Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Notes from a Spiritual Retreat

Father John J. Lombardi

Given at Mary's Mountain to St Vincent de Paul Eastern District leaders-who help the poor…

St Vincent de Paul is a saint and model of holiness- and our two conferences today utilize the initials (and hopefully you'll memorize the themes thereby) of our Founder, SVP. Conference I: SVP= Service Via Prayer, with an emphasis on serving the Lord and the poor; and Conference II- SVP= Spirituality Via Poverty, emphasizing prayerfulness and "First things First"-Christic spirituality.

In the Gospel of St. Luke (10:38ff) we read of the story of Martha and Mary-which shows the need for both active (Martha doing much to serve the Lord in activity) and contemplative dimensions (Mary sitting at the feet of the Lord Jesus) in our lives-we need a balance of both to become holy and holistic Christians.

So: as Catholics it is a joy to give…and to receive (serving and praying). To illustrate this - I recall a teenager, Michael, who went to India to serve the poor children in Calcutta-he loved it and was also inspired by Mother Teresa's Sisters in their prayerfulness and Eucharistic spirituality. Then, after a week of this he made a vacation to cool and calm Darjeeling in the Himalaya Mountains. Thing is: after the dust settled there and tranquility ensued, he deeply missed both the children he worked with and the spirituality of the MC's. He was so inspired by both serving the poor (active dimension) and the MC Sisters' heroic prayerfulness (contemplative dimension), his soul was longing to be reconnected in that way. Do you have and cultivate that serving and spiritual connection in your life? What are you doing to connect, reconnect to God and the poor?

There is a new book out on the bestseller's list, "How Doctors Think," by G. Groopman, MD, that analyzes how doctors deliberate and make decisions about vital health concerns. Upshot: they should listen more, experience healthy self-questioning and become more holistic in their approach to not just illness but to patients. It seems to be a "groundbreaking" enlightening book-needed and helpful since we all seek doctor's advice and help. Now, we ourselves should be inspired to ask: How do Christians think? We need to think and feel in a balanced, active, contemplative way to follow Our Lord and saint leaders. Are you thinking about be-ing a Catholic Christian today or "just following orders" or are you zombie-like in your discipleship?

PART I: SVP= Service Via Prayer: Keep Giving and Serving.

"What are the Four Words to Heaven?" Simple, and never forget: Love God, Love neighbor (cf. Lk. 12: 29ff)-do we realize this in our daily lives? This is another way of "How Christians think"-and act. There are so many needy people in the world-awaiting your, our, help.

In preparation for this talk I asked Deacon Jesse Bolger (Baltimore seminarian) about St Vincent de Paul. He said St Vincent enabled women of his time to not only be good contemplatives (traditional and acceptable at the time) but also to get into the "trenches"-active service: this was groundbreaking, even breathtaking, for some. How do you enable and inspire others to serve-even when it's "risky"?

Never forget: There are needy people all over the world-wherever you go. In Baranquilla, Columbia (S. America) I saw boys and girls on the streets hungering for food. In nearby Cumberland, MD, souls were starving for spirituality and received Rosaries as they were freely passed out. In Calcutta leprous people were smiling and endearing, yet they, too, wanted love. In downtown Baltimore, men and women took sandwiches from caregivers of a Catholic Church. In Amsterdam, Holland, I saw drug users seeking another high or, more deeply, the embrace of a real person's compassion. In jail last week I experienced men who wanted the graces and liberation of the Sacrament of Confession/Reconciliation. Okay, point: Everyone is in need-neediness transcends borders, race and creed: sometimes it is more dramatic, but, are you seeing it and responding?

As Pope Benedict visits Brazil, I am reminded of Pope John Paul II who went there years ago and saw the dire poverty and slums and, moved w/ compassion, gave away his papal ring to help the cause of the poor and suffering-are you as daring and divinely loving?

Mother Teresa said, simply: "If you cannot see the face of Jesus in the poor you cannot see Him in the Holy Eucharist". Let's recall the beautiful Motto of the Jesuits -- "Finding God in all things"-and that includes, especially, needy people and the poor. I'm reminded of the moving example of Fr. Pat Coyne who gave all his monies to poor inner city kids for a soccer program--and didn't have tax records to report! I think he may have gotten into a little trouble but he gained riches in Heaven: are you a selfless giver?

I'm becoming more convinced in life and discipleship that people experience God and true Christian Faith precisely when they see actual human beings-you and I-doing good deeds, being holy examples. It's not rocket science-it's allowing God to work thru us. Remember: You may be the only Gospel anyone ever sees-so don't blow it! Now: look up the Works of Mercy (feeding the poor, visiting the sick and imprisoned, etc.), and live them in your life. One lady Vincentian just approached me and asked: Why are there so few Catholics who visit the jails-why won't they go? There are many answers to this (the "word isn't out"; scariness; distressing disguise of Jesus there, etc., but: Hope 2 c u in jail sometime!).

Now, let us ask--What are some obstacles to service? Call them "The Three C's of Conspiracy": Comforts=materialism-getting stuck on possessions and failing persons; Conniving ego: I'm too busy, too preoccupied, too holy, etc. Cliques= staying within our circles of comfortable people and not going out to others in communion. How can you overcome all these to serve Jesus' friends in the poor: don't' get/stay en-chained!

Today we need to evangelize the whole person in the poor-not just give them bread for their body, which is essential, but we need to remember that each person is tripartite: body, mind and soul. We have so many treasures as Catholic caregivers-social action, spiritual, theological, moral, artistic, liturgical: but do you share them all with the poor,-not haranguing but in helping ways, so, as Pope John Paul II said, "We propose our Faith, we don't impose it." So many today are afraid or are embarrassed by their Faith and Catholic religion-don't be!

All caregivers and compassionate souls need a balance between giving until it hurts (as Mother Teresa said)-stretching ourselves out of sloth, and serving with awareness of duties/family/others (not hurting loved ones while trying to help). Do you have this balance, or err on either side? Have you heard the African proverb: "It is the heart that gives. The hands merely let go." We are called to have elastic, cheerful, loving hearts-charity begins there, inside: What are you doing to cultivate a heart that gives? Do you have a heart for service?

Let's now reflect upon the Saintly Heroes of Service:

St Vincent de Paul was praying before the Eucharist one time and, after a man told him about a poor person on the street needing help, Vincent said: "I am going to Jesus from Jesus" as he prayed before the Bl. Sacrament. St Catherine of Siena saw a sick person one time as an impediment to deeper love, but eventually embraced his wounds. Bl Damien of Molokai helped leprous persons of Molokai. Mother Seton fed children of Mary's Mountain. Bl Pier Giorgio Frassati gave away his coat, his money, and rode third class on trains to save money, and from his deathbed (early twenties) he wrote a letter to a poor person to give comfort and help-now: are you as saintly in service to the Savior's Poor?

Five Questions of Service: 1-Are you becoming bureaucratized-overly laden with paper work? 2-How can you serve the poor "hands-on"? 3-Do you frequently meditate upon St. Mt 25: I was thirsty and you gave Me-Jesus-to drink? 4-Do you seek the spiritual balance of Martha (active) and Mary (contemplative) in your life? 5-Do you cultivate a heart of service and joy within it to keep giving?

PART II SVP= Service via Prayer: Are you nourishing your soul to give? ….St. Lk. ch 10-How are we more like Mary in this Gospel-Contemplatives?

St Ignatius--motto of Jesuits -"Contemplatives in action" - Are you? Benedictine motto: ora et labora-prayer and work…and prayer-we need a regular religious rhythm of spirituality in all we do. Dominicans= contemplata alii tradere= give away the fruits of contemplation" -you can't give it (God, Peace, Christ) away unless you first have "It".

Our emphasis here is on prayerfulness, spirituality-staying linked to God-we must be Godly receivers first to be "God-givers". Remember: We are human BE-ings, not human do-ings ! Our Be-ing must be rooted in God.

Thomas A Kempis once said (I found this quote stuck in a rumpled paper in our Xerox machine-it miraculously appeared!): "First keep the peace within yourself and then you can also bring peace to others." Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace-are you allowing Him to love and heal you in prayer and spirituality so as to give to others? A friend, Brian, went to an area drug clinic and visited 24 boys hooked on drugs. Despite it being a secular place, Brian spoke about God and the boys hungered for more-they were mesmerized by Brian's words of Jesus Christ. He gave away some Rosaries and one boy said: "This is like gold." Another boy said he was, at age 16, going to become a father. Brian responded by saying, "You are the first image of God the boy will see and think about"…Brian asked his friend Jim to give a talk, not knowing what he would say. Jim spoke eloquently about Christ's Divine Mercy emphasizing the Love of God….All these boys hungered and thirsted for more…of God. Don't be afraid to share Him.

Some young Catholics, Judd and Maggie gave a Rosary at an abortion clinic to a couple seeking abortion and the couple came back out and said they would not have the abortion but give the child up for adoption. Wow--what are you doing to bravely give spiritual nourishment to others?

Pope John Paul was visiting Baltimore and after visiting with hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, took a siesta and then "became lost"-they couldn't find the Holy Father. After persons scurried to look for him, a bishop found Pope John Paul praying before our Lord in the Bl Sacrament. Do you have a hunger for Jesus, the Incarnate Presence among us?

So, now, ask: What makes us caregivers different from the world or social workers or activists? Christ! What is your relationship with the Supreme Caregiver-Jesus Christ? Do you talk and listen to Him-daily? Nourish your relationship with Him and don't it take for granted!

Is there a crisis of caregivers? There's an excellent book: "Caregivers at the Well," by Richard Glenn, which exemplifies the need for prayer and spirituality in giving-if we don't have this then we will lose our souls-as-anchors: "Living the spiritual life means refusing to give prayer alone when bread is also needed, and refusing to give bread alone when prayer is needed…I began to see that my action in ministry truly received its character from prayer, as action also gave character to prayer. Withdrawal from people was in actuality a drawing closer to them through God." Be rooted in God to help others.

This Sunday is Mother's Day-how is Our Lady, your Mother in Heaven, a help along the Way?

Remember, then, to pray often, by the acronym ACTS= make loving acts of Adoration/Contrition/Thanksgiving/Supplication. And don't forget the "Five S's of Spirituality and Saintliness" Sacraments=esp. Confession and Eucharist; Silence; Scripture reflection-meditatio/ reflection; Saints: reading their lives inspires us to become saints; Service-finding Jesus in His distressing disguises-like St V de Paul going from Jesus to Jesus.

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi