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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A New Kind of Sharing by Monsignor Ferrarese

One of the things that I enjoy doing is writing. And for the past few years, I have been sharing my thoughts and observations here in our weekly Bulletin on a whole host of topics, mainly having to do with issues of faith and living in the Catholic Christian life.

But I have also, in the past, been able to write a couple of novels that, as of yet, I have not had published. One of them is a historical novel about the little-known English Martyr St. Margaret Clitherow.

I was introduced to her while I visited York, England. It was in ‘Old York’, as I walked through the old shopping area that dates back hundreds of years, that I passed by an odd shop. As I Iooked into it, I noticed a Sanctuary Lamp burning and pews set up facing a tabernacle and altar. I learned that this store used to be a Butcher Shop that belonged to a Roman Catholic saint and her husband. Her name was Margaret. Four hundred years ago, she lived and worked here with her husband John and her children. She was arrested here for harboring Catholic Priests for the purpose of saying Mass secretly. Queen Elizabeth the First was trying to unify the country with a single religion and she established the Anglican Church as the one legal Church in the realm. Catholic rituals and priests were banned and anyone who contradicted the new laws would be regarded as traitors and killed.

Margaret was a convert who bravely stood against this religious repression at the cost of her life. Someone suggested I entitle the book “A Woman for All Seasons”, for a number of reasons. Like ‘A Man for All Seasons’ about St. Thomas More, it roughly takes place around the same period of history: the switch in religion of an entire nation. St. Thomas More, during the reign of Henry the VIII, and St. Margaret Clitherow during the queenship of Elizabeth the First. Both died martyrs for the freedom of the Catholic Faith. Both were lay people of extraordinary courage.

Another title I toyed with was “The Pearl of York”. Margaret in Greek means pearl and she lived her whole life in that northern city.

But I decided to call it “The Recusant” because that is what they called people like her: they were outcasts, refusing to go along with others, just like rebels. She was an intelligent, articulate woman who took on the entire establishment, secular and religious, at great cost to herself and her family.

It was a brutal time. She died by being pressed to death beneath a huge wooden door as boulders were placed on top of it. She was crushed to death while pregnant with her fourth child.

She was beautiful, devoted to God, and very courageous. After I read up on her I realized that, since few knew anything about her, it was a story that had to be told.

Therefore, after several years of sitting on my computer waiting for the right time, I am taking it out of mothballs; and, as I rewrite and edit it again, I want to share it with all of you who are my family and my community of faith.

This will require a long-term commitment from you since it will take months and perhaps years to unfold completely. But I think you may get a lot out of it!

Just like the authors of the past, I will publish installments each week, both online and in the Bulletin. It won’t be long, but it will accumulate over time.

That does not mean that I will forego sharing with you more articles that strike me as important!

They will come your way periodically as well.

But, as you settle in and hopefully enjoy “The Recusant: The life of St. Margaret of York”, you will be doing what used to be done with novels serialized in newspapers. Great authors of the past like Dickens and Dostoyevsky shared their books through daily or weekly segments. (Not that I would dare to compare myself with these giants!)

Thus, starting next week, I want to share with you what will hopefully be the very inspiring story of St. Margaret Clitherow, the Pearl of York!

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God and Education by Monsignor Ferrarese

Whether you ask in India or in the Middle East or in Africa regarding the best education available in those areas, they will most likely respond: The Catholics. Try in Europe or in South America, either in the developed world or the developing world, and ask the same question, you’ll most likely get the same answer: Catholic Schools. The reputation that Catholic Education has on a global level is phenomenal.

Part of the reason is that we have always valued learning in the Catholic Church. The monasteries kept civilization going in the Middle Ages. The first great universities were founded by the Church: Oxford, Bologna, Paris. One of the greatest libraries in the world is in the Vatican. We have the most teaching orders of any religion in the world, foremost among these are the Jesuits who made education the center of their apostolate. Even in this Protestant country of ours, Jesuit universities and colleges like Boston College, Georgetown, and Fordham are top ranked places of learning.

When in the last century some members of other Christian denominations tried to infiltrate the Catholic Religion in this country through indoctrinating Catholic Children in free Public Schools, the Church responded with the Catholic School system that placed education at the very center of American Catholic life.

When God is at the heart of the search for knowledge, amazing things happen! God gives meaning and purpose to every search, even science and math. You may say that they have nothing to do with God or Theology, but is not science the study of God’s creation? And who is the greatest mathematician of all time? God, of course! God actually created Math!

When we look at the proper development of a child, spiritual development is the most important factor. But it is seldom acknowledged to be such by parents. They tend to be interested in a Catholic school as an alternative learning experience for their child. They want their child to have the best educational preparation available and are willing to sacrifice financially for that. That is a very good thing; but making the child a better and more educated Catholic is often not voiced as a reason for entry into a Catholic institution.

A religious institution like a Catholic School can mention something that public schools are forbidden to talk about: God. This is particularly ‘transgressive’ in our militantly atheistic culture.

When I was in Catholic School, the cultural situation was very different. There was no tuition and it was very hard to get a child into a Catholic School. There were lots of children from two parent families that went to Church each Sunday. My parents, to keep me in the school, had to ‘volunteer’ to help the parish in something. My Dad was a member of the Nocturnal Adoration Society and every First Friday spent an hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament (I think it was from 2 AM to 3 AM, yes, in the morning!). My Mom helped to make pizzas for Bingo nights.

The School Sisters of Notre Dame had given up having their own families and took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience in order to teach me. There was an alliance between the Sisters and my parents to make sure that I became a good Catholic. That was the first and greatest aim. My parents were not alone in this. This understanding was common among all the families in the school.

You had to be dedicated to your faith to really ‘make it’ in a Catholic School.

The world has changed. Faith is not as important to most people as it used to be, regrettably. This is reflected in what parents are looking for in a school. Add this to the general breakdown in families as evidenced in a 50% divorce rate among Catholics and you begin to see that, when one says ‘Catholic Education’, one is talking about something radically different than in the 1950’s.

So, culture is different, families are more embattled, and the vocation crisis in the Church has emptied the novitiates and seminaries as possible feeders for Catholic School educators. Things have therefore gotten very expensive for parents even when the salaries of our teachers are much lower than those in public education.

But these same Catholic Academies and Schools still are the only scholastic institutions that educate the whole child: physically, psychologically, mentally, and spiritually. It values the child as being created by God Himself and showers upon the youngster a tradition of love and learning that is still unparalleled in this country or in any country.

We are so proud to say that our Academy (now in its 96th year) is one of two schools in our diocese headed by a religious: Brother Joseph Rocco, a Sacred Heart Brother and an alumnus. We are going to emphasize what the purpose of Catholic Education is: The Spiritual Development of the whole child. Going back to our roots!

Very radical!

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A Bad Conscience by Monsignor Ferrarese

For many Americans, one’s own conscience is the ultimate arbiter of the truth and charts the course of possible moral responses to any number of problems. After the Protestant Reformation took root in Europe, one person in the Protestant camp said something to the effect that, “We got rid of one Pope, now everyone is a pope!”

America is heir to a Protestant ethic that is centered on protest, hence the name: protest-ant! And as such it has an inbuilt suspicion of authority. Our Revolution was a rejection of the absolute monarchy of King George and of his authority. Authority in government, said our founders, does not come from God but from “We, the People”. This anti-authoritarian principle is at the very bedrock of our country and its chief institutions.

When Martin Luther declared, “Here I stand. I can do no other”, he was proclaiming the Protestant principle of the individual against the community and its correlative emphasis of Conscience as the ultimate court of the public and private spheres.

The importance of community that is found in Catholicism was proclaimed firmly by the Church in the council of Trent that reaffirmed the importance of authority and its Traditions and its Magisterium.

While Conscience has an important place in this schema, it is not the ultimate authority. In fact, Conscience can lead us away from the Truth objectively. Some people have malformed consciences.

The most famous example of the malformed conscience is Michael Corleone from The Godfather. He divided the world into the private sphere and the public one: what he termed ‘family and business’. They were separate and kept completely distinct. Much was allowed on the business side, including murder. This division is, of course, a convenient fiction. You cannot divide your conscience in half. Murder is murder whether it is in the family or in the street. His conscience was wrong and, because Michael Corleone was educated and intelligent, he should have seen that. If he was ignorant, it was a vincible ignorance (i.e. he could have easily consulted a priest or other trusted individual to find out whether or not he was correct in his thinking). But he did not, and because of that he is morally responsible for what he does. If it was a case of invincible ignorance, he would not be held liable for his decisions because he could not help being wrong.

As you can see, Conscience is highly subjective and an unsteady platform to base moral decisions on, especially when contemplating breaking with the teaching of Scripture and the Church.

Often, when one is presented with a difficult teaching in the Church’s Magisterium or teaching authority, it is often found in a newspaper article or on a news broadcast on TV, usually written by someone who has little experience with Theology or Church History. One can get all fired up over it and just dismiss the teaching with the usual: “I don’t agree with it!”

What should happen is a commitment first to find out what the teaching actually says. For instance, one can read the document online. Then, after doing all the necessary reading and study, one would be wise to consult a holy woman or man who has dealt with this teaching and can shed some light on it. Then, after much prayer, you either accept the teaching; or you, in good conscience, dissent from it. But the teaching does not change because one does not agree with it. Dissent from Church teaching should be rare and done with a heavy sadness in the heart, for it means breaking with the Church and with Biblical tradition as well as the witness of the Saints (at least about the basic principles involved—for sometimes it is a modern issue that is not explicitly mentioned in the Tradition but can easily be deduced from it).

So, one can see that there is an interplay usually between the objective (what the teaching actually says) and the subjective (what it means to me). Both are very important, yet we must be rigorous with the fact that the teaching in matters of faith is not merely an opinion that is open to change or even reversal. Our secular legal system, based on precedent, ca n do just that. But when the teaching comes from God, one must see that one has to wrestle with it and readily admit that I can be wrong in my assessment and that often the teaching requires an act of intellectual humility on my part.

I may not agree with certain things; but knowing that I am putting myself in opposition to the great Theologians and Saints of the Church if I dissent, I freely choose to submit and accept the wisdom of the Church as superior to my own opinion. There are instances, however, that one cannot honestly do this; and as such I must accept my dissent, I do not seek to propagate it to the detriment of the unity of the Church.

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Can Bad People do Good Things? by Monsignor Ferrarese

I remember getting in the middle of an argument between two seminary professors. Their argument revolved around the composer Richard Wagner. For all those who might be reading this that are not into the world of Opera, I will have to explain.

Wagner was one of the greatest composers of Opera in history. He wrote truly moving music about redemption through love. But he was also a bigot, a racist, an adulterer (with his best friend’s wife!); and if that was not bad enough, he was Adolf Hitler’s favorite composer!

One of the professors made this statement about a famous piece from Wagner’s opera “The Valkyries” called “The Ride of the Valkyries”. You may have heard it if you saw the movie ‘Apocalypse Now’. It accompanied the strafing and napalming of the Vietnamese. The professor made the statement, “Can’t you hear the evil in the music?” The other professor was highly indignant, saying, “That music is beautiful, there is no evil in music. The beautiful revealed God who is the all beautiful.”

Bad people can create good things, strange as it may seem, he concluded.

Fr. Owen Lee, a classics professor and Opera enthusiast, gave a talk at the Met Opera during an intermission one day. He quoted a number of horrible things that Wagner said about a certain group of people. All of us assumed it was about the Jews, but Fr. Lee revealed that all the vile things were being said about Catholic Priests whom Wagner hated. Fr. Lee then commented that he obviously disagreed with Wagner about priests, but that he still thought his music was sublime.

The opposite position can likewise honorably be held. Even today in Israel, the music of Wagner is forbidden and if any orchestra even does an encore by Wagner, the audience just walks out.

He still is very controversial and one can legitimately boycott his music. But it is still beautiful! Bad people can still create beauty, but their actions are still reprehensible.

Today we just throw out people’s accomplishments because, in their personal lives, they left much to be desired. The issue is still with us.

When we switch to politics, we see the quagmire that this question leads us to. Now I must interrupt this article and say quite clearly that I am not trying to influence your choice in the upcoming elections. What I have to say is a question that faces us at all times.

Some people assess the candidates on their moral lives. Are they divorced? Are they honest? Do they show that compassion is a very important ingredient? Are they respectful? How do they manage their family?
Are they crooked?

Then they look at their policies, whether or not they agree with them and wondering if they will bring the country forward economically and in terms of world leadership.

Others say that the moral lives of the candidates are their own private concerns and in no way have a bearing on their vote. Rather, they ask if the policies they will implement are agreeable and if the candidate can be reliable in his campaign promises.

In other words, one may vote even for a morally bad person if the policies of the one who is morally better are believed to be detrimental to the people and country. In essence, the question that Wagner posed: Can a bad person be a good leader?

Everyone must answer this question personally and individually. The facts of history will testify that even bad people can do good things. We must weigh carefully whether the good done is greater than the harm caused by their bad example. Leaders, for better or worse, must also be role models for the country and especially for the young.

Ideally, a candidate will be someone who is a decent and morally upright person who has good ideas, but also the humility to know when they are wrong.

What is important for us is that each of us be well informed about the issues, and also both firm in our convictions while remaining open to new ideas. One thing I am sure of: an election is a test of the maturity and
wisdom of the electorate.

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Meaning of Words by Monsignor Ferrarese


Words are amazing vehicles of meaning. But sometimes they change. I remember going to Italy as a teenager and using the word in Italian that I thought meant ‘bathroom’. It was ‘baccausa’. My Italian family did not know what I was referring to. The Italian word is ‘cabinetto’. It turns out that what I was using was an Italian American word which was a corruption of the English word: Backhouse. This was the shed behind the house before there were indoor bathrooms with indoor plumbing!

Religious words that had very specific meanings have changed in our modern parlance. Three of these offer an interesting example: Passions, Idols and Pride.

If you were to make a study of Christian Spirituality, you would quickly discover that the word ‘passion’, when not used for the sufferings Christ on Good Friday, would connote a definitely negative thing. God gave humanity the gift of reason so that he can make rational choices, and in making them imitate the Creator God who brought Order out of Chaos. Passion was more akin to the chaos. For it was the passions which confused the human person and caused him to make wrong choices. It was like smoke that got into his eyes.

To be passionate today means to lead with the heart and not with the coldness of reason. It is enshrined in the Pantheon of ‘Feelings’ that seem to take the lead in importance. How do you feel about something today means more than what do you think. To be passionate is to be fully alive, even when your passions lead you to leave your wife or husband of many years for someone you just met and “fell head over heels over”. Passion has gone from bad to good in the modern world and this has got to be understood in evaluating the soundness of modern sensibilities.

The word ‘idol’ is perhaps a clearer case. In the Bible, there is hardly any word that is more negative than this word. It means something we put in the place that only God must occupy. The very first Commandment is a warning and a prohibition that it is very serious. It does not only mean an effigy like the golden calf in the book of Exodus. It stands for anything or anyone that we make more important than God. Money can be an idol. So can sex, or power or even good things like one’s own country. But now we use it approvingly of ‘Teen Idols’, or ‘entertainment idols’ or ‘Sports idols’. We have made it a minor complimentto someone whom people rave about and whom people in devotion become fans of. The word ‘fan’ is derived from the word ‘fanatic’. Someone who has made themselves a fanatic of an idol is often spoken of approvingly. But in the life of the fan, is his idol a replacement for the true God whose rightful place has been usurped?

Finally, we have the word ‘pride’. In Dante’s “Divine Comedy”, the sin that is the most heinous and the most punished is the sin of Pride. Like Idolatry, it puts something in the place which is the rightful place for God. Pride is the basis of all sins since we make of ourselves the ultimate tribunal for all things moral.

In the modern world, pride has taken the place of honor, self-esteem, and a healthy regard for oneself, a sort of natural self-respect. This meaning is not bad in itself; but by substituting the word ‘pride’ for these worthwhile attributes, it drags along with it all the negative connotations like vanity and vainglory. So that when in moral theology we state that Pride is the worst of the Capital or Deadly sins, we risk confusing the unsuspecting learner with the more positive meanings outlined above.

The meanings of words are important and care must be used in employing them, especially in the moral sphere. But words are very porous. They are exceptionally permeable to time and history. That is why it is very important to contextualize words especially when dealing with moral matters. Pride may be a positive in today’s parlance, but it is the deadliest of the deadly sins. An idol is not just a crooner, but the very opposite of the living God. And when we extol passion, let us never forget that for centuries the greatest spiritual writers warned of the negative results of a passionate nature.

As in all the sciences, precision is very important in theology. So, when a secular journal uses a religious or moral word, be careful! You may get a wrong idea!

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A Real Woman by Monsignor Ferrarese

As I write this, I am at the old Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington, LI on retreat. It is very quiet and peaceful here. The Virus has kept many away. But as I look at the green fields and the surrounding woods, I begin to feel that things will get better for the world after this pandemic.

My reflections have been guided by God onto the very fascinating but seldom talked about part of Jesus’ life on earth: His growing up, His youth, His teenage years, His young adulthood, His working, His ordinary life that was not filled with miracles. This is why it is called His ‘hidden life’, which was most of it!

Was He ever sick? What did He do around the house? What was Mary like? And Joseph? How did Joseph die? What was Jesus presence like in the little synagogue in Nazareth? What did He most enjoy doing? Who were His friends? Why did He not get married?

So many questions, yet nothing and nowhere to check.

This mystery extends to His Mom and Dad. They lived and worked and loved together. They were family. And we are talking about 30 years! Obviously, these were some of the most formative and important years of Christ’s life. Mary and Joseph were not just part of His life: for those 30 years they were His life.

Don’t you think it odd that so little has been written about those years that produced the most famous person in world history? True, there is nothing written about it. Where would someone do research?

My point in bringing this up is to see Our Blessed Lady in a new and deeper way. Here is a woman of faith who did no miracles while she lived. Except for one very important one: she enabled the greatest miracle to happen in the history of the Universe: God became flesh within her! Her ‘Fiat’ (Let it be!) enabled the hidden secret process to begin. Jesus Christ, truly human and truly divine, took flesh in her womb.

But after that, she was just like us. No miracles, no special privileges, only being a woman of faith and enduring the death of her spouse Joseph, and then witnessing the horrific death of her Son, God’s Son. She was also present when the Church began on Pentecost and she remained to the early Christian community the clearest link to the Lord of heaven and earth.

But during those 30 years in Nazareth, she did many ordinary things that all mothers do. She cooked and made sure things were prepared for Joseph and Jesus who probably journeyed to nearby Sepphoris (which is where the rich Romans and Greeks built elegant villas that needed skilled workmen from places like Nazareth). I can see Mary waving goodbye to Jesus and Joseph after giving them their lunch in a satchel! She probably had wash and cleaning to do, maybe babysitting for nieces and nephews from her family and Joseph’s. She kept busy as she cherished and pondered in her heart what would become of Jesus. How would He make Himself known? As any mother would, she assessed the dangers He would face. Did she have any premonition of the terror of His final days and the glory of His risen Presence? Both before the event of the Crucifixion and during it, she must have felt: That is my Baby, my Child, my Son!

But it was those thirty years of formation in what St. Paul VI called the ‘School of Nazareth’ that the human foundations were laid for who Jesus became. Truly the miraculous from the ordinary, the supernatural from the natural.

This is why I see her as such a real woman, not a myth, not an angel, not a supernatural being. But a mother who did all the ordinary things that a mother has to do, for thirty years. As a Marian altar proclaims in the National Shrine: “More Mother than Queen”.

She, more than anyone else, made Jesus the man who He became. Even biologically, one must assume that the DNA of Jesus was Mary’s DNA. Which explains the moment when Dante meets Jesus and Mary in the Paradiso of his Divine Comedy. He asks Beatrice, his guide, “Who is the man that almost looks exactly like Mary?” She replies, “That it is Jesus the Savior, Mary’s son.”

While I love the many and glorious representations of Mary as Queen that many nationalities consider emblematic of their country’s devotion to Our Lady, I guess I prefer to see her in her humanity and her personal maternal care she has for all of us.

She was a real woman and mother who said yes to the redemption of the world not having a single notion of what the plan would be. This is what I think about when I turn my attention in prayer to the Mother of God, both on retreat and in the parish.

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption” (Gal 4:4-5).

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The Cross – Our Only Hope by Monsignor Ferrarese

There is a very central concept theologically that is epigrammatically stated in Latin: Ave Crux Spes Unica or “Hail O Cross, Our Only Hope”. It gives us a paradoxical truth: that in this Crucifixion it is only hope that perdures.

This very concept is in direct contradiction with the pleasure/pain principle. We try to avoid pain at every turn, seeing it as evil in itself, and we seek to maximize pleasure. Much of the modern world is built on this foundation.

The doctrine of the Cross is very different. It states that, by not being afraid of the pain, we dare to enter into sacrifice for a higher good. We actually do this also very unconsciously as well; for instance: we go to an unpleasant job for the good of our family. We put off buying that fancy new car so that my child can have a Catholic Education. I exercise every Morning so that I may live a longer life.

We enter the matrix of the Cross (Sacrifice) for the benefit of a higher good. We have all met people who never sacrifice anything and end up shadows of what they could have been.

One of the attributes of this time of Pandemic is that it has no definable boundaries. How it will end and when it will end is not something that can be even imagined. When can we truly say that COVID-19 is a thing of the past and it is truly over? Even vaccines are only partially effective. The lingering fear of contamination and of setting-off another round of contagion with perhaps an altered virus that has learned how to bypass our best thinking and solutions may always be on the horizon. While we have a memory of how things used to be, it is at least possible that a time that is free of worry may not come.

Maybe that was always the case. Scientists have been warning us for many years of the disruptive power on the human community of a virus such as COVID-19, yet now it is clear to us since we are living through this and it is a reality and not a conjecture. And what of the possibility of a ‘COVID-22’, or a ‘COVID-25’ (the numbers being the years that it emerges)?

No, it is so clear that we must learn to live with uncertainty and that we must have clear and universally understood and respected protocols to minimize the impact of new strains. And more than that.

We are moving into the sphere of the Cross.

In one sense, the Cross is unavoidable. We all will suffer, either in the present or sometime in the near future. Our hope to be free from suffering and pain all the time is a mirage, an impossible dream, that is ever frustrated by the daily circumstances of life. If we are not suffering, we are engaged in striving and struggle to avoid future suffering or to be healed of the pain of the past.

What we do with this reality makes all the difference in the world. Buddhists also see this unavoidable reality and seek to transcend it through insight and meditation. It is never seen as a good, but as an avoidable blockage to a human being’s attempt to enter the paradisal state of Nirvana.

In the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Son of God, Incarnate, we have a very different paradigm. It is in the acceptance with love of this common destiny that helps us to use the struggle, not merely for our sanctification, but through Christ for the redemption of the world. This article of faith is proclaimed every time we enter the houses of believers, or Catholic classrooms or Christian Churches. There hanging on the wall are pictures and sculptures of a tortured man in agony. We see it so often we do not advert to the strangeness of this Christian custom.

We have not begun to understand the power and efficacy of the doctrine of the Cross. If seen as part of God’s plan and an invitation to see this present life as transitional and as an opportunity to increase our interior soulful and personal acceptance of God, even this Pandemic can be part of God’s plan. And not just part of the plan, but an essential part of our growth as Christians.

Suddenly this coronavirus can be part of the Crown given to us (corona means crown in Latin). While it may be one of thorns, it can be truly redemptive if we approach its reality with an embrace instead of flight. I do not mean to say that it is good, but that we can make use of it for our good and that of the rest of humanity.

“But may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal 6:14).

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Religious Wash Out by Monsignor Ferrarese

Like many of you, this forced staying-home due to this Pandemic has meant watching TV more than usual. With Smart TVs and streaming services, it seems an endless array of programming is at our beck and call. There is a handful of channels that are exclusively religious, but they are sequestered and kept separate from the usual programming.

In surveying a lot of the programming, some things, in a general sense, seemed to become apparent. Gone from all the story lines and characters is any hint of the divine or the religious. When, for some plot line, it becomes convenient to inject a religious subplot or character point, it is usually in the negative. You can be sure that someone who is religious is characterized as either intellectually limited or morally twisted, and in a murder mystery, usually the culprit.

But this vast silence is something to be amazed at since religion is growing throughout the world (including in formerly atheistic Russia and in Communist China, where the growth of Christianity may make it the most populous Christian country in the world some day). In addition, when religions are mentioned, Buddhism, Islam and many native religions get high marks; but Christianity usually is presented as the harbor of child abuse, intolerance (Handmaids Tale), and anti-scientific fervor. Yet, usually the writers are from a culturally Christian background!

Many theologians have remarked about this seemingly all-pervasive self-hatred that has lodged in the hearts and minds of formerly Christian persons. They react with a vehemence and an intolerance that even non-Christians are amazed at.

This latent and not so latent reactionary rejection of all that Christianity holds dear is especially surprising. Much in what we term the secular sphere derives from a fundamentally Christian understanding of life that was forged in the centuries of Christian consensus in what we call ‘the West’.

We have come a long way from gladiator contests to the death and watching of wild animals tearing apart innocent human beings! We are very ignorant of history. Christianity has had a deep and wonderful impact on Western culture in its 2,000-year history. Even the most liberal and non-conformist strains of public opinion trace many of their concerns to our Christian roots. Of course, the Media hasn’t the foggiest about our history, nor does it care. In reading newspaper articles about the Church and Religion, I have been very surprised at the ignorance of the most intelligent and educated writers regarding the most basic facts about our Faith.

So, it is not surprising when there is such a silence on TV and other media about Faith. Honestly, it might be better this way. The disinformation and the false opinions may not make it worth it to be in the public square. But this enforced secularism can give the impartial and searching observer the false impression that Faith is dead or at least radically irrelevant.

While I don’t see any collusion or conspiracy about this wash-out of religious content in news and art, it is pervasive and requires, I think, an occasional corrective when we speak to family and friends. Faith matters; and the silence about it, while not legally enforced, can be seen to be culturally supported by an anti-religious point of view that consciously or unconsciously has taken hold of the public space in our nation.

One of the ways that I have found to counter this enforcement of privatization of Religion is to say grace before meals, even in a Restaurant (remember restaurants?!). I make the Sign of the Cross as I begin either to say the prayer quietly or to myself. But the Sign of the Cross is my statement that we are still here, that we still believe and that faith is not just a private thing.

I even make the Sign of the Cross when I pass by the Church on the street. It is a beautiful custom signaling my belief in the True Presence of our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament. In Church, I genuflect when passing the Tabernacle; and outside, I make the Sign of the Cross. This is not against the Law (well not yet!).

While we should not pridefully do this to draw attention to ourselves, it is an exercise of our freedom of religion that is enshrined in our Bill of Rights.

We take no actions because of pride or judgement of others. We simply share our belief in the Faith that must come before any slight embarrassment that expression of it may cause.

“If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand wither. May my tongue stick to my palate if I do not remember you, If I do not exalt Jerusalem beyond all my delights” Psalm 137:5-6.

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Of Time and Maturity by Monsignor Ferrarese

Things happen so quickly now. We are so used to the constant movement of images on our multiple screens. We begin to think that this is the natural movement of reality. You just need to hold on and keep moving with the calls and the texts and the emails and the multiple incursions of our social media posts!

This dizzying display of attention-grabbing and letting-go for the next visual event can give us a mistaken impression about the way things naturally grow and develop. It can make us impatient and falsely satisfied with the superficial. This is the way things are, we say. Otherwise life can become boring (another falsehood!)

We have a common expression: time is money. We have the mistaken idea that the faster you go the more productive you are. But things that are rushed are not always best. There is a value to slow, methodical labor which produces a beautiful and useful result. Quantity is no substitute for quality.

Most of the best things in life grow slowly. Take friendship. We might like a classmate or a coworker, but in time we begin to value them more and trust grows. After a couple of years, and some meals together and visiting each other’s homes, we look forward to being together not just at work but socially as well. We find common interests. We spend quality time together.

If someone tries to speed this up, the other may feel obliged to reciprocate feeling ‘railroaded’ into a friendship that has not grown naturally, but has been forced on one side of the relationship.

We can see this slow development and growth in many areas of life. Take the healing of a wound. First, the bleeding has to stop, then the cleansing and dressing of the wound. During this time, the wound is very sensitive and painful with every movement. The wound starts to heal through the development of new skin that forms a scar over the wound. During this stage, the pain has turned into an itch. As it continues to heal, we often forget about it, until we notice one day that it is completely healed, the opening has knit itself together, the body has produced the antibodies to prevent infection, and there simply is no wound any more. It may have taken a month, but it is really and truly healed.

So, too, is the development of ideas, spiritual growth and just about all progress, corporeally, socially, intellectually and spiritually. False growth and healing are rapid and not permanent; true growth and healing is slow and organic.

We have to realize the historical progression between the slow sounds of the farm to the beat of the machines in the Industrial Revolution, to the silent whir and click of the computer. It is always faster, never slower.

But natural law is something that requires time and slow progression. When we rush things, we impose on reality our own wills and the demands of the moment and refuse to see the whole progression of things. There is a Muslim proverb: “Haste comes from the devil, slowness from God.” While this is not meant to be a law but a guidepost, it does clearly say that there is a certain timeliness to everything that happens that really matters and that it is part of the vanity and pride of man that he can ignore this reality and suit all things according to his whims. Reality is objective and must be respected if we are to benefit from it.

The constant desire for newness and innovation can be a psychological bulwark against the fear we have of boredom. This is hardly ever spoken about; but in the midst of this pandemic when many of our diversions are limited or done away with, boredom emerges as a very unwelcome ghost that needs to be gotten rid of by any means.

But is boredom so bad? Does the fear of boredom need to direct so much in our lives? Does it need to prevent the slow and sure development of the processes of life? Can we not be content to do it the right way even if it takes time and is boring?

Our relationship with God is the antidote to all these fears. It makes of all reality an event, since we meet Christ in the daily routine of our lives. And He says simply to us: “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev. 21:5)!

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