Called to Serve
On Thursday 13th March 2014 the Holy Father Pope Francis completed one year since his election as bishop of the city of Rome and of the whole world; while on Wednesday 19 March 2014, on the feast of St. Joseph, the patron and protector of the universal Church, Pope Francis completed one year since his installation.
Although every pope is chosen to feed Jesus’ lambs and tend Jesus’ sheep and although every pope is chosen to love Jesus more than others (cf. Jn 21:15-17), each pope is unique and the hand of God is very evident in the election of popes. It is Jesus’ boat which is the Church and each pope is called to row through various storms of this world (cf. Lk 8:22-25). How often we are inclined to compare the reigning pope with the previous one(s), forgetting that each one is God’s gift to his Church according to time, situation and need. “It is not you who chose me, it is I who chose you and commissioned you to go out and bear fruit, fruit that will last…” (cf. Jn 15:16).
No matter what we think of them, it is extremely difficult for a pope to lead the Church against the strong worldly currents. It is a very demanding task and I wonder how much hidden suffering, hardships, misunderstandings and even calumnies the pope is subject to. Really, instead of complaining and criticizing, judging and comparing, what we must all do is to offer more sacrifices for their many intentions, praying more fervently for them and continually offering prayers of praise and thanksgiving to God for them. The popes are God’s gifts to the Church and to the world.
Many of us have come to know Blessed John Paul II, who is going to be canonized on Mercy Sunday, 27th April 2014 together with Blessed John XXIII. We also have a unique time in the Church as we have two popes living at the same time. Pope Benedict XVI is spending the remaining part of his earthly life in prayer and solitude. He loves the Church militant and serves the Church now in an absolutely spiritual way. Through his prayer, solitude and aloneness with God he purifies and strengthens the Church. Let there be more persons who devote themselves totally to the service of the Church through prayer and penance and sacrifices like Pope Benedict XVI!
Our present Pope Francis within one year has captured the attention of millions of people around and across the world through his simple teaching by words and above all by his life. He lives as he preaches. He does not make exceptions but wants to be as one of the common people, without pretentions.
He literally follows the perennial teachings of our Lord: “I have come not to be served but to serve and give my life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45). It is hard for a person of his position to be one among many. It is this choice with conviction and clarity that “Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God, but emptied himself taking the form of a slave, becoming one like us in all things except sin” (cf. Phil 2:6-11; Heb 4:15). Jesus, the Son of God and Saviour of the world, was known as a carpenter (Mk 6:3).
The more we come to know Jesus, the more simple, poor and joyful we become. Our life has a deep Christological dimension. St. Paul said: “The life I live is no longer my life, but Christ who lives in me”. Our present pope, according to me, is trying to teach us this by his words and example. If Jesus had to live on earth again how would he have lived? Of course each one, according to his understanding of Jesus, is bound not only to follow Jesus, but to let Jesus live in him or in her. If Jesus of the Gospel lives in us fully, we can no longer be what we are, we can no longer live the way we live, we can no longer speak and behave the way we speak and behave. Our attitude, our mentality will change. St. Paul wants all to have the mind of Christ (cf. Phil 2:5). He wants us to be crucified with Christ to the world (cf. Gal 6:14). Freedom without responsibility is not really freedom but arbitrariness. Jesus wants all to be free, but responsible at the same time for what we are and what we do, how we live, etc. St. Paul wrote to the Galatians: “Freedom is what we have, Christ has set us free” (5:13ff.).
If we follow not only the teachings of St. Paul in his letters but also follow the way he understood and lived the gospel of Jesus Christ ever since his Damascus experience (cf. Acts 9:1-19), we too will understand the cost of discipleship, the cost of living for Jesus.
Faith is a great gift of God. But it must be alive and active. Faith without love and sacrifice is dead. Faith without breaking and sharing is static. If our faith is alive and active, it is also dynamic; and the fruit of faith is love. It is not possible for the Missionaries of Charity to live our religious life and M.C. vocation without a living faith. Jesus never worked a miracle if faith was lacking. St. Mark says that Jesus could not do any miracles because of the lack of faith of the people (cf. Mk 6:5).
Jesus said that even if we give a cup of cold water to one of the least ones, because he is Jesus’ disciple, we do it to Jesus and most certainly we will be rewarded (Mt 10:42). The more faith we have both in the person of Jesus and in his words, the more we will be able not only to do his work, but the way Jesus did, because it is Jesus who is doing the work through us. Bl. Teresa of Kolkata could do what she did because of her great faith.
Without faith neither can we accept forgiveness from others nor will we be able to forgive others. The less faith we have the more difficult our life will be for us and for others.
Our faith must grow into love and our love into service. And when we serve our brothers and sisters in faith, hope and love, we will experience profound peace and abiding joy. They are all linked together, which has to be sustained by prayer, especially the Eucharist, penance and works of mercy.
The more faith we have, the more we will be able to accept the teachings of the Magisterium of the Church. We will also accept the pope, Cardinals, bishops and priests, as God’s representatives, even if they are not what we think they should be, even if they have many glaring weaknesses and failures, because they are God’s representatives on earth to lead the people to God and to bring God to people we continue to respect and obey them.
Jesus will continue to say what he said to the apostles regarding the scribes and the Pharisees: “Listen to their words, but do not follow their example”. Many a time our examples may not be that edifying or exemplary. This is the simple truth, we should not be shocked or surprised nor should our faith depend on them. Faith is God’s gift to us. Let us not trade it with anything or any one. We have to protect our faith and make it grow and produce fruit in abundance.
On Tuesday 18th March 2014 at 7.00 a.m., in the chapel of Domus Sanctae Marthae, the Lord gave two of us, his unworthy servants, Bro. Jan-Timo M.C. and Fr. Sebastian M.C., the joy to concelebrate with Pope Francis the holy Eucharist. There were about sixty people in all, among whom fourteen of us were priests, one bishop, a few nuns, thirty lay people from one of the parishes of Rome and a few others of the papal household. There were two priests from China, who told us after mass that they were in prison for 59 long years. There were so many who were imprisoned for their faith and made them suffer terribly. Most of them have died in the prison. A few have survived and the two priests had the opportunity to come to Rome to concelebrate with the Holy Father.
The holy Mass of the Pope in the chapel of Domus Sanctae Marthae was considerably simple. It could not have been simpler than that, we thought. The homily was based on the readings of the day – Tuesday, 2nd week of Lent. Pope Francis started his homily by saying that the season of Lent is a time “to adjust, to reform our lives, to come closer to Jesus”. No one is just, no one can save oneself. All of us are in need of salvation. “We all need to change our lives”, the pope said, “We have to go deeper and see how our soul is”.
“What do the hypocrites do? They pretend themselves to be better than everybody else, even despising others. They say: I am very Catholic, because my uncle was a great benefactor, my family is this and that. I knew such and such a bishop, even cardinals…One feels better than the others. This is hypocrisy”, the pope said. The Lord said: “No, not that,…” Nobody is just in the eyes of God. All of us are to be justified. The only one who can justify us is Jesus Christ. We are asked to wash ourselves clean, putting away our misdeeds from before God’s eyes. We have to cease doing evil, learn to do good, making justice our aim”, Pope Francis continued.
Today’s first reading gives the key to our way to God: “Redeem the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow”. “In other words, to take care of the poor, the sick, the ones in need, the ignorant. Jesus’ teaching in the gospel of Mathew (Ch. 25) is the answer and the sign”, the Pope said.
The time of Lent, then, is a time to adjust our life, to reorganize, to change, a time to come closer to Jesus. The Holy Father concluded by saying: “It is so beautiful to come closer to the Lord in this time of Lent, which will enable us to see ourselves as we are in order to be converted to Christ, his way, his teaching and example”.
After the holy Mass we had the chance to meet and greet the Holy Father Francis one by one. I had prepared a letter, a beautiful card with a spiritual bouquet, a big framed photo of Bl. Teresa lighting the lamp on the day of the inauguration and blessing of our first house in India on 18th November 1995 and the copy of the book “Life with Mother Teresa” in Spanish.
I also invited the pope to Casa Serena to which he said: “Speriamo” (We hope). I also mentioned that on 19th March 2014 we complete 35 years since our Contemplative Branch is founded. “Go forward”, the pope said showing his thumb.
I took each and every one of you with me for the holy Mass with the pope, Brothers, LMCs, volunteers, co-workers, benefactors, our poor people, our family members, in a word all people of good will and generosity. I wanted the Holy Father to bless every single person in the world, especially those who are in agony, those who live in despair and in the shadow of death.
On Wednesday 2nd April 2014, four of our Brothers: Bro. James M.C., Bro. Shaji M.C., Bro. John Baptist M.C. and Bro. Dharamveer Pio M.C., God willing, will make their vows for life in the Church of St. Joseph, in Nazareth, Israel. Let us accompany them with our prayers and sacrifices. They have the last part of their one-month retreat in Nazareth in the last week of March 2014. You will all be in our prayers and sacrifices. I would like to wish each and every one a grace-filled Lent, which prepares us for the great feast of Easter.
This is all for now. Prayerful regards to each and every one of you.
God bless you.
Fr. Sebastian Vazhakala M.C.