I had the opportunity to attend the Office for Young People (OYP) first ever combined university retreat from 19th to 22nd September 2014. It was a time for us, students to take time away from our hectic schedule to find the much needed time of rest in Jesus. I hesitated in joining this retreat as it was so close to Christmas but I relented after much encouragement from SIM-CS and my parents.
Upon arrival, we did some introductions and ice-breakers as some of us were unfamiliar with participants who were from the other universities. Thus, it would help us get to know each other better, despite our being from different universities; still we are all Catholics. We were also divided into different groups so that we could ease into our sharing sessions after talks conducted by the priests or the staff at OYP.
The first session of the first day was called ,“Openness to God” which focused on the central theme of Barrenness. The bible reading was taken from the book of Isaiah 9: 1-7 which describes that , “The people that walked in darkness has seen a great light; on those who live in a land of deep shadow, a light has shone.” Also, it goes on stating, ” For the yoke that was weighing on him, the bar across his shoulders, the rod of his oppressor, these you break as on the day of Midian.”
It tells us to be the light of the world which is in the form of joy. Joy is the main ingredient to bring life to the world. The bible passage focused on walking in darkness which is manifested in our sinful ways and temptations that affect our choices. No doubt it is hard to always do good but if we turn to Jesus, he is our light that guides us like the star that guided the wise men to the manger. This is to prevent our faith from drying up by praying and through repentance.
The yolk of their burdens in the bible passage is the heavy burdens on our mind and in our hearts that weigh us down. This is the reason why we have the privilege of the confessional at church and the penitential service to speak with God, asking for his mercy, guidance and strength, and to surrender our sins and be released from the binds of oppression.
In the movie, the Lion King, the lion cub is raised to the sky in all glory and reverence, and this reminds us of Jesus who is Emmanuel which means “God is with us”; hence the hymn O Come, O Come Emmanuel. God is with us through the ups and downs in our lives and his birth brings us new life that we are made whole again through the sacrament of reconciliation. Also the nativity scene depicts the birth of Jesus; the crib of love symbolizes the commitment to each other to fight against sin and always love each other, just like Jesus did.
It is also important that we learn to receive God by being still and praying; we had morning Eucharistic adoration and silent prayer. Prayer is to communicate with God and to help us evaluate the choices that we make in life and to also know whether we are on the right path. To me Jesus is like my own compass where he always points me in the right direction.
Next we did a short activity “My Journey so far” which was to look at the different areas of life, our experiences where God was present and periods where we were in darkness, experiencing spiritual dryness in our lives. It helped me to evaluate my life, to acknowledge God’s presence in moments of clarity, times where darkness prevailed and also events that made me see things from a different perspective.
The first session made me refocused in being open with myself and God, to not hide behind masks and sins that I had barricaded myself within. It taught me how I needed to be open with God through prayer which will lift the spiritual dryness in my life.
The second session of the first day was called, “Turning to the Source of Light” which focused on the central theme of Turning Away From Sin. Just like Moses who led the people of Israel out of slavery by the Egyptians and inscribed the 10 commandments, we are called to turn to God in mind, body and soul to keep the faith burning and strong in our hearts. The 10 commandments are also placed into the tabernacle in the Arc of the Covenant which symbolizes the bond between God and the Hebrew tribe following Moses.
Often, we are moving so fast in life that we forget to take a step backward and evaluate where we are in life; it means to take stock and re-connect with Jesus. Despite our sinful ways, as shown in the book of Genesis with Adam and Eve, we are called to embrace life and to manage tensions in our life through prayer and reflection.
Our intentions are good that we dutifully attend church service on weekends of wanting to look ‘good’ for God but it stops here which should not be happening. We should not leave Jesus at the tabernacle on Sundays but journey with him all the days of our lives. The bible reading was taken from the book of John 21:1-19 which depicts Peter encountering Jesus on the shore of Tiberias and the notion of love. “Peter was upset that Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” and said, “Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”
It is in times of crisis that Jesus makes us grow, and we naturally reach out to him during times of need and trials. Jesus is at the T-junctions in our lives, helping us to point us towards the light. This para-liturgy is presented to us like Peter who became the cornerstone of the church where we are called to unmask ourselves and to let Jesus heal our pain and sorrows.
Like Peter, the choice is ours to make in this season of advent to start a joyous relationship with God and to find Jesus to light up all corners of our heart; so that all our darkness (anger, hate and frustrations) will be dispelled eventually and we will be renewed in mind and spirit. Praise God!
Written By: Darren Chan Keng Leong