29 February 2016

Addressibility: Called by Name to be that we Might Call Others by Name to be

[[Hi Sister, could you say a little more about what you call "addressibility" and the way that refers to what it means to be made in the image of God? I have never heard this before and don't know how to think about it. I don't know who Gerhard Ebeling is. Thank you!]]

Sure, I would be happy to say a little more about it. I have probably written about this before in posts about the invocation to the Lord's Prayer. It is critical to the notion of prayer, for instance, that it is understood in terms of the capacity to address God by name and to be addressed by name ourselves. When we address another by name or are addressed by name ourselves it implies giving one or being given a personal place to stand in the life of the other. Without this act of address we might impinge on another in a less than truly personal way with our physical presence, but we do not have a personal place to stand in their lives. Address by name empowers and summons to personal presence. It is an implicit promise to allow the one addressed to be themselves and more, to reveal themselves in whatever terms they may do. Since names include and transcend any characteristic or collection of characteristics a name symbolizes the indefinable mystery of the person and it was this that Semitic peoples especially saw and reflected in their Scriptures.

To call upon God by name as Abba, is not to describe God as fatherly (though it may also do this); it is to give God a place in our lives which respects God's mystery and allows (him/her) to reveal (him/herself) on God's own terms. In last Sunday's first reading God reveals his name as "I will be who I will be" (often translated as I am who am despite this lacking the dynamism of the original). This Name captures both God's indefinability or mystery and the dynamic of revelation on one's own terms.   Likewise, to call upon God by name is to enter into a covenant relationship where God calls us by name as well and therefore allows that loving act of address to summon us to be our truest selves. To be called by name is to have the entire mystery of our personhood addressed, not just the characteristics which make us successful in the world around us, not just our strengths and virtues, not even just our weaknesses and sins. It is the way God creates, loves, and shows mercy --- and it is  the way we share in that power. (It is no small matter that God is portrayed as entrusting us with the naming of the animals in the Genesis account of creation.) I don't think other beings share in this capacity to name, call by name (or tragically and sinfully, to betray this capacity and to distort or otherwise deprive others of a name or the gift of being called by name). It is unique to us as imago dei.

Again, name symbolizes the WHOLE person who is always more than the sum of her parts and invites her to be her truest self. When God calls us by name to be it is a creative act. It recognizes and even mobilizes the entire mystery of the person in a way no other word does. When we act similarly it is similarly creative; it gives others a place to stand in community with us which the person cannot create herself. Again, to call another by name is to constitute them in freedom not least because it extends membership in a human community to them, a necessary condition of possibility of human growth and fulfillment. It is an act of profound compassion, perhaps the highest we can exercise.

I would argue that the basic truths of our faith can be understood to some extent, either directly or indirectly, in terms of this act of address and the empowering of addressibility. Addressibility and the spoken Word of address is a key to understanding creation, creatio continua, redemption and reconciliation,  the nature of mercy, revelation, and justice because all of these hinge upon the dynamics involved in and symbolized by being called and calling upon another by name to be. For instance the imperative that we transform aliens into neighbors literally depends upon this dynamic.  It is a task we are called to undertake as part of the ministry of reconciliation. The notion that Christ calls us friends not servants reflects this same dynamic since we address friends differently and with a different level of intimacy than we do servants.

When I wrote the piece you are asking about (cf., Embracing a Surpassing Righteousness) I had used parts of it as a reflection for a Communion service. One member of the assembly was reminded of a song she knew and sang it for me afterwards. I think it captures perfectly what I have described here --- with the addition of the great yearning we each have to be called by name and made true by God --- or, to a more limited extent, by anyone else who might do similarly.

Please call me by my true name,
Please call me by my true name,
That I may wake up,
wake up,
And the doors of my heart can open wide, the doors of compassion.
The doors of compassion.

P.S., Gerhard Ebeling is a Lutheran systematic theologian. Besides writing about the nature of faith and a full length commentary on Galatians, one of the areas in which he specializes is that of theological linguistics. His focus on the Word and on the human capacity for Word is very powerful. His small book of nine sermons on the Lord's Prayer with a profound insight into the nature of the invocation is wonderful and very readable. His Introduction to a Theological Theory of Language is equally profound --- though I wouldn't suggest this for the casual reader! Several of Ebeling's other books focus similarly on Word and on Proclamation. God and Word is a small and precious gem of a book for theologians and non-theologians alike. I'm afraid I haven't kept up with him or his work beyond the 1970's-80's.

25 February 2016

Rights and Obligations Associated with Public Profession (c 603)

I had a conversation with a friend and diocesan hermit from another country yesterday and we talked about many things with regard to c. 603 vocations including a number which she found important but she also thought they were rarely defined clearly enough for those looking on at the vocation from outside, and sometimes, even for those who staff our chanceries.

A couple of these include, 1) the specific rights and obligations attached to public profession and consecration as a diocesan hermit, and 2) the meaning and import of recording professions and consecrations of such persons not only in the hermit's diocese, but in the baptismal register of her home Church (that is, the Church where she received the Sacraments of initiation or at least that of baptism).  I wanted to list the rights and obligations I am aware of here (though I am certainly apt to miss some!) because too often it happens that non-canonical hermits portray canonical standing as involving a kind of liturgical icing on the cake or unnecessary legalism rather than something making a substantive difference in the vocation. (Please also see, What Specifically does the Church hold you Responsible For? for a related discussion.) I also wanted to say a little more about the import of recording canonical professions and consecrations since it is significant that one's profession and/or consecration is included in one's Sacramental record whenever one proposes to make a commitment effecting a change in one's state of life --- something untrue of private commitments and acts of dedication. A third topic I will come back to in another post is the significance of making one's profession "in the hands of " the bishop because this is important for both the hermit and all subsequent bishops under whose direction she will live her life thereafter.

Canonical Rights and Obligations associated with c 603 Profession and Consecration:

* The right to be known as a consecrated (canonical) hermit with an ecclesial vocation which one lives "in the name of the Church." By this I mean one is consecrated by God through the public mediation of the Church and commissioned to represent the eremitical tradition in the name of the Church. (She does NOT consecrate herself!) A canonically consecrated hermit maintains this right even when her diocese gets a new Bishop or ceases to profess c 603 hermits for one reason or another.

* (When granted by one's bishop) the right to style oneself as Sister or Brother, to wear a religious habit, to wear a cowl or other prayer garment in public once perpetually professed. Note well, this does NOT include the right to wear a recognizable habit associated with a specific Order or Congregation. No Bishop may give permission to wear a Franciscan, Dominican, Carthusian, or similar habit and no diocesan hermit can assume such a habit on their own initiative.

* (When granted by one's bishop) the right to reserve the Eucharist in one's own hermitage and to have a priest celebrate Mass there occasionally. (This comes with correlative obligations regarding how and where one reserves the Sacrament, maintaining a living connection to the faith community from which the Eucharist comes, etc.)

* The right to establish oneself (or one's hermitage) as a 501.c.3 or according to other tax exemption provisions, depending upon country. (Lay or non-canonical hermits do not have this right.) This means that one is recognized in civil law as well as in canon law as having a public vow of poverty and an ecclesial vocation.

*The right, in the case of serious concerns regarding the way she is living her vows, etc, to appeal any canonical actions (censure, dispensation) undertaken by her diocese. While this is a right few hermits ever need to exercise, because her profession and consecration are canonical, she is protected from arbitrary or precipitous actions on the part of others. Just as canon law defines and governs her vocation so too does canon law protect the hermit's public commitments and standing by providing for due canonical process.


* One is obliged morally and in law to live one's Rule under penalty of sin against religion.

* One is obliged to publicly represent the c 603 vocation with integrity even if this is mainly done in eremitical hiddenness. Since one's profession is public the Church as a whole has a right to expect this as a sign of authentic Gospel witness and the Lordship of Christ. Others have a right to see an authentic representative of a public vocation in the Church and to expect of them all that is appropriate in public witness.

* One is obliged both morally and in law to give the whole of one's life to this vocation. It is not part time and even one's residence is given over to the requirements of the vocation --- meaning one provides appropriate hospitality should someone request it, but in this and every other way, the hermitage is just that and nothing else. While a hermit lives an essentially hidden life and certainly has matters which remain private, she is a public consecrated person and this she is full time. This will necessarily constrain the kinds of activities in which she may participate, the relationships and time for these she will have, the degree of socializing she will do, etc. She is obliged, especially to be aware of the witness she gives to the God who redeems the isolated and marginalized in the silence of solitude.

* One is obliged by many of the canons which apply to any religious with public vows of the evangelical counsels and a life centered on Christ. Similarly she is obliged to participate in ongoing formation, spiritual direction, annual or bi-annual retreat (as possible), and continuing education in any areas which bear directly on her vocation.

* One is obliged to live her life under the supervision of the bishop and in religious obedience to him. This ordinarily means she meets annually with him unless there is a specific need which calls for a more immediate meeting. A similar situation may extend to a diocesan delegate who serves both the Bishop and the hermit and with whom she meets more frequently. This differs from one's relationship with a spiritual director with whom there is no legal or even moral obligation to religious obedience. (Similarly the diocesan bishop assumes the role of legitimate superior and is obligated to assist the hermit in the faithful living out of her vocation by virtue of the hermit's public (canonical) profession and consecration. The delegate serves as a "quasi-superior".)

* The canonical hermit is responsible for her own upkeep, insurance, rent, etc. (I am including this here only as a reminder that the Church is in no way obligated to assist the hermit in these ways.) Moreover, she is obligated to maintain herself in a way which is entirely compatible with and assists in her living eremitical life. Some treat this as a criterion of discernment for the diocesan hermit; I am not sure this can be asserted since the obligation is no where written in law. Still, at this point in time those who cannot maintain themselves will not be admitted to profession and consecration under c 603.

* If the hermit proposes to move to another diocese and wishes to remain in public vows and the consecrated state of life, she must get the permission of the bishop of the diocese to which she proposes to move and his agreement to accept her vows to be lived "in his hands" as well as being "excardinated" from her diocese of profession. (In other words, both dioceses must be involved, the first to certify the hermit is a canon 603 hermit in good standing -- which may include a statement by the Bishop and a copy of the affidavit (testimonial) given to the hermit on the day of her perpetual profession testifying to her public profession and consecration -- and the second to allow for her "incardination" into the new diocese.)

N.B., As I have written here before, while the hermit's consecration is a mediated act of God which cannot be undone, she can leave the consecrated state of life. When we speak of a state of life we are speaking of a stable state marked by legal obligations and rights as well as by legally established relationships which govern, support, and characterize the vocation. Leaving one's state of life means leaving behind the legal rights, obligations, and relationships. Thus if one moves from one diocese to another without the participation of the originating diocese and especially without the acceptance of the receiving Bishop, the hermit effectively leaves the consecrated state. In such a case her vows will be dispensed either by a formal act of the first diocese or will cease to be binding or valid because of a material change in the terms of her profession (no formal dispensation may be necessary); her home diocese will notify her (and the new diocese!!) of the fact that she is no longer a consecrated hermit under c 603.

* A hermit professed under canon 603 is obliged to make a will valid in civil law usually before temporary vows but certainly before perpetual profession. Besides its practical function, this underscores the public nature of the hermit's commitment and the all-encompassing ecclesial dimension of her vocation..

Recording Professions and Consecrations in the Baptismal Record of the Home Church:

It may not be well known but all public professions, consecra-tions, ordinations, and marriages (or decrees of nullity and dispen-sations of vows) are recorded in the diocese where they occur and in the home parishes of those involved. Whenever one requests a baptismal certificate from one's home parish --- something that is necessary whenever one is admitted to the other Sacraments of initiation in another parish, for instance, a public profession, consecration or the sacrament of Orders or Matrimony --- it will include all instances of canonical vows, Sacramental marriage, decrees of nullity, dispensations, Holy Orders (e.g., permanent diaconate, transitional diaconate, priesthood, episcopacy) or laicization the individual has also made or received. (I'm pretty sure ferendae sententiae excommunications and other formal penalties or interdictions will be similarly recorded but perhaps someone will correct me if I am mistaken.)

This occurs because these either represent instances in which the persons are initiated into new states of life with legal rights, and obligations which also establish impediments to entering other states of life; alternately they involve acts where the Church reduces one from these states depriving that person of commensurate rights and obligations. When a person must prove they are free to undertake a public commitment and enter into a new state of life, when they must demonstrate that there are no impediments to receiving a Sacrament (e.g., Eucharist, Orders or Matrimony) or to be admitted to a religious institute or to consecration under cc 603 or 604, the person's baptismal register provides much of the necessary information. (Additional information will be available in dioceses or parishes where related records are also kept.)

By way of clarification, note that none of this is necessary for lay or non-canonical hermits making private vows or other private dedication since such commitments do not change the person's state of life nor create impediments to admission to public vows (profession), consecration, marriage, and so forth. It may certainly be unwise for a married person to live as a hermit with private vows; still, it is not something that involves the Church in the way public vows do. Moreover, while the dispensation of public vows may include significant conversations with one's director, delegate and Bishop before the hermit legally petitions for and is granted dispensation (or is required by her diocese to be dispensed), the dispensation of private vows may be granted by a simple act by one's pastor, a bishop, or anyone who has been granted this  authority. Likewise, because private vows are private in every sense of this term, a hermit living her vows badly will not lead to the dispensation of these vows or other ecclesiastical action or censure on the part of the Church. Her example may be disedifying but will not involve the local or universal Church in canonical censure or penalty.

21 February 2016

Letting God Remake our Hearts: Embracing a Surpassing Righteousness

When I read the warning in Friday's Gospel, "Unless your righteous-ness sur-passes that of the Pharisees, you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven," I was reminded of a question I was once asked by a hermit candidate. I think I have related it here before. He wondered how it was I balanced the "hermit things I do and the worldly things I do"? When I asked what he meant by worldly things he began to explain  and listed things like laundry, cleaning the bathroom, washing dishes, etc. When asked what he meant by hermit things he explained he meant prayer, lectio, Mass, fasting, and all of the other "spiritual" things which were or were becoming a part of his faith life.  In response I tried to explain that at some point --- once he was truly a hermit in the sense he needed to be, especially in order to be professed under c 603, he would come to see that all of the everyday things he did became "hermit things" because after all, he would be a hermit with the heart of a hermit and these were the things done by him. One could not divide one's life into spiritual things and worldly things in such an arbitrary way. The aim of his life with and in God was to allow all things to breathe with the presence of God --- and as a hermit, to witness to the fact that this occurs in the silence of solitude.

There was a corollary. What was also true was that it was possible for him to do all the things a hermit does every day and never become or be a hermit. Unless his "hermitness" came from within and defined everything he did he would remain a person living alone and doing things many many people of many different vocations would do every single day. What had to change was his heart. At some point, if he was truly called to eremitical life, he would develop the heart of a hermit, that is, the heart of a disciple of Christ shaped and nurtured through the events and circumstances of his life as these are transfigured by his dialogue with God in solitude and silence. Righteousness is a matter of the heart existing in an empowered and transfiguring relationship with God and then with others. Merely observing laws may not imply the profound dialogue with God which constitutes real righteousness.

Rule of Life and the Personal Call of God:

A second story might also help explain what concerned Jesus in Friday's Matthean lection. When seeking admission to profession and consecration under canon 603 I, like all diocesan hermits, was required to write a Rule or Plan of Life. There were many possibilities for constructing such a Rule but there were two main options: 1) create a Rule which was essentially a list of things I was to do or avoid doing each day. Such a Rule would include rules for hospitality, allowances for limited active ministry, forms of prayer and devotions to be done, allowed frequency and circumstances associated with leaving the hermitage, daily schedule (rising, recreation, hours of prayer, rest, meals, study, work, retiring, etc, etc.), use of media, times for retreat, spiritual direction, contact with friends and family, the role of the Bishop and delegate, vows, etc. Over all it would be a list of do's and don'ts which constituted laws.

I realized this wouldn't work for me for a couple of reasons. First I would be setting myself up for failure. Sometimes this failure would be due to my own weakness, not only my own resistance but illness, lack of stamina, etc. Secondly though, I knew that such a Rule would not have the ability to inspire me or empower faithfulness and growth. In the short term or over the long haul such a Rule would not serve me or my vocation well. It simply would not speak to my heart or reflect the redemptive way God worked in my life. It would be about external things, important things, yes, but still only external matters. While I had to include such matters, the Rule needed to allow God to continue working within me and therefore, to create the opportunities I personally needed in order to hearken more and more fully to God's call. It needed to allow for a greater righteousness than mere codified law could ever do. In other words, it needed to reflect and express the ways God makes me truly myself. It needed, so to speak,  to be stamped with my Name on every page and too, to call me by Name to be every day of my life.

Surpassing Righteousness: Living the Law of our Hearts

Just as my Rule expresses God's personal call to me, so it expresses my truest self, and therefore, the "law written on my heart." That law, that identity or truest self is symbolized by my name. In true prayer we call upon God by name ("Abba!") as the Spirit empowers us; we give God a sovereign place to stand in our lives and world. But at the same time God calls us by name and gives us a place to stand in his own life. This is the essence of the dialogue of love that occurs between us, the way in which we are made true and empowered by God to a surpassing righteousness. Similarly, it empowers us to call others by name to be, to give the incredible mystery each person is and is called to be a place to stand in our own world without violating or judging them.

To learn to call others by name in this way is to act towards them with the same love God shows us. It was striking to me last week as I reflected on Friday's Gospel that all of this stood in direct counterpoint and contrast to a law which judges and fails to respect the mystery, the sacred and sacramental wholeness of our selves. It is this more external and lesser law which allows us to call another "Raqa" or to judge them to be a fool. It is the same imperfect and partial law which divides and allows us to accept the division of reality into spiritual and worldly things or which remains merely external to ourselves. Moreover, it is the law which drives so much of the world around us which is geared to success and competition at others' expense or to label some "neighbors" and others "aliens" and even to deprive them of names and supplant these with clinical designations or even with numbers.

Artist, Mary Southard, CSJ
Theologians like Gerhard Ebeling have noted that it is "addressibility," our divinely rooted capacity for receiving and extending personal address which is both the essence of love and, at the same time, the really unique and most human thing about us. Betrayal of this capacity is the deepest and perhaps the most dehumanizing sin we know. To name and to call upon another by name are two of the most profoundly creative acts we undertake by means of language because these allow another to genuinely exist as a person rather than as an anonymous "other" with no real place to stand in our lives or the world of human community.

I have begun thinking of "addressibility" as one central meaning of the notion that we are created in the image of God (imago Dei) and thus too, the law which God carves on our hearts; it is the "law," this "image," which Lent seeks to allow us to live more fully. Whether we do that through prayer where we call upon God and allow God to call us by name, through penance where we learn  to hear our own deepest names and become aware of our common humanity with others, or through a true almsgiving where we do not merely give things to others but rather gift them in ways which summon them to their truest dignity, where, that is, we give in ways which call others by name to be, addressibility is the gift and law we embody most profoundly; it is the surpassing righteousness to which we are called. Billy, an 8 year old described it this way, [[You know you are loved by the way someone holds your name in their mouth.]]

My prayer is that we each take seriously our call to the surpassing righteousness which allows us to call upon God as "Abba" and simultaneously lets him call us by name to be. May we allow God to remake our hearts in terms of the law written there and symbolized by our truest Name; may we be similarly inspired to "hold one another's names in our own mouths" with the genuine reverence God teaches us by the way he loves and addresses us.

17 February 2016

Witnessing to the Truth that God Alone is Enough

[[Dear Sister Laurel, am I right when I say you are writing that it is not only about living alone or even the other things hermits do, but WHY they do these things that is most important? Also, I see why you say that being a solitary is not always the same as being a hermit but isn't that just a matter of externals? Don't solitaries and hermits witness to the same thing?]]

Thanks for the questions. It is always good to hear from someone grappling with what I write. It is also terrific to get a chance to clarify when I haven't been clear enough. So, let me give that a shot.

First, it is true that it is WHY hermits do what they do that is most important but it is also the case that what they do and why they do it are inextricably wed. What I mean is that they are called to witness to Christ's redemption precisely by living as they do. If they live in some other way the witness they give is a different one. Let's say that the witness one is meant to give is that redemption in Christ empowers one to give one's life in service to others, that it allows one to let go of other ways of validating one's life and simply give one's life for those Christ loves. If this is the case then one must live a life geared to ministering to others. All kinds of active ministries are possible and many different living arrangements will support and contribute to this witness.  At the same time, if one wishes to witness effectively or credibly to the redemptive power of the Christ Event one cannot live in a way which contradicts that witness.

So, let's say that because of the message of the Cross one believes that God redeems and makes infinitely meaningful the life of one who is responsive to God's grace even when they are otherwise incapable of anything else, even when the discrete gifts they have been given have been lost or made unusable, even when their weakness or sinfulness or failure is their main or only other contribution to the situation. How would this person live in order to proclaim this message? Again, there are many ways but it seems to me that one of these is more radical than all the others, namely, eremitical life.

Traditionally it has been said that the essential proclam-ation of the hermit's life is that "God alone is enough." When we unpack this statement it is a restatement of the message of the cross: God can and DOES complete us as human beings, only the God of Jesus Christ can and does  redeem us, only that same God can and does make infinitely meaningful and fruitful those lives which have been marked and marred by death and senselessness in all its forms; only God can make freely and sacrificially loving those lives that have been isolated, reviled, rejected, and betrayed at every turn. Only God can make a gift of our lives when the circumstances of life and our denial of or collusion with those circumstances have made of them all that I described above.  Only such a God can and will still the scream of anguish one becomes or transforms the muteness and emptiness of a failed and relatively loveless life without God into a jubilant canticle empowered by an inexhaustible Love-in-Act. Only the God of Jesus Christ raises the demeaned, absurd, and alienated inhumanity of a sinful and godless autonomy to New Life which is essentially "theonomous".

Moreover, the statement "God alone is enough" implies the corollary that such a God is worth entrusting our entire lives to. It says the Gospel of this God is worth giving our entire lives for. This God and his Gospel are worth letting go of all worldly possibilities, relinquishing every discrete gift and talent, every potentiality we may possess EXCEPT for hearts and lives which are open to being completed and transfigured by him in his Christ. Entrusting our lives in this way is the essence of faith. In Christ when we are empty we are full, when weak powerful, when we seem most alone we exist in communion with God and all that is grounded in God, when silenced and mute our lives can and will sing with the grace and justice of heaven. When every prop is kicked out or otherwise relinquished, God alone is enough.

This paradox is the radical form of the gospel truth which animated and flowed from Christ's own profound obedience unto death --- especially death on a cross. Similarly it is the paradox which stands at the heart of the hermit's vocation that she must (and can really only) witness to as radically as she is called to do in the silence of solitude. For this reason canon 603 defines a desert spirituality which seeks not only to define a contemplative life given over to God in prayer, but in which the externals of one's life reprise the loneliness, muteness, weakness, and  incapacity, of the cross of Christ. Again, the obedience, that is, the openness and responsiveness to God we cultivate in the personal poverty, asceticism, silence, and solitude of the desert is transfigured into the silence of solitude, the joy-filled quies of rest, stillness, and eternal life in God. THAT is the witness of the hermit's life and it is important that the externals correspond and contribute to this witness.

A Final Note on the Noun Solitary:

A solitary in the sense Anglicans use the term with regard to canon 14.3 may not live a desert spirituality. I am sure they each do witness to the redemption achieved in Christ but most apparently do not feel called to live as hermits or need to witness to the paradox of the cross with the same radicalness.** Nor, of course, is there anything wrong with that so long as the two terms are not used interchangeably. The Anglican Church recognizes solitary or "single religious" who do not need to be hermits. The Roman Catholic Church on the other hand, does not; thus, in her tradition solitaries tend to be hermits who are part of a coenobitical community but who live in cells apart from the others. Grimlaicus' Rule for Solitaries was written for just such hermit monks. Thus too, when Roman Catholicism speaks of solitary hermits she may now also mean diocesan hermits professed and consecrated under canon 603, hermits who are not part of a monastic or eremitical community. These might be considered solitaries but most use the terms hermit or anchorite as reflected in canon 603.

 **N.B., especially in this context radical does not mean better; instead it implies a kind of fundamental truth and simplicity. It is important to remember that throughout the history of the Church the fact that hermits did not engage in active ministry nor live in community led to the inevitable question of how loving and how Christian such a solitary vocation could be considered. Within the Body of Christ there are many members and, as a recent Sunday lection reminded us, they are all important to the functioning of the whole.

Hermits are spoken of as existing at the heart of the Church. Sometimes this is meant to refer to their prayer and there is certainly profound truth in this --- especially so long as we understand prayer to be the work God does within each of us in our poverty. ([[In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.]] Rom 8:26) And of course prayer would also be the language of the silence of solitude, the unique charism of eremitical life but that eschatological quies to which we are all called and from which all legitimate ministry itself flows. To witness to this basic and universal foundation and call is an act of love hermits commit to on behalf of the entire body of Christ --- another reason to insist on the ecclesial nature of such a vocation. What sense would it make otherwise?

16 February 2016

More on the Roman Catholic Canon 603 versus the Anglican canon 14.3

[[Dear Sister, I understand you feel the Anglican Canon is inadequate to guide those living an eremitical life. Do you think maybe the Episcopal Church doesn't mean it to guide eremitical lives? Maybe they only wanted to allow for individual religious without the interference of others. Maybe their solitaries don't think of themselves as hermits or at least maybe this doesn't happen a lot.]] (Second set of questions included below.)

I don't really know what most Episcopalian solitaries think of themselves. However, besides the criticism by an Anglican solitary regarding 95 % of solitaries who misleadingly call themselves hermits that I referred to here before, I have read blogs by those who think of the terms solitary and hermit as synonyms. (See also the references to one Anglican solitary and an Orthodox solitary who disagree with the notion that the two terms are synonymous at the end of this question's response.)

Hermits and Solitaries as Synonymous:

One Episcopal solitary, for instance, in responding to the question, [[What is a Solitary?]]  writes, [[ A Solitary is the modern name for a Hermit. . . . They are monks and nuns who are under vows held by a bishop instead of the superior of a community, and they are professed to be single [religious] and not a part of a community. Since the married state is a form of community, Solitaries are, by definition, celibate.]]  In this passage I think it is clear that the author sees hermits simply as "single religious", that is religious who do not belong to a community.

Later, when asked how one received training as a solitary he responds that it is the novitiate (that is, in religious community) which is indispensable. When he notes that one may then decide that one is called to go in a solitary direction, there is absolutely nothing implied in the use of the term "solitary" besides being a religious who then goes apart from a community, nor that (once one has sufficient human formation in community of whatever kind) one can only be prepared for eremitical life in solitude itself. Even later he does write that a hermit needs to ALSO spend some significant time in solitude during formation but the sense given is that this is additional to the more critical novitiate and optional, not integral to the life of a hermit. Unfortunately, a hermit is defined by this solitary as a religious who is single, that is, not part of a community. (In fact, this blogger writes that hermits are professed to NOT belong to a community --- as though this negative criterion is the real point and content of their profession! He opines this means ANY community including a parish community and thus, in this way too he underscores the individualistic character of the Anglican vocation.)

Maggie Ross (Sister Martha Reeves), a well-known Anglican solitary and fine writer, writes somewhat similarly when she observes that we are all solitaries or that there is nothing particularly unusual about hermits. [[We have made everything about the church much too exotic and the solitary life is an extreme example of this. The solitary is saying, "everyone is a solitary; in that inner solitude is the kingdom of heaven; don't be afraid, behold." ]] While I agree completely that solitude is the most universal vocation in the sense that we are each and all of us irreducibly solitary in our historical existence and while I think we are pretty close together with regard to her comments on inner solitude, where we differ is in her application of the terms "a solitary" and hermit.

While we may all be solitary, not everyone is "a solitary" in the vocational sense. Neither are all of us called to be hermits nor can we all be called hermits despite the ontological or existential solitude that marks us or the inner solitude of our hearts.**  Nor is it the case then that hermits are common-place, or that eremitical life and solitariness itself are identical realities. A piece of the desert vocation of the hermit is certainly its witness to the ontological solitariness of human being and even more fundamentally it witnesses to the communion between (union of) God and human beings that constitutes the human person. Beyond this, however, it witnesses to the redemption that occurs when human aloneness or solitariness is completed by that communion and is thus transfigured into eremitical solitude; further, it does so in a life wholly dedicated to God in the silence of solitude --- something few are called to do with their lives. In this way especially, the hermit represents a special and relatively rare commission to participate in the ministry of reconciliation to which every Christian is called.

In these two cases it appears that Anglican usage treats the terms  solitary and hermit as synonyms. Sister Reeves also seems to agree with you that solitary life is one which is so autonomous that there should be no interference from hierarchy or the Church at large. Apparently she argues this to support the freedom of the "hermit" and the prophetic character of the vocation (which seems to mean the person is in a position to criticize the Church in various ways.) It does seem to be fairly individualistic in her conception --- and even adverting to the role of the Holy Spirit in such a life, critical as that is, does not really compel one to believe the Episcopalian model of solitary religious or eremitical life is other than individualistic. The way the two terms are collapsed into one another, whether one starts with ontological solitude as Sister Martha does, or with "single religious life" as Br Randy does, simply underscores that fact.

Ignorance of the Nature and Charism of Eremitical Life:

Even more startling to me are Br Randy's following comments. Despite identifying himself as a canonical hermit with more than ten years in perpetual vows and a number more in temporary vows he writes, [[I know absolutely nothing about what a hermit is and don't claim to. I have experience of what it is for me to live the life of a hermit, but no imperical (sic) knowledge. What I claim to believe may change from time to time.]] How can this be the case? How can, even in what may really be a confusing nod to Apophatic theology, a publicly professed, or canonical hermit claim to know absolutely nothing about what a hermit is? From my perspective such a confession is genuinely stupefying. How, after all, can a person claim to be living as a hermit, be professed to live into this vocation more and more fully and yet have absolutely no idea what it means to BE a hermit? More troubling yet, how can a Church perpetually  profess someone in this situation --- or not dispense their vows if, over such a significant period of time, this is the confession the person is forced to make??

It is one thing to say, "I know in general what a hermit is; I know what this vocation expects of me and what I am professed to live and I both grow in and fall short of this vision every day of my life." It is another to say, "I have absolutely no idea what a hermit is!" Even the confession of having fallen short of one's profession depends on one knowing what it means to BE what one is professed to be! Imagine that a priest (or a candidate for ordination!) said this about his vocation. Would we ordain him? For that matter, what if I came to my Bishop, asked him to perpetually profess me as a solitary hermit under c 603 and then, as he asked me to discuss the gift this vocation would be to the church and world, I confessed I actually had no clue what a hermit actually was? Likewise, what if someone asked to be professed under canon 603 and, when asked about the canon she proposed to live her life by, showed no sense of ever having read it, much less having allowed it to define and shape her entire life! In this confession the author not only underscores the completely individualistic nature of his vocation but, in something I find even more troubling, he seems especially unaware of the charismatic nature of the eremitical vocation. What I mean is there is simply no indication in his comments that he possesses an understanding or appreciation of the very specific gift of the Holy Spirit this calling is to the Church whose mission is to proclaim the Gospel to our contemporary world.

At the very least I think we have to conclude the Anglican canon #14 is not generally used to profess individuals who have experienced and can actually witness to the gift (charisma) or specific gift quality (charism) of eremitical life. That is especially true if, as I argue often here, the charism of eremitical life is "the silence of solitude". There is evidence that generally the Anglican (Episcopal) Church treats the term hermit as a synonym for solitary and even for "single (non communal) religious". As such they build a basic misunderstanding into their use of Canon 14 to profess lone individuals as "hermits." In a world where exaggerated individualism is a critical problem that betrays the very nature of humanity, this basic misunderstanding is a correlative betrayal of eremitical life's witness to a solitude defined in terms of personal completion and rest achieved in union with God alone. Such a solitude differs radically from individualism or individual isolation. If this skewed portrait is NOT the vision of eremitical life they wish canon 14.3 to govern it does seem to me they are failing to provide a normative vision which would serve them better. As I understand the situation there is no other canon (norm) which does provide such a vision.

(I find the posts of one Anglican religious solitary under c14 refreshing here. Amma Sue, the author of the blog www.singleconsecratedlife-anglican.org is such a solitary and is very clear that she is not a hermit while she writes some about the "qualitative distinction" between herself and hermits. (She claims to quote me in this article but to be honest, except for the term "silence of solitude," and a reference to solitude as communion, I don't find my own words in what she writes.) She is cited in the exceptional blog City Desert (cf CityDesert on Solitary religious Life ). CityDesert (named after the classic by Derwas Chitty) focuses on solitary life in its variety of forms, especially as these are translated into contemporary situations and terms, and is always a wealth of information. Its author is a priest in the Oriental Orthodox Tradition who lives as an urban solitary in a city in Australia)

[[Should the Roman Catholic Church add a canon like the Anglican Church? Do you think it's a good idea to have [single] religious? I am thinking that if the RCC did this we could increase vocations and also those who don't feel called to eremitical solitude could still be professed.]]

One thing I think should be clear. When the Roman Catholic Church establishes a vocation to the consecrated life she does so because she has recognized a way of living which is a specific and significant gift of the Holy Spirit. A charism is the result of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit meeting the needs of the contemporary world. When these two dimensions intersect, individuals may recognize that their own lives replicate the same needs and the same inspiration. Alternately, a person may perceive that their own gifts and talents are such that they may help the Church mediate the Spirit's Presence in ways which heal and transform the world into one shot through with the presence of God. In other words, these individuals recognize they are called to embody this specific charism (or gift) in ways the world urgently needs it. At times the Church re-establishes vocations or specifies them as states of perfection because of their value in proclaiming the Gospel in the contemporary world. She does not do so otherwise.

Remember that when the Church reprised the eremitical vocation and decided to admit solitary hermits to public vows and the consecrated state she did so in part because at Vatican Council II Bishop Remi de Roo published an intervention listing about a half dozen positive reasons for doing so, a half dozen ways in which the vocation represented the work of the Holy Spirit and was a gift to the Church and world. When the Church and her hermits look at the individualism rampant in the world or the growing isolation of so many elderly, bereaved, chronically ill, etc, they are also able to see that hermits (those who live the charism of the silence of solitude and the rest of the vision of c 603) speak to these persons with a particular vividness. They proclaim the redemption of isolation and its transformation into solitude in Christ.

Similarly, when the Church reprised the vocation of Consecrated Virgins living in the world she did so in part as a reflection of a newer (and more Biblical)  eschatology where heaven and earth interpenetrated more and more, where secular vocations were being re-valued, and where there was a serious need for a vocation of eschatological or consecrated secularity which reflected all this in ways religious life per se could not. Thus, the Church did not ask CV's to make religious vows which distanced them from or qualified their relationship with the secular world in significant ways. Instead she consecrated them as Brides of Christ and icons of the whole Church; she consecrated them to embody the relationship with Christ every person is ultimately called to, but commissioned them to do so here and now in every possible way and arena, i.e., "in the things of the world and the things of the spirit." Likewise, in a world whose nearly entire approach to sexuality involves its trivialization and profanation, CVs living in the world are called to be a witness to a counter-cultural reality in which sex is held to be sacred (and even sacramental) and the whole person is to be given to Christ for the sake of others. 

While both eremitism and consecrated virginity are ancient vocations the Church did not restore them for this reason alone, nor because, relatively speaking, a few people felt called to them. She did so because they represented gifts of the Holy Spirit which spoke powerfully to the needs of our contemporary Church and world. This is the way the Church always determines authentic vocations. Numbers per se are not the issue nor are the private vocational senses of individuals. Discernment of ecclesial vocations is always a mutual matter with both the Church and the candidate discerning such a vocation and this mutual discernment always includes an assessment of the charismatic significance and impact of the vocation.

Therefore, to answer your questions, unless the Church determines "single religious" (who are non-eremitical) represent a similar vocation representing a significant charism, there is no reason to think the Church should or will establish it canonically. Since canon 14.3, seems, in a clearly individualistic impulse, to be merely meant to create "single religious" with no necessary commitments to others in community, no intrinsic, much less defining sense of ecclesial responsibility or relatedness ("a solitary is professed to NOT be part of any community including a parish community"), and no sense of living a very specific and specifically valuable gift of the Holy Spirit either, I would argue that this is not an example the Roman Catholic Church would want or feel much drawn to follow.

** Sister Martha has apparently been questioned about this position that we are each "a solitary". She also wrote at another point in her blog, [[I have, for a long time, been saying that 'we are all solitaries'. And this is true: communities of all kinds are only as healthy as the solitudes that make them up; and those solitudes have the responsibility to the community to do the work that will help them to be spiritually mature. But that does not mean that everyone who likes their solitude should take vows. You can be ihidaye, have singleness of heart, within a marriage, community, and even alone in the woods. It does not mean you are 'a solitary' or should or, more importantly, could, from an eremitical point of view, make vows.]] I believe Sister Martha is right here and should retain the vocabulary of solitudes v solitaries. We are all existential "solitudes" --- a philosophical term reflecting our ontic state, but only some of us are solitaries --- a religious term which can include hermits, anchorites, and recluses.

14 February 2016

Driven into the desert by the "Spirit of Sonship" (Reprise)

I really love today's Gospel, especially at the beginning of Lent. The thing that strikes me most about it is that Jesus' 40 days in the desert are days spent coming to terms with and consolidating the identity which has just been announced and brought to be in him. (When God speaks, the things he says become events, things that really happen in space and time, and so too with the announcement that Jesus is his beloved Son in whom he is well-pleased.) Subsequently, Jesus is driven into the desert by the Spirit of love, the Spirit of Sonship, to explore that identity, to allow it to define him in space and time more and more exhaustively, to allow it to become the whole of who he is. One of the purposes of Lent is to allow us to do the same.

A sister friend I go to coffee with on Sundays remarked on the way from Mass that she had had a conversation with her spiritual director this last week where he noted that perhaps Jesus' post-baptismal time in the desert was a time for him to savor the experience he had had at his baptism. It was a wonderful comment that took my own sense of this passage in a new and deeper direction. Because of the struggle involved in the passage I had never thought to use the word savor in the same context, but as my friend rightly pointed out, the two often go together in our spiritual lives. They certainly do so in hermitages! My own director had asked me to do something similar when we met this last week by suggesting I consider going back to all those pivotal moments of my life which have brought me to the silence of solitude as the vocation and gift of my life. Essentially she was asking me not only to consider these intellectually (though she was doing that too) but to savor them anew and in this savoring to come to an even greater consolidation of my identity in God and as diocesan hermit.

Hermitages are places which reprise the same experience of consolidation and integration of our identity in God. They are deserts in which we come not only to learn who we are in terms of God alone, but to allow that to define our entire existence really and concretely -- in what we value, how we behave, in the choices we make, and those with whom we identify, etc. In last year's "In Good Faith" podcast for
A Nun's Life, I noted that for me the choice which is fundamental to all of Lent and all of the spiritual life, "Choose Life, not death" is the choice between accepting and living my life according to the way God defines me or according to the way the "world" defines me. It means that no matter how poor, inadequate, ill, and so forth I also am, I choose to make God's announcement that in Christ  I am his beloved daughter in whom he is well-pleased the central truth of my life which colors and grounds everything else. Learning to live from that definition (and so, from the one who announces it) is the task of the hermit; the hermitage is the place to which the Spirit of love and Sonship drive us so that we can savor the truth of this incomprehensible mystery even as we struggle to allow it to become the whole of who we are.

But hermitages are, of course, not the only places which reprise these dynamics. Each of us has been baptized, and in each of our baptisms what was announced to us was the fact that we were now God's adopted beloved daughters and sons. Lent gives us the space and time where we can focus on the truth of this, claim that truth more whole-heartedly, and, as Thomas Merton once said, "get rid of any impersonation that has followed us" to the [desert]. We need to take time to identify and struggle with the falsenesses within us, but also to accept and appreciate the more profound truth of who we are and who we are called to become in savoring our experiences of God's love. As we fast in various ways, we must be sure to also taste and smell as completely as we can the nourishing Word of God's love for us. After all, the act of savoring is the truest counterpart of fasting for the Christian. The word we are called to savor is the word which defines us as valued and valuable in ways the world cannot imagine and nourishes us where the things of the world cannot. It is this Word we are called both to struggle with and to savor during these 40 days, just as Jesus himself did.

Thus, as I fast this Lent (in whatever ways that means), I am going to remember to allow myself not only to get in touch with my own deepest hungers and the hungers I share with all others (another very good reason to fast), but also to get in touch anew with the ways I have been fed and nourished throughout my life --- the experiences I need to savor as well. Perhaps then when Lent comes to an end I will be better able to claim and celebrate the one I am in God. My prayer is that each of us is able to do something similar with our own time in the desert.

Merton quotation taken from Contemplation in a World of Action, "Christian Solitude," p 244.

11 February 2016

Questions on the Charism of the Diocesan Hermit

[[ Hi Sister, you write about the charism of the diocesan hermit. I understand part of that is that you are diocesan and part of that is that you live the silence of solitude (or at least are committed to living it). It seems to me like these are different charisms. Can you explain how they fit together? Also is it true that every hermit is his or her own charism? I read that a few years ago and I wondered what it meant.]]

Thanks for writing. I suppose that when I first began thinking about the charism of the diocesan hermit I wrote about their standing as diocesan as a main piece of the gift their lives were to both Church and world. Over time I began to work out more fully the place of the silence of solitude in all of this and it is certain that today, while I believe one's diocesan standing is important, it is the silence of solitude I point to as not only the environment and the goal of eremitical life, but also the gift quality or charism of such a life. So important do I consider this that when I rewrote my Rule a few years ago I extended the section on the silence of solitude from these three vantage points. However, I don't think the two things conflict.

Instead, I think the diocesan context of canon 603 hermits underscores the importance, possibility, and necessity of the silence of solitude whether one lives in an urban hermitage or in a hermitage in the mountains or desert. It especially underscores the possibility of achieving this eremitical goal and making a gift of it within the context of the local diocesan and even the parish Church instead of within a religious order or other institute devoted to eremitical life. Thus, while I wouldn't say diocesan standing and responsibility within the local Church is incidental to the charism of the diocesan hermit's life, neither, do I think, it constitutes the heart of the charism of her vocation. Still, one of the places I believe the diocesan character of an eremitical vocation under c 603 most clearly benefits the Church and especially protects the charism of solitary eremitical lives is in regard to urban hermits.

You see, I firmly believe that urban life militates against what canon 603 calls the silence of solitude. It is geared to alienation and isolation, and certainly it is geared to layer of noise piled on layer of noise, but not to the covenant relatedness Christians identify with real individuality, nor to the silent union with God which constitutes that covenant relatedness and makes all other authentic relatedness possible. There is a reason Thomas Merton referred to the unnatural solitudes of slums and I extend that term to urban settings more generally. There is a reason monastic communities tend to build and establish themselves far from city centers. It is not that God and communion with God in the silence of solitude cannot be found here. These certainly can, but at the same time there is a constant pull and pressure from urban reality which really does militate against these.

When canon 603 was first promulgated bishops in various places forbade hermits from living in urban hermitages. Meanwhile already-established hermits criticized "urban hermitages" as oxymorons. However, our God is the God of Presence in the ordinary, the God of sacramental reality who transfigures the profane into living symbols (mediators) of his holiness; "he" transforms the muteness and isolation of urban life into a Magnificat of God's grace. What better witness to this amazing transformation could there be than a solitary hermit in an urban hermitage? The diocesan hermit living in a mainly urban or suburban diocese is called precisely to this specific witness. It is the presence of the hermit in the local Church --- whatever the nature of that local Church --- which is a charismatic presence and reminder of the sacramental character of our faith and the transfiguring power of the God who is met in silence and solitude.

Are hermits their own Charism? 

The idea that every hermit is his or her own charism is a little strange to me  (it seems too individualistic!) --- especially since c 603 hermits live according to a specific definition of eremitical life which embodies certain values without fail. It seems to me that it is the vocation as such that is the charism, and especially as defined under canon 603. I do accept that each solitary hermit will live this out in her own way, with the flexibility the Spirit requires and inspires. Even so, as I wrote sometime a number of months ago, even when every fingerprint is unique they share commonalities, whorls and loops, ridges and valleys which make them fingerprints and not something else. Thus, I believe every hermit will represent the charism called "the silence of solitude," in a Church and world which cries out for such a gift of God.

At the same time, those with chronic illness will give a slightly (or even a very) different shape or color to this reality than the hermit who is young and healthy, for instance. The individual's own personal characteristics and life circumstances will shape the way the charism is embodied. The life and prayer of the hermit who once was married and may have raised a family will color this gift in a different way with her life than will the hermit who once belonged to a religious congregation and moved to solitude from there, for instance. The lay or clerical hermit who is not consecrated under canon 603 will witness to this charism in somewhat different ways than the consecrated hermit. The vocation's charism remains the silence of solitude (the quies and resulting capacity for parrhesia --- bold and even prophetic speech --- which comes from life in communion with God) but this amazing gem will have a variety of facets and each hermit will emphasize or articulate one or another of these more and differently than other hermits will.

One of the reasons I argue in this way is because charisms are the result of a combination or intersection of the Holy Spirit's movement and inspiration with the world's need. A charism is larger than an individual's life and greater than the individual's own gifts and talents. In a world fraught with covenant and relationship-destroying individualism it hardly makes sense that the Holy Spirit would inspire a kind of paradigmatic individualism by making each hermit a kind of law unto him/herself. So, yes, I do agree each hermit, to the extent his/her life evidences God's redemption in Christ, is a gift to the Church and world and a sharer in the incredibly significant and prophetic character of the desert tradition, but it is the vocation as such or something characteristic of the vocation, not the individual's eccentricities, which is dignified with the term "charism". Instead the charism is shared and uniquely embodied by all who are called to eremitical life in the Church.

It is not unusual to hear people claim that every hermit is different, every hermit is absolutely unique and that legislating for hermits is a futile (or necessarily distorting) exercise similar to herding cats. Anglican solitaries argue this way, the author of the very fine blog City Desert has written about dimensions of this in The Hermit in Roman Catholic Canon Law. Of course every hermit is a unique embodiment of the charism of eremitical life. But when one maintains a radical distinction and uniqueness to the exclusion of identity, continuity, and an essential sameness one has also eviserated any charism or even the possibility of charism by ensuring the Holy Spirit's inspiration does not intersect in any meaningful way with the deep needs of the rest of the Church and world. Instead one ensures what might be profoundly prophetic is merely novel and tangential --- and therefore incapable of addressing others, much less of summoning them to greater authenticity in Christ.

There is a paradox here (isn't there always?!), namely, the unique and prophetic charism of the hermit is lost the moment she ceases to be an integral member of the Church. Just as an answer must be integrally related to the question that calls for and needs it to really BE an answer, a statement that ceases to be related to a question in any meaningful way ceases to be an answer, and especially it ceases to be an answer that drives the question beyond itself to even greater and deeper questions. When the only thing we hold in common is our uniqueness (or our solitariness), we will cease to be able to relate to one another, much less embody and be a gift of the Holy Spirit to others!

For these reasons it is interesting to me that your question refers to a hermit being "her own" charism. That is, it seems to me, the one thing a hermit must never be. She is meant to be a gift to others and more, a gift of Holy Spirit to and from the Church to others. She is meant to embody a charism which is never merely "her own" even while it reflects the deepest truth of her life and self. When Peter Damian speaks of the hermit as "ecclesiola" he is referring both to her individual identity and to her profound relatedness to the Body of Christ. Remove either element and you have lost any notion of charism, much less the charism of eremitical life.

10 February 2016

We Are People of the Cross (Reprised): Ash Wednesday 2016

Last year was an incredibly poignant Ash Wednesday. As much as it is our tendency to allow things to fade into the background of our awareness, it seems to me that reprising this post is important to help us remember who we are. Christians are still being persecuted and dying everyday in the Middle East. They trust in the Cross of Christ. In our own "first world" friends and relatives struggle with the problems of illness, meaninglessness, bereavement and all the little and big forms of death which touch any human life. They too trust in the Cross and hope to find at the end of Lent that they are better prepared to celebrate it as the victory of God's mercy in a violent and often death-driven world. I hope reprising this post is helpful in moving us toward that festive day.

           + + + + + + + + + + + +             

[Four] years ago I wrote an article here supporting the idea that we Christians are People of the Cross. (cf., We Are People of the Cross). I felt strongly about my disagreement with Sister Joan Chittester's point --- though I understood what she was focusing on and completely empathized with that. But never in my wildest dreams did I think that the importance of that label would be underscored in blood and martyrdom in the way that occurred just three days ago.  On that day ISIS took 21 Coptic Christians out to the beach somewhere along the Mediterranean and beheaded them for being "People of the Cross" and People of the illusion of the Cross. We have all seen the pictures: the long row of young men in orange jump suits, each accompanied by his murderer dressed in black and masked from identification; the ISIS member brandishing his knife towards the camera; the headless torso lying in a pool of blood on the sand; the sea turned red with the blood, bodies, and separated heads of these martyrs.

Relatives of Egyptian Coptic Christians purportedly murdered in Libya by self-proclaimed Islamic State militants mourn for those killed.
Families of Martyred Christians in Egypt
On Sunday our parish celebrated several baptisms of children. In each case the parents and godparents traced the sign of the cross on the child's forehead following our pastor who had first done so --- claiming these children for Christ. It was a joyful occasion also marked by our own renewal of baptismal vows: "Do we renounce. . .?" "Do we believe. . .?" and echoes of our own initiation into the People of God, "Let your light shine. . .!" "Keep your baptismal garment unstained. . .!"

Today, on Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, we will each have a cross traced on our own forehead in ashes and this cross will be visible for at least several hours as we move through our world identified as believers in either the greatest foolishness or the greatest wisdom the world has ever known. Remember, it was Paul, the last and in some ways, the greatest Apostle who said, "If Christ is not raised from the dead then we are the greatest fools of all!" ISIS is certainly not the first to claim the cross was the symbol of an illusion! They will not be the last to suggest Christians are deluded in their faith. But we know Christ crucified and risen, we know him intimately since through him our lives have been changed in ways only the Living God and certainly no mere illusion (or delusion) could do.

I have no doubt that ISIS believes the orange jumpsuits and beheadings are somehow degrading, scandalous, and shameful. (They, at the very least, literally represent a complete loss of face and the taking away of honor. In honor-shame cultures honor resides especially in the head.) Perhaps they see these in somewhat the same way the cross was perceived in Jesus' day. I am sure they believe death has forever separated these Christians from God's love. But in this case orange is the new white --- the white garment of men and women who have been baptized into Jesus' death and resurrection. The white garment of witnesses, martyrs, who know that our God loves us and all of creation with an everlasting love from which no guilt, no sin, no shame, no death, can separate us. The sign of that love, a love which enters into the godless depths of our own terrible alienation and shame  in order to bring us back "home" to ourselves and our God is the cross of Christ. We are People of the Cross --- marked by both the world's guilt and shame and the righteousness and hope of God's vindication.

Coptic Tattoos; Marked as People of the Cross

Today we will wear that sign both proudly and humbly, joyfully and in grief at our renewed recognition of all it can mean in a broken and often savage world; once again we wear that sign on our very flesh as we renew our commitment to repent and believe in the unconquerable Love-in-act made real for us in the depths of human shame and shamefulness on and through the cross of Christ. Today as we renew our own professions and identities as People of the Cross, we especially remember these martyrs, these brothers in the faith. They died with Christ's name on their lips; may our own lives similarly proclaim him and the God he revealed.

+Milad Makeen Zaky
+Abanub Ayad Atiya
+Maged Solaimain Shehata
+Yusuf Shukry Yunan
+Kirollos Shokry Fawzy
+Bishoy Astafanus Kamel
+Somaily Astafanus Kamel
+Malak Ibrahim Sinweet
+Tawadros Yusuf Tawadros
+Girgis Milad Sinweet
+Mina Fayez Aziz
+Hany Abdelmesih Salib
+Bishoy Adel Khalaf
+Samuel Alham Wilson
+Ezat Bishri Naseef
+Loqa Nagaty
+Gaber Munir Adly
+Esam Badir Samir
+Malak Farag Abram
+Sameh Salah Faruq
+And the martyr whose name we do not know, a “Worker from Awr village”
Faces of Honor: St Mark's Coptic Church
marks Martyrs with Crowns, Candles, and Flowers 

09 February 2016

Memorial Service for John Dwyer on the West Coast

Last month I posted a piece about John  Dwyer's death and included information on the Mass of the Resurrection to be held at the Cathedral in Albany and the memorial service done at John and Odile's parish. (cf., In Memoriam, John C Dwyer) Unfortunately, the weather and other factors made attending either of those Masses difficult for many of us who knew John from Saint Mary's College (BA and MA programs) or the SAT program at the GTU.

For those who were hoping for such an opportunity, there will be a third memorial service at St Mary's College on March 12, 2016 at 2:00 pm. 

A Brief Look at the Episcopalian Canon 14 versus the Roman Catholic Canon 603

  [[Dear Sister, you mentioned the difference between the Episcopal Canon and the Roman Catholic Canon 603. It seems to me that the Episcopal canon is more flexible than the Roman Catholic one. Roman Catholics living under c 603 have to be hermits but with the Episcopal canon they can live in many different ways as those consecrated to God.  They make public personal vows and are free to live as the Holy Spirit moves them. 

With c 603 an individual must shape their lives according to the requirements of the canon --- and from what you have said in the past, according to other canons as well. But what happens if the Holy Spirit calls a person to live differently than these canons allow for? For instance, with the Episcopal canon a person could live as a hermit some of the time and as an active religious at other times. I think this is a good thing. If you wanted to live as an active religious you would need to get your vows dispensed wouldn't you? I don't really have a question here but I do wonder what you think about this. Isn't the Episcopal canon a better option which ensures greater freedom than Canon 603?]]

Respect for Anglican Contributions to the Renewal of Eremitical Life:

Let me say that I greatly respect the place of the Episcopal Communion in the renewal of eremitical life in the contemporary Church and world. When I was first considering this life seriously after having read canon 603 and Merton's Contemplation in a World of Action one of the first contacts I made was with the Sisters of the Love of God in order to read some of the work they were publishing on eremitical life. This weekend I looked once again (after thirty years or so!) at a collection of essays entitled Solitude and Communion --- an anthology published by this same community and featuring essays by some of the really great Anglican, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic writers on eremitical life, especially on its communal dimension and the importance of the experience of redemption which must lie at its heart.

The work of these writers, folks like Sister Mary Clare SLG, AM Allchin, Dom Andre Louf, Kallistos Ware, Rolland Walls, and Sister Benedicta Ward SLG, represent genuinely pioneering work deeply rooted in the eremitical Tradition and responsive to the needs of the contemporary world. It was very gratifying to find many posts on this blog site mirroring the same conclusions on the nature of eremitical life represented in this particular collection of essays, but more importantly I was reminded again of the really seminal place the Anglican Communion has had in the renewal of eremitical life in the 20th and 21st Centuries.

And yet, I don't feel the same way about the Episcopalian Canon on solitary religious life. This is precisely because it does not define a specifically eremitical life in the way canon 603 does for the Roman Catholic Church. From my perspective this is an important deficiency, both in terms of eremitical life and in terms of religious life more generally, because it really makes individualism rather than true freedom the measure of all things. In the Episcopal Church anyone living under this canon may call themselves a hermit whether they are one or not. They only need to be living alone to do so. It is striking to me that the sharpest criticism I have heard about lives lived in this way was from an Episcopal solitary who recognized the very same problem. She noted that only a very small percentage (maybe 5%) of those calling themselves "solitaries" or hermits actually live anything remotely like that life defined in canon 603 or recognized from the eremitical tradition and desert spirituality. (cf., Roman Catholic Hermits versus Episcopal Solitaries) That means a large percentage of these "solitaries" are living neither the challenges nor values of community life (which they apparently do not feel called to) nor the radical aloneness and dependence upon God reflected in the kerygma of the Cross and typical of eremitism; yet they are considered solitary religious and hermits. I personally wonder about the wisdom of this canon on a number of levels but the problem I am focusing on here results when these folks call themselves "hermits".

Canon 14 Provides no Means of Discernment:

It seems to me the deficiency of the canon and of the discernment which necessarily accompanies and is defined by it, is directly responsible for this. Here is what I mean. Imagine that one advertises a job listing for a computer analyst and fails to spell out an adequate job description in doing so. One may get a ton of applicants with very different ideas of what it means to be a computer analyst in 2016 --- and as many differing levels of training, education, and competence as a result. Those doing the hiring also may not understand what is required and hire folks who simply are not prepared to do the job --- because they too lack an understanding of what the job entails. Remember, there is no job description, no listing of qualifications without which one can never succeed, and no spelling out of or screening for the dimensions necessary for real competence and fruitfulness! Supervisors and other team members may then find themselves unable to assist the new hires because the needs of the company cannot be met by people who do not have the capacity or the basis to be trained to do so. And of course, what happens in such a situation  to all those who need the fruit of competent analysts' work?

The question of Divine vocations to eremitical life is an even more difficult one; after all we are not dealing with a mere job. So imagine that a Church promulgates a canon which allows for solitary hermits but fails to spell out a vision of what that actually means. How will they or the people seeking to live as hermits discern such a calling?  And if they cannot discern this, then how in the world can they actually live it?  Whose vision of the life will guide in formation, both initial and ongoing? What prevents freedom from lapsing into license, solitude into isolation or the silence of solitude from being replaced by introversion seasoned with discontent --- enough to fuel the life of an institutional gadfly for instance? More, what keeps flexibility from lapsing into distortion, mediocrity, or other actual betrayals of the tradition? What ensures withdrawal from misanthropy, depression, pathological anti-social impulses and selfishness do not replace the anachoresis of authentic anchoritism? And what of the radical Gospel of a power which is perfected in weakness, a mercy which does justice, and a redemption which brings life out of death and meaning out of meaninglessness --- lived out stricter separation from the world and the silence of solitude?  What of those who need to hear this Gospel proclaimed as a hermit especially does this --- the marginalized, bereaved, isolated elderly and chronically ill? To whom do they look for evidence of the transfiguration of these things in Christ?

The Value of Canon 603 as a Normative Vision:

I think it is important to see that more than being a law, Canon 603 is a normative vision of the essence of eremitical life. When I say I live my life under this canon I am saying I live my life according to this vision and the relationships in which it establishes me. The vision itself summons me to allow God to shape my life accordingly and it affirms that God has done similarly through the centuries in ways which hermits and those looking to them have found redemptive. I do what I can do to allow this shaping and I do that in order that the Gospel proclamation that is uniquely expressed in eremitical life might be proclaimed in my own. I do not mean that my life is or is primarily meant to be a kind of generic Christian witness (though it should also do this). Instead it is a much more radical kind of witness where a personally "noisy"  (anguished) isolation symptomatic of sin and the consequences of this state of estrangement and alienation is transfigured into the silence of solitude; in this vocation the hermit's redemption is worked out in a loneliness and dependence on God which is similar to that of Jesus' life, passion, and death.

Perhaps it would help if I put the text of the two canons side by side so to speak. The difference between them is striking. First, the Episcopal Church's only canon speaking to the profession of solitary individuals: [[Title III, Canon 14; Sec. 3. Any Bishop receiving vows of an individual not a member of a Religious Order or other Christian Community, using the form for "Setting Apart for a Special Vocation" in the Book of Occasional Services , or a similar rite, shall record the following information with the Standing Committee on Religious Communities of the House of Bishops: the name of the person making vows; the date of the service; the nature and contents of the vows made, whether temporary or permanent; and any other pastoral considerations as shall be deemed necessary.]] As you can see there is absolutely nothing at all about the nature of eremitical life in the Episcopalian Canon. (Neither, contrary to some objections, is there anything particularly constraining, much less controlling or distorting (falsifying) of a solitary life in this canon.) It simply requires the proper recording of the place and nature of the person's vows, and generally specifies the rite to be used for profession.

Canon 603: Text of the Roman Catholic Vision of Solitary Eremitical Life:

Next, Canon 603 in the RCC's Revised Code of Canon Law: Can. [[603 §1. Besides institutes of consecrated life, the Church recognizes the eremitic or anchoritic life by which the Christian faithful devote their life to the praise of God and the salvation of the world through a stricter withdrawal from the world, the silence of solitude, and assiduous prayer and penance. §2. A hermit is recognized in law as one dedicated to God in the consecrated life if he or she publicly professes in the hands of the diocesan bishop the three evangelical counsels, confirmed by vow or other sacred bond, and observes their own Rule or Plan of Life under his direction.]] Unlike canon 14, Canon 603 describes a recognizable and traditional eremitical life. It describes the central elements of the life including its positive motivation and ecclesial dimensions. It effectively combines these non-negotiable elements with the non-negotiable requirement of the hermit's own Rule --- a combination which assures the vocation's necessary flexibility and freedom in the Holy Spirit as well as helping protect from the potential decline into individualism and license through its institutional dimension.

When I think of Canon 603 I think of it as a kind of sacred space I can enter into for reflection, prayer, and exploration. Elements like "stricter separation from the world" or "the silence of solitude" provide doorways which both demand and allow the candidate to enter into the eremitical life more fully and see it from one perspective and then another. Besides the eremitical tradition, union with God itself shines its own light on these terms and allows one to truly understand them. Yes, these elements serve as constraints on my life but they also challenge to growth and signal vast regions of freedom (including the freedom of the prophet) which shape and are shaped by my silent dialogue with God. Canon 14:3 of itself, as far as I can see, neither necessarily invites nor inspires anything like this.

You ask if canon 14 isn't better than canon 603 because of the freedom associated with it. It seems to me that given c 603's universal and therefore universally binding vision of eremitical life as well as the protection of flexibility and personal integrity provided by the hermit's own Rule, canon 603 is less subject to the whims of individual Bishops and their personal visions of eremitical life than canon 14 might be. With Canon 603 both the hermit and the bishop are constrained by the vision set forth; there is less room for episcopal idiosyncrasies and biases. On the hermit's side of things canon 603 does not simply allow one to live any way at all and call it eremitical or "solitary" --- as canon 14 seems perhaps to do. Instead it provides a framework which empowers the hermit to plumb the depths of a life of prayer and the silence of solitude in union with God in a way which may well make of her a prophetic presence within the Church and world --- and it does this with the blessing and explicit commissioning of the Church. Since I understand freedom as the power to be the ones we are called to be, and since I find the canon to be empowering in this way, I experience canon 603 as incredibly freeing rather than constraining.

Of course I believe that God has called me to be a hermit and that doing that well (that is, in a way which witnesses to the redemption of the cross) for the rest of my life is part of that calling.  It seems to me that moving from one calling to another, one form of religious life to another, might really mean to fail to live any life vocation as fully as is needed. One of the tensions I deal with and have written about here in the past is that between active ministry and the withdrawal required by eremitical silence and solitude. But that tension has been helpful to my growth as a hermit precisely because I am professed to live the vision and grow in the wisdom of canon 603 for the rest of my life.

For instance, had I, despite my perpetual eremitical profession, been able to be an active religious at one point and then a hermit for a while and then an active religious again, as I think you describe and as is a continuing temptation, I would never have come to see that letting go of discrete gifts and talents so that the redemption God achieves in eremitical solitude IS the real gift of one's life and the gift she lives FOR others. That special kind of "seeing" --- and the witness to God's own faithfulness that must flow from it --- would never have occurred precisely because it required long term stability in the eremitical vocation to come to. In a day and age when "part time vocations" are being touted as an option to cope with this ministerial shortage or other, we especially need the witness and wisdom of those who persevere for the whole of their lives and know the freedom that comes precisely from the stability of life commitments.