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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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Ask a Priest

Feel free to submit a new question or concern in the comment box below.  Various topics and questions are archived here for easy retrieval.  Please be courteous.  God bless you!




3,717 Responses

  1. Hi, are you supposed to do anything when passing a Catholic Church? Can you bow your head instead of making the Sign of the Cross? Thanks.

    FATHER JOE: My father traditionally crossed himself. You could certainly bow the head. But always be a careful driver… hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.

  2. Dear Father Joe, I am trying to learn more about confession. My question concerns confession, absolution, and restitution. Basically, my question is about should we question what a priest tells us in the confessional about how to make up for our sins.

    As an example, suppose a man is low on cash and has trouble feeding himself and perhaps his children. So he steals a loaf of bread from the corner store.

    Later he goes to a priest and confesses and tells the priest he feels he should go and confess to the store owner and pay him when he is able. The priest tells him not to do that, because he could get into trouble with the law. Instead he should donate the amount to Catholic Charities instead. The priest explains that the Church is not the police; the Church’s job is to forgive.

    The man receives absolution for his sin and does what the priest tells him to do. He donates an amount equivalent to the loaf of bread, with even some added if he can afford it. But he can’t forget that the store owner is out the price of a loaf of bread so he wonders if God totally forgives him, despite what the priest says.

    I could think of many other examples, but I hope this one makes the point of the question clear. If not, I will try to come up with other examples.

    Thank you for all the answers you give. You are amazing. Dear Father Joe, this is actually a follow-up to my previous question about confession. In general, here is what I am asking.

    In one situation, we may confess, and a priest may give us absolution with what we think is a very light penance, with no conditions about repairing any harm we have done.

    In the other situation, just the opposite happens. We go to a different priest, and he demands heavy penance with some very harsh conditions for a similar sin.

    Yet in both cases the Church says the priest is acting for God. Therefore, how can it be true that we should accept what the priest tells us as if God is speaking to us?

    I can say both good and bad aspects of this. I think the good thing is that we don’t need to go on wondering about how to make up for some sin, since the priest has given us his decision. It seems to me the Protestants are in a more difficult situation, since the whole burden is on the individual to make up his mind in a situation like this.


    Such an argument with the priest (over restitution) would suggest that the penitent is not truly contrite and lacks a firm purpose of amendment of life. Absolution is not magic. A failure to trust the priest is a weakness of faith that must be healed. We must be disposed to mercy. As for the case when a poor man steals bread for his hungry children, I doubt any priest would demand restitution or surrender to the authorities given that there is a systemic injustice involved. People have a natural right to that which sustains life. However, theft is often in regard to things we really do not need or which we may obtain by lawful means.

    There is no guide to insure that all priests give the same advice and commensurate penances. Further, we should always do more penance (on a daily basis) than what is prescribed in confession. Rather than being upset at a prescribed penance that one judges as severe, penitents should be thankful that the priest’s absolution has saved them from eternal damnation. How can any penance compare to the judgment of God rendered against mortal sin?

  3. Hello Father,

    I was baptized and received Holy Communion when I was 13 years old.

    However, I have not yet to be confirmed. I plan on being confirmed when I finish my studies.

    So, can I go to confession even though I have not been confirmed?

    Thanks and God bless!

    FATHER JOE: You can certainly go to confession. Indeed, you should have been going all along. If you were received into the Church at thirteen years of age, then you should have already received baptism, confirmation and first Eucharist. Children baptized as babies are expected to go to confession prior to the reception of Holy Communion. Either way, someone stumbled in your faith formation. Peace!

  4. I am currently pregnant (20 years old) and live with my boyfriend. We both believe in God and are expecting are child next month. My question is can we baptize our child although we are not married? Also, can we do our confirmation quickly? (I hope to be baptized in March). What exactly is needed to baptize your child?

    FATHER JOE: Most priests, but not all, will baptize infants from Catholic couples not married in the Church. However, there needs to be a reliable assurance that the parents will raise the child in the faith. If neither of you is currently Catholic then this presents an issue that will have to be resolved. Indeed, there are a number of concerns. Is your boyfriend Catholic? Have either of you been married before? Are you looking to get married or are there serious reservations about the union? Cohabitation is regarded as living in sin. This creates a hurdle in reference to your reception of the sacraments (baptism, confirmation and first Holy Communion).

  5. Hello,
    Is it a serious sin to break a promise made to God, if you didn’t promise something very serious? For example, what if you promised to pray for someone every day. Also, what if you forgot what you promised.

    FATHER JOE: It is probably a venial matter. We should not make either frivolous promises or those which we will not be able to keep.

  6. My husband says that God is sick and twisted for purposefully sending his son to suffer and die on the cross. He says that an all-loving, all-powerful God should not allow something so disgusting especially his own son. He says that he could never allow that to happen to his children. I don’t know how to respond. Any help would be appreciated.

    FATHER JOE: God the Father did not directly want his Son to suffer, only to be faithful. Christ freely offers his life to save and forgive us. The accumulative sins of all the world throughout all human history put Jesus to death on the Cross. It is not so much that the Father did this to Jesus, we did it… and that includes your husband. We are the sick ones. Jesus takes the sins of the world upon himself, so that we might be healed, forgiven and have a share in his resurrected life. Would your husband be willing to suffer and die to save his family? Jesus entered the human family and made it his own. He undergoes the Cross because he loves us. Is your husband saying that he loves no one enough to make such a sacrifice? Is he saying that he hopes his son will never know such a love? I hope not.

  7. Father Joe, I am battling a problem that I have had for months. I left a job where I was bullied and mocked by my bosses. It got to the point where I was getting physically sick. I suffer from PTSD-like symptoms and I want my bosses to be treated the same way that they treated me. But I know that Christ would want us to pray for and forgive them. I have prayed to God to help me deal with Satan’s influences and move forward with my life, but they keep returning. Am I sinning when such thoughts enter my mind? And what can I do stop them (other than praying)?

    FATHER JOE: A sense of hurt or being upset at unfair treatment is not sinful. We may have fleeting thoughts about getting even, but these may not be sinful either if we refuse to ruminate about them or seek to have them realized. You are right, however, there is a Christian obligation to pray for those who hurt us.

  8. Father Joe: I am a single Catholic and lead a decent, clean life. But I hate to admit that when I sleep, I sometimes dream of having sex. When I am awake, I can stop such thoughts, but when I am sleeping, I have no control. Would such uncontrolled thoughts be considered to be mortal sins?

    FATHER JOE: You cannot commit mortal sin while asleep and dreaming.

  9. What does it feel like to be intimate with God or Jesus?

    FATHER JOE: Feelings vary, but there can be a sense of peace with being in right relationship with the Lord and knowing that he loves you.

  10. Father,
    My daughter and her husband have experienced fertility issues and are now considering IVF. The fertility clinic wants my husband and myself to submit saliva for genetic testing and won’t move forward without our samples.
    Are we participating in the destruction of embryos if we submit our samples?
    Thank you.

    FATHER JOE: This is the first time I have heard of genetic testing of a couple’s parents as a prerequisite for IVF. IVF is condemned by the Church for the abortifacient element, the freezing of embryos and the intervention of a third party (technician) over the procreative openness of the marital act. There is also a problem in that a child might be reduced as a commodity to which couples feel entitled instead of as a gift from God. It is my opinion that your collaboration would make you an accomplice in sin.

  11. Father,
    I was raised Catholic, but have revitalized my faith in the past few months. Therefore, I am learning many things that I didn’t know before, like how non-Catholics can’t receive Eucharist at mass. My dad is catholic, but my mom is baptized Lutheran and not confirmed, and has received communion throughout their marriage (almost 30 years). My dad has always been devoted to his faith, so I am not sure how to approach this. Am I obligated to correct them?

