On Judgment and the Wrath of God by Monsignor Ferrarese

We have come to a point in our history when the idea of judgment is considered an obscene concept. ‘Don’t judge me!’ has become a universal catch-all preventing any kind of accountability or evaluation. Paradoxically, this has occurred while the media has declared itself the watchdog of justice and punishment. Inherent in this blanket attitude is a confusing of the very different concepts of judging situations (part of being human) and judging people (which needs to be limited to those who must render judgment).

When it comes to God, a lot depends on whether you believe in His existence. If God is there and God is God, then He has a right and an obligation to judge us. Judge is a heavy legal term to use, I know. We can perhaps change our perspectives on the issue if we recall that any loving parent evaluates the behavior of their children and, if the child is doing something destructive, the parent will feel honor bound to point that out since he or she wants their child to be all that the child can be. God is the same except He loves us with an even greater love than our parents! “Even if father or mother abandon you, I will never abandon you!” So God’s judgment is a necessary form of love. To ignore bad behavior on the part of His children would reveal to us a very bad Parent in God.

There is something else as well. Judgment is accountability, and that means that one expects good behavior. We honor a child when we see them behaving well and we hold them accountable for their good and their bad ways of acting. God honors us in holding us accountable. God says by His judging us: Your behavior matters. You are important to me and to the world and what you do is not just written off, whether good or bad. This explains by extension the importance of God’s wrath. This is a concept that we are very uncomfortable with. Wrath implies God going off the handle, losing it! It has a veneer and feel of violence to it. But what loving parent would just yawn at the bad behavior of their child, especially when it is repeated over and over again! If they did, the child would rightly infer that their parents don’t care what they do. And if the parents don’t care what they do, then maybe they don’t care about their child at all. Sometimes a child will do something bad just to get their parents attention, and if it just produces a yawn they experience a deep and terrifying emptiness. Punishment of the child in a medicinal, non-violent manner is a sign of concern and therefore love. Parents want to correct the child and teach them proper behavior, not out of pique or pride or a vain quest for order, but as something meant to help the child be a better person.

Often people refer to God as judge in a very negative way. In this line of thinking, God is just a nice guy in the sky who wants us to be good, but who will do nothing to teach us about why our bad behavior is, in fact, bad and what the advantages are if one were to be good. This view of God is not biblical and is actually a picture of an unfeeling and ineffectual bystander to the human condition.

The atheistic belief that there is no God and there is no judgment is often held as liberation for the human being by the militant yet non-rational atheists of today. These are the same people who tout Marx’s dictum that religion is the opium of the people. Frankly, the lack of accountability in their worldview is the opium of the atheists who subsequently have no basis for goodness and no alternative to self-interest as a motivating factor.

I am glad that God judges my behavior. I am happy that when I do something destructive to my neighbor or myself, He is angry with me. It would make me cringe to think of a permissive god who does not care if I do right or wrong, who hides in a cloud of indifference. Yes, I want to be judged by God because God loves me more than anyone and He has my best interests always in mind. In a word: I trust Him.

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The Dictatorship of Noise by Monsignor Ferrarese

There are moments in my life that I always look back to and say that I truly love them. It is when I go on my yearly retreat, usually at a monastery, and, having driven into the parking lot, I open the door of my car and get out. Suddenly I am surrounded with the most wonderful silence and peace! The whir of my car motor is ceased, the radio is turned off, the chatter of my conversations on my phone over, and I become immersed in a tranquility only slightly affected by a bird song and the feel of a gentle breeze. I take a deep and cleansing breath and seemingly let go of all the tensions of the past, my ministry, my driving, and walk into the mysterious presence of the Holy One.

It is hard to describe the healing properties of this silence. It is like being enveloped in a sense of care and love, an environment of promise and right order, a new creation of peace; in a word: a caress.

Before my ordination to the Priesthood, I was given permission by the Bishop to go on a long monastic retreat. I went for all of Lent in 1977 to Mount Saviour Monastery near Elmira in Upstate New York. After that blessed Lent and Holy Week, I got into my car to drive back home. As I drove off the monastery property, I turned on the radio. You have to understand that I had not listened to the radio or watched TV or even saw a newspaper during my long retreat! Suddenly the noise and commotion on the radio invaded the quiet space of the car with its restlessness, its self-preoccupation, its commercial intent, its anguished neediness. It was at that moment that I realized the treasure I had during that retreat: the beauty of silence.

I am using this before-and-after experience to help communicate the toxic environment that our continual quest for noise and distraction engenders.

Today, there is almost a pathological fear of silence. I remember a teacher I had in the seminary who kept his TV on day and night. There was never any silence in his rooms!

Parenthetically, another important sister-aspect of the spiritual life, solitude, is also under attack by the continual and omnipresent smartphone that keeps each person ‘connected’ with virtual reality instead of the ‘real’ reality of life that includes being alone with God! Try taking a smartphone away from someone and you will discover how truly ‘hooked’ they are!

But returning to the subject of this letter: have you ever noticed that there is never silence in ordinary life? Forget the hum and crash of traffic and sanitation trucks outside. Even when we are in a supermarket there is music; at the dentist, music; at the department store, music. It almost seems there is an unholy conspiracy against silence and just being! It is doubly tragic since it not only keeps us from God who is not a virtual reality, but it anesthetizes us from patient concentration, which is necessary for everything from study to the appreciation of art. (Have you ever noticed how fast the editing has become for commercials and even feature films? It is a barrage of images meant to prevent you from thinking whether or not you need this thing that they are selling or displaying! Just buy it!)

This gathering horror and avoidance of solitude and silence is disastrous for our prayer life, which is nurtured by these two healing realities. Why the fear? Perhaps when we are not distracted, many things deep in our psyche are let loose: unresolved interpersonal conflicts, phobias, painful memories and regrets, etc. In Zen Buddhism, they called this ‘sanyo’. When a Buddhist sits in meditation (zazen), frightening things emerge into consciousness. These are the repressed phantoms of unresolved fears and hurts that take almost a visual form.

But the answer is not to flee into noise and false connections!

One must stand fast in the silence to be able to face these phantoms of dread and to deal with them with the grace of God and the counsel of friends and advisors. While these things may at times come up, the majority of the time we have a calm and stillness that give peace, order and even health of body and spirit.

It is important to use our free will to embrace this silence and to flee the dictatorship of noise even when it promises what it cannot deliver.

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But Is It Right? by Monsignor Ferrarese

One of the secular stories or myths that has a very deep message today is the famous tale of Doctor Frankenstein. In that captivating story, Frankenstein had learned that he could bring back life in a body that was already dead. But he never asked whether it was right that he do it. As everyone knows, the results were catastrophic: because something is possible, either scientifically or, more specifically medically, does not automatically mean that it should be done. Science needs ethics. It does not transcend ethics.

God has truly put creation into our hands, but it does not follow that we can do whatever we want with it—for example, the atomic bomb! We can now destroy the earth! Is this a good thing?

The field of medical and genetic science is filled with possibilities, both good and bad. The main point is that technological breakthroughs do not absolve us (both scientists and laymen) from making ethical decisions about the use of such scientific advances.

For example: there is the cautionary tale of Dr. Jerome Lejeune, a French scientist, who discovered that the abnormality of the 21st chromosome of a person’s genetic makeup causes what is now called ‘Down Syndrome’. He did his research in the early 1960’s and was lauded and praised for it. He was even invited to the White House by President Kennedy to receive an award for this accomplishment. What he thought would happen is that other scientists would work on discovering how to ‘cure’ or ‘change’ this situation while the child was still in the womb. Instead, they used that knowledge to develop methods of early detection, which was used for the abortion of the innocent child! In 1969, Dr. Lejeune gave a talk warning the scientific and medical establishment that they were headed for a “National Institute of Death” using genetic advances to kill the fetus instead of saving it. He pleaded for humility and compassion. He reminded them of the ethical concerns, which must direct and limit some of the options pursued.

After the talk he told his wife, “Today I lost the Nobel Prize”. And so he did, as he began to be shunned by the scientific community.

His discovery, which could have led to the cure of this condition through genetic intervention, became merely a diagnosis that led to the abortion of the ‘infected’ child. An unethical decision was made by the medico-scientific community to use that knowledge to kill rather than to heal.

Today, any child with Down Syndrome has a 90% chance of being aborted. Pre-natal eugenics is already in full flower! In a recent piece in America magazine, it was reported that newspapers were trumpeting the fact that Iceland had completely eradicated Down Syndrome. Patricia Heaton, who many would remember as the wife ‘Debra’ in “Everybody Loves Raymond”, and who is one of the leaders of a group called ‘Feminists For Life’, acerbically points out that Iceland had indeed ‘eradicated’ Down Syndrome, not through healing but through the killing of 100% of the pre-born infants with the Down Syndrome chromosome!

So the question on the table is still unanswered: should something that can be done, be done? Scientific discoveries do not excuse a person who has dedicated himself or herself to science from asking ethical questions. Moreover, ethical questions when answered have practical consequences. This means that persons in government are likewise not absolved from permitting scientific possibilities, which would have drastic consequences. If we allow the principle, for instance, that the practical consequences of an action, like the killing of a pre-born child are acceptable, then where do we stop? There may be many reasons why it is judged that a child is not practical now; but what about the child who cannot defend itself?

Ethics need to be used to judge whether an act is truly for the good of humankind. For us as religious people, there is no doubt what our response should be. In the Book of Revelation, we have a clear answer to this dilemma: “I have put before you life and death. Choose life says the Lord.”

One of the first things that Hitler did in his “new world” of the Third Reich was to round up all the undesirables from hospitals, mental institutions, etc. and put them to death as ‘life unworthy of life’.

In killing these ‘undesirables’ in the womb, are we not choosing Hitler’s solution instead of God’s?

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For a Higher Purpose by Monsignor Ferrarese

Every time that we come to the Olympics, we seem to lay aside our differences and concentrate on the greatness of human effort and the respect that we should accord to such striving. While in a healthy form of competition we seek that place in the sun for our own nationality and background, we cannot help giving honor to those athletes from other nations who have, against all odds, striven against great challenges and endured so as to be able to triumph. It is a time to lay aside our differences and give human striving its deserved reward.

To see these athletes, who have worked so hard for years, finally arrive at their Olympic dreams is to truly be thankful for our own humanity and the greatness of God’s creation. For even though our bodies don’t quite correspond to the glory that belongs to the bodies of these athletes, they are, even in our humble and sometimes aging way, made from the same stuff of nature. Like them, we are human beings and thereby share, by communality, the specialness of those disciplined and youthful men and women.

Often athletic imagery is used of the spiritual life. We are in the holy season of Lent, which is a time of spiritual training. During the time of the Desert Fathers and Mothers (4th – 6th centuries), the spiritual discipline was arduous and even physically exhaustive; the desert was no place for the faint of heart! Why, then, did they do this? Evidently, they were willing to give up so much comfort, not because they hated themselves or were masochists, but because they believed in something more than what the world presented them with. They trained their bodies like spiritual athletes for a higher purpose: The Kingdom of God.

We all know that, in our bodies, it is very easy to get out of shape. It is easier to gain weight than to lose it! When we decide to get into a program of physical exercise, the first day is relatively easy, but then the aches and pains begin and it is much easier to just let it go! Climbing up a mountain is harder than going back down. So it is in the spiritual life; we need times like Lent to get ourselves in shape spiritually. What is important is the purpose why we do the actions we decide on.

Dieting and fasting may have the same result, but one is not spiritual and the other is.

What we look like after fasting is beside the point. It is, at best, an accidental occurrence. Fasting is a redirecting of the appetites toward God as the ultimate need. It is a putting straight what had become crooked, so that if one believes in God, the privations and the discomfort involved become acceptable and even desirable. When there is no belief in God, then there can never be the spiritual discipline of fasting for there is no longer a higher purpose. One can still diet for health reasons, but it is not fasting and never will be.

The “ascesis”, or what we do during Lent to prepare ourselves spiritually for Holy Week, we choose and follow through on is just a means to an end. The danger in doing these things is that we fall into the trap of the Pharisees: doing them to be seen to be holy by others. This is why Jesus teaches, in no uncertain terms, that what we do should be done in secret otherwise we could be fooling ourselves and actually be performing our Lenten resolutions for the hidden applause of other’s regard.

A guard against this egotistical drive is Almsgiving. Over and over, God says in the Old Testament: the fasting I require, the fasting that pleases me is when you feed the hungry. Doing acts of social justice throughout the season of Lent insures that we keep the focus off ourselves.

In fact, if we pray, we should pray for others and if we fast, we should become sensitized to the starvation that haunts this world.

The only way to prevent the season of Lent from becoming a time of self-help is to do it all for that higher purpose: the Love of God and of our neighbors.

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Tell us Lord – A primer in Christian ethics

Today’s readings are a primer in Christian ethics.  To me they form the flip sides of the same coin.  Jesus adds to the teaching of Leviticus by expanding who our neighbor is.

The woman in the picture surely understood.

Here are links to the readings:  Lv 19:1-2, 11-18 & Mt 25:31-46

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Gratitude – A State of Being by Monsignor Ferrarese

I was recently speaking with a priest in Florida where I was on vacation. Among other ministries, he is the chaplain at a local prison. He has to preach to men who are incarcerated for more than a year and others as long as twenty years. Some would call this prison ‘home’ for many a year to come. He often preaches about gratitude; this surprised me. At this prison, there are no windows. The prisoners spend long hours in cinderblock rooms amid noise and a lack of any semblance of the outdoors: no sunshine, no clouds, no rain, no breezes etc. Yet he calls upon them to thank God that they are still alive, that drugs and alcohol and violence had not ended their lives already. He speaks to them that they have the time now to repent of their past misdeeds and begin a new life in Christ.

After sharing with me these thoughts, he then confessed to me how often he accuses himself of even greater ingratitude. Those prisoners had been born into situations that were much worse than he ever had to face; much was stacked against them. But if there is still hope for them, then there is still hope for himself.

I then remembered an old adage from the Jewish tradition that I tend to trot out every thanksgiving: “A good Jew should thank God at least 100 times per day!”

I look at myself, gifted with so much: life, family, faith, friends, health. And yet I get so hung up on things that don’t go the way I think they should go!

When St. Paul urges the Colossians: “Dedicate yourselves to thankfulness”, it is not just a throwaway ‘Hallmark card’ sentiment like “Have a nice day!” Dedication to something requires a complete surrender to that quality which becomes the principle and center of a person’s philosophy of action. The call of St. Paul for us to dedicate ourselves to thankfulness is more than a Thanksgiving Day wish. It means that gratitude must be the very basis of our lives. Everything flows from this thankfulness and everything leads back to that same reality. Thankfulness to Whom? To God, of course, for it is from Him that all good things come. And for what? For everything! That is a powerful saying. Remember Job: “Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I go back there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!” (Job 1:21)

This dedication to thankfulness nicely leads us to our primary act of worship: The Eucharist (from the Greek meaning thanksgiving). Preeminently, it is the gratitude we feel for Christ and His Atoning Sacrifice which is made present at the Mass. But it is also for everything else that God gives to us each day.

What is the opposite of gratitude? We can say simply ingratitude; but perhaps more accurately we can say that the opposite of thanksgiving is complaining about things. We live in a culture of complaining!

Even though we are in the greatest and most politically secure country in the world; even though we have so many advanced aids to living, making us more comfortable than the royalty of yore; even though we have modern medicine at our beck and call; even though we have so many freedoms; we still are a culture that complains about a great many things!

I recall my parents and how simply they lived. They were amazed at what they received in this great city and country. They came out of a country ravaged by war and poverty. They never complained about anything. They accepted adversity as being part of life. Even as I was growing up, they took all my mistakes in stride and tried to correct what they could in words that had a peace that often eludes us. I think that we get so used to the giftedness of what we have around us that we easily take things for granted. I recall that, during the last blackout, my area of Brooklyn was one of the areas that was in the dark the longest. With the electricity down, I had to sleep when it got dark and get up when it got light. Mass still continued—by candlelight, of course! I would pray and read when I had the light. Conversations were easier to come by. I gave thanks to the Lord for the simplicity that the blackout gave. I also realized how much I depended on things around me. When the lights went on, I gave thanks for electricity and for air conditioning and for the freedom to do what I wanted at what time I wanted.

Once we dedicate ourselves to seeing the good in all things and create a grateful frame of mind, I have found that things change. Or rather, my perspective on reality changed, and I felt happier and more… well, grateful!

Gratitude is not, therefore, an isolated action; but it is a state of being that influences one’s whole existence.

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The Season of Lent

The Season of Lent

 

“At once the Spirit drove him out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.” (New American Bible, Mark 1:12-13)

What is Lent?

Lent is that season in the Church year that lasts from Ash Wednesday until the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday evening. Lent is a season of penitence in preparation for the great feast of Easter.

What is Ash Wednesday? And why ashes?

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. In the Roman Rite, it is a day of fast and abstinence. Ashes are an ancient sign of penitence, contrition and conversion. There are numerous passages in Scripture that attest to this powerful symbol.

What is the purpose of Lent?

As a liturgical season, Lent serves at least two purposes. One purpose of Lent is to be a preparation for the next season, the great season of Easter. A second purpose, that is associated with the first, is that Lent is a season of penitence. (That’s why the predominant color is purple, by the way.) These are the reasons we get ashes, this is why we fast and abstain and this is why many of us “give up” something for the season. These acts of penitence or mortification can be signs of our interior conversion, signs of our desire to make a positive change in our spiritual lives.

Is there any history behind Lent?

Acts of penitence or mortification for the atonement of sins have long been present in the Church. (See Luke 13:3, Matthew 3:8, 11:20, Romans 2:4, etc.) However, the first mention of a forty-day period of penitence prior to Easter seems to be at the Council of Nicea in 325AD. For a short history of Lent, try this site: http://www.thinkingfaith.org/articles/20110315_1.htm.

How long does Lent last?

As mentioned above, Lent lasts from Ash Wednesday until the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday evening.

What about the fasting and abstinence stuff; why, what’s the purpose of that?

Fasting and abstinence are penitential practices that have a long history in Christianity (and actually predate it). Fasting is a limitation upon the amount of food one eats. Abstinence is refraining from eating meat and meat products. Here are the “official rules” as posted on the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops:

Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are obligatory days of fasting and abstinence for Catholics. In addition, Fridays during Lent are obligatory days of abstinence.

For members of the Latin Catholic Church, the norms on fasting are obligatory from age 18 until age 59. When fasting, a person is permitted to eat one full meal. Two smaller meals may also be taken, but not to equal a full meal. The norms concerning abstinence from meat are binding upon members of the Latin Catholic Church from age 14 onwards.

Members of the Eastern Catholic Churches are to observe the particular law of their own sui iuris Church.

If possible, the fast on Good Friday is continued until the Easter Vigil as the ‘paschal fast’ to honor the suffering and death of the Lord Jesus and to prepare ourselves to share more fully and to celebrate more readily his Resurrection.” (Fast & Abstinence, USCCB)

What if I’m sick, do I still have to fast and abstain?  

The bishops go on to add, “Those that are excused from fast and abstinence outside the age limits include the physically or mentally ill including individuals suffering from chronic illnesses such as diabetes. Also excluded are pregnant or nursing women. In all cases, common sense should prevail, and ill persons should not further jeopardize their health by fasting.” (Fast & Abstinence, USCCB)

Are there any other practices that can make my Lent more rewarding and fruitful?

One phrase that can be helpful to us during Lent is: “Prayer, Alms and Fasting”.

  • Try taking the season more seriously than we usually do.

And, to do that:

  • Try to set aside time during the day for prayer; pray the Divine Office during the course of the day, for example. Here’s a link to the Divine Office on-line: http://divineoffice.org/liturgy-of-the-hours/
  • Attempt to perform some actions that have a spiritual dimension. Perform the Stations of the Cross, for example, spend time in Eucharistic Adoration, if possible, or attend daily Mass.
  • Try doing some daily spiritual or Scripture reading during Lent. Read from the Church fathers or Church doctors, for example. Here’s a link to some of their writings: http://www.studylight.org/history/early-church-fathers/
  • Attend a Scripture class that your parish may offer.
  • Participate in CRS Rice Bowl. Here’s a link to their site: http://www.crsricebowl.org/about/
  • Give up a bad habit, save the money usually spent on it and donate that money to a charity.
  • Donate some of your time to a charitable organization during the season.

Bibliography

The Catechism of the Catholic Church. New York: Doubleday Press, 1997.

Fast & Abstinence. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2014. Web. 21 Dec. 2014. <http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-year/lent/catholic-information-on-lenten-fast-and-abstinence.cfm >.

The New American Bible. The Vatican, 06 Nov. 2002. Web. 22 Dec. 2014. <http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0839/_INDEX.HTM>

Thinking Faith, nd. Web. 23 Dec. 2014. < http://www.thinkingfaith.org/articles/20110315_1.htm>

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Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras

Today is Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, the day prior to the start of Lent.  It’s called “Fat Tuesday” because people used to go through their homes getting rid of items that wouldn’t/couldn’t be eaten during the season of Lent, things like lard and fat; the Lenten practices were much more stringent during the early days of the Church.

Anyway, here is a link to the website of the U.S. Bishops and their page for Lent.  It has the regulations for fasting and abstinence and some ideas for things to do during Lent: http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-year/lent/index.cfm

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Permission to Hate by Monsignor Ferrarese

Sometimes the headlines scream off the page. Almost every day, one of our tabloids attacks, ridicules and defames someone who according to the editors has no reason to exist. They want the public to hound and destroy the ‘culprit’ even though they have not yet stood trial. In the journalistic court, everyone whom the editors say are guilty should never be considered innocent. It could be an alleged child molester, a cop or a person of color, but if the editors deem him or her guilty, then it is ok to hate them. In fact, it is laudable to write them off! In essence, you have the editor’s permission to hate.

Now, I am aware that some of these people are in fact guilty. But should they not be presumed innocent until proven guilty? And even so, can’t anyone who is in fact guilty as charged, change and repent?

When we are confronted with especially heinous crimes or sins, the issue gets very complicated. Child abuse, rape or murder causes revulsion in most good people. Often the reaction to one who commits these crimes is hatred and fear. But does the critical faculty of judging stop there? Are we condemned to accept and act upon our first impressions? This is classically called ‘prejudice’ for we pre-judge someone before we have all the facts and evidence.

Even if we slow down the judging machine in our heads, there are still two principles that we must always try to remember: the first is to separate the sin from the sinner. Yes, those who commit these crimes must pay for them; but someone who committed rape is not the same as saying that he or she is a rapist forever. We are never allowed as Christians to hate and write off someone, no matter what they have done. We must certainly and strongly hate the sin; but the sinner can never be considered a lost cause. With the proper conscientious approach on the part of the individual and the grace of God, a person can repent and change his or her life around. Our faith is built on this possibility. Jesus began His preaching with the words, “Repent and believe the Good News”. Why would Jesus preach to change if it were not possible?

It’s just that many of us consciously or unconsciously believe that people can’t change. We think that the changes that people go through are merely cosmetic. But to say that someone who is a criminal, or worse, is capable of moral conversion puts some people on edge: can we ever trust someone who is guilty of something that is truly evil?

While psychologically we are uncomfortable with that possibility, we have to admit that in Christ all things are possible. Continuing to hate someone would be something that Jesus would not stand for. In fact, He would forbid it.

The second principle to note is that often, if not always, we do not know the full picture. There may have been many factors, biological, environmental, historical, that help us understand the person who commits these terrible things. So we have to approach this area of judging with great humility.

I remember a great scene from a movie by Francois Truffaut called “Day for Night”. On a movie set, an aging actress is doing an emotional scene and getting everything wrong: the doorbell rings and she opens the window, etc. Everyone laughs at her and her obvious drunkenness. Then there is a pause in filming. One character comments to another asking what is the problem with her. The other answers that she has a young son of 18 who is dying in Paris and because of her contract she cannot be there. The scene in the movie within the movie is played again, this time no one is laughing, neither the actors on the screen nor the people in the theater with me. Tears welled up in my eyes as compassion for her enveloped me. Perhaps we too can find compassion for the murderer if we knew what he or she was living with. It does not excuse their actions, of course, but it helps us not to hate them.

Compassion is the antidote to hatred if only we have the courage to be open and humble enough to see things more like God sees them.

No one can give us permission to hate anyone. Only Christ gives us the wisdom and strength to still hope that God triumphs in the life of the most hardened sinner.

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History of the Scapular

The scapular originates in the habits worn by the monastic orders, beginning with the Benedictines, and later adapted by many other religious communities. Basically, the scapular is a piece of cloth, about chest-wide from shoulder to shoulder, and drapes down the front and the back of the person with an opening for the head. At first, the scapular served more as an apron worn during work, especially farm work; consequently, in the Rule of St. Benedict identified it as the “scapulare propter opera” (“the scapular because of works”).

After the ninth century, a monk received the scapular after the profession of vows, and it became known as “the yoke of Christ” (iugum Christi) and “the shield of Christ” (scutum Christi). While certain modifications were made by the various communities, the scapular was a distinctive part of the religious habit.

Over time, pious lay people who worked closely with the monastic communities adopted a smaller version of the scapular. This smaller scapular consisted of two small pieces of cloth joined by two strings, and was worn around the neck and underneath a person’s clothing. Eventually these smaller scapulars were marks of membership in confraternities, groups of laity who joined together, attaching themselves to the apostolate of a religious community and accepting certain rules and regulations.

Eventually, these smaller versions of the scapular became even more popular among the laity. To date, the Church has approved 18 different scapulars, distinguished by color, symbolism and devotion. Most scapulars still signify a person’s affiliation with a particular confraternity, at least loosely.

Source: CatholicHerald.com

Read full article for a description of the six most popular scapulars: http://catholicherald.com/stories/The-History-of-the-Scapular,4060

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