The Abbot’s Notebook for October 31, 2018

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Blessings to you!  I am home once again at Christ in the Desert.  Sometimes I remember how I used to be able to travel and never feel any tiredness at all.  Those days are gone.  I can still travel but I feel the effects a lot more.  Sometimes I have new experiences.  This time was the first time that I have used the Uber car services and it was a good experience.

We have been putting a lot of time and energy into the planning for the solemn vows of five of our brothers on November 1st.  We also have people arriving from all over for those vows and three monks arriving two days before.  We are just at the end of having any space at all left to put people.

So much of our normal life in a monastery depends on planning things ahead of time so that they work well for the community.  We have a regular schedule every day and then when we change the schedule, we all have to adjust.  Every major celebration brings about a change.  Sometimes the changes are easy to adjust to and sometimes not so easy.  When the changes are easy, there is very little pressure on the community.  When the changes are not so easy, we can sometimes feel the unease of the community.

The early nuns and monks also recognized that life can seem relatively easy as long as things go according to what we expect.  It is the challenge of the unexpected that brings about most of our spiritual growth.  It is sort of the same with the members of the community.  If we get along well with everyone, we are rarely challenged to grow.  So the early nuns and monks taught that if there is no one difficult in the community, we should pray for someone difficult to join us!  Most communities don’t have to pray for a difficult member of the community.  And many of us recognize that at times, we are the difficult member of the community.

Most of us don’t like to think of ourselves as difficult, but most of us are actually difficult at times.  The sooner that we come to recognize that we can be the problem, the sooner we can begin to grow in the spiritual life.  Saint Benedict is always reminding the monk to be humble, to see himself as less than the others, to recognize that he must serve others, etc.  When we look at God and see ourselves in the light of God, it is not difficult to be humble.  When we look at others and judge them, then we find it almost impossible to be humble.

The vision of a good  monk is pretty clear:  God first because God is the center of our live; others second because we are called to love and serve all others; and then ourselves as servants of God and of all others.  Once we have that vision clear in our minds and in our daily lives, the way we live becomes clear.  We may have to fight against ourselves in order to live such a vision, but it is just that fight which will bring us to the Lord.  Again we can use the term “spiritual combat.”

The fight begins when we put God first and then ourselves and then others.  At least God is first!  But the mistake is that we put ourselves second and all others as only third.  We will become only self-centered and will have a difficult time encountering the true God because we are confused.  We will have to struggle to put others in second place after God and ourselves in the last place.

We will have almost insurmountable problems if we put ourselves first, then God and then others.  Some people seem to get caught into this trap of putting themselves first and God second.  This often ends up with a complete rejection of God—and then the whole divine plan is rejected.

I don’t think that I have ever met anyone who truly put others first, then God second and themselves third.  It is a possible way of living but I have not seen it.  Perhaps I have seen a person who fell in love with another put that other in first place—but rarely is God put in the second place, usually it is the person who loves who ends up in second place—and God is practically ignored.

I mention such combinations because there are probably times in our lives when we actually live out these choices until we finally come to see the differences.  For instance, many of us would say most of the time that we put God first.  And we may even want to do that.  But at a practical level, when decisions are made, we often choose ourselves first.  One of the ways to check on this is to see how much time we give to God in prayer each day.  It is an easy way to check ourselves.  If we say that we put God first and spend no time with God—what does that indicate?

For myself, I am still constantly battling to give time to God every day and throughout the day.  When I am traveling it is a stronger challenge.  I have so many others things to do and to get done.  But if I take no time for God when I am traveling, what does that say about who is first in my life?

As always I promise to pray for you and for all of your needs and intentions.  I will offer Holy Mass for you and ask God’s blessings on you.  Please remember to pray for me and for the sisters and brothers of all of our communities.  I send you my love and prayers.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip