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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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Remembering Conservative Catholics & Iraq

Can conservative Catholics be condemned for misconstruing Catholic social teaching with their advocacy for the invasion of Iraq under the younger President Bush? Are they not guilty for supporting mass murder?  How can they now claim to be pro-life?

They would argue that there were many pressing reasons for the intervention. Despite sanctions, Saddam Hussein retained power. Given his dark history of terrorism and the argued weapons of mass destruction that he was sitting upon, many thought Iraq was a powder keg ready to blow. Important and respected leaders in Western government felt there was a pressing need for regime change. At the behest of the Bush administration, the Catholic intellectual Michael Novak visited Rome on two occasions arguing the application of the “just war theory” in an effort to get the Pope to change his stance. Pope John Paul II remained adamant against military intervention.

Was this an issue comparable with aborting children, as some pundits have claimed? I am not so sure. While it was always immoral to destroy innocent children, the Church acknowledged that the state had the authority in certain situations to react militarily for its own security and for that of allies.  Speaking for myself, I have struggled with recent efforts to make analogous the execution of the guilty in capital punishment.  Pope Francis has made absolute and taken to himself what popes previously gave to civil leadership as their prerogative. 

While I had serious misgivings about this particular invasion in principle, I felt that I had to give the benefit of a doubt to the president and our allies.  Few had access to whatever secret information they possessed. Hopefully, intelligence was correct and no one was being deceptive or misleading.    

What we do know for sure was that Saddam Hussein was a tyrant guilty of the arbitrary killing of a quarter million people. He refused to live in peace with his neighbors, invading Iran and Kuwait.   Oddly enough, the president of Iraq was Tariq Aziz, an Assyrian Catholic who saw the Pope and made a retreat in Rome just prior to the invasion. His Christian or baptismal name was Mikhail or Michael. He was the highest ranked Catholic in the Arab world and was loved as much as Hussein was hated. He would find himself under arrest after the invasion and would remain incarcerated until dying of a heart-attack. Hussein was perpetually concerned that his own people might overthrow him.  He was generous to the Christian community and placed many in upper leadership positions, knowing that as a vulnerable minority in the overall Islamic population they would have nothing to gain by his removal.   

Actually while Pope John Paul II opposed the invasion of Iraq, the Vatican generally supported intervention in Afghanistan. The Pope, as first the visible leader of the Catholic Church, was understandably concerned about how an invasion would impact the security and opportunities for the Catholic and Christian population, especially in cities like Bagdad.  (As it turns out, the effect was devastating and we would see the rise of ISIS and the slaughter of Christians.) However, while the Vatican preferred peaceful diplomacy, there was an admission that the ultimate decision about military intervention did not belong to a spiritual leader but to the civil governments.  Arguments were made that they alone were privy to information about hidden weapons of mass destruction. While these weapons were largely not found, there were widespread rumors that these armaments were hidden in the desert or clandestinely transported to neighboring countries.  We may never know the full story as many of those involved are now dead.

Need to Be Thorough with Marriage Cases

QUESTION

In 1976 at the age of 18, I married a man in my local parish. It was a very bad situation and we only lived together 2 months and then divorced. Due to low self-esteem at the time, the following year I became pregnant and married another man in a civil ceremony. He was abusive and the marriage ended after 5 months and then divorce. A year or so after this, I met a wonderful guy (my current husband) and we married a few years later in his Lutheran church (he converted to Catholicism in 1999). Around our 5-year anniversary I petitioned for an annulment, and it was granted by the Archdiocese Tribunal. Not until recently did I hear that I should have brought up the second civil marriage to be looked at well. My assumption was that the first marriage was my impediment to having my marriage blessed in the Church. So in 1987, my husband and I had our marriage blessed. In 1998 my second (civil marriage) husband died. So, my question is this: Is my current and happy 40-year marriage valid since I didn’t know that the second marriage could pose an issue? It was blessed while my second husband was still alive. Do we need to have it blessed again?

RESPONSE

Did not the priest or DRE or RCIA team investigate the marriage situation and ask that his union with you be validated prior to your husband’s reception into the Catholic Church?

I take it that you are a Catholic and that the first marriage was in the Catholic Church.  This marriage was annulled.  I assume that the second marriage was not in the Church.  Given that the first bond was formally annulled and your third marriage was con-validated in the Church, I am at odds to understand how the priest and Tribunal would have missed the second marriage.  Are you sure there was no mention of it.  Given the data sheet and the essay or story you shared, it would logically come up.  The paperwork itself asks the question about prior unions.  Divorce or no divorce, the first union would have invalidated any subsequent attempt.  Further, Catholics are required to have their marriages witnessed by a priest or deacon.  Technically, the second marriage would not have required a formal annulment but there should have been a declaration of nullity because of lack or defect of canonical form.  This is accomplished by filling out a simple form, as well as providing copies of the marriage license, divorce decree and baptismal certificate.  I have to think the court was aware when you received the formal annulment and declared you free to con-validate your current marriage.  Here in the Archdiocese of Washington, such is spelled out: “Any subsequent marriage whatsoever on the part of either party to the marriage in question must be listed, without exception. There is no marriage that does not need to be addressed in some way by the Tribunal if a party’s present freedom to marry is to be established. Marriages prior to the one in question should be listed on the pre-nuptial questionnaire, if the Petitioner is preparing for marriage, and then adjudicated.” I am not a canon lawyer and you may want to quietly follow up with your own local Tribunal.  My best guess is that the matter was caught and you have forgotten it— given that you acted in good faith and everyone was professional— thus placing your marriage on good footing. 

Accidents Happen: Was That a Flying Host?

QUESTION

I have a question regarding proper treatment of the Host. I attended Easter vigil Mass this evening where a friend was being received into the Faith. My friend’s wife, who is not Catholic and goes to a non-denominational Christian church, was also there and I was cognizant during Mass of trying to make her not think anything incorrect about the Faith or of Mass in general. While receiving Holy Communion, I received in the hand and then placed the host in my mouth before turning to walk back to my pew. Given the crowd, once I got back and was edging into the pew past my friend’s wife, I said “that was a little confusing.” As I said that, I believe something small and white popped out of my mouth about three feet in front of me. I looked to see if any portion of Host was on the ground but I couldn’t see anything. I am heartsick that I mistreated the Host. I am planning on going to Confession about this. Did I commit a sin in my actions this evening?

RESPONSE

Please take note that the description of a church as “no-denominational” is false.  It is a deception to make inquirers think that the faith community in question is somehow neutral or balanced between Catholic and Protestant.  Such churches in truth are one of a great many varied Protestant churches that diverge or separate themselves from Catholicism.

We should all be diligent when taking Holy Communion but what you describe is not entirely under our control, as when someone coughs.  If the particle is so small as to be hard to see then it is likely the motion of something that caught your eye.  We should be careful about such matters but scrupulosity about the microscopic would only cause unnecessary anxiety.  We do what we can to honor and to venerate the sacrament.  Beyond that we must trust that the Lord can take care of himself.   

Sins are deliberate, not accidental.   

Questions About a Priestly Vocation

I am a college student and we are assigned to ask questions of people with different vocations— and one of them is a priest. I found your site and if it is alright with you, it would be a big help if I could ask you a few questions about your chosen vocation.

QUESTION 1 – What made you decide to be a priest? I read that you attended multiple seminaries. Has it always been your plan since you were a child to pursue this path?

RESPONSE 1

The priest who baptized me placed me on the altar and prayed that I might be a priest.  My father deeply hoped I would be a priest and I can remember playing a priest as a child. The family was deeply devoted to the Catholic faith and we participated in the Mass every Sunday.  When I got older I was heavily attracted to girls and thought how nice it would be to have a spouse and a family of my own.  My high school year book has the word “physician” under my face and name. I was scheduled to study biology and pre-med at university. However, I had also applied to the seminary.  It was to my surprise that I was accepted into the program for priestly formation and so I returned my scholarships and grants.  Why did I apply? The process would take eight or more years, plenty of time for discernment. Many were sent home but by God’s providence I remained and flourished.  The sacrifices were very real to me, especially obedience (not just celibacy).  I did not fell worthy but what could be a greater calling than making possible the forgiveness of sins and making present the saving activity of Calvary and the real presence of Jesus Christ as our food for the journey? 

QUESTION 2 – What commitments must one be ready for in pursuing a religious vocation? Are there any challenges that you experience as a priest? If so, what are they?

RESPONSE 2

The priesthood demands a radical discipleship to love the Lord and to allow that love to spill over and to be expressed in caring for others.  The life requires a commitment to daily prayer and service. Throughout one must be honest about motivation and practice.  The academic life is also crucial and many men wash out because of intellectual demands.  One must also be comfortable with “aloneness,” as priests are men set aside and frequently living by themselves.  The promises or vows require genuine sacrifices.  Celibacy is largely misunderstood as a negation of sexuality. Instead, the priest should be a manly man who embraces celibacy as a special and generous way of loving and relating to others.  He belongs wholly to the Lord and the Church. He also pledges obedience, meaning he trusts the Lord and the teaching church more than his own pet ideas.  He also goes where he is sent, accepting the divine will that is fostered by his superiors (bishops) and by the nature of his ministry.  He treasures the faith and persons more than things.

All callings have challenges but prayer or a living relationship with Jesus makes possible his fidelity.  Many priests continue to do their work even though the world suspects them because of the crimes of a few. They take up their crosses and follow Jesus, knowing that theirs is a discipleship rooted in sacrifice and love. The best of priests struggle with broken hearts.  Having faced the demons that secretly plague people’s lives, Good priests are wounded healers.

QUESTION 3 – Do you have any piece of wisdom you can give that you only got when you became a priest?

RESPONSE 3

Ours is not a Pollyanna faith.  Life is hard. Not all stories in this world end happy-ever-after.  The biggest awakening I discovered in my priesthood is how terribly sin places souls in spiritual bondage.  There are far more “people of the lie” than I had imagined as a youth. Avoiding the secular radar, there is a demonic oppression that inflicts many, including people in leadership.  It preys with the bait of human vices and is the source for the devaluing of persons and for dismissing the sanctity of life. A priest is a source for mercy but he is also a sentinel for Christ to a world that will target him just as it did Jesus for speaking the truth and seeking to bring freedom from the devil’s bondage. 

Keeping the Sabbath or Sunday Observance

QUESTION

I have been having a hard time finding an answer to a question. Is it sinful to eat out on Sundays at restaurants, fast food shops, etc.?  I have the same question about patronizing national parks or areas that require you to pay a fee. Thank you!

RESPONSE

When I was a youth we still had the blue laws and except for drug stores and hospitals, most places were closed on Sundays or operated at reduced hours. Obviously, there were police, firefighters and emergency personnel remaining on the job. I recall allowances were made for a few places to stay open in the morning, like the local doughnut shop, as there was a big business after church services (remember Catholics once fasted from midnight on and not just an hour before Holy Communion).  Boy scouts might also sell newspapers outside churches as well.  Remember, there was no Saturday anticipatory Masses and thus they were all held on Sunday morning!

The catechism emphasized avoiding unnecessary work although many cheated with yard work or sneaking in school homework upon which the children had procrastinated. However, most people who worked outside the home did so from Monday to Friday. Housewives pretty much worked every day— otherwise who was going to prepare the family meals?  Thus, the rule was never totally absolute.  The idea was to keep the commandment about the Sabbath day or the Sunday observance or “the Lord’s day” by worshipping at Church and spending quality time with the family.  The roots of the commandment had to do with imitating God who rested after the work of creation. However, given that ancient believers from the Jewish community were expelled from the synagogue services, the rule was applied to Sunday when the Christians gathered in the morning for Mass— commemorating not creation but our re-creation in Christ because of his resurrection. 

When I have visited the Holy Land I always take note of their solution to the challenge of keeping the law about the Sabbath.  The Jews and Moslems work on Sunday (allowing the Christians to be off) and the Christians work on Saturday (allowing the Jews and Moslems to be off).

The status of the requirements in keeping Sunday is noted in the precepts of the Church. Under pain of mortal sin, all Catholics should participate in Sunday Mass.  Secondly, but not as well observed, we should seek to abstain from “unnecessary” servile labor. Unfortunately, the world has changed around us and today many companies or businesses require their employees to work Sundays, sometimes even making it hard for them to go to Mass. The issue of going out is related to this question because shopping, eating out, going to the movies and such requires others to work.  Workers need their jobs and low pay often translates to more hours worked so as to make ends meet.   

Let us be honest, we have all been guilty of exploiting Sunday for activities that require the labor of others. As you have found, there is a general silence about it, even from the Church’s leadership. Indeed, I have been concerned that this passivity or quiet on the question has had dire consequences, both in regard to worship and to social justice.  While the Church has often opposed efforts to eradicate laws prohibiting the expansion of servile work on Sundays; after such efforts are accomplished, little more is heard. It is rather like the matter of contraception; once dissent is given the upper hand, opposition goes dark.  We lament the lower numbers attending Sunday Mass but we have compromised ourselves in allowing many Catholics to work on Sunday with no opportunity to attend religious services.  The situation also allows many distractions and activities that compete with going to Mass. 

Our Lord was not a stickler on Sabbath rules, indeed he was criticized for performing healings. I am certain he understands when working men and women find time for Mass but still have to expand their work week to keep their jobs and to maintain their families.  As for matters like going out so as to enjoy the services of others, it is a mixed bag. If we go out then we are implicated with the situation of expanded work hours and days.  If we stay in then workers desperate to make ends meet might be laid off. There is some subjectivity to the matter and judgment calls need to be made.  If possible, Christians should exploit Sundays for worship, rest and recreation. But as with the waitress who works at a restaurant or the ranger who keeps us safe in the park, I would not argue that the shopper enjoying the mall is committing sin.