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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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Tension Between Homosexuality & Christianity

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The traditional Christian view is that homosexual acts are grievously sinful.  This was expressed recently by Vice President Pence and it precipitated an immediate response from the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg.  Making an assessment of his own same-sex “marriage” to Chasten Glezman, he states:  “Being married to Chasten has made me a better human being because it has made me more compassionate, more understanding, more self-aware and more decent. My marriage to Chasten has made me a better man. And yes, Mr. Vice President (Pence), it has moved me closer to God.”

What should be the response of a traditional Christian who is well aware that the revelation of God in Scripture and in creation, itself, stipulates that homosexuality is a grievous sin and that it can cost us a share in Christ’s kingdom?  Some churchmen contend that the Church herself can overrule the testimony from the Bible; however, the Pope and Magisterium may interpret Scripture and Tradition but do not have the authority to revoke or reverse revealed doctrines.

Some authorities claim that the harsh stand against homosexuality in the Bible reflects not the mind of God but the bigotry of men. If this be entirely the case then the whole question of biblical inerrancy is called into question. What is or is not inspired by God then becomes dubious.

Some authorities assert that there are certain teachings and practices in the Bible and in the life of the Church where we see a development over time in our understanding, as with the institution of slavery.  While this is true, critics would quickly add that such development must be organic or natural (as when various biblical themes interplay against each other) and cannot be forced. Those who would promote a radical anti-patriarchal feminism have sought to fabricate a new divine archetype.   There is a return to the goddess or the Lord (in some cases) is viewed less as a man and more as an androgynous human. Could the God proposed by Buttigieg be of this sort— a deity fashioned precisely for homosexuals?  The problem in both cases is the forfeiture of what is real and the substitution of human fancy.  While there are subjective elements to our discipleship, Catholic Christianity demands attention for what is objectively real.  This is a necessary symptom of our belief in the incarnation and resurrection.  Either Jesus is God made man or we are still in our sins.  Only God has the power to save us.  Either Jesus rose from the dead or we are the greatest of fools who will be soon forgotten in our graves.  None of this can be left to empty myth or to a sentimental feeling or to a drunken hallucination.  Either the story of salvation is true or we are lost and the Gospel is a lie.

If he has not fashioned a new god, could it be that Buttigieg is ignorant of his deity’s demands?  Could he be in psychological denial as to what the Judeo-Christian faith and its deity demand?  Could he have bought into the notion that biblical moral teachings are somewhat capricious and that all that matters is that we try to be “kind” or “compassionate” or “nice”?  Some politicians think that they can legislate morality at will to satisfy their current agenda.  Unless one has the gift of reading souls, no one can truly know whether Buttigieg is closer to God or not.  This is despite the fact that those of us who believe in an objective order would insist that homosexual acts constitute the matter of mortal sin.  How can one be close to God if one has severed his personal and communal relationship with Christ through sin?  Sin is a declaration of the person to God and to his fellow men— he is saying not merely that he hates God but that he is indifferent to him and toward anything he commands.

I cannot say I have heard much rhetoric of an alternative deity as I have from the camp of radical feminists.  This group hates men and raises abortion to the level of an infernal sacrament.  It is for this reason that many Christians view abortion as the return to the practice of human sacrifice.  The innocents are being devoured by demons (masquerading as deities).

When we see rallies for militant homosexuals, they are also often associated with the new atheism and its tendency toward sacrilege and the vulgar or profane.  Homosexuals have a widespread tendency toward promiscuity and multiple partners.  The Christians among them seem to yearn for a particular friendship.  Many have noted that while of the same gender, men and women alike in these same-sex bonds seem to mimic heterosexual polarities:  one is more manly or dominant and the other is more feminine or passive.  Most Christians who struggle with homosexuality tend to stay clear of much of the more blatant and overt shenanigans.  They are not cross dressers and the notion of spitting the sacred host into the face of priests (as was done to the late John Cardinal O’Connor is repugnant to them). They tend to steer away from public expressions of intimacy.  They deplore violence and emotionally are easily hurt.  They love the Church but often feel that the Church does not want them. They struggle with the judgment that they are welcome but only as long as they remain chaste and celibate.  While it might sound like a stereotype, they are attracted to ritual and sacred music.  They delight in liturgies that are aesthetically beautiful and which raise hearts to heaven.  As a group they are attracted to churches with set ceremonials and find comfort in familiarity.

Catholicism cannot affirm disordered homosexual acts as akin to the marital act between a man and woman.  The Church does not have the authority to ratify as good or neutral what is deemed by both divine positive law and natural law as wrong and sinful.  As with our COURAGE program, we can assist them to live out a chaste celibate love.  We can partner with them in prayer and service.  They should not define themselves principally by the same-sex attraction with which they struggle.  They may not be called to marriage but they are called to holiness.  They should not engage in homosexual acts but they are called to love and to have friendships.  There is a place for them in the Church.  It is best that homosexuals not enter the priesthood; however, priests can rightly model for them lives of celibate service.  God will give his children the gifts and the strength they need to be good and holy.

What can we affirm?  First, we should accept as genuine the religious sense that they have.   They should seek to remain in a state of grace so as to make the most of faith study, prayer and the sacraments.  Second, love needs to be expressed and our parishes have many initiatives where they can participate.  They have generous and selfless hearts.  Third, the church would be the first to promote friendship or brotherhood or sisterhood.  Love does not have to be sexual.  The sacrifice of Jesus shows us the true depths of a love and passion that eclipses all other loves, including the passionate intimacy of spouses.  The covenant of lovers points toward that greater covenant that is merited by the blood of the Cross.       

There is something of a mystery when we speak of the God who has revealed himself and the God we know.  The saving acts of God take place in history but the presence of God is not locked in the past. As Catholics, we would make a case for the Christian deity or the Trinity.  We would insist that God is real and one; that he is the author of all things; that he cares about us; that he has inserted himself into human history; that he has shown his face to us; that he has redeemed us from the folly of sin and death; and that he has established a community of faith to proclaim the truth and to perpetuate his saving work in Christ.  We argue from faith, philosophy and even science that God objectively exists apart from whatever many might subjectively believe or not believe.  While Christians would seek to live in peace with others, we would not personally tolerate or regard as also real the various opposing notions of deities or the negation of atheism.  Tension often arises because belief is not easily captured between church walls but tends to saturate the society in which one lives, influencing human values and how people would express them.

Many early Christians became martyrs in the pagan Roman Empire because they refused to worship mythical deities or the emperors.  These deities were interpreted by the ancient Church fathers as false gods or worse as demons in disguise. When we read the later pagan authors, they blamed the fall of the empire upon the rise of Christianity and how it had reinvented or replaced the deities they previously followed.  Their arguments were somewhat pragmatic because even during its heyday, many Romans went through the prescribed motions but really placed no faith in the false deities and their “soap opera” lives.  But the acceptance of Christianity had a profound impact upon the values of Rome.  There was a definite moral shift.  Today, many are again recreating our understanding of a deity while growing numbers are complaining that the whole notion of a God has served its purpose and should now be discarded.  As before, many say they believe but in truth there is nothing about their behavior that would convict them as Christ’s disciples.

Within the context of Christianity, many would say that revisionists have no right to reinvent God and to modify or to reverse his moral teachings.  Leaning toward the subjective, they would counter the argument by a preponderance of questions.

For further reading…

National Catholic Register
Pete Buttigieg is Wrong — God Still Forbids All Homosexual Acts

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.

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.)

The Importance of Faith-Talk in Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions for Parents

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

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?