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About Us > Abbot's and Prior's Pages > Abbot's Notebook

2014-09-17

Blessings to you! Here I am, still in my own office in my own monastery and happy to be home, but Friday I head to Costa Rica. I often joke about my contemplative monastic life because I am on the road so much of the time. Almost always I am on my way to some other monastery in some other part of the world, or occasionally visiting a family of one of our monks.

On July 11 of this year, the Monastery of San José was established in Costa Rica under the authority of the Bishop of Cartago. Because our type of monastery is clearly part of the Catholic Church, we are always related in some way to the Church, either directly under a bishop as in this case, or within a monastic congregation such as our community here at Christ in the Desert.

The Monastery of San José was founded under a bishop because most other monasteries today do not have the resources or the monks to start a new monastery. Christ in the Desert has founded three monasteries and adopted a fourth one as well. We also have had monks working in other monasteries to help monastic life. At this point in time, we are focusing on strengthening our own community.

Yet the question always arises: who will help a group of men or women who want to begin a monastic life? Almost always no one is willing. This was our own experience in the 1970s and 1980s. Because of our experience, our community has tried to find ways to help new monastic beginnings. So in Costa Rica there are two abbots who are helping this community get started and I am one of them. I have promised to spend about a week each year with the community, giving conferences, living with them, sharing with them.

This same question arises for individual vocations as well. Sometimes men come to our community seeking entry because other communities will not accept them. At times it may be that they have an illness. At other times it may be that they are older men. At times it may be they were married and divorced. Always we try to give these men a chance, but only after some discernment on their part and on ours. Men must be able to live our life. Sometimes a man stays in the guest house and never attends the prayer services. We will let him know that if he wants to be considered for our life, he must be present even as a guest. Sometimes after living only a week with a man we can tell that he will not be able to live in community. Sometimes I have interviewed candidates who never let me get a word in at all. This is a good sign that they will not be able to live our life!

One of the aspects of monastic life is to listen to others. The Rule of Benedict begins with the word Listen! The Rule is full of advice about how to relate to others and how to listen to others and how to maintain oneself in silence. Listening is a basic value in any contemplative life: listening to God, listening to nature, listening to others and listening to one's own heart. It is not easy to listen but if a man shows that he cannot listen, then he does not belong here. Listening implies changing. The Word of God changes us when we listen to it. The words of other people change us if we are people who can listen. The word that we encounter in nature can change us as well.

One of the ways to learn to listen is to keep silence. This silence must be more than external silence. We must learn to be silent within our very being. In that silence we can begin to hear the Lord. In that silence we might possibly be able to hear another person. In that silence we can appreciate all that is around us. Most of us have chatter going on in the mind a lot of the time. We must learn to let the chatter go and to pay attention to what is happening around us. This is a form of listening. We need to pay attention to what is happening around us without any reaction or even response to it--unless there is some emergency!

There are times when I find it almost impossible to be silent and to listen.
This happens especially when I have a strong inner reaction to what is happening in my life. For instance, when I am trying to get something done by telephone, which I find frustrating to begin with, and the person on the other end wants to flood me with absolutely useless information that I don't want to hear and don't need to hear. When this happens, I try to hang up politely and pray for the person. The other response that I give sometimes is not nice: I don't need to hear this and so I will hang up!!!

This kind of situation is a situation which can be a symbol for all types of listening. If we don't have time to listen, we should be honest right at the beginning and state that to the people involved and then gently withdraw from the conversation. Yet when my level of frustration rises, my resolve to live in peace and with charity diminishes. God help me!

Trying to live as a follower of Christ consistently is not easy! There are so many ways in which we can justify less than Christian behavior. Instead, we must accept the Cross daily and seek to live as Christ did, learning how to speak the truth with gentleness and yet with clarity, learning how to confront difficult situations but with a strong love.

As always I promise to pray for you and for your needs and intentions. I will celebrate a Holy Mass for you. Please continue to pray for me and for all of the nuns and monks associated with our houses. I send you my love and prayers.

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