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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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WHO do we encounter in Holy Communion?

A big deal is being made about the bishops who want to take a strong position against pro-abortion politicians receiving Holy Communion. Maybe we should return to an emphasis about WHOM we are receiving?

Every time we come up for Holy Communion, we encounter the risen Lord, present and alive in his undivided divinity and humanity, body and soul.  The sacrament is the chief manner by which Jesus Christ abides with us.  While he ascends to the Father, he refuses to abandon us or to leave us orphaned.  He gives us himself as food for the journey.  If one reflects long and hard about it, it is an event that can be likened to the particular and final judgment.  Then too, we will stand before the Lord and if properly disposed will know eternal grace and welcoming.  However, if ill-disposed in mortal sin, then we will stand convicted, knowing only despair and being cast into perdition.  The Eucharist feeds and heals.  The Eucharist, if properly received, transforms us ever more and more into the likeness of God’s Son.  The Eucharist can also bring down judgment when it is received as a terrible sacrilege. 

While we live in this world, repentance is possible.  Earthly pilgrims can know conversion, renewed faith and abide in the hope of ultimate salvation. It is the prospect of a negative judgment before the Eucharist that drives many clergy forward to withhold the sacrament from dreadful public sinners and supporters of wrongs like abortion. Any who would deny the hidden but real presence of the child in the womb is ill-disposed to receive the hidden REAL PRESENCE of Christ in the Eucharist. 

Giving the sacrament to those who would enable the abortion of children would be like directing the murderous soldiers of old Herod to where they might slay the Christ Child.  Any who would receive the Eucharist should be in a state of grace and spiritually prepared.  After death, the posture or orientation we have forged with God becomes permanent. It is lamentable that the healing food or medicine for contrite sinners might also be desecrated as a poison to those ill-disposed to grace, manifesting them as devils without saving love in their hearts.     

WHEN are Shepherds NO LONGER Shepherds?

I did not know whether to laugh or cry when I read an assertion from Bishop Robert McElroy that regarding abortion “pre-eminence” is the language of politics, not of doctrinal teaching. My context for this reflection is the spiritual paternity of clergy. The theme of “fatherhood” is acknowledged through all the levels of holy orders.  The Pope is the Holy Father.  Each priest is called “Father” as an appreciation of his spiritual fatherhood.  The bishop is a father to his priests and the larger flock.  This fatherly role and intimate love must be like that of good St. Joseph who protects the unborn Christ Child.  I cannot understand why any churchman does not see the prominent importance of his charge to safeguard before all else the lives of the unborn and the innocent.  Turning the tables somewhat, this is far more crucial than politicizing the matter so as to stay on the right side of certain elected officials or to avoid upsetting the most partisan among us.      

When it comes to right and wrong, the Church has always distinguished the greater from the lesser, as with mortal and venial sins.  The tension between legal and illegal aliens, between welfare and work programs for the poor, between socialized medicine and competitive health plans— all these are matters of politics and policy; however, the tension between healthy infants and dead children plucked from the womb is about more— it is about a universal moral law and the commandment against murder.

While we can distinguish between formal cooperation (accountable) and material cooperation (we may not be accountable) with evil acts; in practice such delineation is difficult and does little to alleviate one’s conscience and sense of guilt.  We might see this with those involved with gun-making.  While guns can be used for both good and bad purposes, such material cooperation does little to appease regret and sorrow when guns are used against the innocent or in violent crimes.  While the analogy is upsetting and somewhat strained, one critic suggested that voting for a politician who is on the record as a backer for “abortion rights” is like selling a gun to a self-professed terrorist.  It is not a matter of “if” but “when” they will do the damage they are pledged to do. 

The periphery issue of giving Holy Communion to public dissenters and enablers of abortion is whether such an act gives tacit approval to their stance and serves as a commendation of their witness before other believers?

SHOULD we read Hyperbole as a Ranking of Sins?

During this public debate, mention was made of Pope Francis’ GAUDETE ET EXSULTATE and a passage that the American bishops voted not to include in their document: “equally sacred [as the innocent unborn] . . . are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection” (No. 101). I suspect that the worry was that this rhetorical emphasis of the Pope might be wrongly interpreted as a grocery list from which one might pick-and-choose. While one might delineate a hierarchy of sins, the great injustices often include within themselves the lesser ones. There may be many issues such as the death penalty, infanticide, euthanasia, insufficient welfare for the poor, a lack of welcome for immigrants, unjust wages, human trafficking, etc.; but in abortion we find the penalty of death imposed upon the innocent— we find both infanticide and the wrongful compassion of euthanasia— we find bigotry against the poorest of the poor— we find a lack of welcome to a tiny visitor— we find one stripped of rights and value— we find a person reduced to a commodity, etc. 

We should not listen to the voices who oppose the tyrants of the right so that they might impose the tyranny of the left.

Need MORE Be Said about Right Conscience?

Many of us feel that while Vatican II is correct about the inviolability of conscience, the “Decree on Religious Freedom” needs to be fleshed out further in regard to the necessity of obedience to what is promulgated by the Church.  We should remember that even the devil was true to his conscience but that ultimately it led to his eternal exile.  A person might regard abortion as only one issue among many but if God should judge it as “pre-eminent” or most constitutive of the Gospel then to shuffle it away in the deck might signify an orientation away from the kingdom and toward perdition. The issue here is bigger than for whom one might vote. 

A vital question must be asked: how much of ourselves is posited in the decision to support persons and/or policies that undermine the sanctity of life and demean the dignity of persons? Fidelity to an errant conscience will not save lives, build up a virtuous society or necessarily save our souls from corruption.  

Is Killing Children NOT a Pre-eminent Issue?

Advocates for removing the emphasis upon the moral evil of abortion as the “pre-eminent” issue for voters in the USCCB document, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” are likely even more partisan than those who want to keep the current language.  We should not be fooled.  What we are experiencing is a return of the loosely threaded “seamless garment” argument promulgated by the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin and heralded by the disgraced and defrocked Cardinal, Theodore McCarrick. Instead of focusing upon immutable truths, the revisionists would place the gravity on consensus with dissenters to water down social teaching.  At the heart of much of the current debate is the definition of a well-formed conscience.  The article in AMERICA seeks support from Aquinas and Vatican II that conscience is king. However, I believe there is a misreading in both cases. 

While all the bishops would teach that abortion is wrong, there is a presumption on the part of a few that it cannot be made the “make or break” issue. The bishops dictate to priests upon the matter of giving or not giving the Eucharist to pro-abortion politicians and to other public dissenters. This places many of the lower clergy into situations of heartrending pain and soul-searching. They take their pledge of obedience seriously and in many cases are being compelled to violate their own rightly formed conscience to placate those with poorly formed consciences. Photographs and videos of their actions are then published with the inference that they are either bad priests or that a pro-abortion position is inconsequential. What might have been an instructional moment is lost.

Is it presumptuous to regard the emphasis upon abortion as errant? Indeed, given confirmation by tradition and the larger Magisterium, must assent be given to this immutable teaching about this great evil? The article presumes that there can be a shift upon such a major element of the Gospel of Life.  This is impossible.  It would nullify the faith and any argument for the Church’s teaching role over faith and morals.     

Preaching, Maybe; Priests, No!

Marianne Arndt is pictured preaching the Mass at St. Elisabeth Church in Cologne, Germany.  Parish assistant or not, this is a violation of liturgical law.  Indeed, attiring her in an Alb with a scarf-like stole is an effort at dress-up that promotes the clericalization of women even though St. Pope John Paul II has solemnly defined women’s ordination as impossible. I would suggest an immediate and harsh censure upon the pastor and her termination as a staff person at the church.  This is just another signpost of the German church heading off into schism.

We are told that she is one of twelve women who are a part of such orchestrated dissent.  Advertised as “highly symbolic” events, they are in truth an effort to manipulate or force a feminist agenda upon the churches.  The dissent reaches to the very top of the Catholic Women’s Association in Germany with its president, Ulrike Göken-Huismann preaching at St. Maximilian Church in Düsseldorf, Germany.          

Does anyone deny that some women can preach well?  No.  Do we need to do a better job as a Church in sharing or utilizing the faith and gifts of women?  Yes, I would say this is assuredly so.  However, I would contend that such women theologians must think and practice in harmony with Church belief and laws and not with a tension that smacks of rebellion.  I cannot imagine anyone who would oppose the late Mother Teresa speaking at Mass, if such were allowed. However, those most vocal tend to be those who spurn lawful authority and Church tradition.  They will not seek to be given this privilege; rather they would rather take it away from the hands of the Church and her anointed shepherds.

Notice the theological heresy in the article from the Catholic Women’s Association that not all the apostles were men.  These dissenters, women and married, have their sights on holy orders.  It is not about sharing reflections at church. As for St. Junia whom they cite,  a number of scholars contend that the reference to being a woman apostle is a mistranslation and should be rendered as “well known to the apostles.” Notice that the critic has to point to a questionable rendering of a saint in the Orthodox Church that does not itself accept the notion of women priests or bishops. Indeed, later authorities insist that the figure is actually a man.  Dissenters often grasp at dubious straws to make their case against long-standing belief and traditions.           

Göken-Huismann says that she is sure that “Rome cannot oppose” women preaching at Mass.  However, I would contend that while Rome could allow women to speak, she and the other dissenters should be permanently banned from both preaching and teaching in the Church.  She goes on to say that she is convinced that women will one day become priests.  No, not unless Jesus comes through the clouds and gives a new universal revelation, such will never happen.  The churches that have sought to ordain women as priests and bishops have definitively forfeited holy orders and the real presence and activity of Christ in the Eucharist.  Such, as the late St. Pope John Paul II taught, is too terrible a prospect to take seriously.  She speaks of the priesthood as a matter that they have “a right to do.”  No, holy orders is directed toward service but first requires a transformation of identity as “another Christ” and as the “bridegroom to the Church.”  The priest is a man so that he will be a proper icon for Christ.  No one has a right to the priesthood.  It is a gift given to certain men for the good of the Church. The exclusion of women from the priesthood is no more a matter about equal rights than the fact that only men can be biological fathers and only women can be biological mothers.  It is what it is.  Wishing it were otherwise has no bearing whatsoever. Much is made that a majority of people support these protest movements.  That has yet to be proven but the Church and the deposit of faith are not open to democratic renunciation or revision.  Our posture must not be belligerence but rather humility and acceptance.

I am reminded of my early days in seminary. We had a program at weekday liturgies where the students studying for priesthood could offer short reflections at the end of Mass. However, we were admonished by the bishop to cease the effort. We had thought we had gotten around the preaching prohibition by placing the remarks at the end of the liturgy. We were wrong.         

Priests Cannot Bless Sin

The news has been on fire with the fact that certain German Catholic priests plan to bless same-sex couples on May 10 in defiance of the Vatican decree against it. What exactly does it mean for a priest to bless these couples?  The priest in his very person is an icon for Christ and for his saving activity or ministry in the Church.  It is for this reason that he is forbidden to be present as a witness at marriages not condone as licit and valid.  His very presence signifies approbation or authorization.  Priests can bless persons, places or things.  The word “blessing” can mean many things, but always it signifies divine favor and protection.  What is the statement being made?  What is the spiritual effect of such a blessing or is this merely a political statement.  Certainly we want to elevate the dignity of others as persons with value and rights.  However, can a priest truly bless that which is objectively regarded as wrong and sinful?  Would not such an attempted benediction signify a blasphemy and sacrilege?  When general blessings are given, a priest incurs no culpability if some should lack the correct disposition.  However, the person who dissents and wants his or her wrong labeled as virtuous or a right likely incurs judgment for mortal sin.  If a priest deliberately seeks to bless that which is offensive to God then that priest becomes a broken sign and is personally convicted before the Lord.  Is not the prohibition against blessing same-sex unions more than a disciplinary decree but rather reflective of the Church’s fidelity to the commandments and the moral law?  Maybe we should be more concerned about the formation and inner dissent of these priests than anything, no matter how problematical, they threaten to carry out?  The mind of Christ is also that of the Church.  The compassion of Jesus sometimes embraces a tough love.    

The statement from the dissenting German priests cannot be allowed to stand without consequences.  It is a dare to the universal Church: 

“In view of the refusal of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to bless homosexual partnerships, we raise our voices and say: We will continue to accompany people who enter into a binding partnership in the future and bless their relationship.  We do not refuse a blessing ceremony. We do this in our responsibility as pastors, who promise people at important moments in their lives the blessings that God alone gives. We respect and value their love, and we also believe that God’s blessings are on them.”

Perhaps it is due to the heightened eroticism of our times, but I would fault these shepherds for buying into the notion of transitive gender and deviant sexual intimacy as signposts to personal identity and expressive of genuine love.  As I have written before, the Church would have little concern if such people would broaden their identity beyond any disorientation and commit themselves to a celibate brotherly and sisterly love.  No matter what they want or how hard they try, priests cannot in truth extend the benediction of Christ and his Church over sodomy and equivalent sins.      

The statement from these dissenting clergy speaks not simply to errors in their thinking but also to a heresy of the heart.  They write: 

“Theological arguments and knowledge gained are sufficiently exchanged. We do not accept that an exclusive and outdated sexual morality is carried out on the back of people and undermines our work in pastoral care.” 

Their general assumption is that the Scriptures, our appreciation of natural law and Church moral teaching are wrong.  This is an affront to the Holy Father and the Magisterium over faith and morals.  They have made up their minds.  They buy into the notion that modernity is better attuned to the truth than ancient teachings from faith.  They make themselves the slaves to fashion and fad and cease being sentinels of Christ and signs of contradiction to an unbelieving world.  It is no wonder they have so few conversions to faith because the world has converted them.  No, we are not morally better today.  Indeed, there is a satanic veil that covers the consciences of many so that the truth about the sanctity of life and the dignity of persons cannot be easily discerned.  They wrongly argue that human nature has evolved or changed so that answers from the past are now outmoded and needlessly burdensome.  They are saying that the Church has been wrong for 2,000 years and now they are an enlightened few that can dictate to the rest of the Church.  Note the use of the word “exclusive,” meaning that they reject any form of universal truth or morality— collapsing entirely to a capricious moral code and relativity.

What the organizer Klaus Nelissen says is utter nonsense.  He states, that since Monday is traditionally a day off for priests, “No bishop can tell them not to do it, since they are doing it on their own time.” He speaks about the priesthood as one might a 9 to 5 job.  The vocation of priesthood never lets a man off— he is a priest 24 hours a day, every day— it is who he is.  He has vowed obedience to his bishop and the Holy See.  If Nelissen is a priest, I would urge censure and immediate evaluation of his fitness for priestly ministry. 

The Vatican is clear.  Pope Francis has tried to reconcile with the gay community but about the blessing of same-sex unions, he is adamant:  the Catholic Church cannot bless same-sex unions because God “does not and cannot bless sin.” Such unions even if recognized by the state cannot be blessed by the Church. The Vatican statement asserted, “For this reason, it is not licit to impart a blessing on relationships, or partnerships, even stable, that involve sexual activity outside of marriage, as is the case of the unions between persons of the same sex.”

Where Does the Christian Find Home?

I can understand why, with each change in administration, many Americans become anxious and concerned.  While we place our trust in God, it is easy to worry and to feel apprehension.  God blesses his people.  However, as with Israel of old, when the people forget God, they often find themselves facing threats and enemies without divine blessing or protection. 

It is true that we are pilgrims or strangers in this world— we are people on a journey.  However, while our true home is heaven, I would take exception with those who would contend that nothing significant of our home can be found in this world.  Yes, as believers we look to Christ as our king and he tells Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world.  Otherwise, his followers would be coming to his defense.  But not long after that dark day leading to his passion and death, our resurrected Lord fully establishes his holy Church.  The mystery of the incarnation would remind us that the kingdom of God breaks into the world, first through the person of Christ and then through the Church he institutes and showers with his Holy Spirit.  A Catholic praying in a church or participating at Mass is truly home, no matter where in the world he might be.  Indeed, something of this “home” is shared by the “little church” of the family where we first learn our faith, our prayers and our values.  It is for this reason that the bishops stand up to defend the nature of marriage and the family along with the meaning of children as persons with rights (even in the womb).  While we are counted individually as citizens, it is the family that sanctifies and gives meaning to the American experiment.  We seek to be a country where basic human rights are safeguarded and where all might be free.  However, this liberty should never be derailed or corrupted as license or made absolute and exclusionary.  We are a people in community and as Americans believe that God has blessed us as a nation, not just for ourselves, but as a beacon of light for all other nations.  Patriots love their country.  This is a virtue. While nationalism would dismiss social evils and tolerate or enable sin, “my country right or wrong,” true patriotism would seek to maintain the core values of our God-given rights and values, “supporting our nation when she is right and correcting her when she is wrong.”  As with Berlin’s national hymn, we should never be ashamed to sing, “God bless America, my home sweet home. God bless America, my home sweet home.”

Ultimately, the old saying that “home is just where one hangs his hat” is untrue; rather, HOME is where one finds his HEART. We welcome the real but invisible presence of Christ in his sacrament and in our families, particular in the eyes of a beloved spouse and children. We pass on the faith to our little ones. We also hope to pass to them a country and world better than when we first entered ourselves.

Our First Parents & Biblical Longevity

QUESTION:

My question is quick but I am assuming not simple. In Genesis they mention a lot of people who were born after Adam. Some of these people live 600 plus years. My question is this, was time measured differently back then? I am trying to rationalize how those numbers came to be.

RESPONSE:

How are we to interpret the many years of life attributed to the patriarchs of Genesis?  This question must be discussed in context with the story of creation.  It so challenges credulity, that there are authorities who would reject the inquiry as silly.  Giving preference to evolution over the Genesis narratives, they would argue the entire business is fiction and contend that the numbers only serve symbolic purposes and certainly cannot be real.  We take confidence in God’s sustaining creative power and that we would need a time machine to go back and see for sure about the longevity.  The Church does teach that because of the primordial fall, death enters the world.  This means either that Adam and Eve were initially immortal or that death as we know it did not exist, no more than opening a door and moving from one room to the next where they would continue to see and to live with God forever.  Certain fundamentalists contend that the human lifespan grew shorter after the fall, especially following the deluge that destroyed the known world.  

We must be careful in our approach to such questions, neither to allow our belief in the supernatural to unreservedly color our assumptions or the current atheism to infect and poison confidence that ours is the God of the miraculous. Truth must be upheld and one form of truth complements another:  scientific, religious and philosophical.  Today, many of us are persuaded given the fossil evidence and DNA markers, that God brought forth humanity from lower pre-existing forms of life.  When a proper body was prepared, God infused an immortal soul and we had the first man.  A maxim popular in Catholic circles comes to mind:  “The Bible teaches us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.”  While the Scriptures contain myth and even Genesis has two distinct creation narratives, there are important truths that must not be lost.  God creates everything freely from nothing. 

The creation of the first man and woman signified a decisive moment when self-reflective creatures with souls were called forth to respond in kind to the God who has made them in his own image.  As the stewards of creation they could rightly love God back. God held out to them preternatural gifts left unclaimed and some of the Church fathers believed that the incarnation was imminent where the Lord would join himself to creation.  However, our first parents rebelled against God. 

I often ponder that decisive moment that we call the fall. I can imagine Adam with his wife Eve by his side staring at the sunrise of what should be a new day. Suddenly they have a “eureka moment” and are filled with awe from a divine presence and clear sense of their high calling— seeing with the eyes of the soul something beyond this world.  All they have to do is say YES, just as Mary did at her Annunciation and Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane. But it all seems too much to bear.  The devil directs them to turn away— a distraction that breaks the vision. As with the cli·ché, they “cannot see the forest for the trees” or at least for one forbidden tree. They might ponder the gifts of food, drink, pleasure and comfort— but wrongly claim the gifts while neglecting the giver.  It is easier to play the part of the beast.  Eyes that once gazed upward now turn to the ground.  Arms and hands raised in priestly praise to heaven now fall to the earth.  They and their descendants will trod as animals and totter when they seek to stand as men.  Any prospect for the incarnation passes to the future and to a promise made to rebellious children.  God tells them, “You have forgotten me but I have not forgotten you, and I promise, one day I will come searching for you so to bring you home.” Yes, God will enter the human family, not just to unite us to himself but to save us from ourselves and from the devil.        

Did Adam live to be 930 years old?  Did Methuselah live to be 969?  I cannot say.  It is unlikely.  However, God can do as he pleases.  I have an aunt who passed away at 124.  Unless I show the newspaper clippings from when she turned 117, most refuse to believe me and think I am pulling their leg.  It must be admitted that the Semitic people liked playing with numbers and had an elaborate numerology. Even the letters of their alphabet had numeral values.

Whatever the actual ages, the ancient peoples lived long enough to have children and to pass on their stories and their faith.  God would call a people and prepare them for a Messiah who would mend the rift between heaven and earth.  Our Lord Jesus would only live thirty some odd years in this world and his ministry would last a mere three years.  However, in that short time he would accomplish his mission— redeeming us from the devil, raising the dignity of human nature by his participation, and bringing healing and the forgiveness of sins by grace.  After his resurrection, Jesus descends to the dead and drags Adam and Eve by the hair into heaven. 

Sex: Sin or God’s Gift?

COMMENT:

I grew up in a small strict Protestant church. I was taught that sex was a sin— period; and if you did it you were going to hell— period. Our Lady told us that most people go to hell for sins of the flesh. So there you have it. The only other sin of the flesh that I can think of is gluttony. It could be forgiven if you were doing it to have children but you still had to repent. Every time they talked about the unforgivable sin, I knew what they were talking about.

RESPONSE:

You were taught wrong. It is true that there are a few sects that label all sex as sinful; this mentality afflicted Martin Luther who at one point argued that even consensual sex between married spouses was venial sin. Catholics struggled with something of this mentality in the heresy of Jansenism. Let me correct you. God is the author of human sexuality and all that God creates is good. Human sin can corrupt or misdirect a good, but God is never the direct author of evil. Sex between spouses, the marital act, is a holy thing that consummates the marriage and makes possible the creation of new human beings into which God infuses immortal souls. Lust is always a sin but the yearning and intimacy of holy passion makes possible marital fidelity and the family. It is because of the high place given this sacramental act or great mystery that the misuse of sex through abuse, contraception, homosexuality, pedophilia and adultery is so very wrong.

Sex is not the unforgivable sin. Indeed, condemnation of the marital act as sinful might be regarded as blasphemy against the Holy Spirit— just as serious as those who accused Jesus of healing and working miracles through the intervention of demons. It is this blasphemy that is unforgivable for one cannot both embrace and reject the powerful mercy of God. Of course, while there is mortal life, there is hope; at death our state before the Lord becomes fixed.