September 27 is the Feast Day of St. Vincent de Paul who is known as the Patron Saint of all Catholic Charities. St. Vincent is also the Patron Saint of the Vincentian Congregation of India, the priests who run Divine Retreat Centre, Kerala, India where I have been serving for over 16 years.
St. Vincent like many saints we read about had a huge personal conversion of his heart for Jesus. That moment of personal conversion was his inspiration to not only preach the Word of God through popular missions in parishes but also to serve the poor. Like the Samaritan Man, helping the poor was not an option. It was Jesus command to all of us, "Go and do likewise."(Luke 10:37)
The Covid-19 pandemic is a wake-up call to all of us on earth to be kinder and gentler towards one another, and be responsible and caring stewards to all living creatures, to Nature, the environment, waterways, seas, oceans and the ozone layer in the skies. We, humans, through indifference and greed have plundered our earth with little thought to the long-term damage we contribute to. Every life that God created is precious to Him. The Encyclical, LAUDATO SI by Pope Francis has become so meaningful to me. It's subtitle is "Common Care For Our Home". It should be read by every human being and not just Catholics.
With churches around the world closed during the Season of Lent and the greatest Catholic liturgical week, Holy Week, Catholics around the world were stunned and felt lost. A great blessing is that many Catholics have found the beautiful grace to turn to God, and to be rooted in Christ. The churches may be closed but in this difficult times, many Catholics have access to online Catholic resources. It has opened hearts for many of us to understand the Word of God, the Holy Bible with a deeper love for Jesus. Many Catholics all over the world have reached out to help those who are suffering in their communities regardless of race, religion or creed.
Despite great difficulties here in Kerala due to the pandemic, I have found the special grace of God's Mercy upon all of us in Divine Retreat Centre. It is priceless to be able to celebrate daily Holy Mass and to pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament. There is an indescribable peace just sitting at the Feet of Jesus. For this alone, I am so thankful to God that I am here.
Fr. Michael Payyapilly V.C.'s homily-"WHAT IS MY ONGOING CONVERSION STORY?", in the YouTube video at the top of this post, penetrated my heart. In fact, I could identify fully with St. Vincent de Paul before his conversion story. Like him, I was only focused on my career, job position and the financial benefits I could attain. Like St. Vincent, I was obsessed with the comforts in life. It was all about being a success materially on earth.
On Palm Sunday 2020, I found a deep inner peace fill my heart, mind and soul. I had opened up to the Director that I was sitting in front of him not as a volunteer but as a broken person. I was feeling very fragile and fearful for all my family members. I could not help anyone! My ministry which is mainly overseas-based literally came to a standstill. When I was prayed over, I had the sensation of a huge boulder of heavy weight being lifted up from my shoulders. In that blessed moment, my heart was completely free from personal pains and inner wounds. Yes, even in ministry, we do go through all these - where we are exhausted, burdened and joy seems to be elusive.
As I look back now, it was solely due to the prayers of some very dear family and friends, I am now able to have quality reflective time to do intercessory prayers for all who ask me, and in spiritual readings and videos. The Word of God lift us up when we learn to totally surrender our lives unto Jesus' Hands. My favourite novena is the Novena of Surrender. It had no effect on me when I started praying this novena in late January for four consecutive cycles. Then I noticed a change in my heart and mind. The few strained relationships I had here were healed and we are all on good terms as friends. We even have our meals together and pray for each other. There is laughter and joy where before we tried to keep our distance if we could.
How did it happen? It is about remembering my personal conversion story and the love that seemed to burst from my heart for Jesus. All I needed and wanted was to live for Jesus! Nothing else mattered. Yet as the years went by, my personal conversion experience seemed to take a backseat in the midst of ministry. It is like a spiritual burnout. This pandemic has given me the much-needed opportunity to deeply root myself in Christ as I write and recall my ongoing faith journey over the years since my 1st Divine retreat experience. I can clearly identify God's Hand upon my life.
Fr. Michael in his homily challenges each of us to reflect on this heart-piercing question, "In my growth stage, have I forgotten my ongoing conversion story?" Father further reminded us we should not have growth for the sake of growth. Our faith journey is always an ongoing conversion story.
Only then can my conversion story be my GREATEST love story. Jesus, I love You with All of me. Only in You, I find Joy and Strength to be detached from this world and to be deeply rooted in You - my source of Life, my Hope, my Love.
The YouTube music video below, LOVELY LORD by PETRA is the prayer I have in my heart every day now. The year 2020 is indeed life-changing - I have rediscovered the love and passion to live for Jesus with all my being. My family and I have grown closer to each other as we have all turned to God praying for each other and with each other through Zoom. We have never been closer as a family despite the oceans that separate us. In the meantime, there is much love and joy living here in Divine Retreat Centre. It is the family Jesus has gifted me for the past 16 years in India.
"Lovely Lord, I am longing to see You one day face to face."