Abbot Phillip: On Training a Puppy

Abbot Phillip
Abbot Phillip

From Abbot Phillip’s Notebook (2014-04-30):

“Many years ago when I arrived in New Mexico, a good friend gave me a horse and told me: you can learn a lot about humans by watching this horse. Some months ago, we received a beagle puppy who is now 11 months old. He is just learning the disciplines of obedience. Again, I can see so many human reactions and responses in this puppy and he grows into a mature dog.

I see a lot of myself in him, but also see so much of our human situation. Right now the challenge with Joshua the Beagle is to have him get used to wearing a harness and walking with me. I am not his master, but I work on his training. He hates the harness. When I put it on him, he stops doing anything and just stands there, stubborn as he can be. He will not come even for a treat. Becoming a monk, or even becoming a Christian, is a bit like that. Learning to live a spiritual life is very much like that. No one wants a harness today. We want completely liberty. Yet it is the harness and obedience that give a dog happiness in the long run and protect the dog against accidents and incidents that anger others.

Spiritual discipline is so clearly seen in Joshua! Joshua makes me reflect on my own resistance to the harness of faith, which keeps me connected to God and the Lord Jesus. Joshua makes me reflect on my sometimes perverse desire for a freedom that is only appearance and actually damages my spirit. Joshua invites me to look into my own resistance to what is good for me. Like most of us humans today, I often prefer my own freedom to other values, even when the other values might be good for me. At times I can find a resentment in me against those situations and people who push me into having to make a decision. Learning to wear the harness of a regular discipline of working at inner peace and tranquility is so much better.

Even when I recognize that I should take the time to be peaceful and tranquil, I can resent having to work at it because someone or something pushed me off the place where I was and where I was already peaceful and tranquil. When I prepare myself for confession, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which I try to celebrate every week, I look at little things that push my buttons, that push me off the center where Christ is and where I try to be.

Sometimes I can see by my reactions to a brother or to someone else that I feel pressures that I resent: the harness of doing what I have to do rather than what I want to do. There are also the things that I omit and which I must confess, such as taking the time to pray, taking the time to be still, taking the time simply to be aware of God’s love for me. This is Easter Time. It is a time to rejoice. So even when I look at the more negative realities of my life, I can give thanks that by God’s grace, I was given a gift of believing in Christ and in knowing that He always forgives me.

Sometimes in my life I have been caught up with the idea that God is pretty tough. Over the years, I have come to realize that God loves us so much that He always forgives and always delights in the smallest sign of our seeking me. I have realized this personally: God loves me and delights in whatever I do to respond to that love. May this time of Easter bring joy and gladness to you and delight in the Lord. “–Abbot Phillip, Christ in the Desert monastery

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