The Abbot’s Notebook for June 28, 2017

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Blessings to you! Sitting at my desk, even with the best of chairs, sometimes causes me a lot of pain right now. There are days when both of my legs hurt so much that I want to do nothing! Yet I keep on walking because I know that my health depends on walking. I find that my energy level allows me to concentrate and work for about an hour and a half up to two hours—and then I must have a siesta or a break of some kind. This is all foreign experience for me! I have always liked exercise and walking and I have always been able to work for long, long hours at a time. Now I have to respect the present realities! Spirituality?

Because I had atrial fibrillation in the hospital, my medications were changed and new ones introduced so that I won’t have more atrial fibrillation. And I was told not to drink coffee, which I love, and to be reticent about drinking alcohol. A very little now and then is fine—and that is all I ever drink any way.

It is amazing to me how much concern the word “cancer” causes people. For that reason I just say I had a tumor and that it was removed and I am fine. Everything changes if I say the word “cancer,” and in so many ways, I never had cancer. As my medical doctor kept saying: “the tumor has cancer, you don’t.”

One of the challenges of recovery is learning that many of my muscles have been affected by the surgeries and the hospital stay. And because I often walk around with a pillow in my arms, that also has changed the way that I walk. My leg muscles are rebelling. I can also feel a tightening of muscles in my back because I have to get out of bed and back into bed without using my hands or arms to push or to protect me.

Here in the monastery, there are always changes as well. Brother Philippe Bossé is leaving the community and returning to Canada. Brother Xavier Nguyen Duc Duy is leaving the community and is becoming a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Brother Basil Tran Long An is returning to Vietnam and hopes to join one of the Benedictine monasteries there.

The reality of change is part of our spiritual life. Today, perhaps more than in the past, the population of a monastery changes. This is particularly true in a community such as Christ in the Desert, where there are many young vocations. The young today, from all countries, seem to have less stability and less capacity of commitment. Perhaps there is some good in that and at the same time some challenge for them and for us who are older.

When I was a young superior many years ago, I made a bad mistake in looking only for the good of each brother. In time, after so many left, I realized that I had totally ignored the good of the community as a community. When I began to correct that omission, it caused lots of problems for a while.

Just as a husband and wife need to work to form a true marriage, so also monks need to work together to form a true community. Without the community, we are just a bunch of bachelors who happen to live together. In order to form community, we must put the “common good,” the good of the community, above our “individual good.” When I entered the seminary in 1958, that type of thinking would have been taken for granted. Today it is challenged on all sides. So many today want their individual good to be more important than anything else. It is surely one of the reasons that contributes to a high divorce rate and also one which contributes to young monks (and sometimes older ones!) leaving the community.

There is no easy solution for any of this. For us in the monastery, it is a part of formation to seek to obtain the dedication of the new men to the community. Some are capable and some are not! But we must keep challenging them. We want monks who are committed to the Lord Jesus Christ, to the Catholic Church, to a deep inner life of prayer and to this community. That is a lot! On the other hand, the more men we have like that, the stronger the community becomes and the less likely it is that someone without those qualities will persevere.

Unless we ask commitment from the new monks, we won’t ever have it. When we do ask commitment, we begin to know the new monks more and in depth, at least to some extent. None of our monks is perfect, not even the abbot. We are flawed humans. Yet just as we must keep striving for personal holiness, so also we must strive to live in community and to let community form us in all the aspects of our lives.

As always I promise my prayers for you and for your needs and intentions. For many years now, I try to offer a Holy Mass each week for you and I shall do that this week, God willing. Always I need your prayers for me personally and for our community and for the sisters and brothers of the communities associated with our. I send you my love and prayers.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip