The Abbot’s Notebook for November 28, 2018

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Blessings to you!  Now we are only two weeks away from the election of an abbot here in our community.  Our Abbot President, Abbot Guillermo Arboleda Tamayo, has asked us to pray with these words:  “Show us, Lord, whom you have chosen.”  And I am inviting all of you who read this notebook to pray with us as well.

Monastic elections should never be political elections.  Instead, Saint Benedict tells us: “In choosing an abbot, the guiding principle should always be that the man placed in office be the one selected either by the whole community acting unanimously in the fear of God, or by some part of the community, no matter how small, which possesses sounder judgment.   Goodness of life and wisdom in teaching must be the criteria for choosing the one to be made abbot, even if he is the last in community rank.”

It is clear what Saint Benedict wants.  How different politics would be if we prayed and looked always for the person with “goodness of life and wisdom of teaching.”  But politics has never worked that way and most likely never will.  The challenge is for us in the monastery to work that way!!

Last week we celebrated Thanksgiving and it was a very joyful time.  For many of our brothers, Thanksgiving has not been part of their tradition.  All of us work together to try to understand in the best way this American cultural celebration.  Some countries do have an official Day of Thanksgiving and many if not most do not.

Always it is a challenge for me to remain still and peaceful.  Even more of a challenge is to think of the Lord Jesus and to be aware of His presence as much as possible.  There are so many times when I talk about the Lord Jesus and I write about Him.  But there are many more times when I forget about Him.  As I grow older I realize more and more how distracted I am.  I can concentrate on things, on doing things, on speaking to others.  But to sit still with the Word of God is sometimes a real challenge.

As with most challenges in my life, I just keep working at trying to do the right thing.  I find that if I just sit down with the Bible or with a good spiritual book, I can usually focus and concentrate.  So the real challenge is simply to do that!  But I find so many reasons not to sit down with the Bible or with a good spiritual book.  So then, what is possible?  Just the normal struggle with myself to do what is right.  I find that I generally work better with a schedule, but as abbot often I have no schedule except to be at the service of the brothers.

Some days, the service of the brothers allows me a wonderful schedule and things work well.  Other days there seems to be no schedule because so many want to have a talk with me.  In the early Christian monks and nuns, there was a real focus that when someone knocks on the door, everything else must be put aside because it is Christ knocking.  I believe that.  And so it complicates my life!

What happens is that I would prefer a clear order in life and it rarely happens.  Instead life turns out to be new challenge after new challenge day after day.  I suppose that is really a blessing because otherwise I could fool myself into thinking that finally all my attempts at prayer were working.  Instead each day is still a struggle to find time to be with God and to actually take that time to be with God.

And in this week I have moved rooms and that has distracted me even more.  Changes in life are distracting!  I sit down to do something and find that what I need in order to do that something has not yet been moved into my new cell!  I have things here and I have things there.  Most everything now is in one room and my life is simpler.

In the abbot’s rooms, where I used to live, there was plenty of space and if brothers came to see me, our talking was not a distraction to others.  Now in the normal cell of a monk, there is a monk just across the corridor and when people come to my cell and speak, it can be a distraction to him, especially if the brothers don’t close the doors.  In the former rooms there was a private bathroom and now I share one with the brother on the other side of the short corridor.  That has worked well, but still I get concerned that I might cause disruption to my brother across the corridor and interfere with his silence and solitude.

So I remind myself:  be peaceful, do the best you can, work at being still, listen to the Lord and respond to His love.  That is my daily challenge and I have always found it easier when there is a normal schedule.  But I must strive to do what is right and respond to God’s love even when there is no normal schedule possible!

As always I promise my prayers for you and for your needs and intentions.  May the Lord give you special graces this week.  Please pray for us at Christ in the Desert as we prepare to elect our abbot.  Please pray with us:  “Show us, Lord, whom you have chosen.”    I will celebrate Holy Mass for you once this week.  May the Lord bless us all.  I send you my love and prayers.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip