The Abbot’s Notebook for April 11, 2018

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Blessings to you!  Christ is risen!  Alleluia!  Already the Easter Season moves on and it will go by quickly.  All the dogs are home and none are in the hospital.  All the brothers are home and none of them is in hospital either.  Two new brothers have arrived, Father John-Paul and Brother John Phuong.  They are welcome additions to the community.  We are now generally just over 50 monks in the house.  We can still have seven more candidates arrive and have cells for them.  The choir will be crowded but it still works as well.  And the refectory has enough space.  But we are right towards the top limit of our capacity and will probably begin at least one more building this year.

Spirituality is never apart from the normal obligations in life.  I cannot be praying all day long and neglecting the needs of the brothers or of the community as a whole.  There are times, of course, when I just wish all the challenges of caring for the needs of the brothers and of the community would just go away so that I could much more free time to spend reading a praying.

Spiritual life is always first about the obligations that each of us has in his or her life.  We must look at those obligations and make sure that we are responding to them before we feel free to take time for ourselves.  There is always some kind of balancing involved in responding to the obligations and needs of others, but surely our lives are very different when our focus is on the service and love others rather than simply on ourselves.  So often I remind myself that had I married and had children, much of my focus as a young father would have been on my wife and my children—rather than just on myself.  We monks can tend to forget that marrying also has its challenges and demands.

Sometimes I wonder what others think that the job of being abbot consists of.  There is no glamor involved in doing the work here at home.  I have joked with the brothers before, telling them that it is wonderful to travel in other countries and be known at the abbot of Christ in the Desert.  We are a well-known monastery at this point in our history and fairly well respected.  But to be abbot here at home is just work.  There are many days when I get very little if any time just to relax and do nothing.  Instead, there are always countless projects and letters to be dealt with and brothers to visit.  I am never caught up.  And part of my spirituality has had to be this:  do what you can each day and let go every night.

One day recently I watched how I spent my day.  I have been rising at our usual time of 3:30 am, going for a quick breakfast, then praying Vigils with the community at 4:00 am.  There is about a half hour after Vigils to pray before Lauds and then Holy Mass.  We usually finish Holy Mass a few minutes before 7:00 am.  My next task is to let the dogs take me for a walk.  This is good for me and good for them.  Then I come back and give breakfast to the dogs.  Sometimes I take a quick 15 minute nap and other times I just start working to catch up with what was not finished the day before.  At 8:30 am we have a Work Meeting and then at 8:45 we pray Terce.  Then to work, almost without stop, until 1:00 pm, when we pray Sext and afterwards have our mail meal of the day.  After the main meal we have None.  Sometimes I leave the main meal early in order to take the dogs for another walk and then have a longer nap.  I am still recovering from the illnesses of last year.

In the afternoon I try to do some “lectio,” which is our monastic word for slow, meditative reading of the Scriptures.  Then I have time to work a short bit more and pray a bit before Vespers at 5:50 pm.  After Vespers we have an optional light meal.  I usually do not eat that meal but take the dogs for another walk.  Then I am back in time for the evening Chapter Meeting at 7:10 pm.  We pray Compline at 7:30 pm.  That is the end of the day, usually!  Right now we are having electrical challenges again and so the electricity goes off around 9:00 pm, which is a blessing because it means that there is no work possible in the evening!

Our daily life is unrelenting.  I often mention to new candidates that our life can be challenging and boring and unrelenting.  We just keep doing the same things over and over and over.  The real challenge is to let the Lord change us interiorly!  That is a challenge for sure!

Spirituality for me is often a question of surviving one day, with some joy and delight and with a lot of work, and getting a good sleep and starting the next day, which is more work.  This has not changed in years and so the thought of retiring from being abbot has some expectations of not having such an intense work life!  And perhaps a bit more time just to read and to think and to be.

God has given me a good life, with many challenges over the years.  God has blessed the community here over all of these years.  Always my challenge and the challenge of the community is simple:  be faithful, love God, love neighbor and cling to the Lord.

I send you my love and prayers.  As always I will celebrate a Holy Mass this week for you and for your needs and intentions.  I ask your prayers for me and for the men and women of all of our communities.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip