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Monthly Reflection by
Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

I have come to set the earth on fire" (Lk 12:49) - Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

Prayer of the Month

Monthly Reflections

"New Wine, New Wine-Skins" - Fr. Augustine Vallooran V.C.

In this season of Lent, a sacred time of fasting and prayer, the Lord wants to reveal to us, what the real meaning of fasting and penance is.

The Gospel of Mark 2:18–22:"Now, John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting and people came and said to him, ‘Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of Pharisees fast but your disciples do not?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Can the wedding guests fast when the bridegroom is with them? As long as the bridegroom is with them they cannot fast. The day will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them and then they will fast. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; if he does the patch tears away from it, the new from the old and, a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wine-skins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins and the wine is lost and so are the skins, but new wine is for fresh skins.’ "

Jesus is warning us, "Do not fast as the Pharisees do." Why were the Pharisees fasting, doing penances and giving alms? They were doing it to show others—religion had become a showpiece for them. God was used for man’s glory. In fact, religion is a way to give glory to God and love to all men and women. But when I use religion for my own glory, whatever I am doing becomes a sin, an evil for me.

Old Wine and Old Wine-Skins

The Pharisees were fasting in order to be seen, in order to be appreciated, in order to be popular. If that is what we are doing every religious act for, we are grabbing the Glory to ourselves, using God and religion for our own glory! But Jesus said, "No! Never. That is the old wine." What is the new wine? The new wine is the religion that Jesus has brought to us. It is a new relationship with God and our brothers and sisters.

The wedding guests will not fast when the bridegroom is with them. Well, this is the new wine, this is the new religion—a constant celebration with Jesus, the Bridegroom with us. That is what St. Paul is telling us in Philippians 4:4 , "Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice! In your union with the Lord Jesus Christ." When I am united with the Lord Jesus Christ, I am able to rejoice always. My life becomes a continuous, constant celebration of love. Even when sadness comes my way, I am not desperate, knowing that I am united with my Lord Jesus Christ.

Christianity: A Continuous Celebration

In

John 15:11 Jesus says, "I say this that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete."

The apostles and the early Christians understood the beauty of Christianity and they celebrated. They shared everything with each other, rejoiced and became a great example, an inspiration for all. Everyone began to say, "Look at the Christians, look at those who believe in Jesus; they rejoice all the time; they share everything with each other." That is what St. Paul is telling us in 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18, "Rejoice always, pray constantly and give thanks in all circumstances." A disciple of Jesus is, therefore, a person who gives thanks in all circumstances. No circumstance makes me sad, no situation makes me upset, because I have my God there for me.

Now, this is the new wine, the new relationship that Jesus has brought to us—a new relationship in Jesus, to the Heavenly Father, through the Holy Spirit. It is a relationship where I am able to say, "My God is my Father, so loving, so caring, so understanding, so busy turning everything to my good. When I know this, there is no more reason to be sad, no more reason to be upset. I have my God always for me and He, my God, knows every little detail of my life, even "the number of my hair falling down from my head" (Matthew 10:30).

A Celebration of Love and Sharing

This is the new wine. This is the new relationship with God which enables me to love everyone. Jesus said, "There is only one commandment that I have to give you: love one another as I have loved you"(John 15:12). I experience the great love coming from my Father in Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit. While experiencing the immensity of this love, the love of my God; I share and give it to everyone.

Our life then becomes a constant sharing. Whatever we have—our talents, our time, our energy, our money—we give and share everything with those in need, in such a way that there will be no one in need any more around us. There is great joy in this giving. This is the new wine; this is Christianity. This is Christian celebration.

The Bridegroom Taken Away

Now in this experience of the new wine, in our new relationship with our God, with our brothers and sisters, where does fasting come? What is real fasting and penance? Jesus said in Mark 2:20, "They will fast when the Bridegroom is taken away from them." There are moments when the Bridegroom is taken away from us. Or, to put it in clearer terms, when we are taken away from the Bridegroom; when we slip away from the Bridegroom, turn away from God, go our own way—that is a possibility in our earthly life, like Adam and Eve in Paradise.

They were with God, constantly in the presence of God. At the same time, in one moment in their life, they thought God was not necessary. God was not enough for them to be happy. And so they turned to Satan for the forbidden fruit. They turned away from God and turned to Satan to be happy. They were, in face, deceived by the lie of Satan.

This is what happens to us. The world is full of temptations, full of sin. In fact, sin flashes all around us, all the time. Often we are attracted towards them and we turn away from God. The Bridegroom is taken away from us, or rather, we are taken away from the Bridegroom. Hence, Lent becomes a time of soul-searching.

Fasting and Penance

There were many moments in our past when we turned away from our Bridegroom—we were unfaithful. In the Bible, sin is always considered as unfaithfulness. We need to look into our past, to find out the many times when we lived not caring for God, and for the Christian faith. Turning to Satan, we turned to the ways of the world, to the pleasures of evil, to the gains of injustice. Then, we failed to care for our brothers and sisters too. There was money in our pockets. Yet seeing someone in need, we did not care for him, and left him to perish in hunger.

As a husband, I did not care for my wife. She was sad. But I did not even care to ask her what made her sad. As a wife, I did not care for the feelings of my husband. As a son, I did not obey my parents but went my own way and made them sad. I made a lot of people sad by my indifference, my cruelty, even my injustice. My children were in need of me, but my time was spent before the TV in useless entertainment. My children wanted me to go out for a walk with them, but I did not care. I cared only for my comfort, only for my way of doing my own things. I did not even care to pray. It was time for family prayer, but then, I gave scandal to my children by doing my own things.

When we do not pray, we do not taste the new wine—the beauty of being a disciple of Jesus fades away. In the process, our will power is weakened. We will not be able to say ‘No" to evil. We will become like unsteady reeds moving in all direction according to the wind. The, sin and despair take possession of our hearts. During this season of Lent, we shall take it all out of our hearts, give it to Jesus and tell Him, "I am sorry Lord, I come back to you." This is what fasting is.

By my sins, the inclinations of my body have been turning me away from God. For example, maybe I was over-eating because of which I get an inclination towards food, always wanting the best food, the tastiest food. And when I do not get that tasty food, I blame my wife and long for tastier food. In the process, my sin causes disturbances, in my body, in my family. Now I can come back only by my fasting, by which I control my body, turning the inclinations of my body to Jesus, my Bridegroom.

Maybe, I did not know how to manage my time. I should have spent time with my family, listening, helping and praying. Instead I wasted time watching TV all the time, and because of that my eyes and my mind got the wrong inclination, an inclination away from what God wanted of me. But now I come back, I do not watch TV or go for all those useless entertainments. Instead, I correct my inclinations, turning them towards my God.

I did not know how to spend money. I wasted my money on luxurious items. Now I understand this and come back to God, telling Him, "Lord, I want to live a simpler life in order that I may have enough money to share with the poor, the needy and the disabled."

In our soul-searching, we must find out all those areas where there was a deviation and turn our mind, heart and will to God. This is the meaning of fasting. When we take up fasting and penance, helping the poor and the needy, let us do it in the right perspective so that our religion may really be a genuine experience of God’s glory, and love for everyone.

 

Let us pray:

O God, thank you for giving us this beautiful season of Lent. In our daily hectic life, often we went astray. We were lost sheep. We lost our way often, but Lord, because of your mercy, we were not doomed; we did not end up in disaster. You were holding us up. Thank you for your compassion.

O God may we come back to you. Reveal to us and convict us of whatever went wrong in our past. Reveal to us all the areas of sin; wherever we deviated from the right path. Enable us to accept our sinfulness and give us the courage to believe in your mercy.

Give us the grace to fast, to do penance and to be generous with the poor in order that we may once again taste the new wine of your love and share it with everyone around us.

Amen
 
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