Written by Lay Missionary Febie Gonzales.
My first home vacation in 2019 was a time well spent with my family and friends. The most memorable event I had with my family was a weekend family couples retreat and recreation at Our Lady of Mount Matutum Trappistine Monastery in Landan, Polomolok South Cotabato. My cousin Rocelyn and I planned this special family activity, attended by our parents, aunts, uncles and cousins. I appreciated the generosity of my cousins Rocelyn and Roces Joy for their financial support for the family retreat. In all, we were seventeen, the youngest being 22 and the oldest 85 years of age. Organizing and facilitating this activity was a bit challenging because it was my first time to conduct a retreat and one specifically geared towards my family. However, I was courageous enough to give it a try , having as our main goal bonding, relaxation and enjoying each other’s company and to personally thank them for their support throughout my missionary journey.
We arrived at noon on our first day, had our lunch, a briefing on the House Rules, and a short siesta. This was followed by our first session, at the start of which I explained the context and purpose of our retreat and recreation. I told the group “I am not here to teach you how to pray because you first taught me; I am here to be with you”. During our session we wrote out our prayer intentions, lighted our candles, and offered our prayers. Afterwards, I encouraged everyone to observe individual prayer time; rest, relax, enjoy the silence (at least a few moments) and the surroundings, while some of us attended monk’s prayer. And of course, the most anticipated time was when the bell rang and everybody went to the refectory to enjoy the bountiful food that was served to us. We also had enough time to roam about and explore the place. During our free time I saw my uncles sitting together sharing their life experiences. I witnessed the same with my aunts and cousins who had the time to talk and relax. I felt glad watching them having a great time in place of such solace and peace surrounded with beautiful scenery. The monastery is located at the foot of Mt. Matutum overlooking a pineapple plantation where everyone enjoyed taking photos.
For our evening prayer we did silent meditation. We formed a circle with our candles lighted and prepared ourselves for the prayer. During that time, I felt a special silence, the Holy presence of God through the special silence and prayer energy of the group. The ambiance was so peaceful and one of a kind solemn prayer experience that I have ever attended. I am convinced that their presence made it all the more sacred and special. After our night prayer we all rested well.
We awoke early the next morning for exercise, Morning Prayer and breakfast. Afterwards we had our personal time and then gathered for our last session for art works and sharing of our personal image of God and retreat experience. I appreciated the openness of everybody in the sharing. Most of them expressed that they only ever attended a retreat during their high school and college days or before they got married, while for others it was their first time. Someone shared that the joy he experienced during the retreat was priceless. Someone shared an image of God as a family and church. The most common image shared of God was one of love. God is in the silence, in nature, He is in the rhythm and voice of the monks chanting the prayers. He is a living rock. He is gracious for giving us the opportunity to pray and to experience this family retreat at the monastery. God is peace and joy. After the sharing we attended the mass and had lunch together. Then we went home full of the grace we received during the retreat.
I felt so blessed to listen to their stories; I have been inspired by how they live their faith, married life and shared the mystery of God’s unconditional love every day. This event brought me closer to them. It was a grace-filled, fruitful, meaningful time with my family and with God. A one of a kind bonding with the people who first sowed a seed of love and prayer within me and had a strong influence on my missionary life. It was a one of a kind life giving experience for which I will forever be grateful and forever cherish. On top of that, this one of a kind bonding allowed me to experience God’s greatness, believing that everything comes from Him: courage, wisdom, strength and confidence. I trust and let the Holy Spirit make me a channel of his graces.