The Birthday of our Beloved Mother
On 8th December the Church celebrates the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary and on 8th September she celebrates the birthday of Mother Mary. As it is normal, after nine months of her conception she is born.
Virgin Mary with Child and the young St. John the Baptist F. de Zurbarán (WGoA)
The Church celebrates the birthdays of three important persons – that of Jesus, Mother Mary and John the Baptist. The birth of John the Baptist was important because he came as the forerunner of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world. Mother Mary is the woman chosen by God to give birth to the ‘Word Incarnate’, who was to ‘strike the head of the enemy’ (cfr. Gen. 3.15). It was her ‘body that God prepared from all eternity for His Son’ (Heb. 10. 5). Jesus did not have an earthly father, “for the child conceived in her was from the Holy Spirit” (Mt. 1. 20). The flesh and blood of Jesus was coming from Mother Mary, and it has to be spotless.
And hence God deigned her to be conceived ‘Immaculate’- free from original sin. God did not want her to be stained by the original sin, because “nothing unclean shall enter the Kingdom of God” (Rev. 21.27). So she is closely collaborating with Jesus from the very first moment of His conception.
Before breathing His last, Jesus was mindful of His beloved mother and He entrusted her to His dear disciple. Jesus told His mother: “here is your son”. At the foot of the Cross she accepted the motherhood of every disciple of Christ. Then He said to the disciple, “Here is your mother”. And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home” (Jn. 19.27). Every disciple of Jesus has to accept the Mother of Jesus into his home/ heart. Jesus gave Mother Mary to His disciples as His last gift, but we are free to accept the gift or not! As we are eager to celebrate birthday of our dear ones, let us make our Divine Mother happy by accepting her wholeheartedly into our homes/ hearts.
Mother Mary was also with the Apostles and the disciples at the beginning of the Church at Pentecost (it is worth noting and reflecting that she was not at the institution of the Sacrament of Priesthood, Holy Eucharist and at the institution of the Sacrament of Confession!). God has well defined her feminine role in the Church. She is our Mother and our great intercessor before the Throne of God. We venerate her because she is the most beloved daughter of the Heavenly Father, the loving and most holy Mother of her Son Jesus and the beloved Spouse of the Holy Spirit— all because of her total conformity with the will and plan of the Triune God all throughout her life. Yes, let us honour her for what God has chosen her to be and also because she is “blessed for she believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord” (Lk. 1.45). Hence the Church gives her the ‘hyper dulia’, the highest VENERATION (NOT ADORATION) as taught by the Lateran Council IV, 1215.
This Divine Mother is very sensitive to our needs and is eager to help us as she did at the wedding at Cana. Even though Jesus said, ‘My hour has not yet come’ (Jn. 2.4), she was confident of her request would be granted. So she told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (vs.5). We get the graces and blessings, not from the Divine Mother; she is only a Mediator before the Throne of God- and we ask her to ‘pray for us’. But as Jesus Himself has pointed out, “if you love me, you will keep my commandments” (Jn.14.15), in order to get the benefit of the intercession of Mother Mary, we need to ‘do as her Son says ’. As we, the children of Mother Mary, rejoice on her birthday, let us pledge to her that we heed to her request which she made at Cana, and which she repeatedly exhorts us to do in all her apparitions down the centuries. And let us offer her this as our birthday gift, rising from this earth to heaven !
Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The Immaculate Conception is a dogma of the Catholic Church which proclaims that from the moment when Mary was conceived she was kept free from the stain of original sin and was filled with the sanctifying grace. This is the third dogma proclaimed by the Church on Mother Mary. Till now four Marian dogmas have been proclaimed.
- Mary is the Mother of God, proclaimed at the Council of Ephesus in 431.
- The Perpetual Virginity of Mother Mary proclaimed in 649 at the Lateran Council that she was virgin, before, during and after the birth of Jesus.
- The Immaculate Conception of Mother Mary proclaimed by Pope Pius IX on 8th December 1854.
- The Assumption of Mary into heaven proclaimed by Pope Pius XII on 1st November 1950, that at the end of her life, Mary was assumed into heaven, body and soul.
Immaculate Conception – B.E.Murillo (WGoA)
In this Year of Faith, let us try to deepen our knowledge and conviction of the truth of the Immaculate Conception of Our Blessed Virgin Mary. It is in view of her role as the Mother of God, that she was preserved from any stain of sin, from the moment of her conception. We read in the book of Hebrews: “When Christ came into the world, he said, ‘a body you have prepared for me” (10.5). In the Apostolic Constitution ‘Ineffabilis Deus’, Pope Pius IX stated that the Blessed Virgin Mary “in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved, exempt from all stain of original sin”.
In the ‘Proto-Evangelium’, God the Father spoke about the enmity between Satan and the woman (Gen. 3.15) who was to become the ‘New Eve’ to crush the head of the serpent. It is worth recognizing the truth that God puts enmity between her and the serpent in the same manner as there is enmity between Jesus Christ and Satan.
When the Angel Gabriel came to Mary, she was addressed: “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you” (Lk. 1.28). This unique greeting by the Angel, sent by God, expresses the extraordinary grace that was bestowed upon the Blessed Virgin filled with the Holy Spirit; she herself acclaimed her immaculate truth: “Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed” (Lk. 1.48). Rightly all through the generations Mary is venerated as the Blessed Virgin Mother of the Lord.
All throughout her life, Mother Mary lived for the glory of God. Through the upbringing of her saintly parents, Anna and Joachim, she was much acquainted with the truth of the Word of God which she ‘ treasured in her heart’ and meditated upon. Being aware of God’s admonishment: “Beware of all evil” (Sir.17.14), she hated all that is evil and vigorously embraced all that is good. In the statues or images of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception, we see her crushing the head of the serpent. She was, she is and she will be a powerful warrior against the enemy, the Satan, who is the source of all evil. Let us continue to pray to her to crush all the powers of darkness that are tormenting our personal lives, families, communities and societies and the world at large. May the Mother of the Church cover the Church, which is the Mystical body of her Son, within her mantle.
She loved the Lord with her whole heart, mind, soul and strength and was keen to give honour, pleasure and joy to her Beloved Son at every moment of her life. As we love and venerate our Blessed Virgin and seek her intercession, let us not forget to imitate her. Let us love the Lord with all our heart, also hate all evil that grieves the heart of God (cfr.Gen. 6.6; Eph. 4.30) and strive to live for the glory of God doing all that is good. She is most Immaculate, Virgin the most pure. Let us honour our Lady, not only with our external celebration, but also more importantly, with the purity of our hearts and live as her true children.
“The splendour of an entirely unique holiness by which Mary is enriched from the first instant of her conception comes wholly from Christ: she is redeemed, in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son. The Father blessed Mary more than any other created person, ‘in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places’, and chose her ‘in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless before him in love’.” (CCC. 492).
Let us remember that we, Catholics, are the only ones who can make this basic truth known to the world. She is the Virgin Mother of the Saviour of the whole world and as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “To become the mother of the Saviour, Mary was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role. The angel Gabriel at the moment of the annunciation salutes her as “full of grace”. In fact, in order for Mary to be able to give the free assent of her faith to the announcement of her vocation, it was necessary that she be wholly borne by God’s grace” (490). In this year of grace may we become more committed to our devotion to the Most Immaculate heart of Mary and renew each day our consecration to this most assured source of grace. In a time when she is most abandoned, ridiculed and blasphemed, let us not lose hope, but rather intensify our intercession to her (obeying what she said: “Do whatever He tells you”- Jn. 2.5), looking into her radiant and compassionate eyes, and believing in her message at Fatima: “Finally, my Immaculate Heart will triumph”.
O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.
The unfailing protector
This beautiful painting on the wall of the Parish house in Batizovce (Slovakia), where we gave retreat touched me a lot. Yes, it reminds everyone of the incident in the Gospels where Jesus walks on the water when the disciples were sailing on a boat which was battered by the waves (Mt. 14. 22-27). But it gives also a deeper insight into a great reality of our lives.
The Lord said through the prophet Isaiah: “Thus says the Lord, he who created you, he who formed you: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and the waters they will not overwhelm you: when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy one of Israel, your Saviour” (43.1-3).
In the struggles of life, we feel helpless and from the depth of our helplessness and misery, if we cry out to the Lord we shall experience that the Lord is close by. He is our protector, and He will answer our call. When no human being can help us, He can. It is the time when all our human self- sufficiency and spirit of independence (that I can do everything without God) disappears. When we humble ourselves and bend down on our knees before the Lord, we find the Lord is very near. “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you” (Jas. 4.8). His all knowing eye sees us in that misery, for His eyes are all pervading as “His eyes are ten thousand times brighter than the sun” (Sir. 23. 19); He will enlighten us and “counsel us with His eye upon us” (Ps. 32.8). As when the child cries out the mother comes to help the child and does the needful, so too in our helplessness when we cry out, the Lord comes to our help. He who created the seas, can walk over the waters and come to me when I am drowning. According to the worldly vision the storm is beyond our control but for ‘God nothing is impossible’ (Lk. 1. 37). His outstretched arms are ever ready to pick us up from the tragedy. We only need to humble ourselves and kneel before him with our hands lifted up, and even with tears in our eyes, with deep trust in our hearts and expectant faith cry out to the Lord and we see the Lord close to us and doing the needful for us. The heartfelt cry coming out from a righteous person, makes God do the seemingly impossible things for us.
The loving Lord assures His Presence with us and comforts us with His promises of protection. “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (Deut. 31.8). But in spite of all these assurances of a loving, living and Almighty God, many people try to seek protection through superstitious beliefs. For example, some people tie a red band around the wrist of a baby or tie it on the cradle, or on the trolley carrying the baby in order to get protection (from the evil one).The superstitious beliefs and practices vary from place to place. For some, Friday is not a good day; no 13 is good etc. St. Paul says: “You are observing special days, and months, and seasons, and years. I am afraid that my work for you may have been wasted” (Gal.4.10, 11). He also reminds us: “while we were minors, we were enslaved to the elemental spirits of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent His Son, born of a woman (Gal. 4.3, 4). ‘God overlooks the ignorance of people’ (Acts 17.30), when they did not yet come to faith. But the Lord came to reveal the ‘face of God’ (Col. 1.15), and to tell us of His loving protection, care and concern for all of us. Do we put our trust in that God for our protection or on a ‘red ribbon’, or any sort of such superstitious beliefs?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “Superstition is the deviation of religious feeling and of the practices this feeling imposes. It can even affect the worship we offer to the true God.” (para 2111)
Let us grow in faith in our Lord and hold stable to Him in all the fearful situations and in the uncertainties of our lives. He said: “I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Josh.1.9). May the Holy Spirit of God enlighten our mind to discern the tactics of the evil one who is trying to take away our faith in God and make us believe in superstitious practices.
The dignity of my body
As we are in the Easter Season, let us take to heart what the Holy Spirit tells us through St.Paul: “Just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6.4).
“God created humankind in his image; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1.27). “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made”, says the Psalmist. We are a wonder in this world: first of all, our existence, as a human being, as male or female; it is not my choice, but God’s choice; He thought of me even before the foundation of the world, in the fullness of time He has created me for a specific mission.
God created us with spirit, mind and body. The plan of God is His Spirit controls our spirit; our spirit controls our mind and our mind controls our body. The spirit should be filled with God’s wisdom to control the mind and the body according to God’s plan. The body has to submit to God’s plan and cooperate with it.
Whereas, the secular society rejects God, the revelation, Jesus as our Saviour; it also rejects soul, sin and eternal life. It considers us only as body and mind. Hence there is no room for morality, and relationship with God. In Christianity obeying God’s word is most important. But today’s culture says: ‘Do as you like’. Families are destroyed because each one wants to do his will. The wrong notion that my life is determined by my feelings and I am not accountable to anybody is prevailing in the minds as a result of modernism and secularism. This is described as freedom. This attitude destroys our personality and the society, leading to immorality and anarchy.
According to the Christian view, God has given us different parts of our body for particular functions here, for an eternal purpose hereafter. My eyes are given to see the wonders of creation and to thank God for it; and finally to see the face of God ( 1 Jn.3.2-3; Job 19 26-27).My ears are to hear the noise of the nature and the voice of human beings, and finally hear the voice of the living God; the tongue is given to speak the truth and show God’s love to others and finally to sing the praises of the living God with angels and saints in heaven; the hands are given to give the love of God to others and to help others and to cooperate with God in his creative work; with our legs we are to walk to places that will lead us to holiness. We are to use the faculties of our mind, such as memory, imagination, fantasy, intellect and will, to grow in the right knowledge and to help us to grow in faith. With our sex organs, we share in God’s creative power in order to use it only within the sacramental marriage primarily to bring forth new generation of children in love. When we cooperate with God in this way using the parts of our body as intended by God, we share in the maturity of God.
The Holy Spirit says through St. Paul: “The women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing” (1 Tim. 2.9). God in His wisdom and foresight knew how modernism and secularism will thwart the dignity and purity of sex.
Though a human being has a spirit, he/she lives with his/her body as an animal. Like a female animal has an udder through which the blood of the mother is changed into milk for the need of its kid, similarly by a female human being, the breast of a woman gives milk to a child. The bodies of married couples belong solely to each other and no one else has the right to misuse their bodies before or after marriage. Archangel Raphael says to Tobias: “Sarah was set apart for you before the foundation of the world” (Tobit.6.18). God has destined a ‘suitable partner’ (Gen.2.18) for each one who is getting married. So it is ‘unsuitable’ for anybody else and injustice to oneself and to the partner that somebody else misuses the other for one’s own pleasure.
Therefore God says: “It is not good for a man to touch a woman” (1 Cor.7.1b) that is, outside the marriage. We need to love and respect everyone, for each person represents the image of God. We are responsible for bringing the other person back to God. Therefore we have no right to misuse another person, whether married or unmarried. To use the different parts of the body and mind according to God’s plan is “to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – that is your spiritual worship” (Rom.12.1) Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life: and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness (Rom.6.12-13).
Biblical significance of 40 days of Lent
God saw the increasing wickedness of the humankind (Gen. 6.5). People did not listen to Noah who was ‘a righteous man, blameless in his generation and who walked with God’ (9). The just God, who intended to eliminate the wicked and purify the earth, allowed forty days of flood on the earth (17).
The Law was given to Moses at Mount Sinai after his prayer and fasting for forty days and forty nights. (Ex.24.18).
The Israelites took forty years to travel from Egypt to Canaan, the promised land. During this journey they experienced God’s caring love, protection and deliverance from enemies.
King David’s rule of forty years was significant because it helped the Israelites to be united and to form a kingdom.
Prophet Elija journeyed forty days to reach Mount Horeb where he had a deep encounter with God. (1 Kgs.19)
Prophet Jonah asked people of Nineveh to pray, fast and do penance for forty days to repent and do reparation for their sins. (Jon.3.4-10)
After his Baptism at river Jordan, Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit and went to the desert where He fasted and prayed for forty days (Mt.4.1,2)
King David, after committing sin, truly repented his sins, did fasting and reparation for his sins (2 Sam.12. 13-17). In his Psalm of repentance, he proclaimed the goodness and mercy of the Lord. “A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps. 51.17). “Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3.23), and since He “desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim.2.4).
The loving God is giving us a time to repair our past misdeeds through our acts of penance, prayer and almsgiving. May the Holy Spirit of God transforms our lives through the grace of this Season and help us to bring about a revival in our relationship to God and to our fellow beings.
The communion of saints encompasses the three states of the Church: Those who are living here on this earth are the Militant (Pilgrim) Church; those who died and were purified in purgatory are the Suffering Church and those who reached heaven in glory are the Triumphant (Victorious) Church.
From the beginning the Church honoured the memory of the dead and offered prayers on behalf of them. In the Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist we remember them every day. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.” (1030).
In CCC, its Parag. 1031 we read: “The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The Church formulated its doctrine of faith especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The Tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of the Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire:
As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offences can be forgiven in this age but certain others in the age to come.”
In the second book of Maccabees we read an incident. When some of the Israelite soldiers were killed in the battle, Judas and his men went to bury their bodies and when they examined the bodies they found that they had the amulets belonging to the goddess Jamnia, which the Israelites were forbidden to wear. This made the believing Israelites understand that this was the reason for their death. “They turned to supplication, praying that the sin that had been committed might be wholly blotted out….He also took up a collection to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin-offering. In doing this he acted very well and honourably, taking into account the resurrection. For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, so that they might be delivered from their sin” (12, 39-45). All sacrifices in the Old Testament had a significance in view of the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross. So the Church continues to offer the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross through the Eucharistic sacrifice in atonement for the sins of the dead.
So why should we pray for the souls of the dear departed souls? It is clear from the incident mentioned in the Scripture that “the sin that had been committed might be wholly blotted out”. We have received life and love from our parents and enjoy many facilities due to our parents and forefathers. And it is our moral duty and responsibility to help them through our prayers in their helplessness and it is an expression of our love and gratitude to them.
St. John Chrysostom, one of the Fathers of the Church exhorts: “Let us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.”
“God made us for incorruption, and made us in the image of his own eternity” (Wis. 2.23). He ‘desires everyone to be saved’ (1 Tim. 2.4) and to enjoy eternity with Him. Since God who has created us and ‘called us is holy, we have to be holy in all our conduct’ (1 Pet. 1.15). ‘Without that holiness, no one will see the Lord’ (Heb.2.14) and “nothing unclean will enter the kingdom of God” (Rev. 21.27). So God, in His mercy has deigned that we who die without being fully freed from the effects of sin, are purified in the ‘fire of purgatory’. “Every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth or after death in the state called Purgatory” (Catechism 1472).
Some souls, after being released from purgatory, have appeared to them who prayed for the souls and had thanked them. 1 Cor. 3, 11-15 refers to the purifying fire. “…..the builder will be saved, but only through fire”.
May the souls of the faithful departed, rest in peace through the mercy of God .
Let us pray: Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord; Let perpetual light shine upon them and may they rest in peace, Amen.
The Chair of Peter
The Chair of Saint Peter is a relic conserved in St. Peter’s Basilica, enclosed in a giltbronze casing that was designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and executed between 1647-53. The chair of a bishop is a cathedra (Latin word for chair). The cathedra in St.Peter’s Basilica was once used by the Popes. It was therefore often thought to have been used by the first Pope, Saint Peter himself (his pontificate ran from 33-64AD), but was in fact a gift from Charles the Bald to the Pope in 875. (Source : Wikipedia)
“Simon Peter said: ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God. (Jesus told him): ‘You are Peter, on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it” (Mt. 16. 16, 18) Every year, on 22nd February the Church celebrates the Feast of the Chair of Peter to commemorate St.Peter’s teaching in Rome, and to ‘celebrate’ that teaching being continued down the centuries by the continuous successors of St.Peter and by the college of the Apostles united with him.
Simon was called by Jesus ‘Peter’ – in Greek, Petra means rock- because Jesus realised that his faith was strong like rock. And Jesus built his church on the
St. Peter the first Pope – P.P.Rubens (Bible-Library)
rock of St. Peter’s confession of faith. Jesus did not choose a person high in rank in the society, nor an intelligent and learned person to be the head of his church, ‘the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ himself as the corner stone” (Eph. 2.20). “It was in accordance with the eternal purpose of God that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph. 3. 11,10). In the words of St. Paul: “the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Tim.3.15). By giving the keys of the kingdom to Peter, Jesus was giving the headship of his church and the teaching authority to Peter. “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Mt. 16. 19). He also told the Apostles : “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me’ (Lk. 10.16). The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “The Lord made Simon alone, whom he named Peter, the “rock” of his Church. He gave him the keys of his Church and instituted him to be a shepherd of the whole flock. The office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of apostles united to its head. This pastoral office of Peter and the other apostles belongs to the Church’s very foundation and is continued by the bishops under the primacy of the Pope.” (para 881).
Peter had his own weaknesses and limitations. At the ‘miraculous catch of the fish’ narrated by St.Luke, we can see the humility and utter submission to Jesus, when he, though an efficient fisherman who had worked with his companions all night long to catch fish, but caught nothing, was prepared to obey Jesus as He asked him to cast the net again. Seeing the outcome of his obedience, ‘(they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break), he humbled himself to acknowledge that he was a sinful person (5.1-11). Peter who has said: “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death” (Lk. 22. 33), denied Jesus three times. With all his failings, Jesus appointed him the shepherd to tend and feed his flock (cfr. Jn. 22. 15-17)
When we visit Vatican we get guide books. In the ‘Guide to St.Peter’s Basilica’ we read: “The gospel does not change because the Holy Spirit, portrayed as a dove flies along the span of centuries (painted in the Basilica), assisting and accompanying the Church. The Chair of Peter symbolises the perpetual continuity of the doctrine and its promise of infallibility. It triumphed over all heresies throughout the centuries”.
Addressing the Audience on the Feast of Chair of Peter in the year 2006 (22.02.2006), which was the first after his Installation, Pope Benedict said: “I invite you to pray in a particular way for the ministry God has entrusted to me. Invoke the Holy Spirit so that He would always sustain with His light and strengthen my daily service to the whole Church. For this, as for your devoted attention, I thank you from my heart” (Zenith.org)
At this juncture of our beloved Pope Benedict XVI renouncing his Papal throne, isn’t it so moving to recall all that he has said and done during his Papacy? Jesus said to Peter: “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and you in your turn must strengthen your brothers” (Lk. 22.32). We cannot but thank God for making our Pope a man of faith, of straight thinking; a man having deep love for Christ and His Church. By announcing the Year of Faith, he was carrying out what the Lord demanded of him: “you in your turn must strengthen the faith of your brothers”. It is in order to strengthen our weakening faith that the Holy Spirit inspired Pope Benedict XVI to proclaim the Year of Faith (Oct. 11, 2012- Nov. 24,2013). In our total loyalty to the Papacy, let us devote ourselves to turn to the Lord with our whole heart, embrace the teachings of the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, strengthen our personal faith and proclaim the message of the Divine Word with deep joy and conviction.
In this troubled times of the Church, God is with us, with the Papacy and the Church as it was the case in all the previous centuries.
Awaken our faith, O Lord
When God created the humankind, He said: “Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth” (Gen. 1.27) When we are united with God our Creator, the animals become subjected to us. The historical incidents of St. Francis Assissi’s preaching to the birds, befriending the fox and conversation with the rabbits and the fish were clear proofs, how humankind, the crown of God’s creation could have peaceful co-existence with the animals.
When the Apostles told the Lord: “Increase our faith”, He said: “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree: “Be uprooted and planted in the sea, and it would obey you” (Lk. 17.6). Every Christian receives faith through Baptism. Since the size of a mustard seed is very small, we can presume that we do have a faith of a size of a mustard seed ! But our problem is that we do not often live this faith. With a living faith in our God and in His Word, we can ask the mulberry tree or mountain to be uprooted and the nature will obey us, because God gave us dominion over them.
St.Francis´Sermon to the birds – GIOTTO (WGoA)
Let us also understand that the Lord often speaks symbolically. ‘The mulberry tree’ or ‘the mountain’ can be the ‘the plants (in us) not planted by the heavenly Father, which need to be uprooted’ (Mt.15.13). It is not enough that we have ‘a faith of the size of a mustard seed’ (through Baptism), we need to activate it, use it and renounce and get rid of all the negative convictions and feelings that often make us inactive and lukewarm Christians. It is a pity that we often have a ‘dormant faith’. St. Paul says: “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Eph. 5.14). Unless we have a living faith, how can Christ shine on us? The Holy Spirit of God reminds us through St. John: “This is the victory that conquers the world, our faith” (I Jn. 5.4). But when our faith is just nominal and superficial we cannot experience this victory.
Our God Immanuel is with us always to enlighten us, to strengthen us, to guide us, to comfort us. He talks to us through His Word; for every situation that we face in life, there is a Word which helps to sustain us, a Word to live by. When we are afraid, the Lord says: “Fear not, I am with you”. “Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Josh.1.9). Along with the Psalmist, we can have the Triumphant Song of Confidence in our heart: “The Lord is my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Ps. 27.1) When we are anxious, the Lord says: “Let not your heart be troubled; Trust in me, trust in my Father” (Jn. 14.1); “Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you” (1 Pet.5.7) When we lose confidence, there is a reassuring Word: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil.4.13). Those who struggle to meet both ends can have the conviction: “My God will fully satisfy every need of mine according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4.19).Those who have experienced rejection, even from their parents, are comforted by the Word: “If my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up” (Ps. 27.10); “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or have no compassion for the child in her womb? Even when these may forget, yet I will not forget you” (Is. 49.15). When we lose patience and become downcast, the Word lifts us up: “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord” (Ps.27.14); “Those who wait for me shall not be put to shame” (Is.49. 23). When our faith and confidence in the Lord is shaken, the truth of the Word helps us to regain our trust: “Consider the generations long past and understand; has anyone trusted in the Lord and been disappointed? Or has anyone called upon Him and been neglected?” (Sir. 2. 10). When we are at the cross-roads of life, the Lord reassures us: “I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you” (Ps. 32.8); “When you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it” (Is. 30.21). The Lord tells those who are gripped by a guilt complex : “I have come to call not the righteous but the sinners to repent” (Lk. 5.32). “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their evil ways and live; turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die?” (Ezk. 33.11); “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Is. 1.18). To those who have no self-esteem, the Lord tells: “You are precious in my sight, and honoured and I love you” (Is. 43.4). Those who get panic by the bleak, uncertain future can be reassured by His word: “Surely I know the plans I have for you, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” (Jer. 29.11). In our battle against the powers of darkness, we need not lose courage for “the one within us is greater than the one in the world” (1. Jn. 4.4); “Submit yourself to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (Jas. 4.7). When we are weighed down by varied sufferings, the Lord assures us : “For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with great compassion I will gather you” (Is. 54.7); “God is faithful, and He will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing He will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it” (1 cor. 10. 13);
Is there any uncertainty in life where we find no answer from the Lord, any problem for which there is no solution from the Lord? Absolutely no. The Lord gives promises in His Word for His children, in order to believe in it, and to act on it. Let us put our trust in the living and abiding Word of God and claim it according to each situation. Then our lives will be like the house built on a rock which cannot be shaken by the floods (cfr. Mt.7, 24-27). Our God is not giving us empty promises, for He is a faithful God. “God is not a human being that he should lie, or a mortal, that he should change his mind. Has He promised, and will he not do it? Has He spoken, and will he not fulfil it? (Numb. 23.19). Blessed are we if we build our lives on the rock of this Word.
Especially in this Year of Faith, let us ‘eat more and more from this Word, which is sweeter than honey’ (cfr. Ps.119. 103; Ezk. 3.3). The Psalmist and prophet Ezekiel experienced the sweetness of the Word of God because they believed in it and acted upon it. Let us pray to the Holy Spirit that we too may have faith-filled expressions in our words, attitudes, convictions and deeds.
‘I believe in the communion of saints’
We are at the end of the month of November, when the Church has been in a special way remembering and praying for the dear departed souls. The faithful have been very keen in offering the Sacrifice of Holy Mass for their dear deceased ones, visiting their grave, offering flowers, lighting candles and doing special prayers and penances on behalf of the dead. As we pray in the ‘Creed’-‘I believe in the communion of saints’, the faithful in this pilgrim/ militant church, the souls in purgatory and the Saints in heaven are interrelated. “The communion of saints is the spiritual solidarity which binds together the faithful on earth, the souls in purgatory, and the saints in heaven in the organic unity of the same mystical body under Christ its head, and in a constant interchange of supernatural offices. The participants in that solidarity are called saints by reason of their destination and of their partaking of the fruits of the Redemption. The damned are thus excluded from the communion of saints.” (Catholic Encyclopaedia)
Praying for the souls in purgatory has been a very devout practice even in the very early Tradition of the Church. It is not a new invention of the Catholic Church but this practice has its Biblical roots. In the second book of Maccabees, chapter 12 we read an incident of Judas instructing his soldiers to “keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened because of the sin of those who had fallen (wearing amulets sacred to the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear). He then took up a collection among all his soldiers, amounting to two thousand silver drachmas, which he sent to Jerusalem to provide for an expiatory sacrifice. In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection of the dead in view; for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been useless and foolish to pray for them in death, but if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed form this sin.” (38-46- The New American Bible)
Jesus said: “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (Jn. 11. 25, 26). God created human beings, not to die, but to enjoy life for all eternity with Him. At the time of death, our physical body dies, stops functioning; but our soul is alive. Those who die in perfect communion with the Lord through their faithfulness to Him will receive at the time of their death, ‘the crown of righteousness’ because they have ‘run the race and have kept the faith’. (2 Tim. 4.6, 7) But most of us do not die in this state of grace of perfect friendship with the Lord. Since nothing unclean shall enter the kingdom of ‘the holy of holies’(cfr. Rev. 21.27), the merciful Lord has ‘invented’ a way for us to be purified before our entry into our heavenly abode. The place where this purification takes place is called by the Fathers of the Church ‘purgatory’- ‘the place where those who have died in a state of grace undergo limited torment to expiate their sins’.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The Church gives the name Purgatory to the state of final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent” (1031). The Church teaches that the Souls in Purgatory cannot pray for themselves, but they can intercede for others both living and deceased. St. Alphonsus has stated: “They are unable to pray or merit anything for themselves, yet, when they pray for others, they are heard by God”.
An Angel frees the souls of Purgatory – L. Carracci (WGoA)
Besides the fact that it is our moral obligation that we help these souls to enjoy divine bliss at the earliest, it is also for our own advantage, that when we pray for the deceased, they in turn would intercede for us. Saint John Vianney, the Cure d’Ars, wrote:”If one knew what we may obtain from God by the intercession of the Poor Souls, they would not be so much abandoned. Let us pray a great deal for them; they will pray for us”.
Though this month of (November) special remembrance of the dead is closing, and we are going to start the new Liturgical Year, let us daily offer our prayers to help our beloved ones whom the Lord has called before us. Let us follow the Sacred Tradition of the Church. “Stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours” (2 Thess. 2.15). “From the beginning the Church has honoured the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all ,the Eucharistic Sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God” (CCC 1032). Helping them through our prayers, offering of the Eucharistic Sacrifice and other acts of penance is an expression of our love and gratitude for them. As St. John Chrysostom , one of the Fathers of the Church, exhorts: “Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and offer our prayers for them”.
The weapon of the Rosary
“Give me an army saying the Rosary and I will conquer the world” (Pope Bl. Pius IX)
Once Bl. Mother Theresa was at the airport. Due to some disturbance of that time, on the luggage of every passenger vigorous checking was going on. Mother Theresa was standing in the queue. When her turn came, the staff politely asked her: “Do you have any weapons?” The Mother humbly answered: “Yes, I do have”. The staff was a bit annoyed and told her: “Take it out, take it out”. Mother took her Bible and Rosary and told them: “These are my weapons”.
Yes, the God’s word, the Bible, when we live, gives us victory over sin and Satan. King David was reflecting on the reason why he fell into sin (2 Sam.11,2-17), even though God gave him a heart and mind of His own’ (Acts.13,22). The Spirit of God revealed the truth to him: “How can young people keep their way pure? By guarding it according to your word. I treasure your word in my heart, so that I may not sin against you” (Ps. 119. 9,11). When we live the Word of God, the evil one cannot touch us (cfr. 1 Jn.5,18). So while addressing the young people, St. John says: “I write to you, young people, because you are strong and the Word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one” (1.Jn. 5,18).
The prayer of Rosary too is a powerful weapon against sin and devil because in this beautiful prayer we are meditating on the various incidents in the life of Jesus and Mother Mary. In this prayer, our mind is not blank or empty, for we consciously reflect on the mysteries, the Lord’s Prayer, the words of Archangel Gabriel and that of Elizabeth. Pope Paul VI has said that the Rosary is a compendium of the Gospel. It is both a vocal and mental prayer. When our mind is empty, the enemy succeeds in putting his thoughts into it. So meditatively praying the Rosary helps us to grow in the prayer of meditation and contemplation. We begin the Rosary with the sign of the cross, reminding us that we belong to the Holy Triune God. Virgin and Child with a Rosary – B.E.Murillo (WGoA)
In the Creed, we profess our ‘one Lord, one faith, one baptism’ (Eph. 4, 5). In the Lord’s prayer we lift our hearts to pray along with the sentiments which Jesus wants us to have in our relationship with our ‘Abba, Father’ and with one another, and we pray for protection from the evil one. St. Pauls said: “Faith,
hope and love abide” (1 Cor.13,13) and we intercede with Mother Mary that we grow in these virtues every day, as we pray three Hail Mary’s in the beads.
Then comes the beautiful reflection of the mysteries in the lives of Jesus and Mother Mary (Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful and Glorious) – which is the most important part of the prayer of Rosary– followed by the prayer of the Lord and ten Hail Marys. In a song there is text / lyric and melody. Recitation of Hail Marys is like the melody and the text is the mystery in each decade. It is not repeating some mantras. If only we fully grasp the power of the prayer of ‘Hail Mary’! It was the angel Gabriel sent from heaven by the Holy Triune God, who addressed the simple girl: ‘Hail Mary, favoured one (full of grace)! The Lord is with you”. No creature has ever got (and never will) such a salutation. At her ‘fiat’ (Lk. 1,38), she was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and ‘when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb; Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit’ (Lk,42). St. Bernardine of Siena has said: “You must know that when you ‘hail’ Mary, she immediately greets you”. When I look at her (either before a picture of her or in our faith imagination) and address her : ‘Hail Mary’, I like to believe that she too responds to our greeting; and when she greets us, we too will be filled more with the Holy Spirit as it happened with Elizabeth! Filled with the Holy Spirit, we join with Elizabeth exclaiming: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb,” (LK.1,42), Jesus.
Then in the second part of this prayer, the Church leads us to prayer of intercession addressing her in the words of Elizabeth: “Holy Mary, Mother of God” (vs.43). The Church, in bringing forth her first dogma on Mother Mary as the ‘Mother of God’ (Council of Ephesus 431), duly acknowledges that Elizabeth addressed Mary as ‘Mother of God’, when she was filled with the Holy Spirit. So we confidently pray to this Mother of God for we are sinners (Rom. 3.23; 1 Jn.1.8, 10), and are in need of her motherly care and intercession every moment of our life and at the end, that we may be led to our destiny, the citizenship in heaven.
Mother Mary told to Sr. Lucy at Fatima : “Pray the Rosary everyday”. The Church devotes the month of October especially to remind Her children of this special devotion of reciting Rosary daily. It is one of our weapons against our enemy, the Satan. He has got enmity with the Mother of God (Gen.3.15, Rev.12. 1-5), because it was through her, the Saviour of the world came ‘to destroy the works of the devil’ (1.Jn.3.8b). In this age when ‘the works of the devil’ are increasing day by day, let us use this weapon as often as possible to nullify the tactics of the enemy in our personal lives, in our families, in our communities and places of work, in our Church and in the world at large.
In the statue/ photo of Immaculate Conception of Our Lady, we see her stepping on the snake, symbolising that the vanquished enemy is being stepped over by her and she is free from all the allurements of the evil one. The secret was her ‘fiat’- “I am the handmaid of the Lord; be it done unto me according to Thy Word”. When we pray the Rosary we should have this surrendering to the will of God – accepting whatever God sends in our lives without any murmur; and this is the victory of every Christian over the evil one.
In the words of Pope St. Pius X, “The Rosary is the most beautiful and the richest in graces of all the prayers; it is the prayer that touches most the Heart of the Mother of God. If you wish peace to reign in your homes, recite the family Rosary”. To add a quote from the ‘True Devotion to Mother Mary’ by St. Louis de Montfort: “Never will anyone who prays the Rosary everyday be led astray. This is a statement we would gladly sign with our own blood”.
Fr. J. Mariakumar and Mary Pereira.
The Transfiguration of Jesus
“This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him!” (Mt. 17.5)
The event of the Transfiguration of Jesus is described in all the three Synoptic Gospels. ‘It is one of the major milestones in the gospel narrative of the life of Jesus, the others being Baptism, Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension’ (Wikipedia).
Jesus took Peter, John and James and went up a high mountain. The name of the mountain is not given in the gospel narratives. In the third century Mount Tabor was identified as the site of the Transfiguration. Jesus was transfigured before the eyes of the three Apostles. The presence of Moses and Elijah represented “the Law and the Prophets” (cfr. Mt. 5,17).
As at the time of Jesus’ Baptism in the river Jordan, a voice from heaven was heard: “This is my Beloved Son; listen to him…” God the Father reveals that it is not to Moses nor Elijah, that we need to listen, but to Jesus, His well Beloved Son, who came not to abolish the law or the prophets, but to fulfill” (ibid). Moses himself, through whom the Law was given, says: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your own people; you shall heed such a prophet”. The Lord confirmed it when he said to Moses: “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from your own people. I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who will speak to them everything that I command. Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself shall hold accountable” (Deut. 18.15, 18, 19). And the Son of Man, the Word incarnate, testified: “I have not spoken on my own, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment about what to say and what to speak. I speak just as the Father has told me” (Jn. 12.49-50).
May the Feast of Transfiguration be for us a reminder to listen and obey Jesus, the expected Messiah, whom God the Father has sent. The Word became flesh and lived among us’ (Jn. 1,14) “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2,3). ‘He is the true light, which enlightens everyone’ (Jn. 1, 9).
In the Transfiguration, the 3 apostles noticed that Jesus “was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white” (Mt.17,2). Herein the Divine Glory of the Lord, hidden in his humanity, is revealed for a moment, pointing out that this Jesus is God, and that we will gaze this glory when we reach heaven to share his glory. Suddenly Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with him (17,3.) They had lived hundreds of years before in this world, but in truth they are still alive. This confirms the conviction of us that we will continue to be alive with Christ, if we live God’s word. Spontaneously Peter expressed the desire of every human heart, “Lord, it is good for us to be here” (17,4).
“While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them”. This is a sign of God’s presence, as it was for the Israelites during their journey in the desert. The Apostles, experiencing a foretaste of heaven, fell prostrate before God as the angels do in heaven. As the Apostles were in this experience, Jesus by touching them brings them out of this heavenly experience. Jesus, instead of heeding to Peter’s request, went down with them because ‘the Son of Man has to suffer first before entering into his glory. So too every disciple of Christ. The mystical or blissful experience which we get is only for preparing and strengthening us to face sufferings.
Most Sacred Heart of Jesus
“I will bless those places wherein the image of my Sacred Heart shall be exposed and venerated”
When we enter the homes of most of the Catholics, we find the picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus with this promise. This is one of the twelve promises which the Lord gave to Sr. Margaret Mary Alacoque when Jesus appeared to her as she was praying before the Blessed Sacrament. She was a French nun who had apparitions from the Lord (1647-1673) during which the Lord expressed His desire to let the whole humankind know the wonders of His love and mercy.
“The Catholic Church venerates and honours the Sacred Heart of Jesus as it honours the name of Jesus. It adores the Incarnate Word and His Heart which, out of love for men, He allowed to be pierced by our sins” (Catechism 2669). “Only the Heart of Christ who knows the depths of His Father’s love could reveal to us the abyss of His mercy in so simple and beautiful way” (Catechism 1439).
“Most Sacred Heart of Jesus is one of the famous religious devotions to Jesus’ physical heart as the representation of His divine love for humanity. The devotion especially emphasises the unmitigated love, compassion and long-suffering of the heart of Jesus Christ towards humanity.” (Wikipedia). The devotion includes the frequent reception of Holy Communion in a worthy manner, especially Communion on the First Friday of the months and the observance of the Holy Hour. Pope Leo XIII decreed that the whole human race be consecrated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus (Encyclical Letter- Annum Sacrum) and encouraged to promote the devotion of the Nine First Fridays. He established June as the Month of the Sacred Heart. Pope Pius XII has declared that the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is the “foundation on which to build the Kingdom of God in the hearts of the individuals, families and nations”.
In honouring and venerating the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, we are returning the infinite love, He had shown to us by creating us, dying for our sins, and giving himself to us in Holy communion, interceding for us on behalf of us before the Father; we are also pacifying the heart of the Love Incarnate, whom we hurt by our blasphemies, sacrileges, rejection, rebellion and unbelief. The evils committed by mankind are on the increase – abortion, divorce, homosexuality, euthanasia, injustice and cruelty, pornography etc. But God in His mercy is not abandoning us because we are His creatures. He does not have “pleasure in the death of the wicked, but He wants the wicked turn from their ways and live” (Ezek. 33. 11). He is infinitely merciful and gives us time to repent.
The Holy Spirit asks through St. Paul: “Do you despise the riches of God’s kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgement will be revealed. For he will repay according to each one’s deeds” (Rom. 2, 4-6).
In reparation for the sins of the humankind, which definitely hurts the Heart of Jesus, let us, all the more love and venerate His Sacred Heart. Since His heart is the symbol of love, by venerating His Heart, the Church celebrates Love.
Sweet Heart of Jesus, Fount of Love and Mercy,
Today we come, Thy blessings to implore
Oh touch our hearts so cold and so ungrateful
And make them Lord, Thine own for ever more.
Come, Holy Spirit I need Thee
Most of us know the popular hymn: “Come, Holy Spirit I need Thee” (‘Praise the Lord’- a song book of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in India). Why do we invoke the Holy Spirit to come every day into our lives? The more we become aware of the work of the Holy Spirit in us, the more we can yearn for Him.
- The Church teaches that “the first work of the grace of the Holy Spirit is conversion, effecting justification in accordance with Jesus’ proclamation at the beginning of the Gospel:”Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”. While teaching the disciples about the ‘work of the Holy Spirit’ Jesus said: “When the Holy Spirit comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin, righteousness and judgment.” (Jn. 16, 8-11)
- It is the Holy Spirit who helps us to realise the filial relationship with God the Father. “All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption when we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Rom. 8,14- 15); “Because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts crying, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Gal. 4,6)
- The Holy Spirit helps us to accept the Lordship of Jesus. “No one can say “Jesus is the Lord” except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor.12,3)
- The Holy Spirit helps us to pray. If we have problems of distraction or dryness in our prayer, let us seek the help of the Holy Spirit for He ‘is the artisan of God’s works, is the master of prayer’ (CCC. 741). St. Paul writes: “The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words” (Rom. 8, 26).
- The Holy Spirit helps us to understand the Word of God, for He is ‘the principal author of the Sacred Scripture’ (CCC. 304; 1 Cor. 2. 11-15).
- It is the Holy Spirit who helps us to overcome sin. “If you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8,13). “Live by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal. 5,16).
- The Holy Spirit helps us to overcome fear. Peter, who denied Jesus three times out of fear, became bold enough to proclaim Jesus publicly even before the leaders – the Jewish authorities like the High priest, Scribes and the Pharisees- after receiving the Holy Spirit on Pentecost day. In the midst of persecution and challenges of faith, we need to be empowered by the Holy Spirit, and remind ourselves that ‘we did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear’ (Rom. 8,15); ‘for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline’ (2 Tim. 1,7).
- The Holy Spirit helps us to remember the Word of God and to treasure it in our heart, for He is the ‘Church’s living memory’ (CCC 1099). Jesus said: “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you” (Jn. 14,26).
- When we are confused with the false teachings – the lies and the half truths – we need to resort to the Holy Spirit, for Jesus has promised: “When the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (Jn. 16,13). He comes as ‘the wisdom to children, as new sight for the blind’.
- It is the Holy Spirit who fills us with Father’s love. When we are wounded by the rejection and lack of love from our earthly parents, the Holy Spirit works ‘as a balm for the sore’, filling our hearts with the love of God the Father (cfr. Rom. 5,5).
- It is the Holy Spirit who helps us to witness for Christ. As Jesus has promised: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts. 1,8)
- The Holy Spirit strengthens us to forgive our persecutors and to accept sufferings. (cfr. Acts. 7.55, 59, 60). Without the help of the Holy Spirit it is impossible to live the teachings of Christ. That is why Jesus told the disciples to ‘stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high’ (LK. 24,49). It is the Holy Spirit who will ‘make us follow the statutes of God and be careful to observe His ordinances’ (Ezk. 36,27).
- The Holy Spirit is given to us as our Counsellor, Advocate. When we yield our lives to the working of the Holy Spirit, He ‘will instruct us and teach us the way we should go; He will counsel us with His eye upon us’ (Ps. 32.8; Is.30.21)
- We need the Holy Spirit to lead a holy life, for ‘The Holy Spirit is the source and giver of all holiness, and it is he who has endowed the Church with holiness’ (CCC 749). “All holiness comes from You Holy Father, through your Son Jesus Christ by the working of the Holy Spirit” (Liturgical Canon III).
- The Holy Spirit empowers us in our battle against the powers of darkness. As it is said, a person living the Word of God and filled with the Holy Spirit is ‘like a burning charcoal for the powers of darkness’, “for the one who is in you is mightier than the one who is in the world” (Jn. 4.4). So we need to ‘rekindle this gift of God’ (cfr. 2 Tim. 1.6) everyday in our lives because “like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet.5.8)
- The Holy Spirit gives gifts to grow in personal holiness. (Is. 11.2). These gifts “complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them. They make the faithful docile in readily obeying divine inspirations” (CCC. 1831).
- The Holy Spirit fills our lives with His fruits (Gal. 5. 22, 23) to witness to Christ.
- The Holy Spirit gives Charismatic gifts in order to build the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12.4-11).
- As Jesus was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit, so also the believer will rise from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit.(Rom 8.11)
It is clear that we can lead a successful Christian life only when we lead a ‘life in the Spirit’.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Father, send now Your Spirit over the earth. Let the Holy Spirit live in the hearts of all nations, that they may be preserved from degeneration, disaster and war. Holy Spirit of God, we thank you for your indwelling presence in us (1 Cor 3.16). Help us to have living fellowship with you (2 Cor. 13.13), so that we may not grieve you (Eph 4.30) or quench your Divine Flame within us (1 Thess 5.19) through our sinful attitudes, words or actions. Mother Mary, ‘most favoured one’ (Lk. 1.28) of the Holy Trinity, pray for us that we, your children, may be filled and led by the Holy Spirit in our daily walk with the Lord. Amen
Be the Light of the Wisdom in the ocean of the darkness
The above caption on the wall of a church captured my attention recently . Yes, there is so much of darkness in the lives of people – in our personal life, in our family relationships, in the places of work, in the communities, in the society where we live – the darkness of ignorance, doubt, confusion, anger and sins of varied types. We are truly living in one ‘ocean of darkness’. I pondered a little about the wording : ‘the Light of the Wisdom’. Is it the worldly wisdom? Or human wisdom? Neither, nor ! “For even when one who is perfect among human beings will be regarded as nothing without the wisdom that comes from God” (Sir. 9.6). So I reframed the writing in my mind: “Be the Light of His Wisdom in the ocean of the darkness”.
Jesus has said: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (Jn 8.12). So with the coming of Jesus in the heart and life of a person, “the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining” (1 Jn.2.8). Since the whole humanity has not yet come to know and live in Jesus, there is naturally darkness around. “Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light; whoever hates another is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go because the darkness has brought on blindness” (1 Jn. 2.10,11). Let us have the Wisdom of God to realise that we all are His children, created in His Image and Likeness (selfless love, truth, generosity, humility, purity and the like); we are created for a fixed number of days’ here (cfr. Sirach 17.2; Ps. 139.16) and for eternal life to be with Him hereafter; ‘we are created to do good works’ (Eph.2.10). As Jesus has pointed out: “Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God”? (Mk.12.24). God who created mankind and gave them ‘Laws of life’ laments: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hos.4.6). When there is no place for God in our lives, and when we are lacking in His Wisdom, we become ‘loveless and faithless generation’ and we grope in darkness, knowing not where we go. Let us realise our twofold mission: we have to pattern our thoughts, beliefs, convictions and lifestyle according to the Wisdom of God; and through such lives we in turn should become ‘the Light of His Wisdom in the ocean of darkness’.
When we read the newspapers, hear the news on the TV, we at times wonder how blind, people have become. People become so cruel and not able to see in another human person, the God-given life. They have no prick of conscience to do all sorts of atrocities. St. Paul told about such a situation in his second letter to Timothy: “You must understand this, that in the last days distressing times will come. For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, brute haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3. 1-5).
In such a milieu, what is my mission as a Christian? Should I behave as those around me? A very small example to point out: I have a friend who often goes to the office little later than his scheduled time. Whenever I ask him about it, this is his reply: “Nobody comes on time. All my colleagues, including my Director come much later than I”. Should this be our way of thinking? This is the worldly wisdom. Jesus has commanded us to be ‘the light of the world’. (Mt.5.14). Fully convinced of this mission, St. Paul says: “Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world”(Phil. 2.14,15). Let us not spread the ‘sting of the evildoing of others, but let us spread the fragrance of God that comes from knowing Jesus Christ. “For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” (2 Cor. 2.15).
“All wisdom is from the Lord” (Sirach. 1.1); “in Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col.2.3). In His Wisdom, God created humankind and He also deigned to share His Wisdom with him. With the God-given talents, skill, knowledge and understanding we can attain much progress in life – in science, technology and many other fields, but let us be humble to acknowledge the truth that we do not have anything that we did not receive from God. And if we have received it, we have no right to boast about it (cfr. 1 Cor 4.7) neither can we use our skills and knowledge against God and His Wisdom. So called ‘progressive people’ may bring forth their views on many things and may even make it as a directive or law for the people. For example, legalising of gay- marriage and abortion and the like). Can anyone be wiser than God? Let every Christian have the boldness to say with Peter, John and other apostles: “Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God? We must obey God rather than any human authority” (Acts 4.19; 5.29).
St. Joseph, the worker
Work is an essential part of our life. God created Adam and “put him in the garden to till it and keep it” (Gen. 2,15). God, in His Infinite Plan, willed that we share in His creative work. The tendency to be lazy is not to be appreciated as it is evil to ‘while away’ our time without doing any work and leading a life of dependence on others. St. Paul gives warning against idleness to the church in Thessalonica: “We command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did no eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labour we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. I exhort them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work diligently and to earn their own living” (2 Thess.3.6-12).
The Virgin Mary, the child Jesus and St. Joseph constitute the Holy Family of Nazareth. Apart from the birth narratives of Jesus, nothing much is mentioned about St. Joseph, the husband of Mary and the foster father of Jesus. We see in St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus being identified out as ‘the carpenter’s son’ (13.55). It was Pope Pius XII (in 1955) who established the Feast of “St. Joseph the worker” to be celebrated on May 1st because the Church recognised St. Joseph as the ‘model of workers’. “Catholic and other Christian teachings and stories about or relating to Joseph and the Holy Family frequently stress his patience, persistence and hard work as admirable qualities which believers should adopt” (Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia).
Through the first reading of the Liturgy of the Holy Mass on the Feast of St. Joseph the worker, the Church reminds us of our attitude towards work. “Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters, since you know that from the Lord you will receive the reward” (Col.3.23, 24). All of us engage ourselves in doing works of varied types. Whether it is in the kitchen, in the field, in the hospitals, in the offices….let us realise the dignity of our work, which St. Joseph had. He was ‘contemplative’, fully dedicating himself to the humble work of livelihood. He knew that the ‘God-man’ was at home, and his focus was on Him and in total reverence to the Holy Child Jesus and in selfless love for the Virgin Mary he was toiling day and night for their well being. Pope Pius XII emphasised this when he said, “The spirit flows to all men from the heart of the God-man, the Saviour of the world, but certainly, no worker was ever more completely and profoundly penetrated by it than the foster father of Jesus, who lived with Him in closest intimacy and community of family life and work. Thus, if you wish to be close to Christ, we again today repeat, ‘Go to Joseph’ (cfr.Gen.41.44) (Wikipedia).
Though poor in worldly possessions, St. Joseph was rich in the grace of the Lord. Pope John Paul II, in his Angelus Message on March 17, 2002 said: “The extreme discretion with which Joseph carried out the role entrusted to him by God highlights his faith, which consisted in always listening to the Lord, seeking to understand His will and obey it with his whole heart and strength. That is why the Gospel describes him as a “just man” (Mt 1.19). In fact, a just man is a person who prays, lives by faith, and seeks to do good in every concrete circumstance of life”.
Imitating St. Joseph, we too can make work a worship, to the extent we are in communion with the Lord and do everything for His glory. Then we can “eat the fruit of the labour of our hands; we shall be happy, and it shall go well with us” (cfr. Ps. 128.2)
The devotion to St. Joseph the worker is strong in the tradition, especially when people face difficulties in work situations. There is a story of the mysterious “itinerant carpenter” who volunteered to build an architecturally unique spiral staircase in a convent chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which is as sound today as when it was first built, and has never needed repair.
The Last Supper
Institution of the Holy Eucharist and Ministerial Priesthood
The Thursday of the Holy Week, the first day of the ‘Sacred Triduum’ is named as Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday. The Church reminds us of the very significant events which took place at the Last Supper where Jesus shared His last meal with His Apostles. That day was the celebration of the Passover, a great feast which the Israelites celebrated every year in grateful remembrance of the liberation of God’s people from the slavery of Pharaoh in Egypt, the reference of which comes in the book of Exodus (12-14) and also in other places in the Scripture. The old Passover found its ultimate fulfilment in the death and Resurrection of Jesus.
As commanded by the Lord, Moses instructed the people of Israel how to celebrate the Passover. “Select lambs for your families (unblemished lamb-Ex. 12.5) and slaughter the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood in the basin. None of you shall go outside the door of your house until morning. For the Lord will pass through to strike down the Egyptians (who enslaved the Israelites) ; when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over that door and will not allow the destroyer to enter the houses to strike you down. You shall observe this rite as a perpetual ordinance for you and your children” (Ex. 12.21-24).
Obeying the three instructions given (1. Select an unblemished lamb; 2. Slaughter and sprinkle the doorposts with blood; 3. Do not go out in that night) were the prerequisites for not being struck down by the destroyer. When we too obey the directives of the Lord given to us in His Word, avoid what is forbidden to us and when we are sprinkled by the Precious blood of Jesus, the enemy – the destroyer has no entry into our lives, cannot execute his power over our lives. Our first Pope said : “We have been chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with his blood” (I Pet.1.2).
In the OT Passover feast, the unblemished lamb was sacrificed as atonement for the sins of the people, and in the NT, Jesus who took the place of the Passover lamb, was ready to break Himself and shed His blood in atonement for our sins. (cfr.Lk.22.20). In His Last Passover meal with His Apostles, Jesus Himself was the Celebrant and the Victim. As pointed out by John the Baptist, He is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1.29)
On Holy Thursday the Church celebrates two great events – the institution of the Holy Eucharist and the institution of the Ministerial Priesthood. And it is to be noted that Jesus took only His Apostles for this most significant celebration of His ‘farewell meal’ where He instituted these two Sacraments. The Apostles were the first Priests of the New Covenant, the memorial of which is re-enacted on the Altar of God in every celebration of the Holy Mass by the ordained Priests under the instruction and authority given by Jesus to the Apostles. (“Do this in remembrance of me” Lk. 22. 19).
On Holy Thursday morning, there is a celebration of “Chrism Mass” which is being celebrated by the bishop as the main celebrant and concelebrated by as many priests as possible in every diocese. It is a special observance of Christ’s institution of the Priesthood. At this Mass the bishop blesses the oil of Chrism used for the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. The “Chrism Mass” manifests the communion of the priests with their bishop. After the homily, the bishop invites the priests to renew publicly their priestly promises in a rite which follows thus:
Bishop: My brothers, today we celebrate the memory of the first Eucharist, at which our Lord Jesus Christ shared with his apostles and with us his call to the priestly service of his Church. Now in the presence of your bishop and God’s holy people, are you ready to renew your own dedication to Christ as priests of his new covenant?
Priests (each priest for himself) : Yes, I am
Bishop: At your ordination you accepted the responsibilities of the priesthood out of love for the Lord Jesus and his Church. Are you resolved to unite yourselves more closely to Christ and to try to become more like him by joyfully sacrificing your own pleasure and ambition to bring his peace and love to your brothers and sisters?
Priests: Yes, I am
Bishop: Are you resolved to be faithful ministers of the mysteries of God, to celebrate the Eucharist and the other liturgical services with sincere devotion? Are you resolved to imitate Jesus Christ, the head and shepherd of the Church, by teaching the Christian faith without thinking of your own profit, solely for the well-being of the people you were sent to serve?
Priests: Yes, I am.
Then the Bishop addresses the people: My brothers and sisters, pray for your priests. Ask the Lord to bless them with the fullness of his love so that they will be able to lead you to him, the fountain of your salvation.
People: Lord Jesus Christ, hear us and answer our prayer.
Bishop: Pray also for me that despite my own unworthiness I may faithfully fulfil the office of the apostle which Jesus Christ has entrusted to me. Pray that I may become more like our High Priest and Good Shepherd, the teacher and servant of all, and so be a genuine sign of Christ’s loving presence among you.
People: Lord Jesus Christ, hear us and answer our prayer.
(Source – ‘The Roman Missal’ 1986. NBCLC, Bangalore).
Participating in such a solemn celebration of the “Chrism Mass” we are reminded of our duty to pray for our Priests. As St. Paul exhorts us : “First of all I urge that supplications and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour” (1. Tim 2.1-3). Let us intercede for the Priests and also pray for us that the power of the sacrifice of the Holy Eucharist cleanse the old weakness of our human nature and God may grant all of us a newness of life.
A remarkable part of the Liturgical celebration at the Last Supper is the feet washing of the 12 Apostles by the main celebrant of the Holy Mass. Jesus who came to serve, not to be served, has done the most humble act of washing the feet of the Apostles, even though He knew that Judas would betray Him, Peter would deny Him three times and the other Apostles would desert Him. His was an act of selfless service, without expecting anything in return! An act of deep humiliation, like a servant kneeling at the feet of his disciples. Let us not forget what Jesus exhorted us: “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me teacher and Lord – and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them” (Jn.13.12-17).
We all need the cleansing and healing touch of the Lord. Let us be ready, not for an outward washing, but an inward cleansing of our sins – our selfishness, pride, stubbornness, unbelief, addictions, lust and the like. Let us not resist like Peter who first said: “Lord, you will never wash my feet”. Jesus lovingly retorted to him: “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me” (Jn. 13.8). Let us not be stubborn and miss the divine grace coming into our lives through a penitent and sincere confession of our sins through which the Lord cleanses us from all our sins. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn.1.8, 9). “One who is often reproved, yet remains stubborn, will suddenly be broken beyond healing” (Prov.29.1). “No one who conceals transgressions will prosper, but one who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (Prov.28.13).
Let us also take into consideration that the Precepts of the Church teach us to confess our sins at least once a year and to receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter Season. This “guarantees as a minimum the reception of the Lord’s body and blood in connection with the Paschal feast, the origin and centre of the Christian liturgy” (cfr CCC 1389, 2041-43)
Let us pray that the Holy Spirit of God may give us the ‘true humility’ to let Jesus wash us of our sins. Let us humbly acknowledge our sins and approach the Confessional to experience a ‘share in the life of Jesus’. The forty days of Lenten journey was to help us to prepare to celebrate the Paschal Mystery with our ‘mind and heart renewed’. A valid confession effects this cleansing and renewal of our mind and heart.
At the end of the Solemn Liturgy, the Holy Eucharist- the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ present in the Consecrated Host- is taken in procession, led by a cross bearer and accompanied by candles and incense, and placed on a side altar decorated for Adoration. The Adoration continues all through the night till the beginning of the Liturgy on Good Friday. The three beloved Apostles of Jesus, Peter, John and James were asked to keep awake with Jesus during His agony in the Mount Olives. On finding them sleeping, the Lord spoke to them thus: “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mt. 26.40, 41) The Church indeed is giving us an opportunity ‘to stay awake with our Lord’, to love Him and console Him for all the ingratitude He receives from His beloved in the Church and also from people outside the Church.
At the end of the Liturgical celebration the altar and the whole Sanctuary and Tabernacle are stripped bare. The sign and the symbols being removed, we focus only on the Lord present in the Blessed Sacrament to adore Him, to respond to His love by our sacrificial love expressed in keeping awake with Him as long as possible. I still cherish the memories, right from our early childhood, how we were encouraged to spend late night in Eucharistic Adoration on this blessed day. As I grew in age, I really started relishing those moments. Maundy Thursday has been the most Solemn and enriching day for me just because of this long hours of ‘remaining with the Lord’ before the decorated Altar, all decked in pure white garments and flowers suitable for the occasion. Spending more time reading and reflecting on the Passion narrative helps us to have a deeper intimacy with our Saviour and Lord.
The King Of Glory Comes
Christ´s entry into Jerusalem – Hyppolyte
For the past six weeks we have been preparing ourselves for the celebration of the Paschal Mystery by deepening our prayer life, by our fasting and penance, by works of charity and self-sacrifice. With the Palm Sunday, we have started the Holy Week which is the most important time in our Liturgical year.
On Palm Sunday, the Church commemorates the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. The “King of kings” was entering his city sitting on a colt, which was prophesied by Prophet Zechariah who lived around 520 BC. “Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zech.9.9). Horse is the animal used for war whereas colt is the animal used for peace. Here palm leaves also symbolise that Jesus as the Prince of Peace is entering into the city of God, Jerusalem. At the Introductory Rite of the Palm Sunday Liturgy, we join with the Apostles and the disciples honouring the Triumphant king proclaiming: “Hosanna to the Son of David, the King of Israel. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest” (The Roman Missal. 1986. NBCLC, Bangalore). ‘Hosanna’, which means (Lord) grant salvation, is the cry of victory greeting the King of Peace. (cfr.Jn. 12 13).
St.Luke writes thus: “The whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen”. Recently a friend of mine while watching a DVD on a Convention programme, seeing the ‘multitude of people’ gathered there clapping, raising their hands and singing joyful songs (on hearing the testimony of people sharing the healing touch and miracles they experienced in their lives), asked me “Why should they sing and shake?” I told him, because they have experienced the love of the Lord and are joyful. Is not this what happened at the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem? They were with Jesus, had experienced his love and seen the great deeds Jesus had done. So they could not be silent. Their joyful singing aloud was spontaneous. Whereas the Pharisees in the crowd told Jesus: “Teacher, order your disciples to stop”. (Lk. 19.39). The Pharisees were not with Jesus nor did they believe in his great deeds.
Where do we stand? Are we on the side of the ‘crowd’ who experienced God’s love and rejoiced in it, or are we on the side of the Pharisees, who were jealous of Jesus and hated him because they gave more importance to the outward obligation of the Law, without experiencing the Lord?
The faithful enters the church holding the blessed palm leaves singing joyful hymns such as:
“The King of glory comes, the nation rejoices
Open the gates before him, lift up your voices”
Soon through the readings of the Holy Mass we enter into the reflection of his Paschal Mystery. Jesus entered in triumph in his own city, to complete his work as our Messiah: to suffer, to die and to rise again. We listen in the First Reading the prophecy of Isaiah about the Servant’s humiliation and vindication. “I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting”. (Is. 50. 5, 6). What really took place in the life of Jesus was exactly prophesied by Isaiah about 700 years prior to Jesus’ time!
Do we try to imitate our Master at the face of exploitation, injustice and insults- at home, in our place of work, in our Parish? It is good to do a self examination during this Passion Week to realise how far we are imitating the Suffering Servant of God. “Though he was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death- even death on a cross” (Phil.2.6-8).
In the Gospel we listen to the Passion narrative of Jesus. The Church, at the very beginning of the Holy Week, is trying to help the faithful for a prayerful meditation of Jesus’ Passion and Death. All that Jesus taught and foretold during his three years of public ministry, and also what was prophesied by the prophets concerning his Messianic Mission reaches the fulfilment in his Passion and Death. “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn 12.24). Jesus as the ‘grain of wheat’ was ready to ‘fall to the ground and die’ in order that many may have life. Am I ready to die to myself, to my likings and preferences…in order that others may enjoy life?
“The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”(Mk. 10. 45). Yes, Jesus was the Atoning Sacrifice for the sins of the humanity. Our first Pope, St. Peter has taught us: “You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish” (1 Pet.1.18,19). At the Last Supper, raising the cup, Jesus said: “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt.26.27, 28).
At the Last Supper Jesus told the Apostles: Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me” (Mt.26.21). After the Institution of the Blessed Sacrament Jesus said: “You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered” (Mt.26.31). Jesus knew all that he had to go through in order to win us back to the Father. He knew he had to suffer injustice, persecution, exploitation, betrayal, desertion….and as prophesied by Prophet Isaiah, he “was not rebellious he did not turn backward” (50.5).The knowledge that it was permitted by the Father was sufficient for Jesus. As we read in the book of Hebrews: “it was fitting that God, for whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings” (2.10).
As Jesus has fulfilled the will of the Father, let us during this Holy Week deepen our prayer life and meditation on the Scriptures and ask for the grace to model Jesus in our lives- to do the will of God even if that means accepting sufferings. May the six weeks of preparation for the celebration of our Lord’s paschal mystery strengthen us to bear witness to Christ by following his example of undeserved and patient suffering.
Feast of St. Joseph
The Church dedicates the month of March to St.Joseph, the spouse of Blessed Virgin Mary and the Foster Father of Jesus; and specially celebrates the feast on 19th March. About St. Joseph we see only very few references in the Bible. The capturing verse is ‘he was a righteous man’ (cfr. Mt. 1. 19). What is righteousness in the sight of the Lord? It is obeying God without fearing what might be the outcome, doing what God says even if it seems to be unreasonable and ridiculous for human thinking.
When Joseph, much confused and troubled in mind as he came to know that Mary, to whom he was betrothed, was with a child in her womb, the angel appeared to him in a dream and said: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1. 20, 21). “When Joseph awoke from sleep he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife” (v.24).
Joseph did not give a second thought as to what would be the reaction of people when they would come to know that he had no marital relation with Mary. (Mother Mary had made a vow of virginity and St. Joseph had also promised to lead a chaste life). He humbly bowed his head to the message of God, as Mary herself did. (See Lk.1.26-38). At the time of circumcision “the child was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” (Lk. 2.21)
After the birth of Jesus, an angel of the Lord appeared again to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him. (Mt.2.13). Imagine, it must have been around midnight as Joseph deeply slept when he obtained the message from the angel. Yet he did not say: “I am too sleepy; let me wait till daybreak. Then I will go”. No, obeying the angel, he immediately “got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt” (v.14).
Later when Herod had died, the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead. Joseph rose, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel” (Mt.2.19-21).
As we celebrate the Feast of St.Joseph on 19th March, let us try to imitate his virtues of simplicity and hard work, faithfulness, humble obedience to God, concern and compassion. Though born of the Virgin Mary through the working of the Holy Spirit, Jesus, the Second Person of the Triune God, who was born fully divine and fully human, had to face difficulties right from his birth. What tension Joseph as the husband of Mary might have gone through, when as per the decree of Emperor Augustus he had to take Mary in her 9th month, to her own town for registration; and as they found every inn and house was packed; and hence no shelter could be found. Yes, for the Saviour of the world there was no place to be born! Yet Joseph was calm and courageous because he fully trusted in God who entrusted him with the task of ‘accepting Mary as his wife’. Yes, he was a man of faith, hope and love. The angel told him: “Do not be afraid to accept Mary.” The Virgin Mary is the symbol of the virtues of faith, hope and love. Joseph accepted Mary with deep faith in God; he was fully trusting in the Lord in every difficult moment and accepted Mary in love.
Are we ready to accept the requests, coming from the Lord? In the present daily life, God’s message to us can be: “Do not be afraid to proclaim your faith; do not be afraid to live the gospel values;do not be afraid to proclaim Jesus as the Saviour of the world”. Especially in this Lenten Season, let us try to listen to and obey what God tells us through His Church: “Do not hesitate to do sacrifice and penance for the reparation of sins; do not neglect your prayer life; do not hesitate to lend a helping hand to the needy; do not neglect the Sacrament of Confession….Are we ready to ‘rise’ and to respond to what God requests from us ?
May St. Joseph, the Protector of the Church pray for us that we may be ready to turn to the Lord taking heed of what He tells us.
May St.Joseph, the Guardian of the Virgins pray for all the virgins that they all may be given the grace of everlasting perseverance.
May St.Joseph, the intercessor of the families (and of the workers) pray especially for joy, peace and unity among the family members.
Sin against the Holy Spirit
In all the three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke), we read Jesus saying about sin against the Holy Spirit :
“ whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Mt.12,32)
“…whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of eternal sin” (Mk.3,29).
“…whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven” (Lk.12,10).
What exactly is the sin against the Holy Spirit? God is merciful, tender-hearted, forgiving. No sin of ours, however grievous it may be, can stop the work of the Grace of God. He is always ready to take the initiative in reconciling ourselves with Himself. “Come now; let us argue it out, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken” (Is.1,18-20).
It is the Holy Spirit in us who makes us sensitive to sin; He helps us to repent, confess and renounce our sin. But we need to be ‘willing and obedient’. If I say, I do not want to repent, confess my sin, we are losing the grace of God. We need to be open to the working of the Holy Spirit. During a retreat (in Lithuania) a youngster came to me saying : ‘From the classes that I have heard, I know the life that I am leading is in utter sinfulness. But I cannot change. I am not able to go for Confession. There is no salvation for me. I have sinned against the Holy Spirit’.
I tried to convince him of the unconditional, everlasting love of the Lord; yet he failed to accept the forgiving love of the Lord. This is sin against the Holy Spirit. The moment he is ready to decide to ‘get up’ from his sinful life situation and say like the Prodigal Son, ‘I will go back to my Father’s house’, our loving Father is ready to embrace him in His love. Quoting the Encyclical of Bl. Pope John Paul II (DeV 46), the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss.” (CCC. 1864)
Jesus told Peter as He raised him to be the ‘rock upon which I will build my church’: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Mt.16,18-19). On another occasion, Jesus told His Apostles: “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (18,18). Again, while instituting the Sacrament of Confession, Jesus told the Apostles: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (Jn.20,23).
So the Church believes that there is no offence, however serious, that cannot be taken away by Baptism, or absolved in the Confessional. Anyone, however wicked and guilty, can confidently hope for forgiveness. As the Church teaches in its Catechism, Christ desires that “the gates of forgiveness should always be open to anyone who turns away from sin” (CCC.982). The Sacraments of Baptism and the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) take away all our sins. But if we do not open the door for His Mercy by closing the entrance into this means of forgiveness and salvation, then it becomes the sin against the Holy Spirit, because we are rebelling against the Holy Spirit who is given to us to convict us of our sin (Jn. 16,8) and to lead us to repentance.
“One who is often reproved, yet remains stubborn, will suddenly be broken beyond healing. No one who conceals transgressions will prosper, but one who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (prov. 29,1; 28,13).
St.Thomas Aquinas says that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit may be explained in three ways.
- The uttering of an insult against the Holy Spirit, or to all three Divine Persons. This was the sin of the Pharisees, who spoke at first against the ‘Son of man’, criticizing the works and human ways of Jesus, accusing Him of loving good cheer and wine, of associating with the publicans and who did miracles which he wrought by virtue of His own Divinity.
- The final impenitence – the impenitence or perseverance in mortal sin till death. This impenitence is against the Holy Spirit, in the sense that it frustrates and is opposed to the remission of sins, and this remission is appropriated to the Holy Spirit, the mutual love of the Father and the Son. Jesus warned the Pharisees against this danger of impenitence.
- Some theologians apply this expression to all sins against charity and goodness, sin of malice, despising or rejecting the impulses and inspirations stirred in our soul by the Holy Spirit.
The sins against the Holy Spirit are said to be unpardonable. Final impenitence leads to separation from God by one’s own choosing. Blaspheming the Spirit is a failure to repent and ally oneself with Jesus. Since this can always be done during one’s lifetime, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit must be a final refusal to repent, or final impenitence. The moment of death is the final moment after which no mortal sin is remitted. So it depends on the sinner and not on God whether the sin becomes pardonable or not. Until the moment of death, every human being has the opportunity to turn to God and receive the free gift of salvation. (Cfr.Eph.2,8-9).
Several Fathers of the Church and the Catechism of the Catholic Church do give us much clarity with this expression of the ‘Sin against the Holy Spirit. Though a little overlapping, it is good to go through the teachings.
Six sins are pointed out by some theologians as offending the Holy Spirit.
- Despair: Man ceases to hope for his salvation from God, for help in attaining it or for the forgiveness of his sins. Despair is contrary to God’s goodness, for the Lord is faithful to His promises and to His mercy. (CCC. 2091)
- Presumption of God’s mercy: There are two kinds of presumption. Either man presumes upon his own capacities, hoping to be able to save himself without help from on high, or he presumes upon God’s almighty power or His mercy, hoping to obtain His forgiveness without conversion and glory without merit. (CCC.2092)
- Impugning the known truth: To attack the truth (in the Public Revelation of the Word) by word or argument, to resist it, to contradict it, or even oppose the known truth or to challenge it as false.
- Envy the spiritual good of another: Regarding the gifts of the Holy Spirit, St. Paul writes: “All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually as the Spirit chooses” (1. Cor.12.11). To envy the spiritual good of another is to question the Divine judgment of the Holy Spirit in His distribution of spiritual gifts. It is to be jealous of another person who has a gift different than one’s own gift. Through envy, one rejects the gift that he has received from the Holy Spirit, determining in his own mind that the gift he has received is not good enough for him and he wants someone else’s gift.
- Obstinacy in sin: To resist the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit, to be stubborn, or to persist in sin, to be unyielding.
- Final impenitence: To be unrepentant, hardened, unconverted, to be without regret, shame or remorse.
While God’s ability to save is boundless, the Bible clearly shows that there are certain conditions under which He will not save. We read in the letter to Hebrews:
“It is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the Word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, since on their own they are crucifying again the Son of God and are holding him up to contempt” (6,4-6).
“If we wilfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has violated the Law of Moses dies without mercy. How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by those who have spurned the Son of God, profaned the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of Grace?” (10,26-29)
Prayer: Lord, God we thank you for the gift of your Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts in order to enable us to lead lives pleasing to you. But many times we have closed our hearts to you by choosing our own self will and pleasure. We are sorry for not yielding to promptings of your Spirit. Give us the grace always to please you by doing your will, and be willing to change our attitudes. Lord, Holy Spirit, I surrender my life to you; do with me what you want. We make this prayer to you, Abba Father, through Jesus our Lord Amen.
During our retreats questions are raised by many about the annulment of a Catholic marriage. Let us try to understand the ‘Truth’ about it:
In the law of the Church, many ingredients make up a Christian marriage. First, marriage is a covenant. The idea of covenant in the Bible is one of a strong pact between humans or between God and humans, in which each promises to assist the other towards a common goal. In marriage, the covenant is between a man and a woman. The spouses establish this covenant through their marital consent, by which they intend to establish a partnership between themselves for the whole life. This means each spouse will assist and support the other in all areas of their common life, the best he or she is able, so long as the other spouse is alive. Hence the Church views marriage as a covenant for life that cannot be severed. However, some marriages are entered into without the necessary maturity or full knowledge and ability to keep such a permanent commitment, or without full free will because of external pressures. Therefore, a person has the right to ask the Church to examine a previous marriage to see if it was less than what the Church views as a valid marriage, a freely chosen commitment between two mature, knowledgeable and capable adults to enter a covenant of love, for life, with priority to spouse and children.
A Catholic annulment is a declaration from a diocesan Tribunal that the marriage bond was less than such a covenant for life because it was lacking something necessary from the very beginning. One or both parties may have entered the marriage with good will, but lacked the openness, honesty, maturity, fully free choice, right motivation, emotional stability, or capacity to establish a community of life and love with another person. If an annulment is granted, then both parties are free to remarry in the Church, however, for pastoral reasons, counseling may be required prior to marriage in order to prevent the parties involved from repeating mistakes. The legitimacy of the children is NOT affected in any way. A civil marriage did exist and the assumption of a Catholic marriage did exist. The marriage was consummated in good will; therefore children of the marriage always remain legitimate, even if at a later time that marriage is annulled.
The sacredness of marriage cannot be undermined. It is that sacredness that the Church’s marriage policy strives to protect. But while the Church believes that a valid marriage cannot be dissolved except through death, it also recognizes that what appears to be a valid marriage is not always so.
The Roman Catholic Church considers a marriage valid when:
- It is celebrated in a ceremony according to Church law (form);
- Both parties are free to marry each other;
- Each partner intends, from the beginning of the marriage, to accept God’s plan for married life as taught by the Church;
- Each partner has the physical and psychological ability to live out the consent and commitment initially given to the marriage.
If any of these requirements are lacking from the beginning of the marriage, then the Tribunal, acting as the bishop’s representative, can declare that marriage invalid.The Church then issues a declaration of nullity (an annulment) and both are free to marry again in the Catholic Church
There is no divorce in Catholic marriage (Mk. 10.11, 12; Rom.7. 2, 3; Mal.2.16). However there may be reasons for Catholics to obtain a civil divorce in order to obtain a variety of legal benefits. So a Catholic could get a divorce from the civil authority for these benefits. But there is no freedom to marry again, unless the Catholic party has obtained an annulment. A civil divorce must have been obtained before beginning the annulment process.
What are the grounds for annulment in the Catholic Church?
- Most annulments as based on canon 1095 are psychological reasons. These include a wide range of factors. Some of them may be misrepresentation or fraud (concealing the truth about capacity or desire to have children for example, or about a preexisting marriage, drug addiction, felony convictions, sexual preference or not having reached the age of consent)
- Lack of real consent from both the parties: When the priest or deacon asks the couple questions before they take their vows, he is asking “consent” questions. During the ceremony the question is asked: “Do you take John/Mary?” Implied in that question are some very important facts. “Do you know who this person is?” “Do you know what marriage is?” If a person really doesn’t understand that this is a faithful partnership for life, if the person is not freely entering into this covenant; if one of the parties is really not who the other thought he/she is then there is no consent. There is no marriage
- Refusal or inability to consummate the marriage (inability or refusal to have sex)
- Bigamy, incest (being married to someone else, or close relatives)
- Duress (being forced or coerced into marriage against one’s will or serious external pressure, for example a pregnancy)
- Mental incapacity (considered unable to understand the nature and expectations of marriage)
- Lack of knowledge or understanding of the full implications of marriage as a life-long commitment in faithfulness and love, with priority to spouse and children.
- Psychological inability to live the marriage commitment as described above.
- Illegal “Form of Marriage” -Church law requires that the couple to be married be of age; be married before the legitimate representative of the church – ordinarily the pastor of the parish, and that they are free to enter into the sacrament of marriage. So, if internal consent of one or both of the parties was either missing or vitiated, there is no marriage; if the marriage has not taken place before the local pastor or his representative there is no marriage because ceremony was not performed according to Catholic canon law
- One/both partners were under the influence of drugs, or addicted to a chemical substance.
These are the conditions required for annulment. These grounds can manifest themselves in various ways. For example, a couple, discovering her pregnancy, decides to marry; only much later do they recognize the lack of wisdom in that decision. Or one spouse carries an addictive problem with alcohol or drugs into the marriage. Perhaps a person, unfaithful during courtship, continues the infidelity after marrying.
In cases like these, the Church judges may decide that something contrary to the nature of marriage or to a full, free human decision prevents this contract from being sound or binding.
If there are such major impediments to the marriage, there is no marriage and a “decree of nullity” could be sought.
It is to be noted that after annulment, the person concerned is still a member of the Catholic faith community. He or she can register in his/her parish and raise children as Catholic. However, the choice to remarry without having received a declaration of nullity concerning one’s prior marital bond sets a person apart from the Church with regard to full sacramental participation. One cannot receive Holy Communion when one’s lifestyle is not in communion with the teachings of the Catholic faith. Still, there is grace to be gained through participation in Sunday worship, particularly in the nourishment that comes from God’s Word, the Homily, the Church’s devotional piety, community fellowship, and other aspects of Catholic life.
What is an annulment?
A Catholic annulment, also known as a declaration of nullity or invalidity, is a statement of fact by the Catholic Church. After carefully examining the couple’s broken relationship, the Church states that a valid marriage, as the Church defines marriage, never existed. It is not “Catholic divorce,” as some have called it, since divorce looks at the moment the relationship broke down and says, “A marriage existed, and now we are ending it.” The annulment process says, on the other hand, “From the very beginning, something was lacking that was necessary for this relationship to be called a marriage.”
Of course, the Church recognizes the couple’s initial love for one another. It also realizes that this love led to some form of relationship. In addition, the Church acknowledges that there was a valid civil contract and recognizes that the spouses were lawfully married in the eyes of the state. Therefore, all children born of this valid civil contract are legitimate, according to the Catholic Church. In keeping with canon 1137, they are known as the legitimate children of a “putative marriage.”
The Church recognizes all these civil and legal realities. But the annulment process looks at an entirely different realm — the spiritual — which falls within the Catholic Church’s domain of competence to judge.
Why is an annulment necessary?
The Church teaches that marriage is permanent. If a sacramental marriage is created, no human power can separate what God has joined together (see Mt 19:6). According to the Church, not even a civil government with the power to end the civil contract (which the state calls “marriage”) can terminate a sacramental marriage.
For this reason, once two people stand in front of God and contract a marriage, if they enter into a marriage covenant as defined by the Catholic Church, this covenant cannot be dissolved so long as both parties remain alive. The marriage bond is in place until death. As a result, no new marriage covenant can be created with someone else.
Any person who has entered a genuine marriage remains bound to that spouse. The spiritual bonds of marriage, if formed, cannot be ended by civil divorce. In the eyes of the Church, divorce ends the various civil, financial, and legal bonds previously contracted between spouses, but not the spiritual bonds. For this reason, the Catholic Church investigates, through the annulment process, whether an actual marriage, as defined by the Church, came into being. In carrying out this investigation, the Church examines various facts presented to the marriage tribunal by those seeking the annulment and their witnesses. If the Church then determines that no genuine marriage came into being, these individuals are free to marry someone else if that person is also free to marry.
Thoughts that lead to divorce:
- Are you to the point that your spouse just can’t do anything right, does everything that gets under your skin?
- Does everything lead to an argument?
- Are you tired of the fighting, so tired you can’t muster energy to even engage anymore?
- Has the love you felt been replaced by resentment?
- Would you rather be anywhere than with your spouse?
- When you and your spouse are together do you find you have nothing to talk about or that you have little interest in talking to him/her?
- Does the idea of sex with your spouse cause you to shudder?
- Are you having an affair or thinking about having an affair?
- You find yourself doing the opposite of what your spouse needs from you just to spite him/her?
Are such thoughts of divorce running through your mind on a regular basis? These may lead people to think of divorce and therefore people should desire to live in love with the partner, with a spirit of forgiveness and avoid the situations that will lead people to lose love. As St.Paul says: „Those who get married will have worldly afflictions“ (1 Cor.7.28). For human thinking it is difficult, when two persons coming from different family situations, with different temperaments have to live together for life. It is possible only with the grace of God. That is why Jesus raised marriage to be a Sacrament, through which the invisible grace of God is poured on the couple. Archbishop Fulten J Sheen has said: In Catholic marriage, it is not two to get married, but three to get married. Both the partners should realise this truth and turn to the Lord present in their married life, in times of difficulties. When each partner corrects, cleanses and supports the other through the Word of God (cfr.Eph.5.25-33), he/she can present the partner as a chase spouse to Christ (2 Cor 11.2;) at the end of his/her earthly life. As St.Paul exhorts, let not our thoughts be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ (2. Cor. 11.3), our Eternal Spouse (Rev. 19.7.9).
The Lord’s Prayer – Our Father
“The prayer that the Lord taught us is really unique: it is ‘of the Lord’. On one hand, in the words of this prayer the only Son gives us the words the Father gave him: he is the master of our prayer. On the other, as the incarnate Word , in his human heart he knows the needs of his human brothers and sisters and reveals them to us: he is the model of our prayer.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2765)
The disciples realised that Jesus had a unique experience, an intimate relationship with God in prayer. So they asked: “Master, teach us to pray” (Lk.11,1). In response to this, the Lord taught them the prayer: “Our Father”. This covers everything in our lives. When prayed with thought and attention, it awakens and stimulates our faith.
Our Father in heaven – Jesus is inviting us to relate to God as our Father. Though in the Old Testament God revealed himself to the Israelites as their Father, the filial relationship became more experiential after the coming of Jesus. “God is the Father only of Christ, in a special way, but he is the common Father of all of us, because while he has begotten only Christ, he has created us”. (St. Ambrose). What a privilege it is for us to call God, the Creator of the universe, the Creator of all of us as ‘our Father’! But as St. John Crysostomos says: “we must remember and know that when we call God “our Father” we ought to behave as sons/ daughters of God”.
As we call God our Father may we take to heart what St. John says: “The children of God and the children of devil are revealed in this way: all who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters” (1Jn. 3. 10).
When we say “our Father “we need to realise that we all are brothers and sisters to one another. So only with the help of the Spirit of Christ, who is the Spirit of Love can we really mean what we pray. “It is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8,16).
The image of God as Father is truly a tender one. God our Father also loves us with the sentiments of a tender mother. (Is.49,15; 66,13). Jesus portrays God in the image of a caring mother who wants to gather her little ones under the protection of her wings (Lk 13,34).
Holy be your name: Jesus, the model of our prayer wants us to acknowledge the greatness and holiness of God. “Blessed be the name of the Lord forever more. From the rising of the sun to its setting the name of the Lord is to be praised. The Lord is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens.” (Ps.113, 1-4).
Let us become aware of the holiness of God every day. The prophet Isaiah saw in the vision. “I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and one angel called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Is 6.1,3). Let us sing the glory of his name and worship him for his majesty.
As God our Father is holy, we His children need also to be holy. “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev.19,2). Through our first Pope, the Lord exhorts us: “As he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct” (1 Pet. 1,15). Let us be reminded each time we say this prayer of our call to holiness, so that we may keep our dignity of being the children of a Holy God”.
Your Kingdom come: Jesus wants us to pray for His Kingdom of “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14,17) to come into our lives. May this prayer be a reminder for our desire and striving for the Kingdom of God in our personal lives, in our families, and in our society. In order to have this Kingdom experience ‘within’, Jesus exhorted his disciples at the very beginning of his Galilean Ministry: “The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk. 1,15).
Your will be done: The loving surrender of our will to God is what pleases God. This surrender is most beneficial for us rather than for God because we are limited human beings and only God knows what is best for us (cfr. Jer 29,11). As God’s holy people have understood, ‘surrendering to God helps us to let go of whatever has been holding us back from God’s best for our lives’. Our attitude of surrender releases us from much of our anxiety and tension. Let us imitate Mother Mary who set us an example of humble yielding to the Father’s will in all life situations.
Give us today our daily bread: God, our loving Father and Creator who has arranged everything ‘to make the crop grow and provide seed for sowing and food to eat’ (Is. 55,10), has also reminded us: “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mt. 4,4). Every day in prayer we need to seek for this food for the soul, which ‘is sweeter than honey’ (Ps. 119,103). The Word that we read and meditate should transform our lives, changing our wrong attitudes, convictions, and speech and behaviour patterns. “This is the one whom I approve: the lowly and afflicted man who trembles at my word” (Is. 66,2). “Search me, O Lord, and try me; test my soul and my heart” (Ps.26,2).
Let us also thank the Lord for the ‘Word made Flesh’ being given to us in the Holy Eucharist (Jn.6, 48-58) in order to nourish our spirit, mind and body. May we heed to His loving invitation – “Take and eat” (Mt.26,26) and prepare ourselves to receive Him in a worthy manner. “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself/herself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgement on them. That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying” (1 Cor 11, 27-30).
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us: As we cleanse our body every day, we need to cleanse our mind and spirit daily. We need to pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit who will convict the world in regard to sin (Jn. 16,8) and lead us to repentance. “We are wicked and people of unclean lips, living among wicked and people of unclean lips” (Is. 6,5). As we repent for our sins, and pray to the Holy Spirit to wash us with the Precious blood of Jesus, “our conscience is cleansed from dead works to worship the living God” (Heb.9,14).
Often our hatred, bitternesss and unforgiveness are stumbling blocks for our spiritual growth. So the Lord reminds us every day as we pray this prayer that we be freed from these blocks. Before raising up Lazarus, Jesus told the disciples: “Take away the stones” (Jn 11,39). It is I myself who has to take away the stones of bitterness and hatred. So Jesus has made it clear: “If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgression” (Mt.6,14). “When you stand to pray, forgive anyone against whom you have a grievance, so that your heavenly Father may in turn forgive you your transgressions” (Mk. 11,25).
If only we really take this message seriously as we daily pray the Lord ’s Prayer, we can close the day-to-day account and live in peace, and go to bed in peace!
Do not bring us to the test: Jesus told us to recognise our need to ‘keep awake in prayer that we may not undergo the test’ (Mat. 26,41). Times of tests, trials and temptations will come in our lives; but saying yes to it, yielding ourselves to it becomes a sin. So we need to pray daily for God’s strength and Grace to overcome them.
Deliver us from evil: St. Peter, our first Pope has warned us: “Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in faith” (1 Pet.5,8-9). The saints in heaven, while on earth, “conquered the enemy by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony” (Rev. 12,11). Living the word of God makes one’s life a testimony before others and it is a powerful protection against the enemy; ‘the evil one cannot touch him’ (1. Jn.5,18). May Jesus who has already prayed on our behalf to the Heavenly Father: “keep them from the evil one” (Jn. 17,15), cover us and protect us by His Precious Blood in our everyday ‘struggle against the powers of darkness’ (Eph.6,12).
May the meditation of the ‘Lord’s prayer’ during our personal or communal prayer time, help us to grow in our spiritual life.
The Catholic Church celebrated the beheading of John the Baptist on 29th of August. The day of the martyrdom of a Christian is his/her birthday into the Kingdom of God. Only the courage to stand for the good and the truth, will accompany us to eternal life. John the Baptist was the Forerunner of the Lord who prepared the way of repentance and righteousness for the ushering of the coming of the Messiah as foretold by the Law and the Prophets. He lived his mission and said that it was wrong for King Herod to have Herodias as his wife because she was actually married to King Herod’s brother Philip. For standing for the righteousness of God, John the Baptist was imprisoned and later beheaded. “Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, “it is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife” (Mk. 6.16, 17). In the present world this style of life has become normal.
John’s great courage in condemning the marriage of Herod to Herod’s brother’s wife is exemplary. This is a reminder to us that not everything that is allowed by law is morally right, e.g. divorce, abortion, homosexual marriage, gender change etc. Herod arrested John and put him in prison for questioning his morality. John stood up for the truth, and like many who stand up for the truth today suffer, he too had to pay a price. John’s courage in upholding the dignity of marriage and condemning the adulterous relationship of Herod and Herodias was to result in his being beheaded.
Time is not very far, when we call wrong to be wrong like John the Baptist, we will be persecuted. “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world- therefore the world hates you. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also” (John 15.18, 19). At the time of Hitler such situation was only in certain parts of Europe. But today it is happening worldwide. People are losing faith because of secularism which has become the creed, especially in Euro-American culture. As Jesus Himself has asked: “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth”? The coming of the Son of Man is a crystal clear Truth. “This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts.1.11). “Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him (Rev.1.7). Are we getting ready to face this reality, or just being lost in the passing realities and momentary pleasures?
Christianity has been considered as fanatic because Christianity believes in absolute values revealed by God. Many of us choose the broad path of sinful pleasures; we do not have the courage to stand for the Truth of God for fear of alienation, ridicule and persecution. The price is that we lose eternal life. As Jesus had forewarned: “What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life”? (Mt. 16.26).
Today we have come to a time when, if we believe in Christ and Christian values we are labelled as abnormal, conservative; we are ridiculed, rejected and persecuted. The Church teachings on chastity, contraception, abortion, homosexual life etc. are ridiculed by many. Are we ready to stand for the righteous values of God? When we speak the truth the people of this world who do abortions, use contraception, advocate homosexuality, divorce, premarital sex and the like – will condemn us. St. Peter and the apostles had the courage to say to the Council: “We must obey God rather than any human authority” (Acts 5.29). Are we ready to uphold the values of God as John the Baptist and the apostles in the early Church, even at the cost of our life?
The person and teaching of Jesus was understood and believed by the people who heeded to John the Baptist’s call for repentance, while the Pharisees and Scribes could not, because they were not willing to change their lives. It is not the intellectually proud, but the simple and humble who are able to hear God’s word. As spoken through Prophet Isaiah: “This is the one whom I approve, the humble and contrite in spirit, who trembles at my word” (Is. 66.2).
St. Thomas Moore, the chancellor of king Henry VIII, objected to his divorce to his wife and marrying another lady. Therefore the king fabricated a case of sedition against him and he was put in jail. He knew that he would be killed by the king. At that time his wife pleaded with him: “Why can’t you agree with the king so that he will not kill you and you can live for some more years?” St. Thomas Moore asked: “How many years more?” She replied: “May be another twenty years”. He said: “Should I live for twenty more years and enjoy the honour of the king, gain power, name and fame in this world, and in the end forever go away from Christ for all eternity; or should I be ready to die now and enjoy eternal life with Jesus?” She said: “Ok, in that case you can prepare to die and enjoy eternity with Jesus”.
John’s courage in upholding the truth about marriage, and his subsequent beheading as a result, challenges us in a time, when it is not popular to speak the truth or live by the truth. Both he and St. Thomas Moore remind us that just because certain behaviour is enshrined in the law of the land, does not mean that it is morally right.
We have a conscience through which God speaks to us about right and wrong. But our conscience has become dull as we do not submit our thinking to the Truth of God. The Church teaches: “Conscience must be informed and moral judgement enlightened. A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful. The education of conscience is indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin to prefer their own judgement and to reject authoritative teachings” (Catechism of Catholic Church 1783).
John the Baptist was true to his conscience; and was ready to face the ‘momentary affliction’, which he knew would give him ‘an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure’ (2 Cor.4.17). But people of this world wanted to eliminate this Forerunner of the Righteous One. As Pope Benedict XVI has said in his homily on the Feast of beheading of John the Baptist: “To endure temporal agonies for the sake of the truth is not a heavy burden for such men as John; rather it was easily borne and even desired, for he knew eternal joy would be his reward. Since death was ever at hand, such men considered it a blessing to embrace it and thus gain the reward of eternal life by acknowledging Christ’s name. Hence the apostle Paul rightly says: “you have been granted the privilege not only to believe in Christ but also to suffer for his sake.” (Phil.1.29). He tells us why it is Christ’s gift that his chosen ones should suffer for him: “The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us”. (Rom. 8.18).
May we courageously make the prayer of Minister Joe Wright ‘that shocked the world.
THE PRAYER THAT SHOCKED THE WORLD
(When Minister Joe Wright was asked to open the new session of the Kansas Senate (USA) everyone was expecting the usual generalities, but this is what they heard):
“Heavenly Father, we come before you today to ask your forgiveness and to seek your direction and guidance.
We know Your Word says, “Woe to those who call evil good”, but that is exactly what we have done. We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and reversed our values.
We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery.
We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare.
We have killed our unborn and called it choice.
We have shot anti-abortionists and called it justifiable.
We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self esteem.
We have abused power and called it politics.
We have coveted our neighbour’s possessions and called it ambition.
We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression.
We have ridiculed the time-honoured values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment.
Search us, Oh, God, and know our hearts today; cleanse us from every sin and set us free. Amen!”
The response was immediate. A number of legislators walked out during the prayer in protest. In 6 short weeks, Central Christian Church, where Rev. Wright is pastor, logged more than 5,000 phone calls with only 47 of those calls responding negatively. The church is now receiving international requests for copies of this prayer from India , Africa and Korea .Commentator Paul Harvey aired this prayer on his radio program, “The Rest of the Story,” and received a larger response to this program than any other he has ever aired. With the Lord’s help, may this prayer sweep over our nation and whole-heartedly become our desire so that we again can be called: “one nation under God”.
DELIVER US FROM THE EVIL ONE
A reflection on Mt.6,13
On the Sabbath day, as was his custom, Jesus went to the synagogue. He read from the scroll what was written about his mission: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” (Lk.4,18-19). St. Peter sums up the ministry of Jesus thus: “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (Acts 10,38).
Jesus prepared his disciples for the same ministry and after his resurrection he commissioned his disciples to continue his mission (Mt.28,19- 20; Mk.16,17- 18). St. Paul was chosen to be the apostle of Gentiles “ to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in Jesus” (Acts 26,18).
Nowadays we see around us so many people who are really dabbling with the powers of darkness, knowingly or unknowingly. So the need to ‘release the captives’, ‘to turn them from the power of Satan to God’ is much more than ever before. As St. John wrote: “The whole world lies under the power of the evil one” (1Jn.5,19); and as St. Paul warns the believers: “The Spirit expressly says that in later times some will renounce the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and the teaching of demons” (1.Tim.4,1).
Many people are caught up in the ideological errors coming through the mass media……they become brain washed by the lies of the enemy coming through TV serials, films, novels etc which are very appealing to the minds of children and youth…These are the traps through which the devil easily penetrates into human mind, affecting our unconscious and subconscious mind. The enemy knows if wrong things are put into the mind, it will influence our conviction and later it will lead to wrong actions. So our mind can be said to be the main target of attack of Satan. That is why St. Paul says to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10,5). Our mind should not be left ‘empty’ (Mt.12, 44), but be filled with the word of God (Col.3,16).
“Jesus has come to destroy the works of the devil” (1 Jn.3,8). Since he came ‘as the Light into the world, whoever believes in him will not remain in the darkness’ (Jn 12, 46). In his ‘high Priestly prayer’, Jesus prayed to the Father: “This is eternal life that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (Jn.17,3).
“Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him: “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (Jn. 8,31- 32). So our mere belief in Jesus through the Sacrament of Baptism is not sufficient; we need to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Pet.3,18) until death. Our enemy, the devil is the ‘father of lies’ (Jn. 8,44). When we assert the truth, he cannot stand by. What is truth? The Person of Jesus himself is the Truth: “I am the Truth” (Jn.14,6). Jesus prayed for his disciples: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (Jn. 17,17). It is the ignorance of this truth that leads us to commit errors in our attitudes, convictions and actions. (cfr.Mk.12,24).
In our ministry we have come across people suffering from affliction or obsession of the powers of darkness because of their long standing un-forgiveness, bitterness, hatred, revengefulness towards people, indulging in sexual perversions, undue attachment to people or things or addictions, going to occult practices and the like.
They become enslaved to their sinful tendencies. “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin” (Jn.8,34). “People are slaves to whatever masters them” (2Pet. 2, 19). When we catechise them in the Word of God through the preaching ministry, they realise the truth and the Holy Spirit gives them the grace of repentance for their self-willed life; and through the Sacrament of Confession they experience the merciful, forgiving love of God the Father. They willingly renounce their wrong, sinful ways and through the prayer of deliverance they experience freedom from the influence of the domain of darkness.
It is Jesus who heals people through His word. “He sent out His word and healed them” (Ps.107,20). As light and darkness cannot co-exist together, when the truth of God’s word is accepted, the lie of the evil has no room in our lives (cfr.Eph.4,26).
We need to give them the conviction about the truth and with faith imagination make them see the consequences of wrong way of living; and also the reward of righteous living. We often know about our faith with mere intellectual understanding. But when we use our faculty of imagination- (which often is used for pleasurable things) – for faith realities as God revealed through the word of God or the teaching of the Church, it enables us to come out of our harmful ways of living and helps us to go deeper into the way I should live as a Christian.
Once a girl asked me: Is it good that we imagine hellfire? There are two types of repentance for our sins: One is called the “imperfect contrition”. “It is born of the consideration of sin’s ugliness or the fear of eternal damnation and the other penalties threatening the sinner” (CCC 1453). Jesus himself has said, pointing out to the lack of faith of ‘the heirs of the kingdom’, that “they will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt. 8,12). While explaining the parable of the weeds to his disciples Jesus said: “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evil doers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt.13,41- 42, 50).
In the parable of the Wedding Banquet, the one, not wearing a wedding robe (the holiness of Christ) was said to be given the same place (Mt. 22,13).
We see Jesus telling this repeatedly about the ‘unfaithful servant’ (Mt. 24,51), the one who ‘hid his talent’ (Mt. 25,30) and those who do not ‘strive to enter through the narrow gate’ (Lk.13,28). Jesus gives utmost importance to our Christian maturity, even though we do not.
Mother Mary in her apparition to Lucy, Jacinta and Francesco at Fatima showed them the souls’ suffering in the hell fire, with an urgent plea to pray for the souls: the prayer which she taught them to recite in between the decades of the Rosary. “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell. Lead us all to heaven especially those who are in most need of your mercy”.
So it is quite Biblical to warn the people of the danger to eternal life. Warning signs are given on the road side, not to frighten the driver but in order that he be careful not to fall into the danger. So too in our spiritual life. The ignorance of the truth may cause people to fall into the trap of the evil one.
The contrition for our sins out of love for Jesus is the “perfect contrition”. “It arises from a love by which God is loved above all else” (CCC 1452). In both imperfect and perfect contrition there should be “(1) a radical reorientation of our whole life, (2) a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, and end of sin, (3) a turning away from evil, with repugnance towards the evil actions we have committed. At the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one’s life, with hope in God’s mercy and trust in the help of his grace” (CCC 1431). “The movement of return to God, called conversion and repentance, entails sorrow for and abhorrence of sins committed, and the firm purpose of sinning no more in the future” (CCC 1490).
In our retreats for inner healing and deliverance, during the prayer sessions people are led through the faith imagination to see certain Biblical truths:
- They see the horror of the consequences of sin, (nothing unclean will enter the kingdom of God – Rev.21,27), and how they have disfigured the image of God in them, and have become under the destructive power of the evil one who comes ‘to steal and destroy and kill’ (Jn. 10,10).
- they meet the merciful Jesus calling them back with divine compassion.
Then they make a choice for Jesus, repent and renounce their sins, ask pardon of the Lord (and the other person who is a party to the sin); and in the name of Jesus, command the power of evil (of hatred, bitterness, lust, addictions and the like) to go away, because they, through their sin had allowed the power of evil to come to them, and now in the name of Jesus and with the power of the Holy Spirit they cast out those spirits, never more to come back to them, but to go to the feet of Jesus.
- Then in their faith imagination they see Jesus blessing them and the Holy Spirit as a fire above them (as continuation of the Pentecostal experience), penetrating into them, burning out the negative spirits and filling them with the corresponding positive attitudes, and Mother Mary praying for them. Often people experience the power of the Lord transforming them at this moment.
- The penitents experience the loving embrace of Jesus like the Father of the prodigal son embracing his son.
- Experiencing the Love of Jesus and Mary, the penitents go back, in faith imagination, to each of the sinful situation of their past life, asking pardon from Jesus as well as from the other person, and renouncing their sin out of love for Jesus; at this moment they see Jesus blessing them.
- The penitents kneel at the feet of Jesus like Mary Magdalene, washing the feet of Jesus with her tears of “perfect contrition”, and Jesus lovingly blesses the penitents.
- Then they kneel at the foot of the cross of Jesus on Calvary (who he has taken upon himself the sin of those persons), and the Precious Blood of Jesus falling from the wounded body of Jesus washing them. (Acts.20,28).
- Finally the persons are made to imagine, walking with Jesus and Mother Mary, the way they should have lived from the beginning of their lifes till today, in all the given circumstances, even though the circumstances and the people remain the same. In this process ‘the mind is renewed’ (Rom. 12,2; Eph.4,23), and a lot of healing takes place.
Thus through the inner healing, a person is set free from the state of slavery to sin to be the child of God; from darkness to the light of grace. The wrong thinking and emotions can cause ill health; whereas the right thinking and emotions based on the truth of the word of God restores health.
The inner healing may be compared to the experience of the disciples on the way to Emmaus. They were sad and disappointed, as they did not understand the meaning of the passion and death of Jesus. But when Jesus heard them express their sadness, he gives the true meaning of his passion and death in God’s plan; hearing which their hearts were burning with love for God. When Jesus broke the bread, he entered into their lives. So also the penitent who had a worldly attitude, on hearing God’s word, changes his life and allows Jesus to rule his life.
CELIBACY AND PRIESTHOOD
“I wish that all were as I myself am”. (1Cor. 7,7). What must have urged St. Paul to say this? Is marriage not a good vocation? On the contrary! … Those who “renounce marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19,12 NAB) do so, not because marriage is bad, but precisely because its goodness makes its renunciation a valuable and generous gift to offer to God. After all, the goodness of a gift determines the value of the sacrifice. It is not that marriage is sinful, but it is ‘renounced’ in order to serve the Lord with an undivided mind, heart and body. In the OT, prophet Jeremiah was forbidden by God to take a wife in order to enable him to fulfil his ministry better. “The word of the Lord came to me: ‘You shall not take a wife, nor shall you have sons or daughters in this place” (Jer.16.1, 2).
In the OT we also see that God asked even married couples to practise celibacy on certain occasions. For example, Moses asked the Israelites to abstain from marital intimacy while he ascended Mount Sinai. “Do not go near a woman” (Ex.19,15). The priests ordered King David and his people to abstain from marital relations on the occasion of eating the holy bread (1 Sam 21.4, 5). This abstaining from marital relations was due to the presence of something very holy.
It is not that marital act is sinful but serving Christ is worth sacrificing even the joys of family life.
The vocation of celibacy is explicitly advocated, as well as practised, by Jesus and St.Paul. Jesus said: “There are eunuchs, who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let anyone accept this who can (Mt 19,12). This is an invitation from Christ to live as he did, and there can be nothing unacceptable in that.
Celibacy ‘for the sake of the Kingdom’, is a gift, a call granted to some. “One does not presume to take this honour, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was” (Heb 5,4). They renounced marriage voluntarily. When Jesus called his first Apostles, “they left everything and followed Jesus” (Mt.19,27); note that St. Peter on whom Jesus “built His church” (Mt.16,18), who would become the first Pope too, left his family to respond to the Lord’s call to ‘feed His lambs, to tend and feed His sheep’ (Jn. 21,15-17). The decision to remain celibate is freely chosen by seminarians, and it is not the Church that is forbidding them to marry. They may choose married or celibate life according to where the Lord is calling them.
Contrary to popular belief, celibacy does not mean that priests and nuns are unmarried. Mother Teresa said that someone once asked her if she was married. She replied in the affirmative and added that her Spouse can be very demanding at times! What Christians often overlook is that earthly marriages are not eternal (Luke 20,35). They are a foreshadowing and a sign of that eternal wedding that will take place in heaven between the Church and Christ. Hence we read in Isaiah: “ your Maker is your Husband, the Lord of hosts is his name”( Is. 54,5), and St. Paul says: ” I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I promised you in marriage to one husband, to present you as a chaste virgin to Christ” ( 2 Cor 11, 2). Those who have consecrated their virginity to God are simply skipping the earthly sign to participate in the eternal marriage now itself. This is a beautiful witness to the world that there is more to life than the passing joys we know on earth. St. Paul was not married to any woman, but as he was belonging to Christ, he had many spiritual children, hence he said, “My little Children, for whom I am again in the pain of child birth until Christ is formed in you.”(Gal.4,19). “ In Christ Jesus I became your father through the Gospel”(1Cor.4,15); and Paul writes to Philomen :” I urge you on behalf of my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become in my imprisonment” (Philem.10).
That is the reason Jesus said,” Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters, mothers and children or fields for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age – houses, brothers, and sisters, mothers and children and fields with persecutions – and in the age to come eternal life (Mk.10, 29-30). We Christians ‘live by faith’, (2Cor 5,7) and that “ all that is not coming from faith is sin”( Rom.14,23). Hence when married persons become father and mother by giving physical life, the priest who preaches the Word of God and administers the sacraments becomes a spiritual father to the people of God. Hence St. Peter says “you have been born anew, not of perishable seed but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring Word of God” (1 Pet.1,23).
“Do not let the eunuchs say: “I am just a dry tree”…..”Sing, O barren one who did not bear; …For the children of the desolate woman will be more than the children of her who is married, says the Lord” (Is.56,3;54,1).
We have eye-witnessed the difficulties of pastors who marry. When the priest has to fulfil the responsibilities as a husband to his wife, and father to his children, there is enough work to be attended to. He will not be able to give full time attention and total commitment to his priestly duties. If I can devote myself totally to the personal prayer and the proclamation of the Word of God, administer the Sacraments, especially of Confession and Holy Eucharist, spend time in counselling….it is because I can make myself fully available for it. Suppose, I have my house responsibilities besides pastoral responsibilities, I cannot do full justice to my ministerial priesthood.
Hence St. Paul says that “Unmarried person is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but married man is anxious about the affairs of the world how to please his wife” ( 1Cor 7, 32-33) “To the unmarried and widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I am.
But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion” (1 Cor. 7,8-9).
Therefore, those who cannot remain celibate should marry; and marriage is a noble vocation to bring up ‘children who are gifts of God’ (Ps 127.3) as godly children (Mal.2,15). But as St. Paul says, to give ‘undivided attention’ to the Lord and to the work of His Kingdom, some, responding to the call of the Lord accept Ministerial Priesthood. The call to Priesthood is a gift of God. St Paul even prefers celibacy to marriage when he says: “Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife…Those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that…” (7,27-28….). He reaches the conclusion: “He who marries does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better” ( 1Cor.7,38).
The words of the Bishop in the Ordination Rite show the richness of the commitment to celibacy. “By your own free choice you seek to enter the order of Priests. You shall exercise this ministry in the celibate state, for celibacy is both a sign and a motive of pastoral charity, and a special source of spiritual fruitfulness in the world.
By living in this state with total dedication, moved by a sincere love for Christ the Lord, you are consecrated to him in a new and special way.
By this consecration you will adhere more easily to Christ with an undivided heart; you will be more freely at the service of God and mankind, and you will be more effective in the ministry of Christian conversion and rebirth.
By your life and character you will give witness to your brothers and sisters in faith that God must be loved above all else, and that it is he whom you serve in others.
Therefore, I ask you:
In the presence of God and the Church, are you resolved, as a sign of your interior dedication to Christ, to remain celibate for the sake of the kingdom and in lifelong service to God and mankind?
The candidate replies: ‘I am.’ There is quite a lot contained in those two short words. A candidate for the priesthood is free to choose celibacy in order to become a priest, or get married. A candidate makes his wilful choice for the priesthood in the state of celibacy. Is it not unfaithfulness, later to say that I want to be married and yet remain a priest? Some of the reasons why they do not want to remain celibate are that either at the time of the ordination they were not fully committed to celibacy, or later they left the first zeal for the service of the Lord in holiness and came down to secular attitudes which make them feel uneasy to remain celibate and therefore they ask for marriage, without leaving the priesthood.
“I know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary. But I have this against you that you have abandoned the love that you had first. Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.” (Rev.2,3-5).
Through the last prophet of Old Testament, Malachi, God says: “The lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts” (2,7). In order to do this primary duty of our Priesthood, we need “be with him” (Mk 3,14; cfr. Acts.4,13), ‘receive His words from Him’, and then give it to the people.
“Eat what is offered to you; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel….All my words that I shall speak to you receive in your heart and hear with your ears, then go to the exiles, to your people, and speak to them. Say to them, “Thus says the Lord God”; whether they hear or refuse to hear” (Ezk.3,1; 10,11).
Nowadays people are not getting the true wisdom of God’s word because priests are failing in their responsibility due to their varied ‘other preoccupations’ in life; or they speak not from the Word of God, but from social sciences or from worldly wisdom. God instructed the priests of the Old Testament: “You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean; and you are to teach the people of Israel all the statutes that the Lord has spoken to them through Moses” (Lev.10,10-11). Since ‘the people of God’ are not getting this true Wisdom and discernment due to the ignorance of God’s Word, they are “tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Eph.4,14). And God seems to hold this against His chosen Priests: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me” (Hos.4,6).
“I sought for anyone among them who would repair the wall and stand in the breach before me on behalf of the land, so that I would not destroy it; but I found no one. Therefore I have poured out my indignation upon them” (Ezk. 22,30-31).
A Priest is a person who always needs to stand between the Holy God and the sinful humanity, pleading with the Lord on behalf of the humanity. No other private interest and preoccupation can come in between. The urgency to help the people in hearing confession, counselling, celebrating and distributing the Blessed Sacrament, in giving the Sacrament of the sick etc. can come at any hour of the day, including the night hours. Can a priest who is married be available for God’s people all the time??
I think it is because we miss the goal and loose the sense of dignity of Priesthood that we fail to recognise the value of celibacy in Priesthood.