|Rev. Fr. Augustine Vallooran V.C.|
I was recently at a celebration with the new batch of priests ordained in the Vincentian Congregation. Among them was a student of mine whom I remember clearly, as while he was studying philosophy, he had been diagnosed with cancer. This had then sent shock waves through the seminary and the Congregation for here was a young man who had entrusted his life to God but left with a future promising only an abrupt end. Soon after the diagnosis, the whole community offered him up in prayer. He received his healing and now stood consecrated as a witness to declare the great wonders God does to those who trust their lives to Him.
“Know That The Lord Works Wonders For The Faithful” (Psalm 4:4)
Our God works marvels when we place our lives into His saving Hands. This has been the tremendous experience we have as we minister here at the Divine Retreat Centre. Every week we witness people with a radical faith turning over their lives to God and experiencing the marvelous saving action of God in their situations.
Recently at the Centre we received a young lecturer who came to testify to his experience of God’s healing power. It was at a retreat he had participated in a year ago. He recalled how on the third day during the offertory prayers at the Holy Mass, he felt an intense longing in his heart to offer himself to the Lord that he may be totally taken over by God. He had come to understand that everything he offered with the bread and wine on the altar will be received by the very Hands of God. In the Hands of God, the offerings are divinized by the anointing of the Holy Spirit. “It is sown dishonourable; it is raised glorious.” (1 Corinthians 15:43) It was impressed on his heart that this was the moment and way to the promise of his own transformation. The one urge of his heart was to belong totally to God and be His instrument to spread the Light of salvation in this world.
Inspired by this conviction that whatever God accepts and transforms in the Holy Spirit God would use for the salvation of others, he began a spiritual exercise in his heart. He began listing everything that belonged to him one after the other - his house and property, his qualifications and profession, his body and mind, his dreams and fears - and raising it up to Jesus in prayer. He did not want a life apart from Jesus. When he exhausted the list in his mind, he sat back in silence.
At that moment, he suddenly reminded of the cancerous growth in his stomach. He had become very desperate about this deadly sickness that struck him so early in life. He had complained to God that he was losing out on life because of the disease. Instead of moving ahead in life to pursue his dreams, here he was caught up in the battle against the sickness. His future was being eaten away. Once again he began to feel the gloomy helplessness weighing down his heart. This was one burden that was his alone to bear. He could not hand this to Jesus for, he had reasoned that, it could be of no value to God since it was an evil. At this dark moment, like a bolt out of the blue, an inner voice suggested to him that his cancer, whatever may have caused it, was to be accepted from the Hands of God and offered back to God. He did just that!
At the end of the Mass, he was flooded with a peace that he was now held securely in the hands of God. Later he realized that it was from this moment that the nagging anxiety about his cancer was rooted out of him. What he had instead in his heart was the assurance that even this scourge had been taken up by God will be used to signal salvation to others. He began to praise God filled with an eager expectation that his cancer will be used by God to bring hope to sick and desperate.
A few weeks later, he went for his routine tests and met his doctor as scheduled. Here he was told that his cancerous growth had shrunk to the extent that the doctor was unable to trace it. In the following days and weeks, more tests were done and it was confirmed that he was completely healed of his cancer! This became a “news” in the neighbourhood and in the college where he worked. His colleague, a self-professed atheist who would contend that God was of no consequence to the human struggles on this earth, came and met him to confirm personally about this Divine intervention. He was so touched by his testimony that he came here for the retreat and found his way back to God. This conversion coupled with the previous news of the healing sent waves of faith across the campus.
The young man healed of his cancer shared his testimony wherever he went - becoming a beacon of hope to the hopeless. When he came here for his thanksgiving retreat, his words and joy gave hope to the sick and broken gathered here.
God has one purpose to work great wonders in our lives. Yet for this to happen, we need to truly and completely leave into His Hands all that we have, be it beneficial or burdensome. It is in such surrender that we give the Almighty the permission to fulfill His grand purposes in our lives.
“Behold, I Come To Do Your Will” (Hebrews 10:7)
Mother Mary stands before us leading us to understand what such a surrender to God involves. She offered her only begotten Son knowing fully well there would be costly consequences in this offering. Simeon prophesied at this moment of the Presentation in the Temple that a sword would pierce her heart. She had felt the pain of it already when she was suspected by her husband. She may have hoped that the angel of God would enlighten Joseph even before others would inform him. But Joseph was allowed to reach the point where he contemplated divorce. She also felt the pain of being destitute in Bethlehem when she had nowhere to go and no place even to give birth to her first-born. Then she had to flee with the child to Egypt as a refugee under threat of death. She had to endure a series of trying circumstances. Yet she did not waver in the trust she placed in God.
Now she stood at the Temple ready to offer this Son to the hands of the heavenly Father. In that offering she was rewarded with the great ecstatic joy that her presentation was radiating already the experience of salvation, first to the heart of Simeon who holding the child would sing out “My eyes have seen your salvation.” (Luke 2:30)
Here she was giving in the Hands of God without calculations for the future, without counting the cost it entailed for her and without a trace of bitterness about the painful moments she had to endure in the past. She proved herself to be a faithful daughter of Abraham, the ‘Father of faith’ who was the first to be called to offer his one beloved and long-awaited child. When Abraham stood before the altar atop Mount Moriah, he had not an inkling that he would get his son back. But he trusted in the goodness of God and abandoned himself to the command of God though it must have pained him most deeply. Where there is such true offering, the fragrance of devotion spreads as a blessing to the nations.
“We Are The Aroma Of Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:15)
As one enters the gates of Divine, there stands an exquisite chapel made of red laterite stone with beautiful mosaic work inside. This chapel is in fact the testimony of a young Italian tourist who found his way into Divine by chance. He had exhausted his money and having no means to stay anywhere else, he reached the Centre. Though he did not understand much English, he attended the retreat sessions. Sometime during the day, on a personal basis, the trend of the retreat was explained to him in Italian. When he came in, he was desperate as he was suffering from the deadly disease AIDS. He was angry with life, with himself, with God. Here he got a glimpse of the Compassion of God that was eagerly longing above all else to reach him and console him in his distress. His encounter with this God was he described, “the achievement of more than a life-time.” The disease did not distress him anymore. He was reconciled with his “portion of life” for now that he found Christ he quoted St Paul saying, “I have accepted the loss of all things and consider them refuse that I may gain Christ and be found in him.” (Philippians 3:8-9) He wanted to stay longer at Divine because he said he was gripped by the Holy Spirit who would not let him go away from the retreat hall. After 3 months when his ticket was due, he went back to North Italy but as a changed man!
There he narrated his conversion experience to his parish priest who urged him to start a prayer group. His friends and neighbours together with a few parishioners started to pray together on a weekly basis. And the prayer group grew in numbers rapidly. They named the prayer group “Burning Bush” after the God experience of Moses who had his conversion and call at the miraculous burning bush in the Sinai desert.
The young Italian once again visited the Retreat Centre after having learned more English in order to participate more actively in the retreat. In his free time, he would sit near the gate of the English campus, reflecting on how God had led him into this higher life in Christ. There it struck him that there was no chapel in the ground level for the sick and disabled who came for retreat to spend quiet moments in prayer. He went back and spent his last days collecting small amounts of money which he sent with the request that a chapel be built where he encountered the Hand of God guiding him from bitterness and death to life and Christ.
“I Can Enter Your House Because Of Your Great Love” (Psalm 5:8)
Enshrined in the gospel is the story of a widow who offered two copper coins in the Temple treasury (Mark 12:41-44). A lot of people were gathered to watch the offerings that happened here. The evangelist describes how Jesus too was there with His disciples. The treasury had 12 metal trumpet-shaped containers which had slots on the top through which people dropped in their coins. When the rich came and poured in coins from their reserves, the ‘trumpets’ made a huge sound drawing the admiring attention of the crowds gathered in the Temple. Jesus watched several such offerings. But in oblivion the widow passed though the portals of the Temple unheralded by the trumpets, but the faint tinkle of her offering resounded through the courts of heaven as Jesus pointed her out to the disciples, “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her entire livelihood.” (Mark 12:43-44) Indeed what is offered to God must be the symbol of the offering of one’s life.
This lady had neither reserves nor calculations. It was just the heart’s persuasion that prompted her to give all she had without keeping anything for herself. So she became a testimony for generations to come. Her name was recorded in the Book of Salvation. There is a significance in this. When after a rather successful missionary expedition the disciples returned with great rejoicing at how they cast out demons, healed and proclaimed the word marvellously. But Jesus would clarify to them that they were to rejoice but for one purpose - “that your name is written in heaven.” (Luke 10:20) We are called to strive for a heavenly identity on earth. This can be the only motivation for the man and woman of God.
“A Fragrant Aroma, An Acceptable Sacrifice Pleasing To God” (Philippians 4:18)
“I Will Offer You Generous Sacrifice” (Psalm 54:8)
What is given to God has to be given in full measure. It is not right or just to hand to God leftovers. It is the best that is due to Him. The Old Testament prescribed that it was an unblemished lamb which alone could make a rightful offering. What made the offering of Abel fragrant and pleasing to God in contrast to Cain’s was that he gave the best firstling of his flock while Cain apportioned the grain and was rather callous in his approach. For an offering to open the heavens it is the attitude of love and goodness in the heart of the giver rather than what finally found place on the altar. The Acts records how in the early Church inspired by the Holy Spirit to live generosity, Barnabas sold a piece of property he owned and brought the money and placed it at the feet of the apostles (Acts 4:36-37). In contrast, there was Ananias and his wife Sapphira who had also sold some property but retained for themselves some of the money they got. Peter rebuked their insincere giving saying, “Satan has filled your heart” (Acts 5:3). Ananias and Sapphira died in their sin.
God loves a cheerful giver. Cheerful giving is the fruit of love. For it is where there is love that one would want to hold back nothing. Only where love is true, the giver grudges not what he gives but instead gives with a longing to please the other - to preserve all the fragrance of the offering for the Beloved. True giving can happen only where there is true love. And such love offered to God opens the Heavens for the anointing of the Holy Spirit. And the eyes of the world shall be enlightened to see the Salvation of God!
Let Us Pray
Heavenly Father, You proved Your Love for us by offering Your One Beloved Son to die for us even when we were turned against You. You held nothing from us for Your Love was so great and uncontainable. Lord Jesus, You lived for us and You died for us. We pray - Pour out your Spirit on us that we may be consumed in this Fire of Your Love and be transformed to live for You.
Lord, all we have is what You have given us. All we treasure shall be secure only in Your Hands. All that is burdensome and stifling, You alone can transform by Your overwhelming Goodness. It is when we trust in Your superior Love and Power that we shall begin to experience the beauty of living. So we pray - O God take hold of all we have and are! May the offering of our lives and hearts be a pleasing sacrifice in Your Sight. May the aroma of our love offering to You spread faith in Your sure Goodness to the ends of the earth!