27 January 2020

Hermit Sisters of Mary and Marymount Hermitage


[[Dear Sister, do you know the hermit Sisters at Marymount Hermitage in Mesa, ID? I was wondering if they were "the real deal"? If they are, are they c 603 hermits? You see, I have been thinking about eremitical life but I think I would like to live in a laura of hermits. Since I live a couple of hundred miles from them and since my grown children live in Boise, I thought maybe they would suit me. Can you recommend them? Will they accept a divorced woman?]]

I do know the Sisters of Marymount Hermitage, yes, but not well. I first wrote them around 1984 or 1985 after canon 603 was first published. At the time there were two Sisters there, Sisters Rebecca and Beverly; both were very responsive and helpful to me in those early years of canon 603's new life. Occasionally I check their website to see how they are doing but (until this morning to get a couple of pictures) it has been a while since I have done that now. Yes, they are c 603 hermits but I believe they were trying for canonical standing as an institute of consecrated life. I'm not sure I have that exactly right, where they stand with that now, or how far they ever got. I believe one of them (Sister M Rebecca) is now living in a convent in OR where she can receive skilled nursing care. I don't know if they ever grew beyond just Sisters Rebecca and Beverly. I can't remember, but I don't think so --- at least I don't think anyone was ever professed and then left later on. Personally, I resonate with their spirituality; it is 1) Benedictine, 2) rooted in the Desert Ammas and Abbas, and 3) an authentic expression of the high desert in which the Hermitage is located. (Personally I love the high desert; it may be one of my favorite settings in the entire world.)

Still, I'm sorry. I can't say I know enough about them currently to recommend them or not. Yes, they are definitely "the real deal". They have been living this life since around the first anniversary of canon 603 and maybe a year or so before I first contacted them. That means 37 years or so. My sense is they have a good relationship with their new bishop (Bp Peter Christiansen, Bishop of Boise) who has been their local ordinary for about 5 years, but to be frank, one thing which gives me pause when I consider whether to recommend them or not is the fact that (as far as I know) only Sister Beverly now lives at Marymount. Since I don't know either her age or the state of her health (or yours for that matter!) bear in mind you are considering associating yourself with a laura which apparently consists of only one Sister; that is a precarious situation at best, especially if you (as your remark about grown children suggests) you don't have a background in religious life or much experience with significant silence and solitude.

The first of three issues your mention of adult children raises is canonical freedom. Like anyone desiring to be professed and consecrated under c 603, you will need to be canonically free to be admitted to the community and then profession and consecration. This means if your spouse is deceased the marriage bond no longer exists; if he is alive, however, you will need to get a Declaration of Nullity to establish your own canonical freedom. The second issue is age. While eremitical life is a second half of life vocation communities still tend to have limits re how old one can be and still enter. This is something you will need to research with the Sisters.  A third issue is health. Marymount is very secluded and the weather is typical for the high desert in a state that gets snow anyway. The physical plant is relatively large and requires good health to negotiate. I would bear all this in mind, but, if you are really serious about testing a vocation with the Hermit Sisters of Mary contact them and discuss the matter.

26 January 2020

Citing a Canonist: What are Private Vows?

I wanted to post this as an addendum to my last post but since that post was long, I decided to post it separately. Some may wonder by what authority I contend that private vows do not initiate one into the consecrated state. Let me quote Therese Ivers, JCL, a canonist specializing in consecrated life. In this excerpt Ms Ivers defines private vows and continues by defining "competent authority":

[[It seems that there is always a lot of confusion regarding private vows. Private vows are any vows that are not public vows or semi-public vows. What is the difference, you may ask? It is very simple. Public and semi-public vows are accepted by the competent Church authority and are necessary for consecration. Private vows are all other vows]] . . .She continues: [Competent authorities are] 1)  The diocesan bishop for diocesan/canonical hermits, diocesan right religious communities and diocesan right secular institutes.  Any other ceremony involving vows is done by the bishop as a witness and not as a lawful superior.  Therefore, anything that a diocesan bishop witnesses or blesses outside of these limited circumstances is automatically considered private even if done in the cathedral in front of a million viewers. 2)  The superior of a religious institute, personal prelature, or a secular institute for members of the institute!  They are the competent authority designated by the Church to receive vows in the name of the Church. 3)  No one else!  All others are merely witnesses and cannot receive vows in the name of the Church.  This includes Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops, Abbots, Confessors, Spiritual Directors, and others!!!]]

Ms Ivers then explains:

[[What is a private vow? A private vow is a promise made to God for a greater good and is NOT accepted by a competent authority. Who are NOT competent authorities? Spiritual directors, confessors, pastors, and others!!! Even bishops if they are not admitting someone to an institute of consecrated life (that is, a religious community that is of at least diocesan right or a secular institute that is at least of diocesan right or to consecrated life as an individual as a diocesan hermit!). Private vows do not constitute someone in the consecrated state! Therefore, it is incorrect to say that a person under private vows is consecrated. They are dedicated individuals who have promised, resolved, or vowed to live a life of celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom! Again, private vows do not entail a true consecration. Consecration is mediated by the Church through the competent authority (see above for who the competent authority is). Because there is no legitimate authority who can receive a private vow in the name of the Church, consecration, or the setting aside of a person for God’s service that is over and above the consecration of baptism does NOT take place with private vows!!!]]  (cf., Private Vows Revisited) Folks should read the entire article.

Anyone with doubts or who still thinks that they can make private vows and become a consecrated or Catholic hermit should ask their chancery (Chancellor, Canonist, Vicar for Religious, Bishop) if private vows initiate one into the consecrated state. Anyone who believes the Catechism (which was written years after c 603 and is no mere proviso, or addition to the CCC) has precedence over the Canon Law should do the same. The issue here is truth and a need to protect people from being misled. God calls canonically free hermits to live eremitical life in every state of life: lay, clerical and consecrated. It produces a wonderful diversity and witness we are all called to respect.

25 January 2020

On Lay, Clerical, and Consecrated (Solitary) Hermits

[[Dear Sister, given what you wrote about hermits as a valuable vocation whether consecrated or lay, canonical or non-canonical, am I correct in believing you accept Joyful Hermit's vocation as a hermit? Is your difficulty just that you contend she does not have the right to call herself a consecrated Catholic Hermit or do you believe her whole life as a hermit is "counterfeit" or fraudulent"? Do you consider c 603 as the only way to really be a hermit? If a hermit considers c 603 to be a form of "shackles and baggage," does the Church require they be professed anyway? Is there a difference between having a vocation blessed and the consecration that occurs in c 603 profession? "Joyful hermit" (aka "Catholic hermit") wrote about a lot of this in her blog recently. (cf., Refocus: New Spiritual Director) I wonder what people are to do when they are unsure of whether or not a person is a consecrated or Catholic Hermit?]]

Thanks for your questions. The issue I have written about here directly and by name with regard to Joyful Hermit (aka Catholic Hermit, aka the Complete Hermit, etc.) and her various public blogs is the fact that in the Roman Catholic Church the consecrated eremitical state of life is only entered with public profession. This can occur in a religious community or, for solitary hermits, by making profession in the hands of the diocesan bishop under canon 603, but it is never done with private vows. If one wishes to call oneself a consecrated Catholic hermit then I expect them to be using the same language or terminology and theology of consecrated life the Church uses. I have not asserted that "Joyful hermit" is a counterfeit hermit. However, she asserts she is a consecrated Catholic hermit and thus implies she is living her life in the name of the Church;  she also claims she is not a lay person in the vocational sense but is a religious. In this specific regard she is a counterfeit. She is claiming to be and presenting herself on her blog as something she is not.

Vatican II made and maintained a distinction between dedication (which is a human act and can use private vows), and consecration (which is properly an act of God only mediated through legitimate superiors in the Church). While we use "to consecrate" loosely as a form or dedication, the truth is the Church  maintains a distinction between consecration and dedication. The distinction becomes important whenever someone with private vows starts claiming to be a consecrated religious, a consecrated hermit, a Catholic hermit or religious, etc. Public profession comes with canonical rights and obligations and also the grace to live these; private vows remain private acts of dedication; they are significant but they do not rise to the level of consecration.

Since Joyful Hermit (aka Catholic Hermit) is privately vowed but not professed (profession is a larger and ecclesial act than the making of vows; it is a mediated and juridical act of the whole Church) and since she  claims to be able to tell folks how to become Catholic Hermits via private vows, I take serious exception to what she writes on her blog in this specific regard. My concerns stem from the fact that I have heard from folks who followed her advice and were hurt (or at least badly embarrassed) in the process. I completely accept that Joyful is trying to live an eremitical life. She is entirely free to do this just as any lay person is free to do. Likewise, she is free to grow in her own lay vocation and eremitical life as we all grow in our vocations. But to reiterate, what she (or any other hermit with private vows) is absolutely not free to do is to represent herself as a "consecrated Catholic Hermit" or a "consecrated religious". She is neither a Catholic hermit nor a person in the consecrated state of life; she is a lay person in both the vocational and hierarchical senses of the term; thus, I tend to limit my direct criticism of her blog to this single issue.

"Shackles and Baggage"

I have read the post Joyful Hermit put up re her conversation with her new spiritual director. I hear him saying the same things I have been writing about in one way and another for the past 10 years and more, namely, one does not need to be professed under c 603 to be a hermit in the Catholic Church. One needs this to be a solitary hermit of and for the Catholic Church. One can certainly be a hermit in the lay state and indeed, most hermits in the church have been lay hermits (the church did not admit solitary hermits to the consecrated state until 1983); most hermits always will be lay hermits (i.e., most hermits will never be consecrated). The Church recognizes this even as she continues to value such hermits. Contrary to some confusing material Joyful Hermit posts about this, nothing suggests that c 603 has been meant as the only way to become or live as a hermit. Nothing suggests the Church will ever assert lay persons cannot live as solitary hermits in the future unless they are professed and consecrated under c 603. That is not the point nor is there any indication it is a concern for the church. (The church is certainly concerned with hermits claiming to be professed and consecrated hermits when they are not, but the answer to that situation will never be requiring lay hermits submit to consecration under c 603 against their will or personal discernment.)

Joyful Hermit's SD has apparently observed that for her c 603 is a matter of shackles and baggage. It would be a serious mistake to generalize from this limited truth to the idea that canonical eremitism shackles all hermits or places unnecessary burdens on them.  For some of us, c 603 is a means of freedom to live eremitical life. We take on the rights and obligations of the vocation with joy and seriousness; we live our lives as the means of living God's will and serving the Church and world. We also thus take on the title Catholic Hermit or consecrated hermit; we become religious. C 603 for us is neither a matter of shackles nor is it an unnecessary burden. For us the yoke of canonical standing under c 603 is easy and light and makes eremitical life possible and meaningful. Jesus graced us with this yoke and we embraced and bear it with joy. For us it is a source of genuine freedom.

Joyful is quite clear she is not called to this. Instead, she lives eremitical life in the lay state and apparently will do so the rest of her life. That is wonderful and I sincerely wish her well in this!! But what is also true is that the Church will never oblige her to do otherwise; a competent SD will never do such a thing. Nor have I ever argued c 603 is the only way to be a hermit in the catholic Church. It is, again, the only way to be a solitary hermit living this life in the name of the Church. Joyful is entirely free to live her lay Catholic vocation in whatever way she desires so long as she does so honestly in a way which honors her baptismal commitments.  (One must petition and enter into a process of mutual discernment which may take years before one can be admitted to profession and consecration. NO ONE is obliged to undergo something like this if they do not truly feel called to do so.) The priest hermit whom Joyful is now working with illustrates this point with his own life. He is ordained and lives eremitical life in that state, but he is not a consecrated hermit despite his ordination or the fact that he received his bishop's blessing. Innumerable hermits and anchorites have done the same in the lay or clerical states and the Church has appropriately esteemed  them.

Blessing vs Consecration:

You asked about the difference between the blessing the bishop gave the priest in Joyful's narrative and consecration (or, for instance, between the blessing she received when she made private vows and consecration through the mediation of the Church). As I noted above, these are not the same thing. Consider that in the Rite of temporary profession the making of vows concludes with a blessing by the celebrant. In the Rite of Perpetual Profession, however, this simple blessing is replaced by a solemn act/prayer of consecration. Consecration and solemn or perpetual profession represents the event with which a person is initiated into the consecrated state of life and assumes the full rights and obligations associated with this. Until this moment (and until this occurs for any religious) the fullness of rights and obligations associated with the consecrated state are withheld. Someone making temporary profession accompanied by a simple blessing has not yet been fully initiated into consecrated life; for those living in community certain rights are withheld even though the person is much further along than they were as novices or candidates.

The call, and the prayer of solemn consecration in conjunction with the making of solemn or perpetual vows are the essential parts of the act of solemn or perpetual profession. In this profession a person is fully initiated into the consecrated state; they are made to be a consecrated person with the second consecration adding to baptismal consecration. The graces associated with this act are different than those associated with temporary profession (and certainly than those associated with private vows.) There is an ontological change in the person and she forever becomes a consecrated person with different rights and obligations, and different expectations by the Church and with all the graces necessary to live this new identity.

One other difference exists between a simple blessing even when this is done by bishop, and the consecration associated with perpetual profession, namely, in blessing a person or enterprise with a simple blessing the priest (even as a bishop) does not intend nor (in the case of a priest who is not a Bishop or his delegate) does he have the authority unless specifically delegated by the local ordinary to consecrate the hermit. For that matter the hermit is not prepared to become a consecrated person in the Church. Bishops, meanwhile, bless people all the time; in doing so they do not usually initiate the person into the consecrated state --- nor, despite their authority to do so when certain qualifications are met, do they intend to do so. Further, in a simple blessing the one being blessed does not intend (and is relatively unprepared) to enter the consecrated state of life. So, yes there is a vast difference between a blessing and consecration itself.

What is One to Do?

I have written about what one is to do when they are uncertain whether or not a person is really a consecrated hermit before. If one desires to clarify this the first step is to ask them. If questions persist, ask them if their vows are public or private. If private they are not consecrated. If there is still question ask them in whose hands they made their vows or ask them which Bishop perpetually professed them. A diocesan hermit can move to another diocese but she will remain a diocesan hermit only if the bishop in the new diocese agrees to accept her vows. The bishop doing so will become the hermit's legitimate superior; there are canonical bonds established in the public profession. So, a hermit making a canonical vow of obedience will exist in terms of relationships capable of ministering to the hermit via the ministry of authority.

If a c 603 hermit moves to another diocese, then unless a bishop agrees to receive her formally, the hermit's vows cease to be valid or publicly binding due to a material change in the context of the vows themselves. The c 603 hermit who is not relieved of her vows in these ways remains consecrated (God's consecration cannot be undone) but she no longer exists in the consecrated state of life. N.B., the hermit needs to ascertain the bishop's agreement before making the move. To do otherwise is to cause the canonical vows to cease to be binding because of a material change in them (they are made in the hands of the local ordinary of her home diocese; she is a hermit OF the Diocese of _____ ). Similarly before moving and being accepted by another bishop she will need her current bishop to affirm she is a consecrated hermit in good standing in her current diocese.

Feast of the Conversion of St Paul 2020

This last week we began a new series for Bible Study. We are reading through 2 Corinthians as a follow up to Galatians, something I hope will continue to provide a greater sense of Paul, his character and his theology. On this feast of the Conversion of St Paul I am very grateful I chose this Letter. In the past week, and mainly because of this Letter I have come to a deeper understanding of Paul's theology, and especially his theologies of the cross and of suffering.

In particular I came to appreciate  how radical the difference between Paul's paradoxical theology and the non-paradoxical theology of those Paul calls "Super Apostles". As a corollary to this I came to even greater clarity on what it means to reject certain ways of thinking as "worldly" or "fleshly" and to accept another way of thinking as being, "of Christ" or, "of God". As Isaiah reminds us, God's thought is not like our thought, his ways are not our ways. As high as heaven is above the earth, so God's ways are higher than our ways, and his thought is above our thought. All of this points to the way Paul would like to get the Corinthians to continue their conversion to Christianity, namely, by the renewal of their minds. The remaking of  minds referred to in 1 Corinthians 2:16 is not merely about accepting new doctrinal statements or truths; it is not even about simply saying yay or nay to the resurrection, for instance. Instead it is about allowing our minds to be reshaped by the Holy Spirit in a way which shifts us from non-paradoxical to paradoxical thinking rooted in the risen crucified Christ.

Because of his experience on the road to Damascus where Paul met the Risen Crucified Christ and clearly saw the paradoxes of Christianity embodied in Him, the theology Paul developed and proclaimed is essentially and radically paradoxical. It gives us strength perfected in weakness, triumph fully achieved in failure, eternal treasure consisting of the life of an infinite God revealed in flawed and breakable vessels of clay, and so forth. A non-paradoxical way of thinking can never see that in Christ the poor are truly rich, that the last are really first, that a crucified man is actually the exhaustive revelation of the God of truth and life, that the shame of crucifixion reveals the glory of God, that only the one who accepts suffering knows the God of all comfort, or that in death exists eternal life. The non-paradoxical (Greek) way of thinking says instead, if poor then NOT rich, if cast down then NOT raised up or glorified, if first then NOT last, if weak then NOT strong, if fragile and breakable then NOT a vessel holding (or capable of holding) an eternal treasure, if human then NOT Divine (and vice versa), if shamed then not glorified, and so forth. Paradoxical thinking drops the word NOT from each proposition. In Christ if we are weak then we are strong, if cast down then we are (really) raised up, etc. Paradoxical thinking is what allows Christians to see the world as sacramental and to perceive Christ as truly present in consecrated bread and wine.

Paul's encounter with the Risen Christ changed forever the way he saw reality. (I think this is part of the truth illustrated in the story of Paul's resulting blindness on the occasion of his conversion and commissioning. Because of this encounter Paul moved from non-paradoxical to paradoxical thinking and in light of it his mind was remade. It is not merely that he changed his mind about Jesus as Messiah, it is that he became capable of holding apparent contradictions together to reveal a new and always-surprising truth: God's Messiah is a crucified Messiah, the glory of God is revealed in shame; it is where one is helpless and weak that we see a portrait of Divine strength and sovereignty. All of this and more was embodied in Paul's vision on the road to Damascus. Because of this event Paul's mind was reshaped and empowered to embrace a paradoxical God and radically paradoxical Messiah.

As Paul worked out his theology in his occasional letters written in conjunction with the situations of various churches, Paul's heart and mind were reshaped, his conversion deepened, and he moved from faith to faith. Consequently he became more and more the Apostle God called and commissioned him to be. As a result we have a Church which is not merely a Jewish sect but instead, a world-wide people called to be similarly converted and remade in Christ. We celebrate all of this on this Feast day. I am reminded of one of the first classes I ever had in theology. John Dwyer told us, it is very difficult to think paradoxically; we just don't do it, but in order to do New Testament theology you have to be able to do this. I think  now that it is the gift of the Holy Spirit that one is able to think and view reality this way. It certainly is not natural! We have to learn to look at reality and be ready to perceive paradox but, I believe, we also have to be empowered by the  Spirit in this.

I am  also reminded of when I had my first appointment with (Arch)bishop Vigneron in seeking admission to profession under c 603. As a kind of ice-breaker the bishop asked me who my favorite Saint was. I named Paul and explained that if I could spend the rest of my life coming to understand his theology of the Cross I would be a happy camper. I laugh at myself now: "Better watch what you ask for Laurel! God just might take you up on it! And so he has.  In my deepening appreciation of the paradoxes at the heart of the Christ Event, Paul's thought inspires, challenges, comforts, and gives hope. It enlarges my heart and remakes my mind. I should not be surprised; this is the very thing Paul had hoped his letters and ministry would do for his converts in Corinth. Thanks be to God!

22 January 2020

Canon 603 Helps Assure Prophetic Life Within the Church

[[Dear Sister, . . . in what you just posted on what is tried and true would you say that keeping a prophetic form of life within the Church rather than leaving it like the Desert Fathers and Mothers did is one of the things canon 603 achieves?]]

That's a great question and it is a point I was making in my last post --- though I admit it was done only implicitly and could have been made more explicitly and clearly. First though, I would correct the notion that the Desert Abbas and Ammas "left the Church". Rules for participating in the Church in a meaningful way were not developed as they are today and the Gospel of Jesus was unique and recognizable amidst the cultures of the time. The Desert Abbas and Ammas lived a radical Christian discipleship and they did so explicitly; they lived lives of prayer rooted in the Scriptures and praying the prayer of the Church. Beyond this they were knowledgeable about Church happenings and concerns and concerned themselves with these as well. (Remember that Anthony, for instance, assisted his friend Athanasius in his battle against Arius, and Anthony was one hermit associated for parts of his eremitical life, with the deepest of deserts.

Today, hermits are called to participate in Church life in more well-defined ways, but again, there is significant freedom so long as the steps hermits take in their solitude are mutually discerned or discerned under appropriate supervision. Lay, priestly, or consecrated hermits are part of the Church. Consecrated hermits live their lives "in the name of" the Church, and traditionally hermits are spoken of as existing in the heart of the Church. Of course, this must be made real in various ways; one's living ecclesial life cannot be merely nominal. We can't effectively leave the church and cover that over with the label "hermit" or "eremitical solitude" or "eremitical hiddenness". Canon 603 is one way of assuring this too.

But back to your question. Yes, the Church in publishing canon 603, not only protects the eremitical life from isolation, eccentricity, and engulfment by "the world" (by values which contrast with and supplant those of the gospel),  but she has brought a prophetic vocation right within her life. She thus assures everyone that folks living lives like those of the Desert Annas and Ammas do so not just within the Church, but in her name as well! Cynics can say she does this to blunt the force or impact of their prophetic quality, but this will not wash. Generally, Hermits today are regarded as incredible or entirely irrelevant. They may be objects of curiosity or interesting matter for a wildlife or psychology journal, but significant lives? Hardly. Had the Church feared the prophetic power of this vocation they could have simply ignored it. Instead she recognizes this life as a vocation and gift of God and composes a canon which defines normative characteristics and makes some instances of it part of the consecrated state! The Church only does this with the things she holds as valuable and even indispensable to her own life.

By the way, this could be said to be another dimension of the way the vocation is ecclesial: it is formally and explicitly (canonically) lived within the Church for the sake of the Church herself! This is an implicit part of the rights and obligations of canonical eremitical life. Thus, those things that protect eremitical life in canon 603 also assures the potential for a vital prophetic presence within the Church --- something which likewise will help to maintain the Church's own prophetic presence in a world so much in need of it.

On What is Tried and True in Eremitical Life

[[Dear Sister, what would it mean for someone to refuse to become a consecrated hermit under c 603 because it "is not  tried and true over the years and centuries"? . . . What needs to be "proven"? In the blog piece I read this seems to be built on the idea that because it is a canonical form of life it doesn't allow for sufficient freedom?]]

Thanks for your questions! I have already written several times recently about the freedom canon 603 creates or helps empower.  But, "What is "tried and true"? It's a very significant and complex question. This is so because hermits as a whole don't have the best pedigree in terms of what is "tried and true". There is often no agreement on the purpose of the life, the motivations necessary, much less the central characteristics of such a life or what its goal is. Life lived in caves, on pillars, locked away from all contact --- sometimes from childhood, sometimes peripatetic and never pausing in roaming, lauras (colonies) of hermits, semi-eremitic communities, and solitary hermits --- there is really no end to the variation or number of possibilities. If someone were to fill in the following, "The tried and true way to be a hermit is ____", the responses would be all over the map.

The definition of the term hermit can be drawn any number of different ways, some healthy, some not, some edifying, many more disedifying. Some have been drawn from portraits of rugged, even heroic individualism, others from notions of authentic humanity and the social nature of the human being. Some have been gentle, creative, and ecologically sensitive human beings; others might well have been raised by hyenas for all their hermit lives reveal. Some are misanthropic, selfish, or embittered and motivated only by a desire for isolation and diminishment; others are drawn from various examples of Desert life marked by their generosity and compassion, as well as their faith and impulses to prophetic integrity.

Yes, there are hermit saints and religious founders like Benedict, Francis, Bruno, and many others spent at least some time as hermits, but nonetheless, these, along with contemporary hermits like Thomas Merton are generally seen as exceptions in what today is mainly seen as 1) eccentric, 2) anachronistic, and 3) irrelevant. The idea that eremitical life could be a way of proclaiming the Gospel to contemporary persons is, understandably, one that is remote at best ---and that is also true even for bishops and chancery staff entrusted with implementing Canon 603 in wise ways. When speaking of what is tried and true in eremitical life we actually have to pare away a lot of  what we know about hermits, anchorites and solitaries through the centuries because much and maybe even most of what went by the name "hermit" (or cognates.) was neither edifying (it did not inspire or build up the Body of Christ) nor worthy of being identified with the Gospel of Christ.

The Church's Response to this Varied Phenomenon:

All of this is one reason the Church has never recognized the eremitical vocation on a universal level. The absence of a universal codified set of canons is another. During the centuries bishops in individual dioceses, especially in the Middle ages did implement measures to allow and protect anchorites, preaching by hermits, and so forth in local churches. They did so cautiously and asserted limits -- not only because they valued eremitical life but because so much that is disedifying or irrelevant is connected to the phenomenon we know as eremitism. Apart from the Desert Fathers and Mothers, who lived their lives as a prophetic protest against the worldliness of the post-Constantinian Church, or in connection with religious orders, the really memorable examples of eremitism, the people folks could point to as paradigmatic were hardly ever more than examples of eccentricity and misanthropy --- and if they were more or other than this no one knew it unless there was heroic sanctity which became known, for instance.

 In the 20 C. several different examples of eremitical life as an authentic vocation came to the attention of the Church Fathers. Of course there was Thomas Merton who was not at first permitted to live as a hermit, had to consider transferring to the Camaldolese, found himself blocked in this too -- though, in order to keep Merton, his Trappist community offered alternatives and provided helpful accommodations to help meet his need for greater solitude. There is no doubt the church as a whole was, or at least became, aware of this. Prior to Vatican II and over a period of time, a dozen Monks in solemn vows left various communities or houses who had no option for eremitical life in their proper law. Their communities did and could not accommodate their discerned calls and made secularization necessary.

These former monks, whether in their resulting lay or clerical states of life, became hermits and came under the protection of Bishop Remi de Roo. They established a laura in British Columbia. Eventually, as a result of his first hand experience with these hermits, Bishop de Roo made an intervention at Vatican II praising eremitical life and seeking to have it become a recognized form of consecrated life (a "state of perfection"). Vatican II did nothing directly but they ordered the renewal of the Code of Canon Law. The revised code was published in October 1983. It recognized for the first time in universal law solitary eremitical life in Canon 603 and provided a means for establishing solitary hermits in the consecrated state.

 With canon 603 we have to argue that finally the Universal Church has found a way to define and recognize solitary eremitical vocations and ensure that the very best of eremitical tradition is lived today by those the church consecrates. She recognizes and for the first time has created a way for individuals who are not part of an institute of consecrated life (or not part of an institute allowing for eremitical life) to live this vocation as consecrated persons with the rights, obligations, and the grace appropriate to such a vocation. That is an epic shift in matters and people recognize that. In my own lived experience this provides an important and better way of living eremitical life than on my own as a lay hermit, for instance, and as I have written many times here, some just recently, one which ensures the freedom appropriate to authentic eremitical life meant to witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. It raises to the consecrated state of life that which is "tried and true" in such a life.

Even those critical of canon 603 don't appear to dispute this. Thus, I will also note that in the post you referred to (Back in the Saddle) even Ms McClure (aka "Joyful Hermit", aka "Catholic Hermit"), now in a new diocese and continuing her newest blog, was still (or yet again) clearly -- albeit briefly -- considering seeking consecration under canon 603.  I think it is striking that the author of that blog does this after many blog posts and videos condemning c 603 (and, some hermits professed accordingly) and suggests once again that it might just be the will of God for her. Equally striking is the way she refers to its central elements (the silence of solitude, stricter separation from the world, assiduous prayer and penance, lived for the salvation of the world, etc) as important in defining her life. I think that suggests that she, though a consistent critic of c 603, also understands it as an important and positive change in Church law and praxis worthy of modeling one's life on. At the very least it seems to suggest she really believes the canon, as noted above, makes normative essential ("tried and true") elements of eremitical life. In this I agree with her: canon 603 is a model for eremitical life in the Church whether for hermits in the lay or clerical states, or those publicly professed and consecrated under the canon.

What is "Tried and True"?

 Solitary hermits can choose to be professed/consecrated under c 603 or live eremitical life in the lay or ordained states. (Again, there are also hermits in canonical communities not using c 603 but others.) Whichever state the person feels called to, whatever state of life the person chooses, what is "tried and true" (or what are characteristics of the "tried and true") are the elements listed as essential in the canon, namely: the silence of solitude, stricter separation from the world, assiduous prayer and penance, a life commitment to the evangelical counsels and a self-composed Rule all lived under the supervision of someone capable of doing this. This last may be ongoing spiritual direction or regular work with one's pastor, for instance; it will also include active participation in the life of the Church (sacraments, liturgy, etc.). For those who are consecrated hermits supervision is a canonical process and involves the bishop and his delegate. The Church has recognized that these are necessary elements in living a healthy eremitical life that is more than a self-centered withdrawal from society.

What c 603 was crafted to assure is the vocational quality of the life as well as its ecclesiality. What I mean by this is that the if the call to be a  hermit is to be lived as a vocation the Church recognizes and commissions one to live in her name, this call will be discerned by more than the hermit herself. Given the high incidence of eccentric lives of escapism and isolation through the centuries, and numerous forms of anti-social life today (e.g. cocooning) having a discernment process in which the Church participates along with the would-be hermit is also something that has proven necessary. The second element, ecclesiality, is an extension of this. Over the years I have written about several others dimension of ecclesiality.

First the eremitical vocation I am discussing, like other ecclesial vocations, belongs to the Church, not the individual; it is mediated by the Church and entrusted to the individuals she consecrates to live this in her name. For this reason, although there are differences in the way a hermit exercises her membership in the Body of Christ, this is overseen by those directly serving the Church and the vocation, viz, bishops, delegates, Vicars for Religious or for Consecrated Life, and (more indirectly) pastors. The way and frequency with which the hermit participates in community, Sacraments, liturgy, and so forth are all discerned and supervised. And all of this is because the Church allows the faithful to look at the eremitical vocation with genuine expectations that hermits will be edifying, that they will proclaim the gospel with their lives, that the Church will work to ensure all of this (and herself be edified by it) even when the hermit's life is clearly prophetic as were the lives of the Desert Fathers and Mothers!

These things are what is "tried and true" in regard to eremitical life and now, the central elements of canon 603 codifies these in universal law. It took the Church almost 2000 years to do so but canon 603 evolved from a long history of lives which were sometimes significantly edifying and all-too-often extravagantly disedifying. Moreover, she did this during a period of heightened individualism, selfishness, and personal isolation from others. This is important because canon 603 distinguishes what the Church recognizes and honors as solitary eremitical life from so much of what passes for normal in contemporary society.

So, while canon 603 is relatively new (1983), it is a summary of what the Church recognizes as essential if an eremitical life is authentic and avoids the mistakes of history; it will be a life of stricter separation from the world, assiduous prayer and penance, the silence of solitude, the evangelical counsels, a Rule of Life rooted in the hermit's lived experience and inspired by the Holy Spirit. Finally, it is a life which is directed by those competent to do so and is supervised (for those canonically consecrated) by the Church herself because this vocation has, finally, been understood to "belong" to the church and to be both too vital,  fragile, and precious to be lost.

17 January 2020

Follow up on Canon 603 and Freedom

[[Dear Sister Laurel, I just read your recent post on freedom vs license. I thought the examples you used re playing the violin or playing as an elite athlete on a basketball team were an excellent way to illustrate the distinction between these two ideas. I would have thought that canon 603 limited hermit freedom. While I don't know a lot about canon law I have always had the sense that it curtails freedom. What is it about canon 603 that makes it different from the rest of canon law? Does it really result in freedom for the hermit?]]

Thanks for your comments and questions. This will build on the post on freedom and license On Questions of Freedom and License so please bear the examples there in mind. Maybe this will surprise some folks but I suppose I have always felt the same way about canon law as you. I think I feel that way still with the exception of canon 603. I have lived as perpetually professed under this canon for over a dozen years now and I have experienced it as a source of great freedom throughout that time. Neither has anyone who might have done so (chancery personnel, bishop, delegate) interfered with that freedom by imposing requirements on me beyond my Rule or the canon itself. What makes canon 603 different to my mind are two things: 1) the essential elements are left undefined; they are mysteries to be explored and embraced, and 2) these elements are combined with a Rule the hermit writes herself based on her own lived experience. I think the way these two things come together in the power of the Holy Spirit is the key to a hermit being really and authentically free. They are also the thing which sets this apart from most other canons.

Regarding the essential elements, these have meaning in light of the  lived tradition and the lived life experience of the hermit. For instance, when I first read the canon (@ December 1983) I misread it as calling for, "silence and solitude," rather than "the silence of solitude" and lived those first realities mainly in terms of external silence and physical solitude, Only a while later did I come to see the canon said "the silence of solitude", a Carthusian  reality which is much richer than the sum of its parts; only much later had I moved from seeing this as just an environment in which the hermit lives to also seeing it as a symbol of the goal of life with God. Even later still I came to see this same essential term as a description of the charism (gift quality) of the solitary eremitical vocation, which, when understood by chancery personnel, could prevent problems in professing or dismissing candidates for profession. It took time to live into and truly understand this mystery. Something similar happened with the terms assiduous prayer and penance, stricter separation from the world, and living this vocation for the salvation of the world.

Each term was and is absolutely central to the vocation, and yet the Church did not define them; some might have thought the meaning of these terms to be self-evident, or they might have given dictionary definitions and thought these sufficient. Either alternative would be a serious mistake. Though one is not free to create an entirely new meaning for these terms, each one embodies a whole world and constitutes an invitation to discover and explore this world of Divine power, presence, and love. Each also reflects a long and varied history of eremitical tradition and freedom and each one will call one to make choices pertinent to one's life circumstances and God's personal call to wholeness and holiness in light of these elements. Those who wrote the canon knew this, I believe; those who professed me expected me to come to deeper and deeper understanding of these mysteries as well as those of the evangelical counsels (which are themselves geared towards freedom) and live (and live into) them ever more deeply. The call to embrace and explore these mysteries was and is both a right and an obligation whose fulfillment was extended to me as well as empowered by the grace of profession and consecration. The bottom line here is that I was truly free to do this in whatever ways and according to whatever timetable worked best for me. Moreover, as I did this, as I entered more deeply into each mystery (and thus, into the world of God's love they opened to me), my own freedom to be the person God called me to be would increase.

A part of this deepening freedom and faithfulness involved the writing of a Rule the Church received  and officially approved with a Bishop's decree. This too is a non-negotiable part of the canon like the others mentioned above. The Rule was written and rewritten on the basis of my own lived experience and codified a particular vision of eremitical life which drew not only from my life experiences (including now the inner work I am doing with my Director), but from Camaldolese and Cistercian spirituality, as well as from the substance of the canon itself. Additional sources were the lives and spirituality of hermits through the centuries, but especially the Carthusians and the Desert Ammas and Abbas, and the Camaldolese St Romuald and St Peter Damian. The living out of this Rule has asked me everyday to grow in understanding, freedom, wholeness, and holiness. The writing  of this blog too has been a source of growth and deepening freedom. Canon 603 is at least indirectly responsible for my taking this project on and continuing it.

Another part of my experience of freedom with regard to canon 603 has been the Church's public commissioning of me to live this life. When everything around me and (sometimes) even within me seems to militate against the silence of solitude, I can remind myself of the mutual discernment process the chancery and I negotiated, the prayers for my vocation I know people offered and still offer, and my assurance that these things indicate the granting of a very real freedom with regard to the pressures acting against eremitical life. Canonical standing and God's own consecration which was mediated by the Church, results in freedom to resist other self-definitions and affirm the deep truth of self in God. What I want to stress in all of this is the degree of freedom c 603 and the Church herself gives me to discern various things within this eremitical context  I would not be free to undertake from outside it. When I fail in one way or another I don't  need to worry whether my own initial discernment of this vocation was accurate; the Church has weighed in on things and tips the scales towards an affirmation of this vocation and a renewed commitment to persevere. Finally, a central piece of the way c 603 has afforded me real freedom is the intense work I have undertaken with my Director. I would not have been free to undertake this in the way we have done it had it not been for canon 603 and the public commissioning associated with it. Likewise, as I have written recently, the ministry of authority which is a significant part of a canonical vow of obedience has been incredibly freeing as well.

I think it is important to understand that the freedom I have discovered and come to live more and more is not the freedom to be anything or just anyone at all. However, through canon 603 I have been made more truly free to be myself. There are constraints, of course and the ability to use certain gifts and talents is among these. Still. the rich sources of freedom which make up life under canon 603 are inspired by the Holy Spirit and they have led me deeper and deeper into the heart of eremitical life which in turn has made me even more free as hermit and as a human being. Canon 603, with its combination of essential or defining elements and a Rule I necessarily wrote myself with its dependence on my own lived experience and vision of eremitical life, created a realm of God-given space which I can explore and in which I could hearken to the voice and Word of God as I become the person God calls me to be. Remember that in Catholic theology freedom is the power to be the persons we are called to be. What canon 603 does in my life (and, I would argue, in the life of anyone truly called to this vocation) is to ensure me the invitations, space, and tools to become myself as I explore the heights and depths of life in communion with God.

To summarize then: I think that, generally speaking, Canon Law is meant to protect various realities in the Church. This always involves setting parameters or limitations --- but parameters and limitations which also define a realm of freedom. Again, one is not free to be anything at all but, if one is called by God to this, one is certainly free to be themselves as a hermit who lives this life in the name of the Church. Even so, I believe canon 603 is truly unique in combining the hermit's own Rule and other non-negotiable elements in a way which allows the hermit to explore the depths and heights of the mystery we identify as solitary eremitical life and thus, life with and in the God who inspires and empowers it. I find the canon to be genuinely beautiful in the way it is composed; it creates the necessary space for the Holy Spirit to work if one really has an eremitical vocation. (This is one reason its non-negotiable elements are built into the lives of non-canonical or lay hermits' lives as well.) I would not have thought these things were I looking at the canon from the outside in. But I have now lived this life for some time and things look differently from "within" or under canon 603 itself.

15 January 2020

In the Heart of the Desert: O God, Make us Truly Alive!

[[Dear Sister, if I wanted to read about the Desert Fathers and Mothers what would you suggest I read? Thanks. Also, I wondered if the Desert Fathers and Mothers are helpful in charting your own course as a canonical hermit? By the way, are you doing the service on Friday? It's your Feast day isn't it?]]

Thanks for the questions!  Good timing given the feasts this week of  Paul of Thebes, and St Anthony of Egypt. Yes, the Desert Fathers and Mothers are a great source for  my understanding of eremitical life and I read them and books about them whenever I become aware of something new out there. The best book I can recommend apart from a collection of the sayings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers (I would always start here) is by John Chryssavagis. It is entitled, In the Heart of the Desert, The Spirituality of the Desert. Rev Dc Chryssavagis is an Orthodox Christian and an expert on the Desert Fathers and Mothers. What he does in this book is to explore the true heart of desert Spirituality as lived by the 4-5C hermits by using not only their sayings but by drawing pictures of the way these men and women lived. Especially, Rev Chryssavagis constructs a portrait of a profoundly healthy spirituality which most will recognize as helpful in the 21C.

For instance, in writing about spiritual direction in the desert, Chryssavagis cites the following conversation(s) between a younger hermit and Abba Poemen: [[ A brother questioned Abba Poemen saying, "I am losing my soul living with my abba. Should I go on living with him?" The old man knew that he was finding it harmful living with the abba. So he said to him, "Stay, if you want." The brother left him and stayed on there [with the abba]. He came back again and said, "I am losing my soul." But again the old man did not tell him to leave. He came a third time and said: "I really cannot stay there any longer. I am leaving." Then Abba Poemen said to him, "Now you have truly been healed. Go, and do not stay with him any longer."]]

Chryssavagis recognizes that this is the way authentic spiritual direction takes place; this is the way it looks. He says, [[ Abba Poemen struggled to exclude his own will while expanding --- but not exploiting --- the will of the brother.]] In my own life my Director works in the same way. She helps me to get in touch with and articulate the movements of my own heart and she hears my thoughts, but she does not ordinarily tell me what to do. She certainly celebrates with me when I come to clarity on something and move as I sense God is calling me to do. As Chryssavagis makes clear, the refusal to interfere in the journey of another while providing ways and tools allowing them to come to clarity on their own needs and the way God is calling them is an act of love and respect. It is also an act of trust which underscores one's belief that God speaks to them just as God speaks to the director.

I draw other implications from this saying and from others. Especially I can see the way obedience worked in what was a vast community of hermits. Each lived either alone or with others and each went to an elder to manifest his own thoughts, his own heart to another. Chryssavagis calls obedience "the great leveller" because everyone could speak a word to another and everyone went to his brothers or sisters for such a word. Everyone listened and was obedient in this profound sense just as everyone, once they were established in the desert life, could be asked to serve in this way. But at the same time this saying and many others lays bare the fact that solitude was not about isolation and while some hermits went onto the deep desert where they were more generally alone, most did not. Chryssavagis notes that obedience did not create a hierarchical structure; instead it was the thing which united a community.

Canon 603 seeks to set up very few regulations for the hermit and requires the hermit to write her own Rule of life while securing a structure of accountability and obedience which, in some ways, mirrors that of the desert Abbas and Ammas. My own Rule seeks to articulate a vision of eremitical life; it does not generally set up lots of "thou shalt nots" or "thou may onlys". The life of the Desert Abbas and Ammas was similar while still being one of community in solitude. In another Abba Poemen story we hear: [[A brother asked Abba Poemen, "Some brothers live with me; should I be in charge of them?" The old man said to him, "No, just work first and foremost. And if they want to live like you then they will see to it themselves." The brother said to him, "But it is they themselves, Father, who want me to be in charge of them. "No, be their example, not their legislator." This is another reason, I think that discernment is long for the c 603 hermit. A diocese must be sure the person is not seeking someone to tell them what to do and has the capacity to write a liveable Rule rooted in lived experience.

But once again, check out the place of community in the lives of  the Desert Fathers and Mothers. There are many sayings which illustrate the community that has a place at the heart of desert solitude; solitude calls for community and community allows for a solitude which is healthy and fruitful. In many ways this is what Camaldolese spirituality calls "living together alone" and I know the desert Abbas and Ammas influenced Camaldolese spirituality. Meanwhile, thanks for asking, but no, I am not doing the service Friday (St Anthony of Egypt); I have had a bug and still do; and no, it is not my feast day either. That is The Conversion of Paul,  25.January; but it is the feast day of the Camaldolese nuns in Rome (Monastery of St Antony of Egypt) so yes, I am remembering them in my prayers. My prayer for them and for all who live desert lives is the Eucharistic prayer of Abba Serapion of Thmuis, [[O God, we entreat you, make us truly alive!]]

13 January 2020

Follow up Questions on the Church and Eremitical Life

Dear Sister, You have so carefully laid out what c603 is all about, and usually you include something as to the fact that there have always been lay hermits in the Church. You have said that they are a valid place in the eremitical life of the church. How? Why?  I am curious as to whether you ever find that lay hermits have a real value to the church. I must admit I mostly find them eccentric. I'm sure in the past there have been many who have lived edifying lives — but I have always wondered what on earth St. Simeon the Stylite and others like him contributed to the church. How did their lives point to God???]]

LOL!! Great questions and one or two I can only take a stab at. I'll include your other questions and comments below this. All authentic eremitical lives are important in the life of the Church, and this is true whether the vocations or commitments are public (canonical) or private (non-canonical). Canonical vocations (consecrated eremitical lives) serve in a paradigmatic way for the whole Church. What I mean is that the Church defines eremitical life canonically and admits individuals to profession after a period of discernment and formation. In this way the Church makes as sure as she can that those who live this vocation in her name represent solid examples of this life. But anyone who is canonically free can live as a hermit and be a tremendous example of what is possible when Divinity (grace) and humanity (nature) live in communion or even union with each other. When reduced to its simplest witness this is what eremitical life is about. Hermit's are called to give people hope regarding what is possible with God and with God alone. 

Almost everything I write about here is a reflection on some dimension of this. When, for instance, I write about the redemptive event which must be present in a hermit's life for one discerning such a vocation, this is just an elaboration on the idea that in an authentic eremitical life one should see evidence of the dynamics that are set loose in a life and the larger world when the love of God touches a broken, sinful human being. It does not  matter whether one is canonical or non-canonical, lay or consecrated, solitary or living within a community of hermits. The witness is the same so long as what we are seeing is authentic eremitical life. The elements will also be essentially the same: the silence of solitude as environment, goal, and charism, assiduous prayer and penance, stricter separation from those things which separate us from God in Christ, spiritual direction (may be informal). A few other elements are added for those canonically established as hermits so that the ministry of authority can be worked out appropriately and the vows lived with integrity, but again, all of this is meant to establish and support a life which witnesses to what happens when God and (wo)man live in communion with one another.

Now, for my "stab" at an answer. I think Simon the Stylite witnessed in the same way to others but within a context marked by incredibly limited conditions. Every hermit lives in a kind of wilderness or desert. Some of these are very stark indeed. St Simon's was one of these. When you think of the kinds of things we all think of as essential to healthy life and begin to pare them away so one witnesses to God and the Human person alone, Simon Stylites is a pretty good example of what this might look like. We no longer have great evidence of what St Simon's life was about but I don't have the sense he was insane or disedifying to those who knew him. He represents an example of a relatively rare form or eremitical life and while I doubt many of us feel called to follow his example he does at least remind me of how far from this example my own life actually is!

[[I see again on the blog the image of the naked tattooed hermit — is he a fraud? mentally ill? driven by the Holy Spirit to live this life? I have assumed that when you use that image you are using juxtaposition to show how disordered the life of a self-proclaimed hermit can be. Am I wrong?  How can the vocation of a lay hermit have anything like the value of a c603 hermit???]]

I've added Tom Leppard's name to the picture you refer to. His story was first posted here a number of years ago. You'll find it under the labels to the right. Despite my recent use of his picture he represents more a stereotype (or constellation of stereotypes) than a fraud. He was a profoundly unhappy person who found that whenever something went wrong in his life others were involved. So he had himself tattooed and when off to live alone on the Isle of Skye. He represents for me the idea of "hermit" as misanthrope, escapist, mentally ill, eccentric, etc. Had a British reporter not written an article about him and the hope he represented for elderly Britons I might never have known about him, but essentially he is everything people have thought hermits were/are and everything I personally know hermits are not. He did not proclaim himself a hermit and so he is not a fraud. He lived a personal truth as best he could --- bizarre as that was/is. Still, he is a counterfeit and one that underscores and encourages misunderstandings of the eremitical vocation.

Regarding your last sentence/question above,  it is true that the chances of the hermit's witness value is greater if they become canonical. They are more likely to be known and write publicly or minister publicly in the limited ways allowed by c 603. However, I think in some ways the lives of lay hermits speak more powerfully to those who will never seek canonical standing beyond their baptismal consecrations but who, perhaps, are isolated or disabled and believe their lives are of little value than canonical hermits will. These lay hermits (hermits in their baptismal state) will live lives which speak of Christ and of human wholeness to their neighbors and brothers and sisters in their parishes and put the lie to the misguided idea that one must be a consecrated hermit (or religious) for one's life to be of value. That is simply not true. Vatican II stressed the universal call to holiness; we need for hermits embracing eremitism in the lay state (with or without private acts of dedication or vows) to witness to this truth as Vatican II called every person to do.

[[What did the church do — if anything — about regulating the lives of hermits before c603??  I'm speaking of those who were not already associated with religious orders.  How did they prevent scandal?]] 

I am going to ask you to look back at earlier articles for more detailed posts on this question because this post will be overly simple otherwise, but it seems to me there have been several stages of eremitical life in the Western Church. The first is that of desert fathers and mothers which died out after the 6th C. These hermits were self-regulating and placed *** would-be hermits under the tutelage of elders. These elders granted the "candidate" the permission to take on the hermit habit or took it from the candidate as necessary, taught them what they needed to know, supported them, and so forth until the hermit was ready to live on his/her own. Remember these hermits were critical of the church and the way she had succumbed to the world of politics and power, and had become not just legal (cf. the Edict of Milan) but enmeshed in the world. They are a primary reason we identify the eremitical vocation as prophetic.

Into the Middle Ages hermits who were not members of orders or congregations existed more independently; most of the time these hermits were not problematical but they could be a source of scandal or confusion and were many times were not particularly edifying. People like St Romuald (early 1000's, founder of the Camaldolese) went around Italy trying to bring as many of these as he could under the Rule of Benedict in order to add some structure and sense of ecclesial identity to these hermits' lives. Otherwise hermits formed or continued living in congregations during this time, The Carthusian and Camaldolese were both founded in the 1000-1100's.

In the Middle Ages bishops brought anchorites (male and female) under their direct authority and oversaw their lives. Hermits who desired to preach were licensed to do so by local bishops. Hermits were granted a hermit tunic by the local bishop and fell, at least loosely, under his aegis. So, there were statutes in the canons of the local Churches (dioceses) which brought some order to what could be chaotic otherwise. These norms differed, however, from diocese to diocese and were uneven at best. In the Western Church the eremitical vocation pretty much died out after this except in semi-eremitical congregations. (It was always connected to monastic life in the Eastern Church and never died out.) Only in the 20th C did the Church see a resurgence of interest in the eremitical life.

The Church has always tried to find effective ways to deal with the eremitical vocation, sometimes to foster it, sometimes to correct or control it, and often to prevent it from falling into some common traps and counterfeits. For that matter hermits themselves have always tried to regulate authentic eremitical life recognizing that it is not a life of license, individualism, or selfishness, but of love and generosity; they have also seen that to the degree it is authentic it is profoundly communal or ecclesial and from the days of the desert Abbas and Ammas, a profoundly prophetic vocation. Some of the reasons c 603 is so significant stem from the fact that it approaches eremitical life as a positive reality and recognizes it as a gift of God. Canon 603 is universal church law and takes the place of any local statutes which pre-existed it; it is instead, the single way solitary hermit are consecrated in the Universal Church today. (Including hermits as part of the consecrated state is also quite new.) Moreover, it allows for appropriate structure (legitimate superiors, ministry of authority), essential or non-negotiable elements, and combines these with the  life experience and discernment of the individual hermit. It is both profoundly ecclesial and dependent on the Holy Spirit in ways which help ensure both fidelity and flexibility.

Abba Poemen
***Remember, this group refers to hermits from several desert areas (Egypt, Palestine). They were made up of hermits who lived in solitude in three main forms: entirely alone, in cenobitical monasteries, and those living a "middle way" which was akin to what we recognize today as lauras of hermits (hermits in a colony linked together physically by the pathways (lavra) which were created between each hermitage as hermits travelled back and forth. Today we tend to separate the cenobites from the eremites leaving hermits who constituted what Derwas Chitty rightly call "a city". The solitude remained substantial but hermits were bound in community by the the unique obedience of the desert where every hermit could seek or be sought out for a word from his/her brother/sister hermits. Sometimes the Desert Abbas and Ammas wrote that it was enough for them simply to see another hermit living his/her life --- that hermit became a living word for his/her brothers and sisters.

Please note: it is possible to argue that these three forms of desert life correspond in a general (inexact) way to the three forms of eremitical life extant today: 1) hermits in a laura (or a desert city) might be seen to correspond to c 603 hermits as I have described this vocation over the past decade and more, 2) hermits who live in a coenobium (like the Carthusians or Camaldolese Benedictines, and 3) solitary lay vocations.

I hope this is helpful.

12 January 2020

Feast of the Baptism of Jesus (reprised)

Of all the feasts we celebrate, [today's] feast of the baptism of Jesus is one of the most difficult for us to understand. We are used to thinking of baptism as a solution to original sin instead of the means of our initiation into the death and resurrection of Jesus, or our adoption as daughters and sons of God and heirs to his Kingdom, or again, as a consecration to God's very life and service. When viewed this way, and especially when we recall that John's baptism was one of repentance for sin, how do we make sense of a sinless Jesus submitting to it?

I think two points need to be made here. First, Jesus grew into his vocation. His Sonship was real and completely unique but not completely developed or historically embodied from the moment of his conception; rather it was something he embraced more and more fully over his lifetime. Secondly, his Sonship was the expression of solidarity with us and his fulfillment of the will of his Father to be God-with-us. Jesus will incarnate the Logos of God definitively in space and time, but this event we call the incarnation encompasses and is only realized fully in his life, death, and resurrection -- not in his nativity. Only in allowing himself to be completely transparent to this Word, only in "dying to self," and definitively setting aside all other possible destinies does Jesus come to fully embody and express the Logos of God in a way which expresses his solidarity with us as well.

It is probably the image of Baptism-as-consecration and commissioning then which is most helpful to us in understanding Jesus' submission to John's baptism. Here the man Jesus is set apart as the one in whom God will truly "hallow his name." (That is, in Jesus' weakness and self-emptying God's powerful presence (Name) will make all things Holy and a sacrament of God's presence.) Here, in an act of manifest commitment, Jesus' humanity is placed completely at the service of the living God and of those to whom God is committed. Here his experience as one set apart or consecrated by and for God establishes God as completely united with us and our human condition. This solidarity is reflected in his statement to John that together they must fulfill the will of God. And here too Jesus anticipates the death and resurrection he will suffer for the sake of both human and Divine destinies which, in him, will be reconciled and inextricably wed to one another. His baptism establishes the pattern not only of HIS humanity, but that of all authentic humanity. So too does it reveal the nature of true Divinity, for our's is a God who becomes completely subject to our sinful reality in order to free us for his own entirely holy one.

I suspect that even at the end of the Christmas season we are still scandalized by the incarnation. (Recent conversations on CV's and secularity make me even surer of this!) We still stumble over the intelligibility of this baptism, and the propriety of it especially. Our inability to fathom Jesus' own baptism, and our tendency to be shocked by it  because of Jesus' identity,  just as JohnBp was probably shocked, says we are not comfortable, even now, with a God who enters exhaustively into our reality. We remain uncomfortable with a Jesus who is tempted like us in ALL THINGS, and matures into his identity as God's only begotten Son.

We are puzzled by one who is holy as God is holy and, as the creed affirms, "true God from true God" and who, evenso, is consecrated to and by the one he calls Abba --- and commissioned to the service of this Abba's Kingdom and people. A God who wholly identifies with us, takes on our sinfulness, and comes to us in smallness, weakness, submission and self-emptying is really not a God we are comfortable with --- despite three weeks of Christmas celebrations and reflections, and a prior four weeks of preparation -- is it? In fact, none of this was comfortable for Jews or early Christians either. The Jewish leadership was upset by JnBp's baptisms generally because they took place outside the Temple precincts and structures (that is, in the realm we literally call profane). Early Christians (Jewish and otherwise) were embarrassed by Jesus' baptism by John --- as Matt's added explanation of the reasons for it in vv 14-15 indicate. They were concerned that perhaps it indicated Jesus' inferiority to John the Baptist and they wondered if maybe it meant that Jesus had sinned prior to his baptism. And perhaps this embarrassment is as it should be. Perhaps the scandal attached to this baptism signals to us we are beginning to get things right theologically.

After all, today's feast tells us that Jesus' public ministry begins with a ritual washing, consecration, and commissioning by God which is similar to our own baptismal consecration. The difference is that Jesus' freely accepts life under the sway of sin in his baptism just as he wholeheartedly embraces a public (and one could cogently argue, a thoroughly secular) vocation to proclaim God's sovereignty. The story of the desert temptation or testing that follows this underscores this acceptance. His public life begins with an event that prefigures his end as well. There is a real dying to self involved here, not because Jesus has a false self which must die -- as each of us has --- but because in these events his life is placed completely at the disposal of his God, his Abba, in solidarity with us. Loving another, affirming the being of another in a way which subordinates one's own being to theirs --- putting one's own life at their disposal and surrendering all other life-possibilities always entails a death of sorts -- and a kind of rising to new life as well. The dynamics present on the cross are present here too; here we see only somewhat less clearly a complete and obedient (that is open and responsive) submission to the will of God, and an unfathomable subjection to that which human sinfulness makes necessary precisely in order that God's love may be exhaustively present and conquer here as well.