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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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Heaven & the Comedy of God

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One definition of humor is this:  “complying with the wishes of someone in order to keep them content or happy with us, no matter how unreasonable such wishes might be.”  It is in this vein that we might understand God and heaven as having a sense of humor.  It may be that in the kingdom that which is serious and that which is comic somehow coalesce or become one.

There is much about the truth of Christ which consoles and challenges, and yet, simultaneously there is much that seems absurd. Creation itself is not immune from the comic.  It should be warned that trying to discern this element in God might inadvertently lead to a kind of cynicism.  For instance, focusing on God as the author of creation, I have heard it remarked: “Why did God make the most fertile females in the world, only sixteen years old?” Teens that are least able to deal with the needs of children easily have babies while established and mature women struggle to have offspring.  Those who work with crisis pregnancies often shake their heads in bewilderment.  We can laugh or we can cry about it.  God’s ways often seem unfathomable. It is almost as if intelligent design took a wrong turn.

Turning to salvation history, the ministry of Jesus begins with a humorous oddity.  His mother tells him that they have run out of wine at a wedding banquet.  Our Lord is curt, what has this to do with me— my time has not yet come?  Mary tells the servants to do as he says.  He has water poured into jars.  The stewards are already imagining the disappointment of the gathering when they get water instead of wine.  But miraculously water becomes wine; indeed it is the best wine so far.  Who would have thought such a thing?  Surprise!

If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out!  If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off! Call no man your father!  You must be born again!  He who loses his life will save it!  He who does not hate mother and father is not worthy of me! Let the dead bury their dead! Hebraic hyperbole gives an emphasis to the demands of Christ, but still they seem crazy to our ears.  If we were to view such matters in a literal way, we would find ourselves set firmly within a Monty Python script.

There are some elements of the Gospel that readily lend themselves to joking.  Even the questions of Jesus can be funny.  A blind man comes up to Jesus and our Lord asks, “What do you want?”  Is it not obvious?  It may be he was hoping that someone would ask for sins to be forgiven, but the given response was more than likely.  He says, “I want to see!”  No surprise in the response here, only in the question.

When a woman is caught in adultery, our Lord tells the crowd, let the one without sin cast the first stone.  The text relates that they all walk away and that our Lord, who could condemn her, forgives her instead.  A contemporary joke version has a stone sailing past Jesus and plunking the woman on the head, knocking her down.  Surprised, Jesus looks around and then says, “Mother, I told you to stay home!” (This is a Catholic joke as we understand Mary to be the sinless or immaculate Virgin Mary.)

Our Lord tells parables that are familiar to us but which were ridiculous to his first listeners.  Which among you would not leave his ninety-nine sheep to go in search of the one lost lamb?  Later, he speaks about the shepherd rejoicing in having found it.  However, in truth, most shepherds would have written it off.  Why risk all the rest to thieves and wolves? And yet, this good shepherd regards the least of his flock as having a value commensurate with all the rest.  This is crazy but it is part of the irony or humor of God.  Then there is the story of the good housewife.  She tears her house apart in search of a lost coin.  When she finds it she has a party with her friends that probably amounted to more than the coin’s value.  Again, his listeners, probably frugal women, would have thought the whole business was crazy or nonsensical.

Take the last place at gatherings.  You must become like little children.  Sell all that you have and follow me.  The one who would be the greatest must become the least servant of all.  Our Lord never lets up.  The absurdity is amplified as the topics become more grave or important.  Thousands have followed him to an isolated location.  When asked to dismiss them so that they might find sustenance, he tells his apostles to feed the crowd themselves.  All they have are a few fish and a little bread.  Nevertheless the multitude are fed and there is food left over.

His humor is so severe that one day most of his followers walk away. He says that unless we eat his flesh and drink his blood then we can have no life in us.  Today, the guys in the white suits would be coming to take him away.  And yet, it is precisely this Eucharist that has sustained the Church for two thousand years.  Indeed, these are the rations from the promised shore to which we travel as pilgrims of faith.  We must become a parable people.  We must become fools for Christ.

Everyone likes to receive a gift or reward, so Jesus assures us of a litany of favors. Our Lord gives a series of benedictions, assuring us that we will receive the kingdom, will be comforted, inherit the land, have justice satisfied, know mercy, see God, become God’s children, and one more thing—know persecution, including torture and murder.  It sounded pretty good until that last bit.  But such is the humor of God.  “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven” (Matthew 5:11-12).

“For as I see it, God has exhibited us apostles as the last of all, like people sentenced to death, since we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and human beings alike. We are fools on Christ’s account, but you are wise in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clad and roughly treated, we wander about homeless and we toil, working with our own hands. When ridiculed, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we respond gently. We have become like the world’s rubbish, the scum of all, to this very moment “(1 Corinthians 4:9-13). Our Lord writes his straight lines with our crooked ones.  He shows his greatness, not by calling the best of men but making the least and the weakest into his ministers and messengers.

These are the ones that make up the great saints of heaven.  Yes, the joke is on us, but it is a joke that brings not brief laughter but eternal joy.  The infinite and omnipotent God has filled his house with the likes of thieves, prostitutes and traitors.  Just as he could change water to wine and wine and bread into his flesh and blood, he can transform the weakest of sinners into the greatest of saints.  I suspect, albeit in a spiritual manner, there erupts a celestial guffaw that the children of heaven appreciate and which leaves the devils of hell scratching their heads.  They do not get it and that is why they have cast themselves outside the gates to paradise.

The greatest humor or ironic sign of contradiction is found in the heart of the incarnation.  It is here that we discover the full scope of infinite power, love and humor.  The perfect Spirit, the Creator of this and all dimensions and universes, the one who is truly omnipotent and omniscient, the one that stands outside and yet sustains all that he has made— makes himself almost infinitely small, weak and subject to all the petty jealousies and enmity of humanity.  The devil is the first to distance himself from God in utter disbelief— something ridiculous and impossible happens— the great Unmoved Mover moves… and the Word becomes flesh.

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Is One Free to Sin in Heaven?

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There are some questions that can be regarded as silly.  Why?  It is because they focus on a fallacy.  For instance, take this question:  Given that God can do anything; can he make a rock too heavy for him to pick up?  If the answer is YES, then he is not all powerful because he cannot lift the rock.  If the answer is NO, then he is not all powerful because he cannot make such a rock.  What is the answer?  The assertion is nonsense because it contains an inner contradiction.  Similar conflicts are found as in the biblical temptation scene.  Some will argue that if the devil’s temptations were real then Jesus could have potentially given in and sinned.  However, temptation does not necessarily imply the possibility of succumbing.  In the case of Jesus, it was impossible.  Sin is by definition an act of disobedience against God.  However, Jesus is a divine Person.  God cannot sin against himself.  Similarly, the question is raised:  if the saints of heaven are free then are they free to sin?  The problem is how we understand freedom.  While it might be misused in this world, it is perfected in the world to come.  True freedom means loving obedience to God.  The misuse of freedom or a false freedom is realized in sin or disobedience to God.  Indeed, it is to embrace bondage to the diabolical.

Free will and moral perfection are in sync for the saints of heaven.  While sin is possible for those who only see dimly as through a veil, such is not possible for those who see God face-to-face.  When confronted by the greatest good, which is God, the will is immediately disposed to embrace it.  There is no apparent good.  There is nothing which can compete with it.  Arguably even the angels knew some sort of demarcation when they were tested.

It can also be argued that our ultimate decisions were already made during our mortal lives.  Our orientation is fixed with death.  Along these lines, certain theologians argue that the unborn and children who die before reaching the age of reason might be given the opportunity for making a choice in regard to their eternal destiny.  Many suspect that their personal innocence and the intercession of the parents and/or the Church would nudge them to make free decisions in loving God.  But this is speculation, no matter how optimistic the Church might be in their regard.  In any case, the denizens of heaven, both human and angelic cannot change their minds.  They have freely turned their backs to sin and have set their sights on almighty God. Coincidentally, such is also the state of hell and the slavery they have exchanged for freedom. We read the following in the fourth book of Milton’s Paradise Lost:  “Nay, cursed be thou; since against his thy will / Chose freely what it now so justly rues. / Me miserable! which way shall I fly / Infinite wrauth and infinite despair? / Which way I fly is Hell; myself am Hell…” (line 75)

 

Sin in heaven would be a violation of the very identity of the saints.  Their wills are united to that of Christ.  They have been made holy as God is holy.

Dark Powers & Principalities

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It is a contention of mine for some time that we are in the midst of terrible battles with dark powers and principalities… consciences are being numbed to the truth, especially about the dignity of persons and the sanctity of life. The demonic influences earthly minions, seeking to corrupt both civil society and the life of the Church. Individuals are being infected with a self-righteous and prideful hubris… in terms of basic opinions, the presence and will of God, dissent and misplaced toleration, etc. When we target this dark power, there is disbelief, cynicism and anger… even from those who feign Catholicity or basic belief in God. The Christian is denounced as ignorant or as a bigot. White becomes black and black becomes white. We need active efforts at exorcism and spiritual deliverance!

Why do exorcists ask demons to reveal their names?

Stuck Between the Rock & a Hard Place

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Who are we going to punish? I worry about this as a priest in reference to the distribution of Holy Communion, absolution in the sacrament of Penance and in terms of preaching a faith message from the Scriptures that might immediately be interpreted as “hate speech.” Passivity and toleration is not enough to appease certain people… it is being demanded that conventional Christians become advocates for sinful behavior. If a priest gives the sacraments to anyone, no matter what their views and lifestyle, then does he not become an accomplice in their sin? Would he forfeit his own immortal soul for causing scandal and violating conscience, the commandments and his sacred duty? For the sake of accompaniment, can a bishop or even pope force a priest to say or do something that he views as sinful and wrong?

The Devil Dances on the Graves of Priests

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I have this mental image of the devil dancing wildly on the graves of priests? Why is this? Do the eyes of the soul see the true agent behind our many troubles? Within a lifetime we have witnessed a terrible collapse of the Church… almost unbelievable scandal, massive defection, the end of a society with Christian values and a priesthood that has gone from being deeply revered to widely scorned. The character John Adams in the musical 1776 sings, “Is anybody there? Does anybody care? Does anybody see what I see? … Come what may, come what may– Commitment!” Many good priests share such sentiments, albeit for the Church. We will continue to love and care for our people. We will pray for the children who were catechized and forgot us. We will do our duty.

Pope Urges Use of Exorcists

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It is no wonder that Pope Francis is urging the appointment of more exorcists!

CRUX reported:

According to Pope Francis, confessors should not be averse to referring their penitents to exorcists if they suspect demonic activity is at work, and after consulting psychological professionals. The pontiff said the ministry of confession takes place on the “peripheries of evil and sin.”

Pope Francis stated:

Discernment is necessary also because those who approach the confessional may come from the most desperate situations; they could also have spiritual disturbances, whose nature should be submitted to careful discernment, taking into account all the existential, ecclesial, natural and supernatural circumstances. When the confessor becomes aware of the presence of genuine spiritual disturbances – that may be in large part psychic, and therefore must be confirmed by means of healthy collaboration with the human sciences – he must not hesitate to refer the issue to those who, in the diocese, are charged with this delicate and necessary ministry, namely, exorcists. But these must be chosen with great care and great prudence.

LINK: Audience with participants in the Course on the Internal Forum

Not Quite Alone in the Dark

scare7I will begin with the admonishment, “Beware of what lurks in the shadows!” Properly forewarned, I will tell my story. My brothers and I delighted in scaring one another and/or testing our courage. We would tell scary stories in closets. We would make faces in the dark and then shock one another with a flashlight showing a devilish grin or eyes popping out. I was probably the best with scary faces. Even today, young mothers should probably remember this when babies spy me over their shoulders and start to cry. Did I make a face or am I just naturally scary looking?

My parents had added two bedrooms to our small house. There was an interconnecting hallway room with three doors. There was no light in the small space. When all the doors were closed, it was quite dark. Mike, Danny, Paul and I would play in the room. The hard tiles made marbles exceptionally good fun. We would also play dare games, sitting in the blackened enclosed space, making eerie sounds and telling scary stories, daring each other to be the first to open a door and run for it. I was quite good at this game.

I recall one in particular . . .

“Hey, Joe, come and play!” I heard my baby brother Paul call out.

Okay, I thought, this will be good. He’s the easiest one to scare. I entered the dark space and closed the door behind me. Surrounded by pitch darkness, I sat down on the floor, facing where my brother was obviously sitting.

I started, “Booooo! Muhahaha! I’m coming to get you! Muhahaha!”

“I’m not scared,” Paul cried, “now it’s mine turn.”

“I’m coming to get you!” he parroted in baby fashion.

I interrupted, “Oh come on, try something different.”

“Let me finish!” he complained.

“All right, go ahead, give it your best shot.”

“I will, I really will,” he responded. His voice had taken on a shrill quality. Hum. He was getting better at this. “I’m coming to get you! I’m not your brother! I’m coming to get you! I’m not your brother.” His speech entered into an up-and-down sing-song kind of pattern. It was really quite unusual. “I’m coming to get you! I’m not your brother! I’m a demon from hell! I’m not your brother!”

He really was getting good at this. The voice he was using was now nothing like it was usually. I tried to interrupt again. “Uh, that’s pretty good, but it’s my try again,” I said.

Nevertheless, he did not quit. It was as if he no longer heard me.

“Stop it, I said, it is my turn,” I argued.

Still he continued in the peculiar rhythmic speech. “I’m not your brother! I’m a demon from hell! I’m coming to get you!”

I could not believe it, I was actually getting scared. He would not stop, that was unlike him. Paul always listened to me. His voice got louder and he began to hold the vowels longer. The words were clear but the inflection was all wrong, as if he did not know how to speak as a human.

“I’m not your brutheeer, Joooooe! I’m a deeemon from hell! I’m going to get you! I’m right next to you! Ready to grab you! Take you with me to hell! I’m not your brother! I’m a demon from hell! A demon from hell! From Hell!”

I yelled at him to stop but he wouldn’t. I had all I could stand. This was a little too scary and on top of that I had to go to the bathroom. I opened the door. Light poured into the small chamber. I stared at my brother, well I would have, except there was one small problem. He was not there. I had been in the dark space alone. I stared in disbelief and ran to the kitchen where mom was cooking. My brother Paul was eating a cookie. He had been there the whole time. I had been by myself or worse, maybe not? I can still hear the shrill sing-song voice after all these forty plus years, “I’m not your brother! I’m a demon from hell!”

The darkened space was created by the addition of two rooms upon the house. We had neglected to have that section blessed and there were no holy pictures or crosses in the enclosed space. Maybe this oversight was all the thing that I had encountered needed to violate our home. Or, perhaps it was all the overworked imagination of a young boy?

One evening not long after, I recall awakening in the middle of the night and putting my hand out into the hallway beyond my bedroom door. Again, in the darkness there was absolutely no light to see. Everyone was in bed asleep except for me. I dared myself to get over the fear I had experienced in the connecting space to the new rooms. There was nothing in the dark that was not there in the light, right? I had to prove it to myself. I would not be a coward. I stretched out my hand as far as my arm could reach. Just as I was ready to dismiss my earlier experience, something grabbed at my finger tips and I quickly withdrew my hand. I shook with fear in my bed. The grownups were wrong. There was SOMETHING IN THE DARK that was not there in the light!

Humanity has always feared the unknown associated with the darkness. We cling to the light. Many of the dying saints have begged to have a lantern or candle burning by their bedsides so that they might not have to die in the darkness. May we take comfort and courage in the true Light of the World who leads us out of the darkness of sin and death.