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July 14th, 2011

God’s Love On The Cross

Love On The Cross

Such pain and agony, but that Friday is called Good Friday, because God is good always.

It’s usual to hear the questions from Christians and non-Christians alike … Why does Jesus’ death matter? Does the crucifixion just “make sense?” How does Jesus’ death on a cross accomplish anything? Let us now look at the whole idea of death, considered by the so called thinkers and martyrs: Socrates died a good death. He believed in the immortality of the soul and for him death was a breakthrough to a higher, purer life. Calmly and even cheerfully, he drank the cup of hemlock.

Rabbi Akiba died a courageous death. He was a Zealot revolutionary crucified like Jesus by the Romans. He died with the words of the Shema on his lips: “Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.” He died boldly believing that in his death he would find freedom.

The Stoics’ martyrs died stoic deaths. Torn into pieces by wild animals in the arena, it was said that they drew unusually large crowds because people were fascinated by their complete lack of emotion at their own deaths. They died, one historian says, “without terror and without hope.”

The Christian martyr Perpetua died a dignified death. As she went to meet the wild beasts in the arena, she asked for a pin to fasten her hair, for she thought it was not seemly that a martyr should suffer with her hair disheveled, lest she should seem to be sad in the hour of her glory. She died with dignity.

Why does Jesus death on a cross matter?

Jesus’ death was different. The theologian Jurgen Moltmann says Jesus’ death was not a “fine death.” The Gospel of Mark describes his dying as “greatly distressed and troubled.” (Mark 14:33) Mark says he died with a loud incoherent cry. (Mark 15: 37) The Book of Hebrews says he died “with loud cries and tears.” (Hebrews 5:7)

Such was the cry of Jesus hanging on the cross. Was it only the physical torture, the emotional torment of being abandoned, betrayed, and denied by His disciples that caused Him to utter such cry? I think there is more than that to that cry.

For on that cross, Jesus has borne the sin of the whole world. In His spirit, when He looks to His Father, for the first and only time in eternity, He saw the back of His Father. For the Father looked upon His Son, and saw all the sins of this world. In His holiness, He turned His face away from Jesus.

Jesus did not only die for our sins, He carried upon Himself the consequences of sin – a sense of alienation from God. As the book of Romans says, this is the love of God, that the wrath of God on this world did not fall on us, but fell squarely on the Son of God.

As I reflect on our Lord’s bitter sufferings and death on the cross, I cannot help but think back to an old hymn which I had heard during my seminary days: “All the way to Calvary he went for me, he went for me, he went for me. All the way to Calvary he went for me. He died to set me free.”

This old hymn reminds me of the amazing love of God who demonstrated His love even to the point of death in and through Jesus Christ on the mount Calvary. It reminds me also that every person is loved by God from conception to death and is worthy of our respectful care and love, as Jesus even at the point of his death on a cross.

The death of Jesus, says Bonheoffer in Letters and Papers from Prison, is the ultimate symbol of the suffering of God in the life of the world. God allows himself to be edged out of the world and onto a cross. Only a powerless and suffering God can really help us…God did not come to save us by an act of terror so that we would be cowed into belief, but by a great act of love.

Abelard, a twelfth century philosopher and theologian, believed the cross primarily demonstrates the greatness of the love of God, a love that should move us away from our sin and to love God in return. God so loved, that he gave (John 3:16). The Son of God, says Paul, loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20). Our response? Obedient love – even if we suffer too (1 Peter 2:21).

We deserved to incur the penalty – death (Romans 6:23) – but Christ died in our place, paying the penalty and setting us free. We are so important to God that what is destroying us is of ultimate concern to him, and he acts to offer us a way out of our misery. We are invited to repent, to turn from our sins, and be forgiven and pardoned!

Mel Gibson says of his movie called the Passion of Christ: My aim is to profoundly change people. The audience has to experience the harsh reality to understand it. I want to reach people with a message of faith, hope, love and forgiveness. Christ forgave them even as He was tortured and killed. That’s the ultimate example of love.’

Swedish theologian Gustav Aulen, (Christus Victor) says Jesus death on the cross not only demonstrates God’s amazing love for us but also saves us from our sins.

I want to remind you that Jesus was in enormous physical pain, the worst human pain imaginable, as he spoke his words, his seven last sentences from the Cross … The Roman soldiers all expected Jesus to shout out with obscenities and cursing and swearing. One Roman philosopher, Seneca, said that all people, when being crucified and nailed to the cross, they cursed the day they were born.

Another Roman philosopher, Cicero, said that the cursing was so violent and wicked that the soldiers often cut out the tongues of men who were being crucified, because their language was so filled with pain, rage and hatred. Instead, we hear nothing of this. Jesus did not curse his tormenters, the soldiers, at all; he did not curse the religious leaders; he did not curse the gawkers. Instead of cursing as we would expect, we hear the seven last words of
Jesus.

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. Pure grace. A word of pure grace. This may be the most powerful example of grace and forgiving love in the whole Bible. While in so much pain, Jesus asked God to forgive his tormenters. They didn’t ask for forgiveness; they didn’t deserve it; but Jesus gave them forgiveness. They didn’t even ask. His prayerful words to God were pure grace. Does not his last word reach out to include you and me, some 5,000 Km and 2,000 years away from the cross?

This is a real story of God and man ever since the salvation history. God loves and forgives, while we pain and fight and resist.

The German theologian Jurgen Moltmann expresses in a single sentence the great span from Good Friday to Easter. It is, in fact, a summary of human history, past, present, and future: “God weeps with us so that we may someday laugh with him.”

Good Friday? Yes. When God’s human creatures are bad, God is good. When we are at our worst, God is at his best…! But crucifixion was not God’s final word. God raised Jesus from the dead. Easter is bad news and then good news. It’s a bad news for the children of darkness and good news for the children of God. Easter reminded us that God is in control of the universe. The Easter- event – the Cross and the Resurrection – is about a God who loves eternally, individually and sufficiently.

Thank you for the Cross, Lord. Thank you for the price you paid to demonstrate God’s eternal love for us, to atone for our sins, and free us from the powers of evil and the fear of death.

And so we pray, “Lord, forgive us for the times we have despised your call.” And then we pray once more, “Lord, send us your Spirit, strengthen us by your Word and Sacrament that our new Christian nature may cling to you and your words more faithfully and rejoice in the pardon and love that your Cross and blood have won for us once and for all!”. Amen.

July 11th, 2011

The Fountain of Unfathomable Mercy and Love

The Fountain Of Unfathomable Mercy And Love

No sinner can live in darkness, thinking that he/she has no place in God’s heart.

The mystery of the heart of Jesus is the mystery of love. Christianity is led by the principle of LOVE and it is discovered that immense treasure of love, in the heart of Jesus. His heart was pierced on the cross for love of us. The blood and water which flowed from his side healed and redeemed the humanity from their ailments and sins. The pierced heart of the redeemer always stands as a sign of immeasurable fountain of love by which the children of god are cleansed and have become dearer to the Father.

From the wounds of Christ flow immense love and infinite mercy of God. The unfathomable love and infinite mercy of God. The unfathomable love and mercy gushing from the most Sacred Heart of Jesus is a fountain of healing agent for the sick and forgiveness for the sinner. From his opened side, the source of life gushed forth for the souls, and the ocean of mercy opened for the whole world.

To St. Foustina- the apostle of Mercy Jesus said, “Let no soul fear to draw near to me, even though its sins be as scarlet. My mercy is so great that no mind, be it man or angel will be able to fathom it through out all eternity”. So to say, the love and mercy of Jesus in His heart is deeper than any ocean. The human mind has conquered and measured the depth of the ocean and it proved that the Pacific Ocean is the deepest of them all. But who can fathom the depths of Jesus’ mercy and comprehend the depth of His love for us? So deep, so great, infinite, unfathomable, immeasurable and inexhaustible treasure is his love for us. If so no matter how sinful or weak we are why we must fear to approach Him?

The people of Israel on their way to the Promised Land sinned against God and Moses. As a result many were bitten by the fiery serpents and died on their way. Then Moses pleaded for the people and God asked Moses to make a Bronze serpent, and set it on a pole; and if a serpent bit any man, he would look at the bronze serpent and live (Num 21:4-9).

The pole God asked to Moses to put up was the symbol of the cross that was raised at Calvary and Jesus was symbolized as the serpent with healing power on the pole. Since the appointed time for the Father had not yet come, to reveal His son to the world, the Father had asked Moses to make a bronze serpent in the place of His son. All those who looked at the bronze serpent in faith were cured and lived.

In fact the Father had in His mind His only Son Jesus on the Cross whose heart was pierced and the blood which gushed forth would be the healing agent for the redemption of the world. Definitely, the Father willed that everyone looked at the bleeding heart of His Son in FAITH AND LOVE would be cured from all infirmities and be redeemed. St. John witnessed it when he said, “In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and send His Son to be the expiation for our sins.” (1Jn4:10)

The water and blood that gushed straight from the wound in His side, fills our lives with his gift of Grace. To that fountain of love Jesus invites us saying, “Come to me all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble3 of heart.”(Mt.11:28-29) Are you laden with your sins, sickness, struggles, pains, loneliness and troubles of any kind? Yes, Jesus invites you and me to look at Him, His heart bleeds on the cross for us. Call on Him in LOVE AND FAITH. Certainly you are to be healed, heard and comforted.

The ‘Rest’ He promises to give you is nothing but peace, serenity of souls and freedom from all worries and cares of life. The blood and water, which gushed forth from the heart of Jesus as a fountain of mercy for us, is all powerful. When Jesus invites us, “Come to me all……” He invites us to that ocean of love, peace, joy and serenity.

The two rays gushing forth from the Sacred Heart denote blood and water which flowed when His heart was pierced. The pale ray stands for water which makes the souls righteous. The red ray stands for the blood which is the life of the souls by which our sins are washed away. Theses two rays issued forth from the very depths of His tender mercy when his agonized heart was opened by a lance on the cross. These rays shield and protect us from all evil, harm and snares of Satan.

The depth of Jesus’ love is shown when on the cross he forgave his enemies and brought all men in peace and reconciliation and that was his mission on earth. Jesus through His intimate words of revelation He gave to St. Faustina of Poland says, “I am more generous towards sinners than the just. It was for their sake that I came down from heaven; it was for their sake that my blood was spilled, let them mot fear to approach me; they are most in need of my mercy.”

Enlightened and encouraged by the assurance of Jesus’ unfathomable mercy and love, let us approach the fountain of love with all our weakness, failures, sins and problems of life. Let us throw all our cares and worries on to Him and be cleansed and strengthened by the fountain of love. Let us strive for an experience of holistic healing- of body, mind and soul. Lt’s enjoy peace, serenity and joy that Jesus promised when he said, “Come to me all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Prayer:

Lord Jesus, anoint us with your precious and take us into your care. Make our hearts humble homes for you to dwell. Draw us O Lord, to your heart of love, to your boundless love. Our hearts are made for you Lord, draw us to your wounded side opened for us and may we drink from the fountain of life that we may thirst never more. Receive us all into the abode of your most compassionate heart, and never let us escape from it. Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, rule over our hearts, lives and our homes. O Blood and Water which gushed forth from the heart of Jesus as a fountain of mercy for us, we trust in you. Amen.

– – – written by Sr. Mercy Pottokaran OSB

July 8th, 2011

Happy To Be Broken

Happy To Be Broken

Life is meaningful not when we earn, but when we loose.

It is the time set for each one of us to refrain from this world of commotion, where we make and hear a lot of cry. We are bursting to talk about inflation, scams, saving environment and tigers. Yes, it is an urgent need to speak out and do something. But the question is whether our hearts do remain lively as a garden that is looked after well, or is it like a deserted place? Are the promptings of the Spirit dying out like a cry in an open field, even without an echo? Or are they like a little girl who is conversing to her beloved doll with all her gentleness and innocence but still gets back no reply?

As Jesus is going to take away our brokenness, are we preparing ourselves to be given completely into His hands? What I believe more than anything is the need to do something in this season to save and create new intra, inter and transcendental relationships. For Israelites the liberation from Egypt, was the greatest God experience not because God was with them in the form of a cloud during day and a pillar of fire at night, but because they were one- with love suffusing through their hearts, nerves and veins calling each one to focus on their destiny- moving through the desert for forty years, at times carrying others and being carried by others. It was a splendid experience for them not because they conquered many nations on the way but they lived each moment of these years in an altruistic way.

When we do so we are indeed creating spiritual reservoirs for ourselves which will take us past through any desert- when faith and hope seems dead- even for years. When our Muslim brothers go to Mecca and our Hindu brothers to Ganges and to many other places as pilgrims to wash away their brokenness, we see a God who is coming into the backyard of ours- calling us not to Jerusalem or to Mount Calvary- but to join hands with our neighbours irrespective of their conditions, to wash away our brokenness. He is willing to be broken down anywhere and to any extent to make us complete. The wheat fields around us are adorned with golden colour, signifying the time of Fulfillment. Now why should we hold on to ourselves? Everyday let us live a moment for others.

Down the ages, there were a few people who lived with an altruistic spirit. Mother Mary, after hearing the Good News from the angel did not hold back but in the nick of a moment rushed to serve Elizabeth. What Mary started on that great day, came to a full circle when Jesus stretched out His hands on Mount Calvary. It was this outpouring of love that turned the obscure village called Nazareth, then the little city called Jerusalem, into a Holy Land and not by their divinity alone.

The radical following of this love can be seen in Mother Teresa’s life too. Mother Teresa was soaked in this love and that is why from the very dawn of her mission up to her very last moment she could give. The amount of money- with money everything else comes- that came into her hands is unimaginable. When she walked down the streets of kolkatta and when she went to Norway to receive the Nobel Price, the size of her cloth bag was same. She never left her zone and for me she always remained as ‘The Monk with Ferrari’. She was like a sponge soaked in the water which once you remove from the water and press, it gives away everything. The harder the demand, the better she could give. When you transform love into service- that is the greatest spirituality one can attain.

The question is, are we willing to lose a bit of ourselves? By sharing the sufferings of others and being with them in their loneliness, we can take part in the sufferings of Christ, and so we can also help others to resurrect from their shackles of life.

Each raindrop makes a big ocean. Likewise each moment of our life makes our life span. So when we dedicate a few seconds for our neighbours the words of Jesus are indeed being fulfilled in our life too. He says, “no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s own friends.” (John 15:13). Let us pray that God may teach us the Language of Love that is understood by all.

– – – written by Fr. Jobin Manivelil SVD

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