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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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Sin, the Church & the Communion of Saints

I read a short posting recently where someone spoke about complicity in evil within the communion of the saints. It seemed to me that such a notion needed reflection. Can sin exist within the communion of the saints? It is my understanding that serious sin fractures one from this unity as the damned ultimately can have no part in it.  Further, there is no parallel or correspondent communion of the damned.  If one were to regard heaven as a profound sanctoral unity or intimacy in the Lord; the damned fractured from God and one another might cry, “Which way I fly is Hell; myself am Hell” (the devil in Milton’s PARADISE LOST).

The pilgrim Church participates in and is one with the Church of glory and in purgation.  The souls in purgatory suffer from the effects of sin, but as saints in the making they would no longer be able to commit transgressions.  While the holy Church or mystical body of Christ on earth is composed of sinners, the body is holy and benefits from the good that is done by members.  The pilgrim Church is wounded by sin and still fully claims for her own those who have committed venial sins (for which there is the remedy of contrition or sorrow).  While the spiritual character impressed upon the soul at baptism is permanent (once a Catholic, always a Catholic); nevertheless, faith can sour and earthly humans can fall into mortal sin, suffering the loss of sanctifying grace.  Such believers are spiritually dead and if they should die in this state are eternally damned.  It is sin, including grievous, that targets our Lord in his passion and cross; i.e. his sacred heart.  Repentance, sorrow for sin and the absolution of the sacrament can steal a soul from hell and return him to good standing within the communion of the saints.  But sin has no place and cannot touch the heavenly communion. The denizens of heaven know only joy and cannot be manipulated or grieved by the damned.    

I have often argued for the necessity of the sacrament of penance along these lines.  Some will argue, “Can’t I just go directly to God and tell him I am sorry so as to be forgiven?”  My response is yes, God does indeed hear the cry of sinners and he knows our hearts; but the Catholic faith is both personal and corporate or communal.  The absolution of the priest gives assurance to our hope for forgiveness and salvation.  It grants us both actual graces and sanctifying grace.  It recognizes how we are united with one another in the peace of Christ.  It makes possible our healing as part of something larger than ourselves— as members of the body of Christ, the Church.  That requires the sacrament of penance or reconciliation.  

It is true that our unity with one another presses upon us an obligation to respond that humbly acknowledges divine providence and our calling to be a voice for the voiceless and the hands of Christ to work in the world for charity and justice.  Silence in the face of evil incurs the guilt of complicity.  Enabling or encouraging the evil of others signifies cooperation with iniquity. When practical examples are listed, that is where the critics attack you.  Speak for the desperate immigrant escaping oppression and wanting a better life for his family and you are condemned for betrayal of fellow citizens in taking the side of invaders.  Speak for the unborn child and you are condemned as a chauvinist who is prejudiced against women and their rights over their bodies.  Speak for those on death row and you are charged with being soft on crime and deaf to the plight of victims.  Speak for the poor and their need for welfare and universal healthcare and you are charged with the dark label of socialism and of swindling the rich so as to pamper bums and other never-do-wells. Racism is a particular difficult matter because you can be a voice for justice and be actively engaged in opening doors to all, peaceful protest, promoting acceptance— and still get labeled as a bigot for not seeing all the places where racism can hide, for an affection toward ancient heroes that are now vilified, for disavowing violence, for not doing what others feel is enough or charged with privilege just because of the lighter skin within which you were born. When it comes to such issues, no one has the exclusive corner on moral blindness.         

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