Strategy of the Devil by Monsignor Ferrarese

People often have a hard time making a distinction between having a temptation and committing a sin. Jesus was tempted, but never sinned. Temptation comes from the outside and is the work of the devil. But when we assent to it, then it becomes a sin.

We can get sloppy with our thinking about this and fail to see the careful planning that the Evil One puts into having us abandon virtue and commit vice.

Some of the greatest writings on virtue and vice have come from the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the early Church. They were men and women who fled the temptations and vice of the world to live solitary lives in the desert as monks, nuns and hermits in imitation of St. Anthony of Egypt. In Italian he is called San Antonio Abbate, St. Anthony the Abbot, whose feast we celebrate each June on Ditmars Blvd. This St. Anthony lived in the 4th century; and a Portuguese Franciscan named Fernando chose him his patron saint in the 13th century, becoming St. Anthony of Padua, named after the place of his death.

These heroic men and women developed a kind of desert spirituality that has influenced the Eastern and Western Church for centuries.

It was the Desert Fathers and Mothers that provided us with this understanding of how we fall into sin, written in the famous set of books called the ‘Philokalia’, or ‘Love of the Beautiful and Good’ in Greek. From their writings, we find the process of how we sin:

1. There is a Provocation or a temptation that hits us from the outside. This comes from the Devil and we are not responsible for it. Even Jesus, the sinless one, had these temptations.

2. However, if we are not careful through a continual watchfulness, this Provocation can cause a Disturbance because it goes against everything that we believe. This dissonance, if not dealt with quickly, begins to make us responsible for the process from here on.

3. We then Couple with the thought and we begin to ‘entertain’ it (and it us!). We are then growing in our control over assenting to this temptation and therefore in our moral responsibility; we are making it our own.

4. In the quiet of our minds, we then Assent to it and resolve to do the evil action if we have the opportunity and can get away with it. This means that we intend to do it and it has become a full-blown sin. It need not be an outward action, as the Lord Himself warned us of committing adultery in the heart (Mat 5:27-29).

5. If we have a habit of sin, then this Prepossesses us and injects passion so we can accomplish this sin. This brings us a lot of pleasure, even at the thought of it.

6. We then Commit the sin and of course all hell breaks loose! While it is relatively hard to do the sin the first time, it gets easier and easier as it becomes habitual. In fact, it gets so easy to do that we enter the land of addictions.

What is most important regarding the process that I just described is that it can take a long time or it can be done in the blink of an eye. Thus, time is of the essence!

We need to be able to fight this very intelligent and ferociously-committed being who is intent on destroying our relationship with God.

It is not enough to say a Hail Mary and then hope for the best. Satan is a former angel with immense powers of intellect and will. And, most importantly, he wants to destroy us! To counter his strategy with an equally strong and active strategy is the only way to fight him. Jesus Himself had to expose his lies and partial truths, not just in his 40 days in the desert, but throughout his earthly life. For He was tempted in every way that we are, but never sinned.

Thus, the Desert Fathers and Mothers tell us to be watchful, that one has to constantly scan the horizons of our lives to be able to deal with the demonic assaults against us.

Moreover, to truly engage in the strategy against the devil, we have to pray unceasingly as St. Paul recommends (1 Thess 5:17). Prayer is our defense, but the real prayer of conversation and communication with God; of being in His presence at all times in our lives. It is our helmet, our breastplate and armor, our sword and shield (Eph 6:11).

Works of mercy and fidelity to Church teaching are our counter assault. Carefully planned and executed, works of charity and love cuts into Satan’s kingdom and causes his forces to panic and run.

It may seem odd to use these military allusions except for the fact that they very accurately convey the tenor of the struggle with evil. We are in a battle for our eternal life, and so that hymn urges us: “Crown Him (Christ) in temptation’s hour, Let His will enfold you in its light and power!” (At the Name of Jesus, R. Vaughan Williams).

Posted in Msgr. Ferrarese | Leave a comment

Hope by Monsignor Ferrarese

I got a call recently out of nowhere from a friend that works in the Diocese. She asked, quite randomly, whether I had gotten the COVID-19 vaccine yet. I briefly told her my story of woe: the many times on the internet, the “All Appointments Filled” sign that seemed to follow me, the tales in the papers of people driving for hours only to discover that their appointments had been canceled.

As I finished, she told me to get right over to a local hospital, that they had reserved some vaccines for priests. I had been particularly vexed by the exclusion of priests from all the ‘essential workers’, but here was a break in the clouds! She asked me if I was over 65. I thought, “Bless you to be asking!” I proudly said that I was 70 and a half! And so, I got into my car and started to head right for that hospital. I kept telling myself not to get my hopes up. It could just be a false lead. But I was determined to check out every lead. Growing in my heart was that rare flower nowadays called
‘Hope’.

Hope can regenerate you, but if it is a false hope it could cast you down. Hope is essential for living a happy life. But the length and the persistence of this virus challenged hope day in and day out.

The closure of all culture in the city, the inability to comfort or even visit the sick of the parish, the growing paranoia of getting together with anyone except on the phone or on the computer all had the effects of the opposite of hope—dejection, depression and despair.

This was at so low a grade that I did not realize that it was affecting me. That is until I was in that car headed for the hospital and hope began to shine into the dark and soggy corners of my spirit.

When I got there, I met a whole group of elderly priests. They were all as excited as I was and a little scared. It was great to be with other priests, sharing in this small amount of hope that sprung up so quickly.

After the interminable paperwork we were escorted into a large room with other people who were not priests. We waited in line like obedient sheep, happy for a time not to have to shepherd others.

It felt like a relief when the needle sunk into my left arm. I was thankful for all the hard work that went into the development of the vaccine and hoped that any side effects would not be too severe. Luckily, except for a sore arm for a few days, I was spared any big reaction.

But it gave me some hope that we might be turning a corner on this terribly destructive disease. It has been such a long time, especially for us New Yorkers. As you might recall, we were the first epicenter and it was very bad here for a while. Unfortunately, it never left us since we still have too many funerals and too few open beds in hospitals. The sheer length of the medical emergency that the pandemic was, not to mention the economic, social, educational and cultural fall out that we will be experiencing for years to come, makes even the possibility of herd immunity cause the flowering of hope in our hearts.

To be without hope is a terrible thing. Dante relates in his epic poem “The Divine Comedy” that there is a huge sign on the doors to Hell on which is written: “Abandon Hope All You Who Enter Here”. Could there be any more powerful statement of the importance of hope and the tragedy of despair? The French writer Georges Bernanos has the single most succinct statement of what Hell is: “The souls of the damned would warm themselves at the embers that we call despair.” How is that for frightening! That is how central hope is. Who can go on without it?

It is, along with Faith and Love, given to us at our Baptism. Would that we nourish and develop this virtue! Lent is the time for Spring and Hope and Growth. I can think of no greater virtue to reflect on this Lenten season that the virtue of hope!

Posted in Msgr. Ferrarese | Leave a comment

The Big Shift by Monsignor Ferrarese

Do you ever get the impression that something big is happening? So many life-changing things are occurring at the same time. Is it not possible that it could be so big that we may not notice it? Like some sleeping giant awakening under our nation, lifting it up in one total, slow movement; keeping everything in place so we have the illusion of stillness?

The Pandemic, for example, is changing all our ways of being. The stock market is moving into the stratosphere while many in our nation go hungry. Climate Change is creating even more bizarre weather patterns: hurricanes galore, wildfires, etc. The safest nation on Earth is very unsafe for pre-born human beings (over 60 million abortions in our nation alone). A polarized political minefield leads to a dreadful attack on our nation’s capital. And these are only a few of the signs that something is coming. Will it be bad or good?

Clearly, we are very vulnerable and much less safe than we think we are. So, what are faithful believers to think? What does wisdom teach us?

In the midst of this uncertainty, I believe we are being called to a more deeply rooted Faith. The externals of the Church as we know are fading away: Costs of running our parishes are getting so high that many wonder how we can sustain things. But these are only the externals. We have faced much worse than this as a Church.

Our Faith is strong and it will sustain us as it has over the 20 centuries of the Church’s life. There will be many who leave the fold, but those who stay will find new ways to be the Church (remember, the Church with a capital ‘C’ is us, the people of God!); and the coming persecutions of the Church will purify those who remain so that a smaller, purer church will be reborn. And when the secular world is spent, vibrant communities of Christians will emerge to get us through this second dark ages. For Christ told us that, “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt 13:18).

We have to learn from our history. Former powerful Empires are gone, Kingdoms are no more, and even liberal democracies will one day end. But the Church will survive and thrive for we rely on our Blessed Lord and He will never abandon us.

That is what the world cannot understand. So-called ‘Progressives’ (what an elitist title!) think they have the answers and see the Church as at best an outdated relic, and at worst a danger to modern society. But when the Big Shift happens, and what we thought was progress turns on us, only Faith can rebuild and find community. The true answer was right in front of us, but it seemed too outdated to be the solution.

When the Roman Empire collapsed and there was no longer any law or order, the Church created intentional communities of Faith (known as monasteries). These communities of Christian Faith took care of the poor, protected the innocent, taught the ignorant, and started to rebuild anew based not on the myths of the past but on the solid rock of Christ. Learning grew in these centers and civilization began to spread. These communities were lights in the darkness. Our Universities came from them. Imagine that! The same Universities who now scoff at religion were started by religious people. In Europe: Oxford, Paris, Cambridge. Even in America, Protestant Christians built Harvard, Yale, and Princeton to name a few. And from these religious centers came great art, the spectacular Cathedrals and the Renaissance.

My point is simply that we have already been through giant cultural and intellectual shifts. The Church has not just survived, it has grown and prospered.

So, whenever this Big Shift happens, even if it is a disaster, the Church will be there to pick up the pieces and begin again. We have always done that and we will do it again.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more that conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:35-37)

Posted in Msgr. Ferrarese | Leave a comment

False Heroes by Monsignor Ferrarese

Do you ever get the impression that something big is happening? So many life-changing things are occurring at the same time. Is it not possible that it could be so big that we may not notice it? Like some sleeping giant awakening under our nation, lifting it up in one total, slow movement; keeping everything in place so we have the illusion of stillness?

The Pandemic, for example, is changing all our ways of being. The stock market is moving into the stratosphere while many in our nation go hungry. Climate Change is creating even more bizarre weather patterns: hurricanes galore, wildfires, etc. The safest nation on Earth is very unsafe for pre-born human beings (over 60 million abortions in our nation alone). A polarized political minefield leads to a dreadful attack on our nation’s capital. And these are only a few of the signs that something is coming. Will it be bad or good?

Clearly, we are very vulnerable and much less safe than we think we are. So, what are faithful believers to think? What does wisdom teach us?

In the midst of this uncertainty, I believe we are being called to a more deeply rooted Faith. The externals of the Church as we know are fading away: Costs of running our parishes are getting so high that many wonder how we can sustain things. But these are only the externals. We have faced much worse than this as a Church.

Our Faith is strong and it will sustain us as it has over the 20 centuries of the Church’s life. There will be many who leave the fold, but those who stay will find new ways to be the Church (remember, the Church with a capital ‘C’ is us, the people of God!); and the coming persecutions of the Church will purify those who remain so that a smaller, purer church will be reborn. And when the secular world is spent, vibrant communities of Christians will emerge to get us through this second dark ages. For Christ told us that, “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt 13:18).

We have to learn from our history. Former powerful Empires are gone, Kingdoms are no more, and even liberal democracies will one day end. But the Church will survive and thrive for we rely on our Blessed Lord and He will never abandon us.

That is what the world cannot understand. So-called ‘Progressives’ (what an elitist title!) think they have the answers and see the Church as at best an outdated relic, and at worst a danger to modern society. But when the Big Shift happens, and what we thought was progress turns on us, only Faith can rebuild and find community. The true answer was right in front of us, but it seemed too outdated to be the solution.

When the Roman Empire collapsed and there was no longer any law or order, the Church created intentional communities of Faith (known as monasteries). These communities of Christian Faith took care of the poor, protected the innocent, taught the ignorant, and started to rebuild anew based not on the myths of the past but on the solid rock of Christ. Learning grew in these centers and civilization began to spread. These communities were lights in the darkness. Our Universities came from them. Imagine that! The same Universities who now scoff at religion were started by religious people. In Europe: Oxford, Paris, Cambridge. Even in America, Protestant Christians built Harvard, Yale, and Princeton to name a few. And from these religious centers came great art, the spectacular Cathedrals and the Renaissance.

My point is simply that we have already been through giant cultural and intellectual shifts. The Church has not just survived, it has grown and prospered.

So, whenever this Big Shift happens, even if it is a disaster, the Church will be there to pick up the pieces and begin again. We have always done that and we will do it again.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more that conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:35-37)

Posted in Msgr. Ferrarese | Leave a comment

Saints: Heroes & Heroines of Simplicity by Monsignor Ferrarese

As the world becomes more and more centered on the self, but continues to ask questions of faith and understanding of our purpose in this world, I have felt that there is a real need for a resurgence of the veneration of the Saints. Take the story of Saint Ignatius of Loyola: Before he began his journey to Christ in earnest, he lay bedridden and dying from a leg infection after a battle. All he had around him to keep his mind occupied were books on the early Saints of the Church. He found that the more he read about their heroic lives, the more he wanted to reform his own and serve Christ with all his heart, mind, and strength.

