What has brought us to the monastery? It is the desire in our heart. Of course, we are not going to be as conscious of the force of desire itself but we might say something like we have come to love God or to sacrifice ourselves for others. But the fact is we want something. We want – something. I purposely stress they want – because in that lies desire. St. Benedict is aware that it is a desire that jump-starts our journey. In the prologue, the Lord lifts his voice and using the words of the psalmist says, ‘Is there anyone here who yearns for life and desires to see good days.’ Desire is behind our coming to the monastery.—Dom Gerard
When I was a young man in high school, I knew that I was searching for a life that I could not give a name to. I was frustrated because when I was 14 after I found out what the life of a diocesan priest was, I knew on a deep intuitive level that being a priest was not my calling. So I was in a state of deep frustration. Until one day, when I was 15, I was in the library at Fort Gulick, an Army base on the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal.
I would often leave the house when it got too chaotic and either walk or drive up to the library, to just sit and find a book to read. It was a place that was away from family, a needed break for me. So that fateful evening I was browsing for a book to read and a title jumped out at me entitled, “The Waters of Siloe,” by a man named Thomas Merton, whom I have never heard of. So I got the book and opened it up at random. I came upon some pictures of monks living in a monastery.
Suddenly, I knew just as deeply as I knew that I was not called to be a diocesan priest, that this was my calling. It was like a very bright light opened up in my mind and heart and would not leave. It put a deep desire in my heart to seek out my vocation in a monastic setting. I remember that night as I lay in bed, being in a state wonderment about what happened earlier. That desire never left me, though I never told anyone about it until I was 20 years old and on home-leave with my family.
It was a desire that was awakened, though I could not tell you exactly what that meant actually. So for the next seven years, that fire burned brightly in my heart. I joined the Navy for four years, since I knew, or perceived, that 18 was way too young for me to enter a monastery.
When I came for my first visit here in November of 1968, my desire for the monastic vocation, and to return after I was discharged from the Navy, was only strengthened. I had no idea really what monastic life was about and I guess that is still part of my journey that I am slowly figuring out. Yet there was a deep desire for something more than what I saw around me as a child, or in the Navy.
When I finally entered in September of 1971, I was happy, but I soon learned that the desire for the life, or what my monastic life could lead me to, did not become something clearly defined for me. Also, it was a time of radical change in the Monastery, or at least I was told that. I only knew monastic life from that point. I am perhaps the second of those who entered and stayed, right after the changes began. Br. Leo Francis being the first. In fact, things have been slowly moving towards more stability ever since I have arrived.
What is it I desired? The answer came slowly over the years and was an often painful process. When I was here for about a year, I entered a period of deep ‘healing’ that was experienced as my heart turning into a black and empty pit of suffering. I had no idea what I was dealing with. Yet, for some reason, I persisted and did not even think of leaving. If I left I think I would have sought out ways to medicate myself from this pain and would have only made my life chaotic. What made me stay, was that desire that brought me here in the first place and on some level, I understood that going through this was the only way I could finally arrive at what I desired.
I found out that others could not take this suffering away from me. If I tried, I only found that using others to run away from my deep inner aloneness only made the pain worse. I was like a scab being ripped off of a wound and the healing had to start over again, only worse. I guess you can say I was backed into a corner. It was very frustrating.
Yet over the space of about 10 years, I felt a deep healing going on that I had no control over. All I could do is to simply let it happen. It was a time of many failures in my monastic life, but grace always brought me back to the path that I was called to walk. =I do believe that if I was more faithful in my monastic journey, the healing would not have taken so long. That process is still taking place. It just manifests in different ways at this time of my monastic vocation. My inner struggles and suffering point to the fact that I must still walk my monastic path in faith and hope.
I am not unique. While each of us here in the Monastery has a different story and different struggles, yet they are human ones. All of them are intense and often can seem overwhelming. Most go through periods of restlessness, of a seeming failure, yet if we continue to simply get up in the morning with the desire to live out our vocation, we will find that in the end, it is the Lord who is faithful.
The mind of man is one filled with fears, anxieties, passion and often felt as anger. The mind of man seeks to dominate so as to make life more manageable, but others cannot be controlled or changed or herded. In consciously experiencing this and taking responsibility for my inability to heal myself, it is then that for me, the reality of the Mind-Of-Christ becomes a reality.
I know of my need for community and the support and love of the brothers here. What I can sometimes fail to understand, is that is a desire that we all have I believe. When I forget that I can isolate and withdraw from the chaos and struggle that is part and parcel of living with others. However, withdrawal also takes me away from the love and joy that comes from living with likeminded men who also have that deep desire that keeps them here, that they may not be able to articulate.
We seek to be seen, known and loved. Once we realize that we do have that already in our relationship with God, we come to the understanding that what we desire is already there; we just need to allow our hearts to expand in its ability to allow that reality to become a lived experience; in that, we become fearless knowing that we are safe in the arms of our loving creator.
We can only become childlike when we understand that and can truly be ourselves and share our inner selves with others. Without empathy, self-knowledge, and compassion, we cannot connect with others, we can only strive to manipulate and control — which is kind of like being in hell.
To tell you the truth, I still don’t understand where the pain came from, the deep wound or the pain that flowed from that. I also do not fully understand the ‘desire’ that brought me here. However, I do not have to figure everything out, but I do need to live out the mystery of my life, as I believe we all do.