25 March 2010

The Prodigal Daughter

The majority of active contemporary religious women come in for a lot of criticism these days. Traditionalists are upset they are not teaching or nursing, directing Faith Formation programs and the like. They are said to have lost a sense for the heart of consecrated life, to have strayed too far into the realm of the secular, to have failed to remain in their proper religious preserve, dress in their proper separating attire, and so forth. Tonight I had a soup supper with my diocesan delegate, a Sister of the Holy Family, and this picture (which I had sent to her previously) was something she referred to in terms of one of the newer (and very demanding) ministries of her congregation. One contemporary problem the SHF have taken on is that of human trafficking.

For those unfamiliar with the charism and mission of the Sisters of the Holy Family, this congregation has always had the welfare of children and families at the heart of their concerns and ministries. They are, like Ruth in the Old Testament, gleaners, those who are attentive to and solicitous of the anawim who are overlooked or discarded by our dominant and affluent society. Today, little as we might like to admit the fact, the reality of human trafficking is all-too-prevalent. It is one form of societal blindness, deafness, forgetfulness and exploitation of the least and poorest of our world, and it is a place courageous and visionary women like the Sisters of the Holy Family go to minister in Christ.

While looking at this picture of the Prodigal Daughter, Sister Marietta referred to imagining what happens to young women and children caught up in this scourge: "what do they see, what have they experienced, why did they leave, what do they need to be brought home --- really and truly brought home?" (paraphrase) The Sisters of the Holy Family are committed to accomplishing this last task in whatever ways they can. Thus, for Marietta, Mackesy's picture is a poignant reminder of what it really means to be ministers in the contemporary world, to really be GLEANERS, --- and, along with Luke's story of the Prodigal Father, how offensive this might be to those who would restrict religious women from the secular world! (The scandal of the Incarnation is an ever-present reality whenever genuine Christianity is encountered by the religious establishment!)

Charisms and missions are the deep and stable underlying realities congregations (and hermits!) live their lives trying to embody. Ministries, which are more variable than these, change as the needs of our society and church shift and change in light of these deep realities. As Marietta reminded me tonight, "Vocation is that place where our own deep gladness and the needs of society meet." (Frederick Buechner.) In this time where contemporary religious women are under fire we should thank God that they have so profoundly internalized their respective charisms and missions as to be able to adopt traditionally consistent and demanding new ministries, no matter how apparently "irreligious" or unorthodox they seem to those with different commitments (and sometimes --- maybe often) with significantly less vision!

21 March 2010

On Encouraging and/or Discouraging Canon 603 Vocations

[[Sister Laurel, do you encourage people to pursue eremitical vocations or do you discourage them? For instance, you criticized members of [name of project] for using the Canon for diocesan eremitism as a "stopgap" or "fallback" position. Shouldn't we be happy to have as many people pursuing this vocation as desire to do so? There are so few diocesan hermits, and so few religious vocations today that I am surprised to find people discouraging others from pursuing these.]]

You are correct about my "Canon 603-as-stopgap-measure" criticism and I will explain that in a bit. Surprisingly (for I was surprised by the fact), I have found that I do generally discourage people from pursuing vocations to Canon 603 eremitism; that is, of the people who contact me curious about this as a vocational path I encourage only a fraction to pursue it and tend to suggest other vocational paths for the majority. I have recently looked at my own motivations for this reticence and I think they are worthy reasons. Let me explain, for I think it is a piece of the answer to your questions.

Throughout history there have been hermits from all religious traditions. At some points in this long story there have been more hermits and at other points fewer, but always the vocation has been recognized as a relatively rare one. I don't think this is generally because of undiscovered vocations or human cowardice, resistance, etc, but because of the very nature of both the human being and of the call to eremitical solitude. Human beings are social beings; ordinarily we grow to maturity and achieve individuation only through our relationships with others. The need for community is a part of our very nature. Our hearts are "dialogical realities" as Benedict XVI reminds us, and the God we image is himself a community of love. At the same time we are constituted in dialogue with God not only directly (as the deepest dynamic of our hearts) but through the mediation of and in relationship with other people. This communal dimension of our lives is essential. It cannnot be dispensed with, even for the genuine hermit, and ordinarily its requirements militate against a call to a life of physical solitude. Authentic calls to eremitical life are exceptions to the rule, and therefore, are both relative rarities and paradoxical in that they actually foster or enhance the dialogical character of one's life in these particular cases.

In Christian eremitical life, these insights are reflected in the characterization of eremitical life as the summit of monastic life, and by the insistence of people like St Benedict that those seeking to live in solitude should be well formed in their monastic lives, and no longer in the first flush or fervour of conversion. [[The second [kind of monk] are the anchorites, hermits --- that is those who, not in the first fervour of religious life, but after long probation in the monastery, have learned by the help and experience of others to fight against the devil; and going forth well-armed from the ranks of their brethren to the single-handed combat of the desert, are now able to fight safely without the support of others, by their own strength under God's aid, against the vices of the flesh and their evil thoughts.]] (RB 1) Benedict, who had lived as a hermit understood the vocation and his cautions and qualifications are as valid today as they were when he wrote his Rule.

While the language of combat with demons may seem a bit dated and off-putting for many today, the seriousness (and genuineness) of the enterprise it underscores should not be missed or minimized. One goes into the desert in response to a call to a hard-won conversion and humanization which is accomplished in dialogue with and through the grace of God alone. There is no room for mediocrity here (though there is assuredly great temptation to this!!), no sense that eremitical solitude, for all the joy and peace it possesses (and these are indeed substantial), is merely a pleasant time apart to recharge depleted batteries or balance the activity in one's life. Neither, as I have written several times before, is it a way to indulge one's selfishness, over-developed individualism, insecurities, lack of ambition or success at life, or misanthropy. What is at stake in a call to eremitical solitude is one's very humanity, nothing less. Further, it is a humanity at the service of Church and World, or it is not eremitical life.

For the hermit this is THE WAY to more complete healing, wholeness, and holiness, the way her ability to love others is perfected, the way she is most clearly made into imago Christi in service to others. If one misses the demanding and extraordinary character of this solitariness, one has missed something essential to the eremitical vocation. Above all one should not forget that relatively very few people are called to achieve the goal of their own humanity in this way. For most, the desert as a life choice would actually hinder growth as a person and prevent individuation or the achievement of true holiness. For most, this would be a destructive choice leading to actual dehumanization and illness. For the hermit, on the other hand, it is the necessary or indispensible full-time environment and occupation which God in his mercy and compassion calls them to so that they might achieve fullness of authentic humanity.

At the same time I argue the relative rarity of this vocation then, I recognize that among some groups of people there may be more vocations to diocesan or to lay eremitism than has been appreciated heretofore. The chronically ill constitute one of these groups, as do the bereaved and isolated elderly. So too, as I wrote just recently, may some prisoners in the unnatural solitudes of our nations's prisons. In each of these cases diocesan or lay eremitical life may be ways of redeeming the isolation, bondage, and brokenness of these situations and transfiguring them into genuine solitude thus making them occasions of essential wholeness and freedom. So, while I am convinced vocations to solitary (diocesan) eremitical life are rare, I am more than open to encouraging exploration of this call by those whose life experiences may suit them to such a call apart from monastic formation and life. For those who are younger and can enter a congregation which is eremitical or semi-eremitical to get the formation and challenge which life in community allows, I recommend this option rather than Canon 603.

Contrary to the way your questions are framed, this is not about numbers. It is especially not about finding a canonical alternative to an individual's inability to be professed in some other way to get the number of vocations to the consecrated life up, nor is it a fallback position for those seeking to enter religious life or to found a community only to find either that they are unable or that no one else joins them in their project! My criticism of the project you mentioned was rooted in these two concerns. When Canon 603 (which is meant to address and foster SOLITARY eremitical life, not communal or religious eremitical vocations) is used in this way the person doing so apparently demonstrates little or no sense of the nature or significance of this specific vocation, little or no respect for the unique charism it represents especially for our church and world, no real sense of what it truly means to discern a LIFE VOCATION, and a lack of respect for the actual divine vocations the persons being funneled into Canon 603 life are really called to. Add to this an overriding concern with trappings and externals, and other forms of fundamental dishonesty on the part of the head of the project (the specific topic of a previous post) and you have a more complete picture of the basis for my criticism.

While it is common to hear people bemoaning the dropping numbers of religious vocations today, what we should be hearing more of is an accent on authenticity. In the wake of Vatican II we recognize the universal call to holiness and have come to esteem the lay vocation and the vocation to marriage in ways we had not done adequately. Our ecclesiology (i.e, our theology of church) is much improved with decreased clericalization (including no longer treating religious as a semi-clerical caste which can do things lay persons cannot!). Further, we are coming to be increasingly aware that many in religious life prior to Vatican II may not have had genuine vocations, but also had no way to fulfill their needs to minister, etc apart from religious life. The lower numbers of religious vocations today may simply indicate that these remaining and contemporary vocations are mainly authentic and that the desire to serve or minister (an important but secondary concern) is now better met for most persons in other ways. Canon 603 eremitical life is a significant (that is, meaningful and important) vocation with the capacity to witness to aspects of the Gospel in ways other vocations may not do as vividly. It serves (and should serve) the church and world in redeeming unnatural solitudes and in humanizing and sanctifying a rare number of people --- and in witnessing to many many more. We cannot empty it of this significance or witness value by turning discernment into a piece of a numbers game (which is always more apt to be of men than of God) or refusing to wait for genuine (relatively mature, life-tested, and divinely inspired) vocations to walk through the chancery door.

I hope this answers your questions. You might want to check past posts on the unique charism of the diocesan hermit, as well as those on abuse of Canon 603 or the "Lemons and Lemonade" series of posts, for a more expanded discussion of some of the issues that fueled my criticism of the use of Canon 603 as a stopgap measure or fallback position. Articles on the time frames for becoming a diocesan hermit (also cf the "Lemons and Lemonade" series) might explain better the idea that this is generally a vocation for the second half of life. As always, if this raises more questions for you or is unclear in some way, I hope you will get back to me.

16 March 2010

Do You Want to Be Well? (Reprised)

Today's Gospel is one of those intensely intriguing ones where the reader plays a huge part in determining what actually happens in the story (because the story is not a matter merely of the past; the Gospel writer very much WANTS it to draw us in as well). I once remarked in an earlier blog entry that some of Jesus' parables are rather like Thematic Apperception Tests, and today's Gospel strikes me very much that way --- there is much left undefined or ambiguous, lots of room for projection, for implicating ourselves in the story and interpreting the questions, responses, followup behavior, etc. For those unfamiliar with the TAT, this is a psychological test often given to candidates for religious life, seminary and priestly ordination, etc. During the test the client is shown a series of pen and ink drawings, ordinarily a series of ambiguous pictures, and asked to tell the stories of the characters and scenes depicted there. S/he is asked to characterize the situation in each drawing, narrate how it came to be, and also give the story some sort of an ending. It is quite an enjoyable test UNTIL one realizes that the ONLY thing exposed for the tester is the inner and psychological life of the client!!! THAT is laid bare with incredible clarity! Well, today's gospel reading can function that way for us today, and would be wonderful for lectio.

By way of summary, several things struck me right away. First, the reference to multitudes of sick, crippled, etc, in the temple area, but somehow also separated from the very life of the Temple. Second, Jesus' question to the one man who had been paralyzed for 38 years (a whole generation is signified here): "Do you want to be well?" --- certainly an intimate question which also retains complete respect for the man's freedom and innate dignity. Thirdly, the man's not-so-direct answer: "I have no one to put me in the water, and before I can get there, someone else has already entered." Fourthly, there is the exchange between Temple officials and the healed man who is walking and carrying his mat on the Sabbath. Both sides of this exchange are interesting: the officials' for their blindness and lack of priorities (legalism), and then for their focused hostility, and the response of the healed man who says he does not know who healed him or commanded him to take up his mat. And fifthly, after meeting Jesus again later on, and being challenged by him to not fall into sin so that something worse than paralysis befalls him, the now-healed man runs back to Temple officials to inform them that it was Jesus who healed him on the Sabbath!

The reference to multitudes of sick and crippled underscored for me a sense I already had, namely, that this gospel addressed all of us as sick or crippled in some way. When coupled with Jesus' very direct question, "Do you want to be well?" I think only a person who has never realized how it is we each come to terms with our various forms of unwellness, how we collude with them, struggle against them, accommodate them, and eventually accept them as more or less natural, would think Jesus' question a strange or completely obvious one. Afterall, after 38 years of illness most of us would have built our lives around the illness in some way which allows us a more or less comfortable accommodation to its limitations and demands --- even if this process is never perfect! To get well after 38 years of illness is no less a dramatic change than becoming seriously ill in the first place. Physical ailments are one thing, and they typify all the various ways a person can come to terms with something that is not natural or fully human --- and accommodate these things we certainly do!! But during Lent, the focus is more on our spiritual illness or lack of wellbeing, and there is nothing obvious about the answer to the question, "Do you want to be well?" Indeed oftentimes we have ignored the illness and have no awareness healing is necessary, much less at hand! Furthermore, when we ARE aware of the illness, we may not want to be healed really, just improved on a little! We don't want to commit ourselves to REAL spiritual healing. That, afterall, goes by the name of holiness, and who in the world REALLY seeks to be holy today???

I was struck by the paralyzed man's response. He does not say, "Yes, I have been waiting here for almost 4 decades. I want to be healed more than anything in the world!" Neither does he recognize that Jesus is actually the true living water and source of his healing as others have already done. His response COULD be a kind of blaming of others, or it COULD be an indictment of the religious system of his day which isolates those who are ill or crippled from the life of the Temple. It COULD be the cautious answer of one who is just now considering the idea that PERHAPS he COULD be healed and is beginning to get his mind (and heart!) around the fact that today might be the day. It COULD be the resigned response of one who has given up and knows that he will never be the first in the pool, and probably would not be healed there even if he were first! It could even be the response of a person who would like Jesus to be a little more realistic and see what the paralyzed man is really up against! (See what I mean about projecting ourselves into the story? It's terrific for uncovering our OWN hidden and not-so hidden motives and attitudes toward healing!)

Following his healing (an act of God which still requires trust and courage by the formerly paralyzed man; he still MUST pick up his mat and walk, afterall!), there is the rather chilling encounter with the temple officials. How many of us identify with their inability to see what is REALLY right in front of them, their lack of perspective, their legalistic attitudes, or their focused hostility at Jesus? And yet, how many of us have approached liturgy, for instance, with the very same mindset and condemned some breach of the rubrics when what was far more important was the healing of a fellow Christian in some major way, shape, or form we failed even to see? None of us like to see ourselves as scribes or pharisees, but all of us have a bit of closet temple-official locked inside our hearts, I am afraid! For some, it has become the primary attitude with which they approach their parish liturgy: what can I find wrong today? What breach of the Sabbath (e.g., Mass rubrics) can I point out today? How many unorthodoxies can I locate in Father's homily?" And of course, liturgy is not the only area in which such an attitude can be operative. How often do we notice someone did not follow the rules or "draw inside the lines", so to speak, in our daily lives --- while completely neglecting the fact that the person has ACHIEVED something they had been unable to perform until this point? If one walks away from this story without seeing something of themselves in this exchange between temple officials and healed paralytic, or fails to be challenged, I would be amazed!

Then there is the encounter with Jesus later in the story, after the man has been challenged by the Temple officials for carrying his mat. Jesus affirms his new condition "See, you are well!" and challenges him not to sin, lest something worse result. Does Jesus buy into some naive linkage between sin and illness? Is he asking us to do so? If so, how so? What IS the linkage REALLY? Is Jesus saying that sin can lead to worse things than physical illness? Is he reminding the man that he must commit himself to something besides his illness or his heart will be filled with something unworthy? And then there is the man's response: he runs back to the Temple officials to tell them the healer's name! Is he consciously betraying Jesus (we have been told in this and earlier readings that Jesus is staying away from crowds which are now dangerous to him)? Is he merely trying to tell the officials the simple answer to what they asked, naive of any awareness that this constitutes a betrayal of his healer (afterall, he has been on the margins of what has been happening due to his illness)? Is he trying to fit into the Temple from whence he has been ostracized for so long? Is he trying to curry favor, in other words, or simply trying to show how responsible he can be now that he is well? What illnesses still afflict him? Blindness? Insecurity? And what kind of blindness then? Ingratitude? What is it that motivates this man? Once again, we can read critically, exegetically, of course, but to some extent, I think we will have to project ourselves onto or into the text to answer many of these questions, and to really HEAR the text. So long as we are clear this is what we are doing, in this way we will learn more about ourselves than we will ever learn about the man in the story!!

For me personally, healing stories are always difficult, but this Lent, where the focus is not on chronic physical illness, but rather on all the failures in humanity which regularly plague us, Jesus' question, "Do you want to be well?" hits hard. It hits hard because it presupposes an awareness of being unwell in fundamental ways which require a healer, a messiah of Jesus' caliber and character. It presupposes the ability to say, "Yes" not only because I am unwell, but because I have colluded with the dominant culture so much that I often have remained unaware of my basic unwellness and suppose I am essentially fine --- just a "bit of a sinner" you know! And of course, it commits me to picking up my mat and walking on with it, right in the midst of all those who will be offended by the act! For a monastic and a hermit, this picking up my mat and walking with it will look differently than it will for some, but in this day and age, the call to holiness is no more acceptable for hermits than it is for businessmen or housewives, parents, professionals, etc. Do I want to be well? . . . I think the answer really must be, "Yes, no matter how much admitting and accepting my own brokenness and embracing genuine holiness scares me!" For many different reasons I may be more comfortable with a divine king than a divine physician, but this is Jesus' own question to me in this season of my life --- it is not projection on my part!! Of that I have no doubt at all. So, then, how is he speaking to you?

14 March 2010

The Three Faces of Prodigality: Which will we Choose?

Commentators tend to name today's Gospel parable after the Merciful Father, because he is central to all the scenes (even when the younger Son is in a far off place, the Father waits silently, implicitly, in the wings). We should notice it is his foolish generosity that predominates, so in this sense, he too is prodigal. Perhaps then we should call this the parable of the Prodigal Father. The younger son squanders his inheritance, but the Father is also (in common terms and in terms of Jewish Law) foolish in giving him the inheritance, the "substance" (literally, the ousias) of his own life and that of Israel. His younger Son treats him as dead (a sin against the Commandment to honor Father and Mother) and still this Father looks for every chance to receive him back.

When the younger son comes to his senses, rehearses his terms for coming home ("I will confess and be received back not as a Son, but as a servant,"), his Father, watching for his return, eagerly runs to meet him in spite of the offense represented in such an act, forestalls his confession, brings his Son into the center of the village thus rendering everything unclean according to the law, clothes him in the garb of Sonship and authority, kills the fatted calf and throws a welcome home party --- all heedless of the requirements of the law, matters of ritual impurity or repentance, etc. Meanwhile, the dutiful older son keeps the letter of the law of sonship but transgresses its essence and also treats his Father with dishonor. He is grudging, resentful, angry, blind, and petty in failing to recognize what is right before him all the time. He too is prodigal, allowing his authentic Sonship to die day by day as he assumes a more superficial role instead. And yet, the Father reassures him that what is the Father's is the Son's and what is the Son's is the Father's (which makes the Father literally an "ignorant man" in terms of the Law, an "am-haretz"). Contrary to the wisdom of the law, he continues to invite him into the celebration, a celebration of new life and meaning. He continues to treat him as a Son.

The theme of Law versus Gospel comes up strongly in this and other readings this week, though at first we may fail to recognize this. Paul recognizes the Law is a gift of God but without the power to move us to act as Sons and Daughters of God in the way Gospel does. When coupled with human sinfulness it can --- whether blatantly or insidiously --- be terribly destructive. How often as Christians do we act in ways which are allowed (or apparently commanded) by law but which are not really appropriate to Daughters and Sons of an infinitely merciful Father who is always waiting for our return, always looking for us to make the slightest responsive gesture in recognition of his presence, to "come to our senses", so that he can run to us and enfold us in the sumptuous garb of Daughterhood or Sonship? How often is our daily practice of our faith dutiful, and grudging but little more? How often do we act competitively or in resentment over others whose vocation is different than our own, whose place in the church (or the world of business, commerce, and society, for that matter) seems to witness to greater love from God? How often do we quietly despair over the seeming lack of worth of our lives in comparison to that of others? Whether we recognize it or not these attitudes are those of people motivated by law, not gospel. They are the attitudes of measurement and judgment, not of incommensurate love and generosity.

At the begining of Lent we heard the fundamental choice of and in all choices put before us, "Choose life not death." Today that choice is sharpened and the subtle forms of death we often choose are set in relief: will we be Daughters and Sons of an infinitely and foolishly Merciful Father --- those who truly see and accept a love that is beyond our wildest imaginings and love others similarly, or, will we be prodigals in the pejorative sense, servants of duty, those who only accept the limited love we believe we have coming to us and who approach others competitively, suspiciously and without generosity? Will we be those whose notions of justice constrain God and our ability to choose the life he sets before us, or will we be those who are forgiven to the awesome degree and extent God is willing and capable of forgiving? Will we allow ourselves to be welcomed into a new life --- a life of celebration and joy, but also a life of greater generosity, responsibility, and God-given identity, or will we simply make do with the original prodigality of either the life of the younger or elder son? After all, both live dissipated lives in this parable: one flagrantly so, and one in quiet resentment, slavish dutifulness, and unfulfillment.

The choice before those living the latter kind of Christian life is no less significant, no less one of conversion than the choice set before the younger son. His return may be more dramatic, but that of the elder son demands as great a conversion. He must move from a quiet exile where he bitterly identifies himself as a slave rather than a free man or (even less) a Son. His own vision of his life and worth, his true identity, are little different than those of the younger son who returns home rehearsing terms of servility rather than sonship. The parable of the merciful Father puts before us two visions of life, and two main versions of prodigality; it thus captures the two basic meaning of prodigal: wasteful and lavish. There is the prodigality of the sons who allow the substance of their lives and identities to either be cast carelessly or slip silently away, the prodigality of those who lose their truest selves even as they grasp at wealth, adventure, duty, role, or other forms of security and "fulfillment". And there is the prodigality of the Father who loves and spends himself generously without limit or condition. In other words, there is death and there is life, law and gospel. Both stand before us ready to be embraced. Which form of prodigality will we choose? For indeed, the banquet hall is ready for us and the Father stands waiting at this very moment, ring, robe, and sandals in hand.

05 March 2010

Cloister Outreach, CAVEAT EMPTOR!

[[Dear Sister Laurel,
I have been following the Internet activities of a woman who. . . runs a large, labyrinthine web site called "Cloister Outreach." On this site, as well as in other Internet forums, she claims to be founding many new religious communities under the aegis of the Diocese of Charlotte. . . . Unfortunately, [the founder of this website] also seems to be attracting people with the promise that they can become religious by Internet correspondence. Some of them even have a sort of "habit." I don't believe she has real diocesan approval. What is your view of this?]]

First let me say that I am all for anything that fosters genuine vocations. I am also quite sympathetic with those who are trying to find ways to live a dedicated life if they are older or have other difficulties which seem to rule out established canonical communities. Experimentation, non-traditional approaches, etc, are often very good ways to go in such cases, though one needs to take care in doing so. In terms of eremitical life, the need to be flexible and think outside the box is helpful in some ways --- so long as one is careful and respectfully rooted in living tradition! Lay eremitical life itself is supremely flexible and need not be legitimated beyond the individual's felt sense of call --- and this is a good thing. However, in terms of the organization you mention this is not the first time I have heard (or had) this question asked and I have had similar concerns myself over at least the past couple of years.

Because of this, and because the person who runs "Cloister Outreach" has said many times and in various places on the internet (precisely in response to such questions) that people should verify her claims to be supported by her Bishop and supervised by a canonist, a couple of us decided it was finally important to do just that. The delay in acting on our concerns came because until recently we thought perhaps no one serious about, or suited to, religious life would link themselves to any of the listed projects ("communities", "charisms"), but that changed especially when we realized some people who might have genuine vocations were not looking into established communities or vocations to the consecrated life because they had "joined" Cloisters Outreach. Thus we became concerned for people unknowingly getting sucked into something fraudulent or at least misleading and perhaps entirely factitious. There was also concern for the professional reputation of the canonist referred to and the prudence of the Diocese in this matter.

And so, as a result of our inquiries (about three weeks apart), we received responses from two members of the Charlotte chancery. First, the Chancellor of the Diocese of Charlotte, Msgr "Mo" (Mauricio) West who simply said the diocese had no knowledge of the person mentioned (". . .is unknown to the diocese."), and secondly (because the name provided is not the legal name of the person running Cloister Outreach, as well as because chancery departments can fail to communicate with one another in larger dioceses), we spoke by phone with Sister Sheila Richardson, ESA, hermit-canonist on the Tribunal who is supposed to be guiding these projects (but especially the eremitic expression) "every step of the way".

She did know the person in question but clearly disavowed any support for her, or the projects mentioned; In fact she is not in contact with the person running the Cloisters Outreach (Cloisterites) website at this time and seems not to have been for a while now. More bluntly put, perhaps, Sister had been contacted a couple of times by this person and cut off contact after just a couple of visits!). Given this state of affairs, which is hardly one of active supervision in service to the Bishop or diocese, it becomes hard to understand how the Bishop of the Diocese may be said to be supporting or "encouraging" this enterprise. We should remember that contact with a diocese regarding dreams or ideas does not constitute support for those ideas or dreams, nor far less does it constitute approval. Neither does the fact that a diocese fails to step in and stop a project even if to them or others it seems ill-advised, imprudent, eccentric, etc, constitute tacit approval. While the diocese may be taking a Gamaliel-like approach, the likelihood is more often that the diocese does not even know about the project.

Finally a glitzy website does not constitute legitimacy. Of course qualified (or unqualified!) individuals may begin such projects (private associations of the faithful) at any time and the support or approval of a Bishop is not required to do so. Still, moving beyond a private association to one with a public identity, especially as a religious institute DOES require the knowledge and approval of the local Ordinary. In any case, merely imagining a community or charism does not constitute such a thing in reality; those wishing to "join up" without serious research and verification should take seriously the old adage, "caveat emptor!" Meanwhile one should not claim to be under the supervision of a diocese if one really is not. In this case, the bottom line is that, Cloister Outreach or any of its projects (e.g., Cloisterites) are NOT SUPPORTED or supervised by the Bishop or Chancery personnel of the Diocese of Charlotte. Any assertions to the contrary are, for the moment, simply false.

This raises a lot of questions, I think --- especially about fledgling congregations, and becoming a religious or, if one really feels called to solitude, a diocesan hermit: how should one go about these things, who should be responsible for formation, and in fact what IS formation and how does one participate in it effectively, why habits are worn and what they mean (and how it is we empty them of meaning), how does one discern an ecclesial vocation in the church and under whose guidance, etc, but these can be dealt with later. At this point in time it is important to simply note that, all these issues and others aside and especially the motivations for the project notwithstanding (for these motives might be stellar), claims to have the support of the Bishop of Charlotte or to be (and have been) under the supervision of the hermit-canonist associated with the diocese, especially with regard to those living as anchoresses or hermits in "formation" with (some project of) Cloisters Outreach, are currently verifiably untrue. (Should this change, and I am made aware of the matter, I will be more than happy to report that it has!) Notes From Stillsong Hermitage: Cloister Outreach, CAVEAT EMPTOR!