Dear Rev. Fathers, Sisters and Lay Faithful,
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!