|Rev. Fr. Augustine Vallooran V.C.|
The grand celebration of the Christmas season is just getting over and we find ourselves at the threshold of a new year. It has been a spurt of celebrations. When we look closely, we realize that it is indeed significant that Christmas immediately precedes the New Year. The New Year heralds a new beginning in our lives. In the Plan of God, every new beginning calls for a renewal where the Promise of God is fulfilled “Behold, I come to make all things new.” (Revelations 21:5) As the Word reveals, such renewal is initiated with the Coming of the Lord. And He comes into our lives to become a part of our struggles. Indeed this is the good news of Christmas - God becoming Emmanuel, God with us. Christmas reveals to us that God is not an unaffected spectator of my pains and failings. He is very much part of the valley of tears in which human lives sojourn. It is He alone who can take take charge of our lives by renewing us in His Love. The more we open our hearts to the power of His Love to grip us, the better transformed our lives will be.
“IN THY LIGHT DO WE SEE LIGHT" (Psalm 36:9)
Tagore, the Nobel laureate poet sings of his experience of daybreak. He recounts how he came out of his room late one night and looked at the sky. The stars were beautiful but very distracting, he thought. Too many of them were vying with each other to catch the attention of his eyes. He went back to his room only to come out again early in the morning to his courtyard. He had been praying with his eyes closed. On opening his eyes, he noted that the sky had become clear and the myriad stars had disappeared. He was asking himself where the stars had fled to. Had someone swept them off the horizon or have they willingly chosen to disappear from his gaze? That is when he looked to the east and saw the rising sun spreading its rays into the horizon. In the power of the light of this great star, all the little stars had lost their significance - not that anybody had swept them away from the sky. That was not necessary. Rather the little stars could no longer hold their own against the brilliance of the great sun. The poem ends with the reflection of Tagore that it will be a futile attempt from the part of man to change his style of living if a greater power has not gripped him.
There are many distracting thoughts and disturbing trends in our behavior. We want so much to change them but our attempts will not succeed if our heart is not overwhelmed by a greater love. What God offers us is the supreme love. “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” (Jeremiah 31:3) This higher love fills our hearts with the abundance of graces. Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11) What is offered is the fullness of joy that leaves no room for any trace of sorrow. When the joy of the Lord fills our hearts nothing can grieve us anymore. This is not to say that unfortunate failures will not occur to us - rather that these painful events will not hinder the happiness flowing in from the Lord. Jesus said again, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27) The peace that the Lord offers is what makes our hearts rooted in His love. Whatever frustrations come our way, nothing will be able to disturb the divine tranquility bestowed by the Lord. Jesus said again “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) The life offered by Jesus is a sharing in his own infinity. This abundance of life will not be taken away by any ache and ailment, not even by the death of the body. He holds us close to Himself in such a way that His fullness flows into us.
“HE WILL RENEW YOU IN HIS LOVE” (Zephaniah 3:17)
Speaking of the most fundamental experience of being Christian, St Paul writes, “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) The newness of our life is not what we achieve by our efforts but what is offered to us by the Lord. What is necessary for us is to get incorporated into the person of Jesus Christ. This phrase ‘in Christ’ occurs in St. Paul’s writings very often. The phrase has a very deep meaning in its original Greek term: ‘en christo’. It means being incorporated into Christ so as to become one with Him. The original inspiration for this should be from the teachings of the Lord Himself. Inviting us to be one with Him, Jesus narrates the parable of the vine and the branches (John 15:1-9). He presents Himself as the main stem of the vine and those who believe in Him as the branches. They are invited to be part of Him. “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, and I in Him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Faith indeed is a total abandonment of one’s life to Jesus in such a way that one finds the meaning of existence in Jesus. To be cut off from Jesus would amount to getting dried up and being lost. “Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them in the fire and they will be burnt” (v. 6). Christian life therefore is a life of intimate union with the Lord.
In the beginning of the New Year, we are naturally inclined to look back into the past. We would regret the opportunities lost, the goals not achieved, the projects not completed, and the unhappiness caused by others. Thus looking into the year that passed by could be very discouraging. At this juncture we could take two postures. Either we can become negative and feel defeated or we can become positive and make new decisions for a better living. Perhaps both these approaches need not be inspired by faith. Becoming negative of course and slipping into despair is definitely against the Good News of Jesus. It will drain our hearts empty. Again making new decisions about the future does not improve the situation. We only need to look back and remember how we made many decisions in the past and most of them were violated. Undoubtedly our enthusiasm to improve the quality of our life is well meant and necessary. However one could reach the same mood of despair at the end of the day. St. Paul speaks about this predicament of the human mind (Romans 7:15-24). Starting with the pain of incomprehension he writes, “I do not know what’s happening to me.” With the sorrow of helplessness, he continues to describe that he can only decide to do good but is unable to carry out that decision. What he ends up doing is what he never wanted to do. With more acute pain, he adds that this leads him to the realization that he is not in control of himself - rather it is evil powers that control him: “I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members.” (Romans 7:23) He concludes lamenting “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24) What is distressing is that in spite of all his enthusiasm and the firm intent to be good, he ends up with the same sense of emptiness. The finest of decisions do not save us. As the saying goes “the path to hell is paved by good intentions.” Finally St. Paul turns his gaze to Jesus and here in the Lord finds his salvation.
“THANKS BE TO GOD THROUGH JESUS CHRIST OUR LORD!" (Romans 7:25)
Here a mystery is revealed - the mystery of our salvation. Our salvation depends on our turning to the Lord! In fact, this was the first proclamation of Jesus in His public ministry. After fasting forty days and forty nights, He came down to the people with an invitation and a promise. The invitation was to return to Him (Matthew 4:17). And so he said, “Repent.” Repentance means total turning to the Lord with a radical change of mind accepting the Lord as the cornerstone of one’s life. The Promise of Jesus is that the Kingdom of God is at hand. Kingdom of God is where God is king which means that God is in charge. God takes authority over our life for a purpose – to turn everything for our good.
“PURGE ME WITH HYSSOP, AND I SHALL BE CLEAN” (Psalm 51:7)
We will be able to be good only when God makes us good. Spirituality is not our work as it is the effect of God’s grace working on us. A young lady once came to me in great distress. She was in love with her colleague. The man too was deeply in love with her. However she knew she would never be able to marry him as he was already married. She did not want to break his family. At the same time, the emotional bond was so irresistible that all the time she had a faint hope that someday she would be able to make a home with him. At the retreat she realized that she was in grievous sin. She made a decision never to have anything to do with him - making a way for his family to be united. A few days after she returned, she felt the attraction to him so strong that she fell right back into the relationship. She lived in that guilt thinking she could never come out of it. In the moments of prayer she would be convicted. Eventually one day she decided to go and tell him to his face that what they were doing was evil. But when she met him, she was charmed by his loving approach and could not think of bringing up the matter.
She came again for the retreat as she was torn apart between the torturing guilt and the irresistible desire for the man. Her question was ‘Why is it that I am not able to keep my decision?’ I referred her to the question that St. Paul posed when he was presenting us the cross-section of the human struggle. When the human heart is enslaved by the power of sin, a decision however sincere and strong will not be able to match up to the evil force. A slave cannot get himself out of enslavement. Rather he has to be pulled out of it by Divine Power. Jesus said “If the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed.” (John 8:36) The lady then sincerely requested to know what she would need to do for this. I explained to her that she had to surrender her passions and desires for God to take authority over. God is able to take charge of our lives only when we make a total surrender of our life to him, as Mother Mary did “Here am I, the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) At this moment of self surrender, God will anoint us with the Holy Spirit as the angel promised Mother Mary “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” (Luke 1:35) The Holy Spirit is the agent of transformation.
“IN HIM WE LIVE AND MOVE AND HAVE OUR BEING” (Acts 17:28)
I shared with her a lesson taught by Watchman Nee, a famous Chinese missionary. He was traveling in a train and it was evening. He was reading the Bible, sitting in the corner of the coach. His only companions were three young boisterous youth seated at the other end of the coach. They were getting bored with the long train journey. One of them proposed they play a card game. Another one pulled out a pack of cards. However they realized that the game they all knew required four players. Their eyes fell on Nee. They approached him and requested him to join them for a game of cards. With a friendly smile he heaved a big sigh saying, “How I wish I could play with you! I love to play cards. But I don’t have hands to play cards.” The young men were puzzled for they could clearly see his hands holding a book. After a pause he again spoke saying, “These hands that you see are not mine. I surrendered them to my Master Jesus Christ.” He shared with them how Jesus had offered His own life as a sacrifice to save those who were lost. He described how the Lord spread his hands out on the cross for nails to be driven into them. It was by this sacrifice the missionary described that he was living a life that was blessed. “The more I look at the cross on which my Saviour died, the more is my heart overwhelmed with love for Him. I realize it is my hands that should have been nailed to the cross. If I have hands on my shoulders today it is the Lord’s offering. So I cannot use it as I will. I can move my hands and I can live out my life only as the Lord desires of me.” This is the attitude that we must take on if we are seeking to live as followers of Jesus.
At the threshold of the New Year, when God is waiting to make all things new, we need to open our heart to God and place our lives in the Hands of God with the prayer of Mother Mary on our lips. Then we will experience a precious transformation in our lives! Everything old passing by and the blessing of a new season of grace offered to us by God.
Let Us Pray:
My Lord and my God, I thank You for the wonderful gift of the New Year. You trust me and You have a great plan for me. You assure me Your Presence and this is my joy and my strength. Lord, I bring all that I have and all that burdens me. I bring to You my desire, O God, to be a reflection of Your holy goodness. As I stand in Your Presence, O God, I know in Your Light I shall be led from darkness of my failures and sadness to rejoice in Your Glory.
Jesus my Lord, as I stand before the Cross, I offer to You my hands and my feet, my senses, my mind and my all. These belong to You, O Lord, and I shall live for Your Glory to shine through me. Thank you Lord for the gift of life that You give to me.