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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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Have a Happy & Holy Easter!

As I ponder the mystery of the season, there are twelve themes that I would put forward for reflection and prayer:

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(1) A new day has dawned. (The LIGHT of Christ casts aside the darkness.)

(2) The promise of old has been fulfilled. (The long-awaited Jewish Messiah is the Christ and Savior of the entire world.)

(3) The breech is healed. (Jesus is the New Adam and the bridge between heaven and earth— he is the way to the Father.)

(4) The salvific work of Christ has redeemed us from the devil. (Our Lord paid the price that we could not pay.)

(5) While the primordial trespass brought suffering and death into the world– Christ’s fidelity ushers forth healing and life. (The damage from the primordial garden is repaired and we are called to faith and hope in Christ.)

(6) Nothing will ever be the same again. (The course of human history has changed; Christ’s victory changes everything.)

(7) Death is conquered if not entirely undone. (The war is over but a few battles must still be fought because of our fallen nature and the spite of the devil.)

(8) We no longer need fear the specter of death. (Jesus tells us, “Be not afraid.”)

(9) The grave will not consume us. (Neither the grave nor hell is the end of the story for those who walk with Christ.)

10) No one need live in vain. (Our Lord reveals to us the loving face and mercy of God.)

(11) Like the apostles we are called as witnesses to the saving truth. (Both faith and charity, if real, must be given away or shared.)

(12) Christ becomes the pattern of our discipleship: we must die with Christ if we hope to live with him. (The paschal mystery calls to us as missionary disciples.)
Have a blessed Easter!

—Father Joe Jenkins

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[35] Fifth Sunday of Lent

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Readings:  Jeremiah 31:31-34 / Psalm 51 / Hebrews 5:7-9 / John 12:20-33

Our first reading selection today is taken from what is called the Oracles of the Restoration of Israel and Judah.  Jeremiah’s writings would be an inspiration for the prophet(s) Isaiah; indeed, they proved more beneficial after his death in that they gave hope to a vanquished people.  He promoted religious reform and fought the idolatry that plagued Judah.  With the apostasy and fall of the nation, he suffered arrest, imprisonment, public disgrace and exile.

The prophet speaks of an impending new covenant, different from before, in that faithfulness will replace their current infidelity.  God’s law will not be upon tablets of clay or rock that might be lost or broken, but rather placed within them and written “upon their hearts.”  The words once spoken to Abraham will be made everlasting:  “I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”  While arguably ambiguous, it sounds like the language of grace.  It deeply resonates with Christ’s words about his new and everlasting covenant.  Just as the admonition of the Gospel was “repent and believe,” i.e. “obey,” the prophet writes in the persona of the Almighty, “I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.”  Our Lord came into the world for the forgiveness of sins.  He heals the breach between God and man.  The new Israel and the New Judah is the Church.

The responsorial similarly speaks of God’s law imprinted upon human hearts:  “Create a clean heart in me, O God.”  The two-fold commandment of Christ emphasizes the love of God and of neighbor.  We are to have the Lord’s heart in the priorities we set for ourselves, in regard to that which we love and in how we demonstrate or witness compassion, generosity and forgiveness.  Jeremiah was of the priestly class— priests offered sacrifice— they sought to make atonement for sin.  The prophet lamented how hard-hearted were both the rulers and the people that followed them.  They invited their doom by forfeiting divine favor and protection.  No doubt our Lord had Jeremiah in mind when he spoke about how the leaders and crowd even rejected him.  We read in Matthew 23:37-39:

“‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her young under her wings, but you were unwilling! Behold, your house will be abandoned, desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

God is faithful.  Both God and man will be faithful in Christ.

What is a clean heart?  It is pure for sure, but it is also undivided.  It is a heart with a single purpose.  Do we want this heart?  If so then I would recommend the prayer that the apostle Paul gave the Ephesians:

“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:14-21).

The second reading presents Christ as the one High Priest of Christianity.  Our Lord did “offer prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears” to the Father on our behalf.  Jesus is faithful to his mission given him by the Father unto the Cross.  He does what no other priest had ever accomplished, he offered perfect atonement and “became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”  When our Lord beseeches us to take up our crosses and follow him, he is appealing to us as his priestly people in baptism.  It is within the oblation of Christ that our sacrifices and self-offering can be made to the Father.  This merits for us a share in the Lord’s reward or victory.  Every disciple is to believe, love and serve with a priestly heart.  The measure of all love is in terms of surrender or sacrifice.  We belong to the Lord.  He is a jealous God.  He will not share us.  He abides in us by grace so that we might live in him forever.

There are several times (both explicitly and in veiled symbolic language) that Jesus prophesies about his coming betrayal, passion and death.  He asserts in today’s Gospel, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.”  After making a reference to his coming death, his attention turns to his followers.  “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me.”  How would you advertise for such an ordeal?  Imagine you were reading the HELP WANTED ads and your eyes ran across the following:

“WANTED… men and women willing to give up family, position, wealth and power… yes, absolutely everything so as to follow a prophet who claims to be God.  Note that you must be willing to follow him in being betrayed, mocked, tortured and murdered.  He promises to give you eternal life.”

Sounds crazy, does it not?  Who would answer such a thing?  And yet, that is precisely the call of the Gospel.

  • What does it mean to have a sacrificial “priestly” heart?
  • What must we do to show that we belong to the Lord and his kingdom?
  • How might we be prophetic instruments in bringing reform to our society?
  • Have you ever prayed for someone or something to the point of tears?

Clarity in a Sea of Confusion

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Dr. Dolores B. Grier, Rest in Peace

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Sir Knight Reginald Grier informed us that his sister, Dr. Dolores Bernadette Grier, died in New York City on February 22, 2018, her birthday. She was 91 years old.

The late Cardinal O’Connor of New York appointed Dr. Dolores Bernadette Grier as the first lay woman to be a vice chancellor of the archdiocese. Dolores Grier’s appointment as vice chancellor for community relations in 1985 was national news as she achieved several firsts. Not only was she the first lay woman, but she also was the first black American in the U.S. to be appointed a vice chancellor. She also became the first lay woman named to any chancery post in the archdiocese.

When Grier was a teenager she converted to Roman Catholicism. She graduated with a master’s degree in social work from Fordham University. In 1980 she heard a “persuasive, dynamic speech in defense of all human life from conception” by the Rev. Jesse Jackson and credits this speech with bringing her into the pro-life movement. She lamented in her book, DEATH BY ABORTION, the course Jackson took in his career by saying, “Regrettably, Rev. Jackson joined the Democratic political party and adopted its pro-abortion/pro-choice platform. Too many legislators, Republican and Democratic, have chosen to walk on the ‘comfort zone’ bridge of pro-choice, thus turning their backs on the unborn human beings, perhaps because they are not yet voters or members of a political action group.”

In 1993 the New York City branch of the NAACP selected her to be the recipient of the Women’s History Month award, she refused it and membership because of the organization’s pro-choice stance on abortion. “As president of the Association of Black Catholics,” she wrote, “I believe abortion to be a racist weapon of genocide against black people. It has been thrust upon black women as a solution to their economic crises, confusion and concern.”

She had a television program on BLACK CATHOLICS and was a long-time EWTN spokesperson and close friend of the late Mother Angelica. She was a nationally known African American pro-life activist and non-fiction author. She also orchestrated the PROUD TO BE ROMAN CATHOLIC effort in New York. Dr. Grier sat on the Board of Advisors of the Catholic League and was founder of Black Catholics Against Abortion. She wrote, “Yesterday they snatched babies from our arms and sold them into slavery, today they snatch them from our womb and throw them into the garbage.”

I met her on several occasions and she was a wonderful lady and true disciple of Christ. Rest in peace.

[26] Second Sunday of Lent

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Readings:  Gen. 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18 / Ps. 116 / Romans 8:31b-34 / Mk. 9:2-10

An important traditional demarcation of the ancient Jews from their pagan neighbors was the repugnance they felt toward human sacrifice.  Rather, they offered the grains of the field or animals like goats, sheep, bulls and birds.  However, more recent archeological evidence shows that the early Jews did at one time offer the oblation of human beings.  The remnant texts that point to such behavior are the testing of Abraham and the story of Jephthah’s daughter. The story of Jephthah’s daughter can be found in Judges 11:29-40.  Like our passage today, it is deeply disturbing.  The Hebrew general pledges that the first who steps out the door of his home, he will sacrifice. He immediately laments his pledge because out steps his young daughter. She requests a short time to mourn her virginity and then we are told he did as he promised. Unlike the story of Abraham and Isaac, it appears that God does not stay his hand. The young girl had courage and her father kept his promise to God; but as Christians, we are aware that some promises should not be made. The child mourns that she will never know the joys of being a wife and mother. It is a poignant and terrible story.

Just as the story of Abraham and Isaac prefigures God’s surrender of his Son; the story of Jephthah’s daughter is connected to the Virgin Mary.  Mary gives herself to perpetual virginity and undergoes a vicarious martyrdom in witnessing the passion and death of her Son. Jephthah was a great Jewish general. He was successful against tremendous odds. He was victorious not because of his oath, but in spite of it. As St. John Chrysostom would tell us, his repugnant act would move the Jews to renounce all such blood-oaths from that time forward. Regarded as a testing of Abraham’s faith, a messenger from heaven intervenes and God directly prohibits the sacrifice of Isaac.  This would plainly show that God does not delight in such sacrifices.

Abraham certainly did not comprehend the command to sacrifice Isaac.  It seemed to violate providence, itself.  The patriarch was elderly and his son was the child of promise from which he was supposed to generate many descendants.  He did not understand but he remained faithful.  It is that element and not the shocking act that we should fully reflect upon.  God stays the hand of Abraham but he would not spare his own Son, the child promised from the dawn of creation.  Our heavenly Father did not directly will that his Son should be tortured and murdered; but he did desire faithfulness.  Jesus is faithful to his mission unto the Cross.  Abraham substitutes the oblation of a ram.  When God spared us (signified by Isaac), Jesus substitutes himself for us as the divine Lamb of God.  The sacrifice is no longer a ram caught in the briars but a Savior crowned with thorns.

The sacrifice of human beings by the pagans would be regarded by the early Christian community as a feeding the bloodlust of demons. We might think that we are morally better and enlightened, but over a million unborn children are aborted in the United States annually.  Many ministers regard this as a return of the demonic sacrifices of old.  Are we feeding demons the blood of our children?

The responsorial speaks to our conviction as believers during the season of Lent: “O LORD, I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your handmaid; you have loosed my bonds. To you will I offer sacrifice of thanksgiving, and I will call upon the name of the LORD.” Catholics readily make the connection between Christ as the suffering servant and Mary who declares herself as “the handmaid of the Lord.”  Jesus offers his life that we might be released from the bonds of Satan.  Our Lord will pay the price of his life to set us free.  Mother and Son will meet on Calvary.  The sacrifice of Jesus will do what all prior oblations failed to do— make true and lasting atonement for sin.

The second reading reiterates today’s theme:  “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?”  Paul is speaking about the gift of hope that comes with faith.  The victory over sin and death has already been won.

The Gospel reading gives us the scene of the Transfiguration.  Our Lord is dressed in dazzling white and beside him stands Elijah and Moses.  This signifies that Jesus is the fulfillment of the LAW and the PROPHETS.  The transformation in Jesus might be interpreted as a sign of things to come, notably the resurrection.  Lest it should be misunderstood, Jesus tells his three apostles not to speak about what they have seen until “the Son of Man had risen from the dead.”  We are told that they questioned what was meant by “rising from the dead.”  The apostles really could not get their heads around our Lord’s prophesies about his passion and death.

There is an important but sometimes overlooked element to the reading that we today should take to heart.  The heavenly Father’s voice beckons from the cloud, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”  Jesus is the ultimate term for salvation.  It is his sacrifice that is saving.  Given that he buys us back with his own life, we belong to him.  If that be the case, then it must be realized with faith and an abiding obedience.

  • What sacrifices have you made in your life to realize your discipleship?
  • Do you appreciate that every Mass is a re-presentation of the oblation of Calvary?
  • Have you placed limits on your faith and what you would do in response to God’s calling?
  • How have you died for Christ and others, brushing aside selfishness?
  • Do you listen and obey God’s Son or have you substituted other authorities?
  • Do you put a premium upon human life, both in and out of the womb?

[23] First Sunday of Lent

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Readings: Genesis 9:8-15 / Psalm 25 / 1 Peter 3:18-22 / Mark 1:12-15

Noah plays the part of a new Adam.  Just as in the creation story, Adam is given charge over creation and names every living thing; Noah preserves the animals from destruction and he and his family will make a new beginning.  The spirit of God hovers over the waters of creation and he breathes life into all living beings.  Whereas life comes from the waters, so too does death.  The covenant that God established with Noah includes the promise that God will never again wipe out the world through a flood.  This pattern is revisited with Christ and the new covenant:  we die with Christ in the waters of baptism so that we might live or rise with him.  The rainbow is left as a sign of God’s covenant with Noah.  The sign of the cross will be the mark or lasting sacramental of Christ’s saving covenant.  Baptism makes us adopted sons and daughters of the Father, brothers and sisters to Christ, heirs of the kingdom and members of the Church.  The Church is often reckoned as or compared to the Ark of Noah.  Salvation is found in Christ and in his Church.  As pilgrims who must sail through the dangerous storms of this world, our Lord guides and protects us as our captain in his boat or ship.  Our rations are signified by the Eucharist, food taken from the Promised Shore.  The story of Noah, like the story of salvation in Christ is both about judgment and mercy.  Even if many are lost, some will be saved.  Those who listen to the Lord will be spared.  Those who turn away will face his terrible justice.

The psalm asserts, “Your ways, O Lord, are truth and love to those who keep your covenant.”  Those who claim God will in turn be claimed by him.  It is as simple as that.  Covenants are contracts but also much more.  Jewish covenants were made in blood.  An animal would be slain and blood sprinkled.  It was understood that if one broke a covenant, a promise would become a curse.  Literally placing one’s life and that of the family on the line, one implored that if this covenant were broken then “let happen to me” what was suffered by this sacrificed lamb or goat or bull.  Jesus would be the Lamb of God who “lays down his life” for sinners.

Despite our infidelity, Jesus is faithful.  He takes upon himself the sins of the world.  He dies that we might live.  The psalm asserts that “truth” comes with the covenant.  God reveals himself and establishes a relationship with us.  Jesus is the revelation of the Father, showing us the face of God.  The psalm also states that the covenant expresses love.  It is love that calls us into existence.  It is for love that God saves a remnant in the days of Noah.  It is love that is nailed to a tree and that proves stronger than the grave.

The second reading from Peter’s epistle speaks of Christ’s singular oblation for sinners.  Jesus heals the breech between heaven and earth with is death, rises from the dead and then he preaches “to the spirits in prison.” These are the righteous dead in the limbo of the fathers.  This number includes Adam, Noah, Abraham, indeed all the ancient patriarchs and prophets.  They have waited from the beginning of the world for the promised Messiah— the one who would be reckoned as the Way and the Truth and the Life. Peter says that the story of Noah prefigures “baptism, which saves you now.”

As a contrast to the rain and waters in the story of Noah, our Lord experiences the heat and dust of the desert for forty days.  Gone is the life-filled garden of the first Adam.  Death has entered the world.  Our Lord is tempted by the devil.  Fortunately, this time we have an Adam who will not fall.  Jesus begins the work for which he comes into the world.  He comes to Galilee preaching the Good News:  “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” All of salvation history converges upon Christ and his three years of ministry:  teaching, healing, and forgiving.  God will keep his promise to send a Savior.  He comes not to rescue the righteous or the good, but sinners or the bad.  Despite our infidelity, age after age, God is forever faithful.

We came into existence wounded in the womb.  Our ancestors through sin contracted suffering and death.  All inherited these painful mysteries and needed healing.  We were the purloined property of a fallen angel.  While our Lord ransomed us back from the devil, Satan still takes delight in tormenting our wound, introducing a spiritual infection and distracting us from the divine physician.  Indeed, some have become so duped that they forget God and no longer believe that Satan exists.  History is only transformed if we turn to our saving God; otherwise, we find ourselves contaminated by an essential malignancy.  It is only with the Lord that we can find spiritual healing and life.  While frustrated in his temptation of Christ, the same demon makes his appeal to us.  While he has lost an entitlement to the world and to the race of men, he can still exploit his eternal spite.  Jesus may have won the war, but the devil can yet abscond with his particular casualties.  Christ might claim you but you are not safe until you claim him.  Satan would have us mingle with the indifferent crowd, only believing in the strength of what flesh might attain apart from Christ.  He tells us to gorge ourselves with earthly riches and proximate pleasures.  “Do not worry about what is right or wrong, no matter whether it be in reference to stolen goods, oppressed immigrants or aborted children.  The only choices that matter are the ones that satisfy your needs.” The demon tempts and mocks us all while hiding at the periphery of our life and awareness.  Like the roaches that scurry when the lights are turned on, we need to allow Jesus who is the Light of the World to dispel all that hides in the darkness.  Repentance makes room for believing and loving as we should.

  • As people of the covenant, do we keep our promises to God and others?
  • Do we sufficiently ponder the price that was paid for our sins?
  • Do we go to confession and is our contrition perfect or imperfect?
  • Have we read the Gospels or any book about the life of Christ?
  • Do we take seriously the discipline about fasting and abstinence?

 

The Real Meaning of Power

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The world is so very wrong about power.  From swords and spears to guns and bombs, the world has always been wrong.  Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Napoleon and more recently Hitler, Hirohito, Mussolini, Stalin, and Mao— the names change and the kingdoms rise and fall but they all measured power in terms of violence and intimidation.  However, power is ultimately not measured by blood that is stolen but by blood that is freely surrendered.  Real power is eternal.  Genuine authority and power is not taken by the military arms of short-lived empires but by an eternal kingdom that is inaugurated with a naked and vulnerable child in the straw of a manger.  The great I AM becomes one of us to save us.  No longer the apparition of a bush on fire, he is a human-boy-child with all the fire of God’s love within him.  The LIGHT OF THE WORLD comes to dispel the darkness.  Finite power can destroy, divide, wound and kill.  Infinite power can create, atone, heal and resurrect.  While secular history is filled with kings willing to allow their subjects to die for their ambitions of dominion; sacred or salvation history gives us a king who both makes his subjects members of his royal household and then lays down his life on their behalf.

There are no self-made men.  We imagine that we are substantial and strong.  But in truth, we are next to nothing.  We emerge from nothingness and are utterly dependent.  Most are born and die and the world takes little notice.  However, the Child of Bethlehem is of another sort.  He resembles us but he is the eternal Word.  Before anything was created, he was with God and was God.  He is existence or being itself.  He is the eternal entering into the ephemeral.  He is a sublime innocence that like a blanket will put to sleep and cover all the sins of the world.  What he will accomplish in a few moments in time will have eternal consequences.  All who would approach the divine Child must become children themselves.

We read in Matthew 18:1-5: “At that time the disciples approached Jesus and said, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a child over, placed [him] in their midst, and said, ‘Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.’”

Do we really appreciate the full importance of this direction from Christ?  We must reflect the innocence of the Christ Child.

My father shocked me with a question after my confirmation.  He asked me, “Do you understand the full meaning and consequences of your confirmation?” I asked what he meant.  He responded, “Confirmation means that you can now go to hell.”  I did a double-take… what did he mean?  No one before or since had described the sacrament in this way to me.  As was common years ago, the sacrament was described in terms of maturity in our holy religion, of becoming an adult fully initiated into the faith of the Church.  He said children can only commit little venial sins.  Adults are the ones who can commit mortal sins.  Most priest-confessors would probably agree.  Adults are guilty of far greater transgressions than failing to take out the trash, stealing a cookie or pulling a sibling’s ponytail.  All of us must return to the innocence of childhood if we want a place in Christ’s kingdom.  I suppose that is why our Lord spoke about faith and regeneration as being “born again.”  The old man or woman must be put aside for the new child born in Christ’s likeness.  While we might be adults in years, we must become spiritual children.  Paradise is populated entirely by children.

If we grow old in the world, maybe souls grow younger in purgatory— perfected by the fire of God’s grace?  Nothing of cynicism or sin can enter through the gate of heaven.  Any who would cling to earthly power would similarly be barred. The path to paradise is strewn with earthly weapons rendered as harmless and worldly treasures subtracted of any and all value.  Like a child entering this world, we must enter the next naked except for the wedding garment of the Lamb.