Emmitsburg Council of Churches

The height of our situation is incredible

Father John J. Lombardi

We're "green" at Mass; almost a thousand feet high in the sky, and we're "mystically multi-cultural."

St Michael the Archangel allegedly "landed" on rock in France, that rock is a holy shrine-Mont St Michel. St Peter the Apostle martyred in Rome, his remains are buried under the Basilica sanctifying that place. But what makes our National Shrine so special? Read on "pilgrim"…

Fr John Dubois in 1805 came to Emmitsburg and was the first to call this place a Grotto. Mother Seton followed in 1809, founding the Catholic school system, some say, on a rock by the Grotto cave. She is the first North American-born saint; she walked, prayed, wept and lived here, thus "sanctifying" the ground. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, another "sainted woman," came here twice. So, the Shrine is a sacred mountain recognized as a reverential place to rediscover God's love. It is cultivated as a place for sacred beauty, sacramental life and the help it gives others to become holy

Getaway: It's always delightful to see Mount employees come and simply get away from it all delighting in this mystical mountain. Some professors attend Mass here while other workers stroll around during lunch while students like to hike up here. I was reminded that Jesus said, "Come apart by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while." (Mk. 6:31) He cautioned, "Come apart by yourselves before you come apart!" It's ok to getaway.

Sacraments:It's great to welcome everyone here for Mass, especially to worship outside the grotto with bird's bees and fleas in the tree house environment of the Glass Chapel, surrounded by woods. We have some magnificent volunteers like our student group, Mary's Mountaineers, who sing, usher, read and assist at Mass. We have cantors who sing in English, Latin, and Spanish for the weekday Mass (12:30 p.m. and the weekend Mass at 12:00 p.m. One Mass even had Irish brogue, Latin and French and all got along marvelously! Other pilgrims come for reconciliation-confession. One person literally was stopped on the highway by the sight of the golden statue of Mary hoping he would meet a priest for a long overdue confession. He did. Whether you're a spiritual seeker, an agnostic or a harried soul, like McDonalds says: "Give yourself a spiritual break today" and come up to the Grotto, to sit in silence; or watch the cumulous clouds in the sky over your head; enjoy God's beauty, peace and serenity. And you'll recall Mother Seton's saying: "We're half in the sky-the height of our situation is incredible."

Beauty-sometimes our lives are surrounded by gore (violent news) and doom and gloom (wars, terrorism) and darkness (challenges). This Catoctin mountain is beautiful in itself, but also accentuated by the pine and cypress trees (not too many because of the rocky soil) and more fruitful maples and stone oaks .The straightest tree on the mountain is, believe it or not a mini-redwood. We have elegant wooded pathways, wondrous vistas of the valley below, splendid chapels and natural caverns made by God. People thirst for beauty today so we may recall the ancient maxim: "When you see the beautiful, you may become beautiful."

Water: So many pilgrims especially from Africa visit here just to get some spring water from Mary's Mountain. They may drink it or bless themselves or even cleanse themselves in hopes of cures and health. Almost every week someone tells us everything from colds to cancer to migraines and muscle spasms have been healed by the water. Why spend money on bottled water when you can have mystical water?

Miracles: Recently, a woman called, very emotional, saying she came to the Grotto to pray for her son Shane, who suffered from cancerous tumors. This story is not uncommon. The mom says Shane came for Mass, was blessed and prayed over and now he is free of cancer. Shane is calling and emailing others asking them to pray too.

Signal of the Supernatural: One time at our Grotto I encountered a "monster-rock" band dressed in black, studded outfits and powdered faces. We talked and walked but when we visited the Grotto cave and Corpus Christi chapel, they stood in reverent silence with their heads bowed, making the sign of the cross and praying. Even with costumes and stage personas it was revealed that everyone believes in some-thing, some-one.

Tough Times: Why am I here? A friend reminded me it is to welcome people to God's presence and Mary's love, especially in this time of financial crisis.

Biggest recent surprise: A lady gave me a relic of Mother Seton saying she "rescued" it from eBay and donated it to the Grotto.

Rock of Ages: The Bishop of Lourdes came last year and gave us a rock from the Grotto at Lourdes. As he held it up during Mass and we all had "deer-in-the-headlights "stares, he said: "Don't worry, I'm not gonna throw it at you." Don't be a stranger-come on up, higher!

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi