27 August 2017

The Silence of Solitude as Charism or Gift to Church and World

[[Dear Sister, thanks for posting what you have about diocesan hermits. You say that your vocation is a gift to the Church and to the world. I am having a hard time describing to a friend how it is that this is so. I don't mean that I don't believe it, only that I cannot explain it. Could you say specifically what you mean when you speak of the charism of your vocation or the gift it is to Church and World? Thank you!]]

Great question! Thanks. The eremitical vocation, and in my case the solitary eremitical vocation, is always very clearly a gift of God to the hermit. It is the way she comes to freedom from various forms of bondage, the way she experiences redemption and grows to wholeness and holiness. It is the way God shapes the weaknesses, deficiencies, as well as the gifts and talents of the hermit's life into a coherent whole so that all of these things witness to the grace of God. When I try to speak of what this means in my life I have sometimes said that God transformed what was often a scream of anguish into a Magnificat  of praise. (Neither part of this illustration is hyperbolic.)  But, because this is the work of God, because vocation is ALWAYS the work of God, it must be a gift to others as well and especially, it is a gift to the Church even as it is a gift to the whole world. It is by reflecting on the way the vocation transforms and transfigures my own life that I come to understand how it is a gift to these as well; when I do one phrase from canon 603 begins to sound in my heart and mind, namely, the silence of solitude. I think this phrase describes the charism or specific gift quality of the solitary eremitical vocation both in my own life and as that life is lived for the sake of the salvation of others. So let me summarize what I mean by "the silence of solitude" and why it is the unique gift I am asked to bring to the Church and world.

There are all kinds of silence but I think they can be divided into external or physical silence and inner silence. The silence of solitude is a combination of both of these but what I want to focus on throughout this response is how "the silence of solitude" reflects more than anything an inner wholeness and silence we each seek and need --- an inner wholeness and silence we are really called to by God. This silence is the quiet of inner peace, a silence that sings with the presence of God, and resonates with the love one knows as part of the Body of Christ, part of the family of mankind, and part of the Mystery of Creation more generally. It is the silence of belonging, of knowing one's value and the meaningfulness of one's life, the silence of the cessation of striving for these things or the noise of existential and unfulfillable yearning for them. The Jewish term which might best be applied to this particular silence is shalom. I say this because it is a dynamic, living thing which pulses with the life, peace, and promise of God even as it quietly and confidently contemplates that same God in wonder and love.

What you may notice is how intrinsically related to God and others, and to one's deep or true self too, this "solitude" is in what c 603 calls "the silence of solitude". The "silence of solitude" does involve an external silence and physical solitude; the hermit cannot live the inner reality without this. But in a deeper way the silence of solitude is a paradoxical reality I have to describe in terms of harmony and music and life and singing and relating to and resonating with others. The "silence of solitude" referred to in c 603 describes not only the outer environment of the hermitage, but the inner reality of loving and being loved in a way which witnesses to the truth that God alone is enough for us. So long as the relational element is missing from our definitions or descriptions, and so long as the "musical" or living dimension is omitted we can be sure we have missed the point of this phrase in the canon. But when we include it we begin to understand why the hermit's vocation is truly a gift to the Church and others.

The hermit lives alone; she lives in relative silence. And yet, the consecrated hermit, the solitary canon 603 hermit or the hermit living in a canonical community also consciously embraces an ecclesial vocation where the dimension of commissioning by and for the Church is never absent. These hermits have Rules and formal relationships (legitimate superiors, delegates, faith community expectations) which qualify or condition the quality of their solitude at every point. They are engaged in ongoing formation which empowers continuing healing, growth, greater maturity and even genuine holiness. They do this in order to witness to the grace of God and its place in transforming the isolation and alienation of every life into something hermits recognize as the Person glorifying (i,e,, revealing) the God we know as Love-in-Act. Individualism, isolation, alienation, the muteness and anguish of bondage have no place here. Powerfully and paradoxically the hermit stands against each and all of these in the freedom and profound relatedness canon 603 refers to as "the silence of solitude." As one called and commissioned to live this reality she witnesses to the possibility of being genuinely whole, truly happy, complete and capable of the relatedness, generosity, and love God's grace makes possible in every life --- even when the person has no worldly status, no physical wealth or power, no family or friends, and perhaps no place even to "lay her head". This is the charism of her vocation and life, the gift God bestows on Church and world through consecrated eremitical life.

I can spell some of this out more concretely perhaps, but I am hoping it gives you the beginnings of an answer to your question. To summarize: in a world torn apart by divisions of all kinds, by the rampant individualism marking and driving so much of its terrible dysfunction and disorder as well as by a grasping at and use of others with distorted forms of "love" and relatedness, the hermit ostensibly stands alone, but really is made whole and of almost infinite value by the continuing power and presence of the God she knows as Love-in-Act. She proclaims the potential held by each and every life and the way in which that potential can be realized by the grace of God. To stand apparently alone in the name of the Church, witnessing to the possibility,  power, and presence of Love and the indispensability of deep and harmonious relatedness with God, self, and others ("the silence of solitude", the song of shalom), that is her charism, the charism or gift of her solitary eremitical vocation.