Welcome everyone! It’s my first March retreat with the Hi-C. We have more people than we did at the summer retreat. It’s great to have some of you back, and also some new faces as well. March retreat is shorter than the summer retreat. But it’s just as sweet. Put everything aside and enjoy your time with one another. You have nothing to worry about. March Break just started. Come with an open mind, ready to absorb as much as possible. Be excited to see what God will show you at this retreat.
During each session, I’d like you to write in your booklets. It will help you focus. You don’t need to write down everything that I say. Write only what speaks to you. After all, the booklet is for you to keep. You will be able to look back later and remember what you learned at this retreat.
I want to begin with St. Paul’s words from Romans—
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.Romans 12:15-16
Pay attention to what Paul says here. Celebrate with those who are happy; comfort those who are sad; live in harmony with one another; be willing to relate to those who are different than you.
How can we do this? HINT: It’s related to the theme of this retreat.
EMPATHY. What is empathy? You gave slightly different definitions. But there is something common to all of them. I will put it simply.
Empathy is CARING.
Caring is the essence of empathy. It allows us to connect with another person. Let me show you something.
You see two faces kind of merging together. Not completely, but there is a connection. A shared recognition (or understanding). That’s caring. Without empathy, the two faces would be completely apart. There would be no such thing as “WITH”.
In that sense, being empathetic is what it means to be human. Human beings are social creatures. We are made to be connected with each other. God created Eve so that Adam wouldn’t be lonely. Author of Ecclesiastes said two are better than one. People with higher levels of empathy tend to have more satisfying relationships. They perform better in the workplace. They make great friends and inspiring leaders. We are created to care. When we stop caring, we become less than human.
There was a study done by the University of Michigan in 2010. Based on the data gathered from 1979 to 2009, they saw a gradual drop in empathy among young adults over those years. There was a 40% drop, with the biggest dip after year 2000. They wondered what might explain this decline. One possible explanation was our constant exposure to media that contains violent and negative messages.
I can see how this could be the case for us, even today. We have more exposure to the media than ever before. We see what is wrong with the world than what is good. Just watch the news on any given day. Sometimes when I scroll through Netflix, much of the content tend to be dark, violent, and disturbing. They are there because they grab our attention more. But a constant exposure to these things can lead to feelings of numbness and detachment. What do those things show us? Life, especially human beings, is not worth caring about.
Plus, we’ve also experienced much isolation in recent years. We spent almost 3 years being holed up in our rooms. We were glued to our screens. We had no choice but to do that. Now, we realize that we don’t know how to really connect with others. Not only do we feel lonely, but we feel totally indifferent. We experience the same kind of indifference from others. No one really seems to care much. I feel like there’s been an even bigger drop in our ability to be empathetic.
APATHY is the enemy of empathy. (Apathy is SIN.) Apathy kills empathy. Apathy doesn’t just stop at indifference. Apathy leads to complete self-centredness. Since we don’t care about anything else, what or who will we focus on? Me. My needs. Our attention is always directed at ourselves. We live in our little cocoons, totally disconnected. Nothing else is important—except me, myself, and I. Other people only exist as ideas or something to compare ourselves to. That is how we become isolated. It all happens subtly, without us knowing.
That is why the theme of this retreat is “Building Empathy”. Empathy is like a muscle. It has to be worked and built up. We need to tend to what we’ve neglected for so long. We need to learn how to care again. Building empathy is a journey of caring. Journey of caring is overcoming our apathy. Caring about others is a basic human responsibility.
Then what can snap us out of our apathy? How can I overcome my indifference and learn to care again?
Be INTERESTED. Building empathy begins with taking interest in others. When you are interested in something other than yourself, what happens? Your attention shifts away from yourself—it goes outwards. You forget yourself. You feel happier and more energized.
You might say, “I don’t know how to be interested in others.” Being interested in others doesn’t happen on its own. Interest springs from something else. To be interested, we need to have a sense of CURIOSITY. Building empathy begins from being curious.
Jesus was a highly empathetic person. Jesus knew how to connect with people. You see it throughout the gospels. But deep down, he was interested in others. He was curious about them.
As he walked along, he [Jesus] saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.March 2:13-14
Jesus called a tax collector. Nobody liked tax collectors in those days. Yet Jesus wanted to work with one. So he called Levi. Scripture even tells us his name. To Jesus, he wasn’t a nobody. Jesus was interested in who he was as a person. He even went to Levi’s house for dinner!
While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”Mark 2:15-17
Teachers of the law could not understand Jesus. All they saw were people who seemed ‘bad’, ‘different’, and ‘unworthy’. The Pharisees dismissed the tax collectors and sinners because of what they saw on the outside. They weren’t curious at all as to who they really were.
But Jesus—he sat with them. He ate with them. He talked with them. He was curious about those who no one else was interested in. He wanted to get to know them in a meaningful way.
Becoming curious begins with one simple question: “What are YOU about?” Who are you? What is your story? What are your hopes and aspirations?
When you are curious, you will be interested. You will start caring. When I was a kids, I went on a trip to the States. My uncle was studying there. I saw beside this American man on the plane. His name was Andrew. I still remember. I barely spoke any English then. But I was curious about him. The whole ride, I kept talking to him in gibberish. He was very kind and friendly. My mom told me to stop bugging him. We even took a picture together when we landed. I never forgot that experience.
Being curious about others (something other than myself) is the first step toward overcoming our indifference. It is the first step towards becoming empathetic.
To me, human beings are the most fascinating creatures. They are all so unique, layered, and complex. No personality quiz can capture a person perfectly. The fact that the person next to you is so different than you should be enough to spark your curiosity. Let’s begin this retreat by being curious about each other. Really get to know one or two people at this retreat. You can start with your group members. Your curiosity will open up your world for the better.
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