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Monthly Reflection by
Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC
"A Chosen Generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation"(I Pet 2:9) - Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

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"A Chosen Generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation"(I Pet 2:9) - Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

Rev. Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

A story is told of a special bird - a bird like none other. It was a little chick growing up in a farm among a big brood of chicks. The farmer noted that this one bird was odd looking and rather awkward in all its ways. It looked ugly in fact. There was no doubt that it was a chick, as it squawked like a chick, walked like a chick and spent all its hours pecking at the dust like all the other chicks. It was absolutely unaware of the vast blue sky overhead and the glorious sunshine. Its world was the dust of the earth. One day the farmer had a friend visiting. He was a professor. When the two of them went walking through the farm, they came upon the little bird straggling behind the rest of the brood. The professor halted and asked the farmer how he managed to get this bird into his collection. The farmer pointing to the mother hen and its brood, affirmed that it was indeed a chick, though a little uglier than the rest. The professor would not accept the farmer’s explanation and asserted that it was something much greater. He promised to prove this when the sun rises the next day. That night, they took the bird to a mountain top and waited for the morning. When the sun was rising in the east, the professor turned the head of the bird towards the sun and exclaimed “Fly eagle, fly!” The bird shook itself, spread its pinions and flew off, soaring high to the distant horizons. Looking at the sun, the eagle came to realise its true identity.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Rom 12:2)

I was reminded of this story when I was meditating on the exhortation of St Peter to the Church, “You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people set apart as God’s own possession” (I Pet 2:9).  The first shepherd of the Church was reminding the early followers of Jesus of their identity. They were not supposed to be living by the norms of the world, going after passing pleasures and gains. Their identity was set on higher ground. They were not mere citizens of an earthly kingdom, but of the eternal kingdom of God. They were specially chosen and set apart by God Himself to live a heavenly life even while on this earth. Their decisions in life shall not be motivated by the gains of this world but inspired by God’s will for them. The satisfaction they seek, should not stem from earthly offers but from the joy of the Holy Spirit. They need to be constantly united with the Lord in prayer as the Lord invited us, “Abide in me, and I will abide in you” (Jn 15).

Simon Peter experienced this spiritual transformation himself, on the day of Pentecost. A threefold change can be identified. His way of thinking became Spirit-filled. Jesus had reminded him earlier that his thoughts were too mundane and they were an obstruction to the divine way. Jesus was laying out, before the disciples, God’s plan to save humankind by having Jesus taking upon Himself all the sin of the world in order to ensure that no one shall perish. To Nicodemus, the Lord had explained this, that “God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). The love that God has for everyone requires the Son of God to carry the burden that weighs down on humankind to the point of its devastation. Jesus prophesied about His passion and death in Jerusalem to accomplish this mission. Simon Peter could not accept this way of God. He was demoralised by this proposition and he had arguments. Taking Jesus aside, he would emphasise, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you” (Mat 16:22). The Lord rebuked him saying, “You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do” (Mat 16:23). This thought pattern of Simon Peter was radically transformed when he was anointed by the Holy Spirit. His heart was opened to God’s plan for whatever this entailed.

The message of the cross… to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (I Cor 1:18)

Exhorting the early Christians who were under persecution to rejoice in their sufferings, St Peter writes, “Beloved, do not be surprised that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as if something strange were happening to you. But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly” (I Pet 4:12,13). He could situate every bit of pain in the context of God’s plan. Every suffering person came to be identified with the crucified Lord. Human pain is not to be insulated from the agony of Jesus on the cross. One’s mental anguish or physical torture gets related to the cross of Jesus as a participant’s share of the Cross, given to us. As the cross of Jesus was glorified at Easter, the share of the same Cross that we bear will also shine in the splendour of the Resurrection. This whole truth about human suffering was revealed to Simon Peter by the Holy Spirit. That was the promise of Jesus, as He clarified the function of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Jesus called the Holy Spirit the Spirit of Truth and continued to explain that the Spirit of Truth will lead us to the whole truth (Jn 16:13).

Often we are sad and dispirited as we do not know the whole truth about the unfortunate happenings in our lives. A failure, a sickness, a rejection, or any such setback in life depresses us and even leads us to despair. But when we come to know the whole truth that these happenings to us as an unfolding of God’s plan for us and are convinced that this plan “is for our welfare, to give us a future and hope” (Jer 29:11), we will begin to rejoice with expectant faith. This is why St. Peter exhorts us to rejoice when sufferings befall us. This teaching came out of such a deep conviction that he was himself able to rejoice when he was physically tortured. He and the apostle John had declared to the Sanhedrin, the supreme Jewish religious authorities that Jesus is the Messiah. For this testimony, there were flogged publicly. But instead of complaining or feeling humiliated, Scripture records, they were “rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonour for the sake of the name. And all day long, both at the temple and in their homes, they did not stop teaching and proclaiming the Messiah, Jesus” (Acts 5:41,42). This change of attitude to the ease of living and its comforts is revealed to us when we understand what happened after Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane. Peter had followed him at a distance and entered the courtyard of the High Priest where the trial was being conducted. When Jesus was being mocked and crowned with thorns, Peter was warming himself by the fire with the servants of the High Priest. His longing for bodily comfort overshadowed concern for the Master who was being tortured. With the anointing of the Holy Spirit, this craving gave way to a higher joy welling up from within, even when the body was smarting in pain. This indeed, is Christian heritage or patrimony if one might call it. Jesus, while promising the Holy Spirit, referred to the Spirit of God as the Comforter (Jn 16:7). When the Holy Spirit came upon Mother Mary, she began to rejoice and praise God even when worries about the future should have been legitimate. If the Mosaic law had taken its course, Mother Mary could have been stoned to death. The gospel tells us that she was deeply troubled at first, by the message that she would conceive and bear a son (Lk 1:29-34). But when the Holy Spirit came upon her, she was enraptured and she rejoiced singing, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour” (Lk 1:46,47). Her joy was so contagious/ captivating that whoever she met, began to experience the overwhelming joy of the Spirit. Elizabeth praised God and said, “At the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leapt for joy” (Lk 1:44). St Paul gives similar expression to this joy of the Spirit, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!” (Phil 4:4).

“With great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” (Ac 4:33)

The third dimension of change that St Peter experienced was the power he experienced in his spirit to stand up for Jesus. When Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane, Peter fled the scene. When he was challenged by the servant maid in the High Priest’s courtyard, he denied knowing the Master. He couldn’t risk any inconvenience or rejection. Suffering in any form was unthinkable. Yet, when empowered by the Holy Spirit, he courted suffering. Even when warned of extreme punishment, he continued to proclaim Jesus as the Lord and Saviour to the High Priest in the Sanhedrin who had threatened him and publicly even in the Temple Place. The Acts of the Apostles describes this, “Every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (Ac 5:42). This power is more than human. It’s a godly strength bestowed by the Holy Spirit promised by Jesus. Jesus had spoken of this to the apostles, “Behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with Power from on high” (Lk 24:49). Before ascending to heaven, Jesus asked the disciples to bear witness to Him in Jerusalem, Judea and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). The Lord was earmarking a clear blueprint for their future. They were to live only for the mission of witnessing to Jesus. They knew well how inadequate they were for this purpose. Jesus assured them, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you” (Acts 1:8). There are moments in our lives when we feel too inadequate to live up to the challenges of the word of God. In such trying moments we should not be giving up on the Word or consider compromises but wait and pray for the courage that only the Holy Spirit can bestow on us.

“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the one bringing good news, Announcing peace, bearing good news, announcing salvation” (Is 52:7)

I remember the testimony of a young political leader. He grew up in a traditional Catholic family and got educated in a Catholic university. He was deeply committed to his faith. He told me that in spite of this, he found it very hard to hold on to the values and principles of faith in the actual practice of his life. His party leader offered him a seat in the local body elections, but a rival of his wanting to grab that seat, began to spread rumours about him to discredit him in the public eye. He was shocked and hurt. Anger flared up and he wanted to confront his rival. Meanwhile some of the party members worked out a plan to have the rival physically assaulted. At one time, he became so disgusted that he wanted to give up politics. Tortured by mixed emotions, he went to the church to pray. He could not concentrate in prayer as angry thoughts prevailed. He, however, offered his life to God and surrendered his political ambitions on the altar. He began to repeat in his heart the prayer of Samuel, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening” (I Sam 3:10). Slowly, he felt a warmth in his heart and he heard a voice telling him, “When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well” (Mat 5:39). He felt very convicted of his reaction to his rival. He knew the way of the Lord was different. It would have been too worldly of him to pursue retaliation. The Holy Spirit gave him the power of love and he decided to go to his rival and get reconciled with him. This rival of his was so moved with this exercise of radical goodness with which the young man reached out to him. Indeed he had “overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:21). What happened later was God’s way. His rival withdrew his nomination as an independent candidate and campaigned for the young man. Eventually he won the election and he has accepted his political career as a mission to serve the people.

Those who are committed to Jesus should be different from the rest of the world. It is not enough for a disciple to be just a face in the crowd, as yet another person walking this earth. They have a mission to transform the world around them in the power of the Lord. Jesus wants us to be the leaven of the earth as in the parable he spoke. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened” (Mat 13:33). Like the pinch of leaven having the power to transform the whole mass of flour, the disciples of Jesus must wait upon the Lord to receive the Holy Spirit to change the world around.

Jesus again described our mission saying that we need to be the light of the world (Mat 5:14). The light kept on the lamp stand dispels all the darkness around. A disciple of Jesus cannot remain satisfied cursing the darkness. He has to shine with the light of Christ to lead everyone in the way of the Lord. The final commissioning, Jesus issued to the Apostles should mark the life of everyone committed to the Lord. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mat 28:19).

Prayer

Lord Jesus, we thank you for giving us the privilege of being chosen and set apart for yourself. You hold us so precious to your heart that you have trusted us to continue the mission your Father had entrusted to you. As we wait in prayer, anoint us with your Holy Spirit that we may truly be enlightened, strengthened and comforted by your Spirit. Let us be your instruments to spread your light in the world around us. Amen.

 
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