Sunday, March 17, 2019

Called To Be The Image And Likeness Of God For Each Other

One of the first things I learned in Catholic school back in the Bronx was that I am made in the image and likeness of God. In my child-mind, I originally took this to mean that God had eyes, ears, a nose, and possibly wore glasses. But as I grew and matured in my faith, I came to understand that God is not a man or a woman or a collection of body parts. God is Love. And that to be in the image and likeness of God simply means to be like God; to be Love - pure unconditional Love.
The Gospel for the Second Sunday of Lent tells us how Jesus was transfigured and revealed to his friends as that pure unconditional Love. On that mountaintop and for a brief moment in time, Jesus’ closest friends were able to see who he really was. And, by extension, to catch a glimpse of what each of us is ultimately called to be. 
The word ‘transfiguration’ defines a spiritual process: a process by which someone or something undergoes a complete change of form or appearance into its most integrated, peaceful and beautiful state. As Christians we are called into that process. Like base metal is transformed into gold by the process of alchemy, each of us is called to be transfigured, to be molded into a pattern revealed by Jesus.
Jesus reveals that pattern throughout the gospels. He tells us that whatever we do for the least of others, we are doing for him. He calls us to love our neighbor; and then defines our neighbor to be everyone. He calls us to turn the other cheek, to forgive and love those who have hurt us. He invites us to sell our most precious possessions and to give to the poor. He urges us to trust that God will always take care of us; to be like the lilies of the field and the sparrows on the wing and not unduly worry about tomorrow.
There is no room in this pattern for anger or bitterness. There is no room for self-centeredness. God is Love. And each of us is called to be transfigured into that Love - just like Jesus was. Like a wave rises up in the ocean only to return back home into the sea, each of us is called to return back home to God, the Source of all goodness and love.
Lent is a good time to reflect on where we are in that return journey. It is a good time for us to remember who we are and why we are here. We are called to be the image and likeness of God for each other. We are called to be transfigured, transfigured into God’s Love.

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Readers of this blog might enjoy these books by Deacon Lex. They are available on Amazon.com:


Just to Follow My Friend: Experiencing God’s Presence in Everyday Life



The Gospel of You, The Gospel of Me: Making Christ Present in Everyday Life


Synchronicity as the Work of the Holy Spirit: Jungian Insights for Spiritual Direction and Pastoral Ministry

Saturday, September 15, 2018

A Prayerful Reflection on the Sexual Abuse Scandal in the Church

SEPTEMBER 14, 2018: A DAY OF PENANCE AND PRAYER

Though our hearts have been broken God’s grace has not been tainted.
                                                 *

As a human being, as a parent, as a deacon, and as a Roman Catholic, I am enraged, ashamed and heartbroken by the sexual abuse scandal within our Church.My heart aches for the countless ‘holy innocents’ - the children and young people who have been, raped, violated and spiritually wounded by many evil members of our clergy.And I remember Jesus’ warning in the Gospel: 

“Woe to those who cause one of these little ones who believe in me to fall away - it would be better for him if a heavy millstone were hungaround his neck and he were drowned in the depths of the sea.”
                            (Matthew 18:6)

My heart also goes out to the many, many members of our clergy who are good and holy men:men who are faithful to their vows, yet prejudged and stigmatized because of the Roman collar that they wear;pure and innocent men who are unjustly mocked and reviled.

I ask myself how a priest or a deacon, a man vowed to lead others to spiritual wholeness,could share the Eucharist at the altar in the morning and then violate a little soul in the afternoon?

I ask myself how a bishop, a shepherd vowed to protect his flock, could overlook and reassign a credibly accused sexual predator? 

And I ask myself why am I still here in this church? Why am I still wearing these vestments? Why am I I still a Catholic?

That is a deeply personal question.The answer may be different for each of us.The reason I stay is Jesus.His message is pure; the grace that flows to each of us from his Gospel and through the Eucharist is pure.

Though our hearts have been broken, God’s grace has not been tainted.

The Church is an institution made up of human beings.Those human beings can corrupt themselves and the institution but they cannot corrupt the grace.We are called to confront and speak out against the corruption, but we are also called to embrace the grace and to let it flow through us to heal our world.

The reason we stay is for that grace,it is our connection to Jesus and to his Last Supper.Each time that we come to Mass and say ‘yes’ to the Eucharist, we are reliving that Last Supper.

The sexual abuse scandal within our Church is a shameful cross: a cross for innocent children, for young people and for their families; a cross for all of us who identify as Catholic;a cross for humanity.

Father Dan reminds us that the road to recovery and healing will be long, and that we must journey to and through Calvary, the place of the Cross.

Today is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. It is no accident that Cardinal Tobin chose this significant day to be our Day of Penance and Prayer. I believe it is meant to be a reminder that we are never alone even in the midst of this most shameful cross.

God is with us at the center of this and every cross in life. Though our hearts have been broken, God’s grace has not been tainted.

Let us go forward in prayer to be a source of grace and healing for the victims of this shameful scandal, for their families, for our Church and for our world.


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Readers of this blog might enjoy these books by Deacon Lex. They are available on Amazon.com:

Just to Follow My Friend: Experiencing God’s Presence in Everyday Life


The Gospel of You, The Gospel of Me: Making Christ Present in Everyday Life



Synchronicity as the Work of the Holy Spirit: Jungian Insights for Spiritual Direction and Pastoral Ministry
http://www.amazon.com/Synchronicity-Work-Holy-Spirit-Spiritual/dp/1463518781/

Sunday, August 12, 2018

All Will Be Well

“Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.”
Psalm 34:8

A number of years ago I was home for several weeks recovering from surgery. I took the opportunity to work on a family project I had wanted to do for a very long time. I selected the best photographs from 65 albums of family pictures taken over the years and digitized them onto one three hour DVD with background music. I called it, The Ferrauiola Family Video Special.   

The DVD begins with photos of my wife Wanda’s and my parents and grandparents and scenes from our childhood. It goes on through our teens, our high school romance, the early years of our marriage, the arrival of each of our four children and our two grandsons, and many special moments from our life together over the past fifty years.

Sitting with Wanda in our family room and watching the DVD is a real joy for me. Seeing our marriage and our children weave and grow together across the years fills me with thanksgiving for my life. 

But along with the joyful times there have been difficult days: the challenges of raising four children, of work, of illness. I know that if I could drill down and see scenes that didn’t make it to the camera, I would see moments of anxiety and doubt. 

But sitting in our family room with my arm around Wanda, smiling and laughing as we watch 50 years of life and love roll across the TV screen, it’s clear to me that God’s grace and love has always been with us.           

Now think about your own life and the life of every person who has ever lived and will live in the future and of all the DVDs that could be made from all those individual stories. What if they were made and someone edited them together into one big video called The Story of the Human Family? And what if someday, after we’ve died and been reunited with our loved ones who have gone before us, God gets us all together into that big family room in heaven to watch The Story of the Human Family

As we watch the story unfold, we would see moments of goodness, kindness and love. Sadly, we would also see moments of anger, pain and sorrow. But sitting with our loved ones in the presence of God, beyond the boundaries of time and space and the limits of human understanding, we would know that God’s grace had carried us through.

But we’re not there yet; and that’s where faith comes in. You see we’re here in 2018 and we’re still making the DVDs. We may be in the middle of a happy time or a painful time; we don’t know what tomorrow will bring, and we certainly don’t know how the story will end. 

But we are here at Mass today because we have faith. We trust that no matter what difficulties or tragedies befall us as individuals, as a family, a church, or a nation, they are only isolated moments in time. 

We trust that in the end - either in this life or the next - God’s grace will pull us through, heal us and fix whatever is broken in our life.

Some day we will all gather together in God’s eternal family room with our loved ones, the ones here now and the ones who have gone home before us. And we will watch a wonderful story, the story of our journey home.

And we will taste, and we will see the goodness of the Lord.

And we will know that we were never, ever alone; that God was always walking beside us, holding our hand.



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Readers of this blog might enjoy these books by Deacon Lex. Both are available on Amazon.com:

Just to Follow My Friend: Experiencing God’s Presence in Everyday Life


The Gospel of You, The Gospel of Me: Making Christ Present in Everyday Life



Synchronicity as the Work of the Holy Spirit: Jungian Insights for Spiritual Direction and Pastoral Ministry

Sunday, February 18, 2018

From First Class to Economy


One of the nicest things that anyone has ever done for me happened about forty-two years ago high above the Atlantic Ocean. I had been working for a pharmaceutical company in international information systems; and on one of my many trips to Europe, my boss decided to make the trip with me.

Because of his executive position, the company flew him first class wherever he went. I, on the other hand, as a 28-year-old computer programmer, was relegated to economy. But on this, our first time flying together, he chose to give up his first class seat and to keep me company in economy. Some people thought him foolish, but I deeply appreciated it as a gesture of kindness and friendship. It was a particular comfort to me as we hit turbulence.

Many times when I look at the cross, I think about that flight across the Atlantic and the meaning of friendship. I can see Jesus hanging on that cross in much the same way as I saw my old boss riding with me in economy. And it is a reminder to me that we are not alone; that God loves us so much that he chose to leave the comforts of first class behind; to step away from heaven; enter our time and space and ride with us through the turbulence and crosses of life.    

Eventually, the life of every human being is overshadowed by a cross, probably many different crosses. It might be the loss of a loved one or abandonment or rejection. It might be poverty or illness or an incurable disease. And if not any of these things, eventually we all face death, the end of our earthly existence. In time, life brings each of us to the foot of the cross.

But, the message of the cross is hope. It tells us that we are not alone; that God is with us in the chaos and the darkness; he is present in the pain, the loss, the suffering; he is there at he center of the turbulence, the center of the cross. And it is this God who travels beside us through the turbulence and the crosses of life who eventually will lead each of us to the resurrection of Easter morning.

What an incredible friend!

As we move through this season of Lent, let us reflect on the times of turbulence we have safely come through, and let us rejoice and thank God for riding beside us and for being our friend.

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Readers of this blog might enjoy these books by Deacon Lex. Both are available on Amazon.com:

Just to Follow My Friend: Experiencing God’s Presence in Everyday Life


The Gospel of You, The Gospel of Me: Making Christ Present in Everyday Life



Synchronicity as the Work of the Holy Spirit: Jungian Insights for Spiritual Direction and Pastoral Ministry
http://www.amazon.com/Synchronicity-Work-Holy-Spirit-Spiritual/dp/1463518781/

Sunday, December 17, 2017

One of Us



“What if God was one of us?
Just a slob like one of us?
Just a stranger on the bus?
Trying to make his way home.” 1

One of my favorite Christmas songs isn’t really a Christmas holiday song at all. It’s a song called, “One of Us”. Composed in 1995 by Eric Bazilian and recorded by Joan Osborne, it was the theme song of the Emmy-nominated 2003 TV series, “Joan of Arcadia”. 2

The show is about a teenage girl named Joan who is visited by God disguised as everyday people. She is given assignments by God that eventually bring healing and grace into the lives of others.
     
The lyrics of the song pose a question:
         “What if God was one of us?
         Just a slob like one of us
         Just a stranger on the bus
         Trying to make his way home” 1

I see this as a Christmas song because it reminds me of the Incarnation of God into our world as Jesus Christ, and that God is traveling alongside each of us as we journey through life.

God so loved the world that he came to live among us. He chose to ride the bus of life with us; to live, love, laugh, weep, suffer and die with us. God entered our time and space just to show us the way to get home.

That way is ‘love’. Jesus didn’t come to put burdens on our backs, or to appease an angry God. He didn’t come to give us a bunch of new rules and regulations. He came to teach us how to truly love and forgive.

When Jesus was asked what we had to do to have eternal life, he gave a simple answer: “Love God with your whole heart and soul, and love others - all others - the same way.” That’s what the Incarnation is all about. That’s what Christmas is all about. It’s not really about giving and getting presents. It’s about love and forgiveness.

When you and I were conceived, God put a little piece of Godself into each of us. That little piece of God is our immortal soul, it is our true self: -it is the presence of Christ within us. And life - life - is the journey of our soul back home to God. It is our bus ride to eternal life. But we don’t make that journey alone. God is always riding the bus with us. All that God asks in return is that we love and forgive each other as God loves and forgives us. 

As we move through this final week of Advent, let’s ask ourselves how well we are doing with that. Are we kind and forgiving, or do we carry a grudge? Are we inclusive, non-judgmental and accepting, or do we distance ourselves from others because they are different or don’t measure up to our moral or political standards? Are the doors to our heart always open, or are there family members and friends whom we have shut out of our lives?

As each of us prepares to celebrate Christmas, the Incarnation of God into our world, let us reopen any doors to our heart that may have been shut; and let us reach out with love, forgiveness and kindness to all those who are riding with us on the bus of life.

1/  Eric Bazilian. "One of Us". Recorded by Joan Osborne. Relish. Produced by Rick Chertoff. Mercury Records, March 1995.
2/  “Joan of Arcadia”. CBS Productions. Barbara Hall Productions. Sony Pictures. 2003 – 2005.

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Readers of this blog might enjoy these books by Deacon Lex. Both are available on Amazon.com:

Just to Follow My Friend: Experiencing God’s Presence in Everyday Life


The Gospel of You, The Gospel of Me: Making Christ Present in Everyday Life



Synchronicity as the Work of the Holy Spirit: Jungian Insights for Spiritual Direction and Pastoral Ministry
http://www.amazon.com/Synchronicity-Work-Holy-Spirit-Spiritual/dp/1463518781/

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Everyone Is Welcome (There Are No Exceptions)


The Roman Catholic Church is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the restoration of the Permanent Diaconate. There are over 17,000 permanent deacons in the United States and over 42,000 worldwide. I have been proud to be one of them since my ordination in 1992.

After marrying my sweetheart, Wanda, in 1968, and raising our four children, one of my greatest blessings in life was finding and joining Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish. At a time in 1984 when I was disheartened by events around the world, and even within the Catholic Church, I found this warm and inclusive parish.

Each Carmelite priest, Franciscan sister and Sister of Saint Joseph I’ve met here has been a living example of God’s love. And you, the members of our parish community, have consistently reflected the face of Christ.

Over the years there have been many special moments when I was filled with gratitude for being here at Mount Carmel. One of those was the moment I walked into the narthex, the vestibule - as we used to call it back in the Bronx, and read for the first time the plaque that holds our welcome statement:

No matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done, no matter where you’re from, no matter where you’re going, no matter how good or bad things seem, you are always welcome.”

The message on that wall is clear: We are all children of God; we are all brothers and sisters. Everyone is welcome. There are no exceptions.

But sadly, not every Catholic has heard that message; not every Catholic has felt welcome in every Catholic Church. I have friends who are gay or lesbian, and friends who have children who are gay or lesbian or transgender who have felt unwelcome; who have been hurt; who have been made to feel unworthy of God’s love.

The idea that anyone is ‘unwelcome’ or ‘unworthy’ because of who they are, is contrary to the Jesus we know in the gospel. In his day the people of Samaria, the Samaritans, were despised and avoided as unclean by the majority of the Jewish people. Yet Jesus not only sits down and chats with a Samaritan woman, and reveals his divinity to her, but he makes the hero of one of his best-known parables a Samaritan.

In another gospel, Jesus encounters a Roman centurion, a pagan, someone completely outside of his religion. Jesus speaks with him, heals his servant, and praises his faith. No strings, no conditions.

And how about Zaccheus, the despised tax collector who climbed out on a tree limb to see Jesus without being seen by the townspeople? Jesus not only recognized and acknowledged his goodness in front of those same townspeople, but he went to his home and broke bread with him. No strings, no conditions.

So for Jesus, there is no “us” and no “them.” There is only “us”.

The gratitude and pride I felt in reading that welcome plaque in our narthex has been intensified in recent years by the outreach and example of our Church leaders. Pope Francis and our local archbishop, Cardinal Joseph Tobin, are among many of our pastoral leaders welcoming, embracing and respecting all God’s children, whoever and wherever they may be. They have been reaching out with loving inclusiveness to our brothers and sisters in the LGBT community. And they are role models for us to do likewise.

Here are some examples:

(from the New York Times 6/13/17)

On May 21 Cardinal Tobin personally welcomed over 100 gay, lesbian and transgender Catholics and their families, from the five dioceses of New Jersey and surrounding areas, to a pilgrimage Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral Basilica in Newark. They were seated on folding chairs in the sanctuary in front of the altar. “I am Joseph, your brother,” he told them. “I am your brother as a disciple of Jesus. I am your brother as a sinner who finds mercy with the Lord.”

Bishop Manuel Cruz, rector of the cathedral, and eight priests concelebrated Mass. Bishop Cruz told the people that the cathedral doors were always open to them “because we are children of God and our identity is that we all belong to him.”

(from Time Magazine July 28, 2015)

In 2013, Pope Francis ushered in a new era of welcoming people who are gay when he asked these two rhetorical questions: “If someone is gay and searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” and “Tell me, when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?”

(In 2016, Pope Francis wrote these words in his apostolic exhortation on family life, “Amoris Laetitia” - The Joy of Love)

“ We would like before all else to reaffirm that every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration, while ‘every sign of unjust discrimination‘ is to be carefully avoided.“

(Father James Martin, editor-at-large of the Jesuit magazine America, was appointed in 2017 by Pope Francis as a consultant to the Vatican’s Secretariate for Communications. In his 2016 book “Building A Bridge” Father Martin wrote)

“. . . respecting L.G.B.T. people means accepting them as beloved children of God. The church has a special call to proclaim God’s love for a people who are often made to feel like damaged goods, unworthy of ministry and even subhuman by their families, neighbors or religious leaders. The church is invited to both proclaim and demonstrate that L.G.B.T. people are beloved children of God.”

(Father Dan, writing in our parish bulletin, tells us that)

both Pope Francis and Cardinal Tobin have given very clear signals that reaching out to our brothers and sisters in the LGBT community is the next step we should be taking in the long and checkered history of our Catholic faith.” He reminds us that: “Our parish that proclaims as part of our identity and mission the statement that all are welcome here needs to continually demonstrate it.”

Some might argue that our Holy Father and our archbishop and other church leaders are too liberal; that they are moving too quickly, not focusing on or emphasizing the timeless and changeless rules and regulations of the Church.

Others might say that these gestures are shallow, condescending and patronizing; too little, too late; that nothing has really changed in church doctrine; that the LGBT community is welcome only so far.

So, what are we to say?

Sometimes throughout history, and even in our own lives, there is conflict, there is tension between who we are and the boundaries of society, and even our Church. But in the final analysis we are called to follow our conscience and to be true to who we are.

Jesus taught us that to have eternal life we only have to do two things: love God with our whole heart and love others - all others - the same way. Everything else is passing.

Life isn’t an either/or proposition; it’s a both/and reality. We are called to love and to live within the tension of the both/and as we, and the Church, move forward in time.

Parish outreach programs to the LGBT community vary but they have a common thread of welcome, support and the sharing of stories. As a parish family, let us continue to reach out and welcome all of God’s children without exception; let us continue to reflect the face of Christ; and let each of us be a living example of those words on the wall of the narthex:

No matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done, no matter where you’re from, no matter where you’re going, no matter how good or bad things seem, you are always welcome.”

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Readers of this blog might enjoy these books by Deacon Lex. Both are available on Amazon.com:

Just to Follow My Friend: Experiencing God’s Presence in Everyday Life


The Gospel of You, The Gospel of Me: Making Christ Present in Everyday Life



Synchronicity as the Work of the Holy Spirit: Jungian Insights for Spiritual Direction and Pastoral Ministry

Monday, June 19, 2017

Called to Mirror the Fatherhood of God


‘Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.’ Jesus gave us a wonderful gift: he brought God into the center of our lives and taught us that he is like a loving father. Today is Fathers Day. It is a good time to remember that each and every one of us — male and female alike — is called to mirror the fatherhood of God.

It is a great joy for me as a deacon to baptize a child. The joy of administering the sacrament is magnified for me by the fact that I am a father myself. Wanda and I have been blessed to raise four wonderful children; and I know — first hand — the joys and responsibilities of being a parent.

The greatest responsibility of a parental father is to mirror the unconditional love of our heavenly Father. Fathers have been given a very special mission in life: We are called to teach our children that God is unconditional love.

And we carry out this mission, we teach that lesson, not with books, not even necessarily with words; we teach it by loving our children, unconditionally, without strings, no matter what.

God loves us in a personal and unconditional way. The seed of that love is inside of each of us. And that seed is watered to grow into a beautiful flower by the love we receive from our parents.

But that flower can still grow even in the absence of parental love, even in the presence of abuse, or abandonment, or neglect. That flower can still grow even in the harshest conditions; because that seed is innately watered by God’s grace.

That flower blooms in our lives when we make the transition from receiver to giver. When we say ‘yes’ to the presence of God’s love in our life, and when we choose to share that love with others.

I have known people who have suffered greatly because they did not experience the love of a parental father. But I believe we have a choice: we can spend decades in depression over what we missed as a child, or we can cross over the bridge, make the transition from receiver to giver and become a father for others.

We can become a father for others not only in a parental way. We can be a father to our children, but we can also be a father to our workers, our students, our patients, our clients, our parishioners, our friends, to all those with whom we interact.

This type of father is neither male nor female; it is the bearer of unconditional love, it is the mirror of our heavenly Father.

God's love comes alive in our world when we let it flow through us to others. So this Fathers Day let us thank our heavenly Father for our blessings. Let us reach out to our parental fathers, living and deceased, with love and compassion, and if need be, forgiveness. And let us make Our Father who art in heaven visible here on earth through the love that we share with others.



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Readers of this blog might enjoy these books by Deacon Lex. Both are available on Amazon.com:

Just to Follow My Friend: Experiencing God’s Presence in Everyday Life


The Gospel of You, The Gospel of Me: Making Christ Present in Everyday Life



Synchronicity as the Work of the Holy Spirit: Jungian Insights for Spiritual Direction and Pastoral Ministry
http://www.amazon.com/Synchronicity-Work-Holy-Spirit-Spiritual/dp/1463518781/