Emmitsburg Council of Churches

All is passing, God alone is changeless

Father John J. Lombardi

Sometimes while enjoying the Summer sunshine, perhaps even a cool beer, while in my parents backyard on my day off, I wish I could stop the hands of time and delay the incessant change which encroaches upon my day of relaxation and refreshment. But, of course, I can't.…Other times while praying (or trying to!) I notice myself clinging to a certain thought feeling or passing pleasure-which change so rapidly-and, despite their attraction and fleeting elixir and seeming solidity, I realize that I must rest in God alone-the Rock of my Faith-the One Who alone is changeless. So simple and yet so difficult.

Perhaps you've had these same experiences.

Change. That is what we all wrestle with. And we all are searching and yearning for That Which Does Not Change. Something solid, SomeOne eternally faithful, something truly dependable. "Our heats are restless until they rest in Thee O God" St Augustine prayed. So true.

And so: we all desire and search-seemingly interminably-- for at least two changeless things-- Truth and Being. Truth we can depend and base our lives on, and a Being to be our "Spouse". Both of these innate, hard-wired drives within are found in and thru Christ Jesus-Himself and in His teachings .And yet: we all fall short by accepting or embracing changing things-people, places, things which we think will replace God and His Truth. Some people choose drugs, others improper relationships and still others philosophies or errant beliefs. "Vanities of vanities, all life is vanity" (Eccl.12:8 ) This Bible verse, however terse, describes our human experience, at least one time or another, pointing out human frustration of chasing ephemeral things which do not ultimately fulfill.

In this Sunday's Gospel Jesus says: "Thou art Peter and upon rock I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not prevail over it" (Mt. 16. 18). We Catholics should memorize that verse --for many reasons:

  • Jesus-the-God-Man said "I will build my Church" (ekklesia, in Greek is "church") He means and meant the singular, One Church. He did not say "churches" or "communities" or anything plural or different. Ergo, there is one True Church He will build and builds, and that, as Vatican II taught, subsists in the one True Catholic Unity. So, Catholics, Stick with It!
  • He will build it. It is Christ Who is the Divine Origin of our holy Church, not any person, priest or pope, as good as they might be. All other communities have human, fallible founders; we all need be aware of human fallibility, and so we should attract believers to Jesus' Church and Catholic Unity .
  • Christ builds His Church upon human people, in this case, upon the Prince of the Apostles, St Peter, and that "building" continues thru Peter's succession, upon latter popes, until this very day, upon Pope Benedict XVI. Let us pray for him-he's got a big job. Notice the blending in our Catholic Church-a Divine Founder and human vicar. Thank God for not mixing things up but for matching things up!
  • Some people, especially Protestant Christians think Jesus was acknowledging and building His Church upon Peter's confession of Faith, and not upon Peter-the-Rock himself. Not so. Some say Jesus used different words for "rock" about Peter and the Church in that verse. Catholics, since earliest time have taught that Jesus meant He was equating the two, and that Peter is both rock himself (Cephas) and also the rock upon which Jesus is building His church.
  • In Ephesians (1:20ff) St Paul says that God is building His Church and Mystical Body upon the apostles, teachers and holy ones. This corroborates that God uses actual humans, and apostles, to construct and continue His Church, and doesn't intend a simply "spiritual," un-incarnated community of believers as many believe today.That means Jesus builds His Church upon St Peter and His chosen successors, the Popes…

Even though there we have the "rock of Ages" and "rock of our Faith" and "rock of Peter", still, so much changes in the worl, and it is hard to keep up with. Many people will think that just because things change in the world, so must the Church and Her teachings. "Change with the times or be left behind" is a common saying and sometimes fallacious metaphor. I was passing a billboard recently and it began to change-into a new advertisement--miraculously -somehow done thru computer or electronics or... What seemed so solid now changes. Have you looked at how toothpaste changes: there's tartar control or "whitening bright" or gum line protecting or "bleaching" styles. And diets change, too- from South Beach to Adkins, you can select the newest, the best, and so forth. Americans are ingenious at re-inventing, changing, re-packaging-almost anything. There are seeming constant marketing and polling campaigns for products from colleges to food and tv programming which gauge "likeability" and then deliver new goods accordingly. But, amidst all this change we should be aware and suspect-our Faith does not change. God does not alter. The essence of our religious practices do not change. We feel, though (at least some people do) that , because "the world is changing," so too must our Faith-our beliefs, our morality (especially subject to this phenomenon)-and "the Church must get with the times."

Therefore, amidst this mindset of change and the seeming need to change with the times, and perhaps because we think our religion may be lagging behind, cohabitation becomes valid; same sex unions permissible; stem cell research aok; abortion and contraception needed; women priests allowable; fornication and homosexual acts possible, and even God Himself subject to change (calling Him in the Liturgy "mother" and so forth).Oppositely, some people (whom we may call ultra-traditionalists) think that Vatican Council II (1962-1965) changed Church teaching. Not so. The Catholic Church did not change one iota of teachings-nothing about the Mass was altered (the Church still calls it sacrifice in the document "Sacrosanctum Concilium"); nothing was changed about morality (there are still absolutes as "Gaudium et Spes" delineates), or about Sacred Revelation (the Bible is still infallible and teaches us everything we need to know necessary for our salvation as found in "Dei Verbum"). However: some false interpretations of Vatican II were either errant or ideologically biased and thereby some persons proposed wrongful teachings about the Catholic Church's thought. Pope John Paul was strong at both heralding Vatican II and, in orthodox fashion, interpreting it faithfully for us sheep.

To understand this a bit more it would be good to discuss Essence and Form. Say what?! Put simply: the essence (of a thing) is always the same, however the form (appearance or outer presentation) may change. Like?: a book (essence) does not alter although we may change the bookcover (the form). In every Mass of the world it is Christ Who is the main celebrant (the human priest His "stand-in," called "alter Christus"-meaning another Christ), and it is still a sacrifice to the Eternal Father for atonement of our sins (even though we may call it a "celebration" a "sacred meal" and so forth, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes--cf. # 1328-1322). Celebration styles, vestments in the Mass and even language may change (the forms), but the Mass does not (it's essence). So, therefore, we may rely on the "rock" of our Faith as Catholics in this modern world.

You may hear some people today say (with a hint of fatalism which may blind you): Change is good. But: Is all change good? Think of the change Hitler brought, and the Ku Klux Klan and communism. Obviously all change is not good. Change for its own sake, which America may be hostage to, is not always good. But we Catholic Americans have been conditioned on change and we sometimes buy it blindly. Remember Christ's saying, "Upon this rock"? He did not say upon an exit poll or passing fancy, or upon someone's good will, or... Rock is solid, and Christ meant it because it will not change and we all need solidity. It's in our hard wiring

What, you may ask, are some changes in our world we need discern? Here are some of the most influential:

Information technology-we have instant messaging, infinite magazines and journals, and the world wide web. But with all the good changes this has brought (including this chaplain typing on a computer with spell checker!) we also have pornography, copyright theft, stolen identity and excessive time attached to "computerology". People are actually getting attached to "The New Technologism". Is all this change good? We need discern carefully. With all the information at the touch of our fingertips, are we any wiser?

Marriage and family-Pope John Paul said we are now living in a culture of divorce. And, oppositely, he bravely challenged Catholic lawyers to not propagate illegitimate divorce. Recall the saying: As the family goes,so does civilization. We should challenge the redefinition of families today and this culture of divorce-and heal it's origins.

Medical-Bioethics: scientists can clone sheep and possibly human beings, and also design and control babies in the womb. Genetic engineering and stem cell research are seeming new gods to appease victim souls. A Frankensteinian project of redesigning human beings is projected at us and will continue to roll on, with secular professional ethicists interlocked with corporate America and drug companies to justify "change". We need brave courageous souls to challenge this "brave new world" of change.

Philosophical-we live in a world today, of what Pope Benedict calls the "dictatorship of relativism," which means there is no absolute truth but only what a current ruling group may decide and defines. Colleges, grade schools and culture have all succumbed to this and therefore the Ten Commandments are now suggestions, and attempts at moral clarity and philosophical precision are suspect.

So, then, what are changes we may discern in our Church today?

Liturgy- today horizontalism is influential, whereby reverence and holiness of God is lost…How can you bring reverence and Otherness fo God (along with His Immanence and Sacred Heart) back into Church and liturgies?

Bible-historicism is the practice whereby a "That was then this is now mentality" reigns and where Sacred Revelation-from "God on high" --is neglected or rejected and human authorship and subjectivity is pronounced.

Morality- consequentialism is in-whereby no moral act is good or bad in itself, but is only so due to it consequences. Memorize the Ten Commandments and know Church teachings bout morality --esp. where you are challenged and culpable. We've all bought "the new morality" at some point, so now know and love your Mother Church's teachings which liberate.

Children's catechetics-This field of Catholic child and adult education has watered down and sometimes denigrated true Catholic teachings. I just asked a priest friend about his recommendations, and he suggested Maria Montessori, an Italian Catholic who knew well, children and pedagogy. Get good, solid programming for your children and adult friends.

Spirituality-put simply, "We're lost without the Cross." So: instead of affirming yourself, fulfilling impossibly endless self esteem and buying the culture of narcissism, "deny yourself, pick up your cross" and follow Him-the Christ (cf. Lk. 9:23).


  • How do I impress within my sinful, fallible self, that I need Him Who does not change, God; and His Truths, our Catholic Church?
  • Do I study my Faith to truly know what can never change as contrasted from forms which do change?
  • How can I help others who have bought into the "All-change-is-good" trap and introduce them into the Liberation and Salvation of Catholic Christianity?

Remember-you're a Catholic, the Lord never changes and He continues to build His Church to this day-we are privileged heirs: NEVER TAKE IT FOR GRANTED!

Glorious surprising things happen at our Grotto-Be Prepared! One rainy morning I got a call from "Tink," our maintenance man, that a priest wanted to say Mass at the Grotto. Okay…kinda! Tink put me in touch with this priest's friend: after asking who the priest was and where he was from, came the reply-"He's the Bishop of Jerusalem." Yikes! Yes, the auxiliary Bishop of Jerusalem stopped by this past Friday around Noon. He said: "Call me Camel, it's easier than saying my last name." (Which was, indeed, difficult to say and remember!). After celebrating Mass the Bishop said many encouraging words to some pilgrims and locals who gathered eagerly to receive his blessing. Seeing children around, smiling widely, he said-"Vocations and priests come from families--holy families…Living in Jerusalem is a joy. When the Incarnation-Jesus-came down to earth it was like Heaven-just as good--as it was God Himself amidst the people, right where I live."…What I remember most about him, though, was his genteel spirit, kindliness and grace-an earthy guy, yet obviously, spirited. He said he recently celebrated fifty years as a priest (the Jerusalem air must make him youthful looking, radiant), and he profoundly said with a slight smile, to this Chaplin of Mary's Garden: "Mary's my real mother." Then he whisked away…Thank God for our Grotto and priest-bishops like Bishop Camel!

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi