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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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The Spirit and the Church’s Mission

The annual commemoration of Pentecost is to the Church what Christmas is to Jesus, the celebration of a birthday. Our Lord had compared the Church to a grain of mustard-seed, among the smallest of seeds. But, it grows into a great tree in which the birds of the air build their nests. Imbued with the hidden and fertile presence of God, what seems dead, little more than bothersome dust, blossoms into the mystical vine and branches of God’s holy people. Christ is the vine– we are the branches. What God initiates by the power of his Spirit, he joins to himself in permanent and life-giving intimacy. Watered by the blood of the martyrs, the Spirit of God continues to minister to the Church, preserving us in the truth of the Gospel and giving efficacy to the sacraments.

Christ sets down the foundations for his Church during his preaching and in his drawing to himself a number of apostles and disciples. On Pentecost, some three thousand people were baptized, and later, two thousand more. Such was the power of the Spirit to instill faith. Christ chose twelve apostles to preside over the rest and one to be the head of all. The descent of the Holy Spirit empowered the apostles to preach the Gospel throughout the world, in accordance with Christ’s command, and gave legitimacy to the many Christian communities they established.

Acts 2:1-11 tells us that the believers in Christ had an experience of the power of the Spirit. It seemed to overwhelm them. They spoke ecstatically in a multitude of languages. This gift of tongues was very much coveted. Scholars dispute whether or not these languages were always intelligible. However, it may be that Luke, in stressing that each person heard his own tongue, was trying to emphasize that the Holy Spirit and the Good News were offered to all, regardless of race or place of origin.

1 Corinthians 12:3-7,12-13 offers the early battle cry of the Church; “Jesus is Lord.” In the life of the follower, to call Jesus “Lord,” meant to give Christ one’s complete loyalty in life and to worship him from the innermost depths of the heart. This sacred phrase of faith with its intense meaning could not possibly be said with sincerity without God’s grace. This gift of faith is the most fundamental. Apart from the gift of saving faith, the lesser gifts would be meaningless. Having said this, we are all given different gifts. Paul stresses that we are to use what we have for the sake of the whole, the Body of Christ. All that we have– all that we are– is not simply for our own sake or pleasure, but for all in the service of God. Selflessness rather than selfishness is the proper way or disposition for glorifying God. When we think of gifts, they need not be spectacular, like prophecy and faith healing. A person might be a good carpenter, an electrician, a painter, a secretary, or whatever. All these talents and more are also gifts from God that we need to perfect and use wisely.

John 20:19-23 intimates that the apostles continued to meet in the upper room where they had celebrated the Last Supper. However, can you imagine the fearfulness that has now replaced the intimacy and peace they knew there with Jesus? The authorities have killed Christ. Maybe they are next? They lock the doors. What do they do now? Suddenly, as out of air, Jesus appears to them and restores to them his peace. Jesus comes to commission the Church. He has defeated death. There is nothing of which to be afraid. God is on our side. Jesus, himself, is the message of hope– he is the living embodiment of the Gospel. After the bitterness of men had done all it could to him, convicting him as a criminal and a liar; after they had tortured and executed him as the least of men– the verdict of men is overturned by the almighty Father. The Father’s love for his Son and the Son’s love for the Father proved stronger than death. This LOVE, that is itself God the Holy Spirit is now shared with us that we might also participate in eternal life.

Jesus breathed on his disciples and they received the Holy Spirit. The calling of the Spirit is linked to the power of creation when God formed men and women from the dust of the ground and breathed life into them. The Holy Spirit awakens the world from the slumber of death back to life. Sometimes we experience something similar to it when we are released from the death-grasp of sin back into a life of divine grace– through prayer, the liturgy, and especially the sacrament of reconciliation. Seen in light of the keys of the kingdom given to Peter, the Church is given something of Christ’s authority and power. This mandate from Christ is not simply for the Church’s glory, but to give God glory in saving souls and forgiving sins.

God conceived Jesus in the womb of Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. On Pentecost, the same Spirit conceives the Church. The Spirit in the Church offers us truth and consolation. Do we take ample advantage of the gifts of the Spirit? Do we embrace as our own the teachings of the Magisterium, trusting that God’s Spirit preserves the Church in the truth? Do we listen attentively to the inner voice of Christ in prayer and Scripture study? Do we discern the powerful action and presence of the Spirit in Catholic worship? Do we find confidence in God, believing that his Spirit will guide and watch over us? We are sorely tempted to trust in our own meager powers, despite the anxiety and fear. We should surrender everything to the Lord who loves us so much that he has counted the hairs on our heads and would keep us in the palm of his hand.

As Christians, we claim that we are temples of the Holy Spirit. Faith is one of the prime gifts of the Spirit. By its very nature as our treasure, saving faith is a gift that we are compelled to share with others. A faith unshared withers and dies. If something great has happened in your life– someone has proposed marriage, or you have won a car, or a new baby is born– you want to shout it out from the rooftops; such is your happiness and joy. Similarly, if our faith is our most precious and undeserved gift, ought we not to share this wonder with others? Indeed, we should share it with conviction and enthusiasm. Although faith is a gift of the Spirit, we are instruments of Jesus in the world. In our talk and service we should not be timid about extending God’s offer of love to others.

You might think that you are unworthy or incapable of really fervently sharing God’s Good News. This may to some extent be accurate. The Holy Spirit works in us as rational men and women, not as things that can simply be impressed upon. We need to make as many avenues for the prompting of the Spirit as possible in study and prayer. Otherwise, we will have a hard time sharing what we do not fully possess. Worse yet, we might loose our grasp of the truth or be seduced by the arguments of others. God wants us to be the best of tools in his service of evangelization. Keep in mind, however, that the burden of conversion is held between the individual and God. Only God can change a wicked man into a saintly man. By our care for the poor, the sick, our families, and our neighbors– we preach the mission commissioned by Jesus. This mission is a constitutive element of the Church’s identity. It still goes on.

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.

The Coming of the Spirit

Acts 2:1-11 gives us the scene of that first Pentecost. There are some interesting elements. First, the day “found the brethren gathered in one place.” There is an unexpectancy to the movement of the Spirit who FINDS them and acts SUDDENLY. On what would be the birthday of the Church, the Spirit finds the brethren watchful and awake. The believers are gathered, no doubt for fellowship and prayer. Since Christ had already instituted the priesthood and Eucharist, they might have been celebrating the “breaking of the bread.” Second, we read that “Suddenly from up in the sky there came a noise like a strong driving wind . . . .” All hear it in the house. Behind the symbolism of the wind, the Holy Spirit literally breaks from the celestial house of heaven and reverberates in the house of the Church. Third, the Holy Spirit is imaged as “tongues of fire” over the assembled. Fire gives off light. The Holy Spirit would illumine their minds and make them sharers in the Light of the World, Jesus Christ. Fire warms the flesh, and again like Jesus, the Church would bring the healing and forgiveness of the Lord to a cold world. Fire also burns and so does the Holy Spirit in that it destroys the old way of sin and builds new with the firm foundation of Christ Jesus. Fourth, the assembled speak in many tongues, a recognition that the Gospel proclamation is meant for all peoples and nations.

The kerygma of salvation can only be understood in terms of configuration to Christ and the movement of the Holy Spirit. “And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of the Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who keep his commandments abide in him, and he in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit which he has given us” (1 John 3:23-24). Faith and obedience is only possible if the Holy Spirit animates us (see also 1 John 4:13). Faith itself is a gift of the Spirit. This is the message of Paul. “Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus be cursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). See also Acts 5:29-32. The posture of the believer to the Holy Spirit is one of humble openness and acceptance.

The Gospel gives the essential elements of the Church’s mission. The disciples are afraid and hiding behind locked doors. However, like Jonah who could not run away from God or his call as a prophet, so too can the disciples not hide. The risen Lord breaks upon them and proclaims, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21). Breathing upon them, another image for the Holy Spirit, he gives them a great commission: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive men’s sins, they are forgiven them; if you hold them bound, they are held bound” (John 20:21-23). This legitimates the Church’s ministry of forgiveness and the power given to priests to absolve sins. Never before had God given such authority to men.

What more do the Scriptures say about the Holy Spirit? As the principle of creation, we read that “the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2). A harmony existed between the Creator and creation. When mankind fell from grace, something of this Spirit was taken from us: “Then the Lord said, ‘My spirit shall not abide in man for ever, for he is flesh . . .’” (Genesis 6:3). The Holy Spirit gives both physical and supernatural life. The gulf created by sin ushered in our mortality as well as forfeiting our likeness to God in grace. God, himself, would not allow this sad separation to remain forever. The Gospel of John has Jesus explicitly speaking of the divinity of the Holy Spirit: “‘God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth’” (John 4:24). This truth is confirmed by Peter when speaking about the deceit of Ananias: “But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit . . . ? You have not lied to men but to God’” (Acts 5:3,4). The Spirit maintains truth and convicts us if we stray away from the path marked by our Lord.

The Holy Spirit is God. He is the power of God that created us and keeps us in existence. The Spirit of God is absolutely dynamic and working. Otherwise, we would cease to exist. The Spirit of God is not fickle. What God has created has a purpose. God does not make mistakes. God respects our tremendous freedom in assenting to his grace or in rebelling against it. The Holy Spirit moves us to faith in the mysterious divine election. He guides human history and ensures the providence of God. He makes possible the miracles of Jesus. He makes real the forgiveness of sins. He is the force behind the resurrection, one with Christ, allowing him to rise by his own power. Showered upon the followers of Jesus at Pentecost, he gives efficacy to the sacraments of the Church and grants the assurance of truth to those appointed as sharers in Christ’s priesthood. That which was lost because of our sin is restored by the intervention of God in human history. The resurrection of Jesus overcomes the stigma of death and allows us to be reborn in the likeness of God as sons and daughters to the Father.

The Holy Spirit makes faith possible and assures those in the Church established by Jesus of knowing saving truth without error. It is a truth different from that offered by the world. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you” (John 14:15-17). The Spirit of God is given to us both individually and as a new community fashioned by God, himself.

Just as the Holy Spirit lives in us, so too does he live in the house that is the Church, the community of faith. It has been said that the Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church. We would do well to reflect upon what the Spirit of God offers us. He gives us wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord [reverence] (Isaiah 11:2,3). Besides the seven gifts, there are also twelve traditional fruits: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, long-suffering, humility, fidelity, modesty, continence, and chastity (Galatians 5:22,23,24). These catechetical listings are quite worthy of mention and annotation at a time when many good Catholics need a booster shot to their Christian formation. We live in the age of the Holy Spirit. Every day we should pray the words, “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful; and kindle in them the fire of your love.”

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

Acknowledging the Holy Spirit

It is sometimes complained that Christians of the West seem apt to neglect the role of the Holy Spirit in their prayer, worship, and reflection. The Catholic emphasis often centers upon Jesus, his mother Mary, and the saints. However, the Holy Spirit is not utterly forgotten and is implicitly invoked every time we make the sign of the cross. The early Church discerned the power of the Holy Spirit in their midst as a personal encounter with God.

When debates arose about the identity of the Holy Spirit, the Church rightly learned from the baptismal formula given her by our Lord. We are baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Repeating myself somewhat, a mere creature has no power to save us. Consequently, the Holy Spirit must also be God: he is the third Person of the Blessed Trinity, the one God who saves us.

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