The Abbot’s Notebook for December 13, 2017

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Blessings to you! A quiet Advent week in the monastery. What a peaceful time Advent can be. I remember that when I first came to New Mexico in 1974, I was deeply impressed by the image of a Native American from Taos Pueblo, with a blanket wrapped around, simply waiting for the sun to rise. This was the image of Advent for me for many years: waiting in the dark and cold, with a blanket wrapped around—waiting for the sun to rise.

Sometimes I have had images of what Advent means in my mind. I think of a dog that we had with the name of Guido. I used to call him my Advent Dog. He loved the old cat that lived in our former kitchen area. Guido could spend hours just looking at her. She spent a lot of time on top of the shelving in the kitchen, well out of his reach. He would sit on the floor and just watch, sometimes for two or three hours at a time. He wanted her to come down. I think of Guido when we pray to God: Open the heavens and come down and save us!

There are so many people I know that have kept hopes alive over years for something to happen. At so many levels, it is not important that anything happens, but what is important is that we never lose hope. I think of a couple of people that I know who tend to believe that the end of the world is going to happen soon. Every time that there is a new “sign,” they are sure the end is coming soon. No matter how many times the end has not come, they are still convinced that it is coming soon.

For myself, I often tell people: the end of the world is here right now but we never pay attention to it! Jesus Christ brought about the end of one world and the beginning of another. We must first choose to live in the new creation before we can begin to see that the world has ended already.

That is surely a spiritual way of looking at the end of the world. The world really will end physically, but who knows when that will happen? We humans could destroy life on earth, but that is not the same as the end of the world. Just as my death will be the end of this world for me in a very definitive way, so also we humans can bring about the death of this world in a very definitive way. But it is still not same as the complete end of the world and of all that has been created. Scientifically, this creation is going to end, but we are still talking about millions and millions of years, most likely.

All of this interests me because it touches my own spirituality. I live in this present world. Do I have to take sides or political positions or tell everyone what is the best way to live? No, that is not necessary. For myself, I am always trying to find ways of living that serve others and which promote the good of others. I find that the values of much of our world today are in conflict with the way that I understand the teachings of the Lord Jesus. That is never a surprise. We humans, including myself, tend to look for what makes us happy, what gives us pleasure and for what protects us from bad things. Into that normal part of human life, Jesus has only told us that we must seek to love God and to love our neighbor as ourself. The test of our love of God is how we love our neighbor.

What I have found over my years thus far is that I never come to an end of the ways of seeking God and I never come to a point where I can tell myself: You have done all that is necessary. Instead I find that year after year I must rely more and more of God’s love and mercy. There have been some years that have not had any major events but other years have more major events than I would like to deal with. This is one of those years. It has been an enormously challenging year but also a year with incredible gifts of faith, hope and love. I don’t think that anyone would normally choose to have serious illness. On the other hand, we have lots of ways of living with such illness and living through it—and one of those ways is to see all as blessing and as a doorway to the Lord Himself.

Overall I prefer normal years without such huge challenges, but I also recognize that God is present in all that happens to me and to others. When I react to what is happening, rather than trying to see the hand of God in what is happening, I lose sight of the reality of this world. This world truly only has meaning that lasts when that meaning is seen in God and lived each day with an awareness of His presence in my life and in the life of others.

What I look for now, at least when I am my best self, is not for happiness, not for pleasure and not for protecting myself from bad things. Rather I look for the face of God in myself and in others and try to see what God might be telling me.

That sounds so wonderful! So I hasten to assure you that I don’t live that way all of the time—and some days not even for much of time. It is the way I am committed to living and I spend my life energy in the struggle to live that way.

If were to have a motto for my spiritual life, it would probably be something like “Make haste slowly.” This was a motto adopted by the Roman emperors Augustus and Titus, and also used by others. In Latin it is “festina lente.” In Greek, its original form, it is “σπεῦδε βραδέως.” Clearly it means that if we rush things, we ruin them instead of getting them right. So haste in the spiritual life is always a slow process!

My own tendency is to want results right now, immediately. Instead, I have to learn to wait on the Lord. That never means, for me, doing nothing. It just means that I cannot expect to do everything right all the time. I had to learn to allow for sinfulness in myself. What a surprise, huh? When I was young, I had an impression that one could simply work to be a saint and it would happen. As I aged, I realized that the work is God’s work and not mine. I also realized that I could not create in myself the person I wanted to be but had to listen to the Lord and allow the Lord to create in me the person that HE wanted and wants me to be.

Always I try to be faithful to the rules of the Scriptures and of our faith. I realized that following the rules does not create a person. The words of Jesus resonate with me: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets: I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” Jesus had to speak these words because clearly he does not always follow the rules that others had taken for granted. Jesus is able to see the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. We also can see that fulfillment but only with a truly formed conscience which is faithful to the teachings of the Church.

Little by little I have tried to let the Lord and His Church be my guide in all that I do while still working with energy to use my own thinking and decisions. It is a commitment on my part to think with the Church and to make decisions guided by the Church—because I believe that Jesus Christ is present always in His Church.

May this time of Advent draw us all deep into the life of Jesus our Lord and may we be formed by the divine life and the divine love. I send my love and prayers for you. Always I offer a Mass every week for you who read this Notebook and for your needs and intentions. Please continue to pray for me and for the women and men in our communities.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip