25 June 2018

On Ecclesial Vocations

[[Dear Sister, you stress the importance of consecrated eremitical life. What I just don't get is how I can say to my diocese's Vicar for Religious that I have discerned a vocation to c 603 eremitical life and then have the Vicar tell me that she and others in the diocese have to discern the same thing in order to profess me. If they don't discern the same thing it says I have been wrong. I just don't understand how they can do this to me or to anyone else. How can they diss my discernment like this?]]

I really "get" your questions. They are excellent and are questions I once asked myself. In fact, I think they represent some of the last bits of what needed to be resolved as I came to understand ecclesiality and ecclesial vocations in particular. While all vocations have a personal dimension and are lived out within the church, some vocations are defined as personal and some are ecclesial by definition. A personal vocation only requires personal discernment. Ecclesial vocations too require personal discernment and this is taken absolutely seriously. But for ecclesial vocations, vocations which belong to the very life and holiness of the church, unlike with personal vocations, the Church too must discern the reality of the vocation. More, the church must govern or supervise such vocations and, in fact, will publicly mediate both God's own call and the person's response.

It is because ecclesial vocations actually belong primarily to the church herself rather than to the individual that we call them ecclesial. This is true of vocations to the consecrated state. A person who believes they are called to religious life or c 603 eremitical life or c 604 (consecrated virginity), for instance, must enter into a situation where the church herself can discern the nature and quality of the vocation along with the individual's discernment. When I speak of ecclesial vocations needing to be mutually discerned this is what I mean. A religious, for instance, enters a long process of mutual discernment, first as a candidate, next as a novice, then as a temporary professed religious, and finally, after up to nine years in community, as a perpetually professed religious.

Canon 603 hermits also go through a longer rather than a shorter period of mutual discernment though there is no formal candidacy or novitiate. Ordinarily c 603 hermits have been professed in community and grown in their relation to solitude. Those who have not been religious will usually spend at least 5 years under the supervision of their dioceses before admission to profession. In time they may be admitted to perpetual profession and consecration. Those who have been religious will still spend at least a couple of years in discernment and formation of a c 603 vocation. Again, these vocations belong to the Church first of all; it is therefore up to the Church to discern such vocations and extend or refuse to extend the rights and obligations associated with them to an individual whose own discernment causes her to petition for admission to profession and consecration.

I don't think this discussion can be cast in terms of a simple right vs wrong --- at least not for those discerning vocations as hermits. If the church (a diocese or local church acting on behalf of the church Universal) decides she will not admit a person to public vows (profession) and consecration as a diocesan hermit the person may still live eremitical life in the lay state. If one lives eremitical in this way for some time and is clear she wishes to do so in the consecrated state, she may generally re-approach her diocese after several years and petition once again. If one's diocese has decided not to use c 603 at all, one may then decide to move to another diocese and petition. In regard to c 603, it is or can be much more complicated than simply being right or wrong about whether one has a vocation to live consecrated eremitical life.

There is one more thing I think is not well enough understood by those who speak of "discerning a religious vocation". Most of the people I have spoken to say they are discerning a vocation to religious life before they have ever entered a convent or monastery. In fact, these folks are discerning whether they will perhaps enter to mutually discern a religious vocation. One does not discern such a vocation before one enters and begins the process of mutual discernment. (It is true that one may not do well enough on the psychological testing or pre-entrance interviews to be allowed to enter and one will have to consider what this means but strictly speaking, beyond the most initial determination of interest and decision to "try" one's vocation, one only discerns a religious vocation after one enters a religious institute.

20 June 2018

Followup Questions on Counterfeit or Fraudulent Hermits and Possible Solutions

[[Dear Sister Laurel, how can someone write the following if they are not a canonical hermit? I ask because this person is clear she has private vows. Isn't she really misleading people? Won't people be hurt? [[My vocation as a consecrated Catholic hermit seems all the more in the background as far as the temporal aspects of this unique vocation.  When I notice that the posts regarding "how" to become a Catholic hermit continue to be the most often read of my blog, I am thankful to be of assistance to others.]] I am also wondering how people are supposed to tell the difference between real Catholic hermits and fraudulent hermits. Is there a solution to this problem? You mentioned that Rome was concerned.]]

Googling "Becoming a Catholic Hermit":

Yes, if one googles 'becoming a Catholic hermit' or similar terms the website you are citing comes up at the top of the list. This, I think, is because the blog author fraudulently identifies herself in every post --- often several times in each post --- as a consecrated Catholic hermit. At the same time the author (Ms McClure) gives seriously incorrect instructions on how one becomes a Catholic hermit because she claims someone need only hear a divine call on their own and make private vows. A mistaken corollary she continues to assert is that private vows initiate one into the consecrated state. Were this true no lay vocation could use private vows and remain a lay vocation; similarly, public (canonical) vows and mutual discernment would be unnecessary in ecclesial vocations. But of course, Ms McClure ("joyful hermit") is wrong and misleads people in these matters to the extent people actually read and give credence to her blog.

However, generally speaking, a person trying to follow Ms McClure's instructions will run into problems which could be embarrassing and potentially isolating if they insist on being recognized as a consecrated Catholic hermit in their parishes or dioceses. When one does this pastors and bishops, vicars, canonists, and even religious men and women in staff positions will bring one up short with the truth: namely, unless one belongs to a canonical religious institute or made a public profession in the hands of the bishop of this diocese (or he accepted your profession if one later moved here) one is not a consecrated hermit. Period. Some might go farther and explain that pretending one is a consecrated hermit in spite of the truth will trivialize the vocation the church has recognized in canon 603 or in institutes of hermit monks and nuns; for that reason neither they nor you should do this. Rightly they will point out it will also confuse the faithful and potentially harm vocations in the church, especially to those discerning whether God might be calling them to become a consecrated hermit under c 603.

Pitfalls of the Blogosphere:

But blogging is less restricted. One can claim to be anything, I suppose, nor does one have to publicize one's diocese, etc. (This is not really possible for those who claim canonical vocations; these folks must identify their institute, monastery, or diocese. This is part of claiming, and indeed having, a public vocation.) One who is making fraudulent claims can even convince oneself that a lie one tells is truth --- especially if one has nothing else to hold onto and/or because one cannot accept the truth. I cannot explain Ms McClure's fraudulent blogging any other way. This is especially so because she once understood the truth and struggled with it on another blog. As she wrote there, a canonist explained matters to her and at least twice she decided against requesting her bishop profess her under canon 603 while she accepted she would not be a Catholic hermit. She wrote then in response to her Bishop's letter: [[There is now even greater freedom, and the hermit is secularized as a hermit, for the angel did not say the hermit had been chosen for the "Catholic" hermit life but that God had chosen the hermit for the "hermit life." But the hermit is a Christian and is a Catholic at that, but simply a hermit.]] The Complete Hermit (cf October 8, 2007.)

At the time I very much appreciated Ms McClure's struggle and apparent resolution of this struggle as she came to accept a very difficult decision: she was/is a Catholic Christian and felt called by God to become a hermit but she would not be a Catholic hermit; her Bishop was not going to profess her. The next step in integrating this decision would need to be a growing appreciation for the lay eremitical vocation, something I hoped for and reflected on here myself. That step would have really served others as Ms McClure worked to plumb the depths of this specific form of eremitical vocation. As I have noted here before, most hermits will always be lay hermits living this calling by virtue of their baptismal consecration sans the additional consecration and public profession of the consecrated state of life. For one to live eremitical life in the lay state could mean one becomes a resource to others who will only live eremitical life in the lay state. The lay hermit can be a significant prophetic presence within the Church and for the world more generally (think Desert Abbas and Ammas). But that means accepting the truth that one is truly living eremitical life in the lay (versus the consecrated) state of life.

The Problem of Verification:

You ask how one is supposed to tell the difference between a canonical and a non-canonical hermit. The first thing, of course, is to ask the person directly; "Are you canonically (publicly) professed as a hermit?" Similar questions a canonical hermit will answer include, "In whose hands (what bishop/diocese) were you professed?" "Who is your legitimate superior?"

A Catholic hermit who is necessarily publicly professed will either identify the institute to which they belong (Camaldolese, etc.), or they will name the bishop of this diocese, the diocese in which they reside. As a diocesan hermit I was given a kind of affidavit on the day of perpetual profession which testifies to this event. It is signed by the bishop and notarized by the Chancery's ecclesial notary. I don't carry it around with me, of course, but I can easily show it if needed. If the hermit refuses to answer, one can contact (or have one's pastor contact) the local chancery and ask if a person is a consecrated hermit (one may add, "in good standing.") The chancery will answer yea or nay and they may provide the date of the hermit's perpetual eremitical profession but will give no other information.

Will People be Hurt?

You also ask if people will be hurt by counterfeit or fraudulent "consecrated hermits". The simple answer is yes. We see that hermits who wrongly or even fraudulently insist they are consecrated, religious, Catholic, or diocesan hermits do so seeking to be recognized and to have a public presence as such. They do not do so and simply fade into the desert never to be heard from again. They have groups on Facebook, blogs, etc. They may show themselves in cowls or habits and in some cases insist on styling themselves as Sister or Brother or Friar. In each of these cases they do so to garner readership, increase membership, and generally represent themselves as Catholic Hermits who are living eremitical life in the name of the Church. People will follow their example and (as noted in your own question) their own instructions on becoming Catholic hermits. At the very least they draw others into a lie which actually betrays the promise which lies at the heart of the Gospel and desert spirituality, namely, in Christ (and in solitude) you will find the freedom to be yourself without pretense or dishonesty. You will find the freedom to stand in the truth of your own identity.

Thomas Merton identified the promise of eremitical life in its witness to certain claims of nature and grace. Fraud and pretense do not witness to the claims Merton was describing. They belie these claims. Moreover, hermits have been stereotyped for centuries in terms of eccentricity, escapism,  misanthropy, and the like. Lay hermits who pretend to consecration and style themselves publicly in ways they have no right to give strength to these stereotypes. If a person can't face the truth of who they are in the Church, how can they pretend to speak of  the power of  the Gospel lived in solitude to nurture personal truth? How can they witness to this happening in a relationship with God rooted in human poverty and Divine grace? Certainly those who persist in this kind of untruth, those who believe that they can become consecrated Catholic hermits by the wholly private act of making private vows and encourage others to follow them in the same kind of mistakes are not helping anyone to really become a "Catholic hermit".

CICLSAL, Rome, and Possible Solutions:

I did mention that CICLSAL (Congregation of Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life) has taken up the problem of counterfeit or fraudulent hermits and may be doing more about this in the future. What solutions might they undertake? What can help? Canonists, I think, think in terms of additional canon law when they consider possible solutions but in this matter I can't see how more canon law will help. On one level the situation is not difficult: make sure every person claiming to be a consecrated hermit has her consecration or profession verified. Ordinarily this would happen on the parish level. If verification is not accessible, do not treat the person as a consecrated hermit.

On another level additional canons will not help. We already have two canons which affirm one may not style an enterprise Catholic unless one has been given the right to do so by proper authority. Perhaps this can be clarified so one knows these canons apply to persons and roles as well as to TV stations, businesses, or other enterprises but again, no new canons are required. Most folks know little or nothing of canon law anyway. Others see it as irrelevant and unnecessary. Some criticize canon law --- including canon 603 --- as a form of institutionalization which betrays the freedom of the hermit life. Additional canons only mean these same people will know even less about more canon law.

One solution (or series of interlocking solutions) depends on education. Pastors and others in leadership roles in the Church need to understand the importance and charism of the eremitical life. Unless people are educated to recognize the gift such a life is, they will not see the betrayal of the gift fraudulent hermits represent. Chanceries themselves cannot adequately discern such vocations unless they know what the charism of the solitary call to eremitical life is. (Part of this knowledge depends upon the capacity of the personnel discerning these vocations to unpack the richness of canon 603 so they are aware of how truly sufficient it is. Personally I believe this "unpacking" is key to many of the problems involved in implementing canon 603.) The same need for education exists regarding the rights and obligations associated with living eremitical life "in the name of the Church". There is a serious need to understand what these are and what it means to be admitted to the profession which allows one to live out this role. Certain terms need to be better understood by everyone in the Church as well: the consecrated state of life versus baptismal consecration, institutes (as used in c 603), profession (a term used only for public vows), public vs private (not identical with being known by people and unknown by people!), state of life, freedom versus license, ecclesial vocations, Catholic hermit, and maybe a handful of other terms.

What I would personally like to see is a publication by CICLSAL which serves as a guidebook to canon 603 and which explicates the meaning and vision of the central elements comprising the canon. Diocesan hermits themselves could assist with this. After all, we live the canon day in and day out and spend time understanding it better and better --- better, I would wager, than most canonists and bishops! The difference in the way I understood it when I first petitioned to be admitted to profession and today, especially after writing a couple of revisions of my Rule in the intervening years is really significant. Today I see the canon as a gem which is truly beautiful in the way it codifies and allows the light of the solitary eremitical vocation to shine forth. But it must be unpacked!

Such a guidebook could clarify the vocabulary mentioned above and reiterate the theology of the consecrated life which is misconstrued by fraudulent or mistaken hermits. It could clarify the meaning of Pars 920-921 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Similarly, such a guidebook could address the problems of discernment and formation of canon 603 vocations. It could be available to every diocese to assist them in discerning and assisting in the formation canon 603 hermits.

A second but important piece of any solution to the problem of counterfeits and frauds is a sound theology of eremitical life lived in the lay state. Hermits have significant and  prophetic vocations and this is true whether these vocations are lived in the lay or the consecrated states. Remember that he term lay has two senses. The first is the hierarchical sense --- meaning the Church is hierarchical and this hierarchy is divided into clerical and lay. In the hierarchical sense anyone who is not part of the ordained priesthood is a lay person, The second is a vocational sense --- meaning one lives a vocation in a given stable state of life; one may be a priest or a lay person who is admitted to public profession as a hermit and thus, to the consecrated state of life. Vatican II began to publicize a recognition of the dignity and import of the lay vocation (i.e., any vocation lived in the lay state). It has taken time for the position of VII on the laity to be more fully integrated in the Church.

Only as lay persons took this vocational state seriously and wrote of their experience was VII's accomplishment in regard to the laity truly established (as noted above, something similar is true with diocesan hermits and c 603; diocesan hermits have explored the meaning of canon 603 by living this vocation day by day); lay hermits can expect something similar with regard to eremitical life lived with or without the benefit of private vows. Reflection on lay eremitical life can only be really adequately done by lay hermits but I believe this is certainly an important piece of the solution to fraudulent "consecrated" hermits. If those considering and discerning eremitical vocations can see that the choice between living eremitical life in the lay state or doing so in the consecrated state involves a choice between two genuinely significant vocations, we might see fewer occasions of counterfeit or fraudulent "consecrated" hermits.

19 June 2018

Feast of Saint Romuald (Reprise)

Romuald Receives the Gift of Tears,
Br Emmaus O'Herlihy, OSB (Glenstal)

Congratulations to all Camaldolese and Prayers! Today is the the feast day of the founder of the Camaldolese Congregations! We remember the anniversary of solemn profession of many Camaldolese as well as the birthday of the Prior of New Camaldoli, Dom Cyprian Consiglio.

Ego Vobis, Vos Mihi,: "I am yours, you are mine"

Saint Romuald has a special place in my heart for two reasons. First he went around Italy bringing isolated hermits together or at least under the Rule of Benedict --- something I found personally to resonate with my own need to seek canonical standing and to subsume my personal Rule of Life under a larger, more profound, and living tradition or Rule; secondly, he gave us a form of eremitical life which is uniquely suited to the diocesan hermit. St Romuald's unique gift (charism) to the church involved what is called a "threefold good", that is, the blending of the solitary and communal forms of monastic life (the eremitical and the cenobitical), along with the third good of evangelization or witness -- which literally meant (and means) spending one's life for others in the power and proclamation of the Gospel.

Stillsong Hermitage
So often people (mis)understand the eremitical life as antithetical to communal life, to community itself, and opposed as well to witness or evangelization. As I have noted many times here they mistake individualism and isolation for eremitical solitude. Romuald modeled an eremitism which balances the eremitical call to physical solitude and a commitment to God alone with community and outreach to the world to proclaim the Gospel. I think this is part of truly understanding the communal and ecclesial dimensions which are always present in true solitude. The Camaldolese vocation is essentially eremitic, but because the solitary dimension or vocation is so clearly rooted in what the Camaldolese call "The Privilege of Love" it therefore naturally has a profound and pervasive communal dimension which inevitably spills out in witness. Michael Downey describes it this way in the introduction to The Privilege of Love:

Theirs is a rich heritage, unique in the Church. This particular form of life makes provision for the deep human need for solitude as well as for the life shared alongside others in pursuit of a noble purpose. But because their life is ordered to a threefold good, the discipline of solitude and the rigors of community living are in no sense isolationist or self-serving. Rather both of these goods are intended to widen the heart in service of the third good: The Camaldolese bears witness to the superabundance of God's love as the self, others, and every living creature are brought into fuller communion in the one love.

Monte Corona Camaldolese
The Benedictine Camaldolese live this by having both cenobitical and eremitical expressions wherein there is a strong component of hospitality. The Monte Corona Camaldolese which are more associated with the reform of Paul Giustiniani have only the eremitical expression which they live in lauras --- much as the Benedictine Camaldolese live the eremitical expression.

In any case, the Benedictine Camaldolese charism and way of life seems to me to be particularly well-suited to the vocation of the diocesan hermit since she is called to live for God alone, but in a way which ALSO specifically calls her to give her life in love and generous service to others, particularly her parish and diocese. While this service and gift of self ordinarily takes the form of solitary prayer which witnesses to the foundational relationship with God we each and all of us share, it may also involve other, though limited, ministry within the parish including limited hospitality --- or even the outreach of a hermit from her hermitage through the vehicle of a blog!

In my experience the Camaldolese accent in my life supports and encourages the fact that even as a hermit (or maybe especially as a hermit!) a diocesan hermit is an integral part of her parish community and is loved and nourished by them just as she loves and nourishes them! As Prior General Bernardino Cozarini, OSB Cam, once described the Holy Hermitage in Tuscany (the house from which all Camaldolese originate in one way and another), "It is a small place. But it opens up to a universal space." Certainly this is true of all Camaldolese houses and it is true of Stillsong Hermitage as a diocesan hermitage as well.

The Privilege of Love

For those wishing to read about the Camaldolese there is a really fine collection of essays on Camaldolese Benedictine Spirituality which was noted above. It is written by OSB Camaldolese monks, nuns and oblates. It is entitled aptly enough, The Privilege of Love and includes topics such as, "Koinonia: The Privilege of Love", "Golden Solitude," "Psychological Investigations and Implications for Living Alone Together," "An Image of the Praying Church: Camaldolese Liturgical Spirituality," "A Wild Bird with God in the Center: The Hermit in Community," and a number of others. It also includes a fine bibliography "for the study of Camaldolese history and spirituality."

Romuald's Brief Rule:

And for those who are not really familiar with Romuald, here is the brief Rule he formulated for monks, nuns, and oblates. It is the only thing we actually have from his own hand and is appropriate for any person seeking an approach to some degree of solitude in their lives or to prayer more generally. ("Psalms" may be translated as "Scripture".)

Sit in your cell as in paradise. Put the whole world behind you and forget it. Watch your thoughts like a good fisherman watching for fish. The path you must follow is in the Psalms — never leave it. If you have just come to the monastery, and in spite of your good will you cannot accomplish what you want, take every opportunity you can to sing the Psalms in your heart and to understand them with your mind. And if your mind wanders as you read, do not give up; hurry back and apply your mind to the words once more. Realize above all that you are in God's presence, and stand there with the attitude of one who stands before the emperor. Empty yourself completely and sit waiting, content with the grace of God, like the chick who tastes and eats nothing but what his mother brings him.

17 June 2018

Update: Healing Continues

Many thanks to all who have kept me in prayer. Just to update things, I went to the doctor's last Tuesday to get new xrays and meet with the PA to plan the next stage of treatment. Doc was out of town but the PA, who is quite fine, has been part of things right along and we joked as I showed off my newfound knowledge of the anatomy of the wrist on the newest fluoroscopy! The xrays were good. The bones are healing well and the styloid process of the ulna, though still largely displaced, is attached to the distal head of the ulna by a very thin piece of bone now; I am told the remaining space between the process and the rest of the ulna will just "fill in" with bone. I find that incredible. What causes it to do that? How does it "know" to do it? I have to believe what one Sister reminded me of, namely, our bodies have an intelligence and wisdom about them we don't often appreciate.

So, the bones in my wrist are not in quite the same position as before their fracture but the spaces between bones look good and the prognosis is very good. I will begin hand therapy as soon as I can get in to a PT specializing in that --- and as soon as I can arrange transportation. Meanwhile, I am doing some beginning range of motion exercises available on You Tube (the internet is an incredible source of information and videos!). I may also pull out my violin and keep it available to do some gentle exercises to increase strength and ROM whenever I am allowed to do that. In order to protect my wrist from unexpected movements or impact I'll also be keeping the long splint on at least another three weeks whenever I am not showering, exercising my hand, etc. (The picture above is of the short splint I will then use.) No bike riding for a while yet though. : :sigh::

I will ask folks for continued prayers. You might focus on prayers for increased patience and perseverance as I begin hand therapy and need to do the exercises regularly every couple of hours or so here at home as well! Of course general prayers for complete healing are most welcome! Thanks.

08 June 2018

What does it mean to be a " Hermit in an Essential Sense"?

[[Dear Sister when you have spoken of readiness for discernment with a diocese and even temporary profession as a solitary hermit you have said it is necessary for a person to be a hermit in some essential sense. Could you say more about what you mean by this phrase? I think maybe I know what you are talking about but I also find the phrase difficult to define. Thanks!]]


That's such a great and important question! For me personally, articulating the definition of this phrase or the description of what I mean by it has been a bit difficult. It is a positive phrase but in some ways I found my own senses of what I meant by this come to real clarity by paying attention to examples of inauthentic eremitical life, individuals who call themselves hermits, for instance, but who, while nominally Catholic, are isolated and/or subscribe to a spirituality which is essentially unhealthy while embracing a theology which has nothing really to do with the God of Jesus Christ.  To paraphrase Jesus, not everyone who says "Lord, Lord" actually  has come to know the sovereignty of the Lord intimately. In other words it was by looking at what canonical hermits were not and could or should never be that gave me a way of articulating what I meant by "being a hermit in some essential sense." Since God is the one who makes a person a hermit, it should not surprise you to hear I will be describing the "essential hermit" first of all in terms of God's activity.

Related to this then is the fact that the hermit's life is a gift to both Church and world at large. Moreover, it is a gift of a particular kind. Specifically it proclaims the Gospel of God in word and deed but does so in the silence of solitude. When speaking of being a hermit in some essential way it will be important to describe the qualities of mission and charism that are developing (or have developed) in the person's life. These are about more than having a purpose in life and reflect the simple fact that the eremitical vocation belongs to the Church. Additionally they are a reflection of the fact that the hermit precisely as hermit reflects the good news of salvation in Christ which comes to her in eremitical solitude. If it primarily came to her in another way (in community or family life for instance) it would not reflect the redemptive character of Christ in eremitical solitude and therefore her life could not witness to or reveal this to others in and through eremitical life. Such witness is the very essence of the eremitical life.

The Experience at the Heart of Authentic Eremitism:

Whenever I have written about becoming a hermit in some essential sense I have contrasted it with being a lone individual, even a lone pious person who prays each day. The point of that contrast was to indicate that each of us are called to be covenantal partners of God, dialogical realities who, to the extent we are truly human, are never really alone. The contrast was first of all meant to point to the fact that eremitical life involved something more, namely, a desert spirituality. It was also meant to indicate that something must occur in solitude which transforms the individual from simply being a lone individual. That transformation involves healing and sanctification. It changes the person from someone who may be individualistic to someone who belongs to and depends radically on God and the church which mediates God in word and sacrament. Such a person lives her life in the heart of the Church in very conscious and deliberate ways. Her solitude is a communal reality in this sense even though she is a solitary hermit. Moreover, the shift I am thinking of that occurs in the silence of solitude transforms the person into a compassionate person whose entire life is in tune with the pain and anguish of a world yearning for God and the fulfillment God brings to all creation; moreover it does so because paradoxically, it is in the silence of solitude that one comes to hear the cry of all in union with God.

If the individual is dealing with chronic illness, for instance, then they are apt to have been marginalized by their illness. What tends to occur to such a person in the silence of solitude if they are called to this as a life vocation is the shift to a life that marginalizes by choice and simultaneously relates more profoundly or centrally. Because it is in this liminal space that one meets God and comes to union with God, a couple of things happen: 1) one comes to know one has infinite value because one is infinitely loved by God, not in terms of one's productivity, one's academic or other success, one's material wealth, and so forth, 2) one comes to understand that all people are loved and valued in the same way which allows one to see themselves as "the same" as others rather than as different and potentially inferior (or, narcissistically, superior), 3) thus one comes to know oneself as profoundly related to these others in God rather than as disconnected or unrelated and as a result, 4) chronic illness ceases to have the power it once had to isolate and alienate or to define one's entire identity in terms of separation, pain, suffering, and incapacity, and 5) one is freed to be the person God calls one to be in spite of chronic illness. The capacity to truly love others, to be compassionate, and to love oneself in God are central pieces of this.

The Critical Question in Discernment of Eremitical Vocations:

 What is critical for the question at hand is that the person finds themselves in a  transformative relationship with God in solitude and thus, eremitical solitude becomes the context for a truly redemptive experience and a genuinely holy life. When I speak of someone being a hermit in some essential sense I am pointing to being a person who has experienced the salvific gift the hermit's life is meant to be for hermits and for those they witness to. It may be that they have begun a transformation which reshapes them from the heart of their being, a kind of transfiguration which heals and summons into being an authentic humanity which is convincing in its faith, hope, love, and essential joy. Only God can work in the person in this way and if God does so in eremitical solitude --- which means more than a transitional solitude, but an extended solitude of desert spirituality --- then one may well have thus become a hermit in an essential sense and may be on the way to becoming a hermit in the proper sense of the term as well.

If God saves in solitude (or in abject weakness and emptiness!), if authentic humanity implies being a covenant partner of God capable of mediating that same redemption to others in Christ, then a canonical hermit (or a person being seriously considered for admission to canonical standing and consecration MUST show signs of these as well as of having come to know them to a significant degree in eremitical solitude.  It is the redemptive capacity of solitude (meaning God in solitude) experienced by the hermit or candidate as  "the silence of solitude"  which is the real criterion of a vocation to eremitical solitude. (See other posts on this term but also Eremitism, the Epitome of Selfishness?) It is the redemptive capacity of God in the silence of solitude that the hermit must reflect and witness to if her eremitical life is to be credible.

Those Putative "Hermits" not Called to Eremitical Solitude:

For some who seek to live as hermits but are unsuccessful, eremitical solitude is not redemptive. As I have written before the destructive power of solitude overtakes and overwhelms the entire process of growth and sanctification which the authentic hermit comes to know in the silence of solitude. What is most striking to me as I have considered this question of being a hermit in some essential sense is the way some persons' solitude and the label "hermit" are euphemisms for alienation, estrangement, and isolation. Of course there is nothing new in this and historically stereotypes and counterfeits have often hijacked the title "hermit".  The spiritualities involved in such cases are sometimes nothing more than validations of the brokenness of sin or celebrations of self-centeredness and social failure; the God believed in is often a tyrant or a cruel judge who is delighted by our suffering -- which he is supposed to cause directly -- and who defines justice in terms of an arbitrary "reparation for the offences" done to him even by others, a strange kind of quid pro quo which might have given even St Anselm qualms.

These "hermits" themselves seem unhappy, often bitter, depressed and sometimes despairing. They live in physical solitude but their relationship with God is apparently neither life giving nor redemptive -- whether of the so-called hermit or those they touch. Neither are their lives ecclesial in any evident sense and some are as estranged from the Church as they are from their local communities and (often) families. Because there is no clear sense that solitude is a redemptive reality for these persons, neither is there any sense that God is really calling them to eremitical life and the wholeness represented by union with God and characterized by the silence of solitude. Sometimes solitude itself seems entirely destructive, silence is a torturous muteness or fruitlessness; in such cases there is no question the person is not called to eremitical solitude.

Others who are not so extreme as these "hermits" never actually embrace the silence of solitude or put God at the center of their lives in the way desert spirituality requires and witnesses to. They may even be admitted to profession and consecration but then live a relatively isolated and mediocre life filled with distractions, failed commitments (vows, Rule), and rejected grace. Some instead replace solitude with active ministry so that they really simply cannot witness to the transformative capacity of the God who comes in silence and solitude. Their lives thus do not show evidence of the incredibly creative and dynamic love of God who redeems in this way but it is harder to recognize these counterfeits. In such cases the silence of solitude is not only not the context of their lives but it is neither their goal nor the charism they bring to church and world. Whatever the picture they have never been hermits in the essential sense.

Even so, all of these lives do help us to see what is necessary for the discernment of authentic eremitical vocations and too what it means to say that someone is a hermit in some essential sense. Especially they underscore the critical importance that one experiences God's redemptive intimacy in the silence of solitude and that one's life is made profoundly meaningful, compassionate, and hope-filled in this way.

06 June 2018

A Contemplative Moment: The Crimson Heart (Reprise)

 --- the Church speaks in a hymn by Gertrude von le Fort ---
"solitary Heart, all-knowing Heart, world-conquering Heart.". . .
The "heart" is the name we give to the unifying element in the human person's diversity. The heart is the ultimate ground of a person's being. Her diversity of character, thought, and activity springs from this ground. All that she is and does unfolds from this source. Her diversity, originally one in its source, remains one even in its unfolding and it ultimately returns to this unity.

The "heart" is the name we give to the inner ground of an individual's character, wherein a person is really himself, unique and alone. The human being's apartness, his individuality, his interiority, his solitariness --- this is what we call the heart. This characteristic of the heart reveals and at the same time veils itself in everything the person is and does. For the human being's total diversity in being and activity would be nothing if it did not blossom forth from the heart as from a living ground, and at the same time veil his hidden ground.It must be veiled because its water doesn't flow on the surface of what we commonly speak of as the human person's being and activity.

An individual's uniqueness, her individuality, is her heart. That is why one is always alone and solitary --- alone and solitary in the meaning that everyday life gives gives to the words, in the idiom of the marketplace, which no longer suspects the abysses concealed in human words. For there is a realm where the person is entirely himself, where he himself is his solitary destiny. In this realm where he can no longer bring himself and his fragmentary world to the marketplace of everyday life --- in the realm therefore where his heart is --- the person is alone and solitary because of this apartness. . . .
The center of our hearts has to be God; the heart of the world has to be the heart of our hearts. He must send us his heart so that our hearts may be at rest. It has to be his heart. . . .He must let it enter into our narrow confines, so that it can be the center of our life without destroying the narrow house of our finitude, in which alone we can live and breathe. And he has done it. And the name of his heart is Jesus Christ! It is a finite heart, and yet it is the heart of God. When it loves us and thus becomes the center of our hearts. every need, every distress, every misery of our hearts is taken from us. For his heart is God's heart. and yet it does not have the terrifying ambiguity of his infinity. Up from this heart and out from this heart human words have arisen, intimate words, words of the heart, words of God that have only one meaning, a meaning that gladdens and blesses.
Our heart becomes calm and rests in this heart, in his heart. When it loves us then we know that the love of such a heart is only love and nothing else. In him the enigmatic mystery of the world's heart which is God becomes the crimson mystery of all things, the mystery that God has loved the world in its destitution.
Excerpted from
 "The Mystery of the Heart" by Karl Rahner, SJ
The Great Church Year, the Best of Karl Rahner's Homilies
Sermons and Meditations
(Please read the entire essay! I have excerpted a text in which every word is important and none are wasted. Though not my intention it is a betrayal of Rahner's text.)

The Human Heart: Mystery at the Center of Self (Reprise)

(Preparing for Friday's Feast. Note that references to readings are for another year at this time.)

 Today's ordinary (daily Mass) readings use the text from 2 Corinthians I spoke about earlier this week, namely, "We hold a treasure in earthen vessels so that the surpassing power will be of God and not from ourselves." You may remember that in conjunction with that text and the Feast of Corpus Christi I spoke of Sue Bender's experience of seeing a broken and mended piece of Japanese ceramics. (Marking the Feast of Corpus Christi) She wrote, [[“The image of that bowl,” she writes, “made a lasting impression. Instead of trying to hide the flaws, the cracks were emphasized — filled with silver. The bowl was even more precious after it had been mended.”]]

That image has been with me all this week in prayer and also as I have reflected on the various readings, especially those from Paul. It seems entirely providential to me then that this year today, the day we would ordinarily hear a reading about treasure in earthen vessels, is the Feast of the Sacred Heart. The image of this bowl --- broken, healed, and transfigured  reminds me of the Sacred Heart --- traditionally the most powerful symbol we have of the indivisible wedding of human and divine and of the power of Divine Love perfected and glorified (revealed) in both human and divine weakness; thus it has provided me with a wonderfully new and fresh image of the Sacred Heart and (at least potentially) of our own hearts as well.

The heart is the center of the human person. It is a deeply distinctive anthropo-logical or human reality --- at the center of all truly personal feeling, thought, creativity and behavior. As a physical organ it stands at the center of all physical functions within us as well empowering them, marking them with its pulsing life.

At the same time, it is primarily a theological term. It refers first of all to God and to a theological reality. Of course it cannot be divorced from the human (and that is the very point!), but theologically speaking, the heart is the place within us where God bears witness to God's self, where life and truth and beauty, love, integrity call to us and invite us to embrace them, reveal them in our own unique ways. As I have noted before, in some important ways it is not so much that we have a heart and then God comes to dwell there; it is that where God dwells within us and bears witness to himself, we have a heart. The human heart (not the cardiac muscle but the center of our personhood) is a dialogical event where God speaks, calls, breathes, and sings us into existence and where, in one way and degree or another, we respond to become the people we are and (we hope) are called to be.

Everything comes together in the human heart --- or is held apart and left unreconciled by its distortions and self-centeredness. It is in the human heart broken open by love that the unity between spirit and matter is imagined, achieved, and then conveyed to the whole of creation. Here the division between earth and heaven, human and divine is bridged and healed. It is in the human heart that the unity of body and soul is achieved and celebrated.

The vulnerable and broken human heart is the paradoxical place where everything is brought together in the power and mercy of God's love; it is the place where human life is transfigured and then --- through us and the ministry of reconciliation entrusted to us in Christ --- extended to the whole of creation itself. It is in the human heart that prejudices, biases, bitterness, selfishness, greed and so many other things are brought into the presence of God to be healed and transformed. At least this is the potential of the heart which is meant to be truly human and glorifies God. The human heart is holy ground and despite its limitations, distortions, darknesses, and narrownesses it is meant to shine with the expansiveness of God's creative "Yes!" Here is indeed treasure in earthen vessels.

And if this is true anywhere it is true in the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Sacred Heart is the symbol of the reunion of all of reality, the place in that unique life where human life becomes completely transparent to the love of God, the sacrament par excellence of the ministry of reconciliation where human and divine are inextricably wed.

Imagine then an image of the Sacred Heart similar to the image Sue Bender described, a clay pot broken and broken open innumerable times by and to the realities it dares to be vulnerable to and allows to rest within itself. Imagine too that God, that supreme potter refashions it, mends it with his love --- a love that allows the cracks to glow with the light of heaven, a light that transforms the entire pot and all who are touched by its transcendent beauty and truth. This is what we celebrate on today's Feast. The scars will remain, but transfigured --- as though mended with brilliant silver. Light and love, water and blood will pour from this heart and, in time, God will love all of creation into wholeness through Jesus' mediation and through the ministry of each of us who allow our hearts to become the Sacred places God wills them to be.  We "hold" a treasure in earthen vessels. In us the surpassing power of God in Christ is at work reconciling all things to himself.