Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Spiritual Homecoming - Clergy Retreat 2009

Fr. George has just returned to the parish from his retreat, which also coincides with the end of the clergy retreat month. In an earlier posting, I had shared briefly about my retreat experience under Fr. Savio Hon SDB from Hong Kong. Below is a letter which he wrote to Archbishop Pakiam providing a summary of the 2 retreats which he had preached in Malaysia. I find his reflections on spiritual homecoming very reassuring and uplifting and have received his permission to publish it in my blog.


Today I finished preaching the second batch of retreat to the priests. I’ve had a good time in both retreat centers and found myself among very good priests.

Every day I gave two talks, the Mass homily (except a few times when the main celebrant gave the homily himself), and had private dialogues with the priests. The Leitmotif I chose was on the “longings” in priestly life.

The human person has always been longing for something. Longing stems from our very structure as a human being. In different ways we experience it. Shakespeare talked of “immortal longings”; K. Rahner spoke about the “torment of the insufficiency of everything attainable”. It makes us feel, lonely, unfulfilled, and restless. Like a fire uncontrolled, it sometimes urges one to relentless and unquenchable pursuit of pleasure and power that no strength is left to awaken the spiritual desire for God. St. Augustine gave us a key to the understanding of our longings in his Confessions, “You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you”. “Domine … quia fecisti nos ad te, et inquietum cor nostrum donec requiescat in te”.

The problem of longings is not a new problem, but has become one unique to our age in which we are surrounded unprecedented secularism. Michael Jackson danced and sang, and moved the world. He himself was carried away by drug and sex in the hope of meeting his longings. Mother Teresa cared for the poor and amazed the world. She was guided by God to follow the same longings, and found holiness in her life. When secularism pushes us away from God, we need to find a spiritual home to accommodate our longings and to turn them into energy for holiness. Yes, finding a spiritual home for our restlessness is my unifying theme.

In my talks, I invited different Saints and personages (Our Lady of Sorrows, Ignatius of Loyola, Augustine, Bernard of Clairvaux, Thomas Aquinas, John of the Cross, Matteo Ricci, Don Bosco, Vianney, Teilhard de Chardin, John Paul II) to be present and let them speak through their life and writings about their longings in the priestly life.

I also invited them to sing more Latin songs and gave them some Latin quotations from the authors. Of course, I had them explained (text and context) and they seemed to taste more the treasure of the tradition. Someone said jokingly in those six days he learnt more Latin than in those years in Theology.

In the mean time, I invented the figures of Peter (aged 50+) and John (30+). They both are priests and friends. Through their amusing incidents they throw some light on their priestly life and ministry. In three evenings I also showed them (free attendance) the DVD of Don Bosco and of Matteo Ricci.

In each talk I give them some handouts containing quotations from the Bible and the above personages. I am delighted that no one sleeps during my talk, but more consoled by the way they pray.

One day before the last day of the retreat I asked them to have a kind of “desert” time where they stayed alone in silence and solitude with God and prayed. They wrote their prayers and offered them in the Eucharist. The prayers were so well written that with their permission I have them typed and printed out for them.

In my last talk, I shared with them the Priestly Ordination Prayer (both Byzantine and Latin rites). Then we went through the our spiritual journey by quoting one short “saying” from each of the Saints and Personages. Then I asked the priests to share their prayers or reflections so as to encourage our brother priests. On both occasions, the sharing was heartwarming. Yesterday almost all spoke (since the number of retreatants is smaller). They themselves also amazed that the sharing could be so smooth and spontaneous. One was getting a bit moved and had tears welling up in the eyes. In the first retreat sharing, one said jokingly that he had tried not to write a prayer too holy but then reading the prayers of other priests he found himself among the saints. They all were edified by the prayers of their fellow priests. The Archbishop emeritus of KL, Soter Fernandez, said that it was one of the best retreats for him. Anyway, they are good people and have treated me very nicely.

As for the re-building of a “spiritual home” in our priestly life and ministry, I suggest them to resume the habit (if forgotten) of daily examination of conscience in the evening. Pastoral Planning and Spirituality Scheduling should go hand in hand.

Savio Hon

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