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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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  1. (x) I grew up in a Catholic family but I personally have decided to follow Celtic Paganism. Regardless, I am curious about one thing— if God forgives all and his kingdom is for good and bad, why are some people “sent to hell?” This disconnect is one for which I cannot find a good answer. Thank you!

    FATHER JOE:

    The decision to abandon the Catholic faith for which millions of the Irish and other Celtic converts suffered and died is a tremendous betrayal of their legacy. The true faith brought an end to empty superstition; and yet, you and many others are willing to embrace a primitive cult over a religion that offers forgiveness, purpose and the hope of eternal life. Do you fully appreciate what you are doing? You are literally rejecting the Lordship of Jesus Christ as Mediator and Savior. We believe that Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the Life. He is the bridge between heaven and earth. The Christian faith teaches us that God loves us and wants us to live with him “as adopted sons and daughters” in his house of many rooms.

    The Christian faith, more than any other, defends the dignity of human persons and the sanctity of life. That is why the Church is hated by those who devalue people or strip them of their basic rights. While I cannot know where you stand, many who separate from and impugn the Church, also support abortion, as it reduces a child to a commodity or an accident, instead of as a gift from God.

    The caricature of the Church as mean-spirited and desirous of sending people to hell is egregiously false. About this you have been misled. The mission of the Catholic Church is not to damn others but to offer them the kerygma of salvation. God’s grace will not trump individual human freedom. We see this with the saving passion and death of Christ— one who is murdered by you and me— by all the sins of the world throughout all time and around the world. He becomes our sin-offering and he cries from the Cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (see Luke 23:34). Those who would go to hell, do so on their own account, through their misuse of human freedom and the rejection of God’s gifts— especially the Eucharist. The damned embrace hell because they hate God. This hatred is realized in their failure to worship, in their selfish and narcissistic self-absorption into evil, and their indifference to the needs of others. Those who reject charity make their hell with every sin they commit and with every need they ignore.

    As for Celtic paganism, what is it really? Given the good work of St. Patrick and other Christians, the old naturalistic religion essentially disappeared. Most of what we know of their belief comes from early Roman archival records and from Christian documents about its suppression. Its re-creation today is based heavily upon new age suppositions. They apparently believed in the transmigration of souls. There was veneration of the dead, albeit in a materialistic manner. There is evidence that they regularly offered human sacrifice (as with their kings). Indeed, torture or ritual sacrifice was also evidenced from recent excavations. I suppose that is one element to which you would not want to return, am I right? They worshipped multiple deities and the druid priesthood was secretive about many of its beliefs and practices. It may be that a goddess of some sort was associated with the fertility of the earth. Julius Caesar wrote the following in 55 BC: “the Celts believed that gods delighted in the slaughter of prisoners and criminals, and when the supply of captives ran short, they sacrificed even the innocent.” Why would one believe the superstitious contriving of men and the practice of witchcraft over the revelation of God’s saving truth and the reception of the sacraments? Honestly, I think I would have a greater intellectual respect for the atheist than for one who would return to such a primitive form of religion, no matter how much a part of separatist (albeit indigenous) culture.

    As a Catholic priest I believe in the claims of a Church that superseded such a religion and which has been sustained by the Spirit of God for two thousand years despite the many sins of men and women. I also believe in the revelation of Christ that God is of one nature and yet is a trinity of divine Persons. It is this God that called us into existence, and after the primordial fall, sent his Son to save us. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17).

    I hope that your journey of faith will one day bring you home to the Church. God bless!

  2. Hello Father Joe,

    At Mass, are there gestures that only the celebrant should use and not the congregation? In particular, I am thinking of the extending of hands when we respond with “And with your spirit.” Another instance that comes to mind is the making the sign of the cross on the forehead, lips and heart just before the Gospel proclamation? Is any of this documented somewhere?

    FATHER JOE: Such matters are documented in the Roman Missal, at least in regard to the rubrics for the priest. The extension of the priest’s hands is a dictated prayer form for the priest or celebrant. It is not prescribed for the congregation although some have gotten into the habit of usurping priestly gestures. The signing of the forehead, lips and heart is a gesture that all are to make with the deacon or priest in reference to the Gospel and its reception.

  3. Dear Father, Some of my friends have been advising me against saying any binding prayers or praying for others, since they believe in something called courtroom of heaven. According to them, if there are legal cases in courtroom of heaven (Satan is accuser, Jesus advocate and God is Judge), then the prayers do not get answered. They say we have to first get our cases resolved in courtroom of heaven (as satan may have cases against us because of our sins), hence they say its not advisable to pray for others or say any binding prayers (binding sickness, evil spirits etc). I tried explaianing to them that with regular confession, if at all there are any cases against it, they would be nullified. Also as a catholic, we are always encouraged to intercede for others, lay hand over others and pray. However they say this can lead to further trouble and I may get sickness etc (currently I am taking treatment for cancer). Does the catholic church believe in courtrom of heaven? Can satan ever accuse us in front of God? do I pray for others or do i not pray?

    FATHER JOE:

    Did your friends come to their views after reading Courts of Heaven by Robert Henderson? There are a few others that have also bought into the notions you describe. It is not representative of traditional Christianity.

    Evangelical or fundamentalist Protestantism is in no way united and this notion of a courtroom in heaven is a new heresy that is being promoted by some of the sects or cults. While it promotes a legalism that is more reflective of the Old Testament than the New, it tends to take an analogy too far in regard to the contemporary legal system in the Western world. While there is a divine tribunal in heaven, there is no courtroom with the devil practicing as the prosecuting attorney.

    While some who promote this heresy would also argue for a court of intercession and one of mediation; the truth remains that this juridical model is an affront to the dignity of almighty God and violates basic Christian “Catholic” soteriology.

    A principal heretical element is the authority that this theory gives Satan. While the Scriptures refer to him as the master of the world, it merely gives him credit for the primordial sin and for the human bondage prior to the coming of Christ. A courtroom can only function if there is justice and truth. The devil is a liar. He claims a power and jurisdiction that he does not actually possess. The souls that remain lost in his grasp, particularly after our Lord’s intervention, are those who buy into his deception. The damned literally give the devil an authority over them that he would otherwise not possess.

    Remember the temptation scene with Jesus? It is often misunderstood. Look at the three temptations that the devil puts forward. First, he tries to entice him with HUNGER, saying that if he were the Son of God (Messiah) he should turn stones to bread. The devil had no power to do so. He sought to take credit for something that Jesus could do. Evil is always a privation. The devil can target empty bellies but he can only emphasize the hunger. He cannot feed us. Next, the devil tempts Jesus with his MORTALITY, another factor in the incarnation of Christ. He urges him to test God by throwing himself to his death. Notice once more that the devil’s gifts are empty. He can grant nothing of life. His deception to the first Adam brought suffering, sin and death into the world. Christ, as the new Adam, is not swayed by the devil’s lies. The third dark inducement is ABANDONMENT. This temptation will be revisited with the psalm that is uttered from Christ’s lips on the Cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” Psalm 22 goes on to emphasize a profound trust and confidence in God. The breach caused by sin was not the way things were supposed to be. Jesus came into the world to restore our relationship with God. He is the bridge between heaven and earth. We are not alone. We are not an orphaned people.

    The response of Christ is a saving one for us and demonstrates the emptiness of the devil’s claims. All the power is with Christ who sits at the right hand of God the Father. Our Lord sends the Holy Spirit so that we might see through the devil’s lies, be fed by the bread of life and know spiritual adoption as sons and daughters of the Father.

    The heresy of the courtroom that your friends promote undervalues the saving blood of Christ. Jesus is our sin-offering that makes possible genuine propitiation or satisfaction for sin. The passion and death of Christ breaks the devil’s hold upon us. We are redeemed from the slavery of sin. God gives us sanctifying grace, a share in his life. We should not buy into the devil’s arguments that he has any say or power over us. The heresy tends to put Jesus and Satan on an equal standing and such a “yin and yang” view of good and evil as opposite and contrary forces is utterly repellant to Christianity. God has all the cards. Jesus and the Father are one. The tribunal of heaven is our judgment before God the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Christ is our Mediator and Redeemer who pleads our cause. The devil has no voice. He is not a deity, just a fallen creature of spirit with no real power.

    First, our justification is not through any type of juridical imputation as espoused by the reformer Martin Luther. We are not acquitted because Jesus disguises us by standing in front of us so that his Father will grant us a share in his reward. Our justification comes from a rebirth into a new creation. We are made brand new. We are transformed by the grace of God into the likeness of Christ. When the Father looks upon us, he sees his Son in is and gives us a share in his life. Second, our saving faith is personal but it is not independent or disassociated from the communal or corporate faith of others. Our Lord establishes a relationship, not merely with individuals but with a faith community… first the children of Israel and now his holy Church. The communion of the saints is a Catholic truth that should never be dismissed. Mary and the saints of heaven can pray and intercede for us and the souls in purgatory. We can pray for the living and the dead. Those who reject such a relationship would impoverish the meaning of God’s Church and reduce it to a weak and dispensable fellowship. The Church’s teachings, acts of charity and sacraments are gifts from God to help us along the way of Christ. This Church exists in pilgrimage on earth, in purgation and in heavenly glory. Hell has no part of it. The devil has claim of none except those that are judged by God alone as lost. All the authority belongs to the Lord. He will not share his dominion with Satan, which is really what the heresy of a courtroom as you describe does. A failure to pray for one another is a failure to love. It is that failure that would convict us before God.

    What can I say about the assertion that intercessory prayer is forbidden and/or leads to temporal punishment, as with sickness? Such is a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and is the distorted view of demons. It would violate both “the blessed assurance” of most of our Protestant friends and the Catholic notion that as long as we remain faithful we can “live in the sure and certain HOPE” of our salvation in Christ. Yes, we believe that faith can sour and one can fall from grace. However, our Lord has given us the ministry of reconciliation to restore souls to good standing before God. If we walk with the Lord we should not fear death or the coming judgment. We are not alone. Every believer should insist that he or she belongs to the Lord and that the devil should have no say or dominion over us. While a courtroom model might fit somewhat within Old Testament thinking where God’s people were subject or convicted by the law; it doesn’t jive well with the view of saving faith making possible the gift of sanctifying grace. God does not judge us as our sins deserve but rather according to our disposition toward his infinite love and mercy.

    At the time of death we will undergo the particular judgment. God is the source of all truth and none can evade this divine light. There is no need for demonic intervention or prosecution from Satan (especially against those revealed as saints). Even the least of the saints possesses what the devil no longer has, the grace of God. Satan can have no part or even a place to stand in heaven to prosecute the saints. If any souls should fall short, the verdict comes from almighty God without any interference from the devil or from the other damned. The notion of a court in heaven as your associates describe would infringe upon divine sovereignty and such is a violation of the commandment to worship God alone. The devil is (himself) condemned. At the consummation of all things there will be the general or last judgment. Purgatory will cease to exist and there will only be heaven and hell.

  4. FATHER JOE

    I was raised in a religious environment that foster anit-catholic teachings especially when it came to the subject surrounding the “society of Jesus” aka Jesuits. My questions are two fold, with follow up questions. I will try preference the questions with information to better help you understand were my questions are coming from. I would be very curious about you opinions and thoughts.

    #1 Why do you believe groups of people (besides white supremacist, nazi, they are clearly one sided and very hateful) demonize the Jesuit order/catholic with such finality and sincerity?

    Reasoning behind this question:
    In the case of my family, they are not white supremacist or self proclaimed nazis etc,bath rather are some of the most loving and sincere people i know. Yet many of the rhetoric and talking points they speak are very similar to white supremacist and nazis. My parents amazes me sometimes how nonchalantly they can say loaded statements with such finality when they have clearly only researched material that supports a specific side. Example: they make a statement like “You know all wars were/are started by Jesuits”. This statement is inherently flawed because Jesuits could not start “ALL” wars, given they have not been around the beginning of time. People would start wars regardless of the machinations of a religious order.

    #2 (Note: I know you do not speak for all Catholics)
    Do you believe the catholic church at moments has lost its way in the past/present, making it easier for people to demonize its as a whole generations later or presently?

    If you do believe it has, a follow up questions to that is, What do you believe will change that image?

    If you do not believe it has lost it way, how do you reconcile the documented past/present sins (without having to go into details)? Im not hear to make accusations or go for the low blow to get some magical internet points that make me feel like an accomplished person.

    Reasoning behind this questions:
    I would like to say i am history buff,and i like questioning people with knowledge, but honestly speaking i just like asking question, even if that has me playing devil advocate. Truth is truth, lies usually fall by the way side when tested.

    Note: I am no longer associated with any religion at this point, but i do believe in a God. The fifty shades of belief that religions fight over, proclaiming their versions are right and everyone else is wrong has, left me more than a little disillusioned with all organized religions. But people are people, love is love, i have found just as many loving people in religions as hateful people.

    Sorry if i rambled.

    FATHER JOE:

    I can only speculate. You would probably best ask the hate groups themselves why they promulgate vast invective against the Jesuits and Catholicism. Bigotry does not have to be rational. Scapegoating others requires no real evidence of wrongdoing. Speaking for myself, I suspect that many resent the Church’s defense of human personhood and the sanctity of human life. The Church is a consistent voice for justice and rights when most others are silent.

    There is no guarantee that all practical decisions of the Church are correct. The faith and morals of the Church are safeguarded by the Holy Spirit, but not necessarily how individual Catholics live out their discipleship. The Jesuits were once very successful in defending the papacy. They started a number of important schools. Some resented their achievements and sought to undermine or distort what they were about. Much early anti-Catholicism in the United States also reflected a deep-seated prejudice toward certain immigrants, like the Irish. The lies told in older books are often repeated as gospel by later generations who do not know better.

    What can change ignorance? This requires receptivity toward the truth. What can change prejudice? This demands an end to hate and selfishness. Given that there is always a fresh supply of deception and hatred, I suspect there is little or nothing that will ever eradicate the problem.

    What are the so-called sins of which the Church is guilty? The arguments against indulgences were contrived. The crusades sought to defend a Catholic Europe against a militant Islam and to maintain pilgrimage sites in the Holy Land. Catholics and Protestants alike suffered persecution from various princes. The inquisition preserved doctrinal truths and the numbers of those who wrongly lost their lives are often exaggerated; many nations exploited the Catholic faith as a glue to maintain their rule. As for the Jesuits, many of them were martyred seeking to bring the faith back to England. Others faced great persecution and martyrdom as in the Orient and among the North American martyrs.

    Catholicism was the house of faith started by Jesus. Our Lord commanded us to fill this house with sinners. We have remained faithful to that mission.

  5. Fr Joe,
    What constitutes gluttony? I was at work yesterday and ordered Door Dash for lunch. I finished it even though I was full when there was a little left. (Not what i considered enough to bring home). But I was feeling a little over full.

    Later on (after mass, when I would usually have had dinner) I was so ravenously thirsty I allowed myself the unusual treat of an extra large Icee. I figured I had been dropping a bit of weight lately so the extra calories wouldn’t do me any harm. Later at bedtime my stomach was feeling a bit icky. I received communion at mass.

