• Wartakanlah Injil kepada segala makhluk.
    Mrk 16:15

  • 你们往普天下去, 向一切受造物宣传福音
    谷 16:15

  • Everything is possible by the power of the Holy Spirit’s Grace.
    St Arnold Janssen

  • Segala sesuatu menjadi mungkin dalam kekuatan karunia Roh Kudus.
    St. Arnold Janssen

  • 我当传教士不是为主牺牲,而是上主给我的最大恩赐
    圣福若瑟神父

  • Với sức mạnh Ân Huệ của Chúa Thánh Thần, Mọi việc đều có thể được.
    St Arnoldus Janssen

  • Preach the Gospel to the whole creation./Anh em hãy đi khắp tứ phương thiên hạ, loan báo Tin Mừng cho mọi loài thọ tạo
    Mk 16:15

  • There are many different gifts, but it is always the same Spirit.
    1 Cor 12:4

  • And the Word became flesh and lived among us.
    Jn 1:14

  • Let the word of Christ, in all its richness, find a home with you.
    Col 3:16

  • To proclaim the Good News is the first and greatest act of love of neighbour.
    St Arnold Janssen

  • 传扬天国福音是第一且最大的爱近人行动
    圣杨生•爱诺德神父

  • Có nhiều đặc sủng khác nhau, nhưng chỉ có một Thần Khí/
    1 Cor. 14:4

  • 圣言成了血肉,寄居在我们中间
    若 1:14

  • Ada rupa-rupa karunia, tetapi Roh satu
    1 Kor 12:4

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Tuesday, 28 July 2015 18:50

Back to basics - a reflection on Province Retreat

 

Retreat---nong-bua-lamphu-350

Nongbualamphu, Thailand

Thailand District, AUS Province

-- By Truong T. Le SVD

 

There will be times where we don’t get along, and perhaps there will be times where we’re at each other’s throat. Yet, there will always be times where we come together. The SVD community in Thailand brings together men from different countries, backgrounds, and cultures. From the mountains of Papua New Guinea to the East and West coasts of the United States to the desert of Australia to the islands of Indonesia and to the rice fields of Vietnam, we are rich in diversity; each of us brings his own microcosms encapsulating our worldviews and system of values. We are indeed different, but this does not mean division for we can always find unity in diversity. At our deepest sense of self, we do have one thing in common: we are sinners. As broken as we are with our weaknesses and shortcomings, God has called us from all walks of life to be at this place, NongBuaLamPhu, which invariably has become our home. We work and live together holding onto that common thread. And in my reflection, I have to ask: Why this group of men? Why this bunch of sinners?

We are sinners not so much as one carries a list of wrongdoings which inevitably becomes a ticket to hell. But rather, we are sinners because deep down we know how much we need God in our lives. God is Truth in which our eyes are opened to the realities of the world; God is Love in which we find our ways in the world. We are the beloved in which God pours God’s endless grace into our hearts. At the heart of our souls, we are taught this basic truth and being nourished there as well. With such an invitation to life, each of us, one way or another, has responded. And this is the only way to live life, that is, a life lived to the brim with a sense of fulfillment even in times of failure, a sense of joy even in times of sorrow. It is only to sinners that God’s grace is experienced to the fullest. A wise person once told me the difference between a saint and a sinner, that is, “the saint knows in his heart that he is a sinner.” The sinner knows the meaning of grace, and lives and thrives from that focal point. Essentially, Jesus spoke to sinners saying, “To anyone who has, more will be given and [will have more in abundance]” (Mt 13:12). We know love because love was given graciously, and now we are called to live it out.

Thai-retreat-praying-body-and-soul---350On the one hand, it is easy to figure out how this group came to be, just read Br. Damien’s history of the SVD in Thailand (from a humble beginning to what it is now). But isn’t much more challenging to imagine the “why” to all of this. How things come together at this particular moment, with these individuals? Just look at the picture above, taken after our annual retreat, and you’ll see the reason for my impassioned inquiry. No two individuals are alike –even remotely alike considering the different context in which one is formed. Each of us walks a different path of life, even for those who are from the same country of origin. One or two of us could not answer a simple question, “Where are you from?”, because Thailand is their third or fourth country in which they call “home.” At times, I struggle to consider myself as American, Vietnamese, Vietnamese-American or American-Vietnamese. And now Thai is thrown into the mix. It’s all a big mess! I think this expression is fitting for the SVDs: it is difficult to define us. Just imagine the tangents; how could all of this have worked?

Perhaps, it is not about us at all: it is not about the individual thread. Looking at the picture above, our faces should diminish to the background, and the viewer should be struck with awe and wonder because God is good. The sense of wonder and awe is how God made it worked. It is not about who we are as individuals or where we came from or what we gave up coming to this place; but rather, it is about God and how God works to bring together multiple threads of differing colors to weave something of good use. St. Paul captures well for the SVDs that, “We know that God causes all things to work together for good, to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rm 8:28). We are SVDs because we are nobody working for that very purpose, the mission of Christ.

Indeed so, being nobody is a challenge because we want to be somebody; at times, being that somebody gets in the way of the mission. Being nobody as opposed to somebody means that we cannot be obsessed with how others see us. A good example is our founder, St. Arnold Janssen, who was an ordinary man called to do an extraordinary thing. At a time when everything was being destroyed, he was called to build something new, that is, the Society of the Divine Word (or Divine Word Missionaries). One of the famous quotes that attribute to St. Arnold Janssen’s character is, “He must be a saint or a fool?” This question concerns us as well: Are we saints or fools? The answer depends on perspective: of God or of men? Do we dare see as God sees or are we too preoccupied with how others see us? Ultimately, SVD missionaries must learn to let go of these external speculations and find the confidence in God’s vision for us.

Secondly, we cannot be overwrought by our struggles, and definitely, we cannot be addicted to our successes. Self-pity leads to self-loathing and being too focused on success leads to arrogance. Both extremes are ways to foster our own sense of being somebody, feeding into our egos. From our founding generation, Blessed Maria Helena gave us a wisdom to help us plant our feet on the right path, that is, “To God the glory, to my neighbors the benefits, and to me the burden.” Everything must be placed in the right context and order. The struggles or successes in our missionary efforts must be placed in the context of God’s mission and the service to others. Only then will our daily responsibilities and work make sense, giving meaning to our lives, giving us an identity. This keeps us firm and determined with the mission in Thailand –pushing us forward through our struggles and going beyond our successes. Love God and neighbor should always be the focus; anything other than that is all about us and how we build up our sense of worth and pride. We must not fall into these trappings.

It is precisely when we strive to be nobody that we find ourselves to be a body, namely, the Body of Christ. By the virtue of our baptism, we are bound; by our religious vows, we are sent. The SVD community in Thailand is comprised of ordinary men, sinners, who are graciously chosen by God to become something of good use. God is the weaver, and we are the threads. By our individual strands, we are nothing, but together we become something. Our Superior General, Fr. Heinz Kuluke, SVD assured us on his last visit saying, “With what I see, [this community] is doing some good, here, in Thailand. Be sure of that! This place would be poorer without your presence.” Once in a while we need to reflect and strip ourselves of anything that takes us away from God’s call, God’s mission. This annual retreat took us back to our founding generation. In a way, the grace that we received is getting back to that basic truth: we are because God is. We are doing some good for the people of Thailand because God made it worked. So, why this group of men? Why this bunch of sinners? The answer is, “only for the glory of God.”