“Do you want to meet God? Then, pray. Desire to meet Him.”This was the challenge Fr. Bernard Paul gave to the audience of more than 120 church leaders and interested parishioners of the Cathedral of Holy Spirit and Church of Divine Mercy (CDM). He was conducting a formation in St. Faustina Hall at CDM in Penang on the 11th March, 2012.
Preparing for God in our Lives
The session began with the audience being asked about the significance of the passage from Mark 6:30-32 ( … Let us go off by ourselves where we can be alone and … rest a while) on finding oneself and preparing for God in our lives. We were told to leave the past behind, quiet down, listen and then change our attitude if we want to meet God. We would be expected to read, pray and listen to the silence. Only when we get a sense of our sins and turn to repentance and forgiveness can we be reconciled and get the sense of being called by God. It seemed amazing that so much was gained by reflecting on just these three lines of Mark’s gospel.
Sin in our lives
Fr Bernard also compared the seven churches mentioned at the beginning of the Book of Revelations (Rev 2:1 -3:22) and asked the audience to reflect on what the Holy Spirit was saying to them. He asked us what kind of church do we now have. Just as the seven churches each had their own particular sin, similarly, each of us has our own particular sins. Therefore, we each need to see what God approves or disapproves in us. In order to know what God approves in us, we need to pass a test. The test may involve one or many of the following:
a) loss of possessions e.g. Job
b) loss of health e.g. St. Paul
c) being accused by your spouse, family and friends of not being truthful to the faith
d) a changing attitude towards the value of money
e) a changing attitude towards being corrected
f) allowing heresies into the community
Fr. Bernard went on to explain the seven deadly sins and how they influence our lives. He compared them with the seven social sins put forward by Mahatma Gandhi namely,
1. Politics without principles
2. Wealth without work
3. Pleasure without conscience
4. Knowledge without character
5. Commerce without morality
6. Worship without sacrifice
7. Science and technology without humanity
Fr. reminded us that sin will always be with us until we die. In the olden days, to fight sin we needed to pluck it out, to be so sin conscious that we forgot how to live. Nowadays, we have come to realize that there are some sins we will be able to overcome, some sins can be reduced and some sins that will be with us forever. This is to remind us that we need our God. With the help of the video entitled “Carry Your Cross” Fr. explained that the reason we are made to carry the cross in our lives is that same cross that will save us. God will never try us beyond our strength. It is that cross that will make us better catholics.
The Pain of Change
We were also told that change is a constant in our lives. For many of us this change can be very painful. This pain can be faced by prayer or by the Emmaus way (Luke 24:13-35) where when Jesus had died, the church was disappointed but when Jesus walked with them on the way to Emmaus there was a burning within them again. Finally, when Jesus is revealed to them, the church arose again. We need to transform our human selves into the Divine way. To be converted by the mysteries of the cross, the resurrection and the scriptures. Secondly, to be changed by the presence of Christ who “walks with” and “works within” us. Lastly, to be ready to change our direction and return to the right path. This was what the disciples of Emmaus did; make a gradual and decisive change. We were reminded to be wary of the “play-it-safers” who are the creatures of the common place and the slaves of the ordinary. We were asked to reflect on what we are called to address in our lives, our church and our community. Will we be like the disciple that wants to run away (St. Peter) or face the pain of dying of ourselves to Christ?
The formation ended with the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and each participant coming forward to lay their hands on it and to ask God to empower, to guide and to strengthen them in their faith commitment.
Throughout the sessions Fr. Bernard related and connected with many personal experiences in his life. The audience of his parish members saw the human side of him as he struggled with the fears and doubts many of them have similarly experienced. One member of the audience commented, “I was touched by the real presence of God, of the need to re-connect with Him in our daily lives. Fr.'s sharing on facing the pain of change showed the human side of him as well as how God holds on to us even though we often times despair under such trying times.”
For many the formation showed how fortunate it was to have a priest in our midst that is so human and blessed in bringing us closer to our God with our commitment to faith. As one person so adeptly summarized the formation as "The formation was broken down into meaningful segments … brought a whole new dimension to the concept of "dying to Christ ". I left feeling renewed and regenerated. (He) touched my heart."
Dr. Ivan Filmer
22nd March, 2012