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

2015-01-28

Blessings to you! It has been a quiet week here in the Monastery. There are still many of the brothers who are suffering from colds and infections which are common in the winters here. But most of us are up and about and leading the normal, quiet life of a monk.

We are thinking of building a new recreation room with some music rooms where brothers can practice singing and musical instruments without disturbing other monks. It will take time to do this, but we are beginning to plan now. We have to think about what form a recreation room for monks would take. We have used one room for many years now, but it is too small. We have recreation twice a week, for 20 minutes on Thursday nights and for a half hour on Sunday nights. Occasionally we have a longer recreation to celebrate some special event, such as brothers coming home after a longer absence.

We also use a recreation room for community classes, which we have once a week. Sometimes the classes are lectures, sometimes they are just watching a documentary together, sometimes I present photos and explanations of the various communities that I visit. This is a way of sharing together and of keeping the community aware of many aspects of modern life. We are usually about 35 monks home right now and that means that we need a larger room than we have used in the past.

We are also beginning to think about a new infirmary section for the community. We have two infirmary rooms already but could use a third and possibly even a fourth room. So we will probably construct an infirmary with about seven rooms, with an examination room and a resident nurse's room. That would allow the brother assigned as infirmarian to sleep nearby if one of the brothers in the infirmary needs some special attention. None of our brothers needs much specialized care at the moment. Those who now live in the infirmary and those who might live there are simply older monks with a variety of the infirmaties of old age: walking challenges, diet challenges, memory challenges, etc.

For us monks, recreation is a form of the ascetic life. We don't go to recreation to feel good or to have a good time. We participate in recreation as in any other community activity in order to deepen our relationship with through love and care for one another. When I first came to Christ in the Desert, we had no formal recreation at all. What that meant was that brothers found ways to recreation alone or with one or two others. This was very much against my own formation in monastic life. Later, when we were going through one of many crises in our history, the community introduced recreation. Some of the brothers thought that recreation meant a formal time for each brother to do just what he wanted to do, either alone or with chosen friends.

Instead, we met together for a half hour each day. It was difficult at first and no one wanted to speak to anyone else. There was a lot of anger and resistance. Over the years, we have learned how to spend time together. There are clear indications about a brother's vocation in the way in which he is able to participate in recreation and give of himself.

Recreation in a monastery is a symbol of how we relate to one another and how we relate to God. Receation is a real discipline and is not easy to live all the time. But the same is true of our formal prayer. If monks only went to prayer when they felt like it, there would be lots of monks missing at each of the times of prayer. If monks only went to recreation when they felt like it, there would be lots of monks missing from recreation. Thus the discipline of monastic life is very much about learning to do what is right in preference to doing only what I want to do and when I want to do it.

This kind of inner discipline flies in the face of so much of the lifestyle today. It is also one of the reasons that there are less monks and nuns today. By this I do not mean that people of our own time cannot life monastic life, but instead that much of monastic life has now changed so that it reflects this same aspect of culture. Monks and nuns are like everyone else: we want to do what we want to do and when we want to do it. As soon as a religious community begins to reflect that form of thinking and being, there are problems.

Of course, the opposite is not much better. When I entered monastic life, there was practically no personal consideration for anyone. That was sort of the opposite extreme of letting everyone do what he or she wants to do when he or she wants. There is nothing wrong with the expression of our humanity in various ways and yet it always needs to be in the context of relationship and not just in the context of my individual life.

Last Sunday more than half of the community arrived late for recreation. Sometimes I will mention it and ask the brothers to be on time. At other times, I just ignore it. On the other hand, if no one ever come on time to our common activities, we may just as well not have a community.

I hope that you can see the challenge to spirituality in any type of life with other human beings. That is a huge challenge everywhere today because of a greater focus on individuality and on the self. Good spirituality has to recognize individuality and self and draw that into the common good.

Be assured of my prayers for you. I will celebrate Holy Mass for you and for your needs and intentions. Please continue to pray for me and for all of the nuns and monks associated with our communities. I send you my love and prayers.

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