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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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“We have the responsibility to consider others, including future generations.”

landscape-with-a-tree-swirl-cloud-4545-largeWhy? God is out of the picture, so why care? No matter what we do, top scientists tell us that the universe is doomed. It is hard enough to care for ourselves and find happiness. Does it really make sense to care for others and generations unborn? We already abort half a million unborn children in the U.S. each year. If the living does not matter then caring about prospective people seems arbitrary and meaningless. Cold and honest atheistic logic cries out: “Maybe it would be better to let the poor and the defective die outright? If we eliminate the world’s refuse, then there will be more for us and the Western elite. We can make the world safe for endangered species by subtracting overcrowding populations of humans. Do we have any more right to the earth than the animals? Show me scientifically that we have an obligation to others and the future! Prove it or give it up. Our personal world might be better off if there were a few less mouths to feed.”

Anyway, we are all such hypocrites. Look at all the stuff we buy these days that comes from slave labor and where people are oppressed. If it is cheaper, it is better… that is today’s mantra. We take advantage of the poor and the worker. The host of Mythbusters can make up this commandment… but even his television show bobble heads and DVDs are manufactured in Chinese sweatshops. We can thus avoid paying local workers at all and pay others a non-livable wage. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer! Yeah, we really care about others… NOT!

As a Christian, I believe that every person has an incommensurate worth. All human life is sacred and we are called to be good stewards of creation. I believe that there is something immortal and lasting about every person conceived into this world. We are all God’s children and God loves you no more or less than he does me. I believe there is an order and a divine plan. It is important to play our part as instruments of divine providence.

God’s Intervention: Conversion

When it comes to parental guidance and faith formation there is no perfect formula. Children from the same household often include both fervent believers and backsliders. The young person has to make choices for him- or herself. All we can do is give them the best witness and tools. Having said this, there are some families who have not done all they could. Sacraments were haphazard and Mass participation was poor. For them we recall the Scripture that says, “Make no mistake: God is not mocked, for a person will reap only what he sows” (Galatians 6:7).

What are my general thoughts about the issue? Certain important points come to mind.

14_to_aFirst, just because a child was baptized as a baby, we must never omit the need for CONVERSION. There is the real need to take the faith that is given us and to make it our own. Catholics might not accept the notion of “once saved, always saved,” but we still treat membership in the Church as a “done deal” that needs little in the way of affirmation or verification. This point often muddies the waters when news reporters and poll-takers ask questions of Catholics. People who have not stepped foot in a church for many years will still identify themselves as Catholics. Their perspective on issues often is more reflective of a secular humanism than Christianity. Catholicism is reduced to a club which refuses to throw you out even when you fail to pay the required dues. In actual fact, while they remain juridically Catholics, many of these people are in practice Protestant or even atheists. They may live as if there is no God.

Many catechists are often disheartened when a child has reached Confirmation age in eighth grade, and he or she still struggles from a glaring ignorance of our religion. We know they were given all the content but it is as if it leaked out. Good Catholic kids go on to high school or college and fall away from the practice of their faith. At a time when the Christians of Mosul are facing expulsion and extermination for their faith; these kids surrender it without the whimper of a battle. As an old billboard used to advertise, a crucial question comes to mind, “If Christianity were a crime, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” Apparently Christian kids begin to talk and act as if there is no God.

The problem comes to a head as the youth matures; however, the seed was damaged from the beginning or hindered throughout. It is choked by weeds or has fallen on poor and rocky soil. There has been little or no watering. Despite all that parents, catechists and pastors did (or did not do); the simple fact remains that the youth may never have had an intimate and reciprocal friendship with Christ. Praying should be like breathing. We do not last long otherwise. We begin to die when we neglect the Lord.

We tend to speak about the “issues” that our children face or the difficulties they create. We need to stop thinking about “issues” and turn to dealing with “persons.” How do we facilitate an evangelical turning or metanoia to the Lord? Must we create a spiritual ghetto around our children, blocking out the distractions from peers, public schools and the media? How do we move religion from information to be memorized to a person we must encounter?

While I like youth groups and activities where young men and women can dialogue and come to a better understanding, as well as mutual respect, it also seems to me that there should be gender-based formation. Young women, mentored by faithful and mature females, can answer questions and speak to concerns that might never be mentioned in a mixed setting. Similarly, in a society that preaches a false equivalence, young men need mentoring by Christian gentlemen who know and practice the values of true manhood. Every young man should look upon the girls as potential spouses and the mothers of their children. Each young woman should seek out men who demonstrate strength of character and responsibility for their actions. While I prefer courtship to dating; young people should not feel coerced into romantic relationships prior to the time that they are ready or able to make genuine commitments. I also think that young men and women should be given a witness for the religious vocations to which God may call them. Do we have priests and brothers speaking to our boys about their callings and the satisfaction they receive in serving God? Do we have religious sisters giving presentations in youth groups and parishes about what it means to be a bride of Christ? I think we could do more in these areas. I lament that the archdiocese no longer has its own order of religious sisters. The fact that we had them seemed almost like a secret. If we want vocations for men and women, then they have to be visible and the word must be shared. They must also be happy. No one wants to join a group of angry old bachelors or cat-fighting spinsters.

I would also suggest the witness of proven Christian laity who live in the world and still belong to Christ. We have many god people who witness the faith to co-workers, family and friends. They volunteer to help the poor, to save and nurture babies, to bring care to the sick and dying, and to pass on the faith to the next generation. Along with the saints of heaven, these must be our role models— not the coarse basketball player or music personality preoccupied with money, fame and sex.

When it comes to youth group gatherings, we sometimes merely want to get a meeting over and satisfy the young people on a superficial level. But every gathering should go beyond entertaining with sports, music, games, movies or free pizza. We do not want to bribe our youth to attend. Youth ministers can make a number of honest mistakes. I recall a fellow years ago who gave a presentation about ministry that focused entirely on himself. He told us again and again that he received great personal satisfaction from the work. If that is simply the case, then we might become parasitical to the very youth we hope to help. But in contradiction, we do not do this work for what we can get out of it. The youth might put us through hell and yet in the end it could produce fruit if we persevere.

Ephesians 4:11-16 gives us our marching orders, both for catechesis and youth ministry:

“And he gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ, so that we may no longer be infants, tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery, from their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming. Rather, living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part, brings about the body’s growth and builds itself up in love.”

There are too many persons and things that would exploit our youth; we must illustrate the highest integrity in equipping young “saints.” We make ready the soil and pray that God will rain down with his grace. After doing all that we can, we beseech God for the conversion of our charges. If our youth do not open the Scriptures, say their prayers, participate at Mass, and help the poor then what exactly would make them Christian? They should be growing daily in the knowledge and love of Jesus. Mindful of the Pharisees, we must be careful of any hypocrisy. The youth will see this immediately and any movement to Christ would likely be stunted.

There are a number of poor models that poison youth work and evangelization. Making demands from authority turns people off and when there is sufficient distance or no longer any stick held over heads, the young people rebel and walk. Similarly bribing falls short when nothing that we can offer comes anywhere near to competing with popular music, large screen televisions, video games or the other stuff that youth and families accumulate. We try placing our message on computers and television, but talking heads and the Mass for Shut-ins just is not attractive or compelling to many. We get all excited about the Internet but then find that there are few hits and no one is reading or watching our materials. We pour money into solutions that really solve nothing and become just another element for critics to ridicule. The universal Church gets caught up in this as well. Are we really making converts or calling souls home with Twitter? I doubt it.

We do not need religious robots. No, instead we want faithful youth who are fully converted and see evangelization as a crucial factor in their lived discipleship. That is one of the reasons why I feel that adult moderators should encourage youth to develop their own programs and activities. This way, when they head off for college, it will no longer matter if parents and pastors are unable to look down their backs. Without any prodding, they will gather their own bible sharing and prayer groups. We want them to form “church” with a graced spontaneity. They need to be self-actuated in their discipleship. They will look around them and develop activities to respond to the needs of the community where they find themselves. All this is to say, that while we have them, we should be thinking… how can we empower these persons to be self-actuated leaders: teaching and serving others? Is this prospect even on our radar?

Sinners & Christ’s Church

2 Corinthians 5:15: And he died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

Romans 5:6-21: While we were yet helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly, etc.

1 John 2:2: . . . and he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

1 Timothy 2:4: . . . who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Christ died to redeem all men and women. Some Protestant groups contend that he only died for a select few predestined for salvation. A radical variation of Calvinism claims as much. Theirs is an angry God who has also predestined many for hell. They are even punished in this world by misfortune, poverty and sickness as a sign of their eternal depravity. Catholics, on the other hand, acknowledge that while Christ has died for all, human freedom still gives us the ability to accept or reject the gift of salvation. God’s passive will allows this, but his direct will makes salvation available to all. Poverty and sickness in this world is not a sign of our status with God; indeed, many have chosen to be poor in the sight of men so as to be rich in the eyes of God. The most wicked war criminal, psychotic serial killer, and abortionist are given God’s fatherly attention and, if they should want to avail themselves of it, can claim the boundless mercy of Christ. It may be that many follow the example of the good thief Dismas on the cross.

Matthew 22:1-14: The parable of the king who made a marriage for his son.

Matthew 13:24-32: The parable of the field in which grew both grain and cockle.

2 Timothy 2:20: In a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and earthenware, and some for noble use, some for ignoble.

Matthew 18:15: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.”

Matthew 13:47-50: Parable of the net that was cast into the sea, and gathered every kind of fish, savory and unsavory.

Membership in the Church is retained for the righteous and sinners alike. Thus, it is possible for both good and evil men to claim to be Catholics. Of course, such Christianity for wicked men and women would be in name only. It is such a terrible tragedy. Some of the saints have claimed that there are even priests in hell. It is a prospect that sickens us. But, it is a possibility.

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

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.

Sinless Mother Mary

One of my favorite feasts and dogmas is that of the Immaculate Conception, a teaching of the Church which has had a long and sometimes controversial history. There are even some contemporary critics of this dogma of faith who would argue that it overly separates Mary from the rest of us. Certainly, it is true that sinfulness is a reality ever present in our lives. We find it so difficult to be good. It is ironic that a few of the feminist theologians who image Mary as a strong and liberated woman, would then criticize this teaching and argue that Mary has been used as a device of oppression on the part of a male dominated hierarchy. It seems to me that quite the opposite may be true. The witness of Mary as the queen of the saints would emphasize that the greatest person to ever walk the earth next to the Lord, is this woman Mary. Genesis 3:9-15, 20 recalls the first Eve who with her husband turns away from God in disobedience. Psalm 98:1,2-3,3-4 might remind us that if Eve is the mother of all the living, Mary in her faithfulness is the mother of all who are reborn in her Son. She stands as a model of holiness for men and women alike. Her preservation from sin does not create an impassible chasm between her and us. Sin by definition adds nothing to us or to her. If anything, it is a lack of something which should be there — the grace and presence of Christ. Just as she carried the Lord, now we must avoid sin so as to be filled with his presence and life. Sin is that which divides and alienates. To wish this upon Mary would mean wanting separation from her and the Lord.

Like us, she is totally a creature. The saving grace which washes over us in baptism reaches from the Cross backward to the moment Mary is conceived in the womb. The Messiah whom himself is sinless would enter our world through the sinless portal of Mary.

Rarely do preachers mention how the mystery of the Immaculate Conception celebrates the beauty and holiness of marital love. Nevertheless, this is true when we look at the actual history of God’s intervention. Although Mary would conceive Christ through the overshadowing power of the Holy Spirit (see Luke 1:26-38); Mary’s conception as sinless elevates the significance of marital and sexual love as shared between Joachim and Ann. Couples raising families in this age would do well to recall that their children in baptism become as Mary, and even though they struggle to remain holy; they may be perfected as saints. As Mary is, we may become.

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

How Can We Answer God?

Job 38:1, 12-21; 40:3-5 focuses on how small we are in comparison to the glory of God. Job is almost shamed by God who in rhetorical question after question asks if he could possibly be as great as him. Have you commanded the morning? Have you entered the sources of the sea or its abyss? Have you comprehended the breadth of the earth? “Tell me, if you know all,” God challenges him. Job, a mere human being like ourselves, came to his senses and responded, “Behold, I am of little account; what can I answer you?”

In our own words and deeds, we also need to pay homage to God who is the source of everything which exists. How often have we cast God’s help aside, believing that we could handle our lives fine enough without him? And, how often has this strategy failed? How often have we allowed our words, or those of others, to pamper us and bloat us in prestige, while forgetting also to use our lips in prayer? The trouble with us who have been wondrously made, only a little less than the angels, is that we tend to think of ourselves too much and of God too little. Unless we are going through trial, as Job would, we tend to shove God into a corner of our lives. And like children, we not only hesitate to thank our heavenly Father for the gifts he gives us; we make our love conditional, and curse him when things fail to go our way.

As followers of Christ, our faithfulness and praise of God must transcend all our personal wants and desires and egos. Hearing Jesus, and following him, where ever he goes, has to be the posture of our lives. Loving and praising the glory of God, in thought, word, and deed, summarizes the very reason for our existence and now our rebirth in Christ.

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.

Catching the Spirit

The Spirit of God descends upon Moses, and then as if contagious, upon the elders gathered in the tent, and even upon two who were not assembled with them (see Numbers 11:25-29). When some want to stop the two from prophesying, Moses cries that he would have them be a nation of prophets. This is precisely what Jesus seeks to make a reality. We are anointed in baptism as prophets of the Good News. The essential mission of the Church, in all her members, is to be a prophetic voice of Christ’s kingdom.

This prophetic role is utterly dependent upon the action of God. It is his word, and not our own, that moves the Christian disciple. Prophesy or the proclamation of the Gospel in our words and actions, is an expression of divine favor or grace. God gives his servants that which is necessary for the acquisition of our ultimate end, union with him. Toward this end, he infuses habits and/or virtues that assist us in our earthly pilgrimage. The Holy Spirit lives in us as in a temple, illumining our steps. We understand the significance of the Spirit’s presence as a participation in the divine nature. God extends something of himself. The one who is ALL HOLY sanctifies us. The one who is UTTERLY IMMACULATE washes us clean and grants us purity. The one who is ALMIGHTY makes the weakest of us into a soldier for Christ, a champion of faith. The genuine prophet surrenders himself into the loving hands of God. It is for this reason that Jesus seems to glorify poverty and the central role of charity. The widow’s mite is the secret to sanctity and to true prophecy. Everything we have is a gift. All must be surrendered, either to others in their need or by the strong hand of death and judgment. Jesus would have us opt for the former.

Nothing is ours. Like a burner on the stove, while the electricity courses through it, the ring radiates a red glow of heat. However, turn off the electricity, it quickly grows cold and dark again. Without the divine energy of the Spirit, we also grow cold and dark. Grace is like the electricity or a burning fire. It changes us and sets us aflame, but we are not consumed. We may put on Christ, but mortal men and women we remain. Sometimes we can be surprised by whom God chooses to move by his dynamic Spirit.

In terms of our relationship to the Holy Spirit, we all play the feminine role. Not taking the analogy too far, as a daughter to God’s Spirit and as a bride to Christ, we are refashioned as members of Christ’s Church. The prophet rejoices in the wedding gown given by the Spirit as Isaiah did in days of old: “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul; For he has clothed me with a robe of salvation, and wrapped me in a mantle of justice. Like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem, like a bride bedecked with her jewels” (Isaiah 61:10). The gifts of the Holy Spirit adorn the soul. We are made pleasing to God and given fortification. We do not need Samson’s hair for strength, but the virtues that accompany the Spirit. God is our armor. Further, the actions– even mundane ones– of just men and women, bring merit, so long as sin is avoided. Christ’s whole life was a saving work. If Christ thoroughly lives in us then everything we do, not just extraordinary virtuous acts, become saving moments. Eating, drinking, sleeping, even taking care of the necessities of nature are viewed in the context of our Lord and know favor. They are part of the wondrous panorama of our lives. All is grace.

Christian prophets are adoptive children of God. Their names appear in the book of life and they are offered a share in eternal life. They proclaim the truth, not merely that others might be saved, but that they themselves might merit salvation.

The grace of God can bestow understanding just as the Spirit acted upon the elders and Moses. As Catholics such an illumination takes into consideration the public manner of revelation and lawful authority. The Holy Spirit inspires Scripture, making it truly the Word of God. As a guarantee of the authentic and accurate interpretation of revelation, this same Spirit guides our chief teachers of faith, the bishops in union with the Pope. It is in this context that the Spirit of God instructs us and makes us missionaries of the Gospel.

Except for Confirmations and the feast of Pentecost, we often neglect to speak about the Holy Spirit. It is an image hard for our minds to grasp. Certainly we are well accustomed to the theme of God as Father from the witness of our families. The figure of Christ on the Cross gives meat to our appreciation of the Son of God. But we struggle in appreciating the role of the Holy Spirit. People can relate easily to a notion of God as their heavenly Father and to Jesus as our elder Brother in faith who surrenders his life for us. But, look at the images of the Spirit. We use fire for light and warmth, but it is regarded as a thing. The dove, while beautiful and free in flight, is still just an animal. Wind might be felt against one’s face, but few of us would talk to it. The Holy Spirit is signified by non-personal elements, and yet, he is the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity and a fundamental catalyst and source of our life, faith, and sanctification. It is true that since the Trinity is a single God, devotion and worship rendered to any one applies to all three. But this does not resolve the struggle in our psychology to embrace the Spirit. It is no wonder that the charismatic movement in the Church exhibits so many elements that speak of mystery: the tongues, prophecy, interpretation, faith healing, etc. However, ecstatic external expressions of being moved by the Spirit need not be present.

The men of ancient Israel felt a need to surrender themselves to the divine movement. Their chanting, dancing, and prophesying uncovered that need. Such actions were in harmony with the times and culture, paralleling the manifestations among the pagans. The one difference was not the external actions but the substance behind them: the true God had shown his face and will to Israel. The truth has prevailed in Israel and the Church while the so-called prophetic messages to others around them have disappeared. If it were not from God, it could not last. Within the family of God, the distinction between a good and a false prophet is noted in Psalm 19:7, “The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul; The decree of the Lord is trustworthy, giving wisdom to the simple.” Such delineation is still valid today. Any voice that claims a divine mandate and yet violates the commandments is that of a false prophet.

We must be discerning so that we will not seek to silence the voice of God’s prophets and that we will not be led astray by false messengers. What are the false prophets saying today? We know all too well. “We love each other, how could something so wonderful be sinful? If we don’t live with each other, how can we know if we are sexually compatible or not? The Church is living in the dark ages; we have to use the pill! We can’t have this baby now; we have school and our careers to consider. Is it not better to get rid of it then to adopt it out to strangers? I am sure that if grandma were in her right mind she would tell us to pull the plug. Jim and Jack are sweet guys, why should they be punished for how God made them– especially since they use condoms? Everyone steals office supplies from work, it is expected. That was a great movie, even though they did take God’s name in vain a dozen times. These sexy dresses (what there is of them) will sure get Tom’s motor running. It doesn’t matter if you go to a Protestant or Catholic church– it’s the same thing– what matters is going. I’m not a bad person for sometimes missing Mass; it isn’t like I murdered someone. I only read Playboy for the articles. I wish the city would stop those beggars from annoying hardworking people like me. It would probably be best if their kind were sterilized. This is good stuff; take it, everyone’s doing it.”

Do you recognize any of these voiced statements? It is in the sea of lies that the true prophet raises his voice as a living sign of contradiction. He tells us to follow the commandments and the moral laws of the Church. He tells us to defend the dignity of all human life and the values that most respect human personhood and the family. He also tells us not to compromise the honor that is due to God alone. The true prophet encounters resistance, mockery, and sometimes even martyrdom. The New Testament acknowledges this eventuality: “The shouts of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You live in wanton luxury on the earth; you fattened yourselves for the day of slaughter. You condemned, even killed, the just man; he does not resist you” (James 5:4-6).

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

Hold Fast to God

“Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the Lord, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20). These words when offered to the People of God by Moses were an encouragement to follow the commandments, and thus to seek God’s blessing and not his curse. So often this translated into the naive understanding that if one were good, only good things would enter one’s life. However, in the book of Job and then in the life of Jesus himself, we become well aware that sometimes suffering and even death can inflict the very best of people. The Christian appreciation of this text is very deep. Like a child trusting utterly in his or her parent, we are to rely upon and to be faithful to God — no matter what. Jesus lived out this passage, because as ironic as it might seem, by allowing himself to be betrayed, mocked, tortured, and murdered — he was choosing life for us. Now, in response to his sacrifice, we too have to open ourselves to a share in this life — a life which will ultimately be beyond the reach of pain and death. Notice what the Scripture said, we are to love God, heed his voice, and cling fast to him. We are to hold on so tight that no storm of sin and weakness can drive us away from him. This will require that our love for him always be fused with obedience, just as Christ was obedient unto the Cross. The secret is not to give up on God even when the times become difficult. What is more, we need desperately to find the peace and joy which comes with perfect discipleship in this life, despite the cost, loving God entirely for his own sake.

In our tradition we often recall the Cyrenian who reluctantly was forced to help Jesus carry his Cross up to Calvary. Do we hesitate? Do we despair and give up? Do we run away from our responsibilities? Jesus did not. (see Luke 9:22-25). May we be so filled with the love of God, and therefore deny our very selves, that we may pick up our crosses willingly in traveling in the footsteps of Christ.

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