Sabbatical reflection

It has been a month since my sabbatical began. I feel better rested physically and psychologically. Longer hours of sleep, exercise, and disengagement from pastoral duties does wonders. Being overseas helped too because you became unavailable physically.

I also feel thankful for the many blessings of God. Never thought of touring Spain, never was interested. But in pursuing the kingdom, in seeking rest and restoration, I ended up in Spain, beginning in San Sebastian and ending in Barcelona, staying at many towns and cities along the way, in Basque and Catalonia regions, often walking in the streets and countryside. I love silent retreats, silence and solitude. I love hiking. And I was blessed by Ignatius Spiritual Exercises and spirituality. All these three elements that nourishes me were present in this sabbatical program. What a blessed trinity!

This was followed by a vacation and catch up time with Mike and Amy in Bolton. They were very gracious and availed themselves to us for five days. We had significant time catching up usually over meals – restaurant, home-cooked and takeaways. It was around 7 to 18 degree centigrade with gloomy clouds and rain on quite a few days. This restricted our plans but it meant more rest, early to bed and late to rise. It was a contrast to the Camino Ignaciano– late to bed, early to rise.

Now I am glad to be back home. I feel relieved. Spanish and English food and weather are good – for a while, usually tolerable for two weeks or so, in my experience. I like Singapore. I like the smells, tastes, sights of home.

I don’t like the haze though. This morning, I saw the haze and told my wife, “Thank God that in the last three weeks, we were away overseas breathing fresh mountain and countryside air”.

I had an inspired thought this morning as I reflected on how to use the rest of my sabbatical wisely: treat each day as you would a sabbath day with an eye on REMEMBRANCE (spiritual nourishment), REST (physical and emotional self-care), RELISH (life-giving engagement and activities).

“Lord, help me do this and experience more of your love.”

 

Peter Claver patron saint of slaves…and retirees

I have never heard of Fr Peter Claver, a Jesuit priest-missionary,  until we passed by the town he was born and grew up in during the Camino Ignaciano. Born in Verdu, Spain into a rich farming family, he was well educated and intelligent. He later joined the Jesuits and was sent as a missionary to Colombia, at that time a newly established colony called Kingdom of New Granada.

Statue of Peter Claver with African slave child

There he became a priest and served the slaves who were cruelly brought in by shiploads from Africa and sold to landowners and mineowners who needed labourers.

Peter Claver humbly served among them offering care for the sick, speaking up for them to the owners, and catechizing them in the faith. Through his hard work, compassion and solidarity with the slaves, it is estimated that 300,000 were baptized during his 40 years of ministry in Cartegena. To me this is amazing, even if you factor in the pressure on slaves to comply because of their fear of their owners.

A simple minimalist chapel at his family home, now a shrine

The irony is that after years of faithful service, in his 70s, he fell ill, and while assigned an ex-slave to care for him, Fr Peter Claver was sadly neglected and largely forgotten till the day he died. Only at his funeral was there a deeper gratitude and appreciation for his years of service, as “a slave of slaves forever”.

This story stirred in my soul feelings of sadness, and the fear of being forgotten and neglected after I retire from my position as senior pastor.

It made me recall now, with some regret, that I had somewhat forgotten and neglected my predecessor pastor P.J. Johney, after he retired. In my immaturity and obsession of trying to fix the church and move it (as though this could be done by human effort and wisdom- what audacity and stupidity!), I had not taken as much time to honour, love and listen to him as I could. I was too into growing the church, when I should be growing myself in love and compassion.

I wonder what it would be like when I step down. Probably the same: forgotten and neglected. I had better prepare myself emotionally and mentally for this. There will obviously be dimunition of one’s power and role in decision making, as well as status and honour. Its the same for retirees in the working world. During this retreat I could with the help of the spiritual director, attend to these emotions and let it sink, and process them by talking about them to the Lord and receive His peace and joy, which surpasses all logic and human manufacture.

Thank you Fr Peter Claver! Perhaps you should not only be “the patron saint of all slaves”, but also of all retirees!!

St Francis Xavier inspiration

You cannot but be impressed and moved by the life and work of St Francis Xavier. Here I was at Castle of Xavier, where he was born, and grew up. Its surreal. I once did a paper on Xavier’s missionary toils in Japan. Now Fr Jose gave us the saint’s birth to death sketch of his life. Brilliant student in Paris University, sportman, confident, respected, from a rich family. Gave up all to follow Christ in the mission fields. Served in Goa, India, Malacca, Indonesia, Japan, Macau. He died of sickness at age 46 while waiting to enter China. Estimated 30,000 baptisms in his one decade of preaching Christ. Stupendous. Just to get from Portugal to India took almost 2 years by ship!!

Castle of Xavier: St Francis early years spent here
St Francis and his passion for reaching the lost in Asia in a giant poster

What motivated him? I asked. It was the experience of the length and breadth and height and depth of God’s love. He had done the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius, and had a real trust relationship with the Lord.

The tiny chapel with an unusual crucifix in the Castle of Xavier

I saw the tiny chapel in the castle where he likely prayed in. An unsual figure of a smiling crucified Christ dominated the chapel. All around the walls were dark figures of death, of white bones and skeletons.

A smile on the dead Christ’s face

Why a dead Christ with a smile? The job of saving mankind is finished? Peace and joy knowing He pleased the Father? Laugh of victory over sin, death and Satan? A smile of love as He knows He will be with His Father soon? No one knows what was on the sculptor’s mind. Anyway, it must have fascinated and moved St Francis in his younger years, or at least stayed with him through his years of hardship and suffering.

My room for two nights in the retreat house

I felt grateful too when I thought of God’s call on my life. I had experienced great encounters with God during the charismatic revival of 1970s. I believe it was experiencing this vast love of God that propelled me into obeying God’s call, with all its sacrifices and service. And it was being kept in this love of God that kept me serving in WRPF all these past 39 years of ups and downs. I feel grateful to God for this grace and privilege of serving this one church all this while.

Falling in love with Jesus

I feel very privileged and grateful. This camino experience had been made possible because my leadership wanted my sabbatical to be in the last quarter, and Lance Ng my spiritual director invited me to this spiritual exercise cum pilgrimage. I originally had signed up for an Olleh Kyushu hike but had to withdraw from it in order to give this priority. I received a kind of additional divine confirmation that I made a good choice to do this.

Gathering in front of the Basalica of Loyola
My retreat room for two nights

The sabbatical graces that I have been asking of God are threefold: 1) to have good physical and soul rest, 2) to be present and attentive to life-giving and delightful things, 3) to fall more deeply in love with Jesus.

Interestingly, in the notes handed to us, I read this insightful saying of Arrupe, a prominent leader of the Jesuits. It filled me with joy and amazement! I took a picture so its in my phone and I can reflect on it more.

Saying of Arrupe in notes given for the Camino Ignaciano

It expresses my desire during this sabbatical. I ask the Lord to light a fire of love for Jesus in my soul. This is what I desire and pray for.

It will decide everything.

Relish and rest

Today I felt happy taking a long leisurely morning walking by the sea front. The smell of the sea breeze and its caress is invigorating. I savored the moment. I am in Spain. Never thought of visiting Spain, but here I am because of God’s blessing and invitation to the camino.

Beautiful bay of San Sebastian

We also walked to the old town with its charming, beautiful old buldings, churches and food streets. I saw many tapas restaurants, cafes and shops. We visited one St Vincent church but could only peep inside as I was unwilling to pay three euros to enter. However I had a reminder that I am in God’s hands.

There were many shops and restaurants but they were scattered all over
In God’s hands at St Vincent’s, San Sebastian

Another of God’s surprises was how we unkowingly stumbled into  michelin tapas restaurant and enjoyed an inexpensive late lunch.

Micelin starred tapas restaurant

We followed this up with a hike up a steep hill to where the huge statue of Jesus of the Sacred Heart stood. There I took some time to be in silence and prayed the Jesus Prayer.

Jesus of the Sacred Heart atop the peak

After the walk back to the apartment I was tired and had a few hours siesta. I needed this so much. More siestas please!

 

Beautiful apartment at San Sebastian

We landed in Barcelona in the morning and after breakfast eight of us drove in two cars for about 8 hours to San Sebastian in Spain’s northeastern shores, stopping for a tapas lunch midway through.

There we would stay for two nights before we head down to Loyola where we begin our Camino Ignaciano.

The aparment looked old from the outside, but is well renovated and spacious inside.

The airbnb apartment had four bedrooms and a gorgeous seafront. We had our breakfast the next morning to the sound of waves rushing to the shore, and the smell of the sea wafted into our breakfast experience. Very refreshing.

Lance (spiritual director), Kae, Jenny and I.

Thankful for blessings of a pleasant and safe flight and car ride and fellowship with wonderful people who love the Lord.

Sabbatical tiredness and struggles

church bulletin

It should not be surprising that I am slow to realise how physically tired I really am. After all, this is the third time in 39 years of pastoral ministry that I am having a sabbatical. This first was for three months. The second was six months. I remembered how in that second sabbatical it took me about a month to get into a rhythm of rest and play and pray and be fully rested.

Now I am on the threshold of my third sabbatical of three months. I have been clearing my leave before my sabbatical officially begins on 1 October.

It is dawning on me that I don’t have to do anything, that my schedule is no longer dictated by ministry routines, demands and expectations. I must admit it to be rather awkward, but pleasant.

I must also admit that trying to rest my body is a struggle. I become aware I am tired, so I lie in bed in the afternoon but cannot sleep. I keep resisting sleep, surfing Carousell for a bargain hybrid bike I do not really need, and scanning mostly negative news about Arsenal football club, and watching Netflix movies.

This is made worse by the haze outside. I am an outdoors person. To stay indoors is to rot. I would prefer to cycle or hike. But I have no choice. Fortunately, I have an aquarium (I built for my grandkids) to maintain.

I have been listening to Tom Wright’s YouTube video lectures and find them brilliant and thought-provoking. Find myself drawn to theological reflection. I have also been waiting on God in silence…actually more of trying to slow down in his presence.

Yesterday, I visited Bukit Batok Presbyterian Church’s Sunday service. I have some Swiss Cottage secondary school classmates who attend that church and I wanted to catch up with them. So we had breakfast at 9.45am before the service started at 10.30am. Then after the service ended at about 12.15pm we went for a long, long lunch – about 4 hours!! It was a good thing that parking was free on Sunday.