Dear Rev. Fathers, Brothers, Sisters and Lay Faithful, New Year greetings and best wishes!
The Marginalised! (May 2018)
Thousands of people all over India, on Monday 9th of last month, have joined mostly peaceful protests and sit-ins as part of the Bharat Bandh, or all-India strike, demanding the government challenging the apex court’s verdict last month, which barred the immediate arrest of those accused of violence against people of Schedule Castes (SC) and Schedule Tribes (ST). The Dalit community in India is huge in number; they are like the elephant but look like the ant. Along with them all those of religious, linguistic and ethnic minorities in the world and in particular, in India, face the same misery. Mostly it is not the ‘number’ but economic muscle and ruling power victimize the less fortunate and the marginalized.. Indian Christians in many civil States face severe discrimination and marginalisation. However, there is a very strong consoling message in the Bible to counter such aggressive majoritarianism in society.
Jesus the Marginalised!
“A Marginal Jew”! This is the title of the two volumes written by Prof. John P. Meier (USA) in 1991 on the historical face of Jesus. No doubt, the term ‘marginal’ applies very much more to Jesus of Nazareth than anyone else in the history of humankind. Even though the selfish ruling outfits tried to dispose him of at his birth itself (Mt 2:16) the aggressive marginalization started with his own Nazareth people despising him at the Synagogue (Lk 4:22-30). ‘Jesus, the poor layman turned prophet and teacher, the religious figure from rural Galilee without credentials, met his death in Jerusalem at least in part because of his clash with the rich high-class urban priesthood’ (Meier, I, 9). Jesus was anti-establishment, anti-atrocities and anti-majoritarianism. Without having a political power-base in society or in the ruling dispensation he was easily brushed aside into the dustbin of death.
But, history changes! “Whom you crucified, God raised him from the dead,” thus proclaimed St. Peter (Acts 4:10), so too Stephen (Acts 7); Paul would assert that because Jesus endured all sufferings of marginalisation “God also highly exalted him” (Phil 2:9). At this stage we cannot but remember the words of St. Leo the Great: “Lowliness is assured by majesty, weakness by power, mortality by eternity” (Epist. 28 ad Flavianum). In spite of beingseverely discriminated and marginalised, Jesus stood firmly in his chosen course of actionwell-grounded on righteousness and justice (Jn 18:36); being thoroughly aware of thewickedness of the human frailty (Jn 5:39-47) and unswervingly assigned to his responsibility(Jn 12:24).The marginalised has become the centre of the world (Mk 12:10; 1 Pet 2:7), attracting everyone through his self-sacrifice, merciful forgiveness and resurrection from the dead!
Lifted up the Lowly
The Synoptic Gospels present Mary the mother of Jesus as a simple, unknown girl of a remote village of Nazareth. In the rural set up of Nazareth, being a Jewish girl, she did not sit under a master of education; as such she was ‘ignorant,’ unknown, already betrothed to a man for marriage. Even though the angel brings good news of her becoming the ‘Highly Favoured one’ (Lk 1:28), her fear and trembling did not get settled (v. 29). This anxiety and panic continued when Joseph wanted to put her away (Mt 1:19), Simeon predicts that her child will be a sign destined to be opposed and a sword will pierce her soul (Lk 2:33-35), his own people in Nazareth will ridicule her son, saying that he is only “Mary’s son” (Mk 6:3), her own son will ask others: ‘Who is my mother’? (Mk 3:33) and witness with deep grief when the arrogant Jewish leaders along with big-headed ruling power hanged him on the cross (Jn 19:25). These are all moments of discrimination and marginalization. What is worse, these miseries happened to our divine Mother not because of her ethnic, linguistic and social minority status, but because of living a merciful life and adhering to truth and justice.
But history changes! Jesus, by his resurrection, brought to Our Lady a total transformation from weakness to strength, from lowliness to majesty and misery of opposition to endurance of hardships. Waiting to receive the power of the Holy Spirit she was able to encourage the trembling disciples (Act 2) and she could remember her hymn of praise to God addressed to Elizabeth: “He has brought down the powerful and lifted up the lowly” (Lk 1: 52). Very recently Pope Francis said: “Humility can only take root in the heart through humiliations”(GaudeteEtExsultate, published,on 19 March 2018; no. 118).From that moment of her encounter with Jesus till the end of the world she is the great dispenser of God’s mercy to all those who seek her!
Hope for the Best!
Sad to say, what The Los Angeles Times reported long ago (20 June 1968): “[T]he Negro was kept aside, marginalized, thus composing in its large majority the chronically poor,” continues even today in various forms and spheres. Approval of Euthanasia, anti-conversion bill, anti-migrant’s bill and anti-religious freedom are a few examples of domination of ‘throw away culture.’ In this desperate situation our Lord Jesus comes to say: Evil might rule for some time, but not forever! Illusion of the power of majoritarianism and dominant cultural supremacy will fade away one day. “Son of Man is coming (for judgement) at an unexpected hour” (Mt 24:43). To the oppressed and discriminated people, Jesus says: “All will be judged according to their own deed” (Rev 20:12).
Sure judgment of God and the definite defeat of the wicked people are not a matter of the future or at the ‘end of the world,’ but they are the daily historical factors happening in different parts of human society. Only people do not open well their eyes. To those people Our Lady says: ‘God will scatter the proud and bring down the mighty’ (Lk 1: 51-52). To the marginalised Our Lady says: “God will lift up the lowly” (Lk 1:53).
Joy of Life! (April 2018)
Raymond E. Brown brought out extensive and excellent commentaries on The Birth of the Messiah and The Death of the Messiah. With regard to several requests to write a commentary on The Resurrection of the Messiah he says at the conclusion of his preface to the first volume on the ‘Death of the Messiah’: “I would rather explore that area face to face.”No doubt, the resurrection of Jesus is a historical fact. It is very well attested by the Risen Lord’s apparition accounts of the Gospels. However, it is very evident that, more than the ’empty tomb,’ the powerful witness of the Apostles, including that of Mary Magdalene, highlights the historical fact of Jesus’ resurrection. Rev. Brown’s desire of seeing ‘face to face’ was already experienced by the Apostles when Mary Magdalene attested: “I have seen the Lord” (Jn 20:18). However, living in this modern age, around 2000 years away from the historical apparition of the Risen Lord, we could also experience Him ‘face to face.’
Mystery of Life
Every birth is joyful; it brings hope for the future and invites communion. However every birth points also to the sadness of the ‘end’ to which one proceeds. As such the birth itself unfolds the mystery of life and death.It is said that although there are several ‘schools of thought’ relating to why God allows mental, emotional, and physical afflictions, it essentially remains a mystery. Humanly speaking it is hard to comprehend why Jesus, the Son of God, should meet with such cruelty like the ignominious death on the Cross. Yes, a big question everyone has: why do the just people suffer? Like Job who cried: “Why did I not die at birth” (Job 1:11) or like Jesus at Calvary, “My God my God, why have you forsaken me” (Mk 15:34) many of us would raise such a depressed voice. Indeed, the mysterious nature of life often leads us to the dark sphere of fear. Pope Francis rightly warns us of the prevailing (negative) environment of today’s society which is trying to thrust into our mind a “Tomb Psychology, tempting us to cling to a faint melancholy, lacking in hope” (Evangelii Gaudium 83). However, we should not stop at staring at the mysterious element of life. If we grasp the death of Jesus with faith perspective, then we understand that His death was for the sinners (Rom 5:7-8), purchased a people (Jn 6:36-39), heals the wounds of sin (1 Pet 2:24), reconciles us with God (Col 1:21-22) and defines love (1 Jn 3:16); this perception from the perspective of Jesus brings us joy!
The opposition of the Jewish elders in Jerusalem was stark; the crucifixion and death of Jesus at Calvary was horrific and the fear of the disciples (Mk 14:50) was bewildering. After this tremendous experience in Jerusalem the disciples from Emmaus were returning with much grief and pain. Even Jesus, their follow ‘stranger,’ noticed their sadness (Lk 24: 17). They were still in Good Friday mood. They began to lose their hope in Jesus their master. Forgetting Jesus’ noble cause of life (Jn 18:36) they would have expected him to overthrow Roman rule and establish his own political kingdom (Mt 20:21). Their human sentiments “closed their eyes” (Lk 24:16). With extreme emotions and shock of what had happened in Jerusalem (Lk 24:20) these disciples could not proceed further from their Good Friday experience. No doubt, when beset with failures, sickness, accidents, calumniations and frustrations and so on it is very common that we too feel tired and depressed and the way forward becomes dark. At this moment the risen Jesus appears. Those disciples encountered him ‘face to face,’ but only physically. Their shock did not open their eyes of faith. The risen Lord, quoting the Scriptures, started explaining to them the mystery of his death on the cross (v. 25-27). Even though their eyes were ‘closed’ they made a request to him to stay with them that night. This made a great change! The divine grace meets with the human cooperation! Miracle of seeing the risen Lord ‘face to face’ (“their eyes were opened” -Lk 24:31) occurred. Their sadness becomes joy! Their obscurity of the crucifixion has disappeared and they have become witnessing disciples of the risen Lord: “they told the eleven what had happened on the road” (24:35). This explains to us what it means to ‘seeing’ the risen Lord ‘face to face,’ as desired by Raymond Brown. This brings us real joy of life!
Joy of the Risen Lord!
Everyone likes to be joyful! Happiness is life’s most cherished goal. Happiness is the goal that makes our life meaningful and enjoyable. According to the nineteenth century French historian Jules Michelet joy of life (la joie de vivre) is a harmonious state, a peaceful existence with God and with the nature. The risen Lord brings this transformation if we, like the Emmaus disciples, invite Him into ourselves; then the divine enters into human frailty. The risen Lord constantly drives out the fear of the disciples (Mt 28:5, 10, Lk 24:28), symbolically it would mean that the risen Lord is our strength and comfort. Also, the risen Lord shows us that taking up the crosses of everyday and following in the footsteps of justice, mercy, forgiveness and love is a must to see Him ‘face to face.’ On the road to ‘Emmaus’ when I walk with the arrogance of selfishness, terrorism of gossip or sluggishness of witness to truth then my eyes are closed to see Him face to face. Human suffering of any sort, in general, blinds us to see the mercy of the Lord; but leads us to have recourse to ‘escapist endeavors.’ Pope Francis observed: “People immersed in the mystery of suffering and pain, when they accept these in faith, can themselves become living witnesses of a faith capable of embracing suffering even without being able to understand its full meaning” (Message of the Day of Sick, 2015). Here faith in the risen Lord who overcame every suffering and transformed death to life will make us understand the meaning of just suffering. This is the joyful hope given by the risen Lord.
Joy of the risen Lord enriches us to seek happiness in sacrificing for our mission, for our community, for the poor and needy and for the discriminated. Experiences of a grievance, disappointment, a wound or a betrayal might take us for a ride of vengeance. But, trying to live in the joy of the risen Lord motivates us for true forgiveness. Practicing forgiveness is what releases us from the past and changes our future. Yes, Easter is the experience of the Joy of life; we need only to open our eyes to see Him ‘face to face!’
I wish you all a very Joyous Easter!
The Crucified God! (March 2018)
Long ago in 1973 Jürgen Moltmann, a professor of Systematic Theology at the University of Tübingen, wrote an extensive volume on “The Crucified God”, underlining the fact that the crucifixion of Jesus leads us to a life of hope. In fact, the cross was not from the very beginning as object of attraction nor could be dearly loved; this is because it reminded the people both of the pain and sufferings and of the consequent violent death. Yet, only the crucified Jesus changed the entire scene from suffering to hope, death to life! Jesus transformed the human face of the cross into its divine face; the shame of the cross into its power of God (1 Cor 1:21-22); from its symbol of the ruling power to its significance to the persecuted and the oppressed.
The Cross of Christ!
Historical and social factors would tell us that cross was the invention of the Persians and the same was followed by the Romans to inflict death to the criminals. We might also suppose that the cross entered Jesus’s path only after the judgement of Pilate. However, with the understanding of Paul who saw Jesus, “being born in human likeness” (Phil 2:7), the cross had already embraced Jesus at the annunciation of Mary at Nazareth. In fact, the whole journey of Jesus from Nazareth, in the womb of Mary, to Jerusalem is a long way of the cross. From the hostile efforts of Herod, the Great (Mt 2: 8) to the aggressive instigation of Caiaphas (Jn 11:49), the cross was carried by Jesus. However, he was never afraid of the cross (Jn 10:18); for him the cross was the will of God (Lk 22:42) and a means of his sacrifice for the salvation of humankind (Heb 9:18); as such, he changed the human cross into the divine Cross/grace. The destructive plan of human selfishness is frustrated by the divine providence.
The wooden cross given to Jesus, after his encounter in the world (“he came to his own, and his own people did not accept him” Jn 1:11) became the Holy Cross which led, in course of time, to the ‘cult of the Cross,’ that is, making present the death of Christ in the sacrifice of the altar. This changed portrait of the Cross is that it is no more a symbol of pain and suffering but has become the weapon of Christ, not only to crush injustice and oppressive and selfish human arrogance but also to bring the final victory against death and Evil itself. This was the faith-proclamation of Paul when he said: “where O death is your victory…” (1 Cor 15:55)).
Cross: Pain no More!
When Paul declared boldly and with much serenity of heart: “I die every day… a boast that I make in Christ Jesus our Lord” (1 Cor 15:31) the cross of death for him was no more pain and despair, but a witness to his intimacy with Jesus (Col 1:23) and happiness in sharing the mission of Christ in leading people towards the reign of God (Phil 1:21). The Crucified Jesus/God became a symbol of self-surrender for a noble cause, also, the power of God and the centre of his proclamation (1 Cor 2:2). I find the same contentment in St. Ignatius of Antioch (35108 AD) who implored theChristians to do nothing to prevent his martyrdom and many other heroic soldiers of Christ down through the centuries. They, very well, understood the words of Jesus: “Do not fear those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul” (Matt 10:28) and also the stand of the first Christians who “did not cling to life in the face of death” (Rev 21:11). St. Augustine emphatically asserts: “Christ’s martyrs feared neither death nor pain. He triumphed in them who lived in them; and they, who lived not for themselves but for Him, found in death itself the way to life.”
Death is Gain!
In this season of Lent we often meditate on the Way of the Cross; we read the Passion narratives of Jesus; we pray too the sorrowful mystery of the Rosary. They should not remain only as pious acts of the Lenten observance. The motivation of Jesus must enkindle and enriches us to enter into the spirit of the Cross. In fact, if we look at the cross it is fearful and painful; if we look at the Cross of Christ it is salvific and motivating; yes it motivates us to accept the everyday events, not as fate, but as the will/plan of God and to strive hard to establish justice within ourselves, with our neighbours, with our family and with society at large. We are motivated by the Cross of Christ to take up our daily ‘crosses’ not as strife and sufferings but as human challenges to be endured in order to proclaim to the conflict-trodden world: “Pause, see and return.” ‘Pause a little to leave behind the unrest and commotion that fills the soul; refrain from desiring to appear always in the “notice board;” refrain from haughty looks; see the face of our families, see the face of our sick people, see the Crucified Love which brings hope to us and finally return, without fear, to the Father, return without fear to the oppressed and migrants and return, without fear, the experience of healing’ (Pope Francis, Ash Wednesday Homily, Feb 2018).When I “walk” in this Way of the Cross I am proud of my daily crosses; I am happy about being ill- treated, misunderstood, misinterpreted; I am not perturbed about the burdens of works of mercy and acts of justice! Then, I am better prepared to celebrate the Risen Lord!
Prophetic Witness (February 2018)
In the middle of this month we begin the Lenten Season. In the liturgical seasons of the Catholic Church lent is the considered to be holy as it invites, promotes and enriches prayer, fasting, sacrifice and charity. This noble spirit of lent leads us to a prophetic witness in our daily life. Indeed, the life of the whole Church and her mission is prophetic. As per the prophets of the OT, St. John the Baptist, St. Paul and Jesus, the greatest prophet, prophecy implies a certain abnormality, beyond the ordinary. The “I am sayings” of Jesus in John’s Gospel (forty five times) and his expression “But I tell you” in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:28,34,39,44) are compelling proofs of this. This evangelical abnormality provokes transformation both in individuals and structures. Moreover, we cannot deny that the evangelical radicality gives credibility to every committed Christian. Prophetic mission in today’s society and specifically, in Asia where tackling poverty, slavery of all sorts, deprivation of rights is set aside by powerful trends of majoritarianism, nationalism and selfish hoarding of wealth; hence this witness is to be launched with much magnitude and aptitude
Pope Francis observed: “Ours is a Church of martyrs; they suffer, they give their lives and we receive the blessing of God for their witness” (21, April 2015). This indicates the popular notion of the Christian martyr who gives his/her life for the sake of Jesus. If we refer to the Greek term ‘marturia’ in the Lexicon the principal meaning is testimony or witness. Every Christian believer is a martyr for Christ. Deliberate choice of truth and justice, radical abandonment of the self, submission to God’s will, in spite of instinct of egotism, loss of security- all such choices make one a martyr for Christ. Going beyond the traditional outlook of martyrdom we see three different stages of martyrdom of consecrated women and men.
Stages of Prophetic Witness
1. Red Martyrs
Starting from the Holy Innocents of the Infancy Narrative of Mathew until recent days we find many Christians who have given their life for Jesus. John the Baptist or myriads of early Roman martyrs or those of the middle ages and modern age- all showed this heroic mindset: “they did not cling to life even in the face of death” (Rev 12:11). When I visited the tomb of Sr. Rani Maria in Udainagar (Madhya Pradesh) on 15 November 2017, I noticed this same spirit that prevailed in her heart. We know she was stabbed 52 times in her bus journey to Indore in 1995. She worked for the freedom of the tribal slaves in spite of getting several threats to her life by the selfish ‘Zamindars.’ Today she stands as the martyr-prophet of justice. No one doubts the impression made by Archbishop Oscar Romero or the Kandamal martyrs of Odisha (2008) or MC Sisters killed in Yemen in March 2016. In recent times this heroic witness is shown on Indian soil also by Fr. A. T. Thomas Anchanikal, sj (1997), Fr. Thomas Pandipallyil, cmi (2008), Sr. Valsa John (2011). They are red martyrs as they gave witness to Christ by shedding blood. However, this is neither a common feature, nor is the only kind of Christian martyrdom.
2. Blue Martyrs
While your blood never actually turns blue, your skin can take on a bluish cast (cyanosis) as a result of certain disorders. St Therese of Lisieux died tragically early at the age of 24 of tuberculosis. In spite of her chronic illness, she is the author of many books that are instruments of turning people towards God. She gladly accepted her sickness and offered her sufferings for the sake of missions so that she, being “a great missionary saint” (Pope Francis), is honoured as the patron of missions. She is the archetype of the ‘blue martyrs.’ We have many such martyrs, including our St. Alphonsa, in the history of the Church. All the faithful who are driven to chronic illness, solitude, loneliness or live in the old age homes could give witness to such martyrdom. It is also heroic as you accept your ailments for a noble cause and as such, it is a prayer of charity. We don’t choose to suffer; but choosing God’s will even if it means that you will suffer is blue martyrdom! We can prepare our mind and heart for such a martyrdom which is not rare in religious circles.
3. White Martyrs
A truthful Christian wants to follow Jesus earnestly. But he/she comes to experience that being truthful, sincere, sacrificing, merciful and being his fervent disciple is very demanding. For the sake of my commitment to my Lord, I am often left to bear mental tortures, like betrayal, false accusations, misunderstandings, prejudices, insults, severe opposition to the works of justice/mercy, as in the case of Fr. Tom Uzhunnanil, sdb, and I have to say with St. Paul: “I die every day” (1 Cor 15:31). Hardships come in a variety of ways: temptations, illnesses, lost jobs, broken relationships, and persecution for one’s faith. Also, it is a fact that Christian discipleship brings all sorts of mental and physical torture, not only by anti-forces in society, politics, religious movements and governments, but also by our ‘own’ people who share the same Christian faith.
In this life of trials and tribulations, as Catholics, we might approach our sufferings with an attitude of disappointments, bitterness, anger, or retaliation. But as committed disciples, we should take to heart the words of Jesus: “If anyone wants to become my disciple, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me: (Lk 9:23). He warned us: “In this world you will have trouble” (Jn 16:33); “you will be hated by all because of my name” (Mk 13:13). Paul understood this very well; so, he was able to say: “For while we live, we are always given up to death for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor 4:11).
One must be happy to live such a life of witness/martyrdom as he/she becomes a daily martyr for Christ. Obviously, hardships of a sincere Christian are a daily matter. Due to this nature of suffering, as bright as crystal, we become white martyrs. This daily martyrdom for the sake of Christ is not a matter of pride, it is our commitment. This brings us joy as we “share the suffering of Christ (Phil 3:11).
For the sake of Jesus I endure in my hardships, I pray to Jesus, I live with Jesus and I become a daily martyr for Him.
A Long Way to Go! (January 2018)
I am very much taken up by the poetic expression of Aqeb Benazir Ibn Minar:
“At times the path seems to be a dead-end,
That is the part where everything really extend
We still got a long way to go,
So, don’t stroll out and believe it’s the end” (2011).
Still capturing poem is by Richard Moriarty (2011): “A Long Way to Go” where he underlines the fact: ‘No time to waste, no time to rest,..,’cause times getting short, an’ I got a long way to go.’ As I stand on the shore of the New Year 2018, this thought of Hope overwhelms me. As we, the disciples of Jesus Christ, stand on the cross roads of various conflicts and challenges, we need to gulp such a positive tablet to endure in our ‘desert’- pilgrimage. No doubt, the dawn of every year gives us hope for a better aptitude, opportunities and atmosphere. But it also places challenges to strive towards the best. Yes indeed, I wish to invite you to tune yourselves to the above noted poetic aspirations.
He went on His Way!
The Nazareth Manifesto of Jesus exposed the egotism of the Synagogue officials and hence they were ‘filled with rage’ so much so they tried to hurl Jesus off the cliff. But Jesus “passed through the midst of them and went on his way’ (Lk 4:30). When some Pharisees told Jesus that Herod wants to kill him he replied: “Go and tell that fox…I must be on my way” (Lk 13:31-33). So too, when Jesus proceeded towards Bethany to visit the dead Lazarus the disciples were reluctant about undertaking this journey to Bethany on account of the fierce opposition to Jesus so much so Thomas would say: “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (Jn 11:16). Physical pain, human hurdles or even evil forces would not stop Jesus on his mission to fulfill the plan of God the Father (Jn 17:6). His eyes were fixed on the goal of bringing salvation to the world.
Straining Forward What is Ahead!
At the beginning of the New Year we shall take to heart what Paul had urged the Corinthian Christians to follow: “Do not accept the grace of God in vain” (2 Cor 6:1). Likewise, Paul, in performing his ministry, never got wearied of or became frightened by hurdles and tortures (2 Cor 21-29). He would assert: ‘In honour and dishonour, in ill repute and good repute…I always rejoice in the mission’ (cf. 2 Cor 6: 8-10). However, what impresses our mind and heart is his spiritual motivation that gears to his personal perfection. Saul/Paul before the Damascus encounter tried to destroy the Church (Gal 1:13). But Paul, drastically broken with the past (Phil 3:7-9), was fully alive to Jesus (Gal 2:19-20). This empowered him to go all out to attain the resurrection from the dead; this made him to state: “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on to the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:13). He did not like to indulge in failures, wrongs and mischiefs done in the past (i.e. persecution of the Church) which would paralyze him with guilt and despair, but with much vigour he strove to run the race for the prize of the upward call of God. Noteworthy is that he uses here sports language to affirm that he has determined to run the race by not looking back over his shoulders, but striving forward, stretching every nerve and muscle.
As we begin the New Year we need to take the same attitude of looking forward to the future with much hope for the best. Indeed, we learn from the mistakes of the past and people would also say that we should not forget the roots. These are positive strokes of the past. However, in accordance with Jesus and his disciple Paul, we should be proactive in learning and being a renewed person day by day. By avoiding indulging in the weakness of the past that reminds us of the gloomy shades and by getting rid of the fear of the hurdles of human selfishness and negative forces of our own body, mind and society, we fix our eyes on both the existential, noble life-path and the upward goal of getting the “morning star” (Rev 2:28). Of course, negative experiences, harmful interactions and dreadful illnesses make our heart and mind heavy. Often, human emotions lead us to cry, like Jeremiah: “Terror is all around” (Jer 20:10). But, every moment things are changing much faster than we imagine! Mysteriously God’s mercy accompanies us! We take courage to say ‘a long way to go’ in our life and mission of witnessing to Jesus.
All is Vanity?
Look at the world: the mesmerism of the politicians, attractive ads of the corporate companies, hoarding of wealth by the business world, the ‘whitewashed tomb’ of the self-projected god-men and so on, we are prone to cry with Qoheleth: “Vanity of vanities! All is Vanity” (Ecc 1:1). These and other evil forces tamper with our journey towards the ‘upward’ goal or damage our determined discipleship. But positive notes are also not lacking. When a virgin of Nazareth, a creature of God, born in the ‘sinful world’ (Rom 5:12-13) was elevated to be the Mother of God Himself, a marvelous wonder; when a sinful and weak Peter who betrayed Jesus was made by the same Jesus the chief shepherd of His disciples, the hope for the best is abundant in our life. Just see how Habakkuk ends his book: “Though the fig tree does not blossom…God, the Lord, is my strength” (cf. 3:17-19). At the outset of this New Year, let us fix our mind and heart in thinking and doing good/well only. There is a long way to go to say: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:7).
Wonders of Christmas! (December 2017)
This is Christmas season! We come across ‘Seven Wonders of Christmas Card Set of 20’ or music albums like ‘The Wonders of Christmas.’ Indeed, Christmas brings various wonders to the world! Advertisements such as: ‘Christmas in Singapore’ or ‘Christmas in Paris,’ bring to the fore the commercialization of Christmas, prevalent in modern society. Even those who do not know about Jesus or anti-Christ or even atheists are also eagerly looking forward to Christmas as it brings monetary transactions and affluences in their business. Is this not a wonder that Christmas brings to the world?
Jesus a Wonder!
Indeed, the birth of Child Jesus is a great wonder to the Christian believers. When I see the detailed genealogy list of Jesus given by Matthew (Ch 1) I wonder at the ancient, long and faithfully observed historical traditions of Jews, starting from Abraham to Joseph and Mary, being fulfilled in the birth of Jesus. It is a historical wonder! The first prophecy about the Messiah, given to Abraham (Gen 12:3),carried through Nathan (2 Sam 7: 12-14), Isaiah (7:14; 9:2-6; 11:1-9) and finally Micah (5:2) comes to a historical reality in the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. We can say that the events leading up to the birth of Christ were like the gears of a fine watch that had to mesh together so that when the fullness of time had come, Jesus was to be born in Bethlehem. In fact Jesus, the Messiah, was prophesied by Isaiah saying: “his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor” (Isa 9:6). What a prophetic wonder! Again, the profound wonder to the human mind is “God becoming man” (Jn 1:14). Jesus, by his birth in Bethlehem, (sacrifices) empties his divineness and takes the form of a man (sarx) with every human weakness (sarkikos), of course, except sin (Phil 2:8; Heb 4:15). This condescension is a unique and still profound wonder! However, a greater wonder is that God touches the human condition in order that He would transform the weak humanness.
Birth is Wonder!
When Mary of Nazareth was announced of the birth of a child to her, she legitimately declined saying “I am a virgin.” But she was told that “nothing is impossible with God (Lk 1:27). At that moment a virgin becomes a Virgin-Mother! This wonder is too unique and brings to reality the ancient belief of Israel as expressed by Isaiah (7:14). This is marvellous! It is a divine vocation given to the Virgin Mary of Nazareth and she proved it by being the first and greatest disciple of her Son, Jesus Christ, not only during the earthly life of Jesus, but also throughout world history by imparting his mercy to all people. A barren and old woman Elizabeth(Lk 1:7), on account of this Child Jesus, brings forth a child (Lk 1:36). This is amazing and beyond the power of human reckoning. Elizabeth gave witness to it by saying: “the child in my womb leaped for joy” (Lk 1:44). Let us stand and worship this Child Jesus!
Third Wonder: Love for the Abandoned!
Raymond Brown, the renowned Catholic Biblical scholar, wrote the famous book on Christmas: The Birth of the Messiah. It is evident that, he, very scholarly, puts the adult Christ back into Christmas, treating the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke as the entire Gospel story in miniature. However, the totality of Christ, which we see in three years of his ministry in Palestine, can be seen in the birth of Jesus itself. Albert Nolan, writing a beautiful book: Jesus before Christianity (1980), presents Jesus as the one who is full of compassion. This distinctive identity of Jesus, love for the abandoned, is very evidently seen in Bethlehem itself. The very fact of an unknown and alien place of birth, that too in a manger, speaks of his preferential option for the poor. Again, the first announcement of his birth goes to the shepherds and to the Magi, the Gentiles, who are all considered to be sinners and the manifestation to the old people like Simon and Anna, the marginalised in society, reveal the splendid wonder that Christmas has brought to the world. The child who “is holy and Son of God” (Lk 1:35) is embracing the poor and sinners. From a human point of view it would seem a contradiction. But Christmas brings this wonder, an amazing change in the society, which is very hard to understand this even today. Child Jesus wants us to celebrate Christmas only by executing this option for the poor, the marginalized, the immigrants, the ostracised and the minorities who are burdened with the torture of selfishness.
St. Francis of Assisi saw the wonders of Christmas in loving the whole creation, putting humans, animals and also plants in the crib; the loving concern and care of the lepers of Molokai was the Christmas celebrated by St. Damien De Veuster, a Dutch Roman Catholic Priest (1840 1889); the care for the destitute was the celebration of Christmas for St. Mother Teresa. They followed the words of Jesus: ‘whatever you did to one of the least you did it to me’ (Mt 25:40). In the Christmas event Jesus soils himself by the ‘sinful’ dust of the world. If we have to be united with the same Child Jesus to celebrate the same feast meaningfully, then, as Pope Francis exhorts, in the process of witnessing to Jesus, we should not be worried even if “our shoes get soiled by the mud of the street” (EG 45). True to the same spirit Pope Francis declared on 19 November 2017 the first “World Day of the Poor;” This is a wonderful expression of abiding with the spirit of Christmas, a divine event for the poor.
The Bethlehem Jesus shows us not only how to be poor in spirit (Mt 5:3), but also to reach out to the poor and the marginalised.
In the context of polarization and growing religious fundamentalism most of the Christians in India today are thrown to the peripheries by the ruling and majoritarian forces. We shall learn from this Christmas as to how to weep for the victims of injustice, like the holy Innocents (Mt. 2: 17-18). In celebrating the wonders of Christmas we shall remember that if we cannot encounter the poor and the victimized with pro-active concern we cannot encounter Jesus!
Let this Christmas motivate us to be poor in spirit, to see the wonders of God in humans and to share our spiritual and material riches with the poor and marginalized. If we witness to this Child of Bethlehem- is this not a great wonder Jesus brings to us?
I take this opportunity to wish a very Happy Christmas to all the priests and religious working in the Diocese, all the faithful, friends and benefactors of our Diocese. May love and mercy of the Child Jesus shower upon you all!
Death is Life! (November 2017)
No one wants to die; we all want to live. Numerous hospitals, clinics, pharmacies and old age homes stand witness to this fact. Also, there is no need of any proof for people’s fear of death. “The terrors of death have fallen upon me,” thus laments the Psalmist (55:4). Ancient people termed the fear of death in various ways, such as, the shadow of death (Ps 23:4), snares of death (2 Sam 22:6), cords of death (Ps 18:4), waves of death (2 Sam 22:5), horror of death (Ps 55;4) and so on. This only indicates how we dread to face the inevitable reality of death. Socrates said: “men fear death as if they knew that it is the greatest of evils” (in Apology). Mark Twain opines: “the fear of death follows from the fear of life.” While these being the popular notions about death, we could also see the other side of death. This reflection would be very relevant as we, Catholics, remember the dead in this month of November.
Death is the End?
It is a common belief that death is the end of life, not only for humans but also for every creature. It is the way of life (1 Kg 2:2; Sir 8:7). The mysterious death of Moses saw the end of a great leader in Israel and the tragic death of Saul was the end of his treacherous life. While the Jewish king Hezekiah wept over his fast approaching death (2 Kg 20:2-3), Job cried aloud for the end of life (6:9). There is a strong belief that the dead are no more and death is the end of all (cf. Ps. 39:14; Jb 7:8-10, 21). Indeed, people do have the experience of joys, relationships, conflicts and trials; these constitute the life-experience which is part and parcel of one’s life. However, this comes to an end when one dies: “what is dust returns to dust” (Gen 3: 19). So, life is thought to be vanity of vanities (Eccl 1;1). Based on this knowledge, people even seek death when they are unable to bear the torture/pain of life. This is the reason why Job would prefer death (7:15). Again, people choose suicide or support mercy killing or even undergo abortion in order to end life, thinking that death is the end of all suffering and other problems in life.
Death is a Mystery!
When William Shakespeare said: “cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once” or when Napoleon Bonaparte said: “death is nothing; but to live defeated and inglorious is to die daily,” and by these, they do acknowledge the fact of death. The fact of inevitability and experience of death is not a total guarantee of our total knowledge of death. True, we are not responsible for our birth in the world. Setting aside suicide or intentional killing of others, no one can determine his/her time and way of death. We are prone to the “body of death” (Rom 7:24). This mysterious nature of death also brings us anxiety. Let me invite you to turn the other side of the leaf: Can God, being merciful and benevolent, inflict on us death, which is painful? Moreover, we are told that death is the “last enemy” to be conquered (1 Cor 15:32) and the devil has the power of death (Heb 2:15). If the end of the human body is the natural course of human existence, is not death the will of the creator? Then why should we fear to face it? Again, which death does the devil have in his hold? Which death that occurs to us on account of sin (Rom 5:12)? Hence the reality of physical death and the death meant by Jesus (Mt 10:28) and the NT authors are not the same.
Death is Life!
We must keep in mind that the real death is not the physical death; but the spiritual death; that is, death to God’s way of life. People should be afraid of this death only. This death (of the soul) could happen during one’s physical life itself. When one lives an unjust and selfish life he/she dies every moment to God and the good character God has given to us. We become agents of the devil who not only is a slanderer and deceiver (Rev 12:9; 1 Pet 5:8)) but also the “the father of sin” (Gen 313; Rom 5:12). In this case, life becomes death; on account of our daily death or “no” to Jesus, we despise ourpeaceful existence in heaven and inherit suffering in hell. On the other hand, we are called by Jesus to manifest to the wicked world that life is death: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:10).
Jesus himself showed tremendous fortitude in facing physical death when he said, “I lay down my life…no one takes it from me” (Jn 10:18); and thus he was obedient to the father even unto death (Phil 2:8). Also, Jesus’ physical death did not end fruitlessly, but it became the life-giving source for all believers (Jn 12:24). Unique to Jesus is that he, by his death, brought death to sin and destroyed death itself (1 Cor 15:54). Jesus’ death has become life for us all because, at the moment of his death, Jesus brought victory not only over Satan, but also over death. Therefore, if I die to sin and live in Christ, my body would perish for the moment, but I would rise again, bothbody and soul. This is the reason St. Paul proclaimed: “dying is gain” (Phil 1:21) and preferred rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord (2 Cor 5:6-8). St. Ignatius of Antioch appealed to the Roman Christians to pray for his martyrdom in Rome or Archbishop Romero of El Salvador or hundreds of martyrs of Korea and Japan or Sr. Rani Maria of Madhya Pradesh in north India; they all bravely and cheerfully embraced death. The same line of Conviction was seen recently in the abduction of Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil, sdb, when he suffered “imprisonment” in Yemen for eighteen months.
Let us begin to die every moment to sin and live in Jesus. so that we face our physical death happily in order to welcome the eternal life! A just and holy life will always give us courage to face the unjust world and even death on the “cross;” and this will bring the reward of the life of resurrection!
I am a Sinner! (October 2017)
Rev. Fr. Antonio Spadaro, in an interview with Pope Francis at Casa Santa Marta in Vatican, on 19 August 2013, asked the Pope: “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” The Pope straightaway expressed: “I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.” It is a great gesture of humility of the Pope, not a formal show of modesty, but a sincere state of conscience/conscious of his human frailty; however, having full trust in the infinite mercy of God the Father and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ. This leads us to the confessions of great biblical personalities. David, having been specially chosen by the Lord (1 Sam 16), and being showered byGod’s gracious Spirit (1 Sam16:13), was successful in his endeavours (1 Sam 17:50). However, realising fully his human frailty, he surrendered to God, saying “Against you, you alone, Lord, have I sinned” (Ps 51:4).I wonder a lot to read the humble submission of St. Peter to Jesus:”Go away from me, Lord, I am a sinful man” (Lk 5:8). Fascinating faith commitment we see in the life of St. Paul who said: “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2: 20) and realising his earlier anti-Christian life (Gal 1:23; 1 Tim 1:13) he would confess: “I am the foremost sinner” (1 Tim 1:15). Yes, they were all led by a clear and just conscience of mind and heart!
Conscience: the Voice of God!
Adolf Hitler, very wrongly observed: “The Ten Commandments have lost their validity…Conscience is a Jewish invention. It is a blemish like circumcision…” (http://www. “Adolf Hitler Quote”). But, universally accepted truth is different. Conscience is a judgement of reason whereby every human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete action of the past or the present or even of the future (CCC 1778). As John Henry Cardinal Newman rightly said conscience is a law of the mind and everyone’s messenger who speaks to him/her behind the veil; conscience is the aboriginal Vicar of Christ (Certain difficulties felt by the Anglicans in Catholic Teaching II, 1885, 248).Therefore conscience is not created by us, but laid upon us; it is the voice of God. This is the reason why when a man/woman commits evil the just judgement of conscience within him/her pricks his/her mind and heart. Moral responsibility is built by a just conscience in our mind with regard tothe actions we undertake. This is the state of mind of St. Peter and Paul when they sincerely confessed that they are sinners.
Even though the term conscience is not found in the OT, its expressions are found in many characters of the OT. In the NT we find thirty-one times, mostly used by St. Paul who calls it a moral monitor (Rom 2:14-15). For Paul, conscience serves as an umpire (Philo calls itmonitor) which disposes the people to view life situations in a moral/ethical light, thus judging/determining that some actions are “right” and some are “wrong.” For Paul, the Fall(Gen 3) has drastically affected human’s conscience but has not destroyed it fully (Rom 5:12). So, we see the different shades of conscience according to one’s social and environmental situations and the use of freedom of choice.
Different Shades of Conscience
i. Formed Conscience
People forget the fact that conscience is like one’s body that is to be rightly taken care of. We are subjected to negative influences, tempted by sin/devil (1 Pet 5:8), led by human weaknesses (Rom 7:14-16). People are not careful to the inherent and silent forces of evil that weaken our conscience. As such the education/formation of conscience is indispensable and vital for any human being. Saul before his conversionpersecuted the Christians with a “good conscience” (Acts 23:1). His deep-seated conviction (i.e., his conscience) told him that “it is right to persecute Christians.” But, the fact is, his conscience was ill-formed and weak. Christ intervened and changed his conscience to the right path: “I was violently persecuting the Church” (Gal 1:13). Paul was sincere to listen to the voice of God and his conscience got healed. He became a model of how a well-formed conscience is upright and truthful.
ii. Deformed Conscience
I come across people who do not worry at all about doing any evil to himself/herself or to others. When one continuously goes on turning a deaf ear to the alertness of moral sensitivity then his/her conscience becomes dead. St. Paul would call this state of mind a “seared conscience” (1 Tim 4:2) which constantly disobeys God and thus not only becomes a hard-hearted person but also justifies every action to the point of destruction of all the opposites. Their conscience is dead; indeed they destroy peace and harmony in families, in communities and in the world at large. Think of the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ time! They, being hypocrites, ‘shed the blood of the righteous’ (Mt 23:35). Such people are not rare even today in our families, societies and governments.
iii. Prick of Conscience
In one’s conception in mother’s womb itself, conscience, a pure and a just one, is given by the Almighty. God created man and woman in his own image and likeness (Gen 1:27), having a right conscience of mind and heart (Gen 1:31). However, the freedom of choice was misused by the first parents (Gen 3:6-7) they closed their ear to the voice of the conscience and disobeyed God; indeed, their mistake pricked their conscience when Adam said to God: “I heard you in the garden and I was afraid” (Gen 3:10). This is the same with David when he said to Nathan, after his sin against Uriah and his wife Bathsheba: “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Sam 12:13). When St. Peter, after the denial incident, went out and wept bitterly (Lk 22:62) or when St. Augustine wrote a full volume of ‘Confessions,’ we could see this prick of conscience which was alive in their heart. Good conscience leads us to listen to the voice of God and be alert to the inner voice of conscience; ready for conversion, prepared for reconciliation and equipped for moving ahead in the right path. When Judas betrayed Jesus, his conscience pricked him but there was no conversion of heart. Sacrament of Reconciliation is the best platform set for us Catholics to be alert to the prick of conscience and to have the examination of conscience.
Led by the Word of God and promptings of the Holy Spirit let us develop a mature and ‘alert conscience!’
The Jesus I Live! (September 2017)
A fascinating faith commitment we see in the life of St. Paul: “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2: 20). Paul is writing this to the Christians living in Galatia in the context of establishing his apostolic credibility; this is because, on account of his new dispensation on circumcision there was agitation instigated by the “false brethren” (J. A. Fitzmyer, JBC). When Paul started writing this letter he had mental torture (1:6,11), but defended himself by his deep spiritual union with Christ, that too, the crucified Jesus (cf.1 Cor 2:2) by expressing it in the phrase: “I have been crucified with Christ” (2:19). It is very evident that he saw his apostolic life as if he was being crucified with Christ and as if Jesus lives in him. This attitude and spiritual witness of Paul gives us courage, hope and direction to our Christian discipleship.
Sad Stories of Reality
It is very much heartening to read the recent massacre (Aug 2017)of three Christians in Kenya (Lamu County) for refusing to recite the Islamic prayer of faith by the Islamic movement called Al Shabaad, an affiliate of Al Qaeda and in July the same group killed nine more Christians and they continue to often loot and destroy churches (source: Worlwatchmonitor.org). The same type of massacre in the name of religious fundamentalism is very much prevalent and spreading fast in India and in other parts of the world. In fact, physical killings and destructions could be seen as one time atrocities, which, of course, might cause deep wounds to the victims. However, a new type of massacre is becoming prevalent and let loose, not only by individuals but also by ruling regimes, which lead to lasting persecution, pain and fear.
The popular manifesto of the US President Donald Trump: “we will make America great again” sounds good; but, what of it? This would be materialised only at the expense of despising and destroying the minorities and migrants. Under the guise of the new education policy, establishing new India and launching the cow protection program the present Indian regime is furiously sowing/ nurturing the Hindutva beliefs and practices in a multi-religious, cultural and linguistic land of Indian continent and this trend would cause a perennial persecution not only to the people of other faiths, but also to the people of good will. Ananya Vajpeyi very aptly exposes the Indian scenario which brings mental and physical tortures to all the people of good will: “It is important to recognise that the manipulation of language, the deployment of silence, the disparagement of individuals, the erasure of the historical memories, the marginalisation of minorities and women, the crushing of institutions- these are all strategies in continuum, designed to affect the tectonic shift of a plural and diverse India into a Hindu Rashtra” (The Hindu, 22, Aug 2017, p. 9). Indeed, the same trend is becoming rampant in every nooke and corner of India and else where, wherever Christian discipleship is targeted.
The Life in Jesus!
Here comes Jesus to tell us: “If they have called the master of the house Be-elze-bul, how much more will they malign those of the household” (Mt 10:25). Jesus, our Master, was rebuked, insulted (Lk 4:28), misunderstood (Mk 10:37, betrayed (Lk 22:48), denied by his own-fold (Lk 22:57), defamed (Mt 26:66), ridiculed (Mt 27:29) and finally crucified by ruling regime (Jn 19:16). This is the way of our Master and when I experience the above ill treatments and insults on account of my being true to my master Jesus I do not live my Self, but I live Jesus. My ego is replaced by the presence of Jesus; this is dying to the Self, but living to the divine Master. As Paul expressed to the Galatians in 2:19, my former life of comfort and secured status are to be sacrificed and forfeited in order to manifest fully the mercy and justice of Christ and that I should be thrown to the desert of challenges and walk on the way of the Cross. My on-going experience of “living in the flesh” is to be embodied by the faithfulness to Jesus, taking high-risk existence, leaving behind the security zone of ethnic, social, political and even religious affiliations. This means a lot. On the one hand I should be courageous to live in a world of insults and antagonism, on the other hand I should continue to give solace to the people affected by political, social injustices and personal defections.
Again, when Paul said “I have been crucified with Christ” (Gal 2: 19) he had in mind “the weakness of God is stronger than human strength” (1 Cor 1:25). The Crucified Jesus, in the eyes of the world which is contaminated by the Evil, is weakness (of God); so, he was refused by the Jews because of their messianic expectation and by Gentiles because of their rationalism; hence the world constructs its own social and religious systems and tryes to wield power in its ‘wisdom.’ But this Crucified Christ is the power of God; he becomes victorious throughout the centuries against all kinds of human mythic power. The Crucified Lord is not only a person of history, and a symbol of persecution, but he is divine power of victory. Therefore being crucified with Christ, in our life and mission, does not simply signify only the tortures and tensions that every disciple undergoes, but it means being imbued with the mighty power of Christ, in other words, the divine power to destroy evil in our life. In this respect, like St. Paul (1 Cor 2:2) we should be proud to be crucified with Christ so that ‘we do not live, but Christ lives in us.’
This brings to us a healthy interaction between our life and faith and courageous endurance in our effort to witness to justice and truth; that is, Jesus our Master. For this healthy venture, I see an archetype in Our Divine Mother who carried Jesus not only in her womb but also in her whole life, and had thus become the carrier of good/God’s health. Our faith is that from the moment of her birth (8 September), because of God’s design, she is considered to be carrier of Good health. Let us become carriers of Jesus’ Cross that brings victory over evil and bring peace and harmony to us and to all in the society. By this we live, not our “selves,” but Jesus!
Freedom We Love! (August 2017)
Birds let free sing joyfully; streams let free flow musically; animals let free grow healthily and humans let free rejoice happily. Indeed, freedom every creature loves! “At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom,” thus spoke Jawaharlal Nehru on the eve of India’s historic independence on 15 August 1947. We do understand the spirit behind these words. Freedom is ingrained in our nature and intrinsic to our wellbeing and happiness. The sigh of relief from the environment of enslavement breaths a longing spirit of freedom. Yes, we, the Indians on 15thAugust, the Americans on 4th July, or the Singaporeans on 9th August, proudly celebrate our/their Independence Day, in fact, glorifying the freedom we/they got.
No doubt, everyone wants to be free. However freedom is a tricky word. We do not deny that freedom of thinking, of expression, of action- are all, basically good. But when we experience so many atrocities in our society or in the world at large, in the name of ‘freedom,’ we have to give much thought to know about the concept of freedom in one’s life. We come to know in India and elsewhere that in the name of religious “freedom” people are killed, properties are destroyed and peace is abolished; only fear is created; threat is sowed. Take for example, the lynching of innocents in the name of ‘Cow Protection’ or the ISIS killing hundreds of people all over the world or the sporadic desecration of the Holy Crosses, statues and chapels throughout India (recent events in Goa in July 2017) – we have to doubt very much whether people understood the real meaning of freedom.
Again, nations, all over the world, rightly struggled to get political freedom from the other colonial nations. But is this freedom of rule “of the people, by the people, for the people”(Abraham Lincoln’s speech on 19th November 1863) is truly maintained by the independent nations? Or, is Martin Luther King’s dream(28th, August 1963) that “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”(United States Declaration of Independence)taken seriously? Rather, it is commonly said that before freedom we were ruled by one lord, but now we are ruled by many lords- starting from Panchayat councillor to the president of the nation. Even the law makers seem to dictate to the people what to dress, what to eat and whom to worship and so on… Indeed, we proudly remember the proclamation of Swami Vivekananda (Address to the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago on 11th Sept 1893): “I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true.” But reality is painful; this nation, India, has conveniently set aside tolerance which is the basic strength of Hinduism.
Why is this disparity and inconsistency in ‘celebrating’ freedom in our life and society? Why does human weakness rule the day? In my opinion, we have forgotten the two basic principles of freedom. First of all, sound reason will surely prompt us, in exercising our freedom of any sort, i.e. of expression, action or governance; we should contribute to the wellbeing of oneself as well as others. As St. Paul would say, “we were called to freedom, but do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another in love” (Gal 5:13; cf. Rom 8: 20-21). Hence, in no way my freedom should be a hurdle or hindrance or bring destruction of harmony to any creature, say, human, animals, plants or environment. If we forget this, then, our freedom is to be termed as selfishness and arrogance; we sin against the gift of freedom given by God. Many think, ofcourse wrongly, that freedom brings happiness. Happiness is not the criterion for freedom; looking at the goodness of our neighbour we must seek happiness in our thought and action with a responsible self- control. In this we see the true freedom, collaborating with God, the Creator’s mind.
Secondly, just remember what Jesus said of freedom: “He said to the Jews who had believed Him, if you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (Jn 8:31-32). What is the truth which Jesus means here that make us free in our life? The “Truth” meant here is the revelation of Jesus as we see in comparing with vs. 36, where it is the Son who sets free (Raymond Brown). Therefore, it is very clear that Jesus is the Truth (Jn 11:6). That means, we should know Him, the dignity of his human person, the nature and salvific mission of his life, the efficacy of his Cross and blood (Rev. 12:11), the excellence of his righteousness and his abundant mercy. All these encourage us to live in freedom in a world of Evil. Thus, abiding with Him will make us free from all selfishness and the other forces of evil.
Mary the Mother of Freedom!
Here I invite you to see the role of Our Blessed Mother, whose Assumption into heaven we celebrate this month. At the annunciation in Nazareth she had all freedom to choose or to deny the call of God. For the sake of human salvation she submitted freely and willingly (Lk 1: 38) and took up the challenges of being the Mother of Jesus and to follow Him unto the Cross and thereafter. Pope Pius XII, declaring the Munificentissimus Deus on November 1, 1950, said: “Since Mary shared intimately in the life of the Lord and in His passion, death, and resurrection, and since she was present at Pentecost, this model disciple appropriately shared in the bodily resurrection and glorification of the Lord at the end of her life.” Pope rightly sees that the right freedom of choice by Our Blessed Mother brought her the gift of Assumption. This is because of her freedom of choice for the betterment of the whole humanity and for being a devote disciples of her son, the Divine Saviour. She understood from the words of angel Gabriel (Lk 1:32) that Jesus, her son, would be the divine Saviour and that in Him she would find the full Truth and that Jesus is the divine power by which we could be free from all human evils. St. Paul writing to the Corinthians would say: “where Lord is there is freedom” (2 Cor 3:17). Mary found out the truth in Jesus and followed that Truth devoutly.
We all desire and seek a life of freedom; however we should not suppose that freedom is to express or do anything that pleases me/you, but my freedom, as in the model of our Divine Mother, must be an instrument for the betterment of the self and others.
May God grant you all true freedom through the intercession of our Blessed Mother!
Wearing Jesus’ Shoes! (July 2017)
Pope Francis, in his General Audience Message on 17 May 2017, mentioned aptly that Mary Magdalene is the Apostle of Hope. Although she had been once in the influence of the Evil, (Mk 16:9) as soon as she encountered Jesus and experienced his divine power she became his disciple who accompanied him from Galilee to the Calvary in Jerusalem. Once the risen Lord called her by name her eyes were opened to the mystery of Resurrection and she put on the shoes of Jesus to announce this joyful message to the other disciples of Jesus. She could proclaim with St. Paul: “it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). Before she was fully in Jesus she announced to the disciples the theft of the body of Jesus (Jn. 20:2)-only the physical knowledge is involved here. But once she began to wear the shoes of Jesus she started proclaiming the faith-insight of Resurrection. There is a total transformation in the mind and heart of Magdalene!
Being with/ in Him!
Living in union with Christ is expressed by ‘being with and in Christ.’ The benefit of our being in and with Jesus is very vividly expressed by St. Paul in various letters. On account of our close intimacy with Christ, we are ‘chosen by God’ (Eph 1:4), ‘we are made sons of God’ (Gal 3:26), we are ‘filled with God’s grace’ (2 Tim 1:9), ‘we will not be separated from the love of God’ (Rom 8:39), and ‘we are redeemed’ (Eph 1:7). This is because of the gracious and generous mercy of God the Father and the atoning power of our Lord Jesus Christ. However, in the footsteps of the Apostles and in line with Mary Magdalene, we are invited and expected to witness to Jesus with and in whom we live.
When severely tortured and stoned to death, but filled with the spirit of Jesus, St. Stephen was able to say the same words of Jesus on the Cross: “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34/ Act 7:60). In the same way, after being filled with the spirit of the risen Lord St. Peter was able to repeat the same words of Jesus to the crippled man”stand up and walk” (Act 3:6/ Lk 5:24), but he said this in the name of Jesus. He was able to wear the shoes of Jesus and perform acts of mercy in the name of Jesus. Indeed, when we do not put forward our own plans and designs, rather, ready to accept the will of God, though it might be demanding, we can very well say with the Lord: “not my will but yours be done” (Lk 22:42). On account of human weakness and ill-feelings quarrels and fight arise in families, in neighbourhood. On those occasions we should have the courage to say with Jesus, “it is enough” (Lk 22:40) and thus establish peace and harmony. The words of Jesus (Logos) are powerful and creative. The same power could also be exhibited when we use the same words provided we are in the disposition (shoes) of Jesus our Lord.
In the Active Role of Jesus
Jesus called his apostles, “to be with him” so that they would proclaim the Good News and to have authority to caste out demons” (Mk 3:14-15). This would mean that we must enter into the active role of Jesus, the salvific role of the Messiah! Holding on to the power of Jesus we can bring good news to the poor, downtrodden, deprived and the destitute by our active undertakings, small and great. Our house visits, visits to the sick and the deprived, our small efforts to encourage the weak and the humiliated person by his/her own family or society then we become messengers of God News of Jesus who said: “Come to me all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burden, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). Jesus said: “Son of Man came…to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45). I always wonder at the disposition of St. Paul who followed Jesus his master when he wrote to the Corinthians: “I do not seek my own advantage, but that of many, so that they may be saved” (1 Cor 33). Indeed, he was wearing the shoes of Jesus!
When John the Baptist confronted the wickedness of Herod Antipas and sacrificed his life for truth and justice and when Peter confronted the Sadducees and the Temple priests of Jerusalem, whatever might happen, he would not stop speaking about Jesus as they were all wearing the shoes of Jesus who confronted all the atrocities of the selfish leaders. We may take the few examples like the German pastor Dietrich Bonheoffer (1906-45) or the Polish priest and martyr St. Maximilian Kolbe (1894-1941) or Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador (1917-80) or recent Indian martyr Sr. Rani Maria (1954-95) all, in the footsteps of Jesus, fought for justice and tried to bring solace to the poor and the deprived. They were all imbued with the spirit/power of Jesus in order to excel in their witness to Justice. When I, without any selfish motives, work for justice to the affected people, when I support the cause of common man and woman for their just labour or wages or motivate/animate the uneducated rural mass to be united in bringing social justice I am not alone. In the name of Jesus I cast out the demons of injustice on one side and ‘demon’ of ignorance on the other side. Indeed, I walk with the shoes of Jesus!
Turning the pages of the four Gospels the majority of confrontations Jesus engaged was not so much with individuals but with the evil structures and groups. Limitations and weaknesses of individuals could be better tackled and solved. But Jesus knew that the systemic Dragon, such as the Scribes, Pharisees and the Sadducees, were the ‘hard-hearted’ people. He, often, used hard words like, “woe to you” (Mt 23) to make them realize their arrogance. Such social evils continue in the modern corporate society. They do much damage to the welfare and harmony of the society than that of the individual limitations. Pope Francis terms this as a situation ‘deprived of freedom and forced to live in slavery’ (World Day of Peace, 2015, n.3) and he is not slow to condemn the social evils, like religious fundamentalism/extremism or discrimination against the migrants and minorities which add misery upon misery for the common public. We must acknowledge that in our times he is the best example of walking in the shoes of Jesus.
When I confess that Jesus is my Lord and Master I have no other shoes than that of Jesus that I should wear and His pair of shoes should shine in fraternal love, merciful deeds, acts of justice and prayerful surrender to the will of God!
My Name is Martyr! (June 2017)
“Five Loaves and Two Fish” is a little booklet written by the late Vietnamese Cardinal François-Xavier Nguyễn Văn Thuận. Although not yet beatified, the heroic life of this Cardinal, who died in 2002 at the age of 76, has captured the world wide attention. On April 24, 1975, six days before the city fell to the North Vietnamese Army, Father Van Thuận was appointed coadjutor archbishop of Saigon. It led to his subsequent arrest by the new communist regime, which sent him to a “re-education camp” for 13 years, nine of which were in solitary confinement. During those years in jail, he found himself in a situation of seemingly utter hopelessness; yet heroic, proclaiming joyfully a life of martyrdom. He wrote: “I spent half of my life waiting. It is very true; all my prisoners, myself included, look forward to freedom every moment. But then I decided: ‘I am not going to wait. I will live each present moment, filling it to the brim with love.” Instead of wallowing in his misfortune, he saw it as an opportunity to come into closer communion with Christ, increasing his hope, which he was then able to pass on to others. His gentle smile and the greatness of his soul attracted even Saint Pope John Paul II to label his as “witness to hope.”
Life of Witness
In the Greek world the term martyr refers to someone who speaks about the events in which he/she took part or about people and events known to him/her personally; he/she comes forward as a witness in trials. In the Christian understanding of the term marturia meaning “the witness by blood” or simply, “blood-witness” stands prominent as the typical meaning of “martyr.” This is the reason why popularly in the Christian world martyrdom would denotes uffering unto death, of course, for the life of faith, like St. Sebastian or St. Agnes or any other martyrs of the Catholic liturgical calendar. No doubt the ‘blood-martyrs’ are heroic lights that shine in the history of the Church, so much so, it is commonly said: the ‘blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church’ .As we commemorate the galaxy of these martyrs in the month of June I would like to invite you to see another side of martyrdom in our life as we see in the life of the above mentioned Vietnamese Cardinal François-Xavier NguyễnVănThuận or Saint Mother Theresa of our land.
Abel of OT for his purity of thought, John the Baptist in the NT for his just life, St. Stephen and St. James for their strong faith in Jesus- are all examples of witness by death seen in the Bible. However, witness by life is also seen in all the pages of the Bible. Abraham is the greatest martyr who was enduring in his life in the light of faith in spite of many challenges and hurdles. When Job could withstand all the ‘evils’ of the society, undergoing a lot of physical, mental and spiritual sufferings, he kept up his deep faith in God. He shines as a splendid model of martyrs, who, in the words of St. Paul, “has always given up to death” (2 Cor 4:12). St. Paul would affirm that pains and sufferings as occurred in his life (2 Cor 11:22-29) are not credits to his apostleship, but, in spite of his (Rome 7:14-18) and the evil society’s weaknesses (Col 1:24) he remained faithful to his call and mission: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed…”(2 Cor 4:8-10).He would again write to the Corinthians that for the sake of Christ “I die every day” (1 Cor 15:31). Indeed he was a daily martyr!
As the book of Revelation was written in the context of crises and conflicts martyrdom is underlined in every chapter of the book. The Church of Smyrna was told to be Faithful until death (2:11). The ‘cry of the martyrs’ (6:10) is the perfect example of the challenges of the faithful in their witnessing to Jesus. They are told not to fear those who could kill the body but to those who kill the soul (cf. Mt 10-28). However, the word martyrdom in this book of ‘Martyr-Church’ is not used in the technical sense of being a blood-witness. Much more than blood-witness, life-witness, which is very relevant to our everyday conflict with the Evil, is implied. Also we should remember that, in the life of witness, “death” should not be restricted to the extinction of the body alone. We should see it in the wider context of conflict.The true believer of Christ, ever since the time of Jesus, is faced with crises of faith in daily life, in households, in trade guilds, in public service, in the practice of popular piety and especially in the political system. This situation leads us to“trial and tribulations.” We can term these elements of life-witness as “death” by which we become “daily martyrs.” Our experience of hostility, harassment and contradictions makes us understand that the real nature of martyrdom consists in not giving up life once and for all; rather, it is dying every day for the ‘faith conviction.’
In the context of prevailing antagonistic situation of Christ’s believers all over the world, and in particular, in India, the above aptitude of being ‘daily martyrs’ is very much significant to face the hard challenges with fortitude. Our painful experience of trials and tribulations on account of Christian faith would transform us to become the “Slain of the Lord” following the “Slain Lamb.” This endurance in faith is very much underlined by the book of Apocalypse, the book of persecution. An active endurance involves staying faithful to the Lord in the conflicting situations as well as public witness to our faith without fear of ‘painful consequence.’ In general, this fortitude and patient endurance is lacking in our life and mission.
As a bishop, as a priest, as a religious or as a father and mother of a family we are called to fulfill faithfully our duties, without fear of the people of evil designs, without giving in to selfish motives, prejudices and preferences, only then I am a living martyr by following in the footsteps of Jesus. In fact leading the so called ‘pious life,’ confined to the church or chapel or room of your house is not a martyred Catholic life. We need to challenge and change the social, family and personal weaknesses to bring abouta life of harmony and communion though this would require to being given up to death every moment while we live.
May the Lord grant to all of us the grace of fortitude to endure and to continue in fighting against the injustice of the world and become daily martyrs!
Mayflower! (May 2017)
A wild flower blossoming in spring season, called ‘mayapplein’ North America and Europe, is commonly called Mayflower in England. Blooming everywhere in South India is the gorgeous Mayflower (Gulmohar in Hindi), flaming orange-red blossom, which speaks of the month of May. This Mayflower, either in the Wests or in the East, symbolizes newness and brightness in life. Also this brings the Gospel of Hope to the heart and mind beset with gloomy and hard life-realities. In our Catholic life Mayflower is personified for none other than the blessed Virgin, Mother of God and our divine Mother!
As we celebrate the centenary of Fatima Apparitions on this 13 May I wish to invite you to mediate on how Mary is the Mayflower for us all. The first apportion of Our Lady of Fatima to the three shepherd children began on 13 May 1917. As a note of information I wish to inform you that the centenary of the Fatima Apparitions will take place from May 13 to October 13, 2017. His Holiness, Pope Francis, will be going to Fatima on 13 May to inaugurate and preside over the celebration of the Centenary. About the Fatima Apparitions Pope John XXIII observed, “Fatima is the centre of all Christian hopes.” This is because our blessed Mother, in all her apparitions, invites us, as Pope Francis would note on 11 May 2016, “once again to turn to prayer, penance, and conversion.” Indeed prayer and penance leads us to conversion of mind and heart to the person of Jesus. This conversion is motivated by the life of Mary presented by the Gospel of Luke which can be called the Gospel of Mary.
Life of Mayflower!
Luke presents very vividly how our Lady, at the annunciation, fully opened her heart and arms to abide by the design of God and thus became the ‘kekaritomene’ (‘highly favoured one’). From that moment onward she excelled in becoming the excellent fruit of redemption and “faultless model” (Vat II: SC 103) of the Church. In the words of St. Augustine we can affirm that the favoured state of Our Lady is“an altogether greater blessing, to have been Christ’s disciple than to have been Christ’s mother. That is why Mary was blessed, because even before she gave him birth, she bore her teacher in her womb.” (Sermon 72/A, 7). Moreover, because of her intimate nexus to the Redeemer, St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori would say that “Mary having co-operated in our redemption with so much glory to God and so much love for us, our Lord ordained that no one shall obtain salvation except through her intercession.” In her being assumed into heaven and being co-redemptrix for us all, a human creature like us, has been exalted as the Mother of the Creator. She is quite just to sing: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord” (Lk 1:47). This gives us hope and joy to be fervent disciples of Jesus. She is the ‘Mayflower’ for ever!
Our Lady is very much presented by the Evangelists as the compassionate mother and caring for the poor and needy. As soon as she was greeted by the angel Gabriel as: “Highly Favoured One” to be the mother of the Son of the Most High (Lk 1: 30-31) she did not deem it a personal glory as most of us would do. Instead, as soon as Mary heard the blessings of God upon Elizabeth, she,“in haste,” took a hard journey of 90 km from Nazareth to the hill country called EinKerem, near Jerusalem, in order to greet Elizabeth and to serve her for three months. That was a great and humble sacrifice/service Mary did to Elizabeth who was in dire need of her help. As per the biblical perspective, the poor are not those people in economic poverty, but those, in their dire need of human survival, have lost hope in the human solicitude or power, but seek the mercy of the Almighty. They are considered to be the poor of the Lord (‘anavim Yahweh’). Here Mary, the anawim of the Lord by her total surrender at annunciation, has come to the solace of Elizabeth, another anawim Yahweh.
John would picture Mary as the noblest person at Cana. Mary and Jesus were invited for the marriage there. When the wine ran out, there would be a great embarrassment and sadness to the wedding party. Mary took the initiative to speak about the grim situation to Jesus and to recover the joy to the wedding party who later on tasted the “choice wine” of Jesus. Mary is depicted here, in contrast to Woman in Genesis 3:15, but like the woman in Rev 12:1, as the instrument of giving solace to the needy and the desperate. Here too at Cana Our Lady, being the anavim Yahweh is extending her hand to another anawim, the marriage party in need of salvation.
Our time, energy, privileged positions, the mercy and grace of God we enjoy and in short, all our goodness we have are not to boost our own image or self-aggrandisement but to enrich and enliven the society and become Mayflower in the confused and gloomy global garden.
Message of Mayflower!
Let me invite you to the hymn of Our Lady. When she realized at the annunciation that God had been showering upon her His great mercy, the immediate thing she did was to surrender to the Lord through ‘magnificat,’ the hymn of gratitude (Lk 1:46-57). Scholars would affirm that magnificat revives our hope in the power of God’s plan that works throughout history. The Women’s Bible Commentary (USA 1992) notes that Mary preaches as the prophet of the poor. She represents their hope, as a woman who had suffered and been vindicated (p. 285). Here she underlines the reasons why her“soul magnifies the greatness of the Lord:” “God has scattered the proud, while the poor and lowly are lifted up.” We are certain that the Magnificat is a great New Testament song of liberation-personal, social, moral and economic- a revolutionary document of intense conflict and incomparable conquest. The situation of the lowly state of Mary is reversed and raised to a status of dignity in the society. The prophecy of exalting the poor and scattering the arrogant here is in the remote past (dieskorpisen: has scattered) indicating the revolution already happened; a sure note of confirmation of the reversal of the ‘worldly’ power.
In a world of severe conflicts on account of fundamentalism and ‘nationalism’ rooted in selfish arrogance of ‘mighty power’ of wealth and majoritarianism Mary’s Magnificat is a precious and hopeful message of victory and ‘Magna Carta’ of freedom to the oppressed people from systemic injustice by the political rulers and social arrogance and the rich. When we become imbibed by Mary’s Magnificat, it will surely become the Mayflower in our life!
Let our devotion to Our Lady lead us to be her sons and daughters conforming to her way of life in our mind and heart and not simply stop wondering at her greatness. May our Catholic ‘Mayflower’ shine in our life to be true disciples of her son Jesus Christ!