7 July 2017
Genesis 23:1-4, 19, 24:1-8, 62-67
The length of Sarah’s life was a hundred and twenty-seven years. She died at Kiriath-arba, or Hebron, in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went in to mourn and grieve for her.
Then leaving his dead, Abraham spoke to the sons of Heth: ‘I am a stranger and a settler among you,’ he said. ‘Let me own a burial-plot among you, so that I may take my dead wife and bury her.’
After this, Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the cave of the field of Machpelah opposite Mamre, in the country of Canaan.
By now Abraham was an old man well on in years, and the Lord had blessed him in every way. Abraham said to the eldest servant of his household, the steward of all his property, ‘Place your hand under my thigh, I would have you swear by the Lord, God of heaven and God of earth, that you will not choose a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites among whom I live. Instead, go to my own land and my own kinsfolk to choose a wife for my son Isaac.’ The servant asked him, ‘What if the woman does not want to come with me to this country? Must I take your son back to the country from which you came?’ Abraham answered, ‘On no account take my son back there. The Lord, God of heaven and God of earth, took me from my father’s home, and from the land of my kinsfolk, and he swore to me that he would give this country to my descendants. He will now send his angel ahead of you, so that you may choose a wife for my son there. And if the woman does not want to come with you, you will be free from this oath of mine. Only do not take my son back there.’
Isaac, who lived in the Negeb, had meanwhile come into the wilderness of the well of Lahai Roi. Now Isaac went walking in the fields as evening fell, and looking up saw camels approaching. And Rebekah looked up and saw Isaac. She jumped down from her camel, and asked the servant, ‘Who is that man walking through the fields to meet us?’ The servant replied, ‘That is my master’; then she took her veil and hid her face. The servant told Isaac the whole story, and Isaac led Rebekah into his tent and made her his wife; and he loved her. And so Isaac was consoled for the loss of his mother.
As Jesus was walking on he saw a man named Matthew sitting by the customs house, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.
While he was at dinner in the house it happened that a number of tax collectors and sinners came to sit at the table with Jesus and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your master eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ When he heard this he replied, ‘It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick. Go and learn the meaning of the words: What I want is mercy, not sacrifice. And indeed I did not come to call the virtuous, but sinners.’
‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’
Recently, Archbishop William conducted a Clergy Renewal Retreat for some priests from Johor and Malacca. He turned down conducting this retreat several times but Bishop Bernard convinced him. And so, for the love of his brother priests and in obedience to the Holy Spirit, the first retreat for priests was held.
I was blessed to be part of the lay team supporting this retreat, our very first outreach retreat in several years. How excited and nervous we were. In all there were 20 of us. Normally a retreat like this for the lay people, would see a 2:1 support – 2 volunteers to every retreatant. For this special retreat, as we were not on home ground, we were lean in support and had to learn to go back to basics; minus the ‘bells and whistles’. Our team had to double and triple up in several roles. In addition to our usual music ministering role, we were intercessors, catchers, lectors, sacristans … etc.
For the first couple of days, we were met with 29 stoic faces. They are shepherds and pastors themselves – a bishop, a monsignor, and some very seasoned priests. Surely a retreat like this would be nothing new to them. They were hard to read the first three days, especially during praise and worship sessions, when most of them just stood and mouthed the words, expressionless; some even looked bored. Maybe they were just reserved and shy. I think our Archbishop must have felt the pressure at some point in time. As we were not allowed to sit into the talks, we asked excitedly each day how the priests were doing and his reply was “Well, I don’t know what’s going on in their heads, but we leave it to the Holy Spirit and try our best.”
Then came the day when they were to make a deathbed confession. They could go to the 3 Singaporean priests who had come to help, or confess among themselves. Frankly, I was a bit sceptical as to whether they would go. Thinking back on my own confession experience, it must be hard to acknowledge your deepest most shameful sins to a priest, let alone your own brother priests.
In today’s gospel, Jesus said ‘It is not the healthy who needs the doctor, but the sick.’ Not that our priests are sick. But in their priestly ministry, they too meet with struggles, hurts and pain – with the laity, the demands and expectations placed on them; the daily requirements of ministry; stress and loneliness taking their toll on them — leaving them little time for themselves, for prayer and to bask in the love of Jesus. Many are burnt out and have forgotten their first love and their vocation.
After the Sacrament of Reconciliation, a transformation occurred. The unemotional, apathetic faces turned to smiles; a little more relaxed and free. We were even able to coax them into silly childish action songs and they gamely participated. No inhibitions. They were joyous and free. No longer conscious of themselves. The testimonies on the last day were nothing short of amazing – the unconditional love of God, the healing that took place and the renewal of their priestly passion. Indeed God showed his love and mercy towards his priests sons.
But not just for the priests, for we too received a lot from this retreat. It was indeed an honour to be called to journey and minister with our beloved priests. It gave me a fresh perspective – that beneath the cassock, they are just like you and I. They too need healing, encouragement, love and compassion.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)
Prayer: Jesus, in your mercy you have forgiven us for our sins. We pray that we too may show the same mercy and compassion to our fellow brothers and sisters.
Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord for the gift of priests. These men that you have raised up for the priesthood. We thank them for the sacrifice of their lives for the Church. May you continue to anoint them and nourish them with Your love.