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German Summit, Shades of Martin Luther

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The recent manipulation of the Amazonian synod by German churchmen and now their own two-year summit hints at a coming religious revolution.  It echoes the division and devastation enacted by Martin Luther.  The disgruntled monk similarly sought alliances with dissenting religious leaders and earthly rulers. The princes of old are gone but the secular politics of the world are still every bit as opposed to the interests of the Catholic Church as they were before. While Catholicism has moved forward at the pace dictated by providence and the Holy Spirit; we are again a church plagued by scandals and not with one heresy but assaulted by all of them under the heading of modernism.

The German Summit Begins

The first assembly for the German summit was from January 30 to February 1, 2020. Pointing to an atmosphere of rebellion, Cardinal Reinhard Marx made it clear last year that this synod would continue despite objections from Pope Francis. Arguably more Protestant than Catholic, the Central Committee of German Catholics rebuked Pope Francis for a “lack of courage for real reforms” after the promulgation of his Post-Synodal Exhortation (To the People of God and to All Persons of Good Will the Church in the Amazon). Disappointed, but unwilling to give in on the reforms he has championed, Cardinal Marx of Münich asserted that the topics from the synod were “by no means off the table.”

If the subject matter is something that cannot be changed then what is the purpose of such discussions? Are we stirring the pot to ferment trouble or might we find answers that respect the truth, tradition and the needs of a changing world?  Praxis must follow and safeguard doctrinal truth.  When it takes the lead there is no assurance that it is in fidelity with what is right or good.  Further, we must be honest as to the sources of formation.  Are new ideas and stratagems emerging from revelation and the sources of doctrine or from outside the parameters of our constant faith?  Religious relativism and indifference have now made space for defection to other “denominations” or even for the faithless slide into the new atheism.  It seems to me that such was unavoidable given the relativism of truth to human whim and secular expediency.

Artificial Contraception

While all Christian churches condemned artificial contraception for 1,900 years, today Catholicism is viewed by her own congregants as backward and out-of-sync among liberal and conservative believers alike. Back in the 1960’s and the first days of the Vatican reforms and Humanae Vitae, the controversy on this issue should have awakened us to the core problem that would revisit us in other matters ready to explode like divorce, abortion and same-sex bonds.

Unfortunately, we did a poor job of communicating the Church’s rich Christian anthropology.  The incarnation of Christ grants prominence to the dignity of human persons and the sanctity of life.  Persons are not interchangeable.  While animated by immortal souls, the body is not unimportant.  We are not spirits operating extraneous or robotic bodies of flesh and blood.  Unlike the angels we are not pure spirits.  A body without a soul is a corpse.  A soul without a body is a ghost.  The integrated human person is properly a body and soul.  This is how we live and relate to one another.  The sacrament of marriage, along with its obligations and duties, focuses on this reality of human beings as corporeal persons.  We are our bodies.  While love cannot be contained to this world, marriage is a reality that ends at the door of death.   We are promised that we will be like angels and yet with Christ’s resurrection, we are given a clue as to the glorification of the body that awaits us and our restoration, body and soul.  Our understanding of identity embraces an intense appreciation of the human person as a corporeal-spiritual composite.

Gender is not an accidental but rather touches the central meaning of who and what we are.  There is a complementarity of sexes, and while there is an equality in grace it is not mathematical.  We are different.  It is this difference that draws men and women together.  How we are made is also how we relate and communicate.  God has a plan for us and we are called to discern this plan.  When it comes to married couples, there is a basic failure to appreciate that the marital act is more than the mechanics of the sex act but is a profound self-donation to the beloved that trusts the will of God and selflessly embraces the mystery and treasure of human life. Couples that would define their relationships by contraceptive acts, short-change their calling and the openness to life that is a hallmark of their vocation.

The problem of contraception is not a new question although technology has come a long way from the Egyptian use of crocodile dung. The Church saw it as an offense against the first command of Genesis to be fruitful and multiply. Families can be both responsible and open to the gift of life. They can cooperate with God instead of treating God as the enemy and his gift and blessing of children as a disease to be medicated away.

Divorce and Remarriage

While it has been very much in the news, especially given an apparent lack of clarity from Pope Francis, it must be proposed that the Catholic Church still accepts Christ for his word when he condemns divorce and exposes its link to adultery. Unless it is unlawful (the reason why there is an annulment process), marriage endures until the death of a spouse. The Catholic Church stands almost alone in this teaching as many of the Orthodox churches permit second penitential bonds and most Protestant churches will bless unions with divorcees or even with persons of the same sex.  As a sacrament, we are supposed to see in marriage something of Christ’s relationship with his Church.  Promises are made and Christ keeps his promises.  We should pursue the same fidelity.

When it comes to marriage, few churchmen are ogres who want to hurt others. We realize that mistakes can be made. Many of the irregular unions also include children and a genuine desire to return to the sacraments. How do we work with them without destroying the basic meaning of the sacrament? Annulments, properly and honestly done, are part of the solution. Just as married priests in the early days of the Church were asked to embrace perfect continence, might this suggest an answer in certain situations? Can we be more proactive at the beginning of relationships so as to reduce the number of failed marriages? We certainly emphasize that even if couples cannot be invited forward to receive Holy Communion, they should still go to Mass and render God the worship due to him as believers. We are all sinners and all sinners should know that they will never be turned away from the church doors even if they should refrain from coming to the altar. The Mass is still the re-presentation of the sacrifice of Calvary.  I suspect that there were many on the hill of Christ’s death who were similarly drawn to Jesus and his message but remained ill-disposed to fully benefit from the sacramental moment.

Same-Sex Unions and Homosexual Acts

Older Christians have experienced a reversal in how homosexuals are viewed and treated.  The revulsion and prohibition against homosexuality once shared between the Church and state has been turned totally on its head. What was regarded as a perversion and as illegal is now reckoned by secular society as good, permissible and as something which must be actively promoted. Those who oppose homosexual sin are now reckoned as bigots.  Indeed, laws are increasingly targeting believers who want to be tolerant or co-exist but cannot find it in themselves to celebrate what they understand as wrong and as grievous sin.

When it comes to the matter of same-sex relationships, is there a way to acknowledge love and friendship outside of the paradigm of matrimony? Might we recover an expanded appreciation of chaste brotherhood and sisterhood? Could it be that the prevalent eroticism of our times has poisoned this issue?

Abortion and the Sanctity of Life

The issue of abortion is particularly troublesome as the news parades Catholic politicians clapping and cheering the removal of any and all restrictions upon the termination of pregnancies. Literally children nine months in the womb and ready to be born are now vulnerable to what is more infanticide than abortion. The Church proclaims a Gospel of Life that is increasing politicized and made one issue among many. The Church would still proclaim that if one’s life is taken then for that person there are no more issues. We are not opposed to the genuine rights of women.  We refuse to engage in the culture of death’s great deception.  The Catholic Church defends the rights of everyone.  We give voice to the voiceless.  The Church speaks up for the rights of all women and some of those women are in the womb.

The issue of abortion can certainly be expanded for a better defense of life in scenarios of war and non-combatants, the elderly and euthanasia and the value or lack thereof of the death penalty in crime prevention, etc. However, this is not a pick-and-choose list. If a person is pro-abortion but opposed to capital punishment, he or she is not pro-life. We need to appreciate the non-commensurate value of human life wherever it exists.

Holy Orders as Restricted to Men

The question of holy orders is frequently considered within the apologetic of power and rights. It should rather be understood in the context of service and gift. The pattern that Jesus gave us is not one upon which we are free to diverge. He selected only men as his apostles, despite the fact that there were notable women who witnessed as prophets to the Gospel: his Mother Mary, the sisters of Lazarus (Martha and Mary), the Samaritan woman at the well, Mary Magdalene and others. The early councils like Nicea forbade the laying on of hands or ordination of women. The solemn proclamation of St. Pope John Paul II on the subject was definitive and infallible. Only some men and no women are called to be priests. However, the priesthood is a gift to all of us who participate at Mass and in the sacraments. We share our differing gifts for the good of the whole body. No one has a right to the priesthood. There is no egalitarian equivalence between men and women, although both are equally invited to faith, baptism and grace.  One can prepare for priesthood but no one deserves it. It is purely a gift. If women cannot be priests or bishops then they are logically also prevented from membership in the third tier of holy orders, the diaconate. The evidence is that women in the New Testament who were called deaconesses were not ordained. They cared for female neophytes preparing for baptism. In certain cases, they were simply the wives of ordained deacons.

We can look for ways to include more women in decision-making, but holy orders will never be open to them.  Not only does the tradition not support it, there is evidence of opposition to the prospect.  The witness of the Anglicans is insignificant because apostolic succession was already compromised and they responded to the cries of modernity, not to the dictates of Scripture and Tradition.

Value in the Discipline of Priestly Celibacy

Further, the gift of priesthood or holy orders cries out for a single-hearted love. While a discipline, there is an integral relationship between the priesthood and the charism of celibacy.  (This subject was of such importance that many married men in the apostolic and patristic age were required to pursue perfect continence when they were ordained.) Given that the Holy Father picked the name FRANCIS for his pontificate, I am not surprised that he has resisted calls to allow married men to serve as priests in the Amazon. Traditionally, celibacy is interpreted as an element of apostolic POVERTY and is appreciated in the context of Jesus’ encounter with the rich man who went away sad “because his possessions were many.”

  • The Council of Nicea (325 AD) forbade the laying on of hands or ordination of women.
  • The Council of Carthage (390) commanded celibacy or perfect continence for priests.
  • The First Lateran Council (1123) & the Second Lateran Council (1139) prohibited clerical marriage and cohabitation.

A Few Closing Thoughts

What is it exactly that the extended German summit hopes to achieve by its assessment of Catholic sexual morality and  the dynamics of priestly life in regard to celibacy and the role of women? The American bishops following Pope John Paul II’s 1995 letter to women also promulgated a pastoral “reflection” on women (after much consultation where dissenters tried to hijack the discussion). The bishops attempted to make appeasement where the Holy Father inadvertently made enemies of certain progressives and radical feminists. However, in the end their effort was so watered down that it was of little lasting value, restricting itself to the unexplored themes of leadership, equality, and the diversity of gifts. The focus moved away from women in the Church to their general place in society. This is not to say that the document lacks utility for future discussions about the extension of praxis that respects the laws of nature and the revealed truths of God. When it comes to the new German effort, it appears that dissenting lay Catholic organizations are being given more a voice than those with a significant traditional faith footprint. Theologians can assist the Magisterium but they are not the Church’s teaching authority, themselves.

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

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.

 

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.

Ramblings about Fornication, Adultery and Homosexuality

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None of these topics stand alone.  Once human sexuality is pursued more for pleasure than for parenthood, the flood walls open.  Sex is separated from marriage.  This truth about fornication immediately leads to that which is the primary cause of divorce, adultery.  Once sex is separated from marriage, it is very hard to reattach.  The critics of Church teaching might not always argue for blatant promiscuity; but they are apologists for sex outside of marriage.  They will even resort to semantics.  Just as contraceptive use is regarded as “responsible parenthood” and abortion is labeled “choice,” fornication is classified as “pre-ceremonial sex.” It is expected that couples will “live together” or cohabitate prior to actual marriage.  That which was wrongly explored as a way to test the waters is increasingly becoming a non-contractual alternative to marriage.  However, mortal sin is not a good preparation for matrimony.  Indeed, it makes one ill-disposed to God’s grace.  It also cheapens the message of love.  True love seeks the good of the beloved, placing his or her needs ahead of one’s own desires.  Men and women are called to marriage where they can be helpmates to each other in holiness and grace.  The institution of marriage is an important level of protection for the spouse and the children.  It is crafted as a vocation of monogamous love defined by discipline, duty and dependence (the three d’s).  Indeed, some shy away from marriage because it is a public proclamation of obligation and responsibility.  Christian love is always sacrificial and seeks redemption in Christ.  Husbands and wives need to assist each other in becoming saints and going to heaven.  Love of a superficial depth or that which suffers from a counterfeit faith would place the object of one’s attentions into mortal sin and risk the pains and loss of hell.  How is that true love?  What would happen to the beloved if death should overtake him or her prior to the full acquisition of the marriage bed?

When it comes to the vocation of marriage, promises are made to be kept.  Jesus forbids divorce.  But what becomes of fidelity when no formal promises are made at all?

Catholicism promotes an honest appreciation of sexuality and human weakness. Looking first to dating or courtship, heavy petting and French kissing are sinful outside of marriage as they make self-control difficult and often lead to either intercourse or oral sex.  Men and women are not robots.  We must always be cognizant of time and place when we are with others.  Public places are safer than private locations.  Late hour encounters might be more liable for violations of persons than how we carry ourselves in the daylight.  There is also a heightened value upon meeting a nice girl or boy at church or school over encountering strangers at a pick-up bar.

Critics contend that the Church places too much emphasis upon sex.  However, the truth is the other way around.  It is secular society and Christian revisionists that place such extreme gravity in sexual activity that it becomes an ends unto itself.  The slippery slope begins that will eventually set the stage for even perverse desires and the demand that homosexuality be normalized.

One of the loudest critics of Catholic teaching on human sexuality is Fr. James Martin.  It has been argued (to my satisfaction) that Fr. James Martin does not think with the mind of the Church upon the matter of homosexuality. He would contend otherwise, quoting the universal catechism that those who regard themselves as homosexuals “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.” “Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” [CCC 2358]. This is as it should be but how would we parse the definition of discrimination? Too many priests of his sort would affirm both the disorientation and same-sex unions. It may be that many young men come to their priests wanting to hear the hard truth— that sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage is always and everywhere the matter of mortal sin. The scandal here is that priests are summoned as prophetic voices for Christ to preach and teach the truth. The substitution of our own opinion or words for the often challenging Word of God leads the children of God astray.

I do not believe we should have any part in attempting to normalize being gay. While much is made of homosexual marriage or same-sex unions, the truth is far more sordid in that the majority of active gays are highly promiscuous.  I also think it is problematical to ordain gay men, particularly those with past encounters. We should not fall prey to the false toleration of secular culture over the commission to be signs of contradiction in our world. We must respect the inherent dignity of persons even if we cannot always approve of everything that people do. A facet of the dilemma we face is that homosexuals are increasing making their sexual orientation into a primary factor of personal identity. This inadvertently impoverishes the depth of meaning that defines human persons. We are so much more than our sexual drives and romantic proclivities. The need for love, affection and friendship should not be limited to or strictly defined by genital activity. Sexual union should also always be in accord with the natural congress of a man and woman entitled to the marital act.

Discernment of the moral character of the man or woman would neither turn a blind eye to sexual affections nor dismiss a history of genital activity; however, the measure of a person also includes many other pertinent attributes such as fidelity to promises, generosity of spirit, courage in keeping obligations and a willingness to sacrifice for others. My analysis as a heterosexual but celibate Catholic priest is that Christian gay men and women are called by God to respond in a profound way with lives of prayer, loving service and perfect continence. The Gospel would never deny love to any child of God; however, we must distinguish what does and does not constitute genuine loving.

I should add that if the scandalous allegations are true, then Cardinal Theodore McCarrick is the most typical case of the homosexual abuser in the Church.  Supposedly he had relations with men and minors.  Eighty percent or more of the abuse cases narrated in the Church are with young males and often within the teen years (pederasty and not true pedophilia).  However, many of the bishops and Fr. Martin insist (against the facts) that there is no correlation between homosexuality and abuse.  Until this connection is admitted, I have to wonder if we will reliably deal with the current scandal.  By contrast, recent remarks by Pope Francis would allow that active homosexuals should be respected and loved as God’s children, but they should be denied entry into holy orders. The Pope does not see homosexuality as a neutral matter. There is concurrence with the universal catechism that speaks about it as a disordered attraction.

Sexual activity is the exclusive right of heterosexual spouses. We are all obliged to keep the sixth and ninth commandments. The commandment against adultery focuses upon illicit sexual activity. By extension it would also include general fornication, prostitution, pornography, homosexual acts, masturbation, orgies, rape, incest, pedophilia, pederasty, bestiality and necrophilia.

The Pope may not want homosexuals in the priesthood but the Holy Father is outspoken about his desire to welcome people who feel alienated by the Church.  I suspect that what muddies the waters are efforts to welcome homosexuals and those in invalid second marriages as full or practicing members of the Church. Can we truly affirm the dignity of persons and sympathize with their struggles when the first words out of our mouths are those of condemnation and judgment? Might there be a better way? While critics of the Church are wrong to demand absolute acceptance of activity and states of life ruled as immoral or sinful from Scripture and Tradition; is there a praxis that might preserve their link to the faith community and the possibility of a healing or merciful accompaniment? I have been critical of the open table in regards to the reception of Holy Communion. If one is not spiritually disposed toward the Eucharist, then would we not be bringing down divine judgment upon the heads of such people? How can we give absolution to those in adulterous or intimate same-sex relationships if there is no firm purpose of amendment of life? This is where much of the debate is taking place.

Along with fornication and adultery, homosexual acts are listed by St. Paul as among those sins that can cost us our share in Christ’s kingdom.  The Church struggles to distinguish the disordered nature of homosexuality from the actual commission of homosexual sin (an intrinsic evil).  Many refuse to acknowledge this delineation and/or see it as a renouncement of persons.  Acts against nature are always regarded by the faith as abusive.  Of course, here again our secular society wants to avoid this verdict.  One has to wonder how far the sexual toleration can be stretched.  Does it already include multiple partners?  Are bestiality and pedophilia waiting in the wings for general acceptance?