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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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God is One

Deuteronomy 32:39

“See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.”

Isaiah 43:10

“You are my witnesses,” says the LORD, “and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am He. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me.”

Isaiah 44:6-8

Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. Who is like me? Let him proclaim it, let him declare and set it forth before me. Who has announced from of old the things to come? Let them tell us what is yet to be. Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? And you are my witnesses! Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any.”

Isaiah 45:5

“I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I gird you, though you do not know me . . .”

Hosea 13:4

“I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior.”

Malachi 2:10

0 have we not all one father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers?

1 Corinthians 8:6

Yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

Ephesians 4:6

. . . one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.

Faith Challenged By Scripture

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A person who is struggling with faith wrote the following:

I was raised “catholic” but now I am considering leaving “catholicism” along with belief in “god.” I honestly cannot come to believe in “god” anymore. I used to be such a fervent believer in him but I have come to the realization that I no longer believe in him. The more I read the “bible” and verses like the ones below the more I become disillusioned with Christianity.

Deuteronomy 25:11-12 / Genesis 38:8-10 / Deuteronomy 21:18-21 / Exodus 35:2 / Leviticus 20:13 / Isaiah 13:13-16 / Exodus 21:20-21 / 1 Timothy 2:11-12 / Colossians 3:22-23 / Luke 14:26 / Deuteronomy 22:13-21 / Isaiah 40:8

This does not seem like the “word of god” to me— of a being who is supposed to be all knowing and perfect. Rather it is the work of an individual with a primitive way of thinking. Many times I tried to convince myself that the “god” of the Old Testament was different but sadly that is not the case since most Christians believe that “god” is eternally unchanging as is expected of a perfect ‘know it all’ being. I have many more problems with the “bible,” including inconsistencies with history and science. I also don’t like the fact that everything in the “bible” has to be watered down especially the negative portions. Why can’t I just read it for what it is, why does it have to be read metaphorically. When Jesus said that we should love our neighbors as we love ourselves I understood the message loud and clear. So why are other portions, which are just so ridiculous, have to be read symbolically or metaphorically? I honestly cannot believe in “god” anymore. I tried but I just can’t bring myself to honestly and sincerely believe anymore. I don’t consider myself an evil person but the more “scripture” I read the less I believe.

Here is my response:

First, the Bible is not dictated word for word in a manner that invalidates the learning and life experiences of the human authors. The nature of the instruments (as human beings) has to be respected. Anything more controlling would be a form of possession, and that devilish business undermines human dignity. We are men and women, not pencils. The light of God’s truth shines through but as through the prism of the human condition. We see this ultimately with the incarnation and the one who is the Light of the World. Consequently, the coarseness and cruelty that upsets us in the Old Testament says more about mankind and sin than it does about God. The passion and death of Jesus is his confrontation with such a mindset. What was tolerated before is now challenged so that it might be healed and perfected.

Second, we must acknowledge that the Bible was written by many authors, exhibiting many styles, over a great deal of time and in many places. The oldest books may go back as far as the 16th and 12th century BC. The Scriptures also contain many forms of literature: histories, speeches, prophecies, legal codes, parable stories and mythology, poetry and hymns, etc. One must understand what one is reading if it is to be interpreted correctly. Jesus gave us a Church so that the truths of faith might be faithfully transmitted without dilution or corruption. While it is inspired by the Holy Spirit, this same Spirit in the Church preserves the truth. The Holy Spirit also grants us the gift of faith. The Bible is not a manual on how to live your life. The Bible is not a science book. It is a library of books that chronicles God’s activity in salvation history and our response. You should not make the Bible out to be something it is not. If you want an easy listing of moral certainties then pick up the universal catechism of the Church.

God as a perfect Spirit is unchanging and has within himself all perfections: knowledge, power, goodness, holiness, eternal, etc. But God must communicate with us in time. All we know is change. One day we are a child and the next we look into the mirror and see wrinkles and white hair. God enters the human family: the Word becomes Flesh. He suffers and dies for you and me. Jesus is the ultimate revelation of the Father. He lowers himself to our level so that we might better know and love him. While you like his words about love, you are ready to renounce Jesus as a divine Person and his real presence in the Eucharist. Why are you more willing to see mankind as a cosmic accident than as a providential creation with an eternal destiny? That is not much of a trade-off.

Old heresies often raise their ugly heads. Marcionism was a dualism insisting that the “harsh” and “bloodthirsty” deity of the Old Testament could not be the same as the “loving” Father of Jesus. This view was rightly condemned by the Church. Jesus is the long-promised Messiah and even our Lord says that “salvation comes through the Jews.”

I would like to say that man’s capacity to understand grows but I am often amazed at the depth of ignorance and error, even in the modern world. The deity of ISIS Islamic extremists is a throwback to the view of God as one of law over love, of forced conversions, and of espousing death to infidels. By contrast, the God of truth, justice and mercy is reflected in the courageous men and women who are tortured and beheaded for their Catholic faith and for the love of Jesus. While you reject God because your interpretation will allow no clash in models; the Christian martyrs witness to the truth with courage. They embrace in their agony what you throw away in your leisure.

Genesis 38:8-10

Then Judah said to Onan, “Have intercourse with your brother’s wife, in fulfillment of your duty as brother-in-law, and thus preserve your brother’s line.” Onan, however, knew that the offspring would not be his; so whenever he had intercourse with his brother’s wife, he wasted his seed on the ground, to avoid giving offspring to his brother. What he did greatly offended the LORD, and the LORD took his life too.

Often cited against the sin of masturbation and/or coitus interruptus, the situation again reflects an ancient code (pagan and Jewish) about raising a child up for one’s dead brother. Onan has no problem with enjoying the sexual act, but his selfishness will not allow a child to be conceived. If there is no progeny then no inheritance will have to be shared with his brother’s family. While Christians do not follow this legal code, and would object to such an understanding of the marriage bed, we can see in the story a divine negative verdict against those who would separate the conjugal act from its natural fertility. In any case, Onan is disobedient to what he perceives as his obligation under the law. Disobedience always invokes a reckoning. Given that he acts against life, his life is demanded of him. Remember that God is the author of life. We belong to him. If he should demand our life, it is his right.

Exodus 21:20-21

When someone strikes his male or female slave with a rod so that the slave dies under his hand, the act shall certainly be avenged. 

If, however, the slave survives for a day or two, he is not to be punished, since the slave is his own property.

The ancient world kept slaves. These rules here were to make the masters of men accountable. While we disagree about such bondage, we can appreciate the yearning for justice. There is still slavery in certain parts of the world. The seed of freedom planted in the New Covenant would take a while to germinate and grow. Christians were urged to treat slaves as brothers and sisters in Christ. Later slavery was tolerated until that time that debts were paid off or savages were civilized and given the true faith. Popes condemned slavery in the 1600’s and yet it would remain an institution in the United States until 1865. Dissent is not something new, as today the full humanity of the unborn is compromised. It became ever clearer that in Christ all are given grace and regarded the same— Jew or Gentile, free or slave, man or woman— all possess a precious dignity. Freedom is our birthright as children of God and everyone has natural rights. Here is one of the clearest instances of the organic development of doctrine.

Exodus 35:2

On six days work may be done, but the seventh day shall be holy to you as the sabbath of complete rest to the LORD. Anyone who does work on that day shall be put to death.

This is part of the Decalogue, although later Jews and Christians would not have any part of a death threat. Ancient peoples often attached the death penalty to matters they wanted obeyed— Canaanites did this, the Egyptians, the Babylonians, and of course, the Romans, etc. The preference would be to imitate God because we want to be like him or because we love him. This particular law also reflects the human condition. Men need rest just as they require work. This law would prevent men from being forced to labor without a day of rest where they could worship God and find their leisure. Today we have forgotten this and poor people are sometimes forced to work seven days a week to put food on their tables and to care for their families. We live in a world which no longer either loves God or fears him.

Leviticus 20:13

If a man lies with a male as with a woman, they have committed an abomination; the two of them shall be put to death; their bloodguilt is upon them.

We should not get caught up with the death penalties enacted by the ancient peoples. While we find it abhorrent, the emphasis is on the accompanying value, not the censure. When you do not have jails and are desperate to keep an organized society, societies typically enact harsh measures. This proposition here comes as part of a much longer list, each with a similar penalty: occult worship (6), dishonoring parents (9), adultery (10), incest (11 & 12), and bestiality (15). Here the prohibition is against the sin of homosexuality. Are you upset because the Scriptures and the Church teaches against homosexuality? Catholicism would say it also conflicts with the natural law. We must love our disoriented brothers and sisters; but we cannot give our approbation for immoral behavior. Those who are truly homosexual are called to lives of celibate love and service. How do you feel about the other sins listed? They have their advocates just as homosexuality did. During my lifetime there has been a major paradigm shift. That which was almost universally regarded as abhorrent and criminalized is now esteemed by our secular humanistic society as a basic right. The Church cannot dismiss objective truths so easily or because of the changing fads and fashions of the day. Doctrine can develop, but a reversal here would be in stark conflict with what came before. The accidentals of faith can sometimes change, the substance cannot.

Deuteronomy 21:18-21

If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not listen to his father or mother, and will not listen to them even though they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders at the gate of his home city, where they shall say to the elders of the city, “This son of ours is a stubborn and rebellious fellow who will not listen to us; he is a glutton and a drunkard.” Then all his fellow citizens shall stone him to death. Thus shall you purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel will hear and be afraid.

Again, note that we are not under the many Hebraic laws but saved by faith and the Lord’s gift of grace. These dictums do not apply to Christians. The ancient society to which they applied no longer exists. While capital punishment clashes with the Church’s ethic for life, what was it that the people of old were seeking to foster? First, this passage is not in reference to a small child but to an adult (man). Second, his rebelliousness is not over minor issues. He is self-preoccupied to the extent of neglecting his parents and the community. He is abusive and dangerous. The stakes were high, life and death. It may be that the threat of ultimate punishment turned many of these men around. The law here was connected to a religious society. They did not make a distinction between secular or civil law and religious tenets.

Deuteronomy 22:13-21

If a man, after marrying a woman and having relations with her, comes to dislike her, and accuses her of misconduct and slanders her by saying, “I married this woman, but when I approached her I did not find evidence of her virginity,” the father and mother of the young woman shall take the evidence of her virginity and bring it to the elders at the city gate. There the father of the young woman shall say to the elders, “I gave my daughter to this man in marriage, but he has come to dislike her, and now accuses her of misconduct, saying: ‘I did not find evidence of your daughter’s virginity.’ But here is the evidence of my daughter’s virginity!” And they shall spread out the cloth before the elders of the city. Then these city elders shall take the man and discipline him, and fine him one hundred silver shekels, which they shall give to the young woman’s father, because the man slandered a virgin in Israel. She shall remain his wife, and he may not divorce her as long as he lives. But if this charge is true, and evidence of the young woman’s virginity is not found, they shall bring the young woman to the entrance of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death, because she committed a shameful crime in Israel by prostituting herself in her father’s house. Thus shall you purge the evil from your midst.

Do you not remember the story of the woman caught in adultery and how Jesus challenged the angry crowd? He said, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” They all walked away. Jesus came to bring mercy, even when the woman was guilty. He also preached against divorce, something that is affirmed here. You wrongly get caught up in the graphic elements. All these things must now be viewed in light of Christ. How is it then that these elements of ancient Judaism would cause you to dismiss your faith in Jesus Christ? Either you have not thought this through, or this whole comment with citations is a ploy from a non-believer to ridicule the faith.

Deuteronomy 25:11-12

When two men are fighting and the wife of one intervenes to save her husband from the blows of his opponent, if she stretches out her hand and seizes the latter by his genitals, you shall chop off her hand; show no pity.

And how often do you suppose this actually happened? The religious gravity is not cruelty but upon the gift of fertility and respect for manhood. Destruction of a person’s faculty in the transmission of human life was regarded as a serious crime. It robbed a man of his posterity and remembrance. Remember, the early Jews had a poor understanding of an afterlife. They placed the emphasis upon children and property. This is one of many civil laws that were not unique to the people called by God. It is merely an ancient legal code. God calls us from where we are with all our ignorance or sophistication. Notice the law that follows it forbids carrying different weights in your traveling bag, so that men might not cheat each other when scales are used in purchases. The code that proceeded about marriage would mandate marriage within a family to carry on a brother’s name and linage. As with the Mosaic code on divorce, this would conflict with Christ’s teachings on the nature of marriage. Jesus would speak about their hardness of hearts. God’s passive will tolerates certain weaknesses and sins because of the freedom he gives us. We are not ants or robots. Not everything in the Old Testament reflects God’s direct will. The Bible is not a manual or rule book. It is a chronicle of salvation history. You have to read it as such and place the emphasis upon Christ and the teachings of his Church. God shows us his face and his will over time. While the deposit of faith is now fixed, it develops through our reflection and deepening understanding.

Isaiah 13:13-16

For this I will make the heavens tremble and the earth shall be shaken from its place, at the wrath of the LORD of hosts on the day of his burning anger. Like a hunted gazelle, or a flock that no one gathers, they shall turn each to their own people and flee each to their own land. Everyone who is taken shall be run through; and everyone who is caught shall fall by the sword. Their infants shall be dashed to pieces in their sight; their houses shall be plundered and their wives ravished.

This is part of a collection of oracles from various sources that focus upon foreign nations. While God’s people were indeed guilty of barbarism (we even see this in the psalms), the point here is divine retribution and judgment. The emphasis is that death will overtake everyone. There was also the appreciation that this existence is messy. There is violence and death awaiting us in a fallen world. Our life belongs to the Lord. Because of sin, we deserve to die. Jesus would fail to come as this kind of military Messiah. Rather, he brought mercy and not the sword. However, at the final consummation, he will be the true Pantocrator— the Lord of Judgment. Those who love the Lord need not fear. Those who disobey him have every right to be afraid. It does not mean that God directly desires child murder and rape.

Isaiah 40:8

“The grass withers, the flower wilts, but the word of our God stands forever.”

What do you find objectionable about this? It means that God’s Word does not forfeit its binding force. God keeps his promises. Did you write the wrong citation?

It is at this stage that you turn your disdain to the New Testament. Are you really a Christian? Were you ever?

Luke 14:26

“If any one comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”

This is an example of Hebraic hyperbole. It is an artifact of language. There is no exclamation point for emphasis. Jesus does not mean that we should literally hate our parents and family. That would be absurd. Jesus uses similar hyperbole when he says let the dead bury the dead or to pluck out your eye or cut off your hand. Jesus is actually saying that there is urgency to embracing the kingdom. Now is the appointed time. We should not delay or even allow familial relations to inhibit our acceptance of the Gospel. Jesus takes the family, our most prized human institution, and says that even that should not get in the way of following him. Note that Peter and Andrew left everything to follow Jesus. The boats would have to be used by other family members or friends for fishing. Jesus was making his apostles into fishers of men. It must also be said that in the early days of the Church, pagan families often opposed and tried to block the conversion of members. The words of our Lord would urge strength in the face to opposition and even betrayal.

Colossians 3:22-23

Slaves, obey your human masters in everything, not only when being watched, as currying favor, but in simplicity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do from the heart, as for the Lord and not for others, knowing that you will receive from the Lord the due payment of the inheritance; be slaves of the Lord Christ.

Paul did not invent the institution of slavery but Christianity was altering it. Master and slave have the same dignity. This must be measured with verse three: “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all and in all.” Read God’s word in a contextual way. Often slaves had to work off just debts for their freedom. It was quite different from the tyranny of slavery in America. But as I said before, Paul’s words about our equality in Christ would eventually bring such subservience to an end. Here Paul is sharing his hierarchical view— one that still influences the constitution of Christ’s Church: wives subordinate to husbands (18), husbands love your wives (19), children obey your parents (20), and fathers do not provoke children (21). The mention of slavery falls within such a schema. We are all called to service. We are all servants or slaves of God. Even the Pope is called “the Servant of the Servants of God.” He is literally a slave for the Gospel and the Church. He lives not for himself, but for Christ and his people.

1 Timothy 2:11-12

A woman must receive instruction silently and under complete control. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man. She must be quiet.

While it is doctrine that priests must be male, and I would cite this as apostolic evidence that such male leadership reflects the divine will, it probably refers to an immediate accidental about worship in the time of Paul. Not everything in Scripture and Tradition is unalterable doctrine. There are certain disciplines, even apostolic ones that can be abrogated. I think here about women’s dress or the mantilla veils that were once popular with women in church. Of course, today women are permitted to read the Old Testament and New Testament epistles in church. The citation here was principally concerning pagans or Gentiles who had recently converted. Women oracles and prophetesses (often possessed by demons) were a problem that Paul did not want to see translated to the churches. They would swoon, speak gibberish and cryptic remarks. Paul saw this as distracting from the truth of Christ. It may be that such women were seeking to wrestle authority away from the men who functioned as the legitimate shepherds.

You want a simplified or literal Bible and yet why should revelation be absolute baby talk? The things of God are far more complex than the inside of a car or computer. To reduce their repair manuals to what you would make the Bible would leave everything broken. It is past time to grow up. God’s Word is not broken, you are. We all are as sinners, me too. But in Jesus there is healing and salvation.

Inviting the Youth to Join and Supersede Us

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Second, the purpose of youth ministry is to ENABLE, not to entertain. It seems to me that much of youth ministry these days seeks to entertain; and yet, too much of their lives are already consumed by pursuing pleasure and gratification. Various synonyms for entertainment are telling: “beguile,” “distract,” “gratify,” “divert” and “indulge.” We do not want to beguile or fool our young people, but to have them encounter the truth. The last thing we want is any additional distraction when they need to be focused on the Lord. While there is a certain satisfaction with being in right relationship with God, this is a far cry from seeking pleasure for its own sake or selfishly losing ourselves in a contrived stupor, spiritual or otherwise. We need to work with our natural longing for purpose and meaning. It is here that we can share the compass setting toward Christ and the kingdom. We were made for God; nothing should divert us from this primary orientation.

Rather than wasting our time and resources on replicating worldly distractions; we should enable or equip or empower our young people with the power and promise of the Gospel. How do we translate these noble sentiments to the youth if we are not authentic and on fire? The youth minister or catechist is not properly an entertainer. Even if he or she is popular or a cult figure, what happens when he is no longer around? Some teachers try very hard to be hip. They will try to entice children with rewards for good behavior and for doing well on lessons. These teachers are also very quick to reprimand when students fail to respond to favors. Many teachers desire to be liked, a few would be satisfied with being feared, and yet the best ones imitate the posture of John the Baptizer, decreasing so that Christ might increase. We want to be successful, but it is by far more important that we be faithful. The true religious mentor witnesses the faith in word and action. He or she shares the faith in the hope that it will be contagious. We are all sinners needing God’s mercy. The ancient cry of the Church is echoed, “Repent and believe!” Youth may or may not like us; more importantly, they should be transformed ever more and more into the likeness of Christ. The good teacher wants his charges to know God’s grace and salvation. The devil could recite from memory the entire catechism— but he would spurn the love that God had for him. We want our charges to know the Lord and fall ever deeper in love with him. If we forget this part of the process, then we have missed the whole point. We seek to make the ground fertile for a saving encounter. God makes the offer; we hope that our youth will accept it. While only the Lord can save us; family, catechists and pastors have a part to play. God would have us be his instruments.

I recall a religion teacher many years ago who was considered dull and “not with it” by many of his fellow teachers. They thought for sure that he would be ineffective and would quickly quit. Instead of being wary of their own shortcomings, they gossiped about him. Later I took delight in their general shock when they noticed his pupils always talking about him in a positive light. Some of the youth saw their attitude and instead of joining in their critique or wanting him replaced, actually defended him. One child even said, “Those teachers always talk down about us, too; but he speaks to us as if every one of us matters.” Yes, he told corny jokes and spoke in a monotone voice, but the young people also recognized that he was authentic. He cared about them and did not pretend to be something he was not. When a couple of the boys were caught parodying his manner or style, he joined the laughter of their classmates. He knew how he was but what was important was sharing the saving faith. The kids began each class by reading about the important saints of the day or week. They took turns leading the class in prayer. They came to appreciate that they were also called to a relationship with Christ and to a holiness of life.

Youth ministry should not fall upon the shoulders of one or two volunteers. Rather, whole parishes with their pastors, catechists, families, and volunteers should engage the youth and others with the saving kerygma. Parishioners are urged to pass out our RCIA flyers for adults who might want to become Catholic or for Catholics missing sacraments. Parishioners are reminded of their need to catechize their children and to share this need with family and friends. I have heard people say that they do not want to nag others about their religious faith and responsibilities. Certainly, while we do not want to turn people off to religious faith, I suspect that a person who escapes hell and enjoys the bliss of heaven will be very thankful for a little well-meaning and needed nagging. We are all to proclaim the Good News. A failure to share the Gospel is a failure to love. If Jesus and the Church matter to us, then why would we not want to invite others to have what we have? Unlike other possessions, one can only hold on to a saving faith by giving it away to others.

Instead of always talking down to youth, we need to welcome and prepare them for full membership in our faith communities. We should not make Christianity easy or excuse opportunities for witness or service. Rather, we must make serious demands for discipleship. Yes, this would include activities and ministries like serving at the altar, reading from the pulpit, welcoming people at the church door, helping out at soup kitchens, volunteering to assist with the Special Olympics, tutoring kids who need help with their school work, cleaning up local streets, shopping for the elderly or doing other chores, visiting nursing homes, etc. It means shining with the LIGHT OF CHRIST in all the many ordinary things of life at home, at play, at school, at work and at church.

Is a reevaluation in order?  Are we really thinking with the mind of Christ when it comes to expectations for our youth? While knowledge plays a part, passing tests and good behavior are not immediately reflective of one’s spiritual status. How do Jesus and the teachings of faith inform the daily life and preoccupations of our youth? When kids can neither name the commandments nor the beatitudes then how can they live them out? If they have trouble understanding that Jesus is a divine person who becomes a human being to save us, then what exactly makes them a Christian? A believer (over the age of reason) must know who the Lord is and what he does for us. Jesus suffers and dies that we might be forgiven, healed and have a share in his life. We cannot save ourselves. Everything we have is gift and Jesus is the greatest gratuity of all.  Are our youth in regular prayerful communication with him?  Have we helped them in knowing how to pray and how to discern God’s will in their lives?  Are we where we should be in the spiritual life?

Our Lord wants us on fire with the faith. The Scriptures do not recommend any form of nominal Christianity. We read in Revelation 3:15-16:

“I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”

Fanaticism is only really wrong when it violates charity. One cannot be too Christian or overly converted. And yet, adults and youth alike temper their Christianity as something that can be departmentalized or restrained by secular good manners. Christianity, at its very heart, is intolerant to sin, hypocrisy and error. We would not know this from the many ways that faith is compromised or hidden today. It is as if we are ashamed to be Christians. Young people face this temptation all the time, particularly in contemporary language, music, dance, clothing and relationships. It is easier or convenient to forget one’s Christianity when it gets in the way or calls for witness. We treat the faith like a hat that can be removed or exchanged; instead, it should be like the skin that goes with us wherever we go.

Our ministry with youth should be as fire seeking to ignite a candle. This fire is not an empty emotionalism or a pretense at youthfulness. We do not seek to be buddies with them but sentinels to the great lover of souls. The fire illumines Christ and communicates that we should encounter Christ. There is urgency to the Gospel that Jesus constantly referenced and which is pertinent to the work we do. We will only have the children for a short while. We must make the best of the time and resources we have. We need to help them to know and to love the Lord. We must give them the tools to proclaim the Gospel and witness to the faith. The faith is only real when it is being spread. When we keep it to ourselves, it begins to die— no, more than this— we begin to die.

We often catechize the youth to parrot back the right words regarding faith; more importantly, we want them to embrace the faith in an evangelistic manner. Our youth will face far more tensions and opposition than previous generations. They must be enabled to defend the faith with an apologetics based upon a spirit of ecumenism that never compromises the truth. Each according to his or her vocation, we are a priestly people and recipients of the great commission:

“Consequently, from now on we regard no one according to the flesh; even if we once knew Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know him so no longer. So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:16-21).

I was privileged to see something of this fire in college teens that walked down the east coast as Crusaders for Life. They well understood that the Gospel of Life means that every child is a reflection of the Christ Child. All life is sacred and there is no pro-abortion Christianity. Abortion attacks the very heart of the faith, the incarnation of Jesus Christ. One cannot rightly say AMEN to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament while we deny the one made in his image within the womb. Sponsored by the American Life League, they were young and dedicated to this truth— so much so that they were attacked by angry politicians as fanatics and avoided by certain embarrassed churchmen who preferred to play things safe. But Christianity is not a safe religion. Jesus defended the dignity of women, called the children to him, ate with tax collectors and sinners, etc. He healed bodies and forgave souls their sins. He did “good” and that got him betrayed, libeled, scourged and crucified. We must prepare our children as Saint John Paul beseeched us. He told the youth at one of the World Youth Days that he saw blood and martyrdom in their future. In other words, he echoed Jesus who said that any who would come after him must take up his cross and follow. All this is a testimony to the quality of faith, not simply as a mental deliberation or as a verbal expression, but as a profound obedience to Christ and the mandate of love. We are beckoned to be signs of contradiction, loving our enemies and forgiving those who hurt us.

We need to pray with and for our youth. I have recommended in the past that youth compose their own prayers— writing them down and then delivering them. There is a tendency in certain programs for clergy or catechists or youth ministers to do all the praying. This is a mistake. While we need to study the mechanics of liturgy and the ABC’s of faith; inroads must be made for the Holy Spirit to touch our children. The Word of God should be made pertinent to their lives. God’s saving intervention is not locked in past history. Rather, the story of redemption needs to intersect all our personal stories. God is present. God is active. God loves us. When a person is touched by God, he or she will never be the same again. This is all so much deeper than worrying about youth group attendance or frustration that youth are not where we want them spiritually. The pertinent concern must be, instead, where they are now and how God can reach them. We must accept the youth we are given, good, bad and indifferent, and concentrate upon how we can facilitate an awakening to God’s presence and love. Nothing and no one benefits from imagining how different things might be if we only had different or better kids.

God’s Intervention: Conversion

When it comes to parental guidance and faith formation there is no perfect formula. Children from the same household often include both fervent believers and backsliders. The young person has to make choices for him- or herself. All we can do is give them the best witness and tools. Having said this, there are some families who have not done all they could. Sacraments were haphazard and Mass participation was poor. For them we recall the Scripture that says, “Make no mistake: God is not mocked, for a person will reap only what he sows” (Galatians 6:7).

What are my general thoughts about the issue? Certain important points come to mind.

14_to_aFirst, just because a child was baptized as a baby, we must never omit the need for CONVERSION. There is the real need to take the faith that is given us and to make it our own. Catholics might not accept the notion of “once saved, always saved,” but we still treat membership in the Church as a “done deal” that needs little in the way of affirmation or verification. This point often muddies the waters when news reporters and poll-takers ask questions of Catholics. People who have not stepped foot in a church for many years will still identify themselves as Catholics. Their perspective on issues often is more reflective of a secular humanism than Christianity. Catholicism is reduced to a club which refuses to throw you out even when you fail to pay the required dues. In actual fact, while they remain juridically Catholics, many of these people are in practice Protestant or even atheists. They may live as if there is no God.

Many catechists are often disheartened when a child has reached Confirmation age in eighth grade, and he or she still struggles from a glaring ignorance of our religion. We know they were given all the content but it is as if it leaked out. Good Catholic kids go on to high school or college and fall away from the practice of their faith. At a time when the Christians of Mosul are facing expulsion and extermination for their faith; these kids surrender it without the whimper of a battle. As an old billboard used to advertise, a crucial question comes to mind, “If Christianity were a crime, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” Apparently Christian kids begin to talk and act as if there is no God.

The problem comes to a head as the youth matures; however, the seed was damaged from the beginning or hindered throughout. It is choked by weeds or has fallen on poor and rocky soil. There has been little or no watering. Despite all that parents, catechists and pastors did (or did not do); the simple fact remains that the youth may never have had an intimate and reciprocal friendship with Christ. Praying should be like breathing. We do not last long otherwise. We begin to die when we neglect the Lord.

We tend to speak about the “issues” that our children face or the difficulties they create. We need to stop thinking about “issues” and turn to dealing with “persons.” How do we facilitate an evangelical turning or metanoia to the Lord? Must we create a spiritual ghetto around our children, blocking out the distractions from peers, public schools and the media? How do we move religion from information to be memorized to a person we must encounter?

While I like youth groups and activities where young men and women can dialogue and come to a better understanding, as well as mutual respect, it also seems to me that there should be gender-based formation. Young women, mentored by faithful and mature females, can answer questions and speak to concerns that might never be mentioned in a mixed setting. Similarly, in a society that preaches a false equivalence, young men need mentoring by Christian gentlemen who know and practice the values of true manhood. Every young man should look upon the girls as potential spouses and the mothers of their children. Each young woman should seek out men who demonstrate strength of character and responsibility for their actions. While I prefer courtship to dating; young people should not feel coerced into romantic relationships prior to the time that they are ready or able to make genuine commitments. I also think that young men and women should be given a witness for the religious vocations to which God may call them. Do we have priests and brothers speaking to our boys about their callings and the satisfaction they receive in serving God? Do we have religious sisters giving presentations in youth groups and parishes about what it means to be a bride of Christ? I think we could do more in these areas. I lament that the archdiocese no longer has its own order of religious sisters. The fact that we had them seemed almost like a secret. If we want vocations for men and women, then they have to be visible and the word must be shared. They must also be happy. No one wants to join a group of angry old bachelors or cat-fighting spinsters.

I would also suggest the witness of proven Christian laity who live in the world and still belong to Christ. We have many god people who witness the faith to co-workers, family and friends. They volunteer to help the poor, to save and nurture babies, to bring care to the sick and dying, and to pass on the faith to the next generation. Along with the saints of heaven, these must be our role models— not the coarse basketball player or music personality preoccupied with money, fame and sex.

When it comes to youth group gatherings, we sometimes merely want to get a meeting over and satisfy the young people on a superficial level. But every gathering should go beyond entertaining with sports, music, games, movies or free pizza. We do not want to bribe our youth to attend. Youth ministers can make a number of honest mistakes. I recall a fellow years ago who gave a presentation about ministry that focused entirely on himself. He told us again and again that he received great personal satisfaction from the work. If that is simply the case, then we might become parasitical to the very youth we hope to help. But in contradiction, we do not do this work for what we can get out of it. The youth might put us through hell and yet in the end it could produce fruit if we persevere.

Ephesians 4:11-16 gives us our marching orders, both for catechesis and youth ministry:

“And he gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ, so that we may no longer be infants, tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery, from their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming. Rather, living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part, brings about the body’s growth and builds itself up in love.”

There are too many persons and things that would exploit our youth; we must illustrate the highest integrity in equipping young “saints.” We make ready the soil and pray that God will rain down with his grace. After doing all that we can, we beseech God for the conversion of our charges. If our youth do not open the Scriptures, say their prayers, participate at Mass, and help the poor then what exactly would make them Christian? They should be growing daily in the knowledge and love of Jesus. Mindful of the Pharisees, we must be careful of any hypocrisy. The youth will see this immediately and any movement to Christ would likely be stunted.

There are a number of poor models that poison youth work and evangelization. Making demands from authority turns people off and when there is sufficient distance or no longer any stick held over heads, the young people rebel and walk. Similarly bribing falls short when nothing that we can offer comes anywhere near to competing with popular music, large screen televisions, video games or the other stuff that youth and families accumulate. We try placing our message on computers and television, but talking heads and the Mass for Shut-ins just is not attractive or compelling to many. We get all excited about the Internet but then find that there are few hits and no one is reading or watching our materials. We pour money into solutions that really solve nothing and become just another element for critics to ridicule. The universal Church gets caught up in this as well. Are we really making converts or calling souls home with Twitter? I doubt it.

We do not need religious robots. No, instead we want faithful youth who are fully converted and see evangelization as a crucial factor in their lived discipleship. That is one of the reasons why I feel that adult moderators should encourage youth to develop their own programs and activities. This way, when they head off for college, it will no longer matter if parents and pastors are unable to look down their backs. Without any prodding, they will gather their own bible sharing and prayer groups. We want them to form “church” with a graced spontaneity. They need to be self-actuated in their discipleship. They will look around them and develop activities to respond to the needs of the community where they find themselves. All this is to say, that while we have them, we should be thinking… how can we empower these persons to be self-actuated leaders: teaching and serving others? Is this prospect even on our radar?

Infant Baptism & Coerced Baptism

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Questions from Dina:

Why does it make sense to baptize a child who doesn’t know what is happening, or what about forced baptism over the centuries? Why does either have an effect? In one case the baby knows nothing and int he other you have an unwilling “convert” who wants nothing to do with the Catholic faith?  Thanks!

Response from Father Joe:

We do not force baptisms upon adults. Missionaries often endured great hardships and even suffered martyrdom in bringing the faith to others around the world. Unwilling converts cannot be validly baptized or received into the Church. This has always been the case. The situation with children depends upon several points:

1. The apostolic and patristic tradition of baptizing whole households, including the children of believers.

2. While a child has not yet reached the age of reason, parents may profess faith on behalf of a child with the expectation that they will raise the child in the faith and insure the sacraments of penance, holy communion and confirmation. There are three sacraments of initiation, not one: BAPTISM, EUCHARIST, and CONFIRMATION. At confirmation that person will make for himself the profession and promises made by parents at baptism.

3. The Church is the sacrament of salvation. Catholics are called both to a CORPORATE faith in Jesus as well as a PERSONAL one. This corporate element, linked to the communion of the saints, is why parents can profess faith for a child. We do not come to the Lord alone.

4. After the age of reason, an unbaptized child must take catechesis and make the baptismal promises himself.

5. The sacraments, including baptism, do what they are intended to do. They were instituted by Christ for his Church.

6. Baptism is more than an acknowledgment or affirmation of saving faith, it accomplished the following:

  • Makes one a temple of the Holy Spirit;
  • Accesses sanctifying grace;
  • Conforms a person to the likeness of Christ;
  • Washes away sin (original sin);
  • A person is spiritually adopted as a son or daughter of our heavenly Father;
  • Incorporates us into the Catholic Church;
  • We become a Christian; and
  • We enter the doorway to the sacramental life.

 

A Response to Grace on Faith, Jesus & Salvation

GRACE:

Allow me to make reference to the Old Testament and sin offering. A sinner would go to the Jewish priest with a lamb without blemish. He MUST lay his hand on the lamb. This signified a transferring of sin to the lamb and acquiring the lamb’s innocence. The lamb had to die. Sin must DIE. Under the New Covenant, Jesus is the Lamb of God. The Messiah is our offering. HOWEVER, one cannot physically lay hands on the lamb of God. This is how one lays hands on Jesus and acquires His righteousness: whoever BELIEVES/FAITH that He is the son of God becomes righteous. This is unmistakably the most fundamental building block of Christianity!

When a believer in faith bows down in prayer they have instant access to God, justified by Jesus. When I ask someone else to intercede, I have downplayed the biggest sacrifice; the very reason God became man. It was so that whoever believed should not perish. Otherwise, I have put my FAITH in something other than His dying for my sins. In effect, I have said that even though Christ did die for my sins and I am justified before God. It is still not good enough. So stop going to saint Mary! Worthless are cries of please intercede! JESUS said “I AM THE WAY THE TRUTH AND LIFE NO ONE COMES TO THE FATHER EXCEPT BY ME.” That truth was absolute. There is no negotiating it. When He said on the Cross “IT IS FINISHED,” He meant just that.

FATHER JOE:

You call into question the following:

1.  The manner in which Jesus offers a sacrifice of propitiation as the Lamb of God.

2.  The extension of the paschal mystery into the life of the Church and the sacraments.

3.  The participation in the one-time suffering and death of Jesus.

4.  The definition of saving faith as combined with obedience (works) and accessed first through baptism.

5.  The inner unity of Jesus as a divine Person but made fully human.

6.  The significance of the Church, communion of the saints and intercessory prayer.

What you initially discuss is an appreciation of substitution. The blood of the lamb is sacrificed so that the believer might be spared, as with the Jews when the first born of Egypt suffered the angel of death.

You assert that with Jesus as “the Lamb of God,” no one could physically lay hands upon him. This is false and calls into question the graphic truth of the incarnation. It is a variation upon the heresy of the Nestorians.  The Second Person of the Trinity takes to himself human flesh, he becomes Man. Thus he is able to lay down his life, enduring the indignity of the scourging and crucifixion. Jesus really did die on the Cross. The Mass is an unbloody but real re-presentation of this saving mystery. We are born again by water and the spirit. As God’s people, we come back again and again to the Lord so that our sins might be washed away and that we might be filled with grace. There is a spiritual operation here connected to Calvary, the last Supper and the sacraments.

Faith and baptism allows us to be engaged by the Paschal Mystery of Christ, his suffering, dying, rising and ascension. Our belief or faith is equivalent to obedience. God’s response is the gift of salvation for the redeemed. Christ is obedient to the Father even unto the Cross. He calls us to imitate his fidelity by taking up our crosses and following him.

Intercession to saints or to the Church is an acknowledgement that ours is both a personal and a corporate Lord and Savior. We gather to pray as the Church and our Lord tells us that he is present. There is no competition or downplaying the oblation of the Cross. Far from it, our unity with each other is expressive of the reality of the Church that Jesus instituted. You deny this truth from God’s Word and embrace a Baptist tradition that denies the ongoing nature of faith, obedience and the need for communion with the Church. You short-change revelation and deprive yourself of the full benefits of Christ oblation. You say you are justified before the Lord and yet this too may be a sinful presumption. You cannot save yourself. Only God can save you. Many will cry, “Lord, Lord,” and Jesus will respond, “I tell you, I do not know you.” The Church is the Body of Christ. If you attack the Church, you assault Jesus.

Mary intercedes, but by always beseeching us to follow her Son. She beckons that we might know and love him. All prayer, even intercessory, finds God as its proper object. The saints pray with and for us. We are not alone.

The saving work of Jesus is accomplished in that Jesus will never suffer and die again. But the saving power and effects of his work are still being realized in the lives of believers. It is in this sense that it will not be finished or over until the consummation of the world to Christ. The story of salvation is still being told in our lives.

The Price of Compromising on Homosexuality

thKID0AXT3A priest friend recently announced that he saw the Church’s way of speaking of those with same-sex attractions as wildly exaggerated, harsh and inaccurate. His assertion deeply bothered me. I am well aware that people have taken offense and even left the Church over the assessment that homosexuals and lesbians are sexually “disordered.” Often the response to this issue or individual revelations, even from pulpits, is a deafening silence. Homosexuality is joining contraception as one of those issues rarely raised from the pulpit. Privately, people increasing accept and love their friends, regardless. Young people not only accept it but see those who do not as bigoted. Older people are generally more judgmental, but often suspend this judgment when the gay person is someone close to them. Silence is no real answer and a fire-and-brimstone sermon will arouse anger and hurt. But the truth is the truth, is it not? My priest friend argues in a way that makes my head hurt. Often I think he is more like the Episcopalians, suggesting compromise on contraception, divorce and remarriage, and now homosexuality. As for myself, I have no desire to cause pain for others; however, I was ordained to speak for Christ and his Church, not for myself. The Bible and the traditions of the Church give a negative verdict to same-sex attraction and activity. While the orientation is problematical, sin only enters the picture with wrongful fantasies and immoral actions.

My priest colleague insists that I am very wrong. There is the unspoken insinuation that he thinks I am slow or a bit dull-witted. He wonders why I cannot see things his way. He argues that we all want to be faithful to Jesus and Jesus was all about bringing the outcast home. He indicts me as doing the opposite, behaving more like a Pharisee. He raises his voice, “Show me even one place in the Gospels where Jesus teaches anything about homosexuality! If it is so important, then why is Jesus absolutely silent about it?” He laments that our Lord spoke forcibly against divorce, but points out that there is nothing on this issue. My mind works differently from his. The Bible is more than the Gospels.  The writings of St. Paul are also part of the New Testament. The whole book is the inspired Word of God. The apostle mentions homosexuality as one of a whole grocery list of sins that would forfeit the kingdom. This is serious language. If this is a sin that can land a person in hell; then how can we truly love them and either permit it or exhibit silence? He spoke as the kids do— “But they love each other! How can love ever be wrong?” Love can be plenty wrong. This was not just love, but physical and sexual behavior. This can be added to love, or express love, but love can be very wrong. You have no right to love another man’s wife. A priest has no right to love and keep a mistress. A man has no right to take another man to bed. The same goes for women with women. They can love as parent and child, as siblings, and as dear platonic friends— but erotic and genital love takes it where has no right to go. My priest friend came right out and said it, throwing aside recent papal teaching and the universal catechism, “As long as the gay couple is living in a loving and committed relationship, there is no sin, nothing is disordered.” This was not a new opinion. I heard it from one of my old professors some thirty years ago, Fr. Charles Curran. This was one of the dissenting views that cost him his license and position at the Catholic University of America.

My position is very different. I would side with my late cousin, Fr. John Harvey, the founder of an organization called COURAGE. These faithful sons and daughters deal with their disorder not by acting out but by embracing a life of celibate love, prayerful meditation and service to the community. We should not pretend that vice is virtue. Rather, we should call our brothers to repentance, conversion and heroic discipleship.

It is true that a person should not be judged by one element of his life. However, the activists themselves are the ones who raise their orientation as the singular marker for their identity. An orientation and lifestyle is redrafted as a basic expression of who they are and as something protected by civil rights laws. When you say “hate the sin” but “love the sinner,” they get mad and take it personally. They make no demarcation between their sexuality and how they are accepted as persons. They are wrong to do this but it has become an effective tool for manipulating people and institutions in our society. When it comes to the Catholic Church, though, they bust their heads against a stone wall. Everyone else is giving in, but the Church still says that “what they do” is wrong. What they hear from the Church is “who you are” is wrong. I suspect my brother priest left his guard down to this sort of control tactic. They seek to turn the guilt back on us so that the Church will give in. While we can show special compassion to individuals, I see no way for Catholicism to backtrack on this.

The Notorious Mysteries

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1. Whipping the Money Changers (John 2:13-22)

Since the Passover of the Jews was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money-changers seated there. He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” His disciples recalled the words of scripture, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” At this the Jews answered and said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the scripture and the word Jesus had spoken.

2. Violating the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-14)

At that time Jesus was going through a field of grain on the sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “See, your disciples are doing what is unlawful to do on the sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry, how he went into the house of God and ate the bread of offering, which neither he nor his companions but only the priests could lawfully eat? Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests serving in the temple violate the sabbath and are innocent? I say to you, something greater than the temple is here. If you knew what this meant, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned these innocent men. For the Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath.” Moving on from there, he went into their synagogue. And behold, there was a man there who had a withered hand. They questioned him, “Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath?” so that they might accuse him. He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep that falls into a pit on the sabbath will not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable a person is than a sheep. So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and it was restored as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and took counsel against him to put him to death.

