The Abbot’s Notebook for November 21, 2018

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Blessings to you!  This past week we finished our annual retreat.  Father John Murphy, S.J., conducted the retreat for us and it was, at least for me, a very wonderful retreat.  Thanks be to God for Father Murphy!

Last Saturday, the 17th of November, a little more than half of our community went to the Monastery of Our Lady of the Desert for the first vows of Sister Stephen.  Bishop James Wall of the Diocese of Gallup presided at the profession.  It was a joyful and wonderful celebration.  In the evening we returned to Christ in the Desert for a small party for Father Murphy who had directed our retreat!

This week has been quiet and peaceful—as I would love to expect every week!  Brother Antoine Marie has returned from his family visit.  Two more men have come to begin postulancy.  The life of the community proceeds peacefully.

All of this, of course, is good as our community prepares to elect an abbot on December 12th.  Decisions are better made when made in an atmosphere of peace, quiet and reflective aware of and seeking of the will of God.

Sometimes I ask myself what the will of God is for me.  Not in the sense of what God wants me to do because that has always been pretty clear.  But how do I know that something is the will of God?  It is never as if God steps forth and speaks to me and tells me what to do.  In a monastery, we believe by faith that what our abbot asks us to do is the will of God for us.  Saint Benedict in his wisdom provides also that the abbot must always seek counsel from the monks of the community.  Saint Benedict tells us that the abbot won’t be sorry about making decisions after seeking counsel.

But where does the abbot get his decisions?  Through prayer, through counsel, through listening to the tradition that has been passed on by good and holy monks, through the Church and through the Scriptures given to us by the Church.  My own experience over the years I have served my community is that most often a decisions emerges by itself without my having to be overly concerned.

There have been situations where I have not seen a decision emerge.  When possible, then I try to delay a decision.  What that is not possible, I try to pray and to do the best I can.  This last type of decisions does not always leave me peaceful but I have come to accept over many years that sometimes we can only do what is possible and not what might be ideal.

I knew a good and holy woman long ago who had the capacity to wait for even two or three years before making a decision if she was not clear what the decision should be.  I don’t think that I have ever been able to do that.  Instead after a shorter time, I just try to make the best decision I can, even if it is not yet clear.

Is that the will of God?  What I have seen is that God is present in our humanity, in our situations, in the concrete realities that we live.  God is so much more creative than we are that God can work with whatever we do and use our decisions to bring about good, even when our decisions might be sort of objectively wrong.  I don’t believe that God is much involved in any serious way with a decision to put a spoon on the right or the left of a plate.  God is always present in such commonplace decisions but they are not the type of decisions that normally affect our moral or spiritual life.

For me the most difficult decisions are things like having to decide if a novice can continue in monastic life, if a novice can make vows, if a simply professed monk can continue in our life, if a simply professed monk can make solemn vows, if a man should be ordained a deacon or a priest, if a man should pursue higher studies.  These are all decisions that affect the lives of others in profound ways and have weighed heavily upon me over these years of service.  I have made some ill-advised financial decisions over the years, but those have all ultimately turned out alright.  God has always sent us enough money to go forward with whatever has been needed.  We never seem to have the money when we want it, but that is alright.  Instead when we really need it, it shows up from friends of the monastery.

I have told people over the years that I see traits of both my mother and my father in my own personality.  One of those areas is in the use of money.  My father always gave money away and helped everyone.  He never worried about money, even when we had none.  My mother was also very generous but was anxious about money.  She was the one who paid the bills and who had to purchase food for the family.  I am very generous like my father and also anxious like my mother.  I try to be prudent but when there is a need that seems to be destroying someone or a community, I find it difficult not to want to help.  Luckily in a monastic community there are limits to what I can give away!  On the other hand, our Council and our Chapter have always gone along with me when I have asked for permission to give money away to help others, even at times some very large amounts of money.

So what is spirituality?  It is about seeking God, for sure.  But it is also about learning wisdom in the decisions of life and most of all learning to trust in the Lord at all times.

I send you my love and prayers.  I will celebrate Holy Mass once this week for you and for your needs and intentions.  Always I plead for your prayers for me and for the sisters and brothers of our communities!

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip