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

2015-07-29

Blessings to you! Life is always better at home, in my own room and with my community. Thanks be to God I am not traveling again. There will be more trips this year but when I have long periods of time in the community, my life is always better. That probably reflects one aspect of why I became a monk with a vow of stability. My own family moved a lot when I was young. I did kindergarten in one school, the first grade in another, the second grade in another, the third grade in another, the fourth and fifth grades were in the same school and the sixth, seventh and 8th grades in another school. These schools were in Washington State, Idaho and Oregon. Before I started school, we lived in Arizona for a short period of time.

When I entered the seminary at Mount Angel Seminary in Saint Benedict, Oregon, I stayed there 6 years and then entered Mount Angel Abbey in the same place and stayed there for 10 years. Now I have been here for 41 years. Hopefully I will be here until I die and then be in the cemetery here!

One of the aspects of stability that helps me is that I relate to the same situation with generally the same people year after year. If I have a conflict with someone, I must learn how to deal with that in the context of this community and these brothers. That is what stability is about. In another context, if I had problems or conflicts with someone, I could simply avoid that person or even move to a different place.

The same is true of attractions to other people. I remember many years ago when one of our monks because smitten with a lady in the guesthouse. This is not the type of thing that I would normally talk about or write about, but for sure it happens. When that brother fell in love, others brothers would tell me: do you see what is happening? My only response was: how could I not see it!! Today that brother and that woman are married and they have had a marriage that has endured.

I mention this kind of situation because discerning that a man (or in a women's community, a woman) has a vocation to our way of life is not easy. Today it is even more complicated (and probably enriched) by the sense of freedom that everyone has about life choices. When I was young, no one that I knew ever thought of a second or a third career, most people never thought of divorce, your people were expected to have an idea of what they would do in life by the time they were eighteen and anything and everything out of the ordinary was more or less avoided.

Those were the good old days! Yet they also had their defects. Many people felt trapped in a career or a work which they did not like but could not get out of. Their work was not humanly satisfying and sometimes that made for psychological problems and even addictions. People remained legally married but the marriage was a sham at times--not necessarily with outside affairs but sometimes with no love or communication and the children reflected that in their lives. Some young people were able to see what they wanted and lived out their dreams. Others could never manage that and their unhappiness showed up in their lives as married people or as religious or priests.

Probably we all need to recognize that there is no perfect world just as there are no perfect persons. There were some people and some families that were able to live truly good and holy lives, always with struggle, but sometimes with a stability in their lives that was astounding. I never had that experience but sometimes I can recognize it in others.

Is there a perfect monastery or a perfect religious community or a perfect family? Surely the Holy Family was perfect and yet even there we hear the complaints of Mary and Joseph when Jesus was twelve and stayed behind in the temple!

In this world, we look for holiness which is not the same as perfection. Holiness is about consistently loving God and others. In that process we can make all kinds of mistakes and do stupid things and cause people to be upset with us and we can be upset with ourselves. The following of the Lord Jesus is not about discovering some handbook that will show us a perfect answer in every situation. Rather, the following of the Lord Jesus is a road will with challenges, with brokenness, with (for most of us) good doses of sinfulness--and yet through it all recognizing that Jesus has come to save us and our world.

Part of my own growing up included recognizing that when I was young I wanted a perfection that would get rid of all personal suffering. It was almost as if I wanted to cut all feeling out of my life by doing only the right thing. I mean, who wants to suffer? And I had had my fair share of it. So if only I could do everything right, I should be able to avoid all feeling. Of course, it did not work and I had to experience lots of challenges. My basic formation came from reading good books on the spiritual life and occasionally from a good work of an older monk.

One of the challenges I see today in forming young people is that many of them seem to have no desire or thirst for becoming saints. I think that I always wanted to be a saint, even if for all of the wrong reasons. Later I changed my description of what I wanted to be as I found better words. I want to know the love God has for me and to respond to that love with my whole life. I am nowhere near that ideal but it sets the path of my life and keeps me always challenged.

As always I promise my prayers for you and for your needs and intentions. I will offer Holy Mass for you and ask the Lord to send you many graces and blessings. Please remember to pray for me and for all of the sisters and brothers associated with our communities. I send you my love and prayers.

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