3. Castigating the Jewish Leadership (Matthew 23:1-7;13-17;23-33)

Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’ / Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the kingdom of heaven before human beings. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You traverse sea and land to make one convert, and when that happens you make him a child of Gehenna twice as much as yourselves. Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If one swears by the temple, it means nothing, but if one swears by the gold of the temple, one is obligated.’ Blind fools, which is greater, the gold, or the temple that made the gold sacred? / “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You pay tithes of mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and fidelity. [But] these you should have done, without neglecting the others. Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel! “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may be clean. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth. Even so, on the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the memorials of the righteous, and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have joined them in shedding the prophets’ blood.’ Thus you bear witness against yourselves that you are the children of those who murdered the prophets; now fill up what your ancestors measured out! You serpents, you brood of vipers, how can you flee from the judgment of Gehenna?

4. Permitting the Eating of Unclean Foods (Mark 7:14-23)

He summoned the crowd again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.” When he got home away from the crowd his disciples questioned him about the parable. He said to them, “Are even you likewise without understanding? Do you not realize that everything that goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters not the heart but the stomach and passes out into the latrine?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) “But what comes out of a person, that is what defiles. From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.”

5. Disowned for Making Himself God’s Son (Luke 22:66-71; Matthew 26:65-67)

When day came the council of elders of the people met, both chief priests and scribes, and they brought him before their Sanhedrin. They said, “If you are the Messiah, tell us,” but he replied to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe, and if I question, you will not respond. But from this time on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?” He replied to them, “You say that I am.” Then they said, “What further need have we for testimony? We have heard it from his own mouth.” / Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has blasphemed! What further need have we of witnesses? You have now heard the blasphemy; what is your opinion?” They said in reply, “He deserves to die!” Then they spat in his face and struck him, while some slapped him…

What If Money Didn’t Matter? But It Does Matter!

“What if money didn’t matter?” But the truth is— it does matter. Human work is ideally self-expressive but it is also a basic given of human existence and survival. Even if money did not exist and we returned to a bartering society, we would still have to work (and often in what we do not enjoy doing).

“For you know how one must imitate us. For we did not act in a disorderly way among you, nor did we eat food received free from anyone. On the contrary, in toil and drudgery, night and day we worked, so as not to burden any of you. Not that we do not have the right. Rather, we wanted to present ourselves as a model for you, so that you might imitate us. In fact, when we were with you, we instructed you that if anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:7-10).

Alan Watts (the narrator) was an Episcopalian priest who popularized Zen Buddhism for the West. Hidden in the perspective here is a rejection of any Catholic absolute morality. He favored certain drug usage as consciousness changing. However, he did admit to a social responsibility, particularly in regards to environmentalism. Ultimately, his philosophy was pantheistic and not compatible with true Christianity. While the presentation seems to imply a radical individualism, in actuality, he saw each and every living and non-living thing as an element of a forgetful universe coming to know itself. He died in 1973 after an excessive bout with alcoholism. He was married three times and his son, Mark Watts, is responsible for the promotion of his audio, video and films.

What he really asks is this:  what would you like to do if you could avoid responsibility? We must often sacrifice and do what is hard so that we can pay bills and support our families. It is wonderful if we can live our dreams and pursue what we desire, but such must reflect positive values (like honesty, truthfulness, self-control, etc.) and the reality of the existence given to us. I might desire to be a ballerina, but such is ill-conceived or ludicrous if I am a man built like a sumo wrestler. I might want to write bad poetry all day but such is both impractical and immoral if my family should then go homeless and my children starve. Do not be taken in by the British accent (as if that can change foolishness into wisdom) and the hollow play to modern selfishness.

You cannot do whatever you want. Instead, the question for Christians is what would God have me do? The evangelical pursuit of poverty is to seek spiritual perfection, not personal gratification. That is where the video message goes wrong. The message is very seductive. But its application could become destructive to society and to the individual. It might even be judged as demonic and an application of the moral code of that arch-Satanist Aleister Crowley, “Do What Thou Wilt.”

A Review of THE LAST DAYS OF JESUS

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Let me begin by saying that I admire Bill O’Reilly and often enjoy his program on FOX News. One can also tell in his writings, especially about Lincoln and Kennedy, that he was probably a first class high-school history teacher. Having said this, I fear that writing about Jesus may have placed him somewhat at a disadvantage. Jesus was a man but so much more. When we miss that element of more, history itself becomes falsified or distorted. Like any good researcher, he relies heavily upon sources. And yet, religion more than any other field, is subject to a vast range of opinion and much of it unreliable or biased. Of course, his task from the very beginning may have been handicapped. Can people of faith ever approach Jesus as if that faith does not matter and does not speak to the truth?

The book for young readers, The Last Days of Jesus by Bill O’Reilly alternately embraces a biblical literalism as with the Nativity narratives, harkens to pious tradition as with the association of Mary Magdalene with the prostitute, and is permeated with a modern agnostic historical-criticism as with the avoidance of the miracles and resurrection of Christ. The book often reads like a disjointed commentary on various biblical texts. O’Reilly connects Mary Magdalen with the prostitute or sinner woman in Scripture. This is a correlation disputed by many modern exegetes and even by the authorities he cites in the back of the book. (He recommends these sources for further reading but they are not written for young readers.)

This work is the offspring to the adult book, Killing Jesus: A History. The difficulty in the focus upon our Lord in the former work is transplanted into the latter. The emphasis is placed upon “the man” Jesus of Nazareth and not upon Jesus as the Christ, Messiah or Savior. Taken too far and this ushers us back to the ancient heresy of Nestorianism where the divine unity is shattered and we begin to speak of two sons, Jesus the Man and Christ the God. Nestorius was condemned for preferring the Marian titles “Mother of the Christ” and “Mother of the Man” to the label, “Mother of God.” Subtracting his godhood entirely would restore the ancient heresy of Arianism. Any history that subtracts the divinity and its attributes becomes a falsification of the past. Those who would utterly restrict themselves to Christ as a human creature have already adopted a methodical atheism. In his usual gentle way, Raymond Arroyo brought this up on his television EWTN interview with O’Reilly. O’Reilly elaborated with him, too, that he purported to give a historical accounting of Jesus, not a spiritual one. My concern as a priest is simple: is such a rendering really possible and does it not malign the spiritual as if it is somehow unreal?  (I do not question or doubt O’Reilly’s word that he remains a Catholic and a believer.)

When speaking about the incident where our Lord as a boy is teaching the teachers in the Temple, we must be careful not to speculate too much about what Jesus knows and feels (see page 36). There is a real debate about the psychology of Jesus. While he has human experiential knowledge, he is reckoned by the Church as a divine person. Thus, he knows what he needs to know. While he might pocket elements of his divine knowledge, it is always there. Even for ourselves, as human beings, we do not focus upon everything we know at any given moment. Further, when Jesus had disappeared from the caravan, he was puzzled that they had to search and did not know that he had to be in his “Father’s house.” Notice in the conversation between Jesus and Mary that Joseph is silent. He well appreciates that as the foster father of Christ, his role is reserved to protector or guardian of the Holy Family. He is already beginning to decrease and will never appear again in the Gospels. Christ will be obedient to them but given his true identity, such is by choice and not necessity.

We cannot know for sure why Jesus does all that he does. We cannot begin to imagine how infused science might have impacted upon Jesus’ knowing. But the question keeps arising, what did Jesus know and feel? Did Jesus know only “a little Hebrew”? Jesus seemed very learned and probably spoke to Pilate in Latin. Greek was also a popular language. We know our Lord spoke Aramaic. He was raised as a Jew in a Jewish community. It is true that he had experiential knowledge, but it would be wrong to infer that he had nothing of the divine. Ours is not an amnesiac deity. He always knows who he is.

Does O’Reilly come close to heresy? If so it is probably inadvertent and has to do with the selection of words. I am troubled how he speaks about the agony in the garden. We all know what our Lord does and says but O’Reilly writes, “It is a moment of anguish and despair” (page 190). Anguish, yes, but despair, no! Despair is a sin against hope and such would be impossible for the God-Man. As with the temptations, our Lord could be tempted but he could not fall. God cannot be placed in opposition to himself. There is no historical Jesus or strictly human Jesus that has ever existed. He is an exegetical fiction. His angst is not despair but the genuine sign that the incarnation was real. No human being in his right mind wants to be tortured and murdered. Our human nature rebels at the prospect and that is what happens here. Nevertheless, in the face of this sorrow, he reaffirms the mission given him by his Father. This is more than asking for strength. Jesus is not going to run away. He knows what is coming. He demonstrates what true fidelity means. He shows us the true face of courage.

It was not so much that Christians were embarrassed by the Cross (see page 258); rather, the difficulty had to do with a Greek philosophical bias against such vulnerability, especially from one purported to be divine. It was a stumbling block to conversions. Christians were aware that the Cross was a sign of contradiction and yet the symbol of Christ’s role as our sin-offering; he dies on our behalf. As we see in the Good Friday liturgy, the Cross appeared to be Christ’s defeat and yet it becomes a sign of his victory. It is precisely this demarcation in the text between the so-called historical Jesus and the Christ of faith that skews a proper understanding of what Jesus is about. Of course, such falls in line with the atheistic agenda of the Jesus Seminar (which the book recommends as a source).

The author writes, “But Jesus has committed a grave offense—he interrupted the flow of funds from the temple to Rome when he flipped over the money changer’s tables” (page 197). I am not sure that there is much evidence for such a financial collusion. The text infers at this point that the financial pressure and greed from the Pharisees is what brought Jesus to trial. However, later on the text rightly narrates it as blasphemy. Does O’Reilly view the allegation of blasphemy as a trumped charge to indict Jesus? Again, I think a narrow vision damages the full truth. The Pharisees and scribes are true believers and zealots. Yes, they do not want anyone to erode their authority. Yes, the turning over of the money-changing tables did not win him friends among them. However, they were also appalled by his healings on the Sabbath and references to him as God’s Son. Monotheism and the Law were principal elements of their religion and they failed to see how Jesus could fit into this picture.

I seriously doubt that this book will find a place in parish catechesis programs. Too much is missing. Even if one were to restrict an evaluation to our Lord’s social mission, the outreach of Christ to the poor, the sick, the oppressed, the weak and to women, is largely neglected. And yet, it was precisely this preferential option for the poor, the suffering and sinners that made the religious leadership hate Jesus all the more. They may have been afraid of an uprising but they also resented that he was winning the hearts of the people, especially the rabble. God did not only bless the religious elite or the rich and powerful. God also loved those who were lost, afraid and weak. We would not want to cast Jesus as an Obama-like social worker; but neither would we image him as a modern-day Republican hardliner or fiscal conservative.

The Lord’s Supper is essentially reduced to an interchange about Judas and the betrayal. Totally absent is how Jesus will take the Seder and change the rubrics to refer to himself as the new sacrificial Lamb of God. I find this odd because he immediately connects this meal with the coming ordeal of the Cross. I suspect it is subtracted because it refers to sectarian topics like the priesthood and the Mass. However, it also removes the sense that Jesus will not simply have his life taken from him; rather, he will lay it down.

As with the Pharisees, the principal motivation for Judas is depicted as greed and yet many biblical authorities suggest that it was far more complex. It may be that Judas was impatient and wanted to force Jesus’ hand— to compel him to act as the Messiah and bring about insurrection. This other element is breeched quickly on page 177.

The incident of the tax and the coin is reduced to Jesus not offending Rome but giving it deference. Here too the situation is far more complex. Yes, it is a trap but a question is asked. Often the more liberal voices will speak about how this supports dividing our loyalties between Caesar and God. This is the thinking of politicians who claim to be good Catholics but enable the murder of children through the administration’s reproductive services policies. The fact is that Jesus neither falls for the trap nor answers the question. He never really says one should pay the tax. If he says not to pay then he can be painted as an enemy of Rome. If he says pay, then he can be judged as a traitor to his own people. All he does is point to a coin with the emperor’s face on it and says give to God what belongs to God and give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. In truth, everything belongs to God. The Scriptures are clear, ours is a jealous God.

Is Jesus “a revolutionary with a band of disciples and growing legion of followers” (page 162)? The text itself admits that Jesus did not intend to establish a new government or overthrow the Romans. He often steers away from the title of Messiah because it is so generally misinterpreted in military terms. Nevertheless, our Lord did come to establish a new People of God or a Church. This theme is generally omitted from the text. Note that when Jesus asks the question about his identity, he applauds Peter for seeing the truth, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (page 127). However, absent in the text is the Lord’s offer of a new identity upon Peter as ROCK and that upon this ROCK he would build his Church. (A brief mention of the renaming appears on page 97 but minus the connection to the Church.) Our Lord next prophesies his coming passion and death. He will die for the Church. He will pass on something of this authority to the Church. Without this appreciation, a major theme that leads to his sacrifice is omitted. Certain religious revisionists propose that references to the Church were later written into the biblical accounts; however, the teaching Church would argue that such reflected the mind of Christ and were part of these events.

When it comes to the miracles, the text speaks of “stories” of Jesus doing so (page 119) and that he “apparently” healed a man’s withered hand. The miracles are viewed by Christianity as proofs to Christ’s divinity and mission. Along with the resurrection, their subtraction or reduction to conjecture immediately eliminates any arguable profession of divinity. Except for how Jesus has been “used” by people in history, the assessment of our Lord would be that he was a failed prophet who was executed as a criminal and later had his body stolen and probably destroyed. O’Reilly never says this, and as a Catholic would probably not hold such a view, however, it is what the text tends to communicate. While Jesus does use “logic and words of Scripture to upend” the arguments of the Pharisees, the primary mode of communication is through stories and actions. He tells parables and he works miracles. Much of his attraction comes down to these two operations. They are elements largely missing from the book’s overall assessment of Christ.

The Afterword itself, after mentioning the story of the Jewish leadership that Jesus’ body was stolen, gives the various views about our Lord held by Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims. The implication within this religious indifferentism is that all the interpretations might be fanciful. Of course, restricting oneself to the natural elements throughout would seem to invalidate the supernatural altogether. It ends with the empty tomb and the simple line, “To this day, the body of Jesus of Nazareth has never been found.” While we have a curt ending in the Gospel of Mark, the Christian testimony is far richer. I have serious reservations about an agnostic or atheistic retelling of the story of Jesus that subtracts the miraculous. Who is to say that these things are not based upon real history?

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