Emmitsburg Council of Churches

How to be a Human Being ...
a Holy Human Being
part 2

Father John J. Lombardi

How to be a Human Being ... a Holy Human Being part 1

St Francis of Assisi loved material possessions, the soldierly life and beautiful ladies, all the while despising the poor and religious activities. After God spoke to him in a church, he gave up his possessions (stripping himself before his dad and bishop!), later jumped into a sticker bush to prick his lustful nature, and began heroically serving the poor, sick and dying. Because of his great passion for overcoming bad actions, and his desire for good, Jesus lived in Him so much He formed His passionate wounds-the stigmata-in Francis' body.

St. Ignatius, the Spaniard, loved the soldierly life too and also riches and decadent literature. When recuperating from his battle wounds, one time, he began reading the Bible and the lives of the saints. He realized the inability of human desire to be fulfilled in the worldly things and eventually gave his whole life to God, and formed the Jesuit order, which is now worldwide.

What do these heroic lives teach us? They show us that we can gain self-mastery-even sainthood-if we subject our passions to the Passion of Jesus, and let grace build upon our human nature, and love God and neighbor.

Becoming a human being-a holy human being--thoroughly human and Christ-like-is the most attractive thing in the world to seeker-souls. The saints are people who have mastered the wanton ways of human nature-the wayward emotions and polluted mind, the failure to "read reality right," and the upsets in becoming fully mature and holy. The saints had all these challenges but overcame them-one by one…Are you? We all need to train both the emotive and intellectual sides of our personalities, as well as heorically follow Christ. Sts Francis and Ignatius both overcame desires of the flesh, yearning for worldly riches and reputations, and rejection of truth This path of transformation is difficult but the saints used daring to overcome all for Christ and His Way of life. Read the following list of what these two saints had in common, and what you can do, too: reject the negatives-lifestyle attractions, lustful desires, wayward emotions not in conformity with the Gospel; undergo continual conversion and renewal-say or think: "I can always become more like Christ"; think of others and not yourself so much; pray more and harder; love God and your neighbor with all your strength, and submit passions to the Passion of Jesus and right reason; seek God first (Mt. 5:48).These practices form our greatest human beings.

Last week I met with Mount St Mary Seminary priest and professor, Fr Robert Zylla. He's an expert in the thought of St Thomas Aquinas. Father Zylla also teaches moral theology. Following is a "rough translation" of some of his observations on Becoming Healthy, Whole and Holy-from a Thomist perspective…

We humans are made up of body and soul, passions and intellects; we must balance these "aspects of ourselves" in healthy ways. We humans-inheriting the "spiritual legacy" of Adam and Eve-- were created in an original state of harmony and peace-in the Garden of Eden. But, once sin entered, humans rebelled- against God and within themselves. Human feelings and minds-previously in a state of peace and harmony--were turned against each other and, today, we feel the consequences of this rebellion.

Therefore, our emotions need to be trained and tempered: though this is most difficult, the Life of Christ shows us that we can achieve perfection and harmony within-by grace. Christ is the Way Who shows man-as we really are-- to himself. Pope John Paul is fond of saying this. It is vitally important to have the right starting point-anthropology-when investigating and healing human beings. The psychologist Freud had many truths but, because he believes errantly about man (he was an atheist)-some of his solutions were, are, harmful: they heal only part of us, negate, and divorce man's bodily side from supernatural aspects.

Buddhism and eastern philosophies also have many truths, but also, some errant observations (they do not believe in body and soul unity; usually discount a transcendent God and the role of grace). Buddhism thus tries to annihilate the passions and desires-(Nirvana means extinction) and this becomes an end in itself-the goal of life and salvation. St John of the Cross, the Spanish Carmelite mystic, who is close to Eastern, approaches in some ways, and yet still different--encourages a thorough training and purification of the emotions and passions for the goal of loving God and our neighbor in a more whole, free and holy way. This asceticism (the word means training) is not an end in itself but a means to an end; it can become another god or dissonant emotional attachment.

In attempting to purify and liberate ourselves from wrong, harmful tendencies-for instance, too much drinking, unhealthy relationships, materialism-we need to do this with rational, rhythmic ways--not by sheer will power ( by force), by right reason working over time to quell chaotic passions within. When reacting with the will to solve our problems and "conquer ourselves," we may not act on some passions or commit a sin (a lustful action, for instance), but we will still have a simmering "potboiler within," in need of healing and transformation; The power of the will cannot do this alone-it can only command, not train and re-form. Using will power can work for a time-it is like a band aid over a wound, though-the simmering problem still exits below the surface. Reason, however, can inform and affect the passions and train them. Reason helps transform the emotions in their essence, at the source of the problem.

Whenever we act, think or will-within or outside ourselves-there is always an "effect" to this "cause". And the ancients-St Thomas, Aristotle and others-knew that there was a more direct, intuitive-- unification between the body, the powers of intellect and will, and the soul. Sometimes such wise people could help the healing process through physical means--right and holistic eating, bathing, and physical penances, for instance: we've lost this today and are more dualistic-dividing the body and soul in the healing process.

When anger comes about-an irascible appetite (an inclination prone to chaos), some people may dwell upon and even "brew" it (put fire under it). Eventually it is an obsession; a person cannot be freed from this toxic thinking. However, some trivial thing may occur-the phone may ring and the person answers, talks, laughs, hangs up, and the anger is gone. Why? Because that negative energy has been re-directed-this changes the passion from it's "independence" and power over the rational will-spontaneously-and the person realizes he can be liberated: if he chooses, re-chooses and sublimates, re-channels the energy of anger into other things (such as prayer, good acts, holy activities). We can learn to train the body, mind, soul, intellect and especially the will if we have: right knowledge; right order within; right choices; and grace-God's favor upon us and His flavor upon our human components.

But, often, we humans are either too hot headed or unconcerned; too intellectual or emotional; over stimulated or under regulated-in short, we search for the inward balance and interior equilibrium, and cannot always achieve it… In short, we are sometimes ruled by our base instincts and hedonist hearts without right rule and reason. The unchecked will, the unpurified passions and desirous heart wants fulfillment and thinks it can achieve it in material things and sense-pleasing ways Because we do not have proper knowledge of what will make us happy, we follow the "wrong intellectual carrots" in front of our religious noses, thus seeking and embracing un healthy pursuits

Our "spiritual job" is balance God's ways with human pursuits, and to accelerate this human-divine adventure by the wisdom of the Bible (revelation), the saints (truth-in-action) and Sacred Tradition (wisdom). Have you taken this course? Are you a drop-out? Are you re-trying?! Just because we are religious doesn't mean:

  1. we know everything about the emotional life and how it is balanced with God's ways and commands. But, rather than choosing the options of despair or pursuing hedonism we should seek genuine, Christ-centered self-knowledge, versus selfish knowledge, as some forms of psychololigism do today, or immoral knowledge, which relativism proposes).
  2. We should not cut off our feelings from our spiritual lives-divorce your heart from your spiritual head.

How do you attempt to blend the intellect and the will (mental and spiritual powers within us), together--the head and the heart, the emotions and the reason? -In short-how do we become more human and harmonized, more holy? By: Eucharist -seeking and letting Jesus Christ's Body and Blood, His Divinity change our very insides-physically and metaphysically. The regular rhythmic routine of Mass attendance--seeking God's Will over our own; asking for forgiveness by humbling our pride in contrition; re-experiencing and embracing within Christ's sacrifice for us, which helps us die to self. All these elements helped the saints to overcome their humanity and become holy humans. The prayer, "Anima Christi," describes and ritualizes how to transform the insides: "Soul of Christ, sanctify me; Body of Christ save me; Blood of Christ, inebriate me…" This means less self, and selfishness, and more Divine Self, more God within me. The Mass teaches us to Increase the surrender.

Ascetical practices-asceticism means "to train"-this is a lost, sacred art today, needing renaissance today -to practice, attain self-abandonment, self-denial, selflessness: "If anyone wants to be My follower he must deny himself, pick up his cross daily" (Lk. 9:23). Fasting is a way to deny luxury and comfort of self, to say "no" to lukewarmness and say "Yes" to God and His Way of Life. This will help us attain self-mastery ; if anyone struggles with sensual sins, always remember and practice, regularly and moderately, fasting and prayer!

Custody of the senses-guard and purify what you see and look at: whatever enters thru your eyes probably will affect you sometime-now or later, day or nighttime, conscious or not. Remember: Less is More--less (visual stimulation) is more (liberation of the soul for God-as-Spirit). Crosses help by letting unfair or burdensome things "spiritually sandpaper" us, and mortifications free us by tempering our flesh and prideful wills-- embracing hard things, not speaking so much or readily, sacrificing time, talent or treasure helps give away and purify the self and inner prideful tendencies.

Prayer allows God to purify us where and when we cannot-from within, and esp. thru meditation we learn self-mastery and emotional and spiritual discipline by focusing on certain holy thoughts and mysteries and by denying other distractive thoughts. We can then transpose these newly gained "victories" to errant, emotional habits…Charity: when we practice love and compassion for others, we can often get un-stuck form our spiritual navels and realize the graces we have received, and that Jesus suffers in disguised-others. Getting other-focused gets us un-focused form selfishness. Remember St Peter Chrysologus' insight: "The poor stretch forth the hand, but God receives what is offered."

Following are some examples of holiness and healing and how the sacred past can help give your soul a spiritual blast of liberation and wisdom:

  • St Paul: said "I drive my body and train it" (I Cor 9:27). How can you train like a spiritual athlete-so that you have more mastery over your emotional, quixotic side? St Paul overcame much-killing, pride (a capital sin which is a root and "doorway" to other sins) and false beliefs (intellectual error). How can you correct, amend and overcome all this for All--God? St Paul calls for conversion this way: "You should put away your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God's way in righteousness and holiness of truth" (Eph. 4:22-23). This states perfectly the Catholic-Christian goal- both negation of the cravings of our worldly selves; and accentuation of the positive, godly mindset. It is not either sheer extinction of sinful passions -or only focus upon the good, but both.

    In essence here is the formula for becoming human, a holy human: transform deceitful desires thru holiness and truth. Bumper sticker summary-submit your heart to your head.

  • Desert Fathers-were men who went into the Egyptian Desert in the third and fourth centuries (i.e. St Anthony the Great) to imitate Christ going into the desert. Their main teaching was on guarding the heart: never allowing sinful, overly-passionate, wrongful thoughts to stay in the mind or heart, thus becoming pure and therefore more receptive to God to attain divine union with Him. Do you practice this "guarding of the heart" or give into and cultivate harmful thoughts? Because the Desert Fathers were warriors of the spirit they show us what it means to be a human being.
  • St Augustine-realized he could not continue giving into his wrongful, desirous pursuits (wine, women, and song- i.e., worldly things, sensuality and decadence). These did not fulfill him; after a while he turned to God and realized he could be both human and spiritual, but had to battle the emotive sensuous side of himself. He shows us we can overcome all inordinate sensuality and become spiritual and saintly.

Remember: "In the Christian life, the Holy Spirit Himself accomplishes His work by mobilizing the whole being, with all its sorrows, fears and sadness, as is visible in the Lord's agony and passion. In Christ human feelings are able to reach their consummation in charity and divine beatitude." (Catechism of the Catholic Church: # 1769)

Conclusion: Do I overemphasize my head (intellect, reasoning) or heart (emotions and will) to the exclusion of the other? How do I need-how can I gain-more balance? What particular saints can help in this divine-human adventure and process? …Quote: "Here I was taught by the grace of God that I should steadfastly keep me in the faith... and that at the same time I should take my stand on and earnestly believe in what our Lord showed in this time - that 'all manner [of] thing shall be well." -- Julian of Norwich, The Revelations of Divine Love.

Briefly Noted

Next Week: Why the Vatican (re) Clarified Teachings on Homosexuality, and so-Called Same-Sex Unions: In short, as one Vatican Commentator said-it is political ethics. Catholics must be ready to both respect persons who are homosexual, but not any homosexualist agenda or lifestyle that threatens themselves or marriage or Catholic culture.

Why do Catholics do That?

Put hands, fingers, in a water dish? Because they are reminding themselves, sacramentally (using signs and material) that they are baptized Christians, disciples of Christ and entering a holy place. It is preparing them to meet Jesus even more.

Supernatural: A Pilgrim recently brought up conversation of "the supernatural", asking if I believed in it, in the extraordinary. Though taken a little aback by the question, I noted that I, of course, did: at each Mass we encounter the extraordinary in Christ becoming Present. But, perhaps, many priests are perceived in a way today which implies they may be skeptical or "slow to believe" in extra-ordinary phenomena. . At any rate, we agreed there is need for prudence regarding the "supernatural" and, as Fr Benedict Groschel writes in his book, "A Still Small Voice," that, probably (and subtly) God does speak and act in people's lives more than we know, today, or can perceive. We may call these "spiritual impulses" or holy movements, within, barely perceptible, wherein God can "speak thru and within sunsets, relationships and conscience. ...Are you embracing the "extraordinary in the ordinary"?

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi