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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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Denial of Revealed Truth

When we speak about pervasive sins against the Holy Spirit that infect modern society, at the top of the list is a resistance to the truths of both revelation (divine positive law) and creation (natural law).  While this rejection can include doctrinal truths about God, frequently the subject matter is in the area of morality.  It is for this reason that I have sometimes thought we need a council to revise the Creed, not to deny any truths already defined, but to add to the section on the Trinity, Christ and the Church a series of clarifications on what constitutes the human being, the sanctity of life and proper behavior.   

While we as Catholics need to assent to the dogmatic truths promulgated by the Holy Father and the Magisterium (those bishops who teach in union with the Pope), such is not absolute.  The private opinions and many pragmatic decisions of the Pope would not necessarily incur the charism of infallibility.  However, given his position, we should give a general religious assent or respect to whatever the Pope teaches in his ordinary Magisterium.  Solemn definitions as with the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception of Mary are regarded as certain.  Pope Benedict XVI has made clear that his predecessor Pope John Paul II’s declaration on a male-only priesthood is also infallible.  Most things the Church teaches that compel assent are found in the Creed and catechism, as long as the Church herself regards the matters settled.  While we give them religious respect or assent, there are few items in flux like the extent of just war theory or the constantly edited teaching against the death penalty.  Sometimes the Church, herself, may grapple with the words to express something she believes. 

We posit the Bible with teaching all necessary salvation truths.  Christian doctrine is formed against the background of Sacred Tradition and the living witness of the faith in history.  While we have a healthy appreciation for mystery, we do believe that faith consists of object truths that we can come to rationally know and appreciate.  Unlike some of the Protestant churches, we do not subscribe to any faith versus reason mentality.  Rather, we hold to the notion of a reasoned faith and the complementarity of truth (in science, theology and philosophy).  Ours is not the God of chaos but of order.       

If a person after adequate religious formation still refuses to believe dogmatic truths then they can fall into heresy— especially if they are teaching falsehoods to others.  Catholics need to trust both the guiding role of the Holy Spirit in the Church and God’s inspiration over Scripture.  Some critics may fall so far that they deny the existence of God entirely through the sin of apostasy.  The conundrum today is how well do Catholics actually know their faith and did they fully cooperate with the catechesis originally given them.  I often regret that adults go through their lives with a grade-school appreciation of their holy religion.  Modern Catholics are notorious for allowing dust to build up on their bibles and for sporadic church attendance.  Formed more by a materialistic and secular society, should we be surprised by their defection and adoption of false views about God and the moral life?

Many Catholics pick-and-choose what they want to believe, and given the scandals, few give any significant respect to the learning and status of their priests.  Certain priests bear responsibility for this, either due to their poor witness or questionable preaching.  The issues are so numerous that they would defy any effort at an exhaustive list.  When it comes to the dogmatic questions, there is a poor appreciation of the Trinity, misconceptions about the incarnation of Christ as God and man, a frightful dismissal of the Holy Spirit in piety, ridicule of the necessity of the Church and her reduction to a purely human institution, the denial of Mary’s virginity, misconceptions about the afterlife and the heresy of universal salvation, etc.  When it comes to moral questions, every commandment is under assault.  Catholics rationalize away the genuine meaning of marriage as a holy sacrament— celebrating instead (without shame) the sins of fornication, adultery, homosexuality, artificial contraception and abortion.  A political and legally enforced gender dysphoria undermines the Church’s basic Christian anthropology— despite biblical mandates and the clear boundaries of natural law.  The saving value of baptism and the need for the sacraments is impugned by so-called believers who do not bring either themselves or their children to the Church and Christ. 

Dissenters now outnumber faithful believers.  No matter how ignorant a person might be, many place their personal understanding over that of the Church that is guided in the truth by the Holy Spirit. This is tragic and is a problem that will not be fixed overnight.  What can we do?

Here are some ideas to pursue:

1. Encourage the faithful remnant to practice their faith and insure that there is sound religious education.

2. Encourage the faithful to pray at home and that there is no witness from parents contrary to our faith and morals.

3. Encourage couples to pursue chaste courtship over the current dating practices that encourage promiscuity.

4. Remind believers about the danger of calumny in regard to what they say about the clergy and the Holy Father.

5. Offer religious festivals, novenas and other parish activities that will firm up the connection to local churches.

6. Offer Catholic Bible Study and Book Study Groups, share informative faith videos and promote other efforts at adult religious formation.

7. Offer Teen and Young Adult Programs as an antidote or challenge to society’s formational efforts.  

8. Offer Sunday homilies that truly inspire and feed souls.

9. Make available suitable times for the sacrament of penance.

10. Make every parish into a “Catholic Information Center” with bibles, catechisms and other books and pamphlets.

11. While being compassionate and welcoming to those who come to worship with us, encourage dialogue and reconciliation with those disturbed or estranged by irregular unions, sexual orientation and gender identity.

12.  Encourage parishioners to become more involved with efforts for racial and ethnic justice, care for the poor, and to promote the sanctity of life.  

Despair of Salvation

I have already briefly mentioned Despair of Salvation within a reflection about the sin of Presumption.  Both sins are serious assaults against truth.  Just as we must acknowledge our dependence as creatures upon God; we should not question his power to save his children, even those most burdened by weakness and sin.  Jesus gives us a direct command against this sin. He tells us, “Be not afraid!”  If presumption signifies a misdirection of love then despair is a symptom of inadequate love.  There was a popular cliché from a few years ago that bears remembering, “God doesn’t make junk!”  We are broken or wounded as a consequence of sin but what God creates is good.  We have to see ourselves as God sees us. 

If God could send his only Son to suffer the indignity of the Cross out of love for us, then who are we to spurn his sacrifice as impotent to save us?  We are loved and prized by God.  The Lord would have us return this love and embrace the solidarity we have with Christ in carrying our crosses.  The truth uttered in every baptism that permeates the Christian life is that if we die with Christ then we will live with him.

The sin of despair often leaves people despondent and possibly even suicidal. While it often engages the emotions, it is deeper than feelings— it poisons the will.  Often it is brought on by past disobedience and unforgiven sin.  It hampers faith because a necessary pre-requisite is repentance.  Sorrow for sin is rooted in love of God and a desire to share the happiness of heaven.  Imperfect contrition becomes short-circuited if the person feels there is no way to escape the pains of hell and the loss of heaven.  The person hates himself.  It could also happen that others enable such a mentality.  When a person is belittled, the one who is targeted for the ridicule might become convinced that he is no good.  The sin of cursing or damning someone fuels such a sin. 

Note that in the ministry of Jesus he usually forgave sins, even when people came to him for physical healing.  Our posture as believers is to help bring God’s mercy to others.  As long as there is breath in our bodies and we are alive there remains HOPE.  However, if one should blaspheme the Holy Spirit and then depart this mortal world, then our state becomes fixed.  There is no hope for the denizens of hell.  All they have is despair and loss.  Coincidentally, there is no hope for the saints of heaven either; all their hopes have been realized with the beatific vision.  Indeed, even the souls of purgatory have the joyful certainty of their trajectory toward heaven after their final purification. 

Returning to the matter of the curse, we should also avoid any presumption that this or that particular person is in hell.  We pray for the poor souls and leave judgment to God.  It would be a terrible sin to hate someone so much that we damned him only to find that we brought judgment upon ourselves by condemning one of God’s saints.  The verdict is still out for each of us in this world but we should take confidence in the promises of Christ.  We are not an orphaned or abandoned people.  We are loved.  God has given us everything we need to be saved. We should keep faith in Christ and live in a manner that pleases God.  If we walk with the Lord then we have no cause for fear. 

Presumption of Salvation

A chief sin against the Holy Spirit is the Presumption of Salvation. This may be one of the most prevalent contemporary sins in that many seem quick to canonize the dead. How often have we heard the expression that he or she “is in a better place” or that the person is no longer in pain? While we can hope, how can we absolutely know this?

(If there is a bookend sin to Presumption and the laxity it promotes then it is the Despair of Salvation. I am not sure we see as much of it today, except for maybe those who suffer from being overly scrupulous about their behavior and sins. Such a person believes that he or she is beyond redemption and cannot be forgiven. If the former exaggerates value, this sort of person devalues it. The presumptuous person makes a mockery of divine justice; the person who despairs impugns divine mercy. Neither one makes room to trust in God’s power and will. The sin of suicide is often discussed under the topic of such despair, but today many kill themselves not because they despair of salvation but rather for more immediate and terrestrial reasons, i.e. because they feel unloved or to escape physical pain. Often they claim an atheism which denies an afterlife entirely, viewing existence and awareness as a mean cosmic joke.)

While there was once a stigma attached to suicide, the presumption today is not that a person has committed the unforgiveable sin (since repentance is impossible), but rather that the person’s guilt must be mitigated by distress or by mental illness. In truth, we cannot absolutely presume either way, but it seems the possibility of a negative judgment is taken off the table except maybe for the most despised of reprobates.

There is an ongoing argument as to whether or not certain Protestant sects fall into the error of presumption because of their teaching about “Blessed Assurance.” It is claimed that once a person has made a faith profession in Jesus Christ as their “personal Lord and Savior” that he or she is henceforth irrevocably saved. If a person falls into egregious sin then it is posited in retrospect that the profession was counterfeit. Catholicism would argue instead that a good faith can sour. That is why we have the sacrament of penance.

Others go further and there is a presumption of a generic salvation that embraces us and everyone about whom we care. This comes along with a failure to pray for the poor souls in purgatory and an outright denial of hell. While such optimism is vocalized by many theologians, it is traditionally regarded as the terrible sin of universalism. It teaches that everyone or most everyone (Judas might be keeping the devil company, along with Hitler and Stalin) but that everyone else will be saved. Along with this mentality comes a gross sentimentality— “a good God would never damn a person to eternal fire and to exclusion from paradise.” This view makes the divine mercy superfluous and utterly destroys the reckoning of divine justice. Further, it reduces the redemptive sacrifice of Christ to something unnecessary as everyone would be saved anyway. Nonsense! We cannot save ourselves and we cannot wish ourselves to be saved. The most we can say is that there is a universal call to salvation. That call must be answered. This response that respects human freedom also finds its place within the mysterious providence and election of almighty God. Saving faith in Christ is made real by loving obedience. The Paraclete or Holy Spirit makes possible a saving faith. If it were not for the movement of the Holy Spirit within us then we could not say that “Jesus is Lord” or even pray. The gift of eternal life comes from the mediation of Jesus Christ and from nowhere else. Given that the Church is his mystical body, we can speak of salvation as in Christ and in his Church, alone. That is the doctrine of the faith from the earliest days.

While we walk in this world a saving faith can sour and we can forfeit sanctifying grace through mortal sin. It is for this reason that we are called upon by Christ to be constant in the faith and to keep our lamps burning as his sentinels. NOW is always the appointed time and we must be ever-alert for the coming particular judgment. We are realists and must admit that evil is real and that it has consumed some of our brothers and sisters. Indeed, we must not deceive ourselves about the presence of evil in us and our own personal struggles. Consciences can readily be blinded or corrupted by the flesh, the world and the devil. We must be disposed to the working of grace in our lives. We must cooperate with the Spirit of God in living out our faith in a real manner. God sees all things and merely going through the motions with avail us nothing.

We must also not underestimate the missionary mandate of the Church to which we are each commissioned in our baptism. A faith that is not shared is a faith that dies. None who are ashamed of Christ or who rebuke his saving name should expect a place with the holy ones of God. There are too many people who never pray and who give little thought to the poor; and yet, they imagine they deserve a place in heaven. Compounding their error, they do not even have a proper view as to what constitutes heaven. It is not the materialistic Islamic view where all their lusts and passions will be satisfied. Neither is it simply a fantasy abode where angels lazily sit on fluffy clouds and play harps. Heaven is literally to enter into the triune mystery that is God. The saints know happiness and satisfaction in seeing (the beatific vision) and being in the presence of God whom they love above all things. Those who have no relationship with God or even hate him would reject heaven on their own accord. I suspect that when the veil is lifted we shall find that judgment is not so much imposed by God as it is something that is willingly embraced by the creature.

Judgment will present us with a truth that none can deny— not just about God but about our own identity— who we are and what we most desire. Saints will fly to the Lord. The damned will race from his sight. While in this world, presumption of salvation is possible; however, in the next world there can be no such delusion.

The sin of presumption displaces fidelity to providence for the masquerade that comes by trusting first in the human will. Additionally, it causes us to waste the short time that we have as a people called to repent and to believe. Only God is perfect and good. If human “goodness” does not reflect this as in a prism then it is a lie. Indeed, the core or heart of this malignancy in the soul is the arch-sin of pride. While a person in mortal sin cannot find merit in his works; we must remember that the true value for a holy disciple is in the likeness to Christ— only that which the Lord does or works through us merits reward. Finally, the virtue that must displace the sin of presumption is always hope— if we walk with the Lord then we can live in the sure and certain HOPE of our salvation in Christ.

The Spiritual Fatherhood of Priests

Why is it that Catholics call their priests by the title “Father” and the Pope is called the “Holy Father” when we are told to call no man our father?

What is being cited is Matthew 23:8-12: “As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’ You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers. Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. Do not be called ‘Master’; you have but one master, the Messiah. The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” The language that Jesus uses is a form known as Hebraic hyperbole, stressing matters to absurdity for exclamatory purposes to make a point. It is not dissimilar from when he says that if your eye causes you to sin then pluck it out or if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.  Jesus does not mean for us literally to maim ourselves.  Note also that the apostle Paul refers to himself as a father to those whom he has brought the new dispensation.  Further, I am always perplexed as to why critics of the Catholic practice see no problem with calling earthly biological and adopted fathers by this title of endearment.  Jesus says at the same time not to call any man (master) teacher and yet we also do that all the time.  The point that Jesus is trying to make is that there is no true fatherhood that does not on some level reflect our Father in heaven.  Ultimately, there is no authority that can compete with God.  There is no authentic teacher that can propose truths in conflict with what God reveals to us.  Further, no human fatherhood can displace the caring role of God and his love for all of us as his children.  The priest is called Father because his vocation involves a spiritual paternity.  He watches over and cares for those entrusted to him. Scripture makes it abundantly clear that any notion of an absolute prohibition of the title “father” is absurd.      

Matthew 15:4-6“For God said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘Whoever curses father or mother shall die.’ But you say, ‘Whoever says to father or mother, “Any support you might have had from me is dedicated to God,” need not honor his father.’ You have nullified the word of God for the sake of your tradition.”

Matthew 19:5 “‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?’”

Matthew 19:19 – “… honor your father and your mother’; and ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Matthew 21:31“Which of the two did his father’s will?”

John 8:56“Abraham your father rejoiced to see my day; he saw it and was glad.”

Luke 16:24, 30“And he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me.’ …He said, ‘Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’”

Acts 7:2“And he replied, ‘My brothers and fathers, listen ….’”

Romans 4:11-12“Thus he was to be the father of all the uncircumcised who believe, so that to them also righteousness might be credited, as well as the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised, but also follow the path of faith that our father Abraham walked while still uncircumcised.”

Romans 9:10“And not only that, but also when Rebecca had conceived children by one husband, our father Isaac— ….”

1 Corinthians 4:14-16“I am writing you this not to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children. Even if you should have countless guides to Christ, yet you do not have many fathers, for I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”

James 2:21“Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar?”

The Pope & Christ

If Jesus is the Lord then why do Catholics follow the Pope?

There is no conflict as the Pope is the successor of Peter, made by Jesus as the ROCK or head of his Church.  The Pope does not displace Christ but stands for him as his vicar on earth.  Jesus is the invisible head of the Church and the Pope is the visible head.  The Pope, sometimes called the Holy Father, but not to be confused with God our heavenly Father, is not the master of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition but rather is their divinely protected servant and interpreter. It is true that Peter denies Christ three times but he is forgiven and with three affirmations of love is told by the risen Christ to care for his flock.

The pattern of the New Testament is retained in the life of the Church.  While the Pope usually speaks from his ordinary magisterial authority, he is also empowered by God to make special infallible statements.  This preservation from error serves the mission of Christ who said that he came to proclaim the truth.  Public revelation ends with the death of the last apostle, but the Church under the Pope transmits these truths and reflects upon them in time. The doctrine of infallibility is frequently misunderstood.  It does not mean all his practical decisions are guaranteed correct or that every personal idea or assumption is correct.  The notion of infallibility might seem incredible but most Christians, Catholic and Protestant, also believe that the Sacred Scriptures are inspired by God and are preserved from error in terms of necessary saving truths.  This can be misunderstood as well, as when people wrongly try to use the Bible as a science text.  The inspiration or infallibility of the Bible comes from God, even though the human authors were sinful and weak men. The Holy Spirit inspires the Bible (indeed the whole process in its formation), the bishops who gather in council and the papacy.  Note the unity of the Catholic Church in the universal truths that it teaches century after century.  By comparison there is a vast fragmentation in the non-Catholic or Protestant churches, as well as a wide divergence in what they believe.         

Matthew 16:18-19 – “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. l I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

John 14:15-18 – “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.”

John 21:15-17 – “When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ He then said to him a second time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, ‘Do you love me?’ and he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.’”

Catholics & the Bible

How can Catholics say they are Christians if they do not believe in and follow the Bible?

The Catholic Church is the mother of the Bible.  The bishops of the Church gathered at the synod or council of Hippo in 393 AD and compiled what is the current canon of books for the Bible.  We believe that the Holy Spirit inspires the Scriptures and protects the Church in teaching revealed truths.  All necessary saving truth can be found in the Bible, although not everything may be explicit. While we do not deny the value of God’s Word, most Protestants reject the value of Sacred Tradition and the necessary “authoritative” role of the Church.

Until the invention of the printing press, most believers did not have access to a Bible and even if they did many were illiterate.  That is why the stained-glass windows of churches often detailed important stories from biblical salvation history.  Bibles were originally made by hand and the production of one might take a scribe several years.  Some churches chained these Bibles to pulpits, not to keep God’s Word away from the people but to insure that no one stole the Scriptures regularly proclaimed at Mass.  Disagreements among believers (regarding truth and heresy) were not resolved by the Bible but by an agreed consensus of bishops in council.  This is a pattern we see from the earliest days.

Acts 15:1-29 – The Council of Jerusalem

The magisterium (the Pope and bishops in union with him) constitutes the essential interpreter of the Sacred Scriptures and the Sacred Tradition.  We believe that the Holy Spirit preserves the Church in the truths of Christ.     

1 Corinthians 11:2 – “I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold fast to the traditions, just as I handed them on to you.”

2 Thessalonians 2:15 – “Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours.”

2 Thessalonians 3:6 – “We instruct you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to shun any brother who conducts himself in a disorderly way and not according to the tradition they received from us.”

2 Timothy 1:13-14 – “Take as your norm the sound words that you heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard this rich trust with the help of the holy Spirit that dwells within us.”

2 Timothy 2:2 – “And what you heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will have the ability to teach others as well.”

Misdirection in the Synodal Way

The Synodal Way is ushering demands from around the world for changes that would radically change the face of the Church, particularly in its ministries and basic values.  These issues include its attitude to women, LGBTI+ people, divorced and remarried, and single parents, most often mothers. Given scandals and charges of clericalism, there is also a growing outcry for the removal of compulsory priestly celibacy. Indeed, citing the issue of widespread abuse by clergy, critics are arguing that only changes along these lines can bring healing to those who have suffered at the hands of individual priests and the institution as a whole. Further, given the changing sensibilities of society, respondents say they want a dialogue that will legitimately consider both new forms of leadership and more effective or real inclusion.  It is asserted that this demands representation on both sides of the equation, among those in authority and to those who are the object of ministry. 

I do not believe this is entirely true. Rather, I think the issues of scandalous abuse and a lack of transparency are being hijacked to propel a liberal or revisionist agenda about ministry. However, echoing the Pope, the voices from the listening process genuinely urge a greater welcoming and inclusion in outreach, especially to those who feel neglected or rejected by the Church.  

Many among the critics are wondering whether such opinions will truly be aired at the October Synod of Bishops in 2023. The difficulty with such demands is that neither the Pope nor the bishops have the authority to change immutable doctrine revealed to us in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.  Chief among the structural changes of leadership being demanded is the ordination of women to the priesthood.  Pope John Paul II has declared such as impossible. This definition has been confirmed by Pope Benedict XVI as an infallible statement.  We are locked into the pattern given us by Christ and the apostolic church.  While mandatory celibacy could change as a discipline, there are important doctrinal implications and many of us would argue that any such change would be detrimental to Catholic ministry. 

While many of us are sensitive to matters of inclusion, the question remains as to how far we can go in welcoming the LGBTI+ community and the divorced and remarried.  When the catechism speaks about homosexuality as disorientation, the LGBTI+ community gets angry.  When we speak about “loving the sinner but hating the sin,” the LGBTI+ community again gets angry.  When we urge celibate and chaste lifestyles for the LGBTI+ community, they became furious and accuse the Church of bigotry.  The Church’s refusal to bless same-sex unions has also brought allegations of prejudice and hate.  What is the Church to do?  The situation has gone way beyond churchmen turning a blind eye to what was commonly regarded as confused sexual identification and “deviant” activity. The LGBTI+ community today is demanding full regularization and acceptance. While once themselves the subject of intolerance, they are now just as demanding that Christians change their moral thinking about the subject of homosexual sin.  The issue of gender identity or dysphoria has further complicated this matter.  The whole issue of what constitutes maleness or femaleness has been called into question.  Legal or political legislation often rubberstamps what natural law would regard as intellectual fallacy.  The fads of modernity are given precedence over objective reality and biblical imperatives. 

Similarly, there is a clamoring for the divorced and remarried to be fully regularized despite the prohibition from Christ’s lips against divorce and adultery.  The Church has made the annulment process free and has a heightened awareness of the grounds that might invalidate a nuptial union.  But in truth, if one is truly married in the eyes of God, then no ecclesial process or pastoral accommodation will make any difference— sex outside of marriage (fornication) is wrong no matter whether it is according to nature as in heterosexual adultery or in contradiction as in homosexual acts.  The ministers of our faith can act with compassion toward these people but it would be a false love to excuse without comment what is essentially the matter of mortal sin.  The whole point of the Gospel is not to make people feel good but to save their souls.

Much is being made of the fact that the Synodal Way is opening the Church to the “sensus fidelium” of the laity.  However, this is not entirely true as many of the critics are estranged from the faith, not formed by either the Bible or the Catechism, rarely if ever worship at Mass and speak more for the world than the Church in their dissent.  It should be a “no brainer” that the laity who possess the true charism called the “sense of the faithful” are the ones who are faithful. This is not necessarily measured by any kind of majority rule or democratic vote.  Many may be baptized but are not well catechized and are Catholics in name only.  The faithful who can speak the truth to the universal Church are moved by the Holy Spirit to both holiness of life and to the truth.  They stand in agreement with “orthodox” bishops on matters of faith and morals.  They are the Catholics who challenge modernity and urge faithfulness in worship and discipleship.  As in the Arian crisis, they would even stand witness against bishops and priests that would corrupt the faith.   

When it comes to single parents, there is a genuine crisis brewing. No one would criticize the woman who is faithful to life and her child despite abandonment or the death of a spouse. But increasingly, children are being born outside of wedlock. What was once regarded as a scandalous problem is today thought of as a legitimate lifestyle decision.  Women use men to get pregnant or they engage in reproductive technologies to have children without any identifiable male parent.  Once conceived, the Church would always urge the protection of life; however, the issue remains problematical.  The ideal family includes a mother and a father.  Fathers are not a dispensable component in this equation.  A single person might adopt a child but couples should be preferred.  The Holy Father has been critical of priests who are hesitant to baptize children in such situations. I would concur with Pope Francis that a child should not suffer for a parent’s sin. Neither should we seek to embarrass the people who come to us. But I could understand why some priests only baptize children at Mass who have two married parents. Their practice is that others should be baptized outside of Mass so as not to cause scandal or to give approbation to bad behavior and to illegitimacy.     

[117] Homily for 19th Sunday of the Year

[117] Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wis 18:6-9 / Ps 33:1, 12, 18-19, 20-22 / Heb 11:1-2, 8-19 / Lk 12:32-48

The author in Wisdom is speaking to God and is listing the various manifestations of his power against idolaters and in their liberation from Egypt.  Here he speaks about “the night of the passover,” where the firstborn of the Egyptians were slain and the Israelites were spared. It is within the context of salvation history that they find courage and await their salvation with assurance.  This militancy is a common thread in the Old Testament. Their faith finds affirmation with “the destruction of their foes” and the “punish[ment] of their adversaries.” There is a sense of vindication for their fidelity and secret oblations during their time of bondage.  Note the reciprocal action: when adversaries are punished, they experience not just vindication but glorification. I suppose one might say that God’s glory spreads to them as his people. The responsorial continues this thread about the LORD blessing his own. Again, this divine protection is not measured as trivial. It is always regarded as a matter of life and death. God protects them and seeks “To deliver them from death and preserve them in spite of famine.”

The apostle gives us that beautiful line, “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” Then he recounts examples of those who have come before. Abraham places sufficient trust in God that he is willing to leave his own so as to form a new people.  Despite his age, he believes the promise of divine providence that he will have an heir and that he will father a great kingdom. The promise of the patriarchs and prophets is only realized in Christ. Like Abraham, we are wanderers or strangers in this world, pilgrims seeking a promised land. Our true home is the kingdom of Christ. Put to the test, Abraham in faith was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac.  God stayed his hand but the heavenly Father did not spare his Son in allowing him to suffer the indignity of the Cross.  If Abraham supposed that God could raise the dead, this miraculous intervention is realized in Jesus Christ.

The alleluia verse is the great summons to all believers as sentinels for Christ: “Stay awake and be ready! For you do not know on what day your Lord will come.” This is our posture as we await the fulfilment of Christ’s promise and the full realization of his kingdom.  This kingdom breaks into the world first through the person of Christ and now through his flock, the holy Church.

What does the Gospel reading teach us in terms of our posture and activity as sentinels?

  1. Do not be afraid.  We must witness with courage and conviction.
  2. Embrace an evangelical poverty. We must not allow possessions to possess us. Our true treasure is the Lord.  We must embrace God’s inscrutable providence and trust the Lord. We must be a people who share God’s love or charity for others.
  3. Gird your loins and light your lamps! We must be prepared to encounter Christ in the light of truth.  The banquet of the just will begin but so will judgment.  Those who will enter will be found worthy of the Lamb that was slain.
  4. Our Lord comes like a thief in the night.  Those unprepared or whose lamps have gone out will find themselves outside.  There will be a reckoning between the sheep and the goats. We must always be about the Lord’s business. 

Those who would be part-time Christians might be loved and deemed good by the world but ours is a jealous God.  He will not share us.  Our hearts must belong to him.  Think about it, what is a part-time Christian really?  Such a person is also a part-time devil!  What God refuses to claim becomes Satan’s property! The parable refers to believers, including ministers of the Church. While the master is away the steward beats the servants under him, makes a glutton of himself (no doubt depriving the poor of food), and finds his satisfaction in the bottle. Our Lord says he will be punished severely and given a place with the unfaithful.  What is that place?  It is hell.

The parable also speaks of lesser punishments for those who are still faithful but suffer from human weaknesses.  I suspect this is where purgatory comes into the parable.  God’s justice demands hell but his mercy makes possible purgation and healing for a few. But we as Catholics have to be careful about purgatory.  Judgment is not like finals in high school.  You can’t just try for a “C” when the Lord wants you to get an “A.”  I suspect that many if not most of those who spiritually and mortally settle will miss the mark entirely.  What you do and your obedience is important, do not get me wrong, but more important is “who you are” as those who claim to be believers.  Do you aim high in being the saint that the Lord wants you to be? Do you have sanctifying grace? Have you sought holiness?  Are you sorry for your sins?  Do you trust the Lord and thus surrender yourself to his will?  Too many have become comfortable with living in a state of perpetual mortal sin.  A saving faith in Jesus Christ must be made real by a sacrificial life of constant fidelity and charity.   

Give Them Some Food Yourselves!

My deacon did a good job preaching last weekend on the Feast of Corpus Christi. It was certainly a busy weekend given that it was also the Juneteenth holyday and the commemoration of Father’s Day. A week earlier someone shared a critical comment about my lamentation regarding the impoverished numbers at Mass in this post-COVID world.  Yes, I am happy about those who come but I wish more of us were passionate about the Eucharist and willing to do what we can against the overriding indifference from our own about the liturgy.  Friends and family members are spiritually starving themselves! 

As a pastor I often hear complaints about the message when what we really need are more messengers.  For the most part, I can only reach those who come to me.  Further, the Holy Father, who never shies away from making criticism,  suggests that homilies should be no longer than ten minutes.  No, I must disagree.  Sound bites might make good commercials.  But our people need full meals of both the Word and the Eucharist.  Notice that in the Gospel reading (Luke 9:11b-17) our Lord spends the whole day speaking to the crowds.  Indeed, he has spoken so long that the day is drawing to a close and there is a concern about how those who have listened and received him into their hearts might find supper in such a deserted place. The subsequent miracle that follows will both prefigure the Eucharist and testify to the nourishment of Christ’s teaching and presence. There is an acknowledgment of a hunger among the people, not just for physical food but also spiritual food— a share from the banquet table of the kingdom.

We read: “As the day was drawing to a close, the Twelve approached him and said, “Dismiss the crowd so that they can go to the surrounding villages and farms and find lodging and provisions; for we are in a deserted place here.”

Too many today have become addicted to a food that does not satisfy.  The world would feed us junk or sawdust while Jesus desires to feed us with the bread that is his very self— a food that gives strength and life. Given the modern voyeurism, some are more willing to watch others dine in the Lord’s presence than to come themselves to the banquet of the Mass. Sold a bill of goods about spiritual communion that only applies in times of desperation, now that the church doors are open, there is a wholesale violation of the Sabbath and the precept of the Church about Sunday worship.  Excuses are made by the healthy and mobile that cannot camouflage mortal sin and a vast horde suffering anorexia of faith. What God permits for the shut-in sick and elderly is forbidden to everyone else.  The failure to approach the altar table at this time is a grievous sin and we must find both our courage and a renewed faith.  Many are starving and do not know it.  Perhaps worse, many are starving and a great number do not care.

Church laws are reactivated and we are called to rise up in Easter joy for a tremendous revival.  God is not dead and neither is his Church.  As Catholics, our temple is not the computer screen or tablet but an altar and tabernacle that hold the Eucharistic Lord.  The laws of the Church are reactivated and we pray that those who were afraid will never again compromise their ultimate loyalty.  The aberration of prostration to men and the state has subsided. What many of us surrendered for a time out of charity cannot be dismissed out of fear or convenience.  Lord, have mercy. The precept of the Church about Mass attendance has been restored.  Christ, have mercy. The dinner bell is ringing.  It is time to come home. Lord, have mercy.

During the pandemic we were also quick to send people away.  Maybe we were too quick?  Maybe the situation was ill-explained? Now we are begging them to come back. We are thankful to the doctors, nurses and emergency personnel who put their lives on the line for us.  We are appreciative for the vaccines and researchers who struggled to make a positive difference.  But when it is all said and done, we cannot place a greater confidence in medicine than in grace. 

Jesus tells his apostles, “Give them some food yourselves.” They did not see themselves having enough for so many.  But throughout, Jesus would have us trust him and NOT be afraid.  Jesus has given us the Word and Eucharist. He is the true food and medicine.  We need to trust Jesus. There will always be more than enough.  Jesus extends or multiplies himself to feed the crowds.  We must be true sentinels of faith to our Church and to the world. The command of Jesus is now given to his bishops and priests.  We are called to feed our people.

Ours is not the proclamation of bad news but the GOOD NEWS that Jesus comes to feed, heal and save us.  Ours is not a message of despair but of hope.  Come back to the pews and sit down.  Listen . . . taste and see . . . be fed, be changed— be made brand new. 

What does Jesus do in the Gospel?

“Then taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing over them, broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. They all ate and were satisfied. And when the leftover fragments were picked up, they filled twelve wicker baskets.”

Notice the language that parallels our Eucharist— Jesus “takes the bread,” “looks up to heaven,” “blesses” them, “breaks the loaves,” and “gives” it to the crowd.  The parish is our family home and we are beckoned to the family dinner table.  Why do I feel so heavily the loss of members around the altar table?  It is because I am the “father” appointed to this family.  I do not want my children to go hungry.  Both the clergy and their congregations need to appreciate this need, this obligation and to help spread the summons and bring the flock home. Like our Lord and the food we receive, we must be a people blessed, broken and given.

Synchronicity & the Lepers

The Cleansing of Ten Lepers (Luke 17:11-19)

We find a peculiar spiritual synchronicity between God’s revelation and our worship and discipleship. Take for instance the story of the ten lepers.

The history of salvation begins not with our search for God but rather with a God who comes in search of us.  Similarly, our worship begins with a procession.  It is always our Lord entering Jerusalem. Hailed by hosannas and palm branches, he comes to lay down his life for us— he dies that we might live.  The priest approaches the altar and cross. 

We read: “As he [Jesus] continued his journey to Jerusalem, he traveled through Samaria and Galilee.”

We wander as pilgrims in this world.  This is not our true home.  We have been fashioned for a New Jerusalem, heaven. Our Lord encounters us along the Way. We come to church and encounter Christ.

We read: “As he was entering a village, ten lepers met him. They stood at a distance from him and raised their voice, saying, ‘Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!’”

Similarly at Mass, we come together as a community, not just as individuals.  We are wounded and want to be healed.  The lepers cry out for mercy.  We do the same in the penitential rite: “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.”  

We read: “And when he saw them, he said, ‘Go show yourselves to the priests.’”

As with Mass, we hear Scripture and here our Lord cites Leviticus 14 that required lepers to be washed and examined by priests before being declared clean and returning to their communities.

We read: “As they were going they were cleansed.”

The Eucharist is the great sacrament of the paschal mystery.  We are fed and transformed into what we receive. We are remade ever more and more into the likeness of Christ. Grace builds upon grace for those washed clean in baptism.

We read: “And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.”

We come back to the Lord again and again. This is true with our attendance at Mass and in the sacrament of penance.  We fall to our knees and cry out, “Bless me Father, for I have sinned.” At Mass we give “thanksgiving” to God, a word that means “Eucharist.”    

We read: “He was a Samaritan. Jesus said in reply, ‘Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?’”

Why would a Samaritan go to a Jewish priest? Disposed to grace, instead, he goes to the great high priest, Jesus Christ.  The ancient promise given first to the Jews will now be given to the whole world so long as there is a saving faith in Jesus Christ.  The covenant of Christ would make enemies into friends and strangers into family.

We read: “Then he said to him, ‘Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.’”

As with the end of Mass, having had a saving encounter with the Lord, we are sent on mission— to proclaim the Good News and to share what we have received.  We are all lepers called to Christ for healing!