread social habit. That is the collapse of commandment eight. Coveting another’s spouse has become the lucrative industry of porn in movies, magazines, on television and the internet. This lust devalues human beings. With the desecration of commandment nine there is only number ten left. The dominoes keep falling. Coveting a neighbor’s goods is what drives our rampant consumerism and materialism. Few are content with what they have and they resent those who have more. There is not a commandment of the Decalogue that is left undisturbed.

The selection from Corinthians asserts that the wisdom of God is not known by the world. How we live in the world betrays whether we know and love the Lord. The violation of the commandments is more than the breaking of rules; it is a failure to love and trust the person of Christ. There is an intimate connection between human iniquity and our participation in the crucifixion of the Lord of glory. Indeed, in the Gospel he asserts that our place in the kingdom will be measured out according to how we keep the commandments and enable others to do so. Jesus says that he has come not to abolish the law and the prophets but to fulfill them. Our Lord raises the bar. He tells his listeners that their holiness must surpass the scribes and Pharisees. When it comes to the fifth commandment, Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, you shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment . . . .” We recall the first murder of Abel by Cain. Killing is way too easy for us. We are a race of murderers. Indeed, our sins target the Son of God for execution. When it comes to the sixth commandment, the Lord tells us that just to look at women with lust would constitute adultery. Divorce, tolerated by the Mosaic Law, is forbidden as associated with adultery. Referencing the eighth commandment, Jesus finally urges against any deception. This last reference is important because Christians will be called to proclaim the truth of the Gospel. Any perjury would be an offense against God and undermine the truth. Each and every sin in the life of a Christian disciple constitutes a falsehood or hypocrisy or lie. We pretend to be something we are not. Jesus would have us as authentic witnesses to his saving work and mercy.

This homily is largely about the choices that we make. There can be no passive discipleship. While it might sound contradictory, the decision not to choose is a choice, and not a good one. While the devil would prefer us engaged in active iniquity; he would settle with inactivity. If we are not proactive with the Lord then we stand in opposition to him. The culpability of sin falls upon both its immediate agents and those who allow evil and ignorance to spread unopposed. There come times in the lives of believers when we must take a stand or fall. We cannot remain spectators along the road to Calvary. Any who would belong to Jesus must eventually take up his own cross and follow where the Master has gone before us. This move to discipleship should not be hesitant or without enthusiasm. We do not embrace suffering and death for its own sake. Rather, the believer delights in the opportunity to witness for the Lord. We seek transformation by the blessings or benedictions of Christ.

Jesus has conquered the curse that we might receive the blessings of God (Matthew 5:3-12) — benedictions that transform our identity from children of wrath to adopted children of a loving Father.

  • We are refashioned as “poor in spirit,” finding our true treasure in the kingdom.
  • Weeping over our sins we are given divine “comfort.”
  • We turn away from violence and seek to be the “meek” that trust in God.
  • We are confident that our “hunger and thirst for righteousness” will one day be satisfied.
  • We seek “clean hearts” washed by the blood from the Paschal Lamb.
  • We invoke the blessing of the Prince of Peace that we might be “peacemakers” in a world that needs to see the loving face of God and know the brotherhood of man.

Believers find joy in standing in right relationship with God. They are given a share in eternal life and eternal joy. It is this joy that propels the long legacy of martyrs to receive the blessing of “persecution for the sake of righteousness.” This world is passing. We set our sights on the kingdom of heaven.

Men under Authority & Heralds of the Truth

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The Priest as a Man between Two Kingdoms

Priests are citizens with the rights that all citizens enjoy, including the freedom of speech. However, priests are also the shepherds or sentinels of another kingdom, one that has its own laws and superiors. While the priest is consecrated to the truth by his ordination, he also functions as an extension of his bishop. He is given faculties to preach, to celebrate Mass, to absolve sins in confession and to offer the other sacraments. At ordination he makes a promise or vows to be obedient to the bishop and to his successors. While the Church can enact sanctions when missteps are made, she appreciates that her priests must be free to engage the world and to proclaim the Gospel in all the forums available to them in contemporary society.  That does not mean that certain voices cannot be censured, only that we as a Church should err on the side of orthodoxy and freedom.

The State of Affairs

Individuals (like priests) and organizations can come under scrutiny for their public stances.  This may or may not result in just assessments and responses.

I recall years ago McCarrick (then Cardinal) telling me prior to a funeral that EWTN and her commentators (including priests) were not our friends.  (I hesitated to tell him that I had met and supported Mother Angelica back in the 1980’s.)  She succeeded on a shoestring budget to maintain a Catholic television network when the USCCB effort floundered despite the millions of dollars earmarked.  Mother Angelica cold be quite vocal and combative about her faith and values.  Notably I recall her rant about a girl in the role of Jesus during the Stations of the Cross at World Youth Day as well as her public fight with Cardinal Mahoney over a pastoral letter judged weak on the real presence of the Eucharist.  She was compelled to apologize to the archbishop and when she attempted to do so the cable feed to Los Angeles went out for a few moments . . . a mystery to this day.

A high ranking clergyman held council with peers where he asked, “What are we to do with these young priests and conservative bloggers?” He was a hard working priest but also an aging progressive concerned about what he saw as growing numbers of men attached to the old Latin Mass and lacking enthusiasm for Vatican II.  He has since passed away.  Soon thereafter the tabernacle in his church returned to the center.

Similarly, I have encountered angry critics on the right who demanded that The Catholic Reporter newspaper be told to stop calling itself “Catholic,” given its dissent on women priests, contraception and so much else. Nothing happened because the left often ignores churchmen who speak from tradition.  Their experience is that threats can be ignored as they often prove to be mere empty bluffs.

However, by contrast the much maligned RealCatholicTV (regarded as somewhat unapologetic or even caustic in its defense of orthodoxy and tradition) became Church Militant in the face of canonical pressure from the Detroit Archdiocese.  Those on the right might take strong exception to the excesses of liberalism and upset certain higher ups; but when all is said and done (unlike the left) they are frequently the ones who embrace obedience as a measure of fidelity.

I daily read online voices (to which I am honestly sympathetic) demanding censure for figures like the Jesuit Fr. James Martin who is widely viewed as an advocate for homosexual acceptance and other progressive issues.  Instead, he is frequently hailed as the darling of the liberal establishment.  Given my personal proclivity toward tradition and to embrace eternal truths over fad, I am at a loss to understand weak responses to those voices that dissent against our traditional doctrines, values and ceremonial practices.

Confusion & the Many Voices

Why does correction so often come first from the laity or lower clergy when the bishops are the chief shepherds of the faith?  Why does it sometimes seem that the wrong voices are dismissed or silenced?  Further, the confusion of our age, so often realized in the media, has various bishops and cardinals at odds with each other.  I am reminded of St. Paul’s counsel when he wrote,

I urge you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose. For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers, by Chloe’s people, that there are rivalries among you.  I mean that each of you is saying, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:10-13)

Preaching & Teaching the TRUTH in the Modern Media

Unless there is a willingness to remonstrate dissenters, then any upcoming policies or stratagems for the involvement of clergy on radio, television, internet social media, etc. would become capricious and likely unjust.  More than rules, there must be a clear articulation of rights and responsibilities that will insure the continued preaching and teaching in these forums of priests who love the Lord, care about God’s people and have the mind of the living Church.

As a long-time priest blogger (going back to 1995) any constructive criticism I would personally render the universal Church would always be accompanied with a great deal of trepidation and reserve. Too often I have witnessed media priests on television and online parade as if they are the all-knowing judges of bishops and popes. Current forums for communication and of social media give them a standing far more extensive than their actual status would merit. Many have displaced their bishops in the expansive reach that they have in speaking to the masses of the faithful and those outside the Church.

A priest might have a disagreement with his bishop but ultimately the priest is to discern the voice of Christ and the movement of providence in this profound relationship of a father to his son.  Both men need to exert proper discretion and demonstrate a respect for persons.  The priest must earnestly seek to be of one mind with his bishop and honest with him if that should be difficult or impossible.  Unity with the living Christ is what makes this possible.  The priest has embraced a servitude not shared with the layman. Values and the demands of conscience are strained if the bishop is unjust or if his hypocrisy ranks with that of McCarrick in living a duplicitous and hypocritical life.  No one can compel another to commit evil but there are all sorts of practical decisions that might not cross this threshold.  A priest may have to follow the practical decisions of his bishop (made in good faith) even when he personally takes exception to them.  Taking up the cross and following Jesus places the priest in the role of the slave to the centurion.

“For I too am a person subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.” (Matthew 8:9-10)

A Shared Message & Acting with Prudence or Tact

Again, while no authority can compel a man to sin or to commit an unethical act; the priest must generally do as he is told by his bishop.  He accepts the work given to him, goes where he is sent and communicates a message that is in solidarity with his bishop and the universal Church.  Such is for the good and furtherance of the kingdom.  If both men have the heart and mind of the Christ and his Church then there should be little problem.  The priest should not ordinarily discuss personal disagreements with his superiors in homilies or on public blogs. Criticism is often picked up by those who are angry with the hierarchical Church.  Renegade priests, with their egos wildly inflated, might quickly be hailed as heroes in opposition to the bishops and the Holy See (maligned as anachronistic or as villains). This can also lead to a feigned fidelity or hollow obedience to lawful authority where privileged information and private communications are recklessly published for the entire world to see. It is unseemly for priests to solicit public opinion and controversy so as to sustain their efforts against their ordinary’s will and to increase their popularity in the press and blogosphere.

Canon law is not silent about this:

Can. 273Clerics are bound by a special obligation to show reverence and obedience to the Supreme Pontiff and their own ordinary.

Can. 287Most especially, clerics are always to foster the peace and harmony based on justice which are to be observed among people.

Can. 1369A person who in a public show or speech, in published writing, or in other uses of the instruments of social communication utters blasphemy, gravely injures good morals, expresses insults, or excites hatred or contempt against religion or the Church is to be punished with a just penalty.

Can. 1373A person who publicly incites among subjects animosities or hatred against the Apostolic See or an ordinary because of some act of power or ecclesiastical ministry or provokes subjects to disobey them is to be punished by an interdict or other just penalties.

Can. 1390A person who offers an ecclesiastical superior any other calumnious denunciation of a delict or who otherwise injures the good reputation of another can be punished with a just penalty, not excluding a censure.

Our Unity with the Pope

Like a number of priests, I have sometimes felt hurt by the harsh words of Pope Francis toward faithful priests labeled as “rigid.” (However, no matter how reluctantly, I also try to take his words to heart for self-reflection.)  I have confessed to confusion as to how we might invite those under the sin of adultery to receive the Eucharist and sacramental absolution as the Holy Father seems to suggest. But is this what he really teaches?  The lack of clarity can be frustrating.  Is he hoping that we might come up with some of the practical answers and is merely stirring the pot?  I have been troubled in conscience by sentiments on behalf of and allowances for false religion. I would very much like a more proactive and tough stance toward the issue of wayward clergy, especially the active homosexuals and the pederasts. But I am not the Pope. Maybe he is closer to the Divine Mercy than many of us?  Voices from the left and right might attempt to usurp papal prerogatives but it is to him alone that Jesus has made the ROCK of the Church. Other bishops have a special role to assist him as members of the Magisterium. Priests and laity have the obligation to support the hierarchy and to remain faithful to the mission given us by the Lord.

Civil Discourse & the Danger of Scandal

While there is a moral requirement that all should avoid damaging scandal, this must be measured with the weight that belongs to the necessary value of revealed truth. Not in direct possession of all the facts, individual priests need to be extremely careful as to what they write and say, no matter how deeply troubled in their souls. Fr. Barron (now Bishop Barron) would model for us a clergyman who thinks with the Church and respects lawful authority. Online he is quicker to celebrate Catholicism then to condemn particular believers or leaders. I might agree with certain opinions he holds or not (as about the peril of hell and judgment) but we are still on the same side.  However, there are plenty of others who lack charity and good judgment. They have introduced the polarity we see from civil politics into Church discourse where if one does not absolutely agree with them then he or she is portrayed as the enemy. They would quickly label others as heretics, even the Pope. They utterly dismiss any checks-and-balances that would be placed on their actions. They seem to forget that the only one of us assured of any singular protection regarding the teachings and morals of faith is the Holy Father who enjoys a special relationship with the Holy Spirit. Yes, he can make personal mistakes about praxis and in private opinions. That is why he (most of all) needs to be careful when he speaks or writes. But his office always requires respect and there must be a certain degree of religious assent even regarding things that we would judge as needing fraternal correction. Progressive or liberal dissenters have often shown little concern about teaching things at variance with the Holy See. That cannot be the way for those who feel a commitment to tradition even if there is an apparent variance with the Pope on certain matters. Ultimately, what does Pope Francis desire? What answer is he struggling to find? How can we co-exist in the modern world? Is there a way to bring those in irregular unions back home to the faith? How do we restore the importance of marriage and family? How might we call people to holiness, even those who define themselves as homosexuals? Is there a way to love them and not compromise upon what we believe to be true? How do we wake up those in a culture of death to the Gospel of Life? So-called conservatives, I prefer the word “orthodox” believers, should never perceive themselves as adversaries to the Holy See. Reflecting upon the Council of Jerusalem, St. Paul would argue with St. Peter but St. Peter was still the ROCK instituted by Christ. When St. Peter concurred with St. Paul on the manner of receiving the Gentiles into the faith then the debate was closed and the issue resolved— St. Peter had spoken.

