Commentary by Fr. Jerry Pokorsky

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Showing 60 articles by this author.

Dialogue with an Atheist

A famous atheist, British professor Richard Dawkins, holds that atheists are generally smarter than Christians. Atheists might be more humble than Christians, too. Dawkins, the world’s most famous atheist, supported a bus ad campaign with the relatively humble slogan, “There’s...

Courage at the Cross

We all have secret dreads. Soldiers may be brave in battle but dread the sight of a doctor’s syringe or a black snake in the basement. Courage is an elusive virtue and not particularly reliable. Depending on circumstances, we may be heroic in courage or cowering in fear. Let’s...

Self-serving Sorrow

Mothers spend a lot of time teaching their babies the meaning of "hot." “The stove is hot, don’t touch!” Soon the baby is running around pointing at items, announcing to the world that they’re "hot." At first, he has no direct experience of the meaning of "hot.” In time, the baby learns the wages...

The promise of the Catholic vision

Humans desire happiness. So it is normal to seek a place or state of things in which everything is perfect. But what can we realistically expect? Let’s consider two utopias: the Catholic vision or “Catholic utopia” and the secular vision, the Godless utopia. In Catholic...

Transfiguration and confidence

Self-confidence, properly understood, is spiritually healthy. With an honest and well-formed conscience, we should all strive for an unshakable faith and confidence, without arrogance, that is rooted in Jesus. A letter to the editor in Catholic World Report many years ago gave a wrenching...

The Bishops and their Confessions

Confession is good for the soul. A good Confession identifies every mortal sin (nature and number) to the best of one’s ability. The priest usually does not need to hear the details, unless certain circumstances are necessary for purposes of clarification. A penitent should provide...

Anatomy of the healing process

Healing—more than repentance—is on the mind of bishops everywhere. Reporting the recent laicization of former Cardinal McCarrick, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the present of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued a statement: “No bishop, no matter how influential, is above the...

Appealing to the better angels of pastors

Years ago, a priest friend of mine was assigned as a parochial vicar to a very liberal dissident parish. A parishioner threatened to reduce his contributions in response to his orthodox preaching. The priest pointed to the air conditioning unit and said, “Before the electrical bill is paid,...

Ending rule by the ‘McCarrick Doctrine’

It cannot be denied that a large number of Catholic bishops and their vicars lied, covered up, and abused their positions and faith. The sexual abuse and exploitation of children and young people were not only the result of the dereliction of duty of bishops in governing but in several cases...

Chastity: Cornerstone of holiness and happiness

Chastity is a way of life. Guidelines, codes of conduct, policies, and procedures governing interpersonal behavior may be useful in communicating acceptable workplace boundaries and defining legally abusive behavior. But the virtue of chastity cannot be reduced to a collection of rules and...

It could have been a wonderful life

On Christmas Eve 2008, in upstate New York, George Bailey contemplates suicide. Cynical jeers about him reach the underworld, where Mephistopheles Mouch, Fallen Angel 2nd Class, is assigned to George. George has been an unusually valuable asset. Hell has big plans for him. So if he is able to...

Clericalism and the Summer of Shame

Clericalism is said to be the main sin that has given rise to the sex-abuse crisis in the Church today. The official statements blaming clericalism rather than the “dirty little secret” of a gay network have often been met with cynicism. A recent joke making the internet rounds goes:...

Unwritten rules and the Great Compromise

The encounter of the rich young man with Jesus reveals the contrast and connection between written and unwritten rules. The rich young man had observed all of the Commandments since his youth. But Jesus calls him to a higher state of generosity by going beyond the Law of Moses. It is helpful for...

The crisis: Déjà vu all over again

[This is an abridged version of a letter I wrote to ecclesiastical authorities after the Boston Globe revelations in 2002. I received no response. I think the letter—after sixteen years—remains painfully relevant today after the McCarrick debacle.] The “priest crisis”...

