The Abbot’s Notebook for August 1, 2018

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Blessings to you!  This was not a quiet a week as the last!  But always life is changing and we are always challenged to seek God in the midst of that.  Last Sunday, July 29th, our Archbishop John Wester came to the monastery to ordain our Brother John Baptist Tran Van Chinh as a deacon.  Brother John Baptist has been studying in Vietnam and should complete his studies for priesthood this coming year.  Among his many challenges before he will be ordained a priest is to perfect his English.  We have several Vietnamese brothers who have completed their theological studies for priesthood.  Once they make solemn vows and know enough English, then they will be ordained priests.  Congratulations to our Brother John Baptist.  Two of his brothers are priests, one in Vietnam and one in Australia.  The brother from Vietnam was able to come for this diaconal ordination, the other could not come.

The day before the diaconal ordination, we had a Chapter of the Solemnly Professed.  This is a gathering of all the solemn professed of the monastery who are home in order to discuss various aspects of our life together.  We try to have such a meeting once a month.  The meeting on the 28th of July was to vote on men who are ready for their solemn vows in our community.  As you know, we had two men make solemn vows on February 10th this year, then two more on June 24th this year.  On August 15th we shall have three men make solemn vows.  And now, on November 1st, we should have five more men making solemn vows.  That means that this year we will have had 12 men making their solemn vows for Christ in the Desert.  It is not likely that we shall see such a large number in one year in the future.  But it could happen again.

Are vocations to our life a gift of God?  Yes.  And they are a responsibility for the community.  With some monks, it is easy to see that they should be able to make a life commitment.  With others, it is not so easy and the community must sort of gamble on them.  That was true of me in my early monastic years as well.  My vocation was surely not completely clear to the monks of the monastery.  I had lots of issues and lots of defects.  But my abbot was willing to gamble on me, and I am still a monk.  Sometimes such gambles don’t pay off and only create problems.

So much of our spiritual life is about “doing the best we can.”  Some saints have had incredible will power to do only the good.  On the other hand, King David in the Old Testament is also considered a saint, and he really messed things up from time to time.  Yet his heart was with God and even when he failed, he repented.

Some of us do the best we can and it does not seem much.  Always we can keep our hearts with God, even when we fail.  Perhaps our hearts are distracted or tempted and we go in the wrong direction or make a wrong choice.  Perhaps we even choose sin over grace from time to time.  We can be like King David and repent.  Repentance has to be real and not just an empty gesture, but it is part of the spiritual life.

For us Catholics, there is always the practice of confession, which implies that we are repentant.  Perhaps at times some Catholics have confessed their sins only for fear of Hell—but even that is a proper motivation in our Catholic tradition.  Surely we want to confess our sins and have repentance because we also love God, but sometimes it takes a while to truly love God.

In the past many Catholics confessed their sins every week or every other week.  Today it seems a much rarer event.  In the monastery we encourage brothers to confess their sins once a week and many of us do that.  Even if we do not confess weekly, we also encourage an examination of conscience daily.  This is also part of our monastic tradition.  Every night before retiring, it helps to make an examination of conscience covering all that we have lived in that day.   This need not take a long time.  Even a few minutes reviewing our day in the light of our commitment to God is helpful to keep us on the right path.

Perhaps when I was young, some people developed what we called “scruples” from taking the time to examine their consciences every day.  That seems not a problem at the present time.  Most of us believe that God loves us, no matter what our sins are.  The challenge is to continue to struggle against our sins and imperfections.  Sometimes I reflect that had I married, I would probably have had a different collection of sins than I do as a monk.  Who knows?  In any case, I work against my sins and defects both in order to love God more and also in order to serve my brothers more faithfully.

Yes, I fear hell even though I trust that God will not put me in hell.  Yes, I love God, even though I recognize that my love for Him is still weaker than my tendency to sin.  I confess my sins regularly in order to keep struggling against anything that might draw me yet further away from the love of God.  The spiritual combat is such an important part of life!

This week again I will celebrate a Holy Mass for you and for your needs and intentions.  Please pray for me and for the women and men of our many communities.  I send you my love and prayers.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip