The Abbot’s Notebook for May 30, 2018

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Blessings to you!  Father Thomas-Benedict is now out of the hospital and at home, feeling much better.  Father Andrew continue to struggle with his recovery from open heart surgery to repair the mitral valve of his heart.  The other night our electricity went off in the middle of the night and that left Father Andrew without oxygen and he panicked a bit—but eventually the electricity came back on.

Because most of the monks are pretty healthy, those who are ill tend to stand out a bit more.  We are a normal community of about 50 monks at home and some always have some physical infirmity!  We are like a small village.

This week a theme came to my mind about the spiritual life without my having to think about it.  Again it is the theme of perseverance, no matter what happens.  The spiritual life is spiritual combat.  We cannot expect that we will be free of combat in this life.  Instead, we must learn how to keep struggling, no matter what.

I say this because I get discouraged in the struggle from time to time.  There are days when I wonder if I can every give my life completely to God, to the Lord Jesus.  It is not that I despair, but truly I get discouraged.  For many months I can go along with a fairly good and faithful life.  Then I seem to veer off the track and get caught up with other things:  conflicts with others, too much time on the internet, making my work in the community more important that taking the time to pray, and so on.  Too often I can recognize that I am doing these things and find myself unable to change course and get back on track.

It is almost as if I must go through this kind of humiliation until I reach some limit and then I can begin to try to get back on track.  At times it seems it would be much easier just to abandon the whole effort.  After many years, I realize that the only way forward is to keep trying to get back on track.  There is no other way and I write about persevering in the struggle.

Years ago I read Abbot John Chapman writing about prayer.  He said something like:  Even if you have no sense that God is present or no sense that God even cares, just keep on giving your time to prayer, no matter how futile it seems.

This is the same thing I find with my defects:  no matter how impossibly they seem to be to change, no matter how many times I fail and have to start again, no matter how discouraged I may get, there is only one way forward:  get up and keep trying.

So one of the definitions of being a monk among the earliest monks was “a person who falls every day but always gets up and keeps on trying.”

So I ask myself if I will ever get much better.  The answer is usually:  that depends on God alone.  I ask myself what I should do.  The answer is always:  try to do His will.  I ask myself if I really believe that God can save me.  The answer is always:  God loves you completely, so trust in Him always.

My life is not something that I control must by myself.  Rather, my life is what God is doing within me and also is about my cooperation or lack of cooperation.  I recognize so clearly that I am not perfect and that very often I don’t even care.  Yet in my heart of hearts, I care intensely for the Lord, even when I don’t want to deal with Him.  My whole life is and has been about trying to seek Him and to do His will—even if I fail over and over and over.  I don’t want the direction of my life to change even if I wish I could that direction more faithfully.

Another aspect if my life at this time that I recognize is that I don’t have the same energy as I used to have.  This refers both to physical energy but also to mental energy and emotional energy.  I still presume that these energies will return to the levels I had before my illnesses, even if one of my doctors tells me I won’t  get all of my energies back because of my age.

For instance.  I know that physically I have less energy now.  Yet if I keep pushing myself, I have more energy.  When I first started walking regularly each day (with the dogs!), I found it difficult to walk a full half mile.  Now I am walking about 3 ½ miles a day.  I had to push to do that.  Then, within the walking, I had to push myself to walk faster, rather than just ambling along!  Walking faster has really brought more energy back and also brought a sense of physical wellbeing that I did not have for a long time.  So I keep pushing.

Emotionally, I have always found sad stories difficult to read, whether in a novel, in a biography or in the newspapers.  I took myself off of public reading for a while because if I began to read something sad, I could not go on reading.  I found with that condition also, if I pushed myself, I could stop the inner emotional feelings.  I don’t like going that all the time, but neither do I like my emotional feelings running my life!

My mental energy requires of me to read more and to push myself to read, even when I would rather not.  Yet I know that reading theology books and articles keeps my mind alert and working well.  When I am tired or emotional or not feeling well, I would rather not read theology!  But if I push myself, I benefit from it.

So, in all the areas of my life it is best to keep on pushing, to keep on trying, to struggle, no matter how  much I fail!  May the Lord help all of us to keep trying!

I send my love and prayers for you.  I will offer holy Mass this week once for you and for your needs and intentions.  Please continue to pray for me and for the sisters and brothers of all our communities!

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip