Solitude and Loneliness by Monsignor Ferrarese

When I speak to people of my love for monks and hermits, they look at me with a rather blank expression on their faces. Most people have had no interaction with monks or hermits and do not see the value of them. Still, when I speak of St. Anthony of Egypt (Abbate—like the street festival) or St. Bruno, I am filled with admiration and awe. They went into hermitages to be totally available to God and to prayer.

In previous ages, there was a certain positive mystique about ‘going into a hermitage’. One of the places I was most interested in visiting when I was in St. Petersburg was the world-famous museum called the “Hermitage”. I found out during my visit that it was established by Catherine the Great to house her (then) small art collection. She called it her ‘hermitage’ because she saw herself using it while communing with God in solitude. It was supposed to be her private place of recollection.

The Christian respect for the solitary vocation is an important reality of our Church. Unfortunately, few realize this. The hermit’s vocation is considered the highest in the Church because it shows purely the primal relationship that God must have with the human person. For a hermit, God is the most important person in his or her life. He proves it by spending his life with Him.

It also shows the Church’s belief in the power of prayer. A hermit prays night and day for us. We firmly believe that this has practical and amazing effects for the Church. I remember an older priest telling me when I was newly ordained that I could do more for my parishioners on my knees in prayer than any other work of mercy.

So in speaking of the hermit, we have a Christian who wants to be in constant contact with God and who believes his prayers will have the most powerful effects for the world, including those whom he loves. So he enters into solitude. Will that person be lonely?

He will definitely be alone in regards to human company. But, never lonely. Why? At the heart of loneliness is not the experience of being alone: it is feeling worthless, like I don’t matter to anyone. This is truly a horrible way of being. But, it is my contention that our hermit will not be lonely because he is with God at all times. And he knows that he matters since his prayers have special power and influence. Loneliness and solitude are found in different ballparks!

There is a long pedigree to the importance of solitude (giving quality time to God alone) that goes back to the early prophets and culminates with Jesus Himself. After the deeply religious experience of His Baptism, hearing the Father’s delight in Him and being suffused with the Holy Spirit, what did Jesus do? What was His first priority? If you said that He would go out and preach, you would be dead wrong. He went out into the desert, alone. Feeling the love of His Father and the love of the Spirit, He had to spend time alone with this Love. It was such a powerful efficacious experience for Him that He had to have time alone to continue to bask in that love and affirmation. But it also alerted the devil, since this was very dangerous for the kingdom of evil. One of the reasons people fear silence and solitude is that they leave us defenseless. All the distractions and evasions are not there in the desert. Only you and God. The devil knows that, and will reveal things that frighten you and challenge your faith. He knows our weaknesses more than we know them. He attacks where we are the most vulnerable. When Christ entered the solitude of the desert, the devil must have known that here was a person without the normal weaknesses, so he tried to twist the truth. “If you are the Messiah…” The devil always sows seeds of doubt and discouragement. He is also a consummate liar. As dangerous as he seems, he really is very foolish. Did he really think that Christ would fall for the ‘loaves to bread’ temptation? What are all the kingdoms of the world to the One who has the Father’s Love?

Once Christ experienced the joy and the trials of the desert, He was ready to preach and the first words out of His mouth were “Repent, the Kingdom of God is here!”

You can be lonely in a crowd. But the realization that God is always with us can be transformative and give us the confidence and the courage to look at our lives differently. God is always with us but the problem is we don’t notice it, we don’t believe it and sadly we miss the greatest opportunity of our lives. No wonder Jesus was constantly healing blind men. We are all blind to God’s love and unbelieving in the face of this great and glorious God. We need hermits, and more importantly the example they set, to remind us that God is enough.

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Auras by Monsignor Ferrarese

During my brief vacation in Russia, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the homes of two of the greatest writers who ever lived, favorites of mine. These great men were Leo Tolstoy and Feodor Dostoyevsky. This was one of the reasons I wanted to see and experience Russia: to try to understand the genius of these particular writers.

I remember reading “War and Peace” when I was studying Spanish in Bolivia. I had plenty of time at night, after my studies and my conversations with my host family. All I had in the room was one light bulb. So I took out the huge book I lugged from Brooklyn and went into a completely different world than I had just experienced that day. I was in Czarist Russia in the wide expanse of history, Napoleon at the gates of Moscow, Prince Andrei and Natasha falling in love, Pierre the thinker musing on the meaning of life and love, surrounded by the forty or fifty well etched and gripping and believable characters that made up that world. I finished the book in two weeks! I could not wait to read his other books: “Anna Karenina” and “Resurrection”. I was permanently smitten by this great artist.

Compared with that, at first I hated Dostoyevsky. So deep, so conflicted, so much agony! It did not help that I was in high school when I was first exposed to his writings! Some books should not be read too early in life! When I reread “The Brothers Karamazov” in college, I humbly had to admit that I was wrong. I realized immediately after I finished that I had read the greatest book ever written. I am currently re-reading it for the fourth time, and thoroughly enjoying it just as if I was reading it the first time! In fact, a few years ago I finished a 10-year project reading every novel of Dostoyevsky while I read the 5 volume biography of him by the great literary critic Joseph Frank. I cannot say that I am an expert on him since I have not formally studied him, but I am sort of a ‘friend’ of his!

Because of my love and respect for these two writers, I made sure that, while I was in Russia, I went to their homes, both of which are kept intact to the minutest details.

Tolstoy had a number of homes. I went to his Moscow home: a sprawling house that sheltered Tolstoy, his wife and his 13 children! (This is not counting the 11 servants that took care of the estate.)

As I walked through the house and gardens, I could feel the aura of a man dedicated to the most minute of observations. If you read any of his works, you know that besides God Himself, no one had such an encyclopedic knowledge of human beings and the world at large. You would have to go back to Shakespeare and Dante to find noteworthy analogues. Something of his ‘aura’ could be seen in the tools he used to make shoes! Everything was interesting to him and he wanted to learn about so many things. He was a deep believer in Jesus, though an unorthodox one. He inspired Gandhi with his pacifism.

In St. Petersburg, I visited the apartment where Dostoyevsky lived with his wife and children. He died in that apartment. The clock was stopped at the moment of his death. A deeply religious man, he had beautiful pictures of Mary and Christ on the walls. But what captured an aura of his presence for me was the picture of his son Alyosha (the name of a great character in his novel “Brothers Karamazov”). Alyosha never lived in this apartment. The reason why the family moved there is that little Alyosha died at the age of 3, a blow so great that Dostoyevsky and his wife could not bear to be in the apartment any more, since everything reminded them of their beloved child; and so they moved. There, they had two more children. Walking through the home made me feel the honesty and the compassion of the man who could be both a person of faith and also so deeply sensitive.

There is something about people that transcend the facts of their lives: a deep greatness; the presence of grace that animates and guides them. This ‘aura’ teaches us never to reduce people to events and statistics. The person in the bed who is dying is an infinite being whose every moment has been filled with the Presence of God.

Walking through the living areas of these two great writers that used that mystery at the heart of things to teach us about humanity taught me a lot about myself and the people around me. We are all, in the words of the great poet Hopkins, “Immortal Diamond”.

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The Faith Triumphant by Monsignor Ferrarese

While vacationing in Russia last week, a place I had always wanted to see due to my love of Russian Writers like Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Chekhov, I had occasion to visit a very famous Russian Orthodox Monastery named St. Sergius. This monastery dates back to the 13th century. People come from all over the world to simply pray there. The Communists closed it, but, when Russia was declared liberated from Communism, it was reopened.

The amazing thing is that it is thriving. In fact, religion is slowly making a comeback in Russia! We used to pray for the conversion of Russia after every pre-Vatican II “Latin” Mass. It certainly paid off! Prayer works, if
you just give it time. In fact, after 70 years of active persecution, the faith of Christ is growing again in Russia!

At St. Sergius, for example, there are 300 monks! We have nothing remotely like that in the West. While there is certainly struggle with faith in Russia, there is a revival going on, especially in the contemplative and monastic life, which is the heart of the Church Universal.

There are many here who proclaim themselves atheists and perhaps this is still the majority. But the faith is never without effects where ever there are true believers to be found.

While we, in the West, do not have the sad history of outright persecution that they have experienced in Russia, we are still battling subtler forms of persecution in the Church. The most difficult negative ambiance that we face in America, and even more in Western Europe, is the apparent collapse of the infrastructure that supported our faith. When vocations were plentiful, religious orders staffed hospitals, schools, universities and missionary societies that had produced huge results. In the 50’s and 60’s, many of us remember how overreaching was the entire infrastructure of the Church. We were opening new parishes, schools, hospitals and other testaments to our faith. It was a growing Church when the seminaries were filled and the novitiates were bursting with numbers and activities.

Today, we are in the midst of many closures: parishes, schools, seminaries, etc. While there has been some growth in lay movements like Opus Dei and the Neo-Catechumenate, they have not yet produced the widespread results that can offset the aforementioned decline.

It is with great difficult that one confesses the Christian Faith in this environment. One is open to ridicule and even to the basest forms of unjust censure (e.g. The assertion that faith is against human flourishing even
though our whole culture has been formed by the key insight that we are made in the image and likeness of God—a key religious concept).

Our entire way of life has become thoroughly materialistic. Karl Marx may have theorized about this, but we have truly started living within that theoretical construct in the West. While the Communist theory collapsed by its misunderstanding of the human person and his freedom, the West has, through the media and in many other ways, put materialism at the very foundation of our philosophical edifice. Go into any nominally Catholic home and notice what is on the walls of the home, especially in the rooms of the impressionable young: superheroes, sport stars, singing idols (a very appropriate term!), and try to find the Crucifix, the Madonna, or a scene from the Gospels.

We have returned to the ways of the ancient pagans who at least believed in ‘the gods’. All that is needed now is for the persecution to begin. It may have already begun.

But I am far from despondent. Our faith has faced worse times than these. It has with in its very being the presence of the God who created all things. One seed of this Life can regenerate an entire forest that has become a desert of unbelief.

Meanwhile, we must be patient and do whatever we can to live a fruitful and loving life, knowing full well that the Lord is coming in all His power. All seemed lost that Good Friday night, but it only heralded the dawn of the new age of Grace.

This is what is happening now. We live in a long Holy Saturday awaiting the resurrection of our Faith; and when He rises, the Faith will indeed be triumphant again!

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God’s GPS by Monsignor Ferrarese

What did we do before we had the benefits of the GPS?

I remember pulling over on dark roads in New Jersey, and by the tiny light in the interior of my car, poring over a map that was so large that I needed the whole front seat to spread it out! And even then, I had to look for an open gas station and walk into a disheveled and grimy store to ask directions. Even then, who could follow the explanations: “When you see the third light make a left. If you see the Hess station, you have gone too far and you have to make a U-Turn!” It is a wonder I ever got to my destinations. (This was true not only in Jersey!)

Finding out how to get to a desired location is not only a physical, travel concern; there is a need to find a way through the massive territory of the human soul in trying to find our way home to God. We are lost. This is a fundamental and foundational insight of the spiritual life. All the advisory words of the prophets and saints are attempts to get us home to be with God. But this ‘soul country’ is vast and dangerous. Even with the benefits of Revelation, it is easy to stay lost or to be going in circles.

Things are not made any clearer by the fact that there is a deceiver afoot who is eager and motivated to give us the wrong directions. He wants us to stay lost or, even better, not to get home, but to enter another kingdom, his, where we encounter only suffering and slavery. The stakes are high.

The great saint Ignatius of Loyola gave some practical help in discerning who is speaking to each of us in the depths of our heart. Is it friend or foe?

The first rule is to be sensitive to what is going on inside you. What are you feeling within? When God speaks, we feel peace and go about our business with joy in our hearts. Even when we have to do something difficult, one encounters a serenity. Not so with the evil one. He brings agitation, turmoil, concern for appearances, and a feeling of excitement that leads invariably to more turmoil. God works gently and slowly. The devil is quick, loud and disturbing. For Ignatius, the devil’s way is like a drop of water hitting a stone. It is a splash and you can hear it. But when God speaks to us, it is like a drop of water falling on a sponge: quiet and imperceptible.

The action of God leaves us filled with joy even days after it happens. The devil can fake a little happiness, but not for long. Soon the disturbing turmoil returns.

While we were on our Parish Pilgrimage this year, we went to Loyola. It was in that ancestral castle that Ignatius discovered an important truth in the discernment of spirits.

He had just been seriously injured in war for he was a soldier by profession. As he recuperated from his wounds, he asked for some books to read. There were a couple of books about knights and their exploits, but also a book on the life of Christ and one on the lives of the great saints. He noticed that when he read the books about the knights, he was excited and moved, but he was also moved and excited by the life of Christ and the saints. However, there was one important difference: when he put
down the books about the knights and their fighting, he was depressed and bored again. But when he put down the books of the life of Christ and of the saints, his excitement continued and even grew! He was able to experience for the first time the discernment of spirits (feelings) that would become one of the foundation stones of his Spiritual Exercises. He had discovered God’s GPS!

God does communicate with us and prompts us as to what is best or worse for us. Unfortunately, so does the evil one. So we have to learn to train our spiritual senses so that we can perceive what God is moving us toward. Dante wrote in the Divine Comedy: “In His will is our peace”. It really pays for us to learn how to listen to God. It is counterproductive to remain deaf to His appeals.

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Trust by Monsignor Ferrarese

The story of Abraham is key for the entire religious cosmology of the West. In the three monotheistic religions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, Abraham emerges as a very important, almost archetypal figure. As portrayed in the Book of Genesis, he marks a new beginning in the relationship of God to humankind.

There are many references to him in the New Testament as well: in the Gospels and the Letters of St. Paul, as well as the Letter to the Hebrews. While we are not physical, biological descendants of Abraham, we consider ourselves spiritual heirs of Abraham as “our father in faith”, a line used in the First Eucharistic Prayer (Roman Canon).

At first, his name is given as Abram (God often changes a favored one’s name to show his sovereignty). He is a very old man who has no descendants. He and his elderly wife Sarai (soon to be Sarah) are simply told by God to pack all their belongings and move to the area (no specifics!) that God wants him to live. So Abram puts his trust in God and pulls up all his roots in the land he grew up in and where he spoke the language and moves into the unknown.

Then God promises him a land (which Abram never actually inhabits) and a people that will descend from him “as numerous as the stars or the sand on the shore of the sea”. Abram is in his 80’s and childless! So, once again, he puts his trust in God, though he sees nothing that would be evidence of things changing in the future.

Finally, he has a son by his elderly wife Sarai! He must have raised little Isaac with such love and devotion, even perhaps spoiling him a little! How proud he must have been about him!

Then came the bad news: The God who gave Isaac to Abraham and Sarah (their new names) wants Abraham to sacrifice him on the altar and to burn his little body as an offering to Him. One has to remember that, at that time, human sacrifice, especially of one’s own children, was common in many of the ancient religions of the Middle East. So Abraham would not have been shocked by the request. But that does not mean that he liked it!

But, again, he put his trust in God, even in this most terrible time, and took the fire and the knife along with a bundle of wood placed on the back of his son, and went up to the holy mountain to obey God.

In halting this horrendous act, God instilled in Judaism an aversion to human sacrifice, which eventually spread to all of civilized humanity.

The point that I want to make and even underline is that the greatness of Abraham was his faith in God that was tested so much. It seemed that everything was against this faith and, for most people, a reaction to this problem would be laughter as it happened with Sarah who laughed when the Angelic visitors at Mamre foretold that Sarah at her old age would soon be a mother.

It is not easy to believe. It is not easy to have trust in God.

Abraham lived at a time of general belief in the Divine, expressed in diverse ways. He lived in a religious cosmos where everyone assumed that the divine realities were behind everything.

We have the opposite situation. We live in a godless environment where science and materialism have created a vacuum of disbelief. To believe today is not the default setting of our culture. Quite the opposite: the new “normal” is that we live in a godless universe where we are just accidents of nature and are all condemned to death, a death which means total annihilation. There is no judgment or accountability. Whether you are a Hitler or a Mother Theresa, you will end up just ashes and a memory.

How liberating is the Gospel in this environment! And how difficult to believe! But, if we have faith and trust in God, all is transformed. Every one of our actions are important and noted by God. All our thoughts, words, and actions are fraught with meaning: they sum up a life and point to an eternity of either joy or sorrow of our own making. Everything about us has eternal consequences. We are so important that God takes a personal interest in us and, like a loving Father, wants the best for us.

I want to stand with Abraham. My life matters and is not just a drop in a mindless ocean. This is what I choose to believe. This is the Truth of my life.

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Let Go Let God by Monsignor Ferrarese

Most of reality is in the middle of things. By that, I mean you are called to keep both sides of the question in mind and balance two seemingly opposing statements that are both true and need to be kept in a kind of creative tension. A lot of our Catholic dogma is like that: Three persons in One God (Trinity), the Incarnation in Jesus (both human and divine), Mary is both Virgin and Mother. Heresies have come about when a group of people decide to take one or the other poles as the only truth. Hence, Jesus is just a man (Arianism) or a God playing at being a human being (Docetism). Both realities are true and, even though they seem to contradict one another, they still need to be affirmed in what Nicholas of Cusa calls, “going beyond the coincidence of paradox”.

This is true even of the most basic questions of human reasoning and belief. One of the issues that any believer has to confront is when is it my responsibility to do something in the spiritual or moral life and when do I leave it up to God. In other words: do I have a responsibility to act, or will it be putting all in the hands of God that will be the best path.

Like in many things, the Church has had to face this question because of single minded heretics that did not subscribe to the central proposal of this essay: it is not either/or, but both/and that the true road is found.

The heresy that developed on the side of “taking everything on myself and that I am able by my own powers to run my life and build my future” was the heresy called Pelagianism after the priest named Pelagius who was its chief proponent. He basically said that we can do everything ourselves and that we do not need the grace (intervention) of God to accomplish good in our lives and to construct our own salvation. This was vigorously refuted by St. Augustine who said that we need the grace of God for salvation.

The opposite heresy emerged later in the history of the Church and has been called “Quietism”. Proponents of this extreme said that human effort was futile and all one had to do is wait for God to accomplish in us what is necessary for salvation. This is where they got the name “Quietists”, since they tended to sit and quietly wait for God to do what is needed in their lives. The Church, through the Jesuit theologians, exposed this error as a form of presumption, assuming that God will do what we want Him to do, thereby making God a kind of servant to our wishes. While this heresy seems to make God almighty, it is really a self-centered attitude which makes the ‘quiet’ Christian the selector of God’s work to be accomplished in them.

The Jesuits nicely balanced these two extremes by saying that we should pray as though everything depended on God and work as though everything depended on us. Then and only then is the balance maintained and that both sides of the truth can be honored, and not prematurely resolved by our willfulness.

Therefore, when we say that we have to “Let go and let God”, it does not mean that I can lay back and wait for God; but that I have to have an interior attitude of desiring to work with God and to accomplish in tandem the will of the almighty, which is in the end the best for me.

It is not always a comfortable place to be. It is easier to go to one extreme or the other. And it seems that, in not resolving the issue, we are not being forthright and honest about our responsibilities. But, in the end, we have to do what we think is right, relying on God to lead our efforts to their fulfillment in the plan of God. Only God sees the full picture; He alone knows the hearts and minds and futures of everyone in our lives. Only He sees the drifts of history and can accurately do what is best, not only for me, but for the rest of humankind. This stance requires a high degree of humility and a deep faith that God is leading our efforts in a pageant of salvation of which we will get a full picture only when we are with Him eternally and can see things with God’s eye and will things with God completely.

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Archbishop John Carroll’s Prayer for Government

Archbishop John Carroll’s Prayer for Government

We pray you, O God of might, wisdom, and justice, through whom authority is rightly administered, laws are enacted, and judgment decreed, assist with your Holy Spirit of counsel and fortitude the President of these United States, that his administration may be conducted in righteousness, and be eminently useful to your people, over whom he presides; by encouraging due respect for virtue and religion; by a faithful execution of the laws in justice and mercy; and by restraining vice and immorality.

Let the light of your divine wisdom direct the deliberations of Congress, and shine forth in all the proceedings and laws framed for our rule and government, so that they may tend to the preservation of peace, the promotion of national happiness, the increase of industry, sobriety, and useful knowledge; and may perpetuate to us the blessing of equal liberty.

We pray for the governor of this state, for the members of the assembly, for all judges, magistrates, and other officers who are appointed to guard our political welfare, that they may be enabled, by your powerful protection, to discharge the duties of their respective stations with honesty and ability.

We recommend likewise, to your unbounded mercy, all our fellow citizens throughout the United States, that we may be blessed in the knowledge and sanctified in the observance of your most holy law; that we may be preserved in union, and in that peace which the world cannot give; and after enjoying the blessings of this life, be admitted to those which are eternal.

Grant this, we beseech you, O Lord of mercy, through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

Amen.

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Word Power by Monsignor Ferrarese

Have you ever been strengthened and uplifted by someone’s words of encouragement? When things look particularly bleak, a word of hope and appreciation can mean so much and turn the tide on a drift toward despair.

Similarly, a word of discouragement and lack of respect can have disastrous consequences in the daily struggles of life.

Words are very powerful; they can build or destroy. Hence our responsibility in using them judiciously, recognizing their power and the creative or destructive capabilities of each syllable.

We live, however, in a sea or words. Just look at TV. When you got the news only at 7 PM from Walter Cronkite, the networks had time and motivation to select words that accurately and fairly conveyed what was happening. But when the news media expanded to 24-hour news feeds like CNN and Fox, much time had to be filled up. So then the talk, talk, talk began in which the focus seemed to be filling the time and not seeking the truth. Eventually, this carelessness with the words spoken took over and developed into organized propaganda of the left and the right. Truth became elusive, especially when talk of God was tacitly rejected.

What gives power to the word is paradoxically silence, for it is in the quiet of expectation and in the desert of imageless and formless openness that the word, once spoken, has its power. Cardinal Robert Sarah, the great African voice of spiritual insight, wrote on entire book on this subject called “The Power of Silence” in which he warned that the dictatorship of noise takes away meaning from our lives and purpose from our future. But we live in a kingdom of many words, especially with the ubiquitous smartphone and pads and computers. We are constantly barraged by words spoken, written and inferred. Words such as these have little power and ultimately no meaning. We become overwhelmed and quickly forget whatever is said. But when we live in silence, then a word spoken has immense significance.

A couple of illustrations might be helpful.

Most of the parish knows about the sabbatical I took a number of years ago. Part of it was to do the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. I went to a retreat house built over the ‘Cova’ or cave where he wrote a great deal of it when he stayed in the Catalonian city of Manresa. An intrinsic part of that 30-day experience of prayer is to live in near complete solitude and to be silent (except for my brief daily meetings with my spiritual director) for those 30 days. After a couple of days, I settled into a deep silence that felt very comfortable and frightening at the same time. Therefore, when my spiritual director spoke to me, the words had an enormous power since they came out of the silence and went back into it. No conversation, no radio or TV, no smart phone, no computer. I ate 90 meals by myself in a separate little dining room. But the silence and the solitude prepared me and formed me so that the word of God could manifest Himself to me in all His splendor and power.

Another example comes not from the kingdom of words but of music. I love Classical Music and Opera! Whenever I listen to a lot of music, such as when I play it in the background as a kind of ‘wallpaper’, the most beautiful music becomes ‘ho hum’. But the times that I have limited the music I listened to and set aside a distinct time when I could devote myself completely to the experience of deeply listening to the music, it has been a transformative experience; its beauty and longing and power brought joy and peace to my heart and soul! But it was the time that I was in silence that prepared me for the perception of the depth of that music.

We cannot appreciate Easter without Lent, Christmas without Advent; and to allow the Word of God to enter our lives in all its power, we must let the silence prepare us for the power of the Word. Attention that comes from expectation and need is the prerequisite to perceive the Word’s power.

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Moving On by Monsignor Ferrarese


June is a strange month. It is a time of summation and also a time of moving on. When one thinks of June, one often remembers graduation from school. Scholastic programs are ending and many young men and women are saying goodbye to friends that they have been with for years. There are classmates from my grammar school who I never saw again after the graduation ceremony! This is a strange feeling since so much has been shared. There are so many collected memories that cannot even be adequately remembered years later at reunions.

Sometimes, the feeling of permanency is really an illusion. We think things will stay the way they are forever; but that is never true. Everything moves, or must be considered dead. We have to get used to this idea and the needed action on our part to keep pace with this: the art of letting go.

Letting go is a very difficult and trying concept to accept. We want to be at rest, for moving on is contrary to our deepest wishes. But we must learn how to do this because of the benefits it brings; since this is part of life, the sooner we see this, the better our lives will become.

I remember reading a key book a number of years ago by a woman named Judith Viorst. It was called “Necessary Losses”. In that book, the author talks about how learning to let go is a necessary and important part of growth from womb to tomb. At birth, we have to let go of the warmth and the security of the womb to be ushered into a cold world where, upside down, you are given a good slap on the rear end to teach you to breathe air! This process of letting go continues throughout life, right up to the moment of our death, when we have to let go of everything and everybody in this life and go onto our promised inheritance.

This letting go is an essential part of the spiritual life. The great saints speak about “detachment” in this same process. It is important, they say, not to be attached or hold onto anything since God calls us beyond our comfort zones of reality and custom. St. John of the Cross counsels us to hold onto ‘nada’: nothing.

