Does God Get Angry? by Monsignor Ferrarese

When we talk about God, we often project onto God many of our emotions, our problems, and our ways of doing things. The fancy word we use is that we ‘anthropomorphize’ God. We make Him to be more like ourselves. We have to be careful, however, since this may lead to the creation of an idol, a false God.

The problem is that it is impossible to talk about God except in our own categories. The Bible does that all the time: God loves, God hates, God punishes, God forgives. If we are honest, we prefer to think of God as a cuddly teddy bear that we can hug and make us feel better. We love Jesus, for instance, when He is described as being meek and humble of heart. We are not too comfortable when He makes a whip and begins to attack some
guys who are just trying to make a buck!

So when we ask if God really gets angry (the wrath of God and all that), we are speaking a bit poetically since we don’t have language to speak about a Being that is so beyond us that we can hardly understand even part of Him.

If we look closely at Scripture, we find evidence of Divine ‘anger’. We hear that God is slow to get angry and that He is quick to forgive; but the anger is there. Over and over in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), He signals His Wrath and punishes the Chosen People. But when they come back to Him humbly, He is always filled with tenderness. Even in the Gospels and the letter of St. Paul, we find them warning us not to provoke
God’s anger by sin, and they are quite clear about retribution for sin (remember the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man).

Thus God, like a good parent, is not permissive of His children’s bad behavior, but holds them accountable and lets them suffer the consequences of their bad actions.

Therefore, it does not seem to contradict Scripture to speak of the ‘wrath of God’ and even the punishment that God may inflict on me as an individual or on our Community, whether it be the country or the Church. If we are doing wrong and we are not ‘getting it’, it would be the behavior of a good parent to get angry and put into action something that will teach us to change our destructiveness. For punishment can be of two kinds: corrective or vengeful. In corrective punishment, a parent intervenes with their child to teach their child to stop the behavior, to explain why it is wrong, and to force the child to experience consequences to their action, helping them to remember to act in a different way if the same circumstances present themselves again. Vengeful punishment, however, is done to satisfy the anger of the parent and to hurt and humiliate the child. God’s
punishment is always corrective and medicinal, intended to make the person better.

Then what about Hell? It seems that the punishment there is not medicinal, but punitive, and it lasts forever! This is a very complex issue; but suffice it to say that, when a person is deep in mortal sin and refuses to repent, they have made a definitive choice against God. God then allows the person to experience the results of his or her choices: an existence without God and therefore without love. Even though saints and sages have tried
to show how terrible a choice this is by images of flames and fire (or in a more developed way as in the case of Dante and the Divine Comedy, which is a work of art and not of scripture), one can say that they were trying to show how terrible the choice is by pains that everyone have experienced (i.e. being burned).

What the poets, saints and sages tried to communicate with regards to the often gruesome picture of Hell is that there can be nothing more terrible than to be without love and without God. Thus, rather than a torture chamber, Hell can be seen as a state of isolation that is held onto with a terribly misguided tenacity that precludes God’s mercy and the prayers of the saints. Could Purgatory be what Hell becomes when the damned one (even
though with a slim chance) does actually call on God’s mercy? What we do know is that one’s presence in Hell is willed and, because of the justice of God who gave us the gift of free will, we are stuck in the choices we have made. So the question of Hell is not really about God’s wrath, but more about God’s reluctant consistency in supporting the gift He gave to each soul: to choose to return God’s love or to refuse it.

In short: yes, God does get ‘angry’, but that anger is a form of respect for the choices we have made eternally. Yet, while there is still time on earth to repent and reorder one’s life on a better path, God will fume and shake us up in His wrath, for His wrath is merely the other side of his mercy.

Posted in Msgr. Ferrarese | Leave a comment

A Demonic Assault by Monsignor Ferrarese

I think we were all saddened by the recent revelations coming out of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury investigations of the extent of the child sexual abuse committed by clergymen over 70 a year period. The plight of the victims, as well as the ineffectual handling of those accusations, are a sobering testament for everyone to guard against sexual weaknesses
in oneself and others.

We also know that, even though the Church has made great strides in combating this since the Dallas Accords of 2003, we have seen in Universities and sports teams, in Hollywood and in Politics, every manner of sexual failing that are still rife in every area of human life.

If we stand back and look at the whole frightening mosaic of sexual dysfunction in our Western culture, we have to ask if something bigger is not happening, something on a major metaphysical level.

I am speaking about the Demonic. We learn from Holy Scripture that there are created entities in the Universe that are wholly of a spiritual nature (they have no bodies); we also know that God created them to be good. They are what are called ‘Angels’ or ‘Messengers’. Some of these Angelic beings, having free will, turned against God and where cast out of heaven. Reportedly, this conflict emerged when the Incarnation became known. Because of our evolutionary development and our connections to other mammals, Human Life is considered a lesser form of life when compared with the pure Spiritual Life of Angels. Yet God loves us so much that He sent us His Son, as a human being, to save us from our sinful ways. This was too much for Lucifer (Latin for “Light Bearer”) and others who objected to the Divine one taking material shape and bypassing the Angelic order. These Demons, or Devils, as they were now called, still have great intelligence and tremendous powers; but they are against God and determined to destroy the human project.

The present crisis in the Church has roots that go back many years. The sexual ethic of Christianity was always one that was very demanding. Society basically mirrored this Christian ethic that was shared by the three main Christian Branches: Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox. There were always theological differences between these branches, but not
so much on the level of ethics. This was shattered in the 20th century, beginning in the 1960’s.

With the Sexual Revolution in the 60’s, everything changed. The individual person and their decision about what is right and what is wrong became central, particularly in the area of sexual ethics. This wholesale abandonment of the wisdom of the ages, I believe, was part of the demonic enterprise that would affect the Church deeply. Not all of this
change was bad, however. Part of this change was the emergence of women’s equal rights, which was a good development (with the major exception of the acceptance of abortion as a right). But evil often uses the camouflage of good to hide its purposes. St. Ignatius of Loyola in his ‘Spiritual Exercises’ reminds us that the individual is to keep an eye out for the “cola serpentine” or the “serpent’s tail” even in the good we might choose to do.

So with the new principle that the teaching of the Scriptures and the Church counts for nothing, and that it is up to me to decide what is right and what is wrong, a whole host of evils was unleashed on our world, including on the Church where celibacy began to mean “whatever I want to do is ok”. One of the mantras of the 60’s (beside the a historical “don’t trust anyone over 30!”) is that if it feels good, it is good. This, of course, is a disastrous first principle for a modern sexual ethics. When the explosion of evil conduct began, a slight corrective was added: if it feels good, it is good if between consenting adults. This became the only agreed upon overriding principle, only introduced decades later.

So the stage was set in the world at large, and in the Church as well, for disaster, even among the people who should have been the guardians of the Moral Tradition.

I hasten to point out, however, that this happened only in the case of a small minority. Most priests and religious did not fall into this evil ethics. Nor am I saying that the ‘devil did this’ and absolve the fallen of the responsibility of their actions. The Evil One can only set the table of perdition; it cannot force anyone sit down and eat.

What we need to return to in our civil society is the teaching of Christ and our religious tradition regarding ethics. The Scriptures and the Tradition of the Church has guided us for thousands of years. It is somewhat arrogant for us to claim that these laws of God are now obsolete because I say so.

We need humility and a respect for the objective truth of the Word of God to guide us through all the difficulties of life. This is not easy, but the alternatives are so destructive that it becomes imperative to heed this call of God back to the way of life.

The demons are powerless against us if we freely choose the ways of God.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Clean New Notebooks by Monsignor Ferrarese

It is getting around that time of year with school beginning again. A few years back, there was a very funny commercial on TV for Staples. It started with kids bemoaning the start of school, then a cut to parents gleefully shopping, using shopping carts like hobby horses, with music playing “It’s that wonderful time of the year!”

I’ve always thought that September is a better time to begin a new year. We are back from our vacations, therapists once again patrol the canyons of Manhattan, and we begin a new term. I loved that time when we met our new teachers, got our new textbooks, had no bad marks over our heads (yet) and could open brand-new notebooks and try to write legibly (at least for the first page!). That bracing of newness and the possibility of a good dose of change had a wonderful affect on me.

It is also the time for the new Pastoral Year commencing in parishes. I know that liturgically we begin on the First Sunday in Advent, and civilly on January 1st, but September seems a better place and time to put our best foot forward and live in hope and expectation. The Jews have it right: Their new year, celebrated on Rosh Hashanah, is
usually in September!

So with the beginning of the Academic year and the Pastoral year, we can begin to luxuriate in potentials and“who knows” as we strive to move forward. It was the ancient Hebrews that broke the mold when it comes to our conception of time. For most of the ancient civilizations, time was cyclical, like the seasons and the phases of the moon. For the ancient Israelites, time moved forward, not in cycles. So that means when we begin a new year, it is brand new. Nothing is determined and anything is possible. That is such a promising concept of the year! It does not have to be just a copy of what went before, but it can be different. In fact, we can actually progress and make this pastoral year even better than last year!

It is true that the liturgical seasons are constant. Each year we center on the person of Jesus Christ: Ordinary Time celebrating His ministry, Advent-Christmas celebrating the Incarnation found in the Birth of Christ, and Lent Easter commemorating the Redemption through His Passion, Death and Resurrection. This bedrock of our faith gives solidity and direction to each year. Jesus is the very reason for the Church and for our Parish!

As our Pastoral Year begins, we look to our own major parish-wide events planned. First is our Parish Retreat. This year, it will be on Saturday, September 29th, which is the Feast of the Archangels. It’s our Ninth Consecutive Parish Retreat. That alone is cause for celebration! The theme is the impact of the Supernatural in our spiritual lives.

We are trying a new format this year. It’s sort of a “faith and fun” day. It is still at Huntington, at the Seminary, and the spiritual part of the day goes from 8:00AM to 4:00PM. Then comes the fun as we are feasted by the Seminary with a BBQ on the most beautiful grounds on Long Island! There will be opportunity for conversations, sports, and just lots of eating and fun! We leave the Seminary at 7:00 PM and get home at a decent hour.

The following Saturday, October 6th, we begin our Marian Celebrations with a beautiful procession with the Blessed Sacrament through the streets of Astoria. Jesus actually walks with us, blessing our parish streets and homes with His Presence.

We then have great opportunities for Adult Spiritual Education, including our yearly Lecture Series. This year, our Speaker will be a Jesuit Father from Fordham who will give three talks on the Pathway of St. Ignatius and his Spiritual Exercises.

Our Fall Film Festival is going to be really interesting, the topic being: The Godfather Trilogy: An American Family Tragedy (Take the Cannoli!). By the way, this will be our 19th Film Festival!

Slated for later in the year: our Lenten Mission, our Spring Film Festival: The Lord of the Rings: A Catholic Epic; our Opera Workshop on the French Opera “Dialogues of the Carmelites” (with our yearly visit to a Met Performance!); and our Fifth Parish Pilgrimage, this time to Lourdes, Fatima, Avila and Paris!

Of course, there will be tons of events by our many wonderful organizations including another Marian Consecration on our patronal feast.

This exciting Pastoral Year will give everyone an opportunity to grow as a Catholic Christian while we try to expand and celebrate our parish!

You know, we will hit 100 years soon (2024)! So make your plans now to use the time from now onward, so the coming anniversary year may be one for the ages!

Posted in Msgr. Ferrarese | Leave a comment

A Faith Community by Monsignor Ferrarese

One of the most difficult things to decipher in talking with prospective new parishioners is where a person or couple or family is in their faith journey. Sure, they may all be Catholics, but what that actually means changes from person to person.

Let’s say a couple comes in that want to get married. They are both Baptized Catholics. But even though they have a Baptismal certificate, and proof of First Communion and Confirmation, that still tells me nothing. People with those documents can come from a fervent, very Catholic family or from a family that is more culturally and ethnically Catholic.

So I often give an illustration to the couple. The Church is a big circle. You are definitely in that circle, but where are you in that circle? At the center, the faith-life is vibrant; people often in the center go to daily Mass and take every means available to learn more about their faith. Being Catholic satisfies the deepest quest of their hearts and is very much a part, if not the totality, of their identification as human beings.

The further you go out from the center, where everything you hope for is found, the less active and real the faith-life of the Catholic Christian is. For some, they are Sunday Church goers and they may go to Confession once a year, but are not hungry for more knowledge about their faith. They pray, but in a haphazard way.

At the next outer ring of the circle are those who come for major Holy Days and may attend a Catholic Wedding or Funeral.

At the very outer-most rim, holding onto the edges of the circle, are those who never think of their Catholic Faith, do not even go to Church on Sundays, but may just darken the doors of the Church on Ash Wednesday. These still identify themselves as Catholic and they have been Baptized, so they have the graces of the Sacrament at least positioned for possible use, but as yet their adherence to the faith is still only nominal.

I see my role as Pastor and Shepherd to encourage everyone to move closer to the center of the circle where Jesus is in all His splendor, beauty and power. Everyone, including myself, can move closer to that center since the circle of grace is vast and spacious. As we move to the center, we will become more and more satisfied, yet wanting even more and more of the delight of the Lord.

When you have tasted of this, even for a little, you not only want more, you want others to experience the joy and meaning of being alive in Him. The Scriptures become one’s own story, the Sacraments are wellsprings of abundant life, and the Moral Life no longer a burden but a privilege in witnessing to the goodness of God’s love. As it all comes alive for us, we want our loved ones to have this feeling. We want to share it even with those
we do not know or even love. How can we hoard what is so wonderful? It is what the world needs most to better reflect the reign of God.

The sadness I feel the most is when people are offered this and politely decline because of time commitments or the demands of their busy lives. Sadly, also, there is no motivation to share it with their children. So, while all medical, educational, and primary needs are dutifully met, what is left to give to the children is what is the most important—their ongoing relationship to God placed at the center of their lives.

A parish is not a service station where you come to fill up on the Sacraments as needed. A parish is not only where you go to Mass on Sunday. A parish has to be more than that. It is a faith community where we grow closer to the Lord together. No one gets to heaven alone! We are in this together! As we celebrate the Sacraments and share our faith, we become what Christ has called us to be: His Body and His Presence in the world.

Remember what Jesus said to Saul (who would soon become St. Paul) when he appeared to him during the height of Saul’s persecution of the Christian people: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me” (Acts 9:4)? Christ’s identification with the Church is powerful, visceral and real. When we come together for Mass, we put on the mind of Christ through the Word of God and we consume the Body of Christ in the Eucharist. What does that add up to? We become the Body of Christ in Astoria and the world!

This is what a parish should truly be.

Posted in Msgr. Ferrarese | Leave a comment

Jesus — Stranger to Self-Hatred by Monsignor Ferrarese

The double commandment of love, meaning ‘Love God with all you have and love your neighbor as yourself,’ seems simple and easy to do. Nothing could be further from the truth! People often forget that there is an order to the two. The most important is the first: “Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength” (Deut. 6:5). What makes it difficult is the word “whole”. There can be no compromise. We must put God first (before family and country) and love Him WITH EVERYTHING WE’VE GOT!

No excuses! No short cuts! No ifs, ands, or buts! Even if this means going to our death!

Tell me, who thinks this is easy?

The second part is actually two and they are interlocking: ‘We must love our neighbor as we love ourselves.’ Simple, right? Again, not quite.

At the basis of this part is the assumption that we have a healthy love for ourselves since this is the measure with which we are called to love our neighbor. But if we barely tolerate ourselves, and, if even worse, we can’t stand ourselves, guess what? That is what we will do with the other persons in our lives!

Having a healthy self-love must never be confused with egotism, pleasure-seeking, self-righteousness, self-indulgence, etc. These things destroy the true self of the person.

But, if we are truly honest, we have to admit that we often go around with a mask on. We present to others a ‘role’ that we have been taught at home, e.g. black sheep, savior child, the different one, etc. Or we join a way of life that tells us how we should act and invites us to put on the role we think we should be playing as a “politician,” “doctor,” and, yes, “priest.”

I have met too many priests that are not comfortable being themselves, so when they put on a collar they take on a role to play and not a life to live. But this is certainly not a “clergy only” fault. There are many roles that families and working environments ask all of us to play.

The only problem is that we can begin to believe that we are that role. We then construct (always unconsciously) a false self that we present to others as who we really are. The only problem is that it is not who we really are.

Because of social pressure or confusion, we abandon our true selves, which then often languish in the darkness. Then, on a deeper level, we unconsciously reject this made-up self. But who then is the real me?

This is the age-old quest regarding self-knowledge. In Christianity, we are called to reject this false self (that often is conflated with the prior sinful self before conversion), and in discovering who we truly are we discover something amazing. The Trappist spiritual writer Thomas Merton put it best: “The first step toward finding God, Who is Truth, is to discover the truth about myself.”

Many people (most? all?) instinctively hate the masked person that we think we are. But to hate the true self is to hate Christ.

Therefore, our spiritual journey (with the help of confessors and spiritual directors) is to discover who we really are, embrace it, and, by doing that, also embrace the Christ within us. Self-hatred or self-rejection at this level can only be seen as sinful because it is so self-destructive. But the journey needs a radical honesty with oneself.

For most people, this self-hatred is very muted and hardly noticeable. It comes out almost instinctively and even innocently in the corners of expressions we use about ourselves.

How can we possibly follow that second great command to love our neighbor as ourselves if we do not love ourselves? Many people in this situation often project their self-hatred onto the other and thereby twist Jesus’ command to something like: “Reject your neighbor just like you have rejected yourself!” This was never what Christ meant! Love means love. We are commanded to first love ourselves, then to extend to others the love we have cultivated in us.

This healthy self-love is not an excuse to continue bad behavior. To truly love ourselves is to stop destructive and self-defeating behavior.

It is in prayer with Jesus where He leads us to that self-acceptance that helps us to love each other and, ultimately, to love God. We can think we are doing it correctly when, in fact, we can be all wrong.

Every adult Christian in prayer must bring this to God and ask God to shine the light of Grace into our hearts so that we can end destructive patterns of action and put on the ‘new self’ which is made in the image and likeness of Christ.

Posted in Msgr. Ferrarese | Leave a comment

Monastic Musings by Monsignor Ferrarese

I am writing this essay from Holy Cross Monastery in Berryville, Virginia. This is a Trappist Monastery that follows the Rule of St. Benedict in a very strict way. I drove alone for 294 miles to get here, and as soon as I got out of the car and felt the sun and heard the birds and walked in the silence, I knew I was in God’s presence. I have been coming to Monasteries to pray since I was in College. At one point in my priestly life, I was seriously thinking of joining a Monastic Order. These are powerhouses of spiritual energy yet so simple and quiet and humble that I stand in awe of these men. There are equally dedicated
monasteries of women who are called Nuns! What draws me here?

One of the first lessons that I learned from Monasteries is the Power of Prayer. For many, these men are wasting their time when they can be helping people and doing all kinds of good deeds. This ‘useless’ charge was used during the Reformation for the closing of many monasteries throughout Europe and for the persecution of monks and nuns. But this attitude would somehow have to get around the power of prayer. If we truly believe that faith can move mountains and that praying for others is not just an empty exercise, then the continual offering of prayers and penances by these monks and nuns may be the only
thing that is keeping us from self-destruction!

Prayer is never useless. The Church is enriched and empowered by the offerings of these men and women to live a life of total prayer for others. When I saw them wake up at 2 o’clock in the morning and begin to sing their prayers in Chapel, I thought they were crazy! When I asked one of them why do they have vigil prayers in the night, their answer was simple: Because a lot of sins are being committed at night and someone has to pray to God for the conversion of these sinners.

You see, ‘prayer’ and ‘sin’ only make sense in a faith context. One of the saddest things I have seen in our Churches today is the loss of belief in the supernatural and the demise of devotional life. Mass, for some, has become community fellowship and prayer is effective only for the one who prays (i.e. psychologically). This reduction of the Spiritual is at the basis of our loss of faith. When there is no faith, the lives these monks and nuns lead in the monasteries are empty and useless. But if you have faith, this is the highest calling on earth since they do what the saints do in heaven: pray for us.

Moreover, they are signs of contradiction for the worldly. They give up having stuff (poverty), their relationships are all non-possessive (chastity), and they are always observant of others even when it goes against their own will (obedience). That last vow is the hardest, I am told; our willfulness dies hard. There have been monks and nuns who have given up all things and who have chaste relationships with others, but who secretly gossip and speak against the Abbot or Abbess because they are not running the
Monastery the way they themselves would have. Obedience is very hard indeed. As secular priests, we take a promise of obedience (a Vow is made directly to God, a Promise is made to the Bishop and the Church); but, still in the community of my brother priests, I hear plenty of griping!

This brings me to a very important point: monks and nuns fulfill their vows before God so as to give us a good example in following the counsels of Poverty (simplicity of life), Chastity (reverence for everyone), and Obedience (love and respect for authority) that need to be implanted in every Christian.

For they mirror the pathway of Christ whose disciples we are. This dual service to the wider Church, prayer and good example, should suffice for anyone who has misgivings about the usefulness of the monastic quest!

But for me, there is a third reason: it is so beautiful! There is something to the slowness and deliberateness of movement, the silence, the atmosphere redolent with the sweetness of nature, the peacefulness, the welcoming that all add up to something beautiful for God. If this is uselessness, God grant us more of it!

Posted in Msgr. Ferrarese | Leave a comment

Correction and Loving by Monsignor Ferrarese

One of the most difficult forms of loving is the often-necessary practice of admonishment. This is, admittedly, a difficult and unfamiliar word; but it often comes up in spiritual literature as a necessary form of correction of the individual learner. For it often happens that someone, without realizing it, is doing something in a wrong way.

In the usual fields of learning, this is a welcome thing. When, for instance, I was learning to golf, I welcomed the teacher’s corrections and suggestions since I was a learner and happy to be so. Even a professional athlete will be happy to receive a correction of their mechanics so that they can perform better. Obviously, this requires a good dose of humility. If one pretends to know it all, they will never improve since they don’t think they need to.

When this same type of situation is brought into the spiritual realm, we find many of the same dynamics.

The experience of the Holy, the interior perception of God within us and in the outward experiences of life, is one of the most moving and delightful situations that we can ever be in. One who has been ‘there’ can feel that he or she has ‘arrived’ and that no further progress is necessary. In such an unfortunate person, the great engine of humility is shut down and they languish, immobile in the unreal world of pride and arrogance. The suggestion to someone in this state that they are only beginning the journey is profoundly demoralizing. The devil can make great use of someone in this dead-end of the spiritual life.

The great mystics and saints of the Church, in contrast, were painfully aware of how far they had to go and welcomed advice, counsel, and even correction (especially correction!) so that they could come closer to the “Summum Bonum” (God, the Highest Good). Admonishment and correction are positive things for the truly humble person who embodies the psalm, “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the stalwart one who takes refuge in him” (Psalm 34:9).

Often in dealing with spiritual directees or others that, as Pastor, I have some spiritual responsibility for, I can see what they are fighting (though they cannot) and I know what they are doing wrong. I sometimes know what they can do to correct this impasse of the Spirit, but they are so closed to the Truth and so fragile that they cannot bear the words of admonishment and correction. They take things personally and get all bent out of shape since they think they have arrived when they have just embarked on the journey to God. This derives from a lack of humility. Truly great people, accomplished in their field of endeavor, are always eager to find out what they are doing wrong. If someone suggests a factor that they have not seen yet, they are thankful and try it to see if there is any truth in the suggestion. True greatness is based on humility and this helps to develop a person’s character.

Unfortunately, I have encountered too many people who, while just beginning their journey to the Lord, bristle at anything negative that I say about what they are doing or not doing. They think my words are unfair and uncalled for when I am just trying to help them see what is clearly a mistaken attitude or action. It is lamentable since a word that they may judge to be ‘negative’, which I use to help them grow and be better at what they are doing, could, in actuality, be very positive. This fragility has terrible consequences: “Let a righteous person strike me; it is mercy if he reproves me” says Psalm 141.

Of course, I have to apply the same standard of humility to myself. It is entirely possible that I am wrong about correcting someone! I have to proceed with care and not manifest a doctrinaire, know-it-all attitude that can only distance the person I am trying to help all the more.

If correction comes from a humble, loving heart, then it can have tremendous and life-giving results. Furthermore, when it is received with humility and an honest desire to improve one’s life, it can be a truly win-win situation.

Posted in Msgr. Ferrarese | Leave a comment

A Unified Moral Universe by Monsignor Ferrarese

It is not surprising to anyone if I point out that there are conservatives in government as well as liberals. This right/left paradigm is old hat. It is not even anything new if one were to extend this breakdown to the Church. Yes, we have conservatives who want to conserve the tradition and liberals who want to explore what modern implications there are for future developments of the tradition.

It goes without saying that both wings of the Church are trying to live as faithful Catholics, but understand their priorities in different ways. In fact, there is interdependence between the conservatives and the liberals of the Church. In both camps, there are those who feel that the other group should just disappear and let just themselves be the Church. What need have we of liberals, say the conservatives, and vice versa.

Truly, we need both wings. A helpful analogy is that of a sailboat. The sail catches the wind and propels the boat forward. The rudder steers the energies unleashed by the wind to a rational purpose and direction. The sails are the liberals and the rudders are the conservatives of the Church. Without liberals, the boat would just sit on the water and go nowhere. Without conservatives, every wind would mindlessly move the boat in different directions.

Even if one of the wings should disappear, the remaining wing would probably split into rival factions, one emphasizing continuity (conservatives) and the other calling for more change (liberals).

Where this schema does not work is when we get into the moral world. In morality, we try to live our lives in accordance with God’s will. It is the perennial quest of spirituality to discover what the will of God is and ask God for the power to accomplish it. But, the will of God does not fit easily into the conservative/ liberal framework that we have just described. God cannot contradict Himself and say one thing to one person and another to someone else. While seeking out the will of God, there may be different methods, some liberal and others conservative. But there must only be one end result.

There are those who follow the way of skepticism and question the very nature of truth. Like Pontius Pilate they ask, “What is Truth?” This question comes from a certain pessimism about whether there is any Truth, rather only small truths that often contradict one another. But we believe that there is ‘objective truth’ and that what is true is true for all people and in every circumstance. Nowhere is that more important than in the moral sphere. To kill is a moral evil if it meets certain criteria. Unjustifiable killing is always wrong. But we kill animals to feed people. Killing a human person is only justifiable in self-defense (as in a just war) or to protect a community when no other way is dependable (capital punishment).

If, therefore, truth is always one and unique, absolute and not relative, then it is very important to make sure we are on the right side. For, it is entirely possible that we can be in error and still think that we are right in our opinion. How can we be sure?

This is where the service provided by authority becomes so important. In the United States, we have a negative view of authority. Our country was born in rebellion against the authority of the King of England. But a consistent and tested and believed-in voice that helps us find and stay on the right road is an indispensable help for us. In our Catholic faith, this is provided by the Magisterium of the Church as interpreted and expounded by the Pope and the Bishops over the centuries. This communal and ‘timeless’ understanding is a guide for our theological questioning and our moral choices.

Every time we have to choose morally, we do not have to start from scratch. The Bible is at our service, as are 2000 years of interpretation. If that is all too much, the Church has distilled all this accumulated wisdom in the “Catechism of the Catholic Church”, which is clear, simple and easily readable.

The Truth is there and it is available to us in all our plans and decisions. And if we are confused, we have the Bible and the Magisterium of the Church to help guide us. So we are not alone! But we must trust that we don’t have all the answers personally. We must be humble and docile and truly open. Then, Jesus can lead us to the Truth. For He is the Way, the Truth and the Life!

Posted in Msgr. Ferrarese | Leave a comment

Visions of the Kingdom of God – Part II: Freedom and Sin by Monsignor Ferrarese

In my last essay, we saw that if everything in the moral order was fulfilled according to God’s will, we would have the Kingdom already here on earth. But, while the vision is enticing and seductive in its beauty, there is something unreal about it. God must have realized what He was doing when He gave the human person the gift of free will. The human being is not a robot who is programmed to do what God wills. Plants and animals do not have the freedom to say no to their nature. They remain, even after Adam and Eve, to be innocent and completely consonant with the will of God.

But God created the human person through an evolutionary process. He placed them in an imperfect world that needed the cooperative and learned expertise of God’s new creation in order to perfect and develop it. The will of the human person is instrumental to the perfecting of the created order. Think of what the medical field has done to diagnose and treat diseases. God could have created a world without diseases, but it would not involve the person in the same way. Since, of all of creation, the human person is made in the image and likeness of God and was evaluated by Him in Genesis as not only good (like everything else) but very good, then the human person should also have a part in the ongoing evolutionary creation of the universe. This means God leaves things unfinished so that He can work with the human person as a co-creator of the future.

But, there is one further complication: Sin. Besides the natural imperfections that need to be surmounted (sickness, tornados, earthquakes), the human person can also make bad choices. It is a measure of the true justice of God that God supports our choices even when they are wrong. There cannot be free will if every time someone chooses evil, God comes swooping down and nullifies that selection. That includes the realm of ideas!

The Nazis held the false belief of racial superiority and the importance of the will to do what needs to be done for the exercise of superiority and the subjection of the “inferior peoples” to the “master race”. This was an evil idea that had tragic consequences. God certainly raised up voices to refute it, but the idea took hold and many millions of people died as a consequence of that idea. To blame God for Nazism is to refuse to take responsibility for our own choices. To exercise the will in choosing the good is the way to freedom. To choose the bad is to condemn oneself to the imprisoning consequences of evil.

Born into an imperfect world and subject to the possibility (probability?) that the human person will choose evil at times, with all the consequences thereof, we can readily see why this wonderful world is often so heartbreakingly inadequate. Yet the challenge of ‘managing the earthquakes’, coupled with the angst of poor choices, gives this world its dramatic force and it’s often unbridled uncertainty. But it is the only way for us to become like God in whose image and likeness we have been created.

Notice here that this is what the devil used in tempting Adam and Eve to sin: “God knows well that when you eat of [the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil] your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, who knows good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). The father of lies was using a partial truth. The sin in what our first parents did was to disobey God’s instructions and mistrust the goodness of God; that was the devil’s victory. He used the truth to sow the seed of mistrust in the hearts of the first human beings. God always intended humans to be like Him, to form order out of chaos, but not through mistrust and the breaking down of the close relationship between God and humankind. (They used to walk together in the garden in the cool of the evening—such a beautiful picture of closeness before the Fall!)

This is why there is so much evil in the world: human beings have not used the gifts God gave them to do good: to resolve conflicts, to provide solutions to human needs, etc. Instead, many human beings have chosen easy paths: selfish gains, vindictive solutions and false reasoning. The Gospel has been given to us as the solution we always needed to correct this tragic imbalance. While other spiritual and religious means do help to put humanity on the right road, only the Gospel and the Incarnation of the Word of God goes the distance in healing a broken world. It has begun. It is a daily battle. We have to choose which side to belong to: under the flag of Christ or under the flag of Satan. They are irreconcilable. Not to choose Christ is to go to the other side.

Posted in Msgr. Ferrarese | Leave a comment

Visions of the Kingdom of God – Part I by Monsignor Ferrarese

The rise of populism around the world is a sharp rebuke to the exponents of the liberal project. Left to ourselves and supposedly free of the artificial constraints of religion, we have not produced a nirvana of peace; but, without a concept of virtue based on a theological order, we have become the victims of a bland multiculturalism and a despotic utilitarianism. As good as a refrigerator is in every home, it does not provide for the deeper yearnings of the human heart.

When discussing the Biblical concept of the “Kingdom of God”, we were accustomed to say that it was inaugurated by Jesus, but it is in process: “already but not yet”, or begun but still in the process of completion. This formulation does make a kind of sense, but unfortunately leads us into an ‘up in the air’ impression of the Kingdom. Still worse, it can become a pious sentiment with no reality behind it.

Others equate it with heaven. The Kingdom is then safely ensconced in the hereafter, which takes it out of contention as a viable and empirical reality right here on earth.

But, I have often imagined: what if tomorrow morning everyone woke up a serious and observant Christian, firmly possessing zeal and a thoroughly God-centered way of seeing. In short: what if people woke up as saints?

There would be no more wars and the possibility of nuclear extinction would be gone. The genius of humankind would be put to solving important problems like the increase of food production and the network necessary to redistribute food and fresh water so there would be no famine or starvation anywhere on earth. We would all be called on to give free-will service to humankind. Our Churches would be filled with worshipers and our schools with children eager to learn about this wonderful God.

Universities would be filled with faith filled scholars who would plum the depths of human knowledge without rejecting, out of hand, the God who is the basis of all wisdom.

There would be no divorce and marriages would truly be lifelong because of the holiness of husbands and wives who teach their children by example the ways of compassion and honesty. Because of the right use of sexuality, there would be no domestic violence, no child abuse, and no abortion. Family planning would be done naturally and not artificially; a true discipline would replace the pill. Both women and men would be honored and revered equally.

No longer worried about building weapons of mass destruction, human genius would be free to discover ways to heal diseases. Instead of armies and navies, we would have large groups of young men and women doing works of justice and peace throughout the world.

If addictions occurred, they would be given options to heal rather than incarcerations. There would be no need for prisons since everyone would do the right and none would choose to do wrong. No need for locks and bolts and security cameras since honesty would be the rule.

Scientists would work to make our lives not easier but more socially and spiritually productive. They would find ways of predicting and compensating for the vagaries of weather and natural calamities. Effective and harmonious would be our dealing with volcanoes, typhoons, hurricanes and earthquakes. When these disasters occur, a great many people would race to help and discover strategies of taking away the destructive consequences of them.

Artists would find new ways to express our quest for transcendent values and show the path to full spiritual realization. Few tragedies would underline the importance and the value of goodness and comedies would abound.

The one true faith would work for the good of the global community.

We would not fear death since we would believe that God will take care of us and that we are eternal beings.

Sounds good right?

But we all know that the reality is quite different. Why is that?

I will explore this question in my next essay.

Posted in Msgr. Ferrarese | Leave a comment