Issues Vol. 168 >
Vol. 168 No. 08 - February 25 - March 03, 2017
Do we consider the Bible a table around which the family gathers, and a foundation on which the faith of our family is built? On Bible Sunday, as we try to draw some practical ways to share the Word of God at home, perhaps we will be surprised to discover that the family Bible, regardless of whether it is prominently enthroned or is gathering dust on our bookshelf, is one of the most valuable spiritual treasures of a Christian home.
Indeed, the Word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern the reflections and thoughts of the heart," writes the author of the Letter to the Hebrews (4:12).
But how is the Word of God to become "living and effective" in our homes, in our families, in our professional and social relationships? There are a few practical ways to make the treasures of the Bible into a table at which our families are nourished and strengthened for the Christian life.
Given the hectic and stressed pace of life and our typically overworked schedules, making family time for the Bible reminds us of the need to put God first. Gathering around the table of God's Word enriches and strengthens the experience of family as a 'domestic Church'.
This time dedicated to reading the Word of God puts the whole family into living communication with God. Everyone gathered in this family activity - married couples, parents and children - is brought to a living encounter with Christ, who is present as the Word among them.
It is a wholesome practice to introduce children to Sacred Scriptures once they receive First Holy Communion. It helps them to connect to the readings proclaimed at Mass. This relationship of the Bible to the liturgy means it is invaluable for affirming children in the faith of the Church: it allows them to make the connection between what is proclaimed and heard in the liturgy with what is read in the home.
Parents can also choose to integrate family prayer time with the reading of Scripture. The Liturgy of the Hours is biblical in content and inspirational, through and through. So when praying the Liturgy of the Hours as a family, whether Morning or Evening Prayer, the family participates in the common and universal prayer of the Church. The family can also experience the riches of God's Word by adapting this ancient approach to a meditative and prayerful reading of Scripture in the home.
This will move members of the family spontaneously from hearing to living God's Word. The lives of the saints are filled with examples of holy men and women who have translated God's Word into action. The saints stand out because of their unique and graced capacity to be not only hearers, but doers of God's Word. In the faith, hope and love of the saints, God's Word—recorded in the pages of the Bible—comes alive in the book of life.
Parents must narrate Bible stories to their children, and devote time to reading and discussing the various levels of meaning in the sacred stories. When children, with their natural capacity for awe and wonder, marvel at the biblical stories, they can be led to connect the story of their life and their family to the story of salvation itself, irresistibly living their faith effectively.
Biblical stories and figures who reveal human weakness and sinfulness provide opportunities to families to discuss—at age-appropriate levels—the realities of human experience in the light of God's love and mercy and thus build a culture of mercy, which Pope Francis invites us to in the year 2017.
Ash Wednesday is a day to remember our humanness and mortality, our weakness and fallenness. As the inauguration of the Season of Lent, it is a day for reflection, penitence and preparation for Easter. It is a sombre day of recollection and examination of what needs to change in our lives, if we are to be fully Christian. It is a day for restoration that will reveal the beauty of God’s design for us, showing us once again the scale, proportion and priorities intended for us by our Creator.
It is worth noting that the ashes imposed on our foreheads this day were not given to everyone in the early Church, but only to public penitents who were brought before the Christian community. Notorious sinners were marked publicly as a sign of their disgrace. As time went on, others began to share their humility and their affection for the penitents, that they too were marked as sinners.
Ashes are a sign that we are ALL sinners, and that the difference between the good and bad in us is sometimes frightfully thin. We have treated people as things, and treated things as if they were valuable people. So we look into our hearts and say, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me." (Psalm 51) The external sign of this renewed spirit is the imposition of ashes in the shape of a CROSS.
Sometimes, these crosses are obvious, sometimes more subtle. But they are the very stuff that symbolise our mortality and sin. Our dusty foreheads remind us of our human bodies, when they get sick or when they work imperfectly, or when they age, or when they stop working altogether. Of course, many good things also come from our bodies—fulfilling work, loving embraces in harmonious relationships, generous acts of charity. But they all come at a price!
Ash Wednesday also helps us recall how God operates. He does not reveal himself cloaked in worldly power, pageantry and influence, but rather in weakness and destitution. (Phil 2:7) He became poor that we might become rich. He makes himself poor in the Word, in the Sacraments, in the church of the poor, and in suffering humanity.
There's nothing wrong with me," the accident victim says. "But sir, you've just been in a terrible car accident. You're bleeding and have some deep bruises. There may be internal damage!" said a passerby. "I told you," retorted the accident victim; "There's nothing wrong with me!" The passerby persisted: "At least have a doctor check you out, sir. We have an ambulance right here – it wouldn't take very long..." "I told you, there's nothing wrong with me!" "But, sir..." Then the man walks away from the car accident. His wife picks him up and drives him home. Later, he dies from internal bleeding. "There's nothing wrong with me" can be a dangerous thing to say. Spiritually, it is probably the worst thing a person could possibly say. For a person to stand before God and say, "There's nothing wrong with me" – that's incompatible with Christianity, and unacceptable to God. What is the opposite of "there's nothing wrong with me"? Wouldn't it be "there's everything wrong with me"? According to the Bible, a Christian is someone who stands before God and says "there's everything wrong with me." "Two men," Jesus said, "went up to the Temple to pray – a Pharisee and a tax collector." Remember, the Pharisees were the people who lived good, clean lives. The tax collectors were people who swindled and intimidated others out of their money. Both of them came to the Temple to pray. "The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get." Maybe you can sum up his prayer this way: "I thank you, God, that there's nothing wrong with me." Maybe he was right. He was a good citizen. He obeyed the law, lived a moral and upright life. He even did the religious things you were supposed to do – he gave ten per cent of his income to church, and he even fasted twice a week. Really, there's wasn't much wrong with him.
Then Jesus focuses on the tax collector in His story – the opposite of the Pharisee. He had been stealing money from people his whole life – ruining the lives of others so that he could live it up. He knew that his whole life had been a disaster, and that he deserved to go to hell when he died. Jesus says that "the tax collector stood at a distance" – he wouldn't even walk up to the front of the Temple – "He would not even look up to heaven" – he was so ashamed of his sin – "but beat his breast, and said, 'God have mercy on me, a sinner.'" His prayer was the opposite of the Pharisee's, wasn't it? Maybe you can sum it up this way, "God, there's everything wrong with me. Help me." Jesus goes on to say that the sinful tax collector was the one that was forgiven by God, and not the perfect Pharisee. 2 Chronicles 7:14 says, If My people who are called by my name will humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
Like a good shepherd, Fr Herculano was also concerned about the integral development of the straying sheep, especially young girls and women who were in danger of getting involved in prostitution. Sometimes, children were left alone at home or on the beach by parents, while they went to work. These innocent girls were often abused by unscrupulous men to satisfy themselves. Fr Herculano was moved to compassion for them. In 1930, he founded an orphanage at Gauravaddo, in Calangute, to shelter the young girls and homeless children. He did all he could for them, and sometimes, depriving himself even of the basic necessities, he generously gave to the poor. Although he came from a rich family, he lived like a poor man. To him, the unwanted became wanted. The orphans, the abandoned children, the poor and needy, especially the girl child and women in distress, were close to his heart.
In those years, girls had less opportunities for education. At that time, there was no English medium school in the village of Calangute and children had to travel to other places. Knowing the importance of English for better job opportunities, in 1931, Fr Herculano founded the first English medium school in Calangute, for girls, which he named Little Flower of Jesus School.
As the number of children began to increase in his orphanage and in his school, Fr Herculano felt the need of dedicated women to care for these children. In 1834, religious orders were banned in Goa by the King of Portugal. The atheist rulers were against the Church. A change for the better came in 1928, with the ‘New Regime’ in Portugal. This was a favourable time to revive the diminishing life of faith in the archdiocese of Goa and Daman. January 16, 1935 is a red letter day in the annals of the history of the archdiocese, for, at this crucial point in history, Fr Herculano came up with a novel idea of founding the first indigenous religious congregation for women. Sceptics considered it a foolish idea, but with tremendous faith in God and a courageous spirit, he went ahead. He gathered a group of eight devoted and enthusiastic girls, and formed a ‘Pious Union’ in the parish of Calangute, which later flowered into a religious congregation, namely, ‘Congregação das Irmãs de Sto. Alexio.’ Keeping in mind the spirit of Vatican II, the name of the congregation was changed to ‘Congregation of the Handmaids of Christ’ since 1968.
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