The Development of Dogma by Monsignor Ferrarese

Whenever someone does not agree with a teaching of the Church, they often express a hope that when a new Pope gets in, he might change it so that it might agree with their opinion. Of course, this would be an understandable possibility in a Democracy like our own where our own leaders are elected and change could become a frequent occurrence.

But, even in our own American context there is the authority of the Constitution to contend with. Within this constitutional context, there are two schools of thought. One is the Originalist interpretation which seeks to stay very close to the text and the understanding that the framers of the Constitution had concerning the words that they used. The other school is the “Living Constitution” interpretation that seeks to fit new issues into the broad concerns and principles enshrined by the framers.

The Church and Her teaching are very different. Because the teaching is revealed to us by God, it has a timeless meaning and cannot be altered or changed. Our understanding of that teaching, however, can develop over time, especially when new concepts are introduced by the secular world that lets us see elements in God’s teaching in a new way. St. Vincent of Lerins, a medieval scholar and saint, compared the development of dogma to a human person. When one is a baby, one is all potential waiting to happen. But when that child reaches adulthood and then old age, they are very different and much more developed; but (and this is a big but) they are still the same person. They do not suddenly become someone else. Their development is linear and grows in them organically.

When we consider the way that Church Teaching may develop, we can completely abandon any idea of the teaching contradicting itself. If a teaching on any moral theme were to change so completely that it means the exact opposite, this could never be a true development. Like the growth of a human person, or an animal or a plant, it is organic and it cannot change into something else.

So, when people express a desire that the Pope or a Council change a long-held teaching of the Church, what they are asking is the impossible. While the teaching can be better expressed or seen in a new way by the people of a time and place, it cannot be a contradiction of the original formulation of that teaching. The Pope, therefore, cannot change a long-held teaching in the Magisterium of the Church. Nor, unlike the American Constitution, can the Bible be amended.

The cause of this is our understanding of the authorship of Revelation. Though God uses human beings and human concepts as His instruments, He, God Himself, is the author of Scripture and the Guide of Tradition. To change a teaching is to say that God was wrong or that He mislead the Church for centuries. This is impossible if we believe that God is the true author of the Teaching of the Church.

There are, however, disciplines of the Church that a Pope can change. For instance, when Mass was in Latin. God never said that He wanted us to use Latin instead of the common language of the people (Vulgate). So, at the Second Vatican Council, the Council Fathers and the Pope changed the language of the Liturgy so that it may be said in the common language of each church. The Law was man-made and could be changed.

A council or Pope cannot change the Ten Commandments or the Eight Beatitudes. These come directly from God and are to be held forever. But our understanding of the implications of the Commandments or Beatitudes can develop as long as the essence of them are not diluted or changed.

Moreover, there are some teachings that are in a kind of ‘gray area’. For instance, is a celibate priesthood a law from God or from man? You can have theologians argue on both sides of that issue.

The problem is that our news media hasn’t the foggiest idea what the distinction between divine and human law actually means. So, if you take your lead from the newspapers and newsrooms, you are likely to wonder why the Pope can’t change particular practices in the Church. He does not have the power to change something that comes from God Himself.

To sum up: Church Teaching that is divinely revealed can develop, but cannot change. While this is hard to accept by those of us trained to think in a Democracy, it is a fact of life and of the Faith of the Church.

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Social and Theo Closeness 190 by Monsignor Ferrarese

We have heard a lot about distance in the last few months. Social distance has been lauded and praised and considered essential for safety. Hospitals and Nursing Homes have been in lockdown, isolating a lot of sick people and elderly from their families and friends (for their own benefit). The natural openness of the child is frustrated by masks and distancing and virtual education, as though a computer screen can ever take the place of a swarm of kids playing and horsing around!

As a lot of our diversions are called-off and we have a little more time on our hands, we can get close (not distant) to our friends with a call or a card; we can spend more time on our prayers; and we can eat together with our family in a deeper way. Simply put, we can generally reap the benefits of this time to balance all the distancing directives and to work on deepening our relationships.

There is always a tendency for us to give ourselves over to passive enjoyments like binging on Netflix or Amazon Prime. But I have found that it can also be an opportunity to take nice walks and to be more humanly present to others (even while masks understandably and charitably seek to separate us).

And then there is our relationship with God.

Traditionally, there are two ways of approaching God. Warning: technical terms approaching!

The first way is the cataphatic way. This is the way that is mediated by the creation around us. In this way of seeing the road to God can be through a sunset, in a baby’s smile, through working through a math problem. All roads lead to God when you try to see Him in the ordinary details of living. Sometimes, people involved with Mindfulness find God at the end of a purely secular run of being in the present. As the poet Hopkins put it, all things are, “charged with the grandeur of God.” This is one very valid and truly time-tested way to a closeness with God.

There is a second way that almost seems to say the exact opposite: Everything we see and can experience is definitely not God, for God is completely and totally ‘other’ than creation, including we human beings, caught in the reality of the created. You cannot make any affirmation about God, for God is beyond anything we can say about Him, and any attempt to describe Him. To picture Him or to make any affirmations about His being is to be in the work of idolatry. Even the word ‘God’ gives us a false impression (as does the masculine pronoun Him). Our very concepts of God are hopelessly mired in earthly reality and can never approximate an understand of who God is. This road is called the Apophatic way (also called the Via Negativa). The only things we can say about God is what He is not.

The major proponent of this understanding was St. John of the Cross who, through his writings, advises the seeker to hold onto nada (nothing) and to wait in ‘naked faith’ until the Almighty reveals to us the barest part or intimation of His Being. While this approach sounds a bit scary, it keeps God free of any concepts that are not divine and are superimposed on God by us.

In a mystical way, we can always rely on the simple way to come to God: Through love of our neighbor (see this Sunday’s Gospel). For Christ said that anything we do to the least of our brethren, you did it to Christ (Mat. 25:40). So, the more loving we are, the more in contact we are with the True God and not a figment of our imagination.

So, whether we are seeking social closeness or Theo-closeness, there are a variety of ways to get there; but the destination is the same. For God is in each other, but not the way we think!

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A Perfect Storm by Monsignor Ferrarese

When we look at the Church in the present world, there is little to suggest the coming storm. Things are still moving the way they have been in living memory. While certain aspects of the Church have been diminished, what we see today is still recognizable.

But I think that when our new Bishop comes, he will be faced with a need to make major changes in the Church of our Diocese. Here is why:

Parishes can no longer afford the high price of utilities, insurance, salaries, etc. We have smaller congregations and bigger bills. All parishioners are strained to the maximum degree. Things that could be done fairly easily in the past are getting too expensive. The only saving grace might be leasing buildings. But even that may be a temporary solution.

All of this has been exacerbated by the Pandemic. We are facing the greatest health crisis in recent memory, which has economic, cultural and psychological repercussions. We are all in a low-grade depression that effects the Churches in a special way (e.g. not being able to visit sick parishioners!).

Then the Church has a lot of lawsuits coming our way due to the relaxing of the statute of limitations regarding sexual abuse by priests and other Church workers. The Diocese of Rockville Centre has already declared bankruptcy.

If that was not enough, we have been suffering a long-standing vocation crisis, severely limiting the number of new priests and religious to help carry the load.

Seems bleak, right?

Yet, I have a lot of hope for the future. You might think me mad! But the Church has been through worse times and we have it from the Lord that the gates of hell will not prevail against us (Matt. 16:18).

Things may radically change, but maybe they should. Of course, how things will change is not revealed to us at this time. But often hardship shakes things up and people, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, see it possible to do what in calmer times seemed impossible. Someone once said: Never waste a crisis!

We are a big Church (1½ Billion People). There are many different developing scenarios. The Church in Africa is growing by leaps and bounds. The largest seminaries in the world are in Africa. The Church in Asia and Latin America is also growing fast. So, what is occurring here in the United States is only part of the story. We would be very (if you excuse the pun) parochial if we thought that our experience was the world’s experience.

What is happening here and in Western Europe is very alarming. But the roots of our Faith run deep. Western Culture is a Christian Culture even if it is going atheistic. So, look for a radical turn around here in this very Christian (though Protestant by majority) country.

Maybe not in my lifetime, but I would predict that the future Church will be stronger, purer, and more influential than it has ever been provided we learn from the mistakes of the past, which we must do in all candor and frankness.

The catch is that it might be a smaller Church, certainly more fervent and hopefully more prophetic in the wider culture. This means probably that it will be a persecuted Church. And so we return to our origins as when we were a beleaguered Church of Martyrs in the Roman Empire. Except it might be in the Chinese Empire or the Russian Empire or the Muslim Empire or even the American Empire.

The truth is that we do not know what the future holds, but we can trace the basic principles of the rise of Faith and devotion and its corruption. It happens in all our cycles of growth and diminishment.

Doubtless it will be a time of bravery when every Christian must stand on their own two feet and witness to Christ or go the way of betrayal.

Constantine, the Roman Emperor who legalized Christianity and made it acceptable to the wider state, may see the end of his Constantinian Church. Once again, our role will be as a prophet to the culture and not as its defender.

So, put on your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride!

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Weekly Update by Monsignor Ferrarese

Dear Friends in Christ,

I had intended to share this life story of St. Margaret of York with you by placing a segment each week in the bulletin (and then online).

Unfortunately, that has proven impractical. The Book is over 500 pages long and the space allotted each week is so small that it might take years to be able to read this exciting story.

So I have decided to publish it a chapter at a time on our website and Facebook page. This way you can see the whole sweep of the story and not be frustrated each week in stopping after a few paragraphs.

For the Bulletin, I will continue to publish short essays as I have been doing over the past 5 or 6 years. These essays are mainly spiritual and pastoral reflections on a whole host of topics. They also appear online!

Hopefully, when you are finished with the book on St. Margaret, you can share some reactions with me.

Thanks for being a great audience for this exciting story!

Yours In Christ,
Msgr. Fernando Ferrarese

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Chapter I – Installment 2 of “The Recusant: A Life of St. Margaret of York”, by Rev. Msgr. Fernando Ferrarese

In another part of York, at Davygate, at the tavern soon to be owned by Henry May, her stepfather, a riotous celebration was still in its heat. Henry, Mayor of York led a beautiful young woman to a dark and secluded corner of the tavern and whispered, with a breath full of stale ale, a single word: “Upstairs”. She obeyed him immediately. Moments later he made his way through the narrow corridor of rooms upstairs. He kept thinking of his stepdaughter, the purest, most chaste woman he had ever known. Also the bravest.

He kept whispering “Margaret, Margaret!”

Margaret stood under the light of the moon and swayed back and forth to the silent music. Like the mad she floated on the unreasonable, liquid currents of the imagined and the remembered.

In the theater of her mind, she was a child again.

“Now hold my hand tightly. It seems all of York is drunk with religion!” She felt her father’s hand tighten around hers as it perspired. Flames and bonfires seemed to be everywhere. The lurid and changeable lights against York Minster made the huge cathedral come alive with a panic glare and shadow. She thought she could see the stately stone figures hide within as fierce gargoyles reveled to the devil’s time.

A mob had gathered in front of the Cathedral. It reeled and rocked out of control. People were shouting. Fights broke out between people that she knew to be kind and forbearing. Her father was usually a calm man but even he was wide eyed and frightened. More than a few times he had to protect her from a jab or a kick which inadvertently came her way. He finally hoisted her into his arms and onto his shoulders, thinking that would best protect her. A man with a torch was screaming something. Men around him were throwing statues and vestments into the fires. Others were trying to fish them out, often careening in pain as their hands or clothes were singed or set ablaze by the wild flames.

Her father moaned under his breath “No, not the windows!” She looked in the same direction her father was staring. Soldiers were climbing the sides of the Cathedral and smashing any stained glass that they could reach. Later it was learned that some old women, praying in the Minster, were badly cut by the raining shards of glass. Archers aimed their arrows as high as they could. They were effective on the lower glasses but the higher windows retained their haughty grandeur, the arrows losing their power with
the increasing force of gravity.

Like a drunken man, bereft of reason, tottering and swaying, destructive, obscene, so was all of York, so was all of England.

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CHAPTER ONE: An Excerpt from the Beginning of “The Recusant: A Life of St. Margaret of York”, written by Rev. Msgr. Fernando Ferrarese

The Past is Prologue

Below the fugitive moon, the moors of Yorkshire kept vigil.

The March air had an unusual sweetness about it. Springtime could be sensed in the nighttime warmth, pregnant with expectation. Buds had already been seen, ready to blossom. The townspeople spoke of this signaling the approaching miracle of grace. In the distance, an ominous counterpoint. Dogs barked and howled. The bright, shy moon sought the sanctuary of clouds.

Margaret stood on her toes to see the night outside her cell window. Filled with joy to overflowing, she languorously walked from the barred window as one in love. It was the eve of the Annunciation, when earth had been wedded to heaven. She sighed. Rather than having a million thoughts running through her mind, as she imagined would be the case on her last night of earthly life, she was haunted or, perhaps better said, comforted by the presence of her father, dead many years. His genial air, even when he complained of the gout, made her smile.

The old matron, Mrs. Yoward, who was ordered to spy on her throughout the night, had long since begun to snore outside her cell door.

Margaret walked to her pallet and picked up the white frock she herself had made to shield her nakedness at her execution. She removed her dress and in the pale moonlight, pouring in through the small window, she walked, nude, into the center of her cell. She put on her death smock. It was of the purest white linen and reached to the stone pavement. At the wrists were the white ribbons that were meant to be tied to the stakes driven into the ground to hold her in place. This was her own invention.

The moonlight, emerging from another passing cloud, intensified its beams on her. Like a bride prepared for her husband.

The coming horror had not registered fully. Her heart was full with a love that was inexplicable, harsh and inviting at the same time.

A moment of cutting pain swept through her. She touched her womb and held her breath tensely as she caressed in her mind’s eye the little child she carried.

Does she really have this obligation? Surely Judge Clench could have put this off till after she brought her child to term. It is a measure of the savage state to which things had fallen. This question of religion.

Elizabeth the Queen , who could have saved her and probably would have, was asleep, many miles to the south, ensconced in her bed and in her determination to settle once and for all this challenge. Civil War was to be avoided at all costs, even at the price of a few English lives.

Margaret thought of her Queen and prayed for her. But her thoughts kept returning to her husband and her children. The memory of their last embraces felt so real that she could feel their warmth. She remembered her husband John being removed from the courtroom because of his loud sobs. They told her later how he continued weeping outside like a woman. Poor, dear, clumsy, honest John.

Many were surprised and put off by all the trouble she was causing. It was highly unseemly for a woman to take such a stand. She should have obeyed her husband, her Church, her Queen. It was the curse of Eve, they said.

But it was the poor and simple people who began to talk of relics and to have ready in a prominent place in their homes the cloths which they would use to soak up some of her blood. They knew the price she was paying and grieved for their own lack of courage.

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A New Kind of Sharing by Monsignor Ferrarese

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They will come your way periodically as well.

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

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

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God and Education by Monsignor Ferrarese

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Very radical!

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A Bad Conscience by Monsignor Ferrarese

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Can Bad People do Good Things? by Monsignor Ferrarese

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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