The Abbot’s Notebook for November 16, 2016

Blessings to you!  Today I am writing to you from our Monastery of Santa María y Todos los Santos (Saint Mary and All the Saints), outside of Xalapa in the State of Veracruz in Mexico.  I arrived here last Saturday night and am giving the annual retreat to the monks of this house.  Because I am still the abbot of this house, I also try to meet with the monks and address any problems in the community.  That means that it not just a time of peace and no problems for me, but a time of work as well as a time to reflect on the monastic life.

One of my goals is to try to resolve any conflicts and problems in all of our communities in the next two and a half years and also to encourage our dependent houses to seek independence.  This will be a great help to the next abbot of Christ in the Desert.

Last Friday we finished the retreat at Christ in the Desert, led by Bishop Michael Barber of Oakland, California.  I can hope that this retreat that I am leading will be at least half as good as the one that he lead for us.  Please pray for me.

At the heart of any retreat is a presumption that those making the retreat are praying and actively seeking to know the Lord and His will and His presence.  One of the roles of the person guiding the retreat is to invite every participant to spend even more time praying and striving to be aware of God’s presence and then striving to live in that presence.

For all of us, when we try to live in God’s presence, our whole life is better from the inside out.  Sometimes our thinking can become primary in our lives and we can make lots of decisions based almost solely on thinking.  The more trusted way in the tradition is to use both mind and heart.  This is a more trusted way because it involved the whole person.  There have been many scholars who have known everything about theology and even about Scripture—but who have had no belief at all in God or in Jesus Christ.  The way to a true knowledge is always through a commitment of love.

We know also that there can be a love that is misguided and sometimes even fails because of now knowing also with the mind.  We cannot truly love with much depth that which we do not know.   Knowing God is always knowing mystery and so requires us to go deeper and deeper all the time.  Knowing another person is also mystery and we can always love more even as we know more.  We Catholics have a point in our history where not much focus was put on knowing the Scriptures or even knowing very well the meaning of the doctrines and dogmas of our faith.  Instead we trusted in the leadership of the Church—in those days both the priests and the religious women—and walked where they told us.

Today all of us are invited to learn for ourselves.  The danger is always that our knowledge will take us away from the Church and thus away from God, Jesus and from all that is truly divine.  So many people today are formed simply to follow what they themselves think, without a deeper commitment.  For myself, I remember very clearly when my heart and mind discovered this:  I believe in Jesus Christ in His Church, in the Roman Catholic Church and the Churches in communion with the Roman Catholic Church.  I accept all that is taught by the Church even when I do not understand it.  I ask from God the grace to understand what I need and to spend my life seeking to understand more and more.

Lots of people have told me that this sounds foolish.  I have always replied:  it is the foolishness of believing in Jesus and the foolishness of following Him.  It is Jesus Himself who brought me to the Church and to this understanding of Jesus always present in His Church and keeping His Church safe from all doctrinal error.  When I was younger, I had a huge struggle to accept the Church and her teachings, but at this one moment in my life, it became clear to me that in order to live fully in Christ, I had also to accept His Church.

Does this make any difference in a spiritual life?  Yes, of course!  Can a person have a spiritual life without accepting the Catholic Church?  Yes, of course.  Then what is the difference?  The difference from my point of view is in living in the fullness of truth.  Over the years I have seen so many of my friends leave the Church or even leave other Churches because of a disagreement over something or even over nothing.  For me, a commitment is strong and true when it is given and lived in its fullness.  A I think of what the Dalai Lama said one time in an article which I don’t remember literally but it seemed like this:  If you want to be a serious religious person, then embrace one of the great religions and accept all that it teaches, especially those teachings which you dislike!

So often out faith is still just in ourselves and not in HIM or in anyone else.  We are invited to give ourselves over to the person of Jesus Christ as He is, in His Church.  This will bring about an enormous change in us if we are faithful.

As always I send you my love and prayers.  I am praying for you in this time of retreat.  Please also pray for me and for the community of Santa María y Todos los Santos.  Pray for the women and men in all of our communities.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip