Emmitsburg Council of Churches

This Lent: Embrace a Serious,
 Concrete and Persistent Spirituality

Father John J. Lombardi

Some meditations to intensify your spiritual lives in the Holy Season of Lent…

A few years ago on a pilgrimage to India and Tibet, this chaplain saw dramatic, spiritual things--some Christian, and some not; but all were inspiring, yanking me out of a "spiritual slumber" I had grown accustomed to…

One hot, Indian evening I entered Mother Teresa's house, in the heart of Calcutta, after a traumatic ride there passing oxen-led carts, open-air-camp fires and thatched, squatter's huts. Arriving at the evocative upstairs chapel I was awed to see a hundred nuns sitting on a bare floor, praying silently before the Lord Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Right below us was a major roadway-akin to Fifth Avenue in New York City-which permeated the virginal cloister with the sounds of honking cars and trucks, open-air marketers selling their wares, cackling chickens, and Muslim evening prayer calls from nearby minarets-all creating a cacophony in the Bengal night. 

I thought: How could anyone pray here?! Meanwhile, the Missionaries of Charity simply-and elegantly in their blue and white saris-- knelt, adored, prayed: riveted by Jesus Really Present in the Eucharist so that no "noise" would overcome them; I was both amazed and inspired by their focused love…+Meditation: Don't we all need-at a more intense level-- the spiritual discipline of persevering prayer in our lives-like these tried and true "ladies of the Lord"-so as to become more one with God, the Most holy Trinity?…How do I need to intensify, concretize my prayer life?…

Later that summer, in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa--amidst a stunning Himalayan backdrop--I stumbled upon a seventy-year old Tibetan monk practicing "public penance". Wearing flowing burgundy and yellow-colored robes-with a kind of "smock" on the front of his body--I eventually figured out he would walk amongst the crowds in the streets and then, every few steps, would first fall on his knees, and then drop to his face upon the ground, pray a penance, and then rise and repeat this process continually through the meandering mountain streets. +Meditation: the tough love of penitential pruning may not seem attractive-but, this Lent, like that monk in Tibet, isn't God calling us to a deeper, heartened sorrow for sins?…

Many Indian people hosted me beautifully and bountifully, and one family took this priest up a mountain to look for elephants (!). After our venture we came upon a religious shrine and, amazingly, a "local sanyasi"-or Hindu holy man. This turban-crowned ascetic lived by himself, for some forty years, in a continual fast, while spending his days in meditation and renunciation. The few words he spoke were on escaping suffering and the need for intense purification. I noticed there was hardly anything else to his life than the temple he tended to, his spiritual life and greeting pilgrims.

Meditation: convictingly think of all your needless and inordinate attachments in life, your seeming need for earthly entertainment and human praise, and fear of deeper asceticism…and vow to overcome them for love of God and Christ-crucified!

Holy Seasons-like Lent-are just that: like the salt of today's Gospel they are meant to flavor the spiritual flatness of our lives, and like illuminating light they can polish us where we have not been shining.

Lent, comes for the old English word meaning spring. Spiritually speaking, our Church reminds us we have been deadened by sin and therefore need a spiritual spring in our souls-a re-birthing by God's supernaturalizing grace. As it is for the Maryland daffodils and dogwoods, so it is for us: we need to "ignite" a spiritual birth in us to evade decay and the ever-ensnaring cocoon of lukewarmness, and thereby manifest the fragrant beauty of new life which God plants within us. Like nature around us, this dying and rising process is at once painful and beautifying. Lent should be a time for growth, reinvigoration, for stretching. Asceticism comes from the Greek word meaning "training." The above-mentioned people were souls dedicated to fine-tuning and training their souls in serious, concrete and persistent ways…

All the Olympic athletes currently in Utah did some kind of training to arrive there-and we should be reminded as we watch them in their tremendous thirst for a gold medal, of the need for spiritually training, tempering and tuning what has gone awry in us and how complacent we have become: When compared to the heroic love of the saints-single, married and religious ones-our lukewarmness is madness! 

Question. What are some ways to intensify my spiritual life-in ways the saints practiced?

  • FASTING: "Abstain" from one meal a week, or lessen your meals ("fast") once a week (if you're medically able) and when you grow hungry: 
    • thank God for the food you're able to buy; 
    • think of Jesus and hunger for of Heavenly and "Real Food"; 
    • offer up your fast for another person or sinners;
    • in saying "no" to food at that time harness the gained self-mastery to other needed "conversion causes" (anger, lust, gossip, etc). Begin, if possible, to fast more often. If not able to abstain from food, then try abstaining from certain drinks, from sleep, inordinate affection or love, comforts and luxuries, etc.: "Christ suffered for you and left you an example to follow." (+I Pt 2:21)  Jesus' ultimate act of love for us was a sacrifice-do the same…
  • PRAYER: Spend more time in prayer…Try fifteen minutes a day: 
    • Spend FIRST FIVE MINUTES in "Oratio" (talking to God verbally or mentally): spend time thanking God, praising Him, interceding for others; penitential confession…
    • SECOND FIVE MINUTES in "Meditation": Take a Biblical passage, life of Jesus or of the Virgin Mary or a saint, or gaze upon a holy picture, and 
      • in thinking deeply about it the subject savor the revealed insights; 
      • form affections to God in response to it (thankfulness, praise, etc.); 
      • make a resolution/response to it…
    • THIRD FIVE MINUTES in "Contemplation": this means placing all your thoughts, desires and memories in God, by a simple loving attention to Him; a trustful surrender into Him-quietly and peacefully dwelling in His Sacred Threefold Presence. "Come away by yourselves, to a deserted place, and rest a while." +Mk. 6:31
  • SERVICE: Make time to serve the poor, the sick and the dying-find Jesus in them, esp. in the ones you find it hardest to serve. Give without expecting anything in return. +Read Mt. 25
  • EXAMINE ONE CONSCIENCE: At the close of each day, take 3-5 minutes to consider:
    • How, when and where did God grace me today with favors and blessings? Make a "mental note" of all these-large and small-and thank Him for His divine favors, thereby cultivating gratefulness…
    • How, when and where did I sin, or fail God or my neighbor?…How can I improve and seriously resolve to change these situations of faults or failures in my life?

…Oh, and by the way, you ask, just what was the main lesson from the holy lady, Mother Teresa of Calcutta? One word-tenaciousness: an intense love of Jesus Christ, esp. in the Eucharist and in His poor and dying. The immensity of her spiritual intensity was lived everyday. She was fond of saying regarding Jesus: "Cling to Him."

SPIRITUAL QUOTE: " In truth you see the Trinity if you see love….Look, they are three: He Who Loves, He Who is Loved and Love itself." St Augustine

Read other Sermons by Father John J. Lombardi