31 July 2008

The Unique Charism of the Diocesan Hermit: Another look at Aspects of Desert and Benedictine Stability

Throughout its history monasticism has recognized several kinds of stability. Augustine Roberts, OCSO, in his work, Centered on Christ, A Guide to Monastic Profession lists five different forms: 1) stability in cell,(this form was made famous by the Desert Fathers and Mothers) 2) stability under an Abbott (who might be the spiritual Father of several monasteries), and associated with Cistercians of the 12-13th centuries; 3)Stability on the pillar (associated with Simeon the Stylite, certain hermits, anchorites, and recluses who were closed up, walled off, or chained to walls); 4) stability of a traveller, which may seem like an oxymoron, especially given Benedict's comments on gyrovagues, but which allowed temporary movement to another monastery; and 5) stability in (the) community, which is Benedict's interpretation of the value, and which involves stability in the community of profession.

It seems to me that the diocesan hermit is asked to embrace implicitly (if not explicitly by vow) the fifth and first forms. (Non-diocesan hermits (that is non-canon 603 hermits) may be called primarily to that stability associated with the desert Fathers and Mothers, but are not called to stability in the community in the same sense the diocesan hermit is. If they live in a laura or monastery, they would certainly be called to stability in community, but not in the same way a diocesan hermit with her commitment to diocese and parish.) I think everyone is used to thinking of a call to stability of the cell; who has not heard the comment, "Remain in your cell and your cell will teach you everything"? But, the notion of a "stability in community" which binds the diocesan hermit in a particular way is less familiar, I suspect.

During the rite of my solemn profession last year, Marietta Fahey, shf (rather than a Deacon) did the formal "calling forth" on behalf of the diocese. Since the profession liturgy involves the literal mediation of God's call to the hermit as well as her response, and since the rite of calling forth is a direct expression of this, the formula we used was, "On behalf of the Church of the Diocese of Oakland and the Faith Community of St Perpetua('s Catholic Church), I call forth Sister Laurel O'Neal." At the time I was clear that diocesan status bound me to the diocese itself, but I had not considered as much the parish dimension of my commitment. And yet, I was clear that I was being called out of this specific assembly, this specific faith community and also as I have written before, it is this specific community which supports me in my vocation on a daily basis. Yet, it seems clear that the rite of profession itself prepared for my own reflection on the unique charism of the diocesan hermit and its relation to Benedictine stability; it (the rite) was also informed by it and became an expression of it.

But another thing this particular piece of my profession rite underscores is the personal nature of that stability. While it is true stability generally binds one to a place, it is far more fundamentally communal or relational. As Roberts affirms, [[Stability is personal. It is interpersonal communion, or, more precisely, it is perseverence in this communion.]] In embracing Benedictine stability as a diocesan hermit one commits oneself to a community, first (or more generally) to a diocese, and then (or more immediately) to a parish. For the diocesan hermit this is the community in which one's profession is made and in which it is lived out. While for truly legitimate reasons one might change one's stability, it seems to me that a diocesan hermit considering the unique charism of their vocation would need to discern these with the same seriousness a Benedictine monk or nun in a monastery discerns such things.

If the vow or value of stability is essentially personal or interpersonal, what are its most fundamental values for the hermit, especially compared to other Benedictine values, for instance? Both forms, stability in cell and stability in community have them and they are very high values indeed. The first would be communion or koinonia I think. The hermits is, for all her solitude, still a community builder and nurturer. Certainly that happens through her prayer, but it also happens as she brings an essentially contemplative presence into her contacts with the parish. It happens as she learns to love in this context more fully and exhaustively not only because stability binds her here, but because it is the logical outgrowth of her vows of celibate love/chastity. Of course, koinonia is built on charity, and especially one's love relationship with God. It is stability though which helps assure that one's commitment to loving others in God is not some abstract, intellectualized form of "loving" in which no one is really touched or nourished or healed. And of course, it is stability which ensures the hermit grows personally. We do not grow in isolation from others, nor when we run from situations, conflicts, challenges, and the like (an important reason eremiticism cannot be built on the desire to escape the demands of human society), but only in communion with others, and especially in faithful communion --- whatever the form that takes.

A second value of stability it seems to me is hope. Hope is rooted in the certainty that God can work to the good in all situations in one (or in those) who love him and therefore allow him to love them. Stability very much addresses this virtue because it underscores the need (and ability) to find God where one is, to come to holiness in the limited and conditioning circumstances in which one finds oneself. Stability is the value that underscores the incarnational essence of Christianity, the fact that our God comes to us in weakness, in the unexpected, even shameful events of our day to day lives. Ours is the God who dwells and remains with us in all of life's moments and moods; He calls us to remain with him in the same way. Prayer happens not in idealized situations (though it happens in ideal ones), but more usually in the situations that are far from ideal and often apparently adequate for nothing else! Stability commits us to lives of holiness and prayer wherever we find ourselves. For the diocesan hermit who often lives as an urban hermit, stability is the value that reminds us all that it is the nitty gritty pressures and irritations of everyday life that become the womb of the pearl of great price. Contemplative life need not be lived in the literal desert or mountain environment, but it must be lived in the solitude and communion of the heart of God, and THAT reality is available to us wherever God is found if only we will "remain in him." (John 15)

A related value of stability is perseverance. In the Rule Of Saint Benedict they are synonyms. Our society or culture is not particularly committed to this. It is instead a culture of quick fixes, and when that is not possible, quick escapes. We run out on marriages, children, relationships where the going gets demanding, courses of study, jobs, our employees and employers, parishes, particular church denominations, etc, etc. You name it and we ordinarily look for the easy way out, the place or situation where the "grass is supposedly greener," or where we face less difficulty and need to be less concerned with doing right in difficult circumstances, acting with patience, sustained courage, integrity, or loving profoundly and faithfully. This disvalue is personal, yes, but it is also interpersonal and affects negatively our culture and society. Meanwhile, its opposite, perseverance/stability cuts the heart out of our tendency to look for quick fixes and escapes; it commits us to giving each situation, each person, each set of circumstances all the time, prayer, effort, and work needed to allow the seeds of life, growth, wholeness, and indeed, holiness, to take root and grow to maturity. In this sense it is the parable of the wheat and the tares that remind us of the value of and need for stability.

In any case, it seems to me that the diocesan hermit is called upon to embody these values in unique and intense ways. Yes, she is to remain in her cell and allow it to teach her all things. Even this can be a witness to others simply in their knowing it is happening somewhere in their midst (which, as noted in other places on this blog, is a central reason for public profession and consecration). But a diocesan hermit is also called to stability in community. She is able to catalyze or otherwise contribute to the growth of community in hidden and not so hidden ways --- and she has an obligation to do this as part of the eremitical life and mission! Most particularly she will do so on the parish level, and in a day when sensitivity to the vitality and importance of local churches and base communities remains quite high, this is a significant aspect of her unique gift/charism to church and world. Stability is rooted in other personal and interpersonal or communal values as well. Perhaps I can say more about those in another post. [Permanent link for this post: Notes From Stillsong Hermitage: Desert and Benedictine Stability]

27 July 2008

On detachment, and finding the pearl of great price!

My pastor tends to give really good Sunday homilies! (His daily homilies are usually fine too, but his Sunday homilies tend to be sterling.) Last evening at the vigil Mass, Fr John had some great stuff on the gospel reading, but three things stood out for me. (I'll share two here, and save the third for another post.) The first was one of the best definitions of detachment I have ever heard. He defined it terms of, "having found a love so great that everything else falls into place." What I found so excellent about this was the way it moves right to the heart of the matter and short-circuits any attempt to define detachment in the more usual negative terms of stripping things away (not that stripping away does not have a place, mind you, but it is secondary, not primary). Detachment is seen first of all in terms of appropriate ATTACHMENT, that is, a defining or foundational relatedness. We are truly detached from "worldly things" when we have discovered and embraced this great love, when we have allowed it to embrace and ground us, and when everything we see, or have, or know, is seen, had, or known, in light of this.

The second thing was a poem Fr John finished with. Once upon a time it was found in the pocket of a confederate soldier, and was something John had read for the first time years ago. There is no doubt at all that this soldier, despite everything, had found the love which allowed all else to fall into place, and for all things to work together for good:

[[I asked God for strength, that I might achieve,
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.

I asked God for health, that I might do great things,
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.

I asked for riches, that I might be happy,
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.

I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men,
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.

I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life,
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.

I got nothing that I asked for
- but everything I had hoped for.

Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am among men, most richly blessed.]]

I sat there listening to this while slowly fingering my profession ring whose visible engraved motto reads, "My power is made perfect in weakness," and considering what the past years have been for me, but especially the one just coming to a close. They have come to fruition in amazing ways. As today's readings also affirmed and John Kasper (osfs) reiterated, All things do indeed work together for good for those who love (that is, by those who let themselves be loved by) God. It was a very powerful homily and I felt a special bond not only with this confederate soldier, but with all those I know who have or once embraced this as their own story as well, especially those in my parish, but also around this ever and ever-smaller world! For this and other reasons (not least the gift of a reunion that morning with two old college friends which initiates a new phase of friendship for each of us), it was an occasion of singular wonder, joy, and gratitude. Our God is indeed very good and gracious!

25 July 2008

More on Diocesan Eremitism: Charism, Stability, Authenticity of Eremitical Life

The relationship between the Benedictine vow/value of stability and the diocesan charism of the canon 603 hermit brought some comments from a friend and diocesan hermit from New Zealand. Now, in her spirituality, she is Carmelite; she has a keen sense of the diocesan charism I have been mentioning in this blog and she reminded me of some basic facts about being a diocesan hermit that underscore this charism. Noting that diocesan hermits are built right into "the texture of their dioceses," she affirmed that while a diocesan hermit might live temporarily in another diocese for some good reason they couldn't simply pick up and go." Also, she noted that if a diocesan hermit wants to transfer to another diocese not only must she secure the permission of both Bishops involved in the move, but ordinarily the receiving diocese will demand a period of discernment before accepting her commitment or transfer. I have read in the past that the position of the diocesan hermit is akin to that of an incardinated priest, and I was aware of one hermit who had once transferred her vows to another diocese, but I was unaware of the details involved. They don't surprise me however. The canon 603 hermit (with these exceptions in mind) belongs to the diocese in which she makes her profession. After all, she has made those vows in the hands of a particular Bishop and his successors. As my friend noted, this was all something she thought Benedictine monasticism could really resonate with!! No doubt at all!! Benedictine stability understands this concept very well indeed.

At the same time my friend asked if I had written anywhere at greater length about the apparent oxymoron some think the term "(sub)urban hermit" is. In fact I have not. It is true I have mentioned the problem here a few times because some hermits really denigrate the idea of such an animal. They object that one must go off into the true (physical) wilderness apart from all others if one is to really embrace solitude and silence, prayer and penance in the way the desert fathers and mothers once did. I should point out that first of all the church disagrees with this position. More, the church is in touch with what Merton once referred to as the unnatural solitudes of the cities, and urban hermits themselves --- at least those I know --- are also very sensitive to these unnatural solitudes and the need to redeem them.

I think of the older people in my community who no longer drive, are often too infirm to get out much (sometimes even to church!), have lost spouses and sometimes all other family, whose incomes are fixed at barely subsistence levels quite often, and who struggle to come to terms with their lives and live them worthily despite their isolation. Can one really seriously suggest that they do not live in an unnatural solitude which is one an urban hermit can and should embrace? Would they be any more isolated in a desert or mountain wilderness? Do they really have more company and resources than did, for instance, the desert Fathers and Mothers in the "desert cities', Franciscan hermits who, with two or three other Friars fell under the care of a superior who acted in the role of "Mother," an anchorite nun shut up in a room in a convent who is supported by her Sisters, or hermit monks who depend upon their communities to support them in their vocations, provide food and shelter, participation in liturgy and the like? In fact, it seems to me they often have far fewer or less.

I have spoken in the past of diocesan hermits witnessing to the redemption and transfiguration of such "unnatural solitudes." I have also mentioned what Thomas Merton said about these and witnessing to what is possible for human beings when Divine Grace is allowed to work to transform their circumstances. I have spoken of the Benedictine value/vow of stability and the correlative commitment to find God in the ordinary circumstances of life, and how that affects me particularly as a diocesan hermit. I have also mentioned the true nature of human freedom and its relation to what Jung called "Fate" --- the power to be the persons we are called to be not only in spite of the non-negotiable elements of our lives, but through them as well. Finally, I have mentioned a number of times the fact that the eremitical life is motivated by love and solidarity with others, and that the contemplative life often (always!) drives a person back out of strict solitude to love their sisters and brothers in some concrete way, shape, or form. Christian love is never a mere abstraction. All of these are basic Christian values or dynamics, and the hermit is called upon to embrace and embody them. Wouldn't it be ironic if she could not do so unless she lived in a natural physical solitude?

It should go without saying that genuine solitude is an inner reality as well as an outer one. We cultivate it by cultivating a relationship with God that transforms our isolation and estrangement into singleness of heart and a burning love for God and all he cherishes. We cultivate it by allowing God to live fully in us not only as source and ground of all we are, but as goal as well. Does it help one to spend time in the natural solitudes our world offers in order to allow God to achieve this? Absolutely. But unnatural solitudes drive us within to seek God with a hunger and intensity I think is unrivalled even by natural solitudes. Grief, illness, poverty, loss, alienation, abuse, all these and many more are the caves and deserts occupied in our contemporary world. Do we really want to argue that God cannot be found in these places or embraced as fully as is the case in the physical desert or mountain? And while we must recognize the myriad ways one might distract oneself from genuine eremitical life in such a context, do we really want to say an authentic eremiticism can only be lived in natural solitudes? I don't think so. However, I personally have to do some more thinking about all this before I can write about it at length. It is a huge part of the charism of the diocesan hermit however; about that I am absolutely clear.

In raising some of this herself, and in commenting on my own personal work in translating a classically Franciscan vow formula into more strictly Benedictine terms, Sister ___(NZ) left me with the following thought and suggestion: [[perhaps (as) a diocesan hermit you can say that you dwell in that sacred space of solitude and apostolic love which is essential to and shared by all three traditions [(Camaldolese) Benedictine, Franciscan, Desert Fathers and Mothers] because the "heart" is the same: a solitary figure who is embraced and nurtured by the desert, in solidarity with all human beings.]] Well, Sister, I COULD say this, but, since I can't improve on your own formulation, I think I should just quote YOU!

More Faces From Retreat

From above left to right on down: Dick (Cam Oblate), Dorothy, Rev Jim, Rev Anne (Deacon)

Rev Basil (beige vest), Cheryl, Rev Steve, Jude (Cam Oblate)

24 July 2008

Can Canonical Eremitical Profession Be Kept completely Secret?

[[I was told recently that a hermit was anticipating accepting canonical profession and consecration but that if s/he did so, it would have to be completely secret. By this s/he meant unknown to parish, family, etc. (As far as I could tell, it was the hermit who insisted this needed to be the case, not the Bishop.) Can you explain how this can be so? Thanks.]]

I am afraid I cannot explain what s/he means by this. It simply makes no sense except possibly in countries where there is pronounced and widespread religious persecution which might mean that consecrated life must grow underground. By definition canonical profession and consecration is a particular and public gift or charisma of and for the church and world. It establishes a person as a public person therein and, as I have noted before, entails certain rights and responsibilities as s/he acts (lives, prays, ministers) in the name of the church. It involves public promises and therefore, it is meant to be a public witness (not least to the action of the Holy Spirit in the Church) even though the majority of the hermit's life is hidden. Even so, people are to KNOW there is a consecrated hermit in their midst, look to them as a source of prayer and a kind of spiritual presence or even center in the parish and diocese, and also be able to turn to them within established limits to meet spiritual or other legitimate needs.

A Gift With Necessary Expectations:

Beyond this, the parish and diocese are allowed certain necessary expectations of the diocesan hermit, not least that they publicly witness to the fact that a life of  the silence of solitude, prayer, and penance lived in God's grace is possible and says certain things about the human capacity for God AND for authentic humanity; this means it says certain things about the relationship of nature and grace, and that the meaningless human isolation, estrangement, or alienation so often experienced today can be redeemed and transfigured into the almost infinitely meaningful reality of true solitude by the grace of God. The same is true of lives lived ensnared by what Thomas Merton calls the myths and fixations of a consumeristic, secularized society.

Other expectations which necessarily attach to public profession and consecration, as I have written here before, involve personal integrity, spiritual and personal (that is moral, emotional, and psychological) health, adequate and ongoing spiritual formation, the quality of the Rule of Life which is officially approved as part of the process of canonical approval and admission to profession, adequate education and training to carry on in this life and minister in the occasional ways legitimately open to the hermit, and above all, that the person accepted for profession, called forth publicly and professed and consecrated publicly, is motivated by love of God and others and is responding to a Divine call the church herself has also discerned.

On the Vocation's Essential Hiddenness:

The eremitical life is one of essential hiddenness, but that does not mean it is secret, and it certainly does not mean that a public commitment (canonical profession and consecration) can or should ordinarily be kept secret. The fact is that though my own life involves the free and public commitment to a life of eremitical hiddenness and people are apt not really to know what that looks like, etc, they still know who and what I am, and that I am in their midst. No, a secret canonical profession and life is not simply a contradiction in terms, it is completely wrongheaded and shows one has not thought sufficiently about the reasons for seeking (or being granted) canonical status. Additionally, in a church where vocations to the consecrated or religious states are suffering, and some wonder if God is working in his church in this way any longer, it hardly makes sense to admit someone to the public rights and obligations of canonical status and then allow them to keep the whole thing secret. Again, hiddenness and secrecy in this whole area are different and, in some significant ways, contradictory realities.

I personally can't imagine a Bishop going along with such an arrangement (except in the condition first mentioned re religious persecution). It seems far more likely he would simply ask the person to remain non-canonical if s/he had such "conditions." But again, Canonical profession and consecration are, by definition, public commitments. While this does not entail notoriety, and may well involve relative or absolute reclusion for the hermit, these persons ARE known to exist and to have been professed.

On Recluses: Hiddenness Without Secrecy

In the Camaldolese Benedictines there have been recluses (there are none right now as far as I know)**. These hermits never see the public, are free from the obligations of attending community liturgies, meals and the like. The community supports them in their reclusion as a special instance of the eremitical vocation. However, this kind of reclusion is not secret. Everyone knows the monks exist and that their vocation is a special gift to the community, church, and world.

We note or mark all of this in a number of ways. Publicly professed/consecrated hermits' participation in public liturgy is marked by the wearing of a prayer garment or cowl and ring, for instance, and everyday life by the wearing of a habit (though this latter is not essential). Even if the hermit never attended public (parish) liturgy (and I admit I don't know how this would be possible unless the hermit is also a priest), the parish has a right to know who and what s/he is for s/he is "theirs" and serves them precisely as hermit. As mentioned above, one of the things which allows us each to be faithful to our own calls are the expectations the church as a whole, and the people in our parishes and dioceses in particular are allowed to have of us. We serve them, and their expectations serve our vocation as well. Public profession means a public life of service EVEN IF that life is mainly hidden in a hermitage.

** Excursus. A fellow Oblate informed me that there are apparently two recluses associated with the Monte Corona Camaldolese (Er Cam) living at this time. One, Fr John Mary, lives outside Padua, Italy. The second, Fr Nicolas lives at the hermitage in Ohio. In the Roman Catholic Church only the Camaldolese (OSB Cam and Er. Cam) and the Carthusians are permitted to have canonical recluses or anchorites; thus, as rare as canonical hermits are, canonical recluses or anchorites are far far rarer. It is true, however that the OSB Camaldolese have no recluses at the present time. Until just recently New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, California did have two canonical anchorite (recluses), however both died relatively recently. The most recent to die (April 8, 2005) after years of reclusion was Fr. Joseph Diemer, OSB Cam. So, are such lives hidden? Absolutely, but CERTAINLY NOT secret!!

19 July 2008

The Diocesan Character of Canon 603 Hermits and Commitment to or Within Specific Spiritual Traditions

Recently a blog writer and soon-to-be conse-crated virgin, in a quite generous reference to my blog opined that she personally believed diocesan hermits should not adopt the spirituality of any particular religious community/order. She thought it rather defeated the purpose of being diocesan.

Now let me say first of all that the blog in question (Sponsa Christi) seems, from the very little I have read to be fair and quite thoughtful; anyone interested in becoming a consecrated virgin should pay some (perhaps a good deal of) attention to it. But in this matter I think the author has mistaken the difference between diocesan priests and order priests as being directly analogous to the difference between diocesan hermits and hermits belonging to religious communities. I think in explaining her own vocation to those who wonder why she doesn't just become a nun, she also is used to pointing to the difference between consecrated virgins and religious women (who, by definition, belong to a community). Again, she believes the distinction between consecrated virgins who are diocesan (and apparently not linked to a specific community or spirituality) and religious women (forgeting that some are diocesan right) is analogous to the difference between diocesan hermits and hermits who are members of Orders/confederations, etc. I simply cannot agree here.

 What the comment seems to presuppose is that there is a specific spirituality attached to being diocesan and that somehow this is defused or weakened ("defeated") by the diocesan hermit's adoption of a specific spirituality (Franciscan, Benedictine, Camaldolese, Dominican, Carmelite, etc) or by the hermit's association with a specific Order or congregation (Oblature with the Camaldolese or Benedictines, for instance). It is an interesting position and one which I have thought about a bit in the last month not only because the author referenced my own blog in commenting, but more especially because of my own interest in the unique charism of the diocesan hermit. (After all, It would be extremely ironic if someone stressing this unique charism was actually guilty of undermining it by her affiliation with Camaldolese Benedictinism and a specific monastery in another part of the country!) In particular, I am concerned to reflect on why it is a good idea for the diocesan hermit to subsume their own Rule under that of another vital spiritual tradition, and why that does not detract from (but in fact, may enhance) one's diocesan character.

 Consecrated Virgins do not write Rules of life, nor do they have vows (which of course is fine!). It may be that the absence of these things however, and especially the lack of need to either write or live (AND GROW!) by a specific Rule also means a failure to understand the importance of having such things subsumed under some larger and established Rule of Life or spiritual tradition. In any case I know from experience that trying to live according to the Rule one has written without this is limiting and limited. I wrote my first Rule in @ 1983-84. At the time I was living as a hermit (though I was a complete novice) and my Rule pretty much described what I was doing that was successful, and what I felt I needed in order to continue in this. (No one provides a "how-to" manual on how to write a personal Plan or Rule of Life, so initially at least, one has to borrow from others or simply write up a mirror image of what one is doing and feels one needs to continue to do in order to stay on track.)

At the time this Rule at least alluded even then to my own felt sense of needing to be informed by a broader spirituality and resolved to look into this, but only noted this as a felt need. The second Rule I wrote and submitted to the Diocese was a revision of this one, and was written two decades later. It included all the categories this one did, but this time added a theology of eremitical life, a theology of the vows, a larger spiritual context for this personal Rule in the Rule of Saint Benedict and the Camaldolese Constitutions and Statutes as well as their Oblate Rule, and a grounding in Scripture which was never made explicit in the first version. All of these additions grew out of my own felt sense of the inadequacy of the first Rule and the need for it to be subsumed under a "larger" and VITAL (tried and true living) spiritual tradition which provided an overarching vision and values which made of it more than a collection of "things to do everyday." Most important to me was to account and provide for my own continued growth in the vocation.

 Why is this the case? It is true because a Rule of Life is NOT simply a collection of things to do each day, and because most of us are not spiritual geniuses who are capable of writing a Rule which all by itself provides the wisdom or vision to direct our lives sufficiently. This is particularly true when we are in the beginning stages of a vocational journey, but it is also true right along the way simply because we are so capable of fooling ourselves, and often so blind to our own needs and deficiencies, especially deficiencies of vision. In Christianity we stand on the shoulders and see with the eyes of prophets and visionaries who have gone before us. If we don't we ordinarily can't see far enough to move ahead with focus and direction, and our growth will be haphazard at best. It happens because one can only write a Rule of life from where one stands at the time, and unfortunately, that may be completely insufficient as a challenge and spur to continuing growth simply because it lacks adequate vision or breadth.

But for the hermit this is all particularly true. Eremitism is a dangerous vocation (solitude is always as dangerous as it is a context rich in potential), and becomes all the more perilous if one is cut off from the tradition of eremitical life as it has been lived (with both its successes and failures) through the millenia. But for me the real question in this specific discussion is whether my own identity as Camaldolese Benedictine detracts from or enhances my diocesan identity and focus. One of the ways I can ask this is what is it precisely about my Benedictinism that makes me so enthusiastic about the option of a specific and unique charism in the canon 603 hermit? And here, I have to say it is precisely the Benedictine emphasis on stability and the capacity to find God in the ordinary that undergirds and perhaps has actually prompted my belief that canon 603 hermits have a unique charism which is different than hermits who belong to orders or even who live in Lauras.

A second element which has contributed to my sense of unique charism has been my experience of the difference in expectations a parish necessarily has (and is allowed to have) of the publicly professed hermit (as opposed to the non-canonical hermit). It is NOT some notion of diocesan spirituality or the idea that my identity is analogous to that of a diocesan priest as opposed to an order priest that leads me in the direction my thought has gone. It is Benedictinism and Camaldolese Benedictinism especially, with its accent on "The Privilege of Love" and the "threefold good" which includes solitude, community (koinonia), and evangelization (or martyrdom). Let me note that had I begun with these ideas from a non-eremitical tradition, I could never have believed it was possible to reconcile them with the true life of a hermit. There are too many stereotypes and preconceptions which refute them (and too many genuine examples as well). The notion of living as an urban hermit in the middle of an urban diocese under the direction of a secular priest Bishop, despite its allowance in Canon Law, would simply have made no real sense and would have been constantly assailed by idealizations or different notions of the hermit vocation which would suggest Canon 603 was a bad idea and a misconceived experiment by a post Vatican II Church who had lost touch with eremitical tradition. I might also have had to be continually concerned that my sense of a unique charism which focuses on the hermit as resource to parish and diocese was simply a way to rescue an eremitism that was not "pure enough" or not sufficiently reclusive or "detached".

In other words, without the Camaldolese Benedictine underpinnings the whole notion of a diocesan hermit, much less the notion of a unique charism would have been a contradiction in terms. (And let me tell you, there are hermits, both canonical and non-canonical living today who come from different perspectives who stress the absurdity of such a reality as a "diocesan hermit"!) At the same time, my own Camaldolese Benedictine affiliation challenges me to remember at all times that I am part of the eremitical and monastic tradition of the church, and not merely the diocesan or cathedral tradition. It reminds me that eremitical life sprang up in the soil of a necessary and prophetic anti-institutionalism and because the institutional church had succumbed to the power of the state and actually become a state power. It reminds me that eremitical and monastic life has always had a prophetic and even salvific role within the institutional church, sometimes saving her from aspects of herself. It reminds me that the eremitical life can be lived poorly or inauthentically, that when one is detached from monastic roots, one loses one's way rather rapidly and readily.

While my Bishop is sensitive to the need for eremitical life and has been open to my vocation, and while he is my legitimate superior and the one under whose direction I am to live my Rule of Life, at the same time he is not the person to whom I can turn for day to day wisdom in living this life. Neither is my pastor (though he has been of immense help in this). No, it is to my spiritual director, and my Benedictine sources and resources that I mainly turn for this daily wisdom and encouragement. (I am hoping that it goes without saying that prayer is my primary help!) Again, let me be clear that I believe profoundly in the reality of a diocesan charism, and I surely believe the canon 603 hermit should embody that charism. The notion that there is really such a ting as a diocesan spirituality is far less convincing to me. In any case, hermits represent more than the cathedral or diocesan tradition in the church, and to be honest, the diocesan or cathedral tradition has never provided an adequate context for authentic (true) eremitical life. In my experience both aspects of the vocation have to be provided and allowed for. For me that means not just profession according to canon 603 and a commitment to my parish community, but an integral relationship to the essentially monastic tradition of eremitical life as it has originated, developed and persisted within the church. Personally that translates into Camaldolese Benedictinism, but others are possible.

In particular it is the Benedictine value of stability with the insistence that the monk find God in ordinary life (a part of the vow/value of stability) that allows me to consider seriously and commit myself to the existence of such a thing as a unique charism for the canon 603 (diocesan) hermit. My thanks to the author of Sponsa Christi for spurring me to pursue this line of thought. I have only just begun it and foresee that it can be taken much farther --- especially given the reality of Rule and vows and all the ways these can be interpreted and lived out. Perhaps she will say more about her own perception of this notion of a "diocesan spirituality" and that will clarify matters for me. Perhaps too what I have identified as a unique charism of the diocesan hermit is what she is thinking of as an actual spirituality.

However, the bottom line at this point is that consecrated virgins and canon 603 hermits, despite both being "diocesan" have different roots, different charisms, and quite different demands and forms of embodiment. The canon 603 hermit (as opposed to the order hermit) is not analogous to the diocesan priest (as opposed to an order priest). Diocesan or not, the hermit remains an instance of the eremitic tradition and must live from this tradition as well as one's diocesan context. (In fact, it occurs to that dioceses recognize this in allowing the adoption of a monastic habit by the hermit and insisting that she adopt the cowl or other prayer garment at solemn profession.) To do otherwise is to cut oneself off from a source of life and order in one's vocation. It is, at least in my experience, to open oneself unduly to the risk of distortion and inauthenticity.

"In Shoes Too Small": Jung and Benedictinism

I was fortunate enough to attend a day's workshop on the relationship between Jungian psychology and spirituality yesterday at San Damiano's Retreat House in Danville, CA. The presenter was Brother Don Bisson, FMS, D Min, and the focus was on the nature of Individuation as a Spiritual Practice. The title was "Walking in Shoes too Small", and ironically, this was a phrase from Jung I had heard for the first time just last week while on retreat when Sister Donald mentioned it in a conference on Benedictinism, the enlarging of our hearts, and the critical need for the recovery of soul or soulfulness in our culture. There was a lot of good material and a great deal to assimilate (I have not even begun!), but a couple of points struck me because they reprise central aspects of Benedictine spirituality. One of these had to do with the Jungian concept of fate. For Jung, fate has to do with the non-chosen, non-negotiable elements in our lives. Fate for Jung is to embrace these elements; it is especially to embrace this (our own) time and place and not some other. In genuine individuation one comes to embrace and even love our fate, all while recognizing that fate in the Jungian sense (unlike some notions of fate) includes the capacity to choose.

Now, one of the things which is most striking about Benedictine spirituality (and one of the first places it differs from the classic Franciscan vows) is the vow (or value) of stability. The Benedictine monk, nun, (or, similarly though in their own way, the oblate) commits themselves to a particular monastery for life. That is, they commit themselves to this community, this group of people with all their weaknesses, foibles, gifts, capacities, etc. And generally they commit themselves to place and time as well, to this time in the history of the church with all its challenges and frustrations, to this world with all its needs, potentialities and deficiencies, to this community (as a whole) with its vitality and lack of vitality. All of this is a part of a contemplative commitment to live in the present moment. As Elizabeth J Canham writes, [[ The vow of stability affirms sameness, a willingness to attend to . . . the reality of this place, these people as God's gift to me and the setting where I live out my discipleship. We are discouraged from fantasizing some ideal situation in which we will finally be able to pray and live as we should. Instead, Benedict says, be here, find Christ in the restless teenager, demanding parent, insensitive employer, dull preacher, lukewarm congregation.]] (Weavings, Jan-Feb 1994)

In the more personal sense Benedictine stability means, [[standing in my own center and not trying to run away from the person I really am.]] (Tomaine, St Benedict's Toolbox) The linkage between the Jungian concept of fate, and the Benedictine vow/value of stability could not be clearer. It is also linked intimately with a truly Christian notion of human freedom. As I have written here before just recently (July 4th) too often people mistake the power or ability to do anything we want as freedom. But in Christianity freedom is the power to be the persons we are called to be; it is the capacity to be (and become) ourselves in spite of limitations or circumstances, and in fact THROUGH these limitations and circumstances.

At the same time stability does not imply a static response to life, for Benedictines also make a vow (or embrace the value) of conversatio morum, which is both a commitment to fidelity to monastic life and to continued conversion of life. (Besides, stability is a commitment to community more than place, and how can THAT be static??) Obedience (whether vow or value) also is a commitment to an ongoing responsiveness to God, and THAT kind of responsiveness, because of its "object," is just about as dynamic as one can get! As Brother Don stressed at the workshop/day of reflection yesterday, individuation is a process of transformation which involves not just embracing fate, but also the negotiation of liminal spaces (the desert is a symbol of this), places where one really encounters the shadow self and awakens to the true self. It implies conscious choices to deal with our own deep woundedness, to heal from this, and yet, in the process to risk the inevitable wounding which comes WITH the process of healing and individuation. In fact, "standing at the center of ourselves" is not a static but rather a dynamic event full of both risk and promise, suffering and peace. It implies not just contemplative withdrawal but return to our world to serve it.

So, I have begun my own examination of the Benedictine vows and how my own translate into specifically Benedictine terms. Interestingly, many of the themes shared by both share commonalities with Jungian and (perhaps) transpersonal psychologies. They echo as well some of the concerns (and courage, faith and hope) another Sister shared with me when she sent me a program from a ritual during her own community's recent Assembly. One of the quotes from the closing liturgy was very striking to me, and I think you will see how it ties in with both a Benedictine vow/value of stability and the Jungian notion of fate: [[ Especially do not lose hope. Most particularly because the fact is we were made for these times. Yes, for years we have been learning, practicing, been in training for and just waiting to meet in this exact [place] of engagement.. . .When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for. . . .This comes with much love and prayer that you remember Who you came from and why you came to this beautiful, needful Earth.]] (C Pinkola Estes, "Letter to a Young Activist in Troubled Times")

18 July 2008

Once again, On the Differences between Public and Private Profession and Consecration

Dear Sister some suggest canon 603 is the refinement of older canons. They also suggest public profession is merely the legal formalization of a private commitment. [[ And in 1983 these [norms] were refined further for those whose superiors desire them, or the hermit desires or is led by God, to a public profession. That formalizes the profession through Canon Law 603.]] So, my questions, 1) does canon 603 profession merely "formalize" a private consecration or profession? and 2) can a "superior desire a person to profess vows according to canon 603"? Also one person said, [[The Bishop really is the determining voice as to private or public profession in the consecrated life of any eremitic. There is no point in trying to do this or that to change the profession status, as the Lord sees through the eyes of His Bishop, and speaks through his voice.]] Is that the way aspirants to eremitical life see things?

Why Public Profession/Consecration?

Let me take the second question first because this has come up before. At that time it was apparently suggested one's Bishop could insist one make vows according to canon 603. The answer has a couple of points, 1) without a public vow of obedience one HAS NO superior. One may have a pastor, confessor, or Bishop (we all do, afterall) but without the vow of obedience the Bishop (for instance) is not a legitimate superior and ought not be called a superior in the way which confuses that issue. 2) No one may insist a person make public vows. The idea that a Bishop would say he wants (desires) a person to make such vows, especially if they do not feel called to do so and have not asked to be admitted to such profession, is simply nonsensical. One is admitted to public profession only after requesting this, and the request is the signal that one has discerned a Divine calling to such a thing. The admission to public profession signals that the church herself agrees and actually assumes a role in mediating God's own call to the person. Now, if one already has public vows, then one might well discern a call to eremitical life, but in such a case, one must deal with the current vows canonically before being admitted  to new ones (there are various options for doing this so one may live their vows until they make eremitic profession). In such a case it is the individual who must initiate the process by requesting admission to eremitical profession and consecration. It makes no sense to suggest someone's superior (one to whom one is bound in such a way in a legitimate relationship through public vows) would desire someone to make another public profession/consecration.

As for the first question, the answer is no. Canon 603 certainly formalizes the norms and characteristics of the eremitical life, but it does not formalize a private consecration and profession, nor is it the way to do so. (Private dedication -- is "formalized" by private vows, and here private does not mean simply done in relative secret or with a lack publicity! Here "private" means the vows do NOT change the judridical or canonical status of the person, nor do they acquire new public rights and obligations.) Canon 603 profession is a different kind of profession and consecration in which the person becomes a public person (in this case, a diocesan hermit) in the church, acts in her name, has legitimate rights and responsibilities she did not have before, and becomes a member of the consecrated state of life (which, as I have noted before, does not happen in private vows or the private consecration of the self to God).

In public profession and consecration then we are not dealing simply with the addition of more formalities as though this is the same reality as private profession/consecration but simply with more bells and whistles, and certainly, it is not the formalization of private vows. We are dealing with something that is qualitatively different than private profession and consecration (dedication of self), something where the person experiences both active and passive consecration in the name of the Church. (cf Augustine Roberts OCSO, Centered on Christ, A Guide to Monastic Profession) In private consecration there is active but not passive consecration, that is one consecrates oneself to God but is not herself raised to the consecrated state. It is significant that the Church has always seen public profession/consecration as a sacramental act, a kind of second baptism, and of course, though an extension and elaboration of baptismal consecration, a new and different consecration as well. This is simply not the case with private vows.

By the way, on one blog devoted to vocations, "Do I Have a vocation?" the author, Therese Ivers, JCL, writes that it is therefore wrong for the person making private vows to call themselves consecrated. I would tend to agree that we should reserve the term consecrated to those entering the consecrated state. Baptism involves the consecration of the person, however we would not ordinarily call a baptized Christian, a consecrated person in the church because they have not entered the consecrated state. If she lived as a hermit, we would not call her a consecrated hermit even though she has private vows. Normal ecclesial usage reserves the term consecrated for those who have entered the consecrated state. Ivers makes a similar point regarding those calling themselves Catholic hermits: [[ Since (s)he is not a member of the consecrated state, (S)he should refrain from speaking of (her)self as a Catholic hermit as that implies canonical status as such. Rather, (S)he should explain to those (s)he may encounter that (s)he is a lay person drawn to solitude with its implication of prayer and penance.]] Now these are not my opinions only, but the observations of a canonist.

The second comment was also problematical. [[The Bishop really is the determining voice as to private or public profession in the consecrated life of any eremitic. There is no point in trying to do this or that or that to change the profession status, as the Lord sees through the eyes of His Bishop, and speaks through his voice. ]] It raises the following questions: 1) do private vows need to be accepted by one's Bishop? 2) if the Bishop accepts them, do they have the same weight or character as public vows made in his hands? 3) Can the Bishop specify that a person makes private rather than public profession? and 4) Should a person seek to move from private to public profession and consecration if that is what they determine the Lord is calling them to or should they give up on such an idea because one Bishop refuses to admit to profession?

First let me say that when one approaches a diocese requesting to be admitted to public profession under canon 603, it is the case that the diocese is the determining voice as to whether this will occur or not. If a Bishop REFUSES to admit one to public profession one can, even then, ALWAYS make private vows in the presence of one's director, pastor, or even the Bishop himself (though I have not heard of this happening). Of course a Bishop may also suggest that private profession might seem the way to go when he is unwilling to admit one to profession under canon 603. But again (per question #3), he cannot say, "I have determined God is calling you to private profession." No one can really do this, not confessor, spiritual director, or Bishop. They may suggest one consider it, but nothing more. (We are not speaking of calling a St Ambrose to the episcopacy afterall!) Further, private vows need not be accepted (and in fact they are not truly or formally "accepted" by anyone in the church). They are made in the presence of, that is they are witnessed by, someone significant, but that person does NOT accept the vows nor, more particularly, are they made in that person's hands. (The phrase "in one's hands" recalls the old feudal practice of the serf (or knight) putting his hands in those of the noble and entering into an act of fealty and a relationship of service; the Church adopted this symbol/form of public profession to signal the new relationship that comes to exist in the act of profession between the newly professed and their legitimate superior (or community/Order, etc)).

Thus, the second question does not make sense; it is an overstatement and misleading to say the Bishop "accepts" or even "receives" private vows. Even if we allowed a common usage of the term "accepts" (and I argue we should not), one has to then be clarify he especially does not do so in the name of the Church which again, sets up legitimate relationships, consequences, rights and obligations for all involved. In the case of private vows there is no difference between a Bishop, a parish priest, or a lay spiritual director witnessing such vows. One cannot inflate what has happened by referring to the Bishop in this case. Further, his merely being apprised that they have happened in his diocese or parish does not constitute acceptance or approval, much less reception. As for the next part of the question, No, when private profession is made the profession, despite similar content,does not have the character of public vows. Again, public profession/consecration is a qualitatively different reality than private vows/dedication.

Let me reiterate, this does not deny the seriousness or validity of private vows AS PRIVATE, but it remains the essential truth of the matter that in the first instance one is consecrated by God through and in the church, whereas in the second one consecrates oneself to God and there is no objective change in state.

As far as the fourth question goes, yes, if one sincerely discerns one is called to public profession and consecration, then one should PETITION FOR ADMISSION to this even if one already has a private commitment of some sort. Obviously, there is no guarantee the Bishop (or those who review and recommend the petition prior to the Bishop even seeing it) will agree in their own discernment, but one should initiate the process. Moreover, unless the diocese is very clear they believe one is simply not suited to this vocation, if one truly feels called one should continue to discern even if the petition is initially denied. This is true not only because one needs to come to humble (lovingly honest) terms with this denial, but also because sometimes the decision from the chancery will change in time. Sometimes the diocese is simply not ready to profess anyone as a diocesan hermit and the denial is not an indication that the diocese feels the person is unsuited (or lacking a call) to the vocation. (The diocese may indicate the provisional nature of the denial or not; that is entirely up to them.) Sometimes the individual herself is completely unready for public profession, but one may suspect she could have such a vocation, and so puts her off for a time with recommendations for personal work, therapy, formation in monastic or eremitical life, more regular and competent spiritual direction, etc before she is even seriously seen as a candidate for admission to first vows.

One always needs to take an official decision seriously as the will of God, but we need to determine in what sense that is the case; also the denial may or may not be the will of God for the person in the long term. The individual needs to continue the discernment process while living their life with integrity. In a situation where one is denied admission to public profession this COULD mean that one would need to continue living as they are and continue to discern seriously in the matter; one might re-present one's petition at another time if that seemed to be God's will. Of course, it could also be the will of God absolutely and for all time! In either case one must continue to discern on an ongoing basis.

As I have noted several times before, both public (canonical) profession and consecration and private (non-canonical) dedication are serious commitments. One cannot say one is "better" than the other, but one must recognize the essential distinction between the two and not confuse the issue by ignoring canon law or the theology of public profession and consecration in the process of affirming the seriousness and validity of private vows and non-canonical dedication. The Church recognizes that both are possible (valid) ways of pursuing the eremitical life. Non-canonical eremitism, as far as I can see, is an important lay vocation while canonical or diocesan eremitism is an instance of the consecrated state which, like private profession, is both an extension of the baptismal consecration all believers participate in, but different from this as well. It is my sincerest hope that non-canonical hermits will take the time and effort to explore and appreciate the differences in charism and character their eremitical lives have from diocesan hermits. We need the lives and witness of both, for, as I have said before, they are both unique gifts to the church, and I think they are, or at least should be, uniquely challenging and edifying to one another.

Horarium for the Benedictine Experience retreat

In case people are interested in the Benedictine Experience weeks held in various locations across the country (and I sincerely hope they are, because they are terrific experiences everyone should consider trying!), I am going to post a bit more information about what the days are like during the week. One does not need to be Benedictine (Oblate or otherwise) to attend, but if you are considering such a commitment this is an excellent way to be exposed to a monastic day/week based on Benedictine values and the Rule. Opening and closing Sundays' schedules for the retreat I attended are included below that for weekdays. For more information on Benedictine weeks and weekends near you, and of the sponsoring organization generally, contact Friends of St Benedict (there is a website).

Horarium, Monday through Saturday (except Thursday which is a Desert day)

6:30 Rising bell
7:00 Morning Prayer and Silent Meditation
8:00 Breakfast (silent)
8:45 Choir practice
9:45 Morning Conference (presentation of a topic re Benedictine Life and Spirituality)
10:30 Break
10:45 Chapter/Group Discussion (personal sharing and discussion of morning's conference)
11:30 Break (Tea, coffee, etc, quiet sharing)
(then begin lesser silence)
12:00 Mass
1:00 Lunch (silent)
2:00 Rest
3:00 Private Lectio
4:00 Work Projects OR 4:15 Schola Practice
5:30 Evening Prayer
(end lesser silence)
6:00 recreation (wine and cheese,etc)
6:30 Dinner (silent)
8:15 Meditation

Thursday (Desert Day)
6:30 Rising Bell
7:00 Morning Prayer and Silent Meditation
8:00 Breakfast (also make bag lunches)
8:45 choir practice
9:15 Conference/ morning session
10:00 Desert Day begins

5:30 Mass
6:30 Dinner (silent)
8:15 Meditation
8:45 Compline

Opening Sunday
4:30pm Welcome and Liturgy Orientation
5:30 Evening Prayer
5:50 Recreation
6:30 Dinner
7:45 Orientation and Introductions (Everyone is invited to introduce themselves and to say a bit about their connection with Benedictinism)
8:45 Compline

Closing Sunday
6:30am Rising Bell
7:00 Morning Prayer
8:00 Breakfast
9:00 Closing Session
10:30 Mass
12:00 Lunch and departures

Note that in the main we are talking about a silent retreat here. As noted, there is recreation daily where people share, and talking is also allowed at the first and last meals. (Reading during meals was a regular feature of the week.) In times of lesser silence there is minimal talking or noise, usually having to do with work, choir practice, or chapter. Participants are encouraged to sign up for schola or a work detail of some kind around the ranch since Benedictinism revolves around the values of Ora (Pray) et Labora (and work) and is dedicated to finding God in all things (in the ordinary).

Office was ordinarily sung (chanted) and choir practice prepared everyone for the next Offices in front of us. Individuals are also encouraged to take leading roles in the liturgies, whether Mass or Office, and this especially includes roles one has never taken on before. We had people serving Mass who had never done so before, lectoring, acting as thurifer and controlling the thurible, etc, and it was all lovely and very rich because of this. Readings were prepared by all individuals ahead of time and generally done well, processions were practiced, and the Solemnity of Saint Benedict was a major celebration! An Icon drawn by one of the participants (Lucia Dugliss) was installed in a small outdoor shrine in the courtyard of the Ranch House after we had used it in Church and processed outdoors with it after Liturgy. It was very clear at at all times that the day (whose heart was contemplative) revolved around the Liturgy.

17 July 2008

Direction of Personal Work and (Some) Posts: A Beginning

During retreat, and prompted in part by the close proximity of three feast days: SS Romuald, Benedict, and Bonaventure, as well as the anniversary of my final oblature with Transfiguration Monastery (Camaldolese), I came to see that part of the reason for my sometimes feeling like I am neither Benedictine nor Franciscan (or both!!) is the apparent discrepancy between my own vows (Classic 'Franciscan' vows of poverty, chastity and obedience) which are called for by canon 603 (at least this is the usual formulation), and the classic Benedictine vows of stability, conversatio morum, and obedience. Now let me say right at the outset that there is no profound discrepancy between the two, especially when I consider the eremitical context and diocesan framework of my life, profession, and consecration. Neither do I expect to find huge gaps in my profession which makes it other than essentially Benedictine. In fact, I know that I will not. However, it is challenging for me personally to explain how a profession cast in terms of Franciscan vows (which, along with a scholastic elaboration of the meaning of religious profession, are really how most non-monastic religious and eremitical vows are framed today) translates into a primarily (or essentially) Benedictine profession and identity -- and Camaldolese Benedictine at that.

Also, of course, it is approaching the anniversary of my solemn (perpetual) eremitical profession, and at the same time some of the readers of this blog are themselves preparing for vows (or beginning their novitiates to do so), or learning to live into their own vows. It is time for me personally to come to some clarity on the relation between my own vows and the classic Benedictine formula, so I will be spending time on that in the next weeks and months. One of the things that most intrigues me is my own sensitivity to what I have called the unique charism of the diocesan hermit, and the relation of that to the Benedictine value or vow of stability. This is embodied in the introductory lines of my vow formula, and has been too-little appreciated while I focused my own attention on the contents of the vows themselves. I am wondering if my awareness of this charism is not partly due to my concern with the Benedictine value of stability, especially as embraced during oblature in the parish context. Meanwhile, the underlying or global reality grounding my profession, a commitment to the life of friendship with Christ and to ongoing conversion in that, is underscored in the final lines regarding its perpetuity and in whose Name it is made. All of these things are things I need to live into and explore more deeply and completely, and there is no doubt that some of that work will end up in this blog.

Thus, in order to prepare for this work (or at least for any posts I put up here) I am including the text of my vows once again at this point. (They were included earlier as a part of the Rule of Life I wrote, submitted to my diocese, and posted last year, and which is subsumed under the Rule of Benedict.) I hope these posts (and vows) will be of interest to others who read this blog. Personally, I have always thought that they embody values which, with the exception of consecrated celibacy (celibate love), any Christian ought to be able to undertake or embrace. I would ask for others who are publicly vowed (or preparing for public profession and consecration) --- whether Benedictine, Franciscan, Carmelite, etc, eremitical or cenobitical!--- to share your own observations and reflections with me on the relationship between what are called today "the evangelical counsels" and the classic Benedictine vows. That would be particularly helpful (and joy-filled) for me personally. Or, if these posts raise questions (etc) for any readers, I hope that folks please send them my way via email. Those questions could also be of immense help to me.

Note that the first sentence below was a canonical requirement and has been used by other hermits making profession under canon 603. It sets the eremitical context for the entire profession, and significantly, the SOLITARY (as opposed to communal or semi eremitic) eremitical context. The vows themselves are my own, composed for definitive profession back in 1976, and rewritten slightly for the eremitical context I embraced after 1983. I would ask people not use them for any reason without permission and attribution. The final portion of the formula after the vows (I ask you. . .) is also a standard canonical formula used by other hermits in their professions and consecrations, and is equally important for the establishment of the diocesan context of the vocation.


I earnestly desire to respond to the gift of vocation to the eremitical life and freely follow the inspiration of grace to a hidden apostolic fruitfulness in a life of prayerful contemplation as a solitary hermit. I, Sister Laurel M O'Neal, come before you, God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, [Triune God] to make my profession to live out my baptismal commitment more fully.

Religious poverty:

I recognize and accept the radical poverty to which I am called in allowing God to be the sole source of strength and validation in my life. The poverty to which my brokenness, fragility, and weakness attest, reveal that precisely in my fragility I am given the gift of God’s grace, and in accepting my insignificance apart from God, my life acquires the infinite significance of one who knows she has been regarded by Him. I affirm that my entire life has been given to me as gift and that it is demanded of me in service, and I vow poverty, to live this life reverently as one acknowledging both poverty and giftedness in all things, whether these reveal themselves in strength or weakness, in resiliency or fragility, in wholeness or in brokenness.

Religious Obedience:

I acknowledge and accept that God is the author of my life and that through his Word, spoken in Jesus Christ, I have been called by name to be. I affirm that in this Word, a singular identity has been conferred upon me, a specifically ecclesial identity which I accept and for which I am forever accountable. Under the authority of the Bishop of the Diocese of Oakland, I vow obedience [to be obedient]: to be attentive and responsible to Him who is the foundation of my being, to his solitary Word of whom I am called to be an expression, and to the whole of His People to whom it is my privilege to belong and serve.

Consecrated Celibacy (Celibate Love):

Acknowledging that I have been called to obedient service in and of the Word of God, and acknowledging that Jesus’ gift of self to me is clearly nuptial in character, I affirm as well that I am called to be receptive and responsive to this compassionate and singular redemptive intimacy as a consecrated celibate. I do therefore vow chastity, this last defining [definitive] aspect of my vocation with care and fidelity, forsaking all else for the completion that is mine in Christ, and claiming as mine to cherish all that is cherished by Him.

I ask you, Bishop Allen H Vigneron, as Bishop of the Diocese of Oakland, to accept my vows in the name of the Church and grant me your blessing. May the Word of God which I touch with my hand today be my life and my inspiration, this I pray.

Understanding these vows to be perpetually binding, I pronounce them in the name of Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.

Made this day, 2.September.2007 at St Perpetua Catholic Church, Lafayette, CA.

For a Child of God

While on retreat, as I already noted, one of the topics we touched on was the enlarging of our hearts. It is a central Benedictine theme --- indeed a central theme of all good spirituality. If you have read my blog for some time you know that the dynamic and dialogical nature of the human heart (and of the soul, for that matter) is something that has intrigued me for some time. Our hearts are quite literally the place where God bears witness to himself. Heart is, in the NT (and I think the OT as well), a strictly theological term: it refers first of all to God's activity within us. As I have posted here before, it is not the case that we have a heart and that God comes to dwell there, but that that "place" within us where God dwells, speaks himself continually, calls us by Name and summons us to life and meaning, is called "heart."

If you are familiar with the sayings of the desert Fathers, you will know the story about the disciple who came to one of the Abbas saying he had kept the fast, been faithful to all the daily ascetic practices, prayed the psalms, etc but wondered what more he could do. Abba Moses raised his hands and moved his fingers back and forth, and as he did so he said, "If you would, you can become all flame!" It is a tremendous goal, and the very same thing as becoming authentically human and functioning as the heart of the church and world --- an image which resonates with monastics, and especially (from my perspective) for hermits. It also relates to the interpenetration of heaven and earth those of us who share in the life of the risen Christ know first hand.

Well, with these images and themes in mind, there were a couple of poems shared during retreat during Sister Donald's conferences; both had to do with the human heart and use the metaphor of flame. One of them, a poem by Jessica Powers (sister Miriam of the Holy Spirit) I would like to share now.

The saints and mystics
had a name
for that deep
inwardness of flame,
the height or depth
or ground or goal
Which is God's dwelling
in the soul.

Not capax dei
do you say;
nor yet
scintilla animae
nor syndereisis ---
all are fair ---
but heaven
because God is there.

All day and when
you wake at night
think of that place of living light,
yours and within you
and aglow
where only God
and you can go.

None can assail you
in that place
save your own evil,
routing grace.
Not even angels
see or hear,
nor the dark spirits
prowling near.

But there are days
when watching eyes
could guess that you
hold Paradise,
Sometimes the shining
and everyone
around you knows.

"For a Child of God" (1953)

15 July 2008

More Faces from Retreat

I will add names as I can. There are still more pictures to come!!! As you can see, it was a lovely group of people!

Happy Feast of Saint Bonaventure!!!

To all my Franciscan Sisters and Brothers, a very happy feast day! For me it is a bit bittersweet. Last week on retreat we celebrated the solemnity of St Benedict big time, and I remarked to one person that I began the retreat feeling decidedly Franciscan. Today on the Feast of St Bonaventure I am feeling decidedly Benedictine and Camaldolese Benedictine at that --- whatever those two statements actually mean! Being formed in one spiritual tradition and changing to another can leave one feeling a bit off balance and as though one doesn't "quite fit" in either. And yet, I am also aware that this is very much my own personal hangup because at bottom in all the really great spiritual traditions there is a commonality which cannot be gainsayed --- and that is especially true in the contemplative strands or dimensions of these traditions. Of course it is also the case that the individual is a living embodiment of the tradtions, not a sterile image of a particular vision of it, and so, brings individual characteristics, breadth and richness which will then enrich the tradition as the tradition in turn forms the individual.

This is one of the things I most appreciate about Camaldolese Benedictines, who often have been formed in other spiritual traditions and then come to eremitical (and specifically Romualdian eremitical) life later. Camaldolese Benedictinism has an appreciation of other contemplative and mystical traditions, including those which are non-Christian despite never losing a Christocentric emphasis or focus. As the person I commented to noted, "Once you are a Franciscan, I don't think you ever stop being a Franciscan!" --- and she is correct. And yet, the simplicity and joy which are characteristic of Franciscanism are very much Benedictine qualities as well, and how could that not be? They are both Christian, having taken on the life of Christ whose yoke is easy, and whose burden light! So, from a "Franciscan-Camaldolese-Benedictine" to all who celebrate today as their special feast, my love and very best wishes!!

Perhaps just in writing this, I have come to the realization that today is not bittersweet at all (except maybe for an overly influential ego-self that is!), but remarkably joyful because of the amazing ways in which God works in our lives, and in the stages of each. It is not a matter of being Franciscan OR Camaldolese Benedictine afterall, but of being MYSELF who is formed in the heart of both traditions and embodies (and bridges) them uniquely even while claiming one as my primary affiliation and place of truest "stability!" Alleluia!

13 July 2008

Return From Retreat!! (Faces from retreat included below)

Well my apologies for not keeping updates going on the Camaldolese monks from Big Sur, but I was away on retreat from the 5th of July through this morning and just returned home. However, if you check the post about the evacuation of the monks, an update will be included there.

The retreat was a Benedictine Experience held at Bishop's Ranch in Healdsburg, CA. Sister Donald Corcoran, OSB Cam, Prioress of Transfiguration Monastery (the monastery where I am an Oblate) was the main presenter. Unfortunately, Dom Robert Hale, OSB Cam, who usually works to give reflections these weeks was unable to attend because of health concerns complicated by the air quality and the like given all the fires in CA. His place was ably filled by Rod(erick) Dugliss, Dean of the Episcopal School for Deacons in the Diocese of California. (Rod is a great cook, by the way, and makes a really mean Rhubarb pie!!) Our music master was John Renke who directed the schola and all the rest of us (I had a cold which, unfortunately, was still fairly hard core at the beginning of the retreat, so I did not sign up for the schola; singing in choir was still terrific fun, coughing notwithstanding). John was the director of the Schola Cantorum of SF, currently is the Director of Music at St Andrew's Cathedral in Honolulu, and is an amazing guy; funny, driven, talented, prayerful. It was lovely working with him.

I will be enlarging on my experience and uploading some pictures, because this was a great retreat. For now, let me say that I am sorry to have left Bishop's Ranch, sorry to see Sister Donald leave for NY again, and I will certainly miss all the folks I spent the week with --- not to mention the chance to spot mountain lions from my room's balcony (Sister Donald in the NEXT room saw one last evening, another retreatant in the room on my left saw one earlier in the week in the morning, and I, though looking both those times (or pretty near), did not!!! Okay, so I AM envious!!!), but it is nice to get back to Stillsong and reassure my (little non-mountain) cat Brindle that I will be here for another little while at least! (There are some Camaldolese events coming up, not least the Consulta in Italy (individual monasteries may bring Oblate representatives) and the 50th anniversary of New Camaldoli later this Summer. Chances are good for Brindle though I will be around until next retreat!!)

Especially good was the chance to meet some of the Camaldolese Oblates I knew only by name, or to get to know others better, and the ecumenical quality of the week was also superb. This translated into really good Office (MP, EP, Compline) with some wonderful chant harmonies and some great hymns among things liturgical. (I admit I prefer a "quieter" -- not quite the right word -- Compline and sang that alone in my own room most nights.) Still, it was terrific singing Office with 35 other people!! One of the topics of a conference during the retreat was the enlarging of our hearts, and I carry all those people in my heart now. It will be wonderful to share some of their faces and perhaps a story or two here! (And fortunately, since this is MY blog, THEY can't share their stories about ME despite the fact that there are one or two good ones!!!)

A few of the faces from retreat (a few of the wonderful faces and people I carry now in my heart). I will add more as time permits! I have included the last names of staff/faculty on the retreat. Participants when identified, are identified by first name.

John, Suzanne


Rod Dugliss (Dean, Episcopal School of Deacons, Dio of CA)
Sister Donald Corcoran (Prioress, Transfiguration Monastery) with Shirley (fellow Oblate with Transfiguration)

Our resident "Abbess" (Archdeacon Emerita, Dorothy Jones) reprimands a rowdy hermit for a fit of laughing during a "silent" meal. (Well, it, including the giggling, was MOSTLY silent!)

"Abbess" Dorothy and Rod Dugliss during conference break

Rev Rebecca (Episcopal Deacon and the REAL culprit at our rowdy breakfast table!)

John Renke prepares to lead singing of grace before meal

Waiting to pray grace before meals

Jim (One great pew mate! We were alternately befuddled from time to time by the unfamiliar Office books and came to each other's rescue more than once or twice.)

Catherine, currently preparing for consecra- tion under canon 604 (Consecra- ted Virgins)

04 July 2008

Happy Fourth of July!

Only one thought occurs to me on this day, and that is that Christians have much to tell America about the nature of true freedom, even while they are grateful for a country which allows them the liberty to practice their faith as they wish and need. Too often today Freedom is thought of as the ability to do anything we want. It is the quintessential value of the narcissist. And yet, within Christian thought and praxis freedom is the power to be the persons we are called to be. It is the direct counterpart of Divine sovereignty and other-centered. I believe our founding fathers had a keen sense of this, but today, it is a sense Americans often lack. Those of us who celebrate the freedom of Christians can help recover a sense of this necessary value by embracing it more authentically ourselves.

Meanwhile, All good wishes for the birthday of our Nation! Celebrate Well and SAFELY!!

01 July 2008

Mandatory Evacuation of Camaldolese Hermitage

A view of the altar at New Camaldoli

Please pray for the Camaldolese monks of Big Sur. Recent wildfires in California have caused a mandatory evacuation of the Hermitage there. A few monks are staying behind to "hold the fort" but the majority will be staying at the St Clare Retreat house in Soquel. Firefighters are arriving at the Hermitage to defend the property. No monks are in danger, and the word from the monks is, "So be of good cheer!" Updates will be given here as I receive them.

July 3, 2008:
Evacuations have now extended to Big Sur Village. Homes have been lost above Ventana, and generally the people of Big Sur at large can use our prayers. The fire now encompasses more than 53,000 acres and is only 3% contained. No news on the hermitage except that it is safe as of today (Thursday). God grant relief from the lack of humidity and other contributing factors. Sustain those who have lost all they owned. Protect the firefighters and allow them to control this fire quickly!

July 4, 2008:

Dom Robert Hale writes, [[ Our understanding is that the fire is distant from the Hermitage by some 22 miles to the north, on the coast side, and from some 10 miles from the northeast, on the other side of the mountain, "as the crow flies".]] Please keep the firefighters and those who have lost property in your prayers!!

July 4, 2008:

While details can change extremely quickly with regard to the fires, here is the latest which indicates the Hermitage may be out of danger. [[“The firefighters have had big success in the south. The spillover into the Big Creek watershed was stopped and the fire is now actually considered to be contained along the upper section of Dolan Ridge and along a section of the Coast Ridge heading south from there to about the middle of the Big Creek drainage. Assuming this containment holds, which Dietrich clearly thinks it will, Big Creek, Lucia and the Hermitage are all probably out of danger. What a change from the story we heard yesterday!”]]

July 13, 2008:

Word was the monks were going to return to New Camaldoli today, but it turns out that they will be returning tomorrow late afternoon or early evening. Apparently logistics on both ends (St Clare's and New Camaldoli) require the extra day. A couple of monks are returning later than that due to indivdual appointments, but all is well, and the bookstore, etc should be open by Wednesday. Folks should be able to check with the switchboard/answering machine tomorrow though. Guests will apparently be able to be received starting Friday.