Solitude, Solace and Insight at Seven Fountains 22nd - 26th July 2019

The lush expanse of green – tall leafy sheltering trees, towering bamboos, clumps of bushes, vast green lawns, flowering shrubs, a fast falling twilight and a gentle all pervading quiet enamoured us from the start. Far from the madding crowd and away from the noise and chaos of the city, nineteen of us together with our accompanying spiritual director made our way to our respective rooms in Ignatius House and Arrupe House, for our 5 days silent retreat at Seven Fountains Jesuit Spirituality Centre in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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We were divided into two groups for the conferences and spiritual direction. Ten were shepherded by Fr Michael Chua, Parish Administrator of the Chapel of Kristus Aman while the other nine were guided by Fr Olivier Morin SJ, one of the resident retreat directors at the centre. As it turned out the styles and input of both pastors were vastly different but were geared towards soul searching, prayer, reflection and spiritual growth. We were directed to keep genuine silence throughout the retreat, (even at mealtimes) to enable each retreatant to find the Lord more easily and deeply …. and to listen - ‘’ Speak, your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3:10)

Fr Michael’s sessions on the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius were beautifully compact, enlightening, thought provoking, although at times mind boggling for spiritual novices like us. In St Ignatius’ classic vision of the Spiritual Exercises, the original, fundamental purpose is to ‘seek the will of God.’ The term ‘Spiritual Exercises’ refers to ‘every method of examination of conscience, of meditation, of contemplation, of vocal and mental prayer and of other spiritual activities.’ Like physical activities, Spiritual Exercises are ’every way of preparing and disposing the soul to rid itself of all inordinate attachments, and after their removal, of seeking and finding the will of God in the disposition of our life for the salvation of our soul.’ Therefore the three important tasks in seeking the will of God are:

  • To conquer one’s self
  • To regulate or order one’s life
  • To overcome inordinate affections

The first task demands silence, Penance, Confession and the Sacraments. The second task requires self-discipline to enable God to gently bring order into our lives while the third task requires a detachment from worldly things like money, honour, ambition, pride. The rest of the retreat dealt with ‘Meditation and Contemplation of Sin’, ‘The Examen’, ‘Discernment of Spirits’, ‘Repentance’, ‘Meditation on the Two Standards’ (Values), ’Meditation on the Three Classes of Men’, ’The Election’, ’Three Kinds of Humility’, ’Meditation on the Seven Last Words of Jesus’, ’Meditation on the Tomb and Jesus Meeting with His Mother post Resurrection’, and ‘Contemplation on Obtaining Divine Love’. We were encouraged to reflect, meditate on the Spiritual Exercises and Biblical selections in the many havens of peace and prayer in the oasis of the Seven Fountains.

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Fr Olivier SJ used a different approach. With humour and insight, he helped to sensitise his flock to the sights, sounds, scenario, cultural, social and religious nuances of selected Bible texts. Each retreatant had to meditate on four sets of scriptures a day - quite a demanding task for the uninitiated but certainly a journey of discovery and self discovery!

Daily Mass and Holy Hour enriched our experience of God’s presence and closeness to us. During Holy Hour, Fr Michael guided us through the ‘Examen’ and helped us in meditations on ‘The Two Standards’ and ‘Three Classes of Men’. These sacred moments of personal and group prayer were truly blessed times which calmed our restless spirits and sharpened our senses to listen for the still, small voice of the Lord. Many found the moments of silence, reflection, prayer and quiet reverence, grace-filled and insightful. There were also opportunities for Confession and personal Spiritual Direction for those who desired it.

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The silent retreat was certainly a unique experience for all of us retreatants. Some later admitted to last minute cold feet at the prospect of imposed or self-imposed silence for five days and had wanted to opt out, but definitely none regretted attending the 5-day silent retreat as can be gathered from their feedback:

“I needed to get away from the noise and clutter of the corporate world. The five days of silence gave me peace and time to think. Fr Olivier said that we have to be joyful daily – this is something I must bring back to noisy KL!”

“Psalm 27:4 came alive for me. The silence helped to discipline me and the four daily meditations especially before the Blessed Sacrament gave me peace, calm and joy.”

“God convicted me in a deeper way of my sins both past and present which may have caused others to sin.”

“Fr Michael’s teaching on the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius did not sink in at first. Then it dawned on me that this is a hard kind of prayer. I thank God for giving me this special time with Him. I was touched by the Suscipe prayer. I discovered that I am not prayerful.”

”The retreat opened my eyes, mind and heart to God. This morning I could not wait to go to the wooden chapel!”

“Discernment with Fr M was good. I have to start over.”

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