I experienced an eight-day silent retreat last month as climax to my 90-day residential renewal program with the other 24 priests of different ages, ministries, geographical and ethnic backgrounds. By all means, we were not allowed to talk (even to make eye contact!) except for an hour a day with our spiritual director.
We had two occasions of Holy Hour (adoration to the Blessed Sacrament) during the day, apart from personal prayer periods that each of us should find. Every day, we received reflection themes and scriptural texts from the retreat master to guide us through. Silence (silentium magnum) was imposed as it was necessary to listen to the voice within and to dispose ourselves to the ‘language of God’.
Admittedly, while there was external silence, I discovered so much ‘noise’ inside me. It was, however, by listening within that I began to hear God’s voice. The encounter with God is not something that I am in control of, only something that I can dispose myself of. Silence. It allowed me to experience God as my most profound assurance, a deep conviction that everything will be fine as long as we trust in Him. Such silence triggers commitment to God and the building of His Kingdom.
Last Sunday, we celebrated Indigenous Peoples (IP) Sunday to highlight this special apostolate of the Church for this marginalized sector of our society. It is all the more meaningful to remember them, especially that we are celebrating this year the ‘Year of Indigenous Peoples (including Ecumenism and Inter-Religious Dialogue)’ in preparation for the 500th years of Christianity in our country next year.
Today, the IPs, more than ever, badly need the support of the mainstream society. They need us to preserve their ancestral lands, protect their rights, and promote their unique identity and culture, among others. I personally witnessed these struggles during my fieldwork with them two years ago.
Just before I shut off my communication to the outside world before the program, an IP leader texted me about their sad plight: militarization, vilification, harassment, the threat of mining, food blockade, closure of their schools, trumped-up charges of their leaders, indiscriminate bombings, etc. I simply ran out of words to respond. Or it could be also that I was afraid of being red-tagged again because of my affiliation with them.
The silence during the retreat allowed me to confront God, whose love encompasses social status, color, gender, age, etc. He is the same God the Manobos called, Magbabaya or the Tagakaolo’s Tiyunamen. Their worship in Him allowed them to respect the very creation of His, especially the human person. Their beliefs and practices emanated from their relationship with their Supreme Deity.
In last Sunday’s gospel, Jesus reminded us of this God in the parable of the wedding feast (Mt 22, 1-14). The king invited everyone, but not everyone responded well. Some refused. Others excused. Some others accepted. But even for those who accepted the invitation, a dress code is necessary. In Verse 12, a man accepted but declined to wear the proper attire. When confronted by the king, ‘he was reduced to silence’. This form of silence does not sit well with the Lord. Silence should allow us to speak the language of God, which leads us to action. Our silence towards God’s imperative is a muted response of a dead faith. To participate in the wedding feast, it is necessary to wear the right clothes just as one does not sleep in swimwear.
Our life as Christians is a continuous response to the invitation of God to His special banquet. Just as our dress determines an occasion, so also our actions determines our relations. The Lumads or IPs showed their high regard to their Supreme Deity through the vitality of their culture, respect for life, and the environment. This is something that we have already forgotten. While silence becomes a disposing measure to the authenticity of our encounter with God, silence should not be our only reply. While the world is in pandemic and those who govern bungle, our faith should not only lead us to silence. Such deafening silence leads us to ‘darkness outside (v.13). Instead, we should learn to wear our faith through action and refuse to be silenced. We can do this by supporting the cause of the oppressed and impoverished brethren of ours. We can only do this if, just like the IPs/Lumads, we truly encounter the God of us all.
At the beginning of the program, a fellow priest-participant, who has been working abroad for a long time, cautioned me that the NBA’s campaign for equality for Afro-Americans is dangerous. Somehow, according to him, it may ‘tolerate’ the wrong doings of others. He may be right in one point but he misses a lot. To campaign for equal treatment for all is a promotion of justice. The deprivation of justice is precisely the cause why oppressed people assert their rights. Much more to a believer of a just God, to encounter Him behooves one to promote a just society too. We simply cannot remain silent amidst the injustices happening around us. Our participation in the banquet calls us to dress up for the occasion.
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Raymond Montero Ambray is a Catholic priest of the Diocese of Tandag and a graduate of MA Anthropology at the Ateneo de Davao University. He is a member of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines and a founding member of Caraga Watch, an environmental watchdog. He is awaiting his new assignment in the Diocese of Tandag after completing his 90-day residential renewal program. Fr. Raymond had earlier served as parochial vicar of the Holy Child Parish in Lingig, Surigao del Sur. This piece was first published on his FB page on October 15, 2020. MindaNews was granted permission to publish this)