Sunday, March 16, 2008

"Great Sinners became superlative saints because of Him"

The Holiest Week of the Year

Father John J. Lombardi

The Passion is God's response to all the problems of life: Sin, suffering., separation from God and others. God shows His love no more dramatically than in His Sacred suffering. So, this Holy Week, ask: Are you answering your problems with The Answer, Christ?

The word passion comes from the Latin root word, pati, which means "to suffer." So: when we are patient or are patients in the hospital, we suffer--hopefully thru Him, with and in Him. St Peter counsels: "Christ suffered for you and left you an example to follow in His footsteps" (II Pt. 2:21), and St Paul writes: "Love is patient, love is kind…" (I Cor 13: 4). St Augustine called Christ "The Medicine of Immortality," and said of Him, "O Lord, You are the Divine Physician, and I am the sick man." Though we may know from our religion and this Holy Week that Jesus is the Answer, we often forget this in daily life. How so, you ask?

Drugs. While the world offers legal drugs and illegal ones as answers to problems, Christ offers His Passion. Perhaps you've recently read about the Federal Drug Administration suggesting that antidepressants have been over prescribed and have possibly increased suicidal tendencies in some teens. Also observe that our country, awash in drug therapies has become like, as the book title says, a "Prozac Nation". This drug inducement can become a religion. Don't forget that more and more athletes are using steroids; infertile and contracepting couples are utilizing "drug therapies" to birth or not, and more children are on prescription drugs. And, of course: illegal drugs-suburbanite heroine users and urbanite-crack babies. Drugs can become a religion people bow to and swallow to solve problems. To legal and illegal drug-takers, ask: Have you tried Jesus, The Medicine of Immortality? Some people just never ask the question. The question-answer seems, today, almost naive, too simple; and some people prohibit the question from ever being asked. In His Passion Jesus shows us He is not sterilized or immunized from the world's worst problems: "For the Son of Man must undergo great suffering" (Mk 8:31). He is in solidarity with us. This Holy Week, the choice is ours-over-medication or passionate meditating-on Him, whom Isaiah prophesied:. "a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity"( ). Jesus offers Himself to a drug-infested culture, as when He speaks to the woman at the well, and us: "Whoever drinks the water I will give will never thirst" (Jn. 4: 14). Are you trying Jesus as your healing balm? The saints conformed themselves to Jesus especially by frequent reception of Jesus in the Eucharist, for they heard Him say: "The Bread that I will give is My Flesh for the world" (Jn. 6:51). Our heroine, St Bernadette, after seeing the Blessed Virgin of Lourdes was dying and asked her sisters to spread her diseased body out like Jesus in cruciform fashion, arms spread wide open. "There," she said, "Now I am like Him." When we meditate upon the Passion we are less likely to take, need, and push drugs to others. Become saintly: allow Him to become both your Divine Physician and Medication.

Another problem today is in replacing the Passion with inordinate counseling and therapy. David Brooks, in a recent New York Times column, wrote of Christopher Lasch and his classic book ''The Culture of Narcissism.'' "Lasch (calls) the therapeutic mentality an anti-religion that tries to liberate people from the idea that they should submit to a higher authority, so they can focus more obsessively on their own emotional needs." Simply put: Americans are talking more to one another than to God. A recent New York Times Magazine article (Mar ) detailed a philosopher who is challenging and wresting the power held by counselors and therapists in our culture, by promoting philosophy as answer to life's problems. Philosophy--"love of wisdom"-this guy is saying, is the bigger answer to problems, not a biased analyst or co-opted counselor. You know, Plato, Aristotle and, hopefully St Thomas Aquinas, who give more substantial answers to problems like Why is there evil?, than do talk show hosts and therapists. He's got a point. But: philosophy is still not total: There is a God Who made substantial answers and the very desire in us to seek them--Christ is the Way, Truth and Life (Jn. 14:6), Who promises liberation: "You shall know the truth and the Truth shall set you free" (Jn.8: ). This Holy week consider how, in the Eighth Station of the Cross Jesus consoles the women of Jerusalem (see Lk 23:28)-- He Who Himself was suffering consoled others. Will you let Him help you or embrace other, partial, human answers? Hear Jesus say: "Come to Me all you who are weary and I will refresh you" (Mt. 11:28). We are impoverished when we keep our problems from God. God in some sense is like the prodigal son's father. How joyous it must have been to have the son return from the poverty that was his humanity.

There is another partial answer offered by the world, and is called in David Brook's column, "Hooked on Heaven Lite". You know the fare: everybody goes to Heaven; no Cross or blood thank you; Christianity without grit, sin and blood-redemption. He writes: "Here, sins are not washed away. Instead, hurt is washed away. The language of good and evil is replaced by the language of trauma and recovery.-- Do you feel good about yourself? " The theologian Niebhur analyzed this condition last century and described it as: "A God without wrath brought men without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross." We are in constant tendency in our American modernist West, to wrest Christ from His Cross (witness fewer Crucifixes within sanctuaries); separate His suffering from our redemption (it seems, today, old fashioned to "offer up sufferings"); split His offer of salvation from our walking of the Stations of the Cross (a passing phenomena in Catholic America). And yet, St Paul proclaimed Christ crucified, (I Cor 1:23) and said: "I have become crucified with Christ" (Gal 2:19) and "The message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing but to us being saved it is the power of God" (I Cor 1:18)

The Passion presents us with an alternative to the non-mystical mish mash of sterilized spirituality. We should see it both in Jesus' historical Passion "yesterday" and His ongoing Passion "today". Fr Chester Snyder, of Mechanicsburg, Pa., recently made the beautiful connections of salvation and sweat, Yesterday's Passion and Today's: "I don't have to go to the movies to see Jesus crowned with thorns. I see that when I hear that someone has profaned your good name and spread lies and rumors about you. But you resist the temptation to respond with like-hatred and venom. And so the passion begun by Jesus lives on in you anew…Our task is to be Simon of Cyrene in the name of Jesus so that the suffering of others does not end on a cross of despair or indifference."

The answer of The Passion is, if you'll pardon the expression, Gritty Divinity. Jesus is not only pure, Heavenly, undefiled divinity--Blissful Love, He is also a man, earthy, real, passionate, and loving. He is the perfect combination of both-grittiness and divinity. There is no one like Him, so, don't try any other, partial answers. Buddha is only human. Krishna is a myth. Lao Tzu of Taoism is a doubtful historical figure. Mohammed is a prophet. Plato and Aristotle were great Greeks, though not gods. None of these figures, as good as they were, were God, or are as in love with us as Christ, shown by: Blood. Sacrifice. Humiliations.

How will you, like Our Lady at foot of the Cross, adore His sacred Passion? -Participate in it? - Witness to others:

Last week a Pilgrim-penitent came to the Grotto to confess his sins, and brought with him three mentally retarded, blind men who could not be left alone. The Pilgrim could not reach the Chaplain nor depart from his blind friends, so he left the Grotto a little frustrated. Then: his car broke down near Cunningham Falls St Park. Hours later the Chaplain departed for a penance service and, steaming along on Route 15, saw a man waving his arms for help, near by a broken down car. It was the Pilgrim who sought confession earlier at Grotto. They greeted each other and transferred the blind men to the Chaplain's car and headed to the pilgrim's home to amend his car situation. The Pilgrim explained the purpose of his visit to the Grotto, and his frustration, and also his car troubles. The men in back could hardly hear, as they blindly, but contentedly, gazed into space and enjoyed the Spring breeze and a bold sunshine warmed them. As they buzzed along, the Chaplain asked: "Do you want to make a confession now?" The Pilgrim said, "Sure. That would be great." The man confessed and was freed. They eventually arrived at the group home and began escorting the three blind men inside, only after the Chaplain realized the men couldn't walk on their own. They needed intense and incessant help, and patience-- to assist them in their plight. In utter amazement the Chaplain looked back and saw one man standing idly in the front lawn, child-like, awaiting his turn to get escorted, flailing in the wind for help, sun shining on his shaved head, eyes wide open, gazing, but not seeing: Jesus in His Disguises. Walking His Passion again… The Chaplain then realized: this Pilgrim was participating in the Passion by his suffering in love with the helpless men. And the Pilgrim was responding to the Passion by his confession, and he was witnessing The Passion to others by bringing these vulnerable men to Church, to Holy places. May we do the same.

Are you asking the Big Questions and seeking, embracing Big Answers--Christ, the Lord

Great Sinners became superlative saints because of Him -think of St Augustine who came out of sensuality and ; Mystics have sought Him, drunks have stopped drinking for him (Ven. Matt Talbot); Little girls have turned His Great Way into a marvelous "Little Way" (St Therese) helping Him to be accessible to all. People have died for him-just like Him (St Stephen in Acts, and St Paul Miki in Nagasaki, Japan, both saying: "Father forgive them for they know not what they do"). He continues His passion today: are you with Him? How will you adore and respond to His passion. What a paradox, what an answer--The Lord of Glory is crucified. (cf.I Cor 2:8), that we might have everlasting life.

Source: The title of this 2004 homily was changed for posting purposes.

Whereas "sinning" or "sinner" is not part of a twelve-step program vocabulary, Matt Talbot had absolutely no doubt that he was a sinner and needed the Lord's help to daily overcome his thirst for drink and character defects. And to even hint he was becoming a "saint" in sobriety would have been unimaginable to him.

For one overview of sin among major religions, see