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Dec 15, 2022 1154 Father Fiorello Mascarenhas SJ
Encounter

Failures Into Blessings!

Father Fio scaled the thick wall of hopelessness, and experienced how God writes straight on crooked lines

At the age of nineteen, after two years of college, I joined the Jesuit novitiate in Mumbai, and four years later, after my religious studies, I was sent back to St. Xavier’s College to complete a degree in chemistry. I was happy and proud about my future career as a college professor! I studied hard and did very well in the preliminary examinations. However, at the final examinations in 1968, my mind suddenly went blank, and I couldn’t remember a word of what I had studied! Far from covering myself with glory, I failed the exam! I felt confused and humiliated, and angry. “How could God do this to me?” I asked.

However, there was worse in store for me. I prayed and studied more determinedly and appeared again for the chemistry examination some months later. Everything had gone well during my preparations, yet in the examination hall my mind went as blank as before and I failed a second time! By now I had entered a real crisis of faith. I asked myself, “Is there really a God? If he is a loving God, how could he do this to me?” Slowly, I began to give up prayer. My religious life was in crisis and I began to lead a worldly life.

Hitting the Wall

Meanwhile, in 1970, I prepared for a third attempt at the chemistry examination. Before entering the hall, I whispered, “God, I know you don’t love me, so there’s no point in my asking you for help. But I hope you still love my mother, so please answer her prayer!” But for the third time the same thing happened, and I failed. I was then sent to learned Jesuit psychologists who gave me many tests and eventually diagnosed my problem as having “developed a psychological block to chemistry.” But none of them could tell me how to get rid of the block!

Two years after my third failure, having successfully completed religious studies in philosophy, when I was preparing for a fourth attempt at the chemistry exam, “amazing grace” unexpectedly flowed down upon me from the hands of the great and good God who had not given up on me! On 11 February 1972, I suddenly felt moved to kneel in my room before my vows-crucifix to surrender my life to God.

From the depths of my poverty and nothingness, I found myself crying out: “Lord, I have nothing to offer you! I am a failure, and I have no future! But if you have a plan for my life, if you can use me in some way for your Kingdom, here I am!”

That was my moment of surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and of being “baptized in the Holy Spirit.” I was no longer in the driver’s seat of my life telling the Lord what to do for me; instead, I was asking Him to do with me as He willed.

Life-changing Moment

God’s response was immediate! Even as I knelt there, I clearly heard God say to me, “Fio, you are my beloved son in whom I am well pleased!” Those last words,“well pleased,” made no sense to me at all! If God had scolded me for all those months of unbelief, for giving up on prayer, etc., I would have understood it. But to be affirmed, to be welcomed so lovingly was too much for my small mind to grasp! And yet, deep down in my heart, I felt tremendous joy springing up, a divine consolation. In that moment, I was filled with such exultation that I shouted aloud, “JESUS, YOU ARE ALIVE, ALLELUIA!” This was at a time when the Charismatic Renewal had not yet reached India.

Experiencing the Lord speaking words of love to me completely transformed my life. I now understand that before God’s plans for me could be fulfilled, my ego had to be broken. My strange exam failures did the job! God gave me a new mindset and only then could I begin to appreciate the gratuitous character of salvation in Christ. God’s abundant love for each of us is a gift, for we are saved by grace, through faith, not by our merits.

The direction of my life soon changed! After I finally passed the chemistry exams and received my science degree with honours, my superior made a surprising announcement: “Fio,” they said,“we no longer want you to become a Professor in our College!

You have had a special spiritual experience; go share it with the world!”

You can imagine my surprise at the divine irony of what God had done in my life. Had I passed those exams straight away, for the whole of my priestly life I would have gone daily to the chemistry lab to teach college students how to mix hydrogen and sulphide…and then breathe in that wretched smell!

God indeed had a plan for my life. For 30 years He blessed me with a pioneering servant-leadership role in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in India and worldwide, enjoying eight of those years in Rome. For the last twenty years, God has used me in the pastoral-biblical ministry as a preacher and writer. By God’s amazing grace, I have happily proclaimed the Good News in over eighty countries to hundreds of thousands of people hungry for God’s word. I have authored eighteen books on biblical spirituality, many of which are translated into several Indian and foreign languages. All this resulted from my embarrassing and demoralizing failure. But God writes straight with crooked lines!

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Father Fiorello Mascarenhas SJ

Father Fiorello Mascarenhas SJ is the Chairman of the Catholic Bible Institute, Mumbai. He was the Director and Chairman (1981-1987) of the International Council for Catholic Charismatic Renewal, as resident in Vatican City. Father Mascarenhas was awarded the Doctor of Ministry degree in Biblical Spirituality by the Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.

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