Every Season of Lent, many Catholics (me included!) would have some resolutions we tried to practice with prayer and sacrifices. We would give up meat (or our favourite foods), have personal Lent prayer time set aside, do charitable deeds during this holy season and many other Christian acts of love.
20 years ago, after my 1st Divine retreat, I was a vegetarian the entire Lenten period for many years. The first few years, it was very difficult. I know I had withdrawal symptoms the first two weeks for the first few years as I would get headaches and be grouchy before I adjusted to the fully vegetarian diet. However, I realized that it was no longer difficult for me to do that so it no longer seemed like a sacrifice of love during the holy Lenten season. Ten years ago, I was inspired to focus on one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) during each Lenten season. What I found was that usually on Ash Wednesday itself, often I was tested to the limit! However, my goal was that what I tried to practice in Lent would then become part of my daily life. Since then, I try to choose a paragraph from the Bible every Lenten season to help me change my life. Well, I will always be a work-in-progress for Jesus.
What I have learnt in these 20 years during the season of Lent?
In fact, 10 years ago, my Lenten resolutions were actually my new "life resolutions" to try my very best to be "Christ" to others. How would I rate myself in achieving these "life resolutions"? To be honest, I am only human and I do not have a perfect score. But each year, I found it became easier for me. God's Grace is a joy to experience so we must not give up. What matters is to keep trying. The most important lesson I learnt during the Lenten season is that in living God's mission, an integral part of my daily life must be to have personal and spiritual discipline, perseverance, worldly detachment and to be open and allow God's Grace to flow through me at all times.
The Holy Season of Lent is a one of the times (besides my personal retreats and year-end) when I try to focus on deep soul-searching at the barriers in my heart and mind. How am I living with love for Jesus who suffered such agonizing torture and died the most painful Crucifixion and Death on the Cross just to save me - to save each one of us? It will take a heart of stone if you and I continue to choose worldly goals in this temporary world than to accept wholeheartedly Jesus' Incredible Love. There is no option - you and I must strive to share God's Eternal Glory in Heaven.
Learning to detach ourselves from self-ego is never easy. In prayerful meditation and contemplation, our heart can experience the immensity and unconditional Love of Jesus. I have personally found it truly helps me to become detached from many worldly needs that used to mean so much to me before. That is the greatest gift each of us will receive. If you and I reach out to Jesus, our Lord is right there in front of us to embrace each of us with love and to guide and lead every one of us into His Kingdom. The Kingdom of God is not just in Heaven after we die. No! it is right here on earth for for the Word of God tells us, "for the Kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." (Romans 14:17) Our heart and mind must be attuned to live every moment of our life in righteousness, peace and joy. How can we do this? We need to see each other and all of Creation with the Eyes of God.
The Good Friday service here in Divine Retreat Centre moves me to tears every year - just as it did to me on my second Divine retreat when I was here with family and friends for our first Divine Passover Retreat in 1999 - I wept throughout the service as the Stations of the Cross became a deeply personal God-experience. Everything and everyone seemed sort of blurred except me and a bleeding Jesus with the Cross. I felt great personal pain and grief to know Jesus had to die such a cruel painful death so that I could live for ever. That first Good Friday experience in Divine has left an inedible mark upon my heart which I will never forget.
When I made my 2009 Holy Land pilgrimage, the memory of my first Divine Passover retreat and the Holy Bible became so alive and real! In fact the Bible was my travel guide. Jesus was really here on earth as a human being like you and me. What an incredible reality! My life and and my love for Jesus ever since my Holy Land pilgrimage cannot be described in words. It was deeply personal and as yet it is difficult for me to share fully my Holy Land pilgrimage experience in words. Every Holy Week in Divine is a very sacred experience for me - where I feel like I am transported back in time to personally experience Jesus' triumphant last journey on Palm Sunday; through the Agony of Jesus and the anxiety and fear of the Apostles on Maundy Thursday; the unbearable pain and suffering of Jesus and Mother Mary and our Mother's heart-breaking grief of Jesus' Death on the Cross on Good Friday; and finally to the unbounded joy of Jesus' Resurrection during the Easter Vigil.
There is no other place I want to experience Holy Week than in Divine Retreat Centre for the annual Passover Retreat. One of the blessings of serving in a retreat centre is the prayerful and deeply anointed atmosphere during important liturgical celebrations. The Divine Annual Passion Play reinforces why Holy Week is the holiest and most important Church celebration in the Catholic liturgical calendar.
The touching YouTube music video at the top of the post is "WE ARE ALL GOD's CHILDREN" by Jamie Rivera. It was the official theme song for the 2015 Apostolic Visit of Pope Francis to the Philippines.
If every one us, Catholics, strive to make the places we live on this earth part of the Kingdom of God, we can change the world. As Mahatma Gandhi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world."
Let's begin today!