“First saints, then missionaries!” This is no doubt one of Blessed Joseph Allamano’s principal mantra. Holiness indeed is a fundamental requirement for a missionary to face the mission work. But sometimes it normally goes down like a low battery after having worked in mission for certain period of time. Hence the missionary’s need for a spiritual exercise, preferably in common as a religious family, cf., Constitution 68, General Directive 68.1.
In fact, there are three traditional annual events that normally bring us together as a Region. These are, the Regional Assembly, the Regional Conference and the Regional Retreat. Therefore, from the 11th November 2019 till the 15th November 2019 forty-three of us from Kenya-Uganda Region gathered in the Bethany House, Sagana for our Annual Regional Retreat.
The theme of the Retreat was: Sharpen your Soul.
The task of helping us sharpen the soul was given to Rev. Fr. Charles Bwalya Chilufya, SJ. He is a Jesuit priest of Zambian origin and currently the Director of The Jesuit Justice and Ecology Network Africa (JENA).
To help us sharpen our souls, Fr. Charles, a part from various biblical texts used extensively the Interior Castles, a book written by St Therese of Avila in 1577. He outlined four major principles from this noble writing of an ordinary nun to provide hope and encouragement during hardship and sufferings which make our souls blunt. These are the Mindset; the Heartset; the Soulset and the Health/Bodyset.
Primo, talking about the Mindset, Fr. Charles, SJ, inspired by the dialogue between Nicodemus and Jesus, cf., Jn 3: 1-21, and the histories of the Late Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela(18/07/1918 - 05/12/2013), Bl. Joseph Allamano (21/01/1851 – 16/02/1926), St Francis of Assisi (1181 - 03/10/1226) and St Mother Teresa of Calcuta(27/08/1910 - 05/09/1997), journeyed with us through a thought changing process which is geared towards the production of new imaginations. This, he insisted, is achieved through the following three steps:
ü First, Self-awareness: a capacity to visualise a new beginning. To achieve this, we must treasure silence in our life. For it is in silence that new way of seeing and doing things are generated. (e.g., the prison period in the life of N. Mandela).
ü Second, Negative experiences of life: a capacity to grow from challenges or crisis in life. Pain brings an opportunity for growth.
ü Third, Narration of life: a capacity to read stories and events of life. Since events and stories have meaning and can be interpreted, they excite our imaginations, hence be born again.
Consequently, the mindset helps us to give purpose to our lives. It is here where we live in the capacity of choosing. It focuses on not living with the toxicity of the past negative experiences which condition ourselves; but rather it transforms us, cf., Rom 13 and help us forget about the former things, cf., Is 43: 18-19.
Secundo, speaking of the Heartset, our preacher of the day took us through the episode of the Samaritan Woman, cf., Jn 4: 1-45. To pick up our lives once again, Fr. Charles insisted on having an opportunity minded character rather than the problem minded one. To him, some of us never grab the opportunity God is giving them. We rather always see negativity in everything. It is through the conversation with Jesus that will sharpen ourselves, hence grab the God-given opportunities just as the Samaritan lady did.
To grab the opportunity, the heart must be ready to forgive. Yet forgiveness can never be institutionalised rather it is a gift that comes from on high. He gave an example of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission established in 1996 by the South African government to help the victims of the Apartheid. This institutionalisation of the process of reconciliation did not work.
Tertio, on matters Soulset, our preacher told us that this is influenced by the first two, that is, the Mindset and the Heartset. He was inspired by Saint Paul’s first letter to the Church in Corinth, 1 Cor 2: 12-16. Since we are spiritual beings in a human nature the things God give us are spiritual in nature. In this category, inspiration is very fundamental to growth. An inspired person is a joyful, happy fellow. He engages in life with a positive attitude and sees beauty in life. It is only the word of God that will give that inspiration, cf., Jn 15: 3.
Finally, quarto, on a very lighter tone intertwined by his personal life history, Fr. Charles took us through the fourth aspect; the Health/Bodyset. Here, one has to reclaim back his own life! Since the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, we should constantly thank God for the gift of the body by taking good care of it. We shall only take good care of ourselves if we discern the things we are to do going by the table below.
Urgent and Important
NOT Urgent / VERY Important
Urgent / NOT Important
NOT Urgent / NOT Important
In conclusion, he gave us eight wisdom of the Gospel to help us in life. These are:
i. Leadership: be a leader with no title like Jesus; your work should be beauty and an art focused on human beings and not things.
ii. Humility: be servant of all
iii. Integrity: be truthful to thyself
iv. Originality: stop competing with others
v. Professionalism: have plans in life
vi. Daily Rituals: set specific time for specific activities each day
vii. Beatitudes: make them yours, own these wonderful virtues
viii. Recreation: have fun, and take life easy
His parting shot: “Claim back your life, by sharpening your soul”.