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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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Christmas Oratorio at Holy Family Parish

Pass the word. Holy Family Parish will be the only venue where the PG Choral Society will be performing for Christmas. Support the arts. Enjoy traditional music. Make the season a time of special remembrance.

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The Message of Life

Although the prophet Micah spoke about the future coming of the Messiah as a prince of peace, the remnant from Israel and Judah would come to largely anticipate a warrior savior (see Micah 5:1-4). They had been conquered and downtrodden. They had paid a heavy price for their infidelity but God had not utterly turned his face from them. Interestingly, they saw themselves punished for compromising their faith and trust in God while throughout the centuries they were mocked by the conquering peoples for their fidelity to the ancient faith and the God of Abraham.

“He himself will be peace” (Micah 5:4). It is true, but the peace of God in Jesus Christ is a gift with which we still struggle and misunderstand. Certainly, one dynamic of it is peace between peoples. But, this is not simply a lack of belligerence. The peace of the Good News is radical and all-embracive. We turn on our televisions and open our newspapers and there are almost daily reports of dead soldiers overseas. Everyone is on guard against terrorists and now it looks like North Korea has a nuke that can reach the West Coast. The new millennium is starting to look an awful lot like the old one. The problem remains the same; there can be no true and lasting peace until there is a change in our minds and hearts. Early Christians prided themselves on not resisting aggression. They turned the other cheek and they announced forgiveness to their murderers in imitation of Christ. They also suffered and died in droves. After about three centuries of facing the sword, fiery stake, cross, and wild beasts, believers took up armaments in the service of a would-be emperor, Constantine. Their bets proved fortuitous and Christianity would emerge as the privileged religion of the empire. However, as history shows us, such a victory would not guarantee perpetual peace and harmony.

What do we mean by “peace?” Despite the collapse of European Stalinism, the Asian communists understand it in two ways. First, it is a ploy used with enemies to insure time and resources in building up an arsenal to wage war. Second, it is the integration of each person as an instrument of the state and such an amalgamation is not complete until the whole world is part of the Marxist mechanism. While there is diversity in Islam, the business about the very word for their religion meaning “peace” is somewhat inexact. Before entering Afghanistan and Iraq, Western leaders almost fell over each other in explaining that our actions were against a few terrorists and dictators, not against Islam. There was no new crusade. Such clarifications were appropriate, even if they did over stress a point. Interviews with Islamic moderates in the U.S. do not reflect the positions of many fundamentalists worldwide. Islam is not all the same. Would we ask an average member of a Baptist congregation about Roman Catholicism? No. A cursory reading of the Koran makes it evident that peace is understood as the submission of all to Islam, if need be with force. Unless it is rejected or mitigated, such a mindset will never acknowledge religious freedom and always stand in opposition to the West. After all, how can one have true peace with the “Great Satan,” a widespread label for the United States? As for ourselves, how do we understand peace? Lack of aggression is certainly part of it, as in our desire for security; and justice is a theme we hear much about as well, but how far do we go to achieve the peace we crave? Pearl Harbor and 9-11 have fueled our mistrust of much of the world. Apart from the politics of late, there is the danger of creating a mentality that perverts a command of Christ, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (see Luke 6:31 and Matthew 7:12). It becomes, rather, “Do unto others before they can do unto you.” This is not purely a global strategy, but how many people live their lives.

The Jewish understanding of SHALOM or peace is a salutation and benediction of friendship and cooperation. It is an invocation of divine blessing, for health, prosperity, and good standing with God. At Mass, Catholics extend the sign of peace to one another. We are one in the Lord. We are all brothers and sisters who should love and care about one another. Peace is the realization of divine love in our lives. At least these understandings are what should be present; however, enmity, a lust for revenge, and various forms of racism can get in the way. Here is the tragedy. Peace is not simply an enemy staying on his side of the fence. It is about the removal of walls and fences. It is about mutual good will and cooperation.

The peace among nations must also reflect a peace among fellow citizens, in the Church, in our neighborhoods, in our families, and in us as individuals. Should it surprise us that when the world is at war that our small part of it should also suffer unrest? Are there people with whom we refuse to associate? Are there family members who have not spoken for years? Did we get mad at someone and deliberately hurt them? Did someone do this to us? Do we pray for our enemies and try to forgive? Do we look for forgiveness from God so as to live in peace with him?

The martyrs of the Church knew the peace of God even when there was nothing left for them to do in defense of their lives. They knew that no matter what the world should strip away from them, they had an imperishable treasure in heaven. They knew that God loved them and that they were friends of Jesus. May we learn this lesson too and know the peace that the world cannot give.

Hebrews 10:5-10 stresses that had there been no Christmas there would have been no Good Friday and Easter. God, himself, took on our humanity that we might share in his divinity (see the prayer for mixing water into the wine at Mass). Jesus enters the human family so that he could offer up his life as an oblation for all the sins of the world. Jesus is the faithful servant who makes his flesh the sign of the new covenant with God. The New Law builds upon and replaces the Old.

It begins very simply. There is a message from an angel. Then there is the visitation. Mary greets Elizabeth and the unborn John the Baptist leaps in the womb (see Luke 1:39-45). Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and echoes the Hail Mary prayer, “blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Next she says, “Why should I be honored with a visit from the mother of my Lord?” Elizabeth’s words are very telling and they are affirmed as from the Spirit of God. John’s actions here parallel his activity thirty some years later in the Jordan River when he baptizes Christ. The unborn prophet cannot speak but he moves his mother to speak for him. She affirms that the unborn Christ is already her Lord. Jesus is Lord from the womb. Since he is the Prince of Peace, this gives credence to the late Mother Teresa’s contention that there can be no peace in the world while we are at war with the child in the womb. Every child is a reflection of the Christ-child.

There is a temptation for homilists or preachers during Advent and Christmas to sidestep the pro-life message. Such Scripture readings as this make it hard to do so. Advent speaks against abortion as Christmas is a condemnation of infanticide and partial-birth abortion. Why are priests and deacons silent? Let me relate a personal experience from a few years ago. I mentioned the seasonal pro-life themes at a Christmas Mass. A couple of people stood up during the homily and remained standing throughout the liturgy. Several days later the bishop called in response to a letter. A woman wrote, “My daughter only comes to Mass a couple times a year and this priest ruined it for us! He had no business talking about abortion or saying how anyone guilty of it should go to Confession before receiving communion. My daughter cried all night. She swears that she will never go to Mass again and I will find another church! By the way, this will cost you all our very generous donations!” I think the money element is why I got in trouble. But my conscience was bothered because the purpose of every homily is to promote continued conversion and not the alienation of God’s people. I think I was right, and there was no particular condemnation of anyone, just a proclamation of the Gospel of Life; but, while my head understood, my heart has never stopped grieving for the strayed lost lamb. No names were given and I could not follow up the message, except in prayer.

For more such reflections, contact me about getting my book, CHRISTIAN REFLECTIONS.

Sinless Mother Mary

One of my favorite feasts and dogmas is that of the Immaculate Conception, a teaching of the Church which has had a long and sometimes controversial history. There are even some contemporary critics of this dogma of faith who would argue that it overly separates Mary from the rest of us. Certainly, it is true that sinfulness is a reality ever present in our lives. We find it so difficult to be good. It is ironic that a few of the feminist theologians who image Mary as a strong and liberated woman, would then criticize this teaching and argue that Mary has been used as a device of oppression on the part of a male dominated hierarchy. It seems to me that quite the opposite may be true. The witness of Mary as the queen of the saints would emphasize that the greatest person to ever walk the earth next to the Lord, is this woman Mary. Genesis 3:9-15, 20 recalls the first Eve who with her husband turns away from God in disobedience. Psalm 98:1,2-3,3-4 might remind us that if Eve is the mother of all the living, Mary in her faithfulness is the mother of all who are reborn in her Son. She stands as a model of holiness for men and women alike. Her preservation from sin does not create an impassible chasm between her and us. Sin by definition adds nothing to us or to her. If anything, it is a lack of something which should be there — the grace and presence of Christ. Just as she carried the Lord, now we must avoid sin so as to be filled with his presence and life. Sin is that which divides and alienates. To wish this upon Mary would mean wanting separation from her and the Lord.

Like us, she is totally a creature. The saving grace which washes over us in baptism reaches from the Cross backward to the moment Mary is conceived in the womb. The Messiah whom himself is sinless would enter our world through the sinless portal of Mary.

Rarely do preachers mention how the mystery of the Immaculate Conception celebrates the beauty and holiness of marital love. Nevertheless, this is true when we look at the actual history of God’s intervention. Although Mary would conceive Christ through the overshadowing power of the Holy Spirit (see Luke 1:26-38); Mary’s conception as sinless elevates the significance of marital and sexual love as shared between Joachim and Ann. Couples raising families in this age would do well to recall that their children in baptism become as Mary, and even though they struggle to remain holy; they may be perfected as saints. As Mary is, we may become.

For more such reflections, contact me about getting my book, CHRISTIAN REFLECTIONS.

The Mission of the Church

The mission of the Church is to spread the Gospel and to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. As Christians, we are sent on mission at the end of Sunday worship each week: “The Mass has ended. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” We must take our role as missionary seriously. Where is our passion for the Gospel? Why are we not on fire telling people about it?

Certainly, we all relate to our brothers and sisters in different ways. But what does it matter? Everyone has something to contribute. Because of in-depth knowledge of our teachings and the Scriptures, some may be called to add apologetics to the work of winning converts. Others might find themselves in jeopardy if they walked that route, but be exceptional in helping people with their hurts and in touching others through personal charity. Some may relate well with young people who often look for answers in the wrong places. Still others may be able to reveal in ecumenical prayer and service the fraternity of Catholics with other believers in the Lord. We need to bring the Gospel to our homes, to our neighbors, and to our workplaces.

However, if we are going to share our faith, we had best make sure that we are Christians and good Catholics first. We need to nurture a determination to stick with the Church no matter what disappointments may come our way. Some do not do this and the results can be tragic for all. I recall a woman who studied at a Catholic college for four years and was certified to do parochial work. When the new pastor was assigned, he failed to keep a position for her. Along with this disappointment, the Pope reaffirmed that women could never be priests. Well, that was the last straw for her and she left the Church. What is sadder is that she took a few others with her. There are only so many clergy and most of the outreach into the community must be done by the laity. We have to be flexible enough to bounce with the bumps in the road. Doors close and other doors open. We have to be receptive to God’s will, even when we do not entirely understand it. The work is not so much ours, as it is the Lord’s. Some are given the gift of Holy Orders, but there are other gifts, particularly given to the laity, that facilitate the expansion of the Church and the proclamation of the Good News. Married couples are missionaries to their children. Many non-Catholic spouses embrace the faith of their Catholic partner. Single people have the gift of time and availability to help in youth groups, bible study programs, prayer circles, charity endeavors, etc. With the loss of sisters and religious brothers, the laity teach in Catholic schools, CCD and RCIA programs, etc. There are even parishioners that go door-to-door with the invitation to explore the faith and their parishes.

Spreading the faith requires that we grow in the faith, ourselves. We should search in ourselves and with others for a stronger faith and then share it, loving and caring for those with whom we come into contact– keeping in mind that the burden of conversion is held between the individual and God. God changes a wicked person into a saintly one. Our care for the poor, the sick, our families, our neighbors, by our pursuit of social justice, for peace, etc., in all these things we witness for the Gospel.

Souls are not simply converted by highly educated or witty missionaries; rather, they are brought to the Lord through the work of Christ in holy men and women inspired and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Look at Peter, he was an ignorant fisherman! Neither Mary nor Joseph was ordained a priest; and yet, who could estimate the enormous spiritual benefits that both of them have exerted for our well being? The Holy Spirit is the Divine Counselor, who like Father and Son, makes use of frail instruments to achieve his purposes.

While the kingdom of Christ will be realized in God’s good time, the laity and clergy work together for this eventuality. Having spoken about our universal call as missionaries, I would like to say a few words about priestly ministry. Have you ever wondered what it must be like as a priest? He knows the dark secrets of people’s lives and weeps over their sins and the sheep that go astray. He sees more than his share of sickness and dying, particularly those with a regular hospital ministry. Yes, he knows the joy of witnessing marriages; but he also feels the arrogance of those who violate the commandments in dating promiscuity and cohabitation. He sometimes wonders if the young even listen to him. The happiest times are when he baptizes a child; and yet, he can never forget the babies he could not save from abortion. When things go right, God gets the praise and when they go wrong, the priest gets the blame.

People angry with the Church see him as an icon for the institution and assault him for things he had no part in, possibly going back to before he was born. This often happens when priests wearing clerics are recognized in public. When I was a young associate, I recall one fellow on the subway who sat next to me and without any introduction, shouted, “I left the Church thirty years ago, and let me tell you why!” In such situations, the priest wants to get away or argue in return, but he just sits back and listens. “A priest yelled at me in the confessional,” the man says, although he cannot recall what it was about. Such a little thing, and for all we know the poor priest probably had his own demons plaguing him at the time or was maybe just not feeling well. In any case, it was enough to make this man leave the Church. I explained how sorry I was that it happened, and the tone of the conversation changes. I miss my metro stop, but it is okay. His wife recently passed away and he had a bad heart. His mind often went back to his childhood days. Eventually, he asks, “Father, how do I come back to the Church?” What happened? I could not recall saying anything particularly moving. It must have been God’s grace. I take out my purple stole. His eyes open wide. We move to a vacant section of the train, he falls to his knees, and says, “Bless me Father, for I have sinned.” When I leave the train a prodigal son is back home. I catch a subway car going in the opposite direction, back to my exit which I missed. When I enter the rectory, I am chastised for my tardiness. I say nothing.

As a sign of contradiction in our culture, the priesthood can be difficult. However, there is also a deep consolation in being an instrument of God’s mercy in a sometimes cold world. The same difficulty should be a daily element in the lives of all Christian believers. Evangelization is not just the business of professional religious people. It is an indispensable part of our baptismal call. We can work together to make the Church a more heart-warming place for all those wounded and searching.

When it comes to Christology, the theological study of Jesus, there are some theologians who seem heavily orientated toward Christmas (the incarnation) and others who branch out from Easter (the resurrection). These are the poles of Christ’s earthly life and both have essential importance. If we are to share Jesus, we must know him.

For more such reflections, contact me about getting my book, CHRISTIAN REFLECTIONS.

Eternal Christmas & Christ: The Meaning of It All

The feast of Christmas is very important in preserving an authentic understanding of the identity of Jesus. It is for this reason that the Knights of Columbus each year promote their loyal “Keep Christ in Christmas” campaign with essay and poster contests. Of course, it has been argued that the abbreviation “X-mas” still preserves something of the truth in that the “X” is an ancient symbol for the Cross and thus, by association, for Christ, himself. Those who malign the celebration of Christmas as a religious holiday, more so than not, minimize the mission and identity of the Lord. There is a minister, nationally televised throughout the nation on Sunday mornings, who annually assaults the meaning of Christmas. He actually claims that the Jesus who walked on earth was a different individual from God’s eternal Son in heaven. Jehovah Witnesses reduce Jesus to an important prophet but sidestep the dilemma that unless he is God then the charges of the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin stick. Only God can forgive sins. Only God could save us. Another evangelist bewails the fact that at Christmas even the most sanitized Protestant worship space looks like a Catholic church with the various “idolatrous” statues of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. This is peculiar in that many of these same churches will return to repudiating such graven images come December 26 and argue that Catholicism has stripped the corresponding commandment from the Decalogue. Our view is not all that complex, although it is perfectly reasonable: the incarnation of Christ alters forever the economy of images. Jesus is the revelation of the Father and God with us. Now, the image of the creature can convey something of the dignity of God and his involvement in salvation history. Representations of Christ, the Virgin Mary and other saints are not worshipped in themselves but constitute a language in pictures that moves the mind and heart to the truth of the Gospel. A crucified figure on the Cross or any baby in a manger is recognized immediately, even by a child, as Jesus. One of the most heated debates on Internet message boards is between hard-line Seventh-Day Adventists and mainline believers over the correct Sabbath and the so-called pagan origins of Christmas. Protestant Christians are ridiculed for following Catholic institutions not mandated by the Bible. The Mormons often have very elaborate and beautiful commemorations for Christmas; however, they deny that Jesus is the unique or only Son of God the Father. This difference is critical because a denial of monotheism separates them from classical Christianity as well as from Islam and Judaism.

Technically speaking, God had already entered the human family when the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary. However, although the proof of his existence as well as the personhood of John the Baptizer is validated in the visitation between Mary and Elizabeth; human convention places much gravity upon the moment of birth. Except for a few early episodes, we will not hear more about Jesus until he enters upon his public ministry. The life of Jesus is one of progressive revelation through significant steps. Jesus is present in the womb; then he is born and placed in a manger; later he is brought to the temple for his presentation; as a boy he is discovered teaching the teachers; many years later, he begins his public ministry and is baptized by John in the Jordan (the two meeting once more in a new beginning); and ultimately, he is fully revealed in his Paschal Mystery (passion, death and resurrection).

Looking to the date for Christmas, December 25, not all the ancient authorities were in agreement about it. Clement of Alexandria knew no certain tradition about it, asserting that some thought that either April or May 20 might be the day. St. Epiphanius and Cassian offered the Egyptian reckoning as January 6. The Greek churches did not celebrate Christmas for some time and when they did they linked it to the Epiphany. Preaching on Christmas in the year 386, St. Chrysostom told the Antiocheans, “It is not ten years since this day [December 25] was clearly known to us, but it has been familiar from the beginning to those who dwell in the West. The Romans, who have celebrated it for a long time, and from ancient tradition, have transmitted the knowledge of it to us.” St. Augustine confirmed that this was the practice of the Church in the West. Thus, we can conclude that even by the fourth century that dating was well established in earlier antiquity. [Source: The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1917.]

Such facts are interesting, but no matter what the true date is, we know for certain he was born and that Christ’s humanity was real. God became a human being so that something of God could now be found in every man and woman. Such is the significance of divine grace. Human nature is not only restored in dignity, but is complemented by the supernatural presence of God. The unity between God and man that was disrupted by sin is bridged in Jesus Christ. Christ’s redemptive work began with the incarnation and was accomplished in his saving works. The Sinless One took upon himself “sinful” flesh that sin might be conquered. The unity between God and humanity was already realized in Jesus Christ personally, even from the womb. His death and resurrection would extend this unity as a saving reality embracing others in the human family.

The Scriptures give sparse details about the daily relationships in the Holy Family. Our natural presumption, given that Jesus is God and that Mary was preserved from sin as the vehicle of the Incarnation, is that it was a peaceful home filled with harmony. Certainly there is much credit to such a view; however, we should be cautious in too quickly identifying their family life with what we hold as ideal. What evidence we do have about the relationship between Jesus and Mary is jarring to polite sensibility. Luke’s Gospel tells us that Jesus was submissive to Joseph and Mary. But, was there the tenderness that we usually associate with them at Christmas? The only polite words that Jesus addressed to his Mother, as understood today, were at the Cross. Mary, the same woman who held him in Bethlehem will hold her dead Son in her arms at Golgotha. Her devotion and faith is clear. But the recorded words of Jesus were often quite pointed and curt. Finding him teaching in the temple, after a three-day search, the boy Jesus speaks to Mary as if she were the child: “Why have you sought me? Did you not know that I had to be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49). His foster father Joseph says nothing. Mary bends her will to Christ’s and Joseph moves aside for the true Father of Jesus, the Father in heaven. As a man, Mary and the brethren (cousins to Christ) followed him and were no doubt concerned for his safety. They call out for him (Matthew 12:46-50). He does not respond. Rather, he tells his listeners, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Then looking to his listening disciples, he adds: “Behold my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is brother and sister and mother to me.” Again, he speaks, not from the normal perspective of a son but as one who cannot be utterly contained in the human dynamic. In other words, his divinity as God’s Son always comes to the fore. Earlier, at the wedding feast of Cana (John 2:1-11), Mary makes the statement to Jesus that they have no more wine. Jesus answers, “Woman, what business is this to me. My time has not yet come.” Despite the tone, he will perform his first miracle all the same. If I spoke that way to my mother, she would probably slap me. Many women are well aware of the tough tone that Jesus takes with Mary. How often have we heard upset mothers say to their sons something like, “You must think you’re Jesus Christ!” What are we to make of this?

First, Jesus was aware, even from the womb and manger, of his identity as the Son of God. He would grow in wisdom and grace but his divine awareness and knowledge was always accessible. It may be, as some theologians suggest, that he shelved while still retaining elements of his divine consciousness so as not to overwhelm his human nature. Second, we cannot interpret in the language alone any animosity or bitterness between Jesus and Mary. Jesus had to make a demarcation between them. While he had been born of Mary, his was ultimately the role of the Creator and her, the creature. In any case, discriminating mothers know by a gentle embrace or even a look, that they are loved. Mary loved Jesus and never doubted his love for her. Full of grace, Mother Mary was always imbued with the presence of her Son. She gave physical birth to him in time, but she was always giving spiritual birth to him in faith and in her immaculate heart. The writer, Francois Mauriac, said of this: “Christ had all eternity in which to glorify his mother in the flesh. Here below, perhaps, he sometimes treated her as he still does his chosen ones whom he has marked for holiness and who, behind their grilles, in their cells, or in the midst of the world, know all the appearances of abandon, of being forsaken, not without keeping the interior certainty of being his elect and beloved” (LIFE OF JESUS, pp. 15-16).

God is on our side in Jesus Christ. God the Son, Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, and eternal Word, has made himself a son of Mary and a brother to all in the human family. The mystery of Christmas signals a new intimacy between heaven and earth. At a time when we give and receive gifts, God has given us the best gift of all.

For more such reflections, contact me about getting my book, CHRISTIAN REFLECTIONS.

Messiah, Savior and Lord God

The long-awaited Jewish Messiah comes into the world (Matthew 1:1-25). The Genealogy of Jesus is traced to his stepfather, Joseph and the remaining Gospel text affirms the virgin birth. It was customary for people to marry within their tribe. Thus, if Joseph was of the line of David then Mary would be as well. Despite the fact that the conception was made possible through the intervention of the Holy Spirit, it was customary to trace the family line through the father. Again, affirming that Jesus was the promised Messiah of the line of David, Joseph and Mary go to David’s town of Bethlehem for the census (Luke 2:1-14). The story is familiar; there was no room at the inn and so the Christ-child was placed in a manger, a feed box for animals. Today, upon the manger of the altar, we again find Jesus, who makes himself a saving food for men and women. The angel makes the wonderful pronouncement to shepherds and the hosts of heaven rejoice. It is part of Christian folklore that the devil and the other fallen angels were thrown out of heaven precisely because they refused to have any part in this angelic rejoicing. He would not bend the knee or give glory to a God dressed in human flesh and made vulnerable to human caprice. The shepherds visit the nativity (Luke 2:15-20). Mary “treasured all these things and reflected on them in her heart,” an indication from St. Luke that Mary was one of his sources for the nativity narrative. The great theologian of the evangelists, John, speaks of the pre-existent Word that became flesh, the only Son of God come into the world to save us and to bring us to the Father (John 1:1-18). The Jewish Messiah is revealed as the World Savior and God come among us.

For more such reflections, contact me about getting my book, CHRISTIAN REFLECTIONS.

Happy Advent & Merry Christmas!