The Abbot’s Notebook for October 24, 2018

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Blessings to you!  I am writing to you from the State of Virginia this time.  Prior Benedict and I are here looking at a property that might work for a monastic community.  It has been a wonderful visit so far and I presume that all will continue to be so wonderful and good for us!

Back at Christ in the Desert, everything seems peaceful and I presume that all will remain peaceful in the absence of both the abbot and the prior.  One of the challenges of a community is to continue the life even when the superiors may be absent.

Speaking about “to continue the life even when the superiors are absent” made me think about our spiritual life.  So much of our spiritual life is about taking responsibility for our own actions.  It is about making the Law of the Lord an interior part of our life.  The “Law of the Lord” is not about legalism, but about the law of “love” that our Lord has placed upon us.  Jesus has shown us the way to life and we want to embrace that way to life with our whole being.

When I was pretty young, I often felt the pressure of doing what was right in order to follow the Lord Jesus.  Sometimes it was as if I were being pushed and had to follow the Lord.  Now that I am older, I no longer feel a push, but rather a sense of being drawn to the Lord by His love.  I don’t always respond with as much love as I would like, but the inner change is nevertheless very real to me.  Saint Benedict tells the monk that in time, the monk will come to do out of love what he might have begun out of fear.  That is the difference, for me, of being pushed or being drawn.

When I was young there were many times when I did what was right but only because I knew that it was right and another way was wrong—but I did not do the right thing because of love.  Now that I am older I often try to do what is right because I am drawn by the love of the Lord.  That has been a pretty large change in my life over many years.

Mostly the change came about because I kept trying to know the Lord Jesus, even in pretty imperfect ways.  There were years when my trying to know the Lord Jesus was pretty weak and at times practically non-existent, but I still stayed in the monastic life and tried to do better.  There were times, it seems to me when I look back, that I really di­­­­­­­d not want to know the Lord very much but would even have been happy to abandon Him—except that deep within me I knew what was right.  So I stayed on and little by little I found that by seeking to know Him, the Lord, I was actually at a better place in my life.  It was not so much that my struggle began to be easier but that I could see that the struggle actually brought me to a better place in my life.

Some brothers give up when there is struggle.  God’s grace never even allowed that to be a serious temptation for me.  I might not struggle as much as I should but I never thought about abandoning the monastic life and the struggle that it brought into my life.  I still struggle to be faithful but now see it as an essential part of my life.  At this point in my life I can choose the struggle because I know that it is part of my awareness of God’s love for me:  just keep on struggling.

The challenge for me is to translate that struggle for others, to encourage others to remain in the struggle, to speak with others about the necessity of the spiritual combat.  If we will all suffer because we want to serve God, how can I express that desire to struggle in a way that will help others also accept the sufferings for the sake of coming to know the Lord more deeply and more personally.

When I was young and read about saints who always suffered to stay in spiritual combat to serve the Lord, I always thought about such struggles as for the saints and not for me.  Truly holy women and women might work really hard to serve the Lord, but my own path would never be that.  Slow I came to realize that this is the path of every human being and not just the path of the saints.  If I want to be truly alive, truly human, then the best path is to embrace the spiritual combat, the struggle to be faithful to God in every aspect of my life.

So far it does not mean that I rejoice every day when I try to live a life of obedience to the Lord.  So far it does not mean that I am always happy because I can serve the Lord.  I do see aspects of that and know that it is only completely possible through this road of radical obedience to the Word of God and radical obedience to the vocation that the Lord has given to me.  There are still times when I wish there were an easier road!  Even though I recognize that there is no other road, there are times when I wish that it might be easier.  Serving God requires my complete life and energy.

So I invite you to join me on this path!  Come, let us serve the Lord with gladness.  Come, let us seek to know the Lord Jesus as He gives Himself to us in the Holy Scriptures.  Let us follow Him also in His Church, no matter what problems we find there.  Let us be faithful and know His love.

As always I promise my prayers for you and for your needs and intentions.  I will offer Holy Mass for you once this week and ask God to bless you.  Please continue to pray for me and for the women and men of our communities.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip