Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Mary's Mountain:
Finding God in All Things

Father John J. Lombardi

One of the most important things I was taught in the seminary-Theological College at Catholic University of America, was to "think theologically". That was the "mantra" of the masters degree program and seminarians. In other words: elite academicians and spiritual gurus said everything you do, see and experience, should be filtered thru the "lens" of spiritual interpretation-from the seemingly ordinary to the paranormal. Like a woman drinking water with a Man at a well (Jn. 4 ) to the Resurrection experience (Lk. 24:12ff= Emmaus and Illuminating Bread ). After a while, by thinking theologically in those days, we couldn't get religion off the brain. So, following are some reflections from a campout and Fiftieth Anniversary. Part I: Camping and Christianity…

Go for It: All day we were monitoring the cloudy situation to see if rains were coming-as forecasted. A couple of guys and I almost canceled (maybe we were not psyched enough) and when I called the head honcho, Brian-I was ready to plan another time for the trip, Brian exemplified the "gung ho- let's go!" attitude we all needed in the-then sea of doubts. And it was a perfect decision as no rains came until we got into our tents for sleep. The weather-temperature was perfect for a hike and we all got into the spirit-- five adults and four youth-centered around the Bolger family from Libertytown--and that's what we came back with, too!... Lesson: Carpe diem-seize the day, was Brian's spirit. A lot of times in life we hem and haw, over-speculate and rationalize over decisions and events. Not Brian. Milites Christie means soldiers of Christ on the move. Are you? -- Up the Mountain of Holiness and into life. Are you going forward, or…?

Pack Light: this means not only for camping but also for discipleship. When you have all kinds of unnecessary things-even a bag of chips, as I did, furiously munching on this afternoon snack perhaps as an attachment to the "civilization" I was leaving behind-these will often overweigh you, de-focus your mission. And you enjoy less on the way up the mountain (straggling items falling from your backpack) and in pilgrimaging thru life (avariciousness=always craving never enjoying)…Lesson: What can you get rid of to make your pilgrimage lighter, more Christ-centered? KISS principle (excuse bluntness): Keep It Simple Stupid.

Lost and Found: Previous camping trips found us struggling to find the path and our campsite. Indeed, one year, we never found it. When you have an experienced guide to show you up the mountain it's a cinch-and, as Brian said, more relaxing, as you do not have to stop every ten minutes to look for a sign. Brian's son, Brian Jr., even carrying his son, Jacob (2 yr's young in this mountainous-initiation) led us directly and fearlessly up the mountain and right to our campsite…Seek the proper guides who can lead you deeper into Christ and His discipleship.

Agilitas: Brian Jr. had lots of grit, joy and agilitas (physical stamina). Even with little Jacob on his back he could swiftly climb over rocks and forage thru bramble bushes, surging way ahead and leading us to our home-for-the-nite… Get in shape-physically and metaphysically-- and forge ahead with Jesus to lead others.

Arrival: we finally came to our evening home and all breathed a sigh of relief, placing heavy back packs on the ground. We then went to an overlook (about 1300 ft high) giving us a panoramic view westward towards Pen Mar (highest point nearby), north towards Gettysburg and Fairfield, and SW towards Catoctin Mountain. The nearby mountains were fertilely green, voluminous and serrated edges surging like massive waves out of a spring earth. Silence reigned as we gawked, admired. We went back to campsite and prepared by gathering firewood (tons of it). The Altar was my job: a beautiful series of flagstone-like flat rocks were placed near the campfire area already. Brian admired the very beautiful yet austere essence of the setting, and made special comment about it: a gold-silver chalice and a paten-plate for Christ, and nearby some icons and a cross, completed by, of course, some firewood and mountain air. We celebrated the Feast of St Catherine of Siena who enjoyed creation, for sure, but God-the-Creator more. The Bolger's are a beautiful singing family and so sonorous songs echoed thru the mountain top and valley. Though we were gritty campers reverence reined amidst the Sacrifice of the Mass, wherein we received Jesus' MSG-His Mystical Self Giving.

What Else...is there to a camping trip if not for a campfire, singing songs, burgers and dogs, flaming marshmallows and tall tales? We did all this staying up into the late hours and, remember?-no rain! We didn't need technological gimmicks, expensive games or complex gurus to entertain us: no we had each other, a raging fire (which everyone played with) and lots of laughter and seriousness in intermittent phases of "campy revelation"…How can you simplify and "get back to the essence"-of God, family life, recreation?

Weary Wake Up: Rain woke us up in a.m.-the puddle in our tent was not as bad as the sound of rain outside had made it to be. Some of the youth said they heard "bumps in the night"-I think I was snoring according to other reports. We all survived the night. Dispatching from our campsite in the rain is not fun, however it all went smoothly. It was, as my dad would say, "raw" out-wet and penetratingly cold. We descended the mountain and these weary souls made it back to base camp, and, finally, to Thurmont for debriefing: At Burger King we had the nicest cup of coffee and breakfast ever!--Treats in life after travails are the most fun…What I recall most: not just the spectacular view, lush silence and enveloping virginal space of a mountain top; not just the fun around the campfire and manly fellowship, but also Brian's inspiring family-a human-yet-striving-to-be-holy family, a Christ-centered clan laughing and praying and helping each other, and others, thru life.

Part II: 50 Years, One Couple and Christ

The Sabbath-Day began with surging sunshine, strong-spring winds and luminous joy-a good sign of Mom and Dad's-Rose and Bill Lombardi's-Fiftieth Wedding Celebration. Voila: here we were, after months of planning, all coming together-finally in an apex of Sacramental Celebration and beautiful day.

Before the Noon Mass and Luncheon we gathered in our luxurious Grotto garage-shed for lite breakfast, since so many traveled from Baltimore (wait a minute: it took Mother Seton two weeks to travel from there!). Anyway, all Dad and Mom's sisters and brothers-mostly from Balmer, enjoyed the relaxing time together before Noon Mass. There was no stress to hurry, but simply ample time to just relax on the Sabbath, enjoy the mountain, each other and Special day: do you?

Grace overrode stress: Usually I get nervous (the Italian in me?) in planning and executing big activities--kinda' like those football coaches-- multi-tasking, and worrying-planning-delegating on the sidelines of the Big Game. Not so today: having most of the "ducks" lined up early-on (breakfast-servers, luncheon items, wrapped presents) I was set for "automatic pilot" and, thank God, by His Grace, I-we-- enjoyed it all. That was the point: not stress and pressure but spiritual enjoyment and celebration of a beautiful day!

High Noon: It was High Noon and we were ready-Just before Mass I invited Mom and Dad in front of the four hundred people (caught them by surprise-less time for stress!) and they renewed their wedding vows: "…I promise to be true to you, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health; I will love you and honor you all the days of my life: Amen." Someone said there was not a dry eye in the place. Then the bride and groom-Mom and Dad-- kissed. When I looked at them and everyone was joyfully, appropriately clapping, I saw a sparkle-two child-like grown ups thankful, proud, blessed. We couldn't have asked for anything else in the day. They climbed the mountain (of Mary, of holiness and marriage, too) and ascended it-their smiles and tears were real witnesses to our world today-sacrifice and love go together…

May is Mary's Month: At Liturgy the beautiful, sonorous A Cappella Choir of St John's, Frederick, led by the ebullient Jan Sadowski, (fellow Pole) sang the Latin Mass of the Italian composer Palestrina, which brought cascading sacred song to us all.

Vatican II-contrary to popular belief, urged us to not only preserve but also to promote Latin & chant-thank God for this unique and extraordinary choir! Many times thru the Mass my active participation was to close my eyes and, not understanding (rationally) the words, I would kinda' present myself to the verbal and harmonious waves of spiritual song as like a sponge- bathing myself in the ethereal polyphony of celestial strains, absorbing them (hopefully) deeper into the virginal spark of my soul. Thus, trans-rationally, I participated in the Mass-as encouraged by Vatican II, no problem, and, upon coming back to reality (when the song ended), I felt different, transported, spiritually enlivened! Anyway, at the communion meditation, the choir sang a poignant, traditional Marian song in Polish. Mom and her sisters seemed to immediate recognize it and sing the words, the song, silently…Do you have a devotion to Mary, your Mother in Heaven? Now is the time to pray the Rosary and think of Mary…

Sacred Meal to Luncheon Meal: Dana, in the toast at the luncheon said she admired Mom and Dad as not only a "survivor"--lone girl among four boys--but that Mom and Dad, and kids, thrived, because of their married love and witness. We'd all been thru a lot in life, and we were, believe it or not, thriving. Why?-because, just like Mom and Dad, "we were working at it"…Are you? It is so easy to give up, not forgive or reconcile or practice compassion--but, like Jesus Christ, we must always allow grace to wash over sin (cf. Rm. 5:20). This is the Way of Family Holiness.

Dad, in his toast (after giving Mom a big ring!) said Mom's recent hip surgery and hospital stay actually made him miss her. Okay, there it is: no spin-cycled pundit phrases about marriage and commitment, but, simply, elegant, true words: "I missed her." They kissed -again. Mom's sister, "Aggie," an East Balmer ruffian, said wryly: "Geez, I haven't seen so much kissing in all my days…" She-Aggie--has been married to her Harry for 63 years. Sixty three! Humor gets you thru, too!

Heroism: Over lunch, Mom's sisters and she were talking about their brothers, Theodore and John. Both were killed in WW II-Theodore in Okinawa and John in -D-Day Normandy. Mom and I once visited John's grave in France-an extremely moving and fruitful pilgrimage. I usually think of him at Mass when we remember the dead. But I had somehow forgotten "Teddy". Mom's sisters recalled the day when he left home to go overseas, what he ate, wore and how he didn't want to go. My Grandmom, from Poland, said: "No, Teddy you must go. You must serve your country." All I could imagine was a reluctant boy, heading out in the morning to a heroic death, and a tearful Grandmom, giving up her son-- her sons. Now, here we all were, fifty years later, enjoying the fruits of Teddy's and John's sacrifices… May we all be re-united in Celestial Paradise.

So, after reflecting upon this weekend, the literal up's and down- experiences, the joys and struggles and sorrows, some may ask: Why go to the Mountain/Grotto?

I met a lady in the Grotto recently, and after hearing the spiritual sounds of the A Cappella Choir, amidst beautiful foliage and perfume-evoking flowers, she said: "This is like Heaven." Yes, we all come here, trying to get back-to Original innocence, Eden, Delight. Let's all thank God for this Holy Mountain and, as pilgrims, realizing the sacrifices so many have made, let us help each other toward Heaven and Holiness!

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi