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Abide in my Love, and you shall bear much fruit (cf. Jn 15:5-9)
Prayer is the soul of the ecumenical movement. In prayer, Christians are invited to become fully that for which our Lord prayed. Prayer is the spiritual root of ecumenism, from which all else springs.
Allow me to take up this theme in the words of the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Synod where he stressed the role of contemplation. "To be contemplative as Christ is contemplative is to be open to all the fullness that the Father wishes to pour into our hearts. With our minds made still and ready to receive, with our self-generated fantasies about God and ourselves reduced to silence, we are at last at the point where we may begin to grow." Prayer is the essential stepping-stone towards overcoming our "self-generated" divisions. Prayer is the key which opens our hearts to Christ's desire for unity.
In our ecumenical endeavours, we must learn to pray together. We must learn and receive from one another's patterns of prayer and worship. We can learn from reflection on liturgical rites that predate the major divisions of the Church. In our Catholic tradition, we need to deepen our understanding of the prayerful reading of the scriptures. Our post-Vatican II liturgies need to re-discover something of that dimension of silence and contemplation about which Archbishop Williams spoke, and which are so much a part of Orthodox liturgies or of modern prayer forms such as that of Taizé.
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in 2021 was prepared by the Monastic Community of Grandchamp. The theme that is chosen, 'Abide in my love, and you shall bear much fruit', is based on John 15:1-17 and expresses Grandchamp Community's vocation to prayer, reconciliation and unity in the Church and the human family.
Jesus said to the disciples, "Abide in my love" (Jn 15:9). He abides in the love of the Father (Jn 15:10) and desires nothing other than to share this love with us: "I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father" (Jn 15:15b). Grafted into the vine, which is Jesus Himself, the Father becomes our vinedresser who prunes us to make us grow. This describes what happens in prayer. The Father is the centre of our lives, who centres our lives. He prunes us and makes us whole, and whole human beings give glory to the Father.
Abiding in Christ is an inner attitude that takes root in us over time. It demands space to grow. It can be overtaken by the struggle for the necessities of life, and it is threatened by the distractions, noise, activity and the challenges of life. In the turmoil of Europe in 1938, Geneviève Micheli, who would later become Mother Geneviève, the first mother of the community, wrote these lines which remain relevant today: "We live in a time that is both troubling and magnificent, a dangerous time where nothing preserves the soul, where rapid and wholly human achievements seem to sweep beings away ... And I think that our civilisation will die in this collective madness of noise and speed, where no being can think … We Christians, who know the full value of a spiritual life, have an immense responsibility and must realise it, unite and help each other create forces of calmness, refuges of peace, vital centres where the silence of people calls on the creative word of God. It is a question of life and death."
Communion with Christ demands communion with others. Moving closer to others, living together in community with others, sometimes people very different from ourselves, can be challenging. The sisters of Grandchamp know this challenge, and for them, the teaching of Brother Roger of Taizé is very helpful: "There is no friendship without purifying suffering. There is no love of one's neighbour without the Cross. The Cross alone allows us to know the unfathomable depth of love."
Divisions among Christians, moving away from one another, are a scandal, because it is also moving further away from God. Many Christians, moved to sorrow by this situation, pray fervently to God for the restoration of that unity for which Jesus prayed. Christ's prayer for unity is an invitation to turn back to Him, and so come closer to one another, rejoicing in the richness of our diversity.
As we learn from community life, efforts at reconciliation are costly, and demand sacrifice. We are sustained by the prayer of Christ, who desires that we might be one, as He is one with the Father, so that the world may believe (cf. Jn 17:21).
Though we, as Christians, abide in the love of Christ, we also live in a Creation that groans as it waits to be set free (cf. Rom 8). In the world, we witness the evils of suffering and conflict. Through solidarity with those who suffer, we allow the love of Christ to flow through us. The Paschal Mystery bears fruit in us, when we offer love to our brothers and sisters and nurture hope in the world.
Spirituality and solidarity are inseparably linked. Abiding in Christ, we receive the strength and wisdom to act against structures of injustice and oppression, to fully recognise ourselves as brothers and sisters in humanity, and to be creators of a new way of living, with respect for and communion with all of Creation.
"My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit" (Jn 15:8). We cannot bear fruit on our own. We cannot bear fruit separated from the vine. It is the sap, the life of Jesus flowing through us, that produces fruit. Remaining in Jesus' love, remaining a branch of the vine, is what allows His life to flow through us. When we listen to Jesus, His life flows through us. Jesus invites us to let His word abide in us (John 15:7), and then whatever we ask will be done for us. By His word, we bear fruit. As persons, as a community, as the entire Church, we wish to unite ourselves to Christ in order to keep His commandment of loving one another as He has loved us (Jn 15:12).
The Conference of Catholic Bishops in India (CCBI) Commission for Ecumenism calls on the Church in India to join the Monastic Community of Grandchamp, who have prepared the Prayer service for the Christian Unity Week 2021. The Commission would also like to exhort everyone to celebrate the Ecumenism Sunday, which falls on January 24, 2021.
Vatican II and the growing ecumenical collaboration which was developing was not just an intra-Church matter. Ecumenism is about the essential mission of the Church and the place of the Church in the world. Jesus prays that we may be one "so that the world may believe" that He is the one sent by the Father (Jn 17:3). Announcing the good news of Jesus Christ is impeded by the discordant witness of Christian communities in competition with, or indifferent to, one another. Such a contradiction is an obstacle for those who hear the message and who might otherwise place their faith in Christ. Growth in communion between the Churches, on the other hand, is a powerful witness to what the gospel can bring to a fragmented and divided world. We should never underestimate the importance of encounter between Christians, even when their differences remain. We know that there are so many things that Christians can do together. But we should never say that! What we should say and think is that there are so many things that Christians should, and must, be doing together in their common witness to their one baptism and their one faith in Jesus Christ and to the unity of humankind in Christ.
For the eight days of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in 2021, we propose a journey of prayer:
Day 1: Called by God: "You did not choose me, but I chose you" (Jn 15:16a)
Day 2: Maturing internally: "Abide in me as I abide in you" (Jn 15:4a)
Day 3: Forming one body: "Love one another as I have loved you" (Jn 15:12b)
Day 4: Praying together: "I do not call you servants any longer … but I have called you friends" (Jn 15:15)
Day 5: Letting oneself be transformed by the Word: "You have already been pruned by the word…" (Jn 15:3)
Day 6: Welcoming others: "Go and bear fruit, fruit that will last" (Jn 15:16b)
Day 7: Growing in unity: "I am the vine, you are the branches" (Jn 15:5a)
Day 8: Reconciling with all of Creation: "So that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete" (Jn 15:11)
Fr Reginald D'Mello, OP is the Executive Secretary, CCBI Commission for Ecumenism.
Summary of Salvation
The Feast of the Incarnation reminded us not only of the fact that the Son of God chose to become one with us in our human nature, but the way He chose to be one with us: in simplicity, poverty and obscurity. This Sunday's Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, which marks the beginning of Jesus' public life, reinforces what we have seen of Jesus. Jesus begins His public life in the humility of John's baptism, in the guise of a servant.
Jesus' Baptism underscored the universal scope of His mission; He is Son of God and Son of Man. All of us belong to Him and He to us, and it is in Him that all humanity reaches its destiny. This is also borne out by the fact that while the Baptist's mission is set by the biblical authors within the context of Jewish history (cf Lk 1:5), the story of Jesus' birth and subsequent mission is placed within the wider bounds of world history, represented by the Roman Empire (cf Lk 3:1-2). Jesus' baptism is thus set in contrast to the secular self-appropriated claim to divinity of the Roman Emperor. God Himself speaks for, in and through His Son.
Those of us "baptised in Christ" have the challenge to "render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (Mk 12:17). While these two spheres are compatible with each other, a baptised Christian has the unique task of etching out a divinely tasked vocation in the midst of the lived reality of the world. Baptism is different from many of the other religious rites and rituals that we perform. It is a call to a new way of thinking and acting; it must lead to a concrete conversion and give your life a new direction. Our baptism is a permanent seal of the Spirit on each one of us, forever reminding us that we are "born to be different".
The actual baptismal ritual symbolises this permanent change. Immersion into the waters is a symbol of death; to the ancient mind, the waters of the ocean held an annihilating, destructive power. On the other hand, the flowing waters of the river are a symbol of life. Immersion into the waters is about purification and rebirth, and hence about death and resurrection; we begin life anew.
Jesus united Himself to humankind through John's baptism. The fact that He who is without sin stood amongst the mass of sinners waiting on the banks of the Jordan to be baptised by John, points to His intense solidarity with humanity whom He came to save. This gesture was an anticipation of His Crucifixion. He took on the burden of sin and guilt on His shoulders, as He descended into the depths of the Jordan. The voice from heaven, "This is my beloved Son" is an anticipatory reference to the Resurrection. Jesus' baptism at the Jordan must therefore be seen from the crux of Calvary, and is thus a summary of pinnacle moments in Salvation History.
This baptismal death and resurrection event is highlighted beautifully in the iconography of the Eastern Church. The icon of Jesus' Baptism depicts the water as a liquid tomb having the form of a dark cavern, which is in turn the iconographic sign of Hades, or hell. Jesus' descent into this watery tomb is thus an anticipation of His act of descending into the underworld to fling open the gates of the abyss (cf. Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth). There He suffers-with-others, transforms it, and hence releases fallen humanity from the fetters of the evil one.
Our own Sacrament of Baptism is a gift of participation in Jesus' Death and Resurrection; living out our baptismal promises will lead to an inner transformation which will ultimately be revolutionary for everyone around us. We will encounter the Trinity as was revealed at Jesus' baptism, and tear open the heavens, leading to a torrent of God's graces permeating every aspect of our existence. We must have the courage and humility to live out our baptismal grace, sealed in our minds and hearts in an indelible way.
Before His ascent into heaven, Jesus commissioned His disciples to go and baptise. This is our Christian duty—to bring people engaged with us in every facet of our lives to the face of Christ, through the power of our words, deeds and the untold witness of Christian living. John baptised with water; we, the Children of God, have a far greater truth and power given to us—to go and do likewise.
Fr Joshan Rodrigues is on The Examiner Editorial Board, with the additional duty of Managing Editor.
A Paean to His Priesthood
Fr. Anthony Charanghat
Twentieth December 2020 was a day of inexpressible joy and gratitude for the Archdiocese of Bombay when its chief Shepherd completed his 50th Sacerdotal Ordination Anniversary. A stream of prayerful greetings and congratulatory messages was showered on His Eminence, Oswald Cardinal Gracias, the Golden Jubilarian. He has carved a niche in our hearts as a promising priest, an esteemed Ordinary of a prominent Catholic diocese and a successful President of both the Bishops’ Conferences in India and the FABC. He is also acknowledged as a high-ranking prelate of the Holy Father’s first Council of Cardinals. These sterling achievements call for a paean to his priesthood.
Accolades and plaudits galore chronicling the saga of his priestly ministry came in from the Pope and other confreres including Cardinals, Apostolic Nuncios, Bishops, and friends - lay, priests and religious. Some have highlighted the great qualities of his mind, heart, and social skills to knit people into unity in a spirt of solidarity. There have been glowing tributes of his intellectual prowess of comprehension in matters of faith and the affairs of the world which has enabled him to mobilise, motivate and lead the Christian community in the country.
He is highly regarded as a legal luminary in canon law to ensure observing rectitude in the administration of Sacraments, practise of our faith and governance of the Church. It is often said that he has a winsome smile that can put people at ease, a mellifluous voice that can comfort the broken-hearted and melt the hard-hearted and suave relational skills to reconcile estranged individuals and conflicting parties. In keeping with his episcopal motto of service, he has reached out to the poor, needy, neglected and distressed to bring them healing and wholeness.
Having journeyed in fidelity to the call of his priestly vocation for fifty golden years, despite our human failings, Cardinal Gracias is fully aware that the ‘miracle of the priesthood’ is possible due to no merit of his own natural qualities or gifts. It is purely through the gratuitous love of God expressed through the faith and prayers of the people of God. “Before forming you in the womb, I knew you, before you came out into the light, I consecrated you; I have made you a prophet of the nations” (Jer. 1:5).
A priest stands in the place of God and is a man clothed with all the powers of God only because he has said an unconditional ‘Yes to God’ when he called him to labour in his vineyard to proclaim the good news of salvation to the world. He must renew every day this ‘Yes’, like Mary the model of all Priests, for the ‘miracle of the eternal priesthood’ to continue to perdure in his life.
If God has loved and chosen us as priests, we must understand all the consequences that derive from being his friends and therefore ought to grow in intimacy with Him. The Love, Friendship and Faith received from God must be revealed to others: The Cardinal has received grace in the priesthood to mediate it to others. He has humbly used his multifarious talents at the service of God, offering his life on the paten as a sacrifice, and pouring into the chalice as an oblation, the sufferings of his life.
We have observed this aspect of spirituality in Cardinal Gracias as he has preached increasingly with unction and celebrated the Eucharist with utter devotion and reverence, specially during this pandemic. When he comes face to face with Jesus Christ and at that precise moment, he becomes identified with Christ, becoming not only an Alter Christus, another Christ, but also really an Ipse Christus, Christ Himself. He is conscious of being invested by the Person of Christ, configured in a specific sacramental identification with the High Priest of the eternal Covenant (cf. Ecclesia de Eucharistia n.29).
We give thanks to God, the giver of all blessings, for the great achievements of his long apostolate among his people and where he will surely be honoured by everyone. May God bless him abundantly to labour in His vineyard for many more years according to the plan He has for him.
May his abiding devotion and faithful service that has touched countless hearts be a blessing to all of us. In the Eucharist may we entrust our Cardinal to the maternal goodness of the Virgin Mary, our Mother and Mother of the Church, to whom Cardinal Gracias has had a great filial devotion.
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Voices in the Desert
“I am the voice of one crying out in the desert - 'Make straight the way of the Lord.'" These words of the Prophet Isaiah, echoed by John the Baptist on the Third Sunday of Advent, reflect the vocation of not just the Baptiser, but of every Christian. We are all invited to lend our voices to the protest against moral, social, religious and political degradation in our world today. The arena for this protest is the proverbial 'desert'. The desert is a mesmerising paradox of life and death. In spite of vast swathes of beautiful yet deadly sand, the desert hosts many different breath-taking life forms that are quite often invisible to the uninformed eye. At the same time, the desert is a place of scorpions and poisonous snakes, barrenness and death.
Our urban landscapes which juxtapose soaring skyscrapers and penurious slums are the metaphorical 'deserts' in which we live. While these deserts are places of warm humanity and thoughtful, inclusive enterprises, it is no secret that loneliness, barrenness and a temptation towards moral and social degradation, an 'agnostic' way of living, can pervade its dense spaces. It is these 'deserts' in which we are called to labour as People of God. Advent is not just a time for personal spiritual upliftment, but also a time to encourage and motivate one another towards a Christ-centric life; it is also a time to become 'prophetic' voices crying out in these urban deserts, against the vices of injustice, deprivation, discrimination and abuse.
When viewed with the eyes of faith, the desert can appear as a place of life, hope and human compassion. When viewed without faith, the world can appear to be a place of Sisyphean despair. What is our vocation? To bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to those captive, and to announce the victory that God has won for each one of us (cf Is 61:1-2a). To fulfil our vocation though, we need to be confident of our identity as God's beloved children, for whom He has won eternal redemption.
In the Gospel reading on the third Sunday of Advent, John the Baptist is confident about who he is NOT. He is not the Christ, not Elijah, nor the messianic prophet awaited by Israel. John proclaims himself to be a 'nothing' entity, not fit to untie the sandal straps of the Messiah. In saying this, he places himself even below the level of a slave. John the Baptist reiterates his lowliness a little later in John's Gospel (3:30) - "He must increase, but I must decrease." Advent is a time to let go of our personal illusions of grandeur, self-sufficiency (without God) and ambitious plans for the future without acknowledging Him by whom everything is made possible. Our spiritual sin is not an overt agnosticism, but rather an unconscious one, whereby we profess God with our lips, but live our daily lives treating Him as an appendix to our story. We must be doubtlessly clear on who we are NOT, before we can take our place as who we ARE – Witnesses to the Light.
What is this "Way" that we are called to prepare? Ways are defined by where they are headed. The object of our journey is the full, uninterrupted and unending experience of the love of God. This way ends in heaven, but the gate of heaven already begins here on earth, with the establishment of the 'Reign of God'. This means offering our brothers and sister opportunities to love and be loved, adopting a style of being or doing that brings God centre-stage in our life, taking special care of the weak and vulnerable, and working towards peace… not just the absence of conflict, but creating an environment where every person can live and prosper as a child of God. Preparing this 'Way' hence also means motivating the progress of politics, the sciences, economics, arts and social living in the right direction. Preparing the Way means being fearless of the consequences that await us for being prophetic voices.
It is then that the repercussion of 'Gaudete Sunday' becomes apparent to us. We are preparing the 'Way' to that seemingly insignificant stable in Bethlehem, where 'Joy' will burst forth to humankind at the Feast of the Incarnation.
Fr Joshan Rodrigues is on The Examiner Editorial Board, with the additional duty of Managing Editor.
Glorious gift of God’s Grace
Fr Anthony Charanghat
The solemn feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, celebrates the singular privilege of her birth without the taint of original sin. This is due to the fullness of the glorious gift of God's grace bestowed on her. The dogma of the Immaculate Conception, however, in no way makes a claim that Mary received saving grace apart from her Son, which was a problem that the Church struggled with for a long period of time.
The solemn declaration Ineffabilis Deus by Pope Pius IX in 1884 clarified the possibility of this belief of the Church in the Immaculate Conception, with its teaching on the infinite Glory of Grace in Jesus Christ. This document demonstrates with finality that while the grace of God in Jesus Christ was given historically at a particular point in history, its salvific effects are available to human beings who lived before, as well as after, the Incarnation.
Mary is the elect one 'before the creation of the world,' whom the Father 'has chosen' as Mother of His Son in the Incarnation, and because of her unique role in Redemption. Although the work of redemption was not actually wrought by Christ till after His Incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy and benefits were communicated unto the elect, in all ages successively, from the beginning of the world.
The Pope was very clear that the unique blessing given to Mary which justifies her being called "full of grace" by the message of the Angel (Luke 1:28) is a gift that flows from the heart of the Trinitarian life. It is a gift "which is meant for all people" even while "it refers to Mary in a special and exceptional degree." This follows from the fundamental principle that when God confers a special privilege on one, it is always for the benefit of all.
The celebration of the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception reminds us that with God's grace, like Mary our Mother, we too can strive to be absolutely perfect even in this finite, created sinful world. In the midst of all that is wrong, of all that is imperfect, of all that is broken, this year we are also reeling mentally, physically, financially, emotionally from the coronavirus pandemic, and find it hard to cope. By turning to Mary, we can still discover the power of the Resurrection - the full power of God's grace for healing and wholeness.
The feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary is a source of great hope - the same grace that has worked such a marvel in Mary is also at work in us. When we get discouraged by our own faults, when we feel chastised by our foibles and depressed by our failings, we must focus on the wonders wrought by Mary's total cooperation with God's singular gift of Grace to be ignited by unbounded hope.
Even though Mary is unique in all humanity for being born without sin, she is held up by the Church as a model for all humanity in her holiness and her purity, in her willingness to accept the plan of God for her. Every person is called to recognise and respond to God's call, to their own vocation, in order to carry out God's plan for their life and fulfil the mission prepared for them since before the beginning of time.
On this Solemnity, then, by contemplating our Immaculate Mother, let us also recognise our truest destiny, our deepest vocation—to be loved, to be transformed by love, to be transformed by the grace of God. In Mary, we see what it means to be redeemed. The symbol of original sin points to an unfaithful world. The symbol of the Immaculate Conception shows that even the accumulated sinfulness of the world cannot overcome God's desire to save.
The Feast of the Immaculate Conception illuminates like a beacon the Advent Season, which is a time of vigilant and confident waiting for the Saviour. While we advance towards God who comes, let us look at Mary, who "shines forth..., a sign of certain hope and comfort to the pilgrim People of God" (Lumen Gentium, no. 68).
Advent Antidote to Adversity
It has been customary for the Oxford English Dictionary to name a 'Word of the Year' - a word which succinctly captures the quintessence of the period of time that has elapsed over the last 12 months. This word also touches the crux of experience that the world would remember most about the year gone by. In a post-normal and, quite frankly, unforgettable year that 2020 has been, it is no surprise then, that the Oxford Dictionary has chosen not to name a 'Word of the Year', describing 2020 as "a year which cannot be neatly accommodated in one single word." 2020 has seen a number of words entering into the lexicon of daily use; words such as "lockdown", "pandemic", "social distancing", "work from home", "flatten the curve", "staycation", etc. have found a place in our daily vocabulary for the foreseeable future. The year 2020 itself has been described by some to be a "lost year" and a "year to be forgotten".
It is no coincidence then that the grace-filled season of Advent, that comes knocking at the end of a tumultuous, tragic and even traumatic year, comes as a soothing balm for a wounded world. The themes of the four weeks of Advent i.e. hope, love, joy and peace, are precisely the antidote to the despair and despondency that has impaired our lives in the last nine months. The significance of this season remains the focus on the coming of our Lord. (Advent comes from the Latin adventus, meaning coming.) The Catechism stresses the two-fold meaning of this coming: When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Saviour's first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for His second coming (No. 524). On the other hand, we celebrate the anniversary of the Lord's first coming into this world. We ponder again the great mystery of the Incarnation when our Lord humbled Himself, taking on our humanity, and entered our time and space to free us from sin.
Advent is a time when we must "lockdown" our misdirected priorities, "flatten the curve" of sin, and "spiritually distance" ourselves from a life that treats God as an appendix, rather than the very reason of our existence and purpose in this world. The pandemonium that the pandemic unleashed on us at the start of the year did lead many to spiritual humility and a recognition of our dependence on the Almighty. However, there is a perceptible danger that a "worship from home" fatigue may lead us away from a true worship of the Almighty in spirit and truth. Rejoining the physical assembly of believers to praise God must be our ultimate goal, though we must continue to exercise prudence and caution, as the virus still lurks among us.
However, if we were compelled to select a 'Word of the Year', it would have to be 'watchfulness'—a term that encapsulates the Gospel reading on the First Sunday of Advent. Watchfulness is a keyword that has defined our behaviour during the pandemic – being watchful and alert against the possibility of infection, staying indoors and away from public spaces to minimise the risk of exposure and a heightened focus on hygiene and sanitation. But Christ exhorts, even commands, a watchfulness of the spirit. The Son of Man will come without warning; only the Father knows the exact hour. The disciples must not be caught unprepared when this time comes.
In the meantime, we must be watchful against the powers of evil and sin; we must shed our spiritual and social indifference, and reach out in solidarity to our suffering brothers and sisters. The best way to welcome the Author of Life, Justice and Truth is to create a world where these virtues form the centrality of social living. Advent reminds us that though God has kissed the earth through the Incarnation, much remains broken and unfulfilled. We are the bearers of that promise that the babe of Bethlehem made manifest in our world. We need to be ambassadors of the hope, love, joy and peace that Christ brings to us. This is the most perfect and tested vaccine that the world needs, a vaccine that has been perfected by the trials of Our Lord Himself.
Fr Joshan Rodrigues is on The Examiner Editorial Board, with the additional duty of Managing Editor.