Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Promote Piety

Father John J. Lombardi

President Bush prays. Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers is a born again Christian. The Untied States Senate has a Catholic Chaplain.

We are all called-whether president or pauper-to render unto God and to "Caesar"-the Government, and demonstrate that Christians can be people of piety and heart.

Notes from Cursillo Retreat at Mary's Mountain…

Pious can be a dirty word today. It can be used as a detrimental descriptor to maim a man or woman of simple Faith in the age of Modernism (emphasizing man's accomplishments, versus God's), New Age (which emphasizes exotic experimentation outside Christianity) and Technologism (power thru technology), who needs simple Biblical Faith and piety? Piety is opposite postmodernism which celebrates doubt and scientific provable certitude.

Piety means the docility of a soul's disposition toward God and others. That's hard in today's hard edged world. Piety emphasizes the heart and emotions-not in contradistinction to the mind but complementary to it Piety helps the pilgrim believer become soft, fertile for the Holy Spirit's actions; enables it to be pliant and supple; even godly-God-like.

Last week we pilgrims made a Fall Rosary Walk, from Seton Shrine to the Grotto (two miles of which Mother Seton walked weekly). This was fun-esp. in the rain. During the Pilgrimage I was walking and praying, getting a little tired when I noticed a little Russian girl, adopted by a Mom here in the states. She was not only walking but also bouncing along-she was only four years old. She kept singing as she moved briskly: for a full five minutes she sang as rain hit her head and our gait moved briskly towards Mary's Mountain. I was amazed at her piety-she had Faith, Love and Joy-elements of the Holy Spirit! She demonstrated piety in various ways: thru her singing-child-like oscillations of joyful melodies, and also thru her walking in the rain and in the Pilgrimage-she was participating in her own way. She had the Gift of Piety! Jesus taught us thru his actions: "Let the little children come to Me, for the Kingdom belongs to such as these" (Mk. 10:14). Are you child-like in your Faith and piety?

Oppositely, one time while an associate pastor at a Catholic Church the organist and non-catholic music director disallowed a small Rosary group from singing a simple, pious Marian song during our meetings. Piety out, postmodernism in.

I'm now reading a book, "Mark Twain," by Ron Powers, which describes Twain as the new revelation of an "American voice." And yet Twain was seemingly an unbeliever (though he memorized many Bible verses in learning how to read). He later grew hard toward religion, esp. Catholicism. His stories of "Huckleberry Finn" and "Innocents Abroad" are largely self-assertion stories of conquest without God- life and meaning "from the bottom up". The book is good and so was Twain-a classic, no doubt. But: isn't the American Voice, already by Twain's time (1830's) the Voice of Belief-Pilgrim and Puritan believers who founded our country; the Faith of Founding Fathers; just like our money says and said: "In God We Trust"? In a previously evocative book, "American Jesus," Stephen Prothero narrates how a voice, of sorts, grew in America around The Savior-Jesus Christ-how gritty Americans re-imaged, worshipped and praised the God-Man.Doesn't this count as a "Voice"? As good as Twain is, isn't Jesus, and the piety of simple believers-immigrant Catholics, Quakers and Shakers-as great, and already prevalent? Piety isn't always glitzy or socially acceptable.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: "The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the lord. They belong in their fullness to Christ. They complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them they make the faithful docile in readily obeying divine inspirations" (CCC: # 1831). Germaine Grisez, moral theologian here at Mt St Mary's, writes: "According to St Augustine the Gift of The Holy Spirit corresponding to the Second Beatitude is pity or godliness: 'Godliness corresponds to the meek who seeks in a godly frame of mind honors Holy Scripture and does not find fault with what as yet he does not understand. St Thomas (Aquinas) points out that by piety one has an attitude of filial reverence and dutifulness toward God as Father.'" ("Christian Moral Principles": p. 638) .

The Gift of Piety makes a believer reverential, dutiful, godly and filial and helps one become a believer: Why do we worship the Sacred Heart of Jesus? Because, simple: it is God's simple way of loving us, mercifully-thru the heart: Godly compassion. Piety, then, promotes a child-like trust in God thru the emotions and sentiments, and allows us to help others. This may mean: outward actions of Faith (kneeling in meditation, praying the Rosary, going to Mass), and also heart-felt Faith itself--the heart and soul's spontaneous movement to God un-impeded by any doubts or illusory complexities of modern life. Piety, then, is a pliant heart filled with Faith.

Prayer, veneration of relics, the Way of the Cross, adoration of the Bl Sacrament, are all forms of piety we can engage our souls in and make pliable our hearts and thereby increase our Faith. We Catholics are privileged Christians who have so many diverse ways of cultivating and expressing Faith and piety. We should never take this for granted, but, rather, practice and promote these ways of Faith and guard against neglecting or rejecting them, as so many have done in the past few decades.

Last week I went into a home of Faith. The parents and children had a crucifix over the mantel piece, some icons of Jesus and Mary and the saints, and two silent-yet-radiantly burning candles, illuminating the sparse but elegant room. This was a home of Faith and piety, and so were the owners' hearts. How about your home and heart? Their piety-pliant hearts-was expressed in the sacramental devotionals in the home.

But, I now wonder, in this home and family, what came first- the chicken or the egg, the faith of the persons or the objects of devotion, the paintings or the piety? Who knows-probably both together, like a lot of things in life? The inward (heart's piety) is naturally expressed in the outer (sacramentals); and, conversely, the outer (objects of devotion) affect the inner (spirit's desires). That's Catholicism-you can have it both ways.

Pious souls have it and do it. Huh? Many people have Faith-they're natural believers, it's in their bones to believe, love and trust God. But they also act upon their Faith and piety and engage it, lest it go dry-so they pray and practice devotions of love: aspirations of prayer (short prayers repeated with love, connecting consciousness with God continually, something Western Catholics have unfortunately neglected or rejected); do mortifications (physical or mental actions of self denial); fast (become skinny spiritually!); chant (ethereal, religiously-repeated oscillations of heart and soul which shift inner world of the soul and body); pray litanies; practice penances and do acts of mercy toward others; These devotions are not popular in today's hyper-saturated world of power, rationalism and riches. A recent letter in a newspaper rightly challenged a cartoonist who mocked God and faith-filled Christians for believing in Intelligent Design (that God is the Designer, not evolutionary chance and natural selection: sophisticated people in today's enlightened, scientific world supposedly shouldn't believe God intimately designed and created the world and then guided it with His Providential Hand. Pious souls, though, are able to believe.

The Grotto of Our lady is filled weekly with lots of faith-filled folk of piety. This past Sunday I saw a beautiful surprise: a long, ornate carpet draped over the parking lot flowing toward the bell tower, where, I assume, it was laid for pilgrims to walk or kneel on to honor Our Lady and Our Lord. It was there, silently cascading on the pavement, yet it "spoke" eloquently of a soul's pious Faith. Each day before the 12 Noon Mass our altar boys lead the Angelus-the threefold Hail Mary with other prayers which celebrate the Incarnation-Jesus' enfleshment from the Virgin Mary. It's a simple, humble prayer. This past Monday I went to the Grotto Cave and found a group of Italians kneeling on the stone pavement praying the Rosary to our Lady symbolized by the statue in the niche above-shining radiantly in the sunshine. And a man came in a ten gallon cowboy hat. Interesting, I thought, and the man was in a suit coat and tie. He approached me, introduced himself as a Southern Baptist pastor. He said he's come here to Mary's' Grotto for decades and even brings others: he loves the Grotto. He smiled. And so did Our Lady, I think: Beauty attracts. He gave me his "business card," and at the bottom it read: "pastor to anyone." Here's a real pious soul.

Last Month I went to a funeral in Fargo, N. Dakota and before the Mass I went to chapel .I prayed for a while with eyes closed and before leaving found the resident bishop of the diocese there, who was to celebrate the Mass of a young priest, praying: his head was sunk in his hands, in intense prayer, before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. That's piety.

Piety is gritty, and, really, is in our bones, no matter who you are. It's a worldwide phenomenon. Years ago while in Tibet I saw an aged, worn woman-probably about 70 years old-. Doing prostrations (a total of 108 in this case) before a revered temple of Buddhism. I was amazed at her piety and stamina! You don't' have to be a rocket scientist to be pious; as a matter of fact, it may sometimes be detrimental. Peasantry can help piety! And perhaps that's why it is so unpopular: most of the media and modern intellectual academies are affected by progressivists who insist on reason alone, science and head-knowledge without any kind of supernatural element, not to mention piety.. Piety is from below, intellectualism is from above. But they shouldn't--and needn't, be in conflict. Piety is gutsy-immediate and heartfelt love of God and ability to show this love in action. Most children are this way. They don't have the baggage we adults carry. Just recently a sixth grade class from a Catholic school visited the Grotto. I invited them to pray with me before Jesus in the Bl. Sacrament. I then noticed a young girl next to me while we prayed "Lord Jesus I need You, I love You, I trust You"-her blonde haired head was buried within her hands in prayer: a pliant heart and soul. Beauty. Belief. A poster child for piety.

The Grotto has taught me a lot about piety. Each Sunday I give blessings with a saint's relic (after the 12 Noon Mass and lots of people line up: humans are natural believers-if you let and provoke them. Some come up and bow heads, others kneel, some cry, some ask for a miracle: all approach reverently: believers. As a priest, I am always invigorated by their devotion and dedication.. Other times here at the Grotto I see devout Muslims take their shoes off to enter the Glass Chapel and bow before an icnon of Mary and Jesus (whom they revere as holy) and then actually kiss the icon. They inspire me by their piety. I often see pilgrims bringing flowers to the Lady of Lourdes at the Grotto. Weekly I see "Bill" carrying his teen age daughter with autism making the Stations of the Cross. He carries her the whole way! Motorcycle bikers, too, come in homage, in their own way: one time a man without legs (really) drove his motorcycle up to visit and received a blessing here! A Baptist group came this past week, and even Buddhist monks in saffron robes visit and walk here in prayer and realize this a holy place. This is a multi-cultural mystical place and evokes piety from just about anyone. As I look back at my training I had little practice in piety in seminary, but this Grotto and her people are training and helping me-making my heart pliant and reverential.

Piety is intuitional-of the heart, spontaneous, not heady and overly intellectual. When I weekly visit a drug treatment center the folks there often ask for a Rosary or a Cross or holy card-they thirst for tangible items of holiness. At the end of our session together I invite them to receive a blessing and prayer of deliverance: all line up for the sacramental prayer. Patron Saint of Piety: St John Vianney is the patron saint of parish priests and, therefore, of us all. He barely made it thought the seminary (was thought dimwitted); couldn't speak well, didn't know Latin much, and yet he promoted Eucharistic adoration, the Rosary, confessions, daily prayer and love of the Lord and Our Lady as well as the saints. This is how he revived his fledgling parish-not with sheer brains but with the beauty of piety! Now, see how you can help your parish and parishioners. I met a permanent deacon once who said his parish hardly had any devotions. He then began weekly Eucharistic adoration and Marian prayers. A few souls initially came and then, with a Marian statue displayed, more heartfelt prayers, a miraculous medal novena added, then lots of people came, and are still coming. Heartfelt faith and piety help, heal and make souls holy. What a pity piety is so lost today!

Deep Piety: prayer is the child-like trust in the God we often cannot feel or sense. Pious souls pray, pray more, pray more deeply and variously-in many different ways. Jesus says: "Go into your inner room, lock the door, and pry to your Heavenly Father" (Mt.6:6). Do you?

Obstacles to Piety:

Doubt-simply put: doubt believed causes unbelief and spiritual hardening.. So: don't. Be simple.

Lukewarmness: if you are half-hearted, or kinda so, then your Faith and piety will not grow.

Intellectualism-it is said that a lot of people lose their faith in college--the more years they pile up in education the more they may tend to disbelieve. Does more knowledge, internet, information, book smarts help Faith?-sometimes yes, a lot of times no. And yet some of the greatest saints-Thomas Aquinas-Bonaventure, Teresa of Avila-had great intellects and yet this did not hamper their belief.

Promoting Piety:

Pray the Rosary. Soften your heart daily through thinking of spiritual things (Col 3:1ff). Attend Mass frequently: image your body and soul as a waiting virginal chalice to receive the Precious Blood. Display icons and beautiful Faith-filled pictures in your home, apartment. Carry a Rosary and touch it frequently in your pocket-esp. when in times of danger or challenge. Use blessed candles and holy water in your home... Pray Litanies and devotional prayers…Read the bible daily, or saints' lives…Call on the Holy Name of Jesus and Mary frequently thru the day.

Remember: Pliant pious souls believe the Lord and become holy!

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi