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Retreating to Become Stronger

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Over 40 catechists from both the primary and secondary levels of St Ignatius Church’s Sunday school left their daily routines and homes behind to attend their annual retreat from 28 February to 1 March 2020 at the Methodist Chefoo Centre in Cameron Highlands. Conducted by Fr Paul Cheong OFM Cap, the retreat centred on the process of renewal and growth in holiness.

While acknowledging the prayer life of the catechists, the retreat master noted that very often the laity depended mostly on forms of discursive prayer and Lectio Divina, which were prayers of the mind; where supplicants think, talk and ask God for needs. Fr Paul, however, gently pointed participants to more contemplative prayer, which he called the prayer of the heart.

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Contemplative prayer suspends ‘thought-talk’ and focuses solely on being with God, being still, and resting in His presence. To this end, he educated retreatants on breathing techniques and how to focus on breath and the use of one word to centre and still the mind, body and senses. Each session began with a period of mindful breathing and meditation, ensuring the practice of what was learnt.

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Fr Paul also conducted 30-minute sessions of Body Prayer each morning at 6.30 am, using qi qong as a basis of this breathing, movement and contemplation exercise. To complement this, he spoke of the need for self-care for catechists and outlined health strategies to deal with stress, poor dietary habits and lack of proper sleep. When welcoming the retreat participants, Fr Paul said, “I am not here to teach you to become better catechists. My role is to guide you to form strong inward habits of faith, so that you will be able to face the challenge of catechesis.” 

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To ensure the balance of the internal and external, veteran faith educator Sharma Rajadurai – who recently completed the Kuala Lumpur Archdiocese Catechist Trainer Certification Course – presented a rollicking, well-articulated and enthusiastically demonstrated session on the Vocation and Qualities of A Catechist. As a facilitator, Sharma deftly turned games of skill and coordination into examples of the mental dexterity, juggling ability, and partnership and communication a catechist requires in order to enjoy serving, engaging students, building rapport, reading students’ characters, and juggling between work and serving in church. This engaging, laughter-inducing session was a welcome break from the quiet solemnity of contemplation, allowing participants to get to know each other better, and providing many avenues for good-natured teasing and banter.

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During the celebration of Sunday Mass, Fr Paul’s insightful homily touched on the importance of the right motivation behind right actions. Using St Thomas Becket as example, Fr Paul preached, “Thomas Becket was unafraid of martyrdom. However, his sole fear was that he would go to his martyrdom for the wrong reason.” (The saint was to die defending the rights of the Church against an aggressive State).

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“When we are young in the faith, our sins are visibly before us; it is easy to spot and confess the sins of gluttony, avarice, jealousy. But when we grown older, the sins we commit are more internal: they are sins like a lack of humility, or actions we take which look honourable to the world, but whose motives are less than pure. It is only in quiet meditation can these sins be revealed, and perhaps that is why many people prefer not to sit in quiet, saying nothing to God.”

Click on Sunday School for more information.

 
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