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December 3rd: Christmas Cactus

True to form, our Christmas cactus are beginning to bloom. The delicate magenta- colored flowers always appear in December and usually once again in the course of the year.

While the cactus is a distinctive Christmas visitor, we monks don’t start decorating and singing Christmas carols until December 24th. We carry on celebrating Christmas until the Epiphany of the Lord, traditionally kept on January 6th.
These weeks of Advent, leading up to Christmas, are a time of quiet yet joyful expectation for the coming of the Savior.
At daily Mass and the Divine Office, the texts from Scripture, sung to ancient melodies, are distinctive to the season we are now in, being four weeks of contemplative anticipation of the Birth of the Messiah.
May the ususal mad rush that so often accompanies the time before Christmas be redirected for the real “reason for the season” for all those who read this.
With a promise of our prayers and we are always grateful for yours,
Abbot Christian and the monks

December 1st: Daily Fare

Egg production typically slows down at the time of year, only increasing after the Winter Solstice, which occurs on December 21st this year.

Because of the variety of breeds of our hens, we always have an array of color and size in the delicious eggs they produce.

Nutritionists seem to go back and forth on the benefits or hazards of egg consumption, so we monks tend to follow Saint Benedict’s admonition of “moderation in all things.”

Saint Benedict underlined that moderation is particularly to be observed “on account of the faint-hearted.” In popular parlance, “chicken-hearted” might be the term to use for “faint-hearted.” However, our hens would likely take exception to the notion.

With the arrival of colder weather in the Northern Hemisphere, may we all enjoy warmth in our dwelling places, good health, despite pandemic realities, and peace in our hearts, which only God can grant.

Abbot Christian and the monks

November 30th: The Coming of Our God

Advent has begun, the “short but sweet” preparation for Christmas, the celebration of the Birth of the Redeemer, Christ the Lord.

We have an Advent wreath, photographed below, prominently displayed in our refectory, the place where we take our daily meals. For each of the four succeeding weeks of Advent, one of the four candles of the wreath is lit.

Behind the wreath is the beautiful mural on the eastern wall in our refectory. A portion of the mural appears in today’s photo. The Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Juan Diego and Saint Francis of Assisi seem to be eargerly processing toward “the One Who comes to save us,” Jesus Christ.

Our prayers and greetings for all in this great Advent season. May the frenzy that often accompanies preparations for “the holidays,” as they have come to be called, be set aside as best we can, and focus be placed on spiritual aspirations. We might just have a merrier Christmas if we do.

Abbot Christian and the monks

Advent and Christmas 2021 Monastery of Christ in the Desert Newsletter

Obedience

Everyone on earth is expected, to one degree or another, to be obedient. When you think about it, many people have to be attentive to the seasons, as to when to plant and when to harvest. That is a form of obedience. Countless people in various walks of life have to be obedient to traffic signals, for instance, as well as to the law of the land in general, and to the needs of spouses, children and loved ones. In a very real sense, there is no escaping the reality of obedience!

Our English word, “obedience,” is related to the Latin word, “obsculta,” literally meaning: Listen! Saint Benedict’s “Rule for Monasteries,” written about the year 500, and still followed by tens of thousands of Benedictine monks and nuns around the world, opens with the word, “Obsculta,” “listen.” This word expresses
so well the tone Saint Benedict wishes to set forth to those who read and follow his Rule. Sometimes people refer to the Rule of Saint Benedict as “the Rules (plural) of Saint Benedict,” but that is an error. The singular form of the word, “Rule,” implies a “way,” a “regula,” that is, a measured manner of life, intended to be all-encompassing and touching on every aspect of one’s existence.

For followers of Christ, the principal “rule” of living, of course, is the Gospel, which Jesus proclaimed and which was codified by the various authors of the Scripture texts. Really, though, all that is contained in what we call “the Bible” is to be our “rule of life.” It should also be said that Saint Benedict, living a few centuries after Christ, does not address his Rule to an elitist class or “super-Christians,” but to ordinary men and women, who wish to follow with greater intensity the Gospel message of the Lord.

Saint Benedict’s use of the word, “listen” at the beginning of his Rule indicates the full significance of listening, what the late Benedictine scholar, Father Terrence Kardong, calls “complete attention of the whole person; good will; implementation.” For Benedictine monks, listening is to take precedence over merely
seeing and hearing. The point is to put into practice what God is asking, and calls to mind the central prayer of the Jewish Scriptures: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord alone” (Book of Deuteronomy, chapter 6, verse 4).

What all of this is saying to me as abbot of this Monastery, and what I wish to convey to you, is that monks are not “supermen,” but ordinary men, who desire to follow in the footsteps of the Master, Jesus Christ. We do it in a particular way, within the monastery, but all people, the majority of humanity, have
not embraced the monastic way, but nonetheless need to be “listeners,” with “the ear of the heart,” as Saint Benedict expresses it, so as to be ready to obey and offer one’s life in service of one another and all of humanity.

Just as the monks learn to listen and obey, for example, through Sacred Scripture, through their abbot, through the sick brothers and through the guests, all of us might ask: how can I be a better “listener,” and how might I more readily obey all those who enter my life?

The theme of our Advent/Christmas Newsletter this year is “Obedience.” I hope your reading of the following essays will indicate that obedience is not to be thought of as drudgery or oppression, but as something life-giving and even lovely, because it is done out of love, for God and neighbor.

Blessed Advent and Christmas 2021!

Veritas Orchard:
The Ecological Dimension of Obedience

By Father Columba

As we prepare the ground – some very hard baked clay ground – for the planting of 12 fruit trees this fall – apples and pears – an expert orchardist who has been growing fruit of all kinds in the high desert of northern New Mexico for 30 years advises us. We do what he suggests to the best of our ability because we can see what his experience and knowledge and gifts has done, the fruit of his labors in his orchards, which are spectacular and a wonder to behold.

One of his most insistent instructions has concerned the preparation of soil, with diligence, to plant an array of certain plants that will help transform our hard and clay soils by bringing up the minerals and nutrients the young fruit trees will need to flourish and bear fruit here at Christ in the Desert. Such plants will also attract beneficial insects, and microbial life that will in turn nurture and sustain the growth of our orchard. Of course, we will need to irrigate as well, and be sure to plant with the right spacing, and in our context, because of the compact hardness of the ground, to make the holes for planting three times the size of the root ball of the trees.

I obey my master orchardist, who has learned to obey the ecology of the orchard, the laws as it were of soil health, microbial conditioning, water supply, beneficial insects, and so on, so that in turn I might help to create a healthy and fruitful orchard for the community and our guests to enjoy one day. In this connection who can argue with the wisdom, the virtue, of obedience?

Obedience is a foundation of all life. Benedictine monastic life commits the monk to relationships in some sense defined by obedience: obeying his Abbot and also his brothers in community especially. We must work to be open to the other, receptive to the word of the other, their needs, their actions, their gifts and faults, and this openness is transcendent: it runs from God right through his creation and I, if I am to be fruitful in this life, as in the next, cannot just make things up on my own. I have to learn how to be obedient. Obedience is all about fostering the relationships that define our life. One might say that there is an ecological dimension of obedience, a web of life, a communion of relations which obedience helps to generate, nurture, and make fruitful. It is thus a life-giving, transforming power. Does obedience to God help us in our relations with other creatures?

In this connection, C.S. Lewis writes of the particular quality of human obedience that: “As an organism, man is subjected to various biological laws which he cannot disobey any more than an animal can. That is, he cannot disobey the laws which he shares with other things. But the law which is particular to his human nature, the law he does not share with animals or vegetables or inorganic things, is the one he can disobey if he chooses.”

HOMILY GIVEN ON THE FEAST OF SAINT MATTHEW
By Father Caedmon

Saint Matthew2
You may know that Pope Francis has as his personal motto on his coat of arms words from today’s second reading at Vigils: miserando atque eligendo. These are from a homily of St. Bede on todays’ Gospel. Bede says that Our Lord saw Matthew the tax collector sitting at the tax office, and because he saw him with pity and with choosing, he said to him, Follow me. Miserando atque eligendo means “pitying and choosing.”

In an interview with Pope Francis published six months after his election, the interviewer’s first question to the new Pope was; “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” The Pope took the question very seriously and answered, “I do not know what is the most fitting description…I am a sinner… This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech … I am a sinner…” Then the interviewer says “The Pope continued to reflect and concentrate as if he had not expected this question, as if he were forced to reflect further. “Yes, perhaps I can say that I am a bit astute, that I can adapt to circumstances, but it is also true that I am a bit naive.

“Yes, but the best summary, the one that comes more from the inside and I feel most true is this: I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.” And he repeated: “I am one who is looked upon by the Lord. I always felt my motto, Miserando atque eligendo, was very true for me.” And he went on, “I like to translate it with another word that does not exist: misericordiando” (rather than miserando): ‘mercying’. Those are Pope Francis’ words, derived from Bede’s homily on the story we have just heard, of the call of Matthew from the tax office to become an apostle. As we saw vividly in the film series ‘The Chosen’, Matthew was a public sinner, cooperating in the Roman oppression of his own people, and by doing so making himself hated and despised by his people while accumulating wealth and privileges for himself.

That our Lord is full of mercy for us is made explicit at the end of this Gospel, where Jesus answers the complaint of the Pharisees, the good people, to his socializing with tax collectors and other sinners by saying “I did not come to call the righteous (that is, the good people) but sinners.” What good news that is for us! Which, of course, does not mean that we can let ourselves go in a life of sin, confident that God’s mercy cancels out all our wrong. St Luke, in his telling of this same story, quotes the last words as “I came to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.” To metanoia. To a change of thinking, of attitude. That is surely the meaning of our Lord’s words. And it in no way diminishes the mercy he is extending to us. The Gospel is aimed primarily at us who are sinners. But his mercy would really be no mercy at all if it left us just as it found us. St Bede’s homily closes with these words: “We open the door at the sound of his voice to receive him, when we freely assent to his promptings, and when we do what we know we should do. He enters, then, so as to eat with us and we with him, since he lives in the hearts of those he has chosen by the gift of his love. He rejoices their hearts by the light of his presence to the extent that they make more and more progress in their longing for heaven, and it is as though he himself delighted in the banquet of eagerness for heaven which they spread for him.”

Because we cannot have heaven, which is God, unless we really want him and him alone. “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other Gods before me”.

A MESSAGE FROM THE GUESTMASTER

Brother Chrysostom

 

Happily, we announce the reopening of our Guesthouse after nearly two years! We thank you all for your patience and support during this pandemic and the time the Guesthouse has been closed. The Rule of St Benedict exhorts us to go beyond the social graces, the superficial smile or the warm reception of expected guests. Hospitality for Benedict meant that everyone who comes — the poor, the traveler, the curious, those not of our religion or social standing or education — should be received with genuine acceptance. In short, our guests are to be received as Christ. In obedience the  Abbot, I, and the brothers adhere to this aspect of the Rule with conviction. Our Guesthouse represents our charism of hospitality, and it is the source of so many fond memories for many of our guests. We ask that those of you who wish to reserve a room at our Guesthouse do so through our online reservation system at christdesert.org There will be a reservation opening notice communicated through our website to let you know when the system is open to take your reservation. We look forward to welcoming you back; you have been sorely missed. God bless.

CLOISTER HUMOR

Not long ago, a brother was bringing an elderly wheelchair-bound monk into his place in church. Trying to make haste, so as to get in choir before the Divine Office began, the Brother pushed the wheelchair at a good clip. When they reached the elder’s place in church, the old monk turned to his helper and said, “You drive too fast.”

When reading the verse of Psalm 103 “In festive gatherings, bless the Lord,” an overly zealous (or perhaps pessimistic) monk read instead, “Infested gatherings, bless the Lord.”

THE FIFTH GOSPEL
By Father Zachary

A fifth gospel? Our Bibles contain only four, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. What do we mean by a fifth?

St. Paul VI used this phrase to describe Palestine, the Holy Land. Like the four written Gospels, the land where much of the history of salvation was played out, the land where Jesus was born, the place where he grew up and, later, the places in which he exercised his ministry of teaching and healing and, perhaps most importantly, the site of his crucifixion and resurrection, all of these speak to us of the Lord, of the Father and his love for all of us, of the new life he offers. Speaks to us, that is, if we have the ears to hear this voice, the voice of ancient stones and rubble, of long buried archaeological sites, of places long since abandoned. From the beginnings of the Christian Church, the places associated with the Lord and his ministry have been important to Christians. Over the centuries many are the pilgrims who have found light and inspiration by walking physically in Jesus’ footsteps, by visiting the places in which he lived and worked.

The symposium, a very full three days of lectures on work currently being done at a variety of digs in the Levant, as well as more general presentations on the discipline of Biblical Archaeology itself, was organized by Veritas International University and Trinity Southwestern University—both schools associated
with Evangelical Protestantism—and was attended by some 150 people. There we were able to listen to scholars, most of them actively working at archaeological sites in Palestine, from all over the world.

It is not possible here to go into all the details of these presentations we were able to listen to fascinating mosaics being uncovered at a Byzantine era synagogue in Huqoq in north-eastern Galilee; excavations at what might well have been the site of Sodom, not under the southern bed of the Dead Sea,
but to the North, a site violently destroyed in the 18th century before Christ; the identification of the Pharaoh at the time of the Exodus, and so many others—but these can be studied in articles and publications. Underlying all of them, though, was rigorous scholarship and serious faith, a faith bolstered and
perhaps even enlightened by the evidence given in the “the fifth Gospel.” Being able to share in these presentations, even though only for a few days, was a great joy for the three of us who were able to attend, and, I hope, through us for all the brothers at Christ in the Desert.

One last note, an added benefit of our stay in Albuquerque. While there we were given hospitality, in true Franciscan style, by the friars of the Provincial House of Our Lady of Guadalupe Province, the Southwest Province of the Franciscans. The Guardian Fray Erasmo and the friars welcomed us as brothers, showed themselves truly interested in what we were learning and welcomed us into their life of prayer.

MONK’ S CORNER
Brother Andre Lemieux

What is your name and age?
Andre Lemieux, I am 73 years old. I am from Bristol, CT

How long have you been a monk at MCD?
I arrived at the monastery in 1982 and made vows in 1984. Throughout my monastic life I have held many jobs and assumed many different responsibilities. I served as Prior, Vocation Director, Junior Master, Novice Master. People remember me mostly as the Guestmaster, a position I held for most of my monastic life. I also have been a weaver (mostly place mats) and now I do crafts for our Giftshop.

What were some of your challenges as a monk at MCD during your time here?
The hardest thing about community life IS community life. You are always learning how to live side by side with different people. I have come to realize that different people have different senses of “common sense”.

What changes have you witnessed during your time here at MCD?
I have seen different people come and go over the years. I was here when there was no electricity, poor heating, kerosene lamps were in use. Over the years I have seen things improve in those areas! When I was Guestmaster, my cell was also my office (which is now a part of the monastery
library). I have also seen the transition from American vocations to international ones.

Who is your favorite saint, and why?
André Bessette, C.S.C. (9 August 1845 – 6 January 1937), more commonly known as Brother André (French: Frère André), and since his canonization, as Saint André of Montreal, was a lay brother of the Congregation of Holy Cross. Like me he was short and had a good sense of humor. He
is credited with thousands of reported miraculous oil healings associated with his pious devotion to Saint Joseph. I also have a soft spot for Thérèse of Lisieux.

BROTHER ISIDORE’S SOLEMN PROFESSION

On the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, August 6, 2021, at the Benedictine Abbey of Christ in the Desert, the Solemn Monastic Profession and Consecration of Dom Isidore Marcel Ilunga Mukendi, O.S.B. was celebrated. Despite the heightened concern about COVID-19, many friends were able to attend the profession and enjoy the delicious meal prepared by monks at the reception afterwards. Musicians from Chama and monks played for guests. May God continue to bless Br Isidore in his monastic vocation.

SAINT NICHOLAS
By Brother Chrysostom

This Christmas Newsletter was compiled with the theme of obedience in mind. The word obedience comes from the Latin root “to listen”. To ask someone to obey us is to ask them to listen to us. St Benedict begins his Rule with the Latin word “ausculta” translated into English it means “hearken” or “listen.” Christmas is a perfect time to listen to the sounds that are created. The laughter, the singing, the bells, the stories and traditions, and most importantly the Scripture passages that bring us closer to the mystery of God becoming man by being born of a Virgin. Listening, different from just hearing, means that we block out or invest little energy in the booming sounds of commercialism, materialism, secularism, and societal disconnect. Not an easy task, but it is a purposeful way of entering into the beauty of the mystery of the birth of the Savior of the World. St. Nicholas visits our monastery each year in December. He brings presents to the monks, small but individualized, trinkets and small treasures, that brighten the season for us. That gives us the sense of receiving a gift, unmerited, yet greatly appreciated and cherished. St. Nicholas, also known as “Nikolaos of Myra,” was a fourth century saint and Greek bishop of Myra. According to church tradition, he was born into wealth and gave his inheritance to the poor. As an only child, he was exceedingly well brought up by his parents and trod piously in their footsteps. The child, watched over by the church, enlightened his mind and received encouragement for his thirst for sincere and true religion. St Nicholas, closely associated with tradition of Santa Claus (say, St Nicholas repeatedly in rapid succession and you may understand the connection), was not just a doer of good works, but he listened to what God had called him to do with his talent, time, and treasure. Yes, there is a real St. Nicholas. But he is not what Christmas is all about. It is about the birth of Jesus Christ, the gift to mankind surpassing explanation or merit. This Christmas, let us be obedient and listen to what the Christ child says to our hearts. God bless.

November 25th: Giving Thanks

Hopefully we all have something or even many things for which to be thankful. Every year on the fourth Thursday of November, Americans dedicate the day to giving thanks, and we monks celebrate Thanksgiving Day as well.

On Thanksgiving we have our Mass, as we always do, immediately after the morning Office of Lauds, chanted at sunrise. Only on Sundays is that altered, when Mass is celebrated a little later in the morning, at 9:15 am. On Thanksgiving Day we have our festive meal, including turkey, of course, at 1:00 pm. It is a time for community renewal and camaraderie.

One of the common terms for the Catholic Mass is “Eucharist,” derived from the Greek word for “thanksgiving.” As monk’s, we center our lives around the Eucharist, the Mass, which provides a constant focus on rendering thanks to God for all good gifts, great and small: life and breath, food and shelter, mobility and consciousness, are all part of the reasons we should thank God without ceasing. And above all, we give thanks for the sacrifice of Jesus, who died on the cross for our redemption, and who feeds us with “the best of wheat,” his Body and Blood, at Holy Communion.

May this Thanksgiving 2021 be cause for rejoicing for the good God does for us, when we are awake and when we sleep.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Abbot Christian and the monks

November 21st: Hospitality

As we monks of Christ in the Desert anticipate the return of guests in early March of next year, it was good to hear a conference by our Retreat-giver this year, Father Joel Rippinger, OSB, on the topic of hospitality.

The art of receiving others into our lives or monasteries, is a fundamental Christian and monastic value. There are many examples of it in Sacred Scripture (the Bible), such as in the Book of Genesis, chapter 18, where Abraham and Sarah receive three mysterious strangers into their own desert dwelling. And wonderful things transpire as a result.

Jesus taught the importance of treating
others well, as a clear expression and extension of our love for God.

All of us, monks or not, are called to extend hospitality to those we live with and those who enter our lives, each and every day. Saint Benedict asks his monks to receive the guests as Christ. With this in mind, a sacred obligation is at the heart of Christian hospitality.

By sharing our goods, both material and spiritual with the guests, we are enriched as well. In Saint Benedict’s mind, guests are understood as manifesting the mercy of God in our midst, as they are often ambassadors of God’s goodness and love.

Guests are pilgrims, passing through, but wishing support for the journey. They desire a “peaceful place,” and hopefully our homes and monasteries can be just that, whereby guests can truly experience what has been called, “a touch of God.”

November 19th: Work

An unofficial motto of Benedictines is “Ora et Labora,” pray and work. They are really two sides of one coin in being a monk. Or equally true, in being a Christian. All of us should pray and work, whatever our call in life.

Our community retreat this year, directed by Father Joel Rippinger of Marmion Abbey, Illinois, has been focused on the “nuts and bolts” of our monastic call. Twice-daily conferences have touched on the themes of liturgy, prayer, obedience, silence, celibacy, stability, poverty, work and hospitality. Sure, we’ve “heard it all before,” but it’s all too easy to forget the salient points and put them into practice. An annual retreat is another form of a “booster shot” for monks!

Regarding work, Father Joel emphasized that work is not meant to be a dehumanizing force by any means, but rather part of our participation in the creative process of which God is the Supreme Creator of heaven and earth.

Jesus himself was trained in the workshop of Saint Joseph in Nazareth, being a “techton” in Greek, which is not simply a carpenter, but better translated as a “handyman” and one who fashions a variety of items.

We are called to do likewise, in whatever work we’re assigned in the monastery or take up in our various vocations. Saint Paul was a tentmaker, for example, in addition to being the Apostle to the Gentiles!

Furthermore, everything we do should be directed to promoting peace. Work is an important part of the fabric of our life in being peacemakers, for young and old alike.

At end of the day, though, we should say with the psalmist: “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Your Name be the glory,” with the prayer that all will “work out well.”

Abbot Christian and the monks

November 18th: Stability

One of the retreat topics that Father Joel has discussed with us is the Benedictine vow of stability. For us monks, stability means belonging to a particular monastery. We don’t simply belong to the “Benedictine Order,” in the abstract, but to the Monastery of Christ in the Desert, the place we call “home.”

In other words, the vow of stability means a commitment to a specific community and to a place where one finds one’s bearings and discovers the truth about self. Stability is intended to promote living life out of a center, and the center is none other than Jesus Christ.

Saint Benedict calls the monastery “Domus Dei,” that is, “the house of God,” or “the Lord’s dwelling place.” By professing a life-long vow of stability (along with obedience and conversion of life), the monk allows the monastery to give direction and meaning to his life.

Another way to express this reality is that the place changes the monk and the monk changes the place. The hope is that this is positive change in both instances!

Stability in a monastery bears witness to the opposite of restlessness and wandering. One of the Psalms describes so well what stability is meant to foster when it says: “Be still and know that I am God.”

Exterior stability in any walk of life should promote interior stability and in turn, growth in the knowledge and love of God.

May we all find the “land and the locale,” as Father Joel expressed it, where we can “come ’round right,” as the famous American Shaker hymn, “Simple Gifts,” characterizes our going to God.

Abbot Christian and the monks

November 17th: Morning Glory

Our community retreat continues, with excellent twice-daily conferences by Father Joel Rippinger, the first at 8:30 am and the second at 7:10 pm.

Father Joel’s Abbey, founded in 1933 and dedicated to Blessed Columba Marmion, OSB, boasts a three-hundred acre farm, called, appropriately enough, “Abbey Farms,” operating since 1949.

The most notable part of Abbey Farms is the huge Christmas tree farm, where folks can come in the fall and winter to cut their own tree or purchase pre-cut trees.

The farm also has a forty-acre pumpkin patch, and pumpkins are sold from mid-September to later October. In season, corn is also available for purchase at Abbey Farms.

Marmion’s Abbey Farms has an “Emporium,” a large building with a cafe and bakery, specializing in award-winning homemade cider donuts. The monks’ locally-produced ales and wines are sold at the Emporium also.

It sure sounds like the place to visit! Marmion Abbey and their working farm is located in Aurora, Illinois, outside of Chicago; suburbia for sure, but plenty of open spaces as well. Keep it in mind for your next visit to Chicago.

Blessed week in progress.

Abbot Christian and the monks

November 16th: Pray As You Can

On Monday, our Retreat-giver, Father Joel of Marmion Abbey in Illinois, emphasized that monks at prayer, either in common in church throughout the day or in solitude, are engaged in “sanctifying time.”

Praying faithfully year in and year out may be unexciting and even boring, but it is intended to help the monk (and anyone who prays) grow in intimacy with God, over time and seasons.

An English Benedictine monk and author, Dom John Chapman, who died in 1933, wrote that we must “pray as we can and not pray as we cannot.” In other words, do your best, be patient with the process, trust in God and never give up on “the art of prayer,” as it is sometimes called.

Father Joel intentionally chose the topic of prayer for his first full day of retreat conferences, because prayer is the heart and soul of the monk. Expressed another way, union with God is what life is all about, and spending time every day cultivating prayer should bring us through life, with its many up and down, and into God’s House. In fact, Saint Benedict calls the monastery “Domus Dei,” house of God.

Prayer takes many forms: praying the Divine Office (the Church’s Liturgy of the Hours), Lectio Divina with Sacred Scripture, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, as well as devotions, such as the rosary and the Stations of Cross, are all possibilites for going to God.

As we often say in the Catholic Liturgy: let us pray!

We keep you in our prayers and we count on your prayers.

Abbot Christian and the monks

November 15th: Opening Night

Our community retreat has commenced and our Retreat-giver, Father Joel Rippinger, OSB, pointed out in his opening conference Sunday evening the importance of fidelity leading to steadfastness, the crown of perseverance and the sister of patience. There are ideas from the great Saint Bernard of Clairvaux from the 12th century, but still relevant today.

Coupled with steadfastness is the importance of forgiveness, which engenders freedom from resentment, something to aspire to, as a way to peace. A great help in the process is embracing life as it is, and not as we would like it to be.

Maintenance and survival, Fr Joel concluded, are not the heart of our life, but something else entirely!

Blessed week ahead.

Abbot Christian and the monks

November 14th: A Spin on Life

We are slowly but surely getting our “Saint Maurus Weaving Studio” organized and functioning. Saint Maurus, along with Saint Placidus, were early disciples of Saint Benedict and are both described in the “Dialogues” of Saint Gregory the Great, our only source of knowledge about Saint Benedict and his first followers.

In today’s photo, our Father Bernard, now 90 years young, watches attentively as Father Zachary demonstrates the art of spinning wool. Father Zachary spins wool from our own Navajo-Churro sheep, numbering sixteen at present. In the photo it may appear that Father Zachary is spinning with three wheels, but in fact he only uses one at a time! A recently acquired hand carved spinning wheel from Ireland seems to be his favorite at present.

We monks begin our community retreat this Sunday evening and ask for your prayers for the Retreat-giver, Father Joel Rippinger, OSB, and for each of us.

Thank you and blessed week ahead for all.

Abbot Christian and the monks

November 13th: Community Retreat

Each year monasteries typically have some days of what is called a “community retreat.” It is a time with an altered daily schedule, affording more time for silence, solitude, prayer and reading. We carry on our round of the Divine Office and Conventual Mass each day, but apart from that, we try to observe silence and quiet work, indoors or out.
This year our annual retreat will begin on Sunday evening, November 14th, and conclude on Friday night, November 19th.
Twice a day during the retreat we will gather as a community in our Chapter (meeting) Room to listen to spiritual conferences of about half an hour each, given this year by Father Joel Rippinger, OSB, of Marmion Abbey, in Aurora, Illinois, nor far from Chicago. Father Joel has been a friend of ours for many years and we are happy to welcome him back.
Please keep all of us there in your prayers during our days of retreat. Thank you and we keep you in our thoughts and prayers as well.
Abbot Christian and the monks

November 11th: Silent Sunset

Like sunrise, sunset in the Chama Canyon wilderness is always silent, and sometimes simply splendid. Days are definitely waning, with the sun setting around 4:20 pm at present. This pattern will persist, of course, until the winter solstice, a little more than a month away.

In days of yore, we used to speak of being “as snug as a bug in a rug,” to refer to the creaturely comforts of food, shelter and clothing. Today, these luxuries, which most take for granted, are missing for a large percentage of humanity. We must all, including monks, do what we can to eliviate homelessness and want. Saint Augustine of Hippo used to speak of “doing with less that others may have more.” It is always a good motto to adopt.

As winter rapidly approaches, we may all do well to look at what we have that might rarely be used, but of benefit to others more in need. Goodwill and thrift stores in most cities are ready to receive such offerings. A Goodwill store has recently opened in the metropolis closest to us, Espanola, some fifty miles from the Monastery.

With continued prayers and ever-grateful for yours,

Abbot Christian and the monks

November 9th: Not Our Donkey

While the photo today is not of a monastery donkey, it nonetheless portrays one of God’s cutest creatures on this earth. The burro in the photo is on the way to Santiago Compostella, Spain, one of the most popular pilgrimage destinations in the world.

Many or even most who come to the Monastery Christ in the Desert consider themselves “on pilgrimage,” intentionally leaving the beaten path for an encounter with the living God. Surely the less-than-super-highway that leads to our door is a clear incentive to put aside the ordinary and to prepare for the extraordinary.

God willing, we hope to be able to receive overnight guests once again at the beginning of March, 2022, in time for the Holy Season of Lent.

We also hope the possibility for making reservations will be on our website later this month.

While we will not be taking as many guests as in the past, we still believe the experience of silence and solitude, along with participation in the chanted Divine Office and Conventual Mass with the monks each day, will be a real blessing for all who come here.

Details about the new policies and which rooms will be available for occupancy will be on our website later this month as well.

With greetings and prayers,

Abbot Christian and the monks

November 7th: Silent Sunrise

The dawning of a new day is a reminder that we can always begin anew. Yesterday is past and tomorrow is unknown, so all we really have is today. And even the totality of the new day remains a mystery, so we must live in the present moment.

Catholic spiritual authors of past, such as the nineteenth century French priest Pierre de Caussade wrote of “the sacrament of the present moment,” and the seventeenth century French Carmelite friar, Brother Lawrence of the Resurrecton, wrote of “the practice of the presence of God.”

Both emphasized in their writings the importance of finding God in our lives here and now, not in a time that we really don’t possess, such as the future.

Benedictine monks profess a vow of “conversion of life,” which is a way of saying that we strive to begin anew every day. That doesn’t mean we deny the past or don’t plan for the future, but that we make the most of today, which is God’s gift to us to use to give glory to God by a life of seeking God and being at the service of one another.

Blessed week ahead.

Abbot Christian and the monks

November 6th: Saint Fiacre Greenhouse

Our much-anticipated greenhouse is now under construction, and within the next few weeks should be completed. It is located in one of our lower fields, dedicated to Saint Fiacre.

A crew of our own monks is doing the work of building the greenhouse and the progress is evident each day. We hope to begin planting once the interior of the greenhouse has proper beds and an irrigation system. We see that as being early next year, the fifty-eighth anniversary of this Monastery’s existence.

Thanks to a generous grant from the Catholic Foundation of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, New Mexico, we were able to purchase the greenhouse and ultimately hope to grow vegetables year round.

Our “out-in-the-open” summer vegetable gardens of recent years have met with limited success, due to nightly visits by deer and other wildlife. A “genuine greenhouse” should help eliviate the setbacks of the past.

We are deeply grateful to the Catholic Foundation of our Archdiocese for their help, and to all who assist us in any way in our agricultural and other endeavors in this beautiful part of the world.

With the assurance of our daily prayers and we are grateful for your,

Abbot Christian and the monks

November 5th: Over the Rainbow

A photo from a few weeks back is featured today. It is a view from our cloister garden, looking toward the east, where a rainbow appeared in the sky one day.

Our living quarters surround the cloister garden, which over the past twenty-five years has grown into a little paradise on earth. Trees, grass, flowers, a fountain with fish, flagstone paths, along with regular visits from birds and bees, are in harmonious balance and almost create an ecosystem in itself.

In the midst of desert beauty we are grateful to God for all good gifts and for those who are our families, friends and benefactors. May God bless them all!

Abbot Christian and the monks

November 4th: Last Lilies

Amazingly, though perhaps not considering the fact of global warming, Easter lilies are still blooming in our cloister garden. We had many of them this past summer and fall, which had been planted after the Easter season. When the potted lilies decorating the church have run their course, we always plant them in hopes of a second blooming.

This year was no exception, and the white lilies made many attractive arrangements to place in front of the altar in church or at the large icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Nothing can compare with the longevity of cut lilies in water, sometimes lasting weeks, and the fragrance of this particular flower is always a treat.

As we move through the month of November, especially dedicated to remembering in thought and prayer all who have died, we are encouraged by the “great cloud of witnesses” who have gone before us. Where they have gone we hope to follow, all in God’s time.

Blessed Autumn still in progress.

Abbot Christian and the monks

"Let everyone that comes be received as Christ."

— The Rule of St. Benedict

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