The Abbot’s Notebook for April 5, 2017

Blessings to you!  I am writing to you still from my own office at the Monastery.  Most likely I will be here for many months now because of the health challenges.  It makes my life easier in lots of ways.  I take a lot of time for resting every day and hope that walk through all of this slowly.

Here at home some brothers who have been away are returning home.  We are over 40 monks in the house now.  I won’t be presiding at the major celebrations in Holy Week and Easter because I just don’t have enough energy.  I will be there, however, and leading the music—but that takes less energy from me.

One of the insights of the early monks and nuns was that an enormous amount of the spiritual life depends on learning how to deal with our thoughts.  Note that I do not say “how to control our thoughts” but rather “how to deal with our thoughts.”  Many of us have spent long years trying to control our thoughts without success.  Instead, eventually, we learn that it is impossible to control thoughts entirely and so we must learn to live with our thoughts and find ways to relate to those thoughts in ways that will help us live a spiritual life.

For instance, a young man or woman often has fairly strong sexual thoughts.  If that young man or woman tries simply to stop all those thoughts, it is rarely successful.  And even when a young man or woman is successful in never allowing such thoughts, it usually leads to other problems.  The challenge is more about learning how to let those thoughts go through us in such a way that they do not control our choices and our actions.

Or, for instance, an adult man or woman feels betrayed by someone and begins to have an enormous anger within that person.  The person might nurture that anger and the thoughts that come from it—and that only begins to destroy the person with the anger and not the person against whom the anger is directed.  This is always a difficult lesson for anyone.

Or, another for instance, an adult man or woman works in a place where there is access to money.  The man or woman begins to take five or ten dollars now and then without accounting for it.  It is a small thing that can become a way of life.  Five and ten dollars eventually become just a little more and then eventually the person is in real trouble.  That little act of taking something that is not one’s own can become robbery in due time.

All of us find ourselves in such situations or in the possibility of becoming involved in such situations.  The whole tradition tells us over and over that serious sin begins quite often with small, almost insignificant sins.  Small things can lead to large things and then our consciences have become dulled and we don’t notice that small has become larger and larger and larger!

So how do we learn to live with our thoughts and not let the thoughts by themselves determine our actions.  I have written before about the advice given to me when I was young:  let the emotions be ruled by reason and let reason be ruled by faith.  Thoughts are not yet reason.  Thoughts begin within us without any prompting of our own.  But when we have a feeling, an emotion, for the thought, then the thought begins to touch us in new ways and begins a process of forming our thoughts and then we must use reason.

If I see a sexual image and it neither repulses me nor attracts me, it is not so dangerous to me.  If I sense an attraction, an emotion, drawing me, then I am in trouble and must recognize that I am being drawn in to a dangerous situation for me, or at least a problematic situation.  If I see money and have no drawing to take the money, there is no problem.  But if I need money and I see money and recognize that no one will know if I take a small bit or not, then I am walking into danger.  If I am angry with a person and see that person and don’t have an inner repulsion or anger, then there is no problem.  But if I still feel an anger, I am in trouble.

So often, in our monastic life, we are told:  never make a decision about something important unless you are completely at peace.  Yet how often we make decisions when we are not at peace and the decisions are flawed because the lack of peace has made a flaw in our vision of reality.

So the secret of living with thoughts is to recognize when the thoughts get caught up in an emotion, either negative or positive.  At that point we must use our reason to sort out what to do.  That reason must be guided by faith, the faith give us in Jesus Christ, the faith given us in the Scriptures and the faith handed down to us by the Catholic Church.

Today practically all cultures are infected with a secularism.  Perhaps less so in Africa and Asia, but secularism is trying to gain inroads there as well.  Secularism tells us that we need only follow secular reasoning and not worry at all about any supernatural reality.  This secularism wants to form modern consciences to only do what is “good” for the person by worldly and secular standards.  We see this way of thinking all around us.  This secularism wants to form our emotions and our way of reasoning and wants to free us from God entirely.

So we have enormous challenges before to help one another truly feel and think and live in Jesus Christ and according to what He has taught us and continues to teach us in His Church.

As always I promise my prayers for you and for your needs and intentions.  I will celebrate a Holy Mass for you and ask God’s special blessings as we approach Holy Week and Easter of the Lord’s Resurrection.  Please also continue to pray for me and for all of the women and men in our communities.  I send you my love and prayers.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip