Clergy of KK Archdiocese on annual retreat in Bundu Tuhan

Fr Isidore Gilbert

Sep 17 2020

BUNDU TUHAN – Coronavirus has altered the way the archdiocesan clergy meet as they gathered for their annual retreat.

The Archdiocese of Kota Kinabalu clergy annual retreat, held traditionally at the Bundu Tuhan Retreat Centre, took place from Sep 7-11. Secluded in the quiet of the centre, were Archbishop John Wong with 35 priests and a seminarian despite the absence of the retreat master.

Kuching Archbishop Emeritus John Ha, who was to direct the retreat, was unable to come in person due to the travel advisory given for the pandemic in view of health and age restrictions.

Notwithstanding the new normal that emerged from the post pandemic retreat, Archbishop Ha managed to deliver a wonderfully silent retreat given in the form of pre-recorded talks. The retreatants benefited much from his profound thoughts with right disposition and self-discipline as he guided them to re-interiorize the materials.

The theme “He loved them to the end” (Jn 13:1) was picked for the retreat.  The introductory talk highlighted two points: Firstly, as priests “we are Altri Christi”, ordained to share the mission of love and forgiveness of Christ. We were guided to take up some episodes from John’s Gospel as a way for us to enter into Christ’s mind and to capture some elements of His attitude.

Secondly, we were reminded to undergo the retreat with Jesus in the wilderness, to be tempted and to learn from Him to face and to overcome the three temptations. The temptations represent the three categories of human desires: wealth, fame, power and glory as narrated in Mt 4:1-11 and Lk. 4:1-13. The temptation narrative suggests to us to look at our identity and our vocation. In our priesthood, we are called to be merciful and faithful to the service of God.

Apart from the introductory talk, there were seven other talks based on the four episodes from John’s Gospel (Jn 2:1-11; Jn 19:25-27; Jn 4:4-42; Jn 13:1-20). The format was to dwell on some selective comments on the texts in the morning and then applied reflection and pastoral application to them in the afternoon.

At the opening Mass which fell on the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM), Archbishop John Wong encouraged the retreatants to inter-personalize three essential questions for reflection – “Why does the Church ask us to celebrate the birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary?” “How did Mary live her life?” “How should we live our lives/how do we live our lives?”

Interestingly, it was fitting for the retreat to begin with a reflection of Mary’s dual roles on the Feast of her Nativity, which are linked up together – the “Wedding feast in Cana (Jn. 2:1-11) and the episode of Jesus giving His mother and the beloved disciple to each other as mother and son (Jn. 19:25-27).

How to be true disciples? “Do whatever He tells you” then is an important instruction from Mother Mary to all disciples of Christ, especially to us priests. It shows her total confidence in Jesus as well as her total obedience to God’s will.

In this regard, the mother of Jesus is the disciple par excellence so that she has a special place and role for all other disciples – that is, in the Church – “Woman, here is your son”, and “Here is your mother”.

The story about Jesus and the Samaritan woman (Jn 4:4-30, 39-42) gave us a new perspective of how to be an exemplary and effective evangelizer in a new and different situation, background and place. The right disposition and renewed attitude as Jesus’ disciples is therefore indispensable if we are to lead people to “worship God the Father in spirit and in truth”.

Thus, a priest needs to be evangelized in order to be well-equipped to serve, and “to love to the end” as Jesus did. The reflection on John 13:1-20 – Jesus washed the feet of His disciples – revealed that a well-equipped disciple of Christ is called to servant-leadership: that is, to serve and not to be served, and to love to the end.

In sum, the retreat has provided the propitious moment to take an honest look at how we have lived our identity and carried out our pastoral ministry. As ordained priests we are to be “bridge builders” in total confidence and obedience. We are given the divine necessity to lead people “to worship in Spirit and truth”. We are to live out the spirit of servant leadership in that we are “to serve; not to be served.”

The retreat concluded with Mass and renewal of priestly commitment.