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

2014-10-29

Blessings to you! I rejoice to be writing to you from my own office at Christ in the Desert once again. No more trips for at least four weeks. I am pretty well re-adjusted to this time zone. Life seems very regular and enjoyable.

Denver Torres from Durango, Colorado, has entered the postulancy here at Christ in the Desert, joining six other postulants. Three of those six will become novices at the end of this week, and for one night we will have twelve novices. On November 1st, Brother John Baptist will make his first vows and so we will have only eleven novices after that and four postulants.

We also have a former monk from another community trying out our life. His presence means that we are generally forty men living here right now. That is a challenge to the cooks, who cook for us and for the guests. Some of you know that years ago we decided that if a man can read, he can cook. Many of you know that we also realized that some people read better than others. Finally we realized that some men are dyslexic. Nevertheless, we still do our own cooking and assign one brother each day with another brother as his assistant. We have some pretty good meals!

Almost everyone has received his flu shot by now. I received both a flu shot and a pneumonia shot on the same day. I had never had a pneumonia shot before and was not sure that I needed it, but was told that it would not harm me!!

As I reflect on the recent pilgrimage, the most striking experience was not any of the places we visited. Rather it was the capacity that a group of 35 people had to stay at peace even while stressed out over flights and arrangements and details. That was the most striking thing for me. I can say that because I live in a community roughly the same size and recognize that challenge of living in peace day after day.

When I look at our present world, I see fights and conflicts and murders and torture and hatreds on all sides. We are in dire times but that is probably true at all times. Today we hear what is happening so instantly whereas in the past, hundreds of thousands of people could be killed and only slowly did we come to realize it. Moaning about the situation of our world never cures that situation.

The challenge for anyone who wants peace is to create peace within. That is the first challenge. Saint Seraphim of Sarov said in one of his sayings that if we acquire a spirit of peace, and thousands of souls will be saved around us. We don't have to fight the world or to fight others. The first and really only battle is with ourselves. In much of the spiritual tradition, there is reference to the spiritual struggle, the spiritual battle, etc. That battle is always against ourselves so that we may have peace and love others without judging them.

In my own life I have gone through times when peace has been easy and has been a wonderful gift. At other times, though, I can feel my own reactions which are against peace. That is the point where there is a choice: seek peace and pursue it or play host to my bad feelings and angers and lusts and fears and let them push my life in all directions. Just because I try to choose to seek peace does not make it easy! Instead, part of growing in the spiritual life is learning to embrace such battles and not weary in pursuing peace.

Most of us know when we have accepted anger or lust or fear or laziness. It is when we become aware that we have accepted such realities in our lives that we have the chance to choose against them. Sometimes these realities creep up on us and we are not aware of them. But in that moment that we become aware, we have the choice. If we are engaged in the spiritual battle regularly, we tend to make better choices, even if not always the best choices.

So if I were to give advice to anyone about the spiritual life, it would be simple: start now to try to do God's will! No matter how often you fail, keep on trying. In time good things will begin to happen along with the necessary suffering that trying to do His will entails.

It is the same for us monks. Sometimes the young get discourage and leave. Sometimes the middle-aged give up because they have not yet had any personal spiritual experience of God. Sometimes the old abandon the struggle because they cannot see that it has brought about anything remarkable in them.

One of the vows of a Benedictine monk is stability. It means more than just staying connected to the one monastery. It means this kind of dogged perseverance in the spiritual battle. It means staying with these brothers, no matter how awful we may find them. It means obey the abbot, even when we think that he is totally wrong. All of these aspects of stability help the monk, and could help anyone, engage in the spiritual battle. Stay with it! That is what the spiritual life is about.

Does it ever get really nice? Sometimes for some people. For others, it never improves. Think of Mother Theresa of Calcutta. She had a deeply intimate and personal relationship with Jesus. That took her out of her original religious community and brought her to found the Missionaries of Charity. And then Jesus abandoned her and never gave her another taste of that personal and intimate relationship. She had to live completely by faith.

So often, when we seek the spiritual life, we are hoping to feel good. An honest spiritual life sometimes has those moments of feeling good. But it also has long stretches of not feeling much and sometimes periods of feeling awful about ourselves, about others and even about God. Be prepared to suffer if you want a deep spiritual life.

Enough for this week. I send you my love and prayers. As always, I will celebrate a Holy Mass for you and for your needs and intentions. Please pray for me and for all of the monks and nuns associated with our communities.

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