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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

"GOD, AN EVER PRESENT HELP IN TROUBLE" (Psalm 46:1)- Fr. Augustine Vallooran V.C.

"That which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you." (1 John 1:1-2) God was a tangible reality for the apostles and the early church. They had seen, touched and heard the Lord. They were ready to live in any circumstance and face any persecution for the struggles of this world were unreal. The love of God alone was their song and strength. Hence, their faith and witnessing was alive and vibrating. This also opens a door for us to understand the faith crisis of the present times.

"Faith Is The Conviction Of Things Not Seen" (Hebrews 11:1)

A young and successful IT professional shared with me his peculiar journey of faith. He was born and brought up in a very traditional Christian family. His parents were devout Catholics and regular churchgoers - participating in the various religious practices and events of the Church. They had brought up the children in the highest traditions of good Catholic upbringing. There was daily family prayer, Bible reading, night prayers and prayers before meals. He grew up as a very devout and disciplined young man. But suddenly he found his foundations were crumbling! There was a question that was looming large in his thinking. He was seriously wondering whether God was real. "I cannot see Him anywhere. I cannot feel His presence. There is a question that keeps surfacing, 'Is this God-talk all a myth?' The face that I can see, the realities that I can touch are real and relevant to me. And God is not." This movement of doubt and confusion had its impact in his daily living. He explained, "When I get back home in the evening, I am exhausted. God is not more real to me than my tiredness. My faith in God is not able to overcome my fatigue and has no answers for my immediate life situations. So when I return from work, I simply have my dinner, relax for awhile before the TV and go to sleep. In the morning when I wake up, what bursts into my consciousness is the anxiety of the challenges that lay before me. Earlier I would begin the day with prayer and ask for God's help. But now this seems a very na've ritual to me. The help of God has not been very tangible. If I could manage it, I would try to grab an extra five minutes of sleep. And then it is a mad rush to get ready and be on time for work. At my workplace, it is always hard labour, mental occupation and stress. God's presence has no relevance before the stressful demands of my work. Therefore, my life has no space or reasoning or time for prayer. I have completely lost the ability and touch of prayer." At this point he turned to me and asked directly, "Is God real?" A question we cannot dismiss lightly or treat superficially. This aspect is something that demands a deeper search and meditation.

How real is God in our lives? How relevant is He in our circumstances? There are moments in our life often or perhaps even daily when we end up feeling exhausted and bankrupt. There are times when we are sad and sick, friendless and confused. There are times when work is heavy and consolation is hard to find. At such important moments do I turn to God and am I able to feel a consoling and healing presence?

Perhaps we have given up on prayer altogether. This is quite natural if my prayer is not a more consoling reality than my fatigue. If prayer gives no relief from the pressures of my life, I have no use for prayer. If I am pressed down by many responsibilities and if prayer does not give me new strength and vision, I will definitely be too busy to pray. When a friend lets me down, I am pierced in my heart and anger and bitterness cripples me. If my God does not break through in the moment of prayer and drain out that sadness from my heart and fill me with love, God is not relevant to me. If we are to experience the tangible touch of God, it can only be through the circumstances of our daily life.

"My Flesh And My Heart May Fail, But God Is The Strength Of My Heart" (Psalm 73:26)

There are many things around us appealing to our senses and clamouring for our attention. The visible, audible, tangible things of the world are what begin to make sense as real and relevant to us. Money, name, fame, prestige, a beautiful house, a wonderful wife, intelligent smart children ' we run after these and live for these goals! God is often lost in the shadows of these tangible worldly values. At this point, we must consider the vital fact that all these things that are loud and clear can and must vanish. My children must leave the nest. My most trusted friends cannot be there for me always and perhaps especially when I need them. My money and securities, my prestige and name and fame in one moment can pass away.

And if everything passes away would I be turning around to God to say, "O God you are enough for me. You fill my heart." Is God supreme in my thoughts and works? Is my life so founded on the trust in God that whatever may be taken away from me, I do not stand at a loss?

"For The Mountains May Depart And The Hills Be Removed..." (Isaiah 54:10)

In my prayer experience, there is a certain psalm that shines out as a vital spiritual pointer. Psalm 46 is a jubilant testimony of the faith of a person who trusts in God and for whom God has come to mean everything. God had a grip over him. The very thought of God was the joy of his heart. He declares that even if he loses everything the earth can offer and even if the earth itself disappears and everything crumbles away, he would not fear. For his God was there for him to help him and hold him up. All that is within him rises above the storms of life to sing the exuberant creed of his faith, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change its shape, thought the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult." Another rendering of the psalm is "though the earth should dissolve." What the Psalmist is describing is total devastation. Even if everything is lost and all that is below our feet disappears and the whole universe trembles, I will not fear. The earth around us dissolving and the mountains are cast into the heart of the sea, the waters roar and foam ' a most horrific picturization. Yet the psalmist is truly strong to declare that even if all this happens, he will not be moved! And the reason for his fearlessness is only because as he declares right in the beginning that he has found God to be his refuge and strength and a present help in trouble.

"My Heart Is Steadfast, O God, My Heart Is Steadfast" (Psalm 108:1)

There is a charming story of a young boy playing on the deck of a ship. The skies had become dark and there was a violent storm in the sea. Waves were rising high and beat hard upon the ship. The ship began to rock dangerously on the waves. This was a passenger ship and there were many people on board. Everyone panicked and was running helter skelter. But the boy continued playing on the deck of the ship, altogether unmindful of the present danger. A woman rushed to him and agitatedly asked him, "What are you doing, my dear boy?" The boy replied, "Can you not see I am playing?" "But how can you do that?" asked the woman. The boy was surprised and replied callously, "What else must I do?" The woman pointed out to him the dark and violent seas and said, "Can't you see the water is rising. There is a storm. My boy, the ship is going to sink and we are all going to perish." The boy paused but a moment and continued playing and told her, "This ship sinking? That is impossible." The woman tried to convince the boy, "It is going to happen and very soon." The boy was adamant though and continued his game, "No, this ship cannot sink." Finally the woman turned and questioned him "How can you say this ship will not sink? How do you know so surely?" The boy turned to her and with a confident air explained, "I know that this ship will not sink. I know it because my dad is the captain of this ship." The little boy knew his dad. He knew this great ship was controlled by his father. Nothing could happen therefore to the ship.

What we have before us is the trust of a child in the power and the capability of the father! This trust made him strong and unmoved against the violent seas and dark skies. Storms have broken out in our life as well. While everything around us collapsed, we were sure we too shall be swept away in the destruction. We were lost because we thought we were alone and helpless. We thought there was no one to hold on to who was trustworthy and present to us. It is to us that the psalmist responds with the message of salvation as he says, "God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble." (Psalm 46:1)

"The Steadfast Love Of The Lord Is From Everlasting To Everlasting" (Psalm 103:17)

Another translation of Psalm 46 declares and our God is "a well proved help." The help of God, the psalmist is saying is tried and tested in history and found to be true. The various psalms keep exhorting the seeker, "Do not ever forget what God has done for you. He defeated every enemy. He struck down the mighty Pharaoh. He challenged the powerful nation of Egypt and destroyed the formidable armies of the enemy. He took us out of slavery and brought us to this land which is our own. When the ferocious chariots and soldiers of the Pharaoh came pursuing us, threatening to overwhelm us and the Red ocean stood as a wall before us, the finger of the Lord reached down and the sea was thrown open and a way was made. The people of God came through while the soldiers and horses were consumed by the sea. This is our God, a well proved help!' There is a repeated reference in this psalm and in the whole of the Old Testament that our God is the Lord of Sabaoth which also translates as the Lord of hosts. This means that God is in charge of the powers of nature. Hence we should still our anxieties and find our trust in the Lord. So the psalmist concludes saying, "Be still, and know that I am God!" (Psalm 56:10) We cannot be swept away by the thunder and lightning around us. Our peace is in the safe refuge the Lord offers to us.

"Even These May Forget, Yet I Will Not Forget You" (Psalm 49:15)

There are times when even within us everything crumbles. We can get deeply hurt and let down - especially by those whom we trusted. We have counted on certain people. We thought that someone will be there for us. It could be the very persons we gave our life to. Yet, they abandoned and humiliated us! There is a great deal of pain lurking in the depths of our hearts. It is at such moments that the Lord God reaches out saying, "I will never fail you nor forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5) And it follows that "we can confidently say, 'The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid; what can man do to me?" (Hebrews. 13:6)

St. Paul reveals the unique strength we have in God as he points out, "If God is for us, who is against us?" (Romans 8:31) God is there for us, an ever present help against every opposition and weakness.

The Lord invites us to look at His Face, to remain still and know that He is our God. There He would reveal Himself as more real than anything else around and about us.

Unfortunately, we have tried to build our life on the superficial securities that our senses offer us. We live for and pursue these at all costs. Life has become a rush to grab these fleeting offers. We want to make the most of our life with these pleasures. Some people want name and fame. They are crazy for a little recognition and are ready to stoop to any level to achieve these. To be known, appreciated, admired, to hear some applause ' this is the goal of their lives. They long for respect and acceptance and get shattered if it does not come as they expect it. Then, there are those who worship money. Their only importance is in the wealth they can hold and flaunt. Their every living moment is dedicated to amassing wealth. The more they get, the more they thirst for. And there are those greedy for degrees and qualifications. All their time and energy are channeled for such honours of this world. The proven fact is that all such things shall slip away. The creed of the world is based on a deception - to gain more and more of what is illusionary and passing.

"Though The Fig Tree Do Not Blossom, Yet I Will Rejoice In The Lord" (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

In the Bible, there is the exceptional book of Job. The message of the life of Job has a great and vital truth for each of us living in this age. Job was a man of God. He loved God and lived for God. He was a joy in the eyes of the Lord. The Lord indeed boasts of him, "Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?" (Job 1:8) Everything was going well with him. He had a wonderful wife, loving children, lots of friends, numerous servants and cattle. In those days, riches and prestige meant slaves and cattle, vast fields, a big mansion. He had it all in abundant measure. Everyone looked at Job and declared that here indeed was a fortunate man - a man blessed and favoured by God. But suddenly one day a series of tragedies struck. Everything precious, everything that he cared for, everything that Job counted his own was destroyed!

Firstly, all his cattle were destroyed by both natural calamities and invading armies. This meant that he lost all his wealth. They now had nothing to live on. All his servants perished as well. But Job would make no complaints or curses. What happened was that Job did not even blame God but "fell upon the ground, and worshipped. And he said, 'Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord'" (Job 1:20-21) Next Job lost his mansion. His house collapsed and all his children died. Even then, it was only a prayer of surrender and praise that continued to issue out of his mouth. Job lost his friends - for now they turned to curse and blame him for what they saw as his misfortune. Even Job's wife was lost to him! After all these tragedies, his wife came up to him and saw his health too had deteriorated. He was sitting on the ashes and scraping the sores that now covered his body. As she came closer she realized that even now her husband was in whispers praising and thanking God. She was horrified and abused him for his senselessness, "After all these tragedies how can you hold fast to ideals and integrity. Curse your God and die." But Job would only rise in defence and praise of God rebuking her instead, "You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?" (Job 2:10) The agony of the woman was perhaps understandable as she cried out to him, "Where was your God when all our cattle perished? Where was your God when all our children died? Could not your God at least support this house from collapsing? Isn't everything gone? Are you still praising God? Do you understand what has happened? Are you still living in some make-believe world?" And Job would express his commitment of faith "No, I do not understand anything. One thing I do know is that my Redeemer lives." This would be the repeated response to every slashing criticism and reasonable judgment that came against him, "I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then from my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another." (Job 19: 25-27)

This is faith! Here was truly a man for whom God was more relevant and valuable than any treasure the world could offer. He had every comfort and yet when he lost everything, he still found his life full as God was enough. My Redeemer lives! God is enough for me. Nothing else is important enough to destroy my trust and peace and love for the Lord. Even if my flesh is torn apart from my bones I will continue to praise my God for my eyes shall see the day of His redemption.

"This People Honor Me With Their Lips, While Their Hearts Are Far From Me" (Isaiah 29:13)

On a Friday when the retreat had got over, late in the night, I received a telephone call from a man who sounded very agitated. He was returning with his family after participating in the retreat. They were travelling by car when a truck came and hit the car. His car was smashed to bits. His wife and children were injured and in the hospital. He himself was bruised and was very inconsolable. He shouted into the phone, "The God you were preaching about did this to us. I don't care for your God. I don't believe in Him. How could He do this anyway to us?" I tried to pacify him. That was all I could do at that hour. But what we notice is that once he did not receive from the Lord what he had expected, he had no use for this God. There are people who believe in God to get a few benefits from him. We go with material offerings and try to bribe God. When we do not get what we want, we throw God away. This is not faith. Faith means that we trust and rejoice in God whatever might happen to us! As St. Paul assures us, "We know that in all things God works for the good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28) If things are going wrong and even if the earth is collapsing around me, I should know there is a grand purpose behind it. I trust in my God and live this trust by making time to be in His presence.

The faithful presence of God is one thing that is definite. God has not promised to make us more healthy, more wealthy and more wise. St. Paul tells us if we believe in Christ Jesus only for this world, we are more unfortunate than anybody in the world. "If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied." (1 Corinthians 15:9) Our God is a crucified Saviour and we may not expect more than that in this world.

"You Shall Love The Lord Your God With All Your Heart" (Luke 10:27)

St. John records for us a very memorable question that Jesus poses to Simon Peter (John 21:15). The Risen Lord on the shores of Galilee asks Peter thrice, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" It had been a very dark, long and strenuous night. Simon Peter and his companions had gone fishing but caught nothing. Very early in the morning Jesus appeared on the seashore and called out to him, directing him to cast the net just then in a particular direction. Simon Peter followed His directions and they have that miraculous catch of fish. The empty nets are now filled. At this moment the Lord asks Peter, "Do you love me? It could happen again that you catch no fish. You may get nothing at all. Everything might be going wrong with you. Even then do you love me? Over all that you can get, and over all that you had not been given, can you still love me?" Jesus wanted to know "Do you love me more than all those gains, more than all that you can get from me? Do you love me and not just my gifts?" This is THE question Jesus is asking us. What is usual is that we look at what God can give us. God can give me a healing, a success, an answer. All these are real. But is God more real than all these material things? If we need the strength of heart to love Him even after all else is lost we should have our eyes fixed on God. He should be the Supreme Person, the highest Love!

If I believe in God to get a little money or a healing, my health and wealth are more important to me than my God. My wealth and my health have become the idols of my life. The true test of my faith and purity of my love is when I cling to my God even when I lose all these. St. Paul declares, "Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him." (Philippians 3:7-9) This indeed is the beauty of life to be found one with my God. I may have the blessings of wealth and health, of family and friends. All these are dear to me. I do have commitments and responsibilities. There are those I live for and who live for me. Yet in my heart, my God reigns supreme and it is Him that I will hold on to even if my flesh is torn apart from my bones!

Let us pray: O Lord, You are all I have. Everything in my life, every person and this very life itself is Your gift of Love. Even when I lose my life and those precious to me leave me, when I have nothing to hold on to, I will reach out to You in praise. You will never leave me alone. You are always there for me. It is for You that I want to live. It is for You that I am ready to die. Indeed O God, you are more precious than life itself!

O Lord, we pray that You send your Spirit upon me. Spirit of God, take hold of me that at every moment of my life, I can feel the tangible presence of God's strength, love and guidance. Let Your Light illumine me, let your joy fill my heart, let your peace keep me steadfast, that I may love for You forever.
Amen

 

 
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