By Elena Dini
ROME — Rejoicing should inform every Christian life. There is a reason for rejoicing and Advent gives Christians a chance to discover it anew every year.
As part of the current VPI series, The Lay Centre offered an ecumenical retreat Dec. 1, on the theme, “Rejoice. Advent Hope!” It was preached by Rev. Dr. Tim Macquiban, director of the Methodist Ecumenical Office in Rome and Minister of the Ponte Sant’Angelo Methodist Church, and Dr. Donna Orsuto, director of The Lay Centre.
“We begin the new liturgical year not with fireworks but with the lighting of a simple candle on a dark night,” said Dr. Orsuto at the beginning of the retreat.
Sharing her reflection on the verb “to rejoice,” Dr. Orsuto reminded everyone that it comes in an unexpected context in the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians.
“He was writing to a Christian community that was apparently well organized, but if you read between the lines you realize that, like every community, things were not perfect. The community had many internal and external problems. Yet, in the midst of that, Paul says: ‘Rejoice,’” she explained.
Rev. Macquiban proposed that participants follow a four-stage path: four themes were introduced with a passage from Scripture and commented upon with the use of one of the many hymns by Charles Wesley, an important leader for the Methodist Church in the 18th century and the younger brother of Methodist founder John Wesley.
“His hymns are a richness for the whole Church. This is what I could call receptive ecumenism: we share what we received,” said Rev. Macquiban.
For each of the four themes – the hope that delivers us from darkness; the hope that brings joy; the hope that dispels fears; and the hope that brings peace – Rev. Macquiban asked the participants questions intended to help personal reflection: What is our deepest hope? Where are the signs of God’s kingdom of justice and joy present today? How do we handle discouragement? What fears do we need to banish and how can trust in God help? And, finally, how can we see ourselves as instruments of God’s peace?
A good amount of time was dedicated to sharing. People shared both personal experiences and reflections about global issues touching each and everyone of us. A question that particularly called the group’s attention was the refugee issue: Is there hope in this crisis and how can it be proclaimed?
“When people bring their own experiences of joy and suffering and share with one another in confidence and fellowship, it is a great encouragement,” said Rev. Macquiban at the end of the retreat.