A Firm Foundation by Monsignor Ferrarese

For those who have been reading these essays, a fear or worry might be developing. If things are ‘going south’ in the world as I have been writing about, where is the good news of the Gospel?

It is a good point, and I would like this reflection to act as a corrective to a perhaps misleading impression that some readers may have gotten.

Firstly, I cannot falsify my judgement that we are in difficult times and that we are headed, as a culture, in the wrong direction. Just look at the news and see that everything is in question now. God’s Revelation and Commandments that are meant to help steer us are not being heeded or even acknowledged.

Basics are being taken away by our selfishness: air, water, temperature, peaceful security. We have the means to destroy the entire earth in the space of an hour, and the buttons that could do that are in the possession of men of inferior character.

There has throughout history always been a sense that things have gone wrong in this world. That is the heart of the story of the Fall in Genesis. But even after much reflection on what the end-times of the earth would be, there has developed a widespread pessimism. Even today, when we see representations of the future in media, they are dystopian; that is, filled with pessimism and fear.

But, into the world of ours during the Roman Peace 2,000 years ago, a great and magnificent Revelation occurred: The Incarnation of God. Emmanuel: God with us. Choosing our feebleness and weakness, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity became a human being and took upon His shoulders the sin and the guilt of the world. Redemption. Freedom. Good News.

This is the reason why the saints, even faced with difficulties and the threat of death, had a spirit of joy within them. In every fiber of their being they knew that the victory had been won, that Christ was risen, and that every suffering and difficulty on this earth would be transfigured by the love of Christ. This primal security instilled in the saints (and in those of us who by penance seek the pathways of sanctity) a kind of peace that the world cannot give. The world can only bestow thrills and momentary pleasure that come and go and are very much based on circumstances which shift like the sands of the seashore.

The saints have their foundations set not on the ephemeral and the changeable but on the firm foundation of Christ, and His calling, and His love, that is not circumstantial but a given in faith.

It is so hard for those in the world to understand this. They judge believers as being sad and depressing complainers. They believe that people turn to God to make up some basic human, psychological deficit. All believers, they think, are just needy people who depend on religion to keep their lives on track. I am sure there are some that may fit this description, but the truly religious person is far beyond these human needs and is involved with complex spiritual and supernatural realities that give a person of faith deep and powerful resources that the world knows nothing of.

This is what I mean when I speak of the firm foundation of a believer’s world view. There is an inner consistency and direction in his or her life that causes all things, all experiences in this world, to cohere and be filled with meaning. Absurdity (which is the end result of the search for meaning without God as the Existentialists rightly predict) is a foreign conception to the believer.

When an atheist asks of the theist why they can go on in this life so joyfully, the believer cannot give a scientific proof of their faith in God since science requires measurement and analysis which is beyond possibility when dealing with the immaterial realities of the soul. But as St. John Henry Cardinal Newman reflected in his works: it is the fact that so many individual searches end up pointing to the reality of God, giving the believer a certainty in his or her faith which is beyond the instruments of measurement of the scientist.

All the signs, unprovable in themselves, point in the same direction. For the believer in God, this more than proves the reliability of faith and the direction of life that all the Scriptures and the Teaching of the Church point to.

Contrary to the negative views of non-believers, people of faith, because of this firm foundation, are actually better equipped to deal with the struggles and challenges of life than someone who thinks life is just a set of chemical processes, without meaning or coherence.

Faith is the strongest and firmest foundation for life.

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Reasons for Hope by Monsignor Ferrarese

It is not news to anyone that we, as a country and as a world, are in trouble. The immorality we see around us; the abandonment of the Religious; the political order in disarray; our climate gone crazy; and violence, often random, have made us wonder if we can ever feel safe again. Then on top of this we have Covid and whatever else can develop biologically against us.

Yet, as Christians and specifically as Catholics, God is at work; and, because of that simple fact, we, as people of faith, can be filled with God’s peace because with God on our side (as St. Paul reminds us) who can be against us (Romans 8:31).

We are admonished in our Scriptures to be willing to give reasons to the world for this hope. We are not on our own to find the way through this bad news: we are guided by Christ, the Good Shepherd.

That is what this lonely lost world cannot understand. Even when things do not go our way, even when all seems dark and broken, a person of faith goes down into the depths of his or her being to find the meaning and the promise and the hope that comes from belief in God and in His providential care of all of us: that sense of being created and sustained by a love that is so much stronger than human love and more faithful and more fruitful which can raise a person out of the misery that we often find ourselves in, giving us new purpose and new hope.

As Jesus promised, it is like a river of living water that never stops flowing and that takes away the thirst of living a marginal material life (John 4). There is more than matter to reality because we matter to Him. (Please excuse the pun!)

The delights of this world, though wonderful, cannot slake the thirst of wanting and desiring and craving that turns our days into continual quests for fulfillment. There is a truth in one of the insights of Buddhism: desire is the cause of suffering. We are cast to-and-fro with all the desires that cause such unrest in our beings. We want, and when we get what we want then we want more; and the cycle continues.

To this endless cycle of misery, Christ says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God” (Matthew 5:3). To no longer be the slaves of desire, to be humble before the Lord and ask only that His will be done, is the landscape of freedom and the joy of the Christian life. It is the reason why we can face so many difficulties but still feel the peace that only God can give.

This is so difficult to communicate to anyone who has not made the surrender of faith, the submission to God and to His will, that to the world seems like a defeat and the worst thing imaginable. But once we believe and say “Thy will be done, Thy kingdom come”, everything falls into place and hope rises in our hearts, a hope that cannot articulate this vision of the mystery to which the person is now oriented and for which the person now lives. It is incomprehensible to the non-believer, but is the reason for our hope.

This is why I feel so alienated from much that parades as important in our culture, society, and media. The quest for the material as ultimate, the exaltation of the idol of the self that undergirds much of the writing in the media, the anti-religious perspective of the newscasts (both liberal and conservative), conspire to weave a web of lies and falsehood that makes me want to get far away from this so as to pray for everyone concerned.

How can we not pray for people who are so lost and who commit so many evils against the order of creation given to us by God? We are meant to be collaborators with God and not competitors.

Given all the wrong turns and the evasions and falsehoods that undergird modern life, it is not surprising to me anymore that we are making no progress toward healing the climate of the world, that killing unborn human life is seen as a positive right, that guns are easier to get than healthcare, that wars and injustice are a worldwide epidemic, that we inspire demagogues and dictators to be our leaders and build our political platforms on falsehoods and egocentric visions of fulfillment. When did the pursuit of happiness become an absolute?

I feel such gratitude to have been saved from this heartless and mindless kingdom of this world. I look forward to the future and say with true conviction: Thy Kingdom Come!

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Winnowing Down to Essentials by Monsignor Ferrarese

Maybe it is just because I am older, but I use to call men my age (72!) ‘old men’. So here I am looking every year more like my father, reflecting on the world and my soul and wondering where is it all going? I am not talking merely about my fear of death, though that must be lurking somewhere. I’m also talking about the state of the world, the widespread abandonment of the Christian Faith (that built our entire civilization), the wild swings in the climate, the loss of belief in the American experiment, the rising tide of immoral behavior, the killing of innocent children through abortion, abuse and starvation, the powerful destructiveness of tiny unseen things like viruses, and so much more.

Yet, in spite of this seemingly endless litany of darkness, I have never been more joyful in my faith. I truly believe in God and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit’s working in the Church. When I am on vacation, no matter how beautiful the place and delicious the foods, I search out Churches where in the solitude that I find there (surrounded by the outside noises of life, of people living and partly living) I kneel before, what seems to the world, wafers of bread and thank Jesus, present to me in all His glory and majesty and wonder how the world can go on without Him.

As my body weakens and the world careens out of control, I find a world of peace and love in my heart and soul that I want to share at all costs.

Sadly, the world says “No, thank you!”

I began to notice the upward movement of my heart and soul in the world of art. I have always loved all sorts of art: film, painting, literature, dance, music. I used to go through the Arts and Leisure section of the New York Times page by page, noting what I wanted to see. But the world of art has taken a decided turn away from seeing art as a form of transcendence, leading possibly to the experience of God. When I read many of my favorite authors and take in the performing arts of the past, I am drawn to the great ones who saw God as central: Dostoyevsky, Shakespeare, Dante, Beethoven, Bach, and the list goes on and on. But art has abandoned God in our time. There is a consensus among modern artists that the question is no longer important, that it has been settled. The Cathedrals built by people of faith have become Museums and Concert Halls. People still see art as important, but not God. When I enter a crowded Church in Europe, filled with works of art proclaiming the importance of God, people impassively file past with guide books. Areas set aside for prayer are empty.

I find art that has no place for God to be vacuous and uninviting. Modern Art in its abstractions I find boring and lifeless. While there are some great modern artists for whom God is central (I think of the great architect Antonio Gaudi and the composer Olivier Messiaen), they are decidedly in the minority.

There has been a widespread abandonment of God and a terrible impoverishment of human endeavor. It has lost most of its appeal to me. I find God so living, so real, so exciting that the modern world has lost its appeal. As the world flies apart, I find myself entering empty Churches in all their splendor and amid the old people who still haunt these spaces and I pray to God for the world. I embrace the Crucified Christ and, surrounded by the saints, I pray for this weary world so lost and so hurting. But I do not despair. For I know the power of God and how quickly God can answer the prayers of the faithful, especially the meek and the humble of the earth.

In my perception, all of reality has winnowed down to essentials that are the real map of future transformation: God, Sin, Christ, Redemption. These are the new way that leads to life. I am so grateful for this vision of hope, and I pray with tears in my eyes for the suffering of the world without God.

For that reason, I am so happy to be Christ’s priest: to call the depressed people of this world to the exciting adventure that is God. What a great time for ministry!

When asked what gives me the most satisfaction in being a priest, I always say: when I see someone ‘get it’ and begin to be transformed into the likeness of God’s Son, Jesus.

This is the essential fact of existence.

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Spirituality vs. Sanctity by Monsignor Ferrarese

At first, when one looks at the title of this essay, “Spirituality vs. Sanctity”, one could be surprised. They both seem compatible with one another. But the word versus, signifying opposition, is not a mistake. Many today use the word ‘spirituality’ as a term that does not mean what it traditionally has meant in the history of the Church. True Spirituality leads to Sanctity when practiced religiously, that is, in the context of a Religious Community or Church.

But in the modern way of speaking, Spirituality is in opposition to both Religion and Sanctity. Spirituality has come to mean any form of connectedness to a vague ‘spirit world’. The connection is solitary and does not involve itself with a Church or any organization. It is also optional: something I can do or not do depending on my schedule or mood. It is all about feeling. People looking for Spirituality and not Religion are looking for a warm feeling of contentment and connectedness that makes no demands and for which no commitments are necessary; a sort of ‘faith lite’.

The quest to be holy and imbued with the Spirit of God involves a commitment and takes a lot of time and effort. It involves a strict moral code and involvement with a community of like-minded individuals.

The witness of the saints is that it is also a lifelong quest and requires great sacrifices on the part of the pilgrim. While the rewards are great, so are the struggles. This cannot occur without a commitment that transcends all that this world has to offer the person.

There is a reason why modern people run away from any commitments, let alone a life time commitment. When I say yes to someone or to something, I say no to many other things that I could have had. Take when one decides to marry: when a man finds the woman of his dreams, he promises lifelong and exclusive love to her. By doing that, he rejects the pretty coworker at the office and the fan who seeks to be with him at every turn. He has made his choice. His ‘Yes’ includes many a ‘No’.

When we seek God, to love and honor Him above all things, we set up a life that is created with the free choice of the One who will direct all future choices. Because of my commitment to God alone, first and above all things, every earthly reality becomes relative to that fundamental choice. This is the true prerequisite for all true spiritual growth. Someone who refuses to make that choice in the real world and in the here and now forever condemns themselves to the state of an ineffectual spiritual dilettante.

One expresses a true seeking of God through the virtues. We need to make clear here that there is a difference between the values that we have and the virtues we live in our lives. Values are the natural or acquired aspirations that we truly or falsely believe contribute to our good and that of society. But virtues are less in the mind than in the will; they require hard work.

Patriotism may be a value that I espouse, but I live it through the virtue of courage when I join the military and risk my life to defend my country. Truthfulness in what I say or do can be a value in my life, but being honest day in and day out with God and the people around me is the virtue that undergirds and expresses that value.

Values are easy to espouse. One must work at virtue.

Therefore, the espousal of ‘spirituality’ in contradistinction to ‘religion’ is to opt for a commodity that will make me feel good and will not require any commitment on my part nor any active engagement with a community of flawed human beings. It frees me from entanglement with the, often, uninspiring history of a religious group with which I may have some affiliation but cannot subscribe to all their beliefs.

This is the stance of what are sometimes called ‘cafeteria Catholics’. They pick and choose the Catholic teachings that they agree with and leave the rest behind.

But to be a Christian, one must accept all the teachings of Christ; otherwise, we are still in the center of things and everything serves the ‘me’. The first virtue that any Christian needs to have is humility, to say with St. John the Baptist: “He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:30).

The cumulative historical experience of Scripture and the 2,000-year meditation theologically on that Scriptural data has formed a consistent whole that is not a mere logical result but rather an organic unity. To try to separate from that unity what I can accept from what I cannot is not possible. One must accept the authority of the Church in that teaching as a whole or part ways with the Church completely.

To humbly accept this fact is a prerequisite of sanctity. St. Teresa of Avila in her voluminous writings on the Spiritual life made clear over and over again that if she said anything against the teaching of the Church she would retract it immediately.

This is the basis of the robust nature of humble sanctity rather than the pallid partiality of a spirituality born of human pride.

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Idol of Our Age by Monsignor Ferrarese

In contemporary understanding, the word ‘idol’ has a positive meaning. Television even uses the word idol in this good sense. An idol is someone to emulate. But in the history of faith, it is a very bad term. It signifies a false god that lures us away from the true God.

There are many examples from the Bible, the most prominent being the molten calf that the Israelites created in the desert while Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving from the true God the Ten Commandments. Moses was so angry when he came down the mountain that he smashed the idol to pieces with the Tablets of the Law.

An idol is something or someone who we place in the spot where God should be. It is an unworthy and ineffectual substitute for God. In the past they were personified as false deities with names like Baal or Jupiter. But nowadays they can be even material things that we make for ourselves ultimate concerns: power, fame, money.

However, even more basic than these half-gods is an underlying orientation that can have deep repercussions: Do I believe in an authority above myself who gives me the rules of living well and to whom I am responsible and who will in the end judge my life, rewarding the good and punishing the bad? Is there anything higher than the self?

When we get to this question, we are at the point of discovering what is the true idol of our age: The Self.

Signs of the new idolatry are all over. How many times have you heard on TV in diverse kinds of shows, “Follow your dream!” or, “You can be anything you want to be!” or, “You have a right to this!”

What separates this from necessary affirmations that we need in life is that they are completely fictitious. You cannot be anything you want to be. No matter how much I wish it or train for it I will never be a quarterback for the New York Giants!

The other difference that is even more dangerous is that there is no higher authority within whose world you exist. In God we have Someone who sets the rules and to Whom we are accountable. In the worship of the Self, there cannot be a god. That would spoil everything.

Another problem with this new religion of me is that it tries to deny objective reality and hence objective truth. No matter how much I want that elephant to be a giraffe, it still is an elephant. There are some things I can change and some I cannot (at least without God’s permission).

This sort of rampant subjectivism has roots philosophically in the past but is no less incorrect. Who we are must conform to the reality around us. While there are elements of the reality that need to be changed and should be changed, for example racism, somethings are a given. Much that is objective about human nature is willed by God and must be followed. This is true about much in the world but not as much as in the human person.

The bottom line is that we are all accountable to God for our thoughts, words and deeds. We are not a world unto ourselves. If we give into the spirit of this age which makes of the self an idol, we will be taking our place under the flag of Satan and be against God and His creation. While this is understandable among atheists and other free thinkers who believe that they are law unto themselves, believers in God and especially Christians who have been given the Holy Scriptures and the Magisterium of the Church to guide them, have no excuse when they bow to this strange idol of the self.

It gets particularly sad when the “Self” thinks it can mess with biology. This is evident in the abortion controversy. Clearly God is creating another human being in the womb of the mother. He is doing that biologically. As soon as the child is conceived there is a new DNA given which is not that of the mother and not that of the father. It is the unique plan and pattern that God has for the development of the human child as he or she is formed. This child must be nurtured and protected both before birth and after birth. Amazing things happen in the womb biologically. This is Science. Those who are so insistent in following Science with climate change suddenly abandon it when it comes to the human fetus (Latin for ‘young one’). This is the tyranny of the unenlightened Self. It can kill in the name of its autonomy. But no one has a right to kill an innocent human being no matter what the age of that being may be.

To humbly bow before the true God and abandon this idol of the Self is to follow the first commandment of the Decalogue. God is God alone and you must not have strange gods before Him.

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Cheap Grace by Monsigor Ferrarese

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a valiant Lutheran Pastor who was a theologian and an ardent opponent of Hitler and the Nazis. He paid for this with his life toward the end of World War II when he was executed by the Regime as it was careening to a final crash.

In his book “The Cost of Discipleship”, he bemoaned Christianity’s slow decline into a comfortable gospel for the well-heeled and the lax. He felt that Christians in Germany felt that for the forgiveness of their sins it was just necessary to say to God “I’m sorry” and then continue living like everyone else: that is, comfortably and without much concern for the poor and the downtrodden. He called this ‘Cheap Grace’. In contrast, he felt the call of Christ involved making a radical commitment to worship, to witness and to suffer for one’s beliefs. Christian Faith was called to be prophetic.

Unfortunately, we in America have developed a similar system of false expectations which do not agree with either Biblical teaching nor with the Church’s Magisterium. For instance, it is an uncontested belief that when one goes to confession and one fulfills the requirements (sorrow for sin, confession to a priest, firm purpose of amendment and carrying out one’s penance in a spirit of reparation) all sins can be forgiven. This is true, to a point; just as Original Sin left weaknesses and flaws that have to be worked on because of the need to grow in holiness (teaching on concupiscence), so also actual sins do their damage and that damage must be healed through Penance and Reparation.

But, the problem in the modern world is this: we presume on God’s mercy and do not even ask for forgiveness nor make the necessary amendments of life. We just assume that God has already forgiven us so why go through the difficulties of the process of Confession? In addition, when someone does enter this process, it is not with a firm purpose of amendment and the penance often given, even for serious sins, are a couple of Hail Marys’! Easy and cheap grace. But that is not the teaching of the Church. It a vein quest to find the easy way out and get in God’s good graces without the anguish of repentance.

In the Medieval debates regarding the necessity of the atoning death of Christ, St. Anselm highlighted a deficiency in the thinking of his opponents when they said that the Incarnation and the death of Christ were not necessary but were gratuitous acts of love for each of us. Even in the absence of Original Sin, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity would become human, simply to manifest His love for us (the position of Duns Scotus and the Franciscan School). St. Anselm (and after him the Dominican School of St. Thomas Aquinas) emphasized the necessary nature of these miraculous acts of God. St. Anselm’s contribution centered on the gravity of sin. He said that people do not reckon with how serious any sin is and how it upsets the balance of the Justice of God. Original Sin and the accumulated actual sins of mankind are an enormous attack on the sovereignty and justice of God. This sense of the gravity of even the smallest venial sin is completely lost on us who like our forgiveness fast and cheap.

The process of repentance is a long and difficult process. It is not something I should leave to my death bed. While a last-minute conversion is always possible, the process of repentance must be continued in the next life. Hence the importance of the doctrine of purgatory.

While going to Confession and receiving absolution for a life time of sin or even for one sin must always be maintained as a desirable thing, one can never lay aside the difficult and arduous reshaping that must accompany our act of confession. This reshaping involves repeated attempts at amendment of life without which no true repentance is ever possible.

It is easy to conceive of the Sacrament of Confession, (because of how common and available it is) as a sort of ‘dispenser’. We go to Confession, do our Penance and Poof! All is forgiven and we can go back to our lives, often knowing that we will be back again in Confession, calmly confessing the same sins. No effort. No growth. No struggle. No change.

While it is true that the struggle is very long and it often feels like we are stuck in the same sins, the passivity that I am describing is much more pernicious. There are habitual sins that do take a long time to conquer, even with Sacramental assistance. But what I am speaking about is the total abandonment of efforts to resist the sin in the knowledge that all one has to do is go to confession again and all is ok. Nothing more needs to be done. This risks playing a game with God. Not something to be encouraged!

No, the term: ‘Firm Purpose of Amendment’ is a commitment to struggle against temptation and a refusal to see in Confession a license to rely on ‘cheap grace’ to solve the problems of intense and real moral struggle.

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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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