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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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Images: Statues & Pictures

Exodus 25:18: “And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat.”

Numbers 21:8-9: And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.”

John 3:14: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

1 Kings 6:29: He carved all the walls in the house roundabout with carved figures of cherubim and palm trees and open flowers, in the inner and outer rooms. (Also verses 32 and 35).

The prohibition against images was never absolute. Further, there is a new economy of images due to the incarnation. Jesus is the revelation of the Father. Our very humanity becomes reflective of God. The Scriptures show that God often used images to deepen religious commitment and understanding. The prohibition against “graven images” applies to idolatry, the sin of giving the adoration reserved to God alone to some mere thing. It is peculiar that some critics will oppose the Church’s use of sacred art and yet they often have trophies, statuary, toy dolls, photographs, and paintings in their homes. Images that inspire faith and remind us of particularly holy and courageous members of our faith are no more wrong than such pictures of family and friends in our homes.

For more such reading, contact me about getting my book, DEFENDING THE CATHOLIC FAITH.

Reflection Upon the Holy Family

Although I offered a reflection upon the Holy Family at the beginning of my book on prayer, I would like to return to this subject in this post. Reflecting upon the Holy Family, we are not only guided as to what a Christian family should be, but stand convicted in our lives over what it is not. While the modern concept of liberty is often moral license, theirs was responsibility and fidelity. We cater to individualism and a preoccupation with self that runs counter to the claims of familial bonds. The immediate family in the time of Christ was expanded to include aunts, uncles, cousins and others. (Indeed, the brethren of Christ were precisely these other relations.) Catholics realize, or at least should, that our relationship to God and to one another is in the context of family. We are not alone.

While these brief words can only offer a quick brush-stroke on the subject of “family,” a few thoughts might be beneficial. Something is wrong. No amount of beating around the bush or a pretense at greater enlightenment can take away this nagging perception in all segments of society. Determining what is wrong, and for that matter right, is where public debate becomes quickly frozen and polarized.

Politicians clamor about “family values” and then argue about what this means in a pluralistic society. Advocates of alternative lifestyles seek through the media and legislatures to socially engineer the family into something past generations would think unimaginable. It is in the midst of this confusion that we come to terms with that most central of human relationships. If it were not hard enough, even our traditional family units are plagued by communication that is absent or dysfunctional.

God sends his Son that repentant children might be added to his family and given eternal life. And yet, in our sinfulness, we can and often do offer a counter-witness to this truth. I know a couple whose girl ran away at seventeen. She eventually realized her foolishness and sought to return home. However, she discovered the locks changed. Her father had told her that if she went out the door she would not be welcome back. He gave away her clothes and personal things to charity. He would not allow his wife to display her picture. It was as if she had never been born. This couple, with their older daughter, were active in the parish and regularly at Sunday Mass. When their youngest returned to Mass, they refused to sit beside her. They even maligned her to neighbors. I overheard one of her father’s parish friends tell her, “You did it to yourself. You made your own mess, now you have to live with it! This is what tough love means!” Well, yes and no. Tough love means discouraging selfishness and nurturing self-reliance. This was not that at all; it was cruelty. The girl, as it turned out, was not only a foolish teenager, she suffered from bipolar disorder. When I first met her, she was just out of a mental institution and living with her boyfriend and his grandmother. It was either this or the streets. She had nowhere else to go. She had no job because employers did not want a “crazy” girl working for them. When informed of an upcoming family reunion, she decided to attend. Her mother dismissed her at the back door: “You will just embarrass us. I planned long and hard for this party and I will not have you ruin it. Go away.” When her boyfriend smacked her around, she again tried to go home. But they were gone to Europe. The wife confided that with the younger daughter gone, they had regained their freedom, and could finally live for themselves.

As a pastor of souls I have heard many variations of this story. The happy ending of the prodigal son parable is not always revisited in the lives of those who claim to be Christian, and yet, it is precisely the witness that our Lord gave us from the Cross. We read in Colossians, “Because you are God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with heartfelt mercy, with kindness, humility, meekness, and patience . . . Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you” (Colossians 3:12-13). This is the challenge and the transformation for those who would truly be Christian. Neglectful parents today might have astonished the worst sinners and unbelievers of yesterday. Our Lord says, “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13; see also Matthew 7:9-11). A rhetorical question is now a frighteningly real one.

Among those who call upon the saving name of Jesus are those who engage in unlawful sexual activity and infidelity, destroy children in the womb, and discard those labeled defective. Instead of a forgiving love, they harden their hearts against those who share their blood and their name. This is the way it is, not the way it should be, and definitely not the way true believers should want it to remain.

Sirach 3:2-6,12-14 points, not to the parents’ obligations, but to those of children, particularly regarding the 4th commandment stipulation of honoring (obeying) one’s father and mother. But increasingly preachers are forced to confront parents. How can a child honor parents if they are dishonorable? When Jesus demanded, “Call no man your father,” (Matthew 23:9), he precisely meant that true fathers, indeed parents of either gender, are only worthy of the title when their role is reflective of the loving and merciful fatherhood of God. Parents have responsibilities toward those whom they give life. Many churches have to offer remedial instructions for uncatechized but baptized Catholics. Their parents failed to take them to Sunday Mass, to teach them their prayers, and to transmit to them our holy faith. This implies that parents themselves do not believe; nevertheless, they are still culpable for the damage to their children’s immortal souls. Such neglect is a form of child abuse and ranks with murder in the hierarchy of sins.

In return, just as we read in Sirach, children have a lasting obligation toward their parents. When parents grow older and need the support of grown children, it is not merely a matter of charity but of duty. However, such a turn-of-events is increasingly considered an unwarranted burden. I know of cases where the children fight each other, no one wanting to take the personal and immediate responsibility for an elderly parent. The children, in some cases, have learned from the example of their parents all too well. I also know good parents who did little or nothing wrong in raising their children; and yet their brood contains both the holy and the wicked.

Familial roles are not limited to a few years but have lasting consequences and obligations. Mary followed her Son and quietly emerges at various stages of the Gospel and in the public life of Jesus. She was his mother at the Annunciation, at the Nativity, indeed, all the way to the Cross. Love brings with it responsibility and often much worry. Jesus was disowned by many of those who knew him; Mary’s testimony of love and loyalty is one that needs to be ours. She always claimed him. Jesus claims her and gives her to us, his new family, on Calvary. As for good St. Joseph, tradition has it that he died in the loving arms of Jesus and Mary. Perhaps this was God’s greatest gift to this noble man? After all, as our Gospel relates, when an angel told him that Herod was seeking Jesus “to destroy him,” Joseph sought refuge for them in Egypt until it was safe to return. The aged guardian of Mary and Jesus might have found it impossible to remain passive when his adult Son underwent his betrayal and passion. When his earthly role was finished, the foster father to Christ was taken from this world to await his Son and Savior in the abode of the righteous dead.

We need to put on the mind of Christ regarding family life. Can we conceive of God being well pleased with parents who killed their children through abortion? Along with contraception that breeds distrust between spouses, the abortion holocaust has attacked the very nucleus of family life. Pregnancy, once called the “blessed state” is now considered a disease to be medicated away. There is no reconciling such a mentality with that in Psalm 128:1-5 where the psalmist praises the wife as “a fruitful vine.” The child, instead of being prized as a precious gift from God, is considered a tragic accident, a problem to be disposed of as quickly as possible. Freedom, or rather license, as well as economic and upward mobility, is all hindered by the presence of a child. We are forced to think of another’s needs and wants before our own. Some just do not want to do this. Sex is recreation, nothing more. Such a mentality is inherently opposed to the Gospel. When such is the point of view of believers in Jesus, one has to wonder if even their concept of God is counterfeit?

Can we suppose that God cares little about marriage vows made in his name “to death do us part?” No, and yet divorce is at an epidemic high. Alternative living arrangements, including polygamy and homosexual liaisons would dismiss it entirely. Some critics argue that the dilemma is not the loss of the traditional family but rather because we are trying to force old codes of behavior (like the commandments) and expectations upon new forms of familial relationships. This post-Christian group insists that transitory unions are ideal and most reflective of modern experience. Some actually say that people live too long for lasting relationships. Prenuptial agreements posit a theoretical doubt in the permanence of a marriage bond, already. Certain states are considering marriages with easy escape clauses and some have even suggested built-in term limits. Logically, if spouses can separate at will, it would seem that offspring might have similar rights? Several years ago a child attempted to divorce his parents.

For more such reflections, contact me about getting my book, CHRISTIAN REFLECTIONS.

The Message of Life

Although the prophet Micah spoke about the future coming of the Messiah as a prince of peace, the remnant from Israel and Judah would come to largely anticipate a warrior savior (see Micah 5:1-4). They had been conquered and downtrodden. They had paid a heavy price for their infidelity but God had not utterly turned his face from them. Interestingly, they saw themselves punished for compromising their faith and trust in God while throughout the centuries they were mocked by the conquering peoples for their fidelity to the ancient faith and the God of Abraham.

“He himself will be peace” (Micah 5:4). It is true, but the peace of God in Jesus Christ is a gift with which we still struggle and misunderstand. Certainly, one dynamic of it is peace between peoples. But, this is not simply a lack of belligerence. The peace of the Good News is radical and all-embracive. We turn on our televisions and open our newspapers and there are almost daily reports of dead soldiers overseas. Everyone is on guard against terrorists and now it looks like North Korea has a nuke that can reach the West Coast. The new millennium is starting to look an awful lot like the old one. The problem remains the same; there can be no true and lasting peace until there is a change in our minds and hearts. Early Christians prided themselves on not resisting aggression. They turned the other cheek and they announced forgiveness to their murderers in imitation of Christ. They also suffered and died in droves. After about three centuries of facing the sword, fiery stake, cross, and wild beasts, believers took up armaments in the service of a would-be emperor, Constantine. Their bets proved fortuitous and Christianity would emerge as the privileged religion of the empire. However, as history shows us, such a victory would not guarantee perpetual peace and harmony.

What do we mean by “peace?” Despite the collapse of European Stalinism, the Asian communists understand it in two ways. First, it is a ploy used with enemies to insure time and resources in building up an arsenal to wage war. Second, it is the integration of each person as an instrument of the state and such an amalgamation is not complete until the whole world is part of the Marxist mechanism. While there is diversity in Islam, the business about the very word for their religion meaning “peace” is somewhat inexact. Before entering Afghanistan and Iraq, Western leaders almost fell over each other in explaining that our actions were against a few terrorists and dictators, not against Islam. There was no new crusade. Such clarifications were appropriate, even if they did over stress a point. Interviews with Islamic moderates in the U.S. do not reflect the positions of many fundamentalists worldwide. Islam is not all the same. Would we ask an average member of a Baptist congregation about Roman Catholicism? No. A cursory reading of the Koran makes it evident that peace is understood as the submission of all to Islam, if need be with force. Unless it is rejected or mitigated, such a mindset will never acknowledge religious freedom and always stand in opposition to the West. After all, how can one have true peace with the “Great Satan,” a widespread label for the United States? As for ourselves, how do we understand peace? Lack of aggression is certainly part of it, as in our desire for security; and justice is a theme we hear much about as well, but how far do we go to achieve the peace we crave? Pearl Harbor and 9-11 have fueled our mistrust of much of the world. Apart from the politics of late, there is the danger of creating a mentality that perverts a command of Christ, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (see Luke 6:31 and Matthew 7:12). It becomes, rather, “Do unto others before they can do unto you.” This is not purely a global strategy, but how many people live their lives.

The Jewish understanding of SHALOM or peace is a salutation and benediction of friendship and cooperation. It is an invocation of divine blessing, for health, prosperity, and good standing with God. At Mass, Catholics extend the sign of peace to one another. We are one in the Lord. We are all brothers and sisters who should love and care about one another. Peace is the realization of divine love in our lives. At least these understandings are what should be present; however, enmity, a lust for revenge, and various forms of racism can get in the way. Here is the tragedy. Peace is not simply an enemy staying on his side of the fence. It is about the removal of walls and fences. It is about mutual good will and cooperation.

The peace among nations must also reflect a peace among fellow citizens, in the Church, in our neighborhoods, in our families, and in us as individuals. Should it surprise us that when the world is at war that our small part of it should also suffer unrest? Are there people with whom we refuse to associate? Are there family members who have not spoken for years? Did we get mad at someone and deliberately hurt them? Did someone do this to us? Do we pray for our enemies and try to forgive? Do we look for forgiveness from God so as to live in peace with him?

The martyrs of the Church knew the peace of God even when there was nothing left for them to do in defense of their lives. They knew that no matter what the world should strip away from them, they had an imperishable treasure in heaven. They knew that God loved them and that they were friends of Jesus. May we learn this lesson too and know the peace that the world cannot give.

Hebrews 10:5-10 stresses that had there been no Christmas there would have been no Good Friday and Easter. God, himself, took on our humanity that we might share in his divinity (see the prayer for mixing water into the wine at Mass). Jesus enters the human family so that he could offer up his life as an oblation for all the sins of the world. Jesus is the faithful servant who makes his flesh the sign of the new covenant with God. The New Law builds upon and replaces the Old.

It begins very simply. There is a message from an angel. Then there is the visitation. Mary greets Elizabeth and the unborn John the Baptist leaps in the womb (see Luke 1:39-45). Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and echoes the Hail Mary prayer, “blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Next she says, “Why should I be honored with a visit from the mother of my Lord?” Elizabeth’s words are very telling and they are affirmed as from the Spirit of God. John’s actions here parallel his activity thirty some years later in the Jordan River when he baptizes Christ. The unborn prophet cannot speak but he moves his mother to speak for him. She affirms that the unborn Christ is already her Lord. Jesus is Lord from the womb. Since he is the Prince of Peace, this gives credence to the late Mother Teresa’s contention that there can be no peace in the world while we are at war with the child in the womb. Every child is a reflection of the Christ-child.

There is a temptation for homilists or preachers during Advent and Christmas to sidestep the pro-life message. Such Scripture readings as this make it hard to do so. Advent speaks against abortion as Christmas is a condemnation of infanticide and partial-birth abortion. Why are priests and deacons silent? Let me relate a personal experience from a few years ago. I mentioned the seasonal pro-life themes at a Christmas Mass. A couple of people stood up during the homily and remained standing throughout the liturgy. Several days later the bishop called in response to a letter. A woman wrote, “My daughter only comes to Mass a couple times a year and this priest ruined it for us! He had no business talking about abortion or saying how anyone guilty of it should go to Confession before receiving communion. My daughter cried all night. She swears that she will never go to Mass again and I will find another church! By the way, this will cost you all our very generous donations!” I think the money element is why I got in trouble. But my conscience was bothered because the purpose of every homily is to promote continued conversion and not the alienation of God’s people. I think I was right, and there was no particular condemnation of anyone, just a proclamation of the Gospel of Life; but, while my head understood, my heart has never stopped grieving for the strayed lost lamb. No names were given and I could not follow up the message, except in prayer.

For more such reflections, contact me about getting my book, CHRISTIAN REFLECTIONS.

Sinless Mother Mary

One of my favorite feasts and dogmas is that of the Immaculate Conception, a teaching of the Church which has had a long and sometimes controversial history. There are even some contemporary critics of this dogma of faith who would argue that it overly separates Mary from the rest of us. Certainly, it is true that sinfulness is a reality ever present in our lives. We find it so difficult to be good. It is ironic that a few of the feminist theologians who image Mary as a strong and liberated woman, would then criticize this teaching and argue that Mary has been used as a device of oppression on the part of a male dominated hierarchy. It seems to me that quite the opposite may be true. The witness of Mary as the queen of the saints would emphasize that the greatest person to ever walk the earth next to the Lord, is this woman Mary. Genesis 3:9-15, 20 recalls the first Eve who with her husband turns away from God in disobedience. Psalm 98:1,2-3,3-4 might remind us that if Eve is the mother of all the living, Mary in her faithfulness is the mother of all who are reborn in her Son. She stands as a model of holiness for men and women alike. Her preservation from sin does not create an impassible chasm between her and us. Sin by definition adds nothing to us or to her. If anything, it is a lack of something which should be there — the grace and presence of Christ. Just as she carried the Lord, now we must avoid sin so as to be filled with his presence and life. Sin is that which divides and alienates. To wish this upon Mary would mean wanting separation from her and the Lord.

Like us, she is totally a creature. The saving grace which washes over us in baptism reaches from the Cross backward to the moment Mary is conceived in the womb. The Messiah whom himself is sinless would enter our world through the sinless portal of Mary.

Rarely do preachers mention how the mystery of the Immaculate Conception celebrates the beauty and holiness of marital love. Nevertheless, this is true when we look at the actual history of God’s intervention. Although Mary would conceive Christ through the overshadowing power of the Holy Spirit (see Luke 1:26-38); Mary’s conception as sinless elevates the significance of marital and sexual love as shared between Joachim and Ann. Couples raising families in this age would do well to recall that their children in baptism become as Mary, and even though they struggle to remain holy; they may be perfected as saints. As Mary is, we may become.

For more such reflections, contact me about getting my book, CHRISTIAN REFLECTIONS.

A Message for Every Age

The Lord appears to Mary Magdalene, consoles her, and sends her off with the news, “I have seen the Lord!” (see John 20:11-18). The insistence upon the witness of women in the Scriptures reveals to us just how much both men and women were called to be Christ’s disciples. Mary Magdalene proclaims the Good News to Jesus’ other followers, the men with whom he had entrusted his apostolic authority and power. Notice his words to her. She is so thrilled to see him that he must immediately tell her not to cling to him. He exclaims that he is “ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God!” This is one of the clearest statements by Christ that his particular Easter event will also be ours. The words also echo the time when he taught his friends to call God, “Our Father,” in the Lord’s Prayer. We, who belong to Christ, belong also to the one who sent and raised him up. We who are now identified with Christ can appropriately call God our adopted Father. He keeps us in existence and in baptism refashions us into the likeness of his Son.

Likewise, the disciples in Acts 2:36-41 take this message and make it the cornerstone of their ministry. We have put Christ to death by our sins; however, we can repent and be baptized into Christ Jesus. Peter said, “It was to you and your children that the promise was made, and to all those still far off whom the Lord our God calls.” I would love to etch those words near the main doors of the church. The message of Christ was not simply for the Jewish people, nor was it for the Gentiles alone who lived two-thousand years ago. His has been a message for every age. We are many miles and many years separated from the period when Jesus walked the earth; however, no matter how far off we have been from him, his message is just as important and alive today as it was yesterday. We are still called to repent and believe. No political order, no philosophy, no educational program, no, none of these have been able to make man one iota better than he was in ancient Palestine. “Save yourselves from this generation which has gone astray.” Yesterday and today our hope remains in Christ and in his forgiveness. Just as our sins in this age contributed to his crucifixion; so too does his grace and forgiveness contribute to our redemption.

For more such reflections, contact me about getting my book, CHRISTIAN REFLECTIONS.

Mercy and Justice Meet in Jesus

Just as Jeremiah images the blind and lame as among the throng returning from exile, Jesus pays particular attention to the crippled and blind. The Gospel scene in Mk 10:46-52 is very touching and telling. Bartimaeus is a blind beggar who has heard about the miraculous deeds of Jesus. Now that Jesus is nearby, he calls out to him. People literally scold him to keep quiet. He shouts all the louder. The crowd did not want to hear him. Maybe they were even ashamed of his presence? Nevertheless, while their ears and probably their hearts are closed to the beggar, Jesus hears his cry. Note what Bartimaeus says, “Son of David, have pity on me!” He is acknowledging that Jesus is a descendant of David and from his royal line is to come the Messiah and Savior of Israel. The beggar cries for mercy, but attached to his plea is a profession of faith in our Lord. When Jesus calls him over, the sentiment of the throng seems to change. There is a total about-face. “You have nothing whatever to fear from him! Get up! He is calling you!” There is a two-fold action. This remains an element of discipleship. We cry out for mercy and God hears our prayer. We seek God and he seeks us out. Note what Bartimaeus does. He throws aside his cloak, jumps up, and comes to Jesus. As a blind beggar he probably had little else besides his one cloak. No doubt he slept and sat upon it, lest it be blown away or stolen. Instead of grasping it tightly around him while walking to Jesus, he throws it aside. He no longer needs what is literally his security blanket. He will be able to find it afterwards because he believes that he shall soon see. He wastes no time and jumps up. Such should be our disposition when God calls us. When he reaches Jesus, our Lord does something a bit peculiar, no doubt for the crowd. He asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” We might ask, is it not obvious? The beggar responds, “I want to see.” What else might he ask? Was Jesus hoping for another answer? In any case, the gift of sight is given him. No more mention is made of the cloak. The beggar’s old life has been swept away. He sees, not only with physical eyes, but with eyes of faith. Jesus tells him, “Be on your way! Your faith has healed you.” Here is where we get a hint as to what Jesus wanted to hear from the beggar. His eyes open, Bartimaeus follows him up the road. He becomes one of the many followers or disciples of Jesus. Can you imagine what laughter would have resulted had he answered Jesus’ question, “I want to be your disciple.” Nevertheless, the result here is the same. Tradition suggests that many of those given restored sight and made able to walk would later be blinded and crippled again in the persecution of the Christian saints. Their little faith that brought healing would blossom into a great faith meriting a share in Christ’s eternal life.

For more such reflections, contact me about getting my book, CHRISTIAN REFLECTIONS.

The Sacrifice of Jesus and the Church

The Old Testament prophet speaks about the restoration of Zion and Jerusalem (see Isaiah 62:1-5). His words are quite eloquent and filled with hope. Remember that the people of God had been dispossessed and their nation and its temple destroyed. Such a testimony would seem like foolishness to many. It is no wonder that at the end of their exile, if not of their subjugation, they rebuilt the temple and expected the eminent coming of the Messiah. However, a few years after the crucifixion of Christ, Jews and Christians alike found themselves persecuted with vigor by Rome and the temple was destroyed. Along with it the Jewish priesthood and their ritual sacrifices came to an end. Non-Catholic Protestant fundamentalists and certain Jewish authorities view the political restoration of Israel today as the beginning of a more complete fulfillment of the ancient prophecy. Indeed, the Scriptures were publicly cited when the United Nations recognized the re-establishment of Israel. “You are to be a crown of splendor in the hand of the Lord, a princely diadem in the hand of your God; no longer are you to be named ‘Forsaken,’ nor your land ‘Abandoned,’ but you shall be called ‘My Delight’ and your land ‘The Wedded,’ for the Lord takes delight in you and your land will have its wedding” (Isaiah 62:3-6).

As Catholic Christians we do not associate the state of Israel with the promised restoration of God’s nation. Instead, the New Zion or Jerusalem is the Church. Corinthians 12:4-11 recognizes that there are differing roles in the Church and varying gifts of the Spirit. The old sacrifices of the temple are replaced by the one oblation of Jesus who is both priest and victim. We renew and make present his saving covenant by celebrating the Lord’s Supper— in other words, the Mass— in our churches.

Every Christian priest participates in the one priesthood of Jesus. Every Mass is a re-presentation (in an unbloody but real and spiritual way) of the sacrifice of Calvary. Just as Hosea and others in the Old Testament used the marriage analogy between God and his people, Christ is the bridegroom and the Church is his bride. The Mass is a participation in the heavenly wedding banquet that finds mention in Isaiah. St. Paul will speak eloquently about how a husband should love his wife as Christ has loved his Church. The Jews were right in their hope two thousand years ago for a Messiah; the tragedy is that only a few recognized him when he came. When he comes again, he will not forget his own— either in the Church or among the first people chosen by God.

John 2:1-11 carries forward the general theme of marriage with the wedding feast at Cana. Note the intercessory role of Mary, even after Christ’s objection, “Woman why turn to me?” There is no argument. Joseph is gone and Jesus is the head of her household. She brings concerns to him and he takes care of them. He provides. Her answer is a command to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Jesus had said that “My hour has not yet come,” and yet, the power of her faith moves him to freely comply. Jesus would later tell his listeners that if they had faith the size of a mustard seed, they could move mountains. There is no competition or tension between Jesus and Mary. This marriage feast was obviously for dear friends, maybe even relatives, and nothing should spoil its joy. Jesus turns water into wine. This is the first of his signs. At his own wedding banquet, he will turn wine and bread into his body and blood.

For more such reflections, contact me about getting my book, CHRISTIAN REFLECTIONS.

Jesus is the Sovereign Lord of Life

Peter stands before us in Acts 4:8-12 much transformed from the miserable figure we knew who denied our Lord three times. We are told that he is filled with the Holy Spirit and proclaims the Gospel without qualification or self-aggrandizing. A cripple is healed as a sign that his words ring with the truth. It is all realized in the name of Jesus Christ. He explains that Jesus, the stone rejected, has become the cornerstone: “There is no salvation in anyone else, for there is no other name in the whole world given to men by which we are to be saved” (verse 12).

1 John 3:1-2 sobers us with the fact that the world still fails to recognize the saving person and name of Jesus. If we are children of God, then we can expect a share in the eternal reward merited by Christ: “. . . we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” Taking upon ourselves in this world something of the rejection that was first directed to Christ sobers us. We are signs of contradiction in a world that still does not embrace the fullness of truth. This is nowhere more true than in the Gospel of Life.

John 10:11-18 gives us the familiar and comforting analogy of Jesus as the good shepherd. Our Lord says, “The Father loves me for this: that I lay down my life to take it up again. No one takes it from me; I lay it down freely. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again” (verses 17-18). Jesus is sovereign Lord. He did not have to die for us, but such was the immeasurable love of God. As Lord, he comes back to life and offers us a share in his life. We need to be a people in love with him and with life.

For more such reflections, contact me about getting my book, CHRISTIAN REFLECTIONS.

My Lord and My God!

At this point I would like to say something about the liturgical year; more precisely, I would like to give a quick summary of the first week of Easter. The Gospels relate the resurrection appearances of Jesus. Easter Sunday, we have the discovery of the empty tomb; Monday there is the story of Jesus appearing to the women; Tuesday there is the sending of Mary Magdalene to tell the disciples of his restoration; Wednesday he reveals his identity in the breaking of the bread to the two men on the road to Emmaus; Thursday he reappears to these two while they are recounting the incident to his disciples; Friday he appears upon the shore while his friends are fishing; Saturday there is a brief summary from Mark of his earlier appearances and the narration of his coming to his followers while at table. Finally, John offers us two occasions where Jesus appears to his friends while assembled in the upper room.

Jesus has risen from the dead. Over and over again it is with this message that the Church saturates us. John 20:19-31 has the doors locked in fear of the Jews who plotted Christ’s death. But, doors locked because of fear are no barrier to the risen Christ. The only locks which might prevent him from being present in our lives are the ones we place upon ourselves.

We are surrounded by signs of God’s presence. Every Springtime signals the reawakening of nature, aiding us in appreciating the meaning of Easter. Learning our catechism answers is not enough. If we say that God is everywhere, we run the risk of some skeptic asking us where we saw him last. What answer would we offer?

Astute philosophy teachers would remind us that God is in his creation, but only in the Incarnation can he be identified with it. Who is this God who is vast and infinite — who is all-perfect and knows everything — who is omnipotent and the source of all life — who is three persons in one nature — who can be revealed to us in the flesh of a frail individual called Jesus and be put to death and rise from the grave? Do we see the wonders of God around us and proclaim his glory or do we nurture doubts?

Our faith teaches us that the Scriptures are both the word of God and of man and that they speak infallibly in regards to salvation truth — do we believe this? Do we believe their testimony and that of the Church that Jesus rose from the dead? These are important questions. There are some who seem to believe easily and there are others who find it a most grueling pursuit.

I want to narrow this focus to the abiding presence of Christ in the Church and the ongoing historical fact of the resurrection. I do not pretend to speak the last word on these matters; but, it may be important to speak all the same.

There was an Anglican Bishop of only a few years ago who publicly admitted in his cathedral that he did not believe the resurrection had ever occurred. Even men of faith may lose it. An interesting footnote to that incident was that a bolt of lightning immediately struck the building and destroyed an ancient stained-glass window. One uncharitable critic with a sense of humor remarked that God’s aim was off and he just missed. Like Thomas in our Gospel, it is easy to discount the fantastic or the unusual. Indeed, this is the age of the doubting Thomas. Science has taught us to believe only what we can empirically prove. Because we cannot place the resurrection of Christ under a microscope, it is a matter, if not outrightly rejected, then ignored. Theologians, even in the Catholic camp, have endorsed an assortment of resurrectional theories which I must admit, if I accepted, would seriously dampen my faith. I recall one most famous thinker writing that if the bones of Christ were discovered tomorrow, his faith would remain intact. He would do this by spiritualizing the event into some kind of a-historical sphere beyond the datum of archeology. For me, such a statement already infers a level of doubt. Some of our thinkers would minimize the resurrection to the level of an internal feeling or experience with no physical counterpart or manifestation. There would be no visions of the risen Christ and the stories of the risen Christ a fiction made up to express what they were feeling in their hearts, especially at meal time. I am sorry. I cannot buy any of it. Maybe we all think too much? Maybe we want everything too explainable within very narrow limits? Faith is deeper than knowledge, even if one informs the other. There are plenty of men and women with intellects which could do circles around most of us; but, they might not all be believers. First and foremost, we need to fall upon our knees and admit that the resurrection is a mystery. However, having said this, we must also acknowledge that it is very real. Everything that Jesus was, his entire person — body, soul, and divinity, is transformed or glorified by the resurrection. He is like us even though his humanity is perfected beyond our wildest dreams; he is unlike us in that he appears in locked rooms and to those with eyes of faith. I believe this is the response to which the Scriptures honestly testify. To doubly stress the fact that this resurrection has a deeper substance than that which some moderns would offer it, we have the story of Thomas. Because we could not all be there, he is our representative. He says, “I’ll never believe it without probing the nail-prints in his hands, without putting my finger in the nail-marks and my hand into his side” (John 20:25).

A second time Jesus appears in the locked room. Thomas is there. After wishing them peace, he says to Thomas, “Take your finger and examine my hands. Put your hand into my side. Do not persist in your unbelief, but believe!”

(John 20:27). I cannot imagine this testimony from Scripture if this appearance were simply on the level of hallucination or a dream. No, Jesus said and meant these words. This particular testimony is for us more so than any previous age.

In the sacrament of the Eucharist, the Church provides what is missing so that the risen Christ might be here for us as our food. Jesus again speaks, but this time his words may be more directed to us than to Thomas. “You became a believer because you saw me. Blest are they who have not seen and have believed” (John 20:29). A day should not pass without our thanking God for the gift of faith and beseeching him for an ever greater share of understanding and belief. The sacraments must suffice until we meet Christ face to face. When we look upon the cup of his blood and the bread which is transformed into his body, we need to see with eyes of faith. He is here with us. His real being is present in these gifts, not just as empty symbols, not merely as devices to recall a past event, but actually here. My father had this kind of faith. Every time he saw the host and cup elevated he could not help but respond with those words of Thomas, “My Lord and my God!” (verse 28).Those need to be our words, if not upon our lips, then at least in our hearts.

For more such reflections, contact me about getting my book, CHRISTIAN REFLECTIONS.

Our Bodies Are Us

Jesus appears to his friends and wishes them peace (Luke 24:35-48). I want to speak briefly about this appearance and a connection we can make with it in our lives. When his friends doubt it is him, or fear that it might be a ghost, he tells them to look, to see, and to touch. He shows them his wounds and says, “…a ghost does not have flesh and bones as I do.” Then he accepts and eats a piece of fish with them. St. Luke is adamant in having us understand that he is really in this scene and no mere ghostly apparition or simply an internal feeling that he is present, as we sometimes sense at prayer. He is much more here.

It is this stress upon his risen bodily presence which, I believe, offers us much consolation. The human person is not a disembodied spirit; nor is it angelic. We are created with both bodies and souls and it constitutes who and what we are. That is why the Church is so insistent that on the final Judgment Day, we will be restored body and soul. Although this mystery goes beyond our feeble minds, we see hints to how it might be in Christ. Notice that he is both the same and different; at first they did not recognize him. This is no wonder. Could any of us recognize a human countenance where all the wrinkles of age, the scars of disease, the marks of pain, and where all tears have been wiped away? Think what such a person might look like. However, after awhile, especially in the breaking of the bread, they come to see him for who he really is. Indeed, he still carries the marks of the crucifixion which are his badges of honor in his victorious fight against sin and death.

In Acts 3:11-26, the cured lame man signifies that what happened to Jesus will touch each and every one of us who believe in him. As a sign of this belief, we need to respect our bodies as his temples and extensions in the world. Our bodies are who we are and therefore we need to take care of them. We are our bodies! This message emerges in our celebration of both Christmas and Easter where our humanity is elevated and then restored. This message touches all the doctrines and feasts of the Church. Yes, it touches moral theology, too. After all, in the various arguments about abortion, euthanasia, artificial contraception, etc. we are speaking not so much about the body as a shell or robot which we can manipulate as we wish; but rather, we are talking about our very selves and our personhood. People who see the issues of the Church disjointed do not realize that to allow selfishness to rewrite our moral principles would ultimately destroy the meaning of the coming of Christ into our world and his resurrection.

For more such reflections, contact me about getting my book, CHRISTIAN REFLECTIONS.