LOOKING FORWARD

Our former Archbishop, His Grace Angelo Fernandes of happy memory, in his ‘emeritus’ years (1991-2000) penned down several thought-provoking booklets on LOVE (Being In Love And Living To The Full,Preparing Oneself For Joyous Living,More About Being In Love, Love’s Dynamic Outreach,Still More About Being In Love,Yet More About Being In Love,Living Joyously In The Sunset Years, Wisdom: The Door To Life, Love And Joy) which are his spiritual legacy to us. Once, in the Archbishop’s House, while discussing some of his thoughts with a group, someone remarked jokingly, “Your Grace, why didn’t you say all this before your retirement?” Pat came the reply from Archbishop Angelo Fernandes: ”You guys are looking backward; I am looking forward”.

Yes, he was indeed a man of contemplative prayer who ‘looked forward’. He had a hope-filled positive outlook on life as that of a saint and mystic. These words of St. Paul could well apply to him: “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:13-14).

We may waste our precious years and the promise they contain by looking backward, instead of forward; and it may be too late by the time we realize our foolishness. ‘Looking forward’ gives to life eagle’s wings; it prevents us from being depressed and demoralized; we re-gain the freshness and enthusiasm of our youth; it gives meaning and purpose to our lives; we commit and re-commit ourselves to life-giving goals.

What does Archbishop Angelo Fernandes mean by ‘looking forward’ and not ‘backward’?

In his outlook, to ‘look forward’ means to be in a constant process of growth towards greater maturity and love, for which the ‘past’ is both a springboard and something to be left behind in order to move forward. We return to our past to learn from it, but we move forward to become the person God wants me to be. And what is the person God wants me to be? A person fully human and fully alive. Such a person, said St. Irenaeus, the great 2nd century father of the Church, is the glory of God. A fully human and fully alive person is one who is in harmony with God, with one self, with others and with the Universe.

To enjoy this harmony means to be immersed in the mystery of God’s infinite love revealed to us in Jesus Christ our Saviour and Lord. Only such a person experiences the true joy of life, is filled with the peace that this world cannot give us and spreads love in his/her environment, even in the midst of pain and suffering, difficulties and obstacles, inner wounds and bitter memories.

To give love we must possess love. To teach love we must comprehend love. To recognize love we must be receptive in love. To trust love we must be convinced of love. To yield love we must be vulnerable to love. To dedicate ourselves to love we must be forever growing in love; and why? Because, if we are not growing and ‘becoming’, we are sliding backwards as human beings. If we are not growing constantly in love, our personalities are slowly dying. There is no standing still in the life of the Spirit (cf. Still More About Being In Love, pp. 20-21).

Love is indeed an inexhaustible mystery which we will never be able to explore fully, like life itself. Love will always challenge us to an ever better and deeper understanding and thirst for its beauty and splendour: “The process of love is a two-dimensional reality. It involves our being stretched in two directions, the upward movement towards the Lord from whom we came and to whom we have to return, and the outward movement towards the neighbour, as we pass from selfishness to service of others and from loneliness to kinship with all humankind. The antidote to loneliness is loving others, not in being loved” (More About Being In Love, p.24).

For wise and healthy living the ‘power of love’ is the indisputable secret. Life and love always go together for life without love is empty and dead. And here’s a story:

A partially deaf child was sent home from school with a note: “The boy is too stupid to learn.” “My son Tom isn’t too stupid to learn”, said his mother. “I will teach him myself”. And she did. Years later when the man died his whole nation paid tribute to him by turning off the Nation’s lights for a full minute! That was Thomas Edison who invented not only the light bulb but also motion pictures, and record players, thanks to a mother’s love! (Yet More About Being In Love, pp. 7-8).

Another profound reflection written thirty years ago, and yet so relevant:

Abraham Lincoln was walking a street with his two sons when the boys started quarrelling. “What’s the trouble with your boys Mr. Lincoln?” a passer-by asked. The same thing that’s wrong with the rest of the world was Lincoln’s reply. “I’ve got three walnuts and each boy wants two.”

An unknown author thus describes the chronic sin of selfishness:

I had a little tea party this afternoon at three

Twas very small – three guests in all – just I, myself and me.

Myself ate all the sandwiches,

While I drank all the tea,

Twas also I who ate the pie

And passed the cake to me.

This is the selfishness that is at the root of all the socio-economic disparities in our society, the greed of the few rich that deprives the poor of their needs, the lack of integrity and honesty in public life, the primacy of the ‘fast buck’ to be acquired by fair means or foul, the unhealthy and abnormal state of affairs we experience everywhere.

This is also at the root of family disputes, marriage break-ups and their negative impact on children. Therefore, frustrated individuals seek an escape in sexual promiscuity and indulge in erotic experiences. These are often paraded in the media as a substitute for true and lasting love ( Yet More About Being In Love, pp. 12-13).

In the same vein, underlying our censorious and negative attitudes, the blame games we play, our stone throwing habits, our thoughtless words, our carping criticism etc., is this selfishness (cf. More About Being In Love, pp. 16-17).

In the context of this situation of brokenness we live in, young people who are serious about their present and future have something very profound to say about what constitutes love:

· Love is a total self-gift, so it must involve the entire personality. The total experience transcends mere feeling just as it transcends mere intellect. The mind, the heart, the will must all enter into the response.

· The more active the response the faster will we arrive at a real disinterested friendship, a closeness and intimacy which is one of the ambitions of love.

· The others are: Being present to each other all the time and wanting to give more of oneself to the other, a spirit of sacrifice and surrender and a readiness even to die for each other.

· The heart of the matter is ‘incredible love affair of prayer’. It is through prayer alone that we improve our attitudes towards God, ourselves and others and are ready to engage in humble, effective help and service.

· True love demands discipline and self-sacrifice. The surrender implied in the gift of self in love can be very exacting.

· Love needs freedom to grow; on the one hand, a sense of dignity and identity, a healthy self-esteem, and on the other, a deep respect and even reverence for the dignity and personhood of the other.

· Love clamours for social justice. Economic growth is unquestionably a basic requirement for human development, but the human mind is hungry for something deeper in terms of moral and spiritual development, without which all the material advance may not be worthwhile.

· Only justice can ensure peace in society. People who do not uphold the human rights of others can hardly be called ‘loving’.

· Love is a risk, a deed of daring. It exposes our own vulnerability and may call for disclosing our wounds and sharing our brokenness.

· Love requires listening, forgiving and healing each other, and giving love because we want to love and not for the sake of any return.

· Yes, the joy of loving and the joy of giving are much the same thing (cf. Still More About Being In Love, pp. 22-27).

· If we are faithful in our search for Life, that life will come to meet us on the wings of Love and find us. After all, love is not just something but SOMEONE who is always present with us and in us, with his wisdom, joy and compassion (cf. Wisdom The Door To Life Love And Joy, p. 69).

We know the story of Lot’s wife. She “looked back, and she became a pillar of salt” (Gen. 19:26). That story can be a good metaphor for what can happen to our lives if we look backward instead of looking forward. A pillar of salt is lifeless, stony and immobile; the same can be our story if we allow the past to rule our lives – we will be lifeless and immobile.

The world has entered the new year 2023 and within twinkle of an eye it will become ‘old’ year. Before the days, weeks and months pass like sand slipping through our fingers, let us pray for the grace to ‘look forward’. Looking forward is the quality of ‘hope’ that we carry from the day of our baptism, of our life to be lived with God forever in the eternal bliss of the Holy Trinity. This intense desire to be with God forever in his Kingdom applies to old and young alike, because it is fundamental to our Christian discipleship and gives meaning to our life’s journey on earth.

Let the New Year 2023 signify ‘newness’ in our attitudes, our behaviour patterns, our relationships, our spiritual life, our sense of responsibility towards God, ourselves and others.

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