Saturday, 29 April 2017


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            Roy Angell once told a beautiful story about a widow during the First World War who lost her only son and her husband. One night while this woman's grief was so terribly severe, she had a dream. An angel stood before her and said, "You might have your son back again for ten minutes. What ten minutes would you choose? Would you have him back as a little baby, a dirty-faced little boy, a schoolboy just starting to school, a student just completing high school, or as the young soldier who marched off so bravely to war?" The mother thought a few minutes and then, in her dream, told the angel she would choose none of those times. "Let me have him back," she said, "when as a little boy, in a moment of anger, he doubled up his fists and shook them at me and said, ’I hate you! I hate you!''   Continuing to address the angel, she said: "In a little while his anger subsided and he came back to me, his dirty little face stained with tears, and put his arms around me.  He said, ‘Momma, I'm sorry I was so naughty. I promise never to be bad again and I love you with all my heart.’ Let me have him back then," the mother sobbed. "I never loved him more than at that moment when he changed his attitude and came back to me." This is exactly how God feels about each of us.

Our God is a one that is stupendously and even gratuitously fatherly which is evinced lucidly in his merciful and loving nature. That, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us all (Rom. 5:8). God is mercy and love, and he who abides in mercy and love, abides in God, and God abides in him.1 Jn. 3:1 gives us a clear exemplification of God the Father’s open-handed acceptance of us all as his children. He loves, guards, guides, directs and pardons us. These are attributes which depict God as a MercifulFather which all as Catholic Fathers ought to whole heartedly and dutifully emulate.

A Catholic Father in this context is a married man who has devoted his life to the service of God in marriage, given the unique and difficult task of procreation and education of children and shepherding the family (which is the domestic church)—(Can. 1055).
 This is a very difficult task which is more than we most times vaguely imagine or think. To be a father after the mind of Christ very tasking and especially in this Year of Mercy there is a need to translate God’s mercy in the functions and duties of a Catholic Father and see how Catholic Father can inter-mingle in his daily life the fatherly and merciful nature of God. Meanwhile, an apostle is one who follows the footsteps of the master. The master is Christ, so, catholic fathers as apostles follow the footsteps of Christ and following Christ’s footsteps implies being merciful for Christ is mercy himself. To be an apostle of Christ who is merciful, and not be merciful indicates an apparent and existential contradiction.
The question that may be drawn from the above is: How can a Catholic Father live out these both natures rich in nobility and brilliance?

1.0 St. Thomas Aquinas explains that God already forgives us as soon as we repent, even before we go to confession or perform any penance.  The forgiveness the father offers in the parable of the prodigal son (Lk. 15:11-32) parallels the forgiveness God offers in real life.  That is why Jesus in the Gospels frequently describes God more like a defence attorney than a prosecuting attorney (1 Jn 1:9; Jn. 8:1-11). A catholic Father must be forgiving. He must forgive the wrongs of his wife, children and neighbour. When we forgive others we are Christlike for Christ is a forgiving Father; when we forgive we in turn acknowledge our sins and our total dependence on God’s merciful love; we also overcome pride in our lives too. Forgiveness is a sign of thanksgiving to God who constantly forgives us our own sins unconditionally; it disposes us to receive God’s pardon and brings us healing. As we forgive others, we are well assured that we through this educate our family.

2.0 A great famine arose in the land where the prodigal son in a life of debauchery squandered the resources of his ever-loving father. This physical famine can still be timely interpreted as a spiritual famine. There is a spiritual famine looming large today even in countries with a booming economy.  Because of this spiritual famine, we resemble the younger son who lived with pigs.  Examples of this spiritual famine can be seen in drug and alcohol abuse, fraud and theft in the workplace, murders, abortions and violence, premarital sex, marital infidelity and priestly infidelity, as well as in hostility between people.  Sometimes this "spiritual famine” exists in our own families. 
That is why we condemn some of our family members to “survival-level” existence, and even contribute to the death of some of them, by refusing to associate with them just like the self-justifying elder brother of the prodigal son did.  Let us accept the fact that we have been squandering God’s abundant blessings not only in our country and in our families, but also in our personal lives. Catholic fathers must see that this famine finds no breathing space in their Christian homes. They must fill the atmosphere with prayer and love. With love, indifference and hatred will find no place to live. This cannot be achieved by mere propagating of law-abiding principles. Catholic Fathers must themselves be protagonists and boosters of this kind of family atmosphere which in fact is the ‘ideal’ atmosphere that should super-saturate a Christian home.

3.0 To become an apostle of mercy, one must be an evangelizer just as Christ was and is. This means one must “go out,” or “leave,” and the first door we must exit is “the door of our ‘I’,” leaving behind “envies, jealousies, fears of embarrassment, rancors, resentments and antipathies”-- Fr. Cantalamessa.
To become effective evangelizers who impact others in a positive way, we must not only study and proclaim the word, we must pray over it and assimilate it:  “only what comes from the heart reaches the heart.”
Love, mercy and compassion are also marks of the true evangelizer, above all, love for Jesus.  It is the love of Christ that ought to impel us.  Shepherding and evangelizing must come from genuine love for Christ for only the person who is in love with Jesus can proclaim him to the world with deep conviction. The first world to evangelize is the world of our homes and families, for charity they say, begins at home. We move from our immediate and domestic family to the outer and global family. The words of God are “Spirit and life” (Jn 6:63), and therefore they cannot be transmitted or received except “in the Spirit.” This is the only way to overcome the teeming mass of envies, jealousies, fears of embarrassment, rancors, resentments, and antipathies that fill the heart of the old self—in a word we need to be “indwelt” by the gospel and to spread the scent of the gospel. Catholic Fathers must inglobate the world of their hearts with the gospel of Christ. This gospel of Christ is the word of God which is God himself (Jn. 1:1). It is only God that can bring to fuller completion our work of evangelization especially in our families. We must familiarize ourselves with ‘HIS WORD’ and also, inculcate such glorifying practise in our families too. ‘HIS WORD’ is capable of transforming the world of our families even in the midst of streams of flooding secularism, mass-mindedness and hate.
4.0 There is a saying in English that takes on a particular significance when applied to evangelization and apostolicism: “Actions speak louder than words.” A statement from Paul VI in Evangelii nuntiandi that is also often repeated says, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”
Someone was seen one evening in a location and in the company of people that were not very edifying. A colleague asked him how he could reconcile that with what he wrote in his books and he answered him calmly, “Have you ever seen a street sign that began to walk in the direction it pointed to?” It was brilliant answer, but it is self-condemning. People despise human “street signs” that point in which direction to go, but they themselves do not move an inch.
One time during an ecumenical dialogue, a Pentecostal brother—not to argue but to try to understand—asked Fr. Cantalamessawhy we Catholics called Mary “the star of evangelization.” It was an occasion for him as he rightly said to reflect on this title attributed to Mary by Paul VI at the end of Evangeliinuntiandi. He came to the conclusion that Mary is the star of evangelization because she did not carry a particular word to a particular people like the major evangelists in history, but she carried the Word made flesh and carried him (even physically!) to the whole world! She never preached, she said few words, but she was full of Jesus, and wherever she went she gave off such a scent of his presence that John the Baptist could sense it even in his mother’s womb. Who can deny that Our Lady of Guadalupe had a fundamental role in the evangelization and the faith of the Mexican people?
This is pragmatic for Catholic Fathers in the sense that, the apostolic virtue of Mercy and Love is not something to just be preached by mere lip service, they must live out these virtues. We know psychologically, that children learn more by what they see not only by what they are told. Catholic Fathers must be exemplary. They must be models and must model themselves in the path of Christ who was a paradigmatic example of fatherly love and mercy.

            5.0 The author of Revelation brings us a small but significant variation. He says that the book he swallowed was sweet as honey on his lips but bitter in his stomach (see Rev 10:10). This is the case because before the word can wound the hearers it must wound the preacher, showing him his sin and prompting him to conversion. Catholic Fathers must leave themselves always to the disposal of the spirit who reprimands and still like a child cuddles us and binds up our sores and mends our broken lives. Catholic Fathers must be sure that to effectively live out their apostolic duties as apostles of mercy, they must be ready to be fed by the word and open to be corrected and with this transfer it to others.
This cannot be done in a day. There is, however, one thing that can be done in one day, even this very day: assenting to this perspective, making an irrevocable decision, insofar as we can, not to live for ourselves any more but for the Lord (see Rom 14:7-9). All of this cannot happen merely as the result of a person’s ascetic effort; it is also a work of grace, a fruit of the Holy Spirit. In the liturgy we pray in the Fourth Eucharistic Prayer, “That we might live no longer for ourselves but for him who diedand rose again for us, he sent the Holy Spirit from you, Father, as the first fruits for those who believe.”

            6.0 The effort for a renewed fatherly and apostolic commitment is exposed to two principal dangers. One is inertia, laziness, not doing anything and letting all the others do the work. The second is to launch into feverish and futile activity on a merely human level that results in losing contact little by little with the wellspring of the word and its efficacy. This would be setting oneself up for failure. The more the volume of activity goes up, the more the volume of prayer should go up—Fr. Cantalamessa. Someone could object that this is absurd because there is only so much time. That is true, but cannot the one who multiplied the bread also multiply time? Besides, this is something God is always doing and that we experience every day: after having prayed, we do the same things in less than half the time.
Someone could also say, “But how can you remain calmly praying and not run when the house is on fire?” That is also true. But imagine this scenario: a team of firefighters who hear an alarm rush with sirens blaring to where the fire is. However, once there, they realize they do not have any water in their tanks, not even a drop. That is what we are like when we run to preachwithout praying. It is not the case that words are lacking; on the contrary, the less one prays the more one speaks, but they are empty words that do not reach anyone. Prayer and Scriptural Reflection are indispensable in this mission.
Someone can proclaim Jesus Christ for reasons that have nothing to do with love. Someone can proclaim him—taking literally the gospel injunction to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth (see Mk 13:10)—so as to fill up the number of the elect and thus hasten the return of the Lord. Some of these motives are not bad in themselves. But if they are the only ones, they are not enough. They lack that genuine love, mercy and compassion for people that is the soul of the gospel. The gospel of love can only be proclaimed through love. If we do not strive to love the people (beginning with the respective families we have before us), the words will easily become transformed in our hands into stones that wound and from which the hearers need to take refuge, like people who take cover in a hailstorm.

            7.0 Have love, then, for people, but also and above all have love for Jesus. It is the love of Christ that ought to impel us. “Do you love me?” Jesus asks Peter. “Feed my sheep” (see Jn 21:15ff). Shepherding and preaching must come from genuine love for Christ. We need to love Jesus because only the person who is in love with Jesus can proclaim him to the world with deep conviction. People speak passionately only about what they are in love with.
Proclaiming the gospel, whether through life or words, we not only give glory to Jesus but we also give him joy. If it is true that “The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus,” it is also true that the one who spreads the gospel fills the heart of Jesus with joy. The sense of joy and well-being that a person experiences in suddenly feeling life return to a limb that was unable to move or was paralyzed is a small indication of the joy that Christ experiences when he feels the Holy Spirit bring some dead member of his body back to life again—Fr. Cantalamessa.
There is a saying in the Bible that is not easily noticed: “Like the cold of snow in the time of harvest is a faithful messenger to those who send him; he refreshes the spirit of his masters” (Prov 25:13). The images of heat and coolness during harvest make us think of Jesus on the cross who cries, “I thirst!” He is the great “harvester” who is thirsty for souls, whom we are called to refresh with our humble, devoted service to the gospel. May the Holy Spirit, “the principal agent of evangelization,” grant that we give Jesus this joy through our words and our works, according to the charism and the office that each of us has in the Church.
            A grandpa and his granddaughter were out for a walk one day when Grandpa realized they had walked a whole lot farther than their normal walks. He asked his granddaughter, "Do you know here we are?" The girl said, "No!" "Do you know how to get home?" Again the girl said, "No!" Then Grandpa asked, "If you don't know where you are or how to get home, does that mean you’re lost?" The girl said, "No, Grandpa! How can I be lost if I'm with you? This is what should resound daily from the lips of our children, wives and neighbour. They are words of trust. But they can only be voiced out when we authentically carry out our mission as Christic apostles of mercy, namely: Loving and merciful.
Arthur Ashe, the legendary Afro-American Wimbledon player was dying of cancer. He received letters from his fans, worldwide, one of which read: “Why did God select you for such a dreadful disease?” Ashe replied, “The world over, 5 crore children start playing tennis, 50 lakhs learn the game, 5 lakh turn professional; 50,000 come to the circuit, 5,000 reach Grand Slams, 50 reach Wimbledon, 4 to the semifinals, 2 to the finals. When I won the Wimbledon crown, I never asked God, “Why me?” Today, in pain, I shouldn’t be asking God, “Why me?” Wimbledon crown, cancer cross. That’s Christianity! That is why Jesus reminds his three apostles about his death and Resurrection immediately after his glorious transfiguration.
To achieve this my dear Catholic Fathers, we must be ready to suffer and die. We must be ready to sacrifice all for the good of all. The eternal crown of glory cannot be gotten on a platter of gold. We must work for it.
The ball is now on your court my dear Catholic Fathers. I enjoin you to brace up for action and the task ahead!!!
May the Holy Spirit inspire and guide us as we move.


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