I think this event goes much deeper. It is an expression of the profound and perennial life of the Church. It testifies to the action of the Holy Spirit in this particular place, to which by some providential mystery we have been called to bear witness to God's revelation to His truth and His Son, Jesus Christ.
First of all, it is more than strange that the man who will read these words to you, Dan Walsh, is the one who first told me of the Abbey of Gethsemani. It is he, therefore, who first turned my thoughts in this direction. It is partly due to him that I came to this diocese and this state twenty-two years ago. But he is no more a native Kentuckian than I am, and if he is here now, it is partly because of me. I am quite sure that neither he nor I were ever able to foresee that he would one day be speaking here, on an such occasion as this. One of the awesome things about this event, then, is that it indicates to me that when Dan and I were talking together over a couple of glasses of beer in a New York hotel, years ago, God was present there and was doing His work in us. Therefore, we can trust He still continues to be just as present and just as active here, in all of us now! This is a momentous consideration, and it takes us far beyond the realms of book sales and literary personalities.
If the word "celebration" may be used here in a reverent sense, what we are celebrating is an aspect of the diocese of Louisville, or as the primitive Christians would have said, "the Church of Louisville." A "Church" or ekklesia is built up of the people who have been "called together" and have gathered in one place to hear the word of God, to praise Him, to offer the sacrifice of their worship and their love all their days. We have been called to this Church, this diocese, as others before us: like Bishop Flaget, Father Nerinx, and Father Baden, like the Founders of Gethsemani Abbey, the first Lorettines, and the Sisters of Charity, the first Dominicans at St. Rose, and so many others down the years. We should clearly recognize the fact that we, too,--priests and laymen, faculty, students and friends of Bellarmine College--form part of one same building of living stones because we have responded to the same mysterious action of the Holy Spirit.
This is worth saying, because I imagine most of you are not fully aware of it, and have perhaps never in any way experienced it. There is no reason why you should have experienced it. Grace works in us without our knowing it. No one Christian has to realize in himself all the truths and all the mysteries of the Christian faith. We are all members, one of another, and what one cannot do, another does for him. I suspose one of the things which will make this collection meaningful for the College and for the Diocese is that I seem in someway to be designated by God to articulate some experience of this particular mystery for all of you.
Whatever I may have written, I think it all can be reduced in the end to this one root truth: that God calls human persons to union with Himself and with one another in Christ, in the Church which is His Mystical Body. It is also a witness to the fact that there is and must be, in the church, a contemplative life which has no other function than to realize these mysterious things, and return to God all the thanks and praise that human hearts can give Him.
It is certainly true that I have written about more than just the contemplative life. I have articulately resisted attempts to have myself classified as an "inspirational writer." But if I have written about interracial justice, or thermonuclear weapons, it is because these issues are terribly relevant to one great truth: that man is called to live as a son of God. Man must respond to this call to live in peace with all his brothers in the One Christ.
Naturally I feel that I have a very close bond with Bellarmine College. Archbishop Floersh, the founder of Bellarmine, ordained me to the holy priesthood just about the time when he founded the College. At the same time my first book of prose appeared, The Seven Storey Mountain . Since then I have formed close friendships with many of the Bellarmine faculty members (above all, Monsignor Horrigan and Father John Loftus). There are, of course, many other Louisville friends here today to whom I indebted for countless things. I want to thank all of you for your friendship and encouragement, which have meant so much to me in these recent years.
Here, then, are some of the reasons why I believe that a collection like this can have a meaning for us all. For these reasons, whatever may be of interest to you in my work certainly belongs to you by right. I would not feel I were doing you justice in keeping it from you. If, on the other hand, there is much here that is trivial or useless, I trust your indulgence to overlook it and to pray for me. I will pray in a special way for all of you who are here today. May God bless us all, and give us all the grace to finish the work which He is asking of us here in the "Church of Louisville."