Language and Truth by Monsignor Ferrarese

I believe it was the English writer Aldous Huxley, author of the frightening novel regarding our possible future entitled “Brave New World”, who once wrote that if you change the language about something you can change the way people perceive it and respond to it. You can even change the reality of what you speak if you change the language. In this view, language used incorrectly can be a form of suppression of the Truth.

The Nazis brought this even further. They contended that if you say a lie often enough, it becomes a truth in people’s minds. As they spread lies about the Jews, saying them over and over again, the common person began to believe what was completely false.

Such a distortion and change of language is being foisted on us all by the media/academia/politico-complex regarding the issue of abortion. In a kind of collusion to obscure the truth of what an abortion truly is, what is foisted on the public are slogans: Reproductive rights, Women’s health, “My body my choice!” or doubly insulting “Keep your rosaries off our ovaries!”

Who can be against ‘Women’s health’? It seems a mean thing to be against ‘reproductive rights’! In the thought of Huxley: Big Brother is attempting to change the issue by changing the language. This is being reinforced in thousands of ways by the media that keep presenting things in the way which casts the opponents of abortion as small minded, unscientific, and cruel persons who would rather women go back to unsafe abortions that compromise their lives. They cast themselves as ‘progressives’ who are guarding the rights of women to have decision making authority over their own bodies.

 But what is an abortion, really?

What happens in the womb normally is something that is so amazing that, if it weren’t so hidden, would be the greatest wonder of the world. From a few cells a new human being begins to be formed. The circulatory system, the nervous system, the many highly complex and specialized organs are all being created in so intricate a complexus that it defies the geniuses of the world to replicate. The heart begins to beat. The developing human being grows larger, begins to move and to feel pleasure and pain. Most astoundingly, the human brain begins to form and to take over many organisms and functions all in sync with the human being, the mother, and all her many nutritional and automatic support, in which the new human being is safely protected until it is ready to be born and to continue his or her life outside the womb. Even then, the body is not complete; left on its own would die within hours. A human being, once born, is still dependent on the mother for nutrition (breast feeding) that helps the skull to complete formation and for the extremities to grow and develop till the human being can walk on its own and can begin to master the highly complex and difficult art of using language to communicate.

For we who believe in God, this miraculous process leads to praise and thanksgiving. For atheists, there is only wonder and amazement at what ‘Nature’ can do.

Abortion, then, is the willful, violent killing of the human being during the phase of growth in the womb of his or her mother. The methods used are too horrible to put into words. Poison, crushing, dismemberment.

One has to have great compassion for women who find that they are pregnant and who are left by the man involved to deal with things by herself. Even the payment for the abortion is a cop-out from the responsibility already incurred. The father of the developing human child must provide for that child throughout the child’s growth to maturity. In addition, if the father is unwilling to help, he should be legally constrained to fulfill the obligation he has incurred by conceiving a new human life. And if the parents are unable to bear the financial burden of a new human life, then our country should provide the funding to bring that child to maturity.

This should also be the goal of religious institutions to put their money where their preaching is and help with a child’s growth and learning. This is where there is a truth in the feminist critique: often the woman is left with the burden of raising a child that she is not able to do. In a country that spends billions on weapons, could we not invest in a future American by assisting the woman in bringing her child into the world and to its growth?

Expensive? Yes. But in helping women, who often do not want to abort but feel that they have no ability to take care of the child, we as a country are setting up a prolife future for our nation.

Perhaps this may be the common ground we are looking for to begin to resolve this painful wound of our national psyche.

But in the meantime, let us call a spade, a spade.

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Souls by Monsignor Ferrarese

Every Sunday we profess in the Creed our belief in the Resurrection of the Body. We say this glibly, not realizing how it goes against the popular conception we have regarding what makes the human being special. We see the body as a mere receptacle that houses the person’s soul, which is what truly makes a person human. The body, therefore, in our popular way of seeing, is not that important. It is the soul that is eternal. This is further seen by the increasing use of cremation after the death of a loved one. It was forbidden by the Church for so long because many enemies of the Church sought to emphasize by its use that there is no resurrection of the body, considering it a rebuke to this belief. The Church allows cremation with two requirements: that the ashes be interred in holy ground (a cemetery) and that the cremation not be intended as a means to disprove the doctrine of the Resurrection of the Body.

For, the witness of the Bible states clearly, as does our Creed that we recite every Sunday: that we believe in the Resurrection of the Body. This comes from Jewish belief and from the historical fact that the tomb of Christ was empty and that the witnesses to the Resurrected Lord could touch Him and even probe the nail marks on His body.

The Resurrection was a real event that raised Jesus, Body and Soul, from the dead. It was not a resuscitation! That would mean that the body of Jesus was exactly the same as the body He had in His incarnate Self. But we know that His glorified body had powers that He never had before. He could walk through walls as He did when His disciples were huddled in hiding. He could assume different shapes and faces since His intimate friends could not, at first, recognize Him. He bore the wounds of His crucifixion but they no longer bled and we may assume no longer caused pain. Our glorified bodies will have similar powers, and probably more.

So, therefore, when we imagine a loved one’s soul going to God at death, it is a salutary but incomplete vision of our final end. Our souls are embodied and that is who we are: soul and body. The idea of the soul divorced from our bodies is probably a product of Greek Philosophy. We must admit this is an easier doctrine to believe in than that our bodies that decompose in our graves or are incinerated in cremation will somehow be reconstituted. Yet, sometimes God asks of us a deeper faith that is harder to imagine. For instance, it is easier to believe that the Eucharist is a sign or symbol of Christ than that it is actually and really Christ Himself. How can Christ be in millions of places at the same time? How can Christ be there when all we see is a thin white wafer called a host? Yet that is actually the teaching of the Church. It is not a symbol of Christ. It is Christ!

This is not just a difficulty that God asks us to bear. Both the doctrine of the Resurrection of the Body and the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist are delightfully rich beliefs meant not only for our edification but to give us the great joy of realizing how much God loves us; so much so that He would elevate us by His presence, and that the totality of who we are is to be redeemed and given an eternal home in God.

But when do we get our glorified bodies? Is it at death itself, or after our judgement, or at the end of time? This is a great mystery that I cannot hope to solve; but what I can say is, once we pass into the next world, words like ‘when’ (which are temporal terms) no longer have any reality since there is no more time or space in the next life. These limitations we leave behind. We cannot imagine what that means since our whole lives have been spent in time. So, once again, it is a matter of trust in God’s Word. We believe that it will happen as the Lord has revealed to us. But the ‘how’ of it has not yet been revealed.

We must be humble enough to abide in faith and trust. This is true wisdom.

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.” – 1 Cor. 2:9

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Christ on Ditmars Blvd by Monsignor Ferrarese

Catholicism has always embraced the Arts. All through her history, she has given her imprimatur to paintings, poems, sculptures (much in opposition to other religions who felt this art smacked of idolatry) and other media in the artistic world. Many call this the ‘Incarnational Principle’. By that is meant that the invisible world of the spirit becomes visible and therefore able to be appreciated through the means that daily life and the material objects of life can give.

Thus, the grandeur of God can be seen through the means of the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon is not God or His grandeur, but this inspiring natural landscape conveys in a material way the spiritual reality that is not available to the human eye.

This is also true of the work of the great artists. The Pieta of Michelangelo is a block of stone that has been worked on. But its spirituality touches us with the reality of the pain of Mary as she held the body of her dead Son.

There have been good Christians in many ages who wished to smash statues like this because they believe that the symbol is being worshiped as if it were the reality.

But the Church has always maintained both the usefulness of external signs (like paintings and statues, incense and candles, art in all its manifestations) and a distinction from the sacred that is signified.

During the iconoclast controversy in the Orthodox Churches and the Protestant Reformation in the West, attempts were made (successfully in some of the Western Churches of the Reform) to destroy all images and externals that have been shown to nurture faith. What was left was decidedly poorer than the richness of art expressing faith.

Even today, the Vatican has embraced modern art through the many modern art galleries established by Pope Saint Paul VI and by the yearly Film Festivals celebrated in Rome by the Church. Not since the Medieval Mystery Plays has the Church given such approbation to dramatic forms like the play and the movie.

I write this as a long preamble to my meditation on our yearly Rosary and Eucharistic Procession through the streets of Astoria.

First of all, it has been our habit to have this procession of faith one week after our retreat at the Seminary; this is not an accident. We must be prepared in the solitude of our hearts in faith for the call to outwardly express our faith for the building up of the Kingdom and for the evangelization of peoples who have not been awakened to the deeper spiritual levels of their being. Our retreats have always had this preparatory role in our community’s outward expression.

Thus, when we hit the streets, we proclaim the goodness of God in calling Our Lady to her role in the Incarnation of her Son. We do this through the public recitation of the Rosary. We also convey to the onlookers the international character of the Church Universal and of our own parish. We do this through the carrying of images of Mary that are venerated in the many countries from which our people come from. This is a powerful witness to a secular world that values multiculturalism, but only practices it in a limited way. Not so the Church.

It also makes real to us the reality of what we are trying to do in the world: bring Christ to others. This is done in a very apparent and concrete way when the Monstrance carrying the Real Presence of the Lord in the Holy Eucharist mixes with the noise and the grime of the street. This shocking coming-together of the Sacred and the Profane is a necessary sign and prelude to the evangelization that we were charged with at our Baptism: to be priests, prophets and kings with Christ in his sanctification of the world.

How appropriate it is that Christ in His Real Presence walks down Ditmars Blvd! Every place this shining presence beckons with its welcoming love is made holy and special to the Lord. To be an instrument of that presence, testifying by our being and our prayers to Jesus right here in Astoria, is a great privilege for each of us who participate. All the onlookers, whether they have the gift of faith or not, must acknowledge seeing this moving and strange sight.

Saint Elisabeth Ann Seton was converted to Catholicism when she saw a similar procession in her trip to Italy. Who knows what effects our Procession has to individuals that God has placed right there at that particular moment!

And so, we use externals to express our faith and leave the evangelization to the Spirit of God! What a gift it is to process with our faith in such an external way! May God give the Church an increase of members through this humble means we use each year!

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To Admonish is to Love by Monsignor Ferrarese

One of the most difficult things about being a Pastor is that at times I need to correct something or someone. There is a disturbance of some kind. Maybe someone is being disorderly and a number of the faithful come to see me and basically say to me: ‘You’ve got to do something’.

It is, of course, one of the jobs of a Pastor to keep order in the community and to reach out when someone, often unknowingly, has jumped some sort of community boundaries and is causing some difficulty.

In today’s world, this loving task of correcting someone is prevented by the modern aversion to ‘judgement’. It has become a sort of cultural axiom that judging is a bad thing. One often hears, “Don’t judge me!” as an almost insuperable barrier that is meant to stop the whole human process of growth. But we have to make a distinction between two different senses of the word ‘judgement’. We make judgements many times a day: what to wear, what to do, the order of accomplishing our tasks of the day etc. We also make judgements of the actions of others: how a person is driving, what a person means to say, how best to work together on a project. One must admit that we judge things and people many times a day.

But there is a more suspect meaning to ‘judgement’ that is condemning someone which today can be merely ‘writing someone off’. This is certainly something that a Christian cannot do. We can certainly condemn a decision, a judgement, an action or a belief of someone; but not the person who initiates this. The adage of ‘Hate the sin, love the sinner’ is something that fits this in common usage.

But, it may be seen as an act of charity when one points out to someone that what he or she is doing is not right, even when the communication is not welcomed. This is often the case because we all have a habit of personalizing what we do. A simple example: I clean up a room, working hard to make it look spic and span. This is then my job that I have accomplished. A friend comes in and does not see the cleanliness, but instead criticizes the room as being ‘dirty’. We are moved to anger because we have personalized our work and therefore my friend is criticizing me. This, of course, can lead to trouble!

This issue of personalization and the related problem of the territoriality that it implies can make it very difficult to bring someone’s attention to what may be wrong with something that the individual is doing.

This is especially true in the moral realm. When you know of someone who is doing something that is morally wrong, it is an act of charity to point it out to them (privately). It is very easy, however, for the doer of the wrong to get angry at being (or so they feel) personally attacked. This is even true when the one who points out the wrong in question does it privately and charitably.

But even when he does it angrily, this is still an act of compassion. One could just walk away and leave a person in pernicious error. Then the person will continue liking us, but is left uncharitably in his error by someone who purports to be a friend.

Most people stay away from admonishment (this is the technical spiritual term for what I am trying to present in a positive light) of another because they fear that they could do them some harm. After all, I can be wrong. So why upset someone else by correcting them when I may be completely wrong in my evaluation of what is going on? In one sense, this hesitancy is very good. One should not cavalierly go about correcting others while the beam is in our own eye (as the Lord reminds us). Admonishment should be done only when the seriousness of things makes our silence unconscionable. It should also be done in an undogmatic way. After all, we can be wrong. And, most importantly, it should be done privately and charitably. The last thing we should do is gossip with others about it. Admonishment needs to be an act of love and be supportive of the other. The Truth can also be used as a weapon. This is a great sin akin to blasphemy. For Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the Life. So, we are using Jesus to try to tear down a person!

When we try to lovingly admonish someone, it is an act of charity. This is good to remember when someone admonishes us for our own good. As the Psalms assert: “If a good man corrects me, it is kindness.”

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Working Together by Monsignor Ferrarese

Sometimes the only way we learn is when we are confronted with facts we cannot change and that elicit an assertive response.

As a world, we are facing problems that are global in nature and that we cannot solve alone. While we must always love our country, in order to preserve ourselves we must learn to work with others.

The very idea of a nation evolved over time. When people on the Iberian Peninsula realized that they could not be fighting each other but must unify for survival, Castile, Catalonia, Leon and other small entities rallied together to form “Spain”. This happened because it had to happen for the survival of the smaller groups.

Here in the New World, 13 colonies decided that they had to band together to form a ‘United States’ to survive against the British Empire.

We are at another historical juncture at which God is telling us something that we need to hear for our own survival.

The idea of the State or the Country, as useful as it was in the past, is no longer equal to the terrifying task that faces us as a global community. This can be seen in three mega problems that face us all today: the pandemic (and those waiting in our future which may be worse than this one), the deterioration of the climate environment that we have taken for granted, and the nuclear threat of annihilation that is augmented by the possibility of use by terrorist agents in the future.

These three problems can only be faced by a world working together. They are bigger than any one country, even the United States. We see the scary premonitions of this on the daily news broadcasts: Viruses with no known vaccines running rampant in the world, developing as we argue into more potent and dangerous strands; natural disasters upending whole populations; the spread of the desert regions, deforestation of needed plant life, fires due to droughts, not enough water in places of great population, more devastating tornados, hurricanes, tsunamis, rising sea levels; and more radical and theologically-motivated ideologies (I include atheism) with their fingers on ever more destructive buttons of annihilation: nuclear, biological and chemical.

Never before has God so clearly called upon us to put aside the weapons and the mistrust and to work together for the survival of everyone. Every step backward in this call to unity can only have devastating results for many innocent people.

One may say, as one surveys the vast implications of this call to unity and commitment to change, that this is impossible. We will never be successful. We are doomed.

Unfortunately, I would agree unless we convert our hearts to God and work the Gospel in the world. Only the Gospel has the tools that could turn this around: Love of enemies, effective changes called for, the need to embrace the Cross, redemptive suffering. The Gospel, lived out by the world, can save this earth. I know this is not politically correct to say, but no other faith on earth has the necessary belief structure and the grace-filled energy to bring the world together. I know that this may seem even more impossible than saving the world through unity. But embedded in all the faiths of the world are pieces of the Gospel, even in the secularism that comes from the West and is really a Christian Secularism. In the rank commercialism of the Western Ethos (think how elements of Christmas joy have ‘leaked out’ of our sacred celebration) are found elements of the Gospel that are unrecognized but can be effective supports for the Great Alliance that is necessary.

Christianity grew in a polyglot and multicultural milieu during the stable years of the Roman Empire. This is much like it is today in a lot of the world, with the rest of the world more or less aspiring to our benefits. Western (European and American) ideas now permeate the world and are calling for that unity which can be had at least for solving our many common problems. Those of the Christian Faith, firmly based on the Judaic revelation, can lead the world with differing levels of conscious acceptance. It is not necessary that all be converted to Christianity, but that Christians call on people of all faiths and no faith to band together to do what is necessary not only to survive but to thrive as a world in the future.

We need to have faith in the Gospel which is for all the world and not just for Christians. We must be ready and willing to show forth the virtues of Gospel living that may inspire the world to put down weapons and to have enough faith in each other that we may have a good shot at saving the world. Don’t forget, Jesus said He will be with us till the end of the world. Let’s stand with Him and become Christ to the world.

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Separate and Mutually Supportive by Monsignor Ferrarese

One of the marvels of our constitutional system is the benign and mutually supportive nature of the relationship between Church and State, Religion and Politics. While Continental Secularism (born in France and labeled ‘Laicite’) has a more antagonistic relationship between the two, our own brand of separation is mutually supportive. Or at least traditionally so.

For there are some in our nation who have envisioned a more aggressive secularism which is built on a suspicion of religion and not an appreciation of it. Religion for these thinkers is the enemy of progress and science, of the betterment needed for human flourishing. Religion foments ignorance and ultimately violence.

Of course, facts and history itself beg to differ.

Some of the great scientists like Newton, Galileo, and Pascal were religious men whose study of science was a natural outgrowth of faith. Science was the study of God’s creation and it gave them a sense of wonder that was a spur to their imaginations. Einstein himself was intrigued by the doctrine of Transubstantiation. It set his scientific imagination on fire because he was a man of openness and not a bigot when it came to religion.

These more aggressive secularists also love to bandy about examples like the Crusades and the Inquisition as proofs of Religion’s intolerance. But the Crusades were at first an attempt to liberate Shrines that had been conquered by invading armies. And the Inquisition was the Church’s attempt to moderate the more violent secular arm. To kill, the state had to prove the existence of dangerous beliefs. The vast majority of those tried were proved innocent.

These new more intolerant secularists are not honest with the more destructive hatred born of atheism. The regimes of Lenin, Stalin, Hitler and Mao were anti-religious genocidal fomenters of the torture and deaths of millions. These secular anti-religious societies were guilty of more deaths in one century than all the unjust deaths stretching back to the beginnings of history. The concentration camps, the gulags, and cultural revolutions were born and bred in atheistic secular societies.

To make religion the bad guy of history is simply untrue, unhistorical and a perversion of reality.

Luckily, in this country, our tradition of cooperation between Church and State is held as sacred by the majority of our citizens. The Framers of our Constitution were not trying to just protect government from religious intrusion, but they were also trying to protect religion from the pressures of government. Most of our founders had a profound respect for the contributions of faith-filled citizens. Some of them even thought that the American Experiment would not work without mature citizens who had an ethical background, presumably from their religious affiliation.

Given the pervasive tension and sometimes outright hostility found in other national contexts, what has emerged in America is something unique and very valuable. Unfortunately, it is also very fragile. All Americans, religious and secular, should be very protective of this relationship between Church and State since it helps maintain a healthy working relationship between these two mega-realities. This is especially true when we consider the upcoming debates on abortion that are sure to spill over if the Supreme Court revisits the constitutionality of Roe v. Wade.

There is, unfortunately, always a tendency to win an argument by vilifying one’s opponent. People of faith must try to lead here by good example in seeing the good in our opponent’s argument and then to point out the apparent or not so apparent fallacy in their argumentation.

While our constitutional system is not one that is built on faith, it does presuppose that people of faith will help it to be true to its values that derive from faith but are not dependent on faith. As people of faith, our role in our democracy is to point out the importance of human virtue to people who may not be gifted in this way. The ways of truth are open to all, even those without faith. The advantages of our faith are that it gives us the overall vision to see where the earthly values we seek to nurture and expand are part of the overall revelation of God. And this must become apparent logically and rationally to those who do not see how the values of our country are grounded in the dignity of the human person as revealed by God when the Scriptures tell us that we are made in the image and likeness of God. The later truth is one of faith but the former can be assented to by people of different faiths or of no faith at all.

We, as people of faith, are essential to the governance of our society. It is the mystery of the interplay of Church and State and not of Church vs. State.

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Creating Holy Things by Monsignor Ferrarese

One of God’s greatest gifts to us is sharing in His creativity. Of course, God makes things out of nothing (ex nihilo). We have to use materials, both physical and spiritual, to develop our creativity. This is true especially in the spiritual life.

But this seemingly autonomous ability to create new realities (albeit from other created realities at hand) is a great power. We see this creativity in the grace of parenting when we help God to create new human beings. We see this in the world of science where we investigate objectively the different levels of being to help us understand and manipulate reality for the good of humanity. We see it in the world of art when artists (painters, sculptors, writers, composers, etc.) combine and restructure the Real to produce new and beautiful expressions of the goodness of God’s creation.

