Archbishop's Message

Shepherd's Voice November 2022 - JESUS SETS ME ABSOLUTELY FREE


This popular hymn of the charismatic renewal - Jesus Sets Me Absolutely Free - is a joyful proclamation of our faith in Christ our Redeemer who has defeated the evil one on the cross and broken the chains of sin and death to make us God’s children.
Very soon on November 20 we will be celebrating the Solemnity of Christ the King. So clearly Our Lord has told us that indeed he is a king but his kingship is not of this world (cf. Jn. 18:36-38); he has come to establish on this earth, the kingdom of God. The joy with which we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King is the expression of the INNER FREEDOM we enjoy in Jesus Christ Our Lord and in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. If Christ does not dwell in our hearts (cf. Eph. 3:17) and his peace doesn’t rule in our hearts (cf. Col. 3:18) our external display will be an empty show.
The essence of our Christian life is to have Christ indwelling in us and becoming freer and freer every day by being filled with his love which, in other words, is to be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.
The words of our Lord are so clear: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”… and again: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (Jn. 8: 31-36).
The Lord calls us to throw out the ‘junk’ out of our hearts which impedes our freedom, and in its place to let his grace in and let it set the direction of our lives. These insights I received recently in a beautiful book that I came across: Moving Forward: Overcoming the Habits, Hangups, and Mishaps that Hold You Back by John Siebeling (Pauline Publications, 143 Waterfield Road, Bandra West, Mumbai – 400050, 2021).
God has called us to live an overcoming life – to rise above everything weighing us down or holding us back from experiencing his best. He wants us to have freedom and forward motion in our life. It entails: the ability to obey God’s commands, the ability to live by God’s directions and counsel, the ability to carry out the purposes attached to our life; and this is an inside job. It starts with a willingness to admit the messes in our life and bring them into his presence, his power, his Word. He heals wounded hearts, puts broken spirits back together, and restores hope to the discouraged and disillusioned. He lifts burdens and supplies strength for the weary.
From this book I would like to highlight four common areas in our life which need restoration, healing and freedom:
1. The Blame Game. It is the original sin which we inherit from our first parents (cf. Gen. 3) – not to take responsibility for my faults and failures but to put the blame on the other, and how miserable and unhappy our life becomes! We may not be responsible for creating the circumstances, but we are responsible for how we react to them. It is all a matter of ‘attitudes’. Life is 10 percent what happens to us and 90 percent how we respond to it. Some of the mindsets that we need to acquire: I am responsible for my life; blame is the hallmark of unfulfilled potential; blame will rob me, accepting responsibility will arm me; responsibility arms me with humility and respect; responsibility arms me with determination. Therefore, I should be ready to: admit I was/am wrong and apologize; follow through with my commitments; take care of the little and big things in my life if my life is to be healthy and successful; overcome feelings of discouragement and complacency because complacency and blame usually go hand in hand.
2. Being Carried Away by Feelings and Emotions – Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself. Our life should be led not by feelings and emotions alone, whether good or bad, but by the Holy Spirit dwelling in us i.e., his sevenfold gifts– wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety and fear of God. This is a matter of decision in the light of the Holy Spirit and not of being tossed about by momentary feelings and emotions. When emotions, especially negative emotions, get the best of us, they also bring out the worst in us. When our feelings are in charge, we quit when the job gets tough, we check out when the relationship gets a little rocky, we get discouraged easily, we are afraid of taking risks because of failures, we procrastinate because we don’t ‘feel’ like doing it, we are quick to get frustrated and display it with sharp words and angry sighs. In such circumstances the answer is: STEADY ON which means, don’t allow your feelings and emotions to dominate you. The verse from 1 Thess. 5:23 tells us: “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Let us focus on some foundational principles in order to have healthy, Spirit-led emotions: i) Consistent freedom and victory are not possible unless we learn to live beyond our feelings; ii) Feed the spirit. Starve the flesh i.e., the old sinful nature (cf. Gal. 6:7-8); iii) Sow where you want to go, because the choices we make today are like the seeds sown into our future; iv) Identify the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’; v) Move into love as Christ has taught us.
3. Be angry and do not sin (cf. Eph. 4:26-27). Anger, in and of itself, is not sinful – it’s what it leads us to that can be sinful. The Holy Bible talks of two kinds of anger, sanctified anger and sinful anger. Sanctified anger is when we get angry about something that angers the heart of God and do something good about it. Sinful anger is when we get angry about something that doesn’t matter, or it does matter but our anger leads us to act in a way we shouldn’t. When we get angry about the right things, anger can actually be a powerful force for good (Martin Luther). In Mark 3:4-5 we see a great example of sanctified, or righteous anger as Jesus confronts the Pharisees who hoped to accuse him of healing on the Sabbath. Jesus’ anger propelled him to confront a problem and then do something good to fix it. This story about Jesus shows us it’s OK to get angry, and, in fact, some of us need to get angry – not at God, not at your spouse, not at others, not at yourself but at your enemy (the evil one) who is trying to undercut your strength, health, and success with his schemes. Sanctified anger can spark a ‘rise up moment’ in our life where we say, ‘enough is enough, I am making a change’. It can produce a turning point that compels us to fight for the vision and calling that’s on our life. St. Paul speaks of sinful anger when he warns us, “do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil”. Anger is like the ‘foot’ in the doorjamb that holds the door open for the enemy to gain entrance into our life. Proverbs 25:28 puts it this way: “If you cannot control your anger, you are as helpless as a city without walls, open to attack”.
“When sinful anger controls us, we are allowing the enemy to position us for self-destruction, because sinful anger almost always leads to bad decisions. Harsh words that cut deep. Rash decisions that bring regret. Emotional judgements that are made on feelings rather than facts. A split second of anger can produce decisions that we regret for a lifetime” (p. 99). Being ‘spewers’ who spew toxic emotions like a volcano and being ‘stewers’ who bottle up negative emotions are both dangerous habits because they are the result of giving in to our ‘flesh’ and its drives. Bottling up anger and other negative emotions inside us is extremely harmful emotionally, relationally, physically, and spiritually. If anger is a perpetual problem and a significant struggle in our life, we need to find the ‘root of anger’ which is a deeper issue to address and three steps are indispensable – admit the hurt, ask for help, and surrender it all to God: “Letting go of anger requires a good deal of dying to self – humbling yourself, swallowing your pride, and choosing God’s way over your way. It’s not easy, but it can change your life” (p. 108).
4. The prison of unforgiveness. This is the perfect description of what unforgiveness does to our life – it puts us in a prison. Nelson Mandela, when he walked out of the prison after 27 years, said: “As I walked out of the door towards the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison”. Therefore, Our Lord Jesus Christ forgave from the cross and has taught us without mincing words that the way to salvation is the way of forgiveness, not of hatred and revenge. This is the core of the Gospel. Nelson Mandela has stated: ”Forgiveness liberates the soul; it removes fear. That’s why it’s such a powerful weapon”.
The principle we have to remember: Unforgiveness will keep us locked up. It is a hardening of the heart due to hurts, and the temptation is to lock ourselves in to protect ourselves from getting hurt again. But the problem is – those walls keep the old hurts in and they keep good things out – things like healthy friendships, new seasons, new opportunities, and even the conviction and encouragement of the Holy Spirit as well.
“The truth is, we cannot afford to live with unforgiveness. It’s far too high a price to pay. It will hurt us emotionally. It will hurt us spiritually. It will hurt us physically” (p. 114). Let us come back over and over again to St. Paul’s discourse on putting off the ‘old self’ and putting on the ‘new self’ created in the likeness of God (cf. Eph. 4: 17-32). We are called to give up all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour along with every kind of malice, and in its place put on kindness, tender-heartedness, compassion, understanding and forgiveness because God has forgiven us in Christ. The basis of our Christian faith is that everything we’ve been given by God’s grace comes through the forgiveness he offers us. And how does God forgive? Instantly, completely and freely. We have to embrace the forgiveness God has given us so that we can let it flow to others in the same way – instantly, completely, and freely.
Unforgiveness will keep us locked out. This is the story of the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Sion/Father (cf. Lk 15: 11-32). He interpreted the situation through the unhealthy filter of unforgiveness and all the emotions that come with it -anger, frustration, comparison, and jealousy. As a result, he made poor choices in his relationships. He was concerned with things being fair, he couldn’t forgive. He got so hung up on restitution, he missed out on reconciliation.
“Forgiveness can be so painful because it forces us to re-experience the deepest hurts we’ve buried in our heart. Don’t shy away from the process of releasing forgiveness because you’re afraid of the pain. It is painful because it needs to be dealt with. Dealing with it, while painful, is part of the process of healing. The pain is an indicator you are truly getting to the core of the wound and are on the right path to freeing yourself and moving forward” (p. 121).
“Don’t let unforgiveness keep you locked out of God’s best for your life. Unlock the trapdoor of unforgiveness and throw away the key. Choose to let God be bigger than your hurt and lead you into a future that’s bigger than your past. Great things await beyond the barriers of unforgiveness” (p. 122).
With conviction and joy let’s sing together: Jesus sets me absolutely free.

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