Yesterday's reading from Mark is always challenging for me. It is the story of the Father with the epileptic Son. Because of my own seizure disorder I have struggled my entire adult life with the situation described and the questions raised in Mark 9:14-29. I have struggled with memories of injuries or the sense of ever-present danger or threat Mark describes so well. I have reflected long and hard on the accusation of the age's faithlessness.
Especially though I have struggled personally with the last exchange between the disciples and Jesus: [["Why could we not drive the spirit out?" He said to them, "This kind can only come out through prayer."]] My own struggle to understand and accept my own condition and the things it has made both impossible and possible in my own life found its summary and resolution in the words of Paul: "My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Cor 12:9) It underscored the importance of paradox in Christian life and especially the relationship of human poverty to Divine grace. So central was all of this to me that I used Paul's summary as the motto engraved on my perpetual eremitical profession ring. But every once in a while someone captures this same dynamic in words I have not heard before.
Yesterday at the end of Mass, my pastor read a brief passage from the book Unexpected News, Reading the Bible with Third World Eyes by Robert McAfee Brown. The passage was titled (not by Brown), "Down from the Mountaintop": [[ As soon as the 'religious experience' of the transfiguration was over, Jesus goes down from the mountain to respond to human need, the healing of an epileptic boy. When the boy's distraught Father asks for help, Jesus does not respond, "Look, I 've just had a marvelous experience and I don't want to lose the glow." No, things are immediately earthy, human, even ugly --- for a person in an epileptic seizure is not a pretty sight. It is all of a piece --- ecstasy and epilepsy. This is what messiahship is all about: being in the midst of the poor, the sick, the helpless, those with frothing mouths. Messiahship --- just like Christian living --- is not just "mountaintop experiences" or "acts of concern for human welfare": it is a necessary combination of the two.]]
I am grateful to have been present for the reading of this brief reflection by my pastor. It was a very powerful moment for me. Affirming, shaking, tearful, challenging, consoling. Pentecost continues its gift of wind and fire. "It is all of a piece --- ecstasy and epilepsy." Mountaintop experiences and times spent in the desert. A power made perfect in weakness. A bit of human weakness made to be a source of Wisdom and a gift to others by the grace of God. It is all of a piece in the power of the Spirit and the perspective of the Kingdom. More I am grateful to have learned that.
21 May 2013
Yesterday's reading from Mark is always challenging for me. It is the story of the Father with the epileptic Son. Because of my own seizure disorder I have struggled my entire adult life with the situation described and the questions raised in Mark 9:14-29. I have struggled with memories of injuries or the sense of ever-present danger or threat Mark describes so well. I have reflected long and hard on the accusation of the age's faithlessness.
20 May 2013
I have written in the past about a significant prayer experience I had where I felt I had God's entire attention, where God was absolutely delighted that I was "finally" there, and where I was completely assured that the rest of God's creation, paradoxically, enjoyed his entire attention as well. I have also written that from time to time I return to this prayer experience to tap into it again, to drink from its living waters, and to breathe in the strength of its Spirit. I do this because it still lives inside me; it is part of my living, daily memory and has not yet and (I strongly suspect) will never be exhausted of its riches. It serves still as a gateway to a "place" where God is waiting with much to show me. More, it serves as a gateway to that "place" where God is allowed to be completely attentive to me, the place created when he loves me as he wills to do and I am truly myself.
For all of our clamoring and self-centeredness, our love of being at the center of attention and acclaim, it is hard to be the center of God's attention. It is hard, in other words, to be wholly and exhaustively loved by God. It calls for our whole selves to be illuminated by that attention and healed by that love. And yet, this is one piece of today's Feast. Today God showers us with gifts and they are the gifts of God's very self. God gives us his full attention and showers us with all the riches that implies so that we ourselves might likewise give God and his Reign in our midst our full attention. Today God equips us with the gifts which make us truly human and commissions us individually and communally to be his People in a world which hungers for this desperately.
Sunday morning at our parish Eucharist I had the sense that just as I sometimes touch back into that prayer experience which was so essentially "pentecostal" for me, our community also touched into an experience of the Spirit which has been muffled in the Church for the past 30 or more years (and even in our own parish to some extent --- though not because of our pastor or staff!). We have all felt the renewed excitement and hope that has come with the election of Francis as Bishop of Rome (the title he himself consistently prefers). We have felt a sense that the reception of Vatican II that seemed to have been stopped and even reversed with the "Reform of the Reform" has begun again and we have watched as Francis makes choices about the way he will embody his Office and the authority of the Church which inspire and give hope that the Spirit is truly alive and well in our Church. And today we celebrated that hope, that presence, --- the fire and wind of the Holy Spirit --- and the compelling commission that flows from it.
There was a renewed excitement and enthusiasm at the Mass. Our presider was Bishop emeritus Sylvester Ryan from Monterey, a lovely, down-to-earth and wholly pastoral man whose gentle voice also resonated with the power of a Spirit empowered faith. (There was a kind of cognitive dissonance as this white-haired elderly priest proclaimed the joy and challenge of Pentecost! It was a lovely picture of the reality of this event all by itself.) He reminded us that at Christmas and Easter we celebrate something that HAS happened, but today on Pentecost we celebrate something that IS happening. He reminded us that Pope Francis had told folks in the Diocese of Rome that one should be able to see from the look on faces leaving Mass that they had really heard the Good News proclaimed. I think that there was no doubt that today that happened at St P's. We had fewer people present in the assembly than usual and yet the alleluia before the Gospel raised the roof. People are open to the gift of the Spirit. They are hungry for it and excited by it.
It is important for me to tap into that prayer experience again from time to time. In doing so I am not merely indulging a past memory of something that took place 30 years ago; instead it involves opening myself to a continuing reality which enlivens, nourishes, inspires, challenges, and commissions right here and now. Similarly I think the entire People of God needs to allow itself to tap back into the experience of wonder, excitement, hope, and purpose (more than mere purpose, mission!) occasioned by Vatican II in those early days. This is especially true if the memory has faded or we have become jaded with disappointment and enervated with fatigue over the past 30 years or so. For each of us, doing so can open a window to the Holy Spirit which allows the Feast of Pentecost to be as amazing for us as it was for the early Church. God wishes to shower us with his attention and all the gifts his love brings. He asks us to truly allow this. Let Pentecost happen in the Church. Let Vatican II truly be fully received!!
17 May 2013
[[Dear Sister O'Neal, thank you for answering my last question. You have written that one indication the vocation to consecrated virginity lived in the world is secular is that the Church does not make candidates for the consecration to live anything other than secular lives as they discern or prepare for consecration. Some are arguing that the vocation is growing into a kind of maturity and that by requiring changes in this they are just arguing for a more radical form of the life --- something that should have been required all along. I think someone asked you if some CV's wanted to live a more radical form of the life then why shouldn't they be able to? Could you comment on these two things together?]]
Thanks for your questions. The post you are referring to where someone asked me about developments of the life is either Notes From Stillsong Hermitage: Radical Secularity?, or Notes From Stillsong Hermitage: Minimized Secularity, A Legitimate Development? In those I think I answer the question about legitimate developments and non-legitimate developments as well as what constitutes radicality in ANY vocation. What is critical to remember is first, that there have, in the main, been two forms of the vocation, one religious and one secular. The secular form (which was the initial form of the vocation) died out in the 12th Century and was wholly supplanted by the religious (cloistered monastic) form of the life. What canon 604 does is recover a valuable and consecrated secular vocation that had entirely been lost nine centuries ago. Secondly, we must remember that all vocations call one to follow Christ with one's whole self or wholeheartedly. Religious poverty is not necessarily more radical than the poverty embraced by a parent who sacrifices to give her child a college education or the advantages which lead to that, for instance. These are different kinds of poverty, different expressions of it, but one is not necessarily more radical than the other. Other posts that speak to the radical nature of this secular vocation are, Notes From Stillsong Hermitage: Followup to "Radical Secularity?", or Notes From Stillsong Hermitage: Eschatological Secularity and CV's living in the World.
Given these and other posts I think we have to say that Canon 604 calls for a radical secularity lived in whole-hearted discipleship to Christ. As I noted in earlier posts, a vocation does not become more radical by changing its very nature. Thus, a more radical vocation to eschatological secularity does not become more radical by diminishing the element of secularity. Only by making it a more whole-hearted response to the One who issues the call does it become more radical. Both elements, the eschatological and the secular must be deepened and made whole-hearted in this response. Thus, one's life of prayer needs to grow and mature so that God is more and more sovereign in one's life, but so also does one's life of service to others --- something which is extended at least in part by one's life amongst and work with them. Also, in regard to c 604 we have to be very cautious in suggesting that some CV's, by the very fact that they lived secular vocations, have not been living radically enough, especially if that suggestion is linked to notions that "younger CV's" are recovering the radical nature of the vocation while "older vocations" failed to live it. (I mention this because I have heard this argument made by some CV's and it sounds like it may be implicit in your question. My apologies if it is not.) This is simply not true and the Church's own documents and liturgy stresses the profoundly secular (but not secularist) nature of the vocation.
It is, of course, perfectly understandable then that CV's will try to live more and more radical lives of prayer and service in response to God and the needs of God's people. Faith leads to faith; deep calls to deep. Conversion is part of every vocation. They might well choose to pray the LOH (more hours than the recommended Morning and Evening Prayer --- Night Prayer is a logical addition) especially since this is not the prayer only of Religious, but instead is the official prayer of the entire Church; they should already be building in time for contemplative or quiet prayer (what person of prayer does not?). But beyond this it seems to me the Church has been wise in not specifying other requirements, especially those which could be mistaken for the commitments of Religious which separate from the world or mitigate the secularity of the vocation. Any other tailoring of an individual CV's life of prayer (or service) should probably be left up to the virgin and her spiritual director; the Church has largely done this just as she has consecrated women living secular lives rather than Religious ones.
I hope this is helpful. If the links don't provide what you are looking for, please get back to me and try putting your question another way.
14 May 2013
[[Dear Sister, are you saying that consecrated virgins are not married to Christ? Also you claim to have a spousal relationship with Christ. Can you truly say your first experience of being with Christ once you were espoused to Him was not a unique experience for you? How can you say this was not dependent on your own virginity? My impression is that women DO image the relationship of bride better than men. I think the Church teaches this, doesn't she? Women are receptive and a CV images the receptivity required by the Church as a whole. Plus we DO refer to the Church as "she" don't we?]]
What I have therefore argued is that the CV's espousal is eschatological. It is real, of course, but it must not be narrowed or trivialized by romantic or sentimental notions of what such an espousal will be like in an overly-simplistic similarity to the historical marriage of man and woman. Remember that the CV is supposed to serve as an icon of the Church as Bride of Christ. The CV lives this out in space and time, but this does not lessen the transcendent nature of the ascended (and cosmic) Christ or the espousal itself. Every person is meant to assume a place in the very life of God. Every person is meant ultimately to live a spousal union with God. The Church as (literal!!) Body of Christ reminds us of this destiny, where her true life is in God and God is in her. Consecrated Virgins are a special gift to the Church because they remind us all of this eschatological destiny and call. They are paradigms of it and reflect the graces which are especially characteristic of such a Church, namely, that it is maternal, virginal, and spousal. that its Lord is Jesus Christ and that it lives these realities out proleptically here in space and time. For a single vocation to be an icon of such a calling I think is pretty awesome.
I sincerely hope this is helpful.
10 May 2013
Feast of the Ascension: The Scandal of the Incarnation of God Continues in the Ecclesia as the Body of Christ (Reprise)
A couple of years ago I wrote about a passage taken from one of the Offices (Vigils) on the Feast of the Ascension. In that passage we hear the remarkable statement that, [[It is he who gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers in roles of service for the faithful to build up the body of Christ, till we become one in faith and in the knowledge of God's Son, AND FORM THE PERFECT MAN WHO IS CHRIST COME TO FULL STATURE.]] It is an image that has intrigued me since, and of course, one that I hear and reflect on again each Ascension Day. Imagine that it is we-as-church who quite literally make up the body of Christ and who one day will be taken up into the very life of God just as Christ was --- and that in this way, Christ will have "come to full stature." He will live in us and we in him, and all of us in God as God too becomes all in all. (Sounds very Johannine doesn't it?)
When I was an undergraduate in Theology (and through a lot of my graduate work as well), the Ascension never made much sense to me. It was often mainly treated as a Lukan construction which added little to the death and resurrection of Jesus, and if my professors and those they had us reading felt this way, I didn't press the issue --- nor, at least as an undergraduate, did I have the wherewithal TO press the issue theologically. It didn't help any that the notion of Jesus' bodily ascension into "heaven" was more incomprehensible (and unbelieveable) than resurrection, or that I understood it as a kind of dissolving away of Jesus bodiliness rather than a confirmation of it and continuation of the Incarnation. (The notion that a docetist Jesus had just been "slumming" for thirty-three years, as one writer objects to putting the matter, and that Ascension was the act by which he shook the dust of humanity from his sandals when his work was done, was probably not far from my mind here.)
Finally therefore, it was really difficult to deal with the notion that Christ, who had been so close to us as to appear in his glorified body with which he walked through walls, ate fish, allowed his marks as the crucified one to be examined, etc, was now going to some remote place far distant from us and would be replaced by some intangible and abstract spiritual reality. Of course, I had it all wrong. Completely. Totally. Absolutely wrong in almost every particular. Unfortunately, I have no doubt that most Christians have it wrong in all the same ways. And yet, it is the passage from Ephesians which is one key to getting it all right, and to rejoicing in the promise and challenge that Jesus' Ascension represents for us.
What actually happens in the Ascension? What about reality changes? What does it mean to say that Christ ascends to the right hand of God or "opens the gates of heaven"? The notion that Jesus' life, death, resurrection, and ascension changes reality is novel for many people. They may think of redemption as a matter of changing God's mind about us, for instance, appeasing divine wrath, but not really changing objective reality. Yet, on the cross and through his descent into the very depths of Godlessness (sin and godless or sinful death), as I have written before, Jesus, through his own obedience (openness, and responsiveness) opens this realm to God; he implicates God into this realm in definitive ways. God's presence in all of our world's moments and moods is, in light of the Christ Event, personal and intimate, not impersonal and remote. And with God implicated in the very reality from which he has, by definition, been excluded, that reality is transformed. It is no longer literally godless, but instead becomes a kind of sacrament of his presence, the place where we may see him face to face in fact --- and the place where being now triumphs over non-being, life triumphs over death, love triumphs over all that opposes it, and meaning overcomes absurdity. This is one part or side of Jesus' mediatory function: the making God real and present in ways and where before he was not. It is the climax of God's own self-emptying, his own "descent" which began with creation and continues with redemption and new creation; it is the climax of God first creating that which is other so that he might share himself, and then entering into every moment and mood of creation.
But there is another aspect or side to Christ's mediatory activity, and this is made most clear in the Ascension. The language used is not descent, but ascent, not journeying to a far place, but returning home and preparing a place for those who will follow. (Yes, we SHOULD hear echoes of the parable of the prodigal Son/ merciful Father here with Christ as the prodigal Son journeying to a far place.) If in Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, the world is opened to God, in Jesus' ascension, God's own life is opened definitively to the world. In Jesus' ascension, the new creation, of which Jesus is the first born and head, is taken up BODILY into God, dwells within him in communion with him. In Jesus we meet our future in the promise that this will happen to us and all of creation in him.
When Paul speaks of God becoming all in all he is looking at the culmination of this double process of mediation: first, God entering the world more profoundly, extensively and, above all, personally in Christ, and second, the world being taken up into God's own life. When he speaks of Christ coming to full stature, he is speaking of the same process, the same culmination. When theologians speak of the interpenetration of heaven and earth, or the creation of a new heaven and a new earth they are speaking again of this process with an eye towards its culmination at the end of time. The Ascension marks the beginning of this "End Time."
It is important to remember a couple of things in trying to understand this view of ascension. First, God is not A BEING, not even the biggest and best, holiest, most powerful, etc. God is being itself, the ground of being and meaning out of which everything that has being and meaning stands (ex-istere, i.e., "out of - to stand"). Secondly, therefore, heaven is not merely some place where God resides along with lots of other beings (including, one day, ourselves) --- even if he is the center of attention and adoration. Heaven is God's own being, the very life of God himself shared with others. (Remember that often the term heaven was used by Jews to avoid using God's name, thus, the Kingdom or Reign of Heaven is the Sovereignty of God) Finally, as wonderful as this creation we are part of is, it is meant for more. It is meant to exist in and of God in a final and definitive way. Some form of panentheism is the goal of reality, both human and divine. Jesus' ascension is the first instance of created existence being taken up into God's own life (heaven). It is the culmination of one part of the Christ event (mediation seen mainly in terms of descent and creation/redemption), and the beginning of another (mediation seen in terms of recreation/glorification and ascent).
When the process is completed and God is all in all, so too can we say that the God-Man Christ will have "come to full stature," or, as another translation of today's lection from Ephesians reads: [[. . .in accord with the exercise of his great might: which he worked in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens, far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things beneath his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.]]
For those who have difficulty in accepting God's assumption of human flesh and revelation of himself exhaustively in a human life -- most especially in the weakness and fragility of such a life, Jesus' ascension offers no relaxing of the tension or scandal of the incarnation. Instead it heightens it. With Jesus' ascension the Godhead NOW has taken created reality and bodily existence within itself as a very part of God's own life even while He transfigures it. This is what we are meant for, the reason we were created. It is what God willed "from the beginning". If, in the Christ Event human life is defined as a covenantal reality, that is, if our lives are dialogical realities with God as an integral and constitutive part, so too does the Christ Event define God similarly, not simply as Trinitarian and in some sort of conversation with us, but as One who actively makes room within himself for us and all he cherishes --- and who, in this sense and because he wills it, is incomplete without us.
Human being --- created, redeemed, recreated, and glorified --- assumes its rightful and full stature in Christ. In the acts of creation, redemption, and glorification, Divinity empties itself of certain prerogatives in Christ as well, but at the same time Divinity assumes its full stature in Christ, a stature we could never have imagined because it includes us in itself in an integral or fundamental way. Whether this is expressed in the language and reality of descent, kenosis (self-emptying), and asthenia (weakness), or of ascent, pleroma (fullness), and power, Christianity affirms the scandal of the incarnation as revelatory of God's very nature. We should stand open-mouthed and astounded in awe at the dignity accorded us and the future with which we are, and all of creation is "endowed" on the "day" of Christ's Ascension.
09 May 2013
[[Dear Sister, it still seems to me to be a conflict for a hermit to have a blog. I appreciate that you have reconciled this in your own mind and I understand your diocese is comfortable with it, but isn't this 21st C development out of sync with the history of eremitical life in the Church? Now you are featured in an article in the Saturday Evening Post and it is clear from that article that others have the same questions I do. Not all of them are asking these because they are victims of [believing] stereotypes, are they?]]
Many thanks for these questions. They are significant and point directly at the tension or dynamic that is at the heart of my own life, the life of Camaldolese monks, nuns, and oblates, and I suspect, the life of any truly healthy hermit with a strong sense of the Gospel and their own place in the heart of the Church. I am going to answer all of your questions by referring to the Camaldolese charism and also to the history of Camaldolese life in the Church with special reference to both SS Romuald and Peter Damian. My own sense, and something I have written here and spoken about before on A Nun's Life (In Good Faith podcast), is that this specific charism is profoundly ancient and equally contemporary. It reprises the dynamic which is present for anyone exploring the nature of --- much less justifying --- a life of "the silence of solitude," and which I personally find especially appropriate and empowering for the life of the diocesan hermit.
First, is this dynamic of an eremitical solitude which also reaches out to others to proclaim the Gospel of God in Christ and the redemptive nature of solitude (because that is what I am concerned with in this blog) out of sync with the history of eremitical life? My answer is no. I can point to three significant historical instances or paradigms of eremitical life here to justify that response: 1) the desert Fathers and Mothers, 2) the anchorites and especially the "urbani" of the medieval period, and 3) the Camaldolese (in particular the Benedictine Camaldolese) and their founders, especially SS Romuald, Peter Damian, and Paul Giustiniani (a Saint at least to the "Order"!). Each of these had a significant degree of interaction with the world around them and for each of them the notion of witness (sometimes called evangelization or martyrdom) was central.
|Sister Donald Corcoran, OSB and Dom Robert Hale, OSB Cam|
The medieval anchorites, also called "urbani" because they lived eremitical lives in the midst of towns, villages, and cities, mirror the same dynamic in a different way. Anchorites practice a stricter physical stability because they remained in a single small dwelling and were sometimes even walled into or locked within an anchorhold. However, such anchorholds which were adjacent to a church generally had a window opening onto the altar, another opening onto the main square of the village or city, and a third entrance or window through which food and other necessities could be passed back and forth by those who served the anchorite. Townspeople often stopped to talk with the anchorite; it was the medieval equivalent of a counselling or spiritual direction center. There was danger of abuse and distortion of the life in this, of course, and some Camaldolese writers and others wrote scathing pieces on those who abused the practice of converse with others. Still, the dynamic and the tension were present as an integral part of the life.
Finally there is the Benedictine Camaldolese model of eremitical life and the example of its founders. The Camaldolese live the charism referred to as "triplex bonum" or "the triple good", namely, solitude, communion, and evangelization or martyrdom (witness!). Thus, their lives include each of these in a dynamic tension and they have both monasteries and hermitages as a result. Further, there is a strong component of hospitality involved here while monks will travel and sometimes live apart from the monastery/hermitage in order to accomplish a particular ministry. It is not only that some monks live in monasteries and some live in hermitages. Rather what is true in the Camaldolese life is that, again, each monk or nun lives the dynamic of a solitude rooted in community and issuing in ministry or witness in various ways. (The Monte Corona Camaldolese differ in that they only have hermitages, but I would suggest the same dynamic is present.)
|Dom Robert Hale, OSB Cam, assuming role as Prior|
St Peter Damian's life was also not stereotypically or even typically eremitical. He was engaged throughout his life with the reform of the Church and religious life. He was a Cardinal, papal legate, theologian, spiritual director, hermit, writer, etc. He carried on an extensive correspondence with many people to address the needs of his day and there is hardly a pressing topic he did not address with astuteness and flexibility. (His view of the laity, by the way, is also startlingly contemporary for he believed profoundly in the spiritual equality of all, eschewed notions of a spiritual elite, and would have rejoiced at Vatican II's proclamation of "the universal call to holiness" or the council's affirmation of the laity's right and even obligation to criticize the hierarchy [cf Letter 10 to Emperor Henry III].) He struggled with the question of vocation: "Should I be a hermit or a preacher?" His "starting point" regarding either vocation was the Scriptural imperative of extending Christ's salvation to others. Damian was particularly critical of a solitude focused only on saving oneself.
This led directly to the dynamic tension every Christian and certainly every Camaldolese and every diocesan hermit knows well: how do I honor my call to solitude and also carry out my Baptismal commission to proclaim the Gospel of Christ? As a symptom of this tension and much as Thomas Merton anguished nine centuries later, Peter Damian struggled with his vocation as a writer which, because it was so profoundly engaged with the Church and World on so many issues and levels seemed to threaten his life as hermit-monk; he once said (in a letter to the current Pope), "I would rather weep than write," and he was well aware that his own hermit and monastic life was not the norm. Even so, in the end we regard Peter Damian profoundly and sincerely as a hermit-monk for whom all else was an extension of that call.
So, to return more directly to your own questions, no I do not believe it is a conflict for me to also have a blog. I believe it reflects a well-established dynamic and imperative in the history of eremitical life, namely the dynamic of solitude-community-witness, and the imperative that one proclaims the Gospel so that others might be saved by God in Christ. I do try to make sure that I maintain what is called "custody of the cell" (where cell is both my hermitage, a life of essential solitude, and my own hermit heart). But to be very honest, like Peter Damian, I believe that if eremitical life is not generally constituted or profoundly informed by this dynamic in some substantial way, it ceases to be Christian. Remember that before I had read much about eremitical life, much less before I ever considered becoming a hermit, I thought that at best it was a selfish and wasteful way of life. I certainly could not regard it as truly Christian. It took some reading by hermits (not least, Thomas Merton) and of work on Camaldolese life to convince me otherwise. My reading (and living!!) has continued and I am more convinced than ever that authentic eremitical life involves the dynamic/tension mentioned above and embodied by the Camadolese as the charism or gift-quality defining their lives.
05 May 2013
|Image from Saturday Evening Post article|
One of the fine points Karen Fredette makes is that hermits are about doing ordinary things with an extraordinary motivation. I made a similar point used later in the article which, when taken with Karen's comment, suggests hermits experience this as the sustaining "glue" and heart of a vocation to contemplative life including eremitical solitude. It is certainly fundamental to Benedictinism and Camaldolese Benedictinism. I can't post the article here (I don't have a copy to do that with anyway) but I can reprise a post I put up here five years ago on living "an extraordinary ordinariness." Notes From Stillsong Hermitage: Essential Hiddenness and the Vocation to Extraordinary Ordinariness (05. June.2008) Too often people think of hermits or their essential hiddenness as abnormal. This blog post spoke to these things; for those who are coming to this blog because of the SEP article, Welcome! I think you will find this post is a good introduction to the heart of eremitical faitfulness.
On Essential Hiddenness and the Vocation to Extraordinary Ordinariness
Yes, it is very ordinary, and in fact, that is precisely its virtue. As I mentioned in my earlier post, the hermit is meant to witness to those whose lives are ordinary in ways which may cause them to question the meaning and value or significance of those lives. I have written about those in unusual circumstances (chronic illness, disability, etc) who are called upon to witness to the Gospel in vivid and poignant ways, but I have not really said much about those who work day in and day out at menial jobs and who see their lives as essentially meaningless or unimportant. I think the hermit can remind us each that every life, no matter how apparently unproductive or ordinary, is really (or is certainly meant to be!) part of a profound dynamic where the Kingdom of God comes to be realized more and more fully in our world. That happens, for the most part and for most persons, in the perseverance and day by day faithfulnesses exercised in ordinary life.
There is nothing spectacular or even very remarkable about the hermit's life in the ordinary sense of those words. It is very much a life of day to day faithfulness to the call of God and that call summons the hermit to prayer, work, study, and some degree of outreach or evangelization every day in a way which repeats again and again. No one much recognizes what happens here in the hermitage as special, and from one perspective, there is nothing special about it. It is completely ordinary whether one is writing an article, doing the laundry or cleaning the bathroom, praying Office, doing personal work, studying, or meeting with occasional direction clients. Even contemplative or quiet prayer is pretty ordinary stuff from one perspective. From another perspective, of course, it is all very special, because it is all done in and with God, and in order to foster the coming of his Kingdom. When the ordinary is undertaken with and in the grace or presence of God it always becomes extraordinary, and yet, no one is likely to see that really. When I wrote in my earlier response that even my telling you what I do during the day would leave the essential mystery of the life intact, that is what I meant.
The challenge to each of us is to undertake the ordinary in a way which is attentive and sensitive to the presence of God. It is the challenge to undertake these things with a care and even love which, through the grace of God, transforms them into something extraordinary. This is basic spirituality and it is this which the hermit's day to day life accepts and affirms as infinitely valuable. I can say without question that although I do not know how it happens, I know without a doubt that my life in this hermitage, my daily perseverance in cell, my faithfulness to prayer, work, study, and the ordinariness of life, allows for God's Kingdom to be more fully realized right here and right now. I know without question that Stillsong Hermitage is a small bit of leaven in the loaf that is my community and the world, and that it contributes to the transformation of that whole even though I may never really understand that or see it realized in my lifetime.
Personally, I believe that every person is challenged to embrace his or her life in this way, especially in its ordinariness. God transforms everything he is allowed to touch with his hallowing love, and our job is to let that happen in all the ways day to day living puts before us. If we can do that, and to the extent we do it, again, the ordinary will be transformed into something extraordinary because each task and moment becomes the occasion where God's grace is allowed to enter in and to triumph. That is the very essence of affirming the goodness and sacramental nature of all reality. So, in each and everything we undertake, we strive to be attentive, aware, care-full, loving, and (describing all of these together) truly present. Nothing in this life is really ordinary unless we allow it to remain that by foreclosing it to our own conscious presence and the effect of God's grace. On the other hand, the really extraordinary in our daily lives is likely to remain hidden from most people for the whole of our lives.
04 May 2013
[[ Dear Sister, in writing about the vocation to consecrated virginity one CV argued the following in order to establish the importance of physical virginity. [[Only a virgin can treasure her first experience with her spouse. A non-virgin or a reformed sinner who has regained spiritual virginity – although never second-class in God’s eyes , will never be able to receive that same gift . This could be the reason why Physical virginity is essential for the vocation of Consecrated virgins.]] You wrote that in the early church consecrated virginity was not only associated with physical intactness. Does [the above] argument make sense in light of that? ]]
Well, I do have problems with the quote you provided but it does not have to do with the felt need for physical virginity being required to become a CV per se --- at least not primarily. It has to do with the assertion that only a virgin can "treasure" her first experience with her spouse." In fact this is untrue when we are speaking of Christ as spouse. What is true is that a virgin who is physically virgin can only give herself to another human being (and receive their mutual gift of self) in this particular way "for the first time" once. But in this case we are speaking of the risen Christ; a person gives him or herself entirely to Christ, body and soul, heart, mind and spirit, as part of any consecration by God.
More, one wonders what can be meant by suggesting only a (physical) virgin can treasure her first experience with her spouse when that spouse is the Risen and ascended Christ? What "experience" is being referred to here? Is it the fresh wave of gratitude one feels for being called to serve in this way? After all there is NO competition for one's heart involved, no diminution in giving of self even if the person was married before. (Or are we truly supposed to think that Christ gives himself more fully or more intimately to a woman who is physically virgin than to one who has been married, for instance?) Neither is there a similar physical (or sexual) experience in such giving of self or receiving the Risen/Ascended Christ as spouse "for the first time" despite the erotic imagery some mystical experiences utilize. Despite the common language of betrothal or espousal there are serious qualitative differences between the gift of virginity (or the "experience" of Christ as spouse) in this situation and what occurs in a literal and temporal human marriage. But THIS espousal is an eschatological one; it occurs on a different level than human marriages. We must keep that qualitative distinction very much in mind or theologically we will be spouting romantic or sentimental nonsense which, beautiful as it initially sounds, can only serve to distort and disedify.
Consecration Always Involves the WHOLE Self:
Your related point therefore is a good and important one. The early Church did NOT require physical intactness in those she considered consecrated virgins (or "virgin martyrs") and she never spoke of these persons as though their experience of Christ was different or somehow less significant or total than those whose virginity was also physical. I do personally believe that requiring physical virginity today is an important part of the counter-cultural witness of this vocation, especially in a society like our own which often seems sex-saturated and capable only of trivializing sexual love.
Still, this qualitative difference is being obscured at points in what you have quoted. For instance, as you noted at another point in your email, the person you cited also wrote: [[The virgin’s body is constituted as sacred /set apart exclusively for Jesus Christ in His divinity and humanity as affirmed by the Fathers of the Church. It is a marriage covenant between Christ and the virgin and is essentially indissoluble and ordered to the spiritual growth of the Church in Christ’s salvific paschal mystery.]] To my mind this reference to the body being constituted as sacred and "set apart entirely for Jesus. . in his humanity," is really problematical not least because again, in any consecration (including the consecration of religious men, women and hermits) it is the WHOLE person who is set aside by God as sacred; there is no dividing body from soul. One could never say, for instance, that a CV's body is sacred while that of a religious (or anyone else for that matter) is not sacred or is less so. Further, one must never engage in the kind of dualism implied here by suggesting something other than the whole person is consecrated in ANY ecclesial profession and/or consecration. A related second problem then, namely, the narrowing of the transcendent and eschatological witness and meaning of espousal which occurs in such dualism, will be discussed below. First though we need to make a necessary detour to prepare the way.
Excursus: The Meaning of Being a "Sacred Person"
When we speak of a person becoming a sacred person we are speaking of their lives being made uniquely symbolic or sacramental of the grace (the sacred presence and power) of God. We are also speaking of their obligation to be such a sacramental sign or symbol in an exhaustive way. We are speaking of them being given to the purposes and Gospel of God in a similar way and serving as a paradigm of some dimension of the church and her relation to Christ for others and for the vocation to holiness to which all are called. In other words we are speaking of persons who have been commissioned to SERVE others in unique and visible ways. We are NOT speaking about someone being automatically made subjectively more holy than the next person or who should be treated as though their bodies are objectively more holy than the next person's. While growth in personal holiness (one certainly hopes) should and probably will come in time, and while the reception of God's consecration (God's setting apart in this way) always graces the recipient, being made objectively more holy than the next person is not what consecration or becoming a "sacred person" actually means.
Your question about the comments on the literal bodily/sexual virginity making sense in light of the early Church's use of the term "virginity" for a person who has given themselves entirely to Christ even if they have been married and borne children is also a very good one. The early practice of the Church helps us to avoid the kinds of dualism found in the quotes included here, especially that between body and spirit or soul. It certainly precludes an understanding of a consecrated virgin's experience of Christ's self gift (or his acceptance of her own self gift) as differing from another woman's if the CV, unlike this other woman, has never been married or is physically intact. Likewise the usage demands we be cautious about certain kinds of literalism What I mean here is that this practice of considering women like St Perpetua a "virgin martyr" and image of the consecrated virgin makes it clear that we are dealing with espousal on a whole different level than that of literal human marriage. Our language of espousal is being stretched here to speak to a transcendent and eschatological reality just as is the case in calling the Church the "bride of Christ."
Import of the Narrowing of the Original Meaning of Consecrated Virginity:
Today the Church requires the physical virginity of women being admitted to the consecration of virgins (except in cases of rape) and this makes sense, especially, as I already noted, in our sex-soaked-and-trivialized culture. The ability to make a life commitment (and to wait until one is ready to do this), to love another exhaustively in God is critically important to our world. So is responding to the call to give the whole of oneself (not just one's soul or one's body), to stand symbolically or sacramentally for a transcendent and eschatological reality which demands the whole of oneself while also promising complete fulfillment. The associated capacity and commission to remind all persons of their own vocations to a similar and exhaustive holiness is itself hugely important. But this contemporary requirement also represents a narrowing of the early Church's own usage and it has drawbacks and dangers for this reason.
For instance, it currently limits the consecration to women despite the fact that men were similarly consecrated in the early church (they were far fewer and were sometimes called ascetics but they existed nonetheless); it tends therefore to reinforce certain relationships in the church as feminine and certain roles as masculine despite Paul's theology in Galatians 3:26 and the praxis of the early church where both males and females were espoused to Christ and symbolize the whole church as bride. (The idea that a woman images the Church as Bride better than a man does is a serious theological misstep.) Further, to some extent it draws or tempts some to have their attention drawn away from the transcendent and eschatological nature of the espousal.
When this happens a body/soul dualism, an accent on physicality and gender, along with simplistic or this-worldly notions of marriage (for instance, speaking in ways which focus on a wedding to a temporally delimited Jesus as opposed to an eschatological espousal to a risen AND ascended or "cosmic" Christ) can supplant the notion of CV as paradigm of the universal call of the whole Church and a Kingdom in which no one will be given or taken in marriage. This, again, is a serious theological misstep and is the second problem I have with the focus of the comments you quoted on "marriage to Jesus in his humanity" and the virgin's "body being made sacred." Meanwhile, the Church has spoken seriously of reprising the vocation for men in some way and this could go a long way in undoing any untoward narrowing or attenuation of the eschatological nature of the vocation.
03 May 2013
From the Fort Mill Times
On July 27, 2012, Oakland’s Bishop Salvatore Cordileone was appointed Archbishop of San Francisco and was installed in that office on October 4, 2012. At that time Pope Benedict appointed retired Archbishop Alex Brunett to act as Apostolic Administrator in Oakland, to manage day-to-day business of the Diocese until a new bishop was named.
Archbishop Brunett will introduce Fr. Barber at a news conference on Friday, May 3, at 10AM at the Cathedral of Christ the Light. Media should enter through the main conference center entrance at 2121 Harrison Street, Oakland.
Fr. Barber was born in 1954 in Salt Lake City, where his parents were on temporary assignment with the company his father worked for. He has deep roots in the Bay Area, where his parents were born and where he was raised. He entered the seminary of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in 1973, received his undergraduate degree at Gonzaga University and his graduate degrees in theology at Regis College and the Gregorian University in Rome.
After being ordained a priest in San Francisco in 1985, Fr. Barber continued his studies in Rome and at Oxford University. In 1991 he became a commissioned officer in the United States Naval Reserve and achieved the rank of Captain in 2012. He has served as Group Chaplain for the Marine Aircraft Group, as Deputy Division Chaplain for the 4th Marine Division and Deputy Force Chaplain for Reserve Affairs for Marine Forces Pacific, among many other assignments.
Locally Fr. Barber has been Director of the School of Pastoral Leadership in the Archdiocese of San Francisco. From 2002-10 he taught at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park and was Director of Spiritual Formation there. Presently he is Director of Spiritual Formation at St. John’s Seminary in the Archdiocese of Boston.
(Insert) In an interview given for Legatus a while back, Fr Barber responded:
You are also a Navy chaplain.
Diocese of Oakland (Back to original article)
As Bishop of Oakland, Fr. Barber will be the chief shepherd for over 550,000 Catholics who reside in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. The Diocese of Oakland was created in 1962 and is comprised of 84 parishes within those counties. The First Bishop of Oakland was the Most Reverend Floyd Begin who served from 1962 until his death in 1977. He was succeeded by Bishop John Cummins who retired in 2003. Archbishop Allen Vigneron and then Salvatore Cordileone were the Third and Fourth Bishops of the Diocese.
30 April 2013
Becoming a Hermit in the silence of solitude: Living the mystery of God's Good Time and God's own Purposes
[[Dear Sister O'Neal, if a diocese is unwilling to form me as a hermit, then why should I try living in solitude on my own? I read your post about dioceses not forming hermits after I spoke with them but it seems pretty unreasonable of them to expect me to just go off on my own and live as a hermit if there is no insurance that they will profess me in a couple of years. I mean c'mon, when one enters a religious community one looks forward to becoming a novice and then to profession. That is just normal! It helps the person get through formation. No one expects someone to give up three or more years without some assurance that they will be professed. Why can't a diocese set up a similar program for those desiring to become diocesan hermits?]]
At the risk of sounding offensive I need to ask you if this is a joke or if you are really my best friend from college (or maybe my pastor!) putting me on! You actually sound like you have read many of the posts from this blog and identified many of the issues in contemporary eremitism geared to irritate me --- many, that is, of the issues regarding solitary eremitical life I have demonstrated feeling strongly about in the past several years. Perhaps the only ones you didn't explicitly mention are the ideas of having someone else write your Rule for you, the eremitical life as one of misanthropy and isolation, or planning on going off and establishing a community as soon as you are professed under c 603!!
Venting and Temporizing:
Assuming though that you are serious in your questions, it really simply does not make sense that you are contacting your diocese to ask them to form you as a hermit if you do not feel called to live in solitude on your own. You see, hermits are formed in solitude --- and ordinarily in a number of years of solitude rather than the time frame you have spoken of! If you are not already living this life, at least in some rudimentary way, and doing so in a way which attests to its place in making you whole and holy, one wonders how is your diocese supposed to discern a vocation to solitude? Despite the fact that you have read what I have written on the diocese not forming hermits I think you still have the cart before the horse, and yet misunderstand the nature of eremitical formation.
The questions any diocese will ask you or look for signs of the answers to right from the beginning are "are you a hermit in any essential sense or are you just a dilettante or merely curious about it? Do you sincerely think God is calling you to live and eremitical life (and why is that) or is this really just a way to get professed only because other avenues are not open to you, for instance?" (Remember that if other avenues are closed to you this can still occasionally mature into a true call to eremitical life.) "Most importantly, can and will you follow this call whether or not your diocese decides to profess you in the future?" If your answers to all of these are yes, then perhaps your diocese will (or at least should) be open to professing you one day. However, if you answered no to any of these questions (or admitted this was perhaps only a stopgap way of getting professed) the chances of your having a vocation to eremitical life drop quite significantly. Again, this is because hermits hear, respond to God's call, and are thus formed in solitude; this whole process is, more than anything else, a matter of the dialogue between the hermit and God in the silence of solitude. Nothing can substitute for this or replace it as primary. For this reason if you truly feel there is no reason to live in solitude unless there is some promise the diocese will profess you, then there is something really amiss here.
Since something about the vocation intrigued you enough to go to your diocese I can't say the chances of your having an eremitical vocation drops to zero but depending upon what intrigued you that still might be true. (For instance, if it was the garb, the title (Sister, Brother, etc), the right to reserve Eucharist in your own place, the idea of being a religious without the complexities, demands, and challenges of community life, or if you thought this was a cool way to watch TV (or paint or whatever) all day and not be thought a colossal layabout while people treated you with the deference given to Religious then the chances do hover at nil.)
On Stages in Religious Life and the Absence of Assurances:
Before I respond concerning the nature of eremitical life specifically, I guess I should also note that you are mistaken in your assumptions about those entering religious life. The majority of persons today do in fact live the life in initial formation for up to three years without ever being professed and without any assurance they will be professed, much less perpetually professed. Most leave before making first vows. Formation certainly does prepare a person for vows but it remains mainly a period of discernment as does the period of temporary profession (the period of up to six years in temporary vows). A congregation or an individual may well decide such a person does not have a call to religious life at any point along these nine years.
At each stage a person petitions the community to admit her to the next step: a postulant or candidate asks to be received into the community and begin a novitiate; a canonical or second year novice petitions to be admitted to first vows; these may be renewed in several different ways (for instance, yearly or every two or three years) and each renewal requires the Sister petition and receive the permission of the congregation; finally, after six years of temporary vows, this Sister petitions to be admitted to perpetual profession. Although as time goes on it becomes less likely a person will leave (or not be admitted to the next stage of commitment) I have known people to leave just before perpetual profession. Again, there are no assurances that if one puts in x time and jumps through y hoops one will be professed. A vocation is more than this. One risks the time and effort because one truly believes God is calling one to this. Meanwhile, in some ways formation is more akin to Michaelangelo's idea of freeing and bringing to clarity or articulateness the obscure form within the marble than it is about creating a vocation out of a shapeless lump of raw material.
The Eremitical Vocation is Truly Heard and Responded to in Solitude
With hermits the situation is even more complicated or hard to reduce to a single program or time frame. Solitude itself can be temporary, transitional, maladaptive, or even dysfunctional and situations where any of these are the case do not equate to a call to live one's life as a hermit. Being a lone individual and somewhat pious, or even very pious, is also not the same as being a hermit or being called to be one. (cf. Notes From Stillsong Hermitage: Hermits as Desert Dwellers) Nor is merely needing some peace and quiet to do one's own intellectual or artistic work --- though true hermits tend to do both as part of their vocations. All of this takes varying amounts of time to discern. Presuming a true call to a life of solitude (what I qualify as "eremitical solitude"), even if a diocese sets up guidelines for all of its own diocesan hermits the individual hermit in this local church will live out her vocation with reasonable flexibility and creativity.
She responds to a call which is altogether individual and the Rule she writes, even when taking account of diocesan guidelines, will reflect this. Because the eremitical vocation is so truly individual I don't think any "program" of formation can be set up which specifies exact time frames or stages. Once a person has become a hermit in some essential or fundamental sense rather than being merely a lone or isolated individual (and, again, this happens in solitude), a diocese might well determine a general set of parameters for temporary profession prior to perpetual profession (3-5 years is not unusual, and this is often preceded by another period of at least five years without public vows), but otherwise, set periods really don't work too well.
The Eremitical Paradox: Only in God's Good Time and at God's Pleasure
Additionally, the eremitical vocation, especially the solitary eremitical vocation lived under canon 603, requires the individual's ability to respond to God on a day by day basis. She really must have a strong sense of initiative and be able to act, grow, and mature in all the ways anyone must, but with much less supervision or ability to check in with folks for immediate feedback, etc. Beyond this she must have a sense of the gift-quality of her life whether or not the Church ever admits to canonical standing or not.
It is only in light of such a sense of the value of her life to God and a world that is largely oblivious to her that she will be able to persevere in solitude. (That the world is largely oblivious, and that the church too may be oblivious in this case or that, is part of the essential hiddenness of the eremitical vocation.) It is true that canonical standing affirms this value and that it is helpful in this task of persevering, but my own experience says that the proven capacity to persevere in the silence of solitude apart from and prior to admission to public vows is essential to the vocation. (And here an aspect of the silence of solitude is the absence of external verification or affirmation of value.) The somewhat difficult paradox operating here is that one must demonstrate to the diocese that one is committed and able to live this vocation without canonical standing and the relationships that come with this before one can show them one actually requires canonical standing and the relationships which are part of such standing.
This last piece of things is one of the more important reasons a diocese cannot set up a formation program for diocesan hermits. The competence, available time, resources, willingness, etc of the diocesan personnel notwithstanding, a diocese can only recognize a vocation that stands in front of them; such vocations are formed in solitude and will persevere in solitude even without canonical standing or they are likely not authentic eremitical vocations. Once the vocation is truly discerned --- and this means once a person has responded to God's call in and to the silence of solitude and established a life characterized by this same charisma (gift) --- she (and the church as a whole) may find there are good reasons for public profession and canonical standing (not least that this gift c 603 calls "the silence of solitude" needs to be brought more consciously and mutually into the heart of the church). However, in my opinion this direction cannot really be reversed. The Church (meaning here a diocese's chancery and formation personnel) does not form hermits. Only God in solitude does that and this only in God's good time and according to God's own purposes and pleasure. This is an essential part of the vocation and a central piece of what the hermit witnesses to with her life.
Looking at the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard from a new Perspective:
This asks that we see the parable of the laborers in the vineyard from a different perspective than usual -- from the perspective of those who were only hired quite late in the day. We hermits usually come to this vocation late in life or at least in the latter half of life. Sometimes we come to this vocation via years of chronic illness and often we have to wait long years for the Church to admit us to public profession (if that happens at all). There can be a sense that time is being wasted, that a life is being lost and opportunities for formation and ministry are tragically being missed; it may even seem that we are hanging about town waiting for an opportunity to be put to good use and that in the end our lives will return void to the God who created and sent us into the world. But the truth is quite different and is symbolized by the fact that in the parable all laborers are given the same wage (are valued the same).
At the same time we find that the laborers who came late to work in the vineyards had learned to wait on the Lord. Their own sense of poverty was profoundly honed during this time of waiting and they are open to God calling them and gifting them in whatever way God proposes. They are a countercultural witness because they have become someone very different in all of this than they might have been otherwise. But one comes to find it has all been done according to God's own time and purposes, that God has brought great good out of all this seeming emptiness and waste and the result is God's own gift to Church and World. Those proposing they be admitted to public profession as diocesan hermits need to have acquired a sense of all of this apart from canonical profession. I think it is the way to the essential formation of the hermit heart and can only come in the silence of solitude where one learns to wait on the Lord in radical poverty and dependence.
(Also cf: Notes From Stillsong Hermitage: Hermits as Desert Wanderers and Dwellers)
28 April 2013
Many thanks for those persons who responded to my request for feedback on the issue of hermits and vacations or home visits. I received a number of replies from both hermits and non-hermits. They pushed my thought in directions it had not gone with fresh insights and I am very grateful.
The questions I asked in Notes From Stillsong Hermitage: Hermits and Vacations were "What images comes to you when you hear "a hermit takes five days away from hermitage" or some combination of the words "hermit" and "vacation" or hermit and "home visit"? Why is it such an oxymoron or such a passion-stirring thing do you think?"
Introduction to the Comments:
All of the responses I got referred in some sense to treating hermits (or Religious more generally) as different than the rest of humanity. (Stereotypes are part of this as is the notion of "higher" and lower vocations.) This difference has (as reflected in these comments) two general effects: 1) it causes people to think of Religious as living a higher life, and therefore paying a higher price for it (home visits or time with a friend is part of the price), and 2) it allows those who are not called to Religious or eremitical life to feel exempted from making the WHOLE of their own lives one of prayer and holiness. If we can compartmentalize God's calls and say that some are higher than others, we can also compartmentalize God's call in our own lives and leave some parts of those lives untouched by the demands of prayer and holiness. To put it another way, if we can put hermits and religious up on pedestals, then we (who do not live on pedestals) can live free of the higher demands associated with that life ourselves.
Thus, when a hermit says she takes vacation time or time away from the hermitage with a friend, the "boundaries" between the hermit life and normal everyday life "are breached" some. Folks used to compartmentalizing their spirituality from the rest of their lives are challenged at a very profound level; if we have to admit that the hermit needs time for some relaxation and that this too is called to be part of a life given over entirely to God in prayer, then we also will have to admit that perhaps we are more like them and we too are called to a LIFE which is prayerful or a life which is prayed no matter where or who we are. In other words we are invested in hermits being completely different than we are and when this proves untrue the demands on us for integrated lives seeking true holiness are less easy to avoid or categorize as belonging to "others."
One set of comments spoke beautifully of the difficulty human beings have in harmonizing work and relaxation and noted that many no longer see relaxation as necessary to living a fully human life. His comments drew on the Benedictine monastic life and the balance built into Benedictine lives. Another person (a lay hermit) spoke of the difficulty of lay folks relaxing or taking full vacations themselves today which can lead to resentment, etc. Two people spoke of jealousy and resentment (which again related to "having a higher vocation"), and one person spoke of hermits "having their cake and eating it too." Here are some of those comments which have been cut because of length:
Some of the Comments Submitted
(From a hermit-monk in France) [[Firstly, some of these reactions may be explained, I think, by the incredibly "romantic" conception many people have - at least in my experience - of hermits. One of my confrères, who is also a hermit and who leads an extremely austere existence in the south of France, was more or less rebuked once by a visitor for living in a house of stone, instead of a cave! Well, at least *he* has a long beard, which I do not - thus causing disappointment to more than one person who comes to see me... It is obvious that a relaxing hermit is completely incompatible with these people's mental images of the eremitical life.
[[I think people have in mind Hollywood versions of the lives of the saints and monks in European Abbeys of the Middle Ages where the inhabitants were miserable folks doing horrible penances and did not enjoy life at all and tried desperately not to. That at least is my take on it and I could be wrong.
The perception of religious life in general is one that makes [people uneasy] because their lives [the lives of religious] are perceived to be so different and so austere that to even see a religious wearing a habit makes them [most people] nervous by calling their own state in life into question. Then too, they [non-religious] may feel as if they will be condemned when they die for having sinned so grievously as they think they have. They don't see religious as anyone who has a right to vacations or any of the pleasures that they take for granted, and that religious are supposed to be super-humans.
. . . There should be nothing strange about a religious having a vacation. But from my reading, Americans will forego a full vacation for fear of losing their jobs or displeasing the corporation they work for, and they probably think that a religious or a hermit in particular are not in the same category and are not entitled to or allowed a vacation or family visit.]]
Again, my thanks to those who contributed their thoughts on this. I was totally unaware that some are afraid to take vacations for fear of losing their jobs, but the inability to actually relax or to live the balanced life of a monastic is something our workaholic world reflects all the time (as does a world where the poor cannot take time for vacations and lack the money to do so; too many of the working poor have several jobs and have neither time nor money for adequate relaxation on a daily or weekly basis).
By the way, this helps clarify for me why some folks believe hermits taking a vacation is a kind of oxymoron. Fr B above spoke of it as being seen as a temporary interruption of "ordinary life. If that is the way folks see vacations, rather than as a normal part of ordinary life, and if they have the sense that contemplative life is, by its very nature, a balanced life of work and leisure, then time off and away from the regular horarium, etc might well seems like adding leisure to leisure. One solution is to point to the intensity of the contemplative life as well as to the tedium of aspects of the monastic or eremitical horarium , etc, and I have referred to things in this way in the past. Another, however, is to point to the need for time away, time for new and recreative relationships and activities in every life (including prayer in new contexts and forms), whether contemplative or apostolic/active, cenobitical or eremitical. I have done this in the past in writing about the need for friendships in the eremitical life but the comments others sent in have underscored this for me as has renewed reflection on the multi-faceted nature of Jesus' own life.