Emmitsburg Council of Churches

A Sabbath Day in the Life

Father John J. Lombardi

What's the life of a priest like-especially on a Sunday? It is far from boring, and, often, unexpected surprises await, graces and breakthroughs of spiritual splendor. Here is one priest's Sabbath-Journal, from last Laetere Sunday-Joyful Sunday., including meditations for you.

Wake up at 6am--crystalline sunlight is beginning to breakthrough from St Joseph's Valley: Thank God!…Later, the priest notices a luminous glow-- a "solar orange-echo"-- on Mary's Mountain and on Memorial Gym at the Campus of Mt St Mary's: a hopeful indicator of a blessed day upcoming…How can you count simple blessing in our life as given by God? After some needed coffee he begins some spiritual reading. Need to: this priest has gotten lax on spiritual reading-as it's seemingly easier to read other stuff-secular, cultural or current-news items, but, we must all sometimes breakthrough and renew Lenten and Spiritual commitments, and so he makes a go of it. The Liturgy of the Hours offer meditative readings form the saints and Bible and are helpful for this. Try it: spiritual reading is like food on a religious diet for the craving soul. What do you need to overcome in your spiritual life with extra added effort?

The priest then exercised ("psychical-physical wake up") and began Mediation Hour. Yes, the usual distractions-uprisings of thoughts, anxieties, all the "dust-particle thoughts" of nonsense appeared, smeared silence an stillness. And yet: there were moments of grace when there was calmness, peace and tranquility, when the priest trusted enough to let go of very thought-ladder, mind-construction to God and fully surrender all to the All, and be in a kind of Inner Beholding…So: practice mediation and prayer every morning, night--Behold Him: Within… "We must have the glory sink into us before it can be reflected from us. In deep inward beholding we must have Christ in our hearts that He may shine forth from out lives." -Alexander MacLaren

Up to office- I went to the Grotto office looking for a statement on the Florida-Terry Schiavro situation, the lady who is in a persistent vegetative state and is threatened to be withdrawn by her husband from a feeding tube. There is much controversy and many unknowns about this situation. I was looking for a statement because a doctor-friend, who is monitoring the situation and is very interested. The Vatican issued a statement-very strong in calling for the preservation of life of Mrs. Schiavo, no matter her current being…In statements on Vatican Radio, Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said: "If Mr. Schiavo succeeds legally in causing the death of his wife, this not only would be tragic in itself, but would be a grave step toward the legal approval of euthanasia in the United States."

He added: "I would like to remind everyone in this connection, about all that the Holy Father has said in past days to the Pontifical Academy for Life, confirming that the quality of life is not interpreted as economic success, beauty and physical pleasure, but consists in the supreme dignity of the creature made in the image and likeness of God…How can you preserve life-no matter how Jesus appears in distressing disguises?

At the Grotto cave itself were 12 beautiful, fresh yellow roses. "Ollie" and his family left them the previous day for The Virgin. Ollie is a paraplegic, age 15, who can't move his legs or arms, has to be dressed by mom and dad, and can't talk or communicate, except for his ever-present, always-radiant-smile. This family triumphs-they visit the Grotto monthly, say the Rosary together, no matter the (cold)weather at the Grotto-outside; and often present a beautiful gift to the Lord and Lady. Their faith and fortitude-and family sacrifices for one another-are most impressive. They're a walking living Sermon on the Mount….How can you work thru, and offer up your sufferings precisely thru a deep, lively Faith?

Volunteers: Before buzzing off to Mass I stopped by our Grotto garage and saw Robert, whom I met in my first parish assignment and who has been around last few weeks helping out-and now, in a big way. We were expecting a Senegalese Archbishop and were hosting a reception for him. Bob bought all the food-for 130 people-and was busily, carefully preparing it. I was inspired by his early morning energy, his zest to help, his selfless spirit. How can you?

NearFar: This strange oxymoron is how one of the mystics describes God, and subtle encounters within Him within. Anyway it also describes Summit Lake Camp, where the priest was headed for Mass. It's only ten minutes away-over and around Mary's Mountain, but is seemingly so distant, hidden, backwoods-ish and isolated. The priest enjoyed slithering up mountain road, throughout snow passes and over creeks and on top bridges, eventually meandering to the Camp's nearby lake which was frozen and hosting Canadian Geese. Upon arrival the confirmation group of seventy were waiting patiently for Mass. Sabbath Message? Upshot was-based on St John ch. 8, and Jesus' healing of the blind man (Q? Why was he blind? A.. ="to show the Glory of God").Ergo: Pain is gain…Through Him, with Him and in Him. Although embracing trials is counter-intuitive--against our like's and desire, the priest hoped youth "got it". Padre Pio certainly did, as well as most of the saints…How can you lift up sufferings-thru Him, with Him and in Him?

Sunday Respite: it's rare for most priests to get a break in morning or around noon so, with a visiting priest covering the GrottoMass the priest decided to get a New York Times, a rare Sunday treat, and relax before helping with Holy Communion. He read the fascinating story about Dennis Rader, also known as "BTK" (for his supposed torturing techniques), a suspect-killer form Wichita, Kansas. Though functioning in society and even in church leadership for decades, he allegedly murdered about ten people and covered it all up-for decades, anonymously sinking into Middle America society. The double-life aspect of the man, so real and dangerous, is beguiling to many: how could he continue killing and being a family and church man? …How can I realize evil lurks in subtle, banal places (abortion mills, marketplaces)? How can I be more consistent in my public-private life?

Spiritual Surprise: The priest then went to the Grotto for Mass. Surprise: The Archbishop and Senegalese group were already there! Although not expected until after Mass for another hour, the Archbishop was at the Altar with the other priest, in rose vestments for Laetere Sunday. Turns out-the Senegalese canceled their Washington Mass and came in time for the Grotto Mass. Gulp! Well, upshot: I was very pleased and thankful, and relieved, that all the ushers, altar boys, musicians and choir members, the sacristans and friends of the grotto were so prepared and helpful, that everything was working fine-all the members of the Body of Christ (I Cor. 12:1ff). Maybe they had their anxious moments before, but now, everything was fine. I eventually made my way to altar to concelebrate and the Archbishop included me very nicely. He spoke only in French-!--so we "sign-languaged". He said the Mass in Latin. The priest tried his garbled-mountain flavor Latin-and made it through, sweating bullets in front of a few hundred people .God provides! With all the Latin, French, English, and the myriad colors of visitors, this was-truly multicultural, universal Catholic sensation and supernatural celebration!...How can you more fully see and appreciate the universal and diverse Catholic Church Bride of Jesus and thank Him?

After Mass the Archbishop delightfully distributed Holy cards to kids and then we went to our luxurious shed-garage for Lunch (at least the word garage is French!).This was superb fun-especially in the Sun! There were hundreds of people teeming into and out of the garage for food, drink, reposing on the Sabbath, enjoying a pilgrimage, and the sun-Son reigned down on us all, allowing us, in Winter, to sit outside. Kids were running and playing, people were talking and the general festival atmosphere of the Grotto was a joy-a delightful Sabbath Surprise! …How can you be more thankful for God's graces thru this Holy Mountain Shrine?- and never take it for granted!

Afterwards the priest gave some Blessings with a relic of Mother ("Blessed") Teresa of Calcutta. Then, he noticed: the line of a few people grew into fifteen, twenty, and then thirty. The Faith and piety of the Senegalese was inspiring and laudatory. They wanted a healing blessing and waited patiently for it…How can you seek and celebrate the sacramentals (holy items like rosaries, scapulars, candles, icons and etc) of the Church more in your own Faith-life? …Later, the priest made it to the 3-p.m. Holy Hour and -Divine Mercy Chaplet. Here within the sun-drenched Glass Chapel were a few souls devoutly praying, adoring the Lord. Again: Inspiring,--in a quieter way…Have you made a holy hour lately-He, Jesus, awaits you.

The priest later went up to tour-patrol the Grotto (as he does a few times each day). There were many pilgrims this winter Sunday because of the sun and warmth. He met an Italian family with a man in wheelchair, with coats draped over him, to protect against the cold. Earlier this same man and family waited in line for a blessing with the relic. Now, they visited at the Grotto under the Lourdes statue and the man began welling up in tears after receiving another blessing. Then, as the priest came down from the Mountain Grotto Cave, he noticed the Senegalese group on Rosary lane-- singing….Wanted- in this modernist day and age: sweet devotion to Jesus and Mary .

Later, at five o'clock we began another series of the Grotto's Celebration of Two Hundred Years of Faith, Hope and Love-with a five-p.m. Mass. Fr. Giroux, Franciscan-gave an informative and inspiring homily on how to nurture Faith (thru Mass, Bible and spiritual reading); the disturbances and challenges toward Faith today; the need of evangelizing others-people who don't have Faith. He also stressed how Faith is a supernatural virtue infused into soul by God at Baptism-a kind of holy seed which germinates and grows-if we feed it.…At the Communion. meditation a cantor sings, in haunting beauty, "O Sacred head Surrounded" -written by St. Bernard. The priest noticed many, if not most, heads bowed, in adoration…How can you nurture your faith more, esp. in the Holy Eucharist; thru sacred music?

After Mass the priest joined area priests at a Vincentian Priests' dinner at St. Joseph's Church, Emmitsburg Frs. Steve, Vince, Bill and others were very hospitable and kindly. There was, fortunately, this Sabbath day, no agenda for their gathering, just relaxed socializing. The visiting priest was struck by the host-priests' down-to-earth-ness and sheer, plain-old niceness…How can you be welcoming and friendly-esp to strangers?-

After dinner the priest decided to join some friends who were at the five-pm Mass for coffee at the Mountain Gate Restaurant in Thurmont-the Darlings (who donated the Pieta memorial on Rosary L. in the Grotto), and the Weigman's: frequently we see them praying the Rosary in the Glass Chapel, sitting close next to each other, silently, calmly, elegantly: a living spiritual picture of devotion and inspiration. The Weigman's shared a story of a friend who had amniocentesis done on an expected baby: result--brain dead. They were expected to abort the baby. Well, no, they were, are, Christians. The couple chooses to continue the pregnancy and birth. They even consulted Dr. Ben Carson, world-famous Johns Hopkins Hospital expert on difficult cases. After he looked at x-rays he said someone must have prayed and interceded for the child: He was now fine, there was no brain problem at all. Later they gave birth to a beautiful boy and, at age 3, he is a wonder, a healthy, smart and precocious child!...Choose life-even at cost of sacrificing!

After mucho coffee, the priest headed back to Mt St Mary's Immaculate Chapel, to finish his Holy Hour. After a fun, long, and full day, it was beautiful to enter a sacred-"empty" setting. Empty, except--one student praying-with Jesus…Why not make a Holy Hour in this Year of the Eucharist?: visit Jesus, talk to, and listen to Him-be loved by His Divine Presence.

During the Holy Hour the priest realized he forgot his Friday Stations of the Cross. So, he began to prayerfully-walk them, which, in this case, was a delight since he would stay more awake that way and because the Stations in this chapel are so magnificent and awe-inspiring. . The Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta pray the Stations weekly, not just in Lent, so …Walk and pray the Stations of the Cross-perhaps every Friday thru the Year. Try to memorize them: St Teresa of Avila says there's no higher meditation than the passion of Jesus. Still trying to stay awake and worship, the priest picked up a hymnal and silently sung some songs " O Sacred Head Surrounded" and "All Glory Laud and Honor-To You Lord Jesus King" and so forth. No one could hear or laugh at his singing, save God and the angels. Time now to head home. The priest walks outside at ten p.m. and enjoys the stars enlightening darkness in the expansive country sky, and catches a whiff of Spring in the air! All is grace. Laetare Sunday, truly joy

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi