Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Myths We Live By …And Don't

Father John J. Lombardi

Cavemen believed in them. The ancient Greeks were famous for them. And you yourself believed in them, too-probably.

Myths, I mean.

St Paul instructs Timothy and the Ephesians "not to teach false doctrines, (or) to concern themselves with myths…which promote speculations rather than the plan of God" (I Tim. 1: 3-4).

This week was largely pure and clear. You could seemingly see to the other side of Earth from Mary's Mountain-across the beautiful, flat Frederick County fields. Then I remembered: the world is not flat-it is spherical. People lived with the myth of Flat Earth for thousands of years. Just shows you: myths mystify. But: we Catholics are called to be mystics, not mythologists!

In today's "enlightened" world, we must admit, people live with other "modernized" and mystifying myths. Here, then, are some Common Myths Not to Live By…Followed by some resolutions

I'm OK You're Ok. We all live with this one. After being human for over four decades, a priest for eighteen years, and a confessor--hearing people's trials unfiltered, and gaining a privileged insight into our wounded humanity-upshot: we all suffer more than we let on or can see. We say, sometimes: "Look deeper than the skin"-i.e., underneath there is someone suffering within. Even in the seeming valiant and virtuous. We're not really "OK"-we're wounded and in need of healing. All of us. Everyone has a story of suffering to tell. For instance: Marylyn Monroe, pop icon and movie actress in the nineteen- sixties, was physically attractive and alluring, desired by many, and yet she lived a life of despair and eventually took her life. Suffering. I.e., definitely not "OK"…Power: Last Summer's baseball players steroid-scandal prove muscles, looks and image do not necessarily equal happy lives. These "boys of Summer" took drugs to pump up, but eventually got booed out…Riches: Howard Hughes became a billionaire and yet eventually lived a life of quiet desperation-money didn't buy him fulfilling love or life. Can it you?....Image: rock stars and movie starlets variously and voluminously prove that fame and fortune do not deliver happiness…Ergo: Only Jesus can fulfill: "I came that you might have life, life abundantly" (Jn. 10:10) Remember that and seek, love, follow Him!

"The Grass is Greener on the Other Side": Madison Avenue advertising, "keeping up with the Jones's," chasing the whirlwind of materialism: all these myths ensnare and captivate us. Frenzying folks are constantly marketing gadgets, gurus and gods for us to long for, worship and die for. We think we'll be happy when we get that car, make up kit, hairdo, house or, even, reputation. It's a tiring treadmill of desire-never fulfilling our hearts. Put simply (think while reading this): the more we want, the more we want. Counter intuitively, Jesus counsels: "Therefore, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body…Consider the birds of the air…the lilies of the field. Solomon in all his splendor was not arrayed like this" (Mt.6:25ff). Ergo: appreciate what you do have, the simple things of life. Count your blessings, focus on the good, and stop chasing the hocus pocus mirages of life.

Science Knows All: This is the Year of Einstein. A hundred years ago he came up with the equation e=mc 2 (any rocket scientist knows that energy equals mass times the speed of light-squared!). Also, in 1905, Einstein revolutionized the scientific world-and ours-though he barely survived school, by postulating light as curved and wave-like, instead of as a straight shot beam. He also made progress on the properties of gravity. Science claims enormous power and, sometimes, mythological power-"totalizing" empirical truth which pits non-experts at its mercy. However, like my dad says sometimes to my mom in "animated conversation," and as could be said of Einstein, we may know a lot, but we don't know everything. Science -and we-must know our limits: In the last century science has claimed some "totalizing truths" (i.e., Big Ones) which are only partially provable and, which engrip, because we have heard them repeated so often, (Dad again): "If you say it enough then people will believe it". This applies to so-called scientific dogmas like: the origin of the Universe (Big Bang) to origin of human species (evolution) to: God does not exist, or is not provable, (empirically), or else is simply not needed. These various myths are aught or implied by many scientists, even though Einstein himself once said: "God does not play dice with the universe,' implying that the cosmos is ordered and has an "Order-er" Herein is another needed myth breaker: the acknowledgement of science's limits and that the universe is mysterious, not totally explainable: there always remains a numinous lacking to our finite minds' attempts to explain, codify what God Himself created and orders. Einstein tried all his life, and went to his grave, attempting to come up with a Theory of Everything. He didn't. Ergo: one of the smartest guys ever couldn't completely explain things: The universe is, ultimately, a Mystery, and Science cannot claim total truth for itself. Mystery: we believers and adorers can live that. That's part of worship. St Paul says: "Ever since the creation of the world His invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what He has made" (Rm. 1:20).

Evolution is the Only Explanation of our Human Origin and Destiny: The education board of Dover, Pennsylvania, is now in litigation (in Harrisburg) to see if it can teach that there are other theories of human life which can be taught along with evolution. Intelligent Design-the theory that there is some kind of intelligence behind creation, (such as detecting a designer behind the infinite complexity of the human eyeball, rather than chance and natural selection bringing it about)--is a rival of modernist evolution, and so some are claiming another myth: that any rival to evolution is questionable, not provable (really, read: some may deny alternative life-theories precisely because they may be the "new kid on the block" and therefore this obviously upsets the "applecart" of their paradigm). Some scientists also (falsely) claim that these competing new theories to evolution are necessarily religious, camouflaged under technological verbiage, and thus will oppress others with so-called lockstep dogmas of backwards beliefs. Read: myth. Jesus says, rather: "You shall know the Truth and the Truth shall set you free" (Jn. ).

There is no Hierarchy of Truth:. Hierarchies help, not hinder our lives, but they are, today, unpopular-seen as anti-American and counter-egalitarian. However, like ascending a "Ladder of Truth" we need work our way up "lower truths" -for instance, music can be good, appealing to our lower-nature senses-and scale up to higher ones- the supra-sensual soul seeks a union with the One esp. in holy contemplation (even the pagan Plato knew this). But few people want to admit this "Metaphysical Ladder" exists. For instance, in today's relativistic world, our Roman Catholic Faith is viewed and relegated as "one religion among many," yet we should remember that it was founded not by man but by God Himself (see Mt. 16:18). Kinda' likewise, many people today want to live without a Savior, even though they all choose one anyway: drugs, materialism, a job, another person, and therefore, Jesus Christ as the One Savior of the world (Acts 4:12) is neglected or rejected. Likewise, Theology is the Queen of the Sciences-but sometimes football, Nascar, painting and other pop culture fads take over…

Culture is Current:. If you (prudently) read the newspapers you'd think finances, art and government are the most important things in the world-the highest truths. They're the seeming most urgent and most urged-upon-us. They're needed, for sure, but they're not the most important. Perusing current literature you'd think hip hop and rock are more classic than, say, Bach and Beethoven. Once again: the sensual and emotionally riveting appeal to our sensual natures, and the most ethereal-soaring-to-the-soul take second place: "Inverted hierarchy". But, just think: millennia after its composers died, chant still enchants. Why? Because it appeals to the soul, our deepest longings-and it is beautiful, isn't it? The transcendentalist American author, Henry David Thoreau said it another way about literature: "Read not the times, read the eternities." Remember, as Christians, culture is built not on the sensual, but upon the sacred.

Mothers are Secondary: We've heard from various mythologists that women should enter the workplace, break the "glass ceiling" and thereby gain dignity, and leave children and child-bearing behind. And yet, today, more books (see: "Maternal Desire") and articles are demythologizing this falsifying myth of repression of feminist instinct-and alternatively intimating that within women is the innate desire of nurturing and mothering, and that it can't be left behind so easily. So. Let us support women who want to imitate Mary Our Mother "Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of they Womb-(Lk. 1:42).

The Young Don't Want to Give Lives of Faith and Sacrifice: This week a mom said to me: "My son woke up and made the proclamation, 'I want to be a priest.'" I talked to him a day later, and asked him why he wanted to be a priest: "Because I like my Catholic Faith more and more and I love God." Simple enough! He also said: "I've been thinking, I want to do what a priest does--to give out the sacraments and to help people." That will require sacrifice, selflessness. Another young person, Teresa, just left Mary's Mountains and became a nun-a sister of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, in Michigan. Now she is in the South (called to go unexpectantly) helping hurricane victim-children learn in school.

Solving Poverty by Money: Recently (surrounding the G-8 Summit in Scotland) we heard rock stars and politicians wanting to vanquish poverty in twenty years. A noble goal, that. But: the means to solving this travesty-giving systemic monies indiscriminately to poor persons or abusive organizations, African nations, in this case-is not always good. Say what? An African author in The New York Times at that time opined that doing this only fuels dictators and, actually, disses the downtrodden. He intimated: Greenbacks gained by good intentioned rock stars and prime ministers and blindly thrown to bad natured rulers does not help: it actually hurts. His thoughts, not mine. Now mine, others: Give a man fish and he eats for one day. But, rather, teach a man to fish, he eats forever. Everyone wants to help the poor-hopefully-but the ways to do it are sometimes encased in myth. Remember to give help-ups as well as, on an individual and pre-meditated basis, hand-outs. And, besides, the family is the basic cell for climbing out of poverty and some myth-makers today don't want this discussed. However, Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa knew this: they were dedicated to the poor-as we should be-and to proper ways of justice and peace.

No Connection of Altar Boys to Priesthood: Here at the Grotto-thanks to many fine, dedicated folks, we have a crew of 25 altar boys-elegantly dressed in cassock and surplice, who excellently serve the priest in the Sacrifice of the Mass. Yet, for years people have believed that it really doesn't matter who serves at the altar, even though a main "conduit-pipeline" of priestly vocations has been changed (note: many current vocations are older men, not younger ones like altar boys). I've never, until the coming to the Grotto, served with only-altar boys: it's always been boys and girls. Didn't think about it too much-just accepted the au courant situation. Now I think otherwise. After four years of blessed service at this Holy Grotto I see the conniving connection: altar boys will sometimes want to become priests if they are given this privileged, though not elitist, position. As they say: There are no coincidences.

Believer Not Apply: we've been taught to buy the myth that separation of church and state means an absolute wall-God severed from everyday life. In fact, the Constitution really means no one "official" religion may reign in our land. The myth of "the wall" continues, though. And yet: President George Bush is a "born-again Christian". Faith-based initiatives today show that the State can work with non-proselytizing church groups who should be treated like any other charitable group. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts is a practicing devout Catholic; Sen Rick Santorum, (Penn.) is a stout hearted dad and spiritual Catholic, father of seven children, who has written the wise book, "It Takes a Family,' about the need for promotion and protection of the family. These examples exemplify that you can be a believer while not being an oppressive ogre. These folks wipe away any myth of the "personally-opposed- but- politically for" approaches of progressivist politicians (like abortion). Look: Does God really want us or politicians to keep our Faith out of public life?

There Are No Priest-Heroes: My cousins' French priest-friend of decades, aged 96, passed on recently. They wrote in a post card: ": Fr Fejoz just died. His burial was very moving. He is laid next to 14 people-from ages 16 to 70 yrs old-who were killed during the War. Fr Fejoz insisted to take their place (buried there), having the time to absolve them just before they were shot."

"Too Little, Too Late ": A famous Swiss theologian, Hans Kung, once wrote a book called "Does God Exist?" I tried to read it-unsuccessfully-but got the answer anyway. In the turbulent sixties Fr Kung, who was the libertine dean of theology at Tubingen University (Germany) hired a professor named Joseph Ratzinger (sound familiar?!). This young Fr Ratzinger became more orthodox after seeing the wreckage of progressivism (yelling at professors, suspect of authority, loss of Tradition,etc.), and he later became a Cardinal, and then head of the Congregation for the Doctrine and Faith. Cardinal Ratzinger later had to investigate his previous-boss' writings, Fr Kung (which questioned church authority, doctrines and disciplines, moral teachings) and later barred him from teaching theology as a Catholic professor. Well, after all these years, and all these doctrinal controversies, they met again, this time as Pope Benedict XVI (previously Cardinal Ratzinger!) and Fr Kung. They spent four hours together and even had dinner! Imagine that. Does God exist?-as Fr Kung once asked. Yes!--as this story shows--of course. It's never too little or too late for practicing Christians! Reconciliation is always possible.

So, you can see, myths abound. And then there's the one: You can't teach an old dog new tricks…Another day for that one. So: De-mythologize, be freed, learn and love and live the Truth which will set you free!

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi