Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Parish Lenten Retreat Recap!

As the celebrations of St. Joseph continued on Monday March 17th to Wednesday March 19th, St. Joseph Parish hosted its annual Lenten retreat which was conducted by Fr. Arnold Francis from the Bourg Mulatresse parish. The theme was based on Matthew 5:3-12, The Beatitudes. Each night of the 3-day reflection, he focused on two or three of the Beatitudes and showed how each one applies in our own lives. The retreat concluded last evening on the Feast Day of St. Joseph where Holy Mass was celebrated. For the benefit of those that may need a recap or who may have missed the retreat, here is a condensed version of the notable points which Fr. Francis shared on The Beatitudes.

Day 1
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted"

Fr. Francis started off by explaining that 'mourning' can be considered as a 'nagging emptiness that is deep inside, a deep-seated thirst that must be quenched.' He continued by stating that 'When we are apart from God, that is when we mourn'. However, those that are condemned for doing the right things also mourn but we are blessed, as Christian people, knowing that we have God who will take care of us. He then focused on how the world is right now in mourning since there are so many rights such as 'Absolute Individualism' where people are only concerned about themselves, 'Liberalism' where is truth seems to be relative and everything, including what is wrong, now seems right and that the world has given us a 'new mindset'. For example, abortion, same-sex unions, the use of Science and Technology for the development of ideas were some of the facets which Fr. Francis mentioned that causes the world now to change its way of thinking and living. And he challenged us, the faithful, that no matter what, we must stand up for what is right and just in the eyes of God. 

"Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven"

He then moved on to the second Beatitude of that night which focused on the 'poor in Spirit'. 'Poor in Spirit' means, according to Fr. Francis, 'people who recognize that they need a powerful rescuer who is Jesus'. He added that those that are 'poor' acknowledge that they cannot find fulfillment apart from God. 'Without God, human life is not worth living', he said, 'We must always believe in God and know that we must depend on him for everything, we can't depend on friends or family, we must only depend on God'. Using an analogy that the wealthy in society usually walk with their heads held high, Fr. exclaimed that 'we too must hold our heads high because God is with us', 'We should not be better than but instead be brother since we are called to live in harmony'. He quoted Pope Francis by saying, 'We don't have to be back-benchers'. As he ended his first night's reflection, he reminded us that God gives us a sense of purpose and that is to build the kingdom and that only Jesus can bring our mourning to an end. "Let us all seek to be blessed mourners and Blessed poor in spirit".

Day 2
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God"

As the retreat continued on its second night of reflection, Fr. Francis continued by commenting that those who are not pure in heart will not be able to see God because of one thing, our ego! He stated that Narcissism (loving ourselves to a point of death) is very much prevelant in our world today and this is what blockes us from seeing God. In order for us to be able to have that priviledge to see him, we must be able to love ourselves properly and listen and respond to the truth. What does it mean by 'love ourselves properly'? 'We must move from being Individualistic to Individuation which means, we must refrain from thinking of ourselves alone and consider others. He went on to discuss that there exists people who possess a controlling spirit about them and in order for this type of attitude to disappear, we must 'practice responsibility, respect and chastity and be able to love them without making demands on them'. Before he moved to the next Beatitude, he ended by saying 'We cannot be attached to what we have, we must practice humility and detachment and be ready to sacrifice for the sake of others'.

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for Righteousness"

Many of us are too ignorant to accept correction and faults from others and because of this, we seem to lack righteousness. He reminded us that we are righteous people since God himself is righteous and because it (being righteous) is now planted inside of us, we ought not to love 'on a subjective sense'. That means, If someone loves you, that person should not expect something in return for their love being shown. 

"Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth"

As he ended his reflection with this particular Beatitude, he started off by explaining that being meek means to 'be a gentle person that exercises the gift of piety and live the motivation of Jesus which is to do good without something in return'. Humans are naturally motivated for pleasure and gratification, as such, we do not see people as they really but only perceive them in only a way that I want', said Fr. Francis. He contined by stating that we must immerse ourselves in the life of Jesus by dying to what is evil and rising to what is right and actively live out the passion of Christ. He challenged the congregation to 'recognize Jesus in everybody' and to 'come to know Jesus in a passive manner', that is, if there is something or someone who you don't like, we must love them above all things and continue to act on it with with love until you become accustom with the situation. As he ended, he shared that 'Happiness comes by giving up yourself ' and that we are called to 'bring others to Christ'. 

Day 3

On his final night of reflection, Fr. Francis' sharing on The Beatitudes took the form of his homily since the parish community celebrated the Feast of St. Joseph with Holy Mass. Before proceeding, he opened with a brief recap on his reflection from the night prior then he dealt with the following outstanding Beatitudes:

"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy"

"To be merciful is similar to being meek, it requires us to be gentle and nonviolent", said Fr. Francis in his opening words. In the spirit of celebrating St. Joseph, Fr. Francis applied the outstanding Beatitudes which were reflected on this night with the life of St. Joseph by stating similarly what Archbishop Harris mentioned on Sunday; 'Joseph was a merciful and righteous man'. He continued by saying that 'we are called to be stewards of the mystery of God and that is, people who understand the Gifts of the Spirit', In so doing, we understand God even more. We must understand that each one of must be merciful to one another, that is, we must help them even if it requires some tough love since Mercy is caring for others. We should not condemn others but open their hearts up to Christ Jesus. So we must never forget that mercy is caring for someone even to a point of correcting them, why, because you want to see them excel.

"Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven"

In this particular Beatitude, it implies justice and what justice is telling us is that when we see a bad situation, we must not sit back and watch it happen but do something about it, stand up for your beliefs and values. 'We must pray for peace and in order to bring about justice, we have to get our hands dirty', he shared. He then stated that humans are quick to seek vengeance but later used an analogy of a young man running up a flight of stairs with a bucket of water, but the bucket has a hole in it so when the man reaches to the top, all the water has drained out. What Fr. was implying was that, 'Vengeance is like that bucket with the hole, it is empty'. So we should never seek out vengeance on anyone, but rather, pray for them, no matter how they may have treated you. 

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called Sons of God"

The final Beatitude ensures that peace prevails in all things that we do and that only comes about if we are merciful and righteous. We keep hearing that word, 'righteous', so clearly that word must become part of our character one way or the other. Peace only comes to us when we stand up for what is right and if that follows closely with persecution, then we must accept it with open arms. You see, we are always going to be bombarded with rules and views from others, including the Government and many of those 'rules and views' may not be according to our lifestyle and beliefs. That is why it is important to stand up and defend your faith and support each other in all things, rather, as Fr. Francis calls it, 'we must shepherd each other'.

As he signed off on his 3-night Beatitudes reflection and continued with Holy Mass, he left us with these words; "We must hear the word of God and keep it. Women must be obedient like Mary and men must be obedient like Joseph. We must work together, live out the Beatitudes and make them our spiritual geography". 

We thank God for blessing Fr. Arnold Francis with the wisdom and knowledge and we thank Him (Fr. Francis) for taking the time out of his busy schedule to come and minister to us in our parish. May God Bless him and bless us to be obedient in living out the Beatitudes. Glory to God!

--B. Durham, 2014

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