02 July 2015

Hermits, The Antithesis of the Rugged Individualist or the One Who is a Law unto Herself!

[[Dear Sister, I have two different questions. 1) You once wrote a piece about hermits, canon law, and herding cats. I remember you both agreed and disagreed with the person who said legislating for hermits was impossible and like herding cats. Recently you said in another piece that hermits were like fingerprints, each unique but with recognizable patterns, whorls, loops, etc. I know you think highly of canon 603 but I wondered if you thought it was sufficient to legislate the life of solitary hermits. Does there need to be canon  law on the formation of hermits, on time frames prior to profession and final profession?  2) Also, why do you see individualism as so completely antithetical to eremitical life?  Aren't hermits the consummate individualists? If each is an 'ecclesiola' as Peter Damian (and you too) say, then doesn't this make each hermit a kind of law to him or herself?]]

Is Canon 603 Sufficient to Govern and Nurture Solitary Eremitical Life?

First of all I do believe canon 603 is sufficient, generally speaking. I think there need to be some guidelines about formation, time frames, minimum ages and experience required for admission to discernment and profession, the distinction between being a lone individual and being a hermit in some essential sense, and also some significant cautions on what canon 603 is NOT meant for. However, at this point in time I don't see any reason these things would need to be codified in canon law or through an actual papal motu proprio for instance. Bishops  and Vicars for Religious need to be able to discern with each candidate doing justice to the flexibility of canon 603 and the diversity which is part of the history of eremitical life itself, but they also need additional help understanding this part of the Church's desert tradition and the very challenging history of this canon so that not just anything; especially they must recognize that not just any form of aloneness is called "eremitical solitude" nor any form of living alone can be called eremitical life. The misuse of canon 603 as a stopgap to profess individuals who wish to be religious while merely desiring or needing to live alone is a significant problem that must be avoided. The vocation must be a truly eremitical one. At this point it seems sufficient that hermits contribute their experience in these matters and dioceses do the same. One of the reasons for this blog as well as for something like the Network of Diocesan Hermits is to allow for this kind of reflection in a way which is available to anyone looking for assistance in implementing canon 603.

Solitary Hermits and Individualism:

Some critics of this blog have been very critical of diocesan hermits providing insights from their own living and reflecting on canon 603, the life it governs and nurtures, and therefore, the kinds of life it absolutely should not be mistaken for. Whenever I have fielded questions or objections or even quotations from these folks I have the sense that they are most upset by my position that not just anything goes, not just anything can be called eremitical life in line with the Church's own eremitical tradition. Canon 603 is not meant to profess those who simply could not be professed any other way (though there will be a handful who could not be professed in community and who discover a genuine call to eremitical life). It is not meant to govern a nominally pious life without significant theological and spiritual formation. Neither is it meant for those who want to live some silence and some solitude (even significant amounts) or desire mainlyto separate themselves from others or from the post-conciliar Church, but who do not really hunger to live a LIFE of the silence of solitude.

It is the notion that "the silence of solitude" is the charism of the diocesan hermit, the gift the Holy Spirit creates in her life and the gift she herself brings to the Church and world that might help me answer your questions about individualism. A lot of people think of a hermit's work as praying for people and while I agree that is an important piece of our lives, I don't think it is the main work we do. The main work we do is to allow God to work in us, that is to become God's own prayer --- a prayer that witnesses to the fact that the grace of God is truly sufficient for us and God's power is made all-embracing (i.e., is perfected) in weakness. There is nothing individualistic in this. Instead there is a real dying to self so that one might be fully transparent to God, fully human in God, and witness to all of this so that others might also allow themselves to become who and what they were made to be in God. The hermit is a person in communion; they live in communion with God, with themselves, and in the heart of the Church for the sake of others. There is no room for individualism nor selfishness here.

Like a local Church the hermit is an ecclesiola, a little Church. But this means she represents the whole and is intimately related to the larger Church, first every other ecclesiola (Christian person), then the parish, then the diocesan Church, and then finally the universal Church. Each person, but especially the hermit is a microcosm of what it means to be called, to live the response in a way which is always transparent to the God who calls, and to do so for the sake of others. The hermit lives a life in which she is free to plumb the depths of communion with God. She is free to be herself in the fullest way possible in an intense and all-encompassing relatedness. She is not, however free to do just anything she wants. That is not freedom after all; it is license and it is similarly the hallmark of individualism. Thus I say the eremitical vocation is actually antithetical to individualism. To represent the Church (as any Christian is ecclesiola) and to live this vocation in the name of the Church is to be a person-in-relationship more than it is to be an individual in some senses of that term.

Hermits, A Law Unto Themselves?

The canon 603 hermit is never a law unto him or herself. Her life is given over to the will of God and to the law which that God writes on her heart. She lives a life whose parameters are defined by Canon and proper law (Rule or Plan of Life) as well as by the living eremitical tradition of the Church. It is a life nurtured by the Sacraments, fed by the Word of God and lived under the various forms of supervision of Bishop, delegate, spiritual director, and pastor as well as by an oblate chaplain or other similar figure in cases of oblature or associateship with an institute of consecrated life. She is vowed to God through profession of the evangelical counsels and thus she is bound to obedience to God in the hands of a legitimate superior; she is bound, in other words, both morally and in law. The "hermit" who is not so bound (and who thus mistakes license for genuine freedom) has been a perennial thorn in the side of eremitical leaders and reformers throughout the history of the Church. St Benedict castigated these, St Peter Damian did likewise as did Paul Giustiniani and many many others.

Certainly the notion of hermit as rugged individualist and law to him or herself is common as a stereotype. A few years ago I blogged about a journalist's clearly stupid (sorry!) identification of Tom Leppard and one other person as living classic and somehow edifying eremitical solitude. I would suggest you check out those posts with labels like "stereotypes," "Tom Leppard," etc. In contemporary theology (Paul Tillich, 20 C.) we would recognize the autonomous person as antithetical to the theonomous person; that is, we would find the person who was a law to herself as antithetical to the one who has God as her law. The hermit is almost a pure paradigm of theonomous life. Certainly this alone is what s/he aspires to and represents when s/he says that by her life s/he witnesses to the fact that God alone is sufficient or that in God we are called and fulfilled as human beings who live for one another. And isn't this also the definition of Church, namely the community of the called who find their fulfillment and missionary purpose in the God of Love who is both their nomos (law) and telos (goal)?

I sincerely hope this is helpful. Your questions are important ones and ones I am keenly interested in so thanks for those!

26 June 2015

Private Dedication: The Significance of the Lay Eremitical Vocation (Once Again)

[[Hi Sister, I am trying to live as a hermit and am discerning whether to go to my Bishop and ask him to profess me as a diocesan hermit. I have consecrated my life to Christ and I believe he has consecrated me to himself as well. I celebrated this with my spiritual director who is a priest and the ceremony we used was really lovely. I think you wrote that consecrations are not supposed to be piled on top of each other. If that is so then is it necessary to go to the Bishop to become a consecrated hermit? Can't he simply recognize that?]]

Hi there yourself and thanks for your questions. I don't remember saying that consecrations are not meant to be piled on top of one another. I once wrote that Bishops in France had determined that the consecration of virgins and that of hermits were not meant to be added to one another, that each of these was complete in themselves. Neither, then, were they to be substituted for one another. Perhaps this is what you are remembering. This was because early on some hermits were offered the consecration of virgins before their dioceses were ready to allow the consecration of diocesan hermits. Later the eremitical consecration was sometimes done when the diocese was ready to consecrate hermits. Instead the character of each vocation should have been discerned and appropriately celebrated by the diocese.

Similarly, the addition of one consecration to the other has sometimes happened in occasional dioceses when a consecrated hermit might desire to add the consecration of virgins because of the nuptial quality of her relationship with Christ. My sense is it is really not meaningful or consistent with the eremitical vocation because the rite of consecration of virgins for women living in the world (canon 604) signifies a form of consecrated or sacred secularity. Secularity, sacred or otherwise, is actually incompatible with the hermit calling which is explicitly marked by stricter separation from the world. (The use of the consecration of virgins which is celebrated after solemn profession of cloistered nuns, and might be proposed for usage after solemn profession and the consecration of hermits seems to me --- and seemed to the French Bishops --- to be equally unnecessary.)

Your own question is an interesting one. You have had an experience of Christ sanctifying you in a way which fits you for particular mission. It was and is for you a signifcant experience which you may not or even probably do not desire to "diminish" by adding other kinds of dedications or consecrations. The difficulty here is that this was a private experience; it was not mediated by the Church (this requires a Bishop or someone acting for him with the specific intention of consecrating you in the name of the Church) and therefore, does not represent the mediation of a public ecclesial vocation in the Church. It was undoubtedly a remarkable experience which I hope you will esteem for the rest of your life, but it did not function as an ecclesial profession and consecration under canon 603 functions nor can it therefore be used to substitute for these.

In other words, your Bishop cannot merely recognize this experience in order to make you a diocesan hermit. That requires a mutual discernment, followed by ecclesial mediation of the call, response (profession), and consecration. In other words, it requires a canonical or juridical act on the part of the Church which initiates you into the consecrated state of life, a state of life marked by specific graces, as well as canonical rights and obligations. These are taken on and extended to the person in the rite of profession and consecration. They cannot be given in any other way. You see, something happens to the person in these acts. These acts are language events, specifically, they are performative language events where one embraces the rights and obligations in the very act of profession. (A judge's verdict or an umpire's call are also examples of performative language as are vows of all sorts.) The Church calls the person forward, symbolically examines her on her readiness to accept these specific rights and obligations, prays the litany of the Saints over (and with) her as she lays prostrate and prepares to give her entire life to be made a consecrated person and eremite, and then admits her to profession (by definition a public human act) and consecration (by definition a mediated divine act) where she takes on a new and public state of consecrated life.

Let me try to be very clear. Your own experience of being sanctified by Christ was real and meaningful but because it was not mediated by the Church or intended as an act done specifically or explicitly in her name, it was not the consecration needed to become a diocesan hermit or to enter the consecrated state of life in the Church. I would suggest it adds something to your baptismal consecration which you should explore and articulate for yourself, and I sincerely hope it inspires you to live as a lay hermit or in whatever other way you decide the Lord is calling you to at the present time. It was a special gift given to you and to the Church at a time when she is trying to do greater justice to the nature and importance of the lay vocation. Though it differs in nature, it is not in competition with the consecrated vocation but instead complements such a vocation. The Church needs both and certainly the laity needs the witness of lay hermits which challenges them in ways my own vocation really may not do as effectively.

If you should decide you wish to (seek to) be consecrated as a diocesan hermit with a public ecclesial vocation, there is no way such an act will diminish the sanctifying experience you have already had or the dedication you have already made. It will specify it (and more importantly, specify the consecration of your baptism) in significant ways; it will also change your status in law to that of the consecrated state, but the experience you describe will be integrated into the hermit you eventually become and may stand at the very heart of your identity. With God nothing is ever lost.

25 June 2015

A Few Thoughts on Custody of the Eyes

[[Hello Sister Laurel, Thank you for putting up the piece about the new movie. Custody of the eyes is not a phrase we hear much about today. When I looked it up I found a reference to "10 reasons men should always practice custody of the eyes" and some forum posts talking about avoiding lust, but why would cloistered nuns be practicing custody of the eyes so much to name a film about it? I mean is it really that central to life in a cloister? What am I missing?]]

Hi there and thanks for the questions. I agree that custody of the eyes is kind of an old-fashioned term and not one we use or, for that matter, practice much today, but in a congregation such as the Poor Clares or the Trappistines, for instance, it is a significant value which has a good deal less to do with avoiding lustful feelings and more with protecting the privacy, and more, the silence of solitude of one's Sisters and of the house more generally. Interestingly, custody of the eyes is meant to be combined with a genuine sensitivity to the needs of one's Sisters (or others more generally) so it does not mean closing oneself off to others, cultivating general unawareness, isolation, or anything similar. I think custody is one of those values we ought all to cultivate as appropriate to our own states of life.

In last Friday's Gospel lection we heard the Matthean observation that the eye is the lamp of the body. One of the meanings of this observation is that what we look on changes us and can be a source of light or darkness. This can occur in many ways. We read classic works of literature or contemporary books that enlighten and shape us. We do the same with art and media of all sorts. Unfortunately, this may involve "literature" which demeans the human person, or may involve visual input that does not even pretend to be art --- and rightly so. More commonly for most of us, it involves commercials or TV programs which objectify us, make a parody of and trivialize our lives even as they presume to tell us who we are, what we desire, and need, what we ought to value, buy, otherwise spend resources on, and so forth. Custody of the eyes in this kind of thing means allowing God to shape us and show us who we are and what we really need. It means refusing to allow others to define us or our own hearts especially. Custody of the eyes is a necessary element in being our (and God's!) own persons.

On the other hand what we look on, that is, what we choose to look on and the way in which we do so speaks about our hearts; that is, it reflects either the light or the darknesses of our own hearts. We see this when we look on another person and judge them on the basis of appearances, or otherwise jump to conclusions on the basis of past hurts; but we also see it when we allow our compassion to perceive a person as God's own precious one who is really very like us, when we look with awe at the beauty which surrounds us or find beauty in the simplest thing rather than with the vision of someone who is bored and jaded and incapable of being truly surprised, and so forth. Custody of the eyes has as much to do with truly allowing the eyes to be the lamp of the whole person as with simply avoiding lust or lasciviousness.

Custody of the eyes allows a person to attend to their own hearts without constantly being distracted by the activity and sights around them. Especially, as it does this, it assists us in becoming people who see things truly, that is, who see things as God sees them. Moreover, it provides space and the gift of privacy for others with whom one lives; especially it provides for the communion we call "the silence of solitude" in which they too are seeking to dwell so that they too may be persons who see as God sees. Custody of the eyes intends our living with focus; it fosters the containment and denial of the incessant voice of curiosity and even prurience that has been intensified with the computer and social media environment, and assists in following through on a project without getting distracted. (N.B., even the monastic cowl or cuculla helps us maintain custody of the eyes and appropriate focus.) Above all then, I think, the practice of custody of the eyes is rooted in a true reverence for others and for ourselves even as it helps create an environment where others may experience the same.

In a cloister or a laura, for instance, silence does not cut us off from others or the demands of love. It is not a neutral reality but one that is carefully cultivated and allowed to flourish in love for the others who are also seeking God just as we are. It enfolds us each and joins us together in a supremely respectful embrace which is deeper than any word. It is a gift we offer one another. Custody of the eyes serves similarly and seems to me to be a piece of the monastic and eremitical values of stricter separation from the world and the silence of solitude especially. It too is ordered toward loving others and providing the gifts of space and privacy in which they may seek and commune with God while at the same time making sure they are profoundly supported in this.

23 June 2015

A Contemplative Moment: On Simplicity

 
 
It is very hard to be an idealized hermit. It is much more realistic to be an ordinary one. I am sure Merton sometimes laughed at his own folly [the folly of destroying his own solitude almost the moment permission for it was granted]. He was a sociable hermit who loved his guests almost as much as he loved his solitude.
 
One day I was quietly sitting in prayer once again lamenting my inability to acquire the simple lifestyle I felt essential to the solitary.  I felt a demanding voice within me saying, Stop. Just stop. Stop trying. Stop creating. Stop evading. Simply be. Be human. Be vulnerable. Be a failure. That is simplicity.
 
 
From, Silent Dwellers, Embracing the Solitary Life
by
Barbara Errako Taylor

21 June 2015

Chosen, Custody of the Eyes

There have been times I and other diocesan hermits have been criticized by readers for having blogs, for making our public professions at parish Masses instead of in smaller unattended venues, for allowing others to see pictures of us or our hermitages, for identifying ourselves with titles or post-nomial initials, and so forth. The criticisms have sometimes been leveled that we are not sufficiently humble or respectful of the Catechism description of our lives as hidden. I have argued that this is a public vocation with public rights and obligations, among which are witnessing to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our solitary hiddenness. In so doing I have pointed out the tension that thus exists in living an essentially hidden life which is contemplative, rooted in stricter separation from the world, and also has a significant public (in the canonical sense of the word) and prophetic dimension.

There is a new film being made about the Poor Clare Colletines of Corpus Christi Monastery in Rockford, Illinois. The film,  comprised of a series of video reflections made by a novice discerning the life, is entitled, Chosen, Custody of the Eyes and though I recommend folks consider checking out and contributing to the project (more about that below) it was the short clip included below from Mother Abbess which most struck me. Here Mother explains why the Poor Clare Colletines agreed to participate in this project. She speaks very precisely of living a public vocation in the Church though in a hidden life! Although Mother does not explicitly say this is one of the ways the Holy spirit is at work in the Church which requires witness in the midst of one's hiddenness. I believe it is implicit in the whole of this brief clip.



Similarly, I very much appreciated the distinction Mother draws between a project which is "about us" (and thus, prohibited) and one which is about their life itself, the life they live in the name of the Church. The distinction is not absolute --- one needs to be seen and heard to some extent in order to point beyond oneself to the life itself --- but this is indeed the aim, viz, to be known and heard only for the sake of the vocation, the life itself, and especially for the sake of the God who is glorified in our lives. That is true of this film and it is similarly true of this blog. Thus, I am gratified on a number of levels that Mother consented to the making of this film  and most especially to speaking directly about the "whys" of this decision.

Folks interested in funding this film should check out the following link: Chosen, Custody of the Eyes. There are some great perks being offered as incentives for very reasonable contributions indeed (I am going to contribute myself)!

20 June 2015

On Laudatos Si: When an Encyclical is REALLY an Encyclical!

Well, Pope Francis' new encyclical, Laudatos Si (from the first line, "Praise be to you, my Lord" has been out just one day and already it is the talk of the world. Those who ordered copies from the USCCB or Amazon have not even received theirs yet, but the encyclical is up on the Vatican website and can be copied and printed or read right there. Apparently many are doing just that. Though I am sure most reporters and politicians have not had time to read the letter yet --- many are depending on what their colleagues have gleaned and are quoting and requoting Francis' observation that the world is becoming a huge pile of filth --- there is a clear sense of dismay in some arenas that Francis "did not stick to religion". Others of us are excited by the integrated vision Francis provides of a sacramental world and his unflinching reiteration of the call to do justice as we hear and respond to both "the cry of the world and the cry of the poor." This is authentic religion at its best!

How often does it happen that people wait with bated breath for the publication of a new book? We saw it happen with the Harry Potter series. There bookstores were open at midnight on the release day and lines were out the door and around the corner. Then folks holed up for the next day or two reading and began sharing with everyone what Rowling had done with the characters the plot, etc. I suppose it has happened with the newest romance novel by certain authors --- though I admit I really am not sure. It has happened with movies, some from the Star Wars or Star Trek series, for instance. And in a similar way it has happened with this encyclical. Imagine people virtually standing in line waiting for the Vatican to publish the letter to hear what Francis has to say on matters of the environment! Imagine them calling one another up, walking into daily Mass, emailing, etc and saying, "Wow, Francis has really done it! You HAVE to read this encyclical!" or, "Hey, what about that Francis?!" And yet, that is precisely what happened yesterday morning, what is happening now, what is true of Laudatos Si!

I have only read through the beginning of the second chapter myself so I cannot speak much about the content of the encyclical yet, but until then, beyond the integrated sacramental view of reality which stands clearly at its heart, I am completely struck by the fact that this encyclical, this "circular letter" is functioning not only as the term encyclical means today (that is, a specific genre of Papal writing) but as something that is news, something to be handed around, circulated, something to be excited about, inspired by, something provocative and challenging which changes (or can change) the way we see things. People may love this encyclical (many already do), some will definitely be offended and provoked by it (many already are), but there is no doubt that no one will be able to ignore or dismiss it without first being touched by it.

This is truly an encyclical in the original sense of that term --- a letter that suggests the papacy is profoundly relevant to our own lives and the life of our world, that affirms that what the Office of Peter offers our world is a vision of reality, a vision of possibility we must embrace if we do not desire to see the destruction of that world, a wholistic perspective in which faith and reason, politics and social justice, the Creation narratives and theology of the Old Testament, the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the analyses of the sciences inform and enrich one another. It is a letter that will be read and handed on and read again and quoted, grappled with, argued over, reflected on and prayed with, a letter people will be inspired and motivated by. In other words, it is an encyclical which is truly a Papal encyclical representing a faith which is truly catholic in every sense of that term.

Is this part of the so-called, "Francis effect"? Is it a sign of a genuine "new" Pentecost;  something that --- instead of the gehenna-like fires of ecological and social destruction kindled and fed by the drive for unbridled power, or linked to greed, selfishness, carelessness and outright indifference --- can set the world on fire with a love that does justice for all of God's creation? Then thanks be to God! Laudatos Si mi Signore!

18 June 2015

Feast of St Romuald, Camaldolese Founder (Reprised)

Romuald Receives the Gift of Tears,
Br Emmaus O'Herlihy, OSB (Glenstal)

Congratulations to all Camaldolese and Prayers! Tomorrow, June 19th is the the feast day of the founder of the Camaldolese Congregations! We remember the anniversary of solemn profession of many Camaldolese as well as the birthday of the Prior of New Camaldoli, Dom Cyprian Consiglio.

Ego Vobis, Vos Mihi,: "I am yours, you are mine"

Saint Romuald has a special place in my heart for two reasons. First he went around Italy bringing isolated hermits together or at least under the Rule of Benedict --- something I found personally to resonate with my own need to seek canonical standing and to subsume my personal Rule of Life under a larger, more profound, and living tradition or Rule; secondly, he gave us a form of eremitical life which is uniquely suited to the diocesan hermit. St Romuald's unique gift (charism) to the church involved what is called a "threefold good", that is, the blending of the solitary and communal forms of monastic life (the eremitical and the cenobitical), along with the third good of evangelization or witness -- which literally meant (and means) spending one's life for others in the power and proclamation of the Gospel.

Stillsong Hermitage
So often people (mis)understand the eremitical life as antithetical to communal life, to community itself, and opposed as well to witness or evangelization. As I have noted many times here they mistake individualism and isolation for eremitical solitude. Romuald modeled an eremitism which balances the eremitical call to physical solitude and a commitment to God alone with community and outreach to the world to proclaim the Gospel. I think this is part of truly understanding the communal and ecclesial dimensions which are always present in true solitude. The Camaldolese vocation is essentially eremitic, but because it is so clearly rooted in what the Camaldolese call "The Privilege of Love" it therefore naturally has a communal component which inevitably spills out in witness. Michael Downey describes it this way in the introduction to The Privilege of Love:

Theirs is a rich heritage, unique in the Church. This particular form of life makes provision for the deep human need for solitude as well as for the life shared alongside others in pursuit of a noble purpose. But because their life is ordered to a threefold good, the discipline of solitude and the rigors of community living are in no sense isolationist or self-serving. Rather both of these goods are intended to widen the heart in service of the third good: The Camaldolese bears witness to the superabundance of God's love as the self, others, and every living creature are brought into fuller communion in the one love.

Monte Corona Camaldolese
The Benedictine Camaldolese live this by having both cenobitical and eremitical expressions wherein there is a strong component of hospitality. The Monte Corona Camaldolese which are more associated with the reform of Paul Giustiniani have only the eremitical expression which they live in lauras --- much as the Benedictine Camaldolese live the eremitical expression.

In any case, the Benedictine Camaldolese charism and way of life seems to me to be particularly well-suited to the vocation of the diocesan hermit since she is called to live for God alone, but in a way which ALSO specifically calls her to give her life in love and generous service to others, particularly her parish and diocese. While this service and gift of self ordinarily takes the form of solitary prayer which witnesses to the foundational relationship with God we each and all of us share, it may also involve other, though limited, ministry within the parish including limited hospitality --- or even the outreach of a hermit from her hermitage through the vehicle of a blog!

In my experience the Camaldolese accent in my life supports and encourages the fact that even as a hermit (or maybe especially as a hermit!) a diocesan hermit is an integral part of her parish community and is loved and nourished by them just as she loves and nourishes them! As Prior General Bernardino Cozarini, OSB Cam, once described the Holy Hermitage in Tuscany (the house from which all Camaldolese originate in one way and another), "It is a small place. But it opens up to a universal space." Certainly this is true of all Camaldolese houses and it is true of Stillsong Hermitage as a diocesan hermitage as well.

The Privilege of Love

For those wishing to read about the Camaldolese there is a really fine collection of essays on Camaldolese Benedictine Spirituality which was noted above. It is written by OSB Camaldolese monks, nuns and oblates. It is entitled aptly enough, The Privilege of Love and includes topics such as, "Koinonia: The Privilege of Love", "Golden Solitude," "Psychological Investigations and Implications for Living Alone Together," "An Image of the Praying Church: Camaldolese Liturgical Spirituality," "A Wild Bird with God in the Center: The Hermit in Community," and a number of others. It also includes a fine bibliography "for the study of Camaldolese history and spirituality."

Romuald's Brief Rule:

And for those who are not really familiar with Romuald, here is the brief Rule he formulated for monks, nuns, and oblates. It is the only thing we actually have from his own hand and is appropriate for any person seeking an approach to some degree of solitude in their lives or to prayer more generally. ("Psalms" may be translated as "Scripture".)

Sit in your cell as in paradise. Put the whole world behind you and forget it. Watch your thoughts like a good fisherman watching for fish. The path you must follow is in the Psalms — never leave it. If you have just come to the monastery, and in spite of your good will you cannot accomplish what you want, take every opportunity you can to sing the Psalms in your heart and to understand them with your mind. And if your mind wanders as you read, do not give up; hurry back and apply your mind to the words once more. Realize above all that you are in God's presence, and stand there with the attitude of one who stands before the emperor. Empty yourself completely and sit waiting, content with the grace of God, like the chick who tastes and eats nothing but what his mother brings him.

15 June 2015

On Lectio Divina, "Bible Roulette", etc.

[[Hi Sister, I know Lectio is an integral part of monastic spirituality; especially for hermits. What do you suggest? Do you think the daily Mass readings should be the source of our lectio (thereby being in tune with the liturgy), or do you think it's better to work though the Bible systematically? How should one structure their lectio? I don't think "Bible roulette" is the way to go (just open it wherever) so there must be a system. What do you suggest? Thanks!]]

Hi again, I do agree that Bible Roulette is not the way to go. It strikes me as a singularly "uncontemplative" and inattentive way to choose what one uses for lectio. It always makes me think of the NT admonition, "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God" too. On the other hand I am not really sure what you mean by working through the Bible systematically. Some people believe they should read through the Bible starting with Genesis and then move on through every book as found in the canons. My sense is that most folks who use this approach tend to be confused by the mythical elements in Genesis and later get bogged down in the legal and history sections giving up before even reaching the New Testament.

Though the Psalms and Prophets may speak to the cries of their heart to some extent the rest tends not to do so. Culturally and in other ways it is simply inaccessible without real assistance (teachers, commentaries, lexicons, sociological and cultural commentaries, etc.). Thus, I don't recommend that any more than I recommend walking into a library, picking up the first book on the shelf nearest the entrance, and then reading through the library by progressing through the shelves one by one. For me that seems a particularly deadly way to approach or read in a library and so too, a particularly deadly way to try to read Scripture which itself is a library of many books and kinds of literature. In any case, like Bible Roulette, this approach seems to me to impose an artificial or arbitrary structure on lectio which does not pay adequate attention to one's own heart or the ways in which God is presently speaking to one. It is also blind to the riches and diversity of the library itself or to the myriad invitations it might offer us over time. It takes no time to gaze and wonder at all the library has to offer, to be grateful or intrigued or even overwhelmed with anticipation. That said, it seems to me that so long as one is spending time with Scripture in a way which does attend to one's own heart and allows God to speak to one every day, then that is what is called for.

Hermits, of course, have time for lectio as others may not so for them the approach that works may not be either/or as you have suggested but a kind of both/and. It will depend on the individual and their own responsibilities and personal inclinations. What I do and what seems to work for me is a combination of daily readings and in-depth attention to some aspect of Scripture. I use both approaches you refer to: 1) attention to the weekly readings, and 2) a second more "systematic" approach which focuses variously on one of the books being read, a particular theme (mercy, justice, heart, penance, conversion, the place of the desert in the formation of God's own People, etc.), some other book, or even a particular form of text (like the parables, the Lord's Prayer, the Passion Narratives), etc. I personally prefer using the second approach and I really miss it if I only use the daily readings. Even so, either one of these approaches can work for a reader; again, it depends on the person. Ideally they complement and reinforce one another.

I do both of these by using two periods of lectio each day (or one of lectio and another of related study and writing). This allows me to keep up with the liturgical readings and seasons but also focus on broader themes, literature, theological truths or positions, etc. It also allows me to do a reflection for my parish or a blog piece during most weeks. One of the tools I use in this approach is a white board where I keep random or disparate thoughts, insights, images, etc and brain storm reflections. This allows me to see various things that have struck me, pieces that might serve as seeds for further prayer, writing, study and so forth --- whether I am doing a formal period of lectio or not. The white board helps keep things "percolating". It means that generally, in one way and another, Scripture is working in my mind and heart. Besides this of course there is my regular journal where I write about what lectio has been for me, in what ways it challenges and consoles, speaks or fails to speak; I also I keep theological notes in separate books --- usually divided into themes, etc.

Regarding what is "best" though, let me say that I do believe it is important for the hermit to keep up with the liturgical year. This does not necessarily mean doing lectio with each or all of the daily readings. For instance you might find that the Sunday readings or those of another day are the source of an entire week's lectio and that this feeds you very well even as it challenges you in a way you particularly need. At the same time it may keep you in firm touch with the Church as she journeys through the year. For instance, I tend to skim the week's readings so I know what they are generally about and as I do this one or two texts in particular will catch my attention or "speak to me".

Those will be the "seeds" for lectio for the rest of the week. I will spend time with these "seeds", read commentaries, pray with them, journal about them, etc. Usually I will reread the contexts for these as well which is part of what the daily readings provide. Even so, I don't do lectio with or focus on every daily reading. I just can't do that; my mind and heart don't work that way. For the latter focus I really depend on the Mass homilies I hear. (One good way of allowing each day's readings some space when you are doing lectio with something else is to read them slowly once or twice before bed --- especially on the night before you will attend Mass. In that way you are ready to hear them proclaimed --- a different way of hearing them altogether because the proclaimed text is uniquely sacramental.) Otherwise, I personally do best by listening for the one or two texts or images that call out to me as I look over the week's readings and then living with those for at least the rest of the week.

Other things besides Scripture texts can be used for lectio as well. Last week, for instance, I referred to an image of a broken and mended piece of Japanese pottery along with a comment by Sue Bender on the way the repairs highlighted the cracks with brilliant silver making the mended piece more precious than it had been before being broken. Not only was that image (along with a related image from a poem by Jan Richardson) seared in my mind on Corpus Christi, but it became something that illuminated the texts from 2 Corinthians we were reading and let me reflect on the Feast of the Sacred Heart in new and fresh ways.

The idea I wrote about on the feast of the Sacred Heart --- the heart as the sacred space where all things are held together and reconciled in God --- is something I will be thinking and praying about for some time. Occasionally a movie, a painting, photograph, a piece of music, etc can serve in this way. In the past years I have seen perhaps four or five movies that might be used in this way including The Tree of Life, Of Gods and Men, The King's Speech, and the Life of Pi. The basic idea I think, is to allow God to speak to your mind and heart in ways which nourish, illuminate, and reshape them in whatever way God wills. I think part of doing lectio is knowing how this best happens in your own intellectual and affective life. If this means you need something new everyday, then okay; that can shape your basic approach. If you are like me and are fed by a single thing for a long time, then also well and good; you can allow that to be your primary approach --- though making sure you stay in touch with the liturgical year and the rich and varied menu it includes.

Thanks for being patient with me on this question. Thanks also for reminding me I hadn't finished answering you. I mainly dumped a lot of what I had written up until today as unhelpful but I do hope this is of some assistance. If it raises more specific questions I trust you will ask.

12 June 2015

Feast of the Sacred Heart

Today's ordinary (daily Mass) readings use the text from 2 Corinthians I spoke about earlier this week, namely, "We hold a treasure in earthen vessels so that the surpassing power will be of God and not from ourselves." You may remember that in conjunction with that text and the Feast of Corpus Christi I spoke of Sue Bender's experience of seeing a broken and mended piece of Japanese ceramics. (Marking the Feast of Corpus Christi) She wrote, [[“The image of that bowl,” she writes, “made a lasting impression. Instead of trying to hide the flaws, the cracks were emphasized — filled with silver. The bowl was even more precious after it had been mended.”]]

That image has been with me all this week in prayer and also as I have reflected on the various readings, especially those from Paul. It seems entirely providential to me then that this year today, the day we would ordinarily hear a reading about treasure in earthen vessels, is the Feast of the Sacred Heart. The image of this bowl --- broken, healed, and transfigured  reminds me of the Sacred Heart --- traditionally the most powerful symbol we have of the indivisible wedding of human and divine and of the power of Divine Love perfected and glorified (revealed) in both human and divine weakness; thus it has provided me with a wonderfully new and fresh image of the Sacred Heart and (at least potentially) of our own hearts as well.

The heart is the center of the human person. It is a deeply distinctive anthropo-logical or human reality --- at the center of all truly personal feeling, thought, creativity and behavior. As a physical organ it stands at the center of all physical functions within us as well empowering them, marking them with its pulsing life.

At the same time, it is primarily a theological term. It refers first of all to God and to a theological reality. Of course it cannot be divorced from the human (and that is the very point!), but theologically speaking, the heart is the place within us where God bears witness to God's self, where life and truth and beauty, love, integrity call to us and invite us to embrace them, reveal them in our own unique ways. As I have noted before, in some important ways it is not so much that we have a heart and then God comes to dwell there; it is that where God dwells within us and bears witness to himself, we have a heart. The human heart (not the cardiac muscle but the center of our personhood) is a dialogical event where God speaks, calls, breathes, and sings us into existence and where, in one way and degree or another, we respond to become the people we are and (we hope) are called to be.

Everything comes together in the human heart --- or is held apart and left unreconciled by its distortions and self-centeredness. It is in the human heart broken open by love that the unity between spirit and matter is imagined, achieved, and then conveyed to the whole of creation. Here the division between earth and heaven, human and divine is bridged and healed. It is in the human heart that the unity of body and soul is achieved and celebrated.

The vulnerable and broken human heart is the paradoxical place where everything is brought together in the power and mercy of God's love; it is the place where human life is transfigured and then --- through us and the ministry of reconciliation entrusted to us in Christ --- extended to the whole of creation itself. It is in the human heart that prejudices, biases, bitterness, selfishness, greed and so many other things are brought into the presence of God to be healed and transformed. At least this is the potential of the heart which is meant to be truly human and glorifies God. The human heart is holy ground and despite its limitations, distortions, darknesses, and narrownesses it is meant to shine with the expansiveness of God's creative "Yes!" Here is indeed treasure in earthen vessels.

And if this is true anywhere it is true in the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Sacred Heart is the symbol of the reunion of all of reality, the place in that unique life where human life becomes completely transparent to the love of God, the sacrament par excellence of the ministry of reconciliation where human and divine are inextricably wed.

Imagine then an image of the Sacred Heart similar to the image Sue Bender described, a clay pot broken and broken open innumerable times by and to the realities it dares to be vulnerable to and allows to rest within itself. Imagine too that God, that supreme potter refashions it, mends it with his love --- a love that allows the cracks to glow with the light of heaven, a light that transforms the entire pot and all who are touched by its transcendent beauty and truth. This is what we celebrate on today's Feast. The scars will remain, but transfigured --- as though mended with brilliant silver. Light and love, water and blood will pour from this heart and, in time, God will love all of creation into wholeness through Jesus' mediation and through the ministry of each of us who allow our hearts to become the Sacred places God wills them to be.  We "hold" a treasure in earthen vessels. In us the surpassing power of God in Christ is at work reconciling all things to himself.

08 June 2015

The Power of Paradox Opened Our Eyes

In everything I write about spirituality or theology there is a foundational vision and truth. It is that where the real God reveals Godself paradox will abound. As I have noted before, sometimes when doing theology one of the surest signs I have strayed into heresy is an inability to point to the paradox involved! The post I put up marking Corpus Christi abounds in paradox. The questions which prompted the post seem to me to be impatient with (or perhaps incapable of) paradox and more taken with the "Greek" way of seeing things, namely thesis (the thing we are concerned with or desire), antithesis (the opposite of the thing), synthesis (a comfortable middle way, a compromise).

This approach to reality doesn't tolerate either contradiction or extremes. If we seek for wholeness it won't be in the midst of weakness; if we crave light we will not find it by stumbling along in the darkness of the nearest cave (or in the apparent fruitlessness of illness, etc!);  if we desire to live, we will not focus our efforts on dying to self! If we wish to be rich it will not be by giving ALL we have away. If we wish to be wise, it will not be by embracing any and all of these things in acts of prodigal foolishness. Moreover,  it will not be achieved in acts of radical commitment, and so forth: too lacking in balance, moderation, respectability. Nor will the God of such a perspective reflect contradiction or tolerate anything compromising his purity. Is he omnipotent? Then he will not reveal himself in kenosis or weakness --- much less be perfectly revealed in these. Is he all good and holy? Then he will not take sin, death, or humanity itself up within himself as though union with created reality is the very goal of it all!

There are not many mansions or dwelling places for the hoi polloi in THIS God's life nor is he apt to think his divine prerogatives are NOT to be grasped at. They are. Rigidly. Unfailingly. They are to be held tightly clasped so that only divinity may touch them without defiling or denigrating them. And his Messiah? Well, what need is there of a Messiah? No one can share his life really anyway, no one can live in union with him. But even if there were a place for a Messiah --- maybe as one who meets out justice, strikes with well-deserved suffering, compels with unachievable commandments, and burdens with his capriciousness and unmitigated power, etc, he would not reveal himself in weakness or the radical love and compassion that regularly breaks his own heart and demands his very life!

But Christians, of course, believe in a very different God and model his presence in very different ways than in terms of Greek consistency or the various exclusionary "omni's" and "im's" (omnipotence, omniscience, immutability, impassibility, etc) which are  so characteristic of the Greek divine ideal. Ours is the Living God of paradox instead and, as Michael Card says so very well in the following song, this God's wisdom is revealed as scandal to Jews and foolishness in the eyes of "Greeks" ---  all through a Messiah and disciples who are God's own Fools.

(I have included two versions, the first done by someone else and the second done by Michael Card himself.) The professor I am most endebted to for my theology once said in one of the first theology classes I ever had that some people simply cannot think or see in terms of paradox while doing so is difficult for all of us. My prayer is that each and all of us may one day rejoice in the fact that the power of paradox, made incarnate in Jesus Christ, opened our eyes and let us glimpse and share God's own wisdom.





07 June 2015

Marking (the Feast of) Corpus Christi: Divine Power Perfected in Weakness

[[Dear Sister, if a person is chronically ill then isn't their illness a sign that "the world" of sin and death are still operating in [i.e., dominating] their lives?  . . . I have always thought that to become a religious one needed to be in good health. Has that also changed with canon 603? I don't mean that someone has to be perfect to become a nun or hermit but shouldn't they at least be in good health? Wouldn't that say more about the "heavenliness" of their vocation than illness? ]] (Concatenation of queries posed in several emails)

As I read these various questions one image kept recurring to me, namely, that of Thomas reaching out to touch the wounds of the risen Christ. I also kept thinking of a line from a homily my pastor (John Kasper, OSFS) gave about 7 years ago which focused on Carravagio's painting of this image; the line was,  "There's Another World in There!" It was taken in part from the artist and writer Jan Richardson's reflections on this painting and on the nature of the Incarnation. Richardson wrote:

[[The gospel writers want to make sure we know that the risen Christ was no ghost, no ethereal spirit. He was flesh and blood. He ate. He still, as Thomas discovered, wore the wounds of crucifixion. That Christ’s flesh remained broken, even in his resurrection, serves as a powerful reminder that his intimate familiarity and solidarity with us, with our human condition, did not end with his death. . . Perhaps that’s what is so striking about Caravaggio’s painting: it stuns us with the awareness of how deeply Christ was, and is, joined with us. The wounds of the risen Christ are not a prison: they are a passage. Thomas’ hand in Christ’s side is not some bizarre, morbid probe: it is a  union, and a reminder that in taking flesh, Christ wed himself to us.]] Living into the Resurrection

Into the Wound, Jan L Richardson
My response then must really begin with a series of questions to you. Are the Risen Christ's wounds a sign that sin and death are still "operating in" him or are they a sign that God has been victorious over these --- and victorious not via an act of force but through one of radical vulnerability and compassion? Are his wounds really a passage to "another world" or are they signs of his bondage to and defeat by the one which contends with him and the Love he represents? Do you believe that our world is at least potentially sacramental or that heaven (eternal life in the sovereign love of God) and this world interpenetrate one another as a result of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection or are they entirely separate from and opposed to one another? Even as I ask these questions I am aware that they may be answered in more than one way. In our own lives too, we may find that the wounds and scars of illness and brokenness witness more to the world of sin and death than they do to that of redemption and eternal life. They may represent a prison more than they represent a passage to another world.

Or not.

When I write about discerning an eremitical vocation and the importance of the critical transition that must be made from being a lone pious person living physical silence and solitude to essentially being a hermit living "the silence of solitude," I am speaking of a person who has moved from the prison of illness to illness as passage to another world through the redemptive grace of God. We cannot empower or accomplish such a transition ourselves. The transfiguration of our lives is the work of God. At the same time, the scars of our lives will remain precisely as an invitation to others to see the power of God at work in our weakness and in God's own kenosis (self-emptying). These scars become Sacraments of God's powerful presence in our lives, vivid witnesses to the One who loves us in our brokenness and yet works continuously to bring life, wholeness, and meaning out of  death, brokenness, and absurdity.

To become a hermit (especially to be publicly professed as a Catholic hermit) someone suffering from chronic illness has to have made this transition. Their lives may involve suffering but the suffering has become a sacrament which attests less to itself  (and certainly not to an obsession with pain) but to the God who is a Creator-redeemer God. What you tend to see as an obstacle to living a meaningful profoundly prophetic religious or eremitical life seems to me to be a symbol of the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It also seems to me to remind us of the nature of "heavenliness" in light of the Ascension. Remember that one side of the salvation event we call the Christ is God's descent so that our world may be redeemed and entirely transformed into a new creation. But the other side of this Event is the Ascension where God takes scarred humanity and even death itself up into his own life --- thus changing the very nature of heaven (the sovereign life of God shared with others) in the process.

Far from being an inadequate witness to "heavenliness" our wounds can be the most perfect witness to God's sovereign life shared with us. Our God has embraced the wounds and scars of the world as his very own and not been demeaned, much less destroyed in the process. Conversely, for Christians, the marks of the crucifixion, as well therefore as our own illnesses, weaknesses and various forms of brokenness, are (or are meant to become) the quintessential symbols of a heaven which embraces our own lives and world to make them new. When this transformation occurs in the life of a chronically ill individual seeking to live eremitical life it is the difference between a life of one imprisoned in physical isolation, silence, and solitude, to that of one which breathes and sings "the silence of solitude." It is this song, this prayer, this magnificat that Canon 603 describes so well and consecrated life in all its forms itself represents.

Bowl patched with Gold
We Christians do not hide our woundedness then. We are not ashamed at the way life has marked and marred, bent and broken, spindled and mutilated us. But neither are woundedness or brokenness themselves the things we witness to. Instead it is the Sacrament God has made of our lives, the Love that does justice and makes whole that is the source of our beauty and our boasting. Jan Richards also reminds us of this truth when she recalls Sue Bender's observations on seeing a mended Japanese bowl. [[“The image of that bowl,” she writes, “made a lasting impression. Instead of trying to hide the flaws, the cracks were emphasized — filled with silver. The bowl was even more precious after it had been mended.”]]  So too with our own lives: as Paul also said, "But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing power will be of God and not from ourselves."  (2 Cor 4:7) It is the mended cracks, the wounds which were once prisons, the shards of a broken life now reconstituted entirely by the grace of God which reveal the very presence of heaven to those we meet.

05 June 2015

Witnessing to God's Power Made Perfect in Human Weakness: On Chronic Illness and C 603's Requirement to Write a Rule

[[Dear Sister,  in Writing a Rule, More Questions, you said that someone who is chronically ill and trying to write a Rule should include, [[a horarium which, at least generally, specifies the shape of one's day: rising, meals, prayer, lectio, work, ministry, recreation and errands, hours of rest and sleep. (If one has significant personal exigencies which bear on these (chronic illness, for instance) it is usually a good idea to state these up front and note that these occasionally demand some flexibility with regard to horarium, etc, rather than trying to minimize the demands of the life throughout the Rule. One's descriptions should be about what is generally possible and prudent for one --- not an idealization of what another hermit MIGHT live if they were able.)]] But what if a  person is so ill that they cannot live an ordered life in the way you describe? What if the disruptions they experience are not just occasional? How do they write a Rule? Could they still live as and be professed as a canonical hermit?]]

Thanks for what are really an important set of questions. They are also quite difficult to answer except in a general way. First though, as a kind of preamble, let me say that I wrote what I did to save someone from the difficulty of endlessly trying to qualify the Rule they write. I wanted each person to write a Rule reflecting how they really do live except for situations that cropped up relatively unexpectedly or occasionally. If the situation is more constant or frequent than occasional it is best simply to deal with it by spelling out the parameters of one's illness, including the situation in question in these along with what is usually possible and necessary for one to live a faithful life. Any diocese or Bishop will understand that illness will also produce some unexpected disruptions here and there. These don't ordinarily need to be spelled out unless they are more common than not.

Regarding your actual questions, I have to say up front that the situation you describe is too vague to answer. Each case would need to be discerned individually and perhaps revisited at different points in the person's life. You see, they might not be able to live as a hermit or be professed at one point in time but later on that could well change. I do believe the person should be able to write a Rule for their own lives if they reach a point of vocational certainty and readiness.

I am personally familiar with chronic illness that can completely ruin any attempt at orderliness or regularity. At the same time during  large periods of this illness, even when it was profoundly disabling, I was still able to pray, rest, eat, medicate myself, do most chores, and, during some years, even engage in significant study --- all in an essentially solitary context. While I could not maintain a strict schedule I could do what was really essential to my life with God --- though there were limits of course. I could not do all I wanted to do and there were times when illness didn't allow much at all. Still, it always allowed (and called for) faith and a significant dependence upon God's love --- mainly in solitude. It still does. That is one side of my considerations and my ambivalence in answering your questions. Would it were the ONLY side!!

The Source of my Ambivalence:
 
What makes this situation difficult to address without serious ambivalence is that looking at myself at this point in time I could not have called myself a hermit, either formally or essentially. Perhaps I was a solitary person, but I had not embraced or even considered embracing eremitical life in a conscious way, and for that reason would not use the word to describe my situation. Even so, had I thought about the possibility of being a hermit at that particular time of my life (instead of beginning to do so five to ten years later) it might have been possible. I don't really know. That would have required serious discernment. What I do know is that every person that tries eremitical life must do so in a conscious way as a response to what they perceive to be God's own call while the life they propose to live must fit both them as an individual and the living eremitical tradition as well.

I am also clear that at that point (about six years before canon 603's publication) I could not have represented eremitical life either in the name of the Church or as a lay hermit unless it was very specifically as a recluse. Moreover, I could not at that time have said I thought God was calling me to this. While it might have seemed a way to give meaning to my life, that is not necessarily the same thing as a Divine call. Even more critically I believe the degree of illness I dealt with at that time did not leave me free enough to discern an eremitical call. I certainly could not have made a life commitment. Until and unless this freedom became a real part of my life --- even as illness continued to be a daily reality --- there was no way to claim I had such a vocation. No one else could have discerned such a vocation in me either.

So, I am sorry for all the autobiographical rehashing and dithering. The reasons for running through all of this are several fold. First, I want to indicate my opinions in this are not without personal experience; second, I am concerned to indicate they are neither arbitrary nor without significant reflection and even personal anguish; and third, they help explain why I believe each case should be discerned individually by the candidate and diocese with significant input from knowledgeable physicians, spiritual director and psychologists -- in other words, whoever is necessary to help the diocese really see the person before them.

Overall, unless the discernment from all of these sources argues that a life of the silence of solitude is a source of authentic freedom and human wholeness --- and thus, is truly God's own call, my inclination is to say no; if one is so sick that they cannot live a life which is regular enough to write and generally live a Rule which witnesses to their freedom in spite of illness, they ought not be professed as canonical hermits. The Rule they write does not need to look like that of other hermits (what constitutes assiduous prayer and penance may certainly differ, for instance, and illness with its correlative treatment, dependencies, and limitations will feature large here) but it does need to indicate a God-centered, profoundly peace-filled and authentically free life lived in the silence of solitude.

While my own ability to seriously  consider and then discern a vocation to eremitical life was partly influenced by chronic illness, even more fundamentally it was made possible by the freedom to envision my life and act in ways which were not merely determined by illness, but by gifts and talents as well --- not least the ability to lead a genuinely contemplative life in solitude, with all that generally requires. I have always believed both dimensions were essential for my own identity and for becoming a hermit. Especially, I have known from 1983 (when I first considered eremitical life) onwards that illness could not be the only or even the defining characteristic of such a life. Had this been the case, had illness been more than an important but definite subtext to a life with God, I could not have written a Rule or considered eremitical life as a vocation no matter how isolated illness caused me to be. In those early years I was certainly an isolated individual with profound gifts and yearnings (as well as very significant deficits) but I was not a hermit, nor again, until changes occurred, was I ready to become one much less make a life commitment to live eremitical life in the name of the Church.

The Requirements of Canon 603:

As I have written here many times Canon 603 is both demanding and very flexible. It requires a life of stricter separation from the world, assiduous prayer and penance, the silence of solitude, and the evangelical counsels lived under the supervision of one's Bishop and according to a Rule one writes oneself. The foundational life being described here is a contemplative one of pervasive and persistent prayer and penance entirely dependent upon the grace of God and ordered to union with Him. There are no more details given than this --- but how rich and profound are each of these terms! Of course "the silence of solitude' is a tremendously positive element which refers to the quies that results from living in the love of God. It indicates a sense of relatedness and psychological well being,  a sense of being relatively comfortable with oneself despite human weakness and sin, and capacity for creative engagement with the world despite embracing "stricter separation from the world". The evangelical counsels are our commitment to live out a life marked by a fundamental simplicity and richness in God even as we forego some of the legitimate 'richnesses' associated with a more ordinary life.

Through profession of these we promise to be open to the truly new, the future God summons us into moment by moment, and to close ourselves to the merely novel and distracting, to listen for the voice of God in all the moments and moods of our lives, and to love as only God can empower us to love. Stricter separation from the world is equally positive because it involves a commitment to be truly attached to that which is of Christ and detached from that which is not. It is a valuing of loving engagement without self-centered enmeshment as well as to really seeing the sacramental nature and potential of all reality. Because eremitism is not about escapism but about the disciplined and courageous commitment to a profound inner journey where God is hidden in everything including illness, it can certainly be made by someone suffering from serious chronic illness; it cannot, however, be made by someone whose whole life IS illness or who has ceased to believe in anything beyond the limitations and negativities of illness.

Growing in our capacity to transcend illness:

My own experience says it takes time to reach a point where illness is merely a subtext in what is a wonderfully personal and cosmic divine narrative. That narrative was summed up for me by Saint Paul who wrote to the Church in Corinth, "God's power is made perfect in weakness." It takes time to really know the victory faith can bring over illness so that while it remains problematical perhaps, it no longer defines who one is. It takes time and discipline to embrace a life which is essentially affirmative and engaged with God's world in the silence of solitude rather than negative and enmeshed in the isolation of illness and its prison of disappointment, disillusionment, self-pity, and fear. It takes time to move from God and faith as either opiates or facile justifications for the disorder caused by a state of sin (the state of reality's estrangement from God of which illness and suffering are signs and symptoms) to the God of Jesus Christ who does not explain away (much less cause!) the tragedies of our lives but instead redeems them --- if only we will trust in Him and the present and future he will weave with our collaboration.

The eremitical journey requires discipline, courage, love and the generous vision all of these give one. Though these two forms of "ordering" exist together in any life, the meaning and vitality which a creator God's love and mercy bring to chaos and emptiness is far more important than that imposed by external code, clock, and calendar. If the hermit is chronically ill she must show with her life that God is the true center of things, not her pain, not the disorder, inconstancy, and especially not the isolation illness occasions. Unless a person who desires to be a hermit can do this effectively and convincingly (and one piece of doing so which is required by Canon 603 is by writing of a Rule reflecting this), I would have to argue they have not yet discerned a call to eremitical life.

Summary:

Each situation is unique and each vocation must be discerned individually. What a genuine eremitical life looks like for those dealing with chronic illnesses can be seen today by looking at many of the lives of diocesan hermits who are pioneering this vocation for the Church. A number of c 603 hermits have been professed not despite their illness, but because God had redeemed their lives in ways which allowed illness to become transparent to a life giving grace which is much greater and stronger than the power of illness to disrupt, derail, and destroy.

Of course, it is also possible to find examples of isolated individuals who claim or aspire to be hermits, but whose lives are truly rooted in and centered not on God but on illness, pain, personal suffering and the limitations associated with these. It is actually not very difficult to discern the difference between these two if one gives just a bit of time and a listening ear to them. The first group is generally characterized by freedom and a kind of spiritual expansiveness even when chronic illness is seriously problematical because this person's life and attitudes toward reality breathe with the compassionate freedom and vitality of the Spirit. The second group is characterized by bondage and relative blindness to the lives, needs, and suffering of those around them, as well lacking insight into their own selves because these are precisely what the self-centeredness, disappointment, and self-pity associated with serious illness often occasion.

One day, with the grace of God, some of these latter individuals may make the critical transition from being the lone scream of anguish they are now to being the complex Magnificat which the grace of God's mercy and love makes possible. Often I think this suffering-tinged Song of joy and praise is what the Carthusians and c 603 call "the silence of solitude." In any case, I believe when this critical transition occurs and one reflects on it one will be able to see, articulate, and finally, codify what was essential to its realization in terms of asceticism, prayer, lectio, direction, therapy, rest, recreation, contact with others, etc. These "channels of grace" revealed in weakness along with the vision of reality they make possible will become the nuts and bolts of one's Rule.

02 June 2015

On Wearing the Cowl While in Discernment

[[Dear Sister, when a person is  going through the discernment process of becoming a diocesan hermit can the cowl be worn?]]

Presuming you mean initial discernment with a diocese prior to admission to any profession, the simple answer is no. The cowl is only given with perpetual profession and then only when the diocesan Bishop grants the cowl canonically. (Not every Bishop does so and some hermits decide to use a different prayer garment.) A simple personal prayer garment can be used in private during the discernment period but cannot be worn publicly since this would imply public standing, rights, and obligations. Similarly, such a garment is NOT given to one by the Church but instead is privately or self-assumed.

In monastic communities a modified cowl (short sleeves, for instance) is given with simple (temporary) vows (and sometimes a shortened tunic, cape, or otherwise modified cowl (sans sleeves) is given with entrance into candidacy and the novitiate). The full cowl is always reserved for solemn profession (in the picture to the right Sister Ann Marie, OCSO, will receive the full cowl after she signs her vows just as Sister Karen, OSCO is shown doing below). Generally. a person just discerning whether or not they are truly called to consecrated eremitical life under c 603 is not allowed to wear a habit of any sort. Doing so is also linked to a public state of life with public rights and obligations as well as with the Bishop's permission and ordinarily someone in initial discernment is not in such a position.

Remember that a candidate for possible profession under c 603 is usually a lay person with the rights and obligations of any lay person. Because they are not being incorporated into a community in stages (postulancy, novitiate, juniorate, perpetual profession) with commensurate legal (canonical) rights and obligations they are solitary individuals bound "only" by their baptismal commitments. (I do not disparage such commitments by using "only" here. Baptismal commitments are extremely significant but public profession and consecration imply added canonical rights and obligations.)

Moreover, discernment as to whether one is actually meant to be a hermit of any sort can take a number of years. It simply makes little sense for such a person to be given permission to wear representative eremitical garb when they are neither hermits yet (the transition from lone individual to hermit in an essential sense is something one usually negotiates during discernment and initial formation)  nor canonically responsible for the continuation and protection of a vital eremitical tradition. Traditionally, the cowl is associated with the assumption of responsibility for living and representing the fullness of monastic and eremitical life in a formal and canonical sense. When one sees the cowl this is what it indicates or symbolizes. To be faithful to and retain this meaning it is necessary to restrict the ecclesial granting of it to the occasion of perpetual or solemn profession.

I hope this is helpful.

31 May 2015

In Christ we are ALL Sons and Heirs, Sharers in the Patrimony of the Kingdom of God

In today's second reading from Romans for Trinity Sunday the text read, [[Brothers and sisters: For those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a Spirit of adoption, through whom we cry, “Abba, Father!”]] In my own parish  the text was amended slightly to read, "For those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons and daughters of God."

Now let me say up front that I completely understand that amended usage; in the 21st Century it is an important shift required to indicate the equal place of baptized women and men in the life of the Church; inclusive language is critically important. But to be honest, I believe in this single case, the original reading is as challenging to those glorifying masculinity over femininity as it is profoundly consoling to women who feel disenfranchised by the text's focus on sonship to the apparent (but only apparent) exclusion of daughterhood. I believe it is more effective theologically than the inclusive language version in calling us to a true Christian egalitarianism. In truth the text first addresses both Brothers and Sisters and then affirms that in the Holy Spirit God raises both male and female to the status of Sons of God in Christ, the only-begotten Son --- human anatomy, physiology, and gender politics of whatever stripe notwithstanding!! In other words, to be baptized each and all of us as Sons of God in Christ's own death and resurrection means this new identity we have assumed transcends human biology and gender. Moreover it transcends these while allowing and requiring their full expression. Therefore, while I only posted this at the beginning of the month, I believe I will close the month with it as well.

Today's readings struck me in several places. One of these was the responsorial psalm whose antiphon we repeated several times:  "You are my Son, this day I have begotten you." I know that many persons will change the language here so that it does not seem sexist but I think we have misunderstood what is being affirmed in this reading if we hear it in a sexist way. We are losing the countercultural sense of the usage in such a reading, blunting its sharpness and capacity to undercut our usual ways of seeing reality. Jesus made no distinctions between who became heirs of the Kingdom of God, whether women or men, no distinction based upon gender was involved here. Moreover to be called God's Son meant that one had been baptized into Jesus' own death and were indeed an heir to his resurrection and the Kingdom of God. The use of the term "Son" indicates an identity dependent upon and a literal share in Jesus' OWN Sonship, an identity we share in without losing our own unique masculine or feminine characteristics. It meant one was a new creation in whom godless death had been transfigured by the very presence of God. We, as heirs of this Kingdom have become responsible for proclaiming the Good News in season and out --- a good news that turned the gender-based society of the time on its head. (Please check out an original post on this subject: Driven into the Desert by the Spirit of Sonship)

The second place I was most struck was in the story of Jesus' farewell  as he promises that he goes to the Father to prepare a place for us. So long as we think of heaven a some space separate from (though including) God Himself we will not understand how incredible this affirmation is but as we prepare for the Ascension and Pentecost we need to start thinking about this. Once upon a time our world had no room for God, and certainly not for a God who assumed human life and turned a human face toward us so that he might be fully revealed both in the sense of being made fully present and in the sense of being made fully known to us. This revelation of God walked among outcasts, ate with sinners (and here we mean BIG TIME sinners), touched the untouchable, made the rich poor and raised them to the humility of those who know they are loved by God no matter what! That has all been blunted somewhat by the Greek notion of God's omnipresence but we must see the original scandal, the terrible offense of such a God.

But heaven means a share in God's own life and sovereignty, wherever that exists! It is not a space somehow surrounding God but separate from Him where God is a Being --- just a Supreme Being. Instead, since God is not A Being but instead the ground, source and goal of all being, the hope of Christians is that one day we will all dwell in God's own life. When Jesus says he goes to prepare a place for us it means he goes to the Father with whom he is in the most intimate union and through his mediation human life will now have a place in God's own life. God's and Jesus' descent and kenosis is mirrored by an ascent and glorification or movement to pleroma or fullness. This is simply part of God's becoming All in All. It is the Love that does Justice, that sets all to rights. We focus on the first movement (descent and kenosis) but not sufficiently on ascent and pleroma. Imagine a God who has made room for us in his own life! A God who has taken sinfulness and death inside himself and not been destroyed by them! Imagine a God who humbles by raising us to life within the delight of his gaze, who forgives guilt and heals shame with a simple embrace, who makes whole by making us and the whole of creation one with himself!

This, after all is God's will, the desire and intention that one day God will be all in all. It is a vision with cosmic scope but at the same time does not exclude the smallest portion of God's creation, not the greatest sinner or the most humble saint, the smallest virus or the largest star. As Sons of God we are part of a new creation which calls upon us to see with new eyes. Old exclusionary ways of doing business, conceiving of justice and of entrance into God's presence must be jettisoned as some of the baggage belonging to a different story and Kingdom.