|Rev. Fr. Augustine Vallooran V.C.|
Lent is a Season of Grace, when God is waiting to repair every damage affecting our life and restore us to the glorious existence that He always intended for us. This is the Season of Salvation when the invitation of the Lord rings in our heart, "Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand." (Mark 1:15) The image before our eyes is the Lord standing at the door of our hearts, waiting patiently and knocking at the door, reminding that He is there for us to bring light into our darkened hearts and homes.
“The Branch Cannot Bear Fruit By Itself Unless It Abides In The Vine” (John 15:4)
In our day to day living, we turn away from God and as a result end up with hurts and wounds that haunt our memories and attitudes to life and to our future. As a result, we live life disturbed and distressed. Our relationships get strained. Frustrations accumulate in our hearts. We become victims of the tides of our moods and life gets drained of all charm. We come to God asking for small favours like success in business, a good percentage of marks in our exam results, healing of aches and pains. We pray for such favours because we have misinterpreted our problem by superficial standards. However God who alone has delved the depths of our hearts knows where all our unhappiness stems from. Hence when we turn to God, the first thing He does is to take authority over sin in our heart. Sin that blocked our connection with God has alongside blocked the flow of graces into our lives.
The Gospel of Mark relates the account of the miraculous healing of a paralyzed man (Mark 2:1-12). Four men take great pains to bring the paralytic to the side of Jesus, ripping open even the roof of the house where the Lord was preaching to a crowd. Jesus saw the expectant faith of the four and the misery of this man confined to the mat and said to him, "Son, your sins are forgiven." (Mark 2:5) This declaration sent shock waves through those gathered. The men who brought the sick man had only asked for healing. The scandalized scribes were murmuring, "How can this human being claim the power of God to forgive sins!" It is at this moment that Jesus made the solemn declaration, "You shall know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth." (Mark 2:10) With this, the Lord commands the sick man to rise up who is instantly delivered of the paralysis of his spirit and of his body. This event reveals to us God's saving strategy. When we turn to God for little favours, He perceives that even if these favours are granted, we will remain in the paralysis of the spirit and the happiness we ache for will continue to elude us. Hence Jesus inaugurates His salvific ministry by inviting all to turn to God and find salvation in Him. "This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Good News." (Mark 1:15)
“His Mercies Never Come To An End” (Lamentations 3:22)
Repentance means turning to God with a firm determination to surrender our lives to Him. This conversion comes to us when we realize how we lost the joy and meaning of life in the ways of sin. The Lord promises here that when we are totally surrendered to Him, the Kingdom of Heaven will be established in our lives. This is an offer of love - revealing to us what God always intended for our lives. He is waiting to take authority over everything gone wrong in us as He did with the paralyzed man. When He becomes the Lord and King of our lives, the Kingdom of God is ushered into our hearts. St. Paul tells us this state of God's sovereign rule in our hearts brings in the righteousness, peace and joy of the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17).
Righteousness means being right with God and with everyone God has brought into our lives. When my relationship with my God is purified of the attitude to revolt, I experience that I am a dear child of God. That ecstatic experience of love sets my relationships with my family, friends and society right. All forms of hatred and jealousy and indifference are washed away from my heart and I become ready to live for those God has placed in my life. This cleansing of my relationships brings in great joy and peace of the Holy Spirit into me. This indeed is the experience of Paradise that God has intended for our lives from the very beginning.
As the first pages of the Bible reveal, Paradise is characterized by the cordial relationship man has with God, neighbour and nature. Nature provided everything necessary for the sustenance of the human society. Relationship in the family was characterized by total acceptance and love of each other as Adam said to Eve - "You are the bone of my bone, the flesh of my flesh... You are my very own." However, the seed of doubt was sown in the heart of man about God's Plan for him and he thought that he can become greater than what he was and superior to what God wanted for him. Man rejected the Paradise God fashioned for him wanting to build one of his own. As a result man became empty, losing even his self-esteem. This is what Adam expressed when he said to God, "I was naked, so I hid." (Genesis 3:10) Nakedness referred not so much to the lack of covering on his body but to the sense of shame in having lost his stand with God. In fact it was God who came calling Adam by name. To call someone by name means an approach of love and consideration. The question God asked Adam is very significant, "Who told you that you were naked?" (Genesis 3:11) The shame and emptiness that Adam felt was not God's verdict but man's own making.
“If We Are Faithless, He Remains Faithful” (2 Timothy 2:13)
There is often a gross misunderstanding that God comes to punish and to curse when man commits a sin. No wonder, when something unfortunate happens, we are inclined to blame God! When we fail in some endeavour or our dear ones fall ill or even when there is a natural catastrophe, the first reaction of man is the fear and despair of being punished by God. Such a thought leads us away from love, hope and faith in God. Indeed it is not a punishing God whom Jesus came to reveal. Rather Jesus spoke to us about a God who loves us to the ultimate point of giving Himself to us to make sure that we do not perish in the curse of sin - "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) However it remains true that everyone who lives in sin is in a state of emptiness and shame. It is not what God brings to him but it is the eventuality of his option of sin rejecting God. The Word of God tells us that "The wages of sin is death." (Romans 6:23) The rejection of God necessarily brings in a culture of death that takes away all that is beautiful in the human heart and relationships. A ray of light cut off from the lamp becomes darkness. A stream isolated from the spring dries up. The dryness and emptiness that man feels is not a punishment that God gives to him but a ruin that he brings upon himself by cutting himself off from the source of his life and happiness.
In every such unfortunate moment, God comes calling man, waiting to take authority over all the destruction wrought by sin as He did at Eden with Adam. Adam did not turn to God in repentance; rather he began to blame the other. "The woman you gave me led me to this sin." There human bond ruptured. The earth began to rebel against man by putting out vicious thorns and thistles, demanding hard labour for fruit. This was the loss of Paradise. Even then, man was not abandoned by God but was instead promised a Saviour who would crush the authority of sin enslaving man. God also consoled man by availing for him stitched leather garments to cover his shame.
Jesus reveals to us that the Way of Salvation is in the direction of turning to God in the moments of our ruin in sin. In the remarkable parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus paints the fascinating picture of a father eagerly waiting for the son who rejected him (Luke Chapter 15). When the son goes away into his choice of alienation from the father, he slips into penury and wretchedness. This would seem a fitting penalty for the cold-hearted, wayward son. However the father’s heart was set on the restoration of the son. The moment the son returns towards the home, the father rushes to him to welcome and accept him, surpassing all norms of natural justice and propriety. He restores to the son everything that was lost. There was great rejoicing in the family. Jesus ends the parable by asserting that this joy was what heaven was made of. "There will be great rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents." (Luke 15:10)
“If You Return, Then I Will Restore You” (Jeremiah 15:19)
While I was in a South Indian city for a programme, a couple came to meet me. They were beaming with smiles. They came to thank me for what the retreat did for them five years ago. The husband was a software engineer and the wife a school teacher. They were happily settled with their two children when he got an offer of a job in a Gulf country. The whole family was overjoyed at what they understood as a breakthrough in the husband's professional and the family's financial status. The wife suggested that he head first to the new country and make himself secure in the job ad find a suitable accommodation for the family. She proposed to stay back with the children till the end of that academic year after which the entire family would join him.
He proceeded to the Gulf and took up the job. In the desert, he felt very lonely. He would call home twice daily to speak to his wife and children at morning and night. A month later, he was invited to a party by one of his colleagues. There a lady was introduced to him. She was very considerate and friendly and began to keep in touch with him. Soon the relationship slipped into sinful dimensions. A couple of months later, a fierce-looking stranger came to his flat one evening and showed him pictures of his intimacy with this woman. To his great shock he realized he was caught in a trap and compromised. The goon black-mailed him that he could have these photographs publicized and it would cost him his job, his reputation and everything he had. He could even be imprisoned in this alien country. He begged this stranger to spare him and his family of the shame and all that would ensue. This man in a threatening tone warned him that for this, he would have to pay him an exorbitant ransom amount every month. To manage this, the man realized he had to work overtime.
He was so shattered by guilt that he could not speak to his wife and children. He was unable to support them or send any amount regularly. Meanwhile, the family was preparing to join him. They were very distressed that there was no communication from him. He somehow managed to return home but had become an alcoholic wreck. The wife was grieved and confused by the horrible change in her husband. She could hardly recognize the man who had returned from the Gulf.
It was in this situation that they came for a retreat. The husband was not ready to open up his hidden load of sin and its disastrous consequences. However, with the help of the Holy Spirit I was able to help him to bare out the unbearable burden in his heart. Later in a disposition of prayer, I led him to share with his wife the painful secret of his past. They felt the powerful Presence of the Holy Spirit healing them and comforting them. As they reached home, they spent their days in prayer and going for the Holy Mass every day. With the help of a friend, he could secure a job. They are now living together as a witnessing family - praising and thanking God for rebuilding their lives and for the new lease of joy and sharing in their marriage! We are reminded of the psalmist who describes blessedness as when transgressions are forgiven and sins are atoned and expiated by the Mercy of the Lord. “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long... Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin.” (Psalm 32:3,5)
We are tired of life because of the burdens placed on us. This season of Lent, the Lord is inviting us to abandon ourselves into His Arms that surround us - to forgive us and restore us to fortunes that slipped away - leaving us in an impoverished existence. The world today is slipping rapidly into despair because it chooses to cling to and persist adamantly in the wrongs of the past, finding fault with everyone else for its misfortunes. We, however, are invited to move ahead in life towards our sovereign God who is waiting to manifest His glory.
Let Us Pray
God of Mercy and Compassion, we thank You for this season when You call us again to taste Your unchanging and liberating Love. Our hearts were made for You, O Lord, for You are the Love that alone can fill our hearts and bring meaning to our lives.
Today we are tired of life and lost in relationships only because our hearts wandered away from You. As we return to You, Lord, we want to place in Your Hands all that burdens us - all our failings and secrets that we were ashamed of. We place in Your Hands every area of life where You had no control. Lord, we pray, be the Lord and Master of our lives for when You lead us, our life will be worth living and will become a blessing to this world. Lord we thank You for Your Mercy that is never exhausted and Your Graces that are ever new.