Monday, June 28, 2010

The Lord Is Our Righteousness (Jeremiah 33:16)

Fr Augustine Vallooran, V.C

We are living in the era of Democracy. In every democratic set-up, there is a ruling party that makes all the decisions for governance. And there is opposition party, whose role is to play critique, pinpointing the errors in every decision of the ruling party. The duty and task of the ruling party is to justify every decision and present it as the best decision possible for the country. Their failure to justify themselves even on a single issue will risk them loss of credibility and even of power. It is this constant wrangling between the ruling party and its opposition that dominate the headlines in the newspapers. Our way of thinking is therefore influenced strongly by this trend of politics. We make choices in life. And there are always those whose opinions differ and whose interests oppose ours. Fault finders surround us and we have adopted a defensive posture in life.

"I Heard The Sound Of Thee…And I Was Afraid" (Genesis 3:10)
Of all those who are watching us trying to pinpoint our mistakes the one who haunts us the most is God. We are aware that God knows everything. He can see our secret intentions and inmost thoughts – and so we are most afraid of Him! At least in our imagination, we are in a constant tussle with God. Hence, when I make a mistake, the first thing I do is to justify my mistake. I frame arguments to justify myself, my decision and my action before God. I arm myself with a new reasoning to argue even with God and His Word. We have therefore formed an attitude to sin, which is of justification. We adopt reasoning from a book or magazine, from the thought of some psychologist or philosopher. It is so simple to admit - "I have made a mistake" – but we are never able to do that. This is because we have concluded God is the opposition party. This is both the worst misunderstanding and the costliest mistake we have made. We need to drop our prejudices and open our eyes to recognize where God really stands ‘even when I make a mistake.’

"Who Shall Bring Any Charge Against God’s Elect? It is God Who Justifies" (Romans 8:33)
There is a very revealing passage in the Gospel of St. John describing the encounter Jesus has with a woman caught in the very act of adultery (John Chapter 8). This incident clarifies for us the position God takes when we commit a sin. The stunning truth it unveils for us is that God is on our side – even though He must stand alone. He chooses to take up the side of the sinner. God’s one concern is to justify and save the lost. It is not His desire to condemn, cause guilt or shame.

Early one morning as Jesus was teaching in the portico of the Temple of Jerusalem, this miserable sinner is dragged and presented before Him. The woman was caught in a most shameful moment and the crowd gathered to demand justice. They were led by their religious leaders: the Pharisees and Scribes whose one concern it seemed was to cleanse their community and enable all to live a moral, safe and honourable life.

Law of Moses and Jesus Christ

Armed with the Law of Moses, they placed the case before Jesus, "Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such. What do you say about her? (John 8:4-5) Every right thinking person in that congregation, the tradition of religion, the law of morality, all these condemned her. 
All fingers were pointed against her. The woman stood isolated, ashamed and guilty. 
She despised herself just as everyone else did, for what she did for a living. The woman assumed as everyone else did that Jesus too would take the side of the righteous leaders and conform to the wisdom of the Pharisees and Scribes. 
Jesus was as they addressed Him rightly "Rabbi" or Teacher of the Law. The Pharisees and Scribes expected Him to live up to His role, "Teacher! You are a Rabbi, a master of the Law. You must teach, think and act according to the Law. and the Law requires us to quench the evil in our midst. A woman like this must be stoned to death."

Response of Jesus - Forgiveness and Life

However, we see that the response of Jesus was not forthcoming. The Scriptures present us an interesting picture. "Jesus bent down and wrote with His finger on the ground." (John 8:6) Jesus is portrayed as being preoccupied all the time of their presentation of the case. Religion was clear in its verdict. His preoccupation, however, was about how to save her. Everyone was familiar with the commands of righteousness. Therefore Jesus waits on Divine wisdom to justify this woman. The law must be respected for it did have wisdom. Yet the heart of God is mercy and the law must make room for this. Jesus gave His judgment - for it was judgment that they sought Him for.

He stood up and said to them, "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her. (John 8:7)" 

It is true that she has sinned and deserves punishment. But only him who is without sin and more worthy than her can judge, condemn and punish." Here was a wisdom that was beyond human manipulation. Neither was anyone prepared for such a thought nor could they contend against it. The power of the Word is such that it even went further to convict the very accusers! 
For it is recorded that "when they heard it, they went away, one by one." They had to drop their stones and their self righteous attitudes. Jesus sought out this wisdom to save a woman, sinful and miserable. Compassion was the law He could not depart from - compassion so great that it broke the most impenetrable barriers and saved the hopeless sinner!

As we stand before this event of salvation, our attitude to God must change. You and I are aware that there is sin in us. Even St. Paul spoke of this power of sin that was working a death within him. This apostle who was so zealously committed to the Lord had even bemoaned, "I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:23-24)  

David who was after the very heart of God cried out similarly, "I know my transgressions, and my sin is before me (Psalm 51:3)

"Behold I Stand At The Door And Knock" (Revelations 3:20)

When we are stirred to examine how we have strayed and are called to return in repentance, we respond quite differently. We look at God a super cop who knows all my sins and who waits to condemn me. We call God our judge. We know well that before a just judge, we stand no chance for we are ourselves aware of our sinfulness. God is not merely a just judge. We have a God longing to reveal to us His compassion, love and mercy – especially when He sees us lost in or sin. When I am aware of the sin in me, God applies His Divine wisdom to justify and save me. This thought should inspire great love in our hearts and great confidence to come before Him. We seek no confidence in our righteousness or even in our ability to justify. Our confidence is in the mercy and compassion of our God. We have no reason for fear or shame when we stand before our God – however terrible the sin we committed may be – because we a God whose one concern is to win us justification and forgiveness. 

When we seek judgment from Him, we receive the very blessing He offered the sinful woman, "Go in peace; I do not condemn you."(John 8:11)

Jesus said, "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (Luke 5:32) Jesus came solely for the sinner. He has come in search of us. He is aware of our sins and how helpless we are in our sinfulness. He knows we need Him – for Jesus alone can take away our sin.
Hence when through the Word the Lord reveals to us our sinfulness, it is not to condemn us or burden us with shame or guilt. He reveals our sins to us that He may lead us to repentance and set us free. This revelation of our sins is the only way that God is able to enter our hearts and take our sins away. If however I stubbornly hold on to my sin, I will be lost. The Lord knows this! Therefore, He stands at the door of our hearts seeking to lead us to a moment of intimate sharing at the Sacrament of Confession. Here I exchange the burden of my sins for the joy of salvation. It is here we are made new creations as we are led to a change of heart. The Lord has promised this – "I will sprinkle clean upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:25-26) As the Good Shepherd, The Lord leads us by the hand to His own heart. As we confess our sins and accept forgiveness and pardon from Him, the riches of His mercy overwhelm us. This new vision of the Lord will transform us as well.

"Every One Who Calls Upon The Name Of The Lord Will Be Saved" (Romans 10:13)
While Jesus convicted the accusers, the woman caught in adultery stood waiting for her judgment. Yet judgment was what she did not receive! As we read in the passage, Jesus would send he away without the slightest warning or penalty – "Neither do I condemn you; go and do not sin again. (John 8:11)

We might wonder how prudent Jesus was in doing so! Perhaps we are more prudent than God Himself. Jesus is sending this woman back to the same society from where she was dragged into His presence. The Pharisees and Scribes were right in identifying this woman as a risk factor to society. If she were left to operate freely, she would lead more men to sin; more lives would get corrupt; more marriages would be broken. More families would be shattered and society would become more and more licentious and immoral. Was not Jesus being naïve and unrealistic when He tells her, "Go, and do not sin again." One wonders if Jesus considered the larger picture when He took this bold step of sending the woman back to her community. How could He expect her not to indulge in that sin which was the way of life for her all these years?

A closer look at the bible passage will reveal one little sentence that came out of her mouth providing Jesus a very firm assurance of her transformation. As she stood shivering in shame and fear even after all her accusers had left, Jesus asked her. "Woman, has no one condemned you? She replied, "No one, Lord." These few words, the only ones that came out of her during that entire episode, hold the key to a great truth for us. Great significance is held in the one word she used to address Jesus – Lord! The Pharisees and Scribes addressed Jesus as Teacher. For them, Jesus was a mere teacher of the Law. He was an authority on the subject of the Law. However, this woman, by calling Him ‘Lord’ made herself subject to His authority. When she looked at His face, she experienced mercy and compassion. Hence, she dared to commit her life to Him – accepting Jesus as the Lord and Saviour of her life. Jesus knew that anyone who accepts His Lordship can no longer continue in the old life but would have to become a new person. By addressing Jesus as ‘Lord’, the woman gave the greatest assurance of her transformation. She was declaring, "Jesus, You are my Saviour and Lord. You saved me from death and my life belongs to You. I accept Your dominion over my life. From this moment, I live as You tell me to." This woman made a very personal commitment to Jesus – one borne out of love and not compulsion that will endure the test of time. A commitment borne out of the experience of compassion and not rationalization will hold out against the toughest challenges and the most persuasive arguments.

Forgetting What Lies Behind, I Press On Toward The Goal In Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14)
This is the commitment we are invited to make in the presence of Jesus. Whatever happened to us in the past, we leave it in the hands of God. Only the Lord knows how to dispose of our past. He Himself does not look into it.

It is recorded that Jesus after his death and resurrection appeared to Simon Peter and calling him by name asked him, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more tan these?" (John 21:15) Though Peter replies in the affirmative, Jesus was him the same question another two times. Peter was grieved but Jesus would not relent and waited till He got His answer again. It is important to remember that this is the first meeting of Jesus with peter after His death – which is also after Peter’s denial of Jesus. In the house of the High Priest, Simon Peter shamelessly denied Jesus thrice and even swore to this! (Mark 14:66-72) Now when Jesus meets Peter again, He mentions nothing about the denials. Jesus was familiar enough with peter to have clarified with him, "Simon, how could you deny me so? Did I not warn you that this could happen?" But this is not in the nature of our God. Prophet Jeremiah reveals that when God forgives us our sins, He forgets them as well, "I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." (Jeremiah 31:34) It is beyond the ability of our great God to remember the sins we forgiveness for – so final is the forgiveness of our God! This is the new covenant God established in the Blood of Jesus by the sacrifice at Calvary.

This promise is for us to claim today! When we repent and offer our sins in the Sacrament of Confession, the new covenant becomes effective in our lives. God casts our sins beyond His memory and hence they cease to exist. Our God is not a God who dwells in our past but a God who offers us a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)

Instead, the question Jesus asked Peter repeatedly was to lead Peter into the Divine way of thinking to forget the past and to move ahead. What Jesus needed him to understand was the one relevant reality of faith. Hence, Jesus asked him – 

"Now tell me what you are living for? Who are you ready to die for? Do you love me more than everything else? Am I so dear and so precious in your eyes that you would be ready to give up everything else for My sake?" Peter had to search his heart for this truth and there he would find the strength for his commitment.

When we come before the Lord, He is not concerned about our sins for there is only ONE question the Lord wants to know of us, "Do you love me more than these?" Jesus is essentially asking, "Am I the most important in your life? Am I dearest to your heart and the highest in your estimation? Who are you living for? Who are you ready to die for?" These are the questions we need to answer Jesus today. And if I can answer "Yes" to this saying, "My Jesus, you are my Saviour and my Lord. I love you more than everything else" then our life would take a new turn this day. We will not live as we lived before. The change in us will be spontaneous and definite. Before, in every decision, my one concern would be, "Does this please Jesus?" I would only proceed with it if it pleases Jesus alone. Even if my decision for Jesus requires me to walk alone, I find my strength in the Lord’s presence. I am not concerned of whoever is against me for I am no longer under the compulsion to please anyone. My one goal is to please my God. I can challenge the whole world and its thinking when I stand with Jesus because He is my Lord. He exercises His dominion over me when my decisions are in favour of Him.

For Simon Peter, the experience by the Sea of Tiberius where he accepted the Lordship of Jesus, was so memorable that his sermon was on this. After being anointed with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, Simon Peter gathered the people on the streets of Jerusalem and declared to them, "God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified." (Acts 2:36) All those who heard him were cut to the heart, On that very day, three thousand people repented their sinfulness, converted to Jesus and were baptized!

The first Christians were those who were baptized accepting Jesus as the Lord and Saviour of their lives. Today, we need to come back to make this very personal decision. It is a commitment of my life to Jesus where Jesus becomes the Lord of my thinking, my actions, my decisions, my pleasures, my profession, my money and my heart. There is nothing in my life however small or great that is excluded from the absolute dominion of the Lord. As Simon Peter exhorted, "Have reverence for Christ in your hearts and honour Him as Lord." (1 Peter 3:15)

"I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, that I may gain Christ" (Philippians 3:8)
The testimony of a certain girl who made a retreat here in Divine Retreat Centre revealed to me the power of revering Christ as Lord in our hearts. Even in her student days, she was brought to the trial of witnessing to this commitment. While she was doing her final year of post graduation, she fell in love with a classmate. He was the sportsman of the college – handsome, popular and adored by the girls. This young man loved this particular girl very much and he promised to marry her. Their plan was that after graduation, they would speak to their parents and start their life together. She was dreaming beautiful dreams of a life with him. At this point, he approached her one day with a suggestion to go out together. She was ecstatic and immediately started getting ready for this. However, his plans were different. He had booked a room in a hill resort on a weekend the next month. His idea was for them both to spend those nights and days together high up there in the hills cut off from the rest of the world. . She was alarmed at his suggestion and protested, "We are not married yet. We cannot do something so sinful." He tried to reason with her saying, "We love each other, don’t we? And marriage is only a ceremony." But she tried to convince him by explaining, "Marriage may be a social gathering or ceremony for others but for us, marriage is a Sacrament. It will be that all important moment when the Holy Spirit descends into us and consecrates us to each other in the power of God’s Love. The Holy Spirit will enter the relationship, confirm and sanctify it, and offer it to God. It is then that we share our bodies and our life with each other." The young man still insisted, I don’t understand all this humbug. I know I love you and I know you love me. Marriage means nothing to me. Let us go and enjoy this moment we have." She stood firm in her decision and rejected the entire her suggestion. Angrily, he then warned her, "If you don’t come, that’s fine with me. I have reserved the room. I have decided to go and I will go. I will take some other girl with me. There are so many waiting for this." She pleaded with him, Please do not do this. It is going against our Lord." He shouted back, "I don’t care for Jesus. I cared for you." She was confused. She had spoken to him very boldly but inside of her, she was troubled. She lost her peace and was all the time thinking whether he would do what he threatened. She will then lose him forever. That was an unbearable and unimaginable suggestion – a life without him.

She was so agitated that she came here to Divine Retreat Centre and met me. She shared her anguish with me. Admiring her conviction and commitment to the Lord, I confirmed her in her decision, "Your understanding of marriage is perfect. You cannot live together before the blessing of the Sacrament of Marriage. You have made a decision in favour of your Lord. Be happy about it for you have succeeded in the hour of great trial. All you need now is to stand by your decision. 

I proceeded to ask her, "Can you say truly, "Jesus, I love you more than everything else?" 
Who is more precious to you, Jesus, or this young man? Are you ready to give up this boy for the sake of Jesus? If this boy abandons you, are you sure that Jesus will take care of you? Are you sure Jesus is the assurance of your future?" She broke down and confessed, "Father, I really don’t know. I am so upset." I assured her my prayers and asked her to attend the retreat.

"Seek First His Kingdom…And All These Things Shall Be Yours As Well" (Matthew 6:33)
As she waited in prayer, she was anointed in the Holy Spirit. In the power of the Holy Spirit, she accepted Jesus wholeheartedly as the Lord and Saviour of her life. When she returned home, she called up the young man and boldly declared her decision, "Whatever you may think and decide, I know what I must be doing. I have accepted Jesus as the Lord and Saviour of my life. Jesus is the most important for me - more than you are. It is true that I love you but I must tell you that I love you in Jesus. I treasure you as the gift Jesus has given me. I cannot love the gift more than the Giver. I will never betray my Jesus for your sake." Angrily, he slammed down the phone. However, something she never expected happened a a week later. He came to meet her and apologizing, he said, "I am sorry I was angry. I had nursed a destructive thought. I tried to force on you a sinful decision but you stood up for Jesus. I am proud of you. I know I can never get a girl of better caliber. You are a girl of character – a Christian character. I appreciate you and love you all the more for this. There is no question of going to the hill resort now for you have changed my life." He then asked her, "My dear friend, you must show me what is the norm to judge between good and bad. I was caught up in the current – everybody else does it and so I thought I had the license to for it. How do we live? How do we decide: Her answer to him was simple for this was her experience – "Jesus is the reason to live. Jesus is the norm to judge what is right and what is wrong."

In our lives, there as and there will come hours of such great trials. Our decisions are crucial. Yet, this could become the glorious hours where we realize the faithful love and power of the Lord.

To make the right decision, we need to wait on the Lord. We need in the light of the Holy Spirit to find out what is the reason for me to live and love. I must be a person who has a reason to love and a reason not to love – a reason to live and a reason to die. St. Paul declared, "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." (Philippians 1:21) 

Am I carried away by the current - living my life as the media, the personalities and culture dictates? 
As Christians, we are a chosen generation – a people with a difference – and that difference is Jesus Christ! 
Today, we accept Him as the Lord and Saviour of our hearts. We accept him as the dearest and most precious treasure of our lives. Then we shall realize the life is a blessing!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Greater Love Has No One Than This, That He Lay Down His Life For His Friends (John 15:13)

Fr Thomas Anchanikal, SJ   - 1951-1997

Had I been there --
Would I have dared --
Dare die in his stead,
As Thomas did, bowing his head
On a night without a star,
In the cruel fields of Bihar...?
from "Had I Been There,"
a poem in honor of A.T. Thomas,
by Pradip Sen 

Thomas Anchanikal, known as A.T. Thomas, was back home in Hazaribag, in Jharkhand State, India. He was back among the dalits, the poor and illiterate, the oppressed. They knew him as their teacher, their advocate. He made their cause his own. 

As a young Jesuit in the 1970s, A. T. had heard the cry of the poor and his personal call to live and work among them. He was a practical man who could fix a TV antenna or a car's engine. He was a compassionate man who drove the sick to the hospital and sat by the dying. And he was a visionary man who heard the people's stories of oppression and recognized the power latent in their talents and determination.

A.T. and his fellow Jesuits recognized the great need of the dalits for education. Even children had to work all day to help support their families, so normal schooling was beyond them. A.T. and the others gradually developed a network of night schools around Hazaribag. Gathering for school, people began to share their other concerns, and the whole range of social issues and needs came to the fore. A.T. became involved in every aspect of the people's lives.

After two decades of nonstop labor, in 1996 A.T. went to Manila to work on a master's degree in sociology so he could return and serve the people better. In October 1997 he was back in India doing research for his degree, back among the lowest of India's social classes, the people without a caste, the very poor people of God whom he loved. Some years earlier A.T. had been involved in a legal dispute. Dalits in a village near Hazaribag had lost a parcel of land that they cultivated to a group from a higher caste. They went to court and, to everyone's surprise, won their case. The offending parties went to jail but never forgot who had caused them to lose face and their freedom.

On October 24, 1997, A.T. went to the village of Sirka, where he found some people dressed in police uniforms beating one of the villagers. As he started to investigate the violence, one of the would-be police recognized him and said, "This is the man who sent me to jail." The men dressed as police were in fact local insurgents who extorted money from the villagers. They surrounded A.T. and led him away at gunpoint. The villagers protested, "He is a good man; let him go." But A.T. disappeared into the night.

"There was never any doubt as to where A.T.'s sympathies lay," writes his fellow Jesuit Kevin Cronin. "As he had perceived Jesus to have been, A.T. felt himself called to be on the side of the poor, the victims of injustice in whatever form." A.T. became the latest victim of violent injustice. For two days, as authorities waited for the expected ransom demand, rumors began to circulate that A.T. had been beaten and killed. On October 27, his battered and decapitated body was found in a river bed. That evening, the body was brought to St. Xavier's in Hazaribag and placed into a coffin. The next day friends and relatives, religious sisters to whom he had ministered, and crowds of his beloved untouchables gathered for the Church's liturgy to honor A.T.'s memory and draw strength from his sacrifice.

"This father just cannot abide injustice anywhere," people had said of him. "If he sees injustice anywhere, he will fight." Injustice led A.T. to his violent death. But in facing this injustice, A.T. Thomas had already found life.

Fr Richard Fernando, SJ - 1970 –1996

In 1996 Richie Fernando SJ was killed aged 26 years by a hand grenade released by a student in the Jesuit Refugee Service technical school for the handicapped near Phnom Penh.  
On January 3, 1996 Richie wrote in his diary: 
"I wish, when I die, people remember not how great, powerful, or talented I was, but that I served and spoke for the truth, I gave witness to what is right, I was sincere in all my works and actions, in other words, I loved and I followed Christ." 

Richie Fernando was a long way from home. He was a Filipino Jesuit in Buddhist Cambodia. He was educated and full of promise in a camp where refugees maimed by bullets and land mines and scarred by hunger and disease fought for hope. He loved life in a land where life was hard and death nearby.

Richie went to Cambodia in May 1995 as part of his Jesuit training. He had entered the Society in 1990 and finished the novitiate and collegiate studies. Before going on to theology studies and ordination, he was sent to work at Banteay Prieb, a Jesuit technical school for the handicapped not far from Phnom Penh. Banteay Prieb describes itself as a "place that enables the disabled to tell their own stories, to gather strength and hope from being with one another, and to learn a new skill that enhances a sense of dignity and worth." Here people disabled by landmines, polio, and accidents learn skills that allow them to earn a living. Banteay Prieb means "the Center of the Dove." 

When Richie arrived, his devotion to the students quickly won their trust. He began learning their Khmer language and came to appreciate their religious traditions. And he loved to share their stories, stories of survival during Pol Pot's genocidal regime, stories of the devastation of their society through poverty, displacement, and the nine million landmines that still plague their land.

One of these survivors is Sarom. Already an orphan, at 16 Sarom became a soldier; two years later he was maimed by a landmine. Sarom finished his courses at Banteay Prieb and wanted to stay on there, but school authorities found him disruptive and asked him to leave. Richie Fernando mentioned Sarom in a letter to his friends in the Philippines, saying that although Sarom was "tricky" he still had a place in Richie's heart.

On October 17, 1996, Sarom came to the school for a meeting. Angered, he suddenly reached into a bag he was carrying, pulled out a grenade, and began to move towards a classroom full of students; the windows of the room were barred, leaving the students no escape. Richie Fernando came up behind Sarom and grabbed him. "Let me go, teacher; I do not want to kill you," Sarom pleaded. But he dropped his grenade, and it fell behind him and Richie. In a flash Richie Fernando was dead, falling over with Sarom still grasped in his arms, protecting him from the violence he had made.

Only four days before his death Richie had written a long letter to his Jesuit friend Totet Banaynal. "I know where my heart is," he wrote; "It is with Jesus Christ, who gave his all for the poor, the sick, the orphan ...I am confident that God never forgets his people: our disabled brothers and sisters. And I am glad that God has been using me to make sure that our brothers and sisters know this fact. I am convinced that this is my vocation."
Three days after Richie's death, his shocked family and friends in the Philippines celebrated his funeral. At the same time, his shocked Cambodian friends carried an urn containing cloths soaked in his blood to a Buddhist funeral mound. In their shock they mourned; and in their mourning they gave thanks for Richie, the man they knew and loved, their son, their brother, their teacher, their friend. 

Shocked by what he had caused, Sarom sat in his jail cell and mourned too.
In March 1997, Mr. and Mrs. Fernando wrote to Cambodia's King Sihanouk, asking for pardon for Sarom; somehow, someone had to stop the violence. Sarom had not wanted to kill Richie. "Richie ate rice with me," he said; "he was my friend."


Friday, June 18, 2010

Mohammed Ciniraj encounters Jesus and becomes Christian

"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23)

Address: Paul Ciniraj Mohammed, Malankara Sabha Missionary, Devalokam, Kottayam-686038, India.
Date of Birth: 25 May, 1954. 

He was born and brought up in a Muslim family named "Kochera" at Kalloor in Thiruvanandapuram, India.

His father, Janab Kassim Pillai, was a retired Headmaster of a Higher Secondary School and an Islamic Scholar. Mother was a housewife named Fatima Beevi. They belong to a priestly family of Muslim community, called "Labba family". Labba (Al-Abba) means Father, that is "Father of the Community".

Paul Ciniraj studied at Kalloor Government Upper Primary School upto 7th standard. Then Pothencode Lekshmi Vilasom High School till S.S.L.C. Took graduation from Mar Ivanios College and Post graduation from University in Trivandrum.

Amazing Testimony of Paul Ciniraj

My Background
As you might have already concluded from my name, I hail from a Muslim community. I came to the saving grace of the Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ many years ago while I was still a university student. Some Christian boys there were distributing tracts which explained who the Lord Jesus Christ was. I, being a Muslim, was dead against their activities and used to threaten and torment them both physically and mentally. I was young, self-righteous and rigid in my views and was fully convinced that harassing and hurting them was the right thing to do.

A Piece of a Tract
One day I found a piece of tract in my notebook. It still remains a mystery how it has found its way into my book. I was about to throw it into a dustbin when my eyes caught the following words: "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23). These words made me feel uneasy. Still in spite of myself I read on, "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance : Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners - of whom I am the worst" (1 Timothy 1:15). Until this moment I was convinced that I was not a bad man, and led my life in a proper way. But now, all of a sudden, I was full of doubts about my own attitudes, intentions and conduct.

The Vision
I went to bed, but was restless and could not sleep for a long time. When I finally fell asleep, I had a very strange and disturbing vision: One by one, all the transgressions and violations I had committed since my childhood began to appear before me, like the scenes in a movie. Then each one of them transformed into a blister on my body, till I was completely covered with festering sores. I felt unbearable pain. Realizing not what I was doing, I cried out "God! Hear me! Save me!"

Then, a person surrounded by bright light came down from heaven and touched me. I understood that He was Jesus, the one whom I had been waging a war against. His touch was pleasant, it cooled both my body and mind. I closed my eyes with a heavenly joy, and when I finally opened them again, I saw that all the blisters and sores disappeared from my body. But Jesus, who came in bright and spotless, was now infested with my sores. I immediately understood the meaning of this vision of mine, although it was only later, when I began to study the Bible, that I read this verse in the Bible: "Christ was without sin, but for our sake God made Him share in our sin in order that in union with Him we might share the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21). I woke up a new man. At once I shared my experience to my father and my mother with a great joy. But my mother said, it was not from God, but trick of Iblis (Satan). But I was fully convinced that God the Heavenly Father made me as a new creation and His own child by the power of Salvation of His Only Begotten Son Jesus Christ  through the Holy Spirit. 

This is my story how I, and later, my family too believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. I was called for His powerful ministry. He filled me with the Holy Spirit and gave me the gifts of preaching His Word, healing the sick, evangelizing the unreached and many others.

Facing the Wrath
But mine was by no means an easy path. Some of the community I formerly belonged to felt that my accepting Jesus Christ was an act of betrayal and they tried to take revenge. Once someone sprinkled sulfuric acid on my body. But by God's grace, they could not do any serious harm. The other time an assassin attacked me with a knife, intending to kill me. I survived the attack, though my lower jaw was badly damaged and I lost several teeth.

I made known that I had forgiven that person and hold nothing against him. Amazingly, later he had repented for his act and his own accord accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Saviour.

Children Not Spared
I have two sons and one daughter. A secret terrorist group had sent a man to destroy my entire family. He managed to make my children consume poison, and all of the three of them were in the hospital in a critical state. Christian community kept praying for their recovery. One by one, they began to get better. My daughter, though, remained in coma for nearly 30 days. Her recovery was just like someone being raised from the dead. the man, who gave poison to my children, was shaken to see the power of our Lord in action. He too became a follower of Jesus Christ and dedicated himself to working among the Muslim nations, particularly those involved in the acts of terror, and winning them over for the Lord.

Last year I and one of my assistant pastors were severely beaten in a village by a Hindu and Muslim mob and they burned down our prayer hall. God alone has saved me. Recently our Lord has enabled me to overcome a murder attempt. By making an accident somebody tried to kill me and I am undergoing the treatment. While I was in the hospital my wife and children also faced a murder attempt at home and God saved them miraculously.

Family Reunion
I must mention that my parents, my brothers and sisters were all devout Muslims. Most of the seniors are Hajis (man who did pilgrimage to Mecca is called Haji) and Hajjummas (woman who did pilgrimage to Mecca is called Hajjumma). Having let Jesus Christ into my life, I was ex-communicated and for quite some time was not allowed to have any contacts with my parents and the extended family. I and my wife felt sad about it and brought this matter to the Lord in prayers. Gradually, I began to re-establish links with my people through letters and telephone calls. Finally, a day came when they had accepted the fact that I worship Jesus Christ, visited my place and stayed with us and their grandchildren. I spoke to them about the love of God. They left, and we had maintained good contacts since then.

Later I was told that just two days before his death, my father accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour because he had had a vision of Jesus with the marks left by the nails and His hands and feet. My mother too became a believer shortly before her death.

Rev. Paul Ciniraj & family along with his father and mother

Spreading the Message of His Love
Presently, I work for Him who took away my sin. My family is assisting me in my mission. Our ministry is called "Salem Voice Ministries". Jesus Christ is the King of Salem (king of peace) and priest of God Most High (Hebrews 7:1). We proclaim His voice (Gospel). That is Salem Voice Ministries. "Injil Ministries Alliance Mission" is a special wing of the Salem Voice Ministries to reach the Gospel to the Muslims. I am also helping the Bible Society of India to prepare 'Holy Gospel' in Malayalam for the special audience.

Like all Indians, we love India as our mother and we are keen to win India, as well as the third world, for Jesus by spreading the message of the gospel through charitable and social activities. We distribute tracts and Bibles, provide missionary training to volunteers, send out missionaries, run orphanages, help to educate both children and adults. We are planning to launch some mobile dispensaries shortly to reach remote rural areas. We do not intend to "convert" people to make them leave their community. We only want to open their hearts to the love of Jesus Christ and show what the Almighty can do if we allow His saving grace to direct our lives.

Paul Ciniraj is a well known convention speaker in entire Orthodox Church and Indian Ecumenical Movement. He spreads the messages of Love and Peace through conventions and retreats. He is the "Missionary of Peace".
He has written and published many books in Malayalam. Some of the books are:-- 
1. Maranavum Roopantharavum (The Death and Transfiguration), 
2. Itha Ninte Amma (Behold Thy Mother), 
3. Swargeeya Ayiru (The Heavenly Ore), 
4. Bible Tablet and Quiz, 
5. Vishudha Qur'an Quiz (Quiz from the Glorious Qur'an). He published many articles in periodicals too.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Saint Teresa's Vision of the demons

The following are some of her accounts taken from her Collected Works:

Volume 1 of The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, Chapter 38, parts 23 & 24 & 25:




Ask Saint Teresa to increase our desire to love and obey God.  

Ask Saint Teresa to intercede for your spiritual needs today.

23. "Once, while approaching to receive Communion, I saw with my soul's eyes more clearly than with my bodily eyes two devils whose appearance was abominable. It seems to me their horns were wrapped around the poor priests's throat, and in the host that was going to be given to me I saw my Lord with the majesty I mentioned placed in the priest's hands, which were clearly seen to be His offender's; and I understood that that soul was in mortal sin. What would it be my Lord, to see Your beauty in the midst of such abominable figures? They were as though frightened and terrified in Your presence, for it seems they would have very eagerly fled had You allowed them. This vision caused me such great disturbance I don't know how I was able to receive Communion, and I was left with a great fear, thinking that if the vision had been from God, His Majesty would not have permitted me to see the evil that was in that soul. The Lord Himself told me to pray for him and that He had permitted it so that I might understand the power of the words of consecration and how God does not fail to be present, however evil the priest who recites them, and that I might see His great goodness since He places Himself in those hands of His enemy, and all out of love for me and for everyone. I understood well how much more priests are obliged to be good than are others, how deplorable a thing it is to receive this most Blessed Sacrament unworthily, and how much the devil is lord over the soul in mortal sin. It did me a great deal of good and brought me deep understanding of what I owed God. May He be blessed forever and ever.

24. At another time something else happened to me that frightened me very much. I was at a place where a certain person died who for many years had lived a wicked life, from what I knew. But he had been sick for two years, and in some things it seems he had made amends. He died without confession, but nevertheless it didn't seem to me he would be condemned. While the body was being wrapped in its shroud, I saw many devils take that body; and it seemed they were playing with it and punishing it. This terrified me, for with large hooks they were dragging it from one devil to the other. Since I saw it buried with the honor and ceremonies accorded to all, I reflected on the goodness of God, how He did not want that soul to be defamed, but wanted the fact that it was His enemy to be concealed.

25. I was half stupefied from what I had seen. During the whole ceremony I didn't see another devil. Afterward when they put the body in the grave, there was such a multitude of them inside ready to take it that I was frantic at the sight of it, and there was need for no small amount of courage to conceal this. I reflected on what they would do to the soul when they had such dominion over the unfortunate body. May it please the Lord that what I have seen -a thing so frightful!-will be seen by all those who are in such an evil state; I think it would prove a powerful help toward their living a good life. All of this gives me greater knowledge of what I owe God and of what He freed me from. I was very frightened until I spoke about it to my confessor, wondering if it was an illusion caused by the devil to defame that soul. Although it wasn't considered to be the soul of someone with a very deep Christian spirit. Truly since the vision was not an illusion, it frightens me every time I think of it."

The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, Volume 1, Chapter 31, parts: 1-11 :

Chapter 31

Deals with some exterior temptations and representations of the devil and the torments he inflicted on her. Treats also of some matters very beneficial for advising persons who journey on the path of perfection.

1. Now that I've mentioned some interior, secret temptations and disturbances the devil caused me, I want to tell about others he caused almost publicly and in which one could not be mistaken that he was the source.

2. I was once in an oratory, and he appeared to me in an abominable form at my left side. Because he spoke to me, I looked particularly at his mouth-which was frightening. It seemed that a great flame, all bright without shadow, came forth from his body. He told me in a terrifying way that I had really freed myself from his hands but that he would catch me with them again. I was struck with great fear and blessed myself as best I could; he disappeared, but returned right away. This happened to me twice. I didn't know what to do. There was some holy water there, and I threw it in that direction; he never returned again.

3. Another time I was tormented for five hours with such terrible interior and exterior pains and disturbance that it didn't seem to me I could suffer them any longer. The sisters who were with me were frightened and didn't know what to do, nor did I know how to help myself. When bodily pains and sickness become intolerable I have the custom of making interior acts of supplication to the Lord as best I can, that if His Majesty be served by my doing so He might give me patience and I might remain in this state until the end of the world. Well, since I was suffering so severely this time, I was helping myself through these acts and resolutions so as to be able to bear it. The Lord wanted me to understand it was the devil because I saw beside me a black, very abominable little creature, snarling like one in despair that where he had tried to gain he had lost. When I saw him I laughed to myself and was not afraid. There were some sisters there with me who were unable to help nor did they know of any remedy for so much torment; without being able to resist, I was striking myself hard on the body, head, and arms. What was worse was the interior disturbance, for I wasn't able to feel calm of any sort. I didn't dare ask for holy water lest I frighten them and they come to understand what the trouble was.

4. I often experience that there is nothing the devils flee from more-without returning-than holy water. They also flee from the cross, but they return. The power of holy water must be great. For me there is a particular and very noticeable consolation my soul experiences upon taking it. Without a doubt my soul feels ordinarily a refreshment I wouldn't know how to explain, like an interior delight that comforts it entirely. This isn't some fancy or something that has happened to me only once, but something that has happened often and that I've observed carefully. Let us say the relief is like that coming to a person, very hot and thirsty, when he drinks a jar of cold water; it would seem that he felt the refreshment all over. I consider everything ordained by the Church to be important, and I rejoice to see the power of those words recited over the water so that its difference from unblessed water becomes so great.

5. Well, since the torment didn't stop, I said: "If you wouldn't laugh, I'd ask for holy water." They brought it to me and sprinkled some on me, but it didn't help. I threw some toward where the devil was, and instantly he went away and all the illness left me as if it were taken away by hand, except that I remained weary as though I had been badly beaten with a stick. It did me a lot of good to reflect upon what he will do to the soul he possesses as his own if even when the soul and body don't belong to him, he causes so much harm-when the Lord permits. It made me again eager to be freed from such dreadful company.

6. Another time, not long ago, the same thing happened to me; although it didn't last as long, and I was alone. I called for holy water, and those who entered after the devil had already gone (for they were two nuns well worthy of belief, who would by no means tell a lie) smelled a foul stench like that of brimstone. I didn't smell it. It so lingered that one could notice it.

Another time I was in the choir, and there came upon me a strong impulse toward recollection. I left the choir so that the others wouldn't notice, although all of them heard the striking of loud blows near the place where I was; I heard some coarse words next to me as though the devils were plotting something, although I didn't understand anything nor did I have any fear. It happened, almost every time, when the Lord granted me the favor of persuading some soul to advance in perfection.

7. It is certain that what I shall now tell happened to me. (And there are many witnesses to this, especially the one who is now my confessor since he saw it written in a letter; without my telling him who the person was to whom the letter belonged, he knew very well who it was.)

A person came to me who had been in mortal sin for two and a half years. It was one of the most abominable I've heard of, and in all this time he hadn't confessed or made amends; and he was saying Mass. Although he was confessing other sins, of this one he asked how he could confess something so ugly. He had a great desire to give it up, but he wasn't able to help himself. He made me feel great pity, and my seeing that he offended God in such a way caused me deep sorrow. I promised him I would beg God very much to liberate him and that I would beg God very much to liberate him and that I would get others better than myself to do the same, and I wrote to him through a certain person he told me I could give the letters to. And so it happened that after receiving the first letter he went to confession. For God desired (through the many very holy persons to whose prayers I recommended him) to grant this soul that mercy; and I, although miserable, did what I could with great care. He wrote to me that he was so much better that for days he had not fallen into the sin, but that the torment the temptation gave him was so intense it seemed from what he suffered he was in hell; he asked me to commend him to God. I in turn recommended him to my sisters through whose prayers the Lord must have granted me this favor, for they took the matter very much to heart. No one could guess who the person was. I begged His Majesty to mitigate those torments and temptations and that those devils would come to afflict me, provided that I would not offend the Lord in anything. As a result, for a month I suffered severe torments; it was during this time that these two things I mentioned happened.

8. The Lord was pleased that they leave him; this he wrote to me, for I told hm what I was going through during that month. His soul was fortified, and he was left completely free. He didn't have enough of thanking God and me as though I had done anything. But the reputation I had from the fact that the Lord granted me favors benefitted him. He said that when he found himself very distressed he read my letters, and the temptation left him. He was very impressed by what I had suffered and how he had been freed. Even I was amazed, and I would have suffered many more years to see that soul free. May the Lord be praised for everything, for the prayer of those who serve Him (as I believe do these sisters in this house) can do much. But since I sought these prayers, the devils must have been more angry with me; and the Lord on account of my sins permitted this.

9. Also one night during this time I thought they were choking me; after much holy water had been sprinkled around, I saw a great multitude of them go by, as though they were being thrown down a precipice. There are so many times that these cursed creatures torment me, and so little is the fear I now have of them, seeing that they cannot stir unless the Lord allows them, that I would tire your Reverence and tire myself if I told about all these instances.

10. May what was said be of help that the true servant of God might pay no attention to the scarecrows the devils set up in order to cause fear. We should know that each time we pay no attention to them they are weakened and the soul gains much more mastery. Some great benefit always remains, which I won't go into so as not to enlarge. I shall only mention what happened to me on the night of All Souls: while I was in the oratory after having recited a nocturn and while saying some very devotional prayers that come at the end, a devil appeared on the book so that I couldn't finish the prayer. I blessed myself, and he went away. When I began again to recite the prayers, he returned. I believe it was three times I began, and until I threw holy water at him I couldn't finish. I saw that some souls left purgatory at that instant; little must have been lacking to their freedom, and I wondered if he had aimed at preventing this.

A few times I've seen him in physical form, but many times with no physical form-as for instance in the vision mentioned above in which without seeing any form one knows he is there.

11. I also want to tell the following because it frightened me a lot: one day on the feast of the Trinity, being in the choir of a certain monastery and in rapture, I saw a great battle of devils against angels. I couldn't understand what that vision meant. In less than fifteen days it became easily understandable on account of a certain conflict that arose between people of prayer and many who were not, and a lot of harm was done in the house in which it took place. It was a battle that lasted a long time and caused much disquiet.

At other times I saw a large multitude of devils around me, and it seemed that a great brightness encircled me, and this prevented them from reaching me. I understood that God was watching over me so that they could not get to me in order to make me offend Him. From what I sometimes saw in myself, I understood that it was a true vision. The fact is that now I have understood so well the little bit of power he has provided I'm not against God, that I have almost no fear . The powers of devils are nothing if these devils do not find souls cowardly and surrendered to them: it is with such souls that they show their power. Sometime, in the temptations I already mentioned, it seemed to me that all the vanities and weaknesses of the past were again awakening within me; I had really to commend myself to God. At once the torment came of thinking that since those thoughts arose in me the favors I experienced must all be from the devil. It seemed to me that there shouldn't have been even the first stirrings of a bad thought in one who was receiving so many favors from the Lord. But then my confessor put me at peace. 

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

I am the Good Shepherd. (John 10:14)

by Fr. Augustine Vallooran V.C.

People often ask me, "Why attend an Inner Healing Retreat? What is an Inner Healing Retreat?" It is waiting for a promise to be fulfilled in Jesus. Jesus said, "I am the Good Shepherd." What does a good shepherd do? He goes after the lost sheep. Jesus said. "As the Father knows me and I know the Father, in the same way I know my sheep and they know me…they will listen to my voice, and they will become one flock with one shepherd." (John 10:15-16)

What Jesus is saying is that he knows each one of us by name - that he knows each of us deeply, personally and intimately. Jesus said in the Gospel of Mark 10:30, "As for you, even the hairs of your head have all been counted." God, our heavenly Father is one who truly cares for us - we have a God who cares for us so much that he came down from his heavenly throne. "For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not die but have eternal life." (John 3:16)

There are many moments in our past when we have cried -if not in our eyes, then in our hearts; in the darkness of our rooms, tears have run down our faces, We thought no one had seen yet the Lord says all the tears have been counted (Psalm 56:8). 

God's Love is a love that heals, a love that touches. Bruised, wounded, lonely, hurt - that is the life history of every one of us. We trusted people who we thought we could build our lives with but we were wrong. In these lost moments of our lives, Jesus will come. Every moment you were lost and betrayed, Jesus knows. He will come, like a good shepherd, holding the sheep in His arm to give rest to the sheep - to us! In fact, in one of the earliest marble statues that date back to the 1st century of Christianity, is a statue of a sheep on Jesus' shoulder. It is currently displayed in the Vatican museum. Many of us think of Jesus as King, as the Crucified. He said he is "the Good Shepherd".

The moment we are conceived, our minds began to function - it began to pick up vibrations from that moment. Doctors and psychologists have confirmed this finding. If the mother is happy at the moment, the baby feels a beautiful vibration. Thus as the baby grows in the womb, the baby picks up all the vibrations. All of us experienced that and it has moulded our characters.

I would like to share a beautiful incident that happened here in our Divine Retreat Centre. There is a female volunteer who sings on the Malayalam stage. She was singing and praising God and was actually taken from the stage to the hospital to deliver her baby girl! The baby hardly cried. She is now about 10 years old. As a baby, she jumped into every one's hands immediately! She had no inhibitions. In fact, the first word the she uttered as a baby was "Alleluia!" The mother was feeding the baby with positive feelings, Even if she had a negative feeling, it was soothed by the Holy Spirit as she sang hymns of praise and worship on the stage. The positive attitude of the baby is from the mother - the mother's loving, caring, serving and sharing attitude has given a positive foundation for her child's mental life. It would have been the exact opposite if the parents did not want the baby. Babies have the most sensitive minds and hearts. The healthiest time of the growth of a baby is in the womb of the mother.

Psychologists say the mind has 3 layers:
· The Conscious
· The Subconscious
· The Unconscious

In the conscious mind, we are able to make a connection between our behaviour and the reason for that. If we are not able to explain or understand the reason for our behaviour, then the reason is in our subconscious or unconscious mind.

A young man once walked straight into my room, looked at me and said, "Father, I hate you." I was surprised as I had never seen him before. I kept my cool and asked him why. Strangely he said, "I don't know why I hate you. You came to the retreat hall on the first day for the Introductory talk and the way you talked and the way you raised your arms up made me hate you." I began to talk to this vibrant young man. He grew up in a small village. He used to go every Sunday for mass and loved to serve as an altar boy during mass on the stage. He was like a leader among his friends. He made some mistakes while serving and when he made a mistake, the priest who was a bit quick tempered, slapped him near the altar. All his friends saw this and giggled. He became a very private reserved person. It was his wife who insisted he attended this retreat. Unfortunately, I looked like that priest - we had similarity in looks and speech. All the feelings in his heart had awakened in his mind - the pent-up anger came up. Poor me! I did nothing to warrant his anger. And poor young man! He did not know why he hated me. All of us have pent-up anger. The reason is what has happened to us in the past.

A girl once came to see me. A week after she was married, she went out of her mind. She would go to sleep and she did not want to talk to anyone. She was a healthy and educated girl. No one knew what had happened. I tried to talk to her but it was difficult as her problem had become psychosomatic. Slowly I found out that her father was a drunkard and she grew up seeing him beat her mother. She hated her dad because of this problem and the violence. She made sure with her brothers that the bridegroom was not a drunk. On the 3rd day after the wedding, she saw her husband drinking. She could not sleep that night. She thought of her future, "what if he continues drinking?" She would be like her mum. "I am lost. I have no way to live like this." There was no way for her to tell anyone. She was acutely affected. Her mind could not take it anymore and her mind switched off. I explained the situation to her husband - it is a choice between your wife or the bottle. It is not her mistake but because of her past. We need to go back into our past to find out how the past has affected us. This is our subconscious mind - we are not aware of the past but we need to make the person understand.

By the ages of 5-6, we become what we are today, mentally. A 11 year old boy came to our retreat centre and was very helpful. However as more retreatants came, he became more reserved. By the second day of the retreat, he was unmanageable. He walked out of the retreat hall and would not listen to the volunteers. I spoke to him and gained his confidence. Fortunately he had a good friend who was a priest who had helped him in many ways. I understood a consistent behavioural pattern - he disliked crowds. This boy had no mother and lived in a very remote village. His mother died when he about 2 years old. He could not remember her but he very calmly and coolly said that she had died in a road accident. In a village, this type of news spread fast and the neighbours would pick up the little boy and cry. The next day, after the post-mortem, the mother's body would be in bad shape. All the memories the boy can remember is of the crowds and the association with his mother's death.

When I asked the boy to praise God for the death of his mother, he became very violent and a doctor had to be called to sedate him. Two days later, I gently spoke to him about life and death and the plan of God but he became violent and had to be sedated again. After another two days, I managed to explain the plan of God and the boy calmed down. He stayed on to do another 2 retreats. We have to invite Jesus into our past - there are many things we remember and many things that w do not.

The two apostles said to Jesus on the way to Emmaus, "Remain with us, O Lord." They were totally devastated and shattered by the death of Jesus. They were sad, depressed, angry, afraid and felt guilty, Jesus explained to them all that had happened and when he broke the bread, their eyes were opened and they recognized Jesus. Then they rejoiced! All the negative emotions were gone. They said to one another, "Were not our hearts burning within us?" We need to walk with Jesus. That is where He is going to lead us as we experience an Inner Healing Retreat. We need to offer to God all our negative emotions. Only Jesus can heal us. We trusted other people to make us happy. Only God can fill our hearts with love - our hearts are only made for God. We want to tell God that only he can fill our hearts.

Let us pray

Jesus, You are our Good Shepherd.
We trust in You, in Your Love.
We are wounded, depressed, sad and guilty.
Good Shepherd, my Jesus, let Your Blood flow into my wounds.
I accept you, my Jesus, as my Good Shepherd.

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