Chapter 5 – Engaged Encounter

1

Okay, you have read about our wedding day. The preparation part is somewhat interesting. But wait a minute; haven’t we attended any marriage preparation course? Shouldn’t that be one of the most important preparation?

For us Catholics, we have to attend a marriage preparation course before our church wedding ceremony. In fact, we receive a certificate after we have survived the course and we need to produce this certificate before the priest allows us to hold our wedding ceremony in the church.

We did not attend the course because it is mandatory to do so. Some people may be a bit sceptical to this whole idea. Maybe they are not sure how much you can get out of the preparation course; maybe they are in an interfaith relationship. We attend the course because we want to build a better foundation. No relationship is too good to be improved.

Two people together, to me, is like individual threads being woven into a tapestry. Each tapestry is different. When it is first woven, it is new and charming. Then it gets a bit dusty and need some washing up. Part of the test of time is to survive the frequency trips to the washing machine. Each unattended lose thread may result in a visible damage after the washing cycles. The trick is to treat your tapestry at the first sign of lose thread. And if too much damage is present, we need to know how to undo the damage and renew the tapestry. A return to its original glory.

That, is the mentality we have when we signed up for the engaged encounter weekend. The bottom line is: if your relationship is good, you two can make it better; and if your relationship seems to rock from time to time, you two can make the journey smooth and calm. The key is to know how.

Usually, the church will recommend you to take up the marriage preparation course six months before your wedding date. After attended the course, my recommendation will be to attend the course right before you announce your engagement to the whole world. There are couple of things you can expect coming out of the engaged encounter: you can be more certain of whether or not you two are made for each other; and for sure, you will be able to understand your partner in a deeper sense. No one can claim to know another person one hundred percent. There are always rooms for discovery. The question is whether you want to discover more about your loved one before or after the marriage. Or perhaps even better, before or after the engagement.

One reason why this portion of the writing is not included in the previous sessions is this: in the earlier part of the story, it is about what has happened before and during the big day. Whilst what I present here could be close to the reality, there is no guarantee that my story is the reality. There is always an element of entertainment. Some incidents may be twisted for the good of the characters mentioned and for the good of the readers. In contrast, writing about the engaged encounter is different. The course is full of useful information that has to be presented the way it was taught; or as close to what I can recall – for the benefit of you, and for the benefit of us.

So, allow me to say a little prayer here to let me recall all that I can, to present it in an interesting manner, and to write it for the benefit of everybody. Amen.

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First of all let me clarify that this part of the writing is not a marriage preparation course. If you are expecting to get some quality result, seek the professionals. Although I am not liable for any kind of loss after reading this portion of the book (for instance you may realise that he or she is not the right one for you or the exercises I mention give forth negative outcomes), I will be grateful if you can benefit from it. Do drop me a note in that case and if you wish to make any donation, do so to the Catholic Engaged Encounter Archdiocese of Singapore. An upgrade to their premises would be nice.

What I am trying to achieve here is to write the essence of what we have experienced during our engaged encounter weekend. Added to this essence is my own thoughts and ideas. If you are curious about what engaged encounter is all about and what their objectives are, do visit the official website for more information about CEE (Catholic Engaged Encounter).

We do not attend the course six months in advance. By the time we put our heart to it, it is fully booked till July. Father Loiseau has already warned us about the popularity of the engaged encounter weekend. So one day we sign up for it and are given the slot on July 14-16.

We are advised to check in before 1900 on Friday, July 14. My client site is at the Plaza-by-the-Park. After work, Cynthia and I meet at the Plaza Singapura, have a quick dinner, and take a taxi to Punggol, where the engaged encounter takes place.

We have never been to anywhere near Punggol. My impression about Punggol is that it is still an undeveloped area near to the coast and I hear the seafood there is good.

Correction. I have been to Punggol once, by mistake. Here is how the story goes. I was born in Hong Kong and have migrated to Singapore in the year of 1995. I have rented a number of places in Singapore and once, I lived in Hougang.

Although there was no MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) access to Hougang, there was a bus terminal connecting people inside Hougang to the rest of the country. I liked the place I rented. It was spacious with two floors and it was quiet; I loved quietness. What came as an additional bonus was that there was a direct bus, stopping in front of the apartment, taking me to work. Each morning I took bus 82 to go to work. It was about an hour’s ride.

One night, I must have been tired. I fell asleep the moment I boarded the bus. Most of the time, I managed to wake up just before I reached the destination. It could be as close as at that one traffic light before the destination. This time, I slept past the bus stop at my apartment. The moment I woke up, I saw an unfamiliar scenery. Too late, I was on the way to Punggol.

Soon after the newly developed apartments left my sight, I saw a narrow dark road ahead. I was fully awake but not sure what to do next. My plan was to continue the journey to the bus terminal and take the same bus back home.

The bus terminal turned out to be a small and lowly illuminated area just enough for the bus to perform an U-turn. I got off the bus and there I was, standing somewhere in Punggol. Around me was all construction sites. Across the water, I saw bright lights lighting up yet more construction sites across the strait. A typical sight of urbanisation. That night, I took the same bus back and the bus driver recognised me and excused me from paying the bus trip.

This was my brief encounter with Punggol a couple of years ago. This time, I am travelling with Cynthia and we both look forward for a fulfilling weekend.

The estate in Punggol looks more civilised than I thought. There are big houses and they look modern too. The place we are going to spend a weekend in is a modest looking building with a car park in the open area. The ground level is where the kitchen, the dinning hall and a classroom are. Outside the main building, there is a large sheltered space with filled with sofas, tables and chairs. Notice boards are over all the place. A staircase, near to the entrance, leads to the second floor for the girls, and the third floor for the boys.

We arrive on time and receive our room keys at the sheltered area. It has been a long time since I last stayed in a boarding-house. The one we are going to stay in is a typical one – a long hall with rooms along the corridor and shower rooms and toilets at the ends. All the rooms were twin-sharing with a simple layout – a small table, side tables and a small sink fitted with a mirror.

The programme is tight, packed with actions. Shortly after all the couples have arrived, we are gathered into the classroom and receive the first briefing from our hosts – Father Joseph and two presenting couples, Johnny and Adele, and Jeff and June.

Couple of months ago, Father Loiseau told me to focus on my partner and not to socialise with other couples during the EE weekend. Father Joseph says the same thing too. I wonder if there were cases in the past that couples broke up in the weekend and went out with other couples’ boyfriend or girlfriend. Okay, that is just my imagination. The reality is that friends usually attend the weekend together and they usually stick onto each other.

While couples breaks up and runaway with someone else in the group is purely my imagination, couples break up because they realise that they are not ready for each other is not. Father Joseph shares with us that there were occasions that couples approached him in the middle of the night and quitted the engagement encounter. He repeatedly warns us that we shall not play game with each other.

Father Joseph, like most the priests I have met with, has a loving personality. A kind voice, a face with a warm smile, and a good amount of humour. His prayers is long and full of strength. Listening to him I feel loved and cared; praying with him gives me a peaceful feeling. I think that those people from the Church of Holy Spirit are lucky because I am sure that he delivers good sermons too.

I cannot remember the exact number of couples in the classroom. Must be in the region of twenty to thirty. As the crowd filters into the room, Johnny plays some loving music in the background. We take the front row, as always.

As a warm up exercise, Father Joseph asks each of us to name the most attractive quality about our partners in front of the group. The one quality that matters the most to us. Cynthia and I happened to be the first couple to go. Well, my answer is short and simple – she makes me a happy man. Many people may find the answer vague but that is the truth. No one in this world can make me feel that happy; only Cynthia does. I am a moody person. Sometimes I am happy and sometimes I am sad. But Cynthia is always able to dissolve my moodiness. I am not sure how. Sometimes just a hug from her; sometimes is the support she gives; most of the time, a smile of her is all it takes. So how else can I best put it but “she makes me a happy man”? She makes me happy by casting my sorrows aside; she makes me happy by not making me sad; “she makes me happy” and no other ways to put it.

Cynthia’s answer is even shorter – creativity. Cynthia loves me because I am creative. Maybe that is how I keep her interested all the time.

The briefing started at 8:30pm. The whole course is arranged in 15 sessions, starting from Friday night and lasts until Sunday, 6:00pm. (When we finally get out of the building, we are exhausted and my right hands hurt a great deal. You will see why.)

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The first session is an “Introduction”. We are asked to focus on ourselves as a couple and not to be distracted by anything else. Although we have brought along our mobile phones with us (it is a working day on Friday), we have it switched off throughout the weekend. What is more important than to devote ourselves to each other during the weekend and hope to get the most of out it? It is like a gift to each other; a gift that will benefit us for life. During the introduction, we are encouraged to be opened to each other. Cynthia and I have always been open to each other so to us, that was not a problem at all.

At the end of each session, we are given some questions and we are supposed to answer the questions by writing the answers down into a booklet that is given to us. For the first session, the girls remain in the room, scribble the answers while the boys go outside, find themselves a table and start to write. When the time is up, the facilitators then ask the girls to leave the room and to find their partners outside in the sheltered space, exchange the booklet and discuss. When the next session comes, it will be the boys’ turn to remain in the room while the girls go outside.

I am a victim of the computer age. I type as I think and not write as I think. My hand hurts after a while of writing, a skill that has not been practised since kindergarten. Pen and paper may not be the most efficient way of communication at work but it worked fine during the engaged encounter weekend.

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The next topic is “Encounter With Me”. The direction of the course starts from oneself, which is where a good marriage starts from.

“Encounter With Me” is more focused on the deepening of our self-awareness by acknowledging and accepting our unique qualities in an honest way. This is important as these are the qualities, good and bad, that we are about to bring into our marriage. This self-acceptance and love of oneself is necessary in order to truly love others and to recognise the deep love the God has for us. Accepting who we are and love who we are, manifest this love to others, and bring it to the divine level. That is the idea.

Our theme here is “God Does Not Make Junks”. Everyone of us is beautiful in our own unique way. We have often overlooked about the things we like or dislike about ourselves. And the specific qualities that we want others to see in us may be different from the good qualities others see in us. Pay attention to the next compliment we receive. Does that come as a surprise? What are the characteristics do we see in ourselves that make it more difficult for others to know and love us? Are we someone with a quiet personality? Or are we just too sensitive to others’ comments? And finally, what are the imperfections that we can easily accept in other but in us?

By take this little journey and have a little self-reflection, you may be surprised how much qualities of yours you have overlooked in the past. Each of us comes in a different package. Accept your qualities and you may love yourself better. Ready for the next level? Enough of “I”, let’s talk about “us”.

5

You have probably guessed that after “Encounter With Me”, we have “Encounter With We”. Before we talk about the marriage cycle, let’s talk about some cycles Cynthia and I am familiar with.

Both Cynthia and I believe in biorhythm. A lot of people shoot the theory down saying that it is superstition. Just like astrology. Although the supporters of biorhythm claim that some well known doctors advise the patients their date of operation according to biorhythm, my experience with it comes in a more personal level. The basic of biorhythm is simple. It consists of three cycles – physical, emotional and mental. Each cycle is a sine curve with a different period. When the day you were born, all curves started from zero. I think it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out one’s own graph. The physical cycle governs your health and how active you are. The emotion one governs how happy you are and how sociable you are. The last one tells you if you are going to be bright or less bright today. The concept is simple. You are at your happiest state when your emotion cycle hits the positive peak and you rather be your own when it hits the negative pit. Crossing the axis is considered as critical because it is a change of polarity. In short, the cycle is as such : cross the critical, hit the peak, cross the critical again and hit the pit. The cycle repeats itself.

I can give you two examples why I believe in biorhythm. Back in Kuala Lumpur when I was working with a team of six people, I kept track of their biorhythm using an Excel spreadsheet. I have realised that most of the time, people fell sick when their physical cycle cross the critical point. Usually, the medical leave came when the cycle was at the pit. I am not claiming that this method is one hundred percent accurate. But anything better than fifty percent accurate demands some attention and respect. It is because randomness is at the fifty percent mark.

Another example comes from the compatibility test. Not all the biorhythm believers think high of this test; but we do. Not just because Cynthia and I have an overall score of over 90% compatibility, but the theory makes sense to us. Each one of us comes with different set of cycles. Try to look at the following scenarios and see for yourself if it sounds familiar at all. You want to go out and have some fun, be it a shopping trip or a walk in the nature, your partner (or it can be your friend) prefers to stay at home. And when your partner wants to go out, you rather stay at home and watch a video. Someday when you feel lifted and happy and want to share your happiness with your partner, he or she feels lousy and want some consolation instead. You have some bright ideas you want to discuss with your partner, but when you two discuss, the conversation is not stimulating at all.

These are just some extreme cases I have seen. After cross examining with the people we have dated, by simply looking at the scores, the explanation is just so simple. Some of the score was as low as 33%. No wonder the relationship did not work out.

Don’t get me wrong. By having a low score does not mean that you two are not meant for each other. How people are united, to me, is still a mystery. The key is : be informed. Biorhythm can be a way for you to identify the unique combined characteristics.

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Let’s get back to “Encounter With We”. Married life, too, involves a continuous cycle of peak and pit. The ups and downs in the cycle are romance, disillusionment and true joy. In this recurring cycle, love is not dependent upon feelings, but upon a decision to love that moves us beyond disillusionment and leads us to true joy.

We all know what romance is. Romance in a married life is like a candle in the night. Sparkles that keep our married life going. Hopefully, our married life is like our dating life, full of romance. Disillusionment, however, is a different story. It is a feeling of alienation, separation or preoccupation. Once in a while, we may experience disillusionment in our relationship. It could be the things that we say, or do that lead us into this stage of the marriage cycle. And when that happens, how many times do we let our emotion get into the matter? The key is to set aside your feelings and make a conscious decision to love instead. Loving that someone takes decisions and it is a continuous effort. And the next time when your relationship enters the stage of disillusionment, remember that it is a decision to love. And when you succeed, true joy will be just at your doorsteps.

The next step is for us to identify the in what ways you and your partner are alike and in what ways you two are different. Observe how do these play a part in your cycle of romance, disillusionment and joy.

Take home with you one theme, “Love Is A Decision”.

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After two continuous sessions, it is bedtime. At 10:30pm, we all retire to our bedrooms. My roommate is an India and he is a Singapore Airline Pilot. Coincidentally, he is the colleague of one of my A-level friend I met in UK! I am overjoyed as I have lost touch with this Malaysia friend of mine for several years.

I enjoy the experience of living in a boarding-house – a return to the overseas studying lifestyle. Bring along your towels and clothes and lock yourself into one of the cubicle for a good shower. And if you need to visit the loo in the middle of the night, you have to walk a distance to somewhere eerie and pray that there is no creature appears out of nowhere.

Each showering experience is different from another. I am always amazed at the number of ways a hot water showering system can be implemented. The one in the engaged encounter house is like this – to open the cold water tap is easy, just turn the level from zero to ninety degree, but to open the hot water tap takes great tolerant as the hot water leaks from the tap itself. Although there can be thousand and one different showering systems, the end result is almost the same; a nice hot shower before a good night sleep.

In the next morning, we begin the day with an early morning mass. The mass is held in the classroom. After the mass, it is breakfast time.

Breakfast is good. We have eggs, sausages, bread and butter. Plenty of food to prepare for a long day ahead of us.

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The next topic is about “Openness In Communication”. Openness in communication is a process of talking and listening that involves elements of risk, trust and acceptance. It is risky because often, we may get hurt when a discussion turns into a heated argument. It involves trust because we must trust each other to be both honest to each other and to listen to each other in an open manner. Imagine the hurting feeling when one of you is honest in an open discussion while the other one lies all the time. It requires acceptance from both parties. To accept each other’s thoughts, feelings, behaviour, dreams, values and so on.

Argument comes in different flavours. Some people like to attack, some like to withdraw and others take on an ignore strategy. While some couples argue with each other when a tough situation arises, others may choose to avoid the argument and to have peace at all prices.

Shall we or shall we not argue? Or shall we go for peace at all prices?

Argument is one form of communication. With some simple rules, an argument can be turned into an open communication between the couples. Here are the golden rules we have picked up during the engaged encounter.

Rule for Effective Argument

  1. No name calling
  2. No 3rd party
  3. No past history
  4. Stick to the subject
  5. No cheap shots
  6. Don’t go to bed angry
  7. Maintain a sense of humour
  8. Hold hands while arguing

Cynthia and I seldom argue with each other. Nor we avoid any potential argument because we want peace at all cost. We have already practised a lot of these rules during our communication. Perhaps that is why we communicate, rather than argue.

No name calling is pretty easy to understand. Why would we want to aggregate the hurt when all we have to do is to avoid hurting one another unnecessarily? Bringing in 3rd party into an argument is bad. You don’t need a referee as you are not in a win or lose battle with your loved one. Some people tend to get defensive in front of a 3rd party. So, what about the supposed openness?

Past history is bad. In my opinion, there are only two consequences when you throw a past history into your loved one. Either it is a past history that by no means your loved one can do to prove himself or herself right, or it leads to a series of old defences that your loved one has been using thousand and one times before. In the former scenario, it is like an atomic bomb, instant death. What can he or she say? Just hold the tears, perhaps, and run. A nuke is a nuke and it closes all channels of communication. In the later scenario, you have effectively fished out an old unfinished argument. Each of you restate your points, renew your memories and renew the attack. If it has not been settled, why didn’t you have it settled? Forgive and forget.

Sticking to the subject is important. It is easy to diverge the topic into several different topics and before you realise, the scope of your argument has gone so far that you have ended up having nothing to settle. Settle one at a time. Focus on the subject and get it over with.

If you have to fight, fight fairly. Remember, no cheap shot! You know your loved one well. You know all his or her strengths and weaknesses. The worst that could happen is to use this trusted knowledge against your loved one in an argument. It is easy to target at one’s weaknesses. It is human instinct. But remember, it is someone you love we are talking about here. So, please, no cheap shot.

I like the guideline on don’t go to bed angry. Face the new day with joy and not with yesterday’s anger. How long do you want to punish that someone you love? Just make it up before the day ends, have a peaceful sleep and wake up fresh ready for a brand new day!

At times we get really serious during an argument. The atmosphere may become tensed. If the key is to have an open communication, this is not the right setting at all. Maintain a sense of humour requires effort, especially when your head is clouded with emotions. But it pays off a great deal.

The last point is tough. I am not sure how many couples can do this – holding hands while arguing. You may even find it hard to have physical contact with him or her during a heated argument. Either your loved one insisted on avoiding your hug, or the other way round. Hence, this rule must be in place before any argument. Try this next time you argue. Now that you can feel the warmth of his or her hand, sticking onto the guidelines may not be that hard after all.

There was one undocumented rule added by our presenting couple – the one who talks the most is usually the one who is at the wrong.

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Sharing individual expectations and attitudes about our marriage is vital to a growing relationship. When two people fall in love, it is both the values they shared in common and the differences they possess that draw them together. To me, it is the differences that makes the journey more colourful. But when we choose to ignore our differences or begin to think that we can change our spouse, we start to close ourselves off from one another. It is the willingness to communicate and explore our expectations as a couple that allows us the freedom to be ourselves, to grow and to change. Marriage is more than just living together, under the same roof. It is a lifelong commitment to become involved with one another in totality. Our topic here is “Signs of Closed Relationship”.

Differences can be due to our cultural, social or economical backgrounds. Cynthia and I come from different backgrounds. She is an Indonesia and I am a Hong Kong born Singaporean who was graduated from UK. Although we are both Chinese, our tradition is different. The kind of food we are brought up with is different. Cynthia loves to hang out in groups but I prefer to be with just a small number of friends at a time. In Hong Kong, we are used to buying the best available items although they may cost a bomb. In Indonesia, Cynthia lived a modest lifestyle looking at practicality rather than something extravagance. The only language we can communicate with each other is English which is not our mother tongues at all. These are the differences we acknowledged and the last thing we wish to do is to mould each other to be someone we want to be. Because we stay away from closing off from one another, our relationship grows.

One of the difference between us that I have yet to mention is our spiritual background. Cynthia is a born Catholic while I am not. My parents are Buddhists and I was a freethinker. She did not change me at all. Instead, she prayed to God hoping that we can share our life together in the same faith. On May, 2000, I was baptised as a Catholic under my own will. This is how our relationship grow. Building our marriage with the same faith has helped us to build a firm foundation.

As an exercise to you all, try to address to the following sensitive questions. Questions like what changes would you like to see your loved one to make after you two are married? How important are these changes in accepting your loved one? Do you have doubt and reservation in marrying him or her? Lastly, what do you expect yourself as his wife or her husband? And what do you expect of him or her as your husband or wife?

One last point. Jealousy does not help in a relationship and being taken for granted is not a nice feeling. Another theme to take home, “Love Is Sharing”.

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So now you two have gone through the physical and emotional stage of your relationship. Not all relationships can survive and flourish. Entering the spiritual stage of your relationship is a sacred call from God – “Called To Be One”.

Marriage is a vocation, a sacred call from God to love each other. To love each other without conditions and without reservation. Striving for unity, not happiness, is the primary goal of a Christian marriage.

Unity is to live out our commitment to be faithful to each other through :-

  1. Daily awareness of the gift of each other.
  2. Sharing feelings, values, confidences, hurts and faith.
  3. Listening with our minds and hearts.
  4. Appreciating each other’s strengths and assisting in overcoming weaknesses.
  5. Concern for mutual personal growth and development.

This in done in time of happiness and also in time of sorrow. Unity produces an inner peace, contentment and acceptance of one another.

Be honest with yourself and ask yourself how you feel about committing yourself to your loved one unconditionally for the rest of your life knowing that there will be times when you will get little in return.

“Unity” …

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Classroom bell rings. Lunch is served in the dinning room. The seating is prearranged. The idea is to get people mixing with each other (or making sure that friends do not stick together all the time). Some couples volunteer to help out the weekend by being the cooks and the dish washers at the same time. Such a noble task! And the meal is delicious.

Just when I am thinking of returning to the room for an afternoon nap, the classroom bell rings again. Time for class!

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“Morality In Christian Marriage” is the way to living a life-giving Christian marriage.

I believe by now there are tons of thesis and books on what is moral and what is immoral. During the engaged encounter weekend, we are taught that to be moral is to be life-giving. To call ourselves and others to a fuller life, to be open and honest and bear witness to the values Jesus taught. Examples on being moral are generous, going beyond the minimum; supportive, bringing out the best in you; sensitive, being aware of your needs and feelings; and selfless, caring about us instead of just me.

To be immoral is to be selfish, indifferent, unwilling to be responsible for the effect of my life on others. Examples on being immoral are indifferent, it is okay if it does not hurt anybody; close-minded, it has already been decided, just going through the motions; comparing, at least I am not like him or her; and self-centred, do my own thing not dependent on, or responsible to God and others.

Ask yourself when was the last time you were life-giving to the loved one. Have you realised in what ways he or she has been life-giving to you? What are the areas you both need to work on in order to be more life-giving? Making the decision to love? Being honest with one another? Is it trust, listening and patience? Is it the non-verbal communication? Jealousy? How about God? How about forgiveness?

“Give Life To Others” …

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The lesson of “Decisions In Marriage” is about the life-giving decision making process.

Even if you cannot remember all the stuffs I have written, you should at least try to memorise and put to practice the two guidelines – the guidelines for effective argument and the guidelines for life-giving decision making process. All the better, take home with you all the themes too.

Life-giving decision making process is a five steps process.

  1. Prayer
  2. Discernment
  3. Mutual Agreement
  4. Mutual Responsibility
  5. Re-evaluation

First step is to seek God’s guidance in prayer. In marriage, it is not just the two married couple, God plays a part in our relationship too.

Discernment is about gathering all the necessary information, consult others for advice, mutual discussion and to consider the consequences.

The next step to reach a mutual agreement between the two of you. What follows is mutual responsibility. It means that both parties take ownership on the agreed decision and to accept the responsibility for better and for worse. This step is important because when both parties bear the responsibility and if the result does not turn out right, no one can say “I have told you so” or “This is your bright idea”. Letting the other partner to make a decision in order to avoid confrontation is to refuse to accept the shared responsibility.

The world is moving, so is everything around us. When changes occur, we need to rethink and rework our original decision – the re-evaluation process.

We should use this decision making process for all situations, be it as big and small. Remember that the decisions we make in our daily life affect our relationship with our families, friends and God. And lastly, do not leave the decisions for the future. Deal with them today!

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Dinner time and the food is again served. After singing the “Bless The Food” prayer, we all start eating. Father Joseph is at our table and we chatt on various topics like his overseas trips and the rebuilding of the Church of the Holy Spirit. To tell you the truth, I am so tried that all I wish for is to have a good night sleep now.

No, not so soon. Still two more sessions before we can call it a night.

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After dinner, we return to the classroom and continu the journey. The topic is on “Sex and Sexuality”. When we first see the topic written on the white board, we can not resist smiling. And we are not the only couple who are amused at the topic. Many do. The atmosphere is a lot more relaxed. June, our presenter, began the topic saying that this is not a lesson on “how to”. More smiles follow.

Human sexuality is the way of being in and relating to the world as male and female. Sexuality involves one’s view of self, thoughts, feelings, and actions that are unique to each of us as male and female. Sexuality is one of God’s gifts that calls humans into communication and communion with each other. This is the profound experience (mystery) of a full sexual union between husband and wife.

For me, it is the first time I see sexual relationship in marriage as being sacred. Different people have different attitude and expectation about sexual relationship in marriage. The bottom line is for us to deal with these differences in a life-giving way. Open communication helps us to talk about our sexual needs and desires in an honest manner. When you have time, do share your expectations, both hopes and anxieties, about topics such as leadership or initiative in lovemaking, romancing each other daily and fidelity.

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The last session for today is “Becoming Family”, our love reflected as life.

On the wedding invitation, you have probably written down something like “… invite you to witness a new beginning … a new life together”. Our family begins on the day we become married. Being open to each other’s past family values and traditions is an important aspect to forming our family. Each of us comes in a different package. Like it or not, we carry our family background with us. Forming a family involves the blending of two people’s pasts to form one family’s future. And don’t forget to recognise that God has a life-giving plan for our family.

There may be values and tradition I like in Cynthia’s family and in her. Likewise, there may be values and tradition I dislike, and I may have my reasons behind it. The challenge is to integrate these into our newly formed family. There may be a chance that Cynthia or I may become a full time parent and how can we make life-giving decisions in this area? Me being a househusband? (Oh yeah!) And lastly, what are the plans we make to enable our family to grow in a spiritual way?

These are the questions we need to address when becoming a family. “A Wedding Is A Day, A Marriage Is A Lifetime”.

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During the break while we are waiting for the next session, I fall asleep on the table. Cynthia, in the meanwhile, is observing the couples around us and has written the observations down in words. Here is the essence of what she writes.

“I am writing this during a break in the engaged encounter weekend. While other couples are spending time talking to each other, Wilfrid is sleeping. I’ve had my share of nap just a moment ago.

It is pretty interesting to observe what other couples are doing. One couple, I know for sure, was arguing with each other. I think the girl was angry over something and the guy was trying to console her. Now, they are both in silence.

Two couples engaged into a serious conversation. One of them is my room mate. She is a beautiful Indian lady with defined features. Her husband is a Chinese. They are both engrossed in a discussion and I don’t think it has anything to do with their relationship.

All other couples seems relaxed and are chatting with one another. Some are laughing, some are smiling, and some of them are sitting close to each other. The guy beside me? He is sleeping. No hard feeling though, because I have also slept just now.”

This is more or less the usual scene during discussion sessions and during break times.

18

After a long break, the bell rings again. This time is a presentation on family planning. For Catholic, we can only adopt Natural Family Planning (NPF) as the only method used for family planning. All other methods are not allowed. There are a number of philosophy to this.

The strongest message of all, in my opinion, is “Don’t Poison Your Bride”. Using contraceptive pills has a number of side effects. Recently, I had a chat with a doctor and he explained to me how the pill works. In a layman’s term, the pills put the ovary to sleep. He then asked me why would I want to put the ovary to sleep while taking the risk that the ovary may not be awaken again? He is not a Catholic, I supposed, so he suggested using condoms and have the babies first. Some Catholic ladies (by right, it should be all) go against the idea of using condom because they feel being used. They feel like a sex object.

After hearing all the philosophy about NPF, I think one of the major reasons why the church is against contraception (translate to : against life) is that most of the time, when it fails, couples will opt for abortion. Now, abortion is bad because it involves killing babies. Hence, contraception is bad.

NPF is about the fertile and non-fertile cycle of women. When you adopt NPF, you are open to the possibility that baby may come. Since you have done nothing to interfere with the natural process, you are supposed to procreate according to God’s will. And hence, NPF is good.

In the presentation, they have shown some gruesome pictures about the aborted babies. Some showed babies torn into several pieces. Some showed a basket full of babies in blood. They are disturbing to look at and if the purpose is to make you remember how bad abortion is, they have served their purposes.

Many people debate on when life begins. We, Catholics, believe that life begins when the egg is conceived. Some people argue that at that stage, it is only cells we are talking about. And one person turned to me and said that I must feel sad because in so and so percentage of time, although the egg is conceived, the embryo gets flushed out of the womb by the body itself. He said that I must feel sad because our own bodies at times are killing our own babies. I am not sure how true it is but there seems to me that there is a difference between natural death and murder. Challenges like this seems to go on and on.

19

The evening ends with a prayer session. The bell rings and we enter into the classroom. The chairs are lined up along the four walls. All the light was switched off and the room was filled with candlelight instead.

Father Joseph starts the prayer. A long prayer for all the couples. Although I cannot remember all the words, the ambience still lives in my mind. It was serenity with Father Joseph’s soft loving voice blending into the quietness. The prayer is all I heard. The candlelight is all I saw. I do not just hear the words, but hear them with my heart.

And I see a vision.

In the middle of the room illuminated by the flickering of the candlelight, I see a white being. This white being is formed in front of Father Joseph as he is saying the prayer. He has a human form, white and bright. I cannot make out if I see a pair of wings or just the robe he wears but I am convinced that there exists a divine presence. The vision continues until the end of the prayer when the white being dissolves into white mist and spread himself onto us.

(Days later, I discussed with Cynthia trying to deny what I have seen. But she told me that the denial of divine vision is the work of Satan. I have pondered on this vision for a long while and here is what I think. There is a saying, “Whenever two or more of you are gathered in His name, there is love.” And if love is the presence of God, no doubt that was the scenario we had back in the prayer session, God must have been with us.)

After Father Joseph has finished with the prayer, he, together with Johnny and Adele, and Jeff and June, take the three candles from the table in front of them. They walk around the room attending one couple after another and pray with each of us. When Father Joseph walks towards us with his candle, he lights up our candle and asks for our intentions. We replies and he prays with our intentions. At the end of the prayer session, they tell us to keep the candle and have it lit it up from time to time (once a year perhaps) to relive the moment.

When we walk out of the classroom, all the lights in the sheltered space are gone. On each table, there is a burning candle. A romantic setting for all of us.

20

When I wake up in the morning, I feel aches all over my body. I must have been too tired and have overslept. Poor Cynthia has been waiting for me in the dinning hall with an empty seat beside her. Time to put the lessons in practice.

This morning’s topic is on “Wedding – The Beginning Of Our Sacrament”.

In the Catholic faith, marriage is a sacrament. But what is a sacrament? To us, a sacrament is God’s presence and love for us revealed in a visible action or relationship; something we can see and feel. For instance, when we see a married couple’s love, we believe that God is present there. (So when we see a married couple do not love each other anymore, what does that mean? An absence of God’s presence?) To take it to a more practical level, the couple become ministers of the sacrament to each other and mirror God’s love through daily acts of loving, serving and forgiving.

But how easy we tend to forget about these daily acts when we are too immersed into our daily life. We are overwhelmed with daily stress from work and from the environment around us. We have lost ourselves in the endless entertainment provided by television stations and radio stations. It is so easy to ignore the duty of ministering the sacrament to each other. Daily acts of loving, serving and forgiving requires constant effort; and it is a daily decision.

To those of us who are in a relationship, ask yourself the following three questions : when was the first time you realised that you loved him or her, and what happened then? when was the first time you realised that he or she loved you, and what happened then? and what made you realise that this love of yours was meant for marriage? If you are already married, I hope that you don’t have any trouble answering the questions.

“Love Is In Us” …

21

The most scary topic of all, perhaps, is “Betrothal”. A betrothal is a public pledge of love and commitment to take practical and concrete steps to prepare for the Sacrament of Marriage. We are supposed to write a betrothal to our loved one in the classroom with a time limit (and to read a part of it out in public later on) ! Sounds to me like an examination back in school when we have to compose an English story in half an hours’ time. The principle of the betrothal is given as “a deeper part of engagement, one that focuses on your own relationship, and how it relates to God, Church and family.”

I am motionless when I first read the topic. What am I supposed to write? My creativity does not just come about whenever I give it a summon. It needs cultivation with the right ambience. Boys in the room, girls outside. I shared a table with a couple of guys and I star at the empty piece of paper wondering what I should write. What is pressuring is that people around me seem to have no problem in writing the betrothal at all!

The organiser of the engaged encounter weekend must have known how hard the task can be for some of us, so they have provided us with two sets of templates.

For those of us who are ready to make our pledge, we use the first template.

“Because I love you, I plan to work on deepening our relationship between now and our wedding day by … Our relationship needs to develop more in the areas of … I plan to contribute by … Your strength is import to me in the areas of …”

For those of us who are not ready to make a betrothal pledge, we use the second template.

“My truest and deepest way to love you is to be open and honest and tell you … Although I care for you, I cannot commit myself to this deeper preparation … I think we need more time and this is what I would like to see us work at …”

If writing a betrothal pledge is tough on someone, sharing betrothal pledges is like a hike in the Antarctic. Some people smile; some people cry. It is an emotional moment for most of us. I think both Cynthia and I have gone past the stage of betrothal pledge (many friends of ours know that we are getting married soon), sharing the betrothal pledges gives us a sweet feeling, like a walk in the park under the warm spring sun.

22

The topic “Two By Two”, in my opinion, is inspired by the disciples who were sent around the world two by two according to the Gospel. The main message of the lesson is that as couples in love, we need to recognise the joy we bring to others when we share our love.

The first step is to identify a list of qualities, as a couple, that can be shared with others including our families, friends, church and community and we have to figure out how we can best share our couple love with them. Taking it to the divine level, it is as though God has sent us out two by two in service to others. As a reflection, we can ask ourselves who has a positive influence in our life as a couple, in what way and how we can let them know.

What interests me most in this lesson is the “couple hug” which is in line with the “couple love”. We form a line putting our arms on our partner’s shoulder and waited for our turn to give the presenting couples and Father Joseph a “couple hug”. It is quite interesting to see four people, two by two facing each other, putting our arms around our shoulders. It is as though we have growth twice our size. Couple hugging couple.

“Two By Two” …

23

Lunch time had arrived. Time to sing the “Bless Our Food” song again.

“Bless our food, bless our friends
Come O Lord and sit with us
May our talk glow with peace
Come with love to surround us
Friendship and love may they bloom and grow
Bloom and grow forever
Bless our friends, bless the poor
Bless all mankind forever”

24

One of the more practical topic I think is “Forgiveness In Marriage”.

Once in a while, we do something stupid that may upset our partner. One of us may get hurt and another one may be indifference to the situation. Forgiveness is an essential ingredient of marriage because hurts are part of every relationship. True forgiveness involves the healing of a hurt and the renewing of our relationship. We can find a new and even deeper relationship when we acknowledge, accept and release what has come between us. It is difficult to appreciate and respond to God’s forgiveness if we do not let go of the hurts we have caused each other. When we have learned to forgive ourselves and our spouse, we can better experience God’s forgiveness and peace.

I was used to think that sticking onto the motto “forgive and forget” is sufficient. Whilst the motto is good, it does not address the question “how”. During the weekend, we have learned to use the following three steps to achieve forgiveness in marriage.

  1. Acknowledgement
  2. Acceptance
  3. Release

When you are hurt, the first step is to acknowledge the hurting feeling. Ask yourself what is the hurt you are feeling now. Next is to choose between accepting the fact that you are hurt or to ignore the feeling and let it be. After the accepting the hurt, the question is how are you going to release the hurting feeling, share your hurt with your loved one and ask yourself if you can forgive and let go.

And if you are the one who hurt your loved one, are you going to listen to him or her about the hurt you have caused? In doing so, you acknowledge his or her hurt. The next step is to choose between accepting the fact that your loved one is hurt or to refuse to acknowledge the fact that you have hurt somebody. Lastly, after acknowledging and accepting the hurt that you have caused, are you able to forgive yourself?

25

The last topic “Managing Our Finances” is the most entertaining topic out of all. You will see why. Before we go into that, let’s go through the textbook stuffs first.

Money is important to our relationship. As individuals, we each have our own lifestyle and ways of handling and spending money before marriage. All these have to changed as we marry. That includes our attitude towards money and our past lifestyle.

Financial disruptions in marriage could place a heavy strain on our relationship. Prayer and God will help us spiritually but money is down to earth matter. Our plans have to be realistic.

The fun part of the lesson is this : each couple is given two identical printouts, one for him and one for her. On the left column, there is a list of items for men to answer. On the right, a different list of items for the ladies to answer. The question is “how much would your partner pay for the following items.” You can try this at home. It is fun.

For men to answer : a ladies handbag, a bottle of moisturiser, a pair of shoes for work, three lipsticks, one visit to the hairdresser, 5 kg of rice, a steam iron, a packet of salt, one pair of nylon stockings, the last dress she brought, a broom, one bath towel, a bottle of perfume, one tin of condensed milk, one bottle of cooking oil, a woman’s swimsuit, a birthday gift for her parents.

For women to answer : a car tyre, a pair of track shoes, a pair of tailored pants, a bottle of shaving cream, a short sleeve shirt, a wallet, a haircut, a dinner for two, one year’s income tax, a pair of socks, a belt, a birthday gift for his parents, a wrist watch, a washing machines, a necktie, one light bulb, a pair of sunglasses.

To be honest, I cannot answer all the items under the men’s column. Anyway, give it a try.

26

Well then, I hope you find the material useful in your relationship. One thing for sure is that after reading it once and once only, you are most certain to have it forgotten after the next sunrise. The trick is to put it in practice. I know it best because after the weekend, when people ask us what we have learnt, Cynthia’s answer would be “love is a decision” and my answer would be just “life-giving”. What life-giving is? I have forgotten the most of it.

When I study the materials more thoroughly, there are a lot more good stuff that I thought.

July 16, a rainy Sunday. After the mass which is held inside the classroom, the engaged encounter weekend is officially ended. Cynthia and I call a taxi and return home. Exhausted, but with a good harvest.

27

I have been contemplating if I should end this chapter by saying “we call a taxi and return home”. Kind of leaving everybody with an empty feeling.

Instead, I would like to share with you that one song I learnt during the weekend. It is a song with deep meaning and it is a song that means a lot to us. I am sure all of us will have interpreted it in different ways but I still wish to share the way I interpret the song. We have played the song a lot before (and even after) our wedding and it brings forth a new meaning each time we play.

The Wedding Song (There Is Love)

He is now to be among you
At the calling of your heart
Rest assure this troubadour
Is acting on His part
The union of your spirit here
Has caused Him to stay
For whenever two or more of you
Are gathered in His name
There is love … there is love

A man shall leave his mother
And a woman leaves her home
And they shall travel on to where
The two shall be as one
As it was in the beginning
Is now and till the end
Woman draws her life from man
And gives it back again
There is love … there is love

Well then what’s to be the reason
Of becoming man and wife
Is it love that bring you here?
Or love that brings you life?
For if loving is the answer
Then who’s the giving for?
Do you believe in something
That you’ve never seen before
There is love … there is love

On the marriage of your spirit here
Has cause Him to stay
For whenever two for more of you
Are gathered in His name
There is love … there is love

The first verse, “He is now to be among you … is acting on his part”, is a beautiful beginning saying that if our hearts reach out to God, He will dwell in us. No only so, but also to give us all the joy and happiness because He is our loving Father.

God is with us during the union of our spirit, that is when two becomes one. It is because when people are gathered in the same faith, love is within us. And whenever there is love, there is God’s presence. This is the expression of the second verse, “The union of your spirit here … there is love”.

The third verse, “A man shall leave his mother … the two shall be as one”, is derived from the Bible. In Chapter 2 of the Book of Genesis, we have :-

“So the LORD God cast a deep sleep on the man, and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh.

The LORD God then built up into a woman the rib that he had taken from the man. When he brought her to the man, the man said: “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; This one shall be called ‘woman,’ for out of ‘her man’ this one has been taken.”

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.”

And the verse is inspired by the last sentence as illustrated by the Bible message.

The fourth verse, “And it was in the beginning … there is love”, I think, is inspired by one of our prayers.

“Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and every shall be, world without end.”

My interpretation to the first two sentences of the verse, “as it is in the beginning, is now and till the end”, is that from Alpha to Omega, woman draws her life from man (i.e., “bones of my bones, flesh of my flesh”) and from woman, man is born. And within these acts, there is love because God created woman out of love and procreation is out of love too.

The bridge of the song, “Well then what’s to be the reason … there is love”, consists of one general question, “what’s to be the reason of becoming man and wife”, that leads to two individual questions, “Is it love that bring you here” and “Or love that brings you life”, follows by a hypothesis statement, “if loving is the answer”, that answers the all the three questions mentioned. The reason why two people become man and wife is because of love. It is the same love that brings the two of you together and it is the same love that gives you life. The songwriter then brings the song to a higher level by asking if loving is the answer (which it is), who is the giving for? The final climax of the bridge is the statement “Do you believe in something that you have never seen before”. Think about it : do you believe in love though you can’t see love? and do you believe in God though you can’t see God?

The final verse, “On the marriage of your spirit here … there is love”, says that in every marriage, there is God’s presence. When we love each other, God is with us.

A beautiful song it is from beginning to end. If you have the opportunity to listen to this song, pay attention to the melody. It is as gorgeous as the lyrics. If you know how to play guitar or piano or any kind of musical instruments that does not require mouth contact, sing it to your loved one. A guaranteed

As a closing statement, I hope all of you will be able to take your marriage up to the divine level and follow the commitment and love one another. Do take some time and chew onto the lyrics. The more you chew, the more you may appreciate the beauty of the song. Who knows how one song can change the perception to one’s life?

Yours,
Wilfrid Wong,

December 12, 2000 (Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe)

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7 thoughts on “Chapter 5 – Engaged Encounter”

  1. hey wilfred, thank you for sharing your beautiful experiences in eec. we are a couple who will be attending the eec tonight 15th january. God bless you and Cynthia.

    I know this post is 10yrs old i hope u r still active on this blog.

    1. Nicholas – Hey, thanks for dropping by. Your comment has brought back beautiful memory. Cynthia and I are married for 10 years and I can certainly say it with conviction that many of those things we have learned during the engaged encounter have helped us a lot in our marriage. Now that you reminded me of this entry I wrote long time ago, perhaps it is a message from God to re-read the items and be reminded on what we have learned! Thanks to you.

      Yes, this blog is still active. God bless you and your partner too!

  2. Hi wilfrid,

    I found this blog while googling what question would be asked during eec. I have been dreading and fearing about eec. We will be attending eec this weekend. Hope your summary will be usefull for us.
    Thanks for making this summary.

    cheers

    1. Katerina – Thanks for dropping a comment here! I am happy that this summary is useful for you two. Many congraz on your journey. Have an open heart for EEC and make the most out of it. We are glad we have attended it 🙂

  3. Hey Wilfred,
    I attended the same type of encounter weekend and loved it.
    I have a quesiton, do you have the lists of questions that were asked for you and your spouse to be were to ask each other in the small group time?
    I have my booklet of answers but not the questions and I am trying to help out some friends of mine with marriage preparation.
    thanks,
    Jordon

    1. Jordon – Hey, thanks for dropping by. To be honest, it must have been more than a decade ago when we have attended the encounter. I remember which booklet you are referring to. What I do not remember is where I have put that booklet!

      My apologies.

      However, the end result is to get a couple to know each other better. I am pretty sure you can set up your questions to help. I think it is more of the process then the actual tool. My apologies for not being able to help more. But wishing you all the best!

  4. Thanks for this post. It’s really given me an insight to this preparation course. Although this post is pretty old, May I know where you took it?

    Thanks!

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