Emmitsburg Council of Churches

The Epiphany of the Lord

Father John J. Lombardi

"Knowledge is horizontal. Wisdom is vertical-it comes down from above." -Billy Graham

The Top stories of 2002 and Today's Response …

Vatican Council II called us to "read the signs of the times" and, as Catholics, to respond and challenge the world as needed.

Perhaps you've heard: "today's news is tomorrow's history". As we begin Anno Domini--the Year of Our Lord--2003, let's take a look back at the old year to learn how we can follow God more and manifest His Kingdom in today's world. So, here's a biased view of Last Year's Biggest Stories:

Story #1: Priesthood: One writer called it annus horibilis-"the Horrible Year"-for priests. Yes--if a priest-or any Catholic--had his nose stuck in the newspaper or eyes glued to the tube on daily basis; or if you were a priest of Boston. No question. But, for this priest-chaplain, it wasn't so. Amidst the roller-coaster ride drama of it all--first the trickling stories and then the teeming tremors of the Boston diocese; the hyped-up "Dallas experience" of the US Bishops and the media meddling; the helpfully-corrective Vatican's response to clerical abuse and reform; the US Bishop's counter-proposal, yet another wave of Bostonian troubles and Cardinal Law's ensuing resignation, and the shooting of a Baltimore priest-perpetrator, and subsequent amazing trial of the youth victim, etc--I was firmly and consistently supported by many loving and dedicated Catholics who love Christ's Church, the sacred priesthood, and many persons who are dedicated more now than ever. It has probably made many Catholics face their Church, their priests and their Faith---to regauge their dedication.

Was it-is it-a crisis? Crisis is one word for it, others include: Travesty: in that grown men-priests-have abused boys and young men. Tragedy: of the victims' deeply seared hearts and memories; in that there has been such a fall from grace, by the priest-perpetrators themselves; and because of the cover-up by Catholic leadership of such a crime, sin and systemic evil. It is also a purification: the embarrassment forces the Church and her leaders to face issues like the deep reality of sin-yes, in our modern and modernized world and Church; homosexualism-that many of the abuse cases involved men abusing young men; pastoral leadership-in spiritual circles authorities were either afraid to speak up or had accepted the horrible behaviors. A moral theologian and priest, recently visiting the country said: "It s a question of authentic Catholicity and Catholic teaching." Translation: Our Church has been tainted with theological dissent, a contraceptive and abortion-accepting mentality, and our culture has attacked authentic spiritual and sexual formation. A US bishop stated it dryly: "We are now reaping the results of the past years of rebellion."

Response-2003: "Esteem it all joy when you face all kinds of troubles, for you know that the testing of your faith will produce perseverance" (Jas. 1:2)… This crisis, purification, tragedy is still going on, obviously, so pray and fast for the sacred priesthood of Jesus Christ, for the victims and for a renewal in our Church... Realize how much sin can affect anyone, and also recognize the needed wisdom of Church teachings about the need for radical, ongoing conversion…Reform and renewal may come not from overturning celibacy, as some claim, but for all Catholics to turn to authentic, countercultural and dynamic Catholic spirituality and morality…As Catholics, let's all begin and continue anew, more heroic in our love of Jesus and become saints for the Church.

Story # 2--Axis of Evil: Do you remember President Bush's State of the Union Speech a year ago when he called North Korea, Iraq and Iran as forming an "axis of evil". This sounded like FDR and WWII; cold-war rhetoric; a roving theologian-president…Many commentators plowed him with vitriol, implying evil does not exist at all, or that such comments only foment strife; while others applauded him, saying he was "calling a spade a spade" and standing tall to dark forces. Either way, we now realize-hopefully-that we live in a world that is, at least partially, evil. This speech and the ensuing policies and planning have framed and affected the way many people now view the world. Mr. Bush has not hesitated to use the e-word-evil-and he has shown that, as a Texan, he is not only going to be an oil-man but also a Ranger: policing the world's wilderness, thru various forms, calling on states, politicians and peoples to join him in the battle for peace against evil. Whether you agree with him or not, he has set a stage: evil exists and we must confront it.

Response-2003: "If you want peace work for justice"- Pope Paul VI…As Pope John Paul has stated, and Mr. Bush also, peace is still possible. Pray and fast for peace and that good and light may triumph over evil; that oppressive dictators may relent and retire (in Cuba, and China, Vietnam and the Sudan, too), and that our president may be filled with wisdom and perseverance.

Story #3: Israel-PLO Strife: In March and April we witnessed the worst violence in the Middle East in decades. From suicide bombers-the first-yet woman embracing this terror tactic-to tank contingents surrounding Palestinian compounds, and seemingly innocent discothèques and dining halls wreathed by murderous shrapnel, the blood of Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization has affected the world. It has fueled the hatred of bin Laden and al Queda, and other international terror organizations, and the strife may continue to fuel evil sentiments worldwide.

Response-2003: Pray and fast for the peace for the peace of Jerusalem, and that peaceful Palestinians may secure their legal rights there (thru peaceful means not by evil), and also that Jews and the Israeli state may attain their hopes. We must also confront the issue: Is Islam peaceful and pliable? Liberals and conservatives both have answered "yes" and "no". There is no doubt, though, that at least part of the religion is being hijacked, and that Islam may go thru some kind of Second Awakening or Reformation. Cultivate a devotion and pray to Our Lady of Fatima that many will be converted to the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, and find True Paradise. The issue of Islam and quest for world conversion will not disappear; this same persistence should describe our Catholic resolve and peacemaking.

Story #4: Mid-Term Elections: Republicans re-gained control of the US House and Senate last Fall, dramatically altering the political, cultural and spiritual landscape; we'll soon see how much and how deeply. Maryland now has the first Republican Governor since the Spiro Agnew-Sixties, and hopefully the pro-abortion-death agenda of progressivists and democrats will abate and be transformed by Gov. Erlich's spin; many believe that he is open to pro-life positions, unlike outgoing Glendening and Townsend-Kennedy. … The US Senate has a doctor- surgeon Republican, a pro-life friend in Bill Frist (he has a 100 % pro-life voting record according to the National Right to Life Committee). Hopefully with the logjam of the senate pro-abortionists gone, the possibility exists of passing a ban on partial birth abortion (which is none other than legalized infanticide)…We now also have strong possibilities for Mr. Bush and a friendly senate to promote more pro-life judges on the Supreme Court, esp. to overturn Roe v. Wade and other death laws, which actually abuse women, blacks and the poor.

Response-2003: The Lord says: "I set before you, life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life then…" (Dt.30: 19)…The Federal judge Robert Bork wrote a book called, "Slouching toward Gomorrah," which decried the decadence and decay of modern America. We need all the help we can get and it begins with life, and those least among us, the unborn: never forget that. Two of our greatest modern human beings, and possible saints-Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Pope John Paul, both agree on this point. We can never rest until all pre-born children are respected and revered-even if adopted or growing in poverty. As Mother Teresa said at President Clinton's National Prayer Breakfast: How can you pray for peace when children are being killed, murdered and destroyed?...

There you have it-the past and the possibilities. While considering these important issues, also remember the sagely advice of Henry David Thoreau (New England writer, hermit) not to overdue it: "Read not the times, read the eternities." Yes. And though we all are called to transformation of the world, even through politics!-we must not be excessive, recalling St Paul's counsel: "Be not conformed to the world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind" (Rm 12:2).

Briefly Noted

It's still Christmas: Be spiritual and countercultural and remember that Christmas Time lasts until the Baptism of the Lord (next Sun.), so, keep: your lights up; giving gifts (esp. charity); celebrating; playing Christmas carols; praying near the Manger of Baby Jesus.

Minute Meditation: Prayerfully consider the following meditation verse- "Foundation…Within: Him" Now, read it more slowly... Meditate upon this verse within, over time-carry it with you as an aspiration (an interior and continuous prayer of the heart) and, also, read: I Pt 2:4-5-"Come to Him (Jesus) the living stone…let yourselves be built into a spiritual house"; and Lk. 17:21: "The Kingdom of God is within you". Catholics richly and refreshingly teach and believe that, in a state of grace, the Blessed Trinity dwells within us. "God may be all in all"-I Cor 15: 28.

Resolutions: A Message seen on signboard outside Taneytown Church: "Resolve not to dissolve" …O.k., make a New Year's resolution-sure, but not lightheartedly. Catholics say it this way-make a firm purpose of amendment…Thru and with and in God's grace, love Heaven so much to keep working on faults and sinful tendencies and embrace heroic holiness! It's what the Church, the world and God are depending on. Remember: saints were sinners.

Article of the week: "Just Say No to Gadgets and Gizmos"-in Washington Post, Dec. 29. Favorable, helpful report on new book by Nichols Fox, "Against the Machine": "The key, she says, is figuring out which machines help you to live in a more humane way, in harmony with the world around us. And which we've allowed to rob us of that humanity and intrude on that harmony."-By Ken Ringle

Bible Readings: Is 60:1-6; Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6, Mt 2:1-12: God can Redeem All-Desire Divine Deliverance. Today's readings point to Christ's Divinity-He is God; that He is a Redeemer, not just a "good guy," and that He calls all souls to His love and saving grace-not just Catholics and Christians, He wants all to be saved (I Tim. 2:14)…A big temptation today is to deny the need to be saved or Christ's sacrificial for us: "there will false teachers among you who will introduce destructive heresies and even deny the Master who ransomed them" (II Pt. 2:1). Think: I, as a sinner (Rm 3:23) should be in the "gallows", deserving punishment because of my sins, but as a Catholic and Christian, I have a "spiritual coupon" to be redeemed, to be saved-but I must turn it in (give my life to Christ) and continue to follow Him by my "faith working thru love" (Gal 5:6).

So, "Be not conformed to the world" (Rm. 12:2), and do not define deviancy down-accepting, and thereby promoting your own sins, selfishness and sensuality of the world, but desire Christ the Savior to deliver you from the enslavements of bad thoughts: "Think on whatever is pure, lovely, noble…" (Phil 4:6,8).

Words-renounce your own hurtful speech--"let them keep their tongues from evil"-I Pt. 3:10-and remember that "Whoever listens to you listens to Me" (Lk. 10:13), and that when we allow God to change us from within, "It will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking thru you" (Mt.10:20). Deeds: when we renounce our possessions -and even our very selves (cf. Lk. 11:33 and Rm 6: 6), leaving behind the great sins and temptations of materialism and self-reliance, entrusting ourselves to the Savior, and embrace holy poverty and God Himself, we may then possess what God wants (II Cor. 6:10), and, like the saints, possess the Kingdom of God (Lk. 17:21)

The essence of Religion is sacrifice. Jesus sacrificed Himself for you-give yourself to Him?! "The good news of the Gospel is that there is a resource of divine mercy which is able to overcome a contradiction within our sow souls, which we cannot overcome ourselves." +Reinhold Niebur.

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi