Vacation Time 1957 by Monsignor Ferrarese

I am writing this reflection while on vacation on Long Island. I can see the bay from my window and all is beautiful and calm. During this time, I am doing one of the things I love to do but don’t have time to do when I am working in the parish: spend some long quality time reading. When I am not reading or praying or speaking to friends, I am remembering as I look upon the water my early experience of vacations when I was little and growing up with my parents.

My Dad made shoes for a living and only had two weeks’ vacation (even after more than 40 years working). We lived a rather modest life on his limited salary. We did not own a car and we rented our small three-room apartment. We did not go away on vacation, but there were day trips we took every year. One was to the shrine of Mother Cabrini, one was to a Yankee game, one was to Coney Island (beach and amusement park), and one to the Canarsie Pier to take a boat trip on the water. The other days we did work on the apartment, often painting a room or repairing what was broken. It was a simple life.

The simplicity of it as well as the similarity with what my friends were doing made it a time of peace and contentment. When I went to college, it was a different thing. I met guys at school that had summer houses (besides their own in which the family lived). They had a couple of cars at least. Some even had sail boats! Their vacations were in exotic places like Maine and Atlantic City. It was the first time I got the impression that my family was comparatively poor. But it not feel that way when I lived it because it was home and my parents provided a secure environment for me; I really didn’t need anything more. The food was great and the family was close. Later on, I realized how lucky I was since some of the better-endowed families did not have it that easy as they were plagued by addictions and break-ups.

Looking back on my vacation times, I am thankful for their simplicity and security. Even though we used the subway to get around, it got us there quickly and cheaply.

Everything is relative, though. I learned that lesson rather quickly as I got older.

Another thing that I discovered as I took my yearly summer vacations is that the spiritual part of me must be part of my time off. So many of the places I would visit with my priest friends were places of spiritual importance: Avila, monasteries of all orders, Lisieux, Mont St. Michel, the various Cathedrals in the great cities. And very often I tend to search out places of prayer especially where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved.

Even when we rented a house for a period of rest somewhere, chief among my daily activities was prayer: the Divine Office, Mass, etc. I cannot rest completely without the peace that comes from prayer.

This is why I prefer the English use of the word ‘Holidays’ rather than a vacation. Vacation gives the impression of vacating myself from the usual things that I do, whereas the word holiday comes from the English words ‘holy day’ because they were originally times of religious festival when people got away from the usual grind of daily duties. Think of the Christmas Break.

Much of what I do on holiday is what I always do, prayer-wise. I see getting away from things as an opportunity for more time for prayer. And that includes prayer for the people of the parish, particularly those who have asked for prayers for their families or for themselves. In this sense, there is no break from the ordinary things that I do spiritually. I am still praying and united with everyone at Immac. But the difference is that I have more time for prayer and reflection. I am not so distracted and rushed. And because I am usually in a place of great beauty (as I write these words, I am looking at the beauty of the bay) my heart lifts effortlessly in prayer. Where there is the beauty of nature, it is easy to lift my heart for prayer. In fact, I could not fully enjoy myself without prayer!

So, I thank God deeply for these times of rest and renewal so I can continue to show my love for the people of our wonderful parish in an unhurried and deeply satisfying way!

“Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness abide in the fruitful field. The effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever. My people will abide in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.” – Isaiah 32:16-18

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Get in Line by Monsignor Ferrarese

As I was watching a couple of YouTube videos showing highlights from the recent Euro Cup Final, I could not help agreeing with one of the announcers comparing the advocates of both teams as being in an ecstasy of prayer. Close-ups of the fans during key moments of the match like the final shoot out showed people in the deepest prayer for their teams.

I thought to myself: Who does God listen to? They both want Him to do something for their team. They want God to help them win. But whose jersey does God have on?

Maybe this rather detached view of things is the fruit of my not being a fan of soccer. Do I have the same detachment when the valiant Yankees play the devious Red Sox? I think not. But it brings up a very important point: To what extent does our earthly viewpoint color and even inform our reflections of the next life in Heaven and in Hell?

Our earthly categories are the only ones we know about and the only way we can speak about the world to come. But they are so limited.

I remember a movie that I saw once that tried to show what happens after death. It was very deflating. The writers saw heaven as a giant bureaucracy with lots of waiting and lots of attendants telling people to be patient and get in line! It was like a badly run government agency!

We have to admit that, when left to our own imaginations, the future life does not measure up to our expectations!

This is because we can only color the future vision of what will be with the palette that we are used to here on earth. We do not have the words or the concepts for our future life so when we try to imagine what eternal life with the Lord will be like we can think of only the most wonderful experiences of life here on earth. But when we think of elongating the experience for every day for ever and ever, we want out immediately. We value variety and diversity but nothing we can imagine could possibly interest us for all of eternity! I may love chocolate but eating chocolate all the time would be the quickest way for me to develop an aversion to it!

Therefore, when anyone tries to tell us how wonderful it will be in the afterlife don’t feel bad if it does not attract you! Someone once gave us the picture of saints and angels sitting on marble and playing harps. Well, I can’t even imagine enjoying harp playing for just a few minutes, let alone all the time! And what about my rump! Sitting for centuries on marble? No thanks!

Luckily the same holds true for hell. All those ugly limbs gyrating in flames. I wonder how God feels about His children thinking He is some sort of sadist. Pictures of hell come from the artistic imagination of writers like Dante or from imaginative visions from saints who’ve seen that being separated from the Love of the Father for even a few seconds would be intolerable. They put that horror into images that may keep people from choosing to be separate from that Love.

We do not even know what the experience of timelessness feels like. Or whether the word ‘feel’ is appropriate to use in the next life.

I remember joking with someone that praying to St. Anthony requires a long wait to see the prayer answered. He has devoted people from all over the world asking him for favors and, even though God has given him a huge office with lots of workers, it takes a long time to get to an individual favor! I joked saying, “Better to pray to someone like Saint Marina or Saint Dymphna! Their inbox is always empty!”

I had to quickly say that I was kidding and that God really answers all of our petitions in His own way and time and that the Saints accompany our requests to God. Eternity is not one big bureaucracy!

But this is what I mean to say in the reflection. When dealing with the hereafter we must be very cautious since we really do not know what we are talking about!

Suffice it to say that we need to be direct with God about our needs and to leave everything in His almighty hands since He knows what we need more than we do! As to the how and the when of things: we just don’t know.

This is what faith is: trust in God. Period.

“On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.” – Psalm 62:7-8

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Of Sheep and Blades of Grass by Monsignor Ferrarese

For a period of my life, I had the joy of having pets, cats to be exact. My first Siamese cat was named Mouchette. she was friendly, unafraid and very smart. She taught me everything I know about taking care of cats. This may seem unreal to those who have not had the experience of tutoring a feline, but those who have know exactly what I mean. Then I added Marcello; and when Mouchette died I bought little Leo. After Marcello died, Leo became my last pet. I loved the beauty of having a creature of God live with me, but I did not like the sicknesses and the death of these beautiful creatures.

However, I remember my joy when I entered my room in the rectory and was greeted by little Leo. Everything else in my room was a product of man, but Leo came directly from the hand of God. And what an awesome design and intelligent purpose was contained in that little feline! Of all the things that I can say about having a pet, the greatest is this: Leo helped me to pray. This simple creature really can bring us to God!

Because we are so surrounded by man’s creations in the city (but they are ultimately and derivatively from God!), I try to go on retreats to pray in Monasteries which try to live close to nature for these very important purposes.

As I write these words, I am sitting in a room provided to me in a wonderful monastery in upstate New York called Mount Saviour Monastery. I have been coming to this holy place for over 40 years. It is where I made my priesthood retreat. Nestled in a beautiful landscape, this community of Benedictine monks (founded in 1951) have been living a life dedicated to prayer. Day in and day out, night and day, they pray for the Church. Yes, these men actually pray for you and me every day at every hour! Prayer is the most powerful force on earth. It can move God! I often think that it is the contemplative wing of the Church (both monks and nuns) that keep us from self-destructing as a world!

Right now, I can hear the song of birds as I pray that these words may move you good people of Immac to a deeper life of prayer, for the most important fact of our lives is that we are loved by God and willed into existence by this Love.

The world of nature is a reminder to me of the fact of God’s love. The beauty of it! The majesty of creation! We can so forget this when we are surrounded by the man-made things that we see day in and day out. Even these, if properly understood, can speak to us of God. For it is the creative and productive parts of the human mind that make these things. And who made the mind of man? God, of course. But this thinking is abstract and does not have the power of a sunrise or a flower or the playfulness of a puppy.

But as Pope Francis has often reminded us, we can lose sight of the need for us to have proper stewardship of this creation that God has entrusted us with. We need to care for the earth and not exploit the creation of God. This goes beyond partisan considerations. It is not a political position to care or use the creation of God. We must respect the ways of God and even correct and supplant things of nature. While natural disasters happen apart from our actions, we can learn to forecast and build things that will withstand these disasters.

Creation is not finished. It is up to us to work with God to make things safer for all living beings. We need to build proper habitations that can withstand earthquakes. We need to have plans in place to deal with floods and plagues. Look at how quickly we produced vaccines for COVID-19! We can do it. We must do it.

In addition to the wonderful sounds of nature, there is another that eludes us especially in the city: Silence. As I listen to the silence, I can hear, in the distance, the ‘bah bah’ of the sheep on the hillside. A rumble of thunder. The summer sound of crickets. In about an hour or so the monks will gather in the Chapel to chant Vespers (Evening Prayer). It is so easy to see that all is right with the world, at least here on Mount Saviour.

“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” – Psalm 8:3-9

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Tradition! by Monsignor Ferrarese

One of the most exhilarating moments in the history of Broadway Musicals is the opening number of “Fiddler on a Roof”. You will remember that after the lone fiddler introduces the plaintive opening melody, Tevye reveals in his opening song the secret of what keeps the poor and oppressed Jewish community alive and hopeful: Tradition!

This ‘handing on’ of customs and understandings is a part of all human history. History teaches us that the past, with its learnings, insights, fears, and hopes can help us navigate present and future challenges. History is always instructive. As Santayana once said: Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.

I will never forget seeing that quote emblazoned at the exit of Dachau as a solemn warning and an inducement to remembrance, handing on knowledge that is critical for the future.

But apart from the vast canvas of history, even family understandings and customs are profitably handed-on in a personal tradition. I remember many stories that my Mom told me about her family in Italy and what they learned from the war. These things seemed to me, growing up in America, to be irrelevant until I learned from my studies how important it is to learn from what past generations have gone through!

In the area of Faith, tradition is of particular importance.

When studying Theology, the Catholic position regarding the Revelation that God gives us in this life as a Church was characterized by a duality. Protestants believe in only one source of Revelation: Scripture. Luther put it succinctly: Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone). But the Catholic position was that God revealed His will in two ways: Scripture and Tradition. Even Scripture was seen as a kind of Tradition that was set down in writing; and in this decision, the Church decided what oral traditions were truly inspired. But even before there was a New Testament, the eye-witnesses of Jesus and His work on earth wrote down their recollections which became, through the Church’s prayerful choice, the New Testament. But this was formed from the great oral Tradition. What was written down, however, did not exhaust the recollection of the early church. Much valuable data continued to be shared orally. Even the Evangelist John says in his Gospel that all the books in the world could not contain all that the Lord taught and lived out.

Added to this is the issue of the interpretation of the written Revelation. Once the Church decided what constituted the Old Testament and the New Testament, there were widely different interpretations of the written text of Scripture. The Church had to gather in Councils and Synods to decide what was the correct or orthodox interpretation of a disputed passage and what was heretical. Gradually, fed by both Scripture and Oral Tradition, a body of officially understood teaching emerged which was added to in each of the centuries of the Church’s life. This grew into what is called the Magisterium of the Church.

The Magisterium of the Church is a priceless guide and protection for the believer. Church history is rife with well-intentioned believers who have wandered far from the Truth of Revelation due to human error and the temptations of the devil. But a humble and forthright acceptance of the Magisterium of the Church is a wonderful help in keeping on the right road of faith and devotion. Far from being a burden or a frustration, it is a gift.

This codification of the oral tradition and its valid interpretation of the Scriptural text requires a humble acceptance and a confident trust. One thing necessary of the believing pilgrim in this world is to realize one’s limitations and to accept the help that God provides. The traditions of the Church are guardrails that help the person reach their personal destination in Christ.

The world seeks to beguile us in saying: “Be progressive. These things are of the past.” But a trust in God’s Providence is necessary. Accepting the wisdom of tradition over the momentary insights of our limited minds requires a humility and a docility that is often frowned upon in this modern world.

Why not take advantage of the great sweep of accumulated wisdom that is the gift of tradition? While a healthy skepticism can be helpful in burning away the dross of error, if the skepticism becomes central this creates a general distaste and aversion to what is handed on for our benefit. Then we become losers in the journey of life.

So, thank God for Tradition!

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Ongoing Spiritual Formation by Monsignor Ferrarese

Last week we reflected on the importance of apostolic zeal in the life of a Christian. We also warned that this energy must be tempered by prudence so that it does not devolve into fanaticism. Part of this prudence that is necessary for the spiritual development and formation of the Christian is the need for ongoing education in the spiritual life. There are many dangers in the spiritual journey and the devil is committed to our spiritual destruction; so it is important that we stay on the road traveled by the wise and the saintly to make sure we don’t wander into the jungles of error and vice.

Once again, then, we must begin with the virtue of humility and admit that no matter how old we are, we are still beginners. And as such we must walk the way of instruction and formation. In a word: we need ‘help’. In one sense, we will always be beginners and resting in humility is a way of making sure we protect ourselves from the vice of pride which is the subtlest and most destructive of all the evils that can afflict the soul. In our day and age, everything seems to conspire in making us seem that the way of ‘be nice to yourself’ and of ‘you deserve it’ is a life-affirming stance rather than the truth that it is an invitation to selfishness and pride.

Thus, what is necessary is continual education in the truth. Even beyond this, one may say that the need is really for formation, which is deeper than education, and suggests a permanent change of being that is engineered through faith and the action of God. It is not temporary; it holds and becomes part of us.

This is where the long tradition of the Church and even farther in history, the experience of Israel, becomes the rich legacy of the pilgrim seeking formation and guidance to form the prudence necessary to channel the zeal that we have delineated in the last reflection.

Usually, when we speak of education and of formation in wisdom, we are talking about institutions of higher learning where the learned men and women teach the various disciplines. When dealing with spiritual matters, the institution that most does the formation and education of candidates would be the seminaries in the world that not only have the professors who have knowledge but also the formators who can help shape the students in the habits necessary to make wisdom accessible and of benefit to others once the candidates are ordained by the Church.

But what I am suggesting is something of a much wider influence. I am speaking of accomplishing this not in a seminary or institution of higher learning but in an ordinary parish. Someone once said that a parish should be a seminary for lay people; that is, a place where lay people can grow in faith and in the knowledge of the faith so as to better minister to others in their families and in the daily work of furthering the Kingdom of God in the ordinary daily life of ordinary people. Why should education and formation be the prevue of only the few? Why cannot it be available to everyone?

Many suffer under the concept of a false humility when they think of growing spiritually in the knowledge of God. They think: “That is not for me. That’s a thing for priests. I am just a humble lay person who just needs to be faithful to Mass and the Rosary and that is enough for me.” This is not really humility but fear of growth and the work that it entails. God wants us to mature as His beloved children, knowing we have great capacities to learn and to grow.

St. Teresa of Avila wrote about people being like glasses of different sizes. God wants to fill us with His love but some of us have a limited capacity because of lack of growth. A wine glass and a water tumbler can both be filled by God with His grace but the tumbler will get more of it since it is larger.

Therefore, ongoing spiritual and theological formation is a process of increasing our capacity to receive God’s grace.

Given this understanding of a Catholic community that we call a parish, we need to strive to realize this communion of learners. As the Lord said when He walked on the earth: “Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ” (Matthew 23:10).

Let us strive to be a parish where everyone can get closer to Christ and grow in the Holy Spirit of God.

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” – Matthew 11:29

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Zeal by Monsignor Ferrarese

Once we arrive at the moment when we see that we are emerging from the tomb of the pandemic, we are faced with the tremendous responsibility of reconstituting our Church and even beyond that: committing ourselves to help the Church grow. This may seem to be a big ‘ask’: Should we not just be happy to start things again and not be worried about growth? This is the temptation to mediocrity that always plagues great organizations.

There is a law regarding organisms: they either grow or they die. We must continue to develop and grow or face the prospect of dying as a Church and parish. We cannot allow that in any way. We must go forward and commit ourselves to work and development, and not be content with stagnation, or decline.

This requires a great deal of enthusiasm about doing the work of God. Enthusiasm comes naturally when we begin a work that we want to master. When I started learning to play golf, I was on fire to master it. I went to driving ranges. I watched professional golfers on TV. I tried to go out on the links whenever I had a day off. But golf is hard, very hard. As my friends showed no interest in the game, and as I struggled to at least be moderately proficient in it, I lost some of the energy I had in the beginning. If I had stayed with it, maybe finding a group of other golfers that I could have fun with, I may have become a golfer (albeit of middling ability). I would have had to sustain my original enthusiasm which came naturally, with a more studied and sustained enthusiasm born of decision and hard work. But it did not happen.

The same process is involved in the realm of the spiritual. We feel the natural enthusiasm when we come home from a great retreat or after an inspiring talk or homily. But then real life takes over and we must buttress our initial natural enthusiasm with habits of virtue which would sustain us as the days turn to months and to years.

So that when we speak about the virtue of zeal, we must include in the obvious meaning of that natural enthusiasm, a more studied and habitual working of virtue that will sustain the zeal.

Included in this and on a very important level is also the virtue of prudence. Zeal without prudence can easily turn into fanaticism. In our own day, we have seen the sorry and frightening example of terrorists who in their zealous but imprudent behavior have used faith to kill, maim and harass the innocent. And this in the name of God! Obviously, this sort of zeal is demonic and an insult to the care and love that God shows to His creation. Zeal must always have an intelligent and humble basis for its action. Otherwise, it is just another form of pride and vanity.

Zeal for the things of the Lord and for accomplishing His sacred Will can also be compromised by the lessening of the energy of enthusiasm. We can get distracted by the many possibilities we have in a free society to do what we want to do. We can be seduced into inaction by the call to comfort that is constantly praised by the propaganda of advertising. We can follow this call to ‘be good to yourself’ that seems to be incessant in our heavily commercial environment and descend step by step into boredom and finally into depression. We can theologically move away from obedience to Church teaching to a home-grown compromised adherence to my own opinion, calling it the ultimate authority of conscience.

The taking apart of a true and holy use of zeal are by varied means but all end up at the same place: unbelief. In this static state, all the energy is gone and we have been won over by the prince of darkness and of lies. This happens often in our day as people stare blankly into their many screens that reflect their interior emptiness.

Even though there are only a few references to Our Blessed Lady in the Gospels, when she is mentioned, it is full of spiritual meaning. Dante knew that. Every level of Purgatory in his epic poem has an example from the life of Mary that instructs the souls in purgation of the opposite virtue to their dominant sin.

For zeal, we have Mary ‘going in haste’ to minister at the house of Elizabeth, helping her with her birthing of John the Baptist. Once the angel Gabriel told her of the marvels being done by God to her kinswoman Elizabeth, Mary set out in haste to help her. That haste was a sign of her zeal. The angel did not tell her to do this. She elected to put aside her own pregnancy and make the 80-mile trip on foot to be there for her cousin. And she stayed with her for 3 months!

Zeal, when properly directed, is a powerful sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit of God that accomplishes all things with joy and promptness.

Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.” – Romans 12:11

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Emerging from the Tomb by Monsignor Ferrarese

As the weather changes and the days get longer, we walk, unencumbered by masks, protected by the medicine bestowed by God through the science that is but the result of His Creation (especially through the discipline of the human mind) and we emerge from the darkness of the tomb called pandemic.

In leaving the darkness of fear and loneliness, we can perceive around us the results of our hope in God and the steadfastness of our belief. Throughout this long stay in the tomb of our fears and limitations, the Church has continued to minister and to pray. The Sacraments continued. Masses were celebrated. Liturgical prayer reached up to the heavens. Even in the tomb, Christ hugged us with His Love and the Spirit inspired us with hope.

Now that there is a possibility that the pandemic is ending, we are emerging as if from a tomb to see the bright dawn of the Resurrection. In the seeming euphoria of the moment (mixed with the hesitancy of uncertainty—is it really over?), it is a good time for us to consider what has changed and what we have learned from this living with death all around us.

As in all things, the only way I can do this is to relate my own reflections and learnings and hope that it connects with the experience of you, the reader. I may be off in what I say. I may be incomplete in what I relate. But I hope, at least, it is honest enough that you can find meaning in it.

I think I would start with the word ‘appreciate’. This experience of the pandemic (and especially the initial lockdown in NYC when we were alone in our misery) has taught me to appreciate my life and the world around me, and to especially value the simple things of life: health, friends, family, a smile, a child, an aged person, music; and most importantly, the God of my life Who will never abandon me and Who is the most faithful Friend that I have.

We take this for granted when these realities are not threatened. But this plague threatened everything that we took for granted: health, medical care, family, the economy, schools, etc. This was an experience that one reads about in history books. Most of us never thought that we would live through a plague.

So, we adapted. And the Church did so with a speed, efficiency and effectiveness that showed her deep inner resources. Masses were streamed, schools went virtual, the work of the Sacraments continued while fulfilling our duty of obedience to the secular state that has the responsibility to coordinate the different elements of our city and country so as to effectively fight against this pestilence.

This was the tomb of our daily lives for over 100 days.

I remember with fondness the 16 fireside chats that we had together during the time of maximum lockdown. The work of God did not miss a beat. We rose to the challenge and we prevailed.

Now we emerge from the tomb and breathe the new air of safety and hope. Everyone did their part.

What have we learned?

Clearly, we need to truly value the simple pleasures of our lives. The air we breathe, the food we eat, the companionship of friends, the security of family: we have been given so much by God that our lives should be one big chorus of thanksgiving to Him!

We can so easily lose the appreciation we should have regarding these simple aspects of our daily life. It takes a disaster like a pandemic to make us value what we have often taken for granted.

It also taught us, on the other hand, to put into a rightful place the material aspects of our lives and begin to truly cherish the spiritual reality of our lives. The importance to us of the material is very self-evident. Our food, shelter, friends, family, livelihood etc., are rightly seen to be important to our present and future. But when all of these things are threatened by an invisible microbe, what then are the things that transcend this present life that are impervious to the microbes and other enemies of our wellbeing: God, our souls, eternal life.

One begins to see the utter folly and precariousness of concentrating all of one’s hopes and expectations on this life alone. It is so impermanent and can easily take the place of what should be our ultimate concern: God and our future with Him or without Him.

As we emerge from the tomb of this pandemic, let us then ask God for the simple realities of our lives on earth; and, most of all, let us value the things that are permanent and that transcend this life. For to do otherwise would be sheer folly.

“Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” – Matthew 6:20-21

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The Centrality of Humility by Monsignor Ferrarese

Whenever a modern person sees the word “humility”, they are apt to think of self-abnegation, an unhealthy self-criticism, a ‘being a doormat’. In a word, they consider it unhealthy.

This is because we have enshrined ‘self-esteem’ as the cornerstone of all good ‘values’. But this is playing into the very hands of the demons; for the concept of self-esteem, in itself not a bad idea, can very easily degenerate into pride, the most dangerous of all the vices. It imprisons us into an unhealthy self-concern that blocks out the need to go out of ourselves to discover the people around us and their needs; and ultimately to bring us into a conscious awareness of the presence of God.

Humility, on the other hand, removes the barrier of the self and throws us outwards to the other and also to the Other: God. How else to interpret the seemingly enigmatic words of Christ: “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25)? Humility does not mean being a doormat to others; it is an energy that removes the obstacles to being in God and becoming a truly fit instrument of the Lord’s will. In a word: it is freedom; to serve God in a free and unencumbered and transparent way.

The word humility is a cognate of the word humus—of the earth. Someone who is humble is grounded in reality, his feet firmly planted on the ground. They are not fooled by elaborate strategy of flattery and manipulation. They are not swayed by the tendency to co-dependency. In a word, they are truly free.

When looked at this way, we can easily see why the saints have all, to the last one, based their entire spiritual system on the foundation of humility.

Simultaneously, the worst of the vices is not lust or gluttony or even envy. The worst of the vices is what is diametrically opposed to humility: pride. Pride is what caused the fall of the angels and the fall of man. Pride sums up all the vices in one lethal cocktail.

Yet this world and its secular hierarchy of values has no place for humility. When has it produced in its plays and films and novels examples of humility to convince and edify humanity? There are tons of superheroes and biographies of supposedly great statesmen who may have made some right decisions in the realm of politics, but whose private lives were a shamble of vices and destructive decisions which were far from being exemplary.

There are exceptions, of course. Dostoyevsky tried to create a Christ-like central figure in Prince Myshkin who is the central character in his novel “The Idiot”. He admitted that it was the hardest of his novels to write and is perhaps the most difficult to read because of the problem of showing a convincing picture of the grace of humility in literature. Much more vibrant are the sinners in his prose, like the murderer Raskolnikov in his novel “Crime and Punishment”. Moreover, we must remember that Dostoyevsky was a convinced Orthodox Christian who knew what he was talking about when he gave us Prince Myshkin.

What freedom is found in humility! Never to be worried about your standing or your place in society, never to be concerned about the opinions of others, never to measure yourself according to the dictates of country or family: these are but a few of the advantages of humility. To be humble is to rest in God and to be concerned only with what God wants of us and leave the rest to others! If we are truly honest with ourselves, we often crucify ourselves on the cross of our opinions and agendas that are inextricably bound with the expectations of others. To be humble is to care only what God thinks, what God wants, what our future with God will be.

Once we taste this freedom and this peace, we will search only for God’s will and rest only in Him. Only someone who has tasted the opposite, who has been at the mercy of other’s expectations, can know the peace that this offers and understand why the saints and mystics are unanimous in seeing humility as the cornerstone and the foundation of the spiritual life, putting all else in the rubbish heap. St. Paul said it beautifully when he wrote: “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him…” (Phil. 3:8-9).

He was a humble man.

“Our heart is restless until it rests in you.” – St. Augustine

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This Mysterious Presence by Monsignor Ferrarese

Once we have understood the mysterious Personhood of the Holy Spirit and the daily involvement of that Presence in the intimacy of our souls, then we have to try to understand not just how to pray to this Presence but also how this Presence is involved in our daily pursuits and how we can collaborate with this Presence.

Notice the difficulty I have using pronouns, for the Presence is not masculine or feminine; nor is it neuter. Gender has little place in the Divinity, which is not limited by gender categories. So, I will continue to use the word ‘Presence’ to get away both from human categories as well as the earlier error we spoke about as looking at the Holy Spirit as a thing and not a person.

It is hard for us to admit that we may be ignoring a Mysterious Presence or Divine Visitor. This seems both the height of rudeness and a very stupid thing to do since this Presence brings along great gifts and advantages for us. Yet we must say that the growth of someone’s spiritual development will follow the trajectory of our awareness and working with this Spirit we call Holy.

This spiritual blindness is also very self-defeating since our whole eternal life is hanging in the balance of this primary relationship. To ignore or misunderstand this spiritual bond is to hurt our spiritual development irrevocably.

We then come up to a very imposing obstacle to our belief in the providence of God indwelling within us. This is the problem of sheer multiplicity. While we can imagine God intimately involved in our own lives, so that every moment is connected to God as a kind of personal power source, things get more complicated when we consider that He is doing the same with billions of my earthly fellow travelers—at the same time! And that is just this planet! In addition, we also believe that He is involved in all of creation. Again, we can imagine that with our pet at home who takes up so much of our time, but God is also intimately involved in every bird, bug and molecule of this earth and knows them all by name!

When we think of this, we confront the doctrine of the Omnipotence of God. What do we mean by that? How can that be? It is so beyond even our imaginings!

When we travel down that rabbit hole, we end up no longer believing in a God like that. Rather, we settle for a much smaller god who is there to assist us in life. This is only because our concept of omnipotence is so weak and meagre.

Think of St. Augustine walking on the beach thinking about writing a book explaining the Holy Trinity. An angel, disguised as a 5-year-old child, keeps going to the water and filling a bucket with it. He then pours it into a hole in the sand. When St. Augustine asks what he is doing, he responds by telling him that he wants to put the ocean in that little hole. St. Augustine laughs and tells him that it is impossible. The Apparition then says: “It is even more impossible for your small mind to encompass the vastness of the Trinity!”

Once we have this enhanced understanding of how truly omnipotent and all-powerful God is, then we can better understand the minute way He is involved in our lives. No movement of the soul is too small for God not to notice. No tear goes unheeded. No hope is ignored. Because we can only be aware of one thing at a time, we still wonder how God can be involved in so many trillion ways at any given moment. But He can. This requires an act of faith on our part. Once we make this act of faith, then the wondrous work of God stands before us in all its variety, splendor and magnificence.

God in His Holy Spirit is our constant companion, our eternal friend, our ever-ready confidante, our source of spiritual energy, our wisdom and our perseverance. The Spiritual World opens up as the only truly real place in existence. What we were so concerned about in this life gets set in its proper, humbled place.

Truly God is Great. It takes us time just to catch up to a small inking of how vast that greatness is!

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How Does the Spirit Work? by Monsignor Ferrarese

Last week I tried to show that the Holy Spirit is ‘someone’ who is the love of God in our lives. In this essay, I would like to attempt to show how this Person works in our lives. This comes from a lifetime of trying to perceive the workings of this Spiritual Presence in my own life.

The first thing we have to do is to make sure it is the Spirit of God Who is moving in our consciousness. There are other spirits who are deceiving spirits and are malevolent toward the baptized who have renounced their leader: Satan. Often, the evil spirits take on the appearance of angels of light. It is imperative that we test the spirits to discover if they are really from God. The ruling criterion for doing this is what the Lord Jesus Himself taught us: “By their fruits you will know them” (Matt. 7:20).

If it is the Spirit of God, then it will produce peace, joy, good works, humility, etc. The evil spirits can mimic the Spirit of God in pretending to be like it, but they are powerless to produce the peace and joy as well as the good works that come from the true Spirit. Thus, caution is very important in the process of discernment.

St. Ignatius of Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises speaks about the gentleness of the Holy Spirit and the brusqueness and noise of the false spirits. The Holy Spirit moves the person toward hiddenness and humility and never to want to take the center stage so it can be seen.

The Spirit of God always leads to works of virtue and never sin. It always is in harmony with the teaching of the Church. If the spirit inside is leading one to believe and teach something that goes against a doctrine of the faith, it can immediately be labeled demonic. Do not follow it. The Holy Spirit, who leads the Church in her teaching, does not contradict itself.

The next logical question is, “How does the Spirit speak in us?” The word used in this regard is ‘promptings.’

It is a little difficult to convey the meaning of this seemingly simple word. A ‘prompting’ is a kind of intuition, a hunch, a feeling that inclines one in a certain direction, a thought that comes out of nowhere but that seems to relieve a deep seated anxiety. It is the kind of thing whose meaning can only be intuited since it is so elusive and therefore hard to pin down.

You can be in the middle of an ordinary thing you do each day when, out of nowhere, comes a desire. When you follow up on it, you realize that it was important for you to do this action, yet the willingness to do it seems to have come out of nowhere.

This of course only can happen if the thing is good in itself or leads to something good. As one can imagine, the Tempter can try to fraudulently mimic a prompting. But again: By the fruits you will know them.

What is most important about the ability to receive and interpret correctly these promptings of the Holy Spirit is that we be in a state of prayer. By that I do not mean actually in the process of formal prayer like saying the Rosary. We should be heading in the spiritual life to a state of prayer where we are in an attitude of continual prayer throughout the day. Think of this as always being in conversation with the Lord. If we nurture this habit of prayer, this conversation, we will be able to be receptive to the communications of the Spirit whether they be warnings about demonic subterfuge or encouragement for a new action desired by the Spirit of God.

It is very interesting that in the Acts of the Apostles (which could also be titled the Acts of the Holy Spirit!), the influence of the Spirit is felt throughout as an emotional force that comforts, persuades, warns, advises and grieves. This connection with the emotions is, I think, a very important factor in discerning the Spirit. Discernment is necessary since the demonic voices often masquerade as angels of light. They are very easily discerned if we are sensitive to where the initial emotions lead us. St. Ignatius warns that what appears to be the Holy Spirit’s actions reveals itself if we are attentive to where it leads. He speaks of the appearance of the ‘cola serpentina’, literally the serpent’s tail, as it slithers into view as the evil one leads the souls who think it is the Holy Spirit into disquiet, anger and pride.

While the Acts of the Apostles emphasizes how emotional the Spirit is, we must always remember that many of the gifts of the Spirit deal with how the mind orders reality and acts on it: Wisdom, Counsel, Understanding, Knowledge. With these gifts, the energy of the emotions can be properly directed and builds up the Body of Christ, the Church.

How can we ever do without the actions and guidance of that Mysterious Person called the Holy Spirit?

O merciful Father, grant that Your Divine Spirit may cleanse, inflame, and enlighten our minds and hearts. Enable us to be fruitful in good works for the glory of Your Majesty and the spiritual and material well-being of all people.

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