Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Freedom to Love

Father John J. Lombardi

You make the choice: inordinate attachment to things, or: Cling to the King -the Lord Jesus Christ.

Spiritual Story: A well-to-do man dies and eventually goes to Heaven. St Peter meets him at the pearly gates and the man expects a nice, heavenly home. They pass by a beautiful mansion and the rich man asks "whose house is that?" St Peter answers: "That's Mother Teresa's, she helped the poor, and with the fruits of her love and labors, we built this mansion." They come to another lovely home and the man asks, hoping it is his, "Whose home is that?" St Peter answers: "That's St Francis of Assisi's-He helped lepers on earth, sent up to us good fruits, and now they're having a party in there." They pass a while to some simpler homes, and then to a small hut, simple and adequate. The man asks, hesitatingly: "whose hut is that?" "That's yours." The befuddled man said: "Are you sure that's all I get?" St Peter replied: "Yeah. That's all you sent up here, so that's all we could build."

Are you holding on to too many riches here on earth and forgetting about heavenly riches? Are you overly attached to created things and failing to Love the Lord? Are you stuck on worldly life and forgetful about Eternal Life? Jesus says: "Do not store up treasures on earth… but store up treasures in Heaven" (Mt. 6: 19, 20).

These messages-of spiritual poverty, detachment, freedom to love and serve, are counter-intuitive, against our nature and usual thinking patterns. We have a choice: The world calls you to be rich; Christ calls you to be poor. Spiritual poverty -one of the "Evangelical counsels"--living frugally, holy detachment--is for everyone, as our Church teaches. "Christ proposes the evangelical counsels to every disciple" (Catechism: #915) …

One of our biggest challenges in this world, especially in the US of A, is riches. We humans are attracted to nice things-cars, clothes, casinos. In this enslaving, addicting process, we lose our focus of following Jesus Christ. Therefore Jesus counsels us: "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God… and all else will be added unto you" (Mt. 6:33). This is a huge-and hard-- lesson. In this weekend's Gospel (Lk 14:25-33). Jesus uses two strong words regarding following earthly attachments- "hate" and "renounce". "If anyone comes to Me without hating his father and mother…and even his own life he cannot be my disciple." And: "Everyone who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple" (Lk. 14: 26, 33). Renounce means to give up, from the Latin, renutiare, "to bring back word, to protest" (American Heritage Dictionary). So, therefore, Jesus implies we must reverse protest attaching to things and begin detaching, to follow Him.

We humans are ensnared by three main kinds of attachments: possessions (things), thoughts (lust, inordinate anger, jealousy, etc) and persons (we will choose either harmful or helpful relationships). Yet, sometimes we stubborn humans think our wrongful desires and anguishing attachments will bring fulfillment. So, therefore, stop and ask yourself: Am I any happier now that I have acquired certain possessions, thoughts and persons? Am I truly free? Remember: there are right kinds of attachments (toward God, the spiritual life, love of Church and country), and there are bad kinds of attachments. The question is: Am I ordinately attaching to the right or wrong things? And: Am I free to love, and to serve? This is the Question of life and this Sunday's Gospel.

When on a recent pilgrimage to Lourdes, France, I saw the home where St Bernadette lived, called the "Cachot," a kind of one-room jail cell, perhaps smaller than your dining room, with bare walls and fireplace. I was immediately struck by the starkness, and thought: This is the environment that the Lord allowed the "visionary" to live in to see the Lady-Virgin? I recall St Bernadette's admonition to her parents after the apparitions made them famous: Be careful that you don't get rich from all this; riches choke you…Renouncing means freedom to love.

Hate--your father and mother? Just what does Jesus mean? According to Rev. Anthony Kadavil : "Today's passage in Luke puzzles a lot of people because in the Middle East, anyone who deliberately cuts ties with family and social network will lose the ordinary means of making a living. Besides, a person's life and family relationships are a necessity for security and identity, regardless of social position. "Hating" ones family is a Semitic expression meaning "to turn away from, to detach oneself from." We must recognize that this is a Semitic hyperbole or exaggeration, spoken for effect. When Jesus said to "hate your family," He was talking about spiritual detachment, the ability to put God first, before other relationships and self-interest. Indeed, spiritual detachment requires one to die to self-interest and let God be the Lord of one's life. Without such detachment, one does not have the ability to truly follow Jesus. Jesus demands that we give up the very best and most important things in our lives in order to follow him. We must be willing to live without these loved ones; attachment to them should not become our first priority. Divided priorities drain the ability of a person to be a disciple. There is a great and paradoxical truth in what Jesus says. If we treat our children as if they are either our possessions or our gods, it will not only be impossible to follow Christ; it will also be impossible to love our children properly." What are some responses to Jesus' call to detachment?

Stop the Hocus Pocus and Begin to Focus: We often get stuck on the glitz and glitter of life and forget to, or can't, focus-on our Heavenly Father. From fall football games thru endless TV Viewing to perilous pleasurable pursuits we lose track of following Jesus.

Just remember-don't get fooled by the "hocus pocus" nature of reality-the attractions and allurements of earthly riches; they are often distractions. Make it your constant practice of attraction to the Lord. How? Thru reading the Scriptures and other spiritual reading, receiving the Sacraments, embracing Silence and meditation; imitating the Saints, Serving others instead of yourself. Remember the focus: all these practices should free you to be attached to God, Holiness, Serving others. That's the purpose of Jesus' admonitions in today's Gospel. Detachment is not an end in itself but a means to and end-Love of God and Neighbor (cf Mk. 12:30-31).

Meditation: Think of your relation to possessions, thoughts and persons, in one of two ways: "Sponge-like" or "magnifying". As a soul you may become like a sponge, absorbing and retaining so many things you are too drenched to receive anything else (God's graces, serve to others). You need a good wringing out-that's penances (hard things for Jesus), mortifications (putting to death wrongful desires), sacrifices, and good old fashioned meditation which empties out (junk) and fills up (grace-cf. II Cor. 3:18). Be like the Blessed Virgin Mary-like a magnifying lens. When light, grace or goodness comes your way, you don't absorb and hoard it, you magnify it. Mary proclaims: "My soul magnifies the Lord…" (Lk. 1:46).

Common mistake: Maybe you're "Orthodox but comfortable". Many devout souls try to believe everything the Church and Bible teach and then make the mistake of thinking: "Well I deserve a big house and beautiful car and luxury items." Show us a saint who thought and lived like this. Orthodoxy is not only in the head -it is also in the heart. Think of the greatest saints: Francis of Assisi, Dominic and Catherine of Sienna-they loved the Lord, the Church and the poor! Do you? We are supposed to be detached and free to serve and love. We're not called to be orthodox and then love and serve riches! How can you bring more balance into your life?

Freedom to Love: recently I've heard a couple stories about people who are comfortable enough in life, but don't have too much, overly enough. They both intimated how much the husband-father doesn't want to enter more deeply into the "rat race," for more riches and upward mobility, but all the while losing wife and family time in the process. One man said: "You always make tradeoffs." Translation: More riches usually mean less family time-because you're always working-for more riches. Get detached from the vicious circle.

These families choosing the Gospel, marriage and family time are valiant-and countercultural. Riches don't' make you rich-Jesus does!

Prayer: In your meditation, a tendency is to cling to past images, consolations, experiences of God. Remember: Seek the Gift Giver of the graces you have received-God--and don't get stuck on His gifts. Be constantly purified-God is infinite and transcendent-He can never be captured by one thought or experience. When you continually practice liberating prayer within (not clinging to images, the past) you gain spiritual freedom, and this interior abandonment affects outer, external freedom from things and persons. Bl Elizabeth of the Trinity describes this negating process has a "Divine end": "In Heaven I believe that my mission will be to draw souls to interior recollection, by helping them to renounce self in order to adhere to God in all simplicity and love; to maintain in that profound interior silence which allows God to imprint Himself upon them and to transform them into Himself".

Religious Riches: St John of the Cross, in his incessant and trenchant critique of the human spirit, says we can even be religiously attached-to spiritual items like sacramentals (rosaries and icons), to priestly vestments and places, to certain ways the Mass is said, and so forth. Check yourself-are you making an idol of Religious expression instead o f allowing these things to lead you to God?

Attachments to Inordinate thoughts: A bad, common habit is the inner, incessant tape recorder of judementality and critique-of family members, spouses, co workers-constantly harping on someone's failures and faults. We get attached to this enslaving process. Rather: look on others with love. Count the blessings of other people and pray for them with Jesus' help and grace-to be freed.

What to Do:

Give things away--your favorite shirt or blouse or clothing item…Give things away regularly-practice detachment. Write out a check to a needy person or organization-give away some of your money. Tithe to your church-she needs more money for teachers and holy servants!...Give some of your time to serve in a nursing home or for the poor: sacrifice!...Free your soul from your selfish self: pray more, even when it doesn't make sense or feel good-be freed by God's purification…

Deacon Darrin Didier of Dakota stopped by the Grotto last week. He asked me if I had lunch yet. I replied no and he offered me half of his lunch. "I went to get a sub and got a whole one in case I might be able to give it way." Later, over the delicious tuna sub, we discussed his sickness and future. I asked him if he was scared. He replied: "If God heals me then I will be great, and I can serve as a priest. If I don't receive a healing then I hope to be in a state of grace, and go to be with God. Then I'll be happier. It's a win-win situation." That's detachment. Deacon Darrin is a living witness of Christ passing thru this world, and the beauty of freedom to love.

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi