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Blessings to you! Home, sweet home! We who went on the pilgrimage to Italy got home last night and are struggling to adapt back to our time zone today. What a wonderful pilgrimage this we. It got off to a challenging start with planes late and flights delayed and canceled. Afterwards, it was a delight. The group really worked together well, cooperating in getting to places on time and to sharing with one another and to praying together. Thanks be to God.

Back in the Monastery, during our pilgrimage, life went on in the normal fashion. Having a good number of monks at home right now, as we do, helps the life at home continue on without noticeable changes, when some monks are away. When we were a small community, if three of us were gone, it was an enormous challenge at times to keep up the regular life.

The pilgrimage was a time of reflection for me and a time of giving thanks. It is always a wonderful experience if a group can spend nine days together without any major conflicts and angers. On top of that, we were able to see so many places connected with Saint Benedict and with Benedictines. Even when we were not looking for anything Benedictine, sometimes a Benedictine connection would emerge.

Norcia is a small village in Umbria where Saint Benedict was born. There is now a functioning Benedictine monastery attached to the Basilica there. The Prior, Father Cassian, gave a short talk to our group before we celebrated Holy Mass in the Crypt of the Church, near the place where tradition says that both Saint Benedict and Saint Scholastica were born. Prior Cassian talked about the history of people coming to Norcia and why it is likely that the mother of Saint Benedict was Jewish.

We visited Assisi also because Saint Francis is still such a popular saint. Saint Clare and Saint Francis were very much helped by Benedictines in their own time. In Assisi, Father Oswaldo Curuchich Tuyuc came to visit me. He is the brother of our Sister Hilda.

Our visitto Subiaco was also joyful. We were able to visit Sacro Speco, where Saint Benedict lived as a hermit for some years. He also founded twelve or thirteen monasteries in the area. The ruins of many are still in existence and one, Saint Scholastica, still functions as a monastery. From Subiaco Saint Benedict went to Monte Cassino.

We went to Monte Cassino the following day and again were well received there. Our visits at these three great monastic sites was truly impressive to me. There are not many monks in the communities here in Italy and the monasteries are often overrun by tourists. Sometimes the monks are brusk and even unwelcoming because of having to deal with too many tourists. But our reception at all three of these monasteries was gracious and welcoming and we felt a part of this Benedictine reality in a very warm and good way.

In Italy, if a monastery has twenty-five monks, it is most unusual. In our Congregation there is just one monastery out of the twenty-four in Italy that has that number of monks and more. The rest are smaller. When Christ in the Desert entered this congregation at the end of 1983, Abbot David Parry had told us that in order for our monastery to function well, we should have at least twenty-five monks living in the community. We could not ever imagine that we might grow to that number, but we heard what he said. Once we actually began to have twenty-five monks regularly in the community, we could understand that he was right in his recommendation for us. It makes a large difference in how things function in the community.

Spiritual life, however, is about seeking to love with God whether things are ideal or terribly less than ideal. We monks have to live our community life if we are three or twenty-five or forty-two or whatever number we are. It may be more difficult with few and sometimes difficult with too many.

This happens in all of our lives! We can sometimes see the ideal and not get there. Sometimes have a deficit and sometimes we have an excess. Yet all that matters is that we keep trying to do His will and to rejoice in His love and share it with all those who come into our lives.

As Christ in the Desert continues to celebrate fifty years of foundation, some of us can remember when we were only three monks and yet we carried on with vigor at times. Some of us remember when we had practically no heating in the Church and at times none in the common buildings. We can remember the occasionally long periods without running water. There were times when we were cranky and times when all went well. Yet we just went on living and trying to do what was right.

This type of reality reminds us why the stability counseled by our Rule of Benedict is so important. Staying committed to the spiritual struggle is so important. Staying committed to a marriage can make it work. Staying committed in our monastic vows can make a monastery come to life. None of the best outcomes are insured by our stability but they are impossible without it.

May this letter bring you many graces from our pilgrimage and lots of joy and delight in your persona life. As always I will celebrate a Holy Mass for you and for your needs and intentions. Please continue to pray for me and for the nuns and monks of all of the houses associated with Christ in the Desert. I send you my love and prayers.


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