The Abbot’s Notebook for July 5, 2017

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Blessings to you!  Always there are surprises in monastic life, even if the general rhythm is the same day after day.  In our monastic tradition, we tend to avoid too many surprises but we also recognize that how a monk responds in a surprising situation tells a lot about the depth of the monk’s commitment to monastic life.

There are lots of stories about the early monks in surprising situations.  One of my favorites is the story of the two monks who came to a flooded river but knew they had to cross it.  Then a woman comes along and asks them to help her cross the river.  One of the monks picks the woman up and carries her to the other side of the river.  The other is along with them.  Then for hours after the “river incident” the monk who did not help the woman complains to the monk who did, saying “you should not have touched that woman.”  Finally the monk who carried the woman says:  “Look, I left her on the river bank hours ago and you are still carrying her.”

Many of us are a bit like the complaining monk, keeping situations in our hearts and our minds and not letting go of them.  One of the secrets of the spiritual life is to let go of things and not let them stay with us.

This last week our Father Luis had to be taken to the hospital.  His potassium levels were enough to kill him instantly and so he was admitted into the hospital. One of my tasks was to find monks who would spend the day with him or the night with him.  One would think that any monk would simply accept such a job—but don’t think for a minute that monastic life is so ideal.  Again, I can say that a monk’s response to a surprising situation reveals a lot about the depth of the monk’s spirituality.  Some monks immediately say “yes,” even if they know that it will complicate their lives.  Other monks want time to think about it.  Other monks just say “no.”  My own personal challenge is not to judge a monk, not matter what his response is.

I also went to the hospital this past week because of some problems in my throat being dry and causing me to cough, which is an awful experience after the type of surgery that I recently had.  Of course, the diagnosis was “dry throat caused by too many medicines.”  Yet, I have to continue with the medicines for now and have taken to chewing sugarless gum and looking for sugarless candies that can be sucked.  Those things increase the saliva in my mouth and keep it moist.  Recovery continues to be a day to day thing.  I can move my arms fairly well now in all directions.  I can lie down in bed without much pain.  I can almost cough—one of the most difficult challenges with this type of surgery.

The biggest spiritual challenge for me at the moment is simply to be present for most of the monastic activities.  My energy level continues to be about one or two hours of activity and then I don’t want to do anything and find it difficult to focus on anything.  Sometimes this causes problems because I don’t respond to emails and don’t answer regular mail.  Instead, I look at them and have no energy to do anything.

Spirituality for me is to do what I don’t want to do or to do that for which I have no energy—whether I want to or not.  I still have to choose to rest because that is important, but I must also choose to do various things each day and I don’t want to.  Why can’t I just stop doing anything?  Because I still live in a community and try to do my part in community.  I don’t do everything because I know I must try to recover, but there are some things that I know I can do, even when I don’t want to.

This has helped me understand others better and also myself to some extent.  I have always had so much energy!  Now I have so little.  This helps me see life from another perspective and to have compassion for those who may never have had much energy.

God loves me just as I am now:  with little or no energy, with little or no physical capacity.  So I also must love others who have that same challenge instead of thinking that there is something wrong with them.

Please pray for me and also for the sisters and brothers of our communities.  I will celebrate a Holy Mass for you and for your intentions this week.  May the Lord help us all be faithful and to walk in His ways.  I send you my love and prayers.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip