Learning a perpetual life lesson: that is how I viewed the intensive, dreadful yet grace-filled encounter with the LORD within 33-days of directed retreat; a lesson worthy to be carried out for the rest of my life. It enables me to heighten my sensitivity in viewing ordinary life situation in relation to God who made all these things possible. The practice of discernment creates much impact in my life as an ordinary individual, as a Christian and as a seminarian. It is a perpetual life lesson because its effect and value goes beyond time and occasion. It caused me much in changing my personal paradigm – viewing and judging things not according to my subjective optics but through a loving optic manifested in the life of Jesus Christ of whom I contemplate.
Such lesson I learn does not occur in an ordinary class room setting. I did not hear it from a class discussion of a prominent professor, neither from books nor from any other printed materials. I learn it from a series of long waiting; patiently waiting for God to enter where I was. The waiting process was not that easy. It was dimly clouded with varied emotions and internal movements: from fear of what will happen to me during the long retreat, bearing many questions and doubts in mind, to the feeling of excitement given the opportunity to enter into this once in a lifetime meeting of this life-giving God; from a struggle of not able to pray well to the consoling feeling of wanting to spend more time to pray; from being burdened by just looking at my shattered history to the light and soothing feeling of being forgiven; from confusion hearing an advice to leave the retreat to a moment of enlightenment and a greater appreciation of what discernment of spirits is all about; from a lesser desire to pray because of the thought of extending the retreat to a greater desire to pray to somehow know and learn to love the way the LORD loves.
My 33-days of being with the LORD may symbolize with a nail – a strong metal pin with a flat head and a pointed end that is hammered into wood or masonry and used to fasten objects together or hang something on. An instrument has no use without a hand that holds on it and hammers it on. There I see myself, like a nail, an insignificant creature apart from the creator, losing its effectiveness and value apart from the one who suppose to hold me. Losing that grip might miss to hit the head of the nail. It’s a fall short. Life at times is like that.
Through the years I realized I was becoming too self-sufficient. I thought I had the capacity to manage myself completely. I was then tempted to own my unique giftedness and the “givens” of my world forgetting the Giver himself. It pained me so much to accept that I was on that state realizing the various instances of fall shorts in thoughts, words, actions and even making significant decision in my life. It takes a lot of courage and maturity to own that part of me has went wrong and that I need some modification over my life. I, then, realized that my life was bended. It was twisted yet the LORD was patiently working through me and that gradually transform me so that I could still be usable again.
Looking at Jesus’ way of life, there I saw a very significant life lesson, being simple and ordinary. Qualities that are rooted in His obedience to the Father’s will and it was on this aspect of my life that the LORD was working by rearranging my attitudes, preferences and even my disposition in prayer. The call of a higher degree of obedience kept on lingering through my senses of which I felt that it was truly hard and painful. Yet the LORD has graced me with the gift of openness to be naked before His presence and to my spiritual guide. This grace of openness and trust helped me to feel and understand better what obedience is all about. To allow myself to be handled and cared by someone even at times contrary to my own free choice. Obedience, therefore, is knowing how to bend my own will and the willingness to act what the LORD wants for the greater good. To bend wills is to do something the way we think He does. It is acting on/for something by appropriating how the LORD acts and reacts in a given situation. I know this is not an easy call to practice for it needs greater and longer time for discernment. And the spiritual exercises provided a fertile ground for this.
The words of St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians sounded so personal to me “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me”. The way I understand it is doing things not because of my own effort and potentialities but through Jesus who enables me to do such things. I discovered many things in my life, I valued and acknowledged my talents and the possible things I can do but I realized that it was not because of my own effort alone rather it is His grace working in and through me. And so bragging and self-sufficiency has no space in my life. I don’t have anything and I am nothing without this God who strengthens me. My act of doing is just a faithful response to the grace that I received through his mercy. And I think this is what it is to be passive; this is what indifference means.
Even in the context of prayer, I thought doing much effort in preparing myself and the materials for prayer would caused more meaning and fruitfulness in my formal prayer periods but I truly proved it wrong. Before, I already heard it but now I truly am able to experience and learn it by heart that prayer is basically a moment of grace where encounter happens. Those moments of dryness and seemingly nothingness of God in prayer became my best teacher as I gradually learn to practice the gift of obedience and indifference before a God who is so unique in manifesting his presence in me. Gradually, I was graced by God to be just ‘there’ letting Him to manifest himself in a much unknown way contrary to what I expect. There I saw a God who is like a carpenter rebuilding my broken self. A God who accepts, respects and welcomes where I am, just as he accepted the kind of faith St. Thomas has.
Lansang can be the best representation of me –bended, twisted, weak, deform caused by many fall shorts, not perfect because of the varied instances of misusing the giftedness that the LORD had given. But it was on this retreat that I felt how the LORD was trying to repair my bended self. He was patiently hammering my life allowing me to re-align myself to be used again for a greater purpose. The hammering process was not that easy not because of my hardiness but the feeling of guilt and shame gazing so closely at this God who sees me differently and loved me beyond what human love means. Such an experience evoke in me an interior knowledge that my life was truly not mine to take and it is a visible manifestation of His great mercy working though me. There I was able to appreciate more the song “Take LORD, receive”.
Lastly, it is my ardent prayer that whatever things I learn and experience during the retreat I may be able to remember it and practice it for life. These lasting memories with the LORD would serve as a nail that makes firm the connection of both ends- my desire and God’s grace. I still don’t know what lies ahead, but these loving memories would truly make a greater difference in viewing life even in moments of frustrations and darkness. This emotional knowledge and connectedness through constant prayer and discernment would serve as my foundation as I advance in my priestly formation and I would cherish it for the rest of my life. Failures, dryness, frustrations, pains, darkness might come but such an experience would not caused me to be blinded but rather recognize him more even in the midst of it all and say, it is the LORD.