Back to Basics

I am writing this essay from the Holy Land while on Pilgrimage with 30 people from our parish and others. We have just arrived, and already I feel different. There is such excitement in the air as we go back in time to the era of Jesus of Nazareth and His humble beginnings as well as His faithful and faith-filled journey to His death and His Resurrection.

Our faith is so historically based as is Judaism. It is based on God’s intervention into our world, not for judgement but for love, pure love.

There is such a contrast with the Israel of today. Jewish men on our flight to Israel got up at sunrise and wrapped in prayer shawls to prayer at the Eastern side of the aircraft. From this ancient ritual, we arrived at the super modern airport, the up-to-date roads, and the throbbing life in this small but influential country. Still filled with drama and, alas, violence, it is a contemporary place with all the pluses and minuses of modernity.

Yet there is an air of mystery about what happened hic (here in Latin). Sure, I have studied the doctrine of the Incarnation: The Divine becoming human. But it happened here. Not there, not everywhere. But in one place and one time to one Person. This divided all human history to be before Him (BC) or after Him (AD). And it happened here and then. But this amazing thing has had far-reaching implications. God becoming human has enabled the whole human race, not only as man made in the image and likeness of God, but also God coming to us in the image and likeness of man.

So today we prayed before the altar erected over the spot where Mary said yes to the Angel Gabriel. We will pray at the spot of His birth and the spot of His dying and at the spot of His rising from the dead.

It’s one Man’s story, but really the story of all of us that have been touched by Jesus and forever changed. All that Jesus did matters to me because I matter to Jesus. All of us who have been redeemed by Him can say the same.

When one matters to someone else, it is because something in that person is important, is needed, is even essential. The one that matters touches the heart and draws forth love. The loss of someone who matters to me is incalculable. One feels broken without that one.

Given this, it is hard to imagine that Christ feels that way about me. Sometimes I wonder if Christ means that much to me. Or am I just kidding myself, just saying this because it sounds good and makes me feel important.

How essential is Christ to me? And how essential am I really to Christ the Redeemer, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords? I mean, really!

But that is what I believe is the truth. And I would stake my life on that. Once I move to that conclusion, then I have to see others differently for they too matter to Christ—every last one of them, down to the mentally unfit and the seriously sinful.

Just as I have discovered that I have a very weak concept of God’s omnipotence (how can God be so involved with 6 billion people at the same time?!), so I have a flaccid idea of the all-loving nature of God. I keep putting limits on that love and can’t quite believe that Jesus would give His life for that obnoxious co-worker that I can’t stand or for that drunken homeless person who shows no signs of wanting to get sober!

In brief: God is much more than I give Him credit for, and any attempts to limit or define Him are bound to be way off!

This is the Person I seek here in this land: the Holy One who makes all things holy.

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Someone by Monsignor Ferrarese

One of the most mysterious and at the same time one of the most all present realities in our lives is the being we call ‘Holy Spirit’. We know by that term the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity but we often do not see the Spirit as a person like we see the Father and the Son, Jesus.

This is very counterproductive to our Spiritual journey since this companion which we call the Holy Spirit or formerly the Holy Ghost is the way God works with us and in us in an everyday kind of way.

By making this Someone a thing, we not only depersonalize the Holy Spirit, but we throw a monkey wrench into our spiritual life!

The Holy Spirit is at work everywhere in our Church and in our World!

In the Sacraments, there is one gesture that we often bypass in our consideration of the Holy Spirit: the imposition of the hands. We see this most powerful gesture as the central motion of the rite of Ordination to Holy Orders. Whether the individual is being ordained to the diaconate, priesthood or episcopacy, the transformation occurs when the Bishop or Bishops (in the ordination to the episcopacy the imposition of the hands is done by three bishops) impose hands in silence over the head of the man to be ordained. Through this sign, the Holy Spirit descends on him and completely reconfigures his being to conform him to Christ as head of the Church. That is why, once ordained a priest, even when removed from ministry, that man can still hear a Confession of a dying person in an emergency. Through Ordination, his very being has been permanently changed. That imposition of hands signifies the bestowal of the Holy Spirit; and it is the Holy Spirit that acts and transforms.

But most of the other Sacraments have the imposition of the hands of the minister of the Sacrament as the central gesture of the rite. It happens during the Anointing of the Sick as the priest prays for the healing of the person. Before the anointing with oil, there is the imposition of hands. Likewise, in the other Sacrament of healing, Confession, the priest says the Prayer of Absolution as he extends his hand over the penitent, which often happens unseen behind a screen. Most powerfully, during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the priest imposes his hands over the bread and wine praying that the Holy Spirit transform these gifts into the Body and the Blood of the Lord. Even in Confirmation, the Bishop imposes hands over the confirmandi to bestow upon them the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Thus, you may see that the Holy Spirit not only descended on the Apostles and Our Lady on Pentecost in the Cenacle to found the Church, but that the Person of the Holy Spirit is the Person that makes the Sacraments powerfully effective in the Church.

All this does not happen merely by the presence of an inanimate flame or wind. It is a Person that does all this, a Person that Jesus Himself said He would send to accomplish what resulted from His own death and resurrection through the Father’s love.

This opens up many spiritual possibilities, chief among them is that we can have a relationship with the Spirit. This relationship can, and should, be personal and intimate. The Spirit not only is in front of us (so to speak), but by a unique property of the Spirit can penetrate within us. Mysteriously, the Spirit can move within us. Some of the words we use regarding the Spirit point in this direction: The Spirit prompts us, subtly insinuating Its presence within us. The Spirit can be saddened and therefore has emotions and feelings and is responsive to our engagement.

What a tragedy it would be if we ignored this Person who is so invested in our lives. Unlike the evil spirits that seek to possess and control the being they enter, the Holy Spirit of God is respectful of our freedom and does not do the good in us unless we give It permission.

It is never too late to begin a conscious and transforming relationship with the Spirit we call Holy!

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A God That Matters by Monsignor Ferrarese

Some things that happen in our lives don’t leave a great deal behind them. They just happen. Then they are gone. There might be some small indentation in the real lives that we live, but nothing that is profound.

When we say that something matters, it means that there is an intrinsic importance to the person or event that has or should have lasting value.

Recently, there has been a movement in the political life of our nation called ‘Black Lives Matter’ to address the devaluing of a whole group of people based solely on skin color.

Thus, when we say someone or something ‘matters’, we mean that they are important and not to be dismissed as insignificant. Something that matters usually has long lasting importance.

Some of this difficulty has arisen based on assumptions that are enshrined in our way of governing. In order to safeguard religion and prevent the government in interfering in the free exercise of faith, the framers of the Constitution erected a separation between the affairs of the Church and that of the government. This also allowed a tolerance for all religions, even the smallest in number.

This seems like a good solution; but one of the unintended consequences of this way to doing things is the eventual privatization of religion. Since religion has become something private and personal, we keep it and God out of the discourse of politics and the common future of our lives. This has put God in a secondary role in our lives and made it at best inappropriate and at worst forbidden to even mention God (except in the harmless: God bless America!)

This increasing marginalization of God and His influence in our daily lives with its manifold conflicts and concerns removes a consciousness of His continual presence in our day and the import that the smallest things have to our daily lives. It confines the presence of God to the Church and to Mass and to sermons and to the limited sphere of the manifestly religious, thereby freeing (condemning?) our lives to a godless sphere of politics, family, and employment whose only regulators are our politicians, the media, and the daily events in our family’s life.

In this godless desert, we look for signs that can tell us what the direction of our lives should be; and when something dramatic occurs, such as an illness in ourselves or in someone we love, we are left with just the medical world to help us get through things, irrespective of the eternal dimensions and consequences of the significant and outstanding things that happen to us.

As we suffer, for instance, with an illness, there is no connection with the suffering of Christ nor the place of suffering in the redemption of the world. As we sit in the waiting room of the specialist we are consulting with, there are no reminders of Calvary nor of the theology of the Cross that has so influenced the history of spirituality in our ecclesial tradition.

In a word, the ouster of God from the mundane things of our daily life is an impoverishment of meaning. It is a life drained of the eternal consequences of our everyday decisions and occurrences. This state of affairs is all around us and it is so pervasive that it does not even register on our observances of life. The God-dimension of things is so far removed that we don’t even know what we have lost.

This weakening of the breadth and depth of perception is a God-send (excuse the irony) for philosophers, politicians, and pundits who no longer have to grapple with what God wants but can blithely invent their own realities irrespective of whether or not they are grounded in objectivity.

Thus, in confronting an essentially moral question, like ‘When does human life begin?’, these unmoored individuals can say whatever is expedient without checking with reality or the purposes of God in revelation. Since the god they believe in will fit into whatever they devise, they can say and do what they will since they believe in a god who does not matter to their arguments nor to the world as they conceive it.

This may seem to be a liberation from religious constraint; but in the end, it is a breakdown in the totality of meaning of the daily realities of life. These daily realities include the spiritual purpose of the material. In fact, the spiritual foundation of earthly reality is not just an added characteristic of life, but its very basis and meaning.

By positing a god who does not matter, our society condemns itself to partial and inconclusive answers to life’s important questions. They think they come to logical conclusions, but they can be very wrong since they are built on the sand of popular opinion and not on the revelation of God, which is the ultimate security for our endeavors and plans.

In summary: we remain lost even though we think we are found.

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Accountability by Monsignor Ferrarese

No one likes to be judged. In fact, nowadays, people cry out “you’re judging me!” as if it is an indictment tantamount to murder!

When it comes to God, we like a god who is affirming, involved and always reassuring. But that is not the God that Scripture reveals, including the words of Jesus who always warned about the coming judgement. We have constructed a ‘soft god’, a sort of ‘god-lite’, who is there when we want him, does not interfere with our lives and does whatever we want him to, when we want it and how we want it. A sort of ‘go-for’ god.

There is only one word for this god: idol. And it is expressly denounced in the first commandment given to Moses: “I am the Lord your God…You shall not have other gods beside me” (Exodus 20:2-3).

At the base of this false deity is the fear each of us has in regard to judgement. We like to feel secure. Judgement introduces a kind of insecurity in us. Thus, we invent a soft god that we think can give us security for our entrance into heaven when we die.

Of course, this is a lie we tell ourselves and has no basis in truth. Allied with this is the equally false understanding that if God is a judge then it diminishes God and makes Him a petty tyrant.

That we are to be judged, first of all, means that we are important to God and that our behavior counts. What we do and the reason we do things is important to God because we are cherished by God. He expects goodness because He knows of what we are capable of. This love of God comes first of all. We begin with love and with God’s love come expectations since He has made us capable of great things. This view does not diminish us, it ennobles us! It also says a great deal about the goodness of God and His paternal care of creation.

I knew of a young man who was haunted by the words of his father whenever he tried something new: “You are not capable of this”. Now I know we often sin the other way: follow your dream—there is nothing you are not able to do if you just believe. That is hogwash as well. But a fathers’ realistic hopes for his son or daughter is a sign of love and trust. Remember the words of the Father at the Baptism of Jesus: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17)! In His humanity, Jesus was energized by this affirmation and His public ministry that He began after the Baptism was given a real boost by the Father (not to mention with the Father’s bestowal of the Holy Spirit on His Son!).

God loves us as well and expects us to do the right things in life that He has commanded. That He would hold us accountable for our role in creation is another demonstration of love by our Father in heaven.

How He trusts us! This is one of the amazing facts concerning our Father in Heaven. Even in spite of our repeated failures and outright betrayals, He still trusts us to do the right thing. I have often thought how dumb the King was in that parable of the Lord that said that even after the tenants abused and killed the messengers of the King, he sent his son (cf. Matthew 21:33-46)! Who of us would ever do that? What love he must have had for those miserable tenants! Yet the mercy and trust of the King is so great that even when we do not deserve His mercy, He gives it.

Understood in this context, one feels both an unworthiness and a zeal for the coming judgement. We are important to God and what we have done and failed to do for the other persons that He loves is important as well.

I remember a dream that a famous poet had about God’s judgement. He was actually living a very immoral life and, in this dream, he approached God for his judgement. God then began to sing the poems he would have written if he had been good in this earthly life! If that does not put the fear of God into you, then you are not even in the right ballpark!

All is written in the book of our life. Every incident, however small, is recorded. That is how important our lives are, even the most obscure and humble of us. That we are accountable to God for how we live the life He has given us is a sign, already, of His mercy.

Because of our weakness and need for God, our attitude both before our death and afterwards should be a call for mercy in God’s judgment. How readily God must receive this call, since as our Father He longs to bestow eternal life with Him. Let not our pride get in the way. Humility is not only the foundation of the spiritual life while we walk this earth, it is the fundamental attitude that God longs for when we are face to face with God.

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Drifting Back by Monsignor Ferrarese

Recently I attended a performance of the Opera “Medea” by the Italian Composer Luigi Cherubini. It was based on the French play by Corneille and ultimately on the Greek Classic by Euripides. Euripides wrote his play centuries before the coming of the Word of God, Jesus Christ. As such, it enshrines a pre-Christian view of life that is essentially tragic. For those who have never seen any version of the play, I will briefly summarize the plot.

Medea is a king’s daughter in ancient Greece who falls in love with Jason, who with a group of men called the Argonauts is seeking the Golden Fleece. She helps him, being a sorceress, by betraying her kingdom and even killing her own brother. She bears two children for Jason. After a few years, Jason falls in love with someone else and abandons Medea, taking with him his two children. When he is about to marry another woman, Medea shows up in not too great a mood, to say the least!

She causes the agonizing death of the new bride and then proceeds to slaughter her own children. This story of revenge is frightening to say the least and speaks of the enduring power of the ancient Greek dramas.

But, as a Christian and a priest, I was so saddened by the hopelessness of this story. For in Christ, all things have changed, all things are new (cf. Rev. 21:5). The message of forgiveness and mercy in the Gospel makes the story of Medea tragic, not because it is revealing of how things are, trapped as we all are on this earth; but because it needn’t have ended this way. Jason could have taken a moral route to find the fleece. He could have married Medea out of love and commitment. He could have stayed married to her and enjoyed his children as they grew older. And even if he did not heed the call of the Gospel freedom, Medea could have forgiven him and been present to her children in an admittedly unsatisfactory way outside the immoral decisions of her husband.

The Gospel message, accepted and celebrated, would have nullified the horrible and seemingly final tragedy that I saw on stage. This is why there is a scholarly opinion that the Christian Gospel has nullified the usual human trajectory of tragedy. Christ has made tragedy futile and unnecessary.

Like so much of our modern world, descending as it does from the Christian heritage of our past, we are unconsciously affected by the past and its having been embedded in our present.

But we seem to have reached a point when the force of the Christian outlook has lost its influence in our culture. With its loss, we have begun to drift back into a state of quasi-paganism. The hopeful and transforming message of Christ is being uprooted day by day in our culture: in the government, in the media, in the universities, in art. With this devolution of meaning has come a new paralysis before the force of evil and a willed moral ignorance of the meaning of human life.

The demons of our past history are returning. And we don’t even realize what we have lost. As the Gospel warns, the old demons come back with new demons worse than the first ones (cf. Matt. 12:45 & Lk. 11:26) and the ruin of everything becomes worse than when we started out before Christianity took effect.

When Bishop Brennan first met many of the priests of the Diocese at the deanery meetings, he gave all of us a copy of a book by Fr. James Shea entitled From Christendom to Apostolic Witness. “Christendom” happens when Christianity is lived and practiced by most of the people in that culture (think of the 1950’s). Now the fastest growing ‘religion’ is that of the ‘nones’: those who believe in no religion. Fr. Shea says that how we deal with this fundamental shift is to go back to the times of the first apostles when they preached to a hostile, pagan culture. We need to witness personally to Christ and accept possible martyrdom for our beliefs.

This is not the first time that whole countries seemed to have lost the faith. In the early medieval ages, not too long after the fall of the Roman Empire, whole parts of Europe began to lose the Christian faith and revert to paganism once again. It was the Irish monks that came back into Europe proper and taught the faith that earlier missionaries from Europe itself had preached in Ireland when they converted the Irish. The Irish monks returned the favor.

We have seen many African and Indian priests now running our parishes whom were once in mission lands preached at by European and Americans. Nigeria and other countries are now returning the favor and perhaps re-Christianizing Europe and America. As the United States and Europe seem to be drifting back into paganism, one has to look at the Church from a global perspective, for there are many places that the Church is growing in an enormous way. The last century saw a huge number of martyrs to the faith. And remember: martyrdom is the seed of the Church.

Therefore, expect a growth in the Church worldwide, but maybe not here! Not yet, at least!

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Endings by Monsignor Ferrarese

When we get to this time of year, we move into a reflection on the ‘last things’, meaning how and when will things end. This is in the worldly sense and in the personal sense: the end of the world and our own ending in death. The month of November begins with two days dedicated to the memory of the dead: All Saints Day for those who are in heaven and All Souls Day for those in Purgatory.

Actually, we do recall hell as well in the distasteful but popular celebration of devils, witches and monsters during Halloween, the eve of All Saints.

At the same time, the Sunday liturgical readings remind us that this earth has a shelf life and that it will end either by human means or divine. With the problems connected with climate change, we see almost daily the erosion of comfort with the Earth’s stability: hurricanes, fires, flooding and other natural disasters. These speak of increasing problems with the habitation quality of the Earth that we have taken for granted for too long.

And what can I say about all this talk of nuclear war? If the Cuban missile crisis made it imperative to seek arms control in the last century, what are we to make of the loose talk about ‘tactical nuclear weapons’? Have we not learned about the foolishness of trying to control this power to end the world? We have men at the buttons of these systems who are of questionable wisdom or even sanity!

All this adds up to heightened insecurity for all of us. And I have not even mentioned the mass killings and the fear of random violence in our streets!

As secure as this society is when compared to other ones on the globe, we have to at the same time to admit of a growing sense of insecurity as well.

This is where our faith in God comes in. Our faith is not in the things of this world. This used to be a given before the Second Vatican Council. At that time, there was a more ‘other worldly’ spirituality that put everything in daily life into a category of things that are transitory and therefore of limited importance. While the renewed emphasis on the importance of the here and now is basically a good thing, it does produce the negative result that we absolutize this life and relegate the life to come into a kind of fantasy level: nice to think about but of no real importance.

Given this renewed emphasis on this life, these aforementioned threats to our living a peaceful life seem all the more frightening and final.

But God is greater still. As seemingly hopeless is the future, we need to see how God has the power and the will to redeem and save man both from the clutches of evil in Satan and also from the weakness that is in the human person. God is greater than our future and He is love itself, so that no matter what may happen in the future, good or bad, our refuge is in God who is all powerful and all loving.

This is the importance of faith. A trust must take possession of us in the invincible victory of Christ over death. For the Resurrection is not merely the bringing back to life of the dead Christ. The Resurrection ushered into human history the victory of God over all these faults and evils. While God still puts the future in human hands because of His justice, He supplies human beings with His invincible assistance. We do not merit this, of course. But the gratuitousness of this is all the more amazing because of this.

The one thing necessary is to put our will into God’s will. For the gift of freedom is irrevocable and God must, by His own design, respect the choice we make for or against Him. To work against our pride and to be humble before God; to will God’s power into our lives; in the gloom of the evil forces arrayed against us to say a simple ‘Yes’ to God: this is the power of humankind. We must fight against evil by conforming our will to God in humility and love.

This is the great message of the masterwork “The Lord of the Rings”. Tolkien, in his usually veiled mythological language, uses the simple and humble Hobbits to confound the powers of Sauron. In a powerful moment captured beautifully in the movie version of the book, everyone—including the king, kneel before the simple, humble Hobbits to laud and praise their devotion, unselfishness and courage in helping to save ‘Middle Earth’.

Our lives will end. This world will end. But the love of God is eternal. So, we need not fear. Christ is victorious. We have only to walk with Him by following the will of God.

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We Are All Learners by Monsignor Ferrarese

One of the many interesting things that Jesus, Our Lord, said in the Gospels is that there is only one teacher in life: God. Then He added: the rest are learners.

This is fascinating to me. After I finished Seminary, I was so tired of schooling. I had been through 20 years of it: 8 in Grammar School, 4 in High School, 4 in College, and 4 in Seminary. Count them: 20! You could just imagine how many tests and term papers I had to take and do!

I felt that I had had enough! But then the learning really began. In my parishes and in my subsequent assignments, I learned in practicum. I am still learning how to be a priest after nearly 45 years of Priestly service! God was my teacher through the many parishioners I served as well as the priests and religious with whom I served.

Now, after all that, I would love to go back to the academic environment to take courses in things that I am enthusiastically interested in. (Maybe in retirement!)

As in many things, we can learn from the tradition of our Jewish confreres. When the Rabbis began to codify what constitutes the Jewish Scriptures (the Old Testament), they also began to write down the different opinions of verses of the sacred books. This developed into what was called the Mishnah. So, if you look at a copy of the Mishnah, you see the Bible verse literally surrounded by the great insights of the sages about the best way to interpret the verse. This, in turn, was surrounded eventually with another series of interpretations of both the Bible verse and the Mishnah commentary. This triple layer of verse, interpretation and then commentary on the interpretation became known as the Talmud. Observant Jews still pore over the Talmud, the approved interpretations of the Talmud, and the approved interpretations of the Scripture verse. One can see page by page, verse by verse, layers of tradition that surround the revealed text of the Biblical verses.

Thus, in Judaism there is a system of study and reflection on the revealed Word of God that is still learned and reflected upon.

However, when a Catholic modern reader of the Bible takes a verse and gives his or her ideas about it, without reflecting on the thousands of years of communal pondering on that same verse, it can very easily lead to an erroneous understanding of what God is saying.

Just as the Jewish sages were able to continually endeavor to understand a verse and apply its meaning to daily life, so in our Christian understanding we need to know what the saints and the official Church have articulated about a certain passage of Scripture and then we need to let the word grow and mature within our own consciousness.

This takes time and effort. A quick opinion about some section of Scripture can be completely wrong and we can actually do more harm than good by communicating our opinion to others. This is why we must accept the role of continual learners. This requires humility since it is a function of the sin of pride when we elevate our casual opinions to be divine truth.

We can, therefore, see how important and helpful is the Magisterium’s role as a sort of ‘guard rail’ to keep us on track. But within the space of this legitimacy of interpretation there is plenty of room for God to say something unique and personal to each and every learner who approaches the verse with the necessary humility.

I love the fact that I am still a learner and that there is infinitely more for me to discover than I now know. This is similar to Almighty God in a way. Even in the Beatific Vision, there will never be a time that we can say “I know God”. Impossible!

One of the great Fathers of the Church, St. Gregory of Nyssa, wrote that one of the joys of heaven is that there is always more: more God, more love, more friends, more delights. And each of them gets greater and greater!

Thus, we are all on the very beginning of an endless journey into joy. That sure beats the usual idea of heaven as sitting on clouds playing harps!

I joyfully proclaim that I am a learner and that that is all I want to be!

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292 Essex Street by Monsignor Ferrarese

This may seem a strange title for a spiritual essay. Let me explain. By my count this is my 292nd essay that I have written for Immaculate Conception Parish. I always loved writing. After finishing two novels (one of which is available on our website: The Recusant: The Life and Death of St. Margaret of York) both of them unpublished, I decided to address all of you, my captive audience, by writing occasional pieces about what I judge to be spiritual issues affecting everyone.

But as I was growing up in the East New York section of Brooklyn, we lived (my Mom and Dad and I) in an apartment house whose address was 292 Essex Street. So the coincidence of the number and my address got me thinking of how God uses ordinary means to do extraordinary things.

I would like to use my growing up in Brooklyn as an example in this essay. Hence the title.

When I think of growing up in the 1950’s I am filled with gratitude. While materially simpler than today, there was a real sense of neighborhood. Each block had a life of its own. Especially in the long summers, life was spent outdoors. It was too hot inside since no one had air conditioning. The women would gather together and trade stories and recipes. The men argued about the politics of the day. There were children everywhere. So we played homemade games in the streets: hide and seek, red light-green life, kick the can, etc. As night approached we sat on stoops to talk about school and baseball. At the center of this small-time life was our parish church: St. Rita (East New York). Everything began (Baptisms) and ended (Funerals) in that simple structure. Our School was teeming with children. In June, we ended the school year with the feast of St. Michael and St. Joseph (patron saints of the Neapolitans), and we ended the summer with the feast of Sts. Cosmos and Damian (hosted by the people from Bari). The Church and the School were the center of our lives.

During the long summer days, the gang of guys I hung out with used to walk to the five churches in the neighborhood to say a decade of the rosary in each. No one called this a pilgrimage but that is what it was. Done by 9 and 10 year olds!

No one watched a lot of TV. The shows were terrible and there were only a few channels. It was too hot in the summer anyway to stay indoors.

Through all these specifics of my growing up (in a neighborhood similar to Astoria) at that time all converge into a sense of community. Where I lived and grew up taught me that I was part of a whole and that I had a community behind me. I also bore responsibilities to that community. I could not simply act alone. My decisions and my actions affected my family, my neighborhood, and my parish.

The brand of individualism that is the main characteristic of living together that we experience in the contemporary world was altogether absent. I see this as a strength of my past, a strength that was given me simply by things just the way they were.

While today’s emphasis on the individual seems to bring with it a greater freedom, this I think is an illusion. Individualism lacks the corrective function of community that is necessary for true and lasting growth. I knew as I grew up on Essex Street that I was part of a whole and that I never stood alone. This stance blended beautifully into my place in the community of the Church. The priests and the sisters, the laity and the community outside the parish were the context in which I was to grow.

Unfortunately, today it tends to be a virtual community which is very different from real community. As we get back to actually meeting together instead of watching each other on Zoom, there is a relieving sense of togetherness that dispels much of the loneliness of the Covid year.

Underneath this realization of our need for community is the healing insight that we are more than individuals. We are part of something larger: community, country, parish, Church. We are not alone even if we feel lonely at times.

As I walked the streets of my old neighborhood, I felt that I was a member of this community and that my behavior (i.e., words, actions and even thoughts) must be in a way responsible to that community. While that seems a limitation, it is actually an empowering expansion of my place in the whole reality of life. Simply: I am not alone. I am a member of this community, this organism of life. And if I strive to do my part in this larger whole, than everyone will benefit from my efforts, however hidden they may be from the rest.

This gives me so much hope! It means that in my small way: I matter.

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Procreation by Monsignor Ferrarese

Sometimes something is so big that we don’t notice it, especially when it has always been there. The issue of procreation is one of those major realities that we often don’t take in completely.

Procreation is the great gift of God in which we can assist Him in creating new eternal beings (i.e., children). If we are indeed made in the image and likeness of God, then we must be creative beings in the manner of God. While we can do this through Art and Science, we can preeminently do it through the creation of children, our children. This implies both the beginning of the existence of a new human being as well as the rearing and education of that being through an early life of learning and growth.

God has ordained that this begin with the coming together in desire and ecstasy of two beings that complement each other yet are different: man and woman. Through the mutual exchange of passion and purpose, new life comes forth.

To make sure that this desire is always foremost in the manner of these two types of being created by God Himself, He made the mutual exchange of essence to be the most pleasurable experience in the life of both beings. And since the rearing of these new beings be done with commitment and painstaking effort, a commitment to permanence would be required of these two very different beings. Hence the need for the mutual and longstanding desire and craving for the other that creates a stable environment for the young ones to grow to maturity.

To give names to this process is now necessary. The two beings are called Male and Female. The process of creation begins with the exchange of essences and the uniting of those essences in what has become known as the sexual union. Furthermore, the commitment necessary to bring this not only to fruition in creating an albeit immature and needy being (a baby) but to educate and help grow to maturity this new being, a new institution named the Sacrament of Matrimony has been established by which the two beings commit themselves to each other and to the new life they have created with the special blessing of God. And so has God ordained this to happen.

But then the deceiver appeared and sin made this process a drama. Because of the intense pleasure that surrounds the act of procreation, this soon became the reason for seeking sexual union. Fornication, adultery, and other acts that are not the will of God, since they do not accomplish the purpose of sexual union, spread like an epidemic. Soon people sought the act merely because it felt good. The responsibility and meaning that God intended were either ignored or openly vilified, as adults even attempted the sexual experience with the young who had no idea of the power and the consequences of being used in this way.

Thereby, the act that was meant by God to pass on the gift of life itself became the transmitter of the original sin of disobedience to God committed by our first parents.

This misuse of the pleasure that God has given the act of procreation is so omnipresent in our culture that the pleasure has become the meaning of the act. The exchanges of the essences of a man and a woman in a committed relationship open to God’s will in engendering the creation of new eternal beings has been abandoned by this world as the true meaning of the action. It’s pleasure, which was meant to be a strengthening of the need for the action (based on its importance), has become the central point of the action. This is a twisted misunderstanding of the very nature of the sexual union. By abandoning the procreation of a human being in the essential marital act, the modern mind has corrupted the meaning of this most sacred act and thereby committed a great sin against the purpose of our God in giving us this privilege of engendering life, a life that will live forever.

Hence the Church through her teaching (most especially in the document Humanae Vitae) has tried to keep the meaning and purpose of the committed marital act intact. Sadly, she has been vilified for this, as is the usual action of the deceiver when confronted with a reassertion of God’s plan.

As the reader can see I have avoided the loaded use of the word s-x. This is the name of the false god that has claimed the lives and meaning of millions of people. The worship of this god is spreading fast throughout the world.

God has placed enormous power into the act itself. It is very attractive and, in the wrong hands, it is very addictive. It is thus the bringer either of true, faithful and responsible love, or of a very real danger. It is like a loaded gun that could either protect oneself and one’s family or, when mixed with anger and violence and nihilistic lack of purpose, it can kill.

The Church has a very exalted view of the marital act. The severity of its sanctions for its misuse is justified given its importance to the future of the world.

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Magisterium by Monsignor Ferrarese

‘Magisterium’! Now that’s a mouthful! The word represents something that is a very important part of our Church that is both misunderstood and unheeded. It signifies the accumulated tradition of the Church, including Holy Scripture. It is sometimes referred to as the ‘Deposit of Faith’ that the Pope and bishops are supposed to guard and pass on intact for future generations.

Let’s look at the history of this concept.

We must begin with the Revelation of God to the Chosen People: The Hebrew Scriptures, or what Christians call the Old Testament.

In those books (45 of them in the Catholic Bible), the Lord God revealed to Abraham and then the people descended from him Who God is. With Abraham, then with Moses, and finally King David, God made covenants or agreements which can be summarized as: “I am your God, the only God, and you are My people.” As you know, God expanded that initial Covenant into a New Agreement or Testament with anyone in the world who wishes to be part of the people of God. That New Testament is codified in 27 books and, together with the Old Testament, comprise what is known as the Bible.

The Bible is the product of a long Tradition that must be interpreted by the Church and its Saints and Scholars to make sure nothing is changed, added, or thrown out. This accumulated wisdom of the Church over its 2,000-year history is the Magisterium of the Church. Its teaching is binding on every Catholic Christian in the world. No exceptions.

While this teaching does develop over time, it doesn’t change. St. Vincent of Lerins compared it to a human being. As a child, the human being is still in formation; but by the time it is grown, there has been development, but it is the same person.

Thus, over the course of the centuries, there has been much development in the teaching of the Church, but never anything that fundamentally changes that teaching. It is still the same person so to speak.

Therefore, you may disagree with a teaching, but it is not an option to disregard the teaching or to try to fundamentally change it. If a teaching has been part of the Magisterium of the Church for 2,000 years, though I disagree with it, I am still bound to observe it.

New problems and uncertainties have evolved due to, for instance, scientific changes. In this case, science has to be applied to the teaching so as to develop it but not change it.

Nor does the Magisterium of the Church change by democratic vote no matter what the polls may say about the number of Catholics who agree or disagree. Historically, there were times when it seemed the whole Catholic world was moving in a contrary direction to the Magisterium; but the correct teaching eventually stood this test of time.

For instance, in the fourth century, it seemed that the majority of the Bishops of the world had become convinced that the heretical teachings of the priest Arius were correct. They were not. He taught that Christ was only human and not also divine. The Church held her ground and the orthodox and catholic faith finally won out.

What is of great value in making sure we are professing the Catholic Faith is the great gift of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, issued by Pope Saint John Paul II. In a single volume, the scope and extent of Catholic Teaching are available to everyone throughout the world, provided that the individual Catholic has an obedient nature. Obedience comes from the word ‘to hear’ which indicates an openness to respond in humility to the teaching of the Church. It does not work if we are closed to the teaching of the Church due to past hurts or other unfortunate circumstances and are interested in proving that our own opinion is the truth. We must be docile. This is another important word which means ‘able and willing to learn’. If we are closed, no input will make its mark for we are not docile. The most common error in approaching the Magisterium of the Church is pride and the unwillingness to learn and therefore accept the teaching of the Church, which springs from Scripture, which comes directly from God.

In the end, it is a matter of trust: trust that the Holy Spirit would never lead the Church into error. Perhaps because of the general distrust of institutions in our culture, this seems to be a tall order. But with God’s grace, all is possible.

The teaching of the Church is based on God’s Revelation and is not a product to be accepted or ignored by us. It is a gift that we must freely accept in trust and in obedience. This is not easy for us living in a consumerist age. But it is the Truth and it is what God is asking of each one of us.

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