The Abbot’s Notebook for March 15, 2017

Blessings to you!  Well, by the time you get this, I might be home once again.  It all depends on further developments in my health.  I have been so healthy all my life that I have never had to pay much attention to my health.  I have had normal colds and occasionally the flu, but really nothing much more than that.  I had eye surgery some years ago for a growth in my right eye.

So I arrived at the Española Presbyterian Hospital on Sunday morning, March 8th, at 6:00 am.  Brother Anthony had driven me because I was sure that I would be admitted.  I went to the emergency room and told them that I was fairly certain that I had appendicitis.  After some tests and being admitted, it was confirmed that my appendix had gone bad and so I entered surgery at 10:00 am in the morning and was out by noon.

The pain after this surgery was incredible.  It was so acute that I could not sleep, even with morphine.  I kept mentioning an acute and sharp pain in the middle of my right shoulder blade.  That did not make sense to either of my two doctors, but they kept exploring because I kept having that pain.  Finally blood clots were found in both of my legs.  That d, I haveid not explain the pain, but it was important that they were found!

Then a tumor was found behind my sternum, perhaps a little larger than a golf ball.  That’s a little scary, but there won’t be a biopsy until I am better from the appendicitis.

The pain in my back eventually moved down on the left side of the back and now it looks like I probably have shingles on top of the other medical challenges.

Spiritually, I have been reflecting on the mystery of suffering.  Specifically I have been praying with Jesus about His sufferings.  Before I had this surgery, acute pain had been practically unknown in my life.  I have had pain, for sure, and various kinds of pain.  But nothing like the agony that I had for two nights here.  I could not sleep, I could not think, I could only stay in the presence of the pain and hold on to a crucifix.

How did Jesus manage to bear the pains that he bore in His Passion and Crucifixion and still remain completely dedicated to loving all of us, to loving those who were torturing Him, to loving those who would betray Him?  Truly the suffering of Jesus our Lord is an incredible gift of love to us.

Yes, I could identify with the Lord during this pain but knew that my pain would eventually go away.  Jesus had to bear His pain and allow it to lead Him to death.  My focus was on my pain and I had to struggle to try to change that focus so that it could be on loving others and atoning my own sins and the brokenness of our world.  Pain of itself seems to draw me to my own pain and not to the pain of others.  It is a challenge to let pain draw me to give my life and all that is in it for the good of others.

Some saints seem to have endured a life of acute pain for years and years.  I don’t know if I could do that.  I certainly will not ask for such a gift.  On the other hand, I certainly have experienced how pain can purify my thoughts and my heart when that pain remains constant and acute.  It is almost as if I regret having the pain taken away when I return to myself and my mind and heart are no longer focused on the Lord and on loving others.

I used to wonder about those saints who seemed too caught up with suffering.  This experience has given me a small insight into the reality that suffering can draw a person very, very close to the Lord.  I know that often I have to embrace small sufferings in order to love others and to be faithful to the Kingdom, but I am still a bit fearful of taking more pain that I could bear.  So I am happy when the pains go away.

Most important for me in all of my experiences in these illnesses is that I can still ask to be faithful to the will of God and do whatever God wants of me.  I am still asked to serve my community and so keep working towards a health that will allow me to do so in the ordinary ways.

I would not have chosen to have appendicitis!  I was supposed to have been on my way to Texas the day I had the emergency surgery.  I would not have chosen any of the other conditions that have been diagnosed.  On the other hand, the conditions are now present and my challenge is to learn how to live with them and regain a health that allows me to live my normal monastic life.

One of my friends from Africa wrote and said:  at least you are in a country with some of the best health care in the world.  That is also true.  Had all of this happened in South Africa?  Had it happened in Vietnam earlier in the year?  Who knows?  Instead, it happened here at home.  New Mexico has a fine health care system, even for the very poor.

That is enough for this week.  I am tired from writing.  That never happened before.  It is going to take me a good amount of time to recover my normal health and energy levels.  But I am alive and with good medical care.

As always I send you my love and prayers.  May this time of Lent be a time of special closeness to the Lord Jesus.  I hope to offer a Holy Mass for you and for your needs and intentions this week.  Please pray for me and for the monks of Christ in the Desert and for all of the women and men in communities associated with ours.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip