29 July 2013

Role of the Diocese, Writing the Rule, and Possible Stages in Hermit Discernment

[[Dear Sister, I have read what you have said about dioceses not being responsible for forming diocesan hermits but isn't it true that a diocese plays an important role in being sure that  persons who approach them requesting to become diocesan hermits really are called to this vocation? Are most dioceses really ready and willing to follow candidates for profession through the stages you have listed here: lay eremitical life, temporary profession, perpetual profession? As you have described it this could take nearly a decade. How reasonable is it to expect dioceses to do this?]]

Introduction to the "Stages" I have already spoken of:

Great questions. As an introduction for those who have not read what I have written on this before, the stages I have described include 1) a period of trying out solitude for an indefinite length of time on one's own (one is not really a hermit at this point, neither lay nor consecrated and will live this period until one makes the transition from being a lone pious person to actually being a lay hermit in some essential sense and is ready to approach their diocese with a petition regarding c 603), 2) a period as a lay hermit (this is NOT a novitiate!) while one discerns initially and with one's diocese whether one is called to continue as a lay hermit or to (possibly) be consecrated under canon 603, 3) a period of temporary profession (3-5 years) if and when the diocese discerns this is appropriate, and 4) perpetual profession --- again if the diocese and the hermit discern this is what one is called to. The time frame from actually approaching the diocese (as one who is already essentially a lay hermit) to perpetual profession could well reasonably take 6-9 years. The time prior to this could also well take several years and in fact, the transition I spoke of might never occur. (Dioceses need to be aware that a person may never make this fundamental shift from lone person to hermit in an essential sense and act accordingly.) Still, generally I am speaking of a diocese working with a candidate or temporary professed hermit for anywhere from 6-9 years to discern the nature and quality of the vocation in front of them. How reasonable is it to expect this?

Reasonable and Essential:

It is not only reasonable, it is essential if a diocese is to be responsible for the solitary eremitical vocation generally as well as for an individual candidate. I would argue that if a diocese is NOT willing to follow and accompany a candidate for the requisite period of time up to (and of course beyond) perpetual profession, then they ought not implement canon 603 in their diocese; that is, they ought not profess anyone accordingly. Instead they ought to encourage folks either become or remain lay hermits and simply be clear that they will not publicly profess anyone under canon 603. At the same time that I argue this lengthy process of accompaniment and discernment is not only reasonable but essential, I recognize that it is a demanding requirement not only for the diocese's own chancery personnel but for candidates who are serious about living eremitical life and perhaps being consecrated. For this reason I also think it is helpful to provide some basic signposts along what might otherwise be an entirely trackless and therefore an unnecessarily risky and difficult journey for both hermit and diocese. (There is risk  and difficulty enough in the eremitical life; it need not be added to unnecessarily.)

Discerning the Place of Solitude in the Person's Life

Because a hermit is formed only over time in solitude, a diocese (and certainly a candidate) MUST expect and allow this formation to require significant measures of both. A diocese cannot be expected to form a hermit and must not interfere with the formative place of silence and solitude. At the same time, because solitude can deform a person not really called to it beyond those occasional periods of solitude-as-transition life throws our way or makes necessary (solitude always breaks a person down!), a diocese must be very sure that 1) the hermit is well-directed or followed both by a spiritual director and by the staff of the offices of Vicar of Religious / Consecrated Life or Vocations, and 2) that the hermit gives every indication of growing in solitude emotionally, spiritually, intellectually and just generally as a whole and holy person. (For the hermit solitude not only breaks down, it edifies or builds up in the truest sense of that word; it also occasions growth in wholeness and communion with God and others. The inquirer's diocese must be keenly aware of the power of physical solitude to lead to either personal disintegration or to profound personal integration and watch for both as part of the process of discernment.)

In fact, this kind of  vigilant acompanying and evaluating is really what discernment is about: namely, one attends to how the candidate is formed, deformed, or simply fails to thrive in a given life or set of circumstances and from this determines whether or not God is calling a person to this at this point in time. (Formation overlaps this by adding the dimension of supplying (or discovering and taking advantage of) resources and experiences which allow the person to grow not only to wholeness, but to wholeness as a credible  and responsible representative of a lifestyle, congregation, Rule, tradition, etc. It cannot be stressed strongly enough, for both hermits who might like dioceses to "form them" or for dioceses that might desire a more structured "formation program",  that for the diocesan hermit, despite the diocese's critical role in accompanying and in recommending resources for the candidate, formation is achieved mainly through the hermit's own initiative and (in cooperation with God) in the context of the silence of solitude.) Discernment of a vocation to consecrated life under canon 603 depends on a hermit candidate being able to negotiate the transitions and personal growth which occur in eremitical solitude.

Signposts: The stages of writing a Rule and discerning a vocation coincide

In what I have written previously about writing a Rule, the Bishop's/diocese's role (or non role!) in that, what it means to be ready to write a livable Rule, etc, I believe the steps to readiness I have outlined  tie in well to the stages I have outlined above. I also believe the time periods required for each stage can be more or less gauged by the candidate's ability to write: 1) an experimental Rule or plan of life based on a limited but still-sufficient experience of solitude and the requirements of canon 603, 2) a Rule which will be canonically binding for a period of temporary profession, and finally, 3) a more definitive Rule which is adequate for the living of the life for the time being and can be granted a Bishop's Decree of Approval without temporal limitations.

What I am thinking here is first, that if someone comes to a chancery and seems to be serious about canon 603 they may be given some guidelines on the eremitical life and asked to write an experimental Rule or Plan which reflects their own experience, meets their own current spiritual needs, and will also help the diocese gauge whether they have made the transition from lone person to being a hermit in some essential sense. Let me be clear. This is not ordinarily to be considered the Rule required by Canon 603; it is usually merely going to be part of a person's preparation for gaining the experience needed to eventually write such a Rule. Next, they can be asked to live this plan for three years or so to discern how faithfully they live it, how mature and discerning their necessary modifications and adaptations of it are, what the nature of their struggles with it are as well as how those have changed, and again, how it contributes to their growth in wholeness and holiness. (This particular period could be varied if the person already has experience living religious life according to a Rule or, on the other hand, if the diocese still has questions but not significant doubts about the person's suitability for eremitical life.)

If this goes well and the person (and diocese) believe in the wisdom of petitioning for admission to profession (they might also agree the person is called to remain a lay hermit for instance or they might decide the period of solitude has been transitional or will never really be eremitical), the candidate can then be asked to revise the Rule as needed to deal with new elements. For instance she will need to demonstrate some significant understanding of the vows she is now proposing to make, add a vow formula, include a section on ongoing supervision or accountability, and consider adding other sections regarding canon 603's defining elements she has not yet addressed adequately. In other words, candidates can be asked to write a Rule that reflects their own lived experience of eremitical life and that can be binding under law for a temporary period. If this (writing) also goes well and the Bishop agrees, they can be admitted to temporary profession and become publicly obligated for the living of this Rule. Finally, if this period of living the Rule under temporary vows goes well and the hermit continues to demonstrate fidelity, integrity, along with an intelligent and faithful flexibility with regard to the Rule, then a "final" version can be submitted some time prior to admission to perpetual profession and consecration. While I refer to this last version as "final" I have included quotation marks to indicate that the hermit may well both need and want to change pieces of it in another few years.

Evaluations at Each Stage:

What this kind of arrangement makes possible is not only intelligent discernment, but serious discussions at each stage where the diocese, hermit, and spiritual director can evaluate how things are going and whether there are significant experiences the candidate needs to have if she is to continue to grow in this vocation. For instance, it might be very important for the candidate to spend some time in a monastic community following a regular horarium, praying office, experiencing the kind of silence she is being asked to embrace in her urban hermitage, learning to do lectio, dealing with monastic tedium, balancing the parts of her life (work, prayer, study, and leisure) and generally learning what monastic attentiveness in everything actually involves.

Personally, I would think that one month every year or two would be really helpful and for those who have no background in religious life, essential. Similarly, to name just a few things that might come up or be helpful during these years, it might be important for the candidate to break with active ministry, or family, or friends to a greater extent than she already has; on the other hand or at another point in her formation, it might be important for her to do a limited amount of  ministry under pastoral supervision, reestablish regular but limited contact with family and friends, and so forth. At given points it might be necessary for a candidate to "put her TV in storage" (some would-be hermits actually watch a lot of TV and don't realize it is both contrary and profoundly detrimental to the vocation), or become more active in her parish community (some candidates really lack a sense of the vocation's ecclesiality), or speak with a therapist, or take a series of classes in theology, monastic life, etc. Meanwhile periodic meetings (every 4-6 months) at the chancery and some at the candidate's own place would be necessary. (If this were pertinent the monastery's formation personnel could also contribute informally to any evaluation process.)

At the same time, in writing a Rule at each stage the candidate and the diocese will come to see what parts of the canon/life she is living and which she has not yet embraced, which she understands and which she does not, how she sees her life contributing to the understanding and living out of the canon and eremitical tradition more generally, how this life is a gift to the church and world, etc. The candidate moves to the next stage only when she is genuinely ready to do so and that readiness is marked by the ability to write a livable Rule for the next stage. The point is that each stage is geared towards growth and discernment rooted in the candidate's increasing experience of living the eremitical life per se and this growth is reflected in the Rule she writes at each point.

Further, while eventual profession is not guaranteed of course, the candidate should still find the process challenging and fruitful without it also feeling interminable or being onerous. Diocesan personnel would also find such a process helpful; they would neither be tempted to rush to premature profession or to simply match the time frames provided in canon law for active and contemplative cenobitical religious life, nor would they be forced to simply dismiss someone of whom they are simply uncertain as "unsuitable" without giving them an adequate "hearing" or chance to grow into the vocation to whatever extent they are capable.  If, during the course of this process, a person is discerned not to have a diocesan eremitical vocation, she will still have experienced a significantly growth-oriented process enabling her to seek the vocation to which she IS called.

The Role of the Diocese is Significant:

Thus, it is true that dioceses play a significant role in discerning the nature and quality of vocations in front of them even though with hermits dioceses do not actually form them. What a diocese has to convey to a candidate or possible candidate, I think, is 1) that they value the authentic (and contemporary!) eremitical vocation and will not consecrate someone without real evidence of a life call to the silence of  eremitical solitude, 2) that they value the formation that comes in the silence of solitude and expect the solitary hermit to take responsibility for this, 3) that they will follow the candidate with care and assist as they can and as appropriate, and 4) that when and as the candidate or hermit is ready, they will evaluate this readiness to proceed toward or to consecration, not only with conversations, but through the versions of a Rule she has written as reflections of where her individual vocation stands at any given moment.

As I have noted before, Canon 603 includes a marvelous mix of non-negotiable elements along with the freedom to structure and live these elements according to the will of God via one's own Rule. It is in the writing of the Rule that the hermit truly comes to understand and claim her overall life as an instance of a vital and fragile tradition; it is here that the dialogue she negotiates every day between the traditional eremitical life and the contemporary situation comes to fullest articulation and summing up. It simply makes sense for dioceses to use this tool as a key to discernment, and to do so in a way which helps the hermit or candidate to grow in both eremitical freedom AND necessary accountability in relation to canon 603. What I have suggested here is one way of doing that.

27 July 2013

Francis says to "Make a Mess" and "Disturb Complacency"!

In a talk right out of Scripture ("I came to bring not (superficial) peace but a sword!") Francis has given the youth of the Church their commission (marching orders!) as disciples of Christ. It is a stunning call to action and sure to capture the hearts and minds of young Catholics (and recapture those of many of us older ones as well!). For those suggesting Vatican II did nothing new, involved no break with certain dimensions of the old, was merely continuous with Tradition, listen to this report on a relatively spontaneous talk by Francis; it is a reflection of Vatican II and an interpretation of the Council's teaching which involved discontinuity as well as continuity. "Make a mess!" "Disturb complacency!" "Shake up clericalism" "Take the Church to the streets" and open up the windows of a church "closed in on herself!" This is the SPIRIT OF VATICAN II so much maligned and denigrated over the last 35 plus years. And here it is, alive and well in the Bishop of Rome!!

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Jul 25, 2013 / 12:18 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis told a gathering of some 30,000 youth from his homeland that they are to “make a mess,” shaking up the comfort, self-satisfaction and clericalism of a Church closed in on itself.

“What do I hope for from World Youth Day? I hope for a mess ... that the Church takes to the streets. That we defend ourselves from comfort, that we defend ourselves from clericalism,” the Pope told a group of pilgrims from Argentina during this week's World Youth Day. “The Church must be taken into the streets,” he said in the cathedral of Rio de Janeiro July 25.

Pope Francis' meeting with the youth of Argentina was not originally planned, and forced a rearrangement of his schedule. The encounter was not announced until Tuesday, when the Pope was already in Brazil. At least 35,000 Argentines flocked to the cathedral to see their Pope. “Thank you to those who are inside, and to the 30,000 who are out there: I greet all of you from here, you who are standing in the rain,” he said. “Thank you for your gesture of being close to us, of being with me here at World Youth Day.”

“I asked my organizers if there was a moment this trip at which I can meet with my fellow Argentines, please find it.” He indicated that the meeting was a result of his own “personal request.” Pope Francis told them his hopes for the event, and stressed that the Church, that the life of parishes, must be taken into the streets. “If not, the Church becomes an NGO. And the Church cannot be an NGO,” he said, echoing his very first Mass as Bishop of Rome, in which he preached to the cardinal electors that “if we do not profess Jesus Christ … we may become a charitable NGO, but not the Church, the Bride of the Lord.”

Pope Francis said that the world “has made a cult, a god, of money. We are before a philosophy that exults material goods,” and that this striving for comfort and following the mundane must not seep into the Church. This philosophy, he reflected, “excludes” the youth and the elderly. “We do not let aged people speak, and as for young people – it is the same. They do not have the experience and the dignity of work … Young people must be able to go out and fight for their values,” he urged. “Care for the two extremes of life,” he taught. As youth must be able to stand up for their values, so must “older people be able to speak out, to transmit their wisdom and knowledge.”

“You must not let yourselves be marginalized. Faith in Christ is not a joke. The only sure way, is the way of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus.” “Faith in God's Son, who became man and who died for me, must make a mess, must disturb us out of our complacency.” “This is your protocol for action: the Beatitudes and Matthew 25,” he advised the youth. Matthew 25 tells of the separation of the sheep from the goats at the Last Judgement: “I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in.”

“Please, do not water down the faith,” he pleaded. “Stir things up, cause confounding, but do not diminish faith in Jesus Christ.” Finally, Pope Francis thanked his countrymen for their closeness to him. He lamented that he could not be closer to them. “At times I feel (encaged) … how ugly it is to be encaged, I would have liked to be closer to you all,” he said, sharing his heart with them.

“Don't forget to make a mess, to disturb complacency. Don't forget the youth and the aged.” The Pope concluded by blessing the crowd, as well as a Franciscan cross and an image of Our Lady of Lujan, Argentina's patroness, which will be returning with the youths to their country. “The Lord left his mother among us to accompany us. She cares for all of us, protects us on our way, in our heart, in our faith. May we be disciples, just as she was, and missionaries, also like her.” Pope Francis asked God's mother to give voice “to the scandal of the cross …. which speaks of the closeness of God.”

“May God bless you all,” he said, leaving his compatriots. “Pray for me. Do not forget to pray for me.”

20 July 2013

Consecrated Virginity and Separation from the World

[[Dear Sr Laurel, Thank you for answering my e-mail in the past. I have read your comments on phatmass about consecration to both hermit and consecration (sic) virgin with interest - especially the possiblity (sic) of a call to both a spousal relationship with Christ and the call to contemplative solitude. Just to take things a little further... do you think it is possible that a vocation to consecrated virginity can include an element of separaton from the world (whilst in the world), living a life with a great degree of solitude and contemplative prayer ?]]

If one is very careful in delimiting how one uses the term "world" (the Johannine usage has three senses and canon law reflects these in c 603 for instance), if one is not attempting to mitigate much less do an end run around the essential secularity of the vocation, and if one is careful not to actually be embracing (or attempting to embrace) eremitical solitude, then yes, I believe one could integrate a secondary "separation" (i.e., not being of the world which is supported by contemplative prayer) with the secular (being in the world) character of one's vocation as well as integrating the contemplative dimension of one's life with one's active and ministerial life. Besides being profoundly Christian this is the only way I can see what you are referring to actually working for a canon 604 CV. For that matter, it is probably also the only way one can genuinely maintain a profoundly eschatological secularity.

You see, while the hermit embraces stricter separation from "the world" primarily in the sense of "that which is resistant to Christ", she ALSO embraces a stricter separation from the things of the world which are more ambiguous (qualified goods and realities which are mixtures of (the) godly and godless) than even other Religious, and thirdly, in her call to remain within her cell living a life of assiduous prayer and penance, she often maintains a stricter separation even from elements of God's good creation per se. (These unqualified goods are often sacrificed in order to maintain custody of the cell, an even greater good for the hermit.) A consecrated virgin, like every other Christian, is called by canon 604 to embrace "separation from the world" in the first sense but in relation to the other senses of the term she is entirely secular. Thus, unlike religious whose relationship with the things of the world are qualified by their vows and hermits who are called to stricter separation from the world than even most religious, the CV under canon 604 will live, work, and minister in the world which is ambiguous and freely relate to the world which is God's good creation. If she negotiates this division in senses of the term "world" and integrates contemplation with a ministerial life in and to the world she will actually be living the very thing which distinguishes secularity from secularism; she will be refusing to allow the secular a place of ultimacy in her life and will, moreover, be modeling an appropriate (eschatological) attitude toward the secular.

What remains primary for the c 604 CV, however,  is the fact that by definition her vocation is a secular one (that is, it is lived out in the world and exercised in the "things of the spirit AND the things of the world"). This does not allow her to opt out of engagement with or ministry to the world and it means her contemplative life serves her secularity. Frankly, many people live (or attempt to live) as lay contemplatives today; they combine responsible secular lives with a strong contemplative prayer life and, apart from the consecration of the virgin per se which they do not share, this actually seems to be what you are describing. Remember that it is the Virgin's consecration under c 604 itself which obligates her to and makes her capable of  an eschatological secularity the world needs very much. However, the moment one's description of the CV's life veers into eremitical or semi-eremitical solitude (for instance with references to "great degrees of solitude") one may actually be speaking of a betrayal of c 604's essential call. Thus, the subject line of your email to me refers to a "hermit element" in the OCV vocation. I would say that description is illegitimate and should never be used with the c 604 CV. Every significant Christian vocation should probably have a contemplative dimension which requires a degree of  physical solitude and silence and contemplative prayer, but these are not "eremitical elements" nor are they specifically eremitical at all. Something more is required to make them eremitical --- which is why I argue that living a pious life alone is, of itself, not essentially eremitical.

You write: [[ I know that the Rite refers to the CV living in the world, but I always thought that this referred to the fact that the CV was not in the monastery and therefore in the world. My reasoning came partly from my understanding that the CV vocation originally was lived in solitude or within the family context, and later CV's started to live in community which led to the formation of monasteries. Therefore, it could be said that the same vocational call to a consecrated spousal relationship with Christ was lived both in the world ( i.e., alone or with family), and in the monastery. ( I would see the main difference being that in the monastery there is the addition of religious vows). ]]

But in this I would argue you are mistaken at several points. First, as I have written several times in response to Jenna Cooper's "secular lite" position, the Rite which was renewed by the Church in c 604 does not merely say "living in the world" as though this merely means "rather than living in a monastery." It says (cf. the homily) that one is called to live in the world and serve one's brothers and sisters "in the things of the Spirit and the things of the world".  As I have said a number of times in posts on this topic there are two forms of consecrated virginity today, one lived in the world (a secular form), and one lived as a religious in a vowed expression of separation from it (a specifically cloistered form). I would argue that Canon 604 very specifically reprises a secular form of the life which existed into the 12th century (until 1169 CE) side by side with the cloistered Religious form and was, unfortunately, eclipsed by it. This is really the charism and more immediate source of canon 604, the form of the life the Church sought specifically to re-establish in a world crying out for witnesses to consecrated or eschatological secularity. 

Even if one seeks to move back behind this fact to the early Church, it is important to remember that in the early Church, worship was done in house churches; it was homes that were the center of ecclesial life and consecrated virgins were a central part of this life. Public and private life interpenetrated one another and their boundaries were blurred. The same is true of lives of prayer; folks lived integrated lives of profound prayer AND profound secularity. The entire Church community described in Acts of the Apostles embraced the values later associated specifically with the evangelical counsels of Religious life. This did not make them monastics or other than secular. When folks decided to embrace solitude and rejected "the world" (as in the desert Fathers and Mothers) they left this more integrated life behind and traveled into the desert. Monastic life grew directly out of this desert/eremitical movement as lauras were transformed into monastic communities per se. Meanwhile religious profession via the vows qualifies one's relationship to the world in at least two and sometimes three senses of the word and creates a form of relative separation from it, especially in the senses of 1) that which is resistant to Christ, and 2) that which is ambiguous, the realm of power, wealth, and so forth. The monastery setting is an appropriate physical way of accommodating this entire pattern of qualified relation to the world as is life in community more generally. It is a symbol of a life which is NOT the original form of consecrated virginity, that is, not secular, and not given over to both the things of the spirit and the things of the world.

[[b) - Also, can it be understood that the main service of a CV could be prayer? ( The Rite distinguishes service and prayer, which suggests a form of service on top of prayer as service - or is that not necessarily the case? ) I wonder, because the Rite does suggest that the lifestyle is adapted to the gifts of a person, which could include a predisposition to a life of contemplative prayer and a degree of solitude) ]]

No, I don't think so. Again CV's are consecrated to serve the church and world in the things of the spirit and the things of the world. They are called to a form of eschatological or consecrated secularity.  While prayer is a central and critical component of the CV's life, it is not the defining characteristic, at least not to the extent where it could be said to detract from or replace service in more direct ways. If a person has the necessary gifts and a predisposition to contemplative prayer, this is wonderful and certainly serves any authentic active ministry, but if you are speaking of the gift and predisposition to a contemplative life and vocation per se then  it is unlikely you are speaking of a vocation to canon 604 for women living in the world; again canon 604 very explicitly articulates a secular life of service in the things of the world as well as of the spirit.

If a woman truly feels called to a contemplative life and even to one of eremitical solitude, then I personally believe she should pursue these in a specific and conscious way, either in a monastery, a semi-eremitical community, or perhaps, in rare cases, as a diocesan hermit. These avenues as well as religious life more generally are open to her in the contemporary Church as is lay contemplative life so, unless her original discernment and formation were completely inadequate or skewed and her consecration premature or ill-advised, I wonder why she would want to formally embrace a specifically secular vocation and then fail to live it (or even seek to redefine it as an essentially contemplative or even semi-eremitical one) because she has now discovered different gifts and a different sense of call. This does raise the question of adequate discernment however, and it argues for consecrating only mature vocations, rather than allowing the consecration of women whose spirituality is not yet well-defined. (Note well that I am not ruling out elderly CV's embracing a life of prayer in their post-work years, but this is a different question I think.)

You also write: [[To explain my question further: c) - My impression is that some if not most of the early virgins lived lives of prayer, lived at home, and were not so involved in apostolic service - which was more the domain of deacons / deaconesses. I don't have ready literature to support this view, it's more of an impression that I have gained with time and general reading, although I would like to follow this up if I have the opportunity.

d) - While I intend to be loyal to the teaching of the Church, and seek to understand it more fully, I wonder how interpretations have developed historically... In the light of Vatican II which encouraged a return to roots of consecrated life, it does seem to me that some of the modern interpretations of CV, (perhaps including the Rite itself ), do not always make room for the expression of the vocation as it was in the early Church. ]]

Unfortunately, from what I have seen and read, there is not a lot of direct evidence regarding the nature of the lives lived by virgins in the early Church supporting this. I have seen nothing that indicates they lived essentially contemplative or eremitical lives, for instance.  Again, I think it goes without saying they were women of both deep prayer and significant service. I say this in part because categories were not so sharply drawn at that time so the lives of deaconesses and virgins probably overlapped, especially given the domestic focus or locus of local churches as well as the sense that virgins dedicated to Christ became "men" in a spiritual sense and that they specifically argued for the opening of ministry in ways that would not have been possible otherwise. What I am also suggesting here is that the evidence of what virgins who had given themselves wholly to Christ did in the face of being barred from certain ministerial roles suggests this limitation was more a function of cultural biases than it was the acceptance of a true charism. Thus, St Perpetua et al argued for their essential "maleness" and struggled to be allowed to minister in all the ways men did. This hardly suggests they saw the original charism of their lives as one of separation from the world or of being given over to contemplative prayer except to the degree this supported direct ministry and witness in and to the world.

However, this seems to me to also be somewhat beside the point in looking at c 604 vocations. As I noted above, in promulgating canon 604 the Church seems very clearly and deliberately to have been recovering the secular form of the life that not only pre-dated but also had developed side by side the cloistered form and, again, which was first subverted by the cloistered form of it (cf Sharon Holland, IHM's essay on Consecrated Virginity today) and then was completely eclipsed by it in a Church which came to value Religious life and devalue the secular. It seems to me that contemporary CV's must be keenly aware of and honor not only these more immediate roots of her vocation, but also the correlative reasons the Church established canon 604 when she did as well as the limitations she imposed by removing references to a habit, living in community, vows of obedience, etc. In particular the contemporary CV under c 604 must be able to see her vocation in light of Vatican II, the emphasis on the new evangelism and missiology, and a growing esteem (and need) for a consecrated secularity which is in necessary contrast to both secularism and to (non-secular) Religious life as it is institutionalized today. It would be nice to see CV's who have read the proceedings leading to the promulgation of canon 604, for instance. If we want to understand the mind of the Church in reprising this life that surely seems to me to be a primary source of understanding the authentic charism of this vocation.

There are a number of posts I would refer you to here which have already covered these points more adequately. One of them is Notes From Stillsong Hermitage: Minimized Secularity, a Legitimate Development? Another is Notes From Stillsong Hermitage: Secular vs Secularism and Consecrated Virginity but others would also be helpful, I think. I hope you will look at these (cf the labels below as well as the links). 

18 July 2013

A bit of the Orchestra I play with

Occasionally I get questions about playing with an orchestra, how do I do it, where do I do it, why and so forth. I am not going to answer those questions right now, but partly because of the piece posted on Cyprian Consiglio and references to his music as a piece of his Camaldolese life, and partly because I recently referred to the problem people have understanding this part of my life in the Saturday Evening Post article, I wanted to give folks a taste of the amateur orchestra I do play with. (We all have day jobs, mostly NOT in music, and rehearse one evening a week; we play four sets per school year.) Last season (just finished in June) I missed both of these concerts (and most of the rehearsals!) due to illness, but here is the Oakland Civic Orchestra with movements from two of my favorite symphonies. Ordinarily I would be sitting in the second or third stand of the first violin section or playing principal second. In these concerts I would have been playing first violin.

One blog post I put up last year or the year before referred to working on a Beethoven Symphony; I was trying to illustrate what life in the hermitage was like --- the intensity and struggle, the work, the community, the solitude, the not-so-occasional "failures" or falling short, the life giving quality and the joy of it all. You can find that piece here: Notes From Stillsong Hermitage: On Struggle, Peace, and Authenticity in Eremitical Vocations. These are the people and this is the orchestra I had in mind in the following passage:

[[The hermitage is the place one lives in a conscious way and as constantly as one is able before the face or gaze of God. That is, at once, both a wonderfully affirming and recreating, and a terribly demanding task and experience. All of those things which prevent us from loving well, all of those things which have wounded and distorted us as human beings eventually must be worked through here. Union with God is the primary goal of the hermitage to which all else is ordered; it is the reason hermitages exist, and while this does not mean a stress-filled vocation, it does indicate an intense one. For me it is akin to playing a Beethoven symphony with an orchestra: we work and work intensely --- individually, together in sectionals, with and without the conductor, with the whole orchestra in ways which are physically, intellectually, and emotionally exhausting, and yet, the invigoration and sheer re-creative power of the work is awesome. When the music is allowed to come to life through this orchestra, and through (for instance) my own heart, mind, and muscles as a functioning part of this orchestra, the experience is indescribably exhilarating and joyful even as it exhausts. Life in the hermitage is like that.]]

Father Cyprian Consiglio: New Prior for New Camaldoli

For the second time in less than two years New Camaldoli has a new Prior. It is with joy that the community announces the election of Father Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam to this ministry. He succeeds Fathers Robert Hale, Raniero Hoffman, and Bruno Barnhardt in this role. Most know Father Cyprian from his music. Some will recognize the name from his writing and blogging or from the workshops he does on prayer. From whatever direction your knowledge of Cyprian comes you will recognize him as an immensely spiritual and gifted individual and an amazing ambassador of the Camaldolese charism.

For those of you unfamiliar with his work as a musician (he is an amazing guitarist and composer) perhaps the following will give you a very small taste. Meanwhile, I highly recommend the book imaged to the right, Prayer in the Cave of the Heart, the Universal Call to Contemplation. In both his writing and music (and, of course, in his prayer) Cyprian draws from both Eastern and Western contemplative and mystical traditions; readers will find it both nourishing and challenging I think.

Dom Robert Hale decided to resign the position of Prior due to limitations associated with his age (76). He is happy to be "just a simple monk" again and notes that while some things may be more difficult these days he is able to pray more, and more easily. With Camaldolese monks, nuns, and oblates everywhere I offer him my own thanks for his service and generosity and extend my very best wishes and congratulations to Father Cyprian. New Camaldoli is entering a period of change marked by renewed and more extensive collaboration between Oblates and Monks; it will be challenging and I am sure Cyprian will find his gifts in serious demand.

Father Cyprian's installation as Prior will be held during the 11:00 a.m. Eucharist this Saturday, the 20th of July, followed by a simple festive lunch. All Oblates and friends of the community are invited.

16 July 2013

Reservation of Eucharist: Is it Essential for the Hermit?

Over the past years several people have written me about their desire to become a diocesan hermit in order to be allowed to reserve Eucharist in their own living space. Most striking about three of these emails was the clear sense that diocesan eremitical life per se held no interest for the person apart from this privilege, and indeed, were the ability to reserve Eucharist in their own living spaces withheld by the diocesan Bishop one person said honestly but bluntly, "What is the point of being consecrated?" It is a good question (for there IS a point!), but it also likely says the person posing the question is not called to diocesan eremitical life at this point in time --- if at all. The following is an accurate characterization of the questions I have received from the three posters referenced compiled as though from a single correspondent.

[[Dear Sister, I would like to reserve the Eucharist in my own home. I live alone and I attend adoration when I can. It is really pivotal to my own spirituality. I am discerning a vocation as a diocesan hermit so that I can do that and I am pretty sure that I am called to this. From what you have written though, I understand that my Bishop does not have to grant me this right [to reserve Eucharist]. So here're my questions: What would be the point of becoming consecrated if my Bishop was NOT going to grant this right? Why not just continue to live as I am already? Also, isn't the right to reserve Eucharist critical to discerning such a vocation? Shouldn't those discerning such a vocation be allowed to reserve Eucharist before they are professed/consecrated?

Further, wouldn't I be kind of "stuck" if a new Bishop took this right away from me?  Personally I feel if that happened it would be devastating to my vocation. I know that obedience is important and I don't mean that I would be disobedient to my Bishop; however, I want to be obedient to the will of God and I think that reserving Eucharist is God's will for me. After all, who are we serving?  I love the Lord in the Eucharist; I experience God flooding my being with his presence during adoration sometimes and having Him in my private chapel apart from distractions and noise by other people is absolutely necessary to my becoming consecrated. I imagine this is true for any consecrated hermit, isn't it? ]]

Thanks for your questions.  I am afraid that given what you have written about your reasons for embracing an eremitical vocation, and especially a consecrated form of that, your question "why not continue to live as [you already are]?" is pretty much my own question to you. What I hear you saying to me is simply that you want to reserve Eucharist and that you will seek and accept consecration as a diocesan hermit if that is allowed you, but there is no point in doing so otherwise; that is, you really see no point to living as a diocesan hermit or embracing the rights and obligations associated with this public vocation in the Church otherwise. As significant as devotion to the reserved Eucharistic presence may be for a person (I say "may" for it may also be unhealthy, theologically unsound, and destructive) and as significant as it is for you personally, it is not a sufficient reason to live an eremitical life much less seek or be admitted to consecration in this way. Similarly it may actually suggest that one is not a suitable candidate for either eremitical life generally or for consecration under canon 603 more specifically. Let me try to explain.

Reservation of Eucharist is a privilege; it is not essential to eremitical life:

While you may imagine that what you feel and believe is and would be true for any consecrated hermit, it is simply not the case. The privilege of reserving Eucharist is not an absolute right and, in fact, is not even typical of the eremitical tradition. Only rarely have hermits been able to reserve Eucharist in their hermitages; it is a distinctly modern development and is still not universally  practiced. Not all diocesan hermits are granted this right and some personally feel no need for it (or they may feel they don't have adequate space for it given the simplicity of their living arrangements). Most religious hermits also live without this privilege (it is typical of the Carthusians and Camaldolese to live in cells without Eucharist reserved). I am sure you would agree nonetheless that there is a point to their lives and that the presence of God in their cells is undoubted. 

Eremitical life has generally been lived in both the Eastern and Western Church  for almost 2000 years without the privilege of reservation of the Eucharist by individual hermits.  If this is truly the reason you are seeking consecration, that is, if this is really absolutely vital to your being consecrated, then I believe you have missed something critical about this vocation. Let me suggest that, for instance, you may not yet be sufficiently appreciative of the ecclesiality of the vocation or of the other ways God dwells with the hermit (or the hermit with God) and the ways the hermit is called to give witness to these realities. Similarly, you may not be open to the loneliness and paradoxical experience of God's presence which is not tied to a literal tabernacle and sometimes feels like an absence. Dealing with this is part and parcel of the eremitical life and of the witness it is called and commissioned to offer both Church and world.

For instance, while the Celebration of the Eucharist and its extension to the hermitage through the reserved Eucharist is central to my own life and to the ecclesial sense of this vocation, and while I would need to change some of the ways I pray were the privilege of reserving it revoked ---especially on days I do not attend Mass --- that revocation would not adversely affect the quality of my prayer or my sense that God is with me as he is in the Eucharist --- in Scripture, in contemplative prayer, in my solitary meals, etc. Neither would it diminish my sense that I live this vocation both for the sake of others and empowered by them and their love and prayers as well (again, part of what I have been calling the ecclesial sense of this vocation). The Eucharistic presence is significant, of course, and it symbolizes all of these things. I emphatically do not mean to minimize that, but my hermitage is and is meant to be a tabernacle of the Risen Christ whether or not I am also allowed to reserve Eucharist here. This is true, I would suggest, for any consecrated hermit and again, is part of the public witness they are called on to give those others who have no chance of reserving the Eucharist in their own spaces but who are also called to recognize and realize their own lives as instances of Eucharistic presence and as places where that presence can become manifest in everyday moments and activities.

Neither is Reservation of Eucharist Essential to the Candidate's Discernment Process

Reservation of the Eucharist is not part of the discernment process --- at least not in the way you are thinking above --- because it is not absolutely necessary to the eremitical life per se or even to consecrated life. It is a privilege, and I agree it is wonderfully life giving and significant, but it is not part of Canon 603's essential elements, for instance. (You might want to review those and also read something like Wencel's book on eremitical life to help you reflect on them.) It is customary only post-consecration at this point, but it is not more than customary. If you continue to develop your own prayer life I think you will find that God's being can flood your own regardless of whether or not you have Eucharist reserved; that is one piece of a strong Eucharistic theology which carries one beyond the limits of Mass or chapel or tabernacle. YOU are to become bread broken and wine poured out for others, whether you have access to Eucharistic reservation or provision for adoration or not. As a hermit your own response or experience should actually be as much to the living God who, in the silence of solitude, resides in  your own heart as it is to the presence in the reserved Eucharist. If you do not find this to be the case it may well be because as yet you are less open to this. Again, Christ is present in many ways in the life of a hermit. All of them must be given attention and allowed to be as fully nourishing and inspiring as God wills them to be.

Not least this is so because OTHERS will benefit from the witness of your life when this is the case and because, as Canon 603 says explicitly, we live it "for the salvation of the world", not merely for ourselves. Our world itself is at least potentially sacramental and we are meant to see that realized (revealed) in every home, etc; a hermitage should surely do this in a way which is paradigmatic for the whole church and world --- significantly this means whether or not the privilege of reservation is allowed. Because of this, genuine discernment looks for signs that this is true for candidates for eremitical consecration without the reservation of Eucharist. You see, you, like anyone else living by themselves, are alone with the Lord the moment you sit down to pray, or eat, or read a page of Scripture. You, like anyone else, are alone with him the moment you sigh in need or fear or loneliness or pain.  Like anyone else, you are alone with him when you shower or wash dishes, lie down to sleep, clean house, work in the garden or take a walk outside the hermitage, etc. This too is real presence. 

A hermit's life witnesses to THIS reality and if one is truly attentive and maturing in her faith she will seek to come to know this sense of presence and faithfulness whether with or without the presence of the reserved Eucharist because, as noted above, this experience can assist the majority of persons called to a similar holiness to embrace this truth in their own lives despite the fact they will never have even the possibility of reserving Eucharist in their own homes. For these reasons, among others, discernment of a vocation to canon 603 eremitical life may well even require that one NOT be given permission to reserve the Eucharist in their hermitage before perpetual profession and consecration. Though this would be an unusual step, I think, it might well be important for a superior to refuse, suspend, or revoke permission to reserve the Eucharist in one's hermitage, at least temporarily, even after a person is professed and consecrated.

I say this because unless a person can live with God in THIS way they may not be called to eremitical solitude at all. Instead, their physical solitude may be a form of illegitimate isolation and their desire to reserve the Eucharist a form of privatistic devotion which is actually a betrayal  1) of the vocation's ecclesiality, 2) of the nature of eremitical solitude, and 3) of the very nature of Eucharist itself. (cf, Notes From Stillsong Hermitage: Narcissism and Exaggerated Individualism, or Notes From Stillsong Hermitage: Ecclesiality vs Individualistic Devotional Acts) In a little-understood vocation fraught with stereotypes related to selfishness, narcissism, and misanthropy and with regard to a canon which has already been abused in merely stopgap solutions for those who cannot be consecrated in any other way, it is important that candidates for profession be models of significant ecclesiality or communion, generosity, love for and witness to others.

What would be the Point of Becoming Consecrated if the Permission could be Revoked?

The fact that you ask "what would be the point?" regarding consecration as a diocesan hermit in the face of lack of permission or revocation of permission to reserve Eucharist in your own space again suggests to me you do not yet truly sufficiently understand nor value the nature of consecrated eremitical life or the witness it gives to so very many whose isolation can and must be redeemed by the presence of God in their physical solitude. A hermit knows this because she has actually been formed in solitude usually without the privilege of reservation. The hermit finds God in ALL the ways God is present, and all the ways every person is called on to find God and she does this not only because she is called to do it, but because it is a central redemptive truth and possibility anyone in the consecrated state must clearly witness to. There is a significant "point" to eremitical life and communion with God is certainly pivotal to that; however, reservation of the Eucharist is NOT absolutely necessary for achieving this communion and may even be an obstacle to it for some, especially if it makes of solitude an instance of isolation and Eucharist a mainly privatistic indulgence.

Bishops know this and my own experience is that they allow reservation of the Eucharist only as PART of a rich and varied life where God's presence is perceived and celebrated in all the ways it is real. They are aware that the reservation of the Eucharist must never be isolating (again, solitude and isolation are very different things), never cut off from the whole People of God or fail to be a true extension of her Eucharistic liturgy, never merely a privatistic act and certainly not an elitist or selfish one. Permission is given when reservation is a piece of a healthy Sacramental theology which sees every meal in the hermitage as a continuation of Eucharist with the hermit's local community, every interchange with others as an exchange of the kiss of peace, and so forth. Reservation of Eucharist is allowed because in a life of eremitical solitude it calls for and can nourish this kind of spirituality which serves the  hermit and whole People of God. Ironically, for a hermit to actually learn these things and live them fully as part of a profoundly ecclesial vocation, it may be important to withhold permission to reserve Eucharist in the hermitage. (cf:  Notes From Stillsong: On Reservation of the Eucharist and, Notes From Stillsong Hermitage: On Hermits and Eucharistic SpiritualityNotes From Stillsong Hermitage: Ecclesiality vs Individualistic Devotional Acts for more on Eucharistic Spirituality and the dangers of privatistic or individualistic devotional practice in its regard.)

This is not merely a matter of obedience in the sense of doing as one is told (though it certainly may include that), but it is very much a matter of a more profound and fundamental obedience where one learns to hear, respond to, and celebrate the God who comes to us in the ordinary things of life and who, in the hermit's life especially, is allowed to transfigure all of reality including one's living space itself. You ask, "Who are we serving"? We are serving God, of course. But, as I have noted above, we are serving him as we serve others with our own witness to the ascended Christ who is present to all of reality and can transfigure it with that presence. We are serving all those others whose isolation needs to be transformed by God's presence as it comes to them in every moment of every day. We do so by witnessing to these possibilities and to the Kingdom of Heaven that is meant to interpenetrate and transform this reality.

As noted earlier the issue of ecclesiality comes into play in all this. This time, however it is a consideration because you speak as though you might disobey your Bishop if your own sense of what God calls you to differs --- or at least you already believe you know better. In fact, as a diocesan hermit you have to consider that God's will ALSO comes to us through the Bishop and our vows and commitment to an ecclesial vocation requires we listen attentively to this. Also as already noted, Bishops can have VERY good reasons for denying or removing permission for the reservation of the Eucharist in the hermitage of a diocesan hermit. Of course, the hermit must be convinced of the value of this vocation apart from himself. He must see its value for the whole church and, while his own discernment is important and should be considered by the Bishop, the hermit must also let go of the notion that he alone knows best.

Mary Magdalene and the Requirement she not Cling to the Jesus she knows so well:

Let me say finally that the way you narrowly cling to the reserved Eucharistic presence alone reminds me of Jesus' words to Mary Magdalene: "do not cling to me, I have not yet ascended to my Father." Jesus clearly was pointing to a presence which would be harder to perceive perhaps but which Mary was really called to commit herself to. It is a more risky presence, less comforting for some maybe, and certainly less comfortable, but it is the real Eucharistic spirituality we are all called to embrace. Whether or not we are allowed to reserve Eucharist in our own living spaces it will be a symbol of this more extensive and even harder-to-perceive reality --- the ascended Christ present in every bit of ordinary reality. If you are ever to truly discern a vocation to be a hermit, much less a consecrated solitary hermit, you are going to have to open yourself to this presence just as Mary Magdalene was required to do. More, you are going to need to commit to allowing it to become more and more pervasive in our world. That is part of committing yourself to the coming Reign of God among us and part of every disciple's call and commission --- but it is particularly so for those called to ecclesial vocations and consecrated life.

In other words before you can say you have truly discerned a vocation to be a diocesan hermit you are going to need to discern a vocation to love God wherever God is in your solitude, wherever he desires to be present to you and to all that is precious to him, not only in Eucharistic reservation. Similarly, you are going to need to discover and be able to articulate the charism of the eremitical vocation which is a gift of the Holy Spirit to the WHOLE People of God --- not merely to you or for the purposes of your own private devotion. Beyond this your diocese will need to mutually discern this vocation with you and admit you to profession/consecration; otherwise you simply cannot consider yourself truly called to this vocation. You asked what is the point of being consecrated without permission for reservation of the Eucharist, and as it stands, it seems very clear that for you there is no point. Unless and until you really discover and are prepared to embrace the purpose, mission, and gift (charism) of a life of eremitical solitude lived for others I think you are correct that you ought not pursue this path. 

15 July 2013

What is Prayer?

[[Dear Sister, My question is , what is prayer? I know god knows all things and could cure my Sister-in-law should he so choose. I also know from my grade school days there are prayers of petition, of thanksgiving and others that I cannot remember right now. How does one, you, spend time in prayer? What do you think about while spending this time? Perhaps focusing on the life of a saint, say Saint Bonifacius, Saint Anne; a parable from the New Testament? A psalm? A story, and its message, from the Old Testament. A concept like Sanctifying Grace, the Communion of saints, etc.]]

 Hi there,
     I guess the most basic answer I would give is that besides being God's own work within us, prayer is our Spirit-empowered response to the active and effective presence of God in our lives and in our larger world. It presupposes and always presumes he is present and active within and around us and involves opening ourselves to that in a variety of ways. Thus, different forms of prayer look differently than others. For instance, in quiet prayer, I tend not to think about anything in particular; I simply sit quietly and open myself to God so that he might dwell within me and touch me in whatever ways he wills. When I pray with Scripture I read it slowly and allow it to speak to me in whatever way it can. I may also imagine myself in the scene, imagine Jesus has just told (or rather, is telling) me the parable at hand, and so forth. Another piece of all this is journaling: I journal about Scripture, and also about the events in my own life in ways which allow God's voice to be heard there. Journaling tends to accompany all of the prayer in my life.

With Divine Office I sing the psalms etc. and pour myself into them as best I can. With the Lord's Prayer, I might take a single petition each day and spend time with it or I might pray the entire prayer with space between each petition so that I am free to feel, think, imagine, etc whatever might be associated with that line. When traveling on a train, for instance, I look briefly at each person while praying the Jesus prayer (I finger some beads I wear on my wrist at such times). When I am ill, I might take a Taize hymn or other piece of music and listen to it while opening myself to God's presence as well as I can.

My prayer for others tends to be a prayer that God will be with them and support them in whatever way they most need. It seems to me to be as important that I hold them in my heart as it is to pray for anything specific. I know that the God who grounds my being and resides within my heart links me to the other person in a similar way so in some ways my prayer is an offer to support that person and to not leave them alone --- even though I may have no awareness of this nor may they. My own spontaneous prayers tend to be cries for assistance ("O God come to me assistance, O Lord make haste to help me!"),  cries of deep joy and gratitude, exclamations of amazement, praise, etc. 

Guess that's about it for a start. Please be assured of my prayers for your Sister-in-Law. Whatever happens she is not alone.

11 July 2013

Called to Speak the Gospel Truth: Being Clever as Serpents, Gentle as Doves (Reprise)

The gospel for tomorrow is both challenging and consoling. In case you have not seen it yet, it is Matthew's account of Jesus' counsel about needing to be gentle as doves and shrewd as serpents in a situation which is literally tearing Matthew's community asunder. When (not if) people are brought before political and religious leaders Matthew reminds them of Jesus' teaching, "Do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say. For it will not be you that speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you." Jesus then tells them that Brother will hand over brother to death, and the father his child, children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all because of my name (my powerful presence), but whoever endures to the end will be saved.

Now I have heard homilists and others trivialize what is being taught in this reading. One deacon I know (not in my parish!) once said he never prepared homilies because of this text; he preferred to allow the Holy Spirit to speak through him! Years ago I heard an undergraduate theology student try to use this text as a justification for his unprepared presentation on the meaning of a text. It didn't go over very well. Nor should it. As Christians committed to ongoing conversion we should know that speaking rightly with the power of the Holy Spirit comes only after long experience of God's compassion and forgiveness. It is only God who can teach us wisdom in our inmost being, only God who can create a clean heart in us, only God who can put a steadfast spirit within us, only God who can open our lips so that our mouths may proclaim his praise. This doesn't happen in a day. It comes only after more extended time spent in the desert (for instance) listening to and grappling with the Word of God, allowing it to become our story as well, struggling with the demons we find there while we come to terms with and really consolidate our identities as daughters and sons of God in Christ.

I recently heard a story that illustrates the dynamics of Matt's gospel. Though it is not a recent story (sometimes being a hermit means I don't hear these things when they happen), in it people are asked to confess their inmost hearts as they are brought face to face with a world which sometimes seeks to destroy them. Matthew describes in his gospel. In such a confrontation Jesus asks us be simple as doves and shrewd as serpents. He asks us to have to have done the long, demanding heart work that prepares us to be prophets and mediators of the Holy Spirit --- people with a heart of compassion and forgiveness intimately acquainted with the mercy and love of God and committed to being one through whom God speaks to change the world and bring the Kingdom. This is not about not doing our homework or being presumptuous; it is about becoming the people Jesus sends with pure hearts and a shrewdness which disarms --- like turning the other cheek, walking the extra mile, and so forth would have done in Jesus' day. (cf Notes From Stillsong Hermitage: Clever as Serpents, Gentle as Doves)

The story is that of the Amish school massacre in Nickel Mines, PA. I would ask that you check out the following video as Bill Moyers tells the story. [[Released from anger and bitterness, but not from pain. Forgiveness is a journey. You need help from others. . .to not become a hostage to hostility.]]

The responses to the story, as Moyers notes, were diverse. Mainly people were awed, some thought such forgiveness could only be a kind of planned show and other suggested the church told the Amish to do this rather than accepting it as the natural expression of a deeply ingrained and authentic spirituality. Others who had failed to draw the important distinction between forgiveness and pardon or release from consequences, argued the forgiveness was undeserved, illegitimate, and imprudent. (cf Jacoby, "Undeserved Forgiveness." Jacoby has another, similar op ed article on Cardinal Bernadin's decision to minister to a serial killer when Bernadin had only 6 mos time left because of the cancer he struggled with.)

What Moyer's account indicates but is unable to detail sufficiently in the above brief video is the extent of the acts of forgiveness and the real reconciliation that occurred as the Robert's family were repeatedly visited by Amish and in turn came to assist with the injured children (who in fact asked why they had not yet visited their families!). (One child continues to be very severely disabled and Roberts' mother comes each week to read to her, sing to her, and sometimes bathe her. The Amish remark on the blessing her presence has been, and of course it has served similarly for her.) At every level Amish and English (especially Roberts' own family) worked to rebuild relationships and shared their mutual grief. Forgiveness, real forgiveness recreated a community that had been shattered by the killings. It was not naive and did not simply avoid or suppress emotions but it made the painful and healing process of moving forward into a "new normal" possible for everyone. The Amish had prepared, not for the tragedies themselves exactly, but for the hard work of reconciliation by long habits of the heart, as Bill Moyers affirmed. But the picture they also give us is one of people who are indeed simple as doves and shrewd as serpents --- just as Christians are called and empowered to be.

If you haven't read the book, Amish Grace, please do so. I admit I read it last night and was in tears practically the whole evening. I don't think I can remember another book or story that has so broken or broken open my own heart nor convinced me how elemental our desire and need for forgiveness or for being people who truly hand on the ministry of reconciliation we are called to be (2 Cor 5:17-21) really is.

Solemnity of St Benedict (Reprise)

Benedict's Rule was a humane development of Rules already in existence. In it he truly sought to put down "nothing harsh, nothing burdensome." Today's section of chapter 33 of the Rule of St Benedict focuses on private possessions. The monk depends entirely on what the Abbot/Abbess allows (another section of the daily reading from the Rule makes it clear that the Abbot/Abbess is to make sure their subjects have what they need!) Everything in the monastery is held in common, as was the case in the early Church described in Acts. Today, in a world where consumerism means borrowing from the future of those who follow us, and robbing the very life of the planet, this lesson is one we can all benefit from. Benedictine Oblate, Rachel M Srubas reflects on the necessary attitude we all need to cultivate, living as we do in the household of God:


Neither deprivation nor excess,
poverty nor privilege,
in your household.
Even the sheets on "my" bed,
the water flowing from the shower head,
belong to us all and to none of us
but you, who entrust everything to our use.

When I was a toddler,
I seized on the covetous power
of "mine."
But faithfulness requires the slow
unlearning of possession:
to do more than say to a neighbor,
"what's mine is yours."
Remind me what's "mine"
is on loan from you,
and teach me to practice sacred economics:
meeting needs, breaking even, making do.

From, Oblation, Meditations of St Benedict's Rule

My prayers for and very best wishes to my Sisters and Brothers in the Benedictine family on this Solemnity of St Benedict! Special greetings to the Benedictine Sisters at Transfiguration Monastery, the monks at Incarnation Monastery in Berkeley, and New Camaldoli in Big Sur, and the Trappistine Sisters at Redwoods Monastery in Whitethorn, CA.

09 July 2013

The Urban Hermit, Saturday Evening Post

Recently parts of an interview I did over a year ago for Jack El-Hai and The Saturday Evening Post was published in an artcle on Urban Hermits. I noted it here in early May. You can now find that article on the SEP website (until July the May/June issue itself was not available online) The New Urban Hermit | The Saturday Evening Post ; there is also now a related video provided above. Apparently staff at the SEP thought about what they needed to do to "unplug and unwind" as a result of the piece. I will note that despite the article stereotypes of hermits continue even in the comments of the editorial director (I, for instance, do not live "off the grid") but it was nice to see the article stimulating folks to think about their own lives and excellent of course to have anyone interested in writing such an article at all. Check it out!!! May/June 2013 | The Saturday Evening Post. Please also read, Notes From Stillsong Hermitage: A Call to Extraordinary Ordinariness, a summary of what it means to live an "ordinary life with extraordinary motivation".

05 July 2013

Personal Questions

[[Dear Sister Laurel, in your own eremitical life which piece of your spiritual practice is most important? Is it contemplative prayer, Office, Lectio Divina, writing, or something else? When you look back at the past years since solemn profession what has been most formative for you? How about before those years? Have you changed much as a hermit? (I know that last question might be a little bit too personal but I am interested. Feel free not to answer this of course.)]]

Thanks for the questions. There are three elements of my daily life which are difficult to tease apart completely and so, difficult to weight above or below the others. Those three are Scripture, quiet prayer, and writing. You see, although I spend discrete periods of time in lectio as well as journaling and other writing, of its very nature lectio segues into quiet prayer and writing and then back again into quiet prayer and back yet again to Scripture/lectio, etc. In other words, my lectio is incomplete or partial without the time I spend writing, my writing is incomplete without quiet prayer, and quiet prayer tends to need to spill over into writing and other things just as it drives me back into Scripture. (Note that all of these presuppose and call for the silence of solitude so I am not speaking of it as a discrete element --- though I well could.) Scripture is a living reality for me, a genuine ("Real") presence of God which touches and both calls for and nourishes many other things, but especially writing and quiet prayer.

Bearing that in mind I guess I would have to say it is my own silent grappling with Scripture (which means listening to it in silence, reflecting on it, praying it, writing about it and even working to proclaim it) that has been the most formative experience since perpetual profession (2007). There I hear the Word of God and it truly challenges, heals and transforms me. Quiet prayer is often wonderful (actually it is mostly wonderful --- not in terms of extraordinary experiences but in terms of simply sitting quietly with and in God) but I am also aware at those times how very much Scripture informs those periods. The same is true of writing; I learn a great deal while writing but I am also aware that I can do none of it without the constant impetus and support of Scripture. I am not sure what element I would name for the years prior to perpetual profession. The same three elements were present but there was a good deal less writing and less Scripture as well. There was more theology per se (academic theology) and quiet prayer was very important so perhaps I would name that.

Have I changed much as a hermit? My first impulse is to say, "I sure hope so!" but really my answer is yes. Quite literally I have grown into this vocation in a way I could not have imagined before experiencing it. Sometimes we go about doing all the things we are committed to doing, and in that way we are the persons we are meant to be. Someone who teaches is a teacher, but it is possible to say "I am a teacher" without that affirmation ever touching the core of who one is. Someone who lives the life of a hermit is a hermit but it is possible to do this without ever "achieving" the heart of a hermit. Someone who lives the life of a religious is a religious, but similarly, it is possible to do this without having one's heart shaped into that of a religious. If one is very fortunate one will find that through the grace of God one has had one's own heart shaped and molded into the heart of a hermit and/or the heart of a religious, and not merely that this is something one is moving towards or deeply desiring. I am not really sure how to better describe what I mean here.

Concretely it means I am happier than I have ever been, and freer as well. It means I love more and better, that I am better able to be silent and lay aside my own agendas or needs in order to truly listen. (It means I have fewer agendas for that matter!) It means that I am aware of the energy of grace moving through me, that even when I am ill or tired I am secure in who I am in Christ and especially in terms of canon 603 and religious life. It means I feel a responsibility for this vocation, not merely for my own call, and that, as a result, my writing reflects both greater depth, heart, and a proprietariness which is not defensive but is instead rooted in identity, intimate understanding, and personal security in that. Several years ago I put the matter of vocation to a friend for whom I was trying to describe the difference between a presentation on the eremitical life I had done pre-profession and one I had done post-profession this way, "I have come to "own" this vocation" --- not in the sense that it is a possession I can do with what I will, but in the sense that I am living it, not merely desiring to live it or hoping and trying to live it. Whatever I do I do as a hermit. Saying that would not have been possible in my earlier years of living as a hermit. It would not have even been possible on the day of perpetual profession.

While this of course means I must still live my Rule (one must be nourished to live this life and the daily structures, discipline, and elements of canon 603 are essential to that and to allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to and move us), it also means that they are a living reality and an extension of my truest self now much more than they are an externally imposed framework which I try to keep. This is true even though my Rule was originally written with a focus on a structure which truly fed me, not simply on filling it with things to do or not do. When I answered your question about which element was most important, that became even clearer to me. Once I would have not been able to describe these as being so integrally intertwined that they were difficult to tease apart. They would all have been more or less important, but they would not have nourished each other and called for each other as they do now. I think this reflects a greater wholeness and integrity within me and that is good to see. So, yes I have changed and grown as a hermit and in my eremitical life. I have grown in a way which makes these two things one.

I hope this is helpful and more or less what you were actually asking. If not get back to me and I will try again.

First Encyclical: Lumen Fidei

Francis' first encyclical, the most authoritative piece of teaching the Bishop of Rome generally promulgates, was published today. It is called the Light of Faith (Lumen Fidei) and was written in some collaboration with Benedict who had already done a first draft on the topic of faith as the third piece in a trilogy beginning with hope and charity. (This encyclical is, however, Francis' own and is published in his name as an exercise of his own teaching authority.) I have skimmed the text and read most of the first two chapters. There is some really lovely stuff in here. For instance, in par 13, [[Faith, tied as it is to conversion is the opposite of idolatry; it breaks with idols to turn to the living God in a personal encounter. Believing means entrusting oneself to a merciful love which always accepts and pardons, which sustains and directs our lives, and which shows its power by its ability to make straight the crooked lines of our history. Faith consists in the willingness to let ourselves be constantly transformed and renewed by God's call. Herein lies the paradox: by constantly turning towards the Lord, we discover a sure path which liberates us from the dissolution imposed upon us by idols.]]

In particular this passage reminded me of the readings from the past two weeks and some of the reflections I have written because of them, one regarding Abraham's representation of Israel moving away from idols towards greater and greater faith in the God who will be exhaustively revealed by and in Jesus Christ. The encyclical is readable or accessible, positive, pastorally edifying, and as far as I can tell very strongly focused on faith in and with Jesus Christ himself. The experience of the risen Lord and a reminder of the centrality of a personal commitment to Christ himself in any authentic life of faith informs every section of the text.  The link between faith and truth is strong and the encyclical moves away from any notion that reason is merely supplemented with faith. Instead faith is that reality which lights the way for reason and allows it to be fulfilled. Similarly reason serves faith. Rightly, they are correlative realities in this presentation. Again, I have only read part of the text but I highly recommend it!

One note on terminology. It seems clear that Francis did not compose the title page for the text which says it is from the "Supreme Pontiff" to the "Bishops, Priests and Deacons, Consecrated Persons, and the Lay Faithful." Francis refers in the first paragraphs to himself directly (and to Benedict) instead as "Successors of Peter" --- thus continuing to eschew "Pope", "Supreme Pontiff" or "Vicar of Christ" as titles which move away from collegiality. Meanwhile I have not heard Francis himself reverting to the older hierarchical notion of the church as being composed of clergy, consecrated persons, and laity before, so in this too do take the title page with a grain (or even a significant measure) of salt.

04 July 2013

Happy Fourth of July

Only one thought occurs to me on this day, and that is that Christians have much to tell America about the nature of true freedom, even while they are grateful for a country which allows them the liberty to practice their faith pretty much as they wish and need. Too often today Freedom is thought of as the ability to do anything we want. It is the quintes-sential value of the narcissist. And yet, within Christian thought and praxis freedom is the power to be the persons we are called to be. It is the direct counterpart of Divine sovereignty and is other-centered. I believe our founding fathers had a keen sense of this, but today, it is a sense Americans often lack. Those of us who celebrate the freedom of Christians can help recover a sense of this necessary value by embracing it more authentically ourselves. Not least we can practice a freedom which is integrally linked to correlative obligations and exists for the sake of all; that is, it involves an obligation to be there for the other, most especially the least and poorest among us.

Meanwhile, All good wishes for the birthday of our Nation! Celebrate well in genuine Freedom!!

03 July 2013

Follow up Questions for "Our God is not One Who Punishes Evil"

[[Dear Sister, while I appreciate some of what you have written about moving from fear to love and that God does not punish evil it seems to me the Church herself teaches the importance of fear and also says that God punishes evil. What do we do with the Act of Contrition if that is not true? Remember how it goes? "O my God,  I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of heaven, and the pains of hell; but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen." Shouldn't we truly fear that God will find us unworthy of heaven and cast us into the tortures of hell? Otherwise we will sin with impunity, literally, without fear of punishment..]]

LOL! I do indeed remember how it goes! However, I think the lesson it embodies is the one I have been writing about. (cf Notes From Stillsong: Ours is not a God Who Punishes Evil) It does NOT convey a spirituality of fear nor does it teach that God punishes sin. Let's look at it. First it refers to dreading the loss of heaven (that is the loss of life with, of, and in God) and the pains of hell (again, the pain of losing the life we are made for --- life with, of, and in God). The gravity of such a loss is literally dreadful and we SHOULD experience this. However, this is not the same as living our lives in fear, and especially not fear of God.  Significantly, a reference to hell makes no mention of torture nor of God as torturer; the pains of hell are the pains of losing our place in God's own life through the choices we make for something less ultimate and less fulfilling.

It is important to note that God is never mentioned as the agent of punishment nor is his justice seen a retributive here. Evil and our choice of that which is truly unworthy of being chosen has consequences. Quite often in the OT literature, a People struggling to move beyond the notion of retributive justice while also finding ways to affirm the sovereignty of God, speaks of the consequences of evil and the choice of evil as divine punishment. It is really only when the tremendous paradox of a God who demonstrates absolute sovereignty in self-emptying and love is revealed on and through the Cross of Christ that the tension between these two tendencies is resolved in an unexpected and literally scandalous way. Jews find this a stumbling block. Greeks find it foolishness. But here we have a God who submits to evil in order to transform and redeem it. Sovereignty is revealed in kenosis. Loving into wholeness is the way God asserts his rights over (does justice to) a broken creation. Punishment, much less a divine punisher, have no place in this picture.

Secondly, however, look how the prayer proceeds; let me paraphrase it: I detest my sins because I dread the loss of my real destiny with you and might have to" live" (be dead) without you (without love) for the whole of eternity but here is the most serious thing for me: I detest my sins because they offend against your love, you who are all-good and deserving of my wholehearted loving response! This prayer moves from a motivation which is less adequate, less worthy of God to one which is far more worthy. It moves from a motivation which is self-centered to one which is truly God-centered. The prayer itself recognizes a legitimate feeling of dread but counters with something which is even more compelling, namely, the love of God (the God who IS love-in-act) and which or who is meant to be our real focus and motivation. It moves from imperfect to perfect (or at least more perfect) contrition. Thus it reprises the very same movement I mentioned in the post mentioned above, and invites us to the same purification Genesis 18 reflected. (Again, cf Notes From Stillsong: Ours is not a God Who Punishes Evil.)

You make a good point in fearing that people will act with impunity if we do away with the element of fear. I think the idea of consequences, however, is far more helpful than the idea of punishment --- which necessarily requires a punisher. We should certainly revere and be in awe of God, but personally I think it is ALWAYS destructive of genuine faith to fear God in any way whatsoever. I simply don't see how the profound trust which is the heart of genuine faith can co-exist with fear. Fear simply distorts everything it touches. This is one reason Jesus' gift of peace often accompanies the directive, "Be not afraid" or "Fear not!". So, we need to educate people about the consequences of sin -- including the ultimate consequence of rejecting God's love which we call hell --- but at the same time we need help them move beyond an ethics driven by concern of consequences to a life which responds generously and selflessly to the God who offers himself and life with and in himself as the fulfillment of our truest selves. This movement, this growth in one's spiritual life and so, in one's capacity to love, is precisely what is reflected in the act of contrition.