|Rev. Fr. Augustine Vallooran V.C.|
The youth flocked from different countries to the Divine Retreat Centre in search of life. The Ninth International Youth Conference was celebrating as its theme the grand offer of Jesus, “Have Life in all its fullness” (John 10:10). In fact the Lord describes this as the very purpose of His visitation: “I have come that you may have life in all its fullness.” The promises of Jesus had always this tone – the generosity of God inviting us to graces in full measure. While speaking of joy He said, “I say these things that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete” (John 15:11). The peace He offered again was something that would completely dispel all anxieties and unrest of the heart. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). He came indeed in the form of man to fill us with Himself as St John writes, “Out of His fullness we have all received grace” (John 1:16).
“I Have Called You By Name” (Isaiah 43:1)
This offer of the fullness of life was a great revelation for the new generation. It was indeed beyond their asking and imagination for they had settled for the minimum in their practice of religion.
For many young people, though Christian by upbringing, God was an abstraction or a vague power that was distant and irrelevant. Though they habitually prayed, it was mostly an exercise done out of a sense of obligation. They could not imagine that God was there to listen to them. It was at the retreat that they were led to the experience of God as someone real in their lives – God had become for them a love that touched their hearts, transforming their lives to give them a new purpose.
When Serena, an engineering student, heard Jesus calling her by name during the Eucharistic Adoration, she was thrilled by the revelation that she was not one in a crowd but very special to the Almighty God. She observes, “Though I was a cradle Catholic and I observed all the obligations, for me God was too distant to be considered. Even when I went to church, I felt I was there as part of that big congregation. I never imagined that I could be of any consequence to God. I lost my interest in God. I even lost the sense of the sacred. I never even considered that God was there. It was at the retreat that I was drawn to the reality of God at the altar. I realized that He knew me by my name and that His eyes were upon me. That sense of love filled my heart and it is for this love that I wish to live.”
The marvelous experience of the Spirit was unmistakable as the one effect was the revelation of a God of compassion, closely following the concerns of His children.
Virgil from Goa described that he had come for the retreat with a heavy heart. “I doubted God cared for me. I took it for granted that my name would never be called out. My despair was mounting when I started to think on these lines. This was during the Inner Healing prayer service. I could not concentrate and I was doubtful if Jesus would hear me. That was when Father called out my name and the message went thus, ‘Hand over your heavy heart to Jesus’. I felt a fire pass through my body and I cried out aloud. I could not be worried what those around me would think of me; for at that very moment I realized that Jesus cares for me and that He has not given up on me. I started believing in the Presence of Jesus and would love to experience this over and over again!”
“Our High Priest Understands Our Weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15)
Lewis, a medical student, was born and brought up in a traditional Catholic family. Though he was by nature very intelligent and hard-working, when he came for the retreat he was a man suffering from a tortuous sense of shame and self-contempt. In the first year of his medical studies, his friends had introduced him to watching pornography. He resisted the pressure in the beginning but soon thereafter gave in and found himself addicted to the evil. He could not concentrate during the lectures and lost interest in his studies. He was not able to sleep either because the pernicious images that he had seen during the day on the computer would return to haunt him when he lay down to rest. He started on sleeping pills and would wake up in the morning more tired than when he had gone to bed. He felt desperate and lost. He could see no way out of the crisis. He knew no one could help him.
He came for the retreat in his desperation. From the start of the retreat, he prayed in tears as he was reasoning to himself that God would not answer his prayers for he did not deserve God’s favour. However something very beautiful happened! During the Offertory at the Holy Mass, he confessed in earnest prayer to his helplessness in this habit of his addiction. He placed his wretched state of mind on the altar alongside the bread raised up on the paten. He had almost given up on his medical studies - yet as he prayed he began to sense a new hope that God would intervene and set him free. He continued to look at the altar and offer with the Host, the filthy images that were stuck in his mind - residues of the evil habit that had enslaved him.
At the very moment of Consecration, when the celebrant raised the piece of bread and prayed the liturgical words of the Consecration, an awesome fear gripped him, for he saw behind the altar not the priest any more, but Jesus in the garb of the High Priest and the words were coming from the lips of Jesus, “This is my body.” He was still more shaken for the realization dawned on him that the bread Jesus was holding up was what he had offered with the ugly memories of his past. It struck him that all the mess that he had made by his sinful indulgence was now being taken up by the Lord. The Lord was taking responsibility for his licentiousness. The Lord was being broken in his place. Great love flowed into his heart and with ineffable joy, he began to repeat the Name of Jesus! His life choked by the ugly mess of sin was now purified in the Heart of Jesus. During the distribution of the Holy Communion, when he received the Sacred Body of Christ, he felt a flame of fire burn into his tongue. This soon developed into a pleasant burning sensation that filled his heart and seemed to take over his entire being. As he was describing this to me, he turned and said, “I knew I was made a new creation.”
I remembered the account of the experience of the apostles on the day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit descended upon them in the form of tongues of fire. In that burning sensation, they were created anew to be the pillars of the Church proclaiming that Jesus is the Lord and Saviour!
As Lewis was describing this life-transforming experience, he shared with me that he was taking on the mission of bringing over the very friends who had led him astray - for them to experience the liberation Christ was offering them from their despoiling addiction with its destructive effect. “I am praying for them. When I return, I will meet them personally and I know God will be merciful and save them as He has been so good to me.”
“Proclaim The Praises Of Him Who Called You From Darkness” (1 Peter 2:9)
Year after year, God is leading His children to the International Youth Conference to a deep and life-transforming experience and through it moulding them as His witnesses! The gospels describe in detail how Andrew and John pursued Jesus, being directed by their Master John the Baptist. Jesus turned and asked them “What do you seek?” They said, “Rabbi, where do you stay?” Jesus invited them to “Come and see.” St. John concludes this encounter saying, “We went and saw and stayed with him” (cf John 1:35-39). That was the beginning of a new life of discipleship. This intimacy grew into surrendering their lives totally to Jesus and it matured into a great desire to bring the whole world to the same experience that they were blessed with. Much later St. John would begin his letter declaring, “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.” (1 John 1:1-4).
In their search for life in all its fullness, the youngsters came to a realization that there were many factors that stifled the flow of life. In the milieu of education and work, they were often associated with friends who were so secularized that God did not mean anything to them. The media has brought in a very materialist set of values that focused on momentary pleasures and luxurious living. All the time the talk of the youth was about the latest brands of clothes, cars and mobiles. Their preoccupation was to find time to hang out in malls and pubs. It seemed that money was all that one needed to make it in life! Relationships had become fragile and were seen as dispensable, with no perspective on the future. Any talk of religion or religious values was considered as obsolete and offensive. The youth has been sucked into the new, nefarious culture devoid of vision and values.
All these trends perpetuated by peer pressure had led the youth away from the foundations of their faith. They were doing things against their own will because they were not able to resist the compelling influence of their friends. They had to hide much from their own parents because they knew their behaviour patterns would not be acceptable. When the youth experienced the Power of God’s Love liberating them from the clutches of their addictions and deceptive thinking, it was clear that all along, deep in their hearts, they resented the slavery that peer pressure had come to mean for them.
“I Will Declare Your Name To My Brothers” (Psalm 22:22)
During the counseling and in the feedback notes many of them expressed their great desire to share their newfound love of Jesus with everyone around. This enthusiasm is a clear revelation of how they wanted to fight back against the evils of peer pressure by becoming agents of life to the very culture that led them to death.
This expression of their new mission was not mere wishful thinking but evolved as clear decisions that the youngsters had settled for. Mary Claire writes that she is determined to speak about Jesus at least to one person a day. Derrick’s decision is to get all his friends for the Power Conference next year. Stenisa has taken it as a vow to “help my friends to experience Jesus as I have experienced Him.” The youngsters are charged with a new mission in their life, a reason to live for! The mission of evangelization that the Popes are recently speaking about has come into their hearts in a powerful way. The Church is enriched with a fresh batch of warriors whose heart beats for the Love of God!
Reading through the feedback forms, I am reminded of the cry of St Augustine, “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.”
The grand finale of the Conference was marked by the solemn High Mass officiated by the His Eminence Cardinal George Allencherry, the major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church. There was an emotional moment, memorable to every participant. The Cardinal at the end of the Mass, came in front of the altar and knelt down in his priestly vestments before the multitude of the youth, and sought their prayers. He was suffering from unbearable pain in his shoulders. It had become acute with the monsoon season. The youth moved by an affectionate and filial response, prayed with great fervour for their Shepherd! Later the Cardinal joyfully shared during his breakfast with the Vincentian Fathers that he was completely relieved of the pain! The youth were already becoming channels of the fire of God’s Healing Love. The love and prayerfulness in their hearts is bound to bring healing and life to the Church and to this world.
Let Us Pray:
Thank you Lord for bringing Your children to experience the Loving Promise of Your Son that they would receive “Life In All Its Fullness” (John 10:10). They have gone back to their educational institutions and workplaces with the thrill of this Promise being fulfilled in them. Let your Holy Spirit continue to fill them to be the torchbearers of Your Kingdom. Let the whole world know that the fullness of life that every heart is searching for is in You.