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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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The Dying Who See the Dead

QUESTION:

My father recently passed unexpectedly. The days leading up to his death he kept seeing our dead relatives. Through research I find seeing passed relatives is common. I was curious if there is any explanation for this?

RESPONSE:

Yes, this is something I have also encountered in my ministry.  I am at odds to give an explanation.  I have heard that there are neurological reasons that would bypass any paranormal definition.  I shudder to imagine that nature should seek to bring calm to the dying by fooling them with false visions of the beloved dead.  It may be that there is a parallel and connection that we cannot analyze between the physical brain and the mind that is a property of the human soul.  Hallucinations or dreams or visions of the dead seem to bring calm to the dying.  Evidently in certain near-death experiences, such brings down blood pressure and heart-rates so that the afflicted might even survive.  As a believer, I must attest to our hope that the Lord and the saints who have gone before us will welcome us into the heavenly kingdom.         

A Teacher Questioning a Reading Given Students

QUESTIONS:

I am a new English teacher at a Catholic school. I want to be very careful about exposing students to inappropriate literature. I don’t want to give scandal in any way.

My question is this: is it a sin for me to have them read books that may have inappropriate content like sexual innuendos or rape?

My other question is this: the teacher before me assigned a book for summer reading called Native Son, which I am now reading.

There are some inappropriate parts like the ones I mentioned above.

I am worried that I am committing a sin by letting the students read this even though I didn’t pick it. Should I email the students (they are seniors in high school) and tell them they don’t have to read it?

RESPONSE:

Is it a sin?  Reading the book in question may not be sinful but this leaves open the issue as to whether it is age appropriate.  The fact that it is approved and assigned has been taken out of your hands.  I would suggest doing your best to help the young people deal with the themes— especially with a superficial and flawed understanding of religious faith. 

I knew Native Son was being read in college but did not know it was on high school reading lists.  There are a couple of versions available and I know that an earlier abridged version is still in print.  The work deals with themes that are still quite contemporary regarding race and justice.  While there is value in this, I would hope that teachers would use the work as a starting point for discussion and not as an apologetic that would project (as the author might) a future world.  The author has been accused of adopting a Marxian dialectic and while religion plays its part in the text, the assessment is negative.  Indeed, Richard Wright arguably sees Christianity as part of the problem, offering a mythical “pie-in-the-sky” that avoids seeking social change in the here-and-now. The current Black Lives Matter organization much in the news right now espouses on its website such a position.  The Klan’s notorious use of a flaming cross has turned off many people of faith.  Ideally Christianity should give us a thirst for justice and change that reflects the values of Christ’s kingdom and the brotherhood of man. It is not an opiate that appeases or short-circuits movement toward such reform. Of course, one of the greatest heroes of the struggle for racial justice is the Baptist minister, Dr. Martin Luther King.  Many in the black community are at odds over the role of faith. 

As for elements of sexuality, it is a part of our humanity; although I must admit to being turned off by any writing that is flagrantly erotic.  The issue or rape is a serious one.  Be careful about this because boys can be immature and insensitive just as girls can sometimes display heightened sensitivity, fear and woundedness about the subject.  While tame by comparison to this book, I recall as a high school boy being surprised and shocked by the clandestine “fog scene” in Tom Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles.  The next time we meet her she is pregnant— what? 

Can a Catholic Work for a Non-Christian Organization?

QUESTION:

I make websites for a living. A Hindu religious organization is asking me to make a website for them. Their facebook page is . . . [deleted].

Are there any moral issues I should consider before considering this job? Am I committing a sin if I take this job?

RESPONSE:

My brother bidded for the windows of an Islamic mosque. He treated them fairly and made a great offer. He was thrown out when they discovered he was a Catholic. I would suggest not hiding your faith and letting them know where you stand. Like any contractor, you are offering your technical services… not making a faith confession. You are simply assisting a religious organization to have a web presence. That should be okay. Matters would be different if the site promoted violence, discrimination, pornography or the murder of persons. Organizations that espouse dialogue and peaceful co-existence are members of the larger community that should be nurtured and treated as good neighbors. Peace!

Scrupulosity, Questions & Sin

QUESTION:

Thank you for offering this platform for us to ask questions. I have a question about whether something would fall under the sin of rash judgement or would just be a temptation. I have anxiety; unfortunately, this leads to me having thoughts that other people might be judging me because of the things that I say or do. I am usually able to stop myself after those thoughts pop up; but I am wondering if just having those thoughts would constitute the scenario of a near occasion of sin that should be avoided? I think I have really bad scrupulosity.  I tend to ask priests a lot of questions.  I am worried that because of these thoughts, I should not be asking them any further questions.  Thank you so much in advance!

RESPONSE:

The questions are arguably a symptom of scrupulosity, not any kind of near occasion for sin.  There is nothing wrong with asking questions.  Indeed, it is probably even neutral matter to ask ridiculous questions.  Scrupulosity often leads to inquiries that have little or no moral weight in reality.  Indeed, I find that this mental tendency is toward the fanciful or unreal.  Some imagine themselves much worse than they actually are.  The sin is rooted in a denial of the goodness of creation, an errant self-deprecation and a repudiation of God’s power to save and to forgive.  I cannot say whether people are constantly judging you but I can tell you that all of us will stand before the divine tribunal.  If we walk with the Lord then we need fear neither men nor the judgment of God. 

Is Being Transgender a Sin?

QUESTION:

I am a teenager that’s questioning my gender. Is being transgender a sin? I was never really brought to church as a child and even when I was, they never brought this topic up. Sorry if this is a dumb question!

RESPONSE:

It is not a dumb question and I can well imagine that it never came up in religious formation.  While we discussed the issue of homosexual sin in seminary, I cannot recall a single instance of where we discussed gender dysphoria.  As for where the Church stands, I suspect that moralists would teach that you are locked into your birth-gender (meaning DNA) no matter how one might feel himself or herself to be.  I suppose that transgender issues would fit into the argumentation about disorientation.  The sense that you are a transgendered person is not a sin.  No one has the right to belittle you or to mock you.  Despite efforts by those who would socially engineer acceptance about the accompanying lifestyles and sexual expression, the Church would look at the disconnect between one’s physical integrity and personality as an instance of our brokenness or woundedness as human beings afflicted by original sin.  There is much that we might attempt to normalize and yet we must admit that life is often unfair and that we face many challenges to finding acceptance and happiness.  I cannot imagine what it feels like to be you.  It may be we try too much to define others and would best leave judgment to almighty God?  I believe that sexual congress belongs exclusively to men and women in marriage.  All the rest of us, single of whatever orientation and those who have vowed celibacy should live our states of life with modesty and chastity.  I would recommend that unmarried couples who seek a special bond with others do so in the context of sisterly and brotherly love.  We can expand the definition of family without a rupture of traditional moral law.  However you know yourself to be— know also that God loves you and thus his Church must also reach out to you with both truth and compassion.  The imitation of Christ would have us protect the sanctity of life and raise up the dignity and rights of persons. 

Mortal Sin to Date a Married Woman

QUESTION:

A woman wants to date me. She divorced her husband years ago when he had an extramarital affair but then remarried him last year to get his pension when he dies. His pension is apparently substantial. He lives in NH and she lives in NJ. I feel like it would be a mortal sin to date her, your thoughts please.

RESPONSE:

The Church does not recognize divorce and so unless there are other impediments she is a married woman.  The fact that she civilly remarried him just to get his pension is dishonest and an act that impugns the dignity of marriage.  It would certainly be a “matter” of mortal sin to date her.  Keep your distance.  Pray for the poor man who is her estranged husband.    

Propriety with Co-workers & the Danger of Adultery

QUESTION:

I had a question regarding female co-workers. I have a friend that will be unfortunately soon going through a divorce. She is a nice woman and attractive. We tend to talk a few times per week and the content is usually about work, her kids, etc. She does share some of the frustrations with her spouse who is an alcoholic and abusive. I try to be supportive but I try not to offer any more advice or complements. I am afraid she may be a little attached as she initiates the conversation.

Another friend at work recently confided to me that she was unhappy in her marriage. I will usually exchange pleasantries for a few minutes with her but not real lengthy conversations. Since I like to stay in shape, on the spur of the moment, I tried to get her attention later felt badly about it. My confessor made a comment that adultery is not just sexual contact but he did not elaborate. I confess I find both women attractive but would never do anything to enter into a relationship with them as they are not free to marry. Would this be in the area of adultery since an attachment that might develop with one of the women? I have struggled off and on with scruples over the years. Thank you.

RESPONSE:

You cannot entirely help how you might feel for others.  The chemistry of friendships is a mystery over which we do not have total control.  The workplace can be particularly problematical because we do not have jurisdiction over such associations and the time spent together.  Workplace adultery is a real and pressing problem in American society and should not be taken lightly.  Part of the problem is that contemporary adults have separated sexual intimacy from marriage prior to contractual and/or sacramental unions.  Fornication often leads to adultery.  Men and women, particularly if they are attracted to each other, struggle with how to relate to one another as friends and co-workers.  An eroticized society is not a healthy environment for men and women who want to pursue chase and platonic friendships.  Mature men and women know this and they must be careful of how they act and the signs they give.  Further, those in bad marriages might seek intimacy and compassion outside their unions.  A good friend might want to be there so as to help but should not get in the way or inhibit the healing of a couple’s relationship.  This means knowing when to back away, when to remain silent and when not to take sides.  Beyond an act of infidelity, one can commit adultery in thought and desire.  You cannot totally master your heart, but true love acknowledges that a beloved belongs to another.  You do not want to become part of the problem.  Avoid flirtation and wrongful fantasies.  Treat all persons with respect and preserve propriety.

The Vice of Vainglory

QUESTIONS:

Hi, I’m not a Christian but I have interest in the vice of vainglory. I would like to know if vainglory is something seen as bad and what type of persona would be defined as vainglory? What would it take to be seen as someone who represents vainglory? In other words, I’d like to know the persona of someone with strong vainglory. What type of persona are they? Are they bad and what is vainglory? I’ve researched it a lot and all the explanations are quite complex and I can only understand them to a small extent.

RESPONSE:

The term “vainglory” is just an old term for excessive vanity.  It is an obsessive concern about how others perceive you.  It signifies a person who prizes himself too much and others too little.  Pride can be good and bad.  One should have a pride that represents the truth about oneself and achievements.  Vainglory would signify a swelling of pride that damages the truth where one overestimates one’s worth.  The result is usually a snobbish attitude toward others.  Just as vainglory compels one to exaggerate personal value and achievements; it also forces one to belittle the meaning and contribution of others.  The smaller they become, the bigger we can imagine ourselves.  The focus is very narcissistic.  The world revolves around you.  Instead of giving praise to others or even glory to God, such a person imagines that he is the source of all the benefits he enjoys.  Such boasting always leads to contention and opposition to others.  Such a person wants things done his way and is dismissive of the contributions and even the support of others.  As with so many vices, it readily leads to disobedience.   

Keeping a List of Sins

QUESTION:

Hi Father, is it a sin to not obey your confessor when he tells you to do something? For example, my priest told me not to write down my sins because I am scrupulous. Is it a mortal sin if I disobey this?

RESPONSE:

I would not question such a directive from a confessor.  Indeed, asking if not complying is a mortal sin is likely a symptom of scrupulosity.  Writing sins can be perilous, not only because we can quickly compound unworthiness and sin but because there is a danger of exposure to others.  You should listen to your confessor.  Refusal to do so may be a sign that you really do not want to be forgiven.  Do you distrust the power of absolution given the priest?  Do you believe that you are unforgivable?  Trust the grace and power of God.   

Can Catholics Watch Programs about Ghosts?

QUESTION:

Is it wrong for Catholics to watch shows such as Ghost Adventures and A Haunting? They have episodes of recorded demonic events and I wonder if it’s wrong for me to be viewing? Seeing it makes me realize just how important my faith is and that there truly is evil prowling the world.

RESPONSE:

As with everything, we should be mindful that what we watch does not damage our faith and values.  As a lover of science fiction and fairy tales, and as a believer, I sometimes suspend belief for entertainment.  We do this regularly with children’s fantasies like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.  However, we should be mindful that not everything in these ghost hunting programs would fit into our belief system.  Indeed the occult, which can lead to demonic possession, is seriously dangerous.  We should not seek communications from the dead.  Many of the television programs make exaggerations about light and shadow, as well as interpreting creaking old houses and noisy furnaces as instances of the paranormal.  Note that the Syfy Network that ran the Ghost Hunters program also showed professional wrestling.  Both were likely more fiction than truth.  But people found them fun to watch all the same.