Monthly Reflection by
Prayer of the Month
"I chose you to bear fruit that will remain" (Jn 15:16) - Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC
Some years ago, a man came for the retreat and sought my help. He was struggling with his tendency to be short-tempered. He traced his problem to a deep pain in his childhood where he always had felt discriminated by his dad. He felt his parents were unduly partial to his brother from the earliest days. He always felt his brother was preferred to him. He was blamed and even caned for the mistakes of his brother. He grew up with this anger simmering in his heart. His elder brother was sent for studies overseas and he eventually settled down there. His parents did not seem so concerned about his own future and welfare. He was very angry with his father even now. He himself was married and having children and was in fact taking care of his father. He could never say a good word to him or care for him. He would flare up with his father over the smallest issues.
When he first came for the retreat he surrendered his hurts to God. He realised God wanted him to let go of the past. In fact he felt healed of his anger during the retreat. However when he went back home, though he was a lot calmer, he still would feel very irritated with his father. This impatience became part of his nature and there was no peace in the family. He would get very angry even with his own children. He blamed himself for this weakness and felt miserable about this. A year later he came again for a retreat which was when he met me. He shared his pain. He counted himself a slave of his sin. He felt defeated and discouraged. He asked me whether he would languish in the grip of this weakness all his lifetime. Much was lost because this anger was affecting his relationships, his work and his inner peace. I directed him to look to the Holy Spirit whom Jesus referred to as the ‘power from above’ to help us in our weaknesses. I explained that Jesus has promised to anoint us with the Holy Spirit precisely that we may be able to rise up to God’s expectations of us. Jesus said, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth... He remains with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans” (Jn 14:16-18). This was a promise given to every one of His disciples. I clarified to Him that he needs to wait and pray at every instance when he feels the anger rising up in the heart in order that this sure promise of God may be fulfilled in his life. He went home and changed his style of life, turning to the Lord every time there was an irritation in his mind. The Holy Spirit gave him the power of love to overcome his weakness. By his gentleness he is a witness to the power of God at work in each one of us.
The Holy Spirit is God’s own power promised to everyone who commits one’s life to the Lord. This power of the Holy Spirit is manifested in two streams. One stream is of the gifts of the Holy Spirit described to us in the first letter to the Corinthians (I Cor 12:4 - 11). The other stream is of the fruit of the Holy Spirit described for us in the letter to the Galatians, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22,23). St Paul speaks of the fruit of the Spirit in singular but goes on to name nine fruits. Elsewhere St Paul mentions all these qualities as characteristic of love (I Cor 13). These are called the fruits of the Holy Spirit because these are manifestations of the nature and power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It is by the fruits that we know what the tree is. Similarly wherever these qualities are revealed, there will be the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
“Everyone who loves has been born of God” (I Jn 4:7)
Jesus gives love as the distinctive mark of His disciples. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35). St John, the Apostle of Love, tells us, “We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers. Whoever does not love remains in death” (I Jn 3:14). St Paul illustrates for us that “Love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom 13:10). Again he says the lack of love nullifies any other attempt to please God. “If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing” (I Cor 13:1-3). St Peter speaks of the supreme importance of love in our lives. “Above all, let your love for one another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sins” (I Pet 4:8).
When the scriptures speak about love they use a special word ‘agape’ to characterise the distinctive Christian nature of this virtue. ‘Agape’ means unconquerable benevolent attitude of self giving. God’s love for us and the love God wants for us to have both towards God and one other is ‘agape’. It is far above any emotional need for the other, though there are emotions and sentiments attached to it. God so loved the world that He gave us His own son. This was the ultimate sacrifice that God has made to ensure that we are not lost. “For 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). This is the supreme exemplar of our relationship to each other. “The way we came to know love was that He laid down his life for us; so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers” (I Jn 3:16). This is the love that Jesus speaks of when He wants us to love even our enemies. Whatever the other does to me by way of insult, humiliation or injury, we will never seek anything else but the highest good of the other.
This Christian attitude of love is more than human by nature. It is the manifestation of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. It is an act of the will that is yielded to the Lord in order that God’s will may become the ruling force. This is the love that reaches out to all relationships, like that between husband and wife, parents and children. Significantly when Jesus spoke about marriage and family life, he affirmed that from the beginning God created man and woman together and what God has united no one shall put asunder. The licence that Moses had given to send away the wife by divorce was because of the hardness of the heart of man. When He was asked by the disciples whether such divine order of marriage was possible, Jesus asserted that it was possible only for those to whom grace was given from above (ref Mat 19:11). By ‘grace given from above’, Jesus meant the Holy Spirit. The love that sustains Christian marriage is not merely human but a gift given by the Holy Spirit.
Beyond family relationships, this love should characterise every human interaction. Today there is so much of a consumerist approach even in relationships. To ‘use and throw’ has become a style of living. What I can get from the other has becoming the governing factor of interactions. This has brought in a ‘culture of death’ into the world as Saint Pope John Paul II had termed it. Christians have a mission to rise above this deathly culture and wait for the anointing of the Holy Spirit. This will bring life as are enabled to love each other in the way of the Lord, so that once again the aroma of Divine love may prevail in our midst. As the parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us, this loving concern should flow down to everyone in need and wounded. To the question, “Who is my neighbour?” Jesus answered with this parable explaining that ‘everyone in need of my help is indeed my neighbour’. Neighbour is not a matter of distance or good feelings but a matter of the heart. The disciples of Jesus have the mission to reach out to the least of the brethren whom Jesus even identifies Himself with (Mat 25:40). Recently Pope Francis emphasised on the responsibility of every Christian to go out to those in the ‘periphery of society’. These are the marginalised who are pushed out to the boundaries because of the mad rat race of today. As the Pope emphasised ‘only love can save the world’.
“You believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (I Pet 1:8)
The Acts of the Apostles describes a remarkable experience of the persecuted apostles. Peter and John were preaching about Jesus even when brought to trial at the Sanhedrin (the highest council of the Jews). The leaders of the people were intent on punishing them. They had them flogged and warned to stop speaking in the name of Jesus. Right after this, the Acts records that Peter and John “left the presence of the Sanhedrin, 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 2:40-42). Since the apostles were filled and led by the Spirit they could rejoice even when they were insulted and suffered bitter pain in their body. This indeed is the fruit of the joy of the Holy Spirit. The source of this joy is not any earthly gain but God Himself. The New Testament speaks about this fruit of the Holy Spirit such as “the joy of the Holy Spirit” (I Thess 1:6). St Paul speaks about this as an integral part of the Kingdom experience, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of food and drink, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17). In the Old Testament we read the phrase “the joy of the Lord” (Neh 8:10), denoting that God is the source of joy and that this joy will be our strength.
The spiritual joy is not the same as happiness. Happiness denotes superficial pleasures of life. It is elusive and it comes from external situations that are favourable. Pleasures are momentary but joy is abiding in the heart despite the worst situations of life. When we visit certain sick people who have found the Lord in the midst of their suffering, we will find them radiating such joy. I remember going to pray for a young man who was dying of cancer. On the way to his room I was asking myself what I could tell him to comfort him. He was losing his life even before he started to live it. And that too in excruciating pain. When I saw his face in between the tubes and bottles, I could see a serene smile. While talking he said to me he was able to feel the comfort of the Lord who was always with him.
Mother Mary was given the message that she would conceive and bear a son. This was before she came to live with Joseph. She was deeply troubled by the consequences. However when the Holy Spirit came on her, she was able to rejoice and praise God. “My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour” (Lk 1: 46,47). Her joy was so contagious that even Elizabeth in her presence was rejoicing and praising God and the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leapt for joy. Pope Francis has said that in our witnessing we must ensure that we are ‘apostles of joy’. The Pope in his encyclical Evangelii Gaudium (‘Joy of the Gospel’) invites the people to encounter Christ with the assurance that here they would experience that ‘joy of the Lord’ which would make them effective evangelisers. The Holy Father details this fruit of joy, “Sometimes we act as if we could only be happy if a thousand conditions were met. To some extent this is because our ‘technological society has succeeded in multiplying occasions of pleasure, yet has found it very difficult to engender joy’... I invite all Christians to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ... since ‘no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord’... An evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral! Let us recover and deepen our enthusiasm, that ‘delightful and comforting joy of evangelising, even when it is in tears that we must sow… And may the world of our time, which is searching, receive the good news not from evangelisers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervour, who have first received the joy of Christ’.”
“The Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way” (II Thess 3:16)
Peace is the one ideal that everyone is searching for, whether in the nation, in the family or for the heart. In the New Testament times, the word peace was used to denote the serenity which a country enjoyed under a just and beneficiant ruler. But when the Scriptures use this term it means not only freedom from trouble but a great tranquillity of the heart which is derived from a personal intimacy from God. This fruit of the peace of the Holy Spirit comes from a deep conviction that our lives are secure in the hands of God. Jesus offered this peace when He said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” (Jn 14:27). The source of this peace is our confidence and trust in God. In the prophecy of Isaiah we find this truth, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee” (Is 26:3).
St Paul exhorts us about the way of peace “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4: 6,7). The future does not disturb us because we know that it is the Lord who holds the future for us, always turning everything to our good. The problems of the present do not cause distress in our minds because we are rooted and grounded in His love and are confident that He is in charge of our lives. When we are constantly united with the Lord in prayer even the storms of life will not threaten us.
“The Lord is waiting to be gracious to you... blessed are all who wait for Him!” (Is 30:18)
Patience is the attitude of God towards us. He does not punish us according to our sins but He waits for us to repent. It is His patience in fact that convicts us. St Paul explains this precious power of patience as he writes, “I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life” (I Tim 1:16). It is this patience that we need to have with each other. “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Col 3:12). It is patience again that secures for us the ultimate reward of life, “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You too must be patient. Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand” (Jas 5:7,8). When we are united with the Lord we are able to be steadfast under provocation, lovingly enduring ill treatment without anger or any thought of retaliation.
“The kindness and generous love of God our Saviour appeared” (Tit 3:4)
The kindness of God expressed in Christ Jesus leads us to the very heart of God which is mercy. God’s love is manifested in His kindness to us as He sent His only son while we were yet undeserving. “God proves His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). Jesus in His earthly life went about showing His kindness to everyone who did not merit it in any way. The only people He dealt with harshly were the religious leaders of the time who were hypocritical. His aim was to convict them of their wickedness. The publicans and sinners found compassion in the presence of Jesus. Pharisaical and rigid religiosity is not according to this compassion of the Lord. Jesus even pronounced a beatitude for those who are merciful. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Mat 5:7). The invitation of Jesus is to experience His kindness and radiate this quality to everyone around.
“Make every effort to add to your faith goodness” (II Pet 1:5)
Goodness is the inner quality of a person who aims at the highest moral and ethical values. This inner quality is manifested in one’s behaviour patterns and relationships. Goodness is like a spring from which pure water gushes forth. St Paul writes “God is the one who, for His good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work” (Phil 2:13). When a person allows God to work in him, he brings out good fruit. Jesus compares him to a good tree that produces good fruits. Goodness refers to the character of a person who is always determined to please God without expecting any rewards from anyone. Writing to the Romans, St Paul affirms them saying, “I myself am convinced about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to admonish one another” (Rom 15:14). When a person has the heart filled with goodness, it flows as goodwill for others, always seeking the best for the other without any selfish motives and ego issues.
“I will betroth you to me in faithfulness” (Hos 2:20)
St Mother Teresa was asked whether she was successful in the big projects she had taken up for the sake of the poor. Her response was instant and clear, “I seek to be faithful and not successful.” Faithfulness is trustworthiness which is the characteristic of a person who is reliable. Mother Teresa was always faithful to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit. God could trust in her that she would do the mission entrusted to her with all her strength even to the minute detail. Jesus commended the servant who was faithful to his master when entrusted with the talents. “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy” (Mat 25:21). The opposite of faithfulness as presented in the parable is wickedness which means being centred on oneself. When we move away from the demands of our ego and reach out to God, we grow in faithfulness in Him. All of us have received certain talents to fulfil our responsibility that God has given us in this world. To be committed to fulfil these responsibilities using our resources only for the glory of God is what faithfulness is. This is the spiritual maturity that we are invited to.
“Let your gentleness be evident to all” (Phil 4:5)
One of the beatitudes that Jesus pronounced was “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Mat 5:5). Jesus wants us to learn from him to be ‘meek and humble of heart’ (Mat 11:29). Gentleness is the loving consideration we show to others even when we are provoked to deal harshly. St Paul exhorts the Church in Ephesus to pursue gentleness to build the body of Christ, “Live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph 4:1-3). The Greek word used denotes a wild animal being tamed and brought under control. We tend to react to harsh situations in a harsh manner. Gentleness enables us to master our reactions and to act independent of what was done to us. Moses was called the meekest - ‘very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth” (Num 12:3). But before his conversion and commitment to God, he was an impulsive and even cruel man, who went to the extent of killing an Egyptian to retaliate against the latter’s harshness to a Hebrew slave. Gentleness is a spiritual poise and inward strength to be sensitive as not to hurt others. This indeed is a spiritual gift the Holy Spirit bestows on us.
“The grace of God has appeared... training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately” (Tit 2:11,12)
Self control or temperance is self-mastery. St Paul uses it as the athlete’s discipline of his body. He continues to exhort the disciples of Jesus to master their wild passions in order to attain an imperishable crown. “Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one” (I Cor 9:25). He also speaks about self control that Christians should have as a mastery of sexual passions (I Cor 7:9). He speaks about two conflicting inner forces in everyone: the flesh and the spirit. The flesh is the power that drags us to the base instincts of life. The spirit rather raises us up to inspirations of God. Christian life is a constant disciplining of the force of flesh in order that we may submit ourselves to the promptings of the Spirit. “For those who live according to the flesh are concerned with the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the spirit with the things of the spirit... If you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom 8:5,13). One needs to exercise self control with regard to all earthly possessions. The self control in the use of food is moderation, in matters of dress modesty, in sexual desires abstinence, in moments of defeat hopefulness. St Paul invites us to follow his own example, “I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified” (I Cor 9:27). In the Church there is a rich ascetic tradition in which the spiritual masters such as the Desert Fathers and others monastic groups have bequeathed to us their great examples and tools of self-mastery. There are seasons of fasting and abstinence that the entire Church observes during lent and advent, inviting the faithful to go beyond the flesh and heed the promptings of the Spirit.
We have analysed in short the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit. When we are united with the Lord in prayer, these fruits will be borne in us. We have the promise of Jesus that when we abide in Him, we will bear much fruit. “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). This is an invitation by Jesus to keep close to Him in our total surrender that we may be filled with the Holy Spirit. Christian life is the splendour of the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives, making it beautiful with all the fruits borne in us.
Heavenly Father, we thank you for the promise of the Holy Spirit. Lord Jesus we thank you for your assurance that you would not leave us alone. Let us be able to feel the presence and power of your Spirit at every moment of our life. We want to be filled and led by your Spirit that we may be able to bear witness to you. It is a sad and distressed world that we are living in. We want to be different, being enlightened with the light of your Spirit, being strengthened by the power of your Spirit, and being comforted by the joy of your Spirit. Amen.
MAGNIFICAT in Bangalore (February 18, 2017)
Celebrate an evening with our Lord in Bangalore at the 'Magnificat' on February 18, 2017. Services to be led by Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC. Music by Glen and Teresa La'Rive. All are welcome.
Venue: St. Joseph's Boys' School Chapel, Museum Road, Bangalore
37th 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 14 - 19, 2017
Retreats at the Divine Retreat Centre, Somersby, Sydney
Divine Retreat Centre, Somersby to hold retreats throughout 2017. For bookings, email Fr Roni George, Director - email@example.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
POWER 2017 at Divine Retreat Centre
DRC is back with the highlight of the year: the 11th International Youth Conference - POWER 2017. 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. Couples' retreat and children's retreat will be held simultaneously. Don't miss it.
Date: July 23 - July 28, 2017
Hindi Convention Ojas 2017
The Divine Retreat Centre will conduct our seventh Hindi convention in 2017. Two retreats will be held simultaneously on the campus; one for adults/couples and another for youth. All are welcome.
Date: May 28 - June 2, 2017