Dangerous Times by Monsignor Ferrarese

Sometimes there is a drastic turn in history. No one usually sees it coming, but when it arrives, everyone claims to have thought it would emerge.

When I think back to the 50’s, there was a post-War consensus among Americans and a respect for the wisdom of our way of governing, born of tradition and history.

We must be careful about romanticizing the past for it was also the era of segregation and McCarthy-type blacklisting. But putting some of these important exceptions aside, it seemed to have been an era of cohesion. Even the Church was as it has always been for centuries. God and Country were intact and there was agreement on most issues.

The 60’s completely destroyed any semblance of continuity. It was the age of Aquarius and ‘all you needed was love’. Even the Church ushered in a Council that shook the Institution that was ‘semper idem’ (always the same). Change has continued at a breakneck speed.

I sometimes share with our kids in school what it was like growing up in the 50’s. They look at me like I was a cave man! They are so used to change. They question every institution and every assured verity with a modern skepticism that seems particularly strange on a 10-year-old!

We now have evolved (devolved?) into a country divided. Some of the issues that caused the Civil War are still burning hot. Will we ever get beyond them?

In addition, there is a kind of totalitarianism regarding the words we use. One must be very careful what we say and how we say it. One misstep and the word police will descend on you. No matter who you are, you can be ‘canceled’ in an instant, which means that your right to a public life is ended. Even further: you never existed. So, every reminder of you must be taken down and the memory of you must be erased.

Is it any wonder that so few people want to run for office and writers must pore over the texts they write to make sure that nothing even thoughtlessly is uttered that someone may find objectionable? It is getting to feel a little like Nazi Germany or a Soviet-era communist country where a word badly placed could mean a long stay in a camp or in Siberia!

Recently it became a big no-no to use words like husband, wife, brother or sister in the House of Representatives. They were considered too gender specific by the thought police. This hunt for ‘linguistic nonconformists’ is just part of this emotionally heightened and tense time.

Families have been often split along political party lines. Politics was always a dangerous subject to broach. But this danger has accelerated.

People are also very impatient when anything religious is brought up. Sure, here at Immac that is not a problem. But we are in a sort of ‘permissive bubble’. Films only address religious themes as a negative. Religion has been relegated to the private sphere. It no longer seems to belong in the public square. This is particularly odd since Religion, and specifically Christianity, has produced much of our whole Western Civilization.

As Christians what should we do with the new environment spawned by a nihilistic philosophy and a puritanical witch hunt mentality?


Yes, it is that simple. We are called to love. First God, then one another. This is what defeated the powerful Roman Empire. This is what built Western Civilization. This is what will defeat these demonic forces unleashed unknowingly by people who thought that they were doing the right thing. It is the story of the Frankenstein Monster all over again.

Our Faith is the strongest force on earth and when we express it in love and forgiveness, justice and compassion, we defeat the Devil from within and cause him to flee before us.

A vibrant faith is what gives staying power to love. Christian love can change this sorry world where we have advanced so far in technology but have regressed in terms of the human spirit. We have made ‘Science’ a god, forgetful that Science has given us not just vaccines but also nuclear weapons. Science unguided by faith and wisdom can also become a monster.

Our call now is to grow in faith. To live the Bible and not just to read it. To become a Sacrament, not just receive one. To adore the Living God and believe in Jesus Christ. For God has made us in His image and likeness (Genesis); and in the Incarnation has called us into the Divine Milieu of the Community of the Triune God.

We have nothing to fear.

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Being Alone by Monsignor Ferrarese

In my last essay [We Are Family, 01/10/21], I spoke about the importance of and the need for family and community. This essay is meant to be a ‘companion’ piece (irony not intended!) about the positive value of solitude and the fallacy of the fear about being alone.

Please notice the first word of the title: being. We are each individual persons who have rights and responsibilities and a God-given dignity and value that must be always respected. Our value does not come from the community we belong to, it comes from God. This is why we are never ‘really’ alone: God is our constant companion, our support, the very ground of our being and becoming. While community is essential for our growth, there have been individuals who have become saints in solitude because of their prayerful concentration on the presence of God.

The issue of aloneness was particularly important for me growing up. As an only child, I had to learn to be creative and resourceful in dealing with my life. I didn’t have the brothers and sisters around that help you to learn and grow. I had plenty of people express regrets for me that I was an ‘only’. But I quickly understood the benefits of being able to run my own life (with a lot of help from Mom and Dad!).

So, I learned to find some refuge in quiet times. When it rained on a summers’ day and my friends all went home to play with their siblings, I found two places that became second homes to me.

First, the Church. As it was always open, I would go down into St. Rita’s Church (in East New York) which was an underground Church. It smelled of old wax and prayers. There I learned to be still and quiet before God as I listened to the rain falling on the roof and the wind howling outside. My mother never worried; it was a much safer time and she knew my love for sitting in the Church watching in the candle light, flickering, the faces of the Blessed.

The other place I loved to go to on those days when I would have plenty of time alone (I learned to value my freedom during those afternoons!) was the Public Library on Arlington Ave. It was a big mansion of a place with ivy clinging to the walls, surrounded by a small wooded area around which a protective fence made it seem impregnable. When you entered, the one or two librarians seem to be always busy behind stacks of books and almost no one came in, except me. It was great having a place of learning where I could explore worlds by myself. Every book for me was a potential adventure, whether it was a book about far-off lands, or a book about an analysis of rocks or an adventure story. And best of all, you could also bring them home! (Mom didn’t like the clutter but she came to accept this strange habit of mine!)

So, on good days there were my friends and games on the street (hide and seek, kick the can, stick ball, punch ball, stoop ball, and the usual others), but on bad days weather-wise I had the Church, the Library, or I could stay home and listen to music (I started on Opera in High School). Mom seemed to be cooking all the time and Dad was at Highland Park with other retirees of our Italian community playing cards and Bocce Ball. I learned to be self-sufficient by being the only child.

I got plenty of positive reinforcement from the knowledge that Jesus was an only child as well. I could see it in the Gospels when He sneaks away to be with His Father in prayer.

So, generally, we should not be afraid of being alone. It is not isolation nor is it loneliness (which has more to do with a feeling of worthlessness that can come over us even in a crowd).

Being alone can be a prelude to solitude: that very special time when we can rest in being alone with God. Quality time. One-on-one. Face time (not the Apple kind!) with the Almighty.

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We Are Family by Monsignor Ferrarese

We all recognize the words of that jingle of a song that repeat incessantly: ‘We are family’. These are words that remind us of every person’s need for a base community that they call home or family. For most of us, the biological unit we call our family is at least the starting point for our search. When it works, it is a comfortable, affirming and ultimately empowering place where we receive the nurture that enables us to grow into mature and self-giving adults.

But when it does not work: watch out, disaster hits, or at least, the maturity and growth which do not materialize are translated into a search for a place called home and a new kind of family.

In Leo Tolstoy’s masterful novel Anna Karenina, he begins his story with a powerful sentence that signals the opening theme in this complex book. This is how he begins it: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” With his genius for writing clearly, cogently and deeply he signaled the first and most important theme that he will develop throughout the narrative. As it unfolds, we see every kind of unhappiness tearing apart family after family: each in its own way.

While the importance of family is all through the scriptures, we find Jesus almost redefining family when His own family came to visit with Him. When told that His family had arrived to meet with Him, He responded: “Who is my family? Anyone who does the will of My Father is father and mother, brother and sister to Me.” Clearly the Lord was trying to enlarge the concept of the family. Family need not be biologically linked but could be a community of those seeking to do God’s will. For anything to rival the biological family it must work on many levels at once. So, a Soccer team may call itself a ‘family’ but its focus is too narrow and limited. The new family of disciples that Jesus envisioned has many different levels that work to create a community of love with people who freely subscribe to the ethics and mores of the Lord and the Kingdom of God.

One must be careful, however, and not cheapen the whole concept of the family. Family is not considered by our teaching as a mere association of like-minded individuals, but a union created by God with the purpose of generating new life and providing the spiritual and personal environment where children can grow as they see their exemplars of growth, better known as parents, teaching them by example. By doing this, they actually develop into a loving and self-sacrificial relationship that is spousal and of great depth.

While the family as we know it, created by God, can generate analogies of family, these grow from the primary experience of the biologically linked experience.

Only the addition of faith and its links can rival that primary understanding.

The need for community grows organically from this. We are radically communitarian. To rip someone from his primary community, such as happens in the punishment of exile, is to practically condemn someone to death. We feel security with others. We feel acceptance and that comfortable feeling of being at home. It even has organic effects within us. When we are in a safe nurturing community, our health blossoms and our joy know no bounds. But when we are radically alone or in a hostile environment, sickness and loss are just around the corner.

That is why the Church is so important. As Christians, we live a radically communitarian faith. Even our concept of God as Trinity is in the form of an ongoing self-giving mutuality that is both one and diverse. God is a Community of Love!

The Church mimics this interplay of forces and persons that make for the gifts of Sacraments and the orientation of our journey together toward the Kingdom (i.e. Community) of God.

One of the saints pithily put it thus: No one goes to heaven alone. You go with the others that you helped to join you in bliss.

In these pandemic times, when we socially isolate for our own survival, it is a salient fact that this is an anomaly. It can never be a permanent way to be. In this pandemic we have seen a significant rise in murders, rapes, child sexual abuse, addictions, and other spiritual and secular sins.

We need others. Our Christian faith understands that.

We are family.

And this is God’s will for us.

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The Quiet Man by Monsignor Ferrarese

Pope Francis has declared 2021 to be a year especially devoted to St. Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church.

To me, St. Joseph is the most underestimated of all the saints. In the New Testament, he is given the very difficult role of being the protector of Our Blessed Lady as well as the human father and guide of the young Jesus. You have to admit that this is quite a daunting task! And he does this without uttering a single recorded word in the entire Bible!

St Teresa of Avila had such a strong devotion to St. Joseph that she named her first reformed convent in Avila after him. She wrote that he is such an effective communicator with God that she wonders why everyone does not go to Joseph with their needs. Hence, the Latin phrase often quoted about him: “Ite ad Joseph” that is: “Go to Joseph”.

Along with the Blessed Mother, Joseph has the inside track when you consider that they enjoyed the obedience of Jesus the Son of God! Maybe even now in heaven!

God must have had great confidence in him. To place the two most precious individuals in the entire future of the world in Joseph’s care must have shown a steadfast belief in the effectiveness of Joseph’s righteous protection of the things of God. Remember he was a common laborer! We tend to picture him in his Carpentry shop taking orders from the neighbors. Maybe that is one of the things he did, but Nazareth was very small and very poor. He had to support his family, which included many other individuals: cousins, nephews and nieces, parents and in-laws. Thus, the historians tell us he probably was closer to a construction worker, and he went to work a number of miles away (with his son, the Son of God!) to a city named Sepphoris which is where the wealthy Romans and Greeks lived in large villas. They had lots of needs; for their houses they required workers with many skills: woodworking, painting, plastering, bricklaying, etc. Joseph must have known many of these crafts. I could see him teaching Jesus these skills to help support the family. This sprawling extended family was what we would consider a blue-collar, working class family. In our own country the working class has a fierce work ethic, sometimes holding down two or more jobs. I would bet Joseph would also have been a hard worker. Based on this description, I could see why God selected this robust, hard-working man to guard the future of the world!

We also have to consider, in evaluating the importance of the influence of St. Joseph, how essential was the modeling that Joseph provided for Jesus. If we look carefully at the personality of the Lord that comes to us from the Gospels, we see a man of gentle strength. Unlike men in every generation that have had poor modeling, for whom masculinity means violence and machismo, Jesus grew up becoming more and more a formidable man whose strength and power was never violent but who used that forceful strength to protect the vulnerable and to continue to forge ahead with His vision of the Kingdom of God. Joseph taught him that it is a form of weakness when one bullies the frightened and that gentleness is the highest form of strength.

It is very interesting to note that Scripture scholars point out that one of the exact words that Jesus used in his life was the word ‘abba’ which in Aramaic, the form of Hebrew that Jesus spoke, is translated as ‘daddy’. He taught his followers to use the word ‘abba’ when speaking of almighty God! This endearing and highly intimate, personal name for God was the same word that Jesus used to refer to his daddy: Joseph. How close must have been the connection between Jesus’ experience of God the ‘Abba’ and Joseph his human ‘abba’!

Clearly, Joseph’s importance and influence must have been immense to Jesus and through our Savior to the Church over the 2,000 years of her history.

Not bad for a man who was the quietest saint in the history of our faith!

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Regrets and Renewals by Monsignor Ferrarese

Whenever we got to another New Year’s Eve, my Mom would make a similar warning to all those gathering for the yearly welcoming of the new year: “Watch what you do when the clock strikes Midnight, because that is what you will be doing all year. Smile, laugh, but don’t ever cry!”

It is funny how rituals and beliefs often surround what are perceived to be important turning points in our own personal histories. It was illogical to think that whatever you do at the strike of 12 you will be condemned to do for the rest of your year. But we all greeted my Mom’s yearly pronouncements with a mixture of approval and annoyance.

I always saw the beginnings of the year as opportunities for hope. I firmly believe that, as human beings, we can change and that we have the capacity, nay the responsibility, to take yearly stock of ourselves and bravely change what has not gone too well for us. This requires us to be very honest with ourselves. But there is a big payoff: we can change into better versions of ourselves, to reflect in a more shining way the ‘better angels’ of our natures.

The part I don’t like is facing honestly the failures of the past year. Sometimes it is something that you have tried hard to do but failed to make part of your daily habits. Other times it is something that you wanted to do and made countless resolutions to accomplish but to no avail. Bad habits not lost and good habits not gained. The yearly series of regrets make for some real soul searching. During this process I try to avoid two things: beating myself up and finding excuses for not doing what I set out to do. Both of these roads are dead ends. It is amazing how often I travel down them knowing what I know!

Somethings I discard as fundamentally undoable. I will never be a major league ball player! Maybe not even a minor league player!

Then I try to eliminate things that are no longer important to me and that I can safely put to rest, like golf! Years ago, I went all-out for golf but soon discovered that it could not be sustained since all of my friends hated to play the game and I got tired of dragging people out onto the links.

Then I usually had a few interesting, doable and exciting things to try, or things to drop. I know enough at this point that I cannot do everything and that I need to choose one or two things and give it an all-out effort.

That’s when I turn to God for help.

One of the most important things that I have learned about my relationship with God is to make sure I bring Him into all my decisions. He knows me so well. He loves me deeply. He wants the best for me. He has enormous power. To not consult such a wonderful partner is tantamount to an insanity. And yet I often make decisions, even important ones, without even wondering what He thinks, let alone asking Him for help in accomplishing my goals. It is almost a profession of unbelief. If I really believed in Him I would definitely ask His help. Since I don’t ask His help then perhaps my belief in Him is not that strong. Real, but what St. John Cardinal Newman called ‘notional’ belief.

So, I call God into my mind and heart through His Holy Spirit and ask Him what He thinks I should do to be the person He wants me to be and what should be the means to that end. I then make the resolution and hope for the best knowing full well that I have the All Powerful as my helper and

New Year’s Day is coming up very soon. It might be good to reflect on how we make these resolutions and that we be gentle with ourselves when we appraise what could be a really good goal to aim for.

If we put in the time, the annual results could be surprising!

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An Unlikely King by Monsignor Ferrarese

I’d like to tell you the story of the life of a King.

A single mother, Mary, in an out-of-the-way province gives birth away from home and family. Her saintly spouse, Joseph, nurtured by his faith and his dreams, wants to do God’s will. But it is an inscrutable will asking a lot from him and not giving him too much in the way of what to do next.

In a strange town without a place to live or even visit, the young couple find themselves sheltering in place in a dirty barn. The only place to put the Baby is in the straw where the animals eat. Exposed to the cold and lack of privacy, they are visited by homeless shepherds replete with tales of angelic armies in the sky.

Where did they eat? Who looked after them? Perhaps it was the charity of neighbors who felt sorry for them. Maybe Joseph found some local work to help with expenses and the trip to the temple to redeem this Newborn that he will give his own name to. His name will shelter the Child from the talk of strangers, always eager for the tidbits of gossip, especially at some other person’s expense. Jesus, Son of Joseph. It was not true, but it would do to protect this innocent Child and His saintly mother who could not lie if she tried.

Then the danger increased: There was talk of the Child’s special role in the future. Talk of Him being the next military king like David who would defeat the hated oppressors from Rome. This talk did not sit well with the powers that be. The Child and probably His family could easily be on a death list. The eccentric trio of wise men who came with strange gifts only highlighted the Child’s future and made many people very nervous, not the least Mary and Joseph. They were so defenseless. They only had the assurances of the messengers that God sent in dreams and in unexpected epiphanies.

Then there were rumors about Herod, the ruler of Judea, who had gotten wind of the scent of insurrection. He had been rumored to have killed his son and even his own mother. This was someone you did not want to upset or make nervous.

People that Joseph knew had gotten word that the strange trio defied the King and went away by another route. The locals told Joseph he should flee before things got bloody. That night, another messenger told him to run as quickly as he could with the Child and His mother. They had to get out of town and even out of the country. Only later did they find out about the blood bath that they escaped from.

Into Egypt they fled, hoping to find safety for the Child who upset everyone before He could even walk or talk.

By the time they got back to Nazareth, “Joseph’s son” could walk and talk. His mother watched the unlikely mystery of the will of God unfolding.

It would be almost 30 years before His mission would be clear. In the meantime, the young man Jesus took care of his Dad and Mom by laboring and working in a ‘hidden life’. Soon events would lead Him to a charge of blasphemy and sedition against the state; and then Capital Punishment of a particularly horrendous kind awaited Him.

And His mother was there for this, too, having buried her beloved husband; and now she waited for her Son to be lowered from the tree of punishment: punishment for being a truthful, loving, prophetic Man who may also be the Son of God.

Sounds crazy, no? How is this the story of a King? But this is what we celebrate every Sunday! And in a more intimate way, we will celebrate the beginning of this story on Christmas. In our merriment at the festivities of His birth, with the secular traditions of trees, parties, carols, and gift-giving, let us never forget that Jesus’ was not the privileged path of the powerful, but the chosen path of righteousness and poverty.

What was God thinking? Why all this poverty and danger and uncertainty: from a sheltering stable to being homeless refugees in a strange country, where they spoke an unknown language. And, finally, to the slow agonizing death of the Cross. What Father would do this to their Son? But our way of thinking is not the same as God’s. Consider Jesus’ rebuke to Peter, “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do” (Mat 16:23). This way of telling of the Life of Our Lord is necessary to truly understand His Birth, just as His Birth is necessary for our salvation.

In the ways of sin, He was still just a child, like His mother. But in the enlightened way of God, this story makes complete sense. Therefore, this Christmas, let us come joyfully to the celebration of the Birth of our Lord Jesus Christ by remembering the true meaning of Christmas:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).

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Just Another Nice Guy by Monsignor Ferrarese

Recently I watched a program on PBS about Jesus. It was meant to be a fresh, more ‘scientific’ understanding of the itinerant Palestinian peasant who became the most famous person in history. The narrator spoke about this mysterious man as a founder of a ‘religion’.

The talking heads of theologians, archeologists, linguists and Biblical scholars kept interrupting the narration with wise and often interesting comments to help us understand who this man Jesus was.

When I got to the end of the program, I just said to myself: “So what?”

The well-intentioned programmers forgot one tiny fact: only Faith can unlock the amazing story of Jesus. In approaching the Gospels merely from the day-to-day ordinary reality of the time, it explained some things but did not get to the heart of the mystery of Christ.

It certainly did not even get near the reason why this ‘movement’ (as they anachronistically called it) that was led by illiterate laborers and was ferociously persecuted for three centuries, became the largest religion on earth. Nor why It spawned what we call ‘The West’ whose very existence changed all of human history and is still the dominant Weltanschauung (a particular philosophy or view of life; the worldview of an individual or group) of the planet Earth (apologies to the runners up!).

How did this happen? Could it be that Holy Spirit has been leading this ‘movement’? Could it be that Jesus is (present tense!) more than a mere mortal? Could it be that to approach this mystery, it is imperative that you remove the sandals from your feet because you are on holy ground?

When I went into the Major Seminary in 1972, the historical critical method in Biblical Studies was all the rage. We started studying the Bible as though we were involved in rigorous scientific research. When we studied a book of the Bible, say for instance the Gospel of St. John, we would study the text from the linguistic point to view. Then we would study the archeological finds regarding it. We would study the literary forms that the evangelist used. Borrowing from the German theologians, we would study the ‘Form Geschichte’ (what other writing it is similar to and what literary forms were being used); then we studied the ‘Redaktion Geschichte’ which tried to understand how the different traditions were edited and redacted together.

Needless to say, it was very rigorous and scientific, but essentially closed to Faith. You could very easily study the Gospel of St. John and not believe a word of it. There were, however, great theologians like Hans Urs Von Balthazar who called for a ‘kneeling theology’, meaning that any theology worth its weight should lead you to prayer and that it should nourish a believer and a faith community.

We have a different type of evasion of Faith as we commercialize things and make of holy things types of entertainment. An example of this is what we have done to Christmas. It started out as the feast of ‘CHRIST MASS’ celebrating the wild belief that the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity became incarnate. It ends up as a feel-good experience of sharing and gift-giving with Santa and Rudolph and tinsel and the Drummer Boy. How
did that happen?

You see a similar de-sacralization throughout Europe where magnificent Churches are kept like museums with entrance fees, headsets, etc. Usually, you have to ask someone if there is a corner of the Church where you can pray. There often is, but almost always it’s empty to the naked, secular eye; except for the Real Presence of Christ Himself.

In other places, the Church has been turned into a concert hall where the wonderful acoustics are exploited for profit.

As you wander through these places, you wonder whether you are the crazy one expecting to ‘pray’ in a church instead of following your guide book and checking one more place off as ‘saw it’!

One day I was with my sabbatical community in Israel listening to a lecture given in the house where Peter lived in Galilee which is now a church. As the speaker droned on, I caught sight of the tabernacle that was in a corner, totally ignored by all of us including myself. I quietly walked over to it and began to pray to Jesus. Why talk about Him when you could talk with Him?

Jesus was not just another nice guy that you can study, relegated to the history books. He is Lord and Savior. And that distinction makes all the difference in the world.

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The Attitude of Gratitude by Monsignor Ferrarese

Have you ever noticed that some people are always complaining? I don’t mean an occasional complaint or moment of venting, but someone who always complains; always sees the negative in everything that happens. A million good things can occur but they will find the one thing wrong and spend reams of time repeating and repeating what “gets to them”, what “they can’t stand”, what seems to always make them “mad”. It is very sad because these individual lead lives of negativity and emptiness, never seeing the wonder and the beauty of life. When you try to point this out charitably, they peg you as being a “Pollyanna”, advising you to wise-up and “smell the coffee”. Unfortunately, those trapped in this way live in darkness and perpetual want, often with good things all around them.

In this reflection, I want to talk about the very opposite: gratitude.

I have found in my life that when I center on my complaints (many of them legitimate), I descend into an area of resentment and victimhood that I can’t seem to get out of. The energy of anger carries me forward and prevents me from doing anything but complaining and seething against the inflicting party. Even when I try to confront people like this, it ends badly either because I try to sweeten it so much that it bears no resemblance to the offense or that I go way overboard and create more problems than the one I am trying to solve.

I remember an incident from the life of St. Frances de Sales who was one of the gentlest and mildest of men. But he wasn’t always that way. In the beginning, as a youth, he was a hot-head who got into many conflicts. Then he met the Lord and the Lord changed the anger into a strong gentleness.

In this incident that impressed me so much about him, the head of the Visitation Order, St. Jane Frances de Chantal, advised him to respond forcibly and strongly, even raising his voice angrily against someone who was disrupting the Order. He replied: “Do you want me to lose in 15 minutes what it took years to build?”

It is an uphill climb to be a better person. So as to not lose what we have gained, it is advisable to surround ourselves with an attitude of deep gratitude. Thankfulness creates an invincible defense and provides sure direction as to where we need to go to preserve our gains.

As St. Frances de Sales knew instinctively, things can go downhill very fast and gather momentum as we go back to our original state of complaint and negativity.

Like trust, which takes years to build and can be lost with one wrong moment, our growth in the Spirit needs to be valued and protected. Gentleness and Forgiveness seem to be the attitudes of weak persons but they are in fact very strong and powerful antidotes to the virus of complaint.

The saints remind us so often that everything we have is a pure gift. From being born into this world, which we had nothing to do with, to every persona and experience in our lives: all is gift. Our very existence is a grace from God to the world.

There is a very moving scene in the novel “Diary of a Country Priest” where the priest is dying of cancer in the house of a friend who left the priesthood. As the defrocked priest goes to get the Holy Oils which he could administer in an emergency, the dying priest says not to worry: “All is Grace”.

If we understand this, we can truly say that everything, even our suffering and death, is a gift from God; and our entire life can be lived as one long thank you.

How different to the culture of complaint!

God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we thank You because in Christ Your Son You have blessed us with every manner of spiritual blessings in the heavenly realm. Those blessings correspond to Your choice of us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish in Your sight. You have filled us with the grace of Your Son by imparting to us all manner of wisdom and practical knowledge, making known to us—in keeping with Your good pleasure—the mystery of Your Will. For this we thank You. Amen.

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Politics and Principles by Monsignor Ferrarese

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Problem of Pain by Monsignor Ferrarese

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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