The Abbot’s Notebook for July 19, 2017
My sisters and brothers in Christ,
Blessings to you! Finally some rain has come to our area. Not much yet, but the temperatures have cooled down a bit. Most of my life, I have been able to live in hot or cold temperatures without any problem, without feeling stressed by the temperatures. Now I find my body reacting to the heat and that makes it difficult for me. There are changes in life! Nevertheless, I continue to be present in the Church even when I feel uncomfortable there.
One of the challenges for many of our younger brothers is how to accept that which is uncomfortable. I also find it a challenge at times. So much in modern culture tells us that we should always be comfortable. Years ago, one senior brother came to Church wearing his short habit and Bermuda shorts! So this is not a brand new problem, but it is more widespread today than it was years ago.
Our Father Odon is now in hospice care here at the Monastery. He went to the hospital on Friday, July 13th, because he was having some problems breathing. Father Odon is 81 years old. He was a novice in Thien An Monastery in Vietnam in the late 1950s. Then he went to a diocesan seminary and was ordained a diocesan priest in 1965. He was a boat person in 1978 and ended up in San Diego, California, but without documents to prove that he was a priest. So he worked on the docks in San Diego, driving an enormous forklift. Eventually he was able to function as a priest again and did so in San Diego, later in Canada and finally in France. Eventually he found his way here in 1999 and made his vows in 2000. Shortly before his solemn profession as a monk, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Even with that challenge he served well for many years until the disease made him too weak to do much. Please pray for him!
Recently we had two certified ESL teachers come and spend three weeks with us working with a small group of our monks. They spent a few hours each day with all of the students and at the end of their time here, these students had made remarkable progress in their English skills, reading, writing, listening, and conversing. At the recommendation of those two teachers we are looking for other teachers who might be willing to volunteer to come here for a few weeks to teach. We are only asking for teachers, male or female, who are in fact properly “certified” for teaching ESL. There are strategies and skills with which certified teachers are familiar and that makes it important for us to ask for just such teachers. If you have an interest, please contact our director of education at his email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
How do we learn to live in circumstances that are uncomfortable for us? The early monks again remind us to think of those who live in circumstances much worse than ours and who cannot change their circumstances. It is easy for many of us to forget the difficulties of others, especially when we find ourselves in circumstances that we find difficult. For instance, even though I find the summer heat difficult at the moment, there are many people who live in much worse conditions of heat and can do nothing about it. Normally I have the conveniences of a shower and in the evening the temperatures cool down. Lots of people don’t have that. So one way of dealing with my own circumstances, when I find them difficult, is to think of others who are in a worse situation.
Another way of dealing with difficult circumstances is to use the opportunity to identify more completely with Jesus during His passion and death. Most likely I won’t die from difficult circumstances, but I can use whatever suffering and pain that I might have to come closer to the Lord and offer this suffering and pain for others. For me, the most recent experience of this was in my illnesses, where the pain level was completely out of control and all I could do was cling to a crucifix and ask the Lord to help me. It took extra energy to go out of myself and offer that pain for the good of others. Even in those circumstances, there are surely people who had more pain and suffering than I did.
Another way to deal with difficulties is to offer them in reparation for my own sinfulness. We can use very simple phrases such as: “O Lord, may this suffering unite me to you and also purify me from all my own sinfulness.” Or, perhaps: “O Lord, may this pain and suffering cleanse me of all my sins, past and present, so that I may be more faithful to you.”
I think that all of us can see that the secret to pain and suffering is simply to get out of ourselves and be with the Lord and to find ways to love others through the suffering. That ability to be with others through pain is a real gift and I pray that I can hold on to it in the times of profound pain and suffering! Right now my pains are pretty minor.
As always I promise my prayers for you and for your intentions. I will offer a Holy Mass this week for you and for your intentions. May the Lord give you all you need. Please also pray for me and for the sisters and brothers of our communities. I send you my love and prayers.
Your brother in the Lord,