23 July 2024

A Contemplative Moment: The Dual Context of Eremitical Life

A hermit's life, therefore, moves between two poles of reference: the church and the world. The Church is the maternal womb which generates the specific vocation. She is also the vital context in which the vocation flourishes and is realized with authenticity and fullness. The second pole is the world. Hermits separate themselves from the world by choosing to live in the margins of society. The church and the world are the contexts that preserve the hermit from individualism. This establishes them as sentinels of hope advxancing "down the paths of time with eyes fixed on the future restoration of all things in Christ." (John Paul II, Post Synodal Ap. Es. Vita Consecrata (25 March 1996), 59) Thus, hermits are aware that the present and eternity no longer follow one upon the other but are intimately connected.

Ponam in Deserto Viam, 
The Hermit's Way of Life in the Local Church
Guidelines #13

Sources of Definitions in Living Eremitical Life

[[Hi Sister, where do definitions come from in living eremitical life? When I read some words or look them up in the dictionary I am surprised that you don't seem to use the words in the exact sense the dictionary provides. Why is that? I am sure that some say that you are making things up or setting precedents or things like that, but is that the truth? Where do definitions come from? Thanks!]]

What a really terrific question, and one that applies to more than eremitical life! In some ways, I can answer it and in other ways, I will find it difficult to answer simply. So let me give it a shot. 

I think I should comment on the nature of dictionary definitions first of all. When you or I use a general dictionary to find out the meaning(s) of a word, it is important to remember that the meanings provided are descriptive. That is, general dictionaries describe the way most people use the term at a certain time in history. If we want to use the term in the way most folks will understand it, we will adopt the dictionary meaning, at least as a starting point. This basic meaning provides a kind of doorway or means of entrance into understanding the multifaceted way this term with all of its depths and nuances applies in our world. Remember, we live reality not words. Words are attempts to name or otherwise articulate our experiences of reality. The meaning provided is not necessarily the whole and complete meaning of the term, nor are general dictionaries prescriptive of the word's sense --- meaning they do not prescribe in a constraining way how a word must be used. Understanding words means learning to apply and reapply them as we evaluate and re-evaluate the sense we began with in light of broader and deeper experiences. This is the way we grow in genuine understanding and expertise.

To see good examples of the point about general dictionaries not being prescriptive above, check out some really important religious words and look them up in a general dictionary. For instance, look up God or humility. When you look up God you might find "the supreme being" as a definition, for example. Again, that's a starting place, but if you speak with a Christian theologian you are apt to find them speaking against this definition as inaccurate and pastorally questionable. They will see it as limiting and denigrating God's transcendence. God is not A being, not even the highest or most supreme being. God is being itself and the ground and source of all else that "exists" = stands up (-istere) out of (-ex) being, but he is not A being among other beings. Or consider the dictionary definition of humility. It sometimes includes, " having a low self-regard or sense of unworthiness." But common as this is, Christian spirituality defines humility as a form of loving truthfulness regarding who one is in light of God's love. If one is important in some way, then humility itself will imply being honest about that. In these examples, the dictionary meaning leads us astray if we really want to understand the meaning of either term.

We begin with a dictionary definition (as we might as an elementary school student) and then we add experience, both our own and that of those whose study and expertise is greater than our own. Eventually, as we live our lives we observe and reflect on reality. All of this will affect the way we understand and use language. So, for instance, I might have read the definition of "hermit" in the fourth grade and discovered the dictionary definition: a person who lives in seclusion. If I then look up "seclusion," I find that according to the dictionary, it means "the state of being private and away from people." Only later after study and experience do I come to understand a hermit is a desert dweller, or that the desert is understood as a place of significant dependence and encounter with God and with the demonic. In the same way, let's say I learn that a better word than seclusion is solitude and that for Christian hermits this solitude is not absolute but qualified. It is rather about being alone with God. At some point, I might also learn that a key value of eremitical life is hospitality or that despite the fourth-grade definition I learned, the Catholic Church has a public eremitical vocation that is consecrated and commissioned for the sake of the entire Church and world. You can see how the terms change meanings or at least are increasingly nuanced through all of this.

With experience of solitude in several contexts, and greater reflection on those experiences (say, some years living as a hermit or a contemplative nun), I might come to understand that solitude is very different than isolation; beyond that, I might compare the two experiences and conclude that solitude is the redemption of isolation. I might discover that when God loves us our isolation is redeemed and we discover the reality of solitude. As I share my experience with others, including other hermits, spiritual directors, religious, theologians, and scholars, we may draw further conclusions about what is a very basic vocabulary for each of us. Sometimes these conversations will call us back to the most fundamental meanings of the words or realities we are discussing, and sometimes they will expand these meanings --- as happens when silence and solitude are combined in the new term, "the silence of solitude." What is critical is that in the language that defines our lives and about which we care very much, we do not stop listening, learning, or reflecting -- not just about single words but about the life vision or project they are meant to help us understand.

When you ask where meanings come from then, I would say experience (lots more needs to be said about this), consultation (including with other hermits and religious), education, prayer, and other reflection.  Most particularly I spend a lot of time with c 603, histories of anchorites and hermits, and notions of the various central elements of canon 603 as they are lived by others the Church recognizes as hermits. I also listen to other religious who live and reflect on significant degrees of silence, solitude, assiduous prayer and penance, the evangelical counsels, stricter separation from the world, the ministry of authority, spiritual direction, the relation of solitude to communion, etc. I pay attention to what is healthy and appropriately challenging for me in living these various values, and, therefore, what they ask for from me particularly when they are combined in a recognizable lifestyle I am commissioned to live faithfully. 

It is this lifestyle I try to express in and live according to a Rule of Life that has been examined by Bishops, canon lawyers, other monastics, spiritual directors, and delegates, and approved as potentially helpful in living eremitical life. Over time, I will continue to learn more and more about desert living and the life characterized by the silence of solitude, particularly in the 21st Century. At the same time, my vocabulary will grow deeper, more nuanced, and better capable of describing my experience and understanding. Sometimes this means I will reject the initial or common sense meaning of terms I use; most times it will simply demonstrate the paucity of the original meaning and underscore its place as a starting point and continuing touchstone for meaningful exploration.

22 July 2024

Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene

While I first published this piece in 2016, it remains appropriate, not merely for today's Gospel, but because our Church is still struggling (or refusing to struggle) with the importance of allowing women's voices to be heard as those capable of proclaiming the Gospel with power and sensitivity to the needs of all. It is genuinely great that Pope Francis preached recently on the importance of hearing women's voices and allowing them positions of real authority in the church.

But Jesus went further still. He called Mary by name and sent her out (the root of the word apostle) to proclaim his resurrection to the male apostles. I think we must never forget that the first proclamation of the Risen Christ was a woman's message, rooted in the intimacy of a friendship that spanned Jesus' entire adult life, and proclaimed at the very heart of the Church.

                                    * * * * *

(First published 22. July. 2016) 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 Pope 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 which was originally about 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 --- when read without sensitivity to historical context --- has been tamed to make it say instead that contemplative life was the greater good or vocation than active or ministerial life; still, once the stone has been rolled away as it is in today's Gospel, and we are able to hear the radicality of the good news and the call to apostleship, 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 Magdalene 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 women), a critical look at the way the early church esteemed and ministered WITH women and not merely to them --- 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 is based everything else Christians say and do. 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 cultural 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 including ordained (diaconal) ministry. The Preface is as striking. It reads:

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 that she sought him in the dangerous and ritually unacceptable place while 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 (and even his cosmic quality), 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 of and 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 2024

On Supervision of c 603 by Bishops, Eremitical Hiddenness, and Calls for Anonymity

[[ Hi Sister, were you aware that because of the Brother Christian Matson situation, someone is now putting up videos saying that bishops do not have the time or the understanding to supervise diocesan hermits and canon 603 should be "tabled until the bugs can be worked out?" You have raised some similar concerns, haven't you? If canon 603 requires diocesan hermits to be under the supervision or direction of their bishop, and bishops are so busy, how does such a one direct a hermit? I guess the video I saw made me wonder if c 603 is even possible for bishops to fulfill? Also, aren't hermits to remain hidden and anonymous?]]

Hi there and thanks for your questions. Yes, I am generally aware of the situation. It is not a new criticism. Thanks for making contact, however. Please read some of what I have already written about delegates as those posts will fill out what I will say here. The Lexington, KY situation indeed demonstrates how little some bishops and many canonists as well (!) understand the c 603 life --- at least before they have to deal with candidates for c 603 profession. Even more importantly though, it demonstrates how little they regard this vocation, the centuries and history it took for c 603 to be created and promulgated, or the time and effort many dioceses have spent in trying to implement the canon wisely and faithfully. In particular, as I have written before, bishops' lack of understanding of the charism or gift-quality of this vocation is at the heart of any disregard for or misuse of it shown not only by Bp Stowe but also by others in the past (cf., Archdiocese of Boston, Archdiocese of Denver, et al.).  Thus, it might be helpful to you to read more recent posts on charism as well.

I have written about some of what you raise in your questions and agree to some degree, yes, but contrary to what the video you reference apparently asserts, canon 603's terms do not necessarily mean that ongoing supervision by a bishop cannot use intermediaries to assist him in this; often, humility and true regard for the vocation, in fact, seem to call for such "delegation"! As I wrote recently, and have written before, in @2006 my own diocese (Oakland, then-Vicars for Religious, Revs. Raymond Breton and Robert Herbst, OFM Conv.) asked me to choose someone who would act as a delegate for myself and the diocese. That person was meant to be able to meet with me as needed and contact the bishop in the same way. (In my experience the Bishop can and does also contact the delegate if he wants to communicate something to me.) At the same time, the hermit is usually going to meet annually with the bishop himself (more frequently if there is a need) so the two things together seem to be sufficient for intelligent supervision or direction (not spiritual direction!). Others have found this to be true as well. Supervision can therefore mean, "done with the assistance of competent professionals", and of course, because Bishops are so busy and oftentimes, themselves are not expert in formation or spiritual direction, that is precisely the model dioceses generally use. It means that the Bishop's role in directing c 603 vocations is more than possible, though it ordinarily requires the assistance of others with appropriate expertise and an openness to learning.

Adding to this Model today:

Today, we are adding to this model, the model used by the Desert Fathers and Mothers, namely, the addition of mentorship with already well-established and experienced diocesan hermits. This is the suggestion included in Ponam in Deserto Viam. In particular, this mentorship can be very effective in assisting with discernment and the initial formation of candidates. In the model I have been working on, a competent c 603 hermit works with a small diocesan team to assist in the discernment and formation of these vocations. The initial contact is ordinarily made by the candidate or their Vicar for Religious and the c 603 hermit discerns whether or not they can work with the diocese in this regard. If they can, they will accompany the candidate in assisting them to write a liveable Rule of Life. At the same time, they will be available to the diocesan team or chancery staff to educate them on the nature of c 603 and the life it describes and governs.

For ongoing post-profession supervision, the person selected need not be a c 603 hermit or a hermit at all. Still, for the period of initial formation, it is important that the diocese at least look to a diocesan hermit as a resource for the diocese and hermit candidate. Canonical hermits from other traditions (Camaldolese, Carmelite, Benedictine, etc) can also work here, though it seems to me they need to be in touch with a c 603 hermit to help with dimensions of discernment, formation, and diocesan education (education of those who will be responsible for admitting this person and those who come after them to profession and consecration) that are unique to c 603 life itself.  For instance, the vow of poverty will likely need to shift from the way it looks in community, establishing oneself in a parish and finding resources for daily living will also differ to some extent. The major temptations, stresses, transitions, and challenges of c 603 life may also be best understood by another c 603 hermit.

Remember, all of this is not about "working the bugs out," so to speak. C 603 represents a vision of solitary eremitical life that names the essential elements of any authentic eremitical life. There is a learning curve in determining how to implement it intelligently and faithfully, particularly in a world where silence is rare and individualism and isolation have generally supplanted real solitude. Add to that a tendency in the Church to not truly understand or appreciate contemplative life itself while it stresses active ministry, and eremitism seems to be an anachronistic way of living with little relevance to the contemporary church or world. In light of all of this, the learning curve can be steep. That does not mean the canon has "bugs", as you quote. Rather, it is another indication that the Fathers of the church who composed c 603 wrote better than many have seen. Eremitism is a countercultural vocation. That implementing it takes time, experimentation (which includes mistakes), and creative input from the whole church, including those living eremitical life in all its forms, shouldn't be surprising. 

Hiddenness and Anonymity:

You ask about hermits remaining hidden and anonymous. Let me be clear, hiddenness is not mentioned in c 603, the normative legislative text defining this form of life for the Church. It is part of a descriptive (rather than legislative) section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and refers to a major dimension of the heart of the hermit's life with and in Christ. I have written here a number of times regarding hiddenness including my sense that it is a derivative characteristic and also that it has more to do with one's life and ministry being hidden in Christ rather than open as it is in apostolic ministry so I would invite you to check these posts out. As far as anonymity goes, that is neither required nor even necessarily a value of c 603 life. Remember that c 603 defines and governs a public vocation with public rights and obligations. If one wishes to remain anonymous for some good reason (say for safety's sake), one is still responsible for at least making clear in what diocese one was professed and remains in good standing. (One's bona fides must be made known to whatever extent one claims to be a Catholic hermit living eremitical life in the Church's name.) 

If one refuses to do this much, or truly cannot for safety's sake, for example, then I would argue one should not be doing other activities in public either (including online videos). This is particularly true so long as one represents oneself as a Catholic hermit, diocesan hermit, consecrated hermit, consecrated religious, and the like. All of these are public and ecclesial vocations entered with public profession. They all imply both a specific content, along with ecclesial "vetting" and the right to minister in specified ways in the name of the church. The people to whom one ministers (i.e., speaks, writes, teaches, opines, preaches, etc.) have a right to know with what authority (generally speaking) this occurs, and thus too, to what extent (again, generally speaking) one can be trusted with the precious dimensions and vulnerabilities of one's life.

19 July 2024

Miscellaneous on Community, Technology, and the Paradox of Eremitical Solitude

 I wrote recently that one of the conceptions of eremitical life I have found in some is both limited and one-dimensional. That view of eremitism focused on the aloneness of the hermit with no room for lauras, community (including parish) support, and so forth. In this person's view, to be a true hermit, one had to be entirely alone so if two hermits shared a large house where they mainly each did their own thing alone and drove to Mass together, or ate a meal together once or twice a week, or even came together once or twice a day to pray some hour of the Divine Office, for example, that could not be considered eremitical solitude and the two persons would not be true hermits.  Even the Carthusians were not considered, "true hermits," but rather "quasi hermits" --- "that is, apparent, but not real hermits." Imagine calling the Carthusians "quasi hermits" rather than considering that perhaps eremitical solitude, while defined in terms of physical aloneness, is a richer reality than one has thought! 

At the same time, from several different sources recently I have seen a richer, often paradoxical sense of genuine eremitism, and particularly eremitical solitude. These sources include the Carmelites whose Feast day was this week, especially the writings of Ruth Burrows in Carmel and The Essence of Prayer, but also the lived example of the Carmel of Reno which has fully embraced technology to work with Carmelites from around the world and produce Nada Te Turbe; it includes a book a couple of us are using to help with the discernment and formation process of another new diocesan hermit: Solitude and Communion ed A. M. Allchin,  the spirituality of the Camaldolese who speak of living alone togetherThe Privilege of Love, and the work of Cornelius Wencel, Er Cam in, The Eremitic Life. In each and all of these sources, solitude is a covenantal reality that both implies and empowers community. Eremitical solitude that did not do this in some real sense within a Christian context would more rightly be termed isolation.

The Varying Shapes of the Silence of Solitude:

Canon 603 hermits are bound to live what the canon and Carthusian tradition calls, the silence of solitude. it is therefore critically important that the candidate for profession under c 603 understands what this term means, not only in its most obvious and superficial sense but in its more profound and richer constellation of senses.  At its most fundamental, solitude means being alone with, in, and for God. Eremitical life defines itself in terms of this dynamic. The silence of that solitude means, first of all, the relative (not absolute) absence of external noise or sound. As we progress to deeper senses of the term we begin to see that these forms of silence imply as goal, an inner state of quies constituted and occasioned by love, resulting in personal healing, and sanctification. At this deeper level we meet significant paradoxes. The hermit involved is made a divinely inspired word event and the silence of solitude can take the form of song, prayer, praise, silence, struggle, tears (all sorts), laughter, grief, and joy, for instance.

As the silence of this "silence of solitude" changes and reveals itself in various forms, so too does the solitude at its heart. Because it begins not merely with being alone, but in being alone with God, and more, because human beings are only fully persons and fully personal to the extent they are interpersonal or related beings, so too is the solitude the hermit pursues a matter of communion and community. Still, it is a paradoxical form of these so that eremitical solitude implies not merely being alone, but being alone in and with, or, as Camaldolese like to say, "being alone together." Sometimes this being alone together involves the communion constituted by prayer, particularly in its intercessory form. Most times it involves the deep awareness we have of those who have supported and loved us throughout our lives, all those without whom we could not be the persons God has called us to be. Often it involves us in the communion of author to reader (as in lectio), or the communion of all believers (as in liturgy), but always it is a mediated reality through God who is the ground and source of all creation.

The Place of Technology and Communion in Solitude:

One of the ways this communion-in-solitude or solitude-as-communion is intensified and made more concrete is through the use of technology.  Here the paradox of being alone and in relation with or to others is incarnated via ZOOM, Google Hangouts, Skype, etc. We saw this, especially in the virtual choir project undertaken by the Carmelites throughout the world. Think of all the individual thumbnail pictures of solitary Sisters singing their own parts alone into a microphone and computer with the whole world of other Carmelites in mind and the potential for a communal project that eventuates in the virtual choir of Nada Te Turbe. Beyond revealing a deep interconnectedness between Carmels and many individual Sisters, this technologically-accomplished project also created even deeper, broader, and more intense communion (community) with a broader audience --- and in ways that did not threaten but heightened solitude at the same time.

People already present to us in our hearts and minds assume a new kind of presence via computer. In one sense we could say we were alone before the computer session and during it we are no longer alone, but in another sense, we can say we were alone in both situations and in either we were also with someone though in different modes. One non-canonical hermit I am aware of speaks of the authors of the books she reads as "friends". While some might scoff and contend this is some sort of psychological defense against serious loneliness or isolation, I think the truth may and certainly can also cut in a different direction, namely, towards an indispensable and more generous sense of presence and interrelatedness. Meanwhile, some authors approach this from the opposite direction and speak of their readers bringing an indefinable something to them in the reading of their works. (I read this this week as well, but can't remember quite where!) Again, appreciating this assertion will require a more generous sense of presence and interrelatedness or communion as integral to even eremitical solitude.

Peter Damian's Dominus Vobiscum

Dom Andre Louf, exploring Peter Damian's famous letter (Dominus Vobiscum) in the paper "Solitudo Pluralis" (Solitude and Communion, Papers on the Hermit Life, ed A.M. Allchin) writes about the "community implications of a Christian vocation to solitude," --- the more generous sense of presence and interrelatedness or communion described above. A hermit had written St Peter Damian with the question, "Does a hermit celebrating the Office in solitude have a right to pronounce, Dominus Vobiscum, 'The Lord be with you,' or not? If he has that right, then why is that so?" Peter Damian's answer was straightforward: not only can the hermit pray in this way, but s/he must do so and for two reasons. First, because the words are obligatory, and second, because they express a deep truth of the hermit's life: even when alone the solitary is never truly alone. [[By the adhesive of love (caritatis glutinum), the solitary is united with all his brothers and sisters; he is always with others, his solitude is in some way necessarily corporate.]] (Allchin, 17) 

Thus too, in prayer, a strictly solitary action is no longer possible. (Louf/DamianWhat the solitary celebrates alone has repercussions for the entire church. Indeed, it is all of this that causes Peter Damian to call the hermit a "little church!" Damian further explains that whatever is done by any single or individual member of the faithful should be regarded as being done by the whole church joined together in the unity of faith. (By the way, when I write here about the ecclesial vocation of the canonical hermit, or speak of the hermit revealing the church's heart to herself, this is one of the characteristics implied with the word ecclesial only now associated with the idea of normativity and commissioning by the church. Because the c 603 vocation is canonical (normative) it represents the entire church in a normative way and the gift the hermit is and strives to be to the church. It is what the Church specifically commissions such a hermit to be and looks to in a normative way. This is the specifically authorized way of being a solitary hermit that the Church describes as "living an eremitical life in the name of the Church.")

Once again, Solitude vs Isolation:

All of this underscores why I found a particular notion of eremitical life to be limited and one-dimensional this last week, and also part of the reason I am really sensitive to folks who suggest eremitical solitude is another term for isolation, or who have no tolerance for hermits who live in a lavra, or who call Carthusians "quasi hermits," and the like; (Carthusians are true hermits, and the context within which they live eremitism is communal. Thus the term used for them is semi-eremitical). The history of authentic eremitism in the Church has always had a communal dimension to it. Whenever it is healthy it always will.  The Camaldolese, Carmelites, Carthusians, Franciscans  Benedictines, and many others know this and have known it --- sometimes for centuries. Hundreds of c 603 hermits have known and modeled it over the past 4 decades. What every Catholic hermit says with his/her life is that eremitical solitude is a form of covenantal reality that represents the redemption of isolation, while isolation can and often does represent a degradation of authentic solitude.

Feast of Saint Arsenius

[[Saint Arsenius, called ‘the Great’, (350 – 445), whom we recall on this 19th of July, was one of the early monks of the desert, and founders of the eremitical way of monastic life, as an anchorite, living alone in prayer and penance. He did not begin this way, born into wealth and privilege, and receiving the most elite of educations for his time. There was an initial conversion to a deeper spiritual life when his parents died – Arsenius sold everything, had his sister Afrosity (love those names!) join a community of virgins, and was himself ordained a deacon. His erudition could not go unnoticed, however, and he was called to the imperial palace by Theodosius the First (also called ‘the Great’, and the same one who came into conflict, and eventual repentance, with Saint Ambrose). Arsenius was tasked with tutoring the royal sons. The emperor, much pleased, bestowed on him many favours, a lavish life, much acclaim, and Arsenius the Deacon was beloved by all.

Even though there was nothing explicitly ‘wrong’ with such a life, the grace of God called the receptive soul of Arsenius higher, and he responded with unconditional fervour, fleeing into the wilderness like John the Baptist, where many others had already gone, the thousands we now know as the Desert Fathers. Arsenius presented himself to the renowned Macarius, who handed him over to John the Dwarf to be tested. John was in the middle of a meal with some others, and took no notice of his noble guest, until halfway through, he tossed a piece of bread on the ground, which Arsenius sat down and ate without a word.

And so began the solitary monastic life of Arsenius for the next 55 years – he lived to ripe old age of 95, signifying the healthy nature of an ascetical modus vivendi. He would flee further into the desert whenever he was discovered, seeking the lowest and most obscure place, weeping over his past life, and mortified himself in ways that can only be understood supernaturally. One penance was that he never changed the water he used to moisten the fronds to make baskets and such – one of the employments of the monks. He would top it up, which meant that the bowl reeked so much even the angels could probably smell it, had they a sense of smell. Arsenius said that this was to atone for all the times he wore ‘perfume’ at court, which made me think of men’s cologne.

He also, more to the point, and more pertinent for us – no reusing your shower water for future showers! your spouse and children might well object! – Arsenius kept an almost perpetual silence, alone with God (see Kathryn Hart’s post on that theme today), and it is to Arsenius that the aphorism is attributed: “Many times have I repented of having spoken, but never have I repented of having remained silent”.

Like all aphorisms, there are exceptions (I would replace ‘never’ with ‘rarely’, but who am I to correct a Desert Father?). There are times when we must speak, not least for those of us still in ‘the world’. But silence is indeed golden, and would that we take more time in our culture of constant noise, bustle and boisterousness, to reflect and be alone with God. May Saint Arsenius, the Great and the Silent, intercede for us all.

From Catholic Insight (Canada)
John Paul Meenan, Ed

17 July 2024

Once again on Transsexuality, Transgenderism, and Consecrated Life

[[Sister Laurel, did you see this opinion piece statement? "Brother Christian Matson lives as a hermit and a Benedictine oblate in Kentucky, both paths approved by Bishop John Stowe of the Diocese of Lexington. Because the church permits both male and female hermits, the situation does not breach the gendered rules that govern monasticism in the Catholic Church."]]

No, I had not seen it. Thanks for sending it my way. While it is true that c 603 is used by both male and female hermits in the Church, this is not the point at which gender and sex become critical in terms of consecrated life (including c 603 consecrated life). Instead, it is in terms of the vow of chastity in celibacy that sex becomes critical and gender roles less so. I have written about this a couple of times now so please check Ecclesial Vocations and Sexuality, Are Vows Possible? and Transsexuals and Admission to Public Vows. I would start with the last one. To summarize, however, the most basic answer is that public ecclesial vocations commit the person vowed to chastity in celibacy to grow towards human fullness in their natural manliness or womanliness. At the very least the call to make such a vow and embrace such a state of life presupposes the acceptance of this foundational sexuality; perhaps this will require a lot of exploration of what this means (and does not necessarily mean) in terms of gender roles --- even when this necessitates significant struggle --- but admission to a vow of chastity (or consecrated celibacy) still implies an acceptance of one's foundational (biological) sex.

While there is some science indicating possible cerebral (temporal lobe) involvement and potential chromosomal defects, my sense from reading moral theologians like Gerald Coleman is the evidence is inconclusive. Even if it were conclusive, we would then be speaking about some transsexualism as involving or representing an organic disorder that, at this point, is without effective treatment(s) for the cause(s) of the disorder itself. At the same time, moral theologians recognize that "there is significant science indicating increasing clinical evidence that the majority of transsexuals suffer from some type of pathology." Gerald Coleman, PSS, writes, " While a few transsexuals may have a biological substrate that organizes their transsexualism, the disorder is primarily psychological. . .[and] deserves to be treated with psychological, not surgical methods."

When we add to these kinds of observations and conclusions the current growing alarm over the exponentially burgeoning incidence of transsexuality in the young (children and adolescents) and the increasing number of those who now want to "detransition" because they now recognize there was much more going on socially and psychologically (as it usually is during adolescence!) as they were funneled into surgical and medical interventions for supposed transsexuality by peers, schools, self-help groups and a variety of clinics and medical professionals, for a one-size fits all diagnosis and often-catastrophic treatment interventions.

The Church, particularly through its moral theologians and medical practitioners, will continue to attend to the science associated with transsexuality and try to distinguish between that and what is the result of a powerful or influential ideological movement. Some will surely disagree with all of this, and, despite the clear complexity of the entire contemporary situation, charge that the church is not keeping up with the science, for instance. However, in light of this picture of things, my sense is the church's stance on transsexuality and the consecrated state of life both will and should continue without change for the present. The bottom line for the church remains that transgendered persons do not and cannot change their foundational sex. For purposes of the passage cited above, the author has, in my opinion, simply missed the point. This is about much more than transgressing (or not transgressing) gender rules. The more central issue at stake in the church's understanding of ecclesial vocations to the consecrated state and the possibility of professing and consecrating transgendered persons remains the call to affirm one's foundational sexuality and achieve in celibate chastity the fullness of authentically loving manliness or womanliness.

16 July 2024

Feast of Our Lady of Mt Carmel

1Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent?
Who may live on your holy mountain?
2The one whose walk is blameless,
who does what is righteous,
who speaks the truth from their heart;
3whose tongue utters no slander,
who does no wrong to a neighbor,
and casts no slur on others;
4who despises a vile person
but honors those who fear the Lord;
who keeps an oath even when it hurts,
and does not change their mind;
5who lends money to the poor without interest;
who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.

Whoever does these things
will never be shaken.

This morning I attended Mass livestreamed from the Carmel of Reno. It is a place I have come to treasure through the pandemic and otherwise. In today's Gospel we celebrated Mary the central truth of whose existence is that in all of the marvelous ways she shared in the Mystery of God and God's love, "She pondered all these things in her heart." When I think of the Carmel of Reno or what they foster in the church and world, it is that they enable those of us who share in their own life in even the smallest way to also become women and men in touch with the Mystery that grounds and pervades us and our entire world, pondering it always in our own hearts.

That, it seems to me, is the very essence of what it means to be a contemplative and a hermit. It is also the essence of what Benedictinism regards as our cardinal task to seek God in all things, or to "listen attentively with the ear of our hearts" (Rule of Benedict, Prologue); Franciscanism might identify Mary's attitude toward all things with the motto, Deus meus et omnia! (my God and my all!), as well as with the source, means, and way to living simply and joyfully. To be able to perceive the God of eternity present in all of the people, great events, small moments, and varying moods of our life is both the gift and the task that we Christians celebrate as our vocation. Jesuits capture this in the motto, ad majorem Dei gloriam. Camaldolese do it with our motto, ego vobis, vos mihi (I am yours, you are mine), and our recognition that we have been called to "the privilege of love," in seeking to live the covenant relationship we each are. In each of these major expressions of Christian spirituality, there is a profound honoring of creation and the Mystery that resides at its heart calling out both to and within our own hearts --- and receiving the response we become.

Our responsorial psalm reminds us that it is not always easy to live this vocation; it is not always easy to listen with the ears of our hearts or to speak rightly with both heart and tongue truly given over to singing the praise of that Mystery we are called to ponder unceasingly (for isn't that really what Jesus calls us to in asking us to pray always)? And yet, with the power of the Holy Spirit, and like Mary, Our Lady of Mt Carmel, we can accomplish this. We can be this kind of human being, "language events" where the Word of God is truly incarnate and we resonate with and become transparent to the presence of Emmanuel. For those with eyes to see, our "ordinary" world is truly extraordinary with the presence of God. As G.M. Hopkins reminds us, it is charged with the grandeur of God "like shining from shook foil." With Mary and our Carmelite Sisters and Brothers, let us learn to ponder that grandeur in our hearts and sing its praises in the same way! Whoever does these things will never be shaken!!

Prayers today for my Carmelite Brothers and Sisters, for those in the Reno Carmel, and for those special friends who share their Carmelite roots and/or influences with me so freely, Laura Rodrian (Archdiocese of Milwaukee), Sister Anunziata Grace (Diocesan Hermitess, Diocese of Knoxville), Sister Nerina Jaeger, Er Dio (Archdiocese of Wellington, NZ), and Sister Rachel Denton, Er Dio (Diocese of Hallam, UK)

In this virtual choir, Sister Claire Sokol, OCD prioress of the Reno Carmel is the composer of the music and a driving force behind the creation of this choir and concert. For a video on the composition of the piece and the choir please see below, or go to the Reno Carmel website Carmel of Reno and under the tab Our Life, find Meet the Community. At the bottom of that page, you will also find the video. Enjoy!

14 July 2024

A Contemplative Moment: The Silence of Solitude

In the Silence of Solitude

The term silence of solitude (solitudinis silentio), cherished by the Carthusian tradition, emphasizes that the hermit's silence does not consist in the absence of voices or noises due to physical isolation. Nor can silence be an outwardly imposed condition. Rather, it is a fundamental attitude that expresses a radical availability to listen to God. Silence is a total focus on the search for union with Christ and open to the attraction of the Paschal dynamic of his death and resurrection. Silence is the experience of the mysterious fruitfulness of a life totally surrendered. Paradoxically it is also an eloquent witness when inhabited by Love.

Ponam in Deserto Viam, DICLSAL, 2021

To be a hermit means to relate to the mystery that is present in every human life and that makes one feel small and powerless. To see with the eyes of faith the marvelous and eternal beauty of God means to be invited to come out of oneself and to give oneself up to God. Therefore, the only possible life option  that makes sense for the hermit is to become fully open to that absolute perspective of giving himself as a gift to God. In this sense, "the eremitic calling is a consequence of meeting the original depths of of the Trinity's solitude. God is the living interpersonal relationship of solitude and silence. The reality of God is thus the original source of any solitude, an impenetrable abyss that calls to the profound depths of solitude of the human heart. Having heard that existential call of God's solitude, people respond to it by opening up the whole secret of their hearts.

Cornelius Wencel "The Gift of Solitude" in
The Eremitic Life, Encountering God in Silence and Solitude

Clarifying Misconceptions and Wholecloth-Untruths From "Joyful Hermit"

[[Dear Sister Laurel, I discovered your blog through the You Tube videos of Joyful Hermit. She has been pretty critical of "a lady hermit in California who has been stalking and harrassing her for 17 years" and recently recorded a long tirade commenting on OSV and how they used quotes from your blog without taking time to vet you or be sure you are who you say you are. cf: Joyful Hermit Speaks Tirade [the pertinent section begins around 28:40 in this video, Sister Laurel]. It wasn't hard to make the connection from the OSV articles and your name, diocese, blog, etc.!!! Joyful hermit claims your diocese doesn't know you and wants no responsibility for you. She also says that your bishop doesn't supervise you because you don't want that and that you have a "girlfriend" instead (sorry, she didn't explain  or nuance that at all) who is apparently a Sister from a rabble-rousing community that is not approved by the Vatican. 

She complained that you have no right to write about the situation in KY because you don't follow c 603 yourself. And she claims that you objected to the vows of the hermit in KY because he spoke out instead of remaining hidden as hermits are supposed to do. Pretty sure there are other things I have missed but these are the ones I remember from this week. So, since you take questions, could I please ask you what parts of all  this are true? I ask this partly because while checking out your blog to try to see who you are and what you write about, I was surprised to find something very different from what I had expected. I have read several of your posts from the last month or more and I think I understand why you are involved in the Cole Matson situation. It had little to do with him speaking out contrary to the hiddenness of the hermit vocation, did it?  I also looked for posts referring to Joyful Hermit and didn't find what I had been led to expect. No where near! I'll leave this for now and come back if I think of more that needs sharing and clarifying.]]

Wow! First, thanks for taking the time to look me up (or track me down) --- though it does seem that Ms McClure (Joyful Hermit) made that pretty simple; thanks also for taking the time to read some posts from this blog and perusing it more generally. Several others did some of that this week. Some just wrote snarky letters with "How dare you. . .?" kinds of questions. You are the first to simply ask me what is true, so thank you for that. I will try to lay out the major points here one by one. I hope that will be helpful to you and to others who are now writing me because of the video you referred me to. Unless there are remaining questions for you, for instance, I don't plan on addressing these issues again.

J McClure aka Joyful Hermit aka Catholic Hermit aka Complete Hermit, aka Victim Soul, etc. has been blogging about eremitical life for 18-20 years, from before I was perpetually professed. She first wrote me @ 17 years ago before my perpetual profession and after I had begun this blog to ask about becoming a professed and consecrated hermit and congratulating me on my upcoming consecration. I wrote her back and checked out the blog she linked me to or told me about (not sure which it was now). When I was consecrated  McClure wrote about it in her then-current blog, The Complete Hermit. She clearly knows I am a diocesan hermit for the Diocese of Oakland and has known that for 17 years: (cf The Complete Hermit) 

  • [[Part of the day has been spent in watching. . . Sr. Laurel's final profession of vows in a Mass for her consecration as a Diocese hermit in CA. It is lovely! I know I have been questioning if the public vows are necessary, and if it is too much hoopla for a hermit, but I find it all necessary especially for a healthy hermit or at least those more healthy than this one. More active hermits can better interface with people, and people, being comfortable with them and helping in matters of the soul, are part of a hermit's call. In that, Sr. Laurel's life and her blog site are very beneficial for the hermit vocation in general. 
  • I was particularly taken by her Bishop's warmth and gentleness, his being so comfortable with her vocation and in consecrating her soul to the eremitical life. As for this hermit, my diocese milieu and circumstances thus far are not heading in such a warm and embracing event. But, one cannot know what God will do in future. . . . By watching the Mass celebrating Sr. Laurel's final vows, I did see that there would be built-in support and positivity in public vows, in people knowing, in the Bishop making his approval known. It creates a certain validity for the hermit, in an outer way, and of course is supernatural in the graces of the interior. It builds the Church with another dimension.]]

Accusations of stalking, etc. Please note that Ms McClure has had public blogs focusing on eremitism and put up public videos about hermit life in the past 17+ years. Note the word PUBLIC here. Moreover she has allowed subscribers or followers on/for these sites. Initially she invited me to read her blog and over time I discovered newer blogs because I do indeed google hermit-related topics and follow public blogs on the topic. That is especially true when someone writes about c 603 or c 603 vocations. McClure did that routinely during at least 14 of those years. I often criticized what she wrote in this venue because she was frequently mistaken and was apparently misleading readers; (a couple of these wrote me in pain because they had followed Ms McClure's directions on becoming a Catholic Hermit and been corrected by their pastors or chancery.) Moreover, she often misconstrued what I had written. At first, I was simply trying to assist her to come to greater understanding of things she didn't seem to know; I attributed this to the fact that she was a convert and I assumed she would accept the information. In time her misrepresentations became more complex and intransigent and it became personally important that I not let her misrepresent or demean a vocation I both live and love. 

Today I tend not to read Ms McClure's stuff. I know she has been posting videos on YouTube again (I discovered this a couple of months ago) and I watched the one you referred me to. (Joyful Hermit Speaks Tirade ) Otherwise, they are of no interest. What I would hope Ms McClure would come to understand is that so long as blogs and videos are public and invite subscribers or followers, following the author of these from one blog to another, etc., is not stalking. Criticism of what is written or said in such venues is not harassment, particularly when those criticisms involve a topic the listener is publicly committed to representing. I have not criticized Ms McClure in some time except concerning canon 603 or the issue of becoming a consecrated hermit; I have criticized those who are counterfeit hermits, and that includes the situation in Lexington beginning in 2022, so I wonder if Ms McClure mistook those conversations as being about her. The bottom line here is that so long as she is silent about me and c 603, I tend not to speak of her at all.

Supervision by a Bishop
: It should go without saying that not every bishop desires to supervise a hermit, nor are some gifted with either the time or expertise. (And, since he is her legitimate superior, it especially goes without saying that c 603 does not expect a bishop to be a hermit's spiritual director!!) Some do not believe in or understand the vocation or c 603 itself and yet, they "inherit" hermits professed before their own tenure began. To assist with all of that, my diocese asked me to select a delegate (their term, along with "quasi superior") to serve me when bishops were unavailable or could not do so. Sister Marietta Fahey, SHF, who has a strong background in personal and religious formation and spiritual direction, has served as my delegate since perhaps a year before I was finally professed. In the last few years, Sister Susan Blomstad, OSF has agreed to serve as co-delegate (she prefers the term Advocate) and is mainly available to me and my diocese should Marietta not be. Both Sisters belong to canonical congregations and both have served in leadership. Susan is doing so currently, not for the first time! Sister Marietta's congregation is of Pontifical right. I think the same is true of Sister Susan's since it is an international institute (Franciscan Sisters of Penance and Christian Charity). 

This arrangement has been very effective for continuity in supervision considering we have had 5 bishops since I began living as a hermit. The first three (Cummins, Vigneron, and Cordileone) were more accessible to me, Archbishop Burnett was an interim whom I met and joked with a bit, but whom I never met with (instead I met with the Vicar for Religious per the former bishop's instructions), and Michael Barber,SJ, whom I first met in the sacristy of St Perpetua parish during his first visitation, has been less accessible, but I have been (and remain) a diocesan hermit in good standing in my diocese under competent Direction all these years. 

To repeat, throughout these years and any changes in diocesan leadership, Sister Marietta has consistently served both me and the diocese as my delegate. Sister Susan was Vicar for Religious or Vocations Director for the Diocese of Oakland when I first started becoming a diocesan hermit; she worked with me for five years; then, though the diocese and I had begun trying to regularize my situation before Bp Cummins actually retired, and though Susan was now in Santa Barbara, she wrote a letter of recommendation for perpetual profession in 2007 to Bp Vigneron. She continues to assist me in this vocation but now mainly from the position of a good (dare I use the word?) friend. Please recognize that Ms McClure casts aspersions on these Sisters, their competence and fidelity to their commitments when she trash-talks me. That is particularly upsetting to me because I know how they have poured out their lives for Christ and so too, for me. Meanwhile, the comment that Sister Marietta is my "girlfriend" is unworthy of even a response.

OSV and the Lexington Situation: The OSV did not cite my blog. They interviewed me directly, as they say quite clearly in the article itself. Gina Christian (Gina Christian) and I had nearly an hour-long initial conversation via ZOOM, and follow-up phone calls and email exchanges to help flesh out the story so it was complete and transparent. How OSV found me or got my contact info I don't know. I assume they took all the usual steps in checking me out before printing anything I had to say. They also had copies of letters sent to Bishop Stowe and other churchmen where I was identified by name, diocese, date of profession and consecration, etc. If any of these people (not just reporters but bishops and the Papal Nuncio) had doubts about me or needed to verify my identity and standing in my diocese and vocation they could well and easily have done so at any time from July or August of 2022 on. Given the seriousness of my concerns, I feel confident they did verify my bona fides. That said, let me point out that the Diocese of Oakland is, relatively speaking, a big place; there is turnover in staffing with every new bishop, just as one would expect; not everyone knows me or even knows of me so ordinarily it might take a day or so for people to verify I am a diocesan hermit in good standing with the Diocese of Oakland. (Given the notoriety of the situation in Lexington, I suspect it would not take that long presently.) Also, please be aware, apart from acknowledging I am a hermit in good standing, they would give no other information.

The situation in Lexington, KY, and the USCCB's complaint about Cole Matson is not primarily about eremitical hiddenness, nor even about the fact that Cole spoke out about his transgendered status. It is about 1) the fact of his transgendered status and how that cannot work with consecrated life and its call to authentic manliness or womanliness, and 2) (my own focus) the validity of his vows for the additional reason that he explicitly claimed to be using c 603 as a stopgap when he did not really feel called to eremitical life but could not find another way to become publicly professed. These are the issues the USCCB will be addressing. I believe they are also likely to address concerns that Matson's work in the theatre and outside the hermitage conflicts with the vocation of the canonical hermit, not because it involves theatre per se, but because it involves both afternoons and evenings away from the hermitage in an active and highly social context. I don't see how anyone could have misunderstood the situation so thoroughly as Ms McClure seems to have done.


[[Sister Laurel, here is some of what I forgot in my first email. Joyful Hermit also writes that you don't write spiritual articles on your blog and that you are only into power, prestige and precedent-setting while trying to make an authority of yourself. She seems to believe that you have skewed the traditional historic hermit way and influenced c 603 single-handedly by developing precedents that are contrary to hermit life because they "temporalize it". She says your life is too public or not hidden enough because you wear a habit, work as a pastoral associate in a parish, and use a title you have no right to because you do not belong to a religious order. She also claims you wear a Franciscan habit despite not having been a Franciscan yourself and that you believe only c 603 hermits are valid ways of living an eremitical life despite c 603 saying "besides non-canonical profession". Again, let me ask the same question, what of this is true? Thanks very much.]]

First of all, I have skewed nothing. Ms McClure's take on eremitical life is limited, and unfortunately, one-dimensional. In my opinion, she has an even less adequate understanding of c 603 eremitical life. She fails to appreciate that in various ways throughout the centuries hermit life has been regulated by the Church (usually via the local church and ordinary) and that without regulation (or despite it) what Ms. McClure calls, "tried and true" or labels "traditional" or "historic," eremitical life through the centuries has been punctuated by nutcases, individualists, and eccentrics that lived fairly disedifying hermit lives and became the source of stereotypes most folks today would, unfortunately, immediately associate with the word "hermit". Since the third century in the church, there have always been a variety of ways to live an eremitical life; during some periods of the church's life, episcopal supervision and permission was typical. Ponam in Deserto Viam (DICLSAL's Guidelines on the c 603 vocation, 2021) reminds us that this kind of oversight was codified as early as the canons of the Council of Chalcedon (451).

Three or four main ways of living eremitical life are evident throughout history: 1) semi-eremitical where hermits live alone (in a separate hermitage) but within a community context. (This includes Carthusians, Camaldolese, some Carmelites, et al), 2) solitary canonical eremitical life (often under a bishop's authority), this includes anchorites, hermits who wished to wear a hermit's tunic or preach in a town and received episcopal permission, and today -- centuries later --- consecrated diocesan hermits who are consecrated by God via the Church's mediation in the hands of one's bishop, 3) lauras of hermits (both canonical and non-canonical), colonies of hermits which do not rise to the level of a juridical community, and 4) solitary non-canonical hermits. Of these, #2's diocesan hermits came into existence in 1983; Canon 603, the canon governing the life, replaced all the various statutes and disparate diocesan attempts to regulate hermits, as part of the revised Code of Canon Law of the entire Roman Catholic Church. It did not replace non-canonical eremitical life and, in part, had its origin in the Vatican II intervention of Bishop Remi de Roo who saw great value and the gift of God in the eremitical vocation. (Please note, c 603 does not refer to non-canonical profession, not least because profession is always a public (canonical) act. It does refer to institutes of religious life and says c 603 establishes the hermit life besides these.)

I have written many times over the years that there are three main ways of living eremitical life. All are valid and each is valuable: 1) solitary consecrated eremitical life, 2) consecrated semi-eremitical life, and 3) non-canonical eremitical life. I have never suggested non-canonical eremitical life is invalid, nor have I ever said diocesan hermits are the only valid way of living solitary eremitical life. Still, numbers 1 and 2 above are normative of eremitical life in the Catholic Church, that is, they are canonical forms of life. All three forms are licit either because of baptism or because of additional canons and a "second consecration", still, to the extent they are prudent, all three will measure themselves, at least in part, according to c 603. 

We all, I think, want to make a return to God
 and the Church for the ways God called us to himself and redeemed us. One of the ways I do that is by exploring and reflecting on c 603. Over the years this blog has taken on a weight and seriousness I never imagined or expected. Many diocesan hermits have begun blogs; as far as I know, mine is the only one that has remained active through the years. (Perhaps I can ask other Diocesan hermits to contribute here, as Rachel Denton did recently?!) Generally, I try to write about c 603 and the life it defines and governs. "How shall I make a return to the Lord?" Canon 603 has been a very great gift to me and, I believe, to the church. I try to honor that, learn and educate about it, and assist the church in implementing it prudently. Over the years I have experienced and learned a lot about this. I am grateful for that and have no reason to be apologetic about my interest. It means I spend long hours every day praising God for this vocation, for the beauty of c 603, and the excitement it can bring to some as they begin to explore its depths.

Temporal vs Spiritual? Ms McClure's take on the temporal vs the spiritual is Gnostic***, not Christian. The center of the Christian faith is a God who chose to dwell with us in space and time and who promises in Christ to create a new heaven and a new earth (a single reality) through this Incarnate One. In the Lord's Prayer, we find this key petition, "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven," meaning, "May you, God, be sovereign in this spatio-temporal realm just as you are in your own divinely eternal realm, may you be glorified in all of it"! Jesus incarnated the word of God in his life and became the New Temple of God here on earth meaning he is the place where heaven and earth come together or definitively interpenetrate one another. Christians are called upon to participate in this same dynamic in Christ. In our own lives we are to allow heaven to interpenetrate ourselves and the world, and thus, to divinize the whole of creation ever more fully. In this way, God is and will be fully revealed and glorified. This is the theological perspective from which I live my life and approach my vocation. It is both profoundly sacramental and eschatological. I am clear that what I write is generally done under the impulse of the Holy Spirit. That is the very definition of something being spiritual.

Pastoral Associate?
 Nope, Ms McClure got that wrong as well. I've never been a pastoral associate in any parish and never claimed to be. I was a pastoral assistant for St Perpetua's Catholic Community for about 14-15 years (until about a year ago). There is a big difference between these two positions, but one pertinent one is the fact that the assistant's realm of activity is more focused, or specialized, and so, less involved with people in a general way.

Sister? Wearing a Habit? Just noticed I omitted this. Regarding being called Sister and wearing a habit, Ms McClure apparently opines I ought not be allowed to do so because I am no longer part of a religious institute. Let me point out, as I have done in my blog several times (cf. Notes From Stillsong), that, [[The Handbook on Canons 573-746 in the section on norms common to Institutes of Consecrated Life, canonist Ellen O'Hara, CSJ writes regarding canon 603 specifically, "The term "religious" now applies to individuals with no obligation to common or community life and no relation to an institute." Thus, the same canonical [rights and] obligations regarding garb [and other matters like title] witnessing to consecration and religious [life] can be applied to diocesan hermits.]]

Setting Precedents? Seeking to be an Authority? Truly, Ms McClure way overestimates my influence!! I am responsible for establishing one precedent, namely the post-nomial initials Er Dio (and variations) which (then) Bishop Vigneron approved on 2.Sept.2008; a number of bishops in the US and other countries have subsequently approved these initials for hermits in their dioceses. Otherwise, this is a really small blog in a tiny niche area of interest. These days it receives an average readership of slightly fewer than 100 persons a day (though yes, this includes someone or several someone's from the Vatican from time to time). Still, I doubt bishops generally read this blog unless someone specifically brings it to their attention; moreover, if it is as flawed and "unspiritual" or ego-driven as Ms McClure claims, why would they pay attention to what they do read here anyway? 

At the same time, I do write about what works or doesn't work regarding c603 and try to supply theological underpinnings wherever necessary; thus, I certainly hope it has some influence and helps both dioceses and candidates for c 603 life. I did not establish this blog to assert or pretend to have authority but to explore and educate because of my own experience. I do recognize, however, that I have slowly become something of an authority during these last 17-41 years and again, I am grateful to God and gratified to be of assistance where I can!

Ruth Burrows, OCD
Franciscan habit? Although formerly a Franciscan, I do not wear a Franciscan habit. Today, however, many of us Sisters wear the same or very similarly uniform clothes we call a habit. We don't wear identifiable garb unique to one institute or another. (What tends to be identifiable is our jewelry, viz., our crucifix and ring; even our cowls tend to be generic.) Partly this is because most congregations no longer wear habits, and also because there are very few makers while those few that still exist sell the same styles (mostly caps and veils) to everyone buying from them. Diocesan hermits, however, generally take care not to wear proprietary habits. They do not have the right to wear proprietary habits nor does (or can) their bishop give them this right. (That right only comes from the institute whose habilt is at issue.)

Hiddenness: I have written some about hiddenness recently and won't repeat it here. Clearly Ms McClure and I disagree on the place, importance, and even the nature of eremitical hiddenness. Of course, I embraced public rights and responsibilities when I was professed and consecrated so there is some tension between hiddenness and the responsibility to witness to the Gospel of God in an ecclesial vocation. I believe it is an incredibly creative tension and try to accept it obediently. I would suggest you look up other posts on eremitical hiddenness here and then get back to me again if the way I conceive it needs clarification.


Sister, what do you mean by the term Gnostic above?***

To clarify, my use of the term, Gnosticism is a variegated form of belief present in the ancient world when Jesus lived and continuing forward; it is present in some approaches to Christianity even to this day. 

It has a number of characteristics but generally is seen as a danger to authentic Christianity. One central idea was that salvation would be had by deliverance from imprisonment by the material world. Others include various dualisms, temporal vs spiritual, matter vs spirit, light vs dark, good vs evil, etc. Much of it can be linked to Platonism or neo-Platonism where only the spiritual is considered really real and the material is unreal or less than real.

As you can likely see, much of this is in complete contrast with a God whose entire creation is good and who wills to be Emmanuel, God with Us. It is antithetical to the Incarnation where God is fully and definitively revealed in human flesh. And it is antithetical to what is revealed in Scripture as our ultimate goal and destiny is not disembodied existence in heaven, but re-embodied existence as part of a new creation involving "a new heaven and earth together". (This is a single reality where God is all in all.) I  posit that Ms McClure embraces a version of Gnosticism because she writes and speaks consistently about the evil of temporality or the temporal world (including the church) and contrasts that with the spiritual; but sacramentality involves the transformation of the temporal with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. We do not reject the temporal; we allow it to be transfigured by God.