Tuesday, 16 December 2014

How should a Catholic retreat look like?

"Under the Blossom that Hangs on the Bough", John William Godward, 1917

Let me be honest here. I've attended quite a handful of retreats in my life so far, and I have to say that the one I'm most pleased about is that one Protestant retreat during med school. *insert gasps and angry stares here*

Yeah. You would think that since I'm a lay Dominican, my favourite would be one of our Dominican retreats. No. In fact I hate them the most.

The Dom retreats I attended in the past were all New Age-y at best and heretical at worst. Many of the speakers seemed to mistake Christian contemplation with relaxation/breathing techniques, and Christian meditation with yoga. The last chapter retreat even invited an ex-priest who lectured us on Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), which is a pseudoscience and a quasi-religion if taken to the extreme. I think this is simply embarrassing and degrading for Catholics and especially Dominicans; aren't we known for the balance of faith and reason? New Age mocks the faith and insults reason, because it is focused on the "self", while ironically dismissing the concept of the unity of body and soul, and the faculties of the soul (please, even Aristotle who was a pagan had proposed this idea).

Okay, so those retreats were bad terrible. But they did make me think: how, then, should a Catholic retreat look like?

My mind returns to That Protestant Retreat I attended. It has all the typical Protestant (Pentecostal) stuffs: fiery preachers constantly holding a Bible in one hand, altar call, random laying of the hands by laypeople, songs by Hillsong and the likes, and Bible discussion mixed with sharing sessions in small groups. In short, it was very Protestant. Anyone who went to that retreat would not be mistaken of it. [Even non-believers would at least guess that it was a Christian retreat, and this—I hate to admit it—would be pretty close to the truth.]

And that's it, that's the answer. A Catholic retreat has to be Catholic. A Catholic retreat has to be SO Catholic that anyone who attends would not mistake it as a Protestant retreat, a Buddhist retreat, a psychological counseling, a neopagan therapy session, or just as another weekend getaway with "church friends". A Catholic retreat has to ooze Catholicism, and by Catholicism I mean the Catholic faith with all her splendors (devotions, traditions, and so on).

Below are my version of the five must-have's in any Catholic retreats:
  • Catholic facility. A Catholic retreat is preferably held in a Catholic facility for maximum Catholic atmosphere. You know the stuff: a proper chapel, an Adoration room, stations of the cross, Marian grotto, etc.
  • Ample silence. The general objective of a Christian retreat is re-orienting our minds and hearts towards the Lord. I therefore think that a special attention must be paid regarding silence. Not much chatting, minimal use of the cellphones, and so on. It might be difficult for us modern, hyper-stimulated busybodies, but hey, it has to require some efforts, otherwise why join a retreat?
  • Spiritual direction. An ideal retreat should offer spiritual direction tailored for each individual. What often happens is lots of sharing sessions without any clear direction. "Free sharing" has the potential to become a spiritual pitfall—a shared experience might not be "wrong" in itself, but a person, upon hearing such an experience, might arrive to a theologically wrong or questionable conclusion. Care must be taken not to shun the shared experience itself, and to avoid making the person sharing it feel belittled; it is the wrong conclusion that must be addressed in the spirit of charity and fraternal correction.
  • Traditional devotions. Adoration, Stations of the Cross, the Rosary, the Breviary, Divine Mercy, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, you name them. TaizĂ©, while not necessarily "traditional", can also be a good option.
  • Confession and Holy Mass. What's a Catholic retreat without these two?

I've found great examples of retreat themes here and here. Most of them are directed for teens and young adults, but they can be used as ideas or prompts for our own retreats.

More themes that I could think of:

  • Bible-based retreat. I imagine heavy Bible study sessions, maybe focusing on a specific story like the infancy narrative or the Exodus
  • Sacred Liturgy
  • Servant leadership
  • Sin and conversion of heart
  • Mission and evangelisation
  • Gifts and charisms
  • Virtues
  • Vocation as a man
  • Vocation as a woman
  • Theology of the Body (TOB)-related themes (dating, sex, relationship, marriage, and the likes)
  • Sanctity in daily work/jobs (this sounds very Opus Dei, but yes I like their spirituality!)
I personally don't want my retreats to just be "feel good" activities—I can go watch a Hollywood chick flick for that. I want my retreats to be faith-filled and thought-provoking and challenging. All-day silence? Bring it on! And please, stick to the chosen theme, y'all!

Do you have any ideas about how a Catholic retreat should look like? Do you have any specific activities, themes, designs, or sessions that have worked in the past? Please share with us! :)

Friday, 5 December 2014

What if you had never been born?

Every life matters. YOU matter. Think about it.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Go Ahead! Courage!

"Running for Home", Charles Napier Hemy

"Go ahead! Courage! In the spiritual life he who does not go forward goes backward. It is the same with a boat which must always go forward. If it stands still, the wind will blow it back."

— St. Padre Pio

Have you ever wondered why it seems like, spiritually speaking, you never settle? Have you ever felt that the race goes on forever? And that you have to keep on running? Have you ever wanted to cry out to God, "I'm tired!"?

It does seem like the Lord has a propensity for rocking your boat. You know, He lets you rest for awhile but then one day He declares "Okay, time's up!" and you must leave and never look back.

Yes, it is exhausting. All these great battles that we must fight, they are draining our energy. And if you're like me, there could be one or two specific struggles that you can't get rid of. You fall into the same sin again and again, maybe with variable depths of fall but still the same sin, and it drives you mad.

But I guess the important thing is, we keep running. We keep pushing forward in the right direction and we never stand still. More temptations mean further progress. The tallest trees are hit by the strongest winds. And yes, a moving ship gets the nastiest waves.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

St. Augustine: The Four Virtues as the Four Forms of Love

"Four Rainbows over Niagara", Albert Bierstadt

Sometimes we are quick to think that the Church's many laws and theologies are irrelevant to Christ's law of love. This erroneous belief is especially visible when we try to talk about sins and virtues. Why do even bother to cultivate virtues, right? Isn't "the greatest of these is love" (1 Cor 13:13)?

While I was browsing the net for some Augustinian writings, I came across the saint's own works, one of them is titled Of the Morals of the Catholic Church. In there, he offers a fantastic comparison of the four virtues as the four forms of love!

Now it's like the gigantic mind-puzzle in my head becomes ridiculously fuller and more beautiful. Thank you, St. Augustine, for the eureka moment. Here is the quote for your Advent thought food.
As to virtue leading us to a happy life, I hold virtue to be nothing else than perfect love of God. For the fourfold division of virtue I regard as taken from four forms of love. For these four virtues (would that all felt their influence in their minds as they have their names in their mouths!), I should have no hesitation in defining them: that temperance is love giving itself entirely to that which is loved; fortitude is love readily bearing all things for the sake of the loved object; justice is love serving only the loved object, and therefore ruling rightly; prudence is love distinguishing with sagacity between what hinders it and what helps it. The object of this love is not anything, but only God, the chief good, the highest wisdom, the perfect harmony. So we may express the definition thus: that temperance is love keeping itself entire and incorrupt for God; fortitude is love bearing everything readily for the sake of God; justice is love serving God only, and therefore ruling well all else, as subject to man; prudence is love making a right distinction between what helps it towards God and what might hinder it.

St. Augustine
Of the Morals of the Catholic Church, Chapter 15

You can find the complete text here [click].