Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Do You show Fruits of your Faith?

Father John J. Lombardi

Some people like to go to the generic "Dollar Store". It seems a lot interesting folks are there. Like the elderly checkout-lady recently who pulled out a magnifying lens to read the small computer readout of a bill. Cute. And then there's the "lady without teeth". A patron said she kinda looked intimidating, not too friendly. Then this shopper met her and said she was really nice. Love-your-neighbor-lessons come in all forms.

The Essence of God is love (I John 4:6) and we Catholics and Christians are called to realize this (thru prayerful enlightenment, especially contemplation), and called to live this out 24/7, even when difficult. Some Christians challenge us complacent Catholics cunningly: You worship a homeless man on Sunday and walk by him on Monday--What's up with this? Perhaps we are all "pick and choose Catholics" at some level-especially at whom we love and show charity toward.

Our "neighbor" came into our homes and churches when we saw pictures and heard stories of Hurricane's Katrina's wrath, of thousands dead and whole cities and parts of states devastated. Many, in the wake of this have seen their neighbor-starving children, split up families, wrecked homes and lives-and have sent money, prayers or material goods to their "neighbor". That's a great thing about our country: when one part of the Nation-Body hurts, another part responds. Usually heroically.

On another level I have always been struck by St John Eudes-a Frenchman who loved Jesus lots, especially in the Eucharist, but also loved Him in distressing disguises-in the poor, and in helping prostitutes. Yes-you may read that truthful description again and believe! For him I'm sure there was no contradiction-it was all natural for him, or, at least, became so-Love God and Love neighbor: no matter how off-putting the "neighbor" seemed--the more dramatic and traumatic the better. For most of us this heroic kind of Love is challenging. However, as our Seminary Rector reminds us, what was normal for the saints is seemingly abnormal for us…Keep trying!

In the Second Reading of Sunday's Mass St Paul says: "Love your neighbor". (Rm. 13:9) (See also: Lev 19:18). We've all heard this a thousand times before. This seems so usual, so "Christian"-- and yet we may find it difficult. And though we've heard and pondered it many times, and God does provide us grace us to love our neighbor-people without teeth, persons who are disagreeable, souls who are different from us-we Catholics can sometimes compromise our call to love the "other."

Recently I was walking at the Grotto and greeted a rather large group of Catholic pilgrims, whom I knew to be on the "orthodox" spectrum of Catholicism. As I welcomed them they seemed reticent at my hospitality (many of them whisking by me to enter the Grotto). So, I "read the vibes" and simply let it go. Later, as they were leaving I did a "fly by" and attempted greetings again (many of them were young) and, again, they ignored me in response to my pastoral presence. Barely gave me the time of day. Okay…

In my pastoral journeys as a human (four decades) and as a priest (18 yrs) this has happened many times. Sometimes orthodox Catholic believers can be cliquish, uncharitable-and this can be a kinda like a "Twilight Zone" experience-spiritually strange. Aren't we supposed to be kindly and outgoing--you know, like love our neighbor? Love does not tighten, it enlightens, love does not petrify, but unifies … Msgr. Rohlfs of our Seminary recently told the story of when he was a theology student, and of a "progressivist seminarian" who preferred to make a genuflection in a non-traditional way (bowing instead of kneeling), and who was subsequently "suspect" and "pigeon-holed". But: this man, Msgr. Rohlfs said, was the "go-to guy" if you ever needed help -he was known to be heroically charitable by everyone in the Seminary.

Examples of "spiritual-coldness" make me think: are such disciples about religion (the Latin-word root means to bind together) or about ideology-- so-believing in their own interpretation of Catholicism that every one else is inauthentic, wrong, off limits? I've experienced this "We're-better-and-more-authentic-than-you-and-we're-going-to-ignore-you-syndrome" variously with laypersons, clergy and even institutions-all which claim orthodoxy, Catholicism, to be "The Real Deal" (whether spoken or not). None of these Catholic individuals or groups, in my own actual experience demonstrate, sometimes, more a kind of separating rather than religious binding-together. (Note: I trust and hope I am not being judgmental-but, rather, making judgments on actual experiences.) We Catholics can wear all the cuff links or cassocks we want, burn all the incense we desire, or read all the JPII we think helpful, but if we have not love, we are like a "clanging symbol" (I Cor. 13:1). Remember-the Essence of God and the Heart of our Religion is Love.

This makes me think: How do I, as Chaplin, promote charity at the Grotto, at Masses, or warmth at my parish assignments? One of the most effective ways of charitableness, for a priest, besides hearing confessions and praying the Mass, is simple-greeting people. Welcoming them. They love it. And yet it is so simple. Usually it's progressivists--who are most warm and charitable.

However, we need note-caution!: If one emphasizes Love too much without Law, Pollyannaism develops (no "spiritual gravity"); if one emphasizes too much Law without Love-robotic Phariseeism is the outcome.

Last week I said a funeral Mass for a beautiful man who was a state trooper. He was a "fallen away Catholic" until his wife-a non-Catholic, persistently called priests for pastoral visits. The man came back to Church, even in "an irregular marriage". The wife, despite all the recent troubles, the suffering and death, and her non-Catholic-ness, said just after the funeral: "Father, I want to become Catholic." Those are moments you: 1) go into ecstasy; 2) really believe in God, and in His Providence; 30say to soul-self: It's all really worth it!". Why did she want to become Catholic-esp. when she "confessed" she was precociously "fighting me" and the Catholic Faith and didn't always experience a warm community? Because she met welcoming, warm believers along the way. I was struck by her basic human need and searching for hospitality. And, thank God, she found it! Is that warmth you, us? Or are we cold and off-putting--too ideological or enfrenzied or uptight or preoccupied to be charitable, to love our neighbor?

Usually some orthodox Catholics believe the traits of Love and Law are "necessary opposites"-if one emphasizes community and "love" it is to the detriment of Truth and orthodoxy. If one emphasizes, oppositely, canon law it wipes our charity. But: just as in our bodies, head and heart should go together.

Did you ever think?: Jesus constantly railed against the super-religionists Scribes and Pharisees, and even said that prostitutes and tax collectors would enter the Kingdom before them (Mt. 21:31-32)! Why? Because these elite spiritual soldiers were given pride of place and abused it; they were called to be examples, but rather became elitists; they were called to promote the Law and Spirit, but instead protected their own power and cliques; they were called to embrace all, yet they dismissed the marginalized; and instead of living selflessly, they lived selfishly. Ergo: I think God despises pride, arrogance, lack of charity-even if it is in "religious people."

Here's a Paradox: in trying to be so orthodox or authentic Catholics--we may err in charity. By either promoting or protecting our Faith-"undefiled"-- we may neglect or reject the heart and charity. It's seems like a "Reaction-Retraction"---a syndrome of knee-jerk reacting to the progressivism that has -exclusively stressed love, charity, the heart-to the detriment of law and proper belief. So: true believers feel not only pillaged by this biased, controlling program, but may over-react and become mechanical, uptight, exclusivists, cliquish and disheartened. All others who are not "true believers" are suspect-even if they're clergy. It's kinda' understandable-but also fixable. In the wake of this, always remember--It's not love or law but both love and law.

Obviously, I'm sure you realize, so-called "love" can be abused, overemphasized, and, we should always remember: we cannot be saved by our works, by ourselves (Catholics can be prone to this). We cannot choose or emphasize charity without proper belief. Do-gooders don't automatically go to Heaven or "The Hall of Holiness". "Blind love" is good if it is a spiritual-Christic-force within to help all persons; but "blind love" can be wrong if it is not informed by Truth. Such as: a Catholic abortion politician who loves private rights and the poor but promotes the killing of children; or progressivists who love "inclusion: and yet challenge Church-teachings;or International organizations which promote third world relief, poverty programs and AIDS assistance but push contraception and abortion.

The most orthodox believers-St Catherine of Siena, St John Eudes, Mother Teresa,etc.-all loved God and neighbor, equally emphasized Truth and charity; they all integrated charity and Church. Now, some people's temperament are more naturally affectionate: and others are more intellectualist and abstract. Some are "people-persons," some are not. Bottom line: while the varied gifts, temperaments and personalities are for the Glory of God and should be respected, we are all called to practice Charity heroically.

The Gospel this Sunday (Mt. 18:15-20) and the First reading (Ez. 33:7-9) both call us to a unique love of neighbor, one that is "un-pc."--That you love your neighbor so much you help them with their sins That's hard in our culture which promotes (wrong forms of) tolerance, non-judgementality, and, openly, sinful acts and situations. In such a world think about this: Just as you would naturally spontaneously stop a child from touching a stove top burner, so we should, must help sinners from sinning. This is love of neighbor, too.

Today the Top Three C's of sins might be-contraception, cussing and cohabitation. These are promoted and pushed upon us. Also add in: materialism (bigger houses in the suburbs and fewer kids; bigger vehicles eating up more gas and polluting more); the Sabbath dishonored or rejected. Last week a soccer tournament was held nearby--all day Sunday--evaporating time for worship, Mass, God charitable deeds, family time.

To truly love someone means we must love their souls, their eternal salvation and not just their "bodies"-- their earthly happiness, their passing or politically correct desires. For instance, "Fred" ( Grotto pilgrim) just got back from Nicaragua. His charitable insight: you can send money and plan to do fundraisers with people, but the most important thing is to let them know you are with them, and, even when far away, that you are (spiritually) rooting for them, thinking of them-in solidarity.

We may also think of loving our neighbor when praying for the soldiers in Iraq: thousands have been killed and sacrificed their lives for "neighbors" they didn't even know. But that's American-love without cost. Think of all the goodwill of those who helped rescue souls in New Orleans and Mississippi, those sending food and money-our "neighbor" is there, too. When we see the news this way-we may more lovingly, inspiredly sacrifice for our neighbor-whether in Biloxi or Indonesia or Zambezi. When the priest prays at Mass "and we pray for the Church throughout the world"-- and bring them into the Sacrificial effects of the Mass and send graces to help them: we cannot live in spiritual silos. So, to follow up…

Ask: How can I expand my love for neighbor and Imitate the Master: Christ Who balanced and exemplified love and law?

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi