Love, the driving force: a journey of discernment

Chronicling my formation with the Loretto Sisters (IBVM)


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30 days in paradise

We’re back from retreat! We’ve been back a week already, taking time to settle back into our regular community life routine. It has been slow going for me. The retreat was an incredible experience, filled with so many gifts and loving revelations from God, and I’ve been trying to hang on to those feelings and graces this week back in the real world. Consequently, I’m not quite ready yet to share a lot about the retreat just yet on this blog. I still need time to reflect and ‘appropriate’, as it is termed. Time to come to a fuller understanding of how my relationship with God changed during the retreat, and believe me, it sure has changed.

So with that teaser for future posts, I offer you a selection of photos from the retreat centre, a true paradise. Set in the outskirts of Quezon City, Sacred Heart Retreat Centre was like entering a whole other world. Peaceful, beautiful, and gracious. I’m posting photos of the retreat grounds today, and I’ll follow up with photos of the gorgeous plant life and the entertaining wildlife in the next few days.

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A warm welcome from Jesus to all those arriving at Sacred Heart.

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The cloistered wing of the retreat centre (i.e. retreatants not welcome), home to the Jesuit novices and their novice masters.

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Rear courtyard with a shady sitting area. A lovely place to sit in the rain.

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The kitchen, on the ground floor, where our many meals were prepared. Breakfast, morning merienda (snack), lunch, afternoon merienda, and dinner.

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The beautiful fountain in the courtyard.

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Swings are set up throughout the property to help retreatants relax and meditate.

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The tree house! A great place for bird watching, contemplation, and people watching.

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We were so lucky to have this beautiful pool at our disposal. It was a treat to float around and pray or swim laps surrounded by gorgeous tropical flowers and trees.

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Mary and Joseph kept watch over us.

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A painting in one of the dining halls. St. Ignatius of Loyola prayed to Mary to ask her to intercede to God to place him with her son. This painting shows the Trinity’s embrace of St. Ignatius and Mary’s intercession.

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The Jesuit cemetery on the retreat grounds, a beautiful and peaceful place to pray.

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I enjoyed looking at the gravestones and I have to admit that I was overjoyed to find someone with the same birthday as me. Each day I walked to the cemetery to greet my ‘Birthday Brother’ – born on the same day, only 86 years apart!

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Fr. Thomas Green, SJ wrote a number of books on Ignatian spirituality and prayer.

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I am currently reading a book by Fr. John Carroll, SJ  -a collection of editorials he wrote for the Philippines Enquirer on politics and social justice in the Philippines. It’s a fantastic book.

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Recreational opportunities abounded – here’s the basketball court.

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And the badminton court. (I forgot to take a photo of the tennis backboard.)

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And bicycles!

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Strickly for females.

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And all of the equipment a retreatant could need.

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A bit of nightlife at the retreat centre. Jesus all lit up.

 


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La Mesa Eco Park

This past Thursday we had the opportunity to visit an oasis in Quezon City. La Mesa Eco Park is a public park in the middle of the La Mesa Watershed Reservation and is the largest remaining rainforest in Metro Manila. The lush greenery and vegetation were a welcome sight. The air was fresh and clean and the temperature felt at least 5 degrees cooler than where we live in Quezon City. It was a real paradise to wander through and relax in. Enjoy the photos!

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So much to see and do at the Eco Park!

CIMG4373A cat in the tropical jungle

CIMG4376Terraced flower garden

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Sparkling clean water of the fishing pond.

CIMG4381Lily pads

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Amphitheater

CIMG4389A gorgeous array of plant life

CIMG4394Interesting waxy corkscrew leaves

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CIMG4397Another variation of corkscrew leaves

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My favourite plant – I don’t know the name but I love the shocking pink

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Beautiful dramatic flowers

CIMG4405Bright, almost fluorescent green leaves, not caught very well by my camera

CIMG4407After some time of exploration we sought refuge under a cabana

CIMG4408The view from the cabana

CIMG4415It’s a hard life – napping in the rainforest

 


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Good Friday

CIMG4308A rather blurry view of the sanctuary, waiting for Mass to begin. To secure a seat close to fans, I arrived almost an hour early. It was worth it.

CIMG4310Lining up for the veneration of the cross.

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While waiting in line, I had time to admire the stained glass windows.

CIMG4316From the Stations of the Cross in the church parking lot.

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CIMG43205th Street (adjacent to the church) full of hopeful vendors looking to make a sale to the throngs of churchgoers. All this week at Mass we were warned that thieves and pickpockets would also be among the vendors so to be vigilant.

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CIMG4322A much better shot of the parish and the statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.


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Discovering Noviciate Life

Hello again!

I’m returning to my blog after a little hiatus and a very long journey. It is now going on 6 weeks since I arrived in the Philippines and I began the first year of my noviciate. The past 6 weeks of relative disconnection from the outside world have been a great blessing. The time has allowed me space to transition to the noviciate and to be present to new experiences.

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(a floral welcome to noviciate life!)

As I think back on these past weeks, a major theme stands out for me: discovery and adaptation.

Discovery

Each day holds something new to discover. On the first day I arrived (January 1st, which was auspicious, I think) I was confronted with a whole lot of new at once: new country, new culture, new climate, new environment, new community, and new way of life. Since then I’ve been slowly unpacking all of the newness.

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(St. Michael’s House, IBVM Formation House in the Philippines)

Prayer. The most beautiful and life-giving discovery I am making is in my prayer life. The time and dedication to prayer during this part of formation gives me the opportunity to pray without interruptions (not to say that I don’t get distracted in prayer!), but also to take time to pray in the ways that I know give me life and help me relate to God. In particular, I have been able to return to a daily practice of Ignatian contemplation (scriptural contemplation) and it has been so beautiful and grace-filled. The first time I sat down to pray using the method of Ignatian contemplation, I felt like I received the most loving welcome back from God. Already in this short time, I can feel my relationship with Jesus (because it is Jesus I speak with during my prayer) flourishing and deepening.

Community. Another life-giving discovery I am making is within the community here. I am living with 3 other novices – 1 from Australia and 2 from Vietnam. Our novice director is also Australian and our assistant novice director is Indian. We are a truly an international community and I am learning so much from everyone. We share our respective cultures through meals and celebrations together, and we share our life stories and vocation journeys during times of reflection. I am discovering a world far beyond the world I knew in Canada and my heart and mind are expanding.

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(A gathering of members of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Congregation of Jesus for our Mary Ward Week celebration)

Spirituality and Religious Life. I am also discovering the person of our foundress Mary Ward through reading and reflecting on her prayer life and at the same time discovering the heart and soul of the IBVM. I am learning more about discernment in the Ignatian tradition, and experiencing the First Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. I am learning about the vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience and discovering their beauty.

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(The garden outside our chapel doors)

I’m also discovering things that create challenge.

Poverty. I’m discovering that poverty is everywhere. There are many homeless men, women, and children in Quezon City. There’s a slum a short distance away from our house. The causes of poverty are varied and complex. It often feels overwhelming because the poverty is on such a large scale. And yet, the spirit and generosity I have witnessed among the very poor takes my breath away. My heart yearns to find some way to contribute to reducing their poverty and to stand in solidarity with them.

Environmental Pollution. I’m also discovering that Quezon City is very dirty. Pollution is widespread. The air is polluted from the exhaust from the cars, buses, and jeepneys. The waterways and streams are polluted from garbage and sewage. The ground is littered with piles of rubbish. Again, the causes of the rampant pollution are varied and complex, and it will take a lot to create change. I am concerned for the current generation and future generations of Filipinos.

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(Painting of Our Lady of the Philippines, Manila Cathedral)

Adaptation

I could come up with a list of ways I have had to adapt that would potentially be as long as my list of discoveries, but when it comes down to it, I have one main method of adaptation: surrender. I am learning to surrender to the newness. To surrender my expectations and my biases (which is proving challenging!), to surrender my need to always be physically comfortable (on the hot days I find it impossible to be completely comfortable), to surrender my desire to have control (over knowing the schedule of the day, over what I eat, over relationships with friends and family that are now long-distance relationships, over being able to fix the problems I encounter, etc.), and to surrender to experiencing whatever it is that God wants me to experience in the here and now of the day. This quote from Mary Ward’s spiritual journal summarizes well what my experience has been like so far: God is with me, and I have freedom to speak to Him, and to ask of Him all I would have or know.

All in all, the past 6 weeks have been fruitful and full of the grace of God. I am happy to be here, open to learning new things and to deepening my relationship with God. I hope to post more regularly now and will delve into some of these issues in more detail in the future.