PARADOXICAL

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

 

Retreat notes


My community went to a retreat last September 8 and 9 (Saturday and Sunday) at Rancho Elena, Liliw, Laguna. Fr. P. was the retreat master. The theme for this activity was “Following the Lord with your Load.”

The retreat opened with a celebration of the Eucharist by Fr. P. This was immediately followed by the first session, which was about “Silence as the Language of Heaven.” Fr. P. reaffirmed for us the importance of silent prayer. While verbal prayer has its value, he said, it is in contemplative prayer that we get to know God most intimately. “Prayer should not be burdensome,” he said. “Prayer is like breathing.”

Session 2 was about “Sin and the Sacrament of Confession,” which Fr. P. claimed is the most misunderstood sacrament, chiefly because most people equate confession with horrible things instead of appreciating its beauty. In this talk, we were presented with “a very positive and human understanding of the sacrament.”

“What is the heart of the sacrament?” Fr. P. went on to challenge our own understanding. “It is conversion!” he answered his own question, implying that it’s neither penance nor the actual act of confession nor the priest’s absolution that’s the answer. Confession should give us an idea of “how infinite the mercy of God is,” he pointed out. “In the face of God’s mercy, the penance given is just a token of gratitude, not really dependent on the gravity of our sin.”

At around 4-6PM, Fr. P. led us to a “Desert Experience.” Drawing points from Carlo Carretto’s Letters from the Desert, Fr. gave us a briefing on the three temptations of Satan that we might encounter in our desert experience:

1. Why is your life so empty?
2. Why live in anonymity?
3. Why live without special privileges?

Wary about these lies implanted by Satan in our mind (what we come to know as our own respective ‘loads’ in life), we each went on our way to encounter God separately in silence, as we walked around the expanse of the lovely ranch seemingly aimlessly. It proved to be a fruitful experience to many, if not all, members.

Meanwhile, during the entire time that he was free, Fr. P. entertained requests for confessions and counseling from members.

By night-time, we had a Lord’s Day celebration. After that, the community watched the amazing life and witnessing story of a young Australian man named Nick Vujicic, who is unbelievably filled with passion to serve God despite being very much incapacitated. He was born without any limb (no hands, no feet).

From the desert, Fr. P. then led us to “The Phone Booth,” the third talk, which was about all the distractions in the world that oppose our desire to have a more contemplative life. He noted the many contradictions and paradoxes of being highly accessible in the modern world of cell phones and computers and yet having “no more time for dinner,” so to speak, and developing only shallow friendships and relationships. Fr. P. bewailed that “common sense and good manners” have not kept pace with the advance of technology.

The fourth and final talk is “The Therapy of a Public Life,” where the value of community was proposed as a solution to many personal dysfunctions that drive many of us in modern times to seek psychotherapy. “God and prayer can help us,” he noted, “but obsessions are mainly problems of over-concentration, which is a result of the ‘self-as-center-of-the-universe’ view that dominates modern man’s worldview.” “You can solve all these psychological problems by getting outside of the self. ”

“Get involved in a lot of things; enter more into public life.” Fr. Peter advised us. “Monks know this secret: With their daily monastic rhythm, being subjected to communal activities…, …they find that community life is therapeutic.“

Fr. P. then concluded his talk with a most memorable line that roused everyone to give a warm applause: “God never saves individuals; God always saves communities!”

During the Sunday Mass after the talk, Fr. P. implicit message was resoundingly clear to a number of our leaders. L. was quite emotional with her realization, which she put this way: “I realized that my life situation need not change for the better in order for me to love and serve the Lord more.” M. likewise got the message loud and clear. “To follow the Lord, I’ve got to unload my concerns by surrendering them to Him and allowing Him to use everything – my weaknesses, ...and blessings – for His glory.”

09.11.07


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