The Abbot’s Notebook for November 29, 2017

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Blessings to you!  This has been a significant week because someone died on our road.  In all of my years here at Christ in the Desert, there has never been anyone die on the road in an accident.  We have had people die in the campgrounds, of natural causes.  We have had people die from hiking in the cliffs and having accidents.  We have had car accidents on our road.  But never have we had anyone die because of an accident on the road.

Hopefully this accident won’t scare people away.  There is an autopsy going on right now to find the cause, if possible, of the accident.  The victim of the accident was a diocesan priest of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, Father Fred Brand.  He was a member of our community from June of 2011 until May of 2014, becoming what we call a “regular oblate.”  That meant that he lived our full life but did not have vows.  He did have promises to the Abbot.

On November 22, 2017, Father Fred arrived at Christ in the Desert late in the afternoon, unexpected, and asked if he could spend the night and then November 23, Thanksgiving Day, with the community.  He stayed in the room next to me that night.  On Thanksgiving Day, Father Fred concelebrated with the community and spent a peaceful day, speaking with some of the brothers.  The Office of None was celebrated at 4:00 pm that day and followed by the Thanksgiving Meal.  Father Fred was present for the meal, but had already packed his car and was planning to leave immediately after the meal, before it got dark.  Father Joseph Gabriel spoke with Father Fred in the afternoon, helping him take his bags to his car.  He asked Father Fred why he was leaving so early.  Father Fred replied something like this:  “God has told me I must go home today.”

As he drove out the road, probably between 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm, something happened and he drove off the highest cliff part of our road.  No one knew this but the next morning, apparently, about 8:00 am, some hunters saw a car in the river and notified the police.  The police arrived in the afternoon and blocked the road for a couple of hours while they retrieved Father Fred, who was dead.

Death is a normal part of life.  Accidents also happen every day.  When such things happen close to home, the make a stronger impact on us.  Father Fred was 85 years old and had lived a long and full life.  May he rest in peace!  We continue to pray for the repose of his soul.  He will be buried here.

My brother, George, spent Thanksgiving here with our community.  He lives in Santa Fe and we are able to see each other from time to time.  Brother Anthony, who had gone to visit his family in New York, returned on Saturday.

Thanksgiving means to give thanks for all, not just for the good and the easy and the positive.  We have to learn to give a complete thanks and understand that all things work together to draw us to the Lord.

Starting last Sunday night, we are on our Annual Retreat.  We have an outside person come in to give us conferences, two a day, and to guide us a bit in the life of the Spirit.  Our retreat master this year is Father Thomas Boyer and he is speaking to us about the Beatitudes in the Gospel.

Monday morning during Vigils, one of the brothers fainted and did not regain consciousness, so he was taken to the hospital.  Monday night he was transported to Albuquerque because he is still not coming out of whatever has happened.  Neurologists will be examining him in Albuquerque.  He is partially conscious at this time but there is surely something more that must be found and a way that can bring him back to full consciousness.  I ask your prayers for him.

Spirituality is always about living with the unexpected.  This week has had more than enough of that.  My personal challenge is always to keep whatever happens focused in Jesus Christ.  Sometimes I find myself responding to situations—and usually doing a fairly good job responding—but without keeping an awareness of the presence of God.  At one level, that is no great thing.  At another level, the reality is so much easier to deal with when I am aware of the presence of Jesus Christ.

When I was a young monk and too many things happened at once, I would and did become fairly ill because of the stress.  Later I realized that I get stress because at some level in myself I believe that I must carry everything by myself.  And it is just not true.  There are other humans who can help me and I had to learn to trust them.  More importantly, I had to leave things in the hands of God and trust God.  That was a wonderful growing for me and most of the time, I can be in that place of trust—even if things are not going the way that I want them to go!

For me, it is a question of taking the time to remember the Lord and then living in that awareness.  It changes everything for me.  I suppose that our spiritual tradition would call it “mindfulness.”  I work at becoming committed to “mindfulness” and keep working at it over the years.  It is easier now that I am older.  The immediacy of situations does not seem to push me as much as it did when I was younger.  Deep within me, it seems like there is an awareness that the world does not depend on me and that there is always time to be still and reflect before going into action.  Of course, there are situations where a person must respond immediately, but those are truly rare situations.  Most situations do not need to have a super immediate resolution.

Remember!  That is what I keep telling myself.  Remember that God is Lord!  Remember, you are not alone!  Remember, the world does not depend on you.  It depends on God.  When I find myself getting stressed out, then—most of the time—I remember and can begin to live on that other plane where I wish I could remain all the time.  But my life is a combination of remembering and forgetting, remembering and then getting distracted, remembering and then not paying attention.  On the other hand, I can see that it really has become a different spiritual struggle as I get older.  My confidence and trust in God have grown very much, even if I am not faithful all the time.

Please also pray for the repose of the soul of Terri Oldham, who died on November 27th.  She was the niece of Mother Julianne of Our Lady of the Desert.  She struggled valiantly against the glioblastoma cancer in her brain, but lost.  May she rest in peace.

May the Lord help us all be faithful and remember His presence.  I will celebrate Holy Mass once this week for you and for your needs and intentions.  Please continue to keep me in your prayers and to keep all the women and men of our communities in your prayers.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip