30 April 2016

Eremitical Solitude: A Silent Preaching of the Crucified One

Dear Sister how is it a hermit can be a silent preaching of the Lord and at the same time be "hidden from the eyes of men"? You write about canon 603 a lot but why don't you ever write about pars 920-921 in the Catechism? They are richer than the canon I think. [[921  [Hermits] manifest to everyone the interior aspect of the mystery of the Church, that is, personal intimacy with Christ. Hidden from the eyes of men, the life of the hermit is a silent preaching of the Lord, to whom he has surrendered his life simply because he is everything to him. Here is a particular call to find in the desert, in the thick of spiritual battle, the glory of the Crucified One.]]

I agree with you that the paragraphs on eremitical life in the Catechism are quite rich. I don't personally find them richer than the canon but my relationship with the canon is necessarily different. What I mean is that the canon is both legally and morally binding on me in a public way. I am commissioned and directly responsible for understanding and revealing its meaning with my life. The catechism, on the other hand, was actually written for bishops, theologians, and those teaching the faith. It thus presumes a broader knowledge which can adequately contextualize and inform what the CCC says in summary fashion. It is not meant to be the final word on things --- much less on things eremitical! (In this case, for instance, par 920-921 are to be read in light of the Church's theology of consecrated life --- not the other way around.) With that in mind I can say that while the CCC is profoundly instructive, and while I reflect on it as well as on the canon, it is not normative for my life in the same way. Still, if you look at the themes dealt with regularly here I think you would find par 921 is at least implicitly present in almost all of them (par 920 is essentially a reprise of canon 603).

For instance, I write a lot about eremitical life as an ecclesial vocation, a vocation which "belongs" to the Church in a formal way, the charism of the vocation (the silence of solitude where solitude is understood in terms of communion) which is a gift of God both to and from the Church, the hermit as ecclesiola (a la Peter Damien). This is all part of a hermit being a manifestation of the intimacy with Christ which is the interior aspect of the Church's own identity. I write very frequently about the distinction between isolation and solitude, or between silence and solitude and the silence OF solitude; this involves several of the elements mentioned in par 921 including intimacy with Christ, the silent preaching of the hermit, the hiddenness of her life, etc. When I write about the redemptive experience that must exist at the core of the hermit's life or about the theology of the cross, I am clearly writing about the Crucified One, the inner spiritual battle we are each called to participate in, and the intimacy with Christ commissioned to manifest. When I write about the Word Event or Language Event the hermit becomes as she is transfigured and comes to rest in the silence of solitude I am thinking again of her intimacy with Christ and of her life being a silent preaching of the Lord.

I do believe all of these fit neatly together (though not without the paradox present whenever Christianity is lived out in our world) and I believe that the hiddenness of the life is completely consistent with being a silent preaching of the Lord. You might want to look at the following article Hiddenness of the Hermit Vocation and others with the label "Eremitism and Hiddenness" for what I have written in the past years.  What is clear to me is the work of the hermit is to allow the silent and entirely hidden work of the Lord within her heart, mind, and spirit. She witnesses to this presence and to the redemptive work of God that occurs in each and every person in the silence of solitude. No active ministry is needed here. One simply lives in intimate relation with God and is made whole and holy in the process. It is to that to which the hermit especially  witnesses with  her life.

But all of this is also implied in the elements of canon 603. Assiduous prayer and penance combined with stricter separation from the world in the silence of solitude conveys a sense of essential hiddenness and of something special happening in that hiddenness. The Evangelical Counsels and the hermit's Rule do likewise. How could she live these otherwise? Even the supervision of the bishop required by the canon and the hermit's delegate witness to this; it is, in fact, what they are called to ensure for those who never see or come to know the hermit -- and for the whole Church. I do appreciate the CCC paragraphs and I actually love the reference to a hermit as a "Silent preaching of the Lord" (or, as I tend to think of it, a silent preaching of the Crucified One).

The salvation of the world occurs  through the solitary life of the One who lives in an ineffably intimate dialogue with the Father in the power of the Spirit. While it may seem his life is filled with people and certainly filled with love, Jesus' entire life is a solitary life in the desert. He is, except for his relationship with his Abba, alone --- alone in a crowd, perhaps, but still ultimately alone with only God as the One who knows him intimately in the biblical sense and completes him. And of course, at the end of his life he experiences the absolute aloneness of even God's absence. Jesus' 40 days in the desert was, as I understand it, a snapshot of the character of his entire life. Likewise, there is no doubt in my mind that par 921 of the Catechism sees the hermit's life reprising this aloneness which is lived, as c 603 says explicitly for, "the salvation of the world", the reconciliation of all of creation.

While the two sources are complementary and while both are rich resources for reflection on the nature of eremitical life, canon 603 functions to order and govern my life in ways the CCC paragraphs neither do nor can. Also, its elements are most often misunderstood and misunderstood not only by candidates but even by professed hermits and chancery personnel. For instance, the Silence of Solitude is often misread as silence and solitude, while the specific charismatic nature of this element is often missed. (The silence of solitude functions not only as context and goal of the hermit's life, but as the gift the hermit is empowered to bring to both the Church and World.) For that reason, because I personally need to be in touch with this notion of charisma and because such misunderstanding leads to a failure to esteem to specific gift this vocation is --- as well as to professions of solitary persons who are not and may never be hermits --- I have spent more of my time and attention on the canon which mentions it explicitly.