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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

"A Saviour has been born for you" (Luke 2:11) - Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

The whole world lights up at Christmas because this is indeed the celebration of all celebrations. For as the Magi on that dark cold night looked to the brilliant star in the sky, in this season we are drawn once more to the offer of God to each and every one of us and to all of humankind - the offer to make our life a celebration. It is a clarion call for those dwelling in the valley of the shadow of death, to lift up their eyes and see the unsurpassable glory of heaven transforming their night to light.

“God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) For this reason the angel from heaven came down to proclaim joy on that night when the Son of God was born as an infant in the manger. “Behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today... a Saviour has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11) Here was the host of heaven announcing that the long-awaited Messiah and Lord of Heaven was Himself coming down to save His people from every burden of darkness. Here is the Good News of salvation that turns everything bad to good, every sadness to joy and every sin to liberation. In Jesus, God enters into human history - into the history of every one of us - of every man and woman. This was what the angel revealed to Joseph that this is the birth of God into humankind as man. With this great event, God has become Emmanuel - God with us and for us. They shall name Him Emmanuel, which means, ‘God is with us’.” (Matthew 1:23)

“Why, Lord, do you stand at a distance?” (Psalm 10:1)

The people of Israel believed themselves to be the nation of God. This promise of God’s choice was given to them even at the beginning of times. This was their confidence - “For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him?” (Deuteronomy 4:7) In the misery of slavery they found that God was there for them, seeing their tears, hearing their cries, knowing their pain (Exodus 3:7). In their sojourn through the harsh desert, the Lord was overshadowing them with His comforting and faithful presence. In the darkness of the night, He was there leading them as a column of fire. In their thirst, sweet waters gushed out of the hard rock. In their hunger, manna rained down from the heavens. Yet they would succumb rather hastily to a desperate conclusion that God was far away. God, they felt, had chosen to remain distant and from that unreachable location was controlling the destiny of humankind by some type of remote control.

This misunderstanding was vanquished by the great angel declaring that God is for us and with us. He is no more far away. His power of communion with us is greater than any others’. As St. Augustine later interprets, “God is closer to us than we to ourselves.” God has crossed over from the beyond to be with. He enters our personal histories and petty situations as ‘Emmanuel’ to make our life divine and heavenly.

“Lord, show us the light of your face!” (Psalm 4:7)

The joy proclaimed by the Messenger from heaven is rooted in the grand offer of God to make our life a celebration. This offer is constantly reiterated through the pages of the Scriptures. Even the glorified Lord seeks us out, as the book of Revelation records for us, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will dine with him, and he with me.” (Revelations 3:20) The Lord is telling us He is so close at hand - at the threshold of our hearts. He is waiting and knocking. If we open our hearts to Him, He will enter and make life a celebration! The literal translation talks of Him dining with us. But in Biblical language to eat with someone implies there is a banquet and the celebration is on full-swing.

Perhaps as we look into our lives, what we find is sadness, sickness, boredom, meaninglessness and even evil powers that reign supreme in our hearts. But it is here exactly God is waiting to enter and make our life a celebration. This is the Glory of God! Scripture records that at the proclamation of the coming of the Lord, the multitude of the heavenly host with the angel began praising God saying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom His favour rests.” (Luke 2:14)

We invariably tend to interpret the Glory of God in very secular terms. We understand it as majesty, authority and power. This is an inaccurate reading. The Glory of God is Peace on Earth, a peace that flows into every man and woman who would accept Him as Lord and Messiah. In such as these, the Glory of God will be manifested as salvation. Here is why the great saint of the early church St. Irenaeus declared - “The glory of God is man fully alive.” The glory of God is manifested in bestowing fullness of life upon the human person. So the Lord would say, “I have come that you may have life and life in all its fullness.” (John 10:10) This mission of His was clear in all the moments He walked the earth. Wherever human beings were perishing under the yoke of sin, despair and evil, He went to set them free and filled them with the fullness of life that was the Glory of God. The paralyzed would leap for joy. The bent and distorted would rise up and praise God. The broken-hearted were rejoicing. Those lost in years of battling their sicknesses were healed with one touch of compassion. Families broken in sin and tragedy would celebrate salvation. Wherever the door was open to let in the Saviour, the light of salvation poured in vanquishing the thick veil of darkness.

“He will yet fill your mouth with laughter” (Job 8:21)

A marriage doomed to disaster. A fearful sense of foreboding was casting a shadow upon everyone gathered at the wedding banquet in Cana (John Chapter 2). As it was customary in those days, the entire village was gathered here. But it seemed the celebration was getting aborted as the wine jars were getting emptied. The one item of the celebration, in fact the most important one at a wedding banquet, was wine. Its significance was in the symbolism it bore. If the wine was tasty and sweet, everyone would take a sip and declare a blessing “Ah gorgeous wine! So beautiful will be the love in the marriage!” But if the wine had run out and the wine jars became empty - the situation was in itself unthinkable, for the people will look grimly at the empty jars and conclude that it was a bad omen of how empty the love in the marriage will be.

The situation at Cana was indeed a catastrophe. The celebration was coming to a rather abrupt halt. But here right in this dead-end situation, the Saviour is manifested. Jesus is present with Mother Mary and His disciples. The Lord decides to intervene in this situation. He performs a miracle. The empty jars are filled but now with tastier wine for all to rejoice over. The celebrations take on a grand scale. That is God’s intent - the life of every man and woman shall be a celebration on this earth!

Wherever marriages go empty and families are broken, wherever painful distances enter human relationships and sadness fills human hearts, wherever evil and death reigns supreme, there the Lord enters as Emmanuel – “the God with us” - the God for everyone shuddering in the cold night of desolation and hopelessness. Into such situations, the Saviour makes a choice to enter - to ensure that the gift of life is indeed a celebration.

“The sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces”  (Isaiah 25:8)

Mourning is turned to dancing. The sackcloth is cast away and we don the garment of rejoicing when the Messiah arrives in our lives. Even death cannot hinder this celebration.

So deep was the grief at Bethany. Lazarus the only brother and refuge of the two sisters Martha and Mary, had died (John Chapter 11). Even while he was ill and hopelessness was beginning to grip the family, the sisters sent word to Jesus. Jesus responded declaring “This illness is not unto death but unto the manifestation of the glory of God.” (John 11:4) We see here the reiteration of the glory the angel proclaimed at the birth of Jesus. Now even sickness will lead to the manifestation of God’s Glory. However as the account reads, by the time Jesus reached Bethany, everything was over. Lazarus was dead and his body lay decaying in the tomb now for four days. Martha complained - “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:21) Jesus turning to her responded, “Martha, did I not tell you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” (John 11:40) Everything was far from over. In fact, they were standing at the threshold of glory. So Jesus commanded and the dead man came alive. How great was the celebration!

“In you they trusted and were not put to shame” (Psalm 22:5)

As we celebrate this great Feast of Christmas, it is crucial for us to know that we are not only looking back to an event that came to pass two thousands years ago. On the contrary, we are to turn toward our own lives and look to note where is it that the celebration ended and life began draining out. As we search our hearts we will see corners where sadness is lodged. Our bodies have become sick, aching and hurting. And into every such event that made life miserable we shall recognize that the Lord is waiting to enter. Christmas is this offer of God to become Emmanuel - God for us, God with us.

A doctor met me during a retreat. “Everything is over with my profession and my life,” he gloomily declared. On a certain day, he was in a hurry to go home and a child was brought in with a high fever. Though the parents pleaded with him, all he did was a hurried examination. He dismissed the case with some routine tablets. The next day the child developed very serious complications and reached a critical condition. His negligence was brought to the notice of authorities who made an enquiry and found him guilty. His image was tarnished among his colleagues and authorities. This news even found space in the media.

He became so depressed that he could not face anyone anymore. He took to drinking. He was so burdened with guilt he could not continue his practice. The medical profession which was once his great joy, now became for him a painful burden and he saw it as the cause of his breakdown. When I prayed with him the clear message I received from God was the verse in the Book of Revelation - “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will dine with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20) I explained to him that the assurance was that the Lord is standing at the door of his life, waiting to enter his depression and turn his life once again into the celebration of service. He decided to go for Confession and ask God’s pardon. He received the courage to go and seek pardon from the family of the child. The Holy Spirit gave him the power to make a fresh start in life. He accepted his medical practice as a mission from the Hands of the Lord. His failure became the success of the Lord. Today his life of service is exemplary.

This is the hope held out for every one of us. God has come down to illumine the darkness of the earth with the light of heaven. The Bible says when Jesus was born in Bethlehem “the glory of the Lord shone around them.” (Luke 2:9) And again St. Matthew quotes the prophecy of Isaiah at the coming of Jesus that “the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death a light has dawned.” (Matthew 4:16) Christmas is the Good News of Salvation that we are called to constantly build our life on.

Good news seldom makes headlines. The headlines scribbled in every fibre of our heart is the dark lines of bad news. So burdened is the human heart for far too many things have gone so wrong and everywhere we turn things are still going wrong. So people have stopped believing in anything good anymore. Even if something good rarely occurs, it is seen a chance happening and we do not trust it to last. It is bad news that seems to prevail. Indeed today the bad news needs to be really dark to become news at all! The mood of the mind is grief and despair. As a result, good news has no takers. In the wake of the wrong things happening all the time, there is the urgency of grabbing the little pleasures of life that could be available. It is this impossible culture that Christmas comes this year with its Good News of God waiting to turn over our life to the celebration of heaven. Christmas therefore fuels us with the courage to never give up on our problems but to start anew with a fresh hope that God is on our side. When we so turn our life over to God, the Kingdom of Heaven takes over!

“He will come to save you” (Isaiah 35:4)

The gospel is filled with lives that opened to receive the Lord and was thus transported from the thick darkness of night to experience the Glory of God. By the pool of Bethsaida, lay the man paralyzed for 38 years. More crippling than his sickness was the desperate conclusion that no one was there for Him. To him, the Lord reached out as Emmanuel - raising him to health and indeed a new life! Struggling through the crowd to reach out to Jesus was a woman burdened with 12 years of sickness, shame and isolation. The touch of faith released her from the bondage of despair to the joy of a hope that does not disappoint.

Simon Peter had gone through a most difficult night. In his own words he had toiled the whole night and had caught nothing. The big fisherman, so familiar with the Sea of Galilee, with the winds, the currents and the fish, now stood stranded. He had cast the net repeatedly and did not get even a little fish. He had been so sure of himself. Now he had begun to question his own expertise. The day had dawned all around except in the heart of Peter. In deep despair he was washing the nets, disillusioned with the vagaries of life. That is when Jesus entered into his life, got into his boat and ordered Peter to put out into the deep and let down his nets for a catch. The Lord seemed to strike exactly where it sorely hurt. Peter surely in desperation lashed out, “Master, that is where I was casting the net all the time, the whole night in fact. But I have caught nothing.” Then Peter looked up to look into the eyes of Jesus. There he could not but recognize the Promise of the Glory of God. Peter submitted to the Lord’s word. He opened his heart and cast the net. The net was so filled, he could not even drag it all in. So full was the heart of Peter as well!

The purpose of the Lord’s coming into our lives is that we “may not perish but have eternal life.” No matter how defeating the circumstances of life may have proved itself to be, we are not to give in to despair. The night of Christmas gives us reason to rejoice. The proclamation of the angel must echo in our hearts that we may realize the grand hope we have. God comes to us with a magnanimous offer. He knocks at the door of our heart - waiting to enter into every sadness, sickness and every form of death, to banish from there the power of evil and despair. He will manifest His Glory which shall render us fully alive! Whenever we were sad, we imagined the beauty and celebration of life was slipping away. At such moments, we need to remain still and hear the knock of Jesus - the assurance that He is close to us, faithful never to abandon us, glorious to make our lives a celebration that nothing in this world can challenge. Let us recognize in this Christmas the loud knocking of the Lord, calling us to give over our lives to Him who was born for us.

Let us pray

We adore you Lord Jesus. You came into this valley of tears to make Your dwelling with us. And when You have been with us, we realize that Your Loving Kindness is better than life. For in Your Love, we find the strength to hope. In Your Light, we remember that we are made for Your Glory to be manifested. We offer to You every dark shadow that is cast on our lives. We offer to You the painful helplessness and loneliness we have suffered. You have placed a song of rejoicing in our heart.

You are the God who has always been for us even when we did not know or care that You were there. All we want is to be with You, Emmanuel. We pray, O King of Heaven make your dwelling in our hearts!

Amen

 
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