The Return of the Prodigal Son Retreat

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Participants of The Prodigal Son Retreat. (Photo: Diocese of Sibu)

By Martina Young

KEMUYANG, SIBU — The Return of the Prodigal Son Retreat was recently conducted at the Sibu Diocesan Pastoral Centre, Kemuyang from 7-8 March 2020. A total of 194 participants came from different parishes in the Diocese of Sibu and some from Kuching and Bintulu also joined the Retreat. The Retreat was conducted by Dr Jeffrey Goh, Ms Angie Goh from Kuching and Fr Cruzito B. Manding from Cebu, Philippines. Fr Cruzito is presently attached to the St Joseph’s Mission Animation Centre, Sibu.

The Retreat was based on the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15: 11-32, the Return of the Prodigal Son written by Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Missing 3rd Line written by Dr Jeffrey Goh (Volume 12 of his Christian Living Series) and the magnificent painting of The Return of the Prodigal Son by the great artist Rembrandt.

Dr Jeffrey began with the Prodigal Son. Although the parable is very familiar to all of us, he was able to bring out the point that ‘Returning home’ is only possible if there is a ‘Leaving home.’ Participants were asked to describe the characters of the Prodigal Son and there were many suggestions from ‘ungrateful, stupid, reckless’ etc. and then only to be told they were describing themselves, whereby there was a moment of silence before all broke into laughter. That is how we behave when we sin again and again and heed not the voice of the Father. Participants were taught on the need to be grateful for all the blessings received. There is no need to be on pretences with our loving Father or put on a “mask” before Him.

Praying over Dr Jeffrey and Angie Goh led by Fr Cruzito together with the participants. (Photo: Diocese of Sibu)

Then Fr Cruzito talked on the Elder Son. He began by teaching the participants how to pray using the psalms. The Elder Son who physically never left home and under all circumstances was seen as an obedient and filial son only to realise that spiritually he had long left home. He remained stoic and rigid and refused to acknowledge the younger brother and he even told the father “your son….” In fact the father was the one who had to come and reach out to him. Fr Cruzito went on to share his personal struggles when he was a young priest which was truly a lesson in humility. Many times we too became resentful with all the obligations and ‘duties’ which we think were unappreciated and forget to do them instead with love.

The first day session ended with Holy Hour and confession where participants were able to experience the unfathomable mercy of our Heavenly Father.

The next day the Retreat continued with the Talk on the Father figure. Angie drew the participants to focus on the different parts of the anatomy of the Father figure and the postures of the different characters in the painting. It was truly an unravelling of the figures one by one which Rembrandt managed to convey brilliantly in his work. The crunch came when we were told how to become the Father with His unconditional love by our grief, generosity and forgiveness. Dr Jeffrey, the master storyteller, was able to draw laughter and tears from the participants from his many real life stories. The most difficult part of the forgiveness aspect was “to ask for forgiveness even when you have been wronged.”

The Service of the Cross was a tear-jerking finale as participants were told to take down the mask and refrain from making ‘speeches’ like the Prodigal Son to just be themselves and bare all to Jesus. Although the participants were discouraged from kissing the cross and embracing one another during the Sign of Peace as a precautionary measure against the threat of the Covid-19, but for the first time ever in the program, the participants were given the chance to write on a piece of paper whatever is still burdening them or the person that they need to reconcile and then burn the paper surrendering all to God.

Coincidentally the Gospel reading that day was on the Transfiguration of the Lord. Participants were reminded that the Retreat was not meant to be a ‘feel good weekend’ but to strengthen them in their spiritual journey from knowing or remembering (memoria) to service (diakonia), to communion (kononia) and proclamation of our faith to those around us.

The Retreat ended with a prayer led by Fr Cruzito and together with all the participants, he blessed Dr Jeffrey and Angie in their ministry and vocation.

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