The Gathering Storm by Monsignor Ferrarese

As wonderful as our country is, we have made some serious mistakes in our history: slavery, the isolation of Native Americans, and the internment of Japanese Americans. But the thing that will, I believe, go down in history as our lowest moment is the killing of innocent American children in the womb. This is not an isolated occurrence, but a planned and legalized extinction of developing pre-born infants in savage and reprehensible ways.

Like the Nazis who used words to pretty up their nefarious deeds (calling the handicapped “life unworthy of life”), we casually speak of ‘Reproductive Rights’ and ‘Women’s Health’. Who can possibly be against these? But the fact of the matter is that abortion is the most anti-woman thing imaginable. An invasion of the womb to tear out the life within it. For this reason, the Woman’s Movement that years ago gave us universal suffrage was adamantly against abortion. They saw it as a male solution that imposed on the rights of women and their special dignity as the bearers of life.

This intimate connection between pregnancy and the very being of the woman is underneath the salutary reminder that it is the woman that bears the burden of bringing life into the world. It is what is most distinctive and unique about women. Pro-choice advocates do emphasize this central fact, and it gives power to that movement since it locates the decision to continue the pregnancy in the private decision of the woman. But like all truths, it must be put into the context of the consequences of that decision since it affects another life. We often forget that we were all once fetuses and, while the burden of bringing life into the world falls almost completely on the woman, there are other ways to exercise freedom. Hence, the place for true choice is at the time of sexual intimacy, for every sexual act bears the possible responsibility of new life. That is the true moral locus of choice, and both the man and the woman must make it. There can be no love, no action, without responsibility.

Like all moral choices, the choice to engender life, whether directly willed explicitly by a married couple wanting to bring new life into the world through their love for each other or indirectly bundled into the desire for the pleasure or ecstasy of the marital act, has political consequences. When a new reality begins through the union of sperm and egg, complete with an entirely new genetic substructure of DNA (Conception), this has political consequences and is not simply a private act. Once this new reality, which in our faith as Catholics we recognize as a human being, then this realization ushers in many rules and protections that must be accorded it.

This is where a lot of the difficulty lies in the Abortion wars. A woman’s body is truly a private and personal reality to the woman herself. But what has begun within her body is not just about herself. There is another who is being formed. There is also the husband who has ‘invested’ himself in what is meant to be a joint venture. But it is the woman that must bear the often painful living-out of that development within her very body, where the personal is most evident. So that is why the highest care must be provided for the mother of the developing child.

Moreover, we cannot understand the proliferation of abortions outside the context of the sexual revolution. Because it now seems almost a right to be able to do sexually whatever one wants (God’s commandments do not seem to have any impact!), then if Birth Control does not work you have to be able to stop an unwanted pregnancy whatever the cost. Unfortunately, the cost is borne by the pre-born child.

Added to this conflict-filled problem is the fact that we have legally never defined when human life begins and when those beings need legal protection. Is it at conception (the Catholic position), or when the child feels pain, or when there is a heartbeat or when there are brain waves? We know when someone is dead: no heartbeat, no brain waves; but the beginning of life is left up to the subjective decision of the mother. Conceivably, a child can be seen as a someone who is already part of the family (my baby) and then later in the week, merely a bothersome group of cells that can very easily be discarded. How can one’s own decision to see something one way or the other alter the objective reality of the thing?

All these issues must be calmly reasoned out. Unfortunately, that has not happened. Both sides are fixed and the decibel level is high. But there are good and sincere people on each side. We need to keep the discussion on grounds that everyone can accept, both religious and non-religious. So we need to talk in terms of reason and how to best build a civilization where everyone can find a place and where reason and science is respected. As believers, we must bring the insights into human relations that our faith bestows upon us. We come with a richness that does not negate science, but supports it.

Otherwise, things will get worse and this gathering storm will bring with it destructive possibilities that will make reasoning no longer possible.

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Paradise Lost by Monsignor Ferrarese

There is an old Joni Mitchell song that has this verse in it:

“Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till its gone! They paved Paradise and put up a parking lot! “

We all like progress, and as Americans we are always in love with the ‘new’, but we seldom count the cost of that modernization.

I remember when my Mom asked my Dad if we could buy a toaster. My father liked things very simple. He asked what we needed it for, so my Mom told him that she would like to toast bread. My dad took a piece of bread with a long fork and turned on one of the oven jets. He waved the bread over the flame until it was golden brown. Then he gave it to my Mom saying, “There’s your toast!”

My Mom eventually won the battle and we got the family toaster. But my father’s ideas were cautionary and had certain validity. It is not a good thing just to buy something because everyone has it.

Now, I am not against toasters! But when we look at all the gadgets we have around (even extending to the hightech), I wonder if my Dad did have a point. This is especially true when we are trying to get rid of the things that don’t work anymore.

There is a beauty in simplicity. Now that we have a thousand channels on TV, are we any happier? And what have we lost: reading time, time to converse with our families, opportunities to think and to pray, and that delicious silence that has a healing presence in our souls!

I love telling the Academy children when I visit them in class what it was like to grow up in the 1950’s. When I give them the particulars (no remotes, 6 or 7 channels on TV, no cell phones or computers), they look at me like I was a Cave Man when I grew up!

But when I tell them about the safety in the streets, the long languorous summer days with the ‘gang’ on the block, the invented games like Kick the Can, the unsupervised trips on the Subway to Yankee Stadium, they sort of begin to see that they are missing something that we had, something so mysterious (community!) that their isolated connections on the Internet can’t even begin to approximate.

Perhaps the song was right: we paved paradise and put up a parking lot. Maybe we needed parking, but how can we calculate what we have lost?

At the center of this real community was the Church. I grew up in St. Rita’s parish in East New York, Brooklyn. Our Church, humble as it was, was actually an underground building that was initially intended to be the first stage of a larger, more imposing edifice; and the large school building with its adjacent Youth Center was often at the nexus of all our concerns. We went to school there, we worshiped in the Church that was seemingly always open, and we played ball in the ‘Marian Yard’. In the Convent there were 20 to 30 nuns in full habit, members of a strict contemplative order named the ‘School Sisters of Notre Dame’. The rectory had 4 to 6 priests assigned to our parish. Twice a year we had a giant feast and bazaar. The first was in June dedicated to St. Michael and St. Joseph, run by our Neapolitan parishioners. The second was in honor of Saints Cosmas and Damian and was staffed by our Barese parishioners.

In this Italian-American neighborhood, there was great respect for the priests and nuns even though we saw them as flawed human beings. But the faith was central and it informed our lives in many often-imperceptible ways.

This solidity was mirrored at home by the strong family structures we enjoyed and often put up with!

Today, we have a great deal more technologically. And, if we are honest, we would not easily give up our smart phones, our material prosperity and the remotes we use to run our lives. But it has come at a deep price. We have paved paradise and we like the expanded parking. But at what a cost! Maybe it is better that the younger amongst us do not realize this and blissfully think this the best of all worlds!

After all, there were some terrible injustices that we accepted without understanding what we were doing. I think of the racism and the restricted role for women. And I am sure we have many blind spots today (abortion as reproductive freedom).

But there were things that we have lost, and maybe will never see again.

Even with these losses, God is still at work; and every time that we fulfill His Commandments and live a life of faith and love, we incarnate the essentials that make for future paradises. For our faith is constantly renewed, and we are taught by God through detachment to let go of even the glories of the past, for He is always making all things new.

Maybe the Paradise we are moving toward in God’s providence will far our shine the ones of the past.

We are a people of hope as long as we put God first in our lives.

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The Feast of the Magi

The Feast of the Magi

“When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.’  When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.  They said to him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet:  ‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.’

Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.’

After their audience with the king they set out.  And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.  They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.’”  (New American Bible, Matthew 2:1-12)

  • Isn’t this the Feast of the Epiphany? Yes, it is.  It’s also called the Feast of the Three Kings and is known by a few other names.
  • Whatever happened to that feast? The Epiphany is traditionally celebrated on the 12th day after Christmas, January 6th. In the United States, the feast has been moved to the Sunday between January 2nd and January 8th.
  • What does the term epiphany mean? According to Merriam Webster, the term epiphany is defined as “a sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience”.
  • What do we commemorate or remember on this day? On this feast, we commemorate the manifestation of Jesus to the whole world.  Jesus is revealed to the magi who have come from the East bearing gifts and are the first individuals from the Gentile world to see or encounter the Savior of the world.

As it states in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

“The Epiphany is the manifestation of Jesus as Messiah of Israel, Son of God and Savior of the world. The great feast of Epiphany celebrates the adoration of Jesus by the wise men (magi) from the East, together with his baptism in the Jordan and the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee. In the magi, representatives of the neighboring pagan religions, the Gospel sees the first-fruits of the nations, who welcome the good news of salvation through the Incarnation. The magi’s coming to Jerusalem in order to pay homage to the king of the Jews shows that they seek in Israel, in the messianic light of the star of David, the one who will be king of the nations. Their coming means that pagans can discover Jesus and worship him as Son of God and Savior of the world only by turning toward the Jews and receiving from them the messianic promise as contained in the Old Testament. The Epiphany shows that “the full number of the nations” now takes its “place in the family of the patriarchs,” and acquires Israelitica dignitas (are made “worthy of the heritage of Israel”).” (#528)

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The Feast of the Magi, continued


  • Is there any history behind this feast? Yes, there is actually.  According to About.com:

“Like many of the most ancient Christian feasts, Epiphany was first celebrated in the East, where it has been held from the beginning almost universally on January 6. Today, among both Eastern Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, the feast is known as Theophany – the revelation of God to man.

Epiphany originally celebrated four different events, in the following order of importance: the Baptism of the Lord; Christ’s first miracle, the changing of water into wine at the wedding in Cana; the Nativity of Christ, Christmas; and the visitation of the Wise Men or Magi. Each of these is a revelation of God to man: At Christ’s Baptism, the Holy Spirit descends and the voice of God is heard, declaring that Jesus is His Son; at the wedding in Cana, the miracle reveals Christ’s divinity; at the Nativity, the angels bear witness to Christ, and the shepherds, representing the people of Israel, bow down before Him; and at the visitation of the Magi, Christ’s divinity is revealed to the Gentiles – the other nations of the earth.

Eventually, the celebration of the Nativity was separated out, in the West, into Christmas; and shortly thereafter, Western Christians adopted the Eastern feast of the Epiphany, still celebrating the Baptism, the first miracle, and the visit from the Wise Men. Thus, Epiphany came to mark the end of Christmastide – the Twelve Days of Christmas, which began with the revelation of Christ to Israel in His Birth and ended with the revelation of Christ to the Gentiles at Epiphany.

Over the centuries, the various celebrations were further separated in the West, now the Baptism of the Lord is celebrated on the Sunday after January 6, and the wedding at Cana is commemorated on the Sunday after the Baptism of the Lord.

In many parts of Europe, the celebration of Epiphany is at least as important as the celebration of Christmas. In Italy and other Mediterranean countries, – the day on which the Wise Men brought their gifts to the Christ Child—while in Northern Europe, it’s not unusual to give gifts on both Christmas and Epiphany (often with smaller gifts on each of the twelve days of Christmas in between).”  http://catholicism.about.com/od/holydaysandholidays/p/Epiphany.htm

  • BTW, what is a magi? Oh, and how many magi were there? The term “magi” is the plural of magus.  You can see the root of magic and magician in the word.  The magi were a priestly caste or class from ancient Persia.   A magus, the singular, was an expert in the sciences of the time, especially astrology.  How many magi were there?  We don’t know because Scripture doesn’t give us a number or their names.  We say three due to the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh mentioned, but over history the number has varied, once there were as many as twelve.
  • What are their names? Do we have any relics of them?  Traditionally, from the 6th century on or so, the names Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar have been associated with them.  According to tradition, the relics of the Magi are at the Shrine of the Three Kings at Cologne Cathedral.
  • Is there any symbolism attached to the gifts presented to Jesus? Yes, in fact, there is.  According to U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website:  “Gold – a symbol of wealth and power identifies the recipient as a king. Frankincense – the crystalized resinous sap of a tree used as incense and as an offering, is symbolic of prayer. Myrrh – another resinous tree sap was used in healing liniments, and as an embalming ointment.  http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-year/christmas/christmas-january-6.cfm
  • What are some activities that we can do participate in on this day as a family or as a faith community?

Bibliography

The Catechism of the Catholic Church.  New York: Doubleday Press, 1997.

Catholicism.About.com http://catholicism.about.com/od/holydaysandholidays/p/Epiphany.htm. 2014. Web. 25 Dec. 2016.

CatholicCulture.org http://www.catholicculture.org. 2014. Web. 13 Dec 2014.

Merriam Webster http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/epiphany.  2014. Web.  12 Dec. 2014.

The New American Bible. The Vatican, 06 Nov. 2002.  Web. 12 Dec. 2014. <http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0839/_INDEX.HTM>

“National Migration Week 2017.” United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2016.  Web. 25 Dec. 2016. <http://www.usccb.org/about/migration-and-refugee-services/national-migration-week/>

Shrine of the Magi, Cologne Cathedral.  n.d. Web. 25 Dec. 2016. <http://www.koelnerdom.de/index.php?id=17451&L=1>

“Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord.” United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2014. Web. 16 Dec. 2014. <http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-year/christmas/christmas-january-4

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Passion and Freedom by Monsignor Ferrarese

Sometimes we are absolutely sure that we are right and everyone else is wrong. We approach these judgments with a fervor and a conviction that seems to preclude any other viewpoint.

We see this clearly in politics. Tune-in to your favorite news channel and listen to all those talking heads, both of the right and of the left. They all are absolutely convinced that they are right. I often wonder whether these commentators have a life, or at least a job. Or do they live in the studios? They seem to be always there!

There is a definite caution in the history of Christian Spirituality in the whole area of the passions. Passions are irrational forces that compel us in certain directions even when their actions result in all kinds of collateral damage. Passions drive us to do things that, on quieter reflection, would not be done due to their negative sides.

I am sure everyone has had the experience of getting angry with someone and sitting down to write them about it, say in an email. We express our anger and our annoyance and then we hit the ‘send’ button. This unleashes a whole host of angrier interchanges that end up in creating a battle and a resentment that far exceeds the initial annoyance. Whenever I find myself writing something in anger, I do not send it until the next day when I have cooled down. Almost always I end up deleting it since I am no longer angry and can see how my email would cause further disruption.

The passions work this way. They momentarily obscure the facts behind a veil of emotion.

Passion, however, can be a good as well. Passion is what art is all about. It is passion that gets the artist to express something in art. Passion can also teach as well, the whole area of emotional intelligence for example. But it can also be a powerful force that can be seriously destructive. Just ask someone in the throes of jealousy!

Because of the way the passions work on us and disrupt our lives, spiritual authors often speak of a virtue to help us stay in the region of freedom: detachment.

For most Americans, the word detachment is a negative word. It denotes someone who is unfeeling and uncaring. But this is not what the spiritual masters mean by it. It does not help that some of the masters like St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Francis de Sales call it Holy Indifference. Indifference is a very negative word for us as well. So that term is also not a help.

Once we get around the initial expressions, however, the concept of detachment is very rich and useful, existing even in many non-Christian religions such as Buddhism.

What we mean by it is the ability to be able to step aside and not let the emotions run away with us; to be able to look at our feelings and our life situations with a calm and peaceful glance. In that look we can assess whether the situation and my response to it is a valid one and if it fits into the trajectory that is best for us and is in accord with the principles and ideals and beliefs that we espouse.

Whenever we say in the Our Father, “Thy will be done”, we are practicing the virtue of detachment since we are measuring and directing our response to any given situation as to whether or not God wants us to do it.

The virtue of detachment gives us tremendous freedom. We resist personalizing our opinions and the circumstances of life. When we begin to identify ourselves with what we want we are moving toward some real trouble.

There are times that we do this for fun, as when we identify with our favorite teams. As a Yankees fan, I am in agony when they lose and elated when they win. Who are the Yankees? Why do they have such control over whether I have a good day or a bad day? I gave them this power when I identified my happiness with their success and my sadness with their losses.

We all do this and we know that it is for fun (except Red Sox fans who have something strange in their brains!).

Detachment teaches us not to do this. It instructs us, rather, to identify our loves and successes with what God wants and our sad times with whatever is against the will of God. What freedom from emotional highs and lows this gives us! Our passions do not rule us. We can make our decisions based only on the facts and the teaching of Christ!

Freedom, whether intellectual or moral, requires this virtue to be dominant in us. Once we commit ourselves to be above the fray of the passions, we can truly say that we are living in Freedom.

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Excessive Unnecessary Magnificent Love by Monsignor Ferrarese

One of the most challenging questions that faced me when I was on Sabbatical in Jerusalem was the question posed by one of the Non-Christian Scholars that taught us. He said that the difficulty that Muslims and Jews had with Christianity was that the Incarnation, in their minds, was unnecessary. God’s power is infinite. Why did God have to become human to save the human race? Certainly a God who can create a universe out of nothing can save us simply by fiat, that is, just by willing it. Why the birth at Bethlehem?

This was a challenging question. At first I struggled with my inability to come up with an answer. So I prayed about it and asked others who were studying the same things I was studying. For a long time, I could not find a way to resolve this theological problem.

What made this problem worse is the assertion that, not only did the Son of God have to be born, but he had to die for our offenses. This only heightened the mystery and made me search more deeply into my theological understanding of our faith.

The answer came through an obscure Franciscan Theologian from the Middle Ages! His name was Duns Scotus and his national origin was either Scottish or Irish. Definitely he was a Celt by ethnicity (hence the Latin name ‘Scotus’). He should be especially dear to us here at Immac since he defended the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary against some formidable opponents like St. Thomas Aquinas!

His thought centered on the importance of the Incarnation. He wrote that the Redemption of Humanity from Sin was accomplished through the taking on of our humanity and not simply by Christ’s death on the Cross. Even if Jesus died a natural death, He would have been able to say at his dying breath, “It is accomplished.” The assumption of our humanity was the free act of a loving God who wanted to share in the ups and downs of human existence. It was not necessary that it happened that way. God could have redeemed us through His almighty Word and Will. But through the Incarnation, that is the earthly life of the Logos, the Word of God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, He chose freely to redeem us through His own condescending affection for us.

Hence the answer I found to the challenge given by Jewish and Muslim scholars was: Yes, God could have redeemed us by Fiat (pure will), but that He chose a more dramatic way to do it! It was a deeply loving response. It was an extravagant display of loving-kindness. To echo something that the philosopher-theologian (and mathematician-physicist!) Blaise Pascal once said: “The heart has reasons that the mind is ignorant of.”

The Drama of the Passion, Crucifixion and Death of the Redeemer, while not necessary for redemption, became inevitable because of the sinfulness of humanity and its long record of violence and resistance to the Divine initiatives. This, perhaps, puts into stark relief the utter evil of the Crucifixion of Christ. It did not have to end this way. The brutality of it was not willed by the Father. This horrible moment in history was a consequence of the cold-heartedness of humanity’s rejection of the ways of God.

There was an old ‘Twilight Zone’ episode about a visitor from another planet who landed in a small Texas town. Because of fear and ignorance, the towns-people destroyed him as he tried to give them a gift: a book. After their destruction of the alien, they looked in the ashes of what they did and could not find the book, but did find its title page. What they read shocked them: the book contained the cure for cancer! They destroyed the giver of an immense gift to mankind.

While that episode ended in futile hopelessness, the story of Christ’s death ends in His vindication by the Father on Easter Morning. Even after all that hatred, the Incarnation of the Word of God has redeemed humanity!

The originality of the thought of Duns Scotus is that he places the Incarnation at the very center of the Redemption. In fact, he states that even if Adam and Eve never sinned, even if there was nothing like Original Sin, even if the history of humanity progressed without the sad legacy of opposition to God, God would still become incarnate!

For Duns Scotus, the reason why God became human was not because He had to do it to save us. God freely chose to become human out of love for Humanity. He did not have to become human to save us; He chose to freely do it that way for it more accurately reflected the intense and all-encompassing love He has for us.

This makes Christmas an even more important feast than it is now. For the Incarnation of God was salvific in its own right even without the Easter event. Holy Week and Easter are but the natural outgrowth of the confrontation between the love of God and the sin of man.

That little Baby in the manger is, therefore, the triumphant sign of the love of God and His commitment to love us extravagantly and totally.

Merry Christmas!

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The Season of Christmas, part two

Yes, folks you are reading the title of this reflection correctly, Christmas is not only a day in the Church year, but a season in the Church year as well!  In fact, it is the second most joyous season in the liturgical year.  What is the most joyous season you may be asking yourselves?  The answer is (drum roll, please)…..EASTER!!  

What does the term Christmas mean, where does it come from?

According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary our word Christmas derives from the Middle English word, Christemasse, which come down to us from the Old English words, Cristes mæsse, literally, Christ’s mass.  The first known use: before 12th century.

What does the Church celebrate on this day and during this season?

Christmas Day celebrates the Feast of the Nativity of Jesus Christ, the birth of Jesus Christ.

The season of Christmas, in addition to celebrating the birth of Jesus, is a fuller celebration of the Incarnation.  As the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops states, “The word incarnation is from the Latin in carne means enfleshment”. (USCCB)

The Incarnation is one of the core, essential and elemental beliefs of the Church: God became human; God became one of us.  This great news cannot be overstated:  God became human so that we might partake in the divine!   This is what Athanasius of Alexandria meant when he wrote in his treatise, On the Incarnation, “Christ was made man that we might be made God.” (54:3, PG 25:192B).

During the Christmas season, the Church celebrates and reflects upon, as the U.S Catholic Bishops state further: “the birth of Christ into our world and into our hearts, and reflect on the gift of salvation that is born with him…” (USCCB).

How long is the Christmas season?

The Christmas season begins on Dec.25th, technically at the vigil Mass on Christmas Eve, and ends on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

What is St. Mary Major?

Here’s a link to the Patriarchal Basilica of St. Mary Major: http://www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/sm_maggiore/index_en.html  The history of the present basilica dates to the 5th Century.  It also possesses relics of of the manger in which Jesus was placed.  It is under the altar.

Here’s a link to a virtual tour of the basilica: http://www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/sm_maggiore/vr_tour/index-en.html

What are some traditions and practices that Catholics can perform during the Christmas season?

Most of us put up and decorate a Christmas tree; many of us put a wreath on our front doors; some of us put (electric) candles on our windowsills.  What else can we do to commemorate the season or celebrate it appropriately?

Here are some activities that families and/or individuals can perform and use, perhaps, to create new traditions to pass on:

Bibliography

Athanasius of Alexandria. On the Incarnation. http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/659669-de-incarnatione-verbi-dei. n.d. Web. Nov. 23, 2014.

Merriam Webster http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Christmas.  2014. Web.  Nov. 23, 2014.

The New American Bible. The Vatican, 06 Nov. 2002.  Web. 18 Nov. 2014. http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-year/christmas/index.cfm2014. Web.  Dec. 23, 2018.

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The Season of Christmas

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus
that the whole world should be enrolled.
This was the first enrollment,
when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town.
And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth
to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem,
because he was of the house and family of David,
to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.
While they were there,
the time came for her to have her child,
and she gave birth to her firstborn son.
She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger,
because there was no room for them in the inn.

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields
and keeping the night watch over their flock.
The angel of the Lord appeared to them
and the glory of the Lord shone around them,
and they were struck with great fear.
The angel said to them,
“Do not be afraid;
for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy
that will be for all the people.
For today in the city of David
a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.
And this will be a sign for you:
you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes
and lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel,
praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

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The Fourth Sunday of Advent

Mary set out
and traveled to the hill country in haste
to a town of Judah,
where she entered the house of Zechariah
and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting,
the infant leaped in her womb,
and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit,
cried out in a loud voice and said,
“Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And how does this happen to me,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears,
the infant in my womb leaped for joy.
Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled.” Lk 1:38

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The Nameless Virtue by Monsignor Ferrarese

Having considered the Theological Virtues of Faith and Hope in the last two reflections (Faithful,12/09/18) (Ultimate Concern, 12/16/18), one would naturally expect this essay to center on the third of the three Theological Virtues. This is a valid and true assumption. But the problem is what do we call it? What is its name?

Even a child in elementary school knows that the names of these virtues are Faith, Hope and Love.But my hesitancy about that particular title is this: the word ‘Love’ is grounded in the misuse of that word in our culture. Love is often confused with Erotic or Romantic Love. This Virtue is not that. It can also denote a feeling that is warm and ‘cuddly’. It is not that. Finally, it often stands for a desire to have and enjoy something, like when we say ‘I love cereal’. It is certainly not that.

The problem is that, whereas English has the largest vocabulary of any Western language, it is utterly poor in describing the complexity of Love, especially when dealing with Christian Love.

In Greek, by contrast, there are a number of different words that we would translate as ‘love’. There is Philia, which is the love that we find in family and in friendship. The city of Philadelphia is rightly translated the ‘City of Brotherly Love’ (Sisterly as well!). The Greek word Eros is about the romantic and the erotic love that is very powerful and needs to be restrained and channeled if it is to avoid being destructive. Then there is the word ‘Agape’ which is the kind of love that we are talking about. When we read the Greek text of the Bible, we find that in the phrase ‘Love one another’, the word used is Agape, not Philia or Eros.

Let’s just use the term ‘Christian Love’ for this experience. What is Christian Love? This is as miraculous and necessary a virtue as Hope and Faith. It can be defined as: effectively willing the true good of the other while demanding nothing in return. A key word is ‘effectively’. This means that we do not only want the best for the other, but we work toward helping them to have it. As the Apostle James says: What good is it if you see a hungry person and you say, “I hope you eat,”, but don’t work to get him the food he needs?

It must also be the ‘true good’. It may be the apparent good that we praise someone, but maybe the true good is that he or she should hear the truth and not the praises that their ego craves for.

The third element in Christian Love is that it is gratuitous. It cannot be a maneuver to get something.There cannot be an ulterior motive. If we do something good for someone in order to get something from them in return (now or later) it is not love, it is commerce.

Oddly enough we love commercially very often in our dealings with God. We love Him because we want to get something from Him or we want Him to overlook something that we have done. It is a calculated action, not a free-will act of love.

Usually, if we keep things secret (remember the Sermon on the Mount?), there is a good chance we are doing it simply because we love the person and want what is best for them. It doesn’t matter that we get credit for it. The act of love is its own reward.

One can see clearly that this understanding of love does not depend on feelings. While positive and good feelings do aid the accomplishment of this virtue, it does not depend on them. Christian Love requires a hard, thought through decision. One decides to love the other no matter what.

When Jesus faced the redemptive sacrifice that would give us salvation, His feelings were not telling Him to go ahead so that He can feel good about Himself. His feelings wanted out from this sacrifice. But He overcame His feelings to make a decision to go with the Father’s will: Thy will be done.

Seen in this way, Jesus on the Cross is the essence of Christian Love.

Now one may say to this that it seems almost impossible that anyone can so conquer their own desires and decide something that one does not truly want. This is correct. It is too much for our selfish, sinful selves that always seek what is best for the big ‘Me’. But with the grace of God, all things are possible. St. Paul (as usual!) put it best: “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.”

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