Savouring Xavier’s Savior – 2014 Alumni Retreat

by Mr. Matthew Lee ('09)
Savouring Xavier’s Savior group photo. 1st row left to right : Henry Uy’72, Johnson Tan ’75, Fr. Xavier Alpasa, SJ, Retreat Director, Bob Yulo ’79, Willy Tong ’66, Ronnie Lipio ’69, Greg Abada ’93, Ever Go Tian ’83, Bambi Chua, DARO 2nd row left to right: Matthew Lee ’09, Art Munoz ’81, Mike Lim’80, Arthur Tangco ’91, Ed de Joya ’80, Dobbin Tan ’81, Edwin Chiu ’81, Albert Yu ’73 and Tim Tolentino ’76

They say that after college, you should take a break before jumping into your first job. This is exactly what I did after graduating from the Ateneo de Manila University in 2013. As a part-time photographer I was able to accept some work; just enough to fund my extended vacation. My days were spent leisurely doing the things I’ve always meant to do but have never had the time for.

Life had never been more relaxing; but after four months out of college, I found myself looking for more to do with my time. I wanted to find a job, but after my long hiatus I wasn’t in any condition to do so. It felt like my life was off-balance. I had allowed life to stay on autopilot and I was getting nowhere fast.

I decided that the only way that I could find my balance was by going on retreat, but not just any retreat, a silent retreat. With nothing to lose, I signed up to go on a solo three-day silent retreat on June 16-18, 2013, at the Sacred Heart Novitiate in Novaliches.

Admittedly, getting into the silence wasn’t easy, and I think that’s what most of us are apprehensive about. It’s such an estranging feeling to be detached, especially in a world where connectivity is given such a premium by businesses and people. But as I soon realized, I quickly fell into a slowed-down pace.

Entering a silent retreat is like getting a factory reset. It’s a chance to tune out the noise from without and within allowing myself to listen to my own voice, which, I was surprised to discover, wasn’t heard most of the time. After the retreat I felt refreshed and knew more clearly what I wanted, and so I began applying for jobs. Before I knew it, I found a job as a wedding photographer that I quickly fell in love with.

Last month, I received a text from Ms. Bambi Chua of the Development and Alumni Relations Office (DARO) inviting me to join them for the Xavier Alumni Retreat on June 20-22, almost exactly a year after my first silent retreat. True enough, at the time, I found myself in another rut. As much as I loved my job, it started to feel too much like a routine and I had forgotten the reason why I took it in the first place. I saw this as a sign that it was time for another reset.

Our alumni retreat was moderated by Fr. Xavier Alpasa, SJ who shared his own life story about finding the balance between two worlds of economic standing in God and in service. Despite being a silent retreat, Fr. Xavier’s discussions were engaging and thought-provoking as we tackled the topics of gratitude, forgiveness and love.

It was easier doing a silent retreat for the second time. I’d effortlessly wake up at 5 am (because I’d be asleep by 10), just in time to watch the sun rise. Then I’d get through the day occupying myself with different activities like attending mass, exercising, taking a stroll, writing in my journal and resting.

In photography, I have learned that balance is what produces a good photo. A balanced exposure makes sure all the important details are recorded in the image. The correct white balance sets the mood for the shot. The balance of the subject and its background gives context without distracting the viewer from the message it conveys.

The same could be said about balance in our life. Balance gives us clarity. It is a point we refer back to when we reflect on our past or plan for our future. Balance gives stability. Finding balance gives you a kind of peace that you can only find from within and an assurance that you’re in the right place. Most of all, it repurposes our lives for things greater than we could have ever imagined.

I have come out of the retreat invigorated by the restful weekend and reassured that I had once again found my own balance. I am ready to take on life with a clear direction of where I want to go and a heart filled with purpose for the life I want to live.

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A screenshot of another alumnus sharing his appreciation for having been part of the retreat.

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