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Trust the Power of the Mass for Healing

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I was reminded of the “Healing Your Family Tree” phenomenon among certain Charismatics and Exorcists while reading about Msgr. Clement Machado and watching a few of his YouTube EWTN videos.  He claims to have had visions of the Blessed Mother and St. Patrick.  I am skeptical… but who knows?  The Church has many saints and seers.  The children of Fatima were given a vision of hell so as to pray more fervently for souls.

While Catholicism certainly encourages prayers for the souls of the dead, this idea of targeting sins and woundedness in past generations for current problems faced by believers goes back to the ancient Jews.  They believed that punishment for the sins of one’s fathers could be visited upon the children.  Our notion of Original Sin is an extension of this.  However, at least as a routine source of particular ailments, Jesus seems to dismiss this notion.

“As he passed by he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him. We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world’” (John 9:1-5).

While we would not deny our connection with those who have gone before us, if taken too far, we might fall into superstition or the occult.  The sacrifice of the Mass makes possible atonement but it is a sacrament that conveys grace and mercy.  It is not sorcery or magic.  Further, we cannot purely blame our problems on deceased family members.  We live in a broken world and sometimes we are our own worst enemies.  It may be that certain maladies are placed before us so that we might demonstrate or witness to a courageous faith.  Catholicism does not run away from all sickness and pain but often seeks to transform the dark realities.  They are opportunities for us to take up our crosses in following Jesus. There is already too much of a “victim mentality” inflicting our society— regarding ethnicity, gender, orientation and social status.  I am worried that such ideas as healing the family tree may often be misunderstood in this light.

We are all aware of the excesses of popular Protestant ministers who put on a big show in conducting “purported” healings.  Many pagans and so-called demonologists dangerously tinker with exorcisms.  Returning to the Catholic camp, there is a temptation, especially among the rising celebrity priests, to emphasize what they can do over what Jesus can do.  While the Church needs exorcists, it is best that the ministry be imposed upon the priest rather than enthusiastically embraced outside of an episcopal summons.  Indeed, while any priest can offer absolution and deliverance prayer, full exorcisms require the authorization of the immediate bishop.  (When I think about this issue my mind quickly recalls Fr. Thomas J. Euteneuer, a wonderful defender of human life who fumbled in this area.)

Sharing information is fine, but sensationalism about the devil, exorcism and obsession can pose a real danger.  After the release of popular horror movies, chanceries are bombarded by phone calls of people who all think they are possessed.  While we battle powers and principalities, much sin finds its origin in the world of men and many who imagine they are spiritually afflicted are in actuality mentally disturbed.

During November there is a special emphasis upon prayers for the dead.  Yes, we can claim spiritual benefits for the dead and the living.  There is a two-fold action— uniting and breaking off.  A funeral Mass offered for the dead brings grace and we commend the deceased, particularly the souls in purgatory, to the mercy of God.  They are sped on their way.  We invoke the purification of God’s love, a fire that heals. Our prayer also joins us to the communion of the saints.  Simultaneously, if there are any negative spiritual elements, as with those who have rejected God’s love, then that bond is severed with the living.  The expression “rest in peace” can apply to the living just as well as to the dead.  But ultimate judgment is left to almighty God.  While there might be little or no fanfare, Catholics need to trust the sacraments, especially the Mass.  We need to encourage the offering of Masses for the dead and for healing in times of trauma.  This is the most effective and resolute manner of healing “the family tree.”

My late father back in the 1950’s spent time as a Trappist monk at Holy Cross Monastery in Berryville, VA.  He firmly believed that his life of work and prayer there, combined with the sacrifice of the Holy Mass, facilitated the translation of all our family ancestors from purgatory to heaven.  The emphasis should NOT be upon how links to the dead can plague us.  Rather, recalling that the poor souls are now helpless, we should intercede on their behalf.  As we prepare to celebrate All Souls Day, we should all recommit ourselves to praying for the dead.

The Proper Response to Scandal is Not Defection

ARTICLE: “Want to leave the Catholic Church? Officially you can’t” by Dan Waidelich.

SOURCE & DATE:  Washington Post – October 22, 2018.

REFLECTION:

The reporter notes that Mary Combs left the Church 15 years ago over the clergy sexual abuse scandals in Boston.  We are told that she looked at “the collection basket, imagining the money paying off victims.”

While one can readily appreciate how terribly she was disheartened, there was nothing particularly noble or heroic about her personal defection.  While such scandals, then and now, should make the laity angry— the proper response is not to run away but to stick it out and fight.  It may be that the clergy are overly identified with the faith; but the laity constitutes the largest segment of the Church.  She should have looked at that collection basket and realized that “there” in the purse strings is power to compel reform.  This is not blackmail.  The laity as a matter of justice can demand that the resources they share go to building up the kingdom and not be squandered in covering up for sin or for appeasing greed and ambition.

Unfortunately, anger spoke louder than her own calling or mission as a disciple.  Indeed, it also eclipsed the many needs that emerge from charity toward the poor and the hurting.  Despite the presence of evil in her ministerial ranks, the Church still does much good for the disadvantaged and the oppressed. Indeed, Catholic Charities is the largest and most active social outreach organization, just behind the U.S. government. Mary Combs walked away from that element of her discipleship in the Church because she was upset by weak and sinful men.

Judas signified one-twelfth of the world’s bishop-priests in 33 AD.  He betrayed Christ and later committed suicide.  Did everyone who had followed Christ leave the Church because of his sin?  No.  They realized that despite human iniquity, Jesus was indeed their Messiah, Savior and Lord.  Peter, the first of many popes of the Church, fearfully denied even knowing Christ when Jesus was being tried.  Nevertheless, our resurrected Lord would respond to his affirmations of love by restoring his authority as the visible head of the Church.  Just as we shake our heads today at the clericalism of our priests and how ambition sometimes overshadows servanthood, we can also recall James and John asking for a special place at Christ’s right and left.  Similarly, the apostles argue among themselves as to who is the greatest.  And yet, when the going got tough, all but John ran and went into hiding.  At the Last Supper they had each been given the authority sacramentally to re-present the mystery of Christ’s paschal mystery and his saving oblation in “memory” of him.  But when they had the opportunity to walk physically with Christ to Calvary, there was only one apostle who accompanied him to the Cross so as to witness the mystery firsthand.

“Now there’s this Pennsylvania scandal,” Combs said. “Hundreds of priests abusing thousands of parishioners and a coverup that went all the way to the Vatican — again.” We are told that she now attends Grace Lutheran Church in Virginia. This is no solution either.  Once a Catholic, always a Catholic.  While even Protestant churches have their own scandals, they are historically also breakaway institutions from Catholic unity.  They may possess certain saving elements which they took with them from Catholicism, i.e. the Scriptures, faith in Christ and baptism.  Sadly, they have also forfeited a genuine priesthood and Eucharist.  This signals that her defection is rooted, not just in a repugnance to clerical scandal, but in a lack of a true and complete Christian faith.  We are told that she took comfort when the Pennsylvania stories broke, in knowing that she was done with Catholicism.  Unfortunately, while we leave judgment to God, he will judge her not as a Lutheran but as a Catholic.

The current scandals should not confirm Mary Combs and those like her in their defection.  Indeed, it should be a clarion call for all to come back and to make right that which has gone wrong.  Those who have courageously stayed with the Church must demand a full accounting of past misdeeds, transparency in the future and a purging of those persons from ministry who can no longer be trusted.  There needs to be a genuine purification and reform.  This must be done by those who have remained faithful and those who have repented of their own failures or defection so as not to be part of the problem but of the solution.

Jesus instituted the Church and gave us ministers and sacraments so as to provide for his people.  He did not say that the Church would always be perfect, only that he would sustain her and that she would be made holy by the bridegroom, Christ.  The devil has had a hand in the corruption of churchmen.  Violations of priestly celibacy as with other sins can be healed by our merciful Lord and even forgiven by God’s faithful people; however, those who have harmed minors and those who have engaged in same-sex acts have no place in the priesthood.

The Washington Post article, while heavily focused on the issue of clergy abuse, actually targeted the question as to whether one could technically leave the Catholic Church. Rev. Thomas Ferguson, vicar general of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Va., affirmed what Catholics should already know that it is impossible to defect from the Catholic Church. Our affiliation with the Catholic faith is stamped upon our souls at baptism.  It is the Church directly instituted by Christ.  Any movement away from that Church distances us from our Lord.

The original Protestant churches were regarded as groupings of fallen-away or lapsed Catholics.  Over time, many were born and raised in these communities, never juridically united or formed within the fullness of the Catholic faith community.  What might merit them through ignorance will not satisfy for Catholics who should know better.

The Heat & Controversy Continues…

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The three bishops essentially cite Pope John Paul II. The argument seems more and more with the historical Magisterium itself and settled doctrine. Here is one instance:

“The other principle is that of truth and consistency, whereby the church does not agree to call good evil and evil good. Basing herself on these two complementary principles, the church can only invite her children who find themselves in these painful situations to approach the divine mercy by other ways, not however through the sacraments of penance and the eucharist until such time as they have attained the required dispositions” (John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 34).

When it comes to the “ordinary magisterium” and opinions that conflict with settled doctrine, filial correction is an act of loyalty. Indeed, silence would be the act of betrayal.

While annulments are now free (they used to cost a thousand dollars or more) this is the first year in the Archdiocese of Washington (so I am told) that we have not had a backlog of cases. Many couples in irregular unions now feel that annulments are unnecessary and that they can freely return to the sacraments. I have had several people in my parish drop writing their cases while citing news about the Pope and “changes that are coming.” Misunderstandings abound… but there is also legitimate confusion where there should be clarity.

There are a number of voices that interpret any criticism or request for clarification as disloyalty to the Pope and as dissent.  However, one cannot be a dissenter when he or she stands with the long-standing and immutable doctrines of the Catholic faith.  One critic said that we should immediately discount the remarks of these “no name” bishops.  But note that they quote the saintly Pope John Paul II of living memory!  Further, Bishop Athanasius Schneider is not a “no name” bishop. He is a man dedicated to Catholic truth and one who has paid his dues in terms of faith witness. Although he is German, his family was sent to a gulag by Stalin. His mother was imprisoned and martyred in 1963 for helping and sheltering other Christians and a Ukrainian priest. He grew up in the outlawed underground Catholic Church and took his early sacraments in secret. He is the auxiliary bishop of Astana, Kazakhstan and titular bishop of Celerina. He has added his voice to many others in regard to the interpretation of Amoris Laetitia. While whole conferences of bishops have offered correctives, as in Poland, there are notable names daily added to the list as having serious concerns. The names (to name a few) include Cardinal Burke, Archbishop Chaput, Archbishop Sample, the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy, and two respected Catholic philosophers, John Finnis and Germain Grisez.

Popes can interpret but they cannot reverse or make up new Church teachings. The case must be made, as Cardinal Wuerl suggests, that Church praxis and discipline can change without altering Church doctrine. However, it has not yet been made and many of us cannot imagine how it might be done. One cannot legitimately silence a debate or discussion with ecclesial authority when the overwhelming gravity seems entirely with traditional and perpetual teaching. Those who claim to be following the Holy Father are suggesting that we can invite those in adulterous unions to receive the sacraments, including both the Eucharist and confessional absolution. A number of priests feel, as I do, that this would make us accomplices in the mortal sin of others (who are neither contrite nor who have a firm purpose of amendment).

Marco Tosatti’s sensational blog, in my estimation goes too far. He writes:

“La mia fonte in Vaticano mi ha confidato che ieri sera Bergoglio si è trattenuto a Santa Marta con diversi ‘addetti stampa’ vaticani e ‘consiglieri’ vari per una riunione sul come affrontare questo nuovo ‘imprevisto’ della Correzione dei Vescovi di Astana. La fonte mi ha detto che Omissis era furibondo. E’ andato su tutte le furie. Perchè non sopporta nessuna opposizione. Lo hanno sentito urlare: ‘Se ne pentiranno! Se ne pentiranno amaramente!’. Riferito ovviamente ai coraggiosi Vescovi che hanno ‘osato’ contraddire il neovangelo della neochiesa: l’Amoris Laetitia.”

This is really more gossip and possible calumny than information that furthers the discussion. I just cannot imagine the vindictiveness that the blogger suggests. Absent is the charity exhibited by the many bishops and priests wanting clarification while rightly professing fidelity and respect to the Holy See.

The best posture is to pray for the Holy Father and for faithful and loyal clergy who are trying to safeguard the truth while showing real compassion to sinners. Pray for the couples and families as well… many of us want to bring them spiritual medicine, not placebos.

Heaven & the Comedy of God

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One definition of humor is this:  “complying with the wishes of someone in order to keep them content or happy with us, no matter how unreasonable such wishes might be.”  It is in this vein that we might understand God and heaven as having a sense of humor.  It may be that in the kingdom that which is serious and that which is comic somehow coalesce or become one.

There is much about the truth of Christ which consoles and challenges, and yet, simultaneously there is much that seems absurd. Creation itself is not immune from the comic.  It should be warned that trying to discern this element in God might inadvertently lead to a kind of cynicism.  For instance, focusing on God as the author of creation, I have heard it remarked: “Why did God make the most fertile females in the world, only sixteen years old?” Teens that are least able to deal with the needs of children easily have babies while established and mature women struggle to have offspring.  Those who work with crisis pregnancies often shake their heads in bewilderment.  We can laugh or we can cry about it.  God’s ways often seem unfathomable. It is almost as if intelligent design took a wrong turn.

Turning to salvation history, the ministry of Jesus begins with a humorous oddity.  His mother tells him that they have run out of wine at a wedding banquet.  Our Lord is curt, what has this to do with me— my time has not yet come?  Mary tells the servants to do as he says.  He has water poured into jars.  The stewards are already imagining the disappointment of the gathering when they get water instead of wine.  But miraculously water becomes wine; indeed it is the best wine so far.  Who would have thought such a thing?  Surprise!

If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out!  If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off! Call no man your father!  You must be born again!  He who loses his life will save it!  He who does not hate mother and father is not worthy of me! Let the dead bury their dead! Hebraic hyperbole gives an emphasis to the demands of Christ, but still they seem crazy to our ears.  If we were to view such matters in a literal way, we would find ourselves set firmly within a Monty Python script.

There are some elements of the Gospel that readily lend themselves to joking.  Even the questions of Jesus can be funny.  A blind man comes up to Jesus and our Lord asks, “What do you want?”  Is it not obvious?  It may be he was hoping that someone would ask for sins to be forgiven, but the given response was more than likely.  He says, “I want to see!”  No surprise in the response here, only in the question.

When a woman is caught in adultery, our Lord tells the crowd, let the one without sin cast the first stone.  The text relates that they all walk away and that our Lord, who could condemn her, forgives her instead.  A contemporary joke version has a stone sailing past Jesus and plunking the woman on the head, knocking her down.  Surprised, Jesus looks around and then says, “Mother, I told you to stay home!” (This is a Catholic joke as we understand Mary to be the sinless or immaculate Virgin Mary.)

Our Lord tells parables that are familiar to us but which were ridiculous to his first listeners.  Which among you would not leave his ninety-nine sheep to go in search of the one lost lamb?  Later, he speaks about the shepherd rejoicing in having found it.  However, in truth, most shepherds would have written it off.  Why risk all the rest to thieves and wolves? And yet, this good shepherd regards the least of his flock as having a value commensurate with all the rest.  This is crazy but it is part of the irony or humor of God.  Then there is the story of the good housewife.  She tears her house apart in search of a lost coin.  When she finds it she has a party with her friends that probably amounted to more than the coin’s value.  Again, his listeners, probably frugal women, would have thought the whole business was crazy or nonsensical.

Take the last place at gatherings.  You must become like little children.  Sell all that you have and follow me.  The one who would be the greatest must become the least servant of all.  Our Lord never lets up.  The absurdity is amplified as the topics become more grave or important.  Thousands have followed him to an isolated location.  When asked to dismiss them so that they might find sustenance, he tells his apostles to feed the crowd themselves.  All they have are a few fish and a little bread.  Nevertheless the multitude are fed and there is food left over.

His humor is so severe that one day most of his followers walk away. He says that unless we eat his flesh and drink his blood then we can have no life in us.  Today, the guys in the white suits would be coming to take him away.  And yet, it is precisely this Eucharist that has sustained the Church for two thousand years.  Indeed, these are the rations from the promised shore to which we travel as pilgrims of faith.  We must become a parable people.  We must become fools for Christ.

Everyone likes to receive a gift or reward, so Jesus assures us of a litany of favors. Our Lord gives a series of benedictions, assuring us that we will receive the kingdom, will be comforted, inherit the land, have justice satisfied, know mercy, see God, become God’s children, and one more thing—know persecution, including torture and murder.  It sounded pretty good until that last bit.  But such is the humor of God.  “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven” (Matthew 5:11-12).

“For as I see it, God has exhibited us apostles as the last of all, like people sentenced to death, since we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and human beings alike. We are fools on Christ’s account, but you are wise in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clad and roughly treated, we wander about homeless and we toil, working with our own hands. When ridiculed, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we respond gently. We have become like the world’s rubbish, the scum of all, to this very moment “(1 Corinthians 4:9-13). Our Lord writes his straight lines with our crooked ones.  He shows his greatness, not by calling the best of men but making the least and the weakest into his ministers and messengers.

These are the ones that make up the great saints of heaven.  Yes, the joke is on us, but it is a joke that brings not brief laughter but eternal joy.  The infinite and omnipotent God has filled his house with the likes of thieves, prostitutes and traitors.  Just as he could change water to wine and wine and bread into his flesh and blood, he can transform the weakest of sinners into the greatest of saints.  I suspect, albeit in a spiritual manner, there erupts a celestial guffaw that the children of heaven appreciate and which leaves the devils of hell scratching their heads.  They do not get it and that is why they have cast themselves outside the gates to paradise.

The greatest humor or ironic sign of contradiction is found in the heart of the incarnation.  It is here that we discover the full scope of infinite power, love and humor.  The perfect Spirit, the Creator of this and all dimensions and universes, the one who is truly omnipotent and omniscient, the one that stands outside and yet sustains all that he has made— makes himself almost infinitely small, weak and subject to all the petty jealousies and enmity of humanity.  The devil is the first to distance himself from God in utter disbelief— something ridiculous and impossible happens— the great Unmoved Mover moves… and the Word becomes flesh.

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).

 

Art, Poetry & Song in Heaven?

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The question about art, music and poetry in heaven is more complicated than we might initially acknowledge.  These three efforts at creativity can either be directed to the bottom feeders or they can target the heights of inspiration and hope.  There is a vast difference between pornography and the human forms that speak of God’s creation and salvation history in the Sistine Chapel.  There is no comparison between a vulgar rap song that espouses violence and sexism to a sweet solo of Ave Maria or a full chorus and orchestra giving us Faure’s Requiem or Handel’s Messiah.  There is an infinite distance between simple rhymes for children or off-color limericks for dirty old men and Milton’s Paradise Lost, Dante’s The Divine Comedy or Thompson’s The Hound of Heaven.

Believe it or not, I have heard arguments for music in hell.  Indeed, certain authorities intimate that the devil or Lucifer had a certain charge over music in heaven.  If so, this explains something of the terrible depth of his fall from grace.  It might be discordant, but the arts can both reveal and conceal.  I suspect that in hell they do the latter.  A fumbling king might imagine he has real greatness if only the trumpets blow and the fanfare is exalted enough.  Art can give us a counterfeit beauty, as a mask to cover the ugliness around us.  An intricate and moving poem can give a sense of mystery and importance, even to the mundane or hollow.

By contrast, what could an artist in heaven possibly paint that could better express the transcendent than the God and heaven that surrounds him.  His picture would be a poor copy.  The only true artist in heaven is God.  He has painted a masterpiece with the blood of the Lamb.  We are all a part of his great work and yet when one steps back from the depiction of all our faces, only one face is seen, the face of Jesus, God’s Son.

We speak of the Eucharist as a foretaste from the heavenly banquet.  I suspect that the best and most solemn hymns also grant us a tiny sampling from the heavenly choir.  There is something in the soul that vaguely remembers music from before the fall.  A note here, a piece of melody there, and suddenly we are conveyed to another plateau of existence. The celestial choir eternally sings the praises of God.  While on earth music can raise our hearts and voices to God; in heaven, we are already there— music can only express this abiding presence and the truth that we are made for God and must give him the glory.  Singing God’s praises in heaven might be like breathing on earth.

As for poetry, the greatest works seek to crack open the mysteries of God— to apprehend a fleeting truth.  Poetry and music are kindred threads.  The mystery they target is realized in heaven, but when it comes to the kingdom it has swallowed us up— filled us— transformed us.  God is the poet in heaven and we have become his poem.  All poetry in heaven is love poetry.  God takes the initiative because he loved us first.  We are called to the marriage banquet of the Lamb.

“My lover speaks and says to me, ‘Arise, my friend, my beautiful one, and come! For see, the winter is past, the rains are over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of pruning the vines has come, and the song of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines, in bloom, give forth fragrance. Arise, my friend, my beautiful one, and come! My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the secret recesses of the cliff, Let me see your face, let me hear your voice, For your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely’” (Song of Songs 2:10-14).

Are the Saints Dressed with More than a Smile?

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Children used to be the only ones to ask the question, “Do the saints in heaven wear clothes?”  However, adults are increasingly asking me the same question.  Dr. Kreeft refers to visions from private revelation:  “They say that it is hard to classify the blessed as either clothed or naked. If clothed, it is as if the clothing were a part of the body, an organic growth, rather than an accidental, foreign covering: it reveals rather than conceals, and it is natural and necessary rather than artificial and accidental. If naked, it is shameless and not arousing erotic desires.”

 

I recall reading a speculative fiction paperback years ago where the people destined for heaven found themselves embodied.  As they went up to heaven their bodies began to change— principally their sexual organs began to shrink and disappear— making them appear as small children but without sexual passion or interest.  Those who went to hell seemed to go through a reverse process and became more unruly and manipulated by their desires and sin.  I really do not think that is the prospect that awaits us after death.  If our Lord could even carry the wounds of his ordeal in his hands, feet and side; then I think it is more likely that we will continue to be who we are, albeit no longer subject to concupiscence or the need to propagate the species.  Indeed, the need for intimacy will no longer require the joining of bodies but will be satisfied with the beatific vision and union with God.  Our souls, if not immediately then at the final consummation, will be rejoined to our bodies glorified and made immortal.  Naked or clothed it will make no difference because there will be no shame, just as it was with Adam and Eve in the primordial garden before the fall.

We will be recognizable and yet different.  Imagine if no one were overweight or starving, weakened by age or handicapped, and no longer anxious about tomorrow or weary from the world’s betrayals and difficulties.  It is no wonder that the women at the tomb did not immediately recognize Jesus.  Remember, they had last seen his scourged and crucified body taken down from the Cross.  Now, suffering and death no longer has any part of him… this is the smiling Jesus… this is the Christ of joy!

There are several instances where the Bible describes the vestiture of heaven as white, indeed when it comes to the Transfiguration (indicative of Christ’s coming victory over sin and death and his resurrection), his clothes are whiter than any bleacher could make them— almost like light itself.  It would make sense that believers would suppose that those who follow our Lord would be similarly attired. “After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him” (Matthew 17:1-3).  Light and truth are interconnected themes.

Clothes are worn in the garden because of a sense of shame or inadequacy.  Clothes are still worn, not only for warmth and comfort, but also to project something about ourselves— an image that may not always be in conformity with the truth.  Some wear tight clothing for reasons of seduction.  Others wear loose or baggy clothing to disguise shape.  Still others wear clothes that inspire or impress others.  Note that the new Adam is virtually stripped when he undergoes his passion and the victory of the Cross.  I suspect any clothing that we may wear or appear to wear in the coming kingdom will not disguise but rather show precisely who we are and what we are about.

A parable is told about a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.  After his initial guests made excuses so as not to attend, he sends out a general invitation.  “‘Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.’ The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to meet the guests he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment. He said to him, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’ But he was reduced to silence. Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’ Many are invited, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:9-14). It is important for us to remember that the wedding garments were readily available and given at the door.  This one person entered the feast unconcerned about honoring the king’s son and lacking any gratitude for the invitation.  There is no answer he can make.  He does not belong.  He is thrown out.  Note that he is tied up.  Turning to Jesus, outside the feast there is only bondage and despair— there is only sin and hell.  The wedding garment, these gowns of white for the elect, signify honoring Christ and that we are participants in the wedding banquet of the Lamb.

Note that brides still often wear white dresses or gowns.  Those who attend the heavenly banquet are more than guests, they are members of the Church and the Church is the bride of Christ.  White is a precious sign of light, purity and marriage.  Groom and Bride wear white, indeed, the bride’s gown has been washed clean in the blood of the Lamb. “Then one of the elders spoke up and said to me, ‘Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?’ I said to him, ‘My lord, you are the one who knows.’ He said to me, ‘These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:13-14).

There is an old saying, clothes make the man.  If this is the case, then wearing Christ means embracing the new man.  We are not what we were before and yet, in a sense, we have become our true self— what God has wanted us to become from the very beginning. The saints of heaven will be spiritually clothed in Christ, in whom nothing is hidden and where truth reigns.  “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection” (Colossians 3:12-14).

Treasure for Ourselves in Heaven

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I remember many years ago a man who so loved his car that he made the news by being buried in it.  He literally tried to take it with him.  This stands in stark comparison to a priest I knew who was buried almost naked in a cardboard box.  The only thing he took with him was a fork as a symbol of his readiness for the banquet table of heaven.  The discussion here about possessions is a bit odd because we should all know that we leave this world as we came into it, naked and without earthly belongings.  The only treasure we can take with us into the kingdom after death is the gift of Christ.  If we have God then what more could any of us ever want.  If the question is about stuff in heaven, then it is certainly possible but I doubt there will be ownership as we now experience it.  Stuff will be insignificant.  We give material things value in this world.  But what happens when the only prize that measures is the greatest good, God, himself?

The formation of saints begins on earth, not in heaven.  The rich man lacked charity for the beggar Lazarus at his door.  “Abraham replied, ‘My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented’”(Luke 16:25).  The beggar was regarded as a thing of no importance, not a person of infinite value.  He was literally a door mat, walked over each time the rich man entered his home.  Indeed, worse than that, we are told the dogs licked his sores.  He had been reduced to dog food.  The rich man in this story is condemned, not simply because he was rich, but because he had no real or practical love for Lazarus.  We are told that the Lord identifies himself with the poor and the oppressed.  A failure to love the beggar was a failure to love God.  The reward given to Lazarus and the punishment suffered by the rich man is an expression of divine justice.

Scripture tells us that we have a jealous God.  “‘No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon’” (Matthew 6:24).  Jesus encounters a young man who has kept the commandments and desires spiritual perfection. “Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions. Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Amen, I say to you, it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven’” (Matthew 19:21-23). It appears that the young rich man is invited to be a thirteenth apostle.  But he goes away sad because his possessions are many.  Jews traditional view themselves as blessed by God according to wealth, land and progeny.  The kingdom of Christ turns this reasoning on its head.  The young rich man could keep the rules, but giving everything to the poor is a level of mastery with charity that he has yet to acquire.  It would mean putting aside worldly standing and the personal security that he has come to trust.  It takes faith and courage to live for the kingdom.

The apostles are perplexed by this episode.  They might have been poor or hard working men, but they probably also had dreams about being self-sufficient and knowing earthly security.  The question is asked, is there any hope for the rich man?  “Jesus looked at him [now sad] and said, ‘How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.’ Those who heard this said, ‘Then who can be saved?’ And he said, ‘What is impossible for human beings is possible for God.’ Then Peter said, ‘We have given up our possessions and followed you.’ He said to them, ‘Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God who will not receive back an overabundant return in this present age and eternal life in the age to come’” (Luke 18:24-30).  If we will not readily let go, death itself will force our possessions from our clasped hands.

We will have the Lord and belong to God.  “‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be’” (Matthew 6:19-21).

If we were to put anything before God in the life to come then we would not find ourselves in heaven.  Even the “self” must be given to God so that it may be perfected and made holy. Years ago I watched a television musical based on the story of The Littlest Angel about a shepherd boy who finds himself in heaven.  He loves the things of earth and has a hard time letting go.  It is only when he takes his recently recovered box made from scraps of wood and filled with the treasures of earth (two white stones, three blue eggs, a dry butterfly, a starling’s feather, etc.) and presents it as a gift to the Christ Child that he is ready to take his proper place in heaven.  (As a bit of humor, pockets are sewed into his celestial gown because, since there is detachment from things, no one there has pockets.)  He trades his earthly treasures for the one who will rest in the feedbox of the manger.

 

We may speak of possessing heaven, but in truth heaven will possess us.  God is goodness, beauty, truth, life and grace.  We will not know these attributes as things but as a person.  The Lord will share himself with us but we will never be able to utterly consume him.

Is One Free to Sin in Heaven?

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There are some questions that can be regarded as silly.  Why?  It is because they focus on a fallacy.  For instance, take this question:  Given that God can do anything; can he make a rock too heavy for him to pick up?  If the answer is YES, then he is not all powerful because he cannot lift the rock.  If the answer is NO, then he is not all powerful because he cannot make such a rock.  What is the answer?  The assertion is nonsense because it contains an inner contradiction.  Similar conflicts are found as in the biblical temptation scene.  Some will argue that if the devil’s temptations were real then Jesus could have potentially given in and sinned.  However, temptation does not necessarily imply the possibility of succumbing.  In the case of Jesus, it was impossible.  Sin is by definition an act of disobedience against God.  However, Jesus is a divine Person.  God cannot sin against himself.  Similarly, the question is raised:  if the saints of heaven are free then are they free to sin?  The problem is how we understand freedom.  While it might be misused in this world, it is perfected in the world to come.  True freedom means loving obedience to God.  The misuse of freedom or a false freedom is realized in sin or disobedience to God.  Indeed, it is to embrace bondage to the diabolical.

Free will and moral perfection are in sync for the saints of heaven.  While sin is possible for those who only see dimly as through a veil, such is not possible for those who see God face-to-face.  When confronted by the greatest good, which is God, the will is immediately disposed to embrace it.  There is no apparent good.  There is nothing which can compete with it.  Arguably even the angels knew some sort of demarcation when they were tested.

It can also be argued that our ultimate decisions were already made during our mortal lives.  Our orientation is fixed with death.  Along these lines, certain theologians argue that the unborn and children who die before reaching the age of reason might be given the opportunity for making a choice in regard to their eternal destiny.  Many suspect that their personal innocence and the intercession of the parents and/or the Church would nudge them to make free decisions in loving God.  But this is speculation, no matter how optimistic the Church might be in their regard.  In any case, the denizens of heaven, both human and angelic cannot change their minds.  They have freely turned their backs to sin and have set their sights on almighty God. Coincidentally, such is also the state of hell and the slavery they have exchanged for freedom. We read the following in the fourth book of Milton’s Paradise Lost:  “Nay, cursed be thou; since against his thy will / Chose freely what it now so justly rues. / Me miserable! which way shall I fly / Infinite wrauth and infinite despair? / Which way I fly is Hell; myself am Hell…” (line 75)

 

Sin in heaven would be a violation of the very identity of the saints.  Their wills are united to that of Christ.  They have been made holy as God is holy.

No Loss or Suffering in Heaven?

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Can God and the saints of heaven experience sorrow for those who have alienated themselves from the Lord and are lost to heaven?

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

A priest who answers questions at EWTN insists that the souls of the just will no longer remember those who have damned themselves.  He argues that this is necessary to preserve heavenly happiness and peace.  I do not believe this is the case.  As for God, our revealed doctrines allow no room for such a sense of loss in the divinity.  God is defined as the unmoved mover. He possesses all perfections.  He cannot be hurt or moved. Dr. Kreeft suggests that the answer is within the generations of the triune persons, “a system of self-dying, self-giving.”  Is he right?  The notion seems a bit contrived to me but it may be that I am not smart enough to understand what he is trying to say.  Certainly, there is a giving and receiving within the godhead.  Recent online debates are also resorting to revised calculations about the number of the damned.  Dr. Ralph Martin is often cited by those who further the traditional assumption that more might be lost than saved.  Bishop Robert Barron is frequently quoted by the other side— that most will somehow go to heaven. If the latter were true, there would not be that many to feel any loss about.  But of course, within the perspective of God, one soul is as loved as all souls. (There was a raging debate a decade ago between certain traditionalists that God hated sinners and thus the denizens of hell had forfeited the love of God.  The saints would then concur that they got what they deserved and that would be the end of it.  Sorry, but I do not think that is a plausible answer either.)

 

I suspect that the problem is that we are trying to resolve how we will know and feel within the unknown conditions of beatific vision and heavenly light. Currently our awareness is often blurred and everything is touched by an oppressive darkness:  suffering, loss, pain, sin and death.  Can we even imagine how things will seem to us when these elements are subtracted?  Theoretically we can try but on the level of real and immediate experience, it is all we know.

Sorrow is defined as “a feeling of deep distress caused by loss, disappointment, or other misfortune suffered by oneself or others.”  The resolution in reference to God seems to be within the Sacred Heart devotion and the mystery of the Cross.  It may be that part of our conundrum is that we are still thinking in a temporal and terrestrial manner.  The secret may be in how we spiritually understand the Mass, which is a sacramental re-presentation albeit unbloody of the passion and death of Jesus.  We know that Jesus dies once and for all and that he can never suffer or die again.  The weight of the world’s sins included both those who would respond in an affirmative way to his self-offering and gift of himself as well as those who would still reject his saving work and join themselves to the devil.  Look at the apostles Peter and Judas.  Both betray and fail Christ; however, one will later be healed by his love of Christ and the other will despair and destroy himself.  The gift of salvation is available to everyone.  But not all will accept it, only the “many” that constitute the elect.  The sorrow of heaven is in the paschal mystery of Christ.  God as a perfect spirit cannot be moved; however, in Jesus Christ we have a God who has made himself one of us.

As pilgrims, we celebrate the sacraments and enter into the betrayal, passion and death of Christ.  We apply our many sufferings to the oblation of Jesus, for ourselves and for the reparation of sins.  We may not mourn or feel loss in heaven, but that does not preclude such sentiment in the present.  The mystery of the Cross cannot be restricted to one page of salvation history.  It bleeds through the many pages of the story.  Along with the sacraments, we are also called to take up our crosses and to follow Jesus.  Here again, any loss or pain toward brothers and sisters who have said no to God is also experienced.  This will later extend beyond the time of testing to the process of purgation.  We will suffer not just for ourselves but like our Lord for all those whom we love and would have as a part of us.  Parents weep for rebellious children.  Siblings lament the ravages of sin in brothers and sisters.  However, once translated into heaven, all the tears would have been shed and wiped away. The time for mourning and pain will come to an end.

The saints in heaven fully embrace divine providence.  The emphasis is upon the goodness of God, what he has done for us and the offer of freedom— not the misuse of freedom or the rejection of God’s gifts.  There is solace to be found in that our Lord as both the Divine Justice and the Divine Mercy has given us every opportunity to share his life and presence.  Those who have turned away are remembered, but as those who have misused their freedom.  They received what they wanted.  God will not force himself upon his children.

God will so saturate us with his joy and his presence that there will no room or space in us for sadness or sorrow in heaven.  That part of the dance will be completed.  That element of the celestial harmony will already be sung.  God withdraws himself from the damned only because they hate him.  Nevertheless, a spark remains that keeps them in existence.  This miniscule spark is what constitutes the legendary and frightening fire of hell.  Poor but happy souls will be perfected (or healed) and saints will dance for joy in the great conflagration of God’s love and the damned will withdraw in pain from the smallest glint of a flame.

Dr. Kreeft wonders about the tears of Mary for wayward children.  Here again, I would return to the mystery of Christ’s saving work.  Mary is the sorrowful Mother at the hill of Calvary.  She weeps not only for her Son but for all who would become her spiritual children.  She will take the dead body of Jesus into her arms.  While never ordained a priest, she would have every right to say, “This is my flesh.  This is my blood.”  There is a profound unity between the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  They beat in unison, loving not just the holiest of men and women, but also those who are wayward and the most prodigal.  There is something eternal about that moment at the Cross.  Jesus offers himself to the Father as a sin offering for the world.  However, in a spiritual sense, and as the new Eve, Mary joins Jesus in this precious offering or surrender.  Mary was always the handmaid of the temple, first of the temple built by men and now the temple of Christ’s body.  Even as we begin to tear it down, Mary holds her Son in her arms, seeking already to rebuild this temple— an effort made complete in the resurrection and ascension.

We can never fully appreciate the immense suffering of our Lord on the Cross.  This is because he was a divine Person.  It is said that with a greater depth of love there comes an increased capacity for pain or suffering.  God neither created nor redeemed us from necessity.  He fashioned us for himself with a perfect freedom.  He wanted us to love him in freely in return.  The measure of the Cross is to free or liberate us from the bondage to sin and death.  While we preferred slavery, he would again make us free.  The infinite love of God is measured for us on the Cross.  This is how much God loves us.  God makes himself into an absurdity for us, and one that the fallen angels could not stomach.  The almighty is made weak.  The invulnerable is wounded.  The eternal is put to death.  Here is the full measure of pain and loss.  While it could not last it would never be dismissed.  It is a moment in time given everlasting significance.  Heaven touches earth.  The eternal enters the temporal.  The full ramifications of the Creator joining himself to his creation have been realized.  We do not have the words to express what happens.  It is terrible and yet wonderful.  It seems so awfully bad and yet we even call it Good Friday.  Tears of suffering will be transmuted into those of joy.  What would normally be a sign of defeat becomes the greatest of victories.

C.S. Lewis would remind us in his book, The Great Divorce, that hell cannot blackmail heaven.  Manipulation through loss would make a hell of heaven.  Dr. Kreeft explains this as God and the saints being entirely active, not passive.  He writes, “We too can love without sorrow or vulnerability because we love only with the active feeling of caring, not the passive feeling of being hurt.”

See “Fourteen Questions About Heaven” by PETER KREEFT.