The Call – Part II by Monsignor Ferrarese

The Lord gives us a clue to the answer that we were searching for in our last essay (The Call – Part I, 9/17/17): Why are there so few vocations here in the United States when we need them? The Lord says in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew that a good tree produces good fruit and a rotten tree produces rotten fruit. Could it be that it is what we have become as a Church that makes the fruit of vocations so scarce? This is not a pleasant conclusion but we need to look at it.

I am not simply saying that we, as a Church, need to implement a vocation program that will turn things all around. Many good programs have been proposed and implemented, but they have not been the answer. We certainly should have programs that assist those called to find and accept their calling from God. But the problem goes deeper.

As we look at the communities where there are many vocations being produced, such as in India, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Haiti, we find examples of vibrant faith, truly intense spiritual liturgies, and a strong prayer life in families. This was true here in the United States when vocations were plentiful. It was not odd to see families gathered in the evening saying the rosary together. When do we see this today? Families were usually larger as children were not seen as economic burdens but as gifts from God. Church was not what you did on Sunday, but was the center of community life as it is today in the aforementioned countries.

In these countries, people travel to Mass having made great sacrifices to be there, sometimes walking many miles early in the morning. Consequently, Mass is more than an ordinary reflexive action that we do each day, but a deeply spiritual experience.

What I find hard to describe is what we have lost: the sense of the supernatural that makes all sacrifices worth it, and that elevates the religious to a place high above other activities. This ‘Vertical Dimension’ creates the ambience, the environment that makes vocations grow and prosper. While the ‘Horizontal Dimension’ is important in the development of community life, it is the vertical that establishes our connection with the spiritual world and our future in Christ.

We see the unfortunate movement away from the Vertical Dimension of faith when we consider the change in appreciation of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. In the past, we had a deep reverence for the Eucharist. We knelt before the host. We received on our tongues. Only the Priest could touch the Eucharist, and even the sacred vessels of the Chalice and Ciborium were handled only by those ordained to do so.

But today, even some ordinary church going Catholics see the Holy Eucharist as only a sign of the presence of Christ in the community. That is why Catholics are very blasé about receiving Communion, and even though they are clearly not in the state of grace (perhaps through an invalid marriage or even cohabitation,) they think that it is their right to be able to receive Communion. In a recent survey of “churchgoing” Catholics, a majority did not think the Eucharist was the true and real presence of Christ! Given this heretical belief, it is not surprising that these Catholics see no problem in having everyone receive Holy Communion, even those who do not share our Catholic Faith. They think it impolite not to offer Communion to everyone irrespective of that person’s belief system. The Body of Christ has become a mere sign of hospitality, a sort of canapé to be offered to guests!

The truth is that one should approach Holy Communion with an element of fear of the Lord. To receive the Lord unworthily is a very serious if not mortal sin.

My use of this example is to demonstrate that the fall-off in vocations parallels the loss of belief in the Supernatural bases of our faith. We used to approach the vocations of Priesthood and Religious Life with a deep sense of awe that made the sacrifices involved (poverty, chastity and obedience, celibacy) worth it. People looked up to those called and a family felt honored to be chosen by God for this selection.

Unless we reassert our faith in the Supernatural bases of our belief, especially in this materialistic world, we will continue to see a decline that threatens the very existence of the Church as we know it.

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The Call – Part I by Monsignor Ferrarese

Why would God need us for anything? This sounds like a simple question, but it is very profound; as profound as I get regularly from our ‘young theologians’ (my term) in our first grade class!

The logic goes this way: God can do all things, so why doesn’t He do everything Himself? Why does He call on us to do things for Him? A vocation is a calling from God. I think we can agree that He does not need us, but He still insists on getting our participation in His creative work in the world.

One of the most important presuppositions theologically is that if we are made in the image and likeness of God (first chapters of Genesis) then we must be creators also; and this act of creation must be free. It benefits not just the recipient of the act, but also the doer (the creator). Just as any artist grows by creating, so we become who we are by creating. So that is why God does not do it all Himself. If He did, we would not be made in the image and likeness of God!

To illustrate: if someone asks us to decorate a house and we arrive with a lot of great ideas, how would we feel if everything had already been done? I’m sure we would be disappointed that the owner did not need us or our ideas.

God has given us a beautiful but unfinished world. He asks us to help Him to create a new world based on the freedom of each person. He allows evil into the picture since we must be able to freely have alternatives. We can choose against Him as crazy as that may be! He therefore calls some of us to special service in what is completely God’s world. But because human beings like to take possession of things, we live in the fiction that this is our world and that we contact God only in special places called Churches and with special help from those consecrated to God. So He allows for sacred places and calls some to sacred roles in what is really a world filled with His presence. He inspires prophets to call us back to the right road when we listen to evil and walk in our own ways. This is the world as we know it, where there is darkness and light, truth and error.

In the Church, there are those called to roles of sacred service for the good of the whole community. In Catholicism, this is chiefly the vocations of Priesthood (and by extension the Episcopacy and the Diaconate) and the Consecrated life (which includes monks, nuns, friars, brothers and sisters, hermits, etc.). These callings are essential for the life of the Body of Christ. Yet the response to these callings is affected by the prevalent culture and the individual freedom of each person that is being called to this special role in the Church.

Here in the United States, we are experiencing a sharp decline in the number of vocations. Just look at our own Convent. There were 18 Sisters living in that building, all them working for the most part in the ministry of teaching in Immaculate Conception School. But because of the lack of vocations, they aged, and some died, with no one younger to care for them. The Rectory at one point had 6 active working Priests. We now have only three of us assigned. We are one of the lucky ones since some parishes are down to only two, one or even no Priests! This has happened over the course of only 50 years. Did God stop calling people to these traditional roles of service in the Church?

I don’t think it is true that God has stopped calling people to service in the Church. For instance, there are many more lay people working in the Church. Catholic School Teachers, CCD catechists, liturgical ministers etc. are now lay people. This is a wonderful thing, but it does not fully answer the question regarding God’s call. A full lifetime commitment is essential to a vocation. To devote all of one’s life to poverty, chastity and obedience, which is the essence of the consecrated life, is still a special, demanding and necessary call in the Church. In addition, one needs Priests since we are a sacramental church. The Eucharist is at the center of our life as a Church, but without Priests there is no Eucharist!

So why are there less Priests and religious in America? Is God still calling them?

I believe that God is still calling, but that the culture, secular and godless, makes answering the call very problematic for young people. They have to go against what they see constantly on TV and the Internet. If sex is an ultimate value, and even a right, then to forgo it and live a life of abstinence and celibacy is the height of the ridiculous. Yet at the same time, Celibacy emerges as a truly countercultural statement and therefore becomes even more compelling in its prophetic and challenging nature. But the Church must also step up to teach, support and challenge by a vibrant faith life those called to these essential ministries.

Are we as a parish community doing that?

Bishop DiMarzio has declared this to be a year of vocations. Let’s see what the Church is doing and what we as a parish can do to support and enhance this radical vision in the Church.

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Pope Benedict’s Prayer at Ground Zero

O God of love, compassion, and healing,
look on us, people of many different faiths and traditions,
who gather today at this site,
the scene of incredible violence and pain.

Pope Benedict XVI kneels in prayer next to a candle at Ground Zero in 2008. (CNS photo)

We ask you in your goodness
to give eternal light and peace
to all who died here—
the heroic first-responders:
our fire fighters, police officers,
emergency service workers, and Port Authority personnel,
along with all the innocent men and women
who were victims of this tragedy
simply because their work or service
brought them here on September 11, 2001.

We ask you, in your compassion
to bring healing to those
who, because of their presence here that day,
suffer from injuries and illness.
Heal, too, the pain of still-grieving families
and all who lost loved ones in this tragedy.
Give them strength to continue their lives with courage and hope.

We are mindful as well
of those who suffered death, injury, and loss
on the same day at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Our hearts are one with theirs
as our prayer embraces their pain and suffering.

God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world:
peace in the hearts of all men and women
and peace among the nations of the earth.
Turn to your way of love
those whose hearts and minds
are consumed with hatred.

God of understanding,
overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy,
we seek your light and guidance
as we confront such terrible events.
Grant that those whose lives were spared
may live so that the lives lost here
may not have been lost in vain.
Comfort and console us,
strengthen us in hope,
and give us the wisdom and courage
to work tirelessly for a world
where true peace and love reign
among nations and in the hearts of all.

Pope Benedict XVI

Prayer Service at Ground Zero

April 20, 2008

 

From: Catholic World Report  http://www.catholicworldreport.com/2015/09/11/on-911-the-prayer-of-pope-benedict-xvi-at-ground-zero/

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St. Philip Neri and gossip

The homily at Mass this morning included a similar story to this account about St. Philip Neri.  I found this version at the Catholic Education Resource Center: http://www.catholiceducation.org/en/religion-and-philosophy/philosophy/the-feathers-of-gossip-how-our-words-can-build-up-or-tear-down.html. 

The story is often told of the most unusual penance St. Philip Neri assigned to a person for the sin of spreading gossip.

The sixteenth-century saint instructed the person to take a feather pillow to the top of the church bell tower, rip it open, and let the wind blow all the feathers away. This probably was not the kind of penance this person, or any of us, would have been used to!

But the penance didn’t end there. Philip Neri gave this person  a second and more difficult task. He told them to come down from the bell tower and collect all the feathers that had been scattered throughout the town.

Some good words to live by.

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Christ in Everything by Monsignor Ferrarese

Continuing our meditation on our Contemplative tradition in the Church, I will try to sketch out how prayerfulness can change the way we view our day. Many of us understand that the Church building is God’s house and a place of prayer. Of course this is true, especially since it is where the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist can be found. But we would be making a big mistake if we think that is the only time and place we can meet Christ and pray.

There is a Jesuit adage that one should try to find Christ in everything. This is one of the reasons why Jesuits have been at the forefront of education and even science. But monks and nuns are for me the true examples of this way of seeing. In monasteries and convents, they live and work, always in the presence of God, even when doing humble tasks like gardening and cleaning as well as in intellectual endeavors like reading and teaching.

So how can this tradition aid our spiritual development here in Astoria, in one of the biggest and busiest cities in the world?

Firstly, it can teach us to slow down and appreciate what God places before us. The contemplation of the real is very important. One can see this easily when one goes to the seashore or one is looking at an expanse of mountains and lakes. But the great spiritual writer and monk Thomas Merton (a New Yorker, by the way) taught that within all reality is a ‘hidden wholeness’. He would often photograph empty paint cans, weeds, strange rock formations and reveal, through the light and shadow of the camera, a distinct and irrefutable beauty in these castaway objects. To be contemplative is to look at the heart of the reality before us and see the beauty. Imagine for instance that you are walking down 31st Street to go to the train. You have seen this street a thousand times. But try to see it now for the first time as though you were a visitor from Mars or even Dubuque! I bet you would notice a lot of normally passed-over reality; or the same scene, only this time imagine that this is the last time you will ever see it. Everything you normally would take for granted would scream out, “Here I am!” To have a contemplative vision of things is to try to see the ‘hidden wholeness’ every day and not just under special circumstances.

Secondly, the monastic tradition, especially that of St. Benedict, teaches us that there cannot be a clear division between our prayer and our work. Everything can be made into a prayer. I remember seeing a monk about to milk a cow. He first made the sign of the cross! He was offering up what he would soon do to the glory of God, so that what he does becomes a prayer, particularly when he tries his best to do it well. It reminds me of the story of the medieval craftsman, working on one of the Cathedrals in France, being asked by someone why he spent so much time working out the details of carving a statue that will be high on the face of the cathedral. In fact, at that moment he was laboring on the back of the statue. The onlooker said something like, “This statue is going to be way up on the front of the Cathedral, so why worry about details and why worry about the back of the statue that no one will see?” The faith-filled craftsman responded, “But the angels will see it!”

Even the Shakers here in the United States carved furniture, beautifully and simply, knowing that angels would be sitting on it (The Shakers were a movement that was the closest that Protestantism every got to a monastic life). Their saying “Hands to work, hearts to God” showed the intrinsic connection between labor and prayer.

So next time you have to do the dishes, say a prayer first and then do it carefully as an Alleluia to the honor and glory of God!

A third thing that the contemplative tradition can teach us is the healing gift of silence. We live in a loud world of noise: radios, TV’s, smartphones, construction booms, traffic and car horns etc. Given this, you think we would welcome some quiet. But no, we just put on the TV even when we are doing nothing! I knew a priest who kept his TV on day and night, whether he was in his room or out of it. There was always banter, the applause, the music, the canned laughter to fill up the silence. We both need silence but are afraid of it. Who knows what memories or fears may come up in the quiet? But silence in the monasteries is restful, enriching, full, balanced, deep; in a word: healing. If we could just stop being so afraid of it!

Christ is everywhere. Imagine how great it would be if we perceived Him always with us!

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Prayer and Power by Monsignor Ferrarese

At the end of my last essay, I promised to write about why the existence of monasticism and the contemplative tradition can be of benefit to all of us who live and work in the hurly-burly of the big city. This whole area of spirituality is impossible to understand if one does not believe in the power of prayer.

Pius XI, in his Encyclical about the preeminence of the eremitical vocation in the Church (specifically in the order of hermits called the Carthusians), sited a Biblical story from the Book of Exodus. In the story, there is a great battle going on between the Israelites and the Amorites. While the two armies are clashing, Moses is surveying the battle with some of his advisors from a nearby mountain. He raises his arms into the sky in prayer. As he does that, the Israelites gain advantage in the battle below. But when he gets tired and drops his arms, the Israelites start losing. So his advisors have him sit on a nearby rock and each of them hold an arm each into the air so that Moses can pray unceasingly. Of course, with prayer the Israelites won a great victory, but the Pope extends this meaning about the continual prayer on the Mountain to the hermits and monks who pray each day for the Church: if they were to cease praying even for a short while, the human race, and in particular the Church, would be lost. This, says Pius XI, is the importance of the vocation to the life of hermit and monk. Without their prayers, we would lose the battles of life.

Could prayer be that powerful and that necessary?

In a word: Yes! But this is a matter for faith and not science, though the difference that prayer makes can be observed and therefore measured—up to a point.

Some say that the difference that prayer makes is in the person of the one who prays. This is both a truism and a cop-out. Of course the person who prays feels the peace and the purpose that prayer gives, and it changes him or her for the better. But does it change the thing prayed for? Skeptics say: no, it has no effect whatsoever. This is why I say it is a cop-out. Why pray if it does nothing more than make you feel better?

Prayer can change the world. Miracles occur and can be scientifically proven, especially when they occur today. There are doctors at Lourdes, for instance, who, though they are not believers, say that what they have observed cannot be medically explained. That is as far as they can go since they do not believe in God.

The question then comes: why is it necessary, if God is good and wants the best for us, to pray at all? In other words: why does not God just do the right thing, why does he make the right thing dependent on our prayers?

For an answer to this question we turn to the book of Genesis: we are made in the image and likeness of God. So if God is a Creator, we must create. If God is a healer, we must heal. So when someone is sick with cancer, the Doctor clearly has been given the knowledge by God and the intelligence to do the healing work of God. But God has also given the family the gift of prayer to participate in the healing process, even when that healing process ends in the person passing to his or her eternal reward. Prayer is not always answered in the way and the timing that we may want. Man proposes but God disposes! However, does God’s response depend on our prayers alone? I can’t answer that one since it assumes that I know the mind of God! His ways remain mysterious. But I believe that God is good and wants the best for us, and at the same time He puts a lot of the future in our hands. Therefore, our prayers and actions truly affect the future. Yet God remains free and sovereign in His responses. I don’t know how you put it together, but I do believe that both statements are true and that they form a theological dialectic that comes closer to the truth of the mystery involved. By dialectic, I mean an interaction between two different and perhaps opposing realities that produces a response that is new, a sort of synthesis of the two original ideas.

Once we realize that prayer has real consequences, not only in the life of the prayer but also in what is being prayed about, we begin to see why the Church holds the Monastic and Eremitical vocations in such high regard: for they actually help each of us since the whole purpose of their existence is to glorify God and to pray for the needs of the Church, both in her totality and in the individual nature of all our needs.

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Why It Is So Important by Monsignor Ferrarese

One of the elements of the Church that I find so compelling and inspiring is the whole area of monasticism. Rather than an esoteric part of our faith, as some people would say, I believe it is central to an understanding of the Church. I would like to look at this tradition, see why it is so important to Catholicism, and find ways that parts of it can be incorporated in our daily, busy lives.

Besides an artsy introduction to the monk and the monastery that I received when I was forced by my Mom to sit and watch Operas on TV (how can I ever forget the great Sophia Loren lip-syncing as the heroine of Aida!), I received a deeper understanding while I was a college student in Cathedral College, Douglaston. It was while I was there that a friend asked me if I would like to accompany him to go on retreat to a Trappist monastery near Rochester. Not knowing anything about it, I was encouraged by the wild experimentation of the 60’s to give it a try. I am so glad I did, for it changed my life.

The first thing I remember about it was the ungodly hours that they gave to God in prayer. As a college student, I was used to staying up late. But they went to bed at 8:00 PM and got up at 2:00 AM for Prayer together in Chapel. Some of them went for private prayer after the liturgical Prayer of Vigils and some of them went to the Bakery where they baked bread to support the monastery (10,000 loaves a week!).

I can’t tell you how much it impressed me that these men got up in the middle of the night and sang and prayed! So I asked one of them, “Why get up in the middle of the night and pray?” He said simply that they pray for sinners since it is in the night that sin holds sway in the world. They were praying at 2:00 AM for sinners like you and me!

As I investigated this life more fully, I saw that their whole day was a prayer. They prayed at 2:00 AM (Vigils), 4:30 AM (Lauds or Morning Prayer—we do it as a community at 8:45 AM), 6:00 AM (Mass), 9:00 AM (Terce), 12 Noon (Sext), 3:00 PM (None), 5:00 PM (Vespers or Evening Prayer), and finally 7:30 PM (Compline or Night Prayer). When they are not praying, they are working. (By the way, they also eat –Vegetarian!). Their life is a life of prayer in every sense of those words.

This is why I do my retreat each year with the monks of different Abbeys. I feel so energized by their life of prayer that I want to come back to the parish and do God’s will and serve God’s people with my whole heart.

But I think the whole Monastic life, and in a broader sense the Contemplative tradition in the Church, is essential for a balanced ecclesial life. While we share the contemplative tradition with the religions of the East (Hinduism, Buddhism etc.), some of our western traditions have looked at the contemplative life as highly suspect or even an evasion from reality. Protestants closed the monasteries by force. While Judaism had some experience in this area (the Essenes of the time of Jesus), they discourage any organized monastic life since celibacy (often part of the tradition) is discouraged in Judaism. Muslims similarly distance themselves from forms of monastic existence. In the West, that leaves us Catholics and the traditions of Orthodoxy to carry on with this radical form of life. Monasticism is even more emphasized among the Greek Orthodox and the Russian Orthodox Churches to name just a few. As many of you know, in Orthodoxy priests are allowed to marry. But not in the monasteries. There the celibate ideal is so valued that their bishops and patriarchs can only come from monasteries.

Among the Orthodox, there is an entire Peninsula of land with a holy mountain on it called Mount Athos. In this very strict series of monastic communities, orthodox monks from all over the world have followed the contemplative life for the past thousand years and maybe more. This Eastern Lung of the Church universal joins us, the Catholic Church, in proclaiming that the life of eremitical prayer, so despised in our modern utilitarian age, is essential to the life of the Church. It sprang up almost immediately after the classical age of the martyrs as the most radical witness to the primacy of God and prayer in everyone’s way of life. Monks (and their feminine counterparts, Nuns) are the constant Prayers: offering prayers as a witness of what we all must do in our ways of life, but also to be our constant voice to the heavens.

I hope in my next essay to discuss the reasons why they are important to us, and to highlight the things we can learn from them that would make our lives more balanced.

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Health and Holiness by Monsignor Ferrarese

In the last essay (Under Our Noses, 8/13/17), we outlined the reasons why what we eat is important to God. In the history of revelation, God has taken an extraordinary interest in what we eat. It is the subject of this article to chart a path of responsible nutrition that will serve the purposes of our calling to do the will of God. In this, we are protecting the instrument of our bodies so that we can serve God for as long as He wills. To eat just for pleasure or as exercise of vanity is not worthy of the Christian. We eat so that we are in the best position to serve God in the long run so that, when He calls us in death, we may hear Him say, “Come to me good and faithful servant!”

I have read much on this subject and I want to share some simple things that I have learned that may be helpful to ensure that we live in our bodies to the honor and glory of God, and that we do not waste the health and the purpose that God wants us to have.

Here are some simple rules that I have found helpful in constructing a healthy diet that will serve God’s purposes by enabling me to serve him as long as He chooses to give me on this earth:

  1. Make water my primary choice of beverage. The real enemy here is soda that is filled with negative things like sugar and sweeteners. Occasionally, I will have a beer or a glass of wine since they are both products of the earth. Our diet has too many sugars, and soda has tons of it. Even the artificial sweeteners are problematic as many studies show.
  2. Choose products of the earth rather than of other animals as the primary source of nourishment. I am not a vegan or a vegetarian. I do eat meat, fish and dairy, but in limited quantities. When I used to fill my plate, the largest part went to my meat or fish with the vegetables as a surrounding accompaniment. Now I fill my plate with vegetables and take a small amount of meat or fish.
  3. Less is more. I try to cut down on quantity. Being bloated at the end of a meal is not a good thing. I found that after limiting the amount of food that I eat, my stomach shrinks and I feel more satisfied with less. Visitors to our country are amazed at the portions that are given in our restaurants and the many people that suffer from obesity.
  4. Fresh rather than processed foods are always better. The processing of food means that a company does things to the food to preserve it on the shelves to make it commercially viable for a longer time. Therefore, a simple food like bread does not have just flour and water etc., but many ingredients that sound like they are medicines. When we put these things in our bodies, they accumulate and interact in ways that are not always healthy. However, natural foods cooked in a natural way have a plethora of benefits. Very often, processing removes the ‘roughage’ necessary for proper digestion. This alone is cause for concern.

In talking about plant based diets, one often hears the warning about protein deficiency (i.e. that limiting or eliminating animal food products may cause an unhealthy loss of protein). People warn about loss of strength. They forget, however, that all protein originates in the plant world! The strongest animals on earth are plant eaters (gorillas, rhinos, elephants)! Our steaks come from cattle that exclusively eat the produce that comes from the earth!

Since this is a complicated area of nutrition, it is always advisable to consult a physician or a nutritionist before embarking on any change of diet. I personally think that a careful, balanced approach is necessary. I do still eat meat, fish and dairy, but as I said before, the proportions are different. Prudence usually counsels against extremes; but in embarking on such a dietary journey, we must realize that even doctors may be unheedful of the big picture.

We want to serve God in this life. And we do not want to unnecessarily shorten the time we have to serve him by an unhealthy diet that may lead to illnesses, which may not be God’s will; but may be caused by my lack of prudence that can very easily have been changed—not by medicine or surgery, but by simple choices about what we put into our bodies.

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For the Solemnity of the Assumption

For the Solemnity of the Assumption or the Dormition of Mary as the Eastern churches refer to it.  And it can be appropriate for today.

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
and has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever.”  Luke 1:46-55

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Under Our Noses by Monsignor Ferrarese

Many people are concerned about their health. This is understandable. Who wants to get sick and, even more, who wants to die? So much money is involved in our health-care industry. Medical costs keep going up. Medical breakthroughs keep being discovered. Obesity and Diabetes have become national problems. Dieting is a multi-billion dollar industry. In spite of our material prosperity, we are a very unhealthy nation when compared to other countries. We are beset and stymied by the diseases of affluence: heart disease, cancer etc. Many voices on TV and Radio and the Internet tell us contrary things about food.

I remember in one of Woody Allen’s early movies, he travels into the future and discovers that science has discovered the nutritional benefits of milk shakes and banana splits!

Why is it important to see that what we eat is a spiritual issue? If we begin in the Book of Genesis (not a bad starting point!), we learn that we are made in the image and likeness of God: hence, the great dignity that is the human person. We are sacred since we come from God. Therefore, what we eat to sustain this glory has great importance. If, for instance, we identify the body not with a temple (which is an image that is not too familiar to us) but with a church, than we can more easily recognize that to treat the house of God shabbily; to keep it dirty; to pile stuff into it as to make it a kind of storeroom; to do things in it that are not appropriate (could you imagine how shocking it would be to have a BBQ in Church!) would be a terrible thing. So it is with the treatment of the Church of God that is our body, our selves. It is a very interesting fact that the first sin involved inappropriate eating! Remember the apple?

The need to see eating as a sacred act continues in the Hebrew Scriptures with the many laws regarding what is suitable for a Jew to eat. Everyone knows that there are kosher laws restricting greatly what is to be eaten. Some foods are unclean and avoiding them is a religious act.

Even beyond this, we have the story of the three young men in Babylon who refused to eat unclean foods from the Pagan King’s table. They bribed the guard to feed them only vegetables. When they were presented to the king with the rest of the young men designated for service to the realm, they were the handsomest and the strongest.

At the very center of Jewish observance is the Passover meal, and this was brought over into our own Christian faith in the Mass. The Mass is a commemorative meal: we gather together each day and eat together the Eucharist. So food and eating are interwoven with our faith in very profound and basic ways.

Now science has started to open up to us the destructive aspects of our own Western way of eating. Our abundance is creating a series of diseases of the human person that severely limits our ability to serve God. These so -called ‘diseases of affluence’, such as obesity, diabetes, and cancer, are ripping apart families and causing untold grief and misery. To think that there is a simple way to approach prevention—altering our diets—is to ask why it is not tried. Clearly, a plant-based diet has shown itself to be incredibly effective in preventing many diseases of affluence. But who wants to give up or even limit eating meat and other animal products? Could it be, also, that the powerful industries that provide such an unlimited amount of animal based products, with their hold on governments through lobbying and contributions, do not want us to go in that direction? We all remember the fight the tobacco industry put up to continue to market their products, which had been proven to be disastrous to health?

And do we think that the pharmaceutical industry wants us to be healthier and not need the vast array of medications and devices that is their livelihood?

We have a moral obligation to take care of ourselves so that we can serve God in the brief amount of time that He has apportioned to us here on earth. This means that we must take the ordinary means in preventing diseases that curtail our service to Him.

Learning the laws of eating correctly and heeding them, even in spite of the pressures put upon us socially and politically, is a very important factor in our obedience to the will of God.

That does not mean we must become vegans or even vegetarians, but simply that we must discover and follow the simple laws of nutrition that God wants us to follow so that we can serve Him in this life and be happy with Him forever in the life to come.

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