My name is Michael Lambert. I'm a twenty-five year-old Marine lieutenant stationed in Iwakuni, Japan with an aviation support unit. I am single and have five younger siblings. I grew up in rural Georgia in a very loving Catholic family. I went to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD, graduated in May of 1995, and accepted my commission in the Marine Corps. Since then, I have served my country both as a world class athlete and as a commissioned officer.
I was baptized and raised for the first five years in the Roman Catholic Church, living in Atlanta. In 1978, my parents 'went looking' for something that they had been missing in the big, Gothic cathedral of Christ the King that they had both attended since birth. Call it rebellion, disillusionment, or simply a flight, they left the Catholic Church and Georgia, taking little old me with them. We landed in the lap of my mother's uncle--Uncle Mac. Uncle Mac pastored Church of the New Covenant, his own nondenominational, charismatic church in sunny Southern California. The magnetic enthusiasm of the prayer meetings and the instant identity that came along with membership swept my parents off their feet. All I remember is going to church for four hours on Sundays and getting the 'gift of tongues.'
In 1984, we left the charismatic scene to come back to the Catholic Church. One of my mother's brothers was a priest at the time; he flew across country to give all of us kids the sacraments of initiation we needed. I received my first Holy Communion at the hands of my uncle, and I was officially back in the bosom of the Church. Boy, I had no idea what I was in for!
Shortly thereafter, we moved back to Georgia, but an hour and a half south of Atlanta, to a little town called Thomaston. Thomaston is your typical small town in the South: generally God-fearing, Protestant, very warm and pleasant, relatively crime-free, and also very different from Southern California. Our parish was (and still is) a small mission parish run by the Redemptorist Fathers who live a half-hour north. Father Schantz, The priest assigned there when we arrived in 1984, was a very holy, solidly orthodox man. Only now can I begin to appreciate what he did for me. Two tangible memories I have of him are both instructions: pray the rosary and always ask for wisdom and humility. So, at the tender age of thirteen, this man started me on my spiritual journey in earnest. Of course, I didn't know it at the time.
Spiritually, high school was pretty uneventful. I tried to be a good Catholic, but I was still a teenager. I had things more important than church to occupy myself with.
So, off to the Naval Academy I went--full of purpose, determined to be an admiral, and hoping that I wouldn't fail out. Well, things went just fine, I suppose. I got the grades; I made the rowing team; I advanced in rank, but somewhere along the line, it dawned on me that I was pretty indifferent to it all. I came to the wonderful realization that everything--both successes and failures--was a gift from God. What freedom! Somehow, I had accepted the grace of spiritual detachment that the Blessed Virgin so lovingly offered me. Maybe it was a natural consequence of daily mass. Maybe it was the fruit of much intercession for me from my parents and Fr. Schantz. Who knows? It's all a big, marvelous mystery to me, but somehow, I took those next few steps.
When I graduated, two decisive things happened to me. First, Deacon Jim gave me a daily missal. Then, I carried out my orders to try out for the U.S. national rowing team. I'll get to the missal later. The first thing on my mind was making the national team and going to Finland for the world championships. I quickly found myself in a strange, new world, full of free time, free from seven classes per semester, and minimally cerebral. I could finally relax after four years of filling every spare five minutes of every day. I put my Day-Timer away for good, and I began to look around.
I made the team, went to the world championships, came back, and headed off for San Diego and the U.S. Olympic Training Center that October. This was the big year. The '95 team was nothing more than a trial run for the biggun, as we say in Georgia. The Marine Corps said, "Lieutenant, go," and I went. I headed straight across country and straight for the biggest event of my life: metanoia (total conversion and change of heart).
I tried to hit the ground running when I got to the training center. The other guys were all better rowers than I was. Everyone was more experienced, but somehow, I did alright. Understandably, I was pretty focused on making the team. Just under the surface in the lake of my soul, though, something was swimming around. I found myself reading a little spiritual material here, praying a bit more there (at least for wisdom and humility). Since I couldn't make mass every day like I did at school, I picked up that daily missal that Deacon Jim had given me. I found the mass readings and antiphons to be the next best thing.
Well, the training regimen kept up its grueling tempo through the winter months and brought us nearer to the Olympic trials in April. As we were gearing up for the preliminary screening, I had my event. Quite possibly, one of the five most important days in my life fell on February 22, 1996. I had just finished the day's readings and flipped to the back of the missal. As I thumbed through the 'Treasury of Prayers,' I came across one called the Litany of Humility (it's at the bottom). It caught my eye, as I had prayed for this particular virtue for nearly half of my life. As I went through the prayer, I felt a scary, strange, but special attraction to this spirituality, because it expressed many of the deepest desires of my heart: that I not desire esteem, love, honor, or praise, and that I not fear being humiliated, rebuked, ridiculed, or forgotten.
Then comes the kicker. Really, I was doing fine until this point. Out of my mouth comes the following prayer: "That others may be chosen and I set aside, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it." Woah, Silver. Wait a minute. What did I just say? This can't be right. I'm at the Olympic training center, trying to make the U.S. team. Why did I just pray that I not get chosen? This, my friends, is what you call catastrophic. In hindsight, I call it a gift straight from the Immaculate Heart of my loving mother--one intended to knock me straight down to the humus (earth). It did its job. Oh, boy, did it do its job.
If you can imagine igniting a bunch of dynamite under a wooden shack, then you can picture what happened to my soul. The little house that I had built myself over the course of some twenty-two years suddenly exploded. All of the perceptions I had, all of the likes and dislikes I entertained, all of the goals I designed for myself--in a word, all of my attachments--were instantly nothing more than a cloud of rubble flying through the sky.
It took a solid month for the dust to clear and for me to start assessing the 'damage.' What did I have left? What was the point of all this? Where was I? Who was I? OK, God, what do I do now? "Listen," came the quiet, but now very recognizable voice of the Blessed Virgin Mary. "Wait for my Son, and listen. Empty yourself of you."
That was pretty easy. My house had exploded, and there I was--sitting on the humus, the ground, the foundation of my being, and all that was left of my fake house. My foundation had survived the explosion. And I sat on it. I just sat there, confused, naked, dazed, but somehow very free and expectant, blinking my eyes like a newborn in the sunshine of a beautiful morning.
I have since come to realize why I sat there on the bare, rich, musky earth: there were treasures buried in it. Hidden graces lie within the foundation of my being--graces that I had knowingly or unknowingly accepted earlier in my life. Wonderful mysteries like the holy rosary, daily mass, constant pleas for wisdom and humility, my loving parents kept me from leaving my humus, the earth God gave me.
So I sat.
My mother, bless her soul, started sending me good, holy books. Until this point, I had never had an interest in reading anything other than the usual: Tom Clancy, Ken Follett, even some J.R.R. Tolkien, but never any strictly spiritual works. All of that changed rapidly.
I began on a good introduction to the Church Fathers by John Michael Talbot, Meditations from Solitude. From there, I went through a little Teresa of Avila, some Thomas Aquinas, a good bit of Thomas Merton's early works, and then St. John of the Cross. Particularly fruitful were Merton's introduction to contemplative prayer and then St. John's explanation of my dynamite: the dark night of the senses.
I didn't make the Olympics that summer, so I had to do some of my Marine Corps training in Quantico, Virginia. I took my friends, the saints, with me to The Basic School, and they tutored me while I learned to be a professional warrior in both temporal and spiritual warfare. Another military school followed this one, and I continued to read, pray, and grow spiritually.
I then began the beautiful prayer of the Church, the Liturgy of the Hours. The four-volume set was my 'big present' from my mother at Christmas. What a gift! I discovered such richness, such depth, such universality that only a divine, al Body could manifest anything like what I discovered in the writings of our spiritual ancestors. And the journey took another turn. I started praying the rosary again regularly, after having neglected it for four years.
[I must note here that this whole journey of mine was marked from the outset by some unwarranted gift of submission to the Divine Will. By unwarranted, I mean that I don't deserve such a sublime gift. Really, nobody does, but I especially don't. I have done nothing, suffered nothing to merit it. Somehow, I have just always preferred to do what God wanted me to do. Go figure.]
My little devotion to the holy rosary led me to stay after mass one Tuesday when I was passing through Maryland and had stopped at the Naval Academy. A group started saying the rosary, and I gladly stayed and prayed. After the rosary, they started saying some prayers I had never heard before. I listened, wondering what sort of group I had found. It turned out to be a Cenacle of the Marian Movement of Priests. One man gave me his copy of the big, blue book that contained all of the message Our Lady had given all of her children through Fr. Stefano Gobbi.
Quite frankly, I was floored. I had never heard of people getting messages from heaven. The closest thing I could compare it to was Old Testament prophecy. Naturally, I opened the present Mary gave me. The words were so compelling, I was motivated to new heights of charity. I loved the idea of having an approved collection of words that supposedly came straight from the Blessed Virgin, herself. I then came across a few more modern s, most notably Christina Gallagher, the Irish stigmatic and victim soul.
My next major step, however, lay right around the corner. I had this little book that I had been carrying around with me, but had never picked up for one reason or another. It was called True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin by St. Louis de Montfort--the foundation for the Pope's Marian spirituality. I read it from cover to cover in a matter of two or three days. This spirituality seems to mesh perfectly with what God developed in me through the contemplative prayer, and the al progression of St. John of the Cross. Like a well-crafted puzzle, this piece slid right into place, bringing the picture nearer to completion.
This discovery precipitated my Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary according to de Montfort's formula. Shortly thereafter, Our Lady tied me up with her Brown Scapular, so I would have an even harder time leaving the protection of her loving embrace. It all makes perfect sense, because she wants nothing more than to bring us quickly into the waiting arms of her divine Son.
To finally address "Why I chose the Catholic Road to Jesus," I had to first explain how I progressed to the point. Through a gradual--and sometimes painful--process of self-abasement and deferment to the will of God, the Virgin Mary has brought me to embrace the fullness of her Son's al Body in the essence of the Roman Catholic Church. It is only now that I can say that I am aware of what I choose to be a part of. Before February 22, 1996, I was a Catholic because I had been born into it. Since then, I have come to realize that I am a Catholic because Christ, Our Lord, made me to be a Catholic. It is who I am. It is the fullness of who every creature was created to be. It is integral personhood. Sadly enough, this great gift of complete communion with Christ is not accessible to everyone. Soon, however, all will be rectified. Until then, we must pray.
Michael Lambert. May 8, 1998. Feast of The Apparition of St. Michael the Archangel.
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LITANY OF HUMILITY
|O Jesus, meek and humble of heart||Hear me|
|From the desire of being esteemed||Deliver me, Jesus|
|From the desire of being loved||Deliver me, Jesus|
|From the desire of being extolled||Deliver me, Jesus|
|From the desire of being honored||Deliver me, Jesus|
|From the desire of being praised||Deliver me, Jesus|
|From the desire of being preferred to others||Deliver me, Jesus|
|From the desire of being consulted||Deliver me, Jesus|
|From the desire of being approved||Deliver me, Jesus|
|From the fear of being humiliated||Deliver me, Jesus|
|From the fear of being despised||Deliver me, Jesus|
|From the fear of suffering rebukes||Deliver me, Jesus|
|From the fear of being calumniated||Deliver me, Jesus|
|From the fear of being forgotten||Deliver me, Jesus|
|From the fear of being ridiculed||Deliver me, Jesus|
|From the fear of being wronged||Deliver me, Jesus|
|From the fear of being suspected||Deliver me, Jesus|
|That others may be loved more than I||Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it|
|That others may be esteemed more than I||Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it|
|That in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I decrease||Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it|
|That others may be chosen and I set aside||Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it|
|That others may be praised and I unnoticed||Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it|
|That others may be preferred to me in everything||Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it|
|That others become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should||Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it|
Dedicated to Our Lady, Queen and Mother of the Divine Will.
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