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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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The Mission of Making Converts

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The RCIA team and this Muslim family in Bethesda has done that which would earn them rebuke and imprisonment in many non-Christian countries: making possible their conversion to Catholicism this Easter. Given religious intolerance elsewhere, even the Pope told the Christians of Morocco that their mission was NOT to make converts. Speaking for myself… God bless this family for having the courage to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in coming to the true faith! And God bless those Catholics who have walked with them on this journey of faith!

The family above also comes from a non-Christian nation. What will happen to them should they return?

All the first believers were Jews. If they had not converted their own then there would be no Church. The early Christians were persecuted by a pagan Rome that worshipped multiple deities and the emperor. We do not stand outside the doors of Hindu or Buddhist temples, Islamic mosques or Jewish synagogues tearing down the faith of others through proselytization. But much of the non-Christian world has criminalized any evangelization and/or conversion. The mission of proclaiming the Good News is a systemic element of Catholic faith.

We may remember that the whole fight with the Obama administration was on this topic of religious liberty… that the Church has a mission beyond the walls and doors of her places of worship. Given the oppressive yoke of either Communism or Islam, many of the Orthodox churches of the East (unlike Western Catholicism) opted to emphasize ritual and liturgy over any missionary outreach or social gospel. How can the Church be a genuine “yeast” in any society where we are hesitant to share the full message and person of Jesus with others… the one and only Savior and Lord? Is the preservation of harmony in society worth the price of people’s immortal souls? The truth must be proclaimed… to our own and the fallen away, to non-believers and to those who belong to religions where truth and error are mixed.

Part of the problem we face as Americans is that we are too insular, interested in Hollywood or feminism or gay marriage or other local concerns while ignorant to the crises faced by believers throughout the larger world.

Given personal integrity, each of us is called to pursue the truth as he or she sees it. Silence does not always promote truth or equate immediately to faithfulness. The witness of Christ is not a passive or disinterested docility but an aggressive and countercultural pursuit for the truth and for justice. Catholicism is a global faith and we need to open our eyes to the plight of believers everywhere.

Granted his singular position, the Pope speaks not for himself but for Christ and the world-church. This makes anything he says important for reflection and guidance. We show respect to him personally and render religious assent to what he teaches all the while knowing that the charism of infallibility does not apply to every practical decision or policy. Cardinals Burke, Mueller, Sarah and Zen and others have rightfully offered their concerns about this papacy, all the while doing so in fidelity to Petrine authority and Church teaching. While we are not part of the Magisterium, I would suggest this is a pattern for “thinking” and “caring” believers.

Your Mission is Not Conversion?

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Matthew 28:18-20 – “Then Jesus approached and said to them, ‘All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.'”

The Holy Father praised the moderate Islam that is being fostered in Morocco? And yet, converts to Christianity are not recognized and they must often worship in secret. Conversion from Islam to Christianity is illegal. Missionary outreach or evangelism is punishable with three years in prison. Jesus commanded us to be fishers of men… so how can the Pope say that making converts is not our mission? Catholics and other Christians are suffering for the faith… is it all for nothing?

I hear the story is getting a lot of press worldwide, not just among Muslims but among Buddhists and Hindus.  The link here is to a Jerusalem newspaper.  It has also made big headlines in the Hindu newspapers of India. Evidently this is being thrown into the faces of Christians who have sought to make converts there. There will be a lot of ripples from this.

It may be that I am too thick to understand the Holy Father. Certainly we should strive to live in peace with others. My posture will always be one of respect and obedience… even if I am somewhat befuddled. I may also be somewhat over-sensitive… particularly when it comes to the situation of Christians persecuted for their faith. The first glimmerings of my call to priesthood came with an admiration of those Catholics and clergy who suffered for their faith… oppressed by non-Christian religions and/or by Communism. My thoughts also turn to China where many worry about the underground church and pray that we have not betrayed them.

Priests Must Keep the Internal Forum

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It is precisely this internal forum and the seal of the sacrament that is being threatened by politicians, law enforcement those pursuing litigation in light of the clergy scandals.

Physician Assisted Suicide in Maryland

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Advocates for assisted suicide will surely try again in the future, even as the limits of “comfort care” are tested in certain hospitals. Stay alert!  (CLICK the picture to read the article.)

Connections with Each Other & God

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There is often a modern disconnect between parents and children that is quite disturbing.  Children spend time playing with tablets or on the computer or listening to their music or watching TV but there is little or no dialogue in the home.  Increasingly parents and children are living separate lives even though they live under the same roof.  The issue with music is very telling.  When I sampled a listing of preferred songs from our confirmation teens a few years ago I was shocked at the level of vulgarity and obscenity in the lyrics.  When I brought the issue to parents there were two main responses.  Some of the parents were surprised as they had no idea as to what their children were listening.  Generations earlier teens had huge speakers and stereos that announced to the whole neighborhood what music young people preferred.  Parents would shout, “Turn it down!” and “How can you listen to that garbage!”  Nevertheless, the music was tame compared to modern material.  Females today are called “b’s and hoes” and rape and murder are regular themes in the provocative and angry music.  Indeed, even the pop music drops the “f-bomb” and other obscenities.  Given that most music is downloaded as mp3s with no physical element like vinyl, tape or a disk— parents do not see what the kids are buying or pirating.  Further, the new technology makes music entertainment somewhat clandestine.  Music devices are the size of old matchboxes or just another application on phones.  Ear buds have replaced bulky earphones and a loud concert takes place in their heads while there is quiet in their rooms.  I urged parents to take note as to what their children were listening and to offer real guidance.  The response of surprise I expected.  However, there was also a response from parents I did not expect— some of them defended the musical choices of their teens and attacked me as being insensitive for offering a negative critique and possibly even racism against the black subculture.  Now it should be said that some of the vulgar music emanated from white singers and bands.  Nevertheless, instead of taking helpful criticism, they went on the offensive.  Parents have to make a fundamental decision— when it comes to the moral development of children, are you going to be part of the solution or part of the problem?

When computers and the internet first became fashionable, many concerned families placed the machines in family rooms to help avoid the temptation of watching pornography and other questionable sites.  This helped both children and adults.  However, today every tablet and phone is essentially a portable computer.  Indeed, many use them also as television sets.  How do families manage this technology in a way that preserves the purity and decency of children?  Even with virus and parental guidance software, how do we balance a desire to be protective while not violating personal freedom?  These are the kinds of issues that families as people of faith should discuss. The formation of catechesis at school and in the parish can quickly be sidelined or short-circuited by the non-Christian or anti-Catholic formation of the secular media and online predators.  Having a phone was once regarded as a privilege given an older teenager.  Today, even young children are being given devices, especially with the disappearance of pay phones.   Parents want a quick and easy way to stay in touch with their children.  Unfortunately, parents are not the only ones communicating with them.

I have seen teens at gatherings run away from their parents.  They complain about the rules with which they must abide.  Parents lament that their teenagers share little about their lives and refuse to talk with them.  It can be frustrating but parents should not surrender their power.

Do not give the kids everything they want.  Witness to them responsibility and good behavior.  Set down rules that have a definite purpose and never dictate in either a capricious or tyrannical manner.  Make your kids talk with you.  Keep insisting until they give in.  Do not be afraid to take away privileges when there is rebellion or misbehavior.

We often hear the moral exhortation about not going through the motions of faith for show.  Generally speaking, this is good advice because God sees the truth about our faith level and the intentions behind all the things we do.  Nevertheless, when it comes to family and the home, parents should both in word and action externalize their faith and values for the children to see.  This is no violation of humility, but rather an effort to establish a clear and positive pattern of living one’s Christianity in all the things we do.

Show your children what it means to be a Christian man and woman, a husband and wife, and a father and mother.  Do not be afraid of repetition.  This will help the youth to learn.

Given the current scandals in the Church, many are rightly demanding transparency.  This quality is also vital in the family as any duplicity will steal the value of any external witness.  As people of prayer, let the children see you pray and invite them to pray with you.  Mothers and fathers alike have an important role to play.  The father in Christian tradition is viewed as the priest of his home.  The children are his little flock.  He has a special obligation to protect and to nurture his family.  He must insure that the children know their catechism and prayers.  The wife is imaged as Mother Church.  She has a role to play to insure their relationship with Jesus and to appreciate the twofold commandment of love in all its implications.  Just as disciples in the Church have many differing gifts, so too does the domestic church or the family.  Divine gifts are given to be used.  Each has a role to play in the family’s growth in holiness and grace.

When children come to catechism class and they do not know their prayers, it is a sure bet that they are not praying at home.  Rather than condemning parents for their negligence, I urge them to see today as a brand new day.  It is in Christ that wayward lives can be turned around.  I tell parents repeatedly, pray with your children. Conversing with God— coming into communion or union with him— this is essential to remaining a believer.

 

Celibacy is the Solution

Author’s Note: I am amazed at how much negative feedback, especially from non-celibates, was sent to me about this article– much unworthy of publishing.  It demonstrates to me that there is a real and dangerous prejudice against Christian celibacy and a reductionism from some that minimizes its importance and value.  I was happy to see that a brother priest, who is actively involved with our archdiocesan seminary in Washington, DC, has shared positive thoughts on the topic that are similar to my own.  Fr. Carter Griffin has written a wonderful article first published in FIRST THINGS and now posted at the CERC website: “Celibacy: The Answer, Not the Problem.”

var38While there are trite sayings to the contrary, simple answers are not always the best answers.  This is particularly the case with the assumption of some that the impetus for the clergy abuse crisis is the imposition of an “unhealthy” and “unnatural” celibacy. Despite the deceptive eroticism and deprecation of both celibacy and purity that permeates our modern culture, there is nothing malignant or disordered about celibacy. Acknowledging a supernatural component to Christian celibacy, it is a manner of living and loving that is completely natural.  Given the current scandals, celibacy is not the problem, but the solution.  The answer that many are seeking to our troubles is not the wholesale allowance of married clergy.  That would not resolve issues of abuse; indeed, it would introduce a host of new difficulties like marital infidelity and divorce.  This is not to say that men in good and holy unions could not serve as faithful Catholic priests; all I am asserting is that this is no miracle solution to the Church’s ills.

What is the real solution?  We should demand that celibate priests remain faithful to their sacred promise.  If priests behave themselves then there will be no incidents of child abuse, assaulted nuns, illegitimate children and homosexual liaisons. Just as the Church implores married couples to keep their vows; our priests should do the same and thus give a witness and proclamation devoid of duplicity.

While we cannot demand that all heterosexual candidates for priesthood must be virgins, we can certainly establish it as the Church’s preference.  Sexual activity prior to a life of priestly celibacy is not a positive element in their formation.  We cannot make mortal sin a prerequisite for the sacrament of holy orders.  I have known seminarians so tragically shadowed by memories of heterosexual promiscuity that they felt compelled to discern out of formation for holy orders.

I still do not buy the argument that repressed but active homosexuality is not a major factor in the current abuse scandal.  There are few pedophile cases and way too many instances of homosexual pederasty.  Given this assessment, I think the Church should have a general prohibition against “active” homosexuals in formation and priesthood. When I say active, I mean “one strike and you are out.”  We cannot give homosexual relations the same moral value or weight given to heterosexuality.  Homosexual acts are always sinful; heterosexual relations in the marital act are holy and befitting the plan of God.

Given this distinction, I would argue that a priest who falls with a woman might be forgiven by the Church and returned to ministry.  Prudence and discipline would demand a period of real penance and soul-searching.  That is why I have suggested a few years of suspension in such cases where a man might deliberate with professionals and speak to the Lord about the status of his vocation.  If his priesthood should prove salvageable, then he could reassigned, preferably to another diocese.  Admittedly, some would disagree with me but the problem here is no disorientation and granted consensuality, not a matter of abuse.  It is simply, albeit tragically, a case of mortal sin that can be absolved in the confessional.

The matter of an immoral heterosexual liaison becomes more problematical if there should be offspring.  Whatever determination is made, the priest in this situation has an obligation to both claim the child (fatherly relationship) and to help provide financial support.  Forgiveness does not dismiss the need for restitution.  While discretion is required, there should be no cases of women being paid off by dioceses and children growing up without knowing the identity of their fathers.   Hopefully, God’s people might be forgiving when such stories are inadvertently exposed.  I do not foresee published lists of priests who have had children out of wedlock.

Christian celibacy cannot be identified with the variation in Buddhism which is directed toward spiritual enlightenment.  Christian celibacy is not the same as that practiced in Hinduism for the sake of greater physical strength and longevity. Christian celibacy finds no counterpart in Islam which utterly renounces celibacy. Christian celibacy cannot be compared with the secular or humanistic version that temporarily utilizes celibacy to target one’s energies and purpose toward economic or business success.  More than chastity, Christian celibacy is regarded in Catholicism as a gift given by God and then returned to God by the disciple.  It is a manner of fulfilling the request that Jesus gave to the rich man who went away sad because his possessions were many.  It is the ultimate response to the twofold commandment of Christ.  The Christian celibate loves the Lord with his whole heart, body and soul.  That same love spills out into a loving service of others.  Married Christians can also keep this commandment, although that divine love is first showered upon one’s spouse and children.  It is a love and commitment shared.  The celibate priest sees himself as married to the Church. He belongs wholly to the Lord and to his people.

It is somewhat ironic but true that even the necessary measures put into place to thwart the abuse of minors has damaged the actualization of this celibate love.  The priest’s relationship to the Church is spousal.  His relationship to those in the pews is paternal. He is to exhibit a spiritual fatherhood in his ministration of the sacraments and pastoral care.  Unfortunately, so as to protect the young, their access to their priests is seriously undermined.  A terminal distrust and suspicion has walled the priest off from many of his spiritual children— thus hampering spiritual bonding, counsel and even (in some cases) their access to sacraments like confession.

Despite the negative propaganda and the ill-informed solutions that attack the heart of the priesthood, celibacy remains one of the great treasures of the Western priesthood. We should not be quick to throw it away.  Here is the big surprise for many critics— most celibate priests remain happy with their vocation.

The Importance of Faith-Talk in Love

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The manner in which parents and their youth dialogue will change as members get older.  Parents take absolute charge over small children.  As the children become adolescents and teens, it becomes increasingly important that parents both speak and listen.  Parents are still owed respect and obedience, particularly while children live under their roof.  Youth need to temper their natural rebelliousness and desire for independence as they get older.  All should seek a level of patience and true understanding.  Parents need to do all they can to share their faith and values with the young.  However, there will come a time when they will have to let go and hope that it was enough.  Each of us is his or her own person.  Sometimes we will be disappointed or upset at the life-choices of others, but we should never close the door to love and affection.

We must understand that we do not absolutely control the dialogue or the faith-talk.  Given that the conversation genuinely reflects the truth of the Gospel, we must be disposed or open both to listen and to talk.  It is a prerequisite that faith-talk is backed up with an honest discipleship.  Hypocrisy will poison the best of moral arguments and exhortations.  Before we speak, we must first listen.  The conversation is not limited to the parent and the child.  They must both listen to the voice of God that speaks to us in Scripture and in prayer.  Our Lord tells us that there will be graced times when the Holy Spirit will give us the words to say.  Otherwise, the conversation will be entirely horizontal in its scope, focusing on the earthly needs and wants but bypassing the heavenly.  Indeed, if not properly informed, dialogue can become trite and consist of merely sharing banal platitudes.  A mutual sharing of ignorance does little to procure truth and wisdom.  Faith-talk must also engage the head and the heart.  It is insufficient just to be right; we must also be compassionate and merciful.

“‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.’ He summoned the crowd and said to them, ‘Hear and understand’” (Matthew 15:8-10).

When we talk and share our faith and ourselves there is an element of self-donation.  A parent is to pour out himself so as to satisfy the thirst of the children.  What is this thirst?  It is many things— a desire for the truth, a yearning for transcendental meaning, a longing for acceptance, etc.  Preliminary to this faith-talk is having an ear to hear.  We must listen first to God and then to one another.  Too often we hear only what we want to hear.  Listening means a receptivity that alternately summons both satisfaction and great displeasure.

“Do you not yet understand or comprehend? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear?” (Mark 8:17-18).

Members of families may become afraid of what they might hear and they will try to run away— refusing to talk and to listen.  They may surround themselves with noise or distractions.  But running away is not really the posture of Christians.  We are called to take up our crosses and to follow the Lord.  Look at Matthew 16:22-23.  The apostle Peter is remembered for both listening and closing his ears.  After Jesus prophesied his betrayal, passion and death, Peter rebukes, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”  Jesus immediately responds, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

What is the ultimate purpose of faith-talk?  A message is given and received.  Faith-talk is always a summons to greater understanding and fidelity.  It requires a response.  We must each answer the call given us.  Faith-talk is geared to a change or confirmation of direction.  We are called to action.  We are also called to a continuing transformation and growth in holiness.

“Whoever has ears ought to hear. To what shall I compare this generation? It is like children who sit in marketplaces and call to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, but you did not dance, we sang a dirge but you did not mourn’” (Matthew 11:15-17).

Within every calling there are other callings.  Each of us is to called to know Christ and to be holy.  That is the precious gift that comes with faith and baptism.  We all have differing God-given gifts.  We also have varying crosses— mental, physical and social.  While we can know the Lord’s grace, we are each wounded by weakness and sin.  It is within this that we receive our vocations to love and service.  While it might seem a contradiction, there are many paths on the one road to Christ. The specifics of one person’s journey may differ from another’s.  Hopefully, we are all going in the same direction, even if there are detours along the way.  Sharing our faith and values is important as it helps us to get our bearings when our journeys intersect the paths of other pilgrims.

Children will always be obliged to honor their parents, no matter how old they may become.  The nature of obedience changes, but respect and cherishing persons remains the same.  The deepest of pains a person can experience is when a parent is dishonorable or when a child hurts himself through rebellion or walking away from the good, the true and the holy.  Parents weep for their children.  Children suffer when parents fall from their pedestals of honor by giving bad example or by closing their hearts to them.

The expression faith-talk is deceptive because sometimes the conversation does not need words.  I remember a family that had lost their five year old son in an accidental pool drowning.  They did not speak English and my Spanish was poor and broken.  I sat with them and we cried together.  Sometimes just a presence can speak volumes about love.  Because of the incarnation, the human-connection makes possible the God-connection.  Family members can be there with each other.  Ministers and friends can enter this circle of love and help with healing when they have no words— yes, even when words get in the way.

When I think of unconditional love I recall the story of a poor woman whose son was sentenced to life in prison for murder.  When everyone was convinced of his guilt, she was the one person who never lost faith in her son.  Guilty or not, she loved him.  He insisted that he was innocent.  Since they were poor the court appointed a lawyer who quickly made a deal and manipulated the young man to take it.  The judge broke the deal and gave him the harshest of sentences.  Years went by and most forgot about the case— but not his mother.  She worked long hours mopping floors and scrubbing toilets for minimum wage to raise money for a good lawyer and a new trial.  She spent twenty years in fatigue and tears but never losing hope.  When she had raised what she needed, she got him an attorney who found problems in how the initial trial was conducted.  Still most thought she had wasted her life for a scoundrel of no worth.  But to her, he was the whole world.  As it turned out, the evidence was mishandled and a follow up investigation ensued where another man was found to be the real assailant.  Her son was released from prison.  The one person to meet him when he passed through the gates was this woman older than her years but filled with joy.  She had her boy back again.

This woman was a living parable of the Christ-story.  She sacrificed her life to liberate and save her son.  Such people show us the depth of unconditional love that God has for each of us as his children.  Along with all the other things shared by mothers and fathers, this may be the most important message to which they witness.  The mother in the story had few facts about the case.  Indeed, for all she knew, her son was guilty.  He did hang out with the wrong people.  He had committed a few juvenile offenses.  He was no saint.  But she became a saint to save him.  She sacrificed herself not because she knew he was innocent, but because she loved him.  Our Lord lays down his life for the guilty.  Again, it has all to do with unconditional love.

Questions for Parents

  • Your daughter comes to you in tears and reveals that she is pregnant out of wedlock?  Is your immediate response anger and condemnation?  Can your love for her and the unborn child overrule your anger and shame or would you counsel her to have an abortion and erase a mistake?
  • Your son adopts a swinging lifestyle.  Would you as a father boast about him “sowing his oats” or would you challenge him to be modest and to respect women as persons with dignity and as potential wives and mothers?
  • Your son lazily hangs around the house and will not get a job.  Would you nag him and label him as a bum?  Would you challenge him to step up, find self-respect, and give him assistance in moving forward?
  • Your teen drops out of school, starts drinking and taking drugs, hangs out with a dangerous crowd, and gets arrested.  Would you throw him out and disown him or would you seek intervention so that he might turn his life around?
  • Your kid tells you that he is gay or that she is a lesbian.  Is your response riddled with words of derision and strong disappointment?  Do you turn your back on him or her? Do you affirm that there is still a place in your home and in the church for your kid?   Most Catholic people who identify as LGBTQ want help to preserve the faith and family bonds.  Do you know how to love someone even when you cannot support all of his or her actions?  Are you willing to witness Christ as one who will never abandon such loved-ones on their life-journey?