Emmitsburg Council of Churches

The Human Person in all our Majesty, Misery, Mystery…

Father John J. Lombardi

Majesty= Always remember the five key words of this retreat and of life: I'm a child of God-you may prayerfully say these words on your five fingers of a hand: by Baptism you are a noble child of God, you do experience some joys of life; you are an extension of God's Love; you are, in all your quirks, joys and sorrows and uniqueness, God's child: you are His chosen one, He loves you infinitely. A lady pilgrim recently visited the Grotto and shared how God was using her as His chosen instrument. She said how she could look into people's souls, pray for things to happen-and they did, she helped people thru counsel and their change of lives. She was humble and yet knew she was gifted. God was obviously using her personality to affect salvation. I was most impressed with both her humility and obvious spiritual gifts…Misery means our human suffering, sins and faults, inability to overcome and become perfected; our shadowy past, our prominent faults an failures. A pilgrim recently revealed to me, over a nice meal, and while weeping spontaneously, how they missed their spouse who recently died. The pilgrim naturally wondered how so many bad people could be allowed to live, and other couples end up in divorce, and, meanwhile, their loved one "was taken". The soul was obviously suffering and sad, and yet had hope to go thru it with Jesus and Mary and thru her heartfelt Catholic devotions-all which balanced her personality and temporal sadness. This life is, at times, a "veil of tears"-and so we need strong devotions to offset this cloudiness… Remember Jesus' saying: "In the world you will have much trouble; but, fear not, I have overcome the world" (Jn. 16:33). Mystery= the mix of God's grace and our own human humanity-working out our salvation; and not always knowing definitely how things will turn out, how we will become holy. Think of the mystery: a pair of twins with one on a path to holiness and the other in ruin. Why? Herein is mystery.…The mysterious spiritual alchemy of grace perfecting nature-we don't always know the mixture an "how it works" within. Persons struggling with, and overcoming heroically alcoholism, sexual addictions, and, meanwhile, vibrant married couples and single individuals who strive also for holiness-all these are examples of God using personalities and transforming them into saints.

All these stories and descriptions reveal how we humans need both perfecting-purification and also to acknowledge the graces God has obviously given us.-if we are faithful to God and His Path.

I've met at least two saints in life. Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa. Both revealed obvious spiritual depth, love and faith, tenacious love of God and neighbor. When I met them I did not see any haloes or supernatural glows about them. They were also, obviously human-joking, serious and serene at the same time. They were balanced, whole individuals who knew their sins and faults and also knew their strengths and gifts-and of others, too. I recently talked to a priest in preparing for a funeral we would soon have for a man, Paul, who had obvious mental deficiencies. One soul remarked about him: "The world will not be the same without him." And the priest said: "God reveals Himself in so many unique and different ways to us thru others. " Yes: even thru a mentally handicapped man, God revealed Himself majestically and beautifully. Thru simplicity and even deficiencies God makes known His salvation

A classic formula of theology is this simple one: Grace builds on nature. Grace, God's life Itself, doesn't destroy it-but perfects and purifies human nature. We are not-and God doesn't want-human robots: cold and calculating, de-personed cogs promoting His Kingdom in impersonalist fashion. No, He uses human persons with all our strengths and weaknesses, in all our misery and majesty. That is what this retreat is about-acknowledging the nature God has given us, our personalities, character, temperament, and participating in the purification process whereby He makes sinners into saints-whole, holy, loving.

We are here because we know both of our human dis-equilibrium (handicaps) and that God comes to restore us and perfect our personalities thru so many ways-Mass-re-presenting the perfect Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross and thereby imprinting His character within our own; and sacraments: confession cleanses the person and remakes him, her; spiritual direction: a pilgrim just visited a priest to define her new life in Christ and the gifts she's received; life in community-a priest leaving Mt St Mary's said how both progressvists and orthodox must learn from one another to build up the University and Kingdom; serving others: a man was just promoted to a new job and wondered how he could still serve the poor of Capital Hill and perhaps go to Africa and serve there; thru marriage: a couple just visited me and told me of their desire and discipline to remain chaste until marriage-and to follow Christ all their days…All stories and exemplary examples of purifying personalities in the Lord!

Salvation means healing-salus: We need healing, to have our given human natures, characters, personalities, healed, made whole and holy. St Peter said to the Lord Jesus' call to cleansing: "Wash all of me" This may mean our entire beings consisting of our bodies (sicknesses); minds (anxieties), and souls (principle sins). We all need healing. A soul once said: "The Church is one big hospital." Yes, we are here for healing and equilibrium in Christ Jesus the Divine Physician.

We have, or should have, within us, a unity of: mind, heart, law, love, God, temporal, eternal.-sometimes we make a "divorce" between our bodies, minds and souls and dis-unify them-see them as separate. This is a disease in itself. Hopefully during this retreat we will be made whole again

Let's now look, briefly at some types of people common to, amongst us all…

  • Anxious Abe"=usually or always fretting, turmoil within-worry = a divided mind-
  • Angry Alice"=undealt with upsets, misplaced anger, puts wood on fire rather than water
  • Agapeic Al"=one who sacrifices for other; God-centered
  • Moody Mandy"=maybe you need the help of sanguine St Phillip Neri
  • Virtuous Victor"= the guy or girl who forms holy habits within to overcome faults
  • Manipulative Mable"-perhaps she, you, need the assistance of Bl Damien the sacrificial priest of Molokai
  • Distant Dave"- could use the help of sweet, loving example of St Therese of Lieseaux
  • Dramatic-Passionate Darra"-perhaps this one needs the grace of divine, cool St John…
  • Sensual Sam" could use the grace of detached St Thomas Aquinas…"Intellectual Ivan" may use the help of St Peter the Apostle who acted as well as thought well
  • Contemplative Carla"=takes time for prayer and stillness
  • Slothful Sara" could be inspired by the do-er St. Ignatius the active-soldier saint

Which one, or ones, are you, are you, embracing, choosing? How do you need balancing and purification in your personality?

Jesus says: "I give you joy, that your joy may be complete" and " a joy no one can take from you"

We are fallen, yet graced creatures and are in need of salvation-redemption. Our personalities, character, temperament are sometimes out-of-sync. For instance, through ignorance we may not know just who we are, what type of person we are-our faults, predominant tendencies and cannot thereby correct them: we are kinda "spiritually sleepwalking". For instance: we may neglect our bodies unwisely and this affects our minds and souls. Or we may not practice needed helpful virtues and thereby fail to form holy habits wherein our "second-nature" kicks in at times of trouble when our emotions or minds fail. We need balance, healing

Put bluntly: are you overly intellectual, mind-centered and in need of the heart's affections, or too heartfelt and passionate and in need of correction by the intellect and head? Remember to say, pray: I am not my emotions, I am not my feelings, I'm a child of God, I can become holy through His grace and perfecting and purifying my personality. Perhaps you are too swayed by shadowy past experiences lodged in your body, mind and soul and cannot overcome these forces within-then you, we all, need purification-grace and nature working together to become saintly, whole and holy children of God Are you always too busy to learn about your faults and failures, burying them in work and treadmill-tenaciously tiresome ways? Then slow down, lean and re-learn the way of Jesus.

What this Retreat is about…

  • Most importantly, as in all spiritual growth- it is about personal-spiritual growth-development in Christ, through Him, with Him man makes us men and women God-like : Jesus Christ is the paradigm of all human development. We will see just how the God-Man makes us men and women God-like, theandric
  • St Irenaus famously said: "The glory of God is man fully alive"-This is a definition of holiness-God perfecting our human nature-not bypassing or over-riding it. He wants to build upon it. We are not made for unhappiness and constant struggle but, rather, for total life-now-in God…Christ said: "I came that you have life in abundance"-Jn 10:10=wholeness
  • Study of personhood: through a look at our own individual, unique selves, we will discern how God made us (temperaments character, personality) and both our predominant faults and graces. We will see what makes up a person (mind, body, soul and so forth, inner self and outer self) and who these all affect us and make us who we are. The Greek said: "Know thyself" and Christians say:
  • The Path of Spiritual Development: through a study of the sacraments, spiritual direction, the Bible, lives of the saints, we can discern and do concrete paths of wholeness and holiness, and put it into action .This encompasses both objective elements (the Commandments, for instance, which we must know and obey and be guided by) and subjective elements (personal choices, unique opportunities, individual desires and decisions) .
  • IDI=Insight into who we are and our strengths (gifts and talents) and weaknesses (our "blockages" faults and "shadows"); development of God's Wisdom and our own human wills; and integration= pulling it all together blends into wholeness and holiness

A simple formula for this retreat and all life may be: Self knowledge + Grace= saintliness, wholeness and holiness…St Catherine of Siena said, perfectly: "In Your Nature, O Eternal Godhead, I know my nature." Let us begin…

It's now Advent-time to prepare for the Coming of the Lord-in His Birth and Final Glory. Let us truly, more deeply await Him by pulling out the "bad straw" of our personalities-faults and sins-and putting in, magnifying and multiplying the "good straw" of holy thoughts, charity and devotions so as He can lay His Sacred Head in the manger within us!

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi