A Global Faith by Monsignor Ferrarese

In my last essay, I detailed how we in the West have taken a wrong road both philosophically and historically away from the True Faith. This happened even though the witness of Scripture, the Tradition enshrined in the Magisterium (teaching authority of the Church), and the constant guidance of the great saints of our Church are still available to us and offer us real assistance in keeping us on the road of orthodoxy (right thinking theologically) in the modern world.

However, we have to see that given the great knowledge that we in the West have, as well as the scientific and technological advances that have come about in our midst, we are not the world, i.e. the world is bigger than the West. An incipient parochialism can affect us even though we have made so much progress in the technological advances. There is a big world out there! In fact, we are in the minority. A privileged minority but a minority none the less.

That mass of humanity keeps trying to break into the fortress of privilege that we have built around us and we try to stem the tide of hopelessness that keeps threatening to become an invasion of last hopes. Everyone seeks to enter the West. It has been insufficiently demonstrated by the intellectuals of our world (corrupted as they are by nihilism and the hopelessness of their atheistic foundations) that the bases of the advantages of the West are the Medieval Universities and the learning thereof that were founded by the Church and peopled with Christian believers. The West is a direct product of the Christian faith.

From these centers the great missionary work of the Christian Churches spread the faith to every continent and every country, however poor. It has met with much persecutions from other Religious adherents and also from the Godless movements like Marxism which also began by a misunderstanding of the Judeo-Christian Revelation. Amazingly, Christianity is abounding in these places.

I remember talking with a priest who was from one of these ‘developing’ countries. He had worked in our Diocese for a few years and then after getting a degree from one of our universities went back to minister in his home country.

He returned to the United States for a visit. In conversation I asked him how things were going with his parish in Africa. He said that they had a wonderful Holy Week and that the Easter Vigil was very long. I asked him why. He said that they had many adult converts. I asked him the number. He said 950. Thinking he misunderstood my question, I clarified that I was not interested in the number that were converted in the Diocese but just in his parish. He smiled and said that he did not misunderstand the question. There were 950 adult converts in his parish alone! The same was true for the many other parishes in his Diocese.

So, when we try to assess what is happening in the Church today, we must have a global perspective. Things are not going so well here in the Northeast but in other parts of the country and the rest of the Catholic world, great things are happening. This is the perspective that our Holy Father Francis has. Every five years each diocese sends their bishops to the Pope for their ‘ad limina’ (meaning to the doorstep of the Pope) visits. So, the Pope gets firsthand reporting of what is happening on the ground all over the world.

Often, we might say: Why doesn’t the Pope do such and such. But we have to always admit that we see things only from our own limited perspective.

Once we understand the complexity of what is happening in the Church all over the world, we must also elevate our thinking to try to imagine (since this cannot be demonstrated) what it is that God sees in the Church. For He sees into the heart of each person. He knows the personal history of every person who exists and has named, as it were, every molecule of everyone. His piercing glance into each person reveals what is really going on. So, in simultaneous fashion, seeing the minute reality of what is happening in every being walking the earth, including every baptized member of the Church, only God knows the true state of the world and its future direction.

So, in judging what is going on in the Church, we must confess the dire poverty of our knowledge. Making an act of humility we need to mind what is happening in our own heart and leave the rest to Almighty God.

Every nation, including our own, thinks that it is the center of what is going on. But it is not. Only the Holy Spirit of God plumbs the depths of reality and the individual destinies of the 6 billion persons made in the image of God that walk the earth at this moment of time.

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Wrong Turns by Monsignor Ferrarese

Each era of history has something of value to help us understand the coherent unity of our Tradition of Faith (both written in Scripture and passed on orally). Likewise, each era has opinions and teachings which are at variance to the ongoing self-understanding of the Church. From the ancient world till today, the Church has had to deal with heresies which initially made sense to a great number of members of the Church. But after careful theological investigation they were found to be inadequate and had to be exposed and condemned, usually by Councils or Papal interventions.

This is the positive effect of heretical opinions. By confronting them head on, the Church is forced to clarify her position.

The modern age has introduced new challenges to our self-understanding of the nature of salvation and what is the required pathway for human beings interested in reaching the beatitude of heaven.

The Second Vatican Council was the most important religious event in the 20 Century. It was called not to combat a specific heresy that had arisen, but to address the modern world in a positive sense and find what is the best way to preach the Gospel in this changed landscape of faith and reason. The image often used is that of throwing open the windows of the Church.

But what came in was not a breeze but a tornado.

In our eagerness to embrace the modern world we forgot the Biblical teaching that the evil one is the prince of this world. This hideous presence is allowed by Almighty God to test us as he tested Job. But because ‘it’ (angels and demons have no gender) was an angel originally, it is a being of very high intelligence and therefore very cunning. It knows us and our weakness and is bent on destroying the life of God in us. It is to ‘its world’ that we opened our windows and what a mess it has been!

For instance, the devolution of sex (I hesitate to give it the name ‘revolution’ since that has gained a sheen of respectability) has coursed through first the cultures that had embraced Christ and then it threatened other religious centers. This devolution of sex ended up degrading the gift of humanity. Our sexual selves were meant by God to procreate humanity and to instill in the family, the permanence and the bounty of God’s love. God gave the human person the dignity of self-development as an act of trust. Once sex had been degraded to a commodity then all hell broke loose – in more ways than one!

Sexuality is a very powerful force, made so by God Himself, the reason being the importance of creating new eternal lives – God’s special mandate to married couples. When that force is misdirected, it is like a Howitzer canon shooting everywhere. Gender issues, diverse sexual attractions, sexual abuse of minors, rape, violence against women, and abortion are just some of the shrapnel from this devolution.

Sexuality is a gift given by God for specific purposes. It was never meant to be used merely for the pleasure it gives. To divorce it from its purpose is to degrade it, not enhance it.

But that was not the only very serious consequence in following the way of the world instead of working with the world to do God’s will.

We have lost our reverence for the sacred. We have lost our sense of sin and its consequences. We have lost our quest for Truth or even our belief that there is Truth. We no longer believe that we will be held accountable for our actions both in the particular and the general Judgement. We no longer believe that hell is a possibility for us and that there is Justice in God, a loving Justice but Justice none the less.

In our misunderstanding of the Council, we have made Man the center of it all and God has been relegated to being our gofer. In many ways Western Culture has gutted the Christian Faith. Is it any wonder that our young men and women can go through years in Catholic Educational Institutions and come out hardened agnostics?

I believe that what Saint Pius X feared, when he defined the new heresy of Modernism, has occurred and that the way back to faith must be through an arduous critique of the modern world and its presuppositions that have the patina and sheen of Christianity but are really a disguised form of paganism.

But, are we ready for a new wave of persecution!

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Teaching the Teachers by Monsignor Ferrarese

I just returned from a wonderful weeklong conference for priests. It took place in Austin, Texas. There were 215 priests in attendance from just about every state of the union. There were older priests and younger ones. Every possible nationality was represented. It was held at a resort on a Lake that gave it an unmistakably retreat-like atmosphere.

During the three days, we listened to 15 talks that were more than 1 hour long in length. We also had beautiful liturgies in the Ballroom that had been completely transformed into a church, resplendent with statues, Tabernacle and altar rail.

The speakers were dynamic, insightful, and all but one were lay people. Yep, you heard it right: 215 priests listened to spiritually enriching talks given by Lay People, three of whom were converts: one from Judaism, and two were former Protestant Pastors. They were all married with children and even grandchildren.

And what did they talk about? They told us over and over again in so many different ways how important priests are to them and their families! There is something very poignant in this.

We are in the midst of a great renewal of priestly commitment and spirituality. The sexual abuse crisis has revealed how deep Satan’s attack were on the Church through the debasement of the priestly commitment to celibate love. While it is easy to see how this has damaged the self-image of priests, attention needs to be paid to its effect on the laity of the Church. Traditionally we call this majority of Catholics the Faithful. In attacking the sacred priesthood, Satan has struck a blow at the whole people of God who have always needed a humble, holy Priesthood to sustain their fidelity and the day-to-day spiritual needs of the people of God.

It is only fitting and proper that members of the Faithful rise up to help their priests regain the needed holiness to discharge their service to them.

That is what was most evident in the words and the overall demeanor of the lay presenters at this conference. They were certainly qualified. Each of them had a Doctorate and had written a good quantity of books outlining how to be Catholic in today’s world. They were equally aware of the pressures on priests and bishops both from within the Church and outside the Church.

One of the presenters was a Presbyterian Minister who converted and who now has one of his sons as a Priest, and another son discerning his possible call to the priesthood. He spoke movingly of how he attended his son’s first Mass and how he received Holy Communion from his son for the first time, and how he called his own son “Father” for the first time (and meant it!).

In listening to these holy lay people, I was filled with awe at the vocation to the Priesthood that I received: how I have been empowered by Christ Himself to forgive sins in the name of the Church and, more importantly, in the name of Jesus! And furthermore, when dealing with the Holy Eucharist, I tremble at the powers granted to me in bringing Christ to earth once more! I cannot tell you how unworthy it makes me feel when I reflect on my sinfulness and on this call that I sometimes take for granted.

This week also taught me the wisdom in the Second Vatican Council’s teaching on the universal call to Holiness. There was always a tendency to elitism in the self-knowledge of many in the Church. In past ways of thinking, theology and the Spiritual Life was the province of those in priestly orders or in Religious Life. But following up on the clear teaching of St. Francis de Sales, the Council proclaimed that all of the Baptized were called to holiness and that, as the great writer and Spiritual author Leon Bloy wrote, the only true sadness in this life is not to become a saint.

The wisdom and the beauty of what I heard spoken at this conference was actually being lived in the holy life of these lay teachers. We priests benefited greatly as these teachers taught us about the joys and the glory of the priestly vocation.

We serve the people of God.

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True for All by Monsignor Ferrarese

One of the most persistent errors of modernity is that of relativism. This is the error that states that something can be true for me and false for you. We can each have our own moral universal irrespective of logic, reality and morality. This is the common excuse used to evade the responsibilities of the present moment and trivialize the authority of God and His methods of communication through Revelation and Magisterium.

For instance, let us take the moral norm that it is wrong to kill an innocent human being. One would, of course, tend to agree with that statement. But not all the time. Take for example the question of pre-born human life. One couple may be very happy that they are expecting a child and do everything possible, nutritionally and medically, to ensure that a healthy baby is born to them. They name the child in the womb and show pictures to their family of the child produced by a sonogram. Another couple, on the other hand, see the pregnancy as an undue burden and the developing human child to be unwanted and hence expendable. So, they abort the child and terminate the pregnancy. Is that, objectively, a child in the two wombs? Or does the objective reality of that child depend on the subjective judgment of the individual child’s parents?

Modern thought would say that it is a child for the first couple but not for the second. Why the difference? Relativity. Each couple has the right to define what human life is for themselves. But that does not make any logical sense. Either a thing is or it is not. It cannot be both. It cannot be subject to the whim of individuals and their needs at any particular time. I may want the bear in front of me to be a puppy, but I cannot will it to be what it is not. Either the organism that is in the womb is or is not a child in every case.

This should be self-evident, but often politics or the human will wishes it to be otherwise. But life is not magic.

Scholars often trace this subjectivism that has invaded our culture as beginning with the philosopher Rene Descartes. He invented the formula ‘Cogitio Ergo Sum’ (I think therefore I am) as being the most basic and irrefutable foundation of human certainty. But notice the two references to “I”. It grounds reality on the ego of the human person. So, if the human being wants to say that the bear is really a puppy, then that is the way it is to be. And if another person wants it to be a giraffe, well, so be it!

In this misguided view of the world, the human person is absolute sovereign of his or her intellectual and moral kingdom. It completely obliterates God. The individual ego becomes the final arbiter of meaning. Sure, you can still believe in ‘your god’, but it is a god that does not matter, merely a psychological support.

We, however, believe in a God who alone is sovereign. His edicts and commandments are inherently truthful and binding on all human beings. This is the God of Revelation, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of Jesus Christ. True, this is an article of faith, but it is not unreasonable.

Law, science, and psychology are all built on the objectivity of reality. If reality could be changed at someone’s whim, then the scientific method is a farce. In a world without God, we have the end of order since at the very onset of rational inquiry is the question: Why does all this exist? Believers have an answer: because God willed it to be. Unbelievers search for answers and come up with theories that cannot be proven or disproven.

Recently, I heard from a priest in another state who says that there was an instance in his state when some children decided that they were really dogs. So, they started to bark and insisted that they needed a litter and not a bathroom. Some children in the class were horrified at this and were sent promptly to the school psychologist for help in coping with this “reality”! If reality can be invented, anything is possible!

Our Faith works hand in hand with reason, even when the world becomes unreasonable! Reality is objective and cannot be invalidated by our non-cooperation. God is real and has made reality to be the same for all.

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Renewal by Monsignor Ferrarese

In living our lives, we try to be faithful to the values we believe in. This is true in the little daily things we do (like exercise and prayer) and also the major things of our lives (fidelity to our vocation in life). But there is also a general tendency in us to ‘slacken off’ and to become less attentive to the development of our life project: from the physical to the spiritual.

The same is true of the Church.

We are in a period of decline in the North East section of the United States. In other areas, notably in the South and South West, the Church is growing. Similarly, on a worldwide scale, Europe is in decline in terms of faith; while Africa, Asia and Latin America are growing by leaps and bounds. So, when we look at the Church in evaluating what is going on we cannot become too parochial (in both senses of the word!).

The Church is not an organization which is a thing. It is an organism that has its own laws and grows organically. So, we have to be careful in looking at the Church’s need for renewal that we consider the total Church and not just one geographical corner of it.

A distinction needs also to be made between the term renewal and reformation. Reformation is an act of correction. Things can become badly ‘formed’. In this case, one must get rid of things that are accretions. These malformations impede the move forward of the organism of the Church. This implies a purification of things that have gone wrong in the Church.

The Protestant Reformation got rid of not only some of the secondary things in the Church but also the Sacraments, the notion of Tradition, the Priesthood, the Papacy and many other essential elements of Catholicism. It was a radical reformulation of the Christian Religion.

The Catholic Church at the Council of Trent reestablished a proper understanding of these elements rejected by the reformers. This was an attempt at renewal which did not jettison but reinvigorated the fundamental aspects of the Church’s self -understanding.

To use another image, when you have a growing plant, you can remove branches and reinvigorate it; but if you remove too much, you can kill the plant you are trying to help. This is the danger that reformation poses. But renewal is more like enriching the soil, weeding it, and aerating it. This can renew the plant and cause it to grow even more markedly than before.

What the Church needs now is not the shears but enrichment of the soil through spiritual nutrients and a removal of the weeds of bad teaching. While it might need some pruning, this should be done very carefully lest we remove what it needs for growth.

When we get down to basics, we can see false directions that the Church has taken that needs correction. Her theology is sound but it is not followed.

Take the doctrine of hell. We should, indeed, remove the ‘torture chamber’ idea of hell that is unworthy of a loving God. But hell is an important doctrine of the Church. Without hell there is no human freedom. We must be free to choose God through moral and virtuous action, or to refuse His love through selfish, pleasure seeking and proudful rebellion. One needs to be able to choose to say no to the offer of God’s love. The consequences of that choice are dreadful and horrible. But they are freely chosen by persons who do not want to be obedient to God. Hell is not condemnation. It is the consequence of our choices. Should we shake and tremble at the very thought of hell: YES! God is so loving, so caring, so beautiful. To lose God for all eternity is a frightening thought. Flames and screams are just the way great artists choose to describe the inner torments of the great refusal of God’s love. But they are only images. The truth is even worse: to be stuck with our own selfishness, in the company of others like ourselves.

People have stopped believing in their own power and freedom: that of saying no to God. Forgiveness is not automatic. A person who develops ways of selfishness may never even think of asking for forgiveness. That is the tragedy of evil. That is why Jesus was so insistent on repentance. Without the inward realization of how wrong we are and the articulation of our change of heart to God, there is no forgiveness and we are justly given the results of our own desires. To believe that God automatically forgives us is not believing in our dignity and freedom, both of which God respects in giving to us what we ask for and deserve.

The Church needs renewal. Her teaching is correct but we are not often consistent in following Her teaching.

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Right Thinking and Wrong Thinking by Monsignor Ferrarese

Sometimes, over time, some important concepts get clarified. If they are not followed, mayhem ensues; not just intellectually, but socially and politically. It is similar to mathematical formulae. When NASA devises flight patterns for their space flights, making sure the math is correct becomes a matter of life and death. One decimal point in the wrong place means that our astronauts may be lost in space!

The same is true with religion and the Church. The theology of the Church must be correct, otherwise disunity, harm and even war follows in the wake of these wrong ideas. We live in a liberal society that tries to accommodate a lot of different viewpoints and ideas. It seems counterintuitive to consider an idea as wrong. In our admittedly-to-be lamented relativization of values, we think that we can contain opposites in a harmonic whole. But take an idea like ‘women are inferior to men’. If we were to believe this erroneous idea, we would back many laws against the equality of men and women in our society. We held this view in the past and it was wrong then and is wrong now. It was only in the 20th century that women were allowed to vote! We have climbed out of many wrong ideas that had very hurtful and damaging consequences in our society.

There are religious ideas that are right (we call these orthodox) and there are religious ideas that are wrong (we call these heresies). Applying the same standards of right and wrong that we have in our societal issues, we can clearly see that wrong, heretical views of theology can be damaging to the Church and the world.

For instance, let us look at the Albigensian heresy. This heresy grew intensely in the south of France during the Middle Ages. It stated that the body and the material world are bad and the spiritual world is good. Therefore, souls (good) are trapped in bodies (bad) and long for liberation.

You might say, so what? This does not seem so bad. But some of these heretics started to refuse to eat so they could starve the body and release the soul from its prison. You have to agree that this concept of mass self-starvation is terrible. But it flows from this erroneous idea. Other heretics in the south of France came to a different consequence to this heretical idea. Since the body is evil and does not matter to God, you can do anything you want with the body and it’s OK. These heretics began to sexually abuse each other and rape and engage in every kind of forbidden sexual activity, since it did not matter to God since it did not touch the soul which did matter. Is it any wonder, when they began to take up weapons to defend their right to this heretical idea, that it had to be put down by force of arms?

In our own day, there are heresies as well. One of the most prevalent is that there is no objective right or wrong. Rather, every person has the right to their own understanding of right and wrong, good or bad. This lack of objectivity effects the moral sphere. Something can be good simply because I say it is good for me. Then hands off! Even God has to abide by this subjective view. This calls into question sin and the right of God to judge our actions. This can have disastrous consequences as can be seen in the area of sexuality where the law of God is buried under the will of man.

In the past, heresies were considered so dangerous that the secular government, in an unenlightened way, tried to stamp them out violently. The Church in her Inquisitions tried to moderate this violence by asking competent theological persons to judge if the person is truly guilty of heresy. The majority of cases before Church Inquisitions were judged to be not guilty of heresy and such persons were saved from the executioners.

Today we have no Inquisitions, but the Church does warn of heresies in Papal documents that seek to teach the faithful right thinking and true doctrine.

In all of this it is important that each person in the Church hold themselves accountable to the teaching authority of the Church (called the Magisterium) to protect themselves from erroneous ideas that often, in the guise of ‘conscience’, can cause great harm to individual Christians and the Church on the whole.

Living within the protection of Church Teaching is the only way to avoid wandering into ideas that appear good, but in reality, are very wrong and harmful.

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Resurrection Now by Monsignor Ferrarese

There is a very funny film adaptation of a novel by the great English Catholic writer named Evelyn Waugh. The name of the novel and the film is “The Loved One”. The story is a humorous send-up of the funeral industry in California during the 1950s.

In the course of the film and the novel, the owner of the vast cemetery (hilariously played in the film by Jonathan Winters) decides that he is not making enough money from the land and decides to turn the cemetery into a resort with golf courses. The only problem is that there are a lot of dead bodies buried in it! So, he decides to create little rockets that will send the individual remains flying through the air and into the stratosphere. In explaining his plan to the Board of Trustees, he decides to call this new program: “Resurrection Now!”

Of course, this is a satire, but the title he gives to the program is intriguing, especially as we enter the season of Easter, the season of the Resurrection of Christ.

When we think of the Resurrection, we normally and naturally think of either the past or the future. It was 2,000 years ago that Christ rose from the dead, when his friends, family and disciples discovered the empty tomb. And, conversely, when we think of our own resurrection of the body we are catapulted into the (hopefully distant) future.

But, taking from our fictional foray into the Resurrection given to us by the author Waugh, how does the Resurrection affect us now? Is it just an historical event or a future pledge of glory?

Once again, as so often is the case, we turn to St. Paul. All Christian Spirituality is a footnote to St. Paul. It is not an accident that he wrote more of the New Testament (of course under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) than any other human author including St. John and St. Luke. He issues a great call and tells us of his deepest wish when we cry, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection” (Philippians 3:10). But that implies that he wishes to receive those graces now and not just when he dies.

What is the nature of these graces?

Since the Resurrection was an event of cataclysmic proportions, the graces likewise would be gigantic and powerful. The Resurrection of Jesus defeated evil and death and gave new hope to every human being. It was the ultimate validation by the Father of the compassionate and redemptive love of the Son of God. Twice while Jesus lived His early life, He heard the affirmation of the Father: at His Baptism and at the Transfiguration. Both times the Father said affirmingly: This is my beloved Son; and at the Baptism—I am well pleased, and at the Transfiguration— listen to Him!

One can readily see that the Resurrection of Christ (perhaps more accurately put: The Raising Up of Christ by the Father) was the ultimate proclamation of the death of Death and of the victory of Christ over evil.

The graces of that victory can have powerful effects in the baptized. In Baptism, we all were put into the grave like Jesus; and, like Him, we were raised into a new life by the power of the Father. We then receive the Easter Graces that empowered the resurrected body of Jesus and that sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to found the Church.

One can readily see that even now we can experience the Resurrection through the graces won by Christ and given to us at our Christening. All we need to do is believe in the Resurrection of Christ and, like St. Paul, believe that Jesus is alive and ready to enter us through the power of the Spirit in His Holy Word and His Sacred Body and Blood.

Yes, this Easter Season we can truly experience Resurrection Now!

“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” – Romans 6:5

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After This, Our Exile by Monsignor Ferrarese

During the course of the beautiful Marian hymn Salve Regina (Hail Holy Queen), there is the poignant phrase: “And, after this, our exile, show unto us the Blessed Fruit of Thy womb, Jesus”. This an important and often overlooked point. For, we take for granted the future oriented nature of our Christian Faith.

The Old Testament is really about how to live on this earth: How God wants the individual, the family and the nation to live their lives in this world. A careful perusal of the Covenant or Testament with the Hebrews will find very few instances where heaven or hell are invoked and explained.

God chose a people here on earth and taught them how to live according to His will, to live that will simply because it is the will of God and is the best way of spending our years on earth. What happens after death is not explored or even mentioned. Because of our future orientation as Christians, we tend to read into the Old Testament our own perspectives.

Even in the time of Christ, it was only the Pharisees that believed in a future life (i.e., the Resurrection at the end of time). The Sadducees, who had control of the Temple of Jerusalem, did not believe in it since they did not find it in the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) which are considered authoritative in Judaism.

Clearly, Judaism is a much more ‘this worldly’ religion that seeks to reveal to the Chosen People how it is best to live in this present life so as to have this life blessed by God. There is no clear teaching about the afterlife in Judaism. Rather, there are a range of theological opinions, none of which bear the weight of being defined by revelation.

Christianity is by its very nature an ‘other worldly’ religion, teaching all the baptized (the illuminated ones) how best to live in this life so as to be happy forever with God in the next life. The repentance that Christ preached was not only to establish the Kingdom of God on earth but also to prepare one’s soul or being for the ultimate choice we must make: either for or against God; in other words, where we intend to spend eternity: away from God (called Hell) or with God (termed Heaven). Purgatory is a state in which the unfinished business of spiritual growth can be accomplished before one enters the presence of God.

Therefore, in our Catholic theology, we see our short time on earth as a form of exile. This occurred, biblically, when Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden and forced to live on this earth in pain and the sweat of the brow. So, in the beautiful prayer of the Hail Holy Queen, there is the phrase: “after this, our exile, show us the fruit of your womb, Jesus” as already mentioned. While our time on earth is short, it is decisive for our eternal reward or punishment: Heaven or Hell. An image I sometimes use in homilies is saying that eternal life is like a book with countless volumes and pages. Our life on earth is merely the first page. But it is very important since it is the title page and shows the volumes of our lives to be either an eternal tragedy or a comedy leading to joys without number.

We are writing that title page right here and now. What kind of book will our eternal life be? Seen in this way, our time here on earth, short as it is, is of extreme importance. Every moral act, every decision we make, has eternal consequences. This includes even the most private: the ideas and movements of the heart that only God and the person in question is aware of. Every day is weighed down with significance. Rather than trivializing our brief earthly life, it makes everything gain in power and significance.

We are on our way to our eternal home. This life is a key part of our journey. But it is not the destination. This must be accepted since it affects everything in life. Our pains and difficulties can be seen as opportunities to prove our loyalty to Christ and thereby become important elements in the direction of our brief life on earth.

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Battle Lines by Monsignor Ferrarese

If you’re like me, you’re probably sitting in front of the TV and watching the news about the war in Ukraine. You’re also probably thinking that this is an exhausting, depressing experience. So much destruction. So much death. For what? Are we never going to learn lessons from history? War is futile. War is stupid. War is a waste of people.

Yet the bombs keep dropping and millions flee their homes. War has always been senseless, but I think we thought we had learned our lesson. We haven’t.

Russia and Ukraine both have Christian histories and Christian roots. They both venerate our Blessed Lady as the Mother of God and our own mother. What sadness must be hers as she watches the carnage of her beloved children!

The Pope has called on the Global Catholic Church to pray and to consecrate both Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Way before the rest of the world, Our Lady knew how important to the world is the salvation of Russia. At her appearances in Fatima, she asked special prayers and attention be given to the future of Russia. At that moment, Russia was descending into the pit of Bolshevism in all its atheistic horror. I remember growing up in the 50’s and how we would end each Mass (in Latin of course) with prayers for the conversion of Russia. The Soviet Union collapsed without a shot being fired. Until now.

A couple of years ago I went to Russia on vacation. I have always loved Russian Literature: Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Chekov. I found that after 80 years of enforced atheism, Russia was undergoing a religious revival. I went to the monastery of St. Sergius (about 3 hours from Moscow). It was the feast of St. Peter and Paul (in the Orthodox calendar). St. Sergius was bursting at the seams: 300 monks, most of them young! The Vespers ceremony, replete with many processions, lasted over 2 hours.

Ukraine has also seen an amazing religious revival. Then why the destruction?

This is a perennial problem in regard to faith. While one can devotionally pray before an icon of the God-Bearer or Mother of God, when one leaves the Church, the daily life of human concerns, politics and world events seem completely divorced from that previous pious attitude. The feeling of love can be abandoned in accepting hate into the human psyche. This is not a new problem. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman spoke about the difference between Notional Assent (totally in the mind) and Real Assent (affects real life). Praying before an icon of Our Blessed Lady can elicit a feeling in the heart that does not translate into action when one leaves after Mass.

In Notional Assent, one can be on one’s knees one moment and pulling a trigger in the next moment.

This apparent contradiction afflicts all believers. In fact, one way that a Christian can know that their belief is real and not ‘in the head’ is by an evaluation of one’s actions. There is a principle in theology that states: “Agere sequitur esse” which loosely translate: “Action follows Being”. So that if one is truly a believing Christian one manifests that being in how the person actually lives their lives: on their actions. If their actions do not match their beliefs than their faith is notional or imaginary. Concretely: if a person says that he believes that a Christian should aid the poor, then a look at their checkbooks would show whether this belief is real or notional. It is as simple as that.

When we say that a nation has a Christian heritage (as seems to be the case with both Russia and Ukraine) we are merely stating an apparent historical fact and not evaluating their true Christianity.

Should Christian nations (by heritage and history) react differently on the world stage? On the one hand one would hope the answer was Yes. One’s beliefs should make a difference. But, on the other hand, history and the sheer numbers of people make for much more complexity. What one says about an individual person may not hold for a nation.

In the face of all of this, consecrating both nations to the Immaculate Heart of Mary seems to be the fairest solution. Leaving it up to the judgement of God and the advocacy of Our Lady may, in the end, bear the most fruit.

Let’s pray for all those involved in this tragic conflict.

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Angels and Devils by Monsignor Ferrarese

I recently began to show to the 6th, 7th and 8th graders in our Academy a few episodes of the landmark series ‘The Chosen’, which is a streaming show about the life of Christ written, directed, and starring believers in the Lord Jesus. The first episode begins with the exorcism of Mary Magdalene. There was a lot of other stories in the first part: about Peter and Andrew, Matthew and Nicodemus. But the majority of the questions and concerns that these young people had was about the freeing of Mary Magdalen from her ‘7 devils’. This is a true story from the pages of the New Testament. Even though I directed their attention over and over to other parts of the story, they kept coming back with questions about devils and the life to come.

This was not unique in my experience. Many times when I opened the floor to questions, whether in a grammar school or a high school classroom, the questions inevitably veered to Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, Angels, Demons and Exorcism. Given the ‘this-worldly’ bent of much of their entertainment and concerns, there is still a hunger for learning about the uncharted and mysterious realm of the hereafter.

If this realm is deemed real, the students begin to listen in rapt amazement to the exploits of the saints and martyrs and other heroes of the spiritual. Most of the time they stay firmly in the here-and-now, but seem relieved that there is more to life. This may be why there is widespread depression among young people, only accentuated in the last two years by the Pandemic.

Nowadays, youngsters have so much in the way of material things that it is easy to reach limits very early in life and wonder whether that is all that there is in life. To be world-weary at 12 years old is a bleak prelude for the rocky teenage years, not to mention the experience of the adult world.

But getting back to our subject: kids are fascinated with this inner world that is available to them just by imagination and prayer. And, even though the demonic world can be pretty scary, they seem to be happy talking about it.

I think that at some deep level they are comforted that there is more to life than the material. Every act of kindness, every falling in love, every aspiration to mending this broken world through heroic action, bespeaks of something greater in the universe. Boiling everything down to the material is a depressive reduction of meaning and purpose. No wonder kids get depressed when they are told how happy they will be if they only had this toy or this article of clothing. They see right through it!

That there is an unseen world of angels and demons brings reality to a different level of meaning. Kids are naturally oriented to wonder, awe, and prayer. To take that away by a concentrated bombardment by media to reduce children’s vision of life is another form of child abuse. Yet we do it when we reward children for ‘following the science’, which is another way of saying ‘that is all there is’.

Children will naturally revolt against this form of canceling. While kids love science, they love it with a kind of wonder. Einstein once said that imagination is one of the best helpers for scientists. Kids are mysteriously open even when confronted with the mathematical precision of science. They dare to trace the complexity of it all to the mind of a God that is beyond our abilities to fathom. What is left to us is imagination and courage.

When one talks with a youngster about the angelic or demonic realm, their eyes grow in excitement and wonder. When you speak of the power of those realms you see them quake giddily in their seats, a manifestation of their openness and their desire to know, even when there is a risk.

All of Religion belongs in this category. Theologians who get away from the wonder of it all end up with desiccated systems of thought that speak to no one except like-minded academics turned skeptics.

The biggest challenge in dealing with the Angelic and Demonic with children is with weaning them away from the errors with which bad writers invest their screenplays. The reality is more real and more wondrous that only a religious sensibility can perceive. Thank God children and young people still have it!

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