Tag Archives: retreat

31 May, Friday – His Lowly Servants

May 31 Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

This day is called the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary because on it Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth, whom, as the angel had told her, God had blessed with a son in her old age.

Patron Saint Index

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Romans 12:9-16

Do not let your love be a pretence, but sincerely prefer good to evil. Love each other as much as brothers should, and have a profound respect for each other. Work for the Lord with untiring effort and with great earnestness of spirit. If you have hope, this will make you cheerful. Do not give up if trials come; and keep on praying. If any of the saints are in need you must share with them; and you should make hospitality your special care.

Bless those who persecute you: never curse them, bless them. Rejoice with those who rejoice and be sad with those in sorrow. Treat everyone with equal kindness; never be condescending but make real friends with the poor.

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Luke 1:39-56

Mary set out and went as quickly as she could to a town in the hill country of Judah. She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. Now as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She gave a loud cry and said, ‘Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord? For the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy. Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.’
And Mary said:

‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord
and my spirit exults in God my saviour;
because he has looked upon his lowly handmaid.
Yes, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed,
for the Almighty has done great things for me.
Holy is his name,
and his mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear him.
He has shown the power of his arm,
he has routed the proud of heart.
He has pulled down princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly.
The hungry he has filled with good things, the rich sent empty away.
He has come to the help of Israel his servant, mindful of his mercy
– according to the promise he made to our ancestors –
of his mercy to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months and then went back home.

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My spirit exults in God my saviour; because he has looked upon his lowly handmaid

I recently attended a retreat over the long weekend. It was unlike the few other retreats I had attended before – we were told to come spiritually prepared for it, by praying daily and going for the Sacrament of Reconciliation before the retreat. At the past few retreats I had attended, confession was usually one of the key components, so this was something new for me. Many of the retreatants also seemed to be very spiritual and prayerful, so I was also somewhat intimidated.

We were encouraged to surrender our phones after lunch on the first day, something I really struggled with. But as it was also a semi-silent retreat, it made sense to try and disconnect with the outside world for those three days. In the end, I was glad that I could do that and grew to appreciate the silence. It also seemed to me that the act of surrendering my phone was akin to surrendering myself to God and his plans, especially considering how the phone is practically a ‘second skin’.

I came to this retreat with expectant faith, but it was not quite the experience I had anticipated. I felt a lot of emptiness and seemed like I was in a state of desolation. I was envious of those who had shared their extraordinary God experiences of having life-visions and hearing God speak to them so clearly; during adoration and the praying over in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, I felt so unworthy and distant, and honestly almost felt like God had passed me over because I did not receive any extraordinary spiritual high. The silence was truly golden, as I was unable to share this negativity with others and allow it to magnify and fester.

God never forsakes us; He knows what we need even if it does not feel like it. It was only toward the end of the retreat that my spirits were lifted. During the final testimonies, I no longer felt envious as I did previously, but instead was very edified listening to the testimonies. I was also suddenly triggered by some of the testimonies and remembered hurts that I had been suppressing, which was a sign to me that I needed to address them at a later stage when I was ready. The one that touched me the most, was hearing how she did not receive any visions or tangible gifts, but recognised that God spoke to her through other means. And it hit me that this was just like me, but while I had so much bitterness, this person had so much joy.

I reflected back and sifted through my journal, and realised then that God had indeed been speaking to me all this while, just that I had been too stubborn and close-minded to notice. God was speaking to me through all the scripture verses I picked, quotes from saints that was placed around the retreat centre, the talks, and of course through people. I had almost wanted to go up to testify then about the power of testimonies and how God is always there even when you don’t think he is, but I chickened out. However, it was still quite a huge turnaround from feeling rather down during most of the retreat to wanting to go up and proclaim God’s grace.

It was a reminder for me that we need to be open and patient, and that our God is a creative and powerful God! He comes to us when we least expect it, and he allows all types of experiences because he truly knows each person’s unique needs. God is always inviting us, his lowly and unworthy servants, to grow into deeper prayer and build a deeper relationship with Him.

(Today’s Oxygen by Kristel Wang)

Prayer: Dear Jesus, help us to grow in faith. Teach us to pray deeply so that we can be in stronger communion with you. Guide us to walk in your ways with all our heart.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Heavenly Father, for your constant grace and mercy even when we do not deserve it. May we always be grateful and recognise you in both trials and joys. Amen.

