He was a fifth century mystic, whose famous Rule underpinned a Catholic Order which historians credit with saving Western civilization after the fall of the Roman Empire. His Rule, balancing a life of ‘ora et labora’ (‘work and prayer’), is a masterpiece of wisdom about the possibilities and realities of human nature.
Fast forward 1500 years to 1999, when three sons of St Benedict of Nursia, monks from the Abbey of Fontgombault in France, traveled to the Diocese of Tulsa, Oklahoma to erect a simple priory there. Ten years later, their growth was such that the priory became Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey, part of the Solesmes congregation.
Today, the monks are engaged in building a classical Abbey in the Romanesque style in an agrarian setting near Weathertop Mountain. It is the destination of many young men as they discern their call to the religious life.
The Abbot, Dom Philip Anderson, recently sat down with REGINA Magazine to throw some light on the mystery of why, when so many prominent religious Orders have experienced a precipitous decline, his rural Abbey is experiencing such amazing growth.
REGINA: Clear Creek is an astonishing success story. How many monks are there now?
DOM PHILIP ANDERSON: We currently count 49 monks in the community, with 2 or 3 that will be joining the Novitiate soon. For the past few months we have been hovering at about 50—a bit more, a bit less.
REGINA: Is that a stable number?
DOM PHILIP ANDERSON: The Novitiate is a place of discernment: young men come, young men go, which is the normal thing. We have planned the monastery for a community of 60.
REGINA: And your community is so young!
DOM PHILIP ANDERSON: The average age is a little over 40 years. We have many young monks, but some of us are beginning to be not so young!
REGINA: What percentage were raised Catholic?
DOM PHILIP ANDERSON: Although I do not have any precise statistics about this, looking at our community list I would say that 78 per cent were raised Catholic.
REGINA: With so many failing to attract young vocations, what’s the attraction to such a rigorous life as yours?
DOM PHILIP ANDERSON: God is the one who attracts souls. He must have His reasons. I can just say that I notice certain patterns.
DOM PHILIP ANDERSON: Young men want to serve God in a place where they see other young men.
REGINA: Makes sense.
DOM PHILIP ANDERSON: They look for clear points of reference in a world that is lost in the space of Relativism, where there are few or no references.
REGINA: Clearly, we live in disorienting times. The ‘Age of Anxiety’ as it were.
DOM PHILIP ANDERSON: These men tend to appreciate the dignity and reverence of a more solemn liturgy, especially when celebrated in Latin. For many it seems important to be able to participate in what Pope Benedict XVI called the “Extraordinary Form” of the Roman Rite.
REGINA: What would you advise a young man who thinks he may have a vocation to your Benedictine Order?
DOM PHILIP ANDERSON: This can be a source of real anguish for a young man, but it is not so hard. The thing to do is first to visit a few communities (after maybe viewing websites and such). Following these visits, in prayer, it should be possible to determine if one would like to make a second visit to one of them.
REGINA: Why a second visit?
DOM PHILIP ANDERSON: During a second visit the young man will learn a great deal more about the community. Going home, he can then pray about the possibility of asking to enter the Novitiate or just make another visit.
REGINA: This takes some time, then.
DOM PHILIP ANDERSON: God does not usually reveal whether a person is called right away, but there is a very wise process of discernment that allow one to see, step by step, whether to pursue the vocation. In our community a young man has five years or more to discern whether to make final vows! So, pray and trust in God who is the One doing the calling.
More info on Clear Creek vocations HERE