The Abbot’s Notebook for March 14, 2018

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Blessings to you!  We are having a good week here in the Monastery.  Brother Vincent Mary returned from Vietnam.  Abbot Anselm of Pluscarden, the Abbot Visitor of the English Province, arrived on Friday last.  Abbot Guillermo, the Abbot President of our Subiaco Cassinese Congregation, arrived the next day.  Father Andrew returned on Monday.  Father Mayeul, Brother Bonaventure and Brother Jude returned yesterday, on Tuesday.  So we are 49 monks in the house, all of Christ in the Desert, and our Abbot President and our Abbot Visitor.  The choir stalls are completely filled and overflowing.

On Monday morning, Abbot President Guillermo gave a talk to the community about what a Canonical Visitation is supposed to be.  It is a time of special grace from God and a time to encounter God in the community and in one another.  The monks must have confidence in the Abbots doing the Visitation and be able to speak the truth with confidence, with gratitude and with humility.  Then the Canonical Visitation was formally opened.  Now the two Abbots are interviewing every monk in the house.  Please pray for them.

One of the good aspects of this Visitation is that it can help prepare for another Visitation next year, when I will reach 75 years of age.  This is the age, in our Congregation, when an abbot submits his resignation.  I will be in my 43rd year of service as the superior of the community.  The Visitors come once again and speak with the community in order to prepare for a new superior.

One of the challenges of my spiritual life is to maintain a “holy indifference” to what happens when we get a new abbot.  I hope to be able to do that and simply remain at peace and spending my time in prayer and work.  Sometimes people ask me what I will do when I retire.  The easy answer is:  “I will do whatever the abbot asks me to do.”  I am a monk.  For years I have served in leadership and asked other monks to obey.  Eventually I will return to being a monk in the community and obeying the new abbot.

Then sometimes people ask me what I will do if the new abbot makes a decision that I don’t like or that I disagree with?  The answer again is simple:  “I will obey.”  The only time any monk has a right not to obey is if a superior asks him to do something immoral.  Most superiors never ask monks to do immoral things.  On the other hand, abbots (me, too) can ask monks to do stupid things and the monk learns to obey.  This is at the heart of giving up one’s own will.  A monk has a right to tell his superior that he thinks that something is stupid.  Saint Benedict provides for the case when a monk believes that he is being asked to something that he really is unable to do.  The monk is supposed to tell the superior, with humility, that he thinks the task is impossible.  But if the superior still asks the monk to do the task, then the monks does the best he can.

All of us can see how this form of humility and obedience can truly strip away any clinging to one’s own will and any false illusions that my ideas are the best or my projects are the best—and thus my ideas and projects are the ones that should be done.

I can get used to being the one who makes the decisions.  Even when I consult others, I still have the right to make decisions.  All of that will change for me and I won’t be the one making decisions.  Spiritually, it helps me realize that even now, I am not the one who makes things happen or even the one who makes the decisions.  If I am really faithful to the Lord, I listen for His decision.  And it will be the same when I am no longer abbot.  But I can fool myself into think that I am the one who makes the decisions and I am the important one.

Do I expect that everyone will understand me and then think that I am good?  The real challenge is for me to recognize that whatever good there is in me comes from the Lord.  This again is straight out of the Rule of Saint Benedict.  What is good in me comes from the Lord; what is not good comes from me.  It can sound pretty negative and awful to some, but for me, it is simply an expression of the truth found in the Rule and then confirmed in my own life experiences over many years.

Does humility mean thinking badly of oneself?  Absolutely not!  Instead, humility is accepting the truth about oneself in the light of know that God’s loves me just as I am right now.  God is always inviting me to receive more of His divine life and most of the time I simply ignore God.  That does not make me an evil person but simply reflects that I share the common humanity of all of our race.

Honestly I do not believe that I have ever met a truly evil person.  Instead I have met lots of humans, like myself, who choose evil things at times out of weakness.  Everyone that I have met in my life up to this point has some good that is apparent if I take time to look.  As I have come to know my own weakness I am less inclined to judge anyone else for being weak.  So much spiritual wisdom speaks in this same way:  look at the beam in your own eye before you think of trying to remove the small splinter in the eye of your fellow human being.

As we progress further and further into Lent, we can thank God for His kindness in our lives, we can grow in our own gratitude to the Lord for always loving us and we can learn more and more never to judge anyone else.

As always I will celebrate a Holy Mass this week for you and for your needs and intentions.  Please also join me in praying for the monks of this community and the monks and nuns of the various communities associated with ours.  I send you my love and prayers.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip