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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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Our Bodies Are Us

Jesus appears to his friends and wishes them peace (Luke 24:35-48). I want to speak briefly about this appearance and a connection we can make with it in our lives. When his friends doubt it is him, or fear that it might be a ghost, he tells them to look, to see, and to touch. He shows them his wounds and says, “…a ghost does not have flesh and bones as I do.” Then he accepts and eats a piece of fish with them. St. Luke is adamant in having us understand that he is really in this scene and no mere ghostly apparition or simply an internal feeling that he is present, as we sometimes sense at prayer. He is much more here.

It is this stress upon his risen bodily presence which, I believe, offers us much consolation. The human person is not a disembodied spirit; nor is it angelic. We are created with both bodies and souls and it constitutes who and what we are. That is why the Church is so insistent that on the final Judgment Day, we will be restored body and soul. Although this mystery goes beyond our feeble minds, we see hints to how it might be in Christ. Notice that he is both the same and different; at first they did not recognize him. This is no wonder. Could any of us recognize a human countenance where all the wrinkles of age, the scars of disease, the marks of pain, and where all tears have been wiped away? Think what such a person might look like. However, after awhile, especially in the breaking of the bread, they come to see him for who he really is. Indeed, he still carries the marks of the crucifixion which are his badges of honor in his victorious fight against sin and death.

In Acts 3:11-26, the cured lame man signifies that what happened to Jesus will touch each and every one of us who believe in him. As a sign of this belief, we need to respect our bodies as his temples and extensions in the world. Our bodies are who we are and therefore we need to take care of them. We are our bodies! This message emerges in our celebration of both Christmas and Easter where our humanity is elevated and then restored. This message touches all the doctrines and feasts of the Church. Yes, it touches moral theology, too. After all, in the various arguments about abortion, euthanasia, artificial contraception, etc. we are speaking not so much about the body as a shell or robot which we can manipulate as we wish; but rather, we are talking about our very selves and our personhood. People who see the issues of the Church disjointed do not realize that to allow selfishness to rewrite our moral principles would ultimately destroy the meaning of the coming of Christ into our world and his resurrection.

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

The Gates are Opened

The story of Jesus appearing to two men on the road to Emmaus is one of the most famous of our resurrection accounts (see Luke 24:13-35). The last phrase, “. . . they had come to know him in the breaking of the bread,” speaks to us about how we encounter the risen Lord in our Eucharist. The Eucharist is Christ’s living legacy to us. No matter what age it might be, he does not abandon us. After his ascension, the Lord continues to abide in his early disciples as well. He sends them his Spirit and works his ministry through them.

We see one incident of this in Acts 3:1-10. Peter and John are going up to the temple to pray. Outside the edifice, at the temple gate, is a beggar who for years has been at the practice of begging from those who come to worship. It is interesting that he is outside the temple because as a cripple he is also outside the hearts and lives of many of his own people. He is tolerated, but looked down upon. He must beg for his sustenance. He is a man whose dignity has been tarnished by a situation beyond his control. Peter is poor in worldly riches; but, he has already begun to save up for himself treasure from heaven. He possesses Christ and he gives Christ. In the name of Jesus, he heals the crippled man and orders him to walk. In that single incident, the poor man’s dignity is restored. He would no longer be a castoff from society. He is whole again. This is the meaning of Easter. We may be weighed down by our sins, be of ill health, be lonely, or sad; and yet, Jesus offers us healing and forgiveness. We had cut ourselves off from God and from his friends by our rebellion; now we can be reconciled and aliens no longer. Our shame from the primordial rebellion is no longer imputed against us and our hearts can be turned around — making Christ our greatest treasure — living only to serve and love God.

Notice what the first act of the lame man is once he is healed. No longer merely at the gate of the temple, he walks inside the temple with them. Through the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ, the gates of our heavenly Jerusalem are now open to us. May we be filled with the same joy as this healed lame man, entering heaven by “walking, jumping about, and praising God.”

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

Our Belief & Unbelief

From the very beginning, there would be those who would doubt the resurrection of Christ. Indeed, even one of his disciples, Thomas, would have to be challenged by Jesus himself to touch his wounds before his skepticism could be swept away. However, the Gospel chronicles another type of rejection as well, one far more resistant to the truth (see Matthew 28:8-15). The chief priest has an inkling that the story of Christ’s coming back from the dead might bear some truth. It is this possibility which he and his cronies seek to hide behind lies. So, they bribe the soldiers to say that Jesus’ disciples had stolen the body at night.

When Jesus stood before the Sanhedrin, it was this same rigid rejection of his messiahship which catapulted him to the crucifixion. Despite the evidence of multiple witnesses, they later disregarded his resurrection. It was not so much that they doubted Jesus, but that they did not want to know who he was. His claims challenged their positions of prestige and power. His assertions about his own personhood shook their accepted norms in regard to monotheism. What did he mean when he said that he and the Father were one? What was this Spirit he would promise to send? Who was he to forgive sins, especially of those who had come nowhere near them in keeping all the precepts of the law?

Such a man was dangerous to them and had to die. And, what is more, he had to remain dead. We might ask, why did Christ not reappear immediately before the Pharisees and chief priests who had orchestrated his demise? If we look closely, this is already obvious for a couple of reasons. The first has already been mentioned; many of them were not interested in the truth of the situation. They hid it from themselves and tried to veil it from others. Back in 1977, George Burns played the deity in a film called Oh God! As proof, God appears before skeptics; but no sooner had God vanished from the courtroom that they began to explain him away as mass psychosis or illusion. Would these ancient figures have been any different? Probably not; the Scriptures would be fulfilled in their regard which says that they would not believe, even if one were to rise from the dead. The second reason is the most telling and we find it in the Gospel where John looked into the empty tomb — he saw and believed. Jesus would not appear or be present to those who did not believe in him. Even Paul, who had persecuted Christians, was only able to see Christ as a light. The reason he could experience the risen Lord at all probably had to do with the fact that he had been mislead about Jesus and yet was still a man very much in love with God. For those who had killed this love, no vision was possible and no witness credible.

The vast host of witnesses to the risen Christ in this period and the Church’s experience of the Holy Spirit throughout the ages stand for us as a most staunch underpinning to our faith. May we always be open to belief and struggle sincerely to help transform our unbelief.

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

To See More Than an Empty Tomb

The cast of characters and events in John 20:1-9 fuel our hope. They include Mary Magdalene, Simon Peter, and John. But notice who is absent in our reading; although it is a Gospel and therefore about Jesus, he is neither seen nor heard. All we have is the empty tomb and some surprised disciples. The story, of course, goes on; but, the Church in its wisdom feels that this passage alone would suffice on Easter morning at Mass. Why is that? Let us look at the story.

The first to reach the tomb and to make the discovery that the stone had been rolled away is Mary Magdalene. In the long history of the Church, venerable piety would link her to the prostitute whom Jesus reformed. Although modern exegesis would place this in some doubt; she, nonetheless, stands out as one of the so-called weaker sex, a woman who in that society often possessed a third class status behind oxen and other forms of property. To the eyes of many, she would be worth nothing and invisible. And yet, this Scripture and Luke (mentioning the women), places the female first at the tomb. Maybe this honor falls upon her to demonstrate how Christ has come to raise up the downtrodden and to grant all of us an equal dignity in the eyes of God? He comes for the poor, the oppressed, and the sinful. Mary Magdalene, maybe more so in that culture than our own, would come to highlight that mission. If as a child he could be worshiped by lowly shepherds then why could he not first appear to a woman who herself was lowly in the eyes of many?

In this version of the story, she is afraid and runs to Peter with the news. The second person to reach the tomb is called “the disciple Jesus loved” and we in our tradition have discerned this to be John. But, notice what he does. Although he has outrun Simon Peter, he hesitates at the entrance of the tomb and waits for him. John is nothing if he is not humble. He knows quite well whom Jesus has placed in charge of the disciples — it is Peter. Peter is the one who first recognizes Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. But, remember what has happened recently. He has denied Christ three times. Unlike John, he runs and hides himself. He would not even be present at the Cross. Now, he is at the tomb. He is slowly recovering from his betrayal. With Jesus gone to the Father, it would be Peter who would be the rock of Christ’s Church. In the tomb he sees the various wrappings, but we are not told whether he discerns more. We like Peter might also sometimes find ourselves in the paradox of both betraying Christ by our sins and yet searching earnestly for him. Where is he, we might ask?

After Peter looks into the tomb, John takes his turn. With John there is no mention of the various wrappings and artifacts which the human eye can see. No, it is John this time who sees deeper than the rest. With the same eyes which witnessed the Crucifixion and somehow did not totally abandon hope, he sees and believes. He sees with eyes of faith. It is no mere empty tomb for him. Something new has happened — something unheard of — something which only a madman or a man of faith might hold — a man has risen from the grave. Notice that I say this is something new. In similar stories as with the little girl or Lazarus, a person comes back to life; but it is more like resuscitation than resurrection. Jesus would never die again. Jesus is totally transformed. Everything he is becomes something new and wonderful — beyond suffering — beyond sickness — beyond death. Suddenly the quote from Jesus, that if his temple is destroyed it would be restored in three days, makes sense. He means his very own person.

Later on the Gospels would relate episodes where the risen Lord, who is man and yet also very much God, would appear to his followers. He would greet his friends from a beach. He would appear to them in the locked upper room. He would appear to a couple of followers along the road to Emmaus and be recognized in the breaking of bread, an incident which is intensely important for us who also seek Christ in his bread of life broken for us at the Eucharist. These other incidents are wonderful treasures in our heritage from God; but we must first take seriously the initial response of John and then later the other disciples. In our own personal stories we see little more than what we find in our Gospel about the empty tomb. Jesus does not regularly manifest himself in a sensible fashion in our homes. Even in our Church, the reality of the risen Christ can only be present in the sacraments which reveal him to our eyes of faith and yet veil him to our five physical senses.

However, we like the early Church, know in our hearts that Christ is indeed risen and that his Spirit is among us right at this moment. He promises that he would never abandon us, even unto the end of the world. In my fondness for history, I recall a passage from the great French general Napoleon after his final bid for power fails. He remarks that in his very own lifetime, his followers have forgotten him and that he is utterly deserted. And yet, Jesus who lives and dies a millennium and a half earlier still possesses disciples willing to surrender their lives for him. For Napoleon, in those last years of his life, this becomes evidence that the Spirit of the risen Christ is still alive among his disciples in the Church. This continues to be the case for us. Not only is the risen Christ made manifest in the seven sacraments and especially in the Eucharist; he is also revealed in his Mystical Body — ourselves.

We are given a share of that life. In baptism, we die with Christ (Good Friday) so that we might rise with him (Easter). We do not deserve this gift. But, in return for our faithfulness, it is offered all the same. Everyone who has ever died is still alive. All those who have believed in our Lord and were faithful now possess a happiness and life we could never even imagine. In the face of death, the resurrection is our one true consolation. Otherwise, we would be tempted to complete despair. Imagine, we will one day meet Christ face to face, and in him, everyone else who has believed, whom we have lost and loved — our friends — our parents — our brothers and sisters — even our enemies, whom we sometimes ironically miss more than certain friends — all those who have at least on some level of their life held Jesus as their treasure. Every year, starting on Holy Saturday, our Easter Candle burns tall and bright once again, a symbol that after we have burned ourselves up bringing Christ’s light to those in darkness and his warmth to those in the coldness of sin, that we like him will be restored and made new.

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