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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

"I Have Been Crucified With Christ" (Gal 2:20) - Fr. Augustine Vallooran V.C.

Jesus was known throughout the Jewish country as a great prophet of God. As He went through the countryside healing and saving the sick and suffering, multitudes flocked to Him. But St. John describes how at one moment during the Passover Feast even the Greeks came looking for Jesus (John 12: 20-22). At this time the Greek civilization was at its zenith. The Greeks were the great philosophers and architects of the time. Their influence was being felt all over the world.

"A Light To The Nations, That My Salvation May Reach To The End Of The Earth" (Isaiah 49:6)

When the Greeks approached Jesus He understood that the good news of salvation He brought from the Father was meant to reach the ends of the earth. He was to be not only the Saviour of the Jews but of the whole of humanity, of all races and cultures. This grand mission of becoming the Saviour of the world Jesus understood would be accomplished with His being crucified on Calvary. So He would say "I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself" (Jn 12:32).

At this moment the vision of the Cross flashed before His eyes - the atrocity of the sufferings, the immensity of the pain that was awaiting Him at the end of His earthly sojourn. He was troubled and a prayer arose from Him: "Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour?’ No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify Thy name." (John 12:27-28) In the prayer emerges a twist of logic for He begins to speak of glory. "The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified." (John. 12:23) He spoke of glory that seems inappropriate in this context of shame and death.

Where does the failure of the cross correspond to glory? In fact it would be the most tragic moment in the life of Jesus. Right at the prime of His youth He must be stripped of all that He had achieved. Every one of His friends abandoned Him. All His teachings were challenged and scorned. At one time He was the most popular Rabbi in Palestine. Now He was held before the entire nation as a criminal and a danger to society. Finally He would be subject to excruciating physical torture right till the moment He dies hanging from nails on the Cross in His struggle to breathe. Was there even a trace of glory in these hours of shame and pain?

"Jesus… For The Joy That Was Set Before Him Endured The Cross, Despising The Shame" (Heb 12:2)

Jesus however was sure of the underlying purpose in these tragic happenings. He explains this paradox with a simple parable: "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (John 12: 24) – death and glorification mirrored in the life of a small grain of wheat.

As the son of a farmer this parallel strikes a chord with me. I grew up on a farm. The farmers have large boxes built into the walls of their barns. The grain of the harvest after being dried in the hot sun is stored in a very secure manner in these boxes. I remember as a child how one day in the monsoon season after the rains I saw my father, my brothers and the servants gathering all the grain from the boxes and taking it to the field. By that time the field had been ploughed and well prepared. Next I saw them scattering away all of the grain that was so carefully stored till then. The grain was lost in the mud and the slush of the earth. And in the evening when they returned there was a big feast at home, a grand dinner and much celebration. This entire incident was beyond my comprehension. So I later asked my father "Dad what is the reason for this celebration? We have lost all the grain. It was all stored up and securely kept in our boxes. But you took it out and threw it out into the field, into that water and slush. All that grain that we had kept in the boxes would be dirtied and lost in the soil. We can never retrieve it. So why should we celebrate at such a moment of loss?"

My dad provided for me what were perhaps, my first insights of life. He explained patiently "Son, it is true that all that grain is lost in the dirt of the earth. They would be soaked wet in the slush and in a couple of days they would lose even their form. The outer shell will break; all the grains will swell and no longer be grain. But that’s the only way a little green shoot can come out of every grain. That’s a new life. That green shoot would become big, strong and steady and would bear a hundred fold. For every grain to become hundred grains, this is the only way – to be lost to the soil. Three months from now, we would go to our fields and there would be a glorious golden harvest awaiting us. But the glory of the harvest is already begun at this moment. Now it’s just a matter of time. The process has begun. I already have the vision of that glorious moment before my eyes. That is why we celebrate."

So with the parable Jesus was similarly explaining "I am that grain of wheat. I should be betrayed and condemned. I should be dragged in the dust of the road of Palestine all the way to Calvary. I must be laid on the cross and nails must be driven into my palms as my blood oozes out. I must be raised up on the cross, struggle for every breath and finally give up my life. I must lose myself. But here is the beginning of the harvest of God’s glorious salvation. And even now I can see that moment of God’s amazing faithfulness and glory when the Holy Spirit would enter my broken, dead body and would raise it again in glory. With that glorious Resurrection the whole of humankind would be saved. The sin and sorrow of the humankind I now take upon myself. The death and suffering of man shall become mine. There shall be no more tears or mourning. For love triumphs when I am raised from the dead."

When the Cross was presented to Jesus, He could only rejoice and praise the Father. For whatever was involved in the pain, the seemingly unfortunate moments would usher the glory of the Resurrection into His life and for humanity.

"We Share Abundantly In Christ's Sufferings" (2 Corinthians 1:5)

Many things have gone wrong in our life. When we look back we would realize many times we too trod that path of Christ. We were betrayed and deceived by those we most trusted. The best of our intentions have been misinterpreted. The people we loved were indifferent towards us. Those whom we thought we could count on turned away from us and denied us. We have been through much physical agony. We were bitterly grieved when our well planned calculations failed and the projects we worked so hard at flopped. We had counted these as unfortunate moments. Perhaps we have been trying to forget these moments, wishing they had never even come to pass. But now the Lord is inviting us to look back into these very moments recognizing them as glorious moments of salvation.

Can a wife looking back to her years of married life, recall all those times when she was crushed by the indifference or cruelty of her husband and offer praise to God recognizing these as the salvific moments of their marriage? Can a husband look back to all those sad and lonely moments when he felt misunderstood by his wife and praise God similarly? Can we praise God for precisely those moments when we were abandoned in a hospital room, when our business investments were lost, when our name was ruined by malicious gossip? Only we Christians will be able to do this. In fact our faith dictates that we have no right to look back and blame anyone including ourselves for all those failures. We cannot get depressed carrying the burden of bitter memories. For all those tragic moments we must praise God for the privilege of sharing in the cross of Christ.

In the face of persecutions, the early Church rejoiced and praised God. St. Peter exhorts us to "Rejoice in so far as you share Christ's sufferings." (1 Peter 4:13) This is indeed the teaching of the whole of the New Testament. St. Paul declared often "I rejoice in my sufferings." (Colossians 1:24) He described to the Philippians the privilege of the Cross saying "For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake." (Philippians 1:29) St. James begins his epistle with this invitation "Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials." (James 1:2) And St. Peter explains that in these moments "you are blessed, because the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you." (1 Peter 4:14)

"When I Am Weak, Then I Am Strong" (II Cor 12:10)

Our hours of trial were a participation in the most crucial hours of the Lord’s life and mission. In all the moments of betrayal we were sharing in the pain of Jesus as He was betrayed by one He trusted, the disciple Judas. When we were misunderstood and dismissed by our superiors we were with Jesus then standing before Pilate who condemned Him unjustly. When we were helplessly confined to the bed because of sickness and pain, we were united with Jesus as He was nailed to the cross. We need to shift our attention from ourselves. Every moment of my suffering is, was and will be a participation in the Passion of Jesus.

Simon Peter who exhorts us boldly to rejoice in the glory of the Cross was himself once very opposed to the Cross. When Jesus prophesied of His passion and suffering Peter would violently oppose the very suggestion of it and rebuke Jesus "God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you." (Matthew 16:22) But after the Pentecost experience when Peter received the Holy Spirit, his entire attitude was transformed. He was dragged to the Sanhedrin and there he was beaten up for proclaiming Christ. With his body all bruised, Peter with John came out praising God "rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the Name." (Acts 5:41)

This is a different sort of language, an attitude that the world will not comprehend. Usually we say we are counted worthy for an honour, an award or some great material gain. But with the Cross of Christ we are asked to recognize suffering as a privilege for in suffering we share in the call of Christ.

"If Any One Is In Christ, He Is A New Creation" (2 Corinthians 5:17)

What we stand in need of today is a total conversion above all in our attitude to pain. Till this moment we have looked back with bitterness, anger and sorrow. Invariably we decided that God was punishing us. Is suffering a punishment of God? When disease comes on me do I interpret it as the wrath of God? When sickness, failure, accidents and tragedies come all together have we not cried out "O God, what sin did I commit that you should punish me like this?"

These days a certain philosophy is concocted even among people who are supposedly preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ! They call it the "ancestral curse" and there are special prayer sessions and retreats even held to cast away the ancestral curses! These proponents of the curse have dismal interpretations for the problems of life. When someone with a problem approaches them, as say, a family member who is drinking excessively or the business not taking off or one of the children falling sick frequently this counsellor would give a message that he draws from this errant philosophy. Claiming to see some ancestor burning in hell he concludes that this curse caused the problems. He entrusts the already burdened individual with the responsibility of getting this ancestor out of hell. For this task he must recite endless prayers, offer money for numerous masses.

Is there a place for the ancestral curse for us who are baptized in Jesus Christ? We need to look to the teaching of the Bible and the Church. The Sacrament of Baptism as the Church teaches is the complete washing away of sin and its curse. St. Paul very clearly confirms "there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Romans 8:1) Those who are in Christ Jesus cannot come under any curse. The Sacrament of Baptism incorporates us incorporated into Christ Jesus. "For as many of you as were baptised into Christ have put on Christ." (Galatians 3:27) That’s what St. Paul constantly reminds us that we are "En Christo’ - we are in Christ, we die with Him and we are raised with Him. Through Baptism original sin and all the personal sins are washed away. We are made new creations. Ancestral curses are what we call original sin, a curse or sin coming down from Adam and through the generations and these are washed away in the waters of Baptism. No curse remains.