Ministers, not masters, of life

As we ponder the mystery of the Blessed Trinity, we come to realize it is one of the most practical revelations in the Catholic arsenal because it provides the underpinnings of our relationship to God and the life God gives us. We come to realize why and how we are ministers of life, not the...

A few weak men

To a large extent, the men of the inner circle of Jesus were weak. During His Passion, Jesus is betrayed, abandoned, and denied by his apostles. Only one of them returns to the foot of the Cross. In selecting the apostles, Jesus did not choose those whom the world considers the best and brightest....

Just Call Me Jerry

With the Ascension of Christ to heaven—the departure of his identifiable physical presence—and with the descent of the Holy Spirit, Jesus becomes accessible to us only by faith. Through faith, we come to know Jesus in the Word of God. Through faith, we encounter Jesus in the...

A ‘personal relationship with Jesus Christ’

It’s easy to impose our own prejudices in evaluating our relationship with God. When we are asked if we truly have a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” the expression suggests an emotional, warm, intimate feeling of the encounter. Of course, as Catholics, we may easily...

Mary, not Misogyny

It’s fair to observe that women tend to be more religious than men. A typical weekday Mass almost always has a disproportionate number of women in attendance. Prayer and religious devotion seem to be much easier for the ladies than for the gents. (So much for the “male-dominated”...

The Magisterium of the Sacred Liturgy

Many people equate faith with superstition. For many, accepting Church teaching is like believing magic, or in flying saucers or voodoo. But in so doing, they neglect the crucial role that reason plays in our faith. So they invent an alternative narrative using their own dogmas on the meaning of...

Practical Atheism

We often hear people say they no longer believe in God because there are so much evil and suffering in the world. They may add that they find the deeds of Jesus inspiring, but He spoils it all by saying that “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will...

Leper Colonies

In the Gospel that we read on Sunday, leprosy is clearly a metaphor for sin. When a leper approaches Jesus for healing, the approach is a metaphor for seeking Jesus for his forgiveness in Confession. When we go off the rails one way or the other, we all want to be restored to our normal humanity....

Authority and Jesus

“And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.” (Mk 1:22) The teaching authority of Jesus is unique. Authority is conferred in various ways. Authority comes with appointment and position, with learning and credentials,...

Born That Way

We might imagine Ebenezer Scrooge settling down after the spooking he received over Christmas. He’s benign, no longer is indifferent to injustice. He continues to be frugal, but he’s no longer greedy. He has become a man of justice but does not go beyond the basic demands of justice....

Expecting Perfection

It’s a charming to consider that Jesus, like any son, carried the physical characteristics of his mother as well as some of her —and Joseph’s—mannerisms. The Incarnation is so wonderfully human, encouraging us to approach Him without fear. As we consider the beauty of the...

Anticipation

Advent is a time of anticipation, looking forward to the birth of Jesus on Christmas. Of course the anticipation is a liturgical fiction. Jesus was born into the world over 2,000 years ago. Are we playing childish games by entering into such a fictional season of anticipation? No! On the contrary,...

Death, where is thy sting?

Fall is a time of great beauty and many folks travel to the mountains and through the valleys to see the magnificent changing colors of the foliage. But let’s not overlook the obvious. Nature is going dormant, even dying, and this cycle of nature itself is foreshadowing our own deaths. The...

Funerals and divine worship

It is common nowadays to identify a leader as good and kind and humble simply because he is merely following the crowds. It is the same with priests and bishops. Clergy can be very adroit at keeping the customers satisfied, absorbing a good deal of praise and affection without being truly faithful...

The Power and Poverty of Words

In his confrontations with the Pharisees, Jesus repeatedly unmasks their hypocrisy—from their personal external observances, designed to be noticed, to their relentless critical evaluations of others. It is easy to pay lip service to God’s commands, but the measure of true obedience is...

God doesn’t need our advice

There is no servile veneration of Peter in the Gospels. Certainly, he’s first among the apostles. But he also suffers the harshest of the Lord’s rebukes. The rebuke takes place not long after Peter witnesses to the divinity of Christ and Christ responds by identifying him as the first...

Skeletons in Our Closets

It is fair to suggest that in time, most people have occasion to look back at their lives with regret for behavior that may rise to the level of an embarrassing “skeleton in the closet.” Robert Penn Warren, author of All the King’s Men, exploits the primordial fear of...

Agonizing Moral Restraint

Dialog includes bombast, and it tends to grab attention. Historically our politicians and generals certainly have put the “bomb” in “bombastic.” In response to North Korean nuclear threats to our country, President Trump warned, “North Korea best not make any more...

Living on Borrowed Time

In our day there are many medical “miracles.” As we grow older, we experience medical issues that are now routinely and successfully treated whereas they could have taken our lives a century ago. So we are cured and live to see another day—or many more years. But in fact, with...

Keeping the Faith

We live in troubled times: times that can challenge our faith. It is wearisome (but necessary because good Christians face reality) to be reminded of the renewal of the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, terrorism, uprisings, wars and rumors of wars and so on. In recent years even the...

The Reason for Human Reason

There is no contradiction between faith and reason, faith and science. Both share the same Author. Without contradiction, faith grasps truths that are beyond the reach of science. There can be no earthly scientific proof of the Resurrection of Jesus, for example, just as there can be no...

Freak Shows

It seems age brings an increase in flashbacks to childhood. My most recent childhood memory was that of the annual county fair during the hot and humid days of August, just before the beginning of the new school year. It was a favorite time: walking through the barns, checking out the champion...

I Don’t Want to Die

We’ve heard it countless times: “The safety of our [fill in the blanks] is our highest priority.” So various safety programs are put into place, with policies, procedures, and protocols—mostly burdening everyone except the perpetrators. A fire drill, in contrast, is a...

Theologians

Those of us in the business know that the egos of some theologians—from the ancient Gnostics to the professional dissidents of our time—tower over Catholic doctrine. So it was refreshing to hear a very prominent theologian remark years ago, “The Church teaches doctrine, not...

Prayer and Puppies

In preparation for the Olympics held in Greece in 2004, thousands of possibly dangerous stray dogs were poisoned. But the stray dog problem continues to this day. A few years ago during a religious pilgrimage to Greece, our tour bus was confronted with a pack of wild canines emerging from the...

Fear of Holiness

Fear is a useful emotion. Under the control of reason, it is good to recoil in fear from a rattlesnake posed to strike. Other fears are more subtle. It’s easy to think of holiness as inaccessible and even indicting, and therefore intimidating when we encounter a person perceived to be...

Guardians of Common Sense

The teachings of Christ provide benchmarks to measure “normal” human behavior. It helps if we don’t kill each other, remain faithful in marriage, don’t lie and cheat, and so on. Common sense stuff. Christians of course do not have a monopoly on common sense. But the rapid...

‘How am I doin’?’

Years ago the popular mayor of New York, Ed Koch, was known to greet his constituents on the street with a question: “How am I doin’?” As political shticks go, it was a good one; the voters received the question with amusement, but Koch accepted their responses with an edge of...

Inauguration Day thoughts: Shining City on a Hill

Without God we labor in vain; so saith the Psalmist. Most of us, I suspect, easily forget the everyday need for the gifts of the Holy Spirit. So it is helpful to add the phrase, “with God’s grace” to our daily imperatives to remind ourselves that we can do nothing without Him. On...

An Undelivered Christmas Homily

In a J.F. Powers short story written shortly after the Second Vatican Council, a priest is asked, “Father, how can we make sanctity as attractive as sex to the common man?” It’s a provocative question and worthy of a thoughtful answer—perhaps not from the pulpit. After all,...

Rather Than Global Warming, Worry about Wormwood

Several years ago an article appeared in the Washington Post, of all places, on the history of contraception. The writer reported that wormwood—a kind of herbal derivative—was used as a contraceptive by the ancients. (The story came to mind after reading George Sim Johnston’s...

