A Proper Balance by Monsignor Ferrarese

We are all children of a revolution. At the heart of our national consciousness is the Declaration of Independence by which we cast aside the authority of the British Crown and created a form of governing that has at its basis the consent of the people. No more for us the theory of the Divine Right of Kings! We create the forms of governance and we can change them at will. Jefferson wrote often about the right of the governed to cast aside what does not work for their good and replace an established form of government with one more congenial to the rights and welfare of the people.

This openness to fundamental change is born of the Protestant revolution against the authority of the Church. Luther’s “Here I stand. I can do no other.” is at the center of the Enlightenment revolt against faith and is interwoven into the fabric of the founding of our nation. We are formed because of our refusal to bow to the unjust authority of a King. This is more than an historical once-in-a-lifetime happening. It is a principle of our formation as a nation.

I don’t mean this as a mere historical lesson but as the groundwork necessary to understand our suspicion of all authority and our absolutizing the individual conscience. Revolution is at the center of our toolbox. It is amazing that we have been such a stable government for so long! It also goes far in explaining both the flawed logic and the terror of the assault on the Capitol.

We have in our DNA as Americans both a deep appreciation of the value of our institutions as well as an inner warning not to idolize any human construct.

But, at the same time as Catholics, we must still have faith in God’s guidance through the accumulated wisdom of Catholic Tradition and the authority that Tradition embodies.

The splintering of the Protestant world in spite of Luther’s understanding and teaching on Scripture alone being the standard of orthodoxy has shown the world the importance of a teaching authority beside Scripture that calls out erroneous, heterodox thinking, thereby keeping the Church on the right path. The Catholic Magisterium that has outlasted the test of time serves the Bible as an authentic witness to the correct interpretation of innumerable passages whose many interpretations have always torn apart the unity of the Church.

The truth of the matter is that we need both the institutional side of the Church (Magisterium) and the prophetic side (the individual conscience); not as opposing one another, but as completing one another.

The Church has always been bedeviled with false dichotomies that have created an unnecessary disunity. Not for nothing has the kingdom of Satan often been called “Dis” because of the negative results of this destructive prefix: Disunity, Disorder, Disarray. Satan always seeks to create separation and disorder while Christ brings unity and communion. The unity of Church teaching over many centuries stands in stark contrast to the multitude of false teachings that have littered the centuries of ecclesial history.

There is therefore a proper role for authority which aids the individual conscience by limiting the many choices and pitfalls of understanding and by providing guiding banks for the river-flow of God’s correct teaching.

It is often necessary to find the proper balance between the prophetic and the institutional, between the call of the individual and the proper health of the communal.

This means we often must hold in check our tendency to idolize revolution and the privacy of our individual conceptions to see the whole sweep of the Church’s direction in any given age with its diverse circumstances.

We often must refrain from absolutizing our experience of being Americans and our impatience over the way the rest of the world sees what is going on. The Church is a global institution and not the slave of any one nationality however blessed it is. Washington and New York may see things in a particular way, but have no right to impose that on the Church which must also heed the experience of the faith in Manila, Mexico City and Nairobi.

The Virtue of Prudence is another word for this Proper Balance that I am suggesting is important for the future of each member of the Church.

“If anyone loves righteousness, [Wisdom’s] labors are virtues; for she teaches self-control and prudence, justice and courage; nothing in life is more profitable for mortals than these.” – Wisdom 8:7

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What Does God See in Us? by Monsignor Ferrarese

When two people fall in love with one another, what actually happens? They see in each other a certain beauty, a certain grace that they desire. Often, those around them cannot see it to any substantial degree. It is a mystery to parents, for instance, what their daughter sees in a man who does not have a job and who does not seem attractive to them in any way. But she sees something that is beautiful and good in the other, or at least potentially so. She has given her trust and love to her beloved. He may not even see in himself what the lover sees in him. But if he trusts her, he may begin to see his own value and promise the way she does.

Of course, she can be wrong and be seeing in him what she wants to see, but sometimes that is enough for the beloved to will changes in his life that may transform him into the being that the lover sees in him.

When one brings this understanding to our relationship with the All Beautiful One, God, one finds a problem. Sin, over the course of our lives, has disfigured our initial beauty as of a created being come from the hand of God. We find in God the three transcendentals: Goodness, Truth and Beauty. Since we have been created by God, we too must share in those three transcendentals. But we have sinned. Therefore, we have been changed into beings that manifest evil, lies and ugliness. If we do not see this or think we are exempt from the results of Original Sin, we live in a state of delusion.

But we know by faith that God loves us as we are and calls us through the daily baptismal regeneration of faith into a deep and loving relationship. But what does God see in us? Why is the All Good reaching out to the one who has done evil? What does the All Truthful want from me who have lived a life of lies? Why does Beauty Himself want to be united with one who has made himself so hideous?

Like an errant and mischievous child that is still sought after by a loving parent, so God sees through the mess we have made of ourselves, and perceives the pure design of His original intentions that blessed us at our creation from His hand.

Until we see things from this perspective we will never understand what we mean by the mercy of God. We live in a world that puts me, the self, at the center. Everything revolves around that me, even God and the supernatural dimensions of our lives. To sense one’s unworthiness is the beginning of the Spiritual Adventure. We know we can’t do it by ourselves. We know that all depends on God. We know that without God we are literally nothing. Thus, we approach God in humility, which is the chief virtue and the foundation upon which our growth will be based. The one who is lost in the me has no idea of this and is so lost that he or she has no clue where they are and what they are called to. They don’t even know what awaits them without God. They are blind to reality.

It has nothing to do with education. Many in the me mentality are highly educated and very accomplished, but they lack the one thing necessary: a humble need for God.

God on His part sees our internal beauty. The human soul is one of the most beautiful things that God created. We have marred it with our sins, but God sees us in all our pristine loveliness. He loves us so much that He chose to become one of us, a human being. He also chose to redeem us from the sorry shape we got ourselves into! He took on our guilt and He gave us the sacramental graces we need to grow holy again. If we want to see what happens when the human person takes on the path of holiness, we need to look at the greatness of the saints: the innocence of St. Therese, the wisdom of St. Ignatius, the courage of St. Maximilian Kolbe. Men and women, girls and boys, rich and poor, white, black, yellow and brown, a great chorus of the transformed in Christ. And it could be you and it could be me also.

Glorify the Lord in all His Works!

“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet.” – Psalm 8:3-6

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Welcoming the New by Monsignor Ferrarese

How easy it is to get stuck! By that I mean that often we get so used to the familiar that we don’t progress in our divinely planned development. We get used to the things as they are. Like an old shoe, things fit nicely and we just want things to continue as they are or even as they were. For often this conserving trend lurches us backwards into the past, creating, through nostalgia, a past that never really was but has become a mirage created by our imagination.

As I grow older, I see this tendency to resist the new as a desire for the comfort of the familiar. We get used to things as we know them. And because of that we are happiest when we do the things that we always do. We identify with them. They become ‘us’ and as such we feel lightly or seriously threatened when life suggests us to go in a different direction. We sometimes greet these intimations of newness as if they were trying to violate our independence and we try to eliminate anything that makes us feel insecure.

This is a personal reality for most of us but it can also be an institutional reality. For instance, we as a Church, a parish, get used to doing things in certain way. We forget that everything that we consider familiar was at one time a new reality.

As I grow older, I notice I have set patterns of doing things that seem to work for me: where I put my toothpaste, where I put my brush, what kind of toothpaste I use, the floss that is in a certain place close at hand; even the mouthwash that has a place. I have a place for everything and I spend time every day returning the things to where they belong. OCD? Maybe. But I know what has worked best for me and I like to be able to find things where they belong. I called it order. Others might call it neurosis.

When someone gives me a new idea about toothpaste, continuing with my previous example, I can either dismiss it as unnecessary or I can try it out. When I do try it out (which is most of the time) I sometimes find it is an improvement. So, I change my habits and make room for this new addition which will be part of the order of my room.

Toothpaste is just a minor example. I do this as a matter of course for everything. This sense of order helps me feel secure enough that when someone suggests something new, I feel that it is ok to try it since it might actually improve my ‘system’.

I think what militates against this freedom with the new is our clinging to the familiar as a marker for security. “Because this is the way I do this, it is my way and therefore why should I even listen to what others suggest?” The fallacy of this way of thinking is that we identify with our habits and therefore, when someone suggests a new way of doing something, we unnecessarily feel threatened. Sometimes we discover, on the other hand, that our way is better than the new way. This, therefore, results in a new respect for our past choices and gives us the motivation to share our way with the person who meant to be helpful by suggesting their way so that they may try your way and profit by the improvements it provides.

When this way of proceeding is expanded into interpersonal and even spiritual matters, we can see what tremendous advantages it brings. Sometimes God initiates new things in our lives and in the salvation history of the world. The Incarnation is a chief example. While the Old Testament is replete with many instances of the mutual love between God and Human Beings (chiefly in the Covenantal love of God with the Chosen people), there is not even an intimation of God choosing to become one of us! Yet, that is exactly what God did in human history. Many people rejected Jesus because the Incarnation was unprecedented in the history of God’s Covenant with His People. But many were open to the surprising ways that God had already worked in picking that one obscure people to be His people.

While it is always good to test the new to see if it compatible with the rest of things, an open stance to the new ensures that we can and do benefit when God does the new in our lives and in the world at large.

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Beginning Again by Monsignor Ferrarese

As we round out 2021 and head off to 2022, we will tend to make many resolutions. This is a very good thing since our weaknesses often cause us to slacken off from the many positive things we start out with.

This process of readjusting ourselves and moving forward on our many life goals should not make us feel discouraged. If it does, then we need to look at where the vice of pride is hiding. Even Jesus on the way to Calvary fell many times, but (and this is key) he always got up and kept trying until He reached the mount.

Discouragement is always the language of the devil. Thus, we should keep making those changes that we plan and, even if we go back a bit, its always two steps forward, one step back.

Sometimes it is God Himself who gives us a boost. When I was learning to ski (one of many sports that I did not conquer!) I spent the whole day going up and down the beginner’s slope. I must have fallen hundreds of times, having black and blue marks all over. After the long day was over, I headed to the ski lodge which was about 50 yards away. I was glad that it was on level ground as I ski-walked toward the haven that beckoned. At this point I hit a patch of ice and once again I was down on the ground. I felt so tired that I did not have the strength to get up. Suddenly from behind, two strong arms went under my armpits and I was back on my feet. When I looked behind me, there was no one there! God? Perhaps. His Presence? Absolutely. God is amazing! He knows just when to intervene. It could have been just a compassionate fellow skier. But sometimes God takes that form as well! And so many other forms!

Thus, this move forward that seeks to better itself, especially as the new year approaches, can be a prayer to God that calls Him into one’s life to assist us in making further progress in our daily life. We seek at these times not just something good for our lives but progress in virtue. Progress in virtue is not too much different than progress in physical strength. It requires daily effort at strengthening which over the long haul will make the body stronger and more resilient. For instance, a resolution to quit smoking requires one to do a number of things: throw away the cigarettes, get a patch, consult a doctor, monitor one’s progress. This is accomplished by small measurable steps which lead up to a virtuous triumph that will benefit one’s whole existence.

Another example is that of the process of retirement. When one retires from one’s career, it is very important that one retire to something and not from something. One needs to have a plan of how one hopes to use time once one does not have to spend 40 or so hours producing a paycheck. And even more, one must find other ways of enjoying the sense of satisfaction that one gets from a job well done.

Even though our past is littered with the remnants of past resolutions that have, over time, not been realized, it is imperative that we keep making them since our desire to do good is in itself pleasing to God even if our execution of these desires falls short of realization. We must, therefore, never surrender our hope, for it is our hope that helps us to get up once again when we have fallen; and it is hope that makes us keep wanting to do the will of God in our lives.

Not for nothing that in Dante’s Divine Comedy, when Dante and Virgil reach the gates of hell, they find emblazoned overhead the words “Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here!” This chilling reminder of the importance of hope was further used by the French author Georges Bernanos (one of my favorites) when the priest in Diary of a Country Priest says of those in hell that they would warm themselves by the embers that we call despair!

Hope is often the forgotten virtue, but it is the link between Faith and Charity. No matter what happens to us, God is greater still. Even in our making of resolutions we must never forget that.

As we approach the beginning of a new year, let us not be afraid to strive for higher things through the virtue of hope. Let not the devil’s plan of discouragement cause us to veer off course. Let our every resolution be made in Christ, not merely for self-centered improvements, but to better serve our Divine Majesty.

“Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.” – Romans 5:5, 12:12

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Woman: Pinnacle of Creation by Monsignor Ferrarese

One of the major movements in our time is the world-wide emergence of the dignity of women and their rights. This began in Christian countries but has spread to all other non-Christian cultures throughout the world. Violence against women and the denial of basic human rights toward them is endemic in our world. But this new dawn is happening throughout every culture.

One has only to reflect that even in Christian countries the right to vote for women only came at the beginning of the 20th century!

It is not just a coincidence that in the dogma of the Church the two most recent infallible pronouncements were about women, or to be exact, the Woman par excellence: The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God. The Blessed Virgin Mary in her beginning and in the end of her earthly life has been marked as especially favored and blessed by God. Her impeccable sanctity is guarded in her beginning by the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception and in her end by the teaching of her bodily Assumption. Both of these are modern doctrines. Surely, they were enunciated and believed by Christians through the centuries. But it was only in the middle of the 19th century that the Catholic Church defined the Immaculate Conception of Mary as an infallible doctrine of the Church (1854). And even later, in 1950, that the Assumption was defined as doctrine, whose definition was hailed by none other than Carl Jung as the greatest doctrinal moment in Christianity since the Reformation!

By centering on the unique role of Mary in the history of salvation and that specifically in her femininity and womanhood, the Church was preparing for the world-wide ascension of women in all their creativity, talents and special gifts.

But every time the Church utters a saving doctrine of the faith, the world of the demonic attacks it. And not only attacks it but does so at its very core. That the cause of equality of women is politically entwined with the issue of abortion is truly a demonic attack on the human dignity of women. By equating a woman’s human dignity with the “right” to destroy life within the temple of her body is satanic in inception, scope and consequence.

One has to admit the demonic intelligence at work so to hamper the welcome emphasis of the equality of women and the rightful denunciation of violence against women by tying this to the most unwomanly and dare we say “masculine” solution to the difficulties of pregnancy: to get rid of the developing child. It is not surprising that the early icons of women’s liberation, like Susan B. Anthony, were against abortion because it cut to the very heart of the unique dignity of women.

“Choice” does come into play in the stage before pregnancy when a responsible use of the power of sexuality needs to be used.

It is a measure of the duplicity of the argumentation for so called “choice” in destroying the developing human child in the womb, that the true nature of the act of abortion is not even mentioned. For if the violent and cruel nature of abortion were truly portrayed in all its vivid horror, it would be seen as the very opposite of the life-giving vocation that God entrusts only to women.

It is this stark departure from the true greatness of women in protecting and nurturing the eternal in the womb that one can perceive the essentially demonic nature of the widespread and pervasive acceptance of what should call forth revulsion and condemnation.

To women is given the privilege and responsibility of ensuring the continuance of the human race; and with this burden of conceiving, nurturing, growing and teaching that extends from the womb to the day-to-day infancy and childhood of the eternal being she protects, a special dignity is given to women that must be honored and respected. Society must extend its prolife stance to include substantial financial and medical commitment to the life-bearing woman so that the abandonment of women to near servitude in supporting their children, a terrible sin against God and His creation, is wiped out from our society and culture. Childcare needs to be a financial given in any truly Christian society. Concern for the mother and child must extend to both the pre-born and the post-born stages of child rearing.

What a wonderful Christmas gift it would be if we in America decoupled concern for the rights of women from the issue of abortion! What a powerful lesson this would be radiating from the Christ Child and His Mother who said ‘Yes’ to the angel even though it came with a sword of sorrow.

Some may say this is impossible. But we believe nothing is impossible for God!

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Errors of the Times by Monsignor Ferrarese

The Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) is, in my opinion, a gigantic, ongoing reality having vast effects on our faith and its expression in the world. In convening the Council, Pope Saint John XXIII opened the proverbial windows of the Church to release the old and let in the new, to let the Spirit “renew the face of the earth” (Psalms 104:30). However, any freshening like this can let in more bad than good when not regulated and guided by the Spirit.

More recently, our society has attempted to do the same, trying to air out it’s ethical and moral views in the hopes of moving forward and becoming more “progressive”. Some good has come from this reevaluation, but this rush to “modernize” society has run into the monster of “modernism”, causing serious issues to appear that have redefined our society for the worse. Three of these issues are important to discuss.

First is the movement of putting oneself at the center of our lives rather than God and His Will. We have all seen this playing out in society as the “invention of the self” with the catchphrase “we can be anything we want to be”. This not only ignores the place of God and His Will in our lives, but introduces a manifest unreality into our mode of thinking. We can’t be anything we want to be; that’s just not physically possible! But by working too much on trying to make this happen, we have shifted our focus from God, from community, and from our duties as members of the human race. This does nothing but harm our call to live out our God-centered Commandments and vocations. It is He who calls us to be what we ought to be, for our benefit and the benefit of society.

This leads to the second issue: the denigration of sex. Sex, by its very nature, is a powerful and beautiful gift from God that is meant to enhance and represent the intimacy between a wife and her husband, and to engender new life from that intimacy. However, with the rise of pornography and premarital relationships, the focus has shifted from intimacy to simple sensual pleasure. Rather than being a just effect of the act, that pleasure is now at the center and the ultimate goal; and this dislodging of the central aspect of sex has had destructive effects in society: divorce, teen pregnancies, single-parent families, rapes, abortions, child sex abuse, etc. Unlike the casual “anything goes” attitude taught by society, a life-long commitment of fidelity and self-sacrifice is part of the gift of this enormous power. All His gifts are to be shared with love and compassion with others, not least of all this bond of husband and wife.

The third major issue of this modernist world-view is the belief that the material is the only reality. This view believes that nothing is real that cannot be measured, touched, and felt. This is often expressed as an effect of “following the science”, for this concept is at the center of the Scientific Method. Although one could say that there is some truth to this view, this way of viewing the world has become devoid of the Presence of God in creation. Limiting reality to just the creation, without the Creator, makes the spiritual and invisible realities of no importance, even as errors that must be denied. We believe in a God Who is the Maker of the visible (material) and the invisible (spiritual). Concepts like “thought”, “love”, and “faith” have no measurable dimensions, but would anyone be willing to admit that they do not exist or that they are merely the results of a chemical reaction in our brains? Can human life be actual life without these “non-realities”?

Ultimately, these “errors of the times” are often “errors of The (New York) Times” as well, for it is with the powerful organs of the media, both of the Left and of the Right, that the underpinnings of these errors are propagated and enforced. Thus, it is all the more important to ground ourselves not in the media but in Scripture and the lives and writings of the Saints. We must expose, refute, and replace that which is given to us as “objective truth” by society with the Grace of God that alone can save us from the works of the evil one.

Then what can we do? The answer is not to shut the window of change, but to be more discerning about what comes in. For that, we need the Grace of God and the guidance of Biblically-based Church Teaching.

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A Civilization of Love by Monsignor Ferrarese

Last week I tried to reveal a number of warnings dealing with the Culture of Death that we have been drifting into. Saint John Paul II urged us instead to work to build a Civilization of Love. This is the harder task since we have the culture of death all around us, but we have the Civilization of Love only in the future. It has not yet emerged.

But I think we can safely assume what some of the elements of this civilization may be.

First of all, we must come to an understanding of what we mean by the words ‘civilization’ and ‘love’. A civilization is something more than a culture.

A culture is an often-spontaneous series of impressions of habitual responses that are shared by a group of people. For example, it is part of the culture of Italians to celebrate food and cooking to an extraordinary extent. Food for Italians is not just about nutrition and bodily needs; it is about pleasure, and festivity and mutual sharing. The different tastes and kinds of food are celebrated, and a great deal of time and effort go into cooking so that the meal becomes something more than filling up with what is necessary for survival. It is an important part of the sharing of love that is essential for community and family. This is engrained in the culture of Italy, for everyone at all times.

A civilization is a shared bringing together of many cultural traditions, celebrated by art and science, for the purpose of providing a way of being that can be appreciated and used by people who are not from the immediate locus of the generating people. So that Classical Civilization has much to offer our modern world. Plato and Aristotle, Sophocles and Virgil, Augustine and Gregory are all products of this Classical Civilization.

When we speak of building a civilization of love, therefore, it is more than enshrining a feeling and trying to bring that feeling to others. It is rather to cause the Christian Gospel to permeate every vestige of life as we know it so that the first and last of every thought, word or action is the love of God, the love of the other and only finally the love of self. This faith filled understanding and perspective must include the transcendent dimension of God’s Presence acting in the world and His judgement of all things. To love God above all things and in all things is a mind-altering enterprise which puts God’s loving and self-giving Will at the very center of human understanding and willing so that history itself will stand testament to its reality and efficacy.

If we look at the history of the Western world, we perceive the growth of Christian Civilization and its decline. After the fall of Rome and the integration of the new peoples (barbarians? immigrants?), a gradual process of education occurred culminating in the High Middle Ages when there was one faith throughout Europe and one direction for thought, aspirations and future outlooks. With the ‘Enlightenment’ (which in itself was not a rejection of Christ but of the Medieval understanding and establishment of the one civilization) and then the secularizing movement that is modern history we are now left with the need to chart a new kind of civilization of Christian love that may inform and transform the data of daily modern life into a Christian understanding.

This is already beginning in that what has been handed on to us already (which seems the remnants of the old Christian Civilization) is already imbued with a Judeo-Christian world view which gives us a familiar foundation to build our new civilization of love. Christian love.

What we call Christian love is not what we call romantic or erotic love. Neither is it the love that is found in family and friendship. It is the kind of love that God has for us: a sacrificial love that is freely given and is unearned. It is not reciprocal as in the more human loves. It is not dependent on our response. As it says so clearly in Scripture: it is not that we have loved God but that He has first loved us (First Letter of St. John). It is the only love that is strong enough to be able to be given even to our enemies. A love based on compassion for the other and not on desire for gain on our part.

It is a love practiced by all the great saints. If we need illustrations of what I am talking about we have but to read their inspiring and heroic stories.

A world built on that kind of love will produce great art. It will drive science to forsake the invention of instruments of mass destruction and take up the search for more effective medicines and ways of forecasting natural disasters. It will be a place where the weak and the disabled are not annihilated but cared for. It will be an environment that is caring and nurturing. A place where contemplatives are formed in the midst of action. It will be a Civilization of Love.

A wild and unrealizable dream? Not for Christians. It is the Kingdom of God. Thy Kingdom come!

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Against a Culture of Death by Monsignor Ferrarese

Recently one of our parishioners shared with me a video of a short response to a Gun Control question by the former governor of Kentucky Matt Bevin. He decried simplistic solutions like a law that supposedly would make us safe from violence. He, instead, walked through with those in attendance the extent of the violence and death that permeates our culture. Instead of guarding human life from womb to tomb, we have aborted over 50 million American lives and are assisting countless others in ending their lives. Our entertainment bespeaks everywhere the ‘this is all there is’ of material life and makes human life an expendable commodity. How many films advertised in our different platforms show someone carrying a gun? When we see to what extent human life has been reduced to an expendable commodity, are we so surprised that so many young people are turning to suicide or the slow death of drugs?

When we banish God and His moral commandments from our national consciousness, we set off an avalanche of self-destruction, all in the name of self-realization.

The Gospel’s call to reverence creation stands in stark contrast to this. At the very basis of this respect is the often repeated positive judgement of God in the book of Genesis: it is good. Creation is good and the human person is very good. Therefore, the willful destruction of creation, the trashing of the laws of God placed into the created order, is nothing short of a sacrilege. Inherent in all this disrespect and violence in our culture is a disdain for creation and its giftedness. Our whole culture is in revolt against the will of God and in moving toward self-destruction (whether through sins against the environment, abortion, assisted suicide, gun violence, racism, war); we are moving down the path of sin. All the warnings of the Scriptures, from the Hebrew prophets to the contradiction of the Cross, become signals of the present danger that can engulf our planet and leave it waste.

But the Good News of Jesus is stronger than this army of malice and disbelief. Perhaps a new age of martyrdom may be upon us, beginning with the failure of the American experiment in self-government as we descend into tribalism and mutual hatred.

While politics is a necessary arena of change and development, one cannot place our ultimate hopes in it. The things of the Spirit that cannot be measured or observed, as is regularly done in scientific research, are where the true direction and hope for the future lie. Saint John Paul II proposed building a civilization of love based on the Spirit. This will create a violent reaction on the part of the culture of death, but that is only the necessary first stage in a complete victory to which the civilization of love is called.

We have been living for many years in a clearly-formulated Christian culture that is disappearing by the minute. The remnants of it are still there, giving us the false appearance of continuity. But, having severed itself from God and the Gospel of Christ, the remaining green in the uprooted plant is quickly withering. It will surely die. But the energies of the Spirit that can be found in the Gospel can create new seedlings that will in time grow into huge and powerful trees of civilization that will correct the vices that have killed past civilizations and create new Beauty, new manifestations of the Truth, ever wider expanses of Goodness that may be the only hope for our tired planet.

This is why the way of the Christian, no matter how difficult it looks at any given moment, always leads to renewed hopes. All that this culture of death values, all that is ‘cool’, quickly grows cold. The ways of the Spirit bestow new purpose and meaning.

One of the basic things that is missing in the world devoid of God is the joy of meaning. The great psychologist Viktor Frankl, who was a prisoner in one of the Nazi concentration camps, found that those prisoners who were living for something greater than themselves (God, family, spouse, children), even though weak, survived. Those that had lost all purpose in life, no matter how physically strong they were, perished. We need purpose and meaning to live.

Hence, when we look at the glitzy ‘cool’ culture of death, we uncover increased levels of substance abuse, other addictions, and high levels of suicide. While the ‘uncool’ church-goer who seeks to live a moral life in accord with the commandments of God and the guidance of Church teaching has high levels of satisfaction and even joy especially in difficult traumas of life.

Clearly, believers, when this culture of death destroys itself, will emerge from the ashes and once again begin building up from the debris of ‘progress’ the traditions of faith that will signal hope and purpose in the future civilization of love.

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A Lingering Out Sweet Skill by Monsignor Ferrarese

One day I was speaking to a friend about how God works. There are times that God does something suddenly and surprisingly. There are other times that God seems inactive but that down the line in the future something big happens that the wait and all that went into it was revealed to be essential to the final outcome.

This dual way of God’s way of doing things can be seen clearly in the lives of two of the greatest theologians and saints of the Church: St. Paul and St. Augustine. Their conversions were very different in manner but similar in result. This was captured beautifully by the great Catholic poet and priest Gerard Manly Hopkins when he wrote in his giant magnificent poem The Wreak of the Deutschland: “…at a crash Paul, / Or as Austin, a lingering-out sweet skill…” For in the case of St. Paul, God literally knocked him off his high horse (though there is no mention of a horse in the Scripture passage) and his conversion was a sudden and unexpected ‘event’. So much so that the early church thought that it might be a trick to expose the names and identities of the early Christians who were in hiding from the authorities, of whom Saul (now Paul) was one of the most brutal.

In the case of St. Augustine (here rendered by the poet as Austin, which is an old English version of his name) it was a slow process that God sustained and brought to completion. As you might recall, St. Augustine was living a licentious life and had no interest in being a Christian (much to his mother St. Monica’s chagrin).

But God was at work in his life. Slowly and imperceptibly, God weaned him away from the cult that he belonged to (the Manichees) and put into his heart a desire for the Truth. Many things Augustine asked for were denied him since God was preparing him for a total conversion of life. His mother, too, was denied the satisfaction of seeing her son safe and sound in the faith. She prayed for many years seemingly to no effect. When she confessed her fears and concerns for her son to St. Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan, he reassured her that God was at work and that her motherly tears would be heeded by God. Then, one day, Augustine was reading the letters of St. Paul in a garden. He was weeping because he saw the rightness of following Christ but could not let go of the sensual pleasures he was addicted to. Then he heard a child singing a nursery rhyme that had the refrain “Tolle et Lege”: “Take and read”. He then went back to his reading and his eyes fell on a passage in St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans: “Put on the Lord Jesus, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh” (Romans 13:14). Suddenly, unexpectedly, he embraced Christ and let go of all that held him bound. He not only became a Christian but a celibate priest, a monk, a Bishop, and one of the greatest theologians of the Church!

God had a plan, and it was better than the smaller plans of Augustine and Monica. While God seemed inattentive to the pleas of Monica and Augustine, He was instead planning something greater, in the words of the poet: with a lingering-out sweet skill.

Often in our dealing with the Lord in prayer, especially when we are requesting God to do something for us or to take something away, God seems silent. But as the example of Augustine shows, God may be doing something greater than we imagine but working according to his wisdom and timing.

Here’s another example. Recently I heard a distinguished spiritual author say that, when he was choosing a college to go to, he prayed deeply that he be accepted to the college he had settled on. He prayed and prayed but did not make it. Instead, he was accepted by the second-best college he had applied to. He reluctantly went to it wondering why God did not help him make the university he had set his heart on.

It was at this second college that he met a wonderful young lady who eventually became his wife. He was now happily married and the father to a loving Catholic family. He reasoned: “Though I thought God was silent and did not give me what I asked for, if I had not gone to the second college, I would never have met the woman who is now my wife and the mother to our children. What a tragedy that would have been!”

God sees the whole picture of our lives and He wants what is best for us. We must have the humility to be submissive to His will so that God can lovingly bestow on us what is best us for.

In the end it is a matter of trust.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.” – Proverbs 3:5

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Law and Order by Monsignor Ferrarese

Have you ever noticed how often the court room appears in movies and on TV? Ever since the days of Perry Mason till the today of Law and Order (and its many spin offs), we constantly find ourselves in a court room trying to find the Truth of what happened so that the guilty may be punished and the innocent may be vindicated. It may be so widespread that we may never have noticed it. But it is truly a staple of our cultural and philosophical understanding of how society works or does not work.

This reality is closely associated with our democratic view of the equality of all persons. By equality I do not mean that all people must be viewed as having the same gifts and talents. But equality in the sense that everyone has a right to be heard and to grow in society. This connects with the concern regarding ‘fairness’. Growing up in the streets of Brooklyn, our most impassioned cry was: ‘But that’s not fair!’

If we are so concerned that life be fair to everyone here on earth, then fairness in the actions of God must be seen universally to be necessary. That is, until our culture of self-invention took over and we began to tell God what He ought to do and not to do! We have translated our distaste for being judged into a theology of false mercy that makes all our actions good and above reproach or judgement, even by God, forgetting that God has a right to judge us since He created us and sustains our being every second of our existence.

We are very quick to demand justice from God and man if we are the victims of a perceived injustice. We put up a fight, however, when we are being suspected of an act of injustice. Often, where we are at that moment says volumes about the stand we take toward the justice of God.

But, holding us accountable for our actions is another way that God honors us. He takes what we do seriously because we matter to Him. A permissive parent that allows their son or daughter to do anything they want without consideration of the morality or the advisability of their actions is a very bad parent indeed. Correction is never easy to give or to take. But it often is the most loving thing we can do. Just ask any responsible parent who has been through this.

The Justice of God is not optional nor is it the opposite of His mercy. To expect us to act in an upright manner and to hold us to that high criterion of action is an act of great mercy and love. It is what the poet Gerard Manly Hopkins termed ‘the dark side of the bay of God’s blessing’.

This is so true that He has placed a Divine Arbiter in every human being, irrespective of their ethnicity or religion. This sense of what is right and wrong is called the ‘Natural Law’ and everyone has it even if they deny that they do.

It does not matter what religion you belong to, nor even if you are an atheist: the natural law is at the core of the person’s being and helps that person to see that what they have done is ‘wrong’, even if they have no concept at all of ‘sin’. Now this natural power within can be corrupted by erroneous beliefs that one has accepted as true. This may be the result of events that may have happened in the living out of one’s life or by the imposition and the acceptance of religious tenets that are manifestly false.

But still, the Natural Law, embedded in every person, is still there trying to get the person to acknowledge the truth that stands before one’s eyes.

The Justice of God, therefore, still reigns over the pagan who still has the natural law as his guide. We are all guided by the goodness of God to our true happiness; and, if there is openness and the accidents of history permit, one would naturally embrace the Incarnation of God in Christ. The devil, however, places many hindrances in the way of the natural progression of conversion to Christ that would occur in a person open and desirous of the Truth.

God is just and has no favorites. He wants everyone to come into the knowledge of the Truth. He will cajole and entice every person towards an acceptance of His Son and the grace of His Spirit. Many, through no fault of their own, know only intimations of the right road of grace. Since God has given us freedom, the acceptance of that grace is different for every person.

The justice of God is therefore the reverse side of His mercy. Let our cry to the Lord therefore be: “You are indeed just O Lord!” (Daniel 3:27)

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