Emmitsburg Council of Churches

M.U.M's the Word

Father John J. Lombardi

A falsely-accused man, proven innocent, seeks not vengeance but to help others in similar shaky situations. A "shock-jock" confesses. A lady whose family was slaughtered forgives the killers. A married man admits he is wrong. A politically powerful banker apologizes.

M.U.M's the word and it stands for "Mercy Upon Mercy". See St John's Gospel Prologue, of which "M.U.M." is a derivation, where the Evangelist states that, from Jesus Christ, we have received "Grace upon Grace" (1:16).

It seems so many are "doing it" today. What-you ask? Calling for mercy and asking forgiveness. Last week it was shock-jock Don Imus admitting wrongdoing and the Rutger's ladies basketball team forgiving him. Simultaneously, three Duke Lacrosse players who were falsely accused last year of sexual misconduct toward a lady were proclaimed innocent, and the prosecutor himself apologized. The "twist" here: one of the members said that, after 395 days of a nightmare he would go to law school to help others who were less fortunate and wealthy than he to help them in their legal-dire straights. Paul Wolfowitz, president of the World Bank, made apologies last week after he favored a friend for financial gain.

Some lessons learned: Everyone's gonna make mistakes; we all need to humble ourselves and seek Mercy and reconciliation. As we celebrate Divine Mercy Celebration this Sunday, Shakespeare said it well: "To err is human; to forgive, Divine." Yes, forgiveness partakes of the Divine because: it is sometimes more "knee-jerk-human" not to forgive; and it takes a supernatural agent-God's Grace and example-Christ Himself, to impel us to forgive.

I just heard about Charlton Heston, the actor. He's been married over 50 years-quite a feat for a Hollywood star. An interviewer asked him what the secret was to staying married. He said four words: "Honey: I was wrong."

That's hard to do-and keep doing-admit you are wrong. Most humans want to: project themselves as right; avoid embarrassing and humbling apologetic situations; and/or allow power and pride to corrupt and co-opt us. In a breathtaking book I'm now reading, "Left To Tell," by Immaculee Ilibigaza, who evaded murderous hunting Hutus in Rwanda in 1990, we read: "She survived the slaughter for 91 days hiding in a pastor's bathroom while hundreds of killers sought them. It was during those moments that Immaculee discovered the power of prayer, eventually shedding her fear of death and forging a profound and lasting relationship with God. She emerged from her bathroom hideout having truly discovered the meaning of unconditional love-a love so strong that she was able to seek out and forgive her family's killers."

Wow. If she can forgive the murderers of her family, imagine-and be inspiringly impelled--- what we can forgive-if we, like she, are aligned with the Merciful Lord by prayer and Love?

Why is it so hard to forgive?

Hardness of heart (and Hard-headed"!): instead of forgiveness we sometimes seek retribution and vengeance. It may be part of our inheritance from primitive "knee-jerk" reactionalism, i.e., fallen human nature: You see, we sometimes consciously or unconsciously get locked into bad patterns of unrelentingness and repeat this behavior. We do what we know (partially from what is hard-wired in our brains)-or what is familiar (an "as-seen-on-tv" mentality of violence, machismo, etc). Some scientists today, however, are understanding that the human brain may kinda automatically repeat these patterns (good or bad) but, however, contrarily, there is a "neroplasticity" to the brain-a "moldability"-whereby we can actually change thinking patterns and "re-fashion" the brain by the mind and soul's ability of alternative thinking into new structures of thought and, therefore, action. (Books like, "Evolve the Brain" by Dr. Joe Dispenza describe this: more on this enticing topic another time). You know what I mean, when we use phrases like: "As you think, so shall you be," and "Put your mind to it and you can do anything," and "Stop your gloomy thinking" all describe the power of our minds. "Hardness of heart" -- the inability to forgive or be merciful, may partially come from conditioned brain signals and "learned patterns" we have not "overridden" or simply accepted fatalistically, as in: "I cannot change so I'll give up". We also have a kind of "inner robotic radar" in our minds (a "dissonant doorman") which does not always want or allow new, good, holy behaviors-like showing mercy--because the past, bad behaviors are easier to repeat and sometimes even likeable. We need to "let down our guard" (the bad one) and allow good things within. This may partially explain just why it is so hard to will to change, to try to think holy thoughts; to form new habits. So St. Paul described a similar process: "I see there is another principle at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin" (Rm. 7: 24). We are actually consciously or unconsciously captive to this negative principle and need freedom. And St Paul counsels us to "renew our minds"

(Rm. 12:2); "think on what is above, not below" (Col. 3:1ff); and, actually, take on the "mind of Christ" (Phil 2:5). Our thoughts affect our being and we need to overcome that negative "inner repellant radar," which usually filters out spiritual sensations like compassion, and derails new thought and behavior. The traditional ways we can transform this "war within us" are by: prayer (humbly asking God for grace to change-since we cannot do it normally or only ourselves, and thru meditation- with mind and heart focusing upon a Biblical or spiritual image, thought or story-the essence of which will fertilize our consciousness, and thereby inspire us to change. In our deeper consciousness (even our unconsciousness) we are more virginally able to receive God and His Grace--there is no veil, no obstacle to change and inter-penetration-the soul, mind and heart, by being pacified and now without blockages, are more open and receptive to spiritual suggestion, God's grace and change. Lastly, we can change and become more merciful by holy, selfless actions--practicing forgiveness in daily life-- to learn new patterns of being, thinking and doing. Thru all these ways which our Religion bequeaths us, we are, then, actually changing our minds and hearts-and even our brains which are always changeable and moldable. Some neuroscientists are saying that we can alter the brain chemistry, grey matter and circuitry of our brains-if we habitually practice ways of transformation. Now, regarding Mercy, we need, like Immaculee Ilibigaza: to first seek God's Grace and suffuse within your heart and minds; cooperate with it (be supple and receptive; change past bad behaviors; and actually forgive others. This is called "The Life of Christian conversion". To "Forgive seventy times seven" may mean learning the Art of Forgiveness and to "train your brain" and un-harden your heart of parasitic and plaguing patterns.

Now, remember, mercy and forgiveness essentially mean (you may meditate upon these phrases): we let someone off the hook; give them a break; show some slack; let go and let God. So: okay, just like us, someone doesn't deserve Mercy, but they get it because we have!

Other Lessons of Love: Forgiveness is freeing: it un-locks you from imprisonment. Do what the Duke lacrosse player (Reade Seligman) did: use a wrongdoing for good-to help others

Don't get stuck: Whenever you sense the "knee jerk" primitive "war within" or "ranting radar-robot" encouraging you to embrace madness and reject mercy don't be upset. Calmly think new thoughts; look at a crucifix; remember a situation where you were forgiven and form new circuitry in your mind, brain and heart.

Learning forgiveness: we must "re-program ourselves"-kinda' have a spiritual "brain-washing" (see Rm 12:2). Read about the saints who forgave-- times when they were forgiven of large, medium and small harms and how mercy was shed upon them and integrate into your life.

Mercy Also Means Restoring and Reviving Culture: Jesus' Gift of Mercy calls us not to be "spiritual ostriches" but transforming agents of change. Following the Don Imus debacle, I was listening to a Catholic commentator regarding the illicit, dirty, ugly words, ravings, images and lyrics in pop culture today which are so pervasive and, even, promoted. Whether they're from rappers, rockers, filmmakers or shock-jockers, some say of this entertainment or art: "This is life-the way things are"-what is on the streets or what such people do-how they reflect reality and, therefore, so says this seductive school of thought, it is valid and helpful to learn from. The Catholic commentator cut thru it all, discounted this dominant mad mentality, and said, in essence: What is truth? What is Eternal truth? (I was jolted by her eloquence and elevation of the crass-conversation about culture). The commentator said that what is True is Beautiful--and enduring and this should be taught and passed on. Meanwhile, what is crass and ugly is passing but seems sometimes attractive and alluring to others-appealing to, and capitalizing on the basic, bad instincts of people. And, the commentator asked: Who would tolerate being treated with bad epithets and denigrating images used casually by some artists and entertainers? Point: just as it is difficult to change one's mind and habits, it is hard to transform a culture. But that is what we all must do. How? Simply put, by the "Two P's"-both equally needed today: by Protesting individuals, corporations and movements-which push crassness upon others; and by Promoting Beauty-an attribute of God: thru holy literature and secular classics. Now, just think: the ancient Greek's taught realism (on the streets, good and evil) and even tragedy, without recourse to that which is coarse, so: can't we? Also, think of the Stations of the Cross-the Story of Mercy Come Alive: they portray severe harm and realism, but without horror and degrading vileness. Can't we do the same today? Much of the media and pop-culture are antagonistic towards Christians and the Culture of Beauty-because Beauty, ultimately, is an attribute of God, and many don't want God in their lives.

So, now, remember some lessons from all this by the acronym M.E.R.C.Y. M=stands for Mystical Union--aligned with the Lord (as when we pray and are transformed by the Infinite Being in our finite beings-towards mercy away from harshness); E=extend love and Mercy to others (like the lacrosse player) ; R=Restore your heart and soul in the Lord and also our beloved country and culture; C=Contrition-like, being sorry and admitting your wrongs; Y= Saying Yes to Christ's Peace. Three times in this Sunday's Gospel (Jn. 20) Jesus says: "Peace Be with you". Now, Holiness is Holistic: we disciples are tri-partite beings-body, mind and soul. We cannot merely alone think or work or "spiritualize" our way to Holiness. No, we need body mind and soul altogether in unison to become holy. So, we may use our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit (I Cor 6: 17ff), our minds thinking right thoughts (Col. 3:3), and our soul to cooperate with Jesus and all He gives us. So, now reflect upon the Resurrected Jesus thusly: "He breathed on them and said: 'Receive the Holy Spirit.'" We all hold on to past memories in our minds, sinful actions and thoughts in our souls, and toxic things in our bodies. But the Resurrected Lord Jesus is calling us to Divine Life. So, this spiritual aspiration perhaps can help you: Body relaxes/ Mind releases/ Christ within increases. We must relax the body (emit tension), and also release the mind--which is kinda like a "mental sponge"--from all bad memories, to accept Him irradiating us within-and then transmit it to others. So, actually, quietly and peacefully, say and pray the prayer above-repeat it within and gradually quiet your body and mind and allow Jesus to increase within: He gives you peace-are you accepting it? And, remember: don't be mum about M.U.M.-Mercy upon Mercy!

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi