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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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Civil Unions for Gays?

Previously unreleased papal comments aired in the documentary “Francesco,” included those from a 2019 interview that endorsed same-sex civil unions.  We know that as archbishop of Buenos Aires prior to his elevation to the papacy he did endorse civil unions of same-sex couples as an alternative to same-sex marriages. First echoing previous Church assertions about respecting homosexuals as “children of God,” he then states: “You can’t kick someone out of a family, nor make their life miserable for this.  What we have to have is a civil union law; that way they are legally covered.”

The official 2019 Vatican transcript of the interview expunged the comments about such legal safeguards for civil unions.  While this opinion is arguably in the area of praxis it may have ramifications regarding to the transmission of moral truth.  The universal catechism teaches that “homosexual acts” are “intrinsically disordered.”  This has not changed. The Maryland Catholic Conference ran a major campaign against both same-sex marriages and legal civil unions.  It was argued as a danger to any consensus about the nature of marriage as an intimate relationship between a man and woman geared towards the transmission of new human life.  I remember offering the critique that the bishops and the “institutional” Church only became engaged in the defense of marriage at a time when gays wanted it and heterosexual couples were increasing cohabitating without it.  What the Church leadership failed to appreciate was that marriage was in trouble long before gays wanted inclusion, particularly through the blight of fornication, adultery and easy divorce and remarriage.  The leadership came to its defense too late to make any appreciable difference or to head off the momentum of a revolutionary atheistic secular-humanist morality.  Not only was the top off of any Pandora’s Box but all the proverbial evils had long since escaped.         

Many gays treat with disdain and suspicion the Church’s contention that they must be loved and treated with dignity and respect even as homosexual acts are condemned as sinful.  Frequently today, they demand acceptance, not just toleration.  Indeed, some clearly articulate as hypocrisy the assertion that one might “love the sinner but hate the sin.”  What this means is that homosexuality has become the chief marker in how they identify themselves as persons.  This should not surprise us as Western society itself has become increasing eroticized in its world view and resistant to any virtues of modesty, chastity, prudence or self-control.

The statement by Pope Francis would seem to conflict with the official line established by the Vatican in 2003 where the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (under Cardinal Ratzinger/later Pope Benedict XVI) stipulated that respect for homosexuals “cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behavior or to legal recognition of homosexual unions.”  We tell heterosexual couples that civil unions without the sacrament of the Church are grievously sinful and are both invalid and illicit bonds.  How can we discourage civil bonds for the unions of men and women outside the Church but encourage and support them for homosexual couples?  Reflecting upon the Holy Father’s statement, it may be that he simply wanted to commend or support genuine love where ever it is found and a more embracive sense of family— under the civil protections of society’s laws— apart or segregated from human sexuality and possible deviancy.  If such is the case, then he would be proposing a civil union not as equivalence to marriage between men and women but as a civil and possibly spiritual adoption as brothers and sisters.  In order to receive the blessing of the Church, such couples would need to pledge perpetual lives of purity, chastity and celibacy.

Jesus Gives Us His Body & Blood

COMMENT:

Jesus no more wishes us to drink his blood than he wants us to cut off our hand, pluck out our eye or hate our parents– as he stated elsewhere. These are spiritual, not literal truths!

RESPONSE:

The biblical context distinguished the use of Hebraic hyperbole from when he insisted upon a literal appreciation of the Eucharist.  Look at the Gospel of John!  Our Lord repeated himself, again and again, and even allowed the murmuring Jews (who could not accept it) to walk away.  They knew that Jesus meant what he said.  Indeed, at the Lord’s Supper he spoke about the bread and wine transformed into his body and blood as a new covenant.  A covenant could not be established in a fake offering.  Jesus tells his apostles to do as he did in remembrance of him, re-presenting his oblation in the Eucharist— the saving activity and the real presence of the one who is the divine Lamb of God. 

Suffering & the Little Animals

QUESTION & COMMENT:

My name is Kelly the question I have is very simple. I grew up as an Orthodox Greek. All my life I have loved animals. I feed the raccoons and squirrels. I cannot even kill a bug. But all I’ve seen over the years is people abusing and torturing animals. Given all the hurt I have witnessed I cannot believe there is a God up there. I lost my dog Olivia. I had her put down because she was sick. I feel very guilty about that. I cannot imagine God allowing these animals to go through hell over and over again. What kind of God would let that happen?

Please explain what kind of God would allow animals to be physically tortured— for no good reason but for the sheer pleasure of it. I don’t know where my Livia is.  I don’t know what happened to her. I don’t know if she’s crying and waiting for me in some dark corner.  I don’t know anything anymore.

RESPONSE:

(I had to heavily edit your comment so as to understand it.)  Please know that God finds no pleasure in suffering.  God loves us and he loves all that he has created, including the little animals.  We live in a broken world where the harmony of creation is destroyed by original sin.  Not only animals, but many people also suffer in this valley of tears that we call the world.  I would not be tearful that your dog is suffering in some dark corner of the afterlife waiting for you.  Dogs may be touched by the sins of men but they cannot sin.  As a wondrous part of creation, your Livia has returned to God where there is only light.  You let her go because you loved her and did not want her to suffer.  Try not to feel guilty but trust that you did right by her.  I cannot explain why so many treat their animals poorly.  Maybe God put you here so that a few like Livia might know companionship, caring and love.  God bless you!

Taking Communion & Annulments

QUESTION:

My husband and I were civilly married 7 years ago. We have 3 children together. He was previously married in the Catholic Church. We have come back to the Church, and I am working on my confirmation. He has started the annulment process. I am curious if us having intimate relations is considered a sin. If so, how should I word this in confession? Sorry, this is all so new to me.  Thank you!

RESPONSE:

Unless you are going to live as brother and sister, then absolution from the priest in confession would be problematic.  Given that no annulment has yet been procured, the Church still understands your husband as truly married to his first spouse.  After an annulment, the two of you would likely be free to have your bond convalidated in the Church.  Given that you are both baptized, this would make it a sacrament.  Catholics in irregular unions are usually asked to go to Mass but to refrain from taking Holy Communion until the bonds are regularized.

Restitution & Salvation

QUESTION:

Is restitution necessary for salvation? When I mean restitution I mean restitution for things like gossip or insulting others.

RESPONSE:

We would err in viewing restitution merely in terms of mathematics.  Often we cannot fully restore what has been taken.  How does one repair the trust that is broken?  How does one repair another’s good name or reputation?  How does one heal memories of being wronged?  It is difficult even to repay ordinary debts and often resources are not available to make right on wrongs committed.  Jesus makes satisfaction for our sins by the price of his passion and Cross.  The calling given us is to take up our crosses and to follow him.  The implication is to do our part in making amends for sin that dishonors God and hurts our neighbor.  The meaning of restitution is found both in justice and in a need to bring healing.  Understood in this way, it is not merely a box to check off for salvation but an essential element in living out our Christianity.  Look at the sayings of Christ:

“If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:45-48).

A Question About Affinity & Dating

QUESTION:

This is a rather complex question but one I need an answer to because I really don’t want to be doing any wrong. I have a half-sister who was with this man, not married (now broken up) and they had a child— my half niece. The man had three children of his own with another woman before this. I just met my sister and everyone else but I’m having feelings for this man’s son, who as it turns out, is my half-niece’s half-brother— but of no relation to me.  

Now this man also has grandkids from that son for whom I have feelings and another one of his sons. And I have children of my own.

So I guess what my question is this:  is it alright to date his son? We are no relation, but I feel it might be wrong. So I don’t want to go ahead if it is wrong. I’ve been searching for an answer to this for a while with no real luck. Thank you so much in advance.

RESPONSE:

There is no direct relationship and no connection by blood.  Unless I am missing something it should be okay. 

However, was the son previously married?  Were you?  If so are the spouses both deceased?  A divorce would still be problematical as the Church requires annulments.  Dating between divorced persons can still constitute adultery. 

The Dying Who See the Dead

QUESTION:

My father recently passed unexpectedly. The days leading up to his death he kept seeing our dead relatives. Through research I find seeing passed relatives is common. I was curious if there is any explanation for this?

RESPONSE:

Yes, this is something I have also encountered in my ministry.  I am at odds to give an explanation.  I have heard that there are neurological reasons that would bypass any paranormal definition.  I shudder to imagine that nature should seek to bring calm to the dying by fooling them with false visions of the beloved dead.  It may be that there is a parallel and connection that we cannot analyze between the physical brain and the mind that is a property of the human soul.  Hallucinations or dreams or visions of the dead seem to bring calm to the dying.  Evidently in certain near-death experiences, such brings down blood pressure and heart-rates so that the afflicted might even survive.  As a believer, I must attest to our hope that the Lord and the saints who have gone before us will welcome us into the heavenly kingdom.         

A Teacher Questioning a Reading Given Students

QUESTIONS:

I am a new English teacher at a Catholic school. I want to be very careful about exposing students to inappropriate literature. I don’t want to give scandal in any way.

My question is this: is it a sin for me to have them read books that may have inappropriate content like sexual innuendos or rape?

My other question is this: the teacher before me assigned a book for summer reading called Native Son, which I am now reading.

There are some inappropriate parts like the ones I mentioned above.

I am worried that I am committing a sin by letting the students read this even though I didn’t pick it. Should I email the students (they are seniors in high school) and tell them they don’t have to read it?

RESPONSE:

Is it a sin?  Reading the book in question may not be sinful but this leaves open the issue as to whether it is age appropriate.  The fact that it is approved and assigned has been taken out of your hands.  I would suggest doing your best to help the young people deal with the themes— especially with a superficial and flawed understanding of religious faith. 

I knew Native Son was being read in college but did not know it was on high school reading lists.  There are a couple of versions available and I know that an earlier abridged version is still in print.  The work deals with themes that are still quite contemporary regarding race and justice.  While there is value in this, I would hope that teachers would use the work as a starting point for discussion and not as an apologetic that would project (as the author might) a future world.  The author has been accused of adopting a Marxian dialectic and while religion plays its part in the text, the assessment is negative.  Indeed, Richard Wright arguably sees Christianity as part of the problem, offering a mythical “pie-in-the-sky” that avoids seeking social change in the here-and-now. The current Black Lives Matter organization much in the news right now espouses on its website such a position.  The Klan’s notorious use of a flaming cross has turned off many people of faith.  Ideally Christianity should give us a thirst for justice and change that reflects the values of Christ’s kingdom and the brotherhood of man. It is not an opiate that appeases or short-circuits movement toward such reform. Of course, one of the greatest heroes of the struggle for racial justice is the Baptist minister, Dr. Martin Luther King.  Many in the black community are at odds over the role of faith. 

As for elements of sexuality, it is a part of our humanity; although I must admit to being turned off by any writing that is flagrantly erotic.  The issue or rape is a serious one.  Be careful about this because boys can be immature and insensitive just as girls can sometimes display heightened sensitivity, fear and woundedness about the subject.  While tame by comparison to this book, I recall as a high school boy being surprised and shocked by the clandestine “fog scene” in Tom Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles.  The next time we meet her she is pregnant— what? 

Can a Catholic Work for a Non-Christian Organization?

QUESTION:

I make websites for a living. A Hindu religious organization is asking me to make a website for them. Their facebook page is . . . [deleted].

Are there any moral issues I should consider before considering this job? Am I committing a sin if I take this job?

RESPONSE:

My brother bidded for the windows of an Islamic mosque. He treated them fairly and made a great offer. He was thrown out when they discovered he was a Catholic. I would suggest not hiding your faith and letting them know where you stand. Like any contractor, you are offering your technical services… not making a faith confession. You are simply assisting a religious organization to have a web presence. That should be okay. Matters would be different if the site promoted violence, discrimination, pornography or the murder of persons. Organizations that espouse dialogue and peaceful co-existence are members of the larger community that should be nurtured and treated as good neighbors. Peace!

Scrupulosity, Questions & Sin

QUESTION:

Thank you for offering this platform for us to ask questions. I have a question about whether something would fall under the sin of rash judgement or would just be a temptation. I have anxiety; unfortunately, this leads to me having thoughts that other people might be judging me because of the things that I say or do. I am usually able to stop myself after those thoughts pop up; but I am wondering if just having those thoughts would constitute the scenario of a near occasion of sin that should be avoided? I think I have really bad scrupulosity.  I tend to ask priests a lot of questions.  I am worried that because of these thoughts, I should not be asking them any further questions.  Thank you so much in advance!

RESPONSE:

The questions are arguably a symptom of scrupulosity, not any kind of near occasion for sin.  There is nothing wrong with asking questions.  Indeed, it is probably even neutral matter to ask ridiculous questions.  Scrupulosity often leads to inquiries that have little or no moral weight in reality.  Indeed, I find that this mental tendency is toward the fanciful or unreal.  Some imagine themselves much worse than they actually are.  The sin is rooted in a denial of the goodness of creation, an errant self-deprecation and a repudiation of God’s power to save and to forgive.  I cannot say whether people are constantly judging you but I can tell you that all of us will stand before the divine tribunal.  If we walk with the Lord then we need fear neither men nor the judgment of God.