Fidel Castro, RIP?

God has given us an Advent meditation with the death of Fidel Castro, President of Cuba, politician, revolutionary, mass murderer. Here are examples of responses by world leaders: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a statement hailed Castro as a “remarkable leader” and a...

Rackets

During my pop-philosophy years as a youngster, I happened to catch the “Longshoreman philosopher” Eric Hoffer on “60 Minutes.” Fascinated by his street wisdom I eventually got around to reading his book The True Believer where he wrote: “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business,...

Little Italian Grandmothers

One of the most memorable homilies I’ve heard was given by a New York City priest when I was in the seminary. He introduced his homily with a droll comment about “little Italian grandmothers” and their big families. The details escape me. But his quip drew twitters of chuckles...

Jewish Humor

Jewish humor is prevalent in our culture, or at least at one time it was. Many of the great comedians are Jewish: Jack Benny, Milton Berle, Groucho Marx, Jerry Lewis—the list seems endless. Humor, of course, is possible because the contrast of human behavior—whether sinful or just...

Immigration and the Family

In the Book of Genesis, when God created man in his image and ordered man and woman to “be fruitful and multiply,” He implicitly established the family as the foundational social unit. Communities, cities, and nations subsequently have been built upon that basic structure and share in...

Summer Cookouts and Party Politics

Here we go again. As we enter the season for the national political conventions in preparation for the November vote we will once again witness how our politicians-– in large part reflecting the views of the populace-– view the abortion or pro-life “issue.” (Incidentally referring to the question...

No Ninnies

Do you know what a 'ninny' is? I'm not sure myself. But I get the idea that if you called a red-blooded American boy a "ninny" in a schoolyard in the 1930s you could end up with a bloody nose. World War II was not a war for ninnies. After the landings in Normandy, the...

Obama and the Bomb: Hiroshima Revisited

It’s hard to accept President Obama’s motives at face value. I'm inclined to think of his upcoming visit on May 27 to Hiroshima as pure political posturing, and not as endeavors toward true reconciliation. If he is playing his signature radical “community organizing”...

Subjective Conscience and Moral Certainty

As a parish priest, I hear thousands of confessions. It’s my job. The privilege of my office as confessor brings me great joy and for that I give God thanks. But I think the Holy Father’s recent document on love and marriage, Amoris Laetitia (AL), may well place ordinary...

The Joy of Dread

There are many words now forbidden in polite society. “Adultery” comes to mind. It’s either an unmentionable or has been replaced with the phrase “divorced and remarried.” “Promiscuity” and “lewd and lascivious conduct” have been...

Hollywood Extras

“Christ is risen! Alleluia!  You there! You in the back row yawning. Yeah, I’m talking to you. You’re not listening to my homily are you? Can’t you just pretend to listen? Or at least cover your mouth when you yawn? You’re not...

Praying with the Church

When I read the works of scholars who suggest, “The early Church placed on the lips of Jesus…” my inner alarm bells go off. The implication is clear. The early Church placed its own words on the lips of Jesus to proclaim a message that is either generally in line with the...

Instant Gratification

The consumer society has given us new phrases that lack subtlety. When you’re filling up at a gas station, it is presumed you’d be attracted to a “Big Gulp” beverage, going beyond the usual soda bottle size and providing a gallon or so of flavored sugar water (perfect for...

The Popes, the Pill, and Climate Change

Politics can be unpleasant. And Church politics, for most thoughtful believers, can be the most unpleasant of all political logrolling. To be “political” suggests a kind of relativism, pandering to this or that group for support, a pandering that is incompatible with the objective...

The Dysfunctional Stages of the Interior Life

The PBS American Experience series is fascinating. From Teddy Roosevelt to Vietnam and beyond, the producers report events from various points of view with an admirable attention to historical facts. One such production, “The Summer of Love,” is the story of hippies converging on the...