Shepherd's Voice July 2020

THE CROSS OF JESUS: SIGN OF HOPE

On the evening of April 17, 2020 during the Easter Octave, after a brief spring shower, probably all of Delhi watched with joy coupled with amazement the beautiful rainbow over the dark clouds. I said to myself “here’s a sign from God that his love and mercy will never forsake us” despite the rising Covid-19 cases. Just at that moment a thought flashed in my mind: “we don’t need to look for rainbows in the sky; the greatest sign of God’s love for us is the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and it is not only a sign but the very instrument of redemption and life, of our salvation”. The Cross proclaims to us the greatest mystery ever proclaimed to the world: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (Jn. 3: 16-17). Could there be a more powerful sign of hope for a humanity that is perishing at this moment than the Cross? Are we ready to look at the Cross and cry to the Lord: “Save us, Lord; we are perishing’ (Mt. 8: 25) or “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn. 6:66)? And he will certainly answer us: “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” (Mt. 8:26) and “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Mt. 14: 31).
Though the media are blaring that the rate of infections is climbing and there is a ‘peak’ to come in November we put our TRUST in our merciful Lord to reverse the gloomy situation and prove the prognosis wrong. Faith, even as small as a mustard seed, can move mountains (cf. Mt. 17:20-21).
Pope Francis in the ‘Extraordinary Moment of Prayer’ presided over by him at a totally empty St. Peter’s Square in the evening of March 27, 2020 reflected on the passage in Mark 4: 35-41 where ‘Jesus Calms the Storm’. He compares the present Covid-19 global crisis to a severe ‘storm’ that is rocking our boat and we are panicking, which is a normal human reaction. But the Lord ‘sleeping’ soundly in the boat (only instance of Jesus sleeping) sends the message of complete and unconditional trust in the Father who cares for us. The disciples filled with fear wake up the Lord saying: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” The Lord wakes up and rebukes the wind and says to the sea: “Peace! Be still!” and the wind ceases and a great calm descends on the sea. The disciples indeed realize that when the Lord of heaven and earth is with us we need not be afraid. All that is needed is that humble and trusting faith in Him who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
The Pope underlines the Risen Lord’s invitation to us, in the midst of this tempest, to reawaken our faith in His presence with us. This is our ‘Easter faith’ which we begin to profess from the day of our baptism. The Lord is reawakening and reviving this faith which is God’s greatest gift to us in the Holy Spirit. This gift is always linked to the other two great gifts of ‘love’ and ‘hope’; so our Easter faith is leading us to be creators of that solidarity and hope in our society which are “capable of giving strength, support and meaning to these hours when everything seems to be floundering”. The Pope is assuring us that, in our ‘life’s boat’, we have an ‘anchor’ that has saved us, a ‘rudder’ that has redeemed us and a ’hope’ that has healed and embraced us so that nothing and no one can separate us from His redeeming love; and this anchor, rudder and hope is the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ. When we embrace the Cross we embrace hope. This is the strength of our faith which frees us from all fear because we have embraced the Lord.
Coming back to the theme of the ‘rainbow’ the Book of Genesis narrates the terrible story of the Flood that destroyed the earth because of human sin. The increasing corruption on earth by human beings led God to regret that he had ever created them, but Noah found favour in the eyes of the Lord (cf. Gen. 6: 5-8). Were the ‘animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens’ which had committed no sin also responsible for the ‘corruption’ on the earth? Certainly they were not and yet they became victims of the flood because ‘human sin’ had sucked them into its vortex. The Bible is absolutely right when it links the destruction of nature to human sin. Man, the ‘crown of creation’, in his greed and selfishness, also becomes the destroyer of God’s creation as the current ecological crisis of the world so blatantly testifies. Pope Francis talks about it in his 2015 Encyclical Laudato Si: On Care of Our Common Home.
It is important to note that, in the midst of the total corruption on the earth, there was a Noah who was “a righteous man, blameless in his generation” and who “walked with God” (Gen. 6: 9). Pope Francis says: “through Noah, who remained innocent and just, God decided to open a path of salvation. In this way God gave humanity the chance of a new beginning. All it takes is one good person to restore hope!” (Laudato Si 71).
When Noah came out of the ark, he built an altar to the Lord God and offered a sacrifice on it, the aroma of which pleased God and he said: “I will never again curse the ground because of man” (Gen. 8: 21). This pleasing sacrifice represents Noah’s life of truth and righteousness before God as St. Paul would say later: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, as fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:1-2). At the end of the chastisement by flood God makes a solemn covenant with Noah. It was a covenant not only with Noah and his offspring but with every living creature that came out of the ark. God promises “that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth” (Gen. 9: 11). And the sign of the covenant is the rainbow (cf. Gen. 9: 12-16).
The rainbow was the sign of God’s promise of hope to Noah for the birth of a new humanity and a new creation. This hope was firmly grounded on one condition: living a life pleasing to God according to the law of truth and righteousness ingrained in the heart. Therefore hope is not just a matter of wishing and dreaming but is unconditionally bound up with repentance, conversion of heart and new life founded on righteousness and truth. Noah is the epitome of this attitude before God – of humble submission to God’s will and prayerful surrender into His hands, not knowing exactly how the future will unfold. This spiritual legacy of Noah did not last very long. Sinful human nature very soon asserted itself and so we have the story of the destruction of the twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (cf. Gen. 18-19) because of their grave sin and the absence of even ten righteous persons. Non-repentance eliminates hope. On the other hand, when there is acknowledgement of sinfulness and repentance for the wrong done and a firm resolve to be transformed by God’s grace, hope emerges automatically as depicted in the story of Nineveh in the Book of Jonah. At the preaching of Jonah the king ordered that, beginning with himself and the nobles, all the citizens including their beasts, herds and flocks will participate in a common act of fasting, abstinence and penance by covering themselves in sackcloth and ashes, pleading for God’s mercy. The call was: “Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish” (Jonah 3: 8-9). And when God saw that they had turned from their evil ways indeed his anger relented and he did not do the disaster he had said he would do to them.
Our Lord has said: “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Lk. 13: 1-5). In order that we may not perish but have eternal life Our Lord began his ministry by calling for repentance: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt. 4: 17). And this pertains to all aspects of our life – political, religious, economic and social as the story of Nineveh so powerfully demonstrates. All the covenants which God made beginning with Abraham, our father in faith, were promises of hope for the future finally culminating in the ‘new covenant’ sealed in the most precious blood of Christ and engraved on our hearts by the Holy Spirit. We commemorate this mystery at every Eucharist when we remember the words of Our Lord: “… the blood of the New and Eternal Covenant which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins”. In Christ alone is our sure and only hope.
The ‘new heart’ leading to new thoughts, desires, decisions and actions is the cry of the Covid-19 crisis. Our ‘battle’ against this pandemic cannot stop at the ‘physical’ level but it has to enter into the ‘spiritual’ realm as a battle against the Evil One, the enemy of our souls, the “liar and the father of lies” (Jn. 8: 44) who is deluding humanity to choose the path of perdition. As St. Paul says: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6: 12) and St. Peter warns: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5: 8). This global crisis is calling for a global conversion of heart and Pope Francis in his profound reflection is pointing to that.
Love-filled people spread love, joy-filled people spread joy, hope-filled people spread hope, in short, grace-filled people make God’s grace a reality in our world. The Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ teaches us this truth. This has been amply demonstrated throughout the lockdown period and it is bound to grow.

+ Archbishop Anil Couto
Archbishop of Delhi

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