26 February 2019

Catholic Hermits and Non-Profit Status

[[Sister, I was told that diocesan hermits (solitary Catholic hermits) could file for 501c(3) tax exemption. This hermit seems to disagree: [[But a hermit does not have others in the temporal realm to help clean and unpack, organize, to cook and in our time period, handle procurement of supplies.  There is no extern nun or monk; and a consecrated Catholic hermit has not tax exempt status, so the IRS duties are the hermit's own, and for me, once I gather and provide all the numbers from receipts and appropriate 1099 income forms, a long-time accountant will crunch the numbers, fill in the proper forms, and file my tax returns.]] (Catholic Hermit, Letter from Spiritual Father, italics added) Is she correct or was I misinformed?]]

In this case Ms McClure (aka, Joyful Hermit), a privately vowed lay hermit who writes the blog you cited, and who, therefore, might well not be expected to know about tax exempt status for canonical hermits, is incorrect and you were properly informed. Solitary Consecrated Hermits (that is, Diocesan Hermits -- canonically professed and consecrated under c 603) can and do set their hermitages up as 501(c)3's if that works for them. The Church permits (and the US tax code allows) and in some instances, may even encourage this. In such cases the hermit only pays taxes on income which has nothing to do with the religious nature and mission of the hermitage; (the classic example is the charity that, besides its primary mission or reason for existing also makes some money repairing bicycles. They do pay taxes on that money). Canonical (Catholic) hermits are also free from property taxes and sales tax when they are established as 501(c)3's. Non-profits do pay various taxes for employees (Social security and Medicare). 

I should note that not every canonical (publicly professed) solitary hermit does this however; for some of us becoming recognized as non-profits is of no real benefit because 1) our incomes are so small we do not usually pay much if any income tax, and 2) we do not own our hermitages, and thus, are not responsible for property taxes anyway. Moreover, everything coming into the hermitage benefits us directly unless we are giving retreats, for instance, and have legitimate expenses connected with that. Apparently, however, for those diocesan hermits who depend on benefactors 501(c)3 is helpful because it allows those donating to the hermit's upkeep to get a tax break (deduction) on their donations.

This is not an area I am particularly expert on myself since I have not decided to use 501(c)3 to establish myself or my hermitage as a non-profit. I keep thinking I will ask an attorney about the possibilities in case I am missing some benefit that might assist me in living my life and pursuing my mission, but I haven't done so. Also, questions on this matter have been infrequent so beyond affirming the possibility of 501(c)3, I have not needed to write much about it. Your own question is pretty straightforward, however. To summarize, consecrated (that is, canonical) Catholic hermits or hermitages are allowed by the Church and the US Tax code to establish themselves/their hermitages as non-profits under 501(c)3. Each hermit who is publicly professed and consecrated under c 603 is encouraged to consider the benefits of doing this for themselves with the aid and advice of a civil attorney.

22 February 2019

Once More on Right-handed vs Left-handed Power

[[Dear Sister Laurel, why doesn't God work through what you called "right-handed power"? Do you think maybe Jesus didn't have the power or authority to do this really? I know contemporary biblical scholars used to poo poo the idea that God did miracles or that Jesus was "just" a miracle or wonder worker. And yet, if Jesus could do such miracles why did he have to die on the cross? Why didn't he save himself and us by curing everyone? Am I making sense?]]

Thanks for the questions! Let me answer in terms of Mark's gospel and something from my own experience as well. In Mark's gospel one question dominates Jesus' life, namely, "What is the will of God?" A second question comes up as Jesus' corollary, namely, "What kind of Messiah will I be?" or in other terms, "In what way will I exercise power to bring the will of God to fulfillment; will it be right-handed power or left-handed power? Through the first thirty-some years of Jesus' life he has been shaped as a Son of God, (in Mark, this is one who truly hears and hearkens to God, as an embodiment of the Shema (Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is One, you shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart and mind and soul and understanding. . .)) But now, as one with unique power (exousia) or authority, the question of Jesus' own faithfulness to the will of God will be shaped in terms of the questions of right-handed or left-handed power. It will depend on how Jesus understands what God wills.

If Jesus discerns the will of God to be the healing, exorcism, and forgiveness of individuals --- even thousands and thousands and thousands of individuals, then right-handed power could be the answer (and certainly Jesus does use right-handed power!). If God wills that people who have died be revivified (not resurrected to new life), then again, Jesus' use of right-handed power of the kind he used with Lazarus or the little girl to whom he said "Talitha cum" could have been sufficient. But what is the will of God is greater than even these awesome things? What, for instance, if God's will included the actual destruction of sin and death, entrance into these realities to transform them with his presence? What if God willed not just the forgiveness of individuals' sins but the renewal, recreation and reconciliation of all creation in a way which ultimately ends sin and death altogether? What if God willed to take human reality into himself, give it a new context and quality and in this way of transcendence, also heal, exorcise, and forgive?

In such a case Jesus might well come to understand that right-handed power is entirely insufficient for the achievement of his mission and embrace instead a left-handed power exercised in smallness, slowness, patience, perseverance, weakness,  self-emptying, and even in suffering and death! After all, sin and death cannot be destroyed by Divine fiat; they are personal realities, even personal decisions which cannot be undone by mere (even creative and divine) force lest we also be destroyed by those acts of power. Trying to destroy sin and death with right-handed power is a bit like trying to remove yeast from leavened dough or pulling up weeds whose roots are intertwined with those of wheat. Mark is clear that this is precisely what happens and this discernment on Jesus' part shapes not only the kind of Messiah he will be, but the kind of discipleship he will call people to.

Let me give you an illustration of what I mean from my own experience. About 35 years ago I had an experience in prayer that I have written about here in the past. I was having trouble praying, was pushing or trying too hard so my director held out her hands, asked me to rest mine in hers and then asked that I now go ahead and pray as I always did. (One moment of entering prayer felt very like an experience I had whenever I was beginning to have a seizure so it was a moment that frightened me and made it hard to just entrust myself to God. Hence, Sister M's suggestion re resting my hands in her own.) I let myself go into God's hands and the experience over the next 40 minutes was astounding. The details are not so important here except I came away with two foundational senses: 1) this was God, there was no doubt of that, and 2) had God wanted to heal me of the seizure disorder (right-handed power), God certainly could have done so in a heartbeat; once again I had no doubt of that, nor was I troubled that this was not what God chose to do.

The corollary here was the same as we find in the Gospel of Mark, namely, God was asking me for a discipleship that was expressed in patience, perseverance, and a trust in God's vital "seed" that would come slowly, grow ultimately on its own (often while I slept!), and come to fruition in its own time. In other words, God had chosen a left-handed exercise of power which would be perfected in weakness and suffering. Over the past two plus years I have engaged in a process of inner formation that has asked for the same kind of patience and trust. (I was rarely truly successful in that, though I have grown in both patience and trust and am now seeing an amazing harvest beginning to sprout.) The healing and growth is much more extensive than what would have occurred had God simply healed me of my seizure disorder. It involves a kind of transfiguration, I think. Left-handed power works differently than right-handed power and the discipleship associated with it is in some ways, more demanding and geared to greater growth and a more extensive wholeness and holiness which suits one to greater suffering but also, in my own experience anyway, to greater faith, hope, and compassion.

I hope this is helpful. If my answers were not explicit enough in some ways, please get back to me and I'll give it another shot.

21 February 2019

Reading the Parables of Jesus in Mark

I have been loving the work I am doing for my parish on Jesus' parables. Every week I have spent time with the parables in preparation something significant has happened in prayer. At the same time the inner work I have been doing with my director these past 2 and a half years or so have been coming together in ways I could never have expected or even imagined. The ability to spend time in prayer, lectio, and personal formation is simply the greatest gift God could have given me and more and more I appreciate the Church admitting me to profession under canon 603 and consecrating me to live this life in her name!! The transition from isolation to solitude continues to be a significant dynamic of my growth/maturation in this vocation. At the same time the sessions we have had at the parish have led to sharing of profound personal stories linked to lectio with the parables and I would call at least one of these a kind of miracle!

Each session has begun with some teaching on the parables, what they are and are not, cultural and theological background, etc. Last week we discussed that parables are less about what they mean than about what they allow to happen, what they make real for us. The task is not so much to interpret the parables as it is to provide enough specific background to allow the group to read and respond to these unique stories. We talked about the nature of performative language or language events and especially the fact that parables are invitations in search of a response, that they don't really exist unless and until someone hears and responds to that invitation!

Because the Church has not traditionally approached reading or interpreting the parables in this way and because it replaces almost 19 C. of allegorical interpretation we then spent 20-30 minutes reading the parable of the Good Samaritan and followed that by looking at the allegorical readings of that parable offered by Origin, Irenaeus, and Augustine. It was gratifying that people felt the way allegory could keep them at arm's length, curtail their own use of imagination, and limit their abilities to enter into the story in whatever way God was inviting them during this reading. Especially folks did not have a sense of Jesus speaking to them in these allegories, nor a sense of being called to a profoundly personal response of their whole selves.

Yesterday we did the second session and focused on the 4th chapter of the Gospel of Mark. This is the chapter with the various seeds parables, the first of only a handful of fully developed parables in the Gospel along with the very difficult sayings re why Jesus teaches in parables and "To the one who has even more will be given; to the one who has not, even the little s/he has will be taken from him/her." Mark prepares for these parables and what they call disciples to during the first three chapters of his Gospel as he looks at who Jesus is (Word incarnate, embodiment of the Shema, embodiment of Wisdom, authentically human being, Messiah, Hearer/Doer of the Word of God (Son of God means this in Mark) etc), at the nature of the Kingdom he brings, and at the conflicts that invariably spring up in the wake of all this. We looked especially then at the issue of right-handed versus left-handed power (the very debate with the devil found in the temptation in the desert stories and the choice Jesus makes as he journeys toward the cross; in Mark this story has a patient Jesus being waited on by God via angels, an image which is reflected in the parables of the seed parables with their demand for patient waiting upon the God who brings growth).

Jesus simply is not the Messiah expected or esteemed by the religious leadership (or Jesus' family for that matter!). Yes, he does act with a hitherto unknown power (exousia) and authority; he heals and exorcises (exercises of straightforward right-handed power); he reveals himself as the embodiment of Wisdom, but throughout the Gospel (and especially after the Transfiguration) he moves more and more towards revealing a Kingdom whose power is perfected in weakness (cf 2 Cor 12:9) and self-emptying, what some call "left-handed power". Meanwhile those who would entrust themselves to Jesus must come to terms with a Kingdom revealed in suffering, littleness, and weakness. Those who do are the "insiders" while those who do not become part of the group of "outsiders;" the boundaries between these two groups are fluid in Mark and we are constantly surprised as "insiders" (Peter, Jesus' family, et al) prove unable to hear Jesus while those who are thought to be outsiders (the Centurion, Syro-Phoenician Woman, various demons, et al) show themselves to know and accept Jesus.

The parable of the sower/soils is seen by some as the "watershed" of all the parables and I think perhaps it is hard for us to see this given how different it is from the dramatic parables we love so much --- parables like the prodigals (Father and two Sons!), the laborers in the vineyard, the Good Samaritan, and so forth. But the parable of the sower/soils along with the parables of the mustard seed and seed growing secretly shows us a Word that comes to us in disproportionate smallness and quietness; the seeds grow "on their own" --- graced realities that need very little help from us beyond planting and harvesting, and of course, they must die to bear fruit! In telling this parable along with the other seed parables of Mark 4, Jesus takes a fateful step away from a Messianism that reveals itself in "right-handed power" and instead into what Robert Farrar Capon calls "the paradox of power" --- a Messianism that will reveal itself exhaustively only in the apparent failure and weakness of the Cross. Do the disciples "get it"? Are they truly "insiders"? Well, no, not according to the ending of chapter 4 --- at least not firmly or solidly so. Terror can still rock their faith.

After Jesus' teaching in the various parables of the seeds and his warning to the disciples that they need to hear him in this, a storm comes up on the sea. Jesus sleeps peacefully without fear and the disciples wake him interrogating him on whether or not he cares that they are going to perish! Jesus does what he can do in response: he stills the storm, an act of right-handed power. The mystery of the Kingdom will be definitively revealed  in abject  weakness on the cross but the disciples are not ready to accept that yet. They cannot see that God's will and Jesus' mission are larger than right-handed power can ever bring about; sin and death cannot be destroyed nor the world reconciled to God with such power. In any case, some of the disciples will never be ready to accept a Messiah who redeems creation through weakness and suffering and others will waver in their commitment to Jesus --- "insiders" one day and "outsiders" the next. Most will grow "from faith to faith" and hearken to Jesus in his parables "as they are able". I think these portraits of discipleship are portraits we each can recognize in our own lives.

P.S.In case you were wondering, we entertained various ways of resolving what is often a riddle (Gk: parabole or Heb., mashal, "riddle") to hearers, "To those who have  even more will be given; to those who have not even the little they have will be taken from them." We added a blank space after "has" and tried several different terms to fill in the blank. Several "worked" fine but the best answer was simply "ears to hear": that is, "To those who have ears to hear even more will be given, to those who have not (got ears to hear), even the little they have will be taken from them." Most of us had automatically (maybe unconsciously) filled  the sentence with possessions, wealth, knowledge, relationships, or any number of things --- afraid what the sentence could actually mean as well as what it said about God and Divine justice! But read in context the solution was pretty straightforward.

11 February 2019

Book Recommendations

I picked up a new book today and though I have only read a little of it I wanted to recommend it (or at least bring it to folks' attention in case they have some interest in the topic). The description included with the book reads, [[Through her  evocative intertwined histories of the penitentiary and the monastery, Jane Brox illuminates the many ways silence is far more complex than any absolute; how it has influenced ideas of the self, soul, and society. Brox traces its place as a transformative power in the monastic world from Medieval Europe to the very public life of twentieth century monk Thomas Merton, whose love for silence deepened even as he faced his obligation to speak out against war. This fascinating history of ideas also explores the influence the monastic cell had on one of society’s darkest experiments in silence: Eastern State Penitentiary. Conceived of by one of the Founding Fathers and built on the outskirts of Philadelphia, the penitentiary’s early promulgators imagined redemption in imposed isolation, but they badly misapprehended silence’s dangers.

Finally, Brox’s rich exploration of silence’s complex and competing meanings leads us to imagine how we might navigate our own relationship with silence today, for the transformation it has always promised, in our own lives. ]]
I also wanted to recommend two books I have read in the past year or two by the Irish Dominican, Paul Murray, OP. The first is In the Grip of Lightthe Dark and Bright Journey of Christian Contemplation. [[What is it like in practice to come close to the presence of God? Are there words which can, in some way, explain the nature of that experience? In this compelling study, Paul Murray draws attention to both the wisdom and lived experience of those men and women who knew, at first hand, of the light and fire of which they speak. Murray demonstrates how important and relevant for us today are the writings of authors such as Catherine of Siena, John of the Cross, Meister Eckhart, and Teresa of Avila. To the often bewildered hearts and minds of our generation, the writings of these remarkable men and women speak with a unique authority.]] Murray's writing is clean and transparent. His sensitivity to language, poetry, the reality of prayer, and the heights and depths of the human heart allow his books to sing a song of hope and joy in minor and major modes both.
    The second book is Scars: Essays, Poems and Meditations on Affliction.  I began this last July and finished it last night. In some ways it reminded me of John Ciardi's, How does a Poem Mean? because Fr Murray writes beautifully of the book of Job, Beethoven's use of music to console a suffering friend, Rainer Marie Rilke and how Rilke's poetry sustained Etty Hillesum as she journeyed to her death in an Auschwitz death chamber, and several others. Ciardi once wrote in the introduction to his book (a text I used in a high school poetry class about 52 years ago!) that Poetry is like karate; it has the power to save us when we are caught some night in a dark alley. Paul Murray, OP shares that same sense of the redemptive power of beauty -- whether it comes to us in poetry, music, or otherwise. His stories are touching, inspiring, challenging and consoling.

Besides the section on Job and the stories noted above, one of the sections on the importance of the body for human wholeness and clear rejection of approaches to asceticism that are life denying rather than life affirming are especially wonderful. The last section of the book is a series of meditations on Christ's "Seven Last Words" and reflects on these with a new perspective sure to be helpful to every human being who knows affliction. As anyone who has read any of his work knows already, Fr Paul is a gifted writer!
Recently I was able to "meet" himself via some email correspondence re my blog and my vocation as a diocesan hermit. It took me some time (at least a couple of weeks) before I was able to move from a nagging sense of, "Hmmm, Irish Dominican, his name is so familiar; how do I know him?" to a thoroughly embarrassed, "Omigosh, I know his work! I have read at least two of his books!!" Fortunately my Dominican friend, Sue Pixley, OP recognized his name right off and, when we were finally able to get together for coffee this weekend, identified him as the author of a book on Dominican spirituality --- a book she will loan me next weekend! Enjoy; I know I will!!

Bible Study at St Perpetua's: For Bay Area Readers of this Blog

               Gospel Parables: The Heart of Jesus' Teaching

[[Bible study resumes at St Perpetua Catholic Community on Wednesday, February 13, with an 8 week series on the Parables of Jesus presented by Sister Laurel O'Neal, Er Dio. The heart of Jesus' teaching was in parables; these unique stories reflect Jesus' own experience of the Father and are the way He draws us into a similar powerful and transformative experience. The purpose of the series is to provide a deeper understanding of these stories as living instances of the Gospel. It will combine teaching on the parables, time for personal reflection, and related faith sharing. All are welcome!
Please note, this series ends just the week before Holy Week (no meeting on Ash Wednesday) and the material will be fruitful for Lent. As attendance allows, if you are interested you may come for either a morning or an evening session -- whichever works better for you. Time: 9:30 - 11:30 am or 7:00-9:00 pm; Place: Chapel. Please bring a Bible and notebook. If you have questions contact Sister Laurel .]]

06 February 2019

Can a Priest Be a Diocesan Hermit in One Diocese/Country and Live As a Hermit Under A Second Bishop in Another Diocese/Country?

[[Dear Sister Laurel, I am a priest intending to become a diocesan priest hermit. I will not be living in my own home diocese, however, but will go to a neighboring country. I know that I will have to make profession before the bishop in order to become a proper hermit. I do not intend to change diocese, or become incardinated anywhere else. I will simply be living in another country. The question is this: Can my own bishop give permission to the bishop in the place where I will be living to receive my vows? Is that permitted by Canon Law? It's wonderful to know that there is someone like you willing to help people in these situations. Thank you in anticipation for any help you can give.]]
Dear Father, Thanks for your question. It is gratifying that you would write. My understanding is that under c 603 one must live in the diocese in which one is professed. Remember the canon is explicit in this, the hermit makes profession "in the hands of the local bishop". I suspect this language is what prompted your question, but it is for this reason that c 603 hermits are called diocesan hermits. A person may move to another diocese and remain a diocesan hermit if and only if the new bishop agrees to receive his/her vows. When this occurs he becomes the hermit's legitimate superior and also has agreed --- at least in principle --- to be open to discerning and professing other canon 603 vocations in his diocese. (Remember, not all bishops/dioceses have opened themselves to implementing canon 603.)
The situation you outline is very different and is, though not intentionally perhaps, capable of being perceived as a way of sidestepping both the stability of the vocation, the sense that this vocation is a gift of God to the local Church, and the ability of either the remote or the local bishop to act effectively as legitimate superior. It could be remarked that the situation you are describing also tends to weaken the ecclesial nature of the vocation and would, at least potentially, set a destructive precedent or at least be unhelpful to those persons in the beginnings of considering or discerning vocations as diocesan hermits.

Let me point out that canonical profession is not needed to be a "proper" hermit. We have lay hermits and priests living as hermits --- both without public vows (and often without private vows either). Canonical vows (part of the larger act the Church recognizes as profession) are needed to live and represent eremitical life as a Catholic Hermit, that is, in the name of the Church. If you wish to live as a hermit your bishop can give you permission to do so; strictly speaking you do not need to be professed as a diocesan hermit under c 603. You could, if you desired, make private vows with your bishop as witness (though he would not be "receiving" these vows in the name of the church; that would require profession under c 603). One problem with this option or the next is that in my experience, bishops are generally very reluctant to give permission to diocesan priests to become hermits; not only does the priest shortage make this difficult but the long period of discernment and preparation in one being admitted to the Sacrament of Orders strongly suggests that, short of a life-changing event or circumstances, eremitical life is contrary to the person's true vocation. 

Difficulties aside, if you wish to be a diocesan hermit, that is, a solitary canonical or solitary Catholic hermit, you could do that by making profession in the hands of your local bishop if he were to give permission; if you wished the second bishop to subsequently receive these vows he would need to agree but at the same time, though you would be a diocesan (Catholic) hermit in the universal Church, your original profession made in your prior diocese would cease to be binding. (In this process, this original profession would have undergone a substantial material change in the condition on which the vows depended and thus they would cease.)

I would think, however, as a matter of true governance (and your own responsibility), this acceptance by the second bishop would require your incardination in the new diocese as well. What I cannot envision is incardination as priest in one diocese and profession (or reception of one's vows) and consequent standing as a diocesan hermit in another. In such a case you would be a single subject attempting to live under the canonical authority of two different bishops and that strikes me as incoherent with neither bishop really having true jurisdiction.

Since I am not a canonist, however, I will refer you to one whom I know and trust with particular expertise with canon 603 but also in matters having to do with ordained and consecrated life more generally. While I believe I have given you accurate information, a second opinion might be of assistance. Meanwhile, I hope my response is helpful both as a direct answer to your question and as a way of thinking further about canon 603 vocations. Whether private or public commitment, whichever option you choose, I wish you good luck in your journey to/in eremitical life!

N.B. The canonist commented on the above question and essentially noted that it was a matter of jurisdiction and that a priest could not be bound in obedience to two different bishops in two different dioceses. Incardination binds a priest in obedience to the local ordinary; so does canon 603. The first bishop has no jurisdiction over affairs in the second diocese and so, cannot act to delegate authority or give permission in the way described in the question.