Abbot Philip: ‘Relying on the Mercy of God’

With the most recent newsletter from Abbot Philip at Christ in the Desert Monastery comes word that Abbot Philip has announced his retirement, effective December 12, 2018, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  After the election on that day of a new abbot, Philip will return to prayer and silence after 22 years of his weekly “notebook,” which he will no longer write. What a gift his insight were/are/will be for all who encounter them.–Rose Berger

Abbot Philip

“… The spiritual life has the same kind of challenges: continuity is whatever circumstances we find ourselves. It is more or less easy to remain faithful to lectio and quiet prayer when I am in the monastery on a regular schedule. When I am away from the monastery or when there are extraordinary stresses in the community, then it is more difficult to remain consistent and faithful in the inner life of prayer. Even the early desert monks and nuns recognized that we could fool ourselves into thinking that we were deeply committed to this inner life of prayer when there were no challenges.

Practically every challenge possible can come into our lives, whether we live in monasteries or outside of monasteries, whether we are single or whether we are married, whether we are old or whether we are young. Human life is spiritual combat, always, and we are invited to accept the combat and strive to be faithful at all times.

If we fail, if we are not faithful, God is always with us and continues to love us and invite us to get up and continue in the combat. This is one of the most profound lessons of the spiritual life: never give up because God is always walking with us to help us, to forgive us, to call us to a deeper faithfulness.

Many times I have explained to our community that when I was young, I sort of had the unclear idea that a person could reach a state in which there was no further combat, only faithfulness. As I have grown older in monastic life, I realize that combat endures until the day we die. We are invited to seek the Lord and to embrace the struggle every day until death.

For me personally, it has been a comfort to realize that God always loves me and that I must simply struggle to the best of my ability each day, striving to be faithful to God, to His Word, to the Spirit which calls me deeper. There is little I can do except do the little that is possible each day. It is not for me a matter of looking back and seeing what has been done but of looking forward and seeing God’s faithfulness and my lack of faithfulness—and then trying to be just a bit more faithful.

Throughout my years as a monk, I have worked for the good of the community in lots of ways. On the other hand, the focus of my life, when I am free to follow my inner calling, is on prayer and seeking to be faithful to the Lord. I have failed in so many ways over the years. On the other hand, I keep striving to do and to be what God is asking of me. The mercy of God always sustains me and gives me courage to continue seeking Him, no matter how much I fail. This, for me, is the heart of Christian life: always seeking the Lord and always striving to do His will—no matter how often we fail.”–Abbot Philip (July 18, 2018 Notebook)

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