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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

"The morning star rises in your heart" (2 Peter 1:19) - Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

The encounter with God is a decisive sacred event in our personal history of salvation. This event holds the key to the living out of our commitment to God. The Apostles always spoke of what they “have heard, seen, looked upon and touched.” (ref. 1 John 1:1-4) This experience was the cue for all their proclamation. When Scripture presents any person called by God in a special way if there is anything detailed about their person, mission and life, it is always to be found in a comparatively elaborate description of their first encounter with God. And in the gospels we are presented a host of personalities by way of the description of their first meeting with Jesus – an experience that would be the turning point in their lives.

“LOOK TO THE ROCK FROM WHICH YOU WERE HEWN” (ISAIAH 51:1)

One of the most descriptive encounters is of Zacchaeus whose conversion is recorded for us in the Gospel of St Luke (Chapter 19). The gospel event describes how this short tax collector Zacchaeus had been curious to see Jesus and climbed a sycamore tree near where Jesus was to pass that day in order to catch a glimpse of this famous wonder-worker. But he was totally shocked at what Jesus would do for him instead! The Lord passed by right where he was, looked up and saw him perched on the tree, called him by name and took him to his house - disregarding the criticism of the religious leaders of the time and the pious crowds.

Drawing from this event, there is an imaginative story taking us to what happened several years later in the household of Zacchaeus and is relevant since it helps us understand deeply the salvific value of our encounter with God. The story relates how the wife of Zacchaeus had begun to note that every now and then her husband would disappear from the house for long hours. And she could not help but feel that when he came back, he was quite ecstatic and relaxed. Being curious, she finally enquired where he was going and spending this much of time. Zacchaeus would dismiss the question with a smile. But this strange pattern of behaviour continued. The curiosity of the wife gave rise to inklings of doubt and with time intensified into a serious suspicion. She concluded logically that if he is going to a decent place he should be able to tell her. But for him to be so secretive, he must be up to something unacceptable. She was deeply distressed. Finding the pain unbearable, she took her eldest son into confidence. She suggested that he follow the dad from a distance and find out where he was going and what he was doing.

The next day as Zacchaeus was getting dressed up, she understood that he was heading to that special place. She gave a hint to the son and he followed the dad and was shocked at what he saw. Zacchaeus went rushing through the busy streets to the outskirts and then halted and slowly and meditatively approached a tree. As he came closer to the tree, he went on his knees and fell to the ground and wept awhile. He then rose again and began to sing. Then he went and sat on the ground leaning on the tree. There he closed his eyes and was seemingly lost in an ecstatic peace. After some time he would begin singing again and climb up the tree. He would sit on the branch of the tree and there begin crying aloud. And then he would climb down the tree and feel the tree with his hands as he walked around that tree; and then he would run around the tree! He would spend the whole day in this apparently crazy behaviour.

The son was shocked for he never imagined and was in no way prepared to see his father behave that way. Somehow everything seemed much worse than anything ever imagined! This senior figure who always behaved in such a controlled respectable manner had definitely gone out of his senses and the boy conveyed all the details to his mother.

“WHO WILL DELIVER ME FROM THIS BODY OF DEATH?” (ROMANS 7:24)

That evening when Zacchaeus returned home, he was very jovial and began talking freely to his wife and the children. At the first opportunity however, his wife took him aside and began to weep. She then got herself together and confronted him with the details she had of his secret behavior. He held her hand and explained to her that what happened to him at that tree was the source of all the blessedness that the family and he were experiencing. He described how his life transformation streamed out of the encounter he had with the Lord. “All the peace and love we enjoy today is because of what my God did to me when I was sitting there on that tree. When I was there holding on to the branch, I saw the Face of my God, I heard His Voice and my life was totally changed.”

He reminded her of the cruel and cold man that he was. The poor would come and cry at his gate for mercy and justice but he would have them pushed away by the Roman guards. His heart had become hardened for he was enslaved by the obsession for money and power. It became the goal of his life and that deceptive vision of life drove him to blind greed, cruelty and an altogether unimaginable style of living. He distanced himself from his own race and religion and joined the Roman oppressors. He became their agent as a corrupt tax collector, betrayed his own people and squeezed everyone to a miserable existence in order to establish himself. But the more wealth he accumulated, the less satisfied he felt. The more powerful he became, the less happy he was. This isolation began to eat into his heart and he was haunted by questions - "Who is there for me? What is the use of this life?"

Anxiety and gloom began to form a thick cloud around him and life became a big burden. Occasionally a ray of light flickered when a secret idea formed in his mind to change his vision of life and style of living. But he was afraid - he would lose everything indeed that he had built up until then and perhaps there would be nothing to hold on to also in the end. He was not ready to risk losing sight of the glare of earthly paradise. He felt condemned to live under the yoke of his lonely sinfulness - however empty he felt his heart was becoming and however cold the bond with his family was getting to be. That is when the good news struck him like lightning. Jesus of Nazareth was visiting Jericho! A sudden surge of a new hope filled him from within. He could not resist responding to this chance. He had no idea what it held for him. But he could not let go of some possibility for this chance for life. He wondered perhaps his salvation was near. The thought became a longing and the longing a determination – and no resistance could stand before this determination. He made all his enquiries about where Jesus was coming and without revealing his plans to anyone, he boldly ran on ahead to be there for the appointment fixed from the beginning of times. Indeed that is when heaven smiled upon him!

“THIS IS THE DAY WHICH THE LORD HAS MADE; LET US REJOICE AND BE GLAD IN IT” (PSALM 118:23-24)

Unfazed by the milling crowd gathered that day by the wayside, he climbed up a sycamore tree. He cared not for what anyone was going to think or say. He waited. What followed was a series of shocks for him. Jesus stopped at the foot of the tree, looked straight up at him, called him by name and went with him to his house and there declared salvation - “Today Salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:9). In that euphoria of love, Zacchaeus could feel everything his fingers were stuck to slipping away. His stiffened fingers were getting loosened. His hardened heart was taken out and a heart of flesh was moving within him by the rhythm of love and life. All the demonic powers were cast out and the chains of sin broke and fell apart making him a free man. The forces of greed had no hold on him anymore. He knew it within himself. The fragrance of freedom was exhilarating! He realized what indeed the fullness of life meant and he declared, “Lord, I cannot and do not want to go back to the life that I lived to this day. Of all my property, half I give to the poor. What I have cheated I shall restore four-fold.”

The conviction that money would never fill his heart became a liberation! Scales fell from his spiritual eyes. The first thing he could see where the lives that were hurt and the families destroyed by his mad greed. He made the decision to go to them and seek pardon and make compensation. It was not at all difficult for now he realized the one pearl of great price was the Joy of the Lord and he would do anything now to secure that. The poor whom he despised to this day became the people for whom he felt a commitment. Making money by fraudulent means was looked on as smartness. That style of life bared its teeth revealing that this was the nasty trick of the evil one to destroy him and make him a curse to everyone. A strong beam of light showed him what the real meaning of life was. His vision of life was transformed. His style of living changed. Life became blessed. His family became the source of warmth for his heart. All this was not in anyway his working out or his achievement. He realized it was all planned by the loving Lord and achieved by the outpouring of a Divine torrent of love. Nothing was the same anymore.

“LOOKING TO JESUS THE PIONEER AND PERFECTER OF OUR FAITH” (HEBREWS 12:2)

Describing this great experience to his wife, he continued to explain to her how he needed to refresh his heart with this experience. He was after all still living in a world that was running after the glare of the earthly paradise and speaking to people living under the deception and trying to convince themselves that deception is truth. There would be moments when his beliefs would waver and he would feel the weight of the wrong tilt of his mind. Being burdened once again, his eyes would be drawn back to the fleshpots of Egypt and confusion would cloud the meaning of life in the Lord. “The old” would threaten to edge out “the new” that had been brought in by the Lord. The garbage discarded into the dustbin of the past would threaten to surge up and entice the mind once again.

“I cannot ever risk getting sucked into that quagmire of sin again. Every time I see the shadows creeping in I rush to Him for I need to see that face of my Lord again. The light of His love radiating from His face will quench every trace of darkness that tries to cover me. I would need to hear the loving voice of my Lord again. And this is what happens when I am in that Divine shadow of that tree. Beautiful memories flood my heart; the marvelous experience comes alive again and the salvation declared by the Lord becomes the joy of my heart.”

The story though fictional highlights for us an age-old wisdom of Christian spirituality.  Spiritual transformation is not our achievement. It is God's working in our life. "It is the free gift of God." (Romans 6:23) As long as the heart takes hold and cherishes this gift, we are partakers of the experience of eternal life. We have definitely a role in working out our salvation and that is to open the heart at the knock of the Lord who declares, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him.” (Revelations 3:20)

At those moments when our hearts are lost in the ways and currents of the world, one assurance we have is that the Lord is there waiting to lead us to the refreshing waters of the Holy Spirit. One may be lost to oneself but the Good Shepherd is never lost to anyone! He is the Love that comes in search of the lost. "I have come to seek and to save the lost." (Luke 19:10) For a man who is lost, burdened and enslaved by the powers of evil, the one hope and certainty is that the Lord has set out in search of him.

“IT IS THE SPIRIT THAT GIVES LIFE, THE FLESH IS OF NO AVAIL” (JOHN 6:63)

There is the insecurity in our hearts that frightens us. We are unable to trust ourselves. We had thought we could do good. We were sure of our strength to say ‘no’ to evil. But we failed and we were brought to our knees by the awareness of our helplessness. I am not able to make even a decision. The decisions I take I am not able to keep. This crippling sense of helplessness in the corner of our heart invades our entire existence. But the answer does not lie within us.

The Lord God became Flesh and entered humanity to divide history into two phases - Before Christ and After Christ. This division took place not only in the history of humanity but more importantly in the personal history of salvation as ‘life without Christ’ and ‘life in continued grace of Christ’. Before Christ enters in, it is the age of helplessness and enslavement. But this is not meant to last. Salvation is our destiny determined by God for us.

St. Paul graphically describes this agony of the human heart: “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” (Romans 7:19) The nagging pain of the human mind is the reality of being tossed about helplessly from temptation to temptation, from misery to misery. Still agonizing though is the realization that our enslavement is by powers of sin that lie very much within us. “I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members.” (Romans 7:23) The grand ecstasy is the liberating enlightenment that the Lord is waiting to lift us from the chaos of sin to the heavenly beauty of freedom and holiness. So exclaims St. Paul - “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25)

“YOU DID NOT CHOOSE ME, BUT I CHOSE YOU” (JOHN 15:16)

In terrible distress a brilliant engineer confided in me, "On the outside people see me successful and happy. But the pain of intense failure crushes me from within. You could say, I am happily married. I have a very devoted and supportive wife and a beautiful child. In my community I am considered very honorable and many approach me for counseling and spiritual advice. I am faithful to my wife, definitely. I am living for my family. Yet this hungry demon of lust has taken control of me. In truth I am always looking to snatch every opportunity of visiting vulgar sites on the internet." He described how he would eagerly gulp in the dirt of impurity until his eyes and mind would be tired and stuffed with unholy images. Now when he opens his eyes to look at others, he realizes that he has lost the vision of a man of God.

With helplessness and guilt burdening his voice he said, "I can say honestly I have tried my best to come out of this mess and the enslaving power of lust. But the more I try, the more I realize my techniques are of no worth before this demon I had once surrendered to. I deeply regret that first moment I gave into the offer of sin. It was an enslaving ugliness cloaked in dazzling shades."

Since I knew him fairly well, I told him frankly that his problem was his spiritual arrogance that he could become holy by his own decisions and planning. “You think you can change your life. You think you can climb out of the pit of that evil habit. You cannot. Who can? The moment you commit a sin, the Lord Jesus says, you have become a slave. "Every one who commits sin is a slave to sin.” (John 8:34) A slave is helpless. He has no choice and no say. He definitely has no voice to say ‘no’ to the master. The demon is come in and the demon would never go out unless and until a greater power can ransom you out. This greater power is God’s Power! God alone can cast out the evil power and then you will be freed. God has to ransom you out.”

“YOU WERE BOUGHT WITH A PRICE” (1 CORINTHIANS 6:20)

The psalmist understood this - “Truly no man can ransom himself, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of his life is costly, and can never suffice.” (Psalm 49:7-8) And the good news is this that - “Christ Jesus… gave himself as a ransom for all.” (1 Timothy 2:6) St. Peter who knew well what it cost the Lord writes, “You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ.” (1 Peter 1:18-19) This memory of the sacrifice of Christ will hold us up and shield us from the snares of the evil one.

Our only salvation is to wait for the experience of the Lord. Truly in Him is our salvation! When I come face to face with Him, the Light from His Face will vanquish the forces of darkness within me. Indeed, the need of the hour was to take on the humble surrender of the prodigal son. Running into the Father's arms, he abandoned himself at the feet of the Father. With his head bent down, he confessed that he had sinned. That is when he could feel the arms of the Father enveloping him. He could experience then the love of the Father rewriting his history and restoring to him his sonship in all its splendour. All that he did was to hand over his sin for the Father to judge and deal with. This is the leap of faith that can alone reach us to salvation.

This is the mission of Christ. “The Son of God was manifested to destroy the works of the evil one.” (1 John 3:8) This is the offer of Jesus at His first proclamation in the Nazareth synagogue - "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) The Good News proclaimed by Jesus is that God was taking charge of human history. It was God's own work. The oppressed, the enslaved and the blind would be led into salvation by the favour of the Lord. This prophesy of Isaiah was being fulfilled in the Divine ministry of Jesus - “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21) The Lord will not abandon us. He has a grand vision for our salvation - “I will lead the blind in a way that they know not, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I will do, and I will not forsake them.” (Isaiah 42:16) Salvation happens when I approach the Lord and allow Him to minister to me. In my encounter with the Lord. I am delivered, healed and empowered with the fullness of life.

I directed this man to surrender his sexuality to the Lord and to the purpose of God in creating him sexually. The sexual nature and its desires were created and given to him as a gift in order to be united with his wife in the intimate sharing of his life. It was vested in him that he might be available to God for the blessing of life. Any other purpose or intention for which sexuality is exercised is destructive. When he would offer his body and mind in the hands of God, according to the promise, God would anoint him with the Holy Spirit and make his sexuality a blessing. I made it clear to him that this is the transformation the Lord waits to effect in his life. This will be God's own doing. I further explained to him that once God has consecrated his sexuality in the power of the Holy Spirit, he should not allow the forbidden offers of the ‘ancient serpent’ to hold an attraction to him. At every such deadly offer coming before him, he would need to rush and renew his commitment to the Lord. With any such demonic temptation arising, he should give ear to the knock of Jesus waiting to enter into that temptation. The Lord comes in to empower him to say a firm and final ‘no’ to the sin. Then he would be able to say what Jesus said, "Get behind me satan." (Matthew 16:23)

“THIS IS THE LORD'S DOING; IT IS MARVELOUS IN OUR EYES” (PSALM 118:23)

St. Paul spells out for us the only way to merit of salvation is in opening ourselves to receive the graces of the sacrifice of Christ. This saint after struggling to establish his own righteousness realized all his achievements and virtues were in vain. Instead at one moment of grace, he was plunged into salvation solely by the favour and unlimited generosity of God. “By grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God - not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:9-10)

Here we understand the paramount importance of the invitation of Lord to us, “He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit.” (John 15:5) The Lord is referring here to the fruit of the Holy Spirit such as love, joy, peace, self-control enlisted in St. Paul's Letter to the Galatians.(Galatians 5:22-23) Our spirituality is not the good things we do by our efforts and planning but the fruits that are borne in us by the activity of the Holy Spirit in us

For the Holy Spirit to become a tangible power in our day-to-day experience, we need to continue to surrender our life to the Lord at every moment of our life. An event of failure, for example, is to be identified as the knock of the Lord waiting to enter to drain out the regret and pain and transform failure into success. A moment of temptation is where we recognize God waiting to pour out His Power of self control enabling us to stand firm against the sinful assault. An unfortunate event is to be translated to an occasion where we respond to the Lord by opening our heart for His Peace to flow in and quench the distress. Our life therefore is not to be looked on as a battle that intimidates us but as the mission of the Lord for us. The Word directs us - “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be still.” (Exodus 14:14) We are invited us to experience the overwhelming victory God will secure for us as we wait on Him  - “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Ps 46:10) When I turn to the Lord in prayerful abandonment he will raise me up to walk in His Power.

The Lord assures us, “If you return, I will restore you.” (Jeremiah 15:19) No matter how far we have gone away from Him or how faded our memory of the Father’s Love may be, our failures are a call to go back and seek the Face of God. The desire of Zacchaeus to get a glimpse of Jesus landed him with precious salvation - a meaning for life, joy of heart, belongingness of the family, eternal life. His very memory remains a blessing for all generations. What happened to Zacchaeus is what the Lord is waiting to do to every one of us. He stops by our life; calls us by name and leads us to fullness of life. This experience of love will be the treasure in the earthen jar of my existence lending to me the glory of heaven.

Let Us Pray:

Lord God I come to You for in You is my salvation. I had believed that I could boast in my strength and goodness. But I understand O God my only hope for righteousness is in the experience of Your Love. I wait for You, Lord, to turn and shine Your loving gaze on me. Your eyes on me will be the treasure of my heart and the anchor of my soul. Lord Jesus, You have never let go of me. Even when I was lost in my sin, You gave Yourself to death that I might live. In Your Sacrifice, I know I am saved. To You, I owe my life. For Your Love I will live!

Amen.

 
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