A Destined Weekend

(Phil West, CFC SFL Texas)

The destined retreat held on September second through the fourth of twenty-eleven held much new & promising lessons waiting for me. As you know, i’m continuing upon the journey that Christ has set me upon for & with Him. This journey has never been easy yet it has been the most fulfilling whether i’m purged through sufferings & left to rely only on Christ by trusting & being obedient. My thoughts written here are the testaments of my experiences in those destined days.

When this retreat was first brought to my attention I was open-minded & willing to experience what the Lord might have for me to witness.  Originally it was to be in Austin & originally most of my closest friends were to attend (those whom I most trust & are my zone of comfort).  As the dates came closer & the venue changed to Arkansas so did the openness of my heart & those who are most closest to me. Though God had revealed to me so much in my summer within the seminary I still found it somewhat of a  struggle to reintegrate interiorly & exteriorly back into life at home in Dallas.  Being away for two months had elevated & deepened my perspective on life, what’s important, God & my faith to Him. Yet at the same time realizing quickly that I was more out of touch with my peers than ever before. In many ways I have changed & yet in many ways i’m still the same. While my peers in Dallas have become giddy about courting for marriage I felt & still feel isolated about my excitement for the kind of supernatural courting which leads to ordination.  There is nothing wrong with the marriage vocation & those courting each other for it but deeply I began to yearn to be around those who hunger for ordination.  In order to prepare for the next step which God has for me it’s necessary to continue dying to myself no matter how hard this goal will be. Dying to myself so Christ can fully dwell within entails so much more than surrendering my possessions but also my will & emotional scars (this to which I will to dive into later).

Realizing within the week of the anticipated retreat I had become consumed by my ego & the discouragement that came with my close friends not being able to attend I began to pray for the will of the Lord.  Shortly within my prayers I found it true that I was still meant to go even without my friends & even if I had to face my secret emotional scars further only so that I can continue to honor my trust & obedience to Christ. I took to heart & committed to memory that my God knows me best, what’s best for me & what  I need to go through in order to be purified & grow. With that understood I rode in that long six hour drive on Friday toward wherever we would be in Arkansas (since I was confused about the venue) & interiorly I prayed to Mother Mary to prepare my heart with courage for whatever the Lord was calling me to face & absorb for His greater purposes in my life.  My complete focus & protection would derive from & for Mother Mary & Christ alone.

Hence the first session began, “ Destined to Worship “.  It was a beautiful reminder from God on how He saved my life & how He allowed me to discover Him within it these past 12 years through the community He chose for me to be formed in faith & character, CFC-FFL (formerly CFC for me).  So much was it an affirmation within my path of holiness toward Christ because charismatic worship has always been vital in keeping me close to Him.  Whenever I lost my way, whenever I suffered in life, whenever I found it hard to forgive & love those whom i’m challenged to love, whenever I questioned God if He was really there it was worship to Him partnered up with reading the gospel, receiving reconciliation, receiving the eucharist, going to adoration, praying the rosary & divine mercy that immeasurably helped & healed me each & every time.  In fact sadly for a period of time I began to forget (though not completely) the value of participating & leading in worship. So God somewhat took it away while I was in the seminary.  Singing in Latin & Gregorian chants was beautiful but it couldn’t bring me as close to Christ as it would through the modern songs of worship in our generation.  Secondly while in the seminary to my frustration they were scandalized & couldn’t take serious my desire to clap my hands, raise my hands, lower my hands, hold the rosary in my hands, kneel, prostrate, speak in tongues, exhort, dance & jump for Christ while in worship to Him.  If the ability to charismatically worship Christ freely is taken from me then who am I to be alive? When the speaker said “we were created to worship” I couldn’t agree more! In my younger suicidal years before I became aware of Christ in my life (& so much more Mother Mary) so many were the times I cried out, “what is the meaning of my life?” What grander an answer from God then to be marked by Him on my soul “the art of worship”.  By worshiping Christ we become anointed as His people, not in a cultic way but more of a redemptive one.  The moments given this past weekend to worship with fellow lovers of Christ who perceive holiness in a similar way filled me with so much spiritual bliss to not be held back to serenade the God who loves, saves, & nurtures.

Furthermore “Destined to Serve & Destined to Witness” brought in waves of affirmation. Why I include them so closely together is because I am moved to believe that one cannot serve without being a witness nor can one be a witness without serving.  How we live & interact with others teaches aspects of our character, what we believe & most importantly our relationship with God.  We are sent forth by Him despite our weaknesses & sins.  It’s necessary to be the boldest we can be in confidence & obedience to what is asked of us by God.  A story was shared about a king with his gigantic beloved diamond which attracted the visitation of all those within his kingdom. When it finally began to crack he called forth every gem expert to fix it & to his despair none of them could. He was gonna give up but then a certain unexpected old man pleaded to fix it.  The king put his last hope in this person & to his reward the cracked diamond was fixed in a way that none of the other experts could believe or had the ability to think of. This old man who was shrugged off by all was able to chisel the crack into a beautiful rose for the sorrowful king thus bringing back the joy to him.  Now i’m no king but I was able to relate to this story in so many levels when I reflect on my life & where I have been broken & what God has done & is still doing.  If some of you have read my “dear romance” article or just personally know me then you will know that what’s at the center of my deepest brokenness & scars revolve around romantic love & true friendship.  My heart is that cracked diamond that God is still chiseling with His love.  The trust & obedience I delicately give to Him is like the last hope the king placed into the hands of that old man.  I don’t know how long He will continue to restore me but as He does I know that He is forming me into His destined servant.  A “rose” of priestly inspiration for all to visit while belonging to the true King within His kingdom, someday hopefully.

I was called to Christ in priestly exploration for the third time & by going into the seminary for two months He began to restore me for God the Father. With certain romantic hopefulness decaying & the healing of certain once impeccably deep friendships left unfinished I left Dallas to pursue Christ.  A part of embracing Christ & His destined commission to us is to face whatever causes us to suffer even if you have to keep it to yourself, even if it means forgiving, even if it means to love who you no longer want to love, even if it means being compassionate to those who you don’t believe deserve it, even if it means being happy for those who bring you sorrow, even if you must go to listen & be still then to speak & move about for the sake of being Christ to others. This was the real struggle I faced this past weekend in isolation with Christ alone underneath the sprinkled story of discouragement of some of my true friends not being able to attend the retreat. The part of my cross in which Christ put me to the test to endure, witness & serve in silence without mention or recognition this past weekend was not only to open my mind & heart where it was fighting to close but also to face the newly formed love between those who I once considered my deepest brethren & those who I once prayed for years in wonderment if they could be the one God was saving for me.  I did my best to avert their public displays of affection to protect my heart but I couldn’t avoid all & to that which I witnessed finally brought me into interior suffering.  There were times were I began to tear up, falling quite, & unsociable but in those same times all I could do was go off on my own to pray to Christ & Mother Mary for strength.  One of the songs we sang had a verse simply sharing that Christ’s love is unfailing.  As I prayed & reflected on the last night of the weekend near the swimming pool I was given this personal message from God:

“I too had brothers who constantly betrayed Me no matter how much I forgave them.  I too invited & awaited for those I love to realize how much I care for them & that hopefully they’d also love Me.  Yet I still loved them no matter how much they hurt me in the choices they made even if it brought me to death.  Son, we are one in the same & i’ve allowed you to experience this so you may grow in strength as my witness to the world.  By this I lead you to where you can better glorify Me in your life.  I denied this love from you because what love for you can be greater than Mine?  No one can love you like Me other than my Mother herself.  I want your committed love & my Mother wants your devoted love.  We are with you in this destined self-funeral procession & it begins with romantic love & temporal friendships.  We will give you eternal friends & they will be the saints, starting with Dismas.  My son, don’t waiver anymore for what now is in the past.  For you are in My future & It is destined.”

Sometimes we are destined to be purified through suffering in order to be brought closer to Christ on top of the efforts He calls us to make in trusting & being obedient to Him.  Even if we are not ready we should always save our yes for Christ because He needs us to be a light, especially when we are in our own darkness.  Towards the end of my days in the seminary over the summer I found myself praying to Mother Mary in english, tagalog, spanish, latin & hebrew longing for the chance to hug Her in gratitude for the love I never knew she gave me alongside Christ’s love.  To my surprise I was the one who was given the chance to hold Her statue when we traveled in between venue sites.  When I shared this with the sister who similarly carried the Crucifix when traveling, I was affirmed in my growing love for Mother Mary in the course of our conversation when she said “that warms my heart so much” for she too has a devotion to the Blessed Mother.  I was asked who my weekend crush was & I couldn’t help but to chuckle with the joy of truth that now it will always be Mother Mary & Christ himself alone.  There were no stops to the affirmations I received in my vocation to Christ.  Though we stood out like a sore thumb during the mass at St. Francis church I couldn’t help but realize that it was Christ Himself speaking instead of the priest when he said “we need you young people to help out with our church.”  Seeing that it was the priest’s anniversary in servanthood & that the elderly were willingly serving the Lord in mass humbly inspired me deeper to what God is asking of me. In addition a parishioner came up to me sharing that her daughter goes to my same parish back in Dallas (what a small world!).  Yet the most strikingly  thing she said to me (& two fellow sisters that were with me) was that “we were destined to be here”.  Since this obviously was the theme of our SFL retreat I couldn’t help but praise God.  Before we left His house I made sure to walk up to the statue of St. Francis & pray simply “If Christ destines me to become a servant within the umbrella of your order then may He lead me to you”.  One other significance I recognized is that my hometown in California is Fairfield & this place where we were having our retreat was called Fairfield Bay.  One brother thanked me for helping Him out in a time of life where no one wanted to help Him.  In return I could only praise God for what He destines me to do. We are destined to worship, serve & give witness to Him. I pray for all of you, amen.