|Rev. Fr. Augustine Vallooran V.C.|
Senses dominate the world of knowledge today. What counts is what can be seen, heard and touched. Anything beyond the reach of the senses is considered uncertain and as of no consequence to human life. As a result, God, and all things spiritual for that matter, have totally lost significance in human thinking and striving. Everything to be known and to be reached is below the sky. The strident call of Frederick Nietzsche that “God is dead” and the assertion of Karl Marx that “religion is the opium of the people,” are extreme examples of atheism in the modern times. Pragmatic philosophies tend to affirm that all that matters is a pleasurable and successful worldly life, at once dismissive of all objective standards of truth and morality. Relativism is idealized and it is come to stay as a way of thinking and a style of living. Since all direction for life is rejected and nothing further is there to attain beyond this world, there is a “craze” driving man to be satiated with momentary pleasures and gains that the senses offer. Hence the mad race to stuff one’s heart with whatever can be grabbed from the world around.
The momentous question to ask and answer at this juncture would be, ‘Wherefore this frenzy and what is it leading man to?’ A certain nihilistic trend and senseless anonymity have come to dominate man's thinking depriving it of meaningfulness. Man has driven himself into the depths of despair as at no time ever before in history. So much attained, yet so little is achieved with life bereft of all meaning. The closer nations have come together thanks to science and technology, the further apart, man is drifting away from his neighbour. Many have begun to wonder whether humankind has lost its way. There is an unspoken longing in every heart to transcend this world of matter and be set on pilgrimage to attaining the realm of the spirit.
“Why Do You Labour For That Which Does Not Satisfy?” (Isaiah 55:2)
Some months ago I was talking to a young man who after a depraved life led for years, came to realize that he had reached a dead end. He felt oppressed by an overwhelming sense of life having lost all meaning for him. Even while at school, he could avail plentiful money and friends to spend with. He bothered little about his studies, except that close on the eve of exams he would learn his lessons by memory and scrape through every year. After passing school, he joined his father's business which gave him unlimited access to money. He made free with it and took to a life of loose, reckless living. He married a girl of his choice and after the arrival of a child, he had sent them away home to her place because he had fallen for another woman. He had also developed a habit and an addiction to drinking. Meanwhile, the family's business was faring poorly and went from bad to worse and he became desperate. It was then that he experienced a fatigue - a tiredness of life itself. Listening to his narrative, it was evident to me that this was a life wasted in the pursuit of momentary sensual satisfaction and lowly indulgences. It was a life sans purpose and motivation, with little God-sense and scant regard for values. He was the perfect type of the modern man - disoriented, directionless and without a vision in life. Cooped up in the world of the senses and turned away from the world of the spirit, man stoops to stuff himself with the crap that this world dangles deceptively before his eyes.
I discussed with him the futility of life lived on a mere mundane level of material existence. With all the earthly goods that he could possess, he remained empty and dissatisfied. He needed to rise above the trappings of the world and come to value human worth in terms of the value of the spirit, for the pure and simple reason that the human is imperishable in nature. It is in reaching out to God and homing in on Him that one discovers life's truest meaning. While on this point, he admitted to feeling inclined at times to turn towards God but had adamantly resisted it. He stayed to attend the full course of the retreat and he in the Grace of God was offered a life transforming experience of God’s real Love.
The life-story of this young man holds a clue for us to gauge what is the malady of the world today and how God is waiting to free us with His offer of an effective salvation. When we rise above the senses and reach out to God, we will find God's Hands reaching out to us in love.
The Bible is the story of people who refused to be satisfied with what the material world could give and took the leap of faith secure into the arms of God. Abraham gathered courage to abandon and go without all the securities of this world to pursue single-mindedly the Word of God. That did not make his life any easier but it was transformed to such glory that he became a blessing to the humankind. A whole race of those who trust in God came out of him as he is the father of all believers. God’s Promise was fulfilled - “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing… by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves.” (Genesis 12:2-3).
“Whoever Drinks Of The Water That I Shall Give Him Will Never Thirst” (John 4:14)
Faith indeed is a leap made possible not at all because of what we can see with our eyes but because of what vision we hold in our heart. What our senses may offer us a touch realistic but it has no absoluteness. But then comes the Call from Above to leave the limits of the senses and reach further beyond. Reason cannot compel us to this. But it is a Call from within that impels us to take the plunge.
The Samaritan woman in the Gospel of St. John offers us a classic example of such a leap of faith (John Chapter 4). This person was living life by her understanding of security and fulfillment. Offering herself to man after man only left her as empty as the jar she was carrying to the well. She thought this was all that was there to life - small contentments, transitory pleasures and securities. That is when she met the Lord by the well of Jacob. Christ offered her a new way of life in the fullness and leading of the Holy Spirit. He promised the Living Waters which alone could quench her thirst. She must have been attracted no doubt, by this new offer but would have been too scared to leave the framework of security she had worked out for herself. She sought to converse with Jesus bringing up irrelevancies like the cultural and religious differences between Jews and Samaritans wanting to digress from the real point. Jesus brought her back to focus on what the thirst of her heart was. He revealed to her that this could only be quenched when she let go of her sinfulness and reached for the offer of holiness. It was at this point that she left her water jar at the feet of Jesus. This was symbolic of her decision to abandon her past and take up the offer of Jesus, trusting her future in the Hands of God. From being a woman of loose morals, she is radically transformed into a missionary to the town proclaiming that Jesus is the awaited Saviour of the world. She took a definite stand for God and this option to abide by conviction made her an icon of faith to inspire generations of seekers! We are in the Year of Faith. The Church challenges us to be icons of the faith in a world that has chosen to bury its head in earth's sands, refusing to look up to God.
“If We Endure, We Shall Also Reign With Him” (2 Timothy 2:12)
The gospel records an instance where Jesus praises the faith of a woman. This was a woman of pagan origin - who had a daughter afflicted by an evil spirit. She came pleading with Jesus that He heals her. At the outset, Jesus seems indifferent to heed her desperate intercession. Even the disciples expressed sympathy for the misery of this woman and recommended her case to the Master - “Send her away, for she is crying after us.” (Matthew 15:23) But the response of Jesus was anything but heartening to this woman. "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel… It is not fair to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs” (Matthew 15:24,27). Hard as the words of Jesus might have sounded, she refused to give up. She knew she could not claim His kindness as a matter of course. After all, she was a pagan. But in Christ she recognized her salvation. She relentlessly pursued the Lord, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table” (v. 27). At this point Jesus turns to honour her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire” (v. 28).
This event highlights for us the real meaning of faith. Faith requires us to abandon our lives and needs to God's Hands. Man cannot set God's timetable or give ultimatums for God to act. Once we leave our destiny in the Hands of God, we wait in prayer for God’s Will to be done. Whatever thoughts may assail us questioning God’s ways, we are determined in rejecting such thinking - confirming our trust in the love of our God. A believer understands that God’s Plan is incomparably superior in every respect to human plans. It might appear that God does not care or understand the urgency of the situation. Even in such moments, the believer unwaveringly awaits God’s intervention. There has to be the definite, hard-intended refusal on the believer's part to opt out of God's scheme of things because God is Infinite Goodness. Faith is the unfloundering commitment of love to God. It will not be disheartened; having to wait on Him because there is the certainty in the heart's depths that God will never fail us because we are precious to Him.
“A Wise Man Built His House Upon The Rock” (Matthew 7:24)
I remember speaking to a young man, an engineering graduate who was well employed in a reputed firm. While flourishing in his profession, he felt the Call of God to priesthood. He made his parents aware of it. They were very upset as he was their only child. They had different dreams for him. They had great hopes that he would make it big in life and support them in their old age. They tried to dissuade him from his decision by pointing out to him that he was already set on a trail of success and that stepping aside to follow a religious vocation would be foolhardy and that he would surely regret it one day. They also said that he would not be able to take all the sacrifices that religious life would involve. They finally also warned him of the possible dangers relating to scandals which circulated about certain religious men.
None of these arguments would undo his decision and he would not be dissuaded. What he felt was an irresistible call in his heart to give his life to Jesus. In a gentle way, he pointed out to his parents that it was businessmen who calculate and make decisions because their concern was to make profit. His decision was not based on any calculations, but on a deep experience of God calling him to His service. The only security for his future was in the faithfulness of the One who calls him. That security, he assured his parents, was greater than what any human system can ever give. This conviction of the young man was proof indeed of his integral faith which was founded on the sure ground of God. It is this faith that moves mountains, banishing doubts and uncertainties and advancing us to the secure heights of Divine Providence.
Let Us Pray
O Lord our God how tremendous and unchanging is Your Love for us, the work of Your Hands. You created us in Your great Love. You drew a Plan for our lives even before we were conceived in our mother’s womb. What You have prepared for us is indeed beyond what any eye has seen, or ear has heard or what our heart could ever ask or imagine. Your Power and Glory is so great - nothing can come in the way of this Plan You have decided on for us.
Lord we have failed to trust in You and we built our lives on shifting sands. Today we turn to You, seeking Your Mercy and Your Power to sanctify us that our eyes may be opened to realize that You are the Way, the Truth and the Life. You are the one Reality we can trust on and turn to in every moment of our weakness. Even when we are unfaithful, You remain faithful. In Your Love is, indeed, our strength and our song of praise. Lord Jesus, we trust in You.