The Abbot’s Notebook for September 12, 2018

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Blessings to you!  I am writing to you from Mexico and ask your prayers for all of our communities here.  The travel to Mexico was without problems and as soon as I got here, I began speaking with one community and then another and now I am in a third community.  My “work” in Mexico is generally giving encouragement to various communities and seeking to help the various communities move forward as strong monastic communities.

Back at Christ in the Desert one of the brothers went to the eye specialist and was found to have some tumors in his eyes, so please pray for him.

This week I have been thinking and praying about some advice from the early monks and nuns.  They indicate to us that if we can watch our thoughts we can begin to fight against our sins.  For many years I had this image in my mind of watching thoughts sort of as watching a television show.  There is some truth in that.  But now I tend to see watching my thoughts as a simple awareness of where both by feelings and my thoughts are taking me.

For instance, when Ihear a knock at the door of my cell, sometimes I simply spontaneous say out loud:  Ave!  That is the response that I learned as a young monk and it means:  Hello.  At other times, when I hear a knock at the door, I hesitate because I don’t want to be bothered right then.  Another response I have is to say nothing because I am on the phone or with another brother.  I was not always aware of these different responses that I have but over the years I began to watch what my responses were in that particular situation because one brother asked me about them.

These same responses can be seen at times in my reaction to temptation!  If I am recollected and more or less alert about staying close to Christ, then I don’t respond to the temptation at all.  If I am distracted or not sure about what is happening, I hesitate.  And sometimes I simply tell the temptation to come on in because I am not paying any attention at all to the Lord.

As I became more aware of my responses to temptations, I became more able to see that inviting any temptation into my heart was against my commitment to the Lord.  I wanted to be always occupied with the Lord and simply shut out any temptation completely.  But my responses to temptation were almost as automatic as my responses to a knock at the door of my office.  I found that I had to become more aware and more conscious of what might be knocking at the door.  My own personality has always been sort of spontaneous and seems to run more by feeling than by thought.  I had to begin to think first and to find a response within me from thinking rather than just from an immediate feeling.

In order to do that, I began to take more time praying and being quiet in the Lord so that my first response might come from an inner place of peace and stillness—an inner place of union with God.  I still struggle with that, but can see the difference in my daily life when my responses come from that inner place of quiet.

Will I ever arrive at a place where I can just rest and always do what is right?  Probably not!  Instead I have come to accept that my life is a normal Christian life of spiritual combat, always aware that I can fail, always aware that I can sin, always aware that my own human nature tends towards those decisions that take me away from God rather than those decisions that draw me to God.

When I was younger I often felt sad that I was so indecisive about seeking God.  Now I simply accept it and work against it.  Feeling sad did not help me at all.  Realizing that I am a weak human being— without judging that as being something awful—has helped me.  I realize that my goal is life is not to arrive at some imagined perfection but simply to continue in the struggle to give my life to this God who loves me so much and who never abandons me.

I have always believe, sort of.  I have always been seeking God, sort of.  As I have grown older that believing and seeking God have taken a stronger and stronger place in my life.  I don’t have confidence in myself but my confidence in God’s love for me has grown to be the most important aspect of seeking God.   God has been drawing me to Him all my life and I have been given glimpses of His loving presence and I have experienced at times His love for me.

It is not as though I am aware that I live in His presence always, even though by faith I believe that.  It is not as though I sense His presence always.  Instead I have come to an inner conviction and deep faith that He is always with me and that I should take time to be still and be as aware of His presence as I can.

I will celebrate Holy Mass once this week for you and for your needs and intentions.  Again I ask you to pray for me personally and for the women and men of our communities.  I send you my love and prayers.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip