The Abbot’s Notebook for February 15, 2017

Blessings to you!  I am still at home in my own room and writing this in my office.  Thanks be to God.  Joshua the Beagle has not returned.  My heart is sad because I felt very close to him.  Always I keep hoping that I will hear his scratch at the door.

We have lots of brothers away once again.  Father Joseph is in Poland still with his seriously ill mother.  Brother Dominic is scheduled to return from India later this week, as is Brother James from Vietnam.  Father Benedict and Father Simeon are fundraising in the Houston, Texas, area and will also return at the end of the week.  Father Gregory is in Vietnam and his wallet, iPad and telephone were stolen—along with his passport.  So it will be a while before he gets back home.

And we continue to have flu and colds going through the community, which also reduces the number of monks present for the prayers in the community.  This is a normal occurrence in the middle of winter and never surprises me.  We can take all precautions and still the flu or a cold will show up because when brothers go out from the monastery, they meet people who are sick.

Just as I long to hear Joshua scratch at my door once again, so can I long to be aware of the presence of God in my life.  The events of my life cause me to reflect on God’s presence for me.  There are so many times when I ignore God or simply put my attention to that which is not God.  Just as I can imagine a mother or father longing for a lost child to return, so also I can imagine a person honestly seeking God and looking for signs and hoping to have some sense of the presence of God in daily life.

There are times when I can do nothing in my spiritual life except cling to the name of Jesus.  That can sound funny at first, but it is a long spiritual tradition.  When all else fails, cling to the divine name of Jesus and simply ask his present.  Sometimes I think of his name as a sort of life jacket.  This is the garment that we should wear if we are in a boat in a lake or on the ocean.  Life jackets keeps us from sinking.  So also does the holy name of Jesus keep us from sinking in the storms that beset us on the sea of life.

Images help me to go on in life.  Sometimes I have this image of life as a long road to the Lord, but a road which I know and can keep on walking.  Sometimes I go off the road, attracted by something alongside the road—and then realize that I have gone off the road.  The challenge is simply to get back on the road.

Another image is that of being in the ocean, but with a life jacket.  The life jacket is my faith in the Lord Jesus.  Sometimes it is just a matter of recognizing that I am in danger and need a life jacket to keep me up.  At other times, I seem able to swim on my own but know that I am protected by the life jacket.

The road is for me an image on walking on the land, the life jacket is an image of a voyage in water.  I love walking and I love swimming, so both of these images come from my favorite activities.  I have never been lost, yet, while walking, even unknown areas.  And I have never been seriously threatened by drowning.  Both in walking and in swimming, I have been careful most of the time.  The times I was not careful, I managed to find my way.

In the spiritual life, it is not so much that I find my way but that the Lord watches over me.  Even when I have chosen evil paths and when I have chosen to go in forbidden waters, the Lord has kept me safe.  Do I suffer from presumption that God will always save me?  Perhaps at times that is true, but most of the time I am not willfully putting myself against the Lord.  Rather I find that my actions and choices have put me against the Lord and then I am invited to change.

Most of the time my spiritual life is not exciting but generally it is a comforting place for me.  I feel invited by God every day to keep working at my part of this relationship.  I recognize every day that God is always faithful to me and I am always unfaithful to Him, even when I try my best.  That never leaves me feeling bad about myself but is only an encouragement to keep on trying.  Many, many years ago I accepted that I am not very faithful to the Lord, even though I keep trying.  It is not huge things normally but just what Saint Leo the Great called the “daily grime of human existence.”

As I get older, I seem more able to accept that I am not so very good and yet that this condition is simply part of my being.  I can keep on working to be a better person but without very much concern.  The important reality is that I know the God loves me and keeps drawing me to Himself.  No matter how often I fail, I trust in Him.  I know that at the point of my death I will have to call out to Him:  “Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I have sinned against you.”

There is so much to be grateful for in life and there are still so many aspects of life that can bring sadness and sorrow.  Life is sweet and sour, light and dark, joy and sadness.  But it is the life that I have and I continue to find ways to live this life for God to the best of my ability.

Be assured of my prayers for you.  Once again I will celebrate a Holy Mass for you and for your needs and intentions.  Once again I ask you to remember to pray for me and for all of the women and men associated with our communities.  I send you my love and prayers.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip