The Abbot’s Notebook for March 7, 2018
My sisters and brothers in Christ,
Blessings to you! The grandmother of our Brother Jude seems to be dying and so he has gone to be with his family in New Jersey. Father Mayeul and Brother Bonaventure are still in Vietnam and should return the 13th of this months. Brother Vincent Mary is in Vietnam and will return the day that this Notebook goes online. The Consulate had not given him a visa but finally did. Father Andrew is in the Philippines and returns next week. Father Thomas-Benedict, who has been living outside for various reasons, should be back living in the Monastery by the time you receive this Notebook.
I mention all the above so you will be aware that even in a quiet, contemplative monastery, there seems always some motion happening and monks coming and going for various reasons. We usually try to visit our families every other year because we value the relationship with our families. Sometimes various monks have to travel because of Visa challenges. Sometimes monks travel because of the serious illness or death of a parent or a very close relative. With more monks, there are more trips. With more trips, there are more expenses. That is how life is.
Finally I finished the 2017 Year End Financial Report. That is part of the reason that the trips have been on my mind. The financial report also revealed how expensive it is to eat, but there is no remedy for that challenge. I wanted to know how much it costs in the United States to feel an adult male each day. I was truly shocked to find out that in 2017 according to the US Department of Agriculture, there are four plans given to illustrate the costs of feeling an adult male 19 to 50 years of age. The cheapest plan still comes out to about $7.00 a day—without the person able to eat in a restaurant but only at home. The second cheapest plan, called “low-cost,” comes to about $8.00 a day. The third plan, called “moderate-cost plan,” comes to about $10.00 a day. The most expensive, called the “liberal plan,” comes to about $12.00 a day.
We cook for 40 to 50 monks every day and usually have 10 to 20 guests on top of that. That means that almost every day we cook for 50 to 70 people. They are not all men between 19 and 50, and so the costs are not exactly the same. We average out to about $6.50 a day per person. Even if we calculate for only 50 people a day at $6.50 a day, the cost for a year comes to about $118,000.00. Wow! When I first arrived here in 1974, the cost of running the whole monastery for a year was only $37,000.00. Times have changed. Budgets have changed. Costs have changed. And on we go.
We probably earn by our own works about $500,000.00 a year. That income would come from the Guest House and the Gift Shop, from celebrating Mass, from prayers and from craft work, farm work and a few other odds and ends.
Without the friends and benefactors of the monastery, we could not make it. We are always looking for a realistic work that might help us earn more of the costs of operating our monastery. People often send us ideas but most don’t work well in our location. We are completely off the normal electric grid and that creates problems with any type of work that needs a lot of electricity. We will probably eventually get on the grid, but that cost would be about a million and a half!
Enough about money. Just try having 60 sons/brothers and having to find ways to support them. I try not to let those concerns run my spiritual life. Over the years, God has always provided all that we need here—not by our hard work alone, but by sending us friends and benefactors as well. God provides all we need.
It is no different in the spiritual life. I cannot make myself holy. Only God can make me holy and give me the grace to respond to His love. None of us is able to make ourselves into saints. Instead, we must come to rely completely on God and on God’s love for us and God’s complete faithfulness to His love for us. Our lives can be fairly consistent when we trust that God will always be there for us. I sometimes complain to God that He is not present the way I want Him to be present. Nevertheless, He is always there and usually, afterwards, I can see His presence.
How can we learn to trust? Only by trusting and waiting to see how it works out. Only when we look at our own history can we begin to see that there might be patterns in our history that indicate that God is truly acting in our lives. When we look at the present, we often don’t see much except that we keep trying. I remember reading years ago that we should never just trust anyone immediately but should take our time to get to know the other person. That is good advice about other people and, probably, in lots of ways, good advice about God. The challenge is to take the time to get to know God!
How do we do that? Always with reading the Scriptures, with understanding the Church, and with lots of prayer. Reading the Scriptures helps us come to know how God has revealed Himself to us. Understanding the Church is being present to the mystery of Jesus in His Church now. And praying opens our hearts and our minds to the presence of God.
Again I send my love and prayers for you. I will celebrate Holy Mass once this week for you and for your needs and intentions. Please pray for me and for the monks of our community and for the women and men in the communities associated with ours. Blessed Lent!
Your brother in the Lord,