Abbot Philip: ‘The Inner Peace of the Soul Is Not Always Easy to Reclaim’

monk-newmexico-240348-o“Spirituality is about living with reality and always living in the connection with God.  Spirituality is not exactly about praying, especially not about reciting prayers.  It is about maintaining a living relationship with God at all times.  It surely includes praying and includes reciting prayers.  As a monk, I am always reciting prayers.  The challenge is not just to recite them, but to pray them. Here in the monastery we have classes on the Psalms, for instance, and we can learn a lot about Psalms and about other Scriptures and even about hymns and prayers.  The challenge is always to pray the Psalms, pray the Scriptures, and pray all the hymns and prayers.

Central to this challenge is to come to known my own heart and to be able to focus my heart on the presence of God.  If I can manage that, then I can also begin to add to that the knowledge of what I am saying if I am involved in spoken prayer or spoken community prayer.  The basic element, however, is always to have my heart set on the Lord, seeking His face. Most of us are able to be still and to pray, as long as that is all that we have to do and as long as nothing else very important is on our minds.  The challenge is to keep that basic focus of our souls in the Lord when we have to pray with others, when we must live with others, when we have challenges, when we meet conflict, when we meet complex life situations. Only practice allows us to maintain this inner life of prayer at all times.

Continue reading “Abbot Philip: ‘The Inner Peace of the Soul Is Not Always Easy to Reclaim’”

Abbot Philip: The Perseverance to Fail

monk-newmexico-240348-o“As I reflect on the monastic life that is a gift in all of these houses, I see the mercy of God at the center of all that happens.  I can’t always manage to live that mercy, even if I try my best.  It is as though I stand on the shore and see another land in the distance at times and know that I must get there even when it seems impossible.

Following Jesus Christ and seeking to be faithful to Him and to His Church has been the beacon in my life for many, many years. For all of us who want to follow Christ and to deepen the spiritual life within us, it is necessary to have this perseverance of continuing to follow Christ no matter how many times we fail or set out in a wrong direction or simply are not aware of what He is asking of us.  The only good that monastic life has to offer or that any Christian spiritual life has to offer is to point ourselves and others to Jesus Christ.  In Him we find life and joy and all that is worth wanting.  As many times as I have wandered away from this path, just as many times He has recalled me and pardoned me and told me of His love.  It is humbling to know that He is always there, so faithful and so constant.

When I am at my best, I am happy simply to be in His presence, giving thanks.  When I am at my worst, He is there trying to find a way to attract me back to Him and to His way.When I was young I wanted to be a saint and a mystic.  Now I pray that I may persevere and always respond to His love.  There is no desire to be anything or anyone, simply to try to persevere to the end.”–Abbot Philip, Christ in the Desert monastery, New Mexico

Read more from Abbot Philip’s Notebook.

Richard Rohr: The Flaw At the Heart of All Reality


“Leonard Cohen’s song, “Anthem,” states in the refrain: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” It sounds a lot like Paul’s statement about carrying “the treasure in earthen vessels” (2 Corinthians 4:7). These are both much more poetic ways of naming what we unfortunately called “original sin”—a poor choice of words because the word sin implies fault and culpability, and that is precisely not the point! Original sin was trying to warn us that the flaw at the heart of all reality is nothing we did personally, but that there is simply “a crack in everything” and so we should not be surprised when it shows itself in us or in everything else. This has the power to keep us patient, humble, and less judgmental. (One wonders if this does not also make the point that poetry and music are a better way to teach spiritual things than mental concepts.)

The deep intuitions of most church doctrines are invariably profound and correct, but they are still expressed in mechanical and literal language that everybody adores, stumbles over, denies, or fights. Hold on for a while until you get to the real meaning, which is far more than the literal meaning! That allows you to creatively both understand and critique things—without becoming oppositional, hateful, arrogant, and bitter yourself. Some call this “appreciative inquiry” and it has an entirely different tone that does not invite or create “the equal and opposite reaction” of physics. The opposite of contemplation is not action; it is reaction. Much of the “inconsistent ethic of life,” in my opinion, is based on ideological reactions and groupthink, not humble discernment of how darkness hides and “how the light gets in” to almost everything. I hope I do not shock you, but it is really possible to have very “ugly morality” and sometimes rather “beautiful immorality.” Please think and pray about that.”–Richard Rohr, OFM

Adapted from Spiral of Violence: The World, the Flesh, and the Devil 

Joan Chittister: ‘We Have A Spiritual Obligation to Accept Reality’


“Surrender is what cleans off the barnacles that have been clinging to the soul. It is the final act of human openness. Without it I am doomed to live inside a stagnant world called the self. The problem is that the self is a product of my own making. I myself shape the self. I construct it one experience, one attitude, one effort at a time till the person I become — rich in reality or starved for it — is finished. I shape me, great or small, wizened or insulated, out of the tiny little measures of newness that I allow to penetrate the depths of my darkness one dollop at a time. What I do not let into my world can never stretch my world, can never give it new color, can never fill it with a new kind of air, can never touch the parts of me that I never knew were there. What I once imagined must forever be, what I relived in memory for years, is no more. Openness saves me from the boundaries of the self and surrender to the moment is the essence of openness.

Surrender does not simply mean that I quit grieving what I do not have. It means that I surrender to new meanings and new circumstances, that I begin to think differently and to live somewhere that is totally elsewhere. I surrender to meanings I never cared to hear — or heard, maybe, but was not willing to understand. Try as I might to read more into someone’s words than they ever really meant, I must surrender to the final truths: She did not love me. They did not want me. What I want is not possible.

And, hardest to bear of all, all arguments to the contrary are useless. I surrender to the fact that what I lived for without thought of leaving, I have now lost. Try as I might to turn back the clock, to relive a period of my life with old friends, in long-gone places, out of common memories, through old understandings and theologies of the past, I come to admit that such attempts are the myth of a mind in search of safer days. The way we were is over. They are in fact, laughable to many, resented by some, essentially different in intimation to each of us.

Surrender is the crossover point of life. It distinguishes who I was from who I have become. Life as I had fantasized is over. What is left is the spiritual obligation to accept reality so that the spiritual life can really happen to me.–Joan Chittister, OSB

An excerpt from Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope by Joan Chittister (Eerdmans)

Joan Chittister: ‘Noise Protects Us From Confronting Ourselves’


“There are two major obstacles to a development of a spirituality of peace. The fear of silence and solitude looms like cliffs in the human psyche. Noise protects us from confronting ourselves, but silence speaks the language of the heart. Silence and solitude are what really bring us into contact both with ourselves and with others. Deep down inside of us reside, in microcosm, all the human hopes and fears, the struggles to control them, the hope to set them free, the peace that comes when we have confronted both the best and the worst in ourselves and found them both acceptable.

Silence requires a respect for solitude, however, and solitude is even more frightening than quiet. One of life’s greatest lessons is that solitude and loneliness are not the same thing. Loneliness is that sign that something is lacking. The purpose of solitude, on the other hand, is to bring us home to the center of ourselves with such serenity that we could lose everything and, in the end, lose nothing of the fullness of life at all.

Silence does more than confront us with ourselves. Silence makes us wise. Face-to-face with ourselves we come very quickly, if we listen to the undercurrents that are in contention within us, to respect the struggles of others. Silence teaches us how much we have yet to learn. Or, as we get older, silence perhaps reminds us too that there are qualities that we may never with confidence attain and that will war in our souls till the day we die. Then face-to-face with our struggles and our inadequacies, there is no room in us for mean judgments and narrow evaluations of others. Suddenly, out of silence, comes the honesty that tempers arrogance and makes us kind.”–Joan Chittister, OSB

From For Everything a Season by Joan Chittister (Orbis)

Honoring Santo Toribio, the “Holy Coyote”

by Robert Lentz

At Mass this morning at St. Camillus, Friar Erick Lopez preached a wonderful homily about St. Toribio Romo, known as the “Holy Coyote” or Santo Pollero for how he helps migrants cross the border between Mexico and the U.S. (He was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2000.) We were even more blessed at Mass to have a new icon in the church. It’s a stunning painting by Brother Robert Lentz of none other than St. Toribio Romo. (Take note of the army surplus store canteen for bringing water to those crossing the desert and the saint also has muddy shoes.) I trust the U.S. Catholic bishops are praying mightily to St. Toribio for help passing comprehensive immigration reform and a seven-year path to citizenship. Here’s the gist of the popular stories still told about Santo Toribio:

Located about two hours from Guadalajara and near the town of Jalostotitlan, the village (of Santa Ana) consists of a few houses, fertile land for planting, and the temple where the martyr is venerated.Saturday is the most popular visiting day of the faithfulIn the makeshift parking lot (by the temple) one sees autos with United States licenses, but with Mexican owners. In one of them Otilio (Othello) has traveled here, a brown-skinned young man wearing cowboy boots and a Texan hat. He comes from Nevada in order to see the saint, who just little more than a year ago, helped him cross the border. “A friend and I left Jalostotitlan with the intention of working in the United States, but when we were close to the border, we were assaulted and beaten up. They (the robbers) took all our money, and we were disheartened. We didn’t have any money left to pay the “pollero;” not even enough to pay for our passage back home. Suddenly, an auto stopped beside us, and a priest invited us to get in. We told him about what had happened to us, and he told us not to worry. He would help us cross the border. And he did. As we were getting out of his car, he gave us some money and told us to look for work in a nearby factory. We would get hired there.” Continue reading “Honoring Santo Toribio, the “Holy Coyote””

The Power of Dreaming

The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1898.

African-American artist Henry Ossawa Tanner painted The Annunciation in Paris in 1898 after returning from a trip to Egypt and Palestine in 1897. The son of a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Tanner specialized in religious subjects, and wanted to experience the people, culture, architecture, and light of the Holy Land.

Influenced by what he saw, Tanner created an unconventional image of the moment when the angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will bear the Son of God. Mary is shown as an adolescent dressed in rumpled Middle Eastern peasant clothing, without a halo or other holy attributes. Gabriel appears only as a shaft of light. Tanner entered this painting in the 1898 Paris Salon exhibition, after which it was bought for the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1899, making it his first work to enter an American museum.

Read more about Henry Ossawa Tanner here.

Video: Monks of the Desert on Today Show

It’s a funny ol’ world. You never know where grace and the monastic moment might appear.

For example, Abbot Philip (who I quote frequently on this blog) and 5 of his brothers from Christ in the Desert Monastery in New Mexico appeared last week on NBC’s Today show!

They sang “Alleluia Lustus Germinabit” off of their new album, “Blessings, Peace, Harmony” by “Monks in the Desert.” Watch the video below:

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The lyrics are taken from the prophet Hosea: “Alleluia. Justus germinabit sicut lilium: et florebit in aeternum ante Dominum. Alleluia” (Alleluia. The just shall spring like the lily: and shall flourish forever before the Lord. Alleluia.)

Joan Chittister: The Blessing of Not Being Perfect

“This is the very perfection of a person, to find out our own imperfections.” –Saint Augustine

Humanity is a mixture of blunders. That’s what makes it so charming, so interesting to be around. Because none of us is complete, we all need one another. It’s only when we convince ourselves that we are the fullness of all that is, that we become spiritually poor.

The nice thing about being human is that you get to fail a lot. Value that; it’s priceless. It gives us such respect for everybody else. The reason clowns and slapstick comedians are so popular is that, if truth were known, we all see in them the parts of ourselves we try too hard to hide. When we take ourselves too seriously, we forget that the only thing we know for sure that’s eternal is God.

Making mistakes is part of the growth process. We must learn to be much gentler about this with other people. We must also learn to be gentler with ourselves. Otherwise what we expect of ourselves, we will expect of everybody else. And that can be tragic. For all of us.

Never be afraid to admit that you “don’t know” or “can’t find” or “couldn’t do” something. Our imperfections and inabilities are the only thing we have that give us the right to the support of the rest of the human race.

The gift of knowing what we lack is the gift we have to give to the abilities of others. As the Irish proverb says, “it is in the shelter of each other that the people live.”–Joan Chittister, OSB

From Aspects of the Heart by Joan Chittister (Twenty-Third Publications).

Abbot Philip: Staying in the Struggle for Life

I chose a longish excerpt today from Abbot Philip’s writing because of the topic: acedia. Some of you will have read Kathleen Norris’ book Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life where she digs into the ancient wisdom and modern rediscovery of this spiritual malady.

Abbot Philip from Christ in the Desert Monastery in New Mexico expands on the topic. Here’s an excerpt from his recent newsletter:

Sometimes we find ourselves trying to be spiritual and don’t have much energy for it. This happens even to monks. Sometimes we go to the prayer services, we read Scriptures and we work—all without much energy or focus. Some monks in the early periods of monastic life called this acedia. The meaning of the word is simply without energy to do much of anything. It is not a clinical depression, just an inability to do much at all. This type of inner lack of energy can go on for days or months or even years. Part of the spiritual combat is learning how to fight against this lack of energy. That does not mean that we will always be highly energized. It does mean that we keep working at doing what we are supposed to be doing. That is a deep meaning of perseverance: working at something even when we don’t want to work at it. We can do this against acedia. We can continue struggling against it. That is why acedia can really help us learn how to struggle. With other vices, sometimes we feel that we can do certain things or take certain actions and overcome them, but often with acedia there is a sense of helplessness. To continue in the struggle, we must overcome that helplessness and pay no attention to it.

Continue reading “Abbot Philip: Staying in the Struggle for Life”