25 December 2011

Hodie Christus Natus Est!! (Reprised with Revisions)



The scandal of the incarnation is one of the themes we neglect at Christmastime or, at best, allude to only indirectly. Nor is there anything wrong with that. We live through the struggles of our lives in light of the moments of hope and joy our faith provides and there is nothing wrong with focusing on the wonder and joy of the birth of our savior. There is nothing wrong with sentimentality nor with all the light and glitter and sound of our Christmas preparations and celebrations. For a brief time we allow the joy of the mystery of Christmas to predominate. We focus on the gift God has given, and the gift we ourselves are meant to become in light of this very special nativity.

Among other things we look closely in the week prior to Christmas at the series of "yesses" that were required for this birth to come to realization, the barreness that was brought to fruitfulness in the power of the Holy Spirit. We add to this Zechariah's muteness which culminates in a word of prophecy and a canticle of praise, along with the book of Hebrews' summary of all the partial ways God has spoken himself to us; we then set all of these off against the Prologue to John's Gospel with its majestic affirmation of the Word made flesh and God revealed exhaustively to US. The humbleness of the birth is a piece of all this, of course, but the scandal, the offense of such humbleness in the creator God's revelation of self is something we neglect, not least because we see all this with eyes of faith --- eyes which suspend the disbelief of rationality temporarily so that we can see instead the beauty and wonder which are also there. The real challenge of course is to hold both truths, scandal and beauty, together in a sacramental paradox.

And so I have tried to do in this symbol of the season. This year my Christmas tree combines both the wonder and the scandal of the incarnation, the humbleness of Jesus' estate in human terms, and the beauty of a world transformed with the eyes of love. Through the coming week the readings are serious (Steven's martyrdom and the massacre of the holy innocents, a warning about choosing "the world," and so forth) for darkness is still very real and resents and seeks to threaten our joy. Yet, all this is contextualized within the Christmas proclamation that darkness has been unable to quench the divine light that has come into our world, and the inarticulate groaning which often marks this existence has been brought to a new and joy-filled articulateness in the incarnate Word. Everything, we believe, can become sacramental; everything a symbol of God's light and life amongst us; everything a song of joy and meaning! And so too with this fragile "Charlie Brown" tree.

All good wishes for a wonderful Christmastide for all who read here, and to all of your families. Today the heavens are not silent. Today they sing: Alleluia, Alleluia!! Hodie Christus Natus Est! Alleluia!

18 December 2011

Annunciations


I wonder what the annunciation of Jesus' conception was really like factually, what the angel's message (that is, God's own message) sounded like and how it came to Mary. I imagine the months that would have passed without Mary having a period and her anxiety about what might be wrong, and then a subtle sign here, an ambiguous symptom there, and eventually the full realization of the inexplicable fact that she was pregnant! That would have been a shock, of course, but even then it would have taken some time for the bone deep fear to register: "I have not been intimate with a man! I can be killed for this!" while only over more time comes the even deeper sense that God had overshadowed her and that she need not be afraid. God was doing something completely new and would stand by Mary just as he promised when he revealed himself originally to Moses as: "I will be who I will be," --- and "I will be present to you, never leaving you bereft or barren."

In the work I do with people in spiritual direction, one of the tools I ask clients to use sometimes is dialogue. The idea is to externalize and make explicit in writing the disparate voices we carry within us: it may be a conversation between the voice of reason and the voice of fear, or the voice of stubbornness or that of impulsivity and our wiser, more flexible selves who speak to and with one another at these times so that this existence may have a future marked by wholeness, holiness, and new life. As individuals become adept at doing these dialogues, they may even discover themselves echoing or revealing at one moment the very voice of God which dwells in the deepest, most real, parts of their heart as they simultaneously bring their most profound needs and fears to the conversation. Almost invariably these kinds of dialogues bring strength and healing, integration and faith. When I hear today's Gospel story I hear it as this kind of internal dialogue between the frightened, bewildered Mary and the deepest, truest, part of herself which is God's Word and Spirit calling her beyond all she has known before but in harmony with her people's covenant traditions and promises.

This is the way faith comes to most of us, the way we come to know and hear the voice of God in our lives. For most of us the Word of God dwells within us and only gradually steps out of the background in response to our fears, confusion, and needs as we ponder them in our hearts --- just as Mary did her entire life, but especially at times like this. In the midst of turmoil, of events which turn life plans on their heads and shatter dreams, there in our midst will be the God of Moses and Mary and Jesus reminding us, "I will overshadow you; depend on me, say yes to this, open yourself to my promise and perspective and we will bring life and meaning out of this; together we will make a gift of this tragedy for you and for the whole world! We will bring to birth a Word the world needs so desperately to hear: Be not afraid for I am with you."

Annunciations happen to us every day: small moments that signal the advent of a new opportunity to embody Christ and gift him to others. Perhaps many are missed and fewer are heeded as Mary heeded her own and gave her fiat to the change which would make something entirely new of her life, her tradition, and her world. But Mary's story is very much our own story as well, and the coming Feast of Christ's nativity is meant to refer to his being born of us as well. The world into which he will be brought will not love him really --- not if he is the Jesus our Scriptures and our creeds proclaim. But our own fiat will be accompanied by the reassuring voice of God: "I will overshadow you and accompany you. Our stories are joined now, inextricably wed as I say yes to you and you say yes to me. Together we create the future. Salvation will be born from this union. Be not afraid!"

15 December 2011

Misunderstandings of the origins and Nature of Canon 603 (yet again)


[[Dear Sister, I have been reading online about Catholic Hermits. This morning I read the following passage and was confused by it. I have read what you have written on the origins of canon 603 and that is very different from this. This is from a Catholic hermit who is quoting a canon lawyer:

The Canon lawyer discussed Canon 603, of 1983 and explained it was a revision of the 1917 Canon regarding eremitic life. He said that laws are created due to abuses and also because of desire by some to have "official stamp" of approval. Perhaps there have been those, he pointed out, who said they were going to live a life of stricter separation from the world or in prayer and fasting, but did not. The law provides for the Bishop to step in and correct the abuses, if the hermit has been publicly avowed, and those vows received by the Bishop. . . .He said it is a legality, of publicly approving the hermit in the name of the Church, of it being of public record, regardless of how many were actually at the profession of vows. He said that may be just the hermit and the Bishop. But it is done in the name of the Church, with the Bishop saying he receives the vows on behalf of the Church. . . . Next he spoke of private vows. He said what has been written and repeated: that the privately avowed hermit is also consecrated, also approved, and in keeping with the Church's allowance of this form as well. This type of hermit is approved, but the vows have not been received in the name of the Church by the Ordinary of the Diocese. It is not under Canon Law 603.

How accurate is this? Does it cause you to amend what you have written?]]

Well, there is truth (or accuracy) and untruth (inaccuracy) in this account. Since it is a third party reporting a conversation with an unknown canonist, and since some of it is not included, even in your question, let me be clear that my comment refers only to what is reported. Also, one can report various facts but mislead in import, and I think that is one thing that has happened in the reporting of this conversation. (That is, I think perhaps the canonist may have been misunderstood or inaccurately interpreted in some things.)

So, what is true or accurate here?

1) the notion that public vows do not have to do with notoriety or the number of people at the profession, but instead with the nature of the commitment is true. A public profession and/or consecration binds the person publicly to live out their vocation in the name of the Church. The Church accepts her commitment officially, and commissions her to live it out in her name. The Church as a whole has the necessary right to certain expectations of one in public vows because they no longer live their lives as a private person, but a public one. So too does the world at large have the right to certain expectations in this person's regard if they wear a habit and or use a title in public. They have private lives, of course, but may be called on when out and about by those for whom the title or habit are signs of availability.

2) public vows are received by a legitimate superior in the name of the Church. Private vows are witnessed but not received or made in the name of the Church. The canonist is, of course, completely correct in alluding to all of this.

3) certainly laws can be legislated or turned to because of abuses. The canonist (or his reporter) is entirely correct in this, but emphatically not in attributing the existence of Canon 603 to this situation.

And, so, what is not accurate?

1) Canon 603 was not formulated or promulgated as a revision of the 1917 Code. As I have noted before, it is an entirely new canon which recognizes solitary hermits for the very first time in universal law. The 1917 Code had no canon referring to hermits, and I am surprised a canonist would make such an error. In any case, Religious hermits and religious who desire to be hermits within their own communities are generally covered by the proper law of their congregations. For these no canon is necessary; it is when proper law does not allow for eremitical life that something more is necessary.

2) Canon 603 was not formulated to correct abuses, nor, as a completely new canon rather than a revision could it have been meant to do this. Instead it was written and promulgated because there were hermits who had been religious or monastics for many years and had therefore been solemnly professed for some time, but who, in order to live out a call to eremitical solitude they had experienced years after Solemn profession, had been required to seek dispensation of their vows and secularization. This was necessary because their congregations did not have proper law allowing such a life. A number of these formed a colony of hermits in British Columbia. Bishop De Roo and others begged the Fathers at Vatican II to recognize the eremitical life as a state of perfection. Canon 603 is the eventual result. Of course, it is true that a Bishop who found a regular pattern of infidelity to one's vows could require the canonically professed hermit to submit to discipline including dispensation from vows, but I have to say, this is something which is VERY far from most hermits' minds or concern. The place of law in their lives is both far more positive and also more marginal than this. (For a more detailed account of Bishop De Roo's arguments to the Fathers at the Council, please see  Bishop De Roo's arguments under "The Heart of the Matter".)

Further, though, I think this view of the place of law in a diocesan hermit's life, and certainly of the creation of Canon 603, has things backwards --- especially since this is an entirely new canon recognizing a new form of consecrated life. The notion that the Church would create a canon for obscure, almost wholly unknown lay hermits who were not living their vocations, or admit one to public vows because they need some kind of policing seems ludicrous to me. As noted, religious hermits would be covered already under both canon law and the proper law of their congregations. No new canon is necessary for these hermits, whether to correct "abuses" or to maintain the discipline of their lives.

The point is that no one is going to admit someone to public profession because that person needs policing, or because the Bishop requires a way to correct a badly lived private eremitical life.  After all, in such a situation one also has to ask, "In the absence of a canonical commitment with canonical obligations and rights, what is being abused? What is being abused when there are no norms to govern this life, and no legal obligations one has committed by vow or other sacred bond to fulfill?" In such a case, an instance where some sort of weirdness or irregularity was present, the person would never be admitted to public vows,  nor to the consecration and commissioning associated with these given the public rights and responsibilities entailed. The Church would never initiate one into a public vocation in order to correct irregularities (at least not in a situation where the vocation is rare and abuses few and far between). One needs a proven track record of living as a lay hermit or religious living in solitude before the Church admits one to public eremitical vows under canon 603. For those who have a contrary track record, allowing them to remain unrecognized in the relative obscurity of a private eremitical life is a far more effective and prudent way to deal with their badly lived eremitical life.

At the same time, it is true that the fact that a commitment is public and binding in law does indeed assist the hermit to be true to that commitment when it is tempting to "do as one wishes" instead ---- for whatever reason that occurs. Still, this is at best secondary to the primary reason for legal standing and public commitment and consecration, namely, the fact that the Holy Spirit is working in this way in the Church and has called the Church to mediate God's call to this vocation and recognize it as a state of perfection for the salvation of the World. Diocesan eremitical life is a gift of God to the Church and canon 603 is the way this vocation is regarded, governed, and nurtured.

3) With the exception of the term "consecrated", every discrete fact in the last paragraph is mainly accurate. It is when they are put together that I have real problems with what they convey. As I have written several times now, it is more appropriate to refer to lay hermits as dedicated than consecrated. This may be especially true if they have made private vows, but consecration, despite the common use of the term, is something only God can do ---- usually via the mediation of the Church as she acts officially in the name of God. However, the emphasis of the paragraph as a whole seems a bit off to me. Lay hermits as individuals are not explicitly approved by the Church. The vocation of lay hermit itself is certainly accepted and a lay person may pursue the vocation as she feels called, but her own vocation is not per se either discerned or "approved" by the Church in the same way that happens for one entering the consecrated state. The entire emphasis here seems to be part of an attempt to say diocesan hermits are "technically," "formally," or "legally" hermits so that the Bishop may correct abuses or because the hermit "needs this formality as a matter of pride", but that otherwise there is no difference between them and lay hermits. If this is so then I would take exception to its accuracy for it is way off base.

4) While Canon 603 profession is a matter of law, I don't think I would call it a legality anymore than I would allow it to be considered a mere formality, at least not as I understand these words. For me "legality" sounds like a contraction of "legal technicality." But law ordinarily follows life and in this matter law has recognized and affirmed the way the Holy Spirit is working in the Church. It has also specified the essential elements of the solitary eremitical vocation, and these are not mere legalities or legal technicalities. To be bound by public vows issues in a number of rights and responsibilities; they are indeed matters of law, but they are not simply "legalities."

5) While it is true that profession under canon 603 makes this person's specific commitment and commission to live this vocation a matter of public record, the matter goes much further. As noted, a public vow allows the public to have necessary expectations of the person so professed. It also allows the hermit to have specific expectations of the institutional church and vice versa. In short, the fact that one is publicly professed sets up an entire constellation of relationships, legal and otherwise, that did not exist before, whether or not the person was living as a hermit up until this point.

The Catholic theology of profession recognizes that vows are a matter of performative language. Something new comes to be that did not exist before. In terms of public vows per se, this happens especially in the hermit's very speaking of the vows and the Bishop's praying of the prayer of consecration. Specifically, the person enters or is initiated into a new and stable state of life. God's grace is experienced in a new way as well, and the person assumes new public rights and obligations while, as already mentioned, those who look to her have their own legitimate expectations. Law both recognizes and allows for this, but it is not, I don't think, appropriate to call all this a legality or a mere "formality" either.

So, to answer your last question, no this series of comments by a canonist does not change what I have written before about any of this; if the reporter is accurate, the canon lawyer is mistaken in several fundamental ways and also correct in others which I have written in agreement about.

09 December 2011

Living Alone vs Eremitical Solitude


[[Dear Sister,
you said something interesting in your post from December 7th. You distinguished an eremitical life of the silence of solitude from that of people living a merely pious life alone. To be honest I thought that a hermit life WAS the pious life of someone living alone. Can you explain what you mean to me?]]

Yes, it is a really important distinction and one that is rarely sufficiently understood whether by aspirants and some candidates for canon 603 profession, by chanceries who are responsible for the mutual discernment and profession of these candidates, or by the usual person on the street. Your own description, [[ a pious life of someone living alone]] is not quite the same as what I said, [[ some... mistake living a relatively pious life alone for an eremitical life of the silence of solitude. . ]]. Lots of people live alone; lots of these are relatively pious, and some are downright holy --- holier than many hermits. Very, very few of these are hermits in the sense canon 603 defines. I am reminded of a friend (a very funny and generous friend) in my parish who sometimes jokes to people she introduces me to that there is nothing really different from her life and mine --- though she thinks she owns more shoes than I do! (In that I think she is right!) She is a faithful Catholic, spends her life in direct service of the church and parish, and she lives alone; she sees me as doing the same. I suspect there are many people who think something similar and believe canon 603 is meant to profess more than usually religious people who simply live alone.

But these opinions, despite elements of truth, are generally mistaken. While it is certainly necessary to have a regular spiritual praxis and to live alone in relative silence, there is something more involved. It is summarized in canon 603 with the term, "the silence of solitude." One of the things I have noted about this phrase is that it refers not just to the physical environment of the eremitical life, but to its goal, and gift quality or charism as well. The silence of solitude is an immensely rich symbol, then, and hard to define precisely; it refers first of all to God's own life, for God is the abyss of this kind of silence and solitude. It refers then to a continuing dialogue with God usually carried out in and constituting one's own heart, but also in the prayer and other activities undertaken in the hermitage which are expressions and explicitations of this inner dialogue.

It refers to the communion which comes to be between two freedoms (cf Wencel, Cornelius, Er Cam, The Eremitic Life), the freedom which is God and the freedom which is the hermit, a communion which we are each made for but often forget, ignore, or dismiss for any number of reasons. Finally it also refers to the redemption of isolation, alienation, and emptiness, the healing of sin and the effects of sin. It requires external silence and physical aloneness but is much much more than this. The hermit's life is devoted to "the silence of solitude"; it is lived out within it, in light of it, and for it because this "silence of solitude" is something the world is made and hungers for. It is, insofar as it involves a heart-deep dialogue and communion, something both God and the hermit herself yearn for. Living alone is one thing; living alone with and for God and for all that is precious to God is very different indeed.

Although canon 603 does not explicitly preference this element over assiduous prayer and penance and the other non-negotiable elements of eremitical life, I think the hermit must --- though only in a way which allows the other elements to inform and qualify it. Truly, none of the elements of the canon and the life (a vowed life of stricter separation from the world, assiduous prayer and penance, the silence of solitude, lived for the praise of God and the salvation of the world) can be separated off from the others. As interrelated they form a complex and dynamic whole which constitutes eremitical life as something far more than just living alone --- even in physical silence or separation. Still, "the silence of solitude" is the truly distinguishing or definitive element of the canon, I think; it represents the depth dimension or inner heart and purpose of the other elements in the canon.

Dioceses and chancery officials and personnel must also preference this element in this way, I think; it is critical to discerning what kind of vocation one has before one. When I have written in the past that a candidate for profession under canon 603 must have become a hermit in some essential sense before a diocese can consider her seriously for even temporary profession this is what I was referring to: she must know the silence of solitude (in the above senses) personally, existentially, and she must have made at least some of the choices and sacrifices necessary to make this the defining reality and goal of her life while demonstrating a faithfulness and commitment to go wherever this gift of God takes her.

07 December 2011

Eremitism or Exaggerated Individualism?


Recently I was asked to consider whether there was a new resurgence in interest in the eremitical life, and, more importantly, what was driving that if I thought it was demonstrable. I happen to agree there is considerable interest in this vocation, but I am afraid I did not come away from the question of motivation with the most positive of answers. Similarly another questioner wrote:

[[Sister O'Neal, I have read that there is a resurgence in interest in the hermit life. At the same time I have heard that Bishops are reluctant to profess hermits. If the resurgence is of the Holy Spirit then why are Bishops unwilling to profess individuals in this way? I know you have written this is not a numbers game but if large numbers of people are interested in the vocation shouldn't Bishops be pressed to profess/consecrate them?]]

While there is a clear resurgence of interest, I don't think the actual incidence of the vocation has generally increased (except that the Church (meaning here the Western or Latin Church) now recognizes some very small percentage of these and admits them to profession and consecration; this has led, for instance, to a number of vocations among the disabled and chronically ill which would never have been recognized otherwise). In general however, what I am afraid is happening is that this interest is more a symptom of our individualistic and even narcissistic society and culture than it is a response to the impulse of the Holy Spirit. Further, I suspect that the failure to understand or to esteem the vocation profoundly enough leads some Bishops to profess individuals when this actually fosters an individualism (whether exaggerated or not) which is "worldly" in the most blatant sense possible.

So many of the things which pass for eremitical life, and which I have written about in the past several years, come together here and are definitely not inspired as truly eremitical. These include: 1) individuals who choose canon 603 on their way to community life (or community foundation) because it is supposedly the easy way to be professed; 2) individuals who mistake living a relatively pious life alone for an eremitical life of the silence of solitude; 3) those who wish to escape the complex and demanding life of ordinary social contacts or who have failed at life and seek to validate that failure; 4) those who see eremitical life as a part time activity and therefore seek to "have their cake and eat it too" by being recognized as a hermit while living just as they have always done in terms of work, recreation, relationships, and the like (this applies to those in #2 above as well); 5) married "hermits" or 6) those who work full time outside the hermitage, especially in highly social jobs while living a more or less prayerful life alone (some, as I have noted before, set aside one day a week for contemplative prayer and mistakenly consider this an eremitical life meeting the terms of the canon); 7) misanthropes looking for an escape and 8) folks seeking a sinecure who simply desire a way to validate their need for space to pursue their hobbies and avocations --- artistic, literary, etc --- but desire the church's stamp of approval on that. Note how easy it is to mistake these for authentic eremitical life which, when viewed only in terms of external characteristics or stereotypes, certainly seems to share some of these attributes.

But what is missing from them all is a sense that eremitical life is one of self-emptying and compassionate generosity for God's own sake, and the sake of those precious to God. What is lacking in these instances is a commitment to the silence of solitude and all that signifies. I don't suggest here that distinguishing between authentic diocesan or solitary eremitical vocations and these forms of hyper-individualism is always easy or completely straightforward; it is not. It takes time and serious discernment on the part of the candidates, their Bishops, directors, Vicars, etc. But it is a real problem today and one we cannot refuse to see as a threat to the eremitical vocation. Personally, I think the incidence of this kind of thing is very high while the incidence of authentic eremitical vocations is still as relatively rare as it has always been.

Thus, Bishops are right to be cautious in admitting aspirants to profession under canon 603. They are right to demand relatively longer terms of (personal) formation and probation of aspirants --- though at the same time these should be supervised and not inordinately prolonged. They are right to test candidates to see how committed to ongoing formation and how generously motivated they are. Where they are mistaken, I think, is in dismissing the vocation per se --- as though it is impossible to live, could have no really suitable candidates, or is without concrete value in our Church and world. (And again, it should be underscored that an understanding of and attention to the nature of "the silence of solitude" which constitutes the charism of this vocation is a significant if partial solution to such a problem.) In any case, presuming a higher instance of interest in this vocation, I think Bishops should take great care in discerning these vocations and should not be pressed unduly to profess diocesan hermits simply because a person demonstrates an interest in it. Given the individualism prevalent in our world today many candidates will not have vocations to eremitical life and of those that do, semi-eremitical or religious (communal) eremitical life on the one hand, or lay eremitical life on the other will often be the better option or context for living the life.

A Note on terminology: I have often used the terms aspirant, candidate, or even novice in my posts regarding diocesan eremitical life. Please understand that Canon 603 does not call or allow for an actual formal aspirancy or candidacy (postulancy). Neither is there such a thing as a formal novitiate. My use of such terms in this blog is entirely informal referring to someone who 1) literally aspires to profession and consecration, 2) who is accepted to participate in a process of mutual discernment by a diocese to see if perhaps they have such a vocation, or 3) who is relatively new to the life or who feels they are (something I suspect never really goes away; from what I have heard we all feel like novices even after decades of living eremitical life).

04 December 2011

What Should I Do Next? On Becoming a Diocesan Hermit


[[Dear Sister,
I went to my diocese this week to see about becoming a canon 603 hermit. They told me to "go away and live in solitude". They said that I don't need to be professed or consecrated (their word) to be a hermit. But I want to be a canonical hermit and I think God is calling me to be this. What do I do now? Can I move to another diocese that would accept me?]]

Hi there! I have written about this topic a fair bit here, so please check the labels below and to the right. See under formation of a lay hermit, time frames for becoming a diocesan hermit, ecclesial vocations, diocese-shopping, and similar topics. I will not repeat everything I have said in those posts, but perhaps I can summarize briefly.

If you have not ever lived as a hermit (which is not the same as simply living alone, even a generally pious life merely alone), then living as a lay hermit for some time is necessary before a diocese will even consider you a serious candidate for profession and consecration under canon 603. While this is not the only reason dioceses tell people to go off and live in solitude, it is a major one, for often people who have never lived in solitude approach chancery personnel with the expectation that the chancery will turn one into a hermit. Hermits are made in solitude; more importantly, solitude (which, again, is not simply being alone) must, as Thomas Merton put the matter, open the door herself to the would-be hermit. To find out if this will ever happen one must live in physical solitude and more specifically, in and towards what canon 603 calls "the silence of solitude" for some time before 1) one can discern whether one is called to eremitical life as a life commitment, and 2) whether this is to be lay or consecrated eremitical life. In other words, "just living in (physical) solitude" is a necessary (and minimum) element of discerning a vocation and the church must know that you have done this and in fact have reason to believe that it is your own personal way to human wholeness and holiness or they really mayn't profess you.

Secondly, canon 603 eremitical life represents an ecclesial vocation which means in practical terms that one CANNOT discern such a vocation alone. The Church herself must also discern the truth of the matter and call you forth from her midst. She must agree to publicly profess and consecrate you in a way which extends both rights and obligations which are not yours otherwise; she must, in fact, participate in the mediation of God's own call to you herself, or that call is not real (yet) in your life. You may seriously desire this, and you may be correct that God is calling you to some form of eremitical life, but in other words, until the Church agrees and mediates this vocation to you through her own actions and liturgy one has NOT been called to be a diocesan hermit. You MAY live as a lay hermit as a result of your Baptism. You have every right to do that (and actually, you are obliged to do that if you discern it is what God is calling you to for the time being) but on your own you cannot assume you are called to diocesan eremitical life.

So, what do you do? There are a number of things which are either necessary or prudent. 1) You must embrace an eremitical life (I am assuming you are not married, do not have children, or other obligations or encumbrances which prevent this) and live it to the best of your ability; part of this process will be getting used to thinking of yourself as a hermit and acting to structure your life and relationships as a hermit would. 2) You must be working with a spiritual director and continue doing so for the remainder of your life as a hermit of whatever type. This is non-negotiable. 3) It would certainly be advisable to check with the person you spoke with at the chancery and see if they are open to the vocation at all (some dioceses are not), and also whether they are open to meeting with you again in a year's time and then again in another year, etc, IF you continue to feel you are called to diocesan eremitical life. Much will depend on the answer they give to these questions and I am assuming at this point that they will be answered positively. 4) read all you can on eremitical life, on canon 603, on the vows, etc --- and especially read contemporary sources, commentary, the documents of Vatican II on religious life, etc. 5) Consider all the forms of eremitical life we have today, religious (communal), lay, and solitary (diocesan) as potential contexts for your life and see which one calls most to you and why. As I hope you can see, these are mainly things which will help you whether you are called to an ecclesial vocation under canon 603 or not.

Regarding moving to another diocese, my recommendation at this point in time is that you not even consider that so long as your diocese is open to the vocation generally and will meet with you again in the future. In such a case doing so can demonstrate impatience, a lack of commitment to monastic/eremitical stability, perhaps represent an unwillingness to be obedient in the best sense of that term, indicate you are more enamored with an image of the life than the life itself, and so, on a purely practical level, will generally result in "shooting oneself in the foot" with the diocesan personnel and Bishops of the dioceses involved.

Do keep in touch regarding your journey. Meanwhile I hope this is helpful.

02 December 2011

Another Snapshot of Life in the Hermitage



[[Sister Laurel, in the pictures of your hermitage you have a lectern in your chapel. Why is that? Do you have people come in to pray with you? I know the Carthusians make certain gestures or use certain postures even in their cells as well as in church. Do you do that when you pray? Do you wear your cowl at home or only in church?]]

Thanks for your questions. The lectern (ambo) in the oratory is used when I pray Office because I like to chant or sing it. It is easier to do this while standing, and even moreso with a lectern (ambo) so I can have more than one book open at a time and not have a problem flipping back and forth. It is completely movable so I shift it from the center of the space in front of the tabernacle off to the side at other times of the day or when I am praying quietly for instance. I do not have people come over to pray here (though I do pray with people who come over --- if that makes sense), and my own room (oratory) is generally off-limits to guests or clients. There are a couple of exceptions here --- people who are welcome in any part of the hermitage at any time.

Regarding certain gestures and postures, I do use some of the ones always used for church or for Office: a profound bow when entering the room, or at the first part of the Doxology, for instance, signs of the cross at usual places, genuflections or profound bows when opening or closing the tabernacle, and so forth. Occasionally I may use prostration, but (unlike the Carthusian usage) that is very rare and entirely spontaneous. As for the cowl, I use it for Office or Communion services and sometimes for quiet prayer and lectio in the hermitage. It reminds me that this place is not really my own and that what I do I do not do only for myself or in my own name. Otherwise, though it is not a liturgical garment per se, I also wear it for any liturgical/prayer function at the church.

Hope that helps.

01 December 2011

Eremitism, A Life of Continuous Vigil

Perhaps it is the focus of Advent with its emphasis on preparation and waiting, but I came today to see my life specifically and eremitical life more generally as one of vigil --- and continuous vigil. Whether the time in cell is obviously fruitful or marked by darkness and seeming emptiness, whether one turns to prayer with joy and enthusiasm or with resistance and depression, one waits on the Lord. One spends one's time in vigil.

Now this is ironic in some ways because despite loving prayer at night the Office of Readings which is also called "Vigils" has never been my favorite hour and this last two years I have substituted another way of spending the time before dawn which has been very fruitful for me. The time from 4:00am to 8:00am has been one of vigil but it consists of quiet prayer, Lauds, and writing with some lectio. A Camaldolese nun mentioned her own monastery (and the one I am affiliated with as an Oblate) treating these same hours as a time of vigil and I very much liked the idea. I did not know that it would define both my day and my life, however.

There is something amazing about living in a way which is not "just" obedient (open and responsive) to the Lord, but which is actively awaiting him at every moment.(Yes, these are intimately related, but not always practiced that way.) The heart of Benedictine spirituality is the search for God. When candidates for Benedictine monastic life arrive at the monastery, the goal they are expected to affirm is the search for God. This is the defining characteristic of the authentic monastic life and a significant point of discerning a vocation. We can hear that phrase as emphasizing an active, even desperate attempt to find something that is missing from our lives, or we can hear it as a process of preparing ourselves to find the God who is immanent in our lives and world at every point. In the latter case our lives become a vigil to the extent they are transformed into something capable of perceiving and welcoming this immanent God.

Another central Benedictine value is hospitality, and there is no doubt it plays a very significant part in this perspective. While we ordinarily think of hospitality as offering a place for guests who come to the monastery or hermitage in search of something, we should extend the notion to God. All of our prayer is a way of offering hospitality to God; it is a way, that is, of giving him a personal place to stand in our lives and world. While God is omnipresent and the ground of the truly personal, he does NOT automatically have a personal place in our lives. Like someone whose name we do not know, he may impinge on our space, but until we call upon him by name and give him a place he cannot assume on his own, he will remain only impersonally there. And so, in prayer we call upon him by name ("Abba, Father"), we carve out space and time for him, we give him permission to enter our lives and hearts and to take up more and more extensive residence there. We offer him friendship, hospitality, and we structure our lives around his presence. We continually ready ourselves and look for him just as we look for a best friend we expect any time and thus our lives become a vigil.

For hermits, whose whole lives are given over to God in a focused and solitary way, vigil is simply another description of the environment, goal, and gift (charism) of eremitical life we refer to as "the silence of solitude." Those four hours before Mass or Communion in my daily horarium define the characteristic dynamic of the whole of my life --- at least when it is lived well! It is a vigil which requires the silence of solitude (i.e., external and internal silence and solitude), leads to the silence of solitude (i.e.,communion with God), and gifts the world with it and all it implies. During Advent especially I think the call to make something similar of our own lives is extended to every one of us in a special way.