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

2015-04-01

Blessings to you! Today is April Fools Day and a good day to write to you. There are many times when I feel like a fool and yet know that life is completely serious. There are times in my life when I have deceived others, sometimes not even intentionally. At other times I have deceived other with good intentions. Life is about living and trying to live with grace and virtue. Joking can be a good addition to that.

Here at Christ in the Desert, these have been quiet days leading up to Holy Week and now we are ready for the Sacred Triduum. And then, finally, Easter once more! Usually I get so involved in writing this letter that I forget to send you greetings and love and prayers for Holy Week, for the Sacred Triduum and for Holy Easter. May this year bring you to an ever deeper understanding of these mysteries--and more importantly a deeper living of these mysteries in your daily life. This is the heart of our faith!

There are two topics I would like to share with you this week: the Covenant with God and the role of suffering. These are both topics that came to my attention through listening to others and reading.

We have been reading a book about Mary by Scott Hahn in the refectory. As I understood it, and I may be wrong, he made a strong point about the difference between a legal relationship with God and a Covenant relationship. Whether what I heard is what he was saying was not as important as the reality that a Covenant relationship is a commitment of two people to one another--it is not about making sure that all the details are in order!

Sometimes we Christians get just as scrupulous as the Scribes and Pharisees about making sure that all of the laws are obeyed. Jesus is clear that He does not come to throw out the laws but He is also clear that the laws are not the goal of Christian life. It is the same here in our monastic community. We have a practice called Culpa in which a brother accuses himself in front of the community of not keeping the laws and customs of the community. This is a healthy practice for us because it keeps us aware of the ideal. We are also aware that if everyone were somehow externally perfect, there would probably be something quite wrong happening in the community.

So also in the life of the Church there are lots of laws and customs and we need to be adult enough to know when we should be concerned about them and when not so concerned. While we can never encourage sin, we also need to be comfortable with the fact that we are all sinners. We work at being faithful and at responding to grace, but we often fail. That is why we have a Sacrament of Reconciliation.

This brings me back to the basic reality which is the Covenant of Jesus, made in His blood, which unites the Church with Him and also unites you and me with Him and with one another. Quite often parents give us a good model of Covenant relationship in their relationship with their children. Parents normally don't reject their children, even when the children make bad decisions, get involved in criminal or sinful behavior or make immoral choices. It is not easy for parents to accept such things, but in general parents live a personal relationship with each child and try to maintain that relationship in the face of whatever happens.

Can God be less with us that a parent with his or her child? Instead, the Scriptures insist, over and over, that even if we are not faithful, God remains faithful. What does being unfaithful mean? Does it mean sin? Perhaps, but at a deeper level, it means denying the relationship. We can deny the relationship with sin but there are many times when we strive to keep the relationship even as we are sinning. The true unfaithfulness on our part would be despair: no longer trusting that God loves me and cares for me, no longer believing.

We have bouts of despair and bouts of unbelief because that is part of growing up in the faith. Here we are talking more about an adult decision to reject God. That would be a deep unfaithfulness. Even then, God remains faithful and seeks to draw us back to Him.

In the midst of all of this, we encounter a mystery of suffering. All of us suffer from time to time. Our present society wants to eliminate all suffering, even to the point of taking our own lives so that we don't have to suffer any indignity. We want to be the gods of our own lives.

Yet most of us can look back at our lives and see how we have grown and matured through suffering. The Letter to the Hebrews says about Jesus that He learned obedience through what He suffered. That is an incredible statement. You and I also need to learn obedience through what we suffer. That means that we accept sufferings--it does not mean that we look for sufferings. Life brings enough sufferings. And we are certainly entitled to use the normal means of avoiding sufferings. On the other hand, none of us chose our own parents or our families. Those were given to us. There are lots of realities in life that are simply given to us: our bodies, our personalities at some level, our capacities, etc. Some of these given realities come with given sufferings.

We are also responsible for the choices that we have made, at some level. And we have not always made the best choices in life. Those less good choices or at times even bad choices, can also bring us sufferings.

Yet, because we are in Christ and have a Covenant with Christ, we are always capable of accepting sufferings and allowing sufferings to become grace and salvation for ourselves and for others. We can grow and mature through suffering or we can become bitter and less alive through suffering. The choice is ours.

As we celebrate Holy Week, we can look on the face of Christ and see His love for us as He accepted suffering, torture and death for us, so that we might have life. What an incredible gift to us! Christ became human so that we could be adopted as children of God and share in the divinity of Christ.

I send you my love and prayers for this Holy Week and Easter. I will celebrate Holy Mass for you and for your intentions. Please continue to pray for me and for all of the monks and nuns associated with our houses.

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