Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Spiritual Leavening
in a time of Lent and War

Father John J. Lombardi

"Love the Lord with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength…and love your neighbor as yourself" +Mk. 12:29-31

As Lent approaches, embrace more heroic prayer, love, and sacrifice, consider the following:

A few years ago this Chaplain went on a pilgrimage to India and made a "side-trip" to the Land of the Snows-Tibet. One day, after hours of mountain travel with a Spanish group, we visited various Buddhist monasteries and sites. Upon entering one particular lamasery, I was overcome with astonishment when we gazed upon a darkened, meandering monastic-temple room, filled with hundreds of Buddhist monks chanting-some of them eighty-years old, some only age ten. Flickering butter lamps lit the space and illuminated icons and statues. As we walked through, in a seemingly "tourist trance", none of these monks flinched. They kept their eyes adhered to the texts and religiously ploughed on with guttural chants and undivided devotion. Though obviously not Christian, we were inspired by their piety. Let's ask ourselves the question: Is our prayer life as intense as theirs?

That summer, while living in Calcutta, I took advantage of getting a free lunch at a famous Jainist temple (Jains are offshoots of Hinduism, but even more strict). When I ate there I was struck by their sacrifices: some of them wore masks over their mouths to prevent the intake and harm of the smallest living creatures or insects. They spent lots of time cleaning, and, aside from their main meals, they kept a fast. Now, ask: Are my sacrifices and fasting as intense and loving?

Another hot day, while working in Kali Ghat, Mother Teresa's Home for the Dying, a man was carried in on a stretcher--no surprise in this apocalyptic and dramatic place. He, however, had maggots on him, and a hole in his back, literally the size of a fist. He was almost dead. As I grew more astounded, someone else wasn't: Sr. Luke, a Missionary of Charity and a nurse, calmly and deliberately took the man's body to herself, asked for medical tools and bandages, and gradually nursed the outcast man to peace and healing. Is your charity as heroic? 

Now is the time for conversion! The Bible's Sacred Writer, Tobit, counsels--"When you turn back to Him with all your heart, He will turn to you" (Tobit 12). We need to keep turning back to Him--Our Lord and Savior--and plead for His help to overcome sin, and to help others. We need to do this heroically. This Ash Wednesday we begin Lent, the word which comes from the Old-English, for spring. This is a time for Catholics to get more serious and spring-like about: loving God more as He deserves; refreshing a lukewarm spiritual life, and about loving our neighbors more. Lent is a time to focus on the obstacles to grace in our lives, make firm and practical resolutions to overcome them, so God may work in and through us. Lent is about love.

Yes, we need to love God and neighbor all year round. However, here's the no-brainer and common-sense truth: every one of us gets sluggish and lukewarm. We all could benefit from a "springtime of spiritual life". Thank God and Church in giving us this extended, spiritual time to grow in holiness. It is an extended time because we definitely need ample time to grow, to overcome faults, learn, refine spiritual ways, renew resolutions, keep getting back up from sin and clumsiness, to practice virtues, and to persistently identify with Jesus' Passion and long for union with God more-and not just as an afterthought.

Even many Protestant Churches are beginning to take up this holy practice of Lent again, realizing the wisdom of blending love thru discipline, and the value of liturgical and seasonal preparation.

Lent is not an end in itself-it is not a test of human skill, religious endurance or spiritual egoism-it is meant to lead to Easter, to loving God and neighbor more. We must remember Jesus' admonition in Ash Wednesday's Gospel: Don't do things for appearance, or to flex spiritual muscles, or for pride; purify your intention and do it for God's glory, and He will reward you in secret….Questions for beginning Lent: What evils do I need to overcome and avoid, and what practices and virtues do I need to embrace?  Suggestions for Lent: Attend Mass more: go during the week and thank Him for His Sacrifice…. "Frequent Visits"-stop in a Catholic Church to visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Build on the small visits with longer ones. Remember His words: "I am the Living Bread come down from Heaven" (Jn. 6:51). A man once went to "make a visit, but the church was locked. Big deal: he simply knelt down outside the church doors, and gazed upon Jesus from there  Bible: Meditate on the readings for weekend Mass; use other passages for your devotions… "Thy word, O Lord, is a lamp unto my feet" (Ps. 119:105).

A teenage girl vowed, as a sacrifice to prepare for Confirmation, to give up TV. and read the Bible, instead; she was confirmed and continues in this devotion   Serving: We're all liable to focus excessively on ourselves-so get un-stuck and help someone. Do this regularly and, as Mother Teresa said, "until it hurts". . "I was ill and you visited me" (Mt. 25:36)…Examen: Each night briefly count your blessings-thank God; and review your sins/faults-change your life…Stations of the Cross: Get a copy of the Stations, which are fourteen reminders of Christ's Passion for You. He lovingly made the Walk for you; now do not fail to make it for Him…"Fasting" is concerned with the quantity of food eaten and is so distinguished from abstinence. On fast days only one full meal may be taken, drink is not limited. Fasting is imposed only on those who are over 21 and under 59 Fasting is an act of penitence and physical mortification imposed by the Church for the exercise in temperance and health of souls." (A Catholic Dictionary: Tan, 1958). Be heroic!

Catholics-War and Peace (of Mind)

"Perfect love casts out fear" I Jn 4:18

As Catholics today, what is our response to possible war in Iraq-and terrorism nearby? Duct tape debilitation and despair? Ostrich-in-the-sand-ignorance? Becoming a "Hawk" or a "Dove"?  There are many possible answers Catholics can give, but: Do you have a spiritual response to these tenacious troubles today?


1. Our Lord-He is, literally, the perfect example of how we should respond to any trial-especially to the threat of war-He was in one. Jesus Himself became troubled in this world. Like Jesus, always place you're trust in God the Father. Jesus said: "Not My will, but Thy will be done" (Lk 22:43). And: "In the world you will have many troubles, but fear not, I have overcome the world" (Jn. 16:33) (By memorizing this verse, and ones below, and lovingly repeating them, you imprint them in your soul and be calm yourself; this is called aspiration-"to aspire, breathe upwards").

What else did Jesus do in response to trials?

  1. He picked up His Cross and embraced denial rather than selfishness, and so should we-"If any one wants to follow me let him deny himself and pick up his cross daily and follow Me" (Lk 9:23). We need to deny ourselves more of ensnaring anxieties and inordinate attachments to "winds of war" and media conglomerates
  2. Jesus counseled "In the world you will have many troubles, but fear not, I have overcome the world" (Jn. 16:33). The road of life, especially in the midst of today's terrorism, is hard, but don't ever veer from God's protection. Bl.. Gabriel Possenti said: "I will attempt to break my will into little pieces. I want to do God's holy will, not my own." Is God's will for your agitation and depression? Tear up the phobic thoughts and embrace His Divine Providence
  3. Jesus died on the Cross for our sins. In the midst of great sufferings Jesus abandoned Himself to His Father's Will and Love-will you? In the midst of the threats of war, do you really give up all fear, and thereby trust God's plan for you? "All things work together for those who love God" (Rm 8:35). The key is "for those who love God," and how much, how intensely, you love Him. Are you taking concrete, practical steps to place yourself in that trust-daily? Remember: the more you trust Him, the more you want to love and trust Him.

2. The Blessed Virgin Mary -When the archangel Gabriel came to announce her favor and bearing the child Jesus, she "became troubled" (Lk. :26ff)-who wouldn't? Then she hears (and we should, too): "The power of the Most High will overshadow you". The Virgin responded: "Fiat-let it be done unto me according to Your word". She shows us that when we abandon ourselves to God, He will overshadow and protect us. This comes through each, daily, boring, small choice that God puts right under our "spiritual noses." Don't overlook the "small things" as ways to encounter God and abandon ourselves to Him. St Phillip Neri said: "Cast yourself into the arms of God and be very sure that if He wants anything of you, He will fit you for the work and give you the strength."

3. The Mass--My godfather recently said: "Thank God we have the anchor of the Mass." Everything else in life is changing, but God's sacrificial Love does not-we can always fly to the Eucharist for healing, peace, security. The Mass re-presents the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We should abandon ourselves to Jesus' Divinity in the Eucharist to transform our troubles. Blessed Damien, the "leper priest," lived among lepers, prostitution and chaos-in a seemingly "exile of paradise" on Molokai, Hawaii, for fourteen arduous years. He eventually got leprosy himself. He once said: "Without the Blessed Sacrament a position like mine would be intolerable." The priest-celebrant in the Mass prays: " free us from all anxiety " Why? Because we all can be gripped by fears and strangulated by strife-and so, through the Priest, Jesus reminds us: "It is I: Be not afraid" (Mk. 6, 50)

4. Filter from unnecessary attachments to media. All of us, especially young ones, may be exposed to polarizing pollutants in mass communications. The media can sometimes "drum up" anxiety, keeping stories in view by tireless programming, ratings- wars, deepening competition and naive viewers. But we all can make choices, we have free will and choice-we don't have to indulge; moderation IS a possibility. Be informed, not deformed. A person with a sunburn doesn't expose himself to the sunshine when he's burnt; he avoids the scorching sun. Therefore: If you're anxious about possible war and various trials in the world, then don't expose yourself to so much media; temper your news-viewing habits. Be informed through friends and moderated sources, and remember:

"Be not anxious about anything, but in supplication make your intentions to the Lord… whatever is true, noble and righteous think on these things…" (Phil 4: 6,8)

As said in the book, "Against the Machine," Nichols Fox, encourages us to make distinctions between technology helping or hindering us--it is never an absolute whereby we have to use it-and thereby become its slave… "The truth shall set you free." (Jn 8)

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi