By virtue of our baptism we are called to be missionary disciples. The risen Christ commissioned His followers to carry out His mission: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). To do that, we need to be empowered, formed in Christ. What does that mean?
A good place to start is John 15: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does He prunes so that it bears more fruit” (John 15:1-2). To be transformed, we need to be pruned by prayer and suffering. While prayer is necessary to participate in the divine life, it is suffering that can break down boundaries separating us from God. At certain points in life—such as during profound loss, rejection or failure—we lose control. Sooner or later, we all find ourselves in a place of pain.
At these moments, the Lord is with you in your pain. He has suffered it all and He loves and sustains you in being, every moment of your existence. Collapsing into His arms, uniting yourself with Him, you can do the impossible. If you have been betrayed, rejected or harmed, you will be able to forgive through His grace.
Forgiveness is such a key component for transformation. When we do not forgive, we stay stuck in the painful experience. Our relationships with God, others and ourselves are stifled. When you allow Christ to take over, forgiveness happens and the pain is released. It almost happens in spite of you. It happens when you say “Yes” to God’s will, just as our Blessed Mother did at the Annunciation: “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done according to Your Word” (Luke 1:38).
Ironically, for some Catholics, this invitation seems strange. Many Catholics have a hard time even saying the name Jesus, let alone saying “I love Jesus” because it seems so Protestant or evangelical. You are made in the image and likeness of God. He is love, so you are made to love and be loved by God. As a beloved child of God, how can you be afraid of God, whom Jesus invites us to call Abba or Daddy? That is why Jesus says further along in John 15, “I no longer call you slaves, I call you friends.” This is the friendship model of genuine religion.
As Saint Catherine of Genoa said, “My deepest me is God.” A thousand years prior to Saint Catherine, Saint Athanasius, who did so much to fight against Arianism and contribute to the Nicene Creed, said “The Son of God became Man so that man could become God.” To participate in this reality is transformation. That is why Christian ministry re-grafts the true self into the experience of the Triune God. That is why suffering is not the worst thing that can happen to you, because it seems it is the most effective way to die to the false self.
The cross leads to resurrection. That is the Paschal Mystery, which we are called to live every day. What happens to Christ Jesus is meant to happen to us, because we are members of His mystical body, the Church. Saint Ignatius of Antioch put the necessity of suffering in this way:
As the Body of Christ, the Church, we are meant to go through the same process of transformation that is brought about by suffering. The important thing is to find God in the midst of your afflictions. Once you can find God in all things, you become indestructible because God is working in and through you.
Deacon Jim McFadden ministers at the Saint John the Baptist Catholic Church in Folsom, California. He is a teacher of theology and serves in the Adult Faith Formation, baptismal preparation, spiritual direction, and prison ministry.
Have you heard of the open-source Linux operating system known as Ubuntu? Released in 2014, it is now one of the most-used operating systems on the planet. Ubuntu is widely used in the world’s fastest supercomputers, runs on most of the web servers around the world and is even behind the technology used by Google’s self-driving car! Do you know what “Ubuntu” actually means? The story goes that an anthropologist once proposed a game to some African tribal children. He placed a basket of sweets near a tree and had the children stand a few hundred feet away. Whoever reached the basket first would get all the sweets. When he said ready, steady, go … do you know what these small children did? They all held each other’s hands and ran toward the tree together, divided the sweets and enjoyed them equally. When the anthropologist asked them why they did that, they said “Ubuntu”—which to them meant “How can one be happy when all the others are sad?” It turns out that the word “Ubuntu” represents a South African ethical ideology that focuses on people’s allegiances and relations with each other. The word comes from the Zulu and Xhosa languages and is regarded as one of the founding principles of the new republic of South Africa. A rough translation of the principle of Ubuntu is “a belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all of humanity.” Interestingly, the logo of Ubuntu represents three friends holding hands. Let us always carry this attitude of “Ubuntu” within us, to spread happiness by sharing with others wherever we may go. I am because we are. “Keep the joy of loving God in your heart, and share it with all you meet, especially your family.”: Saint Teresa of Calcutta
In the context of Covid 19, Chevalier Benny Punnathara, Founder and Chairman of Shalom Media, adjuring us to take certain decisive steps without any delay. We read in the Gospel of John, “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19) And today, while we are being locked inside our homes in fear and anguish, Jesus comes to our midst and says: “Peace be with you.” He addresses our troublesome times - fears on Covid 19, concerns on livelihood and uncertainties about future and says “Peace be with you”. To all those people, whose lives affected by the disease, to those who live in the fear of death, to those who care for the affected and to those who are quarantined, Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” He continues: "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives you, I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (John 14:27) Let us not allow angst or fear to rule our heart now. Christ’s peace will enable us to live without fear even in this frightening time. His peace strengthens us to overcome every unfavourable situation. Let this Easter season be filled with hope that takes root from the peace in our hearts. Easter is the occasion where all the plans were thwarted. Satan thought he won the battle when Jesus was crucified and killed. Jewish authorities concluded that they got rid of the turmoil forever. Romans believed they could protect the tomb with their seals and guards. And on the third day Jesus resurrected; against all their conclusions: parting the stones of their expectations. Today our plans for life are also affected due to Covid 19. Many scheduled programmes and journeys are being postponed or cancelled. The future of our studies, jobs and business looks bleak. The plans and priorities of every nation has been reconsidered. But in this hour, we should remember that though our plans fail, God’s plan would never fail. Even when we are facing tribulations, we should believe that world is in the hands of God. The one who shaped the history and who steers the history will lead us to the fullness of humanity. So even while we are facing this dreadful disease, we are still travelling towards God’s plan. We should believe this. Even when we believe that God can mend all the wreck of the world, probably we are broken inside worrying how as a person I can manage the personal losses. The only answer to this puzzle is God. We should engrave it in our hearts that God is enough for me in all circumstances. The realization that God abides with us in good and bad times will set us free. The story of Eli’jah sets an example. There had been no rain in Israel for three and a half years and a great draught fell upon them. The rivers dried up, trees withered up and animals died. Even in the midst of these adversities, God shielded His Prophet. He told him to go eastwards and stay by the brook of Cherith. He drank from the brook, and God commanded the ravens to feed him there. While he was living happily praising divine providence, unexpectedly, the brook dried up and the raven stopped coming. He was again in a fix. But he didn’t complain or murmur against God. He waited patiently for God’s time and was asked to go to Zarephath and stay there. God had directed a widow there to supply him with food. He stayed there until the famine ended. Likewise, we may be deprived of our support systems and strongholds for a short time. We should be brave enough to tell our difficult moments that, ‘even if the brook dries up, even if the raven fails to come, the providence from my God will never come to an end’. He is the eternal Lord who holds our hand. Let us not hesitate to give Him our hands and He’ll definitely show you a way out. Some of us may be wondering if all these tribulations are signs of the Time. Could it be the omen of the end of the world? It is an approved fact that world has an end. Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Matthew 24:35). Before the coming of the Son of Man, “the sun shall be turned into darkness; the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Matthew 24:29). Perhaps the people who lived during the time of these prophesies might have thought these would be impossible. But now, when science advanced, we are all aware that sun is merely an extinguishing star. Even non-believers believe that world has an end. The famous physicist Stephen Hawking said that it is inevitable that either a nuclear confrontation or an environmental catastrophe will cripple the earth at some near point and human life would be impossible in the near future itself. The hasty Mars missions are the proof that world nations are taking his predictions seriously. The objective of Elon Musk's Tesla is the Mars settlements by 2030. NASA and China are also in the vanguard. Dutch project Mars 1, even opened registrations and 78,000 people already reserved for a One-Way Trip to Mars. Even for those who doubt the prophesies in Bible, the end of the world is a reality. As Christians, our attention shall not be in the world’s end, instead our focus should be on Christ’s second coming. All Christians affirm this everyday while reciting the Creed. Unlike any other time in the history, we need to take His coming seriously. We should prepare ourselves for his Second Coming. Moreover we shall prepare the world for that. If we are not equipped well, we won’t be able to do that adequately. So how are we going to do that? Through the proclamation of Gospel. Only through the might of the Gospel, we can prepare the world for His coming. If we don’t, who will? His afflictions, torments, tears and His blood would be in vain if we ignore our duty. It’s as if we are considering His blood shed for redemption worthless. World’s essential need is Gospel. The root cause for all problems is godlessness. The disaster is that those who are entitled to reveal God stagger numb-headed. St. Foustina said, “the sins of those who have come to know Jesus hurts Him rather heavily than those who are ignorant of Him.” God needs us, the faithful, to reveal Him to the world. How shall we transform the world? In the early centuries of Christianity, Gospel sanctified all the cultures it met. Yet, in the modern world Church stumbles in sanctifying this world. Also, we paved way for the evil of the world to enter the Church. How does this happen? Why do we live unarmed? Why are we unable to transform the world? Only one reason. We couldn’t set the world ablaze in Holy Spirit. One of our famous adages go ‘snake in the furnace’. That means, if a snake take shelter in the furnace or fire place, it implies that the fire has been blown out for long and that it was left unused. We are not ablaze by the Gospel because of our aridity. The serpent pitches tent in our hearts because we put out the fire inside us. Dear friends, it’s pointless if we fight against evil with our will alone. Evil will depart only when the fire of the Holy spirit set us ablaze, only when the power of the Gospel revives. This is exactly how Church rises from ruins. Law doesn’t remove darkness. It is the Holy Spirit who rejuvenates the Church. Only Gospel can transform world. We shall prepare the pitch. If we don’t, it’s the ultimate injustice. Have we ever considered what our greatest wreck is? We are investing time on trivial concerns and ignoring the vital affairs. Gospel is the greatest treasure God gave us and the redemption of souls is the foremost need. Overlooking these significant affairs is the root cause for the decline of the Church. Let us pray that this Easter season witnesses an enlightenment in the Church. When the Gospel is preached ardently, the forts of evil shake. But we should remember that God will never leave us orphaned. And surely, He is with us always, to the very end of the ages. There could be a time of tribulations, the appearance of antichrist and other dismays. We shall not be troubled by anything. Our focal point is Christ and our vocation is to proclaim Gospel. Thus, together we shall triumph over the reign of evil. St. Theresa of Avila says, “Let nothing trouble you; Let nothing frighten you. Everything passes. God never changes. Patience obtains all. Whoever has God wants for nothing. God alone is enough” Don’t be distressed by troubles. There is a God who is enough for me and you. Hold fast on to His hands and walk forward. The new Pentecost transfigures the face of the Church. We will walk through the light of His glory. So we shall pray fervently for a new Pentecost. We shall earnestly long for it with atonements. Each one of us needs to be risen in this Easter season; in our devotional exercises, spirituality, prayer life and all the walks of life. Let this Easter time witness the reawakening of all churches around the world.
What can I do when the Churches are closed and the Sacraments are not available? Make a prayerful space in your home for regular prayer with your family or alone. Gather your family together to pray the prayers of the Mass together. Dress up as if you were going out to church. Turn off phones and devices. You can use a missal, or use the Universalis app or website, or take advantage of the multitude of Masses being live streamed throughout the world. You could make a virtual visit to a different church every day. Many people are meeting electronically to pray the Rosary and Stations of the Cross. There are many beautiful recordings of the Rosary on the internet, including a Gregorian Chant Rosary. There are lots of inspiring talks to watch or listen to on Shalom World TV. Use your time wisely, and do not fritter it away. Look around your home to see who Christ is calling you to help today. Call to check on vulnerable people in your family or community. Compose a note, to put in mailboxes in your neighbourhood, offering support if they are ill or isolated. The elderly and disabled could be more endangered by neglect due to isolation, than the virus itself. Reflect upon how you have previously been using your free time and how it might be more valuably spent in the future. Contemplate what you have valued more – the material passing things in life, or the spiritual treasures which will last forever. Regular examination of conscience, accompanied by an Act of Contrition, should be part of your daily routine. We should always attempt to make this an Act of Perfect Contrition, particularly at this time, when we may not have access to Confession and Mass for an extended period. Perfect Contrition is when sorrow for sin stems purely from love for God. Imperfect Contrition is when the motive for sorrow is something else, like fear of Hell, loss of Heaven or the ghastliness of sin. When we are able to receive the Sacrament of Penance, Imperfect Contrition is enough to be reconciled to God and receive forgiveness. As World War Two approached, Saint Maximilian Kolbe spoke about what to do if priests are unavailable for Confession. “Whoever can, should receive the Sacrament of Penance. Whoever cannot, because of prohibiting circumstances, should cleanse his soul by Acts of Perfect Contrition: that is, the sorrow of a loving child who does not consider so much the pain or reward as he does the pardon from his father and mother to whom he has brought displeasure." If that is our regular habit, then we should have not greatly fear death because it is the gateway to Heaven. While Confession is not available in the usual place and time in most countries of the world at the moment, it may be possible to make an appointment for Confession, or some priests are hearing Confession in creative ways that maintain the efficacy of the sacrament and the health of the participants. Check with your parish. Act of Contrition O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest my sins above every other evil, because they displease Thee my God, who for Thy infinite goodness are so deserving of all my love, so I firmly resolve, never more to offend Thee, but to amend my life. Amen. Important: The Act of Perfect Contrition for mortal sin must include the desire for the Sacrament of Penance (Confession/Reconciliation) and the intention to receive it at the very first opportunity.
I’m gonna follow Jesus, All the days of my life, Even through times of pain and strife, I’m gonna follow Jesus For I know that He alone, Can deliver me from the bondage of sin, So I’m gonna follow Him until the end, Until the end of time I shall not look to man for my strength, To follow Him all the days of my life, For they shall crumble like sand, And fade from the face of the Earth That’s why I say, I’m gonna follow Jesus, To the end, To the end of time I’m gonna follow Jesus, All the days of my life, Even through times of pain and strife, I’m gonna follow Jesus.
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