By Lucille Dass
Fr Dr Clarence Devadass was intent on causing a compassionate ‘disruption’ in the round-table seating arrangements of the 173 participants from eight island and mainland parishes gathered at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit (CHS) for a Lenten retreat on March 9. His call, “Sit and connect with people you don’t know” was an act that ‘disturbed’ and disoriented many given our natural tendency to seek and ease into comfort zones. The half-day retreat titled LENT and the CREED: Profession-Encounter-Mission was organised by CHS Movement of Spirituality as one in a line-up of events to celebrate our Golden Jubilee.
Parish priest, Fr Joachim Robert, welcomed and thanked Fr Clarence for making the timely event possible and reminded us that we had come to be recharged-renewed-reconnected with God. Head and heart must connect for a meaningful translation of the gift of faith into our lives. He reiterated that all activities organised in conjunction with CHS Golden Jubilee celebration were in keeping with the four fundamentals of Acts 2:42. In turn, Fr Clarence also indicated how we could reconnect ourselves to the acts of the early Christian community as an expression of dynamic faith that progressed from Profession to Encounter for Mission centring on God-Self-Other. Their lives became a tool for evangelising (Acts 2:47); so can ours. With this as our goal, more will desire to belong to our community. He then posed a challenge: Are we willing to give up our ‘comfort zones’ and allow God to ‘disrupt’ our lives so that we can grow as a faith-filled community? This preamble must have helped ease the initial discomfort felt at his seating ‘disruption.’
Fr Clarence then led us to examine the Profession of Faith as first expressed by Peter (Mt 16:13-20; Mk 8:27-33; Lk 9:18-22). He pointed out that Peter’s profession is rooted in his relationship with the person of Jesus Christ, not on any creed or statements. Similarly, we must know Jesus in our heart to connect with him. Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?” merits a personalised answer that comes from a felt experience of him in our lives. Only when this relationship informs our creed will we be able to meaningfully profess our faith in a spontaneous response to God’s invitation as his children.
Fr Clarence emphasised that our personal encounter counts and connects the creed with our faith as it reinforces conviction. Through a systematic exposition of the story of the Samaritan woman’s encounter with Jesus at the well (John 4:1-42), Fr Clarence showed how it encapsulates all three aspects of one’s faith journey, a natural progression: Profession-Encounter-Mission. Though considered a woman of shady character, she is not afraid to make public her profession of faith because of her personal encounter with Jesus. What is holding us back?
With regard to Mission, we were reminded that the Church fundamentally exists for mission. In order to understand our mission, we need to understand ‘Church’ – “ekklesia” in the New Testament conveys the idea of “to summon” or “be the called-out ones.” The Church is seen as a composite of three images in the New Testament: Church as People of God, The Body of Christ, and the Temple of the Holy Spirit. We are different parts of ONE Body and our mission is to obey the imperative “Go make disciples … (Mt 28:19-20) to continue the mission of Jesus Christ that essentially expresses his love for humanity (John 3:16). “Go” means we are being “sent” to fulfil four actions that are closely connected to the four marks of the church: Go … (One) Make disciples … (Holy) Baptise … (Catholic) Teach … (Apostolic). Mission starts with an awareness of being summoned/called out to render service which is clearly exemplified by Jesus’ self-giving in the washing of his disciples’ feet and then instructing that they do the same for one another (John 13:14-17).
To conclude, Fr Clarence highlighted key points from Pope Francis on possessing the right missionary spirit as we “Go forth”: “mission of service; excludes no one; requires generosity; hearts turned heavenward; bear witness…with joy.” It was indeed providential that the chosen theme for our retreat corresponded with that Sunday’s 1st reading from Deuteronomy 26 – constituting the ancient creed of Israel; the second reading from Romans 10 – comprising the Christian profession of faith that Jesus is Lord!