Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 21 March 2023
Thank you for your birthday greetings. I have been on a silent retreat since Monday until Wednesday, my 58th birthday, at the Jesuits’ Sacred Heart Novitiate (SHN) in Quezon City. I usually go on retreats in June when my loads were lighter, when I feel so tired and exhausted, even burned out. Or when I have to make a major decision that I have to discern well.
For the first time, I went on this personal retreat not out of dire needs or even expediencies except that I miss God so much. This is the first time I went on a retreat without problems or issues to resolve. Most of all, without any complaints to God as I told my spiritual director, Fr. Danny Gozar, one of the Jesuits who facilitated our 30-Day Retreat in Cebu in 1995.
Sharing with you some of God’s consolations to me since Monday.
It was the feast of St. Joseph last Monday because March 19 fell on the Fourth Sunday in Lent. Right away, God consoled me upon arrival here when the daily Mass was starting. The priest, the Australian novice master of the Jesuits said in his homily that St. Joseph’s mission to give the name “Jesus” to the Child to be born by the Blessed Virgin Mary is also our first task in life which is to witness that “God saves” which is the meaning of the name “Jesus”.
That is when I realized the silence of St. Joseph which is not just being quiet by shutting out all the noise; silence is fulness, trying to listen and discern the sounds within, the sounds that speak of love and kindness, of mercy and forgiveness, of the voice of God also the softest and faintest, telling us to trust him alone and not be bothered with what would happen next.
To be silent like St. Joseph is ultimately to be silent like Jesus on the Cross, wholly trusting the Father, loving us until the end.
After lunch, I caught sight of the beautiful statue of Our Lady of Banneux (Our Lady of the Poor) at the side garden. It is one of my favorite prayer spots in this 23-hectare spirituality center in Quezon City. It was a nice spot to think of the many things I am thankful for since 2020 in preparation for my actual prayer blocks later that afternoon. And I had so many things to thank God since the pandemic started. First is the gift of life, that I have survived COVID-19!
The beauty of prayer is how it opens us to so many things about us we were totally unaware of like the gifts God has given us, the blessings he has showered us, the immense love he has for us. I discovered 20 things to be thankful for which I never thought I had and had never even thanked God for them!
That is the giftedness also of the Blessed Virgin Mary as she sang her Magnificat that while all generations shall call her blessed, she remains God’s lowly handmaid (Lk.1:48), remaining poor, an anawim who relies only in the Lord.
Being poor like Mary is being simple and empty for God. May we always be poor in need of God!
Fr. Danny directed me to just pray that afternoon until evening Psalm 139:1-18, asking for the specific grace of Mystery, of God himself. And God answered me! I felt his presence and generally, there was the feeling of joy within as I prayed before the Blessed Sacrament.
“You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, so wonderfully you made me; wonderful are your works! My very self you knew; my bones were not hidden from you, When I was being made in secret…Psalm 139:13-15
God confirmed my earlier reflections, the things I am thankful to him since 2020.
God designed me personally, he had a purpose in creating me and creating me this way which for so long I have not totally appreciated and liked, wishing I were somebody else, or endowed with so many other talents I so admire in others.
God made each of us so specially, not mass-produced.
He made us so well, almost perfect to reflect his glory. And along this is the need to take care of ourselves.
How can I be a sign of God's glory and majesty even though I am sinner?
After supper, I felt longing for God that I went back to the chapel for another hour of prayer. I was a bit distracted, even restless at the start. Indeed, the most difficult prayer is always the most meritorious as I felt a deep intensity in the following passage:
Lord, you have probed me, you know me; you understand my thoughts from afar. My travels and my rest you mark; with all my ways you are familiar. Even before a word is on my tongue, Lord, you know it all.Psalm 139:1, 2-4
God knows everything about us! There is no hiding from him. But, even if he knows us so well, he does not impose himself on us. Many times, God allows us to open up to him in our own time. Not just in his time. Like when we go astray, when we turn away from him in sins.
"you understand my thoughts from afar."
Even if I am far from God in sin, he still loves me, he still relates with me, understanding me. Waiting for me. Because he knows too that even if we sin, we still long for him. No one among us is happy being in sin. God knows that we know he is our life, that we cannot stay far from him for long.
"My travels and my rest you mark."
Where are you leading me, Lord? Sometimes I wonder if I am the one following God or is it God following me, watching over me that I always find my way back to him?
I have realized in almost 25 years being a priest, priesthood is more of a direction than a destination. From the school in Malolos to UST and UP for sometime then to Radio Veritas and nine years in a parish, now I am a chaplain in a big university with six campuses and two hospitals. Really, we were not prepared for this, especially myself! But, you are always there, God, leading me, always surprising me that even if you ask me to go anywhere else, I would go even if I have to learn a new language or whatever.
Here I found one thing I have always been remiss with – the need for me to rest in the Lord. To stop like this retreat not only when I have problems or overburdened.
At the end of my first day, my main realizations were -in Filipino as they dawned on me – were, first,
"Mahal na mahal ako ng Diyos. Hindi lang basta mahal. Kungdi mahal na mahal."
Secondly, as I prepared to sleep that night with all the lights out, I realized
"Mas nakakatakot maniwala sa Diyos kesa sa multo kase ang Diyos ay totoo, ang multo ay hindi totoo!"
Thank you for your bearing with me. May God touch you, bless you, and heal you! Amen.