In this busy and noisy world, we only often find time to be in silence and to have a heart-to-heart conversation with Our Almighty Father. At the same time, we easily get distracted on worldly things that can only temporarily satisfy our earthly thirsts. With this, I am grateful for my Lay Dehonian Group for the 2-day retreat last June 10 to 11, 2017 at the Monastery of Transfiguration situated at Barangay San Jose, Malaybalay City, Bukidnon.
We left Cagayan de Oro City at around 7:00AM and eventually reached the place at almost 10:00am. It would take an almost 3 hour travel to reach the sacred place. We rented a private van. There were 9 participants in our group for the retreat, namely, Atty. Grace Escobia with her 2 friends, Ma’am Rose Lumbre and Ma’am Nida Casino, the group’s spiritual director Fr. Szymon Bendowski from the Priests of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Karolina (A Polish missionary), Tita Shosi Larido with her sister-in-law, Ate Mace Salubre, and my cousin Joy.
We then settled at the newly built retreat house near the Recuerdos Museum. In one room, two individuals can be accommodated. The room also has private comfort rooms and is air-conditioned.
The retreat house also has available hot and cold drinking water and 24-hour coffee corner situated at the corridors. At the coffee corner, one can savor the aromatic coffee which is one of the Benedictine Monk’s product, the Monk’s Blend. I am not an avid coffee drinker but drinking the freshly-brewed beverage made me feel energized. I can also taste that it doesn’t have chemicals compared to commercial coffee products. One can buy the Monk’s Blend at the Gift Shop situated near the old chapel of the monastery.
We went to the conference room located at the old retreat house of the monastery. There, we had an orientation with Dom. Carlo who is one of the monks in the monastery. He informed us on the house rules and history of the monastery from its humble beginnings, struggles, and their way of life at present. I learned a lot of things about the Benedictine monks. For one, the place is not anymore supposed to be called a Monastery since their status was elevated to an Abyss. They are also grateful for the 5 Benedictine Monks from the north who established the Benedictine Order here in Mindanao. We, Mindanaons, are blessed that they have chosen the fertile lands at Barangay San Jose in Malaybalay to establish their Monastery 30 years ago. At the same time, the government, during President Gloria Arroyo’s term, has contributed to the cemented roads from the national highway to the actual site of the monastery. Moreover, I adore the Benedictine Monks simplicity of life which is vastly different to our lives in the city, from their daily prayers to their simple meals with ingredients just freshly picked from their farmlands. Moreover, the Benedictine monks value silence so we, retreat participants, should truly maintain the solemnity of the place.
After the orientation, we went to the room of the Blessed Sacrament for a short prayer. Then, we had an opportunity to roam around the area before the 11:00AM daily prayer at the chapel. The monks actually pray several times within the day. During my first experience of prayer with the monks, I was in awe with their heavenly voices. Likewise, the prayers which they sung are mostly verses from the bible.
We went to the Recuerdos which is a collection of paintings from the Hizon clan of Pampanga. The paintings reflect the family-oriented life among Filipinos.
Meals are served at 7:00AM for breakfast, 12:00PM for lunch, and 6:00PM for dinner while coffee breaks are at 10:00AM and 3:00PM.
After our lunch, we had a time to rest before our activity at 1:00PM. For our session, Fr. Szymon, our spiritual director, gave a talk on God’s immense love for us. After that, we had a time to meditate for an hour before the 3pm coffee break. During the meditation, we are not restrained in just one area or to just do a specific thing. We can freely do whatever we want at the area like walking around the fields, going to the chapel, praying at the room of the Blessed Sacrament, or just sitting on the benches beneath the towering pine trees. By 4PM, our group had a mass, celebrated by Fr. Szymon himself. Since I was the reader during the mass (as a lector and commentator), I was struck by the reading about being selfless and by giving oneself to others. At the same time, I was moved by Fr. Szymon’s homily about loving one’s self. He said that we cannot love God and others if we don’t start to love ourselves. His words moved me since I really have a struggle at present to love myself which hindered me to reach my potential and to take opportunities last month.
After the mass comes the 5:00pm daily prayer of the monks. By 6:00pm, we had our dinner before the 7:00pm prayer vigil at the chapel with the monks. I consider the 7:00pm prayer as the most significant one. The chapel was just surrounded with darkness and a few lights. Although I was slightly distracted because of the insects on my legs (I was wearing skirt), I did not mind it. I only focused my mind on the words from the prayer. I related those words in my life such as my struggles, my triumphs, and my gratefulness for the Lord’s guidance everyday. Before the one hour prayer vigil ended, one monk would have a blessing to each one of us. Fr. Szymon said that it’s a symbol to drive away evil spirits that would distract us like our bad and impure thoughts.
After the vigil, we gathered outside the chapel and Fr. Szymon asked us if we liked classical music. Of course, everyone raised our hands. So, he invited us to listen to a choir which is situated a hundred meters away from the site. Unfortunately, Ma’am Rose, Ma’am Nida, and Atty. Grace wasn’t able to go with us. They accompanied Ma’am Rose to their respective room after she experienced back pain as a result from her fall at the stairs outside the room of the Blessed Sacrament earlier that day.
Together with Fr. Szymon, Tita Shosi, Ate Mace and Joy, we walked on the dark road at approximately 200 meters from the chapel. At first, I thought that we would go to the farm which Fr. Szymon was referring before and would listen to a classical music from his phone and meditate. However, it was very funny since the classical music which he is referring to was the sound of mother nature at night. We could see the fireflies that lit the road and hear the sound of crickets and various insects on the rice fields, on the neighboring forest, and the gushing stream. Even though Fr. Szymon deceived us with his own kind of classical music (Haha!), it was a beautiful one to hear such symphonies of God’s creation. We cannot hear such symphony anymore in the city so we are still blessed to be given with that wonderful grace. Few days after, I was then informed by Karolina when she shared a video on God’s cricket chorus. It was actually like a sound from the angelic voices from the heavens. See the video through this link from Youtube.
We then walked back to the site and despite that we are grasping for our breath, at least, our calories were burned (Haha!). We then went to our rooms for meditation and for a good night rest.
We woke up at four in the morning for the 5:00AM early prayer with the monks. As we went outside, the place was very cold so I wore my blazer. The morning prayer was mostly about praising God for His marvelous deeds and thanking Him for giving us another day. After that, we then had our breakfast and eventually prepared ourselves for the Sunday mass at 8:00AM. There are a lot of people from the community and from other places who are attending the Sunday mass. It was actually con-celebrated by Fr. Szymon.
After the mass, we then had our coffee break at 10:00AM. After that, we had another session with Fr. Szymon. The 2nd day session was a significant one since it’s all about God’s mercy. After the session, we then had another hour of meditation before our lunch break and departure time at around 3:00PM. We then had our sharing before we went home. I was very grateful during the sharing since everyone of us actually felt God’s love and mercy during the two-day retreat.
As we go home, we would bring a lot of memories from the retreat. For me, I was able to reflect several things that happened in my life in the past. What really bothered me was how I woke up at 1:30AM and eventually had a hard time sleeping. I thought that maybe, it was God who woke me up so that I could talk to Him since days before the retreat, I failed to talk to Him before I sleep at night because of my tiredness from the day’s work.
By then, I was able to recall how God has been with me throughout the years. I am thankful that He gave me the gift of education and the strength that I was able to survive the hardships in my works. If not for Him, I wouldn’t be able to develop my sense of sensitivity, courtesy, compassion, respect to others despite how they treat me. I am grateful for Fr. Szymon because if not for him, we would not be able to experience God’s mercy and love at the Monastery of Transfiguration. At the same time, I’m grateful for my co-members at Lay Dehonian who supports every activity of the organization. Next month, it would already be a year as I became a member of this group. I have been celebrating anniversaries this year from my work to my service to our parish as a Lector and Commentator. With that, I promise to Our Almighty Father that I would continuously serve Him till the end of my days.
Moreover, despite my struggles, I trust God in everything that happens in my life. I trust Him that He has plans to prosper me and I trust Him that He would bring events and people in my life at His proper time. God is truly a very merciful and loving father despite many times we failed Him and several occasions we left Him. Yet, He unceasingly continues to knock our hearts everyday and eagerly waits for us with His all ready wide embrace.
STOP OVERS AFTER THE RETREAT
Cover photo courtesy of Fr. Szymon Bendowski, SCJ