Shepherd's Voice December 2019


As we bid good-bye to 2019 we need to give thanks to God for the year that is ending. It is not without reason that in almost all parishes throughout the world there is a service of thanksgiving on December 31. This service underlines the indispensability of gratitude in our Christian life, firstly to God, the source and sustainer of our being, and then to our fellow human beings through whom God works for our good. Without gratitude we are less human, with gratitude we are both human and divine. When we are ‘thankful’ we let go of our bitterness, anger and negative emotions and instead, allow God’s love, peace and joy to flood our hearts and determine our thoughts, desires and actions.
How many times St. Paul exhorts us to be ‘thankful’ to God! He is utterly convinced that the peace of Christ will rule in our hearts when we are thankful; and thankfulness will burst into psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. This will be a proof that the word of Christ dwells richly in our hearts as we also teach and admonish one another in all wisdom (cf. Col. 3:16-17). The mark of a Christian is to be joyful at all times and not to be anxious about anything but with complete trust in the Lord and with thankfulness in the heart to place all our petitions and supplications before God and the result will be, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4-7). If ever I realize that joy and peace are diminishing in my heart and love has gone cold I have to ask myself where I have strayed from the path of the Gospel and pray for the grace to ‘return’ to the path of light and life Christ has shown. All our worship and prayer is to bring us individually and collectively to the fundamental path of ‘thankfulness’. A sense of gratitude in the heart is always a sure anti-dote to grumbling, murmuring, irritability, self-pity, anger, hatred and resentment. This pertains not only to times of ‘prosperity’ but all the more to times of ‘adversity’ as St. Paul again reminds us: “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:3-5).
In the USA there’s a ‘national day thanksgiving’, which is a wonderful tradition. Reflecting on this Fr. James Martin SJ (as reported in Catholic News Asia of Nov 19, 2019) points out that thanksgiving should be a daily occurrence, not an annual one. He says: “Thanksgiving is coming up. And if you think about it, that’s a strange thing to say for the Christian, isn’t it? Because giving thanks should be a daily occurrence, not an annual one. St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, once said that ingratitude was the worst of sins, and in fact, the origin of all sins. And you can see what he meant. If you’re not grateful for what you already have in your life, you tend to want more and more and then get a bit greedy, and then acquisitive and then impatient and then grasping, and so on. From there it’s just a short step to sinful behaviour. This is one reason, among many, that St. Ignatius invites us to start the daily Examen with gratitude. Not only because it’s a positive way to start off reviewing our day, and encourage us to see the good first, but because it grounds us in the reality of our lives. Gratitude is about looking at what God has already done, rather than looking at what you might need or want in the future, which may not be accurate at all. Gratitude, then, is a prayer about reality. And that’s true in whatever country you live”.
The passing of years gives occasion to another important reflection – the mystery of time and shortness of life. Some of us – subjectively of course – may feel the years are passing too fast, some others may not, but none can deny every passing moment brings us closer to the final goodbye from this world. The passing of time is a reality of life; we cannot escape it; what we can do to make life meaningful is to ‘celebrate’ time by living the ‘present moment’ in all its intensity.
Archbishop Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan (now on the road to beatification) in his famous book Testimony of Hope (Mumbai: Pauline Publications, 2000) leads us into a profound reflection on “The Present Moment” which is the only time we have in our hands, because the past is gone, and we do not know if there will be a future; therefore the present moment is our greatest wealth. He spent many years in prison and, despite the rigors of prison life, used his time, like St. Paul, to write messages of love to his people from prison.
So many people in the present context live strangely ‘alienated’ lives. Either they live in the past, in their memories, or in the expectation of the future, while seeking to avoid the present moment, or exercise their spirit in inventing ways ‘to kill time’. Such people do not live in the here and now, but in fantasies of which they are unaware. They don’t realize that eternity only touches the present moment and only gives itself to someone who is totally present in that moment. The present moment is our only chance to really ‘live’ and set our earthly life on the course to eternal life.
The NOW is the moment of grace, of the freedom that comes from the encounter with my Saviour. The Bible puts it starkly: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Ps. 95: 8). Also: “Behold, now is the favourable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2Cor. 6:2).
The entire message of the Gospel is focused on the NOW – to respond to God in repentance, to follow Christ in discipleship, to reject the wiles of the Evil One, to be a Good Samaritan, to love as Christ loved, to give and ask for forgiveness, to walk in the path of the Beatitudes, to recognize Christ in the poor and the downtrodden, to obey God’s will. We cannot postpone our salvation for TOMORROW, neither can we remain tied up with YESTERDAY; NOW is the moment of God’s visitation and we cannot let it pass by.
All of the Saints and holy people are great witnesses to the importance of living the present moment well. Archbishop Francis Xavier Van Thuan has given a cryptic summary of the characteristic spirituality of some of them:
St. Ignatius of Loyola – “to the greater glory of God”
St. John Bosco – “give me souls”
St. Mother Teresa – “Mercy”. “It is not the number of our works that are important, but the intensity of the love we put into every action”.
St. Paul of the Cross – “managing to live moment by moment in Him by doing well His will in every event”
St. Teresa of the Child Jesus – “My life is but an instant, a passing hour; O my God! You know that to love you on this earth, I only have today!”
St. FaustinaKowalska (Divine Mercy) – “If I look at the future I am full of fear … The past is not within my power… O present moment, you belong to me completely… Therefore, trusting in your mercy, I go forward in life as a child, and every day I offer to you my heart enflamed with love form your greater glory”.
Chiara Lubich (Focolare) – “the way of holiness is to live in God in the present moment”.
St. Pope Paul VI wrote in his “Thoughts on Death”:
“I will no longer look back, but do willingly, simply, humbly, and bravely the duties that come from the circumstances in which I find myself, as your will. To do quickly. To do everything. To do it well. To do it joyfully – whatever you want of me right now, even if it is beyond my strength, even if it asks my life. Finally, at the last hour”.
Archbishop’s Van Thuan’s advice: “How does one achieve this intensity of love (as taught by Mother Teresa) in the present moment? I simply think that I must live each day as the last one of my life. To leave aside everything accidental, to concentrate only on the essential”. “Every word, every gesture, every telephone call, every decision we make should be the most beautiful one of our life, giving our love and our smile to everyone, without losing a second. Let every moment of our life be, the first moment, the last moment, the only moment”. “I am afraid of wasting even one second by living it without meaning… When our hearts are filled with gratitude we also learn how to fill up each moment with love and make it grace-filled. May the One from whom we have received “grace upon grace” (Jn. 1:16) help us to make it so in 2020.

+ Archbishop Anil Couto
Archbishop of Delhi

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