Nestled among housing board flats in Jurong West is a three-storey building occupied by two congregations of Sisters.
One of these is the Religious of the Cenacle, which was founded in France in 1826. Their charism is to “accompany others as they search for meaning and direction in life, explore relationships” with self, others and God.
The Sisters accompany retreatants in directed retreats from three to 30 days. They also direct those who make the retreat in daily life, which can last up to eight months.
In addition, they conduct workshops for total human development and help out in other forms of spiritual formation.
Commenting on the reluctance of most people to make silent directed retreats, Sr Francisca Tan said, “The atmosphere of silence is something that is gradually experienced as essential to encountering God in prayer.”
Many who initially have this reluctance have spoken of the value of this type of retreat after their experience, she added.
Retreatants do get to talk once a day with their spiritual directors, said the Cenacle Sisters, whose house at 47 Jurong West St 42 also serves as a retreat centre, albeit a small one.
A 10-minute walk from the house is the scenic Jurong Lake, which allows retreatants to contemplate nature in silence.
Those who are making a directed retreat for the first time must prepare by having regular quiet time weeks before the retreat.
“Prayer is not a matter of technique, but a gift from God. Our participation is in disposing ourselves to prayer and allowing the Spirit to work in us,” remarked Sr Mel Benedictos.
In a directed retreat, the spiritual director’s first task, and most important role, is to listen to the experiences and prayer of the directee, and to listen to God as He moves, acts and speaks within the life-experience and prayer of the directee.
In this relationship of trust, “the spiritual director does not direct or make decisions for the directee, but rather helps him or her to listen to God,” in order for the directee to find clarity or direction, said Sr Mel.
While some people receive spiritual direction only during a retreat, others go for regular spiritual direction because they “see the value of accompaniment as very important in spiritual growth”, Sr Mel said.
Cenacle retreatants are also invited to join the Upper Room gathering every third Sunday of the month to “sustain the grace of the retreat”. At this session, they receive input from a Sister, spend time in reflection and silent adoration and share in small groups.Following this the participants come together for a general sharing and have fellowship over food.
“This is an informal community open to anybody. Those who have participated come back again and again and form friendships with others. It’s like finding a prayer community,” Sr Mel said.
How does one carry on the attitude of prayerful listening as he or she goes about day-to-day life after the retreat?
Hopefully, the retreat would have helped form the habit of prayer in the person, and he or she desires to continue the relationship with God, which was experienced during the retreat, clarified Sr Mel.
The retreatant is helped to see how the experience of the retreat carries over into one’s life, but in a different way. This is where some form of spiritual direction might be helpful after a retreat, she added.
One retreatant who went to the Quieting the Soul retreat in Chiang Mai, Thailand, is Ms Thana Thaver Luxshme.
She said, “[The experience] went way beyond my hopes and expectations...In the silence of this all-pervading love, and the graces sent day after day, came healing and a gradually growing joy deep within.”
Mr Roger Mok, who made the same retreat for eight consecutive years, said he is “now much more attuned” to God.
After making a midlife spirituality retreat, Ms Maria Gracia Lenon continued to receive spiritual direction. She said, “The [retreat] helped re-ground myself on my identity.”
Ms Lenon is among 60 to 80 individuals who go to the Cenacle Sisters for monthly spiritual direction.
To find out more about the programmes of the Cenacle Sisters, visit http://www.catholic.org.sg/cenacle/
By Mel Diamse-Lee