The Abbot’s Notebook for October 4, 2017

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Blessings to you!  Normally we have our rainy season in July and August.  This year we have had large amounts of rain in September, perhaps a side effect of the hurricanes and the Gulf of Mexico and in the Atlantic.  The reason is not as important as the fact of fairly large amounts of rain for us and our road is pretty difficult once again, although not destroyed.  Fairly large boulders have fallen onto the road but not enough to stop traffic.  Only once in the 41 years that I have been here has a falling boulder hit a car—and really wiped it out without hurting the driver, who was our Brother Xavier McGough.

Life seems similar to nature at times with lots of unexpected storms and lots of things not being normal.  Always we have to adjust.  We started wearing capes and cowls (monastic garments that we wear in the colder time of year) on October 1st, which is later than normal.  With so many monks at home right now, the cowl room (the room through which we enter the Church) is pretty small and so is crowded before and after services as monks put on or take off the capes and cowls.

We just finished a 3 ½ week intensive session of English as a Second Language (ESL) this past week.  We need another ESL teacher for mid-October to mid-November, but only a fully qualified teacher who is certified for ESL.  Our experience has been fairly strong that only such a certified teacher uses the time with our brothers well and we can see immense improvements in their English.  If you are qualified and have an interest, please contact our director of education at his email address:

Abbot Caedmon has gone to give the retreat for the Sisters of Our Lady of the Desert.  Their chaplain, Father Jeffrey, has come here for the week.  At the end of the week, they will trade places once again.  Prior Benedict and Brother Luke María have gone to Mexico and will return later in the month.  It is nice to think that monks are always at home and never traveling, but that is not the reality.  We try to limit our travels but with a large community, someone is always going somewhere.

My health is slowly improving with an occasional setback.  My doctor likes to see me once a month to make sure that all is mending.  I have been so blessed that none of my illnesses caused any long term damage or required long term treatment.  At least that is how it seems.  I am enjoying my temporary retirement a lot.  Please keep praying for me.

As I was thinking about the spirituality aspect of my life this week, I realized that we had celebration the Anniversary of the Dedication of our Church on September 28th.  We keep that day as a Solemnity and do not have work (other than that which is absolutely necessary) on that day.  This year, for the Anniversary, every choir stall was filled with a monk.  It is incredible to think that we continue to grow and are outgrowing our facilities once more.  So often people ask me:  “Aren’t you going to put a limit on the number of monks here?”

That would be an easy solution to the present challenge, but it is not one that has been common in monastic history.  When we put limits, we can refuse to accept just the very person that God has sent us to be a leader in our future or the one that God has sent us to be a saint in our midst.  So, in terms of that, monastic history is filled with monasteries constantly increasing their facilities in order to house the vocations that come.

For my part, I often joke about limits and tell people:  “We are Catholics and so don’t do birth control!”  For sure, in the future, we will have to start another monastery or two or three in due time.  If we had lots and lots of solemnly professed and well trained monks, we could do that now, but instead we have a huge number of men still in formation.  So we wait on the Lord.

Wait on the Lord!  That has been the story here at Christ in the Desert and also in my own life.  It is a form of spirituality:  waiting for the Lord to show us what to do and not presuming that we know what the Lord wants us to do.  So many times I have made decisions in my life without even wondering what God might want.  So many times I have made decisions on the impulse of the moment.  I have often found it difficult to wait in patience and see what God might want of me.

I wish I could say that I am getting a lot better at waiting on the Lord, but oftentimes I think that I am probably getting worse.  Some of this may be my current health challenges which have made me aware that I cannot concentrate much on things.  When I was young, usually I could just decide to do something and then do it.  Today, I may want to do something but often find that I simply don’t do it.  You can imagine how this affects any sort of disciplined life of prayer or meditation!  Slowly that inner discipline is returning but it also seems to have put me at a different way of looking at things.

Wait on the Lord!  My confessor told me that Saint Therese of Lisieux said something like this:   “Just tell Jesus that you love Him, even if you don’t feel it at all.”  I can really identify with that.  But, for me, it takes a lot of energy to even say “I love you,” when I feel nothing.  Wait on the Lord!

Never in my life have I felt so strongly the lack of inner energy to do anything.  Some of the monks have referred to me as a dynamo of activity.  That is no longer true.  Yes, I still am able to do lots of things, but I find lots of limits in my life now that I have not had before.  Wait on the Lord!  One of the important lessons for me is that the spiritual is the “work of God” and not “my work.”  So it is good to ask the Lord to do in me whatever He wants.  But it is clear that HE must do the work, because I no longer have energy to do much of anything.  This has been frustrating to me at times and at other times I have welcomed this lack of energy that is teaching me to be in the Lord’s hands without complaint, even if I can do nothing at all!

So spirituality is about accepting what is and seeing God in all that is—and then keep on waiting for the Lord and seek to do His will.  It sounds so simple!

As always I promise my prayers for you and will again celebrate a Holy Mass for you and for your needs and intentions.  Please keep praying for me and for our community here and for the sisters and brothers of the communities associated with ours.  I send you my love and prayers.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip