Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Stress or Serenity? - Part 3

Father John J. Lombardi

Stress comes from the Latin word, stringere, meaning tight. We use the phrases "He's uptight," or "Loosen up," describing humans who get stressed out. Then there's serenity-even the word sounds nice. It comes from the Latin word, meaning clear. As in: no blocking the soul's arteries.

Last week, coming back from Bishop Kevin Rhoades' ordination on a bus, we came to a bad traffic accident. Physical Blockage. And, to boot, it was raining and nighttime. As the bus stopped, police lights refracted in our rain-stained windows: tension rose; people were hurt; we were running late; a long day got longer. We all could have gotten stressed and upset, but, instead, Gregg, a seminarian suggested: "Hey, let's pray for these folks." So, we sublimated (redirected) troublesome tension into good. Instead of worrying or wasting time by wearying stress, we prayed! This seminarian showed us you don't have to be captive to tiresome tension in life.

Myths of ChristMass Time:

"Season's Greetings" and other saccharine stuff. This perpetuates a kind of "pseudo-religion"-a secular spirituality which challenges God and our Church. It perpetuates a kind of warm fuzzy do-good-ism devoid of God or sacrifice, which fuels an economy, personal self gain, egoism and materialism. When secularists take Jesus out of Christmas they try to replace Him with something else- Mammon-materialism. Ergo: Santa is in and the Savior is out, causing us to ask: Just whose birthday is it, anyway?

The answer to this should be, of course: "Jesus!" However, some people don't think so. This is the scam of today's secularizing culture. Just recently, though, a group of Christians in Denver complained about the town holding a "Winter Festival" versus the previously held "Christmas Pageant". Instead of just "taking it" they kept protesting and were heard, and things might change there. We Christians sometimes let secularists take the spiritual experiences from us. Secularists will not rest: they will try to wrest God from public marketplace as much as possible. In the midst of this stressful situation we must remember any good deeds we do are for Christ, since He empowered us, and to recall, in a "small way," His sacrificial Love. The saints practiced charity-doing good--but, first, they encountered Christ, the Mass and prayer, as their anchors: these were the "fuel" for their discipleship and doing good. Are they for you? I recall friend, Deacon Monti, who I was assigned with, often saying (it was a sticky note near his computer) "Lord, let me begin this action in You, do it with You and complete it by You". As the stressors of Advent-Christmas Season weigh down on you remember this saying-The Reason for the Season. Meanwhile: A mother and daughter were recently experiencing financial difficulties and yet, because they were inspired by Jesus love, they donated money because of a "renewed sense of purpose and a focus that we need during Advent." Widow's mite= Sacrificial Love.

Holidaze or Holidays: Most people just cave in to the ChristMass craze-business: shopping, decorating, and partying. Our eyes and souls are glazed, hazed over. And yet: A family I know suggested using the Advent wreath-four candles individually lit the four weeks of preparation before Christmas, to prayerfully ritualize these Holy Days… Also: Mt St Mary's recently had an Advent Concert here. Amazing! Huh? It was not a Christmas concert, for it was in Advent. The chorale group was making a signal--prepare prayerfully in Advent.-in music and song. What better way to de-stress? Christmas Season begins at Midnight Mass and continues on-Remember the Twelve Days of Christmas? Another HolyDay option: I recently heard confessions at St Thomas Church in Baltimore. Sinners were entrusting themselves to Jesus, making straight what was crooked. We all should. This is a beautiful and holy way to prepare for Christmas: take out the bad straw of your inner manger and place in new, virtuous straw for Jesus to lay His head.

Can't get off the treadmill? Well, then, just turn it off. No one else has the button except you. One time a priest said to brand new priests: "No one is going to take your day off for you .Do it yourself." So: plan fewer activities, plan more directly spiritual ones. Go to Mass during the week. Stay in and meditate upon God becoming man that man might become God (St Augustine). Prepare! Relax: Last week I traveled with a family of eight (and one dog) to a park in Va.--to look for bald eagles. Dad took off work and made time for wife and family, during a hectic time for a salesman. Well, we arrived at the park and we asked various passersby if they saw any eagles. "No" was the continual answer; one said it was low tide and eagles would not be around. I thought: "All this travel, no birds-I'll become a bird, unless." I kept looking, squinting, trying to find the famous national symbol. I was getting nervous. Well, we began taking a hike and mom yelled: "Look, there's one." It flew right into a tree over our heads and sat there, "fishing,' for ten minutes (until Joseph kept yelling at it to fly off!). We all sat rapt at the raptor, beautiful and fierce-looking. Mom and Dad said it was a "Gift form heaven" -amazing it flew right into our midst…So: Get off the treadmill. God will give you gifts!

Some Causes of Stress: include, external (people, places, things), and internal (your response to externals-as in when you "fly off the handle" etc!). 1. Determine which cause of stress you can change and always remember, that interior, personal change is the most important. Defuse the "internal wiring" behind your push buttons people push: peaceful mindfulness and kicking old habits out should be the response. 2. Also: sublimate stress: -you are like a sponge absorbing negative events into vitriolic emotions-and you need to discharge these-in healthy ways. Like: prayer; recreation and works of charity.3 Stress is friction-an inner tightening, as we have seen. The opposite is peace-- tranquilities ordinis-the tranquility of order. When you are stressed you have internal friction. Ask yourself: What "new spiritual order" do I need in my life, my heart and mind? How have I possibly given this up? How can I re- gain proper order of emotions and aberrant passions so they do not sway me? How can I avoid persons who cause undue stress or sacrifice and pray for them, to sublimate the negativity?

I recently asked MSM's Deacon Diddier of Dakota: What are the greatest stressors during Advent? He answered: trying to get the right things for people, pleasing them…and loneliness of those who have lost loved ones by death. …First, pleasing others: take inordinate stress out by giving them a spiritual bouquet. This will please their soul, even though some, children especially, want sensual toys and gimmicks. So, offer a Mass for them; say a Rosary for a loved one; offer up a fast or sacrifice-even in the Christmas Season when everyone's partying. Hopefully they will realize this is far more precious than buying something at a mall! Regarding loneliness: think of the Mystical Communion. Bishop Rhoades, from Mt St Mary's Seminary, now of Harrisburg, thanked many persons after his beautiful ordination Mass last week, and spoke eloquently about his deceased mother: "I feel that my mom is enjoying this with us in Heaven." Think that way. Instead of stressing on what is gone think of how they are connected, in a mystical way.

Stressors of Driving: When returning form our "bald eagle trip" we encountered traffic jam after another. A ninety-minute trip became nearly three hours. I grew more fatigued and agitated. Anyway: Elise, the oldest child, calmly read aloud from the "Tale of two Cities," Dickens' famous work. Steve drove calmly, the dog slept and kids listened. They all laughed, innocently one time, at the description about the light of dumpling-head kids. Simple: reading--no frills entertainment. Cheap, too. Elegant entertainment to relieve stress and preoccupy the mind. What can you do this Advent-Christmas, in simplicity, to relieve your stress filled life?

Advent Answers to Stress: -In a drug treatment center where I visit, I often admire the counsel: "If you keep doing what you've always done you'll keep getting what you've always got." Get out of the vicious circle by doing new things, avoiding old habits…Become a new creation: II Cor 5:17: If you keep showing up as the same old person, you will do the same things.

Spiritual Reading and meditation---Consider: "We must also take care lest to our great injury it should happen that just as there was no room for Him in the inn at Bethlehem in which to be born, so likewise now, after He has been born in the flesh, He should find no room in our hearts in which to be born spiritually." (On The Duty of Spiritual Nativity- Catechism of the Council of Trent). Read the Bible and Infancy narratives of St's Luke and Matthew.

Childlike wonder and joy: This is the time for children-all of us, to rekindle wonder, joy, amazement at the Miracles and Graces of God. Don't become too encrusted in stressful, imprisoning habits or stress, but visit and look at neighborhood manger scenes decorations and like, remember hopscotch and sandlot ball. Legos and Lincoln logs? Remember the Reason for the Season: open eyes wide-Become as a Child to enter His Kingdom (Mt. 18:3).

Postpone the Present? While walking the mountains of western Md., one time, a spiritual aspiration came to me: "Nothing lacking, Nothing distracting: All things divinely interacting." Repeat and impress within. This counters our mind's always-seeking-more tendency, and also helps us avoid distractions by something done or undone. Unless you begin with the present moment you will miss the Best present-Christ Himself!

Random acts of Kindness: kinda', but they should be virtues and habits, dispositions, part of our routine, not random. And when we practice these we get unstuck from ourselves, and the outreach to others strips stress from ourselves. And not just this time of year but all year round.

Where's Your Rosary? When the pope was waiting for a speaker to give him a talk and the speaker was late, all the Pope bodyguards and cardinals were anxiously waiting-pacing around. What was the Pope doing? Praying the Rosary. Pope John Paul recently wrote: the Rosary actually prepares one for contemplation, oneness with the lord in the Eucharist. Rid yourselves of stress now.

The Blessed Virgin Mary in Advent: One time during a sermon a priest said for us busy disciples to stop and spiritually walk, inside our mind's and hearts, with Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem for the Christmas Birth. He suggested for us to make a pregnant pause: think of them frequently as if they were having the Birth today, and be with them. The prayers of the Mass intimate that we are re-living the time before Jesus birth-queuing our souls to re-present the Present to us as if it is all happening again-presently. Likewise, St John of the Cross counsels with the little poem: "The Virgin comes down the road/ Carrying the Word of God/ Won't you shelter her?"

The Virgin Mary embodies the Three S's of the Spiritual life we moderns desperately need; Silence, Stillness and Simplicity. Silence: think of the empty-fullness of the Annunciation, the First Christmas night: Negate noise. Abstain from excess media, TV and entertainment to focus of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Teach yourself to abide in holy silence, and your family and children, too. In the liberating absences and emptying you will be able to receive, like the Virgin, the Lord's fullness and beauty. The Child is within, inside the Virgin's Womb-stop, grow close to her silence, and listen to Him within. Simplicity-the Holy Family was, basically, homeless for a while. They lived in spiritual poverty, though they were the richest persons on Earth! So: scale down! I read a - newspaper article (The Conservative Chronicle-10-27-04), by Charlie Reese, who stated: "If we, as a species, are going to survive, we are going to have to learn to live simpler lives. By that I mean consume less stuff." Yeah. Less stuff. Thoreau the transcendentalist, said, famously: "Simplify, Simplify!" When you own less you will appreciate it more. Think, now in your purchasing of Christmas presents: Does my loved one really need this Christmas present, or is it a non-essential sentimental token aiding materialism?…Stillness-yes, even kids, believe it or not, can sit still. The famous priest St John Vianney once asked a country pilgrim what he did while sitting so long in front of the Tabernacle, in church, so frequently: "I just sit there and look at Him, and He looks at me." Or, to quote another wise guy: "Don't just do something, sit there!" Slow down during Advent and let Him rest and radiate in you. Don't stress out.

Briefly Noted

Marvelous Mystical Mystery: In Mt. 11:11, Jesus says John the Baptist is the greatest ever to come in the world, and yet: The least born into the Kingdom is greater than he! Why? How? Well, St John never received the Body and Blood of Jesus -"He who eats MY flesh and drinks My blood will abide in Me and I in Him (Jn. 6:56). And John never received His Divine Breath (as when The Lord breathed on the disciples, saying: "Peace"- jn. Jn. 20:22). Are you longing for His Kingdom in your body by loving His Divine Breath? Although St John is enjoying Beatific Splendor in heaven, he did not fully realize Jesus' Different Divine Dimension while on Earth: The Kingdom revealed during His preaching. St John was martyred before this. Therefore: anyone-a janitor or a jail criminal (such as the guy who killed St Maria Goretti and repented, was released and became saintly) can, by Extension of Jesus' Merciful Kingdom, become one with Him-Aligned to His Love and Divinity. This is the Goal of Life-which is a meaning of Kingdom-righteousness=right living with Him, thru Him and in Him. To be in His Kingdom we need live moral lives. Desire His Kingdom: Think of the Good Thief on the Cross, who says- "Jesus: Remember me in your Kingdom" (Lk. 23:42.). Jesus wants to confer a Kingdom upon us (Lk 22:29)-just as the Father conferred upon Him: are you ready to receive It-or are you too distracted, too full of worldly pleasures? He also wants to share the Glory that the Heavenly Father gave to Him, with us (Jn. 17:22). Do you want this Uncreated Glory? Become Aware of the Logos-the Eternal Word of the Father. Remember and live the "SEE" Principle of the Kingdom: Seek Him (Mt. 6:33); Embrace His Kingdom (Jn. 15) and Extend Him (Mt. 25)-by good works of Mercy and Love…

Christmas Donations-Help Us with a generous Christmas Donation at the Lovely Grotto! +We have repaired the Corpus Christi Chapel --windows and doors ($15,000)… +we have installed a new security system ($5,000)…+and are repaving the Grotto Cave area with flagstone ($20,000)…Help preserve and beautify the Grotto to welcome pilgrims throughout the world. Thank You! The Chaplain-Fr Lombardi. Make checks to: Grotto of Lourdes.

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi