Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Spiritual Subversion, Holiness and Sublimity

Father John J. Lombardi

What are four words to get you to heaven?

Love God, Love neighbor.

I asked that same above question to a tour-group of children and adults recently, and they replied with two excellent, surprising answers:

"One, Catholic, Holy Apostolic," and "Thy Will be done."

Yes, indeed they are brilliant answers.

In this Sunday's Gospel (St. Mt. 22:34-40), the Pharisees, who heard that Jesus had silenced the Pharisees now try to test and trap Him. Imagine that: trying to outwit God Who Is Infinite Wisdom. Actually, let's admit it, we've all tried to do i-in one way or another! Now the Pharisees ask Christ what the Greatest Commandment is. His reply is subversive of their spirituality and elegant in essence--those Four Words: Love God, Love neighbor. That's it. He evades their trap by giving an Answer so simple yet so difficult. Yet the saints mastered these Four Words of holiness, of getting to Heaven. Now, will you?

The Pharisees were testing Jesus on what He stressed as the greatest of the 613 Jewish Laws in effect at the time for any pious Jew to live. Christ responded by quoting the traditionally accepted eminent "Law" or verse of Dt. 6:5, on loving the Lord in the threefold manner: "Love the Lord with your whole heart, soul and mind." Translated: First Things First. We must first Love God, and "get this down," so to speak, by placing all our trust in Him, and the Love thy neighbor aspect should come naturally, supernaturally. Jesus' revolution comes when He combines loving God with loving neighbor, which was not always stressed in Jewish law, even though Christ quotes Lv. 19:18. In combing Love of God and Neighbor as twin aspects of the Greatest Commandment God Himself, becomes, in effect, one of the greatest enemies of the religious establishment: and yet He becomes our Path of Salvation! Yes, Jesus stresses the Love of God first-"Keep First Things First," never compromise this or you'll be in trouble-but He stretches moldy minds spiritual subversion by combining this with love of Neighbor. Nonetheless, Loving God with our whole heart means "wholeheartedly"--allowing God to pervade (not oppressively invade) all our emotions and passions so that we may become pliable (the meaning of pious) and divinely desirous. Loving God with mind means using our intellects to think about Him as far we can, and that we continually expand these Trinitarian thoughts (ideas and doctrines) to match His Infinity and Immensity (God-As-Reality); Loving God with our all our soul means the sensitizing to the supernatural part of ourselves given us by God at conception to "spiritually glue" to Him.

Now, remember: Jesus' spiritually is subversive. This means He overturns the "apple-carts" of our sterile understanding, our usual ways of understanding God and His Ways. After all, God-In-Christ identified with tax collectors, pagans and prostitutes before the Jewish established religious authorities. Why? Not only because, as the First reading stresses, we msut never oppress or forget the alien and orphan- (Ex. 22:20ff), but also because "outcasts" were more understanding of His Message, more open to, and needful of His Rich Mercy, than others. By counseling this threefold love of God-heart, soul and mind, and Love of neighbor--Jesus is holistic and healing, whereas the Pharisees were intellectualistic, only. And so Jesus subverts their mind-only attempt to understand and love the Lord.

The danger of being part of the "elect," the powerful, the religious establishment--we Catholics and Christians, like the Pharisees--is that we may ossify the dynamism of our sacred rituals; we sometimes petrify the mandate to evangelize and love the really needy and desirous, and we may reify ("thing-ify) our understandings of a God-Beyond- comprehensibility, failing to accept Pure Mystery. While God is somewhat understandable (a Trinity, a Personal God and so forth, reveled in and thru Jesus Christ), He is more a Holy Mystery, as one theologian described Him, than solvable "mystical solution". Rather than experiencing frustration this should lead us to true worship: for we reverence what we do not totally understand as opposed to "downsizing divinity" to think we do understand, trying to outwit God. Remember: sublimity (from the Latin, sublimare, 'to raise') means sending our spirits up out of small, oppressive worlds and confining ideas to a Reality we cannot totally see or feel or comprehend, but love nonetheless, because we know It is real-er than any so-called reality we can see and feel. This takes trust, daring and a revolution in thinking--constantly. The mystic Bl. Jan van Ruuysbroeck describes this "flight" and unity with God as between "Holy Lovers": "When we have 'become seeing' (as in spiritual lucidity) we are able to contemplate in joy the eternal coming of the Bridegroom…a perpetual birth and a new illumination: for the ground whence the Light shines and which is Itself the Light, is life-giving and fruitful; and hence the manifestation of the Eternal Light is renewed and without interruption in the hiddeness of the spirit…For His coming consists in the Eternal Now…Now this active meeting and this loving embrace are in their essence fruitive and unconditioned; for the Undifferentiation of the Godhead is so dark and so naked of all image that it conceals with itself all the Divine qualities in the all-enfolding richness of the Essential Unity…and a melting and dying into the nudity of Pure Being. For in this Abyss of Simplicity all things are embraced in the bliss of fruition…This is the dim silence where all lovers lose themselves." Now: this may seem beyond you, but (re-read and, better yet, meditate upon): Jesus calls you beyond the mundane to the mystical heights of Union with God. He subverts our usual ways of being into a trans-rational love of God. The Spirit calls all to the sublime heights of holiness-not just a few elect "holy rollers".

We also need Jesus to help us to subvert other horizontal ho-hum realities of accepted culture, such as pornography, with the beauty of chastity and heroic celibacy: "Blessed are the pure of Heart, they shall see God" (Mt. 5:8); we need Jesus to revolutionize the materialism of our society by showing spiritual poverty is freeing. The Lord can help us be free of techno-dependency by grasping spiritual treasures that help us love God and neighbor; He can help us subvert acceptable apple-carts of pleasure-seeking thru the liberation of self-renunciation: "If you want to be my follower, deny yourself, pick up your cross daily" (Lk. 9:23). The Gospel is not about the status quo; it is rather about salvific liberation.

Love God: The Apostles (save St John who assisted the Virgin) were all martyrs who died for the Lord Jesus Christ. Will you die for Him? St Augustine wandered amongst wine, women and song looking for happiness and didn't' find it until he finally found God in Christ, in the sacraments, in the Catholic Church. Will you find God soon? St Benedict found God in silent prayer and renunciations: will you? St Anthony founder of monasticism, found God in the desert: Will you find that desert nearby you and thereby find God? St Hillary, bishop and married man, loved the Blessed Trinity and wrote magnificent treatises on this Divine Reality. Do you love the Trinity above and within? St Hildegard von Bingen became a cloistered abbess and overcame prejudices against women and counseled popes, bishops and prelates to Truth and Light: will you? Ditto for St Catherine of Siena. Ven. Charles de Foucould wandered the Algerian desert and gave his life in full service to Christ thru prayer…St Bernadette saw the Precious Virgin Mary at Lourdes and then suffered painfully tuberculosis and died a difficult death, offering up her suffering for us souls: will you? St Theresa of Lieseaux and her whole Martin family became holy thru meditative prayer, sacrifices and strong family unity.

Love Neighbor:

In the story of the Good Samaritan (St Lk.10.29ff ), after the priest (representing religious authority) and the lawyer (representing money and power) passed the guy in the ditch (representing the one in need near you) it was an "outcast" from "across the railroad tracks" who helped him. Now, will you help your neighbor? St Symeon left the comfort of crowds and assisted his neighbor the Lord Himself (Station Five of the Way of the Cross): will you? When St Lawrence, head deacon of Rome was asked for the Church's treasures" by a curious and power-seeking courtier, he showed them, opening his vestments and revealed poor and sick and dying children. St Gregory the Great, a Pope (!) and great prayer-er, used to dine daily with twelve poor persons-in honor of the Apostles-at his simple papable table. Do you have these as your treasures? St Elizabeth, of royalty, left the temporal kingdom of the castle and found riches in the poor, sick and dying whom she served. Will you? St Isaac Jogues and the North American Martyrs left comfortable France and served the Lord and Huron and Mohawk Indians in New York and Canada, brining them the sacraments and eventually was cruelly martyred for his service. Will you be as heroic in your service? St Francis Xavier sailed across the sea from Spain to baptize thousands and bring them the sacraments in India and Asia. Do you have this daring and spirit? St Joseph Benedict Labre loved the Eucharist and loved the poor of Rome, making them his friends when he himself was rejected. Will you use your rejections to make Jesus' poor yor neighbors?

All saints loved God and neighbor, but some above others perfectly balanced this two-fold Love in excellent ways. St JohnVinaney celebrated both the sacraments and Mass eloquently and also founded a home for the poor and educated them. One French saint is patron of the Holy Eucharist (therefore: prayed a lot before and with Jesus) and also (get this) evangelized and showed compassion upon prostitutes on the streets of Paris. St Francis of Assisi experienced both ecstasies in contemplation and also lived amidst the poor. St Catherine of Siena loved God-the Trinity in deep prayer and served lepers. Bl Damien loved the Mass and the Suffering Christ and His poor in the lepers of Molokai. Then, of course Pope John Paul wrote treatises on St John of the Cross (contemplative prayer) and spent hours each day praying, and also nurtured a special love of the poor. Mother Teresa of Calcutta: ditto on prayer and love of the poor, Jesus in His disguises.

Balance: Do you have the "Beautiful Balance?"-that is, the love of God and neighbor in your life? If you love only God and neglect your neighbor you may be called a "verticalist". If you love only neighbor then you're a "horizontalist". Remember: there's two beams on the Holy Cross: a horizontal one reminding us to extend His Salvation to our neighbors, and a vertical beam which impels us initially towards God. Look: there's a lot of opportunities out there for us, and temptations. I recently heard a wise evangelical radio evangelist talk about "the purpose driven life", New Age and popular preacher Joel Ornstein, all which variously but likewise preach a so-called good news of self-fulfillment, but, Christianity said, he is other centered. We are not a clique or a commune but a community-a Mystical Body. We can't only center on ourselves-we must serve others. True: even in our personal spirituality of overcoming sin we must remember: to love our neighbor and get unstuck off our own (spiritual) navels.

How can you balance Love of God and Love of Neighbor in your life? How do you need to love God more-in the sacraments, in prayer and Adoration, in the Church's teachings, in an intentional personal spirituality? How do you need to overcome personal comfort zones and love Christ in His disguises--in His poor, sick and dying? Jesus gives a shock to the system thru His subversive spirituality: to our institutional systems of lax dynamism and our inner systems of lukewarm souls. Now, those Four Words-are you living them? …

"Nothing is more practical than falling in love with God, than falling in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. it will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evening, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything." -Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ.

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi