Pilgrims by Monsignor Ferrarese

Why do we travel from place to place? Is it just curiosity? Perhaps there is something mysterious that we are searching for. Something we lack. The seeking and the yearning seems to be part of it. It amounts to a hunger. But for what? What are we missing that will cause us to make great sacrifices by going into the unknown?

These questions become even more pressing when we talk about going on Pilgrimage. What is happening when we do this?

On the surface, we can say that we are looking for God or at least a deeper experience of Him. So we go through all the discomforts of travel and staying in strange places, sleeping on uncomfortable mattresses, so that we can feel God’s presence in a new and more tangible way.

When I went to the Holy Land, for instance, I walked where Jesus walked, but essentially it is just another place. I remember visiting Naim where Jesus raised the young man back to life and gave him back to his grieving mother. It was a little village with homes having satellite dishes and where a loud speaker proclaimed verses from the Koran. It was just another place.

When I go to Chapel or Church here at Immac, it is very familiar, but my faith teaches me that something amazing is happening. I am in the presence of God. I didn’t even have to get into a plane!

But there is still something to be said for a Pilgrimage. Perhaps it is in the effort necessary to do a Pilgrimage or perhaps to the interchange with other pilgrims that new forms of religiosity are born.

I think of the classic poem “The Canterbury Tales” by Geoffrey Chaucer. So many things happen to the pilgrims as each tells his story, for travel gives us time we usually do not have to be able to converse and share with one another. This is a seedbed of possibilities that would not be realized in the humdrum of daily life where we tend to settle into routines.

Plus, there is the experience of expectation and hope that a pilgrimage engenders. We are putting ourselves consciously in the hands of God and asking Him to accomplish in us His Holy Will, whatever it is. This break with the ordinary makes us even more perceptive to the ordinary as not ordinary. It alerts us to the mystery of the moment that the atmosphere of strangeness gives.

As I write this, I am in Lourdes on Pilgrimage myself. I bring to Our Lady, whose presence here is so palpable, all my hopes and fears as well as those of every member of our Parish. It is an act of faith and one of love. I am not sure it may have been possible to do this outside of a Pilgrimage. The effort and sacrifices are so necessary to it that it seems like it would be impossible when we are surrounded by our daily cares. Going outside of our comfort zones seems to be key to this experience of Pilgrimage. All the things you put up with: the bed that is not yours, the new kinds of food (American coffee!), the tiredness and the waiting, the prayer in new places that remind you of what you already know but have lost sight of etc.

This is magnified in a place like Lourdes where you see so many sick people, so many in wheel chairs, so many broken limbs and missing body parts. All these are blessed by God and make special efforts that are almost heroic to be here. They hope for cures and healing and know that the Lord will bless them for their efforts no matter what may happen.

Their needs are terribly obvious. Many others come with carefully hidden needs: a loss of faith, addictions, broken family bonds, etc. They also need healing. They also cry out with that hidden scream that only the heavens knows. We all need Lourdes, just as those on the Camino of St. James walk for weeks and months even though they feel that they have no faith.

We all need to stop and come out of our usual lives into a new and sometimes uncomfortable stance so that we can begin to see spiritually, to see as God sees.

For in the end, our whole earthly life is one big Pilgrimage to our heavenly home. We are all broken and needy. We all seek the healing of God’s presence, sick of this world’s false cures and seeking that peace and wholeness that only God can give us. In the end, Lourdes teaches us that what we seek is in Astoria, but we have been to blind to notice it.

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Religion and Politics by Monsignor Ferrarese

This is a subject that is fraught with many divisive opinions, so I begin this reflection with caution and a fair degree of trepidation.

One can approach this subject theologically in one of two ways: The first way is to say that all human laws must be reflective of Divine Law. So a human political constitution must not in any way deviate from what God has revealed. What this presupposes is that God has left a predetermined model that all human law must follow.

The second approach is to keep religion and politics separate for their own mutual protection. This does not mean that religious persons in the state cannot use the insights and teachings of their faith to help build up the nation. This is the only way forward when there is a varied and diverse religious presence in the nation.

The first approach seems to be favored by nations in the Middle East. With the attempt to enshrine Sharia Law, law that is derived from the religious precepts of Islam, as well as democratic principles, many Muslim-majority nations have had to grapple with issues of equality. Even Israel, with its desire to see itself as a ‘Jewish State’, struggles with this issue.

The second approach is that of the separation of Church and State, pioneered by the United States and now being approved of by many nations. This can be frustrating to religious members of these countries at times who want to steer the nation according to what they see as God-given principles in an environment where many do not share those ideas. A good example is the issue of abortion. This issue is not a religious issue alone, but is a universal human issue. So the Church has to struggle to persuade others not of our faith of the wisdom of being pro-life. The emphasis is on the word ‘persuade’. This approach gives voice to people of faith while ensuring
equality under the law.

As a priest and pastor, I have to steer clear of politics by not running for office and not telling people who to vote for. But I am duty bound by my faith to preach the teaching of Christ and of His Church which have, of course, political consequences. I can say that it is the teaching of the Church that life begins at conception and that we have a responsibility to protect life at all its stages. But I cannot instruct people on whom to vote for, even if certain candidates make this position their platform. That is up to them and their consciences.

That is why I never reveal who I vote for, lest the hearer feel compelled to vote as I vote.

There is, of course, another approach to faith and politics: the position that religion has no rights or protection under the law and that the state can do whatever it wants without interference. Such is the atheistic government of China. In this kind of regime, you cannot even preach about morality if it conflicts with the state.

Since the United States is a prime example of the second model, I wish to say a little about the intersection of religion and the state as we see it in our nation.

The Church has the right to speak its truth in the public square. As long as it does not ally itself with any one party, then the government cannot do anything against Her. In fact, the government must protect the free choice of the religious citizen and what their conscience dictates to them. This is important, lest anyone feel compelled to do anything against their conscience. We have a long tradition of this ‘conscientious objection’ status beginning with the Quakers who were against war.

However, there is always the danger of trying to silence religion and making it seem that religion is holding us back in the supposed ‘progress’ of humanity. The Church will always be accused of political insubordination and being against human rights when She insists on parts of Her tradition that in that era fall into disfavor. This has happened in our day in the area of sexuality. The Church has been accused of being out-of step with ‘progress’ in this area. But the truth is that She has the theological antidote for that which is poisoning the spiritual health of our nation. Her longstanding teaching in sexual issues is the prerequisite for a genuine humanism that is the groundwork for a proper understanding of the true dignity of the human person.

In summary, the best we can do to weather the storm of uncertainties of our current social climate is to keep our Faith in Christ as the bedrock of our lives. No one can take that away from us, no matter the status of religion and politics in the world.

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The Good One by Monsignor Ferrarese

In the last two reflections (The Beautiful One — 04/28/19, The True One — 05/05/19), we looked at the two transcendentals of Beauty and Truth that can lead to God even in the lives of those who have not the benefits of faith. The third of these natural pathways to God is Goodness.

To be good is rightly understood by all peoples of the world. It therefore stands with the Beautiful and the True as roadways to God. For it is just in being good and doing the right thing that we are placed in contact with the divine realities of life.

A good example of this is what happened to Malcolm Muggeridge. Muggeridge was a reporter for the BBC. In his old age, he was a confirmed atheist and a skeptic when dealing with anything spiritual. One day, the executives at the BBC gave him an assignment: Do a documentary for British Television about an Albanian Nun in India who is picking up the dying in the streets of Calcutta. He was not happy about it, not because of the travel involved, but because the subject held no interest for him.

But he went anyway.

This nun, named Mother Teresa, humanly surprised him by her warmth and her strong commitment. He was amazed at the dedication expressed by the Sisters in the community, especially toward the most disfigured and abandoned of the people they picked up off the street.

If he had stayed there, it might have made no more than a dent in his view of the world. He would have returned to London and resumed his aimless and hedonistic lifestyle. But that did not happen.

Mother Teresa needed assistance at a particular moment and the other sisters were already occupied. So she asked Muggeridge to give her a hand, which he did. Everything changed.

As he began to do pure goodness, helping these dirty, unfortunate, diseased filled castaways, something was born in him: a joy.

A joy unlike the pleasures he had been perusing all his life. He was making a deep difference in the universe, one life at a time. From joy, he discovered faith; everything changed. He began to believe in God and his whole life took a 180-degree turn; he was reborn. He became a Catholic and became one of the most articulate defenders of the Christian faith. His autobiography is called “Chronicles of Wasted Time. ” By the title, you can see where he goes with it. It took a great act of courage in seeing the waste of so much time dallying with falsehood and lesser things and his final relief in coming upon the Truth and finally dedicating himself to what matters eternally.

He discovered this through acts of virtue, the exercise of Goodness. Doing works of justice and charity have a transforming ability to get us to see the things that truly matter. It helps us to walk past the apparent pleasures toward the eternal joy to which we have been summoned through our mere existence.

Of course not everyone ‘gets it’. Often the devil runs roadblocks in the form of thought patterns that disrupt the transmission of life saving strategies offered by God. That is why the ‘Desert Fathers’ always stressed vigilance and the control of thoughts so that the devil has his toys taken away. So even when we do an act of Goodness, involving real sacrifice, the evil one throws in the thought, “Now let’s get back to what I really enjoy!”

When this happens, we need to do what we do when we take our Baptismal vows, and renew them especially at Easter: renounce that thought and then go back to the prior thought of God-given peace which rewards the good action and promises that the right path chosen can make a real difference in life. In fact, when we get used to the joy of doing good, the carnal pleasures we thought so important just fall down and lose their power.

Even a confirmed atheist can approach whatever transcends our apparent existence by simply being good. As we have seen, when one is truthful, one can also open up new vistas. Entrance into the beauty of life is the third way any human being of whatever background can come to the threshold of faith.

But one cannot cross that threshold until one makes a decision to believe. Muggeridge and Chambers (from The True One — 05/05/19 ) came to that point. One can behold the beauty of life, but must make a decision in
faith. It is only then that the vast expanse of existence and reality opens up for us, both visible and invisible. Once we enter that new dimension that Beauty or Truth or Goodness lead us to, then everything changes. We realize we have been seeing things in black and white and slightly out of focus. Now we see clearly and with a sharpness that is amazing.

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The True One by Monsignor Ferrarese

In my last meditation (The Beautiful One – 04/28/19), I tried to show how beauty can bring us to God. I related some aesthetic experiences that I had, which in their beauty and mystery brought me closer to God. I would like to look at another of the “Transcendentals” to see how it may also bring us to God.

“Transcendental” is a technical theological term that refers to those things in nature, accessible to everyone, which can lead us to God. These are available to everyone in whatever culture one finds oneself. They are familiarly called: the good, the true and the beautiful. Each of them individually and all of them together can bring us to God even if we are not believers yet. These transcendentals work in the realm of what we call Natural Law: that which God imbeds in all of creation to help every human being to come to the truth of belief in God, who transcends tangible reality (hence the name: transcendental).

Having looked at how beauty brings us to God, we turn to that which is true. With this one, we come up to a barrier that is unique to the modern age: there are people today who do not believe that there is anything like ‘objective truth’ (i.e. that which is true for anyone, anywhere). Like Pilate, they ask, “What is Truth?” and then move in the direction of ‘subjective truth’ (i.e. it may be true for you but not for me!).

One of the most important statements of belief that is necessary to make in this world is that there is truth that is true for everyone objectively. We have no problem with this in the realm of science. We all are searching for the cure for cancer. No one would seriously say that when an American scientist discovers it then it would only be true for Americans; that the Chinese will have to find their own cure for ‘Chinese Cancer’! Of course this is absurd! But we strongly believe in this modern world that truth is contingent on culture and on personal approbation for it to be valid! When one discovers something that is true, it must have universal value.

There is a moving moment in the book “Witness” by Whittaker Chambers. For those who do not remember the author, let me just say that Chambers was a secret Soviet spy who had a conversion experience that caused him to reveal to the American people the government officials who were actually
spying for the Soviets, chief among them was a man high up in government named Alger Hiss.

The moment of Chambers’ conversion occurred when he was feeding his infant child. He caught sight of the child’s ear, noticing as if for the first time the perfect construction of it and how exact was the design of that construction. On the spot he began to believe in God and from that moment strove to live morally and ethically. The whole house of cards fell at that moment, which led him to the confession of what he was doing and the exposing of the plot to take down the American government. In short, he
discovered and instantaneously accepted the “Truth” that there is a God and that God requires us to live lives of moral purpose and truth.

The Truth set him free.

Moral action begins in the mind, which is the arena of truth and falsehood. What begins as a thought grows through action and the emotions into action and with time into a way of being that can be false or can be true. It often takes a great deal of time to discover if we are living in truth or in falsehood. Once we are on one or the other road, God or the devil can build a structure that becomes second nature to us and remains unchallenged.

But there is a big difference. God builds in Truth, but the devil in lies. Chambers believed all the lies in the Soviet system. But it took only one truth to destroy that whole system. What God builds, beginning with the mind, is solid because it is true. What the devil builds has only the appearance of solidity, but in the end is a mirage and has no substance.

Like what is beautiful, what is true can lead anyone to God, whether they believe in Him or not!

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The Beautiful One by Monsignor Ferrarese

Have you ever been enraptured by the Holy? Sounds like a difficult question, right? But it is one of the most important religious questions you can ask since God often reveals Himself in the Beautiful. But, not just any beautiful. There is a kind of beauty that leads to awe and the experience of awe brings us to the threshold of prayer. Let me be more specific.

I have been in a couple of places that have acted on me like a communication of God through Beauty. One of them is familiar and the other not so familiar.

The first of these places was the hermitage of St. Francis called “I Carceri” in Italian. High on a mountain next to the town of St. Francis, Assisi, is the monastery built around the cave that St. Francis got away to so he could commune with God without interruption. It was a rainy day when I was there, and my friend and I decided to walk up to it. The rain came down hard, but we finally, drenched, arrived at the monastery. It was a Sunday afternoon and it looked completely deserted. No one was around, so we went in. The silence was very profound and beautiful. We walked up an old wooden staircase to the monk’s cells (I don’t think they were presently being used but were kept in exact conditions of the time so that visitors could imagine what it was like). It was such a spiritual experience walking down the corridors with simple cells on each side. The rain had increased and lightening could be seen flashing through the windows in the cells. It was (literally) awesome. When we went downstairs, we walked out into a garden and there was a very old and dead tree on one side. A beautiful white dove was perched on one of the branches, wondering who we were. The effect on both of us at that moment was mystical. I found out later that that was the tree where the birds perched as Francis gave a sermon. The beauty of the place, the solitude and the silence, spoke to both of us of the Divine Presence. We were filled with joy!

God is the supreme artist. He will use everything at His disposal to communicate His love to us.

On another occasion, I was traveling with some priest-friends through Ireland and we decided to climb Skellig Michael. Some of you might actually know this place without realizing it, as it was used in the movies “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” as the retreat and hideaway of Jedi Master Luke Skywalker! This is a cliff on a small Island off the coast of Kerry. It is hard to get to and hard to climb (the stairway built into the stones dates back to Medieval times). The stairway (with no protective railings!) rises 70 stories in altitude. Scary was not the word we used!

It was so beautiful to be in the middle of the Atlantic with birds flying beneath us! This is such a beautiful spot! At the top of the cliff is an ancient monastery dating back to the 5th century. Monks had prayed there for their entire lives!

The beauty and the remoteness and the thought of believers praying to God there for their entire lives filled us with a reverent awe just like in Assisi. No other experience can come close to religious experience in its power, depth and effects.

I find too that, in the realm of music, God can reach depths of joy and insight that normally one cannot even approach. Recently I attended a performance of Mozart’s Opera “La Clemenza di Tito (The Clemency of Titus)”, which was an evening length meditation on forgiveness and reconciliation as well as a study of the tensions between mercy and justice in a good leader like Titus. This opera is over 200 years old yet it has a depth of power and (though Christ is not mentioned) a humane and even Christian spirit that was transfixing and transformative.

God is always trying to reach us: through the beauty of a sunset, the smile of a child, the hard work of a parent, etc. Part of truly living is being receptive to Him and allowing Him to keep shaping and transforming us.

Prayerfulness is the ambiance that opens us to these experiences. But we still have to be vigilant and alert for we do not know when and how the Lord will reach us!

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See, I Make All Things New! by Monsignor Ferrarese

There was a very heartrending moment in the film “The Passion of the Christ” that was also powerfully encouraging. Jesus is on the way to Crucifixion, carrying His Cross; He is bloody and dirty. His Mother approaches filled with compassion and pain. He looks at her through the blood and the dirt on His face and tells her: “Do not worry. See, I make all things new”. I can’t watch that scene without my eyes filling with tears. It is so beautiful in the midst of such ugly horror.

That particular quote is not found at that same place in the Passion Narrative in Scripture, though. It is a quote from Christ in the Book of the Apocalypse.

But truly, in accepting suffering that is so hideous through His love and obedience to the Father, Christ has transformed even that horrible evil into Redemption for the whole human race. By doing that, He has redefined what it means to be human and compassionate. He has bestowed on humankind the ability to transform even evil into good. In an amazing repetition of the act of the creation of the universe out of nothing, He has made all things new: all is possible. The self-gift of Jesus to the Father had unbelievable transforming power. He has fertilized the world with the seed of His self-offering. And He established the sacred principle so beautifully; but, if the seed dies, it produces abundant fruit. This gift enables all of us through His grace to get out of the cycle of avoiding pain and seeking pleasure to a continual repairing of the brokenness of this world.

The graces of the Resurrection flow not from the empty tomb, but from the Sacrifice of Calvary. Death and Resurrection are forever united in the new world order established by Christ’s sacrifice.

That is why Easter is the greatest feast of the year! We celebrate the Love of Good Friday made victorious by the raising of Jesus by the Father. It is why a large part of each of the Gospels is the Passion Narratives. Though death by Crucifixion was the most awful, shameful way to die, deliberately engineered to curse a person forever, Christ has transformed it into our hope and promise. The early Church and Saint Paul never downplayed the Agony of Calvary, though many groups urged them to drop it as a disincentive for the new faith. Quite the opposite: St. Paul only proclaimed Christ Crucified! He knew the countercultural significance of the way He died and the reason why He died. That was the whole point! It changed everything. It made all things new. Evil was defeated definitively.

It is the reason why, when I was a kid, I got to wear all new clothes on Easter Sunday. Everyone dressed up to assent to the Victory of Christ and the bright morning of promise that Easter brings. Easter is filled with joy, not because it is Spring and there are bunny rabbits about (such a terrible reduction of the meaning of Easter!), but it is joyous because everything can bring us to God. He has freed us and opened up the floodgates of grace!

The very word Easter refers to the East—where the Sun rises and brings us a new day. So Christ is the Son who rises and transforms everything into possibilities of grace and a share in the Victory of Christ.

It is a holy time when we can try to bring peace to our families—not by preaching at them, but by modeling for them the joy of the Easter Proclamation and the significance it has to our daily lives: “Be glad, let earth be glad, as glory floods her!”

And so we proclaim to one another as the Greek Orthodox do: “Christ is Risen!” To which we respond: “Christ is Risen indeed!” A Blessed Easter to You All!

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The Problem of Pain by Monsignor Ferrarese

Following my hernia surgery, I am in a moderate degree of physical pain. With all the painkillers that modern medicine has provided, this pain is kept to within the bounds of bearable. I am writing this on the next day after my surgery. Many of you have shared with me your own bouts with surgery and so I know that many of you know what I am writing about!

One of the things that I had to admit was that some degree of pain is good. It is the body’s way of warning us that parts of us are weak and vulnerable. For me, at this time, it is telling me to slow down and to limit my movements otherwise it will keep up it’s protest!

But sometimes pain is just a pain in the neck (so to speak). It won’t be quiet. It keeps demanding attention even when we sleep and take our medication.

Being a believer in God, I go to Him for answers to my questions. Very few times does He answer immediately. Sometimes He is silent. Sometimes He answers later, even years later when we see the whole of His plan and the proper place and reason He allowed me to suffer. The plan of God is often seen in hindsight.

Meanwhile, since my pain is still there, I ask God for help. A voice then comes out of my past: Offer it up. For those who remember our teachers in Catholic School (those wonderful women who sacrificed so much to make sure we had a Catholic education), you may remember that they gave us that advice often: Offer it up.

But what does that mean?

There seems to be an invisible economy of grace by which we can offer our most intimate and invisible efforts and sufferings to relieve someone who just has no more strength to bear their own sufferings. If you make a note to come to our next Opera workshop on ‘Dialogues of the Carmelites’, you will have a fuller and more insightful explanation by one of the most unsung authors of the spiritual life: Georges Bernanos.

This ‘economy of grace’ is our ability to reach out to another person and transfer our graces of surrender and patience to the good of another who feels that they have no strength of will power left. This could be someone living or someone struggling in Purgatory.

Therefore, I am offering up my present sufferings for you the faithful of Immac. This is one effective way to help you even as I have to refrain from overtly pastoral ways. One great author gave this advice to a newly ordained priest who had all the good will in the world, but confessed a lack of time for prayer: “You can do more good for the people of the parish on your knees in prayer than in hours of parish interactions.”

I agree with that advice; but, not only for priests. Every baptized Christian can participate in this work through their Christening, that is, working with Christ as Priest, Prophet and King. That last title refers to Christ’s governing powers for the benefit of everyone in His Body, the Church.

In America, we don’t understand how profoundly our philosophical substructure defines and often contradicts our religious faith. We are ardent materialists and utilitarians: it’s got to be measured and it has to work to have any reality.

But the Spiritual cannot be measured, yet is just as real as a table and a chair. So when someone like Bernanos (or for that matter his inspiration: St. Therese of Lisieux) speaks about the economy of grace as well as both the communion of saints and the communion of sinners, we modern materialists are left with our mouths open and as confused as if someone spoke in a language that we could not understand.

This offering-up or the stark and mad concept of Bernanos called the ‘mystical exchange of deaths’ seems utter nonsense until one faces the dogma of the Redemption of the Human Race on Mount Calvary by the Son of God!

The great philosopher of religion Simone Weil once wrote: “The extreme greatness of Christianity lies in the fact that it does not seek a supernatural remedy for suffering but a supernatural use for it.”

I find that both true and comforting, even when my body aches!

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Resourcefulness and the Spiritual Quest by Monsignor Ferrarese

Growing up in the 50’s and early 60’s was a very different experience than growing up in today’s world. I grew up in the East New York section of Brooklyn. Except for marauding gangs of kids, we lived a very stable and safe life. I remember going with my friends on the subway to Yankee Stadium without adults with us. It was a different time in which a morality pervaded our city and an accepted pattern of behavior permeated everything.

Our families were all working class. Money was very tight and there were no credit cards or easy ways out of paying for things except the ‘lay away plan’ that kept something to be bought reserved for you until you could dollar-by-dollar come up with the full price. Then you got it and not before!

So we kids lived in the streets and had to be very resourceful in our way of playing and getting money. Contrary to my Dad’s wishes, I joined the gang of kids on the block in collecting old newspapers and bringing them to the ‘junkie’ who would weigh them and give us money for bringing them in. We promptly then went to the corner candy store and bought ice creams sodas! (My Dad did not like his son collecting refuse for money. He felt it was below our dignity as a family. I just thought it was fun!)

A frequent stopover on our long summer days was the lumberyard where they would have a bin of used and useless craps of lumber that we could take for free and bring home. These were the raw materials of our ‘club houses’ and ‘go carts’. We took pride in what we built and decorated them with leftover paints from home. In doing this, we learned how to work together, how to respect and even value the talents of our friends, and began to have a healthy respect for hard work. We used the ordinary means of what we had around us to construct new realities that we could be proud of.

I write this by way of analogy since I believe that much of the spiritual life involves this same element of resourcefulness. The times of the Apostles are over, as are the times of the Medieval Saints. While we can learn from their examples, we must strive to be holy using the means that are available today in the United States.

While this will necessarily and beneficially remove much of the nostalgia and the idealization of the past, it will also confront us with the necessity to be holy while living in the 21st Century right here in Astoria. For this, we must ask God to enlighten us so that we can perceive what we need to utilize to become holy today right here and now.

The raw material of our spiritual journey are found right here, right around the last stop of the N and W subway lines! It is this radically particular ‘here and now’ that is the raw material of sanctity. We can read about the exploits of the saints in Loyola and Assisi, but God speaks to us in Astoria and He speaks in our language and is found in the ordinary events of our lives.

The importance of perception in this way of seeing is without a doubt very important. We can have our heads in books or our minds in dreams, but if we have eyes to see what is right in front of us, we can perceive the contours and colors of the Divine. This is especially true in our sufferings, which are often seen as hindrances to seeing God in our lives. How can God speak to me in my Doctor’s waiting room as I await the results of my tests? In one word: powerfully.

In our daily struggles, we find the royal road of the Cross. But we can miss it when we think God is not here but somewhere else. Resourcefulness in the spiritual life is being able to go to the lumber yard of our consciousness and fit together the scraps of our daily perceptions into the reality of God’s ever present wisdom and care for us.

God is constantly present to us, but we often fail to notice and take in the reality of that presence and its practical significance. Part of that blindness has to do with the poverty of our imaginations. We conceive of God in a very primitive way as, for instance, the old man in the sky. It has not even dawned on us how connected we are to God, a fact so amazing that the true perception of God’s closeness and our connections to Him are positively terrifying. That is why the full reality is shielded from us, for as the Scriptures say: “To see God is to die.”

God is greater than we can ever imagine. Our minds and concepts cannot contain all that God is. God is all around us and within us and beyond us.

The Spiritual Life is therefore a quest of self-discovery. And when we find ourselves in the here and now, we find Christ.

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The Power of Thoughts by Monsignor Ferrarese

As Americans we are pragmatic realists. We are impatient with theories and look down on ‘intellectuals’ who do not make our lives better in some perceptible and tangible way. It is as though what occurs in the mind are just distractions in the task of living.

But the witness of the saints contradicts this. Many of the great mystics emphasize that a thought that is good can have tremendously good effects as it grows into pragmatic form. When, for instance, we consider helping someone who is homeless, it is just a thought (the word ‘just’ in a way betrays our way of minimizing thoughts!), but when we join a homeless program and find ourselves staying overnight in a shelter we see the power and fruitfulness of a thought.

On the other hand, an evil thought can have disastrous consequences. The Third Reich began as a thought, but its effects were of almost unimaginable dimensions, killing millions of people.

On a more personal scale, when we look down on a person because of the color of their skin, we have thought the thought of racism. Its effects can be widespread since we can unconsciously apply that thought in many ways, touching the lives of many innocent people of color.

The great French author Georges Bernanos wrote, “Who knows the extent of evil unleashed by one evil thought.”

One of the enduring themes of spiritual authors throughout the centuries is the control of thoughts so that our minds can better serve the Lord. Our minds initiate things. Our feelings and our decisions follow suit. Therefore, the control of thoughts is a paramount concern of saints.

But we all know how difficult that is. A Buddhist proverb states that thoughts within our minds are like wild monkeys swinging from branch to branch. Controlling monkeys must be right up there in difficulty with herding cats!

Adding a Biblical imperative to this, we have Paul telling the Ephesians: “Pray without ceasing”.

This emphasis on the mind demands a solution, for God does not ask us to do the impossible. The response came from the Egyptian desert.

With St. Anthony of Egypt (also called ‘the Abbot’ or in Italian ‘Abbate’—who is the subject of the feast in the streets of Astoria in June, not St. Anthony of Padua!), a movement began which changed the world. St. Anthony became a hermit, lived alone (in Greek: monos—hence the name ‘monk’ and the movement it engendered— ‘monasticism’) and spent his whole life in prayer for the Church and the world. Sensing the immorality of a decadent form of Christianity, many men and women followed St. Anthony to live in the solitude of the desert. This movement spread throughout the world, even to the far-off country of Ireland!

These men and women became known as the ‘Desert Fathers and Mothers’ and spawned a fascinating and challenging form of spiritual teaching that became known as the ‘sayings’ of the desert fathers.

Central to this spirituality that has had tremendous influence in Orthodoxy is the practice of ‘Nepsis’. Nepsis is the habit of watching our thoughts very carefully so that we can be wary of any thought patterns and movements that may lead us away from God. Our thoughts are the steps of the ladder that may lead us to God. But they may also be the devil’s workshop. What is of consequence is the interior struggle and our attentiveness to discerning what are the movements of God and what are those of the evil one. For the results of this battle will affect our families, our country and everything around us. In the mind is the genesis of efforts for healing and peacemaking and also, unfortunately, the war rooms that will cause untold hardship for millions.

This watchfulness of the interior movements of our thoughts and the discernment necessary are central to many of the spiritual paths of our faith. St. Ignatius of Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises devotes a great deal of time to this work of discerning what is happening in our minds and hearts. What seems most private can have cosmic repercussions.

It is very wise, therefore, to become more aware of what is happening in our thoughts for they can bring us either to happiness or disaster.

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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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