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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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Not Quite Alone in the Dark

scare7I will begin with the admonishment, “Beware of what lurks in the shadows!” Properly forewarned, I will tell my story. My brothers and I delighted in scaring one another and/or testing our courage. We would tell scary stories in closets. We would make faces in the dark and then shock one another with a flashlight showing a devilish grin or eyes popping out. I was probably the best with scary faces. Even today, young mothers should probably remember this when babies spy me over their shoulders and start to cry. Did I make a face or am I just naturally scary looking?

My parents had added two bedrooms to our small house. There was an interconnecting hallway room with three doors. There was no light in the small space. When all the doors were closed, it was quite dark. Mike, Danny, Paul and I would play in the room. The hard tiles made marbles exceptionally good fun. We would also play dare games, sitting in the blackened enclosed space, making eerie sounds and telling scary stories, daring each other to be the first to open a door and run for it. I was quite good at this game.

I recall one in particular . . .

“Hey, Joe, come and play!” I heard my baby brother Paul call out.

Okay, I thought, this will be good. He’s the easiest one to scare. I entered the dark space and closed the door behind me. Surrounded by pitch darkness, I sat down on the floor, facing where my brother was obviously sitting.

I started, “Booooo! Muhahaha! I’m coming to get you! Muhahaha!”

“I’m not scared,” Paul cried, “now it’s mine turn.”

“I’m coming to get you!” he parroted in baby fashion.

I interrupted, “Oh come on, try something different.”

“Let me finish!” he complained.

“All right, go ahead, give it your best shot.”

“I will, I really will,” he responded. His voice had taken on a shrill quality. Hum. He was getting better at this. “I’m coming to get you! I’m not your brother! I’m coming to get you! I’m not your brother.” His speech entered into an up-and-down sing-song kind of pattern. It was really quite unusual. “I’m coming to get you! I’m not your brother! I’m a demon from hell! I’m not your brother!”

He really was getting good at this. The voice he was using was now nothing like it was usually. I tried to interrupt again. “Uh, that’s pretty good, but it’s my try again,” I said.

Nevertheless, he did not quit. It was as if he no longer heard me.

“Stop it, I said, it is my turn,” I argued.

Still he continued in the peculiar rhythmic speech. “I’m not your brother! I’m a demon from hell! I’m coming to get you!”

I could not believe it, I was actually getting scared. He would not stop, that was unlike him. Paul always listened to me. His voice got louder and he began to hold the vowels longer. The words were clear but the inflection was all wrong, as if he did not know how to speak as a human.

“I’m not your brutheeer, Joooooe! I’m a deeemon from hell! I’m going to get you! I’m right next to you! Ready to grab you! Take you with me to hell! I’m not your brother! I’m a demon from hell! A demon from hell! From Hell!”

I yelled at him to stop but he wouldn’t. I had all I could stand. This was a little too scary and on top of that I had to go to the bathroom. I opened the door. Light poured into the small chamber. I stared at my brother, well I would have, except there was one small problem. He was not there. I had been in the dark space alone. I stared in disbelief and ran to the kitchen where mom was cooking. My brother Paul was eating a cookie. He had been there the whole time. I had been by myself or worse, maybe not? I can still hear the shrill sing-song voice after all these forty plus years, “I’m not your brother! I’m a demon from hell!”

The darkened space was created by the addition of two rooms upon the house. We had neglected to have that section blessed and there were no holy pictures or crosses in the enclosed space. Maybe this oversight was all the thing that I had encountered needed to violate our home. Or, perhaps it was all the overworked imagination of a young boy?

One evening not long after, I recall awakening in the middle of the night and putting my hand out into the hallway beyond my bedroom door. Again, in the darkness there was absolutely no light to see. Everyone was in bed asleep except for me. I dared myself to get over the fear I had experienced in the connecting space to the new rooms. There was nothing in the dark that was not there in the light, right? I had to prove it to myself. I would not be a coward. I stretched out my hand as far as my arm could reach. Just as I was ready to dismiss my earlier experience, something grabbed at my finger tips and I quickly withdrew my hand. I shook with fear in my bed. The grownups were wrong. There was SOMETHING IN THE DARK that was not there in the light!

Humanity has always feared the unknown associated with the darkness. We cling to the light. Many of the dying saints have begged to have a lantern or candle burning by their bedsides so that they might not have to die in the darkness. May we take comfort and courage in the true Light of the World who leads us out of the darkness of sin and death.

Unwelcome Visitor

dummyI was about five years old. We had not been long in the new house, well, the house was actually old, but it was new to us. I was the oldest child of what would later be a home for seven children, five boys and two girls. My imagination would prove vivid throughout the years; however, I would suggest that this story was more than simply a child’s fantasy.

I had a special friend who always played with me in the evenings. We would spend time on the kitchen floor. Often he would sit atop a large sack of potatoes my mother placed near the kitchen door, just below the table. It was a lot of fun playing with him. Despite my age, he always seemed to understand me. He was a funny sort of fellow. I saw nothing strange about him, not for a long time, anyway.

We generally got along. Although sometimes he would mess the kitchen up and my mother would blame me. I must admit, that angered me somewhat, but what was I to do? He was physically smaller than me, but seemed infinitely smarter. Mother never took any interest in him. Indeed, everybody ignored him but me. I just accepted that as a matter of course.

As time wore on, he began to confide secrets to me. They seemed disturbing, even though my child’s mind had trouble grasping them. However, the tidings of one evening in particular still linger with me. Maybe it was a sign that I was growing up? That night he did not seem like quite the friend I really wanted or needed. He would never go into the other rooms to play, remaining solely in the kitchen. A circus program with Don Ameche was on the television (NBC) in the living room and I wanted to watch it with my mother and father. It was called INTERNATIONAL SHOWTIME and it ran on Friday nights. He refused to budge. Mother walked in and out of the kitchen. He casually nudged a ball with his finger to trip her but I grabbed it out of the way. He remained frozen still, staring and grinning at me. Mother had virtually walked through him. I looked at my so-called friend more closely. He was aware that I had intellectually awakened… he knew that I knew. That was it, I realized in a moment of insight, no one besides me could see him. Years later, I read that such a phenomenon was often categorized as an imaginary friend. However, I would contend that in this case, he was something horribly real. Again, remember I was only slightly removed from diapers. My cognitive abilities at this point in my life were just awakening. Nevertheless, what awakened in me that evening was an element of fear.

The light of the kitchen seemed too bright. Every line and feature of my so-called friend was clearly defined. He was only a couple of feet tall. He seemed to float when he jumped off the potato sack. He always wore a neat black suit. He was quite the proper little man. His hair was cut in pointed bangs across the front of his forehead. And his smile– that I shall never forget– was like that of Alice’s cat in Wonderland– a large grin from ear to ear. The features of his face were often immobile, as if he were wearing a mask. That night he was annoyed with me and wanted me to assist him in mischief to the detriment of my parents. He was no friend at all. He was hurtful and a liar. His smile was pasted on his face like a hideous disguise. I raced from the room as he laughed at me. I jumped upon the sofa-bed and clung close to my mother. She held me as I cried.

As I reflected upon this creature in later years, I wondered why he refused to leave the kitchen. The answer was literally staring me in the face. My parents were very devout Roman Catholics. Almost every room had crucifixes and religious pictures. The living room had both the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the wall. It is my supposition that this thing, no less than demonic, could not enter the other rooms because of these sacramentals. The kitchen was the only room without them. This omission was long since remedied.

As the years went by, often at night, I could swear I heard “it” still whispering to me from the darkness. I would close my eyes and say my prayers until I fell asleep. My asthma was severe and the side effects from medicine included possibly hallucinations. I tried hard to accept that this thing could be entirely imagined. But when I had nocturnal asthma attacks, I would awaken with a start, unable to breathe, and catch just a hint of his laughter– coming from the attic, or a closet, or under the bed, or outside the window, or from the inside of the walls.

There were no major incidents again until my teenage years. I was taking an art correspondence course. Sitting on the floor of my bedroom, using the seat of a chair for a table, I was completing my assignment by drawing birds. It was darkening outside, but there was still some light. The corner of my eye caught a glimmer of movement from the window on my right. I tried to make it out without looking directly at it. Oh my goodness, it was hard to believe. It was him– after all these years– peering inside my room from outside, his head right up to the screen. I pretended not to see him, got up by turning to the opposite wall, and went to the living room. My father was watching Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom on the television. “Dad, there’s something, ah someone, outside, looking into the window. Come and see.”

My Dad was alerted that someone was trespassing on our property. He got up and moved to the front door. Then he saw it. The living room windows consisted of multiple panes covering the side and front wall of the house. “What the hell is that!” my father exclaimed. There it was, that same face from my early childhood. His face had not aged a day. The staring eyes, the strangely cut hair, and the plastered grin– it was all there. But this time, my father also saw him. His face and upper body seemed to float before the window, along the side and then the front of the house. There was no up and down motion as one makes when walking. My father raced to the door to confront it. I backed off. He opened the door, but nothing was there. My father was the first to impress upon me that this thing was a demon from hell. He was certain that it had come in an attempt to upset plans that God had for me. I laughed this part of his explanation away. However, the resurgence of bizarre happenings which accompanied my decision to enter the seminary would collaborate his opinion.

My father told me that if it should come back, I should laugh at it. He considered the demonic to be pathetic. According to tradition, while the devil might make fun of us, he himself, cannot stand to be mocked. We need to consecrate our homes and our hearts to God. This is the sure way to ward off the presence of evil.

Order of the Dead


It was the mid-1950’s. Despite certain reservations, Joseph entered the Trappist monastery in Berryville, Virginia. He was a simple but devout man. Pressing family needs compelled him to quit school when he was in the fifth grade so that he could go out and work. He had labored hard ever since. Now he was nearing 40 and wanted to give a definite direction to his life. The hard existence of the monks appealed to him. As for the religious element, that was also firmly grounded in his soul. For a time he functioned as a church sacristan and altar server, earning seventeen dollars a week. Okay, he did not make much money, but material things never seemed all that important to him. Among his occupations, he had been a fisherman and crab-man, a construction worker, a surveyor’s aide, you name the grunt work, he had done it. He staunchly believed that faith and work were the two vital estimations that made up a real man.

After a long illness, Joseph A. Jenkins, Sr. passed away on February 24, 2000. The story narrated here was told to his children many times over. The monks took a vow of silence. This was hard but for Joseph there were some definite benefits. His speech always had been impaired by a cleft palate. It took two surgeries to close it and still his words sounded slurred and awkward. The hardest aspect of this new direction was meal time. The monks were vegetarians and had to ask for bread or water or whatever, entirely by improvised sign language. While they ate less than appetizing food, large dogs ate juicy steaks in front of the monks. He began to envy the dogs.

The monks would sing and say their prayers in choir fashion and while processing. Joseph had yet to fully appreciate what it meant to join the “Order of the Dead.” This unofficial title conveyed not only the fact that these hermits from society were dead to the world, but as a Catholic monastic brotherhood, they prayed especially for the souls in purgatory. Two events would forcefully bring this home to Joseph.

After a long hot day working in the fields, Joseph was eager for rest in his cell. He went immediately to sleep but his slumber was not restful. He found himself looking upon a wall of flame and from the fire he began to see many faces. Wearing monkish hoods, their glowing eyes were red with anguish and their faces were all aflame. Piercing cries of agony and pleading reached him. He abruptly awoke. Sweat covered his skin. He was shaking. Each time he tried to close his eyes or even blink, he could still see them there, on fire– crying out– begging him for something.

Fatigued from lack of sleep, he went to see the superior early that morning. “Do you think I’m going crazy?” he asked.

The superior answered with directness, “Joseph, what you saw, we have all seen. They are the souls of your ancestors crying out for prayers so that they might be liberated from the fires of their prison, purgatory. They know that your prayers here can be most beneficial to their release and entry into heaven.”

Joseph accepted the answer readily. The interpretation explained to his satisfaction the meaning of the vision. It was like no dream he had ever experienced. Like the flash of a camera, something of the image remained for a short time after he awoke. He would devote himself more earnestly to his meditation and prayers.

One day while praying alone in the chapel, he heard someone come up next to him and call his name, “Joe.” He looked around and there was his Uncle George.

Not desiring to be rude, he spoke, “Uncle George, it is good to see you, but why are you here?”

The old man answered, “Pray for me, Joe, that is all I ask.”

Motioning for him to be silent and to return to his prayers, Joseph did just that. Many people came to the monastery for retreats and days of recollection, but it was quite a ways for his dear uncle to come, all the way from Southern Maryland. It was nice to see a familiar face. Maybe he could get permission to visit with him later in the day? Yes, that would be nice. Uncle George was a good man but he was a haunted one. Many years earlier his only daughter had gotten involved with a young man who took advantage of her. Uncle George was furious. He went over to the man’s house and shot him dead. Then he called the police and turned himself in. Rumor had it that his wife, a well-to-do woman, paid the judge off so that Uncle George would not go to prison or worse. He ended up spending a year in a mental health institution and then came home. Those had been days when even society at large took the virtue of a young woman very seriously. Many considered Uncle George a hero, that in his place, they would have done similarly. Uncle George, however, regretted his acting in anger. But, he could not turn back the hands of the clock. What was done, was done.

Joseph prayed for his family, saying as requested a special prayer for his uncle. He was just going to see the superior when he himself was summoned.

“Joseph,” said the superior, “I have some bad news for you. A call just came in that your Uncle George died earlier today. Your family wanted you to know so that you could offer special prayers for him.”

Joseph was stunned. If Uncle George was dead, then he had seen his ghost. He explained what had happened to his superior. He nodded in recognition. Had this also happened with the other monks? Joseph would continue to pray for Uncle George.

Eventually, and he attributed the trouble to the dogs eating better than the monks, Joseph discerned that the monastic life was not for him. He left but retold many times over the two interventions of souls for prayer and penance on their behalf. Joseph felt that he had actually assisted in the translation of all his deceased family from purgatory to heaven.

A few years later, Joseph married a young woman and had a family of seven children, the first of whom was placed upon the altar at his baptism by the priest. No doubt responding to a call from heaven, implored by the prayers of this simple man, this son of his would become a priest. I am that priest.

We are bonded with each other in a way that transcends death. Never should we underestimate the power of prayer and sacrifice on the behalf of others. May we never neglect such offerings on the behalf of our beloved dead in purgatory. While their individual salvation is assured, these souls need to be perfected by the fire of God’s love and by the intercession of the saints and the Church.

A Catholic Ghost Story from Southern MD


The priest was happy to have a fire burning. It was a cold winter night and it felt good to be settled in for the evening. Pastor of a small country parish in Charles County, Maryland; it was a good assignment. Simple but hardworking and faithful people made up the Parish membership. True, the area was a bit too remote for some, but it fit him fine. He preferred a slower-paced life far from the hectic city and the hubs of power, both of the Government and of the Archdiocese. He had adequate time for his many Parish labors and for quality prayer. He enjoyed the latter in a way that other men could only know on religious retreats. The duties for many priests, in supposedly better-placed assignments, only allowed for a hasty saying of required orations. He was not an ambitious man. It was enough for him to be thought of as a good hard-working priest. This was his humble goal in life.

Like a sad woman’s lament the wind howled. It was ever so dark. There was no light pollution as in the city or suburbs. The Catholic cleric opened his breviary to say his prayers; hopefully he would finish them before falling asleep. He had barely begun when there was a knock at the door. Perhaps it was just the branch of a tree? Knock, knock!— no, there it was again— who could it be at this late hour of the night?

Throwing on his cassock he went to the door and opened it. “Yes, can I help you?” said the pastor, somewhat irritated at the interruption.

“Father, you have to come quickly, my daddy is dying!” cried a young teenage boy.“You have to come as fast as you can; he needs the Last Rites!”

The priest became immediately alert. He grabbed his coat and sick call kit and ran out the door with the boy. Journeying to the house, he noted that the boy was only dressed in a flimsy shirt and shorts. He was even barefoot. No doubt the boy had run out to get him at a moment’s notice, thinking only of his father. He put his coat over the pale cold skin of the child. “Goodness, boy, if you’re not careful you’ll catch pneumonia yourself!”

“I’ll be okay, Father. The main thing is that you take care of my old man. He meant to contact you before this, but, well, he never thought his health would go down so quickly. We don’t have a phone so I ran to get you.”

“You’re telling me that you ran all this way to get me? You’re quite some boy. But rest and warm yourself now,” replied the concerned priest. He turned up the heat in the car. The boy pointed the way and the priest made good time driving to their home.

Upon arriving, the priest jumped out and ran into the house. If the fellow was as bad as the boy made out, there was no time to lose. Sure enough, there he was, lying in a small bed near the burning stove and quite sick. The priest heard his Confession, Anointed him, and gave him Holy Communion— it would be his last.

Taking up a lonely vigil alongside the old man, for that was assuredly what he was, the priest chatted with him. “Ah, I see you have a picture here of your son,” said the priest, picking up a photograph near the man’s bedside.

“Oh yes, Father, that’s my boy,” returned the old man.

The priest added, “You must be proud to have a son like that, running all the way from here to the rectory for the priest on a night like this.”

“What Father? What do you mean?” he asked.

“Your boy,” repeated the priest, “rushing half-naked to get me so that you would receive the sacraments— that was quite a selfless feat of love.”

“But Father,” stammered the old man pointing to the old photograph, “my boy has been dead these eighteen years, it was summer and he drowned.”

This story was told and retold to me many times by my father. It is a wonderful testimony of the value of the sacraments and the bond of love which transcends the grave.