Turnstile Forgiveness by Monsignor Ferrarese

The Sacrament of Confession is a key part of the sacramental system in Catholicism. It has developed over the centuries to this present form. Today, one can receive this Sacrament as often as needed; it is available everywhere and there are no rules about it’s use except the idea of ‘Easter Duty’, that is, the obligation to go at least once a year during the Easter Season. (This, by the way, fits in very well with the emphasis today on Baptism in the
Easter Season. The Sacrament of Confession is the living-out of our Baptismal Commitments.)

But outside of Easter Duty, there is no rule about its use, and certainly none limiting it. But this was not always so.

In the early Church, it was a very serious thing to become a Christian. For one reason, it was against the law and punishable by death. Secondly, you became Christian by an adult decision. Thirdly, you entered a training period that could last a few years. Since Baptism forgave all sin, there was no need for Confession. It was expected that once you were Baptized, you were done with sin.

Any Christian therefore who was guilty of a mortal sin (Murder, Adultery or Apostasy—denying that you were a Christian) was cut off from the community of the ‘saints’. Later, it was decided to forgive them, but only once in their lifetime and only after a public confession of their sin and a long period of public penance that could last years.

As one can imagine, this system was not popular with the people. What happened, therefore, was that people delayed Baptism to their deathbed so that they could take full advantage of the complete forgiveness of all sinfulness without the necessity of telling anyone their sins. The Emperor Constantine took this path.

Another form of Penance developed in the monasteries of Ireland. A younger monk would confess his past sins with an older monk and the older monk would give him a Penance to perform so as to “correct” the sinfulness of the past. The advantage of this form of Confession was that it was private and could be received more than once. As the monks of Ireland traveled through Europe preaching, they brought with them this new form of Confession.

At first, the Church condemned this innovation. But, once again, the people spoke with their feet and started to abandon the older form and accepted this new way of confessing.

It is important to realize that the monks did not impose easy penances. There were no, “Say 3 Hail Mary’s as a Penance.” We have the books that they used to assign an appropriate penance to the sinner, and it was not easy! But it was private and more of a process.

In our own time, we have developed a religious ethos that strives for the easy way to do everything. This has spawned a habitual laxity in our living of the Christian Life and an underlying vice of presumption in our approach to sin and conversion.

The Sacrament of Confession must involve a deep and interior attitude that indicates and nourishes a real change within the person, both psychologically and experientially. While one can have such an intention and still sin again, what is important is the willingness to get up and try again to eradicate the sin completely from our lives. When it is a habitual sin, it requires continual effort and a fierce commitment to following the Lord no matter what.

Even after the sin is removed from a person through repentance and Confession, we still must experience a desire to heal the world we have disrupted by our sin. This is the whole area of reparation and satisfaction that is largely ignored today; but, it is essential. We must try to put aright what we have disrupted in the divine order of God’s Commandments.

As you may see, even venial sins have a destructive impact on our lives and the lives of the Church, even when they do not prepare us for the more serious mortal sins.

We have the ability to receive Confession as often as we need it to help us in this process of reordering, always with God’s assistance, the creation of God and the moral unity of Christian life.

As you can see, Turnstile Confession, where you say your Hail Mary’s and you get cleaned up for Mass, is an emaciated view of the Sacrament and the whole process of moral regeneration that is the Christian call to Metanoia, or true repentance.

It requires a real effort to model our life on Christ and a refusal to compromise our moral vision.

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Anger Management by Monsignor Ferrarese

One of the most common spiritual problems that people talk about in Spiritual Direction sessions is their struggles with anger. It is a very uncomfortable emotion, and even in its milder forms it seems to be uncontrollable and hard to handle. It appears to have a direct line to the tongue (another dangerous human instrument) and also to the more violent responses in our natures.

The connection between anger and violence contributes to the fear that this emotion unleashes in us. We think that to be angry is to be violent and we don’t want to unleash that potential within us.

While anger can lead to violence, it does not have to be that way. Anger can have an important function in our lives, provided it is used in a correct way.

Anger has been described as “the God-given alarm system within us” that alerts us to the fact that an important boundary of our lives has been breached and that we need to defend ourselves. There is an underlying note of self-preservation in an angry response to any given situation.

Another positive aspect of anger as an emotional response is that it helps us fight injustice. When we see someone being attacked, whether physically or verbally, our instinctive response is to protect. The energy of this motivation comes from our sense of justice and fairness being violated when an innocent person or someone close to us is being hurt or disrespected. The anger in us motivates us to go to their assistance and defend them. The armed response of nations to being attacked and overrun by an enemy is the communal version of this defense of boundaries and the protection of the innocent.

All this is well and good; but from whence comes this discomfort we feel with anger, this view that it is a sin?

There is a difference between the experience of the emotion of anger, which is immediate and beyond our choice (think of someone accidentally stepping on your toe!), and an anger which is held onto and which is nurtured. This is a resentment that festers, causes us to hate the other, and even perhaps plan revenge later on (vengeance is a dish best served cold!). This is clearly done with the free choice of the person. It is also stupid and self-defeating. For instance, let’s say someone slaps you in the face. There is an immediate emotional anger! But one holds onto it, and thinks about it and imagines it happening again and again. The slapper slapped once, but the slapped has lived through it a hundred times. But the slapper was responsible for doing it once and the slapped for 99 times! Insane? Yes, and profoundly self-defeating.

So the first thing that we have to ask ourselves when the ‘self-monitor’ inside us tells us that we are angry is: “Is this the emotion of anger that flares up automatically and is gone just as fast, or is it the sin of Wrath in which we hold onto the anger and think about getting even?”

We find out, for example, that someone has said something mean about us behind our backs. The alarm system of anger sounds, alerting us that we have been slandered. This anger is a natural result of the sinful action of another who freely and willfully tried to tarnish our good name. Their action was sinful. My reaction was natural. But what do I do with it?

There are three solutions:

Solution A: I could call them up and give them a piece of my mind! This is not a good response, just an automatic reaction that will further destroy our relationship.

Solution B: I could let it go and continue as though nothing had happened. This could be a good response if we know the person to be irascible and a request for clarification would blow up in our faces.

Solution C: We could pray about it and speak to the offender in person, asking if it actually did occur and, if it did, ask the other what was the purpose of the unkind remark and can we deal with that and move on in the relationship. This could be a good move provided the other is capable of truthfulness and correction and if the relationship we are in is important enough to us that we are willing to clarify and reconcile with the other.

Of the three solutions, Solution C is the best use of the energy of justified anger since it seeks to correct and amend a relationship, restoring it to a level of grace.

Anger is a fact of life. It can be a good or an evil depending on our free choice in how to respond to it. People who simply react usually make matters worse. There is a difference between justified, positively-used anger and the destructive vortex of wrath, resentments and vendetta. The choice, I’m afraid, is ours. Anger will not go away. But we can use it or be used by it. We can either manage anger or it can manage us.

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Elections by Monsignor Ferrarese

There has been a lot of hype regarding these upcoming midterm elections. Usually the turnout is poor and a blow for the party in power; but, as our country has become more polarized, this election has taken on a more important feel.

We take elections for granted. We shouldn’t. Many places on earth are denied meaningful
elections where there are clear results that affect the nation or town. Even though we regularly have elections that affect the lives of millions, we have a terribly low number of citizens who actually cast a vote.  It’s easy to talk politics, but if you don’t vote you cannot make a difference.

My Dad, who was a naturalized citizen, felt it was everyone’s responsibility to vote. He even went so far to suggest that if you did not vote you should have your citizenship revoked and be deported! My Dad really felt angry that people did not take their responsibility to vote seriously.

Underneath this belief is something that the American Revolution proclaimed and that the
Declaration of Independence and the Constitution enshrined: Government comes from the people and exists for the people. This was a truly revolutionary thought. Up to that time, it was considered common wisdom that God ordained all government: God put a King or Queen in His place to rule. This dogma is called the Divine Right of Kings. Since God has put this “special” person in place, the people will just have to get use to him or her! Insurrection or mutiny of any sort against the sovereign was a deliberate sin against God. Therefore, in the late 1700s, whatever King George III decreed was God’s will, and any refusal to submit to the King’s edicts was not only criminal, but also blasphemous!

Margaret Thatcher once remarked to President Reagan that Europe was a product of history and America a product of philosophy. Because of the philosophy that we call the Enlightenment, our founding ancestors had a radical belief that the government does not come from above (i.e. from God), but from the people. And the people had a right to change it if they deem it to be destructive. This was a revolutionary belief that luckily was handled beautifully through the Constitutional Convention and a new constitution, a marvel of balance and prudence. The French and the Russian Revolutions, by contrast, were human rights disasters leading to violence on an unprecedented scale.

But implicit in this philosophy of national identity is an acceptance of the religious principle that God requires us to live moral lives. Without this sense of ethical responsibility, no human construct can survive. George Washington was eloquent about this in his farewell address.

Thus, our nation is a product of the yearning for order and prosperity under a God that demands moral accountability. If the people lose faith in either God or the need to construct and sustain this governmental order, we are in for a period of destruction and agony.

Living morally within the construct of a personally validated, yet imperfect, national consensus is absolutely essential for the survival of the United States. To opt out of this responsible citizenship by not voting is close to treason.

In failed countries, there is a cynicism in the air that is pervasive: What good does it do to vote? Aren’t they all the same? My Dad had no false hopes about the politics of Italy: one stinks and the other smells he used to say! But this same man believed that it was different in America. Every vote counted and he was proud to go to the voting booth to exercise that freedom. That is because he believed in America.

It is distressing to hear Americans speak about our country the way my Dad wrote off the Italian political system. But it is not the same. If we truly believe in America, then we have to keep voting our conscience and try to elect people of character and courage, which our country has had in the past and needs for its future.

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A Good Scare by Monsignor Ferrarese

When I was a kid, I used to love to be scared. Whether on a freewheeling roller coaster or at a horror movie, I would love to jump up and scream! A good scream was usually followed by the audience’s laughter, both at our squeamishness and at the delight in realizing that we got scared over an illusion of danger.

There was a movie out when I was in grammar school called “The Tingler”. The scare of this movie was augmented by an electric charge that was administered in the theater to each seat every time the monster ‘Tingler’ attacked on the screen! Today, there would be lawsuits a plenty if we tried to electrify movie seats!  But at that time, the concept of the “movie experience” was much different.

However, the laughs that followed the collective scream from scary and unexpected moments instantly created a sense of community and a relief that it is all make-believe!

Halloween exploits these fears and the fun that they entail. While there is nothing funny about demons and witches, by laughing at them we take away their power. Unfortunately, it also makes us easy targets for these malevolent and malicious beings. Demons and witches are not make believe: Witches can target someone and put a curse on their target. A coven of witches just called for a curse to be placed on Justice Brett Kavanaugh. This is not child’s play; this is real.

One of the things that Halloween and the horror films that have come from Hollywood do teach us is that there is a supernatural world of both goodness (Angels) and evil (Demons). What makes a horror movie like the classic “Dracula” so frightening is not the sight of blood (slasher movies prey on our fear of being dismembered), but the unearthly suggestion that the dead can still be alive.

When Dracula says of the wolves howling in the distance: “Listen to them: the children of the night! What music they make!”, the chill that comes over us is the true feeling of horror and dread. There is something out there that is beyond nature and, in the case of the vampires, is malevolent.

But the reverse of that is that there is also something good out there that is beyond nature, has enormous power and loves each of us deeply. What I am trying to suggest is that what horror movies and the fascination with Halloween communicates is the religious knowledge that there is more ‘out there’ than we suspect. This is the antechamber of the religious.

Horror stories have always had their ‘deeper senses’. In “Frankenstein”, there is the story of the dangers unleashed in trying to manipulate nature. In the Vampire myth, the nocturnal hidden side of our nature that threatens to suck the life out of us is highlighted. In “Doctor Jeckle and Mr. Hyde”, the destructive side of our personalities that lies side by side with the good side is explored and contrasted.

While these hidden meanings are helpful, what I want to put a spotlight on is that these stories point to the supernatural both as promise and as terror. Like good science fiction, they challenge the imagination to expand and to be open to another vision of reality that might go significantly beyond our restrictive way of seeing and evaluating.

This failure of the imagination is at the heart of the experience of the supposed ‘loss of faith’ of many people. What people in this category are really experiencing is the inadequacy of past formations of God and the beyond. When you are in college, believing in the old man in the sky is very difficult. This is not because there is no God, but that the person’s past formulation of Who this being is no longer answers the deeper questions that science and experience pose.

It takes a dose of humility to realize our limitations and to consider the possibility that reality is more complex and wondrous and dangerous than we imagine. Being scared helps us as it jump-starts our consciousness into new and uncharted regions.

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Faith, Hope and Science by Monsignor Ferrarese

In spite of all the terrible, boring and misleading things that one sees on TV, sometimes a program comes through with a great deal of truth in a way that would not be possible if it was just read about.

Such a program was a Public Television documentary on the famous Mayo Clinic. It said something profound about the salutary and beneficial interdependence between Religion and Science, and between Agnostics and Believers. It is a lesson in opposing groups working together out of a spirit of mutual respect. You can still respect a person whose opinions you oppose! This seems like a self-evident lesson, but look at how we tear each other apart on the news and even in our own lives.

Dr. Mayo was a physician who was an agnostic in regards to religion, but who followed the development of medical science and technology very carefully from the wilds of Rochester, Minnesota. He was very patient-centered and would do anything he could, with the help of his two sons who were also Medical Doctors, to heal a patient and bring them back to health. Nearby, there was a convent and a school run by the Sisters of St. Francis.

One day, a devastating cyclone hit the town of Rochester; the destruction and the loss of life was overwhelming. In dealing with the wounded, Dr. Mayo asked if they could use the school dormitories to house the broken people of the town. The Reverend Mother had a dream that night and in that dream she was told to have a hospital built in Rochester. She revealed this to Dr. Mayo who at first thought it an unrealistic idea. But the Revered Mother and the Sisters opened the school to the wounded and began to raise the huge amount of funds that a hospital required. Dr. Mayo and his sons provided the expert and rigorous criteria for this hospital where doctors would work together, where they would be paid by salary and not by case, and where the most modern means of care and technology would be used. St. Mary’s Hospital opened its doors and the rest is history. No contracts have ever been signed between the medical administration and the Sisters of St. Francis, but they still work together at the Mayo Clinic to provide the best medical care in the world. People come from every state of the Union and every nation on Earth to receive that care.

I remember passing through Rochester, Minnesota to give a talk at a nearby institution. In the lobby of the hotel were 40 or so white luggage bags. I asked the meaning of this strange sight. I was told that the King of Jordan was there to have his cancer treatment at the Mayo Clinic!

This all came about because of the Medical commitment of the Mayo family and the faith of the Sisters. These religious Sisters were trained as teachers, but began to take care of the sick and wounded and learned medicine ‘on the job’!

There is a lesson here in the importance of looking past apparent differences, even of a fundamental nature, to work together for the common good. Dr. Mayo and his sons were not Catholics, or even believers in God. The Sisters had nurtured a great Catholic Faith. Yet they laid aside their differences to work together for the benefit of others. They still were true to their individual spiritual outlooks, but that did not stop them from working toward a common goal.

What linked them was a mutual respect and an acceptance of differences that in action was not decisive. Obviously there are many modern parallels both in religion and in politics.

What united them is their common desire to relieve the pains of the sick. Whether this desire was fueled by a belief in God or a belief in science is not immediately contradictory. Settling and accepting this ambiguity is at the heart of the tolerance and mutual respect that must characterize our work in our beautiful and diverse country.

There has always been a tendency to be tribal about our differences: “The other becomes the enemy.”  We feel like partisans of the truth, and we cast those that disagree with us as evil and completely untrustworthy. But life is very different than this polarized perspective. There is a grain of truth and falsehood in every proposition. We have to approach our arguments in an objective and humble way, always respecting the other, even while disagreeing with them on much of their positions.

We must learn from the Agnostic Doctor and the Believing Sisters!

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Saint Pope Paul VI

Saint Pope Paul VI

Canonized October 14, 2018

“If you want peace, work for justice.”

“Peace is not merely the absence of war. Nor can it be reduced solely to the maintenance of a balance of power between enemies. Nor is it brought about by dictatorship. Instead, it is rightly and appropriately called “an enterprise of justice” (Is. 32:7). Peace results from that order structured into human society by its divine founder, and actualized by men as they thirst after ever greater justice.”

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Saint Oscar Romero

Saint Oscar Romero

Canonized October 14, 2018

“Peace is the product of justice and love.”

“The absolute desire of ‘having more’ encourages the selfishness that destroys communal bonds among the children of God. It does so because the idolatry of riches prevents the majority from sharing the goods that the Creator has made for all, and in the all-possessing minority it produces an exaggerated pleasure in these goods.”

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Neighborhoods by Monsignor Ferrarese

Perhaps the past looks overly rosy when one looks back, but we have to admit that we are in the midst of profound changes in the way we live our daily lives. Some of these changes are very positive, but there is an undeniable loss that is hard to quantify.

So allow me what seems to be a right for elders like myself to meditate on how things were and how things are, what we have gained and what we have lost.

I grew up in Brooklyn. In that part of Brooklyn, called East New York, I lived in a predominately Italian American community. Our block was like a world unto itself. The next block was foreign territory inhabited by unknown people (except for an occasional classmate or family member who was unlucky enough to have to live there!). We were on a side street bounded by busy and commercial avenues (Liberty and Atlantic Avenues). Our parish church was on our block, giving us a quasi-holy land reputation.

There were tons of kids on the block, kids everywhere of every possible age. People spent a lot of their time outdoors, especially during the hot summer months. The lack of AC made the apartments blisteringly hot! I recall vividly the hot summer nights: Everyone was outside till the night made everything just a bit cooler. All the adults took out lawn chairs (What a name! No grass anywhere!). The women sat in clumps, conversing and arguing. The men sat on the stoops, when they were free of the kids that descended like locusts on any free sitting areas. Even though it was getting dark, the teenagers still used the street as their stadium, playing stick ball till you could no longer see the rubber ball. The game was interrupted, occasionally, by the rare car that chanced upon our block.

It is hard to describe to people today how comforting, exasperating, and ennobling this sense of community was, and being found in a place where you belonged, where everyone watched out for one another, got into each other’s business, and lived a simple and uncomplicated life. The young people of today are aghast when I tell them that TV (all 6 or 7 channels of it) went off at midnight, that there were no smartphones, no computers; but people everywhere whose names you knew and who knew you also by name.

Simply put: we lived in a real community. The next block had a different kind of community, different people, and (I know this sounds incredible) they were all a little foreign to our block-world; same nationality, but a different microcosm, a different community.

I believe we have lost this. There are signs in this area of Astoria that the same thing was present. But that even here it has eroded. People don’t stay in a house for generations (there are still, God be praised, exceptions!). We don’t live in the street anymore. Our homes have their own environmental systems of heat and AC. We are stuck in front of TVs for hours on end—big ones, many in a house, having hundreds of channels going 24/7. Even within the family, every member lives in their own little world represented and fed by their individual smart phone.

You see this breakdown in the subway. Almost everyone is immersed in his or her own world of communication, information, and entertainment. Seldom do we communicate directly, usually virtually.

This breakdown in the traditional community has increased depression, isolation, and suicides. It has made being a Church very difficult. We come into the church building still immured in our own worlds, making the culmination of ‘Communion’ a purely individual reality, or at best a different kind of ‘virtual world’.

Can we ultimately survive this way?

God made us social animals. We grow and prosper in and through one another. The reality of a human being standing before us cannot be duplicated. The immediate interchange inherent in the relationship of one human being to another is without equal. We need conscious presence to each other, both in relationships and community. When that reality is ceded to a ‘virtual world’, where we connect through light and pixels, we condemn ourselves to a ‘real’ isolation covered over with the disguise of connecting with hundreds of friends in Facebook and other media. Direct, complex and complete presence is necessary to each relationship. When relationships become distant and when ‘real’ community becomes almost non-existent, we enter a world not made by God, and this is very dangerous to us in the long run.

While the modern media can be helpful in communicating and keeping contact with each other, we need to put the phones down, unplug our ears and look at one another, listen to each other and enter the ‘interactive’, physical world that God created.

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Purification by Monsignor Ferrarese

There are times when we need to clean things up and allow a renewal to sweep through our lives. Think of the concept of ‘spring cleaning’: Over the winter, things get dirty and soiled. The snows and the clean-up afterwards leave film and dirt all over, even inside our houses. We have brought in all kinds of dirt and grime. Some of this cannot be seen, but we notice that things lose their luster and shine. We also leave things around and soon we have piles around us of things that need either to be discarded or put away in the order in which we had them. So we work, cleaning and polishing, putting things away, getting rid of things we do not need, simplifying and create new order in our lives. On that beautiful spring day, we open wide the windows and let the cool fresh air in to breeze through our homes that now begin to actually smell clean!

We do this too on a moral and spiritual basis during Lent (the word comes from the German word “lenz’ which means spring!), when we clean and reorder and simplify our lives in the Lord. We do this on a periodic basis, whether the purification is Lenten or of some other kind, because we tend to backslide and there is a continual need for conversion. This tendency to go backwards is, I’m sure, a consequence of  Original Sin. It is there, however, and calls us often to purify our intentions and our thoughts and actions on a periodic or occasional basis.

Such periods of purification are also necessary for the Church. Just as the individual Christian can be said to be “Simul Justus et Peccator” that is “at the same time just and sinful”, so can the community share in that double reality. To deny either side is to distort the reality. If we say we are truly just and righteous, we forget our weakness and our waywardness. If we say we are merely sinners, we lose all hope that God can justify and heal us. The truth is that we are in process. Sometimes, though, the sin becomes terribly heinous, and the purification both painful and necessary. I think that is what the Church is going through in this sexual abuse crisis. We need to be humbled and realize our false sense of priorities and the terrible harm this has caused to the most vulnerable and innocent. We must allow the wrath of God to sweep through the Church to correct and purify what has become evil and distorted. But this must be done with both hope and love, not despair and hatred.

The abuse of children is one of, if not the, most egregious sins, and an offense directly against God who created them and gave them the gift of innocence and trust. That this is trust is broken is serious enough, but that it is broken by a priest or religious who are called upon to make themselves the image of Christ to the Church is especially evil. Why would God not be angry and wrathful against such a destruction of the ones who need the most protection? But God never punishes just to punish. He does it to correct, to hold accountable, to convert. His anger toward the ones who do these acts is also meant to get them to see what they have done, to weep for what they have unleashed and the hurt they have caused, to beg forgiveness and to do penance in reparation. He also wants to purify the Church and the Priesthood and Religious Life of this stain on the honor of the Christian People. God is love, even for the victimizers; a dreadful love, but love nonetheless.

The mercy of God must extend to the victim and the victimizer. For the victim, grace is a process of healing and comforting. For those responsible for this evil, it is the grace of repentance and reparation. This is further complicated in the victimizers by the fact that many of them were also victims of abuse.

That the Church made many grievous mistakes in handling this process of justice and healing is a hard fact that we must all accept so as to begin the arduous journey of redemption. However, through the grace of true ecclesial conversion, we are able to admit the wrong and to find means to reestablish the divine order of the Church. This requires vast amounts of humility, repentance, discernment and courage on the part of the Church, which at the same time must not lose compassion for those still suffering from these acts.

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On the Greatness of God and Our Limited Vision by Monsignor Ferrarese

As long as I am the center of my tiny world, it is not hard to imagine God being very interested in everything I do. This view is the product, not of an expansive understanding of God, but one of a diminished view of the Godhead.

But sometimes I see that I am only a small part of the immense universe, and the idea of a personal and interested God becomes hard to sustain.

Whenever I fly somewhere, I look out from the plane window and see the vastness of what is down on earth. Flying helps me detach from a limited vision of things and, as I see the many houses and towns, I imagine all the people down there with their stories and their fears and their hopes, and I wonder how can any being, even God, know and be involved in so many lives at one time. When I multiply my vision by the thousands and the millions and realize that is only the earth, and that our world is just a tiny speck in the universe, I wonder whether our vision of God is just wishful thinking.

And that is just human lives! Think of the trillions of insects on this planet. Could God sustain them and keep giving them their being? Since God is constantly creating in the sustaining of all creatures in existence, the Divinity is aware of every movement of every insect. He sustains every leaf on every tree. He is involved in every dream that very person is having. How can this be possible?

This is where we smack into the smallness of who we are and that God’s greatness is beyond our abilities to comprehend. We can do only one thing at a time (maybe two!), but this Being we call God has incalculable power and is not limited at all. We don’t even have the language to use that can barely approach the reality of the Godhead.

Did you ever try to explain what pizza is to a baby still in her Mother’s womb? I know, this sounds silly; but think of what life is outside the womb: the colors, the music, the varied creation: plants, animals, sunsets and coffee!  The wonders all around us are so many. Now think of that baby in the womb. She or he has no words to describe anything, cannot see, and so has no concept of what a thing is other than what she or he feels as it floats in the amniotic fluid. Your words about a pizza would sound like noise, your attempt to explain how pizza tastes would be  incomprehensible even if the baby understood your words since the baby has never tasted anything. That child in the womb is very limited in understanding and can have not even the slightest concept of what lies outside the womb.

We are that baby when we try to understand how great God is. We don’t have the knowledge or the experience to even imagine what God can and cannot do. God must find our negations about Him a little funny, since we cannot imagine how He can ‘run’ the world when He is in fact ‘running’ the universe which makes this world seem like a speck of dust. When we say God is omnipotent, we have to realize our poverty in understanding what a vast expanse that word covers!

We have to come to the point where we realize that what we have in mind when we say that God is ‘omnipotent’ is completely inadequate to the reality it signifies. We, in fact, do not have the conceptual or verbal capacity to come to terms with what the word ‘omnipotent’ or ‘all-powerful’ actually and concretely mean. So we have to admit that, when it comes to imagining or thinking about this Being called God, anything we say about Him (including gender-specific pronouns) is at best not helpful or at worst deliberately obscuring.

St. Thomas warned in his Summa Theologiae that we can only say what God is not. Anything positive about God will be miserably off-the-mark and practically meaningless.

So we are left face-to-face with Mystery: inexplicable, transcendent and unknown. What is this thing called God? Can we even imagine something of such power and scope? And when we say that the ‘what’ is a ‘who’ and that ‘Who’ knows the name of every creature in the universe, and the exact location of every atom in my body, was present at my birth and is already present at the transformation we  ‘my death’, which of us can live with this frightening and amazing truth?

The only thing we can do before the greatness of God is stand in humble silence. The only words possible before this great God that loves us with a fervor and an intensity we cannot imagine is “have mercy on me!”

Our minds are incapable of understanding even a little of the awesome power of this Great God who deigns to love this poor creature that I am. My only claim to fame is that I was made by this Great Being and am loved by this Great Being and that this Great Being gives me the freedom to return that love or to refuse it.

To accept God’s love is Heaven. To refuse God’s love is Hell.

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