Bible And Life

Bible And Life

Jesus and the Poor


The Gospel of Luke presents Jesus as the one anointed by God to preach the good news to the poor (4:18). The evangelist brings together verses from the Septuagint version of Isaiah 61:1 and 58:6 in Jesus’ preaching in Nazareth (4:16-20). In these few verses we find the following themes: the anointing of the Spirit, the description of the work of God’s anointed prophet, and the presentation of Jesus’s mission as bringing good news to the poor and fulfilling the Scriptures.

Gospel Teachings:

The Greek word used in Luke 4:18 to refer to the poor is ptochos, which means not just the poor but rather the economically destitute—the ones who are desperately in want. The Hebrew term for the poor anawim has a broader connotation. The anawim refers not just to the economically destitute, but also to the socially marginalized groups, such as widows, orphans, refugees, the mentally ill, the physically challenged, the outcast, and the sick—all those who are victims of one or another form of oppression or exclusion. Later in the history of Israel, the word anawim acquired a religious meaning referring to the ones who have placed their total trust in God (Psalm 86). As Jesus spoke in Aramaic (not in Greek), all these nuances of anawim would have been perceived and implied by Jesus when he announces his mission as bringing good news to the poor. Later, Jesus announces God’s blessing on the poor (Luke 6:20).

Earlier in Luke’s gospel, Mary’s Magnificat praises the Lord for lifting up the lowly and sending the rich away empty (Luke 1:52-53). The spiritual poverty, fear of God or non-attachment to material things, power and positions, is good and a necessary disposition for salvation. But the oppressive and dehumanizing poverty is an evil which needs to be completely eradicated from the face of the earth. Jesus understood his mission as bringing good news to the poor. He identified himself with them and remained totally committed to changing the plight and destiny of the poor.

Jesus as presented by Luke has compassion on the poor, women, Samaritans, sinners, tax collectors and outcasts of all sorts. Jesus eats with the sinners (5:30), his teaching focuses on the dangers of wealth and the need for social justice (16:13; 18:24), he defends the woman who weeps at his feet (7:36-50) and praises the Samaritan leper who returns to give thanks (17:11-19). Inclusive meals and table fellowship with tax collectors and sinners were so characteristic of Jesus’ mission in the synoptic traditions (Mark 2:15-16; Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34). Like the OT prophets, Jesus was committed to bringing Israel back to God and was in search of the lost sheep of Israel—sinners and those who lived on the margins of the Jewish community (Luke 4: 16-21; 15:6; Matthew 10:6).

Today’s Challenges:

As disciples of Jesus and consecrated persons, we are called to participate in Jesus’s mission of bringing good news to the poor. Jesus came announcing deliverance, God’s promise of liberation for all the poor and marginalized regardless of nationality, gender, or race. The poor addressed by Jesus would include all—the economically poor, the socially excluded, the politically oppressed, the culturally marginalized, the sexually exploited, the mentally harassed, the humanly abandoned, and the religiously persecuted. Jesus was the good news, and we too must become the good news that we want to proclaim, not so much by more words as rather by our life. Jesus presented God’s love to people in the way he lived, that is, in feeding the hungry, comforting the humiliated, celebrating the dignity of women, healing the sick, and giving hope to the hopeless, sight to the blind, freedom to the captives and sinners, justice to the poor, and life to the dead.

Jesus’ radical poverty, unconditional love and the profound openness to the will of God has to become a source of inspiration for our daily life. We are called to make our own Jesus’ identification with the poor, his blazing anger at injustice, human rights violations and discrimination against women, his radical inclusive approach, and his passion for God’s reign. We are called to say YES to God, to self, and to God’s people—always in favour of God’s choices of the less privileged ones in the church and society, making God’s reign or God’s intervention into human history more and more visible.

In the challenging words of Pope Francis, “If we want to help change history and promote real development, we need to hear the cry of the poor and commit ourselves to ending their marginalization.”

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Bible And Life

Easter: He is Alive!

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From a Hopeless End to an Endless Hope

Jesus’ Resurrection is not only God’s greatest miracle and the centre of our faith. It is our greatest source of strength and hope. He who overcame death and transformed his frightened disciples into bold and loving witnesses of hope, can help us too to move from fear to love, from despair to serenity.

Jesus is Risen! Easter is a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. It is also a celebration of our new life in Christ after forty days of Lenten prayer, fasting and penance. Easter gives us hope and the assurance of the defeat of evil and the victory of life. As we celebrate Easter, we are announcing the death of death and the birth of a new life in Christ.

The Best Easter Story

What does John’s Gospel say about Jesus’s resurrection? The story of Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the risen Jesus in John 20:11-18 seems to be the best biblical text to understand the mystery of the resurrection. Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb early on the first day of the week and finds the tomb empty. Mary stoops to look into the empty tomb (v.11), and she sees two angels in white (v. 12).  The position of the angels on either side of the place where the body of Jesus had once lain symbolically represents the ark of the covenant: the image of the mercy seat and the two golden cherubim on both ends of the mercy seat facing each other (Exodus 37:5-9). According to the biblical tradition, Yahweh spoke to Moses from between the two cherubim (Exodus 25:22).

A significant comparison can be made: Just as the Old Testament cherubim guarded the ark and the tablets symbolizing Torah or God’s words, the angels at the tomb are guarding the symbols of the action of God in rendering the living presence of Jesus, the incarnate and risen Word.  The two angels on either side of the place where Jesus’ body had lain reveal the living presence of the covenant God in the empty tomb.  At first, Mary neither recognizes the presence of God nor Jesus in the tomb, but Jesus’ calling Mary by her name enables her to identify Jesus, her master (20:16).

Calling by name in the ancient world has the power to evoke identity and deep relationship.  This is reflected in the words of Jesus that empower Mary to recognize Jesus’ living presence by the presence of the two angels.  Jesus wants Mary to go to his disciples and announce, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (20:17c).  The relationship and intimate knowledge implied in the relationship between Jesus and his Father have now become true of the relationship between the covenant God and the disciples. The experience of encountering the risen Jesus was a real and empowering experience for Mary Magdalene, which enabled her to proclaim the Good News of the resurrection to the disciples: “I have seen the Lord” (John 20:18).

According to John’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene is the first recipient of the Easter Christophany and the first disciple to proclaim the good news of the resurrection of Jesus. She is presented as an apostle to the apostles. Her love for Jesus is manifested in her endless seeking for Jesus. It is her inner freedom and openness that gives her the courage to dialogue with the gardener and to recognize Jesus. Her commitment to the Lord is revealed in her prompt response to the command of Jesus. The encounter with the risen Jesus empowers Mary to discover her true covenant relationship with God.

A Three-Dimensional Story

The resurrection narrative has three dimensions: past, present and future; it has a moment of encounter (present experience), a moment of recognition (past event) and a moment of commission (future mission).

As past event, the resurrection is the raising of a man who had been put to death by evil, the raising of the crucified Jesus. It reminds us of both the life of Jesus, someone who is deeply concerned about the life of the people, their sorrows, hopes and struggles, and of his death as the consequence of his life and commitment to God’s mission in favour of the poor and marginalized. The resurrection can thus be seen as a powerful protest against the evil that crucified Jesus—the final death of death. It is indeed the vindication of the life of love and freedom that Jesus lived. It celebrates the birth of a new life and inaugurates the beginning of a new history.

As present experience, the resurrection invites us to recognize the on-going interventions of God through the various events of our daily life. The disciples who met the risen Lord after his resurrection were commissioned to announce the good news of salvation to the whole world. They were so frightened and ran away when Jesus was arrested, but now, after meeting the Risen Lord, they were filled with new hope and new strength, and began to publicly proclaim the Gospel without fear.

As future hope, the resurrection gives us the ultimate assurance that victory belongs to God, belongs to life, love, goodness and freedom. In the risen Christ, God is in control of our lives and destinies as the beginning and end of all things. As Easter people, we are called to live a life of hope, filled with joy and optimism about ourselves, our world and our future. This does not mean that all our problems and difficulties will disappear; it means that we don’t allow our problems to control us or wear us down; because we believe that the risen Lord has conquered everything, including death, and will give us the courage and wisdom to soar above the challenges of our daily life. Everyday life may be difficult, but not impossible for us to live joyfully. It is indeed a challenge for us to give up pessimism and become optimistic and hopeful.

Hopeless End or Endless Hope?

The new life of Easter requires the deepening of our faith and the renewal of our commitment. As St Paul says, we have to die with Christ to sin so that we can rise with him to new life (cf. Rom 6:5-11). New life in Christ signifies defeating sin, evil and death on the one hand, and living in love and hope on the other. We celebrate Easter whenever we give up hatred and resentments and become more loving and forgiving. We share in the power of the resurrection whenever we love again after the bond of relationship is broken. Every time when we try again with hope after having failed in life, we celebrate the victory of love and new life. God never abandons us. As the saying goes, human ways may lead to a hopeless end, while God’s ways always lead to an endless hope.

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Bible And Life

Who is a Prophet?


Who are the prophets? The word prophet comes from the Greek noun prophetes from the verbal root pro-phemi, which means “to speak on behalf of/before/for someone.” A prophet of God thus speaks on behalf of God and communicates God’s message. Prophets are therefore filled with the spirit of God and they speak with God’s authority. For example, the prophet Micah speaks of himself: “But as for me, I am filled with power, with the spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin” (Micah 3:8). The prophets revealed God’s radical concern for social justice and righteousness and the integrity of the universe (e.g., Hosea 12:6; Amos 5:15, 26; Isa 10:14; 11:9; 14:7). Just as God is passionately concerned about and deeply affected by the suffering of the poor and needy, prophets spoke for the powerless and oppressed with passion and integrity (e.g., Amos 2:7; 5:11; 8:4-6). They experience a dynamic energy from within to communicate God’s message with conviction and commitment. Prophets are men and women on fire. For example, Jeremiah speaks of his inability to be silent: “If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot” (Jer 20:9).

The mission of the prophets was to remind the people of Israel of their covenantal relationship with God and to restore their status as God’s consecrated people whenever they failed to remain faithful to God. Prophets brought the challenges of God into the history of Israel, generating a powerful movement of renewal and social reforms. In the words of Walter Brueggemann, “the task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us.” The mission of the prophets was to restore Israel to God by condemning idolatry, social injustice and exploitation of the poor and the marginalized (Isa 58:6-7; Jer 2:20-28; 22:13; Hosea 10:13; Amos 2:6-9). Prophet Jeremiah describes Israel as a lost sheep: “My people have been lost sheep; their shepherds have led them astray, turning them away on the mountains; from mountain to hill they have gone, they have forgotten their fold” (NRSV: 50:6). The passion to create a new community in conformity with God’s dream for humanity was the hallmark of their identity as consecrated people and prophets of the Lord.

Mission is the life-breath of every form of consecrated life. Pope John Paul II said it with great force in Vita Consecrata:A sense of mission is essential to every Institute [every form of religious life], not only those dedicated to the active apostolic life, but also those dedicated to the contemplative life” (No. 72). The document continues to underline the prophetic dimension of consecrated life. “The consecrated life has the prophetic task of recalling and serving the divine plan for humanity, as it is announced in Scripture and as it emerges from an attentive reading of the signs of God’s providential action in history” (No. 73). The whole-hearted commitment to be at the service of God’s mission is the hallmark of consecrated life. Like the prophets of the Lord, consecrated men and women are called to be at the service of God’s mission, to be a sign of hope for the people who have lost hope. We are called to offer the foretaste of God’s reign here on earth today.

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Bible And Life

The Star of Bethlehem


A short reflection on how the journey of the Magi is ours too. We too are led, face obstacles, may lose sight of the Star, and find our way again.

We saw his star when it came up in the east, and we have come to worship him. (Mt.2:2)

Myth or historical fact – that Star has something to tell us.

It shone so brightly that those wise men from the East felt impelled to leave home and everything to follow it … not knowing where it was going to lead them and for how long they would be away. They staked everything to find the babe the star was going to bring them to.

Does that not sound familiar to us, especially priests and religious, who felt equally impelled to follow that mystic star that led us away from our familiar shores, into the unknown?  What a passion, what a fascination that ‘star’ had for us. People wondered. Our families hoped we were not making a mistake. Some may have called us ‘mad,’ or just impractical. Some tried to dissuade us and keep us back.  But then, they finally let us go. We went … and there was no turning back!

We three kings of orient are, bearing gifts we traverse afar … Yes, there was a song in our hearts as we left all to follow Him.

That may have been decades ago. Have we reached? Or is the search still on? Have our camels been so over-laden in the meanwhile, with the useless ‘wants’ we have heaped upon their poor backs, so that the going is slow, slow… so slow?

That first glow, that first enthusiasm is meant to last forever, until it brightens even more as the years roll by.  The Star brings us to the Saviour who waits for us – in the crib at Bethlehem, or in the Temple at Jerusalem, the sea of Galilee or the streets of Nazareth, the Garden of Olives or Mount Calvary, or the tomb of the Resurrection. He accompanies us on the journey through life that He Himself has travelled. Have we recognized Him, or must He first disappear before we wake up and exclaim: Was not our heart burning within us?  

The journey of the Magi can be likened to our growth in prayer. We all began with the pious mouthing of vocal prayers we learnt on our mother’s lap. Gradually this mysterious God took shape and we began to relate to Him more personally. We became familiar with the Bible, the Missal and other spiritual books. We were taught to ‘meditate,’ to reflect on the Word and to let it take flesh within us. My foundress, St Magdalene of Canossa, asked her daughters to dedicate one hour a day on what she called ‘mental prayer of the heart.’ Not just ‘meditation’ or ‘mental prayer,’ but ‘prayer of the heart’ – affective prayer, in which the feelings too are stirred.

The camels move on, closer and closer to the Lord. Prayer becomes more personal. God becomes more tangible. There is hardly need for words any more. The stirrings of the heart reach out to this mystic God, as iron filings are drawn towards a magnet. Prayer is no longer an ‘exercise’ any more, or a pious moment in our daily timetable, to be observed with a sense of duty.  Prayer becomes a natural disposition of the heart, dispossessing us of everything and aligning us to that gleaming ray that leads us on unfalteringly.

There may be moments of darkness, disorientation.  The star disappeared for a while, even for the magi. They tried not to shift their moorings and walked on the path shown them by the star. They fell back on their human resources, made enquiries as to where that ‘King’ might be. They went to Herod, who consulted his councillors, the chief priests and the teachers of the Law. He was upset and all Jerusalem with him.

We may have such moments too. Doubts, failure, infidelity, lack of fervour, other attractions, a sense of meaninglessness, frustration, disillusionment …

It is a walk in faith, in trust and fidelity. The magi did not doubt, did not turn back. They walked on, painfully perhaps, shaken, uncertain … leaving Herod and his troubled Jerusalem behind.

Then the star appeared again. God does not leave us groping in the dark. He walks along with us, holding our hand, even when we are hardly aware of His presence. The magi felt fortified, rewarded!

And on the way they saw the same star they had seen in the East. When they saw it, how happy they were, what joy was theirs! It went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the Child was. (Mt.2:9-10)

What bliss we experience when God becomes so tangible for us! From vocal prayer to the reading of the scriptures, to meditation, to affective prayer, to contemplation, to union…

In the midst of the noise of this world, through the pressures of everyday, despite the allurements and temptations we may face, that God of our childhood dreams leads us on to that oneness with Him He called us for. Lord, where do you live? we asked. Come and see! He replied.

During this Christmas Season, let us make the journey of the magi our own. The Star is shining brightly in the East for us. Let us not swerve from the path it shows us – for it is the instrument that God uses to lead us to Him.

Field and fountain, moor and mountain, following yonder star!

Sr Esme da Cunha FDCC

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Bible And Life

I Have Seen God Here and Now


Emmanuel: Biblical Reflections on Christmas

We live in a world of instant global communications which shrink global distances but which leave us strangers to our next door neighbours. We live in a world of ruptured relationships and broken families. It is in this context that we reflect on the gift of Emmanuel and our celebration of Christmas.

What do the Gospels say about Christmas?

As is well known, each evangelist has a different portrait of Jesus and his origins. Mark begins with the baptism of Jesus and is silent about Jesus’ birth stories. While Matthew launches his Gospel with the birth of Jesus, Luke goes backward and begins with the annunciation of the birth of Jesus. But the evangelist John reaches to the time before the beginning of creation and talks about the pre-existent Word which became flesh in Jesus Christ. In sum, the synoptic prologues are concerned with the earthly origins of Jesus, but John is interested in the heavenly pre-existence of Jesus. This is so because each evangelist has a different theological agenda as they communicate Jesus’ story, responding to the pastoral concerns of his respective community.

The evangelist Matthew introduces Jesus as a descendent of Abraham and David (Mt 1:1). Matthew reports that Jesus’ father Joseph was instructed by God through dreams just as the Patriarch Joseph. He describes Jesus’ birth and early life which in many ways resemble the stories about the birth and life of Moses. Jesus is portrayed as the Virgin Mary’s son, whose name is Emmanuel – Immanu El, which means “God with us” in Hebrew (Mt 1:22-23; Is 7:14). Mary is rather silent and Joseph is the recipient of God’s communications. The evangelist constantly reminds the readers that these things happened in order to fulfil what was spoken by the Lord through the prophets (Mt 1:22-23; 2:5-6, 17).

The Lukan version of Jesus’ birth is longer and more colourful (Luke 1:26 – 2:20). The narrative includes Gabriel’s visit to Mary, Mary’s visit to Elisabeth and the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. According to Luke, the first Christmas was a tiring, anxious, nervous and lonely day for the young couple, Mary and Joseph, as they could not find a place to spend the night (Luke 2:1-7). Bethlehem was crowded with travellers and the inhabitants of the village. An inn keeper finally allows them to stay in a cowshed with the animals. That night a baby named Jesus was born for the world as a gift of God’s immense love. The angels sang glory to God and the shepherds praised God (Luke 2:8-20), as Jesus the Son of God has brought the gifts of peace, love and hope to the world.  Unlike Matthew, the evangelist Luke gives Mary a more active role in the infancy narratives of Jesus and depicts her as a model of the human quest for liberation and wholeness (Luke 1:46-55). Mary interprets Jesus’ birth as the manifestation of a God who is in love with the lowly and humble, and one who exalts the poor and needy.

The evangelist John does not talk about the birth of Jesus, but begins the Gospel by introducing the story of the eternal Word (logos) – “in the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1).  The evangelist identifies this story with that of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, in the prologue (John 1:1-18). The prologue makes two points: (1) The eternal, preexistent Word became human in Jesus Christ; (2) The cosmos is made the dwelling place of God (John 1:1-18). In the Semitic tradition, the Word (dabar) of God symbolizes the powerful presence of God’s love that was active in God’s creative work, in the experiences of the exodus journey of the Israelites and in the lives of the prophets.  The universe came into existence through the Word (John 1:3). What human beings have received from the Word is life and light (John 1:4). John presents the mystery of the Incarnation as a boundary-breaking moment when the divine encountered the human, the heavens touched the earth, and the sacred merged into the secular. The purpose of the Incarnation – God become human – is to empower us humans to become the children of God (John 1:12).

What does Christmas mean to us?

Christmas is all about God’s infinite, loving presence with us: Emmanuel.  It is about love and abiding relationships, leading humans to communion with God, with one another and the cosmos. Christmas thus celebrates the gift of Emmanuel – the guiding light of God in the unfolding history of humans. God thus journeys with us here on earth. Since God has become human and dwells among us, we need not wait until after death to see God nor to look for God in some unreachable high places in heaven. God is indeed with us, and we find God’s face in other human beings as well as in the cosmos.

The gift of Emmanuel overthrows the systems that devalue matter, the human body and secular concerns. When we are open to the ongoing revelation of God in our daily life, just as God’s Word guided the people of Israel and the prophets, the gift of Emmanuel empowers us and leads us to the fullness of life and love. Christmas gives us the firm hope that we can become like God since God has already become human. Christmas is above all a feast of love and hope.

How do we celebrate Christmas?

As Christmas is around the corner, we look forward to beautiful cribs, Santa Claus, flashing lights, coloured decorations, carol singing, new clothing, festive meals, and Christmas cakes. It is also an occasion for gatherings, picnics and merry making. Both Scripture and Tradition tell us that the first Christmas night was different. It was an unusual event as the baby born of a virgin was Emmanuel – God in human form.

We celebrate Christmas when we make God’s loving presence visible. Jesus tells us that God wants nothing more than to come to life in us, to become alive in our words and actions at home, at work, at school, in the community. And it happens.  There are human beings, flesh-and-blood women and men, in whom God is clearly and radiantly alive.  Many, especially the poor and the lonely, could experience God’s love in Saint Teresa of Calcutta.  All of us could name people about whom we could say, “I have seen God in this woman or this man.”  In that person’s goodness or generosity or courage we knew we were experiencing something of God. A smile can make a big difference in the lives of another. A kind word can touch lives, give hope, and bring joy and peace to our fellow human beings. A listening ear and a caring heart bridge distances and heal rifts. A forgiving attitude builds up families and communities.

We celebrate Christmas when we make God’s transforming grace visible by participating in the ongoing struggle against all sorts of discrimination and injustice, against all that impedes our quest for truth and wholeness. When we create a new culture of human fellowship marked by respect and love, a new society that is more just and less violent, and a new history that is more human and caring, then we make visible Emmanuel – the transforming grace of God’s loving presence in the world.

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Bible And Life

Who is an Apostle?


The term “apostle” refers to “someone who has been sent” as a messenger.  Although employed also to refer to messengers in the secular sense and messengers sent by God, an apostle in the New Testament (NT) is mostly a delegate or an envoy of Jesus sent to proclaim the message of the gospel.  In the restricted sense, apostles refer to the Twelve disciples and to Saint Paul whose apostolic or ecclesiastical office was passed on to their successors: the Pope, the Bishops and priests, but, in its biblical sense, it was applied to any messenger of Jesus Christ.

The earliest use of the term in the NT is found in the Pauline writings.  Paul’s notion of an apostle is similar to that of the Old Testament (OT) prophets. He was convinced, like the prophet Jeremiah, that God had set him apart before he was born (Gal 1:15).  When Paul employs the title apostle to introduce himself in the opening lines of his letters, he defines his identity and defends his claim to be authorized by the risen Lord as God’s messenger to proclaim the gospel to the nations (1 Cor 9:1; 15:6-8). Paul also talks about “envoys/apostles of the Church”; here the apostles are those commissioned by the early Christian communities as their representatives (2 Cor 8:23).  An apostle for Paul is thus someone who proclaims the Gospel and administers Christian communities. Note that Paul explicitly includes a woman named Junia among the apostles (Rom 16:7).  He transcends the boundaries of the Twelve and the disciples whom Jesus chose during his public ministry.

The Synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke – focused on the use of the term apostles for the Twelve or the disciples who accompanied Jesus during his earthly ministry and witnessed the resurrection.  Luke, who employed the term more frequently than the other evangelists, also used the term apostle to denote someone fully authorized to represent the person on whose behalf the envoy comes or to be a witness to the claim of the one who sends.  The same meaning is implied in the sending of the disciples by Jesus and the delegation of Barnabas and Paul by the Church of Antioch.

Although the designation apostle is given only once to Jesus in the entire NT (Heb 3:1), Jesus very often, especially in John’ Gospel, presents himself as the one sent by God to reveal God’s glory and to give life to believers.  The Gospel of John does not use the noun apostle (except once in the secular sense [13:16]) but employs the verb “to send,” emphasizing the intimate relationship between the messenger and the sender, and highlighting the responsibility and mission of the one sent in relation to the sender. The Johannine Jesus sends the disciples as he was sent by his Father: “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (20:21) to continue his mission, to reveal God’s love and creative presence in the world.

As bearers of the gospel message, all Christians are called to be apostles of Jesus Christ. They are called to be God’s messengers to the world. Being an apostle implies a deeper experience of God and demands a commitment worthy of being sent by God to continue God’s creative work in contemporary society.  Apostles are called to be God’s agents to make the ongoing revelation of God’s interventions visible in human history and to collaborate with God’s life-giving actions in the world. May we be credible witnesses, with a deeply cultivated experience of God, keen on bringing God’s compassionate love to people.

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Bible And Life

A Call that Makes Us Free

Bible and Life

Freedom! We celebrate it on August 15—freedom from colonial rule, and Mary’s complete freedom from sin and death. Let’s have a look at what it means in the Gospel.

Freedom is often misunderstood—as a license to do what we want and as we want. This is not freedom, but slavery—slavery to our wants and desires. Authentic freedom includes responsible action for one’s own growth and the well-being of others. We see this in the call of the disciples by Jesus.

The Call of the Disciples

The Biblical text that throws light on the freedom of consecrated persons is the call of the first four disciples in the Gospel of Mark (1:16-20).  The story is preceded by Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom (1:14-15) and is followed by the ministry of Jesus (1:21-45). The setting thus brings out the purpose and significance of the call and discipleship.

This story focuses on three things: the context of the call, the call proper and the response of the first four disciples. (1) The context: Jesus calls the disciples when they were busy with their daily work. Simon and his brother Andrew were casting their nets; James and his brother John were mending their nets. Human situations are presented as the starting point of our religious experiences. God encounters us where we are and as we are. (2) The call: It consists of a command or an invitation: “follow me” and a promise: “I will make you become fishers of human beings” (v. 17). Following Jesus refers to our participation in the mission of Jesus. Jesus promises his disciples that he would make them free to be engaged in his missionary activity. If they are ready to follow Jesus, then they will be empowered and made free by Jesus to share in his mission. (3) The commitment: They left their nets; they left their father; and they followed Jesus. In this story, we have a radical command without any dialogue or explanation, and an unconditional response without any question or condition. The response of the first disciples is thus unconditional, and it expresses their inner freedom.

Our Call

As for consecrated persons, these three aspects of following Jesus are institutionalized in our religious vows, which are manifestations of our inner freedom. Leaving their jobs – freedom from material security (poverty), leaving their Father – freedom to transcend family relationships (chastity) and following Jesus – freedom to leave aside their own will, likes and dislikes for the mission (obedience). Leaving their wealth and family are prior to the following of Jesus. For example, the rich young man in the Gospel story could not follow Jesus, since he lacked the freedom to abandon his wealth and family (Mk 10:21-22). Following Jesus reveals the freedom to abandon one’s will for the sake of the mission. The root of our freedom as consecrated persons is the absoluteness of God. God is the center of our life; participation in God’s work is our mission.

This simple story gives us a paradigm of the freedom of the disciples of Jesus in general and consecrated persons in particular. From this short narrative of the call of the disciples, we learn at least three things about the freedom of a consecrated person. In what follows, I shall explain these three aspects of freedom.

Freedom and Joy as Fruits of a God-Experience

The freedom of consecrated women and men comes from an experience of God—an experience that leads them to believe that they are loved, chosen, called, consecrated and sent by God to continue God’s work. What happens to persons when they are touched by an experience of God? It makes them aware of their own littleness, smallness, limitations and shortness of life, as well as of God’s greatness and graciousness.

It makes them dependent on God, a God in whom they have full trust. Depending on God means: to realize that life is a gift from God, and that our life is safe in God’s loving hands. It leaves us completely free from worries on the one hand, and, on the other, enables us to face life with freedom and responsibility.

It is this freedom or experience of God that makes consecrated persons humble and confident at the same time. It gives us an inner freedom which leads to happiness. In fact, we can say that the distinguishing marks of a consecrated person are humility, confidence and joy.

Humility is not negating what we have or who we are. Just the opposite. Authentic humility helps us accept ourselves as we are and remain open to change and growth, without pretending or wanting to be somebody else. It promotes growth, and brings us joy and meaning. God is the centre of our life, and we depend on God for everything. This awakening makes one free to make right choices at the right time in collaboration with God. Such a free person will be secure; a secure person will be humble; and a humble person will be confident.

Freedom from Attachments

Freedom is always freedom from something and freedom for something. As we have seen in the call story of the disciples in Mark’s Gospel, the freedom of consecrated persons is very closely connected to their vows.

The vow of poverty presupposes a radical freedom—a process of freeing ourselves from our attachment to wealth and comfort. It is an experience of not being controlled by the pull of material wealth; on the contrary, we control them and use them according to our real need, not according to our greed.

The vow of chastity is a process of becoming free from our attachment to family ties and relationships, and going beyond our ego. It manifests itself in a liberating love for all human beings. Persons are not used to meet our emotional needs. It is a call to universal love, to work for the welfare of all, without being unduly attached to anyone. It leads to an experience of loving everybody and possessing nobody. The danger here is that we may remain immature in our relationships—possessive, unloving, cold and indifferent.

The vow of obedience challenges us to transcend our own likes and dislikes. It is a call to become free from our own opinions, desires, plans and will. If we try to live out the vow of obedience without inner freedom, we can become rebellious or conformist. Responsible obedience is difficult to achieve, since it presupposes authentic freedom from within. For a free person, obedience is an adventure and a grace—a life-enhancing experience of being led by God’s wishes rather than by one’s selfish plans.

Freedom for Mission

The freedom of consecrated persons, stemming from God-experience, is joyful and energizing. It is always for mission (of doing good, increasing love and goodness in the world, as Jesus did). This freedom is an expression of one’s profound openness to God’s project for humanity in general and for our personal life in particular. The vows make consecrated persons free to participate in the prophetic mission of Jesus—bringing God’s healing, compassionate love to people. It makes us free to be engaged in establishing a better society than the one in which we live today by overthrowing all enslaving structures of exploitation, corruption, domination and inequality.

The mission of consecrated persons is to participate in the liberating activity of God in the creation of a new human society. The consecrated life then becomes a sign of God’s reign.  It is for a radical sharing of things, of love and of mission. Only a free person can initiate a process of making others free. The freer we are, the more generous and merciful we will become. It is a dynamic process of moving away from self-centredness and fear to inner freedom and love.

One of the main challenges of religious life today is to be a discerning person: to discern with freedom and detachment what is true, good and life-giving in this fast-changing world. A difficult task is to listen to one’s inner voice during the fight within oneself between good and evil.  This authentic freedom, rooted in an experience of God’s love, empowers consecrated persons to leave the comfort zones of life in search of God’s plans and in collaboration with God’s plans for the world today.

Rekha Chennattu, RA

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Bible And Life

Who is a disciple?


In the New Testament (NT), the term disciple (mathetes) appears only in the Gospels and the Acts of the apostles. The Greek mathetes means “one who learns.” The English rendering “disciple” comes from the Latin discipulus, “pupil.” Although mathetes is used for the disciples of John the Baptist (Matt 11:2; Mark 2:18; Luke 11:1; John 1:35) and those of the Pharisees (Matt 22:15-16), the term primarily refers to those who followed Jesus. Jesus is called Teacher or Rabbi (Matt 8:19; John 1:38), and the disciple is the one taught by Jesus. Sometimes mathetes refers either to a large crowd of Jesus’ listeners (Matt 7:28-29; Luke 19:37; John 6:60) or to a smaller group (Matt 5:1b) or the Twelve (Luke 6:13). Although the Synoptic Gospels make the distinction between the Twelve and the disciples who accompanied Jesus, the Gospel of John mentions the Twelve only twice (John 6:67-71; 20:24) and has no list of the Twelve disciples, and does not give any special importance to the number twelve.

 All four evangelists highlight a special relationship between Jesus and his disciples. However, they differ in their understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus demands a radical break with the disciple’s previous life-style or manner of existence (Mark 1:16-20). Discipleship implies a total transformation that enables the disciples to leave behind their parents, occupations and possessions (Mark 1:16-20; 2:14; 10:21). Jesus challenges his listeners: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is presented as a prophetic messiah (Luke 4:16-21) and Jesus expects his disciples to become prophets who continue to proclaim God’s reign and become agents of social change. The mission of the disciples is to build a just society where there are no human rights violations, social injustice, political oppression and gender discrimination. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus wants his disciples to observe all his teachings (Matt 28:20) and encourages them to be perfect (teleios) as the heavenly Father is perfect (Matt 5:48). Here perfection does not mean flawlessness but wholehearted and undivided commitment to God’s project for humanity. The disciples are called to live by Jesus’ teaching, revealing God’s unconditional love and graciousness. In John’s Gospel, the disciples are those who are born of God and thus filled with the life, graciousness and love of God (John1:12-13.16-17). They are taught by God (John 6:45) and abide in Jesus’ word (John 8:31). Discipleship is a call to abide in God’s love and to love one another as Jesus himself loved humans, unto the point of death (John 15:12-14). This self-sacrificing and wholehearted love for one another is the sign of discipleship (John 13:34-35). The intimate, abiding covenant relationship with God and Jesus empowers the disciples to continue God’s work of creation, liberation and reconciliation (John 14:12; 15:7-8).

 In the Acts of the Apostles, mathetes is used to refer to all who belong to the Church (6:1-2; 9:26; 13:52). The Church itself is understood as the community of the disciples of Christ. Discipleship has thus become synonymous with Christian faith in the post-apostolic era. All disciples or Christians are called to the following of Jesus in the service of God’s Kingdom.

 In sum, the disciples of Jesus are called to continue the mission of Jesus and to make God’s creative and loving presence visible in the unfolding history of humanity. Inspired by the life and mission of Jesus, guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17.26), challenged by the brokenness and contradictions of our times, the disciples are invited to live anew the covenant relationship with God, one another and with the entire creation, and to participate in God’s project of creating “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev 21:1).

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