Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Technological Entrancement or Supernatural Amazement

Father John J. Lombardi

What do "Touched by an Angel," The Grotto, and Mother Teresa have in common? Huh? Well, they all have to do with The Supernatural. Anyone who saw the drama or who visits the Grotto's peaceful setting, or who has met the holy lady of Calcutta has encountered some sense of the Supernatural. Remember: The spiritually Supernatural can emanate from light-filled places such as the Grotto and most dramatically, from human-being-saints. When I was India, I observed Indians seeking darshan-an encounter with a holy person - actually seeing a monk, renunciant, or spiritual master encountering their presence. When working with Mother Teresa in Calcutta, this priest recalls a visit to an orphanage. The gates opened, hundreds of ecstatic children and adults immediately discovered she was present and then… immediate beautiful chaos! Indians ran up to her, prostrated on the ground, ran their hands over her feet and then slid them over their own heads as if to absorb a blessing. My reaction: instantaneous wonderment. Clearly it was a supernatural event and experience. "How beautiful the feet that carry the good news" (Rm. 10:15).

When I was backpacking thru Europe one summer, I was entranced while reading a book called (I think) "Supernature." It was kinda' a seeming geophysical thriller about scientifically unexplainable, trans-rational things in the world of nature and life. I was gripped by the beguiling allurement of Nature's beautiful surprises against scientific explanations. It was yet another way to learn that God planted wonderment in each of us, and this book push-buttoned my "innate inspiration factor" in ways both similar and different from the encounter with the Holy Nun of Calcutta.

Nature and natural things can generally be explained by reason, but the Supernatural cannot. Spiritually transcendent events or actions defy categorization, idea-cages and earthly explanations: they escape human bounds. While the Spiritual Epiphanies are mystically meaningful to the Soul's apprehensive powers (what God created in us to grasp His Life), they are trans-rational-beyond reason, but not unreasonable. And people are dying to have these experiences. Why so many illegal drugs, materialistic pleasures and thrill-seekers in life? They are all, in some way, seeking the Supernatural-thru natural, earth-bound ways.

Back to the title of this Bulletin message: We Americans are almost as fascinated by technological innovations (I still admire Ben Franklin and that kite experiment), as we are by religious miracles. The worldly overcomes us. We forget God is the creator of all, and any gizmo or high-tech gimmick we make should point to the Ultimate Maker--mystifyingly (reference Cf. Rm 1 and 2 on the question of getting lost in creation and forgetting the Creator). One soul has said about amazement: "I would sooner live in a cottage and wonder at everything than live in a castle and wonder at nothing" (Joan Brown).

As we enter the most Supernatural time of the year-Christmas, which is about a Virgin giving birth to an Infant-Lord-and-King, let's contemplate the Role and Loss of the Supernatural in our lives. After all, we're Catholics-inheritors of the glorious Vehicle of Jesus Christ's Bride, Our Mother-Church.

Rudolph Bultmann, a famous German theologian, once said that since the invention of electricity and light switches, belief and faith are more difficult. Why? Because humans gain a sense of control, power and (electric) force in turning a light switch, and this "manipulative sense" may displace a need for worship of Unseen Power. Multiply this by palm pilots, Internet and computer chips, space labs and all kinds of technological trickery and you have linear boredom. Souls are thirsting for the Supernatural-God and His Divine Life. So, to put it bluntly and currently: are you gonna shop till you drop? Or will you join the angelic and Celestial Hierarchies proclaiming the Coming of the Savior?

As Catholics we may witness and wonder at the Supernatural in every Mass we attend - ordinary bread and wine become the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus the Christ. We may intuitively experience the spectrally spiritual when we play a chant tape of Gregorian music- no need to think about holiness, light and orbital paradise because it is instinctively present upon hearing the monks singing celestial songs. And when hearing (esp. this Advent) Handel's great masterpiece "The Messiah" with its Christmas Oratory ("For Unto us a Son is Born"), we may experience transpersonal spiritual stimulation. We may witness the Holy when we see a sonogram of a baby within the mom's womb-we may intuitively think: "Created life-what an Intelligent Designer"…However: some people may go all thru life and never have a Supernatural experience.

Many have lamented the loss of the Supernatural in these recent times, but why the seeming disappearance - even within our churches?

Slide toward Secularism-throw out the Ten Commandments and, in essence, this means: throw away "otherworldly life." Prayers in schools, dogmatic evolutionist programs, public prayer and marketplace Christianity have all been denigrated. Add in condoms and so-called sexual education and you de-humanize man and children, strangulating the Supernatural. Deny Divine Intervention in life and thereby affirm humanist boredom and a Tower of Babel for modernists… Busybodyism is one of the Devil's main tricks to get us to always be busy and burned out so we don't want to believe or make special efforts toward the Supernatural…Loss of Sin means loss of need for grace, God and Supernatural intervention…Separation of Church and State: this Trojan horse mantra of secularism is really a ruse to defeat Religion and spirituality, to denigrate the Supernatural, much as Bolshevism and Communism in Russia did. A decade ago, I visited the State Museum of Atheism in Moscow. I cowered at the coldness that was a direct opposite of the Supernal feelings of vibrant religious expression.

Modernist Rationalism is the tendency and heresy to explain everything, especially Faith matters, by human reason alone without recourse to God, Grace or Supernatural intervention, or else to explain away all mystery from life. Mystery is gone - so is wonderment.

Church Issues Slighting Supernaturalism: At a recent college talk on the Catholic Church-"problems and resolutions," a doctor-speaker never mentioned Jesus' Name. People sometimes tend to see our Roman Catholic Church as merely a human institution and not as the Bride of Christ, or the Church founded by Him upon the Rock of Peter (Cf Mt. 16:18). It is a Supernaturally founded Church! Sacraments: emphasis here is upon the recipient-his subjective potential to receive (almost always good)-with little emphasis on the God-given origin and nature of them (grace changing sinful nature, etc)…Bible: The Word is sometimes presented as a series of myths, optional to believe in; literalism and inerrancy is discredited. …Supernatural Realties: Hell, Last Judgment and Purgatory are often neglected or rejected…God: is encountered not as, in the words of famous Rudolph Otto's classic words of mystical encounter--msyterium tremdnum et fascinans (a mystery, tremendous, fascinating), but more as a Nice Guy or downsized divinity Who merely exists for our pleasures.

Well, now, enough: What about The Supernal (meaning: celestial, heavenly), or what of The Numinous (meaning: spiritually sublime)…Appearance-Epiphanies of the Supernatural…

We may supernatural in:

Eucharist: A monk in Italy didn't believe in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Mass or Eucharist. While saying Mass one time though, the consecrated Host began to bleed and drip blood. This monk became a fervent believer. This Sacred Host is preserved in Lanciano, Italy, and doctors have continually tested it. It is actually the real Blood of a Man and contains parts of a human Heart.

Life - don't fail to be amazed by human life. I remember the ecstatic encounter of my godson's birth that I was privileged to experience in the hospital! Couldn't believe it-A baby is born like that-almost like a pre-packaged miracle! I felt instantaneous wonderment, untranslatable by word or reason. A family lost a baby by miscarriage and the oldest of eight children, a teenage boy, expressed the sentiment that he was sad not to have another kid in the near-crowded, but joyful house. This was Supernatural in itself, in this age of contraception and protesting Providence by blocking birth. But later another baby came along. The spiritual sensual love of mom and dad and brother was like a womb of love, unstoppable by nature. Supernature took over!

Moisturizing Mysticism: Read the spiritual works of St Augustine (Doctor of Grace, notorious sinner converted to mystical saint); Bl Elizabeth of the Trinity ( a beautiful Carmelite-physically and metaphysically); St John of the Cross (Mystical Doctor); or Meister Eckhart (German Dominican spiritual writer), and a soul can go "mystically mad" with holy love for the Infinite Origin of such finite-grasping-for-Boundless-Being authors. So, read: "Mysticism," by Underhill; "The Confessions" of St Augustine; the loving lyrical poetry of St John of the Cross ; "Stanzas on Spiritual Ecstasy in High Contemplation," Bl Elizabeth's prayer to The Trinity, and feed yourself on a spiritual diet of Supernatural longing and love.

Heaven's Above: On the these cold, clear Fall and Winter nights, gaze above-view the wonder of the constellations, stars and orbital creations heavenward and be bedazzled by the Maker of it all as the psalm instructs, "The Heavens proclaim the Glory of God".

Sacraments: One time a man stopped instead of zooming by the Grotto. He saw the beautiful golden statue of Mary on the bell tower (25 ft high, gold leaf exterior) and was suddenly gripped. He made a U-turn and came back. He met moi on the parking lot and asked if he could make a confession. My response: "Sure!" and joy and Supernatural wonderment at how Jesus and Mary save people abounded.

Grotto: Most often heard remarks about the Supernal provisions of this Holy Palace: the water heals; the peace of the shrine; nicest place on earth; immediate peace here; serenity and peace. Not to mention amazing aghast ness at the saintly figures who trod here, like the tenacious Mother Seton, the heroic Fr Dubois, founder of the Grotto, and Msgr Phillips-"restorer of the Grotto." They are all seen as legends of Mary's Mountain."

Elderly: When you see the Pope gingerly hobbling along in a video from Rome, eloquently dressed in vestments and hunched over, struggling to speak holy words, you may think: "This man's a saint! He's been shot at, ridiculed, emulated and demanded upon for over fifty years of priesthood, and has placed his entire life in the hands of God and the Church. We may immediately think of his sacrifice and dedication-an explicit Supernatural holiness!

Morals: One time a youth advisor wanted to show our energetic, street-bound-savvy teen group a one-hour video on the life of Saint Maria Goretti. I was doubtful they could sit thru it. The documentary related how Maria forgave the man who stabbed her eighteen times while trying to abuse her. She later appeared to him in a dream giving him eighteen roses. The man eventually repented in prison and was eventually released. He showed up on Maria's mom's doorstep, asking: Do you forgive me? Mom said: Maria forgave you and so do I… Miracles! Such as the teen-groups' entrancement by this spiritual drama--sitting thru all of it without a whisper. And also the forgiving spirit of Maria and her mom…and: a repentant murderer becoming a saint. At all this I felt, feel, immediate wonderment-The Supernatural manifests again!

Sacrifice: There's a couple who come to Mass frequently. Well, one is physically and mentally impaired and the other is somewhat elderly. It takes a lot for the one to bring the other and, besides, the disabled person often pulls and wrestles, moans and resists the other's help and love. But: they both persist in coming, receiving Communion, and praying, however much of a wrestling match it is. As I look out from the altar, I often see heroic sacrifice and a miracle of Love-instantaneously astonished by their perseverance and desire for Jesus in the Supernatural Bread.

Social Outreach: Now I look back and think of Colin, a young seminarian from Wisconsin, who had cancer. He was a "Basselin scholar"-which meant tons of study of arcane philosophy and a heavy, busy schedule, not to mention his weighty sickness. It seemed the last thing this man had time would be the homeless souls. Well, what did he make time for? He would go out and give them sandwiches, clothing and concern, and one time, he went so far as to do civil disobedience (blocking warming subway gates where the homeless would congregate) and get locked up for it. He went on trial and later got off-after sacrificing precious school and study time. He died a few months later. When I think of him--his tremendous dedication and joie de vivre, I think-Super-natural love and dedication-trans-human! St Francis of Assisi prayed: "Where there is darkness, let me sow light." Colin surely did.

Supernatural Simplicity: Last Sunday night, instead of doing some work (it was the Sabbath, after all) I took a drive and walked in the Catoctin Mountains. There was a bright, almost-full moon, unseasonable warmth, and plenty of space and solitude to wander in - it was a Supernal evening. Big deal? It was a simple joy to walk under the moonlight in Harbaugh Valley, to enjoy barking dogs howling at the moon, hear grazing cows, and be enshrouded by the quiet mountains. It was a delight to drive thru the mountain pass on Debold Rd, get out and take a little hike and look down at St Joseph Valley, with house lights flickering in the distance and stars twinkling in the sky-a beautiful vastness. It was, in a way, Supernaturally simple. Lesson: you don't need a lot in life-only calmness of mind and practical desire to carpe diem-seize the moment-of what God is giving you right where you are-The Sacrament of the Present Moment.

As we begin this beautiful time of year, don't let anyone denigrate the Divine Gift of Wonderment in you, for Jesus says He will give you a treasure and "no one will take your joy from you" (Jn. 16:22).

How to respond: Attend Mass more frequently…Read the Bible and the Lives of the Saints…Avoid media mediocrity: did saints watch a lot of TV, fixate on news or gawk at gothic novel-reality shows? …Read good, holy spiritual books--Recommended: "Mysteries, Marvels and Miracles" by Joan Carol Cruz (Tan press), and others mentioned earlier.…Enjoy and display holy and spiritual art which elevates the soul and promotes beauty…Read some poetry-G.M. Hopkins, or "The Hound of Heaven," or the English Lake Poets …

Become as a child to welcome the Christ Child!

Remember: "The first wonder is the offspring of ignorance; the last is the parent of adoration" S. T. Coleridge.

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi