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"Holiness is not the luxury of a few. It is everyone's duty: yours and mine."  ~Mother Teresa

Lent 2019

 

Lent 2019

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The season of Lent for a believing Catholic is meant to be a spring time. It is meant to be a time of grace concentrating on the three essential foundational practices of the Church, based on the teaching of our Master and Saviour: Charity, prayer and penance (cf. Mt 6: 1-6, 16-18).

 These three essential elements are sustained by the proclamation of the Word of God known as kerygma, martyria, through divine worship known as Liturgia and whole-hearted free service after the example of Jesus and at his command known as Diaconia. Here I would like to quote the teaching of St. Peter Chrysologus (A.D. 406-450), Archbishop of Ravenna, Italy, Doctor of the Church (A.D. 1729):

“There are three things by which faith stands firm, devotion remains constant, and virtue endures. They are prayer, penance and works of mercy. Prayer knocks at the door, penance obtains and works of mercy receive: these three are one and they give light to each other.

Penance is the soul of prayer; works of mercy are the life-blood of penance. Let no one try to separate them. If you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others, you open God’s ear to yourself.

When you fast, see the fasting of others. If you want God to know that you are hungry, know that another is hungry. If you hope for mercy, show mercy. If you look for kindness, show kindness. If you want to receive, give. If you ask for yourself what you deny to others, your asking is a mockery.

Let prayer, penance and works of mercy be one single plea to God on our behalf, one speech in our defence, a threefold united prayer in our favour”(Sermon 43, Office of Readings for Tuesday, Lent, week 3).

Lent is also a time to fight against all the seven capital sins of pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony and sloth (cf. CCC 1866). We should not only fight against but win over them with God’s grace. It is not enough to fight against these capital sins , but we must earnestly endeavour to practice the opposite virtues.

Let us take the first capital sin of pride and try to understand the virtue of humility, which is the opposite of pride. It is very necessary for us again and again to try to understand what is meant by humility.

Humility is not the denial of truth, but accepting the truth with charity and love. Here we use St. Thomas Aquinas’s descriptive definition of humility. He says that humility is built on two pillars, the first is truth and the other is justice. The truth is that whatever is good in me comes from God. This can include also the place of birth. None of us has chosen our place of birth nor did we choose our parents, brothers or sisters. The good God gave them to us. It doesn’t matter where we are born, but it matters how we live our lives now! The second pillar of humility is justice, namely all glory and honour should go to God alone. The prayer our Triune God loves most is the prayer of praise and thanksgiving, prayed with humility and love.

The season of Lent is an important time to reflect upon the humility of God, the humility of Jesus, the Son of God who, though he was God, did not count equality with God, rather emptied himself taking the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of man. He was known to be of human estate and it was thus that he humbled himself obediently accepting even death, death on a cross…(cf. Phil 2: 6-11). It is enough to read meditatively the account of the passion of Jesus in any one of the four Gospels to understand the humility of the God-man, Jesus.

It is easy to understand the greatness of God, it is more difficult to grasp the humility of God. Jesus wants us to be humble like him, for he said: “Learn of me, for I am meek and humble of heart” (cf. Mt. 11: 29).

St. Augustine says that it is better to do an evil act with humility than a good act with pride. In this holy season of Lent let us learn humility from Jesus. His life, teaching and example speak very eloquently of the all important virtue of humility. If Jesus was not humble, he could not have died on the cross between two thieves like a criminal to save us all. It was on the cross that Jesus became the supreme example of humility, obedience and love. Greater humility and love than this no one can have, that he remained clung to the cross when he was challenged: “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross, and we will believe in you…” Jesus was the Son of God and he could have very easily come down from the cross, but he did not. Instead, he prayed: “Forgive them, Father, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23: 34).

It is worth quoting here the following lines from the document Ecclesia in Asia, namely: “In Jesus we marvel at the inexhaustible capacity of the human heart to love God and man. Above all it is on the cross that Jesus breaks the self-destructive resistance to love which sin inflicts on us”.

This holy season urges us to the holy practice of humbling ourselves by abstaining from other than mere food for the body. The eye should abstain from all vain and curious sights, the ears from listening to idle talk, the tongue from detraction and frivolous words. True sorrow for past sins, can best be expressed through acts of love and charity towards others. When we meet, for example, those who are in need of food, clothing or shelter, do not turn away from them, for they are our brothers and sisters. Then our light shall break forth like the dawn, and our good deeds shall go before us. Teach us, Lord, to be loving, not only in great and exceptional moments, but above all in the ordinary events of our daily life!

The season of Lent invites us to abstain from what we do not really need and to help our fellowmen and women who live and die in poverty and hunger. Let us not forget that when we feed the hungry one, we feed Jesus in the hungry and give to Jesus when we give water to the thirsty: “As long as you did this to one of the least of my brothers, you did it to me”, says our Divine Master. It is the same Jesus who spoke so emphatically about eating his body and drinking his blood, who counsels us to feed the hungry and thirsty. There are two tabernacles: Jesus in the Bread of life is to be loved, adored and eaten, and Jesus in the poorest of the poor is to be loved and served. How could it be otherwise as the Jesus we praise, adore and thank in prayer is the same whom we feed in the hungry one, whom we clothe in the naked one, whom we shelter in the homeless one, whom we satiate in the thirsty one, whom we visit in the imprisoned, and whom we take care of in the sick one.

Lent is a time of profound and positive silence and contemplation. Only through contemplation we are able to penetrate the impenetrable darkness and dryness that we may experience in our life of prayer. By praying we learn to pray. We do not learn driving without starting to drive. The more we drive, the more confident we become. The more we pray the more we learn to pray. We come to know that prayer is no longer a duty or a burden, but a gift and a privilege. We come to understand that prayer is not a part time job, prayer is like breathing. We do not breathe just for a few hours a day, but every moment of our life as long as we are alive. Those who stop breathing are dead. Those who stop praying are spiritually dead.

Prayer can be a struggle. We must be ready to face any sort of trial, dryness or desolation in prayer. Sometimes we will taste and see how good the Lord is! Sometimes we can be dry and joyless, like a parched land or an empty well. But our thirst and helplessness will be our best prayer if we accept them with patience and embrace them lovingly. At times our prayer can be an experience of the infinite distance that separates us from God; at other times our being and his fullness will flow into each other.

It can be said that, for us, prayer is our vocation. “Contemplation of divine things and assiduous union with God is our first and primary duty” (cf. Canon 663/1). It is our vocation; our zeal for the kingdom of God and for our availability to serve the poorest of the poor, beginning with the persons we live with.

Jesus begged St. Teresa of Calcutta saying: “Give me souls, the souls of the poor street children…”. He is begging you and me all the time and says: “I have absolutely no one for my very poor”.

In our night shelter Casa Serena in Rome, we have over 75 men from the street, who are God’s gifts to us. Casa Serena is our second tabernacle, where we have seven groups of volunteers who come very regularly to prepare the evening meal and serve them with joy.

In our home for the handicapped boys and men in Bethel, in Albania, the brothers and our paid workers serve over 34 boys and men. They are very heavily handicapped. At times I feel it impossible to continue, as every two months they need almost twenty-five thousand euro. So far, somehow God’s providence took care of it. But then we also have other communities and homes for the disabled boys and men in Ghana and Nigeria, who depend a lot on the Mother House in Rome for financial assistance. Of course, it is not social work; it is God’s work. Thanks be to God and thanks to all those who help us to continue God’s work.

In the two houses in India, Deepashram and Anandashram, we have about one hundred disabled boys and men. Thanks be to God, these two homes are run with the help of many generous Hindu benefactors, who bring in kind most of the things the boys and men need. The brothers go on a regular basis to two of the supermarkets to collect fruit and vegetables enough and more for the week. All the three meals, breakfast, lunch and supper are booked by the various Hindu families or companies. One company installed on their own expense all the panels for electricity for Deepashram house. Another company sponsored a vehicle for the house. They all belong to the Hindu religion!

According to the gospel of Matthew the final judgement will be based on how we took care of the needy: the hungry, thirsty, naked, homeless, sick and imprisoned. They didn’t even know that they were doing it to Jesus. In fact they asked: “When did we see you hungry, thirsty, naked, homeless, sick, imprisoned…” The judge will respond: “As long as you did it to one of the least of my brothers you did it to me”. These are going to be the blessed of the Father of Jesus Christ: “Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…” Read again and again Mt 25: 31-46, meditate, pray. See, judge and act, especially during the season of Lent.

Let us try to live our Lent more intensely. Let us pray more and more fervently, offer more and more sacrifices and penances and above all give whole-hearted free service more and more joyfully and enthusiastically! To this end I pray and ask the prayers of all. Love and prayers.

God bless you.
Fr. Sebastian Vazhakala, M.C.