( Version published in https://www.rvasia.org/)
Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out… “Rabboni”-John 20:16
As we traverse through life’s uneven pathways, we come face-to-face with unprecedented misfortunes, which, in Shakespeare’s words ‘come not single spies, but in battalions.’ They often bring in shame and humiliation, or deep emotional stress, or physical and financial constraints, as the case may be. However much we tend to recoil from situations like these, there are times when we find ourselves squarely in the midst of a tightening noose, with no escape in sight.
These circumstances often result from our own careless ways or reckless lifestyles. I remember listening to the testimony of a drug addict, whose experience mirrors the story of many hapless youngsters today. She was brought up in a Catholic household within the secure fold of family prayers and Church visits. Her first experiment with drugs was with hostel-mates during junior college. The habit grew on her, took possession of her mental capabilities, and left her a slave to its relentless demand for gratification. One day, she overdozed herself determined to end her agony. She felt her consciousness slip away. Gathering every ounce of strength she had within her, she made a desparate plea to God to liberate her from the stronghold of the demonic possession that she was imprisoned in. Slowly she resurfaced, and testified that she felt the power of His divine presence in those death-like moments. From then there was no turning back. Through praise and worship she bore witness to Christ, as she slowly pieced her life together again.
A moment like this is what I like to call a Rabboni moment. It was Mary who initially felt the magic of this moment in all its intensity during her meeting with Christ, on the dawn of His resurrection. Mary had come to the tomb early morning to find it open and empty. She was inconsolable beyond words. Jesus was at her side. She looked at Him and conversed with Him, but she couldn’t recognize him. Then He called her by name. For Mary, the world stood still. It was a moment of recognition like no other. She cried out from the depths of her being – ‘Rabboni’— and held on to Him for life. After the resurrection of Jesus, many such moments have been recorded in the Bible. The disciples from Emmaus walked a great distance with Jesus, but recognized Him only later when He broke bread with them. When Jesus asked the apostle Thomas to touch His wounds in order to believe, he was awe-struck and all he could stutter in response was ‘My Lord and my God’. St. Paul fell down, broken and blind, when he heard Jesus saying ‘Why do you persecute me?’ Life changed irrevocably for them after that. They were empowered to spread the Word of God to the ends of the Earth.
Rabboni moments are not confined to the penitent sinner alone. More often than not, God’s most faithful people also undergo a baptism by fire at some point of their lives. There are times when we feel that God is particularly harsh to His closest followers. In this context, the story of Father Benedict will ever remain alive in the minds of Christians in Kerala, though it is more than two decades old. The good priest was sentenced to death on the charge of murdering a young widow named Mariyakutty. By God’s grace, he was later released by a higher court due to lack of evidence. This, however, did not exonerate him from ignominy and disgrace within the community he belonged to. His true release came decades later, when a family member connected to the actual murderer came and confessed the truth to the Church authorities just a few months before his death. His Rabboni moment must have sustained him through the harshest period of his life.
God’s strength in our weakness
Sometimes, life’s endlessly dark phases engulf the purest of heart. And yet, this provides the most fertile ground for a Rabboni moment. In our weakest moments, God is at our side. Like Mary, St. Thomas and St. Paul, we may not be able to recognize or respond to Him immediately. But be sure to listen when He calls your name. Hold on to Him like Mary did, and we will gain a strength and power beyond human comprehension. As Jesus once revealed to Paul, His strength is perfected in our weakness. Whenever we are called to face our Rabboni moment, may we recognize the Voice that strengthens us. Paul understood the value of life’s weaker moments, as seen in his letter to the Corinthians—"That is why, for the sake of Christ, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions , in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong…" 2 Cor 12:10. May we treasure these words in the deepest recesses of our heart.