The Abbot’s Notebook for October 18, 2017

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Blessings to you!  There are days when, even if I am home, I find it difficult to write anything.  This happened before my present health challenges, although these present challenges have made it even more difficult.  In the past, if I did not feel like writing, I could still make myself do so.  Now, if I find I cannot write, I often just go and take a nap or do something else.

This past week I got new glasses and I am still trying to adjust to them.  This is the first change in my glasses’ prescription in about 15 years.  And the bifocal part is much smaller than what I have been used to.  At first I felt seasick and then dizzy, but now I am beginning to adjust.

Brother John Baptist Dziko has gone to Malawi because his mother is very ill and could be dying.  Originally it was planned that Brother John Baptist would make his solemn vows on November 1st this year.  He himself asked to postpone his vows so that he could be away from the community and help his mother before his solemn profession.  Please pray for his mother.

Prior Benedict has returned from his short visit to Mexico and we are all happy to have him home again.  He was able to visit Guadalajara and the family of Brother Luke María, the monastic community of La Soledad near San Miguel de Allende in Guanajuato and the monastic community of Corpus Christi in Chiapas.

Spiritual life is a bit like being dizzy with new glasses and always having to adjust and a bit like forcing oneself to write when one has no inner sense of being able to write anything.  It is true that all grace is a gift from God and it is also true that we must work as if everything depends upon us.  Sometimes when I don’t feel like writing, I just begin to write about something ordinary and then the words come to me to focus the writing on a spiritual path.  Sometimes what I write seem particularly good to me but does not seem to touch anyone else.  At other times what I write does not feel at all good to me and yet can provoke a strong response in others.

Communication is both the person communicating and the person to whom the communicator wants to communicate.  If no one listens, there is no communication.  If the communicator says nothing there is also no communicating in most cases.  I say “in most cases” because in actual fact if I stand in front of my brothers and they expect me to say something and I say nothing, I have communicated a lot already.

For a person like myself, what I always hope to communicate is faith in God, faith in Jesus Christ, faith in the Holy Spirit and faith in the Catholic Church—and that such faith must embrace.  I believe all that the Church teaches, even if I do not yet understand it all.  My spiritual life is always within that understanding:  God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and the Catholic Church.

Because my faith is formed and directed by God in His Scriptures and in His Church, my vision is sometimes seeing things that I had not seen before and because of not seeing them before, they seem new to me.  It is the same way when I read Scripture and come across something that really touches me deeply—and I cannot explain why.  Often I have read passages of Scripture over and over and they don’t touch me at all—and then one day, something happens and I am completely blown away by the passage that I had not paid much attention to in the past.

Part of the life of a monk, or of any Christian, is to remain faithful to reading Scripture every day if at all possible.  We must take the time to know Jesus from the Scriptures.  In the early Church there were some who wanted to throw out the Old Testament, the Jewish Scriptures.  The Church has always insisted on keeping the Old Testament because only through the Old Testament do we really come to know Jesus as He reveals Himself and as He is.  Mary and Joseph come from the Old Testament into the New.  We are invited to make that same passage.

As I began to read the Old Testament, with one eye on the New, the New Testament began to make more sense.  The New Testament comes from the Old and relies on the Old.  We can only understand the New Testament if we begin to understand the Old.  When Jesus discussed the Scriptures with the disciples on the way to Emmaus, He was discussing the Old Testament and showing how all of the Scriptures (the Old Testament) pointed to Christ.

As I began to adjust to that in my personal life, it made me dizzy for a while because I began to see so many, many connections and meanings in Scripture that I had not seen before.  And just as I have to work at writing in order to write, so also I began to realize that I must work to become a spiritual person and I must work to understand the Lord Jesus as He is revealed in the Scriptures.

All of this does not mean that I just sit down with Scripture and my heart and my mind light up.  No, I have to work at it and sometimes there seems no light at all!  Saint Benedict asks his monks to do “lectio” every day.  In our monastic culture that word, “lectio,” is pronounced like lex-ee-oh, with the accent on the first syllable.  Saint Benedict reminds us to just keep reading slowly and chewing on the word of God until something inflames our hearts.  There is no guarantee that every day we shall feel satisfied and full because we have touched the word of God and we have felt its reality within us.  Instead, there can be and are lots and lots of days when all we do is read without being touched at all.

The challenge, just as in faith, is to remain consistent in reading and consistent in seeking God.  In so many ways, what is important is to keep on going and never to give up.  It is always much easier to give up and to do other things that are more immediately satisfying.  Then, of course, our spiritual life simply disappears because we do only what brings joy to the senses and not that which brings occasionally joy to the spirit.

As always, I promise my prayers for you.  I will offer Holy Mass once this week for you and for your needs and intentions.  Always I beseech you to continue to pray for me and for the women and men of our communities.  I send you my love and prayers.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip