Monastery News

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June 18th: One Among A Cast of Thousands

Our hives are thriving with eager bees and we look forward to a bountiful harvest of honey some time in the fall. Brother Chrysostom is our beekeeper and manages to stay “sting free” most of the time. Some weeks ago he provided us with a sampling of the honey from one of our hives and it was delicious, to say the least.

Over the decades our Monastery has had bee hives and on occasion bears have invaded the hives, overturning the production of honey to themselves rather than to the monks.

Anyone who loves honey or is fascinated by bees, should watch the 2019 award-winning film, HONEYLAND, a glimpse into the life of a woman of Macedonia who makes her living cultivating honey using ancient apiary methods. Not to be missed!

You are in our thoughts and prayers and please pray for us. Thank you and God bless you.

Abbot Christian and the monks

June 17th: Daylilies

As mid-June arrives, so too daylilies in our cloister garden. Somewhat illusive flowers, some times blooming and sometimes not, they contribute to the display of God’s great color scheme in the midst of desert beauty.

Much of the Southwest is experiencing a heatwave of late, with relief in sight only next week perhaps. High temperatures, lack of rain and regular gusty winds are not good news for already drought conditions.

Our prayers continue for rain and for all who depend on their livelihood by cultivation of the land.

Abbot Christian and the monks

June 16th: Saint John Paul II Garden

Between our Monastery church and the Guest Reception Building, is the Saint John Paul II Silent Meditation Garden. It is beginning to look beautiful once again with the leafing of the Rose of Sharon bushes and other flora.

The space is called a “Silent Meditation Garden,” intended to be a place for reflection and prayer, as an extension of the church itself. In silence God often speaks to the heart, the mystical tradition of the Church teaches.

May all of us, wherever we are, leave time and space each day to listening with the ear of the heart, for what God has to say to us. No better companion in this endeavor is God’s Word itself, the texts of Sacred Scripture, the Bible.

We continue to have daytime temperatures in the high 80s and low 90s. We also continue to pray for rain.

June 15th: Lambs on the Rocks

Our two dozen sheep, mostly ewes, but also a few young rams, are doing well. The same goes for Matty the guard donkey, who keeps a watchful eye on the flock.

Our sheep are a heritage breed, called Navajo-Churros, having arrived in the New World with Spanish explorers in the 16th century, but originally from the Middle East. Since the Churro sheep arrived in North America, the Navajo peoples have cultivated the breed, right to present times.

Navajo-Churro sheep are an especially hearty breed, fit for the rough terrain of the great Southwest and the cold winters. Their wool is prized for weaving and unlike other sheep, Churros are sheared twice a year, so plentiful is their fleece.

The Monastery flock has a good amount of pastureland in which to roam and graze. Danger from predators, such as coyotes or mountain lions, is next to nil because of the instinctive protection donkeys possess. In other words, so far, so good.

Blessed week in progress and a promise of our prayers.

Abbot Christian and the monks

June 14th: A Rose Is A Rose Is A Rose

While not in the running with Pasadena, California, nor Portland, Oregon, both “Cities of Roses,” with annual Rose Parades and Festivals, our modest monastery rose patches are lovely to behold nonetheless.

Throughout the late Spring and Summer, we can usually count on a variety of colorful roses for decorating our monastery church.

While serious growers of roses go to great trouble to get their bushes through the winter, by dusting, pruning and protecting for optimal growth, we monks are much more cavalier in our approach, and do the minimum for the longevity of our roses.

For the most part, because our roses are protected in our cloister garden, surrounded by our living quarters, and not subjected to wind or deep freezes, we are usually pleasantly surprised at what crops up each June, July and August.

We don’t actually know the official names of our dozen or so rose bushes, but their beauty and fragrance are welcome additions to our desert landscape.

With our continued prayers for health and well-being.

Abbot Christian Leisy and the monks

June 13th: Flowers Recycled

As garden flowers fade–in this case peonies–they become perfect bedding for the hen house, dedicated to Saint Brigid of Kildare.

Our flock of forty-five is thriving and producing two to three dozen eggs each day. The hens have a large space to roam in Abbotsfield, so they are fully fledged “free range” chickens.

As we draw closer to the official beginning of summer, technically on June 20th, Father’s Day this year, daytime temperatures are already in the high 80s. The lack of humidity in the air makes the weather pleasant, though.

That being said, moisture is very much needed in the great Southwest. We are praying daily for rainfall.

We also keep the needs and intentions of our families, friends, benefactors and oblates in our prayers.

We are now open to day visitors, every day of the week, 9:00 am to 4:00 pm, to the church, Giftshop and Art Gallery. People are returning once again. Sunday Mass is at 9:15 am.

Abbot Christian and the monks

Summer Newsletter 2021: Conversion of Life

CONVERSION OF LIFE

At the heart of every Christian vocation is the call to “conversion” or “change of heart.” And what does that mean? Basically it is a matter of avoiding whatever is not of God and embracing God’s ways of love, forgiveness, communion, and doing good. The Greek word for conversion is “metanoia,” which indicates a change of direction, a turning around. Once again, for the Christian it is all about going in “God’s direction,” we might call it, turning toward the source of all good and light, namely, God.

Not so long ago we completed the Liturgical Seasons of Lent and Easter, when we meditated on the return to the Lord through prayer, fasting and almsgiving. The penitential Season of Lent led right into the joy of resurrected life in Jesus Christ, the Savior of all peoples. Past, present and to come!

It is good to keep in mind that conversion is not normally a “once and for all” matter, as if we have at some point in life a change and the rest of life is smooth sailing. Certainly the Benedictine path that we follow at Christ in the Desert is about a daily turning to God, by no means simply “once and for all.”

At the time of their monastic profession, Benedictine monks and nuns publicly profess a vow of “conversion of life,” (“conversatio morum” in Latin), which implies a constant turning toward God, like a sunflower seeking the sun. “Girasol” is the name for the sunflower in Spanish, which can be translated as “gyrating toward the sun.” That is what monks and nuns aspire to, costing “not less than everything,” as the poet T.S. Eliot described the idea of wholehearted adherence to something or Someone. That is actually the “work” of every Christian, of course, not just monks and nuns!

I think every monk or nun will admit he or she never achieves conversion perfectly in this life, but we keep on trying nonetheless, day by day, and never give up the work of drawing closer to the Lord, who is in fact “nearer to us than we are to ourselves,” as Saint Augustine of Hippo wrote in the fourth century.

The point of conversion is never for show or to outdo others in virtue. That is vanity and not sanctity! Rather, conversion is about growing in transparency by daily fidelity, by gentleness with ourselves and others and availability to whatever we are called on to do or can see that needs to be done. It is all to be carried out

in the service of the God to whom we have been called to belong from all eternity and forever. This issue of the monastery Newsletter is devoted to the theme of conversion, “conversatio,” and I hope you enjoy the handiwork of our brothers in expressing some points of view on the topic, hoping it encourages

you, our family and friends, on your personal journey to the house of the Lord. That is where we all meet as one family of God. ✠

May the Lord bless and keep you!

Abbot Christian

ECO CONVERSION

By Father Columba

Have you found yourself during the pandemic noticing the natural world more? Many have found in their forced solitude and silence some consolation in these difficult times in a newfound attention to nature. In some cases, it is a matter of having the time to look, the quiet to listen; for others it has been a matter of the natural world asserting itself, suddenly appearing in places otherwise vacated by human activity, for example the appearance of herds of deer or antelope on city streets, among many other examples.

Indeed, it may be said that the COVID 19 virus is itself an assertion of the natural world. It has reminded us all that nature is not under human control; that while we have come to dominate nature globally in the last century especially, nature is not merely passive to us, but has behaviors and responses of which we are often only dimly aware and which we neglect and ignore at our peril. What many people are beginning to recognize in these days, and as the last three Popes have suggested, is the need for an “ecological conversion” on our part, a significantly changed human relationship to nature.

In his prophetic encyclical, Laudato Si, published in 2015, Pope Francis describes ecological conversion in terms of a “renewal of humanity” stemming from an “ecological spirituality grounded in the convictions of our faith.” In many ways presupposing the ecological crises emerging in the past two hundred years of industrialization, what makes Laudato Si so inspired and inspiring is its vision for an “integral human ecology”, a way forward for humanity that seeks to foster at once both a greater communion of creatures and peoples, and also for Christians, a profound interior conversion, an ecological conversion, “whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ becomes evident in their relationship to the natural world.”

What would such an ecological conversion look like? Pope Francis presents a number of attitudes, deeply grounded in the convictions and traditions of faith to foster “a spirit of generous care, full of tenderness”, toward other creatures, human and nonhuman alike, with his namesake St. Francis, one of the patron saints of ecology (the other is St. Kateri Tekakwitha), as a guiding light. He writes: “First (ecological conversion) entails gratitude and gratuitousness, a recognition that the world is God’s loving gift, and that we are called quietly to imitate his generosity in self-sacrifice and good works: ‘Do not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing… and your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Mt 6:3-4).’ It also entails a loving awareness that we are not disconnected from the rest of creatures, but joined in a splendid universal communion.

As believers we do not look at the world from without but from within, conscious of the bonds with which the Father has linked us to all beings… We do not understand our superiority as a reason for personal glory or irresponsible dominion, but rather as a different capacity which, in its turn, entails a serious responsibility stemming from our faith.” These words may sound strange to many of us whose catechesis in the faith said nothing about our obligations to the natural world, or what Christians believe and have believed and taught concerning nature. Yet one aspect of ecological conversion is precisely to allow us to find in Sacred Scripture and the teaching of the Church, a deep and abiding doctrine of creation that, if understood and applied, would contribute greatly to addressing some of our contemporary world problems. Such convictions of our faith include:

“…the awareness that each creature reflects something of God and has a message to convey to us, and the security that Christ has taken unto himself this material world and now, risen, is intimately present to each being, surrounding it with his affection and penetrating it with his light. Then too, there is the recognition that God created the world, writing into it an order and a dynamism that human beings have no right to ignore. We read in the Gospel that Jesus says of the birds of the air that ‘not one of them is forgotten before God (Lk 12:6).’

How can we then possibly mistreat them or cause them harm? I ask all Christians to recognize and live fully this dimension of their conversion. May the power and light of the grace we have received also be evident in our relationship to other creatures and to the world around us. In this way, we will help nurture that sublime fraternity with all creation which Saint Francis of Assisi so radiantly embodied.”

God willing, we may all safely emerge from the pandemic soon. But perhaps we ought to reflect on the Holy Father’s words here before we seek to “get back to normal” too quickly. Can we see and hear the Holy Spirit speaking to us through the natural world in the constraints of these days? Can we recognize in what has surely been a certain kind of fasting, ascetical experience for most of us, a call to embody more authentically the teachings of our faith? If so, then perhaps we need first a prayerful moment to consider how, when we emerge from the pandemic, we might enter rather more into the ecological conversion to which the Holy Father is calling us. “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to every creature (Mk 16:15),” the Risen Lord commands us at Easter. May we each pray to know our part in this great commission in our time. ✠

Homily on Conversion
By Father Mayeul

As we begin a new liturgical year, the readings focus on God’s calling. Last week, we heard about John the Baptist introducing Jesus as the Lamb of God, and two of his disciples responded to the call of Jesus. Today’s readings continue the theme of calling and responding. In the Gospel reading, the Lord calls Simon and Andrew who are casting their nets. These two brothers become attracted quickly to His call, His person and His new form of fishing. They respond joyfully to the Caller who promises to transform them into fishers of men.

Then another call and response happens to two more brothers, James and John. Fishing may not have been too successful that day, because these two were mending their nets and when they saw Jesus, followed by Simon and Andrew, they must have thought, “Well, what happened to these guys? Why not to us!” Eventually they also left their father and the hired men, fishless and wordless, to follow along; to where, they did not know. Probably to nowhere, because their master tells them: “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”

Sometimes, God calls more than once. Last Sunday, in the first reading, God called Samuel four times before getting a right response. In today’s first reading, we hear about Jonah’s being called a second time. In the first chapter of the Book of Jonah, we read about his being called for the first time to go to the great city of Nineveh and announce that God knows their wickedness. Jonah decides to escape and takes refuge in a ship. But the Lord hurled a violent wind upon the sea, and in the furious tempest that arose, the ship was on the point of breaking up. We know the rest of the story. Jonah asked to be thrown into the sea and the Lord sent a large fish, that swallowed him; and he remained in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. In the second chapter of this book, Jonah sings a great song of praise and thanksgiving for God’s having called himout of the belly of a huge fish by which he had been swallowed.

In today’s reading, we hear the second call of the prophet; God asks him to call the Ninevites to repent and to come back to God. After only one day, everybody hears the calling and responds declaring a forty-day fast. This sounds good, but if we want even more action, we can read the next chapter, the fourth.

To illustrate the lesson given by the story of Jonah, I would ask you for the permission to recall here my own story, my own experience about calling and responding. It will not be a boast, because if I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness, as St. Paul says. Rather, it can be a kind of confession in the manner of St. Augustine. In 1944, I was 9 years old, and the calling happened to me for the first time. As for my responding, I left my family to join the Redemptorists, the French Canadian Missionaries in Vietnam. At that time there were minor seminaries; so one could respond to the calling and enter the minor seminary very young. Unfortunately, I was not faithful.

Like Jonah, I escaped from the call at the age of 16. Three years later I followed an ex-Redemptorist – like me – in his business and, with him, I did something absolutely wrong socially. I was caught and like Jonah, I was swallowed – not by a big fish – but by a jail, not for 3 days but for 2 years. After those two years of prison, just as Jonah, the calling came to me again and I became a Benedictine of Thien-An in Central Vietnam.

I made my first monastic vows in 1961. Three years later I left again because of a general draft in that time of war and eventually became a Captain in the Armed Forces of Vietnam fighting against Communism. And I got married. On April 30th, 1975, by an act of piracy, the Communists invaded the legal Republic of Vietnam. That famous “Fall of Saigon” forced me to be swallowed again by a “so-called” fish for a second time. This time, this “so-called” large fish was the whole system of Vietnamese Communism. I was swallowed by that big organization – a huge fish – not for 3 days not for 2 years, but for 8 years. Fortunately, after those 8 terrible years God commanded this so-called large fish, the Vietnamese Communist Party, to spew me upon the shore of Thien-Binh, and I entered Thien Binh, a Benedictine monastery of South Vietnam. That was the third calling that happened to me. It was in 1980; I performed necessary steps to obtain an “indult” from the Holy See. An “indult” is a special dispensation from the Vatican. For me, this dispensation was a permission to become a monk, even though I was married and had two children. My wife and my children had escaped from my life at that moment. Another indult came to me later. It is called “Sanatio in Radice”; in English, “Radical Sanation” or “Healing in the Root.” This decree from the Holy See recognized – by grace – the validity of my first monastic vows in 1961, regarding probably my being drafted in the army in 1964 as an accident to my monastic life.

In 1996, a special agreement between the Communist Vietnam and the U.S. Government allowed me –as being a prisoner of war – to leave Vietnam and to go to the U.S. That’s why I am here now.

The book of Jonah is not historic. It is just an allegory that teaches a lesson. It teaches that God is faithful in spite of my unfaithfulness. He chose me in spite of my duplicity. And He is obstinate in His calling, as He was obstinate in the calling of Samuel and Jonah. He never gives up. Finally, He also forgave my wife who recently died peacefully in the Catholic Church. I pray for her every day at Mass. My children are living in Texas now. That is the result of my sponsorship. I was allowed by my superior to sponsor them.

I admired St. Paul who is well aware of my current situation when he says in today’s second reading: “The time is running out. From now on, let those having wives act as not having them ✠

MONK’ S CORNER: Father Bernard Cranor

What is your name and age?

Fr. Bernard Cranor; and I am 89 years old.

How long have you been a monk at MCD?

I have been in religious life for 70 years. I began religious life as a monk at Holy Trinity Abbey in Huntsville, Utah (now closed) in 1951, and I progressed there until 1956. I left the monastery to attend college for some months. Afterwards, I joined the Domincan Order. While a Dominican I attended The Institut Catholique de Paris where I was awarded a Sacrae Theologiae Doctor [STD]. It is the final theological degree in the pontifical university system of the Roman Catholic Church. I was involved in parish work, campus ministry and taught at the Dominican seminary in California. In 1993 I entered the Monastery of Christ in the Desert where I have served as the librarian and Junior Master.

What were some of your challenges as a monk at MCD during your time here?

Community life has always posed its special challenges. I also occasionally thought about my choice to be a monk, whether this is the life I was called to by God. There have also been bouts of loneliness, primarily due to lack of contact with the outside world and that I am the sole remaining sibling in my family. The loss of work due to my fading eye sight and inability to walk has been compounded challenges.

What changes have you witnessed during your time here at MCD?

When I first arrived, we were a small community with a Prior. I have experienced the rapid growth within the community over the years.

Who is your favorite saint, and why?

Saint Joseph is my favorite saint these days. I know that I have to learn obedience. ✠

OUR BELOVED SANTO EXPERIENCES A CHANGE OF LIFE

By Brother Chrysostom

Visitors to the church at the Monastery of Christ in the Desert direct their gaze upward and around the sacred space. The absence of stained glass windows can be surprising to some. The clear tall windows of the oratory allow sunlight to pass through effortlessly, illuminating the altar and different areas of the church depending on the time of day. The canyon cliff visible through the eastward facing windows looms protectively over the church. Three well positioned crosses at the top of the canyon compel worshipers to float gazes, thoughts and prayers upward.

Perhaps the most attractive visual point within the oratory is the santo (Crucifix) positioned above the seat of the presider at Mass to the right of the Tabernacle. Our near life-sized crucifix, santo, impresses an indelible memory on any visitor to the church.

Santo is a Spanish word meaning “saint” or “holy,” applied to a holy person or to an image, such as the cross on which Christ was crucified. The term is also used for an image of a holy person (Christ, His Mother, the angels and saints) or a more tangible artifact (the cross, monstrance, Sacred Heart, etc.). The images in New Mexico called ‘santos’ are of two types: paintings (called retablos) and statues (called bultos). The influence of the saints in New Mexico extends back to the Spanish colonial period and the first Catholic settlers to the region in 1598. The isolation and lack of materials from major cities caused the Spanish New Mexicans to rely on ingenuity to obtain and create visual images, so much a part of Catholic tradition. Images were needed for instructing others in the Catholic faith as well as for devotion and prayer.

During the pandemic, we decided to have our cherished santo (Cristo) restored and repaired to its original splendor. The Crucifix, with a dramatic representation of a bloodied and wounded Jesus, is carved out of pine and weighs almost 35 pounds. The peak years of santos art were between 1830 and 1850. More materials became available to artists due to the introduction of new railroads crisscrossing the US Southwest. Our santo was crafted in the 1990s in nearby Taos, New Mexico, by santero (saint-maker) Mr. Gustavo Victor Goler.

Goler, who recently repaired and restored our santo, was raised in Santa Fe, New Mexico, among a family of Latin American art conservators and restorers. Goler’s early years were spent apprenticing in his family’s conservation studios where he learned wood-carving skills by restoring 18th, 19th and 20th century santos from Latin America and New Mexico.

Earlier this year, when Goler returned elatedly to our monastery with the restored santo, he had the opportunity to address our community and give a short lecture about santero artwork. With the help of younger brothers, Goler climbed a ladder and reinstalled the beloved art piece to its proper place in our oratory. The monks’ faces shone brightly, reflecting the comfort in seeing an important visual image returned to the church for daily liturgy.

Ours is by no means the only sacred artifact important to Catholics in the immediate area. The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi in Santa Fe is home to the oldest Madonna in the United States. That santo holds a place of honor in a side chapel within the cathedral, where she has been enshrined almost continuously for nearly 400 years, known today as “Our Lady of Peace.”

Although our monastery santo is not nearly as old as the Madonna in Santa Fe, we do attract many visitors who may come for only a few precious minutes to soak up the experience of our church or to participate in one of the daytime Offices such as Sext or None. It is not unusual to see visitors transfixed by the image of our striking Crucifix, lingering long after the last note of the chants of the monks have sounded, pondering the mystery of their faith through the image of Christ on the Cross in our oratory. ✠

“ CONVERSION OF LIFE ” AS WEAVERS

By Brother Chrysostom

Last Fall, Brothers Martin, Chrysostom, and Father Seraphim intrepidly responded in obedience to Abbot Christian’s request to enroll in Tierra Wools’ Beginning Weaving Class in Chama, New Mexico. None of the brothers had previous weaving experience. This was, yet again, an example of conversatio morum, or conversion of life. The term conversatio morum is an ancient Benedictine term. Its exact meaning is subject to some shades of interpretation, but its general meaning is clear — it is continuing fidelity to the monastic life. The term conversation morum is found in chapter 58 of the Rule of St. Benedict. As monks, we are asked to change our past ways of living; at times we are also asked to learn new ways of living out our monastic lives. None of the brothers would have imagined that weaving was part of God’s plan!

Weaving predates monasticism by centuries, and it was incorporated into monastic life at very early stages. The first fully organized monastery with Saint Pachomius included men and women, living in separate quarters, up to three in a room. They supported themselves by weaving cloth and baskets, along with other tasks. Each new monk or nun had a three-year probationary period, concluding with admittance in full standing to the monastery. Lucky for the three chosen, modern day monks, that their admittance into the Monastery of Christ in the Desert is not contingent on their weaving ability!

After spending intermittent weeks in Chama learning the craft, the monks learned about weft (the thread that is woven across the warp to make the fabric) and warp (a group of parallel threads that are held in tension, and through which the weft passes), arc (the weft bowed up to a point, to allow extra weft length), beat (packing in the weft by swinging the beater forward), heading (a few rows of weaving in a special yarn before starting the main weaving). For the uninitiated, this is daunting and vexing stuff to learn over a few days. It reminded them more and more about the meaning of conversatio. Conversatio is about being broken and renewed, being overwhelmed and being raised up. It is willingness to suffer and be utterly confused, because we have learned that is one-way God leads us into the encounter with brand new life. Conversatio is about being in the hands of the living God.

Weaving on the looms at Tierra Wools required the whole body: head, shoulders, arms, hands, legs, and feet. The weaving day began at 9:00 am, with a short lunch break, and then work again until 5:00 pm. In the evenings, Brother Chrysostom would cook for the monks, and Brother Martin and Father Seraphim would clean pots and dishes. Father Seraphim was Mass celebrant for the small community of three each night at around 6:00 pm before dinner. At the end of five days, the brothers produced three full length rugs. There was always physical and mental fatigue associated with the weaving process, and frustrations with yarn and weaving mistakes, but at the end the brothers were pleased with the rugs produced and the good fruit of their labors. All the wool used for the rugs is 100% Navajo-Churro, a breed of sheep we raise here at the monastery.

Can you imagine if brothers at Christ in the Desert had to weave all of their clothes and linen needs? Centuries ago the medieval monk’s habit, or robe, was a simple and modest looking tunic-like garment. Rough textures and generous cut were its hallmarks. Most robes included a hood and cord around the waist. Sources indicate that the earliest Benedictine habits were probably white, brown and gray, because monks wore undyed wool as part of their dedication to a life of poverty. Some of the colors varied according to the order. As time went by, black became the standardcolor of a Benedictine habit, though some Benedictine Congregations use white, especially in hotter climates.

We may not be making our own clothes, but we are making delightful rugs that have found a home with many of our benefactors and supporters. It is not Monk’s Cloth, “a coarse heavy fabric in basket weave made originally of worsted and used for monk’s habits but now chiefly of cotton or linen,” but it is a handcrafted, love imbued product of the monastery that can be shared with those who know of the monks and of our conversatio morum as monks…and weavers.

MARCH 20TH: RENEWAL OF VOWS

On Saturday evening, March 20th, our Brothers Boniface and Chrysostom renewed their simple, also called temporary, vows, for another year. This time of formation leads, God willing, to final or solemn monastic profession in the future.

Both monks give themselves generously to the daily monastic life at Christ in the Desert and help build up the common life. Brother Boniface is one of our organists, who accompany our chanting of the Divine Office and the Conventual Mass each day. Brother also works at recording and responding to Mass requests, as well as being our photocopier, preparer of postage for packages and acting as our immigration representative to the U.S. Government.

Brother Chrysostom serves as our Guestmaster and Development Director. Even though we have no guests at present, he still keeps busy with Guesthouse-related work, including correspondence and maintenance of our guest facilities. Brother is also editor of our biannual Monastery Newsletter.

These monks not only work, they also faithfully attend common prayer throughout the day and give themselves to private prayer and lectio divina. They are a good example to all.

Ad multos annos, Fratres Boniface et Chrysostom. ✠

MARCH 21ST: PROFESSION OF VOWS

On Sunday, March 21st, our Father Zachary Nelson made his first profession of vows as a Benedictine monk of Christ in the Desert. He has completed his novitiate, and before coming here, served for many years as a diocesan priest in Japan.

Father Zachary is part of our kitchen staff, coordinating menus and shopping, and is an excellent cook and baker as well. He also spins wool from our Navajo-Churro sheep, gives fine homilies at Mass and is part of the group of monks who lead the music at Mass each day.

In the photo below, Father Zachary is on the far right. Prior Bonaventure and Abbot Christian are beside him, just after the profession Mass of March 21st.

Ad multos annos, Pater Zachary. ✠

THE MONASTERY IS NOW OPEN TO DAY VISITORS

We have received numerous telephone calls, emails, and letters inquiring about our reopening. Beginning Monday, May 31st, Memorial Day, our Monastery Church, GiftShop and Art Gallery, will be open again to daytime visitors, each Monday through Saturday, from 9:00 am
to 4:00 pm. Masks are required for visitors to the Giftshop and in church. On Sundays, the Conventual Mass is at 9:15 am and the Giftshop will be open from 10:30 am to 12:30 pm. Our Guesthouse for overnight retreatants remains closed.

Similar to the hidden life of Jesus, during the pandemic we have continued with our Divine Offie, daily Masses, work, and lectio divina. Like the early Desert Fathers we have maintained a quiet life, and we are happy that you can re-enter our lives and glorify and praise our Lord with
us. As Bonnie Thurston writes in her book, Shaped by the End You Live For: Thomas Merton’s Monastic Spirituality, “A genuine monastic is not separate from but in solidarity with [the whole Church], and this is true for serious Christians in any state of life.” Stay healthy and safe. See you soon! God bless.✠

June 8th: Opening Up

After a hiatus of over a year, our Monastery church, Giftshop and designated grounds
are open once again. Brother Isidore is the Giftshop Manager and is in our shop each morning, beginning at 9:00 am. Brothers Andre and Benedict are also on hand to assist you each afternoon.

We now receive visitors from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm each day of the week. Sunday Mass is at 9:15 am, which follows the Little Hour of Terce at 9:00 am.

Please visit when you can, pray in our church, soak in the sun and silence, and find quality products from our workshops and from other monasteries, as well as books on a wide range of religious and monastic topics. We also sell fresh eggs from our flock of fifty hens.

With our greetings and assurance of prayers for your needs and intentions,

Abbot Christian and the monks

June 7: Morning Sky

William Turner? William Blake? Fra Angelico? All of these artists come to mind when contemplating the morning light and clouds in the Chama Canyon, photographed on Sunday, June 6th.

The glory of God shines out in nature around us, and for this we give thanks. In the midst of desert beauty there is no end to wondering at God’s glorious deeds and the promise of even greater glory in heaven.

“Let us prefer nothing whatever to Christ, for he had preferred nothing whatever to us,” as Church Father Saint Cyprian of Carthage, who died in 258 AD, wrote.

Blessed week to all.

May 6th: Oasis in the Desert

Over the years we have planted trees and bushes on our property, to create several gardens for prayer, respite and shade in the desert, spaces that are often called “oaises,” a word of Egyptian origin which means, “dwelling place.”
The photo below is from our Blessed Virgin Mary Garden, within our cloister area, between the church and building which houses our work offices and library.
In the Blessed Virgin Mary Garden, we planted some years ago now, blue spruce trees, a beautiful evergreen conifer. In general, pine trees do well in our climate and elevation, as is the case of our little grove of blue spruce.
God’s creation surrounding us never ceases to amaze us, and we thank our God for our common home, where we live and hopefully thrive, day by day and year by year.
With our greetings and prayers,
Abbot Christian and the monks

June 5th: Cloister Flowers

This year our cloister garden is seeing an abundance of peonies in bloom just now. The colors range from white and pink to magenta. The flowers are so large and heavy this year that they routinely topple over, right to the ground. Fortunately the stems don’t snap, so they can be used for arrangements in our church.

This Spring, which lasts technically until the end of June, has been mild and pleasant, with fairly sunny days, temperatures in the 70s and even some rainfall. All this is probably ideal for the flowers.

Along with the peonies in full glory, our roses are quietly making their entrance now. These too will soon be adorning our church, just steps away from the cloister garden.

“Where flowers bloom, so does hope.” An anonymous saying that captures the symbolism of the flower.

You are in our daily thoughts and prayers, family and friends of us monks.

Abbot Christian and the monks

June 4th: Best of Friends

Matty the burro and Mable the hen have struck up a friendship over the past year in the same pasture, what we’ve dubbed, “Abbotsfield.” It is interesting to observe how the creatures in our farmyard: sheep, donkey, chickens and even bees, interact and harmoniously occupy the same space.

The animals we have exhibit behavior that, while not done as rational creatures, is nonetheless cause for humans to be reminded of important Christian values, such as tolerance, not bullying, silence, sharing and patience.

The Desert Fathers and Mothers of the early Church were not adverse to learning lessons from the animals in the wilds, or the domesticated ones under their care.

“You beasts, wild and tame, O bless the Lord” (Book of Daniel, chapter 3).

Our prayers and greetings to all.

Abbot Christian and the monks

June 2nd: First Rose of Summer

A bit ahead of schedule, since summer is still three weeks away, roses are beginning to bloom in our cloister garden.

None of us here is an expert on the names of the varieties of roses we cultivate, but “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” as Shakespeare reminds us.

In addition to adding beauty to our cloister garden, our roses will be used throughout the summer in floral arrangements at the Blessed Virgin Mary icon in our Monastery church.

In Christian tradition, Mary is often called the “Mystical Rose,” or “Rosa Mystica,” for her beauty, grace and humility.

A hymn, called “Behold A Mystical Rose,” includes these lines:

“Through you salvation came; All praise and blest be your name.”

Hail Mary, full of grace, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

June 1st: Green Acres

Recent rain has turned our Chama canyon valley greener than usual. Experts tell us the great Southwest is suffering through drought conditions, so we are grateful for any amount of moisture to our land.

The reopening of our Monastery grounds, church and Giftshop as of May 31st has already brought a number of visitors to our remote location.

We always say, the deeper you go into the desert, the more you are sought out. This is not because we who dwell here are great or deserve attention, but because of the lure of desert beauty and the silence it holds.

May the Lord bless and guide all who seek the face of God, everywhere and anywhere, as the world regains some degree of normality after a long stretch of distress and unprecedented crisis in the history of humankind.

With our continued prayers for your needs and intentions.

Abbot Christian and the monks of Christ in the Desert

May 31st: Memorial Day and the Visitation 

Americans keep May 31st this year as the day to honor and pray for all who have died in the service of their country in the various branches of the military, called Memorial Day.
This is also the date every year when Catholics recount the visit that the Virgin Mary made to her kinswoman Elizabeth, as found in the Gospel According to Saint Luke, chapter 1, verses 39 to 56, called the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The Feast of the Visitation is all about hospitality, of Elizabeth welcoming a relative coming from a distance, to be of assistance and to rejoice together in the coming births of their sons, Jesus of Nazareth and John the Baptist.
This year too on May 31st we are partially reopening our ministry of hospitality, by welcoming day visitors to the Monastery once again. Starting today, the Monastery Church, Giftshop and designated grounds will be open each day from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm.
Reservations for private retreats are still not possible. Our website will indicate when we are able to have overnight stays once again.
Let us pray that we all may remain safe and enjoy good health during the Memorial Day and Feast of the Visitation.
Abbot Christian and the monks

Albertinelli Visitation

May 30th: Trinity Sunday

Each year the Sunday after Pentecost is dedicated to the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, whom we worship as Three Persons, equal in majesty and glory, yet One God.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church sums up perfectly what we celebrate this Sunday: “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life . . . It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them” #234).
On this day, Christians are invited to “open the ear of the heart,” as Saint Benedict invites his monks, in order to comprehend, even to an imperfect degree, the greatness of the Most Holy Trinity.
At the Monastery on Trinity Sunday we follow our usual Sunday schedule, including the Liturgy of the Hours throughout the day, a solemn Conventual Mass in the morning and Adoration and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament after Vespers.
Be assured our continued prayers, especially for the safety of all travelers by land, sea or air on this Memorial Day weekend, and “may the Lord bring us all together to everlasting life,” as Saint Benedict expresses it in his Rule for Monasteries.
Abbot Christian and the monks

May 30: Month of Mary

In Catholic culture, the month of May is traditionally considered the Month of Mary.
In our part of the country, various flowers abound in May that we can place at the icon of the Mother of God, the Blessed Virgin Mary, in our Monastery church. Flowers that have bloomed this month include daffodils, tulips, lilacs and irises.
Currently, as the month of May draws to a close, peonies are blooming, and while not particularly fragrant, they are certainly a welcome burst of beauty.
A possible poem, as yet unwritten, could begin something like this: “I think that I shall never see a flower as beautiful as the peony.”
Peonies have a fairly short blooming season, usually a matter of days, but we will make the most of enjoying their presence from the twenty bushes we have in our cloister garden.
Soon, and throughout the summer, roses will be blooming again. That is something to look forward to in June and beyond.
A Blessed Memorial Day weekend, with assurance of our prayers.
Abbot Christian and the monks

May 28th: Home On the Range

Being a monastery in one of the remotest locations in the world can sometimes be taken for granted by us who live here, but those who make a short or longer stay, the silence, solitude and stark beauty are usually unforgettable.

We are opening up for day visitors once again, beginning Monday, May 31st, Memorial Day, which is also the unofficial beginning of the summer holidays.

Starting this Monday, our Monastery will be open to daytime visitors each day of the week, from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm. Parts of the grounds, as well the the Monastery Church and Giftshop will be open daily from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm. Sunday Mass is at 9:15 am.

Because of ongoing health concerns, we are still not taking reservations for private retreats here.

May the Lord keep us all safe, especially travelers over the holiday weekend.

Abbot Christian and the monks

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

Scripture Readings: Book of Deuteronomy 4:32-34. 39-40; Letter to the Romans 8:14-17; Gospel According to Saint Matthew 28:16-20

Each year on the Sunday following Pentecost, the Church celebrates the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity, our belief that God is One and yet Three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, equal in majesty and glory, One in Three and Three in One. This is something so wonderful and sublime that the human mind cannot pretend to comprehend the full meaning of the mystery, which nonetheless is the cause of our joy and our hope as followers of Jesus Christ.

Saint Augustine of Hippo, one of the greatest minds that ever existed in the Church, who died in 430 AD, was trying to comprehend the mystery of the Holy Trinity, in which he firmly believed and placed his trust, yet realized it was no easy thing to full grasp. In his contemplation Augustine decided to take a walk along the seashore. There he saw a child playing in the sand near the shoreline. Having dug a hole in the sand, the child was bringing over handfuls of water from the nearby ocean to fill the hole.

At one point Augustine asked what the child was trying to do. The youngster replied that he wanted to empty the entire ocean into the hole he had dug in the sand. “But that is impossible,” Augustine observed, “Can’t you see the ocean is infinitely greater than the hole you have dug in the sand?” At that moment Augustine realized a profound truth: it is equally impossible to fill the human mind with the immensity of the mystery of the Holy Trinity.

As Saint Augustine realized, the human mind is too limited to take in all the greatness of the Trinity, he also admitted that only God can fill and satisfy the human heart. “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you, O Lord,” Augustine so wisely expressed it. In other words, there are many things about God that we cannot fully understand with the mind, but that we can with the heart.

God is so much and is in fact everything: Creator, Father, Sustainer, Son, Redeemer, Infinite Wisdom, Holy Spirit, Sanctifier, Comforter, Love, Advocate, who cannot but act for the welfare of the human family, drawing all things and persons toward the knowledge and love of God.

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church rightly expresses it: “The mystery of the Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life” (number 234).

The Holy Trinity is above all a mystery of love and the complete expression of the love of God, which in turn transforms those who come to God, who live and die in God.

Furthermore, the Holy Trinity is a mystery of unity, being indivisible, meaning the Trinity cannot be divided, yet at the same time composed of three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as we said at the beginning. In other words, “We do not confess three gods, but one God in three persons” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, number 253).

This unity in diversity of the Holy and Blessed Trinity is all-inclusive, meaning each and every human being is welcome to partake of the life of the Trinity. The Holy Trinity in turn gives true and lasting life to others whose lives are touched by God. That is the heart of our life in the Holy Trinity. Furthermore, the life we live becomes a source of encouragement and redemption for others hungering for rest in the One God who is our origin and goal.

We are each being invited to engage more than the mind as we ponder the mystery of our living under the watchful care of the Holy Trinity. We are invited to open “the ears of our heart,” as Saint Benedict so beautifully expressed it, in order to comprehend, to the degree that we can, the greatness of our God.

While living this life, we will never understand fully the God who saves us, but that is no reason to give up in our search for God, and our ardent pursuit of God’s will for our life, as well as our proclamation of the Gospel by the lives we live.

God is Love, Scripture tells us, and whoever lives in love lives in God and God in the one who loves. Let us put God in the center of our existence and go to God frequently in prayer, in praise, as well as adoration, petition, and thanksgiving. It is always a righteous thing to do and in fact gives nourishment and encouragement for our daily existence. We form a family with God. As the Trinity dwells in unity, we are called to do likewise. May God be found in the heart of our communities, our families and our relationships.

The Holy Eucharist (Mass) we celebrate is the supreme act of God’s bestowing life upon human beings. We are offered the possibility of partaking in divine life when we receive the Precious Body and Blood of the Lord. It is mystery to see before us bread and wine and yet believe that contained therein is the very Body and Blood of the Redeemer of all people, our God who loves us without measure.

May we never cease to thank our God for the gifts we have received and may we remain today and always united to the Holy Trinity, our One God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB

May 27th: Spring Cleaning

With Winter over and Spring in full swing, we are pursuing many outdoor projects to beautify our property. From flower beds in the Saint John Paul II Meditation Garden (located between the church and Guest Reception building) to the cloister lawn and the Blessed Virgin Mary Garden, love’s labor is bearing fruit.

Our canyon is still fairly green at present, despite a lack of Spring showers, and even May flowers, including irises, peonies and day lilies, have been consistently blooming throughout April and May.

Water is a precious commodity in this part of the world and we do our small part to conserve it and be good stewards of all God’s gifts around us. All is on loan, we try to remember, and never to take for granted what we have been entrusted with. “Leave it even better than when you found it,” is a maximum worth emulating by all of us.

With our greetings and prayers,

Abbot Christian and the monks

"Let everyone that comes be received as Christ."

— The Rule of St. Benedict

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