For the Solemnity of the Assumption

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

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

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Under Our Noses by Monsignor Ferrarese

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fear, Again by Monsignor Ferrarese

Growing up in the 50’s, we were very concerned with the threat of nuclear attack. Nikita Khrushchev of the Soviet Union took his shoe off at the United Nations and pounded the table shouting, “We will bury you!” As kids in school, we had air raid drills in which we huddled under our desks and put up the shades until the Principal gave the ‘all clear’. (I still don’t know how those paper-thin shades were to protect us from nuclear explosions!) It was common then to have families build bomb shelters dug out in their back yards or in their basements, stored with food and other supplies they may need after a nuclear strike.

With the fall of the Soviet Union and a development to a more moderate Communism in China, a lot of the nuclear fear has gone away. Or so we thought. For although terrorism has worried us on a smaller scale than mass destruction, the emergence of North Korea as a nuclear force has once again made us afraid of nuclear attack. North Korea already has nuclear capabilities in the region of Asia. But they are currently testing rockets that can reach mainland USA.

A preemptive strike by the US would unleash a nightmare, costing the lives of millions of South Koreans, Japanese etc., all of which are our allies, and would require us to completely destroy the entire nation of North Korea. Such an attack would, because of proximity, put China in danger, a country with a huge nuclear arsenal. It does not help that the head of the government of North Korea is a very unstable leader who feels that the supposed victimhood of the North is over and that he looks forward to taking over the South of the Peninsula while a powerless world just watches.

We are oh so close to what we feared in the 50’s!

This is shocking. We are so accustomed to worrying about the smallest part of our security (Insurance, etc.) that the idea that anyone has the power to destroy everything that we hold dear is intolerable. But we have already been under threat from Russia and China, so what difference does it make? Who would be crazy enough to set this whole thing in motion?

Kim Jong-un has shown himself to be unstable, immature, paranoid and fanatically interested in proving his strength and showing that North Korea matters on the world stage.

Why am I bringing this up? Why reflect on this in a parish publication? Because we are believers in something beyond this world. It is now that we have to consider this since it will affect our response to this state of affairs and model for us our faith response.

Most people have as a fundamental presupposition in their thinking that there is nothing beyond this life. Death is annihilation, complete and utter termination. That is why speaking about death or even using the word is the new form of obscenity. People don’t die anymore, they ‘pass away’ or even more vaguely ‘pass’. No longer is our belief in a life after death where Aunt Louise, recently deceased, is alive and well. A typical eulogy today will have Aunt Louise sort of suspended in the ‘hearts and minds of we who loved her’. I don’t know about you, but when I die, I hope I am more than a ‘suspension’ in someone’s memory!

Because of this latent disbelief, we approach the idea of nuclear war or the end of the world as the ultimate evil that can happen. And it truly is terrible and hopefully to be avoided at all times! But sin is a greater evil since it separates us from God, our ultimate good.

These awful predictions are very terrible, but in faith, we can transcend them. Faith puts us into a state that makes us free to confront these evils and say, “God is greater than nuclear catastrophe”.

Recently we had a film festival that meditated on the end of the world and film adaptations of it. In all the films we showed (e.g. On the Beach) and not showed (e.g. Melancholia), not a single one presented the question in terms of faith. How do believers approach the end times? Is our faith real or just a nice story we tell ourselves? When that asteroid hits the earth or the nuclear bomb explodes, will I be on my knees welcoming God?

These are, admittedly, bleak considerations, but our faith means nothing if it does not engage such possibilities; and the hope that we celebrate is useless if it does not strengthen us to stand tall even in such a time.

To believe in God, to be a Christian in truth and not only in name, is to face death and even the end of the world serenely, knowing that we live only for His will and it is only in His will that we find peace.

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Why We Walk the Walk by Monsignor Ferrarese

As I write this, I am on my way home from a pilgrimage that our parish members took to many holy places in central and Eastern Europe. We prayed in the Divine Mercy Shrine, Our Lady of Czestochowa, the parish Church of Wadowice where St. John Paul II was born and reared; the great Cathedrals of Krakow, Prague, Vienna, and Munich; the shrines of Our Lady at Mariazell, Salzburg; the Monastery of Melk; the Shrine of the Infant Jesus of Prague; and many more places of holiness and inspiration. We also visited a place of unholiness: Auschwitz, where millions of innocent men, women and children were systematically murdered in that godless fury of the Nazi Holocaust.

It was an emotional 12 days of which I have mentioned but a few moments of grace. Why do we do such things? Why do we go on pilgrimage? Could we not try to understand and appreciate these things through books and the tales of others?

Those questions could only be asked by people who have never been on pilgrimage. Those who have gone of pilgrimage need not even bother to ask. Pilgrimage is not a vacation nor are pilgrims tourists. We became a community in sharing our faith as we meditated on our history as Catholics and tried to enter the experience of faith that only a rich tradition can give. Faith must be experienced and that is why we walk and ride and walk again, sometimes exhilarated, sometimes exhausted, and insert our very selves into God’s history, our history and all that has made us Catholics, Christians and truly human beings.

It is hard to communicate to someone who has not been on pilgrimage what happens to a group of believers who walk the walk of faith. Many of us have been on other Immaculate Conception Parish Pilgrimages as well as this one. As a community of faith here at Immaculate Conception, we have walked where Christ walked in Galilee, Bethlehem, Jerusalem (First Pilgrimage). We have seen the Faith grow through the missionary journeys of St. Paul at Corinth, Athens and the Mediterranean (Second Pilgrimage). We have seen the faith rooted in Europe in Rome where we visited the tombs of Peter and Paul and were in the presence of our own Pope Francis (Third Pilgrimage). We have seen the faith spread through Europe to Venice, Florence, Assisi (Third yet again), and then to the countries in Europe mentioned above (Present Fourth Pilgrimage).

It has not been difficult to see the God-given movement of the faith that we share here in Astoria. We are not alone. We are a global Church that has been proclaiming the Gospel of Christ though two millennia of history.

But we have also seen contrary trends that are saddening and stand as a warning to us against assuming that we can do no wrong. There has been a widespread abandoning of the faith. Evidence of this is so permeating as to seem to be irrefutable. Churches that were the glories of faith now exist as historical curiosities and interesting destinations. Once receptacles of high art glorifying God, they have now become museums and concert halls. Small groups of pilgrims are sometimes besieged and sidelined by hordes of tourists who just want to take selfies to post on Facebook.

These Cathedrals of Faith are floating in a sea of unbelief. Yet the freedom still exists both in personal and in political terms to have faith and, even if it is a small group of believers from Astoria, we can still believe and express our faith freely because of the separation of Church and State that we Americans have pioneered. I will take, therefore, the current apostasy of faith over another faith (or even my own faith) forcing others into the one mold that I see God calling us to. Theocracy does not work for it eventually has to combat the freedom that is important to true belief.

This is why the Christian faith first grew in the Roman Empire, which made room for all faiths as long as they were politically open to others. Persecutions began when the Romans forced Christians to accept the Roman Religion of the gods. Until that time, St. Paul saw no conflict with being a Roman citizen and a Christian believer.

So how do we correct what is going on? The answer is not to join a movement or give support to an ideology of the past. It is simply what it has always been: “Be Holy for I, the Lord am Holy”. We need to become saints. Sounds impossible? It is not. We have been given all we need in the Church’s teaching and in Holy Scripture. We just need to do it. That is why we don’t stay home and think and pray. Among other ways, we go on pilgrimage, not just the exterior trip to other lands, but that which this journey symbolizes: the interior pilgrimage of the heart and its outward manifestation here in our families and in Astoria. We are all on pilgrimage! Most of us just don’t know it!

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Mercy and the Salutary Use of Sadness by Monsignor Ferrarese

At the writing of this piece, I am in the ancient city of Krakow which most recently saw the great phenomenon of St. John Paul II—his life, his episcopacy, papacy and sanctity. The legacy of his greatness permeates this historic city. Today we went to the shrine of Divine Mercy. The spirit of Sister Faustina permeates this Church.

I want to interrupt this essay with a digression: What is it with these Nuns? Sr. Margaret Mary Alcoque permanently affects Western Spirituality with devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Sr. Faustina in a short life (33 years) developed an easy-to-use modern devotion to Jesus known as the Divine Mercy Chaplet that is used all over the world! I should also add to this catalogue of amazing women religious Mother Angelica who, from a small convent in Alabama, developed a worldwide TV empire named “The Eternal Word” that beat the entire Bishops’ effort and all their resources to reach the whole United States! Women of great power and authority, changing the spiritual world without benefits of power!

Back to the Shrine!

Mercy is so important in this world. Society has an ethos where everything is permitted and nothing is forgiven. Who can live in such a tension! How beautiful is the Christian Gospel that is ready to forgive anything that one has committed and enable someone to regain his or her dignity and start again! Of course, the Lord requires sincere repentance and a firm purpose of amendment. Mercy is indeed unmerited, but it requires certain conditions to reveal its full beauty. Once one accepts truly the merciful forgiveness of Christ, then one, in gratitude, wants to make some sort of amends for the tearing of the divine fabric of creation. This is what penance and reparation is about: it is done with joy and that mysterious virtue of compunction.

One never hears about this virtue, but it is the sadness that comes with repentance and forgiveness. In Greek, it is called ‘Penthos’. This sadness of what could have been makes one’s purpose of amendment that much more real and stronger.

This is borne out in a beautiful way by a dream that was had by the poet Auden. It is important to know in this story that Auden did not often live up to his ideals and was guilty of some profligate sexual behavior. In this dream, Auden is dead and stands before the judgment seat of God. Much to his relief and consternation, God begins to sing to him the poems that he would have written if he had been good!

Who knows the good we could have done if we had made better choices! This is the essence of Penthos and it is a virtue precisely for its medicinal benefit for future goodness. It is a constant theological and emotional reminder that every minute has the potential to bring us in tune with the will of God and hence into a creative and redemptive zone of endeavor; or we can go our own way and waste precious time building up what will not satisfy and growing what could devour us. The ultimate waste of time is to play a form of fairy tale and no longer walk in the real. The sadness of the past shock us into fruitful action.

Malcom Muggeridge lived a godless life until he made a documentary about Mother Teresa and then everything changed. He became a Catholic and an ardent defender of the Truth of the Gospel. The title of his autobiography is “Chronicles of Wasted Time”. He never lost a sense of the Penthos of his prior life. It made him determined not to fall a second time into the same mistakes. This is an act of God’s mercy that is undeserved but needed by us as we hold our heads in disbelief over how long it has taken for us to see the truth.

One element that is necessary to have in order to take full advantage of this true and fruitful conversion is the virtue of humility. Often called the mother of all the virtues, it is necessary if we are to admit that we are wrong, that we need God, and that we cannot do it on our own. Without humility, we will continue to walk the paths of falsehood trying to convince ourselves that what is bad is good and that we need not make any changes in our lives. God will just have to agree with us. We continue to believe that we are the center of it all.

False, false, false! Only in God can the truth be found, and we wander hopelessly until we fully accept this. Humility leads us to this and makes us receptive to the mercy of God.

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Why Me? by Monsignor Ferrarese

Sooner or later our luck runs out! Things could be going well and life seems just dandy, but there comes a moment when suffering touches our lives deeply. All the assurances we give others when it happens to them fall flat before the inexorable movement of pain when it touches our lives, our family, and our faith. Then the story of Job in the Hebrew Scriptures takes on a great and incontestable importance. As one modern Rabbi put it, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

Underneath the shock of this experience is the unspoken assumption that if I do things right and always am faithful to God, everything will go well in my life and the lives of my loved ones. If they do not go well, then God is punishing me for something that I did of which I am not aware.

It often does not dawn on us that this has not been the experience of the saints who often died for their faith nor the experience of the Son of God who never sinned yet died brutally tortured in a shameful death, cast out by the religious people he served!

The happiness of the holy is not based on changeable circumstances. It is founded completely on the will of God, which transcends all situations. One can be persecuted for doing what is right and still be content. One can suffer torture and still be at peace.

So there is a false equation between earthly joys that are here today and gone tomorrow and true spiritual joy, for Christ promised us a peace that the world cannot take away. This in-depth peace is a sign of the Kingdom and is given to us who only seek the Lord’s will. All other searches for peace are bound to end in disaster.

So there is no real opposition between being faithful to God and the experience of suffering. Suffering is but one of the ways in which that fidelity to God that we have promised in Baptism can be expressed and maintained.

Many would say to this, “What good is it then to be a believer if it does not take away suffering and ensure tranquility?” Here we come to the nub of the issue. Love for God must have no other reason to exist except in and of itself. Love is its own reward, and love of God is the greatest reward we can have for it gives us the peace we are looking for, but not in the way we want. We want to avoid the struggle of fidelity. We want to bypass the rough and razor sharp cliffs of reality in all of its seemingly random nature. In a word: we want to do what is right for the fruits of fidelity and not for it alone. Our motivation is selfish and cannot be reconciled with the God who is love itself. As Thomas Becket says in T. S. Eliot’s play “Murder in the Cathedral”, “The highest treason is to do the right thing for the wrong reason”.

Fidelity in loving, even in lack of comprehension and in great pain, is the process of purification that we must submit to in our quest to love God as we ought: not for what He can do for us but simply for Himself.

You may be shocked at the extent of our selfishness even in regards to God Himself. Nevertheless, it is there and it must be burned away if we are to enter the gates of paradise, which has no room for our self-will.

I am reminded of the story of the sinner who went to the Rabbi despairing that God will never forgive him. The Rabbi said to him, “Don’t worry. God forgives you. You will get to heaven.” That night God appeared to the Rabbi and expressed his annoyance that the Rabbi acted like God in telling the man he was going to be forgiven. So God said to the Rabbi, “Because you are a Rabbi I have to back you up. So that man will get into heaven. But you won’t! No matter how many good things you do in life!” The Rabbi simply smiled at God and said, “Thank you. Now I can simply love you without any hope of a reward!”

When we say we love God, do we have ulterior motives (to get out of pain and into pleasure)? Or do we simply love God no matter what? A good question…

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The Death of Authority by Monsignor Ferrarese

One of the basic divisions in the history of human thought is between the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle. Though they lived thousands of years ago, their approach to reality in their respective philosophies underlines much of the tensions in our own existence. Because I must simplify to make my point, I realize that I may not adequately represent the differences between them, but those differences are real and have daily importance in our lives. Therefore, I will attempt the impossible!

Plato is the more ‘otherworldly’ of the two and therefore the one that, at first, many religious people find helpful. There is somewhere in the universe a world of ideal forms that our world is a mere copy of. Some people are able to get to know this true state of reality and hence can help us find our way in life. True reality is in this other place, while it is only the few enlightened ones who can see and interpret this reality.

Aristotle, on the other hand, was more of the scientist who believed the real is to be understood not from an ideal world somewhere else but from the world of matter here and now; and that world is open to everyone. So all you have to do is let people discover it on their own. Everyone is capable of it.

Plato has always been favored by organizations based on hierarchies (the Church) and Aristotle is the darling of democracies. Platonists will say: if someone is sick you get a doctor, who has the knowledge about illness and medicine. You don’t summon a focus group of laymen who are ignorant about medicine. Aristotle would say that the people could sometimes see what the experts do not.

This long and perhaps difficult beginning to this reflection on authority is my attempt to base a wide-ranging loss of faith on a philosophical basis. All authority is now being questioned by the people (Aristotle) because of the failure of the people in the know in getting things right (Plato).

One of the chief architects of this modern stance is Martin Luther who questioned the authority of the Pope which led to the Protestant Reformation and consequently to the founding of the United States in opposition to the authority of the King of England. Even though a group of educated men whom we term founding fathers were the architects of this new experiment (Plato), it began with the words “We the people…” (Aristotle)

Similarly, while Hitler invoked the authority of the ‘Volk’ and Lenin of the ‘Proletariat’, all fascism of the left and the right is essentially the ‘philosopher king’ of Plato telling the People what is good for them. The collapse of Nazism and Communism signaled the end of any kind of trust in authority by the common people.

This, of course, has a good side. We must all be obedient in an intelligent and moral way. “My Country right or wrong” and “I was only following orders” are no longer statements that people believe in.

But there is a dark side to this lack of trust in authority. Can we trust God? Can we trust the Scriptures? Can we trust the Church? I think you see where I am going with this. For the results of this development in the collapse of faith in authority lodges itself in our own families. ‘Let the child decide for him or herself’ equals no more baptism. ‘We don’t need a piece of paper telling us we are married’ means we can live together and even rear children together without any sort of public commitment of stability and fidelity. To the community’s ‘It is not wise to do this!’ the modern person simply responds: “Says who?!”

The truth is that we can learn a lot from authority when it is limited by a commitment to stay within the confines of Tradition. Like our legal system, we learn a lot from the give and take of accumulated learning so that we are careful to view the precedents that may help us make an informed decision and not one based on whim or impulse. A healthy and intelligent trust in authority can harmonize the twin philosophical poles of Plato and Aristotle by putting together the wisdom of the past with the sense of where the people are right now. Like many things in life, it is not an either/or choice but a both/and proposition that balances all the wisdom needed to chart a solid course for the future. As President Reagan often said: “Trust, yes, but verify!”

When a teenager rebels against his parents, he cannot understand how stupid his parents can be. Give him a few more years of experience and he is amazed how much his parents have learned in such a short amount of time! It often does not occur to this youngster that he just began to see what his parents always saw.

Maturity means being able to understand and appreciate the value of authority in our lives when it is thoughtfully expressed and carefully accepted.

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A short video from Pope Francis

A short video from Pope Francis.  A different way to view things.  I found it on the Facebook page of Fr. James Martin, SJ:



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Appreciating by Monsignor Ferrarese

I am ashamed to say that I have never been to the United Nations! This may seem to be a strange statement except it seems almost a truism that New Yorkers don’t know what they have! Often people come here to see things that while I know about them, I have not seen or experienced them. This is true not only for New Yorkers, but for many of my family members in Italy who have not been to the great wonders of that fabled land.

This was brought home to me when I was on Sabbatical. When meeting people from all over the world, I was surprised at their change of mood when I uttered the words: “I’m from New York.” A smile stole across their faces as they confessed that they long to go to New York and will do so someday. They often had questions about what it is like to live in such a great city. I felt very proud of our city and wondered why we are so slow to see how fortunate we are to live here.

I have met many people in parishes who have not experienced some of the great things about our city, things that people travel thousands of miles to see. When I started our parish Opera courses, I was surprised to see people who have lived in the confines of our city who have never been to the Metropolitan Opera or even to Lincoln Center! To see their faces light up when they experienced it for the first time was truly a delight for me.

Nevertheless, there is so much more: neighborhoods, specialty shops, museums, theaters, churches etc. that make New York City a destination for millions of people each year; but often we New Yorkers are the last ones to appreciate what we have. We live in one of the most important places on earth, a world city that inspires writers and artists, where every nationality and religion lives in peace. Sure, we have problems, but the pluses far outnumber the minuses!

I use the example of our beloved city to underscore a basic human problem that when extended to the spiritual sphere can have disastrous consequences. We do not appreciate the wonders and joys that surround us. This lack of appreciation is linked to a deeper lack of awareness and valuing of what God is doing within us. We are oblivious to the marvelous that happens to us both physically and spiritually. As I pointed out to a classroom of youngsters in our school, “Just sitting there thinking we are doing nothing is really a falsehood.” While we sit quietly listening, our ears perceive, our minds are forming complex associations and all this while the physical processes of our bodies continue and develop. Our gastric juices are breaking down our lunch into distinct chemical categories. Our circulatory system is cleansing us and moving things along. Our nervous system is feeding complex impulses to our brain. Our brain is overseeing the complexity of our bodily system. Our bone structure is being nurtured as our muscle structure makes us able to shift our weight to make us more comfortable in our chairs. And, of course, there is the accumulation of waste material that is being prepared for our next visit to the rest room! All this is happening as one sits and listens!

How many marvels are happening around us and we wander through them blind and deaf to the wonders of God! There is so much for us to be thankful. An old Jewish adage says that a Jew should say a prayer of thanks a hundred times a day for all that God gives. Imagine waking up and thanking God for the morning, for the air we breathe, for the shelter we enjoyed that night, for health for one more day. And all that before we even get out of bed!

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Pondering by Monsignor Ferrarese

In Doris Kearns Goodwin’s masterful study of Abraham Lincoln’s mode of operating within his administration, “Team of Rivals”, she tells an interesting anecdote about Lincoln’s wisdom and his talent in dealing with the often-contentious voices within his Cabinet. She relates that one of the members of his cabinet was furious over the actions of someone else in the Cabinet. In fact, he was so angry that Lincoln perceived the danger that could wreck the unity of his government.

He told this Cabinet member to write a letter to the offending cabinet member detailing the offense and the repercussions envisioned by him. Lincoln wisely added that when he completes the letter that he run it by him first before sending it.

The Cabinet member did just that. After a few days, he produced this long letter and gave it to Lincoln. Lincoln read it while the Cabinet member waited. When Lincoln finished reading the letter, he asked the writer, “How do you feel now that you have written this letter?” He responded, “Much better!” to which Lincoln responded, “Now tear it up!”

Lincoln rightly understood both his need to articulate his anger and how counterproductive it would be when the offending party read it. Luckily, the writer, now detached from his emotions, saw the wisdom of Lincoln’s advice and heeded it. He felt better and the situation corrected itself without the letter’s angry interruption.

In the world of communication, speed has become an inordinate value that can both serve the purpose of this communication or thwart it completely. In the past, when someone had to get a message to another, he or she had to send a written letter or missive. One had to consider each word carefully since it was difficult to erase something once written. It took a long time for it to be delivered.

Once the Internet and the computer became available, it changed many ways of communicating. Books became longer since something did not have to be rewritten completely, but through word processing, thoughts and words can be moved and added to at will. The email meant that I can write a friend and they can read my communication almost instantly, even though they live a continent away! However, that means my thoughts can be uncensored by reflection. Many of us, when angry for instance, have sent a reply that we regret. Often I have learned that if I have a lot of emotion invested in an email, I write it and then do not send it. The following day I reread it before I send it. Often I find I dial back the rhetoric and the emotion since I have a more detached view of what I am trying to say.

Then there is Twitter.

Though I have never used Twitter as a form of communication, I have seen the havoc it can create in politics and religion when someone has immediate access to hundreds, thousands and even millions of followers! While I have known people who carefully choose what they send out on Twitter, it is so immediate and so widespread in effects that it is almost impossible to consistently monitor the effects of a tweet.

When the person communicating is a President or a Pope, the effects of putting out a thought to countless people without reflection or even a second look later on can at best be confusing and at worst destructive. There is little self-discipline in this quick process of producing a tweet.

I am sure there are other vehicles of Internet communication with which I am not familiar. The point of my reflections is that pondering the meaning of what we say and what we write is a very important element in communication. We have a responsibility to be careful in what we say and write. Often one word can have destructive possibilities; and even if not that serious, the thought does not have the time to properly ‘gestate’ in the person.

What a great example we have in Our Lady. Scripture says that she spent much of her time in watching Jesus, her Son, growing and maturing. She pondered these things in her heart. She was the first Christian contemplative.

In this fast-paced world, nothing can take the place of going slowly while considering and pondering things, before we act and before we speak. Who knows how many evils we can avoid by pondering the meaning of things! Seek the Truth slowly and deliberately in the silence of our minds and hearts!

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