13 November 2018

On Apostolic Ministry vs the Ministry of Hermits

Dear Sister Laurel, Today's society is one of action, which is how practically everyone, religious included seem to live.  If one is quiet or humble, it's generally looked down on.  What are your thoughts about this?

Good question! First off, I don’t think quietness and humility per se are the problem. What I mean is if one is a contemplative religious or hermit it is not quietness or humility which are problematical in a world which esteems active ministry. All religious life, active, or contemplative, --- indeed all Christian life --- value quietness (silence, stillness, self-control, etc.) and genuine humility (a loving self honesty), but there is no doubt our church generally esteems active ministry and religious life and fails to truly esteem contemplative life and especially eremitical life adequately. I say this although the Church still writes contemporary documents honoring contemplative life;  namely, in  spite of these and the fulsome praise of eremitical life given by Bp Remi de Roo in his intervention at Vatican II, for instance, it is still possible to find bishops and dioceses who/that will not give the implementation of canon 603 a chance, and who fail to demonstrate any genuine understanding of the eremitical vocation's charism or pneumatic gift-quality.

What I believe is that unless the church is truly able to see these things as powerful and effective ways of proclaiming the Gospel, I don’t think this will change. Our world is in terrible need of hearing the Gospel proclaimed in every possible key and yet all too often contemplative life is seen as ineffective or even selfish. In a world marked and marred by individualism, eremitical life strikes people as a symptom and even the epitome of a cultural epidemic of alienation, selfishness, and self-centeredness. Once again people have to see these things (contemplative and eremitical life) as being powerful ways of witnessing to and proclaiming the generosity, self-emptying, grace, promise, and hope of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

For instance,  while I agree hermits should be persons of assiduous prayer, I don’t think the idea of being powerhouses of prayer, for instance, ordinarily serves as much more than a thinly veiled form of active ministry; it is not the way to achieve the goal just mentioned. On the other hand, witnessing to the salvific love of God that heals, sanctifies, completes, and perfects a person even when the person seems otherwise to have no specific gifts, ministries, or "use" in the community is a particularly vivid witness to the power of the Gospel. Until contemplative religious and hermits do this and make sure the Church understands what contemplative and by extension, eremitical life are really all about I think we will continue to have problems with a failure to esteem such lives.

At the same time, this difficulty in esteeming contemplative and/or eremitical life is not only the hierarchy's problem --- or not their problem alone. Would-be candidates presenting themselves to chanceries and petitioning to be admitted to profession and consecration under canon 603, for instance, frequently are every bit as selfish, self-centered, alienated, and so forth as bishops and vicars or vocation personnel fear! They quite often are social and professional failures who are looking for a way to validate that failure while at the same time they retreat from its consequences into a "hermitage". They might well, for example, have bought into the culture's new fad called "cocooning" and now be seeking a way to give it a bit of religious and even ecclesial standing and prestige. They might have been found unsuitable during a trial of religious life, perhaps even after several tries of different communities and merely be looking for a way to get permission to wear a habit. Some have been unable to cut the apron strings and still live with parents. And so forth.

In relatively rare instances some of these people may discover they actually do have a vocation to eremitical or contemplative religious life which they will need to grow into; dioceses will need to carefully discern and pay attention to the eremitical formation of such persons. These kinds of experiences will demonstrate the redemptive character of eremitical life and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, so again, I believe they bring us back to my first conclusion, namely, it is only insofar as the Church is able to see that eremitical life witnesses to the effective and redemptive power of the Gospel that she will truly be able to come to esteem it appropriately. After all, if one cannot see the power of the Gospel at work in the person supposedly "called" to an ecclesial vocation how can one consider it any valid kind of call by Christ in the his Church?

Quietness and humility can be effective signs of the redemptive power of Jesus Christ and the Gospel. In fact, when they are healthy and genuine, they tend to be the consequence of being profoundly loved and authentic individuality and independence. Noisiness, arrogance, etc are just the opposite. What c 603 calls "the silence of solitude" is about much more than external silence of course. Eremitical life begins there and finds that a source of life, but at the same time the silence of solitude points to the inner quiet that results when we discover how profoundly and unceasing loved we are by God; it is the quiet that comes when we let go of all the various forms of drivenness and insecurity that make our lives a noisy, clamorous seeking. The silence of solitude is the result of being held securely by God and learning to rest in that in ever greater union with Him.

Thus both stillness (quies or hesychasm) and genuine humility are the result of the love we come to know in external silence. Hermits witness to this, and to the radical hope human beings need to live truly human lives at all. In a time when belief in God is often seen as silly or unintelligent, hermits live fully human lives and grow in that in a solitude which is defined in terms of communion with God. As I have quoted here a number of times. Thomas Merton wrote the one gift the (monastic) hermit gives to the world is: to “bear witness to the fact that certain basic claims about solitude and peace are in fact true, [for] in doing this, [they] will restore people’s confidence first in their own humanity and beyond that in God’s grace.”

07 November 2018

"What We Alone Can Do We Cannot Do Alone"

Today's Gospel was challenging, not least because we had children attending. They heard one of the more confusing directives of Jesus, "Unless you hate your Mother and Father, Brothers and Sisters, and even your own life, you cannot be my disciple!" Jesus follows this section of the lection with a couple of examples of why we must count the cost of things, first a parable about a man building a tower without sufficient planning and resources, and next a King with an army of 10,000 considering facing an army of 20,000. There is foolishness involved when we take on something serious and fail to count the cost. Discipleship is certainly the most serious life "project" we take on.

Folks thought perhaps I was doing the reflection today at Mass and asked that I make the context of the reading clear to the children who were coming. After all, what could it mean for Jesus to ask we love him at the expense of hating our own families and even our very selves? What kind of sense does that make, especially to children? What kind of discipleship would that be? But of course, Jesus' language is a Semitism in a language without the gradations we English-speakers and thinkers might take for granted. More, the absoluteness of this Semitism mirrors the absolute priority of loving God. Jesus is saying we must love God more than all others and really, before all others. Of course we owe God this --- God deserves this from us, but the reasons for this directive are also profoundly practical, namely we love God who is Love-in-Act by allowing God to love us and to fill us with the Divine Life that is meant to animate anyone who is truly human. Only then can we love anyone, including ourselves, as we really deserve and are called to do. The paradox that we love God by allowing God to love us, that is, by allowing God to be God and that means God-for-us, is not surprising once we consider Who and what God is.

But the challenge of counting the cost of discipleship and allowing God to love and empower my love for self and others took my thoughts in the direction of my own vocation. Hardly surprising I guess. Especially it reminded me of something I read this morning early. By way of introduction, Martin Laird, OSA, has a new book on contemplation coming out in December. Fortunately, the Kindle version came out yesterday at midnight! I am already loving the book which develops themes from his first two books on contemplation and is geared to those facing expected difficulties in contemplative lives that are already-well-established. Laird does not deny we are all always beginners but he does recognize that different problems face us at different points along our journey to know or realize more fully our already-real union with God. But this morning one sentence in the first chapter struck me as wonderful and exactly right, "What we alone can do we cannot do alone"! The paradox of being truly ourselves only to the extent we are breathed forth and empowered by God --- that is, only to the extent we are a dialogical or covenant reality with God as our soul (the Divine breath that animates us), as well as only to the extent we are beings-in-relation-with-others comes up very often in what I write here (or anywhere!), and these are central to Laird's observation, "What we alone can do we cannot do alone"!

In my own life as a hermit, this is a central insight which helps determine the meaning of canonical terms like, "the silence of solitude" in canon 603. In the inner work I do with my director and accompanist it is similarly central and demands that I understand the gift of working with another is not a luxury, nor is it something which interferes with eremitical solitude. Instead, eremitical solitude is all about a relatively rare but also a universal way of "being relatedness" someone actually constituted by my relatedness to God, to others, and to all of reality. In the work Sister Marietta and I do, for instance, it is essential to being and becoming myself that I (allow myself to) be heard and find ways to express myself as well as I can --- as essential as it is that I hear God alive within me! This is absolutely critical to the effectiveness of the work I (we) do. And, though I do the majority of the work on my own, ultimately this means another person (and especially one with appropriate expertise and sensibilities!!) is also indispensable.

Even so, of course I often find it difficult to articulate what I am experiencing. Sometimes it is too vague, too visual or aural and too far from my thinking mind or the vocabulary that usually serves me so well; sometimes it is too painful or too frightening. Sometimes I know that because Marietta is compassionate and has chosen to accompany me, and because she listens so very well, my sharing will cause her some pain.  Compassion hurts; love is sometimes painful. Of course, this is her decision, not mine; only she can decide whether and how the demands of accompaniment are something she will undertake, and yet the desire to protect her comes up for me and sometimes this too prevents expression of what I am experiencing. But even at these times I am aware of her presence (and God's!) sitting near (or breathing gently and silently within), watching, waiting, praying, listening, and inviting my sharing --- for sometimes it is only her presence that gives me the courage to go deep within --- much less to share what occurs there; as I am often reminded, whatever sharing I can do is healing and strengthening. What we alone can do we cannot do alone.

And so, as a piece of genuine discipleship we count the cost. Many times over the past two years (and especially early on during this time) I have had to discern whether my eremitical life was jeopardized by the work I had undertaken with Marietta. I have noted this here before. Again and again the answer came back, "This is part of the cost of truly growing in wholeness and holiness." I know this. "It is absolutely necessary if you are to become the person (the hermit!!) I have called you from the beginning to be. Look! Look at how your prayer has been transfigured, how you have grown in freedom and how again and again your work together with Marietta deepens both your eremitical solitude and the silence of that solitude as your heart is enlarged and made more wholly My dwelling place!" I do try not to count the cost Marietta has determined she will accept and bear as part of her own vocational faithfulness; that really is something only she can and should do, just as only I can truly count and bear the cost of my own faithfulness to God's call.  After all, if I allow my own attention and discernment to be distracted in this way, if I fail in this way to trust Marietta to do what she alone can do, I am pretty sure I "will not have the resources to finish" a process which is already costly indeed ---but even more worthwhile!!

I suppose this is on my mind in part because I continue to get questions from people who do not see how working in the way I have described over the past 2.5 years is consistent with eremitical solitude.  I do not know how to answer any better than I have in a number of posts throughout this period. But of course, ultimately, my own commitment to this work and to eremitical life as I and those mutually responsible for my vocation understand it, means I do not really have to explain further unless I believe it will be really helpful to someone. However, at bottom the work itself clarifies its own indispensable nature as it mediates God's love and empowers my own growth, healing, and sanctification precisely as a hermit living this life in the name of the Church. Those who are, to whatever extent, also responsible for my vocation see this clearly. What I alone can do I cannot do alone --- and this especially includes living into the context, charism, and goal of eremitical life c 603 hermits know as the "silence of solitude."

P.S., For those interested, Martin Laird, OSA's third book in the trilogy I mentioned is called, An Ocean of Light.  While it may be helpful, one does not, Laird says, need to read the first two books before this one.

06 November 2018

The Power of Silence



While I don't entirely share the generally negative view of Western Civilization expressed by the Cardinal, I do share his sense of the importance of silence for authentic humanity. Cardinal Robert Sarah's 2017 book on Silence (The Power of Silence; Against the Dictatorship of Noise) is a significant work. Sarah knows Silence and is best when he speaks of it as an intense presence rather than merely some kind of negation or absence. Not a quick read but one to be returned to, I think, over a longer time of lectio and prayer. Because I have read most of his book during the past year or more and sometimes wondered if it was a good translation, I thought hearing him speak might be interesting. It was. Enjoy.

05 November 2018

"Without Always Professing. . .Publicly" A Mistranslation?

[[Hi Sister, you once wrote an explanation of the paragraphs of the Catechism of the Catholic Church which say consecrated hermits might not always make public vows. Would you mind posting again what you said there about pars. 920-21?]]

Yes, sure. I don't know if you want the whole post or just the portion devoted to the phrase, "without always professing the evangelical counsels publicly," (a translation which does not comport with or correspond to the Latin original) so I will quote that portion and then provide a link to the whole post.

[[But what then about the strange phrase [["Without always professing the evangelical counsels publicly]]  First the key Latin phrase in the original is this: [[quin publice tria consilia evangelica semper profiteantur]] Which translates, [[but always professing the three evangelical counsels publicly]] This corresponds exactly with the Church's theology of consecrated life; that is, any profession will be a public and ecclesial act. Then where does the word and notion of "without" come from in the English translation? By this I mean what is optional for the hermit if the profession itself is ALWAYS to be made publicly. There is only one thing it could be, namely, canon 603 allows for diocesan hermits to use "other sacred bonds" than vows" for their public profession if they choose. It is the only form of consecrated life besides consecrated virgins living in the world (who do not make vows) that does. Thus, the clumsily formulated English phrase does not mean, "Without always making vows publicly" but rather, " Without always using vows to make their public profession."

Ms McClure has italicized parts of the paragraph (#920) to ensure one reads it as providing the option of private vows rather than public ones. However, the overall context [of the CCC, namely, the heading:] "consecrated states of life" will not allow this. Neither will the original Latin text nor the Church's theology of consecrated life per se. The only option, the only "without always"  c 603 allows is that of [making one's profession with sacred bonds other than vows]; even so the profession of either will ALWAYS BE PUBLIC [with definitive profession initiating one into the consecrated state and every profession establishing] public rights and obligations, public ecclesial relationships (legitimate superiors), and even public expectations on the part of the faithful generally.]]

The link to the whole post is: Clarifying Vocabulary and Texts, CCC pars 914-15 and 920-21.

On Private Vows as a Lay Hermit

[[Dear Sister, if I choose to make private vows as a hermit, do I need to check with my bishop? Do I need his permission? Would bishops know the lay hermits (I mean the privately vowed hermits) in their diocese --- maybe because my pastor tells the bishop about me? I'm asking because of the following comments by a lay hermit: "The choice may include the individual with spiritual director or if would-be hermit in a religious order with a superior. And as a Catholic in one manner or another, at some point in time, one's bishop is involved more directly or else indirectly, whichever the path of eremitic is discerned and taken." She also says she usually trusts her pastor to tell her bishop about her but does not need to get permission to move into a parish and live as a Catholic hermit because she has private vows.]]

Thanks for your questions. The simple answer to all of these is "no." I am not sure what the author meant by "whichever path of eremitic life is discerned. . ." in the passage you are citing (there are three, two of them for solitary hermits --- one of these lay and one consecrated), but the only time one's bishop is involved directly or indirectly is when one is making public profession whether as a canon 603 hermit or as a member of a religious order of hermits. Otherwise one's commitment is a private matter entirely. Private vows do not change one's state of life, do not add canonical rights or obligations and as a result they can be dispensed easily without paper work, etc. Because of this there is simply no need for the bishop to be involved, whether directly or indirectly. Of course if the bishop is already one's spiritual director, friend, pastor, etc, he may become involved and even witness your vows --- but he will not do so as bishop per se, nor will he  receive such vows. Private vows may be made by anyone at any time and while one hopes these are well-considered and discerned precisely because they are an important personal commitment specifying one's baptismal commitment, there is no need for any kind of authorization, not least by one's bishop.

Similarly, unless one already knows one's bishop in some capacity chances are slim to non-existent that he will know of one's private vows. The Church does not keep any records of such private commitments precisely because they are private, not public and not undertaken in the name of the Church. Generally speaking, bishops may come to know of lay hermits (hermits in the lay or baptismal state alone) living in their dioceses but chances of this are greater if the hermits are sources of confusion or difficulty --- or, alternately, if these persons are particularly edifying or inspirational to their parishes and pastors. Another instance in which privately vowed (not professed since by definition this term implies a change in state of life) hermits may become known to their bishop is if such a person decides to seek public profession under canon 603. (In this instance the bishop may truly become "involved" in a real way and not simply know of the person.) Living as a lay hermit either with or without private vows can be an important way of preparing for a publicly professed life; in fact, unless one is already a religious, living as a lay hermit for some meaningful period of time (at least several years) during discernment and formation in anticipation of public profession is necessary. No one is professed under canon 603 unless they are already hermits in some essential sense.

I have waited to respond to the last piece of your question because it really raises significant issues of irresponsibility in claiming the name "Catholic hermit." Remember that a diocesan bishop is responsible in a direct way for anyone or anything in the diocese which is explicitly identified as "Catholic." A Catholic institute of religious, a Catholic priest, a Catholic broadcasting organization, a Catholic theologian, etc, etc. All of these claim to act in the name of the Church and as such, they do so under the specific authority of those commissioned by the Church to exercise such authority. In diocesan organizations or entities this is ordinarily the diocesan bishop. Again, no one may adopt the designation "Catholic" unless they are specifically authorized to do this. Canon Law is clear about this and the Church acts on significant instances of abuse where the name Catholic is being misused and/or misrepresented. (Ordinarily a single lay hermit mistakenly calling themselves a "Catholic Hermit" will not fall to the bishop to handle; it is more likely to be addressed by the parish priest or pastor.)

Baptism gives us the right to call ourselves Catholic but it does not give us the right, nor convey the obligations linked with being a Catholic Hermit --- a Catholic who lives eremitical life in the name of the Church and thus, under the specific supervision of the diocesan bishop. Remember c 603.2 reads, [[§2. A hermit is recognized by law as one dedicated to God in consecrated life if he or she publicly professes in the hands of the diocesan bishop the three evangelical counsels, confirmed by vow or other sacred bond, and observes a proper program of living under his direction.]]

It is irresponsible of one to claim the title "Catholic Hermit" and do so without being specifically and publicly (canonically) commissioned to do so by the Church. However, it is equally irresponsible for an individual claiming to be a member of the consecrated state of life and calling themselves a Catholic hermit to fail to contact the bishop of a new diocese directly. They do not hope or expect or count on someone doing this for them! They do not trust it to chance. Members of Catholic Institutes of Consecrated life know this and work out moves in location with those in legitimate authority. Consecrated virgins also know this, not least because it is specifically required in the guidelines codified for them by the Vatican. Solitary Catholic (c 603) Hermits know it because c 603 is clear re who is actively supervising their vocations!

Consecrated life is constituted by several different ecclesial vocations (canonical cenobitical, canonical eremitical, consecrated virginity, etc) and if one really is called to such a vocation one honors the Church and authority in the Church which has publicly professed, consecrated, and commissioned one. After all, ecclesial vocations belong in a special way to the treasure and patrimony of the Church. Thus, C 603 hermits must get approval of the bishop in the diocese to which they wish to move if they wish to remain a professed hermit. Otherwise their vows cease to be valid should they move due to a material change in the substance of those vows. At this point the hermit would cease to be a Catholic Hermit and, if she continues in the eremitical life, becomes a Catholic who also happens to be a hermit with an entirely private commitment. Such a life is significant but it does not constitute an ecclesial vocation, is not lived in the name of the Church, and thus, is not specifically called by the term Catholic. The bottom line in all of this remains: solitary Catholic Hermits live under the direct supervision of a legitimate superior, namely the diocesan bishop; if she moves she will have contacted the new bishop directly re continuing to be a solitary Catholic Hermit before she makes her move, and again afterwards if he agrees to receive her as a diocesan hermit who will be living eremitical life in the name of the Church. Private vows are a possibility for her if the bishop will not receive her as a canonical hermit under c 603, but she cannot continue to represent herself as a Catholic Hermit. 

I sincerely hope your own discernment in eremitical life goes well. If you should decide to make private vows as a lay hermit (again, a hermit in the lay state) I wish you well in that especially. It is not easy living such a life without the moral support of one's parish family (though you can certainly secure that if you desire it) and the Church at large --- at least that is what I have found. As a lay hermit you may well have the support of members of your parish and find that you have something unique to offer the parish at large as well. As a lay hermit you will have something to offer the post Vatican II Church as well because this Church is still trying to implement Vatican II and its esteem for the laity. Because you will represent the desert Fathers and Mothers (who were lay hermits and a powerful prophetic presence for and in the Church) you may serve members of your local Church in ways canonical hermits might not be able to do. I hope so!

31 October 2018

Home From Trip to Morro Bay

Anita, Raschi, Elaine, and Karen
Well, after retreat weekend before last (I am posting this a few days after writing it) I had hardly settled back in here at Stillsong and yet, on Monday I traveled South to Morro Bay where four of us --- friends from high school (and junior high in a couple of cases) rented a house for three nights. Last Summer (2017) I wrote about going to a 50 year high school reunion where several of us spent most of the weekend together and went to a dinner for a larger group of classmates. What was astounding was how we found we loved each other even after so many years; as I think I related then, we shared faith stories for hours despite each of us being part of a different Christian tradition and only found how similar faith was for each of us. So, we recently texted each other (part of a group text) and decided we really missed one another; we had spoken last Summer about getting together again, but this recent sentiment resulted in a plan to rent a house on the beach and spend some quality time together sharing, getting to know one another even better (there were and are still 50 years of experience to catch up on!) --- simply renewing some very old friendships.

Anita drove from Sacramento to pick me up here in Lafayette and then we started South. Karen and Elaine drove up from Orange County and we met at the house in Morro Bay. We went out for dinner that night (fish and chips for some of us) and then went grocery shopping for stuff we had forgotten or been unable to pick up before leaving for the beach house. What a trip that was! We came away with food for a picnic the next day, but we also bought four different kinds of ice cream, caramel sauce, and (I think) two or three kinds of cookies along with a couple kinds of coffee pods (the house had a Keurig)! (We started on the ice cream that night as we talked until late sustained by excitement and the coffee! I fell asleep in the middle of it all.) The next day we drove to Cambria; Karen worked on school stuff (Karen's an adjunct professor at Concordia University) while the rest of us window shopped, tasted herbal teas, local honeys, and admired some of the really beautiful work by local artists..

Then, Karen's work mainly done for the time being and a little more window shopping and talking done, we went off to see the elephant seals up the coast and following that, had our picnic at the small schoolhouse on the ranch grounds of Hearst Castle (Anita, who was once an archivist at the castle, picked the spot; perfect). The elephant seals were fascinating (and the wind off the beach was astoundingly fierce). Mainly juveniles were left on the beach. I asked how long they nursed and was told "only a month!" Mom only has milk for that long. Starving and 40% of her body weight gone to nursing, etc, she must return to sea to rebuild her strength and body weight.  She will get pregnant again immediately but the fetus will not develop for as long as four months while she regains her health. The pups, who are left behind, stay on the beach for another month; then they go to sea where 50% will die shortly to predators and starvation. Speaking of food (or starvation), we drove back through Cambria and bought a Linn's chicken pot pie for dinner at home. Absolutely the best!!

Laurel, Raschi, Karen, Priscilla
That evening we spent another evening talking, reading, crocheting, watching some news (the mail bombs were a story we had partly missed and caught up on). Still, we tried to stay away from politics because we each fall at a different place along the liberal/conservative spectrum. I was reminded how important the Johnson Amendment is in our churches and parishes in ensuring the ability of people to celebrate their lives and faith without adverting to political passions and differences. That is something I appreciate about life in my own parish --- a real freedom of religion. Yet, it was our love for one another, not some law, that kept us from venturing into areas that could cause tension, pain or outright wound one another. (I suspect the ice cream helped some too! Just kidding!) We know where we each stand politically in a general way and in some instances we know more specifically and why. We may disagree with one another on this or that, but we love and respect one another --- and that implies trust that we will each reflect on and pray about matters and act in good conscience --- in light, that is, of that inviolable sacred "place" within each of us where God speaks.

One of the things I have been most moved by theologically in the past several years is how it is God brings all things together and loses nothing as he draws reality into the future. (See posts on God as the Master Storyteller for this idea.) Last Summer (2017) that was brought home to me in a very personal way by my time with these friends, not least because this time occasioned the healing of a loss of memory caused indirectly by the trauma of my seizure disorder; along with specific memories tied to this deeper sense, I had lost the sense of how profoundly loved and loving these friendships were. Though I had and have had good friends throughout my life, there is simply something unique and critical about the friendships we have in grade school through high school and I can hardly overstate how grateful I am for the gift last Summer's reunion was to me. While specific memories were mainly not recovered (and are unlikely ever to be recovered), there are now new ones which somehow allow me to access the deeper sense of loving and being loved by these friends.

The truth is that with God nothing is lost. We pray that God will remember us, and of course God does --- in every sense of the word! With God Who is Love-in-Act, Love secures and binds all of reality together; Love is the source and ground of all reality and in each of us that source and ground is made real in space and time. When you haven't seen or spoken to friends for 50 years or more and then discover they are a not only a constitutive part of your very heart who were pivotal in your own personal formation and capacity to love, dream, hope, etc, and who want very much to be an active part of your life now, the reality of God as the One  "holding all things together" and willing the reconciliation and perfection of all creation can hardly be questioned, much less denied. By the way, I know that posting this may well mean at least a couple of people will write critical and even downright snarky emails about what is clearly a vacation and whether hermits could need or should take vacations. One person in particular who apparently reads this blog and writes occasionally, is likely to question whether my delegates or directors and/or my bishop knew I was doing this and how they could "permit" it! (Her last question pushed my thought in the direction of considering the importance of play for the contemplative life so I owe her a real debt of gratitude!)

Laurel, Gary, Karen
In any case, let me say that while I might desire to forestall the snarky questions and relatively unloving critical questions (critical questions, I should note, can be loving!), I am more than open to reflecting on and answering questions that are the result of apparent contradictions between my life as a hermit and four days of vacation with very old friends; I believe such questions can help illumine the nature of this vocation even as it helps dissolve away destructive stereotypes and misconceptions. So please, if questions are raised for you by what I have written here about the eremitical vocation or the way I live it out do feel free to write with these.

An Apologia for Contemplative Prayer

[[Dear Sister, Since you are a contemplative who prays contemplatively I wondered if you could respond to the following arguments against contemplative prayer? 1) it is rooted in a pagan, Neo-Platonic notion of God; 2) the revelation of God in Scripture becomes secondary. Awakening is rooted in the study of Scripture, not in contemplative prayer with its goal of mystical experience and its emphasis on postures and techniques; 3) Jesus and the early church did not practice or preach it. Instead the Lord's Prayer teaches us to verbally express ourselves, and to use dynamic relational prayers. Contemplative prayer is a substitute for what is promised as the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I got these from the following article: Three reasons I Refuse to Pray Contemplatively. It came up on a list serve I belong to. Thanks.]]

 Sure, I can give it a shot. I believe a large part of the reason the author of your article distrusts contemplative prayer is its linkage to the mystics of the Roman Catholic Church, however. He is also suspicious of silent prayer opting instead for verbal dialogue. He says that in the intro to his article before he lists the three reasons you cited (good job with those, by the way): [[Contemplative prayer, emphasizing "silence," has roots that go back to the mystics of the medieval Roman Catholic Church. The mystics were, in turn, profoundly influenced by Neo-Platonism, a pagan, mystical religion founded by Plotinus, a disciple of Plato.]]

While there is no doubt Platonism and neo-Platonism have been influential in Christianity, I don't see where the work of Plotinus (philosopher, pantheist or maybe panentheist), whom your author refers to at length, has any significant bearing on the practice of prayer including contemplative prayer. Moreover, even when there are similarities between mystics and some of the themes they might reflect in their prayer and Plotinus' thought, things like the transcendence of God, God's ineffableness (ultimate nature as Mystery which cannot be captured or adequately expressed in finite speech) or the capacity of one to know him to some extent in beauty or the good, this does not imply they have swallowed whole a pagan notion of God. It argues instead that we all do theology and approach similar notions of God even apart from the Christ Event. The fact is that Hellenism (especially Gnosticism) influenced Christianity in vast ways --- including both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. Someone arguing a sola Scriptura position, as I think your author does in objections nos 2 and 3, needs to be aware of this influence among the sources of both Testaments. So, to the various objections to contemplative prayer cited in your question.

1) Contemplative prayer is rooted in a pagan notion of God. On the contrary, contemplative prayer, as I know it and practice it, is rooted in a profoundly Biblical notion of God. Often this prayer is occasioned by lectio with Scripture, often it leads back to Scripture at the same time. Its God is a transcendent God, yes, but S/he is also a God who grounds the whole of existence and resides in the human heart, constantly summoning each (and all) of us to completion in God. This is the God who sought a counterpart who would exhaustively and responsively incarnate his love in space and time, and who invites us each to share in the reality of such an incarnation achieved in Jesus. It is the God of Jesus Christ, the One Jesus called Abba. We meet (him) and know him --- and more, as Paul says, we are known by Him --- as we enter deeply into our own hearts and learn to open ourselves to Love-in-Act. As we enter into contemplative silence we drop our defenses, exercise greater degrees of trust and vulnerability, and learn to allow and listen profoundly for God's presence there. In short, we give ourselves to God for God's own purposes; we wait on and for God to reveal Godself on (his) own terms --- neither  more nor less than this.

2) These encounters with God involve pouring our hearts out to him in ways and to degrees which may begin with but eventually transcend speech. The purpose of contemplative prayer is to allow God "ownership" of our hearts and lives. We allow or consent to God's sovereignty; at least in part this is what it means to pray for the coming of God's Kingdom/Reign on earth as in heaven. It is emphatically not about mystical experiences --- though we may well experience God's love in ways which can be described as mystical --- ecstasy, the gift of tears, healing and wholeness, extraordinary joy, temporary detachment from bodily needs, inner locutions, images, and so forth. However, every genuine mystic and every spiritual director will caution about the dangers of expecting, much less depending on such experiences; they are never the focus in contemplative prayer. Still, some of us are naturally "visual" or "aural" in our insights and perceptions and may be predisposed to such experiences. Of themselves they are not a sign of maturity, much less giftedness, in prayer and should never be overestimated in importance --- especially for the contemplative whose focus is God.

Prayer posture is important but must not be misunderstood as manipulative or a matter of mere "technique". In fact, contemplative prayer requires that a person sit in a way which is at once relaxed and attentive; the criticism regarding a focus on postures is as unwarranted as that on mystical experiences since there is no such "focus". One simply learns the way/posture in which one is both relaxed and able to maintain attentiveness during a long prayer period --- just as we do whenever we do something important which requires our full attention. A couple of years ago, after some time of being unable to use my prayer bench because of an injury, I learned that sitting "seiza"  on a "zafu" (a sturdy cushion made for this) allows me to pray much better than sitting in a comfortable chair --- where, over time (i.e., during a prayer period), I tend to slouch and drowse and am uncomfortable and unfocused; others will be more relaxed and attentive in other postures --- though "seiza" is well-established for allowing both relaxation and attentiveness. In any case, please check out the following post, On Prayer Postures and Prayer Furniture, for more on this topic.

3) Relativizing the revelation of God in Scripture: God comes to us in many ways and is mediated to us through a world which is potentially sacramental at its core. We meet him in the Risen and Cosmic Christ who comes to us variously in Word and Sacrament, but who also can be met in one another and so many of the works of our hands that communicate truth, and goodness, and beauty, and meaning. Yes, the Scriptures are a privileged means of this mediation and they are central to God's revelation of Godself; they are normative and are a crucial way we measure and clarify other more partial revelations of God's power and presence. (Remember the NT itself points to other partial revelations of God than in Christ. cf  Heb 1:1-2;we recognize prophetic presences, speech, and actions today even apart from Scripture. So too do we find partial or fragmentary but real revelations of God's presence in other religions, the sciences, and so forth. We will measure and clarify these partial and more obscure revelations according to the Christ Event as revealed in the Scriptures, but we cannot simply deny them and still adequately honor the God of Creation or of the Risen and Cosmic Christ.)

Personal prayer (including contemplative prayer) is one of the ways God reveals Godself effectively and powerfully. (This is generally recognized by the author of the article you cite when he points to the dialogical or "relational" nature of prayer. I think it needs to be remembered however, that prayer is not relational because we bring ourselves into relationship with God during this time but because prayer is an expression of and opening ourselves to an already-existing relationship with and invitation by God. God is knocking at the door prompting us to open it in prayer. This is true whether our prayer is liturgical, silent, spoken, acted out, contemplative, etc. Prayer is always a graced and responsive reality, invited and empowered by the living God --- a responsive act which presumes an existing relationship, no matter how fragile or tenuous.

4) "Jesus didn't practice or preach it." It is impossible to prove a negative like this and affirming that Jesus never prayed silently and/or contemplatively simply goes beyond the evidence. On the other hand, we know he frequently went apart in the night; we know he poured himself out to his Abba in ways marked by significant inner (heartfelt) exertion and physical symptoms (think Gethsemane) --- all of which go beyond verbal expression; we know others slept while Jesus prayed to/with his Father. I don't see why any of this indicates Jesus -- whose intimacy with his Abba surely went beyond the limitations of words --- did not, much less that he could not have prayed silently and contemplatively as well as using the psalms and other common Jewish prayers. (Though I do not wish to follow this thread at this point, I should also note that the way Mary responded to God's activity in her own life was to "ponder (all these things) in her heart." I have always thought this  meant the whole of the Christ Event, not just Jesus' conception. Sounds like contemplative prayer to me!)

The single prayer Jesus taught his disciples is what we call "the Lord's Prayer" (LP) and generally speaking, it reprises the Jewish prayers Jesus was familiar with --- with the single exception of the invocation ("Abba" or "Pater") whose intimacy goes well beyond anything Jews would have been comfortable with. The Lord's prayer was known in a number of versions in the early Church (we have three now, those in Matt and Luke and the Didache) and so we have Greek translations and Aramaic as well. What we do not have is any indication we are meant merely to recite this prayer. Yes,  Jesus' instructions say, "When you pray, say (λεγετε). . .," but it is important to remember that prayer is the work of God in us and speech in such a context is more speech-act, a matter of saying and doing simultaneously, of making real in space and time, than it is merely a matter of recitation. (Whenever God speaks in the Scriptures things happen, things come to be or come to greater wholeness and perfection. To pray in the Name (i.e., the power, and presence) of God is never merely simply to recite words; it, in Christ, is to change reality, whether our own or that around us.)

Moreover, the LP differs in the versions we have, both in words and in number of petitions. If Jesus was giving us something he simply wanted us to recite (and accurately!) I don't think the early Church would have given us three different versions. And finally, the structure of the prayer corresponds to an outworking of Jesus' instructions, "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God (part 1 of the prayer), and all things else will be given to you. (part 2 of the LP)" We pray by calling upon God by name, an act in which the entire prayer is already accomplished or "heard" (for what else can it mean for our prayer to be heard than to be brought into the intimacy accomplished and evidenced in invoking God by name? Invocation is a speech act which makes God's reign more fully real in history). Then we open (or continue opening) ourselves to God in more specific ways; we open all we are and hold within us to his holiness, his sovereignty or reign, and to his will. We seek the Kingdom first of all; we let God love us, empower us, lead, challenge, and enlighten us; we open ourselves to the coming of his Kingdom in and through our prayer and thus, to being remade in his Son's image and likeness. We seek the accomplishment of God's dreams and will, that is, to being made authentically, exhaustively, and truly human.

And, as the second half of the prayer indicates, with renewed mind and heart we now turn to the present moment without anxiety; we turn to the world of ordinary needs and challenges, the world of daily bread and the love we are called to today --- a love we can receive and rejoice in as gift but for that very reason never hoard; we turn to the world of sin, alienation, and forgiveness, of temptation and freedom, bondage and choice --- and we find we can now live more truly without fear (or the consequences of that fear) in this same world. In other words, the dialogue which goes on in the prayer is deeper than words; it occurs at the level of heart.

The dynamic is not that of speech only (though our words introduce us gradually into this dynamic) but of loving, being loved, and living in light of that love. In other words, when Jesus taught this prayer he was showing his disciples the essence of prayer, not simply giving us a text to recite; he was showing us what had priority in a Christian life devoted to allowing God's life, plans, and projects to come to fulfillment. The LP is more a paradigm of what a prayerful life rooted in the Gospel of God's Kingdom looks like and how it comes about than what prayer sounds like! This is because Jesus was more profoundly concerned with the prayer we would become than the prayers we would say; after all, as indispensable as prayers are and as it was for Jesus, prayer is always more about becoming the incarnation of God's own Word than it is about reciting prayers.

I sincerely hope this is helpful. Let me know if I have been unclear or raised other questions.


28 October 2018

Once Again on the Requirements of Age and Self-Support for the Diocesan Hermit

[[ Dear Sister, your post on c 603 and bankruptcy brings up the question of hermits who seem unable to provide adequately for themselves, whether that has to do with housing, medical care, or other needs. I wonder what you would say about a hermit who lives in abject poverty, housing which is not sanitary or habitable, or who has inadequate medical insurance. Catholic Hermit  writes all the time about her living conditions and now has gone to live with family, at least temporarily; she also writes about not having adequate medical insurance. How can her diocese allow her to represent a public vocation as you say, "in the name of the Church," and yet seemingly have none of her real needs taken care of or even live in eremitical solitude?]]

I have written fairly recently in response to a similar series of questions. Here is the link to that post: Questions on Catholic Hermit blog and Hermit.  I have not written recently about the need to live in eremitical solitude rather than with one's family, for instance, so perhaps I can say a bit more about that here; the question affects other would-be hermits besides "Joyfulhermit" so it might be important to discuss at this point. Otherwise, please check the link provided and get back to me if you don't find it answers your specific questions.

Some very few dioceses have broken with received wisdom and professed young hermits (in their 20's or early 30's, for instance) who may then live with their families. I think this is a mistake for several reasons. First, the eremitical vocation, but especially the solitary eremitical vocation is generally understood as a second half of life vocation. It requires individuals to have lived a rich and independent life before giving over everything to a life of such unusual community ("living together alone"), depth, and intensity. It takes time to negotiate all the ways God calls us to fullness of life, to achieve true individuation, develop an essentially contemplative prayer life, and then move to the kind of depth of listening contemplative life requires.

We will try many avenues to develop our personal capacities and serve others and usually, only along these various intellectual, psychological, social, professional, and other avenues will we learn to hearken to the deep inner reality which is at the heart of contemplative life. Secondly, eremitical life under c 603 means one lives alone and deals with all the exigencies of solitary (not isolated) life. It is not ordinarily lived in the midst of one's family, and certainly not by someone who has not achieved true adulthood apart from their families. Again, it takes time to learn to live one's faith in community with the kind of maturity, depth, and intensity necessary before one embraces a solitary vocation which is truly sensitive to and responsible for an ecclesial identity.

As I have noted before, Karl Jung once wrote that solitude could be lived by those with significant early experiences that suited them to solitude, but at the same time, these are rare individuals since the experiences we are speaking of wound and are more likely to make the person uniquely unsuited for eremitical solitude (it can isolate and make isolation relatively comfortable, but this is not the same as eremitical solitude). In either case, the person will need to work through the woundedness that leads to various dimensions of isolation and allow the love of God and others to transform these into the conditions for authentic eremitical solitude.

In the main this will happen before one can discover a genuine call to eremitical life; in some cases one will need to continue this work at deeper levels of healing and transformation once she is professed. (Because one commits to  live eremitical solitude or "the silence of solitude" in the name of the Church, diocesan hermits are obligated to undertake the healing work necessary to be sure isolation is transfigured and transformed into eremitical solitude and the quies, or stillness of hesychastic silence.) In any case, those who continue to live at home with their families have not yet lived eremitical solitude, and in my opinion, have not yet discerned nor been sufficiently formed to live eremitical solitude.

Even diocesan hermits can run into situations which make temporary living arrangements with family, friends, convents and monastic communities necessary. These need to be discerned and embraced as truly temporary. If they are made necessary by health problems or finances, a diocese will need to discern with the hermit whether or not she will be able to once again live as a solitary hermit. (Living on the grounds of a monastery is not the same situation; in such communities it is typical that the diocesan hermit lives a significant solitude while being a significant part of the monastic and parish or diocesan community.) After years of living as a solitary hermit it may well be one will need caregivers or be required to live in a care facility (especially where one where other religious and priests retire!) and some degree of healthy solitude can be maintained. In such instances no diocese will dispense the hermit's vows; however, if the hermit is relatively young, has many years before her and is simply incapable of living alone or of supporting herself adequately as a solitary hermit, a diocese may well decide her vows should be dispensed (or never allowed or received in the first place) --- and rightly so I think.

Whether the Church is right in her stance on the self-support of diocesan hermits or not (and in general, I believe she is), those who developed c 603, write about it in an expert and canonical capacity, and who live it in season and out,  understand that living with one's family and being generally incapable of living solitary eremitical life as self-supporting does not allow one to witness to the essence of the eremitical vocation, namely, that God alone is sufficient for us. Only very rarely have bishops departed from received wisdom in this matter and professed the too-young or yet-too-dependent. My sense from these professions is that c 603 is still insufficiently understood or appreciated and esteemed even by some among the hierarchy; as we have greater experience of diocesan eremitical life and through the wisdom gleaned from this experience, educate the Church and others on the nature of this vocation, I believe the situation will change.

27 October 2018

On c 603 Vocations and Bankruptcy

[[Dear Sister, if a person is discerning a vocation as a diocesan hermit but has had a bankruptcy, how does this affect their petition to be admitted to public profession and consecration?]]

Brand new question for me! Thanks. I would say that unless there is a reason for the diocese to doubt one's ability to support oneself adequately and prudently as a hermit, I can’t see any reason a bankruptcy would affect the discernment of such a vocation. If, however, this (bankruptcy) bears on the candidate's ability to vow and live religious poverty, to deal with (and avoid) significant debt, to prioritize and moderate one's spending (some expenses are necessary for the diocesan hermit when they might not be for the lay hermit), and other similar issues like assuring adequate medical insurance, housing, formation, etc, then one's diocese might well be concerned by it.

The candidate will know the reasons for the bankruptcy and the diocese, I think, has a right to know what these were or are. Similarly both the diocese and the candidate will need to discern the candidate's capacity for living religious poverty and supporting herself as a diocesan hermit. Insofar as the bankruptcy is a matter of the past alone it should not matter. To the extent it reveals things about the candidate and her relationship with money, or her ongoing needs, impulses, habits, priorities, etc, it will bear on the mutual discernment she and the diocese undertake.

I should note that as I understand it, bankruptcy wipes out significant debt, but also ruins one's credit-worthiness for some time. This takes care of the problem of significant debt --- hermit candidates cannot be admitted to public profession with significant debt; however, it may also cause the diocese some legitimate concern that the hermit will be able to manage finances, house themselves, take care of medical expenses (especially unexpected expenses) and the like. If the bankruptcy is recent a diocese may decide prudentially to prolong the period of discernment for several years until the candidate has established a good track record with finances and so forth. Hermits sign a waiver of liability on the occasion of their perpetual profession which makes it very clear that their dioceses are not responsible in any way for financial support. Still, and partly for this very reason, dioceses must be certain a hermit can and will live religious poverty (which is not the same as simply being materially poor) and that she be able to support herself accordingly without significant debt and/or default. This is only just since these are things the hermit will be called upon to witness to in her life as a consecrated religious.

I hope this is helpful! Be assured of my prayers. Please remember me in your own.

21 October 2018

On Hermit Ministry and the Call to become God's own Prayer in our World

[[Dear Sister, I've been thinking about what you wrote about eremitical life not being selfish earlier this month. I also read the post you linked that one to. I think I understand your position but how in the world would the Church be able to distinguish between someone who is living a form of selfishness and someone who gives up using discrete gifts for the sake of a more basic message?  How does the Church at large see what hermit's witness to when they have such a strong emphasis on ministering to others in active ministries? Do you see your prayer for others being an important piece of your own ministry (not sure I understand about becoming God's own prayer but I don't like the language of "prayer warrior" either)?]]

Your questions are important; thank you for them. Your first question has to do with discernment and implicitly it addresses the importance of the Church's role in governing and supervising eremitical vocations --- at least to the extent they are truly eremitical and genuinely witness to the fact that God alone is sufficient for us. It is true that superficially a selfish life and a life that instead gives up discrete gifts for the sake of this message largely look the same. Both are mainly not involved in active ministry; both are lived in a kind of separation from others. At bottom, however, I think it becomes clear that the motivation for these will differ one from the other; at the same time, when one looks deeper, it becomes clear that the first is NOT lived for the salvation of others while the second one is. You see, the second and authentically eremitical vocation is motivated by love, 1st love of God and through that, by one's love of everyone and everything grounded in God; it will be marked not by selfishness but by the gift of one's time. energy, resources, dwelling place, etc (including some or most all of one's specific gifts and talents), for God's own sake. It is a difficult paradox which trusts that the Gospel message turns on the power of God being made perfect in weakness or even emptiness.

My sense is this will simply not be so clearly the case in the instance of selfishness. A diocese will, over time, be able to see that a hermit lives this life mainly as an expression of selflessness. They will be able to discern how and why this is a vocation of love instead; similarly then, they will be able to discern whether this person is an isolated person happy in their isolation (that is, they are not living or seeking to live eremitical solitude) and who are perhaps attempting to validate this antisocial stance by achieving the standing of a religious, or whether this person/candidate has embraced a necessary separation from others in order to serve them as a hermit. (For those with chronic illnesses, and other forms of brokenness that they are working with and through with spiritual direction, etc., the Church will generally be able to see that isolation has been transformed by God into a "stricter separation from the world" than that embraced by other religious and too, that the person desiring to be known as a hermit will have worked towards and embraced this important redemptive distinction.) I think this is one way the Church discerns whether they are dealing with a lone, isolated individual or whether they are dealing with an authentic eremitical vocation.

Your question about seeing can also be a question about understanding, namely, how does the Church understand what hermit's witness to when they have such a strong emphasis on ministering to others. Here I think the Church must turn to her own theology of the Cross, her own reflection on the cross of Christ and how it was that at the moment Jesus was most incapable of active ministry, when he had to let go of all of his discrete gifts and talents, when, that is, he could count on nothing and no one but the power of God's love working in and through him in his abject poverty and weakness, that was his most powerful act of ministry. Jesus' death on the cross changed the whole of reality; it was  not a matter of healing 1 person or 1000, or even 1,000,000's. His openness and responsiveness to God alone, his witness to the fact that God's love alone is sufficient for us and for reconciling and perfecting the whole of reality, was something he did only as his deepest, most exhaustive act of self-emptying.

My own conviction is that hermits are called to a similar degree of self-emptying. My own life and death are not going to change all of reality in the way Jesus's did, but I participate in moving that same change in Christ forward and I can certainly witness to the foundational truth that nothing at all (including isolation and the lack of gifts and talents with which one can or will serve others) will separate us from the love of God. More, even in our emptiness and incapacity we can witness to a love that is deeper than death and itself can transform all of reality. My own hope is that the Church will come in time to understand more completely that hermits are not primarily called to be prayer warriors or "power houses of prayer", for instance, or to measure their lives in terms of various active ministries, but instead, that we are called to witness in a form of white martyrdom to the Cross of Christ and the way human emptiness itself can become a Sacrament of the powerful and eternal Love-in-act that is God --- if only we are truly obedient to that Love-in-Act. This obedience (which is always motivated by love, faith, and a degree of selflessness) is what I was referring to in the first couple of paragraphs above --- the thing that distinguishes a true hermit from a lone individual whose life is marked by isolation rather than eremitical solitude.

So, in saying this, I think I have anticipated your question about being a prayer warrior vs becoming God's own prayer. Yes, I believe the assiduous prayer a hermit does is important and indispensable. However, in saying I believe the hermit (especially and paradigmatically) is meant to become God's own prayer in the world, what I mean is that in our radical self-emptying and obedience we open ourselves to becoming the Word God speaks to the world. This word, like the Word Incarnate in Christ, will be the embodiment of God's own will, love, life, dreams, purposes, etc. When you or I pray we pour ourselves into our prayer and our prayer is an expression of who we are and yearn to become. At the same time, in prayer (and thus, in Christ) we are taken up more intimately into God's own life. God's own being, will, and "yearnings" for the whole of creation are realties we are called on to express and embody or incarnate with our own lives. When we allow this foundational transformation to occur we more fully become the new creation we were made in baptism, a new kind of language or word event; we become flesh made Word and a personal expression of the Kingdom/Reign (sovereignty) of God. In other words, while hermits (and others!) are called upon to pray assiduously, we are made more fundamentally to be God's own prayer in our world and to witness to the fact that every person is capable of and called to this.

Addendum: I realized I did not answer your question re how the church sees this vocation given her strong emphasis on active ministry. It is a really good question, perceptive and insightful. Unfortunately, despite documents and other clear statements on the importance of contemplative life, my own experience is that generally speaking, chancery personnel distrust contemplative life and especially eremitical forms of contemplative live. In part this is because everything happening there is inner --- a matter of the deepest parts of the human person alone with God --- without this necessarily spilling over into active ministry or immediate personal change (growth here is ordinarily slow and quiet); for this reason such vocations can be difficult to  deal with and seem difficult to govern by those charged with such tasks in the chancery --- especially when these persons are not contemplatives or essentially contemplative themselves.  But in part it is because among chancery clergy and religious  there is sometimes a kind of sense that contemplative prayer is relatively insignificant in comparison to active ministry. (This may well be a reason prayer itself is consistently made into a quasi-active ministry and hermits are called (or called to be) "prayer warriors" by some; this may also stem from the traditional vision of hermits battling the demonic in our world) The notion that the hermit is called to BE someone, namely God's own prayer in our world, rather than simply being called to DO something, namely assiduous prayer and penance is not an easy theologicaL transition for some to take hold of.

It is the case that some who do not understand contemplative prayer mischaracterize and distrust it. This tends to be a more Protestant than Catholic failing but some Catholic clergy has been known to see contemplative prayer in an elitist way, and so, dismiss ordinary person's accounts that they are called to it. Also, however, given the prevalence of individualism rampant in today's society which includes experiments in cocooning and an overemphasis on electronic devices even when we are together socially,  chancery personnel are right to be suspicious of (or at least cautious about) individuals claiming to have felt they have an eremitical vocation, since such vocations are actually antithetical to the individualism of the culture and meant to be prophetic in this regard. Finally, there is the simple fact that such vocations have always been statistically and spiritually rare. Church officials are, in this regard as well, rightly cautious in discerning eremitical vocations or dealing with something whose nature is so clearly paradoxical (e.g., communal in solitude, witnessing in silence, etc).

Thanks again for your questions. I sincerely hope my answer is helpful. Get back to me if it raises more questions.

16 October 2018

Retreat with Sister Ilia Delio at Santa Sabina Center

I returned from a weekend of retreat Sunday afternoon. I had ridden with another Sister to Santa Sabina Center, a ministry of the San Rafael Dominicans, in order to hear Ilia Delio, OSF who gave five sessions on the new cosmology and the coming to human wholeness which is both an evolutionary drive rooted in God Who is the depth dimension of all existence and the result of life in the risen and cosmic Christ.  I like Sister Ilia's work generally but in the last number of years have spent more time on books like, Franciscan Prayer, The Humility of God, Ten Evenings With God, Saint Claire, Compassion, and Simply Bonaventure than I have with books like A Hunger for Wholeness, or The Unbearable Wholeness of Being, etc. Well, it's time to catch up!

My systematic theological foundations are strong and I was delighted to find the work of Paul Tillich pervading (though usually implicit in) the discussions this weekend. My own teacher introduced me to Paul Tillich as an undergraduate (my senior majors' project was his Systematic Theology vol 1-3) and I did more work on Tillich as a doctoral student (his theology of the cross).  And now, the theological insights of Tillich, especially his focus on ontology, his method of correlation and his notion of God as Ground of Being and Meaning will help carry theology into the future of an unfinished and evolutionary universe. At one point during the retreat Ilia quipped that those with degrees in theology would need to go back for another degree -- the demands of  the new cosmology would require it! That does not tempt me, nor is it necessary. My major professor saw clearly I think, the place of Tillich in the future of theology and spirituality --- and the capacity of his theology to transcend the boundaries of new theological paradigms. I am feeling very grateful John Dwyer assigned Paul Tillich to me all those years ago; it was providential and far-seeing of him.

So this was exciting for me this weekend, but even more exciting was seeing the importance of who I am and what I am about in a fresh context and even more intense way. All of the Sisters I know are committed to being a contemplative presence in our world as well as to providing ways to deepen the contemplative dimension  of the lives of those they work with or otherwise touch. We know God not as A Being, but rather as being itself and as the source, ground, and/or depth dimension of all that exists. This is not a new theological idea, not even for Tillich (though he pretty much came to own it) but it conflicts with some traditional theology which treated God as A being --- though the most perfect and superior being. Unfortunately, as Tillich and others (including Ilia this weekend) point out, if God is A being, no matter how powerful or perfect, that God will come in conflict with other beings. It is inescapable. If, however, God is the ground and depth dimension of all that exists, one truth is that to the extent we are and become truly ourselves, God will be allowed to be truly God (and vice versa). The only conflict that will exist, to whatever degree it does exist, will be between authentic and inauthentic, loving and unloving, and that which is rooted in life vs that which is rooted in death.

Physicists representing the new cosmology have come to the conclusion that there is an underlying ground, dimension, or field to reality which can be described as consciousness. Theologians and contemplatives know this dimension, ground, or field as God; they know we participate in this ground, that, in fact, it is the deep dimension of ourselves which gives us ourselves as call and task at each moment of everyday. They know that increasing consciousness, a growth in awareness and community in and through this ground we also know as love-in-act is precisely the essence of the contemplative (and profoundly human) vocation. Traditionally contemplatives describe this increasing awareness and growth in consciousness, this coming to oneness in and through the Love-in-act which/Who is God as "union with God." Traditionally, we also know that growth in union with God will result and manifest itself in increasing union with others and all of creation. In the NT we hear this as the eschatological goal of everything -- it is described as "New Creation" and "God becoming all-in-all". But in all of this we may not hear as clearly as we need to  that this New Creation is coming to be as we speak and that we are responsible for allowing it to occur in fullness.

I have often written here about heaven (God's own life/love shared with others) interpenetrating and transforming or transfiguring this world of space and time. I have written here about God as a constitutive part of our own being. Similarly I have written about hermits (and all persons, really) not merely being called to pray but to become God's own prayers --- the embodiment or incarnation of God's own life, love, will, dreams, breath and word --- in our world; related to this I have written often about eremitical solitude as essentially communal and to isolation or individualism as antithetical to genuine solitude. Especially I have written about why it is eremitism is not essentially selfish but, in the traditional language of canon 603, lived "for the salvation of the world". What I found being stressed time and again during this last weekend's retreat was a context supporting and calling for all of these ideas, but from a new perspective, the perspective of the new cosmology with a theological dependence on Paul Tillich's work in systematics and more explicitly upon the work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. It is one thing to understand one's life as response to a personal call by God, but it is something much richer and more profoundly true to come to see that same Divine call and vocational response as having cosmic implications and cosmic import!

The Camaldolese write about the Sacred Hermitage (Sacra Eremo) in Tuscany as "a small place opening up to [universal or cosmic] space". What I came to know this weekend in a new way was that my own vocation, small, solitary, and relatively singular as it is, is part of  the universe's movement toward an eschatological conclusion --- a critical part of the whole of existence coming to consciousness in God as God gradually comes to be All-in-all. We all have our own small but infinitely meaningful parts to play in this process; in us creation comes to consciousness and more, to articulateness as reality is made Word. It is at once humbling and energizing to begin to look freshly at one's vocation in these terms, to have one's eyes opened in the way my eyes were opened more fully this weekend, and to have before me a whole field of theology I now need to attend to more carefully, diligently, and explicitly --- not simply because it is new (in many ways it is not), but because it is part of the way the dialogue between faith and science and the movement of God to make all things one in and through the risen (and therefore, the cosmic) Christ is taking place --- not just generally, but at Stillsong Hermitage more specifically.