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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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  1. Dear Father,

    Is it a sin to entertain impure/ sexual thoughts with a married man who is undergoing a state and Church annulment, even if those impure thoughts are based on love and within the “context” of marriage?

    I found myself having frequent impure thoughts since meeting this very sweet man, who is also a devout Catholic. He is already fixing his state annulment with a lawyer, and he has already consulted a priest, who is a canon lawyer (?). We both agreed to wait until his annulment is final before doing anything “stupid”. We never engage in any physical intimacy (yet), because we both know that we can’t, and as the priest says, until his annulment is final, he should act like a married man. We try to stay away from each other because be both do not want to commit the sin of the flesh. However, i find myself day dreaming of the time when we finally get married in Church and we get be intimate as normal married couples do.

    Is it a sin to entertain these thoughts, even if the ‘setting’ of these thoughts are within the context of marriage and love?

    FATHER JOE: The fact remains that right now he is married to someone else. He may get the state annulment but absolute guarantees cannot be given about Church annulments. Imagining the joys of married life in themselves is not sinful; however, sexual fantasies have the tendency to break down the will and often lead to sinful actions. Further, here we are dealing with a married man. What you are really asking is whether it is sinful to have adulterous and sexual thoughts for this man. Phrased that way, the answer should be obvious. He is not free. The commandments forbid adultery in the heart and mind as well as in action.

  2. I was traveling in the Dordogne region of France this summer. The churches in Sarlat and the village of Saint-Julien-de-Lampon had large logs with brass tacks banged into them. They were clearly an offering, with a sign in the Saint Julien church indicating monies would go toward the upkeep of the church.

    You can see the log in Sarlat in this picture from a blog I found in the lower right corner:

    I’m wondering if you can explain the symbolism or the story behind the log and tacks. The Crucifixion would seem to be obvious, but just doesn’t feel right to me and I suspect there’s another story.

    Thanks!

    FATHER JOE: Sorry, I am not familiar with the practice.

  3. Fr Joe, I am preparing to start the marriage process with my boyfriend. We just found out that he was baptized catholic but confirmed methodist, when we had previously thought he was baptized methodist as well. Did his methodist confirmation overrule his catholic baptism? Or is he still seen as a catholic in the eyes of the catholic church? If he is seen as catholic in the eyes of the catholic church, would he need to have first communion, reconciliation, and confirmation in the catholic church before we are able to be married? Does it change anything if he has not been a practicing catholic for many many years? Thank you so much for your help in advance!

    FATHER JOE: First, if he were baptized a Catholic then he will always be a Catholic. Second, we do not recognize Lutheran confirmation and so if he were to return to Catholicism he would have to receive first penance, confirmation and first Eucharist. Third, for purposes of marriage, a Catholic might be excused from our juridical law is he has defected in a formal act of defection. The terms for this are as follows: (1) there must be an “internal” decision to defect; (2) there must be an “external” manifestation of this intent and (3) this decision must be received by “competent ecclesial authority.” While confirmation in the Lutheran church might seem to suffice for the first two requirements, it probably fails the third qualifying point. If you are planning to get married in the Catholic Church then explain the situation to your priest. Many dioceses will excuse confirmation and practicality for one potential spouse as long as the other is living his or her faith. If your boyfriend is not recognized as Lutheran then you would not need a dispensation to marry him— he is already a Catholic, albeit a poor one. Maybe you can help remedy that?

  4. Should we be careful to whom we share feelings, etc. I have heard people say be careful who you talk to because they may not serve God and it could be dangerous. There are bad spirits out there and we wouldnt want to share too much. What if we meet someone to whom we would like to date, how do we know it is ok to share ourselves with them. If they say they are Christian, is that enough?

    FATHER JOE: This question does not have to be cosmic. I doubt many people date thinking, “Hum, I wonder if he is demon possessed?” More pertinent are matters like temperament, caring for others, work habits, and the values that move him or her. You may find that someone has trouble telling the truth or that the person has a mean streak or is greedy or is overly needy or whatever. Your question has value but cannot be readily answered. There is no sure test against deception. It is best to give some time so as to get to know each other.

  5. Hi father thanks for reading my question. Ive had a problem/spiritual struggle in the past with making an idol out of nationality/ethnicity. Im Italian but born in the US, and I was considering learning Italian and possibly living back in Italy for a while but i am afraid that if I do this it will tempt me to give into that same old spiritual weakness, or that my desire to do this is driven by that weakness in the first place. What do you advise me to do, should I take these steps and learn the language or just forget about it? Thanks again for your time

    FATHER JOE: It is not clear to me what your spiritual problem might be. The Church is critical of nationalism as it tends to demonize the immigrant and raises the dignity of one’s own country by insulting and lowering the estimation of other nations and peoples. This is quite different from patriotism with is virtuous. Nationalism argues that one must support his country, no matter if “right or wrong.” There is also a fanaticism that is often affiliated with this stance. Patriotism argues instead that we will support our country when she is “right” and we will correct her when she is “wrong.” It was this latter attitude behind the American Revolution and as the rationale for non-violent protest, civil rights activism and free speech. Further, nationalism often leads to bigotry and war. Patriotism, as the late President Reagan explained, is a challenge for us as Americans to see our country as a light to the nations for freedom, hope and peace. As for ethnic pride, it is noble as long as it does not become corrupted into a form of racism (as with the KKK). That is why we promote dignity with black pride. The Hibernians still celebrate being Irish. The Filipinos preserve their traditions with the Mabuhay. The Italians often have festivals and are quick to defend their heritage. We realize that there is strength and richness to the many peoples that make up America. Do you see the difference? I would say, learn Italian and be happy about your ethnic contribution to American faith and culture.

  6. Dear Sir or Madam, I’m writing to ask for advice and information in the hope you can help me work towards settling my fears and concerns that have haunted me for the past few years. Since watching a film called ‘drag me to hell’ I’ve become uncontrollably scared and fearful I’m either going or already in hell. Every time I hear the word, whether from someone’s conversation or it being mentioned on tv or radio, it sends a great fear through my mind. I also suffer with panic attacks and anxiety, so the fear increases 20 times greater when experiencing these conditions (something I’m receiving medical help for). I’ve sinned in my past and still occasionally sin now, but not as bad as when I was younger when I stole from family, temptation can be so hard to resist, but I don’t do anything seriously bad. I’m never proud of these sins and regret them, I’ve prayed to God for help and forgiveness regularly but I’m still suffering with such intense fear of hell. I always try to be a good person, I’m a nature, animal and people lover, if I see an insect struggling in any way I’ll pick it up and help it, if a person needs help I will do what I can to make their day easier, that’s the true character in me, I know for sure that’s who I really am, but these fears are too strong and making me believe something else, I feel something evil is doing this to me and nothing I do will release me from it. Please can you advise me what you think God’s opinion of me is and if there’s anything else I can do spiritually? I know this is probably really complicated and I’m sorry for such a long message, I’m just desperate. P.s. I wasn’t baptised as a child, does this make a difference to my afterlife, should I have one? Thank you. Paul.

    FATHER JOE: If you have a serious anxiety disorder, then why would you watch such a scary film? What might be a couple of hours of fanciful amusement for others has now precipitated into what must be described as trauma for you. Continue with counseling and medical help. If you want to know something of Christ’s peace then I would encourage you to speak to a Catholic priest and take instructions in the RCIA program. I suspect that the truths of Christ would do much to relieve the fears of fiction. Baptism and Confirmation would make you a true adopted child of the Father and a temple of the Holy Spirit. The sacrament exorcises evil and infuses the grace of salvation. All sins are forgiven. The Eucharist would then become your regular spiritual food wherein we encounter the risen Christ. God bless you.

  7. Dear Father Joe,

    I have a bit of a short question. What is objectifying someone in terms of sin?

    FATHER JOE: I am not entirely sure what you are asking but I will take a stab at it. Catholicism views the sin of objectifying a person as a devaluing of their value as a knowing and willing subject. Objectification is associated with many sins. It is the devaluing of a human being as something less (as with the unborn child in abortion) or as property (as in slavery and human trafficking). The sin would also apply to the reduction of persons (especially women) to merely objects for sexual desire and gratification (as in pornography and prostitution). Ironically, we even see this attitude in women who will go to any lengths to have a baby. They utterly demand what God gives as a gift. In-Vitro technology will wrongly conceive a child outside the marital act and the unwanted embryos will be frozen or discarded. This reduces the child to a commodity, albeit a highly desired one. As with most all sin, there are two basic principles assaulted here: the sanctity of human life and the dignity of persons.

  8. If a Greek Orthodox divorcee wants to marry in the Catholic Church what would the requirements be? Would that person need to obtain an annulment from the Catholic Church? Do they need to enrol in RCIA? This is assuming they would qualify for an annulment under Catholic process.

    FATHER JOE:

    We recognize (first) marriages in the Greek Orthodox churches, even though the emphasis is placed upon the “Church” and the “priest” instead of upon the “couple” as in the Catholic practice of witnessing the bond. If the person were married outside the Orthodox Church then a declaration of nullity because of a defect in canonical form might be possible. It all depends upon the standing we give their laws or code. Given that the first bond was solemnized by the Church then YES, the person would have to petition for a formal annulment in the Catholic Church before any projected marriage in the Catholic Church. The Greek Orthodox person would not be required to convert. It is likely that the Orthodox Church would not accept the Catholic marriage; our recognition of their marriages is not always reciprocally shared on their part. However, years ago I actually did have an Orthodox bishop give me permission in writing to marry an Orthodox man to a Catholic woman. It is a tad unusual.

    If the Orthodox person should decide to enter the Catholic Church, they would normally take their formation in the RCIA program. We would already recognize the sacraments given from the Orthodox Church. At the end of the process there is an act of reception. Even if the reception is in the Latin Church, the person received from Orthodoxy would still routinely be understood as an Eastern rite Catholic, subject to that bishop and not the local Latin ordinary. The rite tends to follow the father meaning that any children would also be Eastern rite— yes, even if all they have ever known was the Latin or Western rite.

  9. Fr. Joe,

    She does and she does not impose them upon me. She is aware of my Catholic beliefs. I just wanted to be sure i am not in harms way by being around the place. Thank you.

  10. I have been going to a message therapist for 5 yrs for a degenerative neck issue and she has made a huge difference….i have avoided surgery! However, she practices Reiki, Access Bars, etc. I have stayed away from that and just get my message. Now she is into more occult things. Speaking to spirits and giving work shops on connecting to past lives and such. My gut reaction is to stop seeing her. She has become a friend over the years. She is a good person, just misguided. So my question is would i be in danger spiritually around a person and a place where such things occur and should i cease seeing her?

    FATHER JOE: Speaking objectively, she is deceiving others and yet, if she is a good person who has helped you, then she is likely also a person suffering from self-deception. If the treatments have really helped, then thank her for helping but let her know that you have no interest in her occult preoccupations. You may want to quietly pray for her during the treatments. Does she know what you think about her so-called psychic involvement?

  11. Hello Father Joe,

    I recently saw a cross that was made out of two wrenches. Here’s a link to what it looked like: https://images.app.goo.gl/H2EaAVMmYuZkMyZk7
    As an aircraft mechanic, I see it as a great reminder to follow Christ’s example in all I do, even while I’m simply working. But at the same time, this can be seen as sacrilegious.

    Would this be considered sacrilegious, especially if it’s only a reminder to follow Christ’s example? It’s not something I would use in prayer.

    Thank you for your time!

    FATHER JOE: How is it sacrilegious? Our Lord tells us to take up our cross and to follow him. A tradesman is reminded that he follows the Lord by his time, talent and treasure. The debris of a cross became a monument of hope at ground zero on 9-11. The cross is the cross.

  12. Am I required to find ways to “enjoy” intimacy with my husband if he presses me to, even if I do not want to and am still fulfilling his desires for intimacy in our marriage? I have been married for 9 years, we have children, I do not shy away from intimacy with my husband; but I have also never enjoyed it either (it can be uncomfortable or even mildly painful for me at times). Over the years I’ve asked him not to touch me in one specific way that really feels awful for me and the lack of that type of touch should have no impact on his needs. Typically there is a rather defensive argument if I ask about this but then he says he’ll try not to touch me like that again, which rarely lasts long. I believe it is absentmindedness/lack of paying attention to my request rather than malicious when he fails at this, but it’s still upsetting as every time it comes up it results in an argument. Recently he again said he’d try not to touch me that way, but he coupled his commitment with a near demand that we find ways for me to enjoy intimacy. This makes me very uncomfortable and quite stressed as I don’t have any desire to try any ways to force myself to enjoy what I never have. He claims to be fully satisfied with our marriage in that way, and I feel like this push is due to his ego being bruised over the fact I don’t enjoy intimacy with him (and don’t care to). I also feel he is in a rush for this to be successful and may blame me if it isn’t successful. I don’t mind fulfilling my duties to him, but I am very upset over the stress of being forced to feel what I don’t feel and I think the stress will only make that harder for me. Am I within my rights as a wife not to be pressed to enjoy intimacy so long as I still submit to him?

    FATHER JOE:

    You talk about submission to your husband as if it were some form of bondage or oppression. This is really messed up. You ask the question, “Am I within my rights as a wife not to be pressed to enjoy intimacy so long as I still submit to him?” Am I right that you do not see what is wrong with this question and the volumes of negativity it communicates about your relationship?

    I would question the narrow scope of what you mean by marital intimacy. It must not be reduced to the mechanical or just to the pleasures of the flesh. The joy of the marital act includes but should not be restricted to the excitement in the flesh between a man and woman. The passion of marriage also includes the fact that there is a mutual surrender to a particular man or woman. The husband wants to embrace his wife and his wife should want to be embraced. The Church would define the marital act as that human act that is open to the generation of new human beings. It is this act that consummates the marriage bond and which regularly renews their covenant with each other and God. Sexual relations between spouses has a given component of biology (men and women are attracted to each other), a personal factor (an encounter that fosters fidelity and union with a particular person) and a spiritual element (the sacrament where we see the Lord in the beloved). These three things foster true intimacy among Christian lovers.

    The problem I immediately see here is that you view intimacy with your husband as entirely his joy and simply a chore for you. This short-changes the both of you. You have been a dutiful wife but you acknowledge that you have never enjoyed intimacy with your husband. Indeed, you write that it is uncomfortable and “mildly painful” at times. A good husband wants the satisfaction that comes from relations with his wife; however, he also wants her to share his joy. (This is not simply his problem or his ego!) Have you seen a doctor to find out why sexual intimacy is painful? Might there be psychological reasons why you have reservations or lack passion about it? The real question is not whether you should consent to intimacy with your husband (apart from given health reasons or propriety) but rather why is it that you neither want nor enjoy it?

    The Church emphasizes the marital act (consensual vaginal intercourse between a man and woman in marriage). Except as a foreplay precursor or as a summation (extension) of the marital act, Catholic moral ethicists would frown upon oral sex. Anal intercourse, both for homosexuals and heterosexuals, is utterly rejected as feigning the marital act and is immoral. Men and women are not machines and the faith would respect the intimacy and touch of bodies in the marriage bed. There is a form of touch that you prohibit your husband. Not knowing what this is, I can offer no evaluation. However, spouses should remember that they surrender their very selves— as bodily or corporeal creatures— to one another. You become one flesh. It sends a mixed message when couples get married and then one or the other restricts touching. The wife’s body belongs to her husband. The husband’s body belongs to his wife. Human beings are bodily persons. It is along these lines that the Church emphasizes fidelity and condemns adultery. Indeed adultery is related to theft because that which belongs to the spouse is taken by another (a robber).

    Your husband is right in wanting you to find satisfaction and joy within marital intimacy. There is something wrong. That is why you are uncomfortable and stressed out. Given that you are both doing everything correctly, then I really would recommend discussing the issue with a doctor. It may be an issue of hormones and chemistry. I have also known cases where an overly scrupulous upbringing and even past trauma has caused such problems. There is a huge difference between sometimes not feeling like having sex with your husband and “never” feeling like it (or even really wanting it). I suppose that can be pretty crushing to his ego as well. Remember, it is not all about your husband— he wants you to be passionate and happy as his wife. There is a unique satisfaction that comes with young couples in sharing what the bible calls “the one flesh.”

    You write, “I don’t have any desire to try any ways to force myself to enjoy what I never have.” While the intensity varies from person to person, the desire is natural and should be there. A situation that would have benefited you as a celibate religious is a detriment to you as a married person. Seek medical intervention and counseling.

  13. Dear Father Joeseph
    I live to try with all my soul to do God ‘s will by not violating any of the seven sins or 10 commanments.For the violation of those in my past I have been living a celibate, charitable and life of much prayer the last 14 years.Being very charitable eliminates me from being greedy or enivious or glutonous. The only sins I strugle with at times is pride and lust.To remedy pride I refrain from giivng my opinoins and only speak when spoken to and silently pray fro those who un fairly critisized me.I have remained celibate fro 14 years now but on occations would look at a fully clothed woman with lust while never having a sexual experiance
    at all or never viewing nudity at all.I recently looked at a fully clothed woman with lust while as always had no sexual experiance at all but this time the guilt cuased great depresstion from the guilt of the sin the depresstion was temporary thoughI becouse i prayed fro hours to beg fro forgiveness and it elimanted the depresstion.I though look at the depresstion as a loving grace from God to discipline me to not be tempted to lust again becouse of the pain of the depresstion wich left after hours of begging fro forgiveness but that pain of depresstion is I believe a loving way God is aiding me from lusting again so as to save my soul from having to pay in purgatory fro the cleansing of my soul of that sin.Father I can not get to confesstion untill wendsday but will pray hours more beggging fro forgiveness but if i should be called to God fro my jugement day since i cant get to confesstion untill wendsday and i am praying hours fro frogiveness will i be albsoved of the sin.?The pain of depresstion becouse of the guilt of the sin i hope will be a penance as well although i am free of depresstion now becouse of hours of prayer begging fro frogiveness-thank you fro you r time-in love and penance brother bryan

    FATHER JOE:

    How old are you? I ask this because it may or may not be too late to change your life. Have you ever sought professional counseling? I do not mean spiritual direction or advice in the confessional; rather, I am speaking about guidance in regards to your feelings and depression. You ask about confession and what you detail is probably a venial sin that only needs a good act of contrition. My concern is not about your question but about how you see God and what you have made of your life. What I am about to write might sound harsh but it comes from the heart.

    First, it is good to avoid the deadly sins. However, just as we are called to avoid the sins of commission, we are also to be mindful of possible sins of omission. Your fearfulness might have made you a victim to this element of sin that often disguises itself as virtue and hides in the cracks of people’s lives. You mentioned that you have lived a life of charity but your entire focus in the comment was about yourself. Charity by definition always looks beyond the self to others and to God. Are you generous with your treasure? Are you involved with any apostolate for the poor and/or the hurting? Sins of omission are usually of two kinds: (1) a failure to speak or to act when there is a cry for justice (especially for the marginalized and the oppressed); and, (2) a hesitance to extend one’s resources, time and talent for the needs of others, especially the poor.

    You keep your opinions to yourself but in doing so you have also silenced the evangelical proclamation of the Good News. You assert that you pray silently and away from others so as not to be unfairly criticized. What you are describing here is FEAR. The sin of omission in your life touches the very commission that Jesus gave to his apostles. We are sent on mission to witness as sentinels of Christ. Jesus tells his friends after his resurrection, “Be not afraid.” But you are filled with fear. It stifles the soul. True faith would have us be courageous in Christ. You live too much in yourself and not enough for Christ and in the world. Even the hermits and cloistered saints of the Church do not spurn the world. They work and pray as a particular intercession for the world— an act of reparation for the many who have forgotten God and our obligations to him and one another. Your focus is merely on personal maintenance. This will not make you a saint.

    Second, as believers we should all observe the Ten Commandments; however, just keeping the rules will not make anyone holy or good. The Muslims like certain Jews of old associate fidelity with keeping the law. Christians are called beyond a blind deontology. Our focus and the lens through which we understand the Decalogue is the two-fold commandment of love given by Christ. Before all persons, places or things we are to love God. Given that God has first loved us beyond measure and called us into existence, we too must respond by loving him in return with everything that makes us who we are— with “all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” That love by necessity spills over into our love of neighbor. It is a love that cannot be contained. It is this love that accompanies the virtues of faith and hope. It is this love that unlocks the gate into the kingdom. Our saving personal and communal faith is lived out or expressed in loving obedience. My impression is that you view God as a judge who is looking to count the points after you die to see if you are worthy of heaven. This is not the Christian God. Even your view of purgatory seems pejorative and yet it is God’s merciful effort to save us from those small elements of our makeup that need cleansing and perfection. Purgatory is an opportunity to bask in the divine fire of love and to know final healing and purification.

    Third, I have to wonder if you could even genuinely define Christian celibacy. Not everyone is called to such a life and that is why the love of a husband and wife is also good and holy. You seem to have a negative view of the body and human sexuality. This is an old heresy and it is a perennial trap set by the devil. Satan would have you condemn the body and the love between spouses as corrupt and sinful. Everything that God creates is good. There is only a short distance from castigation against God’s creation and rebuke against almighty God, himself.

    Christian celibacy is much more than not having sexual relations. Celibacy in this context is a form of love and self-donation. One gives him- or herself to a direct love of God and his people. This is practically defined through prayer and service. The Scriptures speak of it as an eschatological sign pointing toward the coming of Christ’s kingdom. You speak about lust and this too must be properly defined. It is not lust to look at one and to be awed by the beauty of God’s creation. That is why the unclothed human body adorns the Vatican art works. There is a sense of happiness in God’s creation at the sight of a pretty girl or a handsome boy. Our response is to thank God and not to curse him or our humanity. Lust is not the same as sexual attraction or sexual pleasure. This is where generic dictionaries get it wrong. It is not the same as the holy passion for spouses in marriage. Lust is something more bestial than human. Instead of thinking about the good of the beloved, it focuses only on its own need or hunger. Lust depersonalizes the other into an object. It is more about power than about love. It craves, subdues, demands, takes, and even hurts and kills. It is lust that fuels the current worldwide abortion holocaust. It is lust that makes possible the lucrative pornography market and human trafficking. Persons are reduced to commodities. Here too the devil takes delight because his vision of the human being is one of utter hatred, viewing us merely as animated sacks of meat and blood. Lust might begin in the mind but it poisons the heart and brings degradation to the flesh.

    Finally, I must speak to what you call depression. Let me set you straight, depression is not a loving gift of God. If anything, it comes from the evil one. You have been utterly duped. Maybe you did it to yourself? Depression and most ailments that we refer to as anxieties are symptomatic of an anger that has turned in. I cannot say for sure what this anger is about in your life. I do not know you well enough to say. I suspect that you are not happy with your life. Disappointments often make people upset, even angry with God. Often as well, there develops an unhealthy self-hatred. The person begins to view himself as defective and as junk in the eyes of God. He wonders if God can forgive him and his sins because he cannot even begin to forgive himself. Just as the lax conscience leads one to overtly act out sins, the scrupulous soul tends to torture itself with even the most minor transgressions or even with imagined sins. It seems unfair, but this latter attitude can be just as damning as the former. Hate in any form is no way to take up the cross to follow Jesus. Look to the early martyrs of the faith. They accepted what came to them with courage and conviction. Indeed, we are told that many of them manifested joy at the opportunity to witness to Christ. It is with this that I want to finish: where is your joy?

    Celibate love is more than a discipline; it is a joyous and selfless way of living our lives for God and others. Where is your joy? You mention charity as a help but every deadly sin has its corresponding virtue: chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, forgiveness, kindness and humility. Virtues are not like a grocery list from which we can make selections. They come as a package deal. Again, where is your joy? One cannot be depressed or negative and still proclaim the GOOD News. Find joy in your life, even if you have to change habits and a lifestyle that you have long pursued.

  14. Do you agree with this? Is this Catholic belief?

    A Catholic school in Tennessee has reportedly removed the popular Harry Potter book series from its library because they “risk conjuring evil spirits.”

    https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/catholic-school-bans-harry-potter-books-library-193502232.html

    FATHER JOE:

    I would not presume to second guess the prudential decision of another Catholic pastor. When the Harry Potter books were removed from the school library, Rev. Dan Reehil, the pastor of St. Edward School in Nashville stated: “These books present magic as both good and evil, which is not true, but in fact a clever deception. The curses and spells used in the books are actual curses and spells; which when read by a human being risk conjuring evil spirits into the presence of the person reading the text.” It may be that he knows something that I do not. Have there been any exposed cases of possession due to reading children’s books? I really do not know. I have warned against the use of Ouija boards for reasons that are clearly documented.

    Rebecca Hammel, the superintendent of schools for the Catholic Diocese of Nashville, stated that the Catholic Church does not have an official position on the Harry Potter books. I think this would be a sufficient answer to your question. Admittedly, as someone who cringes against censorship, I do have my opinions about the matter.

    The Vatican has criticized the Harry Potter books although the final movie in the series based upon them was praised by its critics. If the books truly pose a danger of enticing children into witchcraft and the occult; then I would agree with a Church censure. However, the question must be asked, do these books and stories really pose such a threat? It seems to me that if the Church feels that Harry Potter is “the wrong kind of hero” then we should do more to promote good literature that appeal to the youth with proper characters for emulation. I am also an advocate of parents and children reading together and discussing what is read. Might we be able to baptize the books, sharing what we find problematical and talking about those moral themes that help build good character? As a child I was a fan of horror comics, fairytales with all sorts of magic, and television shows like Dark Shadows, The Addams Family, Bewitched, The Monsters, The Twilight Zone, and the animated Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Nevertheless, I learned my catechism, knew what was real and what was not, and eventually became a fairly conservative (i.e. orthodox) Catholic priest.

    The Greek term for sorcery in the New Testament was “pharmakeia,” from which we derive the English word “pharmacy.” This folk science mixed with superstition often had to do with potions or so-called magical drugs. The practitioners provided abortifacient potions that caused miscarriages. The biblical prohibition against sorcery, while viewed as an offense to the power and providence of God, was also a condemnation of abortion or the murder of children.

    The fundamentalist might equate all magic with devil worship. According to this mindset, there is no good magic, only the bad that sometimes masquerades as good. We would no longer condemn conjuring tricks like slide-of-hand, but would question an appeal to invisible powers or spirits. If it is not God then the danger is we might be appealing to the demonic. The gullible might imagine that magic is a mysterious power untapped by most humans. A skeptic by inclination, I would view much of this as empty superstition or trickery to fool the most gullible and superstitious. This would still make sorcery a sin as it becomes an occult religion and a false worship.

    While I would assume in truth that all sorcery is from the evil one, I am not convinced that J.K. Rowling’s witchcraft is anything more than a fanciful literary device to motivate and to drive her various story lines. Is it really witchcraft that is proposed as a positive ideal? While it is employed by both sides in the books, it seems the gravity is upon themes like family, friendship, loyalty, goodness, and mercy.

    There are many fantasy books that portray magic as good and evil. Indeed, one might argue that even C.S. Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles and Tolkien’s stories about The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings portray magic as such, even if as a metaphor for other things that we regard as real like the sacraments and the Eucharist. The news story comes from a Catholic school deep in the Bible belt where even these books by notable Christian authors might come under negative scrutiny and prohibition, too.

    Indeed, it might be argued that Tolkien’s Gollum is to Sam and Frodo what Voldermort is to Ron and Harry. The battle is essentially between good and evil. Harry has been marked by Voldermort and he could easily be corrupted by the same ambition and anger. However, his friends, especially Ron, keep him rooted in goodness. Frodo is tempted as was the Gollum. If it were not for Sam’s friendship, he would likely have destroyed himself like the pathetic Gollum. Arguable Tolkien has given us a masterpiece while there are more than a few literary critics who criticize the level of Rowling’s writing, even if she does present a good action yarn. But that may be beside the point.

    I must admit that I see little theological depth in the Harry Potter stories. While one reviewer discerned the old heresy of Gnostic secret truths about power and salvation; I thought merely that there was too much projection for what is really not there. It is a fantasy story told by a woman who claims to be a Christian but not one who sought to endow her story with overtly Christian elements. Having said this, she does seem to make some attempt to leave the heady and divisive subject of God, Satan and faith outside her narrative. We might equate something of our battle with powers and principalities; but it is the world of fanciful creatures, flying brooms and dragons. In a sense, she has given us modern fairy stories.

    While another critic saw the derisive criticism of the “muggles” or normal humans as “diabolical” I simply saw it as an imaginative way to detail the division we know among people in the modern world. There is serious ethnic and religious division. People are looked down upon and even being killed by other people for being different. The world of Harry Potter mirrors the real world and its bigotries; indeed, she presents the corrupted face of Voldermort to stand for the evil that we confront daily in the many faces and souls distorted by hatred, anger and selfishness. I must also observe the connection to ancient Hebrew mythology, even if by a subconscious accident on Rowling’s part, with the association of the villain with a snake or serpent. A boy with a sword (magical or not) simply slices its head off.

    I would agree that the worlds imagined by Lewis and Tolkien always make room for a transcendence that Rowling misses. Rowling is not well versed in Christian theology and philosophy. Her world is much more chaotic and lacking order. Must we fault her for what most secular authors today would not appreciate about the God who is independent from his creation and yet sustains it? Her usage of magic may inadvertently stem from the contemporary preoccupation with immanence. The divine is either associated with the physical world or the world itself is divinized. The magic of Harry potter is employed much as science and invention is presented to us in the real world. Do we not sometimes treat our tablets and portable phones and the internet as a scientific kind of magic? People even live out much of the lives in virtual worlds which we call gaming. My fear in all this is whether we are abandoning the real for that which is only make-believe?

    As a Christian what I brought to the story was that Harry Potter was fighting against Satanism. In truth, one could not use sorcery because one should not battle evil with evil. But I think there is a crucial disconnect between the magic that Christians would condemn and the make-believe antics portrayed in the books and on the cinematic screen. It is no more real than the Marvel and DC superheroes with their powers. I suppose I would ask Christian children who read the books: How would you fight an evil villain? We could then talk about, not spells, but the power of prayer. We could open the newspapers and give the real devils of our times the names they now go by. We could invoke, not fanciful spirits or the occult, but the communion of the saints and the holy angels. And then, we would seek to be heroes and heroines in the real world with apostolates that seek to make a difference for the oppressed, the poor, the hurting and the unwanted unborn. While our real fight is with a secular modernity and not so much with a juvenile attention to magic, we must do what people of faith have done for two thousand years and seek to transform and to rework that which is in the world to the purposes of Christ.

  15. I recently started working at a catholic school teaching 5th grade. I am the math/science/religion teacher. I asked my students when the last time they went to confession was, and they said their first confession! When asked, they said they’d like to go again. There is no school-wide opportunity for confession or pre-set time scheduled during the year, at all. Am I being over zealous In thinking these children need confession? We do say the act of contrition at the end of every day. I’d say 95% receive communion every week during the school Mass. Is it my place to ask the priest if he’ll offer confession either for my classes or for the school at a designated time for students and teachers?

    FATHER JOE: Are you sure that the local pastor has not already planned opportunities for confession? It may be that they are held after school or as part of parish-wide reconciliation services. You can still mention the need to the priest but part of the problem is likely the parents failing to fulfill their moral obligation in going with the young ones to the sacrament of penance.

  16. Father, How do I know when God talks to me? i’m Catholic.
    I’ve had feelings & an inner feeling tells me to do something or an answer out of no where to react on something?
    Help me to know HOW he talks to us.
    Thank you
    Brenda

    FATHER JOE: You are talking about personal feelings or urges. They may seem to come out of nowhere but is still likely you. God can speak to us but it is more in terms of insights that emerge within mental reflection and prayer than with chaotic emotions or hunches about things. Further, the voice of God requires one to be gifted by grace so as to make proper discernment. If you are in mortal sin then the lines of communication are down. One must walk with the Lord so as to hear and to know him. That means keeping the precepts of the Church, the Decalogue, the twofold commandment of love, the Beatitudes and living out both a personal and communal faith in loving obedience to Christ. The dialogue with God begins with earnest prayer.

  17. Is it okay to miss my grandpa, even though he killed my grandma and committed suicide? Will he still go to heaven?

    FATHER JOE:

    First, I must give a qualification. When I shared this comment with a colleague, the opinion was rendered that this question was merely an effort to mock this forum and to entice heightened ridicule. However, as I am no clairvoyant, there is no way for me to measure the sincerity and truthfulness of the inquiry. Given this ambiguity, I decided to make an effort at responding to what might be a real cause for pain and confusion for someone.

    Second, no answer that I could muster would satisfy the inner conflict of emotions that such an eventuality would precipitate. No one can answer with certainty the question of another’s eternity. Objectively, taking the life of anyone is an egregious act and constitutes the matter of mortal sin. Those who take their lives, and sometimes those of others, are often not entirely in their right mind. Further, the intense emotional state in which many find themselves may lead to all sorts of unfortunate results.

    Over the years I have encountered the many faces of death. What you briefly describe is not unfamiliar to me. My mind races back to an elderly couple who had a long and fruitful life together. When his wife of over a century became terminally ill, and suffered terrible pain, he decided, albeit with a false compassion, that they should leave this world together. I could appreciate the sentiment that moved him even though I could never approve of the tragic consequences. I would leave judgment to God. If it is true that love is the key to the kingdom then there might still be hope. Ours is a God more merciful than we could ever understand while we are in this world.

    All this is the long way around of saying YES; it is okay to miss and even to love both your grandparents.

  18. Is it a sin to play drinking games if you drink moderately and don’t get drunk? Is it setting a bad example for others playing, and is that a sin? I recently played a drinking game, but just drank one or two beers, and wasn’t trying to get drunk.

    FATHER JOE: Drinking in moderation is not a sin. If there are drinking games then it is likely that someone will be under the influence and/or get drunk. Drunkenness is a sin. Leading others into sin is also a sin . . . even if you remain sober.

  19. Hello Father –

    If I know that someone has committed a mortal sin, do I have a responsibility to keep them from receiving Holy Communion?

    FATHER JOE: Can you read souls? No. The responsibility rests with the individual person, God and sometimes the priest (depending upon what he knows and is free to divulge).

  20. Dear Father,

    I’m a practicing Catholic and I was having a conversation with an Anglican (High Church) friend of mine over the papacy and he turned my attention towards this interesting tidbit in the Bible. In the First Council of Jerusalem, in the Acts of the Apostles, why did St. James preside over the Council and not St. Peter? I do realize that the older we go through history the more we see the Pope portrayed as “First Amongst Equals” than a definitive arbitrator, but in here St. Peter wasn’t even First Amongst Equals, it was St. James.

    Yours in Christ,
    Daniel

    FATHER JOE:

    It should first be noted that the concession of the pope as “the first among equals” may be popular among Anglicans and the Orthodox; however, in truth the Catholic faith has always esteemed him as so much more. . . the one with the keys, a primal juridical authority and having a special relationship or charism of truth with the Holy Spirit.

    Look at the text. James does not speak until Peter has spoken and the issue of the council is resolved (Acts 15:13). We read (Acts 15:1-12):

    Some who had come down from Judea were instructing the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved.” Because there arose no little dissension and debate by Paul and Barnabas with them, it was decided that Paul, Barnabas, and some of the others should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and presbyters about this question. They were sent on their journey by the church, and passed through Phoenicia and Samaria telling of the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers. When they arrived in Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church, as well as by the apostles and the presbyters, and they reported what God had done with them. But some from the party of the Pharisees who had become believers stood up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and direct them to observe the Mosaic law.” The apostles and the presbyters met together to see about this matter. After much debate had taken place, Peter got up and said to them, “My brothers, you are well aware that from early days God made his choice among you that through my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness by granting them the holy Spirit just as he did us. He made no distinction between us and them, for by faith he purified their hearts. Why, then, are you now putting God to the test by placing on the shoulders of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they.” The whole assembly fell silent, and they listened while Paul and Barnabas described the signs and wonders God had worked among the Gentiles through them.

