The Abbot’s Notebook for May 17, 2017

Blessings to you!  Blessings to you!  Although I am still in my own rooms, it is a very different experience not to be the superior of the house.  I was first appointed superior of our community in October of 1976, over forty years ago.  So I am learning obedience in new ways now and it is very good for me.  So often people would ask me:  do you think that you can ever just be a monk again, after having been the superior so long?  My reply is always the same:  If I can’t, then what I have been preaching has been all wrong!

So, yes, it is possible to be a “normal” monk after having been the superior of a community for a long time.  Obedience always is a question of subordinating one’s own decisions to those of another, for God!  That is the value of religious obedience.  It helps the monk realize that there are many decisions that are not absolute, but are what Saint Thomas Aquinas would have called “decisions of the practical intellect,” which means about what is the best thing to do in this situation right here and now.

I can feel myself at times starting to speak up, and I try to keep my mouth such and simply realize that it is no longer my decision.  If someone else is running the community, then he must run it as he sees best—and that won’t always be my way.  I can always support the superior just as the monks have supported me all these years.

For me, one of the symbols of what is happening is that my glasses broke.  I have had them for years without a change of prescription.  Luckily I have always had a spare set of glasses.  But I see slightly differently with the new glasses.  That is also what is happening now as I live the life of a normal monk:  I am seeing things slightly differently.

Spirituality is about adapting to whatever are the circumstances of our lives.  The early monks talked about a monk who was such a good monk that it did not matter where he was because he was always seeking God.  That is what we should all strive to be:  people who seek God, no matter what is happening around us or to us.  For myself, I often thought that I would be more like some of the martyrs who denied their faith and then returned!  Especially when I think about being tortured, I wonder if I could hold on to my faith and remain in God?  I hope so.  I have said before that if I were to be martyred instantly, probably I could do it.  But if a martyrdom went on with torture day after day for a long period of time?  I don’t know.  Again, I hope that I could cling to the Lord.

Surgery is not martyrdom but there is pain afterwards!  On the other hand, a martyr knows that the torture will go on until death.  With surgery, today, we are put under anesthesia and when we regain consciousness, we know that even the pain will eventually become less and we will more or less return to normal.  For sure, I think once in a while about my breastbone being sawed in half!  This type of pain is for my overall good and I can understand that.

When you read this letter, surgery will be only two weeks away.  Surgery is my path to regaining my health and to resuming a normal life.  This is so little to ask of me!  Still, it leaves me a bit uneasy and that is why I am writing about it.  At one level, I am completely at peace with the surgery.  Yet there are parts of my being resisting just a bit and I pay attention to that.  It is a bit like looking into the distance and seeing something which is not yet identifiable but which might intersect with my life.

Enough of this pondering about the surgery!  At a practical level, please pray for the mother of our Brother Dominic.  She is unconscious at this point.  Please pray for my niece, Olga, who is battling a fierce cancer.  Please pray for Anthony, a young man who is going through a really difficult time right now.  Please pray for Ava, a young girl who died recently.  Please pray especially for her family.  Always we receive many requests for prayers.  All of them are important.

As always, I promise to celebrate Holy Mass once this week for you and for your needs and intentions.  It is a joy to be able to pray for others.  Please continue to pray for me and for all of the women and men in our communities and in the houses associated with ours.  I send you my love and prayers.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip