30 June 2013

Cloister Outreach/CONF: Questions re Paying for Formation

[[Dear Sister Laurel, are there reasons a person might be asked to pay $100-200/month for "formation fees" in a newly forming religious community. I am interested in what is called a "Betty Order" which is linked to Cloister Outreach and the Carmelite Order [emphasis added], but they (Cloister Outreach or CONF --- not sure which) mention that a monthly fee will be required. I understand that if I do this I will be doing formation in my own home so I am not sure what this can be about. I know you have written critically about the project before so I thought I would ask you before I get involved.]]

You are the second or third person to ask me about this project recently, mainly because I have been part of contacting the Diocese of Charlotte in Cloister Outreach's regard and have urged caution in the past (cf Notes From Stillsong Hermitage: Cloister Outreach, CAVEAT EMPTOR! for original post); I have looked closely at the website in question as a result. They do indeed state that $100 per month (and in another place, $100-200 "per aspirant" --- not even postulants yet!) will be required for formation costs. But this is the tip of a very strange and dubious iceberg I think --- even as a fledgling work in progress. Before I deal with your specific question regarding money, then, let me suggest areas which seem a bit flaky with regard to the project you are considering.

They also say three years of temporary vows will be made after a one year novitiate. But are they speaking of public vows and if so, who will receive these vows in the name of the Church? (Private vows require no novitiate, etc and can be made at any time by anyone.) They also write: [[The Teresa's Carmel yahoo group will serve as a training ground for common threads for the two groups. All formation which can be done online will happen in the group. When that is completed, and the aspirants feel themselves ready, Carmels will be contacted for the sake of the one year canonical novitiate, known as the "Founder's Novitiate."]] One wonders who is doing the "formation" referred to in the Yahoo groups and what that person's qualifications are. The question of how a novitiate year can be called "canonical" when in fact nothing about the project is canonical should be posed. A year is "canonical" not merely because such a period of time is mentioned in canon law. (To read the requirements for a "canonical" novitiate year, please cf CIC, cc 647-649, but please read the entire section, Title II, Chapter III, Articles 1 and 2. --- cc 646-653)

Also please note that although it is implied to be certain that Carmels will step in at such a point, as of this entry no Carmels, much less the Carmelite Order are already committed or have necessarily even been contacted with a request to do so: [[Canonical formators will be retained when the life has been lived for a matter of years.]]; yet the issue of money is already raised and fees established: [[A formation fee of $100-200 per month per aspirant will be required.]] Beyond this, the site states,[[ Also at this time will be the search for a diocese in which to reside when the novitiate ends.]] Really? AFTER one has committed 1) a number of years and then 2) another, more formal, year or two of one's life and money, THEN there will be a search for a home diocese?? I suspect this really simply indicates there is no support for this project yet in ANY diocese by ANY ordinary. (Please see, Cloisters: Delayed Carmel for the entire article.)  I personally think someone has a cart or two before a very confused horse in all of this!

Red Flags Raised for Me With regard to Money:

The difficulty of older persons who believe (both rightly and wrongly) that they have religious vocations is real and neuralgic; sometimes such persons might be more vulnerable to situations which are not really kosher --- especially when it seems that canonical shortcuts are offered (a shorter novitiate, etc). The situation you specifically refer to raises a number of red flags for me because, even were there no other questions (and there are many!), it is generally the case that no established (i.e., legitimate) congregation or house (monastery) asks any candidate for money to pay for formation. It is a responsibility the congregation owes the new member and a cost they gladly absorb themselves. It is also an obligation related to the congregation's own life, health, and discernment, as well as how the community lives a vow of poverty (communally for the sake of the whole), so again, the congregation absorbs these costs.

During the period of candidature or postulancy some, perhaps many congregations today require the candidate to pick up continuing expenses before they are actually received into the community --- for instance the candidate will pay for the upkeep of an automobile she continues to own, etc, but expenses like spiritual direction are picked up by the congregation because SD is ordinarily required by the congregation as a piece of the life itself and certainly as a piece of formation. Formation expenses today will also usually include graduate courses in theology so we are speaking of a significant expense which is borne by the community for someone in initial formation.The same is true of counseling or therapy for instance if this is undertaken because the congregation required it. But here we are speaking of canonical communities which have accepted the candidate and are legitimately preparing her for entrance into a novitiate in a year's time or so. The candidate's rights and obligations (and the rights and obligations of the congregation) are spelled out clearly in their constitutions and/or formation handbook.

If (and I admit I have trouble even envisioning this being the case) you are describing a legitimate situation and an established (canonical) congregation which in truly assisting with the formation of a new group has subsequently asked the members of the fledgling group to reimburse them for expenses incurred in giving specific and substantive assistance, then you (as potential candidate) should see and participate in establishing this agreement which, it seems to me, should be legal, approved by a canonist, and perhaps notarized by an ecclesiastical notary. I strongly suggest you participate directly in any such decisions and agreements because you are the one directly affected; after all there is no legitimate community to which you belong and no legitimate superiors to enter into such an agreement with the canonical group on your behalf or on the behalf of any other supposed candidate. Neither Cloister Outreach nor CONF (a CO affiliate), nor anyone associated with them has any such right or authority. Besides, the money is yours; presumably you would not be paying it to CO or CONF "for formation" but to the Carmel mentioned --- not least because CO/CONF has no competency in this area and no financial stake. 

Any such agreement should also be clear about the limits involved. For instance, such an arrangement can be neither open ended nor casual. Clear agreements on (for instance) what will be provided to you and for how long, how regularly it will be provided and at what cost, are some of the things which probably should be nailed down. (And note that this doesn't even begin to address the whole question of discernment or what happens when an "aspirant" or "candidate" is found to be unsuited to formation; these and similar questions need to be spelled out and agreed to.) In any case, if there is a canonical Carmelite group really involved in this you should be speaking to them yourself to get the facts necessary and (with the help of competent legal assistance) to enter into binding agreements.

While I think the situation you are outlining is a very strange one, the bottom line here is that if it truly exists it would need to have a number of legal pieces in place to be deemed prudent, much less legitimate. How a canonical congregation would do formation for you as you continued living in your own home is completely unimaginable to me. One is not formed in religious life by reading the books on a bibliography, for instance, nor by donning some religious costume around the house. That way lies pretense and disappointment. On the other hand one hardly entrusts something as significant as one's vocation and life to folks who are merely "winging it" and have no solid experience or credentials behind them.

The St Something-or-other Horseshoe throwers, a "recognized" de facto association of the faithful:

If you are considering "buying into" (pun intended) this new "community" or "carmel" please understand that even if Cloister Outreach, for instance, is "known" to the Diocese of Charlotte this does not mean they are approved in any sense. For instance, the "founder" claims to be sending the Bishop reports, but is doing this not at the request of the Bishop, but, according to her own comments, on her own initiative. Remember that legitimate groups are required to do so canonically as part of a real relationship of ecclesiastical vigilance and accountability so posting that one sends a report to one's Bishop each year certainly sounds like one does it at his request or as part of a mutual legitimate agreement or canonical requirement. Such an announcement however may merely provide the appearance to those reading the website that the diocese is following the progress of CO or CONF in order eventually to approve them.  Thus a group or umbrella group may well be a kind of smoke and mirrors reality which merely gives the appearance of legitimacy.

Remember too that ANY group of 2 or more persons may create a de facto "asso-ciation of the faithful" which is private in nature. (It is de facto rather than de jure because it exists in fact but not in law.) They could be the St Something-or-other Horseshoe Throwers and legitimately call themselves a de facto private association of the faithful. Again, this need not imply ecclesiastical recognition, much less approval or support of any sort. But let's say that they take a horseshoe with a copy of their statutes attached along with a request that the Bishop peruse these, and that they throw the whole shebang through the Bishop's window at the chancery.

If, upon return from the ER to get his head stitched up, the Bishop looks at the statutes and immediately crumples them and tosses them back out the window with an exclamation of irritation and pain while his secretary sends the association a bill for damages --- thus implicitly acknowledging receipt of the statutes --- the St Something-or-Other Horseshoe Throwers  (hereafter the members of St SHOT) will technically move to the level of "recognized" because they have actually submitted their statutes for review.  (Approval of the statutes is not necessary or even implied by the term "recognized".) I hope you read that statement several times because if someone claims a project is "recognized" by the diocese it may simply mean someone has seen the groups supposed statutes. Nothing more!

It need hardly indicate a genuine relationship with the diocese or its ordinary does it? Let's say the members of St SHOT submit a report on their association once a year thereafter on the anniversary of their dramatic introduction via horseshoe and the Bishop's window and also that they dutifully report on their snazzy website that, "We submit a report of our activities annually according to canon law so the Bishop is duly apprised." It actually sounds pretty official doesn't it? And yet it is not; it is delusional at best and disingenuous at worst. When a project writes, "The Father General of the OCD has been alerted to the existence of this project," it may simply mean he has had the equivalent of a horseshoe thrown through his own window as well. (When they write that a 1990 Carmel has agreed to assist with an ad experimentum habit it may simply mean they have agreed to answer occasional historical questions on the habit. And so forth.)

CO and CONF: Asking some hard questions:

At some point the "founder" of CO and CONF needs to be asked and needs to provide genuine answers to a number of important questions. A summary of the ones raised already in this article include:  Who is in charge of the formation process? How long will this formation process take? Once formation is completed, where will you or anyone else be publicly professed, by whom and in whose hands? If you are going to be granted permission to wear a habit (one must be given this right; it is not self-assumed), when and where will that occur? Will you REALLY be able to call yourself a Carmelite? What Carmelite authority says so? What will your relationship to the Carmelite Order be and who (with real authority to speak on behalf of the Order) has confirmed this? In the versions of "formation" I have seen on the CO website what seems to happen is that new "stages" of "formation."

The recognized canonical stages of candidacy (also called postulancy), novitiate, temporary vows or juniorate, morph on the CO website (in no particular order) into aspirants, candidates, postulants, novas, novices and other additional "stages" with the prospect of public profession no where in sight. It seems that only the horizon advances (or, from another perspective, the horizon continually recedes along with any actual prospect of becoming a religious in any real sense).  In each "stage" a few new books are added to the "formation" bibliography and the person changes the color of their headcovering, blouse, etc but nothing else seems to be happening except individuals are reported to be deciding whether to become "diocesan hermits," actually enter a Carmelite monastery, decide which diocese they should live in, or, start their own congregation! etc. There is simply nothing stable or edifying about any of this.

Summary and Back to your Original Question:

You ask what this request for money could be about. The notion that someone would be asked to pay for their mainly-online "formation" by an unknown and wholly unestablished group which is associated with CO or CONF and purported to have some vague and unverified linkage to the Carmelite Order sounds to me like delusion has been wedded to a financial scam. In fact, at other points when the "foundress" of CO/CONF has been asked direct questions about the legitimacy of her projects and a few folks felt she should not be pressed to answer, this same handful of fairly supportive persons felt that 1) no one with a real vocation (or half a brain) would get involved in such a project but that if someone did, then 2) so long as no one was asking for money no one was really being hurt; their conclusion was that the "foundress" should be allowed to continue doing what she was doing in that case as it was really harmless and no "real" vocations were being endangered.

That was back around December or January of 2013 on Phatmass. The questions which were put to the "foundress" there were never answered and now money is being "required." Meanwhile I continue to get inquiries from folks who have serious questions about the legitimacy of all of this or who wonder who in the Carmelite Order they can contact about "founder's novitiates", etc. If you are not going to immediately run in the opposite direction, again, PLEASE ask some pointed and direct questions of the CO/CONF "foundress", talk to some folks from your chancery (Canon lawyers, vocations directors or vicars, etc) for their take, request that they assist in some inquiries for you, and see what is actually the case. Then if you decide the project is worth risking your time, money, and emotional well being with, you will be making an informed choice.

Postscript: As of April 2015 Cloisters Outreach "Suspended" this Betty Carmel project because real Carmels were accepting older vocations.  Whatever the reason for suspending this project I admit to being really grateful it occurred!

26 June 2013

Francis, Bishop of Rome on Living the Reality of Church

[[Dear brothers and sisters,

Today I would like briefly to refer to one more picture that helps us to illustrate the mystery of the Church: that of the temple (cf. Lumen Gentium, 6).

What does the word, ‘temple’ call to mind? It makes us think of a building, a construction. In particular, it recalls to many minds the history of the People of Israel narrated in the Old Testament. In Jerusalem, the great Temple of Solomon was the locus of the encounter with God in prayer. Within the Temple was the Ark of the Covenant, a sign of God's presence among the people, and inside the Ark were the Tablets of the Law, the manna and the rod of Aaron, a reminder that God had always been in the history of his people, had always been with them on their journey, always directed their stride – and the Temple recalls this story. We, too, when we go to the temple, must remember this story – my story – the story of each one of us – of how Jesus encountered me, of how he walked with me, how Jesus loves and blesses me.

That, which was prefigured in the ancient Temple, is realized in the Church, by the power of the Holy Spirit: the Church is the “house of God”, the place of His presence, where we can find and meet the Lord, the Church is the temple in which dwells the Holy Spirit, who animates, guides and sustains her. If we ask ourselves, “Where we can meet God? Where can we enter into communion with Him through Christ? Where can we find the light of the Holy Spirit to enlighten our lives?” the answer is, “in the People of God, among us, for we are Church – among us, within the People of God, in the Church – there we shall meet Jesus, we shall meet the Holy Spirit, we shall meet the Father.

The ancient temple was built by the hands of men: they wanted to “give a home” to God, to have a visible sign of His presence among the people. With the Incarnation of the Son of God, the prophecy of Nathan to King David is fulfilled (cf. 2 Sam 7.1 to 29): it is not the king, it is not we, who are to “give a home to God,” but God Himself who “builds his house” to come and dwell among us, as St. John writes in the Prologue of his Gospel (cf. 1:14). Christ is the living Temple of the Father, and Christ himself builds His “spiritual home”, the Church, made not of stone materials, but of “living stones” – of us, our very selves. The Apostle Paul says to the Christians of Ephesus: you are “Built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone: in whom all the building, being framed together, groweth up into an holy temple in the Lord.(Eph 2:20-22)” How beautiful this is! We are the living stones of God, profoundly united to Christ, who is the rock of support, and among ourselves. What then, does this mean? It means that we are the Temple – the Church, but, us, living – we are Church, we are [the] living temple, and within us, when we are together, there is the Holy Spirit, who helps us grow as Church. We are not isolated, we are People of God – and this is the Church: People of God.

It is, moreover, the Holy Spirit with His gifts, who designs the variety – and this is important – what does the Holy Spirit do in our midst? He designs the variety – the variety, which is the richness of the Church and unites everything and everyone, so as to constitute a spiritual temple, in which we offer not material sacrifices, but us ourselves, our life (cf. 1 Pt 2:4-5). The Church is not a weave of things and interests, it is rather the Temple of the Holy Spirit, the Temple in which God works, the Temple in which each of us with the gift of Baptism is living stone. This tells us that no one is useless in the Church – no one is useless in the Church! – and should anyone chance to say, some one of you, “Get home with you, you’re useless!” that is not true. No one is useless in the Church. We are all needed in order to build this temple. No one is secondary: “Ah, I am the most important one in the Church!” No! We are all equal in the eyes of God. But, one of you might say, “Mr. Pope, sir, you are not equal to us.” But I am just like each of you. We are all equal. We are all brothers and sisters. No one is anonymous: all form and build the Church. Nevertheless, it also invites us to reflect on the fact that the Temple wants the brick of our Christian life, that something is wanting in the beauty of the Church.

So I would like for us to ask ourselves: how do we live our being Church? We are living stones? Are we rather, so to speak, tired stones, bored, indifferent? Have any of you ever noticed how ugly a tired, bored, indifferent Christian is? It’s an ugly sight. A Christian has to be lively, joyous, he has to live this beautiful thing that is the People of God, the Church. Do we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit, so as to be an active part of our communities, or do we close in on ourselves, saying, “I have so many things to do, that’s not my job.”?

May the Lord grant us His grace, His strength, so that we can be deeply united to Christ, the cornerstone, stone of support for all of our lives and the life of the Church. Let us pray that, animated by His Spirit, we might always be living stones of the Church.]]

19 June 2013

Feast of St Romuald (Reprise)

Romuald Receives the Gift of Tears
Congratulations to all Camaldolese this day, the feast day of the founder of the Camaldolese Congregations! Saint Romuald has a special place in my heart for two reasons. First he went around Italy bringing isolated hermits together or at least under the Rule of Benedict --- something I found personally to resonate with my own need to subsume my personal Rule of Life under a larger more profound and living tradition or Rule, and secondly, he gave us a form of eremitical life which is uniquely suited to the diocesan hermit. St Romuald's unique gift (charism) to the church involved what is called a "threefold good", that is, the blending of the solitary and communal forms of monastic life (the eremitical and the cenobitical), and the third good of evangelization or witness.

So often people (mis)understand the eremitical life as antithetical to communal life, and opposed as well to witness or evangelization. Romuald modeled an eremitism which balances the eremitical call to solitude and a commitment to God alone with community and outreach to the world to proclaim the Gospel. The vocation is essentially eremitic, but rooted in what the Camaldolese call "The Privilege of Love" and therefore it spills out in witness and has a communal dimension or component to it as well. This seems to me to be particularly well-suited to the vocation of the diocesan hermit since she is called to live for God alone, but in a way which ALSO specifically calls her to give her life in love and generous service to others, particularly her parish and diocese. While this service and gift of self ordinarily takes the form of solitary prayer, it may also involve other ministry within the parish including limited hospitality --- or the outreach of a hermit from her hermitage through the vehicle of a blog!!! So, all good wishes on this feast of Saint Romuald!!

Especially the Camaldolese celebrate today (2013) the Anniversaries of Monastic Vows of Thomas and Gabriel (49 years ago) and of Raniero and Benedict (20 years ago), and the Birthday, of Cyprian! And for those who are not really familiar with Romuald, here is the brief Rule he formulated for monks, nuns, and oblates. It is the only thing we actually have from his own hand.

Sit in your cell as in paradise. Put the whole world behind you and forget it. Watch your thoughts like a good fisherman watching for fish. The path you must follow is in the Psalms — never leave it. If you have just come to the monastery, and in spite of your good will you cannot accomplish what you want, take every opportunity you can to sing the Psalms in your heart and to understand them with your mind. And if your mind wanders as you read, do not give up; hurry back and apply your mind to the words once more. Realize above all that you are in God's presence, and stand there with the attitude of one who stands before the emperor. Empty yourself completely and sit waiting, content with the grace of God, like the chick who tastes and eats nothing but what his mother brings him.

15 June 2013

Breeze and Buttons

We are made for love; we don't survive without it. It is a law of nature as compelling as any other we might name. That is true not just of human beings, but it is especially true of us. Love allows us to grow and thrive as nothing else is able to do. It is, in fact, the key to authentic humanity. Today I am feeling personally grateful for all those who have served to help allow me to thrive. I am certainly feeling gratitude to and for the God who holds me securely in his hands as I lay down to rest or who is unfailingly present as I "run about" my daily routine. Despite the fact that I have written about chronic illness recently, I want to be very clear that because of the steadfast love people have given me (and taught me to receive!) it is not illness that defines my life but an overflowing of love which has brought me to abundant life in Christ.

Despite scars brought from fending for himself, Breeze (who is just 10 days old) knows love and the life in him is beginning to allow him to be the frisky young foal we expect. There is abundant life in him waiting to pour out and mature and we see signs of it as he approaches his groomer to play. In the above video (which I thought was adorable and hope you will also like!), from a raft of gifts Britons sent him, Breeze, the orphaned horse selected Buttons, the four foot Teddy bear to cuddle with; he loves to do so especially when his caregivers are out of the ring temporarily.

I recall that there used to be a group of conservative Catholics who used to spell love "luv" in order to denigrate those of us who spoke regularly of God as love-in-act or who proclaimed God's unconditional love, expressed in mercy and forgiveness. Today we can find a similar cynicism in online broadcasts that condemn what they denigratingly (and inaccurately) refer to as "the Church of nice"; they seem to believe Christians actually win peoples' hearts by preaching hellfire, eternal torments, and the loss of their souls. (And who, of those who do not believe in God or find some of the parodies once (or still!) taught, would actually believe in these or find them compelling?) I am disgusted by a lot of this because time and again Jesus told us not to be afraid and reminded us repeatedly of God's faithfulness and love; he never seemed to motivate people with fear --- I believe he was surely an astute enough psychologist to know that doesn't really work. In any case it was not the message he proclaimed with his life and death. It was not the message of parables which invited people to enter the story of God's Kingdom any place they could. Instead he proclaimed this unique Kingdom, the reign of a God whose faithfulness and love (God's very self) was undisputed and would never be ultimately defeated, whose dominion would be established in the face of sinful death in all of its forms and degrees.

We are made for love. We cannot survive much less thrive without it. It is the power in our cosmos that sets all things to right, which brings a justice we can hardly imagine with our puny minds and self-centered hearts. It is a law of nature deeper and more compelling than any other. Some may denigrate it or trivialize it as "luv," label it mere sentimentality or even brand it as effeminate, but even a  young foal like Breeze is aware of it on some level just as he is coming to know the life stirring in himself as a result of it. This is the law written on our hearts and I thank God for it and for those who help it to be fulfilled in us.

10 June 2013

Writing a Rule of Life: When Should a Diocese Request One Write a Rule?

[[Dear Sister Laurel, when should one write a Rule of Life? You have written that a Rule can only be written on the basis of lived experience. If a diocese asks one to do so right away what should one do?]]

You have put your finger on one of the most problematical elements of Canon 603 and of diocese's approach to its requirements, namely, the request that someone write a Rule of Life before they are really ready to do so, that is before someone has the lived experience and education (in things like the vows, etc) to do so. As I have written here before, the actual preparation for and writing of a Rule is one of the most formative experiences a hermit will have; it is also something one can only do on the basis of ample reading, reflection, and lived experience. This is because it is not simply a list of do's and don't's but a document which codifies the vision and values of the hermit's life in their interplay with eremitical tradition and the world in which the hermit lives (cf Negotiating the Tensions between Tradition and the Contemporary Situation); a Rule is the way she ensures the environment needed for God to love her (and vice versa) in the silence of solitude as well as achieving the goal of her life which IS the silence of solitude (eremitical communion with God in service to those precious to him). Thus, it should inspire before it legislates and it should legislate only as it inspires.

At the same time the Rule is the single concrete element of canon 603 which lends itself to a diocese's directives; for this reason there is a tendency for chancery personnel to ask candidates to go and write one whether there has been time to discern whether the person has the experience to do so or not. Meanwhile, the Rule that is eventually written by a candidate will help allow the diocese to discern the quality of vocation in front of them. All of this argues that, tempting as it is to do otherwise, the directive to write a Rule should not, and in fact must not, be given prematurely. Still, the hermit candidate needs some sort of provisional Rule or set of guidelines to help her live her life, and her diocese may be seriously tempted to ask her to write A single "finished" Rule before she is really ready, so what is the solution? Part of what follows is meant for dioceses; some will apply to you more directly. I hope that all of it will help you to understand what actually goes into the writing of a Rule.

1) begin with a set of guidelines. Here I merely mean a list of those things the diocese or church more generally expects to see in the life of an authentic hermit. These may come from the diocese or from the hermit herself as a result of her own study --- whichever is more comprehensive. Obviously the elements of canon 603 will be part of this (I will not go into those here), but, for instance, the single element of assiduous prayer will imply various kinds of prayer: Liturgy of the Hours, quiet prayer, meditation, lectio divina, rosary, Mass or Communion service, adoration, chant, Taize, etc.

(N.B., Any one hermit may not use all of these forms of prayer all the time, but she should be acquainted with them and have worked with her director to determine which ones are best for her at this point in time as well, for instance, as which ones work well when she is ill, on vacation or otherwise away from the hermitage, etc). Similarly, elements included in these guidelines will likely include study, recreation, work, contact with others, retreat, desert days, parish involvement, finances, horarium, meals, hospitality, home visits or visits with friends, vacation, spiritual direction, meetings with one's delegate, ongoing education or formation, etc. These should be related to the content of the vows one proposes  eventually to make and the central elements of canon 603 so they reflect the hermit's appreciation of the values and charism (gift quality) of the life.

Over time the hermit will try a variety of forms and combinations of these elements and, with the help of her director and delegate, discover what works best for her. Each experimental version or "configuration" of these elements should be balanced and include prayer, work, study, recreation, etc. Each one should show a real understanding and living out of the elements of the canon and thus, the values and charism of solitary eremitical life. (cf. Notes From Stillsong Hermitage: Appreciating the Charism of Diocesan Eremitical Life) Only when she has done this and discovered which configuration best allows for her own growth in wholeness and holiness in the silence of solitude is she actually ready to write a workable Rule of Life which can be submitted to the diocese.

2) At the end of a period of 2-3 years or so  of supervised experimentation (it could take longer; is is very unlikely to take less time unless the person has already lived vowed life for some period of time) and prior to admission to temporary vows, the diocese can ask the hermit (or the hermit may decide it is time) to write a provisional Rule which will bind her legally during her period of temporary vows. It should probably be understood that with the help of the hermit's director and delegate some elements may be changed in response to changes in her life or greater discernment or clarity, but these changes must be approved or otherwise made under diocesan supervision.

Part of the process of  both discernment and formation however involves learning whether one can as well as how to really live a Rule of Life which is considered and restrictive as well as life-giving and freeing. A Rule cannot include merely what one finds amenable at this point in time; it must be capable of challenging one to grow in the discipline and spirit of the eremitical life. Though it must not do so slavishly or apart from significant dialogue with the contemporary situation, it must reflect the eremitical tradition with real integrity or it is unworthy of the name. Patience and perseverance are part of the eremitical life and one must know one is able to live these elements on a day to day basis over a period of years in a way which leads to genuine wholeness BEFORE one is admitted to vows.

3) Six-eight months before perpetual or solemn vows are anticipated, the hermit should begin writing a definitive Rule which becomes canonically binding on the day of solemn/perpetual profession and will be approved first by canonists and then with a Bishop's Decree of Approval. (This period of time is chosen to allow sufficient time for writing and also to allow the diocese time for consultation with canonists, etc, which may lead to a need for re-writing and re-consultation. The fact that one has already written a Rule prior to temporary vows should be a big help here.) Despite the definitive nature of this Rule, a diocese (or the hermit!) should not be surprised to find that in several years she wishes to revise it in some significant way -- whether that is because she has embraced new prayer forms, must accommodate illness (or health!)  in new ways, has grown in her understanding of some element of canon 603 or the charism of her life, etc.

A Rule is a working document, a text for reflection and inspiration as well as being a legislative document. Like the Sabbath it is there for the sake of the hermit's life, not the other way around. Even so, at this point, my personal experience is that the changes that are needed will tend to be less substantive than earlier and ordinarily these will reflect significant growth in one's understanding of the vocation or significantly changed circumstances like illness, etc. One is no longer finding her way with the vocation in the same way she was before temporary vows or even just before perpetual profession. In other words, the changes needed at this point are usually the result of greater maturity in the life rather than immaturity and experimentation.

Regarding your specific question, if your diocese asks you to write a Rule before you feel you are ready, discuss this with them. If you like, discuss this article or others you have read on writing a Rule. Most of the time a diocese merely wants to be sure you are living an ordered life given over to the elements of canon 603. Often the people making the request have never written a Rule themselves and do not know what is required --- again, this is the single element of the canon they can point to for a concrete result. Even so, they are usually more than willing to give you the time this project truly requires. (I have never heard of a diocese hurrying a person in this. Though prematurity in requesting a Rule is a problem, any perceived  urgency is more often of the candidate's own making.) Writing up a set of guidelines or even a provisional Rule which you do not mean to be vetted by canonists or yet shown to your Bishop for approval should be acceptable to whomever is assisting you at the diocesan level. Let them know you are growing in this and that you anticipate writing another Rule in a couple of years when you are more experienced. Personally I think they will see this as a sign that you know what you are doing (and also as an admission of awareness of your own limitations!) --- both positive signs for a diocese.

07 June 2013

Feast of the Sacred Heart (Reprise)

We are faced today with a feast that seems sometimes to be irrelevant to contemporary life. The Feast of the Sacred Heart developed in part as a response to pre-destinationist theologies which diminished the universality of the gratuitous love of God and consigned many to perdition. But the Church's own theology of grace and freedom point directly to the reality of the human heart -- that center of the human person where God freely speaks himself and human beings respond in ways which are salvific for them and for the rest of the world. It asks us to see all  persons as constituted in this way and called to life in and of God. Today's Feast of the Sacred Heart, then, despite the shift in context, asks us to reflect again on the nature of the human heart, to the greatest danger to spiritual or authentically human life the Scriptures identify, and too, on what a contemporary devotion to the Sacred Heart might mean for us.

As I have written here before, the heart is the symbol of the center of the human person. It is a theological term which points first of all to God and to God's activity deep within us. It is not so much that we have a heart and then God comes to dwell there; it is that where God dwells within us and bears witness to himself, we have a heart. The human heart (not the cardiac muscle but the center of our personhood the Scriptures call heart) is a dialogical event where God speaks, calls, breathes, and sings us into existence and where, in one way and degree or another, we respond to become the people we are. It is therefore important that our hearts be open and flexible, that they be obedient to the Voice and love of God, and so that they be responsive in all the ways they are summoned to be.

Bearing this in mind it is no surprise that the Scriptures speak in many places about the very worst thing which could befall a human being and her spiritual life. We hear it in the following line from Ezekiel: [[If today you hear [God's] voice, harden not your hearts.]] Many things contribute to such a reaction. We know that love is risky and that it always hurts. Sometimes this hurt is akin to the mystical experience of being pierced by God's love and is a wonderful but difficult experience. Other times love wounds us in less fruitful ways: we are betrayed by friends or family, we reach out to another in love and are rejected, a billion smaller losses wound us in ways from which we cannot seem to recover. In such cases our hearts are not only wounded but become scarred, indurated, less sensitive to pain (or pleasure), stiff and relatively inflexible. They, quite literally, become "hardened" and we may be fearful and unwilling or even unable to risk further injury. When the Scriptures speak of the "hardening" of our hearts they use the very words medicine uses to speak of the result of serious and prolonged wounding: induration, sclerosis, callousedness. Such hardening is self-protective but it also locks us into a world which makes us less capable of responding to love with all of its demands and riskiness. It makes us incapable of suffering well (patiently, fruitfully), or of real selflessness, generosity, or compassion.

It is here that the symbol of the Sacred Heart of Jesus' is instructive and where contemporary devotion to the Sacred Heart can assist us. The Sacred Heart is clearly the place where human and divine are united in a unique way. While we are not called to Daughterhood or to Sonship in the exact same sense of Jesus' (he is "begotten" Son, we are adopted Sons --- and I use only Sons because of the prophetic, countercultural sense that term had for women in the early Church), we are meant to be expressions of a similar unity and heritage; we are meant to have God as the well spring of life and love at the center of our existence. Like the Sacred Heart our own hearts are meant to be "externalized" in a sense and transparent to others. They are meant to be wounded by love and deeply touched by the pain of others but not scarred or indurated in that woundedness; they are meant to be compassionate hearts on fire with love and poured out for others --- hearts which are marked by the cross in all of its kenotic (self-emptying) dimensions and therefore too by the joy of ever-new life. The truly human heart is a reparative heart which heals the woundedness of others and empowers them to love as well. Such hearts are hearts which love as God loves, and therefore which do justice. I think that allowing our own hearts to be remade in this way represents an authentic devotion to Jesus' Sacred Heart. There is nothing lacking in relevance or contemporaneity in that!

05 June 2013

Be Not Afraid: Coming to Faith in a God who is already Waiting for us

Rarely are we privileged to hear such personal stories about a Pope's coming to or his vision of faith. Francis' experiences are seminal to his understanding of the way we are Church for one another and the way we come to faith ourselves. In some of the most effective catechesis I have ever heard or seen, Francis answers several questions which had been put to him. He speaks simply; he speaks profoundly; he speaks truth to power and to powerlessness, and he does all this from the heart.

Here we begin to see the key to what allows Francis to speak to the hearts of people within the Church and outside it as well. At bottom is an authentic and profound personal relationship with Jesus which leads to true witness. This is so significant for Francis that, following Paul's criticism to the Corinthians' tendency to follow Apollos or Paul, et al, rather than Jesus, in "paternal criticism" (a very gently and lovingly given paternal criticism!)  he asks the crowds to never again shout Francesco, but instead only Jesu! This missionary dynamic of letting God into one's heart and then going out to all stands at the heart of Francis' faith and the vision he has of Church.

One piece of this video which was repeated in a talk to the Italian Bishops is also significant in signaling the kinds of Church reform Francis sees as needed. Just as Israel was called by God to let go of the ritual and legal "fence" that separated her from the nations so that she might really become salt and light for the world in Christ, so Francis talks about being Church in a similar missionary key: [[A Church that does not go out, sooner or later gets sick in the vitiated atmosphere of her enclosure. It is true also that to a Church that goes out something can happen, as it can to any person who goes out to the street: to have an accident. Given this alternative, I wish to say to you frankly that I prefer a thousand times an injured Church than a sick Church. The typical illness of the shut-in Church is self-reference; to look at herself, to be bent over herself like the woman in the Gospel. It is a kind of narcissism that leads us to spiritual worldliness and to sophisticated clericalism, and then it impedes our experiencing “the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing.”]] HERE is what we are each called to live. HERE is the "new evangelization" meant to mark each Christian's life. Please take time to listen to the whole of this video!

On Variety and Unity in the Eremitical Life

[[Dear Sister,
[I am writing a provisional Rule of Life and the variety of hermit lives and Rules raise some questions for me. For instance] if someone is a true Christian, and who can judge that?, and says she is a hermit, lives alone sincerely giving herself to prayer, to the heart of the world and by extension and above all, to God, what makes her less a hermit? Less "worthy" (and I know how you hate that distinction) of being called a hermit?]]

Dear Poster, Thanks for your questions! If you take a look at the content of your conditional sentence above you will see that you have laid down some very stringent requirements for recognizing someone as a hermit (although I personally would switch God and world in your sentence so that the heart of God comes first and then the heart of the world by extension). Essentially you have described what I refer to as the distinction between a person merely living alone (implicit in your post) and a desert dweller or hermit (which you actually describe explicitly):

IF someone is a true Christian
IF she consciously claims the life of a hermit (desert dweller) and lets that define her (desert spirituality)
IF she lives alone (or, in cases of real need, with a caregiver who does not get in the way of her Rule and actually allows her to live it as fully as she feels called)
IF she sincerely gives herself (not just a bit of time here or there) to prayer, (add penance, silence, solitude and the silence OF solitude).
IF she lives in the heart of God (or is genuinely committed to doing so) and by extension gives herself to the world in this way. . . (all of this I refer to especially as the silence of solitude)

The devil is in the details. What does each of these mean? What does it look like? IF a person does all these things or is committed full time to doing all these things and being defined in this sense by her relationship with God, with  the Church and the world, then I would agree she is a hermit. If not, well ---  perhaps she is fooling herself, or perhaps she is just a relatively pious person living alone, or perhaps she is not sure what the term hermit means. In any case if she is not living these and other essential elements she is probably not a hermit --- badly as she might desire to be one. Meanwhile, if these (and other) essential elements are in place, a great deal of flexibility can be accommodated by a solitary hermit or variety by a number or group of hermits.

Directors, delegates, and Bishops read the Rules hermits write for themselves, talk to them about the presence of these (or other) essential elements, and CAN make an assessment about the authenticity of the vocation in front of them; in fact, it is their job and obligation to make assessments on an ongoing basis, it is because people cannot judge the heart that there are externally verifiable non-negotiables like canon 603. It specifies a life of the silence OF solitude (which is NOT the same as silence AND solitude though it includes these), assiduous prayer and penance, stricter separation from the world (both of these have inner meanings which can be assessed), evangelical counsels, all lived under the supervision of one's Bishop in accordance with a Rule the hermit herself writes. I would argue all of these are elements which protect, nurture, and express the very conditions you yourself laid down in your conditional sentence.

Merton (his "Philosophy of Solitude," which you have mentioned as speaking to you, is one of my favorite works by the way) was fairly exceptional and in some ways had the heart of a hermit while living in the midst of his monastery. Folks like Saints Peter Damian and Romuald were also exceptional. Still, they had the hearts of hermits and as much as they could lived the silence of solitude and wrote or worked in ways which allowed others to share that or live it in their own lives. Busyness per se (another thing you mention in your email) is not the question so long as the other elements are demonstrable and defining in the person's life. Even so, some would not call any of them hermits. (Having the true heart of a hermit is significant but few start here;  even so, whether one's heart has been shaped in this way or not one must also live the life itself; the alternative is to have folks thumping themselves in the chest and proclaiming themselves hermits while feeling free to do anything they really want; that way lies canon 603 as a stopgap, not to mention serious hypocrisy and betrayal of those for whom this vocation is meant to be truly pastoral.) (cf, Notes From Stillsong Hermitage: Appreciating the Charism of Diocesan Eremitical Life .)

By the way, your Rule will include in some way or other the very conditions or values you yourself have set down and the ways in which you yourself guard, nurture, and live them out. That is its purpose really. In mentioning these you have set out a vision of the eremitical life as you know it. Your Rule will guide you in living these out with integrity.

04 June 2013

In Memoriam, Nadine Brown (1929-2013)

I am sorry to post that yesterday, Nadine Brown, formerly Mother Nadine Brown of the public association of the faithful known as the Hermit Intercessors of the Lamb, died at the age of 83.  For all the questions the suppression of the HIOL raised and left unanswered, I think there is no doubt that Nadine was a faithful, courageous, woman of significant vision who served Christ, his Gospel and his Church as she discerned was best. I extend my prayers to those who knew her well, and especially to those who remained at the Bellwether campus. We trust the fundamental goal of Nadine's life has now been achieved in Christ and that her mission of intercession will continue from within the life of the Trinity. The website for the Intercessors of the Lamb, Inc posted the following:

October 24, 1929 - June 3, 2013

The Lord called Mother Nadine to follow Him in a life of prayer and penance as a cloistered religious
in the Congregation of the Good Shepherd. Sixteen years later, it was discerned He was now calling
her out of the cloister, in order to bring the rich heritage of this contemplative spirituality and its
intercessory fruits to everyone, thereby offering to all Christians the means of
achieving a relationship with God which was formerly seen as the prerogative of the monk or nun.
Mother Nadine was the Foundress of Intercessors of the Lamb, Inc. and the director of
Bellwether Contemplative Formation Center, the global headquarters of a very unique ministry of providing to everyone, free of charge, the contemplative experience of the spirituality of
Jesus so that what “they have freely received they can freely give” witnessing throughout the world to His Love, His Joy, His Peace, His Presence! It is also out of this contemplative union with Jesus that His ministry of Intercession and Deliverance “continues to bear Fruit in great abundance”!
She was the spiritual mother to many and will be very missed. 

Pope Francis, On his Name and the Kind of Church he Yearns For

I know this is not a new video, but I just saw it myself and I think it is a great look at Francis, the new Bishop of Rome. I was especially moved by his gentle humor, to his references to friendship, to coming to a conclusion as to what his name would be based on "what entered [his] heart", and of course the three focuses of his papacy: the poor (being a poor church which serves the poor), peace (Francis of Assisi and the Bishop of Rome as men of peace), and reverence for creation (his own passion for this is very clear in this video).

Throughout there is the sense of Francis desiring a Church which is really a servant and steward of God and all that belongs to God; the Church he desires is not rich and triumphalistic, but the poor servant of the Gospel. Equally, there is throughout this video a sense that this is the kind of man Francis is and the kind of papacy he will provide. He shows us his heart here; I think there is no doubt is is also Christ's own heart --- the Heart we are all called to image and whose feast we will celebrate on Friday.