Faith is not a light which scatters all our darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey.” –Pope Francis
Though I had but a tiny lamp of faith in my hands, I joined the retreat hoping to be enlightened about my life in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic. But I never expected that a bigger world beyond me would be illuminated.
On the first day of the retreat, I already knew it was something profound and special. For the next three days, I would look forward to 10:30 PM (Philippine Standard Time) despite it being late at night and how exhausted I was at the end of the day. But what exactly hooked me on this retreat?
Aside from the heartfelt and indispensable input from the retreat masters and many other reasons, the zoom breakout rooms were the most exciting part! Towards the end of each retreat day, the participants were assigned to breakout rooms for a 25-minute meeting and prayerful conversations with fellow teachers, staff and administrators from different Jesuit institutions across the globe. Every day, we found ourselves in a room with a different set of group mates. Every experience was unique, inspiring, consoling and hope-filled.
In those four days of talking with different people, I sensed a strong connection with everyone, even with those I haven’t been grouped with. We had that mutual feeling of vulnerability—that shared experience and understanding— wherever we were in the world right now– That reassurance that we have a God that works in marvelous ways no matter the difficulty and uncertainty of our situation astonished me. I could somehow sense God’s presence in our midst, also zoom-ing with us all.
Through the retreat, God revealed to me that we are indeed connected to each other. Despite the different time zones and initially not knowing one another, the sense of connection I had with my fellow participants felt deep and true.
Pope Francis, during his extraordinary Urbi et Orbi blessing, said, “We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other.” We are certainly on the same boat in this difficult time.
In these dark times, every tiny lamp of faith matters. We need each other’s lamp to light each other’s way and to also see things from a clearer and wider perspective. Through the Spirit of God sent to each of us, we can therefore journey together and give comfort by listening and praying for each other albeit online. We are called to recognize that despite the countless challenges and our differences, there are still a lot more graces to savor—we have the same God who is in-charge. He is with us in this storm and darkness.
Moreover, the retreat shed light to the amazing thing that the digital world is and the infinite possibilities we can create out of it. Many times in the past, I would automatically relate the online space to superficiality –not considering that, most especially in times like this, it is an extraordinary tool to reach out and bring out each other’s light. When I wondered why the connection I had with my fellow participants felt genuine, perhaps it was because, on this online platform, the principle that guide us remains the same, that is, we build stronger connections by journeying together—by listening without judgment and by accepting each other as sons and daughters of God.
As I personally reap and continue to relish the fruits of my retreat experience, I also want to share this experience with my community in the Ateneo de Naga University, particularly with our senior high school students. I hope to offer them a kind of spiritual formation through which they will be given an opportunity to connect with their fellow students and share their stories of joys and struggles in this new normal and in doing so see God’s movements in their lives.
Looking back at my retreat experience, I am amazed at how it filled my path with much more light and how this was facilitated by my companions from a larger community who journeyed with me throughout the retreat. It’s a grace to see how our small flicker of faith created a ripple of light. For now, I can only ponder things in my heart, thank God repeatedly and try harder each day to share with others that ineffably vast beauty of life that I experienced through the retreat. I do so with my growing tiny lamp of faith.