The Abbot’s Notebook for August 30, 2017

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Blessings to you!  We have had some rain—but when I think of those who live in the southern parts of Texas, it seems like we have perfect weather here.  When I moved to this monastery some 43 years ago, I realized that normally this area does not have hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, tropical storms, etc.  Our weather may be hot and cold, but without the natural disasters that so often happen elsewhere.  Always we are praying for those parts of our world afflicted with such natural disasters.

Of course, I did not come here for the weather, but for the challenge of the inner life.  That also can be seen as a storm and as a place of natural disasters but also of grace and immense gifts of the Lord.  I came here as a young man of 30 and now am a man with more years!

We have had some outings in the past week.  In our early history here, with only 3 or 4 monks in the community, it was easy for the whole community to climb into one vehicle and set off for an outing.  Now that is impossible.  A couple of weeks ago, a group of 5 monks went to the dances at the Santa Clara Pueblo.  This past Saturday, 3 of our brothers from Kenya and 3 from Malawi went to Anton Chico, a small village here in the New Mexico, to help celebrate the 25th Anniversary of Vows of Sr. Josephine Wafula, a religious sister of the Assumption Sisters of Eldoret in Kenya.  This past Sunday 12 of our Vietnamese brothers went to Chimayo to celebrate a special Mass in honor of Our Lady of Lavang.  Prior Benedict reminded the community that we belong to New Mexico and so should be present from time to time at various celebrations.

Father Francisco Alanís Ríos, who has been a monk of our community since 1996, has officially incardinated into the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.  Incardination is not a word very well known outside of religious houses.  All it means is that he is now a diocesan priest of the Archdiocese and no longer a member of our monastic community.  We shall miss him and we keep him in our prayers.  And we ask your prayers for him also.

In our monastic spiritual tradition there is a thing called “acedia” or “accedie.”  The first spelling is pronounced sort of like ah-see-dee-ah, with the accent on the “see.”  The second spelling is pronounced sort of like ack-suh-dee, with the accent on the “ack.”  These are not words that we encounter in our daily life!    These two words mean the same thing and are just spelling variants of the original word in Greek.  They mean “spiritual laziness,” “apathy,” “indifference,” “listlessness,” “torpor” and “inability to work or pray.”  Acedia is directly opposed to “spiritual joy.”  Evagrius of Pontus, an early monastic writer, considers acedia as the most troublesome of the “eight evil thoughts.”  Saint John Cassian calls acedia the “noonday demon.”

Early monastic writers connect acedia with sleepiness, general inability to do things, lots of sickness, lack of attention to daily tasks, indecisiveness, tedium and boredom.  It can also be seen as a state of restlessness, dissatisfaction with most everything and not living in the present.

Recovering from serious surgery is a lot like acedia!  That is what made me think of this challenge in the spiritual life.  There are so many days that find me without any energy.  Yes, I can sense that my energy is returning—but slowly!  Instead, I can identify with this description of acedia:  sleepiness, general inability to do things, lots of sickness, lack of attention to daily tasks, indecisiveness, tedium and boredom, a state of restlessness, dissatisfaction with most everything and not living in the present.

Luckily I am not totally caught up in all of this, but can see the challenge of it and can continue to struggle against it.  Living in the present means that when I find myself tired and without energy or focus, I go to bed and sleep!  When I find myself unable to focus on doing a particular task, I see if there is something else that I can do.  If not, then another nap!  I do exercise, but sporadically.  Some days I have good intentions to do exercise but then find that I just don’t want to do it—so I don’t.  Other days, I can sense that my body needs exercise and I do exercise.

This is living in the present, for sure.  In the past, I seemed always to have enough energy just to ignore my body and my feelings and energy levels.  Now that seems impossible.  It will be a great day when I am healed!  On the other hand, I pray that I have learned something spiritual through all of this:  keep on trying!

Do I always win?  No way!  Instead, I must struggle.  That is why I write about “keep on trying.”  It would be nice always to win, but my life has never been that way.  Instead, through all of these years, I have only found solace in keeping on trying.  When I sleep, I don’t have to try.  When I am away, I must keep on trying to be faithful to the Lord.  There have been times in my recuperation where I begin to think that I will never have a normal life again.  There are times when I am discouraged.  There are times when I just want to curl up and sleep and not wake up.  And yet my sufferings are so little compared to others.

When I do have pain, it never seems to last more than a few days, unlike many people who have chronic pain every day for years.  When I get upset stomach or intestines, that too passes—and the pun is intended.  Always I get a bit concerned that the c. difficile infection might be returning, but I am generally not a worrier.

I have chewed so much gum and consumed tons of sugarless candies in order to try to get the saliva working in my mouth and throat once again.  Sometimes it seems that it might be working and then I wake up on a new day with a totally dry throat again.  I have learned to purchase Xylimelts, which I had never heard of before, and to use them at night.  During the day I chew sugarless gum and suck on hard sugarless candies.  I have never had much liking for sweets but now have sweets all the time.  Sometimes my jaws ache from chewing gum all day long.  At other times, even with all of these sweets, I seem to have little or no saliva.

Again, the small things that I am enduring are truly small and just inconveniences—not anything major.  I am grateful for that.  I am also grateful for my monastic community, which can allow me to leave and take a nap whenever I need to do that!  I try always to be present for the most important prayer services and for Holy Mass and still generally lead the singing, even if it is painful for me at times.

Enough.  I continue to recover, bit by bit.  I continue to keep trying and to keep praying.  I will offer a Holy Mass for you and for your intentions this week.  And I ask your prayers for me and for the sisters and brothers of all the communities associated with ours.  I send you my love and prayers.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip