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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 Spiritual Fatherhood of Priests

Why is it that Catholics call their priests by the title “Father” and the Pope is called the “Holy Father” when we are told to call no man our father?

What is being cited is Matthew 23:8-12: “As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’ You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers. Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. Do not be called ‘Master’; you have but one master, the Messiah. The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” The language that Jesus uses is a form known as Hebraic hyperbole, stressing matters to absurdity for exclamatory purposes to make a point. It is not dissimilar from when he says that if your eye causes you to sin then pluck it out or if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.  Jesus does not mean for us literally to maim ourselves.  Note also that the apostle Paul refers to himself as a father to those whom he has brought the new dispensation.  Further, I am always perplexed as to why critics of the Catholic practice see no problem with calling earthly biological and adopted fathers by this title of endearment.  Jesus says at the same time not to call any man (master) teacher and yet we also do that all the time.  The point that Jesus is trying to make is that there is no true fatherhood that does not on some level reflect our Father in heaven.  Ultimately, there is no authority that can compete with God.  There is no authentic teacher that can propose truths in conflict with what God reveals to us.  Further, no human fatherhood can displace the caring role of God and his love for all of us as his children.  The priest is called Father because his vocation involves a spiritual paternity.  He watches over and cares for those entrusted to him. Scripture makes it abundantly clear that any notion of an absolute prohibition of the title “father” is absurd.      

Matthew 15:4-6“For God said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘Whoever curses father or mother shall die.’ But you say, ‘Whoever says to father or mother, “Any support you might have had from me is dedicated to God,” need not honor his father.’ You have nullified the word of God for the sake of your tradition.”

Matthew 19:5 “‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?’”

Matthew 19:19 – “… honor your father and your mother’; and ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Matthew 21:31“Which of the two did his father’s will?”

John 8:56“Abraham your father rejoiced to see my day; he saw it and was glad.”

Luke 16:24, 30“And he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me.’ …He said, ‘Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’”

Acts 7:2“And he replied, ‘My brothers and fathers, listen ….’”

Romans 4:11-12“Thus he was to be the father of all the uncircumcised who believe, so that to them also righteousness might be credited, as well as the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised, but also follow the path of faith that our father Abraham walked while still uncircumcised.”

Romans 9:10“And not only that, but also when Rebecca had conceived children by one husband, our father Isaac— ….”

1 Corinthians 4:14-16“I am writing you this not to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children. Even if you should have countless guides to Christ, yet you do not have many fathers, for I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”

James 2:21“Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar?”

The Pope & Christ

If Jesus is the Lord then why do Catholics follow the Pope?

There is no conflict as the Pope is the successor of Peter, made by Jesus as the ROCK or head of his Church.  The Pope does not displace Christ but stands for him as his vicar on earth.  Jesus is the invisible head of the Church and the Pope is the visible head.  The Pope, sometimes called the Holy Father, but not to be confused with God our heavenly Father, is not the master of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition but rather is their divinely protected servant and interpreter. It is true that Peter denies Christ three times but he is forgiven and with three affirmations of love is told by the risen Christ to care for his flock.

The pattern of the New Testament is retained in the life of the Church.  While the Pope usually speaks from his ordinary magisterial authority, he is also empowered by God to make special infallible statements.  This preservation from error serves the mission of Christ who said that he came to proclaim the truth.  Public revelation ends with the death of the last apostle, but the Church under the Pope transmits these truths and reflects upon them in time. The doctrine of infallibility is frequently misunderstood.  It does not mean all his practical decisions are guaranteed correct or that every personal idea or assumption is correct.  The notion of infallibility might seem incredible but most Christians, Catholic and Protestant, also believe that the Sacred Scriptures are inspired by God and are preserved from error in terms of necessary saving truths.  This can be misunderstood as well, as when people wrongly try to use the Bible as a science text.  The inspiration or infallibility of the Bible comes from God, even though the human authors were sinful and weak men. The Holy Spirit inspires the Bible (indeed the whole process in its formation), the bishops who gather in council and the papacy.  Note the unity of the Catholic Church in the universal truths that it teaches century after century.  By comparison there is a vast fragmentation in the non-Catholic or Protestant churches, as well as a wide divergence in what they believe.         

Matthew 16:18-19 – “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. l I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

John 14:15-18 – “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.”

John 21:15-17 – “When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ He then said to him a second time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, ‘Do you love me?’ and he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.’”

Catholics & the Bible

How can Catholics say they are Christians if they do not believe in and follow the Bible?

The Catholic Church is the mother of the Bible.  The bishops of the Church gathered at the synod or council of Hippo in 393 AD and compiled what is the current canon of books for the Bible.  We believe that the Holy Spirit inspires the Scriptures and protects the Church in teaching revealed truths.  All necessary saving truth can be found in the Bible, although not everything may be explicit. While we do not deny the value of God’s Word, most Protestants reject the value of Sacred Tradition and the necessary “authoritative” role of the Church.

Until the invention of the printing press, most believers did not have access to a Bible and even if they did many were illiterate.  That is why the stained-glass windows of churches often detailed important stories from biblical salvation history.  Bibles were originally made by hand and the production of one might take a scribe several years.  Some churches chained these Bibles to pulpits, not to keep God’s Word away from the people but to insure that no one stole the Scriptures regularly proclaimed at Mass.  Disagreements among believers (regarding truth and heresy) were not resolved by the Bible but by an agreed consensus of bishops in council.  This is a pattern we see from the earliest days.

Acts 15:1-29 – The Council of Jerusalem

The magisterium (the Pope and bishops in union with him) constitutes the essential interpreter of the Sacred Scriptures and the Sacred Tradition.  We believe that the Holy Spirit preserves the Church in the truths of Christ.     

1 Corinthians 11:2 – “I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold fast to the traditions, just as I handed them on to you.”

2 Thessalonians 2:15 – “Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours.”

2 Thessalonians 3:6 – “We instruct you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to shun any brother who conducts himself in a disorderly way and not according to the tradition they received from us.”

2 Timothy 1:13-14 – “Take as your norm the sound words that you heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard this rich trust with the help of the holy Spirit that dwells within us.”

2 Timothy 2:2 – “And what you heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will have the ability to teach others as well.”

Misdirection in the Synodal Way

The Synodal Way is ushering demands from around the world for changes that would radically change the face of the Church, particularly in its ministries and basic values.  These issues include its attitude to women, LGBTI+ people, divorced and remarried, and single parents, most often mothers. Given scandals and charges of clericalism, there is also a growing outcry for the removal of compulsory priestly celibacy. Indeed, citing the issue of widespread abuse by clergy, critics are arguing that only changes along these lines can bring healing to those who have suffered at the hands of individual priests and the institution as a whole. Further, given the changing sensibilities of society, respondents say they want a dialogue that will legitimately consider both new forms of leadership and more effective or real inclusion.  It is asserted that this demands representation on both sides of the equation, among those in authority and to those who are the object of ministry. 

I do not believe this is entirely true. Rather, I think the issues of scandalous abuse and a lack of transparency are being hijacked to propel a liberal or revisionist agenda about ministry. However, echoing the Pope, the voices from the listening process genuinely urge a greater welcoming and inclusion in outreach, especially to those who feel neglected or rejected by the Church.  

Many among the critics are wondering whether such opinions will truly be aired at the October Synod of Bishops in 2023. The difficulty with such demands is that neither the Pope nor the bishops have the authority to change immutable doctrine revealed to us in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.  Chief among the structural changes of leadership being demanded is the ordination of women to the priesthood.  Pope John Paul II has declared such as impossible. This definition has been confirmed by Pope Benedict XVI as an infallible statement.  We are locked into the pattern given us by Christ and the apostolic church.  While mandatory celibacy could change as a discipline, there are important doctrinal implications and many of us would argue that any such change would be detrimental to Catholic ministry. 

While many of us are sensitive to matters of inclusion, the question remains as to how far we can go in welcoming the LGBTI+ community and the divorced and remarried.  When the catechism speaks about homosexuality as disorientation, the LGBTI+ community gets angry.  When we speak about “loving the sinner but hating the sin,” the LGBTI+ community again gets angry.  When we urge celibate and chaste lifestyles for the LGBTI+ community, they became furious and accuse the Church of bigotry.  The Church’s refusal to bless same-sex unions has also brought allegations of prejudice and hate.  What is the Church to do?  The situation has gone way beyond churchmen turning a blind eye to what was commonly regarded as confused sexual identification and “deviant” activity. The LGBTI+ community today is demanding full regularization and acceptance. While once themselves the subject of intolerance, they are now just as demanding that Christians change their moral thinking about the subject of homosexual sin.  The issue of gender identity or dysphoria has further complicated this matter.  The whole issue of what constitutes maleness or femaleness has been called into question.  Legal or political legislation often rubberstamps what natural law would regard as intellectual fallacy.  The fads of modernity are given precedence over objective reality and biblical imperatives. 

Similarly, there is a clamoring for the divorced and remarried to be fully regularized despite the prohibition from Christ’s lips against divorce and adultery.  The Church has made the annulment process free and has a heightened awareness of the grounds that might invalidate a nuptial union.  But in truth, if one is truly married in the eyes of God, then no ecclesial process or pastoral accommodation will make any difference— sex outside of marriage (fornication) is wrong no matter whether it is according to nature as in heterosexual adultery or in contradiction as in homosexual acts.  The ministers of our faith can act with compassion toward these people but it would be a false love to excuse without comment what is essentially the matter of mortal sin.  The whole point of the Gospel is not to make people feel good but to save their souls.

Much is being made of the fact that the Synodal Way is opening the Church to the “sensus fidelium” of the laity.  However, this is not entirely true as many of the critics are estranged from the faith, not formed by either the Bible or the Catechism, rarely if ever worship at Mass and speak more for the world than the Church in their dissent.  It should be a “no brainer” that the laity who possess the true charism called the “sense of the faithful” are the ones who are faithful. This is not necessarily measured by any kind of majority rule or democratic vote.  Many may be baptized but are not well catechized and are Catholics in name only.  The faithful who can speak the truth to the universal Church are moved by the Holy Spirit to both holiness of life and to the truth.  They stand in agreement with “orthodox” bishops on matters of faith and morals.  They are the Catholics who challenge modernity and urge faithfulness in worship and discipleship.  As in the Arian crisis, they would even stand witness against bishops and priests that would corrupt the faith.   

When it comes to single parents, there is a genuine crisis brewing. No one would criticize the woman who is faithful to life and her child despite abandonment or the death of a spouse. But increasingly, children are being born outside of wedlock. What was once regarded as a scandalous problem is today thought of as a legitimate lifestyle decision.  Women use men to get pregnant or they engage in reproductive technologies to have children without any identifiable male parent.  Once conceived, the Church would always urge the protection of life; however, the issue remains problematical.  The ideal family includes a mother and a father.  Fathers are not a dispensable component in this equation.  A single person might adopt a child but couples should be preferred.  The Holy Father has been critical of priests who are hesitant to baptize children in such situations. I would concur with Pope Francis that a child should not suffer for a parent’s sin. Neither should we seek to embarrass the people who come to us. But I could understand why some priests only baptize children at Mass who have two married parents. Their practice is that others should be baptized outside of Mass so as not to cause scandal or to give approbation to bad behavior and to illegitimacy.     

[117] Homily for 19th Sunday of the Year

[117] Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wis 18:6-9 / Ps 33:1, 12, 18-19, 20-22 / Heb 11:1-2, 8-19 / Lk 12:32-48

The author in Wisdom is speaking to God and is listing the various manifestations of his power against idolaters and in their liberation from Egypt.  Here he speaks about “the night of the passover,” where the firstborn of the Egyptians were slain and the Israelites were spared. It is within the context of salvation history that they find courage and await their salvation with assurance.  This militancy is a common thread in the Old Testament. Their faith finds affirmation with “the destruction of their foes” and the “punish[ment] of their adversaries.” There is a sense of vindication for their fidelity and secret oblations during their time of bondage.  Note the reciprocal action: when adversaries are punished, they experience not just vindication but glorification. I suppose one might say that God’s glory spreads to them as his people. The responsorial continues this thread about the LORD blessing his own. Again, this divine protection is not measured as trivial. It is always regarded as a matter of life and death. God protects them and seeks “To deliver them from death and preserve them in spite of famine.”

The apostle gives us that beautiful line, “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” Then he recounts examples of those who have come before. Abraham places sufficient trust in God that he is willing to leave his own so as to form a new people.  Despite his age, he believes the promise of divine providence that he will have an heir and that he will father a great kingdom. The promise of the patriarchs and prophets is only realized in Christ. Like Abraham, we are wanderers or strangers in this world, pilgrims seeking a promised land. Our true home is the kingdom of Christ. Put to the test, Abraham in faith was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac.  God stayed his hand but the heavenly Father did not spare his Son in allowing him to suffer the indignity of the Cross.  If Abraham supposed that God could raise the dead, this miraculous intervention is realized in Jesus Christ.

The alleluia verse is the great summons to all believers as sentinels for Christ: “Stay awake and be ready! For you do not know on what day your Lord will come.” This is our posture as we await the fulfilment of Christ’s promise and the full realization of his kingdom.  This kingdom breaks into the world first through the person of Christ and now through his flock, the holy Church.

What does the Gospel reading teach us in terms of our posture and activity as sentinels?

  1. Do not be afraid.  We must witness with courage and conviction.
  2. Embrace an evangelical poverty. We must not allow possessions to possess us. Our true treasure is the Lord.  We must embrace God’s inscrutable providence and trust the Lord. We must be a people who share God’s love or charity for others.
  3. Gird your loins and light your lamps! We must be prepared to encounter Christ in the light of truth.  The banquet of the just will begin but so will judgment.  Those who will enter will be found worthy of the Lamb that was slain.
  4. Our Lord comes like a thief in the night.  Those unprepared or whose lamps have gone out will find themselves outside.  There will be a reckoning between the sheep and the goats. We must always be about the Lord’s business. 

Those who would be part-time Christians might be loved and deemed good by the world but ours is a jealous God.  He will not share us.  Our hearts must belong to him.  Think about it, what is a part-time Christian really?  Such a person is also a part-time devil!  What God refuses to claim becomes Satan’s property! The parable refers to believers, including ministers of the Church. While the master is away the steward beats the servants under him, makes a glutton of himself (no doubt depriving the poor of food), and finds his satisfaction in the bottle. Our Lord says he will be punished severely and given a place with the unfaithful.  What is that place?  It is hell.

The parable also speaks of lesser punishments for those who are still faithful but suffer from human weaknesses.  I suspect this is where purgatory comes into the parable.  God’s justice demands hell but his mercy makes possible purgation and healing for a few. But we as Catholics have to be careful about purgatory.  Judgment is not like finals in high school.  You can’t just try for a “C” when the Lord wants you to get an “A.”  I suspect that many if not most of those who spiritually and mortally settle will miss the mark entirely.  What you do and your obedience is important, do not get me wrong, but more important is “who you are” as those who claim to be believers.  Do you aim high in being the saint that the Lord wants you to be? Do you have sanctifying grace? Have you sought holiness?  Are you sorry for your sins?  Do you trust the Lord and thus surrender yourself to his will?  Too many have become comfortable with living in a state of perpetual mortal sin.  A saving faith in Jesus Christ must be made real by a sacrificial life of constant fidelity and charity.