Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Mass Hysteria

Father John J. Lombardi

Do you recall The Beatles’ movie, "A Hard Day’s Night"? I do, kinda: all those ladies running frantically after John, Paul, George and Ringo­chasing them, screaming, desiring, frantically-following? That’s a picture I sorta recalled the other day at the Papal Mass in Washington, D.C. When Pope Benedict appeared in the Nationals’ stadium people began running after him,chanting, all enthusiastic for a sight of the German guy in white, the Lord’s representative on earth. After the homily in the Mass there was a deep silence, and then: a lone, cry-in-the-canyon-voice­of a lady­who began chanting: "Benedict, we love you." She chanted it three times. The lone-loud voice resounded deeply thru the entire stadium­and into our hearts. She expressed for us all an affection we have for Jesus and His successor, Benedict. A lady later said: "He’s loveable­he’s kinda cute--I feel an affection for him. That’s ok, isn’t it?" Yes: a-o-k!

Somehow, along the way to see the Vicar of Christ, I had a "minor epiphany" (as such happens on pilgrimages: God gives you treats and blessings you don’t expect!). I met Monsignor Brady, a priest for over fifty years of the Archdiocese of Washington. Somehow he got lost from his group and looked a little frazzled and so I thought I’d link up with him. (He looked like the actor Jack Lemmon: angular chin, smiling a lot, a gleam to his eyes). After vesting we eventually went out to our seats before Mass and he immediately began taking pictures with his ultra-technological camera and long lens (he looked like a papal press man in priest outfit). He said at one point, gazing around the huge venue with banners, festive restiveness and tons of people, color and anticipation: "This is awesome." Translation: he and I had an epiphany whereby this senior-man, elderly priest turns into spiritual child, and: I felt privileged to be with him and see God manifest Himself thru this priests’ sincerity, gentility and spiritual desire and love. Later, while my back was turned he stood on a flimsy chair to take pictures (yikes!); and he even ran after a long procession of red-clad bishops like he was a priestly-paparazzi. Some of the press photographers noticed this "spectacle": an elderly priest in robes and red vestments flittering away taking pictures agily, running here and there, and so they began taking pictures of Msgr Brady (our priest-friend was pretty oblivious to it all: he was focused like a moth-to-flame on getting his own pictures of the spiritual action). During the Mass, though, he bowed his head, prayed reverently and deeply, praised the Lord, showed enthusiasm, acted in persona Christi (in the person of Christ) during Consecration concelebrating with the Pope in the Eucharist, and I thought to myself: I wanna’ be like this when I grow up. Thinking again: I went to see the Pope(and I did: great and beautiful) but God had other-just-as-holy-revelations and treats in mind. After all the excitement and we were walking out of the stadium Monsignor Brady (still looking around cagily for another photo shot) expressed how fortunate we were to be there and how much the whole day meant to him.

Anyway, I was amazed and inspired by all the religious revelry­a Catholic celebration of gigantic proportions. As Irish writer James Joyce once said of the Catholic Church: "Here comes everybody." True. As I looked around the stadium before Mass I saw what seemed like all humanity represented: people who were white-colored and black, and every shade in between. There were rich and poor, politicians and ordinary "Joe’s" and "Jane’s", married and single, guys in cassocks and surplices, folks in jeans and Knights of Columbus festive outfits, priests in camouflage-sun hats and sunglasses, secret service guards, nuns in elegant outfits, and just about everyone else. I thought: Catholicism is alive, strong, vibrant. Then I thought: this "picture’ doesn’t jibe with some of the press’s reports of a "dying or challenged Catholicism" in America (i.e., the Church is an artifact of the past or is out of step with contraception, free love, an abortionist culture of death and all that). When I thought about some of those news reports and then looked around and I saw here a slice of Jesus Christ’s Church, alive and well, excited about our Faith and Lord­something was wrong, obviously. Many of the secular press reports are not accurate­or fair. We Catholics are not dying, we are rising! There’s sixty-seven million Catholics in our country and we are thankful, celebrative and thriving, and are neither fossils nor feverish flakes against dissidents as some paint us to be. The majority of our Holy Church is in love with Jesus, with Pope Benedict and our Sacred Tradition.

Some reports before the Pope’s visit portrayed us as a Church in defeatist struggle, dying, and whether it could make a successful turn from the sex abuse crisis, and so forth. The answer was right in front of me: people exuberant for the Pope; various babies, senior citizens and elderly monsignors invigorated by the Spirit of Christ, the most diverse and big crowd you’ll ever see and, hopefully, the most spiritual (even in selling "papal souvenirs" the sacramental desire manifests). Later I thought: sometimes some folks wanna’ drag out the Catholic Church’s dirty laundry and make attacks every time there is a "Catholic event" (a papal visit; bishop’s conference-meetings, famous movies like "the Passion of the Christ" and so forth). Here’s a few responses: Someone once said: anti-Catholicism is the last accepted practiced prejudice in America. True, and: let’s just keep on celebrating our Holy Faith because we’re always gonna be around no matter the critics and curmudgeons! No worry­we’ve survived two thousand years… Next: what if a famous person like Nelson Mandela visited the States, or the Dalai Lama: they wouldn’t (and don’t) get the scrutiny, bad-mouthing and/or challenge our leaders or Church get. The press doesn’t go after their past history or teachings associated with them like they do for Catholicism. Why: Because there is an obvious agenda to much of the press; and Catholicism in her morality, mysticism and truths is one of the last established threats to secularism and relativism today. The attacks will continue: and so will the Lord’s Catholic Church.

Last: the Catholic Church­because it is Our Lord’s Church (Jesus said: "Upon this rock (St Peter) I will build My Church and the gates of Hell will not prevail over it" cf. Mt. 16:18ff)­is resilient, diverse and way too agile for anyone to destroy or decimate it. The Holy Spirit­God Himself-- guides us and our leaders (Jesus says: "the Holy Spirit will guide you to all truth"­Jn. 16:12 ).

We should all be inspired and enlightened that Pope Benedict, to the US Bishops, or the United Nations, and Catholic educators, didn’t dodge bullets­he did address the sex abuse crisis; the enslavement and denigration of Native American and African American peoples, and, also materialism. And: he addressed Three of the Most Important Themes of our Lives: God (we have a Creator and we should not neglect or reject Him); humans are not persons, not objects or slaves or materialist collections of atoms); and the family as building block of civilization. Pope Benedict also summoned us all to a higher calling­to love our Church, love our priests and to living in and thru Jesus Christ the Hope of the world and spreading His message everywhere. During his papal visit Pope Benedict continuously spoke about American’s generosity: we are givers and charitable folks. He commended us voluminously for this. I recently read where Americans as a Country donate over 66 billion hours of charity time each year. Wow. And who gives much of that service: Catholics! Thru Catholic Charities, thru parish soup kitchens, by time and talent and treasure given in Appalachia, Hurricane Katrina and yes, overseas to foreign countries­Americans and Catholics in particular are heroic givers. Often times both our Catholic Church and American country get a bad rap, but, just think: why are so many trying to get to our beloved Country and why is our Catholic Church growing?

While working at the Grotto this past Saturday some young folks who were gathered nearby asked if I wanted help. I said, Sure­you can work here for free here. It turns out the group of young men and lades were from The Catholic University of America. They had just met Pope Benedict at CUA (one shook his hand: I asked if I could shake her hand!) They immediately began helping me and then asked: "In exchange for work, Father, do you have time to hear our confessions?" Sure, and all ten came to Jesus’ Divine Mercy in the Sacrament of reconciliation: I thought­what generosity and desire for holiness­a beautiful balance of Christ’ Light in our world. And: a lotta’ work got done that day.

You see: when people love Catholic Orthodoxy, they become beautiful­and spread beauty­an attribute of God­to others. This group showed the fruit of their encounter with the Pope and I was extremely inspred and enamored­and hopeful: this is the Church of the future, and thank God! These collegians were smiling, balanced and celebrative of their Faith­and I was proud of my alma mater for making saints for the Kingdom and Church!

Let’s all grow green and serene with Benedict XVI!

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi