29 May 2018

Whatsoever you do (or do not do!) to the least of these. . .

I am not ordinarily political on this blog but sometimes things happen that are just so outrageous, they break boundaries including political boundaries. This story showed up on my Facebook page and came with permission and maybe a plea to share it.  It is impossible to describe the incalculable harm being done to families and children by folks who claim to be Christian and "pro-life". But Jesus has a special love for the poor, marginalized, and children. Remember his response when the disciples prevented these anawim from coming to him! All I can think in light of this latest US policy (yes, it is being done in our name) is, "Whatever you do to the least of these you do unto me. . . Whatever you did/do not do for the least of these you did/do not do for me." Please do what you can to respond to this truly inhuman situation.

 Written by Hannah Werling:

"After I boarded my plane on my way to New York on Saturday I saw this first hand....
A woman with 6 children ages ranging from 4-17 walked up to my row and asked if I would help this young girl get buckled since her seat was next to mine. I asked no questions in that moment and said yes. The woman told me she did not speak English. The little girl sat down, I got her buckled, the woman handed her a ziplock bag of snacks and took her seat 3 rows up from us.  She was so tiny in her seat. Her shoelace-less shoes could not even touch the seat in front her her and her cheeks were crusty with tears. She wasn’t yet 5 years old. THIS IS HAPPENING IN OUR COUNTRY!!!

I turned off my Netflix movie and turned on Ferdinand a kids cartoon and handed her my phone to watch. It was so painful. I dug deep in my brain for all that Spanish in High School and tried my best to use gestures so she wasn’t frightened of me.  Once the seatbelt sign was turned off in the air the woman came back to check on her and the other children scattered on the plane.  I asked: “Where are her parents?” She replied “They are being detained at the border”  “Why is she going to NY, then?” “She was taken as a deterrent so people don’t try to cross the boarder. If they cross, they will lose their children. She’s going to a shelter in NY”  “Will her parents get her back?”  “I don’t know.”  “Will she be adopted then?”  “I don’t know.”
This women is an advocate for these INNOCENT children as they try to figure out what happens if their parents get caught at the border. She takes them to shelters and flies back and forth doing this.  My heart just aches for these families! She is a baby and didn’t know what was going on! She doesn’t know the woman who is taking her. She may never see her Mom and Dad again AND WE ARE DOING THIS!
 I didn’t ever want the flight to land. On the plane she became comfortable with me and giggled and spoke in Spanish to me about the movies. She felt safe. Landing was just another new chapter for her that was scary and unknown. PLEASE CALL YOUR CONGRESSMAN AND SENATORS ABOUT THIS! It is heart wrenching and it is happening people!!!!! We are no longer the home for the free. Get used to this post because I am NOT going to let this go"

28 May 2018

Update and Request for Prayers

Just a brief update on the way things are going for me. The picture (a comment on my newfound "holy leisure"?) is from my director who has been wonderful in her support and assistance! My wrist is healing.  Fluoroscopy on the 8th and 22nd has continued to show no movement of the bones at the  fracture lines. I had an over-the-elbow cast in order to prevent pronation and supination and last Tuesday that was removed and eventually replaced with a wrist and forearm length brace/splint which limits rotation and cuts down on pain more than a shorter splint/brace. (Removing the cast presented some unique challenges with the audiogenic dimension of my seizure disorder so my doc opted not to put a short cast on that would also need to eventually be cut off.)

The past weeks have been challenging. Because I do most things left-handed I am fortunate to be able to write with my right hand, but it is amazing how many things MUST be done two-handed and suffer when one cannot rotate (pronate, supinate) one's wrist or arm, much less put weight or pressure on it! One of the things I have actually most missed is the ability to sit seiza as I usually do for prayer. That hasn't stopped prayer of course but there is no doubt that sitting seiza is more helpful to me. Maybe in another few weeks I can return to that. Meanwhile, the original cast was fiberglass with a Goretex liner so it was completely waterproof; that meant showering, washing dishes, etc., was possible without concern. That was a real gift --- though the injury itself was (and is) still quite limiting. The splint is not as adaptable in this way but it has its own advantages. I will wear it for three weeks and then we'll see how things are on June 12th.

So thanks for your concern. I would ask that you continue to hold me in prayer over the next weeks.  It is important that the two radial fractures heal well so the ligament and joint between the radius and ulna is stable. The displaced fracture of the ulnar styloid process is healing without use of plate and pins. We went with the more conservative approach and avoided surgery especially for the two fractures in the head of the radius because my orthopedist/surgeon thought the long term prognosis was similar in both approaches. If this conservative approach is not as helpful as we hoped I suppose surgery might still be necessary in order to stabilize the joint; that is not a conversation I have had since the original discussion with my doc so it is an unknown. Still, let me emphasize that it is looking like things are proceeding well via the conservative approach so, again, thanks for continuing to hold me in prayer!

Meanwhile, I am trying to do a bit more than just "diddly squat(s)".  My hermitage is a bit of a mess, I have a large pile of laundry and a load of dishes needing washing, the pantry needs refilling, the state of my bathroom is best left unmentioned, I have been relatively incapable of making my bed neatly  (it is still a crumpled mess), and I am struggling to write/type (thank God for the word prompts associated with cell phone texting!!) but there is light at the end of those tunnels too. The fact that I have been able to put up posts today and yesterday is very encouraging and we'll what else I can manage better this week than the last. One step at a time!

27 May 2018

Questions on Writing a Rule of Life

[[Hi Sister Laurel,
       When you wrote your Rule how did you learn how to do it? I read where you suggest a candidate for profession under canon  603 writes several different Rules over a period of time. Once one is solemnly or perpetually professed does the hermit continue to do this or can they just let the last Rule last for the rest of their lives? I am trying to write a personal Rule. Sometimes it feels like a good idea and other times I wonder why I am doing it? Did you ever have this kind of confusion? Do you have any advice for me?]]

Hi there yourself! I wrote my Rule over some period of time and learned only gradually as I did that. I learned especially as I reflected on how I lived, what can 603 called for (this took significant unpacking), and what I needed in order to live life fully and faithfully. I had some experience of what a Religious congregation's Constitutions or foundational documents might look like and what the Rule of Benedict consists in. Eventually (when I was considering rewriting my Rule sometime after final profession), my delegate also shared her own congregation's Constitutions and Statutes with me though I did not use these as models and I took time to study the Carthusian and the Camaldolese constitutions and statutes as well.

The first Rule I wrote was in @1985 and that was approved by canonists though I never used it for profession. I reworked it almost entirely in 2005 and that was approved both by canonists and by Archbishop Allen Vigneron in 2007; it was given a Bishop's Decree of Approval on September 2, the day of my perpetual profession under canon 603. In the last 11 years I have rewritten portions of this Rule and added a couple of sections which should have been included in the 2007 version but were omitted because my understanding of these canonical elements needed to mature. The last time I worked on my Rule in any formal way was around 2013 but of course I reflect fairly regularly on how I live it and need to live it. Because of the personal work I have undertaken over the last two years, the way I deal with the question of ongoing formation, for instance, needs to be looked at again. So does the section on the role of my delegate(s) or director(s). Clearly I don't think perpetual profession is the point at which a hermit ceases to rewrite her Rule --- though in my experience the need does become less pressing barring significant life changes.

In all of this I have been reflecting on what it means and takes to write a Rule. I have also been learning how it can and must function in my eremitical life and, by extension in the life of the Church's approach to canon 603 vocations. Because dioceses commonly use the Rule a hermit or candidate for profession writes as one very important basis for discernment of the vocation, I believe that a candidate/hermit seeking canonical standing under c 603 will need to write several Rules based on her maturing understanding of canon 603 specifically and eremitical life more generally. Similarly there will have to be a process of formation for an individual seeking canonical standing as someone living eremitical life in the Church's name. I have written before and remain convinced that for most candidates, writing several Rules which can provide dioceses and delegates/directors the basis for discerning the nature and quality of the vocation, a candidate's (or hermit's) needs in this regard, and the means for tailoring the diocese's input into the hermit's initial and ongoing formation, is a necessity for both hermit and diocese.

Personal Confusion and Ambivalence:

Your candor on how it feels to try and write a Rule is not surprising though the way you feel is not entirely familiar to me personally because I must have a Rule which I write and which functions appropriately for me in light of the Code of Canon Law. It is a requirement of canon 603 for any diocesan hermit. Moreover, it is difficult to see how one can live such a life without a Rule --- even or especially as one grows in the vocation --- so I have always had a clear reason for writing or rewriting a Rule. I don't suppose that helps you much of course but I do struggle with writing and empathize with what you say. I am sure you have a good reason you are composing a personal Rule. I would suggest you spend time getting in touch with that; first ask yourself why generally you are doing this and maybe write a paragraph or two about that and what purpose you hope the Rule will serve. Keep what you write with your notes on the Rule itself. It may help to inspire you when writing is difficult and shape what you write when it is not as difficult.

A second suggestion I have is to ask yourself why you are writing whatever specific section that is giving you trouble. Ask yourself if this is rooted in your own experience of need and your deep belief that you are called to this specific practice because it is life giving to you, or if instead for instance, you are writing about doing something or adopting a particular praxis because someone else does it or believes you should do it. Reflecting on and clarifying why you are proposing a specific spiritual practice, form of penance, prayer period or prayer form, etc. may help you resolve the difficulty you are having in writing.

The bottom line here is we include things in our Rules we feel deeply called to, not simply things we think others do or will approve of, and so on. Unless you are writing a Rule which must include the central elements of c 603 or an Episcopal Third Order, for instance, you are free to explore and create almost the entire shape of what you will live and thus, what your Rule will look like. (Even with c 603 there is tremendous freedom in shaping the way one lives the central elements of the canon and life as well as the Rule itself!) And of course even if you are writing your Rule because it is a requirement as noted above it should still reflect those things which are deeply life giving to you. Meanwhile, identifying other reasons for your ambivalence can also help you to proceed.

21 May 2018

Pentecost: A Tale of Two Kingdoms (Reprise)

 One of the problems I see most often with regard to our Christianity is its domestication, a kind of blunting of its prophetic and counter cultural character. It is one thing to be comfortable with our faith, to live it gently in every part of our lives and to be a source of quiet challenge and consolation because we have been wholly changed by it. It is entirely another to add it to our lives and identities as a merely superficial "spiritual component" which we refuse to allow not only to shake the very foundations of all we know but also to transform us in all we are and do. 

Even more problematical --- and I admit to being sensitive to this because I am a hermit called both morally and canonically to "stricter separation from the world" --- is a kind of self-centered spirituality which focuses on our own supposed holiness or perfection but calls for turning away from a world which undoubtedly needs and yearns for the love only God's powerful Spirit makes possible in us. Clearly today's Festal readings celebrate something very different than the sort of bland, powerless, pastorally ineffective, merely nominal Christianity we may embrace --- or the self-centered spirituality we sometimes espouse in the name of "contemplation" and  "contemptus mundi". Listen again to the shaking experience of the powerful Spirit that birthed the Church which Luke recounts in Acts: 

[[When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.]]

Roaring sounds filling the whole space, tongues of fire coming to rest above each person, a power of language which commun-icates (creates) incredible unity and destroys division --- this is a picture of a new and incredible creation, a new and awesome world in which the structures of power are turned on their heads and those who were outsiders --- the sick and poor, the outcast and sinners, those with no status and only the stamp of shame marking their lives --- are kissed with divinity and revealed to be God's very own Temples. The imagery of this reading is profound. For instance, in the world of this time coins were stamped with Caesar's picture and above his head was the image of a tongue of fire. Fire was a symbol of life and potency; it was linked to the heavens (stars, comets, etc). The tongue of fire was a way of indicating the Emperor's divinity.  Similarly, the capacity for speech, the fact that one has been given or has a voice, is a sign of power, standing, and authority.

And so Luke says of us. The Spirit of the Father and Son has come upon us. Tongues of Fire mark us as do tongues potentially capable of speaking a word of ultimate comfort to anyone anywhere. We have been made a Royal People, Temples of the Holy Spirit and called to live and act with a new authority, an authority and status which is greater than any Caesar. As I have noted before, this is not mere poetry, though it is certainly wonderfully poetic. On this Feast we open ourselves to the Spirit who transforms us quite literally into images of God, literal Temples of God's prophetic presence in our world, literal exemplars of a consoling love-doing-justice and a fiery, earth-shaking holiness which both transcends and undercuts every authority and status in our world that pretends to divinity or ultimacy. We ARE the Body of Christ, expressions of the one in whom godless death has been destroyed, expressions of the One in whom one day all sin and death will be replaced by eternal life. In Christ we are embodiments and mediators of the Word which destroys divisions and summons creation to reconciliation and unity; in us the Spirit of God loves our world into wholeness.

You can see that there is something really dangerous about today's Feast. What we celebrate is dangerous to a Caesar oppressing most of the known world with his taxation and arbitrary exercise of power depending on keeping subjects powerless and without choice or voice; it is dangerous if you are called to live out this gift of God's own Spirit as a prophetic presence in the very same world which kills prophets and executed God's Anointed One as a shameful criminal --- a traitor or seditionist and blasphemer. Witnesses to the risen Christ and the Kingdom of God are liable, of course, to  martyrdom of all sorts. That is the very nature of the word, "martyr", and it is what yesterday's gospel lection referred to when it promised Peter that in his maturity he would be led where he did not really desire to go. But it is also dangerous to those who prefer a more domesticated and timid "Christianity", one that does not upset the status quo or demand the overthrow of all of one's vision, values, and the redefinition of one's entire purpose in life; it is dangerous if you care too much about what people think of you or you desire a faith which is consoling but undemanding --- a faith centered on what Bonhoeffer called "cheap grace". At least it is dangerous when one opens oneself, even slightly, to the Spirit celebrated in this Feast.

A few years ago my pastor (John Kasper, OSFS)  quoted from Annie Dillard's book, Teaching a Stone to Talk. It may have been for Pentecost, but I can't remember that now. Here, though, is the passage from which he quoted, [[Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? … Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us to where we can never return.]] Clearly both Fr John and Ms Dillard understood how truly dangerous the Spirit of Pentecost is.

We live in a world where two Kingdoms vie against each other. One is marked by oppression, a lack of freedom --- except for the privileged few who hold positions of wealth and influence, though these folks may not know authentic freedom at all --- and is marred by the dominion of sin and death. It is a world where the poor, ill, aged, and otherwise powerless are essentially voiceless. In this world Caesars of all sorts have been sovereign or pretended to sovereignty. The other Kingdom, the Kingdom which signals the eventual and inevitable end of the first one is the Kingdom of God. It has come among us first in God's quiet self-emptying and in the smallness of an infant, the generosity, compassion, and ultimately, the weakness, suffering and sinful death of a Jewish man in a Roman world. Today it comes to us as a powerful wind which shakes and disorients even as it grounds and reorients us in the love of God. Today it comes to us as the power of love that does justice and sets all things to right.

While the battle between these two Kingdoms occurs all around us in the way we live and proclaim the Gospel with our lives, the way, that is, we worship God, raise our children, teach our students, treat our parishioners, clients, and patients, vote our consciences, contribute to our society's needs, and generally minister to our world, it is our hearts which are ground zero in this "tale of two Kingdoms." It is not easy to admit that insofar as we are truly human we have been kissed by a Divinity which invites us to a divine/human union that completes us, makes us whole, and results in a fruitfulness we associate with all similar "marriages". It is not easy to give our hearts so completely or embrace a dignity which is entirely the gift of another. Far easier to keep our hearts divided and ambiguous. But today's Feast calls us to truly open ourselves to this union, to accept that our lives are marked and transformed by tongues of fire and the shaking, stormy Spirit of prophets. After all, this is Pentecost and through us God truly will renew the face of the earth.

17 May 2018

Reprising the Problem of Lay Hermits Who Falsely Claim to be Consecrated (Part 1)

It has been some time since I have written about the problem of lay hermits who misrepresent themselves as consecrated hermits but it is time to reprise the discussion. It is always an issue which serves as something of a flash point for those who believe consecrated hermits are demeaning those living eremitical life in the lay (baptized) state of life and it is not my preference to serve in this way. Moreover I found that in one particular case the lay hermit in question used the distinctions I was careful to articulate in order to make her own fraudulent misrepresentation more credible to those who were not knowledgeable of the critical questions her usage obscured. It's hard to write to educate only to find what one writes is used to make a fraud's misrepresentations more apparently cogent! But the simplicity and relative independence of the lives of canon 603 hermits make them relatively easy to simulate, and their consecration something far too easy to pretend to. Even so, it is important to review the issues involved.

This is so because the situation has come to the attention of CICLSAL (The Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life) in Rome because there are reports about hermits who are not consecrated whether or not they have private vows, but who, at best, believe and allow others to believe they are consecrated hermits, or at worst, actively work to mislead others and misrepresent themselves in a way which is frankly fraudulent. These latter, among other things, can be found to call themselves "religious" or "Catholic Hermits", or "consecrated Catholic hermits" and describe themselves as "part of the consecrated life of the Church"; they sometimes focus  others' attention on descriptions of the liturgy during which they were (somehow) allowed to make private vows to give the errant sense these vows were received by the Church, beg money, give the sense the Church leaves them in abject poverty and dire medical circumstances while expecting they live a rigorous life of assiduous prayer, penance, and manual labor, and raise any number of other problematical issues. And so, Rome is looking to find ways to deal with the concerns of consecrated hermits, pastors, and bishops --- as well as confused faithful more generally who have been snookered by such hermits and non-hermits --- and is beginning to try to deal with the problem of lay hermits (or non-hermits!) who misrepresent themselves as consecrated hermits whether because they are simply ignorant of the Church's theology of consecrated life or because their fraud is more actively pursued by taking advantage of the theological ignorance of others.

What is really at issue?

So what is really at issue in all of this? We can certainly agree with CICLSAL  that the theology of consecrated life is at stake; from my perspective this means it is our sensitivity to the specifically public and ecclesial nature of consecrated eremitical lives and our recognition of the charismatic and prophetic natures of these vocations which is most at risk. While every vocation is a gift of God to the Church and world, not every vocation is an ecclesial one; not every vocation is discerned by both Church and individual or supervised specifically by the Church because it represents a public instance of the Church's holiness and call to holiness. Not every vocation is a public vocation with public profession (e.g., public vows or propositum), public rights, obligations, and commensurate expectations by the whole People of God (and world, for that matter). But the vocation to c 603 eremitical life is all of these things and more. We, whether consecrated hermits, pastors, bishops, or canonists, treat it with the regard appropriate to it as the specific gift of God it is. At the same time neither can we obscure, misrepresent, or allow to be obscured and misrepresented any dimension of this ecclesial gift or the paradoxical way it proclaims the Kingdom of God and Gospel of Jesus Christ. To do so is to betray the gifts of God with which we have been entrusted and, to some extent, to dishonor their giver as well.

The Nuts and Bolts of the Misunderstandings Involved:

Willful fraud aside for the moment there are some significant misunderstandings driving the confusions regarding who and what are consecrated hermits. Here is where the theology of consecrated life is central as issue. It seems to me four things contribute most significantly to these misunderstandings. 1) The casual use of the term  "consecrate" for an individual and ecclesially unmediated act of dedication to God, something which occurs across the entire spectrum of the Church; 2) a misreading of pars 920-921 of the CCC (the Catechism of the Catholic Church)  in conjunction with the heading of the section containing these paragraphs, 3) the failure to distinguish between the consecration of baptism and that additional ecclesially mediated act by which one enters a different (i.e., consecrated) state of life (this is the failure to distinguish between the lay and consecrated states of life) and 4) a failure to distinguish between an act of profession which is always public and the making of private vows.

1) The casual use of the term "consecrate" for any act of personal dedication, especially for an ecclesially unmediated act of self-dedication is problematical.  Vatican II, for instance, though very clear about the importance of baptismal consecration and the lay vocation, was, at the same time, very careful to distinguish between the action of God (consecratio) and the human counterpart of this action (dedicatio). Consecration is the setting  of something apart as holy or for the sake of holiness and this is, properly speaking, the action of God alone. Unfortunately, we are used today to speaking of consecrating ourselves in one way and another but this is simply inappropriate and misleading. It is also inaccurate to say that Religious are consecrated by the making of vows. When individuals enter the consecrated state of life they will use vows, other forms of sacred bonds, or the propositum associated with the consecration of virgins (c. 604) to express their own dedication but this is part of the Church's mediation of God's own consecration. A corresponding solemn act of consecration (during final or solemn vows or the consecration of virgins) completes an individual's initiation into the consecrated state of life.

We refer to being consecrated in the making of vows because in this instance the dedication of vows is a synedoche where the part stands for the whole (like "head" might stand for the whole person). We use the term consecration in a similar way in relation to the part, i.e., "making vows" only in this case the whole stands for a part. At the same time, consecrated life per se is a state of life and therefore is marked by particular forms of structure and stability. For the hermit this stability is marked by a Rule of Life, profession of the Evangelical counsels, legitimate superiors and/or the supervision by Church authority (which can include the service role of delegates). All of these dimensions and more besides are part of what it means to speak of this as a state of life and beyond that, as a stable state of life which is a gift of God to the Church and world.

2) Misreading paragraphs 920-921 of the Catechism: I don't know how often this misreading of the Catechism occurs (the English version is ambiguous at best), but I do know of one case in particular where a lay hermit builds her entire case of supposedly being in the consecrated state of life on paragraphs 920-921 of the CCC.  I have also received questions about this. The section is headed, "The Consecrated Life of the Church". The paragraphs noted refer to eremitical life and one crucial phrase says that one need not always make vows publicly. What is intended may be an obscure reference to the private vows some lay hermits make, but in such a case the general heading is misleading. Alternately, the CCC may have meant to refer to the "other sacred bonds" besides vows c 603 hermits are allowed to use for their public profession, but if so, the reference is, once again, awkward at best. The question of using private vows for entering the consecrated state of life can only be resolved by referring to the Church's larger theology of the consecrated state which is ALWAYS entered through public profession (c 604 uses a "propositum" rather than vows and c 603 can, as already noted, used sacred bonds other than vows but these are still acts of profession, and thus too, public ecclesial acts). While contextualizing the text in this way is critical, clarification of the meaning of the CCC text, however, would be very helpful in combating misunderstandings and outright fraudulent representations by some lay hermits.

[Addendum: I wrote a post on the Latin original of this section of the CCC on July 29, 2016. It is very clear that profession is ALWAYS public; the English version of the text has interjected the phrase "while not" before always in an awkward attempt to point to the fact that vows are not always necessarily used for this PUBLIC profession. This is what the Church must make clear to pastors, bishops and candidates for c 603 life. Sorry I was not clear myself in this regard in the post at hand.]

A variation here which gives priority to the CCC text, even in interpreting c 603, includes the notion that c 603 is an option or "proviso" which postdates this section of the Catechism and which may or may not be used by the solitary consecrated hermit. Of course this misrepresentation neglects the fact that c. 603 was promulgated long before the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Canon 603  is not merely a "proviso" or option added to that of CCC; it is the way the Church establishes the vocation of the consecrated solitary hermit "in law", that is, officially in the life of the Church. On the other hand, the text of the CCC is descriptive, not prescriptive and cannot be given the kind of priority or weight some lay hermits are giving it in order to diminish the importance of  the Code of Canon Law and c 603.

3) Failing to distinguish between baptismal consecration and the consecration by which one enters the consecrated state of life. It used to be common knowledge that those entering the consecrated state of life did so through a second and ecclesially mediated act of consecration which was akin to a second baptism. The notion of baptismal consecration was not widely applied; the terminology was not commonly used. Moreover, one was understood to definitively enter the "religious state" with perpetual or solemn profession. Other forms of consecrated life did not exist so there was no reason to confuse initiation into the religious state with Sacramental initiation into the Body of Christ. With Vatican II and the fresh esteem given to the lay state of life, the idea of baptismal consecration was revitalized and given wider currency in the Church as a whole. Similarly, besides the religious state the Church gave greater recognition to other forms of consecrated life (hermits, virgins, societies of apostolic life). The term "consecration" was applied to each of these and the distinction between baptismal consecration (initiation into the lay state of life) and initiation into the consecrated state was blurred and sometimes lost sight of altogether. However, the Church's theology of the consecrated state has not changed and it remains important to distinguish between this and the lay state of life (the vocational rather than the hierarchical sense of lay life) in order to honor either of these appropriately.

4) Profession versus private vows: While it is common for folks to use the verb profess or the noun profession for any act of making vows, whether public or private, this is a mistake. Profession refers to an act larger than simply the making of vows which initiates one into another state of life. Profession is therefore used to distinguish the making of public vows from the making of private vows. Private vows do not initiate a person into another state of life; public profession does. The noun profession thus never refers to the making of private vows.

A related misusage stems from the failure to understand what the Church means by the terms private and public in referring to vows.  Because making vows occurs in a way where people know about them, this does not make the vows public. For vows to be public means they are associated with the assumption of public rights and obligations; it means the Church mediates these vows in a way which allows the entire Church to have certain expectations of the one who is publicly professed.  Private vows mark an entirely private commitment which change nothing about a person's public rights and obligations within the Church. They are not insignificant but neither are they akin to public profession by which the Church entrusts one with public rights and obligations or signal to the church and world that the Holy Spirit is working within them in this specific way. If a lay person makes private vows they remain a lay person in the vocational sense as well as the hierarchical sense; they do not enter the consecrated state of life.

A final misusage is the application of the term "Catholic" as in "Catholic Hermit" by those who are not consecrated. This term does not merely mean one is Catholic AND a hermit. Instead it means that one lives the eremitical life in the name of the Church. Canon law is very clear that the term Catholic cannot be applied to a thing, person, or enterprise without appropriate authorization. This is true of religious institutes, TV stations, theologians, and many other things besides; one cannot append the name Catholic to the thing without the permission of the local ordinary. Catholic hermits are representatives of what the Church recognizes, governs, and supervises as eremitical life. (Catholic laity are given the right to call themselves Catholic by virtue of their baptism. To become a Catholic hermit  however, one must be consecrated and thus given permission to style themselves in this way.)

Summary and call for Comments:

At this point I am merely reprising major points of misunderstanding. There are still questions to look at but I would very much like to hear from folks who have questions and thoughts about the problem. I would also like to hear from people who have run across lay hermits who claim to be consecrated and who can describe their experience. Consecrated solitary Hermits form a miniscule part of the consecrated life of the Church but the presence of fraudulent hermits falsely claiming to be consecrated can lead to dioceses failing to deal adequately with genuine instances of the eremitical call. It can lead to a cynicism and suspicion which should not exist about this vocation --- from my perspective, that is. Please let me hear your own perspective on all of this.

12 May 2018

Heaven and Earth Kiss: Approaching a Theology of Ascension via Star Trek, The Next Generation (Partial Reprise)

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

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

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

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

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

Too often we locate heaven in some remote place "out there" in space. But in a real though imperfect (proleptic) way heaven, the life and love of God shared with us, is right here, right now, interpenetrating and leavening our ordinary world. Jesus is the New Temple, the new One in whom heaven and earth meet; he Rules not from some remote heaven, but from within this New Creation. Note well. Jesus' ascension will modify the form of bodiliness or presence the original disciples experienced and, among other things, mark both the end of the unique and privileged post-Easter appearances and the beginning of a kind of intermediate state between these and the "second coming" or parousia when God will be all in all. With the ascension we move from the period of time when people saw (via these privileged appearances) and believed to that time when they "do not see" but believe --- and in believing, see with new eyes. In light of the resurrection and ascension the essential truth is that we belong to a new creation in which heaven and earth interpenetrate one another as they did not prior to Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension. In Christ we also straddle, reconcile, and mediate between these two worlds. As Christians we ourselves represent those sacramental thin places where heaven and earth kiss.

The Star Trek Next Generation episode is, of course, science fiction where this new challenging and consoling reality is not. It is intriguing but inadequate. Still, it helps me imagine a more genuinely Scriptural paradigm of the nature and meaning of  Jesus' resurrection from death and the relation of heaven and earth than the even more inadequate ones I grew up hearing!!

10 May 2018

Thanks and a Bit of News

I wanted to thank a number of people who have written me in the past weeks because I've been unable to write them myself . About 2 weeks ago now I fell and broke my wrist in 3 places. (As a result, I have yet to actually ride my new bike! Definite bummer!) It has been difficult but things are getting a bit easier right now and I'm able to try and dictate this post. (Dictation has its own often hysterical problems! If I miss some, my apologies.)

Several people sent Easter greetings and gifts and I wanted to thank them especially. That includes one regular reader from Whiting, IN I've only just met, and another who sent a book through Amazon with selections from the desert Fathers and Mothers for each day of the year. I'm also fortunate in that I was referred by my primary care doc to a wonderful orthopaedist -- one of the finest doctors I've met in some time. She's one of those rare doctors who listen actively, solve problems thoughtfully, teach as they treat, and who are sincerely respectful of their patients. Right now I have an over-the-elbow cast and in 2 weeks that will be cut down to a short cast; in another 2 weeks  or so I am hopeful it can be removed altogether.

I am hoping I can write a piece on the Ascension. Commonly speaking, it is such a little-understood mystery, one which seems to make little difference to our faith but really, one which assures us of the presence of Christ ln God's own life and, through the power of the Holy Spirit, within our everyday world. It depends on how we understand "heaven" --- as an otherworldly realm beyond the clouds or as a dimension  of our own world, a transcendent dimension, yes, because it is a transcendent God's own life and love shared with those who would be embraced and transfigured by these, but real here and now. Perhaps tomorrow!