Archbishop's Message

My dear brothers & sisters,

ONCE YOU PUT YOUR HAND TO THE PLOW

“No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Lk. 9:62) are the clear and unminced words of Our Lord in the Gospel. We heard them on Sunday June 30. They primarily refer to our life of discipleship which is not an easy affair. It is costly but joyful – the joy that this world cannot give us (cf. Jn. 15:11). To live the Gospel in its radicality is difficult. It demands self-denial and self-emptying (cf. Mt. 10: 38-39; 16:24-26) but the Spirit of the Lord never fails us. In the Lord’s discourse to his disciples the key phrase is ‘perseverance or endurance to the end’: “But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Mt. 10: 22). God’s judgement is sure. One can never expect to be saved by consistently breaking God’s commandments in this life, however great and powerful one may pretend to be on this earth.

We begin our journey of ‘yes’ to the Lord on the day of our Baptism and end it on the day we leave this world to enter into eternal life. During this period we are called to immerse ourselves more and more deeply into the Paschal Mystery of Christ – dying with him and rising with him to new life (cf. Rom. 6:4). It is a forward movement, not a backward one – of greater intensity every day, nay every moment. It pertains to our growth in holiness and virtue whereby we allow the rivers of living water to flow from our hearts (cf. Jn. 7: 38). Joyce Rupp compares this growth to the opening of the inner door:

The full person God created us to be contains more than we can imagine, but most of us dwell within only a small portion of the superb castle of ourselves. Opening the door of our heart allows us entrance to the vast treasure of who we are and to the divine presence within us. We have an immeasurable amount of love and tenderness in us if only we open the door to discover it. The same is true with the multitude of our other qualities and virtues. Each door we open helps us to grow into the fullness of who we are. Each discovery moves us to contribute love in our world…

When we open the door and go inside, God is there in the temple of our soul, in the ashram of our heart, in the cathedral of our being. Which is not to dismiss the reality of this same loving presence being fully alive in our external world. The Holy One is with us in all of our life. Our purpose for opening the door inward is to help us know and claim who we are so we can more completely join with God in expressing this love in every part of our external world…

When I open the door of my heart to God, I do more than simply extend a smile or recognition or a nod of welcome. I open myself to grow and change in ways I may never dream likely. I risk being spiritually transformed into a person whose life continually manifests goodness …

The choices and decisions I make determine whether I’ll go through the door and enter the unknown territory of growth, or turn back and cling to the safety of who I presently am. If I am alert and willing to be transformed, I open the door of my self and greet fresh ideas, along with possible changes in attitude and emotional response. Whenever I choose to open the door and step across the threshold of possibility, I become more conscious of myself as a person with unlimited potential for goodness and ever fuller unity with the divine (Open the Door: A Journey to the True Selfby Joyce Rupp, Bangalore: ATC Publications, 2008, pp. 4-8).

To ‘look back’ would mean to stop in one’s tracks; to hesitate and turn back; to be discouraged and give up; but the more we experience ‘failure’ in our spiritual life, the more God’s grace abounds to goad us onwards in our journey and to make our failure a victory. Falling and rising is inbuilt in the story of our life. It is a process of greater enlightenment and greater growth at every step of the way.

The absolute model and exemplar for us is our Lord Jesus Christ himself who never turned back once he had set his eyes towards Jerusalem – the place of his suffering, death and resurrection (cf. Lk 9: 51).This is the kind of fidelity and perseverance that should define our Christian life of marriage, priestly commitment, religious consecration, missionary service, personal choices, attitudinal behaviour and social conduct. Experience shows that this does not always happen in the ideal way as we would want it to but God in his infinite love and mercy always makes concessions for our weaknesses. He gives us the strength to renew our lives and move on with trust in his love. We can never fathom the plan of God in our finite and limited intellects and nobody is ever entitled to judge another person.

To remain faithful to the Gospel of Christ we need his grace. This grace is Christ himself who is the full embodiment of God’s love(cf. Col 1:15-20)and from whom we have received “grace upon grace” (Jn. 1: 16). Jesus does not speak to us of ‘cheap grace’ but ‘costly grace’.Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor who was imprisoned and put to death by the Nazis for his resistance makes this marvelous distinction. “Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, and grace without Jesus Christ. It is an intellectual assent, but requires no moral courage. On the other hand, ‘costly grace’ is the grace of discipleship, of true following the way of Jesus Christ – a way that leads first to the cross before it leads to the resurrection. Bonhoeffer chose ‘costly grace’. What about us? What about our ministry, our relationships, our choices? We all encounter the cross in one way or another in our lives and in our ministries. Grace is god’s gift to wake us up and empower us as disciples. It is grace that summons us to ask the hard questions: How do we build a world of harmony? Of justice and peace? How do we stand in solidarity with those who have lost much?” (Grace Abounds: A Callto Awaken and Renew Your Faith by Edith Prendergast RSC, Mumbai: Pauline Publications, 2016, pp. 24-25).

Many people have shared their experiences of how they have persevered when the going was tough and trusting in God have gone ahead despite many hurdles to ultimately succeed. The famous story of King Bruce of Scotland who was inspired to go ahead in a battle and become a winner because he saw a spider on a wall persevere and finally succeed despite successive failureshas been told many times in different contexts. The story has a special message to the youth during the months of June-August because it is during this trimester that they are busy making their academic choices with their future in mind. It may happen that they become discouraged when they face failure in their examinations or do not obtain admission to the colleges of their choice or do not get the subject of their choice etc. The tendency is often to be discouraged, depressed and recoil in a world of loneliness. It should not be so. Christian faith and depression can never go together. There is a reservoir of divine strength and hope in us and the one who trusts in the Lord will never be discouraged or depressed. I like to see children and young people in sports who keep running to the touch line despite knowing they are far behind – they never give up. Often they get the biggest applause because the audience recognizes their determination and perseverance.

John L. Mason in his book An Enemy Called Average (Mumbai: St. Paul’s, 2007, pp. 41-42) says: “Persistent people begin their success where most others quit. We Christians need to be known as people of persistence and endurance. One person with commitment, persistence, and endurance will accomplish more than a thousand people with interest alone”. Then he goes to narrate the story of the “Chinese Bamboo”. During the first four years, they water and fertilize the plant with seemingly little or no results. Then the fifth year, they again apply water and fertilizer – and in five weeks’ time the tree grows ninety feet in height! The obvious question is whether the Chinese bamboo tree grew ninety feet in five weeks or five years? The answer is that it grew ninety feet in five years. If at any time during those five years the people had stopped watering and fertilizing the tree, it would have died.

Many times, when our dreams and plans appear not to be succeeding, we are tempted to give up and quit trying. Instead we need to continue to water and fertilize these dreams, nurturing the seeds of the vision God has placed within us; because we know that if we do not quit, if we display perseverance and endurance, we will also reap a harvest.

May God grant us the gift of perseverance in our spiritual life and in all areas of our life.


Yours sincerely in the Lord,
+ Anil J. T. Couto
  Archbishop of Delhi