The Abbot’s Notebook for July 18, 2018

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Blessings to you!  Another week has gone by.  One of the decisions that I have been praying about is whether to continue to write or not once I am retired.  My resignation as abbot will take place on December 12th and the same day a new abbot will be elected for our community.  In our tradition, the solemnly professed monks who have vows to the Monastery of Christ in the Desert are called together to elect their abbot.  These solemnly professed monks will included those with solemn vows who live in our dependent houses and those who are living outside the monastery because of helping other communities.  Probably there will be about 40 monks eligible to vote.

Since the time that I first announced that I would retire, I have had both brothers and those outside of the community asking me if I will continue to write both my weekly homily and this Abbot’s Notebook, even if in some other form.  Having thought and prayed about his, I believe that God is calling me to silence and prayer after my resignation.  For sure the new abbot may ask me to serve the community in any way in which he desires.  Because I am a monk, I will obey.  Nevertheless, I believe that God is calling me to focus on prayer and silence in the last years of my life, no matter how many they may be.

So as of the First Sunday of Advent this year, December 2, 2018, I will cease writing this Abbot’s Notebook.  Whether the new abbot will begin to write the Abbot’s Notebook is a decision that he will have to make after his election.  It has been a joy for me to write to you all of these years.  I began to write these notes soon after I was elected abbot in June of 1996 and have been faithful to writing now for 22 years.  This has been a way of sharing our life and our spirituality with those who are interested.  Most of the time I am able to write with the leisure of our monastic life.  At other times, especially when traveling, it has been a huge effort to write something and to get what I write online in time to be published so that there is a real continuity in the notebooks.

One of the things that I want to ask of you who read this letter is if you know anyone who has some authority over immigration matters.  We have several candidates who have been denied visas in various countries and we want to find a way to get them here.  We ourselves often appeal these decisions but if we have some help from a well placed political figure, it often helps a lot.  So please think about this and if you have contact with someone that you think might be of help to us, please let me know!  Thank you so much!

The spiritual life has the same kind of challenges:  continuity is whatever circumstances we find ourselves.  It is more or less easy to remain faithful to lectio and quiet prayer when I am in the monastery on a regular schedule.  When I am away from the monastery or when there are extraordinary stresses in the community, then it is more difficult to remain consistent and faithful in the inner life of prayer.  Even the early desert monks and nuns recognized that we could fool ourselves into thinking that we were deeply committed to this inner life of prayer when there were no challenges.

Practically every challenge possible can come into our lives, whether we live in monasteries or outside of monasteries, whether we are single or whether we are married, whether we are old or whether we are young.  Human life is spiritual combat, always, and we are invited to accept the combat and strive to be faithful at all times.

If we fail, if we are not faithful, God is always with us and continues to love us and invite us to get up and continue in the combat.  This is one of the most profound lessons of the spiritual life:  never give up because God is always walking with us to help us, to forgive us, to call us to a deeper faithfulness.

Many times I have explained to our community that when I was young, I sort of had the unclear idea that a person could reach a state in which there was no further combat, only faithfulness.  As I have grown older in monastic life, I realize that combat endures until the day we die.  We are invited to seek the Lord and to embrace the struggle every day until death.

For me personally, it has been a comfort to realize that God always loves me and that I must simply struggle to the best of my ability each day, striving to be faithful to God, to His Word, to the Spirit which calls me deeper.  There is little I can do except do the little that is possible each day.  It is not for me a matter of looking back and seeing what has been done but of looking forward and seeing God’s faithfulness and my lack of faithfulness—and then trying to be just a bit more faithful.

Throughout my years as a monk, I have worked for the good of the community in lots of ways.  On the other hand, the focus of my life, when I am free to follow my inner calling, is on prayer and seeking to be faithful to the Lord.  I have failed in so many ways over the years.  On the other hand, I keep striving to do and to be what God is asking of me.  The mercy of God always sustains me and gives me courage to continue seeking Him, no matter how much I fail.  This, for me, is the heart of Christian life:  always seeking the Lord and always striving to do His will—no matter how often we fail.

As I do every week, I will celebrate Holy Mass for you and for your intentions.  Please continue to pray for me and for the women and men of our communities.  I send you my love and prayers.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip