Oblation of the Reverend Father John McKeever
and the Reverend Father Paul Murphy
Priests of the Archdiocese of Armagh
17 August 2017
Reverend Fathers John and Paul, my very dear sons, true brothers of this monastic family, the day and the hour of your Oblation is enveloped in a kind of golden radiance. It is the unfading brightness of the Assumption of the Mother of God. It is the light that shone so brightly amidst the rain that fell on the night of August 21st, 1879 in the village of Knock. Not by coincidence, then, do we celebrate this evening the Mass of the Assumption. Surely this is pleasing to the heart of the Blessed Virgin, since she elected to appear in Knock on the very last night of the Octave of the Assumption. One sees in this something of the exquisite liturgical sensibility of the Immaculate Mother of God that, so often, marks her miraculous interventions throughout history. “She is more beautiful than the sun, and above all the order of the stars: being compared with the light, she is found before it” (Wisdom 7:29).
The apparition of Knock is a living icon. Its imagery can be read, as one would read the Sacred Scriptures, searching out the hidden meaning of what the eye beholds, and tasting the sweetness contained therein. One must begin with the humble and glorious Saint Joseph; he stands meekly, with bowed head and folded hands, full of respect for his Virgin Bride, the august Queen of Heaven. Knock presents you with an image of your life as priest Oblates of Saint Benedict.
Looking closely at Saint Joseph, what do you see? I, for my part, see the Prologue of the Holy Rule, the pressing invitation to listen, to obey, and to become the workman chosen by the Lord.
Hearken, O my son, to the precepts of thy Master, and incline the ear of thine heart; willingly receive and faithfully fulfil the admonition of thy loving Father, that thou mayest return by the labour of obedience to Him from Whom thou hadst departed through the sloth of disobedience. To thee, therefore, my words are now addressed, whoever thou art that, renouncing thine own will, dost take up the strong and bright weapons of obedience, in order to fight for the Lord Christ, our true king.
And the Lord, seeking His own workman in the multitude of the people to whom He thus crieth out, saith again: “Who is the man that will have life, and desireth to see good days. And if thou, hearing Him, answer, “I am he,” God saith to thee: “If thou wilt have true and everlasting life, keep thy tongue from evil and thy lips that they speak no guile. Turn from evil, and do good: seek peace and pursue it. And when you have done these things, My eyes will be upon you, and My ears will be open to your prayers; and before you call upon Me, I will say unto you, “Behold, I am here.” What can be sweeter to us, dearest brethren, than this voice of the Lord inviting us? Behold in His loving-kindness the Lord sheweth unto us the way of life. (Holy Rule, Prologue)
To Saint Joseph, as to every priest, God entrusted nothing less than the precious Body of Christ. You, like Saint Joseph, are guardians of the Body of Christ: the sacramental Body confected upon the altar, and the mystical Body born of water and of the Holy Ghost in Baptism. But there is more, Chapter II tells you “What Sort of Man the Abbot Ought to Be”; it is a pattern for your priestly labours in the vineyard of the Lord, a pastoral rule of life of proven wisdom, a description of your own call to be father, teacher, and shepherd.
The Abbot ought always to remember what he is, and what he is called, and to know that to whom more is committed, from him more is required; and he must consider how difficult and arduous a task he hath undertaken, of ruling souls and adapting himself to many dispositions. Let him so accommodate and suit himself to the character and intelligence of each, winning some by kindness, others by reproof, others by persuasion, that he may not only suffer no loss in the flock committed to him, but may even rejoice in their virtuous increase. (Holy Rule, Chapter II)
The image of Saint Joseph casts its glow over this chapter of the Holy Rule, for Joseph is the abba chosen by the Father, the earthly shadow of the fatherhood of God. In Chapter IV, “What are the Instruments of Good Works”, you step into the Saint Joseph’s workshop and there discover the tools by which you will exercise your priesthood and build up the Body of Christ, that is the Church. In your priesthood “prefer nothing to the love of Christ” (Chapter VII:21) and, should you be assailed by temptation, or brought low by weakness, “never despair of God’s mercy” (Chapter VII:72).
If you would see the perfection Chapters V, VI, and VII — Obedience, Silence, and Humility — contemplate Saint Joseph of Knock. All that Saint Benedict teaches in these chapters of the Holy Rule, the very pillars of Benedictine life, you will discover in Saint Joseph.
And, then, to the right of Saint Joseph, stands the Immaculate Mother of God, crowned by a starry diadem and clothed in the whiteness of an altogether heavenly light. “And I John saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Apocalypse 21:2). Although few recognise her as such, it was as the Queen Assumed into Heaven that Our Lady appeared at Knock. With uplifted hands, even in her silence, she seems to say to all who make their way, heavily burdened, through this valley of tears, Sursum corda! Hearts on high! Our Lady of Knock is the Virgo Orans, the Virgin–in–Prayer. She is the spotless mirror of the filial and priestly prayer of her Divine Son. She is the icon of the Ecclesia Orans, the Church–in–Prayer. The Venerable Dom Guéranger, in his instruction addressed to secular priests belonging to the Order of Saint Benedict, says that the Church can no more dispense with the sacrificium laudis, the Divine Office, than she can dispense with the sacrificium altaris, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. As priest Oblates of Saint Benedict, you are called to cultivate the worthy, attentive, and devout celebration of both the Divine Office and the Holy Sacrifice. Digne, atténte ac devóte. Regular returns to your monastery home will encourage you in this, and the souls in your care will reap the benefits of the distinctively Benedictine imprint that will mark your priestly dedication to the liturgy of the Church.
The Virgo Orans of Knock, “the brightness of eternal light, and the unspotted mirror of God’s majesty, and the image of his goodness” (Wisdom 7:26) is the perfection of all that Saint Benedict seeks to express in Chapters VIII through XX, the liturgical directory of his Rule. Your love for the Divine Office, a defining characteristic of every true son of Saint Benedict, will grow in proportion to your consideration of Our Lady as she appeared at Knock: utterly absorbed in the liturgy of heaven.
Moving now to the priestly figure of Saint John the Beloved, you can contemplate your particular calling as priest Oblates of Silverstream Priory: priests altogether enamoured of the Word of God and priests magnetised by the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. Saint John appears holding the book of the Sacred Scriptures and, at the same time, vested for the Holy Sacrifice. Again, with Saint John, learn what it is to rest your weary heads — heads often filled with the tiresome din of a multitude of worries, and solicitations, and anxieties — upon the Heart of Jesus. Take your repose before the Most Blessed Sacrament, resting, like the beloved disciple, in sinu Iesu. Learn to be silent before you preach, and to preach only those things that you will have first received in an adoring silence. Saint John represents and exemplifies the fidelity to lectio divina and to adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar that will distinguish your piety as priest Oblates of our monastery.
And, finally, we come to the very image and revelation of your oblation: to the shining epiphany of the Altar, the Lamb, and the Cross. To be an “oblate” — the very word signifies one offered in sacrifice — is to become wholly identified with the Lamb of God. When Saint Benedict, in Chapter LIX of the Holy Rule, explains the rite by which boys are made oblates, he directs that their hands be wrapped in the very corporal of the altar upon which will rest the immolated Body of Christ. By this, Saint Benedict, signifies that even in these “child oblates” the priestly prayer of Christ is mysteriously fulfilled: “that they also may be sanctified in truth” (John 17:19). You, dear brothers, as priests, stand each day before the altar of the Holy Sacrifice; now, as professed oblates of the Order of Saint Benedict, you will also rest upon the altar, as victims made over and consecrated to the Father, one with “the pure victim, the holy victim, the spotless victim” whom you hold in your hands each day. Enter now, more deeply, by means of your oblation, into the offering of Christ the Eternal Priest, and into a lasting bond with this your Benedictine family.