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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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Ash Wednesday (Ashes)

Job 42:6: “. . . therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

Jonah 3:6: The tidings reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, and covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.

Recently, I was somewhat surprised when the neighboring Baptist Church called the priest at the local Catholic Church, asking for ashes. The minister’s congregation wanted to do what Catholics did in this regard as a visible sign to others of their Christian faith. I am afraid they missed the point about it as a sign of penance, but the change in orientation was worthy of note. I suspect, also, that they were struggling for ways to express what their hearts felt toward the suffering and death of Jesus. (It must be said that such changes in Protestant customs are also coming as a result of the defection of simple and poorly informed Catholics into the Protestant churches. They are easily swayed by delightful fellowship, black-and-white statements of faith [no matter how flawed], and by certain economic incentives. Ministers are very enthused to claim them at first, but over the long run these people long for elements of their “cultural” Catholicism. I know one Baptist minister in Washington, D.C. who had seen many Hispanics join his church after the instigation of a Spanish bible study program. However, he eventually stopped it. When I asked about it, (keeping my reserve as best as possible), he lamented their presence. He said they were coming in great numbers and changing his church. There was no talking to them. Hundreds of votive candles had started appearing in his church and then the worst of all, little statues in the windows. He would tell them that such things were superstitious and idolatrous. Confusing him as a priest, they would smile and say, “Yes, FATHER!” and go about their business as if he had said nothing. The Catholic Church’s use of sacramentals like ashes reveals that we respect both the head and the heart. The rejection of such a sign of penance is blatant irreverence and counter to Scriptural testimony.

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

Hold Fast to God

“Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the Lord, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20). These words when offered to the People of God by Moses were an encouragement to follow the commandments, and thus to seek God’s blessing and not his curse. So often this translated into the naive understanding that if one were good, only good things would enter one’s life. However, in the book of Job and then in the life of Jesus himself, we become well aware that sometimes suffering and even death can inflict the very best of people. The Christian appreciation of this text is very deep. Like a child trusting utterly in his or her parent, we are to rely upon and to be faithful to God — no matter what. Jesus lived out this passage, because as ironic as it might seem, by allowing himself to be betrayed, mocked, tortured, and murdered — he was choosing life for us. Now, in response to his sacrifice, we too have to open ourselves to a share in this life — a life which will ultimately be beyond the reach of pain and death. Notice what the Scripture said, we are to love God, heed his voice, and cling fast to him. We are to hold on so tight that no storm of sin and weakness can drive us away from him. This will require that our love for him always be fused with obedience, just as Christ was obedient unto the Cross. The secret is not to give up on God even when the times become difficult. What is more, we need desperately to find the peace and joy which comes with perfect discipleship in this life, despite the cost, loving God entirely for his own sake.

In our tradition we often recall the Cyrenian who reluctantly was forced to help Jesus carry his Cross up to Calvary. Do we hesitate? Do we despair and give up? Do we run away from our responsibilities? Jesus did not. (see Luke 9:22-25). May we be so filled with the love of God, and therefore deny our very selves, that we may pick up our crosses willingly in traveling in the footsteps of Christ.

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

Facing Our Mortality and Immortality

Although there is no Mass, the rituals for Good Friday are very moving and evocative. However, it is the faith that we bring to the ceremonies which gives it importance for us. An outsider to our faith, might look upon such ritual with awe towards its simplicity and yet confusion as to its meaning. This is because we celebrate a theme which much of our culture seeks to ignore or postpone. We commemorate death. Assuredly, it may not be death as many people understand it, but nevertheless it remains something mysterious and even feared. Our society, with its newfound confidence in science, ironically hides the tragic death of the unborn behind the guise of linguistics while many in the medical field go to elaborate techniques to keep certain other people alive, no matter what the cost. One of the tasks of the Christian is to visit the sick; and yet, how often have we hesitated from that duty? And we know why — because to meet an elderly or handicapped or sick person is to face the specter of our own mortality, death. We dye our hair, or wear something over our heads that lost recently at the horse races; we cake our faces in makeup to cover the blemishes and wrinkles of age; we diet to wear clothes that we could not fit into even as teenagers; we take an assortment of drugs to maintain our vitality; we do all this and more to escape the prospect of age and the ghost of death which lingers in the periphery of our lives.

Even believers on Good Friday might view the death we recall as simply a commemoration of an historical event. But, it is much more than that. The Lord on Holy Thursday washed the feet of his disciples as a sign to them that we are called to humble service. Good Friday is the day that he gives us a summons to imitate him. From our Christian initiation onward, we are baptized into the saving death of Christ. It would set the whole pattern of our lives in which we would experience many dyings and risings. It may sound fatalistic, but it is still true that we are on a pilgrimage from the womb to the tomb. To live means we must suffer. To live we must die. The uniquely Christian message is that although we may not escape death, Christ will give us a share in his story of the empty tomb and triumph over death.

To some extent, all the sacraments are a living out of what we celebrate in the Lenten season leading to Easter. The Mass is a special case in point whereby the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross is not only commemorated but is recalled by a living memory. Christ died once and for all for us, but in the Eucharist, that death breaks through the bonds of time and space; we are there. Celebrated in an unbloody fashion, what was missing on Calvary is now provided, ourselves and our faithfulness. If it were by our sins that Christ was crucified; then now in the various Masses of the year we are able to get to the other side of that Cross, to offer ourselves with Christ, as an acceptable offering to the Father. We offer ourselves in our prayers to God, asking him to hear us and to transform us to the likeness of his Son.

As Christians we view death as the consequence of our primordial disobedience, sin. In the ministry of Jesus this perspective is retained. When he healed the sick, he often added an admonition, to sin no more. He also showed that he was the master of both life and death. When the little girl Tabitha and his friend Lazarus had died, he restored them to health. However, he did not use this very same power to avoid his mission in the world. Why? Certainly, he had not sinned. He did not deserve to die, especially not a criminal’s death. Why then did he accept his Cross?

There is a movie which came out a number of years ago entitled, Saving Grace; in it the Pope while gardening gets locked out of the Vatican and begins to roam the street with the ordinary people. He eventually ends up in a small town where apathy has crushed the people’s spirits. They live off charity and refuse to try to improve their lot. Not surprising, the village church is in ruins; after all, what need had a dead people of a church. The Pope, who looks like any other poor man, becomes determined to help stir these people back to life. He starts work upon a primitive irrigation system with the help of children. The adults think he is mad. Lazy thugs in charge of the town try to prevent his work from coming to completion. Just when the project is about finished, the gang leader of the town throws a stick of dynamite destroying part of the works. The townspeople look on. Among the debris is a child, a small boy. All seems lost. All seems for nothing. A boy dies, and what does the successor of Peter have to show for it? And yet, the women and later the men of the village start coming to the wreckage and begin to build. What a price this boy paid. He must not die in vain. How evil an act it was, a deed their sluggishness and despair of life had allowed. They rebuild. Water comes pouring into the town. These simply people begin to rejoice and some even dance in the water. They were dead, and are now alive again. I tell you this story because it speaks to us in a small way about the Cross of Christ. Sometimes to redeem a people, takes a life.

We don’t have to dig any deeper than that for the reason why Christ allowed himself to be betrayed, tortured, and murdered. He did it for us. The words from Caiaphas in John’s Gospel took on a meaning even deeper than he would have ascribed, that there was an “advantage of having one man die for the people” (John 18:14). Jesus was betrayed by his very own friends, the ones who should have protected and loved him. His own people disowned him. Peter denied him. Judas turned him in, with of all things, a kiss! Imagine someone whom you love more than life, betraying your love and doing so with a sign of false affection. I know for some of you this would not be hard to envision. Think about the deep agony it causes. It is at the core of what the Cross is about. I cannot tell you how many men and women have come to the rectory door, crying uncontrollably, because a spouse or a loved one abandoned them. It is the Passion of Christ all over again, a story of a love rejected. And yet, if this were all that the Cross was about, we would be the most pitiful of people. The story of Good Friday is also about a love fulfilled and accepted — a love so great that Jesus was willing to stretch out his hands and feet upon the Cross to show us just how much. Taken in connection with what we celebrate at Easter, it is the message that love is ultimately stronger than pain, betrayal, or death.

Despite how we try, I doubt if any of us can completely cast the thought of death out of our minds. I am sure that among the readers, there is pain for loved ones lost. I do not have to remind you of the suffering and regrets which haunt us. We can take comfort in the Christian message that death is not the end but is rather a new beginning. It is a doorway from this life to another. Because that door closes quickly, we might easily despair as to what is on the other side. However, we do not need to fear. God has promised us that we would never be abandoned. Just as he vindicated his Son after the world’s intolerance had done all it could to him, so shall we be rescued. Jesus himself said that he has prepared a place for us and that in his house there are many rooms. When we encounter the reality of Good Friday, let us remember that we are mortal; that we are not totally in control of our lives; that we do suffer; that we are sinful; and that death is a part of who and what we are. But, let us also recall that we are so much more and that there is a part of us that death shall never reach. Where we are weak, God is strong. Where we are sinful, God can forgive. Where God forgives, there is redemption. Where there is redemption, there is eternal life.

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

Suffering Servant and Powerful Lord

Isaiah 50:4-7 gives us a few lines about the suffering servant. This prophecy is directly connected to Christ. “I gave my back to those who beat me . . . My face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.” Our Lord has his flesh torn by scourging. He was mocked and spat upon. His own condemned him as a criminal and betrayed him. The selection concludes, “I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.” Jesus remained faithful to his Father to the last. His Father would restore him to life by the power of the Holy Spirit, and yet it was also by his own authority. The resurrection would overturn the false verdict and condemnation of sinful men.

Psalm 22 quoted by our Lord showed the depth of his agony, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (verse 2). And yet the psalm moves toward renewed conviction. Here the psalm parallels our Lord’s passion. “All who see me scoff at me . . . They have pierced my hands and feet . . . They divide my garments among them and for my vesture they cast lots” (verses 8, 17, 19). The psalm citation is fully realized. “I will proclaim your name to my brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will praise you: ‘You who fear the Lord, praise him; all you descendants of Jacob, give glory to him’” (verses 23-24). Since the psalm obviously refers to crucifixion, what can these words mean? There can be no doubt; they point to the resurrection. Our Lord would appear before his apostles in the Upper Room and they would give praise. More than this, we are the spiritual descendants of the apostles. The resurrected Christ is with us in the assembly of faith and makes possible our prayerful praise and glory to God at Mass.

Now, the emphasis is upon our witness and how the mystery of Christ changes us. Look at Philippians 2:6-11. It is literally a faith profession in Christ. God has come to save his people in Jesus Christ. The name of Jesus invokes saving power and mercy. He has redeemed us from the devil. We are his property. We belong to him.

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

Our Sins Assault Christ

Many of my reflections touch upon the liturgical year. We can learn a great deal in our ritual, worship and the Church readings. Lent is probably my favorite time for pondering the things of faith. We have so many worthwhile opportunities. Take for instance the reading of the Passion and the ceremonials of Palm Sunday. They are so powerful that many if not most priests do not offer homilies on Palm Sunday. However, in a few words or in bulletins, much can be added to help people in their Lenten reflection. Our Lord is acclaimed with palm branches and cries of Hosannas. Nevertheless, many of the same voices that praise him will eventually cry, “Crucify him!” The drama is glorious and frightful. While we are given the ultimate example of that love of which there is none greater; we are also given a terribly real picture of human fickleness and treachery. What makes matters more intense is that we see ourselves in the Christ-story. Jesus reveals the self-sacrificing love of God. However, our own sinfulness and faithlessness is put up against the mirror. When done in a dialogue style, the reading itself puts Christ’s rejection as a criminal upon our own lips. Sometimes people object to this or remain silent. But, there is no running away from it. The Apostles tried running away, but our Lord would catch them hiding in the Upper Room after his resurrection. There is no fleeing the truth. There is nowhere to which we can run. Every sin we have ever committed, both large and small, was a denial of Christ and a hammer blow to his crucifixion. We are guilty, not just the Jews or the Romans or the few living in Palestine two thousand years ago. All of us have blood on our hands. The Church deliberately intensifies the readings and rituals to bring this home to us. Unless we come to a genuine realization of our sinfulness, then true repentance would be impossible.

The mystery of Christ’s passion and death is that he did not deserve to die. Jesus was the innocent one. As the Son of God, he was the very one slighted by the primordial sin of our first parents and by all subsequent ratification of their rebellion in our own transgressions. Finite creatures utterly dependent upon the Almighty had violated the infinite dignity of God. Instead of damning us eternally, we were promised a Redeemer. God called to himself a particular Semitic people and promised them a Messiah. They looked for the restoration of their nation. Christ would come to establish an entirely new kingdom. God himself would pay the debt we owed and could not pay. He would redeem us with his own life. Jesus had every right to curse us from the cross, instead, he would say, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

The absolution of Christ from the Cross, actualized in faith and the sacraments is a great consolation to us. But, there is a qualification about which we must be alerted. Are our sins not of an entirely different caliber since we are believers? Do we not know what we are doing? Lips that have offered responses at Mass and recited the Lord’s Prayer, have also cursed, gossiped, and told dirty jokes and stories. Eyes that have looked upon the elevated host, literally our Lord raised high on the cross, have also been windows to shameful entertainment and temptations designed to arouse lust and covetous desires. Hands that grasp others in the sign of peace and receive our Lord have also engaged others in derogatory gestures, fighting, and unlawful pleasures. Minds that were gifted with intelligence that we might know God have neglected him for profane and idle learning. Hearts that were made for God alone have displaced him for a love of the things in our passing world. Palm Sunday and all of Holy Week attempts to strip away our hypocrisy and self-deceit. It is imperative that we center ourselves on that which most matters, our relationship with the God who has redeemed us in Jesus Christ. Not just for a day or season, but all year long, we should be mindful of our high calling and the price of our sins.

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