The Abbot’s Notebook for June 7, 2017

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Blessings to you!  Today Mother Hilda, the Prioress of Our Lady of the Desert, is having surgery to remove a fibroid tumor from her uterus.  Clearly it is time of surgery for our communities!  My own surgery was on June 1st in the main Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and lasted about three and a half hours.  When I first emerged from the anesthesia, I felt that I could not breathe and went through a short period of panic.  The tumor had been removed and now the wait began to see what stage of cancer it might be.

Waiting on the Lord!  This is at the heart of all Christian life.

Now I have several months of recuperation ahead of me.  Father Benedict will remain the head of our community until I am enough recovered to take up the normal duties of the superior once more.  From outward appearances, I seem to look and act like nothing has happened.  Inside, however, I am less able to concentrate on things.  My fingers are not as coordinated and so typing is more difficult.

The challenge is to keep breathing and to gain back the use of my lungs.  For the first few days I had so many tubes in me that it was practically impossible to do anything.  I had three tubes coming out of my chest:  one from where the tumor had been removed and then one from the base of each lung, draining the fluids that were accumulating there.  I had a catheter to allow urination.  I had several things coming out of my neck.  I had something stuck in one of arteries of my right hand that would measure the blood pressure automatically and continually.

One of the things that I had to learn was to admit the pain that I was suffering.  The nurses and the doctors would ask me:  on a scale from zero to ten, with ten being the worst pain, where would you rate your pain right now?  I have a huge capacity for pain but have had to learn how to admit that I have pain.  It is not easy for me to tell anyone:  I am really hurting right now.  And I want to be able to do things on my own.  So one day in the hospital I set off all the alarms when I tried to get out of bed on my own and got trapped in all the tubes.  How embarrassing!

The community goes along quite well without me and that is always a good sign.  It I never good if a community is completely dependent on one person.  Even in the time of Saint Benedict, there were other important officials in the monastery and there was a system of consultation of others.  One of the aspects of our life together at Christ in the Desert that will change is the way that authority is distributed. This will be important for our future.  The Council will sit down and discuss how the responsibilities can be distributed in a way which will help us in forming the community.

One of the enormous challenges at Christ in the Desert is forming the monks. Sometimes we translate various directives into other languages to make sure that what is said is understood. What is really important is to share a common life.  In order to do that, we must have a common life which all are expected to lead.  Sometimes we older monks are not good examples to the younger monks.

There is no perfect community on this earth and yet we must keep trying to do our best.  We older monks have to keep trying to give good example and the younger monks have to keep trying to live the life really well without justifying bad behavior by the bad example of the older monks.

Life is about trying.  Spiritual life is about trying to live spiritually, with values that are given to us by the Lord Jesus Christ.  That is enough for this week.  Let us keep praying for one another.  I send you my love and prayers.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip