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Monday, March 4, 2024

Forty days of solitude

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“I am also experiencing constant and persistent pain but I offer that to the Lord and unify my suffering with his”

During Lent, I decided to the best that I could to experience forty days and nights of solitude. I disengaged totally from social media and limited to a minimum personal and work meetings.

I spent the last days of the season, including Holy Week, at the Sacred Heart Retreat Center in the Sacred Heart Novitiate of the Society of Jesus in Novaliches, Quezon City.

SHN, a spiritual and environmental oasis in the metropolis (LRT 7 passes through it and it is sandwiched by Novaliches and the new city of San Jose Del Monte), has always been a special place for me.

I have done many retreats here, including eight-day retreats in 1980 and 1982, a 30-day retreat in 2015, and a six-day retreat in 2017.

It’s the place I return to to be grounded in the First Principle and Foundation from the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola:

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“God created human beings to praise, reverence, and serve God, and by doing this, to save his or her soul.) ((#23 of The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola)

“God created all other things on the face of the earth to help fulfill this purpose.

“From this it follows that we are to use the things of this world only to the extent that they help us to this end, and we ought to rid ourselves of the things of this world to the extent that they get in the way of this end.

“For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things as much as we are able, so we do not necessarily want health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, a long rather than a short life, and so in all the rest, so we ultimately desire and choose only what is most conducive for us to the end for which God created us.”

In this latest retreat, where the elephant in the room was my one year battle of cancer, the choice of a long versus a short life and health versus sickness is no longer theoretical.

In the retreat, I was surprised by two discoveries my spiritual director guided me to see: (1) that my actions in the past, mission-oriented as I have been, were also motivated by a need for approval and affection;

(2) that I failed to experience the full extent of God’s love for me because I was always in a hurry to pay it forward, to share and proclaim that love to each other even when I have not relished it enough.

These two tendencies were described by my spiritual director as subtle because I thought I was doing good things but they hindered my relationship with God.

My cancer and near death experience has clearly been a gift. I would not have seen through my blindness if not for my sickness.

And so during the Paschal Triduum, I focused on experiencing Jesus washing my feet and on his suffering and dying for me. I participated in the liturgies with other retreatants and it was good.

Because of the forty days of solitude capped with eight days of silence and prayer, I am now able to accept God’s love freely and experience the sweetness of the love of Jesus.

I have no illusions about my stage 4 prostate cancer.

I now live in three-month cycles, ready any time to shift course and abandon my current activities and commitments.

In fact, I am in the process of radically simplifying my life—among others reducing my teaching commitments and withdrawing from many political activities.

I still have two remaining climate justice projects—globally and in Mindanao —but I am mentoring colleagues who will eventually take over what is essential work for our planet and people.

I am also experiencing constant and persistent pain but I offer that to the Lord and unify my suffering with his.

I gladly, to use the words of our catechists in the Neocatechumenal Way, embrace my cross because it enables me to love more.

This brings me to the resurrection of Jesus Christ which Christians all over the world celebrated last Sunday.

This event, the most important liturgical celebration for Christians, is a testament to the immense power of God; that He has power even over death.

God raised Jesus from the dead, and therefore to believe in the resurrection of Christ is to believe in God.

The resurrection validates who Jesus claimed to be as the Son of God and the Messiah as was foretold by the ancient prophets.

Jesus is either everything or he is nothing; a charlatan or the real deal.

But by his resurrection, he has proven His unique status as the Son of God.

If Jesus really rose from the dead then everything he claimed about himself and all of his teachings must be true.

With Jesus’ resurrection, we can believe in His promise to give His Holy Spirit to believers; that His resurrection gives faithful Christians a living hope of eternal life.

Christ has risen! Indeed, our Lord has risen!

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