|Rev. Fr. Augustine Vallooran V.C.|
God has a dream for every human person. Right through the Scriptures, there are echoes expressing this great dream. The psalm offers us a picturesque expression of the dream of God, “A tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” (Psalm 1:3) In the Heart of God, the human persons are envisioned as thriving and prosperous, with verdant foliage and abundant fruits. The roots are gone deep into the fertile field, watered by plentiful streams. We can recall the words of Jesus - “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit.” (John 15:8)
“Let Us Go Up To The Mountain Of The Lord” (Isaiah 2:3)
When we planned the International Youth Retreat, Power 2013 Conference, we felt directed to challenge the youth of today to rise up to take on this higher vision of God. Hence we chose for the theme the call of God to be “Rooted And Grounded In Love” (Ephesians 3:17). The youth came in big numbers from different parts of the world and various states of the country. As they came in, apart from the huge backpacks they were carrying, it was obvious that they were burdened with the cares of the world. Some of them looked angry, some looked weary and worn out. But in everyone’s eyes there was this unmistakable glow of expectation, hoping for something to happen in their lives. As days went by, God unveiled to them His dream - challenging them to rise above their problems and pains and reach out to the abundance of heavenly fruits. It was heartening to see many of them shedding their superficial and earth-bound views of life, ready and seeking to send the roots of their lives deep into the Love of God. They felt a surge of life in their hearts bearing fruit as a new joy to commit their life totally to the Lord.
In this Year of Faith, the Power Conference became a memorable experience of total surrender to God for the youth participants. Inaugurating the Conference, His Grace Archbishop Andrews Thazhath challenged the youth to show the courage to place their lives in the Hands of God - for Him to plant them in the fertile soil of the Word of God and of the Sacraments of the Church, as a sapling to be rooted and grounded in the Love of God. He explained to them that in a world that flashes fascinating lights to distract the youth to the way of evil, we need to be strong enough to stand our ground and remain close to God. This is possible if we find nourishment for our growth from the Word of God and the Teachings of the Church. The young people who had come from 25 countries of the world took the invitation of the Archbishop seriously.
“To Live Is Christ” (Philippians 1:21)
There was a mood all through the retreat of intense seeking - to grow in a deep rooted and meaningful commitment to God. Faith is not a mere intellectual assent to certain Divine teachings; rather it is a personal commitment of one’s life to God in such a way that God becomes the supreme value and greatest love in one’s life. This is conveyed in Simon Peter’s confession of faith, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” (John 21:17) During the sessions of preaching, the youth were confronted with the same question that Jesus posed to Simon Peter - “Do you love me more than these?” (John 21:15) Their response was generous and could be called even radical. Charles Francis from UAE expressed this zeal for the Lord: “It was during the inner healing service that I realized that God never abandoned me. God will always love me. I must and will love Him back.”
For many of the youth, the retreat was a special occasion when their faith came alive as an experience that filled them and changed them. Jessica from Malaysia writes in her comments, “Before coming for this retreat, I used to believe that there is a God but never had faith in Him. But now I know that Jesus is Alive and I am very happy to be His child.” Similarly Ashwin from Secunderabad shares, “Before coming here I did not know the meaning of God, but now I have experienced Him very closely.” What they had already learned as doctrines and remained in their heads as ideas became a life-transforming experience for them. A youngster told me that she always knew she had to forgive those who offended her. The prayer of Jesus forgiving His torturers was a great inspiration for her but when she was confronted with a situation demanding forgiveness in her own life, she found it almost impossible to respond as Christ required her to. When the faces of those who hurt her came before her, she murmured to herself that there was no way she could let the hurts go. But during the Adoration service it resurfaced as an urgent compulsion to pray for them and forgive them. At one moment she burst out in prayer asking God to bless those who hurt her. Here she describes about how amazing it felt when this great love filled her heart. Geraldine from Chennai writes - “It was so difficult when Father asked us to forgive our enemies, but after I forgave so much happiness engulfed my heart.”
“When You Seek Me, I Will Let You Find Me” (Jeremiah 29:13)
In a competitive world where everyone is striving to meet their professional targets and to perform better than others, knocking others down is not counted as something wrong. As long as one is able to rise above others, any means would be accepted as reasonable. In the process, people are hurt and they hurt others. Binding up the wounds of others is not considered a value anymore. For many of the young people it was an eye-opener that they had to consider relationships precious. When they forgave from the depths of their hearts, the joy and freedom that they experienced, revealed what they were missing in the rat race of life. Merilyn Fernandes from UAE was astounded that a whole-hearted forgiveness brought her the healing Touch of God. She describes her retreat experience - “Every moment was special, but falling at the feet of your enemy, seeking and granting forgiveness healed me.”
In the Preaching of the Word and in the celebration of the Sacraments, the Person of Jesus came alive to many of the participants. Jesus was only a historical person as they imagined Him to be. They were amazed when they felt a Real Presence of Jesus gripping their hearts and filling them with a love that they had never experienced before. Prescilla Chermai from Malaysia shared, “The most special moment of this retreat was God’s affirmation for me through His own words saying He has a plan for me.” Selita Lorence from Karnataka shares her faith experience - “I understood that it is in the Sacrament of Confession that we receive the grand revelation that God is always on our side.”
Sonia Rodrigues from Mumbai, “When I was crying out to God to show me He exists, Father called out my name and said ‘God loves you’.” When the youth share such profoundly touching experiences, we begin to understand that Christianity is not so much a set of doctrines or a few practices but an encounter with the Living God that makes us surrender our lives totally to Him. This grace given to the youth has already laid a foundation for a mature Christian life in the future. Catherine from USA writes, “My special moment during the retreat was when I surrendered myself to God.” This reawakening of faith has given them the deep conviction for the need of restructuring their lives with a concrete plan of action to live out their faith experience in God. Michelle from USA has taken a clear decision about her future - “Jesus loves me and will never leave me and I am going to pray regularly and attend daily mass and adoration.” Maria from UK is convinced that the sure success for her future is to be rooted in prayer. She writes, “Jesus is my ‘everything’ and I have decided to read the Bible everyday and spend more time in prayer.”
Once they had touched the beauty of the Real Presence of Jesus their one seeking was to remain in that sweetness forever. They realized that this Divine experience brings a great joy that they have never felt in the pleasures of the world outside. This is where their value system is transformed. Koyal Kiran from Mysore writes, “This retreat has opened my eyes to my God. It showed me that my life is nothing without God.” One is reminded of the psalmist who proclaims - “Taste and see that the Lord is good! Happy is the man who takes refuge in Him!” (Psalm 34:8) The psalmist adds, “For a day in Thy courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.” (Psalm 84:10) This chorus is repeated by many of these youngsters when they shared their testimonies. Shilpa from Rajasthan shared, “The inner healing session was the most special moment of the retreat. I promise to remain in the Presence of the Lord and to bring others to His Presence.” Tony from Oman writes, “The Inner Healing session was a rich spiritual experience and I was filled with the zeal, enthusiasm and fire of the Holy Spirit. Jesus who was just in the back seat of my life will be in the driving seat from now onwards.”
“What You Hear Whispered, Proclaim Upon The Housetops” (Matthew 10:27)
The youth are generally blamed for a lack of orientation in life because of their impulsive drive to grab whatever pleases them. However such a deep experience of the reality and awesome Power of God imprints in them a mission in life and a definite orientation for the future. Rebecca from Canada writes enthusiastically about her newfound joy, “Jesus is my everything and I am going to tell my friends about how this retreat changed my life.” The experience of finding the fullness of life in Jesus is what Serena from Australia has to speak about, “I am going back filled with the Love of God to share the messages that I learnt with my family and friends.” Jesudoss Thomas from Vietnam is charged with a new mission as he writes - “Jesus is asking us to love others as He loved us. I will go and tell everyone the Good News of God.” In the gospels, we read that those who were touched by Jesus went everywhere declaring the Good News of Jesus in season and out of season. This was the chorus every heart was resounding with after the Power Conference. Joshua from UAE writes - “I am taking up the mission of telling my friends how amazing God’s love is.” St. John writes about the euphoria of having found the fullness of joy in Jesus in glowing terms, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life… we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us… We are writing this that our joy may be complete.” (1 John 1:1-4) The fullness of joy experienced becomes contagious, spreading to everyone around. Alistair from Goa declares, “I received the Holy Spirit and He healed me and He wants me to preach the Word that He is alive.”
His Eminence Cardinal George Alenchery concluded the Conference with this exhortation: “In the past the youth were said to be the future of the Church. Pope John Paul II had said, “The youth are the present of the Church.” You have a mission to make Jesus and the Church present in your life situations.” This exhortation of the Cardinal struck a chord of consonance in the hearts of the youth. In the counselling sessions, many young people expressed their regret for having wasted their lives in useless entertainments and superficial relationships. They shared of their deep conviction of the mission for which they were sent to the world by God Himself. They were also convinced that with the Power of the Holy Spirit, they would find enough strength to resist the peer pressure that they anticipated to encounter and which was meant to lead them astray. Some of them who had come from the same parish or same educational institutions have decided to come together in prayer periodically to rekindle the zeal that quickened their hearts at the retreat.
As the youth were leaving the Retreat Centre campus in groups over the next two days, we could see great joy on their faces. Any priest or preacher they met on the way, they would rush to, enthusiastically, to share what God had done for them. In every one of them there is a determination to make Jesus known. Lorett from Kuwait exclaims, “Awesome retreat! It was a heaven on earth experience.” Indeed the youth of the Power Conference are the hope and the promise of a heaven on earth.
After the months of intense prayer and preparation for the Conference, there was a great satisfaction in the heart of everyone that the grand promise of the Revelation was being fulfilled: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth… I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, I make all things new’ ” (Rev 21:1-5).
Let Us Pray:
Heavenly Father, You brought Your children from different parts of the world into Your Loving Presence. You spoke Your Word to them. You set them free from the stranglehold of sin. You filled their hearts with Your Love. You have moulded their lives according to the image of Your Son. We pray to You, O God. Hold them close to Your Heart always. Do not ever leave them alone lest they should be plundered by the forces of evil hovering about them in the world they live in. Complete in their lives what You have started in them powerfully that they may be Your witnesses in a world where the culture of death is eager to devour them. Let them be Your witnesses, ushering in your Kingdom in the lives of everyone around.