"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)


30-Day Lockdown Retreat Journey: Deep Trust and Confidence in God (DAY 1)

The Vision of St. Ignatius of Loyola (c.1491-1556)
detail of the saint by Peter Paul Rubens
Day 1 or Preparatory Day of a 30-day whole community retreat journey in light of the lockdown.

Today we begin the 30-day lockdown period in Manila, Philippines—the 3rd most populous urban area in the world with 29.7 million people next to Tokyo (38.5 M) and Jakarta (34.4 M). The lockdown consists of a nine-hour curfew, a community quarantine—the strictest in Asia—if fully implemented, and the banning of mass gatherings that mandated church leaders to suspend religious events. For the majority of the population who are Catholics this is unprecedented and many of the faithful are torn between concerns on how to avoid being infected by the virus and on fulfilling one’s religious obligation to attend masses, which is the Catholic church’s primary channel to receive spiritual nourishment.

As a Catholic priest, I would like to offer daily online reflections that individuals, families and communities could use during the 30-day lockdown period. Following the tradition of the 30-day silent retreat of St. Ignatius of Loyola, I would like to use as framework the five centuries old Spiritual Exercises to accompany us in prayer and in deepening our Christian faith.

Point Of Departure: Edward de Bono on lateral thinking

For our take off point in our journey I would like us to consider Dr. Edward de Bono—a Maltese physician, psychologist, author and proponent of what he calls “lateral thinking”. In layman’s terms, lateral thinking is simply the ability to look at things in different ways. De Bono gives this example: Grandma is knitting and the baby is disturbing Grandma by playing with the ball of wool. The father suggests putting the baby in the playpen. However, the mother suggests that it might be better to put Grandma instead of the baby in the playpen. Here is a different way of looking at things as perceived by the mother. The metaphor has a lot of similarities to the lockdown that we are now facing in order to halt further contagion. The baby is like the virus that disturbs Grandma and as a result Grandma is placed in a lockdown. You may as well perceive Grandma as the virus.

We can now look more at this lockdown not only externally but also internally. It is like a deeper place where one’s spiritual intuition is found. For us Christians, we call it the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that we received at the moment of our Baptism. External rituals cannot be relied upon during this period and the church leaders limit to the very minimum the administration of the usual rites. However, we are not being disallowed to find deeper expressions of the faith. The best thing to be reminded of is that individually we are called temples of the Holy Spirit. How deep is your understanding of this church teaching?

Men and Women of the Faith: Meister Eckhart, 14th Century priest

The German Dominican monk and mystic Meister Eckhart preached about an over emphasis on the physical or mere external expressions of the faith which has made many of the people to become infantile in their faith. Very straightforward in his criticism he said: “To seek God by ritual is to get the ritual and lose God in the process” [Sermon 5]. Here is a longer quote from one of his sermons: "Body is too strong for the spirit and so there is always a struggle between them… The body is bold and brave here, for it is at home and the world helps it. The earth is its homeland and all its kindred are on its side: food, drink, and comforts are all against the spirit. Here the spirit is alien. Its race and kin are all in heaven. It has many friends there. They assist the spirit in its distress, to weaken the flesh for its part in this struggle so that it cannot conquer the spirit; penances are put upon the flesh like a bridle to curb it, so that the spirit may control it." [Sermon 4]

The crisis is an opportunity to let the inner spirit of every Christian cry out “Abba” or “Papa” (Gal 4:4-7). This is the natural cry for help when faced with difficult situation. In the Spiritual Exercises, this too is a basic grace to ask God early on. The role of the Church is to guide the faithful towards making this spiritual cry or lamentation to God even as the future of humanity amidst the crisis is still bleak. Let us constantly cry out to God “Abba.” If we say that outside the rituals, we cannot pray to God anymore then that is very sad. Let us ask, “Lord, teach us how to pray” (Lk 11:1-13 ).

Grace To Beg For: This is to ask for what I desire… deep trust and confidence in God and a readiness to let God teach me how to pray, that I may depend on God in all things.

We cannot help but start to think "laterally" in our approaches towards life. We need to trust our inner spiritual voice deep down. The truth resides within our hearts already, and we await someone to acknowledge what we already possess. Let us imbibe an attitude of seeing things in different perspectives without being trapped in a single way of looking. Lockdown does not mean being locked out from improvising and thinking outside the box. All the more we need to use our God-given capacity to think. We are the only beings given an immense power to think of alternatives especially when we are faced against the wall. As it has always been proven, "necessity is the mother of inventions" (Plato).

Modern Saints and Heroes: What could be learned from them?

De Bono’s premise is very simple: “Good thinkers aren’t born—they’re made.” But I would like to tweak it a bit. “Great saints and heroes aren’t born—they’re made.” Among many of us, the next saint or hero is now being made in the process.

Perhaps, at this point we can draw inspiration from those who have already done leaps and bounds to save lives ever since the outbreak began. One medical doctor in Wuhan died from the infection. He spent the remaining days of his life struggling to convince people that we have a new virus. It was a costly and painful struggle on the part of Dr. Li Wenliang ("Bright and light" Chinese meaning) and his pregnant wife whom he left behind, to speak the truth but he was censored and was labeled as the enemy. In the Philippines a local research team was driven by moral duty to invent a test kit, which is much affordable compared to the imported ones. Classes have been suspended but it does not mean these could not continue anymore. A number of lateral thinking teachers continue through online means of teaching the students. There are many other inspiring stories of remarkable people who do not allow the virus to take over entirely. Let us outdo the coronavirus with a human mind and heart like our own, and transform breaking points into turning points of our lives.

Prayer Requests:
You can email request for prayers for the dead (Name—RIPusing 8thworkermercy@bloggercom—there is a DOT between 8thworker and mercy. It is restricted so that only me as blog author can read it. Others will NOT be able to read any email; instead they will get a message stating that this is private. We will offer your intentions during our regular 6:30AM Masses in our community of Jesuit priests and novices.

P.S. Feel free also to include the names of all who are sick (Name—Get well soon).

Fr. JM Manzano, SJ

Comments

  1. Thank you Fr. for inspiring us and allowing us to think and pray more during these challenging times.

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  2. It is a reality, let us be clean in all aspect, seek God's first & mindful to our environment & neighbors. God bless to all.

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  3. Thank for thi wonderful initiative....very hrlpful...God bless

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  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    Replies
    1. Joining you in lockdown prayer.... for the environment. I always consider this CoVid19 the revenge of the environment... the last call for her care which we never heed forcing her to do care on her own.

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