Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Break Thru Spirituality

Father John J. Lombardi

Worst case scenario. Damage control. Extreme makeover Those are phrases we may think of when Jesus Christ meets, embraces and heals the Leper, the man with leprosy in this Sunday’s Gospel (Mk. 1:40-4). This poor guy had three strikes against him: one, orthodox Jews thought the sins he committed in the past directly led to the leprosy; two, he was condemned by the mosaic law and had to wear a bell to alert others he was invading their space; three, he could spread this sickness to others.

In this case of the Gospel Jesus is not only the Healing Christ but also the Liberating Savior: He presents us a "Breakthrough Spirituality" to free us from all barriers, and in this Lesson of Leprosy God dispels a worst case scenario by befriending him (of sin and sickness­perhaps the guy didn’t have arms or eyes and smelled and groaned, and besides, he was a sinner). The Holy Healer Jesus gave the guy His compassion, "cleaned him up"­a kinda "Extreme Makeover". Jesus Christ could not be contained in contriving, finite constructions and in fact Jesus frees us from our worst enemy­ourselves, our imprisoning ideas.

I once visited persons with leprosy in Hawaii and in India and found the people human, warm and, well, persons--in most cases, joyful and personal­desiring to touch and be embraced. Recently on an Indian pilgrimage I was delighted how "barrier-breaking" and open my fellow pilgrims were in greeting many with leprosy: they sang for them and, in many situations, hugged them. I was both inspired by their initial encounter –demonstrating a Breakthrough Spirituality of oneness and love

A pilgrim I know wants to give a talk: "What It Means to be A Sinner." He says sinners need love even more than most, not to be shunned or ostracized; this will make some despair. Even Jesus, knowing his possible betrayal, called Judas his friend; yet Judas despaired anyway. The shunning of lepers made them more ill. When a mother’s child is in sin she doesn’t let go; she loves the child even more (hopefully). The Blessed Virgin Mary loves sinners even more when they are away from the Christ. When people do wrong things they may be shunned by others and looked at differently. (We are not describing bank robbers or perpetual liars). However God treats us otherwise than humans do. When Jesus met the woman in adultery (Jn. 8) He didn’t shun her, rather He embraced her. Certain sins are by-products of woundedness­neglect, past trauma or hurtful experiences. They need healing. Love is The Only Reality that can heal­along with Love’s Form­Mercy and Forgiveness.

Christ demonstrates a Breakthrough Spirituality thru other areas of life, such as: Missionary: the Christ, was sent not just to Jews, but to all to be saved. This was scandalous to the orthodox Jews wanting to protect both their religion and ideology of God. Jesus shows –God as Trinity: While He, God is One, as Jews thought, He is also Three Divine Persons­a Oneness of Plurality­and endless Mystery and enveloping Love. Jesus breaks-thru by outreaching to poor sinners­not the monied or elite or swanky or healthy or proud­but the needy and helpless and dissed and depressed and down and out. Jesus is prophetic: He was not invested in the Temple alone or fossilized religion or financial systems or corrupt ways of life­but rather preached repentance, renewal and conversion­constantly.

One time I went to Hawaii-Molokai and stayed where Bl. Damien "The Leper Priest" lived and enjoyed his hangout. He was a guy who practiced breakthrough spirituality. He saw leprous people dying without dignity and went to live­and eventually die­with them. As a priest he iconized (Christically channeled) Jesus’s priesthood to them. No paybacks of awards or rewards of fancy celebration parties or adulations accompanied Damien thru his ministry but, rather, oftentimes, the opposite: misunderstanding and acid accusations and dumb denunciations. Because he lived like Jesus and didn’t accept the "Old Time Religion".

I met a young guy named Kevin one time who said after a pilgrimage to Africa, that was as difficult as delightful, that he knew he needed to expand his comfort zone to come closer to Christ and needed to refresh his spirituality. That was an obvious Breakthrough. We can think of "Break Thru Spirituality Saints ". St John Bosco helped poor, streetwise boys to become holy and trained them in virtues. St Margaret of Crotona once lived in adultery, converted and then embraced mystical contemplation. St Catherine of Siena counseled materialistic bishops and castigated popes to be Christ-centered.

But what about a Break Thru Spirituality for all? We need a breakthrough from anxiety, worry – especially the credit crunch. Detachment from possessions – bad thoughts, habits. In our prayer – we need more Divine Reality--deeper-beyond words, images, finite thoughts. In our relationships- we can change the vicious cycles of upset. In our multitasking, mania we can slow down. In the contraception/abortion/divorce/materialism culture – ask: As a Catholic are you the same as the secular culture?

Breakthrough Spirituality is not spiritual socialism­God is love and all that stuff only. It’s about the Soul. I recently heard a lady give a talk on The Soul. Wow. We need to think of ourselves Supernaturally; spiritually. Anyway, the pilgrim said that when our souls are clean they receive God’s Light­they are translucent, radiant, bright; when they are dirtied thru sin they block His Love .When we trust Jesus in Reconciliation- Confession He heals us and we feel lighter, cleaner. The soul is the connection to God. She even drew a diagram of this­and everyone leaned forward in holy attentiveness. We need Breakthrough Spirituality like this because we think we are just globs, materialistic human beings without any sacred sense or component. This talk by a layperson broke through my sloth and inspired me! "The power went out from Him and He healed in all His midst" (Lk.6:19). Let us contact Jesus’ Power and be healed. Pray and mediate­in your mind image Jesus Divine Mind (Phil 2:5: "Let this Mind (Jesus’) be in you….") enshrouding your own mind and emptying it of bad, negative thoughts. Allow Jesus’ Sacred Heart to coalesce with your own and circulate His Divine Blood within….Breathe in Jesus’ Divine Breath and allow your soul to heal ("And He (Resurrected Jesus) appeared to them and said: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’ " Jn 20:21). In body, mind and soul be healed by a regular practice of Jesus’ healing powers. How can you go out to help heal others? Be a healing, holy presence to others, in nursing homes, hospitals and to the weary and depressed around you­be an icon of Jesus to others. The Grotto is a place of healing: come and refresh yourself by receiving the sacraments­Eucharist and Confession­drink of the healing water of Mary’s mountain­and help others.

Just after writing this I met a guy who approached me vigorously for a blessing. I immediately perceived his humility and holiness and holy excitedness­a whiff of the Supernatural of some kind. We met years ago when he got out of jail; he was along with his friends and reminded me of a favor the Grotto­the first place he visited when he got out of the slammer, After that he went to a local restaurant and was treated to the meal by a friend of the Grotto­money (mystically ?!) appeared in his pocket.. This man was still thankful for the Gift­his face alit and his emotions emitted ecstasy, praising Jesus for friendly people who helped him while undergoing trials. Larry, then kneeled on the parking lot for the blessing. He kept thanking me and speaking of his love of Jesus and thankfulness for Divine Providence. I realized this guy was not only a Child of God but a saintly soul. I reached into my pocket to give them a Miraculous Medal and instead found a piece of foil of a candy wrapper and embarrassedly showed it to him. Larry immediately said, "I’ll throw it away for you." Always giving, joyful; serving. Later I asked him sheepishly: would you like to speak at church about God’s Grace and Mercy? He said he would but that he would probably weep. I said , ok, whatever you wanna do. Anyway, he did speak and said after Communion: I was in jail for ten years and, because of being a Roman Catholic and also prayer, and people like you, I got out and am now blessed. We’re all a family­all thru the world, so let’s pray for each other. We all have persecutions, keep praying and ask the Lord to help you…Thank you. So simple, so eloquent: a guy who strayed who is now a friend of God Who never strayed from him,.

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi