Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Recently a family came to the Grotto from Kabul

Father John J. Lombardi

Recently a family came to the Grotto from Kabul, Afghanistan, and greeted me-including twin girls and a sprightly boy (we foot-raced on the parking lot and tied). Turns out the dad just lost his job and mom was feeling very sickly. They prayed at the Grotto cave and spring water tap area then asked for my blessing. The father said and asked: "We were here a month ago-do you remember us?" Kinda sorta, however: it would become a most memorable visit… We talked a bit and the dad-with wife and children standing by, smiling, explained about our earlier conversation, a month ago ( a light went on in my head: I remember them now!), when he described his mother being lost in a rocket raid by the Taliban in rural Afghanistan. He has not seen or heard from her in a decade or so since. I thought: With all these challenges and this wonderful family so devoted to Our Lady's Grotto-and Mary herself (easterners and Muslims often call her "Miriam") perhaps they would like our Grotto video which embodies the beauty and sacredness of our terra sancta (holy earth).The children were overjoyed at coming into our office (more surprises for them) and even got a piece of candy from our Grotto assistant, Carol. As we talked there I was thinking: How else could I minister to them? Then I asked them to the Glass Chapel Church (not exactly knowing or remembering their Faith) for a blessing and to give them a candle they could burn (for five days) to lighten the darkness of any sufferings. They readily replied "Yes". I later found out they were Muslim, and yet they didn't flinch from prayer and blessings: actually they were seemingly more open, desirous and faith-filled than so many others I've met.

We went in front of the altar, kneeled and, I think the Holy Spirit moved us all, as a couple of pilgrims were there already praying and noticed us. I took the glass candle, and with dad and mom kneeling right near me, touched it to the altar for a blessing and "Christ-connectedness" (the source of the Precious Blood in the Sacrifice of the Mass). I then blessed the dad with it to en-lighten him and then felt moved to touch the candle to the Tabernacle where Christ is Truly, Eucharistically Present. Surprisingly the family followed me to the sanctuary area and we prayed there and the children-sprightly-eyed, looked in wonderment: Just what is in that golden encasement? I explained Jesus is there, Our Savior and Friend and Healer. They seemed to believe me-like children readily do. Then they all kneeled there-so comfortable it seemed, like on a prayer rug I've seen Muslims do on tv and elsewhere. At that moment I thought: how beautiful and rare for this to happen, Muslims and Catholics praying together, kneeling on the ground, crossing boundaries, helping one another heal, thru spontaneity of spirit and so forth-what a privilege-only at Mary's Mountain! They all looked up and we entrusted ourselves to Jesus and Mary-Miriam and they then bathed their hands over their faces, swathing them-like, as I've seen Muslims do before, as I made the Sign of the Cross in blessing. Then: one of the pilgrims in the church, noticing the faith of this family offered to pray the Our Father and Hail Mary with us, for them. The family bowed their heads, maybe not always understanding the words or prayers but, just knowing it was holy, and was for them, they were deep in prayer and supplication.

I then thought: it was the three o'clock hour and time for the Divine Mercy Chaplet-which our Mount student group, Mary's Mountaineer's, was sponsoring. I asked the children to help me set up and we then went into the Church to put incense into the thurible-burner and I went to the golden Tabernacle and the children got their wish (wanted to know what was in there!): I retrieved Jesus-the-Eucharist for them to see and visit with. I thought: how beautiful and rich our Faith to have so many colors signs, symbols, Realties and sensual-spiritual gifts to impress into peoples' seeking souls to make Faith real. After placing the Eucharistic Lord upon the altar, we went and kneeled in a pew, and a seminarian began chanting the prayers and litany-songs of Divine Mercy. The mom and dad were just behind me and the children with their heads bowed in their hands, praying deeply. I motioned for a pilgrim to retrieve some rosaries for the children and they took them and prayed on the beads, child like and I explained that Jesus Christ Himself was on the altar in the golden monstrance-holder. They looked up more acutely, with wonderment and

love. After the prayers I asked the kids to join me at the altar, and for the son (age 9) to hold the incense before Our Lord as I gave the Benediction: they were all rapt in prayer and the young boy was a good, learner-learned-assistant: the incense holder he held allowed the holy smoke to pass before Our Eucharistic Lord, while the twin girls held their rosaries and looked up with amazement, with mom and dad in the pews, buried in prayer. We concluded prayers and after the service they said how much the liturgy helped them and how beautiful the singing was (yes: I wasn't doing it!). I took in all this and how healing it was for them and how much they appreciated and participated in the blessings. I've found out (again) Mary's Mountain is like a "Mystical magnet"-attracting souls of all backgrounds and even faiths to receive Christ's Love and Mary's peace. The family and I talked about Kabul for a while and then the kids and I had another race: another tie. Later that night I got a call. It was the dad. He said and asked: "Father, I hope I'm not disturbing you, but what were those prayers you told me with the candle?" I said: "Jesus lighten my life…St. Joseph the Worker: help me find work….Keep it simple." He seemed to be writing down the words as I spoke: for he, himself, was child-like…A treasured spiritual experience for me and reminder of God's Love. Our Lady, Mother Miriam: pray for all your children!

March For Life I wasn't gonna go to the Respect Life March in Washington this past Tuesday: a funeral held me in the morning and I heard of predicted harsh weather. Then I thought: all these folks are an inspiration! The pilgrims from the east coast and mid west began coming on Saturday for the March, visiting our Grotto. Then on Sunday, lots more folks and on Monday a bunch of buses: Barely awake I greeted an 8:30 am bus from Illinois. Throughout all these buses and pilgrims I was inspired by their faith, zeal, elasticity, fun and also meditative prayer at Masses and Adoration services. Another group said their pastor, who planned to come, was detained by a funeral, but was flying in to meet them on Monday! Yikes: I better go-look at this priest: go on guy. At 11 am on Monday, another surprise visit---a bus of students from Champaign, Indiana. They stayed for Mass, very devout-all volunteered to come from so far. After I asked if they brought any bubbly drink, they said they spelled their town-name different from the drink Champagne!

Another surprise group visited; I gave them a tour -they gave me a huge "tip". The zeal, joy, revelry of youth and their vigor inspired me---I must join them, esp as I am so close and they've come from so far. And I realized It is a culture of life they're supporting! Right before the March I saw one group praying the Stations of the Cross at our Grotto: so cold out, and yet how inspiring they are recalling the Lord's Passion, especially thru Respect Life meditations I overheard. At the March I enjoyed the speakers, colorful banners and esp. the spiritual solidarity. Afterwards (full disclosure) I grabbed a beer with my friend Tom at the Dubliner (traditional hang-out spot), and later met a guy all the way from Ft. Worth, Texas. Wow, dedication! Still later I went to pray (after a cappuccino) and sought entrance to a church. As I tried some doors I stumbled on a man on the stoop. He looked up as surprised as I-maybe he was aged 25 or so--and saw my Roman collar, and said, smiling: "Hi Father, I'm making a holy hour here. The church is closed" His name, I found out, was Bill. It was freezing out by that time, and he was not intimidated by closed doors but knew the Presence radiated thru them and still chose to pray. Anyway, guess where he was from?: Fort Worth!... Dedication: just do it.

The Gospel (Mt 4:12-23.): Remember the movie "Fatal Attraction" about a debacle of an affair? Well, our discipleship may turn this phrase rather to "Faithful Attraction". We are all entranced by The Divine: The Disciples immediately obey Jesus' command "Follow Me" in Sunday's Gospel. Why? Because they love Him and have hope in Him-thru a "Faithful attraction" to Him. And: they loved what they knew-Jesus personally. Do you? We usually have a passion and love for what we know: i.e., some people like and love the stars--both those in the sky (astronomers) and in Hollywood (paparazzi). Some love chess: Bobby Fisher just died and was quoted as saying something like-All's I wanna do is think about chess. And he succeeded. Anyway: the more we know something the more we gain a passion for it. Well, sometimes in our passionate pursuits we lose our way and we need to "change course" or "do an about face." That's termed "repent" in Gospel terms. We sometimes say: Too much of even a good thing is bad. Now, consider the following sinful inclinations popular today and, also the saintly persons who can help you turn away from sin and turn to Him-the Christ. Political punditry? St Thomas More was political but even more religious, and became a martyr for his faith in not doing what the secular king (Henry VIII) wanted done ( illicit divorce and church autonomy). Sports junkies may know and love sports but, hopefully, not too much. The Englishman-runner Eric Little put his Faith first in refusing to compete on the Sabbath. And the next day he won. Hooked on music? Then think of the genius-Catholic Beethoven who created the triumphant, towering Ninth Choral Symphony and Missa Solemnis--both about new Life, sacrifice and resurrection. Art lover (but overdone?): Fra Angelico, the Dominican painter who eventually became "Blessed", showed one could create ethereal pictures of Bliss and also pray and become holy. So: amend your inordinate passionate pursuits and turn again to Him like these saints!

The 150th Anniversary of the Apparitions at Lourdes Celebrations: include several plans. On Sunday Feb. 10 the St John's A Cappella Choir will Glorify God at our 12 Noon Mass. Monday, Feb 11, is our main Celebration and also the World Day of the Sick, with Bishop Martin Holley celebrating 12 Noon Mass and giving blessings of the sick afterwards: all are welcome! Remember you may gain a Plenary Indulgence (remission of all sins) with a sincere heart from Feb. 2-11 pilgrimaging to our very Grotto-attending Mass, making a confession, praying for the Pope. Also: see our spiritually entrancing Grotto video, "Mary's Mountain", on the Catholic network EWTN network, Monday Feb. 11 at 3am and 6:30pm. On Feb. 15 Mass and Healing Service at 7.30pm.

Pilgrim Center: A gentleman called our office and explained his reticence about the new Pilgrim Center-namely, that it might tarnish the beauty of Mary's Mountain. A fair query, mind you. Anyway, Bill Tronolone took his call and offered to meet with him, as he did in fact a couple days ago. The man came all the way from Scranton, Pa., at least a couple hours away. Bill explained to him the beauty the Center would glow with, as well as the nature-like, garden surroundings of the building, as well as the basic need for updating our amenities with modern, friendly ones for the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who visit here. Upshot: the man was convinced and even said he would contribute-but he would donate some inheritance he recently received to keep this elegant project going forth! Perhaps you know someone we can kindly enable to help us build the heritage of Mary's Mountain Grotto. Please let us know at 301-447-6725.

Sunday Bible Rdgs: Is 8:23-9:3; 1 Cor 1:10-17; Mt 4:12-23.

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi