• Our Blogger

    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.

  • Archives

  • Categories

  • Recent Posts

  • Recent Comments

    Amanda on Ask a Priest
    Robert on Ask a Priest
    Olivia on Ask a Priest
    anon on Ask a Priest
    E. Penniman on Ask a Priest
  • Advertisements

Seeds of Life, Not Recreation

154394781759216217 (4)

Despite the naysayers, authoritative Catholic teaching is not capricious.  The first assault is usually volleyed against the Church’s negative view of masturbation or onanism.  Often citing modern psychology, the critics will contend that it is a natural juvenile stage of human sexual development which is pretty much universally first experienced by all teens.  The critics condemn the Church’s prohibition as wrongfully inflicting guilt upon young people and a negative self-interpretation precisely at a time that teens are grappling with maturation and their sexual identity.  There may be some truth to this charge if such a teaching makes no room for human weakness, ignorance and compassion.  The concern of the faith is that this behavior is misdirected and highly addictive.  We should not encourage or deem as neutral a form of behavior which easily tends toward self-absorption.  It may be likely that this is a sin with which most will struggle; but this fact in itself does not legitimize such activity.  While sexual sins, even masturbation, may be a matter of mortal sin; it may be that there are so many intervening subjective elements that it most often tends to be venial, especially among young people.  What may drive it fully into serious sin is that which is envisioned in the imagination and/or assisted by the evil of pornography.  Virtually adultery or adultery in the heart can poison the soul.  Masturbation may be, as men and women get older, a preoccupation with that which they cannot or do not have.  A crucial element of satisfaction is missing from their lives.  Catholicism is not a fascination with fantasy but with that which is most real.  The sexual powers of men and women are directed to the marital act and to the family.  Human bodies were not fashioned as playthings or as toys for recreation.

One critic of Catholic teaching lamented that masturbation is not even allowed so as to obtain a semen specimen for medical examination.  However, even the smallest deviation is an infidelity to one’s spouse.  Regarding such cases, the married man usually has intercourse with his wife while wearing a perforated condom.  The act is still open to the generation of human life but semen will be collected for medical examination.  (The single man will have to embrace something of the Cross, either that or a sin that would be readily forgiven in the confessional.  Single Catholic men sometimes have semen extracted either by prostatic manipulation or by a syringe with needle.)

The linkage of masturbation to the story of Onan is deeper than merely the physical wasting of the seed.  It signifies a denial of God’s will and the overall purpose of human generative faculties.  This is where Scriptural teaching intersects our views on the natural law.  While almost everyone today can admit to an overriding disgust at the scandalous stories of youth being abused by clergy and others; far fewer are willing to acknowledge that people can “pollute” their own persons or “abuse” themselves.

After a few words on Christian chastity, the universal catechism addresses the issue of masturbation.

[CCC 2352] By masturbation is to be understood the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure. “Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action” (CDF, Persona humana 9).  “The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose.” For here sexual pleasure is sought outside of “the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved” (CDF, Persona humana 9).

Lest anyone should think that Catholic teaching is cold and heartless, the same article in the universal catechism goes on to state:

To form an equitable judgment about the subjects’ moral responsibility and to guide pastoral action, one must take into account the affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety or other psychological or social factors that lessen, if not even reduce to a minimum, moral culpability.

Advertisements

A Milieu Rife with the Seeds for Scandal

154394781759216217

It amazes me that some of the loudest and most outraged voices against the scandalous allegations against priests are, themselves, dissenters from Catholic morality.  Indeed, they may ridicule as ridiculous or erroneous what has been long-standing moral teaching from both Scripture and Tradition.  They presume that as modern men and women, they have a special enlightenment that those in the past, and certainly churchmen, did not possess on human sexuality. Of course, what they are actually attacking is the protective role of the Holy Spirit in the life and teachings of the Catholic faith.

They cite as proof the fact that most contemporary men and women have walked away from the regular practice of the faith.  They look upon Church practices and doctrine as antiquated, especially in areas of sexual morality.  Unfortunately, what is left unexamined is the heightened preoccupation of modernity with matters of gender and sexual expression.  Ours is an eroticized environment, immediately hostile to orthodox Catholic values, especially about the human person, the body and sexual expression.

Pope Francis on Homosexuality & Consecrated Life or Priesthood

0002044The Pope’s Own Words:

The issue of homosexuality is a very serious issue that must be adequately discerned from the beginning with the candidates, if that is the case. We have to be exacting. In our societies it even seems that homosexuality is fashionable and that mentality, in some way, also influences the life of the Church. This is something I am concerned about, because perhaps at one time it did not receive much attention.

We have to take great care during formation in the human and affective maturity. We have to seriously discern, and listen to the voice of experience that the Church also has. When care is not taken in discerning all of this, problems increase. As I said before, it can happen that at the time perhaps they didn’t exhibit that tendency, but later on it comes out. The issue of homosexuality is a very serious issue that must be adequately discerned from the beginning with the candidates, if that is the case.

I had a somewhat scandalized bishop here who told me that he had found out that in his diocese, a very large diocese, there were several homosexual priests and that he had to deal with all that, intervening, above all, in the formation process, to form a different group of clergy. It’s a reality we can’t deny. There is no lack of cases in the consecrated life either. A religious told me that, on a canonical visit to one of the provinces in his congregation, he was surprised. He saw that there were good young students and even some already professed religious who were gay. The religious wondered if it were an issue and asked me if there was something wrong with that. Francis said he was told by one religious superior that the issue was not “that serious, it’s just an expression of an affection.” That’s a mistake. It’s not just an expression of an affection. In consecrated and priestly life, there’s no room for that kind of affection. Therefore, the Church recommends that people with that kind of ingrained tendency should not be accepted into the ministry or consecrated life. The ministry or the consecrated life is not his place.

We have to urge homosexual priests, and men and women religious, to live celibacy with integrity, and above all, that they be impeccably responsible, trying to never scandalize either their communities or the faithful holy people of God by living a double life. It’s better for them to leave the ministry or the consecrated life rather than to live a double life. When there are candidates with neurosis, marked imbalances, difficult to channel not even with therapeutic help, they shouldn’t be accepted to either the priesthood or the religious life. They should be helped to take another direction, but they should not be abandoned. They should be guided, but they should not be admitted. Let us always bear in mind that they are persons who are going to live in the service of the Church, of the Christian community, of the people of God. Let’s not forget that perspective. We have to care for them so they are psychologically and affectively healthy.

Statements are taken from an interview with Pope Francis conducted by Fr. Fernando Prado, director of Claretian Publishing House.

Doctor Who Has Become Preachy & Boring

dw

The trouble started a while back, especially in episodes that aggressively promoted homosexuality and atheism. Subtlety disappeared and it stopped being a children’s show. The trouble escalated with Peter Capaldi. His version of Doctor Who was too dark. In one episode a child dies in the ice and he seems not to care. Now we have a Doctor Who with a feminine side, and she seems to care too much. Why can’t the BBC get it right? Episodes that stereotype Americans or which offer backseat criticism of past British imperialism are not going to win viewers. We get too much of politics already. A recent episode even mentions President Trump. Please, is there no sanctuary from this crazy messed up world?

Bradley John Walsh is the only thing working out for the new incarnation of Doctor Who. One has to be careful in saying this because he is the singular middle-aged white male in the cast. Jodie Whittaker is a bust, although she is a good actress. The problem is that the program is no longer really Doctor Who. Indeed, the episodes are so PC and preachy that it has become utterly annoying to those who detest either direct or subliminal manipulation. The writing is terrible. One episode is often worse than the one before it. Viewers want science fiction action and escapism; what they are getting instead is a liberal take on moral issues— like same gender marriages and men having babies. One critic has joked, how many minorities or ethnicities can we squeeze into the Tardis? The one episode that was impressive (Rosa Parks) harked back to the historical shows of the first Doctor, David Hartnell. However, it was also notable for the Doctor Who character stepping back as the hero. Rather than within the context of a fantasy show, might the story about American racism had better been told on its own without the science fiction elements?

Offer criticism and instead of listening to fans, the fans are being attacked. When all is said and done, the episodes are boring and hard to watch. As a fan of Doctor Who from the 1960s I did something the other day that I had never done before when watching Doctor Who— I changed the channel.

DOCTOR WHO RATINGS PLUNGE

A Priest’s Reflection During a Time of Crisis

154250010567750063 (1)

When I was a boy pondering a vocation some forty years ago, I was intrigued by a pamphlet from the Divine Word Missionaries.  It chronicled a lonely priest with his mule carrying his Mass and medical supplies as he journeyed to a remote mountain outpost.  It detailed a religious version of “Indiana Jones,” years before the movie, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.  It grabbed my romantic imagination.  However, my poor mother grieved my leaving home and I settled on becoming an archdiocesan priest.  I do not regret the change in direction, especially now when “everything hurts” but sometimes I do wonder how different my life might have been.

I am amazed these days that we still have young men answering a call.  We have given them few heroes and one scandal after another.  It must surely be the movement of supernatural grace.

As I reflect upon my priesthood, I struggle with what has always been a dark shadow in my ministry.  I have never felt myself worthy.  No matter whether it were true or not, I always considered myself the worst of priests, a poor and weak example among a throng of virtuous saints in the faith.  We have preachers who can readily inspire and move hearts.  We have celebrants who both look the part and conduct the sacraments with great solemnity and seeming ease.  We have men who have apparently brushed aside distractions and are always about prayer and service.  When I look to myself, I see a man who forgets far more than he remembers.  My sermons are mediocre at best and my liturgical abilities come across as clumsy and amateurish.  I do not have much in the way of ambition and my attention easily strays.  I often talk to God not with typical or expected piety but much as one might irreverently talk to a friend sharing a beer.  Indeed, I recall telling God, “All I want to be is a humble priest” and hearing him in my heart respond, “Well you certainly have much about which to be humble.” I often imagine Mary cloaking me with her veil and telling me that she loves me even though I am the least of her sons.

I certainly recognize that sin in the life of any Christian represents a terrible duplicity where we are convicted as hypocrites.  What surprises me is how some of the clergy could have committed sins that literally cry out to heaven.  Self-destruction is truly awful; but hurting and tearing down others compounds the sin in a way that shatters the sacramental signification of the man in holy orders.  It places men into the mold of antichrists.  The current scandal has damaged the ability of bishops to govern the Church and of priests to proclaim the doctrinal and moral teachings which are constitutive of the Gospel.  Any hold we have upon God’s people is purely through their free consent.  There is no Medieval dictatorial religious state that can demand or force one to remain a Catholic or Christian.  Forfeit favor and good will— and churchmen will find themselves abandoned— with empty coffers and pews.  The direst effect may be the loss of souls.  When did we forget that our most pressing obligation is to realize the forgiveness of sins and the salvation of souls?

