The Abbot’s Notebook for December 27, 2017

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Blessings to you!   Christmas!  What a joyful time of year for most of us.  Here at Christ in the Desert our schedules are turned upside down from the day before Christmas (Christian Eve) until December 27th.  This year the change of schedules goes unto December 28th because Brother Pio will make his first vows that day.  Some brothers really like the changes in schedules and other are happier when we return to normal.

Father Andrew Nguyen has returned to Christ in the Desert to take up his monastic life with us once again.  He made his solemn vows here many years ago.  He spent time helping in South Africa and then was in our Monastery of Thien Tam for some years.  We are happy to have him back with us.

Marco Antonio Lopez Borjas has come as an observer for a couple of weeks.  I have known Marco Antonio for many years in Mexico.  He is 31 year old now.  He has spent time in our Monastery of La Soledad and in our Monastery of Santa María y Todos los Santos.

Father Thomas-Benedict Baxter is also home for Christmas.  He also spent many years helping in South Africa and then was the chaplain for the Sisters of Our Lady of the Desert.  He hopes to return here to the Monastery sometime in 2018.

On the night of December 26th, Brother Bonaventure and Brother Faustino renewed their vows for another year.  Tonight on December 27th, Brother Thi and Brother Francis will enter the novitiate.  Tomorrow, on December 28th, Brother Pio will make his first vows.  Please pray for all of these monks that they be holy and that they may persevere if it be God’s will that they have a vocation here.

This is the last Notebook for this year of 2017.  Next week will already be in 2018.  The years continue to go forward and there is no way to turn them back.  The Monastery of Christ in the Desert has completed this year 53 years of existence already and has gone from a tentative beginning to a fairly strong and deeply rooted community.  Our biggest challenge is the monastic formation of the many vocations who have entered in the past 10 years.  If all goes as expected, in the coming year we should have several monks making their lifetime vows, solemn vows.  This will help the community stabilize and grow.

Many times I have told others that I cannot imagine that this flood of vocations to our community will continue.  On the other hand, there are at present no signs that the number will slow down soon.  One year we had 16 novices.  I don’t think that will happen again.  More normal now is to have three to six novices each year, most of whom profess.  That is still an enormous growth.  So we do the best we can with formation and with all else.  Anyone can imagine the difference in the cost of running the monastery when the population rises rapidly.  When I first arrived here, I was number three in the community.  We have observers now and then, but our basic community was just three of us.  Our basic community at home now is about fifty.

Within the concrete realities of our monastic life, always there is the challenge of seeking the Lord and the challenge for each one of us to make Jesus primary in his life and to embrace that following of the Lord within the Catholic Church and within this community.

Our former Abbot Primate, Abbot Notker Wolf, said that he stays young because he is always around young people.  This seems very true here as well.  Having a large group of young monks in their 20s and an even larger group in their 30s keeps our community full of young energy—and also makes demands on us.

For me as the abbot, the challenge is to keep insisting that our focus is seeking God within the Catholic Church and in this community.  We must embrace the challenge that seeking God can be boring and frustrating and seems at times to go nowhere—yet that is what the spiritual life is for us:  persevering in the boredom and the frustrations, know that God is present and forming us.  The spiritual life is not about feeling good or about observing all the rules and regulations.  Rather it is about a solid and persevering commitment to seek God in His Church and in this community.

Saint Francis de Sales was famous for insisting that true spirituality always consists in being faithful to the life that one has chosen and not in looking to live some other life.  So it makes no sense for a man to join our community and to be longing for another community.  Nor would it make sense for a person who is married to spend their time longing to be a consecrated religious!  We must embrace the life that we have chosen.  If God wants us elsewhere—so the whole tradition tells us—He Himself will take us there without our trying to do anything.

When in our formation program we evaluate the monks in formation, one of the aspects that we ask ourselves is whether a monk has really embraced our life.  If a man is here but not living the life, it is generally a sign that he does not have a vocation.  That never means that we just through people out but rather than we continue to find the ways to challenge the monks in formation (and ourselves) to live the life that is here.

After 53 years as a monk, I still have enthusiasm for living the life.  There is an awareness within me that this is the life God has given me and wants me to live.  Even when I am tired or not feeling well, I still know that I am choosing this life and not choosing some other life.  It is this deep commitment that I look for in our solemn professed monks and in those hoping for solemn profession.  We must continue to choose the life and to choose to do what is right now matter how we feel—and in that choosing we walk the way of the Lord.

Christmas and the New Year are always a time when we can renew our commitments.  It is important that we continue to give ourselves to the life that we have and seek to live it to the best of our abilities in Christ Jesus.  The joy that radiates from a deep commitment attracts people to Jesus and also to the way of life.  Radiant marriages attract others to try to live marriage more profoundly.  Radiant monks in vows draw vocations and help the younger monks make commitment.

Truly it is Christ who is the heart of our life and when we are all seeking to live in that heart, the world becomes transformed.

As always I send you my love and prayers.  I send special prayers now for the end of this year of the Lord, 2017, and the beginning of the New Year of the Lord, 2018.  I pray that this Christmas has brought joy and gladness and some light into your life.  I continue to celebrate one Holy Mass each week for you and for your needs and intentions.  Please continue to pray for me and for all the women and men in our communities.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip