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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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[152] Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 4, 2018

Deuteronomy 6:2-6 / Psalm 18 / Hebrews 7:23-28 / Mark 12:28b-34

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Moses exhorts that honor and obedience to God brings forth the blessings of long life and prosperity upon his people.  Indeed, if they expect the LORD to keep his promises for a land of their own then they must reciprocate with their own fidelity.  This illustrates a profound message about justice— God rewards faithfulness, punishes disobedience and protects his own who love him.  This appreciation is the glue that preserves the identity of the Jews as God’s chosen people, from the time that they were a family and tribe through their transition as a nation and then a religion.  Indeed, it may be argued that such an appreciation is the seed, first for the ordering of the Jewish community and later for the emergence of Christianity and a Judeo-Christian civilization.  Such a community, ordered around both divine truth and justice, is now in the wane as it is increasingly replaced by a secular culture that makes man and not God the measure of all things.  The Church today is ever more an isolated sign of contradiction in this modern world.  As such, power, money and politics manipulate the larger community even as its pawns endlessly belabor about invented rights and fraudulent freedoms.  It must be said that a general chaos reigns (everyone doing their own thing) and the error of subjective truth (disorientation around a false foundation) wrongly countermands what is objectively true.

The responsorial carries forward the theme of our dependence upon God.  Note that the psalmist calls the LORD his rock.  Many of the ancient pagan believers literally were idolaters.  While their statues over time came to represent false deities, initially the idols of metal or stone or wood were worshipped in themselves.  Certain anthropologists argue that next to the worship of celestial elements like the sun and moon, many early people actually worshipped rocks.  These rocks were eventually carved into various shapes.  Any visitor to the Holy Land will know that it is a place littered with rocks.  That is why stoning became a routine manner of enacting capital punishment.  The rocks took on an importance because they could be used in defense, hunting and building.  They were particularly effective in fighting, either against other people or in killing animals for food.  Indeed, heavy rocks were also used in crushing grain in the process of making life-giving bread.  Contrasted to the idolaters, the Hebrew people were called to follow an invisible God.  While he was the Creator, he could not be identified with his creation.  God’s people strenuously fought against the use of idols but it may be that they borrowed something of the language of their pagan neighbors.  Calling the LORD their rock, they were asserting that he was both their firm foundation and that he had sufficient power to protect his own.

Illustrated in both our first reading and the Gospel, the backbone to all the commandments is their relationship with the living God.  This is why idolatry was regarded as the vilest sin:  “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.”  While we appreciate our saving faith in Jesus as the Son of God, this command retains its binding force for Jews and Christians, alike.  All sin or rebellion signifies a turning away from this truth— placing either persons or things before our allegiance to God.  Adherence to this command changes everything.  A failure to embrace this truth corrupts discipleship as a matter of external show or exhibition.  It is this love of God that should fuel all human charity.  It is the unseen element by which all souls will be judged.  St. Paul as the Pharisee-turned-Christian knew this truth well.  He wrote the Corinthians: “If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).  The fidelity of men is not like the actions of pre-programmed ants.  God wants our hearts.  He wants us to prize him as our treasure before all else.  He is a jealous God and does not want to share us— it is all or nothing!

Jesus adds as a corollary of the great commandment toward the Lord one that includes the neighbor:  “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The scribe that comes to him affirms the answer and Jesus tells him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” If we were to imagine this love as water in a cup it would be brimming over.  It cannot be contained.  That is why such a love of God must spill upon our brothers and sisters.

The courts order the removal of the Decalogue from the walls of courtrooms and from display on public grounds. (There was one notable exception when authorities said they would permit an edited listing that subtracted the commandments about God.)  The problem is, take God out of the equation and the commandments become mere suggestions.  We have faced similar problems in the public schools.  Efforts to teach virtues in public schools have collapsed because who is to say what is wrong if there is no divine command?  What are the consequences?  We can no longer even agree about questions of gender.  Despite obvious disordered elements, sexual orientation and behavior has become a free-for-all.  Children can celebrate the Wiccan and occult elements of Halloween but only the Easter Bunny and a sanitized Santa have survived the purging of Christ’s birth and resurrection.  Mother’s and Father’s Day has been removed from calendars or transformed so as not to offend those with no acknowledged male or female parents.  Instead of telling children to wait until marriage for sexual intimacy, school nurses pass out condoms and in some cases schedule abortions for the children under their care.  Nevertheless, they still cannot give those same children an aspirin for a headache.  Tired of teaching children to behave, many children are drugged for purported attention disorders (which they may or may not have).  When children are challenged for bad behavior their answers are quick and to the point.  “Who are you to tell me what to do?”

Note the first half of the traditional Act of Contrition:  “O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins, because of Thy just punishments, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love.”  The essential message from Moses to Christ was love; however, if love should be found wanting, then at least the fear of punishment would make possible contrition and help to insure proper behavior.  At a minimum, the fear of punishment (the loss of heaven and the fires of hell) protects the good from evil men and upholds a moral society.  However, today it could rightly be said that many people neither love God nor fear punishment.  It should not surprise us that this attitude has arisen at the same time as when atheism is claimed by a quarter of the U.S. population.  Worse than this, many who are believers live as if there were no God.  Separated from God, we do not know how to be good.

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As an aside to this homily theme, the second reading speaks about the priesthood of Christ.  Here we can also say something about the love of God and the fidelity we should show him.  While the priests of old could only serve until their deaths, Christ’s priesthood is eternal.  Indeed, his priestly service can save all who approach him for mediation.  While the Jewish priests daily offered a sacrifice that could not fully appease the dishonor of God caused by sin, the oblation of Jesus on Calvary makes true satisfaction and has lasting value.  Men ordained to the priesthood in the Church share in his one priesthood.  The Mass is a real and unbloody re-presentation of Calvary behind the sacred signs of bread and wine.  While ordained clergy stand at our altars, it is Jesus who celebrates every Mass.  Jesus is our high priest and our divine and innocent victim.  While our priests may offer the Mass daily, it is only because they live and minister in time.  The underlying truth is that every Mass participates in the onetime sacrifice of Jesus.  Jesus realizes the full meaning of the commandment of love.  Given his identity, he joins within himself the power of divine love with the fidelity that we are commanded to grant to the Father.  Jesus spreads his arms on the Cross as the offering of a love beyond measure.

  • Can you truly say that the priorities of your life illustrate fidelity to the two-fold commandment of love?
  • Can you really say that you love God while you hate your neighbor?
  • What competes with our intimacy and loyalty to the Lord?
  • What motivates our prayers and acts of charity?
  • Can people really love the Lord as they should if they fail to pray and to worship with the believing community of the Church?
  • Is it well appreciated that the priest is Christ and that the Mass is Calvary?
  • Can we really be good without God?
  • Are we moved more out of fear or love of God?
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Church Scandal & the Devil

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Those who hate the Catholic Church are falling over themselves in blaming pedophile clergy for the abuse and scandals.  They absolutely refuse to acknowledge that the majority of cases are instances of homosexual pederasty.  These critics, that include major newspapers and other news outlets, are in collusion with churchmen who want to protect or hide “gay” priests in the Church and promote the growing acceptance of homosexuality in secular culture.  The devil as the great deceiver has not only corrupted some in the Church but many in our secular society.

When Pope Francis targeted Satan as the primary culprit of the crisis, many public officials, journalists and others roundly ridiculed him.  Article headers around the world heralded a distorted view of his remarks: “Pope Blames Satan Instead of Pedophile Priests!” A spiritual view was derided as a political deflection.  Given that many critics of the Church are also inimical to any and all religious affiliations, this should not surprise us— atheists neither believe in God nor a devil. Nevertheless, the devil is real and if it seems that he is spending an inordinate amount of time and energy attacking the Catholic Church the reason is that she is the house that Jesus built.  However, if he is present in the Church as an interloper, he is alive and well in modern society as a welcomed guest, or at least this is so in terms of his distorted values.  He wants to take ownership of the world and is willing to hide as the ghost in the machine.

Satan_Gustave_Dore_paradise_lost_the_devil_cast_out_of_heavenThe Pope warns us: “We should not think of the devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea. This mistake would lead us to let down our guard, to grow careless and end up more vulnerable.” While other confessions broke away from Catholic unity, the legacy of the Catholic Church goes back to Jesus and the first bishop-priests, his apostles.  The devil hates the Church because she is the present-day realization of the incarnation in the world.  Christ is the head and his Church is his Mystical Body.  There is a profound unity.  Given that none are saved apart from Christ, the same can be said about the Church.  As the Mystical Body of our Lord, she is the great sacrament of encounter with Christ.  Even as the Church is composed of sinners and invites others by divine command, the Church remains holy because Christ is holy.  Our Lord’s redemptive work won the victory over sin and death.  However, the consequences must be unraveled throughout subsequent human history.  The devil has lost the war but he still seeks to steal individual souls.  Given the importance of the priesthood and the Eucharist as at the heart of the Church, the devil attacks where he can cause the most damage and scandal.  Just as he can numb the consciences of mothers about the tragic abortion of their children; he deadens the souls of renegade priests to their heinous acts against God’s children, making a sacrilege of their role at the altar and in the confessional.

None of this mitigates the priest’s own culpability for his sins.  Similarly the bishops have an obligation to insure a priesthood that is sanctified by grace and devoted to a service realized in sacrificial love.  They must be new Christs.  We can accept nothing less as it would come from the evil one.  Bishops and priests are called as ministers of mercy or reconciliation.  It is in this regard that we should not dismiss Satan’s efforts to tempt and corrupt priests.  We are not Donatists and the powers of the priesthood are not dependent upon personal holiness.  However, bad priests do not readily invite others to repentance and holiness of life.  Our Lord abhors duplicity.  Compromise the truth and few will listen to our preaching and teaching.

When the devil targets priests, he uses their own loneliness and brokenness against them.  He sows weeds from the beginning in secret.  Things that needed to be said were not said.  Weaknesses were not acknowledged or treated.  Truth was the victim throughout— in the psychological evaluation, in the acceptance into seminary, in the regular reviews of candidates and even as they prostrated themselves before the altar. Men who were afraid thought they could hide their cowardice and defects within the priesthood even though our Lord had admonished his apostles not to be afraid. Men who were not committed to celibate love came forward with divided hearts to be ordained.  Men who were not humbled by a call of service knelt before the bishop with princely dreams instead.  Men who pledged obedience became infected by the poison of Milton’s Satan who cried, “Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven.” Did any of the rogues possess a genuine conviction to answer a calling from God? If so, what was it that changed their trajectory?  While some of these men deceived themselves; others were given help.

Most priests are good men who seek to realize the holiness of God and the forgiveness of sins, in their lives and in the lives of those to whom they minister.  But it only takes a few bad men to hurt many.  It only takes a moment of passivity or weakness or silence to become complicit in their crimes.

Pope Francis has asked God’s people to pray the rosary every day in October so as to repel the satanic attacks and to exorcise the demonic presence from the Church.  Of course, we should always pray for good and holy priests.  Pope Francis tells us: “The Church must be saved from the attacks of the malignant one, the great accuser, and at the same time be made ever more aware of her guilt— her mistakes— with the abuses committed in the present and the past.”

The Pope has asked us to add to the rosary the traditional intercessory prayer to St. Michael:

“St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of heavenly hosts, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan, and all evil spirits, who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.”

Is There a Pressing Need to Change the Our Father?

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The Greek verb is εἰσφέρω which is usually rendered as “lead into” or “bring in.” While I see no serious problem with the proposed revised translation, “do not let us fall into temptation,” I am at a loss to any pressing need for dismissal of the traditional rendering. The word “lead” acknowledges the mystery of divine providence and election. God writes his straight lines with our crooked ones. God never intends evil, but the fact that we live in a broken world means that we face many temptations and must take up our crosses to follow Jesus. We can ask that God might excuse or protect us from being brought before temptations that we might find too terrible to bear. But the Pope’s translation might be inferred as divine intervention or as an imposed moral restraint that would violate the person’s human will and freedom. I would suggest an in depth catechesis upon the Lord’s Prayer before any change in the traditional English rendering.

Given all the issues that face us, do we really want to open this can of worms?

Why is This Even a Question?

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But the late priest’s writings cannot be reconciled with Catholic teaching… so the warning should remain, right?

The Dimensions & Appearance of Heaven

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Where is heaven? How big is heaven? What does it look like? Many past believers imagined heaven in the sky, particularly since Jesus ascended and Mary was assumed into heaven.  There was also the biblical presumption that hell or hades was under the earth.  Artists have imagined heaven with cathedral like buildings, where the streets are paved with gold and everything is illumined with an interior light.  As for how big, we imagine a vastness further than the eye can see.  God would certainly insure enough space for all who would call it home.  While God and the angels as spirits take up no space or extension; Jesus and the Blessed Mother have glorified bodies, just as the saints will possess.  These bodies will have to reside somewhere.  We sometimes speak of a new heaven and a new earth. However, I doubt there will ever be a celestial surveyor who could determine the boundaries of heaven or measure the jurisdiction.  How big is it?  It is big enough.  I have often pondered the question in reference to our final end.  We will live within the Trinity.  Any way we turn, we will see God.

Physicists speak about the relativity of time and space.  It is my supposition that when it comes to heaven, this relativity is taken to another level entirely with a signification hinted in the sacraments.  When we speak of the Eucharist, we assert that Christ is present in his person and in his saving activity.  The entire paschal mystery (our Lord’s betrayal, scourging, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension) is made present in the liturgical action and in the consecrated species.  Just as a taste of heaven can be condensed to the sacrament, we might imagine heaven as a spiritual gravity well, where the providence of God is fully realized and we are offered a share in eternal life.  This new signification or meaning makes the question about size inconsequential.  All of creation and salvation history meets in this singularity of the kingdom.  One might argue that material creation mimics this situation with its initial singularity, the release of energy with the big bang, and then the unfolding of the universe. God sustains both his material and spiritual creation.

Angels are discussed as spiritual creatures without physical bodies.  Stories about full-bodied angels are interpreted as phantasms fashioned so as to relate to men.  Like God, they are perfect spirits that exist outside of time and space.  However, God can give them liberty to become involved with human affairs.  Similarly, God as a perfect spirit can reveal himself to us by entering the human family through the incarnation.  The angels and the souls of the dead know duration but are outside of time.  It has been conjectured that with glorified bodies, the clock might start ticking again as matter and time are partners to each other.  But, having said this we really do not know much about the spiritualized matter or immortality of glorified men and women (where souls and bodies are reconnected).  The risen Christ appears in locked rooms and to men on the road— then just as suddenly he disappears and shows up somewhere else.  What would the space or dimensions of heaven matter if we could all travel at the speed of thought?

 

Much of this reflection is speculation.  What do we know for sure?  We have the promise of Christ.

“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be” (John 14:2-3).

 

The Ranks of Heaven

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While discussing the nature of heaven, a view was put forward that seemed eerily similar to the utopian goal of communism.  It was suggested that the kingdom was a classless society where everyone was equal in terms of standing and in reference to spiritual gifts.  This was claimed as necessary to avoid conflict and competition.  It was even argued that God, or at least the incarnate Christ, would be in the mix as just one of the crowd.  I was aghast at the notion, and argued that Jesus is a divine person of the Blessed Trinity.  Our posture in heaven is to adore or worship God.  Given that there is a hierarchy of angels and multiple choirs, why would we think that mankind would be reduced to one rank and a single chorus?

My own views were parroted back to me.  As a believer, it is my conviction that the dignity of persons and the sanctity of life are “incommensurate” goods.  If such be the case in this world, then how could I argue a loss of value in the world to come?  Attempting a response, I asserted that everyone is loved by God as precious and irreplaceable— that is true.  But that does not speak to our personal histories, the depth of our faith and convictions and the capacity we have for grace and holiness.  It is apparent that some have a greater capacity to sacrifice and to love than others.  There are certain people who live such exemplary lives of witness that they are canonized as saints by the Church.  They become our heroes who demonstrate how many callings and lives can follow in the one way of Christ.  Some have walked with the Lord their entire lives.  Others have borne great crosses.  Still some come back to the Lord late in life.  They may all win heaven, but I would not suspect that we would suddenly become all the same.  While I certainly think the existence of heaven and hell is an expression of divine mercy and justice; I do not think it necessitates an egalitarian equality in our status before God.

Pride can have us wrongly demand a choice place.  I suspect this type of mentality might awkwardly land us in hell.  Pride can also demand that no one else have a better or more desirable place.  This way of thinking would probably (at least) land us in purgatory.  I do not believe the souls of the just are concerned about such matters.  They are just happy to have a room in the house of God.  One may have the basement and another, a penthouse; the saints are not afflicted with jealousy.  Our posture or place will reflect the truth and that will be enough for us.  The tremendous joy of being in God’s presence will make any sentiments of loss impossible.

I suspect our proximity to God will be dynamic and always moving forward.  Just as we must be disposed or open to the graces of God in this world; the souls of heaven will abide with God in direct proportion to their ability to know and to love and to open themselves to the divine mystery.  Analogies fall short.  This is more than being in an actual room of a house.  We will know a profound union with God.  We will live within the Trinity itself.  Some will find themselves in the periphery of this mystery and others will be closer to the heart.  We are made for God.  We are not interchangeable, and as distinct persons, each of us will have our own song in the divine harmony of praise.

 

We Will Never Exhaust the Divine Mystery

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The souls of the dead in heaven are divinized as saints by grace but by nature are still human.  We will have a share in the risen life of Christ.  However, we will always be finite creatures.  There can be no boredom in heaven because by intellect and will we can never fully exhaust the divine mystery.  We will be drawn eternally into the depths of knowing and loving God.  This process begins in this world.  We come to the Lord with a faith realized in loving obedience.  God gives us sanctifying grace and we are made sons and daughters to the Father, kin to Christ, children of Mary and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven.  Death makes this orientation permanent.  We encounter Christ, not as strangers but as friends.  Indeed, restricting ourselves to this world, we find that all the saints of the Church demonstrated great holiness while many of their ideas, even in reference to religious faith, often fell short or were erroneous.  Error will certainly end when we pass through the door from this world to the next; but our capacity to understand and to contain the mystery of God will always be limited by our nature.  This truth applies to both angelic and human spirits.

I do suspect there is a profound openness to truth and the gift of love in heaven.  This would conflict with hell where the demons and lost souls know something of the truth but place a limit or barrier upon their knowing and loving.  We experience in this world a similar type of division and adversity where someone says, “I want nothing to do with you!  I don’t want to know anything more about it!  You mean nothing to me!  I disown you!”  The damned probably have a comparable mentality and stagnation of the heart.

Here on earth we receive the risen Lord in the Eucharist.  God feeds us.  There are no sacraments in heaven as there is no need for sacred signs.  The saints see God and the mystery directly.  There is no more faith because the saints see and know God (as well as his truths) in an immediate fashion.  There is no more hope because every aspiration has been realized.  The only theological virtue that can cross the threshold of heaven with us is love or charity.  This love draws us into the Trinitarian life.  The banquet of heaven is literally one course after another.  The pattern is established with the Pilgrim Church.  God will continue to feed us with himself.

As I said in my first paragraph, there can be no boredom in heaven.  This is a far cry from the popular image of lazy angels sitting on clouds playing harps.  The mystery of God can never be diminished.  There will always be more to know.  The more we know, the more we will love.  The more we love, the more we will want to know.  This is the pattern of the finite creature to the infinite Creator.

I can well appreciate that secular critics deny the soul and view the intellectual life as the operation of our brains.  Romantics might speak of the heart as the source of love, but in truth the brain is the place where material memories and thinking takes place.  As a Christian, I would suggest that as a composite of flesh and spirit, the efforts of the brain mimic the powers of the soul.  Brains are not all the same and all of them have limits in regard to learning and to the physical senses.  Brains can also become diseased, causing people to struggle with thinking and remembering the most basic of facts and relationships.  The brain is physical and like the rest of the body, it has parts that can break down.  Parallel to this, the human soul has no parts and is indestructible.  It grants us a self-reflective knowledge that goes beyond the ability of the brain.  We are more than thinking meat.  Memories are not merely stored as electrochemical processes used by neurons but also make lasting impressions upon the human soul.  Just as we are often surprised by the detail of dreams; I suspect we will also be surprised as to what the soul retains after death.  What would a human being be if he was never to forget and we were to ponder matters with perfect clarity?  I suspect that the material brain both enables rational knowing and reflection as well as impedes it.  (In any case, I would not want to define the soul as simply a hard drive or cloud backup of what is in our brains.  There is a constant interworking that is part of the mystery of the human mind as understood by Christian believers.)  What we now see as through a fog or veil, we will see clearly.

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What and who we know, as well as love, survives the grave.  Indeed, it gives us our eternal orientation.  We are either like the wise virgin bridesmaids at the door with the burning lamps or like the foolish one who walk away looking for more oil.  When Christ, the divine bridegroom comes for us, he should find us alert and ready to enter into the nuptial banquet.   If we fail to remain steadfast and prepared, we might hear those terrible words of damnation, “Amen, I say to you, ‘I do not know you.’”

If pride is the overriding sin of the devils, then a lasting humility is the posture of the saints.  Compared to God we may seem insignificant, literally as nothing.  And yet, Almighty God has looked upon us as his children.  I would argue that the prayer that Jesus gave his apostles will have an eternal significance.  The word for “Father” that is used by Jesus is literally the one used by little children.  I suppose we would render it as “papa” or “daddy.”  All of us, even the greatest doctors of the Church like Augustine and Aquinas, may be counted among the babes of heaven.  We are summoned to know and to love God while in this world.  All we know is still just scratching the surface.  Eternity will allow us to continue this exploration of knowing and loving.  Humility is not just the approach of men and women in this world, but of the saints and angels in the next.  We must become like little children if we want a place in the kingdom.  Those who are bloated with pride, feeling that they are all grown up and know enough already will find themselves in hell.  Similarly, all those who place limits on love will also know the loss of heaven.