Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Lower Yourself -Lift Your Soul…

Father John J. Lombardi

"Stay with us Lord, because our souls are full of darkness and you are the one true light; you alone can satisfy the longings that consume us. For we know that above everything that is beautiful and good, the greatest is this: to possess you forever , O Lord." +- St. Gregory Nazianzen

This Sunday's Gospel illustrates a common, unfortunate principle: there may be a prideful "pharisee" in each of us, who is (pick one): working slavishly and selfishly to Heaven, who is holier-than-thou, and hurtful towards others.

Notice the Twisting-Paradoxial Parable (St Lk. 18: 9-14): the Pharisee seemingly makes God a debtor to himself-by his works-righteousness attitude and lifestyle-"If I do x then God must do y" mentality. He prays, actually: "I fast, I pay tithes (Lk. 18: 12). Notice the prideful "I" so prominent. Meanwhile, the tax collector makes himself a debtor to God-- by his humble prayer and simple disposition: "O God, be merciful to me, a sinner" (Lk. . 18: 13). Now, which one are you more like?

Humility is the doorway to Divinity: when we really, deeply, sincerely know and practice humility, simple acknowledgement of our own condition and, also, our need of God, we will then yearn for, and continually beseech His help. But, our Americanist and earthly disposition will war against us and foster pride, greed, vainglory. We are taught to be "material-sensualist- conquistadors," not disciples who surrender and "become as children" (Mt. 18:3). Humility is one of Americans' hardest virtues to learn and embrace.

Consider this "humble story: "In Vienna there is a church in which the deceased members of the former ruling family in Austria, the Hapsburgs, are buried. When the royal funeral processions arrived at the church, the mourners would knock at the door and ask to be allowed in. A priest inside would reply, "Who is it that desires admission here?" The mourners would call out, "His apostolic majesty, the emperor." The priest would then answer, "I don't know him." Then the mourners would knock a second time, and the priest would again ask who was there. The mourners would repeat, "The highest emperor." When this happened a third time, the priest would ask, "Who is it?" The third time the answer would be, "A poor sinner, your brother" -- and the funeral procession would be allowed to enter." (A World of Stories for Preachers and Teachers by William J. Bausch).

It is commonplace in funeral liturgies today, unfortunately, that the deceased person is: not considered a "poor sinner" (this would be impolite); not in need of the sacrificial nature of the Mass and application of fruits to help-but Mass is rather seen as celebration of person's life. As in the Parable, Humility is out, self-celebration is in.

A news reporter once asked a daring question to Mother Teresa if she was ever tempted to be proud. Mother Theresa inquired with a smile, "Proud about what?" The reporter replied, 'Why, about the wonderful things you have been doing for the poorest of the poor?" Then came her answer, "I never knew I had done anything, because it was God who had worked in and through my Sisters and volunteers." Saints show us the way of Selflessness--in a seductive world of self-esteem.

Let's consider Aspects of Humility: Prayer and Actions

Prayer: deeper, meditative prayer should inspire a kind of spiritual re-birth (cf. Jn. 3:3), an un-selfing the Soul so the spiritual aspect of man is liberated, to commune with God, the Blessed Trinity. Usually, by pride and selfishness, we are enchained-often unawares-to our lower nature (cf. Rm. 6:17), to our passions (! Jn 2:15). These enslavements foster conditioning of pride, spiritual laxism and self-celebration, explicitly or implicitly: we no longer feel a need of God, though we may not say it so explicitly as the Pharisee in the Gospel. Or we may try to "work our way to Heaven" or to God's Grace: my way or the highway. Catholics need pay special attentions as there are, fortunately, so many special helps and spiritual disciplines, we can sometimes subliminally foster a spiritual, camouflaged, works-righteousness attitude, whereby we keep flirting with spiritual things until "we deem it is working" and all is right with self. The answer is not to throw out disciplines and self-cooperation, but, rather, in right balance complement these with God's Grace and spiritual direction. Anyway, there are progressive detachments we must humbly make to reveal and liberate our souls. St Paul says the outer self must perish away and give way to the inner self" (Eph 4:22). Jesus says we must deny ourselves and pick up our cross (Lk. 9:23). As we peel the skin of a delectable fruit, to penetrate to the inside-flesh-delightfulness, so must we ourselves peel away layers of prideful self to reveal and unconceal the inner soul, the virginal union-place for God's meeting and intercourse. Actually, we must also allow Him to do most of the peeling, since we have a lack of true, spiritual vision; w promote self-interest and fear of self-death. God's purification thru "dark nights" and trials will help us most. This is humbling. First because it is painful-we usually are selfish and want to hang ton to our comfort-zones. Second: it reveals we need Grace and God-that we cannot do this "re-birthing" ourselves, for it is against our human, earthly nature. Therefore, it is difficult to accept our dependence upon God, especially in a culture of self-esteem, sensualism and military-industrial strength. Third: this is humbling because our pride is revealed and, eventually, needs to "die". But, always remember the spiritual equation: lower self / lift soul. That is: If you lower and humble yourself, you will then be able to lift the soul into God's life changing grace. St Francis prays: "It is in dying we awaken to eternal life." Self preservation is the seeming first law of life-but self-death is the first spiritual law of Eternal Life. This is not only scary, especially in today's culture of narcissism and self-affirming, self-praise--it's necessary. Dominican friar Johannes Tauler (+1361) counsels us: "Form the habit of entering the ground of your soul, the secret realm, where one becomes still…single-minded, more removed from all things, for God Himself is present in this noble realm, and works and reigns and dwells therein." + How can you daily retreat to this "noble ground within" through generous prayer-time?. Don't wait for a retreat! Make one daily! Allow God Himself to cleanse you-be humble enough to give Him time enough to purify you. You can't do it; He can.

In prayer, esp. contemplation (wherein we rest in God, His Spirit prays in us -Rm. 8:26 --we are more passive), we will realize how dense, obstructing and solidified all our barriers to God are. Humbly, then: cede these over to Him; let Him burn them off. The person will be saved, but only as through fire" (I Cor3:15). When we uncover the heart and soul, we will then allow our spirit, our soul to ascend-aspire to God. How? Breath by breath-release any self-love, sinful attachments, any sense of self-breath it out, get rid of it. Then receive Him, His graces, Light and Love. Breath by breath- no hurry. Practice and master this spiritual process and discipline: Release (sin) and receive (Him). St Paul writes: "We have not received the sprit of the world but the Spirit that is from God" (I Cor.2: 12). So: receive and love that Spirit within you: "The Spirit of God dwells in you" (I Cor. 3:16). Also, remember the "S-I-S-T-E-R Principle" of prayer: SitInStillnessTill-EverytingRecedes. Translation?!: let go any sense of subject-object-me-versus-God duality-any distracting thoughts or inordinate attachments, any mental, false idols of God, any stubborn-pharisaical "I-ness," precisely because these are not God, but are, probably, more selfish tools for you to cling to. Humble yourself in Dark Faith (StJohn of the Cross' term) and lean on nothing ("nada") but God Himself. Abandon all: Total surrender. This is true humility. St John of Avila says: "Say to the Lord, 'I am clay, and You, Lord, the potter. Make of me what You will.' " When humbly resting in prayer we ask and allow God to re-mold our nature and personalities. A priest recently counseled: "Allow Christ's sacred burning love to consume you, inside."

St Paul observes whom and what we are: "First comes the natural man then the spiritual man "The Spirit will give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit that dwells in you" (Rm. 11) .Humility and prayer is the "getting-in-conscious-touch-with-this-Spirit-within". Are you taking the time. Are you humbly surrendering? Succumb to Him and do not assert your ownself; you become less you, more Him (cf. Jn. 3:30)

Sursum corda: in the Sacred Liturgy, the priest (and Christ) counsel-"lift up your heart-Sursum Corda" in Latin. Why the heart ? Perhaps because our hearts, are symbolic center of emotions and the will, and are often encumbered by, materiality obstructed by emotional attachments and passionate enchainments-prevented from aspiring to celestial delight and loving liberation. So, while praying, allow your heart psychical and physical rising, aspirating-above the body, and thereby freer to give your spirit-soul to God to grace and sanctify. Otherwise your soul is like a beautiful kite weighted down by earthy things, anxieties and attachments. The ultimate example of this is Jesus on the Cross: "…and bowing His head He handed over His Spirit" (Jn. 19:30). Now that is humility and divinity, all in one. In prayer, then, "bow over your spirit" to the Father: release your soul to Him in Total Abandonment.

We can only do this by isolating the soul into a kind of passionlessness, a holy indifference and detachment from earthly things. Otherwise we are overly attached to our own emotions, ensnared by craving for material possessions and popular esteem, which block our communication and communion with God-more than we know. Jesus shows us in the Passion, which is a kind of total death to all that is not God-an openness to God-likeness. Thru the Cross He invites us, "analogously," into this Divine and deep death, thru deeper prayer: bowing our heads (in prayer and humility) and giving forth our spirit-literally, our liberated, free souls, unto God. I.e., Do you give Him only your thoughts or egoic desires, or what He gave you-your soul!

Now, when we truly pray and live according to Jesus, we lower ourselves and lives, but only to be raised by Him. St Thomas Aquinas, notes this spiritual principle in his analysis of motion of soul and God's light and Love: "But the circulation (of God's effusive Light) according to its nature is perpetual, and thus always the divine light extends souls toward previous things through increase, not nevertheless in all equally, but according to the proportion of each with respect to the light: for certain ones more diligently look to the incoming light, who desire more and make more progress." Now, ask: are you ex-tending your soul-spirit o God or only "part of your soul," so He may bathe you in His Light? Are you allowing Him to purify your prideful "I", your passions into a new way of life?

Actions and How to Respond

Deny yourself-affirm God and others: (Lk 9:23)- negate your first inclination-for candy, something selfish, anything expendable. Hide in God. Use yourself, your name and self-attribution less in conversation-point away from self and point to God and His Grace.

…Contemplation: (II Cor 3:18)-Hurry up and stop! Pray in stillness, receive His purifying love to transform you into Him…Crosses: Embrace these sooner, and deeper…Charity: Do good deeds for others without them knowing: don't look for thanks…ConvectCompliments-receive them humbly and say, inwardly, "Thank You" to God for helping/allowing you to be His instrument…Cease detraction: stop focusing upon sins and faults of others…Go to Confession: Once a month if you're serious about embracing deeper holiness: knock out sins and faults by acknowledging them and receiving God's grace for transformation…Friendly Reminders: "Not only was St Crispin personally humble, he was not adverse to reminding famous visitors who came to see him, including cardinals and bishops, of their need to repent of the sin of pride" (Saintly Solutions, by Fr J. Esper).

Examen your sins and graces each nite and thereby know your utter dependence upon God and His grace…Obedience to authorities-even in unjust situations is solvent to pride…Read the Bible-Prov 11:2; Sirach 11:12-13; Mt. 11:29; Mt. 18:1-5-realize the inner spiritual sense of these verses…Pray the Litany of Humility (in part): "Form the desire of being esteemed: deliver me O Jesus. From the desire of being Loved, deliver me, O Jesus. That others may be loved more than I: Grant me the grace to desire it: That others may be esteemed more than I: Grant me the grace to desire it." Meditate: "If you seek an example of humility, look upon the Crucified One." -St Thomas Aquinas-Study a crucifix. …Love, Bow: Adore!

Catholics and Politics

Exercise your right to vote-Be Catholic, be American. Be informed; talk to other holy, educated people. Study with your Catechism and licit, Catholic voter's guides. Archbishop Chaput of Denver has recently observed that, since 1960, a dis-union between faith and morality has appeared and increased. Since the then presidential candidate said his Faith and "Rome" would not affect his political positions, public Catholicism has been adversely affected .A governor of NY gave a speech advocating a" personally-opposed-but publicly-for " politic, not wanting "to impose his morality and beliefs on others". Point: our Religion and Faith should affect our public morality and political choices. After all, Faith helped turn around slavery (which was, once a "law" and a "right"), the Holocaust, and in the civil rights Sixties-south. Religion and politics do go together-in the right manner (not always at the dinner table!). We, as Catholics need consider two important things re. candidates' positions on issues: hierarchy of issues and variety. There are some issues that are inherently evil, which should never be promoted (not because they are "Catholic teachings" but because they are against "natural law"-common reason placed within us by God-cf. Rm 2:15): abortion and euthanasia . It is a cooperation in evil to consciously vote for a candidate precisely because of their promotion of these positions. However, a nuance: Cardinal Ratzinger of the Vatican, has written, and the Church teaches: "When a Catholic does not share a candidate's stand in favor of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for the candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons." Catholics must consider, therefore, what is proportionate-ie., that there is more good done by a candidate who otherwise supports an inherently evil practice. "Other issues which are never good-stem cell research (experimentation on nascent human life) and homosexual unions There is a variety of issues the Church calls you to consider when voting-the death penalty (the Church recognizes right of the state for execution but has recently stated this should be rare); care of the poor, sick and dying; housing, literacy, immigration and educational issues, etc. And, so, vote. As a Catholic!

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi