Encuentro retreat focuses on mercy

By Elsa Baughman
GREENWOOD – At the beginning of his presentation on the mercy of God, Juan Pablo Chavez told those who attended the Encuentro, sponsored by the Office of Hispanic Ministry, that sometimes we act like the characters in the Bible, in particular the Prodigal Son, when he left, in the steps he took before leaving his family, and when we tell God to give us what is ours, “and to hurry,” he said. “We are alike in the way we squander our life, when we waste our time.”
But, he added, “you are here today because you want to experience the mercy of God, you want to be healed  you want to change and be sent to be merciful to others.” These were the three points covered in the theme of the day, “God calls us, heal us and sends us to proclaim his mercy.”
The retreat, held Saturday, April 30, had all the necessary elements for a party, said Chavez, because at the feast there were guests, a tablecloth which meant that it was a special moment to celebrate, flowers that were a sign of joy for those who were sad, there was a light to illuminate the dark areas of the souls of those present, and there was the Word represented by the Bible.
Chavez pointed out that the theme of the retreat was based on the three parables of mercy – the Prodigal Son, the lost coin, and the lost sheep – which according to him are the heart of the gospel because they accentuate the mercy of God.
“The parable of the Prodigal Son – Luke 15:11-32 – is the story that best explains the heart of God and describes in a beautiful way his love and mercy,” Chavez said. To illustrate this parable he showed the famous painting by Rembrandt, “The return of the prodigal son,” explaining the details of the painting.
He also spoke about the different possibilities that we, with our attitude, our behavior, can be like the father, or the older son, or perhaps the servant. “We all have a place, a space in this parable,” Chavez said.
While he was explaining the meaning of the embrace of the father to his son, who had returned repentant and asking forgiveness, Chavez asked the priests who were present to embrace each participant, “to represent the Father who wants to embrace you through the arms of this priest, to experience the love of a Father who does not accuse you, who forgives you and to receive his mercy,” he said.
Reading the passage in Luke 13, which recounts the story of Jesus when he was teaching in the synagogue and healed a sick woman who had been humpbacked for 18 years. Chavez explained that the message of this story is that to God it does not matter how long you have suffered or have been sinning.
“What Jesus did physically in that woman he can achieve with you spiritually,” he noted. “He can straighten all those things that are crooked in your life – your bad habits, laziness, addictions, ambition, overindulgences – flaws that don’t let you be upright. He can return the dignity and freedom to any physical or spiritual situation in which you may find yourself,” he said.
Meditating, with a soft voice, Chavez told the participants, “Today Jesus invites you to remove that hump and to be touched by his sacred hand to be healed,” and encouraged them to approach the table to touch the Bible – the Word of God – so He could cure that hump that shame them. “At the beginning He gave you a hug and now He wants to touch you to heal you because to serve the Lord you have to be healed,” he said. “The joy is a sign that God has healed you.”
Chavez noted that the message of the parables of the lost sheep (Luke 15:3-7) and the lost coin” (Luke 15:8-10) is that God is not going to stop pursuing us until he find us, Chavez said. “And God not only welcomes sinners, he seek us out like the woman look for the coin she has lost and the shepherd went out looking for his lost sheep. Both invited their friends to celebrate what they had found, Chavez said. “Similarly, there is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.”
Ending, a group represented the parable of the workers in the vineyard to illustrate where the Lord is calling us. Chavez said that there are many ways to work in the vineyard of the Lord – praying and being obedient to the hierarchy of the church, to do what He wants us to do, not what “I want to do” and specifically to search for those who are lost and prepare a feast for them.
The retreat concluded with the Eucharist concelebrated by Bishop Joseph Kopacz and several priests.