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Monthly Reflection by
Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

"Hallowed be Thy name"(Lk 11:2) - Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

Prayer of the Month

Monthly Reflections

"I am the Good Shepherd" (John 10:11) - Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

God is there when man is most in need of Him. He assures us, "I will never fail you nor forsake you." (Hebrew 13:5) The worst moments of life are those when man feels that he has no one. Since the need of the other is built into the very texture of his creation, absence of the other tears him apart. Such lonely moments are the lowest and most unbearable. Therefore the Lord God promises that He will be there to pick us up, to hold us close to Him and to bind up our wounds. "I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the crippled, and I will strengthen the weak." (Ezekial 34:16)

"I Have Graven You On The Palms Of My Hands" (Isaiah 49:16)

The parable of the Good Shepherd confounds even the average thinking person. Jesus spoke of the good shepherd going after the lost sheep. "What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it?" (Luke 15:4)

It is a faulty type of leadership, any management expert would say. The ninety-nine faithful followers should be cared for leaving the strayed one to its fate. It is the crowd that is to be preferred over the individual. Perhaps this is the difference between a shepherd and the Good Shepherd. The shepherd or a leader is all the time concerned with schemes and projects for the welfare of the majority. He need not know the individual neither does he need to care for the lost and the wounded. The latter are counted as a liability and he would prefer to close his eyes to their plight. However Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me." (John. 10:14) The leadership of Jesus is concerned about each individual person. He knows everyone of His followers and every single detail of their life. He said "even the hairs of your head are all numbered." (Matthew 10:30) What Jesus is trying to impress on us is the concern of His Father for everyone of us. He understands that the most painful experience for any person is to be isolated by others no matter what the reason for this may be. The Good Shepherd never judges the strayed sheep. He cannot abandon it to the disastrous fate it opted for. His heart beats for everyone in pain. His preferential option is for the rejects of society. "The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit." (Psalm 34:18)

"I Have heard their cry" (Exodus 3:7)

This perhaps is the most striking difference between God’s self-revelation in the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament God chose a special race of people, intervened into their history and took them out of slavery with a mighty arm. The Israelites had a great sense of belongingness to God. In the covenant established with them the promise of God was, "You shall be my people, and I shall be your God." (Jeremiah 30:22) In the New Testament however, God comes down with a revelation that His name is Immanuel (Matthew 1:23). Immanuel means ‘God with us’. Jesus went about as the Divine Presence entering into the pain and sin of every individual. It is not the crowd that He cared for but the individuals who were most in need of Him. In the marketplace of Jericho, there was a crowd making noise exulting in His Presence. But the heart of Jesus picked up the cry of the blind beggar, Bartimaeus - "Son of David, have mercy on me!" (Mark 10:48) His cry was not lost in the bustle of the crowd. Jesus stepped aside from the crowd and reached out to him and asked him, "What do you want me to do for you?" (Mark 10:51)

While leaving Jericho, there was a crowd following Jesus. Everyone was trying to get a glimpse of Him or to make contact with Him. But the eyes of Jesus were in search of a man who was searching for Him. It did not matter that this man was sitting on top of a tree hidden from the crowd that was sure to ridicule him. Perceiving that it was this lonely man who was most in need of Him, Jesus called him down and went to his house to declare salvation - "Today salvation has come to this house" (Luke 19:9). The curious crowd was left by the wayside. It was not the popularity of the crowds that Jesus was after. In fact when they saw that Jesus went with the tax collector, they all murmured against Jesus, "He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner." (Luke 19:7) But the concern of the Lord was always the lost sheep. Zacchaeus in the midst of his power and prosperity was a man isolated by his own people. The Jews considered him as a traitor because of his profession. He collected money from his own people and gave it to the Romans. Burdened by guilt, his lonely heart was searching for someone to accept him and save him. Jesus picked up the pain of his heartbeat. The Master did not condemn him, rather, He was moved by the grief of this outcast. Jesus risked His own reputation and life in this mission of salvation. As we are told, the Pharisees were scandalized at this saving event.

In the midst of a crowd, a woman with a hemorrhage took courage to touch the hem of His garment (Mark 5). She knew that because of her sickness, she was not allowed to come in the open. She was not permitted to touch a man. She who was condemned to such a deadly isolation, held on to the hem of Jesus’ garment, and to the hope that He would reach out to her. As she did so, so was she healed! The gospels tell us that power went out of Jesus to her. It is not those in the crowd vying with each other to make an impression on Jesus who felt that power of love. His divine power was reserved for the meek, the lonely and the downtrodden.

The paralyzed man at Bethesda (John 5), the man with a withered arm in the synagogue (Mark 3), the lepers who were not allowed to come into human habitation (Mark 1) – it was to these that He turned with His compassionate gaze. Jesus would assert that they were the purpose of His coming. "The Son of man came to seek and to save the lost." (Luke 19:10)

"Behold, I stand at the door and knock" (Revelations 3:20)

The way Jesus pursued His mission, His style of functioning revolutionizes our idea of God. Often we think of Him as the Almighty showering blessings on the just and the good, and curses and punishments on the erring. Such an idea of God may be useful as a basis for the moral welfare of humanity. Even today the world is scandalized by the figure of the Good Shepherd that Jesus offers Himself to us as.

A young professional who came for retreat once confided in me, "I do not like myself." From his childhood he was involved in wrong type of friendships and lived carelessly. Since he came from a good Catholic family, he knew that what he was doing was very wrong. He tried to overcome his evil habits but he never succeeded. In his adolescence he gave up trying altogether. "I know God does not approve of me. God cannot approve of what I am doing because God being what He is has to be concerned about our moral standards. I cannot change myself. And He cannot accept the way I think and the way I live. God has to reject me."

An intelligent man that he was, he excelled in his studies and later became a thriving professional. By then he rejected God and all forms of religion. He explained that he rejected God because God had rejected him already. He began to read secularist and atheistic books to build a reasonable foundation for his denial of God. At the same time he said there was a desire lurking in the depth of his heart to experience for himself the face of God and know personally God’s opinion of him. Though not agreeing to the many thoughts shared during the talks here, he followed the retreat very attentively. At one moment the word of Jesus struck him - "I have come to seek and to save the lost." (Luke 19:10) He felt a very refreshing warmth in his heart and he began to debate with this figure of the Good Shepherd in his heart. He came to talk to me and he posed the question, "Is perhaps God speaking to me? Am I presumptuous to consider that God would be concerned about me so much as to speak to me? I have ignored Him and tried my best to dismiss Him and I can’t dare to expect anything." I explained to him that "God always does for us beyond our expectations. Though you were not concerned about God, He was always and is concerned about you." More than moral principles and ethical structures, it was this individual who was more important for Jesus. Jesus knew him all the time and was knocking at the door of his heart, waiting to come in. I led him in a prayer to commit his life to the Lord. A new light shone upon him. A new joy filled his heart.

"He Will Come And Save You" (Isaiah 35:4)

Political ideologies and religious philosophies have risen in the history of humanity, proposing to eliminate unjust structures and to install just systems for the welfare of humanity. Many a war was fought and much blood has been shed to usher in that Utopia or ideal existence. The approach of Jesus was different. It was not external systems and structures of society that He proposed to undo. It was not superficial transformation that he aimed at. He was challenging every man and woman for an inner transformation. His first proclamation to the people was to "Repent, the Kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matthew 4:17) He perceived the real problem as the deep-rooted selfishness in the heart of man. The urgent need was for man to turn to God in total surrender. When we commit our life to God, we rise above ourselves to reach out to others in need. Radical liberation from the evil of self-centredness will bring in God’s reign into every human heart. And this attempt of man will be enabled and brought to fulfillment by the Holy Spirit.

"We had hoped that He was the one to redeem Israel." (Luke 24:21) - The disciples who left everything to follow Jesus looked to Him as a Liberator who would restore political order and thus usher in the Kingdom of God. Even during the ministry of Jesus, there are a few mentions of how the people tried to make Jesus their king. After the Resurrection, the disciples were enthralled. Their hopes soared and when they came together they eagerly asked Jesus, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6) His response to them however, was to experience the Holy Spirit, the life-transforming power of the love of God, and share this love to all peoples. "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth." (Acts 1:8) It is the heart of man that God sought to heal. And in this healing, humanity shall be restored to the grand Kingdom of God.

"Whom have I in heaven but thee?" (Psalm 73:25)

God had always known that "It is not good that the man should be alone." (Genesis 2:18) Yet even when one is in the midst of a multitude, the human person can feel abandoned and rejected. We cannot rely on the applause of the crowd, the intimacy of family, the success of our projects, or our many achievements to quench the vacuum inside our hearts.

I remember a very enriching course I had participated in during the final year of my priestly formation. This course on family counseling was given by a British Anglican pastor and his wife. They were highly erudite but very simple people committed to the Lord. By the time we reached the end of the course, the ten of us who participated in the course and the couple had become very open to each other. The pastor asked us a very relevant question. "You are going to be ordained priests in a few months. What do you think would be the big challenge of your priestly ministry?" One of us said, "Being young and idealistic our enthusiasm and zeal is sure to be dampened by the resistance from the elder generations." Another one said "We would plan great projects for the welfare of the parish and institutions, and it would be frustrating for funds are not going to be so available to us." One other fear was that "Our lifestyle and our way of functioning could be misunderstood and misinterpreted and we will not find friends and superiors to understand us." This sharing brought us to the conclusion that our most serious challenge would be loneliness. And finally another participant jokingly said, "Pastor, you are married. Your wife is always with you to understand and care for you. At the end of the day you will always have someone to fall back on and to support you. We are Catholic priests and we will have no one to even call our own."

Then the pastor had a heart-to-heart discussion with his wife. He asked his wife, "We have been married for the last 25 years and we have made a good marriage. Have you ever felt lonely in all these years?" The wife replied, "I always knew you as a good person, a very caring husband and I have been proud to be married to you. But I must tell you that I often thought that you were doing things for me only out of obligation. You come home in the evening with many files in hand and your mind will be preoccupied with the greater concerns of your life. When I would have been waiting all day to spend time with you, you would sit with me only because you do not want to hurt me. When I began talking, it was most evident that your mind was elsewhere. I would soon wind up my conversation and then you would look most relieved. I would end up wondering why I should be a burden to you. For a long time I thought I should stop communicating with you because I thought you did not value my thoughts and were not capable of understanding me. Your college, your parish and your achievements were more dear to your heart than my presence. I had even wondered if I made a mistake in marrying you, a famous professor and pastor." When she was openly sharing her heartache, we were taken aback because at that age we had assumed that a good marriage was total bliss.

Then the lady asked the pastor, "We were in love for 3 years before marriage and the one thing I wanted then was to be always there for you. I resigned my job in the university that I may help and you may never feel a lack. But did you ever feel lonely in our relationship?" The pastor started sharing his feelings, "As a young man when I started courting you, I always longed to be with you. Your loving presence refreshed my heart. And I thought you were enough for me to make my life full. But as months and years went by, I found you too demanding. You never cared to understand how tired I would be when I come home after a long day at the university. With the pressures of work and the demands of my career, I would be longing to come home and rest. My head would be struggling with the burdens of work. That’s when you would come to me with the silly problems of the children and little concerns of the household, which you could very well handle yourself. I never understood why I should come with you to buy cucumber. There were moments I regretted for having married at all." He continued awhile in this tone. We were shocked because we knew them to be an enviably loving couple. Perhaps the expression on our faces gave away what was on our minds. For now the pastor turned to us and said, "You should not think that we are a discontented or an unhappy couple. In fact our married life is a very happy one and there is so much joy in our family. We thrive in love but that is because in moments of loneliness we turn to God in prayer. We have understood our limitations and together we bring them to God to be comforted in His love. In such moments we realize we are not enough for ourselves. It is God who fills us. Our loneliness indeed is a waiting for God to enter into us and fill us with His love. Over the years we have realized that it is God’s love which can heal and perfect us to love each other and fulfill our mission."

When the cry of our pain reaches God, He cannot but leave everything else to reach out to us. He left the glory of heaven to live amidst us and share in our every human struggle. He left the ninety-nine sheep to find us when we had chosen to stray from Him. As the Good Shepherd comes to heal our hearts and bind our wounds, our hearts too are made to receive His soothing touch. It is this message of hope that should spread to everyone the Lord is waiting to reach to that He might wipe away every tear and His love may reign over all.

Lord Jesus, You are our Good Shepherd. Nothing indeed shall we want. Nothing indeed shall we fear. Even when we are lost in the thickest darkness, we know You will hear our cry and reach us. Come Lord, bind our wounds, fill our hearts and hold us close in Your life-giving love.
Amen

 

 
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