Dear Rev. Fathers, Brothers, Sisters and Lay Faithful,
May peace, joy and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all!
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!
Assumption: A Gift or Credit?
The Assumption of Our Lady, celebrated by Catholics during this month, is indeed unique in the life of Mary, our divine mother. This is very well expressed by Pope Pius XII when he declared it as a dogma of the Catholic Church in 1950: “The Immaculate Mother of God, the ever-virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heaven.” In this statement the Pope combines many of our faith expressions regarding Our Lady: Immaculate, Mother of God, ever-virgin, fulfilled her earthly life and finally assumed into heaven, both body and soul. Indeed, the Pope here articulates very vividly the various facts in Mary’s life (being immaculate, ever-virgin but being the Mother of God) that led to the final stage of Assumption. However, the question remains whether this Assumption experienced by our divine Mother is a gift of God or a credit achieved in her earthly life?
Created World is Sinful!
The above title might look odd as we all know that God created everything good and there is nothing evil or even any defection in the created world (Gen 1:31). At the same time, we cannot forget the failure of misusing freedom of choice by our first parents (Gen 3:1-6) and this brought sin not only to the human beings (Rom 5:12) but also to the whole creation: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains” (Rom 8:22). Since “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23), St. Paul was struggling because of the conflict between good and evil in his personal life: “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). This fact of sinfulness was expressed by many great people like St. Augustine and Martin Luther in the past and Pope Francis in the present. Considering this ‘evil’ state not only of human beings but also of the whole creation, it is very evident that no one can claim any credit for his/her achievements everything good, be it material, or social or spiritual, that we enjoy in life, is a gift of God.
The above consideration of our being contaminated by our first parents’ sin (Original sin) will not fit in with Mary of Nazareth as she was conceived sinless and born immaculate. The effect of Original sin did not affect her. This is the reason for our faith that she did not taste death like every one of us, but as Pope Pius XII puts it very nicely: “after having completed the course of her earthly life” she was taken up to heaven body and soul. Some people would question how you can prove this. There are two considerations: i. God’s revelation is not only based on the written tradition of the Word of God (Bible), but also is based on the living tradition of the faithful people. ii. Our Lady, from the moment of her ‘fiat-surrender’ to God’s call never faltered in her vocation to be the mother of Jesus; she has become the mediator of Jesus’ mercy and love to all those who invoke her; and she is the greatest witness to Jesus the Saviour and thus salvation to the world through her apparitions all over the world. Through these apparitions she not only brings solace to people by miraculous cures, but also motivates everyone to a life of prayer. In any case we recognize that her Immaculate Conception and also her vocation itself are free gifts of God. Moreover, we have to acknowledge that Mary, though not affected by Original sin, because of being created by God, her Assumption is also a gift of God.
Freedom of Choice!
Everything we have and what we are is a gift of God. No one can claim anything from God. St. Paul would clearly say: “it is only through the grace of God that I am now an apostle” (1 Cor 15: 9). In the same manner, Martin Luther completely ignored meritorious human efforts and relied only on the mercy of God. But God gave to humans freedom of choice (Gen 2:16-17) which underlines the human merits. This is the reason why Jesus comes to praise the “good and faithful servant” (Matt 25:23) and the Bible constantly speaks of the reward for faithful people (Ps 62:12; Prov 24:12; Rom 2:6; 1 Cor 5:10; 1 Pet 1:17; Rev 20:12).
The Assumption of Our Lady, a great honour given by God to Mary, is a gift of God; but at the same time it is to the credit of the New Eve because she utilized her choice of freedom in the right path of God’s desire, unlike the old Eve. Freedom itself is a gift of God; but it should not be used according to the whims and fancies of one’s mind and heart. Our Lady, with free choice, not out of any compulsion, took up all the challenges of being the mother of Jesus and lived splendidly so that she is rewarded by being taken up to heaven, body and soul and also by being the mother of God. We do not have freedom; but are given freedom by the Almighty and we are expected to use our freedom to build up ourselves and the society as per the mind of the Creator. Mary is the greatest model of how to use freedom of choice. By arrogant and selfish use of freedom one destroys not only oneself but also the whole society and creation itself. Thus, Mary’s Assumption is both a gift of God and a merit she acquired by her committed life.