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Monthly Reflection by
Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

"Behold, I am the servant of the Lord" (Lk 1:38) - Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

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Monthly Reflections

"Behold, I am the servant of the Lord" (Lk 1:38) - Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

Rev. Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC


Being Christian is nothing short of a call to discipleship. No matter what walk of life one may be in, the invitation of the Lord is unchanged: “Come, follow me” (Mat 4:19). We are to follow the Lord in every sphere of our existence. Discipleship is indeed a life led by the Holy Spirit. Those who thus turn to follow the Lord are bound to hear the voice of Jesus promising them, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Ac 1:8).

“I treasure your word in my heart” (Ps 119:11)

Mother Mary reveals to us how to be led by the Spirit all the time. She was the first recipient of God’s promise of the anointing of the Holy Spirit. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Lk 1:35). This promise was given to her at a very difficult moment in her life. She was told by the angel that she would conceive and bear a son. Lot of questions assailed her mind. “How can this be?” was the sigh emerging from the depth of her heart. She was betrothed to Joseph and they were not living together yet. At that point, if she was found to be pregnant, the consequences were many and disastrous. She was deeply troubled. The gospel tells us that at this moment the angel gives the promise that the Holy Spirit will come upon her. She trusted God’s word and surrendered her life in His hands: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).

Mother Mary became a servant of the Lord. The commitment of servanthood consists of two experiences - to be ready to listen to the word of God and to be willing to obey the will of God. It was such self surrender that prepared Mother Mary to receive the Holy Spirit. Every aspect of her living was marked by this surrender to the Lord. When she lost the boy Jesus in the Temple, the mother searched frantically with pain in her heart. When she found him after three days, scripture reveals she could not understand His reasoning. Her response was, however, in keeping with her commitment as a servant to God’s word. For the gospel says what she did in her incomprehension was to keep His words in her heart. “They did not understand the saying which He spoke to them...and His mother kept all these things in her heart” (Lk 2:50, 51). Right through her life and through the most challenging moments, what was clear was that she sought only God’s way and trusted in His word. At the foot of the cross of Calvary when she saw her Son breathing His last, her strength was the same spirit of unwavering trust.

“Those who turn many to righteousness shine like the stars forever and ever” (Dan 12:3)

Mother Mary drew others to this spirituality of self surrender. We see this at the incident of the wedding at Cana. Mother Mary led the whole family to surrender themselves to her Son. Wine jars had become empty. A disaster was staring at the family. Mother Mary brought the problem to Jesus and later instructed the family, “Do whatever He tells you” (Jn 2:5). They were prepared to obey the words of Jesus. What Jesus was issuing was strange commands. He told them to fill the jars with water. The water jars were kept for ritual purification outside the banquet hall. The guests washed their feet before entering the banquet hall. Now that the guests were seated at table, filling the jars with water was unnecessary. Yet they obeyed without questions. Then Jesus instructed them to take that water and give it to the head waiter. This was again a fearful proposition since no one served water during marriage banquets. Yet they did as Jesus said. This obedience of the family members paved the way for the first miracle of Jesus. In the description of this miracle there is one word that St John uses all the time and that is ‘servants’. The family became obedient to Jesus and rose up to the call of servanthood to God.

“Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him” (Is 42:1)

This servanthood to God is what Mother Mary taught the apostles in the upper room. In the Book of the Acts of the Apostles there is clear mention of the apostles being gathered with Mother Mary. “All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus” (Ac 1:14). What Mother Mary trained them in was the spirituality of self surrender. Earlier the gospels tell us they were never of one accord, vying with each other for a higher post. The gospel records that, “An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest” (Lk 9:46). All such arguments vanished with the direction of Mother Mary when they were able to surrender themselves in the hands of God as servants. We know of this from what St Peter spoke after being anointed by the Holy Spirit. When the people blamed the apostles that they were drunk, Simon Peter explained that this was indeed an intoxication, but of the Holy Spirit that they were anointed with when they became the servants of God. Quoting prophet Joel, Simon Peter explained, “In the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon... on my servants and my handmaids” (Ac 2:17,18). St Peter described how when the apostles had become servants of God they had received the Holy Spirit.

The backbone of Christian spirituality is the servanthood of God. Jesus reveals servanthood as the expression of conversion while narrating the parable of the Prodigal Son. The sin of the son was his arrogant posture to be the master of his life. He wanted to mould his own destiny by his own choices, not caring what it must cost others. He rejected his bond with the father and grabbed what he counted as due to him. This self-centred arrogance led him to disaster. He ended up in the pig sty. It was there that salvation dawned. It is significant that in that moment of conversion his resolve was) to become a servant of the father. We hear his confession, “I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants’” (Lk 15:18,19). When he decided to submit himself to His father as a servant, he was raised up to the status of the son. Servanthood granted him sonship. Everything lost in sin was restored to him in that moment of turning to His father in the humble surrender of a servant.

“If we live, we live to the Lord” (Rom 14:8)

A businessman approached me on the first day of the retreat looking very disturbed. He shared that he was undergoing an inexpressible agony and nothing in life made sense anymore. He continued to describe his circumstances. He had a very thriving business, a wonderful wife, a lot of political clout, a wide circle of friends and a big mansion to live in. Everything was perfect in his life except for the glaring fact that he did not have a child. He was married for eleven years and had tried every medical solution that his wealth made possible for him and had yet not received the blessing of a baby. In a very grieved tone he asked me, “If God did not want to give me a child, why did he bless me with all these other fortunes?” I told him to wait upon God in humility and he will receive his answer. I also guided him not to enter the retreat with the arrogance of self sufficiency. He had to leave aside his arguments and conclusions and instead go forward with the openness of a servant of God, waiting to listen to God’s word and prepared to God’s will. I prayed for him. He assured me of his readiness to wait on the Lord. I continued to pray for him during the retreat. I was noting that he was making a very sincere retreat, being in prayer all the time.

At the end of the retreat, he came to my room and there was a calmness and serenity on his face. He said to me, “Now I praise God that I have not got a child so far. I understand God did not give me a child because I was not prepared to be a father. If God had given me a child immediately after marriage, I would have taken the gift of the child for granted. I would have thought to myself that everybody gets a child after marriage and I too have a child by a natural process. I would have never been able to appreciate the greatness of the gift and call of parenthood. I would have never been able to bring up that child as God’s own child. I did not know God. I did not pray. My family was not a house of prayer; it was more a bar or a restaurant. I would regularly host parties to win friends and gain business. I had imagined that the goal of my life was to make money. In the process I did not even find time to go for Mass with my wife. I would have made a mess of the life of my child.” He then paused for a moment in prayer and added, “Now I know my God. I know Him as the reason for my life. I have decided to keep Him at the centre of my life. I know that He knows what is best for me. If He gives me a child I shall raise it as His own. If He does not I will continue to live for Him.” We prayed together thanking God for this liberating realisation God had given him. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth leading us to the whole truth. “When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth” (Jn 16:13). I thanked God for giving him this anointing of the Holy Spirit to reveal to him the whole truth about his sad predicament of being childless. God opened his heart to trust in the plan of God for him.

It is only in the light of God’s personal word heard in the moment of surrender and prayer that we will understand the meaning of what is happening to us. This is important as faith assures us that everything that occurs to us is an unfolding of God’s plan. Since we rely only on our intellect to interpret the happenings of our life, we often have to be satisfied with half truths. Such half truths are deceptive and misleading. They are bound to leave us depressed and complaining. Therefore when anything unfortunate happens to us we need to be waiting upon God in humble surrender. Then we shall receive the anointing of the Holy Spirit to know God’s plan for us. This businessman was ready to become a servant of God and that enabled him to understand the truth about himself. This led him to the joy of living. God blessed him with a child and he returned for the retreat in thanksgiving.

“Just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve” (Mat 20:28)

It is those who wait upon God as the servants and handmaids of God who are able to rejoice in life. Mother Mary, though she was facing tough circumstances and an uncertain future, was able to rejoice and praise God. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed” (Lk 1:46-48). Joy is not a consequence of a goal achieved but it springs from within our heart when the Holy Spirit anoints us. Even in the midst of failures, mental anguish and physical agony, men and women of the Holy Spirit will be rejoicing. The apostles Peter and John were able to rejoice and praise God even when they were humiliated and flogged. “They left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the Name” (Ac 5:41).

We have a glowing example in recent times. St Alphonsa, the first Indian saint was known to be a joyous person even when her life was marked with sickness, pain and loneliness. She was able to understand all her sufferings from a Divine perspective. She had a very famous reflection that she was like the dried leaf falling from the plant to the ground, enriching the soil. The leaf itself is not beautiful or regarded by anyone and yet the beauty of the flowers and the freshness of the leaves on the plant are nourished by the manure the dried leaves provide. Again she witnessed to the peace she has in her suffering as she offers this beautiful reflection saying, “Grains of wheat, when ground in the mill, turn into flour. With this flour we make the wafer of the holy Eucharist. Grapes, when crushed in the wine press, yield their juice. This juice turns into wine. Similarly, suffering so crushes us that we turn into better human beings.” The saint was able to understand the whole truth of the unfortunate events of life in the light of the Holy Spirit as she surrendered her life as God’s own servant.

The Scriptures describe that our Lord Jesus “emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant...  and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” in order to accomplish the heavenly Father’s will (Phil 2:7,8). It continues to explain that “Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name” (v. 9). This follows that the highest calling and the sure way of salvation any person can have is to become a servant of God.

Prayer

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the promise of the Holy Spirit. Prepare us to be anointed with the power from above by enabling us to become your servants and handmaids. Let us not rest in our arrogant self-sufficiency. Give us the humility to turn to you in self surrender. Like Mother Mary let us be able to keep our hearts open to your word and our lives in obedient service. Being filled and led by the Spirit, let us be able to live for you at every moment. Amen.

 
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