14 July 2024

A Contemplative Moment: The Silence of Solitude

In the Silence of Solitude

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

Ponam in Deserto Viam, DICLSAL, 2021

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

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

Clarifying Misconceptions and Wholecloth-Untruths From "Joyful Hermit"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This arrangement has been very effective for continuity in supervision considering we have had 5 bishops since I began living as a hermit. The first three (Cummins, Vigneron, and Cordileone) were more accessible to me, Archbishop Burnett was an interim whom I met and joked with a bit, but whom I never met with (instead I met with the Vicar for Religious per the bishop's instructions), and Michael Barber,SJ, whom I first met in the sacristy of St Perpetua parish during his first visitation has been less accessible, but I have been and remain a diocesan hermit in good standing in my diocese all these years. Throughout these years and any changes, Sister Marietta has consistently served both me and the diocese as my delegate. Sister Susan was Vicar for Religious for the Diocese of Oakland when I first started becoming a diocesan hermit; she worked with me for five years then, though we had begun trying to regularize my situation before Bp Cummins actually retired, wrote a letter of recommendation for perpetual profession in 2007 to Bp Vigneron; she continues to assist me in this vocation but now from the position of a good (dare I use the word?) friend. Recognize that Ms McClure casts aspersions on these Sisters, their competence and fidelity to their commitments when she trash-talks me. Meanwhile, the comment that Sister Marietta is my "girlfriend" is unworthy of even a response.

OSV and the Lexington Situation: The OSV did not cite my blog. They interviewed me, as they say quite clearly in the article itself. Gina Christian and I had nearly an hour-long initial conversation via ZOOM, and follow-up phone calls and email exchanges to help flesh out the story so it was complete and transparent. How OSV found me or got my contact info I don't know. I assume they took all the usual steps in checking me out before printing anything I had to say. They also had copies of letters sent to Bishop Stowe and other churchmen where I was identified by name, diocese, date of profession and consecration, etc. If any of these people (not just reporters but bishops and the Papal Nuncio) had doubts about me or needed to verify my identity and standing in my diocese and vocation they could well and easily have done so at any time from July or August of 2022 on. Given the seriousness of my concerns, I feel confident they did verify my bona fides. That said, let me point out that the Diocese of Oakland is, relatively speaking,  a big place; there is turnover in staffing with every new bishop, just as one would expect; not everyone knows me or even knows of me so ordinarily it might take a day or so for people to verify I am a diocesan hermit in good standing with the Diocese of Oakland. (Given the notoriety of the situation in Lexington, I suspect it would not take that long presently.)

The situation in Lexington, KY, and the USCCB's complaint about Cole Matson is not primarily about eremitical hiddenness, nor even about the fact that he spoke out about his transgendered status. It is about 1) the fact of his transgendered status and how that cannot work with consecrated life, and 2) the validity of his vows for the additional reason that he claimed to be using c 603 as a stopgap when he did not really feel called to eremitical life but could not find another way to become publicly professed. These are the issues the USCCB will be addressing primarily. They are also likely to address concerns that Matson's work in the theatre and outside the hermitage conflicts with the vocation of the hermit. I don't see how anyone could have misunderstood the situation so thoroughly as Ms McClure seems to have done.


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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting Precedents? Seeking to be an Authority? Ms McClure way overestimates my influence!! I am responsible for establishing one precedent, namely the post-nomial initials Er Dio (and variations) which (then) Bishop Vigneron approved on 2.Sept.2008; a number of bishops in the US and other countries have subsequently approved these initials for hermits in their dioceses. Otherwise, this is a really small blog in a tiny niche area of interest. These days it receives an average readership of slightly fewer than 100 persons a day (though yes, this includes someone or several someone's from the Vatican from time to time). Still, I doubt bishops generally read this blog unless someone specifically brings it to their attention; moreover, if it is as flawed and "unspiritual" or ego-driven as Ms McClure claims, why would they pay attention to what they do read here anyway? At the same time, I do write about what works or doesn't work regarding c603 and try to supply theological underpinnings wherever necessary so I certainly hope it has some influence and helps both dioceses and candidates for c 603 life. I did not establish this blog to assert or pretend to have authority but to explore and educate because of my own experience. I do recognize, however, that I have slowly become something of an authority during these last 17 years and again, I am grateful to God and gratified to be of assistance where I can!

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

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

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

11 July 2024

Adiemus with the Presentation Senior Choir of Kilkenny, Ireland

I'm putting this up just because I love it and the job the Presentation Senior Choir from Kilkenny does is really marvelous. Their  director is wonderful and the choreography is striking! Not sure why I find this piece so moving, especially because the words are not Latin and do not make any kind of sense really. (Yes, there are sound alikes and actual Latin words here and there, but those are flukes!) Still it is a powerful piece, sort of primal I think. Not a bad piece to celebrate the Feast of Saint Benedict!!!

(Below) Massed members (4000) of the Stay at Home Choir singing Adiemus with the composer, Sir Karl Jenkins, playing recorder solo!

Such an instance of glorifying God --- choir and nature together --- just awesome!!!!

Feast of St Benedict

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

Taking this in a different direction, the lesson I have been trying to learn this year, and really over the past two years is how to let go of a faith community I deeply valued. Ironically, it is not the letting go that is hardest for me in this, but rather, finding ways to both hold onto what is essential and to empower that for others. One does not simply cut oneself off from a living faith community, particularly when that community itself is suffering from disruption, malfeasance, and the like and is seeking to find ways to continue on in some continuity with the way God has called and constituted them for many years. It has been a challenging two years for all of us. Slowly we are finding ways to do the will of God and to do this together in new and compelling ways. We are learning that we continue to live in the household of God even as our faith community shifts, dissolves, reforms, and reaffirms itself in new ways. The loss remains painful, but we are God's Church and will continue in his Spirit. To some extent, Benedictine Oblate, Rachel M Srubas reflects on the necessary attitude we all need to cultivate, living as we do in the household of God:


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

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

From, Oblation, Meditations of St Benedict's Rule

My prayers for and very best wishes to my Sisters and Brothers in the Benedictine family on this Feast (Memorial) of St Benedict! Special greetings to the Benedictine Sisters at Transfiguration Monastery, the Camaldolese monks at (and all oblates of) Incarnation Monastery in Berkeley and New Camaldoli in Big Sur, the Sisters of Social Service (Encino and LA) --- my first connection with Benedictinism, and the Trappistine Sisters at Redwoods Monastery in Whitethorn, CA. Happy celebrating today and all good wishes for the coming year!

10 July 2024

Hiddenness at the Service of Mystery (Reprise)

One of the things I did [last year] that was more than a bit out of the ordinary was to watch the coronation of King Charles III, and I want to repost it because of the recent focus on hiddenness serving the revelation of Mystery. I had seen the coronation of  Queen Elizabeth II when I was just shy of 4 yo and it was a memorable occasion viewed on a small black and white TV. It may even have contributed to my response to Catholic liturgy when I was in my teens. In any case, I knew I wanted to watch this coronation even though it meant losing most of a night's sleep to do so. I am not sorry I did. And, while it was all beautifully done and moving (the 3&1/2-year-old still inside me seemed gobsmacked at the COLOR and the horses!!!), one moment especially stood out, not only because it differed from the coronation of Charle's Mother, or because the symbolism was incredibly well-done, but because it was the holiest moment of the coronation per se. 

In 1953 when it came time for Queen Elizabeth II to be anointed, a large gold canopy was moved over her and people stood looking away from her. TV cameras were somehow blocked from any real view of what was happening and I remember trying to see under the canopy and being puzzled by it all. The Queen had been divested of all of her regal finery and was wearing a (relatively) simple white dress. But then came this great canopy and the commentators were talking (more softly I seemed to remember) about something I could neither see nor understand. What I did register somewhere deep within myself was the gravity of the moment, especially as steps were taken to shield the queen, and what was happening to her, from view --- even in the midst of a great throng of interested and supportive people.

Move forward 70 years. Charles III is similarly stripped down to his pants and a simple white shirt. The royal finery is folded and carried away for the moment. Members of the household guard carry in three large decorated screens, the poles which will hold them in place, and assemble them around the King with an opening toward the high altar. There is no canopy, but the King is hidden even more entirely than his Mother had been. As a really nice touch, the household guards face away from the screens except for those holding the poles in place. All have their eyes averted, looking down at the ground. In the midst of this huge cathedral, innumerable digital cameras, people hungry to see every last detail, thousands of guests, and millions of onlookers via media, the Royal family and the Church of England have managed to say clearly, [[Here at the heart of our monarchy is something hidden and inviolable, something incontestably intimate and sacred, something dynamic, living, that --- through the mediation of the church --- occurs between God and the monarch him or herself.]]

It was striking to me that the most profound and profoundly mysterious moment of the coronation was marked by hiddenness. At this moment when the King was anointed, it was hiddenness that was the most powerfully articulate expression of and witness to Mystery. In a ritual enveloped by layers and layers of pomp and color, history and tradition, ritual and symbolism, here was a moment in which an individual temporarily enclosed and shielded from the eyes of others, went into the hiddenness of his own heart and, despite the presence of priests, soldiers, family, and the nations of the world, was alone with his God, seeking and consenting to allow God to do what only God could do, namely, to consecrate him for service to God, his Church, and his people. All of the pomp and pageantry paled for me in comparison to Charles in his simple pants and plain white shirt assenting to being enclosed in the hiddenness of this sacred-making moment. That was underscored for me when I learned that Charles had asked for greater hiddenness than the canopy had allowed his Mother and others in the past.

There are numerous reasons for embracing some degree of hiddenness. They can be good or bad, desirable or undesirable, worthy or unworthy of us. Hermits choose a life of relative hiddenness which serves in significant ways as a witness to Mystery at the heart of life. They choose, not hiddenness as an end in itself, but Mystery and participation in Mystery. They choose hiddenness indirectly because, as was true for Charles III, this is a privileged context for meeting the living God and letting ourselves be vulnerable to him. Today, I am particularly grateful to have seen this value chosen and celebrated by Charles III for the sake of an encounter with the living God. Charles put hiddenness at the service of a moment of ineffable intimacy with Mystery which pomp and ceremony needed to be made to serve. It was liturgy very well done indeed!

07 July 2024

Subtle Distinctions in Evaluating Canon 603: A Hiddenness that serves Revelation and Should be Celebrated

[[Sister, I read someone online who claimed she was "upset about the trajectory of the hermit vocation increasingly to the historic and traditional hermit path and way of life being demeaned and essentially replaced by a 1983 canon law that has already proven faulty in the basic conception of public vows in public Mass and public reception and public announcement and public proclamation of the diocese hermit." ]] Why would she be upset, and in what way has canon 603 proven faulty?]]

I think you should probably ask the person who said this to explain what she meant. I don't know anyone who considers canon 603 faulty if by that we mean it needs to be scrapped because it establishes solitary eremitism as a public (ecclesial, consecrated) vocation. Implementing it is challenging (discernment is an art!) and the church must take care in learning to do so appropriately. Some canonists consider it deficient because it doesn't spell out time frames and similar requirements. Still, my own take on the matter is that they have yet to look at either the 1) individuality of the canon or 2) the content of the vocation and the canon that governs it themselves. 

An example of what I mean is represented by the canonist who advised the Bishop of Lexington in the Matson case. When asked about using c 603 to profess Cole he pointed out certain legalities: it could be used for males or females; it was lived in relative quietude and remoteness, etc. What he did not apparently consider were the substantive elements central to the canon, the character of the vows and what they called for from the one professed, the history of the canon, or the reason the canon required the candidate to write his/her own Rule and what this entails. In other words, his focus was on only the most superficial realities associated with c 603 to provide a legal loophole; he seemed unaware and careless of the very heart of the vocation outlined in that canon.

On the Perspectives Necessary to Truly Understand this Canon:

Once one begins to look at the canon from theological and pastoral perspectives appropriate to vocations rather than from one dominated by law or legalism in search of a loophole, the canon itself does not look deficient in any way. Paradoxically, it may require supplementation to help chanceries see its scope and depths and implement it wisely, but this is because of the canon's richness and completeness, not because of any deficiency. Discerning such vocations will be demanding and challenging, but not because the canon lacks anything. Rather it is because the solitary eremitical vocation being described is focused, intense, and particularly rare, countercultural, and counterintuitive.  What needs pointing out quite often is the fact that canon 603 is at least as much surprising vision and invitation as it is a norm. Hence the way canonists suggest "completing it" often misses the point and even prevents the canon's intelligent (and in this I mean authentically Christian) implementation.

I have already written that canon 603 was meant to raise eremitical life in the church to a new dignity precisely to honor it. cf., C 603 Paradigm for All Hermits. It seems to me that the person you are quoting misunderstands the nature of the term public and sees it in terms of notoriety or something that transgresses the hiddenness of the vocation. That's a shame because in my experience it doesn't really do that. "Public" here has to do with public rights and obligations assumed by the c 603 hermit and entrusted to her by the church. These rights and obligations give the whole church the right to hold certain expectations of these hermits and of the vocation itself. Since the vocation is given by God and entrusted to the care of the Church, and since the hermit witnesses to the very heart of the church that is prayer in the silence of solitude --- a vocation in which every Christian shares --- it is important and completely appropriate that this vocation was raised to a state of perfection or form of consecrated life. It does not replace anything. Instead, it serves all eremitical life, whether non-canonical, solitary canonical, or semi-eremitical as a guide to the essential elements of such a life. Similarly, while it establishes and recognizes some eremitical life as normative, it also affirms the value of all genuine eremitical life.

On Celebrating Professions and Consecrations Publicly at Mass:

Yes, eremitical life is essentially hidden, but it is important that the existence of eremitical life in the church is known and celebrated just as we do with all other gifts of God. Thus, our professions and consecrations are celebrated during Mass --- the most solemn and paradigmatically communal setting we know for the most solemn and communal acts in our lives. Nothing about this demeans the eremitical vocation nor does it detract from its hiddenness. Instead it points to the nature of this hiddenness, namely hiddenness in Christ the Incarnate One of God. During Mass we find the deepest mystery of God's Incarnation both hidden and revealed under the species of bread and wine, in the person of the presider and the assembly, and also, of course, in the proclaimed Word of God. Revelation is shot through with hiddenness and in such celebrations, eremitical hiddenness becomes known for its inextricable connection to divine humility (hiddenness) and glorification (revelation). How appropriate then, that a vocation given to the whole faith community and defined in terms of the revelation of the hidden heart of the church be celebrated during such a liturgy!

In the situation in Lexington, one grace we could point to is that it allows significant attention and reflection on c 603 vocations and the appropriate and inappropriate uses of the canon by a much wider audience than usually discusses or opines on such things. Meanwhile, one of the criticisms made by Catholics reading about the story for the first time, was that the Diocese of Lexington had kept the professions attempted by Bishop Stowe and Cole Matson secret when they were meant to be public matters. These commentators were exactly right in this; they knew the importance of public witness and celebration as well as the betrayal secrecy constitutes. 

I believe what was done in Lexington dishonored the vocation in its hiddenness particularly, and it dishonored all those whose own lives are marked by relative obscurity and humbleness and would benefit from the vocation's witness. This is the flip side of the paradox outlined above where hiddenness is intimately linked with revelation and public celebration underscores the normal silence and solitude of the vocation. In this case, however, secrecy was actually a betrayal of the vocation's hiddenness. After all, what the Church proclaims in her public celebrations of eremitical vocations is not the supposed secrecy or anonymity of such lives, but rather, the profound Mystery that is both revealed in and lies hidden at their heart.

06 July 2024

Remain in your Cell and your Cell will teach you Everything

[[ Sister O'Neal, what seems particularly unfair to me in the situation you have described over the last weeks, is the fact that Cole Matson is able to use this vocation to do the kind of active ministry he really feels called to while other hermits have had to relinquish such forms of ministry so that they could live c 603 life as the Church called them to do. . . .]]

I agree with you. Hermits often have to relinquish some very special gifts in order to live c 603 in a normative and edifying way. Limited ministry is possible, but the degree to which Matson's own life is given over to this is not simply unusual, it is an unprecedented violation of the spirit and letter of the canon. Most bishops would not permit it and would not profess someone under c 603 if they indicated this degree and type of active ministry was essential to being who they really are. Matson has been clear in conversations we have had that the work he does and will continue doing in theatre is essential to being the person he is. As I told him in 2022, if that is the case, then he needs to understand that faithfully living c 603 would require he relinquish certain gifts he considers essential to being himself. Of course, I fully expected Bp Stowe would not use the canon in a frudulent way in this and would act to protect the integrity of the vocation it defines.

There is a serious degree of injustice being perpetrated in the Lexington situation. Canon 603 hermits truly embracing this specific call will continue to struggle with the question of limited ministry vs contemplative life in hermitage, knowing full well that Cole's gifts, while undoubted, are no more real or significant than the gifts they are being called to relinquish. Others will have to live with the fact that their own bishops have interpreted c 603 appropriately and refused them admittance to profession under c 603 because they must work outside the hermitage --- even though that work takes the form of the lonely cleaning of office buildings in the middle of the night. Still others will come to doubt the importance of the eremitical vocation itself because it does not depend on active ministry in the way most things in the church do; these folks may well determine they cannot persevere or that they need to find a different bishop to profess them --- the need to do active ministry seeming to be too great. While some of these candidates or novice hermits may be correct that they are not called to eremitical life, others may be misled by the situation in Lexington and, as a result, may never be able to entrust themselves to the life of c 603 as fully as it requires to be uniquely fruitful.

We hermits live our lives in the silence of solitude for the sake of others, and that includes for the sake of other hermits also being challenged by the countercultural nature of the vocation and the great need for active ministry in every part of  our church and society. We support one another, most often in our hiddenness, but also directly as we meet by ZOOM or correspond with one another regarding this vocation with which the church has entrusted us. In the past 7-8 weeks I have heard from several diocesan hermits sharing their own feelings about the situation in Lexington. There was a general sense of pain expressed; diocesan hermit Rachel Denton said it this way.

[[The hurt is that c603 is taken so lightly. An administrative tool to “ratify” those of a religious inclination who are not suitable for community living. C603 when it is explored and lived-in-deeply is a wondrous expression of the eremitical life. It is unreasonable to expect bishops and other clerics to understand this fully as they have never lived it – I still don’t understand it fully myself! – But I would hope that they would refer to the experiences of those who have lived it, at length, when they are thinking to wield its authority.

Rachel continues:

An eremitical vocation is a very particular thing (though lived very differently by individuals). It is about a compelling need, an unabated longing, to find God in the silence of solitude. It is not about wanting (or being able) to live a solitary life; it is not about enjoying a bit of peace and quiet; it is not about living in remote and lonely places (though it could be all those things – God redeems everything!). It is about looking for God, and realising the only place to look is in this place, and finding, in your searching and solitude, that the whole world is here in this place with you.]] Rachel Denton, Er Dio (Diocese of Hallam, UK) Emphasis added.

But, you see, growth in the ability to perceive what Sister Rachel is referring to here takes time and commitment to life in the silence of solitude. Her perspective on this is precisely the perspective of someone living this vocation faithfully over long years. Her correlative commitment to creating community from the hermitage has been similarly formed and informed. What she has affirmed strongly echoes the classic desert wisdom, [[Dwell (or remain) in your cell and your cell will teach you everything!!]] That affirmation is the essence and gift of the eremitical vocation to the rest of the Church. It is something those entrusted with this vocation are called to live and proclaim with fidelity even (or especially) when it means relinquishing other God-given gifts and greater active ministry.

Living Solitary Eremitical Life in the Name of the Church

[[Dear Sister Laurel, do you write what you do in the name of the Church? Do other hermits have that authority? When you use the phrase, "in the name of the Church" what do you mean?]]

Hi, and thanks for the question. The answer is simple and very straightforward. No, what I write is my opinion, though I certainly strive to be sure that those opinions are well-informed and accurate in theological, pastoral, and ecclesial terms. Neither I nor any other hermit has the authority to write in the name of the Church unless this authority is specifically granted in the giving of what is called a mandatum. However, what I and other canonical hermits have been given is the authority (and more fundamentally, the obligation) to live solitary eremitical life in the name of the Church. To some extent that implies the authority to explore this vocation, to grow and mature in it, for instance, and even to share what we have come to understand with others, but it does not mean that I, for instance, write or speak in the name of the Church. Of course not.

Remember that c 603 is the universal Church's norm for solitary eremitical life. (Other canons apply to hermits living their vocations within a communal context.) It describes a vision of this form of eremitical life and adds to that the requirement that the c 603 hermit writes her own Rule of life based on her experience, education, and training. The diocesan hermits I know take this vision seriously and (to greater and lesser degrees) share with one another so that day by day we may grow in our embodiment of the vision c 603 represents. I tend to share based upon my own experiences, education, training, etc., on this blog and that means that what I write is a reflection of what I have come to know about this vocation and the way I am called to live it. Still, while what I write may be helpful to some folks (including members of the hierarchy or canonists reflecting on this vocation), it does not mean what I write itself is necessarily normative, authoritative, or done in the name of the Church.

The phrase, "in the name of the Church" comes from the idea that the Church commissions people to act in certain ways on her behalf and thus, with the Church's authority. Just as Kings, for instance, charged ambassadors with tasks to carry out in the King's name in various foreign kingdoms --- meaning where the ambassador spoke or acted according to orders, the King himself spoke --- so too does the Church commission each of us to proclaim the Gospel in ways that are appropriate to our own state of life. In fact, each of our lives is meant to be an embodiment of such a commission. Thus, each of us at baptism assumes the name Catholic. We are Catholics who live our vocations in the name of the Church. Those who are married in the Church are also commissioned to live married life in the name of the Church and to do this faithfully -- a rather important charge or mission! Religious do the same with religious life. And so forth.

The shorthand way of pointing to all of this is to say of someone, [[X is a Catholic nun (or priest), or is part of a Catholic (or Sacramental) marriage.]] I am a Catholic (diocesan) hermit, which is the shorthand way of saying the Church has commissioned me to live this specific vocation in her name. I do this in faithfulness to c 603, its traditional context, and the larger context of eremitical life. Simply to say one is a Catholic is to claim to have been commissioned to live a foundational vocation to discipleship in the Church's name. That commission was associated with our baptism and is renewed at every Mass as we are nourished in our faith and then sent forth as Christ's own disciples. Beyond baptism, however, we may be called to religious life (including semi-eremitical life), consecrated life as solitary hermits or virgins. These are ecclesial vocations which the Church herself directly entrusts to individuals through a second consecration and commissioning to live in the Church's name. Thus, these persons are Catholic hermits, nuns and brothers, and virgins, not merely Catholic AND a nun, brother, etc.

We see something similar when a theologian is given a mandatum by the Church to teach and do theology in the Church's name. In order to do this, a theologian must do their terminal degree at a pontifical institution and be granted the authority to call themselves a Catholic theologian. This authority can be withdrawn by the Church as well, something that once happened to Hans Kung. Note well, however, simply because a theologian cannot call themselves a Catholic theologian, this does not mean that person's theology is not faithfully and exhaustively Catholic. The same is true of non-canonical hermits. While they cannot call themselves Catholic hermits (i.e., because they are not authorized to identify themselves as living a normative (canonical) vocation), this does not necessarily mean the person is not faithfully Catholic. It simply means the Church has not authorized her to live eremitical life in her name.

Given your questions, what might also be clearer to people reading the posts on this blog over the past couple of months is precisely why I might be upset at someone calling themselves a "hybrid hermit" and not taking as seriously as the Church expects, the commission associated with being admitted to profession as a diocesan hermit under c 603. Acceptance of profession under this canon is associated with an acceptance of a commission to live the terms of the canon as faithfully and fully as one can. The vocation is not an excuse for doing active ministry. The central elements of the canon are normative for this life. If one lives a c 603 life honestly, then they will be hermits, not some form of "hybrid hermit" or "hermit monk". Yes, in time, they will grow into this life more and more deeply if they have truly given themselves over to the vocation the canon describes and defines, but they will never be (called to be) something other than a hermit. If one cannot answer this call or accept this commission to live this vocation in a normative way in which both the hermit and c 603 life itself thrive in them, then one will naturally (and rightly) conclude they are not called to this vocation.

30 June 2024

On the Diocese of Lexington and the Setting of Problematic Precedents Under c 603

[[Dear Sister, you wrote: "I have to ask Cole [Matson] if he really believes his vocation is more real than the hundreds of those whose dioceses turned them away when they wanted to use c 603 as the "only available canon" to become publicly professed despite not feeling called to be a solitary hermit? That is simply the height of arrogance." I haven't heard anyone else raise this question. Have there really been hundreds of persons turned away from dioceses who were seeking admission to profession under c 603? Why is it so many people are turned away? Has Bishop Stowe turned others away? Will he feel compelled to profess anyone who comes to him with this petition? It seems to me that Bishop Stowe kind of cut the heart out of the c 603 vocation.]]

Thanks for your questions. Several of them I really can't answer (I can't read minds, including that of Bishop Stowe) but here is what I know. Yes, there have been hundreds and hundreds of persons turned away from profession under c 603 throughout the country and many times more than that throughout the world. In my own diocese, I know from a meeting with the Vicar for Religious about 10 years after my consecration (meeting was @2017) that they had seen a steady stream of people seeking to be professed in this way during this time. The estimation was an average of 1/month for a period of @10 years. So, in my diocese alone at least 120 persons besides myself had sought profession under c 603 through 2017. If we extend that for the next 7 years, that's another @84 persons which is @204 persons in a single diocese in the US. What Father Robert Herbst (OFM Conv) said at the time was that none of those had gotten as far as I had. That means that the diocese did, in fact, give some serious time in discernment to some of them depending on the case. 

There are 176 dioceses in the US. If even only half of these received a similar number of persons seeking profession under c 603 in the diocese of Oakland, that would still be a huge number of people seeking profession. If we divide that number into half again in the interests of conservatism, that is still almost 10,000 persons (though I personally find this number hard to believe). Let's divide this by 50% (simply because I really do find it difficult to believe!!). Also, we must recognize that some dioceses and regions do not entertain petitions for c 603 profession so if we divide the number in half yet again to account for these, we still come up with 2,500 persons petitioning their dioceses over four decades in the USA alone. Of this number, only a fraction might be thought to have a genuine eremitical life; many of the others sought to use the canon as a stopgap way to get themselves professed and consecrated and were rightly refused admission to profession.

Since there are only about 100-150 diocesan hermits (fewer than 1 per diocese) in the US, it is clear that most candidates (@ 24 out of 25) do not make it very far towards perpetual profession and consecration. Still, we believe that the majority of these 100-150 persons are living authentic eremitical lives and a significant number of those turned away by their dioceses truly believed they had genuine vocations to solitary eremitical life. We can put that last number at several thousand. So, yes, even if we minimize the numbers in every way possible we are still looking at a rare vocation where hundreds and hundreds have been turned away from admission to profession and eventual consecration.

Why People are Turned away from Profession and Consecration under c 603

People are turned away from canonical profession for many reasons. Sometimes dioceses have a sense the person cannot really live this vocation in an exemplary way; sometimes the person cannot support themselves adequately without working outside the hermitage. Sometimes physical and mental illness have suggested dioceses ought not profess the person --- and sometimes these conclusions were sound. (At other times they demonstrated a faulty sense of the solitary eremitical vocation or the desert context illness can provide.) 

Candidates have been refused because their spirituality is unsound, because they don't have sufficient background in (practical) theology, prayer, or eremitical and monastic life which means they either don't understand what they are asking, or will not be able to live it fruitfully in a healthy way. Some candidates are refused because they are grieving some significant loss, have just left religious life for reasons other than feeling called to solitude, and so forth. These persons still need to transition to life outside marriage or religious life in community before seeking to be professed in a new vocation. (Sometimes bishops may underestimate the degree of transition between life in community and solitary eremitical life. In my experience, it is as significant as moving from secular life to solitary eremitical life.) And as noted, a number of dioceses refuse to implement c 603 (or c 604) simply because they believe these are stopgap or fallback vocations.

While I cannot answer the question about others being turned away from profession under c 603 in the diocese of Lexington in the past, and while I don't know what Bp Stowe will feel compelled to do in the future, the question of genuine discernment and formation of such vocations are a burning question for every diocese, but particularly now for the diocese of Lexington. One of the things that comes up again and again with candidates is the question of precedents. For instance, a candidate may want permission to reserve Eucharist before being admitted to profession, much less to consecration. But this would set a precedent for others seeking admission to profession in this and other dioceses we can argue we ought not establish. Thus, ordinarily, dioceses ask candidates to wait until they are admitted to perpetual profession for this permission (not least because life in cell/hermitage without reserved Eucharist is typical of eremitical life through the centuries, and also because the hermit needs to be able to clearly discern and affirm the presence of Christ in all of the ways Christ is present in the hermitage, particularly in the Word of God). The precedents now set in the Diocese of Lexington are significant. They include:

  • Professing a transgendered person because they are transgendered and (in light of a continuing church position on this issue) have not been able to enter religious life before this.
  • allowing reservation of Eucharist despite not having been consecrated nor even having discerned this vocation,
  • allowing c 603 to be used in a stopgap way as a framework for non-eremitical vocations and then calling them "hybrid hermits" or "diocesan monks" or some such vacuous designation.
  • entertaining agendas (rather than vocations) as a sufficient reason to admit to an ecclesial vocation.
  • Calling a biological woman "Brother" and clothing her in a male habit.
  • Allowing (or providing) a so-called diocesan hermit a place to reside on monastery grounds. (While this is something a candidate or diocesan hermit can arrange for themselves, it usually happens only after the person has lived eremitical life for some years and has a longstanding relationship with the monastery. In any case, this establishes a precedent for candidates to c 603 life and others might be allowed to expect similar living arrangements being made available.)
  • Allowing a so-called diocesan hermit to work both afternoons and evenings outside the hermitage in a highly social job. (One also assumes the diocese has approved a Rule of Life that established this as "eremitical".)
  • Allowing a candidate's profession without a history of living eremitical life in any capacity and in ways that make genuine discernment and formation with diocesan personnel and mentors unnecessary. 
  • (A corollary to this is allowing someone being professed to have someone else write their Rule, or at least significant parts of their Rule for them because they don't have the experience to be able to do it themselves.) The ability to write a liveable Rule requires one to have the experience, education, and training that allows such a significant piece of writing. Assistance in this is important, even indispensable, but this does not mean the Rule can be written in part or in whole by someone else, particularly a non-hermit.
  • Professing someone who can afford extended stays in monasteries to get some exposure to religious life. (Most candidates will not have this ability. On the other hand, if the diocese paid the expenses of such stays, it sets the precedent that the diocese will do so for every candidate for profession under c 603 with insufficient background to live eremitical life.) In either case, a precedent has been established that needs to be made available to other candidates for c 603 profession at various points along their journey.
  • Professing someone whose life contradicts what the church considers normative for consecrated life and so too, is attempting to live this contradiction "in the Church's name". (A vow of obedience becomes doubtful, at best, in such a situation.)
  • Professing a person who rejects her biological sex, and letting her make a vow of chastity in celibacy --- a vow promising to live her vocation to authentic womanliness as fully and exhaustively as a chaste woman can and should do despite an inability and unwillingness to live such a vow is a potentially disastrous precedent. It implies a change in the church's theology of the vows or, at the very least, a faulty understanding of the nature of chastity in celibacy.
Questions Raised by Such Precedents:

Each of these precedents in the Diocese of Lexington raises questions there and in other dioceses. But concerning the Diocese of Lexington, the question raised at the bottom is this: Who may not expect to be professed as a c 603 hermit in the Diocese of Lexington if they seek it? What is a good enough reason to deny profession to anyone seeking that under this canon? As you have affirmed yourself, Bp Stowe's actions with regard to Cole Matson did indeed cut the heart out of the vocation. It can now be said that in the Diocese of Lexington (and as they thus at least implicitly recommend to every other local church), one does not even need to be a hermit to be professed and consecrated as a hermit. Anyone wanting to be professed, any person saying they have always desired to become a religious and claims they were "unjustly" refused (whatever this means), can now approach the Diocese of Lexington and ask them to profess them with the same justification that Cole Matson did. 

Meanwhile, the defining characteristics of c 603 may be dismissed as mere "guidelines" rather than defining characteristics if they are not simply jettisoned altogether. Beyond this, Bishop Stowe might reasonably be approached by anyone with a normal prayer life for permission to reserve Eucharist in their own homes. He might now be asked to give permission for anyone wishing to wear a habit or to style themselves as Brother x or Sister y and expect others to to recognize them as such. All they have to promise, it seems, is that they have always desired this but were turned away in the past (or in other dioceses), and that has been terribly painful. If someone else can write them a Rule of life, then even better.

As I have written before, when most of us c 603 hermits approach our dioceses to profess and consecrate us under this canon, it is after we have lived solitary eremitical life for at least several years (many of us have lived it at least a decade or two before our diocese will admit us to profession). We recognize that canonical standing entrusts us with additional rights and obligations beyond those of baptism, and also, at least some of us understand that we return to the Church with something special, even unique, that we gained in the silence of solitude and give the Church in return. In other words, we recognize that God has been working in our lives in a special way in the silence of solitude, that God transfigures our lives in this way, and because of that, we seek to live eremitical life in the name of the Church. This makes us able and ready to proclaim the Good News of the God of Jesus Christ, and again, it is only possible because we embraced eremitical life honestly and exhaustively looking to it and the God who is its author to make an ultimate kind of sense of our lives. So what happens to that witness in light of the Cole Matson situation? It has certainly been threatened and definitely will be lost if Bishop Stowe's precedents are treated as valid or allowed to become commonly practiced by other bishops and dioceses.

28 June 2024

The wilderness Call to Life: Creating the Heart of a Hermit (Reprise)

I first posted this in 2017 when I was doing some intense inner work with my director. Every once in a while I need to touch back into this post (and especially The Summons itself) for my own strengthening and renewal. This month has been that kind of month and today is that kind of day. The past weeks have seen a lot of conversation on the nature of the eremitical vocation. Some took place on this blog. Others took place with journalists and several involved my Sister hermits from the US, the UK, and France as well -- as we each shared and marveled over what it means to be called by God to be diocesan hermits. I am posting this again in gratitude to them for their love, support, and sharing --- especially for the reminder of what an adventure into Mystery this vocation promises and requires; for all who have participated in the conversations here this past month or two. Thank you!


Well, my apologies for not getting a post up for this video. It took me places I hadn't planned on and I am still processing it; "Will you go where you don't know and never be the same," was certainly an apt line in this song!. That was especially true regarding my prayer over the past week and a half or so. I have been living with a "new" definition of prayer I came to because of a Communion service I did for our daily Mass community during a time when our pastor had to be away. That service included our sixth grade class from St Perpetua's school.  The Gospel was from Luke and the pericope involved both began and ended with Jesus' prayer; whether referring to Jesus coming from the synagogue or going off alone to pray at the end of a day of active ministry, both implicitly and explicitly Luke portrays Jesus as a man of prayer. Moreover, according to Luke Jesus' ministry, his active and effective love for others focused on in the middle portion of the text was empowered by prayer and leads to prayer. Allowing God (Love-in-act) to be God in us invariably gives birth to, empowers, and shapes an impulse to go out to others. Because of this I came to think of prayer as a matter of  "allowing ourselves to be loved from the inside out"!

Now of itself that experience was not new to me of course. It is the reason I (or most anyone I know) sit in quiet prayer and give myself to God. I know that God desires to love me, God desires to be God for and with me, and I desire to allow God to do that and to be and do whatever flows from that.. But this last week the description, "Letting God love us from the inside out" as a definition for prayer was new, a more succinct way of thinking about the dynamic of prayer and ministry together, especially as prayer empowers ministry. Then on Sunday we sang "The Summons" which touched me and pulled everything together. While using this song both for meditation and in my usual practice of quiet prayer I became far more vividly  aware of God loving me from the inside out throughout the whole of my life. We sometimes hear that when a person faces death their entire life flashes before them. Well, the combination of contemplative prayer, meditation on "The Summons", and personal work for direction led me to experience something similar. For the first time, in series of images drawn from my entire life during each prayer period, I saw clearly how God had worked through my WHOLE life to create the heart of a hermit. The experience was repeated at each prayer period over a number of days; it was an amazing time of healing and integration empowering a fresh sense of my vocation.

Ordinarily I sit in quiet prayer for about an hour or so at a time a couple of times a day  ---  once at 4:00 am and again in the early evening. But last week the work I had been doing with my director coupled with my response to the song at Mass triggered an urgent hunger for quiet prayer in the mid-afternoon.  I responded by sitting for about two hours and then,  after a brief stretch and cup of tea, etc.,  I sat again for meditation, sometimes using headphones and listening to lines from "The Summons" in a repeating loop for about another hour and a half. (In using the headphones I would really only "hear" and be moved by one or two lines at a time while the rest of the song either went mainly "unheard." or I stopped the playback). Each line that struck me with fresh application and emotion during these times reminded me of various events in my life from very young childhood onwards in the aforementioned series of images. In response I began to cry both long, freely, and deeply --- sometimes in some sadness and grief, but mainly in joy and profound gratitude for the way I saw that God had been working in my life. And so it continued over a period of several days through a number of  longer-than-usual prayer periods. It was far and away one of the most powerful and graced experiences I have ever had.

What I experienced  in all of this and eventually came to see clearly was indication after indication that throughout the whole of my life God not only has called me by name to be but that he called me to be a hermit (or maybe I should say that at each point God prepared me in very specific and clearly identifiable ways to receive and live this call). He has created possibilities for me to follow him in Christ even when I was unaware there were such possibilities --- and even when I was consciously unaware of the God who was their source and ground! He has called me to allow myself to be loved unceasingly and without limit so that I could serve him and his people as one who truly knew (solitary) love --- even, and perhaps especially when it came to me in profound physical solitude and emotional isolation. As God does with each of us, He loved me from the inside out and fitted me for discipleship and ministry --- though, of course, in my case he fitted me for the very unlikely and unusual discipleship and ministry of a diocesan hermit. From a tangle of many beautiful but also sometimes seemingly inapt threads, ugly snags, and tightly formed and apparently fruitless knots, God has constantly and lovingly woven a grace-filled tapestry celebrating the solitary vocation to life and love --- and God continues to do so, if only I will continue to consent and commit myself in faith.

The summons John Ball wrote about in his song comes to us each and all in many ways but primarily it is an inner reality, something that calls us from our deepest core and, as we make innumerable choices for life, forms us into God's very own "members" who will love, touch and serve others: Will we "come and follow him"? Will we "go where we do not know and never be the same"? Will we "let his love be shown and his name (i.e., his powerful presence) be known"? Will we "let his life be grown in us and we in him"? This summons and these questions are what concerned Jesus, a man (as Hebrews affirms so clearly) like us in all things, a man of prayer who (as the author of Luke-Acts affirmed) grew in grace and stature. It is what empowered him to respond so exhaustively to the One he called "Abba" in an entirely unique way; it is what allowed him to become the unique mediator and Minister of God's love so that when people looked at Jesus they saw not only the face of authentic humanity but the very face of God and when they were touched by Jesus' humanity they were touched by the very hands and breath of God.

This summons, these questions must be what concern and empower us as well. They must shake and console, challenge and transform us so that we are able to love beyond what we believed was even remotely possible. This is what we are called to; it is the long, joyful, tear-stained and life-forming process we must embrace and let embrace us. Whether we are thinking of Luke or of Hebrews, this is what it means to be people of prayer, people who are truly imago Christi as Christ is singularly imago Dei, people who are loved from the inside out.