The Abbot’s Notebook for October 25, 2017

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Blessings to you! This has been a truly beautiful week at Christ in the Desert. Of course I admit that I love this time of year when the mornings are really cold and the afternoons so pleasantly warm. And blue skies every day this week. These are wonderful days for walking the monastery dogs—and for them walking me!

Brother Philip went to Los Angeles this week in order to obtain the Schengen Visa which will allow him to go to Rome for a month to help our Father Christian there. Brother John Christie-Searles went with him because Brother John is more familiar with Los Angeles. This was a jet set trip because they left in the morning and returned the same evening.

Brother Luke María returned from Mexico, where he had gone for the marriage of his sister, Priscila. Brother Bede returned from Texas where he had gone for a private retreat. Brother Dominic returned from the Monastery of Our Lady of the Desert where he had gone to have time to catch up on his studies. For me, I am happy when all of the brothers are home, but that is rarely the case any longer. We have so many monks that one of them is always somewhere else. For sure it is a blessing to have all of these monks!

Sometimes I ask myself what a “blessing” means for me. At one time, when almost everyone left this community and there were only three of us left, I also could see that we were blessed. There are times when things are really difficult but those same difficulties bring about something very good. So it is clear that “blessing” does not mean that everything is just wonderful, but instead that we can see the hand of God at work in our personal life and in the life of the community.

Sometimes I speak about positive blessings and negative blessings in order to express the ways in which God blesses us. When a monastery is going through a crisis or when a person is going through a crisis, this situation can become a negative blessing. I call it negative because most of us prefer not to go through a crisis. When our monastic community at Christ in the Desert has fallen apart in the past, it was so negative—and yet still a blessing for me and for the community. That will most likely not happen again, but who can see the future. The challenge is simply to cling to Christ every day, in good and in evil circumstances, and to know that He is present with His love.

All of us, especially those of us who are older, can look back in time and see the blessings of the Lord. We can also see the catastrophes and crises that had to be taken up as blessings. Anything that remains in the past and has not been accepted as a blessing is something that will eventually cause us harm or grief or will impact our lives in negative ways.

In the present age, many people prefer to see themselves as victims of all that has happened in their lives—and that creates an illusion and a false vision of life. All is blessing if we are able to receive it and are capable of choosing it as blessing. Yes, of course, there have been negative things in every life. It is the receiving in a positive way of all that has happened to us that will form us into persons who reflect God’s glory!

We see this fairly often when there are terrible crimes against people. Some people react with hatred and rejection and anger and all negativity. This only injures further the person who has already been injured. On the other hand, at times we see incredible examples of people who have forgiven others and have forgiven situations. I think here especially of Immaculée Ilibagiza, the writer from Ruanda, who was able to witness the murders of her family members and forgive those who murdered them. There are countless witnesses like this in our own times: people who are able to forgive what many others consider unforgivable.

On talk radio we can often here the opposite: “I will never forgive.” “I hope they burn in hell.” “I hope that they suffer horribly.” “Forgiveness is impossible.” Such people are unable to understand and follow the teachings of the Lord Jesus. The challenge, however, is for us, you and me, to follow His teachings and forgive all who have ever harmed us. Such forgiveness brings life and grace and the blessing of God.

Whatever has happened to us or has been done to us in our lives—all can be blessing if we let it be blessing. The choice is ours. What others have done to us or what has happened to us are realities outside of our control. How we respond is within our control, with God’s grace. We never need to be victims. Instead, we must be people of faith who reach out and seek the presence of God in every circumstance and who rejoice in His love and allow that love to transform us so that we also can love.

Much of modern culture really believes that forgiveness is impossible and that the best response to being injured is to injure in return. If we are striving to follow Christ, then we recognize that we must even allow others to take our lives and to take all of our goods rather than to seek to injure in return. This is such a strong message in our Christian faith. It took me a long time to realize that Jesus really does expect us to put up with bad treatment, with rejection and even with being killed—and always wants us to forgive.

Most of the time we don’t have to deal with people trying to kill us. On the other hand, often we may have to put up with people who don’t like us, who try to take advantage of us, who may speak badly about us to others or who try in various ways to make our lives less than they could be. Jesus does not expect us to allow people to do bad things to us but Jesus does expect us to love those people even as we try to do what is right—and sometimes try in good ways to keep them from destroying us or harming us. The challenge for us is always to act in Christian ways, in ways that manifest that we believe in Jesus and believe that this world is only a reality that will pass away.

So the immediate call in life is always to be aware of the presence of God, of Jesus Christ, of the Holy Spirit. When we are aware of that presence, then we can begin to put everything else into perspective. We want to live for the Kingdom of God and that means letting go of our preoccupations with so many other things. We have to live in the present, which means also to give our attention to the present—but without ever forgetting that the present always passes away and changes. We want to fix our hearts on God who does not change, on the love of God which sustains us and on the mercy and love of God for ourselves and for everyone else.

Enough for this time. I send you my love and prayers. I will celebrate Holy Mass for you and for your needs and intentions at this time. Please know how much I appreciate your love and prayers for me and for the sisters and brothers of all of our communities.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip