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Blessings to you! I am on my way to Malawi, a country in southeastern Africa, and not sure if I will have any internet connections at all where I am going to be there. For sure I should be able to get to some kind of internet café from time to time. But it may not be on the days on which I normally communicate this notebook and my homily. So I have arranged to write them beforehand and to have them arrive on the normal schedule. That means that you will only hear about my experiences in Malawi after I have returned home.

Here at Christ in the Desert, all the abbots have left and we have had our annual retreat, given by the Trappist monk, Father Simeon Leiva, OCSO. He is a truly wonderful retreat master for our community and spent the time leading us to understand the parable of Matthew's Gospel about the five wise and five foolish virgins who went to wait for the bridegroom. A whole retreat on one parable was a brilliant way of helping us understand more profoundly our monastic life of waiting on the Lord.

I will not go through the whole retreat with you, but wanted to share just one point that came from this retreat and which resonated deeply with my own experience. At the heart of Scripture is the message: God loves me completely and totally just as I am right now.

My own personal life had some inklings of this almost from as early as I can remember. My familly was not Catholic until I was nine years old and my mother returned to the Catholic Church and we younger children were baptized. My father converted to Catholicism a few years later. Even though I had no sense of a divine presence at my baptism, I did have some sense that there was a great power outside of what was normal and that such a power was known as God in some way.

I did not like going to Church and especially did not like to serve Mass, so I avoided as much of that as possible. Yet, in spite of that, I felt a divine presence. It could have been something only emotional, but it was there. And when I was still just thirteen years old and first saw a monastery, I knew that was what I wanted to do with my life. I was still a confused and young adolescent who was just beginning to understand a small bit his sexuality and desires and intellectual capacity, but I still wanted to be a monk.

For me, the seminary was a safe place. My mother had quit drinking by that time but my father was still a very active alcoholic. I was blessed to know that they really loved me, even if such love had not been well expressed. Still, my ideas about God's love were a mixture of knowing God's unconditional love and also the expectations that there were things that I should not do because they were sins.

My belief was always tempered, however, by an inner knowledge that my alcoholic parents and aunts and uncles were good people. I had a conviction that they would not go to hell for their weaknesses. All my young life, I worked to see how both human and divine healing could help my family. That is how I would describe it now. When I was young, I did not have that kind of vocabulary. I had a strong enough inner sense to stay away from priests who had ideas that I did not agree with. If I went to confession and a priest said something that I did not like, I did not go back to that priest. As I look back now, that is amazing that I had such a gift.

God also gave me enough good sense when I was young not to go to the Carthusians, where I had been accepted. There was nothing wrong with the Carthusians, but I realized that I was not mature enough to live their life. As I look back now, that was a tremendous gift of God's grace to me: to recognize that I was too immature!

When I was about ten years old, I had some deeply religious experiences. Later as I looked back, those religious experiences were probably some kind of psychological dissociation. But the experiences allowed me to live through some pretty awful experiences in my life and also gave me an awareness that God loved me.

My life after entering the monastery at age 20 was pretty much of a mess as I struggled with my own drinking problems, with my sexuality and with the challenges of living as a monk and doing studies and trying to grow up. Eventually at the age of 30, I cam to Christ in the Desert. The change did not solve any problems but did put me into a different external and internal space. In the first two years I was here, I began to meditate on God's love for me and made a commitment to live only because of that love. It was in those first years here that I realized that I could not believe in a God who did not love. My own life had to be lived in response to His love.

That does not mean that I became much better. It only means that I finally had a religious basis which could help me to grow without any fear of God. I realized that God knew me through and through and loved me. Only with that awareness of being love did I feel the strength to begin a strong inner spiritual life, which I call the spiritual combat. It is not a struggle to make myself do anything or to be anything. It is simply a struggle to try to listen to God faithfully, to be aware of His love and to seek to do His will.

I became convinced that this is what the meaning of my life is: seeking God and seeking to do His will--all because He loves me completely. What a difference this made to my life and still makes. So when I heard this kind of theology expounded in a retreat, such as the one we have had here at Christ in the Desert this year, my heart rejoices. My life can only be a response to His love. Anything else is simply trying to make myself into something that might be pleasing to Him. I still fall into that, but it is not the major motivation in my life.

Be assured of my prayers for you and for all of your needs and intentions. I will celebrate a Holy Mass for you and for your needs and intentions. Please pray for me and for all of the sisters and brothers of our communities. Please pray specially for Brother John Baptist and myself as we travel in Malawi and pray for the family of Brother John Baptist and all those who have touched his life. I send you my love and prayers.


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