Testimony for the 1st CER Alumni Fellowship at the Church of St. Ignatius, 17 May 2018
I was in CER 36, about 4.5 years ago. At that time, I had spent 3 years discerning the religious vocation after my conversion experience. But the search for a religious congregation to join was tougher than I had expected. Over time, prayer became dry and I felt so lost, discouraged and spiritually dead.
I resisted going for CER initially because I loved the silent retreats that I was making! But I went eventually because I was so desperate for a spiritual resuscitation. God did bring me back to life in the retreat.
After CER, I was pretty much on a high I think like almost everyone else. And then came the question of what CSC ministry to join. Because of the fire of zeal I felt after the retreat, and the comforting sentiments of being back in CSC where I encountered Jesus so deeply, I was very eager to get involved, to stay connected with the CSC environment. And so I joined the healing ministry.
The ministry members are truly lovely people. But I soon began to notice various practices, underlying values and beliefs within CSC at that time that didn’t quite align with my beliefs and reflect the God I have come to know. The politics and strained relationships between persons that saw no improvement led me to wonder if God has really been taken seriously, and if He’s not, then what was the service really about? I became quite disillusioned and frustrated.
Only recently, I realized that I was the one who was not ready to accept imperfections, respect where people are and love them anyway. I’ve been seeking perfection as a way of protecting myself from getting hurt by imperfections. Simply because I was very hurt in my earlier days by people’s imperfections. So I wasn’t ready to work alongside anyone because I would just end up judging them and getting very frustrated. And then, I would get upset with myself for being judgmental, and that made me feel too unworthy for God’s love. This was a very big obstacle in my relationship with God.
On hindsight, I really should have discerned more carefully the call to join another ministry as I was already serving here in the parish. I realised what I needed most at that time was actually to focus more on God, on deepening my relationship with Him, being more disciplined in my daily prayer, aligning more consciously my priorities and values with God’s; in short, paying more attention to my interior life and building that up first, rather than to distract myself with ministry and everything else that comes with it. As Ignatius noted in his rules for discernment of spirits, when in consolation – which I was in right after the retreat – the soul frequently forms various resolutions and plans, which are not granted directly by God… and which must be carefully examined before they are given full approval and put into execution. Unfortunately, I wasn’t quite aware of this back then.
Thankfully, I had the support and guidance of spiritual mentors and companions, and more, deeper encounters with Jesus in silent retreats on top of spiritual direction. I came to understand that CER is God’s tremendous gift to personally encounter Jesus but alone, it is not enough for the spiritual journey. Once that high is gone, the Ignatian Spirituality has been another of God’s gift to continue growing my interior life.
The Friday growth sessions, healing Masses were external structures that gave me an aid, lifting me up emotionally and spiritually when I felt down and tired. But relying on these external structures alone to give me a sense of holiness and consolation in that moment didn’t take me very far. Interiorly, I needed to decide for myself my level of focus on God and commitment to this journey. How serious am I when I say I want to follow Christ? When I’m in a high, it’s easy for me to say I love Him. I’ve said that so many times. But when it comes to the reality of my daily challenges, how much do I fight to keep my word? And when I fail to love God in others, and I’m once again faced with the ugliness of my human self, how much do I trust in God’s unconditional love for me? These have been and still are very real questions in my journey.
Few months after joining the healing ministry, God’s grace led me to the Good Shepherd Sisters (RGS), where I spent 3 years in pre-novitiate formation till late January this year. I learned to live with very different people of different ages, cultures, personalities, worked in very humbling settings caring for abused women and later, children who were abused or neglected. In community and ministry, I had my buttons pushed in more ways than I liked. The sisters are very good people but no one is perfect. And I’m certainly not perfect either. And through it all was the constant struggle to choose love over the easier and more familiar tendencies.
When I was deeply hurt by my own companions and formators, I had to face my anger, my pain, disappointments, still trying to keep my eyes on Jesus, holding myself back from reacting, and at times, begging Jesus to move my heart to forgiveness when all I could do was to sit in prayer helplessly angry, confused, and crying out the pain. How do I forgive when the other person isn’t even sorry? When she’ll continue to be the way she is? It was always a tug of war inside. But once, Jesus said, “Love needs no justification.” It was His invitation to exchange my human logic and need for justice for God’s humanly illogical, unconditional love. It was a choice I had to make each time and choosing to forgive because I want to walk the talk comes with a price; the painful price of discipleship.
On another note, through having my buttons pushed, I became aware of what those buttons were and I could bring them to God in prayer to listen to what He was trying to do in me. There’s a deeper reason why I was being triggered – my old, unhealed wounds manifesting, and it was God wanting to enter these painful memories to heal them and make me more and more whole.
And God took this healing even further. Part of our journey towards novitiate was to go through a psychological test. After which, the Jesuit Fr. Varghese who conducted the test for us pushed this rather new idea real hard and my provincial very generously offered for the first time as part of formation psychotherapy. It is not cheap and I’m most grateful for this. Not that we were found to be psychotic but as Fr Varghese shared, the psychological tools developed are now so advanced that being freed from our past wounds has become much more accessible and easy. And it’s only for the sake of freeing us up internally to be better ministers of God.
My therapist and I worked very hard in the process and the results are beyond my imagination. I never expected to encounter Jesus so deeply in the therapy as I normally would mostly in retreats.
After months of therapy, although we did not cover every single wound in my life and I am still far from being perfect, anger, frustration, fear, insecurities, inadequacy – these affected many of my relationships and were so much a part of my daily struggles in the past – but they have been greatly, greatly reduced.
Life situations have not changed but I have, and I can trust God’s love a lot more. I don’t feel as crippled by fears, which always took my eyes off Jesus and made me forget He holds everything in His hands. Being much more secure now, I was, in my retreat last month, finally able to hand over to Jesus my need and obsession for perfection because I’m emotionally stronger to handle the threats of imperfections and more than that, I feel safe enough to allow Jesus to take over the place as my Protector, my Calm, my Confidence. I don’t need to overprotect myself anymore.
I don’t know what you’ve been hearing about my journey but I see a lot of struggles in my journey. And it doesn’t look like they’re ending. At least not before death. But all these struggles and growth would be absolutely impossible if not for God’s abundant graces. I don’t know where I’d be without God’s continuous working in my life. His faithfulness to me. And the struggles would all be hopelessly depressing if not for a much greater prize to gain – which is the gift of greater intimacy with Jesus, the joy that brings and the comfort of knowing my daily struggles are my spiritual vitamins for growth. So my adventure continues and I pray that yours is abundantly graced too.