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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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Women & The Priesthood

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Given that women are excluded from the sacrament of Holy Orders, does this mean that in the Catholic Church there are seven sacraments for men and only six for women?  How is this fair? What are we to tell young women who feel a calling to ministry?

While some critics contend that Jesus only selected men as his apostles given the prejudices and chauvinistic conventions of his times, there are many instances where Jesus raised up the dignity of women and highlighted their call to witness and service.  How could Jesus extend spiritual liberation to us if he were not free to do as he pleased?  Indeed, the fact that he is a sign of contradiction that is betrayed and murdered is a testimonial of his freedom.  He would do what is right and is not subject to coercion.  He shows us the way to true freedom.  When it comes to his dealings with women, he cherishes them as disciples and prophets, but not as apostles or priests.

The first relationship that comes to mind is with his Mother.  She is a strong and courageous woman, who self-proclaims herself as the handmaid of the Lord.  If the tradition be true then she is learned of her faith due to her service as a child-servant in the temple.  Mary is present at the most important moments of salvation history:  at the annunciation, at the presentation in the temple, at the start of Christ’s public ministry in Cana, at his passion and death upon the Cross on Calvary and as a witness of the risen Lord among the eleven in the Upper Room.  There are also the two faithful sisters of Lazarus, Martha and Mary.  There is the repentant and faithful Mary Magdalene.  Indeed, there is the exceptional Samaritan woman who encounters Jesus at the well and then testifies about him to her people.  Nevertheless, while Jesus is willing to break with the conventions of his day; he still only selects men to be his apostles or his first bishop-priests.  This is a pattern that would remain unbroken.  Indeed, the early councils (as at Nicea) would forbid the “laying on of hands” or ordination of women.

The Gnostic heretics ordained women but they also denied the incarnation.  They taught that Jesus only pretended to be a man and as one subject to death.  Since matter and the body were given a negative value, they did not perceive an issue with priestesses as an alternative to priests.  Catholic Christianity has always insisted that matter is not inherently evil and that it cannot be subtracted or ignored in the equation of redemption.  Our Lord joined himself to humanity in a male body.  This flesh was integral to his identity.  Indeed, we are promised restoration as ensouled bodies.

Gender is not an accidental to who we are.  We are not angels or pure spirits.  This truth is discerned in all the sacraments which are signified by form and matter.  Baptism requires water (matter) and the words that invoke the name of the Trinity (form).  The Eucharist requires bread and wine (matter)along with the words of consecration (form).  Ordination requires the intention to ordain priests with the laying on of hands (form) upon men (matter) called to ministry.  One could not baptize with beer.  One could not celebrate the Mass with milk and cookies.  One could not ordain a woman substituted for a man.

The pattern established by Jesus brought no derision upon the dignity of women but neither was it a pattern that the Church felt free to alter in any manner.  Given that our faith is in the person of Jesus Christ, then we must acknowledge that he knew what he was doing and that it served his purposes. Pope St. John Paul II in his 1994 encyclical Ordonatio Sacerdotalis, infallibly taught, once and for all, that the Catholic Church has no power whatsoever to ordain women to the priesthood. Many churchmen may very much want to ordain women.  But the Church is faithful to Christ, even if there should be matters we do not fully understand.  If we violated the pattern given by Christ, then the whole Church would be jeopardized.  The Episcopalians or Anglicans may be in this situation.  Orders in the Anglican Church were deemed null-and-void given a change in their prayer book after the break with Rome.  About a century passed where the intention to ordain priests who make sacrifice was edited from their rituals.  Apostolic succession was lost.  Some have argued that it might be partially restored today through the participation of former Catholics in their ranks and Orthodox bishops at their ordinations.  Unfortunately, even if there should be a partial restoration, it is further jeopardized by the presence of women presbyters and bishops.  If their ordination is counter to the will of Christ, then all the Anglicans are doing is playing dress up.  There are no true women priests (or rather, priestesses) in Christianity.  If the Catholic Church were to follow suit and attempt to ordain women, it would place the sacraments at stake.  If the priest is a sham then the Mass and absolution for sins would be forfeited as well.  The equation is simple:  no priesthood = no Eucharist = no Church.

The pattern of Jesus in selecting men and not women for the priesthood is normative for all ages.  Any change would require a new revelation from the Lord. Not even the pope has the authority to change this teaching and practice.

The one who would extend the Holy Spirit to the Church is himself filled with the Spirit.  His every step is aligned with divine providence.  His miraculous works and signs are enabled by the Spirit of God.  The Holy Spirit preserves the Church in the truth, especially about those most essential elements of faith.  The apostles are made the first of his ministers of a long-line throughout history, extending his proclamation of the Good News and realizing his saving works in the sacraments he instituted.  The male-only priesthood emerges as part of his plan for the legacy and life of the Church.  God does not fumble or make mistakes, even when the men chosen are sometimes less than saintly.

The first apostles were Jews but later Jews and Gentiles would be chosen.  Some of those chosen were married, but there was a growing emphasis upon celibacy from the beginning.  However, while the apostles and priests were married and single, Jew and Gentile, not one of the successors chosen would ever be a woman.  This is the case all the way to the present day.  This two-thousand-year consistency speaks volumes about the will of Christ upon the matter of ordination.  The tradition is clear and uninterrupted, century after century.

The Church also makes use of the bridal analogy that we see in Scripture, especially in the writings of St. Paul.  The substitution of a woman would destroy this ancient analogy and wrongly signify a lesbian relationship of a bride to a bride.  The priest stands at the altar “in the person of Christ” the groom and head of his bride, the Church.  The priest is a living and breathing icon or image of Christ.  Certain religious traditions demand that the priest have a beard, an “accidental” that makes self-evident the “substantial” element of his maleness which he shares with Jesus Christ.

Years ago I recall an interview where certain women who had undertaken theological training and had a background of church service, demanded that they be ordained priests.  They were angry and claimed the Church was deaf to their cries.  They said that they deserved to be priests— that they had earned it.  But such an attitude is counter to the truth about the priesthood.  Even men with such a mentality would probably best not be ordained.

The priesthood is not something that one might earn as in a social justice agenda.  The underlying meaning comes out at the foot washing by Jesus of his apostles.  Those who would lead the faith community must become the servants of all.  The priesthood is a gift that must be exploited in giving.  The priest lives for others.  He preaches God’s Word, not his own.  His very reason for living is the forgiveness of sins.  He makes present the Lord, both in his sacramental presence and in his saving activity.  Never in the history of the world had God given such authority to men as he did with his priesthood.  And yet, ironically, the priesthood is not about personal power and prestige.  It is about being the servant of all, literally a slave to honor God and to serve the needs of God’s people.  His servanthood is a fundamental imitation of Christ (Mark 10:45).

It would be wrong to say that there are seven sacraments for men and only six for women.  Most men and all women will never be ordained priests.  However, all the laity, men and women, are summoned to participate with their priest at Mass.  The celebrant makes possible the offering of the congregants at the liturgy.  Along with the gifts of bread and wine, believers join themselves to Christ— as grafted to him— as one oblation within the Lamb of God and accepted by the heavenly Father.  We pray, not only that bread and wine will become the flesh and blood of Christ, but that all of us may be transformed by grace into the likeness of Christ.  It is in this sense that the priesthood enables our own faith and our own oblations.  We are united in the Mass and the priest’s absolution insures our growth in holiness.  Our universal and most essential vocation is not to the priesthood but to holiness.  All of us are called to be saints.

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Ramblings about Fornication, Adultery and Homosexuality

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None of these topics stand alone.  Once human sexuality is pursued more for pleasure than for parenthood, the flood walls open.  Sex is separated from marriage.  This truth about fornication immediately leads to that which is the primary cause of divorce, adultery.  Once sex is separated from marriage, it is very hard to reattach.  The critics of Church teaching might not always argue for blatant promiscuity; but they are apologists for sex outside of marriage.  They will even resort to semantics.  Just as contraceptive use is regarded as “responsible parenthood” and abortion is labeled “choice,” fornication is classified as “pre-ceremonial sex.” It is expected that couples will “live together” or cohabitate prior to actual marriage.  That which was wrongly explored as a way to test the waters is increasingly becoming a non-contractual alternative to marriage.  However, mortal sin is not a good preparation for matrimony.  Indeed, it makes one ill-disposed to God’s grace.  It also cheapens the message of love.  True love seeks the good of the beloved, placing his or her needs ahead of one’s own desires.  Men and women are called to marriage where they can be helpmates to each other in holiness and grace.  The institution of marriage is an important level of protection for the spouse and the children.  It is crafted as a vocation of monogamous love defined by discipline, duty and dependence (the three d’s).  Indeed, some shy away from marriage because it is a public proclamation of obligation and responsibility.  Christian love is always sacrificial and seeks redemption in Christ.  Husbands and wives need to assist each other in becoming saints and going to heaven.  Love of a superficial depth or that which suffers from a counterfeit faith would place the object of one’s attentions into mortal sin and risk the pains and loss of hell.  How is that true love?  What would happen to the beloved if death should overtake him or her prior to the full acquisition of the marriage bed?

When it comes to the vocation of marriage, promises are made to be kept.  Jesus forbids divorce.  But what becomes of fidelity when no formal promises are made at all?

Catholicism promotes an honest appreciation of sexuality and human weakness. Looking first to dating or courtship, heavy petting and French kissing are sinful outside of marriage as they make self-control difficult and often lead to either intercourse or oral sex.  Men and women are not robots.  We must always be cognizant of time and place when we are with others.  Public places are safer than private locations.  Late hour encounters might be more liable for violations of persons than how we carry ourselves in the daylight.  There is also a heightened value upon meeting a nice girl or boy at church or school over encountering strangers at a pick-up bar.

Critics contend that the Church places too much emphasis upon sex.  However, the truth is the other way around.  It is secular society and Christian revisionists that place such extreme gravity in sexual activity that it becomes an ends unto itself.  The slippery slope begins that will eventually set the stage for even perverse desires and the demand that homosexuality be normalized.

One of the loudest critics of Catholic teaching on human sexuality is Fr. James Martin.  It has been argued (to my satisfaction) that Fr. James Martin does not think with the mind of the Church upon the matter of homosexuality. He would contend otherwise, quoting the universal catechism that those who regard themselves as homosexuals “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.” “Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” [CCC 2358]. This is as it should be but how would we parse the definition of discrimination? Too many priests of his sort would affirm both the disorientation and same-sex unions. It may be that many young men come to their priests wanting to hear the hard truth— that sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage is always and everywhere the matter of mortal sin. The scandal here is that priests are summoned as prophetic voices for Christ to preach and teach the truth. The substitution of our own opinion or words for the often challenging Word of God leads the children of God astray.

I do not believe we should have any part in attempting to normalize being gay. While much is made of homosexual marriage or same-sex unions, the truth is far more sordid in that the majority of active gays are highly promiscuous.  I also think it is problematical to ordain gay men, particularly those with past encounters. We should not fall prey to the false toleration of secular culture over the commission to be signs of contradiction in our world. We must respect the inherent dignity of persons even if we cannot always approve of everything that people do. A facet of the dilemma we face is that homosexuals are increasing making their sexual orientation into a primary factor of personal identity. This inadvertently impoverishes the depth of meaning that defines human persons. We are so much more than our sexual drives and romantic proclivities. The need for love, affection and friendship should not be limited to or strictly defined by genital activity. Sexual union should also always be in accord with the natural congress of a man and woman entitled to the marital act.

Discernment of the moral character of the man or woman would neither turn a blind eye to sexual affections nor dismiss a history of genital activity; however, the measure of a person also includes many other pertinent attributes such as fidelity to promises, generosity of spirit, courage in keeping obligations and a willingness to sacrifice for others. My analysis as a heterosexual but celibate Catholic priest is that Christian gay men and women are called by God to respond in a profound way with lives of prayer, loving service and perfect continence. The Gospel would never deny love to any child of God; however, we must distinguish what does and does not constitute genuine loving.

I should add that if the scandalous allegations are true, then Cardinal Theodore McCarrick is the most typical case of the homosexual abuser in the Church.  Supposedly he had relations with men and minors.  Eighty percent or more of the abuse cases narrated in the Church are with young males and often within the teen years (pederasty and not true pedophilia).  However, many of the bishops and Fr. Martin insist (against the facts) that there is no correlation between homosexuality and abuse.  Until this connection is admitted, I have to wonder if we will reliably deal with the current scandal.  By contrast, recent remarks by Pope Francis would allow that active homosexuals should be respected and loved as God’s children, but they should be denied entry into holy orders. The Pope does not see homosexuality as a neutral matter. There is concurrence with the universal catechism that speaks about it as a disordered attraction.

Sexual activity is the exclusive right of heterosexual spouses. We are all obliged to keep the sixth and ninth commandments. The commandment against adultery focuses upon illicit sexual activity. By extension it would also include general fornication, prostitution, pornography, homosexual acts, masturbation, orgies, rape, incest, pedophilia, pederasty, bestiality and necrophilia.

The Pope may not want homosexuals in the priesthood but the Holy Father is outspoken about his desire to welcome people who feel alienated by the Church.  I suspect that what muddies the waters are efforts to welcome homosexuals and those in invalid second marriages as full or practicing members of the Church. Can we truly affirm the dignity of persons and sympathize with their struggles when the first words out of our mouths are those of condemnation and judgment? Might there be a better way? While critics of the Church are wrong to demand absolute acceptance of activity and states of life ruled as immoral or sinful from Scripture and Tradition; is there a praxis that might preserve their link to the faith community and the possibility of a healing or merciful accompaniment? I have been critical of the open table in regards to the reception of Holy Communion. If one is not spiritually disposed toward the Eucharist, then would we not be bringing down divine judgment upon the heads of such people? How can we give absolution to those in adulterous or intimate same-sex relationships if there is no firm purpose of amendment of life? This is where much of the debate is taking place.

Along with fornication and adultery, homosexual acts are listed by St. Paul as among those sins that can cost us our share in Christ’s kingdom.  The Church struggles to distinguish the disordered nature of homosexuality from the actual commission of homosexual sin (an intrinsic evil).  Many refuse to acknowledge this delineation and/or see it as a renouncement of persons.  Acts against nature are always regarded by the faith as abusive.  Of course, here again our secular society wants to avoid this verdict.  One has to wonder how far the sexual toleration can be stretched.  Does it already include multiple partners?  Are bestiality and pedophilia waiting in the wings for general acceptance?

Seeds of Life, Not Recreation

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Despite the naysayers, authoritative Catholic teaching is not capricious.  The first assault is usually volleyed against the Church’s negative view of masturbation or onanism.  Often citing modern psychology, the critics will contend that it is a natural juvenile stage of human sexual development which is pretty much universally first experienced by all teens.  The critics condemn the Church’s prohibition as wrongfully inflicting guilt upon young people and a negative self-interpretation precisely at a time that teens are grappling with maturation and their sexual identity.  There may be some truth to this charge if such a teaching makes no room for human weakness, ignorance and compassion.  The concern of the faith is that this behavior is misdirected and highly addictive.  We should not encourage or deem as neutral a form of behavior which easily tends toward self-absorption.  It may be likely that this is a sin with which most will struggle; but this fact in itself does not legitimize such activity.  While sexual sins, even masturbation, may be a matter of mortal sin; it may be that there are so many intervening subjective elements that it most often tends to be venial, especially among young people.  What may drive it fully into serious sin is that which is envisioned in the imagination and/or assisted by the evil of pornography.  Virtually adultery or adultery in the heart can poison the soul.  Masturbation may be, as men and women get older, a preoccupation with that which they cannot or do not have.  A crucial element of satisfaction is missing from their lives.  Catholicism is not a fascination with fantasy but with that which is most real.  The sexual powers of men and women are directed to the marital act and to the family.  Human bodies were not fashioned as playthings or as toys for recreation.

One critic of Catholic teaching lamented that masturbation is not even allowed so as to obtain a semen specimen for medical examination.  However, even the smallest deviation is an infidelity to one’s spouse.  Regarding such cases, the married man usually has intercourse with his wife while wearing a perforated condom.  The act is still open to the generation of human life but semen will be collected for medical examination.  (The single man will have to embrace something of the Cross, either that or a sin that would be readily forgiven in the confessional.  Single Catholic men sometimes have semen extracted either by prostatic manipulation or by a syringe with needle.)

The linkage of masturbation to the story of Onan is deeper than merely the physical wasting of the seed.  It signifies a denial of God’s will and the overall purpose of human generative faculties.  This is where Scriptural teaching intersects our views on the natural law.  While almost everyone today can admit to an overriding disgust at the scandalous stories of youth being abused by clergy and others; far fewer are willing to acknowledge that people can “pollute” their own persons or “abuse” themselves.

After a few words on Christian chastity, the universal catechism addresses the issue of masturbation.

[CCC 2352] By masturbation is to be understood the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure. “Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action” (CDF, Persona humana 9).  “The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose.” For here sexual pleasure is sought outside of “the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved” (CDF, Persona humana 9).

Lest anyone should think that Catholic teaching is cold and heartless, the same article in the universal catechism goes on to state:

To form an equitable judgment about the subjects’ moral responsibility and to guide pastoral action, one must take into account the affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety or other psychological or social factors that lessen, if not even reduce to a minimum, moral culpability.

Pope Francis on Homosexuality & Consecrated Life or Priesthood

0002044The Pope’s Own Words:

The issue of homosexuality is a very serious issue that must be adequately discerned from the beginning with the candidates, if that is the case. We have to be exacting. In our societies it even seems that homosexuality is fashionable and that mentality, in some way, also influences the life of the Church. This is something I am concerned about, because perhaps at one time it did not receive much attention.

We have to take great care during formation in the human and affective maturity. We have to seriously discern, and listen to the voice of experience that the Church also has. When care is not taken in discerning all of this, problems increase. As I said before, it can happen that at the time perhaps they didn’t exhibit that tendency, but later on it comes out. The issue of homosexuality is a very serious issue that must be adequately discerned from the beginning with the candidates, if that is the case.

I had a somewhat scandalized bishop here who told me that he had found out that in his diocese, a very large diocese, there were several homosexual priests and that he had to deal with all that, intervening, above all, in the formation process, to form a different group of clergy. It’s a reality we can’t deny. There is no lack of cases in the consecrated life either. A religious told me that, on a canonical visit to one of the provinces in his congregation, he was surprised. He saw that there were good young students and even some already professed religious who were gay. The religious wondered if it were an issue and asked me if there was something wrong with that. Francis said he was told by one religious superior that the issue was not “that serious, it’s just an expression of an affection.” That’s a mistake. It’s not just an expression of an affection. In consecrated and priestly life, there’s no room for that kind of affection. Therefore, the Church recommends that people with that kind of ingrained tendency should not be accepted into the ministry or consecrated life. The ministry or the consecrated life is not his place.

We have to urge homosexual priests, and men and women religious, to live celibacy with integrity, and above all, that they be impeccably responsible, trying to never scandalize either their communities or the faithful holy people of God by living a double life. It’s better for them to leave the ministry or the consecrated life rather than to live a double life. When there are candidates with neurosis, marked imbalances, difficult to channel not even with therapeutic help, they shouldn’t be accepted to either the priesthood or the religious life. They should be helped to take another direction, but they should not be abandoned. They should be guided, but they should not be admitted. Let us always bear in mind that they are persons who are going to live in the service of the Church, of the Christian community, of the people of God. Let’s not forget that perspective. We have to care for them so they are psychologically and affectively healthy.

Statements are taken from an interview with Pope Francis conducted by Fr. Fernando Prado, director of Claretian Publishing House.

A Priest’s Reflection During a Time of Crisis

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When I was a boy pondering a vocation some forty years ago, I was intrigued by a pamphlet from the Divine Word Missionaries.  It chronicled a lonely priest with his mule carrying his Mass and medical supplies as he journeyed to a remote mountain outpost.  It detailed a religious version of “Indiana Jones,” years before the movie, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.  It grabbed my romantic imagination.  However, my poor mother grieved my leaving home and I settled on becoming an archdiocesan priest.  I do not regret the change in direction, especially now when “everything hurts” but sometimes I do wonder how different my life might have been.

I am amazed these days that we still have young men answering a call.  We have given them few heroes and one scandal after another.  It must surely be the movement of supernatural grace.

As I reflect upon my priesthood, I struggle with what has always been a dark shadow in my ministry.  I have never felt myself worthy.  No matter whether it were true or not, I always considered myself the worst of priests, a poor and weak example among a throng of virtuous saints in the faith.  We have preachers who can readily inspire and move hearts.  We have celebrants who both look the part and conduct the sacraments with great solemnity and seeming ease.  We have men who have apparently brushed aside distractions and are always about prayer and service.  When I look to myself, I see a man who forgets far more than he remembers.  My sermons are mediocre at best and my liturgical abilities come across as clumsy and amateurish.  I do not have much in the way of ambition and my attention easily strays.  I often talk to God not with typical or expected piety but much as one might irreverently talk to a friend sharing a beer.  Indeed, I recall telling God, “All I want to be is a humble priest” and hearing him in my heart respond, “Well you certainly have much about which to be humble.” I often imagine Mary cloaking me with her veil and telling me that she loves me even though I am the least of her sons.

I certainly recognize that sin in the life of any Christian represents a terrible duplicity where we are convicted as hypocrites.  What surprises me is how some of the clergy could have committed sins that literally cry out to heaven.  Self-destruction is truly awful; but hurting and tearing down others compounds the sin in a way that shatters the sacramental signification of the man in holy orders.  It places men into the mold of antichrists.  The current scandal has damaged the ability of bishops to govern the Church and of priests to proclaim the doctrinal and moral teachings which are constitutive of the Gospel.  Any hold we have upon God’s people is purely through their free consent.  There is no Medieval dictatorial religious state that can demand or force one to remain a Catholic or Christian.  Forfeit favor and good will— and churchmen will find themselves abandoned— with empty coffers and pews.  The direst effect may be the loss of souls.  When did we forget that our most pressing obligation is to realize the forgiveness of sins and the salvation of souls?

The Church is not a company where businessmen might do anything or everything to preserve revenue.  The Church is not a priestly boy’s club where members protect their leadership to the detriment of their flocks.  Our preoccupation should not gravitate to the powerful and the rich, but as in the ministry of Jesus to echo the universal call to salvation, albeit with a preferential option for the poor.  Clergy must also place the teachings of the faith ahead of their own pet ideas.  We are summoned to convert the world to Christ, not to compromise the kerygma of faith to the demands of subjective truth and a hostile secular modernity.  Indeed, our clergy and people alike must allow the courage of Christ to take precedence over their own passivity and fearfulness.  Much of the trouble we are facing is a crisis of holiness and belief.  Why would any churchman allow a known child-rapist an opportunity to bring harm to youth and families?  Why would we allow men who have disordered and perverse desires to minister and to threaten our people?  Fornication is a sin.  Adultery is a sin.  Homosexual acts constitute sin.  Perhaps many of the clergy have become soft upon such mortal sins because they too are perpetrators of such transgressions of the moral law?  There is no denying that there are also thieves, drunkards and gluttons among us.  But the sexual sins are the ones that most draw the ire of God’s people.  Indeed, I suspect the Lord, himself, is most troubled by these sins because they are a direct violation of a priest’s profound promise toward obedience and celibacy.  We are pledged to celibate love.  Do all our priests fully appreciate the meaning of their celibacy or do they simply experience it as a difficult discipline to endure?  It is not merely the avoidance of genital relations.  It is not the same as virginity and chastity.  Christian celibacy is a manner of self-donation and sacrificial loving.  It is the priest’s way of saying he belongs entirely to the Lord.  This love is expressed in worship, prayer, fidelity and service.  It is factored into everything he is about; it is the manner through which the good priest repeatedly says, to the Lord and to his people, “I love you.”  The priest prays his breviary— I love you.  The priest celebrates Mass— I love you.  The priest helps in outreach to the poor— I love you.  The priest preaches and teaches— I love you.  The good priest is consumed within his pledge of celibate love.  It is within this obedient and giving celibacy that the priest finds holiness in Christ.  The current scandals are not the fault of celibacy.  The answer would not be a married clergy.  The solution would be in loving fidelity to the priestly mission and to the truth.  The priest or bishop is not the master of the faith community, but its most profound servant.

Admittedly there are intimate and delicate matters difficult to speak about; so much so that they are often left outside of public deliberations.  Priests are men and they live in a world where the custody of the eyes is very difficult.  Priests need to earnestly defend their celibacy, taking threats seriously. Too many men and women probably excuse the habit of masturbation as part of a false contemporary enlightenment.  It should always be voiced in Confession; indeed, those elements that feed the sin need purification from the lives of God’s people, particularly from those called as priests.  Chief among the sinful contributing factors is the danger of pornography which is easily accessed and has taken upon itself epidemic proportions in modern society. It has even infected marriages where couples commit virtual adultery and then substitute sexual shenanigans other than the prescribed marital act. Pleasure is substituted for true fidelity and companionship with each other in Christ.  It is among the devil’s deceits that such secret sins do no real harm or necessarily contribute to a person’s movement into adulthood. While many contemporary psychologists would disagree, in truth, the man (or woman) in bondage to pornography and masturbation suffer a stunted emotional and spiritual maturation; they are caught within a juvenile self-absorption that inhibits an integrated sexual identity as a person able to fully realize his (or her) capacity to interact with others in love and service.

Turning toward the Lord, the priest must renounce the seductions of the world.  The priest’s hands are made for the chalice and host.  His hands render blessing and absolution.  The priest’s eyes should look at every person as a child of God.  He must never forget his spiritual fatherhood— even toward those who have ruined themselves by lust and exploitation.  The priest’s body is not made for pleasure but for sacerdotal sacrifice.  His association with Christ draws him inevitably toward the passion and crucifixion.

Many priests feel increasing estranged from those they serve.  This does not help matters.  He has sacrificed much to be a priest and it often seems that many if not most people really do not care.  Increasingly, while there is little praise, there is no shortage of rebuke or even mockery.  That is why efforts like those by the Knights of Columbus espousing solidarity with bishops and priests are so very important.  The laity should not be uncritical; they have a right to good and holy priests.  It is in this vein that God’s people should never hesitate to pray for their priests.  We must not allow the scandals and accompanying anger to destroy this important component to the inner life of the Church.  The priest does not pray alone.  According to our station in life, we pray for each other.  We should reject the false demarcations of the People of God as either an institutional Church or the Church in the pews.  The Church is one— she is a family, even if sometimes sinful in her members and dysfunctional in her practical relationships.

154250010567750063The definition of a priest is one who renders sacrifice to his deity.   The Catholic priest makes his oblation as the principal worship of the Lord.  He makes it both for himself and for others. Christ is the great high priest.  Those ordained share in his priesthood where Jesus is both priest and victim.  The priest at the altar is one with Christ (the head of the Church) who dies so that we might live.  He atones for sin and heals the rift between heaven and earth.  Jesus offers his own blood and dies once and for all.  The mystery of his oblation is made present in our liturgy, albeit in a clean or unbloody manner.  The only thing missing from Christ’s historical sacrifice is our participation. The Mass allows us to return to that one-time offering where we (grafted to Christ) can offer ourselves to the heavenly Father as an acceptable oblation.

Just as the gifts of bread and wine are transformed into the risen body and blood of Christ; so too, are we beseeching the Lord to change us ever more and more into the likeness of God’s Son.

The efficacy of the sacraments is assured even if the priest is in mortal sin and a terrible reprobate.   However, this does not mean that the sacraments are still all that they should be.  The movement of grace is damaged by poor witness.  People disillusioned by their ministers can close their hearts and minds to God.  They may even walk away from the sacraments entirely.  The priest stands convicted at the altar of sacrifice.  As with the communicants, we must be properly disposed to what the sacraments entail.  That is why many of us are concerned about inviting everyone to the altar so as to receive the Eucharist.  The sacrament that heals and saves can also bring condemnation to those in mortal sin.

What does it mean to receive the bread of life if one is an active enabler of the culture of death?  Too many feign Catholicity within the church doors and then once outside become the chief advocates in the public forum for the death of unwanted unborn children.

What does it mean to partake from the nuptial banquet table of Christ and his bride the Church when one is living in violation of his or her own marriage vows?  Christ rejects divorce and demands that marriage between men and women reflect fidelity within the Church.  Are we witnesses to his promise or do we substitute our broken promises instead?

Currently there is also a great debate about the status of active homosexuals in the Church.  Nevertheless, priests, bishops and even popes do not stand above Sacred Scripture but rather below as servants of the Word.  What does the Word say?  We read in Paul’s epistle to Timothy:

“We know that the law is good, provided that one uses it as law, with the understanding that law is meant not for a righteous person but for the lawless and unruly, the godless and sinful, the unholy and profane, those who kill their fathers or mothers, murderers, the unchaste, sodomites, kidnapers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is opposed to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted” (1 Timothy 1:8-11).

Along with the concern that many of us have about welcoming pro-abortionists, adulterers and active homosexuals to take Holy Communion; the priest must also focus upon his own status before almighty God.  Is the one offering the sacrament of salvation to others bringing down judgment upon himself by celebrating the Mass unworthily? How is it that we can become comfortable with the prospect of priests standing at our altars while in mortal sin or not truly believing?

Christians in the early days of the faith were warned not to take part in the food offerings from pagan sacrifices.  Unlike the sacrifices of the Jewish temple or that of the Eucharist, these oblations to false gods were deemed as poisoned food given to demons.  It was customary in such sacrifices that a third was burned and given to the so-called deity, a third went to the priests (even the pagan ones) and a third was given to the poor.  Believers were warned against taking this tainted food.

While the Eucharist, by comparison, is all holy since Christ is holy, the liturgy can be polluted or corrupted by priests in mortal sin or who are closet atheists or who fail to give due  diligence about what they celebrate.   It does not matter so much as to what language or anaphora (eucharistic prayer) is used as long as the priest is one with the Church and faithful in the rubrics of the celebration.  He must be attentive to what he is doing and that care begins with himself.  The ordained priest should feel humbled by his role.  His priesthood compliments and makes possible the operation of the laity’s baptismal priesthood.  A basic symbolism of Catholic sacraments, centered upon the paschal mystery, is that we must die with Christ if we hope to live with him.  The priest’s celibate love is subsumed into this profound mystery.  When the priest processes to the altar, he should be fully aware and prepared for both Christ’s sacrifice and his own— he is Jesus Christ entering Jerusalem— he is coming to the altar to die.

Reflecting Upon the Abuse Crisis

154164358031183741 (7)The clergy abuse issue just never seems to let up.  Today there was a headline in THE WASHINGTON POST, Three Teens Allege Abuse by Catholic Priest in D.C.” A Capuchin parochial vicar from Sacred Heart Church was charged with a single count of second degree sexual abuse and brought to the D.C. Superior Court in shackles.

The dark tragedy of clerical abuse of minors conflicts with a core element of the Church’s identity.  The mission of every priest is to be a spiritual father— teaching, nurturing and healing his flock.  The center of the priestly vocation is his role as a vehicle for the forgiveness of sins.  Any priest who would harm or corrupt others stands in stark violation of his sacred calling and the mission of the Church.  When the scandals first emerged, many disbelieved the allegations and assumed that none of it could be true.  Today, that mentality can no longer be substantiated.  While individual cases may or may not be credible, the issue is real and some priests have failed us and violated the trust we had in them.  Excuses cannot be made.

Given the type of violation we are discussing, it must be admitted that efforts at healing will fall short.  How does one restore trust when it is violated so egregiously?  Clergy abuse of minors signifies a profound attack against innocence that leaves a lasting wound.  That is why people come forward decades after such assaults.  Lives are changed forever.  Many of those assaulted abandon the faith.  Others are hampered in their later relationships and suffer from trust issues.

The comeback that “we are all sinners” does little to soften the blow about such infidelity.  Yes, it is true that the history of the faith is one where corruption and sin has infected both leaders and followers.  But, we argue as well that the true legacy of the faith is written with the lives of the saints.  We have not always been successful at the discernment of spirits.  We struggle to distinguish those who really walk in holiness and those who only put on a show.  The Church is holy because Christ is holy and the Church is his mystical body.  This is the case, even though the Church is composed of sinners.

The apparent but largely unreported fact that abuse is even more pervasive outside the Church does nothing to ease our disappointment and shame about misbehaving clergy.  The Church should be above such violations of decency.  We rightly expect a lot of our priests.  Celibacy which should be the shining treasure of Catholic ministry is subjected to ill-repute and questioned as either the cause or situation that enabled wrong doing.  Apologists argue that the celibacy is not the problem but rather the solution— if priests will follow through with their promises.  What we need are shepherds and laity courageous enough to embrace the hard truths that confront us and to fully cooperate with God’s grace in the sacraments toward the cleansing of our ministries.  This will necessitate a full acquisition of the truth; in other words, a realization that the problem is not largely one of pedophilia but of sexually disordered and frustrated men who are mostly but not entirely homosexual.  The proof of the pudding is the number of pederasts who have also broken their promises with adults and older teens.  Of course, if such men kept their promises this discussion and need for purification would be largely mute.  However, promises have been broken and in ways that demonstrate a lack of commitment to faith, holiness and prayer.  They loved God too little and sought satisfaction where it was forbidden to them.

What most of us once regarded as rare and aberrational has proven to be more serious than we imagined and devastating for thousands of children and their families.  Compounding the problem, many wrongly targeted the victims and witnesses that came forward for resulting scandal instead of disciplining rogue clergy and removing them from ministry.  We must continue corrective efforts.  We must perfect policies to protect our youth while insuring a process that safeguards innocent clergy from charges that are not credible.  My worry today is that there is an intense malice that clouds the subject, one that focuses upon any and all clergy, regardless of the truth.  Mercy toward the guilty will not bring restoration to ministry or escape from censures and punishment.  Justice toward the innocent must protect the rights and sacerdotal dignity of priests who may be falsely charged or condemned by association.

Reflecting upon how we might personally respond to the scandals facing the Church, here is a good list:

  1. Stay put and do not abandon the Barque of Peter— remember the words of Peter, where would we go?
  2. Keep faith in Christ and in the Catholic Church— do not stop believing.
  3. Remain faithful to the Mass and the discipline of prayer— offer our own fidelity in reparation for the unfaithful.
  4. Acknowledge our own faults and seek mercy in absolution— while not all sin cries out to heaven, we are all sinners needing forgiveness.
  5. Open your mind about the issues facing us and grow in the faith— as believers we must always know and proclaim the truth.
  6. Continue to live for others in acts of Christian charity— such is an antidote to the selfishness that has manufactured this situation.
  7. Avoid hate and calumny, exhibiting a heartfelt sacrificial love and mercy— if we are to face the devil then we must put on Christ.
  8. Clean your house of that which conflicts with our Gospel witness— we should have no part in the hypocrisy that makes this matter worse.
  9. Seek the purification of the Church from any satanic enemies within— the poison in the mix must be expelled, even if it means the end of individual ministries.
  10. Fight for justice and healing toward the oppressed, wounded and innocent— the dignity of persons must always be safeguarded.

 

Trust the Power of the Mass for Healing

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I was reminded of the “Healing Your Family Tree” phenomenon among certain Charismatics and Exorcists while reading about Msgr. Clement Machado and watching a few of his YouTube EWTN videos.  He claims to have had visions of the Blessed Mother and St. Patrick.  I am skeptical… but who knows?  The Church has many saints and seers.  The children of Fatima were given a vision of hell so as to pray more fervently for souls.

While Catholicism certainly encourages prayers for the souls of the dead, this idea of targeting sins and woundedness in past generations for current problems faced by believers goes back to the ancient Jews.  They believed that punishment for the sins of one’s fathers could be visited upon the children.  Our notion of Original Sin is an extension of this.  However, at least as a routine source of particular ailments, Jesus seems to dismiss this notion.

“As he passed by he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him. We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world’” (John 9:1-5).

While we would not deny our connection with those who have gone before us, if taken too far, we might fall into superstition or the occult.  The sacrifice of the Mass makes possible atonement but it is a sacrament that conveys grace and mercy.  It is not sorcery or magic.  Further, we cannot purely blame our problems on deceased family members.  We live in a broken world and sometimes we are our own worst enemies.  It may be that certain maladies are placed before us so that we might demonstrate or witness to a courageous faith.  Catholicism does not run away from all sickness and pain but often seeks to transform the dark realities.  They are opportunities for us to take up our crosses in following Jesus. There is already too much of a “victim mentality” inflicting our society— regarding ethnicity, gender, orientation and social status.  I am worried that such ideas as healing the family tree may often be misunderstood in this light.

We are all aware of the excesses of popular Protestant ministers who put on a big show in conducting “purported” healings.  Many pagans and so-called demonologists dangerously tinker with exorcisms.  Returning to the Catholic camp, there is a temptation, especially among the rising celebrity priests, to emphasize what they can do over what Jesus can do.  While the Church needs exorcists, it is best that the ministry be imposed upon the priest rather than enthusiastically embraced outside of an episcopal summons.  Indeed, while any priest can offer absolution and deliverance prayer, full exorcisms require the authorization of the immediate bishop.  (When I think about this issue my mind quickly recalls Fr. Thomas J. Euteneuer, a wonderful defender of human life who fumbled in this area.)

Sharing information is fine, but sensationalism about the devil, exorcism and obsession can pose a real danger.  After the release of popular horror movies, chanceries are bombarded by phone calls of people who all think they are possessed.  While we battle powers and principalities, much sin finds its origin in the world of men and many who imagine they are spiritually afflicted are in actuality mentally disturbed.

During November there is a special emphasis upon prayers for the dead.  Yes, we can claim spiritual benefits for the dead and the living.  There is a two-fold action— uniting and breaking off.  A funeral Mass offered for the dead brings grace and we commend the deceased, particularly the souls in purgatory, to the mercy of God.  They are sped on their way.  We invoke the purification of God’s love, a fire that heals. Our prayer also joins us to the communion of the saints.  Simultaneously, if there are any negative spiritual elements, as with those who have rejected God’s love, then that bond is severed with the living.  The expression “rest in peace” can apply to the living just as well as to the dead.  But ultimate judgment is left to almighty God.  While there might be little or no fanfare, Catholics need to trust the sacraments, especially the Mass.  We need to encourage the offering of Masses for the dead and for healing in times of trauma.  This is the most effective and resolute manner of healing “the family tree.”

My late father back in the 1950’s spent time as a Trappist monk at Holy Cross Monastery in Berryville, VA.  He firmly believed that his life of work and prayer there, combined with the sacrifice of the Holy Mass, facilitated the translation of all our family ancestors from purgatory to heaven.  The emphasis should NOT be upon how links to the dead can plague us.  Rather, recalling that the poor souls are now helpless, we should intercede on their behalf.  As we prepare to celebrate All Souls Day, we should all recommit ourselves to praying for the dead.