March 2, 2012

Solemn vespers celebrating the silver jubilee of the episcopal ordination of Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein, OSB

Given by Archbishop J. Peter Sartain at St. Meinrad Archabbey Church

It was Fr. Paddy Heenan, the only Foreign-Born Irish priest of the Diocese of Memphis, who in 1987 coined a nickname for the monk who was to be our new bishop. For the most part, only those of us who were alumni of St. Meinrad knew Daniel Mark Buechlein. Hearing the name “Buechlein” for the first time, Paddy began to call him, “Our German Shepherd.” The nickname stuck, at least for a month or so, until he first saw that “look” – head down-turned, eyes peering over the lenses of his glasses. “Bishop Daniel” would work nicely, we learned.

Paddy was known for many things, among them his Irish ability to capture immense meaning with a single utterance. Asked once if any one word could best describe the priesthood, he said, with characteristic understatement, “Relentless.”

It’s true: The life of a priest is very busy. But there is nothing as relentless as the call of the gospel; nothing as persistent as the demands of love; nothing as unyielding as the faithfulness of God; nothing as unrelentingly piercing as the gaze of God; nothing as relentless as God’s seeking, God’s searching, for the lost sheep, for sinners like us; nothing as relentless as God’s desiring to save us and bring us home. And thus, for the monk, for the seminarian, for the deacon, for the priest, and for the bishop, there is nothing more important than seeking, and seeking relentlessly, the One who seeks us.

The Letter of James offers a series of practical and vital exhortations to a Jewish-Christian community: persevere in trial and temptation; be doers of the word, not just hearers; endeavor to be impartial, with special care for the poor; guard the tongue; seek wisdom from above; use words that unite, not divide; be patient until the coming of the Lord…

And pray: pray for the suffering and the sick; pray in joyful thanksgiving; pray for forgiveness; pray in intercession; pray fervently – relentlessly – like Elijah; and never stop searching for, and bringing home, the stray.

In 1987, having lived the monastic life for more than 30 years, and the priestly life for almost 23 years, Archbishop Daniel was called into a new sharing in the life of Christ. As bishop, he would be a shepherd for those entrusted to his care – a shepherd who would lead, guard, teach, govern, protect, reveal the path to holiness, and give himself in sacrifice for the flock. All of us here this evening can attest to the fact that he is ever the teacher, who can put in common terms things that might be otherwise beyond our reach. In fact, as teacher of the Faith, he not only speaks the Truth to us who personally hear him and read his words – he also helped guide an extraordinary catechetical renewal for the entire country. Many of us had the privilege of being under his care as seminary rector; he taught us how to teach, how to lead, how to govern. And many of us had the honor of working closely with him here at St. Meinrad, in the Diocese of Memphis, and in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis; he taught us how to minister with clarity, efficiency, class, and most importantly, with hope.

And all of us, to this day, hear him and watch him teach the lesson that binds the rest together and gives it life: Seek the face of the Lord in prayer, prayerfully surrender to the will of the Lord in love and humility.

When the highly-educated Evagrius Ponticus first came to Scetis in the late 4th century, he made the mistake of lecturing the monks on some religious matter. They let him finish, and then one said, “We know, Father, that if you had stayed in Alexandria you would have been a great bishop” – after which Evagrius was understandably silent.

A monk-bishop? Some who understand neither monasticism nor the episcopacy might have their doubts (and I have to admit, after hearing the table reading about medieval monasticism last night in the monastery, I can see why!). What Archbishop Daniel has always shown us is a beautiful blending of Benedictine spirituality, psychology, hospitality, and common sense, with the foundational role of Christ the Head of the Church, Christ the Shepherd-Teacher, whose love flows from the heart and washes over the entire people of God. Archbishop Daniel has always had the common touch. I have a hunch that was one of the many gifts he received from his mother and father.

Through the years, I have often been asked, “Could you have said, ‘No’?” The question always refers to that Wednesday morning in late 1999, when I received a call from the Papal Nuncio informing me that the Holy Father had appointed me Bishop of Little Rock. I always explain that, had there been some serious reason, well, yes, I could have said, “No.” But the truth is I had already said “Yes” in 1977, when I was ordained a deacon, though I did not know at the time where it would all lead. It was then that I gave myself away, to God, for the good of the Church. In return, God gave me a new identity, the person of Christ himself.

It was as a monk of this Archabbey that Archbishop Daniel first gave himself to God alone and received in return a new name, a new identity, in Christ. Monastic profession, ordination as a deacon, then as a priest, followed, and God transformed Daniel forever, to the core of his being. His life-long path seemed clearly set. Then a call from the Papal Nuncio. Could Fr. Daniel have said, “No”? He had already said, “Yes!” And he has faithfully continued to say “Yes” to the Lord; “Yes” to us, his friends and confreres; “Yes” to the people God loves; and now “Yes” to an even deeper share in the Cross of Christ. Ever the teacher and shepherd, he still leads and guides us, relentlessly, faithfully, humbly, through a new call from God to surrender everything, and never to stop praying unceasingly.

Archbishop Daniel’s twenty-five years as bishop and archbishop have been walked on a path with an open, ready, steady, heart. Unremittingly, relentlessly, he seeks the One who seeks him, today, tomorrow, and forever. For as Gregory of Nyssa, in his Life of Moses, tells us:

To find God is to seek him unceasingly. Here, indeed, to seek is not one thing and to find another. The reward of the search is to go on searching. The soul’s desire is fulfilled by the very fact of its remaining unsatisfied, for really to see God is never to have had one’s fill of desiring him.

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