|Rev. Fr. Augustine Vallooran V.C.|
Jesus enters into human history as love that saves. Explaining the mystery of incarnation St. John writes, “God so loved the world that He gave His only son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (John 3:16) To perish was the fate of humanity before the coming of Christ. But when God emptied Himself to take on mortal nature in Bethlehem, the messengers of heaven announced it as the Good News of a Saviour being born for humankind (Luke 2:11). The gospels interpret the Incarnation of God as the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah who revealed the mind of God that a Saviour will be born to take upon Himself our sin and our sickness (Isaiah 53:4-5).
“As I Have Loved You” (John 13:34)
This love manifested in the Incarnation has set the standard for all love ever since. Love is no more to be identified merely with feelings and emotions - rather it is a commitment to take up the responsibility for the beloved, especially in the failings of the other. “God proves His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) His death was in no way a penalty for his sins but was the penalty of the sins of humankind that He opted to take upon Himself. Scripture reminds us that He did it not out of any compulsion but as the response of love. “No man takes it (my life) from me, but I lay it down on my own accord.” (John 10:18) The manifestation of the greatest love was from the manger in Bethlehem to the Cross of
Calvary. Any love that does not rise up to this standard of willingly offering oneself for the failings of the other is not of any worth. Jesus explains this teaching at length. "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?” (Luke 6:32) After having dismissed this worldly love of convenience He asserts that real love should be able to bear the burden of the enmity of the other. Hence he concludes “Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.” (Luke 6:35)
Human relationships receive a different dimension with this teaching of Jesus. St. Paul while writing to the Ephesians applies Jesus’ version of love to the way husbands and wives should be related to each other. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” (Ephesians 5:25) The expression of Christ’s Love for His Church consisted in nothing short of giving Himself up for her so that she may be saved. In the vision of St. Paul, Jesus is the bridegroom and the Church is the bride. The people of God were in a position of helplessness being enslaved to the forces of evil. Jesus the bridegroom paid the price of ransom by His own life. As St. Peter reminds the faithful - “You know that you were ransomed… not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ.” (1 Peter 1:18,19)
Jesus, speaking of human relationships, impresses on His disciples that any human relationship worthy of the Kingdom of God must be patterned on this Divine Love. There was a dispute among the disciples about who was greater and who was smaller and who should submit to whom. The gospel writer records of the instance when the brothers James and John approach Jesus with the recommendation of their mother that they should be given a higher position of authority with the Master. Here Jesus makes clear to them His mind that the relationship among the disciples should not be moulded by the standards of the world but by the nature of love that brought Him down from heaven to earth to take upon Himself the sins of humankind. “The Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28)
“He Emptied Himself, Taking The Form Of A Slave” (Phil 2:7)
At the Last Supper Jesus manifested this love in action as described in the 13th Chapter of St John’s Gospel. The chapter begins by the solemn declaration - “Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” This ultimate love prompted Jesus to wash the feet of the disciples. The washing of the feet was not a mere act of humility and service - it was rather an act of saving the disciples. This is clear from what Jesus said to Peter who was shocked as the water flowed on his feet from the jar of Jesus who was kneeling down at his feet. He blurted out to the Master, “You shall never wash my feet.” (v 8) The response of Jesus to this was, “If I do not wash you, you have no part in me.” (John 13:8) This utterance of Jesus bears much significance. He was explaining to the disciple that He was washing his feet so that his participation with the Lord may not be cut off. Jesus knew that Simon Peter was going to deny Him under the influence of satanic prompting. Jesus had in fact warned him, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren… Pray that you may not enter into temptation" (Lk 22:31- 32, 40). However, the love of Simon Peter failed him and he did deny Jesus! Jesus did not want that burden of sin to fall upon His disciple and took that burden upon Himself by becoming humble before him to kneel at his feet and wash that sin away. Thus Jesus proved the extent of His Love. After having demonstrated His version of love, Jesus gave the solemn declaration that this must be the nature of love that must prevail among His disciples. Hence Jesus said, “You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.” (John 13:13-14) Washing of the feet became the symbol of taking the burden of the mistakes of the other by humbling oneself before them.
“Even If We Are Unfaithful He Remains Faithful” (2 Timothy 2:13)
Already in the Old Testament there are glimpses of this sublime nature of Divine Love. The Book of Hosea is an action prophecy by which God reveals His Saving Love by urging the prophet to endure the unfaithfulness of his spouse and respond to this with a faithful love. Hosea had to go through the torturing experience of living for a woman who was unfaithful to him and repeatedly so! More painful was the fact that it was God who directs the prophet to take up this mission. His life became the prophecy by which man could gaze into the Heart of God. God would not punish man for his unfaithfulness - rather He shows His Love by enduring man’s unfaithfulness. Later St. Paul would write, “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” (Romans 5:20)
In the Book of Tobit, the Word of God urges the young man Tobias to receive his spouse Sara with such generous love. Tobias had come to Midian in search of a bride at the prompting of his father Tobit. He found the girl Sara and fell in love with her. That is when he comes to know that Sara had a demon. Raguel, the father of Sara, told him of the deadly nature of the demon that possessed her. This demon would kill the groom on the first night of the marriage. He was told that Sara was married 7 times and all the 7 men became victim to the ire of the demon. Tobias was shocked and shattered. At this juncture the Word of God came to a Tobias through the angel Raphael, “Do not be afraid, for she was destined for you from eternity. You will save her.” (Tobit 6:17) The angel was explaining to Tobias that his love for Sara should rise to the standard of God’s Love for man and become a commitment strong enough to save her. God did not want Tobias to shirk his responsibility at the feeling of fear that his wife could become a liability for him. Rather God wanted him to become strong in prayer to accept his mission to save her. The angel directs Tobias to the way of salvation - “When you approach her, rise up, both of you, and cry out to the merciful God, and he will save you and have mercy on you.” (Tobit 6:17)
“His Love Is Perfected In Us” (1 John 4:12)
God gives this revelation to people when they turn to prayer in those moments they find themselves far too inadequate to understand or accept the burden the spouse had become. A couple came here for retreat from North India with their 3 children. The eldest son was very sick with a very rare type of disease that was killing him. During the retreat, he had to be admitted in the hospital. The father of the boy had wanted to take the boy to any super-speciality hospital in the hope of a cure. However before anything could be done, the boy died. The father was most shattered! I spent a few hours consoling both the parents. After a while, I thought I had to speak to the father about the funeral arrangements. I knew they would not be able to afford to take the dead body to their native place because he had only a small job with the Railways. The family had come here because of the free tickets available for him. However the Railways could not transport the dead body. I offered to make the arrangements for the burial in a church here. The father however would not think of it. He requested me between tears to lend him the money required to fly the body and the family to their native place - assuring that he would return the amount. He added that he wanted the tomb of the boy to be close to their home so that he could go and spend time in prayer there and after his own death, his wish was to be buried in that tomb.
While we were working out the travel arrangements, suddenly the mother of the boy broke down crying and told me that the boy was her child but not his. When he married her she was pregnant with this boy from a previous relationship. When she mentioned this, her husband continued to narrate how when he had known about this after the wedding, he was angry and shattered. In his bitterness, he decided to send her back to her parents. He went to the village parish church and cried the whole night - complaining to God that he was deceived. However during that night of prayer, he clearly heard a voice in his heart that God had given him the mission to save the woman he was married to and the child she was carrying. Though he resisted initially, when the voice assured him that God’s choice was for his welfare, his heart opened to God’s Plan for his life. His wife continued to share how he loved her without reservations since then - never mentioning the past. When the child was born, he celebrated joyfully and received the child with all his heart. Though they would later have two more children, this boy remained the apple of his eye.
In our day to day lives and busy schedules, we tend to become very practical in our attitudes and behavior patterns. In the process, we slip into an attitude where we imagine love to be an arrangement of convenience. In relationships, we are bound to get hurt and frustrated. It is in such moments that love becomes a challenge. There are people who become so desperate, they turn away from God and break these God-ordained relationships - making a mess of their lives. However in such trying situations, if we turn to God, we will find the Voice of God inviting us to ascend to the heights of Divine Love. Whenever man is ready to rise up to God’s expectation, the Spirit of God will be there to take us by the hand and lead us into His Ways. Such are the lives that glow as testimonies raising our hearts to what God can do with us. Mother Mary is the first in this line of witnesses who in the midst of all uncertainties could trust in God and surrender her life for love. Hence she could exclaim, “My soul magnifies the Lord… for He who is mighty has done great things for me.” (Luke 1:46-49)
“The Love Of Christ Controls Us” (2 Corinthians 5:14)
Family is the sphere of love. Relationships here are very dear and warm. Human lives find their value and meaning in the home. However the failures and disappointments are equally hurting leaving behind deep and defining scars. Prayer is the antidote. When we open our hearts in prayer at the moments when our natural and worldly orientations to convenience limit us from loving, God gives us the grace by pouring out His Love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5).
We are given a beautiful example in the life of John Newman, the first American saint. He narrates the circumstance of how in his childhood, he spoke which would become his last lie. The young John had done a mistake. When his father discovered this, he called the son to enquire of him. However fearing that his father may get angry, he quickly denied that he had done the wrong at all. His father’s eyes that were fixed on him slowly began to fill with tears. The muscles of his face began to quiver with grief. He closed his eyes with his hands as tears streamed down. Unable to bear the sight of his father’s tears, the boy ran and hid himself in the corner of a room and began to weep himself. He soon heard his father’s footsteps approaching him. The father held him gently and said, “John, I wept not because you made a mistake but because I failed to bring you up as a godly child. God gave you to your mother and me that we may raise you up to be a man of God. But we have failed Him. The father held him close to his heart. John Newman writes that ever since that incident every time he was faced with a situation where he was tempted to resort to a lie, the teary face of his father flashed in his mind, and he could not utter the lie. The tears of the father moulded him into saintliness.
The family is at the heart of the Christmas festivities. In this season, the family takes time out to be together with each other and to rejoice in the other. Love is awakened and the warmth of the heart is experienced in the presence of each other. However if the Feast has to effect a togetherness, the love manifested in the manger should descend to the depths of the heart of everyone. Beyond flashy decorations and party plans, Christmas should inspire everyone to gaze on the Face of God become man and take the courage to trust in this love. The more we take this love into our hearts, the more will we be able to commit ourselves to live out that love in our relationships. It is in this commitment that families are formed and everyone has a home.
Let Us Pray
Dear Lord, how magnificent is Your Love! You come into our midst to tell us that more precious than heaven is our life and salvation to You. Your Love gives us a value for our lives and has saved us from the pit of despair and abandonment. We open our hearts to You O God, and we pray make Your Home in our hearts that our hearts may open to love and save those You have given us.
Lord we offer to You all those homes that are broken because no one could stand up for each other. We pray this Christmas may Your Light shine on them that they may discover the celebration of life is in giving ourselves even when it hurts to build and serve the other.