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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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[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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Mass at Mother Seton Shrine

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The deacons and I took a photo together after the 4:00 PM Saturday Mass at the Mother Seton Shrine in Emmitsburg. It was the Fall Meeting for the MD State Knights of Columbus.

October 28, 2018

[149] Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

1 Jeremiah  31:7-9 / Psalm 126 / 2 Hebrews 5:1-6 / Mark 10:46-52

God’s people from the Northern Kingdom are returning home from their exile imposed first under the Assyrians.  The Lord has appeared to them on their return and the scene is reminiscent of the Mosaic exodus.  The prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled and Jeremiah shares with them their joy from God.  He tells them to praise God saying, “The LORD has delivered his people, the remnant of Israel.”

The Lord also calls to his children in the Church.  We are summoned as his new People of God from “the ends of the world.”  The apostles would preach the kingdom into the lands of the diaspora and the Gentiles.  We are made a new nation of prophets.  Just as Jesus went out to poor and the oppressed, healing the blind and the crippled; the Church is also commissioned to “console and guide them.” The Church is the New Israel. While the responsorial carries this theme of joyous restoration, in the Church it is so much more.  It is both a consummation and a new beginning.

Our fundamentalist friends often equate the New Zion with the institution of the current political state of Israel.  However, the Catholic Church sees herself as the New Jerusalem or Zion to which God calls his people.  Instead of liberation from the Egyptians or the Assyrians or the Babylonians or the Romans, God’s people are delivered from bondage to suffering, sin and death.  We are no longer the devil’s property but have been redeemed by Christ, the long-awaited Jewish Messiah and the Savior of the world.

While the only crown Jesus would wear in mortal life was one of thorns, it is in the Lord that the earthly or Davidic kingdom is united to Christ’s eternal or divine kingdom.  We are invited into this kingdom through faith and baptism.  More than simple subjects, we are anointed as a royal household— adopted sons and daughters of the Father, kin to Christ and with Mary as our Queen Mother.

The Christian ceremony of baptism for children has us anointed into Christ as “priest, prophet and king.”  The house of Jesus is a priestly one where we are called to take up our crosses and to follow the Lord.  Priests offer oblation.  It is within our baptismal priesthood that we render loving sacrifices to God and for others.  We join ourselves with the successors of the apostles, the ordained priests, so as to offer ourselves with the Lord at Mass to the Father as an acceptable sacrifice.  We seek to be transformed in surrendering ourselves with the eternal Lamb of God.

Paul’s letter to the Hebrews compares the Jewish priesthood with the priesthood of Christ.  It is clear that an old order passes away in favor of the new.  “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” Jesus is our true high priest before God and he offers the sacrifice of his very self for our sins.  This new People of God will have its own leadership and order.  The authority given to the apostles is quickly understood to have a sacerdotal dimension; they and their successors are sharers in the one priesthood of Christ.

The blind beggar calls Jesus by a messianic title, “Son of David.” The crowd is embarrassed by him and tries to silence the poor man.  He refuses to shut up.  Jesus stops and tells them to call him.  Their posture changes and they are suddenly supportive of Bartimaeus, saying, “Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.” Notice what he does— he threw his cloak aside and proceeded to Jesus.  This in itself demonstrates faith in the person of Jesus.  He trusts that he will be able to see so as to retrieve his cloak.  What Jesus does next might sound absurd.  He asks, “What do you want me to do for you?”  Was it not obvious? The man says, “Master, I want to see.”  Why did Jesus ask such a question? We must remember that the many miracles of Jesus always pointed to deeper realities.  Everyone healed would become ill in the future and die.  I suspect he was looking for a more profound response— like “I want to be holy” or “I want to follow you” or “I want to be saved.” Yes, the beggar immediately receives his sight; but again, we must notice the words of Jesus.  He says, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” This man not only received a healing but absolution.  Light came to his eyes and his soul is also enlightened.  Jesus confirms his faith, even though he may have hoped for a more profound response.  Look at the text.  Jesus tells him to go on his way and we are next told that the beggar “followed him on the way.”

The expression “way” would come to mean the way of faith as a Christian, literally our Lord’s summons to take up our crosses and to follow him.  This walking with Christ is our participation in the new exodus of Jesus… as children redeemed to walk in the freedom of Christ.  We are called to leave our old lives behind and trust that Jesus will open our eyes to follow him in the Christian life.  Our saving faith in Jesus Christ is not simply a profession of faith but is one of transformative unity with the Lord.

The theme of exodus has the subjects both leaving something and moving toward something.  The elements of exodus are uttered in the cry, “Repent and believe.”  We move away from our former life of sin and move toward a new life of faith and obedience to God.  Every time the priest gives absolution to a soul that was in mortal sin, there is an exodus from bondage to freedom— from death to life.  This pattern is true for groupings of people and for individuals.  Missionary endeavors seek to bring the Gospel to whole classes of people.  The spiritual life focuses on a personal exodus experience for individuals.

It should also be noted that we are sometimes reluctant to participate in an exodus.  The Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron: “If only we had died at the LORD’s hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our kettles of meat and ate our fill of bread! But you have led us into this wilderness to make this whole assembly die of famine!” (Exodus 16:3). Unhappy with the struggle of their journey, many wished they had never left Egypt.  Similarly, at the time of the restoration, many of the Jews refused to return to Jerusalem as they had integrated into their Babylonian exile and lived comfortable lives.  Indeed, some remained but sent resources with departing Hebrews so that they could rebuild. We can face similar struggles and temptations in the spiritual life.  People can become comfortable with their sins.  Bad habits or vices can direct lives and make it difficult for grace and virtue to change direction.  An important point is at play.  God makes possible the exodus, but you have to want to go.  This is not unlike the old anecdote, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.”  It is an unfortunate truth that some prefer bondage to freedom and thirst to the cup of salvation.

  • Are there things holding you back from being a true companion with Christ and his people “on the journey”?
  • The story of the exodus became an important part of the Seder celebration for the Jewish people. What is your own exodus and Passover story?
  • Unlike the people of Judah, the other Jews of the diaspora and exile were never formally given an opportunity to return to Jerusalem. Are there people or forces that would keep you in bondage and in exile from God?
  • As a sharer in Christ’s priestly love, what are the chief sacrifices that you have made for the kingdom of Christ?
  • As a member of the royal household of God, do you see yourself and others with God’s eyes— as having an “incommensurate” value in terms of human dignity and life?
  • Have you been faithful to the great commission as a prophet of Good News, witnessing for Christ and his Church? (Often this translates as practicing the faith and raising one’s family in the Church and in union with parish faith formation programs.)

[35] Fifth Sunday of Lent

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Readings:  Jeremiah 31:31-34 / Psalm 51 / Hebrews 5:7-9 / John 12:20-33

Our first reading selection today is taken from what is called the Oracles of the Restoration of Israel and Judah.  Jeremiah’s writings would be an inspiration for the prophet(s) Isaiah; indeed, they proved more beneficial after his death in that they gave hope to a vanquished people.  He promoted religious reform and fought the idolatry that plagued Judah.  With the apostasy and fall of the nation, he suffered arrest, imprisonment, public disgrace and exile.

The prophet speaks of an impending new covenant, different from before, in that faithfulness will replace their current infidelity.  God’s law will not be upon tablets of clay or rock that might be lost or broken, but rather placed within them and written “upon their hearts.”  The words once spoken to Abraham will be made everlasting:  “I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”  While arguably ambiguous, it sounds like the language of grace.  It deeply resonates with Christ’s words about his new and everlasting covenant.  Just as the admonition of the Gospel was “repent and believe,” i.e. “obey,” the prophet writes in the persona of the Almighty, “I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.”  Our Lord came into the world for the forgiveness of sins.  He heals the breach between God and man.  The new Israel and the New Judah is the Church.

The responsorial similarly speaks of God’s law imprinted upon human hearts:  “Create a clean heart in me, O God.”  The two-fold commandment of Christ emphasizes the love of God and of neighbor.  We are to have the Lord’s heart in the priorities we set for ourselves, in regard to that which we love and in how we demonstrate or witness compassion, generosity and forgiveness.  Jeremiah was of the priestly class— priests offered sacrifice— they sought to make atonement for sin.  The prophet lamented how hard-hearted were both the rulers and the people that followed them.  They invited their doom by forfeiting divine favor and protection.  No doubt our Lord had Jeremiah in mind when he spoke about how the leaders and crowd even rejected him.  We read in Matthew 23:37-39:

“‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her young under her wings, but you were unwilling! Behold, your house will be abandoned, desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

God is faithful.  Both God and man will be faithful in Christ.

What is a clean heart?  It is pure for sure, but it is also undivided.  It is a heart with a single purpose.  Do we want this heart?  If so then I would recommend the prayer that the apostle Paul gave the Ephesians:

“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:14-21).

The second reading presents Christ as the one High Priest of Christianity.  Our Lord did “offer prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears” to the Father on our behalf.  Jesus is faithful to his mission given him by the Father unto the Cross.  He does what no other priest had ever accomplished, he offered perfect atonement and “became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”  When our Lord beseeches us to take up our crosses and follow him, he is appealing to us as his priestly people in baptism.  It is within the oblation of Christ that our sacrifices and self-offering can be made to the Father.  This merits for us a share in the Lord’s reward or victory.  Every disciple is to believe, love and serve with a priestly heart.  The measure of all love is in terms of surrender or sacrifice.  We belong to the Lord.  He is a jealous God.  He will not share us.  He abides in us by grace so that we might live in him forever.

There are several times (both explicitly and in veiled symbolic language) that Jesus prophesies about his coming betrayal, passion and death.  He asserts in today’s Gospel, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.”  After making a reference to his coming death, his attention turns to his followers.  “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me.”  How would you advertise for such an ordeal?  Imagine you were reading the HELP WANTED ads and your eyes ran across the following:

“WANTED… men and women willing to give up family, position, wealth and power… yes, absolutely everything so as to follow a prophet who claims to be God.  Note that you must be willing to follow him in being betrayed, mocked, tortured and murdered.  He promises to give you eternal life.”

Sounds crazy, does it not?  Who would answer such a thing?  And yet, that is precisely the call of the Gospel.

  • What does it mean to have a sacrificial “priestly” heart?
  • What must we do to show that we belong to the Lord and his kingdom?
  • How might we be prophetic instruments in bringing reform to our society?
  • Have you ever prayed for someone or something to the point of tears?

[32] Fourth Sunday of Lent

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Reading:  2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23 / Psalm 137 / Ephesians 2:4-10 / John 3:14-21

The first sentence of our reading from 2 Chronicles gives us the setting:  “In those days, all the princes of Judah, the priests, and the people added infidelity to infidelity, practicing all the abominations of the nations and polluting the LORD’s temple which he had consecrated in Jerusalem.”  God’s people had broken their covenant with the Almighty and thus had forfeited divine favor and protection.  Israel had fallen and now the same fate would come to Judah.  The demise of the remaining Jewish kingdom of Judah extends through the apostasy of their last four kings, culminating in the Babylonian invasion and the exile of God’s people in the Jewish diaspora.  They had lost everything and were no longer a nation of their own.  Many years later the Persian king Cyrus the Great would conquer the Neo-Babylonian Empire and authorize the restoration of the Temple in Jerusalem. Many of the exiles would then return to their homeland.  The history of salvation had seen God’s people start out as a family and then become a tribe and still later a nation.  Now there is a transitioning into a religion.  They would have limited rule of their own, but only as supervised or oppressed by others— a situation which would last through the Roman acquisition of their territories and the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD.

It was in light of the diminished power of the tetrarch Herod (who imagined himself a king) and the Sanhedrin, many who were fearful stooges for the occupying power that the Jewish people longed for a Davidic Messiah who would vanquish their foes by force of the sword.  When Jesus entered the stage of world events, the religious leadership saw him as a threat to their position.  Many of the people were drawn to him and yet they quickly became despondent when he emphasized a heavenly kingdom over an earthly one.  He was not the kind of Messiah they wanted.  His message of loving and even forgiving their enemies infuriated the zealots.  When it came to the legal requirement of carrying a soldier’s armament, he urged them to do so for two miles (while the law said no more than one).  They wanted someone who burned with hate like themselves.  It seemed that instead of a military liberator, Jesus was a friend of Romans.  Indeed, the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate wanted to set him free, but though bribery, disappointment, and fear, Jesus would be condemned to death.  The cry of the crowd, “We have no king but Caesar!” would ironically signal how the fall of Israel and Judah were now complete.  A new people would come forward, made up of not only the Jews, but from all the nations— all who would believe in Christ and in his kingdom.

The second reading emphasizes how this new kingdom comes in the person of Christ.  “God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ.”  The Church as the Mystical Body of Christ is also one with the kingdom— the New Israel or New Zion or New Jerusalem.

The psalm echoes the longing of God’s people in Babylonian exile.  They struggled to maintain their identity while surrounded by pagan believers and their stories about false deities. The Babylonians worshiped several gods, the chief one being Marduk.  Much to the chagrin of the Hebrews, the Babylonians were true idolaters, positing the presence of their deities in their statues and temples.  As they became increasing enculturated, many were tempted to abandon the faith of Abraham.  The prophets urged them not to forget and to stay faithful to the true God that had called them.  The exile would last some seventy years.  “Let my tongue be silenced, if I ever forget you! How could we sing a song of the LORD in a foreign land? If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand be forgotten!”

Turning to the new dispensation, while much of the Jewish leadership would renounce Christ, there were a few that did not.  Among them were Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.  Jesus told Nicodemus that “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”  This was and is the essential Christian kerygma.  When God’s people were sick and dying from snake bites, Moses had crafted a serpent on a staff or pole.  Those who looked upon it were healed.  The serpent was a sign of death; but this sacramental changed it into a means for hope and life.  Jesus would be lifted up upon a cross, also a sign of despair and death.  Nevertheless, the redemptive work of Christ and his subsequent resurrection changed it for us into a sign of hope and eternal life.

Salvation is based upon an acceptance of Christ.  He is the source of grace.  There is no other way to the Father.  We are saved, not because we are good or faithful but first because Jesus is goodness and is faithful to the mission given him by his Father onto the Cross. He is the LIGHT in the darkness.

The darkness is Satan and yet he masquerades as light.  Indeed, one of his names is Lucifer, meaning light.  He is the false light that would lead us astray.  He is the dark force that numbs consciences to the truth.  Jesus gave sight to the blind, healed cripples, gave hearing to the deaf, restored lepers, raised the dead and yet the hearts and minds of the religious leadership were closed to him and they rejected him.  Indeed, they wanted him dead and gone.  How blind could they be?  How deaf to his message?  Is it any different today?  The Church speaks out for the sanctity of human life and for the dignity of persons— and yet the leaders of this world are still quick to hate and so selfish that even babies are disposable.  Many people say they believe or are enlightened but they remain in the grips of bigotry and violence.  Many say they care and yet they promote pornography and an industry that reduces people, especially women, to the level of meat or flesh.  Separated from God, we do not know how to be good.  The devil exploits this darkness.  He distracts us from Christ.  He breathes his cold breath over hearts that should be warmed by sacrifice and grace.  There are all sorts of attacks against the Church and believers who witness with conviction.  Why?  “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed.”

We must shine with the LIGHT of Christ, even if it should illumine that which in ourselves still needs repentance and conversion.

  • Have we ever blamed God for problems and faults of our own making?
  • Do we really believe that God is always faithful and ready to forgive us?
  • Do we place greater confidence in the world than in the values of the Gospel?
  • Are you stumbling in darkness? What is the true light of our lives?
  • What forces around us desire to extinguish the light of Christ in our souls?
  • How have we helped others to find their way as believers or are we stumbling blocks?

[29] Third Sunday of Lent

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Readings: Exodus 20:1-17 / Psalm 19 / 1 Corinthians 1:22-25 / John 2:13-25

Our first reading from Exodus has the presentation of the Decalogue, and so I would like to present some of my reflections on the Ten Commandments that I usually share with those taking formal religious instructions.  I will also speak to the catechetical over the Scriptural listing, as the incarnation of Christ has abrogated the prohibition against graven images.  Christ is the human face of God.  He is the revelation of our heavenly Father.

The first commandment reminds us that ours is a jealous God; there is no other before him. He is the one and only! He does not want us wasting our lives on false gods or empty superstitions. Even though there may not be many traditional worshipers of idols cast in stone or bronze, or of figures from nature like the sun or animals, this prohibition is still violated. We see this in dangerous occult toys, like tarot cards and Ouija boards. These things are hazardous to our souls because they sidestep God’s dominion over us and his will for us. They might even invite spiritual evil to penetrate our lives. This commandment also condemns sacrilege whereby persons, places, or things sacred to God are defiled. Even interest in the popular horoscopes can sometimes escalate beyond simple curiosity and become habitual false guides. God wants us to follow him alone.

The second commandment urges us to treat God’s name respectfully. This necessarily prohibits blasphemy, making false oaths in God’s name, and cursing.

The third commandment tells us to make the Sabbath day holy. For Christians, this obligation is transferred to Sunday. (It is interesting that most Protestant religions accept at least this one precept or legislation of the Roman Catholic Church. Otherwise, along with our Jewish brethren, they would respect it on Saturday.)  We sanctify this day by prayer, worship, avoiding unnecessary work, rest, and joy. Therefore, something like failing to participate at Mass on Sunday is not merely a violation of the laws of the Church, but in a very direct manner, an infringement upon this commandment to give God his due.

The fourth commandment exhorts us to respect our parents by loving and helping them, especially when they are in need. While young and under their immediate authority, children must obey their parents. Reciprocally, parents must give a Catholic education to the children entrusted to them. Their spiritual and material welfare is essentially in their hands. The parents may extend or endow school teachers and others with something of their own authority. This commandment speaks to us in a less direct way about authority in general. All just authority comes from God. We are called to obey spiritual and civil authorities when they make legitimate demands. However, if there is a conflict between the laws of human beings and those of God, God comes first.

The fifth commandment prohibits us from either harming our own bodies or those of others. This commandment expands beyond murder or suicide to the various partial degradations: including such things as mutilation, striking another, harmful drugs, drunkenness, and carelessly taking risks with our lives. Abortion is a direct violation of this commandment. Our right to choose should never be deemed a higher priority than another person’s right to life.

The sixth commandment, taken alone, forbids all external sins against chastity. Once sexual activity is condoned outside marriage, as in fornication, it is logically difficult to confine afterwards, as in adultery. The premise is already adopted. Some fifty percent of the couples who live together prior to marriage eventually get divorced. The seed for failure is already planted. Sin is a mighty poor preparation for the nuptial sacrament. Considered with the ninth commandment, all interior sins against chastity are likewise condemned. The human sexual powers are given for the propagation of children and for the fidelity of a man and woman in marriage. Outside of marriage, it is a great evil to exercise these powers, which are not simply expressions of our flesh, but of our very persons— who we are! Inside marriage, these powers must not be distorted in their purpose or in the motivation of two people in love drawn to union. Lust, even in marriage, is a sin and degradation to what it means to be truly human. It re-categorizes the beloved from a personal subject to an impersonal object. Instead of self-sacrifice and surrender— thinking of the other’s needs and happiness— we selfishly treat the other as a disposable thing with which we can seek our own gratification. If the beloved is no more than an object, then the stage is set for adultery because objects are interchangeable. This is the antithesis of the Gospel. Marriage is called to be a permanent union. Adultery is a gross violation of that permanent union which is to reflect the fidelity between Christ and his bride, the Church. The adulterer plays the role of Satan who would lure us away from our divine groom and from the wedding banquet of heaven.

The seventh commandment rejects stealing and dealing unjustly with another. Even if we accept stolen goods, we have broken this commandment. All sorts of things fall under this heading: idling, charging unfair interest, not paying debts, not giving a just salary, and stealing someone’s good name. Restitution is demanded in cases where we have stolen or damaged the goods of others. This last matter draws this commandment to the eighth.

The eighth commandment would have us be a people of truth and good will. We are not to lie or to slander others. If we stumble into this sin, then we need to repair the damage caused by our falsehoods.

The ninth commandment, as mentioned under the sixth, requires us to be mindful of our thoughts. To occupy ourselves with sexual fantasies regarding others, not only breaks down our will in reference to actions, but degrades the one whom we are imagining. This is destructive to the dignity of the person who is reduced to an impersonal object in obscene films and other pornography.

The tenth commandment, like the ninth, reminds us that God wants our conversion, both in external action and in our internal disposition. To be open to the grace of his presence, we must free ourselves from within, of those persons or things which we might covet before God. In actuality, we might not commit a sin against justice, but we might “want” to do it. Even this needs to be weaned away. We need to reach a point in our spiritual life where we do not WANT to steal from or to hurt another.

God establishes his law with his people.  Fidelity to the commandments realizes the covenant with God.  Disobedience is more than breaking rules; it severs a saving relationship with the Lord.  The full revelation of God and the expansion of his covenant relationship, as the apostle Paul says in the second reading, are in Christ Crucified.  The Gospel gives us the shocking scene where Jesus whips the money-changers out of the temple and upsets their tables.  He complains that the temple which is a place for worship and sacrifice has been made into a marketplace or even worse, a den of thieves.  When asked by what authority he casts them out, he in return challenges them, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”  They mistakenly think he is referencing the building around them when he really means his body.  Long before, the actual tablets of the law and the ark had been lost.  Jesus is the new covenant but he is not made at home in the Jewish temple.  Within seventy years the temple will be demolished by the Romans.  Two thousand years later it is still gone, all but the retaining or wailing wall.  Jesus was crucified but the temple of his body rose from the tomb.  As mentioned last week, Jesus is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets.  We are all called as believers to be obedient to Jesus and to enter into his temple, the Mystical Body.

  • Are there certain commandments that we routinely violate?
  • Do we give God his due in daily prayer, Mass participation and witness?
  • Do we follow the commandments mechanically or within Christ’s command to love?
  • While expressed negatively, how might you make the commandments into positive statements?
  • Do we respect the new temples of the Lord: Christ present in us by grace, in our homes by holiness, in our tabernacles as sacrament, in the Scriptures as the living Word, and in the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ?

[26] Second Sunday of Lent

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Readings:  Gen. 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18 / Ps. 116 / Romans 8:31b-34 / Mk. 9:2-10

An important traditional demarcation of the ancient Jews from their pagan neighbors was the repugnance they felt toward human sacrifice.  Rather, they offered the grains of the field or animals like goats, sheep, bulls and birds.  However, more recent archeological evidence shows that the early Jews did at one time offer the oblation of human beings.  The remnant texts that point to such behavior are the testing of Abraham and the story of Jephthah’s daughter. The story of Jephthah’s daughter can be found in Judges 11:29-40.  Like our passage today, it is deeply disturbing.  The Hebrew general pledges that the first who steps out the door of his home, he will sacrifice. He immediately laments his pledge because out steps his young daughter. She requests a short time to mourn her virginity and then we are told he did as he promised. Unlike the story of Abraham and Isaac, it appears that God does not stay his hand. The young girl had courage and her father kept his promise to God; but as Christians, we are aware that some promises should not be made. The child mourns that she will never know the joys of being a wife and mother. It is a poignant and terrible story.

Just as the story of Abraham and Isaac prefigures God’s surrender of his Son; the story of Jephthah’s daughter is connected to the Virgin Mary.  Mary gives herself to perpetual virginity and undergoes a vicarious martyrdom in witnessing the passion and death of her Son. Jephthah was a great Jewish general. He was successful against tremendous odds. He was victorious not because of his oath, but in spite of it. As St. John Chrysostom would tell us, his repugnant act would move the Jews to renounce all such blood-oaths from that time forward. Regarded as a testing of Abraham’s faith, a messenger from heaven intervenes and God directly prohibits the sacrifice of Isaac.  This would plainly show that God does not delight in such sacrifices.

Abraham certainly did not comprehend the command to sacrifice Isaac.  It seemed to violate providence, itself.  The patriarch was elderly and his son was the child of promise from which he was supposed to generate many descendants.  He did not understand but he remained faithful.  It is that element and not the shocking act that we should fully reflect upon.  God stays the hand of Abraham but he would not spare his own Son, the child promised from the dawn of creation.  Our heavenly Father did not directly will that his Son should be tortured and murdered; but he did desire faithfulness.  Jesus is faithful to his mission unto the Cross.  Abraham substitutes the oblation of a ram.  When God spared us (signified by Isaac), Jesus substitutes himself for us as the divine Lamb of God.  The sacrifice is no longer a ram caught in the briars but a Savior crowned with thorns.

The sacrifice of human beings by the pagans would be regarded by the early Christian community as a feeding the bloodlust of demons. We might think that we are morally better and enlightened, but over a million unborn children are aborted in the United States annually.  Many ministers regard this as a return of the demonic sacrifices of old.  Are we feeding demons the blood of our children?

The responsorial speaks to our conviction as believers during the season of Lent: “O LORD, I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your handmaid; you have loosed my bonds. To you will I offer sacrifice of thanksgiving, and I will call upon the name of the LORD.” Catholics readily make the connection between Christ as the suffering servant and Mary who declares herself as “the handmaid of the Lord.”  Jesus offers his life that we might be released from the bonds of Satan.  Our Lord will pay the price of his life to set us free.  Mother and Son will meet on Calvary.  The sacrifice of Jesus will do what all prior oblations failed to do— make true and lasting atonement for sin.

The second reading reiterates today’s theme:  “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?”  Paul is speaking about the gift of hope that comes with faith.  The victory over sin and death has already been won.

The Gospel reading gives us the scene of the Transfiguration.  Our Lord is dressed in dazzling white and beside him stands Elijah and Moses.  This signifies that Jesus is the fulfillment of the LAW and the PROPHETS.  The transformation in Jesus might be interpreted as a sign of things to come, notably the resurrection.  Lest it should be misunderstood, Jesus tells his three apostles not to speak about what they have seen until “the Son of Man had risen from the dead.”  We are told that they questioned what was meant by “rising from the dead.”  The apostles really could not get their heads around our Lord’s prophesies about his passion and death.

There is an important but sometimes overlooked element to the reading that we today should take to heart.  The heavenly Father’s voice beckons from the cloud, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”  Jesus is the ultimate term for salvation.  It is his sacrifice that is saving.  Given that he buys us back with his own life, we belong to him.  If that be the case, then it must be realized with faith and an abiding obedience.

  • What sacrifices have you made in your life to realize your discipleship?
  • Do you appreciate that every Mass is a re-presentation of the oblation of Calvary?
  • Have you placed limits on your faith and what you would do in response to God’s calling?
  • How have you died for Christ and others, brushing aside selfishness?
  • Do you listen and obey God’s Son or have you substituted other authorities?
  • Do you put a premium upon human life, both in and out of the womb?

[77] Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Readings: Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46 / Psalm 32 / 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1 / Mark 1:40-45

The Levitical law about lepers was intended to protect the community from contagion; however, the individual sufferer was both physically ostracized and stigmatized as one who was punished by God.  The leper lost everything:  his place in the community, his job, his family, etc.  Indeed, failure to abide by the regulations about proximity could result in his execution.  By appearance and by proclamation, “Unclean, unclean!” he announced his coming into the local vicinity.  Sometimes the healthy villagers or families had locations where food was left for the afflicted.  Later, those suffering from leprosy would also ring a bell, particularly if they had trouble speaking.  Just as the Jewish priest passed sentence for the expulsion, if cleansed a similar process of washing and examination might allow a (former) leper to return to his family and community.  Lepers often traveled alone although some gathered for companionship or formed their own colonies.  Most were intensely afraid of any association with them.

The situation with leprosy reminds me of what was encountered by those afflicted with AIDs in the early 1980’s.  As a priest working at a hospice in Washington, DC, I quickly saw the cancer patients outnumbered by those dying from AIDs.  There were few drugs to treat it back then and the disease quickly killed its victims.  Many of the patients I visited were young men in their 20’s.  Certain rigid fundamentalists asserted that it was God’s condemnation upon the homosexual community.  Even children and others who contracted the disease through blood transfusions were vilified and segregated.  The virus was found in all the fluids of the body, even sweat and tears.  I recall one young man who wept when I anointed him with the holy oil.  Everyone who approached him was dressed up like an astronaut and wore rubber gloves.  Much to the chagrin of the staff I insisted on applying the oil with my bare hand.  When I asked the poor man why he cried, he responded, “Father, everyone is afraid to come near me.  You are the first person to actually touch me with his bare hand in over a year.”  I was summoned to another dying patient by his parents.  As I approached the door, a young man stood before me and angrily shouted, “I am George and I am his boyfriend!  What do you think about that?  He was angry and wanted a fight.  I was not going to give it to him.  I replied, “My name is Father Joe and I am so sorry about the situation.  I have come to bring the mercy and healing of Jesus, not to debate.”  I prayed with him and the poor man’s parents.  I gave him the Last Rights.  Upset at the situation and anger at the Church seemed to disappear.  This was the real face of the Church.  Jesus did not put conditions on his love.  Our Lord said that he came not for the righteous but for sinners.  He did not shy away from others but deliberately went out to the poor, the sick, the sinners and the marginalized.  How could I or any priest do any differently?  St. Paul said in the second reading today, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”  This was the manner in which we bring salvation to others.  When family and friends learned of my hospice ministry, I was assigned my own plate, fork, spoon and a cup (with my name on it).  Because of my ministerial association with modern-day lepers, many became afraid to immediately relate with me.  Fortunately, such a hysterical response has long since subsided; but it is nothing that I will ever forget.  I took comfort from the Scriptures, knowing that our Lord was condemned and spurned because of his outreach to God’s alienated people.

The responsorial exhorts, “Blessed is he whose fault is taken away, whose sin is covered… ‘I confess my faults to the LORD.’”  We are all sick.  We are all sinners.  Nevertheless, we often look down upon others as less or as more afflicted than ourselves.  Believers are always tempted to be like the self-righteous Pharisee, seeking to justify ourselves as better than others or at least not as sinful as someone else.  But sin is sin, no matter if great or small.  We are all broken and need healing.  The Church, like Christ, does not close her doors to those afflicted by sin.  Yes, we have strong views about right and wrong.  We should never compromise our moral truths.  But likewise, we should appreciate that we have all fallen short.  We live in a messy world.  We invite God’s grace to forgive and to transform us.  This process begins in the here-and-now but for some it will not be complete until the purification in the life to come.  As vehicles or prophets of grace, we need to open the doors of the faith to all who are searching for meaning and reconciliation with God.  This is a hallmark of Pope Francis’ notion of accompaniment.

The leper in the Gospel takes a terrible chance, as does our Lord.  He approaches Jesus and begs to be healed.  This “approach” itself is forbidden by their law.  Our Lord is not worried about such things.  We read, “Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, ‘I do will it.  Be made clean.’” The Scriptures are deliberate here.  Our Lord “touched” the untouchable leper.  He made himself unclean in the sight of the religious leadership.  This is a whole magnitude more serious than eating and drinking with tax collectors.  Even the religious leadership would partake of Matthew’s food and hospitality, although without sitting at the same table with him and other condemned sinners.  The leper was absolutely off limits.  Jesus tells the man to show himself to the Jewish priest.  This is the same process we read about in the first reading.  This man is not merely physically healed, but this act of mercy restores him socially to his community and family.  It is no wonder that he could not keep secret about this great blessing in his life.  However, word of the event causes the crowds to balloon.  Such intervention would also further harden the hearts of those who oppose Jesus.  They are more concerned about rules and their standing in the Jewish community than about the plight of the poor and hurting.

  • Are there people with whom we refuse to associate?
  • Have we ever felt abandoned or rejected?
  • Are we ever afraid to become involved or to witness Christ to others?
  • Have we belittled others through stereotypes and bigotry?