Emmitsburg Council of Churches

EnFleshed Love

Father John J. Lombardi

Yikes! --I was bleeding at Mass. After preaching a homily at the 8am Mt Carmel-Thrumont-Md. Mass I looked down astoundingly at the Lectionary: it was bludgeoned on both pages of the open book with blood. Then I remembered-I looked at my left hand with two gashes in it from hitting myself on a sharp table-top in the sacristy just before Mass. In the midst of the readings and homily I had forgotten all about my wounds-call it sacred sublimation-i.e., attention re-directed on other things and forgetfulness of self works! Anyway, I began cleaning up the Lectionary-and then I thought it prudent to say to the wondering congregation what happened-the gash before Mass and the bloodied lectionary--and concluded, tongue in cheek :"Don't tell anyone!"

Anyway, as I went to the altar to prepare the Gifts of bread wine, the lector-usher, Bob Maize, a generous, devout soul-held up something: I couldn't see from the distance-I thought it was some kind of cloth to clean the Lectionary-"AOK," I thought. He began approaching and it turned out he had a band aid for my hand! Like a caring helper he put it gently on me at the Altar as all watched, and then further helped me in the Mass!

The theme of the clumsy homily that day was: Amor facit exstasens-Love produces ecstasy. In other words, because we love--hopefully like Jesus Who fist loved us, heroic love takes us out of ourselves and enables us to be free (ecstasis= to stand out of oneself) to help others. Little did I know my words would impact Bob so quickly-and so pragmatically! In the midst of a sacred ceremony, the Mass, Bob walked "over the railroad tracks"(into the sanctuary, the "holy of holies") to help me, a priest. He came "out of himself" and saw that one was in need and he helped: do you? Because of his holy-habit nature of helping, Bob didn't let anything intimidate him from helping.

We all get sluggish, comfortable in our various ways and ego, and so are unable or unwilling to help others. What are your blocks and barriers to loving? Sometimes we must, like Bob at Mass, even overcome seeming "sacred separations" and help others anyway. Jesus got on the cases of the Scribes and Pharisees for just this reason: their rigorist-religion was getting in the way of assisting the outcast and downtrodden. The Good Samaritan parable (St Lk. 10:29ff) is the story of a non-Jew-pagan who crossed the "railroad tracks" to love the man in the pits after the priest and Jewish disciple passed him up. Love produces ecstasy: --takes us out of ourselves to do the work of Jesus!

St John challenges us: "For anyone who does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen" -I Jn.4:20

I recently heard the stunning counsel about love-in-action: "Remember, men (seminarians), as we have stressed so often, that the fruits of your prayer are measurable-that they should bear fruit in how you treat one another." Those wise words from Fr. John Dietrick, spiritual director of Mt St Mary's Seminary, at the Advent-Christmas party here for seminarians, inflowed into my tiny head, amidst all the revelry and joy of the party. And, I thought to myself, this is a liberating-enlightening-needed teaching and reminder: do I really do this, meditate upon the fruits of love and show that my prayer is effective?

Fr. Brian Nolan, a "son of the Mount" seminarian-graduate, once came to Mary's Grotto for a "healing Mass" and service, and in his wise homily he quoted the legend-story of St John the Evangelist, that every time he preached he gave the same "homily"--three words: "Love one another." Always the same words: "Love one another." Perhaps because St John knew the rivalries and some of the deficiencies of his audience, and the growth of a loss of focus on the Savior's Command: "Love one another" (Jn.13:34 ). It is so easy to neglect or reject this in the midst of our pursuits and pleasures, even religious ones.

As we witness daily the blow ups and murders of Shiites and Sunni Muslims in Baghdad and elsewhere, we can become crass or charitable: we must make a choice..

Love is an emotion (an emanating energy) and yes, too, we should never forget, it is also primarily a choice: we must choose to love, especially when we don't want to or don't feel like it. St Paul reminds us: "If I have faith to move all mountains but do not have love, I am nothing…Love is patient, love is kind, it is not pompous, it does not inflated, it is not rude…it never fails." (I Cor. 13:2,4,6). Perhaps we can make novenas, but if we have not love for others-the person near us in need of a kind word, then love is useless. If we know dogmas and doctrines and yet do not have love, we are a clanging gong. If we go to confession and do not amend our ways of self-seeking, we are not transformed by deeper loving.

I was recently talking to Deacon Jesse Bolger and we both agreed sometimes it is difficult in certain situations to preach or talk about certain issues: as soon as you mention a certain word or theme outside the "paradigm" of the listener's realm, you may be unfairly branded-"straight jacketed" by the person's perceptions. We both agreed, again-about how some in the Church eschew "ecology" and natural environment issues (fairly or unfairly) and might think you're a "tree hugger" or ultra-progressivists for mentioning these. Who wants Mary's natural beautiful Grotto turned into a strip-mall? Thing is: the next day I read Pope Benedict's World Day of Peace Message, which spoke of preserving and promoting the environment and proper stewardship of the Earth- which is the beautiful Creation of God! Sometimes we can not love others because of wrongful perceptions about them: let us realize Catholic orthodoxy combines Creator and Creation, perception and liberation and that we should never "box someone in" because our limited ideas of them. Love frees.

I am reminded of our President of Mt St Mary's Dr Thomas Powell. He continuously goes out of his way to empower and encourage others: he is natural at it. He shows that true love helps builds up the Body of Christ. I also notice this trait in what we may call charismatic Christians. I admire their affability, love, exuberance and encouragements-their "Life in the Spirit". Recently we had a charismatic music group visit the Grotto and, although visitors, they made me feel welcome and encouraged by their warmth and joy--even after I had to give them corrective-directives. St Paul says: "Be aglow in the Spirit"-(Rm 12:11 ).This group certainly was-showing me how to improve. Many times we may become "tight" or brittle; meanwhile the Spirit helps us to be "oiled," effusive joyful.

Fear paralyses; love liberates. I've noticed through my priestly travels, that as a basic generalization (with exceptions, of course), many liberals love liberally. While I don't always understand or appreciate some of their theology or politics, I've grown to see in various situations religious liberals are sometimes more natural and gung-ho at "going across the railroad tracks"--ebullient at welcoming and greeting people to their church; heroically going out of the way for the stranger-poor-shut- in or person discriminated against; and have shown me how to come out of comfort zones of ego to heroically love even until it hurts.

And yet, obviously, orthodox folks "got it too"! I recall fondly John and Marie Hinzman who, though devout, orthodox Catholics, and in their seventies, belong to a kinda' "progressivist parish" and who continue to help the poor by bringing them food and clothing by weekly "van-visits" on the street; they help the unborn and pregnant moms to have their babies; and sing at their parish on Sunday; and have actually met with drug users and prostitutes and homeless persons and squeegee kids on cold Baltimore streets. Why? Because Love produces ecstasy….Just where does Bible say you are only to love or protect your family alone? Or when did God say do good for your friends only ? Where does Jesus say only nurture your own parish? Be ecstatic-go out!

Bishop Francis Malooly of Baltimore recently blessed and dedicated, in a very moving ceremony, St Bartholomew Church, in nearby Manchester. He quoted Poe Benedict's letter, "Deus Caritas Est/God is Love" that we cannot have Christ just for ourselves, He is "given to us" to give and share with others. Catholics are certainly not a "Me and Jesus"-only kinda of people. In this Sunday's second reading St Paul says: "Be kind to one another" (Phil. 4:4-7) "and be not anxious about anything": we should not be tormented about helping, assisting, loving others-it should be our joy.

Catholics are called to be a community-loving liberally and liberatingly. Think of the most orthodox Catholics-Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa-they held dear and near the most sublime doctrines of the Church, no doubt, and they also constantly "went across the railroad tracks" of limiting false-religion and accusations and comfort zones to help others-regardless of class creed or color. Ditto for St Lawrence the Deacon, of Rome. A permanent Deacon, named Lawrence, recently told me the story of his patron saint: When powerful Roman soldiers asked for "the Church's treasures" which were reported to be "great," St. Lawrence gathered all kinds of street urchins and poor persons, and, when the soldiers arrived to see and take the "revered treasures," Lawrence opened his vestments and said, "Here, here is the treasure of the Church." Be loving to the unloved.

Orthodox Catholics should be likewise. Some groups are more creed-centered (doctrinal), while others are more charity centered-and can be more effusive and fun (I enjoy racing kids on the parking lot when no one's looking!). And yet perhaps fear reigns in some souls to deter them from loving. Others think that outsiders may harm their comfort zones, and still others, hurt by unjust changes in the Church may be "fortress bound" and offsetting. And yet think back to the saints mentioned above. Obviously, and wrongly, some individuals and groups can neglect or reject certain Creed-aspects of our Faith all the while emphasizing love in action-they "pick and chose" what they want to believe, or what is convenient. This is not what the Church is promoting-either Charity or Creed. Both go together, as we see evidenced in the saints.

At a recent retreat during a Q @ A session a retreatant described how so many Catholics are "going over to Protestant churches" these days because evangelical folks "greet and meet" them assertively, and make them feel welcome, whereas in some Catholic churches there is not as much of this. As I am privileged to visit many parishes to say Mass, and as I wander the Grotto with so many varied peoples and groups, it is rather easy to detect the warmth of some, the distancing of others. I am reminded by the many Phillipino pilgrims: universally (with few exceptions) they are kindly, warm, affectionate, outgoing, respectful and cheerful-even to the point of kissing priest's hands! Some people are, by nature, this way: others have to learn this and work on it. Surely we can all learn to be more loving and outgoing, for you never know what is underneath the skin of another person-likely loneliness or suffering, and they could use our help. One word, one greeting may change all their sadness. Love goes out of itself and "aglows". Many people with varied talents, treasures and spiritualities visit and utilize the Grotto and all here can help even more to unite the community of Jesus.

This Christmas we celebrate the Word become Flesh. Why did God do this-become enfleshed? Perhaps because we humans need to see, experience "love in action," actually lived-out for us. When asked by His disciples, "How can we know the way" (to heaven and holiness), the Lord Jesus said, "I AM the Way, the Truth, the Life" (Jn 14:6). He seemed to be saying, The Way is not only a "noun," a doctrine, something of the past, but The Way is a verb, the actual Life Jesus was dramatically showing the disciples thru loving "the other"-whether a tax collector or prostitute. St Gregory of Nysssa says a beautiful thing: the disciple should become conformed to the Lover (Jesus)and then He will recognize Himself in us and we, ourselves, will become beautiful, as He is.

Overcome obstacles to loving-in-action! St Catherine of Siena had trouble loving a leprous person, and so she overcame her aversion by taking a cup of the leprous person's wound and drank it. Drastic, yes. (Don't try this at home!) She knew her barrier and she wanted to love.

And remember: "If I have not love…I am nothing" …

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi