A Prayer to be His Living Word
What greater wish can there be than to truly and unabashedly witness the living God by being His living word? What can be a greater calling, a greater privilege or a greater service required of the soul? All genuine disciples crave to do that. But it doesn’t come easy because it requires the courage to face one’s truth, see God’s merciful, saving hands in it, make a fundamental departure in life, be emotionally and spiritually fit to speak about it, and live a life to consciously glorify Him.
However, it doesn’t take very much more than a heart in love with the Lord either—no erudition, social standing or personal competence is needed; it is not motivated by the praise of men nor does the individual wish to ‘live’ on. In fact, the witness writes his life off and does it all for his friend, Jesus, and His saving act to be known. His great asset is a heart that is honest, courageous and eager to tell its story, and its reward is in eternity. As Psalm 40 declares:
I have told the glad news of deliverance, in the great congregation; Lo, I have not restrained my lips, As thou knowest, O Lord. I have not hid thy saving help within my heart, I have spoken of thy faithfulness and thy salvation; I have not concealed thy steadfast love and thy faithfulness from the great congregation (Ps 40:9, 10).
May God grant my prayer to be His Living Word, and encapsulated here is my story and the story of how CESD, Cornerstone Environment for Spiritual Development, a lay apostolate, came to be.
I was born in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, India, on the night of Christmas Eve, 1968, to Syrian Christian parents from Kerala. My father was an Air Force Officer and mother, a teacher. I had a beautiful childhood and along with my sister, enjoyed life on Air Force campuses at various stations in the country. When gravely sick as a child one evening, my mother introduced me to Jesus—the first seed of faith, the holy name of Jesus. As a boy, I was drawn to everything Christian but lost my way in youth, and by the mercy of the Saviour, have been fortunate to retrace my path. I am 53 years old as I write this today, happily married and living with our two children and my parents here in Bangalore, leading a Catholic life and home. Professionally, I am an engineer-administrator leading an institution of higher learning.
However, life was far from joyful in my youth because of two unfortunate events. These two events cause me great embarrassment but if I don’t talk about them, I would be depriving myself of the opportunity to tell you of the two most formative events of my life, whereby I drew close to God and became the person I am.
It was in the early 1990s that I dreamt of going to America and study in a top university there. Lured by the glamour of American life, I was dishonest and intellectually idolatrous, resorting to unfair means to get there, which I should not have used. I had a feeble Christian conscience that prompted me not to do it but I squelched that gentle voice and determined to go ahead and then simply confess it to the priest in the confessional. That was my foolish wisdom, my monumental spiritual misadventure, and it deeply wounded my conscience. Back in India, I had graduated from engineering with distinction but here I was, the last in my class in this American university.
Knowing full well that an act is wrong and yet deliberately engaging in it causes the soul to be hunted by a guilty conscience. I paid the heavy price of darkness caused by the birth of the undying worm of guilt eating away my happiness every moment. Depression set in with a conscience sorry before everyone and I lost the joy of living, I never had a hearty laugh for about 20 years. This is what the Book of Isaiah warns, “their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh” (Is 66:24). I had abused my conscience and lived a false life for long years.
The second event was a failed marriage and rejection in 1998, the cannon ball moment of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, which drained me emotionally. The two events were enough for me to realize that no one can save me except Jesus, my childhood companion, whom I had forgotten, and walked straight to Him now to retrace my path. My great moment of redemption came when I had the opportunity to choose the cross after a Good Friday sermon in 2001 that defined the cross in the words of Apostle Paul, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake as I complete in my body that which is lacking in the sufferings of Christ’s mystical body, that is the Church” (Col 1:24). Here was my opportunity to repent and make reparation and so I embraced the word from Colossians.
Immediately after I sought the blessing for the actualization of Col 1:24 from the priest, I was given a great Tabor experience and everyone in the gathering could see great brightness emanating from my person that continued into several days. Thereafter, I went into clinical depression, had to be hospitalised and was diagnosed with fear psychosis; the reason was my fear of that unfair means (which I had carefully hidden for 10 years), being exposed.
I suffered depression for another 10 years with great incapacity to do the basic things of life and I found my will non-existent. At the end of these 20 years, I found the verse in Rev 5:6, “I saw a lamb standing, as though it had been slain,” and decided to apply it to my life and face the reality of being exposed while holding on to my deep faith in the Saviour, if ever that day came. Jesus was the lamb that is both dead and alive in Rev 5:6, and here was the call to accept being the lamb with a dagger through its bosom, both standing and slain, participating in the great mystery of redemption.
I decided to disown the university degree that I had nevertheless completed and the aura I had built up around myself as an internationally educated individual and said that I shall be known in the world henceforth, not by a university degree but as a disciple of Jesus. By this I live the Word in Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Philippians:
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own…. but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith; that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead (Phil 3:8-11).
Further, in his Letter to the Colossians, the Apostle assures me,
And you, who were dead in trespasses ….. God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, having cancelled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him (Col 2:13-15).
Rev 5:6 instantaneously cured me, I came to peace with myself and have never looked back since that day in 2010. Fortunately, I had never claimed the degree at any forum for academic or professional advancement. But the price I paid was very great: 20 years of depression, guilt, unhappiness and brokenness! That I found this great Word in Rev 5:6 and decided to act upon it is simply the mercy of God, and if I had not, I would have perished in my guilt and it would have destroyed my soul. This is the work of the Saviour in my life, His Word that saved and restored my soul.
Also, by disowning the degree and making this solemn declaration, I have undone the injustice I did and rendered back to God’s world, what does not belong to me. Prophet Micah helps me here:
“With what shall I come before the Lord, And bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, With calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, With ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has showed you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justice, and to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God? The voice of the Lord cries to the city—And it is sound wisdom to fear thy name: “Hear, O tribe and assembly of the city! Can I forget the treasures of wickedness in the house of the wicked, And the scant measure that is accursed? Shall I acquit the man with wicked scales And with a bag of deceitful weights? Your rich men are full of violence; Your inhabitants speak lies, And their tongue is deceitful in their mouth. Therefore I have begun to smite you, Making you desolate because of your sins” (Micah 6:6-13).
Micah speaks thus to me: I cannot render to the Lord anything in return for my soul. No offering, no matter how great the price, can pay ransom for my sins. We have the priceless sacrifice by Jesus, who has already done that. What I can do though, is live an honest life, which means distancing myself from all hallows of undeserved glory and false spiritual gains I may be basking under on account of my secret sin. To do justice, is to undo injustice. Micah ends the passage above with a warning not be dishonest in one’s dealings for it invites curses upon oneself. Indeed, the Lord’s way is narrow and it is a hard road; I hope I have found it! For the rest, Micah calls to love kindness and walk humbly with Jesus hereafter.
In the Gospel of Saint Luke, Zacchaeus did something similar by promising to make fourfold restitution for what he had defrauded; the Lord instantaneously blessed him and his household with salvation:
He entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man named Zacchae′us; he was a chief tax collector, and rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not, on account of the crowd, because he was small of stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchae′us, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he made haste and came down, and received him joyfully. And when they saw it they all murmured, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchae′us stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:1-10).
The Christian philosopher, Gabriel Marcel, has said, “Life is not a problem to be solved, it is a mystery to be lived.” I sometimes do not understand the mystery of my own redemption—it is just that—a mystery I live, and in so living, I am in the hands of my maker: “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20); “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17).
As I go through the Scriptures, I realize that I was like Jacob in the Book of Genesis, who had impersonated his brother Esau and stole his blessing by cheating his father, Isaac. Genesis says he escaped to the land of Haran and on the way, he saw the sun had set at Bethel, Gen 28:11. Jacob had 20 years of darkness in his uncle Laban’s house just as I had 20 years of the worm of guilt eating my happiness, and Jacob, on his return home, encountered God at Penuel and Genesis says that the sun was rising, Gen 32:31, just as I was finally healed through marriage to the lamb via Rev 5:6. My great affliction was thus ended on the cross. That is why it is my greatest spiritual asset. The cross is my friend and I always welcome it. After I was healed, I completed my PhD, started writing books, became a very joyful person spreading Jesus’s love wherever and whenever possible and have a strong prayer and sacramental life today.
Recently, a person who had known my misdeed made a telephone call to blackmail me. I told him that I disowned that degree and let go of the past, having nothing to do with it anymore but he wanted to drag me back to those unfortunate old days, claiming that I owed him my human capital and was bargaining for ransom at the threat of exposing me. But because I had conquered my guilt through the Cross, I could tell him to get lost. What was my fear of being exposed has become the cornerstone of my witnessing life. I am calm and equanimous as I relate it in public forums such as casting this into print here.
The devil tried to threaten me through this person to plunder my emotional wealth and the salvation I enjoy. This is what the Gospel of Saint Luke says in Jesus’s first temptation. The devil told Jesus, “If you are the son of God, command this stone to become bread.” It is used in the singular, this stone, Lk 4:3. That is to pursue my own self-preservation and not share this one thing with God’s people. He was, in effect, making an argument against salvation in favour of making self-provision. And I said, “Get lost!” Today the Lord has given me the courage to speak about it plainly and contribute to the ongoing salvation of the world. I am greatly encouraged by the Word in the Gospel of Saint Mark, “those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it" (Mk 8:35).
There were apprehensions from family circles about being so explicit about my life's account, that it may cause me grief and harm by throwing to the winds my precious family name, wealth and securities, but surely, God’s interests for saving humanity are more important than those of my family and professional status, which I hereby consecrate to the holy name of Jesus. I find solace in two passages from Scripture: first, the Letter to the Philippians states,
Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, Did not regard equality with God As something to be exploited, but emptied himself, Taking the form of a slave, Being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself And became obedient to the point of death—Even death on a cross (Phil 2:4-8),
and second, the Second Letter to the Corinthians says,
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich (2Cor8:9).
My dear friends, the Lord is gracious, His mercy goes beyond our sin. He has forgiven me my countless sins, some of them graver than the one I have related here and given me peace of strength. Most of all, I have been able to forgive myself. I am a free bird now through the mercy of the Almighty Lord Jesus Christ—today, I journey the pilgrim way through the desert of my life with a harmless sun for my glorious wandering (Wis 18:3). There are many simple folk who need to be saved from their secret sins and set free. They may have done something wrong in the distant past through the guile of the devil, who constantly insinuates against them, robs them of their innocence, of all their hope, their joy of living, and keeps them subjugated. The agony is greater for a person who tries to live a good, upright life than for one who is a practicing sinner, whose conscience is defunct. It is to those in agony that I primarily bear witness. Take courage! There is a way out: Choose to bear the cross of Jesus Christ. Although it does involve some suffering, the Lord is with us and He will set us free.
I have been gifted, in this freedom, the Cornerstone Environment for Spiritual Development, CESD, my ardent desire to serve the Lord, endorsed as a parting gift from my dear departed Spiritual Director, Monsignor Dr Joseph Francis, in his last book, Basic Understanding of Formulated Catholic Faith, and confirmed as an Apostolate through a profound prayer experience in the words of Apostle Peter:
Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, And he who believes in him will not be put to shame.” To you therefore who believe, he is precious, but for those who do not believe, “The very stone which the builders rejected Has become the head of the corner,” and “A stone that will make men stumble, A rock that will make them fall”; For they stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light (1Pe2:4-9).
CESD grew out of my own transformative experience: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; This is the Lord’s doing, it is marvellous in our eyes” (Ps 118:22, 23). Disregarding a mix of metaphors, CESD is that tiny mustard seed which may become a large tree sheltering all birds of the air as it works by faith operating through hope and love. It seems that beloved Father Joe has entrusted me with this one talent to trade with and render accounts on the day of the Lord. I find my future scripted in the Second Letter to the Corinthians, 2Cor4:1-5:10,
Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. We have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways; we refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the likeness of God. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.
Since we have the same spirit of faith as he had who wrote, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we too believe, and so we speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. Here indeed we groan, and long to put on our heavenly dwelling, so that by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we sigh with anxiety; not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
So we are always of good courage; we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. We are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So, whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him (2Cor4:1-5:10)
Thank you for the opportunity to share this with you dear reader and may I request your prayer for me to be His Living Word. Perhaps, my story goes to show that no matter how great our sin, God’s mercy and grace are greater; no matter how hopeless our case, there is hope in the cross of Jesus Christ. It has been a journey of conversion from idolatrous glamour to simplicity and joy, from guilt to the gladness of salvation. I have been greatly fortunate to be given the opportunity to repent. Now, having found my peace, I live my truth to become an instrument in the hands of Almighty God with glad conviction and end this prayer with the words in Ephesians 3:20-21,
Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.
Dr. Paul Mathulla
Founder, CESD Easter, 2022
“Lead me Lord, I pray” #1, CESD Campus, Bangalore-92