Do not call anything impure that the Lord has made clean -Acts 10:15
November commences with the feast of all saints, one that must call for a huge celebration in heaven, where we believe they have safely reached, after leaving behind a bright trail for all of us to follow. Indeed, they play a significant intercessory role in our lives, and, in different cultures and countries, weekly novenas to patron saints are a common practice in churches, attracting large sections of the laity who regularly attend these for the fulfilment of specific intentions. In Kerala, St Antony, St Jude, St Joseph and St George and, in more recent times, St Alphonsa, along with many other saints, have bridged the distance between God and Man especially in times of deep personal crisis, when an urgent miracle is needed. And it often seems that God has empowered these saints to provide answers to the desperate prayers that come from the hearts of suffering humanity.
Thus we have a whole repertoire of saints who fulfilled God’s plan on earth, and showed the way forward in many different ways. Whether it was through the meekness of St Theresa of Lisieux, or through the suffering spirit of St Alphonsa, or through the complete renunciation of St Francis, each of them had embraced some aspect of the Lord’s divinity, and their immortality lies in their capacity to transcend time and space as they become the torch bearers of God’s infinite concern for mankind, and reveal the treasures of God’s kingdom to devoted followers.
In this context, we are on the threshold of welcoming a very different kind of saint into this venerable circle. Carlo Acutis was given the status of Blessed in October by Pope Francis thus bringing him very close to the final stage of sainthood. Acutis was a young boy who succumbed to leukemia in 2006 at the age of fifteen. Within the few short years of his life, he became very close to Lord Jesus and had an uncanny attachment to the Blessed Sacrament, which he described as his “highway to heaven.” Having become an expert on computers from a very young age, he used his skills to research and compile Eucharistic Miracles from all over the world, in order to create an online exhibition of his collection, which he believed would help others to decipher the mystery of the Eucharist.
On reflecting deeply into the significance of the life and work of this young boy, one cannot help feeling that the Lord is sending a message to all mankind to carry out the task of evangelization with virtual tools. The internet, along with the social media channels, have come up against a rising torrent of criticism in recent times. India’s all-time favourite author and journalist Chetan Bhagat wrote an open letter a couple of weeks back in a leading newspaper addressed to the youth of the country. Using a delightful pun, he warns them that they would soon be a 4Gotten generation if they did not get over their addiction with the internet. The use and abuse of social media channels, the unchecked access to unseemly sites, the dangerous games that children fall victim to, as well as the criminal exploitation that is rampantin cyber space— all these have given rise to fear and suspicion among those who wish well for society and for the coming generations. And yet, in recent times, we have been pushed into using these tools more than ever before. They have facilitated the daily Eucharistic celebration in each one’s home. We can attend retreats and church services anywhere in the world. The Word of God is spreading without time and space restrictions. The Lord has certainly sanctified these virtual tools, and the young boy Blessed Carlo Acutis is the harbinger of this new mode of evangelization.
In Acts 10, Peter describes an interesting vision that he once had when he was hungry and awaiting his meal. He saw the heavens opening up, and a large sheet being lowered to the ground. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles, some of which were considered ritually unclean. As Peter hesitated to eat what he considered was unclean, the Lord admonished him and instructed him to accept wholeheartedly what the Lord had blessed. The interpretation of this vision led Peter to break the deep-set barriers that existed between the Jews and Gentiles as he recognized what the Lord had sanctified. Blessed Acutis is perhaps giving a similar message to this generation. Rather than indulge in the misuse of the internet, he used his creative and technical skills in praise and worship of the Lord. He laid out his own highway to heaven and threw it open for others to follow suit.