Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Wartime Catholics - Transforming Passion into Peace

Father John J. Lombardi

"God makes wars cease, to the ends of the earth." + Ps 46:9

Shahlom is the way Jesus would have said "peace". The Hebrew word means wholeness and holiness. With war in Iraq today we certainly need peace--in more ways than one. We need the peace and joy no one can take from us (Jn 16:22)-not even war.

We also need the peace which is, according to our Catholic Tradition, "the right ordering of parts," --this is another meaning of "justice". We need a "right ordering of the parts" in the Middle East-amidst the countries there and in their relations to the outside world. The conflagrations there have been ceaseless, and have involved too many other countries. We need a just order-without terrorism, or dictatorial fanaticism, without torture, bloodshed or ancient rivalry, all which spill into other people's lives and continue Babel's spiral of scatteredness, confusion and rebellion (see Gn. 11)

We need to avoid extremes here: the first one of naiveté, by thinking solutions in the Middle East should come easier than they do by disregarding the complexity of issues and hatred there. The other extreme is despair, which might cause us to ignore the problems altogether-even by turning to God in prayer. As with the Jews in the Old Testament, God will allow anything to turn us back to Him. In our modernistic times we can sometimes "soften of our religion" and "downsize God" and His powers-His anger, wrath and mighty glory, growing lukewarm and forgetting "Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Pr 9:10)…How can we, especially Catholics, with so many ways to affect physical and metaphysical reality, both move mountains with prayer (Mk 11:23), and commune with Heaven (Rev. 8:4)? We need to pray for President Bush and all Iraqis, for our military and all soldiers fighting, and also sacrifice for peace with justice in the Middle East. A marine chaplain recently encouraged his "soldier-filled-flock" to pray-not only for themselves, but also for their enemies (Lk 6:27)- the ones they were going to fight, and that as many people as possible, amidst such violence and bloodshed, be spared (New York Times: 3-22).

While we learn about this current conflagration, remember, as St John of the Cross counseled: "Fix your eyes on Christ." When we get obsessed by anything we can get possessed by it, too. Amidst important and even necessary things in life, the fixing of our eyes should be on Someone very important-- God, Who will then help us see others things and persons in the right order. "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you" (Mt 6:33). If we fixate on war, (one commentator called his sense about some of the bombings a kind of pornography-mesmerizing and obscene at the same time)-by continual outlets thru TV, radio, computer and other persons in a constant obsession, without attending to other duties, and God Himself-then we must "get un-stuck" and somehow place God back in the center. (He is always "there," we just have to re-cognize it: " God's center is everywhere and His circumference nowhere".). We may "cultivate" unhealthy attachments even when pursuing important things like war and news gathering, but thereby "de-throne God" .

As Catholics it is not a question to watch or not, but how much; and also being aware of becoming merely passive bystanders. Be informed without being deformed. Recently, I winced-in subtle agreement--when someone remarked that TV. might be making money off war I suppose, by people watching networks "packaging "war" and then buying advertising products which "trail" their coverage). Be careful-ask yourself: Am I spending appropriate or inordinate time in this area, perhaps stealing from Bible reading, meditation, going to Mass, helping others? Don't be obsessed with, or fixated on the war , but focused on Jesus.

Don't Gloat: Another person humbly admitted to me they felt, however briefly, a feeling of vindication being served thru military offensives and victories, and then said they had to purify that knee-jerk emotion. We're all probably much like this. Since the Original Sin of Adam and Eve (Gen 2), our human natures are wounded; and as in the story of Cain and Abel (Gn 4), each one of us we has a kind of interior volcano of toxic and turbulent passions. Jesus described the religious leaders thus: "Inside you are filled with plunder and evil" (Lk. 11:39). At times, are we any different? How can we purify-"put to death," the parts of us that are earthly-immorality, impurity, evil desire and greed, take off the old self …and allow Christ to be all in all (Col 3:6-11)? Jesus took a whip of cords (Jn 2) and chose tough love to cleanse His Temple. We, now, are His temple- joined to Him (I Cor 6: 17-19). Since He knows our knows human nature (Jn 2:25), He uses astringent love to clean us when other ways do not work: "For whom the Lord loves he chastises (Hebr. 12:6), "His mercy is great and also His chastisement" (Sir. 16:12).Like a patient (sinner) going to the dentist (Jesus the Divine Physician), He knows we sometimes need the disciplining and loving "whip of cords" which drills at the decaying teeth of our souls, removing the plaque of sin and idol worship, and expunging them with cleanser : our spiritual smiles and souls will be brighter. We should fear (humbly respect) the dentist-and the Lord: this will help us grow, prepare and "clean up our acts". But we should firstly and fore mostly cherish and lovingly thank them-- this is the better way of love (I Cor. 13).

How many heroically try to overcome the impurities within and wage spiritual warfare? As we pray for a swift surrender amidst the war outside-"over there"--let us also surrender within. It is not wrong to pray for swift justice. It is wrong to breed vengeance and embrace hate within--even when these are related to noble things like patriotism. Good things can go bad; feelings and passions can distort and destroy us. (Love can turn into immoral passion within; sadness can spiral into depression). So we need be on guard not to spawn and spiral violence and hate, even if people view this war as just and necessary. Reminder--Mother Teresa said: "It is easier to conquer a country than one's self."

Some Practical things to do: Sacrifice-like the children of Fatima in 1917 upon encountering the Virgin Mary-do something costly and lovingly. Re-channel your nervous and weary energy into holy things done for God and others… Simplify: Even Academy Award hosts are simplifying their ceremony to avoid decadence. We all can simplify our lifestyles (eating, drinking, shopping) to nobly avoid excess. Ask yourself: Do I need x (item or luxury) while others are being bombed or shot at?...Mass: receive and send graces from Holy Communion thru the Virgin Mary's pure love, to those killed hurt or affected by war in Iraq.: Confession: seek this Sacrament and practice what our world needs most today-peace, healing, reconciliation. Fix on Jesus Who said: "I will refresh you" (Mt 11:27).

Prayer for Peace - to Mary, the Light of Hope

Immaculate Heart of Mary, Help us to conquer the menace of evil, which so easily takes root in the hearts of the people of today, and whose immeasurable effects already weigh down upon our modern world and seem to block the paths toward the future.

From famine and war, deliver us. From nuclear war, from incalculable self-destruction, from every kind of war, deliver us. From sins against human life from its very beginning, deliver us. From hatred and from the demeaning of the dignity of the children of God, deliver us. From every kind of injustice in the life of society, both national and international, deliver us. From readiness to trample on the commandments of God, deliver us. From attempts to stifle in human hearts the very truth of God, deliver us. From the loss of awareness of good and evil, deliver us. From sins against the Holy Spirit, deliver us.

Accept, O Mother of Christ, this cry laden with the sufferings of whole societies. Help us with the power of the Holy Spirit conquer all sin: individual sin and the "sin of the world," sin in all its manifestations. Let there be revealed once more in the history of the world the infinite saving power of the redemption: the power of merciful love. May it put a stop to evil.. May it transform consciences. May your Immaculate Heart reveal for all the light of hope."...--Pope John Paul II

Briefly Noted

Channeling our Energy: This is recent-and startling?-news, from The New York Times Magazine, and TV-Turnoff Network…"98% of all US households have at least 1 TV…40% of households have 3 or more…TV is on an average of 7 hr. 40 min. per day…40% of Americans watch TV while eating; 1 in 4 of us fall asleep while the TV is on…49% of Americans say they watch too much TV… there are 6 mil. Videos rented daily in the US…Americans watch on the average of 4 hours of TV per day; the average 1 year old watches 6 hours of TV daily…American youth spends 900 hours in school yearly but watches TV for 1,023 per year."

Spring: began this past Friday-thank God! It's incredible how resilient nature-and the Grotto is. Beautiful Spring flowers have been arriving for weeks; the green boxwoods are secreting enchanting scents; the Bartlett pear trees are budding, and the spring water is torrenting down Mary's Mountain. Let us be thankful for God's graces and the beauty of a Maryland Spring!

Small is Beautiful: Recently I took a hike up Mary's Mountain with a pilgrimage group, fording the creek and trying to discover the source of the Grotto water. After an exuberant, twenty- minute climb, we reached the source: it was, simply, anonymously, subtly bubbling up out of the ground from, from unadorned and quiet puddles (the Potomac River begins exactly the same). Large wonders like our Grotto creek come from small beginnings--just like the Baby Jesus in Mary. A huge prairie fire begins with one small spark--perhaps like a spark of grace within a saint. How about you?

Blessings: I visit a nearby treatment center to offer spiritual reflections to persons with addictions. They are eager to learn about the spiritual life and have many interesting, heart-felt questions. Like last week: "Is there a right way to pray?" and, "Do you have to kneel when you pray?" We talked about how important it is to pray form the heart, not just the lips. And then I taught them the "ACTS form" of prayer: A is for adoration; C is for contrition; T is for Thanksgiving; and S is for supplication. We repeated the acronym to internalize and memorize it. I also taught them about meditation with the following story.

Recently a lady inspired me by how she teaches her seven children. "I'm trying to teach them mediation," she said. "If they learn early then they'll learn more as they go along." She gives the children a Bible verse or a spiritual subject to ponder, asks them to sit still and quiet, and to lovingly think within, what God wants to teach them…The folks liked this story's simplicity and accessible truth. At the end of meetings I noticed at how some people are seeking a "little more," a sort of "sacramental encounter" of healing-prayer. A staff -worker who hosts me, mentioned this, and encouraged. So I invited them to receive a personal blessing and virtually all of them came and waited a few minutes, and humbly bowed and received a blessing of healing and laying on of hands. Upshot: people hunger for God, His healing and sacramental-personal encounters. No matter how clumsy we may be or think we are, we can be His channels.. What are we Catholics waiting for ?!

Even Saintly Sufferers Are Human: I went to see "Steve" last week and found out he was really suffering. He's been in a special bed for a couple years now-stuck there on his back--paralyzed, because of arthritis and other huge problems. Recently he's hardly been able to breathe; headaches bang away at him within. With many extreme hurts throughout life, constant physical challenges, handicaps and sufferings; his spouse later abandoned him years ago and his family fell apart. But, amidst all this he's been "offering his suffering up" --Steve loves his Faith. Yet, after a conversation he said to me, so profoundly and simply: "Father, I'd like a off from this suffering, I'd like a vacation." I realized, however partially, the depth of his suffering and also how much I take for granted in life. Fr Geroge Restreppo, a Jesuit priest, described Steve: "He's getting a doctorate in suffering"…Jesus: I trust in You.

Grotto Gardeners: We need help! Please call office or come this Tues and Thurs (Mar 25 and 27) from 2pm-6pm to help beautify Our Lady's Grotto. We will need help thru spring! Bring a rake

Worldwide Marriage Encounter Weekend: April 25-27, June 27-29, August 15-17, Nov. 14-16. An unforgettable "break" for your marriage! For info/to register call toll free 1-877-558-LOVE or visit www.wwme.net

Bible Readings: Ex 20:1-17; Cor 1:22-25; Jn 2:13-25-2, 6-9…God's anger, wrath and just punishments-these, too, are signs of God's Love-His ultimate desire is to save all souls, even with a "whip made of cords". Think about it: His chastisements are charging charity changing uncharming children. Remember, it's package deal: God's chastisements go along with his charms

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi