25 July 2016

Mr Toad's Wild Ride

 [[Dear Sister Laurel, I think "joyful hermit" is challenging what you have written about Catholic Hermits in her recent post on becoming a Catholic hermit. But she has the following in her post and I am left confused by it: [[I have written about this process previously, but the basics may be found in The Catechism of the Catholic Church and in the Institutes of the Church.  I am posting the requirements which are also, for those in the United States, on the website of the United States Council of Bishops.]] What are the Institutes of the Church? For that matter, what is the United States Council of Bishops? My biggest questions, however are why doesn't joyful hermit mention Canon Law and why does she call canon 603 a "recent proviso"?]] (cf: catholic hermit/how-to-become-catholic-hermit)

Well, Ms McClure is free to challenge what I have written. I have a public blog and that means folks may disagree. At the same time she will recognize that her similarly public challenge  may raise questions and require a response. Personally the way she has argued, and continued to argue over the years makes me think of Mr Toad's attempts to drive a car: untutored, undisciplined and intransigent, more than a little hair-raising, and ultimately disastrous for herself, for the solitary consecrated eremitical vocation, and for any who pin their vocational hopes on her position.

So, regarding your questions --- and let me make it clear that a number of people have raised the same significant question with regard to this poster over the past 8-9 years:  first of all, there such thing as the Institutes of the [Catholic] Church if by this one means a set of norms or guidelines called "institutes". They do not exist. As I understand it, once upon a time joyful hermit (the author of the blog you referenced) misread canon 603 and instead of citing it properly as [[Besides institutes of consecrated life the Church recognizes the eremitical or anchoritic life]] --- which means, besides societies (Orders, Congregations, or communities) of consecrated life the Church recognizes [and does so in this canon!] solitary eremitical or anchoritic life --- she wrote instead, [[ Besides THE institutes of consecrated life. . .]] and from there decided this referred to a set of norms besides (and apparently equal to) those of canon law (or at least canon 603). 

Pretty much it has all been downhill from there and joyful has built an entire theory of how things work with regard to the Church's theology of consecrated life based on this misquote and a couple of other misinterpretations of paragraphs 920-921 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In some ways this misquote drove the other misunderstandings.  In others it was a central piece of an ever-deepening and misleading feedback loop. Amazing what havoc the mistaken addition of a definite article can wreak!

Image result for pictures, mr toad's wild rideSecondly, as for the supposed "US Council of Bishops" whose website we should check and whose information we should rely on for vocational information, I hope that every Catholic recognizes the initials are not USCB but USCCB and that these represent the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops, not the US Council of Bishops. Despite your question, this might be a trivial thing and unworthy of mention were it not part of a pattern of careless reading, incomplete information, and inaccurate or distorted usage on Ms McClure's part.

Meanwhile, the implications of Ms McClure's first error (the misquote) is the truth that while the rest of the Church recognizes the Code of Canon Law as the Church's universal law, Ms McClure (joyful hermit) apparently truly believes there is another code or set of norms which is equal to or has priority over canon law and which is called the "Institutes of the [Catholic] Church". This is the reason joyful can call canon 603 a "recent proviso" (or a conditional reality attached to something else) rather than regarding it as the law of the Church with regard to solitary consecrated Catholic Hermits. She gives priority to the putative (supposed but unreal) "Institutes" and treats canon 603 as an alternative or conditional reality added to these. She writes:

[[Canon Law 603, while more recent, is a viable, additional provision to the institutes of the Church per consecrated, eremitic life, for the Catholic man or woman discerning and/or called by God to the consecrated life of the Church as an eremitic.  For some bishops and hermits, it may be a preferred provision for various reasons, not mentioned here.]]  (Emboldening added)

But in this Ms McClure is ignoring or otherwise disregarding both the entire history of canon 603 and its significance and uniqueness. Namely, there is NO OTHER Canon on eremitical life in the Church's universal law. There was none in the 1917 Code. Hermits were not mentioned. C 603 is entirely new and came from the work of Church Fathers who at Vatican II decried the lack of such legislation regarding the eremitical vocation. Consecrated vocations to solitary eremitical life MUST be consecrated according to canon 603; there is NO OTHER option in the Roman Catholic Church. Because Ms McClure reads the CCC this way and believes there is some other normative source of law, she can and does disregard Canon Law and treats canon 603 as something some Bishops may simply prefer to something else. (Except for preferring that people make entirely private commitments in the lay state, for instance, and refusing to consecrate solitary hermits under c 603 at all, there is no option here. Bishops can't prefer some other way of consecrating solitary hermits because there isn't any other way; for Pope, Bishops, and everyone else in the Church c 603 is simply the law with regard to consecrated solitary eremitical life in the Roman Catholic church).

Too, because her entire position is built on the quicksand of her original misquote ("THE Institutes") and on a reading of paragraphs 920-921 of the CCC which wrests them from their essential literary, historical, ecclesial, and theological contexts Ms McClure's arguments lack cogency and her positions are groundless distortions of the truth; they cut the heart out of the vocation as ecclesial and in its place substitute an extreme  individualism --- the very antithesis of what the Church calls eremitical solitude. To then treat the CCC as though it has the legislative force of  the Code of Canon Law or is part of an entirely fictional "Institutes of the [Catholic] Church" is to have gone off the rails altogether --- just as Mr Toad did. My real concern is that she will lead others into the same individualistic ditch she has driven herself. When that happens the pain associated with being taken in in this way and then disabused of their delusion by pastors, chancery personnel, and even other parishioners would be likely to be significant no matter how tactfully done.

Our Prayer: Holding the World in our Hearts

Just sharing a wonderful image my delegate sent to me a couple of weeks ago. As I have written before, it is so important that the hermit's "stricter separation from the world" be about freedom FROM enmeshment which allows a very real freedom FOR compassion and genuine regard. We do not "wash our hands" of the world, nor are we called to leave it behind entirely. Rather, empowered by God's love for us experienced in solitude we love and embrace it in a new, creative, and prophetic way.

I would only change one thing about this image; For hermits and other contemplatives especially I would either add or replace the original text with [[Be Prayer for the world!!]] I say that because of Pope Francis' new Apostolic Constitution,   Vultum dei Quarare (Seeking the Face of God) On Women's Contemplative Life. There he reminds us that contemplatives are set in the heart of the Church and the world and, in their contemplative lives, are a "sign and witness of the prophecy of the Church, virgin, spouse, and mother ."

24 July 2016

Abraham's Dialogue with God: Revealing a Divine Mercy Greater than Human Conceptions of Justice Imagine (Reprise)

Today's readings speak to us in profound and very challenging ways I think. The first, which I am going to focus on here, is from Genesis 18 and recounts a dialogue between Abraham (the Father of Faith and one whose faith is counted as righteousness) and God over whether God will indeed destroy Sodom if a number of righteous people can be found there. You remember it no doubt: God has heard rumors of the tremendous evil of this city and determines he will find out for himself. If things are as bad as he has heard, then he will destroy the city and everyone therein.

Abraham, the representative of true faith, in a remarkably frank conversation with God, asks a series of questions: What if you find fifty righteous persons, will you destroy everyone? "Will you sweep away the innocent with the guilty?" (Remember that when God destroys evil innocence is also destroyed; the world, after all, is ambiguous and that is true of each and all of us as well.) How about 45? What about 40? 30? 20? and so forth. In each case, God answers that he would not destroy the whole city if x or y righteous men were found therein, and even only 10 righteous persons are found there. But what is the author of Genesis really trying to say here? Is he revealing a God of vengeance whose justice is retributive and who punishes us for our evil? Is he revealing a God with whom we are called to bargain or remonstrate, a God who will be swayed by our superior reason,  or who may be cajoled into changing his mind if the case made is eloquent enough? Is he revealing a fickle and capricious God who is moved hither and yon like a reed blowing in the wind?

I think reading the text in this way would be a profound mistake. It would then become a variation on the idea that the God of Israel revealed in the OT is essentially different than the God of Christians, that, in fact, he is a God of vengeance where the God revealed by Jesus Christ is a God of mercy. But this story is not an attempt to paint a picture of a God of vengeance or retributive justice being reminded by a reasonable and faithful human being of “the bigger picture”! Instead I think the author is recounting the history of Israel and her own coming to know and reveal the real God; this history is captured or personified in Abraham's dialogue with God as more and more clearly he establishes that Yahweh is not the God who punishes evil (evil is its own punishment and carries its own consequences) nor the one who is wed to an abstract notion of justice which he upholds at the expense of the innocent. Instead Abraham's dialogue gradually reveals to us a God Israel herself slowly comes to know more fully only through her repeated experiences of God's faithfulness, mercy, and compassion. In this dialogue it is not God’s mind that is changed, but Abraham’s (Israel's) as, with questions of increasing wonder and disbelief, he tries to establish and plumb the depths of God’s mercy. It is a God for whom the concrete life of the least and the lost is more important than the most common and convincing principle of justice while the presence of the slightest bit of good is more compelling than a world full of evil. It is the God we come to know in authentic faith.

When we compare the OT and NT side by side what we really see are not two essentially different Gods, but many stories of the movement in history from distorted, inadequate, or partial images and faith to more adequate and fuller images of God and forms of faith; it is the movement from fragmentary, distorted, and partial revelations of a punitive God to the exhaustive revelation of the God of mercy in the Christ Event. The OT is the record of a People coming to be from members of many different cultures and religions --- and doing so as its members outgrow their original theologies and related anthropologies under the influence of repeated experiences of Yahweh's faithfulness, mercy, and compassion. The OT is a history of the progressive (and often inconsistent) purification of Israel's minds and hearts regarding who God is and what constitutes true religion. It is through this purification that they mature as God's own People and persons of true faith. In today's story especially we are listening to Israel slowly relinquish belief in the God who punishes evil and evil doers, the God whose justice is at war with (his) mercy and whose compassion conflicts with his need for retribution or vindication; she does this only in so far as she affirms her own deepest experiences of God and, in an attempt to resolve it, pushes the tension between these two "theological worlds" to the limits of her imagination and narrative capacity.

She has done this in other stories too. There is the story of the flood where retributive justice wars with compassion and eventually in an act of radical humility and self-emptying God "repents" and promises never to destroy the world in this way again. There is the story of the sacrifice of Isaac where Abraham's hand is stayed by God just as he is ready to plunge the knife into Isaac's chest, and where a different and acceptable sacrifice is provided by God. While this story foreshadows God's own gift of Jesus and Jesus' own sacrifice, it also originally served to proclaim an end to human sacrifice because the God of Israel was NOT a God who required retribution for evil. The God of Israel was different and had a different way of doing justice. He called for Israel to embrace a different religious practice so that they could know and serve him intimately as a light to the Nations. It is no wonder that idolatry looms so large in the failures outlined by Israel. The struggle between false gods and ideas of god and Israel's most profound experience of God's own actions in her life characterized her on every level of her existence --- personal, historical, individual, corporate.

In many ways this struggle and story reprises our own as well. After getting his disciples in touch with who OTHERS say that he is, it is not surprising that Jesus' most critical question to them is, "And you, who do YOU say that I am?" This tension and movement between what we have been told of God and who we actually know in light of our own experiences of his faithfulness, compassion, and mercy is a dominant thread in our own spiritual journeys as well.

In particular, letting go of our belief in the God who punishes evil (or sends evil to punish us!!!), our belief in the God who is the focus of a theology of fear in order to exhaustively embrace the God revealed on the Cross, the God who asserts his rights (i.e., does justice) by loving unconditionally, who sets everything right and fulfills it through forgiveness and mercy, is not an easy task. Everything militates against this; whether it is family history, grade school catechetics, punitive teachers, theologically unsophisticated preaching and writing on hell, judgment, or our own super egos, this is one bit of idolatry, one bit of "worldliness" or pagan theology that is hard to shake.

Our inability to really believe in the power of the love of God may be the real face of unbelief in our own lives and in our Church today. Like Israel however (and, through the exhaustive revelation of God in Christ) we can do it only by allowing  the non-punitive God who is Love-in-Act to truly be our Lord and Master. Each day we are called on to discern both who others say that God is, and who we ourselves say that he is. Each day we are called on to allow our own hearts and minds to be purified by the God of Jesus Christ as we experience him. Each day we are called on to become Christians who believe more and more firmly and completely in the loving God he reveals and no other --- not the God who punishes evil but the One who submits entirely to it himself, transforms and redeems it with his presence, and thus (in time) loves the world into wholeness.

22 July 2016

When the Stone is Rolled Away: FEAST of Saint Mary Magdalene

Probably everyone is aware by now that today's commemoration of Saint Mary Magdalene is indeed a FEAST. I heard a great homily on this from my pastor last Sunday --- it was on both the raising of Mary Magdalene's liturgical celebration from a memorial to an actual feast and Francis' move to create a commission to look into the historical facts regarding the ordination of women as deacons in the church. Change comes slowly in the Catholic Church --- though sometimes it swallows up the Gospel (or significant elements of the Gospel) pretty quickly as it did with last Sunday's story of Jesus' treating Mary of Bethany as a full disciple sitting at his feet just as males (and ONLY males) did. As we know, that story, read without sensitivity to historical context, was tamed to make it say that contemplative life was the greater good or calling than active or ministerial life; still, once the stone has been rolled away as it is in today's Gospel we may find the Spirit of God is irrepressible in bringing (or at least seeking to bring) about miracles.

One sign the stone is being rolled away by Pope Francis is the raising of Mary Magdalene's day to a Feast. For the entire history of the Church Mary M has been known as "Apostle to the Apostles" but mainly this has been taken in an honorific but essentially toothless way with little bite and less power to influence theology or the role of women in the Church. But raising the Magdalene's day to the level of a Feast changes all that. This is because the Feast comes with new prayers -- powerful statements of who Mary was and is for the Church, theological statements with far-reaching implications about Jesus' choices and general practice regarding women (especially calling for a careful reading of other stories of his interactions with them), a critical look at the way the early church esteemed and ministered WITH women --- especially as indicated in the authentic writings of Paul, and the unique primacy of Mary Magdalene over the rest of the Apostles, including even Peter, as a source of faith, witness, and evangelism.

The Church's longstanding and cherished rule in all of this is Lex Orandi, lex credendi, literally, "the law (or norm) of prayer is the law (norm) of belief", but more adequately, "As we pray, so we believe." And what is true as we examine the new readings and prayers associated with today's Feast is that the way we pray with, with regard to, and to God through the presence of Mary Magdalene has indeed changed with wide-ranging implications as noted above. The Church Fathers have written well and I wanted to look briefly at a couple of the texts they have given us for the day's Mass, namely the opening prayer and the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer.

 The Opening Prayer Reads: [[O God, whose Only Begotten Son entrusted Mary Magdalene before all others with announcing the great joy of the Resurrection, grant, we pray, that through her intercession and example we may proclaim the living Christ and come to see him reigning in your glory. Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit.
R. Amen.

What is striking to me here is the very clear affirmation that Mary was commissioned (entrusted) by Christ with the greatest act of evangelization anyone can undertake, namely, the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus' Resurrection from the dead. This is a matter of being summoned to and charged with a direct and undisputed act of preaching the one reality upon which everything else Christians say and do is based. It is the primal witness of faith and the ground of all of our teaching. It is what allows Paul to say quite bluntly, if this is false, if Jesus is not raised from the dead, then Christians are the greatest fools of all. It is this kerygma Mary is given to proclaim. Moreover there is a primacy here. Mary Magdalene is not simply first among equals --- though to be thought of in such a way among Apostles and the successors of Apostles in the Roman Catholic Church is a mighty thing by itself --- but she was entrusted (commissioned) with this charge "before all others". There is a primacy here and the nature of that, it seems to me, especially when viewed in the context of Jesus' clearly counter cultrual treatment of women, is not merely temporal; it has the potential to change the way the Church has viewed the role of women in ministry perhaps including ordained (diaconal) ministry. The Preface is as striking. It reads (in both Latin and English):

 Praefatio: De apostolorum apostola

Vere dignum et iustum est, requum et salutare, nos te, Pater omni potens, cuius non minor est misericordia quam potéstas, in omnibus prredicare per Christum Dominum nostrum. Qui in horto maniféstus apparuit Marire Magdalénre, quippe quae eum diléxerat vivéntem, in cruce viderat moriéntem, quresierat in sepulcro iacéntem, ac prima adoraverat a mortuis resurgéntem, et eam apostolatus officio coram apostolis honoravit ut bonum novre vitre nuntium ad mundi fines perveniret. Unde et nos, Domine, cum Angelis et Sanctis univérsis tibi confitémur, in exsultatione dicéntes: Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth ...

Preface of the Apostle of the Apostles

It is truly right and just,
our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God,
whose mercy is no less than His power,
to preach the Gospel to everyone, through Christ, our Lord.
In the garden He appeared to Mary Magdalene
who loved him in life, who witnessed his death on the cross,
who sought him as he lay in the tomb,

who was the first to adore him when he rose from the dead, and whose apostolic duty [office, charge, commission] was honored by the apostles, so that the good news of life might reach the ends of the earth.
And so Lord, with all the Angels and Saints,
we, too, give you thanks, as in exultation we acclaim: Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Hosts. . . (Working Translation by Thomas Rosica CSB)

Once again we see two things especially in the Preface: 1) the use of the term Apostle (or apostolic duty [office or charge]) used in a strong sense rather than in some weak and merely honorific sense --- this is, after all, the Preface of the Apostle of the Apostles!!! (note how this translation brings Mary right INTO the collegio of Apostles in a way "to" may not; here she is definitely first among equals)--- and 2) a priority or kind of primacy in evangelization which the apostles themselves honored. In the preface there is a stronger sense of Mary being first among equals than in the prayer I think, but the lines stressing that Mary adored Jesus in life, witnessed his death on a cross --- something which was entirely unacceptable in ordinary society and from which the male disciples fled in terror --- and sought him in the dangerous and ritually unacceptable place as the rest of his disciples huddled in a room still terrified and completely dispirited, these lines make the following reference to "apostolic duty" --- which Mary also carried out in the face of general disbelief --- and thus, to Mary's temporal (but not merely temporal) primacy over the other apostles all the stronger.

Do Not Cling to Me: Another Sign the Stone has been Rolled Away

Part of today's gospel is the enigmatic challenge to Mary's address of Jesus as "Rabbouni" or Rabbi -- teacher. In response Jesus says, "Do not cling to me!" He then reminds Mary he has yet to ascend to his Father and her Father, his God and her God. What is going on here? Mary honors Jesus with a title of respect and great love and Jesus rebuffs and reproves her! The answer I think is that Mary identifies Jesus very specifically with Judaism and even with a specific role within Judaism. But Jesus can no longer be identified with such a narrow context. He is the Risen Christ and will soon be the ascended One whose presence, whose universality, will be established and freshly mediated in all sorts of unexpected and new ways. To be ascended is not to be absent but to be present as God is present --- a kind of omnipresence or ever-presence we must learn to perceive and trustingly embrace. This too is a critical part of Mary's commission or officio; she is called to proclaim this as well --- the eschatological or cosmic reality in and through which the Gospel of God's presence is opened to all the world.

Jesus tells Mary Magdalene, who is already aware that he is difficult to recognize as the Risen Christ, not to cling to old images, old certainties, narrow ways of perceiving and understanding him. He reminds her he will be present and known in new ways; he tells her not to cling to the ones she is relatively comfortable with. And he makes her, literally and truly, Apostle to the Apostles with a world-shattering kerygma or proclamation whose astonishing Catholicity goes beyond anything they could have imagined.

And so it is with us and with the Church herself. On this new Feast Day we must understand the stone has been rolled away and the Risen and Ascended Christ may be present in ways we never expected, ways which challenge our intellectual certainties and theologically comfortable ways of seeing and knowing. Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, as we pray so we believe. What a potentially explosive and ultimately uncontrollable rule beating at the heart of the Church's life and tradition!! The stone has been rolled away and over time our new and normative liturgical prayer will be "unpacked"  by teachers and theologians and pastoral ministers of all sorts while the truth contained there will be expressed, honored, and embodied in ever-new ways by the entire Body of Christ --- if only we take Jesus' admonition seriously and cease clinging to him in ways which actually limit the power and reach of the Gospel in our world.

Like the original Apostles we are called to honor Mary Magdalene's apostleship so that the "good news of life [can] reach the ends of the earth." We pray on this Feast of St Mary Magdalene that that may really be so.

20 July 2016

Nothing Can Make up for the Absence of Someone Whom We Love

A couple of years ago or so I wrote about Jesus' cry of abandonment on the cross; I suggested that it was the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the mutual love of Father and Son  that maintained their bond of love while keeping open the space of terrible separation  experienced as abandonment and occasioning the suffering of both Father and Son which reached its climax on the cross and Jesus' "descent into hell". Both connection and separation are necessary parts of the love relationships constituting Trinitarian life marked by mission to our world and thus, by kenosis eventuating in the cross.

Similarly, in writing about eremitical life I noted that stricter separation from the world was an essential part of maintaining not only one's love for God but also for God's creation because without very real separation we might instead know only enmeshment in that world rather than a real capacity for love which reconciles and brings to wholeness. In everyday terms we know that the deficiencies and losses we experience throughout our lives are things we often try to avoid or fill in every conceivable way rather than to find creative  approaches to genuinely live (and heal) the pain: addictions, deprivations and excesses, denial and distractions, pathological withdrawal or superficial relationships of all kinds attest to the futile and epidemic character of these approaches to the deep and often unmet needs we each experience.

While we may expect our relationship with God to fill these needs and simply take away the pain of loss and grief we are more apt to find God with us IN the pain in a way which, out of a profound love for the whole of who we are and who we are called to become, silently accompanies and consoles without actually diminishing the suffering associated with the loss or unmet needs themselves. In this way God also assures real healing may be sought and achieved. It is a difficult paradox and difficult to state theologically.  Today, I found a quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer written while he was a political prisoner of the Nazis and separated from everyone and everything he loved --- except God; it captures the insight or principle underlying these observations --- and says it so very well!

Nothing can make up for the absence
of someone whom we love,
and it would be wrong
to try to find a substitute;
we must simply hold out and see it through.
That sounds very hard at first,
but at the same time
it is a great consolation,
for the gap --- as long as it
remains unfilled ---
preserves the bond between us.
It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap;
God does not fill it
but on the contrary keeps it empty
and so helps us to keep alive
our former communion even
at the cost of pain.
from  Letters and Papers From Prison
 "Letter to Renate and Eberhard Bethge: Christmas Eve 1943"
by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
As a hermit embracing "the silence of solitude" I know full well that this charism of eremitical life is characterized by both connection and separation. It is, as I have written here many times a communion with God which may be lonely --- though ordinarily not a malignant form of loneliness! --- and an aloneness with God which does not simply fill or even replace our needs for friendships and other life giving relationships. Sometimes the pain of separation is more acute and sometimes the consolation of connection eases that almost entirely.

Sometimes, however, the two stand together in an intense and paradoxical form of suffering that simply says, "I am made for fullness of love and eschatological union and am still only (but very really!) journeying towards that." This too is a consolation. Today I am grateful for the bonds of love which enrich my life so --- even when these bonds are experienced as painful absence and emptiness. I think this is a critical witness of eremitical life with its emphasis on "the silence of solitude" --- just as it is in monastic (or some forms of religious) life more generally. Thanks be to God.

19 July 2016

Consecrated Catholic Hermit on Vashon Island?

[[Dear Sister,
      Is there a consecrated Catholic hermit living on either Vashon or Maury Island (they are physically connected in case you don't know these places) in WA? We have someone representing themselves in this way in our parish and the question about authenticity or legitimacy has been raised. Thank you.]]

Hi there. I responded to a similar question regarding the Archdiocese of Seattle a while back (and, though I had forgotten this, it also asked about Vashon Island specifically).  This post can be found here Diocesan Hermits in the Ardiocese of Seattle? Before I say more about Vashon Island specifically I would suggest you read that post because although the information I provide there is a bit more general than I will provide below, if you have concerns about someone falsely representing themselves as a Catholic Hermit or a consecrated Catholic Hermit in your parish my advice in that post is the same as I would give you today --- especially about speaking directly with the person themselves first to hear their story and ecclesial status.

However if you are merely concerned with whether there is a consecrated Catholic hermit on Vashon Island, please feel free to confirm the following general information with the Archdiocese. (In fact I urge you to do so.) This is not the first time the question has been asked and my information is slightly dated --- it is about 7 months old now --- but as of December 2015 there were no solitary consecrated Catholic hermits (meaning diocesan or c. 603 hermits) living on either Vashon or Maury Islands (I assume "Vashon Island" sometimes is used to refer to both islands together; in any case, the Roman Catholic Church has no consecrated hermits living there). That said there are several lay hermits living in the Archdiocese of Seattle that I know of. One of these (s/he would be a dedicated lay hermit if s/he has made private vows of some sort) may live on either Vashon or Maury Island. That person would be a Catholic and a hermit but would not be a "Catholic Hermit" nor a "consecrated Catholic Hermit".

A Note About Terminology

You see, to repeat something I have discussed many times here, the descriptor "Catholic Hermit" means someone publicly (canonically) professed and  consecrated by the Church to live the eremitical life in her name. The phrase "consecrated Catholic Hermit" is essentially the same term. Both indicate one has been admitted to public profession and consecration by the Church and lives his/her life under the supervision of a legitimate superior. In the case of solitary hermits this will be the local Bishop in accordance with c 603; in the case of religious hermits it will be under the hermit monk or nun's congregation's leadership. There are no other options in the Roman Catholic Church for becoming a consecrated Catholic Hermit. In the case of c 603 (solitary hermits) these persons will always make public profession but they may not always use vows as their means of profession.

Another thing you might want to know is that when I speak of public profession (a clumsy term since there is no such thing as a private profession --- the making of private vows is a dedication, not a profession; all professions are public acts of the Church) this has nothing to do with degrees of notoriety, anonymity, or the essential hiddenness of the vocation. It means that the person has been admitted to profession (always a public act of the Church) and embraced the public rights, obligations, and concomitant expectations associated with such an act and identity. With perpetual (or solemn) profession the person is also consecrated by God through the mediation of the Church in the person of the local Bishop. This means they enter a "stable state of life", namely the consecrated state with Rule, legitimate superior(s), and bonds like vows and other canon law. None of this is true of the person making private vows so if they were a lay person when they made their vows they remain a lay person. We use the word dedicated as opposed to professed or consecrated to describe such a person because their vows were their own private act of dedication. Vatican II referred to the human part of things as dedication and reserved the word consecrate for an act of God since only God can truly make holy or set apart as holy --- even as he does so through the mediation of the Church.

Esteeming All Eremitical Vocations:

It may be you have someone in your parish misusing this language. They should be esteemed if they are living an eremitical life and I would say that is especially true if they are doing so on the basis of private vows and their lay state in the Church. While they are neither a consecrated nor a Catholic Hermit (living eremitical life in the Church's name) and while I believe folks should be clear about the distinction, they should recognize that eremitical vocations of whatever stripe are rare and the support of a parish or other faith community is essential to living it well! Ordinarily a person misusing language or designations like this is doing so out of ignorance and do not mean to mislead. Occasionally the situation is more serious and the person's actions are part of a willful attempt to mislead. In a handful of cases the person misusing the designations "Catholic hermit" or "Consecrated Catholic hermit" may have convinced themselves they are correct despite having been instructed otherwise. These persons remain lay hermits (assuming they are truly living an eremitical life) and absolutely should be respected for this --- just as any other person living their baptismal consecration and dedication to Jesus Christ should be esteemed for doing so --- but at the same time their delusion ought not be indulged. To do so, to fail to regard the very real differences of these vocations in the Church, fails to esteem either lay or consecrated vocations as the important gifts of God to the Church and world they truly are.

Do check with the Archdiocese. If a diocesan (c 603) hermit has moved there since the end of last year they will know because Archbishop Sartain will have agreed to receive their vows to be lived "in his hands" now. (This is a requirement if a diocesan hermit moves to another diocese and wishes to remain a diocesan hermit.) The diocese will freely tell you if the person is a canon 603 hermit in good standing in the diocese but no more than that. (This is part of what it means to have a public vocation) If a hermit from a canonical congregation has moved there they will identify themselves as publicly professed and provide information on their congregation and in whose hands this occurred without any problem. (This, again, is part of what it means to have a public (ecclesial) vocation with public rights and obligations.)

11 July 2016

Memorial, Saint Benedict

My prayers for and very best wishes to my Sisters and Brothers in the Benedictine family on this Feast of St Benedict! Special greetings to the Benedictine Sisters at Transfiguration Monastery, the Camaldolese monks at Incarnation Monastery in Berkeley, and New Camaldoli in Big Sur, and the Trappistine Sisters at Redwoods Abbey in Whitethorn, CA.

In Chapter 19 of the Rule of Benedict we read, "God's presence is never so strong as while we are celebrating the work of God in the oratory." Rachel Srubas, Oblate OSB, wrote the following in her reflection on this text.


The Labor of Prayer

You summon me here for the labor
of prayer, and hum within
the congregation's one, hymning voice.
Antiphons that underscore the themes of grace
frame and reinforce our common praise.

In the unsung pauses between psalms,
my mind stays still, or wanders.
You offer through both chant and silence,
Spirit-guidance I
may thankfully retrace one day.
While diocesan hermits have no congregation with whom we say or sing Office most of us do pray some portion of the Liturgy of the Hours each day and some of us sing them. I use the Camaldolese office book and especially love singing Compline from it. I feel a special kinship with those others I know who generally sing (parts of) the Office each day, especially the Camaldolese and the Trappistines of Redwood Abbey. Because my vocation is an ecclesial one and dedicated to assiduous prayer it only makes sense to to pray the Liturgy of the Hours as part of that.
For those who have never thought of either saying or singing Office and particularly for those who think of the LOH as something meant only for Religious and Clergy let me remind you that the Liturgy of the Hours is the Official Prayer of the Church and is meant for the Laity as well. Some parishes celebrate parts of the LOH frequently, some only during Holy Week or on special feasts or Sundays.  But all of us are invited by the Church to pray the LOH as part of the Church's life and ministry of prayer.
Resources are available for folks who would like to learn to pray Office. One that many really like is Universalis which allows them to download the day's office to their computer or handheld. Another option is the devotional "Give us this Day" which includes an abbreviated version of Morning and Evening Prayer as well as the Mass readings and reflections on the readings, saint of the day, etc. I use it especially for the reflections and recommend it. It would be a great way to begin praying Morning and Evening Prayer.

10 July 2016

a man fallen among thieves (partial reprise)

Today's Gospel reminded me of the following poem by e.e. cummings. He captures so very well, what being a good samaritan involves for us sometimes, and more, simply being a Christian for the least of the least amongst us.

a man who had fallen among thieves

a man who had fallen among thieves
lay by the roadside on his back
dressed in fifteenthrate ideas
wearing a round jeer for a hat

fate per a somewhat more than less
emancipated evening
had in return for consciousness
endowed him with a changeless grin

whereon a dozen staunch and leal
citizens did graze at pause
then fired by hypercivic zeal
sought newer pastures or because

swaddled with a frozen brook
of pinkest vomit out of eyes
which noticed nobody he looked
as if he did not care to rise

one hand did nothing on the vest
its wideflung friend clenched weakly dirt
while the mute trouserfly confessed
a button solemnly inert.

Brushing from whom the stiffened puke
i put him all into my arms
and staggered banged with terror through
a million billion trillion stars

ee cummings


One piece of today's Gospel struck me strongly this morning during Liturgy, namely, the fact that no one can answer the question we each might raise to Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?" but we ourselves. The answer is not a given but instead a task and challenge Jesus leaves us with and empowers us to make true. The idea of neighbor is not a simple matter of address or ethnicity or naturally occurring commonality but instead an unfulfilled promise and apostolic commission associated with the coming of the Kingdom of God in fullness. What Jesus makes clear in today's gospel lection is the fact that we are each called to allow those who are aliens, those who are strangers (even if they live next door or in the same family) to become "neighbors". And more than allow, we are to make neighbors of those who are alien. This is the mission of every Christian.

As I wrote here a few years ago: [[ Yes, the Law allowed for intervening in life and death situations, but it also leaves a lot of room for casuistry: note the scholar of the Law's final question to Jesus: "who is my neighbor?" Jesus' own ethic leaves no room for such casuistry: the one who loves even the least as God loves has discovered who is the real neighbor, and has acted as one himself. There is nothing more important than this love, no piety which is more demanding. This is a love that law cannot legislate and is dependent upon a freedom law does not give or (sometimes) even allow. It is an extravagant love that calls for no compromises beyond the canny shrewdness of the Samaritan's generosity.]] The Samaritan makes of the injured man a neighbor in treating him as he does; in doing so he transforms reality. And so we are called to do! We are called to make neighbors of aliens and strangers, not because they are like us or live near us or even because they share the same creeds or codes or cult as we do, but instead because we love them as Christ does and as the Samaritan in today's gospel lection does so surprisingly and brilliantly.

"Who is my neighbor?" we ask, trying to wiggle out of the uncompromising truth and demand of God's commission to us.  "Whom have you made to be your neighbor?" Jesus might answer. "Whom have you loved in this way? Whose alienness have you transformed with a generous and attentive love? Whom have you made room for in your own life, your own heart, your own routine as the Samaritan did today? There is your neighbor and there too is the Kingdom of God among you."

07 July 2016

Public vs Private vows: Questions on the Nature and Breadth of Eremitical Commitment

Dear Sister, When a person commits to being a Consecrated Hermit/Hermit Sister, are they also making a commitment to being attached to a particular Church, to the Church in general, etc.? In other words, does it go beyond a marriage to God? I do realize that formally being under the obedience of a bishop would create that sort of tie. So, is the difference between being a private hermit and not “official” according to the Church mainly that those ties do not exist in the same way? This could be a deciding factor, down the road, with whether I might make private vs public vows. ]]

Good question. yes, diocesan hermits or other canonical hermits are embracing an ecclesial vocation in which they are granted certain rights while taking on specific obligations and expectations on the part of both the local and universal Church. The ties, however, are not simply those of obedience to one's bishop; obedience to one's bishop symbolizes deeper or more extensive ties within the Body of Christ.

You see, while one’s vows and espousal to God are very significant they are necessarily and profoundly embedded within a specific ecclesial context, namely that of the diocesan church (on behalf of the universal church), which both mediates and structures the vocation itself. This contextualization makes a very specific and profound kind of sense of the vocation. When one is consecrated in the RC Church, for instance,  one is initiated into a stable state of life. Stability here indicates more than the permanence and nature of one's relationship with God or the essential irrevocability of being set apart as a sacred person by God; it indicates all of the elements which help mediate and structure the divine vocation to this state: Rule, superiors (bishop and delegate), stability within the diocesan church (meaning one may not simply move to another diocese and remain a diocesan hermit without both Bishops' permissions), parish membership as a consecrated person (which gives other members the right to certain appropriate expectations), being subject to canon law re religious life or vows in ways lay persons are not, etc --- all of these and more are involved in what we call a “stable state of life” under canon 603.

One way of thinking of all of this is to understand that the vocation to consecrated eremitical life belongs more fundamentally to the Church than to the individual. The consecrated hermit lives eremitical life “in the name of the Church” who mediates God's consecration and thus she becomes a “Catholic hermit”. The Church discerns with but also admits to profession and consecration those she determines may have truly been graced with this call; she then mediates God's own call to the person in the Rite of Profession and she does so as an instance of the way the Holy Spirit is working in the life of the Church through this individual's vocation. The call is divine in origin but it is fundamentally ecclesial in nature. In other words, espousal to God (or consecration for that matter) is never an individualistic reality but ALWAYS shares in and reflects or images the more foundational and primary bridal identity and nature of the Church.

Personal espousal is thus always “derivative” in the way being a daughter or son of God in Christ is derivative. Christ is the only begotten Son and we are given a part or share of that identity in him within the Church. For instance, I and other c 603 hermits are espoused to Christ under c 603 (cf Rite of Religious Profession) and thus given a unique share and place in the Church's own espousal which we image in some way for the whole People of God. (That espousal, while real is ordinarily less explicit in terms of mission and charism than, for instance, the vocation of the consecrated virgin living in the world. Instead the hermit's charism is the silence of solitude and, while the two are profoundly bound together in her life, she is, I believe, called to witness to the silence of solitude more primarily than to espousal with Christ. In other words her espousal is revealed primarily in an ecclesial life of the silence of solitude while this eremitical charism is the gift she embraces on behalf of the Church whose espousal she thus shares and reflects.) If one wants to live eremitical life apart from specific ecclesial commitments and requirements then seeking consecration under canon 603 would not be the way to go.

It is true that a person with private vows is not initiated into the consecrated state of life. This means they are not espoused nor admitted to a stable state of life in the senses described above. Their commitment is entirely private and, while of course the person might never desire or decide to do so, they may walk away from their commitment at any time without in any way modifying or otherwise affecting their standing or various relationships in the Church; this is so precisely because there are no attendant ecclesial rights, obligations or expectations, no canonical standing --- beyond that associated with baptism itself --- neither is there ecclesial discernment or validation of eremitism as a vocation nor does one represent or live the eremitical vocation “in the name of the Church.” All of this is part of what we mean when we say one's vows are private.

Some hermits, however, in imitation of the  desert Fathers and Mothers (who were lay persons), want to live eremitical life with a private vow or vows as an expression of the traditional and profound prophetic character of the eremitical vocation. Their reasons are good ones, their decision to live eremitical life via a private commitment can be inspiringly courageous, and their vocation can make real sense in these terms. Some of us choose (and are chosen) instead to live the traditional  prophetic character of the eremitical vocation in a public ecclesial vocation as part of the Church's own gift and call to witness to the radically countercultural Gospel --- not only for the Church's  own sake but for the sake of a needy world. There are significant pros and cons to both.

I hope this is helpful. If it raises more questions or failed to answer your own please get back to me.

06 July 2016

Do Hermits Outgrow the need for Spiritual Direction?

[[Dear Sister, does it ever happen that a hermit kind of "outgrows" the need for a spiritual director? Is a director something they need in their early years but then do not need as they grow as hermits and Christ becomes their director? What would happen to you if you decided you no longer needed a director or moved to a place where the Sacraments were unavailable to you?]]

Thanks for your questions. I would have to say no, hermits do not outgrow the need for direction though that need will shift and change over time and circumstances in terms of the content and frequency of meetings. For instance when I first began meeting with my director we tended to meet monthly or bimonthly. These days we ordinarily meet every two or three months and in times of significant growth or healing we may meet weekly or even more frequently on a temporary basis. In this way we honor the movement of the Spirit. Growth is always possible; more growth in wholeness and holiness is always something God calls us to. (And, by the way, God in Christ and the Holy Spirit is ALWAYS the actual director in an SD relationship. It just happens that God's presence is ordinarily mediated through the profound mutual listening for God so characteristic of the direction relationship.

More, it almost always helps to discuss what one has experienced or discerned with another --- both to be sure one is not mistaken or deluded and to allow another spiritually attuned person to hear one in all of this.  We need to externalize, articulate, and share what happens between ourselves and God as part of claiming it completely. Remember that it was during the visitation of Mary to Elizabeth that both women came to share a fuller knowledge of the way God was working in their lives and the life of the whole of their People. Neither understood this apart from this sharing with the other. This is a significant lesson occurring several times in the Gospel of Luke; another version of it is found in the story of the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, for instance. Experiences of prayer are rich, multi-layered things and our own growth is similar. Unless we can talk about these regularly with someone who knows how to listen and how to help us see more clearly --- someone on the same journey --- we will never really plumb the depths of our own lives to the degree God invites and to the degree our commitment to God requires. Our vision and perception will continue to be narrow and contained. Spiritual direction helps us see and share the joy of Christ's presence and activity in our lives in ways every disciple needs.

But there are additional reasons a hermit more specifically requires a spiritual director and regular meetings or conversations with her. The first is there is rarely another way for the hermit to be sure she is not substituting her own biases, blindness, woundedness and other significant limitations for the voice of God. Living in solitude often means being unable to check one's perception and interpretations with anyone.  One reads, thinks, studies, does lectio, writes and prays, all in an intimate relationship with the God who at the same time never ceases being WHOLLY OTHER --- except as God is incarnated and/or mediated through the heart and mind of another. A spiritual director acts in ways which serve this need for an incarnate God. It is no small ministry! 

Of course this WHOLLY OTHER God is our companion in all things and of course we bring all things to him, but to treat him as though he is just like us but bigger, communicates like we do, and engages in the heavenly equivalent of instant messages or mystical Skype calls, especially on a routine or regular basis, is simply nonsense --- and idolatrous nonsense as well. A good director can remind us of the eternal mystery of God even as she helps in the process of incarnation; she can help prevent our falling into idolatry or otherwise deluding ourselves. After all,  God, along with many other things, inhabits, touches, illuminates and  moves our hearts and minds; he empowers our will. Over time God makes us truly human and truly free. But from within every one of us he has constant competition in this. As I have said before, the demons we each battle are all-too-often the demons of our own hearts and far more often they are these demons than they are something assailing us from without!!! For a hermit who claims no need for regular competent direction or participation in the Church's sacramental life I would suggest such a battle has actually been lost in some sense.

Additionally, the temptation to individualism (even in the more extreme form of narcissism) is huge in our world and culture. Hermits are, at least in part, products of this same world and culture. It is SO easy to clothe the impulses to individualism --- even as narcissism --- in distorted religious and pious language and then mistakenly call what one is doing in this way "Eremitical life" or "Eremitical solitude"!! Similarly, it is possible to turn one's back on the whole of God's good creation outside the hermitage in an act which is selfish, uncharitable, and driven by ego-centeredness and call this (wrongly) what the Church calls "Stricter separation from the world"!! In order to really discern what is in her heart and what truly drives her the hermit MUST have a competent director who understands the spiritual life, is a regular practitioner of prayer, and is committed to her own growth in wholeness and holiness. (By the way, the notion that such a director must be a hermit is fallacious. It is, however, helpful if she is a religious who prays contemplatively and who has experience (my vote) in formation  work and at least as much experience living the vows as the hermit.)

Spiritual Direction is NOT Spiritual Counsel

Finally, as something which may clarify my answer, let me point out that while spiritual direction is sometimes located within schools of "pastoral counseling", spiritual direction is NOT essentially a matter of giving others counsel or advice. Spiritual direction is ordinarily a long-term form of accompaniment where the director journeys with the directee in her sojourn with God. It is not essentially geared to problem solving nor, as one blogger wrote recently, does it require "progress within six weeks" lest the director refer the directee to someone new!! Direction is NOT therapy (even if it were the putative six week deadline would be nonsense)--- though it is profoundly therapeutic. I have worked with my director (a Sister of the Holy Family) since about 1982  and, God-willing, I pray she will be able to accompany me on this adventure for many more years! I routinely accompany directees for 10-15 years and more unless and until they journey beyond what I have to offer them in my own competencies or a move or some other set of circumstances occurs to cause us to part ways. Progress, however, is usually only visible over longer time frames and patience as well as humility is necessary if one is to accompany someone in a journey to holiness.

Neither is a director about discerning what a directee should or shouldn't do. The point of direction, which again is rightly understood as a long-term relationship, is to assist a person in their OWN journey with God, to help them pay attention to God's presence in the depths of their being (heart) or the world around them and to respond in the best (most human, most Christian) way possible, to assist them in THEIR discernment (one does not discern FOR a directee!!!), and to support them as they (continue to learn to) obey the call of God to union. As I noted in the posts I put up on intense inner work (which may be a kind of specialization within the discipline and art of spiritual direction not all directors may do), a competent director ALWAYS works toward the enhancement of the client's freedom and wholeness. Since the journey toward wholeness and holiness takes the whole of a person's life and since this journey (especially the eremitical version!) is always fraught with dangers --- most especially the danger of fooling oneself in significant ways --- a competent director is simply indispensable.

Changes in My Own Eremitical Life:

Your question about major changes in my own eremitical life is really significant.  Remember that if a diocese admits a hermit to definitive (perpetual or solemn) profession it will be WITH an approved Rule which binds the hermit both morally and legally. This Rule will include all the necessary elements of the life including how she understands and lives the elements of the canon and evangelical counsels, how she provides materially and spiritually for herself, etc. Let's be clear then that an ongoing arrangement for regular Spiritual direction and sacramental reception is INVARIABLY required of the consecrated hermit by all dioceses as is a reference or evaluation from the hermit's director prior to profession. No one is professed under canon 603 without meeting these requirements and, in fact, without living under direction for some time prior to profession as well to ensure the hermit's life is sound. The need for ongoing competent direction in eremitical life is a traditional position through centuries of eremitism. For the most part dioceses recognize and admit no one even to mutual discernment until this fundamental piece of things is in place. The same is true of regular participation in the Sacramental life of the Church.

Thus, should there be a material change in the way the hermit lives she will need to modify her Rule. There is no avoiding or ignoring such a necessity if one is truly responsible. This modification might be approved by her delegate on a temporary basis in instances of less substantial change but if the change is substantial (say, for instance, that illness, a major move within the diocese, or other circumstances do not allow for regular Mass attendance, regular spiritual direction, etc.) then the bishop supervising the hermit and those involved with such vocations in the diocese will evaluate the situation and 1) approve the change, 2) deny or disapprove the change, as well as 3) evaluate whether or not the person is even capable of living c 603 eremitical life in the name of the Church if the hermit refuses or proves unable to live her Rule as approved. Everything will be discussed between delegate, hermit, director and diocesan curia; solutions to any deficiencies will be sought first, of course, but a hermit insisting she needs none of the elements which were required and written into in her canonically  approved Rule would find the diocese well within its rights to begin a process of dispensation of vows. You see, the Church rightly believes that certain arrangements are indispensable for living eremitical life well --- ESPECIALLY if one is going to do so in the name of the Church because she is publicly consecrated and commissioned BY THE Church to do so.

Dedicated Lay Hermits vs Consecrated Hermits:

Dedicated lay hermits (those hermits in the lay or baptized state who have not been professed and consecrated BY THE CHURCH but who have private vows instead) may believe they can do whatever they wish or discern is appropriate with regard to spiritual direction, regular access to sacraments, moving to remote areas, and any number of other things --- though NB, such a hermit's baptismal obligations do not cease to bind her --- but a professed and consecrated hermit (one with public vows, etc) is even less free to behave in this way. Not only is she bound by baptismal obligations, but she is responsible in conjunction with her diocese and diocesan Bishop for living a public ECCLESIAL vocation with public rights, obligations, and expectations, because she is bound canonically via both canon and proper law to a NEW AND STABLE ECCLESIAL STATE OF LIFE. She must, therefore, live her life fully and abundantly within canonical and institutional structures which govern and articulate this specific incarnation or expression of the eremitical life.

Of course all of what I describe as being true for the canonical or publicly professed hermit is true for me. My eremitical life is a very free and flexible one and my obligation to obedience is one which finds my superiors and myself working together to hear the will of God in all things not only for my own good, but for the good of this vocation and that of the Church herself. Because we are faithful in this I experience ever greater degrees of wholeness and authentic freedom in my life. Profoundly free though I am, I am NOT at liberty to simply go my own way without supervision or mutual discernment and permission --- meaning of course that I am not free to simply go my own way by asserting I have some special knowledge of the will of God which is shared by no one else simply because I have lived as a hermit since 1985 or a diocesan hermit since 2007. Going one's own way in relative isolation may be individualism or it may be the way some privately vowed (not professed!) hermits operate, but it is not the way a canonical hermit living solitary eremitical life in the name of the Church operates. To the degree she lives an ecclesial vocation in witness and charity to others she cannot and will not do so.

I sincerely hope this is helpful.

02 July 2016

A Contemplative Moment: Vulnerability

is not a weakness, a passing indisposition, or something we can arrange to do without, vulnerability is the underlying, ever present abiding undercurrent of our natural state. To run from vulnerability is to run from the essence of our nature, the attempt to be invulnerable is the vain attempt to become someone we are not and most especially, to close off our understanding of the grief of others. More seriously, in refusing our vulnerability we refuse the help needed at every turn of our existence and immobilize the essential, tidal and conversational foundations of our identity.
To have a temporary, isolated sense of power over all events and circumstances, is a lovely illusionary privilege and perhaps the prime and most beautifully constructed conceit of being human and especially of being youthfully human, but it is a privilege that must be surrendered with that same youth, with ill health, with accident, with the loss of loved ones who do not share our untouchable powers; powers eventually and most emphatically given up as we approach our last breath.
The only choice we have as we mature is how we inhabit our vulnerability, how we become larger and more courageous and more compassionate through our intimacy with disappearance, our choice is to inhabit vulnerability as generous citizens of loss, robustly and fully, or conversely, as misers and complainers, reluctant and fearful , always at the gates of existence, but never bravely and completely attempting to enter, never wanting to risk ourselves, never walking fully through the door.
David Whyte
Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment,
and Underlying Meaning of everyday Words

01 July 2016

Renovation of Hermitage AND Hermit!

[[Dear Sister Laurel, I've noticed that it seems a little longer than usual since you've updated your blog. I'm hoping that's because you're away on retreat or vacation and not due to the recent harassing commentary you received about the 'inner work' post. I was quite shocked by that person's tone and I'm sorry that you had to endure that. I follow your blog regularly and find it to be one of the few serious resources available about the diocesan eremitic vocation. Your blog fills a real need and a real gap in the vocational literature. I hope you'll continue to share your experience.]]

Whew! Getting a breath! Many thanks for your comments on the place of this blog in the available vocational literature. It is precisely why I continue to write about c 603 and the nature of this vocation. I am sorry if I have been a bit less active here on this blog for the past month or so but I had been getting ready to have new carpeting put in the hermitage and now am slowly "recovering" from that. (The carpeting had not been new when I moved in here almost 18 years ago and in that time I have surely added to the mess it was!) But man, what a lot of work! The major problem was books and book cases. These had to be emptied, lower wall shelves also had to be emptied and removed (the upper ones stayed full and in place ---thank God!!!)--- but also a wardrobe, file cabinet drawers, etc. etc. (and there was a LOT of etcetera!) --- anything required to give access to the floor space!

On Monday a week ago I went up to the parish house and hung out while the carpet guys installed new carpeting and baseboards. It is all BEAUTIFUL and I am loving it!! (Not least I am enjoying my new vacuum cleaner, a $270 machine I got "as new" for $105! It's got everything including headlights (LOL!), transforms into a hand-held vacuum, has unstoppable suction, almost propels itself, etc, etc. Who knew vacuuming could be so much fun??) After reshelving about 35 boxes of books and files in the past week, I still have a number of boxes of books and other stuff to put back in place or dispose of completely. It is physically tiring and a bit embarrassing (how in the world did I ever acquire so much "stuff"?) but generally speaking  this part of this whole process is both satisfying and gratifying.

One especially cool thing so far is that I was able to rearrange the furniture some in my bedroom/ chapel and I am liking the space even better than before. For prayer I am using the Zafu both with and without a small table to hold whatever book is needed (if and when) and that now has a central place. It feels wonderful! At the same time I have been doing some inner work --- another kind of "emptying out and remodeling". Because I continue to get (sometimes extremely cynical) questions about it, its importance and validity in eremitical life especially, I wanted to try to say a bit more about it here. The inner work I am referring to can be called healing work or growth work (both are involved and reinforce one another) or just "the work of conversion"; as I have written in earlier pieces I believe it is an essential part of a hermit's spiritual life --- however it comes about.

The Human Heart and Inner Work:

One of the things I write about here a lot is the sacred space which is the human heart; the heart, as I have noted many times before, is the place where God bears witness to Godself. It is not so much that we have a heart and then God comes to dwell there as it is that where God dwells, where he speaks himself freely and we respond fully in obedience (openness, etc.) to that Word or Spirit, we have a truly human heart. Thus I also write a lot about the call we each experience to allow God to speak or sing Godself fully in and through our hearts. In fact, this is the essence of what it means to be human; we embody and become transparent to this call in responding in obedience. It is who we are meant to be.

The work I have been doing in this regard, and the work I consider essential is geared to our growth in Christ. It involves but is not limited to healing any woundedness that keeps parts of my heart bound by or to pain, fear, and grief, for instance. We all have such pockets of pain (sometimes very large or very deep pockets) which prevent God from moving and singing Godself freely in and through our hearts. While I always give God permission (and in fact, silently and trustingly implore God) to love and touch me as and wherever he will during quiet prayer, and while I know unquestionably that God does so, it still takes attention and work to deal with those realities within our hearts that, in one way and another, are obstacles to Love ---even the Absolute Love-in-Act we know as God.

It is critical to understand that these pockets of pain or grief prevent us from growing and from being (or "singing") ourselves as truly and as fully as we yearn and are meant and called to do. They make us reactive but incapable of the responsiveness we know as obedience. Our hearts must be both empty and full to welcome others there, to love them as they and we are meant and made to do. In eremitical life we speak of being more strictly separated from "the world" while in last Sunday's reading from Galatians Paul we heard about freedom from the things of the flesh. "The world" and "the (things of the) flesh" are synonyms and both are put in opposition to the Kingdom of God (the realm where God is truly sovereign) and the things of the spirit (in this case, the human under the sway of the Spirit). In part the purpose of the inner work done as a dimension of my prayer and penitential life --- which means as a dimension of my commitment to Christ --- is to create (or allow God to create) an appropriate separation from the "things of the world" in my life and heart and an expansion or greater realization of the Kingdom of God both within and around me --- a move from fleshliness in the Pauline and NT sense to living in the Spirit in that same sense. But, even and perhaps especially for the hermit, this will also always mean the creation of appropriate and concrete bonds of love with God's creation in the power of the Spirit.

Inner Work and the Work of Forgiveness:

For instance, forgiveness, the capacity for forgiveness, and otherwise fulfilling our call to the ministry of reconciliation are all critically dependent on this kind of inner work. We do not truly forgive another who has seriously harmed us (nor do we forgive ourselves when we have harmed another) merely by willing to do so; it takes healing, often profound healing, to create the personal capacity for a future which is lived with and for others --- potentially including those who hurt us or whom we have hurt. It takes healing to allow the kind of vulnerability forgiveness requires and healing to create the kind of strength, courage, and integrity necessary to live into the future with others and without the chains of anger, bitterness, and pain. To forgive is to be open to new life, to energies that are freed for love and for this kind of openness I think inner work is absolutely essential.

For the diocesan hermit who both chooses and is chosen to live the silence of solitude as an ecclesial vocation, it is, as I have said many times, terribly important that solitude not be a cramped and stunted form of isolated living where one is protected from or incapable of the demands of love and compelling witness. Especially it cannot be (or be allowed to remain) a way of isolating one from others or cocooning oneself away in one's woundedness and limited ability to love and reveal Christ to others. As I have quoted before, a hermit must be able to hear (and this means to receive in a responsive way with one's mind and heart!) the anguished cries of the world --- something that is simply not possible if and to the extent the cries of anguish which really dominate are the cries of the hermit's own still-wounded heart or Self. While it is true that life in eremitical solitude itself (meaning life lived alone in communion with God) is incredibly healing and strengthening for one genuinely called to it, as noted above, a significant part of this time alone with God is regularly given over to inner work (including the work of spiritual direction) precisely so that God might be as fully active and present in one's life as God wills.


Meanwhile, back at the conversion of the physical space, I am hoping to put up some pictures of the changes here at the hermitage when I have actually finished. If I can manage it financially (and I probably can!) I would like to get a couple of new living room chairs (matching with a small footprint), as well as to get rid of a couple of larger pieces of furniture, replace them with smaller pieces (or none at all) and essentially open up a greater sense of spaciousness. (This is the space where I meet with spiritual direction clients so I would like to make it as open and comfortable for them as possible.) There is still SO much to do and though I have been physically wiped out most of this month I have been and am also incredibly excited and energized by all that is happening. Surprisingly, that has also meant I have been able to keep up my commitments at the parish and even do several extra things there as needed --- something I am really pleased about.

While it is ironic and has been difficult that both the increased external, physical work and the inner work have taken place at the same time, despite the drain on physical and emotional energy which both involved, overall this simultaneity has also been mutually reinforcing and empowering. God has been "mightily" at work in all of this (including in and through others!) and I am very grateful! Despite the work remaining I am especially hopeful I can get back to writing here more regularly. When I get things a bit more under control I'll try and post those pictures I mentioned above which (until I can change the elements constituting the blog template itself) will contrast some with the ones in the columns to the right. If so it's as close to a before and after "reveal" as I will be able to come.


IMG0049_m.jpg As I noted in my email reply the "snarky" questions and comments (SUCH a good word for these kinds of things!) about inner work played no causal role in preventing my writing. Folks should know these kinds of comments come my way sometimes and usually do not find their way into this blog. However, as you noted, these comments went "over the top" --- especially in suggesting my director was foisting something off on me. That is rarely a good thing to say to someone about their spiritual director. In this case it could not have been more inappropriate or wrong. I was more than a little angry and for several reasons decided it was important to post both the "criticism" and my response publicly. That was especially true given the depth, intensity, and importance of the work being undertaken as well as the personal honesty, integrity, courage, and generosity it takes for both the director and the directee to engage together in it. When done well, when done faithfully and in obedience (openness and responsiveness) to God that is, it is an act of worship glorifying the One who constantly summons us to the Freedom of more abundant life.