The Abbot’s Notebook for September 6, 2017

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Blessings to you!  I have ventured forth on a small trip away from the monastery, with my doctor’s permission.  Today I am at the Monastery of Thien Tam, south of Dallas.  This community was founded by Christ in the Desert when we sent monks here in 2008 and 2009with permission of the bishop at that time, the Most Rev. Kevin Farrell. On June 29th of this year, this community became independent of Christ in the Desert.  Until that time, all their major decisions had to be approved by the abbot or the abbot and his council or the abbot and the solemnly professed monks of Christ in the Desert.

As you know, Prior Benedict McCaffree is the present superior of Christ in the Desert during this time of my illness and recovery.  The superior of Christ in the Desert has the right to preside at the election of the first independent superior of Thien Tam.  So Prior Benedict delegated me to come here and preside at the election.  Prior Benedict himself is in Mexico assisting at the Canonical Visitation of another dependent house of ours, the Monastery of Saint Mary and All the Saints, outside of Teocelo in the State of Veracruz in Mexico.

At Christ in the Desert we will have three new postulants entering this month:  one from Kenya, one from Vietnam and one from Bangladesh.  Clearly we have a gift to be an international community.  We never tried to be international.  It just happened to us and we did not resist it.  We also have American vocations entering.  There is a challenge in language, for sure, but most of our vocations speak English, even if it is a form of English that we find difficult to understand.  We are having another month-long special class in English for four of our brothers this month.  We have found this very effective and are blessed to have professors who are willing to come and help us.

The day I set out to come to Thien Tam, I arrived at the airport on time for a 2:53 pm flight.  I had heard that Brother Caedmon, returning to Thien Tam from the Philippines, had his flight delayed by 8 hours.  He was supposed to arrive one hour before me.  My one flight was listed as on time departure and on time arrival in Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. We boarded the plane and taxied to the runway.  Then a small fire in the right hand engine was discovered.  The local fire department had to come and inspect before we were allowed to taxi back to the gate and wait.  After a half hour, we were all asked to leave the plane.  In the line waiting for an agent, we were given a phone number to call.  I decided to call and see what might be possible. I was told that I could be confirmed on an 8:00 pm flight to Phoenix which would then transfer me to a flight for Dallas which would arrive at 2:30 am.  So I stayed in line and learned that our original flight might still leave by 8:30 pm, after a delay of five and a ahlf hours and arrive in Dallas at 11:15 pm.  That arrival, if it worked, would be only one hour after the arrival of Brother Caedmon.

Spirituality is surely about living in the present and adjusting to whatever happens and seeking God in the midst of that.  For me, that is much easier when things happen in an orderly manner and in the way that I expect them to happen.  I used to think that I could adjust to just about anything, but as I get older, I find that adjusting is more difficult for me and accepting unexpected changes is not so easy.  This could just the process of aging in me or it could be that age is showing my real personality, which finds changes difficult unless I am in charge of them.

So my theoretical spirituality is now being put to the test in reality as I adjust to unexpected changes.  This also shows up now that I am not superior of the community.  I find that I can be really cranky and obstinate and stubborn when I don’t understand things.  It is a truly humbling experience for me because it shows me how imperfect I am and how little I really trust in the Lord.  I am so blessed to have faith and tht helps me continue to walk through the challenges.  It is not easy for me to understand how a person could through these experiences without faith.

All of our spirituality is theoretical until it is put to the test.  Even the early monks thought this way.  They easily understood that a monk could act holy, pray in good ways, be focused on the Lord—but all of this would be put to the test when the monk confronted an unexpected situation.  And that is just how life plays itself out.

When I know that a situation is changeable and is likely to be unclear, I am usually fine.  But when what I expect to be a stable situation or when what I expect to happen does not happen, then I am put to the test.  And although I have always thought of myself as flexible and adaptable, I find that I am rigid and difficult in these kind of unexpected situations.

So my spiritual life and challenge is sort of laid out for me: learn to be at peace, no matter what happens.  I can also learn to trust completely in God and to seek His presence in every situation, no matter how unexpected.

Another challenge in the spiritual life is our own emotional response to things.  For most of my life, I have always been able to accept almost any emotional situation and not react to it.  Now I find that I have lost that capacity.  Perhaps it will return as I continue to recover, but perhaps it will not.  Whether it returns or not, I have to learn to live with my present overly emotional responses to situations.  My emotional response to a situation just jumps out in front of my before I am able to do anything.  If my emotional response were always positive and loving and helpful, that would be great!  But that is not what is happening.  I find myself speaking harshly and critically and sometimes with meanness.  This is not the self to which  am accustomed!  But it is myself at this point in my life.  Not a flattering self at all!

And life is not just about me.  Instead, my brothers and even friends have to adjust to this “new” me and see how they can relate to me.  I am always grateful that I am not abandoned or rejected, even when I am difficult, cranky and critical.  My brothers and friends are images of how God loves me.  God is always full of mercy and willing to forgive me, no matter what.  I hope that I can also be that good to others when I am put to the test with them.

As always I promise my prayers for you with much love.  I will celebrate a Holy Mass again this week for you and for your needs and intentions.  Please pray for me and for my conversion and for my perseverance in the spiritual life.  Please also pray for the women and men of our associated communities.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip