The Abbot’s Notebook for November 7, 2018

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Blessings to you!  I am sitting at my own desk in my own office once again.  That will change pretty soon.  Tomorrow I begin to move into a normal monk’s cell so that the rooms of the abbot can be cleaned and painted and prepared for the election of our abbot on December 12th.  Please keep us in your prayers!

This past week José Rodriguez died.  He had been interested in our community about 20 years ago.  I have stayed in contact with his family—and occasionally with him—over the years.  He had been fighting against losing his life to a problem in his brain for many years.  Now he is in peace.  His mother spent practically the whole of this last year with him in the hospital.  Please pray for his repose and for strength and comfort for his mother and the rest of his family.

My own niece, Olga Socorro Sam, is dying from cancer at this time.  She is in hospice.  She fought so strongly to go on living so that she could see her two sons grow up.  One is 13 and the other 16.  Her husband is with her as are her parents, my sister and brother-in-law.  Also please pray for them.

My heart is very sad for the death of José and for my niece, Olga.  On the other hand, this week has also brought us great joy and gladness.  On October 31st, six of our brothers renewed their vows for another year.  A monk in our community must have at least three years of temporary vows before being considered for solemn vows.  The renewing of vows is an important part of this process because it gives the community and the council a chance to comment on the vocation of the brother.

Then on November 1st, five monks here made their solemn vows for our community.  The making of solemn vows is a very strong ceremony.  The way we celebrate it here often takes over two hours.  We use the tradition of placing the brothers under a pall during the Litany of the Saints.  This symbolizes that they must continue to die in order to truly live.  We now have 15 monks in temporary vows, 14 novices, 5 postulants and 35 in solemn vows.

So in the face of death we also have life.  It is a challenge to accept that only by dying do we truly live.  Yet that is the message in all aspects of our lives.  We must die to ourselves to live fully for God and to live for others.

At a practical level, spiritual dying is pretty easy, if we actually choose to die.  It means looking always for the good of the other person ahead of my good—but always a true good and not just an illusion.  Spiritual dying means giving up so much of what I want because I see that I must instead give myself over to serving others.  Spiritual dying never becomes just a habit, although it can become a normal part of our life.  We are always invited to choose.

For the monk, sometimes getting up on the regular schedule is a form of spiritual dying.  Sometimes singing in the choir can be a form of spiritual dying.  At times having to cook for 70 people can be a form of spiritual dying.  Almost anything that we don’t want to do and yet must do can become a form of spiritual dying.

Such spiritual dying never implies that we cannot rejoice and be glad at times.  That is part of following Jesus as well.  Jesus had a reputation, according to the Gospel, as a wine bibber and a glutton.  All that seems to mean is that he liked good food and wine.  I think of Saint Teresa of Avila who loved to eat partridges!  The person who has followed Christ and who continues to follow Christ usually ends up being a person who can give up self easily and who can rejoice with others easily; this is a person who knows how to fast and how to party.

Always we come back to the basic requirement for any of us as a Christian:  love God and love others.  Loving is always a challenge because there is no Rule Book other than love.  Today one of the huge challenges is that most people identify love with some kind of attraction, even with sexual attraction.  This attraction is not necessary against love, but it is not properly love.  True love is always choosing the good of the other person, even when that means suffering for the other person.

In a monastery, we are always challenged to love all the brothers.  That love shows itself by serving all the brothers, and particularly the ones who may irritate us or those who even anger us.  It is so easy to put people out of our lives, even in a monastery.  Instead, we are invited to love all others.  That does not mean that we have to start looking for the people who most annoy us!  God sends all that we need to us without us having to seek out difficult situations.

So the challenge is daily:  love God and love others, especially love those who hate us, who may be our enemies, those who wish us harm.

As I do every week, I shall celebrate a Holy Mass for you and for your intentions.  God is always blessing me and our community.  May God also bless you and all the communities to which you belong.  Please pray for me and for all the women and men of our communities.  I send you my love and prayers.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip