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2015-07-22

Blessings to you! What a wild week this one has been. The Visitation began on July 13th and ended on July 17th with a very nice report about our community. There were some recommendations that we need to discuss some topics. For instance, what size should our community eventually be? Do we just continue to grow? How do we handle the problem of lack of space here in our present monastery? The Visitors expressed some concern that there are a large number of men in formation here and not so many finally professed senior monks.

All of these concerns are not new. They are the challenges of a community that is growing and looks likely to continue to grow. Today in many monasteries there is a sort of scientific approach to life. If the community grows old, then it decides when it will close itself. It if continues to have vocations, then it tries to decided how many it should accept. Most people who know me well are aware that I am completely opposed to this way of thinking. That does not mean that they are not monks in my own community who would prefer this more scientific way of thinking.

All of my years here I have insisted on trusting in Divine Providence. That does not mean to be stupid, but to have a deep and basic awareness that God is in charge and that we are here primarily to respond to Him and not to plan out too much. When in the late 1980s our community was reduced in numbers to only three solemnly professed, we did discuss whether we should close the monastery, but our response finally was that if we were ordered to close the monastery by proper authority, we would do that. If we were not so ordered, we should just go forward and live our lives to the best of our ability. We still kept the whole Divine Office and had daily Holy Mass and worked the full schedule. Slowly we began to grow again. The present community really comes from that time of crisis.

I am not aware of any time in monastic history when monasteries began to limit their own numbers, although I am aware that sometimes monasteries were founded for only a certain number of monks and that monasteries turned people away because they were not endowed sufficiently to accept new vocations. We don't have that kind of a monastery. It would be as if our founders had decreed that this monastery would be only for 12 monks and that financial means was supplied in perpetuity for 12 monks and that we could not accept more.

Most of the monasteries in the United States began with very few monks and lots and lots of candidates. Sometimes there was a good sized number of solemnly professed founding monks, but quite often only a handful. In the 1960s it was officially encouraged to found monasteries with only a handful of monks.

What our report tells us is that we need to discuss and make some decisions or come to some kind of agreement about these what to do practically about these types of situations. Do we continue to grow? Do we put brakes on our growth? Do we construct more rooms? These are discussions for which your prayers are much appreciated. The hope is always that in discussion we can come to some amicable agreement for the present moment and still have a vision for our future.

Spirituality is a process of praying but also a process of living. Living is never just one delightful moment after another. There are ups and downs in living just as there are ups and downs in praying. If our prayer is just the same day after day, something is wrong. Prayer is communication with a living God and thus is subject to change. Living means to exist in the here and now and that reality is also in change all of the time. Thus our spirituality is about adapting to the changes of praying and the changes of living in a way that draws us close to the God who is always close to us.

Monastic life has the same challenges of spirituality. If the abbot becomes rigid and set in his ways, it can damage a community. If the abbot is to open and flexible, it can damage a community. Saint Benedict wants to the abbot listen and listen and listen. Then the abbot must take time for prayer and again listen--this time to the Lord. Finally the abbot can make a decision to the best of his ability. It is never a perfect decision but always a decision conditioned by the realities of prayer and life at a particular time, conditioned by what he has heard from the brothers and conditioned by what he may have encountered in prayer.

Certainly my personal experience over the last many decades has confirmed this to me. I must always be ready to listen some more. I must always be ready to hear another point of view. I must always be ready to change in non-essential matters (and most matters are non-essential). I must always be strong in the faith and in my loyalty to the Church. That loyalty is about essentials because now we all know how deeply sinful the Church (and we ourselves) can become in all that is not essential.

Everything we do and think and omit is always a part of our spirituality because it reflects our process of living and praying. So for me, this Visitation becomes the occasion of a challenge in my spirituality: a challenge to listen again, to initiate discussions in which I have an open ear, a challenge to hear points of view different from my own, a challenge to draw things together in a sort of new synthesis once again.

As always, I pray for you and for your needs and intentions. I will offer a Holy Mass for you again. Please continue to pray for me and for our sisters and brothers in our various communities. Pray very much for God to keep the community of Christ in the Desert united and full of life. I send you my love and prayers.

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