Emmitsburg Council of Churches


Notes from a retreat at Mount St Mary's for Laypersons: Adoration and Liberation

Father John J. Lombardi

"'Which is the first of all the commandments?' Jesus replied.  'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.'" (Mk. 28-31).

We will spend our entire lives trying to answer and give the perfect response to the Lord's Commands above.

A couple "answers" you may know about: You've perhaps seen Pope John Paul, leaning over his staff or kneeler, intensely immersed in a kind of ecstatic agony, before Jesus in Blessed Sacrament, displaying and inculcating a "flavor of beautiful suffering" for the Lord. That's adoration. He has counseled us: "Let our adoration never cease!"…Then there's the lady in white and blue. Perhaps you saw Mother Teresa pick up dying lepers on Calcutta streets, or comfort orphan babies in downtown Los Angeles: in her helping others she exemplified the liberation of souls thru service.

Adoration and liberation-they go together. The saints thought so--and lived so: Do you?

This past week I went to celebrate Mass in Brunswick, on the Potomac River, south of Frederick. I was inspired not only by the beautiful interior of St Francis Church, with the tabernacle in the center, the friendliness of the parishioners, and the pastoral allure of the scenery, but I was also impressed by a particular family of worshippers; they were exceptional. The mom lectured by proclaiming the readings in the Mass; the dad led in song by cantering, and their two boys were altar servers --these guys were friendly, spiritually eager and attentive. How unique and beautiful--they showed me, as Mother Teresa says, "The family that prays together stays together." They worshipped God in the best way possible-thru the Mass; and they were helping their neighbors-through serving at the altar in liturgical ministries.

This is what we are all called to do: Worship God and serve our neighbor-adoration and liberation. This is the fulfillment of the commandments, of the Bible and the Second Vatican Council's "universal call to holiness". We all need catalytic and contemporary models and leadership, inspiring examples to bring us closer to Jesus, sainthood and service, and this family was certainly a shining one!

Today, amidst all the challenges and difficulties of modern life, ask yourself in all spiritual sincerity: Why are you a Catholic, a believer? Walker Percy, the novelist, once quipped,: "What else is there?" For avid believers, there is no other option. For our Catholic-Christian identity is the option: not only to be saved, but also to become saintly; not only to imitate the saints, but to perpetuate them. It was like this for St Augustine, who desired to find love and happiness in all the ugly and sinful places, but finally, by opening himself to grace and the One, true God, he discovered true life and a sacred home in the Catholic Faith.

"Late have I loved Thee, O Beauty, ever ancient, ever new…" His path of desire found completion in fulfilling sacred desires by adoring God and then serving his people in profound spiritual writings and pasturing leadership .thru God. On this retreat, or thru this mediation, ask: -How can I look for and find spiritual happiness and a holy home in the Catholic Church-or, more deeply find it? Are you looking, like St Augustine, intensely enough ? Renew your desire and search now.

Orthodox Catholic Christianity is the only answer because people like Thomas Merton-a twentieth-century convert-shows us we can find the spiritual riches we are searching for. This gritty man looked for them in communism, poetry and bohemian life, but eventually found the supreme and succulent spirituality of a St Bernard of Clairvaux, who poetically and stunningly described the mystical ascent of the soul to the Beloved Lord, and thereby gave a sure path to wayfarers: Are you feeding your soul with spiritual riches rather than rotten rags of modernism to embrace adoration of God?

People like St Hilary of Poitiers, married man and father, bishop and doctor of the Church, found in the Catholic Faith, amidst paganism and irreligion of fifth century Gaul-France, that God did become man in Christ, revealed Himself in the beauty and splendor of revelation, and in saving graces extended thru the sacraments: Do you really believe passionately enough, like this saint-to undergo more conversion? Each of these men and converts adored the Lord, and intensely served God's people. Adoration leads to liberation. This is nothing other than orthodox Christianity-the Catholic Faith.

And yet we all get ensnared in the world by so many things, and need to re-commit ourselves, make retreats, embrace acts of conversion-daily! Ask: In making this retreat, or mediation, how can I make positive and concrete steps to adore God and serve my neighbor more. What will I take from this retreat and concretely (practically) and consistently (daily) do, for God and my neighbor?

While reading recently I noticed how the First Commandment is articulated: " 'I Am the Lord your God, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; you shall not have strange Gods before Me"…This struck me: God commands the Hebrews and us "not to go back" and worship false idols. This is our human, fallen tendency-to forget God and worship false gods. You may ask: Where do we see and experience these errors today?.  Today, we are all called to be saints amidst agnosticism: which denies the revelation of God in His Son, Jesus Christ, and continually thru the Church and sacraments.

Agnosticism will only produce lukewarmness within us if we chose it, and eventually, a subtle selfishness . A priest-friend who is older, is captured by this modernist skepticism-that we can never really, totally prove anything, and so everything can be endlessly questioned and doubted. Unfortunately, he is not an "active priest" today, and seems drifting thru life, constantly plagued by existential questions which can only be resolved by a surrendering faith and a commitment even amidst trials.

How can you commit more by making an act of faith each day--on this retreat--to strengthen your love of God? (Pray: My God, I believe you exist and that You are a Trinity of Divine Persons-Father, Son, Holy Spirit. I believe that You, Jesus Christ, came to earth, to save us all from sin by dying on the Cross and then rising from the dead. You founded the Catholic Church upon Peter and inspire it now thru the Holy Spirit. And You gave me Your Blessed Mother as my Mother in Heaven. My God, I believe and adore You. Amen).

A monk, in Lanciano, Italy, was once saying Mass in the 900's, and doubted the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. As he was saying this particular Mass the consecrated Host began bleeding: the monk bowed, and believed. Amidst his doubts, thou the monk kept "showing up" in order to believe more-how about you?.  Atheism totally denies the Creator and personableness of God, and can create within people a frozenness towards God and neighbor. Life thus becomes a robotic, fatalistic "end-game" or survival maze; this threatens many persons today. How can you give others hope, that, even though this life can be a veil of tears-you can instill in others a hope in Someone, Something Else-God and Heaven? Do you try?

Edith Stein was a secular Jew and unbeliever, a famous disciple of philosophical skepticism. Slowly, she came to believe in God, converted to the Catholic Faith and eventually became a Carmelite nun. Later she was martyred in a concentration camp and was declared a saint. She went from disbelief to belief to heroic holiness-how about you? How can you inspire others as she did?.  Materialism--which offers more t.v.' stations and programs, bigger bank accounts and trucks and cars, more services of endless variety, is, really, a form of modernist paganism.

I recall a title of a past Newsweek essay, "Burned out and Bored," which basically said we can become "mentally scorched" from all the options and yet depressed because we will never be fulfilled by what we choose and what is actually offered. One pilgrim to the Grotto, a father of nine, recently said how futile he found all the chasing of bigger and more things was, and the subsequent constant anxious need to "manage" it all.

Dorothy Day left her militant and materialist life to find Jesus, especially in the Mass and sacraments, and in the poor of New York City, founding houses of hospitality and soup kitchens for them. In denying earthly riches she found a kind of Heaven on Earth-a real gritty one! How can you protect against alluring "gods" and choose adoration and liberation like these saintly people?

Adoring God will help us to free others, so that they, themselves may love God and help others. But we, ourselves, must first be free to worship God…Last year Fr Curtis Delarme, came to the Mount to receive an award. This beautiful man is wheelchair bound, can barely speak and move, plagued by ALS, or Lou Gherig's disease. After introductions, he spoke for a beautiful, simple ten minutes. He basically said: I spend my day preparing for Mass. Some laypeople from the parish come to help me wash, to get ready for the day, and then go to church to celebrate Mass. Then they help me at the altar. His serenity shone as he said this. "The mass is the most important thing in my life." …That's adoration. Thru his adoration he is allowing others to serve and exemplify liberation- in clothing, feeding and assisting him.

Dr Bernard Nathanson spoke to our Mount St Mary's Seminarians. In his lifetime he was a famous doctor, an agnostic- cultural Jew, who killed pre-born children thru abortions-some 70,000 of them. Later he came to realize these were, really, not just "fetuses" or "pre-born tissue," but children. He stopped performing abortions and later asked some people about God. He eventually visited a church, met a priest and made a confession. He eventually became a Roman Catholic and now visits Catholics and others to relate his St-Paul-like conversion story.

The more we love God the more we will love His people-no matter what--even people who kill and do unimaginable things. We have all done terrible things. What do you need to be forgiven for on this retreat?

Our Mount St Mary's rugby coach-Don Briggs--loves the Lord. He actually invites his rugby players to make a holy hour or meditation before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament each week on campus. Don was attracted to study theology here at Mt St Mary's as a layman-often joyfully talking about his classes and his inspired impressions of the seminarians. Don went so far as to even go to Calcutta to visit Mother Teresa's nuns there and serve in her Home for the Dying. Now he sometimes prays holy hours here in the middle of the night and helps in his parish and doing community service. Loving God leads to loving neighbor. Adoration and liberation go together.

When you are free-or, are being freed-- you may free others. This is the way of the saints, and why they are so attractive--they know the path of the Divine Master and the pilgrim soul, they stick to it and call-attract-- others to it. But, just-as-oppositely, when you are enslaved, you may enslave others. Drug addicts magnetize others to their darkness…What are you choosing? How can you firmly resolve to be freed of sin, pursue Truth and God, and help others?

We are called to love God as He is in Himself, though we can never fathom His uncreated, divine essence. Rather than despair, this should be the cause of endless adoration. St Bonaventure said: "In God alone is there primordial delight, and in all our delights it is this delight we are seeking." I met a man named John, a husband and father of four. He inspired me by his love and pursuit of God and service of neighbor. One time I saw him prostrated in front of the tabernacle of St Patrick's church in Cumberland. Another time he came into our retreat Camp on Haystack Mountain, dressed in a robe, a crown of thorns and with the ten-foot cross over his back-he loved the Passion and called us to it. Another time he helped our youth in the Good Friday Stations of the Cross, and gave out holy cards and other sacramentals to passers-by. Love of God leads to love of neighbor: adoration and liberation-get it?

When we are orthodox, we will be spiritually beautiful-at least in our souls. We will know, taste and long for more splendor of truth. The saints were people who were, above all, orthodox-because they believed, prayed and thought rightly about God, about the soul and eternal destiny, and wanted others to know and experience this, too. Think of the beautiful St Catherine of Siena: amidst her faith-filled, traditional beliefs and total commitment to Christ in the Catholic Church (to the point of ordering the wayward pope back to Rome!), she also served beggars, lepers and orphans in the hospitals and back streets of Italy: adoration leads to liberation.

As Pope John Paul sometimes says to the youth-"The Church is counting on you!"…Today, though, the Mystical Communion is threatened by so much in this New Millennium: pornography, busy-body-freneticness; watering down of the Catholic Faith; attacks on family; relativism which denies ultimate truths and promotes moral decay; and new age spiritualities untethered to sacred tradition. Your job on this retreat, in this meditation, is to "put on the armor of God" (Eph. 6)-to re-treat so as to engage and meet--God and neighbor, anew.

Amidst the difficulties of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the angel counseled her-and us: Be not afraid…Our saints are our examples, helps and witnesses of daring love…

Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher were faithful to the orthodox truth, to marriage and family life, when just about everyone in England sold out to King Henry in his request for an illegitimate divorce in the early 1500's. These saints did not bow to the world, pressure and corruption. And to the questions: Will you give a divorce?, Will you break away from Christ Bride and Roman Catholic faith?, and, Will you bow to a king and earth?, they gave a one-syllable spiritual answer: No-which translated "Yes" to God and His people. Both men prayed frequently, attended daily Mass and unfailingly served their people,. It is, therefore, no coincidence they became martyrs and saints. How can you pray for the same courage, and resilience amidst troubles? How can you imitate their spiritual heroism, and also serve others by, for example, re-committing yourself toward family and married life, and pray for families in trouble?

Amidst corruption and the despritiualization of Carmel in the late 1500's, and the loss of holy -liberating poverty, Saints John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila reformed Carmelites in Spain and began a return to the Beloved God by their emphasis on the absolute primacy of prayer and simplicity of lifestyle; people are still following them and buying their books today! Adoration and liberation go together. How can you make a lifestyle change to liberate your soul and thereby free to help others? Are you praying each day, sacrificing time for God, even when you don't feel like it?

To unreasonable modernization and gadgetry Mother Teresa of Calcutta said "no" to the inordinate controls of these upon people, and their de-stabilizing effects upon the spiritual life. She thereby gave a tenacious, consistent "Yes" to God in prayer and service to outcast souls…Where's your tenaciousness in simplicity-of-life issues? Renew it if it is waning…

People today are regularly taught today to esteem the self and pursue pleasure, even a kind of private, spiritual bliss. We Americans don't like self-denial, even though Our Lord demands it (Lk 9:23). St Maximillion Kolbe teaches us the need of self sacrifice, as when he took a married man's execution spot and died for him in a concentration camp. But, uncoinncidentally, Kolbe practiced dying daily in saying Mass, in his penances, and by giving his life to celibacy. His adoration and liberation blended harmoniously. How can you make sacrifices to shed self and help others?

Amidst all the riches and materialist wealth, the devout St Elizabeth, in the palace and court of Hungary did not waver. After her prayers, court administrations and other duties, she sometimes stole out at nights with bread and clothing for the poor, visited hospitals and, after her husband's death, left this comfortability and led an chosen-impoverished life. She knew where her true riches lie! Do you?

Most Americans these days work a lot-esp. dog-eat-dog Americans (none here, right?!). St Benedict with his motto-ora et labora, prayer and work-shows us to pray constantly thru our duties, chores, assignments, making everything a prayer, and offering to God, and practicing the presence of God in every moment. How can you stop compromising your soul and attune to God more in prayer?

Adoration and liberation-Love of God, Love of neighbor, go together. The saints worked at, and perfected this, how will you?.  What obstacles do you need to overcome and how can you cultivate and perpetuate sacred desire for God, the Most Blessed Trinity? I recently went to anoint a dying lady. After this I met her grandson, Ian, who was an ebullient and eager beaver. I invited him to visit us at the Grotto and said: "Hurry." After saying goodbye to him he innocently said to his mom, "Mom, let's hurry!" …Hasten to the Lord-love Him and serve his people! There's nothing better.

Other Points of Consideration:

Make a meditation upon the traditional, though forgotten, "Four Last Things"-- Death, Judgment, Heaven, Hell: how can these stimulate me to more conversion? Am I reading the Bible enough-daily?? Can I frequent Mass more? Do I need to help around the house, work, community or parish more?.  Am I helping my wife, husband, child, parents, cultivate a spiritual life? Am I honest and dutiful at work…Am I following all the Commandments? Do I seek, know, obey objective truths (commandments, spiritual principles, etc) in my life, or ignore or suppress them for selfish reasons? Am I failing to forgive someone, or reconcile with them?.  How can I more heroically Love God and serve my neighbor?

Meditation II: Spiritual Practices: How to Meditate-a needed, though neglected practice today…Prayers to learn by the heart which help the soul stabilize and be freed. Embracing silence. The need for consistency in spiritual practices.

Meditation III: Selfless Sacrificial Service-the way of the Saints-losing self by loving God helps us to de-center our selfish selves and egos to serve others.

Meditation IV: "Greenhouse of Spiritual Sanctity"-Holy Families and the Life of the Martins and child, St Therese of Lieseaux.. The family is the domestic church.

We ALL must do our part within the Mystical Body

Briefly Noted

Our New President - Dr. Thomas Powell visited us this past Thursday and we were impressed and inspired. He loved the Grotto, wants to visit often and like many pilgrims, make it a place of refuge and refreshment. Dr. Powel used to begin his staff meetings at a neighboring state college with the St Francis Peace Prayer ("Lord, make me an instrument of your peace…"), and will do the same here: Thank You! He also attends daily Mass and supports the priesthood enthusiastically.

Not only that, like Fr. duBois, he's an outdoorsman-enjoys hiking and canoeing and biking. On our tour of the Grotto we came upon the "pro-life"-Holy Family statue, of St Joseph hovering over the infant-Baby Jesus in a cradle, next to the resting Virgin Mary. In the "cradle" was freshly fallen rainwater. Dr Powell took some and made the Sign of the Cross with it and said, "Must be holy water." Amen! We welcome him as well as pray for him-that he inspire us to be holy and joyful Roman Catholics.

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi