The Abbot’s Notebook for September 27, 2017

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Blessings to you!  This time of year, after the hot summer and before the cold winter, autumn or fall as we call it, is always a gift of beauty here.  The mornings are cold and crisp and wonderful while the days are pleasantly warm for walking.  The trees are turning color.  Here we have basically only one fall color, the wondrous gold and yellow.  In the evenings, when the sun shines down on Gallina Canyon, the colors are strong, vibrant and striking.  There is much to give thanks for this fall.

The parents of our Brother Anthony came for a few days to visit him and to know our monastery a bit.  It is not always possible that the families of our brothers can come here and so we are happy when occasionally a set of parents does visit.  It is almost impossible for the parents of our brothers from other countries to obtain visas to come here.  Occasionally that happens, but it is rare.

This week we have one former monk from another community arriving to try our life.  We have two postulants arriving and one observer.  These men come from Vietnam, the Democratic Republic of Congo, from Bangladesh and from the United States.  Having lots of young and good vocations is a wonderful gift.  On the other hand, our facilities were never built to have so many monks!  But we find ways.

We have two men who are helping in South Africa and Saint Benedict’s Abbey in Polokwane.  We have one monk helping in the Monastery of San José in Costa Rica.  We have Father Christian serving our Subiaco Cassinese Congregation in Rome.  And there are various other monks absent for a variety of reasons.  But we still will have 50 of us at home and that is the challenge.

So often in my life here at Christ in the Desert I have had to live wondering if we were going to survive at all.  That phase seems in the past now.  That does not guarantee the future because none of us is able to control every aspect of our lives or of the lives of our families or of the lives of our communities.  There is no one aspect that assures that a monastery will continue to live and to seek the face of the Lord.

There are elements, however, of monastic life that seem important for a good future.  One of these elements is a deep commitment by each monk to seeking God.  Although that should be presumed in a monk, that element is not always there.  All we need do is read some of the history of monasteries and we find that monks come in every configuration!  At the time of the reformation, in the 16th century, there were lots of good monastic houses but there were also many “decadent” monasteries in which the monastic life was hardly lived at all.  How is one to judge that is good monastic observance and what it not?

Here at Christ in the Desert we have tried for some decades to be as faithful to the Rule of Benedict as possible.  We don’t follow the Rule of Benedict word for word, for sure, but we try to live the basic structures and prayer life outlined in the Rule.  Lots of monasteries no longer do this.  Some of them flourish and some don’t.

At Christ in the Desert, we try to give a chance to any man who seems that he might have a vocation to our life, from anywhere in the world.  We don’t admit everyone (although I have been accused of that!) but we want to give chances to those who might not otherwise have a chance to live monastic life.  They don’t all stay.  Our present policy is that if a man comes from another country and lives our life well and seems a good person but at the end of two years believes that he is called to some other vocation of service within the Church, we help them do that.  If they have not persevered that long, our general policy is that such a candidate must return to his country of origin or to the country from which he came here.

Even for the from the United States, we try to give an opportunity to men who have been married and divorced, men who are older and men who have now or have had physical limitations.  The challenge for all of these men is that they must be able to live our life.  We are not a hospital, we are not a rehabilitation clinic and we are not set up to give regular psychological counseling to our monks.

My personal experience is always that if a man truly wants to live our life, he can do it.  He must put all of his energy into the life.  We have had monks who have stayed for fairly lengthy periods of time without really committing themselves to Jesus Christ in this demanding life.  That usually ends up in failure.

All of this commentary on our life speaks to a spirituality for all of us.  We have to be committed:  to our families, to our spouses if we are married, to our communities, to the Church and even to our countries.  The commitment we have should be based in our faith in Jesus Christ.  We need to grow in commitment as we grow in age.  We need to grow in our faith and our understanding and living of this great mystery of faith as we grow in age.  With commitment, we begin to mature in faith and in our understanding of its mysteries.  Without commitment and without faith, surely no monk will be able to persevere easily in the life of this community.

So, for all of us, there is the question of our basic relationship with God, with Jesus Christ and with the Holy Spirit.  Such relationships can remain only on the surface or they can grow deeper and deeper and filled with mystery and wonder.  This is not a matter of doing everything right!  After all of these years as a monk I still don’t do everything right and I still find myself far from God.  What is important is this deep commitment to the living God.  I know that no matter how much I fail, God loves me and Jesus invites me to live in Him and the Holy Spirit is always with me.

Far too many people are raised, even today, to think in terms of completing religious acts.  For instance:  Did I get to Church?  Did I say my prayers?  Did I try to be nice to others?  All of that is fine but only if it flows from this deep awareness of a personal relationship with a living God.  That relationship, for me, must always be guided by the Church and by the Scriptures as received in the Church.  I am deeply Catholic and delighted to be Catholic!  But I recognize that sometimes people come to God in other ways because of the immensity of God’s mercy and love.

Sometimes I am asked why I am so Catholic and the answer is always the same:  “Because I see the truth reflected in the Church; I see Jesus and the Holy Spirit living in the Church; I believe that Jesus founded the Church and only one Church.”  That does not take away the defects of the Church or the defects of Catholics—it just reminds me that Jesus Christ is truly incarnate in our world and in His Church.  Jesus has taken on our human condition.  He Himself was without sin, but I am not nor are those with whom I live on a regular basis nor are those who have positions of authority in the Church.

Enough for this week.  I had not planned this particular Notebook and so it reflects what came to me as I was sitting at the computer!

As always I send my love and prayers for you and I will celebrate a Holy Mass this week for you and for your needs and intentions.  Please pray for me and for this community and for all the women and men of the communities associated with ours!

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip