The Comfort of Silence

Seafarers and their families who want to commune with God in their own quiet way can find a safe haven in this Bukidnon monastery.

During times of inner turmoil, there are times that one just wants to hide away or just shut down. A state of quietude for seafarers wanting to take a break from the tremendous pressure they endure on the high seas every single day. They just might find their respite high up in the mountains at roughly 622 meters above sea level, just behind the Kitanglad Mountain range: the Benedictine Monastery of the Transfiguration, where guests realize that inner restlessness can be eased by something as simple as silence. Situated in the hilltops of Brgy. Casisang, Malaybalay City in the agricultural province of Bukidnon, the monastery welcomes guests who come alone or in groups.

The weather is perfect; the sun shines brightly in the day, and the breeze is cool at night. The sights are amazing—beautiful mountains surround you, with coffee fields on the sides, rice paddies sitting quietly next to the dirt roads that lead up to the guesthouse. A masterpiece of National Artist for Architecture Leandro Locsin, the Monastery Chapel sits atop a little hill. The food is delicious; simple and well-balanced, with the relaxing flavors of a homecooked meal. But best of all, the solemn atmosphere is perfect to soothe the restlessness within.

Fr. Columbano Adag, OSB, founded the monastery and has been living on the property since construction began in 1982. He is one of two monks in the monastery who are also priests and the eldest among the monks in Malaybalay.

A solemn experience

Once you’ve settled in, walking around the sprawling property is one of the leisure activities you can find addictive. Adjacent to the Guest House is the Monastery Chapel surrounded by beautiful flowers neatly planted into cascading boxes, and across it is the open field where the Breakfast with the Monks is held every second Sunday of the month. Just beyond the garden is the Museum of Liturgical Vestments with a collection gathered from all over the Philippine archipelago. The museum overlooks the coffee fields that roll gracefully down the sloping hills. The coffee planted in the Monastery farms is roasted and sold as Monk’s Blend coffee.

The Benedictine Monks can be heard singing the Matins as early as 3:40 in the morning if you come close enough to the chapel. If you can get up early enough and find your way to the chapel in the dark to read along as they sing, you’ll find it hard to hold back tears from the absolute beauty of the experience. The monks file into the chapel in absolute silence and then disappear back into the convento as solemnly as they entered.

At 5 a.m., they shuffle back out and sing the Lauds, their morning prayers before they celebrate the Holy Eucharist with a handful of daily massgoers—less than ten on regular days but in the hundreds on Sunday mornings, according to Fr. Elias Serra, OSB, who is the guestmaster of the Monastery Guest House. There are also prayers before lunch, after siesta, and after dinner at 8 p.m.

The freshly roasted Robusta-Arabica coffee in the Guest House brews 24/7 and is free flowing for all guests. Although Fr. Elias always apologizes for the simplicity of the food, this writer finds it scrumptious and delicious. Breakfast is served at 7 a.m., morning snacks are ready at 10, a.m. the lunch bell rings at noon, afternoon snacks are on the table at 3 p.m., and dinner comes out at 6 p.m. Between prayers and meals, a routine is established but it is not imposing. Though you are encouraged to participate in prayers, you are free to do as you please while enjoying the peaceful silence.

Heartspace

Dom. Pachomius San Juan, OSB, aka Dom Paco handles Heartspace—a mentorship program that promotes prayerful living in daily life through retreat programs or workshops, either in groups or in privately directed retreats.

Dom Paco has been a Benedictine monk for the last 29 years and is now a deacon. Among his other assignments in the monastery, he is the retreat master who is regularly invited to direct retreats and recollections in other parts of the country, as close to Bukidnon as Davao, and as far north as Antipolo.

Inspired by sacred scriptures and the Christian contemplative tradition, Heartspace is designed to help you get into the practice of meditation as an expression of spiritual wakefulness as you go through everyday life. It will also help you become an avenue for social change and unity in and around the community you belong to.

This kind of emotional and relational strengthening is something that seafarers, their wives and children can welcome. Fr. Columbano’s history with the maritime industry does go back a long way. During the time that the Associated Marine Officers and Seaman’s Union of the Philippines (AMOSUP) was still based in the piers of Manila Bay, he would regularly say mass in its building and pay a visit to a former student, the late Captain Gregorio Oca.

Locations may have changed, but the connections have withstood it and the need for spiritual refreshment remains the same.

Call the Benedictine Monastery of the Transfiguration at (I need to find the number).

Originally published in Seafarer Asia‘s Maiden Issue, June 2012

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