Bishop's Column

Monastic silence

On Sunday, Nov. 8, I will travel to the Benedictine Abbey of Our Lady of the Annunciation of Clear Creek in Eastern Oklahoma for the ordination of three monks: one will be ordained a deacon, and two will be ordained priests. 

Clear Creek Abbey is a special place; a cloistered contemplative monastery in the Oklahoma Ozarks, teeming with life, joy, youth and the special fraternity of monks living radically for Jesus Christ.

Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey was founded in 1999.  Thirteen original founding monks came from the Abbey of Fontgombault, in France, where I spent time living as a young man before I discerned my vocation to the diocesan priesthood. Several of the monks, including the abbot and the prior, are my life-long friends and fellow converts from my college days at the University of Kansas. The monastery now numbers around 50 monks with an average age of 35. I am honored and blessed to continue a friendship with the monks of Clear Creek.  

Each summer, I travel with some of Lincoln’s seminarians to visit Clear Creek. Our seminarians spend several days in the rhythm of prayer and labor that defines life at Benedictine monasteries around the world.  The monks farm and keep livestock, and our seminarians share in that work. The community gathers to pray, eight times a day, and our seminarians share in their prayer. At Our Lady of Clear Creek, they discover what I love about the place: that every aspect of daily life points us to Jesus Christ, if we are steadfast about making time, every day, for prayer.

Most especially, our seminarians discover that prayer, work and contemplation, and even thoughtful friendship, becomes simpler in the profound experience of silence.

One of the young monks who will be ordained a priest wrote me a letter a few weeks ago. He wrote about the incredible grace of the monastery’s silence. 

“My youth and adolescence was largely impacted by the growth of cell phone usage, social media, the internet, email, and so forth,” He wrote. “It is all quite amazing, but yet so often superficial. Man feels more and more alone because of lack of authentic encounter. The Holy Father keeps using the phrase ‘desertification’ of our urban centers. It seems like this is at the heart of the problem—the lack of authentic human contact.”

The monk wrote that when friends visit the monastery, “they really are touched by the time in parlor [where visits takes place]—without cell phone or internet, and just the ability to have a simple open-hearted talk.” 

Silence—freedom from the devices that so often distract us—makes it possible for all our relationships to grow stronger and more authentic. This is especially true of our relationship with God.   

At Clear Creek, the chant of daily prayer echoes through the monastery’s silence. And without distractions, the prayers of the breviary remain in the heart—the Psalms and the Gospel echo across the work each monk is called to do. The monks of Clear Creek chant the full monastic breviary in Latin according to the tradition of ancient Gregorian chant. 
You can go to their website and order CDs and see photographs of the abbey at

In the Diocese of Lincoln, we are blessed by two communities of contemplative sisters—who spend their time in silence, and prayer, for the salvation of souls around the world. The Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters (the “Pink Sisters”) in Lincoln, and the Carmelites at the Carmel of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in Valparaiso, live in the mystery of silence, in order to encounter the mystery of God.

Cloistered communities—like those at Clear Creek, or in our diocese—do not pursue silence to escape the world.  They pursue silence to understand the world more beautifully and profoundly, and in order to entrust the world to Christ through prayer.  Silence is never an escape—it is an opening to the mystery of creation, and the Creator.  The grace of those who are silent—who hear the needs of the world, and entrust them to God, is incredible. 

Not all of us are called to the silence of the monastery.   But all of us are called to open ourselves to the world, by quieting the distractions and devices that call for our immediate attention.  All of us are called to cultivate silence—in our prayer, and in our daily lives. God speaks to us in the silence of our hearts. Like the monks of Clear Creek, or the cloistered nuns in our diocese, quieting ourselves, and putting away the distractions of this world, will help us to encounter the world as Christ does, and to bring the power of grace to a world in need.

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