The Abbot’s Notebook for August 2, 2017

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Blessings to you!  By now you know that I will be writing to you from my own office in my own monastery regularly.  Although I may be able to make some smaller, shorter trips occasionally, I won’t be off to Mexico, to Costa Rica, to South Africa, to Italy, etc.  God has blessed me with these physical illnesses so that I may know the joy of remaining in my own monastery.

More and more of our brothers are finally getting their driver’s licenses.  This is helpful in the long run so that we don’t always have to send a separate driver on every trip.  Most of us Americans have our driver’s licenses when we are very young.  In many countries, a driver’s license is a luxury.

Father Odon continues to be in delicate health. The doctors were convinced that he would die a couple of weeks ago, but he bounced back and even occasionally comes to the Divine Office or to Holy Mass.  But he weighs practically nothing and it is still clear that he could depart this life at any moment.

My own health continues to improve.  I still get lots of extra naps and once in awhile miss something because I am sleeping.  Physically, I think that I am fairly well healed.  My energy level, however, is still low but that is also improving.

Anger is a component of the spiritual life.  Anger is one of the seven deadly sins when we give in to it.  When we feel the nudges of anger starting within us, that is when it is a component of our spiritual life and can help us grow.  I grew up sort of frightened of anger, not knowing how to deal with anger.  It took me many years to come to understand anger and how it might be working in my life.  I have a long ways to go yet, but at least I can see anger as a gift.

Some of the early monks talked about anger as a strong force in life.  Almost everyone gets angry now and then.  Sin is possible when we act on anger.  That we have anger is not in itself sinful.  Anger is a normal response to fear, hurt or sadness.  When we feel anger beginning, we need to pay attention to what we fear, what is hurting us or what is causing sadness.

Thus anger can become a sort of early warning device in our lives so that we are more aware of what is happening within us.  Using that anger can help us battle vice and struggle for virtue.  We should never be surprised that we have anger.  Neither should we let anger run our lives.  Rather, we must use the strength of the anger to focus on the Lord and what the Lord wants of us at any particular time in our life.

If our anger alerts us that we are fearful, that someone is attacking us, that someone is threatening our life in any way, we can be grateful for the alert and look for a way to remove the fear by removing the attack or the threat.  We don’t have to attack in return.  This is the challenge in our whole world today.  We seem only to know that if someone attacks us, we must attack them.  Or, our world tells us, if someone threatens us, we should attack them before they attack us.  Not only do we individuals live this way, our countries live this way.  God calls us to change this way of acting and return always love and generosity to those who attack us or injure us or threaten us.  Our anger can alert us to these opportunities of charity!

If our anger is a result of sadness, then we need to be aware of what is causing that sadness.  Sometimes we humans are strangely unaware of our emotions or of what is going on within us.  We should not be surprised at that, even if we are called to pay more attention to it.  Some people get sad because they feel unloved.  Some people feel sad because they feel rejected by others or by a significant other.  Some people feel sad because they believe that others think poorly of them or that others are attacking them.  There are countless reasons that we can feel sad.  The challenge is to recognize that we feel sad and then not to let that sadness dictate our actions.  When we are sad and are not aware of it, it is much easier to get angry at lots of situations and allow the anger to mask our sadness.

What about when people hurt us?  If someone hurts us physically, that is relatively easy to deal with because it is an objective situation.  On the other hand, if they hurt our feelings, our reputation, our own sense of self-worth, that is a lot more difficult to deal with.  The other person may have intended no harm but we feel harmed.  We are called to be people of peace and love and of non-violence.  That is not easy!  Sometimes I use an example for my fellow monks.  If someone is stepping on my foot and hurting me, I have at least three possible responses.  I can offer it up as though nothing were happening.  I can get angry with the other person and use that anger to change the situation.  Or I can remain peace and calm and tell the other person:  please move your foot because you are hurting me.

I hope that all of us can see that anger is a gift of the Lord in our lives as long as we use it well for God.  But we must do the work to let anger become a help to us rather than a vice that harms both us and others.   Anger can become a doorway to heaven and the Kingdom.

As always I promise my prayers for you and for your needs and intentions.  I will offer Holy Mass once this week for you and ask that God give you some special sign of His love for you.  Please also pray for me and for all of the sisters and brothers in our communities.  I send you my love and prayers.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip