Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Priest and Holiness -and You and Your Religion

Father John J. Lombardi

Is there a Corruption of the Connection? Read on… Jesus Christ got mad at times.

I just asked Brian Bolger, after our recent camping trip, "When did Jesus get angry?" He answered, immediately, as with infused wisdom informing him: In the cleansing of the Temple, most famously (see St Jn. 2:13ff ), He showed righteous indignation. While He was angry, Jesus was in control of His passions, unlike us mortals when our wiley emotions overstake us, and we may sin. By His upset He was saying: don't abuse religion and turn it mercantilism--profiteering. Also, Brian said: Christ showed His Divine anger mostly to the privileged class of the Jewish people--the Scribes and Pharisees: they were not leading people to Faith Hope and Love but, rather, were stumbling blocks to liberation. Religion became not the wings of freedom and love but, contrarily, shackles of oppression.

Jesus the High Priest is our Connection to God. He is the "un-corrupted connection" to the Divine Trinity. As Priest and Victim He is our Way, Truth and Life. He shows us and our priests how to practice our Faith. And we-priests and laypeople-need His "spiritual subversion" of anger and upset to wake and shake us up out of our supposed soothing slumbers.

In this Sunday's Gospel (St. Mt. 23:1ff) He got mad at the way some priests dressed up for prestige, and accumulated titles and seats of honor, instead of embracing humility and the spirit of service. Part of being a Jewish priest (and a Roman Catholic priest today) may be summed up "trinitarianly": priests were to mediate the Presence of God, offer Sacrifice and serve. The priest used to be the only one to actually go into the Temple and Holy of Holies and converse officially to God for the people. God's dwelling there-esp. thru the Ark of the Covenant was known as the "Shekinah"-The Presence. Of course pious Jews spoke to God any anywhere and at any time in Israel. The priest also was the only one to offer up the Sacrifice of the people-a holocaust, literally a burning heifer or lamb or ox, to atone for sins. The priest was also to serve the people, helping the poor, sick and dying (see esp Mal1:14ff--this Sunday's first reading; and also see Ex 22- last Sunday's reading). They were to instruct the people in the Torah (moral teachings) and Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible). This was the priests' "job"-but in Jesus' time they failed at this. They did not pray as they should; they offered sacrifices with blemished hearts and failed to serve the people.

Jesus destabilized their hierarchy, and for this, they put Him on trial(and also for other reasons: claiming to be God, or like Him, to forgive sins, etc.). Christ subverted their strangulating spirituality, which suffocated souls. He challenged their was with His Way. We often forget this and make Jesus Christ a sterile Savior and slave to the past and our misconceptions of religion and salvation. While Jesus was not a revolutionary-wherein He threw all the past-He was a "Renewalist": reviving the past sacred Traditions to bring Union with God and mankind. Whenever anyone anytime challenges us we all feel threatened, so you can sense how the priests were challenged. The religious institutionalism of Jesus' time was ossified -the connection to God became corrupted--and was thereby petrified at His challenge

The 613 rules of the Jewish religion became a stumbling block to most Jews: these laws became twisting turnstiles and checkpoints of literalism and fanaticism, instead of being enlightening ways of knowledge and freedom. The way the Jewish priests displayed such ostentation-their tasteless, honorifics and bad behaviors became blockages and blemishes of a more pure witness of Faith. Their lack of love and compassion-especially to the poor and outcast-blocked people's views of experiencing God amongst His people. Many of the priests, perhaps unwittingly, entered into a strangulating slavery to law-worship instead of spiritual service and love. Priesthood is more a verb than and noun; priests are called to be more alter Christus (the Latin means: "another Christ" ) than seekers of power-tripping hocus pocus. We must stop and ask: Are our religious customs and leaders doing the same today? Do you and priests compile titles, honors and prestige before serving the One True God? Do unnecessary norms block the manifestation of the Presence of God? So, now, let's consider priests' tasks and ours…

Presence of God means prayer. We need our priests to teach us how to pray (don't' forget the spiritual acronym, ACTS-adoration, contrition, thanksgiving and supplication). The mystical life of the church is being lost in today's modernist world. Many, unfortunately, are turning to New Age and Eastern religions because prayer and meditation (deeper forms of spiritual life) are sometimes neglected. These facets used to be more commonplace but are disappearing today. We need a paradigm shift. Thankfully, because this priest-Chaplin studied philosophy in college-which included courses on meditation and Eastern religions-I received my only instruction and familiarity with deeper spirituality thru these "secular sources". Of course, the more I looked within my own Catholic Faith, the more I found: it is rich and deep-so, keep looking! Instead of seeking pious platitudes and prestige, ask yourself and priest to learn and teach ways of prayer and the Presence of God. Avoid "spiritual slumbers" by truly praying-more deeply, lovingly. Do you present to the Divine Presence all the time a "laundry list" of petitions while foregoing "practicing the Presence of God"-continual prayer. Ask God for help; yes, but also treat Him as your Divine Friend-continually. I just met a drug addict who was clutching her rosary and, upon our previous visit was deeply troubled in mind, and felt far from God. Her immediate reply to me upon our next visit: "I am talking to Jesus as if He is in the room with me--nearby" Do you? Perhaps you take the "ignorance is bliss" approach, whereby you avoid God and prayer, and think you are better off. This lady didn't: she overcame her trials by keeping Jesus around her 24/7.

Pope John Paul, of happy memory, was a master at this. Even though supremely busy, he wrote treatises of St John of the Cross ("The Mystical Doctor") and made frequent Holy Hours of Prayer before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, and John-Paul pointed us to Christ, the God-Man in the Divine Presence!. He show us, and us priests especially, that one can be busy doing good works of mercy and evangelization while never forgetting the First Commandment-to Love the Lord with all our heart and soul. Even though surrounded with the office of the papacy, this priest exemplified great prayer and seeking the Presence of God. Perhaps your parish priest is bogged down and doesn't experience God thru consolations and other "spiritual fireworks." Mother Teresa of Calcutta, it turns out, rarely did, but she persisted in prayer and made Jesus, esp. in the Sacrament of the Eucharist her primary concern-to Promote the Presence? Help your priest to do the same. The mystics of the Church subverted "spiritual sloth" by practicing the presence of God, intimating that God dwells in the soul. Saint Catherine of Siena shows all of us we can dialogue with the Blessed Trinity within and above; Brother Lawrence fo the Resurrection exemplifies "practicing the Presence of God" in intimate, interior prayer, thru moment-to-moment Love and conversation with God; and Teresa of Avila illustrates busy people can be prayerful souls: all these fait-filled folks challenged norms of spirituality, and sometimes the "institutionalism" of petrified spirituality, and helped laypersons and religious alike to love and be loved by God in deeper states of prayer. This was a prayer form (contemplation) not just for the few, but the many. They subverted the slavery to elitism and opened ways of holiness for all.

In today's world, priests-busy with many things-like the "Killer B's"-budgets, bingo, bulletins and boilers: all consume his time and talents and overtake him-and us-on a treadmill of trials instead of love of the Blessed Trinity. Help your priest do his "job"-mediate the Presence of God! The scribes got into a personal righteousness instead of interpersonal holiness.

We can stop the corruption of the connection to God by kindly asking our priests: Will you teach us to pray and seek, love and adore God thru prayer. They say that priest who leave the active ministry stop praying. Help your priest to pray: urge him on! My priest friend Fr Jim Farmer is a man of prayer. When planning a pilgrimage to Lourdes last year I asked him what he wanted on the itinerary. He responded, immediately: "As long as we have Mass and a daily holy hour, whatever you plan is fine." That's a priest we need today!

Sacrifice: The Catholic priest is to offer the Sacrifice of the Mass for people's atonement of sins. Today, this is not always popular, believe it or not. Faithful people, though, I have found, love the Mass and yearn for it. Are you taking the Mass for granted? A seminary priest once said to deacons-about-to-become-priests: "Your main task is to offer the daily Sacrifice of the Mass." That's good teaching we need today! Perhaps your priest and you are perhaps not praying the Mass but "just going thru the motions." This is easily done, when we forget the Sublime Mystery of Jesus High Prayer, the Mass, re-presented through the priest. St. Padre Pio used to say Mass in hours, exemplifying Jesus' at the Last Supper and on Calvary. Imitate the saints who imitated Our Lord! Pray: "Lord: Help us to celebrate this Mass as though it were our first Mass, our last Mass and only Mass." Mindfulness will help you and your priests.

Fr Bayer, who was my pastor at a previous parish, loved the Liturgy so much he said daily-devotional Masses, so much so, sometimes, people complained at the length. How could someone rail against the Mass said with love and helpful insight? Vatican Council II (1962-1965) said the Mass-as-Sacrifice is the Source and Summit of our spiritual lives: do you believe this-and try to enter into it frequently, or do you take and make the "Just do it" mentality of "getting it over with"? We may sometimes promote religious abuse by our lack of Sabbath-keeping. The Synod of Bishops who just concluded in Rome, meeting on the Holy Eucharist, just wrote: "Although Saturday evening is actually part of Sunday (First Vespers), and it is acceptable to fulfill the Sunday precept with a vigil Mass, it must be remembered that it is the day of Sunday itself that must be sanctified, that it may not remain 'empty of God'." This is a subversion of spiritual sloth, and a cleaning of the corruption of the divine connection!

Service: this means "getting down in the trenches" and finding Jesus in His poor, sick and dying. There are so many people out there, even nearby you, hungering for love, healing and comfort-from another human being, especially a spiritual one. An altar in Mother Teresa's Home for the Dying asked: "Will you be the one?". We have to forego our comfort zones and personal preferences to help Him as He still suffers in this world. Help your priest to lead you to serve Jesus in practical ways. I just met two priests from Kenya, Africa, who are traveling as confessors and Mass-sayers for a two week pilgrimage of prayer and jubilee. They are giving their time and talent and treasure to serve Jesus and His people are a heroic example to this Chaplain-priest to serve-without pride or prestige. We Roman Catholics may be well connected in the world-to power, money and influential people. This can help or hurt. But when these connections prevent us from serving Jesus in the poor, we are doomed. Jesus Himself connected to the disconnected, the oppressed, the despised: do you and we priests? Our religion is one not only of the head, but also of the heart; it is spirituality of right Truth and holy works. A seminarian just visited a drug treatment center of addicts and drinkers and spoke about how needy they were of God, how honest and thirst they were for Faith: it is vital to be with them because they hunger for God and we religious must help and serve them When we truly are enlightened we may leave Jesus in the Mass and then go to Him in His needs in actual, real people. This is a spiritual subversion and "cleansing of the connection" with God!

Holy Priests we Have Known:

Fr John Hardon, SJ, went traveling, even in his nineties, teaching and preaching, and evangelizing desirous souls for the Truth of the Catholic Faith: urge your priests on! I once met a man called "The Bean Priest" in Haiti who left his comfortable home in the Netherlands and has fed, for decades, hundreds of hungry children and families in Haiti: help your priests to serve!…Msgr Phillips, who died last year in his nineties, basically came here to Mary's' Mountain and Grotto as an orphan and gave his heart to Jesus as a priest. Thru Mass, confessions and serving suffering souls. Fr Aibello is a Jesuit priest in Calcutta who wears ragged clothes and scraggily sandals, and helps the volunteers from all over the world there to serve with Mother Teresa's nuns assist the poorest of the poor. Fr Darrin Didier, despite cancer and dim chances at ordination, persevered as a deacon and became a priest for three months, and then died a peaceful and heroic death as a kind of victim soul. He was focused on loving and serving Jesus

What you can Do:

Pray for your priests: no matter how they may be, offer prayers, Holy hours and devotions of the heart for them. Radiate to them the graces you receive.

Participate with them: they need your help to harvest the Vineyard…Promote prophecy: help everyone to get out of the spiritual slumber and dominant-hurtful paradigms of acceptability to realize and practice True Religion:" The truth shall make you free" (Jn. 8:32).

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi