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

2015-02-25

Blessings to you! Now we are really getting into Lent! Here in the monastery the weather is also Lenten, having turned very cold and snowy, which is not normal at this time of the year. Usually it is just beginning to warm up. January is always the worst month. But the cold this week is really something.

Because it is Lent, also, there are fewer trips out of the Monastery. With almost forty monks at home, there tend to be trips almost every day. Sometimes they are shopping trips--at least once a week--but other times they are for doctors, for dentists, for eyes, etc. But in Lent we try to cut down even those trips.

This week I want to write a bit about emotions and the spiritual life. Lent with its fasting and prayer and penances often can make people cranky. If that happens and a brother begins to act on the crankiness, then Lent is not doing what it is supposed to do. Sure, even I get cranky when I am fasting, but the challenge is to act from love, not from the feeling of crankiness. Easier said than done!!

In our community, we monks at times don't feel like getting up on time (3:40 am). That is a normal feeling. We get up because we are monks and belong to the community. I am sure that many working people have to get up at times when they are tired or cranky or not feeling well, and yet they rise because they want to keep their job or because they have families to support. The monk, of course, won't be thrown out of the monastery for missing early Vigils occasionally. Some monks have permissions to miss the early Vigils regularly for one reason or another. Most of us, however, are present whether we want to be or not, whether we are feeling well or not and whether our emotions are tranquil or roiled.

At times, we monks have conflicts with one another. If the other brother is quite a bit younger in monastic life or quite a bit older, we may not have to be close to them when we are in conflict. We monks, however, do most things in what we call seniority. That means that I will probably be by the same people all my life, even if I don't like them or find them difficult or if they don't bathe regularly and so on. The challenge of the Gospel is to love all others, especially our enemies because it is easy to love our friends. When we have a conflict and our emotions are stirred up negatively, we still have to eat and pray with those with whom we are in conflict!

Monastic life, when well lived, pushes the monk to an emotional maturity. The monk has to learn to be present at common activities even when he does not feel well, when he is angry, when he is upset, when he would rather be anywhere else in the world. The monk has to learn to speak with all of his brothers, even those he may not personally care for so very much. The monk has to learn to express his opinion in meetings and yet accept it when a decision is made that is not to his liking or according to his opinion.

So what happens when a monk lives well is that he learns all of the richness of his emotions, both positive and negative. He learns to be able to know his feelings and not act on them. The monks learns how to use the energy of his anger or of the other emotions as a way of encounter with God and with others. All of this is the ideal. It takes the monk a lifetime to keep up this struggle, but the monk does learn a lot if he perseveres.

Honestly it does not matter if we are monks or not. All of us find ourselves in situations where we need to express our feelings and not let the feelings run us. We humans are made in such a way that most of us need to learn a lot about our feelings and also about how to make good decisions and how to deal with others when our feelings are strong.

Spirituality is about learning how to live well for Jesus Christ. The Jewish Scriptures often think of wisdom as the capacity to live well in response to God. Part of learning to live for God, for Jesus Christ, is learning how our emotions can strengthen our service of God and others and how to deal with those aspects of our emotions that might hinder this love of God and neighbor.

Lent is a good time to struggle with emotions. If we keep a strong Lenten discipline, often our emotions become more transparent. When I was a young monk, I was told that the emotions should be guided by reason and that reason should be guided by faith. I have found that this advice has helped me very often throughout my years, so I share it with you.

Be assured of my prayers for you in this time of Lent. Please also pray for me and for the monks and nuns of our houses. I will celebrate Holy Mass for you and for your intentions. I send you my love and prayers.

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