Endings by Monsignor Ferrarese

I think we all hope that we are on the tail end of this pandemic. We can get used to anything, even bad times. But this thing has worn out its welcome (if there was ever any!). Learning to move on is an art form. Sometimes when things are intolerable, we want to just head for the hills as fast as we can.

But sometimes, we may complain, yet we linger. People who have worked with inmates in our prisons tell us that they get so used to the routine and having a place to sleep and food each day to eat, they are afraid when they are told that they are free.

Dostoyevsky once wrote in one of his novels that there is nothing we fear more than freedom. True freedom requires responsibility. Hence, we have to live with the consequences of the use of our freedom.

One has to, at this point, distinguish between freedom and free will since they are often confused. Free will is the gift of God which enables us to choose between right and wrong and also between different levels of goods. Freedom is the use of free will to co-create this world with God. Freedom is the proper use of free will.

So that one can choose a lot of things using one’s free will yet be totally unfree. The gift of Freedom is the freedom to do the right thing. When one uses the will to do something evil, this is not freedom, but a license to live in bondage and slavery. No matter what the choice, if it is evil, we are slaves.

Which brings me back to the pandemic. We can be very uncomfortable with the lockdown and the lack of choices we have, but if we dedicate ourselves to helping and being of assistance, we are very free even in this pandemic. But if we come out of this and use our free will to sin and do bad things, we are no longer free, even when the pandemic is over.

This is the true mentality that we need to foster as the Pandemic (hopefully) recedes and we begin to live our lives normally again. One of the things that I would have learned if I had not been a priest and had the privilege to receive Holy Communion every day, is how central the Eucharist is to the life of a Christian and how often I took the Mass for granted and did not fully comprehend the gift of receiving the Lord in His completeness in Holy Communion. If we were ever put in prison for being Catholic Christians, that would be one of the real sufferings: to be separated from my Lord and unable to receive Him into my very body.

Now, I understand why the priests in Dachau risked their lives in secretly constructing sacred vessels from tin cans, and how they would have Mass in the dark when the guards were asleep! They even managed to consecrate a bishop in hiddenness! They appreciated the Sacraments as never before!

These tough few months have been great teachers to all of us. It is often when we lose our bearings and humbly open ourselves to God’s guidance that we can see a new reality being born through renewed appreciation.

The Catholic Church is going through a kind of period of purification and renewal. Trouble is we cannot see what the new Church will be. There is death all around us: dying institutions, dying friends and people we looked up to, dying clarity of vision. It takes great faith to see in these endings, the hand of God bringing forth new life.

I remember growing up in the fifties: full churches, flourishing schools and institutions, tons of vocations. The Church was the center of life and of the neighborhood. All of that has changed. What is left is Faith, pure and simple. All the props and helps are gone. We need to stand on our own two feet and give ourselves to Christ in an act of surrender and filial obedience.

To believe that in these endings, we are beginning a new chapter of Christ’s love is the task before us. What the Church will look like in the future is hidden from us. All we have is trust.

And that is enough.

“Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will act And make your righteousness shine like the dawn, your justice like noonday” (Psalms 37:5).

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The Great Song by Monsignor Ferrarese

Recently I lost a friend to the pandemic. I had known him since we were in the seminary in 1964. We were both high school freshman with all the hopes and fears that everyone has when beginning in a new school, especially when all your friends from the neighborhood went to other high schools.

Augie and I both came from similar backgrounds: working class, Italian American households. During our 12 years of preparation for the Priesthood, we were aware of each other, but traveled in different circles of friends.

We were joined in a special way by our love of the Priesthood. This was the guiding motivation of our lives. Our seminary training ended with Ordination to the Holy Priesthood, and consequentially we saw little of each other thereafter. While I was working in the parish ministry and the needs for staffing it (my years as Vocation Director), Augie felt a call to help people who had mental illness. So, he went for another degree and began work at Catholic Charities and eventually a long stint as a counselor at Creedmoor. He helped numberless people there who were society’s throwaways, even to the point of being attacked by some of the more dangerous ones. His ill health continued and eventually he had to retire earlier than usual. Multiple health problems, including a weak heart, led him to the Coronavirus and death.

As I stood with his family at the graveside, along with his Priest-friends, I realized what a hidden treasure he was. He was a gentle reminder of the quiet and stable love that God shows each of us. As we live we are called to embody something about God’s love and care for us. In his quiet and daily commitment, Fr. Augie showed to me and all who knew him the continual, unchangeable love of God.

But it takes a whole life to show us this.

Patience is not a virtue we admire in the modern world. We want everything yesterday. But some really important things take time and even then, we can miss them if we are not attuned to the working of God in the quiet of lives like Fr. Augie.

This Pandemic needs to be seen in this wide sense of time. Beyond the momentary and temporary distractions and privations that it causes, it must teach us the things of eternity and of the Divine workings in our daily lives.

We are vulnerable creatures whose time on earth is very limited. We believe in God’s love and in His providence. He cares for us and leads us. The point of it all is not the holding on to this or that in this life. We are destined to be His for all eternity. Then what is the purpose of this time on earth?

As we live each moment of our lives (which seems to take so long when we are young and moves too quickly when we are old), we are called not to see our ultimate purpose as happiness here on earth. We are in training for the freedom of heaven, the gates of which let in only those who have freely chosen to be obedient to God’s will while on earth, thereby contributing to the healing of the original sin of our first parents (called Adam and Eve in the Scriptures).

But we tend to hold onto things.

I remember a great insight of a the saintly prior of the Charterhouse of La Grande Chartreuse named Guigo. He wrote that creation was a song that God was singing. Sin is when we try to hold onto one of the notes. When an organ is being repaired and the repairer plays one note endlessly to tune it, you could go crazy! Any note in a song is beautiful. To want only one note is to contribute to the end of the song.

We do this all the time. But God asks us to stay with the song and let other beauties be formed, played and echoed in the vastness of the song of creation.

Fr. Augie’s life was a symphony of obedience and ordinary daily love. Every day something new is sung and when seen in its totality, it becomes more than a life, it becomes a masterpiece. A song only God could sing.

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Biological Truth by Monsignor Ferrarese

One of the things that has hit us hard in this Pandemic is the realization that we are so vulnerable to biological reality. A virus that we cannot see can kill us. Our best defense is the biological defenses that our bodies produce (antibodies). What scientists are trying to do with all their great intellectual and technological resources, our bodies can do almost automatically.

What we call biology can therefore be seen as part of the creative action of God. On a parallel track, given the mathematically precise proportions of all that is, some authors call God the Mathematician par excellence. What I am suggesting is that given the dimensions and the quality of all that is life biologically, God can also be called the great biologist.

Just think of how we are created in the womb. By the love of our father and our mother, sperm and egg are united. A process of growth ensues: zygote, embryo, fetus, infant. This highly complex growth happens automatically. Even in the poorest and uneducated women, the amazing is occurring in their wombs. They have only to provide proper nutrition to give the body the building blocks to see this to its stupendous climax: the birth of a human being. God is at work in the womb, the great Artist sculpts in human flesh.

There is another factor that is involved in the assessment of the importance of the biological factors that come from God’s hands: it is the importance of the human collaboration in creation and the sustenance of life.

Many times, in different biological processes things may go wrong. This sometimes happens in the creation of the human being in the womb. It requires that the doctor intervene to correct the imbalance or remedy the process gone awry. This is not always permissible if it leads to death. For instance, a fetus is found to be afflicted with Down’s Syndrome. If there is a way to correct that biologically by something the doctor can do to make that developing human being be freed of the affliction, it would be ok for the doctor to proceed. But to terminate the pregnancy (which is happening in the majority of such cases today) is not morally allowed. To kill a developing human life is not a remedy to Down Syndrome, it is an intensification into the realm of moral evil.

This interplay between the mind of the human person, which includes knowledge and wisdom and God’s will in action is still bound by universal precepts that cannot be put aside. That something can be done does not mean it ought to be done. Humankind got to this question in a dramatic way when it sought to create the atom bomb. Nuclear energy is a good that with great care can be used for humanity but use of the atom bomb can never be justified because of its widespread destruction of innocent human
life.

The same is true in the realm of biology as in the debate over gender identity. Where does the given of one’s birth gender end and the ability of human ingenuity to chart a new biological reality begin? What is the given of God’s purpose and the arena of man’s ability to change that purpose?

You see that seeing God as the ongoing creator in the here and now has vast modern consequences, even legally.

For those of us who are baptized and confirmed Catholics we have the wisdom of the Church’s Magisterium to guide us and protect us from error. There are many, even in the Church, who do not accept that authority and feel that they can form their own opinions apart from that authority. This fundamental division affects where we stand on issues dealing with the importance of the biological dimension and what can and cannot be done in cooperating with the actions of God in this domain.

Where we stand on the binding authority of the Church’s teaching may be predictive of our stand on a host of moral issues. It would be well to be clear where we stand and the implications of that stand in dealing with the actions of God in the biological realm and the limits of human intervention.

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Still Creating by Monsignor Ferrarese

Often, we should investigate our common assumptions about reality to see whether what we believe is in fact accurate when we compare it to reality. The subjective is not always objectively true. This has vast implications.

Take the statement that God created the universe.

If we look at that statement, there is a kind of mental picture we get of God (an old man in the sky?) creating everything out of nothing and then sort of walking off to an eternity of rest.

But this is a hopelessly juvenile way of considering the creation of all reality outside the Godhead. This is the great service that evolution brings us (when properly understood, for many atheistic scientists allow their materialist biases to subvert their objectivity). In this view of creation, God is always at work creating the world and sustaining it with His intelligence and power.

But at the same time, this new understanding of the creating God shows the importance of our role in the creation. By cooperating and even collaborating in the creation of this unfinished world, we come upon a reformulation of an age-old theological problem: that of predestination and free will. If we as creatures of God are made in His image and likeness (Genesis), then we also must be creators. But how can God freely create and fulfill His will and at the same time give an important role for man, as co-creator of the world. Predestination signifies God’s role and Free Will that of the human collaborator.

In the old way of understanding the creation, God did it all, and it is up to man the creature to accept or reject this. To accept means joy and heaven, and to decline it is sin and hell.

But in this new and more evolutionary way of seeing the ongoing creation and sustaining of the universe, man is welcomed as a co-creator. So, when we discover the cure for polio, we are creating new possibilities for reality to take.

More and more it becomes clearer and clearer the great power humanity has to make a difference in the world of the future. Science has shown that God has placed the building blocks of future solutions in the factors that science has discovered (e.g. genes).

But it is also possible to err in this and to take those building blocks of future possibilities and, through our sinfulness, devise new and more destructive means of annihilating God’s creation (nuclear, biological and chemical warfare). Not only do we have the capacity of eating the forbidden fruit, we can buzz saw the tree and use it for firewood!

This responsibility that the Lord gives us is part of the ‘coming of age’ of humanity. Parents are often very pleased to see their children doing things to assist them. As the child freely takes responsibility for helping his or her parents, the child feels great satisfaction and the parents are justly proud of the industrious nature of their child.

I remember when I was about 4 years old and my parents had a dinner party for some family friends. They were in the living room talking and had piled up the dishes in the sink for later cleaning. Bored by the drone of their conversation, I went into the kitchen unnoticed and got up on a chair so that I could reach the sink. I turned the water on and began to wash the dishes. Hearing the racket, my parents came to see what was happening. Laughing and very proudly, they called their guests over to see how helpful their little son was! I was so proud of doing it that it probably helped me throughout my life to love work and the ability to make others happy because of it.

God must feel equally proud of us when we take responsibility for our lives and the lives of others, freely and joyfully. I feel we have not gone far enough in understanding the power and varied meaning of the image of God as Father. Like all good parents, God wants the best for us, gets angry when we do stupid and self-destructive things, and longs to share as much time as possible with us.

This is so far from the unconcerned God of the deists, the torturing God of the legalists and the marshmallow God of the new age gurus. Passionate, loving, involved, ever faithful, bringing good even out of our mistakes and sins.

We are not finished yet. The creator God is still creating and He wants us to collaborate with Him in a whole host of projects, most importantly in the project of my life.

What a glorious calling!

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The Importance of Place by Monsignor Ferrarese

A number of years back, I visited the building where I went to grammar school in the East New York section of Brooklyn. St. Rita’s was, at that time, packed with children. Almost every classroom had a Sister as a teacher who belonged to the School Sisters of Notre Dame. There was a very distinctive smell in the school, similar to soap of some kind.

I went to school there for 8 years, and it is in that building that I made friends, learned about my faith and got acquainted with the English language. I had many memories of the place, most of them wonderful, some of them scary!

As I went into the building in my recent visit, many feelings rushed out at me. The actual building seemed to hold the past in the walls. It was no longer a Catholic School, but was going to be leased. I will never forget the onrush of feelings that overwhelmed me as I entered what seemed to me a building that had shrunk! It was me, of course, that I had gotten bigger!

I think about the importance of place as places are beginning to be abandoned through fear of illness and everyone is doing everything from home and working remotely. Kids are now learning at home. But I cannot help thinking how much they are losing by not being in an environment of learning, in front of a teacher who could ‘exude’ the passion for learning. Some things are like radiation: you have got to be there and, if you are not there, one encounters a loss, and maybe a large one.

Let us say that, for instance, this education at home through computers becomes permanent. One can cite on the positive side that there are great savings. We don’t need a building with all the headaches it brings: boilers, repairs and cost. It seems like a win-win situation. But is it the same? Being in a classroom with other students, absorbing the heat and passion of the teacher’s love of the subject, seeing first-hand the enthusiasm around one, being present to the reality of the smells and sounds of the place: these things are non-tangibles but irreplaceable. In short, being surrounded by the reality of place and the synergy of the community of learning is an important reality that should not be given up. Can we quantify adequately the advantages of real presence to one another for the education not only of the mind but of the heart?

Even in business, working from home may incur losses. Being tied to a screen does not include the friendships developed and the insights attained by the proximity of others trying to find common solutions for the business at hand.

And in all this, we must factor the importance of variety and getting out of the usual that movement makes. It is healthier and may have other very positive results.

In the realm of the spirit, place has an even greater impact. When we opened the Church last week for the first time since it was shuttered due to the Pandemic, the faces of the people told a wonderful story. They were ‘home’ again! While it is true that one can pray to God anywhere and that God is not limited by geography, the Church building is a positive and powerful symbol of the spiritual quest and the reality of it.

Likewise, Spiritual Communion has many benefits, but it is not the same as actually receiving the very Body and Blood of our Lord. All who have been fasting from the Holy Eucharist may never take for granted actually receiving Holy Communion again!

What I am trying to say is that virtual communication and virtual presence are a very important benefit in these odd and difficult times. They allow us to continue with the work of the Lord and the education of our children, but we must never be complacent about the long-term deficits of living like this.

Children should be in an environment of education as worshipers should be in a total sensory ambiance of devotion. Virtual is not real. It is only a simulation, a kind of presence but not the real thing.

Hopefully there will be many things that we will never take for granted again. Perhaps that is the ultimate message to us in adjusting to this Pandemic: don’t take the ordinary for granted. It is a gift.

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The Other Way Around by Monsignor Ferrarese

There is a story I read somewhere which may help us understand the quest for Faith and the proper ordering of that quest:

A young married couple returns home from the hospital with their newborn child. They had worked hard during the pregnancy to prepare themselves, including the reading of many books on babies and child care. They put the baby in her crib and begin to ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ about the beauty and the wonder of their new child. Grandma watches from the doorway, smiling.

Then the baby begins to cry, very loudly! The new parents panic. They run around the room searching for their books to find out what to do. They both get lost in the index of their respective tomes. The grandmother watches benignly from the door way. Finally, tired of hearing the poor baby cry and watching the parents glued to their how-to manuals, in a loud voice she says, “Step one: put down the book. Step two: pick up the baby!” Seems simple, doesn’t it? But it is amazing how we get the simple things wrong!

Sometimes people struggle with their faith. They have not tried to pray nor tried to search the Scriptures. Because they can no longer believe in an ‘old man in the sky’ as God, they announce to anyone who will listen: I have lost my faith.

Often what people have lost is the childlike way they looked at God. But if we do not grow in our faith, the childlike can become the childish.

Sometimes, then, the ones who are serious about their faith go a step further and search every theology book they can get their hands on or they buy DVD’s and watch talks on YouTube. They think they will be able to reason themselves logically to a belief in God; and, when they can’t, they too think they have lost their faith.

This is a misunderstanding regarding how faith works. It is not something we intellectually come to like the Scientific Method. In science, one experiments and seeks to prove by data and facts the hypothesis that is thought of, but not logically and irrefutably proven. You can do this with science since you are dealing with things that can be measured and proven.

The Trinity, the Incarnation, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist cannot be logically proven to be true. They are not measurable realities. The locus of faith is not the intellect, it is the will.

This is the province of choice. Without proofs and with only hopeful probabilities, one has got to make a choice. Given all the uncertainties regarding beliefs, what am I going to choose to believe in? Shall I choose to believe in God and join the chorus of believers, or shall I choose to not believe in God and join the chorus of skeptics and unbelievers. Both choices involve leaps into the unknown and are products of faith: either a faith that says that God exists or a faith that asserts God does not exist. Both are leaps into the darkness. It is not a choice between faith and certainty. It is a choice between two different belief systems that have varied consequences and directions.

Once I have chosen to believe in God (even if doubts linger in the intellect) then I can use the mind to try to understand my belief. Saint Anselm put it most strikingly and succinctly: “Fides quaerens intellectus” or “Faith seeking understanding”. This is when the books begin to make sense, and not before.

So, once I have chosen to believe in God and in the Magisterium of the Church, then I can begin to investigate deeply and theologically the facets and factors of my faith system. This requires a great degree of humility. One must see that often I have been convinced of something that I then found out was wrong. Hence the wisdom and the need to be docile and respectful of the teaching of the Church and the Scriptural basis of that teaching. If I disagree with a Church teaching, I must have the intellectual humility to think firstly that I must have it wrong and then to study more deeply the Church documents and the Scripture passages that I find it hard to accept. Often, my reluctance is not intellectual but emotional, since it means that I am fallible and I need the Teaching. In today’s individualistic world, the Church is seen to be wrong if She disagrees with my opinion or that of the media to which I have given, albeit unconsciously, allegiance.

So, therefore, we need to put down the books and pick up the baby and only then do we grow as adult believers. Most people have it in the reverse; we need to approach this problem the other way around.

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The Solemnity of Pentecost

“When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. They were astounded, and in amazement they asked, ‘Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? Then how does each of us hear them in his own native language? We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.’   They were all astounded and bewildered, and said to one another, ‘What does this mean?’”  (New American Bible, Acts of the Apostles 2:1-12)

Pentecost was originally a feast of the Jewish faith that celebrated the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai.  It occurred fifty days after Passover, hence the name Pentecost meaning fiftieth.

Pentecost is celebrated as a Christian feast because of the events that occurred fifty days after Jesus’ Resurrection: the descent of the Holy Spirit on those individuals that had gathered in the Cenacle, the Upper Room, and inaugurated the beginning of the Church. Pentecost is one of the three most important liturgical celebrations of the Church year.  It celebrates and commemorates the establishment of the Church which is why it is referred to it as the “Birthday of the Church”.

The Pentecost Event, as I call it in my text, My Intended to be but Never, Ever, Ever to be Published Tome, is an occasion that radically impacted and drastically changed the Apostolic Church.  Hiding behind locked doors and windows in fear of their lives, the descent of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the Advocate, as promised by Jesus, transforms these individuals into people that boldly proclaimed the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus.

What does the Pentecost Event have to do with the Church today?

Many individuals might question why an event that occurred about 2,000 years ago can have any impact or meaning for us today.  Well, to me Pentecost can …

1. The Pentecost Event shows us what it truly means to be a Christian.

The word Christian does mean “Christ-like”.  Being a Christian means following Jesus and accepting his teaching, but it also means evangelization.  Evangelization may not mean vocal preaching, necessarily, but it does involve embodying and living out those principles that Jesus showed us and taught us.  As Lumen Gentium states: “Therefore in the Church, everyone whether belonging to the hierarchy, or being cared for by it, is called to holiness…” (#39).  We are ALL called to participate in the life and mission of the Church, whatever our talents and abilities are or wherever they lie. (Prager)

2. The Pentecost Event shows us how we, as Church, can deepen our faith.

The early Christian community “…devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.” (New American Bible,Acts of the Apostles 2:42)  The Pentecost Event reveals how we can start to make our faith deeper and fuller: by educating ourselves in what the Church teaches and practices; by participating in the sacramental (communal) life of the Church, especially the Eucharist; and by developing a deeper and more vibrant prayer life. (Prager)

3. The Pentecost Event can enable us to “see” the activity of the Holy Spirit in the entire Church and the Spirit’s involvement in the Church’s mission.

The Holy Spirit is at work through all the baptized since we are all called to holiness (see #1 above).  The Holy Spirit enables the entire Church, using the myriad talents of the ordained and laity in tandem, to advance the mission of the Church:

From my perspective the Church’s mission is a vocation, a calling; all the baptized are called to “do something” and this “doing something” is composed of four parts:

  • Spreading the Good News of our salvation through Jesus; that through the Paschal Mystery we have been saved, we can achieve eternal life.
  • Being a prophetic voice to others, calling others to change their lives and lifestyles; the Church is called to have a counter-cultural impact.  We are supposed to run counter to much of what the prevailing culture often says is good, right or just.
  • Being a sign of Christ to others, being of service, ministering to others, as Jesus did; we’re supposed to be living out and embodying those values and principles that Jesus taught us and showed, by which Jesus lived.
  • Regular and active participation in the sacramental life of the Church, especially the Eucharist.   However, I would also say, for our time, the sacrament of Reconciliation is an important one, as well, depending on how one lives their life.

We have been called as Church to put this mission into action wherever our talents and abilities lie.  Some of the baptized can preach some cannot; some can teach others cannot, but we all have talents that can be utilized to advance the Church’s mission.  For most of the faithful, it most likely lies in how we live our lives on a daily basis at home with our family, in interaction with our neighbors or at work with our colleagues. (Prager) A lot will say what good can that do?  Well, those of us in “the real world” are often the only place that others can see positive examples of what it means to really be a Christian, that’s what it can do.

The one question we might want to ask ourselves is: Do others see Christ in my actions and in me?

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church, (CCC), states: “…to be in touch with Christ, we must first have been touched by the Holy Spirit. He comes to meet us and kindle faith in us.” (CCC, #683)

So not only are we an Easter people we’re also a Pentecost people, the two events are inexorably tied together – the Holy Spirit given to us by the risen Jesus continues to guide and sanctify us as Church. (Prager)

Bibliography

The Catechism of the Catholic Church.  The Vatican, 06 Nov. 2002.  Web. 18 March.2020   < http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/_INDEX.HTM>

Lumen Gentium.  The Vatican, 06 Nov. 2002 Web. 25 March 2020 <http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html>

The New American Bible. The Vatican, 06 Nov. 2002.  Web. 12 Feb. 2020 <http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0839/_INDEX.HTM>

Prager, Edward.My Intended to be but Never, Ever, Ever to be Published Tome.  n.p.

                                                                                                                 

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You Can’t Go Home Again by Monsignor Ferrarese

I’m sure you have had an experience like this: You have fond memories of a place that you loved in your past. But you have been away from it for a while. You talk to a lot of people about how much you are looking forward to being there again. Your memory is filled with images and scents and conversations and feelings that you carefully remember and meditate on. It comes close to going there again and your expectations are heightened.

The day finally arrives and you get to the place of your dreams. But it is nothing like you remembered! Things have changed. Cherished moments can no longer materialize since the place is different. Sure, some things are in their proper place but the light is different, the sounds seem strange and you feel that sadness of loss. You can’t experience things the way you dreamed them. Everything is changed. You can’t go home again.

This Pandemic has had such farsighted and profound effects on the global community that going back to the way things were, to the ‘normal’ so to speak, is not possible. Everything has changed: our perceptions of reality, our view of who we are in the vast scheme of things, and most of all on the vulnerability and the transitory quality of our existence. I mean existence both as individuals and as a community.

So, it is important for us to try to understand these changes in perception and in reality, that have occurred and to begin to understand their implications.

At the very center of Christian Spirituality is a distinction between the earthly and the heavenly. We are exhorted in Scripture to be more concerned about the things that are above than the things of earth. This strikes the modern ears as absurd! Heaven and the things above seem just like pie in the sky. It smacks of the abdication of responsibility for the care of the earth and the here and now.

In the supposed readjustment that occurred as a consequence of the adaptation of the Second Vatican Council’s teaching to the action of the Church in real time (many argue whether or not the implementation of the Council’s teaching was beneficial or erroneous in some way) the ‘other worldly’ quality of the Church’s teaching (concern for things above) was lost. Many say that the concern of many young priests to bring back the old Latin Mass is an attempt to return to that other worldly concern.

I mention this tension because one of the things this Pandemic has been teaching us is that this world is fragile and, therefore, as Catholic Christians, we must readjust ourselves to a more solid concentration on our preparation for the eternal life for which we have been created. This is not our abiding city. We are all passing through. Any attempt to make this world the ultimate concern of our endeavors is like building our castle on sand. It will not last. This is the ultimate lesson of this pandemic. Focus on the future for which this earth is merely a preparation.

Along with this insight comes this sense of mutual solidarity in our essential vulnerability. This little bug has humbled us and has shown that all the scientific advancement as well as the growth of secular concerns (sometimes with the abandonment of Christ’s teaching) cannot mask (excuse the pun!) that we are here for only a brief time and that this is no abiding city, nor everlasting stay.

This helps us with the need for detachment from the concerns of this worldly prelude and the need for a proper reordering of our priorities so that we can both value creation as gift, but also reject worldly concerns on our journey to God’s Kingdom.

These thoughts are not easy to digest since they are not mirrored in any way in the popular culture around us. Death and talk of death have become the new obscenity. You hear on TV and on computer sites so much about sex that in previous times would never be uttered even in private. But when talking about someone’s death, we used to say “passing away”, but even that was judged as too harsh by our culture. So, someone just ‘passes’ like two ships in the night!

In the history of Christianity, there was even a welcoming of death. Think of St. Joseph who is invoked as the patron of a ‘happy death’. There cannot be a happy death in a godless world that does not believe in God or eternal life. Death is the ultimate absurdity and the final and ignominious end of our lives, rendering our existence as meaningless.

To confront this pandemic with a believer’s confident hope that even death may have its purpose is to say the least ‘counter-cultural’.

As Christians, we must never be sucked into that hopelessness. This is perhaps the ultimate lesson of this present earthly tribulation.

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Monkeys in the Mind by Monsignor Ferrarese

An arresting image of our penchant for distractions is provided by one of the Buddhist Philosophical works. When thinking of how undisciplined the mind can be, this book said that our thoughts were like monkeys who swing from branch to branch: one second on this branch and suddenly swinging to an opposite branch that propels the simian athlete in a completely new direction.

If we are really honest, this is a very accurate image of what is going on in our minds. One thing leads to another and another and to something really different and then…Well, you get the picture! Monkeys in the mind is what we live with most days.

Yet the spiritual reality of our lives as well as the physical exists right in front of us. But we don’t see it since we are mesmerized by those monkeys! And the sad thing is that we live most of our lives in this jungle of thoughts all of which have little reality about it.

In Eastern Non-Christian Meditation, there is a practice that has become very popular here in the West. It is called ‘Mindfulness’. What it basically tries to do is calm the flight of the mind into the past or the future or to any host of other distracting paths and to concentrate on one’s breath. The breath is important in this form of meditation because we do it all the time and therefore it can be utilized for these purposes in every phase of our busy lives. It focuses our attention on the present moment and what is happening right now.

While it is a very promising technique to harness the mind to a single purpose, it is often connected with elements of eastern religions or no religion at all that make it problematic for the Christian. It is problematic because it is partial. In the Christian worldview, this experience is better called the Sacrament of the Present Moment. It has been dubbed as that a number of centuries ago by a Jesuit theologian named DeCausade. It is a fuller understanding for a Christian because it brings God into the process, which does not arise in Buddhist or Secular concerns. But we believe in God and as such we see God and His grace at the very center of the present moment. While we can be mindful with what we accomplish and attempt to steer our attention to more stable and fruitful pursuits, it also opens us to the realm of prayer and as such fits better theologically with our understanding of reality.

This attempt to harness attention and focus it into a God centered existence has been aptly called Centering Prayer. But what I am suggesting as a way of utilizing the time we have in our pandemic includes prayer but also everything we do. To be centered in God as we shop and clean and plan and work and play is to be unified and built on a real foundation. Watching as we build on this foundation gives us the joy of meaning and purpose that all reality is actually going somewhere and that life is not a circular round of repetition but a linear movement toward a destination made more wonderful by the growth that it inspires.

In other words, we tame those monkeys by bringing the peace of God like a fragrance or beautiful melody, consolidating our energies and being attentive to the God filled present moment.

In addition, by placing our attention in the present moment we confer needed importance to the things right in front of us, especially the people who are present to us. Psychologists tell us that, in our relationships with one another, attention equals love. When a parent is actually attentive to their child, the child feels how important they are. Sadly, when that attention is missing, the child, no matter how materially off they are, feels that they are worthless. This is a very important consequence of our effort to keep ourselves in the present moment. When in a conversation and are truly ‘there’ with someone, it means that they are important and that they should be listened to.

Many and important are the consequences of living in the present moment. But it is not easy to quiet those monkeys!

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Humanity, Humbled by Monsignor Ferrarese

We can’t even see it! This invisible enemy. Yet how efficient and terrible it is! We had come to the point as a global community that we thought that we were freed from the past and that we had a glorious future ahead of us. We have traveled to Outer Space. We can visit any place on earth. We have an arsenal of weapons to protect ourselves. And yet….

This virus has humbled our world. We thought we could have it all and that nothing could stop our progress. And yet… Even people say, “God was a nice concept and maybe He is hanging out somewhere, but we really don’t need a god.” The pride of Adam is still in evidence! This idea that we don’t need God is at the root of our secular culture. Just as we have banished God from the Public Square, we have also given Him a termination notice from running the world. We thought that we were smart enough to do it. We thought we could be our own gods!

For people of faith, on the other hand, we never doubted our need for God. We have always known how vulnerable we are and how, without God, we are lost. It is a sad story. On the Left, Communists said there was no need for God and that He was dead. So, they produced the agony of the Gulag and the millions lost in China’s Cultural Revolution. On the Right, the National Socialists produced genocide and the Final Solution. Even here in America, our pride has sanctioned slavery, the mistreatment of native populations and the genocide of preborn Americans.

It stands to reason that God would need to get our attention and allow this virus to humble our pride; to wake us up.

It is a time for prayer and sacrifice.

It is a time for ultimates. By this I mean that, with sickness and death all around us, who of us has not thought about their own deaths and the sicknesses that lead there? Who of us has not asked themselves: “Does anything matter? Do I matter?” And when it comes to others close to us, we consider the possibility that they can suddenly be taken away from us, and then what?

The lack of Sacraments, the dearth of opportunities to mourn our loved ones and to visit and comfort the sick create an ambience of uncertainty and isolation.

A time for ultimate concerns and ultimate losses and final issues.

Yet this is Easter time in which we remember that death has been defeated by Christ; that being a Christian is a vocation to hope; that, in the face of these ultimates, we say: “I believe in God. I believe in the victory of Christ. I am not alone. I live in the Holy Spirit.” These are not vague wishes. We speak them with conviction and meaning, in spite of doubts. Because, in this Pandemic, we understand perhaps more deeply what the Resurrection means in our life.

After the Crucifixion and the burial of Jesus, Mary and the Apostles must have felt that all was lost. Their Lord, their friend, her Son; brutally tortured, shamed and murdered in front of them before a cheering crowd. His disciples hiding out, fearful of being arrested as part of His movement. They must have felt all was lost and there was no hope. That Sabbath must have been very quiet, subdued and tearful, just like what we are experiencing now.

What a turnaround that Sunday morning! The story continues! Jesus is alive, transcendent! Hope grows. We have seen the Lord! Suddenly, the gloom had lifted and the new reality had begun. Praise the Lord!

We are in that long Holy Saturday. Death and disappointment are all around us. Everything is changed. But it is not the end of the story. He is Risen!

We will emerge as a global community, hopefully a little wiser, and a little humbler. We might be able to see the price of pride and the beauty of Christ who will never abandon us, not even in the E.R.s of this plague.

Death may seek us out, but it has no lasting power over us, because He is Risen. And that is the last word.

Christus Vincit! Christus Regnat! Christus Imperat!

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