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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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Sin, the Church & the Communion of Saints

I read a short posting recently where someone spoke about complicity in evil within the communion of the saints. It seemed to me that such a notion needed reflection. Can sin exist within the communion of the saints? It is my understanding that serious sin fractures one from this unity as the damned ultimately can have no part in it.  Further, there is no parallel or correspondent communion of the damned.  If one were to regard heaven as a profound sanctoral unity or intimacy in the Lord; the damned fractured from God and one another might cry, “Which way I fly is Hell; myself am Hell” (the devil in Milton’s PARADISE LOST).

The pilgrim Church participates in and is one with the Church of glory and in purgation.  The souls in purgatory suffer from the effects of sin, but as saints in the making they would no longer be able to commit transgressions.  While the holy Church or mystical body of Christ on earth is composed of sinners, the body is holy and benefits from the good that is done by members.  The pilgrim Church is wounded by sin and still fully claims for her own those who have committed venial sins (for which there is the remedy of contrition or sorrow).  While the spiritual character impressed upon the soul at baptism is permanent (once a Catholic, always a Catholic); nevertheless, faith can sour and earthly humans can fall into mortal sin, suffering the loss of sanctifying grace.  Such believers are spiritually dead and if they should die in this state are eternally damned.  It is sin, including grievous, that targets our Lord in his passion and cross; i.e. his sacred heart.  Repentance, sorrow for sin and the absolution of the sacrament can steal a soul from hell and return him to good standing within the communion of the saints.  But sin has no place and cannot touch the heavenly communion. The denizens of heaven know only joy and cannot be manipulated or grieved by the damned.    

I have often argued for the necessity of the sacrament of penance along these lines.  Some will argue, “Can’t I just go directly to God and tell him I am sorry so as to be forgiven?”  My response is yes, God does indeed hear the cry of sinners and he knows our hearts; but the Catholic faith is both personal and corporate or communal.  The absolution of the priest gives assurance to our hope for forgiveness and salvation.  It grants us both actual graces and sanctifying grace.  It recognizes how we are united with one another in the peace of Christ.  It makes possible our healing as part of something larger than ourselves— as members of the body of Christ, the Church.  That requires the sacrament of penance or reconciliation.  

It is true that our unity with one another presses upon us an obligation to respond that humbly acknowledges divine providence and our calling to be a voice for the voiceless and the hands of Christ to work in the world for charity and justice.  Silence in the face of evil incurs the guilt of complicity.  Enabling or encouraging the evil of others signifies cooperation with iniquity. When practical examples are listed, that is where the critics attack you.  Speak for the desperate immigrant escaping oppression and wanting a better life for his family and you are condemned for betrayal of fellow citizens in taking the side of invaders.  Speak for the unborn child and you are condemned as a chauvinist who is prejudiced against women and their rights over their bodies.  Speak for those on death row and you are charged with being soft on crime and deaf to the plight of victims.  Speak for the poor and their need for welfare and universal healthcare and you are charged with the dark label of socialism and of swindling the rich so as to pamper bums and other never-do-wells. Racism is a particular difficult matter because you can be a voice for justice and be actively engaged in opening doors to all, peaceful protest, promoting acceptance— and still get labeled as a bigot for not seeing all the places where racism can hide, for an affection toward ancient heroes that are now vilified, for disavowing violence, for not doing what others feel is enough or charged with privilege just because of the lighter skin within which you were born. When it comes to such issues, no one has the exclusive corner on moral blindness.         

The Wonderment of God & the Greatness of the Church

I sometimes worry that we overly politicize the Church.  Certainly, we must take positions on certain questions that reflect Gospel mandates, the natural law in morality and the Social Gospel.  This in itself will anger those on the right and left who immediately identify themselves with a political party.  Instead of trying to conform our world to the values of faith, such people try to force the dynamic blocks of Christian faith into the restrictive parameters of the faddish popular forum, much like forcing wooden stars and triangles into the round hole of a cognitive puzzle.  Much of the anger and frustration comes from trying to make something fit that just does not belong. 

Those on the right might validly stress the preeminent value of the sanctity of life against abortion.  This is as it should be, but such should not be dismissive of the other pressing issues of the day.  Indeed, they should work harder to demonstrate how other threats to life and dignity begin with it as the nucleus.  Those on the left would correctly remind us that there are other issues besides abortion; but, often with a disconnect that allows it to be wrongly eclipsed by a host of other matters.  There are topics on the table dear to the two reigning parties and reflective of a modernity that do not square well with the kerygma we have inherited.  The bishops would implore us to take up the pressing moral and social challenges of the day— but to do so without taking partisan sides. This often leaves clergy bewildered with impotent preaching because it is never explained how this might be done at a time when the two main parties are stringently polarized behind certain issues.  Mention the topic of pro-life or anti-abortion and many immediately tag you as a Republican.  Use the label of pro-choice or reproductive rights and you are quickly assessed as a Democrat.  What are the other concerns?  Republicans like to think of themselves as supporters of states’ rights over federal intrusion, of increased funding for police, of traditional marriage restricted to a man and woman, of capital punishment for the most dangerous criminals, of a strong military, of the right to bear arms, of walls and secure borders, of low taxes, of incentives for business and job development, etc.  Democrats are known for the expansion of federal government, for a preference of funding for domestic programs over military hardware, for defunding the police, for gun-control, for welcoming immigrants (illegal ones), for an end to the federal death penalty, for wider access to welfare and food stamps, for the rights of workers and unions, for women’s rights (including abortion) and now for LGBTQ rights.  While there is little room for dialogue on abortion given that many politicians (even Catholic ones) have voted against the Born-Alive bill, there is a growing hesitance for the two parties to discuss almost anything today in good faith.  Religion is increasing invoked for positions taken although more on the right than the left.  Indeed, it seems that many bishops increasingly fear the secularism from the Democratic Party as a threat to religious liberty. The Church, both her leadership and her members, have become drawn into the debates.  A number of these matters accent what might be called the pelvic issues:  marriage and same sex unions, the nature of gender and abortion. When the matter is the sanctity of human life and the dignity of persons, many would call into question the veracity of one’s claim to be a Christian believer.  Many of us feel that there is no such creature as a pro-abortion Catholic.  The USCCB desperately wants to avoid a political litmus test.  However, there is a conundrum.  Are there some matters (as with abortion) that would not make the reception of Holy Communion a sacrilege before God and a scandal before the faith community? 

Borrowing a theme from Trump, (a name that makes some bow the head and others spit), many are saying that we need to MAKE THE CHURCH GREAT AGAIN.  But, what they are really saying is that they want a “great” purge.  While the reception of the Eucharist gives the impression of normalization, we need to emphasize that God knows our hearts and minds.  He is the one to render ultimate judgment. We can ask that certain people refrain from taking Holy Communion; but we also have to renew the invitation for any and all to come to Mass.  While we have emphasized the Mass as a spiritual meal, we must also remember that it is an opportunity to offer ourselves at the oblation of Calvary.  It is this sacrifice that can transform hearts and minds.  Over time it may help dispose us so that we can be fed and not poisoned by the food for the journey.  The Eucharist is food and medicine to many; but to those who are not in right relationship with the Lord, it would be like a person allergic to shell fish having it for a meal.  It will make you sick or bring down judgment. Remember, the one sin that most arouses the ire of Christ is hypocrisy.

The Church was “great” even when it was reduced to eleven fearful apostles and a few crying women.  Again, the Church is great because Christ is great— he is almighty God in human flesh— God who is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving, and all-good.  He is great because he freely willed to come down from heaven to earth so that we might be able to go from earth to heaven.

The greatness that we should pursue is how we might allow the awesome wonder and glory of Christ to shine out to the world through us— in other words, how we might become that light in the darkness, shining for all to see.  The expansion of the Church was certainly part of the apostolic mission given the commission of Christ to go out to the entire world and to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  I suspect that they were aware of the “greatness” of the Church even when it was an embryo of what it would later become.  The proclamation of the kingdom of God was readily identified firstly with the person of Christ and later with the Church as his mystical body.  The fire or drive of St. Paul was most definitely an ambition to expand the saving dispensation among the Gentiles.  Later, at the council of Jerusalem, one imagines that the Jewish-Christian leadership were markedly surprised if not aghast at the growth of the Gospel and the establishment of churches in the Greek and Roman pagan world.  They were aware that theirs was the Church of a saving covenant that fulfilled the one covenant established by God with the Jews.  The many martyrs for the faith would intensify a sense of the Church as a unique entity, made stronger and larger by those who mingled their blood with that of Christ.  Given time the great empire of Rome would succumb and be transformed by the Christian faith.  The legacy of those who would receive the keys from Peter would be that the bishops of Rome wielded universal jurisdiction in the Church as a charism from Christ.  Their pedigree, so to speak, would be built upon the twin pillars of Peter and Paul.  The Lord is honored by the fidelity of his disciples and the growth of the Church.  The efficacy of the Church’s claim as HOLY is that she has endured the ages and consistently witnessed to the truth, compassion and mercy of Christ, even while drawing sinners to her.  The story of Christ and the tales of the saints is the real and saving history of this glorious Church.  We have wanted as her sons and daughters to give resound to the greatness and glories of the Catholic Church.  She is the great mother from which we received spiritual adoption and new birth in the womb of the baptismal font. 

It is true that everything is gift.  But we should not short-change our participation in the work of Christ.  There is greatness in our taking up our crosses and following the Lord.  Indeed, imitating the model of Mary, there is greatness in humility and in being so disposed to grace that we become servants and handmaids of God.  When we read the stories of saints who laid down their lives for others, we are touched by this greatness.  Watch the end to the movie, THE MISSION— when the priest is leading the tribesmen in Eucharistic procession, courageously facing in solidarity with their priest the bullets of the soldiers— we are moved to awe.  It is a fiction but made real in so many stories of clergy and their flocks witnessing their faith with bravery.  We need that courage today.  One of my favorite saints is Father Damien.  When he cries out, “We Lepers!” at a Mass on Molokai Island— there is a light blazing, greatness that a selfish world still struggles to understand. 

We have nothing of our own.  We are all the poor man.  But there is greatness in appreciating the gift— in acknowledging what is already there.  The greatness of our heroes of faith and thus of the Church is one with the “Greatest Story Ever Told.” 

Many speak of a wonderment that approaches reverence when they look into a clear night sky filled with stars.  Just imagine, the God who made all this also made you.  But would it be the same if there were no one to look up and see?  Yes, it could exist, but where would be the wonder? I am reminded of the proverbial tree falling in the woods— does it make any noise if there is no one to hear it?  What God creates, he perfectly knows and sustains in being or existence.  If greatness is measured in terms of awe then it weighs heavily on the side of creation.  It is an opening to a big surprise or a vast mystery.  It is to encounter something incalculable, drawing us beyond ourselves.  Given evolution as part of God’s plan, there is a rendezvous in our journey to the truth of our dependence, becoming aware that in the hierarchy of being this distance between us and the absolute is greater than between an ant and a man. Called to be children, our first parents fell and sought to join the bestial.  And yet, on the level of grace there is an intersection of the finite with the infinite.  A promise is fulfilled with the incarnation. Every time we cry out Hosanna or Glory to God, we are giving voice to a greatness that demands and deserves acknowledgment. The angelic choir of heaven hears the distant echo of earthly voices taking up their celestial hymn. 

We cannot save ourselves.  We are instruments of God but we have no dominion over divine providence. Not even the Pope is the master of the Gospel, just the chief of its stewards.  The kingdom will come entirely when God intends it to be fulfilled.  This makes the Church not just a human institution but also a divine one.  The greatness of the Church rests with the greatness or awesome wonder that belongs to Christ.  When we speak of regeneration by faith in the waters of baptism, we are literally talking about the seeds of greatness planted by our Lord.  A fallen human nature is not immediately repaired from all the consequences of sin but it is redeemed, advanced and given a higher dignity by sanctifying grace. We are more than we were before.  A number of the spiritual masters and Church fathers speak of it as a divinization of our humanity.  We are made members of the kingdom of God, adopted sons and daughters of the Father and heirs to eternal life.  If we can speak of any greatness in the Church, its source is found in Christ and it permeates the entire mystical body, all those members who live and serve in right relationship with God.

Divine worship and the Lord’s Supper aid us in the truth about our standing before God; however, we can be convicted as well if we come ill-disposed.  (Here I think about the parable when the guest was thrown out for not wearing the proper wedding garment.)  We can grow in love and humility, as long as contrite hearts make possible the forgiveness of sins. Our worship is rendered in communion with Christ who is priest and victim.  Our Lord is the one priest who sacrifices his life on Calvary to make perfect satisfaction for the sin that dishonored the Almighty.  This oblation of propitiation or redemption is re-presented in a clean or unbloody manner every time we assemble to celebrate the Mass.  This is our greatest worship as Christians and because of this profound sacramental unity with a man who is also a divine person, it pleases the Father.  A vast breach is traversed.  We join in the banquet of heaven.  The Lord becomes our “pontifex” or bridge from this veil of tears to the other side.  The Eucharist is given to us as the rations for our pilgrimage across the sea of life to the promised shore.  

Is nothing added in our worship?  I would suggest that the one thing is added at Mass that was missing two thousand years ago.  Our Lord commanded that the Lord’s Supper be performed in “remembrance of me.”  While we all stand convicted by the Cross, as the accumulative sins of all mankind throughout all human history put Jesus to death, the Mass allows us to move from the foot of the cross to the other side of that dead tree where we might be crucified with him.  The Mass allows us to intentionally offer ourselves joined with Christ to the heavenly Father.  Something of this is symbolized in the offertory gifts.  Just as we offer bread and wine that might be transformed into the body and blood of Christ; the worshipper should also be consciously praying that he or she might also be transformed into a new Christ.  We pray that the Father will see his Son in us and give us a share in his reward.  There is greatness in this movement of grace.  We are made in the in the image of God; but the mercy of Jesus transforms us into his likeness in grace.  We are made righteous or justified.  We are made brand new.

The Duty of Bishops to Teach

No matter whether one likes it or not, the bishops have a right and duty to teach. Indeed, greater weight should be given the magisterial teachings of faith than the the objections of dissenters and secular leaders. There are few faith matters as central as the Eucharist.

While we are called as disciples to witness to Christ and the Gospel even in our private lives, given past experience I suspect the President is right about the bishops . . . nothing is going to happen.

Eucharistic Catechesis, Not Politics

The recent statement and document being prepared by the USCCB on the Eucharist is part of a three year program to emphasize the meaning of the great sacrament for Catholics. The whole business of politicians and their reception is entirely a side-note on the periphery of this initiative. We should all be properly disposed to receive Holy Communion. What must be a major concern is that the sacrament that feeds and heals the soul of one in a state of grace can literally sicken and bring judgment to the soul of another in mortal sin or lacking supernatural faith.

I will state something that is at the heart of the current debate about Eucharistic reception:  You cannot say AMEN to the invisible but REAL presence of Christ in the host while saying NO to the invisible but REAL presence of one made in his image and likeness hidden in the womb. This is a truth that I will repeat again and again.  This teaching is intimately connected within the proclamation of the Good News or what Pope John Paul II called the Gospel of Life.

Manipulation of the Church

One prominent elected official argued that if the Church were to tell any politician (but especially the president) that he could not take Holy Communion then legal punishment should follow, including the stripping of the Church’s tax exemption.  All this shows is how much some politicians think they own us. Whatever the bishops decide to do, it is within their authority given by God. As a matter of religious liberty, the Church has the right to teach what she believes and to sanction adherents for heresy, immorality and scandal. The president, himself, should repudiate such interference in a matter that involves the Lord, the Church’s shepherds, him and other of the faithful.

What is Really at Stake?

Clergy and laity alike must be a voice for the voiceless— signs of contradiction— sentinels for Christ. There can be no compromise with evil. Like the saints before us, our hearts should be moved by this staunch conviction.  But as with the Eucharistic Christians and martyrs of old, a price will be paid.  The Eucharist is the ultimate expression of the paschal mystery from the depths of the passion to the heights of the resurrection.  We must be disposed so as to be transformed and to become what we receive.  We must die with Christ if we hope to live with him.  While we have endured much noise about a weaponization of the Eucharist, in truth it is the pacification of the sacrament that most distorts what it signifies and goes hand-in-hand with surrender to the challenges of secular modernity.  We must not allow this. 

The Archbishop Has Spoken

Anything I say will land me in trouble. Pray for our Church and our country.

A Needed Document, Regardless of Biden

The media and others would politicize what is intended as a teaching document about the meaning of the Eucharist. It is true that public witness (good and bad) is a necessary element of the larger discussion.  However, we must be wary not to be sidetracked from needed consideration of the general disposition of believers for Eucharistic reception to an exclusive focus on the worthiness of one person or group. While we can and should make our voices heard, bishops and their ministering clergy are the proper stewards of the sacraments and we should humbly and obediently leave to them any particular determinations, even if it should regard some of the most famous Catholics in the nation. (As a priest I have made my views known to past ordinaries; however, when all is said and done, I know that my respect and obedience must give room to my superiors to make what I might regard as serious errors in judgment.) Those who would threaten the bishops or attempt to manipulate the Church over whether President Biden or Congresswoman Pelosi receives Holy Communion understand neither the situation nor their place in the larger discussion.  The USCCB as of 2021 is seeking to jump-start a three year national campaign to restore a true Catholic sense or understanding of our faith in the Eucharistic Lord.

Do Not Weaponize the Eucharist?

We are hearing a cry of timidity today, even from church shepherds, not to weaponize the Eucharist. But did we not once regard the pilgrim church as the Church Militant, campaigning not only against men but powers and principalities? The Eucharist has always been regarded as the most effective weapon in our arsenal. Indeed, it may be all that really stands between us and the legions that oppose the sanctity of life and devalue the dignity of persons. The fuse is lit when as people of faith we courageously proclaim and commit ourselves to the Gospel of Life.  The battle with modernity is real but we opt for the path of nonviolence even if it should demand that we mix our blood with Christ’s.  The Eucharist signifies unity with the Lord and one another in the great peace of Christ.  “A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).  It is this Lord that comes to us in Holy Communion.  It is this Lord that cannot be reconciled with those who would promote or enable the killing of children in the womb— those who would steal the gift of life; slaughter the innocent; and destroy or usurp what God has made. 

So Much for LEADERSHIP on Eucharistic Disposition

Are We Collaborators with the Thieves of Life?

Is it a sin to vote for a pro-abortion politician? Is one excommunicated for voting for a pro-abortion politician?  Is the pro-abortion politician excommunicated?  Is it a sin for such a politician to step forward in receiving the Eucharist?  Is it a sin for the priest or minister to give Holy Communion to a person who enables and promotes the murder of unborn children?  At least for the present, particular politicians are off the hook as the bishops have thrown away this hot potato. 

Any directed address to politicians and the sacrament was dropped from the USCCB June 2021 conference.  As I said before, the focus would be a general document for all believers.  Of course, while any of us might get off easy before men, it may be a far different case when we stand before almighty God.

Before being concerned about censures, we should be cognizant of the danger of mortal sin. The subjective element of sin requires many considerations and I would hesitate to tell voters that they have committed a sin at the election box— although it is sometimes very hard for me to close my mouth. This does not mean that such is not the case, especially if one votes for a candidate precisely because of his or her advocacy of abortion or other objective evils. Although tyrants often take power rather than having it given, would it be wrong or sinful to vote for a person filled with poisonous hate and violence like Hitler or Stalin? If a white supremacist candidate stated that if elected he would seek the restoration of segregation laws and the forced expulsion of blacks to Africa, would it be a sin to vote for him?  I would think so.  I might also hope that such a nut would be locked up as crazy.

The code of canon law really does not discuss elections and politicians who are pro-abortion.  I would suspect that their participation in the killing of children is not immediate or specific enough to merit the censure of excommunication.  My one caveat is that they might be excommunicated for teaching heresy.  I am reminded of when Pelosi distorted Catholic history and teaching in trying to legitimize her radical pro-abortion stance.  Given current church laws, the defense against heresy is the tact I would recommend.        

Who is in Control?  Are Policies Just?

The current argument about the dynamics of withholding Holy Communion from public dissenters like politicians and celebrities has expanded to include well-meaning Catholics. A number of priests have been in the news for taking hard lines in their preaching.  Many chancery offices and legal departments have been quick to reprimand priests for such actions, arguing that decisions of this sort rest solely with the local bishop whom they are to respect and obey. Many dioceses have policies that demand that the minister uniformly extends the sacrament.  Priests are also told that while they can preach on issues, they cannot identify politicians as either pro-abortion or pro-life.  Especially outside of election time, I am hard pressed to see how clergy can be ethically silenced.  Maybe it is due to the fact that campaigning is now all that candidates really do throughout their entire terms?  My Ordinary and many others took public exception with President Trump in reference to racial unrest and illegal immigrants. While all bishops would likely object to President Biden’s stance on abortion, it is often remarked that there is a delicate partisan divide in the difference paid the office of one elected official over another. While they may not always be tactful, there are increasing numbers of clergy raising questions about the legal counsel retained by dioceses given that they dictate policy and even tell pastors what they should and should NOT preach. Are these lawyers Catholic?  What are their political alliances?  Are they fully committed to the Gospel of Life and all the Church’s interests?    

It is frequently brought up that pro-abortion politicians and even tyrants have received the Eucharist from popes like the late Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.  This is true and we must wonder how much concern was given matters by handlers.  Note that Pope Francis gives Holy Communion to a few and leaves the task largely to others.  I suspect that it is about more than his bad back.  The Holy Father, while often saying things that perplex and which cause headlines, is acutely aware of the affirmative sign value when a pope is photographed with anyone.  The Pope has been critical of legislators seeking to legalize abortion in Mexico. He even seemed to defend the right of bishops in Uruguay in regard to excommunications.  

The Matter of Culpability

There is an irony with this issue that is often missed.  If one should through ignorance promote or permit abortion, failing somehow not to understand the gravity of this evil, then he or she would be less culpable than one who knows full well the wrong.  Indeed, even the so-called pro-choice advocate should find repugnant and dangerous the candidate who says that he accepts the Church’s teaching about abortion as murder and nonetheless enables and supports this evil.  We should all be wary of those who seek power, influence and wealth by selling their integrity to the loudest voice or highest buyer. Reflecting upon canon law, I am presumptuous enough to suggest an injustice in church sanctions. A distressed woman might seek out one abortion and face excommunication.  However, a politician might enable and even provide funding for millions of abortions, and he will likely escape any sanction. At this point should I confess than I am sometimes a selfish man?  How will God judge me as a priest for silence upon this issue?  How will God judge me for my friendship with pro-abortion advocates?  How will God judge me for giving communion when that public figure or politician who widely advocates child murder stands before me?  Will it be enough to say I followed the advice of archdiocesan lawyers?  Will it be enough to save me if I should point at the bishop and tell the Lord that the one you placed over me told me to do it?  I have this nightmare that Jesus will show me the faces of all the unwanted children that we sped to their deaths without even the dignity of graves. The Divine Mercy will speak with a gentle voice, “I love you. . . I love all my children.” Then there will be a frightful transmutation in the great Pantokrator or Divine Justice.  Raising his voice as the God of Judgment and stressing each syllable, he stares at me and says, “Now, for your failure to love— go to hell!”