The Abbot’s Notebook for April 25, 2018

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Blessings to you! Christ is risen! Alleluia! I have returned home from a few days at our Monastery of La Soledad in Mexico and then a few days in the now independent Monastery of Thien Tam in Texas. In both communities I found fervent monastic life and men hoping to enter the community and peace and joy in the monks already there. This brought me great joy. As I look forward to retiring from the role of abbot, I hope that all of our houses will be in good order.

In La Soledad there are three solemnly professed monks, one simply professed monk, two novices, two postulants and one observer. The community seems happy and at peace and there are several other young men interested in entering the monastic life there. They are independent from Christ in the Desert financially and their Gift Shop and their food sales on Sundays, plus income from their guest houses, seem able to support the community quite well.

Thien Tam now has nine solemnly professed because three monks professed solemn vows during my visit there. Prior Dominic Hanh Nguyen received their vows as the major superior of the community. They also have one perpetually professed religious from another community in process of transfer, two simply professed monks, one novice and three postulants, bringing the total number in the community to sixteen. Here also there are others interested in joining the community.

In May I will go to our Monastery of Santa Maria y Todos los Santos and will be able to see how that community is doing. Also in May I will visit the Sisters of Our Lady of Tepeyac, in Coyoacan, San Francisco Culhuacan, in Mexico City. Then in September I will help with the Canonical Visitation at the Abbey of Santa Maria de Guadalupe outside of Cuernavaca. We have a special relationship with these two houses of women.

One of the most difficult challenges of the spiritual life for me is to trust completely in God when things have gone wrong or when they are likely to go wrong. So often I act and think as if everything depends on me. Instead, I keep trying to trust that God has His plans and His ways and that all that happens will eventually be seen as His love for me. From my childhood until now I struggle to see everything as coming from God, the bad and the good, and to believe that truly all is from His love, even the things that I cannot understand and which, at times, seem so very awful.

There are lots of books about this topic, trying to explain how we can come to believe that God is present even when everything seems dark and awful or when some really evil or really bad comes into our lives. Trying to understand intellectually can help but the real challenge is to believe with my heart and my feelings as well as with my understanding. I have never found this easy. In my own life, I have always tried to be strong and able to deal with tragedy, with death, with hurts, with betrayals, with anger and with rejection—with everything that might seem negative. So I am a fairly strong person in some ways.

On the other hand, my own feelings are often left out of the challenges and then I must deal with them later and find ways to speak to our Lord and ask His help to trust Him. My trust is often strong at the level of choice but weak at the level of emotional trust. Over the years of my life, slowly, I have become a bit more integrated in my life, but always there seems still to be challenge ahead of me. I rush into situations and do what is right because I know intellectually what is right—no matter if it goes against my own feelings. Later I have to deal with the feelings.

Each of us has his or her own path to the Lord. We all have lots of aspects of life in common, but each one of us is a mystery that is known completely only by the Lord of life. How we integrate the experiences of our lives is part of that mystery and none of us does it in exactly the same way. Even identical twins raised in the same environment until adulthood have differences.

What is important is that we finally realize within ourselves the incredible love that God has for us, the wonderful freedom that He gives us and the invitation to share His life in a wonderful way. With that in our hearts and our minds, we go on seeking Him and seeking to integrate within ourselves every aspect of our life. This is our challenge and always it is the Lord who finally makes us whole.

How easy it should be for us to understand the complete confusion in our world! Until more and more people come to seek the Lord, the confusion will remain almost insoluble. Even if everyone turned to the Lord for answers, there would still be so many differences that could only be resolved by someone having some authority. In the early Church, faith could not solve all of the problems. Even when the authority of Saint Peter was recognized, it did not solve all problems.

Although faith cannot solve all of our human problems because we humans are prone to sin, we are also open to grace. That grace can allow us to work together, even in our brokenness, and to see what is good. This is what I see in our monastic community. When I myself and the brothers work together, each of us admitting his brokenness, we are able to form a community that works. The abbot never has all the answers and no individual brother has all the answers. But working together, we generally come up with a way to deal with any challenge or problem and a way to go forward in peace and love.

Enough! There is no perfect life in this world. Together, however, we can work towards a life that allows us to worship God in peace and according to His word. Always I send my love and prayers for you and ask you to pray for me and for the sisters and brothers of our communities. I will celebrate Holy Mass for you and for your intentions this week.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip