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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

"You and your family will be saved" (Acts 13:61) - Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

Let us begin this year looking at the Face of God. For we have this promise that when we look to Him, our faces shall be radiant (Psalm 34:5). As we turn our gaze on Him, joy shall flood our hearts and salvation dawn upon us.

St. John simply defines God in one little verse that says “God is love.” (1 John 4:8) All of Scriptures is the expression of the great unchanging love of God. Hence, St. Augustine would call the Bible as the personal love letter of God. Yet this is still a revelation that is yet to be comprehended by the human mind. Hence St Paul writes of “the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge.” (Eph 3:19) We have often made God out to be a dry loneliness lost in a distant eternity. Yet God is not an individual entity but a loving community of three Persons who have become One by the powerful current of Divine Love.

This truth is of utmost relevance to us since Scripture reveals right at the beginning that we are created to reflect this communion. The Book of Genesis describes how “God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’… So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27) We are not meant to wander through this life as lone-rangers. We find our salvation in belonging to a family. The heart cherishes most the idea of belongingness. The blessings of life are experienced in the family. Family is very dear to the heart of every one of us. We were born and we grew up in a family. There are beautiful memories we cherish of belonging to each other, living for each other, loving each other and of being loved. Our great longing is to be held secure in the natural bond of love, affection and belongingness in a family life. But then there are moments when this natural bond of love and affection ceases to exist. There are moments of crisis and emptiness when such bonds give way and painful separation and isolation takes over. At such times, when our family life becomes a bad news, we see it as a disaster and we want to run away from commitments. These are moments we are challenged by God to rise above to the supernatural power of love to bind us together.

He Is Our Peace, Who Has Made Us Both One” (Ephesians 2:14)

The Son of God came to the earth by being born into a family. Mary was His mother and Joseph, his foster father. This family, though chosen by God, was in no way spared of the struggles and shocks of life. In fact, it is in the context of their great trials that we understand the call of love and the living out of the vocation of family. When we think of family, we imagine it to be borne out of the natural bond of love – a man loving a woman, a woman giving her life to a man – as husband and wife. Out of their love, flow children. They live for each other. They share life together and everything that makes for life. Love is shared bodily, psychologically and spiritually. This is what makes for the natural bond of love and affection. This is the attachment and belongingness that we understand and desire.

However, the gospel reveals to us that the life of the Holy Family was different. Their love for each other was not in anyway less and yet that love was not founded merely on a natural bond of affection. It is described how Joseph went with the child and mother to Galilee in Israel and there they lived together in the little town Nazareth. The gospels make it clear that neither was Mary living as the wife of Joseph nor was the child Jesus his natural son.Angel Gabriel had conveyed to Mother Mary that she would conceive and bear a son through the power of the Holy Spirit. When Joseph saw her after this, he realized she was pregnant with child. He was very distressed and even contemplated a secret divorce. That is when the angel came and clarified to him that this child was borne of the Holy Spirit and destined by God to be cared for by Joseph. “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:20,21). Joseph lovingly, willingly and joyfully accepted Mary unto himself - not as his wife but as a mother of the Son of God!

I remember while on my pilgrimage to the Holy Land, I visited Nazareth where there is the beautiful grand Basilica. In the centre of this Basilica is the crypt built around a cave believed to be the home of the Holy Family. Joseph, Mary and Jesus lived in a little hut! As I was offering the Mass there, it occurred to me that this is a holy place sanctified by the daily life of a man, a woman and a child -Joseph, Mary and Jesus. They ate, slept and rejoiced there together. They celebrated the Jewish festivals together. They were sharing everything with each other in a perfect bond of love. It was a supernatural bond of love that made them one. And it was woven in their personal communion with God.

For All Who Are Led By The Spirit Of God Are Sons Of God” (Romans 8:14)

A significant aspect in all the narratives of the infancy of Jesus is that we always find Joseph and Mary waiting for God’s direction. Mary was told by God of her mission to be the mother of God and she accepted that message from the angel in total self-giving: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) The angel visited Joseph and gave the message that they were to live together but not as husband and wife but as the mother and foster father of Jesus. And he accepted it unhesitatingly. They had to go to Bethlehem and they went. Next, they were asked to flee to Egypt and they obeyed. They were asked to return and before they could do so they were again made to change their routes!

Every turn of the journey was taken as they received instructions from the Lord to fulfill the eternal plan of salvation. Their every step was directed by the finger of God. So also the bond that united them was not a physical bond of love but a supernatural bond of affection inspired and strengthened by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the two of them were always attentive to God’s Word. They had received their life, their mission and this relationship from God and to pursue the way God wanted them to live they were always seeking and sensitive to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. They were ever attentive to God’s word and also ever ready to do God’s will. Hence the power of God rested on them. This is the supernatural power of love upholding this family beyond all natural ties. They did hold within themselves all the affections and desires that are there in a natural relationship. Yet their joy was not the pleasure of sex. Their fulfillment was not the pride of having a son belonging to the father. Theirs was a higher joy welling up from a deeper love poured out on them from the greatest Power from Above.

God's Love Has Been Poured Into Our Hearts Through The Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5)

There are moments we also are challenged to rise above the natural bond of love to the supernatural power uniting the family together. And where there is a need, the Lord God who brings us together in the family, pours out His Grace in greater abundance. I was visiting a family in the US. The wife had called me to pray for the husband and their two children. They were highly educated and doing very well in life. Suddenly, the husband had a stroke and became paralyzed. As the disease progressed he, slipped into a coma. The brain progressively stopped functioning. He was lying there like a vegetable. And yet the way his wife was caring for him impressed me deeply. She was working in order to make ends meet – to feed and educate the children. She would return home only in the evening after a long day of work. The husband would be lying on the bed as he was when she had left him in the morning. And she said, “I sleep down there beside his bed after caring for him.” For years, this was the situation. She told me, “I sit near my husband and we pray together. My husband is not conscious but I know my husband is there for me. My husband is not able to touch me because he cannot move his hands. Maybe he does not even know I am sitting there and yet I can feel the peace of union with him. I wait by his side to catch a glimpse of at least his eyes moving. And every time my husband opens the eyelids and closes it, an ecstatic joy fills my heart. I praise God and tell Him I want to be faithful and serving my husband in all eternity.” Here i a wife united with the husband not by any natural attachment but by a supernatural power of love that she received by waiting upon God by his side for the long years that he was confined to his bed.

The Greatest Of These Is Love” (1 Corinthians 13:13)

There is nothing more edifying than to see love in its pure form of total self-giving. In such love, there is nobility and the gracious goodness of God brightly shining through. I can never forget a particular family that came here to make their retreat from North India travelling two days and nights. The couple had brought all their three children along. The man was only a 4th class employee in the railways. At the beginning of the retreat he met me and shared his faith, “The money I get is not enough even to feed my family. Yet I was determined to make it for the retreat because my eldest son is sick and I want the best for him. I am sure my son will be healed. I have great dreams for him.” The boy had stomach cancer. Throughout the retreat, I noticed the father holding his son close to him. He was a very affectionate parent – ever attentive to the frequent need of the son. Every now and then, he would turn and give his son a smile and a pat – a comforting word and touch. We prayed much for the boy’s healing but God’s will was different. He died in our dispensary. As he breathed his last, the father threw himself on the dead body of the child and cried inconsolably. We prayed with him.

After a few hours, I called him and his wife together and expressed how sorry we were that this son had died. I explained that God should have a purpose behind this. Offering to help them in whatever way they required, I suggested, “Now you are from a faraway place. You cannot afford to take your son’s body by flight and that is the only way you could transport the body. I myself will make arrangements for the boy’s body to be buried here.” At that moment, he fell at my feet and burst out crying, “Father, please don’t ask that of me. I want to take my son to my village and bury him in the cemetery of our little parish. Every day I can go and be by his side. When I grow old and die, I will be buried in the same grave. I love my son and I have lost him. But I know he is present and there for me.”

At that moment the wife spoke up and said, “I want to share with you a secret that only the two of us know. The boy who died is not the son of my husband. He is my son, the baby I conceived just two months before our marriage. Though our marriage was fixed, I went astray and this son of mine is the fruit of my sin. The night we were married, I told my husband I was pregnant and he was shattered! He questioned me, “Why did you do this to me?” He beat me up and I knew I deserved it. The next day early in the morning he went to church. Before she could continue, her husband began to recount this extraordinary moment of grace, “That morning in the church, I was pouring out my pain and praying “My God, why did this happen to me?” And I saw the face of St. Joseph before my eyes. My own name is Joseph and I understood at that moment God’s message for me. It was as clear as day. I felt a great love being poured into my heart because I knew this son was destined for me to care for. He is my son - the son my God had given me. “When I returned home that morning, I told my wife “Your son is my son from this moment”.” The lady then continued to share their story, “After this son was born, I had two more children. But of these three children, this son remained the favourite of my husband. Every day when he goes for work, he would bring sweets for his eldest son and he would ask him to share it with the younger ones. The closeness they shared always brought tears to my eyes for I knew this came from God.”

Here was a strong bond of love uniting father and son – not arising from a natural belongingness but through a divine power of love. It is this quality of love that we must rise up to. We have been brought together by God in our families with the promise of His Providence of Love. And in the strains of life, no matter how great it can turn out to be, the Lord God is there to raise us above the waves that threaten to overwhelm.

What Therefore God Has Joined Together” (Matthew 19:6)

A retreatant once shared with me in a very justified tone his difficult marriage situation: “I am a man of values. I am not ready to sacrifice anything for that. And I have suffered much. We were living a very peaceful life. But at one point, I came to know that my wife had been unfaithful to me. So I told her clearly that very day ‘Since we have two children and our family has a name and a prestige to maintain I will not go for a divorce. We will live under the same roof but as strangers in separate rooms. You are not my wife anymore’.” I told him what was the truth behind his grand claims – “You have not accepted your wife from the hands of God. If God could accept your wife in spite of the sins she committed, you must pray for that grace which will enable you to accept her as God has. The highest value is love and to love as God loves.” He was very disturbed and shocked by this new possibility before him. I assured him of my prayers. At the end of the retreat before leaving, he rushed up to me and told me, “Father, I have realized I made a great mistake in rejecting her because of her sin. In my pride I was blind to what was the Lord’s plan for us. I am a man very conscious of my prestige and I could never think of touching a woman who rejected me and was unfaithful to me. Now I know it is God’s will for us to live together as husband and wife. It is God’s desire that I must care for her as God does and heal her of her pain. I have accepted her once again into my heart and I know it is the power of God that opened my heart to this light. I have now got back my family.”

When we speak of family, we settle for the understanding of it being a natural bonding. Therefore when that natural bond breaks because of circumstances we find no need to remain in the family. It is no wonder then that we see such a dismal and steep increase in the number of divorces.

A young man was justifying his decision for divorce saying he had no “feelings” for his wife any more. A young lady shattered but insistent told me “I never expected my husband to be a drunkard. I cannot take him into my life.” When we build our relationships on our feelings and expectations, we are building it on a perishable foundation and it is bound to pass away with the wear and tear of time and tides. But we must face the truth that when the natural bond of love fails, God is there to take over the situation and cover us with His grace that will fill us and support us.

He Who Abides In Love Abides In God” (1 John 4:16)

We are made for love. We cannot go through life like drifting islands driven by the changing currents. Our fulfillment is in faithfulness in love making God the source of our strength. Our commitment in every relationship is made true and real when we first submit our lives to the power of the Holy Spirit. Like Joseph and Mary, we must be ready all the time to be attentive to God’s word and eager to do His will. Then, shall we be overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and guided firmly by the rich graces of God. Relationships are too precious for us to risk them to the natural bonds of attachment. There have been moments when we were not able to understand each other and we did not even feel like looking at each other. We lived together as strangers under the same roof. Every such moment was a call from Above to take your spouse and your children from the hands of God.

God is Love - a love that we will begin to experience in our homes. The Holy Spirit dwells within us and we experience this in our intimate relationships as the power to love beyond our human limitations. As we begin this New Year, let us come as a family before our God and pray that our love may become sacred, spiritual and supernatural. True love is the most beautiful thing in this world and it “never ends.” Natural love alone will not support and sustain us in precious relationships. What upholds our commitments and makes our family life beautiful and sacred is God’s power of the Holy Spirit flowing into us as the power of love uniting us. When we were hurt and our relationships were drained of any goodness, in the past we sought to walk out. Now, we shall ask the Lord to heal those wounds and fill those empty spaces that we may reach out and be bonded by the overflowing grace of God.

Let Us Pray

O God we thank You for giving us the example of the Holy Family. You sent Your Son into a family in order to redeem every family and sanctify the natural bonds of family life. Your Son entered homes to declare salvation to families. He restored joy when there was mourning at the household of Lazarus. He brought hope and celebration back to the wedding feast of Cana. He lit the light of salvation in the cold dark home of Zacchaeus at Jericho. And here in our families, we are waiting for Your Spirit to flow into us that we may be filled with the Power of Your Love and experience heaven in our homes. Amen.

 
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