When my friend Bobby Q. called me up a few months ago to ask if I could give a talk in a retreat for lawyers in Davao, all-expense paid, I immediately said yes. I liked serving with Bobby and Jeng, and besides, when he said "lawyers", I imagined they would be in my age group. That turned out to be a false assumption!
Bobby said his dad had a burden of bringing lawyers together to be a strong force for change in the legal and justice system in Davao. Tito Jimmy (better known as Judge Quitain, well, one of them, as there are 3 judges and 9.5 lawyers in that family) prayed hard about it, and not sure where God was taking Him, just did what he did best, organizing an event and inviting people to attend. And attend they did! When we had our pre-mission trip meeting last week, I learned that there were forty-four (44) lawyers and judges (!!!) who had already paid for the weekend retreat.
Run that by me again, please, did you just say... judges? I had no problem giving the talks assigned to me to people of my age group and just recently, to teenagers, but when I realized that I would be talking to judges, I had anxiety attacks.
I tried to imagine myself saying, "With all due respect, your Honors, let me speak to you know about Jesus and his mission." That talk was the first one I ever gave and supposedly one of my favorites. My self-confidence evaporated. I mean, those people were more mature and experienced than I. I should treat them as I would my own father or my law school professors. They could be my bosses. And yes, one day I could enter my appearance in their courtrooms if I return to active practice.
I tried to over-prepare. I consulted Fr. Steve for the infallible documents of the Church (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium) on the gifts and the power of the Holy Spirit (which was the second talk assigned to me). On the day of the retreat, I felt like I was cramming for an exam and I reached mental block. I solicited prayers from friends. I had chest pains and I badly wanted to back out, but I realized that would be a shame after the Love and Life of Jesus Community sponsored my plane ticket to Davao and the Quitain clan invited me to family lunch to celebrate their grandfather's death anniversary.
I had to walk my talk and practice what I preached. Of course I could not do it on my own - I needed the power of the Holy Spirit! I could talk boldly about Jesus and His mission because I would be citing facts and the truth! I had nothing to worry about. Really.
The atmosphere on Friday night at the start of the retreat was typical of lawyers' gatherings. They were there with their spouses. The men convened to talk about politics and the state of law practice in Davao City. The women were in a separate huddle discussing people and events.
What got me through was serving with the Quitains. Bobby led the retreat, something he was born to do. Bogart led the music, superbly. Their uncle played the drums - he's a professional musician. Their Mom, Tita Baby, who works for the BIR, took charge of registration. Tito Jimmy ushered in his friends and colleagues and made them feel at home. Jeng, while thinking of her children's milk and diapers, was a picture of surrender to God. I drew strength from her positive disposition. Brothers and sisters from Holy Trinity Community and Ang Lingkod ng Panginoon-Davao also came to serve. I was with great company.
I hardly slept that first night, for I had two talks, which were combination talks from the CLP manual. In terms of CLP, I was assigned to give a total of four talks in two 30-minute sessions. I was under time pressure! Bobby and Jeng had two talks each, as well.
When I was called to give my presentation, Bogart said he heard my voice quivering. He interceded for me. I buckled a lot during the first few minutes, but I kept on. I presented the Gospel message and then the Chart of Alternatives. This is a case ripe for adjudication, I said. Jesus claims to be God and these are the authorities cited directly from Scripture. We cannot afford to be indifferent about this, we either have to accept it and follow Him, or reject it and turn away from Him and the promise of Heaven forever.
I don't know if they heard my sigh of relief afterwards. I wanted to run and drink one pitcher of water. During the break, one judge approached me. He said the talk I gave was his signature in his community, but he learned something new from me. He pointed out what I missed, in a gentle way, saying that lawyers needed evidence even of Jesus' divinity, and I thanked him profusely. With the time pressure and the intimidation I felt, I knew I missed out on a lot!
But the retreat went on smoothly. Jeng gave a very practical and direct-to-the-point talk on What it Means to be a Christian. Bobby followed up with man's fitting response - Repentance and Faith. The Discussion Group leaders told us that slowly, the participants were responding. The Spirit was moving among them and they were opening up.
Before I knew it, I was back to talk about the Power of the Holy Spirit. I relied on Him entirely, forgetting my audience, forgetting my fears. I could give that talk backwards and forwards, if I wasn't palpitating so much. Thankfully, I got through it again.
The team prayed hard. We hoped the participants would respond. It was all up to them. They could give their lives to Jesus and be Christian lawyers, a force to reckon with. Or they could go back to a life without the Spirit. They had to make a choice.
That night, they made individual choices to follow Christ. They went to confession and then received Jesus as the Lord of their lives. For some, it was merely a re-commitment as they had been renewed Christians years ago. It was a beautiful sight to behold and a heavenly atmosphere, when all praised and worship God after the pray-over session, and the lawyers and judges exercised the gifts of the Holy Spirit. They praised in tongues, raised their hands, sang in the Spirit, closed their eyes, and embraced their Maker.
The team could not stop thanking God afterwards. We needed to sleep, however, as we were sapped of all energy and we had one more day.
On Sunday, we had mass and lo and behold, the priest was also related to Bobby, he's a second-cousin of their mom. He's a Redemptorist Missionary assigned in Borneo who took on the message of the retreat and challenged the participants to form a strong support group where they would share their faith experiences with one another. He said the group they would form should not only talk about Scripture based on head knowledge, but share about their feelings and struggles as Christian lawyers, without violating the privileged communication with their respective clients. His homily drove home the point. The founder of their congregation was a lawyer who got burned out with practice and said, "World, I know you now!" He became a priest instead and later on founded the Redemptorist Missionaries. I told Jeng, at least we know there are two lawyers in heaven - St. Thomas More and St. Alphonsus Liguori!
We saw the Holy Spirit at work. It was the Feast of the Holy Trinity, to top it all. I still was intimidated by the participants after the retreat, even if they did approach me to say they heard the Lord through the retreat. That even if it was run by a family, we were chosen by God in each of our roles. Of course my only link is that I am friends with the Quitain children and godmother to one of the godchildren.
The retreatants decided to form a regular support group and to pray where the Lord is taking them. The organizers and the team could not help but jump up with joy. We could say, "It is finished!" We had done our best and God showed His generosity by moving the hearts of the lawyers.
They were given a time to share their experiences and it was amazing. One judge said that he had reconciled with his Maker. Another lawyer said that he could feel he was able to control his temper, as in fact his daughter called him up and asked for more allowance, and he uncharacteristically did not flare up. A prosecutor said she had nine cases the following day but she attended the retreat anyway, and would now more boldly proclaim that she is a Christian. A lawyer tearfully thanked God for allowing her husband to commit to Christ the night before, as she had always prayed for her entire family to be part of community. One by one they shared - stories of miracles, of renewed hopes, of renewed commitments. Tito Ben, a practicing lawyer even in his advanced years, said it had been his dream to organize lawyers to help the poor.
It was humbling to listen to them all. They wanted to bring in more of their friends and colleagues into a deeper relationship with Christ. They would sponsor future Choices seminars. They did not want this to be just another retreat they went to and forgot about. They received a fresh outpouring of the power of the Holy Spirit and they wanted to live it out.
I could not believe that I was part of that. I was not worthy to speak to that group, but the Lord used me and the rest of the team, making us strong by grace.
Afterwards, I enjoyed some time to rest with Jeng, Robelle, Mara, and the Quitains. We went food tripping. They were starting to plan next seminars and retreats. As I still had not processed the most previous one, I just smiled at them and thanked God that whenever He calls, He enables.
Let us pray for the conversion of more lawyers.