The Abbot’s Notebook for August 22, 2018

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Blessings to you!  Last Wednesday we had the solemn vows of three of our brothers and we are blessed to have them now as permanent members of our community.  We now have 25 permanent members of the community and five more will be added to that number by the end of the year.

We have never wanted to be a large monastery with lots of monks, but that is what we are now.  We don’t turn down vocations and so they keep coming.  The normal way to reduce numbers in the community is to start another community.  That is what we are beginning to plan for now.  We are thinking of two new communities starting within the next couple of years.  And then others later on.

At the very depths of our being, if we are truly seeking a spiritual life, is a commitment to God in Jesus Christ and to His Catholic Church.  Because we believe that Jesus Christ is God and Man, we are not dismayed by the challenges that come into our normal life nor the scandals that afflict the Church.  Because we believe that Jesus Himself founded the Church, we trust always that the Church will go on.  So often secular culture wants the Church to become just another civil institution and to change its faith to adjust to what are called “modern” ways.

We see one instance of this in the many attempts in recent years to get rid of what we Catholics call the “secret of the confessional.”  No Catholic priest is allowed to speak about what he has heard in confession.  Throughout the history of the Church there have been many attempts to force priests to tell what they have heard in confession.  And, for sure, there have been priests who have spoken to others what they heard in confession.  In general, however, most priests have been faithful to keeping the “secret of the confessional.”  Civil laws cannot compel a priest to reveal what he has heard and many priests have died or been imprisoned rather that reveal what they have heard in confession.

Today there is a huge pressure on the Church from civil society to change its understanding of marriage.  Civil society has changed its understanding and thinks that all other institutions should go along.  For us Catholics who accept and revere the dogmas, teachings and ways of understanding of marriage given to us in the Church, it is impossible to change our understanding of marriage.  We can be loving and caring toward those who think in other ways, but we cannot change what has been handed down to us in Scripture and in the Church.  Our spirituality is tied completely to accepting the teachings of the Church.

The very recent Grand Jury Report in Pennsylvania and the resignation of Cardinal McCarrick from being a cardinal have brought many of us back to the awareness of the brokenness of the Church because of the frailty of the members of the Church.  Many of us will pray and fast for the good of our Church, even as we accept that leadership in the Church is pretty weak.  But we would never think of abandoning the Church because of the sins of the members of the Church.  Yes, the sins are horrible and scandalous and almost unthinkable, but this has always been the case throughout the history of the Church.  Because we live in a time with immediate communication and awareness of all things that happen in all parts of the world, we are perhaps more aware of the sinfulness of the members of our Church, this Church founded by Jesus Christ.

Can Jesus Christ still be present in this Church which is so marked by sinfulness and even by the works of the Devil?  For us who believe, the answer is always a strong “yes.”  Can the Church be reformed?  Of course.

For me, it is always a matter of being aware of my own sinfulness and failures, even though they may not compare to what is coming out in the press right now.  Part of our monastic tradition insists that instead of looking at the sins of others, we must look at our own sins and pardon others.  Pardon in this context does not mean to condone evildoing but rather to work against evil without condemning others.  When we see evil, we must work against it with all the means at our disposal.  That which is truly working to destroy the Church must be removed as far as is possible.  But always the Church must remain a place of compassion for all people, sinners and all others.  To think that we could even be a Church of only righteous people is an illusion.

The first place to combat evil and sinfulness is in my own life.  Yes, I still must work with others to combat evil and sinfulness in the Church and in the world.  But if I am not aware of my own evil and sinfulness, I can become a self-righteous crusader who finds it easy to condemn others and not look at my own failures.

Should I be scandalized by the failures of others?  Yes, but I can also be realistic about the scandal and still care for those who have suffered.  I can have compassion for those who have been deeply wounded, almost irreparably wounded, by the sins of officials in the Church.  But none of this would ever take away my faith that the Church is still the body of Christ and is where I belong.  When we are truly aware of our own brokenness, we can be a wounded healer for others.  When I hear of people leaving the Church because of the sinfulness of members of the Church, I always sense that the person leaving never really understood the Church.  And I am sad.

I am bumbling around try to say how important it is to believe that the Church is established by Christ and even if the majority of leaders fail or have to be removed, the Church is still the Sacrament of Christ’s presence in our world.

As always I promise my prayers for you and for your needs and intentions.  I will celebrate Holy Mass again once this week for you.  Please keep praying for me and for all the women and men of our communities.  We can all pray a lot this week for the necessary purification of our Church, for those who have been so wounded by leadership in the Church and for all who must work together to bring healing.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip