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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

"FOR FREEDOM CHRIST HAS SET US FREE" (Galatians 5:1)- Fr. Augustine Vallooran V.C.

The presence of God is a liberating experience. We go through our life acting out a role from behind a mask. Our preoccupation is to hide who we think we are and to project a face that would be acceptable to others. We smile at someone though we do not care for him. We laugh aloud even if we are not happy. Cordially we meet and greet people even though they mean nothing to us. We celebrate even when there is no joy within us. Perhaps this is necessary for we must be courteous and polite.

"Look To Him, And Be Radiant" (Psalm 34:5)

But when we come before God, His Light pierces through the layers to reveal what lies at the depths of our being. The heart is opened out and many emotions surface. The pages of the Bible record the experience of the chosen ones of God. When they came into God's presence and their sinfulness was revealed to them, they were flooded with the joy of liberation. The prophet Isaiah was in the Temple praying when suddenly he was overwhelmed with the presence of God. He heard the angels crying aloud, "Holy, Holy, Holy." He saw the glory of God. And with this vision, his own heart opened and his sinfulness was revealed to him. He understood how unworthy he was to be in the presence of God and he cried out, "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips." (Isaiah 6:5) At that moment God responded by sending an angel who with a burning coal touched the tip of the prophet's tongue. He experienced liberation. His sin was taken away!

David, the king anointed by God went on to commit the worst sins of adultery and homicide. Yet, he continued to sit on the throne as though nothing had happened. People would come trusting him. He met them, solved their problems, and made the decisions of administration. He pretended that all was well. But within his heart, there was a great disturbance. The Lord sent Prophet Nathan to him. The prophet spoke to him the Word of God. David experienced the power of the presence of God. And only then was he able to face up to the gravity of his sin. He cried out, "Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in thy sight." (Psalm 51:4)

Simon Peter, the self-assured fisherman, when he came into the presence of Jesus was overwhelmed. He fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "I am a sinful man, O Lord." (Luke 5:8) His burden of sin was lifted and he was restored to a higher mission in those very moments. This experience is echoed by St. Paul, "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:15,24) That is when he looked into the gracious merciful face of Jesus and he declared immediately, "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:25)

Indeed it is only in the presence of God that we can experience the freedom we were made for. We are set free from all that was unacceptable and yet lodged within us. Pretending to ignore our sinfulness, while at the same time fearfully hiding it from others, has become a burdensome way of living. Our heart is crying out all the time to be understood, forgiven and liberated. The journey of grace for this is exactly what repentance is! Jesus offers forgiveness and salvation. He invites us to feel the loving and merciful presence of God that we may be set free.

"Behold… He Will Come And Save You" (Isaiah 53:4)

At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus clearly outlined His mission. The evangelist records this moment at the synagogue in Nazareth - "He stood up to read; and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written, 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.' And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, 'Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing'" (Luke 4: 16-22) The prophet Isaiah declared that a Saviour is coming. The Saviour would release the captives, bring sight to the blind and liberty to the oppressed. This Good News of salvation was proclaimed as Jesus offered this total liberation. Salvation was there for everyone oppressed by the powers of sin and the burden of guilt. As the scripture was spoken, the promise was being fulfilled.

A young man once approached me, confused by what was happening in his life, "I am in deep distress. I struggle to get sleep at night. I cannot concentrate on my work. I am not able to meet the targets at work. And I was not like this before. I was always known for my efficiency and success. Somehow, suddenly everything changed. I feel so helpless. I do not know what is happening to me!" I openly told him, "My friend, I can see there is something deeply disturbing in your heart." He looked for a moment into my eyes and tears began to stream down his eyes. He then confided, "Yes, there is something that has been disturbing me for quite awhile. There is this strong feeling of guilt that is crushing me. I feel haunted. Recently I started visiting certain obscene sites on the Internet. I never used to do that before. I knew it was dirty and bad and that it would not do any good to me. But I began to develop a taste for this. Once I opened one site I could not but continue and then I would feel miserable. I would make a decision that I would never do it again. The very next evening, when I return from office, I end up doing it again! And I would feel more ugly and helpless."

He continued to describe his journey, "I discussed this with a friend. And he was very casual and supportive. He said, "Oh, that is okay! Everybody visits such sites these days. Those sites were made for us to watch. Young people need to explore such things. There is the thrill, the kick of life. It is prudish to feel bad about it." For sometime I did feel good about what he said. That was what I wanted to hear. But then this guilt was refusing to go. It began to consume my heart and was constantly disturbing me. I could hear this inner voice speaking clearly, "This is not good. How can such ugly scenes find entry into my mind and heart? How can I even cast my eyes on such obscene matter? I have my mother and my little sister." This 'it's-not-okay' feeling kept nagging me, burning a hole into my soul. I knew there was something terribly wrong about it. Yet I kept trying to debate with and still that voice. I went to meet a pastor to see what he had to say. The pastor confirmed my worst fears. He was enraged. He told me I was now doomed to go to hell. This was an unpardonable sin. He questioned me, "How could you even tune in to such a site? It is terribly evil. There is a curse on everyone who looks at such sites. You are lost. God's wrath is upon you." He had passed the verdict - I was a doomed man! I was shaken up. I kept away from those sites but only for a few days. After that, I plunged right back into that habit. I cannot even dare to hope for any change on my side. The compulsion is far too strong for me to resist. I am being sucked into this scary quicksand. My life is a mess. Father, what is there for me now?"

I told him, "My friend, both your advisors have failed you and God. The pastor spoke of you being cursed and you felt hopeless. Your friend misled you telling you the bad news is good news. Bad news can never change shades. And bad news cannot also be simply labeled as curse. There is always redemption. In Christ, death has lost its victory; the grave its sting; and sin its power. It is in this moment of your helplessness that our Lord comes to offer you salvation. He is the Good Shepherd who came to seek and save the lost. He comes to offer you the Good News. And the Good News is that in your hearing, the Word of liberation is coming true. This is the moment for you to claim it. Claim it in faith. Accept Jesus as the Lord and Saviour of your heart. Commit your life to Him. Tell Jesus, 'Lord, my eyes will watch only what you want me to watch.' And the Lord will release to you just then the power, the power of the Holy Spirit to set you free." I opened out to him the promise of Jesus, "If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed." (John 8:36) I explained to him that as he received the Word, this prophecy is fulfilled. I led him in a prayer to accept Jesus as the Lord and Saviour of his heart and mind and body, his sexuality, feelings and emotions. He experienced the power of liberation with that.

"In Thy Presence There Is Fulness Of Joy" (Psalm 16:11)

One thing we need to know - it is a futile and tiring exercise to justify evil or to hide our sin. As King David declared, "For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me." (Psalm 51:3) The psalmist writes, "When I declared not my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long." (Psalm 32:3) St. Paul concluded, "I understand there are powers of sin within me." (Romans 7:23) Within all of us there is turmoil because we know there is evil within us. The last thing we must be doing is to try to ignore or hide our sins. We need to go up to the Lord and offer our shadows before He who is the "true light that enlightens every man." (John 1:4) And this is the Light that no darkness can overcome! It is He alone who can fight our battles and set us free. So in our struggle against darkness what we urgently need to do is accept Jesus as the Lord and Saviour of our hearts.

"He Drew Me Out Of Many Waters" (Psalm 18:16)

When Jesus declared his mission at the synagogue, He was also revealing to man the three layers of sin. And the Lord's salvation is meant to liberate us at all these layers. He has promised release for the captives, sight for the blind and liberty for the oppressed. First and foremost, sin is oppression. The word "oppression" has most commonly been used to refer to the oppressive structures of the world. But there is right within our hearts, more ruthless forces of oppression. We are pressurized by the compulsive desires of sin. We have heard some sighing in regret, "Oh, if only I had the opportunity to do that quietly!" Perhaps the longing of our heart is for something we know to be evil. We are constantly looking for an opportunity to release that pressure that hits at us from within. The Holy Spirit will reveal to us the very root of our sin is in the desire that we nurture in our hearts. "Desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death." (James 1:15) An intense longing from within, pushes us in the very direction that we know to be evil. This is oppression.

And all of us carry the tension of such oppressive sinful passions. Often when we go for the Sacrament of Confession, we confess the acts of sin. But then our soul-searching should reach deeper. Our every action springs from a leaning of our heart. This leaning is more dangerous than the act itself! Perhaps we have refrained from that evil because we are afraid of getting caught. Yet within our hearts, we nurse that evil. Even if we are not overtly doing evil, there are evil powers and pressures holding us captive. These are the oppressive structures of our heart. However deep-rooted and intimidating this pressure might be, the Lord offers a total and final liberty.

"I Am Your Deliverance!" (Psalm 35:3)

The second layer of sin is enslavement. Jesus declared, "Every one who commits sin is a slave to sin." (John. 8:34) Slavery refers to the helplessness of the sinner before the challenge of sin. One is pushed further and further into the dark abyss of sin by the compulsion from within. The more one tries to avoid it, the more powerfully one is sucked into it.

A woman once came here for the retreat. She was grieved by the behaviour of her alcoholic husband. He was very irresponsible and the family stood at the brink of disaster. Whatever money he could lay his hands on, he would spend on liquor. After he got drunk, he would return home and raise a commotion. There was no money even for the children's school fees. Their education was disrupted. They struggled for their daily meals. The wife was helpless. Elders in the family tried to advise him. The neighbours too tried pressurizing him. Every effort failed. When this man was brought to me I was initially irritated at his seemingly careless attitude. I tried to convey to him the damage he was doing to himself and to the family. As I chided him, he began to shed tears. He confessed to me, "Father, I know it all. I know I am a wretched man. But please you too do not get angry with me. Tell me instead where is my salvation? How can I ever come out of this? It is not that I have not tried. I have tried hard and have tried often… But I am tired… tired of life itself." I realized then - there is no sense in abusing a sinner. "For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places." (Ephesians 6:12) A sinner is a helpless victim of the power of evil that has taken hold of him.

I spoke to him of the mission of Jesus "to proclaim release to the captives." I explained that God understands his helplessness and so is reaching out to save him. The evil within man had one purpose and Jesus declares, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." (John 10:10) I opened out to him the other promise in the Scripture, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." (Acts 16:31) I challenged him to commit his life to God; for then the Lord could set him free and his family could hope again. This man participated in the retreat. Every day, I noticed this man was shedding many tears. He was looking to the past and grieving over his failures. I called him again and directed him, "This is not repentance. Repentance is looking to God and not to your self. Do not look to the past. Jesus wants you to look up to Him. And your face will become radiant! Accept Jesus as the Saviour and Lord of your heart. Let your promise be to the Lord that you would never commit that sin. And wait for the Holy Spirit to descend into your heart." Something marvelous happened to this man - he stopped drinking completely! He did not even have the usual withdrawal symptoms.

When God intervenes He sets us free! This is the promise of the Lord, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." (Luke 4:22) However deep rooted our sin might have become, and however ashamed and helpless we feel about the sin that masters us, one thing holds good - in our hearing this Scripture is come true. The Lord has come to set us free. And no power can hold out against Him!

"The Lord My God Lightens My Darkness" (Psalm 18:28)

In His manifesto, Jesus speaks of restoring sight to the blind, leading us to the third layer of sin and salvation. He is not simply referring to the blindness of the physical eyes. Such blindness is external, superficial and only makes the world around seem dark. But the blindness of the inner eye makes our life itself dark and is far more dangerous. St. John the evangelist records for us how after healing the blind boy Jesus confronted the Pharisees over the more vicious blindness - the inner blindness that drove them. Inner blindness is that dangerous attitude where I am unmindful of the Lord's Will and go to all extents to defend myself. This was exactly the attitude of the Pharisees. They dared to look at Jesus and call Him Beelzebul, the prince of devils. God had come down in Jesus. And the religious leaders, instead of leading the people to Jesus for their salvation, labeled Him as Beelzebul. This is darkness, condemning light to commend evil. "And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil." (John 3:19) When we justify evil, we have no way of being saved because now evil has become the truth we opt for. Every one of us has been tempted to justify our evil, resenting correction. There are some, living in unholy relationships or deadly habits, excusing themselves saying, "Everybody is doing it." St. Paul warns us in a very final manner, "The wages of sin is death." (Romans 6:23) But immediately he adds - "But the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." That is why we need to turn to Jesus. The Lord will shed for us light on what is evil and good. I must turn to Jesus and confess to Him, "I am lost. Not only am I sinful, I have also justified evil. I have made evil a way of living." The Lord will bring light and quench the deepest darkness.

"We All Are Being Changed Into His Likeness" (2 Corinthians 3:18)

At this point, a new dimension emerges in our experience of repentance. At this second stage, we are led to life transformation. When we accept Jesus as our Saviour, confessing our sins to Him, we are transformed! The inner attitudes, the visions, the powers now governing us, are all changed. One becomes an altogether new person. "Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come." (2 Corinthians 5:17) Zacchaeus was a terrible sinner, lost to his family, his society and even to himself. At one point, he just wanted to see Jesus. That moment when he placed himself before the Lord, everything was changed for him. When he stood in the presence of Jesus, the chains of sin lost their grip and the powers of evil were vanquished. Zacchaeus declared, "Behold, Lord, 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 man who lived solely for money was totally reoriented. He no longer felt even the need for it. In his vision, money lost its place. His heart was free to be committed to Jesus. Till that moment, the poor did not mean anything to him. But when salvation reached him, the poor immediately became all relevant. The faces of the poor, of those to whom he was unjust and all such faces came before him. And his longing was to restitute, to give them everything he held.

The Samaritan woman whom Jesus met at the well was a sinful woman. She had lived with a string of men and was still restless. Jesus revealed her sinfulness. She was liberated and the change was complete. She left that water jar at the feet of Jesus. That water jar was the symbol of her sinful life. She went to everyone in her village, all those whom till now she had avoided, and spoke of the man she met. "Another man!" That should have been the normal response of the people. They knew what type of woman she was. Yet significantly, not one responded in that way. Instead, they all came out to meet Jesus. This was because now when they saw her, they realized by the way she walked, and smiled, and spoke, and dressed, that everything was different about her. She was a new creation. This sinful woman was the first missionary to proclaim Jesus as the Saviour of humanity!

At Calvary on the Cross, we have the good thief hanging to one side of Jesus. We call him "good thief"! Ironical because a thief is not good and one who is good would not be called a thief. And yet this is what happened. A condemned man becomes good in the presence of Jesus. He had confessed his sin when he declared to the man on the other side of Jesus "We deserve our punishment; we are sinners." He turned to and acknowledged Jesus as his King and prayed for salvation, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." (Luke 23:42) And we are told by Jesus Himself that this man was received into Paradise.

"The Lord Will Fight For You" (Exodus 14:14)

Often people make resolutions and decisions to never sin. But soon enough they slip and fall again. Such superficial decisions do not carry much worth. What is needed is a deep experience of the loving Presence of the Lord. It is only such an experience that will liberate us. We will be emboldened to open our heart to God and there we shall be transformed to receive a new dimension to our vision, a new orientation for our journey, a new strength to our commitment, a new purpose for our life. I understand what I am living for, or rather, who I am living for! I commit my life to Jesus as Simon Peter did. Peter was a very simple and weak man. He denied Jesus thrice. Yet, we are told Jesus turned and looked into his eyes. The floodgates of tears were opened up. He felt the heartbeat of the Lord and could declare to the Lord, "Lord I love you, more than everything else. Lord, you know everything. You know I am a weak human being, a coward. But you also know now I am changed. You are the first love of my heart. Nothing else is more important to me than you are. You are the most precious, the dearest, the highest, and you are the supreme of my heart." A new orientation of the heart, a new purpose for life, a new way of living! Everything of the old was gone and the new is come, as promised in the Book of Revelations. (cf. Revelations 21:5)

St. John the Evangelist describes for us a similar transformation in the woman caught in adultery (John 8). This woman was seen as a real evil factor - an evil to be flushed out for the good of the society. In the merciful presence of Jesus she experienced the liberation and gave her life to Jesus even as she would acknowledge Jesus as her Lord.

"Thou Hast Turned For Me My Mourning Into Dancing" (Psalm 30:11)

We have understood repentance as a mournful moment, where we rend our garments and spread ashes on our head. Have we not seen people going to the confessional sometimes reluctantly and almost always mournfully? But the scripture describes every instance of repentance as an experience of liberation and transformation. That is why repentance is also a celebration! When the prodigal son returns home, the father calls for the grandest celebration. Even as the young man was confessing his sin to his father, the father was busy loving him. The father received him into his arms and restored to him everything lost in sin. A ring was put on his finger to bestow on him the honour of the family; the mantle over his body indicating the right of inheritance; sandals for his feet recognizing the dignity of the sonship. From the pig-sty, this son was raised to belong to the family, to sonship and to celebration! This is what God desires for each of us. We are invited to become children once again in the family of our God.

O God, You are there waiting to receive us, to embrace us and to bind our wounds. We are here, your children, waiting to know how close You are to us. We tired and over burdened. The power of sin harasses us.

O Lord, let Your Light shine on us, let Your Compassion surround us. Give us the grace to leave our former life and receive the breath of Your Spirit. Make us new creations. Hold us close to Your Heart. Never let us be parted from You!
Amen

 

 
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