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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.

Protecting Ugandan Girls

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“We can end child sex trafficking in Uganda. The bad guys aren’t smarter than us. We can end this. We can outsmart them. We can beat them to the kids. We can protect them.” (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.

 

Never Be Too Busy for Each Other & God

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Families are very busy these days.  Husbands and wives work outside the home.  Many feel that two incomes are mandatory if they are to make it.  This lifestyle choice must be balanced with childcare needs and schools.  I have detected from some parents a below the surface resentment toward the homeschooling families where the wife and mother (but more rarely the husband and father) stays home to teach and to care for children. Similarly, a number of homeschooling families are negative about couples who both work and send their children to public or even parochial schools.  There should be a common respect toward all and the basic decisions that Christians make while still preserving their Catholic identity.  There is no one perfect formula for raising children. This is not to ignore the many wrong roads that families might pursue, especially when faith is eliminated as a factor in their lives.  Children may have been baptized, at the urging of grandparents, but millions have experienced no faith formation.  Such families do not pray together and if they go to Mass it is limited to Easter and Christmas.  News of scandals in the Church is taken as validation for the distance they have made with the Church, thus subduing any latent guilt.  The children know little to nothing about Jesus and the saints.  I knew one young woman who was raised in such an environment.  She came to see me as a priest when she wanted to get married.  Everything was about the accidentals of the ceremony; she knew nothing about the value of marriage as a sacrament that pointed to the covenant of Christ with his Church.  I eventually stopped everything to ask a basic question, “Who is Jesus?”  She looked at me with a blank expression on her face and said, “I suppose he was a nice man.”  That was all she knew.  She had no relationship with the God who came down from heaven, was made man by the power of the Holy Spirit, and who surrendered his life so that she might know the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.  Her baptism was treated as no more than magic or spiritual insurance.  No follow up had been made for faith formation.  It would be a long process for her to appreciate the third to get married— that Jesus must be the third ring linking the other two in her marriage if it were to be a sacrament.  Much would have to be unlearned and the vacuum of ignorance would have to be filled.  I did my best to bring her up to speed so that she would know the Lord as she should.  She had yet to appreciate that Jesus Christ was more than a nice man.  He was the Christ and our Savior.  Couples sometimes complain about the six month waiting period before marriage and the preparation required.  However, I not only think it is essential, it is probably not enough.  Pope Francis has suggested that given the impoverished faith of people, that marriage preparation should be more lengthy and in-depth, like RCIA and adult catechetical instructions.  We have to break the cycle of ignorance breeding another generation of ignorance.

One of the most devastating errors of modernity is that religion is peripheral to our lives.  No one has time for prayer and worship but there is always time for work and play.  Sporting activities take precedence over Sunday Mass.  Hundreds of dollars will be spent on concerts and ball games but there are complaints about the five to ten dollars that might be placed in the church collection plate.  Make people mad or say what they do not want to hear and even those few funds disappear.  If that were not enough, the Church has literally shot herself in the foot with the scandals surrounding clergy.

Not only must families make time for the religious formation of their children, by rights, they should be the principal educators in the ways of faith.  The question must be raised, “When do you as parents talk about faith with your children?” While there are parents doing what they are supposed to do, the response from others is often convoluted and unclear.  Why?  It is because this necessary discussion is rarely or not taking place.

How can we resolve this?  I think it is important for families to earmark time to talk about the faith with its members.  Let us look at some suggestions:

While Jesus and the apostles walked from place to place, people today drive almost everywhere.  We also spend a lot of time each day in automobiles.  Hours are spent by many commuting back and forth to work.  There are carpools for children going to school.  Families drive to sporting events, concerts, to vacation sites, etc.  While driving in the car, families can do more than listen to the radio, play on their tablets or list out-of-state license plates.  Families can turn off the gadgets and take out their rosaries.  Praying together is always a fundamental way of growing in the faith.  The mysteries of the rosary are literally signposts to the saving works of Christ.  Families can also talk about how things are going in their lives.  It must also be said, especially given accidents, that we should pray for safety before a trip and render a prayer of thanks at the end.  When I bless cars I invoke the Madonna of the Streets, sometimes humorously retitled, Our Lady of the Highways.  There are also customs that need to be kept while on the road.  When encountering a funeral procession, my father would pull over and we would say a decade of the rosary for the poor soul.  When we saw an ambulance, we would offer a quick Hail Mary for the sick or hurt person.  Whenever we drove before a Catholic church, we would make the Sign of the Cross.  Who knows, if such habits returned, maybe we would see a decrease in dangerous road rage?  If we must turn on the radio, there is nothing wrong with adding religious or Christian music to our driving experience.

We often look at sick time as time wasted.  We lose work hours and children miss school.  God frequently draws good from evil.  No one likes being sick, but we can still extract something positive from the experience.  Indeed, it can become a graced time for spiritual reading, prayer and bonding with children in faith.  It is also an occasion to ponder the sacrifices that Jesus made to redeem us.  Children often think that they are as invulnerable as the superheroes of comics.  However, in truth our mortality and dependence upon God is worthy of reflection and a discussion with family members.

It is said that instead of talking, families become comatose in front of television sets.  As an alternative to the latest sleazy cable show or formula comedy, parents could be more selective about their viewing habits.  Not only do they want to avoid bad witness in watching shows that degrade human dignity; they can deliberately find worthwhile programs and films that depict elements of faith and values for discussion as a family.  Indeed, some families even develop libraries of DVDs and put together their own discussion questions based upon them.  These films do not all have to be strictly religious like The Passion of the Christ or the The Song of Bernadette.  I have given retreats where we have discussed secular films with important messages:  The Boy Who Could Fly, The Mighty, The Perfect Game, Paper Planes, Spare Parts, etc.

There are also traditional times for prayer and gathering that should be utilized in forming the youth in faith.  Grace Before Meals and Prayers of Thanksgiving afterwards remind us that all we have is a gift from God.  Sitting together at the dinner table is not a time for texting on phones or playing on tablets.  Families should share a fellowship meal and share something about each other.  Often imaged as a place of confrontation, the family supper table should be viewed as a precious time for bonding.  That is why inviting a guest to dinner is more than just setting an extra plate.  It is an invitation to come into the intimate circle of the family.  The one guest that should always be there is the Lord.  Another traditional time for prayer is prior to going to bed.  A child should have the habit of saying prayers before going to sleep.  When children are young, parents should help them and pray with them.  When their children become teens it is still good to pray with them from time to time and even to discuss needs to be brought to the Lord.  Especially important in these discussions is the meaning of prayer itself as diversified communication with the Lord.  Too many reduce prayer to petition and neglect praise, thanksgiving and contrition.

Almost any time can be made a time for prayer, spiritual reflection and discussion on themes of faith.  Vacations are especially good because of the control families then have over the schedule.  Indeed, fun in the sun or skiing on the slopes can also become a retreat time with bible reading and special devotions.  Some families make a habit of visiting other churches and praying at religious pilgrimage sites.  Families should not worry about becoming religious “fanatics.”  That is a label or charge imposed by those with little to no faith.  You cannot love the Lord too much.  We belong to him.  He is a jealous God.  All things in this world are passing.  Faith in Christ assures our place in eternity.

One of my favorite “old time” television programs is The Andy Griffith Show.  Not only were the characters sometimes shown at church or praying or singing hymns, but there were also beautiful scenes of one-to-one time between Andy and his son Opie.  The fishing scenes were particularly memorable. When I think back to my own time with my father, a number of conversations come to mind.  My father was a simple man and yet he was a dedicated Catholic.  His faith was black and white with few grays.  He passed on his clarity to me.  He said, “Either get married or be a priest— that is it.  Never abandon the Church.  It would be better to die than to ever betray your Catholic faith!”  His views became my own. My mother complemented his faith with her own values for modesty and prudence.  Together, they taught us to be good and to treat others with respect.

My parents loved each other and sacrificed for their children.  They were dedicated to each other.  No matter what fights or discouragements came their way, they were utterly committed to each other.  They would have as many children as God would give them.  Marriage was until natural death.  Divorce was never an option on the table.  Our home became a real and secure refuge from the challenges to faith and the changing values of our society.

My father encouraged my vocation.  I became a priest.  I remember my father’s great joy on my ordination today.  Parallel to his views about the permanence of marriage, my father remarked, “You belong to the Church now.  You will be a priest, forever.”  My parents taught me to honor the dignity of persons and the sanctity of life.  They also modeled for me an abiding honesty in all my dealings.  They did not have much in the way of money and stuff to share, but they gave me and my siblings the gifts that most mattered— our lives, our faith and our values.

Living the Faith for Our Children

church familyWe often speak about the failure to transmit the faith to children as entirely the fault of the culture in which we find ourselves.  However, this is only part of the challenge.  As ministers, teachers and parents we need an aggressive witness from our families and faith communities.  First, when it comes to those elements in society that are diametrically opposed to the Gospel, we must be visible signs of contradiction with a decisive and convincing alternative message.  We must quite literally become physical and spiritual roadblocks to those who would travel the path to perdition.  Further, we must find ways to make the truths of Christ more convincing and enticing than the exotic and sinful lures of the world.  It is in this that we become signposts to the proverbial “road less traveled.”  While walls against persons and immigrants are controversial; there should be no dispute for barriers against deadly sin.

“Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21).

If these poisons find a weakness in our fortifications then they will raid and destroy us from the inside.

Second, whenever possible, we must make serious efforts to either transform or to dilute the negative or neutral elements in society, making them work for us and not against us as believers.  This requires quite a bit of creativity.  For instance, one critic condemns Harry Potter stories as an introduction to witchcraft and Satanism; another tries to find Christian themes within the metaphors of fantasy.  Admittedly, it will never be as effective as THE LORD OF THE RINGS but since it is not going away, is there a way to read these stories and watch these movies within a Christian worldview and sensibility?  I remember years ago there was a priest on radio who would play the current musical pop hits while giving mini-sermons on them and sometimes pointing out where the sentiments in the songs reflected Christian themes and/or where they could lead us wrong.  Whenever possible, we should seek to further discussions with the young and not rely entirely on the language of prohibition.  The latter often appeals to the rebelliousness that is naturally characteristic of teens.  We cannot utterly protect our children from what our world holds out; however, we can better empower them to face modernity with knowledge and proper discretion.

Too often the negative attitudes of children and teens are merely mimicked from the patterns they observe in how their parents approach faith. Too many departmentalize the role of religion and its values while others practically dismiss it altogether.  Parents and families may not be entirely Sunday Christians and Weekday Devils; but they may lack any fire to take their faith on mission into the world around them.  While the image of the soldier and the Church Militant may not be popular today; we should be even more averse to being reduced to passive pawns of a secular and humanistic modernity that is in enmity with Christ’s kingdom.  The best of Christian parents have a real struggle on their hands and their offspring will be their “own” people; but those that never worship together at Mass, rarely pray and daily live as if there be no God— they have surrendered the battle for souls before it could even begin.  Divine grace may yet save their children, but it will be in spite of them.  It would be so much better if they were instruments for God’s gifts of faith and holiness.

Passing on the faith is not simply a head trip, although the importance of facts cannot be eliminated from the equation.  However, this process, if we can call it that, must be to energize the dynamic of the domestic church.  Parents and older siblings should model faith to the younger ones.  All are called to a genuine personal and corporate relationship with Jesus Christ.  Too often the weak faith of children is mirrored in the malnourished faith of the parents.  Many adults suffer from poor or bad catechesis.  Many do not pray as they should or have an impoverished notion as to the importance and meaning of prayer.  If the children have their catechetical books, do the parents have theirs?  Is daily family prayer a staple of their living?  Do families open their bibles so as to create inroads for God’s communication with them?  Do families talk about or even list the intentions that they bring to the Sunday liturgy?

What is the first step in trying to form the child in the faith?  It begins with a transformation and rededication of parental hearts.  Mothers and fathers must acknowledge their privileged vocation as Christian parents and the spiritual role that they should play.  If children are to be spiritually fed and guided, then parents must first be nourished and strong in the faith.  How many times have I heard parents say that they learned something by looking at their children’s catechism books?  This is not bad but it sad when a thirty or forty year old person admits that he or she only has a second grade level understanding of the faith.  It is even more bizarre when children come home speaking with enthusiasm about their encounter with Jesus and the parents are befuddled since they are essentially strangers to the Lord.  The first step in raising a child in the faith begins with the spiritual life and religious formation of the parents.  Their values will become those of the children.  Indeed, often the anger parents express toward children when they fail to do religion homework or when they do something sinful is misdirected— they blame children for what is really their own guilt.

Parents need to get themselves in order so that they will be there in an effective manner for the children.  I often tell parents to share their walk with the Lord in their faith-talk. Some people, usually those with hardened hearts, argue that asking for forgiveness is a sign of weakness.  However, the opposite is true.  It takes courage for a person to admit fault and to ask for forgiveness.  We are all sinners.  One of the greatest witnesses that a parent can give his or her children, especially during the teen years, is the willingness and honesty to admit fault, to fall upon one’s knees, and to trust in the strength and mercy of God.  Our children will also make mistakes and take wrong turns.  This witness will show them the way back home to the Lord.

Questions for Parents

  • Are you witnessing your faith as you should— married in the Church, going to confession, participating at Sunday Mass, leading your family at daily prayer, and involved with charity apostolates in your parish or community?
  • Do you truly cherish the gift of your sons and daughters, not only caring for their material needs but insuring their spiritual and sacramental formation?
  • Do you really see yourself as a role model of faith for your children and teens, or are you embarrassed by your failure to be a fully committed Christian?
  • What is the positive witness you give your children?  What negative examples do you show them?
  • Given the faith and values you live by now, how do you think your children will remember you?
  • How Catholic do you want your children and grandchildren to be?  Do you want them to be cafeteria Catholics and part-time Christians or would you have them ignited and on fire for Christ?
  • Do you ever faith-talk with your children or is there only silence?  How honest are you with your children when it comes to religion? Have your children ever called you out for duplicity or hypocrisy?