We, the clergy of Peninsular Malaysia have been having our directed annual spiritual retreat on a rotational basis during this month of September for 6 six days from Sunday evening till Friday noon. The retreat is organised over four consecutive weeks throughout the month in three different centres – Cameron Highlands (1st and 4th week), Penang Island (2nd week) and Plentong, Johor (3rd week). During the COVID-19 pandemic, for two years there wasn’t any directed retreat organised for us but we carried it out on our personal level. This year once again we had an opportunity to be physically present in our respective retreat centres.
All clergy (Cardinals, Bishops, Priests and Deacons), religious and seminarians are required canonically “to observe the period of the annual retreat.” We take time off from our parish ministry and administration to attend spiritual retreats not just to fulfil the Canon Law’s requirement but to make time for ourselves to re-energise, re-examine and recharge our spiritual batteries. Jesus himself withdrew from His public ministry and spent time in solitude in the desert for forty days, (Lk 4:1-3). Hence, we are strongly encouraged to step away from our daily routine and hectic schedules and enter into the depths of our souls.
Every year in the past, I preferred to attend my yearly retreat in Stella Maris, Penang Island no matter who, the retreat master. I specifically choose to be in Penang Island in the past because of the coastal environment of the retreat centre and furthermore, Penang, is a foodie’s paradise. This year, however, I opted instead to be in MAJODI Center, Plentong for my spiritual retreat due to certain circumstances. Altogether 30 of us were together in this retreat centre (7 Permanent Deacons and 24 Priests) from 18-23 September 2022.
Our Retreat Master was Auxiliary Bishop Midyphil Billones from the Archdiocese of Cebu, Philippines. He obtained his doctorate in Theology from the Loyola School of Theology of the Ateneo de Manila University. His episcopal ordination was on 26 September 2019. He guided us in our retreat with the theme, “Towards Becoming Synodal Shepherds for Renewal in the Church.” He developed the retreat on “synodality of re-awakening”, and “synodality of conversion” towards “presbyteral synodality and sacramental brotherhood.” It is basically about living our priestly identity and journeying together as companions to be in communion as a Church and to work collaboratively in the mission of the Church. He reminded us over and over again that in this process of synodality, we should not push God aside in our priestly ministry but open a doorway to synodality - a greater communion, participation and mission.
Bishop Midyphil is a very young, wise, learned, prayerful and spiritual man. His reflections, his personal priestly experiences and sharing were deemed more conducive to obtain in-depth insights. Furthermore, the choicest of his philosophical and theological terms offer lessons worth learning for me. He gave a few scriptural passages including the Holy Father's encyclical texts for my further studies and reflections to engage in prayerful mediations in the future. It was an enriching retreat and I have gained new insights in the depth of my soul. I am grateful to Bishop Midyphil and most of all to God for blessing us with a wonderful and knowledgeable retreat master.