Toleration and Indifference by Monsignor Ferrarese

A word that is often used in a positive sense is toleration. To be intolerant is considered a bad thing. Of course, in a pluralistic society such as ours a measure of toleration is important and is even admirable. Even further, we should value the good we find in others who may not be from our culture and our way of life and resist the need to impose our modus vivendi onto others.

But, in some ways, this conception of toleration reveals a form of relativism in regard to what is true. If something is true than the opposite has to be false. Otherwise, the very structure of being and non-being is called into question, which is absurd.

It is possible, therefore, that one can be tolerant of wrong and evil as well. If we hold this to be admirable, the whole system of ethics and morality collapses as an unnecessary quest for uniformity.

For example, the question emerges whether the Catholic Faith is the true faith. If it is we should do our best to share it and to persuade others to join us in the truth of our convictions. If all faiths are equally valid and are interchangeable paths to the same reality than trying to persuade or at least want others to join us is futile and even pernicious.

But if we truly believe that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world and that belief in Him is essential for the progress of all peoples and admittance to eternal beatitude in the world to come, why would we not want to share this knowledge with others? This is not to say that our brothers and sisters in other walks of faith are bad or evil. Quite the opposite, they are admirable in that even with part of the truth they may far exceed us in works of justice and charity and service to God as they (perhaps wrongly) construe Him to be. We should always respect our neighbors and their faith and not try to belittle the reverence they have for their beliefs. But as the Scriptures state: we should always provide reasons for the hope that we have. Our lives should be a testimony to truth for our brothers and sisters so that they can choose freely join us in our beliefs.

Toleration must never lead us to an indifferentism that basically says that all faiths are the same and it does not matter what you believe as long as you follow your conscience. For, some faiths have beliefs that are contrary to the Truth of God’s revelation. There are religions in the world, for instance, where slavery is accepted and legal. Should we be indifferent to this? And we must always remember that anyone can have a badly formed conscience. My favorite example is the Corleone family. They considered themselves good Catholics and allowed killing as just ‘business’. They were following a badly formed conscience. Should we not seek to correct this and thereby save lives?

In the end, it is a matter of charity. For proclaiming the truth of our Catholic Faith is an act of liberating love. And it is in this love that we must find the prime motivation of our sharing of faith. It must never be with an arrogance in giving to others the truth as if it is our prime possession that no one shares in. For members of other faiths and of no faith can be pleasing to God when they strive humbly by the light of reason alone to follow the will of God. If they are truly open to the Truth, it will eventually set them free.

But there is so many darkness on this path. The light of faith which seems like obscurity to those without it is so necessary and important in the journey to God. To be satisfied with the path of reason alone is a terrible mistake, opening up chasms of worry and uncertainty to the journeying soul.

Hence the great gift of the Magisterium of the Church which explains, summarizes and often applies the teaching of Christ found in the Scriptures to the daily life of the contemporary Christian. It is like a highly valuable map that helps us to avoid unnecessary detours and dead ends.

While reliance on Scripture is a truth, it is only a partial truth since the interpretation of the truth must be guided by Tradition to keep it from splintering the Church into thousands of pieces (as has happened in Protestantism).

Hence it is not a contradiction to say that while we value the goodness found in other faith traditions (a healthy toleration), the truest and fullest road is to be found in the Catholic faith.

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You Are Not Your Own by Monsignor Ferrarese

Part of the modern heresy in the world today is that of placing the human person at the very center of existence. Not just abstract ‘humanity’ but the individual ‘I’. Over and over again we get the message on earthly media that I am the most important person in the world. I deserve all the good (material) things of this life and that I should dedicate my whole life in pursuing my ‘dream’ of who I am and what I want to become.

We see this clearly in the athletic and the performing arts worlds. Athletes and Performers (Movies, music, etc.) are the new heroes that we ask our children to emulate. This may also extend to more justifiable examples for our youngsters: first responders, soldiers. But it is all the same goal of self- realization as the center of all meaning.

We often proclaim that modern ‘gospel’: you can be anything you chose to be if you just follow your dream. When looked at carefully this is seen to be absurd. If I want to be the quarterback on the Giants, no matter how hard I try I will never do it. Dreams can become nightmares!

While striving for something that we can reach is to be lauded, the more expansive understanding of this modern nonsense can be very destructive, side lining someone for years or even permanently in an impossible quest that is a giant evasion and distraction from what God really calls a person to do. How often have I seen parents look with consternation at their child’s decision to go to Broadway to pursue an acting career because they loved being in a high school play!

While there is a level of truth in the quest for self-fulfillment, like all heresies, it is only a partial truth.

The Truth of the matter is that we are not complete without God. God creates us and sustains us every moment of our existence. Our thinking that our existence is independent of God and that it is no affair of His what we do is a major error that can have life-destroying capabilities. It cuts off, as it were, the human soul from its true nourishment. Our soul basically starves to death, an eternal death. And this happens when the individual seems to be successful in an earthly way but whose seeming triumph is a kind of Pyrrhic victory since it is really a defeat, albeit unacknowledged and for a time unfelt.

Over and over again I have met families and individuals who live their lives completely apart from faith and God. They think that they are doing well but I can see, from a Godly perspective, how incomplete their lives are and how much they need God. Often these individuals come from the best Catholic families who have spent huge amounts of money for the Catholic Education of their children but who have been at the mercy of teachers who have long ago lost their faith.

This is the tragically slow erosion of corruption. We slowly, quietly put ourselves at the center of all things. We, then, banish God from our lives as something that is unnecessary and even harmful to our full human development. This is often followed by a gradual impoverishment of our worldview. Before we know it, we are alone in the universe of our own imaging, apart from the God Who can only give us life. And we prefer this and call this true maturity. Tragically we have chosen our own hell, bereft of the God who alone can give us life, hope and love.

When this happens on a wide scale as we are witnessing in our nation, things come apart. Violence becomes reasonable and pervasive. Children commit suicide. And dull hopelessness permeates everything like a dampness that disintegrates what it touches.

We all sense that it is happening. But we do not go to God but burrow further and further into the hole that will become our grave.

Only God can save us from ourselves.

It takes a great effort on our parts to ask God to be God in our lives, especially when our family, our friends, our agendas don’t accept our new direction that seems like an abdication of our personal pride in ourselves and a surrender to the forces of the past.

But this judgement made on us by the spirit of this world is completely wrong. It is a lie of the devil. It is only in God’s loving but sometimes difficult will for us that we will ever find our true selves and when we do, we will find Christ, at home in our own souls. We are not our own, we belong to Him!

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Statue of Responsibility by Monsignor Ferrarese

One of the most inspiring sights in America’s landscape is the Statue of Liberty. When the vast throngs of immigrants saw it in New York Harbor, tears often welled up in their eyes. Many of them, at great sacrifice, made the long and perilous journey to these shores, coming from intolerable economic and political infringements on their fundamental rights.

Here, they had a chance.

But Liberty is only part of the equation of progress. It is an essential beginning, since the human person must freely act if anything of value is to be done whether in an earthly or an eternal sense.

But that is only the beginning. Driving the movement of growth must also have the dimension of responsibility. Freedom is a means and not an end in itself. When it comes to meaningful action, one must have a sense of responsibility that things be done well for the good of others. Chief of these ‘others’ is The Other—God Himself. We are responsible to Him first of all. We are responsible to Him who gave us free will and the thirst for liberty so that what we do is according to the all wise and all loving will of God.

We use the word ‘Freedom’ a lot in our political discourse and debates. But it is often seen as what theologians would call ‘license’ that is, doing what you want simply because you want to do it. Freedom or Liberty, however, was given to us by God so that we can exercise the work of God in this world in a thoroughly human sense: to freely and with full understanding of our responsibilities co-create the world with God. When you separate ‘Freedom’ from God you place humankind on the road to Chaos. For if everyone acts in freedom without acknowledging God, the Giver, and the reason for the gift, this world would end up in a sorry place. Freedom apart from God is meaningless and potentially harmful since it will express the unredeemed nature of humankind.

But to freely do all things in union with God and His purposes is to live responsibly in this age and to build the future of this created world. I emphasize ‘created’ since it presupposes the partnership of the Creator Who set all things in motion and Who sustains creation at every moment of time.

Hence, the rare and precious privilege we enjoy by helping God to create in freedom the world and its future is seen in all its Divine perspective.

In contrast to this perspective, the modern quest for the rights of every individual rings hollow and reveals itself to be a form of disguised pride born of a sense of inferiority that demands attention. While it is true that the quest for justice is at the heart of the plan of God, rights without the partnership of responsibility is simply a false reduction of the dignity of the human person. Our worth is rooted in our being made in the image and likeness of the Creator God whose works are declared ‘good’ and ‘very good’ by Sacred Scripture. And so, we are a part of the evolution of the created order working hand in hand with God, our model and inspiration. The responsibility that we ought to feel in this exalted role is often obscured by the facile and strident demands concerning rights without this Divine Context and the responsibility that comes from this.

Liberty without Responsibility becomes License as we try to replace our Creator instead of partnering with Him.

In our sinfulness, we strive to act in a solitary way without this defining partnership. This calling out of need and demand causes us to be deaf to the needs of others (especially those on the other end of the political spectrum) and, even more tragically, causes us to be deaf to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

We must seek fulfillment in freedom only when we are rooted in God and open to the quest for completion of the rest of humankind. How hollow the quest for rights is in the technologically advanced West when put next to the utter poverty and near hopelessness of the billions of people who are wasting away in refugee camps and in countries that offer nothing but despair to their people.

No, in New York Harbor, next to the inspiring Statue of Liberty there should be another statue: The Statue of Responsibility. This is the missing reality that offers balance to the quest for maturity of the Human Person created in the Image of God.

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Violence: The False Solution by Monsignor Ferrarese

Recent events have provided a lamentable and frightening display of the use of violence to settle things, politically or personally.

The war in Ukraine is a clear example of the stupidity and the erroneous use of violence to settle the national fears of individuals in power in Russia.

This has been recently followed by the mass shooting in Texas, one of many in this calendar year. While we don’t know the motive for the killing at the writing of this essay, it was clearly meant to provide an answer to a problem in the mind of the killer.

The killer must have seen in his action some sort of justice. To us this was an insane and evil act but the killer must have seen it as necessary in some sick, deluded way: violence as a solution.

While gun control may seem to be a good first step in addressing the problem of this kind of violence, it is inadequate in itself. We must look at our culture and see how pervasive violence is and how it is often seen as a solution.

If we look at our culture objectively, we see it is a common fallacy to see violence as a solution. Watch TV and objectively enumerate the many instances where you see someone wounded or killed. Murder mysteries, war movies, courtroom dramas dealing with murders and rapes. Add to this the computer games that simulate killing of different kinds. Further, as you read newspapers or news feeds, notice how often acts of violence are reported. In this culture, we consider superhero films, in which hundreds or even thousands of people are eliminated, a form of family entertainment! And the list goes on and on.

We have to expose the falsity of this equation that posits violence as a solution. We are making an objectively incorrect cognitive equation. Violence never equals solution.

Look at what is happening in Ukraine. War is so stupid. All that killing and destruction. All those lives lost. All the terror and hatred that is unleashed that will endure for generations.

On a completely different front, we can examine the very real problems that come with pregnancy. If anyone ever witnessed an abortion or were told how the unborn child is killed, the majority of Americans would rightly see this as violence against innocent life. Once again, it is a false solution that absolves our nation from finding ways to both care for the mother and the child. It is harder to do that (and more expensive!), but it does not involve violence.

One might, therefore, rightly ask: why are Americans so violent? There may be falsity in this question as well. Violence is everywhere: the worst wars imaginable occurred in Europe. It took millions of dead people to get the lust for violence out of the heart of the historical center of Christianity. Not to mention the Holocaust!

Other places have seen horrendous violence as well: the partition of India and Pakistan, the killing fields of Cambodia, the Cultural Revolution in China, the bloodbath in Rwanda. And the list can go on and on.

America clearly is not the only culprit in this vision of violence as solution. But, since I am an American and mass shooting have become commonplace, I would love to see my beloved country freed from this scourge.

The best example of the other way of dealing with conflicts is the actions of Jesus. After His unjust arrest and His show trial, and even at the very time of His torturous agony on the Cross, He never called down the wrath of God on the perpetrators of these horrible deeds. He chose to absorb the evil and to give back goodness: pardon for His executioners and redemption for humanity.

We too can refuse to give back hate when we are surrounded by hate. It is not easy. It is very hard. But not as hard as the destruction of violent behavior of all kinds.

With gun violence, let’s not rely solely on gun laws. Let’s try to change hearts from hatred to kindness. Instead of destroying the human life in the womb, let us find ways to help women in real ways to bring children to birth without the economic uncertainty of future struggles for survival.

Let us love all our opponents and try through reason and kindness to persuade rather than defeat them.

Violence is really a statement of futility before real problems. Peace is the building of agreements that on common ground might yield new ways, possibilities unthought-of and therefore unrealized.

This should be our stance as Catholic Christians. Even when the world hates us.

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The Common Good by Monsignor Ferrarese

As believing members of the human race, we have a responsibility to the larger community to speak the truth with love. We live in an increasingly and self-consciously godless world.

In the interest of protecting religion, the statesmen that drafted our constitution devised a society that is agnostic about God. That is because when we talk about the ineffable Being of God, we tend to argue and eventually tear each other apart. If the government of a country, be it royal or democratic in nature, decides on one particular formulation of the god question, it tends to persecute and marginalize all other religious expressions. The long history of religious wars stands in testimony to this.

The other reason that our political ancestors chose to separate religion and the state is to protect religion from persecution. Europe was filled with governments trying to suppress religious movements that they deemed to be dangerous to their national unity. Hence Protestant governments tried to suppress Catholics and Catholic governments tried to do the same to Protestants. This was true also of the non-Christian religions.

So, the statesmen who drafted our constitution tried to put religion out of the hands of the government so that it could grow on its own. Most of them were religious men who thought that religion was important for the country, but they did not want the government dictating to the Faith.

But then came the French Revolution which was different from the American Revolution. In France, the Church had an outsized role in the governance of the nation. The King ceded a lot of power to the Cardinal Secretaries of State Richelieu and Mazarin. The Church ran the government often despotically. This bred centuries of hate toward the Church and its power. The Church seemed to buttress the heavy-handed lifestyle of the nobles and the Crown creating a separate caste system of the poor and the rich.

In the American Revolution, once independence from England was fought for and won, there was no long history of oppression to clear away so as to build something new according to Enlightenment principles. At the Constitutional Convention they could start afresh.

Not so in France. The forces of history had to get rid of the King and the Church before anything new could be built. This revolution was much bloodier. The execution of the King and the Nobility, as well as the dismantling of the Church, were seen to be essential parts of the Revolution. In America, it was Church and State, separate but working together. In France it was Church vs. State.

One of the things that has happened in the modern world is that something of the hostility toward religion of the French Model of Secularism has found a home in the American way of seeing the interrelationship between Faith and Reason. In our history, there was a partnership that now has become antagonistic. The new Secularism allows believers to believe in a God that does not matter, who is OK as long as He resides in the privacy of the hearts of believers. But that religious faith must remain private and should never be invoked in the Public Square of the political arena.

Yet, a person of faith cannot make political judgements apart from that faith. To this the modern American secularists responds: Don’t impose your faith on me. But how can one separate a believer’s desires for the future of the country from their cherished values that come from their faith?

It is for the Common Good that a Catholic must speak out of one’s Catholic Faith. Not to impose but to enlighten. Often the enemies of the Church, anxious to silence the contributions of citizens who are speaking out of a context of faith, say that they must not impose their beliefs on others. Does not an atheist ‘impose’ his belief that there is no god when he speaks out on an issue in politics? Every single human being speaks out of his or her existential context which helps them form and defend their positions on different issues. An atheist can’t help speak out of the nihilistic context of his decision that there is no god. So also, the believer speaks out of his or her own context of faith. Everyone does this and, in fact, one cannot help doing this since it is how every human being makes sense of the world around them.

Let us, then, at the very least put away this false argument pushed by the forces of unbelief that people of faith should just shut up and not impose their beliefs on others. One cannot, nor should not, try to silence anyone from speaking from the core beliefs that make a person who they are, be they believer or non-believer. We owe this to the Common Good.

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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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