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Was there a Better Way?

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Whenever, we have a task or project to carry out don’t we always look for the most capable person to lead us? And if the task were supposed to follow a set pattern, don’t we like to stick to time-tested methods that worked all the time?

But sometimes events happen so quickly that it takes our breath away. When things do not go as we planned, tempers flare up, moods become dampened, and we so quickly become irritated – especially if it was caused by last minute permission changes, which could so easily be overruled if only the person in authority would take a softer stand.

Yes, it happened to me recently.

My fellow facilitators and I had been conducting a 32-week “Becoming Disciples through Bible Study” program for the past year and now we had organized a year-end retreat as a climax of the study for the participants. It was so very important that we do it right. The retreat schedule was very carefully planned.

The culmination of the retreat will end with a mass, where the priest will give his blessing for those who wanted to become facilitators for the next year and so send forth to do the work.

However, this time, it was different from the previous years. In our first year, we had the retreat at Stella Maris, an old 3-storey building where tables, chairs, sound system, and many other essential items for holding the retreat were not in place. I could remember how the older participants would have to struggle up the staircase while the facilitators had to carry tables and chairs up and down the stairs. Setting up the sound system and OHP was also a struggle for the facilitators.

In the subsequent years, we had it in one of the beach hotels. It was excellent for the first time, but the cost went up the following year and it was not so affordable for many of the participants. However, everything went according to plan and the hotel staffs were able to accommodate any urgent requests that cropped up.

But the other hotel patrons and the general public were doing their own thing, organizing their own functions and making noises in and around the hotel area!

This year, somebody suggested to use a new building that was build on one of the church ground. This church is very well-known, large and grand. The church ground is spacious, contains lush greenery, hill slopes, and is so beautiful. For many of us, it was an ideal place for retreats. And it was relatively cheap.

All the facilities for the retreat were there – single-storey comfortable rooms, spacious function room, sound systems, short distances from our homes, plenty of open spaces for reflection and Taize, and low cost – it seem a perfect place.

But we found out that there were some difficulties too. Some of the older participants wanted to attend mass during the retreat. This would never have happen if the retreat were held away from church grounds. Anyway, this was not a big problem.

Our greatest blow came when we were told by the parish priest that we could not have a separate mass at the end of the retreat and that mass must be held together with the parish congregation. The reason – the chapel that we had intended to hold the mass was not blessed yet.

Immediately, there was uproar from amongst our facilitators, knowing that masses had been conducted before at homes of people that has not been blessed. Most of us could not see the validity of the reason given.

What did we do?

There were grumblings from the people, especially the older generation. They became agitated, lost their mood, and became discouraged. However, some of our more sober members came back to their senses and very quickly came out with an alternate plan.

The program for the retreat was very specific. The mass was the time for the disciples to be sent forth, to make disciples of all nations. It was planned to be the last event. We were now required to attend the mass before we could finish the other parts of the retreat. Obviously, this would upset the whole plan.

All the facilitators voiced out their concerns during our meeting that dragged on until the wee hours of the morning. Finally we came out with an idea for a community meal where we can still be sent forth by the attending priest. Some parts of the program were rescheduled.

The mass started at 8:00 a.m. All the participants for the retreat occupied the North wing of the church.

What happened during the mass made me completely speechless!

All the hymns and their messages, from the beginning to the end of the mass, were totally in line with what we had wanted the participants to experience.

The 1st reading was Is 49:3, 5-6. It talks about being Light to the Nations and being appointed to be a servant to bring back His people. “Because of you, people will praise me.”

The psalms, Ps 40:2, 4, 7-10, talks about He making me secure when I trust in the Lord, and willingness to do God’s will; “Here I am, and how I love to do Your will” and not keeping the news of Salvation to myself but sharing with others.

The 2nd reading, Cor 1:1-3, talks about being called to be God’s holy people.

And finally, the Gospel was Jn 1:29-34, that talks about the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist.

In the homily, the priest stated very clearly that the readings were about discipleship. He explained that St. John the Baptist, being such a well-known person would humble himself and was able to accept being placed in a lower position when Jesus Christ came.

What an announcement! Here we were trying so hard to bring the message to the participants and now the whole church was reinforcing the message we wanted to proclaim. All the songs were sung to reinforce the message and it was sung by the whole church congregation, and choir complete with music, visuals and all!

Each time the priest mentioned about discipleship, we sitting at the pews would nod our heads and smile to each other. Tears came upon some of us, realizing how God’s ways are so different from our ways, and that He will provide more and accomplish more than what we can do by our own efforts.

On reflecting on the whole sequence of events that took place, it dawn upon me that one of the things mentioned in the priest’s homily was obedience – it was one of the marks of discipleship. Was he trying to test our spirit? If he did, I think we had passed the test by submitting to his authority and not opposing him.

When the mass was over, we came out of it in awe. God has provided more than what we had hoped for.

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