Dear Rev. Fathers, Sisters, Brothers and Lay Faithful,
The Sleeping Giant! (Feb 2021)
Anxiety was born in the very same moment as mankind. “The punishment of every disordered mind is its own disorder,” said St. Augustine (Confessions). The Psalmist would lament: “I am utterly spent and crushed, I groan because of the tumult of my heart” (38:8). Pope Francis experienced and proposed (16, Jan 2015) a giant who mastered every problem while asleep. That is sleeping St. Joseph!
Joseph the Dreamer!
We come across Joseph, son of Jacob, ridiculed by his brothers: “Here comes the dreamer” (Gen 37:19). His dreams were a manifestation of his being in the spirit of God (Gen 41:37). His dreams became the medium of God’s revelation, displaying his brothers’ in ability to see the hand of God while the Pharaoh, the gentile, could discern the presence of God in Joseph (Von Rad, Genesis, 352). However his dreams became the cause for his fall and rise in life: rejection by his brothers and acceptance by Pharaoh (Gen 41:41). In short, Joseph’s dreams reveal that the Lord was with him in all his endeavours, In fact, he would say to his brothers: “You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good” (Gen 50: 20). Here Joseph’s dreams reveal not only the presence of the Lord but also how he was moulded to be a man of God; showing his total surrender to Yahweh (Gen 39), displaying mercy and forgiveness to his adversaries. This Joseph of OT provides much insight to understand St. Joseph who is termed by Pope Francis as “Patris Corde” (With a Father’s heart) while proclaiming the ‘Year of St. Joseph’ (8, December 2020).
St. Joseph the Dreamer!
Matthew mentions four different dreams in the case of St. Joseph: to accept the Immaculate conception of Mary (1:20), to take Child Jesus and his mother and flee to Egypt (2:13), to return from Egypt to Israel (2:19) and finally to migrate to Nazareth in order to escape from the danger of Herod Archelaus (2:22). In the first three instances an unnamed angel appears, while the last is a warning by the Lord. The angel, in general, represents God’s visible presence among men (Gen 16:7; Exod 3:2; Judg 6:12). In the biblical concept, dream is a genre, indicating divine prerogative (Gen 40:8) and gift of God (Dn 4:5-6). As in the case of Joseph of OT, dream is the vehicle of God’s revelation for St. Joseph. In his dreams, the message is the important element. These are prophetic dreams that bring messianic revelations. They serve as contexts to convey the message. They also ‘add to the wonder which surrounds the figure of Jesus’ (L. Sabourine, Matthew-I, 199).
St. Joseph: Obeying God’s Will!
Many a time we humans do not understand adverse happenings in our life. Onset of sickness, loss of job, setback in business, failures in exams and so on- we tend to ask: why me? Often caught up in discomfort and discouragement, we tend to seek evil ‘saviours.’ At a moment of grave confusion what is just could seem unjust and what is unjust could seem just. St. Joseph, being a just man, could not countenance Mary’s pregnancy before the formal marriage. Being betrothed to Mary he could not have been peaceful. You or I would have spent sleepless nights- but not St. Joseph! He slept peacefully, completely relying on the will of God, and the great truth of the Immaculate Conception was revealed to him (Mt 1:20-23).
St. Joseph should have sensed the antagonism of Herod the great and the elders of Jerusalem (Mt 2:2) when they came to know of the birth of the ‘king of the Jews,’ a child that would threaten the aristocratic rulers. But he continued to dream and wait for God’s design to take Child Jesus to Egypt. Again, in Egypt, he waited for divine guidance and so in a dream was directed back to Judea, and finally to Nazareth. In all these crises and conflicts St. Joseph did not get discouraged but exhibited total surrender to God’s will and direction. It is a ready ‘fiat’ as in the case of Mary’s encounter with the angel (Lk 1:38). For this complete surrender of St. Joseph, God gave him the gift of becoming the formal husband of Mary (‘take up Mary as your wife’) and the father of Child Jesus (the right to name).
St. Joseph is the protector of Mary and Child Jesus, not only in the physical sense, but also in the moral sense, accepting the social responsibility of a husband and father. Relying totally on God’s hand, St. Joseph was not worried of the social criticisms of accepting this task. So, he could sleep peacefully! As Our Lord asserted, the path towards resurrection is the way of the Cross; following religious and social responsibilities, hardships are abundant. But we can sleep peacefully like St. Joseph if we clear away all our egos, anxieties and self-centeredness and see the hand of God in everything.
St. Joseph: the Just Man!
The public complement given by the evangelist is that St. Joseph was just (Mt 1:19). In the context of Mary’s pregnancy, St. Joseph, a devout Jew, was to follow the Mosaic precept which prescribed: “stone her to death” (Deut 22:21). But, he, in this conflict, was not only upright (“dismiss her quietly”) but also merciful (“unwilling to expose her to public disgrace”). He did not follow the letter of the law, as many legalists today make rash judgements, but manifested an intelligent application of principle and compassion. We are led by sleeping St. Joseph to the realization that there is no justice without mercy and no mercy without justice!
A ‘New’ New Year! (Jan 2021)
As the novel coronavirus pandemic plunged the world into crisis through almost the whole of last year, several theories related to the origin, sustainability, and effects of the deadly virus sprouted. Now, even with the development of many vaccines, the global climate is not yet expecting normalcy, in fact we are advised to become accustomed to a ‘new normal.’ We thus begin this New Year with painful anxieties of a new normal. Although, as a Christian, my mind lifts up hopefully to the consoling words of God: “For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Fear not, I am the one who helps you’” (Isa 41:13), my heart is deeply filled with dark clouds of uncertainties and insecurities of ‘walking’ the coming days as I did before. No, many a reflection/caution spelt out that we should accept the present pandemic as the new way of life. On this occasion we may reflect upon what is ‘new’ in this New Year!
Coronavirus: A Hard Teacher!
In the middle of the raging COVID-19 pandemic, the Indian Government passed controversial farm laws which last month brought millions of farmers from many northern States to stay protesting in the biting cold of New Delhi for over a month now. Mega Bhoomi poojas in Ayodhya and New Delhi (New Parliamentary building), religious rallies (Vale Yathra in Tamilnadu) and popular protests against ruling regimes around the globe are all continuing, discarding the much-propagated pandemic-protocol. And yet, fear of returning to yesterday’s normal continues to threaten everyone.
However, this coronavirus crisis, arriving like a sudden-breaking storm, has laid for us a road map of mind-set and action which many of us have taken for granted or failed to observe. The document: Fratelli Tutti, released by Pope Francis in the time of COVID-19, rejects the ‘magic theories’ of market capitalism, war at any cost, even legitimate defence, ‘just war,’ validity of death penalty, legal or illegal, in all its forms, ‘perverse’ economic system at the cost of the poor and marginalised, and exposes the fragility of world-systems, the sheer illusion that everything can be resolved by market freedom. Ron Rolheiser, omi, aptly illustrates that COVID-19 has exposed the illusion of invulnerability (CNUA, 15 Dec 2020). This dreadful virus has taught us that we are fragile, vulnerable and mortal. Even with advanced medical and scientific technology we are told that we can’t take for granted the precious gifts of health, family, work, community, travel, recreation, freedom to gather, and (yes) even going to church.
God told Moses: “See, I am sending an angel before you to protect you on your journey and lead you safely to the place I have prepared for you” (Exod 23:20). The global coronavirus, a game changer, can also be seen as an ‘angel’ sent by God for driving our future course of life as per the mind of Jesus: ‘Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 15:12). Writing a preface to the book: “Communion and Hope” (June 2020) Pope Francis noted this is a “time of trial,” giving us a chance to re-orient our lives towards God and to have solidarity with others. True, we have learnt to see each other, above and beyond any differences, as members of one large family, where we bear each other’s burdens. As the Scottish Bishops termed, we are taught to have solidarity with the vulnerable, respecting the dignity of every human person (Pastoral Letter, 14 Dec 2020). We have learnt that we should not be infected by the evil of indifference but be ready to take risks to do good to the other. As Pope Francis reminded us (Homily, 15, Nov 2020) there is no faithfulness without risk. Emphatically he states, “in this time of instability, let us not waste our lives thinking only of ourselves, indifferent to others and deluding ourselves into thinking: “peace and security!” (1 Thess 5:3).
Suffering is a grave reality people experience now; loss of dear ones, lack of jobs, deportation of migrants, corrupt distribution of medicines, food and other livelihood etc.- suffering attacks every one of us. Nevertheless, this pandemic has taught us to accept our suffering and weakness either as hand of God or victim of the unjust. ‘The axis of evolution passes through pain and suffering; but God is present in our struggle’ (Samuel Rayan, In Spirit and Truth, 180-81).
Warm Hand of God!
As we recognize our fragility, we are led to acknowledge the fact that God is the only Self-sufficient Being (Ipsum Esse Subsistens). This reminds us to hold on to the hand of God both in joys and sorrows. We encounter this reality in several instances of biblical history. Moses experienced this at the bank of Red sea (Exod 14:26), Jeremiah at the beginning of his prophetic vocation (Jer 1:19), Joshua as he started his leadership (Jos 1:9) and many a time, the people of Israel (Deut 31:6; Isa 41:10; Zeph 3:17). Jesus clearly highlighted this when he said to the synagogue official, “Do not be afraid any longer, only believe” (Mk 5:36) and to Simon Peter, “Do not be afraid” (Lk 5:10). The letter to the Hebrews reiterates the assurance of Yahweh: “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb 13: 5; cf. Deut 31:6).
Let this New Year enkindle in us the desire to grab the hand of God with unwavering faith so that we can confidently say with St. Paul: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13).
May God bless you all with his abundant graces to experience a bright New Year!
Painful Christmas! (Dec 2020)
In the global catastrophe of today everyone feels insecure and victimized by human inability and helplessness. People are yet unsure whether this dreadful pandemic is the result of natural calamity or bio-war. Victimization of the vulnerable, a sheer threat-picture, saddens us day by day. Despair continues to intensify as we sadly note live-injustices in all sectors of economics, politics, governance and so on. Pope Francis succinctly notes that this world-wide tragedy has made us “prisoners of a virtual reality, we lost the taste and flavour of the truly real” (Fratelli Tutti, 33). We might wonder: ‘is the celebration of Christmas at this juncture is just another day of the calendar or is it relevant to ‘celebrate’ with the joy it brings?
Birth of the Messiah!
Isaiah (7:14; 9:6-8; 11:1-9) and Mica (5:1-5), indeed very evidently, forecasted the birth and nature of the Messiah. As they predicted, Jesus the Messiah was born (Mt 1:22-23; 2:5-6). It is Paul, in the Christian era, who first (+54) wrote about Jesus’ birth. He indicated two interesting characteristics of Jesus the Messiah: (i): “God sent his Son, born of a woman” and “born under the law” (Gal 4:4-5). What do they mean? Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15), but he “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness” (Phil 2:7). The same concept is underlined by John:“The Word became flesh” (1:15). In that case, in the birth of the Messiah God the Infinite dies to be the finite one. The Almighty chooses to be constrained by human frailty. So, the passion of Jesus begins at his birth itself.
Christmas, no doubt, is a season of joy, wonder and celebration. A detailed narrative of the birth of Jesus the Messiah was recorded by Matthew and Luke. Luke’s narrative (1-2) mostly manifests a joyful mood (Lk1:46-47; 2:10-11,20). Writing in +80 predominantly to the gentile Christians, he wanted to present Jesus as Saviour of all (2:10; 32), who gives joy and bliss to all who believe in Him. Luke wanted to avoid, at the outset of his Gospel, projecting hardships of discipleship and so underscored joy and happiness to those who would become Christ’s followers. This, he thought, would attract the gentiles. On account of this presentation of Luke, celebration is evident in Christmas. Nevertheless, there is another side of Christmas, presented by Matthew.
The Cross of the Early Church!
Matthew wrote in Aramaic the sayings of Jesus in +40 and then he began to proclaim Jesus’ message only from his baptism to his resurrection (Mt 3-28). After the death of Nero in +68 the persecution of Christians intensified. The Roman Empire became increasingly hostile toward Christianity. Emperor/Empire worship, Jewish antagonism, mutual antipathy with the neighbouring gentiles, and economic crisis were painful challenges to the early Christians (Rev 13). This caused them an experience of Trauma (Yarbro Collins, Crisis and Catharsis, 106). Christians, being ‘little flock’ (Lk 12:32), were hated, tortured, put behind bars and even killed (Lk 21:12). Being at the door of death (1 Cor 15:31) they had to ‘walk’ every day the Way of the Cross (Mt 10:38). In this pitiable situation they had to be encouraged and consoled. Therefore, in order to embolden and animate the oppressed infant Church, Matthew later added the birth narrative of Jesus (Mt 1-2) showing that the Infant Jesus too had undergone the same painful situations; infant Jesus is seen in the infant Church.
The Cross of the Infant Jesus!
Though Matthew, in his infancy narrative (chs 1-2), underlines that Child Jesus is the Davidic Messiah, he describes to a great extent the tragic mood of Jesus’ birth. Conflict began for Jesus even before his birth. Not knowing the hand of the Holy Spirit in the conception in Mary Joseph planned to dismiss her. Having come to know of the ‘birth of the king of Jews’ Herod “was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him.”Very cunningly he spoke to the Magi, but having known his deceitful mind they “left for their country by another road.’ Matthew continues to mention the fury of Herod that motivated him to destroy Child Jesus; this resulted in Jesus’ flight to Egypt. Herod, being infuriated, massacred all the infants in and around Bethlehem.The sad story is not over. Joseph, after the death of Herod, could not return to Bethlehem on account of Herod’s son Archelaus, but fled to Nazareth, a northern town of Galilee. Child Jesus survived all these ‘evils.’ Matthew thus consoled and encouraged the oppressed Christians of his time.
Jesus our Hope and Healer!
‘This is the time to heal’: Joe Biden addressed Americans in his election victory speech on 8 November 2020. In all our misfortunes, like the present pandemic or evils on account of the ‘virus’ of injustice and corruption that infect us, it is Jesus who is the healer and hope for a better future. When we see the arrest of Fr. Stan Swamy (83) and repression of ‘angels’ of human rights in India we are reminded of the climate of the early Church. Matthew illustrates how Child Jesus survived and overcame all ‘evils’ through the hand of the Almighty. Child Jesus healed Zachariah, Elizabeth, Simeon, Prophet Anna, shepherds and magi. He was foretold to be “a sign that will be opposed” (Lk 2:34). When he “came to his own but his own people did not accept him” (Jn 1:11). Thus, he carried his crosses all-through his earthly life. And yet he survived and succeeded through his resurrection and defeated all evils (Rev 17:14; 20:10). Child Jesus in his life was “tested in every respect” (Heb 4:15) and so “he is able to help those who are being tested” (Heb 2:18).
I am pleased to wish you all a Merry Christmas! May Child Jesus shower upon you His abundant mercy to withstand the challenges of discipleship!
Visiting the Dead! (Nov 2020)
Visiting the sick is a common spiritual and pastoral exercise. By our visits the sick are consoled in their sufferings and encouraged in their hope of recovery. Likewise, visiting the cemetery, in the Christian tradition, is commonly seen, mostly in the month of November. This is also encouraged by the Church to pray for the souls in purgatory. By this pious act we are drawn to think about that eternal link that exists between us here on earth and those holy souls who are expiating their sins in purgatory. Our prayer for the dead can play a small part in the forgiveness of sins (2 Mac 12:46) and “touch the heart of another” (Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, 48). In this context an indulgence, applicable only to the Souls in Purgatory, is granted to the faithful who devoutly visit a cemetery and pray for the departed. The indulgence is plenary each day from the 1st to the 8th of November (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1471-1479). On the other hand, the expression, visiting the dead, is rarely spoken. Nevertheless this has much deep significance and impact in our lives.
Fear over the Dead!
Among the south Indians we observe that much fear exists in visiting the dead or the crematorium. According to the main view of Hinduism the mind and body are subject to death, but Atman (soul) is indestructible and eternal, passing between different beings through reincarnation over many lifetimes (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hinduism). Popular belief of people is that this ‘living’ soul of the dead is hovering over and causing evil so that the prospect of innumerable lives is therefore envisaged with dismay. This belief is influencing also many Christians so that they have much fear to visit the cemetery. According to the Christian revelation/belief the dead face three different ends: the just find eternal reward (2 Cor 5:8), the dead with venial sins face purgatory, waiting for the remission of sin, while the wicked face the ‘second death’ – eternal damnation (Lk 16:23; Rev 20:15; 21:8). Nevertheless, it is our belief that the dead, in general, are rewarded or are waiting for God’s mercy. So, no place for fear over the dead or of visiting the cemetery!
The Dead Rejoiced!
Mary Magdalene, according to John’s Gospel, is the first to visit the tomb of Jesus (20:1) in order to mourn for him, as anointing had already been done at the time of burial (Jn 19:38). Modern scholars opine that John’s description reflects a genuine custom of the Jerusalem Christian community visiting the tomb of Jesus to celebrate the memory of the resurrection so that the empty tomb became a shrine (Raymond Brown, The Gospel acc. to St. John, Vol. II, 983). We rejoice over the death of Jesus (Jn 11:25; Rom 10:9). Anyone who visits the tomb of Mahatma Gandhi in New Delhi will leave with a great strength of Satyagraha or that of Francis of Assisi will leave with a cogent recognition of simplicity and fraternity or that of Mother Teresa will leave with a robust sense of mercy and love for the abandoned or that of Nelson Mandela will leave with a strong thrust of peace, reconciliation and social justice. When we remember the death days of the thousands of saints in the Catholic Church we are proud of their Christian commitment with their heart open to the whole world. We shall not miss to rejoice over the death of our own parents and friends who are shining lights in the darkness of our life-journey.
The Dead Celebrated!
The death of St. Polycarp (+155), the 12th martyr in Smyrna (today’s Izmir in Turkey) has left us a joyful memory of an illustrious Christian teacher and a pre-eminent martyr for the sake of truth. We cannot forget the words of St. Ignatius of Antioch asking the Roman faithful to rejoice over his being grinded by the mouth of the lion to be made bread of Christ. People throng to the tomb of Oscar Romero (+1980), the prophet of justice or Sr. Rani Maria (+1995), the voice of the poor or the Kandhamal martyrs (+2008), the shining lights of Christian faith. All these and many other such martyred deaths do not cause us fear but invoke social justice and enkindle hope of eternal life in those who visit their cemeteries; they have become holy shrines. We celebrate the birthday of their martyrdom each year with joy and rejoicing, both to remember those who have run their race and to prepare those yet to walk in their steps.
The Death of Victims!
It is a sad fact that in India one girl child is sexually abused every 15 minutes (The Hindu, 25 Jan 2019); not to speak about the Nirbhaya case of gang rape in Delhi in 2012 or the recent shameful incident in Hathras district, Utter Pradesh (Sep 14, 2020). Such inhuman victim-deaths occur on account of revenge (Gen 34), war-retaliation, mere pleasure-seeking or caste, race or colour discrimination. Such victims’ death and their tombs, as that of Maria Goretti (+1902) become, on one hand, syndromes of inhuman wickedness of perverted people and on the other hand, the witness of fortitude of such victims against unjust behaviour. Pope Francis cautions that unjust economic and social systems produce such victims (Fratelli tutti, 110). The tombs of such victims should provoke us to fear God’s judgment and restrain us to uphold economic and social upheavals. Instead, we should fear the death of wicked people; their tombs are sign-posts of men/women becoming ‘devils’ and history has shown that the tombs of such well-known evil people do not exist to threaten us.
Let us take efforts to visit the cemetery and pray for the dead and for those anonymous/unrecognised souls! Let their souls find eternal reward from God!
Here am I, Send me! (Oct 2020)
“Here I am; send me” (Isa 6:8); this is the biblical expression on which Pope Francis bases his reflection on this year’s message for the World Mission Day to be ‘celebrated’ this month. In consonance with Mary’s fiat (Lk 1:38) Isaiah completely placed himself at the hand of God for whatever mission is ahead for him. In this time of severe suffering and challenges generated by COVID-19, the Pope invites us, leaving aside fear and introspection, to give ourselves to others, which would mean, giving ourselves to God. This is a renewed call of Christian mission today.
The missionary concept in the Bible begins with Abraham. In Yahweh’s call to Abraham (Gen 12:1-3), first of all, he has to abide by God’s direction of life; secondly, from Abram (father of a family) he has to become Abraham (father of all nations), being blessings of all families of the earth. This is the highlight of his mission. His surrender to God leads him to surrender to ‘all the families of the earth.’ When meditating on the mission of Abraham Cardinal Carlo Martini notes: “It is not a matter of a message of personal consideration in Abraham’s life but the reality of a great people that reappears in various way outlined on the horizon in the fullness of divine blessing” (Abraham Our Father in Faith, 56). In the pandemic calamities met by Lot (Gen 14) and the people of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 18) Abraham gave himself to save Lot and prayed for forgiveness of the sins of those cities. Without seeking ‘safe-mode,’ a sincere expression of his faith in Yahweh is seen in his service to the depressed, even as they were wicked.
Jesus the Life-Proclaimer!
Jesus is the missionary par excellence! He was sent by the Father and he proclaimed the Gospel in every nook and corner of Palestine (Mt 9:35). However, his Nazareth Manifesto (Lk 4:16-30) is not just a verbal declaration, but exposed the fact that ‘scripture has been fulfilled in their hearing’ (Lk 4:21). He went on confronting his adversaries: “you have seen me and yet do not believe” (Jn 6:36). His life-proclamation was affirmed by the Roman Centurion: “Truly this man was God’s Son!” (Mk 15:39). Before proclaiming that he was the light of the World he demonstrated that truth by being light both to the sinful woman and to the ‘blind’ elders of Jerusalem (Jn 8:1-12). So also, he insisted that the measuring rod for being his disciple is ‘love for one another (Jn 13:35) and hence he commanded his disciples to be his witnesses to the whole world (Lk 24:48; Acts 1:8).
Paul is an inordinate missionary. Within a span of 16 years ((AD 42-58) he reached out from Jerusalem to Rome so much so that he would say: “I have fully proclaimed the good news of Christ” (Rom 15:19). However he underscored his personal witness of care for others (2 Cor 11: 28), endurance in suffering for Christ (1 Cor 4:9-13), model for hard work (2 Thess 3:7), self-witness (2 Cor 4:10) and self-control (1 Cor 9:27) to the extent that he could say to the Philippians: “ Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me” (Phil 4:9). His life itself was the proclamation: “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ” (2 Cor 12:10). He is a splendid motivator for our mission today.
Baptized and Sent!
Every baptized person is a missionary to proclaim the wonderful grace he/she experiences. Proclamation is thought to be adding the number of believers (cf. Acts 2:4, 47; 5:14; 6:1,7). Mission is undertaken so that non-Christians may believe and be freely converted to the Lord; hence missionaries are “heralds of the Gospel, sent out by the Church and going forth into the whole world, carry out the task of preaching the Gospel and planting the Church among peoples or groups who do not yet believe in Christ” (Ad Gentes, 6). However, the same Ecumenical Council did not fail to note that Christians will “announce Christ to their non-Christian fellow-citizens by word and example, and to aid them toward the full reception of Christ” (AG, 15). Pope Paul VI noted: “modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41). Pope Francis is very assertive to this aspect when he talked about proclamation by attraction that can change and convert hearts, by witness of those who live the Gospel (4 Dec 2017).
At this unexpected turbulent storm of the Coronavirus, though all are in the same boat of fragile-humanity, Pope Francis aptly motivates us in his message for the World Mission Day to give ourselves to others. COVID-19 has brought together every human being to the challenges of illness, suffering, fear and isolation. Many are victims of poverty, jobless and homeless; lockdowns and fear of observing social distancing has caused communal mistrust, indifference and home violence. And so, the Christian mission today has to look into Jesus’ model, seen evidently in St. Paul, to live ourselves the Gospel values of justice, love and mercy at home, in streets and in society. We are to revert our families and communities to the household churches (Acts 2:42-47) and reboot to be warriors of Christ in reaching out to the needy and suffering. We should be ready to reach out to others (“Here am I”) with the healing balm of Christ, witnessing to his gospel: “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Mt 28:20).
New Avenues! (Sept 2020)
I am pleased to share with you, at this hour of severe trial of Corona Virus all over the world, the meditation on New Avenues.
Corona (Latin, for crown) could be of both thorns and of life, if understood with the right perspective. A recent book (June 2020): ‘Corona of Thorns? or Corona of Life? Changing Church in the Covid Context’ (ISPCK, New Delhi) provides a bird’s-eye view of how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every aspect of life and how theologians, academicians and practitioners see rays of hope amidst worldwide gloom. The pandemic shows no sign of retreat. Millions of lives are being torn apart and displaced, hopeless anxiety is very grim in all sections of society. If we realistically sense the pain that the pandemic has inflicted on us all we will have the courage to understand how it has transformed the very nature of the Church and human interconnectedness, and how this could be seen as a fleeting moment of opportunities and new avenues.
Faith in Almighty deepened!
Very shocking news! Dr. S.R. Nagendra, a 43-year old government doctor on coronavirus duty, died by committing suicide on 20 August 2020 in Mysuru district in Karnataka with some of his colleagues alleging he was under work pressure. Many more virus-affected people, directly or indirectly, are driven to suicide, depression leading to increased home-violence, murder, looting and so on. On the other hand, Tamil Nadu, in southern India, came together on 20 August 2020, to pray for the renowned singer SP Balasubrahmanyam’s speedy recovery from COVID-19. On the next day, Karnataka health minister B Sriramulu exclaimed: “only God can save us” as the State saw a sharp hike in COVID-19. These are only a few examples of millions of people raising their cry for relief to the Almighty. Prayer becomes intensive on account of the factors: severity of the pandemic, increasing number of death and remote possibility of the arrival of a vaccine. Increasingly people around the globe are coming to realize human weakness in fighting against the draconic virus, in a way, caused by humans themselves. Indeed, it is natural, at this moment of sheer helplessness, like Esther (4:7-17), that we all look to Almighty God.
Be Spiritual rather than Religious!
In our prayerful search of God’s mercy, the normal mind-set will be our anxiety to get rid of this pandemic. Today, more acts of ritualism in Hindu temples are visible, while Christians seek to attend Eucharistic adorations or Holy Mass, in churches, on TV or on social media. Pope Francis long ago cautioned “the spiritual life comes to be identified with a few religious exercises which can offer a certain comfort, but which do not encourage encounter with others, engagement with the world” (Evangelii Gaudium, 78). Granted the validity of these religious activities, we need to go beyond our religiosity to discern the signs of the time/God at this moment. When the Samaritan woman was worried about worshiping in Jerusalem or in Gerizim Jesus directed her to worship “in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:24). The ‘spirit’ here refers to the spirit of God and not the spirit of humans; this means that it is the spirit given by Jesus that is to animate worship (Raymond Brown). The gospels give ample witness to the spirit of Jesus in prayer and worship: for example, contrite of heart (Mt 6:5-15; Lk 18:13), concern for others (Mt 5:44; Lk 6:27-28), simplicity of mind and heart (Lk 21:1-4). Thus, prayer leads us to God, piety leads us to spirituality and spirituality leads us to humanity.
Humanity based Spirituality!
When the US Government allowed all State governors in June to open all “places of faith,” Catholic bishops took a very cautious stand taking into consideration the safety of human life and health. So also Catholic bishops of Kerala were not hasty to open places of worship where danger to life and health hazards was involved. Following strictly the COVID protocol in order to avoid jeopardizing the lives of people is Christian spirituality. Even at this time of pandemic, in a land like India where human life is less valued, honour-killing, lynching, caste-ridden slaughter, and even ritual ‘homicide’ are prevalent, paradoxically, poojas and worship are sought by people, mostly for self-satisfaction. Our prayers and petitions for a healthy humankind and society must help us defend the sanctity of life. Yahweh in OT times (Joel 2:13; Amos 5:5-6) and Jesus on his part (Mt 5:24; 23:18-19; Lk 10:31-32; Jn 2:16) repeatedly reminded us that respect for persons is to go along with our practices of piety.
This extreme painful situation is both a caution and a blessing. This helps us to turn away from closeness to openness, individualism to solidarity, isolation to genuine encounter and division to communion. This is Christian spirituality practiced by Mother Teresa in a society filled with the virus of hatred, indifference and communalism. At this point, the recent reflection by Cardinal Charles Bo is noteworthy: “Early Christianity started not with a plastic Jesus venerated by hundreds of docile devotees inside a secure space but it was started by disciples who believed in a living God. They set the world on fire with His message of love and equality. A true Christian is not to be a fan of Jesus but to be a follower of Jesus. Every Christian is a missionary, a man and woman committed to the establishment of God’s Kingdom. Devotees seek something from Jesus. Disciples do great things in the name of Jesus for the Kingdom God. ” (Homily on 23rd Aug 2020).
Prayer to Our Lady of Good Health!
This month on 8th we celebrate liturgically the birth of Our Blessed Mother who is honoured as the Mother of Good Health. Let us make a special prayer to her, as the Pope’s prayer: “You will provide, so that, as at Cana in Galilee, joy and celebration may return after this time of trial”!
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!