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Monthly Reflection by
Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC
"I dwell with the crushed and the dejected“ (Is 57:15)

- Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

Prayer of the Month

Monthly Reflections

 

 

"Draw Near To The Throne Of Grace" (Hebrews 4:16)

Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

One of the outstanding achievements of modern man is that he has mastered the art of pretensions. We are a cultured people and our culture is established by the fact that we are excellent pretenders. Culture demands us to be courteous and to live in line with the trend the world imposes.

“A Fugitive And A Wanderer On The Earth” (Genesis 4:14)

When we meet someone we smile and reach our hand out, we express our happiness at meeting them and even our concern for them as we make polite enquiries. But most often the truth is that our heart shrinks at the sight of the other – for human equations today are largely governed by distrust, fear and disinterest. We would never dare though to express an iota of our feelings for we would then be labeled as rude and discourteous. We cannot afford to live in society with such labels. We need to be seen as nice and acceptable! We were sent to schools where we would be taught to be nice and polite and correct. Every aspect of our life is so dictated that our limitations would be hidden by lofty claims and covered by the gloss of a false sophistication.

The pursuit of modern man is to fit into an image that would make him acceptable to all. At the root of our culture and lifestyle is this great insecurity of being unacceptable. All our preoccupation is to divert the attention of others away from the real person that we are to the brand of clothing we wear, the model of car that we drive, the degrees we have achieved and the styles we colour ourselves with. We have given up on anyone accepting us as we are and we are spending all our energies in living behind a large enough mask.

This acting out of life has taken its toll on us. Life has become burdensome. We have spent all our energies holding up this mask wherever we go. We are weary of daily living; of the relationships and commitments that we are in. We are unable to hold out in the struggles of life and give up rather quickly. There is no one before whom we can just be ourselves. We are so sure that anyone who sees us in our true colours would despise us and this rejection is against all that we are striving for.

But the question is how long must we continue to pretend? How long are we going to conceal the stench, the grief and the bitterness in our hearts? Our longing is to be received and accepted and loved. But our greatest fears and convictions that guide us tell us that we are despicable.

“Thou Hast Searched Me And Known Me!” (Psalm 139:1)

The root of this innate sense of rejection is in our fear that we are not acceptable to the God from whom we have come. We are afraid even to come before God because we know He sees beyond the mask. And in our stubbornness to hold on to our pretensions, we even deny God and His power in our lives. Since we feel condemned before Him, we do not even dare to trust ourselves or expect much from God in our lives. Our participation therefore in religious programs has become obligations and prayer has become irrelevant to our lives. We are afraid that when God sees our true selves, He too will reject us. This pain will be too much for us to bear and our condemnation will be final. We try to hide the real self before the God who made us! We try to keep him a stranger to the true person that we are.

A mother in anguish brought her ten-year old son to me complaining that he is mischievous, tells lies, is rough with his younger sister and then with anger in her eyes said, “He does not even go to church. At this young age itself we have to drag him on the days that we actually manage to take him!” I called the boy to my side and holding him close to me, asked him “God loves you so why don’t you go to church? He’d be so happy when He sees you.” The boy in an indifferent mood replied, “I don’t go to church because I don’t like God.” I asked him again “Why don’t you like God?” He instantly replied, “I don’t like God because God doesn’t like me.” Surprised at his convictions I further enquired, “Why did you say God does not like you?” The boy replied in the same tone of conviction, “I know God does not like me because mom has already said all the bad things about me to Him. I know God believes my mom more than me. And He sees everything, doesn’t He? So I don’t think I’m going to like to stand before somebody who looks at me that way. Anyway I can’t be good for Him. So why must I face that?”

This attitude of fear and shame and the deep pain of being rejected issues from our terrible misunderstanding of the nature of God. The Lord God who has seen our burden seeks to lead us to the morning of the light of His love – out from the dark shadows we have hid ourselves in. It is this revelation of the God’s acceptance of us that shall be the key to the liberation from all our other fears and burdensome living. Scripture reminds us - “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:5-6) His Word to us seeks to declare that the night of grief and bitterness, depression and anger has passed. And the light of the Lord has come – filling our hearts with the love. When we discover that we are so loved, it is then that we shall dare to be who we are and live life to the fullest.

“See What Love The Father Has Given Us” (1 John 3:1)

The evangelist John describes a very relevant exchange between Jesus and the disciple Philip. During one of their close moments,Philip requested Jesus, "Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied." Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:8-9) The sole mission of Jesus was to reveal the heart of God. “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) By the life and death of Jesus, we see what supreme love is and we see it is in God alone that such love is found. His every word and work was to declare that our God is seeking to save.

The Face of God projected to us by Jesus is that of the Good Shepherd who, risking all that He has, goes to rescue the one lost sheep. Therefore there is no reason for me to fear that I would be rejected by God in the moments of my sin and misery. We have a God who will not abandon us even when we abandon Him! “If we are faithless, he remains faithful - for he cannot deny himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13) For faithful love is the nature of God.

He is not a God waiting to punish and destroy but eager to save and restore! In His Presence, I can afford to be what I am. In front of Him, I need not be ashamed of my sinfulness. He will never be ashamed of me. He is my God waiting to shed His glory on me that I might be cloaked in honour before all. Jesus offers the image of God to us as the Father of the Prodigal Son waiting to throw His arms around me and to restore my sonship.

“How Can I Give You Up, O Ephraim!” (Hosea 11:8)

This is the Face of God painted for us even from the first pages of the Bible. Adam and Eve rejected God and trusted in the deceptive offer of Satan to make them great – great enough to challenge God. But the moment they fell for this offer, they realized they were lost. They knew they had failed God and felt stripped of the joy and goodness of life. Their worth and value was plunged into nothingness. But God came in search of them to the place where they were hiding from Him. He came calling them by name. In Biblical language, to call someone by name is an invitation to intimacy. The first query of God to them “Where are you?” is revealing. The concern of God was to reach out to His own who were now struggling with the burden of the lie within their conscience. But the voice of God appeared threatening to Adam not because of the timbre of the voice but because it came filtered through the misery of shame in Adam’s heart – the shame of having failed the One who was all goodness and thus letting go of the value of life. Adam replied pathetically - “I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” Nakedness in the Bible means the misery of being stripped of all worth. Adam felt the loss of his right even to stand before God.

The next question of God is still more significant. “Who told you that you are naked?” This demand of God is in fact revealing. God was questioning Adam’s self condemnation. Even when Adam hid himself from God in shame, the truth was that he had not lost his worth in the eyes of God. God was trying even then to justify and comfort Adam, “I did not tell you that you were naked, did I?” This was God’s invitation to Adam to return and find his worth and value in God. The Hand of God was still trying to pull Adam out of his cave of shame and hence God asked him - “Why did you eat the forbidden fruit?” However it was the guilt of Adam that governed his understanding and he perceived the effort of God to reach out to him as a threatening gesture. Adam failed to understand and so to respond to the offer of love. He remained stuck in his stance of rejection of God instead of turning to God in love.

Adam turned away from His own companion by finding fault. He would tell God that "the woman whom you gave to be with me” caused me to fall. It is significant that his approach to his own companion was radically vitiated. Prior to his sin, he spoke of Eve as flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone. He felt the distress of distance.

God continued his attempt of restoration with Eve. It is the same pattern of fear and guilt that Eve followed in her reaction to God’s move to reconciliation. Eve blamed the serpent – turning away from beautiful nature that God offered to them. With this, the loss of Paradise was complete. Man turned away from God and from his companion and from nature. It was the loss of the bliss of trusting relationships.

At the face of this event in the genesis of human history, it might seem that man lost Paradise because of his act of disobedience in eating the forbidden fruit. But understanding the Word, we realize God never desired to divest man of the beauty of living. It was precisely to share the joy of creation that man was brought into being. Yet it was the stubborn refusal of man to believe and find refuge in the love of God that caused him to lose Paradise. The Lord God went all the way there to bring man back to restoration and fullness of life. And ever since then the history of salvation reveals the unceasing and repeated effort of God to shine the light of His Love and release man from the darkness of sin and condemnation.

“A Man After My Heart” (Acts 13:22)

The heart of God is set on restoring man to Paradise. He continues his pursuit to save man from the misery of plunging himself into negativity. David, the king chosen by God used his God-given authority to destroy a family to satisfy the demands of his flesh. Later he tried to cover up his foolishness by killing his loyal servant Uriah.

He would have lost everything if he had continued his pursuit of hiding his sin from all. He deserved to in fact because he made himself unworthy of the God who had given him everything so generously. Yet God did not abandon him in the misery that he chose to plunge into. God sent the prophet Nathan to invite him to His friendship. David responded to this call of love by throwing himself to the mercy of God. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy steadfast love; according to thy abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.” (Psalm 51:1) David sought salvation in what he was so sure of which was the nature of God that was unchanging love and mercy.

This trust of David even in the face of his unworthiness in the greater magnificence of God made him blessed forever. God chose to identify himself with David in a special way. Not only is he as the scripture declares “the man after the heart of God,” but when God became man he chose to be called as the son of David.

“On God Rests My Deliverance And My Honor” (Psalm 62:7)

Sanctity therefore is not the self righteousness of the Pharisee boasting before God of His good works (Luke 18:9-14). Sanctity is the acceptance of God as the Saviour in my unacceptability. It is the publican who went out sanctified in the Presence of God - Jesus said. In the moments of man’s wretchedness of sin, God is waiting to show His redeeming love. To be able to hear His call, to be able to feel His touch is what transforms us to become that matter that saints are made of.

Sanctity is not about establishing one’s own righteousness but about finding refuge in the mercy and righteousness of God. St. Paul warns us as he talks of those who “have a zeal for God, but it is not enlightened. For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness.” (Romans 10:2-3) This great saint shares with us that his way to sanctity was to “be found in Christ, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” (Philippians 3:9)

Sanctity is about living our life as a response to the magnanimity of God to us. It is about being overawed by the greatness of God. When we dare to come out of the shadows and look up to Him, we shall bear His image and the glory of God shall be seen in us. In the presence of our God, we shall learn who we are. Here, we shall be restored to self-worth and shed the burden of our mask. I do not need to please Him because He is already pleased with me. He is so pleased with me that He sent His only Son to die for me that I may live forever. This is the confidence and the joy of my life.

This life-transforming experience of God’s mercy makes my heart open to every one around me irrespective of what they do to me. Mercy experienced flows out like a torrent of love, bathing everyone. Mercy experienced becomes mercy lived. No longer do I live to impress the world with what I am not but I seek to offer what I have. And thus I become a blessing to this world!

LET US PRAY

Lord God of Mercy and Goodness, unchanging in Your Love and plan of life for me, I come to You today for I know Your Hands are stretched out to accept me and heal me. Here I am, O God, with my limitations and failures. But I know, O God, that it is in my weakness that Your Power shall be made perfect.

O God, I did not recognize that in You is the fullness of love that was constantly caring for me and seeking me. As I come before You, O Lord, let Your Light shine one me; let me look at You and live.

Jesus my Saviour, as I offer myself in the furnace of Your Love, sanctify me and clothe me in Your Righteousness that I may be pleasing before the Father whose Face of Love I long to see once more. I seek You, my God, because I know you will never despise or condemn me. By the Light of Your Love I shall live once more. May my every breath then be a song of thanksgiving and a pleasing sacrifice to Your Heart of Mercy. Amen.

 

 
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