Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Orthodoxy and Life

Father John J. Lombardi 

A few weeks ago The New York Times Magazine (July 21) published a beautiful article on Mary Jo Copland. Who's she, you ask? The article's title describes her unabashedly, "She Walks through Walls." She is a mother who, now get this: rises at three-thirty in the morning, unlocks her local church door, prays the Stations of the Cross, says the Rosary and then power walks around the abbey grounds for health and spirit. Later in the day while most of us are still waking, she manages a 220-bed treatment facility for homeless and working-poor persons, called "Gift of Mary's Children Home". She also advocates for the disadvantaged in neighborhoods and state legislatures, and lobbies city councils and community associations and other civic organizations. Her outreach centers include a free dental clinic and a food and clothing bank. Oh, and by the way, back home, she is married and has twelve children!

Because of her faith and her entrepreneurial spirit, she spoke last year at President Bush's National Prayer breakfast…She seems saintly and, at the same time, gritty (weren't many of the saints that way?). Amidst all this she has tenacity for her Faith and God-and Truth. She says in the article, "When I read the Baltimore Catechism it was like breathing pure oxygen."

What to make of all this? Here is a woman of traditional faith and yet a go-getter for the poor and downtrodden. She's a lady who prays the rosary at one moment and who, the next, loves-in-action those who don't even believe in God. This is a disciple whose license plate reads "PRAYNOW," and who seems frantically active much of the time…And she likes the Baltimore Catechism? What gives?

Amidst this summer's sweltering heat we've realized we need healthy oxygen to breathe and survive. Similarly, if you're a disciple of Jesus in today's relativistic world, the "clean air of pure doctrine" will lead us to true love of God and love of neighbor amidst modernity's stifling stale, and secularizing air.

Holy people have a knack for leading us in the right direction. At an assessment meeting determining whether to put an orphanage in a middle class neighborhood, Copeland said, "This is the community God wants it in." Later, in responding to a man's questions, she said: "I can't listen to you, I have to listen to God."

Throughout the article you don't know if she is more gritty and of the earth or more pious and ethereal. She says things like "God does not know color, He does not know culture; he made souls." Who among us today simultaneously speaks of souls and works tirelessly for the poor? Wouldn't you like to meet this woman?!

It seems we modern believers, in this politicized and polemicized world, sometimes categorize Christians in two groups: either they're viewed as "spiritual socialists" (yes: I'm using exaggeration terms for the sake of illustration) who "seemingly happen to be Christians" and downplay orthodox faith and customs, or we see them as "carping conservatives" -who hang tight with doctrine yet appear to have little or no concern for the poor and social action.

Well, just think a minute: wasn't Jesus Himself the model of all believers- a seeming "communion of opposites"-the most orthodox Person in the world and, at the same time, a friend of the poor-- Emmanuel-God-with-us in action?

He taught us orthodoxy (the word means "right opinion"-the "pure oxygen") about the true nature of the God-the-Trinity; about His divine Mission and redeeming Death; about apostolic succession and His power continuing after His death in the holy Catholic Unity. He also witnessed and commanded concern for the poor, sick and the wayward. For Him, the love of God and neighbor cannot be opposed or separated.

Aren't the most famous saints like Him? Saint Francis of Assisi believed in the essence of the Catholic Church, the power of prayer and the sacraments, and need of confession, the beauty of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the medicinal healing of the Eucharist, the obedience needed to follow the Pope and clergy as "icons of Christ." And he also embraced love of the poor and the downtrodden. One of the reasons so many identify with St. Francis is because he embraced and lived orthodoxy-in-action-true love of God and love of neighbor.

Saint Catherine of Siena, fiery woman and Dominican layperson, was similar: thru her orthodoxy she counseled popes to believe in the truths of the Faith (at a time when there was great division in the Church), she made the Eucharist her sole food for months and embraced heroic penances, and her faith-in-action inspired her to frequently visit and live among poor and dying people in hospitals and streets. Two other great ladies were the same-wholly orthodox and "activists": Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Dorothy Day of New York. Both found many homes and centers for vagrants and children, lived among them, and in holy poverty, while also making Holy Mass, Rosary, Bible-reading and contemplative meditation, and the Pope's teachings staples for daily discipleship.

And, today, we have another icon of Jesus Christ: Pope John Paul is very similar to these women in his tremendous love for God, the sacred mysteries of the Faith, the beauty of the Liturgy and splendor of the moral truth, and in his valiant and tireless pastoral love for people, especially the poor and children-even when he can barely walk, speak or appear outwardly beautiful.

So, you can see, the solidity of orthodox Faith and love in action go together. They are inseparable …

MEDITATION: How can you imitate Jesus Christ more in your life? Do you need more prayer and spiritual reading and sacramental love in your heart like the people above? Do you need to reach out more to Jesus in his distressing disguises, amongst the poor and needy? Do you need more spiritual balance in your life between action and contemplation? Do you know the beauty and splendor of Catholic Truth as presented by The Catechism for the Catholic Church and Vatican Council II, and Pope John Paul II's writings? Do you have a weekly commitment to serving in your neighborhood, local parish, or nursing home?…Do you have a great desire-and disciplined plan-to become more like Jesus?

BIGGEST GATHERING OF HUMANITY-EVER: was last month in Mexico. Some eight-to twelve million people joined Pope John Paul to canonize Juan Diego who had a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Mexico. The Man of the Century seems to be, also, a Man of the Millions…

REFLECTIONS: From Vatican Council II: "On Non-Christian Religions":

"The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions. She has a high regard for the manner of life and conduct, the precepts and doctrines which, although differing in many ways from her own teaching, nevertheless often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men. Yet she proclaims and is in duty bound to proclaim without fail, Christ who is the way, the truth and the life (Jn.1:6). In him, in who God reconciled all things to himself (2Cor.5:18-19), men find the fullness of their religious life."

On True Love From: Catechism of the Catholic Church

"Some today claim a right to a 'trial marriage' where there is an intention of getting married later. However firm the purpose of those who engage in premature sexual relations may be, 'the fact is that such liaisons can scarcely ensure mutual sincerity and fidelity in a relationship between a man and a woman, nor, especially, can they protect it from inconstancy of desires or whim.' Carnal union is morally legitimate only when a definitive community of life between a man a a woman has been established. Human love does not tolerate trial marriages. It demands a total and definitive gift of persons to one another."

Quote of the Week- "We should consider those moments spent before the Blessed Sacrament as the happiest of our lives."- St. John Vianney (1786-1859)

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi