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2015-03-04

Blessings to you! Today I am on my way home from Mexico. This past Saturday our Brother Juan Pablo of the Monastery of Nuestra Señora de la Soledad, professed his solemn vows at that Monastery. It was a joyful ceremony in the middle of Lent. This will strengthen our community there and I am always grateful when a monk is willing to make his life-time commitment to a community.

Three of our brothers from our other Monastery of men in Mexico came for the profession, including the Prior, Father Antelmo. There were monks and nuns from other communities as well, so it was truly a monastic celebration for Mexico.

Over many years I have seen more and more clearly the deep resemblances of a monastic commitment to a marriage. The aspect that keeps coming back to me is the commitment of a man to someone else for the rest of His life. In a sacramental marriage, a man and a woman commit themselves to one another for life in Christ Jesus. For the Benedictine, the commitment is to one's community for life in Christ Jesus. It is this commitment that helps many Benedictines understand what kinds of behavior are acceptable and also those that are not acceptable within a commitment.

There are clearly aspects where a monastic commitment and a marriage are not the same at all, but the basic reality of a commitment of one's life completely to another person or to a community are very similar.

For instance, I was thinking about what bad effects a separation of wife and husband has on the children. This same bad effect, in a different way, is present when a solemn professed monk leaves the community. All of us are aware that a solemn professed monk has promised to stay for the rest of his life. Then he leaves. This affects all the other monks, and especially those in first vows and novices and postulants. Even when there is an exclaustration--a permission for a monk to live outside for a period of time--this still affects the community and mostly in negative ways.

When a marriage is going well, then the wife and husband still have differences from time to time. They must find ways to discuss, to differ and to make decisions together. In the Monastery, we have an abbot and a Council and a Chapter. The abbot is elected and in our congregation serves until he is 75 years old. At least that is the norm. The abbot appoints some members to the Council of the Monastery and the community elects one or two. This Council has a role of advising the abbot and sometimes the abbot cannot act without their vote. The Chapter of the monastery is the gathering of all of the solemnly professed monks of the house. They also must vote on certain aspects of decisions in the monastery.

Don't think for a minute that we monks always agree about what decisions should be made or about the outcomes of the decisions! Instead, we must learn to communicate with each other and in the Council and in the Chapter. If the younger monks see the Council or the Chapter always at odds (that that kind of information always gets out in one way or another) it unsettles the younger monks.

The way of the monk is the way of all Christians: give up your own will and seek the will of God. We don't always manage to do it very well, but if we keep trying, most of the time situations become livable and the community becomes a place of love and compassion while at the same time it can have a strong and demanding observance.

From the beginning, our Monastery of Christ in the Desert was known as a place of strong monastic life in the desert. Our manner of living is not difficult but it is demanding. The way we live demands that the monk give himself over completely to the monastic life, rather than having another life alongside of his monastic life. The challenge in a marriage is often the same: how to have a clear and strong marriage in which every aspect of one's personal life is integrated into the marriage. If the wife or the husband has another life alongside of the married life, it leads to disaster.

In the monastery, this means that the monastic life must be one's complete commitment. This does not mean that a monk cannot have interests of his own. Those interests must become completely integrated into the community life, however, and at times must be put aside for a time when the needs of the community demand it. If a monk wants to study, he can become even a great scholar within the framework of the monastic life, but he will have to have discipline. If a monk has a hobby that does not conflict with the monastic life, that also can work. The challenge is always this: monastic life first! That is the same as within a marriage: always the marriage first.

What is seen today is often the challenge of marriage against individualism or monastic life against individualism. Many young people are unable to commit themselves to anything or anyone other than themselves. So to get married or to profess vows as a religious requires a deep conversion on their part so that they can place someone else or a community ahead of their own desires.

This is a challenge even after a person married or makes a religious commitment in a community: I must choose to love others and give myself to others--and that means putting their well-being ahead of my own. That kind of ability to sacrifice oneself for another or for one's community is what makes a saint possible. It does not make a saint immediately, but it does make possible a lifetime of sacrifice and conversion.

As always I send my love and prayers for you. I will celebrate Holy Mass for you and for your needs and intentions. Please remember to pray for me and for all of the nuns and monks of our communities.

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