Jesus went out into the hills to pray; and he spent the whole night in prayer to God. When day came he summoned his disciples and picked out twelve of them; he called them “apostles”: Simon, whom he called Peter, and his brother Andrew; James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.
He then came down with them and stopped at a piece of level ground where there was a large gathering of his disciples with a great crowd of people from all parts of Judaea and from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon who had come to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. People tormented by unclean spirits were also cured, and everyone in the crowd was trying to touch him because power came out of him that cured them all.
As I brought today’s gospel reading to prayer, I wondered how Jesus was able to “spend the whole night in prayer to God”. For many of us, just 15 minutes a day in prayer is already a chore. Even during retreats, our deep prayer sessions rarely last longer than an hour before we begin to feel tired.
Some of us, however, are blessed to have experienced a different kind of prayer. We read in the lives of some saints who have been given the same blessing. St. Catherine of Siena was one such person who received many ‘ecstasies’. I think they are called that because the feeling you get when in the midst of one is pure ecstasy. It is a feeling beyond any type of feeling that we normally get, and it lasts… well, we’re not really sure how long it lasts, and neither does the person in a state of ecstasy. What seems like a few passing minutes can, in fact, turn out to have lasted for hours.
Such experiences certainly are spiritual consolations, but they are not the end. It is very possible to become addicted to such experiences, because they certainly are very pleasurable. Such people are able to pray for long hours because they encounter God himself in those encounters. When you’re with God, nothing else seems to matter. But these encounters are not an end to themselves.
Whenever Jesus went up to a mountain to pray, he doesn’t stay up there forever. He would always come down to the people again, to minister to them. Even St. Catherine of Siena wanted to stay in her cell all the time so as to be close to God. But God told her that if she goes out to minister to his people, she would be able to retain the same closeness to him as she had in her cell.
Retreats are good experiences for us to encounter God, and they are necessary for us to rediscover our relationship with God, and to spend quality time with him. They are also good for making major life decisions, by allowing us to talk it over with God, one to one, face to face, heart to heart, like Jesus did before choosing his disciples.
There are many centres and avenues for Christians to spend time in prayer to God in Singapore. For those desiring a more secluded location, a retreat can be made overseas as well. If you haven’t gone for one before, or have not gone for one in many years, maybe it’s time to have a vacation with the Lord.
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- Wednesday, June 27 - The golden rule of truth
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