Audrey Ho

“I can’t see myself spending a long weekend at a retreat, no matter how good people say it is…I just don’t feel drawn to it!” That was my response to a friend’s invitation to participate in CER-20.

Two days later, a Saturday, when I woke with the song So You Would Come ringing in my head, I wondered, just for a moment, if that had anything to do with the retreat. As the morning wore on, I felt I owed it to my friend, who had already booked me in, to take a look at the website. But first I had to log on to Facebook… and there before me were another friend’s posts: Day 1… Day 2… Day 3… updates of his uplifting experiences at – I caught my breath – CER-19 that weekend!

While I could find logical reasons for waking to that song in my head, I could not dismiss as coincidence a secular social networking site bringing right to my face something I was trying to avoid. I felt compelled to read the testimonies of past participants. Over the next couple of hours, I found that almost all of them shared something which struck a chord with me. I felt that God was inviting me to attend the retreat.

I’m a cradle Catholic and serve in my parish’s choir and RCIA ministries. If such service and Mass attendance were the only measure of how ‘alive’ a Catholic is, I’d probably have been graded A. The problem was I had, over the years, felt increasingly distant from God. I struggled to live out my faith, which seemed to reside more in my head than in my heart. Occasionally I would be ‘high’ on a ‘God experience’; but soon I’d be back to the same old me. Outside Church, my priorities often lay elsewhere, prayer was ‘dry’, and my failure to love others wasn’t uncommon. I had almost convinced myself that “It’s just the way I am…I don’t think I can change”.

While I had boundless physical energy to carry out tasks in the ministries, I was in effect just drifting along, increasingly running on empty spiritually. I had excelled at being ‘Martha’, involving myself in things – mostly tangible – that needed to be done, ticking off my to-do list with a sense of accomplishment. But I had neglected to be ‘Mary’, to listen to and be guided by the Lord. And as I focused my efforts on doing, I’d gradually stopped just being. In short, I wasn’t living the fullness of life which God had intended for me.

I attended the retreat with an inner desire for ‘conversion’. Fr William’s talks on God’s love, repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, healing and empowerment struck my heart – those were exactly what I needed to fill my empty cup. His engaging talks paved the way for me to receive what I felt were the messages and takeaways for me during the paraliturgy, reconciliation and praying-over sessions.

The Stations of the Cross and Carrying of the Cross brought to life all the physical and emotional pains that Jesus endured during His passion. I saw clearly how my pride, selfishness and impatience had stifled my relationships, preventing them from developing to their fullest potential; how my heart had turned cold and insensitive to the needs of others; and how much I had neglected God. I realised how much He longed to enter my heart, if only I would open the door…

I felt the guilt of all my sins, the hurt I’d caused others, and the happiness I’d deprived yet others of. I did a comprehensive examination of conscience. I prayed for humility. And then I made the best confession of my life. God’s immense love and mercy for me, an unworthy individual, were evident. Later, as I watched the fire consume my list of sins, I felt comfort, release and joy, as I promised myself not to return to my old life.

During the praying-over sessions for healing and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, I was awed by the overwhelming presence of the Spirit. I willed myself to ‘let go’ and surrender to the workings of the Spirit. I wanted so much to have a personal encounter with the Spirit and to receive whatever healing and gifts I needed to live a ‘new’ life. While being prayed over, I was overcome with emotion and was touched by the Spirit as I rested in Him. Later, seeing the Blessed Sacrament on the altar, with the crucifix in the background, I had the full realisation that the Spirit is indeed the bond of immense love between the Father and the Son, and I was reduced to tears. I thank God for this privilege of experiencing this great love…of being held in its embrace.

The four-day CER was a precious ‘mountain-top’ experience which I wouldn’t want to leave if I had a choice. But life has to be led in the plains, the valleys. The challenge, as Fr William said, is to live out our conversion experience when we get back to the grind of daily living.

Now, a week after the retreat, my life isn’t radically transformed and my weaknesses haven’t vanished. But some things have changed. I am more inclined to give others the benefit of the doubt, and to remain positive and grateful when things don’t go my way. I make an effort not to fall into my old ways, where God and others took a back-seat while I relied on my own strength to get through life. I give more priority to prayer and reflection, and challenge myself to be that little bit more patient, understanding and giving.

I’m reconnecting with God in everyday situations and people, and learning to really ‘let go and let the Spirit lead’. It’s not easy. But I know that if I continue to faithfully and joyfully walk the path of righteousness and cling on to God when I stumble, I am on the way to living the full life He intends for me.

Step by step, my Lord and I.

Audrey Ho