The Abbot’s Notebook for December 5, 2018

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Blessings to you!  We have had a heavy snow this week and it came on the very day of the diaconal ordination of our Brother Bonaventure here at the Monastery, December 2nd.  It did not stop our Archbishop Wester from getting here.  Such a grace filled ordination with many guests and visitors present.  We are truly blessed to have Brother Bonaventure as a deacon now in our community.

I had returned around midnight the day before from the Monastery of Thien Tam in Texas.  I had gone there to share in the priestly ordination of Father Dominic Dat Phung Mai Luong.  Father Dominic was a monk of our community who went with the founding monks of Thien Tam almost 10 years ago.  Prior Dominic and the monks of Thien Tam also used this occasion to thank me for my years of service as the superior of Christ in the Desert.

Already monks are coming home for the election of the abbot here on December 12th.  We have closed our guest house so that we can have this time as a special time of being together with our monks from all over.  Those helping in South Africa and Costa Rica and Rome will all be home.  Most of the solemnly professed monks of our Mexican dependent houses will be here for the election as well.  It is a wonderful time to relate to each other as a community.

There are times in our own lives and in the lives of our families or communities when we should take time to give thanks for all that has been and all that is.  This is such a time in our community here at Christ in the Desert.  We have been given so many blessings from the Lord in these 54 years of our existence.  There were times when no one thought that we would survive—and it was only God that helped us survive.  There were times when it seemed impossible to go forward because of so many difficulties—and yet God kept taking us forward.  There were times when it looked as if everyone might end up leaving, and yet we are still here because God has kept us here.  At times we have taken on projects that were really too much for us—and yet God has allowed them all to be completed.  We continue to take on projects, trusting that God will send what is necessary.  There are times when we seem not to have the finances even for our regular life, but always there is enough.

One of the most important lessons for these years is to trust completely in the Lord and know that He is always there with us and will help us.  That does not mean that we have everything all at once.  Instead, God’s plans are God’s plans and we have learned to accept that things happen not by our planning but by His planning.

Some people have told me that I always see good in everything and that it is unrealistic.  Sometimes I try to explain that my own personal history has brought me to see good in all that happens.  That does not mean that I am unrealistic or that I have not suffered.  On the contrary, I have suffered a lot through the years.  My own family environment was a mess when I was growing up.  Both my parents loved me and that made a huge difference, but it did not take away from the enormous problems of living in a deeply alcoholic family with all the dysfunction that can go with such a family.

My parents loved me but the reality was that often we children were forgotten in the midst of the challenges of heavy drinking, losing work, our parents trying to work out problems between themselves.

I entered the seminary at 14 years of age and that was a blessing in my life.  I never encountered any serious problems in the 6 years of seminary training before I entered monastic life at 20.  But the monastery was a mess and really was as much a challenge as my alcoholic family.  I began to drink a lot in my early years as a monk.  Sometimes I joke and tell people that I tried as hard as possible to be an alcoholic, but never was able to achieve it.  Because I entered monastic life in 1964, I was able to live through all of the changes in religious life after the Second Vatican Council.  That was not an easy time in the Church or in religious communities.

Through all that happened to me, I always was able to stay on the path and seek God, even if in slightly crazy ways in my youth.  There were times when I wondered if I should leave monastic life.  One time I was sent away for 6 months.  Always, no matter what I did, in my heart I knew that God was calling me to be a monk.  That determination to persevere was not always easy and it was never blind.  But I did persevere and became happier and happier in my own inner life and more and more aware of God’s presence.  I give thanks for all of these years that have gone by and for the incredible love and mercy of the Lord in my personal life as well as in the life of this community.

As I do every week, I will celebrate Holy Mass once for you and for your needs and intentions.  Always I am blessed by your prayers for you and I ask again:  Please pray for me and for this community and for the sisters and brothers in all our communities.  I send you my love and prayers.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip