22 July 2018

The Servant Song

This video is several years old but it matched my prayer last night; also, I like to hear James and Cyprian (OSB Cam) singing together so I thought I would share. May we each find the grace to serve and allow ourselves to be served.

20 July 2018

Hermit Going to the Dogs?! A Bit of "Sabbath" Rest

Just sharing a rare picture of myself (the one in the cowl!). I had the service this morning and our business manager had brought her dogs to work; we stopped and a parishioner got a picture before we went in to pray. These dogs are HUGE! The one I am petting in this picture is deaf but what a love. A beautiful morning at St Perpetua's!!

The readings today are about the power of prayer and the need to learn the deeper, greater lesson of Sabbath rest in and with Christ in place of a life of slavish subjection to laws and rules. I am hoping to put up the reflection I gave this morning -- as soon as I have the time to type it up. In the meantime I put up a reprise of another post because it touches on the topic of mercy and the linkage of that to hospitality. The picture to the right is of our chapel altar.

On Being Called to Both Solitude and Hospitality (Reprise)

Last Monday's gospel lection was, I believe, one of the pivotal texts which explain and ground the hermit's esteem for and paradoxical sense of having a call to both solitude and hospitality. It also serves as an illustration of every Christian's need to ground ministry in prayer including solitary prayer and to allow prayer to overflow in active ministry which is a gift of self to all. The text was Matthew's story where Jesus, upon hearing of the death of John the Baptist, retires to the desert to be alone with God. He is pursued by hungry crowds --- hungry on so many levels; he is moved by pity for their needs and ministers to them. Eventually his disciples approach, remind him of the coming darkness and ask Jesus to "dismiss" the crowds so they may return to the village to obtain food for supper. Jesus says there is no need to dismiss them and asks his disciples to bring the scant provisions they have on hand to him. What follows is a Eucharistic meal. Christ feeds the crowds with bread and fishes he multiplies, but he also very clearly feeds them with himself --- abundantly; he pours himself out in this way and gives the gift of himself and the fruits of his relationship with God even when his own need for solitude (time with his Abba) may have been primary.

While Jesus' grief may have been a significant part of his turn to solitude (the texts don't actually indicate this) the evangelist clearly wants us to see this time as another instance in which Jesus' own call to minister --- to be emptied of self, to be broken open and to pour himself out for others as an expression of his unique relationship with his Father --- is discerned and acted out in the world without hesitation. For hermits for whom the demands of solitude and hospitality are inextricably wed, this lection is both encouraging and quite challenging; though they must both be observed and cannot easily be teased apart, in this lection hospitality (or active ministry) assumes apparent priority over solitude. What I think we must see, however, is that Jesus' solitary suffering (grief, loneliness) and relationship with his Father (prayer) together bring him to a compassion which is the basis of his entire ministry. It is the foundation of his complete gift of self to and for the world given without conditions or limits while it also defines the very character of this ministry. Matthew says Jesus is moved by pity for the needs of these others. At the heart of everything Jesus is and does is a compassionate, other-centered drive to mercy -- a mercy which is from and of God.

Solitude Empowers Our Paradoxical Gift of Self::

Authentic solitude empowers a kind of presence, an openness to others and their needs which our own needs do not impede much less dictate. In other words it empowers an other-centeredness which welcomes on their own terms those who come to us seeking "a word". Eremitical solitude is the context for listening and thus welcoming with one's heart. It empowers this and, at least for a time, allows one to set one's own needs and concerns aside in order to listen carefully to the mind and heart of the other who has sought us out. It is only when one has really heard these others that one can respond in a way which is truly inspired. More, really hearing the other IS the inspired response. In the literature of the Desert Fathers and Mothers hermits visited their elders in search of "a Word". What they were in search of though is not some abstract bit of eremitical wisdom, not necessarily what is most important to the elder, for instance, or the insight or principle s/he most treasures or is known for; instead they seek an answer to the questions or yearnings of their own hearts and the elder draws on his or her own experience to provide just the right "Word". "The Word" is a symbol of the seeker being truly heard.

But here is where is gets a little tricky too. Solitude prepares one to give oneself in an openness which is capable of embracing and holding the needs and even the very self of the other --- and quite often this embracing or holding (as noted with hearing above) IS the very thing the person seeking one out really needs. It is incredibly paradoxical that a hermit's solitude (time alone with God for the sake of others) prepares and even calls for hospitality --- especially such a radical hospitality --- but that is the truth which hermits have seen from the very first moment they sought God in the wilderness. When, for instance, we spend time in quiet prayer we open ourselves to God in a way which allows him free reign (and free rein!). In my own prayer I empty myself of discrete expectations, specific desires, wishes, and even hopes, and simply give over my heart and mind to God to dwell in (to know!) and to touch in whatever way God wills. This means he will plumb the depths of every thought, desire, wish, yearning, impulse, and hope I have, every potentiality, every fear and defense, every openness to life or obstacle to it. I pour out my mind and heart to God by emptying myself of these as things I ordinarily grasp so that God himself can explore and embrace them even more exhaustively with his love and mercy. I let go of these individual realities so that God may grasp and transform me. And so it is with hospitality.

When someone seeks me out they are rarely really looking for the "diocesan hermit" or the "theologian" or even the "spiritual director" --- though all of these dimensions of myself may be of help in one way and another and may also be the ostensible reason someone comes to me. Most fundamentally though they are looking for the person who may also BE these things. What I also mean in saying this is that they are not primarily seeking me out for MY sake --- so that I may BE a diocesan hermit or theologian or spiritual director, etc. They are seeking me out so that THEY may BE themselves. They are seeking a place, a sacred space created not only by the hermitage's silence but more especially by a heart and mind that are open to them and to all they need, yearn and hope for. They are seeking me out in the hope that I can truly set myself aside for the time being and make them "at home."  And some hermits or directors or other ministers may forget this; it is a tragic error when they do.

To the extent I can set myself aside so that those who seek me out may be at home, to the extent my time in solitude has prepared me rightly, to the extent I can become transparent to God rather than being about "being a hermit" or a "contemplative", or merely giving "spiritual advice" or instructing the person ABOUT God, to this extent they will be fed and nourished, held, healed, and freshly commissioned to transform the world with God's love far beyond anything I might be capable of empowering myself in any of my usual "roles" or "competencies". That is the hospitality hermits and contemplatives offer others: the hospitality of selflessness and an open heart and mind which are all transparent to God and are formed and nourished in eremitical solitude. Only then will our own competencies and specific gifts be really helpful and the specific "Words" we might be able to say to the person be truly helpful.

Monday's Gospel Text Again:

So Jesus went apart to spend time with his Abba and people sought him out; Jesus, moved with pity, ministered to them. These two impulses, to solitude and to hospitality are inextricably related in Jesus' life and in the life of contemporary hermits --- just as they are in the great commandment. Are there dangers to be avoided, confusions and misunderstandings which are common and must be corrected or avoided? Yes, absolutely --- and it is important for hermits to live disciplined lives while reflecting on and sometimes even writing about these. But solitude and hospitality are two sides of the same coin and we never have one without the other. Nor can one hand another person only one side of a coin. It is the whole coin or it is nothing at all.  Recently I read a blog post which said essentially: [[ If the folks who turn to me, even those who are concerned with how I myself am doing, don't want to hear a message from a hermit about Christianity or the spiritual insights I have gleaned from my mystical experiences, then let them leave me alone!]]

Additional comments gave me a sense that the blogger believed the people turning to Jesus were doing so for petty (merely "temporal") reasons and interrupting Jesus' prayer and solitude for a bit of trivial "conversation". In all of this I was reminded of some soup kitchens where people in real need and hungry on so many levels were  promised a meagre bowl of soup and sandwich only if they listened to a bad preacher with his pre-packaged spiel ABOUT (his version of) Jesus. And I wondered if those ministering to the folks in the soup kitchen realized what those folks really needed was a decent meal in which they encountered God in Christ as someone who shared their table and was truly vulnerable to them. Was there a minister present asking to eat with or have a cup of coffee with them in order to really be WITH and hear THEM? To make neighbors of them? To really love them as a revelation of God? Because of the soup kitchen's focus on pre-packaged messages ABOUT Jesus -- or the blogger's focus on her insights and spiritual "gifts"? I sincerely doubt it.

But the truth is if we are truly hermits (or contemplatives or Christians of whatever stripe or role) then, relatively rare though these encounters may be, it is in meeting us as persons healed and enlivened by a love which makes us truly open and vulnerable that another will meet and hear God in us, not in lectures, or "edifying accounts of mystical experiences" or a litany of spiritual principles and lessons gleaned in a selfish solitude. We meet God in the silence of solitude so that others may meet God in and through us. Even more, we meet God in the silence of solitude so that we may ALSO clearly recognize and reveal God in the other who needs us to do this. It is not the easy way; it is personally costly and thus it is neither bloodless nor without risk, but it is the way of Jesus, and the way of both monastic and eremitical solitude and hospitality.

14 July 2018

O'Donohue, A Morning Offering

 A couple of readers have asked for the complete reference in the piece I wrote yesterday. It's a bit soon for another Contemplative Moment so I am just going to put the piece and related information up here. The book is To bless the Space Between Us by John O'Donohue. The "blessing" those 8 lines from the last post were taken from was called, "A Morning Offering". Here is the entire piece:

I bless the night that nourished my heart
To set the ghosts of longing free
Into the flow and figure of dream
That went to harvest from the dark
Bread for the hunger no one sees.
All that is eternal in me
Welcomes the wonder of this day,
The field of brightness it creates
Offering time for each thing
To arise and illuminate.
I place on the altar of dawn;
The quiet loyalty of breath,
The tent of thought where I shelter,
Waves of desire I am shore to
And all beauty drawn to the eye.
May my mind come alive today
To the invisible geography
That invites me to new frontiers,
To break the dead shell of yesterdays,
To risk being disturbed and changed.
May I have the courage today
To live the life that I would love,
To postpone my dream no longer
But to do at last what I came here for
And waste my heart on fear no more.

13 July 2018

"The Word you are to speak will be given to you"

The Gospel for today is Matt 10:16-23. In it Jesus addresses Apostles being sent on mission set on destroying them; he gives them instructions on how to be effective in what they do, neither being swallowed up by the world they enter with the Gospel of the Kingdom nor offering a kind of domesticated Christianity without --- death notwithstanding --- the power to really change things. This is exactly the same ethic we see from Jesus again and again throughout the scriptures: he traps (or "catches" and stops) those trying to trap him in their own reality and then offers them something new and better in the present moment, all without aggression or hostility. In the language of today's Gospel Jesus acts with the shrewdness of a serpent and the gentleness --- or innocence and simplicity --- of a dove. For those thinking that Christianity offers us a kind of bloodless piety incapable of challenging or otherwise dealing with the world, a piety which makes doormats of disciples the examples Matt gives through the rest of the chapter belies that (cf other posts under the label "gentle as doves . . ." for the real meaning of turn the other cheek, walk the extra mile, give him your tunic too!).

If we pay attention to the tremendous inner drama involved within each disciple in order for Jesus' instructions or commission to be realized in a world which is seriously dangerous to Christians, we will see a little more clearly what today's Gospel asks for from us in the midst of a turbulent world --- and what the mercy of God promises as well. It is, after all, despite the vivid images of brother vs brother and Father vs Son, the inner drama of conversion and transformation that is the real story in today's Gospel.

All of this was brought home to me on Wednesday. I prayed in the morning as usual but after quiet prayer I opened a book by John O'Donohue and prayed his "Morning Offering". I had been doing a lot of personal work with my director, and I had been reflecting on bondage to fear (the result of past trauma), and on contemplative presence.  O'Donohue's "blessing"  (O'Donohue says "Morning Offering" is not a poem but a blessing) was something I took with me then as I travelled on the train to hand therapy in El Cerrito; I had just read the following again as I disembarked to make my way to the appointment:

May my mind come alive today
To the invisible geography
That invites me to new frontiers,
To break the dead shell of yesterdays,
To risk being disturbed and changed.
May I have the courage today
To live the life that I would love,
To postpone my dream no longer
But do at last what I came here for
And waste my heart on fear no more.

I moved to the elevator which would take me to the concourse level of the station and found myself waiting with a care-worn man with a mountain bike. He was older, salt and pepper hair which was also bright blue in the front; he looked like he had been through more than a little in his life and I gave a second thought and even a third to getting on a small and interminably slow elevator alone with him. Then, as we boarded the car two able-bodied men, physically imposing, pushed into the car behind us. Oh boy.

I decided simply, "I will put my fear behind me," and as I did I felt a kind of peace come within and fill me. In a second thought I decided, "I will just be myself and, whatever the situation is, maybe my presence will condition or change it some (not the habit --- which can make one a target --- but my personal presence!)." In any case, I knew I would be fine. The man with the bike greeted me first, "Hi Sister." I responded, "Hi, how goes it?" to which he quickly, even defensively, replied: "In comparison to what?" I thought for a second, (No comparisons here! I am living this present moment; maybe I can help him do so as well) and answered, "Just today. How are you?" My answer stopped him; he seemed surprised. Then, a slow shy smile crept into his face, and he said, "Good! I am really good. I have my faith in God!" Quickly he expanded his comment: "'Once things were really bad and a friend asked me to "Name just one positive thing, just one positive thing.' I told him, I have my faith in God. That's so important!"

 I agreed. and said so
A few seconds later the doors of the elevator car opened and we each went our own way. The two men in the car with us also went on and whether the encounter on the car affected them much I knew the man with the bike had been changed some by it. He had gotten in touch with a precious, empowering piece of his own story and shared it; he implicitly acknowledged the gift my own response had been in its likeness to his friend's demand to name "just one positive thing"; he had allowed himself to touch the treasure of love and friendship he carries within himself even when the darkness threatens to overwhelm; he had dwelt in the present moment with me and his God, and he had been a gift to me in assisting me to do the same. This was the more significant inner drama the Spirit had involved us in.

All kinds of things can prevent us from living in the present moment: past traumata and the fear of repetition or just the triggering of painful memories, busyness and a sense of self-importance, disappointments that make risking ourselves or trusting difficult, the inability to truly entertain a meaningful dream in a way which lets us move forward in the present, the inability to trust in the grace of God that holds us securely no matter what, etc, etc. But Jesus sends us out, commissions us to be his presence in the world, to be shrewd as serpents and gentle as doves; he asks us to be wholly at the service of the Gospel of God and those to whom we are sent. He asks us to dwell in the present moment, to put fear behind us and trust that we will be given what we are to say. He asks us to be wholly present in Him and to the other. When we do that witness is no problem; ''the word we are to speak (the word we are called to be in fact) will be given to us," and the world will be transformed for the good. 

04 July 2018

On Contemplative Prayer and Living

[[Dear Sister, hi there! Do you think of yourself as a contemplative? I wondered if there is a way to justify living as a contemplative. I grew up in a Protestant family and was taught to distrust contemplative prayer and maybe contemplative living too. This had something to do with distrusting prayer rooted in an inner and unverifiable mass of feelings. Too subjective I guess. Later I became a Catholic and more and more came to appreciate the accent it has on active ministry. But my pastor also talks about how important it is to cultivate a contemplative way of living and praying. He reads your blog by the way and suggested I look at it; he also said you might answer any questions I had. imagine my surprise to find you had written a piece called "A Contemplative Moment: How I become Myself"! So I was wondering how you can justify not working and being a contemplative. Can you answer this for me? Thank you.]]

Welcome to this blog! I realize you don't know me and I also understand something of where you are coming from when you say that you learned to distrust contemplative prayer and life. Despite what Catholics say "officially" I suspect many of them really don't trust contemplative life and think contemplative prayer itself is for an elitist few. Some Protestant ecclesial groups tend, as you say, to distrust the subjectivity of contemplative prayer. Some speak outright about the devil tricking folks to believe they are communing with God when really they are, at best, only navel gazing.

If you check under labels for my posts you will find a number dedicated to the heart. The way we conceive of the human heart is an important part of why we consider contemplative prayer a critical piece of Christian spirituality. For me and for other Christians the human heart is the center of the human being and the place "where God bears witness to Godself''. This idea or description of the human heart recognizes that the most central, sacred, and inalienable part of ourselves is an event rooted in the continuing gift/speech of God. We must learn to listen to and with our hearts and that is an essentially contemplative  thing. Our culture esteems rationality, thinking, busyness, but is not too comfortable with matters of the heart in this sense. Thus it takes real work to learn to listen to one's heart, and more, to listen with one's heart. Quiet or contemplative prayer is really about this. It allows us to truly be present to and for another --- something our world needs desparately.

I am reminded of a poem by Wendell Berry. Berry captures a sense of the work of contemplation and contemplative living. It is counterintuitive and contrary to our usual Enlightenment ways of approaching reality. Berry writes in Standing by Words:

The Real Work
It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.
So, what I can say to you now is that contemplative prayer and contemplative living are vastly different things than most people know or have experienced. I suppose I would be surprised that these are not distrusted by some, especially by those who cannot trust subjectivity, paradox, or who overestimate external authority. However, contemplatives tend to take our stand in discernment as Jesus described it: by their fruits you shall know them. That said, the folks I know who are contemplative value truth, are loving and compassionate, and are incredibly committed to personal integrity. Their way is non-violent and respectful of others and the whole of creation. They work quite hard pouring out their lives for others and exploring an inner landscape most may not even imagine exists. While contemplative living may be relatively rare today this does not mean such lives are elitist; no, the truth is all are called to this kind of living and prayer. It is a focused way of living, attentive, and care-full. There is nothing strange or unworthy of trust about it. It is, quite simply, authentically human.
In saying all of this please be aware I am not writing a justification of contemplation or contemplative living. I don't think I need to do that. Instead, I believe folks who distrust these things need to re-examine their objections. Eremitical life is fraught with stereotypes and sometimes authentic hermits suffer when otherwise intelligent folks hold such stereotypes. I guess the same is true with regard to contemplative prayer and life. Stereotypes get in the way of real understanding. Fortunately, your questions indicate you are not allowing that to occur here.

03 July 2018

A Contemplative Moment: Now I Become Myself

Now I Become Myself
May Sarton, Collected Poems 1930-1993
Now I become myself. It's taken
Time, many years and places;
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people's faces,
Run madly, as if Time were there,
Terribly old, crying a warning,
'Hurry, you will be dead before --'
(What? Before you reach the morning?
Or the end of the poem is clear?
Or love safe in the walled city?)
Now to stand still, to be here,
Feel my own weight and density!
The black shadow on the paper
Is my hand; the shadow of a word
As thought shapes the shaper
Falls heavy on the page, is heard.
All fuses now, falls into place
From wish to action, word to silence,
Mark my word, my love, my time, my face
Gathered into one intense
Gesture of growing like a plant.
As slowly as a ripening fruit
Fertile, detached, and always spent,
Falls but does not exhaust the root,
Grows in me and becomes the song,
Made so and rooted by love.
Now there is time and Time is young.
O, in this single hour I live
All of myself and do not move.
I, the pursued, who madly ran,
Stand still, stand still, and stop the sun!

25 June 2018

On Ecclesial Vocations

[[Dear Sister, you stress the importance of consecrated eremitical life. What I just don't get is how I can say to my diocese's Vicar for Religious that I have discerned a vocation to c 603 eremitical life and then have the Vicar tell me that she and others in the diocese have to discern the same thing in order to profess me. If they don't discern the same thing it says I have been wrong. I just don't understand how they can do this to me or to anyone else. How can they diss my discernment like this?]]

I really "get" your questions. They are excellent and are questions I once asked myself. In fact, I think they represent some of the last bits of what needed to be resolved as I came to understand ecclesiality and ecclesial vocations in particular. While all vocations have a personal dimension and are lived out within the church, some vocations are defined as personal and some are ecclesial by definition. A personal vocation only requires personal discernment. Ecclesial vocations too require personal discernment and this is taken absolutely seriously. But for ecclesial vocations, vocations which belong to the very life and holiness of the church, unlike with personal vocations, the Church too must discern the reality of the vocation. More, the church must govern or supervise such vocations and, in fact, will publicly mediate both God's own call and the person's response.

It is because ecclesial vocations actually belong primarily to the church herself rather than to the individual that we call them ecclesial. This is true of vocations to the consecrated state. A person who believes they are called to religious life or c 603 eremitical life or c 604 (consecrated virginity), for instance, must enter into a situation where the church herself can discern the nature and quality of the vocation along with the individual's discernment. When I speak of ecclesial vocations needing to be mutually discerned this is what I mean. A religious, for instance, enters a long process of mutual discernment, first as a candidate, next as a novice, then as a temporary professed religious, and finally, after up to nine years in community, as a perpetually professed religious.

Canon 603 hermits also go through a longer rather than a shorter period of mutual discernment though there is no formal candidacy or novitiate. Ordinarily c 603 hermits have been professed in community and grown in their relation to solitude. Those who have not been religious will usually spend at least 5 years under the supervision of their dioceses before admission to profession. In time they may be admitted to perpetual profession and consecration. Those who have been religious will still spend at least a couple of years in discernment and formation of a c 603 vocation. Again, these vocations belong to the Church first of all; it is therefore up to the Church to discern such vocations and extend or refuse to extend the rights and obligations associated with them to an individual whose own discernment causes her to petition for admission to profession and consecration.

I don't think this discussion can be cast in terms of a simple right vs wrong --- at least not for those discerning vocations as hermits. If the church (a diocese or local church acting on behalf of the church Universal) decides she will not admit a person to public vows (profession) and consecration as a diocesan hermit the person may still live eremitical life in the lay state. If one lives eremitical in this way for some time and is clear she wishes to do so in the consecrated state, she may generally re-approach her diocese after several years and petition once again. If one's diocese has decided not to use c 603 at all, one may then decide to move to another diocese and petition. In regard to c 603, it is or can be much more complicated than simply being right or wrong about whether one has a vocation to live consecrated eremitical life.

There is one more thing I think is not well enough understood by those who speak of "discerning a religious vocation". Most of the people I have spoken to say they are discerning a vocation to religious life before they have ever entered a convent or monastery. In fact, these folks are discerning whether they will perhaps enter to mutually discern a religious vocation. One does not discern such a vocation before one enters and begins the process of mutual discernment. (It is true that one may not do well enough on the psychological testing or pre-entrance interviews to be allowed to enter and one will have to consider what this means but strictly speaking, beyond the most initial determination of interest and decision to "try" one's vocation, one only discerns a religious vocation after one enters a religious institute.

20 June 2018

Followup Questions on Counterfeit or Fraudulent Hermits and Possible Solutions

[[Dear Sister Laurel, how can someone write the following if they are not a canonical hermit? I ask because this person is clear she has private vows. Isn't she really misleading people? Won't people be hurt? [[My vocation as a consecrated Catholic hermit seems all the more in the background as far as the temporal aspects of this unique vocation.  When I notice that the posts regarding "how" to become a Catholic hermit continue to be the most often read of my blog, I am thankful to be of assistance to others.]] I am also wondering how people are supposed to tell the difference between real Catholic hermits and fraudulent hermits. Is there a solution to this problem? You mentioned that Rome was concerned.]]

Googling "Becoming a Catholic Hermit":

Yes, if one googles 'becoming a Catholic hermit' or similar terms the website you are citing comes up at the top of the list. This, I think, is because the blog author fraudulently identifies herself in every post --- often several times in each post --- as a consecrated Catholic hermit. At the same time the author (Ms McClure) gives seriously incorrect instructions on how one becomes a Catholic hermit because she claims someone need only hear a divine call on their own and make private vows. A mistaken corollary she continues to assert is that private vows initiate one into the consecrated state. Were this true no lay vocation could use private vows and remain a lay vocation; similarly, public (canonical) vows and mutual discernment would be unnecessary in ecclesial vocations. But of course, Ms McClure ("joyful hermit") is wrong and misleads people in these matters to the extent people actually read and give credence to her blog.

However, generally speaking, a person trying to follow Ms McClure's instructions will run into problems which could be embarrassing and potentially isolating if they insist on being recognized as a consecrated Catholic hermit in their parishes or dioceses. When one does this pastors and bishops, vicars, canonists, and even religious men and women in staff positions will bring one up short with the truth: namely, unless one belongs to a canonical religious institute or made a public profession in the hands of the bishop of this diocese (or he accepted your profession if one later moved here) one is not a consecrated hermit. Period. Some might go farther and explain that pretending one is a consecrated hermit in spite of the truth will trivialize the vocation the church has recognized in canon 603 or in institutes of hermit monks and nuns; for that reason neither they nor you should do this. Rightly they will point out it will also confuse the faithful and potentially harm vocations in the church, especially to those discerning whether God might be calling them to become a consecrated hermit under c 603.

Pitfalls of the Blogosphere:

But blogging is less restricted. One can claim to be anything, I suppose, nor does one have to publicize one's diocese, etc. (This is not really possible for those who claim canonical vocations; these folks must identify their institute, monastery, or diocese. This is part of claiming, and indeed having, a public vocation.) One who is making fraudulent claims can even convince oneself that a lie one tells is truth --- especially if one has nothing else to hold onto and/or because one cannot accept the truth. I cannot explain Ms McClure's fraudulent blogging any other way. This is especially so because she once understood the truth and struggled with it on another blog. As she wrote there, a canonist explained matters to her and at least twice she decided against requesting her bishop profess her under canon 603 while she accepted she would not be a Catholic hermit. She wrote then in response to her Bishop's letter: [[There is now even greater freedom, and the hermit is secularized as a hermit, for the angel did not say the hermit had been chosen for the "Catholic" hermit life but that God had chosen the hermit for the "hermit life." But the hermit is a Christian and is a Catholic at that, but simply a hermit.]] The Complete Hermit (cf October 8, 2007.)

At the time I very much appreciated Ms McClure's struggle and apparent resolution of this struggle as she came to accept a very difficult decision: she was/is a Catholic Christian and felt called by God to become a hermit but she would not be a Catholic hermit; her Bishop was not going to profess her. The next step in integrating this decision would need to be a growing appreciation for the lay eremitical vocation, something I hoped for and reflected on here myself. That step would have really served others as Ms McClure worked to plumb the depths of this specific form of eremitical vocation. As I have noted here before, most hermits will always be lay hermits living this calling by virtue of their baptismal consecration sans the additional consecration and public profession of the consecrated state of life. For one to live eremitical life in the lay state could mean one becomes a resource to others who will only live eremitical life in the lay state. The lay hermit can be a significant prophetic presence within the Church and for the world more generally (think Desert Abbas and Ammas). But that means accepting the truth that one is truly living eremitical life in the lay (versus the consecrated) state of life.

The Problem of Verification:

You ask how one is supposed to tell the difference between a canonical and a non-canonical hermit. The first thing, of course, is to ask the person directly; "Are you canonically (publicly) professed as a hermit?" Similar questions a canonical hermit will answer include, "In whose hands (what bishop/diocese) were you professed?" "Who is your legitimate superior?"

A Catholic hermit who is necessarily publicly professed will either identify the institute to which they belong (Camaldolese, etc.), or they will name the bishop of this diocese, the diocese in which they reside. As a diocesan hermit I was given a kind of affidavit on the day of perpetual profession which testifies to this event. It is signed by the bishop and notarized by the Chancery's ecclesial notary. I don't carry it around with me, of course, but I can easily show it if needed. If the hermit refuses to answer, one can contact (or have one's pastor contact) the local chancery and ask if a person is a consecrated hermit (one may add, "in good standing.") The chancery will answer yea or nay and they may provide the date of the hermit's perpetual eremitical profession but will give no other information.

Will People be Hurt?

You also ask if people will be hurt by counterfeit or fraudulent "consecrated hermits". The simple answer is yes. We see that hermits who wrongly or even fraudulently insist they are consecrated, religious, Catholic, or diocesan hermits do so seeking to be recognized and to have a public presence as such. They do not do so and simply fade into the desert never to be heard from again. They have groups on Facebook, blogs, etc. They may show themselves in cowls or habits and in some cases insist on styling themselves as Sister or Brother or Friar. In each of these cases they do so to garner readership, increase membership, and generally represent themselves as Catholic Hermits who are living eremitical life in the name of the Church. People will follow their example and (as noted in your own question) their own instructions on becoming Catholic hermits. At the very least they draw others into a lie which actually betrays the promise which lies at the heart of the Gospel and desert spirituality, namely, in Christ (and in solitude) you will find the freedom to be yourself without pretense or dishonesty. You will find the freedom to stand in the truth of your own identity.

Thomas Merton identified the promise of eremitical life in its witness to certain claims of nature and grace. Fraud and pretense do not witness to the claims Merton was describing. They belie these claims. Moreover, hermits have been stereotyped for centuries in terms of eccentricity, escapism,  misanthropy, and the like. Lay hermits who pretend to consecration and style themselves publicly in ways they have no right to give strength to these stereotypes. If a person can't face the truth of who they are in the Church, how can they pretend to speak of  the power of  the Gospel lived in solitude to nurture personal truth? How can they witness to this happening in a relationship with God rooted in human poverty and Divine grace? Certainly those who persist in this kind of untruth, those who believe that they can become consecrated Catholic hermits by the wholly private act of making private vows and encourage others to follow them in the same kind of mistakes are not helping anyone to really become a "Catholic hermit".

CICLSAL, Rome, and Possible Solutions:

I did mention that CICLSAL (Congregation of Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life) has taken up the problem of counterfeit or fraudulent hermits and may be doing more about this in the future. What solutions might they undertake? What can help? Canonists, I think, think in terms of additional canon law when they consider possible solutions but in this matter I can't see how more canon law will help. On one level the situation is not difficult: make sure every person claiming to be a consecrated hermit has her consecration or profession verified. Ordinarily this would happen on the parish level. If verification is not accessible, do not treat the person as a consecrated hermit.

On another level additional canons will not help. We already have two canons which affirm one may not style an enterprise Catholic unless one has been given the right to do so by proper authority. Perhaps this can be clarified so one knows these canons apply to persons and roles as well as to TV stations, businesses, or other enterprises but again, no new canons are required. Most folks know little or nothing of canon law anyway. Others see it as irrelevant and unnecessary. Some criticize canon law --- including canon 603 --- as a form of institutionalization which betrays the freedom of the hermit life. Additional canons only mean these same people will know even less about more canon law.

One solution (or series of interlocking solutions) depends on education. Pastors and others in leadership roles in the Church need to understand the importance and charism of the eremitical life. Unless people are educated to recognize the gift such a life is, they will not see the betrayal of the gift fraudulent hermits represent. Chanceries themselves cannot adequately discern such vocations unless they know what the charism of the solitary call to eremitical life is. (Part of this knowledge depends upon the capacity of the personnel discerning these vocations to unpack the richness of canon 603 so they are aware of how truly sufficient it is. Personally I believe this "unpacking" is key to many of the problems involved in implementing canon 603.) The same need for education exists regarding the rights and obligations associated with living eremitical life "in the name of the Church". There is a serious need to understand what these are and what it means to be admitted to the profession which allows one to live out this role. Certain terms need to be better understood by everyone in the Church as well: the consecrated state of life versus baptismal consecration, institutes (as used in c 603), profession (a term used only for public vows), public vs private (not identical with being known by people and unknown by people!), state of life, freedom versus license, ecclesial vocations, Catholic hermit, and maybe a handful of other terms.

What I would personally like to see is a publication by CICLSAL which serves as a guidebook to canon 603 and which explicates the meaning and vision of the central elements comprising the canon. Diocesan hermits themselves could assist with this. After all, we live the canon day in and day out and spend time understanding it better and better --- better, I would wager, than most canonists and bishops! The difference in the way I understood it when I first petitioned to be admitted to profession and today, especially after writing a couple of revisions of my Rule in the intervening years is really significant. Today I see the canon as a gem which is truly beautiful in the way it codifies and allows the light of the solitary eremitical vocation to shine forth. But it must be unpacked!

Such a guidebook could clarify the vocabulary mentioned above and reiterate the theology of the consecrated life which is misconstrued by fraudulent or mistaken hermits. It could clarify the meaning of Pars 920-921 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Similarly, such a guidebook could address the problems of discernment and formation of canon 603 vocations. It could be available to every diocese to assist them in discerning and assisting in the formation canon 603 hermits.

A second but important piece of any solution to the problem of counterfeits and frauds is a sound theology of eremitical life lived in the lay state. Hermits have significant and  prophetic vocations and this is true whether these vocations are lived in the lay or the consecrated states. Remember that he term lay has two senses. The first is the hierarchical sense --- meaning the Church is hierarchical and this hierarchy is divided into clerical and lay. In the hierarchical sense anyone who is not part of the ordained priesthood is a lay person, The second is a vocational sense --- meaning one lives a vocation in a given stable state of life; one may be a priest or a lay person who is admitted to public profession as a hermit and thus, to the consecrated state of life. Vatican II began to publicize a recognition of the dignity and import of the lay vocation (i.e., any vocation lived in the lay state). It has taken time for the position of VII on the laity to be more fully integrated in the Church.

Only as lay persons took this vocational state seriously and wrote of their experience was VII's accomplishment in regard to the laity truly established (as noted above, something similar is true with diocesan hermits and c 603; diocesan hermits have explored the meaning of canon 603 by living this vocation day by day); lay hermits can expect something similar with regard to eremitical life lived with or without the benefit of private vows. Reflection on lay eremitical life can only be really adequately done by lay hermits but I believe this is certainly an important piece of the solution to fraudulent "consecrated" hermits. If those considering and discerning eremitical vocations can see that the choice between living eremitical life in the lay state or doing so in the consecrated state involves a choice between two genuinely significant vocations, we might see fewer occasions of counterfeit or fraudulent "consecrated" hermits.

19 June 2018

Feast of Saint Romuald (Reprise)

Romuald Receives the Gift of Tears,
Br Emmaus O'Herlihy, OSB (Glenstal)

Congratulations to all Camaldolese and Prayers! Today is the the feast day of the founder of the Camaldolese Congregations! We remember the anniversary of solemn profession of many Camaldolese as well as the birthday of the Prior of New Camaldoli, Dom Cyprian Consiglio.

Ego Vobis, Vos Mihi,: "I am yours, you are mine"

Saint Romuald has a special place in my heart for two reasons. First he went around Italy bringing isolated hermits together or at least under the Rule of Benedict --- something I found personally to resonate with my own need to seek canonical standing and to subsume my personal Rule of Life under a larger, more profound, and living tradition or Rule; secondly, he gave us a form of eremitical life which is uniquely suited to the diocesan hermit. St Romuald's unique gift (charism) to the church involved what is called a "threefold good", that is, the blending of the solitary and communal forms of monastic life (the eremitical and the cenobitical), along with the third good of evangelization or witness -- which literally meant (and means) spending one's life for others in the power and proclamation of the Gospel.

Stillsong Hermitage
So often people (mis)understand the eremitical life as antithetical to communal life, to community itself, and opposed as well to witness or evangelization. As I have noted many times here they mistake individualism and isolation for eremitical solitude. Romuald modeled an eremitism which balances the eremitical call to physical solitude and a commitment to God alone with community and outreach to the world to proclaim the Gospel. I think this is part of truly understanding the communal and ecclesial dimensions which are always present in true solitude. The Camaldolese vocation is essentially eremitic, but because the solitary dimension or vocation is so clearly rooted in what the Camaldolese call "The Privilege of Love" it therefore naturally has a profound and pervasive communal dimension which inevitably spills out in witness. Michael Downey describes it this way in the introduction to The Privilege of Love:

Theirs is a rich heritage, unique in the Church. This particular form of life makes provision for the deep human need for solitude as well as for the life shared alongside others in pursuit of a noble purpose. But because their life is ordered to a threefold good, the discipline of solitude and the rigors of community living are in no sense isolationist or self-serving. Rather both of these goods are intended to widen the heart in service of the third good: The Camaldolese bears witness to the superabundance of God's love as the self, others, and every living creature are brought into fuller communion in the one love.

Monte Corona Camaldolese
The Benedictine Camaldolese live this by having both cenobitical and eremitical expressions wherein there is a strong component of hospitality. The Monte Corona Camaldolese which are more associated with the reform of Paul Giustiniani have only the eremitical expression which they live in lauras --- much as the Benedictine Camaldolese live the eremitical expression.

In any case, the Benedictine Camaldolese charism and way of life seems to me to be particularly well-suited to the vocation of the diocesan hermit since she is called to live for God alone, but in a way which ALSO specifically calls her to give her life in love and generous service to others, particularly her parish and diocese. While this service and gift of self ordinarily takes the form of solitary prayer which witnesses to the foundational relationship with God we each and all of us share, it may also involve other, though limited, ministry within the parish including limited hospitality --- or even the outreach of a hermit from her hermitage through the vehicle of a blog!

In my experience the Camaldolese accent in my life supports and encourages the fact that even as a hermit (or maybe especially as a hermit!) a diocesan hermit is an integral part of her parish community and is loved and nourished by them just as she loves and nourishes them! As Prior General Bernardino Cozarini, OSB Cam, once described the Holy Hermitage in Tuscany (the house from which all Camaldolese originate in one way and another), "It is a small place. But it opens up to a universal space." Certainly this is true of all Camaldolese houses and it is true of Stillsong Hermitage as a diocesan hermitage as well.

The Privilege of Love

For those wishing to read about the Camaldolese there is a really fine collection of essays on Camaldolese Benedictine Spirituality which was noted above. It is written by OSB Camaldolese monks, nuns and oblates. It is entitled aptly enough, The Privilege of Love and includes topics such as, "Koinonia: The Privilege of Love", "Golden Solitude," "Psychological Investigations and Implications for Living Alone Together," "An Image of the Praying Church: Camaldolese Liturgical Spirituality," "A Wild Bird with God in the Center: The Hermit in Community," and a number of others. It also includes a fine bibliography "for the study of Camaldolese history and spirituality."

Romuald's Brief Rule:

And for those who are not really familiar with Romuald, here is the brief Rule he formulated for monks, nuns, and oblates. It is the only thing we actually have from his own hand and is appropriate for any person seeking an approach to some degree of solitude in their lives or to prayer more generally. ("Psalms" may be translated as "Scripture".)

Sit in your cell as in paradise. Put the whole world behind you and forget it. Watch your thoughts like a good fisherman watching for fish. The path you must follow is in the Psalms — never leave it. If you have just come to the monastery, and in spite of your good will you cannot accomplish what you want, take every opportunity you can to sing the Psalms in your heart and to understand them with your mind. And if your mind wanders as you read, do not give up; hurry back and apply your mind to the words once more. Realize above all that you are in God's presence, and stand there with the attitude of one who stands before the emperor. Empty yourself completely and sit waiting, content with the grace of God, like the chick who tastes and eats nothing but what his mother brings him.

17 June 2018

Update: Healing Continues

Many thanks to all who have kept me in prayer. Just to update things, I went to the doctor's last Tuesday to get new xrays and meet with the PA to plan the next stage of treatment. Doc was out of town but the PA, who is quite fine, has been part of things right along and we joked as I showed off my newfound knowledge of the anatomy of the wrist on the newest fluoroscopy! The xrays were good. The bones are healing well and the styloid process of the ulna, though still largely displaced, is attached to the distal head of the ulna by a very thin piece of bone now; I am told the remaining space between the process and the rest of the ulna will just "fill in" with bone. I find that incredible. What causes it to do that? How does it "know" to do it? I have to believe what one Sister reminded me of, namely, our bodies have an intelligence and wisdom about them we don't often appreciate.

So, the bones in my wrist are not in quite the same position as before their fracture but the spaces between bones look good and the prognosis is very good. I will begin hand therapy as soon as I can get in to a PT specializing in that --- and as soon as I can arrange transportation. Meanwhile, I am doing some beginning range of motion exercises available on You Tube (the internet is an incredible source of information and videos!). I may also pull out my violin and keep it available to do some gentle exercises to increase strength and ROM whenever I am allowed to do that. In order to protect my wrist from unexpected movements or impact I'll also be keeping the long splint on at least another three weeks whenever I am not showering, exercising my hand, etc. (The picture above is of the short splint I will then use.) No bike riding for a while yet though. : :sigh::

I will ask folks for continued prayers. You might focus on prayers for increased patience and perseverance as I begin hand therapy and need to do the exercises regularly every couple of hours or so here at home as well! Of course general prayers for complete healing are most welcome! Thanks.

08 June 2018

What does it mean to be a " Hermit in an Essential Sense"?

[[Dear Sister when you have spoken of readiness for discernment with a diocese and even temporary profession as a solitary hermit you have said it is necessary for a person to be a hermit in some essential sense. Could you say more about what you mean by this phrase? I think maybe I know what you are talking about but I also find the phrase difficult to define. Thanks!]]


That's such a great and important question! For me personally, articulating the definition of this phrase or the description of what I mean by it has been a bit difficult. It is a positive phrase but in some ways I found my own senses of what I meant by this come to real clarity by paying attention to examples of inauthentic eremitical life, individuals who call themselves hermits, for instance, but who, while nominally Catholic, are isolated and/or subscribe to a spirituality which is essentially unhealthy while embracing a theology which has nothing really to do with the God of Jesus Christ.  To paraphrase Jesus, not everyone who says "Lord, Lord" actually  has come to know the sovereignty of the Lord intimately. In other words it was by looking at what canonical hermits were not and could or should never be that gave me a way of articulating what I meant by "being a hermit in some essential sense." Since God is the one who makes a person a hermit, it should not surprise you to hear I will be describing the "essential hermit" first of all in terms of God's activity.

Related to this then is the fact that the hermit's life is a gift to both Church and world at large. Moreover, it is a gift of a particular kind. Specifically it proclaims the Gospel of God in word and deed but does so in the silence of solitude. When speaking of being a hermit in some essential way it will be important to describe the qualities of mission and charism that are developing (or have developed) in the person's life. These are about more than having a purpose in life and reflect the simple fact that the eremitical vocation belongs to the Church. Additionally they are a reflection of the fact that the hermit precisely as hermit reflects the good news of salvation in Christ which comes to her in eremitical solitude. If it primarily came to her in another way (in community or family life for instance) it would not reflect the redemptive character of Christ in eremitical solitude and therefore her life could not witness to or reveal this to others in and through eremitical life. Such witness is the very essence of the eremitical life.

The Experience at the Heart of Authentic Eremitism:

Whenever I have written about becoming a hermit in some essential sense I have contrasted it with being a lone individual, even a lone pious person who prays each day. The point of that contrast was to indicate that each of us are called to be covenantal partners of God, dialogical realities who, to the extent we are truly human, are never really alone. The contrast was first of all meant to point to the fact that eremitical life involved something more, namely, a desert spirituality. It was also meant to indicate that something must occur in solitude which transforms the individual from simply being a lone individual. That transformation involves healing and sanctification. It changes the person from someone who may be individualistic to someone who belongs to and depends radically on God and the church which mediates God in word and sacrament. Such a person lives her life in the heart of the Church in very conscious and deliberate ways. Her solitude is a communal reality in this sense even though she is a solitary hermit. Moreover, the shift I am thinking of that occurs in the silence of solitude transforms the person into a compassionate person whose entire life is in tune with the pain and anguish of a world yearning for God and the fulfillment God brings to all creation; moreover it does so because paradoxically, it is in the silence of solitude that one comes to hear the cry of all in union with God.

If the individual is dealing with chronic illness, for instance, then they are apt to have been marginalized by their illness. What tends to occur to such a person in the silence of solitude if they are called to this as a life vocation is the shift to a life that marginalizes by choice and simultaneously relates more profoundly or centrally. Because it is in this liminal space that one meets God and comes to union with God, a couple of things happen: 1) one comes to know one has infinite value because one is infinitely loved by God, not in terms of one's productivity, one's academic or other success, one's material wealth, and so forth, 2) one comes to understand that all people are loved and valued in the same way which allows one to see themselves as "the same" as others rather than as different and potentially inferior (or, narcissistically, superior), 3) thus one comes to know oneself as profoundly related to these others in God rather than as disconnected or unrelated and as a result, 4) chronic illness ceases to have the power it once had to isolate and alienate or to define one's entire identity in terms of separation, pain, suffering, and incapacity, and 5) one is freed to be the person God calls one to be in spite of chronic illness. The capacity to truly love others, to be compassionate, and to love oneself in God are central pieces of this.

The Critical Question in Discernment of Eremitical Vocations:

 What is critical for the question at hand is that the person finds themselves in a  transformative relationship with God in solitude and thus, eremitical solitude becomes the context for a truly redemptive experience and a genuinely holy life. When I speak of someone being a hermit in some essential sense I am pointing to being a person who has experienced the salvific gift the hermit's life is meant to be for hermits and for those they witness to. It may be that they have begun a transformation which reshapes them from the heart of their being, a kind of transfiguration which heals and summons into being an authentic humanity which is convincing in its faith, hope, love, and essential joy. Only God can work in the person in this way and if God does so in eremitical solitude --- which means more than a transitional solitude, but an extended solitude of desert spirituality --- then one may well have thus become a hermit in an essential sense and may be on the way to becoming a hermit in the proper sense of the term as well.

If God saves in solitude (or in abject weakness and emptiness!), if authentic humanity implies being a covenant partner of God capable of mediating that same redemption to others in Christ, then a canonical hermit (or a person being seriously considered for admission to canonical standing and consecration MUST show signs of these as well as of having come to know them to a significant degree in eremitical solitude.  It is the redemptive capacity of solitude (meaning God in solitude) experienced by the hermit or candidate as  "the silence of solitude"  which is the real criterion of a vocation to eremitical solitude. (See other posts on this term but also Eremitism, the Epitome of Selfishness?) It is the redemptive capacity of God in the silence of solitude that the hermit must reflect and witness to if her eremitical life is to be credible.

Those Putative "Hermits" not Called to Eremitical Solitude:

For some who seek to live as hermits but are unsuccessful, eremitical solitude is not redemptive. As I have written before the destructive power of solitude overtakes and overwhelms the entire process of growth and sanctification which the authentic hermit comes to know in the silence of solitude. What is most striking to me as I have considered this question of being a hermit in some essential sense is the way some persons' solitude and the label "hermit" are euphemisms for alienation, estrangement, and isolation. Of course there is nothing new in this and historically stereotypes and counterfeits have often hijacked the title "hermit".  The spiritualities involved in such cases are sometimes nothing more than validations of the brokenness of sin or celebrations of self-centeredness and social failure; the God believed in is often a tyrant or a cruel judge who is delighted by our suffering -- which he is supposed to cause directly -- and who defines justice in terms of an arbitrary "reparation for the offences" done to him even by others, a strange kind of quid pro quo which might have given even St Anselm qualms.

These "hermits" themselves seem unhappy, often bitter, depressed and sometimes despairing. They live in physical solitude but their relationship with God is apparently neither life giving nor redemptive -- whether of the so-called hermit or those they touch. Neither are their lives ecclesial in any evident sense and some are as estranged from the Church as they are from their local communities and (often) families. Because there is no clear sense that solitude is a redemptive reality for these persons, neither is there any sense that God is really calling them to eremitical life and the wholeness represented by union with God and characterized by the silence of solitude. Sometimes solitude itself seems entirely destructive, silence is a torturous muteness or fruitlessness; in such cases there is no question the person is not called to eremitical solitude.

Others who are not so extreme as these "hermits" never actually embrace the silence of solitude or put God at the center of their lives in the way desert spirituality requires and witnesses to. They may even be admitted to profession and consecration but then live a relatively isolated and mediocre life filled with distractions, failed commitments (vows, Rule), and rejected grace. Some instead replace solitude with active ministry so that they really simply cannot witness to the transformative capacity of the God who comes in silence and solitude. Their lives thus do not show evidence of the incredibly creative and dynamic love of God who redeems in this way but it is harder to recognize these counterfeits. In such cases the silence of solitude is not only not the context of their lives but it is neither their goal nor the charism they bring to church and world. Whatever the picture they have never been hermits in the essential sense.

Even so, all of these lives do help us to see what is necessary for the discernment of authentic eremitical vocations and too what it means to say that someone is a hermit in some essential sense. Especially they underscore the critical importance that one experiences God's redemptive intimacy in the silence of solitude and that one's life is made profoundly meaningful, compassionate, and hope-filled in this way.

06 June 2018

A Contemplative Moment: The Crimson Heart (Reprise)

 --- the Church speaks in a hymn by Gertrude von le Fort ---
"solitary Heart, all-knowing Heart, world-conquering Heart.". . .
The "heart" is the name we give to the unifying element in the human person's diversity. The heart is the ultimate ground of a person's being. Her diversity of character, thought, and activity springs from this ground. All that she is and does unfolds from this source. Her diversity, originally one in its source, remains one even in its unfolding and it ultimately returns to this unity.

The "heart" is the name we give to the inner ground of an individual's character, wherein a person is really himself, unique and alone. The human being's apartness, his individuality, his interiority, his solitariness --- this is what we call the heart. This characteristic of the heart reveals and at the same time veils itself in everything the person is and does. For the human being's total diversity in being and activity would be nothing if it did not blossom forth from the heart as from a living ground, and at the same time veil his hidden ground.It must be veiled because its water doesn't flow on the surface of what we commonly speak of as the human person's being and activity.

An individual's uniqueness, her individuality, is her heart. That is why one is always alone and solitary --- alone and solitary in the meaning that everyday life gives gives to the words, in the idiom of the marketplace, which no longer suspects the abysses concealed in human words. For there is a realm where the person is entirely himself, where he himself is his solitary destiny. In this realm where he can no longer bring himself and his fragmentary world to the marketplace of everyday life --- in the realm therefore where his heart is --- the person is alone and solitary because of this apartness. . . .
The center of our hearts has to be God; the heart of the world has to be the heart of our hearts. He must send us his heart so that our hearts may be at rest. It has to be his heart. . . .He must let it enter into our narrow confines, so that it can be the center of our life without destroying the narrow house of our finitude, in which alone we can live and breathe. And he has done it. And the name of his heart is Jesus Christ! It is a finite heart, and yet it is the heart of God. When it loves us and thus becomes the center of our hearts. every need, every distress, every misery of our hearts is taken from us. For his heart is God's heart. and yet it does not have the terrifying ambiguity of his infinity. Up from this heart and out from this heart human words have arisen, intimate words, words of the heart, words of God that have only one meaning, a meaning that gladdens and blesses.
Our heart becomes calm and rests in this heart, in his heart. When it loves us then we know that the love of such a heart is only love and nothing else. In him the enigmatic mystery of the world's heart which is God becomes the crimson mystery of all things, the mystery that God has loved the world in its destitution.
Excerpted from
 "The Mystery of the Heart" by Karl Rahner, SJ
The Great Church Year, the Best of Karl Rahner's Homilies
Sermons and Meditations
(Please read the entire essay! I have excerpted a text in which every word is important and none are wasted. Though not my intention it is a betrayal of Rahner's text.)

The Human Heart: Mystery at the Center of Self (Reprise)

(Preparing for Friday's Feast. Note that references to readings are for another year at this time.)

 Today's ordinary (daily Mass) readings use the text from 2 Corinthians I spoke about earlier this week, namely, "We hold a treasure in earthen vessels so that the surpassing power will be of God and not from ourselves." You may remember that in conjunction with that text and the Feast of Corpus Christi I spoke of Sue Bender's experience of seeing a broken and mended piece of Japanese ceramics. (Marking the Feast of Corpus Christi) She wrote, [[“The image of that bowl,” she writes, “made a lasting impression. Instead of trying to hide the flaws, the cracks were emphasized — filled with silver. The bowl was even more precious after it had been mended.”]]

That image has been with me all this week in prayer and also as I have reflected on the various readings, especially those from Paul. It seems entirely providential to me then that this year today, the day we would ordinarily hear a reading about treasure in earthen vessels, is the Feast of the Sacred Heart. The image of this bowl --- broken, healed, and transfigured  reminds me of the Sacred Heart --- traditionally the most powerful symbol we have of the indivisible wedding of human and divine and of the power of Divine Love perfected and glorified (revealed) in both human and divine weakness; thus it has provided me with a wonderfully new and fresh image of the Sacred Heart and (at least potentially) of our own hearts as well.

The heart is the center of the human person. It is a deeply distinctive anthropo-logical or human reality --- at the center of all truly personal feeling, thought, creativity and behavior. As a physical organ it stands at the center of all physical functions within us as well empowering them, marking them with its pulsing life.

At the same time, it is primarily a theological term. It refers first of all to God and to a theological reality. Of course it cannot be divorced from the human (and that is the very point!), but theologically speaking, the heart is the place within us where God bears witness to God's self, where life and truth and beauty, love, integrity call to us and invite us to embrace them, reveal them in our own unique ways. As I have noted before, in some important ways it is not so much that we have a heart and then God comes to dwell there; it is that where God dwells within us and bears witness to himself, we have a heart. The human heart (not the cardiac muscle but the center of our personhood) is a dialogical event where God speaks, calls, breathes, and sings us into existence and where, in one way and degree or another, we respond to become the people we are and (we hope) are called to be.

Everything comes together in the human heart --- or is held apart and left unreconciled by its distortions and self-centeredness. It is in the human heart broken open by love that the unity between spirit and matter is imagined, achieved, and then conveyed to the whole of creation. Here the division between earth and heaven, human and divine is bridged and healed. It is in the human heart that the unity of body and soul is achieved and celebrated.

The vulnerable and broken human heart is the paradoxical place where everything is brought together in the power and mercy of God's love; it is the place where human life is transfigured and then --- through us and the ministry of reconciliation entrusted to us in Christ --- extended to the whole of creation itself. It is in the human heart that prejudices, biases, bitterness, selfishness, greed and so many other things are brought into the presence of God to be healed and transformed. At least this is the potential of the heart which is meant to be truly human and glorifies God. The human heart is holy ground and despite its limitations, distortions, darknesses, and narrownesses it is meant to shine with the expansiveness of God's creative "Yes!" Here is indeed treasure in earthen vessels.

And if this is true anywhere it is true in the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Sacred Heart is the symbol of the reunion of all of reality, the place in that unique life where human life becomes completely transparent to the love of God, the sacrament par excellence of the ministry of reconciliation where human and divine are inextricably wed.

Imagine then an image of the Sacred Heart similar to the image Sue Bender described, a clay pot broken and broken open innumerable times by and to the realities it dares to be vulnerable to and allows to rest within itself. Imagine too that God, that supreme potter refashions it, mends it with his love --- a love that allows the cracks to glow with the light of heaven, a light that transforms the entire pot and all who are touched by its transcendent beauty and truth. This is what we celebrate on today's Feast. The scars will remain, but transfigured --- as though mended with brilliant silver. Light and love, water and blood will pour from this heart and, in time, God will love all of creation into wholeness through Jesus' mediation and through the ministry of each of us who allow our hearts to become the Sacred places God wills them to be.  We "hold" a treasure in earthen vessels. In us the surpassing power of God in Christ is at work reconciling all things to himself.

29 May 2018

Whatsoever you do (or do not do!) to the least of these. . .

I am not ordinarily political on this blog but sometimes things happen that are just so outrageous, they break boundaries including political boundaries. This story showed up on my Facebook page and came with permission and maybe a plea to share it.  It is impossible to describe the incalculable harm being done to families and children by folks who claim to be Christian and "pro-life". But Jesus has a special love for the poor, marginalized, and children. Remember his response when the disciples prevented these anawim from coming to him! All I can think in light of this latest US policy (yes, it is being done in our name) is, "Whatever you do to the least of these you do unto me. . . Whatever you did/do not do for the least of these you did/do not do for me." Please do what you can to respond to this truly inhuman situation.

 Written by Hannah Werling:

"After I boarded my plane on my way to New York on Saturday I saw this first hand....
A woman with 6 children ages ranging from 4-17 walked up to my row and asked if I would help this young girl get buckled since her seat was next to mine. I asked no questions in that moment and said yes. The woman told me she did not speak English. The little girl sat down, I got her buckled, the woman handed her a ziplock bag of snacks and took her seat 3 rows up from us.  She was so tiny in her seat. Her shoelace-less shoes could not even touch the seat in front her her and her cheeks were crusty with tears. She wasn’t yet 5 years old. THIS IS HAPPENING IN OUR COUNTRY!!!

I turned off my Netflix movie and turned on Ferdinand a kids cartoon and handed her my phone to watch. It was so painful. I dug deep in my brain for all that Spanish in High School and tried my best to use gestures so she wasn’t frightened of me.  Once the seatbelt sign was turned off in the air the woman came back to check on her and the other children scattered on the plane.  I asked: “Where are her parents?” She replied “They are being detained at the border”  “Why is she going to NY, then?” “She was taken as a deterrent so people don’t try to cross the boarder. If they cross, they will lose their children. She’s going to a shelter in NY”  “Will her parents get her back?”  “I don’t know.”  “Will she be adopted then?”  “I don’t know.”
This women is an advocate for these INNOCENT children as they try to figure out what happens if their parents get caught at the border. She takes them to shelters and flies back and forth doing this.  My heart just aches for these families! She is a baby and didn’t know what was going on! She doesn’t know the woman who is taking her. She may never see her Mom and Dad again AND WE ARE DOING THIS!
 I didn’t ever want the flight to land. On the plane she became comfortable with me and giggled and spoke in Spanish to me about the movies. She felt safe. Landing was just another new chapter for her that was scary and unknown. PLEASE CALL YOUR CONGRESSMAN AND SENATORS ABOUT THIS! It is heart wrenching and it is happening people!!!!! We are no longer the home for the free. Get used to this post because I am NOT going to let this go"