28 May 2017

Solemnity of the Ascension and the Jewish Theology of Marriage (reprise)

[I would have liked to have put this up last Thursday on Ascension Day, but it will have to be today instead. I hope it is helpful.]

So much of what Jesus says about the event we call "Ascension" is meant to remind us of the Jewish theology of marriage. It is meant to remind us that the Church, those called and sent in the name of Jesus, is the Bride of Christ --- both betrothed and awaiting the consummation of this marriage. This Friday's Gospel passage from 16 John prepares the disciples for Jesus' "leaving" and the Church wants us to hear it now in terms of the Ascension rather than the crucifixion. Thus, it focuses on the "in-between" time of grief-at-separation, waiting, and bittersweet joy.

Thus too, especially with its imagery of labor and childbirth, it affirms that though Jesus must leave to prepare a place for us, the grief of his "leaving" (really a new kind of presence) will one day turn to unalloyed joy because with and in Christ something new is being brought to birth both in our own lives and in the very life of God. It is an unprecedented reality, an entirely New Life and too, a source of a joy which no one can take from us. Just as the bridegroom remains a real but bittersweet presence and promise in the life of his betrothed, so Jesus' presence in our own lives is a source of now-alloyed and bittersweet joy, both real and unmistakable but also not what it will be when the whole of creation reaches its fulfillment and the marriage between Christ and his Bride is consummated. The union of this consummation is thus the cosmic union of God-made all in all.

The following post reflects on another Johannine text, also preparing us for the Ascension. I wanted to reprise it here because the Gospel texts this week all seek to remind us of the unadulterated joy of Easter and the Parousia (the second-coming and fulfillment) as they prepare us for the bittersweet joy of the in-between time of Ascension and especially because they do so using the imagery of Jewish marriage. This Friday's childbirth imagery in John 16 presupposes and requires this be fresh in our minds.

The Two Stages of Jewish Marriage

The central image Jesus uses in [speaking of his leaving and eventual return] is that of marriage. His disciples are supposed to hear him speaking of the entire process of man and wife becoming one, of a union which represents that between God and mankind (and indeed, all of creation) which is so close that the two cannot be prised apart or even seen as entirely distinguishable realities. Remember that in Jewish marriages there were two steps: 1) the betrothal which was really marriage and which could only be ended by a divorce, and 2) the taking home and consummation stage in this marriage. After the bridegroom travels to his bride's home and the two are betrothed, the bridegroom returns home to build a place for his new bride in his family's home. It is always meant to be a better place than she had before. When this is finished (about a year later) the bridegroom travels back to his bride and with great ceremony (lighted lamps, accompanying friends, etc) brings her back to her new home where the marriage is consummated.

Descent and the Mediation of God's Reconciling Love:

This image of the dual stages in Jewish marriage is an appropriate metaphor of what is accomplished in the two "stages" in salvation history referred to as descent and ascent. When we think of Jesus as mediator or revealer --- or even as Bridegroom --- we are looking at a theology of salvation (soteriology)  in which God first goes out of himself in search of a counterpart. This God  'empties himself' of divine prerogatives --- not least that of remaining in solitary omnipotent splendor --- and in a continuing act of self-emptying creates the cosmos still in search of that counterpart. For this reason the entire process is known as one of descent or kenosis. Over eons of time and through many intermediaries (including prophets, the Law, and several covenants) he continues to go out of himself to summon the "other" into existence, and eventually chooses a People who will reveal  him (that is, make him known and real) to the nations. Finally and definitively in Jesus he is enabled to turn a human face to his chosen People. As God has done in partial and fragmentary ways before, in Christ as Mediator he reveals himself definitively as a jealous and fierce lover, one who will allow nothing, not even sin and godless death (which he actually takes into himself!)** to separate him from his beloved or prevent him from bringing her home with him when the time comes.

Ascension and the Mediation of God's Reconciling Love:

With Jesus' ascension we are confronted with another dimension of Christ's role as mediator; we celebrate the return of the Bridegroom to his father's house --- that is to the very life of God. He goes there to prepare a place for us. As in the Jewish marriage practice, that Divine "household" (that Divine life) will change in a definitive way with the return of the Son (who has also changed and is now an embodied human being who has experienced death, etc.) just as the Son's coming into the world changed it in a definitive way. God is not yet all in all (that comes later) but in Christ humanity has both assumed and been promised a place in God's own life. As my major theology professor used to say to us, "God has taken death into himself and has not been destroyed by it." That is what heaven is all about, active participation and sharing by that which is other than God in the very life of God. Heaven is not like a huge sports arena where everyone who manages to get a ticket stares at the Jumbo Tron (God) and possibly plays harps or sing psalms to keep from getting too bored. With the Christ Event God changes the world and reconciles it to himself, but with that same event the very life of God himself is changed as well. The ascension signals this significant change as embodied humanity and all of human experience becomes a part of the life of the transcendent God who is eternal and incorporeal. Some "gods" would be destroyed by this, but not the God of Jesus Christ!


Mediation (or revelation) occurs in two directions in Christ. Christ IS the gateway between heaven and earth, the "place" where these two realities meet and kiss, the new Temple where sacred and profane come together and are transfigured into a single reality. Jesus as mediator implicates God into our world and all of its moments and moods up to and including sin and godless death. But Jesus as mediator also allows human life, and eventually all of creation to be implicated in and assume a place in God's own life. When this double movement comes to its conclusion, when it is accomplished in fullness and Jesus' commission to reconciliation is entirely accomplished, when, that is, the Bridegroom comes forth once again to finally bring his bride home for the consummation of their marriage, there will be a new heaven and earth where God is all in all; in this parousia both God and creation achieve the will of God together as it was always meant to be.
** Note: the Scriptures recognize two forms of death. The first is a kind of natural perishing. The second is linked to sin and to the idea that if we choose to live without God we choose to die without him. It is the consequence of sin. This second kind is called variously, sinful death, godless death, eternal death or the second death. This is the death Jesus "takes on" in taking on the reality and consequences of human sinfulness; it is the death he dies while (in his own sinlessness) remaining entirely vulnerable and open to God. It is the death his obedience (openness to and decision for God) allows God to penetrate and transform with his presence. Because of this transformation we each will meet God in death and give our own final, definitive, exhaustive yes to God --- or not. Christ made that possible with his own obedience unto death, death on a cross, something which was not true before Christ.

The resurrection is the event symbolizing the defeat of this death and the first sign that all death will one day fall to the life and love of God. Ascension is the event symbolizing God taking humanity into his own "house", his own life in/through doing this with Christ. We live in hope for the day the promise of Ascension will be true for the whole of God's creation, the day when God will be all in all.

18 May 2017

Questions When a Diocese Does not Respond as one Feels is Appropriate

[[Dear Sister, I have discerned a vocation to be a hermit. I want to be a diocesan hermit and I think that is what God is calling me to. The diocese doesn't seem willing to believe me or my discernment. They are putting me off. The Vicar has said it will be at least two years and maybe even five years before the diocese would let me make vows. Even then it would be temporary vows. Why won't the diocese trust me in this? They act as though the discernment I have done is not worth anything at all! I asked if I could be publicly recognized as a candidate to c 603 hermit life and they said no they don't do that. What does it take to convince them? Could you write them about this?]]

Thanks for your questions. I know personally that it is difficult to hear one has to wait, and more to wait for some years, before a diocese decides they will profess one as a diocesan hermit. Even then profession is not certain and a diocese can refuse for various good and legitimate reasons including coming to the conclusion that one is not suited to this vocation or even to eremitical silence and solitude lived in the name of the Church. It is important to remember two things:1) if you are called to this the process, so long as it is honest on all sides and not overly protracted**, will not do anything but assist your growth in this vocation. 2) Remember too that what you are seeking from the diocese is the right to represent the eremitical life as it is lived in the Church's name. You are seeking permission to live an ecclesial vocation, not just any form of hermit life (for there are many!), but hermit life as the church understands, defines, and puts it forth as a unique and very rare witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Church is therefore responsible for the eremitical vocation itself; it belongs to her and that means she must be as sure as she can be that the candidate is called by God to do this and more, that the hermit can, does, and will continue live this life for the rest of her days.

In the same way then, the solitary hermit must show that she  too is seeking to live eremitical life in a way which witnesses to it as an ecclesial reality. She must be seeking to live eremitical life as the Church understands, defines, and commissions people to live it; she must also show that she CAN do these things in a way which convinces others she does so by the power of the Holy Spirit. Her life must witness to the victory of God in Christ over the powers of the world --- not because she can speak piously or mouth "Lord, Lord," but because in Christ she has become someone who knows and lives "the silence of solitude" for the sake of God's Church and World. This witness, which itself is a gift to the Church, has some very specific qualities or characteristics. These are spelled out in canon 603 and are expressed as well as in the Church's own eremitical tradition and other canon law. The hermit cannot simply "go it alone" in proposing that the church profess and consecrate her; this is so because the hermit is claiming to be a gift of God living eremitical life, which is itself a gift to the church. For this reason the Church has the right, obligation. and need to examine everything. She has a right and obligation to determine the nature and quality of the vocation which sits in front of her and does so with the candidate in a process of mutual discernment.

** overly protracted: a reasonable period of preparation for temporary profession is probably anywhere up to 7 years or so, depending on the situation. It does not take a diocese this long to get up to speed on the vocation but the nature of the vocation and the candidate's situation --- so long as the candidate wishes to proceed -- may necessitate extended discernment. Beyond this the diocese needs to make a decision regarding admission to temporary vows or termination of the process of discernment.

Temporary Profession:

All of this points to a learning process. The Church (in the persons in charge of vocations, the Vicar for Religious, and finally, the Bishop) is now obligated to learning about eremitical life and what canon 603 life looks like today. Beyond that they have to discern the candidate's experience of and ability to live an eremitism which embodies the same values and qualities. This takes time, especially if the diocese is like most and have never professed, consecrated, or supervised a canon 603 vocation. But it also means the candidate has some learning to do. That is especially true if she has no background in religious life! The learning process usually occurs over time and once the Church determines the person is ready to make profession (public vows) it is usually prudent to require temporary profession several years (3-5 yrs is usual) before perpetual or solemn profession.

The vows, whether temporary or perpetual, require the candidate to give her entire self. One doesn't hold anything back because vows are temporary. At the same time even temporary profession changes the hermit's life in significant ways. Sometimes for instance, for the first time ever the life of the evangelical counsels is lived under the supervision of a legitimate superior. For the first time everything is seen and done within the lens of these counsels because the hermits is bound morally and legally to do so. For the first time the hermit takes on the Church's own eremitical tradition as her own; she assumes a place in this living stream in a conscious way because she is commissioned to do so by the Church.

With profession, and especially perpetual profession and consecration, she becomes a hermit OF the Diocese of (Name) rather than simply being a privately committed hermit living in that diocese. Invariably the professed hermit is challenged to integrate the new facts of her life and to assume a new way of seeing herself in light of a new and ecclesial identity. Living eremitical life in one's own name is a very different experience than it is to live that life in the name of  the Church as a Catholic hermit representing a place in the Church's eremitical tradition by virtue of moral and legal bonds. Despite strong similarities in eremitical praxis, an ecclesial vocation is not the same as one which is not ecclesial. One can live as a hermit for years without also having a vocation to c 603 eremitical life and without being prepared to live eremitism as an ecclesial vocation. Similarly one can also do so nominally without ever truly making the transition from lone person to hermit or without genuinely taking on the bonds and relationships that move one from hermit to canonical hermit.

The period of temporary vows allows one to grow in one's understanding of this vocation from the inside; one comes to embody it and as this commission is embraced, to discern whether one is called to live it for the rest of one's life. In almost every ecclesial vocation within the Church temporary commitments are understood as prudent and ordinarily, as essential. While they allow the Church to discern further re the vocation in front of them, they also allow the individual to grow and mature in what is a new reality, a new identity for them. In short, temporary vows are a good idea and an opportunity for all involved to grow in their understanding of this vocation in preparation for a definitive profession. Not least these periods of temporary profession allow the hermit to prepare to write a Rule of life which is ready for perpetual profession. It will be a Rule which appreciates the nature and importance of this new state of life, the relationships which are central to it, the evangelical counsels, the place of canon law in its regard, its ecclesial dimension and public responsibility. One cannot write a Rule which adequately treats these realities until one has lived them. Temporary profession is ordinarily the time one gets this specific experience.

If one decides during this time that one does not have this vocation or if the diocese decides this is the case, the person can still live eremitical life. They can continue to do so in the lay state with private vows or with no vows at all. Again, an eremitical vocation may not also be a call to live this life in the name of the Church in the consecrated state; even so,  these various forms of eremitism are all significant, all of similar value.

Public Recognition as a Candidate:

I believe I have written about this once before several years ago. In 2011 this question was posed in Questions on When to Approach One's Diocese. What I pointed out there was that neither Canon 603 nor things like The Guidebook to this vocation put out by the Diocese of La Crosse specify a formal period of candidature. Since each vocation is unique and develops according to a unique timetable it makes sense that this is so. These vocations also develop in hiddenness. Until one is admitted to public profession, whether to temporary or perpetual vows, one has made no commitment, accepted no additional ecclesial or canonical responsibilities or obligations, etc. This informal period I have referred to as candidature can end tomorrow or extend for a number of years. Because it is essentially undefined and entirely individual and because one has no additional rights in law during this time identifying it with public recognition makes little sense.

Writing your Diocese on your Behalf:

This is the third or fourth time I have been asked to write someone's diocese on their behalf. In a couple of those I was being asked to write to provide information on the c 603 vocation. What you and others may be unaware of is that dioceses reading about this vocation sometimes contact me if they desire assistance in some way. Sometimes that involves conversations on how the vocation is lived, what eremitical life is and is not, the content of Canon 603, how to approach the process of discernment and determining if an individual seems suitable as a candidate, major reservations in that regard, etc. I respond as asked and if I am asked to speak with a candidate, whether or not in an evaluative sense, I will do that. I will also do what I can when asked for assistance by someone who wishes to become a c 603 hermit. But I do not write dioceses without their first contacting me nor do I write letters of recommendation unless I know the person well and can do this in good conscience.

Please remember that the discernment your diocese must do takes time -- sometimes a long time. If you are called to this vocation then you are called to live eremitical life anyway --- no matter how long the diocesan process takes. Use the time to read and study and pray. Become knowledgeable about the history of eremitical life, the nature of the vows you propose to be allowed to make, the nature of consecrated life in the Church and so forth. Work regularly with your spiritual director and focus on growing as a human being and as a hermit. If you can do all these things while continuing to discern your vocation, the time it all takes will not be problematical; instead it will serve you and your diocese itself well by providing an example of the patience and perseverance of one called and committed to God and God's own in the silence of solitude. It will also serve c 603 well should you be admitted to public profession and consecration and perhaps even if you are not.

I hope this is helpful.

15 May 2017

"When We are Born We Start to Die": Embracing Death as Decision

[[ Hi Sister, what you write on death as decision makes me think of the kinds of things people say like, "When we are born we start to die." Except I always thought of this as something we moved towards like we might approach a terrible and destructive thing. I mean weren't we meant to be immortal? We aren't meant to die! But your posts made me see the saying about "When we are born we start to.die" as something positive. If we are saved from death and if we were originally immortal then how can this be?]]

Thanks for your questions. Some are easier than others! Let me begin with your observations about the old saying, "When we are born we start to die." In one sense, the one we all learned, this saying is a bit depressing and scary. Once we are born we begin the inexorable movement toward the complete end of the life we know here. We move toward the moment "when this world has neither time nor place for us" as my major theology professor used to say. This is death in the sense of dissolution, loss, impermanence, and the threat of nothingness. But, if death is a decision, and especially if it is, as Jesus shows us, an act of entrusting ourselves totally, exhaustively to the God whose love for us is eternal and stronger than death, then the saying, "When we are born we start to die," takes on an entirely new sense, something positive as you say, and immensely challenging. It defines the nature of being human, of maturing in that -- growing into wholeness and holiness; and it describes the task underlying Christian discipleship, namely, dying to self and living into God.

Remember that to say we are "meant to be immortal" means to say we are meant to exist in and from God, nothing less and nothing else. We live eternally in and from God. That has always been true. Our souls are immortal because God never ceases "breathing" them forth, not because they stand as immortal in and of themselves. Whether we are speaking about our own original condition or our destiny the idea of immortality or eternal life is based on our relationship with the God who is eternal source of life. Even the story of the Garden of Eden centers on the rupture of the relationship between mankind and God, and with that rupture comes the loss of eternal life. That is a central lesson of the narrative. It is also possible to read the narrative in what is sometimes called a "diachronic" sense -- that is, as an account of what lays ahead of us as well as an account of primordial origins.

At every moment, according to the Genesis accounts, we choose either life or death. That is, we choose to know (in the intimate Biblical sense) both good and evil or we choose to know only God and what is of and from God. And as we make those choices we either die to self and live unto God, or we reject that choice. With each decision we grow in our humanity or we reject it and all it entails. With each choice we prepare ourselves for the final choice, the definitive act of entrusting ourselves to God --- or we fail to do so. Either we mature towards death-as-decision and eternal life in and from God, or we do not.

When we understand death as a decision we have spent our entire lives preparing for, there is no question that we are meant to die. Death is then the most natural event of our lives, the fulfilment of faith -- of trust in God, the most human act we are called to. But only when we understand death as decision, and more specifically, as decision for God.  What we are not meant for is what the Scriptures know as sinful or godless death --- death unto loveless, empty, nothingness, meaninglessness, oblivion. This is the death that gains ascendency whenever we fail to choose life with and from God, whenever we choose false self over the true self, whenever we grasp at life rather than receiving it as gift, whenever greed overtakes gratitude and we fill our lives with the ultimately disappointing and empty. Ultimately this pattern of choices leads to the potential of grasping at self and choosing emptiness in an absolute or ultimate way. This is the death you rightly say we are not made for.

In each of these you can see the antithetical meanings of the saying, "When we are born we start to die." In actual fact the two forms of death: physical dissolution, and preparation for our definitive choice of God overlap or coincide throughout our lives. But it is up to us to decide which one of these primarily defines our understanding of the saying. When I was born I began the move towards physical dissolution, but at the same time I began to make choices for life in and from God, choices for eternal life which is experienced here and now in a proleptic and partial way and which can and is meant to be chosen in an ultimate and absolute sense --- the decision we know as death. If we let physical dissolution occasion the primary meaning of this saying, we might miss completely the real meaning --- the definitive choice for God and eternal life which we prepare and create a greater (or lesser) capacity for every day of our lives.

This latter sense of the saying is what we mean by "dying to self". It is the dynamic of prayer; when we learn to pray we learn to die and vice versa--- both mean saying yes to living in and from God. Both require a dying to (false) self and a living from the Spirit. Whatever helps us to say yes to living also helps us to say yes in death. It is what we are talking about when we speak of  seeking or doing the "will of God" or the process of kenosis (self-emptying) which is really the core dynamic of the selfless love of Christ. This is all a very different approach to dying than is common today. It asks us to learn to welcome it, to nurture our capacity for it rather than distracting ourselves from it, ignoring and evading it,  fighting it in every way we can, and otherwise treating it as an enemy. What once was an enemy is no longer that in Christ; instead it is the event we are meant for in which we give ourselves over entirely to God.. When Christians repeat the statement, "When we are born we start to die," they must also mean, "When we are born we start to [learn to] give ourselves over to Life itself."

Paul described this double movement or meaning in next Sunday's second reading: For Christ also suffered for sins once. . . Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the Spirit. Remember that "flesh" means the whole self under the sway of sin. Thus, this saying of Paul describes both Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection and the daily dynamic of kenosis we are each called to embrace as we prepare ourselves for the radical decision we call death.

12 May 2017

Becoming a Catholic Hermit: Canon 603 and the question of "other institutes"

[[Dear Sister, I have read the Catechism's paragraphs on eremitical life and canon 603. Where do I find the Church's other institutes on the eremitical life? I am asking because of the following statement in the Catholic Hermit blog: [[There are older posts that I've written in detail as to the Roman Catholic Church's institutes on the eremitic life--briefly stated in 920-921 of The Cathechism (sic) of the Catholic Church and further addition in the briefly stated CL 603.]] This was part of an article on becoming a Catholic Hermit, a kind of how-to article --- though I honestly don't think she really answers the question. Can I ask you the same question someone asked the other hermit, how does one become a Catholic hermit? Where do I find these other institutes on the eremitic life? No one I have asked seems to know. Do they refer to using private vows?. . .]]

Thank you for the question. And thanks too for your patience. I know it has been several weeks since you first wrote me. One term which seems to have been misunderstood by the writer you are referencing when she read canon 603 is "institutes". Unfortunately that misunderstanding has, in part, caused her to misinterpret the nature of canon 603 per se and some other things essential to understanding the Church's approach to contemporary eremitical life. It was a fatal misunderstanding so let me start with the term "institutes." Please understand this is important if one is to really answer the question, "How does one become a Catholic Hermit"?

A fatal Misunderstanding:

In the above cited sentence and in other similar blog pieces, "institutes" seems to mean a body of ordinances, laws, and norms other than the content of paragraphs 920-921 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) or c 603 of the revised Code of canon Law (CJC). This usage is sometimes found sprinkled variously throughout non-Catholic ecclesial groups (thus The Institutes of Calvin, for instance) but the Roman Catholic Church does not use the term in this sense. Instead, in canon law and elsewhere it refers to any and all societies of consecrated life as institutes. Thus when canon 603 says, "Besides institutes of consecrated life, the Church recognizes the eremitic or anchoritic life. . ." she means "Besides societies of consecrated life, the Church recognizes the (solitary) eremitic or anchoritic life. . ."  Canon 603 is universal in scope, that is, it applies to the entire Church; it is the only law or set of norms which specifically apply to eremitical life in the Roman Catholic Church except for the proper law of Institutes of Consecrated Life which are canonically established societies under the canons appropriate for all canonical religious congregations.

Excursus: Proper law is law which does not apply to the entire Church; it is not universal. All communities, congregations, Orders, Confederations, etc have their own proper Law, namely, Constitutions and Statutes which are approved by the Church (by Bishops or the Holy See) and pertains or is PROPER to them alone. For that matter, the c 603 hermit composes a Rule which is approved by the Church and constitutes the hermit's own "proper law". (Meanwhile, in order not to have to type or otherwise explain the important canonical and other distinctions between these Orders, congregations, communities, societies, etc., --- these various groups of religious, et al, --- the Church simply refers to all and each of these as "institutes" of consecrated life.) End Excursus.

To reiterate, canon 603 reads, "Besides institutes of consecrated life the Church recognizes the eremitical or anchorite [form of] life. . ." and means simply that besides Institutes of Consecrated Life (including Orders like the Camaldolese Benedictines, the Carthusians, and the Carmelites which are either composed of hermits or allow explicitly for hermits in their Proper Law the Church recognizes and provides for in Universal (canon) Law the [solitary] eremitical or anchoritic life. The meaning of the term "institutes" in this context does not refer to other sets of laws, ordinances, statutes, or norms besides the canon recognizing and providing for eremitical life under canon 603! It means societies of consecrated life not sets of norms in addition to canon 603, especially which predate canon 603.

So why is this important? Why does it matter that canon 603 is not one canon on the eremitical life among many other ordinances or statutes, for instance? It matters because unlike the paragraphs of the Catechism which describe in summary fashion something that is true in the Catholic Church, Canon 603 "recognizes" and establishes in law for the first time in universal or Canon law the eremitical life lived under the authority and in the name of the Church. This canon is somewhat analogous to what are referred to as speech acts, acts of performative language which make real what they say. Canon 603 recognizes, establishes, defines (meaning it sets the content and limits of this reality right here and right now) and makes real in universal law and Catholic life something which has never before existed in the Church, namely the possibility of a solitary person living eremitical life in the consecrated state (or in a "state of perfection" to use Bp Remi De Roo's original and older language) apart from membership in an institute of consecrated life --- AND to do so in the name of the Church. In other words, with Canon 603 the Church has broadened the category of "religious" to include THESE professed and consecrated hermits. It does so with and in THIS Canon and NOWHERE ELSE. (cf Handbook on Canons 573-746 for observation on the term "religious")

Most of the time we read the canon and attend to the central elements it includes. This is critical, of course; we need to know how the canon defines eremitical life in this paradigmatic norm. But we must also attend to what it makes real for the first time in universal law and to the fact that it acts by making something real in the entire Roman (or Western) Church, as I said above, the possibility of living solitary eremitical life in the consecrated state as well as in the name of the Church. In this it is absolutely new and unique.

Canon 603 does not "briefly state" the contents of "other institutes" on the eremitical life. It is not a summary or an added "proviso," as the author of the blog you cited has sometimes asserted. There are no other institutes except in the sense c 603 uses the term. Canon 603 especially then does not simply add a few additional conditions or options for more structure or provisions for those who like these kinds of things (public vows with public rights and obligations, legitimate superiors, "temporal involvement") instead of the purely "spiritual" concerns of most hermits whom, "the Lord prefers to keep. . .more to himself" --- as the author cited has also written. Canon 603 is the norm which makes real in ecclesiastical law the vocation of solitary Catholic Hermit. Moreover, it is universal; it is the way solitary hermits become Catholic Hermits in every diocese in the Roman Catholic Church. Again, there is no other way nor has there ever been. 

Becoming a Catholic Hermit:

As you will find I have said before, the term Catholic Hermit does not merely mean one who is Catholic and a hermit. It has a more technical or specific meaning than that. It means one who has publicly been entrusted by the Church with and embraced through vows (or other sacred bonds) the rights and obligations associated with living the eremitical life in the name of the Roman Catholic Church. This occurs through public profession and consecration whether this occurs as a member of an institute of consecrated life (Camaldolese, Carthusian, etc) making profession in the hands of a legitimate superior of this congregation or as a solitary hermit making profession in the hands of the local bishop under canon 603. There are no other ways to become a Catholic Hermit.

In other words, to become a consecrated Catholic hermit one either goes through the steps to enter and become formed and definitively professed in a canonical community of hermits or one works with one's diocese to discern and be admitted to profession (public vows) as a diocesan (canon 603) hermit. If one chooses the first option the community will supervise the candidate's admission process, formation, discernment throughout, eventual admission to temporary profession and, after a number of years, admission to perpetual or solemn profession. In either/any case one does NOT become a Catholic hermit via private vows and self-"consecration"  (dedication!). In contrast to private vows, both options described above are canonical forms of life and require mutual discernment (representatives of the church and the candidate discern together) as well as public profession and consecration. You can find other posts in this blog which address times frames, preparation at various stages, discernment, and so forth, in other posts; please check the labels in the right hand column.

 Regarding private vows, let me reiterate here that these represent significant acts of self-dedication. As you will note in other posts here, I have said that we do not refer to private vows as an act of profession because they do not initiate one into the consecrated state of life nor, therefore, do they involve extending or embracing the public rights and obligations associated with initiation into the consecrated state of life. This includes identifying oneself as a Catholic hermit, which means one publicly professed and commissioned to live this life in the name of the Church. As a way of underscoring this those writing on this topic note that even when one has been finally professed and consecrated and then seeks to have their vows dispensed, while they remain consecrated (consecration per se cannot be undone) they are no longer in the consecrated state of life. Neither can they call themselves "religious" or a "consecrated hermit", for instance. This is because dispensation from public vows means release from the public bonds, rights, and obligations which constitute the heart of what the Church refers to as a stable state of life.

Private vows, significant as they are in their own way, are entirely private acts which do not change one's state of life or involve ecclesial rights and obligations beyond those conferred with baptism. I stress this first because the author of the Catholic Hermit blog consistently ignores, or misconstrues and misrepresents this fact. Secondly, that is important because you are (or were) reading her blog while you are discerning whether you have en eremitical vocation; as you continue this discernment, and if you believe you are called to eremitical life, you will also need to determine whether that will be as a Catholic Hermit living this life in the name of the Church (a discernment you must undertake with Chancery staff) or with private vows (or no vows at all beyond your baptismal commitment --- something which is also possible).

Whichever direction you choose (should you discern you are called to eremitical life) know that it has its own value and witness. If you choose private commitment to God in this vocation know that the history of the eremitical vocation in the Church has mainly been typified by such expressions. The Desert Fathers and Mothers were not only privately committed (there was no other option then), they chose the desert vocation because they were critical of the Church being co-opted by the State. Throughout the centuries the vocation has had a storied number of prophets, saints, holy men and women who revealed the compassion of the Gospel and the truth of a God who meets us in our weakness to allow that weakness to be transfigured to glorify and reveal the power of God. If you feel called to public profession either in an institute or as a solitary hermit under c 603 know that you are seeking to stand in this same tradition but now, are proposing to do so in the name of the Church --- a significant responsibility and calling which underscores the gift of God this vocation is to the Church and through the mediation of the Church, to the whole world.

08 May 2017

Alleluia! A Celebration of both the American Spirit and the Spirit of Easter

I was fortunate enough to reconnect with an old friend from High School the day before yesterday. It was one of those serendipity experiences which surprise and delight with their richness and promise. Beyond the initial contact she and I have talked via email a little about poetry and spirituality and some of the things we each are involved in today. We were not good friends in High School and are discovering just how much we now have in common. It is an amazing gift I think, and I am feeling grateful to the God who draws broken and separated threads together weaving them into an unimaginable future and Kingdom in which nothing and no one will ever be lost.

In the course of our emails Kathie recommended and sent me the link to a wonderful video of a choral version of Finlandia; I had never heard such a version. That link led me to another one featuring the same violinist playing the quintessentially American music of Aaron Copeland. In this arrangement Jenny Oaks Baker, a classically trained violinist plays fiddle as well (ironically, something I have also done); with those terrific fiddlers accompanying  her she manages to create a celebratory performance of sheer joy. It seems to me to capture the spirit of Easter without any overt religious "language" or imagery. This music cries out "Alleluia, Life wins out over death!" at every turn.

Postscript: Here is another version Jenny Oaks Baker has done with her four children, "Family Four". In the fiddling community it is not uncommon for the whole family to play together often learning several instruments to make this possible, and in some Mormon families this is true. Jenny Oaks Baker and Family Four combines both traditions:

05 May 2017

Followup on Death as Decision

[[Dear Sister, [in your last post] are you saying that dying is a decision? We decide to die? I don't think most people would agree with that. If today I just decided to die could I die? Why wouldn't that be suicide? Do you see what I mean?]]

Thanks for the questions. They open up some extremely important distinctions and nuances. Let me try to explain. If I am standing at the sink doing dishes or am vacuuming or something and "decide to die" despite being perfectly well physically, well no, that is not what I mean by calling death a decision. But if I am in the process of dying, of physical dissolution, or the moment of death has arrived because of illness or accident, for instance, then death itself has the quality of decision; it IS a decision, an act of entrusting ourselves first of all to the infinite uncertainty of death rather than holding onto the limited certainties of our life here and now. While other processes (physical, biological)  are also at work the essence, the fundamental nature of death is its quality as decision.

Secondly, and especially for the person of faith, this act of giving ourselves over to death is a decision to entrust ourselves entirely to God, the source of life --- even as we let go of self and mortal life with our own plans and dreams and visions of the future. (To be sure, every act of selflessness, every act of faith in God, every commitment we make to not live for self or to sacrifice the things we prefer for the sake of God and His Reign, is a kind of prefiguring of the more radical decision just described.) We see both dimensions of the act of dying most clearly in Jesus' passion and death. Jesus was faced with the terrible uncertainty of death (his cry of abandonment and complete aloneness was an instance of this I think) and yet he remained entirely vulnerable and open nonetheless. At the same time his openness was not without content; it was an openness to God, specifically to the One he knew as Love-in-Act and called by name as Abba, the One whose love was stronger than death. In spite of every cultural, religious and even every personal indication otherwise, Jesus trusted that his death, and so too his life, was not meaningless, or perhaps would not remain meaningless. Jesus gave himself over entirely to both dimensions of death but at bottom this "giving-over" was a radical and exhaustive decision for and on behalf of God.

This decision is implicit in every human act and activity. The task of faith is to make it explicit, to shape our lives according to choices for God (and this means all revelations or manifestations of God up to and including life itself). It means refusing to shape our lives in terms of selfishness but instead choosing selflessness. It means refusing to grasp at life as something we gain by our own efforts and skill, but instead receiving it as a gift of God. In the act of death (dying is a process, death the final event of decision) we make this choice as radically as possible because we finally and truly accept there is simply nothing we can do to make ourselves live. We want to live of course and we choose to live; even more we choose LIFE and especially therefore, life as gift, but at the same time we entrust ourselves both to the unbounded uncertainty of death and to the God who is greater than death, even --- if we believe the resurrection of Jesus --- sinful godless death.

The difference between this and suicide (and here I am only speaking generally about suicide) is that in suicide we do not accept life as a gift, as something we can and must only receive even when we are too weak or helpless to do anything else. In suicide, generally speaking, we cannot or do not see any possibility of God endowing our lives with meaning or beauty or rest (sabbath) or dignity, etc., despite our own frailty and helplessness. One's vision is limited, for whatever reasons, and one's capacity to trust in something larger than oneself is exhausted. One chooses to close oneself to anything larger and decides for the only apparent or putative act of control one has at hand. One acts to end everything --- as though that is ever possible.

In suicide one can convince oneself s/he is doing the selfless thing (and in some situations --- for instance, where death (and life!) is actually being forestalled by medical technology or treatment), this makes sense), but ordinarily one is deluding oneself. Generally speaking, in suicide one takes death into one's own hands and closes oneself to life-as-gift. In seeking to limit one's vulnerability one makes of death a small or calculable reality and, at least implicitly, judges that nothing more is possible. In so doing one does not give oneself over to the uncertainty of death. Instead one makes death the one certainty, the one reality one believes one can completely comprehend and control. One does not embrace a mystery in the act of suicide; one rejects that there is mystery --- whether in life or in death --- and affirms that one has the whole truth in one's own hands.

So, back to your question about death as a decision and dying simply because we decide to die. In some situations death is also something that occurs because we decide to allow that to happen. I am reminded of something I saw a number of times during my work as a hospital chaplain. In ministering to the dying it often occurred that a patient's family was unable to let the patient go. They urged the person to hang on, affirmed how they needed the person --- how they "could not live without" them sometimes --- and generally were unable or refused to accept the situation or to assist the patient in their need and task to embrace death with grace and peace! As a result the patients hung on, often days and sometimes weeks beyond what the hospital staff knew was normal or natural. (Sometimes they hung on for other reasons as well, sometimes in terror, but I am not speaking about those deaths here except to say once their terror was truly allayed -- something chaplains can and do assist with --- the dynamics were mainly the same as those described next.) When a patient's family could come to terms with the impending death, when they could reassure the patient they would be fine despite missing the patient, tell them they would live as fully as possible in memory of the patient, affirm that the patient's love would continue to empower them, continue to be a gift, and so forth (there were an infinite number of versions of the basic message), then, usually within hours, the patient would simply die quietly.

Often the death occurred soon after the family left the room. Many times it was when nursing staff had finished their tasks and the patient was alone for a few minutes. Again and again I saw evidence that the person was making a terribly intimate and private choice to give themselves over to death --- and perhaps more profoundly --- into the hands of the God Who transcends and conquers death. They left those they loved behind; they needed permission to do this in order to finally let go. They did not cease to love their families but something else was in front of them --- something they had, at least implicitly and often explicitly in faith, spent their entire lives coming to terms with in one way and another. (When we learn to receive life as gift, we are also learning to die and preparing for this final decision.) These patients illustrated for me the theological truth that death is a decision as they relinquished control in a final way and gave themselves over to a mystery that was unfathomable. This is part of what I mean when I say that death is a decision.

I hope this is of some help in clarifying my previous post.

03 May 2017

Dying as Ultimate or Definitive Decision for or Against God

[[Hi Sister Laurel, I wanted to thank you for posting your reflection from Wednesday of Holy Week. Also, I wanted to say thank you for posting the additional paragraphs you put there recently on death as "radical, definitive, and final decision". I wondered if you would consider posting these paragraphs separately though? I have never heard of death defined as "a definitive decision we make for or against God." It makes so much sense of saying "God willed Jesus' death!" --- something I guess I "took on faith" because I have always had trouble believing God could do such a thing. I mean, as you have written yourself, how could an infinitely loving God have willed the torture and death of his beloved one?]]

Yes, here are the paragraphs I added to the earlier blog post. Responses to your further comments or considerations are posted below these.

[[a central and defining dimension of death is the final decision one makes for or against God. It is possible to say that God willed this dimension of Jesus' death but not the circumstances that occasioned the death or the manner in which this whole event comes about. In Christian theology this decision is the very essence of death; it is a final and definitive decision for or against God. For this reason to speak of "willing one's death" is to speak of "willing one's final decision"; from this perspective the word "death" means "definitive decision". The two terms are interchangeable or synonymous. 

When we consider the question of "What did God will and what did God NOT will?" through this lens, what God willed was not Jesus' torture and crucifixion, but his exhaustive self-8emptying --- his definitive decision for God and the sovereignty of God. In Jesus' death this kenotic decision was realized in ultimate openness to whatever God would be and do ---even in abject godlessness. Understanding death in this way allows us to tease apart more satisfactorily what was and what was not the will of God with regard to Jesus' passion and death. In referring to this defining dimension of death we are allowed to say, "God willed Christ's death." It is also by forgetting this very specific definition of death (i.e., death as radical or definitive decision for or against God) that we have been led to tragically and mistakenly affirm the notion that the torture Jesus experienced at human hands and as the fruit of human cruelty and injustice was the will of God.]]

I was first introduced to the notion of death-as-decision during a course on Eschatology (c.1972 or 1973) as we read through Karl Rahner's book  On the Theology of Death.  At the same time we were reading through Ladislaus Boros' The Mystery of Death where Boros raises the philosophical question of "what happens to the whole [person] at the moment of death?" We can speak by observation about the person before death and after the separation of soul from body has occurred, but what happens "between" these two "moments"? What is the active dimension of death, that dimension marked by human agency and not simple passivity or "being done to?"  Boros goes on here to speak at length about "the hypothesis of a final decision." As I understand it it is the work of Boros and Rahner (primarily Rahner) that has provided cogent articulations of the notion of "death as final decision". 

Unfortunately, I never directly applied the theology of death-as-final-decision to the entire question of what is willed or not willed by God until this Easter. Specifically, I had never worked out in my own mind how it was possible to say, "God willed the death of Jesus" without at the same time making of God some sort of monster in whom it would be impossible to believe. (Some have decried the Christian God as one vindicating child abuse and therefore being a God whom they had to reject. This sense that death is a final decision is the key to disassociating God from the inhuman treatment Jesus received at the hands of so many Human beings and human institutions.) When I look at what made it both critical and possible for me to finally apply this definition of death to the question I realize it was the inner work I have been doing this past year. At every turn I was required to ask what was the will of God with regard to this or that event or series of events in my life --- and what was not! Again and again I saw that some things were the will of God and some things were emphatically not!

As Holy Week approached, these iterations of the distinction between human actions and Divinely-willed reality were especially raised again by the question of Jesus' death. Was this an exception? Was God "a monster" who willed inhuman cruelty and torture only in this case? I had "used" or at least suggested this limiting solution in an article I had published a decade or so earlier but had never been entirely comfortable with it. I had explained things to myself as analogous to a military commander who does not will the death of those under his command but who must put them in harms way to accomplish a mission; additionally I used the idea of a Peace Corps administer who must do something similar with volunteers but who does not will the injury of volunteers in accomplishing the mission of the Corps. Neither was entirely satisfactory but both were steps along the path to explaining how we could say that God willed Jesus' death.

It was the inner work I have been doing with my director that was decisive for my making the connection to what God did or did not will during Jesus' passion. This was because it was very clear that a number of things in my life were NOT the will of God but God DID will that I remain open to life and love (that is, to God) during these events (because there is no doubt that God accompanied me throughout them). Similarly God willed that I decide for and commit to Him in the healing work undertaken this year --- though God, I am sure, did not will the pain and suffering associated with this healing work. These decisions involved death --- all of them more and less "little deaths" to be sure, but forms of death nonetheless. They reminded me that ultimately dying or death itself, as Rahner says, is an act of radical and final decision for or against God. Dying is the  final and irrevocable decision we each make for the source of all reality as we choose either life or death. Lent made this choice explicit; it set the key in which the entire season was to be heard , "I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live." "Dying to self" in a final and definitive way (or refusing to do so) and thus similarly choosing God (or not) is the heart, the essential nature, of the event we know as death.

Death to self means opening ourselves to falling into and resting in the hands of God as opposed to clinging to the (limited) security of self; it means entrusting ourselves more and more wholly to God, living into God's love and thus, into the power and presence of God. We spend our entire lives learning to give ourselves over into God's hands more and more completely or radically. Death is the event in which we finalize the choices we have made throughout our lives for life, for truth, for love, for God. How ever death comes to us it never loses this quality of decision. While we may never accept a particular kind of death and dying as the will of God for us or for those we love, we must accept that the ultimate or definitive moment of decision for God this (or any) death represents is indeed the will of God.

In Jesus' passion we see the truth of this theological perspective worked out in ultimate clarity and depth. What Jesus revealed (showed and made real in history) on the cross is an authentic humanity which decides exhaustively for God even as Jesus enters into the profoundest depths of suffering, loneliness, and godlessness. Jesus dies a godless death but he remains open to God even when he cannot find or experience God's presence in the depths of sin and godless death. While Jesus made decisions to go to Jerusalem so that eventually he could not avoid execution, once he had fallen into the hands of those who would torture and kill him he made decision after decision to remain open to the presence of Love-in-Act, the same decisions we know as his "obedience unto death, even death on a cross", the same decisions to trust God even in the realm of sin and godless death where God had, by definition, no right to be. These decisions are the very essence of faith and prayer, of dying to self --- indeed, of dying per se.

At the same time we must recognize that everything Jesus was subjected to at the hands of human cruelty, venality, insecurity, will to power, and so forth --- none of this was, strictly speaking, the will of God. God in Christ brought incredible good out of them through Jesus' "Yes"; God in Christ through Jesus' decision for radical openness and trust in God was allowed to enter fully into the depths of sin and the consequences of sin and to transform these with his presence. In Christ God both entered into godless sinful death and destroyed it with His presence; God could also be said to have brought this reality into himself without being destroyed by it. He has made these realities a part of his own life, embraced them with --- as it proved in Jesus' death and resurrection --- a love that death cannot overcome.