Immaculate Love: Rooted in Humanity, Reaching for God

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is a Feast of Love. Ask people what love means to them and expect to receive a plethora of responses. Their response will reflect how love plays out in their life, and more importantly, how they 'use' love to express themselves to others. There are people who love others to bring meaning to their own lives and feel less lonely; there are those who love their own image; some are unable to love because they have closed their heart to others; there are those who love playing the subdued servant, with the conviction that the only way to be loved in return is by pleasing others; some use love as a tool of conquest, while others experience love in sacrifice and spending themselves for others.

True love contains, at its core, a trusting openness to the other. If I trust you, I am not afraid to reveal my weaknesses to you. Sin begins in human history with disobedience, as a consequence of which Adam and Eve hide themselves from God, ashamed by their nakedness. They no longer trust Him. They are afraid of showing their vulnerability to their Creator. But God's response is phenomenal; He clothes them! Humanly speaking, it is unthinkable to take care of someone who has just betrayed you, disappointed you, who has chosen to leave you. But God does just that.

This is Immaculate Love which is demonstrated in God's plan for Mary and for the salvation of the human race. Immaculate Love bears no stain of ego; it is not perfect (in the way human beings understand perfection), but it is a love that allows itself to be stained by the humanity of the other. Mary's Immaculate nature doesn't mean that she is beyond humanity, or incapable of experiencing doubts and temptations like every human being. Her Immaculate Love is a 'choice' to love faithfully and courageously in the situation of her daily life, even when she doesn't feel ready and the future is uncertain. She risks being misunderstood, rejected, and even persecuted, but the love in her heart strengthens her to say 'Yes'. Her 'YES' is the fruit of that Immaculate Love.

Mary's Immaculate Love is a paradox of sorts, because she allows her heart to be stained by sorrow, yet unstained by pride and disobedience. Her Immaculate Love is not beyond human capabilities, but a love that is fully involved, committed and rooted in her humanity. Mary is able to love fully and faithfully at the same time, keeping her heart completely open and vulnerable to her Creator, and embracing her entire humanity, pluses and minuses included. Mary's love is rooted in a deep longing for God.

Mary's longing finds voice when she goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth. She exclaims, "My spirit rejoices in God my Saviour!" Mary is the first person to proclaim Jesus as her Saviour. Doesn't the Immaculate Conception mean that she doesn't need a Saviour? Just the opposite. The Church teaches that by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ who is Saviour of the human race, the Blessed Virgin Mary was saved from all stain of original sin. So God, who exists in eternity outside of time, applies the merits of Jesus' redemption beforehand in Mary's Immaculate Conception.

While the first Eve abused her freedom to become like God, but without God, Mary - the New Eve - received the gift of perfect freedom, and used that freedom exactly as it was meant to be. Whereas Eve rejected God and listened to the serpent instead, Mary rejected Satan, and said 'Yes' to God through the message of an angel. Mary's obedience, like Eve's disobedience, changed the course of human history forever.

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception gives us a glimpse of what God desires for all of us in heaven – freedom from all sin and a share in the divine life. When we say 'Yes' to God, we will be united with Him in all eternity, and the whole mystery of God's mercy and love in our lives will be revealed. Then we too, like Mary, will be able to sing a hymn of praise to God for all the wonders He has done in our life.

Fr Joshan Rodrigues is on The Examiner Editorial Board, with the additional duty of Managing Editor.

Alert and Attentive to His Advent

Fr Anthony Charanghat

The beginning of the liturgical year gives us a wake-up call to be attentive to the coming of God in a spirit of alert expectation. The Church tries to make us more alert to, hopeful about, and prepared for the moment of the great advent of God. During this time, we look forward not just to the birthday of Jesus at Bethlehem, but are also alert to His daily coming by grace, preparing us for His Second Coming at the end of time.

Isaiah dreams of the time when all nations and peoples will answer God's invitation to come to Him. Obedient to the Word of the Lord, the nations will stream to God's dwelling place, symbolised by the city of Jerusalem, but it is not to attain a strategic advantage over any security threats. What will be won from there is the peace that comes from dwelling with God and obedience to His Word. In Psalm 121, a pilgrim song, we express a longing for our homecoming to God in peace, justice and love.

But our Advent tends to be swamped by Christmas music and Christmas noise. It should be a quiet time, where we step back to the fundamental experience of Israel, the experience of trustful waiting on the Lord's deliverance. It is a time when our hearts learn from the Prophets what are the deepest needs in our lives. Advent re-awakens hope and longing for a better future. Not just a secure financial future for us, but a future of Redemption for the entire people.

Beyond all the worries and impassioned debates of politics and the economic mess of today are two deep and growing threats that we do not like to think about. They are threats of an apocalyptic level worthy of the fearful language of today's Gospel. One of these is the threat of nuclear extinction. The other is the threat of climate catastrophe about which Pope Francis has constantly been reminding us, as he has recently done in Japan.

The nuclear threat demonstrated its horrific power on the citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and has since been enshrined as the status quo, with superpowers threatening each other with mutual destruction. The climate change threat has grown more slowly, like the rising waters of a tsunami, and melting snow. An awareness of this imminent disaster is muddied by a culture of denial, encouraged by commercial interests. Since 1945, humanity, as well as all plants and animals, have been a hair-trigger away from nuclear extinction, and there have been dozens of lucky, narrow escapes but for His divine intervention.

The key attitude is one of being alert, being ready, so as not to miss the time of His coming. 'You must stand ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.' These words sound like a warning, as though God were ready to pounce and catch us off guard. But they are a promise, filled with hope. The coming of the Christ was, and is, the best of good news, a gift beyond imagining! Our response should be not fear, but awe and wonder.

We can find God's call in the doorway where the homeless sleep, and look for God's presence where refugees are corralled. Grace is present not only in comfortable places and spaces! God is looking out from the wrinkled faces of senior citizens. He is alive and wide-eyed in the innocent child and the hardened sinner at the beginning of our new year of grace. Be awake and look for God in the most unlikely places.

That is the great, joyful surprise of our faith. The presence of God among us is not in what we expect, or when we expect or where we expect. As we begin Advent, we are invited not to miss encountering the gift of God's presence who is always coming to us until the eschaton.

Advent symbolises that God comes to us, but we also must make our pilgrimage to God. Advent is another chance to cast off the deeds of darkness and to experience once more a Light that lasts.

The People’s King

Monarchy and Kingship are outdated concepts in today's times, though vestiges of them continue to exist in the largely ceremonial royal families and royal courts in some parts of the world. Kings and queens, though largely bereft of power and authority, continue to command respect, love and a 'nostalgic' pride from their 'subjects', who look at the monarchy as a unifying factor, embodying the historical and cultural ethos of the nation, while at the same time rising above the fragility and uncertainties of modern day politics and government.

While citizens continue to pay obeisance to a 'ceremonial' monarchy, one Kingship has endured from the beginning of time, and promises to continue eternally into the future. This King shuns royal garments, ceremonial pomp and the trappings that come with the crown. He is a King that reigns supreme in the hearts and minds of His subjects, a King who goes out into the streets looking for the poor and the outcast, a King who puts Himself on the frontlines of battle against evil and tyranny, a King who comforts and brings solace, a King who dwells in the midst of His people, a King whose 'darbar' is perpetually open for all those want to encounter Him.

The Feast of Christ the King was established by Pope Pius XI in 1925 as an antidote to secularism, a way of life which leaves God out of man's thinking and living, and organises his life as if God did not exist. A quick glimpse of the international news on television today throws up striking images of political and social unrest, rioting and violent protests taking place in many countries across the globe. Rampant corruption, rising unemployment, a stagnant economy, a deteriorating way of life, environmental destruction and increasing poverty has broken the hope and trust that people reposed in their 'earthly' kings and leaders. This is symptomatic of a society that has increasingly turned away from God and placed its trust exclusively in human knowledge and abilities. A 'Babel-esque' event inevitably follows.

The feast of the Kingship of Christ is intended to proclaim in a striking and effective manner Christ's authority and primacy over individuals, families, society, governments and nations. It is a recognition of the dependence of humanity on its Creator, and a call to humility made through the prism of human insufficiency. It is a time to remember Christ's words: "In the world, you shall have distress; but have confidence, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). At a time when many political and world leaders are actively trying to root out religion from the social sphere, and relegate it to the private sphere of life, while others use God and Religion to sow seeds of division and discontent among their subjects, the conclusion of the Church's Liturgical Year exhorts us to return back to a society firmly founded on God. Only a God-centred society will be able to achieve true peace and the fullness of life.

There is one profound effect of reaching the end – we always come back to what is essential, to what really matters. And in this significant period between the Kingship of Christ and the coming of the King on Christmas Day, we are given a life-altering opportunity to enthrone the King of Kings in our hearts and our way of life. Jesus must reign in my decisions, my actions, my words and my interactions with all God's children. Imitating the life of Jesus must be my life's quest.

The Gospel text on the Feast of Christ the King shows Jesus during His last moments on the Cross, hanging in utter weakness and frailty between two thieves, enduring the mocking and insults of the rulers and soldiers, while the world looks on in helplessness. Yet, from the depths of pessimism, hopelessness, despair and a humanity struck by evil, Jesus lifts up a repentant thief into heaven, while He sacrifices His own life for the salvation of the world. Truly, this is the 'Rule' and 'Kingship' that we need, both in society and in our personal lives, going forward.

Fr Joshan Rodrigues is on The Examiner Editorial Board, with the additional duty of Managing Editor.

Blessed James Alberione - Apostle of the Media

A vision turns into a programme, a project takes form and becomes an unstoppable enterprise—thus Blessed James Alberione, the founder of the Pauline family, revolutionised the concept of evangelisation from the beginning of the 20th century. He visualised the most modern instruments of communication that technology could offer as the most efficacious means for effective proclamation of the Gospel. His Holiness, Pope Paul VI, through the Decree Inter Mirifica, had consecrated the ideas of Alberione. The Pope said: "Our Fr Alberione, always intent to scrutinise the signs of the times, that is, the most brilliant forms of reaching souls, has given the Church new instruments to express herself, new means to give vigour and range to her apostolate, new capacity and new awareness of the validity and possibility of her mission in the world and with modern means."

In the Cathedral of Alba, Italy, on the occasion of the closing of the Holy Year, during a vigil of adoration before the Eucharist in the night between December 31, 1900 and January 1, 1901, the young seminarian Alberione felt the impulse of the Spirit to dedicate himself to a special mission. Alberione was deeply disturbed by the Spirit, and it took a few years to clarify the inspiration and decisively launch the 'special mission'.

Blessed James Alberione is the founder of five Religious Congregations, four Institutes of Secular Consecrated life and an Association of Pauline Cooperators of apostolic laity: together called the Pauline Family; the first among them being the Society of St Paul. He is an instrument chosen by God to carry the light of the Gospel to the men and women of our times, in the spirit and style of St Paul, using the most modern and efficacious means of communication. Today, the sons and daughters of Alberione make use of a range of communication tools—from print medium to digital technologies—to spread the Good News and Gospel values across the world and to sanctify their lives with vows of consecration.

In his autobiographical sketches, Fr Alberione wrote, "I intend to belong to the Pauline Family: as a servant here and hereafter in heaven, where I will look after those who use the most modern and efficacious means for doing good: in sanctity, in Christ, in the Church," All those who want to witness Christ, through the media and digital communication of today's culture, will find in Alberione a sure patron and intercessor. St John Paul II said: "Blessed James Alberione felt the need to make Jesus Christ—the Way, the Truth and the Life—known 'to all people of our time with the means of our time. May there be a group of saints to use these means."

Blessed James Alberione, rightly called the 'Apostle for our times', is the media marvel of the 20th century and the exceptional founder of the Pauline Family. Every year, on November 26, his spiritual children all over the world celebrate his feast. This issue of The Examiner that is in your hands is dedicated to Blessed James Alberione. The leading articles herein explore the man, his spirit and the history of Pauline mission in the Church. Alberione is presented as a pioneer of modern evangelisation; in our times, his vision of mission in the Church is developed for computerised superhighways and through the Internet to the digital space, in a universe of communication that constantly changes.

Blessed James Alberione, by his courageous and humble nature, his formidable intuition, his persistent farsightedness and his untiring practical spirit became a masterpiece of mission and an icon of sanctity for people of all times and for all cultures. May his personality, spirit, vision and mission inspire our beloved readers.

Fr Varghese Gnalian SSP is the Provincial Superior for the India-Nigeria-England-Ireland province of the Society of St Paul.

Sowing Seeds of Hope

The 'World Day of the Poor', announced by Pope Francis at the end of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, was first observed on Sunday, November 19, 2017, with the theme, "Let us love, not with words, but with deeds." The Pope celebrated the day with a special Mass at St Peter's Basilica, followed by a free lunch in the adjacent Paul VI Hall, in several Catholic colleges, and at other Vatican venues. In our own archdiocese, His Eminence, Oswald Cardinal Gracias launched the "ACTS" (Actively Called To Serve) project, which involved the distribution of paper bags to parishes, in which people could donate non-perishable food items and toiletries for the poor. This was a starter project for an ongoing initiative, in keeping with the narrative we find in Acts 2:44-46. The World Day of the Poor is observed, every year, on the Sunday before the Solemnity of Christ the King.

Sunday, November 17, 2019 is the third World Day of the Poor, with the theme - "The hope of the poor shall not perish forever."

In his message, the Holy Father explains, "These words of the Psalm (9:19) remain timely. They express a profound truth that faith impresses above all on the hearts of the poor, restoring lost hope in the face of injustice, sufferings and the uncertainties of life… The Psalm was composed at a time of great economic development that, as often happens, also led to serious social imbalances…the situation is not much different today. The economic crisis has not prevented large groups of people from accumulating fortunes that often appear all the more incongruous when, in the streets of our cities, we daily encounter great numbers of the poor who lack the bare necessities of life, and are at times harassed and exploited… The centuries pass, but the condition of rich and poor remains constant, as if history has taught us nothing. The words of the Psalm, then, are not about the past, but about our present, as it stands before God's judgment."

Here is our reason, then, to make this day not just a special 'one', but an ongoing realisation of the Beatitudes, especially in the context of Christus Vivit - the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis (March 25, 2019).

Many groups in parishes across the Archdiocese of Bombay mark this day in various ways: A get-together for street-children and houseworkers, a meal for the poor families of the parish and for the homeless, medical check-up camps, visits to the Remand Home, visits to Aged Homes, Shanti Niwas and Mission stations, distribution of hampers with food, toiletries, utility articles – the list goes on. The Community Fund in each parish (an outcome of the Bombay Archdiocesan Synod of 2001) caters to the needy, so that no one goes to bed hungry at night, no child is deprived of education because parents cannot afford the fees, and no one lacks timely medical aid.

It is also important to go beyond economic criteria, and identify those others who are in want: those living alone (elderly couples, widows/widowers, singles, etc.), newcomers to the parish, recently married couples, nuclear families with young children, a family with a bed-ridden member, recently bereaved families, migrants from within Maharashtra and other States. Sometimes, all that is needed is a friendly smile, a listening ear, a neighbourly hand.

Objections often emerge, that range from "What is the use of celebrating just a single day?" "We must move towards an 'empowering' instead of 'charity model'" to "Too many things are happening at the same time. Didn't we just celebrate 'Extraordinary Mission Month'?" Yes, we did! But, as said earlier, the single day is just a reminder for an ongoing action. Where empowerment is needed, a loving heart and hand – the true definition of charity – is always the enabling first step.

To all of these objections, then, I would give just one answer: Do the best you can, with what you have, where you are. Be open-minded and open-hearted, as Christ calls us to be.

As disciples of the Lord Jesus, we must sow tangible seeds of hope. May this World Day of the Poor encourage more and more people to cooperate effectively, so that all may feel the embrace of our closeness and solidarity.

+ Bishop Barthol Barretto, Auxiliary Bishop of Bombay

Perfected to Rest in Peace of His Love

Fr Anthony Charanghat

Remembering the dead is an instinct to pray for those we have lost. It is a common practice of people of most faiths to observe memorial services for the dead. The life of the Church, east and west, was a life of prayer to which death was no barrier. We pray for each other, living and dead. Christ died and rose again that he might become the Lord of the living and the dead, as St Paul tells us (Romans 14:9).

For all the iron logic of the Reformation, even Christians of other denominations have no scruples inscribing R.I.P. on their tomb stones. The acronym stands for requiescat in pace - may he or she rest in the peace of God's perfect love, which is undoubtedly a prayer. Purgatory is implied by the practice of prayer for the dead.

Those who are in Purgatory do not lack virtue. They are perfectly sure of their salvation and perfectly beyond sin, even though they are themselves not perfect in love to encounter God's all perfect Love. Purgatory is not a place where bad people become good people, but the process by which good people become perfected in love. How that works is open to speculation, which is why there is a great and legitimate variety of speculation about its nature, among mystics and visionaries, as well as theologians.

To begin with, let us consider the word "purgatory." This comes from the old Latin word "purgare," which means "to cleanse" or "to purge." So you can think of purgatory as the last and final cleansing or purification in preparation to spend eternity in the presence of God. In purgatory, as the Catechism explains, are those who are destined for heaven –'achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.' (CCC 1030).

The Catechism goes on to say: "The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire. (CCC 1032)

In his book on "Eschatology," Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) further clarifies the church's teaching in this area: "Purgatory is not, as Tertullian thought, some kind of supra-worldly concentration camp where one is forced to undergo punishments. Rather it is the inwardly necessary process of transformation in which a person because of the prayer of the faithful and God's Grace becomes capable of unity with Christ, and thus capable of unity with the whole communion of saints."

We would do better to concentrate on the fact of prayer. This is where the doctrine has its life. We pray for the dead, and we do this, because we belong to the Mystical Body of Christ and because this is what the Holy Spirit has taught us to do. It is a gift of God, to allow us to share in his work in bringing his people to perfection. It is a special gift of hope from God, but it is also a great responsibility on our part.

We need to pray for the dead, because this is a task entrusted to us as the Mystical Body of Christ. It is why cemeteries should be places to celebrate the power of God, places to live in God. The dead are blessed, and their life is a blessing for us, because they have no life but the life of God, and He is the God of the living.

In praying for the dead, we are not merely witnessing to the Resurrection, we are instruments of the Resurrection – a face to face encounter with the Easter Christ that is shot through with the welcome peace of His Love.