The Abbot’s Notebook for June 28, 2018

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Blessings to you!  Surely the most important event of this past week was the solemn profession of vows of our Brother Charles and our Brother Bede.  We are incredible blessed by these two brothers!  Brother Charles came to us from Kenya as our first Kenyan brother and now there are four more and many who want to come.  The hope would be that sometime in the future, we would begin a monastery in Kenya.  In order to do that, we would need to have a good number of solemnly professed monks from Kenya who would be willing to return there and begin the monastery.  Please pray for that!

Brother Bede is one of our American brothers.  He is bright and good and faithful to the Church.  He works a lot on our electrical systems and on internet technology.  He is getting a couple of university degrees in these areas at the local university.  He has had several major medical challenges in the past years but should recover from them entirely and lead a strong monastic life.  He is also our major link with the local Orthodox Monastery.  Abbot Silouan and the monks from Saint Michael’s Monastery joined us for the celebration of vows.

Why do men come to be monks?  That is about the spiritual combat.  The men who come to our community are told beforehand that it is a difficult life and that most men who enter our community do not stay for solemn vows.  Our life is difficult only because it is monotonous.  We do the same things over and over and over.  Part of our monastic tradition, as lived here at Christ in the Desert, is to follow the structure of the Divine Office as it was outlined by Saint Benedict over 1500 years ago.  That means that our day is structured with Vigils (which has 14 Psalms), Lauds (which has 7 Psalms and a Canticle), Terce (3 Psalms), Sext (3 Psalms), None (3 Psalms), Vespers (4 Psalms) and Compline (3 Psalms).  This happens every day.  We have the structure for Prime for our daily work meeting, but the Psalms of Prime have gone to the other Little Hours.  We also sing most of Psalm 50 after our main meal each day and we pray Psalm 129 at the morning work meeting every day.  So we pray about 270 Psalms a week.

For Saint Benedict, the Psalms were more important than the readings.  The Psalms are the central point of the Divine Office in the Rule of Benedict.  If for any reason the monks have to start the Divine Office of Vigils late, then the readings are dropped—not the Psalms.  The more modern Divine Office, in many forms, makes the readings more important and the Psalms are reduced to a minimum.

It takes a lot of inner work to come to appreciate the Psalms.  The modern Divine Office, in its many forms, often omits the parts of the Psalms that modern people find offensive.  We pray all of those offensive Psalms.  The images in the Psalms can be graphic, violent and even a bit ugly at times.  Yet it was the Psalms that Jesus prayed as an observant Jew.  If we want to understand Jesus, at some point we must also come to understand all of the ugly images of the Old Testament, including its violence and a sometimes angry image of God.

For us, the life of the monk is not supposed to be completely comfortable.  The life of the monk is not about an intellectual understanding of God, but about an encounter with the Living God who is revealed to us in the Old and New Testaments.  The monastic life is spiritual combat to come to know the one true God made present to us in Jesus Christ.

We Catholic Christians have in many ways wandered from the strength of our faith.  Recently when I was visiting in Connecticut, I learned that this State has become mostly secular now, whereas in the past it was the State with the highest percentage of Catholics.  Connecticut has been the State with highest percentage of Catholics, but very few practice their faith anymore and many are leaving the Church.  Because of this and for some other reasons, we are now thinking of starting a new monastery in Connecticut.  It will be interesting to see if our form of monastic life can have any effect at all.  Please pray for this intention.

The point of having a monastery is simply to have a place where prayer is lived day and night over many, many years.  As the monks strive to seek God and to live in His presence, so also the monks pray for the local Church, for vocations and for the life of the local people.  So many countries came to the Catholic faith through monks and monasteries many centuries ago.  The role of monks, as we live it at Christ in the Desert, is only to be a spiritual center, a place where people come looking for some meaning in their lives.  We often say here that we welcome Catholics, non-Catholics, people who believe in nothing and those who are angry with God.  Whoever comes should be received.  We never try to convert anyone but we do try to be a place that reflects the love and mercy of God.

All of us together, if we are seeking the face of the living God, begin to transform our world.  It is this deep commitment to the Lord that is transformative.  If a person believes in nothing, then transformation is much more difficult.  The only values are the person himself—and there is nothing objective.  For us who believe that God has revealed Himself in the Scriptures, the world is entirely different—and always filled with hope and joy.

As always I send my love and prayers.  I will celebrate a Holy Mass this week for you and for your needs and intentions.  Please continue to pray for me and for the women and men in our communities.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip