After an extremely long hiatus (I’ve found greater joy writing a journal than blogging for the whole world to see), I’ve chosen to come back and blog about me and B’s Catholic Engaged Encounter weekend because there is just so little information about it on the Internet. Me being the typical Singaporean everything-also-must-prepare-in-spades type, that drove me absolutely crazy. And thus, I write this for all those who are intending to attend the CEE in preparation for their marriage.
So, read on for our CEE experience in detail!
You check in on Friday evening. You’re encouraged to do so by 7.30pm that Friday, although the programme proper begins at 8.00pm. We had dinner at home before heading out to our CEE location, which was at the Marriage Encounter House in Punggol, right next to the Saint Francis Xavier Seminary. I’ve heard that it’s not always held there – it’s also held at the SFX Seminary itself when the group is large. Our group was considered a smaller one – there were about 15+ couples (30+ individuals).
Upon arrival, we realised that we really need not have eaten at home before going there – they had originally promised a light meal, so we were thinking packed sandwiches or something of the sort, but no, there was actually a 4-course buffet spread! We didn’t really check out the food since we were already full, but we did see fried noodles and spring rolls.
We socialised a bit before the organisers called us into the Conference Room for the introductory stuff. B and I thought that this would just be self introductions, maybe an ice breaker or two, a prayer, and then bed. NOPE. Hahaha. There was the self introductions and a prayer, but they set us to work that very evening on the first two sessions in the workbook they gave us. We’re not supposed to give away the specific content, so I won’t say anything about that here, but suffice to say that you did need to utilise your brain for introspection and discussion with your partner. The workbook is very substantial okay, the content you cover over the 2 days and 2 nights spans 86-ish pages (with blank pages to write in in between, but still!!!).
The format of most of the sessions followed what we experienced that first night. For each session, there would be presentations by one of the two presenting couples conducting the session, with some input from the priest conducting the EE as well, if necessary (more often than not, the priest did give his input). Thereafter, we would split up to search our soul and answer the questions in the workbook in writing, girls in one location and boys in another location. We’re given a set time to answer the questions that varies with the complexity and number of the questions. When time is up, we join up with our partners and discuss our answers the questions. Where the answers differ, you are encouraged to engage your partner in a discussion on the different answers, to see if you can reach a consensus. You are also assured by the organisers that due to the nature and complexity of the questions (they are all very sensitive topics that are close to the heart, like finances, children etc), you may not necessarily reach a consensus during the EE, and indeed that is not the purpose of the programme – the purpose of EE is to help flag out the issues that couples need to consider before they commit to a lifelong marriage. There are follow up programmes you can sign up for to help you resolve the issues if you feel that is necessary, and the EE organisers inform you of these options at the end of the EE. (Which I found really awesome.)
There’s no correct answer to any of the questions. I had this vague impression that there would be someone checking on our answers to make sure they were in accordance with the Church’s teachings. That’s really not the case – there’s no one to check on whether you are taking the session seriously or just going through the motions, let alone what your answers are! Your answers are 100% private, to be shared between only you and your partner. What you get out of it is proportionate to the effort you are willing to put in. If you anyhow answer the questions, then the EE will not be helpful. B and I considered the questions in the workbook very seriously and thoroughly, so we discovered things about each other even though we had done self-help marriage prep material that was available online on our own even before the EE. I would strongly encourage everyone to do it seriously. I mean, you already paid the $240 and agreed to lock yourself in the closest thing to a desert island in Singapore (aka retreat house in Punggol lol) so you might as well make the most out of it!
We ended at about 11.15pm the first night, and around 11.00pm on the second night. Sibei shag. Most people came from work on Friday, so after showering, settling into the rooms, getting to know your roomie a bit, it’s past midnight before you know it. Wake up time for us was at 7.10am on Day 2, and 7.30am on Day 3. Get enough sleep before you go for the EE. It’s very tiring, and the brainpower used is many many, so I think you would find the going less painful if you’re well rested. B and I didn’t expect the EE to be so intense. I went into the EE not having rested well or sufficiently earlier that week – think 6 hours’ sleep at maximum between Sunday to Friday – so the Saturday sessions were really torturous for me. My eyes were heavy and I was battling a headache – although by a miracle, the headache didn’t worsen – usually I get bad headaches if I haven’t had enough sleep for more than 5 nights in a row. I like to think that God was with us :)
The room is basic but very clean. Most of the rooms are twin sharing (two single beds), although some have six to a room. There are no ensuite toilets, but there is a sink, so you can brush your teeth in peace. The shared toilets are also very clean (they don’t look clean because they’re kinda old, but they actually are). There are 5 toilet bowl cubicles and 5 shower cubicles at the toilet I used, and there was another toilet at the opposite end of the hall, which I didn’t see but I assume has the same number of cubicles. There’s air-conditioning in all the bedrooms. You room with a member of the same sex because you’re not married yet. We didn’t have any problems with mosquitoes. You get one pillow and one blanket. If you need extra, best to bring your own, because depending on the number of people there, they may not have extra (you basically have to take the extra from the other rooms if you need, and if all the beds are taken, then there won’t be any left over for you). There are electrical sockets, but as there were only 2 in my room, I strongly suggest you bring a multiplug. You also need to bring your own toiletries and hair dryer. There’s a towel rack and wire hangers in the room as well. Bedsheets and pillowcases are also provided. T0wels are not; bring your own.
Back on the topic of the itinerary. Day 2 (Saturday) started with a short mass, followed by breakfast, a multitude of sessions interrupted only by mealtimes, and finally a presentation on Natural Family Planning and a debrief for the next day. Saturday is THE most intense day of all. There are so many heavy, thought provoking sessions that really sap your energy. By dinner time, most of us were brain dead already lol. Sunday is a bit less shag, but this is an “everything is relative” thing – it’s still by no means a walk in the park. Sunday began with breakfast, followed by sessions, with the usual breaks for meals, and ended with a public sharing on our experience + mass + presentation of the pretty colour-printed EE Certificates. The public sharing is nothing to be afraid of – you can be as vague as you want and nobody will push you for more details. You can also be very detailed if that floats your boat.
Food was much better than I expected. My experience with retreats is that usually some volunteers cook the food, with the result that whether the food is good or bad is largely the luck of the draw… Hahaha. When I go on retreats, the point is not to eat good food right, so I can hardly complain. The food at the EE, however, is catered by quite a legit caterer. Every main meal was a 4 course buffet – a carb, 2 proteins, and a veg. They served breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and supper on Saturday. It’s impossible to get hungry. The standing joke is that EE actually stands for “Eat and Eat”! After attending it, I see why. LOL. The meals served on Sunday were the same, sans dinner and supper, since we end around dinner time.
My suggestions to people who intend to go for EE:
- SIGN UP EARLY. There are very limited places and they fill up very fast. Best to register a year in advance of your intended marriage date.
- Go with an open heart and mind. Take things seriously. You only can reap what you have sown. Nobody is going to force you to sow seeds at this course if you don’t want to.
- Be well rested before you attend. The sessions take a lot from you, and you must have the energy to give in order to make the most out of it. If you’re like me and find it difficult to sleep anywhere but home, lagi please sleep properly in the run-up to the EE.
- No need to bring any extra food or snacks. You will be waaaaay too full. All the time.
- Bring a multiplug. This is the one thing they don’t mention in their list.
How I felt about the EE.
I think every couple considering marriage should attend a good marriage preparation course. It pre-empts a lot of issues and highlights things for discussion. It helped us to evaluate our decision as to whether or not to proceed with the wedding better (fortunately, our answer is still yes :)). Although we had already reached consensus on most of the difficult issues due to our kiasu-ness in doing online marriage prep material, we still had one major outstanding issue to discuss and resolve, and we managed to resolve it at the EE. We also learnt new things and made new discoveries (one of them was a joint discovery, something neither of us had thought about before). It gave us the chance to do a full soul search and bare ourselves completely to each other. We felt so close spiritually after the EE, so much so that it was really hard for us to part and go to our separate homes after it.
I think even non-Catholics can consider going for this EE. There is of course an element of God in this, it being a Catholic-run course, but Catholics being Catholics (the Singaporean ones at least are quite bochups about proselytising imo), the organisers are totally not pushy about religion (or anything really). The majority of the couples that attended our session were interfaith couples, so I think the organisers’ priority was to create a safe space for couples of all faiths to discuss their issues, including their spirituality. The presenting couples and the resident priest were all very careful to assure everyone before anything remotely religious happened that it was not a religious initiation ceremony or an attempt to convert anyone to Catholicism. The religious parts of it were also quite clearly flagged out so that no one would be startled. I’m Catholic myself, but I thought that was great. The people at our session were also really nice lah, so the conversations at mealtimes were lots of fun.
All in all, it’s a super intense and tiring weekend, but B and I really enjoyed it.We grew so much as a couple in the short span of 2 days and 2 nights. It was worth all the effort, headaches, and giving up 2 nights of good rest for. Coming from me, that means a lot, since sleep is one of the things that I rank very highly in my list of priorities! :3