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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

"Born anew to a living hope" (1 Peter 1:3) - Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

There is a hope that does not disappoint us (Romans 5:5.) And Lent is the celebration of that hope. This holy season is a time we deny ourselves, embrace our limitations, and place ourselves on the road to Calvary. But the journey does not end at the dark hour of brokenness and death - it leads us to the glory of the Resurrection! Lent reminds us of what hope is. "In this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope... But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience." (Romans 8:24-25)

"Awake, O Sleeper, And Arise From The Dead, And Christ Shall Give You Light" (Ephesians 5:14)

We are living in the age of the cynic. The culture demands that we don the sackcloth of despair. Fact is everyone dismisses the option of hope because in reality no one dares to hope anymore. There is a certain air of hopelessness thickening in and around us. This poisonous air of despair and gloom suffocates and even stifles the lives of well-meaning people. They recognize that everything seems to be going out of control. Emotions, longings and desires are not in check anymore. As a result, we are dragged into ways of thinking and styles of living that we do not choose. Right from our childhood, we may be familiar with the higher values. But as we live life in the world, the loud offers of sin orient us to evil and we do the very evil we do not want to. There is a silent cry of fear and hopelessness in the heart of man, "Where am I being led to?" The sinful fantasies that crowd the mind without one even opting for these frightens us. The desires that take hold of my mind seem too powerful to be resisted. We look at ourselves and realize that we are playing out our lives as slaves of the unholy compulsions and sinful forces. As we traverse this dark valley of despair and helplessness, the holy season of Lent comes as a fresh wind of hope to all of us. The message of Lent challenges us to lift up our heads, hope in pure goodness again and clear our hearts to receive the grand glory of heaven.

In this season, the Scriptures repeatedly and clearly declare to us - "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matthew 4:17) This was the first proclamation of Jesus as He began His public ministry. For this proclamation, He walked into every town and village, declaring it aloud in the synagogues and marketplaces, whispering it in the homes and to the hearts of the sinners. This call of Jesus is both an invitation and a promise – an invitation to turn to God and the promise is that God is waiting to usher in the heavenly rule on earth in the hearts of human beings. The word used for repent is ‘metanoia’ which literally means change of heart. It is a call to reverse one’s direction of life - walking towards God and walking away from the ways of the world. In fact, this was the message of all the prophets sent by God down the centuries. They invited the people to turn to God and wait on Him to receive their salvation. The Saviour will come, they assured the people. We hear the prophet Joel calling out to the people "Yet even now," says the Lord, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments." (Joel 2:12-13) The last prophet in the line, John the Baptist, echoing this proclamation, said, "Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight... After me comes He who is mightier than I, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." (Mark 1:3,7-8)

"Behold, Now Is The Day Of Salvation" (2 Corinthians 6:2)

When Jesus came with salvation, He gave the same call to repentance but in His invitation there was a clear tone of urgency. The people were invited to turn to God because the reign of God was already beginning, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel." (Mark 1:15) This urgency is because the saving action of God had already broken through to the earth in Jesus Christ. Therefore it was crucial that every man and woman should without any delay open their hearts to the reign of God. When Jesus spoke in the synagogue of Nazareth, He claimed the promise of salvation prophesied by Isaiah, "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." (Luke 4:18-19) And then He looked at the people who looked at Him intently and asserted, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." (Luke 4: 21) The prophecy of salvation given by Isaiah is being fulfilled in the person and activity of Jesus.

The season of Lent comes every year to convey to us this urgency of opening our hearts to the salvation of the Lord. In our day-to-day living, because of the powerful influences around us, we are tarnished by sin in our thoughts and styles of living. Even unconsciously, we are being moulded by the patterns of the thinking around us. Our value system gets eroded in the process. Our relationships get strained and our orientation to God fades away. Prayer becomes a boring exercise. We realize we are very much men and women of the world. That is when we are able to identify ourselves with the sad predicament described 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." (Romans 7:15) The powers of sin have invaded the sanctuary of our hearts, dwelling therein holding us captives. It is at this unfortunate juncture that the proclamation comes as our shining hope. The reign of God is at hand! This really means God is waiting to take charge of our lives. He will take authority over the movements of our heart and the ways of our living. When God takes authority, He will defeat the powers of evil dwelling in us. Where I have failed, God will come out victorious saving me. He assures us, "Fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand." (Isaiah 41:10)

"If The Son Makes You Free, You Will Be Free Indeed" (John 8:36)

In Mark’s Gospel, we read the miraculous transformation that comes upon a paralytic when Jesus took authority over him. The paralyzed person was brought to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, "My son, your sins are forgiven." (Mark 2:5) A murmur ripples through the crowd, "Why does this man speak thus? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" (Mark 2:7) That is when Jesus stood up and asserted, "But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins." (Mark 2:10) That authority not only rooted out the power of sin in this man but also raised him up from the misery of being crippled on the mat. Indeed it is this authority that Jesus is waiting to exercise this holy season on everyone feeling helpless about their impossible conditions of life and embarrassed by the shame of slavery to the powers of evil. When we turn to God, He takes authority on everything that has gone wrong in our lives.

Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus though he was a man lost to the forces of evil (Luke Chapter 19) . His turning to God gave Jesus the opportunity to take authority over the powers of evil that held him captive. This greedy tax collector’s heart was transformed to uncalculating generosity. In great freedom, he was able to declare that he was returning all the money amassed through unjust ways and more than that. It was the same freedom that the Samaritan woman experienced when she left the water jar, the symbol of her sinful life at the foot of Jesus, to go and proclaim boldly that Jesus is the Saviour! A woman enslaved to a life of shameful sin was now freed and exalted to be the prophetess to declare Jesus as the Messiah to all.

A very successful businessman was making his retreat here at the Centre. On the second day, he had a vision. In this vision, he could see himself laid up in a decorated coffin and the people crowding in his house. He was shattered by this vision. He came to me totally shaken up to confirm if this was a prophecy that he would die soon. I prayed for him and told him that it was surely a message from God but not about an impending physical death. It was clearly a loving invitation to die to sin. I asked him whether the Lord was convicting him of any sin in his heart. Breaking down in tears, he shared that he was slipping into an unholy relationship. I asked him whether he was happy in this sinful situation. In the midst of sobs, he admitted that he is being drawn into this affair though he did not want it. He knew sadly that if this continued, his family would be ruined. However, he was not bold enough to say ‘No’ to the sinful compulsion. It was in that helpless state of mind that he came for the retreat. I reassured him that it was not he who made the initiative but the Lord who had brought him into His liberating presence. By the very fact that he consented to the prompting of the Spirit to make the retreat, the grace of repentance was now being given to him. The vision he received was an assurance that God is taking authority over this sinful situation. Salvation was at hand. This gave him great courage to reject the sin of lust and to live for God.

The evangelist records how an adulterous woman waits to receive condemnation from Jesus (Gospel of John 8) . The law provided that one who is sinless would take the seat of judgment. The accusers who brought her did not match up to the requirement of the law. Jesus alone could but instead He revealed the power of mercy. It was this revelation of the unconditional mercy of God that set her free from the curse of guilt and the power of sin that compelled her to lead an unbridled life. With that experience, she got a clear orientation of her life that led to her to call Jesus "Lord" (John 8:11) . Holiness is the response from us to the mercy experience offered by God. The gospels records the lives of many of those most hopelessly lost to sinful ways. When the light of God’s mercy struck them, empowered by the revelation they made a clear decision accepting Jesus as the Master of their lives and a commitment to follow Him in all the ways of living. They were rendered new creations.

"Creation Waits With Eager Longing" (Romans 8:19)

On every one of us seeking the fullness of life, there is an urgency imposed to turn to God because of the immediacy of the fulfillment of the promise in us. This is precisely why Lent is a grace-filled moment - a moment when God convicts us of our sin, takes charge of our sinful situation and ushers in salvation.

When the Scriptures speak about sin, it refers not only to the personal rebellion of man against God but also includes all the disasters that have come to humankind and to every individual because of the collective rejection of God by humanity down the centuries. What God intended man’s life to be is the Paradise that God fashioned right at the beginning of times. This bliss of Paradise was lost because of the first rebellion. Along with that, God’s plan for the welfare of humankind was wrecked. As a result human relationships were strained; mental and physical health was disturbed; nature rebelled and life became a valley of tears.

Salvation offered by Jesus is at all the levels of disaster that has befallen man. This offer is typified in the healing of the paralyzed man (Gospel of Mark Chapter 2). In him, Jesus saw a helpless victim crushed by the evil forces. The way Jesus addressed him is very significant. Jesus called him "My son." He is the only person whom Jesus addressed with such an intimate caring term. This was a man who felt abandoned by everyone. In his paralysis, who would have cared for him? Everyone is busy with their own struggles. There was no one to take responsibility for him. He would have felt acutely aware that he was a burden for even those who were with him. In this state of great agony, Jesus assured him that He was there for him. The reign of helplessness and loneliness were now ended. This offer of love liberated him from his anguish of alienation. A thrill of joy radiated through his body and mind setting him free from dark long years of imprisonment in the deathly dungeons of sin and loneliness. Offering this option of love, Jesus took authority over the paralysis of the body by asking him to get up and walk. In fact, Jesus liberated him not only from the paralysis of the body but from the more unbearable crippling of his mind and soul. At one time, his paralysis had made him feel he was cursed by God. He rebelled in his heart against God for the misery of the existence that he was now yoked with. The revelation and assurance of the love of God for him paved the way for his total restoration.

"Behold, I Make All Things New" (Revelations 21:5)

I met a young man who was very confused about his sexual orientation. As a child, he was sexually abused. When he grew up, he felt the sexual compulsion irresistible and got entangled in a few homosexual affairs. He felt very ashamed and upset about this helpless situation. He went to consult a psychologist who told him that this sexual orientation was perfectly normal and he could continue living as he did. He felt relieved temporarily. But soon within him, there was this growing discomfort that all was not right with his life. He went to a spiritual advisor and was condemned that his body would burn and meet the same fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. He was frightened and resentful. This fear helped him to hold back from indulging in such affairs - though only for a while. Soon the compulsion came back with a bang and he plunged into his passions headlong. This made him feel more guilty and hopeless. He shared his pain with me. I told him both the psychologist and the advisor had misled him by their erroneous perceptions. They did neither understand the mercy of God that accepted him nor the power of God that would set him free. That is why he languished in the prison of sin and despair. I opened to him the promise of Jesus that "He has come to set the captives free." (Gospel of Luke Chapter 4) The immediacy of this salvific activity is conveyed in the words of Jesus, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." (Luke 4:19) When we turn to God and offer the disaster of sin, His power flows in and His reign is established. I led him in a prayer to surrender his body and his bodily inclinations to the Lord. All the sinful relationships of the past together with the guilt and despair it brought in were also handed to God. He accepted Jesus as the Lord of his body and his life. I led him to the Sacrament of Confession. He experienced the new life of freedom and fullness of joy in Christ. He came for a few more retreats which enabled him to be rooted in the Kingdom of God. Today he is happily married!

We are living in a world that has not only lost the sense of sin but also promotes sin as being essential for pleasure and success. Meanwhile, humankind is being plundered by the powers of sin. The destruction wrecks our personal lives and our families - bringing in a misery that makes us despair of life itself. For this reason the season of Lent comes to bring us the message of hope. When we turn to God the Lord will take control over the forces of evil and all the disastrous consequences that evil has brought into our personal lives and families.

Lord Jesus Christ, we thank You for this season of grace that You give us for our restoration. Lord we come to You with our hearts that have feared to hope for any good. We place at Your altar our bodies that are weak and failing and all the situations of our life that weigh us down to the despair of the earth.

As we wait on You, breathe upon us Your Holy Spirit and make us new creations. As we receive Your Love, we will hope and live again in Your Holy Presence. May Your Power in us lead us to live life that we may be witnesses to the hope we have in You.

We thank you Lord Jesus for the love and trust You place in us that is never ending. It is for Your Love that we shall live henceforth.
Amen

 

 
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