Dear Rev. Fathers, Sisters, Brothers and Lay Faithful,
I am pleased to share with you, at this hour of severe trial of Corona Virus all over the world, the meditation on the Pastoral Conversion.
Pastoral Conversion (August 2020)
Justice R Banumathi, the first woman from the State of Tamil Nadu to be elevated to the position of Judge of the Supreme Court, retired on July 19, 2020. During her farewell speech on Friday, July 17, she revealed her faith in Jesus Christ despite being born a Hindu. “Though I am a Hindu, I believe in the gospel of Jesus. By the Grace of Jesus, I got educated and came up in life; no human hand could prevent what Jesus Christ has ordained for me in my life.” Another recent event worth noting: The Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) has prompted many Afghan and Rohingya Muslim refugees to convert to Christianity (The Economic Times, July 24, 2020). There are various other choices of beliefs available and even politicised in India. Instead, Jesus attracted them the most. While most of us who are Christians by birth may not be grateful for our faith; these, like thousands of Kandhamal martyrs (Orissa, 2008), understood that Jesus Christ is unique in giving solace to people of all sorts. They stand as proofs for the fact that Christianity is NOT just one of the religions which help people think of the Almighty (as all rivers lead to the ocean, all religions lead to the same point of the other world); it is unique!
Jesus is Unique!
The famed British philosopher Bertrand Russell defined the term ‘Christian’ as one who has trusted his life to Jesus Christ as Crucified Savior and Resurrected Lord and seeks to follow Him each day (Why I am not a Christian, 1927). Christianity is unique because it stems from the uniqueness of Jesus Christ who said “Behold, I make all things new (Rev 21:5).” Whomsoever he ‘touched,’ like St. Paul, has been drastically transformed: “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain” (Phil 1:21). Jesus’ life is his message and his message is his life. Like the grain of wheat (Jn 12:24) his uniqueness is to give life to restore our life. A careful study of the context and content of Revelation 5-19 suggests that the seven-sealed book, which only Christ can open, contains the story of mankind losing his lordship over the earth to Satan, the usurper, and its recovery through the God-man Savior, the Lion who is also the Lamb. He alone is able to accomplish what no one else in the universe can, and based on His death as the Lamb and His resurrection as the Redeemer/Savior, He recovers what was lost through the judgments of the sealed book.
Christianity is Unique!
All other beliefs are based on the teachings and ideas of those who were nothing more than mere men. No matter how brilliant, charismatic, or powerful they might be, there is no guarantee of their objectivity, accuracy or ultimate ability to deliver what they have promised. Christianity, however, is founded, not on what Jesus taught but on who Jesus is and on what Jesus accomplished. Of course, no one ever spoke and taught like Jesus, but ultimately, the value of what He said was dependent upon who He was and what He did.
Thousands of followers of Jesus, down the centuries, witnessed to Him not just as religious men and women leading people to prayer and worship, but as tools of social and political changes. Archbishop Romero, the social martyr, for example, was assassinated in El Salvador on March 1980 by a right-wing death squad because he refused to be silenced in condemning the murder and torture of the people by the country’s regime as well as the poverty and injustices being inflicted on them. One-third of educational, social and health- care institutions which serve the Indian population are run by Christian disciples who comprise only 2.3% of the population of this country. Neither for any material benefits, nor for any political power we Christians, remaining still a “little flock” (Lk 12:32), bear witness to Jesus’ call: “You are the salt of the earth. …You are the light of the world …” (Matt. 5:13-14).
The Congregation for the Clergy (Vatican) issued on the 20th of last month an instruction on the Pastoral Conversion of the Parish Community. This document highlights our Christian and priestly commitment that should manifest the evangelizing mission of the Church. This persuades us to be much more relevant in today’s society and especially in our parish communities. As our Holy Father says (Evangelii Gaudium, 287) our parish community should get away from making harsh judgments, divisive activities and ghetto mentality of selfishness on account of regionalism or language, and recommends keeping our doors open for reconciliation, sharing our means with the starving and needy as Jesus who does not tire of saying to us: “Give them something to eat” (Mk 6:37). Thus the life of a parish community, including both clergy and faithful, is a life of evangelization. Indeed, “evangelization is the cornerstone of all pastoral action, the demands of which are primary, preeminent and preferential” (John Paul II, 20, Oct 1984).
We are exhorted to renew the approaches to evangelization in this diverse and ‘harsh’ situation of pandemic, so that the Word of God and the sacramental life can reach everyone in a way that is coherent with their state in life. Attentive to new forms of poverty in society, the faithful are to be reminded to be the full stature of Christ (cf. Eph 4:13) that is derived from a personal encounter with the Lord Jesus who transcended all barriers for doing good to others (Mk 1:37-38; Jn 4; Lk 10). Pastoral conversion requires that we are to give credibility to what we say through the witness of our lives, together with our interpersonal relationships that inspire trust and hope. In these times, marked by indifference, individualism and the exclusion of others, the rediscovery of brotherhood/sisterhood is paramount and integral to evangelization, which is closely linked to human relationships. We are to witness to the “culture of encounter” which reflects in dialogue, solidarity and openness to others.
NB: The full text of the Congregation for the Clergy (Vatican) on the Pastoral Conversion of the Parish Community has already been sent by WhatsApp to all Parish Priests. I encourage all of you to go through this text.
When Will this End? (July 2020)
Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, Archbishop of Yangon, Myanmar and President of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC), noted on 7 May 2020 that the “COVID-19 pandemic around the world is now a ‘perfect storm’. It challenges our ways of living, working and celebrating.” Needless to describe the devastating global impact it continues to make. The worst-affected are those who cannot socially isolate, who have no water with which to wash, who have lost their jobs and have no daily income, who return to their country/states as unemployed, hungry migrant workers, who do not have a governing system or social security that looks after them. No hope for the future and their only cry is: when will this end?
Be Aware of the Realities!
This pandemic, not from outside, but from within the world-society has brought a tsunamic changes in lifestyle, relationships, governance and even beliefs; it continues to endanger the mobility of civilians in their own nations, and exposes the inability and inadequacy of political and social leaders to find a solution to this draconic disaster. There seems to be a very dim light of hope for a ‘regained’ future. Archbishop Emeritus Thomas Menamparampil, sdb notes, “Coronavirus has caught us unprepared, distracted by concerns and conflicts of diverse nature, and blinded by proposals of half-truths, warped truths and ‘instrumentalized-truths’. We have become like “children, carried by the waves and blown about by every shifting wind of teaching” (Eph 4:13-14)”- Fides via CNUA, 20 May 2020.
Cardinal Bo states that in most countries of Asia schools are closed, factories are closed, markets are running out of stock, travel is forbidden. Yet with unbelievable, obscene folly, conflicts continue. Military commanders of government and ethnic armies, as if they believe their weapons are more powerful than this virus, continue to expose their soldiers, continuously endanger civilians, and risk a conflagration of contagion among the people of their nations. In India, for example, as The Economist (11.6.20) notes: “India has always been a paradox. Its economy is large but its people are poor, its intuitions are strong but its policymaking is not, its public debt is high but its foreign debt is modest.” In spite of the tragic pandemic, police brutality against peaceful protesters, political maundering and ‘horse- trading’ and crude expressions of arrogance among the rulers and politicians continue to spread the “virus of Evil.” At this juncture the words of the Bible come to mind: “people cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and sores, but they did not repent of their deeds” (Rev 16:11).
Ray of Hope not Lost!
People say ‘this Coronavirus pandemic will not end,’ which means the world will not be the same again. Self-interest guides global discussions. Health compulsions point in one direction and economic and political interests in another. “None of us knows what is going to happen, and there is no one to tell us” (Ecc 8:7). This reminds us of the devastating situation of the Israelites under the Babylonian captivity: “By the rivers of Babylon- there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion (Ps 137:1) and the song of three young men when they returned from Babylon: “at this time there is no prince, or prophet, or leader, no burnt offering, or sacrifice, …no place to make offering before thee or to find mercy” Additions to Daniel, v.15). But, when all human efforts seem to bring no confidence we have to witness to the society that our hope is only in the Lord. We have to pray with Job: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth” (Job 19:25). When David was in such a miserable situation of pandemic from Saul his eyes raised towards God: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil” (Ps 23:1, 4; 25:2). The Israelites did not perish in the pandemic situations of their desert-journey; Yahweh was there with them to redeem them. When fleeing from Jezebel, Elijah begged God: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life” (1 Kg 19: 4); but God saved him.
In the fiery ordeal of the Roman persecution (R. E. Brown, Rome and Antioch, 128-129) the early Christians of the second generation (A.D. 65-95) could do nothing but raise their cry to God: “how long before thou wilt judge ?” (Rev 6:10) and there was the reply: “Fear not, I am the first and the last” (Rev 1:17). In times of trials, confusion and pandemic the same message was told to Gideon (Jud 6:23), Jeremiah (Jer 1:8 ), People of Israel (Isa 41:10), Haggai (2:5), Peter (Lk 5:10) and Paul (Act 18:9). In all these instances the reason given not to be afraid is that God said: “I am with you!” In all these cases God’s word became true. So, in this deluge of virus devastating the world we need to believe and feel the presence of God and his mercy (cf. Isa 49:15). As Pope Francis exhorts in these days we have to raise our eyes to God in prayer.
It is indeed crystal clear that COVID 19 in the near future cannot be driven out. However control can be achieved by following social distancing and other health care precautions. Everyone has to take these measures not only for ones’ own sake but also for the health of the neighbourhood. In an interview on NDTV (India) on 12 June, the Dalai Lama was asked ‘why did such a pandemic happen?’ He replied that negative emotions are more prevalent in today’ society; these have resulted in injustice and in violence against both nature and human society. In order to rectify this situation the world community has to exhibit rescinding positive emotions that bring forth compassion, love, forgiveness and selfless existence. With personal conviction we shall imbue with positive emotions within us and preserve the environment to drive out this COVID 19.
Memoria Christi! (June 2020)
The notion of memoria Christi promoted by the German theologian Johann Baptist Metz (1928-2019) provides a strong basis for correlating our Christian faith with our social life. Against the background of his experience with the Holocaust in Nazi Germany, he developed the idea of memoria passionis (mortis et resurrectionis Jesu Christi) emphasizing compassion, as sensitivity for the suffering of others, compassion of God, and also a passion for God. Only when we witness to that memoria, which, according to Pope Francis, “is a dimension of our faith” (EG 13) can we transform ourselves and the society we live in. How can we meaningfully witness to the faith-memory of the past and explicitly to that of memoria Christi?
Memoria in OT!
We can envisage two angles of memoria in the OT. The people of Israel were constantly reminded to remember the ‘wonders’/mercy of Yahweh (cf. Ps 77:11). The Israelites, in particular, were reminded not to forget God’s liberating act in Egypt (Exod 12:14). In the post-exilic period: “The survivors are in great trouble and shame” (Neh1:3; cf. Dan 3: 37-38). In that context it was told to the people to remember the mighty hand of God who led them in the wilderness (cf. Deut 8:2-5) and to remember the mercy of Yahweh who would lead them to a bright future (vv. 7-10). This memoria is meant to engender deep faith in the Lord (cf. Ps 77:11). This parallels well with what Jonah said: “As my life was fading away, I remembered the LORD” (2:7).Repentance for sins is also termed as “remembering the guilt” which brings forgiveness (Ezek 21:24).
The second angle of memoriais the assurance of Yahweh’s faithfulness: “Can a woman forget her nursing child…yet I will not forget you” (Isa 49:15). Using the comparison of a nursing mother Yahweh assures his continued concern and compassion for his faithful people. Several passages in the OT referring to God’s remembrance of the individual (cf. Gen 8:1; 19:29; 30:22; Jer 31:20), indicate God’s blessings for the people and faithfulness to his covenant (Ps 105:8; Exod 2:24; Deut 7:9).The above two angles of memoria are synchronized in Psalm 119 which, in essence, underlines God’s benevolence by which the faithful “will not be put to shame.”
The eyewitness of the disciples was the foundation of the memoria Christi of the disciples (1 Jn 1:1-3). Their remembrance of the words and deeds of Jesus strengthened their faith in Jesus and in the Scriptures (Jn 2:17-22) and gave them courage to proclaim the Gospel with much conviction (Act 4:20; 1 Cor 9:16). Memoria Christi is not the mere recalling of the past; but, as John says, it is having true fellowship with Jesus Christ (1 Jn 1:3). Jesus himself told his disciples that the Holy Spirit would bring them to the memoria Christi which will transform them to be a new person: persona Christi (Jn 14:26). In our life and witness the memoria Christi will help us go to the roots of our being, Christ Jesus, who is the source of strength in our trials and tribulations (Jn 16:4). Every word and deed recorded in the Gospels is not past history for me, but living the good news in every circumstance of my life: “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (Jn 6:63).
The memoria of the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus is the central act of reminiscence of our faith. Jesus’ sharing his body and blood (Eucharist) with us is to be celebrated in ‘remembrance of him’ by which we proclaim his death until his second coming (1 Cor 11: 24-26). Here Jesus’ command: “do this in remembrance of me” clearly indicates the institution of the Eucharistic celebration in which we rejoice in the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus (J. Jeremias, 252). Why do we celebrate this memoria? Jesus’ passion and death is not a past event of his trials and tribulations; but represents his continuous fight against and victory over the injustice of the ‘world.’ In fact, every community celebration of the Eucharist, ‘in memoria passionis,’ anticipates the victory over evil (Jn 16:33); hence it ends with the eschatological jubilations. Moreover, by our life-witness to the Eucharistic communion we represent the already initiated salvation work by Jesus and pray for its consummation. As we take part in the memoria Passionis (mortis etresurretionis) we rehearse Jesus’ ‘story’ of salvation and recall who we are and where we are in this story. If we live accordingly, we become a fitting proclamation of the Gospel to the world.
The original Passover is a remembrance of the victory over the clutches of slavery in Egypt (Exod 12:6). So also, as Pope Francis says, ‘the joy of evangelizing always arises from grateful remembrance” (EG 13). The memory of the sincere faith of ordinary people (2 Tim 1:5) is the source of joy to identify the atrocities of today’s consumeristic world and to live in steadfastness in the memory of Jesus’ passion and death. We should remember that the “Gospel, radiant with the glory of Christ’s Cross, constantly invites us to rejoice” (EG 3). The memory of the Eucharist, made present by Christ’s self-sacrifice, is not confined only to the liturgical exercises, but is to be translated into everyday life. In fact, the memoria Christi as the memory arising from the love of Jesus for the sick and the oppressed is the liberating force to overcome the atrocities of the world.
