The Abbot’s Notebook for August 29, 2018

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Blessings to you!  Reading the news is sometimes like watching a storm beginning and then waiting to see if anything will happen.  The storms of politics and the storms of the Church right now seem to dominate.  For most of us, however, it is simply our daily life that needs our attention.  I pray every day for those in politics and I pray every day for our beloved Catholic Church and those who have important roles in the Church.  The only way forward is prayer.

In the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, our Archbishop John Wester has asked all of us to celebrate September 14, the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, as a day of prayer and penance.  Our community has decided that starting with that Friday, we will keep all Fridays for the next several months as special days of fasting, prayer and penance.  The fasting and penance is meant to be offered as prayer, atonement and reparation for the sins of those bishops and priests who either abused children or failed to protect them and also for healing and vigilance.

Here in the community we see the value of a strong discipline and vigilance.  We are not angels but we hope to be saints.  To be a saint is a process of giving life completely to God and requires always a form of spiritual combat.  Sometimes the newer brothers have questioned why we have such a strong observance.  Now most of them understand that a strong observance is meant to help us stay on track, to remain faithful to the seeking of God and to help us love all people because we recognize our own weaknesses.

In our spiritual lives, the same dynamic is at work.  Unless we keep a discipline, we tend to let go of our values and goals and we begin to drift into habits and practices that don’t support and inner life of seeking God.  We are not saved by discipline!  We are saved by Jesus Christ and by Him alone.  When I was young, such discipline was taken for granted.  The problem was that at times the spiritual life became only discipline and Jesus Himself was forgotten.  Many people lived a good life because of fear of Hell and not because of love of Jesus.

Today many people have no fear of Hell at all and believe that Jesus’ love for them will pardon any and all sins.  The next step is just to give up on Jesus at all, since He is no longer important and surely God will not send anyone to Hell.  The next step is to give up on God, since we don’t need him to save us from anything.  More and more people are giving up faith because they have never met the Lord Jesus in their lives.  Even some of my good friends are convinced atheists, now believing that there is nothing after this life and that we must make all our own values in this life.  God has nothing to offer to us.

We who believe in the Lord Jesus know that God has been speaking to His people and to all of us from the beginning of the world.  God reaches out to us, His people, and invites us to share His life.  It is God who has sent us His Son, the Lord Jesus, and the Holy Spirit—to draw us to the divine life.  Jesus founded a Church, which is the Catholic Church, in spite of all its brokenness.  Jesus gives us a way of living in order to walk with Him.  Jesus is present in His Church in spite of all of the sinfulness that we find in His Church.  No matter what storms and ways of thinking come upon us, as individuals, as communities, as Church—we always know that God in Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit is present and guides the Church.  Our faith is not in the Pope, in the bishops (cardinals, archbishops and bishops) or in theologians and thinkers.  Our faith is in God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit—and in the Catholic Church.

With this faith, we can withstand all of the attacks of Satan and all attacks of those who do not believe.  So many today no longer believe and think that believing is a sort of sickness that besets some of us humans.  We who do believe realize that a lack of belief is the sickness that besets a lot of humans.  The present world is setting the stage where a huge number of people will begin to speak against religious belief in all its forms.

My own belief has slowly evolved over the years that I have been here at Christ in the Desert.  The more that I read and the more that I sought the truth of Jesus Christ, the more I came to believe.  For me, Jesus is the only person in all of history who gives a complete answer to the seeking of God and to the meaning of our lives.  I keep coming back to Scripture to know Him ore and to Church, in spite of all her sins.  Jesus Christ is truly present and I have been blessed to come to know Him.

At the end of this, I will add a small bit, written by one of our young brothers.  Like all of us in the community, he is affected by what happens in our Church.  I send you my love and prayers.  As always I will celebrate a Holy Mass this week for you and for your needs and intentions.  I need your prayers for me and for all of the sisters and brothers of our communities.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip

A reflection by a young monk of Christ in the Desert

These past few weeks of the gradual and constantly growing tragedy of sexual immorality and cover-up among religious, deacons, priests, bishops, cardinals, and now possibly even the pope (in covering up), has been an emotional rollercoaster.  Feelings of anger, pity, frustration, disbelief, joy, compassion, sadness, and discouragement have all fluctuated at various times during these days.  It has been, and still is, deeply disturbing to the point of being nauseating.

On the one hand, there is obviously a very serious problem within the Church, which goes to the highest levels, and which, up until now, has not been taken seriously.  The problem is a lack of sexual integrity, chastity.  While most of the media recently has been focusing on the abuse of (prepubescent) minors, the most recent report from Pennsylvania has shown that, tragically there were (and are still) accusations of this nature since 2002, they have dramatically decreased since the reforms of 2002.  The elephant in the room these days is the sexual immorality happening among adults, both heterosexual and homosexual, but homosexuality is the focus.  Priests with seminarians, seminarians with bishops, priests with priests, priests with lay people; it’s all there, and everybody knew about it to varying degrees, and yet no one did much of anything about it besides cover it up or turned the other way.  Further, even now that the secret is out in the most public way, disturbingly few bishops are doing much more than publishing carefully crafted corporate statements of sorrow, saying where abuse accusations can be sent, and a bland “we need to do better.”  Trust of the hierarchy is at an all-time low.

On the other hand, this is clearly a time of divine purification of Jesus’ bride, the Church, both institutionally and individually.  Institutionally, I have little doubt that many clerics will be removed from public ministry that shouldn’t have been there in the first place, or at least should have been removed long ago.  Further, seminary/religious formation will hopefully be reformed to instill a greater emphasis on genuine virtue (particularly chastity) and the interior life of intimacy with Jesus in prayer instead of merely checking all of the boxes concerning external appearances and practical skills.  Individually, at least for myself, this scandal has renewed my fervor for holiness:  to attain heroic virtue (particularly chastity), deep contemplation of the Trinity, and to live an ascetic life of prayer, work, and study for the greater glory of God.  This also gives the opportunity to purify the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love.  It purifies our faith particularly in the sense that if our faith was in anything except Jesus Christ founding and sustaining his Church, that has been shattered.  It purifies our hope in much the same way, since the only true and realistic hope is Jesus Christ: his power, his glory, his righteousness, his mercy, his justice.  And it purifies our love by showing us the seriousness of sin and how damaging it is, not only to those directly involved, but to the whole Church, and, ultimately, all of humanity.  It also shows how important the truth is for our love.  Love does not mean do whatever feels good and letting others do whatever they want (this thinking, in fact, is one of the primary causes of this scandal).  Love means truly willing heaven for yourself and others.  This means that we need to speak and act in such a way that we give a strong “NO” to sin and a strong “YES” to God, no matter the cost.

There is some solace to be found in the history of the Church as well.  Large scandals, even ones that go all the way to the pope, are not new.  It has been in very trying times, such as this, where God has raised up many saints in an overflowing of his grace, for “where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20).  We would do well to remember that what is at stake is nothing less that eternal happiness or eternal suffering:

Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it. How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it. (Matthew 7:13-14)