The Abbot’s Notebook for June 13, 2018

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Blessings to you!  It has been a quiet week in the community.  In the past couple of weeks we have received a 21 year old postulant from Malawi, bring the number of Malawians in the community to four—and still many asking to enter.  We have also received a 31 year old Vietnamese whose brother is already in our community.  So far we still have room to house everyone.

One of the challenges of our Monastery of Christ in the Desert is to keep finding ways to receive the many vocations who apply to us, to find ways to form these men into strong and joyful monks who are faithful to the Church, and to challenge the whole community to grow deeper in contemplative life.

Our monastic charism has always been Benedictine contemplative life.  That means that we are not involved actively in apostolic works outside of the community.  Our focus is on the inner life, on praying, on seeking God, on discovering the whole inner world of the Spirit and yet living for others through prayer and sacrifice.  From my experiences over fifty-four years living the monastic life, I sense that this type of vocation is often much easier for women in some ways and yet easier for men in others.  I am not a woman so cannot speak about feminine spirituality with any depth, other than reflecting what has been shared with me by women.  I am a man and see often that we men tend to get our identity from what we do—and that is the challenge for contemplative life.  We contemplative men don’t do anything that brings much identity until somewhere in our search we encounter God and begin to realize that the only thing that matters is seeking Him.

Every Sunday in our Benedictine Divine Office, at least as it is found in the Rule of Benedict, we sing Psalm 62/63.  In that Psalm we find this phrase at verse 9:  “My soul clings to you; your right hand holds me fast.”  This is a wonderful description of the life of the soul seeking God.  This expresses what spiritual life is and can be for all of us.  The challenge is to live the first verse in our lives as we become more deeply aware of the second reality in our lives.

It is easy for me to say:  “My soul clings to you!”  And often I strive to live that reality in my life.  I am forgetful, however, and may begin the day clinging to God and yet later in the day find myself clinging only to myself and not to God.  No matter how many years I have tried to give my life to God, I still find myself leaving God to one side and forgetting about Him.  There are times when I am better about clinging to God and times when I am pretty much completely forgetful of God.

One of the helps of the spiritual life is to have some kind of regularity in one’s life.  By that I mean, for instance, that when I get up in the morning, my first interior act is to thank God for another day.  I do that, whether I feel thankful or not.  Generally I am a pretty positive and joyful person so that normally there is not much of a challenge to thank God for the day.  On the other hand, there have been days when I would rather not get up at all and certainly have no inner spontaneity to love God or anyone.  Those are the days of challenge!  It is easy to serve God when I feel like it!  It is difficult to serve God when I am not sure that I want to be in His presence!

“Your right hand holds me fast.”  This is one of the ways in which I push myself to serve the Lord.  I find that I must stop in whatever I am doing, even if only interiorly stop, and realize once again that I am here to serve the Lord and that always, always, He is there holding me.  Sometimes that is just enough to keep me on the right path.  At other times, it is a time of struggle to believe that He is truly with me.  By that, I mean to believe that He is truly with me in some real way.  Always I believe that He is with me, but that belief is not always forceful enough to touch my thoughts, words or deeds.  Instead, it is a true belief but without effect in my life.

This is the point of spiritual combat.  Spiritual combat is not always fighting off some awful sin or some thought that is running through my mind.  Rather, spiritual combat can often be a very simple matter:  remain in His presence, trust in His presence, believe strongly in His presence in such a way that it touches the real life that I am living in the here and now.

Of course, if I don’t take time to pay attention to Him, to His presence, then I begin to live like someone without faith.  When I live like someone without faith, I am not always so bad, but I lack the true light to live and the truth path to walk.  On the wrong path without light, surely I will perish.  That has been my experience year after year.  I don’t die physically, but I lose the inner joy and delight and direction of my life.  When I live in light and walk the right path, my life is filled with joy and delight even when I encounter terrible things.  I can suffer awful things and still be joyful because I know that He is my light and my path.

As I do every week, I promise to celebrate a Holy Mass for you and for your intentions.  May the Lord send you many graces and a deep awareness of His love.  May you walk on the right path in His light and give Him glory.  Please pray for me and for all the sisters and brothers of our communities.  I send you my love and prayers.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip