Faith is not a seasonal thing

The COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, which necessitated the shutdown of our churches, led me to search for Masses online.

Mar 17, 2023

Barbara Boey

The COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, which necessitated the shutdown of our churches, led me to search for Masses online. That was how I chanced upon Fr Michael Payyapilly V.C, who was then streaming Masses and Adoration services online from the Church of the Holy Family in Doveton, Melbourne, Australia. His homilies and his prayers after every homily had been soul-stirring for me and I found myself constantly searching for more of his inspiring sermons.

When the Church of St Francis Xavier, Petaling Jaya, announced late last year that Fr Michael had been invited to conduct a retreat in February 2023, I signed up without a second thought. It would turn out to be an immensely blessed three days for me. Coming out of that spirit-filled retreat, I feel compelled to share some of the blessings I experienced.

The retreat started on February 17 and ended two days before Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent. While I was ecstatic over the thought of attending a ‘Fr Michael Payyapilly Retreat’ in person, I had wondered if it could not have been held during a more cheerful time of our Catholic liturgical year. It was ‘A Lenten Retreat’ and Lent, categorically, spells a time of repentance, a time of penance and sacrifice. Lent, to me, is a somewhat ‘gloomy’ season. The advent of the Lenten season for me has always been accompanied by a heaviness of heart and, subconsciously, a sense of dread. It is a time when we are entreated to give up specific pleasures, eat less, pray more, do penance and essentially, live holier, to prepare for Easter.

I also wondered if Fr Michael and Fr Joseph Kannampally, another Vincentian Order priest, who would co-conduct the retreat, would have anything new to tell me about Lent. Would they be echoing the oft repeated exhortations of the season and go over the same old same old about Lent? As it turned out, they did indeed draw focus to Lent. But in my case, the retreat did more than draw my mind into Lent, it immersed my heart and soul in it. The heart tugging homilies and soul nourishing Praise and Worship, the holy Adorations and the Benedictions that took place over the three days presented to me, Lent in its true profoundness and glory.

As the retreat progressed, I felt the weight and burden of Lent lift, and in its place came a sense of hope, assurance and joy. I was beginning to see the real value of Lent. “The 40 days of purification and cleansing are not to prepare you so much for Easter but for eternal life,” said Fr Michael.

That statement resonated within me. I found myself reflecting on Fr Michael’s session on purification. But of course, I thought to myself! Lent is not merely a preparation for Easter! It does not, and should not, stop at Easter. Purification is intensified at Lent, but purification continues and prepares me for the beyond. It prepares me for the prize of Eternal Life! The immeasurable value of Lent became clear. Therein is the significance of Lent. Every Lent is another rung on my ladder of faith towards eternal life. That should be my focus and my ultimate goal. Lent surely cannot be limited to 40 days, finishing after Holy Thursday? My Lent cannot be seasonal. I cannot hang up my Lenten duties after Easter and pack them away till the next Lent. My purification cannot happen over one Lent. It will take many purifications to prepare me. My Christian discipleship, my faith, cannot be lived with an ‘on/off’ switch.

Lent leads us to the miracle of Good Friday. Lent leads us to the greatest gift we can receive – the gift of the Cross. On Calvary lies the greatest miracle of Love, the greatest gift of all. Fr Michael talked to us about the Sacrifice of the Cross and he drew our hearts to the unfathomable love and the unreserved forgiveness of our crucified Saviour.

As I contemplated Jesus on the Cross, an enormous sense of gratitude swelled within my depths, even as my eyes welled up in tears of thankfulness. How awesome is my God! How much He must love me! How much He must have forgiven me. On the Cross, my God died in my place. How priceless the gift of the Cross.

On the final day of the retreat, Fr Michael and Fr Joseph sanctified all of us and carried Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament around the church that all of us might able to gaze upon His Holy Presence up close. As Jesus passed by me, my only desire was to fall on my knees in reverence, to worship and adore.

My Lent is now a season of love and forgiveness. Not burdensome. Not dreaded.

(Barbara Boey is a parishioner of the Church of St Francis Xavier, Petaling Jaya)

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