By Fr. James Manjackal MSFS
“If I preach the Gospel, this is no reason for me to boast, for an obligation has been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it” (I Cor 9: 16).
Preaching the Gospel to every creature is a mandate given by Jesus Christ to all His followers (Mk 16: 15). The joy of every priest, who is called to be another Christ, must be become a coworker with Jesus Christ in preaching the Gospel and healing the sick. As Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit at Jordan to preach the Gospel and to heal the sick, every priest is anointed and empowered at his priestly ordination to do the same ministry and thus to continue the works of Jesus Christ on earth. (Lk 4: 18, Acts 10: 38).
I never thought of
becoming a preacher when I was studying in the seminary, or in the early
days of my priesthood. This was mainly because of my stage-fear and inferiority
complex that prevented me for public appearance. I was an introvert with
a shy and withdrawn character. I could never imagine being a vagabond priest,
going from place to place with a Bible in the hand preaching before thousands
of people and enduring trials and sufferings. All that I expected and prayed
for during my formation was a safe, secure and comfortable priesthood.
Hence I had secured my degrees on Philosophy and Theology in order to become
a professor, which was a comfortable job in my thought. When I was appointed
professor already in Fatimagiri seminary at Nilambur, Kerala,during my
regency, my expectation doubled and I thought that one day my superiors
would send me abroad for higher studies.
It looked as if God answered my prayer that after my ordination I was appointed professor in SFS seminary, Ettumanoor, Kerala. But my joy and comfort as a professor there did not last long because after a few days I fell ill with tuberculosis and stones in the kidney. It is the prayer of a new Catholic convert that healed me both physically and spiritually empowering me to preach the Gospel and to heal the sick. When the Lord asked me to resign my job as a professor and to go throughout the whole world to preach the Gospel, I felt insecure and threatened in my inner self as I did not want to leave all the comforts and security that I enjoyed as a professor in the seminary- good room, tasty food, enough pocket money and car or motor cycle to ride. But when I said, “here I am Lord, I go as you command” I experienced a great joy in my soul and I received courage and grace to surrender all my love and craving for worldly pleasures and comforts. As a consequence I was able to jump into insecurity and uncertainty with my Jesus that in fact became the greatest security and solace of my life. In 1967, when my provincial secured a seat for my higher studies at the University of Eichstatt, Germany, I refused to go because I had already found the joy of preaching the Gospel. In 1986, when the then provincial forcefully sent me to Rome again for higher studies at the Angelicum University, I was “restless” as I had lost the joy of preaching; still along with my studies I found time to preach retreats in several places in Italy. Cardinal Lourdusami, the president of the propaganda fide, who sponsored my studies, called me and said at the end of the first year, “Father James, you are here in the university like a fish out of water, your joy is in preaching and not in studies, hence stop your studies and go for preaching”. With a mere diploma on Spirituality, I returned to Kerala for preaching.
Ever since I preached my first charismatic retreat at the parish church of Mammood, in the diocese of Changanacherry in February 1976, I have not done anything else in my priestly ministry except preaching the word of God and healing the sick. The Lord has taken me to the ends of the world, sending me to 102 countries in all five continents.He gave me the inspiration to start Charis Bhavan, the retreat center at Athirampuzha, to found an apostolic community for the unmarried women and to start a magazine called " Charis Jyothy". With the remuneration and gifts that I received from my preaching, I could help my congregation for its many projects for the poor and for the education. When ever I preached, I was always proud to proclaim my identity as MSFS and thus my congregation is known worldwide.
When I look back upon these my last 41 years of preaching I simply shed tears of joy thinking of the amazing grace that the Lord gave me during my labyrinthine journey of evangelization. I was misunderstood several times by the Catholic hierarchy in Kerala and elsewhere. I was always careful to preach only the sound doctrine of the Gospel and the Church, I made no compromise in my preaching and I never minced words to interpret the authentic teachings for my own advantage or to please some people to receive applause and appreciation. Often, the words I spoke were sharp like a two-edged sword, like a rock breaking hammer , a forest-burning fire, soul stirring and spirit-filled. The words of St. Paul were always ringing in my mind, “proclaim the word: be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through patience and teaching”(II Tim 4: 2).I preached emphatically on the need for reciting the holy rosary in family prayers, the devotion to the Holy Eucharist by adoration before the Blessed Sacrament and the use of the Crucifix in the Catholic Christian life. As a result a section of the Syro-Malabar church misunderstood me and condemned me as an anti-rite realistic. In fact I had respected and encouraged all the three rites in Kerala by preaching retreats in the parishes of all the three rites and celebrating Mass in those rites. But I always insisted on the necessity for unity in the church; and under no circumstance could I support the unhealthy attitude and the competitive rifts between the rites. Unfortunately this misunderstanding led me to my being kidnapped in April 1993, the consequent sufferings of which left permanent scars both in my body and soul. When the kidnappers blindfolded me, they beat me to the extent of breaking my hand and my leg, they inserted a needle into my penis, tonsured my head and forced me to drink urine, the Spirit of Jesus gave me power to offer all those sufferings for the success of my ministry. He gave me courage and grace to forgive them all and to pray for them. All they wanted was to stop me preaching.
The good Lord to whom I gave myself unreservedly was always holding me in His loving hands specially when I was rejected and disowned by others. The Lord allowed me to emerge young and energetic as a phoenix from its burning ashes! In fact, the kidnap and the consequent sufferings were a 'novitiate' for me to equip myself for a specialized ministry to preach the Gospel among the Arab Muslims in all the Arab and Islamic countries. I was imprisoned and beaten four times in Saudi Arabia, once in Kuwait and another time in Oman. Kidnaps, imprisonments, persecutions, perils, calumnies or rejections could not take away my joy in preaching the Gospel; they could not deter me from my love for Jesus and the Gospel. Whenever there were oppositions and obstacles in my evangelical journey, the good Lord was clinging to me more closely empowering me with grace and courage to go ahead more zealously. He was turning all the sorrows into joy; and all sufferings brought abounding and overflowing blessings on me and on the people among whom I worked. No superiors, no confreres, no friends, no persecutors, no enemies could take away the joy of preaching from me nor could stop me preaching. I rejoice in the Lord always. The joy of the Lord is my strength.
It is great and marvelous that the Lord is sending me to countries and people neither knowing their language nor their culture. I am an Indian Keralite, I can only speak Malayalam fluently, my mother tongue; and a little bit of broken English!But it is a wonder that the Lord takes me to the German, the Spanish, the French, the Portuguese, the Italian,the Slovak, the Slovenian,the Croatian, the Polish, the Czech, the Slovakian,the Arab, the Russian and the Chinese languages and cultures to preach the Gospel to hundreds and thousands of people. I have learned by my own experience that differences of languages or cultures are not barriers to preach the Kingdom of God. I know well that I have no literary eloquence or persuasive elocution in my preaching; all my preaching and the confirmation of it by signs and wonders are the manifestation of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ working in me. The main sources of my power for my ministry are the holy Eucharist, personal prayer and celibacy along with the prayers of many in the world.
Great is the joy of seeing the results of preaching the Gospel. It is a great delight to see people being saved from the tsunami of sin. What was said through prophet Hosea is true today, “My people perish for want of knowledge” (Hos 4: 6). Today even Christians themselves do not know Christ the only Saviour; they do not know the need of the Church and the sacraments for their salvation. I rejoice and praise the Lord seeing the conversion of many people, both of those who never believed in Christ and of those Christians who had abandoned faith and salvation. When people come away from their sins, the pollution of sin that brings curses upon the earth is removed and the planet itself is blessed. When man – the crown of creation – returns to God, the birds of the air, the fishes in the water, the animals in the field and all animate and inanimate beings on earth are blessed because all of them are created for man and man for God. Thus I preach to all creatures according to the command of the Lord.
Great is the joy when I see many physical and spiritual healing that take place in my ministry! What a joy when I see many married couples who were separated or divorced return to their life of love and unity, forgiving and accepting each other. I praise God with joy when I see people liberated from Satan and evil spirits, healed from depression, anxiety, fears, guilt, suicidal and criminal tendencies and from compulsive bad habits like drugs, smoking, alcohol as well as immoralities such as masturbation, homosexuality, pornography, etc. I cannot but rejoice and praise God when I see the paralyzed and the lame getting up and walking, the blind seeing and the deaf hearing, people with cancer, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson, psoriasis and other incurable diseases getting healed in prayers and going back to their normal life and work. When people are born again by the Holy Spirit through my preaching, I feel myself as the father of many children; indeed many who attend my retreats call me “Papa”.
When I see all these signs and wonders in my retreats and conventions, I become more and more aware of my nothingness. I realize that it is Jesus in me who is preaching and doing wonders through His Spirit. All that I have is a burning and passionate love for my Jesus and a thirst to save souls. The words of Jesus on the cross" I thirst" always rings in my heart. I know that I am only a donkey to carry Jesus on my back to 'the temples of Jerusalem' that are human hearts. When people speak well of my ministry with applause, I am careful to give all those praises to Jesus who is on my back. I am always reminded of what Jesus has said, “When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘we are unprofitable servants; we have done, what we were obliged to do’” (Lk 17: 10).
I am already in the evening of my life; I am now over seventy preaching the Gospel from a wheel chair with nuero-pathic pains all over the body. I had a micro- surgery for my heart, I have a swollen leg and many wounds on my body that bleed; but all what I wish is to preach the Gospel until my last breath. I request the readers of this article to pray for my own salvation that I seek with fear and trembling. The grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
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