This is Part 2 of a 4-part analysis of the book In Sinu Jesu: When Heart Speaks to Heart—The Journal of a Priest at Prayer, which is credited to an anonymous Benedictine monk. Click here for Part 1. Click here for Part 3. Click here for Part 4.
The Founding of Silverstream Priory
Although Father Mark Kirby enjoyed the support of Bishop Edward Slattery of the Diocese of Tulsa, the monk was unable to find a suitable property in the diocese for his nascent monastery. A new opportunity opened up in October 2011 when, having located a rent-to-buy property in the Diocese of Meath, Ireland, he received approbation from the local ordinary, Bishop Michael Smith, to found a monastery there.
Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, had only one member besides Kirby when it opened in late February 2012, but that would soon change. By June 2014, it was reported that the monastery had “far too many young monks (plus interested young men) for their meager means.” In the meantime, Kirby’s friend and chief fundraiser David Craig worked to raise the funds so that the monks could purchase the property.
On St. Patrick’s Day, 2012, Kirby published on Vultus Christi a fundraising letter written by Craig. The letter described Kirby’s “deep Union” with Jesus as he sat before the Eucharist with his journal:
I watched Dom Mark sitting at a 45-degree angle to the monstrance with his journal in his lap. I knew it was at this point he was praying for priests who had asked for prayers and for the countless priests wounded spiritually in our culture. I also knew he was praying for priests who had given up praying themselves. Though I could not make out the soft words from where I was sitting I knew I was witnessing a deep Union and I knew, Jesus, upon that altar, was listening.
By that point, Kirby’s blog readers were well aware that he was listening before the Eucharist, as he was now posting the contents of his messages several times a month, appending each entry with the words, “From In Sinu Iesu, the Journal of a Priest.”
It would be several years before Silverstream Priory would become canonically established as a monastic Institute of Consecrated Life of diocesan right in the Diocese of Meath, which came to pass on February 25, 2017. In the meantime, as its population of monks continued to grow, so too did its popularity in the traditionalist press.
The New Liturgical Movement blog in August 2013 ran an interview with Kirby where he detailed his vision of a monastery dedicated to “traditional Benedictine life”: “a close adhesion to the letter and spirit of the Rule, and a commitment to the traditional forms of the sacred Liturgy, celebrated worthily, in Latin and Gregorian chant.”
To those Benedictine traditions, Kirby added “a particular focus on the radiant Countenance of Jesus, both revealed and concealed in the Eucharist.” He told the interviewer that the Silverstream charism entailed Eucharistic Adoration for the sake of priests, “and in particular for those priests who, for one reason or another, are unable or unwilling to linger in the company of Our Lord in the Sacrament of his Divine Friendship.”
A Kindred Spirit: Peter Kwasniewski
By the spring of 2014, Kirby had won the admiration of prominent traditionalist academic Peter Kwasniewski, a founding faculty member of Wyoming Catholic College. The admiration was mutual, with Kirby frequently citing Kwasniewski’s writings on his blog and inviting him to deliver a conference at the priory.
Particularly inspiring to Kirby was Kwasniewski’s harsh diagnosis of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite; it served for the monk as further justification for Silverstream Priory’s practice of celebrating the preconciliar liturgy exclusively. In December 2014, he quoted approvingly on Vultus Christi the following words of Kwasniewski: “The undeniable postconciliar crisis has to be traced back, in large measure, to the liturgical revolution, the dismantling of the traditional worship of the Catholic Church.”
Kirby added to the professor’s words some comments of his own—lamenting how “the artisans of the reforms of the late 1960s dynamited the Roman Rite.” But he reserved his strongest criticism for a Mass that Pope Francis had recently celebrated in Istanbul.
“The papal Holy Mass,” Kirby wrote, “was a sad affair stripped of the noble splendor of the Roman Rite. It seemed more a painful exercise in reaching people than a stretching heavenward in anticipation of the Kingdom of God.”
It is worth noting that the derision Kirby and Kwasniewski heap upon the Ordinary Form—a critique that is not confined to individual aspects of the postconciliar liturgy, but rather calls the entire liturgical reform rotten to the core—clearly contradicts the teachings of Pope Benedict XVI. In Summorum Pontificum, the motu proprio authorizing the expanded celebration of the preconciliar liturgy, Benedict praised Paul VI and John Paul II for their actions to promulgate postconciliar editions of the Roman Missal: “In this way the Popes sought to ensure that ‘this liturgical edifice, so to speak … reappears in new splendor in its dignity and harmony.’” And in an accompanying letter to bishops, Benedict praised the “spiritual richness and the theological depth” of the Missal of Paul VI.
Most importantly for our purposes, Benedict XVI emphasized in his letter to bishops that “it is not appropriate to speak of these two versions of the Roman Missal”—the 1962 liturgy and the current one—“as if they were ‘two Rites.’ Rather, it is a matter of a twofold use of one and the same rite.”
Could Kirby yet be said to be thinking with the mind of Pope Benedict in some fashion? Certainly an argument could be made that Benedict, prior to his papacy, offered numerous critiques of the implementation of Vatican II’s liturgical reforms, some of which even touched upon the reforms themselves.
Nonetheless, it must be emphasized that Benedict XVI issued Summorum Pontificum as a document of his ordinary Magisterium. As such, it possesses a level of authority that is not enjoyed by his pre-papal writings or even by interviews or speeches he gave as pope. It is evident moreover that in Summorum Pontificum Benedict took great care to assure the faithful that the Mass of Paul VI was not only spiritually nourishing but also an authentic and valid expression of the Roman liturgy. Kirby’s hyperbolic claim that “the artisans of the reforms of the late 1960s dynamited the Roman Rite” is therefore irreconcilable with the letter and spirit of Benedict’s authoritative papal statements.
A New Member of the Silverstream Family: Clarissa Kwasniewski
Peter Kwasniewski, at the time that he befriended Father Kirby, already felt called to become a Benedictine Oblate. When he decided to fulfill that call in May 2014, he did not do so at Silverstream but rather associated himself with the Monastero di San Benedetto in Norcia.
Two years later, Kwasniewski’s wife, Clarissa, also discerned a call to the lay Benedictine vocation. This time, the Kwasniewski family traveled to Silverstream, where Clarissa made her oblation in August 2016, taking the name Sister Mectilde. She wrote afterwards on New Liturgical Movement, “In the liturgy at Silverstream, we found Heaven. Not just once, but seven times a day.”
Nine weeks after Clarissa Kwasniewski became a Silverstream oblate, Diocese of Meath Bishop Michael Smith placed his imprimatur on In Sinu Jesu. He did so after the book received a nihil obstat—the required statement that the book is judged by an expert to be free from errors concerning faith and morals—from the censor he assigned to the book. That censor was none other than Peter Kwasniewski.
It is not unheard of for a censor to have some personal acquaintance with the author whose book he or she is vetting. However, canon law requires that a censor “[lay] aside any favoritism” (CIC, c. 830 §2). For that reason, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops emphasizes in its “Permission to Publish” guidelines that censors “ought to be persons … who are known to be impartial.” Given that Peter Kwasniewski’s wife was officially —by nature of her oblation—a spiritual daughter to Kirby, it is difficult to imagine how the professor could have met the expectation of impartiality.
It is also worth noting that although Peter Kwasniewski has taught theology and has published extensively in that field, none of his degrees are in theology. He possesses a B.A. in liberal arts and an M.A. and Ph.D. in philosophy. Although canon law does not specify a minimum academic degree for censors, bishops normally require censors of theological works to possess either a canonical licentiate in sacred theology (S.T.L.) or, failing that, a theology Ph.D. I personally know of no other instance in which a work of theology received a nihil obstat from a censor deputatus who did not have a theology degree.
One can therefore be forgiven for observing that the vetting process for the imprimatur of In Sinu Jesu was, to put it gently, unorthodox.
In Sinu Jesu Is Published
In November 2016, In Sinu Jesu appeared in print under the authorship of “A Benedictine Monk.” Its introduction, penned by “A Benedictine Oblate,” compares its messages with those of occasions “when God chooses one out of many—when he chooses an Abraham or a Moses, the blessed Virgin Mary, or the founders of monastic movements and religious congregations.” As with those instances, the oblate says, God “chooses the one not as an isolated exception or arbitrary preference, but as the humble center around which a great circle will be drawn, a blazing hearth around which many can gather, be warmed, and find fellowship.”
And so it is, the oblate writes, that “In 2007, Our Lord and Our Lady began to speak to the heart of a priest who was greatly in need of their intervention. … The priest was prompted to write down what he heard, first and most obviously for his own benefit, but increasingly for the benefit of others who would be touched by these words and find light and strength in them.”
Books of private revelations published during the century prior to the Second Vatican Council typically carried a disclaimer in which the author would insist he or she had “no intention of attributing any other than a purely human authority to the miracles, revelations, favors, and particular cases recorded in this book.” (See, for example, the “Protest of the Author” in St. Alphonsus Ligouri’s devotional classic The Glories of Mary.) Given Kirby’s love of tradition, it is striking that nowhere does In Sinu Jesu, either in its introduction or in its text, make any effort to temper its claim that its messages are authentic divine revelations.
Burke and Viganò Take Note
The first public announcement of the publication of In Sinu Jesu appeared, not surprisingly, on Kirby’s blog. He did not identify himself as the author, but he did not have to; it was clear to his regular readers that In Sinu Jesu was a collection of the messages he had long been publishing under that title.
Peter Kwasniewski celebrated In Sinu Jesu’s publication with enthusiastic announcements in the New Liturgical Movement, where he called it “a book that can work wonders,” and in the popular traditionalist blog Rorate Caeli, where he wrote, “of works appearing in print during my lifetime, I have seen nothing like it.” Other early endorsers of the book included Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, who praised its “urgent call to all priests—and, indeed, to all Christians—to be renewed in holiness through adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament and consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Mediatrix of All Graces.”
Following its publication, In Sinu Jesu became an Amazon bestseller and gained a place in the EWTN Religious Catalogue. It enjoyed further recognition in August 2019 when Inside the Vatican editor Robert Moynihan devoted three consecutive installments of his e-newsletter to the book. The first two installments featured praise for In Sinu Jesu from Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, who called the book “a great consolation” and asked Moynihan to locate the author for him. Viganò’s wish was quickly granted; in the third installment, Moynihan described how he traveled to Silverstream as part of a previously scheduled pilgrimage and was surprised to discover himself face-to-face with the In Sinu Jesu’s author.
Moynihan writes in that, upon finding stacks of In Sinu Jesu in Silverstream’s gift shop, he asked one of the monks, Father Hildebrand Houser, O.S.B., how Silverstream came into possession of so many copies of the book.
“Well,” the monk replied, “that is a rather long story. Let me simply say that the book is connected with this monastery. We cannot reveal the identity of the author, but we are able to say that the book had its origin among the monks of this community.”
Moynihan then asked the monk if he himself was the author, to which Houser said no.
Then Kirby entered. At that moment, Moynihan writes,
Suddenly I felt sure: I was standing in the presence of the author of the book In Sinu Jesu.
I wanted to understand more about his mysticism, his sense of hearing the words of Christ in his heart.
“Are you the author of the book?” I asked. “I’ve been reading it…”
“I cannot speak about the authorship of the book,” he said. “All I can say is that the book did come from someone within this community.”
“Ah,” I said. “You have made a promise not to take credit for the book…”
“I will not say more,” he said.
Interestingly, after the Inside the Vatican editor thus informed his readers that he was certain Kirby was the author of In Sinu Jesu, Moynihan altered the e-newsletter before publishing it on the magazine’s website. The online version retains Houser’s comment that In Sinu Jesu “had its origin among the monks of this community” but removes Moynihan’s exchange with Kirby concerning the book’s authorship.
Click here for Part 3.
Image: Silverstream Priory, by Regina Magazine. License: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). Source: https://flic.kr/p/mV43TV