As we celebrate the feastday of St Augustine, I recall certain phrases when reading his Confessions: "Sero te amavi, pulchritudo tam antiqua et tam nova, sero te amavi!", that never failed to rouse me. For it reminds me that my life is finite—I have wasted so much time in my past, first as pagan, and then through all that lethargy and indifference after my conversion—too finite not to dedicate myself to a Mission entrusted to every Christian.
What is our mission really, for each one of us? On my way to catch a flight to Taiwan last week, the taxi driver remarked (somewhat uncannily, now that I'm looking back), that it seemed like my trip would be for a mission rather than a leisure trip. I affirmed, because I wasn't going on a holiday.. but a mission? It is not a claim I dare to say.
Having seen a little of the Choice Asia Conference two years ago (hosted by Singapore), I didn't think there'd be anything exciting to look forward to. I was prepared to sacrifice five days getting bored to death, if only so that the Singapore delegates could somehow benefit from my presence. But the Lord is good and generous...
Bravo had to skip his Jesuit retreat this weekend to come for the conference, but he confessed (after the trip) that the conference was worth going. The Taiwanese were most gracious and enthusiastic and warm; they cheered for us whenever we arrived and left the university dorm where we stayed, as if we have been their dear friends for the longest time! I was very happy to catch up with some old friends from Choice Indonesia who were in Singapore last September for the pioneering Bahasa Choice weekend, and met lots of new ones :)
The conference began with evening mass, and the next day we were treated to a rare 'spiritual enrichment'—in which the (now former) Choice Asia Team priest, Fr Daniele Cambielli, meditated upon the Crucified Jesus as the center of our missionary apostolate in Choice. I must confess I was blown away and very humbled. For it is as if I, who went with less than a full heart, had my darkness enlightened and cynicism healed.
Fr Daniele started with motivation for a life of mission, and asked us to identify our personal mission and our specific message ('gospel') in the Choice ministry. He then went on to compare Jesus' vision about His mission on earth and what the world teaches about our goals: relevance vs. contemplation of God's love, popularity vs. ministry, and leadership through power vs. leadership through being lead. The next challenge is to think and to see like Jesus does, by meditating about the different groups of people who mocked Jesus in his last hours hanging on the Cross. The short retreat ended with an affirmation that contemplating the Crucified Jesus gave us the necessary strength to serve our baptismal call: to let our old selves die and start a new life loving as we are loved. (I know this short summary does not do it any justice, it only served to show the depth of the reflection...)
The next day we started with mass again, and spent the day sharing with the other countries' Choice representatives about how the weekends are held, challenges they face in executing the weekend, getting presenters and participants alike; as the main national delegates 'talked business'. It was amazing, as we discovered how joyfully and faithfully they serve in the weekends (a stark contrast to my dispositions each weekend I served), and how creative they could get in solving problems on their weekends.
My personal zenith of the conference was when Fr Daniele drew a parallel between the Eucharist and the structure of a Choice weekend (something that I'd never had dreamed of on my own!) What a beautiful way to look at our mission...
The cultural night on Saturday night marked the end of the conference; it was wonderful: every country squeezed their creative juices to dress up and perform an item for all the participants. There were many other wonderful things during the five days we were there: not least of which is the Missionary Sisters of Providence (who ran the dorm)—who had perpetual eucharistic adoration on Saturdays, btw— and the countless volunteers who danced and cheered and took us out for a few hours on a city tour. The Masses were said in English, with some songs in Mandarin and Bahasa. I had great five days to practise my embarrassing Mandarin (under the excuse that I am self-taught and a recent learner).
Overall, it had been a fruitful trip (although I could not visit anyone else given the packed schedule and I'm down with flu now). Late have I loved Thee indeed, but as for realizing our mission and going through conversion again and again to serve our mission better, "Let it be now, let it be now!"