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Finding balance at Christmas

PECOS – The new abbot at Our Lady of Guadalupe Abbey started a new Christmas tradition this year: He asked children who attend Mass here to submit gift requests.

And if all goes as planned, the Benedictine monks will have wrapped gifts under the abbey’s Christmas tree this morning.

“We get more and more families coming with their kids now,” said the Rev. Aidan Gore, who was named abbot here earlier this year. “I encourage people to bring their kids because it brings some life, some joy, some spirit around here.”

The Welsh-born abbot leads 11 other monks who live in a valley of astonishing beauty where the upper Pecos River has cut high bluffs through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains about 15 miles east of Santa Fe.

In his homily, Gore uses “A Charlie Brown Christmas” – and, in particular, Linus’ explanation of the Christmas story – to appeal to children.

“That’s how Jesus taught, with stories and parables,” he said.

“When we have a lot of kids, I like to engage the kids and make Mass an enjoyable experience for them.”

For many Americans, Christmas is a time of shopping, gift-giving, social gatherings and, of course, huddling around the television to watch sporting contests and specials.

“We get caught up in all that,” Gore said. “I try to remind people to do things too for others on a spiritual level as well. To not forget what it’s all about, Charlie Brown.”

The abbey’s 1,100-acre property at various times has served as a ranch, a dude ranch, and even a Wells Fargo stagecoach stop, complete with stables since remodeled as office and living space for the monks.

The Olivetan Benedictine monks have owned the site since 1985. They host individual and group retreats, which provide the abbey’s main income. Visitors too often arrive at the abbey “exhausted, wiped out, drained,” Gore said.

“It’s not easy living out there in the world,” said Gore, who bought, restored and sold houses in Santa Fe before he became a monk at age 50. “They just need to rest, be healed, restore themselves, then go back out there.”

Christmas can be a time of tension between the material and the spiritual worlds, but the Rev. Bob Lussier, the abbey’s prior, forever rid himself of that dilemma in 1988.

Then a successful film and television actor, Lussier summoned friends to his plush home in Hollywood Hills and gave away all his worldly possessions in one wild day of gift-giving.

“I got rid of everything in that one day,” said Lussier, who acted in dozens of feature films, television series and more than 200 commercials.

“I didn’t know what my reaction was going to be when that time came,” he said.

Lussier said he was surprised by his reaction as friends picked through his fine furniture, jewelry and dinnerware, then hauled it away.

“I giggled for the whole day,” he said. “I didn’t realize that I would be so happy about it. It was really a great joy.”