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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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Preaching, the Liturgy & the Faith

Why Does the Fire Go Out?

People have their reasons, but there is no good reason for leaving the Church. The majority in the area where I reside are probably Baptist and/or Evangelical. Some of these communities target Catholics and many Catholics marry non-Catholics. Not understanding their own tradition, many Catholics are inordinately moved by the music and preaching in Protestant churches. Catholic reformed rituals might not be regarded as very entertaining. Much of the music we sing is criticized as trite and unmoving. When we borrow Protestant hymns or sing Gospel, it is usually a pale imitation of what our separated brethren have to offer. Music enshrines preaching. Particularly in the African-American community, services can go hours. The importance of the minister is measured by his musicality and his effectiveness as a preacher. Our gravity is upon the formulae of liturgy, not upon preaching.

Masolino_Peter_Preaching2

Preachers and Priests, No Comparison?

Many priests were trained to keep homilies or sermons to ten minutes or less. That is about the length of two or three MTV videos. Time-wise, it cannot compare to the formation of the media or to the teaching sermons of our separated-brethren. I knew one old man who went to Mass on Saturday night and to his wife’s Baptist church on Sunday. He told me that he went to Mass for Holy Communion and to the Protestant church for good preaching. This is a rather sad state of affairs. Are we fully feeding our people? Preaching outside the Catholic Church may be dynamic and meaningful; however, it is also fraught with religious error.

Sermons or Homilies?

I recall from preaching seminars that the priest should offer a homily based upon the Scriptures of the day. This focus was understandable but I found the focus too narrow and absolutist. The priest or deacon can preach upon the readings, the liturgical prayers themselves, upon the feast or memorial, or upon what his people (at that time and place) need to hear. I had a vigorous dispute with a liturgist when I suggested catechetical sermons. It was and remains a contention of mine that many people stray to other faith communities because they really do not understand Catholicism and the full significance of the Eucharist.

Can Father Talk Too Long?

How long should the priest or deacon preach? This depends upon many factors:

1. What is the type of liturgy?

2. What has to be said to make the message worthwhile?

3. What is the capacity in patience and in comprehension of the listeners?

Given that Catholic sermons are usually shorter than Protestant counterparts, the priest might be able to amplify his instruction by linking his sermons from week to week. He can also use the parish bulletin, special adult education and bible study, and invite people to use the cycle of readings themselves with missals they can take home. If people look at the readings before Mass, their experience will not be cold when the priest or deacon speaks about them. Instead of merely thinking about what Protestants have that we don’t, let us utilize our own strengths, the missal and the cycle of predetermined readings.

Catholics might also do well to getting used to longer liturgies. Of course, this runs counter to the Roman Rite tradition, known for being curter and more to the point than Eastern Rite liturgies and certain Evangelical Protestant services. There is a basic dilemma with longer sermons, and that is the balance and rhythm of the Mass. A long homily and a short Eucharistic prayer seems to switch the gravity away from the sacrament to the Word which is intended to dispose us for the sacrifice and Holy Communion.

I am concerning myself essentially with the Sunday homily. Given work concerns and strained time issues, weekday Masses would probably have to remain little more than basic exhortations. Such exhortations are similar to aspirations: Jesus, Mary, Joseph save souls! Do good and avoid evil! Keep faith and hope alive! Lord, have mercy on us! God will not abandon you!

Messages Should Comfort and Challenge

Homilies more strictly revolve the Readings; however, sermons can touch upon all sorts of relevant topics. Sermons might be moral exhortations, catechetical moments, inspiration rhetoric and stories, etc. However, they should always connect the lesson, whatever the source, to the lives of the people listening. The congregation should not be passive to the preaching but actively engaged. A topic is explored, the message is ordered for coherence, examples or illustrations are made, and there is the immediate appliance.

The words used in preaching vary upon the setting. When the clergyman marries a couple, he speaks about the joy and hopes of the couple. He might also challenge them to keep the marital act free from the corruption of lust and artificial contraception. However, many Catholic ministers are afraid to rock the boat. When a priest or deacon officiates at a funeral, his words emphasize the consolations of faith to those who mourn, the promises of Jesus our gentle shepherd in regard to eternal life, and the need to go on with our lives. Again, many Catholic ministers are afraid of the conflict that comes with challenging the congregation to see the death as a warning about their own mortality and the need to reform before it is too late. Even evil men are temporarily canonized and little is said about Purgatory. A number in the pews no longer even believe in Hell. Sunday homilies are often pampering and grossly approving because many clergy are afraid of alienating the numbers in the pews and depleting the money gathered into collection baskets.

Need for Courage and Trusting Providence

I knew a priest in the South who tried to integrate the two churches he pastured, one white and the other black. White parishioners complained to the bishop and the man found himself stripped of his parish, reprimanded for making trouble, and reassigned to a teaching position in a college far away. Decades later he was still not allowed to return to parish ministry. But God writes straight with our crooked lines. This priest ended up teaching seminarians. He inspired another generation of men in ministry to struggle for social justice.

How often have we heard certain priests speak about artificial contraception, abortion, divorce and remarriage, or even about fornication and cohabitation? Some men in ministry are afraid. But what chance do God’s people have when their shepherds are passive and fearful? The late Pope John Paul II echoed our Lord’s words of wisdom, “Be not afraid.”

It may be that the priest shortage and the clergy scandals have drained the energy resources and joy of our priests. This needs to be remedied. The core message of the Gospel is not exhausted or angry. Priests who show enthusiasm or excitement about the Catholic faith and Gospel are the most effective. It is also a mentality which breeds vocations. Young men do not want to join a confraternity of tired old men who only go on because of cold duty and obligation. We have to be on fire with the faith if we want those in the pews to ignite! It is very hard for a priest to give what he does not have. God’s servants should be so in love with God that this love spills over in their service of others. Preaching should reflect a life of prayer and a drive to save souls!

The preaching should move God’s people to greater faith and acts of service to our Lord and neighbor. It assists everyone to better understand the Eucharist and disposes us to receive the Blessed Sacrament. We take what we have been given in Word and sacrament as we go out in mission to the world around us.

Mission of the Church Took Precedence over the Scriptures

Matthew 28:18-20: And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”

This selection from Matthew reveals that Jesus, to whom all authority properly belonged, extended or gave something of his power to his Apostles so that they might teach the truth and baptize in the name of the Trinity. He also tells them that they will not be orphaned; that he will always be with them. Christ will literally continue his saving work through them. Christ will be made present in the proclamation of the Word of God and in the Sacraments. Baptism is the first and the doorway to the sacramental life. Note regarding the apostolic age, that except for the Hebrew Scriptures, there is as yet, no New Testament. The Gospel is entrusted to the Church and only later will this oral tradition be put to writing. Letters will be collected and the Church will determine which books constitute the inspired canon. Except for a few deletions, the Protestant Church only has its bible thanks to the stewardship and faith of the Catholic Church.

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

Mr. Sean Hannity vs. Fr. Thomas Euteneuer

I wrote this commentary back in April of 2007. Given that we are coming up to the March for Life in a week’s time, I thought I would repost it.

Mr. Sean Hannity: “I have no problem with birth control. It’s a good thing.”

It was this statement and attitude that was to result in a sad spectacle of dissent on Church teaching and disrespect to a Catholic priest. It should be noted that Mr. Hannity claims to be pro-life, although he makes exceptions for abortions in cases or rape, incest, or for the life of the mother. A rule is only as strong as its exceptions, and thus this really reflects a moderated pro-abortion stance. A child conceived through rape is still innocent and cannot be understood as an unjust aggressor. A child of incest or sexual abuse is still a human being entitled to the right to life. A child’s life and that of the mother cannot be measured on a scale as to which one is more deserving to survive. All human life is incommensurate.

Mr. Sean Hannity invited Fr. Thomas Euteneuer of Human Life International to the television show, supposedly to discuss the matter of dissent on contraception by high profile Catholics, particularly in the media. It turned out to be a setup forum for Hannity to enact revenge against the priest for questioning his Catholicism and judging his dissent.

Regarding the recent public clash between Mr. Sean Hannity of FOX News and Fr. Thomas Euteneuer, I must come down on the side of the good priest. Compounding the matter, the “sometimes” FOX News analyst Fr. Jonathan Morris scolded Fr. Euteneuer and inadvertently aided dissenters on birth control. He said that Fr. Euteneuer “exercised, on this occasion, shockingly poor judgment,” and was mistakenly “brandishing law without palpable love.” However, the truth be said, Fr. Euteneuer hardly got a word in edgewise. I do not think undermining Church teaching was Fr. Morris’ intent, but it has been the result. As one purported Regnum Christi member said, “If a Legionary of Christ supports Hannity, then he must be in the right!” Personally, I think a general clarification from the Legionaries is required and Fr. Morris should be directed to terminate his formal association with FOX News. He was ordained to be a priest for Christ and the Catholic Church, not for Murdock’s neoconservative news propaganda machine. He has compromised himself.

Fr. Euteneuer reveals that he sought a private meeting about the subject with Hannity back in 2004. Nothing came of it.

Even a number of people who disagree about artificial contraception admitted to me that the priest was treated pretty shabbily after being invited upon the television show. There was no real discussion of the matter at hand. The priest was kept on the defensive and given no opportunity for a proper response. Mr. Hannity contended that the priest had no right to judge him and that he should worry about the outrageous cover-up of pedophile priests before coming after him. Of course, Mr. Hannity makes such judgments on his television and radio shows regularly. This was not the real problem, just that he disliked being under the gun, himself. Further, a priest is not any Christian. He is appointed by Christ as a minister of reconciliation. This role requires that he be a judge of souls and that he speak clearly about what is right and wrong.

Mr. Hannity argued falsely that Fr. Euteneuer had not spoken out forcibly about sexual abuse and the scandal of bishops who did not take it seriously. What Mr. Hannity did was to take the attention off him and to move it elsewhere, insinuating that Fr. Euteneuer was being hypocritical. Mr. Hannity also quickly appealed to the fact that not everyone is Catholic, as if that is an excuse for a Catholic in the public forum to renounce an important element of our moral teaching. Such an appeal to relativism is tragic from a figure who purports to be a political conservative. He had apologized for eating meat on a Friday of Lent. Fr. Euteneuer rightly observed that there is a big difference between the inadvertent violation of a Church discipline and the repudiation of a doctrinal or moral teaching, as here touching upon the Theology of the Body and the openness to human life that must be present in every instance of the marital act.

Mr. Hannity asked again and again, more in a rhetorical fashion than in actuality, “Do you know me?” He said he had been in seminary and had studied Latin. When I heard this I began to scratch my head, so what? The news anchor was becoming incoherent in his tirade against the priest. Were we suppose to give him a gold star for being an altar boy? Fr. Charles Curran, the great dissenter on contraception, abortion, homosexuality, etc. also went to seminary and studied Latin…such things did not make him right or insure that he had the mind of the Church about all matters.

NOTE: When challenged by Fr. Euteneuer, Hannity made a big deal out of being a former altar boy and “seminarian” who studied Latin. Actually, his “seminary” training consisted of attending a boys’ Catholic High School called St. Pius the X Preparatory Seminary in Uniondale, NY. Most of its graduates, like Hannity, were not headed for the priesthood. He was a college drop-out and his “theology” courses were nothing more than high-school and grammar school catechism.

Let us cut to the quick, Mr. Hannity is a neo-conservative in the political arena who leans toward liberalism in the area of Catholicism. It is fine and good that he has urged his children to be chaste and celibate until marriage. He might be anti-abortion, and about this we should all be pleased, but he is not consistent given his stance in favor of certain exceptions and artificial contraception. He even went so far as to mock the priest with what he saw as an inconsistency on Catholicism’s part, a so-called Church-approved birth control, i.e. contraception, Natural Family Planning. But, of course, NFP is not true contraception, it is simply periodic abstinence based upon a knowledge of the body and how it works. It is a way to regulate or space births. Further, unlike the pill or condom, NFP can be used to help couples get pregnant, since they know the times of maximum fertility. If one were to use NFP in a selfish way then it could also be turned into a sinful practice. One may space births but not turn against the meaning of the marital act.

The priest was able to squeeze in the truth, under the mantra of Hannity’s unending assault, that a majority of those who have abortions do so because of contraceptive failure. Artificial contraception is indeed the handmaid to abortion. This is what the priest knows and what Mr. Hannity refuses to admit. It creates a contraceptive mentality which fuels the holocaust of abortion. Nothing was said about the fact that certain forms of contraception are also abortifacient. But, as I said, the interview was not a civil exchange of ideas, but an opportunity to malign a priest who wanted to help Mr. Hannity to be consistent and to insure that Catholics know that contraception is a grievous matter not to be flippantly handled.

In writing to Fr. Jonathan Morris, who chastised a fellow priest and gave solace to Hannity, Fr. Euteneuer writes:

The question that comes to mind is an obvious one: if you are a Fox analyst on Catholic matters, wouldn’t you have been the one to have had those “private conversations” on birth control with Mr. Hannity? How about discussions on his abortion exceptions? When you told Sean “in person” that you “disagreed with him,” was it on the issue of birth control? If you had done that, I applaud you, but your powers of persuasion may need a little honing—Sean has only gotten more vocal on this issue over time. If you did not speak to him about his public dissent, then I ask you, “Why?” While we are on the subject, have you also analyzed and disagreed with Bill O’Reilly’s perfectly horrible disdain for the Holy Father and the Church that you represent?

The church sex abuse scandal was not just about homosexual and predatory priests. It was about clerical negligence and silence on issues that not only affect people’s souls but also ruin people’s lives. It is highly unusual that you or anyone else would want a priest to be silent on issues that affect the salvation of souls. We used to recognize “admonishing the sinner” as one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy, and I consider my admonishment of Mr. Hannity to have been done in that spirit. I might also add that in doing so I have fulfilled my duty as a priest which is a requirement for my salvation.

Further evidence that Mr. Hannity suffers from a poor faith formation as a Catholic is the following notation at the HLI site:

Mr. Hannity is not backing down, saying on Monday’s radio program that if he were excommunicated he would call the Rev. Jerry Falwell and ask to join his Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va.

No one, of course, is talking about excommunication; that is just his continuing hysterics about this matter. But note that he would join a Baptist Church, no doubt because of their “political” conservatism, but one that is silent on a weighty moral matter like artificial contraception. Doctrinal differences between them and Catholics are enormous. He would reject the Pope, much of the deposit of faith, and the sacramental life, particularly the Eucharist, to maintain his dissent. He would embrace a Protestant sect and forever turn his back on the sacrifice of the Mass and the real presence of Jesus’ body and blood in the Blessed Sacrament in exchange for grape juice and loaf bread. Even a knowledgeable Catholic excommunicant, if his faith be real, would want to come home to the sacraments and to the true Church established by Jesus Christ.

ADDENDUM

Fr. Jonathan Morris

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,258291,00.html

As I watched a fellow Catholic priest spar with you on the March 9 edition of Hannity and Colmes, I hung my head in shame and sadness. My colleague in religion (whom I’ve never met) used the public airways and Internet to call you a heretic and hypocrite. Because he chose to do this in a public forum, I want you and your viewers to know, publicly, that as an analyst of this television network, I believe this good priest, who does great work, exercised, on this occasion, shockingly poor judgment. I consider his willingness to give his personal opinion about your status within the Church inappropriate and ill-considered, to say the least.

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,258501,00.html

While Fr. Thomas Euteneuer and I may disagree on how best to attain this lofty goal in certain venues, like on a secular television network, we are of one heart and mind on substance.

Where Do We Go from Here?

Television, which mirrors and also forms so many of our ideas and behavior patterns, has vividly shown the shift in family values. Programs like “Father Knows Best,” “Leave It to Beaver,” and “Make Room for Daddy” are a far cry from “The Simpsons,” “Married with Children,” and “Murphy Brown.” A sign of hope is that a number of shows are returning to the older format and even go a step further by explicitly bringing in religious faith. I am thinking, in particular, about the short-lived but popular “Christy,” and the more viable “Touched by an Angel” and “Seventh Heaven.” But, we must be wary of the media that trusts more in profits than in prophets. If we want strong traditional families, then America must rediscover her soul. Statistics verify that families attending regular Sunday worship usually stay together and find contentment. Frequently, they are happier than those who have more money and material things. Many successful families also limit the amount of television they watch; parents review the music to which the children listen; they actively participate in their religious formation; and they pray together. They make family and not work or hobby the center of their lives. It is here where they find God. Regarding the flip side, children are increasingly bringing parents back to God and the Church, evidence of a mysterious movement of the Holy Spirit.

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

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.

Signs of Hope in a Culture of Death

There are still signs of hope and of the kind of life to which we aspire. My thoughts turn to the terrible high school killings at Columbine High School a few years ago. A killer pointed his gun at young Cassie Bernall and asked what would be a life or death question: “Do you believe in God?” This Christian girl had turned her life around and given herself to Christ. She paused. This was the classical situation that many of us once laughed about when sister posed such a question in CCD. I am reminded of the bumper-sticker slogan, “If Christianity were a crime, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” Here was a child in this difficult situation. Even the great Apostle Peter, in a similar dilemma, denied our Lord three times. What would this girl say? Looking at the gun, she replied, “Yes, I believe in God.” The gunman asked her, “Why?” but did not give her a chance to answer. His shot rang out and she collapsed lifeless to the floor. She came to the library as a 17-year-old girl to study during lunch. When she left the library for the world to come, she did so as a modern Christian martyr. I would submit that she was also a martyr for life. She trusted that whatever the world might take away, Christ could restore.

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