But we can also be creative in the realm of the Spirit.

When I was a child in Catholic School, the School Sisters of Notre Dame (who staffed St. Rita’s School in East New York, Brooklyn) emphasized a spiritual doctrine that was very deep. I believe this to be true with other Religious Sisters and Brothers in other schools as well. We were instructed by our religious sisters to ‘offer up’ all that we do for the honor and glory of God. This included everything we did in school and at home. It was especially advantageous to ‘offer up’ our difficulties and pains and disappointments. Everything could be productive and bring us closer to God.

We were, in fact, being trained to sacrifice everything to the honor and glory of God for the salvation of our souls.

Later in my life, as I studied Theology, I discovered that the etymology of the word ‘sacrifice’ is from the Latin ‘Sacrum Facere’, to make something holy. By teaching us to ‘offer up’ our pain to God, we were being instructed in the work of holiness. Everything, especially our sufferings, was material for our creating the Holy in our daily lives.

When I think of this now, I am astounded that we were being taught in grade school one of the deepest doctrines of the spiritual life! Even today, I make a morning offering every morning. In it I consecrate everything I do to God intentionally.

But the saints have found that when we offer especially our suffering to God, there are powerful energies of grace that are released into reality. When we suffer, we can curse and swear and be angry at God; or we can use suffering as a vehicle for welcoming God’s redemptive power into the world.

The saints, when they were not suffering, often initiated suffering for themselves in the form of penances and fasts and other things that they offered up to God.

St. John of the Cross in his book “The Ascent of Mount Carmel” spoke about the purification that suffering can do to the soul in its journey to God. In doing this he made an important distinction between Active and Passive purification. Active Purgation or Purification denotes those efforts when we select the sufferings that we wish to offer to God in this sacrum facere. The Passive Purgation or Purification is when God selects the suffering that He wants you to offer up.

This seems so negative an understanding, doesn’t it? I remember two ladies talking in the row behind me at a performance of the great modern opera “St. Francis of Assisi” by Olivier Messiaen, a devout Catholic. After reading the program notes, one woman said to the other: “Just like those Catholics—Suffering, suffering, suffering!” I laughed. My friend had to restrain me from correcting their misconception.

We Catholics do talk a lot about suffering, but not because we are trying to be downers, but because we are realists: suffering being a fact of daily life. But this spiritual practice of making suffering holy is a pathway to joy in the midst of suffering.

This understanding and practice seems also to take away fear. If all can work out for our good, then even our sufferings have a place in the Divine Plan for my life.

This truly is an Amazing Grace!

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A Morning Offering

O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer you my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day for all the intentions of your Sacred Heart, in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world, for the salvation of souls, the reparation of sins, the reunion of all Christians, and in particular for the intentions of the Holy Father this month. Amen.

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The Education of the Heart by Monsignor Ferrarese

It may seem to be a very strange phrase, The Education of the Heart. We usually think that education is a function of the mind and the intellect. Yet that is a very partial view of education. Learning one’s ABCs is certainly important, but learning to love and be a faithful human being, faithful to God and to others, is even more important.

The heart also needs to be educated. Learning how to love, when to love and the purpose of loving is as important as multiplication tables.

It also begins earlier than the kind of learning that happens in the classroom. It begins in the home.

Recently I visited a family that moved from the parish so that they can raise a family closer to the help of family members in their extended families. They had their first child recently. It was a beautiful visit. They desired a blessing for their new home, being a family of great and truly Catholic faith. Their infant daughter was involved in the blessing. She watched and took everything in. She saw the devotion of Mom and Dad and the new experience of welcoming a strange looking figure in black (me) to perform the ritual.

Infants are learning machines! They learn faster and more comprehensively than we adults, who lose this capacity as we mature. She was ‘taking in’ every last detail. Her heart was being taught about the importance of God and the need for a widening of the perspective of family. This strange figure in black was a ‘holy one’ (i.e. a priest) who came and blessed their most intimate places of the home with the presence of God.

This is just a small example of how a young heart can be educated. This education is mainly done by parents in a thousand ways each day.

But this education of the heart is not just the task of parents for their children. It is a lifelong process of coming to a maturity of heart that changes while a person ages and continues to develop over one’s whole lifetime. Essentially, this growing consciousness is the task of prayer.

By prayer I do not mean the recitation of memorized prayers like the Our Father and Hail Mary. This definitely has a place, but it is not what I mean. By the life of prayer, I mean the daily and continual contact with God that spans all the emotions and takes in all the events of one’s life, planned and unplanned. It is an organic and totally necessary growth that has highs and lows, ecstasies and agonies, but represents an ongoing fidelity to the Lord. Within this process of prayer, we are never alone; we develop and grow under the guidance of God Himself. One can also have a spiritual interpreter who can help us make sense of this. We call this person a ‘spiritual director’. Not everyone is lucky enough to have such a person, but that does not mean that the real spiritual director (the Holy Spirit) is not indeed active and productive in each willing human heart.

Like all education, the education of the heart is a slow and organic process. There are twists and turns, high points and low points. There may be no better spiritual writer who has illustrated this pathway than St. Teresa of Avila. To read her works is to welcome this amazing Castilian woman into one’s home. Her vibrant and affecting prose make this education of the heart deeply interesting and marvelously appealing. Her personality jumps off the page.

But in reading saints like Teresa, we must always remember that Jesus is our true Rabbi or Teacher (this was the only title He seemed to accept during His earthly life). Our task is to become completely responsive to the daily instruction that Christ gives us through the thoughts and events that we experience each day. He is a marvelous Teacher who knows each of His students very well and adapts all He wishes to convey to the individual capacities and needs that He knows us to possess.

Our continual stance needs to be a docility that works with His input in the daily education of our hearts.

We must learn to love Him and each other. It is the most important lesson of life.

“Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.” – Psalm 25:5

“I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.” – Psalm 32:8

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The Art of Wonder by Monsignor Ferrarese

People often stop me and tell me how much they enjoy these weekly reflections. This is especially true of my reminiscences of growing up in the 50’s in Brooklyn. There seems to be something universal in these memories!

One of the constant memories I have of my childhood is the experience of wonder. By this I mean a sense of reverence for the mystery of being that is found in the most common of things. As adults, we bypass these things, considering them of no lasting account. But a child does not so negatively judge the commonplaces of life. Even an infant can gaze with wonder and respect on the symmetry and the usefulness of our hands and even (because an infant can actually gaze upwards at their feet!) of their toes. We lose that sense in us, which is so important to our spiritual lives.

One day when I was about 6 or 7 years old, I got this great idea of taking a watermelon seed from the table and putting it in my pocket. I just learned that seeds can make plants and I wanted to grow a watermelon plant. After that meal, I went to the stone pot in a neighbor’s front yard and, because it had no greenery coming from the earth in it, I thought that I would bury the seed and wait until I could pick watermelons from it.

So, after burying it and watering it, I went anxiously each day to see when the plant would grow. After about a week of worry and expectation, a small sprout broke through the ground. Over the next few days I watched it grow! Finally, I could keep my silence no longer and I ran excitingly to tell my parents about my planting and the expectation that I had about bringing home some free watermelons! Surprisingly my parents started laughing when they heard me. My Mom grabbed me and hugged me trying to set me straight. She said something like, “What are you, stupid? That pot is too small! You should have planted it in the ground where it had room for growth!” Unfortunately, my transplant of the tender plant was not successful. But I still remember my excitement and wonder at how ‘smart’ the seed was in being able to convert to a plant and possibly, if all went well, into fruit for the table!

I had the same sense of childlike wonder with rocks. I got books from the library about rocks. I was so taken with the age of rocks—some were around for millions of years!—I even hunted for valuable rocks. I remember finding a shiny radiant rock in my backyard. I ran home to show my parents that I had found a diamond! My father cracked a joke something like: “Now we can buy a house!” Of course, it was not a diamond.

But my point in sharing these memories is the wonder and excitement of it all that is often lost on adults except for those adults who are saints, artists and scientists. The growth of a plant is amazing! So are stones and rocks that reveal the secrets of the past! Why, then, do we lose this sense of wonder and awe?

 This failure is even more disastrous to our faith life. Our prayer, our faith, our theology and spirituality are based on wonder and awe. We over-use the word ‘awe’ today. Everything now is awesome. This word has taken on the work of the past expression “interesting”. But awe means so much more. When we realize the awesome power of God that created everything out of nothing, it should only leave us gasping. Or when we think about the entrance into human flesh of the almighty God, what could we say? Not only miracles are awesome. The love of God for each one of us is so undeserved and surprising that we should get on our knees each day and be filled with gratitude and praise!

I remember walking into the chapel of the Trappist monastery in La Trappe, France (where the Trappists were founded). As myself and a friend entered, we were struck by the depth of the silence as they all were on their knees before the Blessed Sacrament. I cannot begin to communicate to you the depth of that silence. It was truly awesome.

We should make it our daily prayer that we ask the good Lord that He remove the blindness of our nature and confer on us the gift of spiritual sight so that we can see everything that happens that day as a gift and a communication from God to myself. Then everything will become in me a response filled with gratitude and wonder at the goodness of God!

“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. O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” – Psalm 8:3-5,9

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The Art of Letting Go by Monsignor Ferrarese

One of the key ideas of the spiritual journey is the importance of detachment. All the great saints and mystics speak of the importance of this virtue. Sometimes it is called ‘Holy Indifference’. Unfortunately, these terms have negative connotations for us in 21st century America. This important virtue does not mean we do not care about others; nor does it imply a depressive unconcern for our welfare in this life. It is a virtue that frees us to do what is most important for our welfare and for the welfare of others and not get hung up on secondary concerns which can dominate us and cause the cravings of addiction.

While detachment as a spiritual discipline is found in many of the world’s religions, it has a very important place theologically in Christianity. For we believe that the Word of God ‘emptied Himself’ to become a human being, thereby choosing by the path of humility the role of service as defining the Christian who seeks to walk in the example of Christ. To do this (of course I am speaking of the great doctrine of the Incarnation) He had to detach Himself from the prerogatives of the Divine Nature and become a creature like us. This detachment unto humility and love is the very center of our faith. Therefore, it is essential in the life of a Christian as well: We must all detach ourselves from the things we want and crave so as to take the lower place of service in imitation of Christ.

That being said, though, truth is that we all tend to develop dependencies very quickly. One of these dependencies could be for a material thing (like our car) or for a person (like a friend). We get used to something and when we are called upon to do without it, we have difficulty. This difficulty can be short term or be with us for the rest of our lives.

Some people develop friendships that are co-dependent. They only feel safe and happy when they are with one another. All friendships, and indeed all relations, have a certain healthy dependency. This is a good thing. We do need one another and we need some people more than others. Co-dependency is a more dangerous dependency where we cannot be happy without being with the other. Other friendships cannot be initiated or grow because of the concentration of time and attention that is lavished on our favored friend. Neither person can grow until a more proper and interdependent relationship is established.

One can also develop a dependency on a mood-altering substance: alcohol, drugs etc. This dependency easily becomes an addiction which can literally destroy the person.

God made us free and wants us to stay free. He doesn’t impose His will on us and He is happy when we develop a rich variety of concerns. But the problem remains: given our propensity to hold on to things that we want and feel we cannot live without them (which tends to be many more things than we imagine), how do we detach? How do we let go?

If we look at the experience of those who have wrestled with this in an extreme way (I think of those who have been seriously addicted to substances like alcohol), it is impossible to free oneself except through a Divine rescue. As enshrined in the “12 Step” spirituality, which grew from Christian soil, the individual who is in bondage to these factors must deeply admit that one’s live has become a chaos and that they are incapable of putting it back together. Further, they have come to believe in a power who cares for them who can break the bond. They then make the decision to ask that power to accomplish in their lives what they have failed to do over the course of many years.

What is outlined in this very basic program is the process of faith. Once one believes in God and in His power, then the miracle of grace can occur. Remember the Gospel passages that extol the power of this faith. I am thinking of that beautiful passage where the woman with the flow of blood, unbeknownst to Jesus, touches the hem of His clothing and is cured (Mark 5:25-34). Then, in contrast to this, there is the hostile reception of Christ in His home town of Nazareth. He could not do miracles there because of their lack of faith (Mark 6:1-6).

Thus, what we call ‘letting go’ must be accompanied with the added advice of ‘letting God’, that is allowing God to accomplish His will in us. This is always for our benefit though it often begins in a difficult way.

The secret to spiritual joy is, therefore, to let go and let God!

“Blessed be the Lord, for he has heard the sound of my pleadings. The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts; so I am helped, and my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.” – Psalm 25:6-7

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