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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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Reflecting on a Papal Homily

I wanted to give some extended thoughts about the papal homily on Friday.  The Gospel reading was from Mark 10:1-12:

“Jesus came into the district of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds gathered around him and, as was his custom, he again taught them. The Pharisees approached him and asked, ‘Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?’ They were testing him. He said to them in reply, ‘What did Moses command you?’ They replied, ‘Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her.’ But Jesus told them, ‘Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.’ In the house the disciples again questioned Jesus about this. He said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.’”

The Holy Father stressed in his homily that Jesus “doesn’t respond as to whether it’s licit or not; he doesn’t enter into casuistic logic.”  We are told that the question was a trap.  It had previously circulated what Jesus would say.  At the Sermon on the Mount where he gave us the Beatitudes, he had already stated:  “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce.’ But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery’” (Matthew 5:31-32).  The rejection of the authority of Moses might be interpreted as opposition to God.  Our Lord avoids the trap of this charge (their “casuistic logic”?) by placing the question in the context of creation and not the Mosaic Law.  Divine authority has precedence over that of Moses, who makes a human decision to allow a writ because of their hardness of hearts.  Our Lord, as he so often does, re-frames the question, “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?” Much more fundamentally, he answers that marriage is the enduring reality or truth and that there is no such thing as divorce.  That is why he can so immediately associate divorce with adultery.

Is this faithful to the text?  It seems clear here and even more so in the Gospel of Matthew that while Jesus does not fall for the tricky question, he does render a response that goes beyond the given parameters— beyond Mosaic or Church laws— adding his voice to natural law.

When I reflected on the Scripture text, I had to wonder if Moses did what many of the bishops and theologians are trying to do today— to sidestep a teaching that seems too difficult and arduous for many to follow.  I do not believe that the various requests for clarification from the Holy See are attempts to trick Pope Francis.  The requests are coming from his friends who likewise love him, the Church and Christ.  The question was “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?”  Jesus’ response was clear.  He cannot abandon her because there is NO such thing as divorce!  When his apostles ask about it, Jesus is blunt— the human construct of divorce leads to adultery.  Note that our Lord does not shy away from using the word, “adultery,” a biblical term that certain churchmen are insisting we avoid so as not to hurt feelings; thus we now speak of couples in “irregular unions.”  I hate to say this but the casuistry seems to be on the other side.

The new question can be framed very simply.  “Can and should couples who are cohabiting and/or living in adulterous situations be invited to receive Holy Communion and be given absolution in the sacrament of Penance?”  There are only a few responses that respect the constant truth and teachings of the Church:

(1)  If the care of children or the needs of the partner demand that the couple remain together, and if there would not be dire scandal, an internal forum solution might be permitted where the couple live as brother and sister.

(2)  While it might seem severe or heartless, given the gravity of adultery, the Church could rightly insist that the couple separate.

(3)  The members of the irregular union might seek an annulment of the prior bond; if granted, the union could be regularized with a convalidation.

(4)  If an annulment is not possible and the couple cannot separate, they would be urged to attend Mass but not invited to take Holy Communion.  If the prior spouse should die then the marriage could be convalidated.  If the irregular partner should die, the remaining member could be absolved in Penance and again take Holy Communion.

The option being argued the Malta bishops and by Cardinal Coccopalmerio is not one that reflects the perennial teaching of the faith, or more recently that of Pope John Paul II.  The Cardinal directly teaches that if the adulterous and/or cohabitating couple means well, then they could be invited to take Holy Communion.  While this might appease the subjective and make people happy at the moment; objectively it would constitute the sin of sacrilege as the couple in mortal sin are not disposed to the graces of the sacrament.  There must be contrition and amendment of life.  Both here are compromised.  While adultery might still be regarded as sin, such a change in discipline would wrongly indicate that it was no longer regarded as serious or even mortal.  Given the growing dissent, we need Pope Francis to give a magisterial answer to the confusion that emerged from his exhortation.  That answer should also reflect continuity in discipline and teaching.  Indeed, all he has to do is assert that Cardinal Müller has spoken for the Holy See.  The good Cardinal recently asserted that those in irregular unions who want to receive the sacraments must practice “perfect continence.”  He further stated:

“For us marriage is the expression of participation in the unity between Christ the bridegroom and the Church his bride. This is not, as some said during the Synod, a simple vague analogy. No! This is the substance of the sacrament, and no power in heaven or on earth, neither an angel, nor the pope, nor a council, nor a law of the bishops, has the faculty to change it.”

Adultery is serious, not simply because of infidelity between spouses; it spiritually ranks up there with idolatry.  Christ identifies himself with the beloved.  Betrayal of a spouse is betrayal of Christ.

Is It Only a Matter of Legal Casuistry?

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Pope Francis: In God there is both justice and mercy

The Pope in his homily of February 24, 2017 said that we should not become obsessed with the “fine points of legal interpretation.”  What were these objectionable fine points?  When I asked a local churchman whom I admire, I was lectured on how canon law was only about a hundred years old and not integral to the lasting faith of the Church.  But I never mentioned canon law.  I just wanted reaffirmation about basic right and wrong.  The Catholic definition of faith was always in terms of charity and obedience.  Thus the laws of God will always be crucial to our overall discipleship.  Jesus might have said, “Woe to lawyers,” but his ire was the gravity given human laws above divine laws and placing unwieldy burdens upon people who were struggling to be faithful.  It was not a renunciation of the Decalogue or Christ’s two-fold commandment or his singular treatment of the divorce question.  It is true that Jesus sometimes seemed to raise the bar but always with the assurance that his grace would lighten the load, even as we took up our crosses to follow him.

Amoris Laetitia, Recent Synods & Teaching on the Family

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington and Chancellor of The Catholic University of America, addresses students on Wednesday, April 27, as part of University President John Garvey’s class on “The Virtues.” In the talk, “Amoris Laetitia: The Recent Synods and the Church’s Ancient Teaching on the Family,” Cardinal Wuerl discusses Pope Francis’ recent exhortation on the family, specifically the many challenges contemporary families face and the Church’s pastoral response.

Good Seminarians Expelled, Say It Isn’t So!

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Malta’s Archbishop: Seminarians Can Leave if They Don’t Agree With Pope Francis

I never thought I would see the day when men of true faith and obedience, and yet struggling to understand the interpretation of a “progressive” pope, would be shown the door.

In a World of Violence the Holy Father Targets Texting?

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Pope Francis Warns Young People: Texting During Meals Is the ‘Start of War’

Huh? Rude yes, but the start of war? The stronger case would be made by Mother Teresa, and not about texting, but about abortion. She stated: “Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want.” Similarly, she told us, “The greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child.”

There are many disconnects that I fail to follow. Large scale Islamic terrorism is denied and yet impolite kids texting at the table is critiqued as threatening war. Greater gravity is apparently given to theories of ecology and global warming than to the perennial praxis of the Church in support of Christ’s commands about fidelity in marriage. If the news is to be believed (and that is a major assumption) then orthodox churchmen are being censured while dissenters are promoted and leniency is shown reprobates, notorious sinners and the hardened enemies of the Church.

I love the Holy Father and the Church… but he has to make a clearer and more coherent case.

Battling Churchmen, Confusion & a Seismic Shift in the Church

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Cardinal Müller: Communion for the remarried is against God’s law

Cardinal Müller, German bishops clash on interpretation of Amoris Laetitia

Cardinal Müller stands up for the truth! “For us marriage is the expression of participation in the unity between Christ the bridegroom and the Church his bride. This is not, as some said during the Synod, a simple vague analogy. No! This is the substance of the sacrament, and no power in heaven or on earth, neither an angel, nor the pope, nor a council, nor a law of the bishops, has the faculty to change it.”

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Vatican’s top legal aide says divorced-and-remarried may receive Communion

Cardinal Müller and Cardinal Coccopalmerio seem diametrically opposed. Do we need further proof of confusion?

I am increasingly disheartened about this. It makes me want to run to a monastery and turn my back on the whole business. I am sorry but I cannot see how such convenient semantics can possibly serve the truth that comes from Christ’s lips. Is it not a slap in the face to heroic Catholics who embraced the moral life despite great sacrifice and loss? I feel Muller is right but will he win the day? The interpretation of this cardinal directly clashes with Muller and is light years away from Cardinal Burke. He points to paragraph 301 of Amoris Laetitia: “it can no longer simply be said that all those in any ‘irregular’ situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace.” How can this be? Human nature has not changed… Christ has not revoked his words about divorce and adultery. Did we needlessly allow King Henry VIII to walk away with a whole nation on this point? We can say the doctrine is unchanged but the shift in praxis threatens to distort the teaching beyond recognition. How is this not a surrender to modernity?

Are other priests troubled in conscience about this? Have I taught people wrong for 30 years? No, I will not believe it.  I am too young to retire and not yet sick enough to die. We all better keep praying about this!

Finding Hope & Not Despair in the Synod

I am troubled that otherwise orthodox Catholic critics are suggesting that the Synod on the Family in Rome will signal a fall into apostasy.  While there may be a number of wrong-thinking priests and bishops, I have confidence that nothing of the Church’s doctrinal integrity will be sacrificed to pastoral expediency.

While the deposit of faith is both fixed and develops, there can be no revocation of objective truths.  Those couples living in second marriages or irregular unions cannot be uncritically invited to receive Holy Communion.  They may come up without our invitation; but we cannot encourage people to commit either mortal sin or sacrilege against the Eucharist.  No degree of penance would suffice unless there is genuine repentance and a firm amendment of life.  Any projected change in discipline or a so-called pastoral provision cannot justify regularizing church life for recalcitrant adulterers.

Despite the derision by angry critics that many priests are spineless wimps, most men in ministry are dedicated and courageous in their service.  Priests who seem to turn a blind eye to scandalous behavior are often in the dark or uncertain about the marital status of others.  The opposite may also be true.  Their apparent passivity may consist of knowing too many facts about which they are duty bound to keep within professional secrecy and/or the seal of Confession.  A priest may do nothing by word or gesture or intimation based upon what he learns in the sacrament of Penance.  This is the case even when absolution is withheld.  Such a predicament does not prevent others from condemning faithful priests who are already suffering when they must treat adulterers, active homosexuals and child-murderers as if they are Catholics in perfectly good standing.

Of course, it is no wonder that many of the laity might expect churchmen to invite blasphemy against the Eucharist when ministers are generally forbidden by their bishops to refuse the sacrament to others for fear of negative publicity or scandal.  We have witnessed for many years the tension of various pro-life groups with certain U.S. Bishops demanding that they turn away from the altar pro-abortion politicians and others who enable the murder of the unborn.  This conflict has yet to be resolved and continues to alienate those who should be on the same side and working together.  In any case, there is a vast difference between a general passivity and a universal invitation.

The Holy See and the Church are servants of the Word, not its master.  The words of St. Paul about fornicators, homosexuals and adulterers cannot be stripped from Scripture or from the constant tradition of the Church.  Similarly, the notion of the “closed-table” finds it roots in St. Paul and the censures of the early Church:  “And therefore, if anyone eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily, he will be held to account for the Lord’s body and blood. A man must examine himself first, and then eat of that bread and drink of that cup; he is eating and drinking damnation to himself if he eats and drinks unworthily, not recognizing the Lord’s body for what it is” (1 Cor. 11:27-29).  While there are different theologies in the Church, they must speak to the same doctrinal truths.  Disciplines and pastoral practices are not geared to circumvent doctrine but to help express and realize them.

What can we expect from the Synod on the Family in Rome?  Compromise would precipitate acceleration in the breakdown of marriages.  I foresee a reaffirmation of the timeless faith with suggestions to redouble our efforts to welcome and bring healing into the lives of our people.  Let us trust our bishops.  Let us work with our people and not against them.  Let us put aside the silly sensationalism in the news and give the living Church the opportunity to teach and minister as she should.  There will be discussion and debate in Rome.  But we have confidence in the Holy Spirit and the Magisterium.  The process can be messy but so is life.  The truth will prevail.