The Abbot’s Notebook for November 8, 2017

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Blessings to you! The weather here continues to be wonderful with clear and cold mornings and warm afternoons. It is perfect weather for me to talk the walks that the doctor has encouraged. The doctor wants me to walk a bit more than an hour a day. Walking outside is so beautiful at this time of year. The rattlesnakes have gone to sleep, the bears are hibernating, the tarantulas have disappeared, etc. I don’t mind walking with all of those critters at all but when they are not there, I can keep my attention on other things.

Ruzai Fernandes has arrived from Mumbai, India, last week to begin his postulancy with the community here. I met Ruzai in February of 2011 when I visited Kerala, India, for the first time. We had had many inquiries about vocations from that area and Father Christian insisted that I visit there and arrange for me to travel with a monk from the Sylvestrine Benedictine Monastery of Makkiyad in northern Kerala. Father Hugh held my hand and got me through everything. He arranged for me to get to Kappadu, a monastery of the Annunciation Congregation. There Abbot John was most kind to me and arranged for a driver and a monk to take me to visit the candidates from that area. Ruzai had come from Mumbai to meet me there. Now, after all these years, Ruzai has come to try his vocation with us and I am very happy to see him again.

We have been working to find other ways to get the internet into our monastery. The satellites that we use cost a lot of money and don’t give much internet even if they cost a lot of money. We were exploring if we could put a tower on the other side of the river but that has not worked out. Father Simeon, Brother David and Brother Bede have been making various tests. It seems likely that we could bring regular electricity and a fiber optic cable down our 13 mile dirt road. The cost would be enormous but in the end it would save us money because of the huge amount of money that we must invest in the solar arrays every 10 to 15 years. We are not making any decisions at this time, just exploring the options. There are other satellite companies as well that we can explore. This is part of the challenge of our present life here at the Monastery. For many years we had no electricity, no internet and very little heating—and we survived. Those days seem gone forever.

Brother Philip, whom I also first met at Kappadu in India, has gone to Rome for a month to help our Father Christian with various projects that he has there. Brother Charles and Brother Anthony have gone to visit their families and Brother Isidore and Brother Anselm will soon do the same. Lots of brothers away!

The new building which has been under construction for almost a year should be able to be occupied in a few weeks now. It can house 14 monks. Prior Benedict, who is also the formation director for the young monks, plans to house the 10 postulants in this new building and that will leave Saint Antony’s for novices and simply professed. We are out of space in every building at this point, but we always find ways to keep on going.

An aspect of spiritual life that often touches me is the aspect of learning to stay silent. This is not an aspect of spiritual life that is much valued today but anyone who has lived in a close relationship within marriage or in a religious community should be able to understand this part of spirituality.

Saint Benedict is very clear that the monk must keep silent. The word he often uses is “taciturnitas,” which would translate into being a taciturn person. This is not a word that we hear very often in our regular conversations. It means a person who is untalkative, reticent, quiet, secretive, tight-lipped and close-mouthed. From my point of view, all of these definitions are negative and not quite to the point. What Saint Benedict wants in a monk is a person who takes time to think and reflect and who speaks only after thinking and reflection and does not just immediately react to a situation.

Through all of my years in this community, I have seen how an immediate response in a tense situation can really destroy others unless it comes from an interior depth of love and is able to respond only with love and not with judgment. Most of us find that difficult, if not impossible. A taciturn person who has this gift of love is able to wait to speak until the point that actual hearing might take place.

So often today people speak only to make noise and actually don’t care about being understood or listened to. Sometimes I reflect on a mother of 12 children who told me once: “At times I have had to wait a year or even two to be able to speak to one of my children because I knew that if I spoke too soon, they could not hear me.” I had huge admiration for that capacity and over the years have only come to admire it more and more. Many of us think that we must speak right now!

There is so much to learn by being silent. I am not a silent person by nature. Some people are silent by nature. I am silent mostly when I have nothing to say, but have had to learn to be silent even when I think that I might have something to say. I have learned that by saying nothing, I often learn more than when I speak. I often pay more attention to a situation when I am silent than when I am speaking. I have also learned that others speak more if I remain silent. Particularly in my role as abbot of the community, others often remain silent. If I remain silent they begin to speak.

For me, speaking is natural and responding to any situation with words seems natural. So if I want to keep silent, I have to prepare myself beforehand. This is something that I have learned leading community meetings. I have to sit quietly for a few moments before any meeting and remind myself to keep quiet. It is the same thing when I know that a meeting with be tense and possibly be affected by angry reactions: I have to remind myself to be still and not to react. When I do my beforehand preparations, I am usually pretty good and keeping silent and at not getting anger or reacting to whatever is said. But if I do not prepare, then I almost always lose by talking too much or my letting my own angers or frustrations show.

So in the midst of being silent, we must also learn to prepare ourselves to be silent and to listen to others. Listening to others will help every situation a lot. Learning this wonderful art of listening is part of the spiritual life. Learning to be aware of our own reactions and natural responses—and dealing them before a situation happens—is also part of the spiritual life. Spirituality constantly demands work on our part. The first work is to seek to stay in the presence of God and to be aware of that presence. Within that presence of God, we then can begin to struggle with the aspects of our lives that cause us to move away from the Lord and His Will.

As always I send my promise of prayers for you and will offer the Holy Mass once this week for you and for your needs and intentions. I count on your prayers for me and for the women and men in the communities associated with ours. Love and prayers.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip