Emmitsburg Council of Churches

On Thankfulness, Spiritual Childhood and Spiritual Death…

Father John J. Lombardi

"Blow, blow, thou winter wind, Thou art not so unkind As man's ingratitude." -Shakespeare

"Marvelous to behold." That's how a priest-friend described the absolute joy, wonderment, and spiritual happiness of a grand father, upon seeing his grandchildren receive the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist recently. You see, this grandfather had many grandchildren-dozens, in fact, and only two of them were not practicing the Faith (this is slightly amazing in today's lukewarm-Faith-world). So, these last two grandchildren were both his cause and hope-like restlessly questing for lost sheep. After a family discussion, the parents allowed granddad to instruct them in the Faith. Finally, they arrived! They received the Sacraments and threw a party-a big one. The granddad was ecstatic: joyful exuberance was how my priest friend described it. The granddad's thankfulness and spiritual joy countenanced him so much that it radiated to others.

Are you grateful? Do you have that kind of granddad's thankfulness? If not, how will you attain it? In this Sunday's Gospel (Lk 17:11-19), the Lord Jesus heals ten lepers in Samaria-Galilee, and yet only one leper returns to thank The Lord of Lords for his healing. The others, apparently, reveled in their physical healing and forgot the spiritual healing that only God gives. Was the "Grateful Leper" a "religious regular"-a Jew, a "chosen one"-one of the elite? No. he's a "guy from across the railroad tracks." Samaritan meant outcast-and yet he was the one who expressed gratefulness.

Why does Jesus tell this story? Simple-1) because we all can be ungrateful, we all can take things for granted. Well, never do this. Never pass a day without telling God Thanks!- for at least three blessings. Never forget to thank your family for their blessings; never forget to pass on a kind word, or a greeting, so as to edify the Mystical Body on Earth. Look: you don't' have to be a brain surgeon to practice Christianity- "Say the things people really need to hear" (Ephesians). 2) Jesus tells the story because privileged people (Jewish Scribes and Pharisees of the time, etc) could take things for granted. No. It was someone-a Samaritan leper--who appeared one way and yet, acted another, subverting and dispelling expectations. Don't' be left out--from thankfulness, that is. Don't let your position at work or in society, or, God forbid, your religion, prevent you from Thanking God for all his blessings. Some other lessons: Eucharist means "Thanksgiving". Are you giving thanksgiving before Thanksgiving Day? Every day is a Eucharistic thanksgiving day. Why? Because Mass Is always offered on the Altars of the world-Jesus comes to us, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, in Holy Communion. Will you come to Him more? I am constantly inspired by the many children and adults who attend daily Mass at the Grotto-all because they love Jesus and are thankful for His graces-and express it by their attending Mass.

Giving: Damien the Leper Priest (1840-1889) dedicated his life to lepers in Molokai-Hawaii. Don't get misty-eyed--it was hard, holy work. It was a kind of "exile-paradise". Damien died there serving his leper friends. He became one of them. How will you serve the sick, the so-called uglified, and therein, find Jesus in them as did Bl. Damien? While traveling back from his island one time I met the man who transported Damien's hand back to Hawaii, after the rest of his body was left, to lay in state, in Belgium, Damien's home country! I thought: This is no coincidence, meeting him. Damien seemed to be speaking to me, as by his extending hand which touched so many souls and people. Even while leaving the land of Damien, he was still reaching out to me, speaking to me, us-saying: Extend the Kingdom, esp. to the poor. How will you pass on the legacy?

Cultivate Thanksgiving: I once saw a book title, "Gratefulness is the Heart of Prayer". That sums it up-didn't have to read the book. How can you stimulate gratefulness?-Look at creation; meditate and think of your day, how God has touched you; think of the people-blessings around you; thank the Lord for Himself, "Emanuel," which means God with-us; thank Him for the promised Bliss of Heaven -spiritual ecstasy in the Godhead, multiplying infinitely without passing); thank Him for our Holy Catholic Church, the Bl Virgin Mary; the Mystical communion and all the myriads of saints; and martyrs. That's a start. Now do this each day. This will "Stretch the Heart" into Gratefulness, and make you more thankful and conscious of God and His Divine Providence.

Pray constantly-Beseech the Lord: "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!" (Lk. 17) .This is a prayer of humility, acknowledging that Jesus is Lord, and that we "spiritual lepers" need His help. We Americans are not autonomous acting-superheroes who can go it alone, despite all our money, power and prestige. It is sometimes difficult to ask for help. Pray the ancient "Jesus-Prayer": Lord Jesus, only Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Grace at Meals:-Yes, even in public places- "Bless us, O Lord, in these Thy gifts, which we are about to receive, from Thy Bounty, thru Christ Our Lord: Amen."

Negatives of life: we can often focus on, and get immersed in, bad things and inordinately, unconsciously, concentrate on them. Even though we have food, shelter, the "basics of life," we somehow get fixated on what we don't or can't have. This is natural; we are poor sinners-but we are supernatural creatures and, by way of constant mindfulness of God's graces, we can be healed and become truly grateful. While on pilgrimage to Lourdes recently, we got lost driving the French countryside a few times. Fr Farmer, fellow pilgrim, said more than once: "That's OK, look at all the beauty we are seeing. This is a blessing!" Negatives negate; gratefulness spirates. Visit Inelegance : Like Bl Damein, and Mother Teresa of Calcutta, don't get stuck by comforts, complacency, middle-class beauty. This, usually, will only intoxicate you on materialism and inoculate you from Jesus in His poor, sick and dying. Get uncomfortable. Look for Jesus in the unsightly and disfigured, the appalling impoverished, in repelling conditions of nursing homes, in the grisly- groaning children who are neglected and poor. Return from your visit thankful that God graces you, and impels you to do more. On pilgrimage to Calcutta and India, I met so many people, like Jan and Kirk, a married couple form Arizona, who returned there frequently to embrace the extreme poverty, to give and receive in Mother Teresa' Kalighat, Home for the Dying. By this they cultivated grateful hearts and Charity. They were not rich-they scrounged to return there; but they are rich in spiritual treasures. The memories of such dire poverty-and, also, the ecstatic joy amongst the poor-- etch in the soul and help pilgrims remember: Count Blessings, extend the Kingdom to others. Thankfulness for Atonement-meditate upon, and/or hold a Crucifix. Lovingly, like the Virgin Mary at the Foot of the Cross, thank Christ for dying for your sins; for making you into At-One-Ment with the Trinity and Heaven; for giving you His Holy and Precious Blood, His Soul and Divinity. Never take this for granted.

A related story of Spiritual Lessons: Beauty Amidst Sadness…Fr David Kriss was at The Alumni Mass (his class' 25th reunion) when suddenly, just after Mass had begun, he collapsed-right in the Grotto. Immediately, companionate people ran, cell phones buzzed and we found out that he had a massive heart attack. People worked on him and he was then taken to Gettysburg Hospital. We later found out he may have died in the Grotto. I later discovered he loved the Grotto, Mt St Mary's and "The Mountain". Perhaps, in some spiritual way, by his "sonar soul," he came here to die-"What better place? How beautiful," so many people said that day. Spiritual lessons? 1) Dr Powell -initially way up high in the bleacher seats above the Grotto--came down, took off his sport coat and gave the holy priest mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. So did Dennis, a seminarian. Point: don't be afraid to get involved. Don't feel you're too privileged like the religious Pharisees of Jesus time to help out. And don't get shocked or overwhelmed by difficult circumstances of life. Jump in! When the going gets tough the holy get going. 2) As I ran down the Mountain to get help a seminarian yelled-"Get some oils-he may be dying." That said it all for me-it was a serious situation and these guys, seminarians and priests, were serious about their Faith-Holy Anointing, Sacrament of the Sick, Last Rites: they wanted the priest's spiritual healing, which is what the leper in Jesus' healing story needed and became thankful for. We should pray and work for physical healing, but, more importantly, our souls desire healing from spiritual leprosy-from our sins, our bad attachments and actions…3) As we worked for minutes on Fr Kriss I recall hearing and seeing many times the men of Mt St Mary's Seminary praying-the Rosary: "Hail Mary …pray for us now and at the hour of our death--Amen." Their prayer was so comforting-and inspiring…Later, Drew, a seminarian, said: "Well, it's so sad. But, perhaps years from now, some will see it as beautiful- dying in the Grotto." Yes-like a lot of life-it was both sad and, beautiful…

Spiritual Waxing and Waning
The more I decrease inside
The more He will increase
And with my soul abide.
With the Virgin, then: Magnify!


The "I" referred to above means the selfish, clinging self. As when St Paul describes our condition- "you should put away your old self" (Eph 4:22); and when Jesus describes discipleship: "If anyone wishes to follow Me he must deny himself" (Lk 9:23). This "self" will never get us happiness or union with God; left unto itself, it will only lead to unhappiness and un-holiness. Decreasing the self means: praying more to allow God to rid you of your "old self"; serving others; receiving the Sacraments-God's Gift of Himself; a kind of dying which means, really, spiritual rising. It is painful, but ecstatic. St John the Baptist echoes the Truth of Eternal Life: "I must decrease He (Jesus Christ) must increase" (Jn. 3:30). The "inside" means the center source of selfish self, your wrongful heart and mind and will. The Spiritual Battle is within.

When we do this, when we die and deny the "old self" with its evil, clinging, possessing, small ways-endlessly, it seems-He, the Lord, will dwell within. We will become more like the Virgin Mary: transparent to God, more able to receive, love and extend Him; more like her, a pure, Immaculate Vessel of love. Then there will less self and more God. Like a pure window or magnifying lens-we will naturally, supernaturally, magnify Him: "My soul magnifies the Lord…" (Lk. 1:46).

One Intimate Trinity

"One removed am I, breath taken, gazing on the saint, through the child's eyes./ One removed, captivated, gazing---transfixed, enthralled, through the child's eyes.

Awed, interrupted, the child blinks: The link unbroken, we gaze.

Simple beauty, tender unity: One intimate trinity, the child, the saint, and I." -By Nancy E. Thoerig (reprinted with permission).

Briefly Noted

Importance of Catholic Conscience:-in these times we are called to be, somehow, both Catholic and American, to form our conscience about difficult moral issues. Study your Catechism and talk to holy, learned people. The Church has pronounced the evils of stem cell research, abortion, euthanasia, and proposed "homosexual unions". Pope John Paul counseled President Bush not to start war but, now begun, hopefully to bring it to swift and just conclusion. We must also help and think about the elderly and persecuted, healthcare for the poor, social justice for unfortunate and adequate housing for all. Inform your conscience. Be Catholic!

Vatican News: "My strong desire is that the Year of the Eucharist, that will begin on October 10 with the opening of the International Eucharistic Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, will be a providential occasion to better explore the central importance of the Sacrament of the Eucharist in the life and activity of every particular Church." Pope John Paul II….Grotto All Night Vigil: Oct 10-11. Join us! 

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi