Esther Ahn Kim walked slowly up the hill to the shrine, with her students following silently behind her. The young music teacher knew that when she arrived at the place of worship she would be forced to make a life-changing choice. The Japanese, who had taken control of Korea in 1937, were forcing everyone to bow at the shrine of their “sun god.” The punishment for refusing was imprisonment, torture and possibly even death.
Even though so many other Christians had decided that outwardly bowing to the idol was acceptable as long as they continued to worship Christ in their hearts, Esther could not make such a compromise. She said a silent prayer to Him. “Today on the mountain, before the large crowd, I will proclaim that there is no other God but You,” she declared.
A huge crowd had gathered, standing in straight, respectful lines, afraid to move under the cruel gaze of the Japanese policemen. Esther’s heart began to pound with dread for what she was about to do. A sense of uneasiness swept over her, and she silently repeated the Lord’s Prayer, over and over. “Lord,” she prayed, “I am so weak! Please help me do this—watch over me as I stand for You.”
When one of the officials called out in a loud voice: “Our profoundest bow to Amaterasu Omikami!” the entire group bent down, bowing solemnly before the shrine. Esther was the only one who remained standing, looking up at the sky. The fear and uncertainty that had gripped her just moments before had vanished. Peace flooded her heart. She knew she had done what God wanted her to do.
Her courageous stand for Christ led to six harrowing years in Japanese prisons. During that time, though her body grew weak with suffering, she shone with a supernatural love for her persecutors and fellow prisoners.
One freezing night, Esther heard what she described as an “eerie, moaning sound.” She was informed by a jailer that it was a 20-year-old Chinese convict who was scheduled to be put to death for killing her husband. Unable to get the woman out of her mind, Esther asked that this dangerous prisoner could be brought to her cell. The jailer warned Esther, saying, “She’s crazy. She bites everybody.” Esther persisted.
The following days were arduous for Esther, physically, emotionally and spiritually. She gave up her meager prison food to this woman who was filthy and insane. Instead of despising her, like everyone else, Esther prayed for her relentlessly, sacrificing her own comforts to reach the woman’s heart. Over time, she was able to share Christ’s love with her new friend. Their fellow prisoners were astounded to witness the woman’s transformation.
When this young woman was taken to her execution, Esther’s eyes overflowed with tears, watching her walk “as though hurrying to meet Jesus Christ.” Because Esther decided to embrace this “crazy,” “dangerous” woman with a love she had never known, many others have since followed her astounding example of “suffering hardship as a good soldier for Christ.” By opening her arms to receive her, as she would receive Christ, she brought many others, who would never have heard the gospel otherwise, right into the Kingdom of God.
Am I prepared to suffer well for Jesus Christ? In the midst of our comfortable lifestyles, it’s easy to think, “Of course, if persecution came I would never deny the name of Christ. Of course, if I were thrown into prison I’d remain strong in my faith.”
We must ask ourselves, are we truly “dying to self” daily, as Esther did? Or are we more concerned with protecting our own comforts and interests?
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.
The long season of Lent has prepares us to delve once more into the mystery of the dying and rising of the Lord Jesus. As I have been contemplating the events of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday, my mind has turned, again and again, to the brute fact of pain. Perhaps this was conditioned by a recent conversation I had with Jordan Peterson, who commented that pain is somehow metaphysically basic. What he meant was that even the most skeptical philosopher would have to admit the existence of pain and would have to deal with it. Try as we might to flee from the world of matter, our bodies and our minds simply will not permit us to set aside the fact and the problem of suffering. Everyone suffers and at a variety of levels. Babies suffer from hunger and thirst, and their piercing cries remind us of it. All of us have experienced at some point cuts, blisters, bruises, broken bones, infections, rashes, and bleeding. If we live long enough, we develop cancers; our arteries clog up and we suffer heart attacks and strokes. Many of us have spent substantial time in hospitals, where we languished in bed, unable to function. Innumerable people live their lives now in chronic pain, with no real hope of a cure. And as I compose these words, thousands of people around the world are dying, gasping for their last breaths. But pain is by no means restricted to the physical dimension. In many ways, psychological suffering is more acute, more terrible, than bodily pain. Even little children experience isolation and the fear of abandonment. From the time we are small, we know what it is like to feel rejection and humiliation. A tremendous psychological suffering arises from loneliness, and I have experienced this a number of times in my life, particularly when I started at a new school in a city I did not know. Commencing one’s day and having no realistic prospect of human connection is just hellish. And practically everyone has had the dreadful experience of losing a loved one. When the realization sinks in that this person, who is so important to you, has simply disappeared from this world, you enter a realm of darkness unlike any other. And who can forget the dreadful texture of the feeling of being betrayed? When someone that you were convinced was a friend, utterly on your side, turns on you, you feel as though the foundation of your life has given way. But we haven’t looked all the way to the bottom of the well of suffering, for there is also what I might call existential pain. This is the suffering that arises from the loss of meaning and purpose. Someone might be physically fine and even psychologically balanced but might at the same time be laboring under the weight of despair. Jean-Paul Sartre’s adage “la vie est absurd” (life is absurd) or Friedrich Nietzsche’s “God is dead” expresses this state of mind. Having surveyed these various levels of pain, we sense the deep truth in the Buddhist conviction that “all life is suffering.” Now I want to take one more important step. There is a very tight connection between pain and sin. Most of the harm that we intentionally do to other people is prompted by suffering. In order to avoid it, avenge it, or preempt it, we will inflict it upon others. And this is the leitmotif of much of the dark and roiled story of humankind. To bring it down to earth, just consider how you behave toward others when you are in great pain. My gentle reader is probably wondering by now why I have been dwelling so insistently on these dark truths. The reason is simple. During the holiest time of the year, the Church places before us an image of a man experiencing practically every kind of pain. The Roman cross was perhaps the most wickedly clever instrument of torture ever devised. The person whose infinitely bad fortune it was to hang from it died very slowly of asphyxiation and exsanguinations, even as he writhed in literally excruciating (ex cruce, from the cross) pain. That’s how Jesus died: at the limit of physical suffering, covered in bruises and lacerations. But more than this, he died in equally excruciating psychological distress. His closest friends had abandoned, betrayed, or denied him; passersby were laughing at him and spitting on him; the authorities, both religious and political, were mocking and taunting him. And dare I say, he was also in the grip of something like existential suffering. The awful cry, “God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” could only have come from a sense of distance from the source of meaning. However, the one who hung upon that terrible cross was not just a man; he was God as well. And this truth is the hinge upon which the Paschal Mystery turns. God has taken upon himself all of the pain that bedevils the human condition: physical, psychological, and spiritual. God goes into the darkest places that we inhabit. God experiences the brute metaphysical fact of suffering in all of its dimensions. And this means that pain does not have the final word! This means that pain has been enveloped in the divine mercy. And this implies, finally, that sin has been dealt with. Once we understand that God’s love is more powerful than suffering, we have lost, at least in principle, the motivation to sin. These wonderful Easter days teach us that pain, in point of fact, is not metaphysically basic. The divine mercy is metaphysically basic. And in that is our salvation.
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