Wisdom Is For Everyone
I first arrived in Baguio City, northern Luzon, in September 2003, as a member of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, founded by St Frances Xavier Cabrini, best known as ‘Mother Cabrini’. After a six-month period of enculturation, I felt ready and eager to begin ministry, even though I knew well that I still had much to learn from my Filipino brothers and sisters. I was already involved in our ministry for street children and their families (Save Our Street Children Foundation, Inc, ‘SOSCFI’), but I still felt called to something more. It seemed to me that the Lord also wanted me to start sharing with others the gifts, experience and learning I had received throughout my many years in religious life. Why should I keep them to myself? Shouldn’t they be made available to a wider circle? One of these gifts was that of discernment. I had been assigned to Casa Cabrini, our House of Discernment in Baguio. I felt that was a nice name for the house, but not much was being done to make discernment real to others. I also felt that the Lord Sr Patricia Spillane MSC wanted me to ‘widen the circle’, go beyond the house and involve others – but my idea of ‘others’ was still fairly limited at the time – ie, women who would be interested in religious or missionary life. So with that original inspiration in mind, we MSCs started a pilot program called ‘Circles of Discernment’ (COD).
Three years later, I can say that despite my best efforts to stick to the original plan, the Lord ‘took over’ the idea and used it for his own purpose – a purpose much wider, more varied, diversified and broader than anything I had imagined! Circles of Discernment took on a ‘life of its own’ and I often felt, as our foundress Mother Cabrini would say, ‘I am just a spectator of the great and wonderful things that the Lord is doing!’ This is the story of that transforming journey.
In May 2004, I sent out fliers and posters for COD, visited groups and set a first meeting for young women to learn about and practice discernment. But the word got out. Men and women of all ages and walks of life kept knocking on the door and asking: ‘Can’t we come too? Don’t we all need to learn how to make good decisions? Don’t we all have to seek and find God’s will in our lives? Isn’t wisdom for everyone?’ I was both humbled and astonished. Something was obviously happening and the Lord was ‘taking over’ my narrow agenda.
Our first three years
In that first year, COD met in large groups, small groups and individual sessions, with men and women of different ages, backgrounds and education. We called the student group ‘Seekers’ and the older group ‘Sojourners’ to differentiate them, but there was great freedom in mixing and mingling. Together we learned much about Ignatian discernment – the necessary conditions for it to be effective in one’s life, what is meant by discernment of God’s will and discernment of spirits. We explored the spirituality and practice of discernment, as well as positive and negative experiences. We talked about what discernment meant at various stages in one’s life, how God had a purpose and a ‘vocation’ for each one of us and that we would only be truly happy and satisfied in that path of life. One of our favorite quotes became ‘I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans of peace and not disaster, reserving for you a future full of hope. When you seek Me, you will find Me, when you seek Me with all of your heart’ (Jer 29:11- 13).
Came the second year and COD kept right on going. This time, using discernment as a foundation, we explored how the theme of relationship – with God, ourselves and others – was fundamental to discernment. We talked about both wisdom and foolishness in relationship, about how easy it is to get tempted, mixed up and confused in relationship. We added to our monthly meetings retreats and panels where COD members could present their discernment or relationship cases so we could all reflect on them. Our membership diversified even more: married couples as well as young men and women in religious life, professionals, housewives, retirees, and so on. The Circles kept getting wider and broader.
The third year arrived – and I figured we had gone as far as we could. But no, from all our talk about discernment and relationship, the members chose to focus in Year III on virtue, asking what the virtues are that promote discernment and good relationship and the vices that destroy them. People said ‘Nobody talks about virtue any more – but it’s so essential!’ We looked at both good habits and bad habits from a personal, spiritual and social dimension. After all, getting insight into all these things is never enough. We have to practice them. Our hearts have to be converted and transformed so that our behavior is consistent with our belief. That’s what virtue and good habits are all about. Year III also saw the publication of our COD newsletter, Cabrini Companions, as well as various apostolic outreach programs to SOSCFI, medical missions and now prison ministry.
The Present Moment
So where are we now in 2007? Casa Cabrini is a thriving House of Discernment, SOSCFI has a new center, we have received international grants for our ministry and we have opened a second community in Baguio. Truly we have been blessed for which we thank and praise the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
And what about COD? At the end of our third year we had a major evaluation and formed a leadership team to see ‘Quo vadis, where are you going, Lord?’ Together we discerned that COD is not a movement or an exclusive club. Many of our members already belong to other groups, yet they keep coming to COD. Therefore, Circles of Discernment is above all a formation program for people like us who want to discern the will of the Lord and how we can live that out in our daily lives.
In planning Year IV, we decided that with this three-fold foundation of discernment, relationship and the practice of authentic virtue we already had ‘more than enough’ for our life journey with the Lord. So we made them the basis of a three-year cycle of formation for COD. We believe that these three essential elements are the foundation of a life of personal relationship with the Lord, of hearing and doing His Word and, above all, of seeking and carrying out His Will and purpose for each of us. This is our credo.
Year IV of Circles of Discernment had a very special beginning: our first two-day COD Assembly on Discernment at Jesuit Villa, given by Fr Ramon Bautista SJ. This was a graced moment for us which provided a wonderful foundation for all that is to follow. In addition to our regular meetings, we have also expanded our retreat programs. There are four this year.
Words from Our Members
Here’s what some of our members have to say about COD:
Grace Calleja, a young entrepreneur has this to say: ‘I am a sojourner in Circles of Discernment. I joined the group three years ago. As I write this, I still haven’t lost the excitement and anticipation in my heart that I had when I was about to attend my first COD meeting. I know that every time I come out of a COD meeting, I will feel recharged, renewed and revitalized for another month-long struggle with everyday discernment’.
Richard Halaman, married with two sons and Director of Physical Therapy at Benguet General Hospital, wrote after a COD retreat: ‘Cherishing the moments of divine chance, I believe I’m in God’s hands. In my life, vices have turned to virtues, lukewarmness turned to devotion. God’s commandment has become absolute. Indeed, my spiritual formation is no less than a miracle!’
Rebecca Costales, professor at UP, Baguio, as she grew in relationship with herself and in self knowledge, had this to say of her COD experience: ‘I have realized that the more we stand naked in the eyes of God with all that is of us – the beautiful and the not-sobeautiful – God is delighted in this kind of honesty. After all, He does not seek to redeem the beautiful in us, but those gray areas that we like to hide. He desires the honesty that comes from within. I used to pray ‘Lord, take away this anger, this impatience, this and that sin. Take away my weaknesses . . .’ But now I have learned to pray “Lord, I am angry today, I accept my impatience, I failed again, for I am weak. Have mercy on me”.’
Jovie DeCoyna, one of the members of Casa Cabrini, our House of Discernment, had this to say of her experience: ‘Casa Cabrini is an ‘open house’ where people come and go. Some stayed and others went on but nobody who came into the community would say they did not feel at home. The openness and hospitality of the Sisters show that nobody who knocks at the door will be rejected. When I first walked into this house, I knew I had found a family, a unique family composed of people with different backgrounds and who came from various cultures, coming together to be a witness to God’s marvelous works.
And finally . . .
As for myself, as a Missionary Sister of the Sacred Heart and a daughter of Mother Cabrini, I am so happy that my original narrow intention was ‘hijacked’ by the Lord and expanded for His purpose. I am in awe at how our God works when we let Him. Perhaps this experience is a small example of what Pope John Paul II meant when he said that every religious house should be a ‘school of spirituality’ and a ‘laboratory of faith’ for all who come. Certainly this kind of ministry has become a mission in itself. Even though this was not our original intention, we MSCs are very happy that Casa Cabrini and Circles of Discernment have evolved in such a dynamic and creative way. We feel that the Lord is leading all of us on a journey of faith into a future filled with hope and love.
The mailing address of Sr Patricia
Spillane MSC is: PO Box 191,
BAGUIO CITY, 2600 Benguet.
Her email address is: