28 April 2015

Contents of a Lay Hermit's Prayer Space?

Brother Emmaus O'Herlihy, OSB (Glenstal)
Saint Romuald in Ecstasy Receiving the Gift of Tears

[[Dear Sister Laurel, What should a lay hermit have in their chapel?]]

Thanks for your question. I think the term chapel is a bit overblown and would consider not using it, especially not in the absence of reserved Eucharist or if the room is mainly used for other things besides prayer. I would use the term prayer space instead (oratory seems to have become the canonical equivalent of what is more commonly understood as a chapel so I am also avoiding it here). The answer is simply, "Whatever one needs to pray regularly and assiduously." My own space includes a comfortable chair for reading and some more occasional quiet prayer, a zafu and zabuton ( these replace my prayer bench for more formal periods of quiet prayer), a portable lectern or ambo (for singing Office) and a desk for journaling and study. There are book shelves, a large crucifix (which dominates the space and signals the cross is the center of my life), some art (Emmaus O'Herlihy, OSB, cf above, and Mickey McGrath, OSFS) and I use a Zen clock which can chime the hours to help mark parts of the day. My cowl hangs on the back of the door and is available any time I pray.

I think the space should be neat, simple, light, attractive and comfortable in terms of temperature. It should reflect the silence of solitude which is so key to a hermit's life. Because I am officially allowed to reserve Eucharist, my own space includes a tabernacle with ciborium, a sanctuary light, and a small monstrance (it fits inside the tabernacle and is usually left there). I keep a small bowl made by a potter friend nearby for 1" x 2" cards with prayer intentions and requests. This can obviously work for lay hermits as well even though the Eucharist is not present. If, for instance, you were to keep a sanctuary light burning near such a bowl, the symbolism of living presence and constant prayer in communion with others -- all in the heart of the Church -- would still be quite strong. Next to or near their prayer chair most people like to include a small table upon which they may have some fresh flowers, a live green plant, or an orchid, a candle, perhaps a small statue of Mary or a favorite Saint, and their Bible and Office book. One might also have a small CD player or iPod with small speakers there or on nearby shelves.

Remember, this is a functional as well as a sacred space; it is a place where the hermit's main work occurs which is how the space is sanctified. It is not a space which should call attention to itself  (there should be no "chapel" sign on the door!), but if this is possible, it should be a private space --- a space where guests do not ordinarily go. Most folks do not have enough space for a completely separate room as their prayer space, but a lay hermit (or anyone living on their own) should be able to section off part off their living or sleeping area as an entirely adequate and dedicated prayer space. (By dedicated I mean this space is not used for anything else; it is a prayer space, not a place where one reads novels or connects to the internet, etc.)

If your prayer space is a portion of a room also used for other purposes (sleeping, etc), you can use wooden  or shoji screens to separate the actual prayer space from the rest of the room. The latter especially are movable, relatively inexpensive, simple and attractive. They also allow light to fill the space. I have seen pictures of a variety of personal prayer spaces or "chapels" and the ones which do not appeal to me at all are the ones where with a myriad of statues, relics, holy cards, etc. Usually these cover a table or some other structure the person mistakenly refers to as "an altar." I feel uneasy the moment I see these busy, incredibly noisy spaces. They tend to strike me as "showy" and perhaps "pious" (if Catholic kitsch is pious) but they are distracting to me and hardly prayerful. Of course, that is my own taste, my own aesthetic; it may not be yours.

The basic question I think is, "What do you need to pray?" What do you need to quiet yourself, center, in and give yourself over to God acting within you? What do you need to do lectio, pray Office, do quiet prayer, or do the personal work spiritual direction requires? A corollary is, "What would distract you from your relationship with God or being present to and dependent upon God alone?" (This includes what might distract you from the demands of truly being alone with God. Sometimes it is a fine line between having what one needs -- books, a bit of art, liturgical music -- and having too much.) In other words, "What needs to be absent from a space dedicated to prayer?" I think only you can really answer these questions.

21 April 2015

Happy Earthday

Despite the fact that the Old Testament characterizes mankind as stewards of the Earth and the New Testament presents a cosmic Christ, a Creator God, and a vision of eschatology which focuses on the coming in fullness of a new heaven and a new earth, it is not uncommon to find Christians whose notion of earth falls far short of this foundational theology. In fact, there have been folks calling themselves Christians in the past years who believe that ecological disaster is not only something they ought not try to avoid, but that it is something which would hasten the "end times" when the unrighteous are separated out and the righteous are welcomed into "heaven." Thus, some suggest that human beings should do whatever they can to encourage ecological disaster!

Earthday Flag
A good deal of the theology being done today is focused on the relationship between science and theology. The fact that we belong to an unfinished universe has necessitated a paradigm shift in our entire way of approaching the story of creation and redemption. Instead of a finished universe falling from perfection we belong to an unfinished universe moving toward fulfillment, toward, that is, the day when God will be all in all. Instead of a two or three tier universe where heaven is seen a antithetical to this world, we live in a universe where heaven is defined in terms of God's sovereignty (wherever God is sovereign, there is heaven) and heaven and earth interpenetrate one another because of the Christ event. It is a world which is inherently Sacramental, a world which glorifies (reveals) God in the most ordinary elements, a world which is sacred and is to be stewarded as God's own.

We celebrate Earthday to call attention to the environmental challenges and responsibilities citizens of the earth should be embracing. As Christians we celebrate this as part of our own vocation to stewardship and our own mission to proclaim the Gospel of God. It is the good news of the Risen Christ as first fruits of a New Creation, the announcement that our world has changed, and the basis for our resurrection hope in the day when heaven and earth come to fullness and indeed, God is all in all. Far from being a merely secular holiday Earthday is, or at least should be seen as profoundly Christian. For those clinging to dated spiritualities which allow them to disdain or even denigrate earth in the name of concern for heaven, Earthday reminds us of the New Testament witness of St Paul:

[[For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.]] (Romans 8:19-22, NIV)

In Christ we experience not only our own redemption but the reconciliation of the whole of creation to God (Col1:19-20) Let us accept the challenge and the responsibility which this theology of redemption illuminates for us. It is part of the Easter message and calls us to a spirituality which eschews self-centeredness in favor of a truly cosmic perspective. As Patrick McDonnell's cartoon strip reminds us, the earth is our home. As theologians remind us, that only becomes more profoundly true as creation is caught up in the very life of God. We pray (and in fact, we prayed at Mass just last week) that we might dwell in the house of the Lord forever; let us revere this home for indeed, it is the dwelling place God has made (his) very own.

18 April 2015

Update on Dominican Sisters in Iraq

[[Dear Sisters and Brothers

Since Christmas we have been living very stressful times not only because of the death of four of our elderly sisters in a very short period of time –due to stroke (brain attack) but also because of the hardship we are still living and experiencing with our people.

It is true that there has been progress in our condition in terms of housing for the Interior Displaced People (IDP); those who were in Ankawa Mall (unfinished building) are moving to the caravans in the coming days. Nonetheless, living in caravans is not without difficulties. Each caravan has two rooms (each 3x3 m2) joined by a common bathroom. There will be a family in each room and there are about 480 families. In a way, this might sound a better solution. However, living in one room increases problems and tensions among the families. Most men are jobless which provokes conflict even within the same family and the victims of the conflict are usually the children. Therefore, we had decided to rent a house and convert it into a kindergarten, which was inaugurated few days before Palm Sunday. This was possible because of your good-will and your efforts. We are working on opening another kindergarten in Kaznazan where there are 800 families in that area, suburb of Erbil; there, we have three sisters living and working with IDP. We have rented a house for that, and it will soon be furnished. The families are thankful and happy for this initiative.

As for the aids we provided to the IPD, we distributed winter indoor clothes for parents and adults in the family. Thanks to your efforts and donations, the project was successful and we were able to cover not only IDP in Erbil but also in Sulaymaniyah and Akra. The cost of the project was more than $400,000. Another finished project, which was supported by the Pontifical Mission, was to provide people with milk, diapers for children and soap in order to treat scabies that have been spreading because of the unhealthy environment the IDP are living in (common toilets and lack of water). Beside that we were able to purchase towels and distribute them.

For the time being, we are working on a new project, which is to provide summer indoor clothes for teenagers – we are trying to find a seller that will supply us clothes with a descent price. We are hoping to start this project with the beginning of May. 

Some of our sisters started preparing the children for the first communion. There are 400 children in five different camps in Erbil. We are hoping to make it a special occasion by providing them with what they need during their preparation period and their special day.

Having been effectively involved in these projects and accompanying the IDP in the camps, plus the inconvenience of living in caravans, sisters are truly exhausted. The convent also is very crowded (there are about 40 sisters in the convent). The sisters need some rest. Therefore, we decided to send sisters to Lebanon to rest for a short period of time in our convent over there. This will be a good time for the sisters to rest and come back refreshed to continue their work with IPD and to be ready for more projects that serve the IPD in terms of education for the coming school year.

We are grateful to all humanitarian organizations and people of good-will which are willing to help and are always ready to help.

Thank you for your prayers and support, may the risen Christ raise us from our humiliation, displacement and vagrancy. May Easter grace and blessings be to you all.

The Dominican Sisters of Saint Catherine of Siena –Iraq. ]]

Symbols of Perpetual or Solemn Eremitical Profession

[[Dear Sister, what are the symbols of an eremitical perpetual or solemn profession?]]

2007_0917_01hands.gifGenerally speaking the cowl is the primary traditional symbol of solemn or perpetual profession in monastic and eremitical life. A second symbol is the ring signifying espousal. Another is the crucifix worn or carried somewhere on one's person. So is a profession candle marking both baptismal consecration and this new consecration. My diocese required both ring and cowl (or other prayer garment --- whichever seemed best. Since I was a Camaldolese Oblate my diocese agreed the cowl was appropriate and the Camaldolese were consulted as well; they asked that the hood be cut differently from that of Camaldolese monks and nuns since I was not being professed as Camaldolese).

Temporary profession, on the other hand, can be marked by the giving of a prayer garment other than the cowl, by clothing in a habit and/or veil, by a scapular, etc. Not all diocesan hermits or their dioceses choose to use habits or cowls but all that I have heard of require the profession ring. Office books can be given to mark profession, as can a bound copy of one's Rule since this becomes legally binding on the day of profession. Strictly speaking, I am not sure the Office books are symbols of profession, but they are certainly meaningful signs of one's commitment and probably should be included in the rite. The Rule, however is a rich symbol and in particular, is both essential to the living of the life and plays a role almost daily in the  mediation of God's continuing call and the hermit's faithful response to that.

Followup Questions on Discerning With One's Bishop

[[Hi Sister Laurel, your posts about legal standing and what happens if a diocesan hermit disagrees with a Bishop give the impression that the relationship between hermit and legitimate superiors is oppressive. Am I mistaken? I admit I don't really care for the way the Church seems to want to be in charge of our lives or make moral decisions for us. Have you ever had a disagreement with your Bishop where you needed to rethink things and come to a different conclusion on them about the way you live your life?]]

Well, I am more than a little sorry if that is the impression I have given. It was certainly not my intention nor does it correspond to my experience. In my own experience the place of law and legitimate superiors do not ordinarily interfere with my freedom or my choices at all. When I think or write about the freedom of this life I have tried to make clear that there are constraints, as in any life, but that these qualify and focus my life in ways which serve my ability to explore the depths of eremitical solitude in the name of the Church. That is the fundamental thing I have been called to, the fundamental thing I have committed to doing, and it is the thing which my superiors and law itself are responsible for assisting me to do with integrity. Let me be clear that no one is heavy handed in this matter. Neither my Bishops (there have been several) nor my delegate simply tell me what to do. The point of my post regarding a disagreement with one's Bishop was that when there were differing conclusions with discernment in a genuinely serious matter (and whether or not hermits may work full time, especially in highly social situations, is one of these) a hermit may be asked to resolve the situation differently than her original discernment led her to do. This was because her vocation is an ecclesial one which is responsible for and affects more than her own life alone.

Unfortunately, the hermit may not see this as clearly as her Bishop or delegate (though she might also see things more clearly, as might other diocesan hermits who live the life and are knowledgeable about the tradition); in such cases it is important that all parties share their own discernment in the process of seeking a resolution to the problem at hand. It remains true that if the Bishop should decide that whatever the best solution to the hermit's need for financial support, it is not (and can never be) full time work, she will not be allowed to do (or continue in) this. Hopefully, both Bishop, hermit, and the delegate will work together to seek a better solution which ensures the hermit's ongoing wellbeing but also protects her witness to the solitary eremitical life and the integrity of the eremitical tradition itself. Part of the reality of any vocation is ongoing discernment of the ways God is calling us and our continuing responses to that. A vocation is less something we "have" than it is something we receive and respond to freshly day by day.

One of the important pieces of standing in law is that one is, for the most part,  protected against arbitrary actions by others which might interfere with this ongoing responsiveness. If you have ever lived in a community or situation in which "power figures" inappropriately dictated what members might or might not do in the name of "governance", you will know what I mean when I say that standing in law can prevent and protect one from such vagaries of personality and agenda. Experiments in the governance of religious life have sometimes left openings into which stepped those whose (perhaps unconscious) desire was more for power than service. When I write about the relationships which are essential to the canonical eremitical vocation I am speaking about relationships that allow a hermit to live freely in the heart of the Church and devote herself to the silence of solitude while these others provide feedback and a sense of the needs of the Church more generally. It is, in my own experience, a true dialogue in which people cooperate for the good of the Church, her proclamation, and the eremitical life entrusted to her by the Spirit and is not at all oppressive.

I have not had had any situations in which the way I live or propose to live my life have conflicted with the way a Bishop, Vicar, or others discern is appropriate. I have, on the other hand, certainly had conversations with my delegate which have caused me to rethink things and modify the way I live. Similarly we have had conversation which have furthered or clarified my own discernment in matters and occasionally we have had conversations where my own failure to adequately discern a course of action was "unmasked". (Actually, it was only unmasked to me, not to anyone else. As I once recounted here, my delegate once said, "I will be interested to hear your discernment [in this matter]" and my immediate thought was, "Busted!" because I knew at the moment she made the comment that I had not really done a thoughtful discernment.) It was pretty funny really. Certainly the demand that one discern seriously and discuss the process with superiors is not oppressive because in all cases my decisions are my own! Sometimes they simply aren't made alone. In my experience this ("I really am interested in hearing your discernment"--- whether stated implicitly or explicitly) is more typical of the way conversations go between myself and any superiors than simply being dictated to.

16 April 2015

The CDF, LCWR, and the Gamaliel Principle (Reprised with Introduction)

I am reposting this piece for two reasons: 1) today the CDF/Vatican announced the "completion" of the mandate given to Archbishop Peter Sartain, et al to assess and "reform" the LCWR, and 2) because we have the same first reading tomorrow almost three years to the day the mandate was issued. Despite the pain of the accusations accompanying that mandate, Sisters have indeed been faithful to their hope that ultimately God will bring good out of even the most unjust of situations and God's will would triumph. They have been faithful to prayer, presented a contemplative presence in the midst of serious difficulty, persevered courageously despite a sense that they had been seriously misunderstood and doubted  by the hierarchy of the very Church they have given their lives to and for, and just generally carried on their ministries and lives as consecrated Women religious are called by their Lord and his Church to do.

At the same time I trust that the CDF learned a good deal about US Women Religious and their Leadership Conference --- as well as about the Church in the US and around the world; many many lay persons and clergy in the US as well as religious and clergy from other countries supported the LCWR --- and while women religious may (quite justifiedly) be feeling vindicated by the conclusion cited by Gerhard Mueller today (cf. Mandate to Assess and Reform LCWR is Concluded) and the generous words of Archbishop Sartain, it is the wounded Church which is victorious today. Because of this decision to complete this mandate without substantive reforms of the LCWR, the Church as a whole is a bit closer to being the Church Jesus' Gospel calls for and requires. That is especially true if the dialogical paradigm modeled by both the LCWR and Peter Sartain is allowed to define the way other perceived conflicts and difficulties within the church are dealt with.

As Sister Sharon Holland, IHM noted from here in the US, [[We are pleased at the completion of the Mandate, which involved long and challenging exchanges of our understandings of and perspectives on critical matters of Religious Life and its practice. Through these exchanges, conducted always in a spirit of prayer and mutual respect, we were brought to deeper understandings of one another’s experiences, roles, responsibilities, and hopes for the Church and the people it serves. We learned that what we hold in common is much greater than any of our differences.]]

Post from 2012
If it is of Human Origin it will Destroy Itself. If it is of God you will not be Able to Destroy it:

Sometimes Scripture texts seem so straightforward we don't give them a lot of thought. The insight they convey seems routine, hardly worth making a big deal over. "If it is of God, it will persist; if it is of human origin it will not," is one of these. Abstract, apparently not very compelling, hardly demanding in what it asks of us, or providing much hope really. Just, it seems, a theological conclusion we can agree with (or not) and move on from.

Unless of course you find yourself threatened with death by the traditional religious leadership while you proclaim what you understand to be the good news of God's ultimate act of vindication, justice, and mercy as the Apostles in Friday's first lection. Unless you find yourself being asked to back off, to have a little humility, and let God be the judge as the Pharisees have been asked by Gamaliel. Unless, of course, you are freshly faced with a risen Christ who suffered and died a godless death at the hands of the established religious and civil powers so that nothing whatsoever would stand in the way of the love of God. Unless, for instance, you are confronted with a portrait of tens of 1000's of lives of patient discernment, faithful sacrifice, and persistent trust in God which extends over decades and decades and which demonstrates that when something is of God it will indeed not only persist but produce immeasurable fruit as grain pressed down, shaken together and running over.

This week the incredible demands and promises of this "Gamaliel principle" were brought home to me in ways I could not have imagined a week and a half ago. Two events in particular did this. First, there was the exhibit sponsored by the LCWR, Women and Spirit, which gives a good sense of the place of women religious in the history of the United States. Here before Catholicism was established, here before there was even statehood, Sisters came to minister. Sailing in twos and threes and fours, habited and landing in swampy, humid, mosquito-ridden land, they came. Prepared originally to teach, they nursed instead; prepared to nurse they set up orphanages; always they adapted and responded to the Spirit. Seeking simply to serve they taught, nursed, invented, built, advocated for the poorest and neediest, comforted, explored, researched, etc etc. They did not fit in neat boxes --- not in terms of the country they came to, nor (though always faithful to their vows) in terms of the ways Bishops and the institutional church expected them to live their lives. ALWAYS they shattered boundaries and constraints with their service to the Gospel.

Did you Know???

Did you know, for instance that it was a nun who co-founded Alcoholics Anonymous and was the first ever to admit alcoholics to hospital or treat the problem as a disease? Were you aware that a nun invented a low cost incubator which was effective for premature neonates and was affordable to every doctor, clinic, or hospital? Did you know that the Mayo clinic owes its existence to the foresight and advocacy of a nun? She enlisted the Mayo brothers and promised to build a needed hospital if they would serve as doctors. They promised and she carried through as well. Were you aware that it was Sisters from a variety of congregations or communities that served as Civil War nurses without regard for the side the wounded were on? Did you know that Sisters have been a central presence in every epidemic the US has had, nursing, doctoring, etc, without regard for the danger to their lives? Were you aware that it was Catholic Sisters that provided the first insurance coverage for loggers or who opened the still-extant NY Foundling Asylum with $5 and an empty building?

And of course, it was religious Sisters who built the Catholic school system -- initially in response to anti-Catholicism, or who personally corresponded with Jefferson to ensure religious freedom when it was hardly accepted and seriously threatened. (Jefferson responded with a promise to do all in his power to ensure such freedom.) Sisters routinely circuit rode, acted as architects, carpenters, and construction workers. (One Sister regularly treated those needing medical care in the Territory of New Mexico and was known for the quality of the care she gave. Despite never having been to medical school she was granted a medical license!) Sisters adapted their garb, and their schedules as necessary to pursue their various missions --- and remained vowed women of prayer at the same time. Later, Sisters became attorneys, surgeons, social workers, policy makers, scientists (did you know a seminal figure in the history of the understanding of DNA was a nun?), etc. These are some of the things I remember off the top of my head. At every point in US history Sisters were present adapting from medieval patterns of enclosed life and the narrower expectations of the hierarchy in order to respond to the Holy Spirit and the needs of people --- to serve an agenda of LIFE in its broadest sense as Christians have always been called to serve.

I was aware of some of these things, but not all, and the simple fact is that at every turn I was surprised by something more Sisters had done with few resources except their faith, courage, and a sense that they were called to serve in the power of the Holy Spirit. They begged, borrowed, and above all went where there was need. They grew the Church and brought her precisely where Jesus said she was to be --- to the least of the least, the sick, those without hope, those requiring comfort and hungry for justice. The exhibit was astounding and tremendously inspiring. I was both completely blown away by it and grateful to God for these women, for the legacy they have created and continue to create, and terribly humbled by my own very small place in this history. This Friday's reading from Acts could not have been more compelling in light of the huge task and danger facing the apostles entrusted with their new message of Jesus' resurrection: if it is of God it will persist and be fruitful beyond all imagining. But of course, living in this way takes imagination, creativity, courage, persistence, intelligence, and faith. It takes a willingness to discern God's will and follow it wherever it summons us. It takes a willingness to risk everything for a conclusion or harvest one might never see. And that was what I saw celebrated in this exhibit. Women and Spirit --- an ultimately indomitable combination.

The CDF "doctrinal assessment of the LCWR"

And then on Wednesday, the CDF published its "Doctrinal Assessment" of the LCWR. If the Women and Spirit exhibit spoke of the reality of Easter and focused my mind and heart on the truth of the first part of Gamaliel's Principle, this focused me on the danger the first Apostles found themselves in. Acting in good conscience, acting to proclaim the gospel but prohibited from doing so, prohibited from acting "in the name of Jesus, " and threatened with execution. It also, of course, brought out clearly Gamaliel's intervention:"Leave these men alone! . . .if what they are doing is of man, then it will not last. You may even find that you are fighting against God!"

Gamaliel was not counselling to passivity and abdication of the Pharisees' appropriate place in overseeing the law and life of Israel, but rather to discernment and humility. Neither was he giving the Apostles a free pass to do or teach anything they wanted, but an opportunity to demonstrate whether what they were doing and teaching was of God or not. With regard to both groups Gamaliel saw clearly I think, that God is always larger than we conceive, and routinely acts in surprising and countercultural ways. He interpreted the law according to the principle, "If it is not prohibited, then it is permitted." where a large number of the pharisees he was engaging approached life from the interpretive principle, "If it is not mentioned in the law, then it is prohibited." His approach was prudent and charitable and trusted both God and human freedom, whereas the Shammaite pharisee's approach was narrow, fearful, and controlling --- leaving little scope for the Holy Spirit or the imagination or creativity required by the Apostles of the Risen Christ.

This is only the third [second] week of the Easter season, and we are trying to get our heads and hearts freshly around the truth Gamaliel reminds us of: God indeed will ultimately win out --- but he also must be given room to work freely. Meanwhile as Jesus himself taught his disciples, it may also be the case that the "Evil One" has sown some weeds in with the wheat, but even if this is the case we cannot precipitously tear at the weeds because we will uproot the wheat as well. It takes humility to recognize that only God can adequately judge and resolve such complex situations, and wisdom to accede to Gamaliel's demands. My prayer is that the CDF and those representing them in this entire affair recognize the wisdom and profoundly Christian nature of the Gamaliel principle (it is a theological and pastoral imperative, nothing less), while the LCWR courageously and faithfully participate in what, despite current evidence to the contrary, has been publicly purported by the CDF to represent a "collaborative process." In some ways there could not be more at stake for the Church as a whole.

CDF Mandate with regard to the LCWR is completed!!

The following is the press release announcing today that the mandate of the CDF regarding the Doctrinal Assessment and "Reform" of the LCWR has been completed. The mandate allowed the process to run for up to 5 years. It ran for three. This premature cessation or "completion" of the process augurs well for the LCWR and for Pope Francis' influence in this matter. It also clears the way for women religious to celebrate this Year of Consecrated Life with a special lightness and joy. My own impression is that Abp Sartain and others involved discovered the LCWR was not the organization they originally thought it to be. I also think that Pope Francis gave the word to cease and desist! Francis met with representatives of the LCWR for an hour --- a very generous chunk of time in this Pope's schedule and, as the NY Times noted, as close to an apology as one is likely to get in the Church. 

Especially critical (significant) was the paragraph included below by Cardinal Mueller which I have emboldened. To my mind, it is the heart of the CDF's conclusions regarding US women's institutes of consecrated life. It reads: “At the conclusion of this process, the Congregation is confident that L.C.W.R. has made clear its mission to support its member Institutes by fostering a vision of religious life that is centered on the person of Jesus Christ and is rooted in the tradition of the Church. It is this vision that makes religious women and men radical witnesses to the Gospel, and, therefore, is essential for the flourishing of religious life in the Church”.

The most significant and painful accusations made by the CDF at the beginning of this mandate cast doubts on the faithfulness of US ministerial women religious and the centrality of Christ in their lives. In light of this statement it is now possible to see some forms of feminism and some of the newer theological approaches to creation, cosmology, and religious life, for instance, as the fruit and support of lives centered in Christ and minds and hearts that "think with the Church." Even Francis' comments on religious life as necessarily prophetic and challenging to the institutional Church has been profoundly influenced by this theology represented most articulately by Sister Sandra Schneiders, IHM (Prophets in Their Own Country or her Trilogy on Religious Life in the Third Millennium). It is no small feat to be declared "radical witnesses to the Gospel" and "essential to the flourishing of religious life" just a scant three years after being accused of a heterodoxy which had damaged and threatened the well-being of the Church and Religious Life itself!

(N.B. There are different numbers floating around regarding the CDF mandate. Some (The NCR, for instance) are writing it ran for more than six years and the Mandate was given for at least five years. I believe the NCR article was mistaken in its interpretation of the numbers and the time limit of the Mandate. As I understand the situation the facts are that while the CDF's investigation of the LCWR began several years before Abp Sartain's mandate to oversee and reform the LCWR was given, and while his mandate was to extend up to five years, that mandate only ran for three years almost to the day of the announcement from Rome. Hence I have written that the mandate was 'completed' prematurely.)

The Press Release:

Vatican City, 16 April 2015 (VIS) - Officials of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (C.D.F.), Archbishop Peter Sartain and officers of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (L.C.W.R.) met April 16. Archbishop Sartain and L.C.W.R. officers presented a joint report (attached) on the implementation of the C.D.F. Doctrinal Assessment and Mandate of April 2012. The joint report outlines the manner in which the implementation of the Mandate has been accomplished. The Congregation accepted the joint report, marking the conclusion of the Doctrinal Assessment of L.C.W.R. Present for the April 16 meeting were His Eminence Gerhard Cardinal Muller, Archbishop Peter Sartain, Sr. Carol Zinn, S.S.J., Sr. Marcia Allen, C.S.J., Sr. Joan Marie Steadman, C.S.C., and Sr. Janet Mock, C.S.J., and other officials of CDF.

During the meeting, Archbishop Sartain and L.C.W.R. officers outlined the process undertaken by the Bishop Delegates and L.C.W.R. over the past three years, noting the spirit of cooperation among participants throughout the sensitive process. Cardinal Muller offered his thoughts on the Doctrinal Assessment as well as the Mandate and its completion. He expressed gratitude to those present for their willing participation in this important and delicate work and extended thanks to others who had participated, especially Archbishop Leonard P. Blair, Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki, and the past officers and executive directors of L.C.W.R.

Following the meeting, Cardinal Muller said: “At the conclusion of this process, the Congregation is confident that L.C.W.R. has made clear its mission to support its member Institutes by fostering a vision of religious life that is centered on the person of Jesus Christ and is rooted in the tradition of the Church. It is this vision that makes religious women and men radical witnesses to the Gospel, and, therefore, is essential for the flourishing of religious life in the Church”.

Sr. Sharon Holland, IHM,President of L.C.W.R., was unable to be present for the meeting but commented, “We are pleased at the completion of the Mandate, which involved long and challenging exchanges of our understandings of and perspectives on critical matters of Religious Life and its practice. Through these exchanges, conducted always in a spirit of prayer and mutual respect, we were brought to deeper understandings of one another’s experiences, roles, responsibilities, and hopes for the Church and the people it serves. We learned that what we hold in common is much greater than any of our differences”.

Archbishop Sartain added, “Over the past several years, I have had the honour of working with L.C.W.R. officers and meeting a large number of L.C.W.R. members through the implementation of the Mandate. Our work included the revision of L.C.W.R. Statutes; review of L.C.W.R. publications, programs and speakers; and discussion of a wide range of issues raised by the Doctrinal Assessment, L.C.W.R., and the Bishop Delegates.The assistance of C.D.F. officials was essential to the great progress we made. Our work together was undertaken in an atmosphere of love for the Church and profound respect for the critical place of religious life in the United States, and the very fact of such substantive dialogue between bishops and religious women has been mutually beneficial and a blessing from the Lord. As we state in our joint final report, ‘The commitment of L.C.W.R. leadership to its crucial role in service to the mission and membership of the Conference will continue to guide and strengthen L.C.W.R.'s witness to the great vocation of Religious Life, to its sure foundation in Christ, and to ecclesial communion'. The other two Bishop Delegates and I are grateful for the opportunity to be involved in such a fruitful dialogue.”

15 April 2015

What Happens When the Bishop's Discernment clashes with that of the Diocesan Hermit?

 Dear Sister Laurel, thank you for your response to my question about elderly and infirm hermits. I am the one who asked whether their vows would be dispensed. I am glad you also thought the blogger mentioned made some good points. She mentioned two other situations. One of them which dealt with full time work you have already responded to indirectly in a separate question. The blogger asked: [[ What if a hermit's financial circumstances are such that a change has occurred, and he or she needs to work part time or full time and the job available or to of which the hermit is capable is among many people or in highly interactive and noisy environment? Do they then need to be removed as hermits? Do they cease being part of the Consecrated Life of the Catholic Church? Would any charitable or wise spiritual director (bishop or not) demand the hermit's withdrawal, or negate the consecrated vocation? Would church law no longer recognize those who are CL603 hermits--with the bishop making a public statement to that effect?]]

The second one has to do with wearing a habit. She wrote the following: [[What if a hermit goes along wearing a habit for awhile, approved by spiritual director (or a bishop), and then realizes it prohibits the degree of passing unnoticed or being hidden from the eyes of men--that the hermit and his or her director have determined to be best for that particular hermit? What if the hermit decides to dress so as to blend in and not be noticed as different or be mistaken as a consecrated religious if not in the religious life? And is it wrong for a hermit to wear a habit if and when no longer a part of the consecrated life of the church as a religious? These aspects are determined by the hermit and his or her director, for there are always personal, individualized, and unique considerations to be made. Not up to others to judge.]]

So here are my questions. Can [a] person's spiritual director determine these kinds of things? Can  Bishops demand something other than the person's SD and the person discern are best for him. Should someone continue wearing a habit if they have left the consecrated state?

Thanks for writing again. Regarding the place and role of a spiritual director in such matters, the spiritual director will work with a person to help her discern what is best for herself and her vocation at any given point in time but cannot decide this unilaterally and sometimes may not agree with the decision at all. It is not her decision. Ever. She is not a legitimate superior but one who assists a client be attentive and responsive to the voice and movement of God in her life. Similarly if a directee working together with her SD discerns something seems to be the best decision or course of action, etc. this absolutely does not mean a Bishop must automatically agree with this discernment if he is the person's legitimate superior. (By this I mean if he is more than her Bishop but has assumed the place of legitimate superior in the rite of perpetual profession made in his hands.)

The Bishop will certainly consult with the  person in this  matter and she will share her discernment with him; he may also ask the SD to contact him with her opinion in the matter, but, so long as there is also a delegate in the picture, this is unnecessary and unlikely due to the confidential nature of the spiritual direction relationship. On the other hand he will speak with the hermit's delegate since she serves in precisely this role for both the hermit and the larger Church. Remember that the Bishop has other concerns and perhaps a wider vision of the matter at issue which must be accommodated as well as this specific discernment by the hermit. For instance, in the case of a consecrated solitary (diocesan) hermit let's suppose she determines (with her director's assistance) that it would be best for the hermit to work full time in a highly social job and that she believes the hermit can do this for a period of months without it adversely affecting her vocation. However, let's suppose the Bishop says no to this because as he understands things, 1) the canon does not allow this, 2) the witness it gives to the local and possibly the universal Church is disedifying, and 3) he is not entirely convinced the discernment is really cogent for someone with a genuine eremitical vocation.

In such a case the Bishop will make a decision which contradicts the hermit's own discernment and he is entirely within his rights and obligations as Bishop to do so. If a hermit cannot live with this, then she will have to decide what happens next. Will she obey or not? Will she seek dispensation from her eremitical profession or not? Again, the Bishop has concerns which overlap those of the hermit (both are concerned with her vocation specifically and the eremitical tradition generally) but he is responsible canonically to protect c 603 and the consecrated eremitical life it expresses. Sometimes what seems best for the individual hermit is not also what is best for the Church or for the vocation more generally.

The hermit has to try and get her mind and heart around this fact and either embrace the sacrifice it requires --- if this is possible without compromising her own conscience --- or she will need to find another good-conscience resolution which protects not only her own vocation but the solitary eremitical vocation more generally. However, in such a significant matter -- a matter which weighs directly on the integrity and meaning of the canon --- if she cannot do this and the Bishop is unable to assist her to achieve a workable resolution while standing by his own prudential decision on the matter, then yes, the hermit's vows will very likely need to be dispensed and the hermit will cease to be a consecrated hermit in the Roman Catholic Church. You see, the Bishop, as the hermit's legitimate superior can certainly demand something the hermit does not  feel is the best thing for her. This will usually not be done facilely and not without consultation, but it can happen. The judgment is NOT the individual hermit's alone precisely because her vocation is an ecclesial one; others (the church at large, other diocesan hermits or candidates, their own Bishops, etc.) have a stake in the decision being made and the local Bishop and to a lesser degree, the diocesan hermit's delegate, have responsibilities for making binding judgments in these cases.

On Wearing a Habit if One has left the Consecrated (religious) State?

Should someone continue wearing a habit if they leave the consecrated state? No. While I understand the allure of such a decision and the difficulty of letting the habit go, the fact is that habits are symbols of public vocations. They are ecclesial symbols and the individual does not have the right to adopt these without the Church's permission and supervision. (A spiritual director, by the way, would not of him or herself have the right to grant this permission.) I wrote recently that symbols are living things, that they are born and can die but they cannot simply be created by fiat (cf, On Symbols and Ongoing Mediation or, On the Significance of the Designation Er Dio). When we are clothed with the habit and/or prayer garment (something the Church does, usually through the mediation of an institute of consecrated life, but also in the profession of hermits) we accept this symbol as our own; we step into a stream of living tradition and witness to it with our lives.

One of the reasons diocesan hermits do not adopt the habits of specific congregations (Dominican, Franciscan, Carthusian, Camaldolese) for instance is because they are not professed as part of this tradition. Their lives are neither canonically committed to nor shaped by members of these congregations who teach and model for them what this habit means in the history of the Church and the life of a religious of this specific spiritual tradition. In any case, the bottom line is that the wearing of a habit is an ecclesial act, an act of witness which the Church commissions and supervises. It is part of the rights and obligations associated with consecrated life. If one leaves the state she leaves these rights and obligations as well. Again, with rights come obligations and both rights and obligations are mediated by the Church, not by the individual.

[[The blogger also wrote, [[Again, no consecrated Catholic hermit is like another anymore than there are two fingerprints the same in the whole world or that have ever repeated throughout the history of mankind.]] I think this blogger was trying to suggest that Canon law cannot place arbitrary constraints on an individual hermit and that each hermit is free to discern what is best for themselves. She seems to have a fundamental belief that canon law is harmful, especially in regard to hermits. Can you comment on this opinion?]]

I have written recently about the profound characteristics shared by diocesan hermits in spite of their uniqueness here: Significance of Er Dio as post-nomial initials. I don't want to repeat that since it is quite recent but I do suggest you take a look at it if you missed it or perhaps simply to refresh your memory. It is true that every consecrated hermit differs from every other hermit just as individual fingerprints differ. But all fingerprints have shared characteristics or overarching patterns of whorls, arches, loops and their subsets. Eremitical life also has such patterns and basic characteristics. Canon 603 lists these and the hermit uses them to define her life with her own necessary flexibility as she codifies these in her Rule or Plan of Life. Any individualism is at least muted and (one hopes) transformed by this process of configuration and the conversion it empowers. Hermits differ one to another, yes, but to the extent they are authentic hermits their differences represent a variation on a more important shared theme and charism, namely, the silence of solitude they are each and all called to live in the name of Christ and (for those who are ecclesially professed and consecrated) in the name of his Church. I believe that canon law is important for protecting a rare and fragile though vital ecclesial vocation; I have written about that here several times so please check out past posts on this. My opinion has not changed.

Postscript: there has been some confusion, I believe, because in Canon 603 the hermit is said to live her life "under the direction of the local Bishop". This has caused some to write "under their director's authority (whether bishop or not)" [paraphrase] and similar things. However, "direction" in canon 603 does not refer to a bishop doing or serving as spiritual director nor does it elevate the ordinary spiritual director to the same role as the Bishop here; such levelling and confusion of roles is a serious misunderstanding of the language being employed here. Instead, the term "direction" (and thus, the director) refers to the general current usage in religious life where a director is a superior under whose legitimate supervision one lives one's life --- as in the case of a novice director or director of candidates, etc. Thus, to avoid confusion when speaking of canon 603, I tend to speak of "director" for spiritual director and  of "legitimate superior" under whose supervision  (rather than direction) one lives as a canonical hermit to refer to the local bishop.

Star Trek Next Generation and the Resurrection (Reprise)

In one of the Star Trek Next Generation episodes (yes, I admit I am or was a fan of most all the Star Trek series!) Command-der Geordi La Forge and Ensign Ro Larren are caught in a transporter accident. There is some sort of power or radiation surge during a return "beaming" and when the two of them "materialize" back on the Enterprise they cannot be seen or heard. Neither can they interact with the ordinary material world they know in a way which will let folks know they are really alive (for the crew of the Enterprise have concluded they died without a trace). La Forge and Roe try to get folks' attention and learn that they can walk through walls, reach through control panels or other "solid" objects, stand between two people conversing without being seen, and so forth. It is as though the dimension of reality Geordi and Ro now inhabit interpenetrates the other more everyday world, interfaces with it in some way without being identical with it. Their new existence is both continuous and discontinuous with their old existence; they are present but with a different kind of bodiliness, a bodiliness in which they can connect with and be present to one another but which their crewmates must be empowered to see.

They leave a vague radiation trail wherever they go and in attempting to purge the ship of this trail the Enterprise crew causes the boundary between these two dimensions to thin or dissolve and LaForge and Roe are made visible briefly in the other world, fleetingly, time after time.  It is only over time that the crew come to realize that their friends are not dead but alive, and more, that they exist not in some remote corner of empty space, but right here, in their ship amongst their friends. In fact, it is at a somewhat raucous celebration in memory of and gratitude for their lost friends' lives, that this clear recognition occurs and Geordi and Roe become really present to their friends and shipmates.

It is not hard, I think, to see why this story functions as an analogy of Thursday's Gospel lection, and in fact, for many of the readings we have and will hear during this Easter Season. In particular I think this story helps us to think about and imagine two points which Jesus' post Easter appearances make again and again. The first is that Jesus' resurrection is bodily. He was not merely "raised" in our minds and hearts, his "resurrection" is not merely the result of a subjective experience of grace and/or forgiveness --- though it will include these; Jesus is not a disembodied spirit, a naked immortal soul. Neither does he leave his humanity behind and simply "become God" --- as a pagan emperor might have been said to have done, nor as though his humanity was merely a matter of God "slumming" among us for several decades and then jettisoning this. Instead, Jesus is raised to a new form of bodiliness, a new form of perfected (glorified) humanity. He is the first fruits of this new bodiliness and we look forward in hope because what has happened to Jesus will also happen to each of us. Jesus' resurrection raises Jesus to a life which is both earthly and heavenly --- like the story of Geordi and Ensign Ro, Jesus' existence straddles (and integrates) two worlds or dimensions. It brings these two together (reconciles them) and also mediates between them. It symbolizes, in the strongest sense of that term, the reality which will one day come to be when God is all in all.

The second point that this story helps us to imagine and think about then is the fact that Jesus' resurrection makes Jesus the first fruits of a new creation. Jesus' participation in literally Godless, sinful death and his descent into hell has implicated God in and transformed these with God's presence. Godless death has been destroyed (how can it be godless if God is there?) and one day, when God is all in all, death per se will be ended as well. In other words, the world we inhabit is not the same one we inhabited before Jesus' death and resurrection. Instead it is a world in which the veil between sacred and profane (or secular), heavenly (eternal) and fleshly (mortal) has been torn asunder and heaven and earth begun to interpenetrate one another, a world which signals that one day there will be a new heaven and a new earth with the entire cosmos remade. We who are baptized into Christ's death are, as Tom Wright puts the matter, citizens of heaven colonizing the earth; as a result we are privileged to see reality with eyes of faith, and when we do we are able to see when the boundary between these two interpenetrating realities thins and Jesus' new mediating bodiliness is revealed to us.

For Christians this "thinning" (only a metaphor, of course) occurs in many ways. In baptism we are initiated into Jesus's death and made both part of this new creation and capable of perceiving it with eyes of faith. In prayer we become vulnerable to Jesus' presence in God. In times of grieving and loss we may also become uniquely vulnerable and open to it.  And there are especially privileged ways this happens as well. There is the bodiliness of the Scriptural text where the Word is proclaimed and Jesus is able to speak to, challenge, comfort, and commission us to act as ambassadors of this New Creation. The stories within the Scriptures, most especially the parables, serve as doorways to this new creation; they ask us to let go of the preconceptions, achievements, defenses, etc which work so well for us in the pre-resurrection world and step into a sacred space which is, because of Jesus' resurrection and ascension, always present here and now. There is the ecclesial body where even two or three gathered together in Jesus' name (or, for that matter, even a single hermit in her cell praying in the name of the Church) reveals this New Creation in a proleptic and partial way. And of course, there are the other Sacraments which mediate Christ's presence to us; among these especially is the Eucharist where sacred and profane come together and ordinary bread and wine are transformed into a form or expression of Jesus' risen and unique bodily presence.

Too often we locate heaven in some remote place "out there" in space. But in a real though imperfect (proleptic) way heaven is right here, right now, interpenetrating and leavening our ordinary world. Jesus is the New Temple, the new One in whom heaven and earth meet; he Rules not from some remote heaven, but from within this New Creation. The Star Trek Next Generation episode is, of course, science fiction where this challenging and consoling reality is not. Still, it helps me imagine a more genuinely Scriptural paradigm of the nature and meaning of  Jesus' resurrection from death than the even more inadequate ones I grew up hearing!! I hope it will do the same for you.

N.B.,  Jesus' ascension will modify the form of bodiliness or presence the original disciples experienced and, among other things, mark both the end of the unique and privileged post-Easter appearances and the beginning of a kind of intermediate state between these and the "second coming" or parousia when God will be all in all. Even so, this does not change what I have presented here. With the ascension we move from the period of time when people saw (via these privileged appearances) and believed to that time when they "do not see" but believe. Still, the essential truth is that we belong to a new creation in which heaven and earth interpenetrate one another as they did not prior to Jesus' death and resurrection. In Christ we also straddle, reconcile, and mediate between these two worlds.

12 April 2015

On the Designation "Diocesan Hermit"

[[Hi Sister Laurel,  does the term "diocesan eremitic" have an official meaning or is it used for any hermit living in a diocese? From your writing I have gotten the impression that it has a special meaning but I asked a Catholic friend and she hadn't heard the term.]]

Hi there! Yes, the term "diocesan hermit" or "diocesan eremite" has a very specific meaning in the Church. It refers to a publicly professed hermit who make his or her profession under c 603 in the hands of the local (diocesan) Bishop. A couple of things are the result of such an arrangement. First, the local Bishop becomes the hermit's legitimate superior. Secondly, the hermit thus embraces a kind of stability of place which relates to her life in the diocese itself. If she desires to remain a canon 603 hermit but finds it necessary to move to another diocese, she must find a Bishop who is willing to take responsibility for her as legitimate superior. Not all Bishops at this point in time are willing to accept such obligations. Her current Bishop must also "approve" the move. (While he will include a statement that the hermit is in fact a consecrated hermit under c 603 who is in good standing, this is probably less a matter of genuine approval and a little more like "signing off" on the matter; after all, he is relinquishing jurisdiction while that is being assumed by another Bishop.)

It is especially important, I think, that this not be seen as a bit of legalism or some meaningless (or worse yet, oppressive)  hoops the hermit has to jump through, but instead, a way of protecting the vocation and the relationships which are essential to it. Thus, this requirement witnesses to these essential relationships and says something crucial about the ecclesial nature of the c 603 vocation itself. Every authentic Christian life and vocation are rooted in relationships, first with God in Christ through the mediation of his Church and then to all others. and all have associated rights and obligations. The eremitical vocation, which is uniquely subject to the temptation of individualism and uniquely called to witness to a dialogical solitude which opposes individualism, also requires the structure of law with the ecclesial rights and obligations established in law if it is to serve as it is meant to do. Saint Benedict wrote quite critically about "gyrovagues" --- monks who moved from place to place without real stability. These 6C "individualists" were anathema to monastic life. In our own day this specific requirement helps prevent the same kind of individualism in hermits.

I suppose the closest thing to this with which your friend might be familiar is the diocesan priest who is incardinated into a diocese. Diocesan priests may move to another diocese but the Bishop there must be willing to incardinate them into this new diocese. In fact a diocesan hermit moving from the jurisdiction of one Bishop to another may well be said to be "excardinated" from one diocese and "incardinated" into another. The literal meaning of excardinate is to "unhinge", 'unplug", or, in other words, to "set free" from the jurisdiction of one Bishop. To incardinate, then is to bring under the legitimate jurisdiction of a Bishop. Moreover, similar to a diocesan priest who cannot simply wander from place to place and function as a priest because he is "interdicted" or prevented from exercising his priesthood unless and until another Bishop incardinates him, a Canon 603 Hermit cannot simply wander from place to place and be considered a diocesan hermit.

One major difference, however, is that a diocesan hermit is usually perpetually professed and consecrated when they seek to move; diocesan priests are neither professed nor consecrated. In such a case, were the hermit simply to up and move to another diocese without providing for excardination and new incardination, she is liable to the dispensation of her vows because of a significant material change in the conditions of those vows. (Personally, I find it incomprehensible that a diocesan hermit would behave in such a way so a diocese needing to take such steps also seems unlikely to me; I am really merely pointing out a similarity between the diocesan stability of priests and of c 603 hermits.) Lay hermits residing in dioceses are not diocesan hermits (or "diocesan eremitics"). They have no legitimate superior, nor have they embraced the canonical rights and obligations of the consecrated solitary eremitical life within a specific diocese. Lay hermits are entirely free to pick up and move without permission of either their current or their new bishop just as any lay Catholic may do.

Thomas, Called "Didymus": What was his Doubt Really About? (Reprise with Postscript)

Today's Gospel focuses, as readings all week have done, on the appearances of Jesus to the disciples, and one of the lessons one should draw from these stories is that we are indeed dealing with bodily resurrection, but therefore, with a kind of bodiliness which transcends the corporeality we know here and now. It is very clear that Jesus' presence among his disciples is not simply a spiritual one, in other words, and that part of Christian hope is the hope that we as embodied persons will come to perfection beyond the limits of death. It is not just our souls which are meant to be part of the new heaven and earth, but our whole selves, body and soul.

The scenario with Thomas continues this theme, but is contextualized in a way which often leads homilists to focus on the whole dynamic of faith with seeing, and faith despite not having seen. It also makes doubt the same as unbelief and plays these off against faith, as though faith cannot also be served by doubt. But doubt and unbelief are decidedly NOT the same things. We rarely see Thomas as the one whose doubt or whose demands SERVE true faith, and yet, that is what today's Gospel is about. Meanwhile, Thomas also tends to get a bad rap as the one who was separated from the community and doubted what he had not seen with his own eyes. The corollary here is that Thomas will not simply listen to his brother and sister disciples and believe that the Lord has appeared to or visited them. But I think there is something far more significant going on in Thomas' proclamation that unless he sees the wounds inflicted on Jesus in the crucifixion, and even puts his fingers in the very nail holes, he will not believe.

What Thomas, I think, wants to make very clear is that we Christians believe in a crucified Christ, and that the resurrection was God's act of validation of Jesus as scandalously and ignominiously Crucified. I think Thomas knows on some level anyway, that insofar as the resurrection really occured, it does not nullify what was achieved on the cross. Instead it renders permanently valid what was revealed (made manifest and made real) there. In other words, Thomas knows if the resurrection is really God's validation of Jesus' life and establishes him as God's Christ, the Lord he will meet is the one permanently established and marked as the crucified One. The crucifixion was not some great misunderstanding which could be wiped away by resurrection. Instead it was an integral part of the revelation of the nature of truly human and truly divine existence. Whether it is the Divine life, authentic human existence, or sinful human life --- all are marked and revealed in one way or another by the signs of Jesus' cross. For instance, ours is a God who has journeyed to the very darkest, godless places or realms human sin produces, and has become Lord of even those places. He does not disdain them even now but is marked by them and will journey with us there --- whether we are open to him doing so or not --- because Jesus has implicated God there and marked him with the wounds of an exhaustive kenosis.

Another piece of this is that Jesus is, as Paul tells us, the end of the Law and it was Law that crucified him. The nail holes and wounds in Jesus' side and head -- indeed every laceration which marked him -- are a sign of legal execution -- both in terms of Jewish and Roman law. We cannot forget this, and Thomas' insistence that he really be dealing with the Crucified One reminds us vividly of this fact as well. The Jewish and Roman leaders did not crucify Jesus because they misunderstood him, but because they understood all-too-clearly both Jesus and the immense power he wielded in his weakness and poverty. They understood that he could turn the values of this world, its notions of power, authority, etc, on their heads. They knew that he could foment profound revolution (religious and otherwise) wherever he had followers. They chose to crucify him not only to put an end to his life, but to demonstrate he was a fraud who could not possibly have come from God; they chose to crucify him to terrify those who might follow him into all the places discipleship might really lead them --- especially those places of human power and influence associated with religion and politics. The marks of the cross are a judgment (krisis) on this whole reality.

There are many gods and even manifestations of the real God available to us today, and so there were to Thomas and his brethren in those first days and weeks following the crucifixion of Jesus. When Thomas made his declaration about what he would and would not believe, none of these were crucified Gods or would be worthy of being believed in if they were associated with such shame and godlessness. Thomas knew how very easy it would be for his brother and sister disciples to latch onto one of these, or even to fall back on entirely traditional notions in reaction to the terribly devastating disappointment of Jesus' crucifixion. He knew, I think, how easy it might be to call the crucifixion and all it symbolized a terrible misunderstanding which God simply reversed or wiped away with the resurrection -- a distasteful chapter on which God has simply turned the page. Thomas knew that false prophets showed up all the time. He knew that a God who is distant and all-powerful is much easier to believe in (and follow) than one who walks with us even in our sinfulness or who empties himself to become subject to the powers of sin and death, especially in the awful scandal and ignominy of the cross --- and who expects us to do essentially the same.

In other words, Thomas' doubt may have had less to do with the FACT of a resurrection, than it had to do with his concern that the disciples, in their loss, grief, desperation, guilt, and the immense social pressure they faced to renounce Jesus and the God he revealed, had truly met and clung to the real Lord, the crucified One. In this way their own discipleship will come to be marked by the signs of the cross as they preach, suffer, and serve in the name (and so, in the paradoxical power) of THIS Lord and no other. Only he could inspire them; only he could sustain them; only he could accompany them wherever true discipleship led them.

Paul said, "I want to know Christ crucified and only Christ crucified" because only this Christ had transformed sinful, godless reality with his presence, only this Christ had redeemed even the realms of sin and death by remaining open to God even within these realities. Only this Christ would journey with us to the unexpected and unacceptable places, and in fact, only he would meet us there with the promise and presence of a God who would bring life out of them. Thomas, I believe, knew precisely what Paul would soon proclaim himself, and it is this, I think, which stands behind his insistence on seeing the wounds and put his fingers in the very nail holes. He wanted to be sure his brethren were putting their faith in the crucified One, the one who turned everything upside down and relativized every other picture of God we might believe in. He became the great doubter because of this, but I suspect that instead he was the most faithful and astute theologian among the original Apostles. He, like Paul, wanted to know Christ Crucified and ONLY Christ Crucified.

We should not trivialize Thomas' witness by transforming him into a run of the mill empiricist and doubter (though doubting is an important piece of growth in faith)!! Instead we should imitate his insistence: we are called upon to be followers of the Crucified God, and no other. Every version of God we meet should be closely examined for nail holes, and the lance wound. Every one should be checked for signs that this God is capable of and generous enough to assume such suffering on behalf of a creation he would reconcile and make whole. Only then do we know this IS the God proclaimed in the Gospels and the Epistles of Paul, the only one worthy of being followed even into the darkest reaches of human sin and death, the only One who meets us in the unexpected and even unacceptable place, the only one who loves us with an eternal love from which nothing can separate us.

Postscript, 12 April. 2015. Fr Bob O'Donnell, CSP, made a great point today which fits with the rest of this piece but which I had never really focused on, namely, that Jesus's disciples were still cowering in a locked room when Thomas is told the risen Christ has appeared to them. (Fr. Bob also reminded us that Thomas was an undoubted leader in faith before this. cf, Jn 11:16) How can he believe this is true when the disciples are still so very fearful and isolated? Resurrection is something which in part occurs within us as Christ assumes personal power and presence in our lives. As we begin to live and act in his name, the bodily resurrection is realized there as well as in the breaking of the bread or the breaking open of the Scriptures, for instance. A sign that Christ is risen then is our transformation from frightened disciples to those who speak the truth with boldness (parrhesia). It is, as Fr Bob said today, in the transformation of the "timid ten" (for Judas was gone too) that Thomas and we too meet convincing signs of the truth of the resurrection appearances.

Questions On Writing a Rule of Life

[[Dear Sister Laurel, I am writing a Rule for myself and I have checked around online for examples and advice. I have read the articles you have written and also found an example of a Rule from another Catholic Hermit which is called "the nine S's". I think hers is a very different way of approaching writing a Rule than you suggest but it sounds easier to do. I am wondering if I could make it work for myself. Not sure I would use S's but I can't think of another letter that would work in the same way. Do you have any suggestions for me in this? You also recently said something about if a hermit's Rule was detailed enough. What did you mean?]]

Thanks for your questions. I appreciate them, but I also need to ask you a couple of questions. Why are you seeking to write a Rule? Is it for yourself as you are currently living because you think it is a good idea, or is it because you are seeking to become a hermit? If it is the latter, are you seeking to become a canonical or consecrated hermit under canon 603 or will you remain a lay hermit? I will address each of these in turn so take them for what they are worth to yourself personally. The question about a Rule being detailed enough is answered implicitly here. If this is not clear, please let me know that and I will add a bit which addresses this explicitly.

Writing A Rule for Yourself:

If you are seeking to write a Rule for yourself alone (and not, say, for your diocese and profession under c 603) then there are many ways to do it. How ever you choose to do this, you will want to make sure you manage to reflect how it is that God works in your own life as well as the practices and principles that support that. The Rule needs to function 1 ) to inspire and 2) to regulate or, in some instances, even to govern your life. For this reason some of the posts you have already read will help you. For instance, one post recommends you start by writing about how God is at work in you and your life. That remains good advice no matter what reason you are desiring to write a Rule.

Also, when you get to the point where you are ready to write an experimental Rule, while you won't want to get bogged down in details you will want to spell things out to some degree. For  example, if your Rule includes prayer, then you will want to indicate the main ways you pray and when (meaning that you will note whether and how you generally pray at dawn or morning or noon, evening, or night, not necessarily that you specify a specific hour). You see, writing "prayer" all by itself will not really be sufficient.  Not only is it "rootless", but neither is it linked to any concrete praxis or goals. After all, we all know that prayer is an important part of the Christian's life. Simply listing "prayer" will not serve in the way a Rule should serve. (More about this below.)

As another example, if you wish to build in silence then you will probably want to look at what ways your own life is too noisy, or is not geared to attentive listening to God and your own heart and begin by correcting those. Then you can consider what kinds of silence you want to build in as well and do the same thing you did with prayer. It will not be enough to simply list "silence" as part of your Rule because, again,  you would not be indicating where or when (much less why) you keep silence.  A Rule is not merely a piece of personal law to which you are committed (though for the publicly professed hermit it is certainly that); it is also meant to serve as a trellis or handrail that helps you know and honor in all of your activities and choices the shape of the journey you are making with God and why. If you (or I for instance) were to say, "Silence is one of the main terms of my Rule" or even "Silence is my Rule," the logical questions anyone would have a right to ask are, what and when do you mean? Do you answer phone calls? Do you talk to friends? Do you use sign language to communicate with clients?! Do you mean you never pray out loud or speak to others? Why are you doing this? Why is silence important and how does it contribute to a really responsive and loving life centered on Christ?

This leads to my next observation, namely, it is true that the "Rule" you referred to is a lot easier to write, but, in my personal opinion, it hardly makes sense as a way to either inspire or regulate the way one lives. Nor does it do justice to the dignity of your own calling which is meant to be an organic whole reflecting an integrated response to God. Let me give you a couple of examples. One of the "9 S's" is serenity, but how does one regulate the practice of serenity? How does one commit to or grow in it? Does it refer to an external appearance or to an inner state? If one is not serene in a time of crisis or great grief then is one transgressing the terms of her Rule?  How does serenity fit in your life and why is it part of your Rule? Why was this chosen as a central element of a "Rule" and how does it relate to other elements?

The same is partly true of "slowness." What is one committing to here and why? Is it because the person is hyperactive? Careless about things or usually rushed? When is one failing to observe one's Rule? When is one succeeding? If one has to complete a project because of a deadline, can one simply proceed as slowly as possible and forget about the deadline? And how is slowness related to serenity or any of the other "9 S's"? In some way or shape one has to determine the dimensions of Christian spirituality which are defining characteristics of one's own life and commit to these in a way which truly makes one's life Christ like in the way God is calling one to. It is very unlikely a list of disparate words without theological or personal context will do this, much less a list of "spiritual terms" which are more or less arbitrarily chosen because they all start with the same letter of the alphabet. The elements of a Rule need to fit together as recognizable dimensions of a single clearly integrated call while the one writing the Rule is responsible for achieving this insofar as she is able.

I agree that it is true that writing this kind of Rule is not an easy project, but I think especially that it cannot be short-circuited by merely creating a list of relatively impersonal characteristics one would like to live. A vocation is about the person you are and are becoming, not merely about characteristics and, at least the way I understand a Rule, it needs to provide a way to be the person God is calling you to be.

In any case, while lists of characteristics can be helpful, especially if they help call our attention to ways we often fall short in or remind us of the ways God gifts us, unfortunately, such a list is not a Rule or Plan of Life in the sense most Christians or the Church herself understands the term. First of all, it has no demonstrable contact with us as persons or with the shape of our everyday life. Secondly, a Rule like the one you mentioned is not livable because nothing is actually defined --- neither as expectations or as limits. How much silence and when? How much poverty and of what sort? Obedience to whom and with what limitations? When we have limits we may transgress them occasionally, but without them we don't even have a way to begin attempting to live our lives. To specify "prayer" as a piece of our Rule, for instance, without some concrete expectations and goals makes success impossible and failure a foregone conclusion. Thus, if you choose important terms like the "9 S's", make sure they have a clear connection to your own life and reflect the concrete ways God is calling you to live that.

If You are Thinking of Becoming a Lay Hermit:

If you are thinking about becoming a hermit, and here I mean a lay hermit whether with private vows or not (because, after all, you will need to start here before seriously considering, much less actually discerning consecrated eremitical life if that is in your mind or heart at all), you will need to have a clear idea first of all what the central elements of any eremitical life are. Canon 603 lists these (Stricter separation from the world, meaning from that which is resistant to Christ, the silence of solitude, assiduous prayer and penance, the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity in celibacy, and obedience, all lived according to a Rule for the praise of God and salvation of the world). This last element is really important since it says to you and everyone else why you are doing this (and in fact, why any authentic hermit embraces a solitary desert existence). Once again, your Rule should not simply list these elements but indicate the shape of the life which embodies them. Moreover, it should indicate the shape of your own life; your own life is a specific and unique embodiment of these elements and the Christian and/or eremitical life they characterize.

If you are Thinking of Becoming a Solitary Consecrated (C 603) Hermit:

Finally, if you are thinking of becoming a canonical hermit, that is a professed and conse-crated solitary hermit who lives the eremitical life in the name of the Church, then you will take all of the above, live the elements listed for some time, and then write a Rule which will serve your own life but also be exemplary for others seeking to live similar lives. I have written a lot about this already and there is no need to say more about it at this point. What is important to reiterate here is that this Rule will not be unlivable. It will not be a simple list of unrelated terms without specifying limitations and expectations. If you do choose to write this kind of "Rule", for whatever reason, please be aware your Diocese is simply unlikely to approve it. More, they are unlikely to view you as someone who is ready to be professed under canon 603.

You see, in my experience, the Rule a hermit produces is an important part of the diocese's discernment of the nature and quality of the vocation in front of them. Writing an adequate Rule of Life is a lot of work, yes, and it will require several drafts over time before it truly is both livable and sufficiently challenging. Even so, it will reflect your formation, persistence in prayer and otherwise, capacity for introspection, discernment, and obedience, and it will witness to the way God has been present in bringing you to this point. I urge you, therefore, to read again the posts having to do with writing a Rule, where to start, etc, and especially those which refer to formation and the different Rules which are apt to mark different stages of personal formation. You might decide to start with a list of words like the "9 S's" you referred to, but within a year or two you should be ready to write something approaching a more livable and organic Rule and in several more years you will have refined that even further into something that is truly your own --- that is, truly a reflection of and way of honoring the vital  and dynamic shape of your journey with God AND an application and continuation of the ancient eremitical tradition in our own time and circumstances.

11 April 2015

After the End

One of the most touching stories belonging to the Easter appearances is that of Peter's "rehabilitation" and recommissioning by Jesus. It is a continuation of the story begun yesterday as Jesus meets Peter and the other disciples while they are fishing but catching nothing without him. Peter, as impulsive as ever jumps into the sea to come to Jesus whom he recognizes as "the Lord".  How familiar to each of us is the regret and shame captured in the line, "In Peter's dreams, the cock still crowed"! I love the title of the following poem because on Good Friday it really was the end for any disciple of Jesus. Only on Easter Sunday is there forgiveness and a solution to both guilt and shame. Only on Easter Sunday is there a new beginning, a new creation, a new world with a new Lord. Only on Easter are the disciples given new and abundant lives and missions in the power and Name of the Risen Christ. John Shea does such a wonderful job of conveying this, not only with Peter, but with the disciples on the road to Emmaus and Mary of Magdala as well.

Like her friend
she would curse the barren tree
and glory in the lilies of the field.
She lived in noons and midnights
in those mounting moments
of high dance
when blood is wisdom and flesh love.
But now, before the violated cave
on the third day of her tears
she is a black pool of grief
spent upon the earth.
They have taken her dead Jesus,
unoiled and unkissed
to where desert flies and worms
more quickly work.
She suffers wounds that will not heal
and enters into the pain of God
where lives the gardener
who once exalted in her perfume
knew the extravagance of her hair
and now asks whom she seeks.

In Peter's dreams, the cock still crowed.
He returned to Galilee to throw nets into
the sea and watch them sink
like memories into darkness.

He did not curse the sun
that rolled down his back
or the wind that drove the fish
beyond his nets.
He only waited for the morning 
when the shore mist would lift
and from his boat he would see him.
Then after naked and impetuous swim
with the sea running from his eyes,
he would find a cook with holes in his hands
and stooped over dawn coals
who would offer him the Kingdom of God
for breakfast.

On the road that escapes Jerusalem
and winds along the ridge to Emmaus
two disillusioned youths
dragged home their crucified dream.
They had smelled "messiah" in the air
and rose to that scarred and ancient hope
only to mourn what might have been.
And now a sudden stranger
falls upon their loss
with excited words about mustard seeds
and surprises hidden at the heart of death
and that evil must be kissed upon the lips
and that every scream is redeemed for
it echoes in the ear of God,
and do you not understand:
what died upon the cross was fear.
They protested their right to despair,
but he said, "My Father's laughter fills
the silence of the tomb."
Because they did not understand,
they offered him food,
and in the breaking of the bread
they knew the imposter for who he was:
the arsonist of the heart.

After the end comes the conspiracy
of gardeners, cooks and strangers.

by John Shea, STD