    The first thought in my head as I am fully awake today is gluttony. I even went to confession before mass yesterday and didn’t mention it. Am I in mortal sin again? I’m so aggravated with myself. I know I have some issues with being scrupulous, and it seems I cannot go one lousy day without doing something stupid.

    FATHER JOE: What you describe is probably not gluttony. Gluttony is facilitated by a general disorientation where pleasure is derived from excessive indulgence in both food and drink. It rejects balance or moderation. The occasional indulgence, as in the partaking of an extra slice of your mother’s pie, is probably a neutral act. While gluttony is catalogued as number five among the deadly sins, it is most often only venial. It is precisely when it becomes idolatry and deliberately self-destructive that it becomes mortal sin. This is referenced by St. Paul when he writes of those “whose god is their belly” (Philippians 3:10). This is also understood in the context of waste and a lack of concern for the needs of the hungry and poor.

  6. Father, I have a question that’s weighing on me heavily. I want to go to confession, but I’m afraid and embarrassed to confess that I’ve masturbated and watched pornography many times. I’m very close to my priest and he’s know me since I was little. I can’t tell him. I’m a teenager with no car so I can’t go to a different church for confession. What do I do? I need advice badly.

    FATHER JOE: Dismiss the embarrassment. See your priest for confession. The forgiveness of sins is at the heart of what the priesthood is about. This is the reason he has been given to you as your priest.

  7. Father Joe,
    I would not consider myself a Christian. I’m a 22 year old who wants to believe and become Christian, I have just found it very difficult when it feels like he is not there when I try to pray/communicate. I’m in a tough situation. I’m a hip-hop artist in the music industry and my content is definitely not God friendly. Ever since I created my first album I started having more sleep paralysis and anxiety then ever before and it just hit out of nowhere. Satan would come to me in dreams to convince me to sell my soul in exchange for riches. Sometimes I get so close to securing a deal in the dream but my heart races and I wake myself up. Why is this happening? Dreams for me have always been vivid and lucid since I was a kid. I’m proud of my content as a musician and I really want to be rich and live a meaningful happy life where the world knows who I am and gives me power, but it seems to only come with a price. Just last night I had a dream and right off the bat it didnt feel the same. I’m in my bedroom and I turn around to see 2 cell phones on my bed ringing. One simply said “The Light” with a picture of Jesus. The other said “The Darkness” with a picture of Pazuzu the fallen demon of wind. I picked up the phone with Jesus on it and when I put it to my hear all I heard was mumbling and words I couldn’t make out. What would’ve happened if I picked up the other phone? It just didnt make any sense. It feels like there is a battle going on right now and I dont know what to do. I dont want to sell my soul but he makes it so tempting in some of these dream scenarios. Sometimes he disguises himself as a goat or even a seashell on the beach, but the message is always the same. I just dont want to make the wrong decision and I didnt know who to ask without sounding crazy. I really want to be a Christian, but to sacrificing everything for a belief that in the back of mind still sheds doubt makes it even harder to do. Any advice would be appreciated. Thank you very much

    FATHER JOE: Really? You want my advice? What do you suppose a Catholic priest would suggest? Stop playing games. There is nothing wrong with sharing talent and seeking the better things of life. But as far as the choice between Satan and Christ, the way before you is clear. One way leads to death and the other to eternal life. You were made for God. Only in God can you truly be free and find lasting happiness. Satan is a deceiver and murderer. He might direct you to passing pleasures but you will never know true joy. You can sit at the banquet table of heaven or you can become the food of demons. Ultimately the devil is all about bondage or slavery. He hates you. By comparison, God wants you in his house as a member of the family. The choice is yours. But you will have to change your life… you may even have to rewrite the lyrics to your songs.

  8. Fr, here is one for you. I just learned, after 50 years, that by Canon Law a penitent who is solicited for sexual purposes in the confessional and does not divulge it is automatically excommunicated! Imagine my shock at learning that. I was solicited as a sophomore in high school in the confessional in our high school chapel. Also , by the same priest, a few hours after the confession outside the confessional. Of course I did not report it as in those days who would I report it to? And of course I had no knowledge of this law then either. What do you suggest?

    FATHER JOE: The automatic censure is for a person who makes a false accusation of the crime of solicitation in the confessional by the priest.

  9. Hi Fr. joe,
    Thank you for your answer to my question about novenas, devotions, and indulgences. Something you said made me wonder. Why are souls in purgatory ‘helpless’? Why can’t they do anything to ‘help themselves’? Is it possible that a soul could then remain in purgatory forever? Is not the pain of purgatory enough to satisfy the temporal punishment to free someone from purgatory?
    Thank you.

    FATHER JOE: The test comes in this life. One’s spiritual state is fixed at death. The souls in purgatory will also be counted as saints. After their purgation they will see God in heaven. They may be purified by the fire of God’s presence; however they can make no meritorious work or act as we can by joining ourselves to the paschal mystery of Christ. Like the patient in the hospital, they must be worked upon by others. Like the prisoner in a cell, they cannot be released until someone unlocks the cell door. The souls of purgatory will know differing duration because some are closer and others are further away from spiritual perfection. The angels may have been created in ranks. Our standing in the afterlife will be measured in terms of how we have ascertained divine grace and holiness. Already in this world we can observe that we are not the same. Some have the jump on others in terms of holiness or sainthood. I would not worry about this. No matter whether we find ourselves in the basement or penthouse of heaven, the main joy will be the same… we will see God and know endless joy.

  10. For the past year or so my depression has been getting worse. My anger also grows as well. I have seizures in my left temporal lobe (responsible for emotion, memory, etc.) I having been doing everything I can think of to help. I pray for answers to help take the pain away. I take my medication. Yet, it still gets worse. Is it possible that my condition and depression is a form of penance for sins that I can’t remember?

    FATHER JOE: Any pain or struggle that we cannot outrun can become a penance for spiritual advancement. However, please know that God is NOT out to get you. While we are sinners and bring much trouble upon ourselves; the hard truth remains that we are born into a difficult, imperfect and wounded world. We can pray for healing but the mystery of suffering remains a profound mystery— one in which we find solidarity with the crucified Christ. While God might spiritually heal the bodies and minds of some to show us the reality of his power; our Lord’s real interest is the healing of the souls and the forgiveness of sins. Do not forget that God has also given us one another. While God hears and answers all prayer, he does not give us everything that we immediately want. God has also given us each other— we have brothers and sisters who are gifted therapists, counselors, doctors, etc. Those who are in pain should also appeal to those in the community who can and want to help us.

  11. Fr Joe, Is it a sacrilege to make an act of spiritual communion when in a state of mortal sin? Say you were unable to get to confession due to work or some such unavoidable obligation, and therefore could not sacramentally receive.

    FATHER JOE:

    Generally speaking the conditions for a spiritual communion are best when the person could just as well receive the Eucharist. The problem making it impossible might be work, distance from a church, illness and lack of mobility, etc. Such a person would be a Catholic in a state of grace who devoutly wants to receive the sacrament and to know the loving grace of Christ.

    There is some truth to the criticism that the graces of a spiritual communion would be impaired by mortal sin and from disassociation from the Church established by Christ. But, of course, only God can ultimately judge souls and so we would still suggest a spiritual communion for Catholics who are estranged from the Church (as in irregular unions, failing to receive absolution in confession and for acts that would constitute the matter of mortal sin). I have often encouraged non-Catholics to refrain from taking the Eucharist and to attempt a spiritual communion, praying for that day when Christians will truly be one. The element that may give this effort efficacy is the love they have for Jesus and for full union with him.

    A famous prayer is this: “My Jesus, I believe that you are present in the Blessed Sacrament. I love you above all things and I desire you with all my heart. Since I cannot now receive you sacramentally, I ask you to come spiritually into my heart. I embrace you as if you were already in my heart and unite myself to you completely. Please do not let me ever by separated from you.”

    An act of spiritual communion is entirely personal and the Church would generally render no judgment upon whether or not it is efficacious for this or that person. The public act is the actual reception of Holy Communion. That is where the Church places her interest. The posture or disposition of one who would make a spiritual communion would be a spirit of contrition, a genuine love for Jesus and a desire to be in union with the community of faith that receives the Eucharist.

  12. Father, I recently read about St Francis Xavier Cabrini, and learned that when the sainthood process started they removed her head and took it to a shrine in Tome, while her arm was placed in another location, and her other remains are in a third location. Same with Blessed Stanley Rother, his heart is in Guatemala, but his body is in Oklahoma. I know the church now allows cremation, but specifies that the ashes must be kept together on one place. Why does the church require the faithful to not have their remains separated, but don’t require that of the saints? Is it purely for veneration purposes?

    FATHER JOE: You hit it on the head… veneration.

  13. What would you say to someone who has dealt with scrupulosity in the past very seriously and still does although they have come a long way and they feel as though they have made instantaneous promises to God about silly things like “I will not drink coffee again” and feel as though they are bound to this. Some promises actually feel as though God was speaking to them to do this.

    FATHER JOE: No, do not be deceived. God would not have you make trivial promises, especially ones that you will likely not keep. The only lasting or permanent promises we should make before God are those of our initiation (baptism and confirmation) as well as those that speak to our state of life (marriage, holy orders and religious life). Promises made to God should be kept. Frivolous promises (kept or not) may trespass into sin. You should not elevate something like a New Year’s resolution to the level of a vow to God. Even those who once made the pledge as against drinking alcohol only did so until they reached the age of majority. It is my experience that those who make a habit of swearing to God often do not keep their promises. Indeed, the whole practice probably dishonors the dignity of God and trivializes our discipleship. If you do what you are supposed to do, there is no need for the practice. Swearing to God or making random promises to the divinity will grant no grace for fidelity— you will merely be convicted for a juvenile faith or for being a liar without conviction. Tell God you are sorry for making silly promises and just struggle to be a faithful Christian and to be contrite when you fail. Peace!

  14. Hi Fr. Joe,
    With Divine Mercy Sunday coming this Sunday, I’m in the middle of my 1st EVER Novena. I’m not sure why, but I’ve never prayed a Novena before now. But, it has me wondering….what is the difference between a Novena, a Devotion, and a Plenary Indulgence? Are they all basically the same thing?

    I’m doing the Divine Mercy Novena as it says, starting on Good Friday and ending on Divine Mercy Sunday. But, I think you can do it other times of the year too? Do we pray Novena’s usually for a specific intention?

    Can you dedicate a Plenary Indulgence or a Novena for the soul of someone else….either living or dead…especially if you are concerned that they might be in Purgatory?

    Is confession necessary to complete a Novena/Devotion/Plenary Indulgence? Do you have to go to confession on Divine Mercy Sunday in order for the Divine Mercy Novena to be complete? I went the 2nd week of Lent, and I was told that might satisfy that part. The Novena flier that I have just says, “Go to confession” and doesn’t really elaborate.

    Lastly, can you pray more than one Novena at at time/ or pray as many as you want to pray? Or is there a limit?

    Sorry so many questions.
    Thank you, and Happy Easter!

    FATHER JOE:

    A Novena is often a list of prayers to be said as a grouping or a type of prayer (and sometimes spiritual activities) spread over a period of days (like 9 or 30 or whatever). A Novena is a type of devotion but so is the Rosary or the Stations of the Cross, etc. When people regularly say their favorite prayers, it might be remarked that they are about their daily devotions.

    The Divine Mercy Devotion was granted an indulgence by the Holy See in 2002. Many prayers and devotions or spiritual activities have indulgences attached to them by the Church. Such grants of indulgences can also be removed or changed by the Holy See over time. What is an indulgence? A plenary indulgence means that by the merits of Christ, the Virgin Mary and the communion of saints, a full remission of the temporal punishment due to sacramentally forgiven sins is obtained. If all the conditions are not satisfied then a plenary (full) indulgence becomes partial.

    The Divine Mercy Chaplet can be said at any time but the indulgence attached to the devotion is time sensitive: “A plenary indulgence, [is] granted under the usual conditions (sacramental confession, Eucharistic communion and prayer for the intentions of Supreme Pontiff) to the faithful who, on the Second Sunday of Easter or Divine Mercy Sunday, in any church or chapel, in a spirit that is completely detached from the affection for a sin, even a venial sin, take part in the prayers and devotions held in honor of Divine Mercy, or who, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament exposed or reserved in the tabernacle, recite the Our Father and the Creed, adding a devout prayer to the merciful Lord Jesus (e.g. Merciful Jesus, I trust in you!).”

    Ordinarily such an indulgence could be gained for oneself or for a soul in purgatory. Many of us seek them for the dead. But remember that even the slightest venial sin would reduce the indulgence to partial or if mortal sin, forfeit it entirely. Further, the souls in purgatory (unlike us) are in a helpless state. They cannot help themselves. They died in good standing with God (no mortal sin) but with venial sins and temporal punishment pending upon their souls. Remember, Confession absolves sins; indulgences remit temporal punishment due to sin. It is not the same thing. The overflowing graces of the saints can be applied to others. The Pope has authority over this treasury of grace.

    The penance that a priest gives after confession is also to help resolve temporal punishment. That is why we should always complete the penances given and seek out our own penances or sacrifices to help form our souls as vessels of grace and to make ourselves more receptive to the overtures of God.

  15. Fr. Joe,

    I have a question regarding a close non-Catholic family member (former Methodist/ now attends a non-denominational church)
    who wants to debate my husband and me about our Catholic faith.
    She believes the “end times” are very near and continues to say to us at the end of any and all conversations, “Just keep looking up!”
    She also wrote it under her signature on the Easter card she sent to us. We’re unfamiliar with its meaning.
    After our online research, we gathered it may mean ” be alert for The Rapture.” If that’s the message, our family member would know we don’t believe in this interpretation of Scripture, which leaves us even more confused. Thanks for any insights you may be able to offer.

    FATHER JOE:

    It has been my experience that little or nothing is usually gained by debate, especially when what is shared is mutual ignorance. If your Catholic parish has a Bible Study Group then you might join and then ask if she might like to participate. The odds are that she will say no. Keep yourself in a place of strength. While she probably intends no ill will, many fundamentalists have memorized select “proof” texts so as to exploit or victimize Catholics.

    Some of the evangelicals wrongly read “rapture” into the Bible, but any such reference should really refer to the second coming of Jesus and judgment day:

    “Immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming upon the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a trumpet blast, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other” (Matthew 24:29-31).

  16. Hi Father, My mother is going to be ‘marrying’ a transgender ‘woman’ (male-to-female). While her partner is male, he is legally female and they and everyone else involved view this event as a same-sex ‘wedding’. I don’t see how I can attend their wedding, as I am a Catholic and by going I feel I would be publicly endorsing something that goes against my faith, and against God. Am I in the wrong here? Especially considering I am under 18 (I may be a legal adult by the time they marry, though). Do I have to go in order to honor my parents as God commands? I’m just really confused and I really don’t want to support something so contrary to God’s design for holy matrimony, but is it my duty to go?
    Thanks.

    FATHER JOE: While it is often the other way around I have also known many minors who have suffered much because of errant parents. Once you are 18 years of age our society considers you an adult and you would be within your rights to refuse attending. However, let your mother know that while you disagree with what she is doing that you will always love her. Be prepared for repercussions, because while she might understand it is likely that her partner will not. Is your mother Catholic? Does it not bother her that this attempted union will have no standing in the Catholic Church? Where is your father? Is he still living? I will keep you in prayer. You can explain to your mother that as a faithful Catholic, you do not feel that you can morally attend or participate in what is purportedly a same-sex union, albeit with a transgendered male. You are right the question of the union is blurred by the fact that it is actually a mixed-gender union. Nevertheless, it would still not be sanctioned by the Church as transgendered sexuality is regarded as problematical and the union is not witnessed in a church by a priest.

  17. I agree Fr. Joe. Thanks for your perspective. I feel Dom’s frustration but I agree there is room for all. It does not have to be all or nothing. When in a Mass with more or less praise music from the radio posing as good liturgical music I focus on the Sacrament and why I am at Mass in the first place. This has helped me to be to be more charitable and open.

  18. Father, I attend Mass every Sunday and Holy Day but I do not always receive Holy Communion. To be honest the changes in the Mass make it seem more Protestant than Catholic and I have a lot of problems stomaching simply sitting through this new Protestant-like service much less receiving the Blessed Sacrament. I have received Holy Communion earlier this year but not during Lent. I went to the Holy Saturday liturgy last night with the intention of receiving but the service was so effeminate with the singing and piano and inclusive language (I am sorry but it was like a Protestant service with Kumbaya style songs replacing real Catholic hymns ) I couldn’t receive. Did I commit a mortal sin by not receiving Communion? I was praying during the Mass to Mother Angelica and to Bishop Sheen to ask God to please restore the Roman Catholic Mass so we could properly worship him again.

    FATHER JOE:

    I can sympathize with your preference for a more traditional liturgy. If you have received the Eucharist at least once during the year then you are likely in good standing in terms of the precept of the Church. As for those who need to make their Easter duty, it would include the entire Easter season.

    While Mother Angelica preferred the traditional Mass with Latin, her priests offer the reformed liturgy, albeit in Latin and English. Archbishop Sheen gave us a wonderful dramatic depiction of the old Mass; however, he also regularly celebrated the reformed rites. I am still of the mind that the liturgy after Pope Paul VI can be offered in a solemn and respectful manner. Admittedly, there is much abuse and the choices made regarding accidentals are sometimes quite questionable.

    Of course, the first priests guilty of Modernism (even succumbing to atheism) were still saying the Tridentine liturgy. Gregorian chant and beautiful Latin was no perfect insurance against heresy and a possibly defective intention.

    Similarly, what I cannot speak to is what you actually believe in your heart. If you failed to receive because you do not believe that the Mass you attended was a genuine Eucharist and participation with our Lord on Calvary… then your Catholic faith may indeed be in jeopardy. If you refused to take Holy Communion because you denied the REAL presence of the risen Jesus in the sacrament… then the sin might be far more serious than an infraction against the Easter duty.

    Did you suffer because of the accidentals of the Easter liturgy? Did you not recall that our Lord had to suffer the Cross on his way to the empty tomb and Easter morning? Could you have not offered your discomfort so as to be in solidarity with Christ? It seems to me that certain traditionalists and progressives share the same ailment… a preoccupation with themselves and with the notion of personal satisfaction or even entertainment. The Mass is the Mass not because it is beautiful and satisfies everyone’s stylistic tastes; the Mass is the Mass because it is a command performance done in remembrance of Christ within the proscribed worship of the Church with a genuine priest who stands in the person of Christ at the altar. I would prefer the Mass offered in a barn by a stuttering old priest compared to anything with delightful music and beautiful surroundings lacking a true priest and the current sanction of the Church instituted by Christ. But that is me…

  19. Hi I have a few questions, here they are:

    What is coveting and when is it a mortal sin?

    What is Avarice? When does it arise to grave matter?

    Is Prodigality a mortal sin?

    Thank you
    And is wishing evil on yourself a sin?

    FATHER JOE:

    All your short questions are really about mortal sin, more so than simple definitions.

    COVETING = Coveting is a form of greed or an inordinate desire for things. It would be like a miser counting his coins but not taking delight as he wanted ever more and more. It becomes a type of idolatry. The things or stuff become more important than God and neighbor. The Christian can have possessions but we should not allow the possessions to have (or to possess) us. This runs against the grain of a materialistic world. People have more and more but they remain essentially unhappy. If coveting displaces God then it becomes mortal sin.

    AVARICE = Avarice goes beyond coveting and takes greed to another level of seriousness. If coveting is an inordinate desire for things or wealth; avarice is an inordinate desire for gain after one has more than he needs. While coveting can afflict the poor and the rich; avarice is more the sin of the wealthy. Like coveting it is a form of idolatry, too. Often it is also associated with malice, meaning that the person will stoop to any means for greater gain. If simply an expression of pleasure in having things it would not be a mortal sin. When the person acts unjustly against others to procure the wealth then it quickly becomes a mortal sin.

    PRODIGALITY = If coveting and avarice are about the amassing of wealth and stuff, prodigality is about a wasteful extravagance. The word comes from the Prodigal Son parable where the younger son squandered his inheritance. The waste of resources can be either mortal or venial depending on the amount of the waste and the associated need. For instance, it is one thing for a man to gamble away a few dollars for fun; it is entirely another for a man to forfeit his baby’s needed milk money. We are called to be good stewards with the gifts that God gives us.

    WISHING EVIL ON YOURSELF = It can be a mortal sin, especially if it is a symptom of despair or places the person in danger of self-destruction.

  20. Father, is deliberate reading of decent material for answers to sexual questions a mortal sin if it causes feelings of arousal. The intention of reading was not to raise these feelings, but it was known they would happen. Probably occasion to sin.

    FATHER JOE: Just as teens must learn something about human sexuality and morality, there is no sin inherent with such materials. Of course, everyone must be on guard about fantasies and wrongful motivations.

  21. I have missed mass a few times because of sickness, and did not feel well, and also did not want to pass around my germs. is it a sin to miss mass, and i have not been to confession, for about 2 years, it just got to be uncomfortable, to go and confess my sins, because, at age 71 , i do not know at this period of my life what is really a sin. but i went to communion a couple of times. can you enlighten me, on this god bless

    FATHER JOE: Missing Mass when you are sick or disabled is not a sin. Having said this, you should go to Confession more regularly.

  22. Fr Joe,
    This is bothering me a great deal. I have been a huge fan of Game of Thrones since it came out and have enjoyed the story immensely. The final season has started and I am dying to see how it ends. For some reason I cannot fathom, I allowed a comment on the internet to plague me and I ended up asking 2 different priests if it was a sin to watch it. I got 2 different answers. That alone boggles my mind. One said I was fine, enjoy the last season. One sent me 2 articles that basically stated that I was asking the wrong question: I should be asking “does it do anything good for me…does this instill any virtue in me?” If it does, then fine, watch. If it doesn’t, then you shouldn’t be watching. While I see their point, I then fail to see what TV anyone should be allowed to watch, unless you count mass.

    GOT has its problems. I hatehatehate the blatant sexuality. It would be so much better without it. But the story is so good. The acting is great. It is rather violent….but they are at war for most of the series.

    I don’t tune in to be turned on by the sex. It makes me impatient and annoyed. I just want to see how it ends. I should add that I realize I sound petulant and I kind of hate myself right now (especially since I am writing this on Good Friday). But I need to know if I finish watching these last 5 episodes if I am committing a mortal sin. Because I want to. But I don’t want to spit in God’s face, either.

    Maybe if the author had finished writing the dang books, I wouldn’t have this issue. I don’t recall this much sex in the books I read.

    FATHER JOE: Sorry, I never read the books and never saw the show. Someone told me that the television version is spiced up with sex. But that is all I know. I opted never to start watching it.

  23. Hi Father. This is a weird question but does phlegm, mucus, or sputum break the fast if one swallows them? Thanks

    FATHER JOE: Of course not, ridiculous!

  24. My adult daughter, after marrying a non-Catholic man in a Catholic wedding, drifted away from the Church. You described her as an apostate. I continue to pray that the Holy Spirit will inspire her and that she will return to the Church and baptize her 3-year old and her second daughter due next month.

    I have never confronted her about this except once when I asked her why she left Catholicism. She said she had “doubts”. I told her that the parish priests less than 1/4 mile away could help. She never tried.

    My question is whether I have some obligation to try to help bring a return to fruition. Frankly, I have decided to focus on my own Catholicism and let her deal with her decisions. But, I feel badly that for some reason she has moved on.

    She occasionally attends a Baptist-type
    Of “church” but seems to have no real commitment there either.

    It’s an empty feeling that I have to see such a good woman adrift. At dinner when in her house I say grace before meals. I watch her bless herself and can’t understand why she does that.

    I leave that unexplored.

    FATHER JOE: I do not recall labeling your daughter an apostate. I would urge you to keep her in prayer. If she is a reader, you might suggest some good spiritual books. The DVD Jesus of Nazareth is a nice Easter present. Peace.

  25. Hi Fr. – I am trying to understand why priests do not say anything about unbehaved children and crying infants during mass. I understand that infants and children are unpredictable but I do not understand why something cannot be said when children are screaming during mass and the parents are either oblivious or don’t care. I recently went to confession and when I mentioned impatient as one of my sins, I was told to be more compassionate. My compassion goes out the door when I cannot concentrate on my own praying and listen to the priest. Thanks.

    FATHER JOE:

    What if I were to tell you that the crying infant is the baby Jesus. Would you still want him silenced or removed from the church meeting space.

    I can appreciate the distraction, but it may a good cross to carry and to offer for the faith and salvation of that family. A failure to understand such trying situations often pushes struggling families out of the Church. Our Lord warned his disciples about any self-preoccupation, even a spiritual one, if it hurts the neighbor.

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