Politics and Principles by Monsignor Ferrarese

During the buildup to the recent Presidential election, someone asked Bishop Robert Barron whether he was a Democrat or a Republican. His answer was simple: “I am a Catholic”.

The reasons he gave for that answer was that there were many things in the party platform of the two Parties that he, as a Catholic Christian, supported; and that there were things, conversely, on both platforms that he disagreed with as a Catholic.

Like most Catholics, he based his reply on the principles embedded in our Church teaching that need to be protected. Once he knew what the two platforms contained, he was able to make a prudential judgment as to how he would vote.

A Catholic then could conceivably vote for one party in a presidential election and a different party in a more local election.

Where a Catholic draws the line is when a candidate’s positions are antithetical to one’s moral and ethical convictions as a Catholic. That is what makes the difference, not the party. Catholic teaching gives us the main principles. Then we make prudential judgments as to how we will vote.

The assumption here, of course, is that we are faithful Catholics who adhere to the Church’s teaching even when we might personally dissent from it. That requires from us an intellectual act of humility that declares that though we have a different opinion than what the Church teaches, we will trust the accumulated wisdom of the Church in her century’s old meditation on the Word of God more than our own opinions.

Dare I say that this kind of thinking runs contrary to the way most Americans think! The understanding of the modern person is that they know best what they should do and that no one has the authority to expect them to change their opinion or stance. No matter what.

This suspicion of authority is embedded in our history, from the Revolution of 1776 to the present!

A Catholic always needs to consider the underlying principles regarding individual issues when considering whom to vote for. The Church should not tell anyone whom to vote for, but must proclaim Her teaching involving those principles. That is guaranteed both by freedom of speech and freedom of Religion. The conversation regarding the direction of our country needs to be formed by our religious traditions so as to ensure that the laws that will govern our nation go in the right direction.

It is the responsibility of the individual citizen to take those principles and to evaluate who is the best candidate based on how they measure up to the principles involved. No one can or should give to anyone else that responsibility to make a personal prudential judgment. It lies with each citizen to make that decision. The Church can and should help with clarifying the issues involved but then it is the lonely and weighty action of the individual to ensure that he or she votes for the person who can best realize the moral vision that the Church proclaims.

This also sheds light on how we constitute our identity. The trend today, politically at least, is that people use their political party as an important and almost a defining part of their own identities. As I said before, I prefer to see things as Bishop Barron does. My political party is only a tiny part of who I think I am. I am a Catholic Christian first, perhaps only eclipsed by being a child of God. That is how I choose to see myself. My principles of how I live my life are given to me by my faith, and my relationship with God.

While I think politics is important (because it affects the lives of many people) it is not where I get my principles from. My faith directs everything and I try to make sure that nothing contradicts my faith.

As my mother used to say: First things first (in Italian of course!).

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The Problem of Pain by Monsignor Ferrarese

In this essay I will try to continue responding to our atheistic brothers and sisters in explaining why we believe in God and why their position is open to question. I would like to look at the problem of pain in our world.

Atheists and those struggling with their belief in God often declare, “Why should I believe in a loving God when there is so much suffering in the world that He created?”

The classic literary case for this position was penned by the great Russian Novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky in his magisterial work “The Brothers Karamazov”. In a fervent and powerful scene from this masterpiece, the atheist Ivan Karamazov confronts his brother the monk Alyosha with why he, Ivan, chooses not to believe in a god who allows innocent children to suffer. It is one of the most searing and explosive scenes in all of world literature. Ivan catalogues horrible accounts of cruelty done to children culled from the Russian newspapers of the day—real life situations.

Dostoyevsky was a deeply Christian writer, but he also was an honest man who refused to take pat answers to important questions. Ivan, therefore, comes off as someone who is very compassionate and objects to a god who seems not to be caring to the most defenseless of innocents.

While there are many atheists that are not such caring and conscientious individuals, the voice of a great intellectual like Ivan makes us search for true answers to these emotionally turbulent questions.

The evils usually sited can be placed under two general headings: Cosmic Evil and Human Evil.

Under Cosmic Evil, we place all the natural disasters like tsunamis, earthquakes, pandemics etc. These lack a human agent. They just happen to us. We rather blithely call them ‘acts of God’. Of course, all of the talk regarding these difficult questions must begin with the fact that no one explanation can be satisfactory and that there is a danger in coming to very pat answers.

The thinking around a response to this issue moves in this way: God has placed us in an unfinished world that is constantly evolving. Because we are made in the image and likeness of God and God is a creator, we also must be creators, firstly through procreation and then using the talents and intelligence that God has given us to help make this a better world. So, the study of earthquakes and their forecast and detection is part of the work of God that He has given to man. Of course, humankind can choose to devote themselves to blowing each other up rather than making earthquakes less lethal for the human community. But such is God’s respect for our use of freedom that He will allow it and not constantly overprotect humanity, so that it learns how important it is to study and work on the things that matter rather than frittering away our intelligence on less productive and sometimes destructive things. Think of the genius in coming up with Atomic Weapons! Just think if all that effort would go into protecting humanity from natural disasters. Even sickness would be close to being eradicated with everyone sharing their genius and coming up with cures to the most common diseases and conditions.

Then of course comes the evil that we commit against each other: Human Evil. This we cannot blame on God. Human beings freely choose to kill each other and hurt each other. If a miracle were to happen and everyone on earth became a saint by doing the right thing always, this world would be a little paradise. There would be no hunger since everyone would share. There would be no war since everyone would love peace and work for justice. There would be no hatred since everyone would make a point of being peace makers and loving one another. Pride would be eradicated by humility. Envy by generosity. Parents would bring up their children to do everything as God would have it done; and with a proper use of sexuality there would be universal respect and fidelity in marriage. No pornography. No rape. No abuse of children.

Sounds a little far-fetched, I know. We are not even close to this kind of world. But the instructions are there (in the Bible) and the building blocks are available. If only we had not turned to sin! Instead of a habit of vice we would have developed a habit of virtue!

God is just as distressed with evil as we are. Even more: He made us in His own image so that we could heal the world and bring it to its immortal beauty.

But the way to this new world is not to blame God but to work one day at a time and one person at a time to build the Kingdom of God. We have the tools, but we need the will. Hence, conversion and repentance must begin with me. Who knows? It may catch on!

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The Need for God by Monsignor Ferrarese

One of the things that is on the rise today is atheism. Not just the usual brand of atheism, but one that is more militant and harder to deal with. It has infected the young as well. The very young. A statistic I heard recently that as many as 25% of grammar-school-age children do not believe in God.

Much of this of course is in our culture. Our culture reaches into the young supposedly through ‘children’s programming’. But some of that has at its foundations in a utilitarian understanding of reality that excludes God. Even the chorus of praise for ‘science’ has an undertow of disbelief in faith of any kind.

This is so even though there is no real conflict between science and religion. Science is the true child of religious faith as it seeks to discover the beauty, order and marvels of creation. Many of the greatest scientists of history were men and women of faith. In fact, the scientific movement had its birth in the West in our Universities, all started by the Church.

One must make a distinction here between science and scientism. Scientism is a belief that there is no God and that science alone can give the answers to everything. It is a bias that some scientists have. These are men and women who begin as unbelievers and bring that prejudice into their studies. The scientific method is based on measurement and experimentation and is always open to correction. It has a humility before facts and is open to admitting error if the next experiment disproves their original hypothesis.

Faith and Religion are not empirically verifiable. You cannot measure belief. One must keep the two spheres of Faith and Science separate and distinct. Scientists can be unbelievers, but science cannot either believe or disbelieve. It must be measured.

For a believer in God, one can study whatever field of science in a kind of wonder at the beauty and order of creation. While God created everything, He lies beyond the reach of the scientific method.

Often one hears the old canard about the silencing of Galileo by the Church. That one incident is outweighed by all the science that the Church has championed throughout the ages. Even today, we are the only religion on earth that has two observatories to monitor the stars!

And in the moral sphere, our opposition to Abortion has a scientific basis in genetic studies. The unique genetic makeup of the embryo, whose structure is not that of the father or the mother but is uniquely that of the new developing human person, is a fact of science. Science confirms our teaching, as do the scientific instruments that can detect the heartbeat and the brainwaves of the developing child in the womb. Science tells us this, not faith.

This is an area where science actually gives weight to the teaching of the Church that the developing human child in the womb needs the protection of law so that it can develop from a preborn fetus (literally young one) to a post-born baby. It is the same child. Science helps us to see that reality.

Another help to our belief in the reality of God is the objective moral values that we hold as Catholics, but also that even atheists hold.

For instance, is there anyone in our nation that does not believe that slavery is always, and in every case, immoral? We can all believe that this is true whether you are in a blue state or a red state. We, as Catholic Christians, believe that this is part of the objective law that God has revealed to us. It stands on His authority. But if you do not believe in a God who reveals how we should live our lives, on what basis does one hold it? There have been many who say that the stronger should control the weaker. Hitler set up a whole racist system that gave the “Aryan race” the responsibility of running the world and subjugating other peoples for the common good. Atheists could disagree with him, but can they say he is wrong or immoral in his belief? And on what basis? When there is no God, Dostoyevsky declared, all is permitted.

Atheism is a system of belief that simply does not work either philosophically or ethically. Yet it is infecting our young who can’t yet tease out the contradictions and the untruths of the atheistic position.

We need to be strong in our Catholic Faith and express our belief that God is God and He has revealed to us the way to live. To disbelieve in Him is to open up many more questions and problems than it solves.

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The Way He Works by Monsignor Ferrarese

God knows us so well. Deep in our consciousness, He moves, examining all our hidden places, shedding his piercing light in the contours of our evasions and our defenses. He breaks them down with the warmth of His acceptance. Then, at just the right moment, He breaks through and pleads for our assent. We always knew that He knew. Like a long-lost friend, He embraces our brokenness and our littleness and our we-dare-not-dream-that-it-could-happen; speaking just the right word, summoning the most accurate and revealing knowledge of our lives, and saying that it is good. And despite the sin and the hatreds of our lives, He heals us by one look of His providence.

And then we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are not alone and that we are loved.

Thus, the grace of God that abides in us works its salvation. It is not extrinsic to us, but in our very bones. God is not out there somewhere in the cosmos. He moves within our very being and is the closest to us. He is intimacy itself. So close that we barely notice Him sometimes. He does not shout. He whispers.

I don’t know what your reaction is to His closeness. I find it both comforting and scary. It is comforting to know that Someone truly knows us (even our moments that make us feel ashamed) and still loves and cherishes us. He would do anything for us except take away our freedom and do it Himself. Our choices matter to Him and if we choose to walk our own path and not accept His offer of love, he will respect that tragic choice. But He will also, like a good and hopeful parent who has been disappointed many times by their child, stay close to us and hang in there for us and in us.

I am reminded of the beautiful parable of the Prodigal Son. This wonderful story has inspired great artists. I remember seeing the Rembrandt painting of the reconciliation of Father and Son in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. There were literally hundreds of Chinese tourists from Communist China staring at the painting. They seemed to be moved by it, but, given that most of them were unbelievers, I wondered what they got out of it.

I also saw the Balanchine Ballet telling the story of the Prodigal Son in classical dance. It was spellbinding.

Rembrandt as a painter and Balanchine as a choreographer both were moved by the story which is timeless and stretches across many cultures.

It tells the story of the God of Jesus Christ, that same God who knows us so well and who just won’t give up on us. Both sons disrespect the Father. But he runs to greet the younger and when the older won’t join the welcome home party of the bad-boy son, his father comes to plead with him to love his brother.

How can you not love a Dad like that!

I think we are too literal in our spatial understanding of the presence of God in our lives. Even though we think we are so sophisticated we have to admit that God is like an old man in the sky. What a poor understanding of the Creator and the Sustainer of the Universe, who knows the number of hairs we have on our heads, who can name every atom in our bodies, who felt for us even when we tripped and fell when we were 3 years old!

It is so important to have a more nuanced, and at the same time more expansive, view of God and His presence in our lives—every minute of our lives.

In this time of ‘social distancing’, we have to radically redefine the closeness of God to us, and the spiritual and moral implications of this renewed vision.

Things are a lot more mysterious and more wonderful about this God we worship. It is why we are so uneasy and restless. We need and want Him so much, that our whole being is not at peace until we are with Him.

And yet….how close He is!

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The Development of Dogma by Monsignor Ferrarese

Whenever someone does not agree with a teaching of the Church, they often express a hope that when a new Pope gets in, he might change it so that it might agree with their opinion. Of course, this would be an understandable possibility in a Democracy like our own where our own leaders are elected and change could become a frequent occurrence.

But, even in our own American context there is the authority of the Constitution to contend with. Within this constitutional context, there are two schools of thought. One is the Originalist interpretation which seeks to stay very close to the text and the understanding that the framers of the Constitution had concerning the words that they used. The other school is the “Living Constitution” interpretation that seeks to fit new issues into the broad concerns and principles enshrined by the framers.

The Church and Her teaching are very different. Because the teaching is revealed to us by God, it has a timeless meaning and cannot be altered or changed. Our understanding of that teaching, however, can develop over time, especially when new concepts are introduced by the secular world that lets us see elements in God’s teaching in a new way. St. Vincent of Lerins, a medieval scholar and saint, compared the development of dogma to a human person. When one is a baby, one is all potential waiting to happen. But when that child reaches adulthood and then old age, they are very different and much more developed; but (and this is a big but) they are still the same person. They do not suddenly become someone else. Their development is linear and grows in them organically.

When we consider the way that Church Teaching may develop, we can completely abandon any idea of the teaching contradicting itself. If a teaching on any moral theme were to change so completely that it means the exact opposite, this could never be a true development. Like the growth of a human person, or an animal or a plant, it is organic and it cannot change into something else.

So, when people express a desire that the Pope or a Council change a long-held teaching of the Church, what they are asking is the impossible. While the teaching can be better expressed or seen in a new way by the people of a time and place, it cannot be a contradiction of the original formulation of that teaching. The Pope, therefore, cannot change a long-held teaching in the Magisterium of the Church. Nor, unlike the American Constitution, can the Bible be amended.

The cause of this is our understanding of the authorship of Revelation. Though God uses human beings and human concepts as His instruments, He, God Himself, is the author of Scripture and the Guide of Tradition. To change a teaching is to say that God was wrong or that He mislead the Church for centuries. This is impossible if we believe that God is the true author of the Teaching of the Church.

There are, however, disciplines of the Church that a Pope can change. For instance, when Mass was in Latin. God never said that He wanted us to use Latin instead of the common language of the people (Vulgate). So, at the Second Vatican Council, the Council Fathers and the Pope changed the language of the Liturgy so that it may be said in the common language of each church. The Law was man-made and could be changed.

A council or Pope cannot change the Ten Commandments or the Eight Beatitudes. These come directly from God and are to be held forever. But our understanding of the implications of the Commandments or Beatitudes can develop as long as the essence of them are not diluted or changed.

Moreover, there are some teachings that are in a kind of ‘gray area’. For instance, is a celibate priesthood a law from God or from man? You can have theologians argue on both sides of that issue.

The problem is that our news media hasn’t the foggiest idea what the distinction between divine and human law actually means. So, if you take your lead from the newspapers and newsrooms, you are likely to wonder why the Pope can’t change particular practices in the Church. He does not have the power to change something that comes from God Himself.

To sum up: Church Teaching that is divinely revealed can develop, but cannot change. While this is hard to accept by those of us trained to think in a Democracy, it is a fact of life and of the Faith of the Church.

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Social and Theo Closeness 190 by Monsignor Ferrarese

We have heard a lot about distance in the last few months. Social distance has been lauded and praised and considered essential for safety. Hospitals and Nursing Homes have been in lockdown, isolating a lot of sick people and elderly from their families and friends (for their own benefit). The natural openness of the child is frustrated by masks and distancing and virtual education, as though a computer screen can ever take the place of a swarm of kids playing and horsing around!

As a lot of our diversions are called-off and we have a little more time on our hands, we can get close (not distant) to our friends with a call or a card; we can spend more time on our prayers; and we can eat together with our family in a deeper way. Simply put, we can generally reap the benefits of this time to balance all the distancing directives and to work on deepening our relationships.

There is always a tendency for us to give ourselves over to passive enjoyments like binging on Netflix or Amazon Prime. But I have found that it can also be an opportunity to take nice walks and to be more humanly present to others (even while masks understandably and charitably seek to separate us).

And then there is our relationship with God.

Traditionally, there are two ways of approaching God. Warning: technical terms approaching!

The first way is the cataphatic way. This is the way that is mediated by the creation around us. In this way of seeing the road to God can be through a sunset, in a baby’s smile, through working through a math problem. All roads lead to God when you try to see Him in the ordinary details of living. Sometimes, people involved with Mindfulness find God at the end of a purely secular run of being in the present. As the poet Hopkins put it, all things are, “charged with the grandeur of God.” This is one very valid and truly time-tested way to a closeness with God.

There is a second way that almost seems to say the exact opposite: Everything we see and can experience is definitely not God, for God is completely and totally ‘other’ than creation, including we human beings, caught in the reality of the created. You cannot make any affirmation about God, for God is beyond anything we can say about Him, and any attempt to describe Him. To picture Him or to make any affirmations about His being is to be in the work of idolatry. Even the word ‘God’ gives us a false impression (as does the masculine pronoun Him). Our very concepts of God are hopelessly mired in earthly reality and can never approximate an understand of who God is. This road is called the Apophatic way (also called the Via Negativa). The only things we can say about God is what He is not.

The major proponent of this understanding was St. John of the Cross who, through his writings, advises the seeker to hold onto nada (nothing) and to wait in ‘naked faith’ until the Almighty reveals to us the barest part or intimation of His Being. While this approach sounds a bit scary, it keeps God free of any concepts that are not divine and are superimposed on God by us.

In a mystical way, we can always rely on the simple way to come to God: Through love of our neighbor (see this Sunday’s Gospel). For Christ said that anything we do to the least of our brethren, you did it to Christ (Mat. 25:40). So, the more loving we are, the more in contact we are with the True God and not a figment of our imagination.

So, whether we are seeking social closeness or Theo-closeness, there are a variety of ways to get there; but the destination is the same. For God is in each other, but not the way we think!

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A Perfect Storm by Monsignor Ferrarese

When we look at the Church in the present world, there is little to suggest the coming storm. Things are still moving the way they have been in living memory. While certain aspects of the Church have been diminished, what we see today is still recognizable.

But I think that when our new Bishop comes, he will be faced with a need to make major changes in the Church of our Diocese. Here is why:

Parishes can no longer afford the high price of utilities, insurance, salaries, etc. We have smaller congregations and bigger bills. All parishioners are strained to the maximum degree. Things that could be done fairly easily in the past are getting too expensive. The only saving grace might be leasing buildings. But even that may be a temporary solution.

All of this has been exacerbated by the Pandemic. We are facing the greatest health crisis in recent memory, which has economic, cultural and psychological repercussions. We are all in a low-grade depression that effects the Churches in a special way (e.g. not being able to visit sick parishioners!).

Then the Church has a lot of lawsuits coming our way due to the relaxing of the statute of limitations regarding sexual abuse by priests and other Church workers. The Diocese of Rockville Centre has already declared bankruptcy.

If that was not enough, we have been suffering a long-standing vocation crisis, severely limiting the number of new priests and religious to help carry the load.

Seems bleak, right?

Yet, I have a lot of hope for the future. You might think me mad! But the Church has been through worse times and we have it from the Lord that the gates of hell will not prevail against us (Matt. 16:18).

Things may radically change, but maybe they should. Of course, how things will change is not revealed to us at this time. But often hardship shakes things up and people, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, see it possible to do what in calmer times seemed impossible. Someone once said: Never waste a crisis!

We are a big Church (1½ Billion People). There are many different developing scenarios. The Church in Africa is growing by leaps and bounds. The largest seminaries in the world are in Africa. The Church in Asia and Latin America is also growing fast. So, what is occurring here in the United States is only part of the story. We would be very (if you excuse the pun) parochial if we thought that our experience was the world’s experience.

What is happening here and in Western Europe is very alarming. But the roots of our Faith run deep. Western Culture is a Christian Culture even if it is going atheistic. So, look for a radical turn around here in this very Christian (though Protestant by majority) country.

Maybe not in my lifetime, but I would predict that the future Church will be stronger, purer, and more influential than it has ever been provided we learn from the mistakes of the past, which we must do in all candor and frankness.

The catch is that it might be a smaller Church, certainly more fervent and hopefully more prophetic in the wider culture. This means probably that it will be a persecuted Church. And so we return to our origins as when we were a beleaguered Church of Martyrs in the Roman Empire. Except it might be in the Chinese Empire or the Russian Empire or the Muslim Empire or even the American Empire.

The truth is that we do not know what the future holds, but we can trace the basic principles of the rise of Faith and devotion and its corruption. It happens in all our cycles of growth and diminishment.

Doubtless it will be a time of bravery when every Christian must stand on their own two feet and witness to Christ or go the way of betrayal.

Constantine, the Roman Emperor who legalized Christianity and made it acceptable to the wider state, may see the end of his Constantinian Church. Once again, our role will be as a prophet to the culture and not as its defender.

So, put on your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride!

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Weekly Update by Monsignor Ferrarese

Dear Friends in Christ,

I had intended to share this life story of St. Margaret of York with you by placing a segment each week in the bulletin (and then online).

Unfortunately, that has proven impractical. The Book is over 500 pages long and the space allotted each week is so small that it might take years to be able to read this exciting story.

So I have decided to publish it a chapter at a time on our website and Facebook page. This way you can see the whole sweep of the story and not be frustrated each week in stopping after a few paragraphs.

For the Bulletin, I will continue to publish short essays as I have been doing over the past 5 or 6 years. These essays are mainly spiritual and pastoral reflections on a whole host of topics. They also appear online!

Hopefully, when you are finished with the book on St. Margaret, you can share some reactions with me.

Thanks for being a great audience for this exciting story!

Yours In Christ,
Msgr. Fernando Ferrarese

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Chapter I – Installment 2 of “The Recusant: A Life of St. Margaret of York”, by Rev. Msgr. Fernando Ferrarese

In another part of York, at Davygate, at the tavern soon to be owned by Henry May, her stepfather, a riotous celebration was still in its heat. Henry, Mayor of York led a beautiful young woman to a dark and secluded corner of the tavern and whispered, with a breath full of stale ale, a single word: “Upstairs”. She obeyed him immediately. Moments later he made his way through the narrow corridor of rooms upstairs. He kept thinking of his stepdaughter, the purest, most chaste woman he had ever known. Also the bravest.

He kept whispering “Margaret, Margaret!”

Margaret stood under the light of the moon and swayed back and forth to the silent music. Like the mad she floated on the unreasonable, liquid currents of the imagined and the remembered.

In the theater of her mind, she was a child again.

“Now hold my hand tightly. It seems all of York is drunk with religion!” She felt her father’s hand tighten around hers as it perspired. Flames and bonfires seemed to be everywhere. The lurid and changeable lights against York Minster made the huge cathedral come alive with a panic glare and shadow. She thought she could see the stately stone figures hide within as fierce gargoyles reveled to the devil’s time.

A mob had gathered in front of the Cathedral. It reeled and rocked out of control. People were shouting. Fights broke out between people that she knew to be kind and forbearing. Her father was usually a calm man but even he was wide eyed and frightened. More than a few times he had to protect her from a jab or a kick which inadvertently came her way. He finally hoisted her into his arms and onto his shoulders, thinking that would best protect her. A man with a torch was screaming something. Men around him were throwing statues and vestments into the fires. Others were trying to fish them out, often careening in pain as their hands or clothes were singed or set ablaze by the wild flames.

Her father moaned under his breath “No, not the windows!” She looked in the same direction her father was staring. Soldiers were climbing the sides of the Cathedral and smashing any stained glass that they could reach. Later it was learned that some old women, praying in the Minster, were badly cut by the raining shards of glass. Archers aimed their arrows as high as they could. They were effective on the lower glasses but the higher windows retained their haughty grandeur, the arrows losing their power with
the increasing force of gravity.

Like a drunken man, bereft of reason, tottering and swaying, destructive, obscene, so was all of York, so was all of England.

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CHAPTER ONE: An Excerpt from the Beginning of “The Recusant: A Life of St. Margaret of York”, written by Rev. Msgr. Fernando Ferrarese

The Past is Prologue

Below the fugitive moon, the moors of Yorkshire kept vigil.

The March air had an unusual sweetness about it. Springtime could be sensed in the nighttime warmth, pregnant with expectation. Buds had already been seen, ready to blossom. The townspeople spoke of this signaling the approaching miracle of grace. In the distance, an ominous counterpoint. Dogs barked and howled. The bright, shy moon sought the sanctuary of clouds.

Margaret stood on her toes to see the night outside her cell window. Filled with joy to overflowing, she languorously walked from the barred window as one in love. It was the eve of the Annunciation, when earth had been wedded to heaven. She sighed. Rather than having a million thoughts running through her mind, as she imagined would be the case on her last night of earthly life, she was haunted or, perhaps better said, comforted by the presence of her father, dead many years. His genial air, even when he complained of the gout, made her smile.

The old matron, Mrs. Yoward, who was ordered to spy on her throughout the night, had long since begun to snore outside her cell door.

Margaret walked to her pallet and picked up the white frock she herself had made to shield her nakedness at her execution. She removed her dress and in the pale moonlight, pouring in through the small window, she walked, nude, into the center of her cell. She put on her death smock. It was of the purest white linen and reached to the stone pavement. At the wrists were the white ribbons that were meant to be tied to the stakes driven into the ground to hold her in place. This was her own invention.

The moonlight, emerging from another passing cloud, intensified its beams on her. Like a bride prepared for her husband.

The coming horror had not registered fully. Her heart was full with a love that was inexplicable, harsh and inviting at the same time.

A moment of cutting pain swept through her. She touched her womb and held her breath tensely as she caressed in her mind’s eye the little child she carried.

Does she really have this obligation? Surely Judge Clench could have put this off till after she brought her child to term. It is a measure of the savage state to which things had fallen. This question of religion.

Elizabeth the Queen , who could have saved her and probably would have, was asleep, many miles to the south, ensconced in her bed and in her determination to settle once and for all this challenge. Civil War was to be avoided at all costs, even at the price of a few English lives.

Margaret thought of her Queen and prayed for her. But her thoughts kept returning to her husband and her children. The memory of their last embraces felt so real that she could feel their warmth. She remembered her husband John being removed from the courtroom because of his loud sobs. They told her later how he continued weeping outside like a woman. Poor, dear, clumsy, honest John.

Many were surprised and put off by all the trouble she was causing. It was highly unseemly for a woman to take such a stand. She should have obeyed her husband, her Church, her Queen. It was the curse of Eve, they said.

But it was the poor and simple people who began to talk of relics and to have ready in a prominent place in their homes the cloths which they would use to soak up some of her blood. They knew the price she was paying and grieved for their own lack of courage.

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