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Monthly Reflection by
Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC
"I dwell with the crushed and the dejected“ (Is 57:15)

- Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

Prayer of the Month

Divine Call Archives

"DO WE DARE TO BE MARTYRS?" - Rev. Fr. Michael Payyappilly V.C.

When I was young, I used to be fascinated by the stories of martyrs. It seemed so glorious to die for Christ. It seemed heroic. A dream that every child has – to be a hero! We overcome the Superman and Spiderman stages pretty early and martyrs are the next best 'real thing'. When I joined the seminary, my awe of Christian martyrs grew as I read more books about them. We Christians respect them, love them and name our children after them. It was special to become a martyr. Deep within my heart I would say to the Lord - "Lord, I would like to become a martyr for You. I too would like to die for You!" It was a desire to die for the sake of Christ; maybe die for the sake of the faith that I believed in. To die for my love for Jesus! This desire kept growing over the years of formation and even after I became a priest. I thought it would be so special to die preaching the Word of God with boldness. Just possessing this desire made me feel good. It made me feel that the zeal to become a true Christian and disciple of Christ was very alive in me.

All this changed a few days ago when I was in prayer. I saw myself going through this 'martyrdom' process. I know it was not a vision of any sort, but more like a thought that I was picturing very vividly in my mind. I was preaching God's Word on the stage when a few religious fanatics came to the centre and took me with them. Then started an ordeal that I would rather not witness! I was beaten (that is when I realised that getting beaten up is not so hip after all), I was mocked and then I was stripped of all my clothing. This was a very humiliating moment for me. More because, all those who were helplessly watching were people who knew me - people I walked around with and talked to! The stripping of my clothes was the most painful part. It was an insult to me. Everything that I held dear to me was being taken away. My dignity was taking a lashing. At that moment, sitting in prayer, I could feel the sweat breaking out on my forehead and tears rolling down my eyes. I wanted to open my eyes because I knew it was only a thought and nothing was real. But I was unable to! They then took me away to a faraway place and dumped me there - bruised, battered and naked. I pleaded for help but not one person came forward. Nobody would believe that I was a priest. My elegant white cassock was not on my body. There was no sign of my 'dignified vocation'. I was not only stripped of my clothes that day but I was stripped of everything that I held dear to me - my vocation, my dignity, my pride. By the time I reached this stage of the 'dream' or rather my 'imagination', tears were running down from my eyes unceasingly. Suddenly martyrdom did not seem very heroic to me. It was painful! This revealing moment also opened up a deeper understanding of martyrdom to me - something that is not very glorious or heroic.

The childish idea I had until then was a one-dimensional view of martyrdom - a physical martyrdom that seemed very glorious and heroic to me. But at that moment I realized that martyrdom is not about 'dying' for Christ. It is more about what happens when we stand up for Christ! It is about getting 'stripped' of all that we hold dear to ourselves. To be ready to be stripped of our family, our friends, our jobs and our pride because of the Christian values we hold on to. What I saw or imagined so vividly on that day was a painful physical experience. But that kind of martyrdom does not take place every day. There is a deeper martyrdom that most of us go through in life when we stand up for Christ.

We live in a society which is not ready to 'lose' anything. We are not ready to lose our family; we are not ready to lose our friends; we are not ready to lose our jobs, and we are not ready to lose our pride! Yet when a person stands up for Christ, at times these could be lost. When we stand firm in our Christian values, we could lose many things. We could lose friends, lose our positions, lose out on being 'accepted' AND we could even lose our families. That is a tough task for us mortals as these are all essential elements in life. But isn't that 'true martyrdom'? It is a martyrdom that might be more painful and dangerous than any other - the martyrdom of rejection, the martyrdom of loneliness. All for the sake of Christ and His ways!

A young boy once came to me and asked if he could stay here for a while. He told me very plainly that his parents had rejected him. He had come here to this retreat centre as a drug addict a few months back. The Power of the Lord's touch made him realize how much God loved him. He gave up drugs and accepted Jesus as his 'Lord and Saviour'. However, this transformation was not accepted by those at home or by his relatives. They were critical of him and threw him out of the house. He was very young and did not even have a job. Yet he told me with quiet courage, "For me, Christ is more important than everything. And I will stand up for Christ even if that means that I am not accepted by those who gave birth to me." He was a person who 'lost' a lot when he stood up for Christ. Leaving his family and those around him was definitely a 'martyrdom' that he experienced.

In the Bible we read about a remarkable mother who experienced martyrdom of a unique sort. She experienced martyrdom while watching her beloved sons undergo martyrdom. In the Second Book of Maccabees, Chapter 7, we read about King Antiochus forcing the Jews to eat of swine flesh which was considered unholy. The Jews would never do something like that. However under persecution, many of the Jews gave up on God and did what the King ordered. This mother and her seven sons stood up for God! Each time the King tortured and executed the sons one by one, the mother extolled them to stand up to their beliefs. She asked them to stand up for God. And right in front of her eyes, she saw her children being killed brutally. Her family was being destroyed. They were seven of her beloved sons. She carried each one in her womb for nine months. She must have been so excited about having seven boys who would grow up to become her strength. They were the pride of her life. But in those few moments of insanity, that mother 'lost' everything only because she stood up for God. We read from 2 Maccabees 7:27 onwards, "But, leaning close to him, she spoke in their native language as follows, deriding the cruel tyrant: "My son, have pity on me. I carried you nine months in my womb and nursed you for three years, and have reared you and brought you up to this point in your life, and have taken care of you. I beg you, my child, to look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed. And in the same way the human race came into being. Do not fear this butcher, but prove worthy of your brothers. Accept death, so that in God's mercy I may get you back again along with your brothers." When her sons went through the physical martyrdom, the mother underwent another martyrdom deep within her heart. Her heart was being ripped out. But she never stepped down. She 'lost' so that she could gain God!

Are we the kind of Christians who are ready to become unglamorous martyrs? Are we ready to become martyrs in our daily life for the sake of our faith? Even when people who we care for reject us because of our faith and our love for Christ, are we ready to take up a kind of martyrdom as painful as losing our family and friends? Jesus said, "If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world — therefore the world hates you." (John 15:18-19)

Today, standing up to the ways of Christ and to His teaching is not something that is appreciated. The world does not like it when we 'mix' materialism and spirituality. Everyone who is a part of this world will reject us. We might lose a lot in the form of family, friends, social standing, opportunities and so on. Are we still ready for it? Are we ready to become martyrs even while we are alive? The only assurance a martyr has is that of the Lord's faithfulness - "I will be with you till the end of times." (Matthew 28:20)

Nothing glorious, nothing glamorous, nothing heroic...

 
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39th National Youth Retreat

Our annual National Youth Retreat will be held at the Divine Retreat Centre. Come and let the word of God refresh you. Simultaneous retreats for couples, children and Bible nursery to be held. Contact Divine Youth for more details.

Date: May 19 - 24, 2019

Retreats at the Divine Retreat Centre, Somersby, Sydney

Divine Retreat Centre, Somersby to hold retreats throughout 2017. For bookings, email Fr Roni George, Director - drcsydney@gmail.com. Hurry, as admission is limited.

Date: January 2018 - December, 2018

Retreats in Divine Retreat Centre, UK

Divine Retreat Centre, Ramsgate UK, has announced several English and Malayalam language retreats to be led by Fr. George Panackal VC and Fr. Joseph Edattu VC. All are welcome.

Dates: Jan - Dec, 2019

POWER 2019 at Divine Retreat Centre

DRC is back with the highlight of the year: the 14th International Youth Conference - POWER 2019. The very best international preachers and gospel bands will be here to lead us into worship. Be there to experience a totally different atmosphere of prayer. A Couples' Retreat and a Kids' Retreat will be held simultaneously. Don't miss it.

Date: July 21 - July 26, 2019

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