Earlier this year, the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church (one of the 24 sui iurus Churches of the Catholic Church) released its own theme song for the National Eucharistic Revival. Heart of the Revival’s editorial team had the privilege of interviewing John Nellikunnel, the young adult who wrote the song, “Always.” John is on fire with the flames of Eucharistic Revival—don’t miss this interview and listen to his song today!
Q: It is always encouraging to meet young men and women who are so dedicated to their faith. Why have you chosen to live as a disciple of Jesus, and what kind of impact has this decision had on your life?
John: I have been blessed to encounter our living God in many moments of my life—especially through the Holy Eucharist. As a young child, I began to understand the personal love of God for me through attending retreats. As a teenager, I grew in my faith and started to hear God’s voice in new ways through reading the Bible and in personal prayer. Jesus also revealed his power to me personally through some profound experiences that are hard to describe—the bottom line is, I have met Jesus, and I know he is real.
Having encountered Jesus, a choice had to be made. The person of Jesus and his invitation to follow him meant that I either must be His disciple or reject him altogether. Having tasted his love, the choice was of course clear.
As to the impact this has had on my life, it changed everything. Though I was a “cradle” Catholic, the deeper faith God granted me in my early teenage years required nothing less than a total surrender to him. And to be sure, this decision to follow Christ, and the need to surrender, is constant—I need to do it over and over again.
The blessings, however, are innumerable. The Lord has blessed me greatly in my academic and professional endeavors. Even though I prioritized him over “climbing the ladder,” he has proven how he takes care of his children. Following him, I have been blessed with many genuine friendships, have received healing and love beyond measure, an amazing spouse, beautiful children, the list goes on and on. He has fulfilled desires or dreams of my heart that I would not dare pursue otherwise.
Q: What place does the Eucharist have in your life?
John: As a young adult, I moved between a few different cities with job changes. For me, it was a challenging time, often marked by loneliness or a search for belonging. I had developed a habit of attending daily Mass and spending time with the Lord in the Eucharist. Those churches were my home, and the Eucharist was my strength and anchor. Though I often struggle to give Jesus priority in my day, the last few years have seen a renewed effort to get back to daily Mass and visits to our Eucharistic Lord. Truly, Jesus is everything to me. My redeemer, healer, shepherd, Lord, my God, and friend.
Q: Many Roman Catholics aren’t as familiar with the Eastern Rites in our Church. Can you share a little about the Syro-Malabar Church?
John: Thanks for the opportunity! Firstly, the Syro-Malabar Church is in full communion with Rome. There are twenty-three Eastern Churches that are part of the Catholic communion, together with the Western, i.e., the Latin Church. We trace the origin of our faith back to St. Thomas the Apostle himself, who brought the Gospel to the southwest coast of India in AD 52. From this origin, our Church has grown among the “St. Thomas Christians” in India into a vibrant Church that has strong vocations as well as several dioceses outside of India. The St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Diocese (also called eparchy) of Chicago was created in 2001 by Pope St. John Paul II as the first Syro-Malabar diocese outside of India. If you attend the Holy Qurbana (our word for the Mass) you will notice all the same main elements, but with some prayers that are different, and usually more of the prayers are sung. The liturgical vestments and altar cloths are also very colorful. Ours is a beautiful liturgy that was originally celebrated in Syriac, which is very close to the Aramaic that Jesus spoke.
Q: Tell me, how did this song project come about? How did you get involved? What was it like for you to be invited to participate in such an important initiative in support of the Eucharistic Revival?
John: This song was a surprise and a gift for me. I had felt for some time that the Lord was asking me to give more priority to music and to finish a song that I had been trying to write. About a year ago while working on the song, I reached out to a priest with some theological questions. During our discussion, Fr. Thomas Kadukapillil asked me if the song I was working on would be something that could be used for the Eucharistic Revival, perhaps even as a theme song for our diocese. He put me in touch with Fr. Joseph Thachara, who was working with him on a diocesan team for the Eucharistic Revival. The song I was working on was not a fit, but they asked, could I write a theme song? Having never released a song to date, it was a humbling question. I said that I would try and took it to prayer.
That very same day, I got the inspiration for the chorus. Within a week, in a way I could never have expected, the song had come together. All glory be to God, who worked through me beyond my ability! It has been such an honor and quite humbling to have had this opportunity.
Q: The title of the song you wrote is “Always,” and the refrain echoes the words of Jesus at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). Why did you choose this Scripture passage as the focus of a Eucharistic song?
John: As I was praying and thinking, this passage of Scripture came to mind. I had heard it explained that the Eucharist is a fulfillment of the promise that the Lord makes at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, to “be with [us] always.” It touched my heart because I felt the Lord wanted to say that he is always here, always waiting for us and desiring to be with us, in his Eucharistic Presence.
Q: You give a clear nod to St. Augustine’s famous passage from his Confessions: that our hearts are restless until they rest in the Lord. As a matter of fact, the opening lines of your song recall the drama of conversion that St. Augustine and all of us face—we know deep inside the things of the world fail to satisfy. Only in God is our soul at rest, as we read in Psalm 62. Why is recognizing this struggle important for us to truly encounter Jesus in the Eucharist and develop an authentic relationship with him?
John: I believe it is essential for us all to acknowledge and approach God as he is, while also acknowledging who we are. If we cannot acknowledge him and reach out our hands to receive his love, we miss the point of our very existence. To be authentic, it is important to not hide from God or ourselves, even our most wounded or dark areas. We need to bring them to him so that he can heal them. When we honor him as he is and offer ourselves as we are, I think we will find that beautiful rest. The song is a reminder of the rest that the Lord invites us all to: “Come and rest in my Heart.”
Q: Another line of your song that really struck me was, “Be still and receive.” It reminds me of Psalm 46, which tells us to “Be still and know that I am God.” So many people struggle to simply be still and receive. How would you encourage anyone who’s reading this interview to take a next step in prayer and intimacy with God?
John: An analogy that I like to think of is suntanning. If our bodies are changed by being in the presence of the sun’s rays, then by the same token, when we come in openness to the Lord in Eucharistic adoration, how can we not be changed or impacted by his love? As powerful as the sun is as a star, it pales in comparison to the power of the love of our God. So, my encouragement is to simply “come as you are.” I say this because I know from my own life that even when I am in my worst state of sin, or pain, or loss, Jesus is still there lovingly calling. (As a matter of fact, he gives us the Sacrament of Confession out of his great love for us!) Even if you do not feel something on a given day, being open and being in his presence will surely be a great blessing.
Q: Do you have anything else you’d like to share with us?
John: Thank you so much again for this opportunity, and thanks and all glory be to God!
I think the last thing I want to share is a word of encouragement to anyone reading this. Always, always take time to listen to the Lord. Listen to him by reading the Bible, by being attentive to homilies, by prayer and sharing with prayerful friends, and by however the Lord speaks to you personally… especially through the Eucharist!
I was surprised by the plan of God for myself in writing music, and in writing this song. You never know what he has planned for you, but if you let him, he will surprise you with his power, his plan, his love for you, and his understanding of your heart’s desires.
Listen to the song, “Always,” here!