    FATHER JOE: Sounds like for all intensive purposes she is living as a Catholic. You might mention talking to the pastor about reception so that she could have full benefit of the faith. This is a case where I would urge a gentle nudge and then to allow God’s grace do the rest.

  12. are priests exempt from apology or admitting they were wrong when they have assumed an individual is behind a negative incident against them? then proven wrong in their assumptions……..only response is their being overly friendly and ignoring the incident.

    FATHER JOE: No one is exempt from saying he or she is sorry. As for priests, much of their ministry is dedicated to mercy and forgiveness. We are all liable from time to time for making bad judgments and when discovered, we should try our best to make matters right. But I am not clear about the question and comment. What happened?

  13. Is it Wrong being a Catholic to buy shares of marijuana stock?

    FATHER JOE: I can only give you my personal opinion. I am well aware of the fact that there are notable Catholics, like the late William F. Buckley Jr., who advocated the legalization of marijuana. However, I feel that we have trouble enough with current legal and accessible drugs. While there might be medical benefits for a few, far more will probably use this drug for recreational purposes. It will join alcohol consumption as something that impairs judgment and add to the current risks with drivers on the roadways. I view such “recreational” drug use as morally wrong and would not want to support it. Admittedly, this conflicts with my almost libertarian view of human freedom. Within my own estimation, liberties must be kept to a context where human rights and dignity are safeguarded, as with the sanctity of life.

  14. Father,

    Will you please explain when to bow and when to genuflect? I thought we genuflect to the tabernacle when the candle is lit (because Christ is present). But, why do we bow to the altar? Why do some people genuflect to the priest during the procession after Mass?

    Also, isn’t it liturgically incorrect to hold hands during Our Father and to lift our hands as the priests do during “and with your spirit?”

    Thank you.

    FATHER JOE: We genuflect toward the tabernacle and altar because of the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. If there is no tabernacle, then outside of Mass one might bow to the cross. Those who have physical trouble genuflecting may replace the action with a bow. We do not genuflect toward the priest after Mass. That would be odd. Some might kneel and kiss the ring of a bishop. There is no liturgical rubric about lay people either holding hands or raising their hands during Mass. The priest raises his hands at various times and prayers during the Mass. It is regarded as a sacerdotal gesture.

  15. What is the meaning of making the cross on your forehead, lips and heart just before the priest reads the gospel? And what is the meaning of placing the chalice with the bread in the tabernacle after communion? I believe that where they place the chalice is called the tabernacle? Thanks Jessie

    FATHER JOE: The gesture before the Gospel is an invocation that the Lord will be in our thoughts (the mind of Christ), on our lips (proclamation) and in our hearts (the love of God). The vessel with the consecrated hosts is placed in a ciborium and that is reserved in the tabernacle. After the consecration, only the accidents or appearances of bread remain. We believe that the bread is substantially transformed into the risen Christ. The vigil light burns next to the tabernacle as a reminder that Christ is present in the church. The sacrament is reserved for holy communion, particularly so that the sacrament can be taken to the homebound and sick.

  16. Hi Father,
    Let’s say there’s a guy and you keep glancing at him in private areas not because you want to, it just kind of happens and you look away without feeling any arousal or anything. Or you’re a straight woman but you look at women’s bodies, not because you are thinking sexual thoughts, your eyes just kind of go there. It may just be a comparison thing or curiosity I honestly don’t even know why it happens. Sometimes certain clothing causes attention, making it harder to not notice. Would this be sinful and to what degree? It kind of worries me because sometimes my eyes just go there without me trying to look. Thanks!

    FATHER JOE: You worry too much.

  17. Is plastic surgery a sin?

    FATHER JOE: This question came up in February of last year. Here was my response… Plastic surgery can repair defects and is neither inherently sinful nor always given to selfish narcissism. However, if you are doing so for capricious personal reasons or psychological hang ups, then it could also be very much wrong. Some poor people (probably like Michael Jackson) wrongly seek inner healing by changing the externals. You may need a therapist more than a plastic surgeon. I urge most to accept how God made them and save their money.

  18. Hello again, Father. I’m not sure if you remember, but a while back I asked a question about my daughter, and possession?
    She is still behaving strangely and I am very concerned!
    I have prayed for her recovery but she is not herself.
    I haven’t seen any supernatural manifestations, and she did not use any objects like Ouija boards or Tarot cards.
    She has been very antisocial and doesn’t talk much. She snaps easily at me.
    She hasn’t been sleeping well and has to take Tylenol PM in order to doze off. She says she’s been having bad dreams, but she won’t talk to me about them. She looks very tired and has lost some weight! She isn’t eating much.
    Yesterday, when she was in her room working on her school assignments, I asked her what she wanted for dinner. She slammed the book on the table and screamed, “Get away from me!” In that moment there was something in her eyes that terrified me. It was a look of pure rage like I’ve never seen before. I’m very concerned Father! Can you help me?

    FATHER JOE: Nothing you describe immediately implies the supernatural. I would suggest a general talk about what is bothering her. If this fails to help, then she may need to see a professional counselor and/or a doctor.

  19. Is putting yourself in an occasion of sin a sin in itself? If it is, what if you didn’t know that putting yourself in an occasion of sin was a sin?

    FATHER JOE: Sin is a misuse of our freedom and a misdirection of our will. As such, it is an act intrinsic to the human person. An occasion of sin is extrinsic to the sinful act. We should do what we can to avoid the proximate occasion of sin. In other words, you are obliged to avoid those persons, places or things that are likely to lead to mortal sin. Just as taking unnecessary risks to human life are sinful, so is deliberately and unnecessarily placing ourselves in situations where we know we are liable or highly likely (because of weakness) to fail morally. However, there is no requirement to avoid remote occasions of sin, as they are unavoidable and do not necessarily lead to serious sin.

  20. Hello. A little less than a year ago, I was snow tubing with friends. At the end of the night, I broke the rule and went down the same slope as my friend and didn’t wait until she was out of the way at the bottom. It was all in good fun, and obviously I wasn’t trying to hurt her. But we bumped heads and a little later my friend found out she got a concussion. Is it my obligation to pay for those hospital bills? Honestly, I don’t have money to do that, but idk I just wanna know if I have to do that? I am worried- and this was kind of a while ago.

    FATHER JOE: Are such die-hard rules? There are inherent risks to this sort of activity. You should have spoken with her about liability, your financial situation and a desire to help. It would seem to me that if you were responsible for hurting her than you should have sought some way to make it right. Was fear of a greater measure than friendship? I am not qualified to offer an assessment as to legal liability


  21. (I am a female). I know that homosexuality is a sin and I have been able to abstain from kissing a girl for two years, but it has gotten to the point where I cannot picture my life without ever kissing my first love (also a girl) again. I am currently dating a man, but all I can think about is her, so I feel dishonest towards him. I do not feel attracted to him at all, even though he’s a great guy and I think he would make a great husband and father. Will I become attracted to him once we are married? Is it selfish of me to want to be attracted to the person I marry and share intimacy with? What do I do?

    FATHER JOE: First, there is no sin in loving others. Second, a distinction must be made between sexual intimacy and loving (a person may love many people but would ordinarily not have sexual relations with all of them). Third, relationships are based upon honesty and a profound trust. The man you are dating should know what you are about and what you are experiencing. He needs to know the real you. I have no crystal ball and so I cannot predict the future. I have known people like yourself who had successful marriages with men. I have also known many more who remained single. It is natural that couples both love and are attracted to each other. What the Church calls a “disorientation” throws a monkey wrench into this scenario. The Church and our secular culture are no longer in sync about this matter. This can make the situation even more difficult for Christians with same-sex attraction. There are no easy answers. Love brings joy but it also always brings the Cross. I will keep you in prayer.

  22. Father,

    My wife’s best friend since childhood announced several years ago she was gay. Now, this friend is getting married to another female and will be inviting us to go to the wedding. I have had a conversation with my wife in the past about how I believe homosexuality is disordered. This led to our biggest fight as a married couple; my wife was very offended because she felt it was an insult to her best friend. My wife is a practicing Catholic, and doesn’t believe in gay marriage, but is set on being there for her friend at the wedding, and expects myself to be there too. I don’t want to go, but from my conversations with my wife I know it will cause a serious problem in our marriage if I don’t. I don’t know what to do. Thank you

    FATHER JOE: There is no canon law that prohibits Catholics from attending presumably invalid marriages. But this situation takes the matter to another level… Your wife will have to make her own decision, but she should respect your convictions and conscience on this matter. While there may be deep friendship and genuine love, homosexual sexual behavior is judged as disordered and as the matter of mortal sin. Would your presence give credibility or be interpreted as a sign of support for same-sex marriage? Here is where scandal on your part might occur. I cannot imagine in my own mind any compelling argument for you to attend. But the problem remains… How do you affirm the person but not the activity? In any case, the civil parody of marriage is an affront to the sacraments of the Church.

  23. Hello, I’ve been battling with years of porn & masturbation addiction for years and was 3 weeks sober before I confessed my sins. However, after a week post-confession (4 weeks), I used a non-nude, suggestive video to satisfy my urge without going to the full porn territory to prevent myself from having a relapse. While fortunately I did not do any physical stimulation, I was “turned on” in one instance.

    Am I in a state of mortal sin? Do I need to confess again before I receive communion? Or should I withhold communion altogether until I’m “mature”? My main question is that addiction progression a state of mortal sin?

    I thought I was “free” but then it came back again and I’m actively trying to push off against it. Now I know to avoid these images altogether but I can’t help but I’m always in a state of mortal sin if my penance can be broken in a matter less than a week. At the state I’m currently in, I’m only occasionally looking at suggestive pictures w/o nudity or physical stimulation to desensitize my urges so the full “mortal sin” territory hasn’t come back at all. It was only in this recent instance (via video) that I was “turned on”. Thank you for addressing my inquiry.

    FATHER JOE: How old are you? There is a difference between a young person awakening to sexual identity and struggling with control as compared to an older man or woman who may be dealing with relationship issues and years of addiction. When we seek to play with the parameters of right and wrong so as to avoid sin, we have most likely already crossed the boundary into sin and moral culpability. Sexual misbehavior is often a symptom of other issues like loneliness, fearfulness of relationships and commitment, insecurity, a lack of self-respect or sense of worth, etc. The Church and her sacraments target forgiveness, but we also must invite grace and help to treat the core problems. Think beyond the mechanics of what you are doing and ask yourself why you are doing what you do. Your gender and sexual passions are elements of your identity. How can you embrace your identity without falling into sin? Do not go looking for trouble. There is trouble enough that will find us. Frequent the sacraments and know that God loves you. We are all weak and we are all sinners. But God can make us strong if we walk with the Lord. If God can love you then do not hate yourself for your faults. Do the best you can and if you fall, with God’s assistance, pick yourself up.

  24. I was Baptized Catholic as a newborn, but my mom didn’t raise me Catholic. I was re-baptized non-denominational around 12. Do I need to be re-baptized because of this?

    FATHER JOE: If you were baptized Catholic then no later effort at re-baptism was effective. If you should want to live and worship as a Catholic, take catechetical instructions so as to receive the other sacraments (penance, Eucharist and confirmation). The Catholic church where the baptism took place would have a record. Peace!

  25. Hello,
    I recently received a new scapular and put it on and tied a knot so it doesn’t fall off, after I have already tied a knot I remembered I need to go get it blessed, will a priest bless my scapular even if I am unable to take it off?

    FATHER JOE: The priest can bless it but it is impractical if it cannot be removed for washing.

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