The clang of the bell jarred me awake. It hit me. I am now at the Abbey of our Lady of Montserrat.
Transferring from the Monastery of the Transfiguration in Bukidnon, after four years as contemplative monk, to this Abbey in Mendiola with an active apostolate is not as easy as I thought it would be.
I am used to being hidden in a cloister, unperturbed by the ways of the world, observant of the great silence where talking is not allowed unless instructed, and where waking up at 3:30 in the morning to pray while the world is asleep is the norm.
I am shaking, unsure suddenly of what was then a carefully laid-out decision to change my life, with the conviction that by transferring I was doing God’s will. My fear permeated the air, betraying the hesitant stance of the decision.
You knocked. I saw you with that hefty, assured smile, and you embraced me while echoing Peter’s words to Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. “Welcome, it is good for you to be here.” You never left me since.
What is good about remembrances is that you are able to capture in your mind the exact moments that happened in the past that warmed the heart. What is sad about remembrances is that what the mind remembers does not compensate for what the heart feels.
What is good about remembrances is that you knew that what affected the soul once was real; what is sad about remembrances is that what was once real is now but a shadow, even shadows of a shadow.
Yet, for you, Fr. Andy, there are no remembrances. Through the eyes of a monk whom you molded with understanding and guided with reason, you live. You live in the grateful eyes of beggars and the needy, whom you fed for years on the streets of Mendiola.
You live in the appreciative eyes of the employees and personnel of San Beda in Manila and Alabang, whom you shepherded with the discipline of Isaiah and the care of Abraham. You live in the bright, wide eyes of generations of children in our schools whom you visited in their classrooms on their birthdays to give gifts and encouragement. You live in the resonating sounds of songs during peace retreat. You live in the forgiven hearts of people who took turns and asked forgiveness for their faults to God through you in the confessional.
On a personal note, you were the first person who encouraged me to pursue my masteral and doctoral studies, even if you received flack because I was not in my Solemn Vows yet.
Back then, we were supposed to pursue theological studies first, Ph.D. degrees later, not the other way around. With Dom Ignacio Ocampo (the great historian Ambeth) and Dom Trinity Albert (the Math genius), we took a different path.
I remember you shielding us from the questions of your venerable peers as to why we were taking our masters and Ph.Ds before our theology, and with your nonchalant smile you patiently explained for us.
You were never critical of me, or of anyone for that matter. No matter how bad we perceived the person to be, you had endless excuses to be charitable. You tried to explain unfavorable behavior in the light of goodness.
You once told me that, “no matter how bad a person is, a day will come that he will change. Maybe not today, or tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, or maybe not in our lifetime… but I am sure he will change.” Your unwavering faith in the goodness of a person was inspiring.
You called every one “dear,” and while for many people it was an everyday expression of endearment, it was for me a testament to your lighthearted nature.
Your deep, booming voice had an earnest warmth to it that was amiable yet authoritative, frightful yet calming, compelling yet patient. You instructed, reminded, admonished and waited in patience as each sheep in your monastic flock grew at different times.
I did look forward to my birthdays and feast days because of your cards. They were always personal. You wrote them with your hand, highlighting my strengths, and encouraging me to look forward and continually deepen my spiritual life.
You wrote as if you’ve known me since birth, deeply nuanced and truthful. You knew my strengths, and your letters narrated certain incidents you thought were admirable. Those moments you recorded and wrote about have had uplifting and joyous effects on my grateful heart. I also do remember the way you wrote your “I”—with a loop, and the rounded letters in cursive were pleasantly charming.
You were unwavering in your love for the poor. You started the feeding program in Mendiola where you gathered the orphans and the beggars in the area and fed them every day during lunch. From a group of five, the number grew to 40 and much more. You talked, cajoled, and inspired them. You nourished them with physical food and strengthened their spiritual life. The biblical iconography of a father tending both the physical and spiritual needs of the children was manifested fully in you.
How you loved classical music. Your passion for the classics was surpassed only by your love of the movies. Your soul was nourished by it. You had a huge collection of Renaissance and Baroque music. We were neighbors in the Rectory of Alabang, as my room was adjacent to yours, and every morning, I looked forward to hearing Johann Pachelbel’s “Canon in D,” which was your daybreak anthem. Today, Pachelbel’s canon is what I listen to at least twice a day.
Tonight, and the few more nights before you are finally laid to rest, people of all ages will gather to pay their last respects. They will have stories to tell, bits and pieces of what you’ve done and the legacy you left behind. They will tell of your sorrows and triumphs, of the innumerable things you’ve done and how you affected them, of the loss they feel because you finally said goodbye.
Tonight, may you look upon us, and intercede for us, as our God embraces you in His bosom.
Andy Formilleza, OSB, “Father Andy” to many, died July 20. The author delivered this eulogy.