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Monthly Reflection by
Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

You were called to freedom" (Gal 5:13) - Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

Prayer of the Month

Monthly Reflections

You were called to freedom" (Gal 5:13) - Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

Rev. Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

August is the month of the celebration of freedom. We in India commemorate the freedom of self rule that we received in 1947 after an epic struggle. The leaders of our nation fought for this great privilege and they paid a heavy price with many sacrifices over a long period of time. This freedom our nation enjoys is the fruits of their determined efforts. We are no more enslaved to any foreign domination. It is noteworthy, however, that Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of our Nation who led the Independence Movement had a higher vision of freedom. He insisted that the country should be struggling not only for political freedom from foreign domination but rather every Indian citizen should continue the struggle for liberation from all inner constraints of evil powers. He explained that when all our countrymen have achieved this inner freedom, the political freedom will fall into our lap like ripe fruit. He envisaged the independence struggle as an ongoing movement that should be taken up within the heart of every Indian. As we celebrate the independence of our country, it is good for us to make an honest soul-searching whether we have achieved that higher ideal of true spiritual freedom.

“By Jesus everyone who believes is set free from all sins” (Acts 13:39)

For us Christians, spiritual freedom is the goal of life. On the fifteenth of this month we celebrate this goal achieved most perfectly by our Mother Mary. The feast of Assumption is the rejoicing over this honour our Mother has received. She was taken up body and soul to heaven at the end of her earthly sojourn. There was nothing corrupted in her because she was devoid of sin from the first moment of her existence. This Immaculate Conception was not what she earned by merit. It was granted to her by the special grace of God because she had been chosen for a mission - to be the mother of the Son of God who was taking human form. She, however, cooperated wholeheartedly with this choice and privilege given to her. Her life was a continuous living out of the self surrender she made to God at the moment of the Annunciation: "Here am I, the handmaiden of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word" (Lk 1:38). The word of God was always the foundation of her life. Hence the corruption of sin had no way in her. Her glorious Assumption was the culmination of this life of perfect freedom from the enslavement and deception of sin.

From her life we learn what authentic freedom is. Freedom is not a mere freedom of choice, a licence to do what we want without any external compulsions. As the word reminds us constantly, “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another” (Gal 5:13). Genuine freedom is of the spirit. It is a lack of unholy constraints from within the heart. It is a spontaneous ability always to choose what is right and good. A drunkard for instance is not free because the compulsion to drink is overpowering, leaving him with no choice but to obey this compulsion. A greedy person likewise will always be dissatisfied with what he has, craving for everything he sees to make his own. It is in this sense that Jesus said, "A sinner is a slave of sin" (Jn 8:34). The most basic enslavement is this addiction that evil causes in us.

By virtue of our commitment to Jesus, we are liberated from all evil powers. Jesus affirms, "If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed" (Jn 8:36). The freedom that Jesus refers to is that inner freedom of the heart that empowers one to live for Him. St Paul explains the salvation achieved for us by Jesus as freedom. "For freedom Christ has set you free, so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery" (Gal 5:1). Here is a warning that though Jesus has won that freedom for us, the yoke of slavery could again fall on our hearts. Hence constant watchfulness is an absolute requirement to keep at bay the pressures of evil seeking to overtake us.

“For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” (Rom 8:2)

St Paul speaks of the struggle in the heart of every man. "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate" (Rom 7:15). Powers of sin have found their way into the heart of man, compelling him to opt for the evil that he does not really want to do. As the scripture says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23).

St Paul speaks about two powers that determine human behaviour. He calls them ‘the flesh’ and ‘the spirit’. By flesh he means not only the power of lust leading to sexual sins. In the letter to the Galatians, he gives a list of the sins of the flesh, together with adultery and fornication, he mentions idolatry, hatred, jealousy, rivalry and dissensions (Gal 5:19-21). Therefore the flesh is the part of our human nature which gives sin its chance. It is indeed the human nature devoid of the Holy Spirit.

The privilege of a Christian is to be led by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit empowers us to rise above the dictates of the flesh in order to do the will of God. Because of the Holy Spirit given to us, we are no longer helpless victims of the power of the flesh. St Paul tells us, "As proof that you are children, God sent the spirit of His Son into our hearts crying 'Abba father'. So you are no longer a slave, but a child" (Gal 4:6). This freedom of the children of God is the privilege given to us in our baptism.

“He who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies” (Rom 8:11)

The moment the power of the Spirit gets weakened in our soul, the power of the flesh will begin to dictate terms. I remember a young man sharing his religious experience. He said he was a very short tempered person. If anything disturbs him, he would flare up and begin screaming at others. He would later regret the outburst, but then at the next occasion he would repeat this behaviour. He hated himself for this unpleasant trait that hurt many people and made him an unwelcome presence to others. He came for the retreat and he was given the understanding that he was a helpless victim of the dictates of the power of the flesh. He surrendered this unholy trait to the Lord asking God to anoint him with the Holy Spirit. When he went out of the retreat, he felt a powerful inspiration of the Holy Spirit every time he was in the danger of being overcome by anger. He used every such occasion to pray in humility, waiting for a fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit. Gradually he could experience within himself a transformation of his own behaviour pattern.

Jesus said when someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other cheek as well (Lk 6:29). This sounds practically impossible. When someone hurts me, my natural reaction is to hit back because I feel humiliated and devalued by the other. I would find it necessary to retaliate in order to re-establish my honour. This reaction, natural and spontaneous as it may seem, is in fact prompted by the ego which is my self-centeredness. The Holy Spirit can enable us to transcend this sinful ego and become God-centered. From the natural I rise above to the supernatural.

“Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (II Cor 3:17)

There's a very clear example of the disciples James and John in the gospels. They were in the presence of Jesus and yet they seemed to have been power-hungry, arrogant and impulsive. The two brothers came with the support of their mother requesting Jesus to give them honourable positions in His kingdom, superior to that of the other disciples of Jesus (ref. Mat 20:20-28). On another occasion, when a certain Samaritan village refused to welcome Jesus, the brothers wanted to call down a fire on the village to punish them (ref. Lk 9:52-54). This was typically the natural reaction prompted by the ego. When the Holy Spirit came upon them however, they were totally transformed. James offered himself as a martyr in bearing witness to the Lord. John became an apostle of love, exhorting the early Church to pursue the way of love. This miraculous transformation was effected by the Holy Spirit.

Jesus instructed us to follow Him in the way of the gospel. The power to obey this teaching comes from the Holy Spirit who dwells in our hearts. Hence the promise of Jesus, given to the disciples and to everyone who follows Him, to fill us with the Holy Spirit. This promise was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles, enabling them to bear witness to the Master. This anointing is given to us in our baptism and is renewed at every moment we surrender our lives in the hands of God and pray. The assurance of Jesus, "I will not leave you alone" (Jn 14:18) is for every moment of our life when we face temptations, when we are defeated in our attempts and when our relationships are strained, when we fall sick and at every other such occasion when we feel helpless. In such difficult moments of our life we should not become enslaved to the dictates of the flesh. Turning to God in prayer, we will feel the empowerment of the Holy Spirit setting us free.

Mother Mary is the icon of this spiritual freedom as her life was always surrendered to the Lord. At no moment in her life was she ever defeated by the impulses of the flesh. The greeting of the angel, "Hail Mary, full of grace" reveals to us that she was always filled with the grace of the Lord. The mystery of the Assumption is the glorious culmination of this life of spiritual freedom.

Prayer

Heavenly Father, we thank you for giving us Mother Mary to look to in the moments our struggles with the powers of sin. As our Mother lived the victorious life Christ won for us all, we dare to desire to live a life of spiritual freedom. Give us the grace to open our hearts for a fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit every time we are overwhelmed by the dictates of the flesh. Let us also become victorious by fighting the good fight, keeping the faith, that we may receive the crown of righteousness that awaits us. Amen.

 
Divine Updates

MAGNIFICAT in Bangalore

Celebrate an evening with our Lord in Bangalore at the 'Magnificat' on August 12, 2017. Services to be led by Fr Jacob Arimpur VC. All are welcome.

Venue: St. Joseph's Boys' School Chapel, Museum Road, Bangalore

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 2017 - December, 2017

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, 2017

Divine Retreats in USA

Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC will lead several special retreats across the US - in Texas, Washington, Ohio and Minnesota. Please bring your family and friends. Hear the Word and be refreshed. 

Date: August 11 - 26, 2017

Mariolstavam at Divine Retreat Centre

The Divine Retreat Centre is organising Mariolstavam 2017, a five-day Marian Retreat in Malayalam and perpetual rosary, to mark the 100th anniversary of the Fatima Apparitions. The event will be held at the Divine Malayalam Section. Please spread the word.

Date: Sep 3 - Sep 8, 2017

Divine Retreat Schedules

ENGLISH RETREATS

English retreats are held every week from Sunday to Friday. Special retreats are conducted for priests, religious and laity as well. Come and experience the Lord and grow in Him.

MALAYALAM RETREATS

Inner healing retreats, growth retreats, couples' retreats and youth retreats in Malayalam, are led by Fr. Mathew Elavumkal, Fr. Mathew Naickomparambil and Fr. Binoy Chackanikunnel.

OTHER LANGUAGES

Retreats in Konkani, Kannada, Tamil, Hindi and Telugu

Every week, retreats are held in five different regional languages of India, apart from in the local language - Malayalam. The retreats are led by Vincentian priests and supported by powerfully anointed laity of God.

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