9 October, Sunday – I am with you, always

9 October

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2 Kings 5:14-17

Naaman the leper went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, as Elisha had told him to do. And his flesh became clean once more like the flesh of a little child.

Returning to Elisha with his whole escort, he went in and stood before him. ‘Now I know’ he said ‘that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel. Now, please, accept a present from your servant.’ But Elisha replied, ‘As the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will accept nothing.’ Naaman pressed him to accept, but he refused. Then Naaman said, ‘Since your answer is “No,” allow your servant to be given as much earth as two mules may carry, because your servant will no longer offer holocaust or sacrifice to any god except the Lord.’

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2 Timothy 2:8-13

Remember the Good News that I carry, ‘Jesus Christ risen from the dead, sprung from the race of David’; it is on account of this that I have my own hardships to bear, even to being chained like a criminal – but they cannot chain up God’s news. So I bear it all for the sake of those who are chosen, so that in the end they may have the salvation that is in Christ Jesus and the eternal glory that comes with it.

Here is a saying that you can rely on:

If we have died with him, then we shall live with him.
If we hold firm, then we shall reign with him.
If we disown him, then he will disown us.
We may be unfaithful, but he is always faithful,
for he cannot disown his own self.

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Luke 17:11-19

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus travelled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered one of the villages, ten lepers came to meet him. They stood some way off and called to him, ‘Jesus! Master! Take pity on us.’ When he saw them he said, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ Now as they were going away they were cleansed. Finding himself cured, one of them turned back praising God at the top of his voice and threw himself at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. The man was a Samaritan. This made Jesus say, ‘Were not all ten made clean? The other nine, where are they? It seems that no one has come back to give praise to God, except this foreigner.’ And he said to the man, ‘Stand up and go on your way. Your faith has saved you.’

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We may be unfaithful, but he is always faithful

The readings today point to the need for faithfulness and gratitude. Both Naaman the leper and the Samaritan were considered outcasts and marginalised by society. Though both were unbelievers at the beginning of the story, they equally received the healing that they needed so badly. Out of humility and gratefulness, they turned their faces towards God and gave thanks. For Naaman, even though Elisha turned down his offering, he insisted that his heart was no longer set on making offerings to lesser gods but only the Lord; while the Samaritan ran to embrace Jesus’ feet and gave thanks to God. This turnabout of heart seems to be a recurrent exercise in my faith life.

During the past two months, I experienced a great tension in my life. There was a conflict of attending to various life projects, of feeling torn in different directions and geographical locations. I could not settle. This anxiety crawled on my skin and irritated me to the point of constant restlessness. I had spent a short few weeks in Boston setting up a home for my coming marriage. Then I had to fly back to Singapore, and in less than a week, off again to Brisbane for a week of work. Meanwhile, I knew that I was sorely in need of a quiet retreat with the Lord to tend to my drying spiritual garden. With various needs of my life calling out like a siren, I grew dissatisfied no matter where I was. It seemed I was always neglecting something else.

On the plane to Brisbane, I was sad, wishing that I had not planned for the trip. At the same time, a little voice nudged at me to trust that maybe God had a plan in all this. Maybe, just maybe, this trip could be the ‘retreat’ I needed to recover from my anxiety attacks…

It took me a couple of days to settle into the rhythm of (yet another) new timezone, culture, environment. As the waves of restlessness slowly ebbed away from my skin over the first few days, I learnt not to put boxes over various aspects of my life. God does not belong in a box; and neither do I. Even the kind of ‘quiet place’ that God can lead me away to, may take on different forms. It did not need to resemble a retreat house or a secluded space – even the midst of a bustling city centre can be a place of repose. Can I be open to behold this? Ah, the scales over my eyes were still being lovingly pried away…

To my delight, I found that my hotel was smack on the same street as the St Stephen Cathedral (Brisbane’s Archdiocese seat), and I was able to attend daily Mass and receive our Lord in both bread and wine! In between work commitments, I had the chance to meander along the riverfront, form new friendships in my travelmates, and appreciate the private quietude of exploring a new city on foot. Yet in the midst of work and repose, I still could not help experiencing the habitual pangs of worry. Deep down, I yearned to be rid of this recent affliction. God still had a surprise in store.

My healing moment was a beautiful Sunday when I ventured out for a run in the Botanic Gardens. I stumbled on a weekend farmer’s market full of music, craft, and food. I jogged along the waterfront, explored the garden hills, sprinted across a foot bridge with spectacular views, and watched sunkissed lovers and children soaking in the nascent spring warmth. A food truck vendor gave me an extra portobello mushroom with my breakfast order. I cradled in my hands, a fresh cup of coffee.

And there it was – a tiny flutter of a heart in awe. A gasp of gratitude for this undeserved grace and blessing, encased in a moment of private reverie with Jesus. As I sat still, taking in all of this serendipitous beauty, certain of his presence and companionship, I felt these simple words – “I am with you, always.”

I was humbled to recognise the mystery and redemption in this apparent ‘displacement’ God had put me through. On hindsight, in the mere appearance of being reluctantly jostled and displaced, there was a deeper message of God’s unchanging faithfulness to me in all of life’s stations. Even if I should thrash about, He waits patiently for my heart to still, for my ears to hear, and for my eyes to gaze long enough to see Him loving me all the while.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

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Prayer: Help me Lord to believe that there are grace-filled moments in everyday life, to trust in your companionship as I go through each day.

Thanksgiving: That we may ever hold onto steadfast hope in the redemptive power of your love and plan for our good.

19 April, Tuesday – Seeking the Gift of Faith

19 April

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Acts 11:19-26

Those who had escaped during the persecution that happened because of Stephen travelled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, but they usually proclaimed the message only to Jews. Some of them, however, who came from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch where they started preaching to the Greeks, proclaiming the Good News of the Lord Jesus to them as well. The Lord helped them, and a great number believed and were converted to the Lord.

The church in Jerusalem heard about this and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. There he could see for himself that God had given grace, and this pleased him, and he urged them all to remain faithful to the Lord with heartfelt devotion; for he was a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and with faith. And a large number of people were won over to the Lord.

Barnabas then left for Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him he brought him to Antioch. As things turned out they were to live together in that church a whole year, instructing a large number of people. It was at Antioch that the disciples were first called ‘Christians.’

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John 10:22-30

It was the time when the feast of Dedication was being celebrated in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the Temple walking up and down in the Portico of Solomon. The Jews gathered round him and said, ‘How much longer are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.’ Jesus replied:’

‘I have told you, but you do not believe.
The works I do in my Father’s name are my witness;
but you do not believe,
because you are no sheep of mine.
The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice;
I know them and they follow me.
I give them eternal life;
they will never be lost
and no one will ever steal them from me.
The Father who gave them to me is greater than anyone,
and no one can steal from the Father.
The Father and I are one.’

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I am deeply intrigued by today’s gospel.

The passage today specifically mentions the “Portico of Solomon”. This “portico”, or “porch”, was located on the east side of the temple of Herod. This was the place where justice was carried out and where the king would deliver his judgements. I find it very significant that our Lord would be having this conversation there.

I have always yearned to have a stronger faith since I was a young boy. In this search, I have read the Bible, religious books, attended retreats and searched hard. I must confess that I struggled spiritually and often felt that I was praying to a void; there was many times I often wondered if God was listening to me.

I recently attended the Conversion Experience Retreat (CER) held at the Catholic Spirituality Centre and came away discovering an intimacy with God that I have never experienced before. Ironically, I wasn’t even aware of such a lack but this realisation came to me, totally without effort on my part. This is truly something that was gifted me. A true act of grace from our God.

So it is with what Jesus speaks about in today’s gospel. Despite having explained His teachings and having demonstrated His divinity through miraculous acts, the people continue to demand that Jesus reaffirm that He is the Messiah. Clearly, faith is a gift from God and that without this gift, all of us would struggle to believe.

Let us then, brothers and sisters, continue to pray fervently for this gift, and to look forward to reuniting with our Lord and God in his heavenly kingdom.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer – Dear Father. We pray that You will gift us with the gift of faith. Allow us to always desire for You and to always believe in You. Help us Lord to continue on this quest, even if there are periods of spiritual dryness.

Thanksgiving – Thank you dear God for allowing us to believe in You and for giving us a vision of what to expect when we reunite with you in Heaven. Thank you for loving us and for sending us the holy advocate in the Holy Spirit. May You be praised always!