Simpler Times by Monsignor Ferrarese

I suppose there is a danger in nostalgia. It can be a distortion of reality because of the will of the dreamer to see what he or she wants to see. But there is always a truth inherent in the rosy picture that we summon up with our imagination. We love to remember the past, especially the days that filled us with promise and innocence, now lost.

During the darkness of this accumulating menace of the pandemic that has gripped the world, allow me to remember a simpler time and one that may not be that factual, but that, in its aura, contains great truths.

I grew up on an ordinary city street in the 50s and early 60s of the last century. There were kids everywhere and cars were scarce. The street was our playground. As we played ‘punch ball’ and ‘kick the can’, the women clustered in small groups speaking loudly about this and that. The elderly men sat on lawn chairs smoking cigars and in jackets and rumpled ties, looking serenely forward, thinking, considering, lost in a faraway reverie. In spite of their working class, blue collar struggles, they looked like the nobility of old, seemingly knowledgeable of things no one else knew or dared to believe.

I remember vividly a hot summer night. I walked to Barney’s Candy Store on the corner of our block. It was after 8, but before closing time at 9. I was all sweaty as I hoisted myself onto the revolving bar-like chair. I must have been about 7 years old. I put my nickel down and asked for a soda. Barney smiled and filled a glass at one of the pumps with ice cold lime soda. I could feel the cold soda in the glass as I lifted it to drink. It was so good! It went down and cooled everything. After I said thanks, I jumped down from the seat and walked back into the night to scamper up the block back to the building where we lived. Everyone was outside cooling off. There was no AC and even fans were few. My Mom asked me where I was. I told her. The other ladies sitting around her cooling off began to comment on my story. She smiled and said in Italian: “My son, the big spender!”

It was just a moment of time when a 7-year-old boy was not afraid to go to a store and to buy something with his allowance. It was a time of safety, of community, of shared values, and deep faith.

I have been thinking a lot of those simpler times, perhaps because they have become important in this time of seclusion and pandemic fear. I was part of a family and a neighborhood and a city. Though I did not know what the word ‘security’ meant, I felt it.

With all the technology that we have today, so bold and wonderful, nothing can bring back those times. Perhaps I have too rosy a picture of them, but these memories are so important and so necessary to cherish.

On this Easter Day, we look back to those simpler times and thank God for the experience of love and community that we all grew up with. But Easter reminds us also of our future in Christ. The Resurrection of Jesus was a trumpet blast, a signal that death has been defeated. Jesus has shown us our future which is glorious. Easter is our future, our story-to-be.

We are in the darkest days of this Pandemic. Though we are thankful for our past, so beautiful and so warm, we must look to our future in Christ. Death is not the end. God has made us for eternity. Some of us may not be here much longer. Death may knock on our doors. But behind the skeletal figure that frightens us is the warm and loving and smiling face of Jesus who died for us.

He brings us home. He brings us to all that was wonderful of simpler times. We will be one with those who love us in a place where social distancing is unheard of.

A Blessed Easter to you all!

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Holy Week Schedule

April 2, 2020

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I hope and pray that this letter finds you at peace and in safety.  We, the priests of the parish, miss you truly.  We look forward to coming together again when this is over to praise God and to work for His Kingdom.

Holy Week is so special and important.  Our streaming of Masses and my little chats seem to have gone over very well.  We seem to be reaching more people than ever!

I wanted to bring you up to date on our Holy Week plans:

  • Palm Sunday Masses are at 9:00 AM in Italian, 10:30 in English, and 12 noon in Spanish.
  • On Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday we will not be streaming daily Masses.
  • On Holy Thursday the Mass of the Lord’s Supper will be streamed at 7:00 PM.  This will not include the Foot washing, the Procession, the Altar of Repository or Tenebrae.
  • On Good Friday we will stream the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion in English at 3:00 PM and in Spanish at 7:00 PM.
  • We will not have the Blessing of the Easter Food.
  • The Easter Vigil will be celebrated at 7:00 PM without the Blessing of the New Fire and without any of the Sacraments of Initiation.  These sacraments will be rescheduled for later in the year.
  • Easter Sunday Masses will be streamed in Italian at 9:00 AM, in English at 10:30 AM and in Spanish at 12 Noon.

I hope that you can join us for these very special liturgies. We continue to pray for all who are sick in our parish, especially those stricken with the Corona virus. May God bless you and your whole family and may Holy Week be a time of spiritual renewal for you!

Sincerely Yours in Christ,

Msgr. Fernando Ferrarese


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Why the Incarnation Is So Important by Monsignor Ferrarese

This past week we celebrated a major solemnity of the Church Year: The Annunciation of the Lord (March 25th). The Church placed this feast on this particular day for a number of reasons, one of which is to celebrate it exactly 9 months before the birth of Christ at Christmas. When it comes right down to it, the great festivals of Christmas and Easter depend on the Annunciation: for on this feast, Christianity began, since the divine entered human history in the womb of the Virgin Mary. God takes the amazing step of asking one of His creations to consent to be the Mother of His Son. It is made even more astounding that Miriam of Nazareth was a 14-year-old girl at the time of the Archangel Gabriel’s visitation!

Think of that: The Creator and Sustainer of the Universe waits to receive the answer of this teenager! Wow! Talk about the respect that God has for the freedom of each of us! Miriam could have said no!

So our redemption was made possible by the courage and faith of this youngster, living in a small village in a backward region in a third-rate country named Palestine.

Then we have the Incarnation itself. ‘Incarnation’ is a complicated and ‘churchy’ word. These words are familiar to us, but unfortunately do not impact us with the power of their meaning.

Incarnation means that the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, still in full divinity, became flesh; a singular occurrence. Unrepeatable and unprecedented. The being that became Jesus of Nazareth therefore had two natures: He was human and He was divine. When someone at the time looked at this carpenter, they were looking into the eyes of Jesus the Man and Jesus the Son of God. These two natures remained complete and unmixed.

This is a scandal to the other two monotheistic religions: Judaism and Islam. For them, God cannot become human. One is a Creator and the other is a creature. They cannot be in the same person.

To make it even more difficult, we have a hard time explaining it and talking about it theologically. The history of the Church records many conflicts between orthodoxy (correct teaching) and heresy (incorrect and erroneous teaching). There have actually been pitched battles within Christianity about this. For Muslims, Jesus was a great prophet of God, but only human. For Jews, Jesus was a Rabbi who claimed to be a Messiah, but was not. For Christians, Jesus is fully human and fully divine.

The feast of Christmas celebrates the birth of this Jesus and Holy Week makes real the final journey of Jesus to Jerusalem, His redemptive Death, and His Resurrection. To be a true Christian means that we not only admire Jesus as a sort of perfect human being. It means that we worship Him as God.

The man born blind in the 9th Chapter of the Gospel of John not only is given his physical sight by Jesus, but he embarks on a journey of faith as his spiritual vision is restored. He is investigated by the religious authorities three times. At the end of the first encounter, he replies that he thinks Jesus is a human being. During the second trial he comes to the conclusion that He must be a prophet. At the end of the third investigation, he encounters Jesus who reveals His divinity to him. He gets down on his knees and worships Him as the Son of the Most High.

It is not enough for a Christian to call Jesus a friend. He is that and more! One must encounter Him as Lord. Until we accept the Divinity of Christ, we are not really Christians, we are fans of the man Jesus.

The Incarnation, once theologically and spiritually accepted, means that we are no longer our own. We belong to Him. He is our Lord!

O Mary, Our Lady of Lourdes & Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

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A Strange Kind of Love by Monsignor Ferrarese

We are living in a desert. All our familiar escapes are gone. Because of the visitation of this nefarious and stealthy illness, we are grounded in solitude.

True, we can use our phones and social media to be connected. But this is a poor substitute for being with people you care about! Even staying with one’s family can be a bit of a burden, not only when the enforced living reveals long buried fissures of resentments and hurts, but also in the ‘cabin fever’ that can overwhelm us at times.

Much of what we used as props or supports have been taken away, at least for a time. We are led to our own hermitage where we can be with God or be subject to the whim of demons.

Because of our long and instructive history, we can learn from the past the tools which may help us get through this period of time, tools that we can still use when this time, gratefully, ends.

The period of time in our history that I want to focus in on is the period in the 4th Century when Christianity finally became legal and even gave former pagans a preferred way of social advancement.

After Emperor Constantine became a Christian and issued his Edict of Toleration in 313AD, everyone wanted to be a Christian. It became ‘the thing’.

During almost the three centuries of persecution, only the true believers who were willing to risk their lives became Christians. It was momentous to be Baptized and dangerous to your kith and kin. There was, therefore, a natural barrier that screened out the dilettantes and the lukewarm. You had to be willing to face the lions, literally!

When it became OK to be a Christian, and even smart to be one, many of the true believers watched the newcomers dilute the fervor of belief. As often happens during such a crisis in the Church, God called a man, named Anthony, in Egypt to create a new movement that changed the Church. He left all his riches and went to live alone in the desert. He replaced the fervor engendered in persecution with the devotion of sacrifice. He was alone, ‘Monos’, before God. In English, that is what is translated as a ‘monk’. Men and women saw this and also left the cities, with their corruption and their easy Christianity, and developed a spirituality of the Desert. ‘Being alone before God’ swept through the Christian world and gave us another way to be a fervent Christian. This ‘monastic’ movement created a new world order shaping the history of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

In this present Crisis, we are in a new crossroads: we can learn a lot from those desert warriors of old.

Our homes are now our choice places of prayer. Whether it is through the internet or TV, or just kneeling before a prayer ‘altar’, we can savor the presence of God right at home. For families, this can become a wonderful opportunity to pray together. Maybe the Rosary is best to say together. Maybe it is Scripture readings. Or just watching a Mass on TV or on the computer as a family. It can be even a moment of closeness as we have the opportunity to reflect together.

There is an old expression: when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade! While we hope that this period of distress ends quickly and that the people we love and care about remain safe throughout, it could be a loving time that can help us to grow in Christ, either as a family or in solitary, praying to God in this modern desert.

While it may be a strange kind of love, it may help us grow in our relationship with God and with each other.

O Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Queen of the Angels and Mother of the Americas, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

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Plague by Monsignor Ferrarese

Many times, we have read about the Black Death (Plague) that swept through Europe and the Middle East killing huge percentages of the population. In particular, we remember the heroic men and women who tended to the infected at great risk to their own safety. Many saints contracted the Plague simply because they refused to leave their compassion unused at the doors of their existence. Death by the Plague was sudden, ugly and horrible.

There were no hospitals, no medicines, no alleviation. Infected were boarded up in their homes, their doors nailed shut on the outside. They died alone and uncared for, except by the saints who stood outside the mainstream of public opinion. Many of the great saints, like St. Aloysius Gonzaga, died in their youth because they took care of the victims of the Plague.

In dealing with pandemics (but not a plague, thank God!) like the one we are facing now, it is good to reflect on how science and medicine have made conditions easier to deal with. It is amazing to see how entire countries can work together to stem the tide of a sickness that could be lethal to many in the world. Hospitals are ready, plans are announced, vaccines are searched for, quarantines are imposed; and all try to work together, helped by the instant communication of modern computerized technology. In fact, ordinary people from around the world are lending their own computers to the researchers studying the virus by using a program that lets complex calculations be done over the Internet! How amazing! In the midst of the scary turns of the stock market, we need to see how peaceful cooperation is the dominant mode in dealing with this outbreak.

But this does not mean the Church stops ministering. Priests are still called upon to visit the sick and to provide spiritual succor to people. Working with the heroic examples of our medical profession, the Church’s ministers seek to provide that concern and care that make healing more possible and more likely.

Still, it is a good, but uncomfortable, thing to reflect on our vulnerability as creatures. Every day is a gift. We realize this only when, unfortunately, our future is in jeopardy. There is an inbuilt sloth factor that makes us get used to the wonder of being alive. It is akin to someone who just won a house in the south of France that has a beautiful view of the sea. On the first day, they look out to see the wonderful view, and the new owners are amazed at the beauty. But then, day after day, they get used to it; and before you know it, they hardly notice the beauty at all—till someone visiting points it out!

Every moment is a gift. The COVID-19 virus gives us a chance to thank God for all that we take for granted—like the wonder of a city that works well, with all the interlinking parts that make up what we offhandedly call our civilization! ‘Corona’ in Italian and Spanish means ‘crown’: we seldom notice that we live better than any of the royalty of the past!

But how slender are the supports that hold us together and provide for our welfare! Traditional supports like faith and family become even more important, for they are always there, especially faith.

Our faith tells us that we are created by God and placed a short space of time on earth so that we can freely accept the gift of God’s Love. In order to ensure our freedom, God steps back and allows us to build this world or destroy it, solve its problems or cause new ones. All leading to our ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.

No matter how difficult things get with this pandemic, we mustn’t forget about the first principles of our existence: Faith and Love. No matter what happens, these are the things that give us strength and enable us to serve God who is the creator of all things and our final destination.

We live in the most secure country on earth. We have advantages that many countries can only dream about. But this security can be an illusion as well. We are still vulnerable creatures who are subject to invisible viruses that can even end our existence in this life. The primacy of the spiritual can be clearly seen in this. We depend on God every moment of our existence. He is our origin, our sustenance, and our final destination. Times like these are a wake-up call alerting us to value what is most important; because in the end, that is what is eternal.

O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee!

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Cyril of Jerusalem

Bishop and Doctor, 4th century

Cyril was born in Palestine in the early 4th century.

He became bishop of Jerusalem in the year 350. He was an opponent of the Arian heresy.. He attended the Council of Constantinople in 381. He died in 385. His feastday is March 18th.

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St. Patrick

Bishop & missionary, 5th century

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All It Takes Is… by Monsignor Ferrarese

It is amazing that a little thing that you cannot even see can cause worldwide panic! A tiny virus. Suddenly, the world takes notice, life stops and one walls oneself away in quarantine just like the cities in the middle ages. Read Edgar Allan Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death if you want some context to the current situation!

We are so vulnerable. It takes an outbreak like this to convince us of this fact that often is obscured by the amazing reality of our health. When we see all the uncountable things that need to delicately work together to create the state of health, we can truly appreciate the constant gift of God that is what we call health. It means everything is in order and the whole complex reality of who I am is working well!

Then comes the virus with the potential of sweeping through the population, reeking havoc.

We can see these strange dynamics in the stock market that reacts to the slightest historical reality with wild mood swings that can ruin someone in a day!

Because of this inherent vulnerability, we are called to rely on something, or rather Someone, who cannot change, who always is there for us.

When we meditate and ponder on our own vulnerability, we inherently seek the basic principle of stability that is the “Rock” of our salvation. For us, it is Christ. Seen in this way, the contagion that is the most destructive is not the contagion of the COVID-19 coronavirus, but the contagion of sin. Who has not been ‘inspired’ to do something evil by seeing someone profit by his transgression and seemingly doing it without any immediate and visible punishment? The pleasure in the transgression also prepares the individual to even more sinning since it seems, falsely, to be beneficial to the individual and not the terrible thing with terrible consequences that the individual was warned about by the Holy Scriptures. The consequences of sin are often delayed, giving the person the false impression that, “I got away with it and I can do it again!” When observed by others, this becomes an incitement to sin and, thus, the contagion is spread; spread until the wrath of God is made manifest and all is made visible and the transparency highlights the evil plainly.

This was the trajectory of history that happened in the sexual abuse crisis. No one gets away with evil. Sometimes the wrath of God delays in the hope that, with time, conversion will occur. But sometimes conversion does not happen. The results are often decisive and terrible. While the mercy of God is powerful indeed, so is the justice of God. Human freedom is awesome since it can say ‘no’ to God.

Moreover, the willful destruction in the womb of the innocent child in the name of human rights is a direct attack on the will of God that is forming that child; He can see all that the person that child will become can possibly do for the benefit of humanity.

With the power of sinful contagion and its dangers to those around us, including our loved ones, we need the help of God and the guidance of the Church. The contagion of disease requires some careful protocols. So, also, the contagion of vice, since part of it is the mistakes inherent in following the wrong course of things. The moral teaching of the Church, though often tough and not easy to fulfill, protects us from the disease of sin, for this sickness is propagated by the false pretenses of what are needs tell us we have to have!

We must be always on our guard since the tempter is always interested in destroying us. The Evil One and his minions are always looking for the moment to transform a look or a word spoken and plant the seeds of suspicion in the mind of the believer. Without the grace of God, we are very vulnerable to evil. We mustn’t forget that the demons were once angels of God, endowed with tremendous intelligence, far beyond our minds. They can twist our perceptions and place obstacles in our thinking, using our pride and fears against us.

That is why we need the Church and Her teaching. There is a great deal of accumulated wisdom in the Magisterium, that is, the accumulated teaching of the Church. Just as we need the wealth of scientific knowledge to combat this coronavirus, we need the teaching of the Church, which is based on the revealed Word of God, to preserve our moral safety in this uncertain life we live.

Vulnerable, alone, but impregnable with the Church.

May Our Blessed Mother, under her title of Our Lady of Good Health, protect and defend us all, both spiritually and physically. Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God!

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Unreal Worlds by Monsignor Ferrarese

We have all seen this in one way or another: A bunch of teenagers are in a room, each of them staring fixedly at their smart phones. They have headphones on and they are intensely concentrating on whatever they are seeing on their screens. They are oblivious to each other.

At first, one is tempted to say, “So what? They are not bothering anyone. Better this than they should get into trouble out on the mean streets of our city!”

Such a judgment is very glib, though. While these teens are not in any seemingly dangerous activity, they are far from being safe. They are each immersed in their own worlds that are virtual, but not real. They, in a sense, have chosen to sleep away segments of their lives. If, suddenly, their Wi-Fi fails and they are forced to take out their headphones and actually look at each other and dare to (O my!) converse with one another, they would have to actually involve themselves in reality with all its messiness and its promise!

Community is only possible when people can look at each other and begin to take the leap of faith in trusting their perceptions, accepting or rejecting their opinions, and evaluating the next things that ought to be said and done, given the reality of the situation. It is simply what children learn to do if they can stay away from the many screens that surround them.

I remember a very funny piece in one of the magazines that I read recently in which the author satirically tries to convince someone glued to a computer screen to “GO OUTSIDE”. He gives the following reasons: It is interactive, three dimensional, of physical good to the body, and always new!

The problem that this points to is that we are losing our ability to be inter-personally present to one another. We are substituting the unreal world of the internet with its constant stream of news, fake communities, and elongated time to the real world of things actually present to us.

I have heard of many young people who are always at the computer or smart phone and yet who are extremely lonely. It sounds so terribly obvious: there is no substitute for acknowledged physical presence to one another. In the fake world of the internet, there is no time, nor a real space to be. We can be living in a world that does not exist and will never exist. So, what happens to be people who are trapped there?

One would think that what we say about virtual reality as something unreal, would also be true of the spiritual world. Were not the saints lost in an unreal spiritual world of angels and demons? While there have always been seekers in the world of faith who, following their own designs, live in a world far far away from the daily reality of life, the person of faith is kept in the daily reality of life by the Incarnation and the protection of the Magisterium of the Church. In the Incarnation, we see God in everyday reality, not in an imaginative world of manufactured impression mistakenly called ‘reality’. Church teaching underlines this identification of the real with the created. Scripture, the tradition of the Church and her underlying philosophy of life (in such Church greats as St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas) are a unified world view that sees God not in the mind or the imagination, but in all things created (including the mind and the imagination).

Connected with this is the fact that sin is a form of unreality. The person who sins does not connect with reality as God shapes it, but produces, under demonic influence, a world as he or she wants it to be, perhaps to justify the sin looming as a possible course of action. Sin therefore is the great paradigm to virtual worlds of all types. When we want the world to be a certain way and participate in it as such, then we are involved in the nefarious production of the untrue that the devil weaves around us to justify the course of action that will lead it to sin. All sin is a virtual world that does not in fact exist.

To be in God and with God is to be allied and connected to the world as it truly is in all its terror and promise, uncertainty and hope.

It is, in short, real.

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Saying No to Ourselves by Monsignor Ferrarese

One of the things we do every Lent is to find something that we like and then deny ourselves this pleasure as a sign (principally to ourselves) of the importance that God has in our lives. So we deny ourselves the chocolate that we love so that we can show ourselves (not God since God knows us better than we know ourselves!) what is more important in our lives: our own pleasure or God.

But our culture has changed in so many ways that we no longer see why we would do such a thing simply for God. It is different if we do it for our health and self-betterment. It is amazing what people who have not the foggiest understanding of God or religion deny themselves for earthly benefits of health or as a preparation for tough challenges, such as marathons. There is a very big difference between fasting and dieting, though the results may be similar. Fasting is a spiritual discipline to prepare and sustain a prayerfulness by subjugating our selfish desires to the overall worship of God. Dieting is to make us healthier and to shed a few useless pounds. The effects may be similar, and one can have both a spiritual attitude of fasting but also desire the loss of weight for health, but always in that order and with the overriding desire to please God.

The reality is that people will jog miles on a daily basis so as to look good and to be healthy. Of course, this is a good thing to do in itself, but it is essentially self-centered. It has nothing to do with the spiritual practice of asceticism. In this way of seeing things spiritually, we do the good thing by denying ourselves so that we can achieve the higher reality of making God truly the first in our lives.

I remember what a retreat master said to us at a very influential retreat at the Seminary. He said that an Ascetic can get more pleasure out of one martini than a drunkard can after imbibing a whole barrel of martinis!

The Ascetical method of spiritual development has broad support in every major religion on the earth. I remember going for a Zen Retreat once in my youth. While it is important to understand that Buddhism is a different kind of philosophy, many of whose main points do not agree with Catholic theology, it has many agreements as well. I was surprised how much more demanding the Zen retreat was than western Catholic retreats. It was led by a Jesuit priest, Fr. Robert Kennedy, whom we had here at our Parish as a lecturer. Motionless meditation for over 8 hours each day, fasting, vegetarian diet, not uttering a single word for 7 days, watching every breath and every thought: these are a taste of the asceticism that prevailed. I have not even mentioned the staff person with the stick that hit you when you looked like you were going to sleep!

Ordinarily, things just come and go out of our consciousness. Asceticism is an attempt to reorder our priorities and hold ourselves accountable for all the mental choices we make. While it is by its very nature difficult, it can open up new possibilities to assert our spiritual natures in a more definitive way.

We all have a comfort zone. Sometimes, we don’t even know that we are in it. Asceticism, the making of sacrifices to God, invites us out of those zones that are so familiar. In the making of sacrifices, the disciplining of our natures, the resetting of our priorities, is a sign of spiritual and psychological growth.

This is not easily done. This is why we have the yearly season of Lent. We need times to circle back and reassess our stance toward God. We all slip over time. The Ascetical season of Lent gives us a yearly opportunity to reorder things: to throw out what leads us away from God and to begin to do again that which brings us into a deeper relationship with the Almighty.

It is not easy to say no to our desires for sense satisfaction, but it is essential for growth in the spiritual life.

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