Dear Rev. Fathers, Sisters, Brothers and Lay Faithful,
The Economics of Small Things (Dec 2021)
Sudipta Sarangi authored the book: ‘The Economics of Small Things’ (2020) in which he establishes economic rationale through seemingly irrational and common-day behaviour. Christmas, as God gave us, is, of course, at the top of ‘the economics of small things.’ When the first man disobeyed God and lost paradise, Abraham was promised by the same God ‘paradise regained’ (Gen 12:1-3). True, this great and unique historical event of Christmas reveals that “God so loved the world that He sent His only Son so that everyone who believes in Him may not die but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). However, when we ponder God’s economy of salvation, the principle of the economics of small things is evident.
A Strange Salvific Process!
Christmas began when Adam ate the forbidden fruit. In the ‘blessings of all nations’ foretold to Abraham (Gen 12:3) the joyful bell of Christmas began to ring. When Jacob the cheater, the controversial women Bathsheba, Tamar, Ruth and Rahab are seen in the list of Jesus’ ancestors it is strange for a common mind to comprehend. Our apprehension is clarified by Yahweh when David, the least son of Jesse was elected to be the king and messianic father: “Lord does not see as mortals see” (1 Sam 16:7). It was a strong Jewish belief that the Messiah will be the Son of David (2 Sam 7:12-16; Isa11:1; Jer 23:5-6) and the same was also the Christian belief: “the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh” (Rom 1:3cf. Mt 1). But who is David? He himself says: “I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me” (Ps 51:3). Thus, the salvific process undertaken by God to enact the Christmas event is enigmatic to the ordinary mind and the same view follows the Bethlehem event of Christmas.
The ‘Smallness’ of Bethlehem-Event!
Micah prophesised: “O Bethlehem of Ephrathah…from you shall come forth the one to rule in Israel” (Mic 5:2). However, in the time of Jesus, nobody paid attention to this tiny village. Yet, here is the Christmas event, ‘the Omnipotence would be wrapped in swaddling clothes, salvation is in a manger and God coming to this earth is helpless’ (Fulton Sheen, Life of Christ, 24). In order to bring back banished humans ‘one man’s obedience was necessary’ (Rom 5:19); that is Jesus Christ. Starting from Gen 3:15 there are several messianic prophecies which were fulfilled in Him, but not as a political king, destroying the heathen nations with a “rod of iron”. In fact, people expected in Jesus such a messiah (Jn 6:15; 11:47-48). However, he was born as a slaughtered lamb, wounded, crushed and bruised, in order to take up all our iniquities (Isa 53:5-7). John noted, “He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him” (Jn 1:11). He further underlines the ‘pitiable’ reception of the birth of Jesus: “The light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil” (3:19), not to mention the detestable attitude of Herod (Mt 2:2).
We humans wish to fly high in space even with the vehicle of words. We believe in external appearances and are usually taken up by lofty words so much so that electoral votes are cast more because of mesmerism of words than due to concrete actions. On the contrary, the Saviour of the world, being in the ‘form’ of God, emptied himself in human form with all its infirmities and limitations (Phil 2:6-7). The Christmas scene of crib, stable, animals, swaddling clothes and manger indicate that Jesus was already bearing his Cross, the cross of poverty and exile. In the words of Fulton Sheen, the Manger of Bethlehem foreshadowed the Cross of Jerusalem. As he was laid in a stranger’s stable at the beginning, so too, he was laid in a stranger’s tomb at the end. Christmas is the great story of God emptying Himself in order to fill us with his grace. Jesus, in Christmas, lived his words: “Those who lose their life for my sake will save it” (Lk 9:24). Therefore, in Jesus’s birth, life and death, there is no tragedy which is unforeseen or uncontrolled, but every moment, from birth to death, is a planned salvific event, as he was ‘to be a sign that will be opposed, and destined for fall (the arrogant) and rise (poor in heart) of many’ (Lk 2:34).
Christmas: A Celebration or Commitment?
No other celebration in the Christian world can be compared with Christmas. Fabulous decorations, clothes, meals, carols, dances, sharing of gifts and so on manifest the joy of Christmas. No doubt, the Messiah is born for us; we need to rejoice. Nevertheless, as Lucien Legrand observes, Christmas “sets forth the paradox of the great heir to Davidic glory coming to inherit the throne of his ancestor, yet in the form of a tiny babe, powerless in a crib” (The Word is Near You, Vol. 1, 425). It reveals Jesus’ commitment to save the sinful world (Gal 4:4). It is a reminder of our Christian commitment to generous sacrifice, selfless love and humility of heart. Jesus, in his birth, used the ‘small things’ of the world, but brought the great results of salvation. Will I ask the holy infant to transform my small heart so that I may gain the great wealth of Christmas?
I am pleased to wish you all a Happy Christmas; may Child Jesus grant you his choicest blessings!
Saints are Made Here! (Nov 2021)
It is commonly said that marriage is made in heaven. This saying reflects the divine mercy and grace in married life. In the Catholic tradition, saints are thought to be in heaven; they are known for their heroic sanctity. Hence, they are considered to be celestial beings, honoured by us, humans, revering them in pictures or statues. Thomas Aquinas said: ‘that the saints may enjoy their beatitude and the grace of God more abundantly they are permitted to see the punishment of the damned in hell.’ On account of this thought Thérèse of Lisieux
opined: ‘I have always wanted to become a saint. Unfortunately, when I have compared myself with the saints, I have always found that there is the same difference between the saints and me as there is between a mountain whose summit is lost in the clouds and a humble grain of sand trodden underfoot by passers-by.’ This supposition overwhelms us to be closer to saints. However, there is another side of the coin that saints are made here in the world.
All Christians are Saints?
The word saint comes from the Latin sanctus, with the Greek equivalent being “hagios” (holy) which means things/persons set apart and dedicated for God’s purpose. The Evangelists apply this term to Jesus Christ (Lk 1:35), the Spirit of God (Mk 12:36) and angels (Mk 8:38). In the early Church agios was applied to all who believed in Jesus Christ and who followed His teachings (Act 9:13; Eph 1:1; 2 Cor 1:1). The assumption was that those men and women who followed Christ had been so transformed that they were now different from other men and women and thus should be considered holy. Nevertheless, sainthood always referred not simply to those who had faith in Christ but more specifically to those who lived heroic lives of virtuous action inspired by that faith. They excelled in a life of faith-witness beyond that of the average Christian believers. While other Christians struggled to live out the gospel of Christ, these particular Christians were eminent examples, exhibiting the gifts of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
Hospital of Sinners
Pope Francis said, “I see the Church as a field hospital after battle” and the Church is also thought to be not a museum of saints, but a hospital for sinners. True, these expressions came up only in the context of the nature of the Church’s mission which should strive to be a healing balm to the wounds caused by multiple social and personal evils. This is carried out by various ministries done in the society, by committed disciples of Christ. These disciples, though soiling their shoes with the dust of the dirty streets of a corrupt world, live among/for the ‘wounded’ people; but they always adhere to their master, Jesus Christ, who transforms them for a greater glory (cf. 2 Cor 3:18). In a sickly society of materialism and consumerism where human fraternity is obliterated by the waves of selfishness, Christ’s disciples arise as angels of unjustly downtrodden victims; in this endeavour they sacrifice their own earthly life, because their citizenship is in heaven (cf. Phil 3:20). For their self-sacrificing mission they are hated, tortured and even killed, because “they do not belong to the world” (cf. Jn 15:18-19; 17:16). They are recognized as saints.
The World is the Platform
Saints, the heroes of virtuous life, are not products of heaven, neither are they heavenly beings, although God’s mercy and love accompanies them. They walked our streets, shared our meals and came across the evils of human life. When Paul could ally with the life of Christ (Gal 2:20) he could boast that “from Jerusalem and as far around as Illyricum I have fully proclaimed the good news of Christ” (Rom 15:19). From ancient times till today Antioch of Ignatius stands as the model-witness for a joyful martyr for Christ as he lived among the victim-slaves of the Roman empire. It is Francis of Assisi, as a poor mendicant, who walked in the troubled streets of medieval Europe, being an instrument of peace and sowing love, pardon, faith and hope in the context of hatred, injury, doubt and despair. The pearl-fishery coast of South India and even the region of Melaka and beyond were the platform for St. Francis Xavier to exhibit his deep zeal for proclaiming Jesus’ Gospel. In our own days, it is the slums of Calcutta that changed Mother Teresa to become a saint, who showed Jesus’s mercy and love for the abandoned.
We are Saints
To become a saint, we need not be a religious, nor founder of religious congregations nor have an important position in the Church. Maria Goretti was a simple village girl, Thomas Moore was high chancellor during the rule of Henry VIII, Devasagayam Pillai was only a family man; today, Carlo Acutis is already touted as the “patron saint of the internet.” Thus, we can find saints from different walks of life and in our own times. When Augustine, a sinner could become a saint why can’t you and I? What is needed is journey from membership to discipleship to being full-time Christians, bearing the image of Jesus in heart and mind and witnessing to Him in society with love, mercy and justice, in short, we have to be “just really, really good.”
Stigmata of the Crucified (Oct 2021)
We honour in this month the memory of St. Francis of Assisi, one of the greatest saints of the Catholic Church. St. Bonaventure, minister-general of the Franciscans from 1257-1274, wrote about St. Francis, who making a retreat in Mount La Verna (Alvernia) in 1224, received the ‘stigmata of the Crucified’ after a vision of the Crucified Jesus. This grace-filled experience of stigmata was/is given by God to more than 500 saints in the history of the Church. The first recorded case of these wounds was in the year 1222, by Stephen Langton of England. Other famous stigmatists include Saint Catherine of Siena, Saint John of God, and Saint Marie of the Incarnation. The most famous stigmatist of the twentieth century was Saint Pio of Pietrelcina (1887-1968). Stigmata is the spontaneous manifestation of bloody wounds on a person’s hands, feet, forehead and back, similar to the wounds of the crucified Jesus. The stigmata, in St. Francis’ case is not just a physical pain, but, as in the case of St. Paul, is a missionary suffering: “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies” (2 Cor 4:10).
Francis considered all nature the mirror of God and so he called creatures his “brothers” and “sisters.” The most endearing stories about him are how he preached to the birds and persuaded a wolf to stop attacking the people of the town of Gubbio and their livestock if the townspeople agreed to feed the wolf. In his “Canticle of the Creatures” he referred to “Brother Sun” and “Sister Moon,” the wind and water, and even “Sister Death.” He nicknamed his long and painful illnesses his “sisters,” and he begged pardon of “Brother Ass the body” for having unduly burdened him with his penances. His boundless love for animals and nature earned him the honour to be the patron saint of ecology.
Above all, his deep sense of brotherhood embraced his fellow men, for he considered himself no friend of Christ if he did not cherish those for whom Christ died. When the world was shattered by various wars and destruction of nature St. Francis, with a deep sense of universal brother/sisterhood, embraced Jesus’ evangelical mission of accepting and loving everyone. The Fifth Crusade in the early thirteenth century continued the fierce enmity between the Muslim rulers of the Holy Land and the Christian world. St. Francis made the effort to travel to Egypt and encountered Malek al-Kamil, the sultan of Egypt in August 1219, succeeding with peace negotiations. This meeting of “the Sultan and the Saint,” exhibited Francis’ love for universal brotherhood (Lk 10), and yet is another mark of the grace of the stigmata he was awarded by God. Instead, forgetting often the words of St. Paul that there is no discrimination among the disciples of Christ (Gal 3:28) we are prone to divide society on the basis of caste, colour, language or region.
Participation in Jesus’ Martyrdom!
No doubt, stigmata are symbols of union with Christ and participation in His martyrdom. These are manifestations of one’s heroic virtues and great love of the Cross. When darkness of worldly glory and materialism overshadowed Christian Europe in the Middle Ages St. Francis rose to show its ugly figure of wantonness by witnessing himself to simplicity and austerity. He did not live in the desert a hermit, but lived among men, being a light to the blinded laxity and waywardness of wandering society. He lived the love of poverty which he thought the essential life-style of any disciple of Christ and this consists not in external poverty but total denial of the Self (Phil 2:7). Martyrdom, as Francis showed, is not merely experiencing physical suffering, but taking one’s daily cross and following Jesus (Lk 9:23). Francis, thus, shows us that self-denial is the mark of stigmata each one should bear so that we can truly follow Jesus. Jesus demands of us a total surrender to God and his designs when he speaks about committed discipleship (cf. Lk 9:57-62). We are reminded by Jesus in this pericope that the following of Jesus does not simply mean imitation of him but entering into the very conditions of his life, ministry, and lot, sacrificing one’s security, filial duty and even family affection (Fitzmyer, Luke, I, 834).
Our Bearing of the Stigmata!
Social stigmas, such as race, community and such are in general, negatively considered. Even a criminal bears a stigma that views him dispiritingly. When Jesus carried His cross up to Golgotha to be crucified, the cross was thought to be not so much a burden to carry but a humiliating punishment. But he transformed it to be salvific and holy. Our works of mercy and justice, our efforts of reconciliation and peace, and our abstaining from laziness, gossip or slanderous and malicious actions are indeed, stigmata of the Cross, though painful, they are symbols of committed discipleship. This is the reason why St. Paul could boast of the Cross of Christ (Gal 6:14). In fact, we are tempted to bear negative stigma such as enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions and such; but by contrast we should strive to carry the stigmata of the Crucified such as love, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness and such (cf. Gal 5:20-24).
Spirit-filled Vaccine! (Sept 2021)
One of my family friends in Germany recently sent me an SOS mail asking whether I had received the COVID-19 vaccine. Dr. Anthony Fauci, America’s top public health expert, long back said (The Hindu, 9 May 2021) that getting people vaccinated is the only long-term solution to the current COVID-19 crisis in India. When I went to receive the first dose there were very few people to receive it, but when I went for the second dose there was a long queue of people. This is either because of increased awareness of the vaccine or growing fear of contamination by the virus. At this moment of continuous waves of COVID-19, threatening us at our door, the whole world is gripped by this one word: vaccination. True, the whole human race today is worried about saving their bodily health, however, it is worthwhile, at the moment, to remember the words of Jesus “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles” (Mt 15:8).
Pharisaic Tradition and Jesus!
The pharisees were very particular with external purification, a tradition laid down by Mishna, the Jewish law code. They picked quarrels with Jesus’ disciples. Jesus does not deny the charges of those Pharisees, but points out a much graver offence of the adversaries who through a casuistic device of their tradition render void the commandments of God and so he says: “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles” (Mt 15:11). Jesus underlines that it is not food that enters the mouth (Ezek 4:14-15; Rom 14:1-4; 1 Tim 4:3) but what comes forth (Mt 12:34-37; Eph 4:29; Jas 1:19) that renders unclean; he further illustrates with a list of vices (Mt 15:19). Indeed, he emphasizes a healthy state of mind and heart (cf. Mt 5:21-6:18) and hence the disciples of Christ, the new divine plantation (Is 60:21), should be worried about their healthy mind and heart in order to become a messianic community.
They Ate the Fruit!
Adam and Eve in the Genesis account were placed in a paradise without any environmental or health hazard. No sickness was reported. Then they eat the forbidden fruit. The fruit itself was not harmful to their body and mind; but eating the fruit exhibits their contaminated heart (Gen 3:1-6). Eve was tempted in three areas of 1 Jn 2:16: lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh and pride of life. Being tempted, Eve sinned (1 Tim 2:13-14, 2 Cor 11:3) but Adam sinned gravely; he did not stop Eve from sinning, thus failing to exercise headship, he committed sin by acquiescence; with full knowledge they disobeyed God, leading to spiritual death. Their mind and heart were deviated from God/Good and so their life, both bodily and mentally, became miserable: “to till the ground from which he was taken and could not regain paradise” (Gen 3:23-24).
In these times, it is deplorable in India to be unconcerned about polluting rivers or seas through which health hazards are inevitable, bringing much danger to both physical and mental health. It is a common but awful habit of some people to use social media to make character assassination. Such people are much worried about safeguarding their bodily health while “they hate the one who reproves in the gate, and they abhor the one who speaks the truth” (Amos 5:10). Human wickedness brings natural disasters and physical pandemics, as Pope Francis at the beginning of his Encyclical Laudato Si notes: “The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life” (No. 2).
Our Lady of Good Health!
It is human selfishness that creates discriminations, even caste-discrimination, and ails peace and harmony of society. People suffer from loss of meaning
in life, feelings of alienation, consequences of sins committed and so on. Their mind is sick much more than their body. Along with physical healing people need psycho-social and spiritual healing, especially during the devastating COVID-19 pandemic. Our blessed Mother through her ‘fiat,’ shows us how we can maintain a healthy life with connectedness both to God to our neighbour. As soon as she received her wonderful vocation to be the virgin-mother, she surrendered herself to the mysterious designs of God (fiat) while also taking the trouble of visiting Elizabeth to give a helping hand to her (Lk 1:39-55). Deep faith in God and a total commitment to Christ’s way of life are spirit-filled vaccines for a holistic healthy life following in the footsteps of Our divine Mother whose birthday we celebrate this month.
Our Lady of Good Health, born immaculately, was assumed into heaven body and soul and thus enjoys a total healthy life; and so, she continues to bring us healing of God’s mercy to all kinds of sickness. In a world that views illness and death as the denial of the meaning of life and as annihilation, our Heavenly Mother teaches us that our suffering and death, united to the suffering and death of Christ, can lead us to a spirit-filled vaccine of caring for the sick and suffering, and thus, we become spiritual-vaccines of a healthy and harmonious society.
Caged Bird! (August 2021)
“The free bird thinks of another breeze… but the caged bird stands on the grave of dreams.” This is from the masterpiece poem, ‘Caged Bird,’ written in 1983 by Maya Angelou, extending this metaphor for the African American community’s past and on-going experience of race-based oppression in the United States in particular, and can also be read as portraying the experience of any oppressed group. As we ‘celebrate’ in this month of August the twin-feasts of India’s freedom and splendid freedom of Our Blessed Mother in her Assumption it is pertinent to think how we are ‘caged birds,’ crippled with various wounds of slavery: the Israelites were caged birds in Babylonian slavery (Ps 137:4), while Paul grieved that he was “sold to slavery under sin” (Rom 7:14-15).
Freedom, often, is disfigured and distorted. Fearing exposition of the cruelty of the powerful regime, the cry of the suffering throat is crushed through draconic laws. BBC reported (1 April 2021) that the military coup in Myanmar, besides killing thousands of Rohingya, jailed the civilian leaders, in order to cover up the genocide, which caused now (3 July) burning of the portrait of junta leader Min Aung Hlaing and staging of mock funerals. Similar socio-political uprisings are painful realities all over the world. In this case, both the oppressor and the oppressed become ‘caged birds.’ Take the case of Saul who, filled with jealousy of David, wanted to kill him. But both were mentally tormented (1 Sam 20; 23-24) and thus both were caged birds.
True, the extremists and the fundamentalists make us caged birds, although, recent research shows that most Indians, cutting across religions, feel they enjoy religious freedom, value religious tolerance, and regard respect for all religions as central to what India is as a nation (The Hindu 30, June 2021). One who dreams that he/she is free to do anything, regardless of cognizance of others, is a caged bird, ending in total ruin to him/herself, as in the case of the rich fool (Lk 12:19-21). Those who make cages for minorities, weaker sections of society, people seeking asylum, or those who indulge in sexual abuse forget the words of the Seer: “Alas, alas, the great city, Babylon, the mighty city! For in one hour your judgment has come” (Rev 18:10 cf. v.17,19). Yet another factor of this caged life is very much prevalent in this pandemic era in which many, mostly youngsters, are becoming caged birds of ‘checking and scrolling through’ social media, resulting in behavioural addiction to the Self.
I am a Caged Bird!
Kamala Suraiyya Das (My Story, 2009) says: “I am sinner, I am saint.” True, sin is the cage in which all humans are grilled. Our first parents, induced by greed, chose to live in a sinful cage (Gen 3:6-7), and as a result, every one of us is in the same boat (Rom 5:12). Paul would lament: “I am carnal, sold under sin” (Rom 7:14). Someone said that we are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners. Besides this reality, some enjoy harming others by their own egoism, selfishness, arrogance and so on. People who are addicted to their sensual weakness, selfish interests or undue attachments to persons, things and money are all caged birds, without knowing how to rid themselves of these misfortunes. Some feel no compunction to mistreat women or the disabled, thus making them caged birds; but they do not realize that they, by doing so, become caged birds themselves, caught up in distress. St. Augustine rightly wrote: “I will declare and confess to your name, O Lord, how you delivered me out of the bonds of carnal desire by which I was bound most firmly, and out of slavery to worldly things” (Confessions, Bk. 6).
Cages are Broken!
Our Blessed Mother, with her firm ‘fiat,’ became a free bird; her total trust in God’s providence rewarded her with the heavenly gift of Assumption. Pope Francis, in his homily on 29 June, 2021, very clearly explained how Peter and Paul became apostles and ministers of freedom for others. Peter was a caged bird with bitterness of frustration and failure (Lk 5:5), yielding to fear (Mt 14:30), but he was set free by Jesus (Mt 16:19). So also, Paul, a blasphemer, a persecutor and a man of violence (1 Tim 1:13) became a free bird through his life in Christ Jesus who set him free from the law of sin and death (cf. Rom 8:2-3). He became free of himself (Phil 3:8) and free to proclaim the Gospel: “I make it my ambition to proclaim the good news” (Rom 15:20). When Pope Francis, in the line of Zacchaeus (Lk 19), openly admitted “I am a sinner” he is the man of freedom. We often forget the emphatic words of Jesus: “everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin” (Jn 8:34) but the same Jesus tells us that “the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:32); Jesus is the Truth!
Everything Seems to Collapse! (July 2021)
India is experiencing a devastating COVID-19 surge with 3.7 million active cases and less than 3% of the 1.4 billion population fully vaccinated as of Monday, 7 June. Both cities and rural areas have been hit and the already-weak health-care infrastructure is crumbling. Crematoriums are full and, in some cases, dead bodies are being dumped in the river Ganga. In fact, this deadly virus has been swallowing India’s people like a monster. Although the whole world is affected by this COVID-19 pandemic, we, Indians, feel the acute impact of it because the dragon is at our door. We feel one with Jeremiah: “My eyes are spent with weeping… because of the destruction of my people” (Lam 2:11). Wounds of such tragedy are not uncommon in one’s life. Nevertheless, Ron Rolheiser (Western Catholic Report, 26.4.2021) writes that our heart is stronger than our wounds. Is this always true?
The Wound is deep!
Along with physical loss, Corona virus brings mental torture, loneliness and severe mental depression on account of the loss of dear ones, job or business both to individuals and to the family. We feel one with the Psalmist: “My heart is in anguish within me, the terrors of death have fallen upon me, fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me” (Ps 55:4-5). The husband, the only source of income for the family with two children, succumbs to this virus, thus the whole family is shattered. The betrayal of a much-trusted friend (cf. Ps 55:12), slander and calumny by the persons around us and injustice of a ‘renowned’ person cause colossal damage to the heart. When experiencing such pain, we often cry with Job: “I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest; but trouble comes” (Job 3:26). The wound is bigger than the heart. People say life is unpredictable and full of suspense. However, hopeful incidents are not extinct.
Witness of Humanism!
While thousands of generous people contribute millions of rupees to various efforts by many State Governments to control this deadly virus, we witness up to 6 June, 2021, 646 doctors, hundreds of front-line workers and even police personnel, sacrificed their lives saving the sick. In April 2020 the Kerala Government fed free of charge its 3.6 crore residents and migrants during the COVID-19 lockdown. A heart-wrenching incident happened in Assam on 4 June 2021; a daughter-in-law, Niharika, though she herself tested Covid-positive, carried her father-in-law, Thuleshwar Das (75) on her back and reached a hospital. These are examples of how humanism mingled with divinity can do wonders even during this draconic pandemic, for every human being is created in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1: 26-27).
God will not tolerate Evil!
The Psalmist underlines the fact that God will not tolerate evil (cf. Ps. 101:3-9). This applies not only to the evil acts done by us, but also to those forces like pandemics that can destroy the harmony of society. During the Israelite journey in the desert God punished the people by causing poisonous serpents to bite them; when they repented, the same God cured them with the same serpent (bronze) (Num 21). The sinful society lifted Jesus on the Cross and God was so merciful that salvation for the same sinful people was brought by lifting up (Resurrection) the same Jesus (Jn 3:14 cf. 2 Cor 1:3-4). This COVID-19, though man-made, we have a strong hope that God will cure us through the same human efforts of scientists, doctors, health workers, police personnel, finding various vaccines and other means of protection. The same God who told the suffering Israelites: “Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is the Lord your God who goes with you” (Deut 31:6) is with us. The same Risen Lord who told the disciples: “Do not be afraid… I have the keys of Death and of Hades” (Rev 1:18) is with us. Peter witnessed that “Jesus of Nazareth went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil” (Act 10:38).
God’s Mercy is Stronger!
The above reflection proves that God’s mercy is stronger than the wounds we bear and it is much stronger than our own mind, mostly perturbed by the negative atmosphere. When sicknesses, setbacks, adversaries and falsifications of truth occur we become tensed, despair takes hold of us. True, this pandemic is causing much havoc to individual and social spectrum. Everything seems to collapse; dark clouds are everywhere. However, it is with unwavering hope in God’s mercy that we look to the future, as in the case of prophet Habakkuk: ‘Though the fig tree does not blossom, and there is no fruit on the vine, though no produce of the olive…..yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exalt in the God of my salvation’ (cf. Hab 3:17-19).
Who is Your God? (June 2021)
Vineetha Mokkil penned an open letter on 5 May 2021 to the American Bhakts of Indian leadership, narrating who was their God. Moses warned the Israelites that when they entered the promised land they would serve the gods “made by human hands, objects of wood and stone that neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell” (Deut 4:28). Isaiah spoke elaborately about the absurdity of idol worship (Isa 44:9-20). We have to face facts. We have to sincerely ask who our ‘God’ is. In this global pandemic calamity, people seek various gods for their salvation. Nevertheless most people are led conveniently by their own gods and it is high time we hold on to the true God.
God: Human Fabrication?
Atheists, like Friedrich Nietzsche did not subscribe to the existence of God. The death of God theology emerged, meaning that the Christian God, who had existed at one point, ceased to exist. We cannot close our eyes to the reason for this view. From antiquity till today most people turn to God when awful tragedies happen, for example, when loved ones die of COVID-19, or are trapped in cities bombarded by hurricanes, or are diagnosed with cancer. For many, belief in God provides strength to endure such misery, provides hope that when our loved ones pass away, we can live with them again for eternity and ensures that no loss is inconsolable, no injustice unrequited, and we can finally have everlasting peace, no matter the misery gone through to get there. In such cases, for Nietzsche, for Periyar EV Ramasamy (+ 1973) and for such thinkers, God is a psychological fabrication to soothe distress, ease trauma, and provide companionship in the face of suffering. Is this our God?
God of Selfishness!
Karl Marx, in his historical context claimed that “Religion is the opium of the people.” He saw religion was the sign of oppression. Nietzsche, EVR Periyar and other ‘atheists’ do oppose God, not because God does not exist but because of atrocities done in the name of God byso-called religious people (Jerry Rosario, Manitham, 9). Most people in India believe in a God who ‘saves’ them from all evils. They are ready to accept anyone as God who appears ‘more than the normal size’ in power and money. We do not hesitate to worship ‘mammon,’ power and fame. Powerful leadership allures the general masses to one’s own ideology and to boost one’s own ego. Political and religious gatherings critically affect the health of millions of people. Spending on lower-priority initiatives continue as lakhs of people die due to lack of oxygen and vaccines. People are misled by falsehood, leading to endless suffering. Negligence of following Covid-protocol or lock-down regulations is common, causing havoc to society. In all this, selfishness is the God people worship.
The God of Israel!
Much is seen in the Bible about the Judeo-Christian belief/experience of God. God is holy, loving, merciful and fatherly, but will not tolerate evil. The Exodus and the post-exilic events clearly substantiate Yahweh’s protective care and mercy (Isa; 49:15; Eze 36:16-33). In fact, the Psalms are the compendium of the nature of God revealed to the people of Israel. However, we often forget the other side of the coin: Yahweh is revealed also as the God of justice. Prophet Amos expounds mainly God’s social justice. In our distress and draconic pandemic, we turn to God’s mercy but conveniently forget that the same God requires us to be just in our dealings with others also (cf. Mic 6:8). These OT records are not human fabrication of God but living experience of the people (Deut 6: 4-9).
Jesus my God!
The Judean experience of God, as noted above, is undoubtedly revealed in Jesus Christ who is“My Lord and my God” (Jn 20:28). Jesus told his disciples: “The Father and I are one” (Jn 10:30) and “whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9). It is evident, therefore, that we come to know of God in Jesus. In his Sermon on the Mount and in many of his parables he revealed that God is loving, merciful and forgiving. So also Jesus is a merciful Saviour.
Jesus’ mercy can be summed up in his words: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). In his salvific sacrifice, we are told, God proves his love for us even though we despise him by our sins (Rom 5:8). While he presented the prodigal father (Lk 15) he did not evade warning against wickedness and hypocrisy (Mt 23). While he will vindicate the innocent, he will also punish the guilty. Much of his life and teaching underlined social justice. Very vividly he showed that religious commitment and social justice go hand in hand (Mt 5; Lk 10). Concern for others is the mandate of Jesus who is my God!
We are Virgins! (May 2021)
No doubt, Mary, our blessed Mother is ever virgin. It is a gracious gift and salvific of God’s call. Although her immaculate conception preserved her from the original sin, her virginity all through her life is because of her total obedience and faithfulness to God’s vocation to be the mother of the Saviour. Her ‘fiat’ and her virginity go hand in hand. Her ‘fiat’ leads to her virginity, while her virginity is the reflection of her ‘fiat.’ As such, Mary has shown us that ‘virginity’ means orientation of the whole person to the ultimate goal of being fully united with Jesus. Through her virginity Mary redeemed the sin of Eve. Mary shines as ever-virgin not only in the birth of Jesus and in her earthly life but also remains so today and tomorrow. It is to be accepted that Mary as a coordinate symbol with Christ, joins together the holiness of the created being and the holiness of the divine being. Hence she is virgin most renowned!
Virgin Most Renowned!
She continues to lead the just and the sinners towards Christ and to the Almighty. Vatican II emphatically underlines: “Rightly therefore the holy Fathers see her as used by God not merely in a passive way, but as freely cooperating in the work of human salvation through faith and obedience” (LG, 56). Mary is not only ever-virgin but also ever committed to the world in being Mother of Goodness, so that her expectation is fulfilled every day: “Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed” (Lk 1:48). Through her various apparitions she manifests her missionary role of bringing people to Christ and hence to salvation. In her answer to the prayers of the poor and needy, the ‘anawin’ of the society, Mary reveals her virginity (commitment) to the suffering world. Hence she is extolled as Virgin most renowned!
Mary: The Model-Church!
Mary, being ever-virgin, is the Model-church. Mary “has gone before, “becoming” a model of the Church in the matter of faith, charity and perfect union with Christ.” (LG 61). This “going before” as a figure or model is in reference to the intimate mystery of the Church, as she actuates and accomplishes her own saving mission by uniting in herself the qualities of mother and virgin, As the union with Yahweh in the OT times was considered to be ‘chaste,’ so too, we, the Church, the community of Christ’s disciples, are virgins through our union with Jesus. As Israel was a virgin when she listened to God’s command and lived; accordingly, we are living virgins, like Virgin Mary, when we adhere to God’s word and witness to Him. St. Paul affirms this view in his letter to the Corinthians: “I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I promised you in marriage to one husband, to present you as a chaste virgin to Christ” (2 Cor 11:2). At the same time, he does not shrink in warning them of the allurement of different gospels and of being deceived as by the serpent; a total adherence to Jesus is the symbol of the state of Christians’ virginity (2 Cor 11:31).
We are Virgins!
The book of Revelation speaks of Christians as virgins who have not been seduced by idolatry, symbolized by adultery, but follow the Lamb faithfully (Rev. 14:4ff). Most scholars today understand the Greek term ‘parthenoi’ (virgins) as a metaphor for all true Christians who have not compromised in various ways with the world because they have remained loyal as a virgin bride to her betrothed (cf. Rev.19:7–9; 21:2; 2 Cor. 11:2), Contrastingly, we notice in the OT Israel’s idolatries in the political and economic practices are pictured as “harlotry” (Eze 23; Jer 3:1-10; Hos 1:2). It is to be noted that the Apocalypse has spoken earlier of preventing “pollution” in reference to Christians who have not identified with idolatrous institutions such as emperor worship or with trade guild idolatry (cf. Rev 2:9, 13-15, 20). The group described in Rev.14:1–5, in contrast with the beast-worshipers in Rev.13:11-18, are the followers of the Lamb, characterized by loyalty to him and not idolatry of the beast, and virginity is one way of portraying that loyalty. Thus, through our total fidelity to Jesus and his way of life we live as virgins in the model and strength of Virgin Mary.
Our Virginity Made Alive!
With all the social and political pressures of modern society that allure us to a life of compromise, a life of ‘market-mentality,’ hero-worship of all sorts, there are people faithful to Jesus and his Gospel values. In spite of the tragic pandemic of these years, 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.” Approaching Virgin Mary for favours is a rudimentary and popular piety. But a mature Christian would seek in her the real role of our Divine Mother who guides us, encourages us and strengthens us to be faithful to Jesus Christ and His living Gospel; this would credit us with life everlasting. In this heroism Mary is revered as Ever-Virgin!
Joy of Pain! (April 2021)
Richard H. Smith, an American professor, authored a psychological book in 2013, The Joy of Pain: Schadenfreude and the Dark Side of Human Nature. He narrates how people easily admit to taking pleasure in the misfortunes of others. But at the same time they enjoy it when an arrogant but untalented contestant is humiliated. The truth is that joy in someone else’s pain, recognized by the German word schadenfreude, permeates our society. But, there is also an opposite side, in that we take pride in our own suffering: severe pain and torture of mind and body, even agony of death. This is the situation seen in Paul when he says: “I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake” (Col 1:24).What prompted this transformation from schadenfreude and self-pity to rejoicing over pain and suffering? The answer is seen in Jesus’ encouraging words to us: “In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (Jn 16:33). This is the transformation brought by Jesus who conquering the cross of death brought the victory of Resurrection.
Resurrection: A Drastic Transformation!
The Persians and later the Romans used the wooden cross to execute the death punishment and thus erase a person from this world. However, this could not become a reality in the case of Jesus of Nazareth. Although there is a myth in the ancient Greek religion that Asclepius, after being killed by Zeus, resurrected, achieving an immortal existence, the historical reality of conquering death and attaining eternal life is seen only in Jesus Christ. Indeed, the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus could very well be established by the Gospel-accounts of the empty tomb and the apparition narratives. Nevertheless, there appeared the hypotheses that Jesus did not die on the cross, that the empty tomb was the result of Jesus’ body having been stolen, or that Jesus was never entombed. But there is a unanimous consensus among biblical scholars that the Gospel accounts are not a result of myth but are a kind of ancient biography (E. P. Sanders, “Jesus Christ,” Encyclopedia Britannica, 2007).
This reality of Jesus’ transforming death to life, a drastic break-through from a cross of torture to a Cross of New Life, is unequivocally attested by the solid belief of early Christianity, spelt out by Paul: “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins…and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4); again, he confirmed that the last enemy destroyed by Jesus was death (1 Cor 15:26; cf. Heb 2:4). Peter also encouraged the Christians: “Jesus was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit” (1 Pet 3:18).
Fear of Death Abolished!
It is to be asserted that Jesus not only destroyed death but also eradicated the fear of death. Indeed he had already said: “when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself” (Jn 12:32). On account of their belief in Jesus the early Christians were tortured, put behind bars and even put to death. The Risen Lord told them: “Do not be afraid; I was dead, and see, I am alive… and I have the keys of Death and of Hades” (Rev 1:17-18). Jesus taught us that death is not an end, but only a change of life (First Preface of the Mass for the dead). This belief pervaded the veins of Peter and John who proclaimed ignoring any threat to life, “we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). ‘If the dead are not raised,’ Paul asks, ‘why should I have stood every day at the door of death and fought with wild animals (adversaries) at Ephesus? What have I gained?’ (1 Cor 15:31-32). This belief was strong even among the pious Jews, so much so that the fourth sibling of the mother of the seven children told his persecutors: “One cannot but choose to die at the hands of mortals and to cherish the hope God gives of being raised again by him” (2 Macc 7:14). This is the strength of Jesus’ Resurrection and the secret of martyrdom witnessed even today.
Jesus’ Resurrection is not only a historical fact of one unique happening but a continuous event in our life, an everyday event. Jesus did not rise from the dead for his own sake but for us all, showing his power over death and evil, his love for the whole creation (Rom 8:21) and his merciful sharing of the same new life which we can experience and manifest in every moment of our life. On account of the Easter experience Paul was able to bless when reviled, endure when persecuted, and speak kindly when slandered (1 Cor 4:12-13). Easter gives us joy of pain; changes scourging, thorns and nails to a hope-filled life of solace, peace and happiness. Easter reveals the face of God who rejoices in sacrificing his own Son for those who are sinners and the heart of Jesus who “gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph 5:2). Through our courageous witness to this Risen Lord, we shall transform the tortures of Good Friday into the joys of Easter Sunday!
Wish you all a Joyful Easter! May the Risen Lord fill your heart with his grace of newness!
Victimized for Victims! (March 2021)
Father Swamy, 83, currently at Taloja Central Jail, Mumbai, was arrested from Ranchi on October 8, 2020, and was sent to judicial custody the following day. He was voicing concerns of the tribal community; but is charged under several sections of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). Again and again his bail-plea is rejected. It is a crystal clear example of victimization for the victims. Speaking about the Messianic Servant, foretelling Jesus’s salvific sacrifice, Isaiah mentioned: “was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many” (53:12). As we observe the holy season of Lent it is thought-provoking to reflect on how we become victims, leading to victimization of Jesus the Messiah.
The Second Baptism!
Cardinal Carlo Martini rightly compares the passion of Christ to the burning bush of Moses (Journeying with the Lord, 108). It is mysterious, burning not consumed, so too, Jesus’s passion reveals the fact of rejection and being cursed with pain, but not crushed. On encountering Jesus’ passion, a faithful believer is led to experience the tragic, dramatic and terrifying tortures Jesus. It is the graphic picture of disfigured Jesus, indicating the fact: “We have one who in every respect has been tested” (Heb 4:15). In his baptism Jesus was wearing away his being Almighty but stood “barefoot” of human contingency. Commenting on baptism of Jesus, Pope Francis notes: “Jesus wants to be with the sinners, for this reason he gets in line with them” (10.1.2021). So too, the terrible passion is the second baptism for Jesus, numbering among transgressors and culprits (Isa 53: 12; Lk 15:27-28) and suffered the tragedy of sin. Although his passion and death exposed crudely his human face, this is not for his sins. A noble and just cause prevail in his tragic, but atoning journey.
Victims of Evil Within!
We are prisoners of war, internal and external. Bible notes, “Every inclination of the thoughts of humankind is evil continually” (Gen 6:5). Greediness of the Adam and Eve, wicked antagonism of Cain, terrific jealousy of King Saul are clear examples of how we are victims of the Evil. It is not mere words but naked fact of our inborn sinful inclination as revealed by the Psalmist: “I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me” (Ps 51:5). Although we are made for God, It is also an experience of us what St. Augustine would confess: “I was wrapped up in darkness” (Confessions, III/11). Jealousy, greedy, egoism, sensual pleasures and so on imprison us, so much so that we become agents of the Evil. We take pleasure in false accusations, arrogant approach to the vulnerable, divisive slant on account of caste, creed, culture and so on. In short we bear the Roman cross and not Christ’s Cross. However, acknowledging this victimization of the virus of evil and turn towards the Cross of Jesus he will surely “restore to us the Joy of salvation” (Ps 51:12). As the passion of Jesus healed the thief (Lk 23:38-43) and the centurion (Mk 15:39) it is the blood that washes the stain of our evil inclinations and human infirmities (Mk 10:45).
Victims of Evil Without!
God’s good creation is affected by virus of evil. On account of onslaught of evil affecting the peaceful and harmonious life of, not only of human, but the whole creation, we experience a change from mirabilis to miserabilis. Even in this severe pandemic we are blinded by false promises, half-truths and even instrumentalized-truths. Police brutality against peaceful protesters and crude expressions of arrogance among the rulers and politicians continue to spread the “virus of Evil.” We are caught up with the gigantic media-world, both print and electronic, which spreads fake news that causes destruction of family life, social and religious violence, sickness and even lead to suicides and so on. We could say with Jeremiah “Terror is all around” (Jer 20:10). Cross after cross is multiplied in today’s society and we are victims of evil without.
In this painful situation we usually turn towered Jesus on the Cross. It is indeed, he is the Lamb of God “who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn 1:19) and bring salvation from all the worldly virus of evil, but this is a fact only for those who are in solidarity with Christ in their mind, heart and action. We cannot expect automatic solution to every problem but in fraternal communion with others, trying to wipe away the tears our neighbourhood.
A Call to Conversion
Cross is abundant on our life: broken families, chronic illness, hatred and polarization among brothers and sisters, hardened-heart, embittered, resentful brooding and so on. But we bear the Cross of Christ that heals all wounds, misunderstandings and bitterness. Human cross leads us to discouragement while Christ’s Cross leads us to the Calvary of resurrection. In a war-torn society of today Jesus’ Cross gives us the vaccine of peace. Often many are worried at the human crosses and Therefore this Lenten journey lead us to conversion from our being victims of both aspects as explained above.
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!