The Abbot’s Notebook for September 28, 2016

Blessings to you!  Home sweet home!  Here I am at my own desk in my own office at Christ in the Desert.  I suppose a monk should never think of the desk as his own nor the office—because one day they won’t be his but will go to the next person.  Nevertheless, this is the office and the desk to which I am accustomed and I am very happy to be here.

Our new Abbot President of the Subiaco Cassinese Congregation is Abbot Guillermo Arboleda Tamayo.  He is 60 years old and has been the superior of a community for the past 25 years.  He is a good friend of Christ in the Desert and of our dependent houses and that is a real plus for us.  We will do our best as a community to help and support his work in our congregation.

Here at home, Prior Christian and Brother Benedict are on a pilgrimage with a group to the Benedictine Abbey in Oregon, the Trappist Abbey in Oregon and to the Marian Shrine there in Portland, Oregon.  Please keep those pilgrims in your prayers.

During my absence in Italy, six more men have entered the monastery in various stages of formation.  We are now about forty-four monks who live here and regularly participate in the common life.  It is a large group and will get larger.  Eventually we will start some more new monasteries and reduce in size once again.  It is not easy to plan to get bigger and then smaller once again, but we keep working at this.

Sometimes when I speak to the Junior Monks, because I am in a special way in charge of their formation, I speak about the need to maintain an inner peace and tranquility, no matter what happens.  I can speak about these things fairly easily because I have had to struggle with them myself for many years.  Somehow, however, as a young man, I could sense that this was the right path:  seek peace and be still.

Seeking peace and being still is not easy for anyone.  We have to learn how to fight against ourselves in order to seek God.  The spiritual struggle is about this battle.  So often I have told the monks: learn to fight yourselves and love others, not to love yourself and fight others.

One of the first things in this battle is to learn to be silent and still in all situations.  Every time that we get upset about something we lose our peace and quiet.  The challenge is to recognize that getting upset is a door to a deeper spiritual journey if we are willing to accept it.

Although I write a lot about interior silence, being still, being patient, such writing does not take away the struggle.  Instead, most of the time, I can come to a place of inner peace and silence but when I am caught “off-guard,” so to speak, then it is more difficult.  For instance, if I pray as soon as I rise in the morning, asking for the gift of inner silence and peace, usually I am able to get through the day without much problems.

What happens, for me, is that I get up and kneel down and don’t pay attention to the Lord.  Prayer becomes a rote action, an action that is simply a physical action and not a movement of my heart to the Lord.

Or, I rise and pray and turn my heart to God, and then go off and forget about it.  This way is listening to the Lord, but having no deep commitment to Him.  This also happens in my life.  I get off to a good start but somewhere during the day I get off the spiritual road.  Then the challenge becomes to get back on the spiritual road and to try to stay there.  But sometimes my spiritual life seems like a regular disaster, off the road, forgetting God and just getting about living as if I were a pagan.

The easiest thing to do, of course, is to give up struggling and abandon the spiritual combat.  That is just what would lead me and anyone completely away from the Lord.  It could be the work of the devil or perhaps it is just human frailty.  But at this point in the struggle, hopefully, a person can realize that the only way forward is to keep struggling even when there is not the least appearance of making any headway or of being any value at all.

The stories of the early monks and nuns have so much to say about this situation.  Their advice is so simple:  keep struggling and trust that the Lord is already present with you even though you are not aware of Him.  The early monks and nuns give lots of advice about how to do this.  If one is depressed, think of others who are worse off.  If one is struggling with lust, realize that everyone has to go through that struggle.  If one is jealous, realize that God loves you as you are.  If one is angry, seek the peace of the Lord.  And so on.

There is no handbook for the spiritual life except the Scriptures and Tradition—and these books have no secret methods other than to keep on struggle against oneself and trusting in the love of God.  What all of this means for us is that we must commit ourselves to the spiritual battle.  If our focus in life is only about seeking God, then life itself changes.  Instead of our faith being something we do now and then, faith becomes the very center of our life and the rest of our life becomes something that we do now and then.

Once we accept that life really is a struggle and that we should not be yearning for some state in life where we have no struggles and everything is just wonderful, then we are in the right disposition to begin to pray!

As always I send you my love and prayers and ask your prayers for me and for our sisters and brothers in all of our communities.  I will celebrate Holy Mass for you and for your intentions and ask God’s blessings to come upon you in abundance.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip