Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Meditations from the
 Mountain Grotto

Father John J. Lombardi

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Jn. 1:35-42) Jesus Christ Attracts us, Befriends and Commends us. You see, they’re the ABC’s of discipleship. Jesus allures us; He is our Divine Friend; and like His Apostles Saints Peter and Andrew in the Gospel He sends us out for His work in the Vineyard of the Kingdom.

Just after completing a pilgrimage with ten pilgrims to India­Calcutta and Darjeeling-- here are some reflections on following Jesus from near and far…

What is attractive about Jesus? He speaks the Words of Eternal life, the Way to Heaven­He is like a Divine Poet Who allures us by His true, enticing words. Many today are attracted by football players, actors and politicians, millionaires and artists into their ways of life. Some are good and some not so. Who are you being attracted by?

In Calcutta we learned of the story of Mother Teresa who heard the words of Jesus in Matthew chapter 25, while on retreat in 1949 calling her to take care of the poorest of the poor ("I was sick and you visited me; I was poor and you helped Me"…). These "mystical words" captivated her by a direct experience and she changed her life­and others. While in Calcutta we met dozens of volunteers from all over the world who came to help Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in caring for the dying, the poor and young children in orphanages. All these holy folks were attracted by Jesus’ enticement by Another Way of life. They wanted a sharing in Jesus’ actual work and paid a literal and figurative price for it. One man, Peter, came by himself for three months from England to work in Calcutta and got sick many times, but he still persevered in his work of Jesus. He said his experience was astounding, in caring for so many needy people, and he actually thought He was taking care of Jesus Himself in one man whom he picked up off the street to die in Mother Teresa’s Kalighat Home for the dying. Jesus in His "distressing disguises" was an attracting point for Peter, as it was certainly for Mother Teresa. Another couple young ladies came all the way from Chile to work with the Missionaries of Charity, and they were smiling much in their works and often prayed at night in Mother Teresa’s Motherhouse before the Blessed Sacrament and Rosary. Prayer and works go together when attracted to Jesus. Another group of 75 young high school students arrived from Australia They came because they experienced Jesus as changer of the world and of the soul, that there is another way of living and wanted to experience it firsthand, not by books or other’s reports, but by their own partaking of Jesus today. Another attraction of Jesus is His way of enticing us by "other experiences"­encountering Him in ways unlike our own. We celebrated Mass in many different forms, prayed and met many Catholics and Christians who impressed us by their unique example.Doug from California, a Protestant minister, helped us by his friendly way, knowledge of the Bible and his care for the poor. We saw and were attracted to Jesus thru humble Indians who literally had nothing to eat or drink and who were yet still friendly and smiling. We were attracted to Jesus thru wanting to love Him more as the Missionaries of Charity did in their prayerful holy hours, their works of love and especially their joy. So many of them smiled frequently even though they undertook a life of sacrifice: they enticed us by their example that in following the Master we too can live a joyful way of life. In many of the Jesuit missionaries we met men who wanted to educate others, do good works and welcome us into their homes and way of life. They attracted us to Jesus. One native Nepalese lady in Darjeeling impressed us by her attending of Mass and love of Jesus in the Eucharist­often smiling and bowing to us in greeting "Namaste"--Greetings-Honor to us visitors from afar. Another seminarian said he loved Jesus and wanted to become a priest. Thru all these examples we deepened our love of the Lord and saw another way of living.

How can you deepen your attraction to Jesus? How can you encounter Him in different ways?

Befriending: Jesus offers us a spiritual friendship. In the world so many today offer romance, adventure, money and pleasure in their friendships­not always lasting experiences. Jesus Himself offers us a Spiritual Adventure that will always last! One of the surprises of our pilgrimage was that so many of our own pilgrims made friendships with others­volunteers from all over the world, and we delighted in this­seeing Jesus work thru common bonds of spiritual goals and service. When we see others attracted to Jesus we want to be part of the Friendship, too. All along the way the pilgrims committed themselves to prayer and Mass and Rosary. I was delightfully surprised to see so many volunteers go to Mass-Eucharist, Rosary and Adoration­and this is ten years after Mother Teresa’s death--her legacy of Friendship still lasts­and entices! This was the heart of the pilgrimage­Friendship with Jesus as foundation, not just works and adventure­thru prayer and love and devotion How about for you? One time while in Darjeeling we hoped to see the Himalayan mountains­"Kanchenjunga"­and, on our last day there we did. It was magnificently displayed before our eyes­radiant and majestically towering before us. We all decided to do our morning prayer then and there and one pilgrim said: Is there another better kind of morning prayer? Hardly: the Creator gave us this creation to honor Him and seal our friendship with Him thru His mighty works! Also, along the

way we met so many "angels of hospitality" who helped us (as is part of any pilgrimage since one becomes vulnerable and needy in various situations)­spiritual friends who assisted us in time of need. One pilgrim who joined us on pilgrimage halfway thru was enticed by the singing, revelry and sprit of our group that he said this was just as good as serving in Calcutta, his original reason for making his personal pilgrimage. There is not only safety in numbers but also spiritual friendship and fun and community! Especially kind was Fr. Burke who got us jeeps up the Himalayan mountains, a place of stay and a personal link-friend while in Darjeeling to be our guide. His wise, friendly and spiritual counsel all impressed us. Just before leaving we all sang to him "Eidle Weis" from the movie "The Sound of Music" and he was moved measurably. Jesus obviously gave us another friend in this godly guy. Also, all along the way we met dozens of people who hosted us for lunch, tea ("chai") and coffee and biscuits. While we liked this we were kinda’ flummoxed­we thought we were in Indian for service, not being served. We gradually realized that this was part of Jesus’ Plan­to be hosted and welcomed and thus to humbly and lovingly submit to others’ manifestations of Jesus’ reaching out to us in ways we did not expect!

One of our "mystical mantras" was Practice the Presence of God. Whether it was thru joys or sorrows, a sickness of a pilgrim or in encountering a person with leprosy, we tried to remind ourselves of our Friendship with Jesus in the here and now of His surprising, beguiling, adventurous or loving provision of the precious, unrepeatable moment of His Salvation­it’s all part of the pilgrimage and we shouldn’t exclude anything from it.

We made many friends thru Jesus while on pilgrimage, as this is part of Jesus’ Plan--community: how about you? And: how are you deepening your friendship with Him thru prayer, service and community?

Commending: Jesus wants us as His friends but also wants to use us to help Him save the world­like Him to "go and do likewise". As St Teresa of Avila commends we are to be Jesus’ hands, hearts and love in the world today. Jesus wants us to be His instruments and conduits of love and Saving Grace. In north India we met twenty Jesuit novices studying to be priests. We asked them why they wanted to be priests (average age of 25­so young and vibrant!) and many responded they loved the Lord and wanted to be His priests in the world and bring the Good News. We realized they were attracted to Jesus, befriended Him many times during the day thru prayer, Mass and chapel visits and desired to go into the world thru sacrifices to help Christ redeem the world. Fr. Sunil Rosario was a vibrant priest who hosted us and we were impressed after he returned from a mission trip to Orissa State in India where so many Catholics are persecuted and harmed. He showed us pictures of devastation to their houses, convents and churches, desecrations and displacement in refugee camps. His spirit was obviously moved; he wanted to take up a collection to help them. He showed us that following Jesus means going into the world to help others in need. We were also impressed by a group of Englishmen who travelled in sacrifice of their retirement just to donate time to building a school for young Indian students in need. We met Fr. Julius and an assistant, in Madigara, N. India, who worked for 25 years at Jesuit Ashram for persons with leprosy, tuberculosis and AIDS . Their service of sacrifice showed us the "harsh beauty" of the Gospel­that we must make efforts to love Jesus in ways we don’t always want and that are often fraught with distress and upset. We met there an elderly man with leprosy who had recently had a foot amputated and was later placed in the sunshine on a cot to heal in an open plaza. We visited him and prayed over him and as I looked at his half-closed eyes encrusted with wounds, and felt his bony body he awakened, and then I heard music. Just nearby our pilgrimage group was singing him a song in comfort, and he leaned up and asked for a blessing in Bengali…That is what Jesus does in His call to discipleship: ABC=Attraction, Befriending, Commending. Thing is: you don’t’ have to go to Calcutta, you can have all this, and do all this right where you are, in the here and now of Practicing the presence of God continually!

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi