Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Spiritually pulling wool
over your eyes?

Father John J. Lombardi

"The world's in a mess…What are you gonna' do about it? How will you respond?" These are the questions and observations I heard recently, from a respected Catholic theologian, which woke me out of a spiritual slumber.

But: we don't hear this much-from the pulpit, in social conversations, in family life. Why? Because Americans-including Catholics--are optimists, sometimes naively so. And we find it difficult to balance two ideas at once: realism-that the world is bad off-and hope-without despair. They can go together-as Jesus, the Bible and two-millennia of Christianity have shown. But, it seems today, we choose optimism without realism. We should never forget, "The world languishes and withers" (Ps 24:4), without the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This Sunday's readings are realistic about being-in-the-world. The Lord Jesus says: "My Sheep hear My Voice…and no one can take them out of My hand" (Jn. 10: 28). Are we really hearing and obeying the Voice of God, and are we in the Hand of Jesus? Jesus also spoke of a "thief" who came to steal and slaughter and destroy (10:10). Do we truly believe in, and warn about this? The first reading describes apostles being persecuted and shaking dust at feet in protest against unbelievers (Acts 13:51). The message of Jesus challenges culture, it doesn't kowtow to it. The Second Reading's Book of Revelation speaks of a "time of great distress" (Rev. 7:14). Do Catholics in America think we are in a kind of distress, or are we in a delirious denial? So, you ask: Just what is wrong with the world today? To begin, there are the "Killer D's": divorce (promoted into what Pope John Paul calls, a "culture of divorce," which altars families dramatically); drugs (legal and illegal ones, forming what is called, today, a growing "pharmocracy"); and the culture of death (thru abortion and euthanasia). These will affect each of us in some way-and they are pervasive. Are you hearing about these challenges enough, as when, say, your dentist compassionately but challengingly reminds you, each visit, of your dental decay and the needed, sometimes painful remedies? You can either chose a smile by pain and dental work, or cavities by ignorance. Jesus is realistic--and helpful, in describing Christians in the world today-"In the world you will have much trouble, but fear not: I have overcome the world" (Jn. 16; 33). Notice: realism with hope.

The realism of life hit home more deeply, recently. One of our college students wound up in a coma last week after binging on alcohol and heroine. He may be dying, or, at least, have long term repercussions. Also, another of our Mount Saint Mary's student's-Dennis DiBenedetto--witnessed for Life last week--and wrote: "I call it a privilege…(and) a cross, because never before in my life have I been the recipient of so much hatred and disgust…some who gathered to march in favor of abortion acted like animals to the pro-lifers present. They hurled insults and obscenities at us as we quietly prayed the Rosary on the sidewalk. My heart goes out to those who attacked us on Sunday." We can forget: life is, sometimes, a veil of tears, and disciples are being devastated and souls stolen. And, even with such trauma, we fail to remind our children and loved ones because of the conspiracy of naVve optimism. We must remember the vision of the Bible: "The whole world lies under the power of the evil one" (I Jn. 5:19).

My theologian-friend implied there's a lot of "Pollyanna pushing" going on. You know-naiveté, not getting the real picture of how much the culture and Church are crackling in the world today. Saint John described a kind of "promotion of Pollyannaism": "They (unbelievers) are from the world; therefore what they say is from the world and the world listens to them" (I Jn. 4:5). We are, obviously, far from Eden-but do people realize this? The theologian mentioned the usual perpetrators of maliciousness: liberalist takeovers of most western governments, educational systems and media institutions. Frankly, these are wreaking havoc, yet you hear little about them. Why? Because some, or many, want to repress the "spiritual cavity," because we fear dis-popularity in upsetting the "populist applecart." Alternative to this scenario is Jesus prophetic denunciation: "If the world hates you know that it hated me before you" (Jn. 15:18)

These points came from a question about Catholic politicians who publicly support abortion. (St Paul says: "Reprimand publicly those who sin, so that the rest will also be afraid" -I Tim 5:20). This is another example of a fast-falling world: Catholics advocating the killing of children. Upshot from the theologian: We need prophetic people, upset and loving enough, to ring alarm bells and catalyze others- to vividly show there is 'stealing, slaughter and destruction"-right under our eyes. But some don't want to, because they will not be so comfortable in American state of affairs. This stance is called Americanism, and it is dangerous

Here are some other problems which are prevalent today- Individually: The mentality of "I'm o.k. you're o.k.," and we don't need grace or redemption, nor see ourselves as "fallen sinners". This pride affects our religious outlook. But, contrarily, a mystical-prophetic consciousness observes that our vision, perception and consciousness are blurred-tremendously so, say the prophets and mystics, along with St Paul who exhorts us into "training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires" (Tit. 2:11). Many today, though, do not believe in "evil desires" or need for "training". We need awakening, re-birth (Jn. 3:3-begetting from above), spiritual insight (Eph. 1:18), so as to share in the Divine Nature (II Pt. 1:4). Culturally: In a Separation of Church and State Battle, most Catholics opt for the State. The Lord oppositely, says: "My Kingdom is not of this world" (Jn.18:36); and, St Peter: "We must obey God, not men" (Acts 5). Church: Perhaps you've heard the slogan- "We are Church," where people legitimatize dissent and division within the Faith. This is devastating our Holy Unity and Faith. Remember what St John Says-"Many deceivers have gone out into the world" (2 Jn 1:7). Do you ever hear about this, and their effects in our seminaries, universities and dioceses? Perhaps not enough... We have gone from being a Church militant (marching and missionary) to a Church impotent, -lambs amidst wolves forgetting we are also called to be lions: "Proclaim the word; be persistent, whether it is convenient or inconvenient- convince, reprimand, encourage-for the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine …and will stop listening to the truth" (II Tim.4:2-4).

As I began to more seriously think about my theologian-friends' shattering -and liberating- thoughts, the more they made sense, and the more I thought: most of us are strategizing, at various conscious and unconscious levels, to promote and protect the repression of (Catholic) Truth and Realism in our world, and the needed ,deeper solutions. A friend says: We fear too much, so we dare not truly see-or say. We need more people to see, deeply enough the problems of life and strategize spiritually effectively with Faith-solutions. Once again: deep problems are pervasive and they won't disappear with slogans and spiritual niceties. And, once again: you can be both realistic and hopeful.

When we ignore Big Problems, it's sort of like a full-blown-cancer victim whose doctor prescribes an aspirin so as not to spoil his weekend. We may feel good but are, actually, terrible. St. Paul describes this ignorance: "For the wisdom of the world is foolishness to God" (I Cor. 3:19).

Still need more warning bells? Here are some other symptoms-Culture: Abortion and promiscuity are mainstreamed; materialism is rampant; contraception, is widely practiced; family breakdown and redesigning it are encouraged; homosexualism ("unions," alternative lifestyles) and pornography are nearing acceptability; Relativism (i.e.,there are no absolutes) is a religion; the Ten Commandments and Natural Law are rejected; cloning and genetic selection for redesigning humans gains steam for un-natural exploitation; "natural spiritualism" and witch-craft are now acceptable.

Church: Morality: there is a loss of absolutes are replaced with consequentialism (morality based upon consequences of actions versus objective standards); priestly sexual abuse has hurt our Church and credibility; dissident bishops and priests cause Catholic identity problems within culture, universities and public institutions; "pick and choose" Catholics who don't know their Faith; lack of priestly-religious vocations; evangelization problems.

A learned priest and historian recently said: If we continue as we are now, America will be, in a few decades, like Western Europe is currently. Unfortunately, that's a breath of fresh realism. In Western Europe-the birth-rate and Catholic repopulation is staggeringly low; evangelization and doctrinal knowledge, equally so; strong Muslim influences are converting the once Catholic culture; and lack of God in their public, mostly socialist institutions, dominated by secularists, is slowly secularizing Spiritual Catholicism. Traditional Catholic countries like Spain and Ireland are slowly being de-sacralized.

What to Do:

Truth telling-Explore and lovingly say what's wrong in our world, and how it can be righted. Ring the alarm bells. Remember: most people want to sleep walk thru life- spiritually speaking. That's our tendency. St Paul exhorts: "For this reason, I remind you, stir into flame the gift of God…For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love…So do not be ashamed of your testimony…bear your share of hardship for the Gospel with the strength that comes from God" (II Tim. 1:6-8)…Just as we are called to remember the Killing Fields of Cambodia, Rwanda and The Holocaust, so should we not forget the present evil.

Evangelize the young--children are our future, and oftentimes are vigorously open to bold Truths-so, reach and preach to them!

Avoid Extremes-of naVve optimism and desolating despair. Seek the wise unmuddled middle of Catholic Realism which uncovers evil and promotes hope and good

Define, Promote, Defend the Church and Families-these are, truly, the building blocks of civilization

"Step up to the Plate": A Catholic journalist recently encouraged this in response to the clergy crisis-will you use your gifts and talents to promote Jesus and the Church?

Small things with great love-This spiritual motto encourages-do what you can, sincerely, where you are, now, evermore.

Be a lion: We need more strong, wise, roaring and loving spiritual savants who cry out the Truth fiercely-St John the Baptist-types. .

Preach to the Choir: yes. We need strengthen and inspire ourselves.

"The problem is not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting. The problem is that it has not been tried."

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi