By Mitchell Han
“These retreats are useless, they only give you a short spiritual high and then it doesn’t last.”
It’s an oft-repeated story: A Catholic goes for a retreat and enters into a deep communion with Jesus. However, he doesn’t know what to do with all that energy and emotion once he exits the retreat house and soon he falls from that ‘spiritual high’ and goes back to his daily life. He’s seen salvation with our own eyes: healings, psychological or even physical in nature, but he falls back into the comfortable, the normal. His old habits stick.
Isn’t that strange? To go back to an old way of life despite the most amazing thing in one’s life happening?
Perhaps not. After all, the apostles did it too…
The Apostles Shrank into Normalcy too
In the gospel of John, Jesus had already resurrected and had appeared to the Peter and the apostles once. The apostles had already witnessed countless miracles and teachings by Jesus but curiously enough, they continued their lives as though nothing had happened. Jesus turned water into wine, healed the sick and had appeared to them after dying but yet after the resurrection, the apostles returned to doing what they had always been doing – fishing (John 21:1-3)
It is a sad anti-climax in their faith journeys, much like many Catholics who encounter Jesus at retreats and then become lukewarm after the fact. Like the Apostles, they experience Jesus deeply for a while, but in the return to daily life, they remain unchanged. They return to their ordinary lives and continue on that path.
Jesus saves us from our dead pasts
“Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these others do?’ He answered, ‘Yes Lord, you know I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He replied, ‘Yes, Lord, you know I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Look after my sheep.’ Then he said to him a third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was upset that he asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ and said, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.” Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep’ … After this he said, ‘Follow me.’ (John 21:15-17)
However, the disciples meet Jesus again and He reveals his plan for the apostles’ future, and the future of any disciple of the Risen Christ. In the phrases “feed my lambs”, “look after my sheep”, “feed my sheep” and “follow me”, Jesus indicates to the apostles to follow Him on a road of high adventure, to head out of their comfortable domesticity into the unknown. The apostles are sent to distant lands, they preach the Good News and convert many people, bringing Christ into their lives.
Instead of collapsing from their spiritual high, their love of the Lord increased all the more. “There was great joy” (Acts 8:8) wherever the disciples went and despite persecutions they were “filled with joy” (Acts 13:52). They end in heroic fashion, most dying a martyr’s death.
An Encounter… and a Mission
Jesus thus reveals the path forward, even 2000 years later in the modern world. For a Christian, like the early disciples, there has to be a mission to accomplish or else he will grow stale. Christians need to be on the move just like the apostles. “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18). Focusing excessively on our sins can lead to a certain scrupulousness and self-absorption. In his exhortation Gaudete et Exultate, Pope Francis warns “against individualism, spiritualism, and living in a little world” and acutely observes that “closed spaces grow musty and unhealthy.” Christians need to have their eyes constantly focused outwards of themselves.
Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns… God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt (Evangelii Gaudium 2).
First and foremost, a Christian must give what he holds to be most precious: the Good News of Christ. Pope John Paul II exhorted: “The Lord is always calling us to come out of ourselves and to share with others the goods we possess, starting with the most precious gift of all – our faith” (Redemptoris Missio 49). Just like the disciples, we embark on a faith-enriching adventure to hold this mission in high regard. We see this in the Acts of the Apostles as they went throughout the land, preaching with evangelical zeal! There is great joy in this way of life. In evangelising, faith is stirred. “Faith is strengthened when it is given to others!”
When the Church summons Christians to take up the task of evangelization, she is simply pointing to the source of authentic personal fulfilment. (Evangelii Gaudium 10)
For me, the work of evangelisation has given me joy and greatly increased my faith. Like anyone before heading out on an adventure, I experience a mix of anticipation, nervousness and excitement. There is a sense that something big is going to happen, that a profound shift in another person’s life is going to take place – as it happened to you.
By sharing my faith, I fall even more deeply in love with the splendour and beauty of the Church and Christ as I am forced to prepare and research more. When I speak, I get to see the faces of the audience have an “ah ha!” moment, when they come to realise profound truths. Acting as Jesus’ hands and feet, I experience the mysterious power of the Spirit. On one occasion, I prayed over a participant during a retreat. The Holy Spirit fed me many images related to leadership. I saw a flame in the darkness, Pope John Paul II in his papal study and I sang the lyrics to the song Hosanna by Hillsong United: “I see a generation. Rising up to take the place. With selfless faith, with selfless faith.” As we ended off the prayer, I thought that these statements were anything but what the participant wanted to hear and that I had failed in my prayer. But strangely enough, the participant turned towards me and told me blankly, “I am discerning the priesthood.”
“Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Luke 5:4
During a recent Catholic Foundation lunch gathering, Archbishop William Goh gave an interesting suggestion for evangelisation which I would encourage all Catholics to do: “Just invite a non-Catholic friend to come along with you to our Sunday Mass. That’s all. Leave the rest to the Lord.” The first step in evangelisation is that simple.
As we embark on our mission of evangelisation, let us gather in the Upper Room with the apostles after Christ’s Ascension with Mary, the “Star of the evangelization” as we ask for her intercession:
Mother of God
Hear our pleas for courage, faith and love
Transform us with the Spirit’s grace
Give us a new heart and a new soul
Arm us with the power of God as we proceed with great patience
Help us to live, converse and preach the Gospel
And proclaim the Good News to the ends of the world
Intercede for us as we gather those not of the flock into the City of God
About me: Hello! I’m Mitchell, a freshman at Yale-NUS College with an interest in psychology. I like reading, and playing football and floorball! But my favourite activity of the day is spending time with Jesus in adoration and Mass.