Bishop Slattery’s Homily
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
Even the most solemn moments in the Church’s liturgy are suffused with an indescribable joy, a radiance that elevates the solemn action of men. And this ceremony—by which contemplative Benedictine life is established with permanence and stability in our Diocese—solemn as it is, radiates with spiritual joy.
It could not be otherwise, for the joy we feel is the promised presence of Christ. He it is who calls us together to offer to His Divine Father that Sacrifice by which mankind is saved, our sins forgiven and our lives regenerated by the sanctifying indwelling of the Holy Spirit. With Christ alone do we become holy with the very holiness of God.
How awesome, then is this moment which we share! How profound the gratitude which must prompt our hearts and motivate our desires, shaping our prayer and directing the actions of this day toward eternity.
Conscious of Him whom we serve, and humbled at his constant invitation to intimacy within the divine community of love, I greet you in the name of the Blessed Trinity. With fraternal love, I welcome my brother bishop; with the unaffected affection of a child, I hold you, Father Abbot, to my heart, I greet you, dear monks of this community of Clear Creek with a heart that has learned only one thing, that God is merciful.
And to my beloved faithful of this diocese, the priests, religious and lay faithful who have come in such numbers today, and who stand and wait like guests at the wedding feast of Cana in the certain hope that today we shall feast together on the Bread of Life, I offer you my deep gratitude; for yours was the steadfast faithfulness that brought about my invitation to Père Abbé, and yours the unshakable confidence that here in Oklahoma we could confound the world with the witness of men who prefer nothing to Christ.
I greet you all and humbly ask that you consider the events of this day in the light of the Gospel which we have just heard.
Saint John tells us nothing of the couple for whom Jesus changed the water into wine. We don’t know if they became believers, consecrating their lives to Him who consecrated the water, and establishing themselves the first family-cell of the Church.
What we do know is that the miracle by which Christ changed the water into wine begins in some sense the ‘hour of Jesus’. This is certainly a beginning, for Saint John is careful to tell us that this miracle was the “first of His signs, and by it Jesus did reveal His glory”. But the glory of Jesus is His obedience unto death. Only when He is lifted upon the cross, will He be exalted. Only when He lies crushed does He reveal the height and the depth and the unimaginable breadth of the Father’s love for us.
Thus Jesus, the guest at the wedding, becomes Himself the Host. Providing for the meal, He provides a way for the disciples to know his glory and at the same moment Christ begins the hour of His Passion. All this because the servants find the water jars empty, and—obedient to the Lord’s command—fill the firkins full.
To the priests and brothers who are members of this community, I beg you to see in this humble image of the empty water jar the mystery of your vocation, for it was neither in the size nor the strength of the vessel that the jar proved useful to the Kingdom. It was in the fact that they stood empty, waiting for the Son of Man to fill them. Know without doubt, my brothers, that you serve neither the Universal Church nor this local diocesan church by the size of your house or by the strength of your own efforts. You are useful only in so far as you stand empty, waiting to be filled by the Word of the Lord.
Empty yourselves, therefore, of everything else; of all that is not Christ. Let the strength of your own ideas drain away and the wisdom of your own perceptions vanish. Then you will be filled constantly with the Word of God and your strength will be humility, humility forged in obedience and honed on stability.
Remember too that there is no room for anxiety or restlessness in your response to God. He will fill you, in His own time and by whatever means He chooses to do so. You have only to wait for Him, listen for His voice and be attentive to Him speaking in the authority of four superiors and in the weakness of your brothers.
As Our Lady said to the servants in Cana, “Do whatever He tells you”. Do whatever Jesus tells you; make whatever sacrifice is required of you. Then you will understand the meaning of Christ’s Passion and His Priesthood, for the two are inseparably linked, as the water and the wine are inseparably linked at Cana and again on Calvary. In Cana Christ begins the hour of His Passion by turning water into wine and that wondrous sign foretells the Eucharistic sign of Calvary where the water and the wine flow freely from His pierced side.
This is the mystery which you will contemplate each time you gather in this church to sing the Office and to offer the Sacrifice of the Mass. The pierced side of Christ will be the cave into which you enter to find God, even as your holy rule says Saint Benedict entered into his cave that he might search for God and discover His Holiness, for holiness is the attribute of God which is beyond all knowledge or insight. It can only be experienced in the silence of the heart where God reveals Himself to those who pray, to those who wait for Him with patience.
It is this same holiness of God that we acknowledge at every Mass when we pass from all our preparatory rites and enter into the Canon. In that most solemn prayer we offer ourselves to God the Father in, with and through His Son, joining our lives to Christ as He offers the Father his precious Body and Blood. In Christ we become pure with the purity of God, merciful with the mercy of God, and holy with the holiness of God. This is the unity and the purity and the holiness of God which the one priesthood of Christ reveals and which is made manifest for us at this concelebrated Mass of inauguration.
I should hope that every lay member of the Church, and most certainly those lay faithful who are the friends and benefactors of this community, consider for a moment the profound meaning of these divine attributes. With the whole Church you proclaim unceasingly the unity and the purity and the holiness of God and you do so in a world which desperately needs the hope and the promise of the Church, but which, unfortunately is so marred by sin that it cannot recognize that unity or that purity or that holiness unless you give a radical witness of it.
That radical witness which you are called to give is what we mean by evangelization, but there can be no true evangelization without contemplation; and as Pope John Paul reminds us, contemplation is the very heart of Benedictine life. Thus we who are in the world to evangelize it for Christ, will depend upon the monks of this house in a way far more complete than perhaps any of its members may suspect. In the same way, the monk who freely consecrates himself to God through the voluntary renunciations of poverty, chastity, obedience, through the practice of conversion and stability, all this leading him to a life of prayerful passion and radical detachment, will be the principal evangelizer of our communities; and from the marvelous and wholly divine arrangement by which those in the world are supported by those in the cloister, and those in the cl0oister are engaged in the most vital work imaginable in the world today, a new American civilization will be born, a civilization of love, rooted in contemplation and alive with the holiness of God.
Beloved members of the family of Saint Benedict, believe me when I tell you that from this house a new civilization will spring. Let it be intensely Benedictine, joyfully Benedictine, Benedictine in the very center of its search for God.
Father Abbot’s Address
(at the end of the Mass)
Your Excellencies. Beloved Father Abbots,
My dear Brethren in the Priesthood,
Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,
First of all, on this day when we commemorate Our Lady of Lourdes, I would like to tell you that three weeks ago I had the grace to spend several hours in the grotto of Lourdes. In that blessed place where Heaven touched earth, I thought of our gathering here today. I entrusted to the maternal Heart of the Immaculate Virgin all of your intentions, and I asked her to pour into the heart of each of you a part of her grace of purity, peace, and joy.
Your Excellency, Bishop Slattery, permit me to say to you once again in public our deepest gratitude for the welcome and the support which you have given to our project of foundation in your diocese of Tulsa at each of its stages. The diocese of Tulsa has become dear to us and the monks of Clear Creek feel at home here. I give thanks to the Lord Who has established between you and me a true and solid spiritual friendship.
At the same time that I offer you my thanks, Excellency, I wish to assure your clergy and all your faithful that they will always find here the most devoted and brotherly welcome.
His Excellency, Bishop Meeking, bishop emeritus of Christchurch in New Zealand, is a great friend of monastic life in general and of Fontgombault in particular. I thank him for undertaking such a long journey in order to be with us today.
The Abbots of more or less neighboring monasteries have come in order to manifest their fraternal sentiments. We thank them and their communities for their prayers. We thank them for the interest which they take in the little plant beginning to grow in the garden of the Church in Oklahoma beside their large and ancient monasteries.
I wish to thank also our numerous friends, both old and new, among the laity. They have shown us so much devotion and affection by helping us do what we can not do ourselves. May God bless them every one and give them in return the hundredfold of all they have done for us.
I do not even dare count or name all of these benefactors. Any list would be long and, most likely, incomplete. Nonetheless, I can hardly not mention some of them.
—Mr. and Mrs. Doyle and their offspring who lived here: I know the sacrifice which they made upon leaving this place. They had worked much on this land and they were attached to it. We will never forget the kindness and the generosity of their welcome.
—Mark Kane and the committee: They have really sacrificed themselves for us with much wisdom, sparing neither trouble nor time. I know that they have put into these services all their intelligence, all their heart, and all their esteem for our monastic life. May Our Lady herself tell them our gratefulness and bless their families.
—Kirk Kramer who has shown the utmost generosity for such a long time: Today an old dream has become a reality. Kirk has put into this “dream come true” all of his dynamism. We have seen that this dynamism is strong. Thank you for everything, Kirk.
—Mr. and Mrs. Stratton who were our first neighbors: they were so attentive and discreet, so helpful and efficient.
—Mr. Bob Warren and his enterprise who arranged these buildings: I thank them for these works accomplished with competence and love. We now have a suitable but temporary installation. However I pray Our Lady that the temporary set-up does not last too long.
—We wish to thank everyone, those we already know and those we have not yet met, for the warm welcome given to us in Oklahoma. We thank you for your material assistance. We will never forget the thoughtfulness shown upon the arrival of the first monks.
Generous persons brought them complete meals prepared with much love. We thank you also for your spiritual support, for your prayers which are so precious. We ask you to continue praying so that the Lord may accord to this monastery the grace to give glory to God and to serve Holy Mother Church.
—Many persons may have asked themselves why one would come all the way from France in order to establish a new monastic foundation in the United States of America. Benedictine life, as a matter of fact, is already well represented her in this big country. The Benedictine Confederation is large enough to include various orientations. The majority of American Benedictine monasteries, on account of their origins and historical situations, are involved above all in works of the active life. They thus render a great service in parish apostolate, in education of youth especially on the university level, and in priestly formation. The Congregation of Solesmes to which we belong, however, is strictly contemplative. Our monasteries and our monks do not involve themselves directly in pastoral activity, except for spiritual assistance given to persons on retreat at the Guesthouse. It is this desire for a strictly contemplative life which drew many vocations from America to Fontgombault for more then twenty five years. This search for the contemplative life is thus the remote origin of this new foundation here in America. I can hardly fail to mention Professor John Senior who. The other praiseworthy Professors Dennis Quinn and Frank Nelick, was the instrument of Divine Providence. They ardently desired this foundation. However, like Moses before the Promised Land. Professor Senior could only see and greet it from afar before returning to God. His memory will always remain a benediction in the monastery.
The contemplative life which we try to observe according to the Rule of St. Benedict, is nothing more than Christian life in the presence of God, in His house and in His intimacy. St. Benedict defines the monastery as a “school of the service of the Lord”. The monastery is a school where one learns to search God truly, to love Him and to serve Him. It is a school where one does the apprenticeship of eternal life. The monastery is a school where all the brothers live together under the paternal authority of the Abbot who represents Christ. It is a school which is a true family where one lives in the peace and joy flowing forth from brotherly love.
Monks live separated from the world without being cut off from it. This separation renders them all the more attentive to the true needs of the world. They weep in their prayers all the concerns and yearnings of this world. The monastic cloister might seem to you rather austere and severe. However, in the measure in which you can respect the cloister yourselves, you will more understand its meaning and price. You will also benefit from it. You will understand the soundness of the words of Pope Paul VI:
The Church and the world, for reasons which are different but convergent, need that those who follow the Rule of St. Benedict withdraw themselves from the ecclesiastical and social community, and surround themselves with solitude and silence, so to make us hear the attractive accent of their calm and absorbing prayer, to win our hearts and call us to cross the threshold of their cloisters; in order to offer us the setting of a workshop of the divine service and an example of a little ideal society where finally reigns love, obedience, innocence, and liberation from the things of the world. There one learns the art of using well the things of the world. Briefly, one finds there peace and the Gospel.” (October 24, 1964)
The Divine Office and the Mass are habitually celebrated in Latin and in Gregorian chant which are inseparable. Experience shows that the use of Latin and Gregorian does not hinder the participation of the faithful. Latin Gregorian chant is not less active. It is even more spiritual and fruitful. The Church depends upon contemplatives for this liturgical apostolate which leads souls to a more profound and interior spiritual life. Dom Guéranger, founder of Solesmes and restorer of Benedictine life in France after the French Revolution of 1789, has bequeathed to us his love of the liturgy. We have inherited his concern to celebrate the liturgy with the most ardent devotion possible, in fidelity to the Holy Rule which prescribes us to “prefer nothing to the Work of God”.
Monks celebrate a public and official prayer in the name of all the Church. As the Second Vatican Council recalls, they unite their voice to the voice of Christ themselves to their own personal prayer in private. This personal prayer should envelope their entire life and become unceasing, according to the teaching of John Cassian. This interior prayer is nourished by the liturgy and the liturgy renews its fervor in private interior prayer. Private prayer also should inspire itself from Lectio Divina, which is a meditative study of the Word of God contained in the Holy Scriptures, exposed by the Church Fathers as well as the masters of the spiritual life, and lived by the saints whose examples are always a stimulation for us.
Like all the sons and daughters of Adam, monks are obligated by the law of work. Saint Benedict attaches a great importance to manual labor. His monks are to do themselves as much as possible in order to take care of their own needs. There is always very much work to do, especially in the beginning of a new monastery. This abundance of work is good for the brethren. Everybody makes his contribution. Everyone sacrifices himself generously and joyously for the common good of all the monastic family. This not only serves to satisfy the needs of the community, but is also profitable for the physiological balance and spiritual life of the monks.
This spiritual life is simply the fully living out of the promises of our Baptism. The monk works on the full flowering of his baptismal life which is nothing more than holiness. The best means to arrive there are the evangelical counsels which are the rule of every religious life. The monk promises and practices them in order to imitate more closely Our Lord Jesus Christ and finally to identify himself with Him, as St. Paul did when he said “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.” (Gal. 2:20) The Rule of St. Benedict gives the monk all of the necessary recommendations and indicates all the directions which one must follow in order to attain this goal. According to the example of Christ, the monk must be meek and humble, docile and obedient. He must deny himself and renounce all his arbitrary and egoistic demands. He must cultivate silence which protects his life of intimacy with God. He must search in everything not what pleases himself, but rather what is pleasing and useful to his brethren, in a constant, very attentive practice of brotherly love. He must remember that Our Lord said, “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren you did it to me.” (Mt. 25:40)
Monks like to take Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus as model of their contemplative life. She is the doctor of the little way of spiritual childhood, which is pure Gospel. “Unless you become like little children again, you shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Mt. 18:3) When Holy Mother Church proclaimed “the Little Flower” Patroness of the Missions equal to Saint Francis Xavier, she desired to affirm the apostolic fecundity of contemplative life and its irreplaceable role in the evangelization of the world. Saint Thérèse promised to “spend her Heaven doing good upon earth”. Since the centenary of her death, the triumphant tour of her relics throughout the world and recently in America, shows her faithfulness to her promise. Everywhere she goes she gathers the faithful and pours forth upon them abundant graces like perfumed rose petals. What a powerful activity for the New Evangelization so wanted and so strongly promoted by our beloved Pope John Paul II.
Even more than Saint Thérèse, Our Lady, the Blessed Mother of God, the most holy Virgin Mary represents for monks the perfect realization of their ideal. The Gospel says that she kept all that she knew and heard about her Son and reflected on it in her Heart. She is the Mother and the Queen of monks. They wish to love her and serve her as sons, disciples and servants, and we are not afraid to add that they wish to do so as slaves, as voluntary slaves, as slaves of love. They love to contemplate her Immaculate Heart which is the Throne of the eternal and uncreated Wisdom, the Mirror of all virtues and holiness. They know that they will always find in that Heart the refuge which their misery needs.
This new-born monastery is consecrated to the Blessed Mother in the mystery of the Annunciation. In this mystery she shows herself as Our Lady of the Fiat. She is the Virgin who said “yes” to God. She did so in a perfect act of faith and love, with great docility, confidence, humility and peaceful and joyous simplicity.
I pray to Our Lady today for the community here present. I pray to her likewise for all the monks who will live in this monastery as long as God allows it to exist (hopefully, and why not, until the end of time). I ask the Blessed Mother to conform them to the dispositions and sentiments which were hers when she pronounced her Fiat. I pray also that all those who come to this monastery may smell here the sweet fragrance of Christ (2 Cor. 2: 15).
Our Lady of the Annunciation of Clear Creek, make us all living Fiats in a generous adhesion to the Will of God whatever it may be. Bless this place and all those who live here. Grant them and grant us to be docile to you as true children. Teach us to say and to live the Fiat as you taught it to your little confidant of Lourdes, Saint Bernadette. May we repeat truthfully after her:
Fiat for life,
Fiat for suffering,
Fiat for death,
Fiat for ever and ever,
O my Mother,
In your gentle Heart.
said a final word to the monks:
As your bishop, I will ask you only four things, namely that you pray without fail for me and for the whole Diocese of Tulsa:
That we may be worthy of your example and your hospitality.
Secondly, that you continue to live the Rule of Saint Benedict according to the usages of Fontgombault and the traditions of Solesmes.
Thirdly, that you conserve and preserve the ancient Gregorian chant which over the centuries has become such an integral part of the Church liturgy.
And finally, that you be obedient to the Holy Father, successor of Peter, and to your superiors according to your rule of life.