It All Begins Inside by Monsignor Ferrarese

When Jimmy Carter was President, he agreed to be interviewed by a famous magazine. During the course of the interchange, echoing the moral strictures imposed by Jesus, he said he had ‘lusted in his heart’. He was well aware of the movements within that are not morally neutral yet do not result in exterior acts. Jesus tried to show in His teaching that what happens in the heart is very important, for from the inside both the good and the bad emerge and cause blessings or curses for the world: “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:18-19).

This is the primary concern of the saints who have written extensively about what happens inside the human mind and soul, because it matters. What happens within will affect the life of another, especially with someone who is in a position of authority over the lives of many others. I think of St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Francis de Sales, and St. Catherine of Siena. They meticulously studied the interior life because the direction of eternity is mapped out there and the history of the world is prefaced.

When things go wrong inside the person, many things are already preordained. These momentous errors in the human heart happen in a variety of ways: the absorption of historical biases in the culture, deafness to one’s conscience, acceptance of fake narratives coming from family or nation. These forces, often unconscious, shape the person’s consciousness and create scenarios of goodness or wickedness that are unleashed on the wider world.

The importance of the interior life is attested to by Scripture when St. James asks, “Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts” (James 4:1-2). Even in the works of the great mystics we find the warning that your cell (private room) will teach you everything. By that they mean that in solitude you will confront (and hopefully disarm) those demons that will try to make you do all kinds of evil.

The true battlefield is not an earthly place; it is in the soul of the man who can order the drums of war to sound.

This is on two levels. Let’s say someone is thinking of committing a crime, say a robbery. He wants to do it and is even thinking about how he could do it and get away with it. But he does not do it. On one level, his thinking is corrupt since it could lead to the very action of robbery. But on another level (and this is true of the example we are considering), even the act of thinking and planning corrupts the person in that it creates a paradigm in him that could be used in the future and its momentum and structure could be the means of another type of vice other than robbery.

This double-corrupting influence was what Jesus was talking about in dealing with another sin: that of adultery. Lust in the heart is corrupting on its own terms.

Therefore, we can clearly see that there is an important drama that occurs in the heart of each person that can have wide ranging and disastrous effects for the individual and the world at large. What happens in the interior of a person like Hitler or Stalin is not just a private affair devoid of social import. On the other hand, what is transpiring in the mind, heart, and soul of an Ignatius of Loyola or a Mother Teresa of Calcutta can have positive transformative effects in the life of the world of their time.

Hence, the overriding importance of the interior life. What happens there is decisive for the rest of the world. The different methods of influencing in a positive way the human soul then increase in importance. Spiritual Direction, Counseling, Therapy (when undertaken with the overall desire to serve God and to grow in self-knowledge) are not merely private affairs. They can bode either well or ill for the future of many people and events.

It is essential, therefore, to pay attention to the movements of the heart since they can be either harbingers of wellness or of woe for the existence of the world and all it holds.

“The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, but the Lord tests the heart.” – Proverbs 17:3

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Why do Good? by Monsignor Ferrarese

One of the most honest responses to a request for help is: What’s in it for me?

We have to admit that often what we do is because we want to get something from the action (even something as subtle as recognition). As children, we want Dad or Mom’s favor and praise. As naughty children we do good things because we are afraid of being punished. So that many children will admit frankly that if they don’t get caught cheating, it is ok to do it.

The whole concept of Law runs with this principle that people often do the right thing because they have to. If the IRS did not threaten to audit you, would you even submit your taxes?

Given our weakness in always trying to find the easy way out, law becomes necessary for the proper development of our own personal history as well as the day-to-day workings of society.

When one brings this understanding to the level of our relationship with God, we see our essential selfishness. It unmasks our supposed altruism. Why do some people go to Mass on Sunday? Is it the love of God that impels them, or is it the fear of Hell and the craving for the pleasures of Heaven?

The Church has always understood this operational duality of intention in her distinction between imperfect and perfect contrition in the Sacrament of Confession: “And I detest all my sins because of Thy just punishments. But most of all because they offend Thee my God who are all good and deserving of all my love.” It could not be clearer: One level of motivation follows the other.

It is hard to accept our fundamental selfishness which is the result of Original Sin. While Baptism erases Original Sin from our souls, the damage to our souls remains. This is called ‘concupiscence’: a general tendency to sin by taking the easy way out.

St. Gregory the Great in his insightful study of the book of Job in the Old Testament unveils into stark clarity this fact. He says that while it is acceptable to do the will of God for fear of His judgement, we still desire to sin and would do so if the consequence of this departure from God’s will were not punishment of some sort.

I obey Mom not because I love her but because she will punish me by sending me to my room.

This is one of the dangerous sides of our society’s drift toward atheism. Even major atheists of the past have said that if there is no god we would have to invent one. Some of the random acts of violence that we see as well as the abandonment by many people of our traditional sexual mores has left our society open to abuse of all sorts.

As I said in a previous essay, those who do not believe in God see no ultimate judgement of their actions, so ‘inherit’ a free pass for cruelty and malevolence. The rich will not be accountable for their selfish use of wealth, dictators can commit Genocide, the powerful can sexually abuse the weak and when they die it does not matter what they did! Talk about an easy way out. Truly an opium for atheists and non-believers.

When I say non-believers, I do not mean only those who are avowed atheists but also those in our pews on Sunday who are ‘functional atheists’ i.e., they live their lives as if there is no God which is just as bad.

So, as a believer in God, I must seek to do the right thing simply because it is God’s will. It is part of the objective moral order that God has established. It does not matter if I go to heaven or hell. That order is there and I must strive to be obedient to it. Furthermore, as a Christian, I am called to go beyond the moral order to the order of love even to the point of giving my life as Christ gave His.

Paying attention to why we do the right thing is an important element of spiritual growth. We find that a lot of our facile optimism about our goodness evaporates before the relentless objectivity of the truth. We are sinners. Not just in name but in fact. Original Sin has ravaged our original innocence. We need a Savior, desperately.

Seeing things as they are is another way of understanding the importance of self-knowledge. While it is important to not go to the other extreme and join the Calvinists with their view of the human being as basically corrupt, that tendency toward seeing man as totally corrupt is not culturally widespread in the world of “I’m, OK. You’re OK”. We have banished the idea that we are sinners as too negative and too ‘judgmental’. But paradoxically that only leads us to the greatest sin: that of Pride.

Simply put: we should do good because God is good and we seek to do the will of God in our lives. Period.

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Habits of Being by Monsignor Ferrarese

It is easy to agree with the statement: habits are difficult to form and hard to break. By habit I mean a tendency to repeated action based on a previous period of accommodation. So, one resolves to take a walk each day. She walks on Monday. This is not a habit. It is a healthy action. But then she does it every day that week. Some days she feels like it and somedays she has to push herself to do it. After about a month or two of these daily walks she has to skip a day. This throws her into a state of uncomfortableness. Something is not quite right. She actually feels different. This is because the resolution to take a walk once a day has grown into a habit. Even her body is used to it and misses it when she can’t walk for a day. It is now harder for her not to walk than to walk. Walking has ceased to be an exertion or a waste of time. It has become a valuable habit of her life and contributes to her very being.

When we move to the area of morality, we find that the same laws operate. When we give into a particular vice, for instance stealing, we find that it is not easy to do in the beginning. The fear and the working of our conscience contradict us when we see an object that is not ours but that we crave. But as we begin to get more proficient at stealing and get used to enjoying the spoils of our vice, we do it easily and almost automatically. We have developed a habit of vice.

Conversely, when we seek to become more virtuous, that too follows the same laws. For instance, when we seek to become more courageous, at first it seems unnatural. It feels better to avoid things that scare us. But gradually as we do more courageous acts we develop the habit of virtue. Courage becomes easier even if the dangers we face increase.

This is one of the things we seek to do each Lent.

Because of our fallen human nature, we have a tendency to regress, no matter how strongly we try to advance in the spiritual life. Our yearly observance of Lent gives us an ongoing opportunity to advance in our relationship with the Lord, by finding those things in our lives that have been the cause of our lack of progress. It can take the place of fasting from people, places and things that get in the way of our spiritual undertakings. It could be food or some other behavior like growing screen time at our computer. To this we add the more positive seeking of opportunities to give to relieve poverty and the lengthening or intensifying of our communication with God through prayer.

What has happened often in my life is that when Lent is over, I ended up keeping the habit that I developed in Lent throughout the rest of my life, even if it a small thing.

While our thoughts are very important, especially in the beginning of our plans, what defines us is what we put into action. In thought, we can say that we believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. But if does not translate into actions: devout genuflections, visits to the Blessed Sacrament, regular Holy Hours of Prayer before the Lord’s Presence, then our faith in His Eucharistic Presence is non-existent. It is only when beliefs are turned into actions that they become real and not just figments of our imaginations.

Conversely, we can avow our atheism but if we are reverent in Churches, caring toward believers and non-believers, forgiving, and generous to the poor, we are living as if there is a God and hence may be more faithful than a Church goer who is irreverent, uncaring and avaricious and acts as if there is no God and no judgment of his actions.

This is so because our decisions, which flow seamlessly into our action, constitute who we truly are. We may have ideas and thoughts about who we think we are but in reality, the truest picture of who we are in God’s eyes is to be seen by the accumulation and quality of our actions. Action constitutes our being. Hence the habits we form, that is, how we live our lives in the concrete, is what is to be judged by Christ when we die. Not by our plans, agendas, aspirations, ideals. This should be a sobering truth for all of us.

St. Catherine of Siena returns over and over again in her spiritual works to the insight that we must enter ‘the cell of self-knowledge’ to accurately see who we are and in what direction our souls are going. This can only be seen in the habits of action, often unnoticed by us, that we develop in our lives.

This Lent we may have made a resolution to read one of the Gospels and meditate on it. But this idea does not become real until we pick up one of the Gospels and begin reading Chapter 1, verse 1. And this does not become a habit until we have done it day in and day out for a week, two weeks, a month. It is not a habit until we cease thinking about it and just do it. Our future eternity is based on building a set of habits which are God centered and by which we live our lives. Habits are our human being.

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First Principles by Monsignor Ferrarese

Sometimes we make great errors because we don’t understand the overriding context within which we make decisions and accomplish actions in our life.

Perhaps an example will help. One summer day, I went with a friend to the summer house of a family we both knew very well. It was a joyous afternoon of fun and conversation. But at one point my friend was thirsty. He got up from the table and went to the refrigerator to get something to drink. I was shocked and so were the owners of the house. He did this simple action so calmly. It would be a normal and unremarkable action except that this was not his house! He was out of bounds. He overstepped an accepted boundary. His action did not fit into the current context: we were guests, and it was up to the host to offer us beverages, etc. If the house belonged to my friend, going to the refrigerator would have been a normal action; but here, it seemed unreflective at best and downright rude at worst. The context within which an action is done can define whether the action is good or bad.

The context is the atmosphere within which the action manifests its meaning and value or lack of value. When we watch things on TV or read the newspaper, it is clear that the writers and performers are working in a silently-accepted context that the things of God have no place in the Universe; that all that is important is the material and that there is no God, no accountability beyond human law and judgement; that the things of God, like Scripture, are at best a curiosity from the distant past; and, most importantly, that we are not responsible to a Higher Being for our lives and that Higher Being we call ‘God’ has nothing to do with our private lives nor any say as to what we decide for our lives. Their cry is, “This is my body, my existence; and beyond the people I consider important in my life, I am not responsible to anyone else.”

Thus, when the believer speaks out of another perspective and context, it is at best ‘interesting’ and at worst a delusion to those whose only context is ‘this world’.

In other words, once you believe in God, everything changes. We are responsible ultimately not to our own self, not the direct superiors in our lives (employers, public leaders, law enforcers etc.), but to God, who knows everything about us, to whom we go when we die to be judged as deserving of eternal blessedness or eternal damnation. The center of gravity for a believer is the will of God.

For those who do not believe in God, there is no ultimate accountability. Like immature children in grade school, they think that cheating is bad only when you are caught. If you lie or cheat or steal, it is not wrong if you get away with it. There is no objective moral code. Though many would not be honest enough to admit it even to themselves, there are no rules for us except what I want so that I can worship at the altar of freedom. When I die, all is forgotten for I cease to exist. This can be a comforting thought for those who do wrong: it is very possible to get away with it! For, they opine, there is no God. Karl Marx said that religion was the opium of the people. So, we can say with even more certainty: atheism is the opium of the evil-doer!

Once we understand the pervasive power of first principles that underlie our decisions and perspectives, we should call ourselves to account: As a person of faith, do I do all things as one of God’s servants, or do I say I am a believer and then do what I want? Faith has consequences. If it did not, then it would not be faith but a false self-construction or what used to be called an “Idol”. The frightening awareness of this line of thinking is that we may have many idolaters sitting in our pews and thinking they are Catholics. Sadly, the same may be true of priests on the altar!

The true and proper reason for us to do what we do is not our comfort, or habit, or inclination; nor, of course, the temptations of the Evil One. Our reason to do everything we think, say or accomplish should be for the glory of God and the salvation of our souls. To truly understand this fact and to act on it all the time is what should be our main aim in life.

The witness of the martyrs is the most eloquent and radical defense of this teaching. To die for an unreal nonexistent being (God) would be an absurdity. But, since there is a God to Whom I owe my very existence, giving my life is but a small sacrifice to the enormity of God’s love.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:2

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Heaven by Monsignor Ferrarese

We have reflected in the last meditation (Hell?, 02/06/22) on the reality, even the necessity, of hell and its intrinsic relationship with the justice of God. I would like to turn now to a happier topic, though no less difficult to explain: the reality of heaven. But just as I can write nothing to describe the horror of hell as a definitive separation from love, so I cannot hope to convey what joy and fulfillment is prefigured by the word ‘heaven’.

One of the problems regarding reflections on the next life is that we have a total lack of knowledge of it and consequently we do not have a language to express this reality. When I think of the utter bankruptcy of past attempts that writers better than myself have made to communicate what heaven is like, I toss up my hands in utter frustration. Think of the popular stereotype of heaven as our feeble efforts as human beings have come up with. I am referring to the image of heaven as human forms in flowing garments sitting on slabs of marble playing harps. When I think of doing that for just an hour, I realize how terribly boring it would be; but for eternity!! It does not come near to instilling even the slightest desire on my part to share in that!

All the attempts to describe what heaven would be like falls into this pit of mystery. The truth is that we have no idea what God has prepared for those who love Him. The only hint we have is what the scriptures assert: “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard nor has it dawned on the imagination of man what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). This comes close to both giving us a sense of the magnitude of future beatitude as well as guarding this very mystery.

Perhaps we need to concentrate more on our own expectations to help us see, at least, an outline of what we mean by the word ‘heaven’.

If we are honest, the only thing that comes close to what heaven may be like are the pleasures of this world as well as the more spiritual joys that we experience. This is no surprise since this is the only reality we have to search out the building blocks of our future glory.

The Lord advises us that this is beyond the powers of the imagination. We are limited by our experiences in this world, so that when we consider the joys kept in store for those who are faithful to God, we are left with images that are familiar and less than inspiring.

I remember a movie that came out about 10 years ago that tried to put on the screen what happens after death. The author of the screenplay poked fun at the sheer enormity of ‘processing’ souls after death. He imagined and put on the screen a giant bureaucracy that was almost nightmarish in its complexity and in its ‘soullessness’! It gave you a kind of depressing hopelessness of the impossibility of future glory. It resembled a hell more than a heaven.

Then how do we imagine the unimaginable? What can motivate us to pursue a goal like ‘heaven’ when we don’t really know what we are talking about? For this we must search earthly reality for hints of future glory.

This is precisely what the ‘transcendentals’ try to do. Embedded in real life are these three sign posts of the way to heaven given to us as an aid: Beauty, Truth and Goodness. When we are in the presence of these three earthly realities, we are given the means by analogy to understand the greatness of what lies ahead that makes it all worthwhile. It comes in small doses but helps us ‘transcend the earthly to the heavenly’, hence the name ‘transcendentals’.

An act of goodness: like the self-less risking of the life of a firefighter to save a child in a burning inferno (Goodness), or the exquisite sound of the music of Mozart (Beauty) or the logic and the precision of the theology of Aquinas or the thought of Einstein (Truth). These intimations of immortality bring us beyond ourselves into the uncharted territory of promise that is fulfilled here on earth by love itself.

These are but hints of the heavenly. They sort of whet our appetites with the reality to be experienced in the next life. They have with them the power of suggestion which comes close to resembling the constant unveiling of newer and more glorious joys.

The great Father of the Church St. Gregory of Nyssa, in discussing what awaits the just in the coming period of reward (Heaven, the Kingdom, Paradise), says that we will never come to the end of the joys of experiencing God but that every moment will reveal more of God. This process of ever deepening fulfillment will never be exhausted since God is infinite.

Now that is worth waiting for!

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Purgatory on Earth by Monsignor Ferrarese

Last week we meditated a little on the great mercy of God in granting us the time after death for further purification that is necessary to enter into heaven (Purgatory).

While we are on the brink of another Lent, it might be good to try to understand how the three destinations (Heaven, Hell and Purgatory) may actually begin here on earth. These realities will be different depending on where we are in our development. I have met people who are in the midst of a hell of their own making: they are very angry, sad, and manifest proudly all the sins that deform us.

I have also met people like Mother Teresa and some lay parishioners who have one foot already in heaven. They are centered in God and one can feel their sanctity by the gentleness and kindness that is the unerring proof of their sanctity.

But many are in the process of purification. Hopefully we are in this preparatory stage where the only difference between Purgatory on earth and Purgatory after death is that people who are in the later are all going to heaven. Unfortunately, with us on earth, we can still slide backwards!

The great spiritual masters of the spiritual life see that some on earth go through the needed purification while in this life. They divide the journey into three stages and two periods of darkness: the Purgative stage followed by the dark night of the senses; the Illuminative stage followed by the dark night of the soul; and finally the ultimate goal: the Unitive state when the person is one with God. This is heaven and can briefly be experienced on earth for the hardy few that make the climb while in this life.

This journey is far too complex and subtle to be explained in a brief essay. For a full understanding of this reality, one should read the great works of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, both of whom are Doctors of the Church.

So, most of us are somewhere in the Purgative State. Just as the poor souls in Purgatory are being purified, we can also be purified while still on earth by Prayer, Good Works, Sacrifices, etc. This period is usually seen from two separate vantage points. Some of the purification is voluntary. The Saints term this kind as ‘Active Purgation’. This is when we choose different ascetical practices to train ourselves in denying our wants and needs for higher purposes. The time most of us do this is during the season of Lent. It is during Lent that we give up things and take on more prayer and sacrifices. Traditionally, our active purgation is threefold: Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving.

On the other hand, there are times that God moves in and puts us into situations that include an internal purification of motives and concerns. In this stage, we merely cooperate; God leads us into the darkness of life. This is termed Passive Purgation. This could include the loss of a loved one. It could mean a disappointment regarding some plan we have for ourselves or our family. Sometimes it is merely a long patch of spiritual dryness or aridity in our daily prayer.

This last is to be distinguished from the psychological state of depression. In depression, one loses all the natural energy to accomplish even the minimum in this earthly life. In the dark night, we still have the energy and will to do God’s work, it is just that He doesn’t reward our feelings (Dark Night of the Senses) or He seems to disappear from our lives (Dark Night of the Soul). Depression is often a chemically-based deprivation that needs the help of medication or psychiatric assistance to rebalance the psyche. The dark night is also to be distinguished from feelings of disappointment when we do not get what we want or, even more tragically, when we commit a mortal sin and refuse to repent.

All this happens within us. While therapy can be helpful with earthly concerns, it has only a slight impact on the spiritual issues. For that one needs a Spiritual Director.

For most people, these facts are not only not apparent, they are not seen or understood. They have no idea that the pain they are feeling is part of an overall plan of purification. All that is necessary on the part of the human subject is a willingness to do the will of God in all its endeavors. While conscious awareness of the process is ideal, God still will accomplish what is best for each person as long as they do not ‘clog the works’ with sin. Sin is always the ultimate enemy and the only thing that can nullify the will of God for the person.

So, let us seek to do the will of God and let us simply do what is right and just in our lives of faith. God will do the rest!

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:2

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Purgatory: Purification and Preparation by Monsignor Ferrarese

Having meditated on the realities of Hell and Heaven, we turn to a third important topic in our reflections on the last things of life: Purgatory.

This doctrine is peculiar to Catholicism. It is not found in Orthodoxy or in Protestant forms of Christianity. Yet it is important for two reasons: it is a continuance of God’s mercy for us; and, secondly, it is what awaits most of us who are neither devils nor angels. In fact, it is a doctrine that clearly manifests the mercy of God.

St. Catherine of Genoa wrote the definitive text on the subject of Purgatory, The Treatise on Purgatory. In it, she sees Purgatory as a very joyful place. While we are on earth, we do not know where we will go after death. However, every soul in Purgatory knows that they will be going to Heaven at some point; Hell is out of the question for them! The souls who we mistakenly call ‘poor souls’ are preparing for their entrance into glory! They know that, before making it to this glory, they need to be purified and want it completely.

If you knew that you would be going to dinner with the Pope or the President, would you not want to get ready? Perhaps you would clean yourself up nicely, put on your “Sunday best” clothing, and rehearse the subjects that you would like to converse with them about. This preparation time would be very important for you.

This, St. Catherine says, is what Purgatory is all about: a time of preparation for the eventual entry into the glory of Heaven. In this preparation, there is a burning away of what is not of God, the cleansing of our minds and hearts for that blessed moment when we enter the presence of God!

It is the very reason we pray for the dead. The Church has taught us that somehow our prayers assist them in their preparation and hasten the moment of readiness. This is a very wonderful teaching that helps us stay in contact with the departed and gives us ways to continue to express our love for them. How this actually happens is shrouded in mystery. The spiritual law that God has established gives our prayers a power and an efficacy that can affect the heart of God Himself and gives the Mercy of God an upper hand in the hidden activity wherein the Justice of God juxtaposes its activity with His kindness. How very powerful God has made prayer! We can truly make a difference in our departed loved one’s future!

This power of prayer extends to our prayer for the living as well. We do not know, but will someday understand, things that did not happen because of our prayer, as well as those that did happen because of them. Prayer is the most powerful force on earth because it can influence the mind and heart of the Almighty!

Therefore, when one speaks of the state of Purgatory, we are basically talking about a joyful state that forms a bridge between the souls in transit to Heaven and their loved ones still in this present life. The desire for this connection is embedded in the desires of the family of the deceased to remain in contact with their loved one and to be able to ‘do something to help’ that person. This connection is as much a mercy for the family and friends of the deceased as for the soul itself in the state of purification.

This is a great gift for those left to grieve the departure of their beloved and reveals the interconnectedness of the plan of God to benefit the greatest number of people that it can. This is but a sign of the unmatched generosity of our loving Father.

But a question can be asked: why is Purgatory necessary? Could God not instantly purify a soul or just accept it in its compromised state as having been weakened and disfigured by sin? To answer this question, one must understand that God is completely pure and not, in any way, tainted by sin. We are just not capable, as God has created us, to sustain contact with such purity in our present state. We must be purified with our own cooperation so that we can withstand contact with the purity of God. We, otherwise, would find our encounter and our sojourn in bliss as something painful.

The souls in purgatory are happy there because this purification will enable them to enjoy and delight in the presence of God. While the saints have accomplished this during earthly life, most human beings need an extra experience of preparation so that they have the capacity for the kind of joy that they have never experienced before.

So, let us continue to pray for the souls in purgatory since we can give them the greatest assistance we have ever given them on earth: to prepare them to enter the Presence of God!

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Hell? by Monsignor Ferrarese

It is quite apparent to an impartial observer that Christianity seems to have jettisoned many basic beliefs into the ash heap of history. This is, of course, not generally true in fact, but the tacit acceptance of the removal of some “discarded” teachings permeates how many modern persons look at their religious lives.

High on the list is the existence of hell. We have been fed a steady stream of opinion, told with emphasis, that God is love and that He is so compassionate and wants every sinner to be saved. His mercy is made central.

Now, all the above is obviously true; but the revelation of our futures and our present standing tends to be woefully incomplete. Because we have lost a sense of sin, we have come to believe that we are the center of existence and that God (if He is indeed good) owes us eternal life. Funeral liturgies have often asserted that the person is in heaven, thus bypassing the necessary judgement of God hoping that, irrespective of how they actually lived their lives, they are enjoying eternal bliss. While we tend to do this in charity, we only mean that we hope the deceased is with God.

In all this we lack two things that are necessary for us to fully understand what happens after our death. The first is that the world has lost its sense of the gravity of sin. Sin is nothing to be laughed at or considered as a momentary defect. Sin is ingratitude to God who has given us life. It is ugly, vicious, and frightening. It is the only thing that separates us from God both in this life and in the life to come.

The second thing that the modern world has obscured and even eliminated from our understanding of spiritual reality and our future life after death is the justice of God. God is just and is committed to rewarding the good and punishing the bad. We have this sense in us as well, being made in the image and likeness of God. It is akin to our understanding of fairness.

To use an exaggerated example that perhaps shows this clearly: do you believe that Adolf Hitler should have been admitted into heaven? After all his murders, his destructive ideas, and his ending suicide? Would that be just?

You, I’m sure, can see the power of this argument. God is both just and loving. While I cannot say where Hitler went at his death, I can see that hell is a necessity if there is any fairness in God.

You may rightly say, “But Hitler is a unique type of evil.” And that is true. But what of the evil engendered by the adulterous spouse? Of the child molester? Or the serial killer? We might say of these: they are the products of the evil done to them by their childhood experiences. The fairness of God must factor this in. Yes, but when is someone responsible for his or her actions? Are we not also free to reject or work on treating the bad of our childhood? Considering the grace of God freely and lavishly bestowed on us in this life, the many opportunities we have to repent, and the pervasive presence of the sacrament of Confession, what excuses hold up in the test of time?

We can see why the reality of hell and the danger of its choice by us is declared in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the compendium of all the teachings and understanding of the Church and our Faith. In order that God be truly God, and in keeping with His justice and so that His Holy Word be not seen as deceptive or untrue, hell must be factored in as a necessary reality in the economy of salvation.

Even in the words of the old Act of Contrition we see clearly the two types of sorrow for sin, imperfect and perfect: “And I detest all my sins because of thy just punishments (the imperfect motive of fear of punishment); but most of all because they offend Thee my God who are all good and deserving of all my love (perfect contrition when we repent because of our love of God).”

Some people need something to fear so that they do the right thing. All our laws (and those of every other country) are based on this principle. We would like people to do what is right because it is right and that it contributes to the benefit of the community; but tax laws are necessary to make sure people are honest on their taxes. Traffic laws are necessary so that people are safe on the roads. And, unfortunately, hell is necessary for people who regularly blow-off the Commandments of God.

That means that hell is a reality. The justice of God demands it. But the mercy of God allows repentance up to the last moment of our lives.

Are there many who don’t repent? The Saints who have been given visions of hell have written in tears that many are in hell. Jesus also warned us: Broad is the way to destruction. Narrow is the way to eternal life.

The choice is ours. The choice is yours.

“Make sacrifices for sinners, and say often, especially while making a sacrifice: O Jesus, this is for love of Thee, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for offences committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary…You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace.” – The Revelation of Our Lady of Fatima

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Getting Closer by Monsignor Ferrarese

Last year, when I hit 71 years of age, I went into a bit of reality shock. I couldn’t believe it. I never imagined what it would be like to be in my 60’s, but 71! I thought 70 was a mistake and that it would be corrected next year. But there was no mistake: I was on my way to 80!!

This had a sobering effect on me. I began to realize how much I have been blessed in my life and that I am comfortably (?!) in the last third of my earthly existence. This was happening to me and not to someone else. How much time do I have left? So many persons who are reported as having died are reported to be younger than me. ‘She’ died at 68. ‘He’ died at 60. 71 seems ancient. Ouch! That word, ancient, smarts!

I know what puts this into context: my faith. I am an eternal being. My existence will continue in some way, perhaps deeply enhanced and made glorious. My reason: I feel great! I don’t feel like a 71-year-old. I am healthy and still feel vigorous.

My faith and my reason help me put my aging into context, especially when I realize how much I have matured from my youth and middle age. It feels good to be here at 71. Really? Yes.

But as a runner begins to recalibrate how much energy to expend on the race as he approaches the last few laps, I have also begun to try to respond to the years that I have left on this earth to give it my all for the end of the race.

I no longer have an expanse of 70 to 80 years ahead of me. But perhaps 20 if my health holds. Does that depress me? Not at all! It is exhilarating to know that I will be standing soon in the presence of my Lord and King, Jesus Christ, and that I will be able to thank God, our Blessed Lady, my Guardian Angel, and the Saints and Angels for all the help that they have given to me here on earth.

But I must confess that there is a little fear as well. As I get closer to the moment of my death, my sins seem uglier and more ungrateful by the day. How terrible even a venial sin is! So, I worry a little that I will also stand before my Judge and Savior to give an account of my life. I’m afraid that I may have to throw myself on the mercy of the Judge since my sins far outnumber my good deeds, especially when I count my sins of omission.

Some people feel a little insulted that they will be judged. They say, “Who has a right to judge us?” God, of course! He created us; He sustains us; He forgives us; He teaches us; He heals us; He is the center of the Universe and should be the center of each of our lives.

The judgement of God is grounded on the fact that God expects the best in us because we are capable of that level of goodness and truth. How we live our lives matters to God as do every small decision that we make. Understood correctly, this is tremendously ennobling of our place in the Universe and how we stand before God.

While Christ died for us opening the gates of Paradise, closed by Original Sin, it is not magic. We are expected to appropriate the victory of Christ and become part of the redemption of the world through our place in the mystical body of Christ. When we refuse to do this, we even frustrate the plan of God. Therefore, sin, even venial sin, is so terrible.

Unfortunately, we have lost a sense of sin in these modern times. Everything is ok in the way of the world. God forgives everyone so there is nothing to worry about and no major changes need to be on the horizon. This spiritual passivity is one of the demons of our age. It lulls us into a false security. Repentance is seen as automatic. No need for sorrows or regrets, just keep doing what you are doing.

But the Scriptures, the Tradition of the Church, and even what Our Lady warned about during her apparitions tell a different story. Heartfelt repentance is necessary for salvation. Everyday our fidelity to the Will of God is the only reliable barometer of our spiritual health. The narrow way, says Jesus, leads to life. The way the majority are going leads to damnation.

Therefore, at my age, I beseech the mercy of God and try to mirror His will in my life. The older I get the more pernicious seems the way of the world.

Jesus, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

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Journey by Monsignor Ferrarese

There is a time for everything says the Scriptures. I would like to look at this reality through the lenses of the journey, which is something we all sometimes long for and at other times dread.

Let’s begin with the concept of ‘home’. This is a reality that we can all relate to: to have a place where we belong. Sometimes this is with family or friends. But it can also be a solitary reality where we are comfortable with ‘our place’, having within it the things that make us feel a sense of rightness and comfort: our books, our bed, our food, etc.

Parenthetically, we see it as a frightening tragedy to be ‘homeless’. A huge amount of people in this world live in makeshift camps. They are homeless refugees who have no home but suffer the pains and inconveniences of living from day to day away from the familiar and in a constant state of uncertainty.

Thus, if ‘home’ is such a wonderful reality and the loss of home is seen as a terrible tragedy, why would anyone choose to leave home to begin a journey into the unknown? There must be some hunger and need deep within us to search for something or someone to create a new home with.

Underneath all the possible answers to this question is, of course, the search for God. Believers have often maintained that we are made for God. The absence of God leaves a terrible void that causes us to embark on a mysterious, possibly dangerous, journey to find the fulfillment of our hopes and dreams. For many of us, we know that only God can fill this emptiness. But it does not stop people from false journeys into addictions, ideologies, and erroneous detours that end up leaving us emptier than before.

In a way, we are all sojourners, always on a journey, whether it has a goal or not. Sometimes it is a quest that will solve untold miseries. Sometimes it involves self-discovery. Sometimes it reveals at its climax an epiphany of meaning.

I found that it occurs especially in dreams. For it is in the dream that we reveal to ourselves the unrest that occasions the journey.

At its most theological, the journey is our need for God and the useless vanity of poor substitutions. Like the child who longs for a toy until he has it and then discovers its innate boredom, our false journeys that lead away from God are the ultimate self-betrayals. They are about tinsel when we seek the Light.

It is only when a person providentially stumbles on the path that fills his soul with expectation and promise, the road to God, that the journey becomes self-fulfilling. Then the joy and the peace blossom and the soul is renewed. This is the peace that no one can take away from us. It can only be found when the journey truly becomes the will of God.

The greatest sadness for me as a priest is seeing people refuse the right road, distracted and blind to the beauty that beckons. I know how happy they would be if they only gave everything up to go down the road of life, albeit narrow and steep.

I find that now, at 71 years of age, I have a real sense of the wonder of my journey so far. Priesthood has been, during these 44 years, a deeply satisfying experience. But I know that I am not there yet. If present health trends continue for me, I will probably be still on my journey for a decade to two. I look forward to the end of my journey here on earth. More and more I seek the mercy of God and have less faith in presuming on God. I am still a sinner in need of the redeeming love of Christ. I know I cannot make it alone. But I trust that the God who has never left my side will be there to forgive me and bring me home.

 I come again and again to the power of prayer that taught me to say to Christ: “Have mercy on me, a sinner” and to my mother Mary: “pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.”

The journey continues for all of us.

“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me.”

– Jeremiah 29:11-13

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