The Abbot’s Notebook for June 6, 2018

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Blessings to you!  Last Wednesday Prior Benedict and I went to Costa Rica and returned on Saturday.  It was a very quick visit, too short, but very important.  We help a small community of monks there.  The community was founded under the local bishop.  There are eight monks, four in vows, two novices and two postulants.  They lead a life very similar to ours here at Christ in the Desert.  The goal of this visit was to dialog with the new bishop about how to continue to help this small monastery.

For me, personally, this was an experiment to see if I could handle a flight that was four hours in length.  I have done many longer flights in my life, but after the illnesses of last year, I find it more difficult to travel.  I survived even though I was very tired afterwards.

Here at home, Father Andrew has returned from the hospital another time and seems in better health.  Father Mayeul has been taken off oxygen and seems to be doing well without it.  Father Thomas-Benedict’s health and energy seem to be improving a lot.  So the community seems in a good place right now.

One of the challenges of a spiritual life is to learn to speak little and to say only good things.  I say this because recently I came across a situation in which one person told another person about a third person.  The one who said something had misunderstood the situation, but communicated the misunderstanding as the truth.  The one about whom something was said was offended that he was not asked personally about what had happened.

This is a really common happening in life.  Someone will hear or see something and misinterpret what was seen or heard, but speak it as the truth.  Instead of being the truth, it is simply one person’s understanding of a situation relating to another person.  This is why Saint Benedict in his Rule does not want the monk ever to say bad things about another or to gossip.  Yet in real like monks do say bad things about one another and they can certainly gossip.

If we want to walk the path of the Lord, we have to realize that whenever anyone says something negative (or positive, for that matter), that person is reflecting himself or herself and not necessarily the person who is being talked about.

A huge part of the spiritual path is never judging another person.  Saint Benedict tells us that we can judge the other person as better than ourselves, and that is all right.  For me, it is always a question of recognizing that each person is a mystery.  The other person is a mystery to himself or to herself.  That other person is a mystery to me and to others.  Mystery in this sense does not mean that we cannot know anything, but simply that at the core, we can never know anyone else or even ourselves completely.

It takes a large amount of energy to hear things about another person and not to make any judgments!  That is the way that we must walk.  As we come to know others, we can also recognize that other people who know the same people that we do always have a different way of looking at them than we do.  This should never surprise us.  To come to know ourselves is a process during the whole of our lives.  Why should we think that we might know and understand another person so quickly when knowing and understanding ourselves is a lifetime process?

When I first came to Christ in the Desert, I heard many things about our founder, Father Aelred.  Later when I actually met him and came to know him, I could see that some of what had been said did not match the person that I knew.  On the other hand, I could also see why others had said what they did, thinking that they had understood something true about Father Aelred.

There are times when people speak directly to me and tell me how good I am and how much good I have done.  Inside, I am always thinking to myself:  “They don’t know the real me.”

As a part of our spiritual path, we can come to know ourselves and know both the good and the bad of ourselves.  We should never overestimate either the good or the bad.  Perhaps we can see how terrible our own sinfulness is—but that should always be balanced with an awareness of God’s mercy.  We can also acknowledge that we may have done some good things—always possible only with the gift of God’s grace.  The goal is always the same:  do the will of the Lord!

When we keep our eyes and our hearts set on the Lord, then we are not dismayed by our sinfulness nor are we puffed up at the good that might have been done with God’s grace.  So we come back to knowing that we should never judge others nor should we judge ourselves.  Rather we should just look at God and praise His name and ask His help to be as faithful as we can.

As always I will celebrate a Holy Mass this week for you and for your needs and intentions.  Please continue to pray for our community here and for the many other community of women and men associated with ours.  Please pray for me!

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip