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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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An End to Exile

Jeremiah 31:7-9 finds the prophet Jeremiah sitting amidst the ruins of Jerusalem. He had opposed the return of idolatry with his whole being, but it was to no avail. Dismissing his warnings, the false prophet Hananiah got the upper hand with Zedekiah against Babylon. Judah would subsequently be conquered. The chosen people are sent into exile. When they trusted to their own might and made offerings to false gods, they lost everything. Jeremiah speaks a word of hope. If they return to fidelity with God, then God’s mighty arm will save them. Illustrating just how incredible the return to their homeland shall be, he speaks these words for God: “I will gather them from the ends of the world, with the blind and the lame in their midst, the mothers and those with child; they shall return as an immense throng” (Jeremiah 31:8). The most vulnerable among them will be counted with the returning exiles. No new army will accomplish it. Compared to the will and power of God none of the factors against them will matter. Sure enough, after that generation had passed away and his own people murdered Jeremiah, Babylon would not only let them return but function as a benefactor in the reconstruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. However, they would not be a great independent nation again, at least not until the establishment of the modern state of Israel.

Christianity interprets the restitution as coming to completion in Jesus. The long exile, not to the Babylonians, but to death and sin was coming to an end. The devil was losing his grasp upon us. The Messiah comes to give us a share in eternal life and to repair the primordial rift with God. A new nation is established– a new People of God is chosen from among Jews and Gentiles– the Church.

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

Not Against Us, With Us

Looking at Mark 9:39-43,45,47-48, the new elders or disciples seem to resent that a stranger might use Jesus’ name to expel demons. Our Lord says, “Do not try to stop him. No man performs a miracle using my name can speak ill of me. Anyone who is not against us is with us” (verses 39-40). The power of God works where it wills. Jesus then makes a quick warning against false prophets, stipulating that any who would lead simple believers astray would best be cast into the sea– literally, better off dead. Jesus is not creating a death penalty for heresy; rather, he is remarking that rendering false teaching puts one under severe judgment from God.

Noting that sin often invalidates the life of virtue and clouds our witness, Jesus utilizes Hebraic hyperbole (exaggeration) in saying if your hand causes you to sin– or your foot– or your eye– cut it off or pluck it out. Short of actually maiming ourselves, our Lord is telling us to avoid sin at all costs. If we are to be nation of prophets, we must repent of sin, believe in the Gospel, and proclaim it to others.

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

Fallen Priests & Their Women

Choosing the Woman over the Altar

fallenIf any priest in a compromised situation with a woman attempts marriage then he places himself and a person he says he loves into a seriously sinful state. It angers or upsets me that men can reject Church law and teachings when it suits their selfishness. My upset or indignation is in reaction to the hypocrisy, dissent and scandal caused by fellow priests against the Church I love. I am not vindictive about it, only deeply disappointed. If he maintains a brother-sister relationship until (or if) laicization is offered, at least then he shows some respect to the Church and concern about her soul.

I have friends who are priests who left ministry to get married. I would not condemn them. But they would not seek to function without the legal faculties to do so.

Discussion with revisionists who have burned their bridges is very difficult. We may be destined to communicate at cross-purposes due to very divergent premises and convictions. However, everyone on the right or left of such issues should want to facilitate genuine healing in the lives of others. Priests and the women with whom they have had intimate relations or attempted marriages might confess to something of a love-hate relationship with the Church, owning up to their anger, reckoned by them as justifiable.

I wish priests who leave ministry well. Once a man has defected with his beloved, I would hope that such couples would love and be faithful to each other. Laicization and release from the promise of celibacy are important; otherwise, no marriage would be recognized as either valid or licit. I would hope that priests who leave for a woman would reserve their romancing until that time they are deemed free to do so. As for shame, what kind of woman could take a priest from his altar and from the confessional and not feel some sort of remorse? How could a priest, albeit a fallen one, ever really love a woman who took so lightly what he would give up for her?

Doing the Right Thing

Healthy heterosexuals, rightly ordered priests in their sexuality, are attracted to women. They make a promise of celibate love and by discipline, prayer and grace they live out this life of loving service. They might fall in love… heck, they might fall in love with a number of nice women in their lifetimes, but they remain steadfast. Older and wiser men recognize the signs and make distance, even becoming gruff or mean to women they particularly like. This is often misinterpreted. But it has to be done. If a priest falls deeply in love with a woman in a romantic way, he must abandon her friendship and any affiliation with her. He must not play games that will lead the both of them into disaster. He must say goodbye. Often he will not and should not tell the woman why they cannot remain associates or “friends.”

Certain dissenters, who might see some small value in celibacy for misanthropes, refuse to accept that such a mandatory discipline could be in concert with God’s will. My view is clear: “They have surrendered their intimacy and their sexuality to God— case closed.” A priest is not his own man. He belongs to God and the Church. Giving God his intimacy and sexuality means that he will not have an exclusive sexual or intimate relationship with another human being. Priests are still sexual human beings, but they love in a celibate way of service.

I can well understand how those who have become entangled with priests might suffer through my comments. I stand by my words. Celibacy is a sacrificial discipline which priests FREELY embrace. God does not return our gifts except as transformed. In this case, the priest belongs to God and to his congregation but not to a particular friendship or to an intimate sexual relationship. The salvation of souls is the fruit he seeks, not that of his loins.

Is it immature to be a faithful celibate? Is it misogyny to say that a man can be happy and fulfilled without a wife and family? Those who applaud fallen priests and their women are very quick to judge priests like me; they errantly place the greater maturity with those men who broke their promises, perhaps even committing mortal sin? I have many close friendships with women, but I am well aware of the boundaries and I do not play games with them. The trouble today is that many women mistake friendship and kindness as a summons to something more. Given the immaturity of men and women in our society, it is no wonder that there is a problem in this regard. Would we rate the men who stayed celibate as children and those who fooled around with women as the more well-adjusted and mature?

Defection and Redefining the Priesthood

Those who turn their bitterness against the so-called “institutional” Church, as if the properties of the Church can be practically dissected, often forfeit a sense of the sacred and the supreme importance of the sacraments. It is for that reason that renegades will often turn to ecclesial communities with dubious apostolic succession and a questionable or counterfeit priesthood and Eucharist. One critic referred to the sacramental role performed by a celebrant, his action at the altar “in persona Christi,” as an empty caricature of priesthood with no significant or enduring meaning. She would reduce the meaning of priesthood to show that it is a poor trade for a wife and family. Priesthood becomes less a vocation and more a job in this evaluation. But priests are more than clueless figureheads; they truly make Christ present in their own person and in their activity.

Every validly ordained priest shares in the one priesthood of Christ, this is where his ministry finds focus: in the sacrifice, in the consecration (real presence) and in the forgiveness of sins. Dissenters, renegade priests and the women, who run away with them, might embrace a defective religious confession and their rites or they might even brush off any definition of priesthood which places the gravity upon the dispensing of the sacraments. Poor lost souls, they lose a sense of basic Catholicism 101.

It may be that some women redefine the priesthood to blunt the blow that they have cost the Church a good priest. Of course, the priest has responsibility in all this, and must share culpability. One might feel less guilty if our vision of the priesthood is narrowed to activity that anyone might do. It is wrong to contend that when not saying Mass or hearing Confessions, he is no longer configured to Christ Jesus, the great high priest. A priest is always a priest. As a case in point and it might sound profane, I once heard a Confession in the stall of a bathroom, initiated by the penitent, not me. At the doors of the restroom I gave him absolution.  Yes, I prefer Church confessionals, but if a person is in serious sin, there is no time to waste. Priests are never really off duty. And definitely, there is never time for illicit fun and games with the girls!

Priests who are celibate and expect other priests to keep their promises are not rigid and deliberately hurtful. Every priest is called to be a healer. But excusing or ignoring or offering approbation for failure is not to render true healing. Such activity represents a false compassion. The priestly confessor of souls serves many functions: physician or healer, father, teacher, prophet, and judge. I would not judge myself any less severely than I would any other priest. Such a role is necessary to insure proper guidance and repentance. We are all sinners. We are all weak and poor instruments. But, God’s grace can work the miraculous in our lives.

Truth versus Dissent

I can only speak for God when I echo the teachings and disciplines of faith. I claim no moral superiority over others. I make mistakes and even errors in judgment. We all do. But I do not think my views about this are in conflict with the Good News of Christ. Our Lord has given us an infallible Magisterium to guide and govern the Church. Dissenters cannot speak for God if they oppose the Catholic faith. Dissenters believe they have a special enlightenment in regard to the truth. They do not even seem to fear God in making themselves into little popes in deciding what they will and will not accept. Such a dilemma is clear when dissenters argue for a version of love unhampered by the restrictions of the Church (like vows or promises). Challenge their special enlightenment and they will go further in denying the Church’s charism of truth and the qualifications of faithful priests.

While speaking as if they are a competing or parallel Magisterium, critics insult the Church and every good priest, and yet, seem blind to what damage they are doing. Their rhetoric betrays an anger that moves from the matter of married priests to that of women priests or priestesses. They insist that the Church is depicting women as the enemy and dangerous. They demand that men and women be treated equally. Priests and their women who marry outside the Church and/or move into other denominations are stamped as heroes and not as sinners. There are a few cases where former Catholic priests allow their “attempted” wives to serve as priests alongside them. The first has no faculties to minister and the latter has a counterfeit priesthood severed from apostolic succession. An imaginary and false line is drawn between faith in the true Church and faith in the Lord.

The conflict in such discussions between sides is divergent views of ecclesiology and vocation. Those on different sides of this question place the weight in different areas. My emphasis would be upon the head and the spiritual power of will. I suspect that many women actively involved in an intimate way with priests would give the gravity to the heart and the corporal passions or emotions. On the other hand, I would stress the clear fact that the Church welcomes men to holy orders who promise or vow celibacy. The objective or external situation is that men do this and I feel they should remain faithful to their promises. There is no good escape clause. As far as I am concerned, that is where matters should end. They should behave themselves and if they should suffer emotionally, offer it up with Christ’s passion.

Those who later want out of their promises make all sorts of rationalizations. The business about the heart and/or emotions is only recognition that such seems to play a big part in the decision of priests and women who become romantically entangled. I may be wrong, but is this really such a large leap in reasoning? If this is overly presumptive, then I would apologize but I have dealt with many delicate situations regarding such things and it has been my experience.

We must not be naïve about the fierce physicality in men and the sexual drive which men must daily sublimate to stay chaste. I have never said that priests must hate or fear or universally separate themselves from the female gender. However, there will come times when a priest must break off certain relationships because his heart and fallen nature is taking him in a direction he must not go. A priest is always a living ICON for Christ. The full gravity or weight of his sacramental vocation is manifest at Mass where he operates “in the person of Christ, head of the Church.” He signifies Christ the groom and the Church is his bride.

Critics will insist that the Church and her defenders violate a number of values. However, a clarification has to be made. EQUALITY in grace is not any kind of egalitarian view of humanity. JUSTICE for others also includes following objective norms, of the State, of the Church, of Nature, and of Divine Positive Law. Today many things we call RIGHTS are really just made up excuses for license and sin. Women have no right to priesthood. Celibate priests have no right to either wives or concubines. People of one gender do not have rights to sexual contact with those of the same gender.

What Do Priests Know of Love?

One critic argued recently that priests generally knew nothing about love. She contended that they were ordained merely to fulfill family expectations. But there are many reasons and such anger cannot invalidate the calling of good men validated by the true Church. The truth be said, most priests today entered the seminary against the wishes of family and friends. God is love; however, it is wrong to equate this love entirely with the romantic. Such critics fail to acknowledge human weakness and sin; rather, romantic entanglements with priests are wrongly interpreted as God’s will. This is ludicrous. God never desires sin.

It is not my intention to give a comprehensive treatise on divine love and how we share that love. I believe God can forgive and that he showers mercy upon priests who leave active ministry to marry women. It is rather insulting and “mean spirited” that certain critics think many priests have no notion of love. I counseled a woman many years ago against flirting and trying to seduce a man in seminary formation. She walked out shouting that I had nothing to say to her because I had never been in love! I challenged her on this assumption and she crudely blurted out, “Unless you have gone to bed with a woman, you do not know what love is!” The very reason why I and so many of my brothers embrace our celibacy is out of love for God and his people. The harshest critics are essentially saying that they do not care and that it is a waste of our time. Love brought me to the priesthood. It is love that beckons me to the altar, to the confessional, to the baptismal font, and yes to the sick bed of the dying. I am sorry that such lost people cannot understand or appreciate that.

Attacks against the Church and Her Messengers

What has been my reward for speaking about the value of celibacy and for insisting that good priests keep their promises? I have been assaulted personally as a misogynist and my view of human sexuality has been condemned as immature. Such judgments were not the result of sharing a detailed appreciation of vocations and human sexuality; rather, I was labeled precisely because I placed a negative value on the illicit unions and/or liaisons of priests and their paramours. I am not naïve about priestly formation and human development. Truthfully, I believe clergy should be emotionally whole and integrated. Priests should be comfortable with women. However, and here is the great divide, celibate priests should NOT have sexual relationships with women.

I would certainly not want to generate unnecessary anxiety for others, but sometimes bravery means not denying or running away from our guilt. Ridiculing Church teaching and discipline, breaking the vows of priesthood and/or marriage, are not positive in any honest estimation. However, speak about sin, and there are always many who will insist that no one can judge such things, despite divine commandments and objective right and wrong. Prophets who speak the truth of God are castigated by false prophets who speak their own mind. Broken promises, fornication and adultery, attempted marriages, illegitimate children, scandal… yes, I would say that such sins should make people feel ashamed, particularly for the unrepentant and the guilty.

They want every faithful priest or so-called right-wing Catholic to be caricatured as an angry homophobic and chauvinistic white male. While they excuse their own venom, any use of hyperbole to make a point or indignation about fallen priests and their women is viewed as the most outrageous insult. They share this with certain radical homosexuals who condemn Church teaching as hate-speech. Both camps contend that you cannot judge the sin without condemning them as sinners. They think that faithful and traditional priests value institutions and laws more than people— and yet, must there be a disconnect? However, it is NOT the institutional Church that denies people access to grace. People do this to themselves by their sins and by failing to preserve a disposition receptive of grace. Critics wrongly dismiss the Church’s discipline as just man-made laws. But the Church is both a human and a divine institution. Celibacy is not a purely human fancy but is an element of the divine plan.

I would contend that it is a pretty poor and simplistic synthesis against supporters of the status-quo to say that those who disagree with revisionists on this matter and their agenda are all angry men with a punitive outlook. We can be upset or disappointed without desiring any kind of harm to others. Most priests try as confessors to keep emotions in check. We hear everything, from the lurid details of abuse to murder itself. Our response is that of Christ. The penitent expresses sorrow for sin, makes an act of contrition, and then receives our absolution. Sometimes that healing is enough and at other times, they are placed on the road to recovery. Any upset I feel is precisely because the priesthood means a lot to me and we should not give poor witness.

The Effect of Scandals

Scandals are always thrown into the face of those who argue for no change regarding our discipline. Lately, the recent scandals around Fr. Marciel Macial have been their ammunition of choice. It is true that many regarded him as a conservative, i.e. orthodox. Critics of celibacy are having a field day with revelations that he purportedly fathered a child. This is bad news for the Legionnaires and for the Church. The questions about abuse in his regard are even more serious. However, such poor witness is no absolute invalidation of priestly celibacy. Most priests are faithful to their promises.

Critics point to the scandals and the fallen priests and ask the rhetorical question as to whether or not compulsory celibacy is a fallacy or myth? They think it is. Some well-meaning voices play into their hands by recommending optional celibacy. They feel that celibacy should only be permitted to those who feel called to it. However, most priests in the West freely promise celibacy. No one is forcing them into the priesthood. If they do not feel called to celibacy then God in his wisdom would not ask them to be priests. God is not in conflict or battling his Church; rather, he works in concert with the authority he established. The struggle here is to do God’s will, not what our selfishness would ask and not what the dissenters demand. Optional celibacy might see its day; but it will not solve the vocations crisis and it will create new serious issues in itself.

Many of us have had concerns about the secrecy and ultra-regimentation of the Legionnaires. I wonder how much of it reflected the secrecy that Father Macial utilized to cover his own scandalous indiscretions? It is a very sad business. Hopefully Rome will bring reform and healing to the situation.

Celibacy is not a myth, despite what the cynics might say. I believe that God works with his Church and gives the grace of celibacy to any who are truly called to his priestly service in the Roman Catholic Church. Yes, the Church could change this discipline tomorrow and make it optional. But no one should seek ordination with such an expectation.

Why Should We Care?

Why would a faithful priest be upset about those who violated Church rules? Well, first, one can be both upset and still show compassion and empathy. Second, good priests have a responsibility to admonish and to guide people in the moral life. Breaking promises to God and the Church is selfish and wrong. Third, while it is true that no one can absolutely read the inner hearts of others; this does not mean that the Church cannot render judgment about external actions. If you make promises and break them, you commit an objectively evil act. This is more than a sentiment or a temptation hidden in the heart and will. We would suspect that priests, of all people, would be fully cognizant of their behavior and the repercussions. They cannot claim ignorance. Bad priests agreed to the rules but later wanted to change them. Women who become involved with priests, and here I mean actively involved as in sexual encounters, mistresses and attempted marriages, should know full well that they have fallen far from what God and the Church demands. Ladies who have the heartstrings pulled and then do the right thing are entirely different. This latter group deserves our respect and continuing support.

Fourth, a fallen priest’s promises were made to his bishop and before God, not to me personally or to other priests. The actions of one priest often affect all priests and thus, the misconduct of any one priest hurts all priests. That is why the abuse scandals have been so incredibly devastating to the morale of priests. It wounds every one of us personally. We are all sharers in the one high priesthood of Christ. We trust and look up to one another. We expect fidelity, courage, generosity, obedience and sacrifice. We believe all the jargon about the glories of the Roman Catholic priesthood. When men fall short, it pains us more than any of us could properly convey.

Every priest who keeps his promises feels hurt and betrayed by those who do not. This fuels the indignation, along with the insufferable arguments that question the teaching in hindsight. Often personal responsibility is minimized and the Church herself is made the culprit for making the celibacy requirement at all. Broken promises by priests are seen as a betrayal of our brotherhood. It breeches them from their spiritual father the bishop and their brother priests. Those who are not priests might not understand this element of family that is focused upon the presbyterate.

My indignation or upset or anger or resentment or whatever you want to call it is not misplaced, but justified. I may come across as somewhat judgmental, but such is often my response to dissent and attacks upon a celibacy which I believe is worthwhile and should be sustained as compulsory in the Western Church. I would and have supported men who left ministry. I see no contradiction in doing this quietly for individuals while taking a strong general position against romantic entanglements, defections, and laicizations.

Realizing the Love of God

Read Matthew 7:7-12 and you will find a line which should never fail to touch us with the absurdity of being harsh to those whom we love. “Would one of you hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf, or a poisonous snake when he asks for a fish?” Jesus goes on to tell us that if we who are a sinful people know how to give that which is good to our children, just imagine what our Heavenly Father has in store for us.

I wonder though, whether or not Jesus would use this analogy today? It seems that the depravity among men and women has reached such a monstrous point that even the children are no longer safe. Abortion in our society is well into its fourth decade, so commonplace that most of us hardly give it a thought. The papers and television are filled with the news of children being abused both by their parents and by those in whose care they are placed. Recently there was a story about a woman who hired a hit man to kill her husband. Another story told about children placed into animal cages. We are not talking about minor squabbles in families. All these concerns involve murder and abuse. This does not make matters easy for us who try our best in living out Christianity. Jesus taught his friends how to call God, our Father, in the Lord’s Prayer. How do we teach children about a loving Father with situations so bad, with divorce plaguing half of all marriages, or where the mother gives her favors to a different man on any given night? It is not easy.

I would encourage you all, as parents and grandparents, as uncles and aunts, as brothers and sisters, and as friends in Christ, to give the kind of witness which will make the Father’s love believable. Allow that love to shine out and to touch others through you. Do this especially for the children. God knows it is a tough enough world. We can help make it easier for them. They are the future of our nation and Church. We have to invest in them. Jesus understood this well when he said, “Treat others the way you would have them treat you: this sums up the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12).

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

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.

The Mission of the Church

The mission of the Church is to spread the Gospel and to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. As Christians, we are sent on mission at the end of Sunday worship each week: “The Mass has ended. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” We must take our role as missionary seriously. Where is our passion for the Gospel? Why are we not on fire telling people about it?

Certainly, we all relate to our brothers and sisters in different ways. But what does it matter? Everyone has something to contribute. Because of in-depth knowledge of our teachings and the Scriptures, some may be called to add apologetics to the work of winning converts. Others might find themselves in jeopardy if they walked that route, but be exceptional in helping people with their hurts and in touching others through personal charity. Some may relate well with young people who often look for answers in the wrong places. Still others may be able to reveal in ecumenical prayer and service the fraternity of Catholics with other believers in the Lord. We need to bring the Gospel to our homes, to our neighbors, and to our workplaces.

However, if we are going to share our faith, we had best make sure that we are Christians and good Catholics first. We need to nurture a determination to stick with the Church no matter what disappointments may come our way. Some do not do this and the results can be tragic for all. I recall a woman who studied at a Catholic college for four years and was certified to do parochial work. When the new pastor was assigned, he failed to keep a position for her. Along with this disappointment, the Pope reaffirmed that women could never be priests. Well, that was the last straw for her and she left the Church. What is sadder is that she took a few others with her. There are only so many clergy and most of the outreach into the community must be done by the laity. We have to be flexible enough to bounce with the bumps in the road. Doors close and other doors open. We have to be receptive to God’s will, even when we do not entirely understand it. The work is not so much ours, as it is the Lord’s. Some are given the gift of Holy Orders, but there are other gifts, particularly given to the laity, that facilitate the expansion of the Church and the proclamation of the Good News. Married couples are missionaries to their children. Many non-Catholic spouses embrace the faith of their Catholic partner. Single people have the gift of time and availability to help in youth groups, bible study programs, prayer circles, charity endeavors, etc. With the loss of sisters and religious brothers, the laity teach in Catholic schools, CCD and RCIA programs, etc. There are even parishioners that go door-to-door with the invitation to explore the faith and their parishes.

Spreading the faith requires that we grow in the faith, ourselves. We should search in ourselves and with others for a stronger faith and then share it, loving and caring for those with whom we come into contact– keeping in mind that the burden of conversion is held between the individual and God. God changes a wicked person into a saintly one. Our care for the poor, the sick, our families, our neighbors, by our pursuit of social justice, for peace, etc., in all these things we witness for the Gospel.

Souls are not simply converted by highly educated or witty missionaries; rather, they are brought to the Lord through the work of Christ in holy men and women inspired and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Look at Peter, he was an ignorant fisherman! Neither Mary nor Joseph was ordained a priest; and yet, who could estimate the enormous spiritual benefits that both of them have exerted for our well being? The Holy Spirit is the Divine Counselor, who like Father and Son, makes use of frail instruments to achieve his purposes.

While the kingdom of Christ will be realized in God’s good time, the laity and clergy work together for this eventuality. Having spoken about our universal call as missionaries, I would like to say a few words about priestly ministry. Have you ever wondered what it must be like as a priest? He knows the dark secrets of people’s lives and weeps over their sins and the sheep that go astray. He sees more than his share of sickness and dying, particularly those with a regular hospital ministry. Yes, he knows the joy of witnessing marriages; but he also feels the arrogance of those who violate the commandments in dating promiscuity and cohabitation. He sometimes wonders if the young even listen to him. The happiest times are when he baptizes a child; and yet, he can never forget the babies he could not save from abortion. When things go right, God gets the praise and when they go wrong, the priest gets the blame.

People angry with the Church see him as an icon for the institution and assault him for things he had no part in, possibly going back to before he was born. This often happens when priests wearing clerics are recognized in public. When I was a young associate, I recall one fellow on the subway who sat next to me and without any introduction, shouted, “I left the Church thirty years ago, and let me tell you why!” In such situations, the priest wants to get away or argue in return, but he just sits back and listens. “A priest yelled at me in the confessional,” the man says, although he cannot recall what it was about. Such a little thing, and for all we know the poor priest probably had his own demons plaguing him at the time or was maybe just not feeling well. In any case, it was enough to make this man leave the Church. I explained how sorry I was that it happened, and the tone of the conversation changes. I miss my metro stop, but it is okay. His wife recently passed away and he had a bad heart. His mind often went back to his childhood days. Eventually, he asks, “Father, how do I come back to the Church?” What happened? I could not recall saying anything particularly moving. It must have been God’s grace. I take out my purple stole. His eyes open wide. We move to a vacant section of the train, he falls to his knees, and says, “Bless me Father, for I have sinned.” When I leave the train a prodigal son is back home. I catch a subway car going in the opposite direction, back to my exit which I missed. When I enter the rectory, I am chastised for my tardiness. I say nothing.

As a sign of contradiction in our culture, the priesthood can be difficult. However, there is also a deep consolation in being an instrument of God’s mercy in a sometimes cold world. The same difficulty should be a daily element in the lives of all Christian believers. Evangelization is not just the business of professional religious people. It is an indispensable part of our baptismal call. We can work together to make the Church a more heart-warming place for all those wounded and searching.

When it comes to Christology, the theological study of Jesus, there are some theologians who seem heavily orientated toward Christmas (the incarnation) and others who branch out from Easter (the resurrection). These are the poles of Christ’s earthly life and both have essential importance. If we are to share Jesus, we must know him.

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

Bringing in the Harvest

While the Scriptures are composed over an extended expanse of time, I am often quite awestruck over how the theme of salvation is interweaved through so many settings and types of literature. They speak of creation, growth, and re-creation. In Isaiah 55:10-11, the prophet Isaiah uses the image of rain making the earth fertile to illustrate how his words are also to bear fruit in the faithfulness of the chosen people. Psalm 65:10,11,12-13.14 paints the picture of a teeming agricultural paradise where God’s blessing causes the seed which falls on good ground to produce a rich harvest. Romans 8:18-23 offers the testimony of Paul who views all of creation groaning and in agony as it experiences its growth pains from the old to the new order. And Matthew 13:1-23, has Jesus using the tensive language of parable to speak about the seed of faith.

Throughout most ages there has been a preoccupation with the seed. It has only been since the days of the Industrial Revolution and the modern distribution of labor, that many of us have lost sight of some of the natural necessities like seed and its symbolic significance. We buy bread at the store; we don’t have to grow wheat. We purchase most if not all of our vegetables from others; I wonder how much thought have we ever given to its planting and harvesting? It can become easy for us to forget the importance of the seed. Without it, plants would cease to be. Without it, the life-cycle would be so disrupted that even animal life on this planet would eventual exhaust itself. And yet, in the depths of who we are, we all began as no more than a seed, a tiny little treasure-house, bursting with life.

In the days long gone, there was a reverence for the seed which approached worship and awe. To the superstitious, it was a magical thing; to the religious, it was among the most miraculous of God’s gifts. The people of Jesus’ time lived close to the earth; they had to in order to survive. The seed and water and good soil meant the difference between life and death. The prophets, including Jesus, were well aware of this. The Gospel celebrates this understanding. The Scriptures return to this theme again and again, like in the story of the smallest of seeds, the mustard seed, becoming a great bush or tree. We need to recover something of their sense for the natural if we are really going to appreciate such teachings. Just imagine, locked away in the most meager seed, hidden behind its shell, is a life organized in such a way that a fully mature plant can come from it. The colossal redwood forests, some of which go back before the incarnation of Christ into our world; they all began as seeds. The grass in our lawns, all began as seeds. Much of the food we eat, began as seeds. Could you create a tree or even a blade of grass from scratch? No. None of us could. And yet, this insignificant thing, maybe the size of a piece of dust, can be filled with information and life to do all these things; indeed, in doing so, it makes possible a whole new generation of seeds. I recall in school, some years past, that we got into a fairly academic and maybe nonsensical argument related to this very point. The question was, did the plant live for the seed, or the seed for the plant? We never really answered it. Only eggheads could get into a debate like that. A good farmer would simply take that seed, plant it, and take pride in being a steward in God’s creation. He would harvest it for the many who would otherwise be hungry.

In Matthew 13:1-23, Jesus tells us a story about the mysterious seed, something to which all his listeners could relate, so that they might catch a glimmer of what the gift of faith means. It is an awkward tale he tells. A farmer went sowing. He was definitely clumsy. He dropped some seed on the footpath and birds ate it up. He dropped some of it on rocky ground and it immediately sprouted with anemic roots and shriveled away. Again, he was a poor farmer. However, there is an interesting detail here we might miss. Jesus says the seed grew at once. A farming friend of mind told me a few years ago that Jesus would have gotten a few chuckles in his parts, because saying that seed immediately sprouts is a tall tale. And it is true, Jesus is stretching his image here to fit what he wants to say about faith. The farmer goes on to drop seed among thorns where it was choked to death. Either this was one accident-prone farmer or he was very dumb. But finally, maybe despite himself, some seed is dropped upon good ground. But, what luck this stupid farmer had! What a tall-tale my farmer friend from Iowa would yell — this grain yielded a hundred- or sixty- or thirty-fold! You can almost hear Jesus’ audience respond with a shuddered hush.

Jesus later goes on to explain his parable to his disciples. The seed eaten by birds on the path represents the man who hears the Good News, but he fails to really understand what Christ and his kingdom is about. He is easily misled, and the evil one may steal what little he has. Sometimes we may find these kind of people in our own midst, who say they believe, but who all too readily follow the fads of the day, even to the point of forsaking the message of Jesus and his Church. The seed that shriveled on rock was like a man filled with the satisfaction which comes with conversion, but when the excitement has passed, he quickly falls away. His roots only reached to the pleasures and gratification which come with faith; his roots did not pierce to a love of God, simply for being God. This is important, because we can confuse God for the gifts he gives us. When those gifts and satisfactions, even from prayer, are not what we want them to be, we might fall away. Remaining steadfast, we should find them as occasions for further growth in holiness. Sometimes you must pass through “the dark night of the soul” so that you can reach the bright new day offered by the kingdom. I guess what I mean to say is that the seed lost on rocky ground represented the person more in love with himself than God. It is no wonder that added to this, any kind of persecution or bigotry, whether it is explicit or hidden may cause these rootless seeds to fall by the wayside all the sooner. The seed among thorns is choked, just as fears and greed may choke the life of God in us. Who is our God? Is it Wealth? Is it Power? Is it Prestige? And most terribly, is it Fear? That must be the most terrible of all the contenders against God! Fear — anxiety — it can choke God’s grace in us; we need to make Christ the Master of our lives — not Fear — never Fear. As hard as it might be, we need to trust him no matter what. If not, then we will never totally become the disciples we were called to be.

Like the seed in good soil, we need to allow the seed of faith — of God’s grace — to take root and grow in us. In the waters of our baptism it was planted with our dying in Christ; in those same waters it is to rise and bloom. Our faith cannot be stagnant, if so, it drowns. A hundred-fold it has to reach out and embrace others. In the way we live our lives and in what we say, we witness and throw off further seed to be planted and to grow.

I would like to ask two questions. First, ask yourself, what have you done to help allow God to grant you an ever greater share of faith and holiness? Make a list. Second, ask yourself, how many people during your lifetime have you helped to receive the gift of faith and to become a Catholic Christian? How many? Make a list. And if you should be a little disappointed, then start anew in allowing God’s love and life to touch you and through you, others. Please do this. The harvest is ready; workers are needed to bring it in.

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