The Abbot’s Notebook for May 3, 2017

Blessings to you!  Christ is risen!  Alleluia!  Well, it turns out that I do have cancer but it is not as bad as it sounds.  I have a tumor with the name “thymoma” and the cancer is, apparently, still totally contained in the tumor and has not spread anywhere.  This is typical of this type of tumor, although in time the cancer can start to spread.  My appendicitis was a blessing of God because it brought about awareness of this tumor in its early stages.  The result is that I must have a major surgery and have the tumor removed.  So I still need lots of prayers but am in a fairly good situation.  Thanks be to God!

This year has been a bit difficult for lots of reasons.  In early February our wonderful little Beagle dog, Joshua, never returned from one of his daily outings with Thumper, the other dog, mixed Beagle and Basset Hound.  Then in March someone kicked the little girl poodle, Gnuf-Gnuf, and caused her to go blind in her right eye.  Then on April 23rd, Thumper disappeared as well.  I get really attached to these animal companions and mourn for them.  But Thumper’s story turns out with a good ending.  On April 27th, the day that I also received the diagnosis of cancer, I received an email from the previous owner of Thumper, telling me that he was alive after all.  Apparently he was running up the canyon and was about 7 miles north of the monastery.  He saw people rafting down the river and barked and they saw him.  They pulled over to see if he was all right and he jumped into their raft!  They were not sure if he was an abandoned dog and took him to Santa Fe.  Then they had a scan done to see if he had a chip and then contacted the previous owner, who is still registered on the chip.  So he came home again on April 28th.  What a joyful celebration!

Because attending to my health situation is going to become more demanding in the next months, I have temporarily removed myself from the active governance of the Monastery to focus better on what is needed right now.  Everything will be well here because of the strong leadership abilities of a number of our monks.

So much of our spirituality is simply accepting what is and learning to be still and silent, trusting in the Lord.  When I was driving to the doctor, knowing that I would hear finally if I had cancer or not, I recognized that whatever the diagnosis would be, there was clearly a gift from God for me to accept.  Gratitude is a basic value in all of our lives and sometimes we can forget to be grateful, even in the midst of that which causes us distress for the moment.

Gratitude for cancer?  Yes, of course!  My gratitude comes from a belief that God knows better than I do what will ultimately draw me to Him.  Not for a minute do I believe that God decided to give me cancer!  That is not how Divine Providence works.  God leaves freedom for all of us humans and for all of creation.  Part of freedom is that plants grow, animals live, the earth has its own ways of responding, etc.  This is sometimes difficult to express to others.  There is a freedom in creation.  Thus, for instance, bad things such as serious illness, are part of the freedom of creation.

God is always present, however, bringing good out of what seems to be evil or at least bad.  This is a belief that God is God and that God loves us and never wills evil for us.  Rather, God is always willing good for us, even in the midst of all that seems against us, that seems evil or that seems bad in any way.  Too often I meet people who have become bitter against God because life has been really terrible for them.  If there are bad things in life, we could say, let us blame them on God.  If there are good things in life, then we ourselves are responsible.  To me, this is never a right way of thinking.

The whole concept of a God who could send evil on His creation has never made sense to me.  For sure, we see evils.  And for sure, the Scriptures sometimes speak as if God sends evils on His people.  This is a challenge in the interpretation of Sacred Scripture.  Years ago, at least 45 years ago, I began to understand that the Divine Word, the Inspired Word, is always expressed in human words.  Thus there is always a need to listen to the teachings of the Church as well as to the literal meaning of any Scripture passage.  We Catholics are not “fundamentalists” but rather among those who seek the deepest meanings of the Scriptures.

Each of us has to make decisions about our understanding of God.  None of us thinks exactly alike about God.  On the other hand, there are aspects of God that must be accepted by all, at least for those of us who are Catholic.  For me, coming to realize that God only wills good for us had nothing to do with being Catholic but only had to do with my own reflections on God.  As a young man, I had lots of doubts about faith and finally told myself:  I can only believe in a God who loves and who constantly is seeking good for everyone.  And as I read more of Scripture and tried to understand the Bible, I realized that this is the God of our Scriptures.

That is enough for this week.  I will begin to work on scheduling the surgery to free me of this tumor.  Please pray for me.  I promise, as always, to pray for you and for all of your needs and intentions.  I will celebrate Holy Mass once this week for you.  May the Lord draw us all closer to Him and help us see the wonder of His love.  I send you my love and prayers.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip