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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

The parish compound - an extended altar

By Fr. Michael Payyapilly VC

I was watching an old country movie that usually gets me nostalgic about the 'good old days'. Not that I am very old, though at times I do feel fifty. Even I sometimes think of the 'good old days'. The days when people had time for each other and the time to do things as a family. In the movie, the story revolves around the activities that happen around an old countryside church. After the Holy Mass, the people hang around the church compound and talk to each other. Friendly chats, people smiling at each other. None of them run off immediately after the Mass.

When I saw that, it took me back to my ‘good old days’ as a little boy, when I used to go to church in St. Michael’s Parish, Sharjah, UAE. As it is in the Gulf region, the weekend was on Thursday and Friday was the official holiday.  So obviously the day of obligation would be Friday when all the parish activities, catechism classes and youth meetings would be held. But though that was the official day of obligation, I remember going for Holy Mass on Sunday evening too. The beauty of it was that after the Mass got over, whichever day it was, everyone would gather outside the church and would have long chats - people catching up with each other. I would meet my classmate after those Masses and our parents grew closer. Though on a personal level, for me those meetings between his parents and my parents after Mass was a painful moment because this chap was a class topper and I would just scrape through my exams (and that was during better times) And after the Mass, during that ‘friendly’ discussion, all the test and exam results would be discussed and my mom would give me the 'look' every time the results would be mentioned. But though that was always a difficult moment for me, I enjoyed the feeling of seeing the people stand around and speak to each other and discuss their problems, after the Mass. It was like the Mass included these moments of friendly discussions between people. There was always a feeling of being among family though I barely knew any of those people personally. The knowing smiles and gentle greetings really made a difference to me. I loved that feeling of belonging. It was not that I was the type who actually enjoyed being in the midst of a crowd. I was so shy that I did not even have many friends in church. But yet I enjoyed that feeling after Mass, of people standing around and sharing a few moments of togetherness.

I keep thinking to myself ' where are those days'? Today barely does the final blessing get over and we can see the church empty. You would go out thinking that everyone inside will be standing in the compound! And you don’t even find the parked cars there anymore. No one has the time anymore to share a few moments of togetherness. Everything in our life is timed to perfection and we do not have time to ‘spare’ or to ‘waste’. Very often, we find an individualistic attitude as people come for Mass. We come in to pray for only our needs and after that is over we are back to our own secluded world. Maybe a peep into the early Christian community would help us realise that the Holy Mass and the parish community was the extended family. As the Acts of the Apostles would tell us in chapter 2 verses 42, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Here the early church community was listening to Peter speak and were also having a ‘fellowship’. That fellowship was part of their service. What they shared was not only the breaking of the bread or the Word, but also fellowship with each other. In Acts 2:44 ff we read, “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” So what was happening here? The Holy Mass was not only about coming and breaking bread together, there was a fellowship and they had the time for each other. They had the time to share their problems and their needs. In Acts 2:47 we read, “And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” It is not surprising that the numbers increased. There was fellowship there in the breaking of the bread. Just like it was with Jesus and the disciples. When the Lord broke bread with them, there was fellowship as well.

Today it would be good to be honest and ask ourselves if there is fellowship in our parishes. Yes we do come and celebrate Holy Mass. And it is done with preparation and everything seems perfect. The choir, the decorations, the offertory, the multimedia are all in place and they are perfect. Yet our Church community seems to lack something. That spark seems to be missing. Our numbers do not increase like it was with the early Christian community in Acts of the Apostles. Is it not because we lack the ‘fellowship’ aspect of our worship? We should realise that the church compound is an extended altar. The Eucharist that was celebrated in the church is extended in the fellowship that we share in the compound with one another. The Eucharist is not an individualistic prayer. It is a community prayer. That togetherness in prayer becomes superficial when we restrict the prayer to within the church and not take it outside into the compound. In the church, we have together come in broken and shared the joy of the body and blood of the Saviour. In the same way after the Eucharist, in the church compound we share each others pain and joy. It is not about which parish community is able to ‘solve’ problems better. It is about which parish community is able to ‘listen’ to our problems better. When we stand around and share our problems with the parish community, we come to realise that ours is not the only problem in life. We realize that there are others going through similar problems. We find so many solutions to those similar problems. We are able to advice others about similar problems which we were able to overcome. This is what makes our parish community powerful. This is when our parish community has a spark.

In the earlier days, when families or individuals had problems they would look to the parish community for support and answers. Today when we have problems, we look outside. The world offers us ‘specialised’ services. And so we have a tendency to look outside. But let us remember that the world can give us specialised services but they can never give us the love and concern that the parish community can give. A community that has worshiped together, should be able to share their pains with one another. A woman, who had left the Church a few years back once told me why she left. She said, “Father, I have nothing against the Catholic Church. But the problem was that I never found any fellowship there. Everyone would come and worship and after that none of them had time for the other. In the Pentecostal church that I go to, they have the time for fellowship. We have the time to sit with one another. When we have problems, instead of going to the outside world we first come together and share that problem and pray over it. I don’t find that in the parish church.” What she said can be argued but if we are honest with ourselves we will realize that she speaks the truth. We lack fellowship. We lack genuine concern about the life of the one along with whom we worship. If our parish communities are more fellowship oriented, people will feel that they are at home. They will never think about leaving looking for ‘greener pastures’. Fellowship does not mean that there will be a solution to all problems. Rather it means that there will be a family who shares these problems and gives a listening ear.

I do not know if my parents ever got solutions to problems from those moments spent at the parish compound after Mass. I know that I still continued getting pathetic results and my friend still kept topping the class. But after every trip to church, I could feel that joy in my heart, that I went to a place where I prayed and also met a lot of strangers who I felt were like my own. Let us make our parishes places of worship and fellowship. Maybe the parish priest is not able to reach everyone. Maybe he is too busy with office work after Mass but that does not stop the community in sharing fellowship in their parish compound. Let us be able to make the parish compound an extended altar where there is genuine love and concern. Places where even strangers can walk in and feel they have not only worshiped but they have also been loved.

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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 - 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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