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Monthly Reflection by
Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

"You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased" (Mk 1:11) Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

Prayer of the Month

Monthly Reflections

"You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased" (Mk 1:11) Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

Rev. Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC


Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, is fully human and fully divine. The one incident that sharply highlights both these aspects of His identity is His own baptism.

“Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way” (Mk 1:2)

The baptism of Jesus heralded His public ministry. With this He would launch out on His mission of salvation for which He came into this world.Till this event He was leading a hidden life in Nazareth, solely occupied with the humdrum routine of the carpenter shop. All the time however, He knew that a great mission lay ahead of Him. He was waiting for the right moment to embark upon it.

When John appeared by the River Jordan preaching the baptism of repentance as a way of the forgiveness of sins, Jesus realised that His time had come. This was in itself a revolution of sorts in the Jewish heartland. There was something strange about the Jews coming forward in big numbers to submit themselves to be baptised. In the national history of Israel, there was never such a movement of a summons to repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins. When the pagans came to Judaism they were of course baptised because they were considered sinners in need of repentance and forgiveness. But the Jews could never count themselves as defiled because they were members of the chosen race, being the descendants of Abraham. Salvation was assured to them. Now for the first time in the history of the Jews, this assumption was being questioned. The challenge of the Baptist shook the Jewish nation, “Produce good fruits as evidence of your repentance; and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones. Even now the axe lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Lk 3:8,9). A great number of the people accepted the summons of John the Baptist and came forward to be baptised, realising their need of God.

Jesus recognised this historical moment as the signal to start His mission as the people were conscious of their sin and their need for God as never before. A path had been made in the wilderness. In fact the first preaching of Jesus was a call to repentance. “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 4:17).

“He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave” (Phil 2:7)

Before the Lord began proclaiming the kingdom of heaven, He himself filed up alongside the sinners waiting at Jordan for the baptism of John. This is the first manifestation of the Lord – an inauguration that was so uncharacteristic of the great expectations held for the Messiah. A question that was raised even in the earliest days and has frequently resurfaced is about this event of the baptism of the Lord: “Was it necessary for Jesus to take the baptism from John?” Why should the sinless Son of God go in for the baptism of repentance meant to cleanse the scum of society – the sinners, prostitutes and tax collectors milling around the Baptist. St Justin the Martyr, one of the earliest Apologists of the Church answers the question by saying that “the Son of God had no need to be baptised—just as He had no need to be born, to suffer, or die.” It was in line with His total self emptying to become man to save the humankind. Jesus identified Himself with the people who were conscious of their need of God. Though He did not need to repent from sin, He chose to be part of this great movement of the people back to God.

“My Father and I are one” (Jn 10:30)

The experience of Jesus during the baptism was phenomenal. The voice of the Father resounded declaring, “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased” (Mk 1:11). Jesus of course, always knew that He was the unique Son of the Father from all eternity. After assuming the human nature, He needed that all-important affirmation of the Father that He had chosen the right path to save humankind. That seal of approval was given to Him by the Father in the declaration at Jordan.

This deep experience remained etched as a source of strength in the heart of Jesus throughout His ministry. The gospels testify that He sought to be with the Father to share with Him all His joyful and painful moments. After healing a leper in the beginning of His public ministry, the gospel says that His popularity increased and all the people flocked to Him to listen to His words. Immediately after this – one could almost interpret it a consequence - what Jesus did was to go to a lonely place to pray (Lk 5:15). At the same time, after He healed a man with a withered hand in the synagogue, the Sadducees and Pharisees came together to plot against Him to put Him to death because they interpreted this miraculous healing as a violation of the law of Sabbath. Jesus was very hurt by this misunderstanding of what was meant to be the giving of a future to a man of misery. The thick clouds of opposition were gathering, heralding at the same time the ultimate passion and death He must face. Again the immediate step Jesus would take was to seek the presence and guidance of the Father. He went to a lonely place to pray (Lk 6:12). He was sharing with His Abba Father the trends in His ministry. When He was overwhelmed with sorrow, thinking of His impending death, He sought strength in the presence of His Father. He cried, “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will” (Mk 14:36). This word ‘Abba’ that He used to call His Father is very significant. It is a term of endearment used by the Jewish child to address his father. It is such an intimacy and implicit trust that Jesus had with His Heavenly Father. Jesus was rooted in the confidence that the Father was always with Him to strengthen Him, even in the most sorrowful moments of abandonment. He said to His disciples, “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). It was this confidence of trust that lent Him the grace and strength to face the most daunting moments of His passion and death.

“God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power” (Ac 10:38)

At the baptism the Holy Spirit descended upon Him to give Him the assurance that He was empowered by the Father’s faithful presence. It is seen that the prophets of the Old Testament were given an anointing of the Holy Spirit to perform a specific function that God has entrusted them with. Elijah the prophet during his public manifestation where he challenged the prophets of Baal and invoked the power of God to accept the sacrifice placed on the altar and thereby prove His existence. The Spirit of God descended as a fire and consumed the offerings. Scripture describes that Prophet Elisha was given a double portion of the anointing that Elijah had. The power was given in accordance with the ministry. There is however something very intrinsically different in the anointing that Jesus received at River Jordan. The Holy Spirit descended as a loving fellowship – a presence that would abide in Him at every moment as the expression of the Father’s special favour on Him. The Spirit of God was constantly present in Him, filling Him and leading Him. The gospels confirm throughout that all that Jesus did was by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

“For as many of you as were baptised into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal 3:27)

The baptism of Jesus goes even further in its relevance to each of us in that it offers us great hope because our baptismal experience is indeed patterned on that of Jesus Christ. In our baptism we entered into a Trinitarian relationship. We became the beloved children of the Heavenly Father. We were identified with Jesus Christ as being united with Him in a brotherly relationship of love. The Holy Spirit empowered us to live out a commitment to Jesus and the Father. This experience holds in it the greatest privilege and also a challenge to live out our day-to-day life in a relationship with the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.

It is in baptism that we become one body with Jesus Christ. St Paul tells us, “Now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1). The term ‘in Christ Jesus’ really means “incorporated into Christ Jesus.” This is what St Paul means by saying that Jesus is the head and we are the members of His body: “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptised into one body (I Cor 12:12,13). It is in baptism that we are incorporated as members to Jesus who is the head. Jesus Himself assures us that He is the main-stem and we are the branches of the vine, “I am the vine, you are the branches” (Jn 15:5). At baptism, because we are incorporated into Christ Jesus we become new creations, “So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come” (II Cor 5:17). All the curses and sins of our past are taken up by Jesus, whereby we are set free from a life of condemnation. “For if we have grown into union with Him through a death like His, we shall also be united with Him in the resurrection” (Rom 6:5). St Paul explains that our identification with Jesus is so deep that we die with Him to our sin and we are born into a new life by sharing in His resurrection. It is this grace given to us at the moment of our baptism. In the early Church, baptism was administered by immersion. The candidate goes down into the waters and rises again to signify that the person is a new creation. After having died with Christ and gone into depths of the tomb, he rises to a new life, with a commitment that he will live in the newness of grace given to Him by the Lord.

“See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God” (1 Jn 3:1)

Being united with Jesus, we become the children of the Heavenly Father. Jesus always taught us to call God ‘our Father’. The word ‘Abba’ that Jesus Himself used to address the Father is the same word that Jesus wants us to call God. This reveals to us the great intimacy of trust and affection we are invited to have with God. Jesus speaks of the loving concern the Heavenly Father holds for each one of us. This is firstly expressed in the way we approach God in prayer. Speaking about prayer, Jesus exhorts us not to be like pagans who imagine that by their insistence, using many words, they would be heard by God. “In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Mt 6:7,8). The Father knows us so well that even the hairs of our head is counted (Mt 10:30).

Jesus affirms that the Father has taken the ultimate sacrifice of handing over His own Son 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). St Paul adds, “He who did not spare His own Son but handed Him over for us all, how will He not also give us everything else along with Him?” (Rom 8:32). God’s care for us is so complete that He turns everything to our good. “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28). St Peter exhorts us to rid ourselves of all anxiety for there is a God who cares for our every need, “Cast all your worries upon him because He cares for you” (I Pet 5:7). Jesus points out to us the lesson of the lilies of the field and the birds of the sky. Even though they do not labour for their daily sustenance they are lavishly taken care of by the loving providence of God, “Jesus said to His disciples, ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life and what you will eat, or about your body and what you will wear... Notice the ravens: they do not sow or reap; they have neither storehouse nor barn, yet God feeds them. How much more important are you than birds!” (Lk 12:22,24). Those who are baptised are given the assurance of a tremendous freedom because of the wonderful gift of God’s fatherhood.

“He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit” (Mk 1:8)

As it happened at the moment of the baptism of Jesus, in every individual baptism the Holy Spirit descends upon the baptised. The Holy Spirit is the promise of God to those who are incorporated with Jesus. As St Peter assured those thousands gathered on the day of Pentecost, “Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Ac 2:38,39). The Holy Spirit is the promise of the Father to everyone who commits his life to Jesus.

When the Holy Spirit comes upon us, St Paul says, the powers of the Holy Spirit will be manifested in us. He calls these powers as the fruit of the Holy Spirit. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22,23). These powers of the Holy Spirit can be understood as the spiritual genes inherited by those who are baptised. In baptism we become the children of God. As children are identified by the traits they inherit from their parents, so we the children of God are blessed to reflect the nature of God which is love, through these powers of the Holy Spirit. The more deeply we are united with Christ, the more strongly we exhibit these qualities.

The commitment of every Christian is to grow in love for the Father, being united with Jesus, the Son of God in the power of the Holy Spirit. By seeking out an intimacy with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit in prayer, we grow rooted in this love. This intimacy of love is fostered by a resolve in our attitude to live as children of God. This godly attitude is reflected in our relationships, in our approach to things of this world. A man of God will always endeavour to mould his life by the principles of the gospel as seen in Jesus and taught by Him. As the Fathers of the Church teach us, the commitment of every Christian should be to imitate Christ in every detail of one’s life. St Paul tells us, “Be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Eph 5:1). Further he exhorts, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (I Cor 11:1).

“If we have died with Him we shall also live with Him” (II Tim 2:11)

A young man came here for retreat. On the first day he did not care to concentrate on the teachings. I called him to my room and asked him why he was so negligent. He answered that the teachings were outdated and impractical. He explained that he came from a different culture and a different generation. He clarified in detail how what we decried as sin was his way of life. He felt we were not in touch with reality and what scientific discoveries had come to confirm. He said he was born with a sinful inclination and that if God did not want him to live sinless why would He ever have created him that way. He spoke of how his parents and everyone in his family were deep in worldly living. Everywhere in the culture he lived, such practices that we termed sinful, was in fact normal. He sounded confident in the way he presented his arguments. I presented him the crucifix. I explained to him what Christ did for each one of us. What human relations can never offer was what Christ did. “Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:7,8). This supreme manifestation of love is the one unchanging truth. When one encounters this truth, one would realise the only way to live is in holiness. “He indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised” (II Cor 5;15). This young man prayed over this insight that contradicted everything he till now understood as truth. He left my room with the crucifix clenched tightly in his hand. That was the beginning of a great conversion.

The baptism of Jesus was the prefiguration of His death and resurrection. When Jesus went down into the waters of Jordan he was becoming one with man who was submerged in sin. When Jesus rose, with Him He raised humankind to a new life. Interestingly, the gospel account of the baptism of Jesus describes that when Jesus emerged from the waters, the heavens were opened. The heavens until then, was shut against the earth. At the baptism the separation between earth and heaven was ended. Indeed it is sin that brought in this separation. With baptism this veil was torn open and heaven reconnected to the earth. This is what our individual baptism does, delivering us from sin and everything separating us from God. We are restored to the sonship of the heavenly Father, the union with Jesus Christ in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

Prayer

Heavenly Father, you revealed your great love for Jesus your Son during His baptism. You anointed Him with an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In our baptism you revealed to us that we also are your beloved children in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Give us the grace to live out our baptismal relationship with you as our Father, with Jesus as our brother, with the Holy Spirit as our constant companion. Let us never slip away from your love and be deceived by the powers of evil one. In the moments of our struggles against temptations reveal your face to us as our Heavenly Father, so that in such an experience of love we may turn to Jesus and walk in His way of holiness and love. Let the Holy Spirit be the power enabling us to live out our baptismal commitment. Amen.

 
Divine Updates

MAGNIFICAT in Bangalore (January 14, 2017)

Celebrate an evening with our Lord in Bangalore at the 'Magnificat' on January 14, 2017. Services to be led by Fr. Jacob Arimpur VC. 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 and Healing Masses in Sydney

Divine Australia invites you to healing Masses and retreats to be held across various venues in New South Wales, Sydney. To be led by Fr Augustine Vallooran VC. For details, email Fr Roni George, Director, Divine Australia - drcsydney@gmail.com.

Date: 29th January - 5 February, 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 - 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

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

Divine Retreat Schedules

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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.

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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.

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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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