At the Hour of Death! (May 2020)
With the outbreak of COVID-19 (Coronavirus disease) pandemic, immense fear has escalated all over the world today. Appearing first in Wuhan (China) at the beginning of December 2019, but spreading with tremendous speed throughout the world, it has brought severe death-fear; crashed economies, upended lifestyles and destroyed peace of mind. At this juncture Pope Francis went to the Divine Love Sanctuary of the Major Basilica of Our Blessed Mother, in Rome on Wednesday, 11 March 2020 and offered a prayer to our Blessed Mother, Health of the Sick, to implore her protection of Rome and of the entire world. Similar prayer was made by Pope Pius XII in June 1944 for the protection of the city of Rome as Nazi troops withdrew from Italy during World War II. This is very pertinent with the prayer of petition we make at the end of the Hail Mary, “pray for us sinners, now, and at the hour of death.”
Ave Maria in History!
The earliest religious traditions that honoured Mary were public festivals celebrating with liturgy. The Middle Ages saw the private devotion to Our Lady with the composition of the first part of the ‘Hail Mary’ consisting of the angelic salutation (Lk 1:26-28) and Elizabeth’s recognition of Mary’s uniqueness (Lk 1:42). There is a tradition that St. Dominic (d.1221) received the Rosary from the Blessed Mother herself as a means of converting the Albigensians (heretics) and other sinners. But, only the first two parts of the Hail Mary existed at that time. Later, in 1493 the third part: “Hail Mary, Mother of God pray for us sinners, Amen” was added.
Shortly after this, Europe was engaged in several deadly wars, like the Knights’ Revolt (1522), the German Peasants’ war (1524-25) and the Counter-Reformation conflicts (1530-1552) which caused a number of deaths, mostly among the Catholic faithful. In this situation, in the prayer of petition, the phrase “now and at the hour of death” was added. This is to prepare the faithful for a peaceful death that would lead them to eternal life. Hence, in the Catechism of the Council of Trent the final text of the Ave Maria, the present one, was introduced; this is first found in the Roman Breviary of 1568, approved by Pope Pius V.
Pray for us Sinners!
From the 12th century onward among the Italian, Spanish and German faithful, a general tendency existed to conclude the Ave Maria with an appeal for sinners and especially for help at the hour of death. In the first half of the 14th century, a prayer popularly attributed to Dante, notes: “Oh blessed Virgin; pray to God for us always…that He may reward us with paradise at our death.” When we make the petition to our Blessed Mother we, first, acknowledge that we are sinful (Rom 3:10; 1 Jn 1:18; Ps 143:2). Martin Luther, in his commentary to the letter to the Romans, basing on Mt 15:19, emphatically notes: “We are sinners because we are the sons of a sinner. A sinner can beget only a sinner, who is like him.” This realization of our sinful nature is not to lead us to despair, but to seek, with hope, God’s mercy for liberation from our sins, both personal and social. One of the graces conveyed by the Blessed Mother to St. Bridget of Sweden: “all their sins will be forgiven.”
At the Hour of Death!
When we seek the prayer of our Blessed Mother we first say ‘pray for us now (Nunc)’. Similar context is seen in the Song of Simeon, popularly known as Nunc Dimittis (Lk 2:29-32). It was told to Simeon that “he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah” (Lk 2: 26); this promise was fulfilled once he saw the ‘salvation’ (Jesus) and so, his prayer is: right now (in Greek original: tóra amésos) he could be dismissed (die) in peace, so that he might have ‘rest.’ Instead, our prayer to the Divine Mother, in Ave Maria, is that we shall live the present (nunc) life free from evil forces. Because of misfortunes in life we would say with Paul: “why are we putting ourselves in danger every hour? I die every day” (1 Cor 15:30-31)! So, when we are afflicted with bodily and mental illness we need, right now, God’s grace of cure for which we seek the intercession of Our Lady. Is it not pertinent to pray to Our Blessed Mother at this moment of global calamity?
Death is the king of terror and the terror of kings. Any committed Christian believer will worry not only for the present moment, but also for the hour of death which should be the ladder to the eternal bliss and not to the unquenching fire of hell. It is not easy for us to say: “to me, living is Christ and dying is gain (Phil 1:21). But we live a sinful life or are influenced by a sinful milieu. For a peaceful ‘nunc dimittis’ at the hour of death God’s mercy is essential, because not all dying people have an opportunity to repent. Besides old age, death comes to us also in sundry other ways: sudden illness, accident, natural calamities, outbreak of viral diseases, terrorism, etc. There may not be any time for preparation for a ‘good’ death. We seldom think, “Death is a golden chariot that ushers us into the presence of God (Tertullian).” Therefore, it is vital to pray to Our Blessed Mother at this moment of global disaster/misfortune: “pray for us, sinners, at the hour of death!”
Even Death on a Cross! (April 2020)
“Even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8)! This is the expression used by Paul to indicate the melancholy state of Jesus dying on the cross. Paul’s primary intention is to underline the humility of Jesus, accepting the kenotic state of a death of a slave or of a criminal. However, the affliction involved in shameful death on the cross cannot be set aside. Jesus was mocked (Lk 22:63), flogged (Mk 15:15) and struck with a reed (Mk 15:19). That is why Paul would speak about the ‘scandal of the cross’ (cf. 1 Cor 1: 13). Nevertheless, the physical torture which Jesus experienced during Passion Week is only a symbol of the crosses he carried all through his three years of public life and continues to carry even today until the end of time.
Cross of Ignorance!
The hungry crowd in the desert had to be fed. But only negative reactions came from the disciples (Mt 14:17; Mk 6:37; Lk 9:13; Jn 6: 5-6). Jesus had to contend with his own disciples arguing among themselves who is greater among them (Lk 9:46), the mother of James and John wanting to see her sons in the primary place (Mt 20:22) and his own disciples, when seeing Jesus walking on water, exclaiming: “it is a ghost” (Mt 14:26). All the disciples, like the Emmaus disciples, were ignorant of who Jesus was (Lk 24:45). The same ignorance prevailed also among the common people: after experiencing the feeding they wanted to make him king (Jn 6:15) but the same crowd, ignoring all his greatness, shouted: “crucify him” (Mk 15:13). The painful response of Jesus to this ignorance would be: “You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you” (Mk 9:19)?
Ignorance, in itself, is not sinful. However, Dr. JC Wandembergconvincingly argues: ignorance coupled with religion causes fundamentalism; coupled with freedom brings chaos; coupled with money begets corruption andcoupled with poverty produces crime. Moreover, ignorance is the source of indifference which, according to Pope Francis, “leads to self-absorption and a lack of commitment” (Peace Message, 1 Jan 2016). When we ignore what we are supposed to know, this causes evil.Is this not a cross we place on the shoulders of Jesus?
Cross of Rejection!
John says about the birth of Jesus: “He came to his own, and his own did not accept him” (1:11). “His own” (idia) in the first case, being a neuter, indicates ‘the heritage of Israel, the Promised Land: Jerusalem. And in the second case, being a masculine (idioi), refers to the people of Israel (Cf. Exod 19:5) who do not accept him. This is very well brought out by Luke during the Nazareth Manifesto of Jesus: “All in the Synagogue, filled with rage, drove him out of the town” (Lk 4:28-29; Jn 4:44). Jesus was amazed at their unbelief (Mk 6:6). The same story of rejection by his own (Jewish) people is noted in several places in the Gospels (e.g. Jn 3:11, 19; 5:45; 14:7; 16:3; 1 Jn 3:1).).
The pain of the cross is that Jesus was primarily sent to the lost sheep of Israel (Mt 15:24), but “no one accepted his testimony” (Jn 3:32). They were all waiting for this Messiah and when he did come they had no faith to accept him. This is in tune with what Paul said at the end of his mission to the Israelites: “For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing” (Act 28:27). This rejection, finally, brought the cross of death to Jesus. Many a time, because of our human weakness we reject the light of the Gospel and continue to walk in darkness of selfish motives. Is this not a cross we place on the shoulders of Jesus?
Cross of Arrogance!
The ‘learned’ leaders of Jerusalem vehemently opposed Jesus. Mark notes that the Pharisees conspired with the Herodians against Jesus regarding how to destroy him (Mk 3:6). In fact, the Pharisees and the Jewish Sanhedrin opposed Jesus as a Teacher and Messiah. Jesus preached mercy and love; opposed corruption and insincerity; rejected the rabbinic conception of holiness. He represented himself as a new lawgiver, when in the Sermon on the Mount he superseded doctrines of Moses by his own (“You have heard that it was said to the ancients … but I tell you”). The arrogant mind and heart of these ‘leaders,’ knowing the truth in Jesus, could not accept him being unable to cast off their worn-out traditions (cf. Mt 23). Jesus’ Galilean villages, like Capernaum, Bethsaida and Corazon, out of prejudice and familiarity rejected his gospel for which he had to curse them for their arrogance (cf. Lk 11:13,15). The instigations of Caiaphas (Jn 11:50-51) and the Sanhedrin (Mt 26: 57-68) are vivid examples of this ‘cross’ of arrogance. Our arrogant act with self-interest causes harm. Is this not a cross we place on the shoulders of Jesus?
Replace crosses with Holy Cross!
When I am alive to my faith in Jesus, I can say with Paul, “I shall know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Phil 3:10-11). Then, I shall do away with all selfish crosses, and embrace the Holy Cross that leads me to the Resurrection!
May the Risen Lord fill you with fortitude to get rid of selfish crosses!
I wish you all a very Joyous Easter!
Revisiting the Forty days! (March 2020)
The number forty, occurring 146 times in Bible, symbolizes a period of testing, trial or probation. People quote Moses’ life for forty years in Egypt and another forty years in the desert. He was also for forty days and nights on Mount Sinai on two occasions (Ex 24:18; 34:28). So also Israel’s journey in the wilderness for forty years, Elijah’s forty-day fast on his journey to Mount Horeb (1 Kg 19:8) and Jesus’ fasting and prayer in the desert for forty days and nights (Mt 4:2; Lk 4:3). Accordingly, in the Christian tradition the forty days of Lent, combined with fasting and prayer, has become codified into practice. However, when we analyze biblical insights we can find another facet of forty years/days.
No doubt, the Church’s long-time exhortation is to view the forty days of Lent as a favourable season for prayer, penance and abstinence, leading to conversion. The custom of placing ashes (cf. Jonah 3:5-9; Jer 6:26; Mt 11:21) or wearing ‘saffron’ garb or fasting and abstinence or even torturing body might create a sense of mortification. A mood of sadness and severity settle over the minds and hearts of the faithful, leading to retreats, way of the Cross, Lenten pilgrimages, resulting in spiritual renewal in parishes and in individuals; a transition from the ‘darkness’ of Lent to the ‘sunshine’ of Easter. This reflects the origin of the term ‘Lent,’ a transition from the gloom of winter (lencten) to the cheer of spring.
Forty Years of Moses!
In the life of Moses we perceive two phases of forty years. Fearing the Pharaoh’s anger (Ex 2: 15) Moses escaped and spent forty years in Midian (Act 7:30) where he received a special call of God to be the liberator of the people of Israel suffering in Egypt (Ex 3:12). Coming out of the Egyptian royal affinity those forty years formed him to be a committed Israelite to receive a special vocation from Yahweh. Our forty days of fasting and prayer (Lent), like Moses, should renew in us our Christian commitment to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of God’s design. The next phase of Moses’ forty years’ experience made him a man of God: receiving the Ten Commandments, breaking the tablets into two pieces in his anger against the betrayal of the Israelites and at the same time, praying for the same people for God’s forgiveness (cf. Deut 9). During those years Moses was open to realities and he was able to respond to the demands of Yahweh while he critically assailed his people’s weakness. As Samuel Rayan notes, critical activity is compatible with spirituality (In Spirit and Truth, II, 121). Like Moses this Lent should form us to be a fervent man/woman of God and people in our family and society.
Forty Days of Jesus!
The Gospels note that Jesus fasted and was tempted by the devil for forty days (Mt 4:2; Lk 4:2-3). During those forty days Jesus fought against the devil who tempted him and those temptations were along the same line of temptations of the first parents (Gen 3). While the first parents succumbed to the evil force, Jesus, with moral authority resisted the devil. He did not allow his human needs to control, or master his life. For Jesus those forty days meant a period of struggle against Evil and he successfully overcame Evil through recourse to the Word of God (Lk 4:1-12). Let this Lent bring us closer to the power of the Word of God to face evils such as distortions of media and majoritarian parliamentary muscle that enact unjust laws detrimental to the harmonious life of society.
The Lent of Jesus was a constant conflict with the evil forces toward a noble and just cause. Pope Francis rightly teaches that the Lenten forty days should lead us to “feel compassion towards the wounds of the crucified Christ present in the many innocent victims of wars, in attacks on life, from that of the unborn to that of the elderly, and various forms of violence” (Lenten message 2020). We have to fight against modern evil forces such as “junk food,” pernicious social media, divisive ideology and deceptive political agenda. In recent India the secular nature of the constitution is at stake, causing much fear among all sections of minorities, both religious and ethnic. With our prayer and fasting we should be able to rekindle the gift of God within us and enrich ourselves with the Spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline (Cf. 2 Tim 6-7).
Lent of Struggle!
Indeed, our Lenten journey is a time of struggle, self-denial and restraint, and we will confront temptation, and weakness along the way. So many Christians struggle through Lent because they focus on what they are giving up and not on building up their relationship with God. But if we embrace a life with God through Jesus, as opposed to a life of self-indulgence through sin, we are living out God’s Will and will ultimately grow with Him. St. Paul long ago foretold todays’ world:“people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths” (2 Tim 4:3-4). This lead us to physical and mental struggle; but living a Lent of spiritual and merciful acts will form us to ‘endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out our Christian mission fully’ (2 Tim 4:5). As St. Rose of Lima reminds us, “Apart from the cross, there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven.”
A Light of Life! (February 2020)
Extreme weather, fuelled by climate change, struck every corner of the globe in 2019. At least fifteen major natural disasters occurred on account of climate change costing at least fifty billion dollars (Rs. 360,000 crores), displacing millions of people and causing heavy loss of life all over the world. Another global concern is the unpopular and unconstitutional policies of the various governments that lead to large-scale protests in many parts of the world, causing loss of lives and public goods. However, Pope Francis, very aptly notes that this existential tension can be overcome with a divine hope “that inspires us and keeps us moving forward, even when obstacles seem insurmountable” (World Day of Peace 2020). The very presentation of Jesus in the temple fills us with this hope.
Various Epiphanies of Child Jesus!
Luke narrates various stages of the Epiphany of the Child Jesus. The first Epiphany of the Child Jesus witnessed by Elizabeth (Lk 1:39-45) gave bliss to her; the second Epiphany to the shepherds showed Jesus’ concern for the outcast and sinner (Lk 2:10), the third Epiphany to the Magi revealed Jesus’ love for the Gentiles, the fourth one in the Temple confirmed His consecration to Yahweh for the redeeming mission (Lk 2:22-24) and the fifth and final Epiphany in the Lukan Infancy Narrative, witnessed by Simeon and Anna, brings joy to all the people (Lk 2:25-38). Each Epiphany of the Child Jesus brings new light of hope to the beneficiaries who were led to a new path of life. The experience of Simeon and Anna is a sheer witness to this fact.
Purification or Presentation?
Luke notes: “When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses…” (2:22). According to the Mosaic law (Lev 12-1-6) the woman, in this case, Mary, who brings forth a male child, is ritually unclean for seven day before the circumcision and thirty three days after it (time period is doubly long if the it were a female child), forty days in all. Luke, here, silently omits mentioning of the offering for purification of the mother of Jesus; but goes on to say: “they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.” In fact, the presentation or consecration of Jesus to the Lord Yahweh was the primary intention of Luke. In order to save the Israelite first born Yahweh slew the first born of the Egyptians (Ex 12:12) and consequently there was a law that every first born Israelite was to be consecrated (presented) to the service of Yahweh (Ex 13:1-11) and in course of time this law was modified and thus the child could be brought back for five shekels (Num 18:15-16). Luke, at this stage, does not mention about the offering made for the consecration of the child, but says: “they offered a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons” which refers to the offering for the purification of the mother. This juxtaposition of the offering by Luke is to underline two factors of our faith: Mary, the mother of God does not need any ritual purification and Jesus was internally dedicated to God’s service (Jn 17:16-17).
Light and Glory to the World!
Simeon, taking the Child Jesus in his arms, says: “This child is the light to the Gentiles and glory to the Jews” (Lk 2:32). While Luke emphasizes here, as in the Matthew’s Magi story, how the gentiles are attracted by the light of God’s Son, his basic intention is to underline the universal salvific light brought by Jesus. Also, this oracle of Simeon is a prelude to what Jesus was in his three years’ mission in Palestine and a foreword to the missionary endeavours of the great heroes of the book of Acts: Peter and Paul (Gal 2:7). Here our reflection dwells on the proclamation of Jesus: “I am the light of the World” (Jn 12:8). Jesus makes this statement in the background of the woman caught in adultery. An angry crowd is pressing Jesus to pass judgement on the woman. But Jesus knows the malicious intention of the crowd that “they were posing this question to trap him” (Jn 8:6). So, Jesus gives time both to the accusers and to the accused to ponder their sins by scribbling on the ground (R. E. Brown) and then, divulges to the crowd and to the woman (vv. 7-11) that he is the light of the world: the crowd is brought to the light of self-realization and the woman to the state of conversion. Jesus saved both the crowd and the woman from the darkness of cowardice and sensual weakness to see the light of life. It is evident that in Jesus this light/life has come into the world (Jn 1:5; 3:19) and this light (Jesus) gives us knowledge of purpose and meaning of life.
Welcome this Light!
The light seen by Simeon in the temple of Jerusalem is also the lamp that shines in every believer’s life. One who walks in this light of God’s revelation/way of life can proceed further in the midst of darkness of evil forces, in spite of hurdles of injustice, false accusations and “in the darkness of wars and conflicts with a horizon of hope” (Pope Francis, Jan 1, 2020). Jesus himself says: “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (Jn 8:12). In order to further clarify his mission Jesus said: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6). No one can doubt that Jesus is the way/shepherd whom we should follow. If we begin to follow his way we shall attain the truth of God’s revelation as Jesus himself said in the same context: “No one comes to the Father except through me” and this revelation/light leads us to life.
Truth will set you Free!
It is to be noted that if one follows Jesus, the way and truth, then he/she finds an enlightened life and consequently eternal life. Belief in Him and conviction to follow His Gospel will keep us in His light of knowledge and life. The saying of Jesus that the “truth will set you free” (Jn 8:32) is worth noting here because the revelation or, for that matter, the person of Jesus will free us from the worldly clutches of sensual inclinations. This is in contrast to the political manifestos that mislead people and to the clamorous speeches moulded with attractive words/promises, but at the end lead us to the darkness of mischief. In spite of scientific and technological advancements human misery is increasing day by day on account of the rule of selfishness and arrogance of the rulers of the nations. Good hearted people are perturbed by the atrocities of the crooked and wicked in homes, in places of work, in social media, in governance and in all human spheres. But if we hold on to the candle of Jesus we shall not go astray. This is the reason Pope Sergius (+687-701) introduced the Candle Mass in the celebration of the Presentation of Our Lord in the temple, emphasizing that the Child who appeared to Simeon and Anna was the light of life to them as well as to all humankind.
Servant of God!
Our Cathedral dedicated to St. Sebastian, Sultanpet, Palakkad, was erected a separate parish in 1850 and the first parish priest was Rev. Fr. Joseph Louis Ravel, MEP. He is now raised by Pope Francis as the Servant of God. He is also the founder of the Presentation Sisters (Coimbatore) and he founded the first convent in Sultanpet, Palakkad in 1865. He is a missionary priest belonging to the Paris Foreign Mission Society. In order to praise and thank God for this gift to our Diocese and to the Congregation of the Presentation Sisters we have the Eucharistic concelebrating in the cathedral hall on 24th Feb 2020. The program begins at 5.30 pm. All are most welcome to participate in this celebration.
What is New in the New Year? (January 2020)
One million-plus people from around the globe stand in New York’s Time Square on New Year’s Eve eagerly waiting to celebrate the dawn of the New Year. So also, in all the mega and micro cities of the world impressive celebrations with spectacular fire crackers are observed to welcome the New Year. Why this joy? Is it because of the dawn of a new calendar? or an occasion for global celebrations because of some commercial benefits? Nevertheless, we should not forget that each moment, each day, each month and each New Year is a secret, but emphatic code reminding us that we are getting old, the extent of our earthly journey is getting reduced; the modern world is pushing us behind; we become worn-out in the warping speed of the modern generation. Nevertheless, this thought should not perturb our mind; there is something new in every Near Year!
Two Types of Humankind
There are two types of people in the world. It is obvious that one part of the humanity, on account of its self-centeredness, succumbs to Evil and does all sorts of atrocities both to themselves and to others. These are like: “The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5). Such people would say: “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry” (Lk 12:19). We can name many such people down through human history. The other part of humanity, trying to be good and honest, enduring enormous trials and tribulations from the tyrannical ‘lords’, becomes scapegoats of the forces of Evil. St. Paul recounts in his personal life such a torture: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Rom 7:15). The experience of such people is, as Paul, in another letters says: “I die every day” (1 Cor 15:31)!So, most of the good-hearted people in society will pray with the Psalmist: “Guard me from the wicked who despoil me, my deadly enemies who surround me” (17:9).
Mercy is Renewed!
Both types of people are, of course, in need of God’s mercy. God warns and reminds the wicked people: “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you” (Lk 12:20). Every New Year, for that matter, every moment, God is merciful to the sinner, granting time so that she/he will return to goodness. Isaiah long ago said: “The LORD waits to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you” (Is 30:18). So also St. Peter pertinently reminds us “The Lord is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9). By not taking to heart this Divine benevolence, some perish in their own wickedness and some violently end their lives by suicide. Typically, despair is their final destination. For such people a severe warning is mentioned in the Bible: “For in one hour all the ‘riches’ has been laid waste” (Rev 18:17). But for the just people this should be the reason for joy of the New Year!
For the oppressed and persecuted, God’s mercy is abundant. The basic text of God’s consolation to the socially, politically and even religiously oppressed is seen in Exodus 3:1-10 and such consolations were spelt out by St. Stephen when he was brutally killed: “Yahweh said: I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt and have heard their groans, and I have come down to rescue them” (Act 7:34; cf. also Mt 11:28). We can take into account the confident words of Paul in this respect: “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ (just life); for whenever I am weak, then I am strong (on account of God’s mercy)” [2 Cor 1210].On seeing the atrocities of politicians, businessmen and self-appointed god men, like Nithiyananda or KalkiBhagavan, often we hear in India lamentations of the general public: “only God can save us.” Such a faith in God’s mercy is renewed in the New Year’s Day as we journey from one year to the next with much hope, as in the case of David (Ps 23:4) that God’s mercy will always save/protect us from the dangers of Evil. This should be the reason for our joy at the dawn of the New Year!
Mission is Renewed!
The Evangelist and writer, John Wesley White (1983) rightly observed: “The world hopes for the best; but the Lord offers the best hope.” As we begin a New Year we should bring to mind how God leads us to the best of every moment. Forgiving my daily sins and failures God is still leading us, not just to ‘live’ in this world, but to strive towards something greater. The Catholic Church, very aptly celebrates on New Year’s Day the feast of the Virgin Mary as the Mother of God. St. Anselm (+1078) says ‘God is the Father of the created world and Mary the Mother of the re-created world’. Yes, she fulfilled her challenging mission of being the Mother of Jesus/God by surrendering to the will of God and committed/commits to that vocation even to the end of the world. So too, every New Year brings me opportunities to renew myself to the mind of God; to live my Christian vocation by giving Jesus to others; to bear witness to the values of Jesus, in short, being ‘alter Christus’ (Gal 2:20). By this I can prove wrong the following the words of Nietzsche: “In truth, there was only one Christian and he died on the Cross.”
I am pleased to wish you a very Happy New Year 2020!