Monthly Reflection by
Prayer of the Month
"More than conquerors" (Romans 8:37) - Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC
Why would a young man step out of the rat race of this world for money and comforts to offer his life to serve the Lord? Why would a young girl hurt deeply by a parent choose to forgive and take the decision to be a missionary of love to her family? Why would a young man give up the flashy distractions of this world to spend time in prayer? Here before us is a new generation that has discerned a higher call to be more than conquerors. Their decisions and declarations radiate across the nations to give the message to everyone who hears that our God is waiting for us to rise above to a supernatural norm of living.
POWER 2011, the Sixth International Youth Conference held at the Divine Retreat Centre has opened the eyes of every one of us here to the deep longing in the hearts of the youth for the higher goals of life. Priya Bishnoi from Rajasthan shared this new revelation of life, “In Jesus I realized that God accepts me as I am and loves me still. My mission is to spread the light and be more than a conqueror.” Sergio Martires from Goa writes, “God has touched my heart. I have been able to forgive people against whom I have been holding a grudge for years. Now I want to share the Word of God to help others experience God.” Reflecting on her retreat experience, Janey Menezes from Kuwait wrote - “I was deeply moved during the Inner Healing Eucharistic Adoration. Now what I want is to be faithful to the Lord in my daily living; to be an inspiration to others; to save souls and be more than a conqueror.”
“Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit” (Zechariah 4:6)
Our retreat has been an urgent call, a call from God to every one of us to be “more than conquerors.” When we begin to search out what this requires of us, we would firstly need to see who is a conqueror. And our mind immediately envisions the big names enshrined in history texts such as Alexander the Great, Napoleon Bonaparte, Julius Caesar, Sher Shah and so on. These are the conquerors who waged great battles, subdued nations and races and established their own name and fame and mark on the history of mankind. But the Word says that we are meant to be more than any of these conquerors. It further clarifies that we are thus established as “more than conquerors” not by bloodshed, the sword, bombs or any destructive weapon. But we conquer in the power of the love of our Lord Jesus Christ!
This is the one power that none of these conquerors had. For them name and fame was achieved by destruction and devastation of cultures, cities and lives, by trampling upon others to establish themselves, by killing, hatred and vengefulness. But the power that we hold, the world would have to acknowledge is different and in fact much superior. It is the power of love – the undying, unquenchable love of our Lord Jesus Christ. While all other victories are reversed by time and circumstances, nothing can distance us from the victory we have received in the Love of our Lord. Our conquest is established on the rock of eternity and can never be shaken. Defeat cannot be on our vocabulary, for above every other force and reality, is this Power of Love that promises to hold us up. Look at the circumstances of your life that cast a shadow on your heart and threaten to defeat you and match it with this Word of God – “Not tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword… neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-38) The testimony of Adri D’ Silva exactly reflects this truth. He described clearly, “I experienced the Love of God and I am healed of my addictions to smoking and drinking.”
“Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13)
We can define who is a conqueror. But what can it mean to be “more than a conqueror”? The history of our faith offers us examples of those who lived out this higher call. Pope John Paul II was such a “more than conqueror.” He was shot at point-blank range. His enemies worked it out so meticulously that he should have been dead. But he was not conquered by the bullet but instead had been conquered by love to conquer with love. Dismissing the rationale of the world, he went all the way into the dark cell of the assassin, kissed his hands and told him “You are my brother. I love you.” He went unarmed to meet the man who had tried to kill him. He had a weapon - an unquenchable flame of love. And with that, the Holy Father broke through the thick veil of the darkness of hatred. Pope John Paul II conquered the heart of this man. On his release Ali Agca had mentioned that for him, “Pope John Paul II is the most admirable man of the twentieth century.” He recalled his meeting with the Pope in the prison saying that it was such a wonderful moment – “It was like old friends meeting again!” The Pope had even given him a medal of our Lady of Fatima! In fact the first desire of Ali Agca on his release was to travel to Rome because he felt a duty to pray at the tomb of John Paul II. He said that after so many years in prison, he is a new man.
The world powers would have had Ali Agca burnt to ashes for his crime. But only Pope John Paul II - a man of the Spirit of the Lord could go and sit with him, impart the Love of Jesus and lead him to the experience of repentance and love. The Love of Jesus Christ conquered the heart of this man and John Paul II stands before us as more than a conqueror. Where a conqueror would have done the enemy to death, the man of God raised him to life and reconciliation.
“Power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
St Maria Goretti was but a young girl from a little village in Nettuno, Italy. A young man tried to molest her. He made repeated advances to her and threatened even to kill her. But she would only declare to Him, “I belong to Jesus. My body belongs to the Lord. My body shall not be touched with the power of lust.” Even when he held the knife against her, she kept resisting, telling him, "No! It is a sin! God does not want it!" Alessandro first choked Maria, but when she insisted she would rather die than submit to him, he stabbed her fourteen times before he ran away.
Alessandro had the power to kill her, yet she continued to pray for him. Her dying breath was a prayer for his conversion. Three years after her death, Alessandro repented and changed his way of life. He had had a dream in which Maria came and offered to him white lilies which got burnt in his hands. After his release, Alessandro Serenelli visited Maria's still-living mother, Assunta, and begged her forgiveness. She forgave him, saying that if Maria had forgiven him on her deathbed, then she couldn't do less and they attended Mass together the next day - receiving the Holy Communion side by side. Alessandro reportedly prayed every day to Maria Goretti and referred to her as "my little saint." He attended her canonization in 1950. Serenelli later became a Capuchin brother, living a life of prayer until his death.
The secular powers could have only destroyed Alessandro as a rightful retribution for his act of cruelty. But a young woman with the heart of Jesus could become more than a conqueror. She conquered the very power of evil that was intent on destroying her. Defeating the power of satan, she had established the Kingdom of God in the very life of her murderer.
“Born anew, not of perishable seed but of imperishable” (1 Peter 1:23)
The world flashes before our eyes grand offers. But we have a higher calling - a more fulfilling and enduring reward. The Lord has greater expectations for us. “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9) Hence as Pope John Paul II exhorted the youth - we cannot settle for mediocrity but must strive to be the saints of this century!
At the age of twelve Jesus had declared, “I must be busy about my Father’s affairs.” (Luke 2:49) For Jews, the age 12 is the time of transition from childhood to adulthood. Till that age they were with their parents and among other things learning the trade of the father. But at this age, they start identifying themselves with the life and trade of the father, adopting the attitudes and ideas, the vision of life and the style of living of the parent. But here Jesus declares to the world that He had a different identity because He claimed His Sonship in the Heavenly Father. His vision, purpose and life was to be different from that of an ordinary carpenter. He was born on this earth to carry out the will and vision of His Heavenly Father. From here we see His Heart was filled with the fullness of the Love of the Heavenly Father and He went about sharing that love with every sad, sick and broken person, restoring them to wholeness. He was not ready to settle for the worldly values and ideals prevalent in the society and religious milieu of the day. His own life indeed was a living out of the declaration that He made in the Temple of Jerusalem as He entered His adulthood. We who are at the threshold of a grand transition in our life need to make a similar declaration: “I must be busy about my Father’s affairs.”
We need to claim our sonship in the Heavenly Father and take up the challenge that Jesus throws open to us, “Be perfect as you heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) We need to rise above the standards and values our parents and ancestors bequeathed to us. We cannot sink to the stench of the standards of this world. In living out our life according to the fullness of grace we have received at baptism, we become the children of our Heavenly Father. And it is to live out this higher identity that Jesus calls us in the gospel to be as perfect as the Heavenly Father. What does this perfection require of us?
“Perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18)
The perfection of the Heavenly Father is the perfection of love, goodness and gentleness. The Father in the fullness of love sent His only Son to die for us that we may live forever. And St. Paul emphasizes this reality that “God is for us.” (Romans 8:31) It is with this truth that he leads us to our identity as being more than conquerors.
There have been times we imagined God was against us. We commit sins and then come to the conclusion that God should be waiting to punish me. And then when something wrong happens – an accident or a failure, a humiliation or a sickness, we conclude that this was indeed the wrath of God. There were even times when we were desperate for help and cried out, “Oh God, where are you? Can’t you see me suffering in pain? This struggle is beyond my strength.” If we had paused but for a moment with trust, we would have heard the clear whisper of God in our hearts, “My child, I am there for you.”
St. Paul continues in this passage to reason out that, “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, will He not also give us all things with Him?” (Romans 8:32) In every moment of distress, when things seem to be going wrong and tragedy seems to have struck, when self-pity and despair threaten to overwhelm us, we should turn to the saving truth that we have a God who is for us. He counts every hair that falls from our head and collects every tear flowing out of our eyes. He has taken account of all our afflictions and troubles. This is the nature of our God. Hence St. Paul raises this challenge, “If God is for us, who is against us?” (Romans 8:31)
This is a challenge we need to take up! Let us look at our lives and question ourselves, “Who can be against us?” - when we know that our God is there for us. He has obviously conquered our hearts with such an immensity of love that we can never even doubt His Presence. Even when everything seems to go wrong with us, we proceed in the confidence that God is there by our side. So much love is poured into our hearts we have no reason to slip into despair. Neither would we fear our circumstances nor could we be fearful of or angry with anyone. With this understanding, Jesus calls us to be perfect as the Heavenly Father is. He describes this perfection of the Heavenly Father as shown to us when He sends the rain on the just and the unjust alike. He lets the sun shine on both. His blessings are showered on all without discrimination. Every one of us, no matter how sick or broken we are or even how insignificant and sinful we may be, we are precious to Him. He cannot step down to be ignoble and try to trip us that we may be hurt for our transgressions. On the other hand, He invites us to be noble and generous as He has been to us.
“So are My ways higher than your ways” (Is 55:9)
A young man once came to me. He was very upset and angry. He felt betrayed by his girlfriend and so defeated in life itself. He loved a girl very deeply and wanted to marry her. He thought that she too loved him. Whether he had perceived rightly about her feelings was not clear. But one day he came to know that she loved another boy and had decided to get married with the other boy. He felt she had willfully deceived him. The feelings of rejection soon metamorphosed to anger and revenge.
Shattered and desperate, he questioned me, “How could God allow this to happen to me? I had pinned all my hopes on this girl and now she tells me without any qualms that she has no such love for me and that her heart is given to the other boy and is going to be married to him.” He continued in a rather fierce tone, “I will never allow that to happen. She is my girl. I will not allow her to be married to anyone else. I will kill her if it has to be so.” He was determined to eliminate her. All the intensity of feelings in him was now turned to intense anger and revenge. I told him, “My brother, you can do that. You can kill that girl and so you would have your way. You would have conquered in the situation where you feel she had defeated you. But who really conquered? It is your anger, your sin - the devil in you that would have conquered her by killing her. But God is asking you to be more than a conqueror. True, you feel defeated. I understand the burden of the storm of anger, bitterness and desperation in you. But will you be swept away in this storm? Will you allow these negative powers to dictate terms to you? You have an option. For now you have the call from God to be more than a conqueror. For that you must go and tell her that you’ll pray for her and that you will always be praying for her. Go for the wedding and wish her every blessing. Then you would be more than a conqueror.”
He would not hear of it. He was wild. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. He would settle for nothing less. He shouted “She has deceived me. She has hurt me and I cannot bear the stigma of this hurt. I have to teach her a lesson.” He was hell-bent on revenge. I pointed out to him, “You are very much a man of this world. You are totally controlled by the base emotions. You are pulled and pushed around by evil powers of anger and hatred. There can be no holy justification for hatred. You must make a decision about whom you are going to hand over your life to.” He was confused and upset.
“Victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57)
I prayed for him and waited for him to calm down. I reminded him clearly that if he had come for the retreat, it was because he was brought here by the Lord for a purpose. “God wants you to be more than a conqueror. When you forgive her and pray for her that her marriage with the other boy may be a happy life of love, you are gaining the heart of Jesus - you are acting as Jesus did.” I asked him then - “Who was the conqueror on Mount Calvary? Was it Pilate who condemned Jesus? Was it the Centurion who crucified him? There were also the soldiers who were cruel to him and insulted him? How can we forget Judas who betrayed him or Peter who denied him?” Apparently they all succeeded. But at one moment of salvation, a rush of love came down from the heavens into the Heart of Jesus and He prayed, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). At the moment the prayer arose from the Heart of Jesus, darkness was dispelled on Mount Calvary. The Cross, the sign of the curse became a sign of blessing for every one of us. Jesus had conquered the arrogance, the evil, the injustice, the jealousy of his enemies by praying for them and loving them.
I turned to him again and challenged this young man, “On Mount Calvary Jesus was more than all those conquerors. This is your Mount Calvary. The offer is given to be in the Presence of God, to follow His way that is life. Do not try to be a conqueror in the language of the world. Such victories leave only ashes and bloodshed - ugly memories for posterity. Be a conqueror in the eyes of God. Conquer that darkness of evil in everyone around you.” I prayed for him and sent him to participate in the retreat session. The Lord touched him and empowered him with the Holy Spirit. He became a new person. He wished the girl for her wedding, assuring her of his prayers. He later shared with me of how free and strong he felt. Sin has its arguments but it is deceptive and enslaving.
The Lord has a purpose to be fulfilled in each of our lives. He has a message to give to everyone. He has got a mission to be fulfilled through every one of us - a mission to spread the light, to be more than conquerors in our families, parishes and neighbourhoods. Like Pope John Paul II and Maria Goretti – we need to set a trail of light in every dark corner of the world. We must be ready to accept this call and go forward boldly. The Lord has got great power to strengthen us that we may become more than conquerors. This is a world steeped in the darkness of sin. But we shall transform it into a beautiful place with the splendour of the Light of Jesus. With that decision firm in our hearts, let us join hands with the youth of the Power 2011 and renew our commitment to be more than conquerors.
Let us pray
Lord Jesus, You never abandon us. Your love, O Lord, is the fragrance of life. When You are with us, we know that we need fear nothing for You will fight our battle and lead us to the joy of victory.
Lord, we bring to You every adversity of our life and we thank you for here Lord we know we shall see Your unsurpassable power at work within us. Here we shall be transformed to be more than conquerors. Lord, we pray that we shall always keep Your perfect Love before our hearts, Your mission before our eyes and live Your message of holiness and healing.
May the light of Your love in us bring healing and beauty to our families, communities and to this world once more.
Retreats at the Divine Retreat Centre, Somersby, Sydney
Divine Retreat Centre, Somersby to hold retreats throughout 2013. Fr. Michael Payyapilly VC to minister. For bookings, email email@example.com. Hurry, as admission is limited.
Date: June 2013 - December, 2013
Emmanuel Youth Conference
Welcome to the season of blessings - mark this Advent at a youth conference at the Divine Retreat Centre, with the Divine family. Celebrate the joy of Christmas.
Date: December 22 - 27, 2013