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Monthly Reflection by
Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

I have come to set the earth on fire" (Lk 12:49) - Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

Prayer of the Month

Monthly Reflections

"We saw His glory" (John 1:14) - Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

Even if Christmas is celebrated a thousand times, if Christ is not born in our hearts there is no meaning in all the elaborate festivities. This is an old saying which carries much wisdom. The celebration of Christmas does not consist merely in the commemoration of an historic event of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Christmas is meant to be the saving experience of Jesus being born in our hearts.

“The true light that enlightens everyone” (John 1:9)

The angel declared to Joseph revealing the plan of God for the birth of the Messiah, “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21) This one verse contains all the promises of God in the Old Testament. As St. Paul expresses the mystery of Christmas, “For in Him every one of God’s promises is a ‘Yes.’ For this reason it is through Him that we say the ‘Amen’, to the glory of God.” (2 Corinthians 1:20) The birth of Jesus in Bethlehem ushered in an era of salvation. Only when every individual experiences this salvation, Christmas becomes a meaningful celebration. The Love of God manifested in the coming of the Messiah is to make sure that no one is abandoned to the curse of death. St. John explains to us, “For 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)

To believe in Jesus means to let oneself go in the way of the Lord. In the world there are many ways opened for an individual to pursue happiness. Many of these ways in fact divert us from the true joy of heart. Manifold are those who choose ways of damnation. Christmas, on the other hand, shines forth to give a revelation to every individual that Jesus is the way of salvation.

“From His fullness have we all received grace” (John 1:16)

A family came for retreat during the week of Christmas. Before entering the retreat, the man confided in me that he was an alcoholic. He was obliged to a group of friends. Christmas was an occasion when they gathered together to drink. He would come home and create a commotion - dampening the festive mood of the family. Once Christmas was over, he would feel very guilty for hurting his wife and two children. This, however, changed nothing as he could never say ‘No” to his friends. In a bid to escape his friends and be with the family for the Christmas celebration, he came here for the retreat. At the end of the retreat he came and said to me that this was the best Christmas he ever celebrated in his life. The Word of God described to him the meaning of Christmas as an experience of salvation. During the talks and prayer sessions, he was convinced of the many failures of his past - particularly his failure as a husband and father. He made an honest confession after which he felt a freedom of the spirit to relate to his wife and children in love and tenderness. Since they were staying in the same room during the retreat, they could pray together as a family. He asked pardon of his wife for having been unfair to her as a husband. The wife said to me that the Christmas celebration in the retreat centre brought the family so together that their life will not be the same as before. For the first time she experienced the concern and affection of her husband! The elder daughter expressed her keen desire to the parents that every year they would celebrate Christmas at the retreat centre. Pondering over the sharing of this family, it occurred to me that the real joy of the heart is in being united with God. A deep intimacy with the Lord will open the heart of everyone to each other. This indeed is the experience of salvation that every family should have received as the Grace of Christmas.

The first promise of God to save humankind was made in Paradise after the first family was scattered by sin. When man and woman rejected their Maker, reaching out for a destiny apart from God, sin struck their hearts. The first consequence was they became ashamed of themselves. When God came in search of man, calling out “Adam, where are you?” the response of man was that he was naked. Nakedness in the Bible means an emptiness that renders one unworthy. Man lost even the meaning of life as he cut himself off from God. Added to that, he distanced himself from his wife by blaming her for the disaster of sin. The second consequence of man’s rebellion against God is the breakdown of family. It was in this background that the first Promise of salvation was given by God that He would send the Saviour as the son of a woman who will destroy sin. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

“Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:28)

God chose Mother Mary as the woman to conceive and bear the Son of God in her womb by the work of the Holy Spirit. This was a choice of God made purely in His grace as the angel would declare to her, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” (Luke 1:28) Mother Mary responded by committing her whole life for fulfilling God’s plan, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) This surrender was the perfect act of faith. This was the blessedness of Mary. Hence the joyful exclamation of Elizabeth, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” (Luke 1:45) Mother Mary remains in the Presence of God in sharp contrast against the first mother Eve who did not trust in God and the worth of the Paradise made by God for them. Eve reached her hand out for satan’s offer to make a better paradise. Mother Mary on the other hand held on to her commitment to Jesus from Bethlehem to Calvary. Eve grabbed what was not given to her. Mother Mary gave up what was legitimately hers. She held nothing for herself but willingly submitted to whatever the Plan of God would lead her - even if it was to the foot of the Cross on which her one beloved Son hung.

The gospels tell us that St. Joseph chosen to be the foster father of Jesus had the same spirit of commitment to God. He was chosen by God for a special plan when he was aspiring for a happy married life with Mary who was betrothed to him. That is when he was shocked by the fact that Mary was pregnant with child. In the pain of incomprehension, he still makes an honourable decision to let Mary live. His plan for himself was to go away to a distant land, exiling himself to an anonymous existence. The angel of the Lord, however, revealed to him that Mary was pregnant by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit according to God’s Plan for the salvation of humankind. Exactly as Mary did, he committed his life to the Will of God. He let go of all his legitimate rights as a husband and father. Because of this, he is called “a righteous man” in the Scriptures. Though he was not Mary's husband in the worldly sense or the father of Jesus, Jesus opted to be called as the son of Joseph. The people commented, “Is not this the carpenter’s son?” (Matthew 13:55) The word Jesus should have used to call Joseph was Abba, the same word he would call His Heavenly Father with. This is the highest honour any human being could get on this earth: The Son of God becoming man choosing to be known as the son of Joseph. This is what we celebrate at Christmas.

The two important figures in the manger, Mary and Joseph, reveal to us the meaning of Christmas. They had to pay a great price of total self-giving in order to be found in the manger with Jesus. Our Christmas will become a celebration only when we mould our lives in the same pattern. We look into our lives and find that many legitimate pleasures and gains were denied to us in our life. Every such denial remains a painful memory. All such painful memories should add up to make the Christmas crib this year. In all such experiences we find the Plan of God unfolding for our salvation. It is divine wisdom to understand that all such experiences set the stage for God to work out His grandiose plans for our life.

“We boast of our afflictions” (Romans 5:3)

St. Paul, almost at the end of his life, looks back reviewing his past and takes pride in all the persecutions that he suffered for the sake of Jesus. He takes the count of every beating he received, every shipwreck he was caught in, every tragedy, humiliation, hunger and cold, insults and reverses he endured, every danger he faced from robbers and enemies, the unending suffering (cf 2 Corinthians 11:24-28), and finally he affirms that these are what he prides himself in as his offering to his ministry for Christ (cf 2 Cor 11:30). It is noteworthy that none of these sufferings made him hard-hearted in bitterness or depression. These memories flow out of his heart like a poem of love. He could see Jesus crucified in the midst of every such sacrifice. Through his sufferings he was being drawn closer to Christ. This oneness with Christ was his motivation and his joy. “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14)

For St. Paul the experience of the presence of Christ as Emmanuel “God with us”, gave meaning and relevance to all the tragedies of his life. Christmas will be a celebration for us when we are able to look back into our past and take count of every bit of pain that we endure as an investment for the sake of Jesus.  It is in such moments of hardship that our commitment to Jesus manifests the power of love. As Mother Mary spread the pieces of cloth she managed to save up in order to wrap her baby in comfort, so shall we weave together our experiences of brokenness and offer it for Christ to be born in our lives. The bitter experiences of our failures and reverses will lose their sharp edges and exude a sweetness that makes our life so beautiful.

Very often we come across individuals who have turned out to be victims of their circumstances, bitter, distrustful and angry because of the very sad experiences they had to undergo. Well even within us there are certain ugly traits which we ourselves are not happy about. Today perhaps we have justified our anger, impatience and distrust citing a blame or shock or tragedy we had endured. We could say we have become distrustful of all because of a betrayal or disappointment. We could say a negative childhood experience has made us angry. Christmas however invites us to experience the Saviour’s touch. The sting of the past event is removed when we realise even that meaningless suffering has value in the eyes of the Lord. It is said that in every failure there are the seeds of success. In every frustration there are seeds of hope. Standing by the Christmas crib, we would realise that it was tears and pain that brought every figure into that glorious picture. Our tears and pain too must draw us to glory. When the Presence of the Saviour enters into our sufferings and sin, we become compassionate and courageous to be hopeful and lives thereby become precious for those around us.

Let us pray

Lord Jesus Christ, we bow down before You with great joy in our hearts. We offer You as our gifts the dark nights of lonely suffering and painful questions. As Your Birth transformed the cold night into a heavenly celebration, Your Love has cloaked our life in beauty divine. All we want is to thank You and praise You and we pray that our lives may spread the aroma of salvation to a world that stands in need of peace and hope.

Amen.

 
Divine Updates

MAGNIFICAT in Chennai

Divine comes to Chennai with the 'Magnificat on October 21,2017. Fr. Jacob Arimpur VC will lead the services. Music by Worship Culture. With special sessions for children.

Venue: Stella Maris College, Cathedral Road

MAGNIFICAT in Bangalore

Celebrate an evening with our Lord in Bangalore at the 'Magnificat' on October 14, 2017. Services to be led by Fr Jacob Arimpur VC. All are welcome.

Venue: St. Joseph's Boys' School Chapel, Museum Road, Bangalore

Retreats at the Divine Retreat Centre, Somersby, Sydney

Divine Retreat Centre, Somersby to hold retreats throughout 2017. For bookings, email Fr Roni George, Director - drcsydney@gmail.com. Hurry, as admission is limited.

Date: January 2017 - December, 2017

Retreats in Divine Retreat Centre, UK

Divine Retreat Centre, Ramsgate UK, has announced several English and Malayalam language retreats to be led by Fr. George Panackal VC and Fr. Joseph Edattu VC. All are welcome.

Dates: Jan - Dec, 2017

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