Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Passion, Pleasure and Pain

Father John J. Lombardi

"Whoever comes close to Jesus must be prepared to be burned. Especially nowadays we ought to set these sayings against a vacuous Christianity that renders everything banal, a Christianity that would prefer to be comfortable and undemanding." +Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI)

Are you willing to take on the passionate mind and burning heart of Jesus? Not just His glory and blissful reign-but also His Passion?

Item: A Syrian Orthodox priest was kidnapped in Iraq recently after Pope Benedict made controversial observations about Islam and then, after the Pope himself interceded for the priest's return, his body was found beheaded in the Baghdad streets even after the priest's local church put up denial-posters of the pope. The priest entered--however unconsciously or not-into the Lord's Passion precisely by becoming a priest. Are you letting comforts prevent you from embracing the Lord's Passion in your state in life?

Item: A pop star recently mocked the Lord's Crucifixion in Rome (imitating it for "pop purposes" and crass commercialism) during a concert and, seemingly, no one reacted adversely. Where's the passionate outcry to this?

Item: In a recent attempted presentation of a Mozart opera in Berlin, before outcry by Muslims stopped it, Jesus' and Mohammed's heads were lopped off in adaptation of Mozart (bad enough slight toward the Catholic maestro) and, while Islamiscists reacted, no Christians responded adversely. Where's the Passion?

C.S. Lewis, the famous Christian English convert and apologist, once said: "If you're looking for a comfortable religion, I don't recommend Christianity."

Where's the Passion today in Christians and Catholics? In this Sunday's Gospel (St Mk. 10:35-45) Jesus questions the disciples who seemingly want the "crown" of glory but not the "cross" and His cup of Passion. They want privilege without pain-maybe just like us all. Jesus is offering us all a share in His Passion and Cross but we may be so overwhelmed by our pursuit of pleasure that we deny a share in His Passion. We may call this a "blurring of the blood"-the tendency in all of us to avert self denial, pain, suffering and the Cross. Like the disciples in the Gospel we want to reign with Him-share in Christ's glory and glorious glitz--without the suffering. Yet, below, are stories of Passion and some who do respond with burning zeal to accept the challenges and Cross ….

A pilgrim recently caught me at the Grotto: She passionately described how, at a Catholic parish, a Christmas tree was already put up (alarm enough, I thought, before she continued) and this tree was displaying pumpkins on it and a witch's hat at the top of the tree. The pilgrim was rightly enraged and let me know about it, and that she was going to voice her concern. Rightly, I might add. After all, Christmas, All Hallow's Eve (the real meaning of Halloween) and liturgical seasons were all hijacked into commercialism and wrongful blurring-misleading people. This lady had good passion and was responding by taking part in the Lord's Cup of Passion: are you?

I recently talked to a young person who is a devout Catholic and a pharmacist about how she struggles with not dispensing abortifacients (killing-drugs of babies in the womb whom are nascently forming) to patrons and how the government now requires states to provide these killing drugs to moms with babies upon asking (called "Plan-B"-a euphemism for death) . Just think: the government is demanding pharmacies to legally participate in the killing of babies. And yet: this young person is doing everything possible to avert this travesty-I could tell by her obvious, passionate reaction: how about you?

An introductory film shown to newly arrived immigrants in the Netherlands shows nude women and men kissing, in, apparently, an attempt to de-sensitze and introduce them into a "secular culture" and tolerance. Many Muslims have decried this, but just where are the Christians in passionate response?

Where is the passionate outrage at the Italian priest who was killed in Turkey this past Summer?---he was shot in back by a young Muslim. Also, after Pope Benedict's comments referring to Islam many churches were burned in Palestine, a nun was shot and killed in Senegal and the pope's effigy was burned in protest. There's passion in these responses to the pope, no doubt, but where in the world is the world passionately responding to these threats, murders and travesties?

We have a duty-and a privilege-- as Catholics to embrace the Lord's Cup of Passion and also to speak out against denigrations of our Faith and the dignity of all individuals. We cannot hide behind false peace and wrongful prudence but, rather, need to participate in Jesus' prophetic denunciations and annunciations to herald His Kingdom, even at the cost of our self-esteem, reputation and, if called to do so, even our lives. Have we gotten too comfortable in our land? Has the banality of evil overtaken us so much that we are anesthetized to it?

Three popular and high-profile books highlight the promotion of atheism and agnosticism in our land. In "The End of Faith," Sam Harris sometimes equates religion with intolerance and violence. In "The God Delusion," biologist Richard Dawkins basically mocks religion and faith in our modern world as just that, a delusion of immense proportions. And in "Breaking the Spell," Daniel Dennett says, along with many other modernists-and scientists-that anything immaterial and spiritual, is not provable and thereby false and "a spell" upon naVve mankind. Oppositely, in a at times passionate and dispassionate, reasoned response, Francis Collins, thru his noble book, "The Language of God," shows how God "left behind" "foot prints" (as one friend called them) of Himself in the human genome, in the DNA code of chromosomes that Collins de-coded, and how rational all the Lord's "Program" and Providence really is-within our very being. Herein is a reasoned and reasonable "Plan"-by God within our gene-pool--we can get at, view, study and emulate-all scientifically provable. Collins is answering passionately to these atheistic, so-called "scientifically trumping" diatribes. All these books are trying to generate discord, sever our faith and passionately-under the guise of "the scientific method"--attack religion as irrational. Now, are you sensing the passionate debate and responding by detecting your Creator in creation and helping others to find Him and respond? Or are you blithely accepting modernisms monikers? .

One might react to the call for Passion dispassionately: Well, we're supposed to be peaceful and not be en-angered, and we shouldn't be anxious and over-zealous and besides, we're called to tolerance and diplomacy and so forth. Okay, though, we should make distinctions: there is a difference between passion and wrongful zealotry. Think of the passion of fans during a college football game. Here passion is good, right? And that passion can be "copied" to other realms of activity and in other ways, too, correct? As in passion for the poor of Darfur, in passion for our families and our Holy Church, and so forth. So we shouldn't rule out passion altogether Oppositely, now, think of the wrongful passion of suicide bombers or the zany-zealotry of hate crimes. These are definitely wrong-passion gone awry, not balanced by right reason. So, there are right ways to be passionate (without becoming a "zealot") and wrong ways of being passionate (without reason). Sometimes we can be overly prudent and excessively-rational to the point of hiding behind the virtues of passion and reason and thereby seeking false peace, all the while that our values, virtues and the Faith are being hijacked and torn asunder Perhaps the Church militant is being replaced by the Church mercurial. Are you preventing the Passion--sterilizing it by wrongfully relying on, hiding behind wrongful prudence and false peace?

I once talked to some Catholics couple concerned about their child who began cohabiting with another person. I could feel their passion in our conversation for their child's soul and well-being-not to mention that cohabiting is likely against the Lord's call to chastity. They even calmly and lovingly invited the child out of the cohabiting confines-to no avail, so far. They tried because they had rightful Passion and were, I think, participating in a parcel of the Lord's Cup of Passion In similar or dissimilar situations are you willing to participate in the Passion or are you averting it?

Today it is fashionable to bash Evangelicals and Christians in the media, and even President Bush's religious sentiments - perhaps Christians are not organic enough. Or inclusive or tolerant or multicultural or secularist enough, or…Yet, we should hear, whether democrat or republican, Pope John Paul II's cry: "Be not afraid" amidst all the passionate bashing and mocking!

I recently read in the Wall Street Journal about nouveau "micro designers"-savants of sensualism who can be hired to decorate coffee tables, hallways and small areas to one's liking for hundreds of dollars an hour---all while Darfur burns. Where's the passion amidst this?

During a religious presentation to priests the presenter spoke eloquently and lengthily about the need to welcome people, form committees and plan curricula for new parishioners without ever mentioning Jesus or salvation. One priest attending the presentation said that if you just change a few words this could have been given to any salesman of secular objects. The priest was passionate in the noticeable ignoring of Jesus and core Christian beliefs in helping people be welcomed to parish life.

In our worshipping are we making God in our own image? God is often depicted and imaged as gracious, warm, loving, tender (notice the effeminisms), which He certainly is, but this is to the neglect His mystery, justice, strength and fire. When we don't keep the balance of biblical theology, we thereby lose the sense of holistic worship, sacrifice and God's commandments and His righteousness. God is often worshipped today mainly as 'Friend' and not as 'Fire'. Of course He is Good Shepherd and Providential Father, but our religion also calls for holy fear, sacrifice and humility, too. Are we stressing the pleasures we should have from God to the detriment of the Passion He calls us to? Jesus in the Gospel today embraces-and calls us to embrace-a Cup of Passion. Just think: Jesus restores the universe-and individual souls, too-by His Passion and Death, His Blood and Atonement, and brings a "cosmological equilibrium" to our world, something scientists and secularists (like the ones mentioned above) can jibe with-a world and cosmos as originally designed and beautifully made-in harmony. St Paul says that Christ came to restore all things in Himself. This is by His Cup of Passion embraced and poured for all. So why don't we recover this with truer worship-the Cup of Passion which is the entrance not only to eternal life but also the original bliss of the Garden of Eden and the world as it was originally intended.

Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict again: "Being a Christian, then is daring to entrust oneself to this burning fire…..Anyone who is not ready to get burned, who is not at least willing for it to happen, will not come near". So, restore and cultivate that Passion which the Lord has placed in your heart so that you may become one with Him in His Passion, Death and Resurrection.

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi