27 July 2014

Lauras: On hermits and Community

[[ Dear Sister, I have one question. Why are colonies of hermits called lauras. How can hermits live in colonies and still be hermits?]]

Thanks, good questions. The term laura comes from the Latin word for pathways or paths. A colony of hermits usually consists of individual hermitages, each fairly isolated from the others whether architecturally, by geography, etc. These individual hermitages are linked to one another by paths (including by cloisters) and as well to the central Church or chapel. I think it is particularly telling that such colonies are named after the external reality which links all the hermits and makes of each hermitage or "cell" an integral part of a local church or living organism. This makes clear that hermits are always part of a larger body; their lives are lives of communion, first with God and through God with one another and the whole of Creation. No hermit is ever truly alone. They are always alone with God for others --- and quite often, with others as well. Certainly they live their vocations in the heart of the Church.

In colonies, of course, the lion's share of the hermit's life is spent alone with God. Hermits in lauras come together for Mass, for occasional meals and some celebrations of the Liturgy of the Hours. They may also join once a week or so in a long walk or other recreation. As I have written here a number of times solitude, including eremitical solitude does not refer simply to physical isolation from others, but to a form of communion with God lived for the sake of others in the heart of the Church. This means it is supported solitude which contributes to life in the Church. While it is not the same as cenobitical life in community, and while it means aloneness with God, neither is it in conflict with some degree of community.

The Camaldolese, for instance refer to it as "living alone together." For the diocesan or "solitary" hermit who does not ordinarily have other hermits to live in a colony with, her primary community will be her parish and though she spends the majority of her time alone with God, she may also see folks at Mass several times a week, meet with a couple of clients during the week, and interact briefly with folks at the grocery store, drug store, etc. What defines her life however is aloneness with God lived for the sake of others in the heart of the Church and this remains true whether she sees one person in a month or several people in a week, or whether her only companions during this time are the people she reads, or the Communion of Saints and pilgrim ecclesial community in which she prays as an integral part.

I hope this is helpful.