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Monthly Reflection by
Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

As gold in the furnace, He proved them

"(Is 2:5)

- Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

Prayer of the Month

As gold in the furnace, He proved them

"(Is 2:5)

- Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

Rev. Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

Lent is the sacred season of honest soul-searching and sincere turning to the Lord. The words of the prophet ring in our ears: "Let us search and examine our ways, and return to the Lord!" (Lam 3:40). The sinful compromises made, the unholy motives, selfish strains in relationships, godless pursuits will all be brought to light by the rays of the Holy Spirit when we place ourselves before the searchlight of the Lord. The deceitful attempts of satan would be identified in order to make our conversion to the Lord complete so that the Lord may be able to usher in the kingdom of heaven into our lives.

Jesus, after He was anointed by the Holy Spirit was led into the desert to be tempted by satan. The temptations were moments for Him to reaffirm His loving surrender to His Father and commitment to the mission entrusted to Him.

“The God of peace will quickly crush Satan under your feet.” (Rom 16:20)

The first temptation of Jesus was to use His own miraculous powers to satisfy the needs of His body. He fasted forty days and forty nights. Naturally he felt an acute hunger. He did not have the strength required to go down the mountain and procure some food. A spontaneous thought would have occurred to Him – ‘Why not change the stones to loaves of bread’. After all, the limestone rocks on top of that Mount of Temptations even today look like rounded loaves of bread. Jesus immediately discerned that satan was at work by playing on his instincts and suggesting this proposition in His mind.

Unwavering commitment to His Father rushed the Divine word into His heart. "Man does not live by bread alone.” He could defeat the trap of satan by the power of the wisdom of God. St Peter warns us, "Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent, the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him" (I Pet 5:8,9). We should not imagine that the devil came to Jesus as a dark dramatic figure with two horns and a tail. That is an artistic picturisation of the evil force of satan. He comes in much more subtle ways. There are people who argue that satan is only a mere evil power. The scriptures definitely clarify that the devil is an intelligent vicious entity cleverly trying to lead man away from God. When Jesus was at the weakest moment of His bodily power, because of long fasting and suffering intense hunger, satan chose to strike. Satan knows when we are at our weakest.

“Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Mat 10:16)

I remember a couple who were going through a break down in their marriage. The wife had a problem with the mother-in-law. She felt the elder lady could not accept her and was trying to make her life difficult at every opportunity. She would complain to her husband who wasn't able to find any solution. He would always plead with her to understand his mother and overlook the offences. Gradually, she was getting tired, not only of the persecutions of the elderly lady, but of what she thought was the indifference of her husband to her. She realised more and more that her husband was showing more concern to his aged mother.

On the birthday of the mother-in-law, her husband held a celebration which she thought, was too extravagant. She felt betrayed and thought it was time she asserted herself. The anger that was brewing in her heart exploded and that night she said to him that he had to make a choice between her and his mother. If he chose her, he had to come away with her to a different apartment, or else she would go to reside with her parents. There was a big fight. The next morning she packed her bags and left to her parents’ house.

A year after this incident, he came for the retreat and explained everything to me. I called the wife and explained to both of them how they gave opportunity to satan and how the evil power has destroyed their marriage. This is the warning the word of God is giving us. "Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun set on your anger, and do not leave room for the devil" (Eph 4:2,27). There are needs, desires and passions of the human body and mind which are to be surrendered to God.  These are avenues through which satan in a very subtle way can invade us.

“Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit” (Zech 4:6)

Man is a social being. He has an urge within him to reach out to others. It is bound to be so because God said "It is not good for man to be alone" (Gen 2:18). Relationships grow into neighbourhoods, and societies, and cities. Leaders emerge and find their power in pulling crowds towards themselves. Overconfidence in the power of the mob drains out the dependence on God. One seeks to find his identity in the people around. We read in the account of the Tower of Babel how the people rallied together with a plan, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky, and so make a name for ourselves” (Genesis 11:4). God had clearly been removed from their vision of life. Tower of Babel is a temptation of people of all times.

This was the temptation presented to Jesus when the devil took him in a flight of imagination to the parapet of the Temple of Jerusalem. There was given the evil suggestion that Jesus throw Himself down reminding Him of the dramatic promise that angels would rush to carry Him and the admiring crowds would stand in awe of Him. Crowd is always a temptation for a leader and popularity is a great attraction. That exactly was what was offered to Jesus.

This, in fact, was not a once-and-for-all temptation for the Lord. It would re-emerge every now and then. After Jesus fed the multitudes, we hear of how they were looking to make him their king. “Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry Him off to make Him king, He withdrew again to the mountain alone" (Jn 6:15). His own relatives tempted Him to look for popularity by publicising His miraculous powers. They said to Him, "Leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. No one works in secret if he wants to be known publicly. If you do these things, manifest yourself to the world" (Jn 7:3,4). Jesus did not accept their ideas.

Counting on the power of the mob was never God's intent or will; neither did God consider crowd-pulling as the success of leadership. The book of Judges recounts how God gives Gideon the mission to gather an army and deliver the Israelites from their enemies. Gideon takes the command of the Lord very seriously and gathers a large army of thirty thousand brave men to fight the Midianites. God however, did not approve Gideon's plan and asked him to downsize the number of soldiers again and again. Each time Gideon would argue that God should understand that the Midianites were mighty warriors and formidable opponents. God stood firm and insisted that he should have only three hundred soldiers. We read God's explanation: "You have too many soldiers with you for me to deliver Midian into their power, lest Israel vaunt itself against me and say, ‘My own power saved me’” (Judges 7:2).

The work of salvation is God's own achievement and what God needs is men and women totally surrendered to Him that He may work and be glorified through them. It was a simple virgin girl that He chose to be the mother of His Son. When five loaves of bread and two fish were offered, He could feed the multitude of five thousands to their satisfaction. When a family was ready to obey the Lord to fill the jars with water, He could change it to wine of superior quality than what was usually served. Jesus waited for Martha to open the tomb of Lazarus in humble obedience for Him to raise the dead man to life. Whenever human beings come to the Lord surrendering their lives, God is able to work wonders of salvation in the world. Wherever men and women stubbornly cling on to their own power and capability, they become opaque to God's activity. The words of Jesus is relevant for all times: "You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test" (Mat 4:7).

“It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in princes” (Ps 118:9)

The third temptation of Jesus is the ultimate test. At the incarnation, the Lord had taken human flesh but He had made a definitive decision. As the letter to the Hebrews tells us, "When He came into the world, He said… ‘a body you prepared for me... 'As is written of me in the scroll, Behold, I come to do your will, O God’’” (Heb 10:5-7). Jesus had to make sure that the human body would never drag Him into rebellion against His divine nature. He had taken upon Himself all the weight of sin of the humankind and He surrendered the power of sin to the Father in prayer.

Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish His work" (Jn 4:34). In prayer He made sure that He was united with His Father. "The One who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, because I always do what is pleasing to him.” John 8:29). Even the words He spoke He said were not of His own but was what the Father wanted Him to say. "The word you hear is not mine but that of the Father who sent me" (Jn 14:24). He had therefore, the confidence that even if those whom He chose would abandon Him, His Father would be faithfully present to Him. “Behold, the hour is coming and has arrived when each of you will be scattered to his own home and you will leave me alone. But I am not alone, because the Father is with me" (Jn 16:32).

The temptation of satan was, for Jesus to abandon the Father and surrender Himself to satan with an incredible promise. "Then the devil took Him up to a very high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to Him, 'All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me' ” (Mat 4:8,9). Jesus knew this was an offer out of the Way of the Cross.  The magnitude of the agony of the Cross Jesus had always seen before Him as the goal of His life. There were times He was even frightened about it. In Gethsemane when He was overwhelmed by the prospect of His passion and death, His blood vessels even broke that He sweated blood. He surrendered His life to the will of the Father "Not my will; let your will be done" (Lk 22:42). On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was well aware that He was going to face His ultimate destiny and He revealed it to His disciples. Simon Peter not being able to comprehend the way of rejection and suffering protested: "God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you" (Mat 16:22). Jesus discerned there the temptation of satan and rebuked him saying, "Get behind me, satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do” (v. 23).

All through His public ministry, Jesus was intent on the goal of His paschal mystery and He revealed it to His disciples that He would be betrayed, condemned and crucified. But His words were never hopeless but always lit with a clear vision of the Resurrection. He was absolutely confident that His Father would never break Him but would make Him victorious by saving the world and raising Him up in glory. Therefore He could reject the temptation of satan in clear terms without the slightest hesitation. "Get away, satan!" (Mat 4:10).

The words of Jesus shall always ring in our ears. "The Lord, your God, shall you worship and Him alone shall you serve" (Mat 4:10). The three temptations of Jesus were attempts of satan to distract the Lord from the focus of His life on His mission to do the will of His Father. Jesus won victory in a very decisive way. This victory is a lesson for us. Human life is lived out in three dimensions - in one's relationship to oneself, to others, and to God. In all these three dimensions, our lives must be surrendered to God in a perfect way. Every temptation is an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to God.

Prayer

Lord Jesus, you are our High Priest of heaven and you came to this earth to accompany us. You are perfect and yet understand our every weakness. You have been tested in every way and yet you remained perfect, faithful and holy. We pray may your presence and the power of your Holy Spirit guide us through our sojourn on this earth that our faith might be proved through every challenge and give you glory. Amen.

 
Divine Updates

IMPORTANT ALERT - ALL RESIDENTIAL RETREATS SUSPENDED

Our Directors Fr Augustine Vallooran and Fr Joshy Kochukudiyattil have announced that ALL retreats to be held in DRC, in ALL languages, will be suspended, until further notice - because of the Coronavirus alert.

Date: Until further notice

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