The Abbot’s Notebook for June 21, 2017

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Blessings to you!  Learning to slow down is a real challenge for me.  I think that I have done it well and then comes a day and I seem to work all day and the next day I have to have even more naps!!  I am so used to being able to work without almost any limits when that is necessary.  I have always tried to keep time for prayer because that has always been my first priority.  So at times I went without much sleep.

Now, if I work too much, my body rebels and I have to go take a nap! For the first week of the recovery my left side bothered me because that was where the shingles decided to settle and I also had plantar fasciitis on that side.  Now the other side of my body is giving me problems with what feels like a pinched nerve.  So I feel like an old man now, talking about my infirmities.

What of the good things about pain is that it can be offered up for others.  Lots of people no longer know this reality of prayer.  We can pray for others and we can offer to God all that we do for them.  Pain is a particularly strong gift of prayer.  Why?  Because pain generally inclines us to focus only on ourselves.  Prayer is the gift of going out of ourselves to God:  to praise God, to adore him and also to offer our lives for the good of others.

For whom do I pray?  For all who read this letter.  For all of the monasteries associated with ours.  For vocations for the communities that have none.  For good priestly vocations.  For the people I read about who are suffering.  For those in my own family who have serious illness.  For my own community and for each brother of the community and for his family.  For those who have been members of our community in the past, especially those who are angry with me or with the community here.  For all who have asked my prayers or the prayers of this community.  For the dead, especially those who have touched my life.  For the persecuted.  For those in prison.  For political leaders of all types, both seemingly good and seemingly bad.  And for lots of personal intentions sent to me.  I am convinced that when we get to heaven we will find out that it was prayer that held the world together:  my personal world but also the whole world.  It is God who holds the world together, my personal world and the whole world—but our prayers are part of that.

Pain has been, for me, a wonderful reminder to pray.  I do find myself caught up in my own pains and sufferings but somehow God leads me through that most of the time to a point where I am able to offer all of it for others.  It is sure a gift of God because by myself, I would just wallow in my pain and feel sorry for myself.

Pain also is helping me deal with the anger that others have towards me.  That often surprises others:  that people are angry with me.  But they are angry with me for various reasons—and all of that anger is outside of my control.  Nevertheless, I can pray for such people and ask God to send them special graces and love.

I pray a lot for people who seem to have no meaning in their lives.  Today so many young people and even some older people, seem to have lost any meaning except to get money, to have power and to have sexual pleasure in their lives.  Yet even those who do achieve these goals find their lives empty of meaning.  What is money if I cannot share it with others?  What is power if I cannot help others with it?  What is sexual pleasure if it is only mine and produces nothing other than my pleasure?  All of these three realities are meant to be shared—and to be shared in certain ways, not just in any old way.  We believe that the Holy Scriptures and the Church are the guide of how to live.

Probably the biggest challenge to a spiritual life is simply perseverance.  So many people can tell us in many ways:  it is all a waste of time!  Or we can begin to doubt that our lives mean anything.  Or we can begin to see the sins of the Church and the world so strongly that we lose hope or even lose faith in the Church.  Every day we must renew our faith and trust in the Lord—no matter how we feel, no matter what awful things have happened in the world or in the Church or in our own personal lives.

Cling to the Lord!  I love the Psalm verse:  “Let us see your face, O Lord, and we shall be saved.”  I like that verse because it expresses my longing to know the Lord more and my awareness that we come to God as His people and not just as individuals.  I love the reality of sharing eternity with my community and with all those who have touched my life.

Be assured that I continue to work at praying for you as I walk through this experience of sickness, surgeries and recovery.  There are many times when I do remember to offer all of this for you and for your needs and intentions.  As always, I celebrate a Holy Mass once a week for you.  Please continue to pray for me and for all of the sisters and brothers of our communities.  I send you my love and prayers.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip