Growing Old by Monsignor Ferrarese

Often times, people in their elder years have said to me (usually after telling me of their aches and pains): “Don’t get old!” It’s a funny expression because we don’t have a choice about it. Time keeps moving forward and nothing can stop it!

We can try to change our mentality, however. Some say this with the catch phrase: “you’re as old as you feel”. Often, this is all about ‘other people’. But there comes a time in a person’s life when they realize that “I am getting old” or more accurately: “I am old!”

This idea does change sometimes. When my Dad retired at 65 years of age and got his gold watch (an ironic gift!), it seemed like the end of the road for him. Today, people have second careers and some don’t retire. With medical advances, 65 is no longer ‘old’ but ‘young old’ (followed by ‘middle old’ (70’s) and ‘old old’ (80’s) and above!).

What adds to the confusion is the prejudice of this era of time that exalts youth and condemns aging. People are not proud of getting old; youth is valued highly. In other cultures, the elders are a venerable group that everyone treats with respect, even reverence. Their experience of life is valued as wisdom and they are sought and consulted about many things.

Not in our modern culture, however. The elderly are no longer at the center of our lives, but put at the peripheries. The marvels of science have produced an extended life span, but have decreased the quality of life as one progresses (or regresses depending on one’s point of view.)

This devaluing of age has caused a sense of shame at getting old. People don’t want to talk about their age (until they hit 90 and ask you to guess their age—so happy and proud that they have lasted so long with their mind intact!)

Yet aging is part of God’s plan. There is a progressive wisdom as one loses some of the powers of youthfulness in that it brings to the fore our total dependence on God: “Blessed are the poor in spirit!”

Aging is the school of poverty. By this poverty, we don’t mean the dereliction of hunger and misery that we see throughout the world. Rather, it bespeaks the virtue of gradual mortification of our acquisitiveness and the learning to live in simplicity and ultimate dependence on God. In aging, we see this happening in a very dramatic way.

A noted professor of mine once said that we misunderstand the virtue of poverty. It is not truly poverty if it can be embraced (as in the vow of poverty), it becomes true poverty when it embraces you! Elders do not have to be convinced of this point. As you age, things that seemed only natural and given become the subject of intense concern. We start losing our hearing. We cannot see as clearly as before. Our balance is affected and we sometimes fall. Worse of all: our minds can’t be trusted any more. We forget, we misunderstand and we lose the bearings that we often took for granted. We wander from doctor to doctor, awaiting results from innumerable tests. We are at the mercy of drugs prescribed often accurately as we follow their protocols.

The main temptation during this time, as both the mystics and the therapists both attest to, is the temptation to despair. This is the ultimate test of our faith in God. It is reserved in large measure to this time as the ultimate purifying force. To emerge from this time intact is to begin to experience the love of God that knows no limit and cannot be thwarted. In growing old and facing these natural calamities while maintaining a trust in God is the ultimate test of our spiritual maturity. It is the time of ‘Confessors’: those who witness to the reality of God and His goodness in the midst of woe. It is a type of ‘white martyrdom’ that, while achieved without the shedding of blood, is a real and powerful attestation of God’s love when highly inconvenient and often at a time of great difficulty and stress.

Aging in the Lord is not easy, but it is the antechamber to eternal life and constant joy.

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The Unwanted Power by Monsignor Ferrarese

One of the most uncomfortable things about our internal life as Christians is anger. We often confess it because we feel it often and it makes us very uncomfortable. It feels like we are out of control and, if unchecked, it could very often lead to violence. It is a sin often confessed as a lack of patience. It makes us feel that we are losing control of ourselves. It is the earliest negative emotion we feel as children when we encounter the anger of our parents at something we did, often unconsciously. “Stop that!”

But Jesus got angry, not only when He forced the money changers out of the Temple, but often with His disciples who many times did not get what He was trying to teach.

So we see that there is a good anger and a bad anger. Anger is not a sin necessarily. Anger is an energy of the human being that, when well directed and when it serves a divine purpose, can be a good. This is hard to see if we are uncomfortable with this energy. One of the reasons we are uncomfortable with it is that we often confuse it with violence which is only the result of a poor use of it.

I have been doing a great deal of study in Orthodox Spiritual Theology. One of the important points in this outlook is how the Fall of Man and Woman in Genesis warped the powers of the human soul, and that spirituality is an attempt to redirect these energies back to the original reason for their creation. So the energy of desire that was meant to serve our relationship in love to God became the desires that run rampant and develop into unruly appetites and even addictions. This must be corrected by the virtue of temperance. The energy of reason and intelligence was meant to help us discern how to act and to consider what is best for our relationship to God and others. It devolved into the use of reason to justify the sins we commit and to create a wall to seeing the appeal of goodness. It must be corrected by the virtue of prudence.

But then God gave the Human Person the energy of anger to defend oneself and to build the necessary strength to fight against evil, to war against the demons, and to provide the determination and backbone to accomplish the will of God even when faced with discouragement and the temptation to give up. The proper use of anger is the virtue of courage. When it is deformed it descends into the abyss of violence and self-hatred.

So one can see that this ‘uncomfortable virtue or power’ that we call ‘anger’ has a good use and, when properly used, is of great benefit. It is essential, however, that this power be directed by the other powers of temperance (knowing the limits and the proportions of things) and prudence (the rational use within those boundaries). Then and only then does the full power of the gift become apparent.

When, for instance, Jesus defended the sinful woman who washed His feet with her tears, was this not a beautiful example of the right use of anger? “Leave her alone!” This act of defense was energized by the virtue of just anger.

I think that our uncomfortableness with this virtue arises from the many misuses of it and by the fact that it makes us feel like we are losing control of ourselves. It is a little like a fire within us: dangerous, yes, but who can live without fire?

It is of the essence of the diabolical that it warps what is best in us. They cause the energies that God has given to us to work against ourselves and others. Temperance gives way to addictions, Prudence to heedlessness, Anger to violence.

A great deal of the spiritual life for a Christian is to fight against evil, first in oneself and then in the world around us. But if we distrust or misuse that energy, we end up in violence and self-hatred. We still must carry on the warfare and we need the irascible gift to be able to have the strength to not allow evil to have its way.

This is the lesson that is found throughout the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy by Tolkien. If we do not fight against evil, it will take over. To not use the energy of anger in the proper way, it is to hand over to the demons control over our lives and thereby a great victory.

We must be brave and strong, cooperating with the grace of God so that we can become the heroes we are called upon to be.

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False Dichotomies by Monsignor Ferrarese

When Martin Luther said, “Here I stand, I can do no other”, he established a leading Protestant Principle of making a choice in an ‘either/or’ context. It is either one or the other and you have to choose.

The Catholic Principle is closer to accepting multiple, diverse ideas and harmonizing them, being faithful to each of them and attempting to fit them together into an organic whole. This could be called the ‘both/and’ method.

The first way of looking at things (either/or) fits very well the temperaments of those who are adversarial in nature. Just watch any of the political debates! People take sides and begin to demonize each other, putting their adversaries into boxes that cannot possibly contain their true contributions to the way forward.

Take some examples: is there any real contradiction between concern over climate change (an issue of the left) with the concern for the healthy protection and development of the human fetus in the womb (an issue of the right)? They are both important and even internally consistent with the need to preserve life either in the womb or outside it. But you would never know that from the often paradoxical way they are formulated. Both are life issues. There is no either/or in this.

On a related issue, there is no contradiction between the quest for equal rights for women and a nuanced and universal understand of what it means to be of the female gender with its particular giftedness. It is not necessary to imitate the foibles of males as well as to accept male solutions to the world’s problems to be equal to males. The unique giftedness of women should not be lost with the mistaken assumption that uniformity means equality.

To look at another highly contentious issue: one need not have to choose between the value of having secure borders and having a realistic and humane policy of immigration, including a path to citizenship that is actually doable in real time.

There is something in the human being that prefers the simple to the complex, even though the simple can be very deficient in the nuances necessary to fully account for truth. People love to square-off and argue an issue even though it may be just a partial truth. One can get very passionate in trying to get someone over to your way of seeing things even when it sacrifices the truth in its wholeness.

Witness the three examples that we have cited. In each there is a truth on either side of the argument, but each side is prevented from seeing it due to it’s obstinate argumentativeness.

What is most necessary in allowing the complex truth to emerge is the virtue of detachment. The spiritual masters often spoke very highly of this virtue. But the modern misunderstanding of it makes it seem like an uncaring, emotionless response to life. It is, on the contrary, a very life giving virtue!

When we believe something to be true, or if we, rightly or wrongly, profess something to ‘my insight’ or ‘my opinion’, we personalize it and make it ‘ours’. This makes it unlikely that I will admit it is wrong or must be qualified, especially if someone points out the mistake. Our pride gets in the way and we begin to fight for the partial truth because it is ‘mine’ and the other must be wrong. It is then very tempting to demonize the other person who has the contrary opinion rather than to admit that he has some truth in it.

Detachment gives us the power to stand back from our opinions and to get a fuller and more inclusive picture of the issues involved. It increases our objectivity and releases our emotions from the stranglehold of basing our self-worth on winning arguments.

It moves us away from false dichotomies and enables us to work with others to discover the whole truth, not its partial impostors.

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The Two Popes by Monsignor Ferrarese

In a short time, Netflix will unveil its new movie called ‘The Two Popes’. I always get a little nervous when the mainstream media try to comment on spiritual and religious matters, but I am trying to keep an open mind, especially for the questions it surfaces.

In a sense, it was inevitable that someone would write a reflection on this most unique moment in Catholic History. There has been more than one pope claiming to be the “true” Pope before. But they were usually anti-popes born of the disagreement over the validity of elections, dogma, etc.

But now, we have a Pope Emeritus, retired, who is one of the foremost theologians that the Church has produced in the 20-21st centuries, and the other is his validly elected successor who is the first Jesuit ever to be elected Supreme Pontiff.

Both of them are saintly men. They have different theological perspectives, but it would be misleading to posit a contradiction between them. Unfortunately, there are factions within the Church that have made of each to these two popes the symbols of their causes.

Pope Benedict has become the standard-bearer of the conservative wing of the Church. They see in his theological precision a necessary antidote to the onrushing and overpowering secular culture that seeks to supplant the teaching authority of the Church.

Pope Francis has similarly become the symbol of the liberal wing of the Church that seeks to move into new areas of human consciousness and adapt its approach to the needs of the world.

The partisans of Benedict see the future of the Church as a smaller, fervent body of believers (the so called Benedict option), while those of Francis see that the Church is a “field hospital” that is charged with bringing everyone into the safety of its bosom. They see a larger, more diverse and more accepting Church.

Sometimes, distinctions elucidate and clarify, but sometimes they confuse and contradict one another. It is important that we as Catholics prayerfully ponder and consider the truth in both sides of the argument and not rush to an acceptance of one side exclusively and a rejection of the truths being offered on the other side. Partisan arguments and fights are destructive whether they are in the field of Politics or Religion.

We must begin this task by looking at the two men who are the symbols of these two seemingly opposing viewpoints of the future of the Church. One must immediately admit that, based on what is public about them (i.e. their actions and words, writings and decisions), they are both very holy men who want what is best for the Church. They both have sacrificed a great deal for the Church and have even suffered for the Church. These statements are important because what the world is trying to do is highlight their differences and make of one of them ‘the good guy’ and the other ‘the bad guy’. We must begin by saying that these are two good guys!

But they are different in temperament and ideas. My main argument in this reflection is that both are complementary to one another and that we need to listen to both to get a full picture of the future of the Church toward which God is beckoning.

This may be the very reason why God has allowed this strange and unprecedented moment to exist: to have two saintly Popes living at the same time. While it is true that Benedict is a Pope Emeritus, Pope comes from the word that means Father. Since a father never stops being a father, one can rightly say that these are two paternal presences ordained by God. And this is true, as I have already mentioned, in a situation when there is no ‘anti-pope’. So this situation is unprecedented and thereby willed by God. Hence, it is valid to try to ask: “Why?”

Perhaps the humility of both Benedict and Francis are meant to speak to the pride and arrogance of the modern world, as it were underlining the essential nature of that virtue. Benedict’s careful, theological conservatism protects the Tradition of the Church, while Francis’ more liberal approach of fearlessly testing the spirits to discern how to go forth in the future (a very Jesuit approach!) moves us into new areas of consciousness.

It could be that God is taking this extraordinary step to guide the Church in these very confusing times.

The image I would use is that of a sailboat. Francis’s approach is like the sail that catches the wind of the present moment and uses that energy to power the boat. Benedict, on the other hand (but the same body!) stands for the rudder which controls the direction of the boat. Without Francis, the boat would just sit there; but without Benedict, the winds would cause it to go in different directions, perhaps dangerous ones near the shoals and reefs.

God has given us two holy Popes to help us create a balance that is admittedly difficult to maintain (especially when partisans of each approach lobby to be the only one), but is essential to move the Church to her safe and divine harbor of faith.

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Guns and Roses by Monsignor Ferrarese

Sometimes when we look at a painting, we can come very close to it and get lost in the way colors blend and observe minutely the contours of the brush strokes. But to understand the painting in its totality, we have to step back and try to look at the entire painting, it’s form and structure, to understand what the artist is truly saying.

We can get just as lost in details when we look at life around us and not see the big picture.

If we were to look at the recurring problems reported each day in the news, two of them would probably stand out: Sexual Dysfunction and Violence. The Sexual Abuse Crisis in all its forms: pedophilia, MeToo movement, etc., has dominated the headlines now for a number of years. Added to that is the gun violence that seems at times to have risen to epidemic proportions.

It is wrong I think to see these two problems in isolation from the general tenor of our society. The place to look for that is the art that is produced specifically for the medium of film and television.

I once asked an 8th grade class in Brooklyn to do a homework assignment: they were to watch 2 hours of TV. Needless to say they loved their assignment! But I asked them to first prepare a sheet of paper with three columns. At the top of one column they are to place the word “Sex”, on the second “Violence” and on the third: “God”. While they watched whatever channel they wanted, I asked them to put a mark in the appropriate column when a sexual word or situation is depicted, or when a violent act is committed or violent word is uttered, and finally every time God is mentioned (but not uttered in vain). The results were shocking, but not surprising.

In the “Sex” and “Violence” columns, there were many, many marks; but in the one marked “God”, there were usually only one or two. I asked one of the students who had a mark under “God” what he was watching at the time and he responded: “The Simpsons”! One could only imagine the context on that one!

The point that I tried to make with their parents when I reported my findings as well as what I want to bring out in this essay is that media of all sorts gives us a steady and heady diet of violence and sex. Given the pervasive nature of this input, are we really surprised at the mass shootings and the sexual dysfunction in our society?

I don’t see anyone in the media complex being willing to institute and adhere to a system of voluntary self-censorship when it comes to the showing of these acts. Writers would have to show real talent in finding the drama in life without the ubiquitous gun and the doffing of clothing. This is a very cheap and easy way of getting attention rather than embedding the drama into the very action and emotions and development of the characters. Show a gun or a naked body and you have instant attention.

But, when you do it often enough, you help create a pervasive environment of sex and violence that has great effect on people, especially the young. While all the evil done by guns and sex in our society is a direct result of free decisions made by people, everyone is affected by the overall consensus borne out and even created by art, especially such a powerful medium as film and TV. A steady diet of sex and violence on the screens of our homes (TV and Computer and phone) will show itself inevitably in the random acts of gun violence and sexual abuse that we see all around us. Even if you take away all the guns in the nation, people will still resort to knives and stones to hurt people (though with less devastating efficiency).

In the end, what is most necessary to stem the violence and the sexual dysfunction of our world is a conversion of heart to God. In the past, this seemed axiomatic; but in the irreligion and irreverence of our times, it is pretty near radical in its newness and in its implications. For it is only in relationship to God and in the proper ordering of our spiritual priorities that one can gain the needed balance to be able, with a well formed conscience, to make good moral choices that will positively affect this world. Even in the contemporary issue of climate change, it is the respect for God’s creation which will, in the end, enable us to mortify our passions and appetites to discern and limit the excesses of consumption to which we are all inclined.

While the modern secularists think they are doing good by stripping religion from the earth (or at least making it ineffectual), they are actually endangering the world by exposing it to the unredeemed and unchecked choices that will continue to plague the world and endanger its future.

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Glimpses of the Divine by Monsignor Ferrarese

Recently, I attended a performance of the Ballet “Jewels” at the New York City Ballet (one of the foremost Ballet Companies of the world). During a very quiet and gentle moment of the dance, the Prima Ballerina moved across the stage in a beautiful sweeping movement that literally took my breath away. Suddenly, I was swept into a mysterious place; in a split second, something lifted my heart into an intuition, direct and incontrovertible, of God Himself. I began to pray.

What happened?

Traditionally there are three ways to enter into an experience of God while we are still in this life: through the Good, the True and the Beautiful. The great 20th century Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote a series of works on these three ‘transcendentals’: The Glory of the Lord on the Beautiful (7 volumes), Theo-drama on the Good (5 volumes), and Theo-logic on the True (3 volumes). While other theologians have written on the Good and the True, he is without peer in Western Theology as a writer on the pathway of Beauty in the Spiritual-Theological life of a Christian.

Getting back to the Ballet: what I experienced is this pathway of beauty that leads to God. It is so hard to describe how this happens! It is not a logical progression of thought, but rather, it fits more easily in the realm of intuition, when we are able to grasp in an instant what it takes many words to even approximate. In prayer, these moments come naturally since we place our minds and hearts at the disposal of God. Even in the absence of these moments of God’s touch, there is great good. For we at least know what we are missing and continue to search and long for Him. Much of the work of St. John of the Cross concerns what he terms this “dark night of the soul” when, in feeling nothing of these moments of divine intuition, God’s presence is even more at work (even though there are no feelings involved). It is like a desert.

But here we are concerned with the divine touches which startle us and bring us back to God with a surety and purpose that cannot be duplicated either by human beings or by demons.

In another instance, it happened to me in a combination of artistic and religious insights. When I saw the movie “Into Great Silence” by Philip Gröning, I was transported into another state of consciousness that was more explicitly religious. Now, this is a very difficult movie to watch. When I showed it here in our Parish one Holy Week, most of the audience left during it’s almost 3-hour length! It demands undivided attention.

I first saw it in the auditorium of the Museum of Modern Art with the director present. This was not a religious audience, but highly artistic and seemingly of the most ‘godless’ hue. Lots of leather clothing and piercings were displayed all around me! I thought “this is going to be a disaster! How can a movie about hermits touch this trendy and unreligious crowd?”

I have seen this film about three times with an audience, once with the above trendy group and twice with church groups. But the audience that was the most wrapt in silence and awe at what it was seeing was the ‘godless’ ones! Could it be a repetition was what Jesus pointed out: that the religious Pharisees could not see what the prostitutes and tax collectors could see?

That MoMA audience was respectful, even reverential, toward the revelation of the beauty of silence and got something that religiously-inclined audiences merely bypassed.

What I am trying to hint at is that this ‘intuition of grace’ that beauty gives is available to everyone of good will, religious or not. This is the very essence of the transcendentals (the Good, the True and the Beautiful): they lead the truly open and docile person to God.

Thus, the experience of the beautiful, whether it be found in the Arts or in Nature, does bring us to the Divine Presence Who is always involved in our lives, though most of the time in hidden and mysterious ways.

This is what I experienced that night at the Ballet: the beauty of God who informs and transforms all earthly reality. The discipline of ascesis and the practice of moral conduct are a training in the prayerful openness that enables us to perceive and to respond to these intimations of the Divine.

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Sticks and Stones by Monsignor Ferrarese

When I think back on my childhood growing up in Brooklyn in the 1950’s, I tend to see it with a lot of nostalgia. When I visit our Academy children, they can’t believe there was ever a time without computers and cable television! It is so hard to get them to see how happy things seemed back then when life was much simpler. We had less distractions, but more interpersonal interplay. Things seemed more secure (except with the Communist menace!)

There were some constants in growing up then. We often expressed them through a childhood jargon. Whenever we did a crazy thing and were confronted with it, we simply said: “It’s a free country!” As though that excused everything!

We had another expression that was said whenever someone attacked us verbally: “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never harm me!” This expression made it seem that we were invulnerable to what they were saying to us. But, it simply was not true.

Words can hurt very deeply. A well-chosen verbal attack can be like a knife. On the converse, words can also heal and give life. This is because a word can be a pathway into the inner recesses of the human being. It moves easily between the mind of the speaker into the inner recesses of the mind of the listener. Someone can give a physical blow that is felt on our bodies, but it cannot enter the soul. But the word can enter the inner precincts of the temple of our body and soul and hence can experience long term benefits or destructive results.

Hence the continuum between thought, word and action that is spoken about so much by spiritual writers. Georges Bernanos, the spiritual French novelist, has the saintly parish priest of his greatest novel “Diary of a Country Priest” say “Who knows how much evil is unleashed by an evil thought”. Words also have a similar power. They are not to be trifled with but must be chosen carefully and consciously. This is why there is so much emphasis in Spiritual literature on silence.

Silence, if it is deep and extends to the boundaries of the soul, is the prerequisite to hearing the Word of God, that is, the deeply personal communication of The Word of God who is Jesus. St. John of the Cross makes very clear in his writings that God really has spoken only one Word out of the eternal silence of the Godhead: That Word is Jesus. No other word before Him, even the words of Scripture, so totally expresses the Will of the Father than the Word of God, Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ.

It is this Word that sanctifies the daily communication of all believers and makes of our thoughts and words vehicles of Divine Presence. But, in a contrary way, when our words bear the marks of the beast, that is the devil, they can sow seeds of destruction in the world and unfortunately also in the Church.

Our words proceed from the silence of our hearts. Words, and then actions, are the overflow of what is in the heart. Hence, the Biblical emphasis on the power of thoughts. Jesus goes so far as to say that it is possible to commit adultery and even murder from the thoughts that dwell in the interior of man, or what Scripture simply calls ‘the heart’.

The saints, without exception, take up this interiorization of the moral life. They emphasize the need to be vigilant regarding what happens in the heart and mind of each of us. All the evils of the world, as well as all the blessings, proceed from the arena of the heart. The genocide of the Holocaust began as a thought in the mind of the young Hitler. Conversely, as did the idea of the Jesuit Order in the mind of St. Ignatius.

Thoughts are powerful and have long lasting consequences.

Our words also, once they escape from the womb of our interior life, can have lasting effects. How often have we regretted words spoken in anger, that once out, can never be brought back! Words have tremendous power and should be used with extreme care for they can be destructive.

On the other side, words can have a great power for good. God Himself used words in the Scriptures to point out the way for humanity to grow in grace.

One word can destroy and another can console.

It has been a steady theme in Spiritual literature to be ever vigilant of thoughts and their expression in words since, from that creative matrix, both woe and goodness can emerge. Sticks and stones do break bones, but the violence comes from the human heart in words can also be destructive. And life giving as well.

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Opinion and Conscience by Monsignor Ferrarese

In discussing any teaching of the Church, one sooner or later comes up against the seemingly impregnable statement: whatever you say, I must follow my conscience. This retreat into the fortress of conscience seems to neutralize any part of the Magisterium or teaching of the Church, be it in dogma or morals: “Yes, I know that is what the Church teaches, but I have to follow my conscience even when it disagrees with the Church.”

This is a common fallacy that does not address two common mistakes we can make in deciding on a course of action with regards to our belief system. These are: firstly, the possibility of a malformed conscience; and secondly, the distinction between my conscience and my opinions.

With regards to the first we can turn to that great American movie “The Godfather.” In it, the most heinous and murderous actions are excused with the statement: “It’s only business.” The Godfather in the movie was convinced that he was doing right by separating his family, religion and morals from the nefarious business of organized crime. He created distinct compartments and felt he was being a good man by doing so. Was he right in following his conscience? Was it his conscience or just his opinions that he was following? What is the difference?

One can say he was ignorant. But there are two kinds of ignorance in Catholic morality: vincible and invincible. Vincible means that he could have defeated his false opinion by ordinary means. He could have gone to Confession and asked a priest whether he was doing right. Invincible ignorance is when there is no possibility to correct an understanding: say if he was a member of an isolated native tribe who has never heard of Christ and Christian morality.

Our conscience must be open to learning regarding the issue at hand. It must be open to inquiry regarding the Scriptural witness and the teaching of tradition in the Church. Furthermore, it must be truly open. It does not do to read about the issue to find arguments for one’s own position. A properly formed conscience is genuinely eager to do the right thing according to the will of God. It’s learning and struggle are based on this radical openness.

Take the issue of artificial methods of birth control. For many, this is not an issue, but a settled piece of modern opinion. One should use any means available to control one’s reproduction. Natural or artificial, it is all the same, for it is to be judged by effectiveness. Very pragmatic! But the fact that the Church forbids artificial means causes the honest, open searcher for the truth some consternation.

If the individual has only read the New York Times on this subject and never bothered to read Humanae Vitae (the Church’s Encyclical letter on the subject), it shows the extent of his closedness on the issue and his selective study of it. A truly docile and open inquirer after the truth will try to thoroughly research the issue in an unbiased way to come to the truth of what the will of God is. Notice I did not say “to come to the truth of what I can agree with.” For it may sometimes happen that what I agree with and what my study leads me to are two different things. So what do I do? What is the ultimate criterion for my search? It must be “what is God’s will for me.”

Even if I cannot accept the results of my inquiry and cannot find the intellectual humility and courage to submit to the teaching authority of the Church, that dissent must be rare and sadly accepted. The trumpeting of one’s own position in opposition to the teaching of the Church is a fruit of Pride and, therefore, a perilous sign of the wrong direction of my journey.

In any kind of dissent from Church Teaching, one must be very careful. It is not a disagreement with an individual. It is a dissent from the whole chorus of Tradition. Many intelligent and holy people have pondered the Scriptures and, over 2000 years of reflection and debate, have reached a living consensus about the meaning of a teaching of the Church. That teaching has proven wise and useful for countless saints over the centuries. Suddenly, one decides that all this is wrong and that they have the truth, missed by the sages, scholars and saints throughout the ages! As they say in Brooklyn: “Give me a break!”

It is preferable to simply say: “There must be something here that I don’t see.” One should consider themselves in need of correction, or at least further elucidation rather than to say: Everyone must have gotten this wrong. This takes a lot of humility. This is why spiritual writers have called the virtue of Humility the very basis of the journey of faith.

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Presence by Monsignor Ferrarese

When I say that I am in the presence of someone, it seems clear what that means. If I am in the presence of my friend, it is apparent that we are in the same room, physically. But we can infer certain weaker kinds of presence. When we get a letter from a friend and read it, they are present to us. When we receive a phone call and hear their voice, they are present to us. When after their death, we imagine them to be with us, they are also in a sense present to us.

We talk about the Real Presence (notice the capitals!) of the Holy Eucharist. I remember a professor in the seminary challenging us by saying: does that mean that when I pray in the silence of my room, Jesus is not really present? The varied stages and levels of human presence are magnified when we consider the Divine Presence. We must consider this category of Presence since Jesus was both wholly God and wholly man.

God is first of all present in His Immensity. By that I mean: nothing would exist without God being present. So God is all around us and in us and in every atom of our body and soul. But He is also distinct from creation. To identify creation and God is the heresy of pantheism.

Jesus is present in this sense too, since He is the second person of the Blessed Trinity. So Jesus is present to us when, in the middle of the night, we turn to Him in prayer.

He is also present in all the Sacraments, since He is the true minister and giver of all the Sacraments. In Confession, Jesus forgives. In the Anointing of the Sick, Jesus heals. In Marriage, Jesus unites husband and wife.

But in the Holy Eucharist, something truly amazing happens. The Almighty uses the medium of food to make His presence physically real. While through the immensity of His Divinity Jesus is present everywhere, in the Eucharist He is present both in His divinity and in His humanity. The Eucharistic Presence of Christ is the closest one can come to the historical Jesus.

Even in this there are gradations, or better, intensifications of His Presence. The Church posits a difference between praying and adoring Him while the Eucharist is in the Tabernacle, and adoring Him when, in Exposition, the Eucharist is placed in a Monstrance (the word literally means ‘showing’). What is the difference? There is simply a further intensification of His Presence.

But that is not the end of this wondrous Sacrament and of the Sacrament’s intensification! As we process to the Altar at Mass to receive Communion, we make an act of Faith by saying ‘Amen’. Then Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Mary, enters not just our souls but also our bodies. Even more intimately than the marriage bond, the Eucharistic bond unites us to Jesus completely Body and Soul, Humanity and Divinity. We are consumed by Him whom we consume!

This gradual intensification of Presence is a process that can only be approached by pure faith.

Now, this doctrine has had significant trouble throughout its history. Even while Jesus walked the earth before the glorification of the Resurrection and the Ascension, people could not accept the Real Presence of Jesus Himself in the Eucharist. Many of His own followers left Him as related in the sixth chapter of The Gospel of John. So many abandoned Him that He was left only with his closest friends: the 12 Apostles. Sadly, He looked at this meager remnant and asked: Will you leave me also? To which sturdy Peter responded: To Whom shall we go? You have the words of Eternal Life.

But it did not stop there. More recently in Christian history, many Protestant churches rejected this doctrine. They considered the Eucharist as merely a sign or a symbol. The great Catholic story teller Flannery O’Connor, when confronted by a group of lapsed Catholics who called the Eucharist merely a ‘sign’ of Christ’s presence, humorously voiced her chagrin with the remark: “Well, if it’s only a sign, to hell with it!” She was firmly grounded in Catholic teaching and would have nothing to do with watering down what Jesus clearly meant.

Without doubt, it is a doctrine of the faith that is very difficult to believe. But that does not mean it is not true. All of our faith is replete with mysteries difficult to believe: Three persons in One God; Jesus fully human and fully divine; Mary, Virgin and Mother. Christianity is not a religion that could ever be invented by human beings. It defies logic. But for those open to these realities, it makes deep mystical sense which is hard to explain to someone closed to the faith.

The Presence of Christ in our world is on many levels at once, and way beyond our powers of perception and understanding. The Cosmic Christ is omnipresent and yet deeply here and now with me at Mass and in Communion. It seems too good to be true. But it is. And that is the Good News!

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In All Things by Monsignor Ferrarese

One of the key insights in the theological thought of St. Ignatius of Loyola is that we can find Christ in all things and through all things. Writing and preaching at a time when the dominant direction of Christian Spirituality was a rejection of worldly values, which is encapsulated in the Latin phrase Fuga Mundi (Flee the World), St. Ignatius taught his followers to try to discover the presence of Christ in all things. So the vast educational system of the Jesuits was born. Christ can be found in Science and in the Arts and in Politics. Being spiritually minded means, according to St. Ignatius, to find Christ in all things (except of course in evil and in sin).

This goes completely against the compartmentalization of faith that is rampant today. This is when we seek to find God only in the distinctly religious. In this misunderstanding of things, we think that we can pray only in Church and that our spiritual and religious life is exhausted just by going to Mass on Sunday.

The other 23 hours on Sunday and the other 6 days and nights of the week are ours to play in and God has little or nothing to do with that time (that is, of course, unless we need Him to do something for us!).

One can readily see the weakness of this understanding. Christ gives us as the first and all encompassing commandment: Love God with your whole heart [your whole self]. That means that we cannot love God partially or restrictively. It is all or nothing with God.

There are some interesting practical consequences to this theological understanding. While it is great to admire religious art and symbols, we can begin to see God in the many ordinary things of life: the smile of a child, the gnarled hands of an elder, rain falling down on a city street, the playfulness of a puppy, the resignation of a sick person, the courage of a firefighter, the beauty of a model, strains of a love song, the laughter of an audience, etc. The presence of God is not just in a distant heaven; it is also in the very marrow of our bones.

This is one of the reasons why there are so many cures of blind men in the Gospels. We are all blind to the presence and activity and communication of God all around us. This carnal trap of perception is the reason for many of the world’s problems. Because we do not see the incomparable value and beauty of God’s presence, we settle for lesser things and even begin to want things that are by their very nature destructive. The history of addictions clearly manifests this insane propensity to prefer enslavement to momentary pleasure, to the majesty of God and to the dignity of our beings. Blindness to the spiritual is a tragedy of incalculable proportions.

Another result of seeing God in all things is that we are immersed in the whole of creation and not just the parts that we have been trained by our own history to appreciate. Perhaps, for instance, God has shown us his presence in the beauty of a sunrise. But by being open to all of reality, we can also see Him in the meticulous precision of the scientist, and also in the taste and polish of the artist as he or she labors over a portrait being painted.

This advantageous use of our perception transforms our every minute of existence into a communication from God to us. Our lives are therefore really a dialogue with God who is continually revealing and communicating Himself to us, and we are either responding to or ignoring these self-communications. The preeminence of the Word of God as revelation is that it gives us the keys to recognizing this dialogue and the spiritual language to help us to respond to God. Study of the Scriptures, therefore, is necessary so that we can understand what God is saying and thus be able to continue the dialogue.

After a day in our ordinary pursuits (e.g. going to the store, cooking dinner, going to work, riding the Subway, etc.), we can enter a Church and appreciate its hallowed ground and the Real Presence of Christ in the Tabernacle because we have been in His presence all day! We do not go from absence to Presence in walking into a Church, but to an intensifying Presence that can overwhelm us with its reality precisely because we have been with Him all day.

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