    Paul and Barnabas give a convincing testimony. This is so much the case that Peter apparently changes sides. The Judaizers were largely from the Jewish church in Jerusalem. Thus it makes sense that the council is held there. While Peter has universal primacy, the bishop of Jerusalem is James. That is why he is important at the council. The question at stake was pivotal and yet simple. Does one become a Christian through faith and baptism or must one first become a Jew so as to become a Christian. Bluntly expressed, must gentile converts be circumcised? It is Peter that ends the debate, not James. Silence ensues. The question has been resolved. James will now affirm Peter, just as the world’s bishops still affirm and teach in unity with the primatial see.

  21. I wanted to ask i am in love with a guy that is not my religion he is muslium and i cant seem to distance myself or stop how i feel about him i tried but it keeps hurting me and it has affected my life in many ways im so lost and dont know what to do please give me your thoughts on this thank you

    FATHER JOE: You say nothing about how he feels for you and so there is little I can say. Is there a future in the relationship? Would his form of Islam allow him to marry you? Would you be his only wife? If you are not in too deep then I would counsel distance and moving on.

  22. I am Catholic but married to a non-Catholic. Our marriage is not recognized by the Church. Am I now nor permitted to take the Eucharist? Its my understanding to be a “practicing” Catholic I need to take the Eucharist once a year at Easter. If my marriage is not recognized by the Church and I am unable to receive the Eucharist will I still be welcomed into Heaven?

    FATHER JOE:

    We leave ultimate judgment to God. Having said this, look closely at your moral situation— you are worried about the sacrament of the Eucharist although you have decided to do without the sacrament of matrimony. Marriage outside the Church is more than a living arrangement not recognized by the Catholic Church. The real issue is how does God see your relationship? While you worry about your own status; you deliberately placed into jeopardy the salvation of someone whom you have pledged love.

    A feigned marriage lacks standing before God and is the matter of mortal sin. If your spouse be baptized then a true marriage would be a sacrament and thus give grace. While your spouse as a non-Catholic may be largely ignorant of the situation, the deprivation remains. If the spouse be unbaptized, a Church wedding could still be validly witnessed, making possible a natural bond approved by the Lord. Why did you marry outside the Church? The bond may be civilly legal but sexual relations in such a situation would still fall under the sin of fornication. If there be an unresolved prior bond then we are really talking about adultery. One cannot receive absolution in the sacrament of penance if there be no firm amendment of life. Your plight makes it impossible to fulfill your Easter duty, toward either the sacrament of confession or to the reception of Holy Communion which would be sacrilege. You are still obliged to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation. But there is not much more you can do until the situation is resolved. See a priest. If an annulment of a prior bond is required then explore the matter and make a petition if there be grounds. If there is no such hindrance, then as a couple seek to have your marriage convalidated in the Church. A dispensation will be required but there is no obligation that your spouse converts. Nevertheless, marriage preparation and faith formation efforts in the parish would be appropriate as you need to grow in your faith and your spouse would do well to better know what your Catholicism entails.

    You fret about heaven. You should be concerned about your standing before God here-and-now. Christ is encountered in all the sacraments. He is the third ring that joins the other two in matrimony.

  23. Father Joe,

    Thank you for answering my question. I appreciate your help. I was wondering if you have a favorite charity that those with questions can donate to as a thank you offering?

    FATHER JOE:

    My parish (Holy Family Church) operates a special ministry called Prince George’s Community Resources. We seek to assist older teens and adults with special needs. We run a number of programs fostering inclusion and elevating the quality of life. (12010 Woodmore Road, Mitchellville, MD 20721)

    Here is the link: https://pgcr.org/

  24. Hello Fr. Joe,

    I was wondering if it is required or recommended by the Catholic Church that a new marriage be consummated on the couple’s wedding night? Or can the consummation wait until a later night? I am wondering because what if a couple is going to follow natural family planning and their wedding day falls on a fertile day, and the couple would like to postpone pregnancy. Thank you for your help! -Kayleigh

    FATHER JOE: The time and place for the marriage act is a consensual decision of the couple.

  25. Hello, I am just curious, why do Catholics use/wear a Crucifix and not a regular cross as do other Christians? Thank you – Jon

    FATHER JOE: Catholics employ both crosses and crucifixes as sacramentals. Some Protestant denominations, but not all, in their rejection of Catholicism also adopt a fundamentalist view toward images, condemning them as forbidden idols. However, such a stance is often inconsistent because the members of many of these same faith communities will keep photographs, paintings and statuary in their churches and homes. Indeed, the most virulent critics against the crucifix and statues will often have nativity scenes at Christmas. The moral code of fundamentalist or literalist Protestants is often more reflective of an Old Testament rigorism than our Lord’s two-fold commandment of love in the New Testament. Indeed, the Catholic Church argues that the Decalogue must be reinterpreted in light of the new saving economy of the incarnation. The invisible deity is now made visible in Jesus Christ, who reveals to us the face of the Father. The prohibition against graven images is no longer absolute or constitutive of idolatry. This appreciation extends back to apostolic times as is the movement of the Hebrew Sabbath (commemorating creation) to the Sunday observance or the Lord’s Day (celebrating the resurrection and our new creation in Christ).

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