Immediately after the feast of St. Joseph on 1 May 2018, a thought came to mind about me making a silent retreat overseas. After much consideration and prayer, I made up my mind to do my personal directed retreat at the Seven Fountains Retreat Center in Chiang Mai, Thailand. When I wrote an email to Rev. Fr. Paul Pollock SJ., he replied within 20 minutes saying, “the room is waiting for you.” That got me excited and I quickly applied for leave.
On 20 May 2018, I left for Chiang Mai but before leaving, I printed a copy of the latest Apostolic Exhortation of the Holy Father, Pope Francis on “Gaudete et Exsultate” (GE) or “Rejoice and Be Glad” which was published on 19 March 2018, the feast of St Joseph, the husband of Blessed Virgin Mary. It is a document about the call to holiness in today’s world. While I was on the flight, I was glancing at the document and the words of the Holy Father echoed in me, “we leave no room for God’s word,” (GE #68).
As I was entering the retreat center, the words of my retreat master, Fr. Pollock (via email) and the words of the Holy Father from the latest document, were strongly inviting me to reflect a little deeper on the meaning of “room”. For me, room indicated “heart” and I was longing to hear the voice of the Lord in my heart again. Hence, I needed to make room available in my heart for Jesus to speak.
In January 2002, just before beginning of my final year as a seminarian, I did a one-month silent retreat at this center. It was the best and last silent retreat I ever did in my life. Since then, I’ve come to realise that I have been too preoccupied with my ministry and that I’ve hardly spent time in prayer and mediation. I hoped and prayed that I would hear the whisper of the Lord in the room of my heart, as I was about to begin the one-week silent directed retreat. I started it without any expectation from the Lord, but instead I took it as a week’s vacation and relaxation with Jesus.
On the first day of my retreat, I met my retreat master, Fr. Pollock, and he was happy that I had come to celebrate 15 years of my priestly life. He didn’t want to set any timetable for me, and instead, left it to my own discretion. I made myself available to meet him every morning for at least 30 minutes for discussion, and during the rest of the time, I allowed myself to be led by the Holy Spirit – in silent conversation in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, praying the Word of God, meditating, doing some spiritual reading and walking around praying the Rosary. During the retreat I was so obsessed with the document of the Holy Father on “Gaudete et Exsultate” and with a book called “Joy of the Priesthood” written by Fr. Stephen J. Rossetti, 2005.
As my retreat drew to a close, Fr. Pollock asked me to reflect on the story of Jesus cleansing the ten lepers, where only one leper returned to glorify at Jesus’ feet from a thankful heart, (Luke 17:11-19). He encouraged me to take time off frequently to be with the Lord, celebrating my life as a priest, with thanksgiving in my heart. As for me, this retreat was a time away from my normal activities, to be solely with God. I gained the strength and joy in my priesthood and I am so thankful to God.
Fr. George Packiasamy