Dear Friends of the Monastery,
Blessings to you! May the Lord give you many blessings in your life and give you joy!
As always, there are so many things to share with you about our life here at the Monastery of Christ in the Desert. The most important thing is that we are still here, praying for all of you who read this letter, and trying to lead a strong monastic life that praises God.
On February 1st three men entered the novitiate here, to be formed as monks of our community. Brother Michael Zielinski is from the United States, Brother Evagrius Kim is from Korea and Brother John Baptist Tran is from Vietnam. This mixture continues our experience here at Christ in the Desert of having a strongly international community.
Later in February our local Chapter of Solemnly Professed Monks voted in favor of beginning a new monastic house--not yet a foundation, but a house that we hope in time would become a full monastery. Our hope is to purchase land in Texas somewhere between Dallas and Houston and begin there a house for Vietnamese monks in the United States. To some, this will sound foolish or at least strange. I reminded our own brothers that most of the early monasteries in the United States were founded for a single ethnic group and then in time became multicultural and--in one sense--more American.
Here at Christ in the Desert we now have 12 Vietnamese monks and so it seems obvious to us that we should be starting a house for Vietnamese monks in the United States. In time that house will become more and more "American" and will be able to receive non-Vietnamese who apply. For the moment, this new house can strengthen the spiritual life of the immigrant Vietnamese community here in the United States. This proposal has been well received by many of the Vietnamese communities in the United States.
Our Brother Luis Regalado came to visit us for a short period of time in February. He is serving as novice master in our Monastery of Santa Maria y Todos los Santos in Mexico.
Dunstan Boyko arrived from Canada in March to join our community. He is now a postulant here and helps us a lot with the web site.
On April 12th this year, Brother Peter Khoa Le Van Son transferred his solemn vows to our community from the Monastery of Thien Phuoc in Vietnam. On the same day, Brother John Dat Nguyen Van Luan and Brother Dominic Dat Phung Mai Luong made their solemn profession here at Christ in the Desert. This was an impressive celebration for all of us! In the past two years we have received 17 new men into the community and almost all of them are persevering in our vocation.
I was in South Africa this year in April to visit our brothers who are helping at Saint Benedict's Abbey in Polokwane. I returned home in time to welcome Abbot Simon Ri of Waegwan Abbey in Korea who came to visit his monks who are living in our community with the hope of transferring to us.
The same week that Abbot Simon left, Abbot Theodore Coco from Togo arrived to spend a few days with us. We had asked him and his community to work with us in South Africa. Now Brother Honore from Togo is at Saint Benedict's Abbey in South Africa and working with the community there. The community of Saint Benedict's Abbey seems to be doing well and it will need time to stabilize in this new experience of monastic life with our community.
I was in Italy in May to work with the Knights Templar. It was a very interesting and very positive experience for me.
As our community continues to grow and deepen, we will be asked to do more and more for others. This is normal. We are blessed with good and strong and gifted vocations.
Our Sisters, the Sisters of Our Lady of the Desert, have now moved to Blanco, New Mexico, near a property given them for their own Monastery. It seems very strange here without them. They chose to leave here to continue developing their own identity apart from ours. Please pray for them.
Again, I promise my prayers for all of you who read this letter. May the Lord bless you and your loved ones. Please keep us and the Sisters of Our Lady of the Desert in your prayers. God continues to do wonderful things in our communities. May we praise the Lord with joy!
Your brother in the Lord,
Philip Lawrence, OSB
10 It is love that impels them to pursue everlasting life; 11 therefore, they are eager to take the narrow road of which the Lord says: Narrow is the road that leads to life (Matt 7:14). 12 They no longer live by their own judgment, giving in to their whims and appetites; rather they walk according to another's decisions and directions, choosing to live in monasteries and to have an abbot over them. 13 Men of this resolve unquestionably conform to the saying of the Lord: I have come not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me (John 6:38). 14 This very obedience, however, will be acceptable to God and agreeable to men only if compliance with what is commanded is not cringing or sluggish or half-hearted, but free from any grumbling or any reaction of unwillingness. 15 For the obedience shown to superiors is given to God as he himself said: Whoever listens to you, listens to me (Luke 10:16). gladly, for God loves a cheerful giver (II Cor 9:7).
Thoughts on the Rule of Saint Benedict
We are reading Chapter 5 on obedience now. Verse 10 begins with this gentle yet strong statement: "It is love that impels them to pursue everlasting life!" Many people find the idea of obedience very difficult to understand and accept. For the monk who has lived with obedience for many years, there is an incredible sense of freedom because of seeking God's will.
Obedience is first about looking for God's will. Doing what another person tells you to do, when it is done rightly, brings about a wonderful detachment from ourselves and a freedom to see what is of ourselves, what is of others and what is of God.
Probably the most important conversion of life for any of us is when we begin to seek God's will and not our own. The monastic way of obedience is one path towards that objective.
There are other ways. No matter what way we choose, for us who follow the Lord Jesus, there is a special role for authority in our lives and for respect for those who serve us in the roles of authority. Although there is much rejection of any authority outside of ourselves today, as we live more years and have more experience, there is a deeper understanding that we do not give up our autonomy at all by recognizing outside authority.
Finally, in the last verses of this selection from the Rule of Benedict, we have the admonition to obey with joy and gladness: don't be cringing and sluggish and faint-hearted! Be free from grumbling and unwillingness.
These admonitions are so good, no matter what kind of life we find ourselves living. We all know how difficult it can be to relate to people who are grumbling and unwilling! The cringing, the sluggish and the faint-hearted are often, by today's terms, passive-aggressive personalities and that is really difficult in any community situation. Let us love the Lord and obey Him with joy and gladness!
As you can imagine, it is difficult for us to earn our own living in this time of economic difficulty. On the other hand, the thrift store has been doing a fine business and that makes us happy and brings us some money.
The Monks' Corner holds it own and we have hopes that this year it may be able to contribute to the monastery at least a small amout of financial help.
The Abbey Beverage Company, which produces Monks' Ale, is making a profit. That money goes right back into the company to continue the work of expanding and developing it.
We have a small packaging industry here on the property as well that is doing quite well. Along with the Guesthouse and the Giftshop here on the property, the various businesses serve to help a lot in paying our daily expenses. Always we are looking for ways to lower the expenses and live more simply, because monks need to be simple, direct and loving.
Several people have asked about the custom of Mass Stipends. It is important that everyone understand that we Catholics do not "pay" for Masses to be celebrated, but we generally make a monetary offering to a priest who will celebrate a Mass and pray for our intentions.
Generally a diocese will state what is the normal "offering" to have a priest celebrate a Mass. All of the priests that I know will celebrate Mass even if no offering is given.
Here at Christ in the Desert, we are happy to get the normal offering in our Archdiocese, which is $10 for each Mass. But we always pray and celebrate Mass even if there are no offerings.