The Church is not a company where businessmen might do anything or everything to preserve revenue.  The Church is not a priestly boy’s club where members protect their leadership to the detriment of their flocks.  Our preoccupation should not gravitate to the powerful and the rich, but as in the ministry of Jesus to echo the universal call to salvation, albeit with a preferential option for the poor.  Clergy must also place the teachings of the faith ahead of their own pet ideas.  We are summoned to convert the world to Christ, not to compromise the kerygma of faith to the demands of subjective truth and a hostile secular modernity.  Indeed, our clergy and people alike must allow the courage of Christ to take precedence over their own passivity and fearfulness.  Much of the trouble we are facing is a crisis of holiness and belief.  Why would any churchman allow a known child-rapist an opportunity to bring harm to youth and families?  Why would we allow men who have disordered and perverse desires to minister and to threaten our people?  Fornication is a sin.  Adultery is a sin.  Homosexual acts constitute sin.  Perhaps many of the clergy have become soft upon such mortal sins because they too are perpetrators of such transgressions of the moral law?  There is no denying that there are also thieves, drunkards and gluttons among us.  But the sexual sins are the ones that most draw the ire of God’s people.  Indeed, I suspect the Lord, himself, is most troubled by these sins because they are a direct violation of a priest’s profound promise toward obedience and celibacy.  We are pledged to celibate love.  Do all our priests fully appreciate the meaning of their celibacy or do they simply experience it as a difficult discipline to endure?  It is not merely the avoidance of genital relations.  It is not the same as virginity and chastity.  Christian celibacy is a manner of self-donation and sacrificial loving.  It is the priest’s way of saying he belongs entirely to the Lord.  This love is expressed in worship, prayer, fidelity and service.  It is factored into everything he is about; it is the manner through which the good priest repeatedly says, to the Lord and to his people, “I love you.”  The priest prays his breviary— I love you.  The priest celebrates Mass— I love you.  The priest helps in outreach to the poor— I love you.  The priest preaches and teaches— I love you.  The good priest is consumed within his pledge of celibate love.  It is within this obedient and giving celibacy that the priest finds holiness in Christ.  The current scandals are not the fault of celibacy.  The answer would not be a married clergy.  The solution would be in loving fidelity to the priestly mission and to the truth.  The priest or bishop is not the master of the faith community, but its most profound servant.

Admittedly there are intimate and delicate matters difficult to speak about; so much so that they are often left outside of public deliberations.  Priests are men and they live in a world where the custody of the eyes is very difficult.  Priests need to earnestly defend their celibacy, taking threats seriously. Too many men and women probably excuse the habit of masturbation as part of a false contemporary enlightenment.  It should always be voiced in Confession; indeed, those elements that feed the sin need purification from the lives of God’s people, particularly from those called as priests.  Chief among the sinful contributing factors is the danger of pornography which is easily accessed and has taken upon itself epidemic proportions in modern society. It has even infected marriages where couples commit virtual adultery and then substitute sexual shenanigans other than the prescribed marital act. Pleasure is substituted for true fidelity and companionship with each other in Christ.  It is among the devil’s deceits that such secret sins do no real harm or necessarily contribute to a person’s movement into adulthood. While many contemporary psychologists would disagree, in truth, the man (or woman) in bondage to pornography and masturbation suffer a stunted emotional and spiritual maturation; they are caught within a juvenile self-absorption that inhibits an integrated sexual identity as a person able to fully realize his (or her) capacity to interact with others in love and service.

Turning toward the Lord, the priest must renounce the seductions of the world.  The priest’s hands are made for the chalice and host.  His hands render blessing and absolution.  The priest’s eyes should look at every person as a child of God.  He must never forget his spiritual fatherhood— even toward those who have ruined themselves by lust and exploitation.  The priest’s body is not made for pleasure but for sacerdotal sacrifice.  His association with Christ draws him inevitably toward the passion and crucifixion.

Many priests feel increasing estranged from those they serve.  This does not help matters.  He has sacrificed much to be a priest and it often seems that many if not most people really do not care.  Increasingly, while there is little praise, there is no shortage of rebuke or even mockery.  That is why efforts like those by the Knights of Columbus espousing solidarity with bishops and priests are so very important.  The laity should not be uncritical; they have a right to good and holy priests.  It is in this vein that God’s people should never hesitate to pray for their priests.  We must not allow the scandals and accompanying anger to destroy this important component to the inner life of the Church.  The priest does not pray alone.  According to our station in life, we pray for each other.  We should reject the false demarcations of the People of God as either an institutional Church or the Church in the pews.  The Church is one— she is a family, even if sometimes sinful in her members and dysfunctional in her practical relationships.

154250010567750063The definition of a priest is one who renders sacrifice to his deity.   The Catholic priest makes his oblation as the principal worship of the Lord.  He makes it both for himself and for others. Christ is the great high priest.  Those ordained share in his priesthood where Jesus is both priest and victim.  The priest at the altar is one with Christ (the head of the Church) who dies so that we might live.  He atones for sin and heals the rift between heaven and earth.  Jesus offers his own blood and dies once and for all.  The mystery of his oblation is made present in our liturgy, albeit in a clean or unbloody manner.  The only thing missing from Christ’s historical sacrifice is our participation. The Mass allows us to return to that one-time offering where we (grafted to Christ) can offer ourselves to the heavenly Father as an acceptable oblation.

Just as the gifts of bread and wine are transformed into the risen body and blood of Christ; so too, are we beseeching the Lord to change us ever more and more into the likeness of God’s Son.

The efficacy of the sacraments is assured even if the priest is in mortal sin and a terrible reprobate.   However, this does not mean that the sacraments are still all that they should be.  The movement of grace is damaged by poor witness.  People disillusioned by their ministers can close their hearts and minds to God.  They may even walk away from the sacraments entirely.  The priest stands convicted at the altar of sacrifice.  As with the communicants, we must be properly disposed to what the sacraments entail.  That is why many of us are concerned about inviting everyone to the altar so as to receive the Eucharist.  The sacrament that heals and saves can also bring condemnation to those in mortal sin.

What does it mean to receive the bread of life if one is an active enabler of the culture of death?  Too many feign Catholicity within the church doors and then once outside become the chief advocates in the public forum for the death of unwanted unborn children.

What does it mean to partake from the nuptial banquet table of Christ and his bride the Church when one is living in violation of his or her own marriage vows?  Christ rejects divorce and demands that marriage between men and women reflect fidelity within the Church.  Are we witnesses to his promise or do we substitute our broken promises instead?

Currently there is also a great debate about the status of active homosexuals in the Church.  Nevertheless, priests, bishops and even popes do not stand above Sacred Scripture but rather below as servants of the Word.  What does the Word say?  We read in Paul’s epistle to Timothy:

“We know that the law is good, provided that one uses it as law, with the understanding that law is meant not for a righteous person but for the lawless and unruly, the godless and sinful, the unholy and profane, those who kill their fathers or mothers, murderers, the unchaste, sodomites, kidnapers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is opposed to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted” (1 Timothy 1:8-11).

Along with the concern that many of us have about welcoming pro-abortionists, adulterers and active homosexuals to take Holy Communion; the priest must also focus upon his own status before almighty God.  Is the one offering the sacrament of salvation to others bringing down judgment upon himself by celebrating the Mass unworthily? How is it that we can become comfortable with the prospect of priests standing at our altars while in mortal sin or not truly believing?

Christians in the early days of the faith were warned not to take part in the food offerings from pagan sacrifices.  Unlike the sacrifices of the Jewish temple or that of the Eucharist, these oblations to false gods were deemed as poisoned food given to demons.  It was customary in such sacrifices that a third was burned and given to the so-called deity, a third went to the priests (even the pagan ones) and a third was given to the poor.  Believers were warned against taking this tainted food.

While the Eucharist, by comparison, is all holy since Christ is holy, the liturgy can be polluted or corrupted by priests in mortal sin or who are closet atheists or who fail to give due  diligence about what they celebrate.   It does not matter so much as to what language or anaphora (eucharistic prayer) is used as long as the priest is one with the Church and faithful in the rubrics of the celebration.  He must be attentive to what he is doing and that care begins with himself.  The ordained priest should feel humbled by his role.  His priesthood compliments and makes possible the operation of the laity’s baptismal priesthood.  A basic symbolism of Catholic sacraments, centered upon the paschal mystery, is that we must die with Christ if we hope to live with him.  The priest’s celibate love is subsumed into this profound mystery.  When the priest processes to the altar, he should be fully aware and prepared for both Christ’s sacrifice and his own— he is Jesus Christ entering Jerusalem— he is coming to the altar to die.

Reflecting Upon the Abuse Crisis

154164358031183741 (7)The clergy abuse issue just never seems to let up.  Today there was a headline in THE WASHINGTON POST, Three Teens Allege Abuse by Catholic Priest in D.C.” A Capuchin parochial vicar from Sacred Heart Church was charged with a single count of second degree sexual abuse and brought to the D.C. Superior Court in shackles.

The dark tragedy of clerical abuse of minors conflicts with a core element of the Church’s identity.  The mission of every priest is to be a spiritual father— teaching, nurturing and healing his flock.  The center of the priestly vocation is his role as a vehicle for the forgiveness of sins.  Any priest who would harm or corrupt others stands in stark violation of his sacred calling and the mission of the Church.  When the scandals first emerged, many disbelieved the allegations and assumed that none of it could be true.  Today, that mentality can no longer be substantiated.  While individual cases may or may not be credible, the issue is real and some priests have failed us and violated the trust we had in them.  Excuses cannot be made.

Given the type of violation we are discussing, it must be admitted that efforts at healing will fall short.  How does one restore trust when it is violated so egregiously?  Clergy abuse of minors signifies a profound attack against innocence that leaves a lasting wound.  That is why people come forward decades after such assaults.  Lives are changed forever.  Many of those assaulted abandon the faith.  Others are hampered in their later relationships and suffer from trust issues.

The comeback that “we are all sinners” does little to soften the blow about such infidelity.  Yes, it is true that the history of the faith is one where corruption and sin has infected both leaders and followers.  But, we argue as well that the true legacy of the faith is written with the lives of the saints.  We have not always been successful at the discernment of spirits.  We struggle to distinguish those who really walk in holiness and those who only put on a show.  The Church is holy because Christ is holy and the Church is his mystical body.  This is the case, even though the Church is composed of sinners.

The apparent but largely unreported fact that abuse is even more pervasive outside the Church does nothing to ease our disappointment and shame about misbehaving clergy.  The Church should be above such violations of decency.  We rightly expect a lot of our priests.  Celibacy which should be the shining treasure of Catholic ministry is subjected to ill-repute and questioned as either the cause or situation that enabled wrong doing.  Apologists argue that the celibacy is not the problem but rather the solution— if priests will follow through with their promises.  What we need are shepherds and laity courageous enough to embrace the hard truths that confront us and to fully cooperate with God’s grace in the sacraments toward the cleansing of our ministries.  This will necessitate a full acquisition of the truth; in other words, a realization that the problem is not largely one of pedophilia but of sexually disordered and frustrated men who are mostly but not entirely homosexual.  The proof of the pudding is the number of pederasts who have also broken their promises with adults and older teens.  Of course, if such men kept their promises this discussion and need for purification would be largely mute.  However, promises have been broken and in ways that demonstrate a lack of commitment to faith, holiness and prayer.  They loved God too little and sought satisfaction where it was forbidden to them.

What most of us once regarded as rare and aberrational has proven to be more serious than we imagined and devastating for thousands of children and their families.  Compounding the problem, many wrongly targeted the victims and witnesses that came forward for resulting scandal instead of disciplining rogue clergy and removing them from ministry.  We must continue corrective efforts.  We must perfect policies to protect our youth while insuring a process that safeguards innocent clergy from charges that are not credible.  My worry today is that there is an intense malice that clouds the subject, one that focuses upon any and all clergy, regardless of the truth.  Mercy toward the guilty will not bring restoration to ministry or escape from censures and punishment.  Justice toward the innocent must protect the rights and sacerdotal dignity of priests who may be falsely charged or condemned by association.

Reflecting upon how we might personally respond to the scandals facing the Church, here is a good list:

  1. Stay put and do not abandon the Barque of Peter— remember the words of Peter, where would we go?
  2. Keep faith in Christ and in the Catholic Church— do not stop believing.
  3. Remain faithful to the Mass and the discipline of prayer— offer our own fidelity in reparation for the unfaithful.
  4. Acknowledge our own faults and seek mercy in absolution— while not all sin cries out to heaven, we are all sinners needing forgiveness.
  5. Open your mind about the issues facing us and grow in the faith— as believers we must always know and proclaim the truth.
  6. Continue to live for others in acts of Christian charity— such is an antidote to the selfishness that has manufactured this situation.
  7. Avoid hate and calumny, exhibiting a heartfelt sacrificial love and mercy— if we are to face the devil then we must put on Christ.
  8. Clean your house of that which conflicts with our Gospel witness— we should have no part in the hypocrisy that makes this matter worse.
  9. Seek the purification of the Church from any satanic enemies within— the poison in the mix must be expelled, even if it means the end of individual ministries.
  10. Fight for justice and healing toward the oppressed, wounded and innocent— the dignity of persons must always be safeguarded.

 

[152] Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 4, 2018

Deuteronomy 6:2-6 / Psalm 18 / Hebrews 7:23-28 / Mark 12:28b-34

154164358031183741 (5)

Moses exhorts that honor and obedience to God brings forth the blessings of long life and prosperity upon his people.  Indeed, if they expect the LORD to keep his promises for a land of their own then they must reciprocate with their own fidelity.  This illustrates a profound message about justice— God rewards faithfulness, punishes disobedience and protects his own who love him.  This appreciation is the glue that preserves the identity of the Jews as God’s chosen people, from the time that they were a family and tribe through their transition as a nation and then a religion.  Indeed, it may be argued that such an appreciation is the seed, first for the ordering of the Jewish community and later for the emergence of Christianity and a Judeo-Christian civilization.  Such a community, ordered around both divine truth and justice, is now in the wane as it is increasingly replaced by a secular culture that makes man and not God the measure of all things.  The Church today is ever more an isolated sign of contradiction in this modern world.  As such, power, money and politics manipulate the larger community even as its pawns endlessly belabor about invented rights and fraudulent freedoms.  It must be said that a general chaos reigns (everyone doing their own thing) and the error of subjective truth (disorientation around a false foundation) wrongly countermands what is objectively true.

The responsorial carries forward the theme of our dependence upon God.  Note that the psalmist calls the LORD his rock.  Many of the ancient pagan believers literally were idolaters.  While their statues over time came to represent false deities, initially the idols of metal or stone or wood were worshipped in themselves.  Certain anthropologists argue that next to the worship of celestial elements like the sun and moon, many early people actually worshipped rocks.  These rocks were eventually carved into various shapes.  Any visitor to the Holy Land will know that it is a place littered with rocks.  That is why stoning became a routine manner of enacting capital punishment.  The rocks took on an importance because they could be used in defense, hunting and building.  They were particularly effective in fighting, either against other people or in killing animals for food.  Indeed, heavy rocks were also used in crushing grain in the process of making life-giving bread.  Contrasted to the idolaters, the Hebrew people were called to follow an invisible God.  While he was the Creator, he could not be identified with his creation.  God’s people strenuously fought against the use of idols but it may be that they borrowed something of the language of their pagan neighbors.  Calling the LORD their rock, they were asserting that he was both their firm foundation and that he had sufficient power to protect his own.

Illustrated in both our first reading and the Gospel, the backbone to all the commandments is their relationship with the living God.  This is why idolatry was regarded as the vilest sin:  “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.”  While we appreciate our saving faith in Jesus as the Son of God, this command retains its binding force for Jews and Christians, alike.  All sin or rebellion signifies a turning away from this truth— placing either persons or things before our allegiance to God.  Adherence to this command changes everything.  A failure to embrace this truth corrupts discipleship as a matter of external show or exhibition.  It is this love of God that should fuel all human charity.  It is the unseen element by which all souls will be judged.  St. Paul as the Pharisee-turned-Christian knew this truth well.  He wrote the Corinthians: “If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).  The fidelity of men is not like the actions of pre-programmed ants.  God wants our hearts.  He wants us to prize him as our treasure before all else.  He is a jealous God and does not want to share us— it is all or nothing!

Jesus adds as a corollary of the great commandment toward the Lord one that includes the neighbor:  “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The scribe that comes to him affirms the answer and Jesus tells him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” If we were to imagine this love as water in a cup it would be brimming over.  It cannot be contained.  That is why such a love of God must spill upon our brothers and sisters.

The courts order the removal of the Decalogue from the walls of courtrooms and from display on public grounds. (There was one notable exception when authorities said they would permit an edited listing that subtracted the commandments about God.)  The problem is, take God out of the equation and the commandments become mere suggestions.  We have faced similar problems in the public schools.  Efforts to teach virtues in public schools have collapsed because who is to say what is wrong if there is no divine command?  What are the consequences?  We can no longer even agree about questions of gender.  Despite obvious disordered elements, sexual orientation and behavior has become a free-for-all.  Children can celebrate the Wiccan and occult elements of Halloween but only the Easter Bunny and a sanitized Santa have survived the purging of Christ’s birth and resurrection.  Mother’s and Father’s Day has been removed from calendars or transformed so as not to offend those with no acknowledged male or female parents.  Instead of telling children to wait until marriage for sexual intimacy, school nurses pass out condoms and in some cases schedule abortions for the children under their care.  Nevertheless, they still cannot give those same children an aspirin for a headache.  Tired of teaching children to behave, many children are drugged for purported attention disorders (which they may or may not have).  When children are challenged for bad behavior their answers are quick and to the point.  “Who are you to tell me what to do?”

Note the first half of the traditional Act of Contrition:  “O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins, because of Thy just punishments, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love.”  The essential message from Moses to Christ was love; however, if love should be found wanting, then at least the fear of punishment would make possible contrition and help to insure proper behavior.  At a minimum, the fear of punishment (the loss of heaven and the fires of hell) protects the good from evil men and upholds a moral society.  However, today it could rightly be said that many people neither love God nor fear punishment.  It should not surprise us that this attitude has arisen at the same time as when atheism is claimed by a quarter of the U.S. population.  Worse than this, many who are believers live as if there were no God.  Separated from God, we do not know how to be good.

154164358031183741 (6)

As an aside to this homily theme, the second reading speaks about the priesthood of Christ.  Here we can also say something about the love of God and the fidelity we should show him.  While the priests of old could only serve until their deaths, Christ’s priesthood is eternal.  Indeed, his priestly service can save all who approach him for mediation.  While the Jewish priests daily offered a sacrifice that could not fully appease the dishonor of God caused by sin, the oblation of Jesus on Calvary makes true satisfaction and has lasting value.  Men ordained to the priesthood in the Church share in his one priesthood.  The Mass is a real and unbloody re-presentation of Calvary behind the sacred signs of bread and wine.  While ordained clergy stand at our altars, it is Jesus who celebrates every Mass.  Jesus is our high priest and our divine and innocent victim.  While our priests may offer the Mass daily, it is only because they live and minister in time.  The underlying truth is that every Mass participates in the onetime sacrifice of Jesus.  Jesus realizes the full meaning of the commandment of love.  Given his identity, he joins within himself the power of divine love with the fidelity that we are commanded to grant to the Father.  Jesus spreads his arms on the Cross as the offering of a love beyond measure.

  • Can you truly say that the priorities of your life illustrate fidelity to the two-fold commandment of love?
  • Can you really say that you love God while you hate your neighbor?
  • What competes with our intimacy and loyalty to the Lord?
  • What motivates our prayers and acts of charity?
  • Can people really love the Lord as they should if they fail to pray and to worship with the believing community of the Church?
  • Is it well appreciated that the priest is Christ and that the Mass is Calvary?
  • Can we really be good without God?
  • Are we moved more out of fear or love of God?