These pages have told a story, a remarkable story of great love. They have told me of God’s love for me. If there is a real difficulty in believing it all, it comes from the doubt whether God’s love for me could be so great.
We have seen how God created this whole marvelous universe for man, with all its wonders that our scientists today are still discovering. He created man, He created us with a powerful mind which makes us masters of the universe, and he gave us a free-will with which we can make our own decisions and govern our own lives, and with which we are able to love God and our fellow human beings.
But part of my story is that, with terrible ingratitude, I turned my back on God’s love for me, and like the selfish younger son, I used the very gifts God has given me to sin against His love. I destroyed God’s friendship with me. I made myself His enemy.
Yet God’s love pursued me, even when I fled away from Him. As the poet says;
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days,
I fled Him, down the arches of years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways,
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears.
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes, I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
A down Titanic glooms of chasmed fears,
From those strong feet that followed,
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbed pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat – and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet –
“All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.”
“Naught shelters thee, who will not shelter Me.”
(from “The Hound of Heaven” by Francis Thompson)
We can all say those lines with real meaning, because when we were God’s enemies, He showed His love: “God so loved the world that He gave up His only-begotten Son, so that those who believe in Him may not perish, but have eternal life.”
We have seen the lengths to which Christ’s love took Him: born in poverty in an unknown village, doing the daily work of a carpenter’s boy, teaching, preaching, doing good to the sick and lame and blind and sinners, until finally He gave the last drop of His blood in a shameful death for those to whom He had come to give life.
We have seen how God accepted His Son’s offering and restored Him to a wonderful new life which He shares with all those who suffer and die with Him.
When He returned to His Father, Christ sent the Holy Spirit to be our light and our strength. And He Himself comes to meet us in the seven sacraments – at those points of our human life where we most feel the need of His help.
And finally, He waits to take us from this life into the full light and happiness of never-ending union with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in heaven.
My story is the story of a young thief who cheats and robs a good and generous man. But this man comes and takes him into his own family and makes him his own son.
Certainly it is difficult to believe such a story of love, especially when it is love for me.
Here I must pause quietly and in the silence of my own heart ask what answer such a story demands of me.
The one answer possible is gratitude. I should give thanks to the one who has taken such trouble for me.
At this point, anyone who reads the story of Jesus must stop to ask himself or herself whether it is all simply poetry, drama or a nice story to read. Or whether in the depths of my own heart I realize that Jesus Christ is a loving person who is truly interested in me – who calls to me, personally.
We are here at the door of the most wonderful experience that can come to a man or woman. It is the moment where I MEET JESUS as a living person, and not just someone in a book, when I realize that the living, life-giving Jesus is offering me something wonderfully new, is offering to make me anew.
If such a moment comes, do not be afraid. Do not think of the future. That will follow later. The terribly important thing now is to give a personal answer to Jesus to welcome Him, to throw yourself at His feet, to put all you trust in Him.
Where He will lead you, you do not know. That does not matter. Now simply give yourself to Him. This is the answer of gratitude. This is the answer of your love for Him.
A new life will be yours. He will unfold it before you gradually. But already you can show your love and gratitude in two ways. You can show your answer clearly (1) in your prayer and (2) in your behaviour.
Sometimes we imagine prayer is something very complicated. This is not correct, for although prayer can be difficult, it is something quite simple. It is really friendship.
Saint Teresa of Avila said, “Mental prayer is nothing else than an intimate friendship a frequent heart-to-heart conversation with Him by whom we know ourselves to be loved.”
“Yoga”, “Japa”, “Dhyana” can all help us in prayer, but they are not the most important thing, which is the surrender of my self to God. They are like the ladder which carries me up, but which is only the means to climb and not the final goal.
The basic attitude of prayer is really a simple but heart-felt “pranam” to God, which a young student from Rajkot describes as “a Sanskrit word which means, `with folded hands I submit my whole self to your good self for your blessings.”
We have seen that conversion means turning my whole self towards God. It means taking my selfish self out from the centre of my life and putting God in its place.
Thomas Merton writes: “In meditative prayer, one thinks and seeks not only with his mind and lips, but in a certain sense, with his whole being. Prayer is then not just a formula of words, or a series of desires springing up in the heart; it is the orientation of our whole body, mind and spirit to God in silence, attention, and adoration. All good meditative prayer is a conversion of our entire self to God.
“If we try to contemplate God without having turned the face, our inner self, entirely in His direction, we will end up inevitable by contemplating ourselves, and we will perhaps plunge into the abyss of warm darkness which is our own sensible nature. That is not a darkness in which one can safely remain passive.
On the other hand, if we depend too much on our imagination and emotions, we will not turn ourselves to God but will plunge into a riot of images and fabricate for ourselves our own home-made religious experience, and this too is perilous.”
“The `turning’ of our whole self to God can be achieved only by deep and sincere and simple faith, enlivened by a hope which knows that contact with God is possible and by above which desires above all things to do His will.”
Very often what make us turn to God in prayer are our needs and sufferings. The person who has everything he wants easily thinks only about himself. That is perhaps why God must at times send us trials, for this is often the only way He can turn us (or convert us) back to Himself. And He is the one goal of my life.
It is quite correct to ask God for whatever I need in my daily life. God wants us to come to Him as children to a loving Father. Jesus Himself encourages us to ask God for our needs: “Ask and you shall receive; seek and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you” (Matthew. 7, 7). Such prayer expresses our own limitations and our total dependence on God. It also shows our unbounded confidence in God our Father who loves us and cares for our every need.
The prayer of petition is usually accompanied and followed by prayer of thanksgiving. In our day-to-day lives it is a mark of ordinary politeness to say “Thank you” to those who give us something we ask for. Gratitude is a beautiful virtue. Should we not develop this sense of gratitude to the good God?
But more important in our prayer is our praise of God for what He is and for His loving kindness. The Bible, especially the psalms, are full of the prayer of praise. It comes as a spontaneous outburst from the depths of the heart when we meet God in prayer.
Prayer is my response to God for His special love for me. He has given me so much – even His own Son. All I can do in return is to throw myself, my whole self, at His feet – my total “pranam”.
We have seen that the Mass is the total offering of Jesus Christ on the cross to His Father, where He gave the last drop of His blood to buy us back from our sins to God’s friendship and son-ship.
“God sent forth His Son born of a woman, born under the law, to deliver from the law those who were subjected to it, so that we might receive our status as adopted sons. The proof that you are sons is the fact that God has sent forth into our hearts the Spirit of His Son which cries out `Abba’ (`Father’). You are no longer a slave but a son! And the fact that you are a son makes you an heir, by God’s design.
“In the past when you did not acknowledge God, you served as slaves to gods who are not really divine. Now – you have come to know God, or rather, have been known by God” (Galatians 4, 4-9).
In the Mass, Christ invites me to join myself intimately with Him, to offer myself with Him, to surrender myself to His Father with the Son and in the Son and through the Son.
We can stop here to say a prayer that Christ Himself taught. We can say it to the Father with Christ in the words that He used. It is a prayer that sums up our whole religious attitude and effort:
Our Father in heaven,
May you be known and praised,
May your kingdom come.
May your will be done, on earth as well as in heave.
Give us this day, our daily bread,
Forgive us our debts,
As we also forgive our debtors,
And do not expose us to temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
In addition to my prayer, I show my love for God by behaving according to His Law. This is His world. He made it and placed me in it. He has made the world and me according to a definite plan and blueprint.
“The will of the great Creator manifests itself in the nature of every created thing. It is according to the laws of God that the heavens turn their course. The sun gives its light in the day and the moon in the night, and that the whole universe keeps to its appointed order through the days and months and years and the ever changing seasons.” –Saint Augustine.
If the engineer or technician wants his work to run smoothly, he handles equipment or engine according to the maker’s plan.
God has given man a code of behaviour for the smooth running of society – and if our poor world is torn by misery, hatred, violence and corruption, it is because men ignore and neglect God’s rules or commands. If in my own life, I am unhappy and find no peace in my heart, it may well be because I am not clear about God’s commands.
God has given me a voice of conscience within myself, rather, He speaks within me telling me what is right and what is wrong. And through the Bible He gives me ten commands or guidelines for behaviour. These are my Maker’s instructions for smooth running.
They are not imposed on us by God to show His power. Rather they reveal to man how to live in relation to God, to his fellowmen and to himself in harmony and peace with the plan according to which he was made.
They form the path to a life and a society living in harmony and peace. It is useful to consider each command and see how neglect of it brings trouble and unhappiness into human life.
The following are ten commands given to me by God Himself :
The first three commands are the basis of everything because they show us that God, and not my selfish self, must be the centre of my life. Here, I find my rightful place before God, and if I do not find this, then my whole life is built on confusion and chaos.
The remaining commands point the way to a just and peaceful social life and offer great scope for examination and reflection. Modern Catholic catechisms give wonderful explanations of the meaning and implications of these commands. (Especially recommended is Encounter with Christ by G. Archambeau S. J., available from Examiner press Bookshop, Dalal Street, Bombay 400 023.)
There is much to reflect on in all this for Jesus has said, “If you want enter into life, keep the commandments.” And Saint John says, “Loving God means keeping His commandments.”
Christ summed up the commands in what is called the great command – the command of love:
“You shall love the Lord you God with you whole heart and with your whole soul, with your whole mind and with your whole strength” This is the greatest commandment and the first. And the second, its like, is this, you shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 22, 37-39).
Love is the law of everything. And Christ links love of God and love one’s fellowman so closely that is not possible to love God truly without loving others; and it is not possible to love others truly without loving God.
Our poor world today is torn by quarrels, hatred and injustice which produce the most inhuman misery. Our world is hungry for love, starving for love – and this is our story at the international level where nation hated\s nation. It is our story at the national level where rivalries, corruption and greed wreck our plans for a happier society. It is the story of my own neighbourhood, my own family – of my own heart.
Unless I am ruled by this great command of love – love of God which brings truth and order into my own life and love of my fellowmen, especially where he is poorest and most in need – unless I am ruled by love, my life is selfish, my god is self, and I shall only add to the selfishness of sin that destroys human life and peace.
If I understand what religion really is, if I have encountered the true God and have caught a glimpse of His love and concern for every man, woman and child, if I know how far His love has taken Him, so far as to send His only-begotten Son into the world to take on Himself the price of our sins – if I know this, then I see how I must love my neighbour and work for his welfare.
Lord, help me to build my life on Your commands.
Teach me to forget my selfish self.
Teach me to love you, my God, with my whole heart and soul.
Teach me to love others, especially those who are in need.
One day I shall die. The certainty of my death is a healthy reminder that I have no lasting dwelling in this world.
A most terrible moment for me will be that instant after my death when I stand before God, my Judge. It will be a moment of absolute clarity. Nothing will be hidden; there will be no need of witness, no need of pleaders. I shall simply stand revealed for what I am. If I have lived and died in the friendship of God, He will take me into His friendship and company forever and ever. If I have lived and died refusing His love for me, if I have died in the chains of my own selfishness, then I shall live separated from Him forever – and that separation is Hell. I shall have failed in the one test and purpose for which God created me. I shall be a never ending failure.
One day Jesus told a story, which again is really my story:
“There was a man that gave a great supper and sent out many invitation. And when the time came for this supper, he sent one of his own servants telling the invited guests to come, for all was now ready. And all of them, with one accord, began making excuses, `I have bought a farm,’ the first said to him, `and I must go and look it over; I pray you hold me excused.’ And another said, `I have bought five pairs of bullocks, and I am on my way to make trial of them; I pray you hold me excused.” And another said, `I have married a wife, and so I am unable to come.”
“The servant came back and told his master all this, whereupon the host fell in a rage, and said to his servant, `Quick, go out into the streets and lanes of the city; bring in the poor, the cripples, the blind and the lame.’ And when the servant told him, `Sir, all has been done according to your command, but there is room left till, the master said to the servant, `Go out into the highways and the lanes, and give them no choice but to come in, so that my house may be filled. I tell you, none of those who were first invited shall taste of my supper,’ (Luke 14, 16-24).
In this story, the master of the house gives a strange and almost unbelievable command to his servants. He orders them to invite the unwanted and down-and-outs to his banquet.
In the same way, but with infinite love and mercy, God deals with me. I am altogether unworthy to enter His household and enjoy His divine hospitality. My sins have made me the enemy of God. They have made me the enemy of God. They have made me more helpless than the cripples, the blind and the lame, for they have made me dead to the love and friendship of God.
Dead and sinful man would have no hope unless God gave him a new start. And the story of Jesus Christ is the story of that new start, for “God so loved the world, that He gave up His only-begotten Son, so that those who believe in Him may not perish, but have eternal life.”
Through His Son, God renewed the human race as He had foretold through the prophet Ezekiel:
“I shall give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I shall remove the heart of stone from your bodies and give you a heart of flesh. I shall put my spirit in you and make you keep my laws and sincerely respect my observances……..You shall be my people and I shall be your God” (Ezekiel 36, 26-28).
In truth, then, could Christ say: “Behold, I make all things new.” He offers me what I can never give myself - A new life.
Christ says, “I have come that they may have life and have it more abundantly.
Christ is a guru who brings beautiful teachings. His deeds and manners are inspiring. But He is much more, for He has actually changed things. He has opened the way to His Father. He changes a person from a slave of sin and selfishness into a child of God. He leads us from darkness to light, from death to life eternal.
Through His suffering and death, He won for us the new life that His Father gave Him.
All of us have our own sufferings, and one day we shall die. There is no escaping this for rich or poor, young or old. If I can offer these sufferings and death of mine with and in Jesus Christ to the Father, I can be sure that He will accept me and share His new life with me.
The way to life is through death, as Jesus one day explained :“Believe me when I tell you this; a grain of wheat must fall into the ground and die, or else it remains nothing more than a grain of wheat; but if it dies, then it yields rich fruit.” (John 12, 14).
We have often paused in these pages to reflect in the depths of our heart in silence. We can do this for the last time with the beautiful meditation of Cardinal Newman:
“God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission, I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next.”
“I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good. I shall do His work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place while not intending it if I do but keep His commandments.
“Therefore, I will trust Him. Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends, He may throw me among strangers, he may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me – still He knows what He is about.”
My God, I have read many things in these pages.
I knew many things before.
You are great;
And I have only one prayer.
It is a simple prayer;
I say it with all my heart.
You cannot be deaf to it:
LORD, HELP ME TO DO WHAT YOU WANT.