After focusing on Prayer last year, the Church of Divine Mercy (CDM), Penang turned its direction towards the Word of God. A one-day Scripture Centered Retreat was organized on the 3rd March at CDM. Fr Martin Arlando, the parish priest, sourced a former fellow coursemate of the seminary studies, Sr Sandra Seow to come all the way from Singapore to facilitate this retreat. Sr Sandra, is a nun from the order of Verbum Dei Missionaries (Word of God Missionaries). She brought along Sr Maria Jose Egido, who was responsible for establishing this religious order in Singapore in 1997. It was such a blessing for CDM to have these two persons share their faith vocation to an audience of 132 parishioners.
The retreat entitled “Jesus, the Living Word, Speaks” began with Sr Sandra explaining that this retreat was aimed at enabling us to have God speak to us in our lives in all situations. To know God in our our hearts and have an encounter with Jesus through His word. She then went into the four steps of Lectio Divina (Divine Reading) of first Reading a scripture passage repetitively as a means of being attentive to God in order to listen to Him. Secondly, to Meditate on the passage, to hear God speak to us through our fears, doubts, emotions and anxieties. In step 3, we Pray in a familiar and personal manner as a means by which we talk to God. We are encouraged to write down our reflections in order to stay in focus. In the next step, we Contemplate. This is where we find peace and rest in the God’s Word. Sr Sandra, however, introduced a fifth step, namely, Action. This is to have faith to put prayer into action and so to live our faith. She explained that this was ancient method used by monks as a means to an end, to listen to God using the Word of God to find the hidden personal message to each of us. It gives us a means to dialogue with God. Our success in this dialogue will depend on how open we are to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
In the next session entitled “The Living Word, the Core of our Faith”, Sr Sandra explained that the Church teaches us that Jesus is present in the Word. The Liturgy of the Word at Mass is not just stories, science, or historical facts but a book of Faith for us to know Jesus more and cultivate a personal relationship with Him. Pope Benedict has said this in his book Holiness is always in Season when he said to read the scriptures not only as a word of the past but as it addresses today, that is, to understand what the Lord wants to tell us today. So the key element for us is to listen to what is God’s personal message to us. This is also emphasized by Pope Francis when he explained that the first duty of a Catholic is to listen to the Word of God. In this world of many external and internal distractions, a sincere and genuine listening is not easy. It requires a heart that is committed to understanding God’s message. Sr Sandra then went on the explain the parable of the Sower in Luke 8. She linked the different types of soils to the distractions in one’s life towards listening to God’s Word. In conclusion, she reminded us of the words of St James 1:22-24 “But you must do what the Word tells you and do not just listen to it and deceive yourselves. Anyone who listens to the Word and takes no action is like someone who looks at his own features in a mirror and, once he has seen what he looks like, goes off and immediately forgets it”. We cannot look into a mirror and just go away not doing anything to fix the way we look.
In the lively session by Sr Maria Jose on “Transforming Encounter with Jesus the Living Word”, she said that Jesus is the dictionary in which you can find everything. St Ambrose had said that the sacred scripture has been given to us so that God and man can speak to one another. St Jerome, in turn, said that ignorance of the scriptures is ignorance of God. The Word has the face and voice of Jesus. She emphasized that we need to encounter Jesus in a personal way and relate to Him. God takes the initiative to knock on our door repetitively but we don’t hear. She showed an allegorical painting by William Holman Hunt entitled The Light of the World representing the figure of Jesus preparing to knock on a weed overgrown and long unopened door. The artist painted this to illustrate Revelations 3:20 “Look, I am standing at the door, knocking. If one of you hears me calling and opens the door, I will come in to share a meal at that person’s side”. The door can only be opened from the inside as it has no handle. We are given the freedom of choice to open the door and let Jesus come in and share a meal with us. She remarked that when she was a young girl in Spain, a meal did not just mean eating. It was a time to share friendship. To have Jesus listen to us and to share with us His concerns and way of life.
She went on to explain the encounter of Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector with Jesus in Luke 9. Even though Zacchaeus was known to be a public sinner, Jesus looked up to him not down. Zacchaeus, in turn, was determined to meet with Jesus and didn’t give up even though as a man of small stature and pressed away by the crowd, he climbed a tree. We need to be determined to encounter Jesus, and Jesus will call us by name, as He did Zacchaeus. Jesus does not judge us and gives us dignity by accepting us even though we don’t see the things we do wrong. He does not impose anything on us. The onus is on us to open the door to Him. What will our answer be? Sr Marie Jose captured the audience with her presentation that was peppered with many colloquial exclamations in various local dialects. This brought much laughter and amazement of her understanding of local culture and expressions.
In the last session of the retreat entitled The Journey of Prayer by Means of the Word of God, Sr Sandra invited the audience to draw a symbol of prayer in a handout. It was interesting to note that some symbols included a well that was visited only when help was needed, others drew a light, a compass, a signpost and two hearts joined together (God and me). She explained that Prayer is a lifelong Journey which is a communion with God resulting in a transforming union of growing towards others. She also referred to the CCC on three methods of prayer. She also explained some of the obstacles we could face along the journey and some ways to overcome them. The audience was also invited to share in groups the ways to continue on after this retreat and the meaning of the retreat to them. She also shared other methods of prayer like the Ignatian Contemplation of Imaginative Prayer by St Ignatius of Loyola that employed the use of creative imagination.
The overwhelming opinion of the audience was that the retreat had changed their perspective on the notion that the Word of God was boring and taxing to assimilate into our spiritual life. The explanation and use of Lectio Divina was clearly shown as an important means to reflect on the Word of God and to encounter Him. Each person was also given a souvenir of a bookmark of the painting of The Light of the World, each inscribed with a different scripture verse.
8th March, 2018.