In The Wild by Monsignor Ferrarese

One of the high points of my recent vacation was traveling to the area of Italy where I was born: Calabria. This is an area of Italy that is still wild and unvisited even though it is very beautiful. The landscape is very verdant, where evergreens proliferate, even though it is next to Sicily which is more arid. That is because it is very mountainous and those mountains put it way above any African winds that blow across the Mediterranean. Getting anywhere is a dangerous proposition since the roads are circuitous and narrow. Its towns are usually perched at the top of a mountain, its streets dangerously steeped.

It is an area that is also dangerous due to a particularly violent form of organized crime called the ‘Ndràngheta.

But it is home to many wonders and beauties! One of the spiritual treasures of the area is Serra San Bruno, deep in the heart of Calabria. St. Bruno was the founder of the Carthusians, a religious order of hermits that live in deep solitude and pray for the Church day and night. They get up at Midnight and pray for two hours and then go back to sleep for 2-3 hours more, then wake up again for more prayer! It is the one order in the Church that has not been reformed because it has never needed reform. It is considered the most demanding order in the Church!

The first monastery of Carthusians established by St. Bruno (who was ethnically German) was the Grand Chartreuse in France. But then the Pope at the time asked St. Bruno to establish a Charterhouse (what a Carthusian monastery is called) in Italy. When St. Bruno asked the Pope what was the wildest and most uncharted area in Italy, the Pope told him to go to Calabria. It is there that he established the second Charterhouse and where he died and is buried.

Right next to the Charterhouse is the town of Serra San Bruno. I was there during the festivities of the feast of St. Bruno that occur on October 6th. This town of Serra San Bruno has a few thousand inhabitants and grew up in the Middle Ages because St. Bruno needed help in building this grand edifice in the middle of the wilderness. So a group of peasants and craftsmen settled there to be near work. If you saw how difficult it was to get here you would understand their desire to live near their work! When St. Bruno died, he was buried at the Charterhouse, but the people understandably had a fondness for him and a deep belief that he was a saint. Because of this, a devotion to St. Bruno grew up not only in the Carthusian Order but also among the townspeople. Almost 800 years later, the love for their saint was beautifully exposed at my visit. The town was decorated with lights and the Charterhouse allows his relics (beautifully contained in a silver bust of the saint) to be venerated in the principal church in town. The church was packed with people; standing-room only! They sang a service that was very similar to the Vigils in the Charterhouse. They sang with great gusto and devotion. Even before the service, families came in and hoisted their little ones up in their arms to kiss the reliquary. Here, I thought, were the relics of one of the most austere saints in the Catholic Church, and yet the common people loved and venerated him! He was the central embodiment for the town of the love of Christ and the willingness to devote oneself to God and accept whatever sacrifices one can to the honor and glory of God!

This combination of contemplative devotion and popular piety is very seldom seen today in the United States. It hearkens back to the age of faith in the Middle Ages when the daily life of the common man and woman was completely imbued with a sense of the sacred. In Serra San Bruno, I saw people dedicated in prayer to a saint that stood for a transcendence of all the values of this world. Yet he was celebrated by teenagers who go to school and families that struggle to put bread on the table (i.e. ordinary folk) who understand that St. Bruno did what he did for the Church and for their families and that it had value and honor. It brought worldwide ageless renown to their humble town. They have an honored place in the Universal Church, not to mention all the special graces given to their town by the intercessory prayers of this great saint.

We need to recover something of this daily, ordinary devotion to the saints, and we need to see their presence in the daily life of our cities. Is that at all possible today? To quote the Gospels “For man it is impossible, but for God all things are possible” (Mt 19:26).

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Body of Christ by Monsignor Ferrarese

One of the key insights in the theology of St. Paul is that of the Body of Christ. Knowing the history of this revelation, it is considered important since it holds the key to much of his letters. Like most of what St. Paul writes about, it is based on his personal experience of faith and not from any kind of abstraction reflections of his own.

It all happened to him on the road to Damascus. He was convinced that his faith was being attacked and threatened by this ‘new way’, so he was part of the reaction to it. He jailed people and openly participated in the stoning of some of these new ‘Christians’ like St. Stephen. He was on fire to stamp this thing out once and for all when Jesus Himself stood in his way and said simply, “Why are you persecuting me?”

