Abbot Philip: The Spirituality of Easter

Abbot Philip

From Abbot Philip at Christ in the Desert Monastery in New Mexico:

“Part of the spirituality of Easter is learning to believe in the presence of God in all that happens. All we need do is think of the earlier followers of Jesus who were so discouraged and disheartened when He was crucified. From a human point of view, that was the end. All of the hopes of His followers were dashed and broken. So a challenge of spirituality is to believe that God is always present and always bringing about a good in every situation. We don’t always see the good. Perhaps even often we don’t see the good. Yet we are called to believe.

At the heart of all spirituality is this deep and unfailing belief that God is God, that God is present and that God is involved in all that happens. Immediately this takes us to a different level of belief. Our world today, to an enormous extent, believes that there is nothing after death. So many Christians even believe that now. Jesus is a good figure and a good man, but surely Jesus was not God! Once a Christian no longer believes that Jesus is God, then such a person really can no longer be called a Christian. Such a person may well live in a way that brings him or her to heaven, but in this life there is a huge lack of faith.

How different our lives are when we believe that there is another life after death! In the past, of course, some would say that we Christians use the idea or even the reality of heaven to avoid living the realities of this life! For sure, when we believe that this life is not the whole meaning of human reality, then our understanding of how to live changes incredibly. It is more important to be good than to achieve a lot of money or have a lot of sexual relationships or to have power over others. What matters is living in Jesus Christ, living as He did and trying to love others and serve others. Continue reading “Abbot Philip: The Spirituality of Easter”

Abbot Philip: Change is part of our Spirituality

Abbot Phillip
Abbot Phillip

“Changes are part of normal life but are also a part of our spirituality. I dislike changes very much and prefer that everything goes on without change. I dislike it when people leave the community. I dislike it when we have to discuss how to change various parts of our life. I dislike it when I have to make personal changes. And so on and on and on. Yet I recognize that my likes or dislikes never stop the need for change and adaptation. Over the years I have come to see the positive side of changes and the challenges that changes put in front of all of us as humans.Appreciating the value of change does not mean that I like change! Part of my personal spirituality has come to be accepting things that I don’t like, appreciating things that I don’t like, and being still and silent and not reacting about things that I don’t like. This has served me well over the years.

I was sharing with one of the brothers the other day that when I was a young superior … who was almost 30 years older than I, kept telling me this: don’t write or speak when you are angry! Over the years I finally learned that he was correct. Not writing or speaking when I am angry could become a way to avoid an issue, but that is not what it is supposed to be. Rather, it is a way of remaining in peace so that I can truly see before I act. Anger is only one of the ways in which we can be blinded. All of our natural desires can pull us away from this inner place where we see things as they truly are. As I continue to grow older, I find some solace in still learning how to be peaceful and to see what is happening, rather than just reacting to what is happening.

Sometimes I laugh to myself when I look back at how impulsive I was as a young monk and then a young superior. My temper can still flare, but much less than when I was young. The last three meetings that I have been at have been so peaceful for me because of learning to be still. One of the Italian abbots asked me: what is wrong with you, Philip? You haven’t commented on anything.
I replied to him that finally I had learned to be still and just to listen. Most of the time any views that I have are expressed by others and I don’t need to say them. I still speak up if something is clearly unacceptable to me, but most of the time, if I just wait, everything turns out well enough. The few decisions that I would disagree with are usually not important at all.

Someone told me that I was avoiding responsibility by not speaking out. From my point of view, this is simply not true. If there is something that I totally disagree with and which is set to become the norm, then I do speak out. Others listen to me more, the less I speak. I see much of this way of thinking expressed in the wisdom literature of Scripture.”–Abbot Philip, Christ in the Desert Monastery

Read Abbot Philip’s complete reflection.

Joan Chittister: Women and Their Stories

St. Scholastica by Andrea Mantegna (1431 – 1506)
St. Scholastica by Andrea Mantegna (1431 – 1506)

“February 10 is the feast day of Saint Scholastica, the twin sister of Saint Benedict. She’s the patron saint of women’s Benedictine contemplative communities.

Saint Benedict had a sister named Scholastica who also dedicated her life to the pursuit of God. She, too, founded monasteries and became an abbatial figure. The only story we have of Scholastica is told when Benedict was already an abbot of renown. The incident demonstrates clearly that the brother and sister were emotionally close and a spiritual influence on each other till the time of her death.

During one of their annual visits, Scholastica, inspired by the depth of their conversation, asked Benedict to remain overnight in the place where they were meeting in order to continue their talk and reflection on spiritual things. Benedict wouldn’t even think of it. It was getting dark; it was time to get back to the monastery; it was time to get on with the regular routine of the spiritual life. Unable to persuade him with words, Scholastica put her head down on the table in deep prayer. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a great storm brought with it flash floods and Benedict realized that he could not possibly return to the monastery that night. And the Dialogues say, “he complained bitterly.” He said, “God forgive you, sister! What have you done?” Scholastica answered simply, “I asked you for a favor and your refused. I asked my God and I got it.”

The story is a vein worth mining for a lifetime.
• It tells us that law is never greater than love
• It tells us to be intent on pursuing the values of the life, not simply its rules
• It tells us that discipline is necessary in the spiritual life but that religious discipline is not enough, that depth is a process and that depth costs
• It tells us that God lurks in strange places. And waits for us. And puts in our paths just what we need in order to become what we are meant to be
• It reminds us that a woman has as much power in the eyes of God as any man and that we must recognize women, too, as spiritual guides.”–Joan Chittister, OSB

From The Radical Christian Life: A Year with Saint Benedict by Joan Chittister (Liturgical Press)

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: Distracted by Unhelpful Thoughts?


“… Inner silence and inner peace. What wonderful gifts are inner silence and peace in our lives. We have to work every day to maintain such silence and peace. It does not matter where we live or if we are married or if we are religious. All of us have challenges in our lives in order to remain silence and peaceful in our hearts. Almost every day of my adult life, I have had to take some time to refocus my mind and my heart. When I get distracted by unhelpful thoughts, by anger, by lust, by jealousy or even by laziness, I have to make a commitment to placing my life in the hand of God, of Jesus Christ.

Continue reading “Abbot Philip: Distracted by Unhelpful Thoughts?”

Abbot Philip: ‘Love is always a surprise and a choice’

monk-newmexico-240348-oAbbot Philip is a Benedictine monk who lives in the New Mexico desert at Christ in the Desert monastery. I find his reflections honest and clear. Here’s an excerpt from The Abbot’s Notebook (24 April 2013):

“For the past 50 years, there has been a movement of the Holy Spirit throughout the Church, bringing new ways of thinking, new ways of relating, new ways of dreaming.

This happens at times in the history of the Church and we should not be afraid of it. Not everything that happens in such movements is of lasting value. Not every road that is chosen leads directly to the Lord. Always there is enthusiasm and always there is resistance. The early monastic movement was in the midst of this kind of movement as well. What is important in our spiritual lives is seeking to choose the Lord Jesus and His ways. It is a personal encounter with the Lord that draws us to Him. I can sit here in my cell and spend time being still and listening. I can read Holy Scripture and understand what has been written.

Continue reading “Abbot Philip: ‘Love is always a surprise and a choice’”

Joan Chittister: ‘Hospitality Is A Lifeline’

Lake Erie by Hank Plumley

“To live the monastic life in a monastery on the edges of a windswept Lake Erie makes something very clear: hospitality is not a matter of gentility or niceness. Here, as it was in biblical desert lands, hospitality is often a factor in physical survival. Too often, if it weren’t for the spirit of hospitality in this area, people would freeze to death in stranded cars or in city parks or in unheated homes.

It is an important lesson for people who live a monastic spirituality. It teaches us that hospitality is a lifeline that is part of the fiber of life. People need physical hospitality, spiritual hospitality, and psychological hospitality always. That’s why hospitality is a basic theme in The Rule of Benedict. That’s why there’s always someone in charge of answering the door at the monastery. Monastic hospitality dictates that there must always be someone there to care for anyone and everyone in need. The cold of February reminds us to open our hearts always. Someone is waiting to get in.

A Danish proverb reads: “If there is room in the heart, there is room in the house.” Who is there in life that you seem able to bear in unlimited quantities? Who is there that you have little room for at all? Try to remember that coldness of heart is always a call to personal growth.”–Joan Chittister, OSB

From A Monastery Almanac by Joan Chittister

Abbot Philip: ‘No Monastery Dies From Poverty, but from Riches’

“Brother Christian recently gave me an article on the decline of Buddhism in Thailand as that country grows richer.  This is a favorite theme of mine concerning monasticism in the West.  It is clear from history that practically no monastery dies from poverty but quite a few have died from riches.  This is also a wonderful Christmas theme, because Christ became poor so that we could become rich—on the spiritual level.  Christ, who is God, becomes human and takes on our own nature.  This is true poverty. …

Why would anyone want to become a monk today?  The only reason is to seek God.  Seeking God can be done in various ways.   One does not need to be a monk to seek God.  On the other hand, the monastic life, at least ideally, is established to help the monk focus all of his energy on seeking God.We monks don’t always live that out, but it is what we seek in our ideal world.  It does not cut us off from the world in any bad way but it helps us resists being involved in the world in the ways that do not help the inner life.  We don’t have to be anxious about anything.  This frees our energy up so that we can use it to seek God.  Perhaps at times a monk’s energy goes elsewhere, but when the life is orderly, that very order brings back the focus of life to seeking God.

Christ came into the world to save us.  We are able to dedicate our lives to following Him, no matter what road we take.  We monks want to follow Him in a somewhat radical manner, focusing our daily life and energy on Him. May this also be your gift!  Wherever we are, we can seek the Lord and focus our energies on following Him.”–Abbot Philip, Christ in the Desert monastery

Joan Chittister on Passion and Purpose

Gerrie Govert's The Stone Cutter, Indiana

“What’s your passion? In the end, it is passion and purpose—passion and purpose—that are of the essence of a vocation, a call to do something that makes me a conscious co-creator of the world.

An old medieval story makes the point best. A traveler came across three stonecutters. “What are you doing?” the traveler asked the first man. “I am making a living,” the man said. “And what are you doing?” the traveler asked the second man. And that man answered, “I am practicing to become the best stonecutter in Europe.” Then the man asked the third laborer. And the third man answered, “I am building a cathedral.”

In my commitment to my vocation, whatever it may be—helping cripples to walk and people to die dignified deaths and children to learn and the world to grow seeds and nations to live in peace—I myself become a holy person, a mystic whose God is alive and present and waiting for us to do what must be done to make creation itself a holy place.

A call demands endurance and persistence, commitment and stability. To be a real call it must be something worth giving my time, my resources, myself to doing. It has nothing to do with success as measured in the number of people served or the numbers of units produced or the number of events attended. It has everything to do with trying. As the Sufi say, “If you are expecting to find an answer to your problem, you have simply not asked a big enough question.” It is out of awareness of our role on earth that we find our place on earth.”–Joan Chittister, OSB

From Following The Path by Joan Chittister

Joan Chittister: A Questioning Heart

In a room where people unanimously maintain a conspiracy of silence, one word of truth sounds like a pistol shot. Czeslaw Milosz

“The quality of life as we know it has changed radically in our lifetime. When I was a young woman, the world—my world—was an exercise in answers. We had absolute answers for everything: who was going to heaven and who was not. The number of planets and how they went together. The age of the earth and how it developed. But now things have changed. Now, it seems, life is more an exercise in questions than a catalogue of certainties. It is the unending process of an expanding universe and its expanding knowledge with it. Nothing, it seems, is not now open to question.

When we consider yesterday’s answers more important than today’s questions, we fail both the past and the future. In the first place, the past was for its own time; in the second place, it is meant to prepare us to face the future.

Never refuse to ask a question however unwelcome the question may be. In the end, it may be the only thing that saves us from our own ignorance. To keep growing, it is imperative to keep asking the forbidden questions.

When we try to stop thought by stopping people from asking forbidden questions, we only prove the paucity of our answers. What is true will hold up to scrutiny—however much untruth is around us. If an idea be of God—like love and goodness and openness and respect and tolerance and compassion—it will thrive in the most godless environment.”–Joan Chittister, OSB

From Aspects of the Heart by Joan Chittister