This process of letting go is true to the reality of our lives. Every day, we have to let go of things both small and great, both pleasant and unpleasant. Those who get stuck in the past, as for instance those who are stuck in past resentments, not only make little progress in this life, but actually rot in place; so destructive are resentments.

One of my favorite examples of this is from the writings of a Medieval spiritual writer named Guigo who was a Carthusian solitary. He said that creation was a song that God is singing right now, and sin is the attempt to hold onto one of the notes and refusing to move on with the song. If you have ever heard the beauty of an organ playing, you know how annoying it is when a pipe gets stuck and cannot be stopped making its one sound. You can just scream as that one note continues to blare and the music stops!

So it is with the natural beauty of God’s song and our willingness to trust its melody and let it happen within us and around us. This is what happens when we approach reality with the reverence and the detachment necessary so as not to cling to memories or personal agendas or expectations, but to move on and be content with what God is saying right now and right here.

And so we say good bye to classmates and put away our pictures of past vacations and accept, gracefully, future plans that health or sickness proposes, always remaining flexible and open to the Divine Action that often cannot be understood except in hindsight.

It is an act of Faith to let go and let God be God. Abandonment to Divine Providence is the key to growth and to lasting joy.

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The School of Poverty by Monsignor Ferrarese


When we say that religious Brothers and Sisters take the vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience, we do not try to sanctify living in disgraceful conditions that many are forced to live in when they are poor. The vow of Poverty for a religious is more like living in a simple way, not relying on material things, but placing our hopes solely in God and His Providence.

Poverty as a vow needs to be clearly distinguished from the condition of abject misery of many that material poverty imprisons.

But it is still very real. A priest-theologian I knew said that poverty of its very nature is not something we embrace, it embraces you! And so a religious must try to learn to continually let go and rely totally on God.

Now, when someone takes the vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience, does that have any value for those of us who do not? Is it just for their own personal spiritual growth?

Any virtue has natural effects for the community of the Church. So, if a person is a better person because of the vows that they have taken, is that not benefit enough for the rest of us?

Clearly it is a good, but it does not mean that there is not another, perhaps more important, result. That additional good can be called “instructional”, for the person in consecrated life (a Nun, Monk or religious Sister or Brother) is a public witness to qualities of life that we should all strive for in quieter and more appropriate ways (for us).

The Obedience of a Monk or Nun to their superior teaches us about the value of Obedience in our own lives in the world. The root meaning of the word “obedience” is “to listen”. Do not spouses need to be obedient to one another? Arguably many of the difficulties of marriage is that the spouses are not listening to each other!

Also, the public witness to Chastity may help the couple to be faithful and chaste with one another in the more private sphere of marriage.

The spiritual value of Poverty is that it helps us to see how dependent we are on God and how much we need Him. This “Poverty of Spirit” can have tremendous advantages for us. It helps us to “Let Go and Let God” in modern parlance.

This is a struggle at any stage of life, but especially in a person’s advanced age. This period of life can rightly be called the “School of Poverty” since there are many instances when one has to let go of the most basic functions of life.

We are aging from the moment of our conception. All of human life is a journey to death or the transformation of the self into one’s eternal destiny, wrought by one’s own choices and God’s grace. But what we generally call “old age” is a particularly sped-up version of what happens in life generally.

We have to let go of much of our work, the activities that have consumed so much of our lives. This can be a great loss when one loves what they do. But that is only the beginning of the losses of aging. Our bodies start to break down. We cannot think as quickly as we did. Our eyesight and our hearing start to diminish. We need some help getting around. Our sons and daughters take away our car keys! We are assailed by a host of diminishments, the worst of which for some is the loss of the faculty of the mind. We either learn to let go, or we get into rages and resentments that hinder our spiritual growth.

In a secular “this-worldly” way of looking at life, where death is merely extinguishment, old age is seen as merely a time when things are over for us and the best we can do is to get used to it. But for the person of Faith,
old age is a time of tremendous spiritual opportunity, when one battles the demons of meaning and, in the midst of physical and psychological pain, we give over our lives to God hanging on our cross on the mount of our personal Calvary. It is not the ending of life, but its summation!

Seen in this way, an elderly person is truly a hero who combats the worst demons of life to be faithful to God, their loved ones, and their true selves.

Old age is truly a time of instruction, a school, that teaches us to let go and let God!

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