I Make All Things New by Monsignor Ferrarese

We have a mania for new things. Cars are traded in; appliances, which were once kept for decades, become obsolete in a few years. There is always the ‘newest’ thing that causes the rage. Something only becomes ‘vintage’ after many years in a closet. Things in-between are cast off and either given away or discarded completely. For accumulators, they are often piled high in the garage.

Unfortunately, we treat people like they are things. Youth is still valued over age. But ageism is getting to be a bit dicey since the numbers in that age pool are so great that they are becoming a political force!

So when Christ says in he New Testament: “See, I am making all things new!”, it loses some of its counter-cultural punch. Modern Americans would say “Good!”, but the words of Christ are not so casually dismissed.

Underneath the secular quest for novelty is the age-old boredom and vanity of the ‘there is nothing new under the sun’ message. What people call ‘new’ today is really a tired retread of a past version of the same.

What Jesus offers the world is what is truly new; not a return to a previous repetition, but a connection with the Divine that is constantly changing, emerging and reshaping our reality.

A few years ago, a movie came out called “Groundhog Day”, and in it the protagonist is stuck in time by repeating the same day over and over again until he knows what will happen at every moment, but is condemned to repeat it.

Because Jesus is the Incarnation of God, the reality of His Divine Nature embedded in the truly human makes every moment a new creation. And because of our own humanity, we co-create the ever-new reality of life that changes at every moment. Everything has been charged with the Divine through the Incarnation and by our constantly evolving Humanity. Therefore, our decisions and choices are ever new and ever creative.

Life, hence, not a cyclical process, but a linear movement toward the complete fulfillment of our hope. Once we truly see this, then our life and our everyday reality of existence becomes suffused with possibility.

We live in a world where everything coheres. Every single decision is important to us and to God and to the World. Meaning is at the heart of everything and even the life of a hermit in prayer has international significance. No two days are the same and we are released from the monotony of the retreads of reality. All things become new since the drama of salvation is lived out by each of us in the daily life we all live. Unlike the world that is hierarchical in understanding, the life, lets say of an elderly person living alone in Astoria, is as important to God as negotiations between nations.

This is an important distinction between novelty and true newness. The world is constantly running after novelty. Novelty is just a reformulation of past formulas that have been at least partially successful. It is this quest for new reformulations that the book of Ecclesiastes struggles against when it proclaims: “There is nothing new under the sun”. You see this especially in the world of popular entertainment. Perhaps there was a little bit of newness in the first Batman cartoon, but how many retreads have we seen that have produced the same story with only minor changes?

There is something vaguely reassuring in this same old world. But this is not the powerful newness that Christ brings to every moment. For in Christ, the present moment becomes both a meeting with the beloved Jesus and a new and glorious adventure filled with challenges, but always directed by the strong hand of the Beloved.

As Christ makes all things new, we co-create with Him the new world and the Kingdom of God bit by bit, second by second, word by word, action by action. The only thing that thwarts this triumphant movement begun at the Resurrection is the work of the devil, when through fear and lack of faith we settle into the familiar patterns of our default setting. At that moment the radiant reality of the Kingdom of God loses its color, it’s music and the drab daily rounds hold sway in the gray world of meaninglessness and demonic reduction. We then become bored with God and begin to forsake the new and we go back to searching for the pathetic novelties that are the very opposite of the newness of Christ.

At every moment we are presented with this choice, and at every moment we can awake to the awareness of Christ or sink back into the sleepwalking state of the ‘living dead’.

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Identity and the Spiritual Life by Monsignor Ferrarese

How one chooses to define oneself has become a political issue. It is assumed that we can, by force of will, define the essence of our lives. Hidden within this questionable assumption is a truth about how our minds work. If we think of ourselves as failures, we will most likely fail. Our way of seeing does, in fact, have a predictive power within ourselves.

While this has a truth about it, we must not think that the power to rethink whom we are can change the concrete objective essence of our being. Some things are just given: our sexuality, our family, our physicality. This does not mean that there is not a vast area of change and adaptation intrinsic to ourselves. Much of who we can become is within our reach through hard work, commitment, and the reordering of priorities.

The fact that I have been born from an Italian-American family is a fact that I can’t change (nor want to!). But my being a priest is a product of God’s call and my acceptance of that call. Although I became a Catholic Christian because of the given nature of most Italian-Americans, at some point I accepted this and was in a position to hear God’s call and to respond to it. My being a priest is a combination of historical circumstance (my family) and free choice (my vocation).

Therefore, when I look at who I am I must first and foremost say: “I am a Christian (i.e. a disciple of Christ).” This most fully expresses the essence of my being. All the rest: the fact that I am male, an American, a Yankee fan, etc. are of secondary importance (maybe not so much the Yankee part!).

How I choose to define myself will have a lot to do with what eventually emerges from my life. Like the calculations made mathematically in space travel, where a single tiny decimal point may jettison the mission completely, so a false idea of who I am ultimately will have tremendous impact on myself and the lives of those around me.

If I am a creation of God Himself, then that says a great deal about my listening to the will of my Creator. If I am a Christian, then I must model my life according to the pattern of my Master: Jesus the Christ.

But if I see myself as just an accidental accumulation of patterns and processes in evolutionary combat, then I don’t quite matter so much except in how I affect the batch.

If I am the master of my life and the only and final arbiter of right and wrong, then I have made myself into my own god.

To be a believer is to see myself as a servant of the Almighty. This requires the very important and foundational virtue of humility. The sin of Satan, called Lucifer before the War in Heaven, was that of pride and envy. This is what infected Adam and Eve and their son Cain. It is the primordial sin and the basis of all subsequent sinfulness. We think that we are more important and more central than God.

However, humility glories in the saving fact that we are not God; that we can rely on someone greater than ourselves and that all existence does not hinge on our decisions and judgments. It is what St. John the Evangelist calls, “the glorious freedom of the children of God”. For God in Christ elevates the faithful servant-steward into a child and a son and an heir. But that movement of grace must begin with humility, and that is a state that only we can bestow on the process of salvation.

Once one is in that humble place of self-understanding, one can, through continual watchfulness, interpret the signs of God’s instruction in the human mind and soul. Since one has placed the center of one’s meaning in God and if one looks to God as the sort of senior partner in moving ahead in life, than our identity is forged in that primary relationship. So the operative question is not “Who am I?”, it is “Who do You (God) think I should be?”

If understood correctly, this is a sea change in perspective and has deep and pervasive consequences for one’s internal identity. It is the stance of the ‘believer’ who is at work in the field of the Lord accomplishing His will and co-creating his or her identity in the Lord.

Secular thinking on the issue of identity is monistic, that is, coming from a single core self. For the believer, questions of identity flow from a dialogical conversation with the Almighty.

Therefore, while some elements of my identity are fixed and must be accepted as part of God’s creation of me, there are many other parts of my identity that flow from the basic assumptions of my life and what I freely choose to be foundational in what I do that work with God in the co-creation of the project of my being. I am, therefore, called to be both docile and creative in forging the identity of my life.

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Liturgical Resolutions — Part II by Monsignor Ferrarese

Last week, we looked at two ways in which we can enhance our Lenten practice by making some basic changes in our way of participating at Mass (Liturgical Resolutions — Part I, 03/03/19). I would like to continue our suggestions this week so that Lent may be a time of spiritual renewal for our whole congregation. For when individual parishioners work at making the Liturgy more meaningful for themselves, it benefits the whole parish. So here are some more suggestions:

3. Sing or at least Look at the Word
Have you ever seen or been present for a Protestant Church’s Service? I have on a number of occasions. It was truly thrilling to hear the whole congregation sing a hymn together! Most Catholics have never experienced this before! Hymns are prayers that when sung have a double efficacy. St. Augustine says plainly: He who sings prays twice! Sometimes, Catholics say that they cannot sing since they don’t know the music of the hymn. But I have observed that even in the Christmas season, when the Carols are known by everyone, still you hear the organist and the leader of song, but the congregation stands mute! Who can say that they don’t know “Silent Night”? Why Catholics don’t sing has spawned many books and explanations, but it is a blotch on our faith and its expression. Even if you do not know the hymn, and maybe are too shy to raise your voice in praise to God, you can at least open the Missalette and follow the words of the hymn! What a wonderful thing it would be to see everyone with the Missalette open and following the course of the prayer. To stand or sit and stare during a hymn is a statement of unbelief in the sacred action of communal prayer and spreads bad example to new members of a congregation. Even this simple suggestion can make of our experience of the Liturgy something powerful and loving!

4. Stay Until the End of Mass
In Thomas Merton’s landmark coming-of-age spiritual journal “Seven Storey Mountain”, he relates that, soon after his conversion, he went to a parish Church in Queens near where his grandparents lived. The Church will go nameless, but I will say that it is not ours! He writes about arriving early for Sunday Mass and being almost trampled by people exiting the previous Mass when the Priest had not even ended that Mass! Not a great legacy for a congregation! While sometimes the priest over the “usual” one-hour and one needs to get back home (to stir the sauce!), to habitually leave immediately after receiving Holy Communion or before the priest has gotten to the doors of the Church in the recessional procession screams out, “I don’t want to be here and the sooner I get out the better!” Making a simple Act of Thanksgiving after Mass is a beautiful way of ending our time at Mass each week (or each day!). It balances the advice I gave last week about coming early for Mass. It says to oneself: this is important and I am going to take my time with it.

5. Live the Christian Life Intentionally
Sometimes my Dad argued with my Mom about being forced to go to Church on Sundays. He went every day to Mass before work at the Shoe factory in SoHo. But he did not like Church law forcing him to go on Sunday. He thought it should be freely chosen. The argument he used was about a neighbor in the building we lived in. When she got home from Church, you could hear her screaming at her husband. My Dad would call attention to this and say to my Mom: “Sunday Mass did not make a big difference in that house!” He had a point. If we really and truly understood the greatness of the Mass, our lives should change for the better. When the Priest says, “The Mass is ended. Go in peace”, there should be a discernible difference in us. It should make our lives and the lives of our loved ones better and more peaceful. In the end, it’s my Dad’s criterion of action which is the most clarifying. If we truly attend Mass with the right dispositions and try to participate with an open heart, it should make a practical difference in our lives. It is it’s own validation. Attendance alone is not enough.

It is my hope that these five Resolutions will, if accepted, change your spiritual and liturgical outlook for the better during this year’s Lenten season!

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The Season of Lent

“At once the Spirit drove him out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.” (New American Bible, Mark 1:12-13)

What is Lent?

Lent is that season in the Church year that lasts from Ash Wednesday until the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday evening. Lent is a season of penitence in preparation for the great feast of Easter.

What is Ash Wednesday? And why ashes?

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. In the Roman Rite, it is a day of fast and abstinence. Ashes are an ancient sign of penitence, contrition and conversion. There are numerous passages in Scripture that attest to this powerful symbol.

What is the purpose of Lent?

As a liturgical season, Lent serves at least two purposes. One purpose of Lent is to be a preparation for the next season, the great season of Easter. A second purpose, that is associated with the first, is that Lent is a season of penitence. (That’s why the predominant color is purple, by the way.) These are the reasons we get ashes, this is why we fast and abstain and this is why many of us “give up” something for the season. These acts of penitence or mortification can be signs of our interior conversion, signs of our desire to make a positive change in our spiritual lives.

Is there any history behind Lent?

Acts of penitence or mortification for the atonement of sins have long been present in the Church. (See Luke 13:3, Matthew 3:8, 11:20, Romans 2:4, etc.) However, the first mention of a forty-day period of penitence prior to Easter seems to be at the Council of Nicea in 325AD. For a short history of Lent, try this site: http://www.thinkingfaith.org/articles/20110315_1.htm.

How long does Lent last?

As mentioned above, Lent lasts from Ash Wednesday until the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday evening.

What about the fasting and abstinence stuff; why, what’s the purpose of that?

Fasting and abstinence are penitential practices that have a long history in Christianity (and actually predate it). Fasting is a limitation upon the amount of food one eats. Abstinence is refraining from eating meat and meat products. Here are the “official rules” as posted on the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops:

Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are obligatory days of fasting and abstinence for Catholics. In addition, Fridays during Lent are obligatory days of abstinence.

For members of the Latin Catholic Church, the norms on fasting are obligatory from age 18 until age 59. When fasting, a person is permitted to eat one full meal. Two smaller meals may also be taken, but not to equal a full meal. The norms concerning abstinence from meat are binding upon members of the Latin Catholic Church from age 14 onwards.

Members of the Eastern Catholic Churches are to observe the particular law of their own sui iuris Church.

If possible, the fast on Good Friday is continued until the Easter Vigil as the ‘paschal fast’ to honor the suffering and death of the Lord Jesus and to prepare ourselves to share more fully and to celebrate more readily his Resurrection.” (Fast & Abstinence, USCCB)

What if I’m sick, do I still have to fast and abstain?  

The bishops go on to add, “Those that are excused from fast and abstinence outside the age limits include the physically or mentally ill including individuals suffering from chronic illnesses such as diabetes. Also excluded are pregnant or nursing women. In all cases, common sense should prevail, and ill persons should not further jeopardize their health by fasting.” (Fast & Abstinence, USCCB)

Are there any other practices that can make my Lent more rewarding and fruitful?

One phrase that can be helpful to us during Lent is: “Prayer, Alms and Fasting”.

  • Try taking the season more seriously than we usually do.

And, to do that:

  • Try to set aside time during the day for prayer; pray the Divine Office during the course of the day, for example. Here’s a link to the Divine Office on-line: http://divineoffice.org/liturgy-of-the-hours/
  • Attempt to perform some actions that have a spiritual dimension. Perform the Stations of the Cross, for example, spend time in Eucharistic Adoration, if possible, or attend daily Mass.
  • Try doing some daily spiritual or Scripture reading during Lent. Read from the Church fathers or Church doctors, for example. Here’s a link to some of their writings: http://www.studylight.org/history/early-church-fathers/
  • Attend a Scripture class that your parish may offer.
  • Participate in CRS Rice Bowl. Here’s a link to their site: http://www.crsricebowl.org/about/
  • Give up a bad habit, save the money usually spent on it and donate that money to a charity.
  • Donate some of your time to a charitable organization during the season.


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

Fast & Abstinence. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2014. Web. 21 Dec. 2014. <http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-year/lent/catholic-information-on-lenten-fast-and-abstinence.cfm >.

The New American Bible. The Vatican, 06 Nov. 2002. Web. 22 Dec. 2014. <http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0839/_INDEX.HTM>

Thinking Faith, nd. Web. 23 Dec. 2014. < http://www.thinkingfaith.org/articles/20110315_1.htm>

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Liturgical Resolutions — Part I by Monsignor Ferrarese

In my last essay (Positive Sacrifices for this Lent, 02/24/19), I spoke about preparations for Lent. We were reflecting on what could be done in a positive sense for Lent that not only does not hurt us, but actually enhances our ability to serve God.

In this essay, I would like to suggest some changes that could be made during Lent to make the Eucharistic Liturgy become a more deeply satisfying spiritual experience for you. These thoughts come from my
observations generally from my experience not only here at Immaculate Conception, but throughout my ministry as Priest and Pastor.

These suggestions may not apply to everyone, since some are already practicing these aids to the better understanding of the Liturgy. However, for many, these suggestions may aid in making the Sunday and Weekday Masses more fruitful, both spiritually and psychologically.

1.Get there early.
It is amazing to see that, at the beginning of Mass, there are so few people in the pews, but by the time of the Gospel, the number has practically doubled! When you habitually arrive late for something, it says that you do not think it is so important and that you are not that happy at being there. It also says that the meeting that it represents is not important. Think of having an important meeting with someone you love and admire. Would you be late? Again and again? Of course not! You would arrive early (or at least on time) to take advantage of all the time you have with your friend. If the Eucharist is the most important event of our day, of our week, does it make sense to be late habitually? Rather, would it not make sense to get there early so that
you can look over the readings in the Missalette and prepare yourself for what God wants to tell you? For those who search and hunger for spiritual nourishment, the readings at Mass, and often the homily, can be directed by God to answering many prayers and petitions of the individual believer. To read them first is to prepare the ground for God’s message which is personal and so important that you do not want to miss it either by being late or not having the preparation before Mass to get the ground ready for God’s communication. “Grace builds on Nature” says St. Thomas Aquinas: God can do great and grace-filled things if we have taken the natural means to prepare ourselves. Rushing to our seats in the middle of the proclamation of God’s word is something of an insult to God! I often wonder how much grace we waste by not preparing the way adequately. We must do our part by preparing the soil so that, when the divine seed is planted by God, it can bear a great amount of fruit. Properly preparing ourselves to hear the Word of God at Mass could be a life changing mode of being. Why not try it this Lent!

2.Respond to the Prayers
Sometimes, when we Priests get together socially, we come up with expressions that sometimes help us understand and accept things in our ministry that often confuse or even depress us. One such expression it the “‘The Lord Be With Me’ Mass”. These are the Masses (often funerals and weddings, but also daily and Sunday Masses) when there is little or no response from the congregation when it is their turn to respond. The Priest says: “The Lord be with you!”, but is met with a deafening silence. Hence the joke: “The Lord be with me since obviously no one is going to pray and hope that He is!” The simple response “And with your Spirit” is a powerful reminder to the Priest Celebrant that the people wish him well and hope that the Holy Spirit accompanies His spiritual and liturgical actions. What a downer it is to hear that silence or the confused murmuring in the congregation! The Second Vatican Council has made participation in the Liturgy by the congregation an integral part of the revised Liturgy. What a wonderful thing it would be to hear a congregation respond with feeling and intent!

To be continued next week!

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Meeting “The Protection of Minors in the Church” Feb. 22, 2019

Here is a link to today’s meeting of the synod:


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Thoughts for the synod

Let us hope and pray that the participants in the synod in Rome are mindful to the signs of the times and to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

If you’re interested, here’s a link provided by the USCCB: https://www.pbc2019.org/home

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Positive Sacrifices for this Lent by Monsignor Ferrarese

Lent begins late this year (on March 6th), so we have a little time to do some planning with regards to the oft spoken-about concern: “What am I going to do for Lent?” Lent is a time to get our spiritual house in order beginning with the things that influence our bodies.

There was a time in the Church’s history that people engaged in some pretty tough forms of sacrifice: using whips and other instruments of administering pain, or at least discomfort, to the body. The idea behind these was to ‘mortify’ the body—that is, to put it into subjection to the soul. “Mortify’ literally means to ‘kill’ the desires of the flesh.

The great saints have often engaged in these extreme penances that sometimes were factors in their early deaths (St. Anthony of Padua died at 36 years of age). I don’t choose to look down on these efforts. These saints were incredibly generous to the Lord in their sacrifices.

But I am suggesting doing things that require great sacrifices, but that will actually add time to our lives on earth; not just to enjoy life, but to have more time to serve the Lord. Could you imagine how much good St. Anthony could have done if he had lived to 80 or even 90 years of age! I remember a few years ago a young seminarian coming to me with a question. He asked me if I knew where he could purchase a ‘hair shirt’. Hair shirts are shirts made of a kind of burlap that, when worn by the naked skin, caused terrible discomfort and could lead to open wounds on the skin. It was used previously to mortify the flesh and provide a sacrifice that someone could do for God. I asked him why he wanted to use one. He replied that he wanted to show God how much he loved Him by offering the pain as a sacrifice. I told him that the hair shirt was not used anymore because it caused serious health problems. I suggested instead that if he wanted to offer God a sacrifice, he should join a gym and begin an intensive training course to become healthier so that he could serve God longer and in a better way since he would be healthier and God would be served better. The hair shirt might curtail his service unnecessarily! He went away saddened since he had sort-of romanticized the hair shirt worn by the great saints. He did not join a gym!

My main point in using this example is that we should not hurt the body that God gave us, but we can train it to serve God better. Lent, for some, is a time for self-improvement. This is a misunderstanding of Lent. You can improve yourself, but always for the honor and glory of God, not for our own pride or good looks. There is a difference between fasting and dieting even though the end result is the same.

But at the same time, it does not mean that what we sacrifice for Lent need hurt us or disrupt the work we are to do for God. Somehow, we must yoke together the goal of the honor and the glory of God and the disciplining of the means to that end. The discipline must never contradict the goal of our Lenten striving.

Finally, the one thing we can learn about the extremes that the saints employed is to have great generosity of heart. They were willing to give God everything, even to the point of their health and comfort. We have to try while keeping in mind the discipline of our methods not to succumb to the spirit of our age that places convenience and comfort almost as ultimate values. We have to always try to go a little further in our sacrifices so that we constantly challenge ourselves to leave our comfort zones and give God as much as we possibly can.

Lent is really a joyful time when we can give God everything that we are. We have but to give Him what we value most in life since all comes from His love for us anyway!

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Deciding Who Is a Human Being by Monsignor Ferrarese

Sometimes a principle needs to re-expressed for its importance to be seen: It is an article of our faith that God creates each human being in His image and likeness and that from the womb he directs and creates and sanctifies each and every human being. Every human person has an intrinsic value that cannot be bartered or diminished by accidental circumstances.

The minute human beings start deciding who is human and who is not, we have big problems.

The Nazis decided that non-Aryans, and especially Jews, as well as handicapped people, were not “life worthy of life” (their horrible phrase). Thus, the holocaust became necessary and even a good thing for Germany.

In Africa, the Hutu tribe decided that the Tutsi tribe were nothing but ‘roaches’ (again, their horrible term) so it was logical to stamp them out.

And now our own New York State will pass a law that says that at any time when the mother decides that her infant is not human, doctors could dismember and kill it, even on the day of birth. This is called ‘reproductive choice’ (our term). How did we get this way?

Just like at the basis of all physical phenomena are mathematical formulae, so at the basis of all ethical issues are philosophical ideas. When these ideas are false or in error, they have huge ethical consequences.

At the basis of this ethical tragedy is the philosophical move to subjectivism. By that I mean: Things are not objectively real. They are what I subjectively want them to be. So if I do not want to be 49 years old, I can change my age, or my gender or my ethnicity. I am who I want to be. You hear this in the movies: you can be anything you want to be; you just have to believe in yourself. While there is a subjective component in all of our perception of reality, it does not change reality. This bedrock philosophical assertion is widely contested and forms the basis of this decision to define the human according to our personal way of seeing. So the Nazis wanted everyone to believe and see that Jews were fundamentally different and irretrievably deficient and even dangerous to the common welfare. As Joseph Goebbels, one of the architects of Nazism asserted: Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth.

Just as a mathematical error of the slightest fraction of a point can cause a major disaster, so an error in philosophical thinking can cause huge amounts of mayhem in the real living of our daily lives. This move from objectivity to subjectivity as the guiding frame of reference of our judgment regarding the real world has had, and continues to have, terrible consequences.

What is growing in the womb is either objectively a growth or a growing human child. It cannot shift from day to day depending on the choice of the beholder. Perhaps our task as Americans is to debate the issue of when human life begins so as to have an accepted objective and commonly accepted point that marks the change-over from growth to child. The Catholic position is that it is at conception, since a new DNA pattern is guiding the development of the future child. But one can also make an argument for the presence of a heartbeat or brain waves or the ability to feel pain. This needs to be debated by those on all sides thoroughly before being enacted into law. Once the entity is passed that point, then it must be afforded all legal protection.

The time for choice (from a Catholic point of view) must be before beginning the act that often results in the conception of a child. Once the child is conceived, then no one must hurt its progress. Both the father and the mother must be equally responsible for the welfare of the developing child. The mother must never be asked to shoulder the burden alone.

At the basis of this issue, as in many other modern issues, is that aforementioned philosophical rule that must be acknowledged and abided by: the objective truth of material and spiritual being does in fact exist and that I, in my subjectivity, must conform my life and my decisions to its reality.

At the center of our reflection we can put that fateful encounter from the Gospel of John between Christ and Pilate. Christ reveals Himself as the Truth and all that abide in Truth hear His voice. Pilate, the modern skeptic, responds, “Quid est veritas?” or “What is truth?”

That is our choice: do we stand with Pilate and question truth, or with Christ who is Truth?

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How to be Together by Monsignor Ferrarese

I heard of a youngster who once saw a rotary phone for the first time. He looked at it and asked, “How do you work it?” In the computer age, with a smart phone seemingly in everyone’s hand, the rotary phone looks like a mysterious contraption. For all us seasoned veterans of life, we can laugh and feel slightly superior because of our mastery of such a complex contraption!

But this brings up a very important point: what has technology done to us? Electricity has changed the circadian rhythms of the body, extending the dominance of daylight and banishing the comforts of the night. The automobile and the plane have shrunk distances and created unheard-of levels of mobility. The computer and the smartphone particularly have linked us together in ways that are both wonderful and frightening.

The smartphone especially has altered daily reality and created many benefits, but also many downsides. Have you ever looked around a subway car when you are traveling somewhere? If you were to look 25 years ago, people would be buried in reading their newspapers or paperback books. Almost everyone is now connected by their smartphones to a whole world that is both private and public in a very frightening way. We exist now as isolated towers living in our own worlds, catered to by the likes of Google and Amazon.

Our sense of community has been altered, too. A family now can be physically together, but as each member looks at their little screen, they are participating in virtual communities that are more real for them than the presence of each other to one another is. Or at least so it seems to them.

This is so because virtual communities are communities by analogy. They are communions of meaning and communication. The ultimate form of community is being physically together. Every other form of community is secondary to that primal form of interchange that has the total presence and transparency and revelation that physical presence can be.

This is, at least, as a basis. People in a subway car are physically together (sometimes too together!), but it is not community, only just physical presence.

Getting back to that family: if they all could put down their phones, or better—turn them off (O horror!!), they could look at each other, pick up the visual cues of body language, listen to the intonation of voices, and mindfully serve each other with the clarity of intention. The accumulation of moments such as these reinforces the bonds of family love that knits us together and provides the connections that will serve our future selves within the family and also form the basis and model of interactions with the other real communities of our lives.

This direction stands in stark contrast to what is happening to our life through the advent of these powerful technologies. The good that they undoubtedly produce has an underside of negative forces that subvert our development and even warp it. This loss of community is a sort of “soft damage”. But the fragmentation of our larger community, of our nation, has more pernicious dangers. The loss of decency in our civil discourse can be seen as at least one of its causes this loss of a sense of our common destiny and the virtual alliances that fester on party lines. These have subverted our call to love one another. People no longer gather with each other to discuss things for a mutually satisfactory resolution. Through identifications with online associates via chat rooms and hashtags, however, we have become a nation of shouters, each trying to get what they want said to be heard alone, and drown out the rest. These movements have something of what our founding fathers feared as the dark side of democracy: mob rule. Just because the majority feels something to be right, it does not mean it is right and does not mean the opposition that happens to be in a minority must be suppressed. Our founders tried to ensure the rights of minorities. But that does not seem to be the aim of these vociferous and sometimes violent interest groups. It takes a community to have civil conversations and we are no longer good at forming communities, only movements that are strident and that brook no opposition.

Enter the Church. The Church, like the people of Israel, is God’s striking example for the world to follow. The very nature of the Church is community. When we receive Holy Communion (an obvious etymological connective), we partake of the one Christ. This makes us one on a deep level of being. Whether we truly live this and experience this is a different matter. But it is clear that God calls us to be a community of faith. The Church should be a place where enmities are confronted and resolved; where we seek the true good of each other; where we have a common purpose; where we a truly and really present to each other. The Church is not a virtual community. She constantly calls us out of ourselves and seeks to have us sacrifice our agendas to the will of the One who is beyond us and at the same time our very purpose of being.

This is a task for a lifetime, but it needs to begin today.

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