This has the character of a fundamental insight that undergirds all of Paul’s spiritual understanding of Christianity. Jesus identifies Himself with the Church. The Church is not just a gathering of believers, but is the very presence of Jesus in the world—not as a substitute, but in reality. This real and at the same time mystical presence of Christ ennobles our participation in the redemption of the world. It is not merely an image or a figure of speech. As we participate in the daily work of the Church through our moral life, and in our participation in the liturgical and individual prayer life of the Church, Jesus Himself is working in us and through us. Think of that when you look around the Church during Mass! Those people, some of whom we may not even care for, are our coworkers in accomplishing the will of God in the world.

So when we talk about the Church we have to distinguish between the Church and other organizations, however exalted our view of them is. The Church is different from the United States, the United Nations, Apple, etc. These are organizations. They are organized by human beings for a purpose. The Church is not an organization. It is an organism: it is alive! It is created not by people, but by God. It does not follow Robert’s Rules of Order, but is sensitive to the will of God. It is in fact a person: Christ! Christ, identical as the earthly Christ on now made Cosmic by the resurrection.

It is indeed hard, very hard, for us to imagine how a Church of over a billion people is actually the person of Christ. But all the mysteries of our faith are difficult to comprehend and impossible to imagine. Just look at the Eucharist: when the priest at Mass says, “Behold the Lamb of God”, an unbeliever could say, “I don’t see any animal; where is the lamb? Where is it that I may ‘behold’ it.” And yet we say this at every Mass. Likewise, the words of Jesus about the Church to Paul, “Why are you persecuting Me?” is a powerful assertion that is hard to defend by rational inquiry.

But this understanding has enormous impact when we receive Jesus in Holy Communion. As we are joined together by the one Jesus Christ, we form a worldwide, indeed a cosmic, reality in this unity. Each of us, without losing our particular and unrepeatable uniqueness, become cells in the very Body of Christ present to the world. Where the Church is persecuted, either in the torture chambers of terrorist or atheistic strongholds or in the much subtler confines of secular dismissiveness, it is Jesus who is being persecuted just as He was by Saul who became Paul, the greatest missionary of all time.

There is no getting around it. Central to our faith is this realization of our role in the Body of Christ. It is so sad that many Catholics have an impoverished view of the Church. Some still think that ‘Church’ only refers to the physical structure of the building! We need to theologically ‘grow up’ in our understanding of the ecclesial reality that we are and accept the responsibility to which this insight calls us.

Posted in Faith, Msgr. Ferrarese | Leave a comment

Our Lady Helps Us Find Our Way by Monsignor Ferrarese

In traveling through Italy, I have been impressed by the usefulness of the GPS. Whether finding a way on the roads to a certain destination, or finding a Church nearby, or trying to encounter a good eating establishment, I just asked Siri or Google and then have them plot out what number to use for a call or what roads to take to get there. I can’t get over how truly useful it is and I wonder how we got on without it! All those stops in the past to ask someone in a gas station and those maps!

As hard as it is to imagine, this got me thinking about the Blessed Virgin and her relationship to our faith. She has been called the Scepter of Orthodoxy, which is a fancy way of saying she is our GPS to Jesus her Son! This may seem farfetched, but hang in there with me. She has a very honored place in our Catholic Faith. In Orthodoxy, she is powerfully invoked as the ‘Theotokos’ that is the ‘Mother of God’ or the ‘Bearer of God’. Historically, it took 4 centuries and a number of Ecumenical Councils to come to this honored place for her. While we give honor to the saints (in Greek, ‘Dulia’), for Mary we give special honor (Hyperdulia).

One has to make a further “Greek” distinction without which we fall into the confusion of many of our Protestant brothers and sisters in Christ. During the Reformation, they saw that many Catholic Christians seemed to be ‘worshiping’ the Madonna or Blessed Mother. Much of this was merely exaggerated devotion, but in some cases it could really substitute for belief in Christ and the Incarnation. So many reformers ‘threw out’ any devotion to Mary as, at best, confusing and unnecessary, and at worst, a form of the sin of idolatry.

But they refused to see that in giving Mary ‘hyperdulia’, we are not giving her ‘latria’, which in Greek means ‘worship’. Only God and Christ His Son and the Holy Spirit are worshiped, for only the Triune God is God. Once that theological concern is addressed, then we can see the importance of Mary for our way to Jesus, her Son and God’s Son.

She has been called “The Scepter of Orthodoxy” by the Fathers of the Church. Orthodoxy is used in a general sense as correct teaching of the faith. Whenever anyone for any reason tries to eliminate devotion to Mary, they inevitably fall off the true road to Jesus. This is because Mary grounds the mystery of the Incarnation in our own flesh. Without the mystery of the Incarnation of the Word of God, we no longer are Christians! She was not just a thing that God used to do this. She is a person to whom an Archangel was sent to ask her whether she would be the mother of God’s only Son. What honor God gave her in asking one of His creatures to voluntarily be part of the salvation of the world! Without Mary, there is no Incarnation. Without the Incarnation, there is no Christianity. And without Christianity, there is no Church or Sacraments and no salvation.

So you see, an attack on Mary, an attempt to lower her prestige in the eyes of the faithful, is the way the devil seeks to undercut the Incarnation. Jesus was not just a prophet (as Muslims contend). Jesus was not just a sage (as the Secularists say). Jesus is the Son of God born to Mary. If that is hard to believe, you can understand why so many will not accept this. Mary, as the Scepter of Orthodoxy, shows us the way to think of Jesus and His role in the life of the cosmos in a correct way. To veer off in other directions is to be heterodox, and that is a long way of saying it is heresy!

True devotion to Our Lady leads us directly to Her Son, Jesus. It never stops with her. And that is so human when you think about it. What mother, proud of her child, does not want the world to share her love and admiration for him or for her! In our recent procession to celebrate our devotion to Our Lady, her statue did not appear at the end of the procession. Rather, her statue led the procession! At the end of this gathering of faith, Jesus Himself walked with us through His Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist. At the lead was a representation of Mary, but she wanted her beloved Son, not in effigy but in reality, have the place of honor!

I count it such an honor to be associated with a parish under her direct patronage! May we all follow Mary’s advice that she gave in John’s description of the Marriage Feast of Cana: “Do whatever He tells you to do.” These words were the last words we have from her in the Gospels. How great it would be to follow her advice!

Posted in Blessed Mother, Msgr. Ferrarese | Leave a comment

On the Value of the Humble by Monsignor

Immigration has become a hot topic politically. Since I am an immigrant myself, what is being said about this issue has particular power for me. My whole family were immigrants. This, I know, is not unique to me. Some of the talk about immigrants has been unenlightened by either historical experience or theological reflection. So I want to look at immigration in both an ordinary sense, but also with a spiritual understanding.

Recently, an idea has been put forth that is not only un-Christian, but also could be detrimental to our country. This is the plan to remake our immigration system to let in only the skilled and the educated.

If we look honestly at our own history, both national and personal, we will see that the greatest accomplishments came from people who came here poor and uneducated, but through opportunities not available in their nation of origin and through a demanding work ethic, have brought forth families, many members of whom were educated here and have given to our country great leaders and contributors that have made this country great. Who knows how many children of these humble people will be the next political, economic or spiritual leaders of the future?

Look at our own families. Many of our ancestors came from starvation in thatched huts of Ireland; humble one-room dwellings of Italy; pogrom infested villages of Poland; and have come to this country and became productive and loyal members of the country that gave them the American Dream.

We want the poor of the earth. We need them! For they have the motivation and drive that will keep firing the engines of our economic growth.

The future of our country is in the children of the humble of heart and means. They have the fire of promise in that they want to work hard since they have seen the hopelessness in their countries and want something better for their children. It has always been the humble of the earth who were the greatest engines of progress, who provided the labor and the sacrifice that have made this nation great. We threaten to destroy this by favoring the educated over the uneducated, and the accomplished over those who were never given a chance to succeed.

This misguided preference for the educated also has a spiritual deficit as well. Jesus always saw the promise and the legitimate need that the poor of the earth have for the good of their children. The poor in spirit are blessed because they are humble and work with God’s will to do what is best for the world and for their children. To deny entry because they have not had the benefits others have had in the world is also to put a great sinful blotch on our collective history as a nation.

It is, of course, apparent that we cannot simply accept everyone who wants to come to America. But the system we put in place must not be so onerous that people are unable to enter in a legal way. The present system is very difficult and unfair. Some individuals have to wait as long as 14 years to enter the country legally. This kind of system gives incentive to more illegal ways of entering, especially when you factor in the desperate economic need of many of the peoples of the earth.

This is why the Bishops of the United States have been calling for comprehensive immigration reform. It is the only way, in the long run, to keep our system both effective and usable, making illegal means a thing of the past.

Posted in Msgr. Ferrarese | Leave a comment

Christ in All Things by Monsignor Ferrarese

Expanding and deepening the Vision of Christ is a challenge in the modern world where the usual vestiges of His presence are nowhere to be found.

I am writing this while sitting at a desk in the beautiful Italian town of Positano on the Amalfi Coast, south of Naples. It is a breathtakingly beautiful place! The houses are built into a hillside facing the Mediterranean Sea. The town is like a huge amphitheater facing the Mediterranean. Every window in its steep expanse has a view of the water. At night, the lights of the city look like a giant Christmas tree with the narrow part at the base and its branches getting wider the higher you go. It is magnificent!

At the very center of the town is a beautiful Basilica dedicated to Our Lady. The architecture itself and the placement of the Church says, “Faith is the center of our lives!”

When you contrast this to any new development of housing here in the United States and elsewhere, we immediately notice that it is made primarily for cars and not pedestrians. The Church, when there is one, is on the outskirts surrounded by a large parking lot. Compared to Positano and the centrality of the Church to the community, the suburban town, in regards to the location of the Church says, “Our faith is on the outskirts of our lives, where you have to search for it!”

Our own Church of the Immaculate Conception is in the old model: it stands at the very center, at the very crossroads of Astoria. While there are other Catholic Parishes in Astoria, everyone has seen the tall tower of Immaculate Conception that says to everyone, “The Catholic Church is here!”

This said, it may seem that I will contradict myself in what I am about to say. As you get deeper into our Catholic Faith and see its centrality, you are then liberated to perceive that the Divine is not kept within the Church. A truly spiritual vision of our Catholicity sees the presence of Christ everywhere. It is too confining to board up the Eternal God and Creator of the Universe in a small church or a holy place or among Catholics. God is at work loving and saving everywhere and it is through Christ our Lord that He is doing it. Yes, all over the world, God can be found! The Spirit of Jesus is the only way to the Father and He is doing it in “ten thousand places lovely in limbs not his through the features of men’s faces” (As Kingfishers Catch Fire, Gerard Manley Hopkins). These last lines are of the poet Hopkins who tried to show in poetic form that the redemption by Christ cannot be held hostage by limiting categories. What is great about Christianity is that we perceive this truth in all its radical implications. As the most incarnational of all faiths, we see that in the Word of God becoming flesh, He has transformed all of reality, even in areas that seemingly are against Him!

So on the one hand, as I get older, I want what is the best and most beautiful of experiences: that of prayer and the experience of the Holy, echoing St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians, “For His sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Phil 3:8-9). Yet on the other hand, while I am inspired by a beautiful Church and a serene monastery, I also see Christ in the city and in the subway and in the ordinary. Everything speaks to me of my Beloved. Even when I see evil and sin, I am reminded of the wonderful alternative: goodness and love of God; and I have nothing but pity for the sinner lost in the false joys and corrupt pleasures of evil and sin.

The Saints even urge compassion for the demons and the devil since they live lives of terrible suffering, trapped in their pride and arrogance. Like the great image of the three headed Lucifer (a mocking of the Trinity) in a lake of ice from Dante’s Inferno, who beats his vast wings so fast and hard, energized by his pride, that he continually freezes the water he is embedded in, thus never able to truly break free! If he only stopped and became humble, admitting the greatness of God and his own sin, his wings would stop beating, the water would melt and he would be able to fly into the arms of God his Father!

We are our own enemies! God does not condemn us. We condemn ourselves. What we need is for the Lord, as he did so many times in the Gospel, to touch our blindness and give us spiritual sight that we may see the wonder and the goodness and the love of God all around us. Once seen, how can we prefer the darkness of sin?

Posted in Msgr. Ferrarese | Leave a comment

Learning to Appreciate by Monsignor Ferrarese

One of the great things about living in Astoria is its diversity. People may give lip service to the benefits of diversity, but here in Astoria we live it day by day. In other parts of the city, we can hear foreign languages, but here they are everywhere. I use the plural because it is not just Spanish or Greek, but Arabic, Albanian, Croatian, Hungarian, Russian, Galician, Maltese, Czech, Slovak, Ukrainian, and many other languages that are unknown to me and therefore unclassifiable. But they are everywhere!

Each block is a microcosm of the United Nations.

This situation that we find ourselves in is a great gift since it lifts us out of our ‘little world’ and makes us see the wider reality in which we actually exist. This wider world is mirrored in the relatively new world of the internet. We can be in contact with people all over the world in an instant. This global perspective is something very new and places on our shoulders a new responsibility for the rest of humanity.

A number of years ago, we sponsored a series of lectures on the different religious traditions of the world. This was our “Connections’ series. The first of these drew the largest number of participants. It was called “Christianity and Islam”.  After these five groups of lectures, we turned our attention to Catholicism and its various spiritual pathways. We are currently looking at the Pathway of St. Francis.

But our previous group of teachings was a way, in itself, of appreciating our Catholic heritage. One thinker put it this way: you don’t know your own faith until you compare and contrast it with the faith of others. This is why openness is so important to appreciating one’s own heritage. We must acknowledge that God is at work in all these cultures and spiritual ways and not try to limit God.

This does not mean, however, that all faiths are equally relevant and that it does not matter that we are Catholic Christians. The Second Vatican Council clearly states that there are elements of the truth in all faiths and that as such they are all to be respected in so far as they speak that truth. But we believe that the fullness of the truth resides in Catholicism. In my experience, I have often admired practices and expressions found in other faiths. But I have also found that particular reality in my own Catholic faith. To take an example: the whole area of ‘mindfulness’ that comes from Eastern Religions is to be found in our faith as the ‘sacrament of the present moment’. There are many other spiritual realities that are highlighted and given wonderful expression in other faiths, but that I have found them also in our Catholic Faith. But my point in urging the study of the other faiths is that the appreciation enhances and reinforces my own commitment to Catholicism.

Whenever we honestly appreciate something in this wonderful world, whether it be of goodness, truth or beauty, it should help us in our Catholic Faith and not be a hindrance. Fear and suspicion need not, therefore, hold sway.

This is a wellspring of possibilities inherent in a diverse environment. When fear of the other is replaced by a mutual respect and a willingness to learn from the other, it makes possible much cross fertilization, bringing new realities to bear. If God is indeed a mystery, and if all attempts to explain God are doomed to failure, then the quest for truth and the sharing of this quest with humility becomes a great advantage.

That is not to say that there are no non-negotiables in the sharing, and that each religious tradition may still feel the completeness of its perspective, but it does so striving to learn from the other and not just to teach the other the error of its ways.

Fear often leads to disastrous consequences. Trust in God is essential for spiritual growth, for it is He who leads me to green pastures (as the Psalmist says).

There is a Jesuit adage that I find very compelling and comforting in this world of diversity: find Christ in everything! It’s my hope that we as individuals and as a community may feel so secure in our faith that everything, except sin, will lead us to Christ!

Posted in Msgr. Ferrarese | Leave a comment

The Call – Part IV by Monsignor Ferrarese

Since we have seen that we must all work to make our Church, and in particular our parish, a fervent center of devotion to be able to become the sound tree that will produce the fruit of vocations (The Call, Parts I – III), the question naturally arises: how do we do this?

Firstly, I think this is the wrong question. More exactly, what it should be is: how do I do this? All ecclesial action must begin with the individual Catholic Christian saying, “I will do this!” Otherwise, we are condemned to inaction since the Church is a community of persons, each of whom have been given the free will to choose or not to choose the right thing. Only when I choose the good thing over the bad or wrong things am I truly free. This is an important distinction. We have free will as a gift, but we have freedom only when we freely choose what God wants us to choose since He knows what is truly best for us. In modern terms, we often use the word ‘freedom’ when we mean ‘free will’. It is only freedom when free will moves us in the direction that is creative and good and willed by God. To go in the other direction is termed ‘license’ and it is everywhere considered a negative in the spiritual journey.

So, when I choose to live a more fervent prayer life, when I choose to forgive my neighbor from my heart, when I worship God each day as the most important reality of my life, when I choose to be more observant of Church teaching, and then when I join other parishioners of the same mind and heart, then and only then does the tree become sound and the fruit begin to appear.

This is a mysterious process because it involves the action of God on the human person and that action is invisible and impossible to quantify. We often see the result (e.g. a vocation) yet are at a loss to explain where it came from.

As the process of sanctification continues in the individual parishioner, the second stage, which is the mysterious complexus of interrelationships and communal efforts, takes place. This network of individuals being purified forms a people that are holy and, in that holiness, inspiring. When a young man or young woman sees that the spiritual is the ultimate value and that concern for God’s will undergirds all the daily activities of life (family, work, friendship etc.), then, naturally and imperceptibly, that young soul, idealistic and open, wants to be part of what is most important in life. If that entails a life of poverty, chastity and obedience, then they will want to live that life with a powerful enthusiasm that laughs at the difficulties and sacrifices involved. The young person begins to see that it is not the money or the power or the fame that brings meaning, but it is found in humility and meekness before the awesome love of God. Suddenly the tree is laden with fragrant fruit!

As good Americans, we think that throwing money at a problem or finding the right person will turn things around quickly. I am suggesting that this is a mistaken idea. Concern for vocations is not up to a program, nor up to good examples of priesthood (though this helps!), nor renewed awareness (though this doesn’t hurt!), because this is an ecclesial issue that requires a Church-wide approach. This is especially true given the now adversarial secular culture in which we live.

So the challenge for us in this year of Vocations is to make up our minds, individually, to live more devout and more observant religious lives. It means putting attendance on Masses and religious services on the highest rung of priorities. When children see full churches again; when families attend masses together; when the question no longer is, “Do we have to do it?” but rather becomes, “What more can I do, what more can I give, what more can I sacrifice?”, then we will begin producing more vocations for the wider Church.

This needs to happen not just in our parish. The lived life of the priest must be renewed so that the call of the Lord does not result in being introduced into a way of life that is decadent and materially oriented. Religious life must be moving more and more to a rigorous adherence to original charisms. This is what I mean when I said that this is a task for the whole Church. No one can do this on their own. It is too big. Only God can renew the Church to make it more fervent, more filled with devotion.

But every cell of the Body of Christ needs to do its part in remaining faithful and in trying to strain toward this fulfillment. This is why we must do our part, as individual Catholics and as distinct parochial communities, to welcome the new Kingdom of God that He is forming in our midst.

Posted in Msgr. Ferrarese | Leave a comment

The Call – Part III by Monsignor Ferrarese

We saw in the last meditation (The Call – Part II, 09/24/17) that a positive response to the call of Christ to follow Him in contemporary life depends on what we termed the ‘Vertical Dimension’ of Faith. This refers to the direct connection of God within our daily life. God breaks into our ordinary daily life with His extraordinary presence. This must be mediated by the community of Faith (the Church) and by its ongoing prayer (the Liturgy). This ever-present sacredness, which should permeate our understanding of all reality, must be ‘acted out’ within certain sacred precincts of communal action.

How then as a community can we live a more fervent life so that we naturally produce those vocations as easily as a healthy apple tree produces apples?

This is a difficult question that goes to the very heart of what it means to be a Christian. We have to admit that one of the habits that we fall into is that we simply do the minimum when it comes times to living the Christian life.

Individually, as members of the Body of Christ, we must ask for the gift of Faith since according to the Gospels even Jesus could not do any miracles if the people did not have faith. We need His help even with having faith. Remember the father of the sick child who expressed the deeply meaningful prayer: “I do believe, help my unbelief!” This unbelief is reinforced by our secular age that has cast off all cultural supports to faith and placed us in a materialist desert where we are starving and thirsting for the spiritual. This is why people have turned to crazy beliefs. We cannot live totally without faith!

But this call to faith is not an intellectual exercise. It must be joined to a love that reaches out and finds its surest expression in devotion. Devotion is the rare and powerful activity that shows forth the trust and love and commitment we show to God. It must proceed from a truly humble heart that seeks to do the will of the beloved above all things and in all things. When someone is in love he is capable of doing anything that the beloved asks for. Behind this is the powerful erotic drive. But behind the parallel movement of faith in the drive of devotion is the energy of faith and trust.

To kneel before the Blessed Sacrament in humble affection, to forgive those who harm us from the heart, and to see in the sick the presence of Jesus Himself are all acts of devotion. A community that together acts this drama out each day will produce the heat and power that will generate vocations to lifelong service in the Church. Anything less than that will simply produce individuals who have themselves as the center of action and who fall away easily like the seed planted in bad soil. The true soil of vocations is devotion.

This devotion cannot be weak willed and unable or unwilling to sacrifice a great deal in achieving union with God. We use the word ‘fervent’ to designate a mode of doing something with great power and force. One who has fervent devotion is willing to make great sacrifices, to be inconvenienced, to face opposition in the fulfillment of a perceived desire that God reveals.

The enemy of a fervent devotion is the quest for convenience and the placement of other priorities in front of the Spiritual. Instead of a person of fervent devotion, one sees someone who is weak and open to compromise, one whose heat has cooled.

This, unfortunately, seems to characterize the lack of devotion we see in our midst. This weak expression will not in any way produce the fruit of vocations, no matter what programs we devise. A rotten tree cannot produce good fruit; only a good tree can.

If, for instance, we begin to see a large and vibrant turnout at our Parish Holy Hours, large numbers at daily Masses, sell-out crowds at adult education opportunities, we will begin to see the devotion which is creative and which naturally produces the fruit of vocations.

No one program can do this. It takes the individual parishioner who makes a firm act of the will to put nothing before their faith and its natural expression, who looks for opportunities to deepen and develop their faith, who searches the scriptures on their own, who, in a word, puts their faith ‘first’; it takes parishioners like this to be the ones who contribute to a culture of vocations that will produce the priests and religious sisters and brothers of the future.

Posted in Msgr. Ferrarese | Leave a comment

The Call – Part II by Monsignor Ferrarese

The Lord gives us a clue to the answer that we were searching for in our last essay (The Call – Part I, 9/17/17): Why are there so few vocations here in the United States when we need them? The Lord says in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew that a good tree produces good fruit and a rotten tree produces rotten fruit. Could it be that it is what we have become as a Church that makes the fruit of vocations so scarce? This is not a pleasant conclusion but we need to look at it.

I am not simply saying that we, as a Church, need to implement a vocation program that will turn things all around. Many good programs have been proposed and implemented, but they have not been the answer. We certainly should have programs that assist those called to find and accept their calling from God. But the problem goes deeper.

As we look at the communities where there are many vocations being produced, such as in India, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Haiti, we find examples of vibrant faith, truly intense spiritual liturgies, and a strong prayer life in families. This was true here in the United States when vocations were plentiful. It was not odd to see families gathered in the evening saying the rosary together. When do we see this today? Families were usually larger as children were not seen as economic burdens but as gifts from God. Church was not what you did on Sunday, but was the center of community life as it is today in the aforementioned countries.

In these countries, people travel to Mass having made great sacrifices to be there, sometimes walking many miles early in the morning. Consequently, Mass is more than an ordinary reflexive action that we do each day, but a deeply spiritual experience.

What I find hard to describe is what we have lost: the sense of the supernatural that makes all sacrifices worth it, and that elevates the religious to a place high above other activities. This ‘Vertical Dimension’ creates the ambience, the environment that makes vocations grow and prosper. While the ‘Horizontal Dimension’ is important in the development of community life, it is the vertical that establishes our connection with the spiritual world and our future in Christ.

We see the unfortunate movement away from the Vertical Dimension of faith when we consider the change in appreciation of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. In the past, we had a deep reverence for the Eucharist. We knelt before the host. We received on our tongues. Only the Priest could touch the Eucharist, and even the sacred vessels of the Chalice and Ciborium were handled only by those ordained to do so.

But today, even some ordinary church going Catholics see the Holy Eucharist as only a sign of the presence of Christ in the community. That is why Catholics are very blasé about receiving Communion, and even though they are clearly not in the state of grace (perhaps through an invalid marriage or even cohabitation,) they think that it is their right to be able to receive Communion. In a recent survey of “churchgoing” Catholics, a majority did not think the Eucharist was the true and real presence of Christ! Given this heretical belief, it is not surprising that these Catholics see no problem in having everyone receive Holy Communion, even those who do not share our Catholic Faith. They think it impolite not to offer Communion to everyone irrespective of that person’s belief system. The Body of Christ has become a mere sign of hospitality, a sort of canapé to be offered to guests!

The truth is that one should approach Holy Communion with an element of fear of the Lord. To receive the Lord unworthily is a very serious if not mortal sin.

My use of this example is to demonstrate that the fall-off in vocations parallels the loss of belief in the Supernatural bases of our faith. We used to approach the vocations of Priesthood and Religious Life with a deep sense of awe that made the sacrifices involved (poverty, chastity and obedience, celibacy) worth it. People looked up to those called and a family felt honored to be chosen by God for this selection.

Unless we reassert our faith in the Supernatural bases of our belief, especially in this materialistic world, we will continue to see a decline that threatens the very existence of the Church as we know it.

Posted in Msgr. Ferrarese | Leave a comment

The Call – Part I by Monsignor Ferrarese

Why would God need us for anything? This sounds like a simple question, but it is very profound; as profound as I get regularly from our ‘young theologians’ (my term) in our first grade class!

The logic goes this way: God can do all things, so why doesn’t He do everything Himself? Why does He call on us to do things for Him? A vocation is a calling from God. I think we can agree that He does not need us, but He still insists on getting our participation in His creative work in the world.

One of the most important presuppositions theologically is that if we are made in the image and likeness of God (first chapters of Genesis) then we must be creators also; and this act of creation must be free. It benefits not just the recipient of the act, but also the doer (the creator). Just as any artist grows by creating, so we become who we are by creating. So that is why God does not do it all Himself. If He did, we would not be made in the image and likeness of God!

To illustrate: if someone asks us to decorate a house and we arrive with a lot of great ideas, how would we feel if everything had already been done? I’m sure we would be disappointed that the owner did not need us or our ideas.

God has given us a beautiful but unfinished world. He asks us to help Him to create a new world based on the freedom of each person. He allows evil into the picture since we must be able to freely have alternatives. We can choose against Him as crazy as that may be! He therefore calls some of us to special service in what is completely God’s world. But because human beings like to take possession of things, we live in the fiction that this is our world and that we contact God only in special places called Churches and with special help from those consecrated to God. So He allows for sacred places and calls some to sacred roles in what is really a world filled with His presence. He inspires prophets to call us back to the right road when we listen to evil and walk in our own ways. This is the world as we know it, where there is darkness and light, truth and error.

In the Church, there are those called to roles of sacred service for the good of the whole community. In Catholicism, this is chiefly the vocations of Priesthood (and by extension the Episcopacy and the Diaconate) and the Consecrated life (which includes monks, nuns, friars, brothers and sisters, hermits, etc.). These callings are essential for the life of the Body of Christ. Yet the response to these callings is affected by the prevalent culture and the individual freedom of each person that is being called to this special role in the Church.

Here in the United States, we are experiencing a sharp decline in the number of vocations. Just look at our own Convent. There were 18 Sisters living in that building, all them working for the most part in the ministry of teaching in Immaculate Conception School. But because of the lack of vocations, they aged, and some died, with no one younger to care for them. The Rectory at one point had 6 active working Priests. We now have only three of us assigned. We are one of the lucky ones since some parishes are down to only two, one or even no Priests! This has happened over the course of only 50 years. Did God stop calling people to these traditional roles of service in the Church?

I don’t think it is true that God has stopped calling people to service in the Church. For instance, there are many more lay people working in the Church. Catholic School Teachers, CCD catechists, liturgical ministers etc. are now lay people. This is a wonderful thing, but it does not fully answer the question regarding God’s call. A full lifetime commitment is essential to a vocation. To devote all of one’s life to poverty, chastity and obedience, which is the essence of the consecrated life, is still a special, demanding and necessary call in the Church. In addition, one needs Priests since we are a sacramental church. The Eucharist is at the center of our life as a Church, but without Priests there is no Eucharist!

So why are there less Priests and religious in America? Is God still calling them?

I believe that God is still calling, but that the culture, secular and godless, makes answering the call very problematic for young people. They have to go against what they see constantly on TV and the Internet. If sex is an ultimate value, and even a right, then to forgo it and live a life of abstinence and celibacy is the height of the ridiculous. Yet at the same time, Celibacy emerges as a truly countercultural statement and therefore becomes even more compelling in its prophetic and challenging nature. But the Church must also step up to teach, support and challenge by a vibrant faith life those called to these essential ministries.

Are we as a parish community doing that?

Bishop DiMarzio has declared this to be a year of vocations. Let’s see what the Church is doing and what we as a parish can do to support and enhance this radical vision in the Church.

Posted in Msgr. Ferrarese | Leave a comment