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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

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Whatever you loose on earth...

By Rebecca P.

One of the many powerful experiences I had when I attended my first retreat at the Divine Retreat Centre was during the confession. When it was my turn for the confession, I went and sat before a priest, trying to remember what I needed to confess. However the “rehearsed” words did not come out. Before I could open my mouth, I started to cry my heart out. In between sobs, I only managed to say “I want to love Jesus.”

Somehow, during that moment of grace, God opened my heart - instead of words, tears flowed. At the end of my confession, the elderly priest said to me, “Pray for me, a poor priest.” He also sounded as if he was about to cry. Faced with my brokenness, it seemed that he was also in touch with his own vulnerability. The confession perhaps had a healing effect for both of us.

After the confession, I felt light and free as I had tangibly experienced God’s forgiveness. “…whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven”(Matthew 18:18) In that meaningful encounter with Jesus, He had certainly loosened my bonds and set me free! When the priest raised his hands in absolution, something happened which was invisible to the eye.

Recently I read a book by Fr. Brett Brannen - “To Save a Thousand Souls”. He gave the following account of an exorcism - “About twenty minutes into the session, the exorcist asked the five priests in the room to raise their hands from a distance, in a type of epiclesis and to quietly invoke the Holy Spirit over the victim. The reaction was strong. The demons cursed, writhed, begged, raged, whimpered and threatened. A low, sinister voice cried out again and again, “Get them off! You are burning me!”.

Of this he wrote, “To the demons, the hands of a priests seared as though on fire, yet to the victim those same hands soothed as though still wet from holy chrism. The demons were painfully aware of a reality to which we are often blind: these hands are configured to those of the incarnate Son of God. They are His Hands.”

When the priest raised his hands over me in absolution, it was Jesus who forgave and removed my bondages. A priest once gave a talk about confession; he said the more often one goes for confession, the easier it becomes for the sincere person to overcome his sins, faults and addictions, because with every confession and absolution, the spiritual stronghold within the person is being loosened.

If the real life account of exorcism opens my eyes to the sacred power that lies in the hands of a priest, then it is no longer a matter of confessing to a “mere man”, but to Jesus Himself.

I also understood that the priest does not forgive sins on his own power, as if he were God. It is never the priest who forgives the sin, but Christ uses the priest to bestow forgiveness on his beloved children. Just as Jesus lets us have a share in creation, so He also lets His people share in the bestowal of the forgiveness of sins in His Name. This blessing or power, however, Jesus did not give to everybody, but only to people ordained to the priesthood as shown in the gospel:

Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." (John 20:21-23)

St. Faustina wrote about this in her diary - regarding the temptation she experienced to believe in this: “A strong temptation...When I began to prepare for confession, strong temptations against the confessors assaulted me. I did not see Satan but I could sense him, his terrible anger. "Yes, he's an ordinary man." "Not ordinary, because he has the power of God." - (1715)”

I suppose it is natural to feel nervous before going for confession no matter how many times a person has gone for it. Nobody likes to confront the truth about himself, especially when it is not a beautiful sight to behold. As much as we do not have much confidence in ourselves and our own goodness, we are called to have confidence in God’s mercy and goodness.

I love especially these words of St. Therese “I want to make you understand by a very simple comparison how much Jesus loves souls, even the imperfect, who trust in Him. Suppose that a father of two wayward and disobedient children, coming to punish them, sees one tremble and draw away from him in terror; while the other, on the contrary, throws himself into his arms, says he is sorry, promises to be good henceforward and begs for a kiss as punishment. Do you think the delighted father will withstand the filial confidence of this child? He knows nevertheless that his son will fall again many a time into the same faults, but he is disposed to pardon him always, if always there be an appeal to his heart.”

I love the many beautiful gospel narratives that demonstrate the loving audacity of poor sinners who dared to approach the Lord with the most extravagant expressions of love and faith.

These repentant souls are confident of being received and accepted by God. I am particularly touched by the one where a sinful woman, disregarding what others might speak of her, “gatecrashed” a banquet and went straight to Jesus, to anoint his feet with her tears. Of her Jesus said, “Her many sins have been forgiven - for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little, loves little." (Luke 7: 47)

It is quite interesting to observe these words “But he who has been forgiven little, loves little.” It seems that these words were directed at the Pharisee who, compared to the sinful woman, was less refined in the way he related to the Lord though he had much at his disposal.

Is God more indulgent towards the sinful woman than the Pharisee? How could this be, since the Pharisee tried to do everything according to the Law, whereas the woman broke so much of it?

I suppose it is because recognising no righteousness and goodness of her own, the only refuge that the desperate woman had was the compassionate heart of Jesus and she threw herself right at His Feet with a great desire to be received by Him. Her openness to His mercy gained her His forgiveness.

It is the same as the repentant “good” thief who by faith gained his salvation at the eleventh hour by imploring the merciful Heart of Jesus. He said “…we deserved it: we are paying for what we did.” (Luke 23: 41) He regretted the way he had led his life and there was no way he could turn back since he would be dying soon. His deep repentance led Jesus to pronounce these most beautiful words to him “Today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23: 43) These words of the good thief must have alleviated the thirst of Jesus for souls.

I also recall the words of St. John Vianney who said that when one goes for confession; he is unnailing the Lord from the cross.

Some years ago, when the movie “Passion of Christ” by Mel Gibson was first screened, my colleague obtained free tickets for us to watch the movie. After the movie, one colleague who was a non-Christian said what touched her most was the scene where Jesus offered His forgiveness to the “good thief” on the cross. She was moved by the fact that the “good thief” was saved at the eleventh hour.

There were many powerful scenes in that movie, but what had remained within my non-Christian colleague, was the salvation of the “good thief” through the forgiveness of God. It was really beautiful to know that the first impression that she had of God was of His loving forgiveness.

Confidence in God’s mercy was so important that St. Faustina recounted this incident in her Diary - “Satan has admitted to me that I am the object of his hatred. He said that "a thousand souls do me less harm than you do when you speak of the great mercy of the Almighty One. The greatest sinners regain confidence and return to God, and I lose everything. But what is more, you persecute me personally with that unfathomable mercy of the Almighty One." I took note of the great hatred Satan has for the mercy of God. He does not want to acknowledge that God is good. (1167) As I write these words, I hear the cry of Satan: "She's writing everything, she's writing everything, and because of this we are losing so much! Do not write about the goodness of God; He is just!" And howling with fury, he vanished. (1338)”

I once boarded a cab home. I knew the driver was a Catholic because there was a statue of Jesus on the dashboard. I could not recall how we started our conversation but somehow he began to speak about his family and how he felt he had messed up his life by having a child before getting married. Although eventually he got married and the child was born, there was some sense of regret and helplessness in his tone as the conversation continued.

There was indeed a need for him to pour out his pain to someone; otherwise he would not have disclosed his life to me, who was a complete stranger to him. I encouraged him to go for confession and to let out all that was bearing upon his soul for so many years. He could tell the Lord about all that he had been through, just the way he had narrated his story to me.

He was somewhat hesitant to go for confession. I told him that God wanted to take away his pain and explained my own experience at this sacrament. I told him that he would feel that a burden had lifted off from him if he was willing to abandon himself to God’s mercy and go for confession. He said “It is true. I feel heavy in my heart now.” I encouraged him not to be afraid and not to think that he was unforgivable.

Such is the difference between God’s ways and man’s ways. When a sinner confesses his crime in a human court, he is declared guilty. But in God’s tribunal, he is forgiven! Perhaps why one of the greatest snares a soul can fall into, is to despair of God’s forgiveness, as in the case of Judas after he betrayed Jesus. One cannot receive forgiveness if he believes that he cannot be forgiven by God.

“How many times have I wanted to put my arms round all your people, just as a hen gather her chicks under her wings, but you would not let me” (Luke 13: 34)

What tore the Saviour’s heart was that He could do everything even with a simple “yes” from those He was waiting for, yet it was not forthcoming. The almighty God who created heaven and earth stands waiting and helpless before the free will of His beloved sons and daughters to return to Him. How many times have we placed ourselves beyond God’s reach, by our own lack of confidence in His mercy and our refusal of His mercy?

I find these words of the late Holy Father John Paul II particularly encouraging “Christian holiness does not mean being sinless, but rather it means struggling not to give in and always getting up after every fall…to never restrict the action of grace in one’s own soul, and to be, moreover, grace’s humble ‘partner’”. (Blessed John Paul II)

When we avail ourselves of this sacrament frequently, in a way, we are cooperating with God’s grace, to allow His healing touch to restore and permeate our souls and to ensure that there is no unforgiven sin blocking the action of God’s grace in our souls.

The account of St. Catherine of Siena is inspiring: she was permitted by God to see the beauty of a soul in the state of grace. It was so beautiful that she could not look at it; the brightness of that soul dazzled her.

She said "Oh, if you could but see the beauty of a soul in the state of grace, you would sacrifice your life a thousand times for its salvation. I asked the angel who was with me what had made that soul so beautiful, and he answered me, "It is the image and likeness of God in that soul, and the divine grace which made it so beautiful."

If I have a chance to catch a glimpse of that happy state, perhaps I will also exclaim with St. Peter “Lord, do not wash only my feet, then! Wash my hands and head too!” (John 13:9) and give a full-hearted response to Jesus’ washing of my soul in this sacrament.

I came across an article on the catechetical meeting (Year 2005) of the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI with children who had received their first communion. I read with interest the question of a little girl regarding the frequency of confession. Our Holy Father replied “It is very helpful to confess with certain regularity. It is true: our sins are always the same, but we clean our homes, our rooms, at least once a week, even if the dirt is always the same; in order to live in cleanliness, in order to start again. Otherwise, the dirt might not be seen but it builds up. Something similar can be said about the soul, for me myself: if I never go to confession, my soul is neglected and in the end I am always pleased with myself and no longer understand that I must always work hard to improve, that I must make progress. And this cleansing of the soul which Jesus gives us in the Sacrament of Confession helps us to make our consciences more alert, more open, and hence, it also helps us to mature spiritually and as humans.”

The late Holy Father John Paul II also invited children to go confession in many of his sermons. He ended one of his Christmas sermons with a smile saying, “Pope will go for confession too.”

Though I understood that the faithful are encouraged to avail themselves of this sacrament at least once a month, it seems the more holy a person is, the more he needs confession. Our Holy Father frequently avails of the sacrament and many of the saints confessed daily. Through the saints’ goodwill and faithfulness, the light of God can penetrate the innermost recesses of their souls, shedding light into deeper areas of darkness. They feel most keenly their sins, when observed against the Light of God. Such sensitivity is a grace from God.

We are all made of the same weak material and the truth is that nobody is sinless. It is painful to carry on living in the state of denial of such a truth, especially when we know we need to take that step to be reconciled with our Heavenly Father. The psalmists wrote “If you, O Lord, should mark our guilt, Lord, who would survive? But with you is found forgiveness. For this I revere you”. (Psalm 130: 3)

St. Josemaría Escrivá was very much to the point regarding this truth: “Sincerity is indispensable if we are to achieve greater union with God. If you have an ugly "toad" inside you, my son, let it out! As I have always advised you, the first thing you must mention is what you wouldn't like anybody to know. Once the "toad" has been let out in confession -- how well one feels.” (The Forge, 193)

Our frequent confessions are also the precious moments we share with Jesus. These are the parts of our lives which we do not want him to see. We would very much prefer to show Him the more beautiful and “presentable” bits of our lives.

Yet at the end of our lives, when we look back, how comforting it will be to hear Jesus saying “I know your struggles and your failures…Thank you for having faith in Me and for not giving up.” He will look at our every effort to begin anew with love and compassion.

During this time, we must remain vigilant and watchful in love. Just like the five wise virgins who received the bridegroom with their lamps filled with oil, we will welcome baby Jesus with light in our renewed hearts too.

“In truth I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in Heaven”. (Matthew 18:18) Cleansed by the blood of Jesus in this beautiful sacrament, let us run unfettered with freedom as children of God and hasten His coming.

 
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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

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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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