Twenty years old pa lang si John Paul Abellera (mas lalong kilala sa pangalang JP) nang una ko siyang makilala sa isang screenwriting class na inorganize ng Film Development Foundation noong 1998. Masayahin siya, palatawa at sa batang edad ay napakalawak ng imagination. Matapos ang aming six-month course, nagkanya-kanya na kami ng buhay na tinahak at nabalitaan na lang namin na nagtatrabaho na si JP sa Star Cinema ng ABS-CBN Productions. Through the years, nakakasalubong ko si JP sa mga premiere nights ng kung ano-anong pelikula. Hindi kami close pero mayroon kaming malalim na respeto sa isa’t-isa bilang manunulat at ka-trabaho sa media.
Nagkakakontakan lang kami kapag mayroon kaming namamayapang ka-klase (na naka-ilan na rin sa loob ng 16 na taon), pero nagiging updated pa rin kami sa isa’t-isa sa pamamagitan ng Facebook. Sa katunayan, sa Facebook ko unang nabalitaan na balak pala ni JP na pumasok ng monasteryo at maging isang Benedictine monk. Ilang araw na ang nakalipas, minessage ko si JP kung pwede ko syang ma-interview through email dahil interesado akong malaman kung bakit sa gitna ng matagumpay niyang career bilang Creative Manager ng isang prestigious film outfit ay nag-decide siyang iwan ang lahat at maging isang reclusive monk. Kaagad na sinagot ako ni JP ng “Sure, Ronald!” Nagpadala ako agad ng questionnaire at eto ang mga kumpletong sagot niya sa aking mga tanong. From the bottom of my heart, thank you JP for sharing with me your very inspiring story.
Anong ginagawa mo bago ka nag-decide pumasok sa monastery? What was your life like?
I was living a less than ideal life. My life was defined by the trappings that my job brought. I wanted my own condo unit, my own car. I wanted to travel around the world. I wanted to treat my family and friends to expensive dinners. My job brought me money and power. Since I was working in the entertainment industry and had connections with celebrities, my friends looked up to me as a celebrity as well. And I basked in that adoration. In my family, I was the breadwinner. Because I was the one who brought money to the table, my parents and sister could not stop me from doing everything that I wanted.
Matagal mo na bang gustong gawin ito o basta mo na lang naisip?
Looking back, I considered becoming a priest when I was still in grade school. I never pursued it because I soon became engrossed with literature, theater and film. In terms of becoming a monk, the call became clearer last year when I started to renew my prayer life. After praying hard and reading literature on theology and monasticism, I came to realize that my desire to be a monk stems from a desire to serve and glorify God. However, I had to pray for discernment for months. I did not want to enter the monastery just because I am on a spiritual high, running away from the problems of the real world, or have romantic notions of monasticism.
Anong nagtulak sa yo at narating mo ang desisyon na pumasok sa monasteryo?, and why the benedectine monastery?
Days before my 35th birthday last year, my endocrinologist confirmed that I have Type 2 Diabetes. It was a crisis that served as a turning point in my life. For the last eleven years, my faith in God had been gradually eroding. It reached a point that I no longer believed in Him. It took a disease to force me to accept that there is a higher being beyond the reaches of human intelligence. In that time of confusion and fear, I prayed to God for healing.
Things turned towards my favor after those days of prayer. I was able to control my blood sugar without resorting to use of insulin shots. However, the desire to pray never stopped. The prayers for healing turned into prayers of thanksgiving and, eventually, into prayers of adoration. From the core of my being stemmed a strong desire to love, glorify and serve God, and it only grew stronger day by day.
I started hearing mass regularly at the chapel of the Abbey of Our Lady of Montserrat. This allowed me to reconnect with the Benedictine monks who served as my spiritual directors during my student days at San Beda College-Alabang. I discussed matters of the faith with them, and each discussion convinced me of the immense power and love of God. Days before the Christmas break last year, I was bedridden with flu, cough and colds. When the Benedictine monks learned that I was alone in my studio unit in Cubao, they fetched me and brought me with them to the abbey. I stayed with them for a few days. Those days allowed me a glimpse into their daily lives. I accompanied them as they prayed the Liturgy of the Hours and joined them in the celebration of the Simbang Gabi masses. Those were the happiest and most meaningful days of my life so far. I was healed physically, emotionally and spiritually. A few days later, my parents and my half-sister celebrated Noche Buena with the Benedictine monks at the abbey. We all felt that we were part of a bigger family in Christ.
I considered studying Theology at the Loyola School of Theology, which is being run by the Jesuits. I thought that if I became a priest, I might as well be a Jesuit priest. I have to admit, though, that I’m still in the process of discerning whether or not I am for priesthood. I do not see myself yet doing priestly duties. The clear thing for me is that God is calling me to the monastic life, a life of work and prayer with men who share the same love for Christ. Being a Bedan from kinder to college, I was familiar with the Rule of St. Benedict. I believed in the vows stated in the Rule – Obedience, Stability and Conversion of life. The last one is the most important for me because it meant leaving my old life behind and starting a new one in Christ. Even though I admire and believe in Ignatian spirituality, I am being called to live a life as a Benedictine.
Do you think you are prepared for the battery of difficult tests that you are going to embark when you enter the monastery in June?
I know that it will be a long and difficult journey. More than the discipline, silence and obedience required of the monks, the more difficult part would be the constant struggle against sin. I know I will need the guidance and support of other people who share with me the same love for God. In the company of Benedictine monks who have oriented me in the Rule of St. Benedict, I know that I will not lose my way. I am prepared to test my patience, endure hardships and accept discipline as part of this long but meaningful journey.
May mga doubts and fears ka ba tungkol sa bagong journey na tatahakin mo? Ano-ano ito?
Yes, Ronald. I had many concerns – my financial obligations, the needs of my family, etc. I even bargained with God. Maybe I could serve him as a Benedictine Oblate (a lay person with a vow of stability to a monastery). I even dared to ask signs from God. When I went to the Monastery of the Transfiguration in Malaybalay, Bukidnon for discernment, the silence there was overwhelming. The silence allowed my fears to surface. I began to question my decision to become a monk. Don’t I feel bad that I am selling my condo unit, a symbol of my power and freedom? Won’t I regret abstaining from sex? What happens if my parents, my sister or my nieces get sick? Who will pay for the hospital bills? What about my dream of winning awards as a writer? My mind was bombarded with so many questions that I broke down. That night, I had a talk with one of the monks there. He advised to return to that moment when I made the decision to pursue a monastic life. “Is the reason still valid?” he asked me. I replied, “Yes, because I still want to serve God.” He said, “Then, serve God in the best way you can.” When I prayed again, I heard God telling me that there was no need for signs. It is my free will to serve Him, to follow His will. That bolstered my decision to become a monk.
Pwede ka bang maging monk and at the same time pursue your creative pursuits?
It will depend on the decision of the abbot. In the novitiate stage, however, I will be in seclusion; i.e., no contact with the outside world.
Anong reaction ng family at friends mo sa naging desisyon mo? How did they take the news?
At first, I thought my parents would be against my decision. To my pleasant surprise, they supported me all the way. Of course, they raised concerns about the family’s financial situation, but they assured me that they would do fine without my financial contribution.
Paano mo nakikita ang sarili mo 10 years from now?
I hope to remain faithful to my vows as a monk and, perhaps, as a priest. There is nothing else that will bring me more joy than that.
What do you think are all these things, teaching you?
Humility, more than anything else. I learned to let go of all the things that used to define me – money, power, achievements, popularity. I learned to accept that there is someone higher than me whom I have to serve and glorify.