Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Rescued: A Story of Faith

Father John J. Lombardi

As the elegant-yet-dazed lady got off the plane she made the sign of the Cross and folded her hands in prayer, thankful and ecstatic she was free from four years captivity in a Columbian jungle.

Perhaps last week you read or saw the news (and maybe video) of three Americans and a French woman who were rescued in a spectacular raid against the notorious drug-terrorist cartel known as FARC.

The French woman Ingrid Betancourt was a senator and also running for president in Columbia and a rights activist and environmentalist. After being freed she attributed her release to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Now, would you be faithful to the Lord, like Mrs. Betancourt, or would you be angry at such injustice? Read on, dear pilgrim, to see how faith-filled she indeed was. Can you imagine waking up every day, in terror, being blindfolded, paraded around with handcuffs, living as if you would be killed the next moment, never seeing friends or family?

I was instantly captivated and amazed by the drama of the story­four years amidst evil and then miraculous freedom­but I was even more inspired by the faith of Betancourt, who made a rosary out of wood in the jungle and prayed it frequently. Now there’s faith and hope. Also: Another captive said in a video: "I love my family…Pray…" Also: Betancourt said she did, at times, have feelings of despair and that she didn’t want to live any longer, but her Faith helped her thru. My monk-friend, Fr. Luke, who told me this story, commented: Faith doesn’t wipe out our human feelings and make us like robots. Rather Faith helps purify those feelings and overcome them ot make us even more human and holy.

Upon returning to France Betanourt was hailed as a French hero and met by its president Nicolas Sarkozy. Oh, and by the way, she will meet Pope Benedict next week.

The Columbian governmental forces who liberated the four captives did it by deception. They made the terrorists think they were going to swap the hostages by meeting an international news team, some "diplomats" and others posing and trained as actors. The terrorists were fooled--and gave the captives up without a fight. What are some lessons from all this? Evil is in the world. We should realize there is not only an absence of love around us sometimes but there is both a real force and concrete viciousness lurking amidst some that may threaten, so be aware. "Watch out, your adversary, the devil, is lurking around like a lion seeking for some to devour" (Pt. 5:8). There are nearly 1000 captives in the Columbia jungles and they need our prayers!

Good can go bad: one of the leaders of the terrorist group FARC was a Catholic priest­who is now dead. We must realize that we may have goodness from God but it can corrupt (thru our wills, or by others); so we must protect the godly things within us and "finish the race" in God’s grace as St Paul said.

Terror in the World­in the Middle East­Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and all over the world: we should be in solidarity with those who, everyday, undergo suffering and persecution. An archbishop was killed and Catholics terrorized in Iraq recently so we should be in faithful solidarity in the Mystical Body of Christ and pray and fast for, and with, them.

Think of Earth-Heaven: If we make it to Heaven we will perhaps a have a similar ecstasy of Betancourt­the adrenalin-enthralling thrill of releasement from captivity, sin, illusion in this world. Her story is a mini-lesson of what we can experience after traveling thru this world and then, finally, irrevocably, experiencing the all-encompassing happiness of Eternal Life and Paradise!

Hope and Fortitude: we need these virtues ("holy habits,") in our world and lives. Hope helps inspire us thru trials and to dispel despair. Fortitude helps empower us when we are tired to keep on keepin’ on as Martin Luther King said­and showed.

Suffering leads to Salvation: St Paul says, "All things work together for those who believe in God…" (Rm. 8:28). Often in life we go thru trials and tribulations, hopefully, not like these captives. However, Mrs. Betancourt shows us valiantly that if we cling to our faith we can be saved and, in fact, the troubles will actually purify us. Recently a suffering soul said to me, "If you keep your faith, your faith keeps you."

Shrewdness: The Columbian governmental forces who liberated the four captives did it by deception­they made the terrorists think they were going to meet an international news team, some global diplomats and make some kind of hostage deal. They gave the captives up without a fight. Jesus says: "Be innocent as doves and wise as serpents." We need, amidst this gnarly world, spiritual and earthly shrewdness to overcome obstacles so as to free captives and come deeper into holiness.

Speaking of rescue, what are some others situations of manipulation and terror in our world thru which we can pray and fast for change? What about Iraqi women who become suicide bombers­perhaps because their family members were killed and now find themselves "alone," alienated? They need our help. How about Christmas in jails being held for their faith: they need our solidarity. And, less dramatically, think all kinds of people in nursing prisons who are despairing, elderly in nursing homes who are lonely and street persons without shelter or friendship: they all need our assistance­spiritually and physically! May we all learn from Columbian release story that, though there is evil in the world, As St Paul said: "where sin increased grace overflowed all the more" (Rm. 5: 20 )…….

The Mass and Bible: In this Sunday’s Gospel the Lord Jesus tells the parable of the Seed and sower. At my priest prayer group meeting last week I learned possible interpretations of the Seed include= 1) the Word of God; 2) Grace; 3) Christ Himself; 4) the Kingdom of God. So, then--let us read the Bible more: get your Bible out and read daily­like you do the newspaper! Be more conscious of grace (God’s life, His "fuel- gasoline" and "edge" within us); and also consciously cooperate with Him when we receive these graces and do not let the world or Devil snatch them away. Never fail to daily ask Jesus the Eternal Logos-Savior into your heart: be like achild and really trust, need and love Him. But don’t forget­clear out the weeds, sins, defects which block Jesus, His Word and Kingdom within.

Blind charity and motorcycles: a guy came up on his hog­his Harley Davidson one day recently. Since it was a beautiful day I was captivated­and courageous, so I asked (I knew the man): "Hey can I drive that?" I used to own a couple motorcycles. He had a deer in the headlights look, hesitated and shyly asked: Well… Do you have a license? Can you drive one and handle the weight?" I hemmed, hawed…After a while I got on this huge motorcycle, started it, put on a helmet and had the ride of my life. I brought it back the same day! Anyway, after it all Rick said as soon as I got back: "You’re the first person I’ve ever let drive it." I was both thankful for and, yes, actually amazed he had the faith to let me drive his prized possession: another witness of Faith!

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi