The Abbot’s Notebook for November 14, 2018

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Blessings to you!  This past week I have received a bad cold and sore throat as a gift from others.  I presided at the temporary vows of our Brother Emmanuel Dao Van Rinh, barely able to speak, and then went to bed!  Brother Emmanuel has been with us almost two years now and is a pleasant monk to live with.  He is always in the Church praying, except when he should be elsewhere.

Father Dunstan Robertson, OSB, a monk of Pluscarden in Scotland, currently assigned to Petersham in Massachusetts, gave the retreat for the Sisters of Our Lady of the Desert and then came to spend some days a Christ in the Desert.  He had never been west of Massachusetts in the United States before!

My niece, Olga, died this past week.  Please pray for the repose of her soul and for strength and consolation for her husband, her two sons and her parents.

One of our biggest challenges these days is simply to find room for the men who want to join us.  That puts a pressure on us to think about founding other monasteries.  On the other hand, we don’t want to found a monastery until we have monks that are really well formed as monks and who are willing to lead the discipline that we live here in a new monastery.  So there must be a leader/superior and another monk who can work to form new monks.  And then there must be other monks who are good monks but perhaps not leaders.  So it takes time to form a new community and if we start without good leadership and really good and well-formed monks, the new monastery can easily fail.  So pray for us in this period as we prepare to elect our new abbot and also think of beginning some new monasteries.

This week we are on our official yearly retreat.  Father John Murphy, SJ, is guiding us through the retreat.  I have not been attending much because of my illness but the brothers seem happy with the retreat.

Clearly sickness and death have been on my mind a lot recently.  Many times people have asked me if I fear death.  I have always replied that I have no fear of death.  Instead, I look forward to that day whenever it will come to me.  Death is the door to eternal life.  We cannot open that door by ourselves and that is why our Church is so clear that suicide or assisted suicide is never the way forward.  Instead, we wait for God to open the door.  Always God knows the day and the hour—the very best time for us to go through that door.

For all of us, there is the challenge to live every day with awareness that it could be our last day here.  For many, this sounds like an awful kind of practice, kind of morbid and maybe even a bit sick.  For many years I have tried to do practice this awareness of death and have found it neither morbid nor sick, but rather healthy and invigorating.  It is simply a truth to think about:  I might die today.  And then I must begin to think about how to live today.

From my point of view, living toward death is very helpful in living completely today and in being aware of the values and choices that I have made in my life up until now.  If I have chosen to follow the Lord Jesus, then living toward death reminds me of His presence and of how He wants me to live.  Most importantly, it reminds me of His love for me and His promise always to be with me.

Living toward death takes me out of myself and towards God and insists, for me, that I must live God’s love today as best I can.  Every day at the end of the day I see that I have lived a scattered life, sometimes aware of God and His love, sometimes seeking to love and serve others—and yet also retreating into my inner self and not wanting to give myself in love and service to God and others.  I find myself inconsistent in giving myself.  What has become consistent pretty much is my intent to keep working to love God and others, my intent to keep struggling against all within me that is against God.

The focus for me is not so much the struggle by itself, but really the struggle as a way to attempt to respond to the love of God which always is present for me.  I try to keep the focus on God, on the Lord Jesus, on the presence of the Spirit—because that is what really draws me in a way that nothing else draws me.

Probably from my background and training, I seek always to find the presence of the living God in everything and try to respond to that.  It is not my first instinct, but almost the moment that I stop to reflect on life, I realize that it is only the living God who draws us to Himself and to whom I would want to give myself.  I realized fairly early in life that I cannot earn or merit salvation or heaven or the presence of God.  Instead, it is all gift to me.  Far too often I fall into trying to do the right thing because it is the right thing, rather than doing the right thing because it is God’s love drawing me.  But I know the difference and when I reflect, I seek God’s love and strive to live in response to that love.

Once again I promise my prayers for you.  I will celebrate Holy Mass once this week for you and for all of your needs and intentions.  Please pray for me and for all of the sisters and brothers of our communities.  I send you my love and prayers.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip