The month of September has been set aside for the annual retreats of the Clergy (Bishops, Priests and Deacons) of Peninsular Malaysia. The retreat lasts for six days, starting on Sunday evening and ending on Friday afternoon. These retreats are conducted in three different locations: Cameron Highlands (first and last week of the month), Penang Island (second week) and Johor Bahru (third week). Normally, two retreat masters conduct the retreat at each location.
There were approximately 30 clergy members who attended the retreat (17-22 September) in MAJODI Centre in Plentong, Johor. Since being ordained as a priest, I have attended my annual retreat in MAJODI Centre twice. I usually choose Penang Island because of the delicious food and beautiful scenery. However, since I’m currently residing in Kuantan, I took the coastal road along the South China Sea down south to Johor Bahru.
The retreat at MAJODI was led by Rev. Fr. Anthony Corcoran SJ, who is originally from the United States of America. Pope Francis appointed him to serve as an Apostolic Administrator in Kyrgyzstan in 2017. He was ordained as a priest in 1996 and has now served for 27 years. I recently learned about Kyrgyzstan - a mountainous Central Asian country - which shares its borders with China to the south and with the republics of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to the east, all of which were formerly part of the Soviet Union. Kyrgyzstan obtained its independence with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The country’s population is approximately 6 million, with the majority of its people being Muslim. However, there are approximately 1,500 Catholics of Polish, German and Korean origin. The Vatican has entrusted the jurisdiction of the area to the Jesuit Priests. Fr. Anthony Corcoran began our retreat with a poetic prayer to the Holy Spirit:
Holy Spirit Prayer of St. Augustine (354-430)
“Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy.
Act in me, O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy.
Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit, that I love, but what is holy.
Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy.”
During the retreat, Fr Anthony reminded us that God intended to interact directly with our souls and offer us sufficient grace. He assured us that the Holy Spirit is interceding and praying for us at every moment. Fr Anthony used the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises as a framework to lead us through the retreat.
Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order, emphasised the importance of discernment of spirits. Our hearts are divided between good and bad desires. We should discern between the actions of these spirits and choose to follow the guidance of the good spirits while rejecting the influence of the evil ones. Through discernment of spirits, we can gain a deeper understanding of God’s will and desires for our lives as we draw closer to God.
The retreat has truly inspired me to answer God’s call and to carry out His will in my priestly life. I understand that it is not about bending God’s will to mine but rather seeking His guidance through the power of His Spirit to discern and follow His will.