What do we hope for, especially at Christmas time? A new car, a flat screen TV, tickets to the 2020 Super Bowl? Maybe these and many other “things,” but Christian hope is rooted not in material possessions or perks, but in something else and some One else entirely. For those who believe in and follow Jesus Christ, hope has to do with relying not on one’s own strength for the inevitable challenges of life, but on the presence of God’s assistance, what we usually call “grace.” Amazing grace!
Connected to the idea of hope is the fact that every one wants to be happy, but in what does happiness consist? In health, wealth, beauty or youth? Our culture may say that in those things (health, wealth, etc.) happiness lies, but in fact that is a “lie.” If we “hope in the Lord,” as Scripture admonishes us to do, we stand a better chance to be freed from discouragement when things don’t go as we had hoped or planned. If we “hope in the Lord,” our hearts can expand to “let go and let God.” If we “hope in the Lord,” we are less likely to be self-centered, selfish, and we can be people who are able to love others from the heart, striving every day to be at the service of others and not expected to be served.
Over the past several months I have experienced something that can give hope to us monks. It has been found in a closer connection to the land on which we live in this spectacular Chama canyon wilderness, and what we place on that land. This spring brothers planted a vegetable garden, which became a source of dining delight throughout this past summer. For the brothers involved in the work of growing produce, there was a real exercise in hope, that by their having diligently prepared the soil, planted the seeds, watered and weeded the garden, something worthwhile would gradually spring forth, for the enjoyment of many, both monks and guests. The brother cooks lived in expectation and hope as well, that there would be good things to serve for many a meal in our refectory. And there certainly was!
In addition to our vegetable garden, this summer we acquired four registered Navajo-Churro sheep, a hardy breed known for its adaptability to extremes of climate. What today are called Navajo-Churros originated in the Middle East, eventually brought to Spain, and finally to the New World in the 1500s. Ever since, they have been bred and raised in this part of the country, and I presume now the most common breed in the area, considered as a “Heritage Breed.” As ruminants, sheep of all breeds are ideal for replenishing the fields where they graze and live.
Our little flock, named Amelia, Isabel, Gloria and Clara, are all ewes (females) and a sign that “God’s creatures” are a reason for hope, that our earth can be enriched by their presence. Part of this hope is also due to the fact that Navajo-Churros can be sheared twice a year, unlike most other sheep, which are only sheared once a year. The wool our sheep produce will be spun into yarn and ultimately used for weaving, knitting and crocheting.
Sheep are normally in need of protection against predators, such as coyotes, bears, and mountain lions, living in our remote high desert setting, so we now have two young and friendly donkeys, Zoe (Life!) and Connie ( a mother and daughter team), who are intolerant of any potential threat to the sheep. The donkeys are signs of hope that our sheep will not perish!
Another element of hope in our lives is the recent tilling and reseeding of some previously fallow fields on our property, as potential pasture land of grass and clover, the latter especially for the bees we hope to acquire once again. To see our fields being irrigated again and green grass and clover popping up near the Chama River, is a source of joy and hope in the land that we have, and the call from God to be good stewards of it.
We are also reviving crafts here, such as all natural goats’ milk soap, always a popular item in our Giftshop. At present we produce rose and lavender scented bars, as well as unscented ones. Production of the soap is not complicated, and enjoyable, so there is hope that a number of monks can engage in this craft.
For the Christian believer, our “ultimate hope” is to be placed in the glory of heaven, promised by God to those who love God and who do God’s will. In every cumstance of life, we are called to hope in God’s grace, perservering in our call, whatever it may be, to the very end, and thereby inherit and enjoy eternal rewards in Heaven.
Saint Teresa of Avila, the great mystic of 16th century Spain (where Churro sheep, forerunners of our own, were undoubtedly wandering!), wrote this: “Hope,my soul, hope. You know neither the day nor the hour. Watch carefully, for every thing passes quickly.” Then speaking of the hope of heaven, Saint Teresa calls it: “a happiness and rapture than can never end.”
Mat that be our hopes as well!
A blessed and Merry Christmas to all!
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB
Hope in the Ordination to the Priesthood
On July 22, the Feast Day of St Mary Magdalene, Deacon Bonaventure Nguyen, O.S.B., and Prior of the Monastery of Christ in the Desert, was ordained in the monastery church by Archbishop John C.Wester of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. The monastic community was joined by well-wisher from the Vietnamese community in Albuquerque, local parish priests, family and friends who traveled from as far as Vietnam to prayerfully support our brother, Deacon Bonaventure.
Archbishop Wester, in his ordination homily, referenced George Herbert, in his poem, “Windows.” In the poem, Herbert speaks beautifully about the priest who, as preacher of the Word, serves as a window of God’s grace. From the first stanza, the Archbishop quoted the following:
Lord, how can man preach thy eternal word?/ He is a brittle, crazy glass; Yet in thy temple thou dost him afford, / This glorious and transcendent place, /To be a window, through thy grace.
Archbishop Wester encouraged Deacon Bonaventure, as the Word enfolds him through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, to become an echo of Christ in His preaching. Like Mary Magdalene, who held fast to Christ, the Word, Archbishop prepared Deacon Bonaventure for the challenges he may face in his priesthood. Archbishop Wester with evenness charged Deacon that “there are many times [ahead] you will be tempted to embrace a new fad, a certain ideology, a worthy cause; to assume this label or that label, to be a disciple of this pope or that theologian or that eloquent speaker. They all have their place, but it is not the place of Christ. Ground yourself in Christ, abide in Christ and Christ’s Word always.”
Archbishop Wester combined the prayerfulness of the monk with the prayerfulness of a priest. Like a monk, the priest must be a man of prayer if he is to be grounded in the Word. Archbishop said, “The first and most important part of prayer is listening! Mary Magdalene listened to Christ’s words. To be a man or woman of prayer, it is important to clear a space deep within, a space of selflessness, of emptiness, which allows Christ to get in.”
Towards the end of his homily, Archbishop Wester explained that, for the priest, Christ is multifaceted. A relationship with Christ always leads to the Church, the community of believers that form the living stones of the Body of Christ. Mary Magdalene ran to the community of apostles and disciples. Deacon Bonaventure brings hope to our community with his dynamic, living and ever-growing relationship with Christ.
Mary Magdalene was not afraid as she went forth announcing the Resurrection to the apostles. The Resurrection gave her courage! Archbishop Wester told Deacon Bonaventure, “Yours is a great commission:Do not hide your vocation under a bushel basket. Let it be a light for all to see.” For many the Monastery of Christ in the Desert is a place where they can seek God, find solitude, and the silence that renews spirits. We are hopeful that now Father Bonaventure will do as the Archbishop commends: “My dear brother, Bonavenure: Christ is calling you to be bold. To devour the Word, even if it means sacrificing your comfort, shelter, or your joyful foundation. And when you do, more will be given to you and more will be given to your people whom you nourish with the living Word of God, whose mysteries you preach from that glorious and trascendent place where you become a window of God’s grace.”There is much here in which to put our hopes. We congratulate you, Fr. Bonaventure (who is currently 39years young)!
THE VIRTUE OF HOPE
BY A SOLEMNLY PROFESSED MONK
“I hope it will be good weather this weekend.” “I hope you have a safe journey.” “I hope you find a good job.” This ordinary-language use of the word “hope” means the same as “wish” or “desire” (that something may happen); and it does not necessarily imply that the speaker is sure that the object of the hope will in fact materialize.
But in Christian religious language “hope” always means something different from that: it means something more like “look forward to” or “confidently expect”.
The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (section 387) puts it this way: “Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire and await from God eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit to merit it and to persevere to the end of our earthly life.” (emphasis added) The Catchism (1840) defines: “The theological virtues dispose Christians to live in a relationship with the Holy Trinity. They have God for their origin, their motive, and their object—God known by faith, God hoped in and loved for his own sake.” [The three theological virtues are faith, hope, and charity/love. They are called “theo-log-ical” because they are bestowed in Baptism as a gift directly from God and are oriented toward relationshipwith God.]
An appendix to the Compendium offers, in a collection of common prayers, one entitled “Act of Hope”: “O Lord God, I hope by your grace for the pardon of all my sins, and after life here to gain eternal happiness, because you have promised it, who are infinitely powerful, faithful, kind, and merciful. In this hope I intend to live and die. Amen.” Hope is confident assurance based on God’s infinite power: nothing, absolutely nothing, can hinder or prevent Him from doing what He wills to do. Hope is based on God’s faithfulness: it is not in His nature to promise something and then change His mind or fail to keep His promised word. Hope rests on God’s kindness: He treats us humans as His own children, as we indeed are: born by His creative will, and reborn by the washing of rebirth in Baptism (Titus 3.5).
Hope relies on God’s mercy: He identified Himself thus when He proclaimed His holy Name to Moses on Mount Sinai after forgiving the faithlessness of Israel with the Golden Calf, saying, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34. 6).
The Catechism (270) says: “God reveals His fatherly omnipotence…by His infinite mercy, for He displays His power at its height by freely forgiving sins.” It is not that sin does not matter: it does! God is offended, insulted, and grieved by sin. Nevertheless, He will not allow even sin to turn Him from His unalterable purpose to save us and to share His being with us for eternity. Given our persistent tendency to sin, His immutable determination necessarily entails mercy. The Catechism has more to say about hope in its “Part Three: Life in Christ, Section Two: the Ten Commandments,” where it considers the First Commandment, summarized by Jesus as “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve” (Matthew 4.10).
“When God reveals Himself and calls him, man cannot fully respond to the divine love by his own powers. He must hope that God will give him the capacity to love Him in return and to act in conformity with the commandments of charity. Hope is the confident expectation of divine blessing and the beatific vision of God; it is also the fear of offending God’s love and of incurring punishment” (CCC 2090). In that last clause there is recognition of the difficulty of living up to the relationship with Himself which God offers us. With my own unaided powers this is too steep a climb for me: I will never make it. Hope is trust that God will give me all I need to reach Him. But hope is also fear: fear that by sin I will grieve His love for me, and so deserve to be punished.
There are two principle sins against the virtue of hope: namely, despair and presumption. The Catechism warns (2091): “By despair, man ceases to hope for his personal salvation from God, for help in attaining it, or for the forgiveness of his sins. Despair is contrary to God’s goodness, to His justice—for the Lord is faithful to His promises—and to His mercy.” Despair is failure to believe in God’s nature and failure to do Him the honor (which He fully deserves) of trusting in Him.
The opposite sin against hope is presumption. The Catechism (2092) specifies: “There are two kinds of presumption. Either man presumes upon his own capacities, (hoping to be able to save himself without help from on high), or he presumes upon God’s almighty power or His mercy (hoping to obtain His forgiveness without conversion [heart-felt turning away from sin], and glory without merit [performance of good works by the power for doing good which God’s grace makes available]).” So one must not say, “I know what God wants and I can do it on my own: I don’t need God’s grace,” nor must one say, “God’s mercy is so strong that it doesn’t matter what I do: there is no chance that He will not save me.” Such attitudes would not amount to trust in God; they would insult His goodness. And ultimately they fail to give serious weight to the fact that humans simply cannot reach God without His gracious help, with which they must cooperate. We read in Isaiah 55.8-9: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”
For Christians hope has become concrete in the person of Jesus Christ, “the hope which is reserved for you in heaven” (Colossians 1.5), “Christ Jesus, our hope” (1 Timothy 1.1). In the Communion Rite at Mass the priest says, “We await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ.” (a reminiscence of St Paul’s Letter to Titus, 2.13: “We await the blessed hope: the appearance of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ”). In writing to the Colossians (1.27) Paul speaks of “the riches of the glory of this mystery…which is Christ in you, the hope for glory.”
Pope Benedict XVI in his 2007 encyclical letter on hope, Spe Salvi (“in hope [we were] saved,” cf. Romans 8.24), has this to say: “We need the greater and lesser hopes that keep us going day by day. But these are not enough without the great hope, which must surpass everything else. This great hope can only be God, who encompasses the whole of reality and who can bestow upon us what we, by ourselves, cannot attain.
The fact that it comes to us as a gift is actually part of hope. God is the foundation of hope: not just any god, but the God who has a human face and who has loved us to the end, each one of us and humanity in its entirety. His Kingdom is not an imaginary hereafter, situated in a future that will never arrive; his Kingdom is present wherever He is loved and wherever His love reaches us. His love alone gives us the possibility of soberly persevering day by day, without ceasing to be spurred on by hope, in a world which by its very nature is imperfect. His love is at the same time our guarantee of the existence of what we only vaguely sense and which nevertheless, in our deepest self, we await: a life that is “truly” life.” (section 31)
“Therefore, gird up the loins of your mind, live soberly, and set your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1Peter 1.13).
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15.13).
Reflections From A Simply Professed Monk (a continuing series)
Hope in Chanting
Each day at 4 a.m. monks at the Monastery of Christ in the Desert begins the office of Vigils with the words from Psalm 50: “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.” It is fitting because for the last seven hours the monastery has experienced the Great Silence that punctuates our days, when monks refrain from speech from after Compline until Vigils early the next day. Chanting is a beautiful ancient expression of praise.
Intellectually, it enables the monks to learn the psalms (many by heart), and in addition, it provides a door through which the psalms can infuse themselves within the hearts and souls of the monks.
One morning the latter occurrence was so palpable that it transported me to a bygone era and place in my former life. I was rapt when my side of the choir chanted: “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days” (Ps 90:14). How often I felt such great joy and a sense of robust life in the morning of my youth as a rower!
Rowing, like chanting, requires coordination. In a boat of eight large oarsmen, there is a “stroke oarsman,” who sets the cadence for the entire boat. The small coxswain in the stern of the boat, on the other hand, is the brain of the boat and guides it down the race course and regulates speed. Monks have an intoner and a hebdomadarian who lead the monks with tones and singing cadences that give a flow between our two facing choirs in the sanctuary. In essence, like the port and starboard sides of a shell for rowers, choirs of chanting monkssing to each other and reinforce the strength and energy of the psalms, antiphons, and hymns.
Despite the obvious similarities between my rowing experience and chanting (all men with the exception of the occasional female coxswain, early mornings, beautiful natural settings, silence, attentive ears and eyes, repetitive motions, stamina, and single-minded concentration), there are commonalities that only the initiated would recognize and appreciate. For example, in The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the bestselling story about American Olympic triumph in Nazi Germany, the young American rowers referred to “swing” in the boat. “Swing” was a feeling beyond pain and fatigue, but was an experience of losing oneself in the collective endeavor of moving the boat quickly through water. It is an exhilarating feeling as an athlete.
As “athletes of Christ,” a phrase coined by St. Paul, we Christians, especially monks, have many opportunities to experience a similar “swing” in Mass and during the Divine Offices. And one of the essential expressions of a monastic community is collective singing through chant. Our voices come together as one and waft, like incense, above us and join in with the heavenly hosts in a perpetual celebration of the psalms and, most importantly, the Holy Eucharist.
Another similarity which may go overlooked is the heterogeneous nature of the oarsmen in the boats and the monks in the choirs. Rowers, in my experience, came from all corners of the country (my coach, an Olympic rower, was born and raised in Wyoming; no rowing there). We all had different backgrounds, upbringings, and aspirations. We did indeed unite for a common goal: to move our boat through the water faster than any other crew.
Monks at the Monastery of Christ in the Desert come from thirteen different countries and range in age from 23 to 93 years old. Educationally, we have monks who have had some college education and others who have completed their PhDs. We may all be dressed in the same monastic habits, but our outward visage belies our individuality. We, however, come together for a different common goal than rowing: to seek God through a life in community. In both pursuits, rowing and being monks, our great hope is victory. For monks, the victory is through Our Lord Jesus Christ!
So, in the morning, either rowing or chanting, I have found great joy. When I am enthusiastic about a pursuit, it takes little effort to get up in the morning to join in a worthwhile undertaking with other committed men, be it at a boathouse on the Charles River, or in a two-story adobe church deep in the New Mexico desert. I follow the intoner or stroke, and trust in the collective strength of the choir or boat. I rowed with great hope, joy and gladness. Today, I chant with great hope, joy and gladness. Although I would be less than forthcoming if I failed to mention how I sometimes miss being so close to still water, hearing the unmistakable plunk and backsplash of a well-placed oar into the water, the irresistible feel of the oar handle gliding evenly to my leaning chest in sync with seven other equally driven oarsmen, and the mechanical clicking of oarlocks all against the backdrop of a clear, cool pre-dawn morning. I so hope there is rowing in heaven. Ready all! Row!
Reflections From A Postulant
Years ago, walking on a pier in Southern California, I happened to come along just as a teenager, playing with his friends along the wooden railing, had fallen off into the sea. The surf was choppy and, although it seemed that the boy knew how to swim, he was hard pressed to stay afloat, and to keep from being dashed against the wooden pilings underneath the pier. Luckily, there were life preservers hanging along the railing, hard foam rings attached to long ropes, and one was quickly thrown to the boy. He caught hold of it and held on, literally, for dear life. He was pulled out and all ended well, but that scene, that boy bobbing up and down in the waves holding on to the life preserver with all his strength, has remained with me. At that moment, in the surge of the waves, that bit of rope and buoy was his support, his lifeline, his hope.
In the ancient world, this same idea of security and safety was often expressed by the image of an anchor. The anchor, naturally enough, was a symbol of security, of safety; the anchor was a common implement in ancient times, just as it is in our own. If not a real one, we’ve all at least seen a picture of an anchor: a heavy, two pronged iron hook dropped into the sea to hold a ship fast in port, or in a storm.Dropped into the sea it anchors a ship, keeping it from being carried away or splintered against a rocky shore. The anchor conveys the idea of stability, andthe security that this stability offers. It is a comforting, reassuring symbol.
The early Christians quickly adopted the anchor as their own symbol, taking the pagan meaning one step further. In the Roman catacombs, burial places of many Christians from the 1st through the 3rd centuries, among the burial inscriptions can be found images of anchors. The anchor was indeed a symbol of hope, but because it reminded them of God’s promise of steadfast love and support, manifested in Jesus, in his cross and in his resurrection, that unshakeable support in any storm. This is the anchor our souls have, as sure as it is firm (see Hebrews 6:19).
What is my anchor, today? What is my hope? What do I hold onto for dear life in the storm? What is the sure rock on which I can stand, safe against the buffeting of the waves? Looking back over the years I find that I’ve attempted to use many things to anchor my self during the rough patches, but that none of them, in the long run, held fast. Time and time again I’ve come back, thankfully, to the sure anchor our souls have, the Lord and his cross and resurrection. When all is calm, when things are going, at least for the most part, according to my plans, I float pretty easily. It is not hard to be confident and unafraid when the sea is placid. But when the storm breaks, when I am out of work and wondering how to pay the rent, when that persistent cough turns out to be lung cancer, when a child goes missing, when another gunman kills a group of innocent people in an act of gratuitous violence where do I turn then? To what to I cling?
The Cross, Jesus died and risen, here is the anchor of our lives, here is that strength and support which tethers us and keeps us from being thrown about in the storms which surge around us. In it I hope, to it I hold fast. In a stormy sea a ship’s anchor becomes invisible beneath hundreds of feet of roiling sea. All the same, the sailors let it down, hoping, trusting that it will hold them fast. And so it is with us. Sometimes, perhaps most of the time, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to see the Lord clearly in the middle of a storm. Yet, he is there. This is our anchor, our hope.
What is your name and how long have you been a monk at MCID?
Fr. Mayeul, and I am 84 years old. I have been a monk here since 1994. Previously, I was a monk in Vietnam starting in 1979 at Monastery of Thien Binh in Vietnam. I lead a different type of communal life before my monas-tic vocation. Between 1975 and 1978 I was interred in a Communist concentration camp as a political prison.
What were some of your challenges being a monk at MCID during you time here?
The jungle concentration camp tops all challenges! I have found MCID a loving, nurturing place to be.
What changes have you witnessed since you have beenhere?
There have been changes in me! I am a better person, humanly speaking. Also, after I arrived at MCID in 1994, then Abbot Philip sent me to St Benoit du Lac to study theology. I finished my courses in 1999, and in 2003 I was ordained here at the monastery.
Who is your favorite saint, and why?
Mayuel, naturally. He was a monk. I pray to him everyday.
Hope In Archeology
In August, probably the hottest month all year, the intrepid Juniors (simply professed monks) of Monastery of Christ in the Desert, seized an opportunity to explore the Mesa Prieta Petroglyph Project (MPPP). A petroglyph is an image created by removing part of a rock surface by incising, picking, carving, or abrading, as a form of rock art. More than 10,000 years ago hunter and gatherer peoples roamed the 12-mile long mesa in the northern Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico, thus began the earliest evidence of petroglyph remnants. Ancient peoples created tens of thousands of images of people. animals, spirals, geometric and astronomical objects, shields, flute players and other forms. Some flute players are depicted as animals.
Leading up to the Historic Period in 1598 when the Spanish arrived at nearby Yunque, some of the most prolific work in petroglyphs was produced. Over the next three centuries, thousands of petroglyphs of crosses, horses, churches and even European heraldic lions were etched into the rocks. All of this religious, artistic, fertility, and astrological art work qualifies Mesa Prieta as the largest petroglyph site in New Mexico. Brothers broke off into two parties with two expert guides who carefully explained how the petroglyphs were made, demonstrated the musicality of certain rocks, and the astrological positioning of many of the etchings that coincided with the movement of the sun or created shadows at certain times of the days. There are still many mysteries surrounding the petroglyphs. Indigenous people of the area support the work of MPPP, but they withhold the sacredness unshakably rooted in the ancient symbols. Monks of the monastery were undaunted by the mysteries and enjoyed a clear sunny day amongst antiquity.
Hope On Display At The Santa Fe Opera
Abbot Christian and seven monks traveled to the Santa Fe Opera House in September to meet and greet long-time friend Bobby Mcferrin and his fellow band members for a benefit concert. Supporting the Partners in Education Foundation for the Santa Fe Public Schools, which supports local public school teachers and students through its programs, including: ArtWorks, Field Trips, Teacher Grants, Teachers Who Inspire Awards, Teacher Opportunity Scholarships, A Teacher Warehouse, and other programs. Bobby Mcferrin was overjoyed to see Abbot Christian and the monks; the meeting being orchestrated as a surprise by McFerrin’s New York – based producer. Equally surprised were the monks when they learned that not only would they meet the Grammy Awards winning artist–whose song at the 1989 Grammy Awards, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” won the awards for Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance – but would perform on stage with him as well!
Like black-clad Beatles, Abbot Christian and his monks walked single file onto the stage during the middle of the performance and engaged in improvisational a capella with “Gimme 5” (Bobby’s musical group) to the cheers and delight of the audience. Bobby introduced the monks by saying, “If you ever want to regain balance in your life, visit Monastery of Christ in the Desert. I wish I could just spend a day there now and absorb all the beautiful music and the silence.” Although Bobby had to fly to Denver for a performance the next day, his producer, Linda, did make the trek out to the monastery to spend time with the monks. As the Abbot and monks left the Santa Fe Opera House, many well-wishers congratulated them on the spontaneous performance and made sincere inquiries about visiting the monastery. The Abbot was hopeful that the presence of the monks would encourage the greater Santa Fe community to experience the “balance” of which Bobby Mcferrin spoke.
Amazon Helps You Donate To MCID
You can use Amazon Smile to support our monastery. Amazon donates 0.5 percent of your eligible Amazon-Smile purchases to the charity of your choice. You can share your percentage with us by logging on with this link https://smile.amazon.com/ch/85-0327101 Once you sign into your Amazon account, you will receive a notice that your charity of choice is the Monastery of Christ in the Desert. Thank you for choosing this easy and simple way to support our monastic life.
The Abbot and Brothers wish you a blessed Advent and a Merry Christmas.