Unfortunately, we sometimes think that all the Saints were as heroic and valiant as Saint Ignatius, or the Apostles and Martyrs. Their stories and lives can seem so out-of-touch with our own that we often loose the vital connection needed to make their lives true examples for us. Thus, I want to bring to your attention the life of a Saint that has such a great deal to teach us, one that gained her saintly crown not from actions on a battlefield or in great oratory, but from the simple actions of her heart.

I had an interesting discovery of sanctity on vacation one day in the north of England. This happened years ago while I helped out in a parish in London as a priest, with some friends of mine who did the same in nearby parishes. One day, when we all had the day off, we drove up to York (Old York as opposed to New York!). While we were wandering through the ancient part of the city called the Shambles, I spied on my left a non-descript store on this street full of shops. What was odd about it was that I saw through the window a Sanctuary Lamp!

I couldn’t believe it! Glancing at my friends I emphatically said “I got to see this.” So, I entered the store where I was surprised to see pews and an altar as well. There were some books for sale on the counter. One was called “The Pearl of York”. Another had the words boldly printed: “St. Margaret Clitherow”. By that point we were intrigued, so we asked the attendant in the gift shop about who this saint was. Turns out we were standing in the Butcher Shop where she and her husband sold meat during Elizabeth times (16th century). Above the store is where they lived and where they hid priests who said Mass in secret due to the persecution and illegality of Catholicism in England at that time. They risked their lives and the lives of their family to protect and maintain the true Faith.

I was so intrigued that I bought every book about her and read deep into the night in my hotel room.

She was a convert to Catholicism, and had such a fervor for the Faith. She protected outlawed Priests, and did all she could to foster the Faith in those that saw no hope for Catholicism in England. Eventually she was found out, but she refused go to trial because she would have to put her children on the stand and they would either have to perjure themselves or condemn her. This was true also for her husband who was not Catholic but kept quiet about her ‘Masses’. For not going to trial, the penalty under English Law was to be pressed to death (i.e., a huge door was placed on top of her and boulders placed on the door until she was crushed to death). She was pregnant with her third child at that time.

When I got home, I read everything I could about her and was determined to make her better known. The transcripts of the trial were stupendously interesting. What a wonderful character! A woman for all seasons.

I was so inspired by her Faith and story that I wrote a screenplay about her. I tried for a couple of years to try to find someone who was interested in making a film about her life but to no avail. I then rewrote it as a novel. Still no takers. Undeterred, I kept it for many years until I started writing these columns. Last year, during the beginnings of the Pandemic, I started re-reading what I wrote thinking I would find it as just bad prose. Instead, I fell in love with this saint again!

Thus, I decided to re-read and re-write this book chapter by chapter. I am almost finished. You can check out what I finished on our website. It’s called “The Recusant”.

What is interesting about it is that I did not make up much to make the story more accessible. It was so vivid and powerful that, as I kept working on it, I wondered why no one has ever discovered her. What a great person, a powerful witness to Faith, and a courageous woman who took on both the Church of her time and the government. Someone who stuck to her guns and would not abandon Christ or His Church.

Even the real-life names of the characters have a Dickens like ring to them. The Judge at her trial was called Judge Clench. The Puritan dissenter was Hurlstone. The meek and ineffectual Anglican Divine was called Wigginton. These were real life persons. They were not made up.

As to the dialogue of the trial, I had the good fortune of having a transcript of it that was taken at the time. It positively bristles with meaning and action! I just stayed close to her exact words.

Sometimes what God leads us to is a pleasant surprise. I am so glad that I have had this opportunity to share this great story in the hopes that you will venerate St. Margaret Clitherow, the Pearl of York. And if times turn foul again, to follow her example of courage.

Posted in Msgr. Ferrarese | Leave a comment

Dangerous Times by Monsignor Ferrarese

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love.

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

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

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

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

We have nothing to fear.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Being Alone by Monsignor Ferrarese

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Msgr. Ferrarese | Leave a comment

We Are Family by Monsignor Ferrarese

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We need others. Our Christian faith understands that.

We are family.

And this is God’s will for us.

Posted in Msgr. Ferrarese | Leave a comment

The Quiet Man by Monsignor Ferrarese

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Msgr. Ferrarese | Leave a comment

Regrets and Renewals by Monsignor Ferrarese

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s when I turn to God for help.

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

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

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

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

Posted in Msgr. Ferrarese | Leave a comment