Need for Good Bishops & Priests Dedicated to the Truth

Bishops— good, bad and mediocre— are still the full successors of the apostles and high priests of the Church. The tragedy is that criminal priests and bishops walk in the dark shadows of Judas, the one apostle who betrayed his Lord. It is this pain that we feel about the abusers among the priests and bishops. Like Judas, they must be removed and replaced.  Some bishops did not abuse anyone but they were more fearful of scandal than the need to protect the “little ones.” These are like the other apostles who went into hiding. They failed to profess the complete truth, as with St. Peter in the courtyard. When identified as one of Jesus’ followers, he cries out again and again, “I tell you, I do not know the man.” There is a lot of anger about dangerous men reassigned or hidden away. Some listened to the wrong voices.  How do we protect the children but also prevent wronging innocent men?  We are quick to condemn but Jesus forgives St. Peter and his other followers. He tells them, “Be not afraid.” Today, more than ever before, we need bishops, priests and laity who can live out a “courageous” faith dedicated to compassion and the “truth.”

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Our Posture in the Face of Scandal

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The issue of sexual abuse by clergy is a topic that pains us all very deeply, including good priests. We take very seriously our role as spiritual fathers to the children of God. Clergy suffer much guilt by association and while we lament the growing distance and hurdles to privacy between ourselves and those whom we serve, we realize that it is necessary if we are to protect the youth from possible predators in our ranks. As a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, I feel a particular shame that our former archbishop McCarrick could live a duplicitous life of depravity while being hailed as an important and holy churchman. Bishop Joseph E. Strickland of Tyler, Texas reported to the Catholic News Service last month that he asked the Holy Father why the files of the McCarrick case were still sealed:  “I said these allegations about McCarrick need to be investigated, and they have been, and the report, according to Pope Francis yesterday will be published.

While we certainly want transparency in how such matters are investigated to insure both compassion to victims and justice, it must be admitted that bishops are in a precarious situation. Given the “corporate sole” status of a diocese, each ordinary is both entrusted with the ecclesial resources of God’s people and is the most liable target for litigation. Often the innocent in the pews pay for the sins of priests. Good bishops try to protect vulnerable persons, bring healing to the betrayed and wounded, safeguard the resources of the larger faith community (which is also innocent) and preserve the reputation of Christ’s Church. While episcopal apologies might not suffice they are necessary in the process of healing for those wronged and others who are disappointed.

EWTN and other credible news sources have all reported that McCarrick’s sexual abuse of seminarians was supposedly known to bishops going back to the 1990’s. Here I would agree with the voices demanding answers about how such a man could rise to power. This is not a matter of calumny or gossip but something that must be made known if it is to be prevented from happening again. Was it because of the large amounts of money he raised? Was it because he was the darling of liberal politicians? Was there a homosexual network that protected and promoted its own? All this is very scandalous and the Church needs to be forthcoming with answers. God’s people must be assured that those who were involved are no longer pulling the strings. The weight of moral culpability is raised several notches with the charges of abused minors. The allegations of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò would imply a string of dark associations that trouble the soul but which remain the province of the Church to investigate and to share with God’s people. More heads might roll but the old proverb is true, “the truth will set you free.”

Remain faithful to the Catholic Church.  Pray for the victims and for good priests.  If we trust the Lord then we will weather this storm.