St. John describes an incident, which clarifies what the teaching of Jesus on such an issue. (John 9) The disciples spotted a young man born blind and they too were puzzled by this phenomenon of seemingly meaningless suffering. Hence they turned to Jesus and asked "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him." (John 9:2-3) Jesus is clearly rejecting the entire possibility of ancestral burdens.

"Christ Redeemed Us From The Curse Of The Law, Having Become A Curse For Us" (Galatians 3:13)

There is of course mention in the Old Testament of the guilt of the sinners visiting the descendents. (Numbers 14:18) But we need to understand the Old Testament in its context as a preparation for Jesus. In the New Testament Jesus inaugurates the new covenant. It is the New Testament that unveils for us the great freedom and salvation brought to us by Jesus. In all of His teachings Jesus would speak of the alterations made to the Old Testament: "You have heard that it was said… But I say to you." (Matthew 5) The Old Testament therefore is valid, meaningful and relevant only in so far as it leads us to Jesus. Jesus by dying on the Cross paid the entire price of salvation. In His blood He washes us clean. As the letter to the Hebrews contends "For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God." (Hebrews 9:13-14) When we become one with Him in the Sacrament of Baptism, all the curses are washed away from us and with the Sacrament of Confession all our personal sins are cancelled. It is the sole purpose of Christ that we receive the entire benefit of salvation. Let’s not diminish His great sacrifice of salvation with our own petty philosophies and ideas.

However if an ancestor acquired some property through unjust, cruel ways and we still enjoy that property there’s a curse we are taking on. Such property should be returned to its rightful owners. This is the attitude of salvation. That’s why Zacchaeus, the tax collector when he encounters Jesus, along with his confession and surrender to Jesus would recompense those he had deprived saying "the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold." (Luke 19:8) This is the law of the Sacrament of Confession. Our sins will be forgiven only when we recompense whatever we deprived others of.

It could be that we are unsure of the nature of the wealth we have inherited. Here’s where the rule of tithing has its significance. Tithe is the offering of a tenth of my income towards supporting the proclamation of the gospel where service is rendered to the poor and the Word of God is preached. This way I consecrate my wealth to the Lord.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." (John. 3:16) Our God is not a punishing God. Jesus Christ came to reveal the face of God that is mercy. "For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:21) That’s the good news of Christianity. We cannot let the glory of the moments of suffering be tarnished by talking of ancestral curses and God’s punishment. Rather the moment we suffer is when God is the closest to us in the most intimate union of the Cross of Christ.

"If We Have Died With Him, We Shall Also Live With Him" (2 Timothy 2:11)

There’s an endless wealth of graces in the Cross. The Scripture reveals that through our sufferings as we become one with Him we also become co-saviours with our Saviour Jesus Christ. St. Paul clearly explains this saying, "I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of His body, that is, the church." (Colossians 1:24)

At first this seems preposterous. Could there be something lacking in the sufferings of Jesus? Jesus is the "Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world." (John 1:29) His sacrifice on the Cross was for the salvation of every human person without qualification. Yet is every person saved?

Theologians make a distinction between objective salvation and subjective salvation. Objective salvation means the sufferings of Jesus are enough for the salvation of every human person. But subjectively there are some of us who have not accepted this salvation. We have not opened our hearts for the flow of that salvation into us because we persist to live in our sin. "The light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil." (John 3:19) There are members in our society and perhaps in our family itself who are still living in the bondage of sin. There is something still wanting in the sufferings of Jesus to accomplish such individuals’ salvation. Hence with St.Paul we are invited to share in the cross of Jesus. What is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the salvation of all may be completed through the sufferings we must endure. Thus I become a co-saviour with Jesus.

"Will Not God Vindicate His Elect, Who Cry To Him Day And Night?" (Luke 18:7)

There’s a beautiful story in the history of the Church. The great Doctor of the Church, St. Augustine of Hippo, as a young man was anything but a saint. Living steeped in sin, he was lost to all forms of licentiousness and immorality and even advocating a heresy against the Church. He was renowned as a great scholar and orator but he also was a terribly hardened sinner. But then Augustine had a mother, Mother Monica, whose one concern was his shocking sinfulness. She was fasting, taking on penances and praying for the salvation of her son. But his way of life was getting from bad to worse. Monica was tired. She went in despair to Bishop Ambrose of Milan and cried out "How much longer should I suffer? Will I see my son converted or will I lose my son forever?" The holy Bishop exhorting her to continue her sacrifices left her with the assurance that "A son of tears will never be lost." And we know the rest of the story. Augustine was not lost. God intervened. And a marvellous intervention it was indeed! Augustine was converted. He ascended great heights of holiness. Many Divine revelations were opened to him. He devoted his life and strength to the Truth of Christ. He wrote volumes and volumes that even today the pundits of the Church are waiting and praying over. St. Augustine, a shining star in the horizon of the Church was but the gift of the tears of a mother.

Will our children be as fortunate as St. Augustine to have a parent who would suffer for them so that what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for their salvation may be completed through their own suffering? We are eager that our children should receive the best. After all that we have given them materially if we have failed to offer them our prayers and sufferings we have given them but precious little. Without complaining about their failure if we can suffer for them, our tears, aches and ailments will be added with the wounds of Jesus and offered to the Heavenly Father.

"Love… Endures All Things" (1 Corinthians 13:7)

At the foot of the Cross of Calvary we see yet another Mother- a Mother whose grief is yet to be surpassed in history. For she had to stand and watch her only Son abandoned by everyone, despised, crawling in the dust like a worm, weighed down by the heavy cross on His shoulders, with everyone screaming insults at Him and finally having nails driven into His palms to hang Him up on the cross under the hot searing sun, struggling for breath. The Mother stood helpless unable to offer even a drop of water to the dying Son. When Jesus was but a baby in Mary’s arms, Simeon had prophesied to her "a sword will pierce through your own soul also." (Luke 2:35) A sword did pierce her heart. For here was the mother shedding tears of blood from her heart torn apart brutally. Yet as she stood beneath the cross she did not complain or curse God. She did not question the love of God but only held on to her prayer of surrender "Let it be to be according to your word." (Luke 1:38) That faith commitment made at the time of Annunciation had become her life breath. She looked up to her son hanging from the Cross. A sight her heart could not bear. She offered her pierced heart with the broken body of her Son to the Heavenly Father for the salvation of humankind. Thus beneath the cross of Calvary she became a co-saviour.

Seeing His mother’s participation in His salvific offering Jesus said to John "Behold your mother." (John 19:27) Look to her and learn to suffer. Indeed it was to every one of us that Jesus was pointing out His mother. Every time we are in tears and life’s burden is far too heavy for our hearts and shoulders we hear this direction of Jesus "Behold your mother." Hold on to your mother. The mother will hold on to you. Let us offer your wounded heart and body together with the wounds of Jesus to the Heavenly Father so that we may become co-saviours for those we love. We love by suffering for them. Suffering is neither a curse nor a punishment. It is a glorious call to love, to save.

Every moment of our suffering is a redemptive moment in the history of salvation. Only in heaven would we know how many we have saved through our suffering. St. Therese of Lisieux, Blessed Alphonsa of Kerala are two such examples. Confined to the bed and suffering much physical agony, many considered them as useless burdens to the community. Their contemporaries did not understand the lofty calling they had. They did not realize what a great privilege it was for them to suffer. Today we know they were saints, most dear to the heart of Jesus. St. Therese had never stepped anywhere outside of her cloister. She did not baptize anyone. She never preached a sermon. Yet along with St. Francis Xavier, she is pronounced to be the patroness of the missions. She saved souls, millions of them by her sufferings.

When we look at the tragedies of our life, we can perhaps even at this moment feel the sword pierce through our hearts. Today we realize this is a privilege. The mother of Jesus supports us in this path so familiar to her. Here we are closest to Jesus. We praise God for the privilege of such intimacy, for the participation in such lasting glory. The praise we offer shall cleanse our hearts of all negative attitudes of hatred, depression and self pity, attitudes unworthy of the disciples of the crucified Lord. For we have the assurance from the Cross of Jesus that "if we endure, we shall also reign with him." (2 Timothy 2:12)

Let us pray:

Lord Jesus, as we look to Your bruised body on the Cross we remember that by Your stripes we are healed. In our journey of life, we too were wounded grievously. We counted these as unfortunate happenings. Today as we recognize the seal of Your love on our wounds we rejoice that we can share in Your Cross. We praise You, Lord for all such divine moments of our past. As You hold us close to Yourself, we know we shall never be alone again. Let Your wounds glowing with the glory of Easter shed light into our darkened minds and grieving hearts.
Amen

 
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MAGNIFICAT in Chennai

Divine comes to Chennai with the 'Magnificat on October 21,2017. Fr. Jacob Arimpur VC will lead the services. Music by Worship Culture. With special sessions for children.

Venue: Stella Maris College, Cathedral Road

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Celebrate an evening with our Lord in Bangalore at the 'Magnificat' on October 14, 2017. Services to be led by Fr Jacob Arimpur VC. All are welcome.

Venue: St. Joseph's Boys' School Chapel, Museum Road, Bangalore

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Answer God's call and experience His burning love for you. A three-day convention to be led by Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC and team at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Bangalore. Please spread the word.

Dates: October 27, 28 & 29, 2017

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