William Lombardy

jan2018clfcs.jpgWhen I became an active tournament player in the 70s, I was certainly aware of the priest/grandmaster Bill Lombardy. He served as Bobby Fischer’s second (chief assistant) for the first half of the 1972 world championship match in Reykjavik, Iceland. He was also a top international competitor in his own right. His early career on the international scene included two notable accomplishments: a perfect record as World Junior Champion (11-0) in 1957, and top performer for the winning US Student Team in 1960 (besting the Soviets in a totally unexpected upset).

On the brink of a fruitful (if underpaid) chess career–including a coveted spot on the path to World Champion in a 1962 qualifying event–instead he packed off to seminary for the Archdiocese of New York and ordination in 1967.

Compared to Bobby Fischer, he wasn’t the leading light of his chess generation. Maybe #2 wasn’t quite as burnished in his view. Or his call to service in the Church was stronger for a time. Who knows? Chess journalists generally don’t cover and comment deeply on spiritual journeys. Interesting that the Russians described him as wearing a “priest’s outfit” when he was assisting Bobby Fischer in Iceland.

There is a good feature on him here. I also found the biographical material in this month’s issue of Chess Life to be both illuminating and sad.  I also found coverage at the NCReg.

Bill Lombardy wanted to continue both a chess career and a priestly ministry. It seems strange to my ears that he thought he could be a representative of the Church among chess players and as a competitor. His bishop summoned him to a meeting and insisted he take a pastoral assignment. That was Cardinal Terrence Cooke. I can only imagine what Lombardy’s first bishop, Cardinal Spellman would have said to the notion of a chess-playing ambassador/priest.

Lombardy left ministry in the late 70s. The peaks of his chess career were behind him. In the US, a new generation of young turks butted heads with émigré Soviet grandmasters. In his personal life, marriage, a son, a divorce, and a life that generally spiraled into poverty and old age.

There’s a meme, not always accurate, not always inaccurate, about chessplayers (andother types of competitors) whose lives just spiral out of control. Is there an answer to that? But for the grace of God …

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Aparecida 320: Taking Mary Into One’s Home

The Aparecida bishops’ examination of seminary formation concludes with a note advocationg a deeper connection with the Blessed Mother:

320. Throughout formation, an effort shall be made to develop a tender and filial love for Mary, so that each candidate comes to have spontaneous familiarity with her and “takes her into his home” like the beloved disciple. She will provide priests strength and hope in difficult moments, and will encourage them to be untiringly missionary disciples for the people of God.

For deeper examination, an English translation of the 2007 document from the Aparecida Conference.

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Aparecida 319: Comprehensive Formation

One cannot argue against the comprehensive formation urged here:

319. There must be a seminary formation plan that offers seminarians a true comprehensive process—human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral—centered on Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd. It is crucial that during the formation years, seminarians be authentic disciples, and come to have a true personal encounter with Jesus Christ in prayer with the Word, so as to establish with Him relationships of friendship and love, ensuring an authentic process of spiritual initiation, especially during the Propaedeutic Period.

It’s important to distinguish between this overall holistic orientation and the particular manifestations we’ve often seen in clergy that may not be backed up by the solid spirituality. By that I would mean one of two things. First, the adoption of an approach to rules that is more clever than wise in applying it to human beings and situations. And second, an overzealous piety that doesn’t engage the full measure of priesthood–the leadership of prayer that invites others to express their baptismal call to pray. In other words, a focus entirely on one’s own spirituality.

The spirituality promoted must respond to the identity of the particular vocation, whether diocesan or religious.(Cf. Congregation for Catholic Education, Circular Letter Concerning some of the More Urgent Aspects of Spiritual Formation in Seminaries, January 6, 1980, p. 23: ID The Propaedeutic Period May 1, 1998, p. 14.)

For deeper examination, an English translation of the 2007 document from the Aparecida Conference.

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Aparecida 318: Countering Negative Influences

318. The contemporary situation requires greater attention to formation programs in seminaries, since young people are victims of the negative influence of postmodern culture, especially the mass media, bringing with it the fragmentation of the personality, inability to take on irrevocable commitments, absence of human maturity, weakening of spiritual identity, and so forth, which impede the process of forming authentic disciples and missionaries.

While I wouldn’t dispute this diagnosis, I think it is often overstated. Young people still look to parents and mentors for guidance. Perhaps it is the older generation that has abandoned its faith in a new generation. Rather than blame the mass media, we can look to sources closer to home: substance abuse, political corruption, and a Church which often seems to favor a safe message over a stirring one.

Hence, before entry into the seminary, those responsible for conducting formation must make a very careful selection, taking into account the psychological balance of a sound personality, a genuine motivation of love for Christ and for the Church, and an intellectual capacity adequate to the requirements of ministry today.(Cf. C.I.C. can. 241, 1; Congregation for Catholic Education, Instruction on the criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with Regard to Persons of Homosexual Tendencies in View of their Admission to the Seminary and to Sacred Order)

I’d still insist that people in their forties, possibly thirties, are best suited for discernment into a life of ministry and its formation. Exceptions can be made, perhaps one in a hundred. Most of those are probably more drawn to the lifestyle rather than the life of service.

For deeper examination, an English translation of the 2007 document from the Aparecida Conference.

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Aparecida 317: Emotional Maturity

The presumption is that seminary candidates aren’t or might not be emotionally mature. One question: are seminaries really the ideal place for developing such maturity? Granted, all of us have some growing up to do. A healthy and integrated person is always finding room for improvement, if not a deeper sense of sin and contrition. Sounds like something more suitable for a people in their thirties rather than teens.

317. We recognize the effort of those who are charted with formation in seminaries. Their witness and preparation are decisive for accompanying seminarians toward an emotional maturity that will make them suitable for embracing priestly celibacy and able to live in communion with their brothers in the priestly vocation; in this sense, the courses established for those in charge of formation are an effective means of aiding their mission. (In this regard the synod fathers exhort bishops to “assign the most suitable priests to this work, after preparing them with specific training for this delicate mission” EAm 40; Congregation for Catholic Education, Ratio fundamentalis institutionis sacerdotalis, 31-36; ID., Guidelines on the preparation of those in charge of formation in seminaries, n. 65-71; OT 5.)


For deeper examination, an English translation of the 2007 document from the Aparecida Conference.

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Aparecida 316: The Special Setting of Seminaries and Houses of Formation

The Aparecida bishops tout the value of those who form priests and religious. But the true marker of their value is the welcome they provide to lay people and the extent they are involved in the formation of baptized disciples.

The third bullet point is a value, but I would question the qualifier “periodically.” All aspects of the Church, individuals and communities, parishes, dioceses, special organizations and groups–should be oriented to the mission of Christ. Our day-to-day tasks: means to that end.


316. Seminaries and houses of formation are no doubt a special setting, the school and home for the formation of disciples and missionaries. The initial formation time is a stage where future priests share life following the example of the apostolic community around the Risen Christ:

  • they pray together, celebrate the same liturgy culminating in the Eucharist;
  • from the Word of God they receive the teachings that gradually illuminate their minds and shape their hearts for exercising fraternal charity and justice;
  • and they periodically provide pastoral services to different communities, thereby preparing to live a solid spirituality in communion with Christ the Shepherd and in docility to the action of the Spirit, becoming a personal and attractive sign of Christ in the world, according to the path of holiness proper to the priestly ministry.(Cf. Pastores Dabo Vobis 60; OT 4; Congregation for the Clergy, Directory for the ministry and life of priests, n. 4)


For deeper examination, an English translation of the 2007 document from the Aparecida Conference.

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Mediation and Possible Gnosticism

A pseudonymous commenter offered this:

“The general rule today is for Mass to be said “facing the people.” While this seems to be “pastoral,” in fact it is a circumstance of great theological significance. In the traditional Mass, both the priest and people face the altar, where the priest, on behalf of the people, offers the sacrifice. The fact that the priest stands between the people and the altar visibly shows the priest’s role as a mediator between the people and God. We can call this the “face the altar” orientation.

I might agree there is theological significance, but the impact more addresses the Catholic indulgence for appealing to the senses: what we see, hear, touch, etc., in our worship and devotional life. The truth is that we accurately say “the priest’s back is to the people,” because it is. Our long history finds movements among the Catholic laity for a religious observance that is more “in touch” and not just an exercise in ceremony or reason.

There are times when a priest is a mediator between people and God. The obvious question: is the Mass the best time for this? I ask the question from a sense of the Catholic impulse to be more engaged at liturgy. We’ve moved on from a time in which hundreds of Catholics gathered for Mass, each on their own wavelength: presiding, reading, rosary, personal prayers, singing in choir, etc..

This orientation in what we do causes a slow shift in what we believe, from sacrifice to meal, and causes a loss of faith in the Mass as a sacrifice.

The reality of the Mass as a sacrifice is not a matter of faith, but of fact. Either it is or it isn’t.

The fact that this loss of faith is encouraged by the priest facing the people makes the New Mass a threat to our Faith and hence offensive to God.

This is dangerous territory, the presumption that liturgical change is “offensive to God.” The implication is possibly gnostic, that a smaller group of Catholics has a more faithful and authentic bead on worship and that the rest of the world: thousands of bishops plus ministers and laity have it all wrong.

The threat to our Faith is very real, (you can’t continue to do something and believe the opposite) and continued attendance at the New Mass can make us lose our Faith in the Mass as a sacrifice and even in the Real Presence just as faith in these things has already been lost by millions of Catholics.”

Loss of belief in the Real Presence has never quite been proven. For all we know, belief was low before Vatican II, before it was polled. We assume one-hundred percent compliance because that is what some of us saw.

I don’t think earnest arguments like those of my commenter are to be taken likely. Or ignored. But they do need to be gently confronted within the bounds of Catholic unity, morality and ethics, and to seek a deeper understanding of what God asks of us.

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