13 July 2020

"Beyond Imagining:"Broadcasting the Seed of God's Word

Sunday's liturgy was very powerful, and made even more so by the fact that parishioners could come up to the church after the ZOOM service and safely receive Eucharist for the first time in Four months! For me personally the readings were incredibly moving, especially since they combined some of my favorite texts and images all on the same day. I was able to lector for the reading from Isaiah 55: God's Word will not return to him void, but then came Paul writing to the Romans about adoption in Christ and how it is God causes all things to work for good in those that love him (that is, in those who allow him to be God for and with them!); I immediately thought of a quote I have used here and used just recently with some new friends, [[ Not everything is the will of God, but inevitably, of all that happens, NOTHING happens outside the will of God! (Dietrich Bonhoeffer). And then finally, the parable of the soils (sometimes less accurately, I think, called the parable of the seeds)! Our homilist did a terrific job and really did break this word open which added to the abundance God showered on us all --- the seeds he broadcast.

 All of this followed a very difficult time on Friday in my meeting with my Director; it was more than two hours of deep struggle to articulate a truth I hold within myself  and have done since I was an infant perhaps -- a bedrock truth only the God who also dwells within me is deeper than, I believe. After that meeting I was exhausted, but also very much alive and open to God's continuing response (because in the face of my suffering and struggle I was heard and received fully). And so, after today's liturgy, I was left excited --- so much seed, so many possibilities for prayer, reflection, study, and writing! So much goodness and such abundant promise of LIFE! I tried to describe my experience in an email and here is what I wrote:

[[For me the readings were amazing. Every one of them full of promise and assurance. I am usually able to hear a word in the readings, but today it was like God was shaking me and saying, “Do you hear? Do you hear what is possible? Can you really believe this? Please believe this!!” Every reading was full and calling to me --- not without shadows and the inevitability of struggle, but even so --- promise was the last word in every case. I came away feeling bewildered by all of it, overwhelmed and off-balance by it --- by the abundance of it.  It was as though I said I was a bit thirsty and God came with buckets of cold water and let me drink, poured some of them over me, left some next to me so I could drink more later when ever I needed, and then, for good measure, opened the heavens in rain showers just to be sure I actually got the point! And all of this still done gently, emphatically, exuberantly, with God laughing and delighted (“he” does this so seriously!), but gently, care-fully.]]

It is always a surprise to me how powerful and gentle God is at once in any encounter. In this particular experience what was astounding was how serious and also how playful God was, how emphatic and care-full, how commanding but also how vulnerable to me -- as expressed in his earnest appeal and plea that I would believe as deeply as possible what I was being shown. My Director uses the phrase, "Beyond imagining" to describe this God and what he has done in and with her life. This is what I experienced yesterday and what Jesus was trying to describe when he referred to the harvest being 100 or 60 or even 30-fold. It's what he was saying in Isaiah's imagery of the word watering the earth and never returning to (him) void or empty, or what Paul was speaking of when he affirmed that God can bring good out of anything at all if only we allow him to be God --- that is, if only we love him. God, and all he chooses to be for us and make of us, is beyond imagining even as he inspires and fructifies our imagining. Thanks be to God. 

11 July 2020

Feast of Saint Benedict (Reprise)

Benedict's Rule was a humane development of Rules already in existence. In it he truly sought to put down "nothing harsh, nothing burdensome." Today's section of chapter 33 of the Rule of St Benedict focuses on private possessions. The monk depends entirely on what the Abbot/Abbess allows (another section of the daily reading from the Rule makes it clear that the Abbot/Abbess is to make sure their subjects have what they need!) Everything in the monastery is held in common, as was the case in the early Church described in Acts. Today, in a world where consumerism means borrowing from the future of those who follow us, and robbing the very life of the planet, this lesson is one we can all benefit from. Benedictine Oblate, Rachel M Srubas reflects on the necessary attitude we all need to cultivate, living as we do in the household of God:


Neither deprivation nor excess,
poverty nor privilege,
in your household.
Even the sheets on "my" bed,
the water flowing from the shower head,
belong to us all and to none of us
but you, who entrust everything to our use.

When I was a toddler,
I seized on the covetous power
of "mine."
But faithfulness requires the slow
unlearning of possession:
to do more than say to a neighbor,
"what's mine is yours."
Remind me what's "mine"
is on loan from you,
and teach me to practice sacred economics:
meeting needs, breaking even, making do.

From, Oblation, Meditations of St Benedict's Rule

My prayers for and very best wishes to my Sisters and Brothers in the Benedictine family on this Feast (Memorial) of St Benedict! Special greetings to the Benedictine Sisters at Transfiguration Monastery, the Camaldolese monks at Incarnation Monastery in Berkeley, and New Camaldoli in Big Sur, the Trappistine Sisters at Redwoods Monastery in Whitethorn, CA, and all those at Bishop's Ranch (Healdsburg, CA) who just participated in the Benedictine Experience Retreat. Happy celebrating today and all good wishes for the coming year!

Eremitical Solitude as a Form of Community: On the Place of the "Elder" in Eremitical Life

[[Dear Sister, isn't it true that the traditional form of eremitical life is of living completely alone. How is what you live in agreement with traditional hermit life? You have Sisters who maybe don't live with you, but who you depend on. How can you claim to be living the truth that God alone is enough for you/us?]]

Thanks for your questions. I would disagree with you that the traditional form of eremitical life is to live entirely alone --- though I agree that large periods of time are and must be spent that way in any eremitical life.  In this I mean that physical solitude must be lived in a way sufficient to define the life and allow it to be characterized as one of real solitude. Your real disagreement seems to be with the fact that I have Sisters who serve me and my vocation in their work as my spiritual director and/or as delegates for myself and my diocese. In fact, I believe this is one variation on the traditional eremitical life or desert tradition involving elders; this was made famous (and perhaps normative) in the lives of the Desert Abbas and Ammas, as well as on Mount Athos, for instance, and in the Eastern Church more generally. The same is true of Carthusian eremitical life which depends on access to elders who assist with formation, both initial and ongoing. Meanwhile, Franciscanism uses a  uniquely communal model of eremitism and the hermitage which depends upon another friar or sister who serves as "mother" to those (two or three) living in solitude. They later reverse the roles so everyone may live in solitude and serve one another as "mother" in the process. Wherever eremitical life has been authentic and edifying, hermits (or ascetics) have depended on and often lived with Elders. In time the situation is perpetuated as the disciple (one who is open to being taught) becomes recognized as an elder her/himself and disciples (those open to learning/being taught the way of Christ in the desert) come to them in turn.

The relationship between elder and disciple has always been a complex one. It begins simply, perhaps. One approaches someone whom one wishes will help one become a hermit (or a Sister, monk, etc). In some instances this relationship may be strengthened or intensified with what I have referred to as the ministry of authority. In such instances there is a bond of authority and obedience as one learns to listen and respond deeply to God both in terms of the elder's own experience and wisdom, and in terms of one's own life in solitude. It seems to me, however, that where this particular relationship with an elder (a director, delegate, legitimate superior) is strongest and best is where is begins to blossom in a relationship of deep and mutual friendship rooted in love of Christ. I don't think one ever outgrows the relationship with an elder as elder because there is an intimacy and respect (sometimes taking the form of deference) to such a relationship that colors everything else, but I do believe that one can grow in ways that allow one to feel and be more an equal with that elder. When that happens it is an awesome thing and, like all real friendships, a gift of God.

It is this last point I want to emphasize. Such relationships are forged in necessity (i.e.,  because of the need for direction and the ministry of authority), which itself is a gift of God, and they flower in  grace which is sometimes the grace of true friendship. Such rare friendships are both a gift of God and mediate the very presence and life of God. In my own life, the relationships I have spoken of here tend to be possible only because and to the extent I am faithful to a life of Christ in the silence of solitude. Similarly, those serving me and my vocation in the ways I have described are only able to do so by virtue of their own lives of faithfulness to the love and presence of God in Christ. Speaking for myself and my own experience here, I have to say that it is my vocation to the silence of solitude that causes me to seek the assistance of genuine elders, and the assistance of these elders sends me back into the silence of solitude in ever deepening ways. This goes far beyond the canonical requirement of supervision --- though I suspect canon 603's requirement here foresaw this deeper reality and the need for it in any genuine hermit's life. Still, one cannot legislate friendship; one can only pray that such a relationship grows out of what can and, in fact, must be legislated for the sake of the ministry of authority and the vocation itself.

In any case, I don't find any conflict with the eremitical notion that "God Alone is Enough" because for each of us (my delegates and myself), whether singly, in community (both Sister M and Sister S live in and on behalf of a community of Sisters and their charism and mission) or when we come together to talk, work, and share, that is always the ultimate truth we bear witness to with and for one another. No matter the topic, nor the activity, this is a pervasive and evident truth which grounds our lives. None of us is completed by anyone but God because none of us is completed except by the Love which IS God.

One of the ways this is clearest is the way these Sisters are affected by the increasing diminishment of their congregations or provinces. I cannot even imagine the pain involved in watching one's Sisters die in increasing numbers as the median age of the community rises. I cannot imagine the courage and love it takes to entrust this process entirely to God, to see that God will bring good from it, to work with God in ways which assure good will come of it and in ways which assure the charism of a community continues on once one, and the community itself are gone. And yet, I see this courage and love, this faithfulness to the truth that God Alone is Enough in the lives and witness of these two "elders" in my own life.  And now, with shelter in place and this pandemic, we each live this truth in new and demanding ways and as we do in other times. we do so for the sake of our Sisters/Brothers in religion and our sisters and brothers in Christ. I mention all of this to underscore the nature, breadth, and depth, of the wisdom these women bring to my life.

I live as a hermit. My co-delegates assist me in that. I cannot travel to find desert Fathers and Mothers who can speak a Word to me. I cannot travel the lengths and breadths even of Lafayette or the state of California, for instance, to find another monk or nun who can serve me in this way as one might have done (or still do) on Mt Athos. Neither can I get an appointment with my bishop as easily as that -- though yes, of course, if I need one, he is accessible to me. Even so, he is a supervisor and not, in my own life, a spiritual Father (or Mother!) in the sense I am using the terms here;  instead, my delegates serve him and the diocese for this specific purpose. The bottom line is that through the history of eremitical life hermits have been dependent on elders. Even more fundamentally, we are each members of the body of Christ, and none of us can live as though we are unimportant or can exist in isolation from one another. Being members of Christ's Body in this way always witnesses to the fact that only God is sufficient for us because we could not come together as we do unless drawn by the grace of God.

Hermits will always walk the line where community and solitude are inseparably linked. Cenobites  find they cannot live community without significant measures of solitude, hermits find that they cannot live eremitical solitude, much less reach the silence of solitude which is the goal and charism of their lives, without significant assistance of elders who also witness in their own way to the fact that God alone is enough for us. I think of the Trappistines who understand that their own lives are not a balance of solitude and community but entirely one of either/both at the same time --- entirely one of solitude in community and entirely one of community in solitude --- though not eremitical solitude. There is a wisdom in this perspective that one only gains in living the life. Similarly, I think of the Camaldolese who speak of "Living alone together" and capture the same fundamental dynamic but expressed differently in terms of a laura of hermit-monks or semi-eremitical community.

We hermits have to find our way in our life with God. We have to witness to the fact that God alone is sufficient, but so long as we exist in Christ, and so long as the eremitical vocation belongs first of all to the Church, we cannot do this simply by cutting ourselves off completely from others any more than the anchorites (urbani) did who lived their solitude under the bishop's supervision in the midst of the local community with windows opening onto the altar and onto the village/town square. As I have written many times here, eremitical solitude is a unique form of community; this is true because it is a unique way of belonging integrally to the Body of Christ, the Church. The role of the elder in the hermit's life is a concrete embodiment of this complex and profound relatedness-in-solitude.

05 July 2020

On the Bishop's Role in Supervising Canon 603 Vocations

[[Hi Sister, you said something recently about bishops supervising hermits. I looked but couldn't find it. It sounded like sometimes bishops don't really do a good job in their supervision. Is this a problem? I wouldn't think it would require much effort or time to supervise a diocesan hermit.]]

Great question. Yes, I referred to the growth of the hermit's vision of eremitical life and relationship with Scripture; I said, essentially, that her director, delegate, and her bishop --- when he knows her well enough, which some, unfortunately, do not --- will recognize this growth long before it becomes explicit enough to show up in revisions of her Rule. It is the case that the bishop's role in supervising a hermit's vocation (living of her Rule, ongoing formation, life needs, and so forth) are not defined in c.603 beyond the general term "supervise", and this can sometimes mean that solitary canonical hermits slip through the canonical cracks with regard to their bishops. You see, bishops are required to visit religious communities to check on their general health, etc., and there are other canonical requirements and mechanisms in proper law that help ensure Religious in community continue to mature in their vocations, that they are otherwise doing well and that they have what they need to live their vocations responsibly.  Even so, the bishop does not supervise such congregations or their members, however. Instead, their legitimate superiors are members of their own communities and congregations ---  groups which constitute kinds of extended families of faith and love who are committed to one another, to their community charism and mission and so, to those they serve in ministry. One of the canonically established mechanisms which ensures this is the leadership team of each congregation and/or province. Sisters take on leadership roles for a period of four years (or more) in order to ensure the health of the congregation and those who comprise it.

But hermits professed under canon 603, have none of this specific support --- at least not exactly.  Canon 603 requires the bishop's supervision, nothing more. Fortunately, at my bishop's request, my diocese asked me to select someone who would act as a delegate for myself and for the bishop. This person would be a "quasi superior", that is, as one who would serve me in the ministry of authority; she would undertake this in service to the diocese and eremitical life itself, and she would do so on the bishop's behalf. We would meet regularly and more frequently than I could meet with the bishop.

Over the years, some bishops worked through my delegate or asked for her input in making decisions in my regard (because she knew me much better than they), others did not (usually because there was no need during their time in office). At all times, my delegate(s) serve(s) me and help(s) ensure my well-being in all of the ways my vocation requires; in this way she (they) serve(s) the diocese and canon 603 vocations as well. This is true no matter the kind of relationship I have with the current bishop. Thus, though there have been four bishops (one, an interim administrator) since my perpetual profession, my delegate (and, now, my co-delegate as well) provide a continuity and knowledge of me which is important for someone living a solitary eremitical vocation --- and also important, therefore, for the diocese and bishop.

Not every c 603 hermit's diocese requires or requests that a hermit select a delegate. Some hermits, especially in smaller dioceses may be able to meet with their bishop far more frequently than those in larger dioceses. The average, as far as I can tell, in larger dioceses is 1 or 2 meetings annually with an option to call for an appointment should something arise requiring a conversation. It is also the case that some bishops coming into a diocese may not have the time to meet with hermits, not only at first when he is getting his feet on the ground in his new office, but even later when things have settled down and he has the lay of the land, so to speak; in some cases a new bishop may never really accept the responsibility of supervising this vocation. I don't know how often this occurs but I have spoken to several diocesan hermits who have described similar situations --- usually occurring when a new bishop replaces an older one.  Personally I am very grateful my own diocese had the insight and wisdom to require a delegate prior to perpetual profession; this has meant no matter the nature of my relationship to a bishop, I always have access to Religious who are working with me for the benefit of the diocese, and more primarily for my well-being and that of my vocation.

No, I don't think supervising a c 603 hermit is onerous, but sometimes it just does not happen. Some bishops with several hermits in the diocese have refused to meet individually with them; this hardly makes sense and effectively means none of the hermits are apt to even try to make appointments with their bishop. Other bishops don't understand religious life generally, and they don't have any sense of what it means to be a hermit. Some do not value contemplative life and this means they find it even more difficult to value solitary eremitical life. Hermits in their dioceses without delegates or regular access to the Vicar for Religious, for instance, will still have a spiritual director, but that role is different than that of delegate or Vicar. So, while the supervision required by c 603 is not onerous, it is important and required by the canon; some of those who authored the canon had significant sense of history and experience with hermits which allowed them to demonstrate real wisdom in requiring this. A hermit lacking adequate supervision or the assistance of a delegate should probably be encouraged by their diocese to find someone who can serve in this role. It really does serve everyone involved in the hermit's profession commitment.

To summarize then. I think this is one of the definite weak points of canon 603. Bishops are not used to supervising religious in their dioceses and are even less used to doing so for eremitical vocations they are unlikely even to understand. When failures occur in this area of the canon, the ecclesiality of the hermit's vocation will suffer and she can feel "cut loose" by the very church that professed and consecrated her to live this call in her name. In a vocation which is very specifically ecclesial and involves a call to eremitical solitude rather than to isolation and individualism, this can be fatal to the vocation itself.  However, this weakness can be easily dealt with, not only by making it clear that bishops are truly responsible in a unique and meaningful way for c 603 hermits in their diocese --- even when they are not the professing bishop --- but by requiring/asking the hermit to select a religious or other competent person to serve as delegate on behalf of the bishop, the diocese, and the hermit and solitary eremitism itself.

Such a person takes on a role which is somewhat similar to a leadership role in a congregation. Her ministry in this matter  ensures the hermit is allowed to exercise her own responsibility fully by being specifically accountable to someone for her vocation and her own ongoing formation and personal life needs. One of my delegates sees her role as one of advocacy; the other sees it in terms of ensuring the health of my vocation and all that implies. In any case, having someone fill such a role gives the hermit someone she can talk to in ways she may never be able to do with her bishop or even her spiritual director, and this is no small matter! (This, by the way, is not about honesty, but about experience and degrees of commonality and personal intimacy.) For this reason alone I suggest c 603 hermits have a delegate even when they are able to meet sufficiently regularly with their bishop. Along with this and the other reasons mentioned above, a delegate also provides consistency  when bishops and other personnel in the diocese change, while at the same time giving the incoming bishop someone he can turn to in case of need without necessarily interrupting the hermit herself. In these ways, such an arrangement can allow the requirements of canon 603 to be met fully and flexibly by both bishop and hermit.

04 July 2020

Happy Fourth of July!!!

Each year this day reminds me that Christians have much to tell America about the nature of true freedom, even while they are grateful for a country which allows them the liberty to practice their faith pretty much as they wish and need. Too often today, however, Freedom is thought of as the ability to do anything we want. It is the quintessential value of the narcissist. Unfortunately the pandemic our global community faces this year has revealed just how prevalent is the valuing of liberty (a icense our founders did not enshrine in the Constitution) over genuine freedom; we are seeing it both touted and modeled by our leading politicians and their supporters.

And yet, within Christian thought and praxis freedom is the power to be the persons we are called to be. It is the direct counterpart of Divine sovereignty and is other-centered. I believe our founding fathers had a keen sense of this, but today, it is a sense Americans often lack. Those of us who celebrate the freedom of Christians can help recover a sense of this necessary value by embracing it more authentically ourselves. Not least we can practice a freedom which is integrally linked to correlative obligations and exists for the sake of all; that is, it involves an obligation to be there for the other, most especially the least and poorest among us. This year, the wearing of surgical masks and sheltering-in-place have become symbols of this kind of freedom and its correlative sacrifice for the sake of others. We celebrate this holiday by refraining from usual practices which endanger others and our planet --- eschewing fireworks, maintaining social distancing, etc. In so doing we demonstrate our freedom to be loving persons who are only ourselves and only  truly free in interdependence with others and all of creation.

But today the United States is in danger of choosing to "protect" our freedom by refusing to open ourselves to "the other". In significant ways it defends racism and the way it is exercised in law enforcement and symbolized in monuments to past historical figures whose legacy is stained, at best. We have forgotten that we are free only insofar as we are open to loving others, to sharing our lives and our freedom with the other, the alien. Like love, personal freedom is lost when we fail to extend it to others and make "neighbors" of them. Once we build walls against the other so too have we walled ourselves into the narrow confines of our own fear, ignorance, or selfishness. Authentic freedom always seeks the freedom of the other. It is expansive and, to  some extent, missionary in nature. And it is sacrificial. While the boundaries of American freedom involve borders and finite resources which must be honored and husbanded, its heart is global and so must its vulnerability be. 

 All good wishes on this anniversary of the birthday of our Nation! May God empower us to live up to the obligations of the freedom, both personal and national, which we recognize as both Divine gift and human responsibility. And may we celebrate the interdependence we are sometimes still only just learning to associate with this Freedom ! 

On the Difference Between a Lone Individual and a Hermit

[[Hi Sister, when you write about the distinction between a "lone individual" and a hermit or when you speak of isolation vs solitude what are you thinking of here? I am a bit of a loner but I sometimes wonder if I can be a hermit. I am not sure I understand the difference between solitude and isolation. Does this mean I am not called to be a hermit? What do these two things actually look like?]]

Important questions. Thank you. I will ask that you read through past articles here. I think they will assist you more than any one response will. Still, this should provide a place to start. Let me give you an example that may help. I live in a senior complex with 68 apartments mostly occupied by single (often widowed) individuals. Some are disabled, and a few are couples. I am the only hermit. That is not merely because I am a hermit canonically, but because the way my life is shaped, structured, motivated, and related to others differs fairly substantially from these things in the lives of others here. Similarly, during this time of lockdown, though many people know something more of what it means to live in extended physical solitude, very few seem to be allowing their lives to be shaped or motivated in the way a hermit's is. I do know a couple of people in my parish who make me think they might well be discovering something like an eremitical calling  during these circumstances, but in the main people are finding physical solitude merely isolates and truncates their lives and relationships. They are not discovering a deeper relatedness to others rooted in their relationship with God, nor -- again with a few exceptions --- are they allowing their lives to be shaped more completely by their relationship with God (which will naturally involve relatedness to others).

Most of those living in this complex are lone individuals. They may or may not have family nearby; most have friends including friends here in the complex. But it is circumstances of life that has them living alone, not the choice to do this in communion with God for the sake of the Gospel or the glory (revelation) of God and the salvation of others. Their time is their own and if the majority of their time is taken up watching TV or shopping, visiting their families, etc, then that is entirely fine -- though some of this will depend on or be limited by the requirements and stresses of shelter-in-place at this point in time. However, their life is strikingly different from mine -- not only in the lack of focus re ongoing formation, and relative lack of prayer, but especially in relatedness. One's relationship with God which includes a life lived very specifically for others and in some real community with them, I think, constitutes the difference between a hermit and a lone individual.

During the homily at my perpetual profession, Bp Vigneron said that I had given my home over to God. At the time I thought that was unsurprising given that I was giving my life to God and had done that at profession in the past. Yet, over these past months of "shelter-in-place" especially, I have come to see how unusual doing this actually is. What Bp Vigneron was saying in his own way was that my life was not compartmentalized with religion and spirituality in one compartment and the rest of ordinary life in another. Once, a candidate for profession under c 603 with whom I was working asked how I balanced the "hermit things" I did and the ordinary or "worldly" things. I asked what the "hermit things" were and he said, prayer, lectio, study, etc. When I asked what the ordinary (or even "worldly") things were, he explained, "Doing the dishes, cleaning house, scrubbing the toilet, laundry -- those kinds of things". It took me a bit of time to get him to eventually see that everything a hermit does, including scrubbing the toilet, is a "hermit thing". Solitude comes in different forms. Eremitical solitude means that everything one does in physical isolation is transformed by one's commitment to and relationship with God and to all that is God's; the transformation is real, not notional, not merely intellectual.

 You may be a bit of a loner; this is not necessarily a reason you can't become a hermit. I assume by saying you are a loner you mean you are an introvert and maybe that you have a very few really good friends. You can still be integrally connected to your parish and others in your community though an introvert. You can still live your life in the heart of human community in a real, not merely figurative way as an introvert. In any case, there is nothing wrong in being a lone individual, at least I am not saying there is; I am merely saying a hermit is something more and other than this and that such a person should not be mistaken for a hermit. The distinction between isolation and solitude is, again, rooted in the hermit's shaping, structuring, and the motivation for her life, especially as she does these things in terms of God and all that is precious to God.

In considering what I believe is a graced reality, I have sometimes written about "genuine solitude," or solitude as the "redemption of isolation". This, along with the distinction between a true individual and an individualist, I believe, is helpful in understanding the significant distinction you asked about and which all "would-be" hermits negotiate in truly becoming a hermit rather than merely a lone individual. Posts which may also help explain the distinction at the heart of this article will include those dealing with the distinction between the Episcopal canon on solitary religious life and the Roman Catholic Canon 603 which is specifically eremitical. Please check the labels listed to the right on "Canon 14 vs Canon 603".

03 July 2020

Feast of St Thomas: Knowing and Proclaiming Christ Crucified and Only Christ Crucified (reprise)

Today's Gospel focuses on the appearances of Jesus to the disciples, and one of the lessons one should draw from these stories is that we are indeed dealing with bodily resurrection, and especially, with a kind of bodiliness which transcends the corporeality we know here and now. In other words, it is very clear that Jesus' presence among his disciples is not simply a spiritual one, and that part of Christian hope is the hope that we, precisely as embodied persons, will come to perfection beyond the limits of death. It is not just our souls which are meant to be part of the new heaven and earth, but our whole selves, body and soul, (and in fact, the whole of creation is meant to be renewed)!

The scenario with Thomas continues this theme, but is contextualized in a way which leads homilists to focus on the whole dynamic of faith with seeing, and faith despite not having seen. It also makes doubt the same as unbelief and plays these off against faith --- as though faith cannot also be served by doubt. But doubt and unbelief are decidedly NOT the same things. We rarely see Thomas as the one whose doubt (or whose demands!) SERVE true faith, and yet, that is what today's Gospel is about. Meanwhile, Thomas also tends to get a bad rap as the one who was separated from the community and doubted what he had not seen with his own eyes. The corollary here is often perceived to be that Thomas will not simply listen to his brother and sister disciples and believe that the Lord has appeared to or visited them. But I think there is something far more significant going on in Thomas' proclamation that unless he sees the wounds inflicted on Jesus in the crucifixion, and even puts his fingers in the very nail holes, he will not believe.

What Thomas, I think, wants to make very clear is that we Christians believe in a crucified Christ, and that the resurrection was God's act of validation of Jesus as scandalously and ignominiously Crucified. I think Thomas knows on some level anyway, that insofar as the resurrection really occured, it does not nullify what was achieved on the cross. Instead it renders permanently valid what was revealed (made manifest and made real) there. In other words, Thomas knows if the resurrection is really God's validation of Jesus' life and establishes him as God's Christ, the Lord he will meet is the one permanently established and marked as the crucified One. The crucifixion was not some great misunderstanding which could be wiped away by resurrection. Instead it was an integral part of the revelation of the nature of truly human and truly divine existence. Whether it is the Divine life, authentic human existence, or sinful human life --- all are marked and revealed in one way or another by the signs of Jesus' cross. For instance, ours is a God who has journeyed to the very darkest, godless places or realms human sin produces, and has become Lord of even those places. He does not disdain them even now but is marked by them and will journey with us there --- whether we are open to him doing so or not --- because Jesus has implicated God there and marked him with the wounds of an exhaustive kenosis.

Another piece of this is that Jesus is, as Paul tells us, the end of the Law and it was Law that crucified him. The nail holes and wounds in Jesus' side and head -- indeed every laceration which marked him -- are a sign of legal execution -- both in terms of Jewish and Roman law. We cannot forget this, and Thomas' insistence that he really be dealing with the Crucified One reminds us vividly of this fact as well. The Jewish and Roman leaders did not crucify Jesus because they misunderstood him, but because they understood all-too-clearly both Jesus and the immense power he wielded in his weakness and poverty. They understood that he could turn the values of this world, its notions of power, authority, etc, on their heads. They knew that he could foment profound revolution (religious and otherwise) wherever he had followers. They chose to have him crucified not only to put an end to his life, but to demonstrate he was a fraud who could not possibly have come from God; they chose to crucify (or have him crucified) to terrify those who might follow him into all the places discipleship might really lead them --- especially those places of human power and influence associated with religion and politics. The marks of the cross are a judgment (krisis) on this whole reality.

There are many gods and even very many manifestations of the real God available to us today (many partial, some more or less distorted), and so there were to Thomas and his brethren in those first days and weeks following the crucifixion of Jesus. When Thomas made his declaration about what he would and would not believe, none of these were crucified Gods or would be worthy of being believed in if they were associated with such shame and godlessness. Thomas knew how very easy it would be for his brother and sister disciples to latch onto one of these, or even to fall back on entirely traditional notions in reaction to the terribly devastating disappointment of Jesus' crucifixion. He knew, I think, how easy it might be to call the crucifixion and all it symbolized a terrible misunderstanding which God simply reversed or wiped away with the resurrection -- a distasteful chapter on which God has simply turned the page. Thomas knew that false prophets (and false "messiahs") showed up all the time. He knew that a God who is distant and all-powerful is much easier to believe in (and follow) than one who walks with us even in our sinfulness or who empties himself to become subject to the powers of sin and death, especially in the awful scandal and ignominy of the cross --- and who expects us to do essentially the same.

In other words, Thomas' doubt may have had less to do with the FACT of a resurrection, than it had to do with his concern that the disciples, in their desperation, guilt, and the immense social pressure they faced, had truly met and clung to the real Lord, the crucified One. In this way, and only in this way!) their own discipleship could and would come to be marked by the signs of the cross as they preach, suffer, and serve in the name (and so, in the paradoxical power) of THIS Lord and no other. Only he could inspire them; only he could sustain them; only he could accompany them wherever true discipleship led them.

Paul said, "I want to know Christ crucified and only Christ crucified" because only this Christ had transformed sinful, godless reality with his presence, only this Christ had redeemed even the realms of sin and death by remaining open to God even within these realities. Only this Christ would journey with us to the unexpected and unacceptable places, and in fact, only he would meet us there with the promise and presence of a God who would bring life out of them. Thomas, I believe, knew precisely what Paul would soon proclaim himself, and it is this, I think, which stands behind his insistence on seeing the wounds and putting his fingers in the very nail holes. He wanted to be sure his brethren were putting their faith in the crucified One, the one who turned everything upside down and relativized every other picture of God we might believe in. He became the great doubter because of this, but I suspect instead, he was the most astute theologian among the original Apostles. He, like Paul, wanted to know Christ Crucified and ONLY Christ Crucified.

We should not trivialize Thomas' witness by transforming him into a run of the mill empiricist and doubter (though doubting is an important piece of growth in faith)!! Instead we should imitate his insistence: we are called upon to be followers of the Crucified God, and no other. Every version of God we meet should be closely examined for nail holes, and the lance wound inflicted by the world of power and prestige. Every one should be checked for signs that this God is capable of and generous enough to assume such suffering on behalf of a creation he would reconcile and make whole. Only then do we know this IS the God proclaimed in the Gospels and the Epistles of Paul, the God of Easter, the only one worthy of being followed even into the darkest reaches of human sin and death, the only One who meets us in the unexpected and even unacceptable place; only this God is the One who makes all things new by loving us with an eternal love from which nothing at all can separate us.

02 July 2020

On Canon 603 and Writing One's Own Rule: Does this Supplant the Gospel Rule?

[[Dear Sister, Paul Giustiniani once wrote that the only Rule could be the Gospel. How is it canon 603 can ask a person to write a Rule of Life besides this? Isn't it kind of presumptuous to think one can write a Rule in addition to the Gospel?]]

Thanks for this question. It is a very good one and I think this is the first time it has been asked. The passage you are referring to in Paul Giustiniani reads as follows: [[Let our rule of life be the life of Christ; let our written rule be the Gospel, having it always in our hands, taking care never to stray from the very rules of Christ. Therein lies true religious life, the norm of all perfection. What is there in the rules of St Dominic or of Saint Francis that is not in the Gospel? Since we are Christian, let us renew ourselves, as by a new baptism, so as to follow Christ alone. What Saint Paul told the Corinthians applies to us: Did Dominic and Francis redeem us in their blood? Have we put on Dominic or Francis? Christ is the font of living water; all these saints are but tributary streams. Let us drink from the source. Let us follow along the royal road as they did, the One who has called us.]]

 I copied this at length because I wanted to point out how similar it is to Saint Romuald's "Brief Rule," (cf., Saint Romuald With Brief Rule ) and in fact, to underscore that in a sense, the heart of Paul Giustiniani's own version of a Camaldolese Rule is represented by this passage. In other words, in writing about the primacy of Scripture in the life of Christians and especially in the lives of all true Religious, and in saying there is only one rule, Giustiniani has given us another!! What Romuald, with his admonition to stay rooted in the Psalms (Scriptures), and Giustiniani with his accent on staying rooted in the Gospels (Scriptures) both do, along with Saints Francis and Dominic, is give us a vision of Religious and/or Eremitical life which flows from and always returns to the Scriptures so that the follower of their Rules will be nourished by and come to embody the life of Christ in the whole of their lives.

It is not presumptuous for the Church to ask hermits to write a Rule of Life with regard to canon 603, so long as we understand the way such a Rule functions, both for the hermit and for the Church herself. For instance, beginners in the eremitical life tend to write Rules which are legalistically focused; they are focused on law rather than on Gospel. Such Rules tend to be unliveable and in any case will certainly stifle growth in the spiritual life and the freedom of the hermit. Because dioceses use the Rules which are submitted to them as part of their discernment of the vocation standing in front of them, such a Rule could tell them a person is not yet ready for profession or that she needs more formation --- and possibly in what areas of her life. Someone who has lived eremitical life for some time and is both self-aware and disciplined enough to build what is critical to her life in Christ into her Rule, will write a very different sort of Rule than the beginner. This will be evident to those who read it, as will the degree of experience, formation, commitment, and vision (including all the ways the centrality of Scripture is embodied in the life) of such a candidate for profession.

When folks ask me about writing a Rule I always describe the two basic options: a Rule rooted in Law, or a Rule rooted in the Gospel; a Rule which is mainly a glorified list of do's and don'ts, or a Rule which provides a personal vision of eremitical life and how it is this is a living out of the Life of Christ in the power of the Spirit. The second form of Rule is one which reflects the person's lifelong living out of God's will and all the ways God speaks, loves, calls, calls to, challenges, and comforts her. The vision it expresses is culled from and is a kind of distillation of the way eremitical life both nurtures, expresses, and fulfills the vision which is at the heart of her life. Yes, it will say how the hermit lives and prays, but it will do so as the natural outflowing of the vision of God in Christ that animates her. As the hermit grows in this life the place of Scripture may become more prominent, or at least more explicit. Both her director, her delegate, and her bishop (if he knows her well enough for this -- some, unfortunately, do not) will look for it or see its development long before the hermit's Rule needs to be rewritten!

Giustiniani wrote of St Francis and St Dominic as "tributary streams" from the primary "font of living water" that is Christ. Consider that Giustiniani knew full well that both of these Saints had either written or adopted Rules (Dominicans use the Rule of St Albert) which allowed them to make sure the Gospel was lived in a way which ministered to the times and people of these times. He does not condemn these Rules but he does clarify the place of Christ's own life and the Scriptures to them. In other words. like hermits writing Rules for c 603, their Rules do not replace the Gospel; instead these Rules involve a vision of a way in which people can allow the Gospel of God in Christ to predominate and speak to the people who would follow Christ in this specific way rather than in another. Had I written an eremitical Rule in the 16th C. rather than the 21st, it would likely look rather different than the ones approved by canonists in 1985, or with a Bishop's Decree of Approval in 2007, for instance, but it would still be a tiny tributary of the Living Water I know in Christ.

I think it's really important for a person to grapple with the place of Christ in their whole life and experience. Writing a Rule demands one do this in more disciplined and challenging ways than almost anything else I know except ongoing personal formation with one's director. It is similarly important for one to articulate their vision of the nature and place of eremitical life in the contemporary world and Church. Writing a Rule also forces one to do this to some extent while living the Rule encourages further reflection and inculcation or formation. Again, it is important that a diocese be able to have something which serves to assist them in discerning and establishing guidelines for formation for a vocation to solitary eremitical life. A candidate's writing of a Rule does that as well. And finally, it is important when dioceses and the larger Church evaluate the way Canon 603 is and is not being implemented that they be able to document the way hermits live their lives. The Rules hermits write and submit to their dioceses (a copy is kept in the hermit's file; it is not a purely personal document but a quasi public one) will assist with this as well.

Statistics for Your Blog?

[[Hi Sister Laurel, I noticed the map you have marking  where people who read your blog are from. It made me wonder how many people visit your blog. Because it is about hermits or being a hermit I wouldn't think you get a lot of visits, so let me ask you. How many readers do you have, can you tell that? Also, are they really from all over the world?]]

Interesting question. It goes hand in hand with a comment I was asked by a friend a few weeks ago. She mused that she wished what I was writing could be seen by more people. At the time I guessed the average of daily visits I received to be around 50-60 persons, and that was surprising to her. Here are the more detailed average daily stats for this week (Wednesday to Wednesday), however. Remember this is only a snapshot of one week in time: Pages viewed/day: 146; unique visits (all visitors per day): 107; 1st time visitors: 73; returning visitors/day: 34.

Of course, these statistics pale in comparison to sites that get hundreds or thousands of readers per day, but given its relatively specialized nature, an average of 107 visitors per day or thereabouts is not disappointing to me, especially when there are a number of other persons (I think @40-45) who have posts delivered via email who need not visit the site at all for this. More important to me, however, than these kinds of numbers, is the evidence I receive from dioceses (including from Rome and/or from Vatican City) that this blog is helpful to those with responsibility for c 603 vocations. Such visits might only occur once or twice during a period of months -- if that; they aren't measured by the statistics noted above (though it is always a bit of a shock when the flag of the Vatican shows up on the list of readers for some reason). Even so, they are gratifying and are part of the reason I established and continue the blog. Yes, the visitors I get every day are from all over the world.

01 July 2020

Whom Could It Hurt?

[[Dear Sister, I wondered why it is dioceses are so reluctant to profess hermits when they don't have to support them financially? I mean if money isn't the issue, then what is? Who will be hurt by professing someone if they don't quite fit the description of canon 603? When I approached my diocese they asked  that I live as a hermit under direction for a year or two, and then re-approach them. I don't see the need and I don't see the need for a spiritual director either! I have God and He directs me better than any human being ever could. I just don't get why it's a big deal to just profess someone if they desire it.]]

Thanks for your questions. They are important and timely. I heard someone ask the first one just a couple of weeks ago, and over the years I have been asked variations of it many times -- often without the reference to finances; sometimes a person will ask as you did, "Who will it hurt?" or, "What does it matter?" (Sometimes I have thought this bishop or that has professed someone they don't really believe is a hermit while asking themselves the very same question!!) All of these are questions usually raised by non-canonical hermits or by those who desire to be hermits and who may desire to be canonical. Sometimes the responses given by dioceses sour these persons on seeking canonical standing, and often the reasons are simply not understood or appreciated. When I heard the question two weeks ago it surprised me because of the reference to money. Your own question is surprising because it comes so quickly on the heels of that other one. The answer I gave two weeks ago was, "Because it is very rare for human beings to come to wholeness or authentic humanity in eremitical solitude," and that is where I will begin here.

It is very rare for a human being to come to wholeness or authentic humanity in eremitical solitude; most of us are called to love and be loved in ways eremitical existence does not really allow for; the need for society is real and necessary for most people in ways it is not for the hermit. Nor is this merely about the difference between introversion and extroversion. It is about the meaningfulness and fullness of one's life. Moreover, for the Church to allow someone to live this vocation in her Name, she must be as sure as possible that the witness the person gives is similar to the witness given by Jesus in the desert: she must see clear signs that it is in the desert of eremitical solitude that one is, through the grace of God, victorious over the powers of evil and solidified in one's identity (one's authentic humanity and capacity to love) in God. Another way of saying this is to affirm that very few people are called to witness to the victory of the Gospel of Christ through the silence of eremitical solitude.

For the church to admit someone to eremitical profession and thus, to canonical standing, is to allow that person to live the life in her name; this means she sees clear signs that this vocation is leading this person to wholeness and holiness and that they will serve others with their witness. It also means the church is relatively well-assured of the fact that the one professed will be open and attentive to the directives of superiors and others in the church in order that this witness be the best it can be. This is why the discernment process for canonical vocations is mutual. The issue is not financial; it is one of authentic witness, and so too, of participating in the Church's own mission and the very great charism of eremitical life.

 The Richness of Canon 603:

Can 603 is not merely a brief description of eremitical life, though I agree it is that. More, though, it defines a vision one is called to embrace, a piece of the church's own spiritual tradition one is invited to represent afresh, a commitment one is called to make as an expression of the Gospel of God in Christ. When I have written about the central elements of the canon before I have written about them as mysteries to be explored. (cf.,  Followup on Canon 603 and Freedom) Canonical standing is both the right and the obligation to engage in this specific exploration all the days of one's life; it signifies the right and obligation to do so in the Church's name -- not only for the sake of hospitality to God, and for the sake of the Gospel, but for the sake of one's own freedom, wholeness, and holiness in incarnating and witnessing to these things. Because of this it is important for the Church to be sure that the individual whose vocation is in question (i.e., being discerned) really does give every indication of being called to all of this and to authentic freedom (which includes the ability to love compassionately) precisely as a hermit who can live the vocation in the Church's name.

For instance, you say forthrightly that you "don't see the need" either to live as the Church asks you in this situation, nor to work regularly with a spiritual director.  As baptised  you have every right to decide in this way that you will not be subject to the directives of the Church in these matters. But what you do not have the right to do is to reject these directives and at the same time expect to be granted the right to make public vows as a hermit who lives her life under the supervision of the Church, under regular spiritual direction, and who is therefore publicly bound to do so obediently in her name. The Church, in the person of your diocesan personnel asked you to live a particular way for a year or two so that she could adequately discern the presence of an ecclesial eremitical vocation. She is not discerning a vocation to individualism with you, nor does she mistake the freedom of the hermit for the license of the individualist. When you ask who could it hurt to profess someone anyway, the answer is, a significant number of people and the solitary eremitical vocation itself as it has been entrusted to the Church. Let me explain.

Asking to Profess a Commitment to a Specific Desert Existence for the Sake of Others:

Those who approach the Church requesting admission to perpetual profession, are asking to live a desert existence which is almost infinitely meaningful in Christ and the power of the Spirit. We do this because, in one way and another, we have known desert experiences throughout our own lives and learned that God is always there in the unexpected and even the unacceptable place. We do this because these desert experiences have made us desirous of loving and witnessing to precisely such a God, and we do so for the sake of all of those others whose lives will find them at one time and another in various deserts or wildernesses with all of the constraints, dangers, deficiencies, and also the potentialities of such lives. We do not do so simply so we may do as we like. We accept the constraints and the great potential of this ecclesial definition of solitary eremitical life because, 1) we know this ecclesial vocation does not belong to us but to the church,  2) because we know that God is found in a privileged way here, and 3) because we appreciate that this Presence will make of our lives an instance of Gospel victory and freedom which can serve others in profound ways.

Individualism simply doesn't do this. If I am witnessing to someone who finds themselves in a desert or wilderness situation from which there is no escape --- say the desert of chronic illness, for instance -- I cannot "kick off the (relatively minor) traces" of canon 603 supervision and obedience, and expect my life to say anything important to this person. They are searching for a way to live their potential and to find freedom despite the serious and inescapable constraints of their illness. My life as a canonical hermit with its constraints and correlative freedom to explore the depths of God and humanity, witnesses to the possibility of doing so; life as an individualist rejecting the constraints of law, ecclesiality, and so forth, is far less likely to do so. Besides, as I pointed out in the article linked above, the foundational and essential elements of canon 603 are not merely constraining elements for the solitary canonical hermit, they are doorways to the Mystery of God and the Human person constituted in dialogue with God, and I embrace them as such.

Whom Does it Hurt?

To profess someone who does not feel called to embrace and, in fact, refuses to embrace these same elements, witnesses to something other than the c 603 hermit does --- whatever that is. It is damaging to the power of the canon's vision and witness to profess someone who cannot and does not witness to the very thing the canon stands for. One has a responsibility to discern how and where one best witnesses to the way God has worked and is working in one's life. The Church has an obligation to do the same with regard to canon 603. If one is called to witness to something else or to do so in another way, it would be irresponsible of the Church to admit one to profession under canon 603. (cf. Eremitism or Exaggerated Individualism?).

We do not honor the vocation or charism of a vocation (the way it is a gift of the Holy Spirit) by professing those we don't believe are truly called to come to human wholeness and holiness in this specific way. For that matter we demean their true vocations by doing so, just as we deprive those to whom their lives might otherwise speak, of this vocation's appropriate message and messenger. That is significant damage, damage to the Church's witness, to the vocation's power and relevance, and to those touched directly by this dishonesty; that is whom it hurts. And ultimately, because very few truly come to wholeness or holiness in this way or witness to the power of God to bring one to holiness and wholeness in this way,  the Church professes relatively few hermits under canon 603 (or in congregations). Again, it is a rare vocation which the Church honors, not in numbers, but in appropriate fidelity, care, and truthfulness.

30 June 2020

A Contemplative Moment: Breathed into Wholeness

From Chapter 9, "Breathing With the Spirit Into Mission"
  Breathed Into Wholeness, Catholicity and Life In the Spirit
Sister Mary Frohlich, rscj

[[We have focused predominantly on the challenges of spiritual living from the perspective of the individual person, but it must always be remembered that the proposed model of personhood assumes that, both psychologically and spiritually, there is no person apart from participation in relationships. On the psychological level the dialogical model of the self places relationships with others into the very structure of the self, as each "part self" is formed within an ongoing dialogue with other persons, groups, or anthropomorphized beings, real or imagined. From the spiritual perspective, there is no person apart from the foundational relationship with the creator-God. Consequently, the authenticity of personal life is not to live simply for oneself, but always with and for others.

Thus, focusing on the individual does not mean downplaying the urgency of community building and communal change. Despite common tropes that suggest increasing individuality and increasing community centeredness work against each other, the opposite is the case when individuality is developed as the uniqueness of each one's relation to the Spirit. Indeed, Karl Rahner has noted that even at the subhuman level "the true law of things" is not: The more special and distinct in character the more separated, isolated and discontinuous from everything else, but the reverse: The more really special a thing is, the more abundance of being it has in itself, the more intimate unity and mutual participation there will be between it and what is other than itself." Thus, the greater is the individual capacity for individual relationship to the Spirit, the greater also is the capacity for intimate relationships and community building at all levels. . . .Individuals must become both more united and increasingly different.]]

Rahner quotation from "On the Significance in Redemptive History of the Individual Member of the Church" Mission and Grace, vol 1 (p. 118)

29 June 2020

Canonical Hermits, Non-Canonical Hermits, and Humility

[[Dear Sister, do some hermits chose not to become canonical because of their humility? I have read one hermit who chose not to do so because she wished to remain "small" and another because she wished to remain "hidden". Is there an advantage in making such a choice for these reasons?]]

Thanks for your questions. Let me define humility as I understand it and then try to answer your question about smallness from that perspective. Humility is a form of honesty, specifically, a form of loving honesty (both elements are critical here) about who one is (and who others are) in light of way God sees us. We are humble when and to the extent we regard ourselves (or others) in the same way God regards us, neither disparaging ourselves (or others) nor engaging in self-aggrandizement. I have written here before about this and especially on the distinction between something that is truly humbling and something which is instead, humiliating. Too often in various threads of spirituality, the verb associated with humility has been mistakenly construed as 'humiliate'! But God does not humiliate --- ever! God's love humbles us. It reveals our true dignity. It raises us to the ability to see clearly and lovingly just who we and others are in light of God's own deep regard for and delight in us.

There can be many sources of the notion that canonical vocations are about pride or a lack of humility. Consider, however, that if God calls some to be diocesan hermits under c 603, it is also the case that acceptance of such a vocation might well be a wonderfully humbling experience. Surely it could be argued that God would intend any vocation to be a humbling (or humble-making) experience rooted in God's love for that person and those to whom they are called to minister in this specific way.  No? My own sense is that we tend to associate pride or arrogance with canonical standing because we often neglect to ask ourselves whether or not God calls anyone at all in this way. If a way of life represents a form of divine call, why should we assume that those who seek this specific form of life lack humility or that the way of life lacks sufficient "smallness" where another form of the vocation (non-canonical eremitical life, for instance) does not?

I participated in a couple of conversations this last couple of weeks on a list on "Hermit Vocations" --- a list apparently made up largely (but not exclusively) of self-designated hermits in the lay state. I was saddened to find the degree of judgment I did which is present regarding diocesan (c 603) hermits and the arrogance or pride they were thought to reveal simply in having sought (and been granted!) canonical standing. One opinion was that for those seeking standing in law under c 603 "was all about show" and concern with externals. It is seriously harmful to any form of eremitical life to paint them with such a cynically broad brush and I was surprised to find this response to be so immediate and, in some ways, pervasive. But, to be misunderstood is nothing new with eremitical vocations and I think the question of God's call is critical here: If canonical standing is something God wills for at least some hermits, then how can we automatically conclude that canonical standing and all it brings is something only the arrogant or prideful embrace? (By the way, please note that when folks criticize canonical hermits they tend only to criticize solitary canonical (or diocesan) hermits, not those living eremitical life in canonical communities. I wonder why that is?)

I am not certain what you are asking when you speak of advantages in making decisions in terms of "smallness", for instance, but I believe one's personal discernment can certainly benefit from being concerned with one's own personal and spiritual strengths and weaknesses and how the grace of God is working in the Church and ones own life to make the very best of these. If this means realizing that one sees diocesan eremitical life as lacking in "smallness" or "hiddenness", then it can certainly be of benefit to work through all of this with one's spiritual director. Similarly, if one is looking for a "higher" form of eremitical life, perhaps one needs to spend some time working through this aim and all that motivates it. At the same time, if one is unable to see the real value in lay (non-canonical) eremitical life, the dignity and worth of such life, then one needs to work through whatever it is that causes one to see this form of eremitical life in this way. Whenever we get into competitive ways of seeing that accent "better", "superior" or "lower", "meaner", etc, it is time to take real care regarding what is going on in our own hearts.

That said, it is important to also ask if there are ways each form of eremitical life challenges the other to greater authenticity. For instance, canonical standing calls hermits to understand that the eremitical vocation belongs to God and the Church, not to the individual. It calls hermits to find ways to embrace, live, and express the truth that eremitical life serves others from within the Church --- whether or not the vocation is technically an "ecclesial" vocation or not. Canonical standing emphasizes the place of mutual discernment and formation, both initial and ongoing, and the necessity for regular spiritual direction and participation in the sacramental life of the church. It does not allow one to substitute license for genuine freedom. It stresses the need for a Rule, a vision of how one is to live the life and a commitment which bind in conscience if not also in law, and which affirms what is foundational and what is not. Lay (non-canonical) eremitical life reminds hermits of the roots of eremitical vocations in the life of the Church, the profound prophetic character of hermit vocations as typified by the Desert Abbas and Ammas, and others throughout the history of the Western church. These two forms of solitary eremitical existence should be in conversation with one another, NOT in competition.

 There are temptations associated with each form of eremitical life. For instance, it is true that canonical standing can lead to the temptation to consider canonical hermits as "better" hermits than non-canonical hermits. This particular temptation needs to be assiduously eschewed and that may require one learning to see oneself merely as called to one valid form of eremitical life rather than another equally valid form. If one has a problem with pride, for example, then perhaps that is a good reason for one's diocese to require one to live as a hermit without the benefit of canonical standing until one appreciates the way God works in and through lay or non-canonical hermits. Even so, the conversations I have recently had reminds me that non-canonical hermits can easily fall into the same trap -- that is, they can easily believe they are "better" hermits than canonical hermits because, for instance, they are more like the Desert Abbas and Ammas who did not have (and of course could not have had!!) canonical standing (institutional standing and support in law), or are "smaller," or "more humble," or more "hidden."

But to get back to your questions and what I began this post with, namely, an understanding of humility, in all of this we need to recognize that real humility does not engage in such a competitive way of characterization and discourse. Real humility recognizes that both canonical and non-canonical eremitical life can be rooted in the call of God;  though they differ in their relative canonical rights and obligations, both have all the dignity and importance of true vocations of God and both can reveal the tremendous diversity and freedom of eremitical life.