|Rev. Fr. Augustine Vallooran V.C.|
In the month of June the Church celebrates as feasts two moments in the history of salvation - the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi) and the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Christ. These two feasts are intimately connected because they reveal to us the nature and purpose of the paschal mystery.
“I Lift Up My Eyes To The Hills” (Psalm 121:1)
There was a legend about a certain high mountain in Africa. The people believed that one day a great leader will descend from this mountain and redeem them from the scourge of sickness, poverty and misery that had marked their life for centuries. Every parent would whisper this legend into the ears of the children. From generation to generation this hope was passed on.
One particular day when Nathaniel, now a young man, was looking up at the mountain, he felt a sudden and strong surge of desire to climb up the mountain. He followed his heart and waited there awhile. When he came down from the heights he felt a glow surrounding him and a new power flowing into his muscles and a determination marking his steps. As he entered the village, the people came out and immediately recognized an unmistakable difference in this young man and they all cried out “The leader has come! The promised leader has come to us!” They took him around the village in a procession and accepted him as leader of their tribe. He did much good and directed the people to a life of prosperity and power.
“I Have Seen God Face To Face” (Genesis 32:30)
Where we look can transform our lives. “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light.” (Matthew 6:22) The higher our gaze rises, the loftier will be the quality of our living. The psalmist directs us to raise our eyes to the Most High: “Look to Him and your faces shall become radiant.” (Psalm 34:5)
Moses looked at the face of God for 40 days and 40 nights and his own face became brilliant reflecting the Glory of God so powerfully that the people were not even able to face him. The depressive days of brooding over the painful rejection by his own people in Egypt and the fear of the Pharaoh haunting him were swept away. The doubts that stifled him at the rock of Meribah (Exodus Chapter 17) gave way to a certainty of faith in the Plan of God. A leader was emerging after having experienced God speaking to him as a friend to a friend (Exodus 33:11). He looked at the holiness of God and even when all went astray, he could hold his own. He looked at the steadfast Love and Mercy of God and remained patient interceding for their every demand. In the intimate Presence of God, Moses was transformed from being an arrogant and impulsive murderer to being the meekest from among all men that were on the face of the earth (Numbers 12:3).
The apostle John draws us to look at the Crucified Lord. St John brings us to a key moment in the history of our salvation. He describes how as Jesus was hanging on the Cross, a soldier thrust a lance into His Side tearing open the Heart of the Crucified Lord. Blood and water flowed out. John looked at the Heart of Jesus pierced open - asserting then that he is a witness to this saving event. Here he found the fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah (Zechariah 12:10)- "They shall look on him whom they have pierced." (John 19:37) The evangelist interprets that the Heart of Jesus was pierced open that we may look at Him and be transformed to a higher plane of our living. For this hope to transform our lives, the Church directs our gaze to dwell on the Sacred Heart of Jesus through the adoration and celebration of the Eucharist - the Body and Blood of Christ.
“God Proves His Love For Us” (Romans 5:8)
St. John who leaned on the chest of God and saw the Heart of God opened out before his eyes, concluded definitively - “God is love.” (1 John 4:8) This love was so complete that it could settle for nothing less than a total self offering on the Cross of Calvary and continues in the daily Eucharistic celebration. Jesus offered Himself to be broken in order to become food for our eternal life.
What happened on the Cross was not so much an atrocity meted out to Jesus as an act of love through which the Son of God opted to save us. Jesus said “No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.” (John 10:18) We should not imagine Jesus was merely a helpless victim. He was rather the High Priest making the offering that through every moment of His brokenness we may be saved and restored.
The Cross is raised up high not as a sign of injustice but as a sure proof of the Love of God that descends into our painful human circumstances. The purpose of that Love was to raise us to the glory of salvation instead of abandoning us to the condemnation we chose for ourselves. And this is because Jesus Himself accepted the sacrifice of the Cross not as the culmination of all that went wrong but as the completion of God’s great mission to redeem His people from the pit of sin and death.
This radical change in the understanding of the Cross happened at Gethsemane. Here Jesus took up the Cross as a living out of His love commitment to the Father - “Not my will but yours be done.” (Matthew 26:39) The Father’s Will was to reach out in His great Love that His people “may not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). This Will of the Father became the mission of Jesus. In fact, this determination marked His entry into His earthly existence as the Letter to the Hebrews records for us: “Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, ‘Lo, I have come to do thy will, O God.’ ” (Hebrews 10:5-7) From that moment, whatever suffering came His way, He accepted from the Hands of the Heavenly Father and offered it for humankind to be saved. It was at the Cross that this self offering reached its culmination. His Heart was pierced open that even the last drops of blood and water contained within may be offered in this most Holy Sacrifice.
“You Are Precious In My Eyes” (Isaiah 43:4)
At Capernaum the Lord had made the grand offer - “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” (John 6:51) This great promise He fulfilled at the Last Supper when taking bread in His hands, He broke it and said - “This is my body which is given for you” and taking the chalice of wine He turned to His disciples and said, “This is my blood to be shed for you.” Once He made this offering, Jesus directed them - “Do this in memory of me.” (Luke 22:14-20)
This directive we observe every time we gather around the altar. We remember and relive the Saving Love of the Son of God who offered Himself to be broken for us. This is a truth to be affirmed and experienced in a very personal way. As St Paul says, “I live by the faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20) In fact, it is when we stand at the altar that we realize how precious we are to God. For this realization to take root in our hearts, we need to gaze upon the Heart of Jesus pierced open.
St Paul says that this experience is of paramount importance in our Christian life. His earnest prayer for all is “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19) When our hearts are so filled, then shall we experience every shadow vanishing from within us.
“Look To Jesus The Pioneer And Perfecter Of Our Faith” (Hebrews 12:2)
A young lady narrated to me a shattering yet life-changing episode of her life. She confided how broken she was when she discovered that her husband was cheating on her. Even before their wedding ,he had been involved intimately with another girl. He secretly continued in this relationship even after the marriage. One day while she was casually browsing the internet she found before her eyes all the details and photographs of their ongoing relationship. She could not contain the grief and the frustration. She wept her heart out! Hours later through her swollen eyes, she looked up at the Crucifix on the wall. She had seen and prayed before this Crucifix many times but this time clearly, the Crucifix appeared very different. The wounds of Jesus were glistening and raw. In a clear vision, she saw the Heart of Jesus pierced open and blood and water streaming down. She felt the streams bathing her. In that experience of the Love of God, she felt her own anguish and hurts being soothed and healed. When her husband did return the next day, she could face him and talk to him about all that she knew of his sinful life. She also conveyed to him that she was accepting him once again with love. Eventually the Holy Spirit convicted him of the injustice he was living out. The experience of her vision remained in her heart as a confidence in the sure intervention of God’s Love reaching to comfort her in that hour of inconsolable distress.
When we brood over our hurts and wounds, we will get only more lost in the strong currents of depression and loneliness. But we have an option to raise our eyes up to the Heart of Jesus pierced open for us in love. If we remain there awhile, the experience of healing and salvation will get rooted in us. Being rooted in this unchanging and all surpassing Love of Christ, we will not get shaken at the storms that must pass through our life while we walk this earth.
“I Desire Mercy, And Not Sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13)
It is God’s Mercy that saves us! The person who experiences deeply the saving Mercy of God cannot but reflect this Goodness of God that overcomes all evil. He will become a powerful channel for the healing flow from God to reach those in need. St Paul describes his own mission as a fruit of this experience: “God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4) In the brokenness of our heart, we can identify ourselves with the Sacred Heart of Jesus that radiates an endless current of Grace when it is pierced. And this connection to the Heart of God is vital for us for all eternity.
Jesus clarifies that to enter the Kingdom of God, there is a qualification - “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20) The righteousness of the Pharisees and scribes was stagnating with a rigorous sense of justice and retribution. In one parable, Jesus draws a contrast between the self-righteous Pharisee and the repentant publican. Jesus dismisses the spirituality of the Pharisee who claimed approval from God for his righteous accomplishments despising the publican as unworthy. But Jesus clarifies that the approval of God was for the humble and contrite heart of the publican - “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other.” (Luke 18:14) The human mathematics of justice that demands the good be rewarded and the evil be punished does not hold good in the Kingdom of God.
The hue of God’s Merciful Love shines out again in the incident of the woman caught in adultery (John Chapter 8). Here the one effort of Jesus was to save her from condemnation and sin. This was in stark contrast to the thinking and ideas of justice prevalent in the minds of the pious Jews. By their understanding, what was an urgent necessity was that she be eliminated because she was a threat to the moral health of the society. They were demanding a just punishment for her sin. We are told that Jesus began to write on the ground. The evangelist does not specify what exactly Jesus wrote. I for one believe that what Jesus wrote as a response to the multitude of voices demanding justice was the sign of the Cross. The Pharisees and the scribes were justified in seeking punishment for the guilty woman. But when the Cross of Jesus, the ultimate symbol of God’s Mercy meets the sin of the woman, her punishment has been written off. As St. Paul explains it, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us - for it is written, ‘Cursed be every one who hangs on a tree.’” (Galatians 3:13)
The Mercy of God is revealed by the Cross. For us to experience the depths of this mercy, we must remain gazing into the Heart of Jesus pierced open for us and partake of His Life by eating and drinking of His Body and Blood. Then shall we be able to overcome the obsession of human justice.
“By Grace You Have Been Saved; Not Because Of Works” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
There have been times when we have complained that God is not just. It is good for us to know that for it is true. We cannot say that God is just because justice really means giving each one his or her due. If God were just, we can have no claims in life. When we honestly assess our lives, we know that what is due to us is God’s wrath. But thankfully God is more than justice. He is Mercy. Since the Pharisees and the scribes were not able to understand this mercy revealed in Jesus, they crucified Him. For them, the law of Moses meant an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. If someone caused injury to my right eye I have the right to injure only his right eye. They could never go beyond the strictures imposed by this legal system. But Jesus would only clarify that “mercy triumphs over justice” (James 2:13) when he declared to them that “the sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27) It was after this that Jesus proceeded into a synagogue and healed a man with the withered hand on the Sabbath. The Pharisees were scandalized! They condemned the Son of God for breaking the law of Sabbath. In their determination to eliminate the transgressor, they joined hands with the Herodians to plot His death. There was in fact a law among the Jews where a sick person could be treated on the Sabbath only if the sickness was life-threatening. The logical argument in the mind of the Jews was that there was no urgency for this man to be healed. Jesus could have waited for a day and observed the law. But for Jesus, the misery of this man demanded an urgent and immediate action. This miraculous healing event is more a revelation of the Heart of God. The sorrow of man is the urgent concern of God.
Only a person who remains in the Presence of God and looks at His Face constantly and takes in the heartbeat of God will be able to go beyond the bondage of the justice of the scribes and Pharisees. I am reminded of a CEO of a corporate company who was very agitated at the unjust turn of events in the management of the company. It was at his initiative and with his know-how that the company was begun. He shared his idea with a few people and he convinced them to invest in the shares. He was consequently elected to the helm of administration. The company began to thrive and huge amounts of money were flowing in as profit. At that juncture, a younger person joined the company as a member of the Directorial Board. He slowly began to make it impossible for the CEO to function. He maneouvered his way with the other members of the Board and in a very ruthless manner evicted the CEO out of his chair. He himself got appointed to that post. It was then in such mental turmoil that the ousted man came for the retreat. After listening to him, I shared with him my conviction that God understands the pain and anger of his heart and also that God is turning everything to His good. I cautioned him though that for God to be able to work out something, we must firstly make a total surrender of the unfortunate position into the Hands of God.
It was only natural that he was not able to understand why everything went against him. He confessed that he was struggling to accept this unhappy turn of events but he agreed to try. I led him with the prayer of Mother Mary offering everything in the Hands of God: “Here am I, your servant, let it be done to me according to your Word.” During the retreat, apart from listening carefully to the talks, he spent a lot of time in personal prayer. He was still sore with the heartless and unjust manner in which he was shown the door. He could not yet comprehend why things went against him in an enterprise which was his own initiative. But he continued the prayer of Mother Mary.
He went back to the meetings of the Board of Directors. He began to cooperate in a very generous way with new CEO. In the beginning ,he was eyed with suspicion. But as he began to teach the younger man the ropes, encourage him and warn him in the many decisions enabling him to make great successes and allowing him to enjoy all the credit, the apprehensions could not hold out. At one moment, the young CEO directly enquired of him the rationale of his generous cooperation. He responded by sharing his God experience. The CEO was moved to tears! At the next meeting of the Board of Directors, the CEO shared to all gathered his amazement at how God had worked in his life through the mercy of the one he had worked against. He continued to describe what God had done firstly in the elder man’s life and the convictions and generous support he responded to him with. Confessing his own guilt, he pleaded for reinstating the elder man as CEO for he concluded that this was rightfully due to him. Everyone gathered was amazed at what was counter cultural to the corporate world they had lived in. No one could resist rejoicing in the grace of the moment. They reelected the elder man as the CEO. “This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” (Psalm 118:23)
Holding on to human justice is a bondage because it deprives us of the working of the Lord. When we wish to settle scores we are limited to retribution - to passing on the evil we were handed. And what we allow is a trail of evil. But if only we could turn to the Sacred Heart of God and be touched by the self giving of Jesus, we shall begin a new trail of graces that shall bless this world and generations to come!
Lord Jesus, I lift up my eyes to Your Heart that is opened out to pour Your Comforting Love into our broken hearts. O God, You are the font of Love and Mercy and You reveal to us that love and goodness is greater than any evil that can ever happen. Lord, we bring to You the many wounds in our hearts. We have searched for answers and for justice. But we know none of these that we look for can set things right. We pray therefore that as we gaze on Your Face let Your Light of Love shine on us and lead us to live out Your commandment of love and become channels of healing to this world. You offered Your Life for us at Calvary and daily at the altar that we may know that we are precious to You and You will never leave us in want. Lord, we praise You for Your Love that towers above the heavens bringing light to the valley of our tears and for turning our mourning into a celebration of Your unchanging love. Lord may we live for Your Love always and declare Your Glory to all those broken around us.