19 November 2012

Hermits24, A Misrepresentation??

A couple of weeks ago another diocesan hermit and I discovered a website which we both have concerns about and which I personally want to gently caution readers about. It is called "Hermits24" and is linked to the Google search term "Catholic Hermits online" along with some sort of "Foundation of Bishop Hugh" (the title is in Polish as is their Facebook page and all the information about the "Foundation." The reference to Bishop Hugh is apparently a reference to Hugh who was linked to the Carthusians, so this may also be linked to a generally lay group of Hermits of St Bruno.

At the top of the page are tabs which link to various continents, regions, or countries. When you click on the tabs you are taken to a list of several hermits (at least some of which are diocesan and perpetually professed). Each name is linked to  text which is taken from that hermit's website or blog. It SEEMS to be a list of Catholic Hermits who have online presences. It is from these hermits that the site seems to have garnered its name. So, what is the problem? What are our concerns?

First, each of the pages, including the pages with text from each hermit's website, have a paypal button at the bottom and each one asks for contributions to "us." My own name and a link to this blog are included but no one got my permission for this, for instance, despite the fact that it looks as though I am a party to this appeal for money/financial support. Secondly, no where on the website do we learn who "us" is. It APPEARS to be the diocesan (and lay) hermits who are listed here as part of the "Foundation" in whose name the site is established or part of "Hermits24", but this is simply not true. No diocesan hermit I know on this list is receiving anything financial from this foundation or even knew about its existence. Third, the "Foundation" does indeed note a bank account,  but does not indicate whether this is a legitimate foundation with ecclesiastical and civil credentials (it should have both to be a true charity for hermits).  Though it is supposed to exist in Warsaw no diocese is noted, no way of contacting anyone for clarification is given (there is an email address in other Google search findings),. Fourthly, the site asks for one to join and login, but the login leads nowhere and it appears that the only button that actually works besides the one leading to the registration form is the paypal button.

The website has been up less than six months, so perhaps it is unfinished. (Addendum: NB, I visited today, 20 Nov. and temporary text was there when it had not been before so this seems very likely.) However, the Paypal account and linkage is certainly finished and the impression that contributions assist those of us listed there is certainly very real. It is very hard to shake off the impression that this is a site which takes advantage of real diocesan hermits' standing and ostensible poverty and need. Because of this I am asking folks who might consider contributing to this site to refrain from doing so at least for the time being. Whomever benefits from this, it is not the hermits listed. If you wish to contribute to diocesan hermits go to the various hermits' websites and contact them to see if they are open to such contributions. (Some of us will be; some of us will not.) If folks who read this blog are connected to this website in some official way and believe you have been misrepresented here, please contact me and clarify things. I would be MORE than happy to speak with you about it and correct anything here which is in error.

18 November 2012

Sister Simone Campbell Meets with President Obama

STATEMENT BY NETWORK EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR SR. SIMONE CAMPBELL ON MEETING BETWEEN PRESIDENT OBAMA & CIVIC & FAITH LEADERS CONCERNING FISCAL DEBATE
Sister Simone Campbell released the following statement today regarding President Obama’s Friday meeting with civic and faith leaders about ongoing fiscal negotiations:
“I was honored to meet with President Obama yesterday and discuss the need for reasonable revenue for responsible programs that protect American families. I talked to the president about the many effective programs I encountered during the “Nuns on the Bus” tours, and we supported his effort to immediately end the Bush tax cuts for the top 2 percent and prevent a massive tax hike for the working poor and the middle class."
“I spoke strongly about how effective and accountable social service programs are, and told him that all departments of the government -- including the Pentagon – must be held to high standards. In tough economic times we need to make sure everyone contributes their fair share. That includes powerful special interests and the wealthiest among us.”
“While President Obama’s rhetoric centers on the middle class, he understands cuts to Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and the safety net endanger seniors, children and working poor families. He knows that the faith community is committed to ensuring that the plight of the working poor stays at the heart of these negotiations. Congress needs to work in good faith with the President to find a responsible way forward that honors the values of the American people.”

15 November 2012

On the Appropriateness of the term Formation

[[Dear Sister, when you write about formation or ongoing formation very little of it involves formal instruction etc. Instead you begin with "custody of the cell" and most of your ongoing formation seems to be by yourself. Is the term formation appropriate since no one is forming you? Does formation for the hermit differ from that of other monastics? Is one more manipulative than the other?]]

I suppose the term formation does give the impression of formal classes and a kind of coercive shaping by others into a monk or nun or hermit. But formation really means being socialized in a way which, over time, forms us into persons of prayer, silence, solitude, community, and so forth. It is the case that when one enters a given congregation certain values will predominate so that one is socialized with the charism of a Franciscan or Dominican or Carthusian, etc. Still, today this process of being formed is not manipulative, nor is it coercive. It is instead a process of gradually shaping  or conforming one's heart, mind, habits, sensibilities, and so forth to a model one sees all around oneself. While one measures one's behavior, activities, and attitudes according to a Rule and horarium, even more important is the presence of community members who embody the Rule in a pervasive way. Some persons reject the term "formation" --- usually on the inadequate basis of older programs in religious life which have generally been replaced today --- but it seems to me that it is an appropriate term just as it is appropriate for the pitcher into which the potter is shaping or forming the clay or perhaps for the sculpture which Michelangelo perceived he actually freed from the stone in which it was imprisoned without form or identity.

Formation for hermits has always been something achieved with the help of an elder or mentor. Sometimes this has been through modeling and sometimes it has been more demanding and directly instructive or even punitive. For those who suggest this process was never coercive, etc, I would remind them of the story of Romuald who went to learn his hermiting from an elder. They would sit together and Romuald would read or recite. When he made a mistake the elder hermit would whack him on the ear with a rod. Eventually Romuald made a mistake and, before his master could strike him yet again on that ear, Romuald asked him to use the other ear as, he reported, he was almost deaf in the first ear. While the desert Fathers and Mothers seem to have been less heavy handed in their direction, I suspect there is no reason to think that this kind of practice was not fairly common and acceptable, not only around 1000 AD, but earlier on in the history of monastic life.

But even with this bit of history, eremitical formation certainly differs in some ways from highly structured cenobitic models. One is called to the silence of solitude and it takes silence and solitude, prayer and penance to contribute to it as the essential environment of the hermitage and further to reach it as a goal. When I spoke of custody of the cell I meant keeping the rhythm and customs which allow the hermitage to be a place where one can be "socialized" in this particular way of prayer, peace, and holiness. Rather than learning to live in community or being formed in the specific values which mark a religious belonging to a particular Order or religious family the solitary hermit learns the community of solitude and is formed in the compassion which attends knowing the truth of oneself more and more profoundly.  Meanwhile, one grows in the graced capacity for a gentle and loving self-discipline and self-direction and one certainly develops the capacities for solitary study, lectio, contemplative prayer, writing or other expressions, and so forth. The important thing to remember is that in any hermitage, God is the primary "formator" while others merely assist in the process. This really tends to be true in monasteries as well.

In the silent solitude of the hermitage two truths predominate: the fragility and weakness of the hermit and the unconditional love of God which marks the hermit as precious and gifted beyond reckoning. Together these two result in a growing humility, a more and more authentic and honest identity rooted in  the God of truth, which allows the hermit to love not only God and herself, but others as well. This will also entail letting go of much that was contrary to such an identity and healing past woundednesses. Again, I think it is appropriate to call all of this specific socialization "formation" though it is not in the least manipulative.  Of course, I would argue that contemporary monastic formation in general is not manipulative or coercive either.

12 November 2012

On Battling Demons, St Anthony's Temptation, and the Importance of Myths

[[Dear Sister Laurel, you have written about demons in the past. Do you really believe in demons? How about powers at work from outside us? When I read the desert Fathers a lot of what they say is incredible to me because there is so much reference to demons. The story of Anthony and all the hideous noise that occurred as he battled demons while people passing by heard the fighting is part of that. I just can't buy it. Is there a way to understand this that is not so primitive or mythological?]]

St Anthony'sTemptation by Bosch

Thanks for the questions. The desert is known in two integrally related ways. It is first the place where we are closest to God and may know and be known by him most intimately, and secondly it is the place where people meet demons face to face and battle with them in order to come to terms with their own humanity and claim it more fully. A desert vocation, that is the vocation of the hermit, is especially therefore, a vocation where one does battle with demons and comes to terms with and claims her humanity more fully through the grace of God. But we need to know what the desert Fathers and Mothers were talking about when they spoke of demons and the place of the desert in all of this. Whenever I have written about this I have spoken mainly of doing battle with the demons inside my own heart --- because for me that is the primary struggle that goes on in my life. While there may have been more of a tendency to personify these demons at the time of the desert Fathers and Mothers, I think this is mainly what they were speaking of and secondly of the powers and principalities in our world which are also at work within and upon us.

Consider what the desert (or any wilderness) is like. You are there, God is there, and often, with the exception of wild animals, that is pretty much all there is. At every moment you are thrown back upon yourself and God (though you may not realize God's presence at this point and may not have yet begun to seek him). To survive with the (perhaps unknown) grace of God you must find the resources within yourself to hunt, find water, create shelter, protect yourself from predators, stave off weather, hunger, boredom, hopelessness, and tedium; you must manage bodily needs, take care of injuries and illness, etc etc. This will mean dealing to some extent with your own insecurities, your own fears, prejudices, ignorance, and allergy to failure on a daily, even hourly basis. You will not survive otherwise. Further, you must deal with the loneliness, the isolation, the loss of all those things (role, position, money, relationships) that made your life valuable in worldly terms. There are no books, no electric lights, no TV's, no computers or internet, no musical instruments or iPods, nothing to distract you from yourself and the God who summons you to your truest self. Even while one is working quietly, one's mind is churning and one's heart is often in turmoil.

And perhaps you will begin to seek out God. If so, the heart that is in turmoil is the place you will enter now in a more concerted way. If you thought the region outside you was wild and threatening, wait until you enter your own heart. It is, after all, at times like these we begin to meet the darker or "shadow" parts of our selves as well as the giftedness and virtuous dimensions. In trying to feed and shelter ourselves we dealt to some extent with fears, insecurities, prejudices, ignorance, etc but now we face them full on --- now when there is nothing to distract us from looking into our own hearts. And besides these demons are so many more! Greed, arrogance, envy, pride, rampant ambition, perfectionism, laziness or a failure of will, a selfishness that rules out compassion, resentment, a tendency to manipulate others or the world around us in order to be loved or appreciated, evasiveness or outright dishonesty. The list goes on and on. If one has not been loved as one ought to have been there may be hatred and a really fearful rage and despair as well. And then there are the roots of these things --- for they do not come from no where! Thus, there are the "demons" which occupy our memories as well! They too must be exorcised in their own way.

One thing must be emphasized, however, especially given the focus of this question and answer. Our looking at the darknesses of our own hearts in such a situation is dependent upon the light and love of God (as well as upon our memory of all those who have loved us throughout our lives). It is the one who is loved and knows herself to be loved as only God loves who can look at her own sins against love and the darknesses of her own personality fully and honestly. But the process of coming to know God's love AND coming to see and deal with one's darker aspects is often a long and messy process. The desert Fathers and Mothers rightly described it in terms of a struggle which was fraught with temptation and which could even be described in the terms Anthony's battle was described. Like Jacob wrestling with an angel and coming away limping,  or Anthony coming out torn and haggard, we do not come away unmarked from our own battles with our demons --- even when God is fully victorious. This is true even when we are ministered to by angels and eventually come to (or usually dwell in!) a place of peace and light.

So, yes, there are certainly ways to make sense of the stories of Anthony's struggle or those of the other desert Fathers and Mothers which are less "primitive or mythological". Today we use Jungian psychology among other things to speak about the shadow side of ourselves, etc. But let's also be clear just how powerful those myths are. They tell us a story whose profound truth we can each recognize on some level, whether we are hermits or not. Imagine for a moment what it would feel like to have someone threaten to make a secret part of your life known to others at a business meeting. If you can feel this, even a little, then you know the truth of the fact that the revelation of the demons which inhabit our lives can be a terrifying proposition. Imagine instead unpacking a container full of secrets and private darknesses in front of someone who doesn't much like you or these things about you (the way some of us feel about ourselves, for instance, especially if we have not really known God's love).

Imagine doing this with someone who loves you profoundly. Still probably not very easy to undertake. But also imagine that these things you are trying to unpack LIKE the darkness, hate the light and that as you reach for each one it fights your efforts to reveal it and set it aside. Imagine it battles you and the God you seek as a betrayer of critical secrets and a threat to its very life. Or, imagine that once you have looked at the demon, even obliquely, you simply cannot get it out of your sight or mind.  If you are dealing with impatience (or an inability to resist being critical, or some form of inordinate desire etc.), impatience (etc) then becomes a howling animal struggling to insinuate and assert itself in every situation. Now imagine these things reside in your very heart and you are entering there instead to try to confront and deal with them. One's heart, precisely because it is by definition the place where God witnesses to Godself, is not always going to be the most placid of places; when we are battling its demons this is even truer. Images like these help us to see at least part of what we are all really up against in growing in intimacy with God. Stories like that of Anthony help us see what eremitical life (or life stripped of distractions and luxuries, what we call desert living) can involve. I would argue these stories are really quite sophisticated conveyors of profound truth, especially when seen as dramatizations of our inner lives, or externalizations of the hidden dynamics and struggles hermits and others live in order to come to healing and holiness.

It is easy to think that we do not carry within us some really dark and awful depths with the power to distort, disrupt, and destroy, or that these only come from outside us; this is especially so when they seem to take control of our lives and literally dehumanize us. I am not denying that forces outside us exist and influence our world (e.g, what Paul called powers and principalities), but on the whole I think this is a fuller picture of the reality of spiritual struggle and growth both now and in the days of the desert Fathers and Mothers.

I hope this is helpful.

04 November 2012

Question on Diocese Shopping

[[Dear Sister Laurel, How do I find a diocese professing lay Catholics under canon 603?]]

Generally, I do not recommend diocese-shopping for such purposes. I don't know any dioceses which would not be pretty cautious, suspicious, and even outright rejecting of someone engaging in such diocese-shopping. Similarly, since the eremitical vocation has a strong component of stability, shopping around for a diocese that will profess you might well cause doubt about any possible vocation. There are few situations which would make such a solution necessary

I have written a more detailed response to a similar question. Please see the label "Diocese-shopping" for that post. That main response is dated 26. March.2011; another post speaks a bit about such diocese-shopping as I recall. It is dated 4.December.2011. Please be aware that in order to be taken seriously by such a diocese you will need to have lived as a hermit for some time under competent spiritual direction and be able to demonstrate a good track record of stability in your parish or diocesan commitments. By this I am referring to the monastic value of stability which (risking serious over-simplification) is mainly a commitment to grow wherever you find yourself. If a diocese you move to is to take you seriously as a potential candidate for admission to profession you will likely need to have either tried to have entered a discernment process with your diocese and have been treated in bad faith, or perhaps have belonged to a diocese/province which has refused across the board to profess or consecrate anyone under canon 603. The only other situation I can think of off hand which might allow a second diocese to seriously consider you for c 603 profession would be if years ago you tried to be accepted and were deemed unready but now, despite your own growth in the vocation, the diocese will not reevaluate the matter.

Regarding your question more specifically, as far as I know, there is no list of dioceses with diocesan hermits although I understand that last year the Vatican started keeping statistics on us for the first time. Fewer (perhaps far fewer) than 1/4th of dioceses in the US have diocesan hermits, however. The only way to find out if a diocese MIGHT be open in time to professing you if you were to move there would be to call the chancery and speak to the Vicar for Religious or Consecrated life. Again though, no one is likely to be more than seriously reserved in responding to such a query because allowing you to move to a diocese cannot be done with even a suggestion that you might one day be professed as a diocesan hermit. The most they could and would probably tell you is whether they have diocesan hermits presently and are/or are open to professing suitable candidates.

Prayer for the Election

We pray for our nation this week,
That we move beyond our fears and concerns
To discern what will serve the common good
for all members of our society.
We pray that we may respond to the call of solidarity
Rather than the call of separate interests.
May we be more concerned with successful community
Than with individual success.
We pray that we consider ways
Through difficult economic problems
That are compassionate and just
For all who struggle for their daily bread.
We pray that we dwell deeply on the call
To serve those in poverty
And recognize that all humans
Have the right to life with dignity
And with the basic services to promote human flourishing.
We pray that we take seriously
The call to be peacemakers,
Despite the complexities
In our local, national, and global conflicts.
We pray that we honor
Our responsibilities as citizens
Without resorting to the polarization
That limits our listening.
Guide us in the coming weeks in our process of discernment So we serve you Through our choices and
Our concern for the common good.

by Jane Deren educationforjustice.org

This prayer was taken from my parish bulletin. I am proud to share it here. It does not transgress the USCCB guidelines of Faithful Citizenship, nor does it increase the polarization in our church and world. It is a model of what Catholic engagement in the political process should look like and the principles it should be guided by.

On Disappointment with Bishops, Hypocrisy regarding Religious Liberty, and the Theology of Conscience in Voting

I heard today about at least one parish in a diocese in North Carolina which is putting out bumperstickers which say "I am Catholic and I vote". Well and good; we all should vote our consciences. The problem? On a table next to these are Romney bumper stickers. Does anyone REALLY need to be told that this is a violation of the USCCB Guidelines and document on faithful citizenship? (It would not have mattered if they had been Obama bumper stickers; the violation is the same and serious.) Do they really need to be told that it is a violation of the statutes which govern a Church's tax exempt status? Do they really want to claim the government is subtly violating the right to religious freedom while at the same time such parishes/dioceses are flagrantly violating the laws of the land regarding separation of Church and State which this Country uses to PRESERVE religious liberty? Is this really the tit for tat matter it seems? Is it a case where some are saying "If the government can violate our rights, then to heck with the laws of the land?" Does the word hypocrisy have any real meaning for these folks?  How about arrogance or short-sightedness then?

I find myself terribly disappointed with the Bishops who have become spokespersons for the Republican party in this election. (I would say the same for those speaking for Democratic candidates or a party platform, but I have not seen this myself.) They have quite literally sold their Offices and jeopardized the very thing they claim the government is transgressing --- the freedom of religion with its corresponding freedom and primacy of conscience. Had the USCCB as a whole restated the Catholic teaching on conscience and especially on primacy of conscience, and done so accurately while also saying, "Go with the help of the Holy Spirit and vote your consciences" the entire election process would have been so much more edifying. We would, as a Church, be FAR better off.  Instead we have a Church divided on the basis of false teaching on conscience, the specifics of the Health Care bill and complicity in objective evil, lies about what Nuns on the Bus members actually believe and proclaim, Bishops actually allowing or even encouraging their flocks to electioneer on Church property, and Episcopal scare tactics regarding endangering one's soul, going to hell, etc, because one votes one's conscience. All of this reminds me that the literal meaning of diabolic is that which throws apart, from dia (apart) and balein (to throw). It is a tremendously sad situation, I think.

The Cave of the Heart
So, since a couple of people have asked me about voting (they actually asked about how I am voting but I am not going there) let me restate 1) the pertinent part of the Church's teaching on the nature and primacy of conscience, and 2) Benedict XVI's analysis of elections which involve, for instance, the issues of abortion and contraception when neither candidate or party platform is really completely acceptable to Catholics.

First, we are to inform and form our consciences to the best of our ability. This means we are not only to learn as much as we can about  the issue at hand including church teaching, medical and scientific information, sociological data, theological data, and so forth (this is part of the way to an informed conscience), but we are to do all we can to be sure we have the capacity to make a conscience judgment and act on it. This means we must develop the capacity to discern all the values and disvalues present in a given situation, preference them appropriately, and then determine or make a conscience judgment regarding how we must act. Finally we must act on the conscience or prudential judgment that we have come to. (This latter capacity which reasons morally about all the information is what is called a well-formed conscience. A badly formed conscience is one which is incapable of reasoning morally, discerning the values and disvalues present, preferencing these, and making a judgment on how one must act in such a situation. Note well, that those who merely "do as authority tells them" may not have a well-formed conscience informed though they may be regarding what the Church teaches in a general way!)

There are No Shortcuts, No Ways to Free ourselves from the Complexity or the Risk of this Process and Responsibility:

There is no short cut to this process of informing and forming our consciences. No one can discern or decide for us, not even Bishops and Popes. They can provide information, but we must look at ALL the values and disvalues in the SPECIFIC situation and come to a conscientious judgment ourselves. The human conscience is inviolable, the inner sanctum where God speaks to each of us alone. It ALWAYS has primacy. Of course we may err in our conscience judgment, but if we 1) fail to act to adequately inform and form our consciences, or 2) act in a way which is contrary to our own conscience judgment we are more likely guilty of sin (this is  actually certain in the latter case). If we act in good faith, we are NEVER guilty of sin --- though we may act wrongly and have to bear the consequences of that action. If we err, the matter is neutral at worst and could even still involve great virtue. If we act in bad faith, we ALWAYS sin, and often quite seriously, for to act against a conscience judgment is to act against the very voice of God as heard in our heart of hearts.

And what about conscience judgments which are not in accord with Church teaching (or in this case, with what some Bishops are saying)? I have written about this before but it bears repeating. Remember that at Vatican II the minority group approached the theological commission with a proposal to edit a text on conscience. The text spoke about the nature of a well-formed conscience. The redaction the minority proposed was that the text should read, "A well-formed conscience is one formed in accord (or to accord) with Church teaching." The theological commission rejected this redaction as too rigid and reminded the Fathers that they had already clearly taught what the church had always held on conscience. And yet today we hear all the time from various places, including some Bishops, that if one's conscience judgment is not in accord with Church teaching the conscience is necessarily not well-formed. But this is not Church teaching --- not the teaching articulated by Thomas Aquinas or Innocent III, for instance, who counseled people that they MUST follow their consciences even if that meant bearing with excommunication.

Benedict XVI's Analysis:

Now then, what about Benedict XVI's analysis of voting in situations of ambiguity where, for instance, one party supports abortion but is deemed more consistently pro-life otherwise? What happens when this situation is sharpened by an opposing party who claims to be anti-abortion but has done nothing concrete to stop it? MUST a Catholic vote for the anti-abortion party or be guilty of endangering their immortal souls? Will they necessarily become complicit in intrinsic evil if they vote for the candidate or party which supports abortion? The answer is no. Here is what Benedict XVI said: If a person is trying to decide for or against a particular candidate and determines that one candidate's party is more consistently pro-life than the other party, even though that first party supports abortion or contraception, the voter may vote in good conscience for that first candidate and party SO LONG AS they do not do so BECAUSE of the candidate's position on abortion or contraception.

In other words, in such a situation abortion is not the single overarching issue which ALWAYS decides the case. One CAN act in good faith and vote for a candidate or party which seems to support life as a seamless garment better than another party, even if that candidate or party does not oppose abortion. One cannot vote FOR intrinsic evil, of course, but one can vote for all sorts of goods which are clearly Gospel imperatives and still not be considered complicit in intrinsic evil. By the way, this is NOT the same thing as doing evil in order that good may result!! Benedict XVI's analysis is less simplistic than some characterizations I have heard recently; theologically it seems to me to be far more cogent and nuanced than these, and it is one Bishops who are supposed to be in union with him when they teach as the ordinary Magisterium should certainly strongly reconsider and learn from.

In Thanksgiving for my own Parish:

Meanwhile, I want to take this opportunity to say how very grateful I am for my parish. We stand together around one Table; we share one Word; we drink from one Cup. We are very different from one another politically, theologically, economically, and so forth --- and we are all aware of it. Yet we trust one another to vote their consciences and pray that the will of God will be done. We do NOT allow differences in politics to divide us in a literally diabolical way. We may not agree on a specific issue or candidate, but we recognize the Church's theology of conscience allows that and respect one another in our disagreements. Thus, we continue to worship together and grow together in Christ. As the USCCB's  1999 document, "Faithful Citizenship" reminds us, "Our moral framework does not easily fit the categories of right or left, Democrat or Republican. Sometimes it seems few candidates and no party fully reflect our values. We must challenge all parties and every candidate to defend human life and dignity, to pursue greater justice and peace, to uphold family life, and to advance the common good." I find that in my parish at least, we are generally Christians first and trust one another to be that to the best of their ability. In this time especially, that is a very great gift and precisely what the Universal Church should be as a sign to the world!   

03 November 2012

Followup Questions on Illness and Horarium Changes.

[[Dear Sister Laurel,
       Do you have to notify your Bishop when you are ill and need to change your horarium? How about his delegate? What if the change is not temporary? Do you stop being a hermit? Thank you.]]

The simple answer is no. That is especially true in the short term. I do ordinarily let my delegate know if I am not well, but that is more to inform and to reassure her that all is pretty well nonetheless. As for the changes in horarium what is more fundamental is to continue living the elements of the canon the best way I can in spite of illness. Everyone expects that and they expect me to be able to do that or to ask for assistance if I need it. The horarium, though not unimportant, is actually less important (and more flexible) than the Rule itself and the values it embodies from Canon 603.

In Cases of Serious Illness

In cases of serious illness, then yes, everyone is notified --- not so much regarding the change in horarium as in regard to the seriousness of the situation. Pastor, Bishop, delegate or director, friends, family, are all notified. If the change in the horarium needs to be long-term then no, I don't cease being a hermit. I simply have to accommodate the new circumstances as best as I am able. Again, it is the elements of  Canon 603 that have to be lived out no matter the situation. That may mean that someone comes in to assist me with chores a couple of times a week, or helps me shop, or brings over an occasional meal, for instance, but I don't cease being a hermit in such a situation. It may also mean meeting more frequently with my delegate or director for assistance in living well with the situation.

The horarium I keep at present is designed to serve me in living an eremitical life. It is not forced on me by someone else, nor did I copy it from someone. It is an expression of both my own strengths and weaknesses as well as the things that keeps my prayer life and capacity to minister to others in good shape; should these things change then the horarium also can and will change. I suppose I am saying it is not the horarium per se that makes the hermit; it is the hermit and her lived experience that makes the horarium. Thus, if an illness was to be long term that would mean changes in the  schedule and also in commitments to others (my parish, clients, etc), but I would remain a hermit nonetheless. Nothing necessarily changes in my relationship with God or the essential way in which I am made whole in the silence of solitude.

The More Important Questions of Formation Implicit in Your Question

You may not have been completely aware of this but your question bears on the posts that have been put up recently on the importance of formation and ongoing formation of the hermit. Eremitical life, like all forms of religious life, has stages and one needs to be able to negotiate these changes while living out the central values of one's life. The capacity to negotiate changes in this way is one of the things that marks the person as an authentic hermit. I remember being asked once by an aspirant for canon 603 profession about how they should deal with the difficulty of balancing hermit things vs worldly things. The essential problem was that this person had not made a significant break with her prior life, and was not a hermit in any essential way. Thus, she considered certain things (praying, lectio, etc) as hermit things and things like dishes, laundry, housecleaning, etc as worldly things. The answer to her question was that everything she did within the hermitage was to be done as a hermit. (For that matter, everything she did outside the hermitage was to be done as a hermit.)

The same principle applies here. When a hermit is ill, they will "pray" their illness and it will become a special expression of the silence of solitude --- perhaps more difficult to live without assistance and more painful than what was lived prior to this --- but it will be an eremitical reality because and to the extent the one who is ill is a hermit herself. The horarium may be more flexible, but it remains an eremitical horarium. Thus, again, the importance of a sufficient formation and ongoing formation. One must be able to embody the central elements of the Canon and especially to live the charism of the vocation without some of the external tools and protection required at another stage of the life. During illness most of us regress some and if the illness is serious that may be more true, For this reason it is important that the hermit be adequately formed so that they continue to live the mature eremitical life they are called to live in even more demanding circumstances.

Sister DK

Let me give you an example of what I mean. This Summer our parish put up a wall of faith in memory of those women in our lives who have inspired us. I put up a picture and description of a Sister I met when I was in initial formation. When I met Sister D. she had brilliant blue eyes and was bent over sideways due to scoliosis; she was also almost completely blind (and was completely blind within the year).

Once a great reader and even now always interested in the life of the community (she loved any chance to share news!), Sister still came to all community prayer and meals and spent the remainder of her day sitting in a straight chair in her room praying. To be honest, though I was tremendously impressed by her, what had happened to her terrified me then, and in some ways still does frighten me. However, she lived profoundly the silence of solitude in community and I feel her with me today. She reminds me of what it means to be a hermit at the end of one's life, and when one is ill and cannot do what one once did. Was this easy for her? No. Could she have lived this way without the ongoing formation of a faithfully lived religious life? I don't think so. My hope, of course, is that inspired by Sister D. and many others, I will live the truth of that  as well as I am called to do as a diocesan hermit. This is another piece of what perpetual vows mean.

What do you do When you are Ill and need to change your horarium?

Several times I have been asked what I do when I am sick and cannot keep my usual schedule (horarium) with regard to prayer and work, etc. Recently it was asked again because of comments I made about "hermits" using hours of TV to distract from their illness. I have not written about this mainly because I don't want to focus on my own illness, but there are some reasons to deal with these questions since everyone has periods when they feel really punk and just need to deal with the illness and do so prayerfully. One conversation on a Carthusian list came up in the past day regarding pain and what one does when one is in pain. From there the discussion moved to the place of music in dealing with pain. In any case it all raised the question for me regarding what I do when I am unable to keep my usual horarium.

Prostration prior to perpetual profession
Here is where a Rule is particularly helpful because a Rule reminds us of the values we must live and the things which are most important for living a healthy eremitical life. Optimally Rules are not about lists of things one must do so much as they are about who one is and what inspires and enables one to be that. Thus, the elements of the life remain how ever one is feeling: stricter separation from the world, assiduous prayer and penance, the silence of solitude, the vows, and (I'll include) whatever work one undertakes in the hermitage. Notice though that these elements are not defined in terms of specific things to do. They also have more to do with the person one is: a person of prayer, a person living the silence of solitude, a person more strictly separated from the world, bound by vows and committed to living this life for the salvation of others. So how does this help when one is ill, and what specifically do I do when I am not feeling well?

The first thing is that I take care of whatever physical needs I have. Medicines, fluids, food, and sleep (especially sleep) figure big time in caring for illness. I maintain my periods of quiet prayer usually (though not necessarily at 4:00am), but Office (for which I wear my cowl over my pajamas) is usually abbreviated to a single psalm prayed slowly. The canticle is usually added with a CD or iPod version, and I try to be sure to pray for people in my parish, those who have requested prayers. I may add another song I can listen to on iPod, etc. This works for all hours. Communion (for which I also wear my cowl over my pajamas) is similar except after a brief penitential rite, I read the Gospel out loud slowly, pray the Lord's Prayer and receive Communion. I will sometimes end this service with another hymn on my iPod or CD player and sometimes simply follow it with a period of quiet prayer.

Work periods vary. Usually I will simply journal or do some blogging. This is especially helpful for times I am in pain and waiting for meds to kick in (It is also one of the reasons posts get put up in the middle of the night here!) If I feel up to writing then I will do that, but I tend not to meet with clients during these times. Chores around the hermitage tend to go by the wayside for the time being. For the majority of the time I will read and sleep. (Reading may be some light spiritual reading but it also includes books by writers like Laurie King, Naomi Novik, Anne Perry, etc.) As for errands, depending on the situation I may run simple quick errands myself but for more than this I will accept help from people in my parish (shopping, dropping off a meal, trips to the doctor.)

And what happens when it seems just too difficult to pray or when I can't focus enough to work, etc. One thing I like to do is listen to liturgical music --- old favorites a lot, but also Taize. Taize is especially nice because of its repetitiveness as well as its multi-layered musical interest. I use these for prayer periods, not for long periods of just listening. Meanwhile I bring whatever I am feeling to God during the Taize. Otherwise I like to simply to rest in the silence, simply rest in my knowledge of God's presence and the fact that I am in his care. These periods may be relatively brief and interspersed with reading or journaling or sleeping, but they are very important. Another form of prayer I do is the Jesus Prayer using a small bracelet of beads I wear around my wrist --- usually in conjunction with prayer for people in my parish, etc. Ordinarily I reserve this for when I am traveling or on a train but it is helpful in times of illness as well. One activity I like to do when I am not really able to do much else but want to maintain silence or listen occasionally to music is to set up a large jigsaw puzzle; this kind of activity allows for a lot of  less formal prayer or reflection and is physically undemanding and restful as well. I have drunk a lot of hot tea while working on puzzles like this --- and also had some significant prayer experiences.

The question of TV comes up in some of the questions and the answer is yes, sometimes when I am sick I will watch TV --- but I really have to be pretty sick. I also have to be especially careful about this practice since as it helps to distract from how one is feeling, it can also keep a person from being aware of feeling well enough to get up and do something else. But yes, with caution and within limits, I sometimes watch TV when I am not feeling well. There are so many things about what TV does to me spiritually that I really don't like it ---- but it is fine for a movie or special program here or there. Otherwise I find it destructive of attentiveness and recollection. (I must say that as I learn more and more to "pray the situation" TV is especially dangerous to one's ability to do this!)

I hope this helps. I think that many could be helped by trying some of these things when they are not feeling well. The point is that one is as capable of praying when one is ill as when one is well, but that one may well need to change some things to do that. The main point is to be who you are, with all the limitations that are your own and to be this person WITH God.