Dear Friends in Christ,
This has been a busy week for me! I left Rome on Sunday, December 9th, to return to New Mexico and my Monastery of Christ in the Desert. After the First Sunday of Advent early morning Offices of Vigils and Lauds, followed by Holy Mass, taking place at our curia Sant’Ambrogio in the center of Rome, Abbot President Guillermo Arboleda and I went to Rome’s Fiumicino airport, taking a mid-morning flight to Paris, then on to Atlanta, finally to Albuquerque, arriving in New Mexico about 9:30 pm Sunday night. We weary travelers were welcomed at the Albuquerque airport by Abbot Philip Lawrence, and reached the monastery itself in the early hours of Monday, December 10th. That day marked my sixty-sixth birthday, and as the new day dawned in darkness, I recalled that as we were driving between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, we were on the famous “Route 66”! Ironically, coincidentally, and Providentially, I was definitely not in Italy anymore, and though certainly tired, anxious at the same time to be home once again.
Later Monday morning, Abbot Guillermo began the discernment process with our community for the election of a new abbot, meeting with all the monks, young and old, professed and those still in formation, over the next two days. Some of the meetings were with groups, such as the solemnly professed, the non-solemnly professed, and some with individual monks. The meetings were on Monday and Tuesday. On Wednesday, December 12th, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, after the celebration of Holy Mass, the actual election of an abbot took place in our monastic refectory (dining room). That room was chosen as our largest gathering space with tables for voting and recording the votes. The election was presided over by Abbot Guillermo, who doesn’t actually vote in the election, but is required by our Church and Benedictine Congregational law to be present, to oversee and assist in the election process. The voters are all the solemnly professed monks of Christ in the Desert. The electors numbered forty-one and included members of our two dependent monasteries in Mexico.
As you presumably already know if you are reading this, I was elected as the second Abbot of the Monastery of Christ in the Desert on the morning of December 12th. After the election, I was asked by the Abbot President if I would accept the office, to which I said yes, and in the afternoon of the same day, December 12th, in the presence of all our monks, I was formally installed in our church as abbot, being given by Abbot Guillermo a pectoral cross to wear around the neck, handed the keys of the monastery as well as the official seal of the monastery and a zucchetto, a black cap often worn by abbots, was placed on my head. Afterwards each of the monks, beginning with the elders, came forward and kneeled (if they were able to) before me, to express their congratulations and offer their assurance of obedience and prayers. Needless to say, the simple ceremony was very moving for me, and extremely humbling for a once-upon-a-time suburban kid from Portland, Oregon, growing up in the 1960s. For a brief but profound moment, I was transported to another world, timeless in one sense, and following a format from centuries past, but still in use and relevant to monks living the Benedictine tradition all these many centuries after our Holy Father Saint Benedict, who lived from 480 to 547 AD.
Unlike in Saint Benedict’s day, the news of the election and installment seemed to be world-wide in a matter of minutes. Since then words of congratulations and prayers have come to me from far and wide. I am deeply grateful for the assurance of support from my own community as well as the many who know us as friends, benefactors, oblates and relatives. May God bless you all!
Am I now comfortably settled into my role as shepherd of the flock at the Monastery of Christ in the Desert? Not completely, but the reality is sinking in. I especially wish to thank Abbot Philip Lawrence for his many decades of leadership, first as Prior, since 1976, then as our first Abbot, since 1996, right up to his official retirement at twelve minutes after twelve midnight, on December 12th, 2018. All the “twelves” that day were significant to him.
May God continue to guide and enlighten Abbot-emeritus Philip as he continues to live our life, assisting in many ways as before, and also enjoying less responsibility than in these past many decades as Abbot. In one sense, Abbot Philip is an “ordinary monk” once again, but also an “elder” of our community, faithfully participating in our daily round of work and prayer. Ad multos annos, Abbot Philip!
Over the coming weeks I will be reporting, no longer from Rome, as over the past two years, but now from “home base,” home sweet home since 1977. I count on your daily prayers and support as I take up this “new adventure” in my monastic journey. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your goodness and care for me and all the monks at this wonderful monastery. The Lord be with you now and always. What more can I wish for you than that?