The Way of Truth by Monsignor Ferrarese

Last week I wrote about the transcendentals that lead us to God, even apart from divine revelation or religious dogma. And in that essay, I tried to show how the Way of Beauty can bring anyone who is open to an experience of the living God.

This week I would like to investigate the Way of Truth as a transcendental pathway to God.

But right off the bat, we hit a brick wall. While there is a consensus to what constitutes the Beautiful, it is an unpopular opinion to say that there is objective truth that is true for everyone, no matter where they are from and what their presuppositions are.

We are deep into a near-consensus in our modern world that there is no such thing as objective truth. Everything is conditioned by those who formulate truths. Depending on their background, they are influenced by what they choose to highlight out of their own intrinsic values. In popular parlance, we speak of some things as ‘true for you, but not for me’.

This would be absurd to thinkers and philosophers of the past! Nothing is just true for me ‘only’. Therefore, in the search for truth, one can be wrong in one’s conclusions and others may be right in theirs. This is anathema to the modern sensibility that everyone is right, whatever they believe.

Underneath this modern fallacy is the conviction that no one should disturb another in what they think is their own personal truth. Of course, the fact that ‘personal truth’ does not really exist does not enter into the equation. This unwillingness to engage in frank and charitable discussion for the purpose of unveiling the truth that exists, irrespective of the personal wants, desires and prejudices of the individual, seems to be one of the only absolutes that modern culture allows.

While it is true that the search for truth has often caused dissension and even wars, this should not outlaw the valid and caring search for the Truth that alone can make us free. We, in the modern world, are enslaved by our false philosophical notions which cause us to move about in error, and in doing so puts up barriers to the discovery of God who is at the center of human existence.

Yet, like the other transcendentals, Truth could bring to faith even the most hardened atheists and agnostics since it brings peace and relief in a way that cannot be found through any other means. What prevents this is the unacknowledged prejudice against the Church and God and the things of God. This bigoted position, when recognized, can be dropped and shed to reveal the vast expanse of Truth which is one Truth for all people and does not admit to the vagaries of human fashion nor the historical fallacies embedded in every era.

Once the mind makes this leap of faith all that is true becomes even more self-evident. Someone who begins to see (a favorite theme in the Gospels) can be amazed that they did not do so earlier. What held them bound was their own prejudices which were not known to the individual. St. John Henry Newman compared prejudice to an old stain on a sofa. After a while, we don’t even notice it; that is, until a new visitor comes into our homes, points to the stain and says something like: “How did that stain get there?” To which we often reply: “What stain?”

The Truth, once it is discovered or acknowledged, does indeed set us free. We can humbly admit this truth and see reality as it is for the first time. It goes from black and white to Color, like the ‘Wizard of Oz’. The Spanish say that life becomes “De Colores”, that is ‘in color’, for the first time!

One of the reasons for the blindness in modern western society is that it no longer believes that there is objective truth. This is what Pope Benedict XVI called the dictatorship of Relative. In a world devoid of absolutes, everything is permitted and nothing is forgiven.

Would that we all had the genuine scientific objectivity not to listen to our social and personal prejudices and to be truly open to the truth that is objective and not open to the whim of the subject.

As Jesus reminded us two thousand years ago: “The Truth will make you free” (John 8:32). It still does.

“Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name.”
– Psalm 86:11

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The Way of Beauty by Monsignor Ferrarese

The great Russian writer Dostoyevsky once said that the beauty of Christ will save the world. This amazing statement meant that, to him, the majestic glory of Christ and His Gospel will persuade the world to abandon its despair and to put their hopes in the salvific work of Christ which is so magnificent.

Bishop Barron, the auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles and creator of the ‘Word on Fire’ media evangelization enterprise, mentioned three ways to reach out to the ‘Nones’, those who are disenfranchised from faith and claim no religion at all: the social justice teaching of the Church, the intellectual tradition of the Church, and what he terms the ‘Way of Beauty’.

The Way of Beauty was theologically investigated by the great Catholic theologian Hans Urs Von Balthazar in his magisterial 7-volume theological masterpiece “The Glory of the Lord”. This work is actually part of an even bigger work that details the other transcendentals that can lead one to faith in God. While ‘Beauty’ is perhaps the least understood of these transcendentals, once you understand its place in the hierarchy of values, you begin to see how it all hangs together. Von Balthazar does a marvelous analysis of Goodness in “The Theo-drama—Theological Dramatic Theory” (5 volumes) and finally the “The Theo-logic” (3 volumes) where he looks deeply at Truth.

Goodness, Truth and Beauty are the transcendentals that, if followed without inherent prejudices, will lead to God. Put simply, whenever you do an act of goodness you serve God and enter His Kingdom, even if you do not acknowledge it or know it. The same is true for both Truth and Beauty. Thus, the artist who serves the beauty of creation and the philosopher who is open to the transcendent truth of his or her philosophy is also serving God in an anonymous sort of way. These three pathways can and often do lead someone to faith in God.

Given this transcendental context, we can now return to Beauty as a path to faith, not only for those in the Church, but also for the atheist and the agnostic, provided he or she is not committed to their own prejudices about faith and God.

When Saint John Henry Newman tried to convince his atheist brother that there is a God, he realized how futile it was. There was no ‘antecedent possibility’ for belief since his brother was completely decided and closed to any new discoveries or argumentation.

The Transcendentals like Beauty work only when a person is open to the possibility that there is a God and that there is a whole realm of faith that he is not aware of. Without that true openness, nothing can break things down except an act of God.

I have often experienced the awe that beauty produced in me that led me to prayer. It could be a religious source of beauty: I remember the deep awe I felt when I stepped into Chartres Cathedral. I was in tears and I wanted to do nothing but pray.

But it can also happen before natural beauty. One of my peak experiences of beauty was when I visited Ireland. I climbed Skellig Michael, the site of a Medieval monastery built on a cliff formation in the Atlantic Ocean. It was so powerful, frightening in its grandeur and its danger (you climb 70 stories into the sky without bannisters or protection). It was so beautiful that I almost could not get hold of myself. I prayed so deeply that night as if I had seen God!

It can even happen to you watching something in the theater. I remember enjoying a performance of the Balanchine Ballet called Serenade which was set to the music of Tchaikovsky. As the dancers moved in and out of complex formations, the beauty of it gave me an insight into the Trinity. Dance is the closest one can get to appreciate the unity, diversity and movement of the Triune God. In one blinding instant, I saw what it was all about, more so than my course on the Trinity in the seminary. Not even now in this essay can I come close to explaining what I saw!

The way of beauty that leads to faith is open to everyone. It helps me to understand what Dostoyevsky meant when he said that the beauty of Christ will save the world.

This gives me great hope since I know that Beauty, Truth and Goodness are all around us. All that is necessary is a radical openness to reality. May more and more people find God this way, since there is nothing greater in life.

“And if people were amazed at their power and working, let them perceive from them how much more powerful is the one who formed them. For from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator.”
– Wisdom 13:4-5

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The Hidden Life by Monsignor Ferrarese

One of the periods of Jesus’ life that is often bypassed is paradoxically the longest part of His life. This segment of His life is often referred to as the “Hidden Life”. This is the time between His birth and the beginning of His public ministry, universally considered to be when He was thirty. His public ministry lasted three years and ended with His Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension. These three years are what the Gospels are all about, and they enshrine His many miracles and deeds of wonder as well as His teaching. It ended with our Redemption during that week we call Holy.

But think of it! We have almost nothing about Him for 30 years, the vast majority of His life! Why?

The very notion of an Incarnation is extremely radical. For both Jews and Muslims, God becoming human is a contradiction and is an impossibility: God is Creator and we are creatures. Period.

Why would God choose to become human? This can be batted around, but I like the answer that the great Franciscan philosopher-theologian Duns Scotus gave: God became human because of His great love for us. This profound sharing in our littleness is amazing! It is part of the radical nature of the Christian faith. God goes all out to show us His solidarity with us. What a passionate love God has for us!

If God became human as a superhero, that would mean a lot. If God became human as a wealthy philosopher, that would be amazing. But God became human as a poor man, the son of hardworking people. He was incarnated as a simple carpenter who spent the first 30 years of His life in an obscure, out-of-the-way village in a country way off the beaten track.

This is why the hidden years of Jesus, doing the ordinary things of daily life, is so very important. It clearly shows His embrace of our littleness and paradoxically makes the ordinary events of life so filled with the power of the Divine.

Many people still have the false idea that God resides only in the spectacular things of life. He also, we mistakenly surmise, is to be found in only some special places: Jerusalem, Rome, the Temple, the Basilica. While these places can instill a deeper appreciation of the presence of God, they unfairly limit God to just those ‘Spielberg moments’ in which special celestial effects are ‘de rigueur’!

But by Jesus embracing the ordinary for 30 years, He shows us the way of hallowing all of our daily lives by what Fr. De Caussade says so eloquently as the ‘Sacrament of the Present Moment’. We need not go anywhere, nor have any special experience, to be in the presence of God communing with His very presence. He is with us in the ordinary events of our daily lives. But we must have the eyes to see this and the faith to make it real in our own daily lives.

Sure, the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist is the most powerful intensification of His presence, but the reverberations of His Presence have infinite effects. Even the choice of simple bread and wine proclaims the day-by-day ordinary ways He is present to us.

These are all graces flowing from His hidden life in Nazareth, where He spent the vast majority of His incarnate life on earth.

 If we look at our own ‘hidden lives’, when we spent so much time just hanging around the block; when we played baseball; when we went to school; and when we got our first job, these events seem so inconsequential; but we all know how important they were in forming us in what we are today. I myself learned so much about who I am and the world around me during those formative years. This apprenticeship lasted many years encompassing our lives from our first steps to whom we have become before God and men.

All of those years of Jesus’ formation in human life are lost to us. We don’t know the names of His boyhood friends, the kinds of food He ate, the sicknesses that Joseph and Mary got Him through. But we do know that they were very important memories of the adult Jesus, memories that still influence our lives, being His disciples and His friends.

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Hope by Monsignor Ferrarese

It is hard to exaggerate the importance of hope. Hope means the promise of tomorrow. Hope means solutions for present problems. Hope means that things can always be mended. Hope means the end of this pandemic.

When people lose hope, then the demons take over and it is not pretty.

In the Divine Comedy, Dante’s epic poem of the journey through the life to come, Dante stands before the gates of hell. The screaming and the crying and the moans are frightening enough, but what is posted over the gate of hell makes one’s blood run cold: “Abandon Hope All You Who Enter Here.”

There is no way out. No hope, only despair. Dante has certainly nailed it: without hope there is no life, only unending death.

Luckily for us, we have been given the great expectation of the Resurrection. Even death does not have the final word! “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55). There is always a ‘Chapter Two’ following the climax of our first Chapter. The story continues!

As Spring begins to bloom and the breezes turn warm, there is hope that the dark days of this pandemic may be coming to an end.

This past year has been tough. If you remember last April, the eyes of the nation and the world were on us in New York City. Death roamed the streets. Hospitals were not big enough. Tents went up to try to catch the overflow. Trucks were brought in to keep the dead bodies cold because mortuaries were overloaded. The Javits Center was one big hospital. I will never forget the ongoing sirens of the ambulances. Day and night.

More than once I woke up in the middle of the night frightened that if I had shortness of breath, I may not be able to find a hospital that could take me. What a strange fear in a city that has a great quantity of the best hospitals in the world! But it was an honest, realistic terror.

Parishioners cried on the phone telling me that they had to say goodbye to their loved ones at the door of the hospital, not knowing that they would ever see them alive. The hospitals were even closed to priests. Every priest I knew was so angry and sad that they had been also excluded. Why were the spiritual needs of people considered non-essential? The prejudice against religion was all too obvious. Luckily, we had a wonderful Catholic Chaplain in Mount Sinai of Queens. He heroically was present for long hours ministering to the Catholics and non-Catholics at the hospital. But we would love to have had the clearance to visit the members of our Parish, those we knew so well. Recently, I went to see someone in a hospital in the City. It was the first time I had entered a hospital as a ministering priest in months.

But it was all part of the long darkness that Covid-19 produced throughout this past year. When I went out to the supermarket to get something for our house, the streets were empty and barren and eerily quiet. There was a kind of ‘smell of death’ in the air. I had a sense that we were in for a long and difficult time of it. Many of the people I knew and loved would be taken by this terrible virus.

But while these feelings were very valid, I still felt a glimmer of hope. Heroic love was evident in the medical personnel, essential workers, and chaplains. Brilliant scientific minds were trying to decode and defeat this invader. And the Church endured and learned new ways of ministering. Catholic Churches throughout our city never really closed. Yes, the doors were shut and locked, but faith knows no boundary; the Grace of God penetrates through every barrier, even through our cameras into your computers, TVs, and phones! We Zoomed our meetings and we continued to minister to the dying in their homes.

Now, as hope begins to blossom, new life is coming to the Church and to our faith; a life tried and tempered by adversity; a life filled with hope and promise.

With God, the story is never over. When evil seems to triumph and the good seems defeated, an Easter breeze reminds us of the power of God and the fact that it is not over until God wins.

It certainly makes me feel confident that the ways of God are where I want to be. For in Him is our lasting hope.

They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” – Mark 10:26-27

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No Known Language by Monsignor Ferrarese

One of the tough things about the Easter Season is that while Lent and suffering are so simple to relate to, Resurrection and Eternal Life are mere concepts that communicate no real content. In fact, we seem to enter the dimensions of the proverbial ‘Twilight Zone’. Beyond the glories of springtime and bunny rabbits, Easter is a hard sell!

Part of this problem of how to communicate the ineffable realities of the world beyond is that we try to imagine what it would be like to go to heaven with concepts that are very earth-bound and limited. We forget often that we are confined to the limitations of time and space. We cannot even picture a shred of that world beyond because all of our concepts are bound by this world. This state of affairs is so elemental that we don’t notice it.

If God is not limited by time and space, then He perceives everything in an ‘eternal now’. So, when we try to square-off our free will with God’s designs and plans, we run into trouble. This trouble is similar to those who argue about Predestination. How can God know whether we are going to heaven or hell while we are still making our choices? Are we really free to choose, or are we destined, even forced, to do God’s Will?

This conflict of meaning has caused wars to be fought. It, however, can be totally transcended if one first admits to being confined to concepts involving space and time. Then, secondly, one has to have the intellectual humility to realize that the sphere of understanding is beyond our abilities here on earth. The hereafter is a completely foreign entity that we cannot even discuss and for which our imaginations have not the competence to understand. One does not even have the tools to go beyond the familiar and the known.

There is no language for what awaits us except what we know from Scripture: that it is unbelievably good and what we have always wanted.

This is why the talk of the Resurrection seems so abstract: our language is inadequate.

While this may be humbling, it is also ennobling to admit that we must trust God and be satisfied with that trust, not knowing what awaits us but having a hopeful heart that it is good beyond our imaging.

Trust is the art of not seeing. Trust has no assurances. Someone who trusts is happy to limit themselves to hope.

In the end, what is most important is not what we will ‘get’ out of eternal life, but who the One Who is calling us and asking for our trust. Our love for God must be as unconditional as His love is for us. We must believe Him and place our whole future in His hands.

This is the biggest risk we will ever have to take.

Therefore, when we speak about the Resurrection of Christ and what it promises us, we have to admit defeat. Any attempt to provide rational equivalents to the supposed elements of our future is going to be mired in earthly language unless we are better at it than Dante!

As you well know, Dante, in writing the Divine Comedy, divided his journey through the hereafter into the Inferno, the Purgatorio, and the Paradiso. This is a very Catholic understanding of it and, as far as it goes, is a masterpiece of poetry. Dante uses the best of theological language and concepts to try to create a coherent whole; and he was marvelously successful. But it is still based on the great imagination of a medieval Catholic mind. Whether or not it is a true and accurate picture will only be known when we open up our ‘eyes’ after our death and see things as they are, learning the new language of the future life.

One of the funny things about thinking about what the afterlife will be like is that it is a favorite topic of children. I go often into the classrooms to answer questions about faith and religion. Almost as a rule they will start asking questions about what happens after death. One second grader last week asked me “Will heaven be like earth?” Wow, I thought, theologians ask that same question!

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Where the Dead Don’t Stay Dead by Monsignor Ferrarese

Easter is a time to celebrate new life. The long hard winter is mainly passed. There is promise to be seen in nature. And most of all the Lord has risen from the dead! The graces and power of the Resurrection is offered to all of us, thereby stimulating a great new beginning. What looked like disaster and the end of the story on Good Friday has, by Easter Sunday, turned into the biggest reversal in human history. The Father has had the last word, and it is one of life and goodness and generous grace to all.

One would think that everyone would be happy with this now-happy story of triumphant Love. But that is not the case.

In Flannery O’Conner’s famous short story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”, the Misfit, who is a murderer just escaped from prison, is on a killing spree down South. He captures a family, including a very religious grandmother. Before he begins to kill every member of the family, the grandmother tries to reach out with Christian love and speak to him about Jesus. He reacts violently to this ‘church talk’ and tells her he prefers a religion where the dead stay dead. She reaches out her hand to touch him and he shoots her dead. The Misfit was a man who was anti-life and reacted very negatively to the possibility that death does not end all things. For him, death was a convenient solution, something that is a great simplifier.

But what if death is not the end?

Often atheists cite Karl Marx’s remark that religion is the opium of the people. But is it not convenient for an unbeliever to believe that no one is held accountable for their behavior? In this way of imagining, the future is nothing; when you die, you die. No judgement. No reward. No punishment. Is this not a vision of bliss for anyone that wants to get away? Is not atheism, then, the true opium for the guilty, the cruel, the treacherous?

The Misfit saw that to believe in the Resurrection means accountability. It means that everything we do or not do will be judged. The Misfit did not want his victims to come back to life, nor did he want to stand before a judge with no way of escape. The Resurrection means that there is another chapter, the longer one. This is an unsettling thought to anyone who wants to get away scot-free. It is a terrible thought to the Misfit who was counting on his nihilist vision.

We have now entered the season of Easter and it is a time when the Resurrection and eternal life comes to the fore. While talking about the suffering and death of Christ is painful, it is also familiar. We all know what suffering entails.

But we know nothing about the life to come or even what the Resurrection of Christ looked like. This is uncharted territory. Yet it is the single greatest turnaround in history, from despair to renewed hope.

Like the story of the Misfit, it is not welcomed by everyone. It is mysterious and does not fit neatly with our experience of life. It requires one to enter the complete process of faith. There are no measurements. There are no proofs. We have just the stories of the Resurrection of Jesus and the effects that they still have on the world. They have not only changed the world, but they are still changing the world.

For us who are believers in Christ and in His Resurrection, they are facts of life that we can depend on. We have experienced the graces of the Resurrection in the alcoholic who has turned their life around by trusting in the Higher Power. We have seen these graces in the care and love of down syndrome children by dedicated parents and professionals. We can touch the Resurrection when someone who has lived their whole life believing in nothing, suddenly and inexplicably comes to believe in God and sees clearly that everything does cohere and that the only explanation for the goodness of life is a God who is Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier.

Even as we face tough times as a Church, we do not despair because we see that the Church will rise again even more glorious for all her wounds.

Christ is Risen, He is Risen indeed!

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Shifting Opinions by Monsignor Ferrarese

Anyone who tries to rely on the opinion of the public is in for a very bumpy ride. As we grow, we are taught to please others. It is the way, we are told, to get ahead in the world. In addition, we are supposed to gage our own view of ourselves according to what others think of us. These viewpoints cause a great deal of anxiety as we try to assess whom we are based on the shifting sands of other’s ideas and perceptions of what we are like (both in truth and in error).

A classic example of the fickleness of the public is the two pictures in the Gospel readings of Palm Sunday. We begin with the ecstatic reception of Christ by the crowd in Jerusalem. They tear branches off the trees to put them in front of the donkey that Jesus is riding. They spread their clothing also over His pathway. The crowd is in a kind of hysteria at the presence of the new Messiah. The reaction was so extreme that it terrified the establishment, both secular and religious!

But later that week, it was a very different public reaction.

The tide had turned in public opinion with this preacher from Nazareth. The rumors must have grown to a crescendo regarding his radical closeness to God whom He sometimes called “Abba”, that is, “Dad”. In addition, stories were spreading about his ‘breaking’ the rules of the Sabbath. They must have thought that this was what He was teaching! It did not matter that He had really said that anyone who teaches that the smallest part of the letter could be ignored in the Torah and its centuries old tradition was to be considered the least in the Kingdom of God (Matthew 5:19). But that was not part of the ‘narrative’ that his enemies were spreading.

Then there was what He said about the Temple. They spread the ‘fake news’ that He wanted to destroy the Temple. He even was reported to have said that He could build a better one in three days! Utter madness, considering it had taken 46 years to build it up to then (John 2:20)! But they ignored the Truth.

Thus, they conspired against Him and had Him arrested in darkness; and conducted a ‘religious trial’ when the Law forbade it—in the middle of the night.

The crowd that was delirious with joy at His entrance into Jerusalem became the bloodthirsty mob calling for Him to be handed over to the pagans and to die an especially painful and shameful death. And, of course, this is probably what the Romans wanted all along: to shut up this troublemaker who called Himself a king.

This led, of course, to what is now lovingly called Good Friday. Everyone wanted this thing finished before the Holiday of Passover. One can only imagine how loud the shouts were. Perhaps they were even louder than the Hosannas at His entry into Jerusalem.

And, so, goes the fickleness of public opinion. One day you are sky high, and the next you could be an inconvenience that needs to go.

This arbitrariness is noteworthy in its own way. Yet, to think that most of us even today hunger and thirst, not for holiness or justice or righteousness, but for the admiration of individuals we value and for the approval of the world, even though our Lord was rejected. Even though the massive ‘OK’ from the crowd was so fragile and undependable. Even though the Lord warned: “Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets” (Luke 6:26).

This is why the Saints practiced what is known as “Detachment”. This means that we should try to avoid the rat race of pleasing everyone and trying to earn the esteem of men. St. Ignatius called it “Holy Indifference”. They taught that, except for the desire for God and the accomplishment of His holy will, all other wants, desires and cravings should be held at a suspicious distance. They are simply not reliable and can even lead us to disaster if their fulfillment becomes the be-all and end-all of our future and of our goals.

The Saints echo the words of Jesus: “But seek first [your heavenly Father’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well” (Matthew 6:33). To seek after all the little things and ignore the mammoth central reality of God is the height of stupidity.

Remember Jesus’ words to Martha who was worried about all the details of hospitality while her dear sister, Mary, was listening to the saving words of the Lord: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; [only] one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41b-42).

The fickleness of others’ opinions can make us so exhausted in the seeking. How much saner and lovelier to listen first and foremost to the Lord Who loves us, and Whose opinion never changes!

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Prayer vs. Prayers by Monsignor Ferrarese

We concentrate in a special way during Lent on the issue of prayer. It is one of the three exhortations of the season of Lent, along with fasting and almsgiving.

When you say the word ‘prayer’ to most Catholics, they immediately think of recited prayers like the Our Father and the Hail Mary. And, of course, that is fine as far as it goes. But, after we get proficient in praying with set prayers, we arrive at a new world of prayer which begins with seeing prayer as a conversation with God and continues to the radical position that our life must be a continual prayer, as St. Paul suggests when he tells the early Christian community “Pray unceasingly” (1 Thess. 5:17) and “Give thanks always” (1 Thess. 5:18). This brings us to a completely different level in our prayer life which is so wonderful and so sweet that once we ‘get it’, we may never want to leave it!

It all comes down to what our major perspective on our lives is and how we want to be in communication with God. If we limit that communication to set days and times and forms of address (formal prayers like the Our Father), then divine communication becomes a ‘part’ of our lives. But if conversation with God is our very life, then it means that prayer is continual and involves all the people, places, things, and events of daily living. Prayer is the context, not an element, in a grander scheme.

The advantages of making prayer our very life are many.

Firstly, it engenders a unity to our day. We don’t ‘do’ prayers; we live in an ambience of prayer. We literally ‘live’ in prayer. It is as ubiquitous as the air we breathe, or the food we eat. Everything is related to God through our prayerfulness. As the Scriptures put it, “we live and move and have our being” in prayer (Acts 17:28). This is a great cure for loneliness, since we are in a constant conversation with Christ. Whether we hit patches of joy or trouble, talking it over with Jesus is a marvelous way of enjoying ‘constant contact’ with our best friend and Lord!

However, it requires meekness and humility to live our life in the guidance and the direction of Another, as He is the Son of God. There will inevitably be periods of time that we have nothing to say to Him or ask Him. These are great times for the rhythmical Jesus Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

This has the wonderful result of keeping us tethered to the here-and-now, and its slow, calming beat has the added advantage in placing a deep peace in our hearts.

One of the other benefits of this concept of prayer is that it takes us away from all the vices that the devil uses to trip us up: worry, fear, anger, desires, etc. When these come up, there is nothing to fear since we can bring them to Our Lord.

In fact, if we are honest and sensitive, we will discover that there is very often a vast emptiness in our souls. Many preoccupations rummage around in that space making a lot of noise and frightening us. Sometimes we try to fill that emptiness with finite things: wealth, ambition, drugs, relationships; but that emptiness is too vast and nothing we can find will fill it. There is a reason for this: It is really an infinite space that only God, the Infinite One, can fill. Try as you might, everything will disappoint because everything else in life is finite.

Therefore, when we make prayer an intrinsic part of our life, it soon becomes our life, inviting the Trinity to abide in us. In a real sense, we become the Temple of God. This is very clearly taught in the Scriptures: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).

When we become prayer, then we discover the true meaning our lives.

I have seen such prayerful people, not just in monasteries, but in the daily lives undertaken by us all. Often, though, I find it amongst grandparents and other seniors who stay at home a lot, and others who keep themselves at home. They have a very active prayer life, getting very close to this ideal of a life of prayer.

The most pleasing result of this continual communication with God is that we find joy even in the midst of pain. We can appreciate deeply a beautiful day and be in awe of a storm. We can touch the gentle hand of a child and at the same time we can praise God for the power of a tiger. We can rejoice at someone’s graduation and yet be prayerfully hopeful when a friend fails in life.

This joy is not dependent on good circumstances. It is at peace with good things and with things that we may otherwise regret.

You might ask: if a life of prayerful connection with God is so good, why don’t more people choose it? It’s simple: it takes time and perseverance. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

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Holy Joe by Monsignor Ferrarese

He’s quiet and unassuming. He’s dependable and gets the job done. He always seeks to do things the right way. He’s kind and protective. He never likes the spotlight, but prefers that others get the attention. His admirers include royalty and the most powerful forces on earth. He even has pastries named after him!

Guess who?

I am sure many of you guessed right! I am speaking about St. Joseph who protected the King of the Universe and the Queen of Heaven. When God was looking for someone He could depend on, God chose Joseph.

For many centuries, St. Joseph has been overlooked. In paintings he is often pictured like a doddering old man. That is because, unfortunately, the long-standing tradition of the Church is that Joseph and Mary never had spousal relations, Mary remaining a virgin even after the birth of Jesus. Thus, artists assumed this was a second marriage for Joseph and that he was a very old man at the time of the wedding. But this flies in the face of Jewish tradition where a marriage between two people so separated in age was not allowed.

It’s most likely that St. Joseph was probably in his early twenties or maybe in his upper teens. Mary was probably around 14, which is when girls got married in that society (life expectancy not being what it is today).

I think that St. Joseph believed Mary, and understood what the angel revealed to him in the dream regarding her. Because Mary belonged in a special way to the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, Joseph, being a very devout and just man, would have chosen to be chaste and celibate in the marriage with Mary, out of his reverence for God.

There is no need, then, to picture St. Joseph as an octogenarian marrying a 14-year-old girl!

The misunderstandings about St. Joseph continue even when it comes to how he made his living. We picture the carpentry shop and Joseph at work as a craftsman and artisan. That might have been true; but, because Nazareth was so small, scholars doubt that he could make a living that way. But a few miles away there was a Roman city named Sephoris, with many expensive villas for wealthy Greek and Roman families. Joseph and his Son Jesus probably hiked there together (maybe with lunch bundles prepared by Mary!) and worked in the villas, thereby making a good living. The Greek word that is translated as carpenter is really a word that could include someone who did stonework and general construction. St. Joseph and his Son were probably, then, very strong young men who supported Mary and probably a lot of cousins and other family members. Mother Angelica, the Poor Clare nun that founded the EWTN network, said it perfectly when she tried to convince her viewers that Joseph was a young man when Jesus was born. She laconically stated, “An old man doesn’t walk to Egypt!”

I think this paints a beautiful picture of this holy man who God Himself trusted to be a faithful and religious Dad to His son Jesus. I could see Joseph standing right next to Jesus at his Bar Mitzvah, probably beaming with parental pride.

The very fact that Jesus was admitted into the Synagogue was a gift of Joseph’s. Without Joseph taking Mary to be his wife and giving Jesus a patriarchal name, Jesus would have been barred from both the synagogue and the Temple as illegitimate. He was known as ‘Jesus, Son of Joseph’, and that made all the difference in the world back then.

Joseph was the ‘right guy’ for God to call for this long and very important mission: to teach Jesus what fatherhood was about. He must have been so good at it that Jesus called God what He called Joseph: Abba, which is translated ‘Dad’ or ‘Papa’; informal, but with great endearment and love.

By the time of the public ministry of Jesus, however, nothing is said about Joseph. Tradition said that he died of natural causes in the presence of Mary, his wife, and Jesus, his Son. This is why St. Joseph is patron of those seeking a ‘happy, peaceful death’. Could there be any death more beautiful than breathing one’s last in the presence of Jesus and Mary!

Thus, as the great St. Teresa of Avila said, “Whatever is your need, go to Joseph!”

St. Joseph, help us to lead an innocent life, and keep it ever safe under your patronage. O humble foster father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and true spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, pray for us!

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The Banishment of Faith by Monsignor Ferrarese

I think it very sad that, in the New York City lockdown last March, Churches were shuttered and considered “nonessential”. While they were definitely meeting places and potentially dangerous seedbeds of infection, government officials essentially took the position that prayer was not considered an important part of the solution.

This was so different than at the time of the plagues of the past. In Palermo during the 16th Century, there was a terrible outbreak of the Bubonic plague. In response, the people held processions in honor of St. Rocco (who was the patron saint of plague victims in the Middle Ages) and the remains of the martyr St. Rosalia were unearthed and placed in an honored place in a Church for prayer and comfort. Even today she is credited as having rescued Palermo from extinction!

Of course, Palermo in the 16th Century was very different than New York in the 21st Century; but I am struck by the fact that prayer was not considered to be part of the solution.

To the credit of our Catholic Churches, they were never fully cut down. With the literal flip-of-a-switch, Masses were streamed; Priests offered Confessions outdoors; and the Anointing of the Sick continued with cotton balls and masks. Every Catholic Church continued to reach out and was still a center of prayer and comfort for the people, albeit in the new digital form so prevalent in today’s secular society!

But the official attitude toward Religion was one of benign neglect. Religion was suddenly more on the peripheries than usual. Healthcare workers (very rightly) were applauded, but one heard nothing about the heroic hospital and prison Chaplains who continued to minister in very dangerous situations. I think also of our own Sr. Peggy McCabe who continues to serve those in Rikers Island!

Why has Faith been banished from our culture, even when it could be doing so much good? One might respond that we have freedom of religion and you can be of any faith or no faith. This is a great and precious freedom. But what I am speaking about is not the law and the Constitution, but the values espoused in a million different ways by our media, our politicians and, more than anything, on what is not said by the utter vacuum on news programs or TV shows or cable series of any mention of religion in a positive sense. Sure, if the killer in a crime show might characterized as religiously perverted— then we see holy pictures on his or the walls of his apartment!

For most of the talkers (those in the arts and politics and the news who dominate the public square) in our society, religion is, at best, a private concern that is not to be mentioned in polite conversation. At worst, it is an irrelevant part of our past that is better to be left on the ash heap of history.

Sure, we can believe in God, but not a God Who matters. “Go to Church! Just don’t bring it up. God has no place here. Your religion does not matter”. Even other faiths are not taken seriously as religions. They are seen as part of the beautiful mosaic of diversity, only don’t take the God-talk seriously.

You see the results of this even in our homes. If you were to enter a typical Catholic home 50 years ago, you would see a picture of the Sacred Heart on the wall, a statue of Mary, maybe a picture of the Pope. Today, on the other hand, even our homes are scrubbed clean of the Faith. Children’s rooms are papered over by sports heroes and recording stars, but hardly ever a picture of Jesus or Mary.

How did this happen to a nation that used to pride itself in Faith in God?

One hopes that we are not on the trajectory that burned through Europe. Europe is one of the richest cultural areas of the world. So much of the culture was shaped and sustained by Christianity; but that is all gone. Sure, the beautiful buildings are there; you can enter them for a fee and learn all about the artists whose works are found there; you can listen to the automated guides that tell you what to look for and how to appreciate it. But they have ceased being places of prayer, of Faith.

On a recent parish pilgrimage, I was wandering on my own in the Cathedral of Florence. It was jam-packed with tourists! So, after I asked a few workers if there was a place that I could pray, they pointed to a corner chapel. I went in and was overjoyed to find the Blessed Sacrament! Moreover, and to my point, I was alone. That is, until a group of tourists found this out-of-the-way chapel. They began to take pictures until one of the workers chased them away. “This is only for people to pray.” No one stayed but me.

On another extreme, many of the churches in Prague are no longer active churches, but have become concert halls! Such a beautiful city filled with testaments in stone to Faith; now, only the shell remains.

It is beyond me what we are to do. Other than a rebirth of Faith, all else will fail.

But the Faith of the original Apostles changed the world. So, I prefer to hope and to say my Rosary. We must rebuild a new a vibrant Faith in a God Who matters: not just to us, but to the whole world.

For the sake of His Sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world. – Chaplet of Divine Mercy

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