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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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VOCATIONAL ASIDES: Do You Have A Story?

A number of years ago (January of 2008), when I posted a few reflections about the priesthood and celibate love, I was almost immediately bombarded by the stories and comments of others, particularly those with negative experiences.  I was taken aback by both the pain and the dissent.  There was also anger against me— as if I had no right to be happy or satisfied with my priesthood and celibacy.  There were three stories in particular that I shared with my blog readers and to which there was additional interaction.  The initial stories came from Jim, Becky and Thomas.

celibacy_in_the_city_1538739

Artwork by the cartoonist Ian Baker.

Jim’s Story

I studied to be a priest. But there was a special girl that haunted my day dreams and my night fantasies. The rector said to give it time and I did. But, after a few years I found it unbearable. I missed Sharon too much. I saw her during the summers and even that was forbidden. We tried not to call it dates even though we knew they were. She was my best friend. We prayed the rosary and even the breviary together. She missed me and yet tried her best to support me in a vocation I thought I had. Nevertheless, I never dreamed about saying Mass or hearing Confessions. All I thought about was holding Sharon’s hand and looking into her eyes.

One day I said I had endured enough. It was not for me. I raced over to Sharon’s house crying. I told her that if I had any vocation, it was with her and that I was leaving the seminary. She fell into my arms and we shared the first passionate kiss either of us had ever known.

Becky’s Story

I loved Joe. I gave more to Joe than a single girl should ever do. He said he loved me but later I found him with another girl. Instead of saying he was sorry, he laughed at me. I was so hurt and angry. And yet, I was surprised when my world did not fall apart. I had thought about being a religious sister, but my relationship with Joe held me back. I went on a discernment retreat and while at prayer became convinced that there was another lover calling me, Jesus.

I cannot say that I have totally forgotten Joe, but I cry no more and know a joy beyond words.

Thomas’ Story

The rector told us that when we heard our names called by the bishop at ordination, we could take for granted that we had a vocation. He said to brush aside all doubts. In any case, it was the 1960’s and rumors were flying that celibacy would very soon be made optional. We got ordained and then nothing changed. I tried to be patient but then classmates started leaving the priesthood and I felt increasingly alone. Then I met Shirley.

Sexual intimacy and marriage was something I often thought about and heard from others, but had never known. Now I could put a face on my desires as a man. Shirley and I did not mean to fall in love, it just happened. I did not want to abandon ministry and yet it looked more and more like the discipline about celibacy would never change. Shirley pressed me that if we waited too long, we could never have a family. But if I left the priesthood, it would break my mother’s heart. I just could not get myself to do it. Shirley never really forgave me and when she married someone else a few years later she sent me a picture of them. On the back she wrote, “This could have been you!” Another man holds her now. Another man shares kisses with her. I have to live with that and the price of my priesthood.

My Assessment of the Three Testimonials

Jim, there is no blame for a guy who went to seminary and eventually discerned that he did not have a religious vocation. The problem is when guys get ordained and then have second thoughts.

Becky, I am glad that you hear a calling to a religious vocation as a bride of Christ. Of course, one should make sure that the calling is genuine and not just something on the rebound. A religious vocation is not our running away from someone or something but a drawing a closer to someone, our Lord.

Thomas, I am not sure what to say? You should not feel sorry for yourself and neither should you feel remorse about your priesthood. Further, the good of your vocation is not something to be preserved merely because of appearances or even because of the potential scandal and hurt to others, including parents. You made a promise to God and even if priests in the future should be able to get married; there is no reason to expect that anything about a change in discipline would be retroactive. Our celibacy is a great gift and it is permanent. Thank God for it. Be a happy priest!

Does anyone else out there have a brief story to tell?  The invitation was taken up by Chuck and the so-called Reverend Tina.

Chuck’s Story

If you really wanted people to share their vocation stories then you would stop being so judgmental and criticizing everyone who shares their stories and views! You and your friends have no right to judge and condemn priests and nuns who left ministry for marriage.

I met Aggie when she was a senior at an all-girls’ high school. I was a young priest and taught math. I fell for her at first sight. We tried to cool matters but we were not robots like you— but passionate flesh-and-blood people. I told the pastor. The bishop tried to talk me out of leaving. But I could not live without her and no one was going to convince me otherwise. When she turned 18, we moved in together and the rest is history. We have three children, two girls and a boy. Would you tell them that they had no right to be conceived or born? How can a man pledge perpetual celibacy when he has yet to meet the girl of his dreams? It is crazy and unnatural. It is no wonder that the homosexuals have taken over the priesthood!

As for being married to the Church, that is utter nonsense! You can’t go to bed with the Church! You can’t hold her naked warm body against your own! You can’t share your dreams with her or even share an orgasm with her. A man, a real man, wants a woman to love. He needs to feel her body and to become one flesh with her!

You know nothing! You are a poor fool left out in the cold! There is nothing like loving a woman and all your analogies fall short. It is about entwined bodies, legs, breasts, lips, arms and hands. It is awkward and yet beautiful. It is sacred and messy.

Despite the twisted minds and morals of so many in the Church, there is nothing sinful or wicked about sexuality. I could still be a priest and have my Aggie, if only sanity and common-sense ruled. Unfortunately, it does not. The men who leave such a corrupted woman-hating priesthood are not to be pitied but praised and imitated.

Tina’s Story

I am going to tell you a story that I have kept absolutely secret until now.

I am 42 years old and have been a Roman Catholic priest since I was 26 years of age. I went to a liberal seminary in the Northeast US. My grades were exceptional and I got along well with everyone. Currently I am the pastor of a small parish and also do regular hospital ministry. The parish is thriving and the people feel that they are being well cared for. So far, there is nothing unusual, but here is the punch: I am a woman and for the last ten years have been married, albeit only in a ceremony conducted by a Unitarian minister.

How could this be? My twin brother took the necessary physicals prior to acceptance into the seminary. My own female features are slight and I wear a slight restraint around my breasts. I am thin and small. My hair is cut short, like that of a man. I was careful of the showers and in the bathroom during the seminary formation. No one caught on. We had private rooms, so I did not have to worry about a roommate finding out and blabbing.

I received acolyte, lector, my candidacy and eventually ordination to the diaconate and priesthood. I hanged out with the guys who were a bit effeminate, maybe gay, and no one was the wiser. After ordination, I even worked in the chancery for a time.

I became a bit lonely as the years passed and began to live a double life. I would go out for a couple of days, put on a wig and dress and started dating. That is how I met Phil. He knows and keeps my secret. We always said that if I became pregnant I would end the charade, but I guess between my age and regular birth control use, babies were not meant to be.

There you have it, both a woman and a married priest, all in one! None of it makes any difference. My work is as good as or even better than that of any celibate man.

My Assessment of These Two Additional Testimonials

Chuck, your anger against me and venom against the Church tells me that you still have a lot of unresolved issues and resentments.  I will try not to take it personally, but I would urge you to reconcile with the faith (even if on the pew side of the Church) and to find genuine peace.

As for Tina, sorry, I do not believe you. Yes, you heard me right; I am calling you a liar to your face. I bet you are not a priest, maybe you are not even a woman? There is no way that such a thing could ever happen. Given the years of formation and the close proximity of the men, you would quickly be found out. I admit it makes for a sensational story, but a story is all it is. No doubt the fake legend of Pope Joan is very much fueling your imagination. What are you really, a wannabee woman priest? Are you a female minister who wishes she was more? Are you an atheist fellow seeking to further ridicule the Church and the priesthood? Come on— come clean— stop telling us tall tales.

Debbie’s Comments

I only have a quick comment. I was unaware that they were talking about ending the celibacy requirement in the 1960’s. Nevertheless, I priest I know recently said that if my son were discerning, there was still the possibility that he could get married someday. Does the rumor ever end? I wonder how many still think that change is coming soon.

Karl’s Comments

A celibate, faithful priesthood most reflects its inspiration, Jesus.

As a consequence of my divorce I have lived a celibate life and have concluded that a married priest has too divided a set of obligations. Not that this is wrong or impossible but my opinion has been reinforced.

A priest who leaves his vocation is no different than my wife who is an adulterer. It is scandalous. They should repent and return to an appropriate ministry, if that is allowed. It is the honorable thing to do.

Every day in my line of work I engage many women, single and married who are attractive on many levels, including beauty; but a vow is a vow and it can be lived grudgingly or it can be accepted and be an opportunity, not always but sometimes. It will never be such if it is kept in hatred.

The priest who has invited these comments is not one that I would classify as judgmental.  I would describe him as faithful to his Church and its tenets.

Debra’s Comments

When I was a child in the 1960’s, you could never tell your parents about a “funny” priest, brother or nun” without getting slapped.

I used to think as a child that they were given a grace that made them “almost perfect” and so I was repeatedly surprised when I saw Father So-and-So drunk or rude or swearing or acting racist. I was caught off-guard. Of course, this fueled my later “Catholic in name only” teen years. When I became more mature, I realized we were all human and returned to Church practice.  Some priests are more imperfect than others.  I decided to support the Church in whole and to pick the parish where I wanted to attend. My faith is in Jesus, not a particular priest or pastor. Priests and nuns should be respected, supported and loved.  But we should not tolerate bad acts from them.  They need lots and lots of prayers.

Mary’s Comments

Whoever questions celibacy or the martyrdom required of priesthood has not met Jesus. When one meets Jesus, one is called to true heroism. Priesthood is not natural – it is supernatural. Priests can change the world.

Dawn’s Comments

The priesthood is “supernatural”…that sounds very beautiful… almost too good to be true. It is sad that most priests fall far short of it. I am not just talking about them giving into sexual temptations, but also about the “not so nice” side of their personalities.

Priests are flesh and blood men. When ordained do their natural inclinations and desires miraculously fall by the wayside? No, such is not the case.  Yes, God is supposed to give them this supernatural grace to resist their own humanness; and yet, they are still human. The devil will never cease to try and undo a priest. They get tired, cranky, bored, and at times almost apathetic. Many of us have experienced this in the priests we have known.  It is so obvious that many have become complacent and simply go through the motions.

I had a priest tell me in the confessional that I was “unlovable” and that I deserved to be treated badly by my husband. Yes, he said this after I poured out my heart out upon learning that a divorce was pending. I have been “dismissed” by more than one priest when seeking regular counseling. I was told to get professional help when I was really seeking spiritual guidance. My nephew who worked in different parishes as a music director was shocked to hear the awful language coming from the pastor’s mouth. Yes I mean the “F” word. Another pastor pushed him out of his job by being downright mean and nasty to him, picking apart his every effort at directing the choir and selecting sacred music.

Many priests of Jesus Christ fall way short of modeling him as they are called to do. True, perhaps a few bad apples do not spoil the whole bunch; but we must try to stop putting them on some sort of pedestal from which as mere humans they are eventually destined to fall.

I for one will never abandon the one true Church of Jesus Christ because of the poor witness of priests I have unfortunately encountered. We must pray for holy priests— that they will remain strong, pure and steadfast in their promises made before God. One thing we should never do is crucify them for falling. We are all broken creatures and given to a wounded nature. Let us continue to pray for and love our priests. Let us forgive those who have disappointed or hurt us in any way. But also let us not put them on the same supernatural level as our Lord.  If we do then we are setting them up to fall from such heights.

Thomas’ Comments

Marriages fail and the Church offers annulments to help people who want to love and live again. If such is the case for them, then how can we be judgmental against priests who want to get married?

Priests are human, too. They are not cold and heartless machines. They are flesh-and-blood men with all the strengths and weaknesses of all men. They are not supermen!

We have a Church where gays and pencil-pushing eunuchs seek to manipulate heterosexual men with normal drives and needs with analogies of a spiritual marriage with the Church and with fear of punishment and censure. They talk about the grace of celibacy as if it is a drug to nullify sexual longing and the need for intimacy. Men are humanized by women. Relationships with women allow men to become adults.

But, we do not want adults, do we? Adults talk back and we want boys who will behave! The Church forces its priests to remain as children, and yet they live in the bodies of adult men. Pedophiles and pederasts are able to sneak into the priesthood because formation programs leave men generally at the maturation of twelve year olds. They relate to children because psychologically the hierarchy wants them to remain in the Peter Pan mode of stilted development.

When a priest messes with a woman, more so than not, she is the one who seduced him. Don’t get me wrong, she need not play the seductress. All it takes is a normal loving woman to knock down the priest’s shaky house of cards. Priests are taught to see women as a threat to their celibacy. They are told to stay away from them and not to have close female friends. If he is caught having dinner alone with a woman or, God forbid, gives a woman a kiss, the fishbowl gossips spread the alarm and eventually the bishop punishes the man. How dare you act like a normal man! You are Church property! You belong to us, body, soul and genitals! You are to have no views but those ideas promoted by the Church! Do not talk politics because the Church will be sued and forfeit its tax exemption! Do not even suggest that the Church could be wrong, or else! You will be silenced! You will be transferred! Okay, you caught Father So-N-So with another clergyman in a compromising situation— tell no one or you will be sorry! Okay, we had to move Father Juvenile again because he got too close to the kiddies— tell no one or you will be sorry! Okay, you were hauled into court— keep your mouth shut and we will reward you with a monsignor title when you are released! Remember, canon law allows the priest to be punished for causing scandal, so don’t do it! Stay away from Susie and keep your mouth shut! Homosexuals we can handle, but not abandoned women and crying fatherless babies! Are you sure you are heterosexual? Things would be so much easier only if, well, only if.

If celibacy were optional, so much of this scenario would change. There would be a new springtime in terms of the dynamics of ministry in the Church.

Billy’s Comments

Given your history of rigidity on such issues, I am surprised that you allowed Chuck’s words to stand without some sort of rebuttal.  Did you take his challenge about censorship seriously? Let me shake the boat some more.

Keeping promises is one thing, but the negative stereotyping of a whole people is something else. I am sick and tired of homophobes saying that there are too many gay priests or that gay men should be kept out of the priesthood. How dare anyone hold such prejudices and still claim to be a Christian!

Is there anything wrong with a gay caste for the priesthood? After all, the Church does not want gay men to be active anyway. It would seem that those willing to be celibate or at least discrete among each other would be the best way to go. There is no longing for old girlfriends or any seeking to satisfy with other appetites the loss of heterosexual sexual intimacy and pleasure.

Fat priests overeat to make up for their sexual repression. Other clergy drink heavily. Are they being true to their celibacy? No! But they are quickly excused. They are also quick to condemn others, even as they are blind to their own transgressions!

Most homosexuals are not pedophiles or pederasts. Indeed, I suspect there are far more heterosexual abusers in the ranks of the clergy. But, they may be better at hiding their scandalous acts. I heard the one case where a priest married a young girl as soon as legality permitted. We can readily presume that the so-called romance had started well into the past. He covered up his crime by making her his wife. Seminaries should give a preference to gay men. They are the most likely to flourish in an all-male environment and will probably remain in the priesthood with greater numbers than men pining away about breasts and vaginas.

It is also true, at least culturally, that gay men have better musical and aesthetic tastes than straights. Most of my friends among the Latin traditionalists are gay. When it comes to dress up, smells and bells, tassels and cloaks, it takes a gay man to do things right. Ritual and chant is like dance and song. The liturgy is the greatest drama. From Broadway to the Vatican, there are thousands of gay men doing what they do best.

So, come on guys, let’s get with it. The priesthood is our playground and the Church is our stage!

Patricia’s Comments

If we were only living for this world then Billy and Chuck scored big points in this discussion!  If there be all there is, then go for it!  Have gay sex! Use contraception! Try to do it all and split your time and dedication between marriage and a church vocation! Have 1.5 children, keep your career, and maintain your personal time and space— sacrifice as little as you possible can! If that is all you “think” and “feel” will make you happy then surrender yourself to your strongest urges.

On the other hand, if Jesus really rose from the dead, left an authoritative teaching authority, gave us commandments and reminded us that this life is an eye-blink compared to eternity; well, then, we will one day have to pay the piper.  I would like to thank good priests for witnessing not only with their preaching but with their celibacy.  They are signs in their persons of another world with a different set of values— forsaking earthly pleasures for the joys of eternity.

Thank God, for the genuine Christian witness of priests and faithful lay Catholics. Embracing our crosses can bring inestimable joy. Sacrifices given out of love will be rewarded and usher forth lasting joy. As a mother I know that my sacrifices bring contentment and happiness when I look at my children. The priests have peace and joy in sacrificing for the flocks— the family of God.

The priesthood is a vocation, not a career. By all means, do not enter it if you cannot respect the beauty of Church teachings and discipline. Everyone is welcome to hang around, to learn and to try to understand; but it is not a do-it-yourself religion. That’s pop culture, folks.

My Quick Closing Comments

The Catholic Church teaches that homosexuals suffer from a severe sexual disorientation and as such, should neither be ordained nor function as priests. However, everyone should be treated with compassion and justice.

A man can be married to the Church. His love for Jesus and the flock should be all-consuming!

There is my two cents!

Cardinal Müller Gives Needed Clarification

muller

This was probably the most important interview that Arroyo ever presented on World Over. CARDINAL MÜLLER says that the “moral” is the “pastoral”… there can be no conflict… no polygamy… no sacramental spouse and another civil law spouse… the Holy Father’s document must be interpreted within the Catholic tradition. Anything else is heresy! He spells out that any accommodation that would permit the restoration of the sacramental life (without an annulment) would be a “brother” to “sister” relationship. He also said that women deacons are impossible. The biblical title was not a reference to Holy Orders. The ongoing commission is being misinterpreted. Nevertheless, he did say that we may find new non-sacramental charges for women.

You Can’t Overcome Biology

parentarights

Recognition of such couples as parents on birth certificates would be an exercise in utter delusion about the basic reality of human sexual reproduction. It would also further undermine the already imperiled biological parental rights and corresponding responsibilities of fathers.

Document on Parental Rights of Fathers

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.

Perplexed by the Pope

popehomily

Pope’s Morning Homily: “Is Justice or Mercy More Important to God? They Are One Thing …”

Today the Holy Father preached on Mark 10:1-12. Many of us had hoped the homily would give clarification to questions about Amoris Laetitia. The Pope was both technical and obscure (difficult to decipher.)

He said that the path of Christ was integration of mercy and justice, not legal reasoning. What did this mean? Here are some quotes:

  • “When temptation touches the heart, this path of exiting from casuistry to truth and mercy isn’t easy, it needs the grace of God so we can go forward in that direction.”
  • “A casuistic mentality would ask, ‘What’s more important to God, justice or mercy?’ That’s a sick way of thinking. There aren’t two things, only one. For God, justice is mercy and mercy is justice.”
  • “The Lord helps us understand this path, which isn’t easy, but it will make us happy, and will make lots of people happy.”

He connects justice and mercy and yet they are distinct concepts. Christ will bring both judgment and salvation. There will be the separation of the lambs and the goats.

What exactly is this path he is talking about? Is it life in general? Is it accompanying couples in irregular unions? More than whether it is easy, is it a valid path? Why will we all be happy about it? Our Lord talks about the path to life and the road to perdition. The Church has always taught that we need to be cognizant about our footsteps or direction, following Christ on the so-called “road less traveled.”

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.