In my Catholic life, I have heard the Biblical definition of ecclesia perhaps a hundred of times that I am most likely tired of hearing it described as a human body, with some members being the head and some being the ears, eyes, nose, hands, feet, and so on. I tend to forget that a Bible passage should be reflected upon on three other levels beyond the literal. If this lazy Bible reader exerted so much as an effort (it's easy to use the alibi that I am no theologian nor exegete), I would most likely keep on reflecting the usual way: What is my role in the body of Christ? Can I pass for a mouth, to proclaim the truth of the gospel in my own small way?
I am thus very thankful for the retreat given by Fr. Cres (Cresenciano?) Ubud of ___ Parish, ___ town, Cebu, who flew over to Manila and traveled all the way down to Calamba, Laguna (at Rancho Elena) just to open our eyes anew and be enlightened and inspired in God's ever surprising ways. Reading the passage about the body of Christ twice a la Lectio Divina, I was slowly reminded how I have been before community and even while I was growing in community.
I grew up as the eldest in a family that I felt pressured to be like this and like that. That was the constant refrain in my young life: "Dapat active ka sa school (at kahit saan). Dapat ganito ka. Dapat ganun." That was, of course, my parents' and relatives' way of telling me they loved me that they expected so highly of me and that they wanted me to be the best I could be.
Alas, in my immature mind, I had read a different message through it: I thought I was a bad person, not good enough as I was, not deserving of love unless I earned it. This little thought slowly became one whole big story in my head and my heart until it got to mean other things like, "I should indeed do all that to win their love and acceptance." Worse, it bore much more bad, complicated fruits like, "Yes, indeed, if other people should be any good, they should be like what people around me say they should be: intelligent, achiever, competent, successful, articulate, not timid or shy, strong, the best in everything."
I carried this bad impressions with me unconsciously throughout as I joined community and slowly learned the Christian way of life. Without even knowing, I tended to look down on people whom I thought were inferior according to the world's standards. If I felt that someone was not as good as I was in grammar and spelling, for example, I would secretly look down on that person. Of course, it didn't help that I went to a school that expected its graduates to be the best in everything, although to be fair, it also constantly preached that all that gift should be in the service of the people. The worst part of my story is that, whenever I perceived that I had failed in other people's expectations, I would think of myself as a failure or a shame. This brought me into unnecessary anxieties and depressive thoughts and feelings, that I needed to seek all sorts of professional help outside.
For a time, I was quite effective in being what others want me to be, but in the end, I was never happy and satisfied because I was always buying love.
Rereading that passage in the Bible about the body of Christ reminded me of my old mistakes, but I am also thankful that I have grown and matured a bit from my juvenile impressions. I realize I now understand life and the world better: that it is okay to strive to be the best I can be, but it's also okay not to be perfect because no one is meant to be "perfect"; everyone is important in the eyes of God; each one of us is designed to complete the rest of the body of Christ. There is equality despite the dissimilarity, there is unity despite the diversity. It is now absurd to me to think of myself or others as superior or inferior when we are all children of God with specific roles and missions in this life and beyond. It's equally absurd to look down and envy or look up too highly of people to the point of idolatry of mere creatures. I realized how much I've been badly infected by the conventional but twisted logic of the world, but thanks to Fr. Cres' reminder, I realize I have risen up and grown from that cesspool of corrupt thought and am now
I am not surprised to hear a lot of members say how the latest retreat we had is the best. Well, not to compare, but all of our retreats have been simply the best in the sense that they each conveyed the message we needed to hear at exactly that moment. If we heard this retreat earlier, we might not have been ready for it yet.
From the very start of the day we were to have this retreat, I knew that indeed it would be very special. Why? Because the devil did double-time work in discouraging me and Kuya Monching and Ate Yay, with whom I joined the ride to Rancho Elena (together with Cris and Ate Zeny). There were at least three miscommunications about the travel directions along the way, including where to wait for their car. Nearing Calamba, we took the wrong part of the expressway and then we passed through an uncomfortably rough road with an "Indiana Jones type of bridge" (in the words of Kuya Monching) that scared us. It turned out to be the wrong road to take. But as Kuya Monching said, "Naligaw man tayo ng landas, nakarating din tayo sa tuwid at tamang daan." (We may have taken the wrong path at the start, but in the end we were able to reach the right one.)
It strikes me how Kuya Monching's quip (he's very good at spiritual metaphors!) somewhat sums up what we've heard in Fr. Cres' retreat. We each have our own distorted way of viewing life, God, the world, others and ourselves. It can't be helped, for we are all but human. But thanks be to the sanctifying power of God's perspectives as revealed in the truths of the gospel through the reminders of Fr. Cres's powerful testimonies told in deceptively funny jokes, I am confident that we are led to a much clearer path in terms of how to move forward in our Christian life. For us in community, we now have a template, as Kuya Mel Astovesa said, from which to craft a plan of concrete action, i.e., how to be specifically an effective "priest, prophet and king" to everyone in community and in the rest of our lives. I, for one, certainly feel refreshed and empowered, with my mind and heart and soul cleansed of their many cobwebs of corrupt thoughts and feelings.
Thank God I was able to join this retreat.