28 April 2019

Sunday, Octave of Easter: "On Thomas' Doubt" (Reprise)

Today's Gospel focuses on the appearances of Jesus to the disciples, and one of the lessons one should draw from these stories is that we are indeed dealing with bodily resurrection, but therefore, with a kind of bodiliness which transcends the corporeality we know here and now. It is very clear that Jesus' presence among his disciples is not simply a spiritual one, in other words, and that part of Christian hope is the hope that we as embodied persons will come to perfection beyond the limits of death. It is not just our souls which are meant to be part of the new heaven and earth, but our whole selves, body and soul.

The scenario with Thomas continues this theme, but is contextualized in a way which leads homilists to focus on the whole dynamic of faith with seeing, and faith despite not having seen. It also makes doubt the same as unbelief and plays these off against faith, as though faith cannot also be served by doubt. But doubt and unbelief are decidedly NOT the same things. We rarely see Thomas as the one whose doubt (or whose demands!) SERVES true faith, and yet, that is what today's Gospel is about. Meanwhile, Thomas also tends to get a bad rap as the one who was separated from the community and doubted what he had not seen with his own eyes. The corollary here is that Thomas, in some kind of unjustified intransigence, will not simply listen to his brother and sister disciples and believe that the Lord has appeared to or visited them. But I think there is something far more significant going on in Thomas' proclamation that unless he sees the wounds inflicted on Jesus in the crucifixion, and even puts his fingers in the very nail holes, he will not believe.

What Thomas, I think, wants to make very clear is that we Christians believe in a crucified Christ, and that the resurrection was God's act of validation of Jesus as scandalously and ignominiously Crucified. I think Thomas knows on some level anyway, that insofar as the resurrection really occured, it does not nullify what was achieved on the cross. Instead it renders permanently valid what was revealed (made manifest and made real) there. In other words, Thomas knows if the resurrection is really God's validation of Jesus' life and establishes him as God's Christ, the Lord he will meet is the one permanently established and marked as the crucified One.

The crucifixion was not some great misunderstanding which could be wiped away by resurrection. Instead it was an integral part of the revelation (the making real in space and time, i.e., in history) of the nature of truly human and truly divine existence. Whether it is the Divine life, authentic human existence, or sinful human life --- all are marked and revealed in one way or another by (the signs of) Jesus' cross. For instance, ours is a God who has journeyed to the very darkest, godless places or realms associated with human sin, and has become Lord of even those places. He does not disdain them even now but is marked by them and will journey with us there --- whether we are open to him doing so or not --- because Jesus has implicated God there and marked him with the wounds of an exhaustive kenosis.

Another piece of this is that Jesus is, as Paul tells us, the end of the Law and it was Law that crucified him. The nail holes and wounds in Jesus' side and head -- indeed every laceration which marked him -- are a sign of legal execution and the collusion of Jewish and Roman leadership. We cannot forget this, and Thomas' insistence that he really be dealing with the Crucified One reminds us vividly of this fact as well. The Jewish and Roman leaders did not crucify (or demand the crucifixion of) Jesus because they misunderstood him, but because they understood all-too-clearly both Jesus and the immense counter cultural power he wielded in his weakness and poverty. They understood that he could turn the values of this world, its notions of power, authority, etc, on their heads. They knew that he could foment profound revolution (religious and otherwise) wherever he had followers. They chose to crucify him not only to put an end to his life, but to demonstrate he was a fraud who could not possibly have come from God; they chose to crucify him to terrify and cow those who might follow him into all the places discipleship might really lead them --- especially those places of human power and influence associated with religion and politics. The marks of the cross are a judgment (krisis) on this whole reality.

There are many gods and even (more and less partial) manifestations of the real God available to us today, and so there were to Thomas and his brethren in those first days and weeks following the crucifixion of Jesus. When Thomas made his declaration about what he would and would not believe, none of these were crucified Gods or would be worthy of being believed in if they were associated with such shame and godlessness. Thomas knew how very easy it would be for his brother and sister disciples to latch onto one of these, or even to fall back on entirely traditional notions in reaction to the terribly devastating disappointment of Jesus' crucifixion. He knew, I think, how easy it might be to call the crucifixion and all it symbolized a terrible misunderstanding which God simply reversed or wiped away with the resurrection -- a distasteful chapter on which God has simply turned the page. Thomas knew that false prophets showed up all the time. He knew that a God who is distant and all-powerful is much easier to believe in (and follow) than one who walks with us even in our sinfulness or who empties himself to become subject to the powers of sin and death, especially in the awful scandal and ignominy of the cross --- and who expects us to do essentially the same.

In other words, Thomas' doubt may have had less to do with the FACT of a resurrection, than it had to do with his concern that the disciples, in their desperation, guilt, and the immense social pressure they faced, had truly met and clung to the real Lord, the crucified One. In this way their own discipleship will come to be marked by the signs of the cross as they preach, suffer, and serve in the name (and so, in the paradoxical power) of THIS Lord and no other. Only he could inspire them; only he could sustain them; only he could accompany them wherever true discipleship led them.

Paul said, "I want to know Christ crucified and only Christ crucified" because only this Christ had transformed sinful, godless reality with his presence, only this Christ had redeemed even the realms of sin and death by remaining open to God even within these realities. Only this Christ would journey with us to the unexpected and unacceptable places, and in fact, only he would meet us there with the promise and presence of a God who would bring life out of them. Thomas, I believe, knew precisely what Paul would soon proclaim himself, and it is this, I think, which stands behind his insistence on seeing the wounds and put his fingers in the very nail holes. He wanted to be sure his brethren were putting their faith in the crucified One, the one who turned everything upside down and relativized every other picture of God we might believe in. He became the great doubter because of this, but I suspect instead, he was the most astute theologian among the original Apostles. He, like Paul, wanted to know Christ Crucified and ONLY Christ Crucified.

We should not trivialize Thomas' witness by transforming him into a run of the mill empiricist and doubter (though doubting is an important piece of growth in faith)!! Instead we should imitate his insistence: we are called upon to be followers of the Crucified God, and no other. Every version of God we meet should be closely examined for nail holes, and the lance wound. Every one should be checked for signs that this God is capable of and generous enough to assume such suffering on behalf of a creation he would reconcile and make whole. Only then do we know this IS the God proclaimed in the Gospels and the Epistles of Paul, the only one worthy of being followed even into the darkest reaches of human sin and death, the only One who meets us in the unexpected and even unacceptable place, the only one who loves us with an eternal love from which nothing can separate us.

22 April 2019

After the End (Reprise)

After Jesus' resurrection there are a series of "resurrection appearances" which serve to allow Jesus' disciples to come to know a living Christ and claim the new lives of those who now know that nothing at all, up to and including godless death, can separate us from the love of God. One of the most touching stories belonging to the Easter appearances is that of Peter's "rehabilitation" and recommissioning by Jesus. It is a continuation of the story begun yesterday as Jesus meets Peter and the other disciples while they are fishing but can catch nothing without him.

Peter, as impulsive as ever jumps into the sea to come to Jesus whom he recognizes as "the Lord".  How familiar to each of us is the regret and shame captured in the line, "In Peter's dreams, the cock still crowed"! I love the title of the following poem because on Good Friday it really was the end for any disciple of Jesus. Only on Easter Sunday is there forgiveness and a solution to both guilt and shame. Only on Easter Sunday is there a new beginning, a new creation, a new world with a new Lord. Only on Easter are the disciples given new and abundant lives and missions in the power and Name of the Risen Christ. John Shea does such a wonderful job of conveying this, not only with Peter, but with the disciples on the road to Emmaus and Mary of Magdala as well.

Like her friend
she would curse the barren tree
and glory in the lilies of the field.
She lived in noons and midnights
in those mounting moments
of high dance
when blood is wisdom and flesh love.
But now, before the violated cave
on the third day of her tears
she is a black pool of grief
spent upon the earth.
They have taken her dead Jesus,
unoiled and unkissed
to where desert flies and worms
more quickly work.
She suffers wounds that will not heal
and enters into the pain of God
where lives the gardener
who once exalted in her perfume
knew the extravagance of her hair
and now asks whom she seeks.

In Peter's dreams, the cock still crowed.
He returned to Galilee to throw nets into
the sea and watch them sink
like memories into darkness.

He did not curse the sun
that rolled down his back
or the wind that drove the fish
beyond his nets.
He only waited for the morning 
when the shore mist would lift
and from his boat he would see him.
Then after naked and impetuous swim
with the sea running from his eyes,
he would find a cook with holes in his hands
and stooped over dawn coals
who would offer him the Kingdom of God
for breakfast.

On the road that escapes Jerusalem
and winds along the ridge to Emmaus
two disillusioned youths
dragged home their crucified dream.
They had smelled "messiah" in the air
and rose to that scarred and ancient hope
only to mourn what might have been.
And now a sudden stranger
falls upon their loss
with excited words about mustard seeds
and surprises hidden at the heart of death
and that evil must be kissed upon the lips
and that every scream is redeemed for
it echoes in the ear of God,
and do you not understand:
what died upon the cross was fear.
They protested their right to despair,
but he said, "My Father's laughter fills
the silence of the tomb."
Because they did not understand,
they offered him food,
and in the breaking of the bread
they knew the imposter for who he was:
the arsonist of the heart.

After the end comes the conspiracy
of gardeners, cooks and strangers.

by John Shea, STD

21 April 2019

On Hermits, Home Visits, and "Appropriate Topics" for Conversation

[[Hi Sister Laurel! Happy Easter!!!  I wondered if you go home for Easter or what you do? If you are with your family or friends I wondered how that works. Do you just talk God-talk or do you talk about other things? Do you have to pretend not to be a hermit or need to "live a double life"? I'm asking because I heard someone saying they had to do that with her family --- I guess she is not Catholic. Is your family Catholic? Does being a hermit mean you only talk about "spiritual things"? You can tell I don't have any idea about this kind of thing so could you tell me a little bit about how you spend holidays and visits with friends and family?]]

Hi there and Happy Easter to you as well!  Good to hear from you again. Christ is risen, Alleluia!!

I know I have answered similar questions before so while I will write a new answer for you I hope you will look at On Family Visits and Visits With Friends and perhaps Visiting Family and friends: Followup Question. There are a couple of other posts under the label "Family Visits" which might be edifying, especially as they distinguish being an authentic hermit (that is, being oneself) versus being a stereotype or some sort of imagined "hermit" type. But to answer your questions directly,  I don't ordinarily go home for Easter. My liturgical life is centered on my parish and I need to be able to participate there for the sake of my prayer life more generally. Moreover the parish is my faith family so sharing with them to the extent I feel called to do that during any given year is important for the quality of my eremitical life. I might choose to go on retreat during Holy Week and the Triduum, but a home visit is not usually something I would do during this specific time.

But during home visits the one thing I do not do is pretend not to be a hermit. While my family is not Catholic, I do not live a double life at such times --- or at any other time for that matter. I am myself and while I don't expect my family (or my friends) to accommodate me in terms of prayer, liturgy, silence, solitude, meals, etc., I am myself and do not pretend otherwise. To do so is contrary to my vocation and to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is contrary to God's reconciling love and will to being and doing the truth within and through me. But consider that neither does this mean I play at some sort of role or adopt the pretense of this or that eremitical character. I am a hermit; I do not play at being one. This means I bring the silence of solitude and eremitical prayer to whatever situation I find myself in. Sometimes (rarely with family) that may mean explicit God-talk (good term, by the way; one I also use) --- as when I am with certain high school friends or Sister friends. But most times it will mean talking about the profoundly human in thoroughly human and everyday terms. After all, that is the way the Spirit works to sanctify any reality, no?

 So, during infrequent home visits or time away with friends, conversations revolve around our lives, our dreams, those we love, and those we struggle to love, the work and relationships which gives our lives meaning, failures, successes, memories, and (sometimes explicitly) the grace of God in all of this. There are walks and shared meals (including grace), remembered past times together, sightseeing, window shopping, and exclamations over shared experiences of beauty and the talent of artisans, lots of laughter, and often serious conversations as well. Is any of this "profane" (outside the precincts of the sacred)? Does any of it fall outside the realm or movement of the Holy Spirit? I don't think so. The compartmentalization of reality (and conversations about reality) into spiritual things and non-spiritual or profane things, especially in light of the Incarnate Christ who tore asunder any veil distinguishing the sacred from the profane, shows a profound misunderstanding of what an authentic spirituality looks like.

If someone you read claims to be a hermit and said they would only talk about spiritual things with relatives or friends I would suggest the following are true: 1) they are not truly a hermit -- though they may well be an isolated individual playing at being a hermit, 2) they are not possessed of a genuine or at least a mature spirituality, and 3) they are not particularly loving or open in the way they relate to others! Imagine demanding relatives and friends only talk about football, or politics because those dominate your life, or, more specifically, that they never mention the things which really move or excite or concern them because it does not fall within your own narrowly defined "spiritual" bailiwick? This demand limiting what folks can talk about with one is a false attempt to control reality while pointing to one's own supposed "spiritual status" or expertise; it is an implicit and illicit judgment on those whose spirituality may actually be more wholesome and integral than one's own. It certainly seems less pharisaical than a supposed "hermit" who can tolerate nothing but specifically "spiritual" conversation. Hermits live in and towards the silence of solitude but they are not hot house plants that cannot tolerate a more ordinary environment. To the extent they are authentic hermits I think just the opposite is true; they see and hear God everywhere and locate the Divine presence in almost every conversation or relationship even when that presence is not made explicit. After all, the Incarnation reveals how profoundly the ordinary belongs to and mediates the extraordinary reality we call God. Hermits should be capable of perceiving this Presence even in obscurity and profound brokenness.

One of the things we grow in as we grow spiritually is in our sense of how profoundly like as well as unlike others we are. Though our lifestyles, life experiences, and vocations may differ one from another, we come to see that we have the same yearnings, dreams, desires, needs, failings, limitations,  potentials, etc., as the persons all around us. We also come to be able to hear the deep questions, concerns, and doubts, and perceive the transcendent potential living deep within each person. In all of this are the roots of authentic spirituality and a compassion and love which marks such a spirituality. None of these need be dressed up in pious language --- though sometimes specifically theological language can be helpful in expressing these deep realities. Still, the authentically spiritual is profoundly human just as it is profoundly divine.

Thus, it seems to me that a hermit should certainly be able to negotiate the real world without the compartmentalization described in your question  or a similar fragmentation which seems to me to be more typical of sinfulness (alienation) than human wholeness and relatedness! After all, eremitical life humanizes us; it strips us of pretense and allows us to stand secure as our truest selves in the love of God. If a "hermit" cannot relate to others without the pious role-playing described in your question, then better she have nothing to do with family and friends! If she cannot relate to them in genuine love, sincere interest, empathy, and compassion without playing a role or donning some sort of silly stereotype as the "character" friends and family are supposed to indulge, then she had best stay in her "hermitage" without contact with others --- and I say this not only for the sake of these same others, but for the sake of the eremitical vocation this "hermit" claims to represent!

Sister Rachel Denton, Er Dio
Let me clarify one thing; I don't expect hermits (whether canonical or non canonical) to be perfect (teleioi) in living their lives though I do expect them to be on the way towards the telos/goal of their lives. Still, at the same time neither do I have sympathy for those who are really little more than walking stereotypes! There is little throughout the history of eremitical life that has been more harmful to the hermit vocation than creation-hating, misanthropic eccentrics styling themselves as hermits and expecting others to somehow kowtow to their supposed "superior spirituality". I am reminded that Jesus was criticized by religious leaders of his day as a drunkard and glutton (i.e., a party animal!) who ate with and hosted the poor and sinners. Jesus who was a paradigm of contemplative prayer, was, precisely for that reason, one who was entirely comfortable not only with God but also with others whether he was in the fields, apart with his disciples on the sea of Galilee, teaching in the Temple, resting and eating in the homes of tax collectors, walking amongst, healing, and exorcising the marginalized anawim, or praying in the wilderness. The folks he really did not get on with, however, were those he called hypocrites --- those whose behavior did not match their inner states, those who Lorded it over others as "spiritual leaders", or placed needless religious burdens on the shoulders of those who could not bear them.

I hope this is helpful. It's clearly something I feel passionately about!

Alleluia! Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen! Alleluia, Alleluia!

Christ is Risen, Alleluia, Alleluia!!! All good wishes for a wonderful Easter Season!!

For the next 50 days we have time to attend to what Jesus' death and resurrection changed. In light of these events we live in a different world than existed before them, and we ourselves, by virtue of our Baptism into Christ's death, are new creations as well. While all this makes beautiful poetry, and although as John Ciardi once reminded us poetry can save us in dark alleys, we do not base our lives on poetry alone. Objective reality was transformed with Jesus' passion and death; something astounding, universal, even cosmic in scope, happened in these events which had not only to do with our own salvation but with the recreation of all of reality. One of Paul's shorthand phrases for this transformation was "the death of death," something I hope to be able to look at a bit more as these 50 days unfold. We have already begun to see what happens in our Church as Christ's own life begins to shine forth more brightly in a myriad of small but significant ways. Not least is the figure of Francis who has many of us singing a heartfelt alleluia in gratitude to the Holy Spirit.

But, it is probably good to recall that the early Church struggled to make sense of the cross, and that faith in resurrection took some time to take hold. Surprisingly, no single theology of the cross is held as official, and variations --- many quite destructive --- exist throughout the Church. Even today a number of these affirm that in various ways God was reconciled to us rather than the other way around. Only in time did the Church come to terms with the scandalous death of Jesus and embrace him as risen, and so, as the Christ who reveals God's power in weakness. Only in time did she come to understand how different the world was for those who had been baptized into Jesus' death. The Church offers us a period of time to come to understand and embrace all of this as well; the time from Easter Sunday through Pentecost is, in part, geared to this.

But, today is a day of celebration, and a day to simply allow the shock and sadness of the cross to be completely relieved for the moment. Lent is over, the Triduum has reached a joyful climax, the season of Easter has begun and we once again sing alleluia at our liturgies. Though it will take time to fully understand and embrace all this means, through the Church's liturgies and the readings we have heard we do sense that we now live in a world where death has a different character and meaning than it did before Christ's resurrection and so does life. On this day darkness has given way to light, and senselessness to meaning -- even though we may not really be able to explain to ourselves or others exactly why or how. On this day we proclaim that Christ is risen! Sinful death could not hold him and it cannot hold us as a result. Alleluia! Alleluia!!

19 April 2019

Madman or Messiah: In Darkness We Wait in Hope (Reprise)

I admit that a pet peeve of mine associated with celebrating the Triduum in a parish setting is the inadequate way folks handle what should be periods of silence after Holy Thursday's Mass and reservation of the Eucharist and especially after the stations and celebration of Jesus' passion on Good Friday. After all, in the first instance our joy is bittersweet and marked by the anticipation of Jesus' betrayal and passion, while in the second instance we have just marked the death of Jesus; yet, there is a significant period of grief and uncertainty that we call "Holy Saturday" still standing between Jesus' death and his resurrection.

Silence is appropriate during these times; Easter is still distant. Allowing ourselves to live with something of the terrible disappointment and critical questions Jesus' disciples experienced as their entire world collapsed is a significant piece of coming to understand why we call today "Good" and tomorrow "Holy." It is important to appreciating the meaning of this three day liturgy we call Triduum and a dimension of coming to genuine and deepening hope. I have often thought the Church could do better with its celebration of Holy Saturday, but spending some time waiting and reflecting on who we would be (not to mention who God would be!) had Jesus stayed good and dead is something Good Friday (essentially beginning after Holy Thursday Mass) and Holy Saturday (beginning the evening after the passion) call for.

In explaining the theology of the Cross, Paul once said, "Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more." During Holy Week, the Gospel readings focus us on the first part of Paul's statement. Sin has increased to an extraordinary extent and the one people touted as the Son of God has been executed as a blaspheming godforsaken criminal. We watched the darkness and the threat to his life grow and cast the whole of Jesus' life into question.

In the Gospel for last Wednesday we heard John's version of the story of Judas' betrayal of Jesus and the prediction of Peter's denials as well. For weeks before this we had been hearing stories of a growing darkness and threat centered on the person of Jesus. Pharisees and Scribes were irritated and angry with Jesus at the facile way he broke Sabbath rules or his easy communion with and forgiveness of sinners. That he spoke with an authority the people recognized as new and surpassing theirs was also problematical. Family and disciples failed to understand him, thought him crazy, urged him to go to Jerusalem to work wonders and become famous.

Even his miracles were disquieting, not only because they increased the negative reaction of the religious leadership and the fear of the Romans as the darkness and threat continued to grow alongside them, but because Jesus himself seems to give us the sense that they are insufficient  and lead to misunderstandings and distortions of who he is or what he is really about. "Be silent!" we often hear him say. "Tell no one about this!" he instructs in the face of the increasing threat to his life. Futile instructions, of course, and, as those healed proclaim the wonders of God's grace in their lives, the darkness and threat to Jesus grows; The night comes ever nearer and we know that if evil is to be defeated, it must occur on a much more profound level than even thousands of such miracles.

In the last two weeks of Lent, the readings give us the sense that the last nine months of Jesus' life and active ministry was punctuated by retreat to a variety of safe houses as the priestly aristocracy actively looked for ways to kill him. He attended festivals in secret and the threat of stoning recurred again and again. Yet, inexplicably "He slipped away" we are told or, "They were unable to find an opening." The darkness is held at bay, barely. It is held in check by the love of the people surrounding Jesus. Barely. And in the last safe house on the eve of Passover as darkness closes in on every side Jesus celebrated a final Eucharist with his friends and disciples. He washed their feet, reclined at table with them like free men did. And yet, profoundly troubled, Jesus spoke of his impending betrayal by Judas. None of the disciples, not even the beloved disciple understood what was happening. There is one last chance for Judas to change his mind as Jesus hands him a morsel of bread in friendship and love. God's covenant faithfulness is maintained.

But Satan enters Judas' heart and a friend of Jesus becomes his accuser --- the meaning of the term Satan here --- and the darkness enters this last safe house of light and friendship, faith and fellowship. It was night, John says. It was night. Judas' heart is the opening needed for the threatening darkness to engulf this place and Jesus as well. The prediction of Peter's denials tells us this "night" will get darker and colder and more empty yet.  But in John's story, when everything is at its darkest and lowest, Jesus exclaims in a kind of victory cry: [[ Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in him!]] Here as darkness envelopes everything, Jesus exults that authentically human being is revealed, made known and made real in space and time; here, in the midst of  the deepening "Night" God too is revealed and made fully known and real in space and time. It is either the cry of a messiah who will overcome evil right at its heart --- or it is the cry of a madman who cannot recognize or admit the victory of evil as it swallows him up. In the midst of these days of death and vigil, we do not really know which. At the end of these three days we call Triduum we will see what the answer is.

Today, the Friday we call "Good," the darkness intensified. During the night Jesus was arrested and "tried" by the Sanhedrin with the help of false witnesses, desertion by his disciples, and Judas' betrayal. Today he was brought before the Romans, tried, found innocent, flogged in an attempt at political appeasement and then handed over anyway by a fearful self-absorbed leader whose greater concern was for his own position to those who would kill him. There was betrayal, of consciences, of friendships, of discipleship and covenantal bonds on every side but God's. The night continued to deepen and the threat could not be greater.  Jesus was crucified and eventually cried out his experience of abandonment even by God. He descended into the ultimate godlessness, loneliness, and powerlessness we call hell. The darkness became almost total. We ourselves can see nothing else. That is where Good Friday and Holy Saturday leave us.

And the question these events raises haunts the night and our own minds and hearts: namely, messiah or madman? Is Jesus simply another idealistic but mistaken person crushed by the cold, emptiness, and darkness of evil --- good and wondrous though his own works were? (cf Gospel for last Friday: John 10:31-42.) Is this darkness and emptiness the whole of the reality in which we live? Was Jesus' preaching of the reality of God's reign and his trust in God in vain? Is the God he proclaimed, the God in whom we also trust incapable of redeeming failure, sin and death --- even to the point of absolute lostness? Does he consign sinners to these without real hope because God's justice differs from his mercy? The questions associated with Jesus' death on the Cross multiply and we Christians wait in the darkness today and tomorrow. We fast and pray and try to hold onto hope that the one we called messiah, teacher, friend, beloved,  brother and Lord, was not simply deluded --- or worse --- and that we Christians are not, as Paul puts the matter, the greatest fools, the most pitiable of all.

We have seen sin increase to immeasurable degrees; and though we do not see how it is possible we would like to think that Paul was right and that grace will abound all the more. But on this day we call "good" and on the Saturday we call "holy" we wait. Bereft, but hopeful, we wait.

17 April 2019

On the Theology of the Cross: Emmanuel Fully Revealed (Reprised and Tweaked)

Three months ago I did a reflection for my parish. I noted that all through Advent we sing Veni, Veni, Emmanuel and pray that God will really reveal Godself as Emmanuel, the God who is with us. I also noted that we may not always realize the depth of meaning captured in the name Emmanuel. We may not realize the degree of solidarity with us and the whole of creation it points to. There are several reasons here. First we tend to use Emmanuel only during Advent and Christmastide so we stop reflecting on the meaning or theological implications of the name. Secondly, we are used to thinking of a relatively impersonal God borrowed from Greek philosophy; he is omnipresent rather like air is present in our lives. He seems already to be "Emmanuel". And thirdly, we tend to forget that the word "reveal" does not only mean "to make known," but also "to make real in space and time." The God who is revealed in space and time as Emmanuel is the God who enters exhaustively into the circumstances and lives of his Creation and makes these part of his own life.

Thus, just as the Incarnation of the Word of God happens over the whole of Jesus' life and death and not merely with Jesus' conception or nativity, so too does God require the entire life and death of Jesus to achieve the degree of solidarity with us that makes him the Emmanuel he wills to be. There is a double "movement" involved here, the movement of descent and ascent, kenosis and theosis. Not only does God in Christ become implicated in the whole of human experience but in that same Christ God takes the whole of the human situation and experience into Godself. We talk about this by saying that through the Christ Event heaven and earth interpenetrate one another and one day will be all in all or, again, that "the Kingdom of God is at hand." John the Evangelist says it again and again with the language of mutual indwelling and union: "I am in him and he is in me," "he who sees me sees the one who sent me", "the Father and I are One." Paul affirms it in Romans 8 when he exults, "Nothing [at all in heaven or on earth] can separate us from the Love of God."

And so in Jesus' active ministry he companions us and heals us; he exorcises our demons, teaches, feeds, forgives and sanctifies us. He is mentor and brother and Lord. He bears our stupidities and fear, our misunderstandings, resistance, and even our hostility and betrayals. But the revelation of God as Emmanuel means much more besides; as we move into the Triduum we begin to celebrate the exhaustive revelation, the exhaustive realization of an eternally-willed solidarity with us whose extent we can hardly imagine. In Christ and especially in his passion and death God comes to us in the unexpected and even the unacceptable place. Three dimensions of the cross especially allow us to see the depth of solidarity with us our God embraces in Christ: failure, suffering unto death, and lostness or godforsakenness. Together they reveal our God as Emmanuel --- the one who is with us as the one from whom nothing can ever ultimately separate us because in Christ those things become part of God's own life.

Jesus comes to the cross having failed in his mission. Had he succeeded there would have been no betrayal, no trial, no torture and no crucifixion. But Jesus remains open to God and trusts in his capacity to redeem any failure; thus even failure can serve the Kingdom of God. Jesus suffers to the point of death and suffers more profoundly than any person in history we can name --- not because he hurt more profoundly than others but because he was more vulnerable to it and chose to embrace that vulnerability without mitigation. Suffering per se is not salvific, but Jesus' openness and responsiveness to God in the face of suffering is. Thus, suffering even unto death is transformed into a potential sacrament of God's presence. Finally, Jesus suffers the lostness of godforsakenness or abandonment by God --- the ultimate separation from God due to sin. This is the meaning of not just death but death on a cross. In this death Jesus again remains open to the God who reveals himself most exhaustively as Emmanuel, God With Us, and takes even the lostness of sin into himself and makes it his own. After all, as the NT reminds us, it is the sick and lost for whom God in Christ comes.

As I noted back in January, John C. Dwyer, my major Theology professor for BA and MA work back in the 1970's described God's revelation of self on the cross (God's making himself known and personally present even in those places from whence we exclude him) --- the exhaustive coming of God as Emmanuel --- in this way:

[[Through Jesus, the broken being of the world enters the personal life of the everlasting God, and this God shares in the broken being of the world. God is eternally committed to this world, and this commitment becomes full and final in his personal presence within this weak and broken man on the cross. In him the eternal one takes our destiny upon himself --- a destiny of estrangement, separation, meaninglessness, and despair. But at this moment the emptiness and alienation that mar and mark the human situation become once and for all, in time and eternity, the ways of God. God is with this broken man in suffering and in failure, in darkness and at the edge of despair, and for this reason suffering and failure, darkness and hopelessness will never again be signs of the separation of man from God. God identifies himself with the man on the cross, and for this reason everything we think of as manifesting the absence of God will, for the rest of time, be capable of manifesting his presence --- up to and including death itself.]]

He continues,

[[Jesus is rejected and his mission fails, but God participates in this failure, so that failure itself can become a vehicle of his presence, his being here for us. Jesus is weak, but his weakness is God's own, and so weakness itself can be something to glory in. Jesus' death exposes the weakness and insecurity of our situation, but God made them his own; at the end of the road, where abandonment is total and all the props are gone, he is there. At the moment when an abyss yawns beneath the shaken foundations of the world and self, God is there in the depths, and the abyss becomes a ground. Because God was in this broken man who died on the cross, although our hold on existence is fragile, and although we walk in the shadow of death all the days of our lives, and although we live under the spell of a nameless dread against which we can do nothing, the message of the cross is good news indeed: rejoice in your fragility and weakness; rejoice even in that nameless dread because God has been there and nothing can separate you from him. It has all been conquered, not by any power in the world or in yourself, but by God. When God takes death into himself it means not the end of God but the end of death.]] Dwyer, John C., Son of Man Son of God, a New Language for Faith, p 182-183.

Tweak, Holy Week 2019:

At last Friday's Communion Service I asked folks in my parish to turn things around a bit and to accompany Jesus during Holy Week. Throughout the year we have celebrated all the ways Jesus ministers to us; we have brought our tears and griefs to Him, our perplexities and uncertainties, our illnesses and woundedness, our broken dreams and disappointments -- as well as our joys and moments of celebration. Now in our liturgical year the rhythm of things change, the dynamics shift; we are asked to allow all of these things and the healing and comfort Jesus has brought us right along to be transformed into a ground of empathy, compassion, and the source of a new depth of discipleship for Jesus' own sake.

Though we are each committed to prayer, we may forget that we pray so that God's own will and nature can be realized in us and in our world. We may need to be reminded that in prayer we pour out our own hearts to God not merely that God may meet our deficiencies, reconcile us and heal our own brokenness, but so that God might truly be the Emmanuel (He) decided to be from the beginning. This week reminds us that nothing can separate us from the Love of God; let us walk through this week and  accompany Christ in the unique ways his redemptive ministry to us makes possible. Let us be there for him in a way which supports his own openness to God and incarnates the truth of a love which journeys to the ultimate depths of sin and lostness for all of us. During this Holy week, let us be Emmanuel for Christ as he is always Emmanuel for us and empowers us to be for one another!

16 April 2019

On Canon 603 and Proliferating Laws on Eremitical Life

[[Dear Sister, I saw a video recently by a hermit who said the development of canonical standing was kind of humorous to her. After all, hermits are and always have been uncommon, unique individuals so that trying to apply laws to them seemed counterintuitive (my word, not hers!). The result, she seemed to be saying, was that there was a proliferation of laws, rules, and precedents correcting earlier laws and more and more trying to restrain and then correct errors. My question is about canon 603 in light of this video and the followup one which spoke of canon 603 being "manipulated". Is it an evolving thing and does it lead to more laws? Was it the result of past attempts to write laws for hermits? Did it correct abuses? Does law prevent you from being free as a hermit or from being an individual?]]

Thanks for your questions. There are other articles on similar questions so take a look at the topics to your right; check under the labels "canon 603 - history of" and "canon 603 and freedom". One article is entitled "On Herding Cats" which responds to a humorous description by a hermit in Australia. In general no, there have not been many canon laws regarding hermits. Canon 603 is the single canon regarding eremitical life existing in the Church's universal law. Neither is it a redaction of earlier canon law (the 1917 Code) which never addressed eremitical life at all. Canon 603 is a new thing; promulgated in 1983 it represents the first time ever eremitical life has been recognized as a form of consecrated life in the entire Church. Of course, throughout the history of the church individual bishops have sponsored or supervised hermits in their own dioceses. Local laws and customs developed from place to place before hermits largely died out in the Western church. Canon 603 then, far from representing an instance of proliferating laws, represents a single canon governing solitary eremitical life in the universal church and replacing any existing and varying statutes in individual dioceses.

Canon 603 and a Putative Proliferation of Laws, Rules, Precedents, etc:

I have been personally mystified by references to and accusations of supposed proliferating laws and rules when these were mentioned in the past because there is simply no such thing. But recently I heard a comment by someone about this which gave me a clue to what the person who posts most about this was actually talking about. Apparently she has been referring to the various terms that must be defined and understood in order to actually understand canon 603, the nature of profession, initiation into the consecrated state, the nature of a legitimate superior, what canon 603 means by referring to a bishop as the hermit's director, the meaning of the word "status" in "canonical status", and other such things. Because there was ignorance about the technical meaning of terms this commentator seems to have mistakenly taken explanations as "proliferating laws, rules, precedents, etc." So, for instance, one might speak of consecrating oneself to God, but find that despite the common (mis)use of this phrase Vatican II was careful and clear to speak of dedicating oneself while it distinguished that from "consecration" which is always and only God's own work.

Similarly one might speak of "professing" private vows only to find that for the Church herself, the term profession more accurately refers to a public act of dedication which is received in the name of the church and initiates one into a new state of life. Private vows are not an act of profession. Likewise, pointing out that the term "status" and the "desire for canonical status" refer to "standing in law" and the "desire for such standing" and not to some sort of social prestige or prideful desire, is not a matter of creating new rules or precedents; it is simply a matter of clarifying the meaning of terms already well-understood in the Church itself and undergirding a meaningful reading of canon 603. Spelling out the theological contexts for terms, or the historical context of something like canon 603 does not mean one is creating rules or precedents though it well may point out when one has used terms inaccurately and been led to misunderstand the nature of the Church's theology of consecrated or eremitical life.

Canon 603, a Way of Addressing Abuses?

Canon 603 was not promulgated to fight abuses; it was created to address a significant deficiency in the Church's theology and codification of consecrated life and respond to the way the Holy Spirit was at work in the Church; namely, it was promulgated to establish and include solitary eremitical life as a form of that life. Remember, as noted above, solitary eremitical life had pretty much died out in the Western Church. Congregations like the Carthusians and Camaldolese kept eremitical life alive within a disciplined and nurturing context but solitary hermits had nothing like this unless their diocese set some rules or customs for them. At the same time the few lay hermits that existed were relatively invisible to everyone; a canon to initiate them into the consecrated state so that one could contend with abuses would have been absurd and counterproductive. (One does not call attention to hidden abuses that harm no one, create a canon to raise those committing abuses these to a public vocation, and then use more canons to exclude these hermits from the consecrated state!)

In any case, when more than a dozen monks in solemn vows for years discovered they were called to greater solitude in the 20C, their communities could not accommodate hermits in their midst; the monks were required to either give up on becoming hermits or leave their vows and monasteries, become secularized and live eremitical life in this new context. The Bishop who became their bishop protector intervened at Vatican II regarding the great gift eremitical life was to the Church and asked the Council to recognize these vocations in law. Eventually (@20 years later) canon 603 was the result of Bishop Remi De Roo's intervention.

Canon 603 and Freedom:

My own experience of canon 603 is that it creates freedom, specifically, the freedom to live as a hermit in the heart of the Church without concern for what folks in the world around me think of that or expect. The Church, in the persons of my bishop and others discerned this vocation with me and affirmed me in it by admitting me to public profession and consecration. I do not need to worry whether this is my vocation and am free to explore its boundaries and shape in whatever way the Spirit calls me to do. Canon 603 sets forth the central elements which must be lived if one is to be a hermit as the Church understands this vocation but one of these elements is a Rule which the hermit herself creates on the basis of her own experience of responding to the grace of God over time in the silence of solitude. This means canon 603 is a wonderful combination of non-negotiable elements and personal flexibility and responsiveness. Since I understand freedom as the power to be the one whom one is called to be even (and especially) in the midst of constraints, this combination corresponds to and nurtures genuine freedom and individuality in one called to c 603 eremitical life. (Meanwhile, the non-negotiable elements, mutual discernment, and life under authority protects against an individualism which is rampant in today's culture.)

One question that may have been implicit in your question about c 603 being an evolving thing is whether canon 603 itself will become more complicated or whether new canons will be added to the Code (or sections to the canon itself) to clarify questions which may be problematical. My sense is no hermit needs additional canons or sections of canons added to the Code. On the other hand we do want to see education of bishops and vicars re the distinction between lone pious individuals and hermits along with accounts of what kind of formation and experience has been essential for those who have been professed for some time and which were necessary for these hermits' success under c. 603; similarly there should be some way to convey the kinds of time frames which are typically required for this vocation since these do not correspond to canon law for those in religious institutes.

Finally, one issue that comes up is the nature of a livable Rule and the time and experience it takes to actually write one that can be binding in law. I have recommended and continue to recommend writing several Rules over several stages of personal formation as a way of reflecting one's experience and stages of growth as one approaches profession; I recognize that such a project can guide assistance with formation and mutual discernment with one's diocese, but most dioceses know nothing of this. Still, the purpose of such a suggestion to dioceses is not to create more laws but rather to help dioceses ensure they are professing good candidates and also have a way to allow more candidates to participate in a formation and  mutual discernment processes which are 1) not onerous to the diocese, 2) is individualized and flexible for the hermit and, 3) is sufficiently informative for all involved in working with and evaluating the vocation at hand. When the candidate writes several Rules over time they pretty much guide their own formation, identify their own needs in this process, and give invaluable information to those who assist in formation and participate in a meaningful process of mutual ecclesial discernment.


There has been no proliferation of laws, rules, or precedents with regard to Canon 603 except those precedents naturally resulting from the use of the canon to accommodate solitary eremitical vocations wisely. The explanation of technical terminology for those who are ignorant of such does not constitute the creation of new rules, laws, or precedents. Because one does not understand one is not initiated into the consecrated state by private vows, or that a person living eremitical life in the lay state is a lay hermit, this does not make explanations of such things "additional laws", made up terms, etc. Freedom is the power to be the persons we are called to be. There are always constraints in life. Canon 603 sets up necessary constraints as it empowers a more essential and edifying freedom to live eremitical life in a world which militates against it and authentic solitude in every way. Similarly it empowers individual eremitical life which is both traditional, countercultural, and flexible even as it militates against individualism.

14 April 2019

What Happens When Diocesan Hermits are Accused of Crimes?

[[Dear Sister, what happens to a diocesan hermit who commits a crime? Let's suppose it is a serious crime against another person. What does a diocese do in such a case? Can they just cut the hermit/ess loose or say they want nothing  to do with him/her? Are more canon laws needed to deal with such a case?]]

Unusual questions! Well, nonetheless, were such a thing to happen  there is a canonical process which can serve in such instances. Presuming the action is truly criminal and established in fact (for instance, the hermit openly admits to having done this or is taken to court and found guilty of this crime), and that not acting otherwise would result in scandal to the diocese, the diocese would probably ultimately take steps to dispense the hermit's vows. Such dispensation would release the hermit from the consecrated state of life and from the public rights and obligations associated with her profession and initiation into this state (her consecration). (This, by the way, does not change the fact that God has consecrated her, but it does dispense her from the stable state of life associated with consecration and thus too from being a religious and from the ways a religious may style him/herself.)

Remember, however, that a diocese cannot do this without established grounds. Additionally, the hermit has canonical rights to respond to accusations, to confront the accuser and supposed facts of the case, and to appeal decisions and processes, etc. "Canonical status" means "standing in law" and means a mutually binding relationship in law results when public vows are received by a legitimate superior in the name of the church. The hermit is commissioned to live eremitical life in the name of the universal church while legitimate superiors/the local church are more immediately responsible both to the hermit, to the universal church, and to the vocation itself to support the hermit in this. They cannot simply say they want nothing to do with the hermit when there are public vows binding in a mutual and public relationship. To do this would be both illegitimate and immoral --- a kind of betrayal and malfeasance on the part of the local church/ordinary toward both hermit and c 603 vocation per se. My own sense is that long before canonical disciplinary actions are initiated, the diocese (Vicar for religious or bishop) would contact the hermit to discuss the matter --- particularly if the accuser and accusations are at all credible.

If accusations are made that are not particularly credible however, I am not sure a diocese would even bother the hermit unless they are concerned for her wellbeing or believe she has already been troubled in some way by such accusations. In such an instance, while bypassing contacting the hermit, a diocese might well encourage an accuser to take civil action as part of establishing both their own credibility (or incredibility) as well as that of the  accusations.  In such a case it is likely the hermit or his/her delegate would be the one contacting the diocese (bishop/bishop's office, Vicar for Religious) to inform them that s/he has been served with some kind of legal warrant, suit, order of protection, etc.. At the same time the hermit's delegate would serve as the hermit's advocate with and for the diocese because s/he knows the hermit best and would be in the best position to ensure both the truth, the hermit's solitude and her well-being.

In any case, all of this is part of establishing the credibility of accusations and assuring the hermit is able to continue living his/her vocation with a minimum of disruption or existential angst. It is also a way the diocese itself, but especially the hermit's bishop and vicar (for Religious), can get additional detailed information on the hermit's life from folks who serve the diocese in this specific capacity and know the hermit intimately --- and who can thus support the hermit without unnecessarily calling him/her into the chancery for conversations beyond, perhaps, an initial pastoral conversation to inform him/her of the situation. (Please note that in some dioceses hermits have relatively close relationships with their bishops; the dynamics in such instances might well differ than in the case of larger (Arch)dioceses or those where new bishops have taken over for those who have previously known and worked with the diocesan hermit but who have died or moved on to a new office/diocese.)

Your questions have to do with actual crimes should those ever occur, but the more important and always-relevant dimension of my response underscores the ecclesial nature of the diocesan eremitical vocation and the mutual legal-pastoral covenantal relationship that obtains from public profession and consecration which are received or mediated by a legitimate superior acting in the Church's name. This exists in any case. The process referred to re dispensation of vows which is initiated by the superior rather than at the request of the hermit exists apart from actual crimes and may be used if the hermit is not living her vocation well or is in some way causing scandal.

In such cases, as I understand them, the hermit is given a chance to moderate or otherwise modify her behavior; if the behavior stems from external circumstances that are not entirely under her control a diocese will work with her to assist her to find a solution. Only when this proves impossible and the situation seems to be a continuing one rather than clearly temporary, or when the hermit refuses to work with the diocese or modify problematical behavior will a diocese act in a way which may (need to) lead to dispensation. Again, as I have said here any number of times, the diocesan eremitical vocation is understood to be a gift of God to the Church and world; both the diocese and the hermit are charged with honoring it appropriately and stand in mutual ecclesial relationship to allow God to empower this.

First Bible Study Series Concludes: What's Next?

Deo Gratias! Last Wednesday evening I finished the final  meeting of the series on the Parables of Jesus. I am feeling both exhilarated and a bit exhausted, but more than anything I am feeling grateful to God for sustaining this project and for moving me to take it on! One of the more surprising findings from these last nine weeks (we took one week off on Ash Wednesday) was how well this particular activity meshed with my eremitical life.

I wrote about this earlier; I noted that far from detracting from my eremitical vocation it underscored, nourished, and inspired it. I have known for a long time that teaching is one of the best ways to learn (writing is another!). Neither have I been slack in reading Scripture as a central formative pillar of my own vocation. Even so, the chance to teach a few of the parables, to sit with others who share their own readings of these texts, who spend time together in silent lectio or just discussing different "takes" and conclusions and struggling with stories that have the power to do justice in an unjust world has been incredibly formative for me. And of course it reminds me of the third "good" or pillar of Camaldolese life, viz, evangelization and a painting by Brother Emmanuel O'Herlihy, OSB of this dimension of Camaldolese life; it shows two Camaldolese monks, sharing the Scriptures.

On Wednesday morning, as we worked through the very difficult parable of the "shrewd manager (steward)", one person sat back after I had suggested one reading or conclusion re the steward and said softly: "Oh, I don't know about that, I don't know about that." She was thoughtful, doubtful, uncomfortable, and honest. Then, a while later, she was speaking again when she stopped, looked like she had just realized something, and then said, "Is it like this? If it is then (gesturing with her hands) it turns everything upside down!" And then she commented on the sense it made of things. She was more than a little stunned by what she had seen.

And what she had seen was precisely the way Jesus' parables work to orient, disorient, and then finally to reorient us to the Kingdom of God! It was an incredible moment for me as I watched happen the very thing I had taught and hoped for for each person in the group!  Others in the group realized exactly what had happened --- for they had had similar moments, though not as public perhaps! It was SO gratifying for me, but not for myself so much as for the parables of Jesus  --- for the power of the word of God and my strong sense that even if I sometimes felt unprepared to teach this effectively, the parables themselves would carry the day!

And so we are planning a second series of Bible Study at St Perpetua's Catholic Community to be completed before Summer arrives. The topic selected after input from both the morning and evening groups is, "The Sermon on the Mount" focusing especially on the Beatitudes and the Lord's Prayer. In particular we will approach the Beatitudes from the perspective of virtue ethics, an approach to Moral theology which is significant in the contemporary Church --- just as it was important in the ethics of the Church Fathers.

For a long time the Beatitudes were seen as law and taught as impossible for most people to live. Some taught they were Evangelical counsels suitable only for religious or priests but not for the laity as a whole. Others (Luther, for instance) taught they were so impossible for anyone they were meant merely to convict people of their incapacity so they would then throw themselves on the mercy of God --- a variation on what St Paul taught about the Law (Ten Commandments, Torah). But virtue ethics are a piece of allowing Christians to take the Beatitudes seriously as a people graced by God and grow in the virtues (habits of heart, attitudes toward life and reality) which mark disciples of Jesus Christ. Meanwhile, the Lord's Prayer, the very heart of the Sermon, is another key to understanding the nature of human happiness and wholeness or completion spelled out in the sermon; it is a model or paradigm of all authentic prayer which itself is the heart of authentic human life. It should be an incredibly nourishing and challenging series!

The tentative dates for this next series will be 15. May - the end of June (26th or 27th) and once again, there will be eight meetings, one on Wednesday mornings and one in the evening (possibly on Thursday). (More on this soon!) As with the series on Jesus' parables, folks will be able to choose to come either time and mix and match as their schedules require.)

09 April 2019

Discerning Eremitical Life: A Matter of NOT Getting the Cart Before the Horse

[[Dear Sister Laurel, I liked your post on the stages of development in a hermit's prayer. What happens if a person is not a contemplative? Would becoming a contemplative add a lot of time to a process of discernment or formation?]]

Thanks for your questions and comments! The way you are picturing things suggests to me that you have things backwards, a kind of "cart before the horse" way of thinking of the way one becomes a hermit. You see, there is or can be no discernment or formation process in eremitical life unless one is already a contemplative who feels called to greater silence and solitude, and perhaps, to eremitical solitude. Eremitical life is always a contemplative life; it is the radicalization --- the deepening and extension of contemplative life to its furthest roots or limits in terms of silence, solitude, and assiduous prayer. Because prayer is first and last a matter of opening ourselves to the presence and love of God alive and at work in and around us, it always finds its fullest expression in contemplative listening, contemplative responsiveness.

Moreover, as important as contemplative prayer is, it is not enough to pray contemplatively if one is seriously discerning a vocation to eremitical solitude. One must have moved from contemplative prayer to contemplative living where the whole of one's life is marked by silence, solitude, attentiveness to the Mystery and presence of God in all of life's everydayness, and the cultivation of a love which embraces the whole of creation. When one has "achieved" this kind of life one may find one is called to even greater silence and solitude and, in fact, to "the silence of solitude" which characterizes eremitical life as both its goal and charism. In this form of solitude God becomes the sole source of meaning and validation of one's life and one embraces the commission to witness to the fact that for every person only God is sufficient to complete us and constitute us in wholeness and holiness. One witnesses to the sacrifices required to say with one's life: solitude is the redemption of isolation and life in and of God is worth every renunciation.

Thus, becoming a contemplative does not add time to one's discernment and formation as a hermit. It precedes these things and is their prerequisite. In practical terms a congregation or diocese will not even entertain a person's supposed desire to live an eremitical life until they have developed and persevered in contemplative prayer/life for some years. You see, given the various reasons one may desire to live life alone -- most of them invalid and incompatible with an eremitical vocation --- this is the foundation of eremitical life and so, it is part of the foundation of any credible process of discernment or formation for such a vocation.

08 April 2019

Stages of Growth in Prayer Associated With Eremitical Vocations

Hi Sister, I understand there need to be stages of growth or maturation in coming to the eremitical life. You have written that one needs to move or transition from being a lone individual to being a hermit in some essential sense [before transitioning to actual eremitical life]. Are there any changes in one's prayer life that need to occur before one becomes a hermit in this sense? How can one recognize the stages of growth involved? Thank you!]]

Great questions and questions that make more explicit the track of development or maturation which is implicit to the various transitions I have written about using terms like lone individual, hermit in an essential sense, and then, authentic hermit life! Assuming one has made the critical shift from individualism to person-in-community and for others, one of the most significant shifts that takes place in a development or shift to eremitical life is the shift to contemplative prayer and then to contemplative life. From there one needs to move toward greater degrees of solitude and silence. At this stage one may or may not have transitioned into being a hermit in some essential sense because ordinarily, one comes to this stage without becoming  or needing to become a hermit in any sense of the term. One may need significant degrees of silence and solitude (including some periods of extended solitude) but by itself, this will not make one a hermit in any sense of the term. Still, in time -- if one perseveres in this way of life and prayer -- it will raise the question whether the person might require fulltime solitude to fulfill their vocation to authentic human existence in Christ. I suggest that when the answer to this question seems to be "yes" and one begins to do what is necessary to reflect and honor this answer, one will be a hermit in some essential sense and be  moving towards being a hermit in a formal sense as well.

Beyond a need for greater physical solitude, even some extended solitude then, one will find that one's relationship with God is not only the primary relationship of one's life, but that this relationship requires fulltime solitude. At the same time one will realize that paradoxically one's mature love for others requires this same kind of solitude and that it is a fundamental gift to and model for them and the love God has for them. All of this is reflected in one's changing prayer life. Similarly, if truly one has an eremitical vocation,  one will discern that the silence of solitude itself is necessary in order that one may be the person God calls them to be and that this reality will not only be the context for coming to fullness of life (makarios, flourishing, and teleios, wholeness -- as in the beatitudes), but that it will therefore also be the goal and charism (gift quality) of one's life.

This process of growth is not a simple or an easy one and it takes time and significant and assisted discernment (with spiritual directors, superiors, significant friends, etc.) to negotiate the shifts in perception, need, and response to these that must occur. In other words, one does not wake up one morning after some significant failure in active ministry or even some significant shift in one's health or other circumstances and decide one has a call to eremitical life. This is completely wrongheaded and fails to understand either the process of discernment or the nature and importance of eremitical life. The shift from active ministry and prayer, to contemplative prayer, then to contemplative life per se, to contemplative life with greater silence and solitude, and then finally (and rarely) to full-time silence and solitude which leads one to understand the "silence of solitude" (not just silence and solitude but a special form of hesychasm or quies) as the very goal and charism of one's life, is a serious and long term process. It cannot be short-circuited and must not be short-changed.

In the history of c 603, the canon governing my own vocation, this process was modeled by monks who, over long years in cenobitical life came to require greater solitude, and then after more time, came to see their need to live as hermits -- first within their monastic communities, and when this was not possible because of the community's lack of proper law accommodating them in this matter, were required to be secularized and dispensed from solemn profession! (Consider the sacrifice and compelling nature of a call to eremitical solitude in such lives!)

Only after years of living like this, then forming lauras of similarly-minded persons under a bishop protector were these individuals able to live the eremitical life they truly felt called to --- but at the same time, only over this period of formation and formation's necessary struggles and transitions were their eremitical vocations truly discerned and embraced. In all of this one's relationship with God, and so, one's prayer, shifts from that associated with an active life, to contemplative in nature, then to that associated with a contemplative life with even greater silence and solitude, and finally to that associated with eremitical life (contemplative life in and for the silence of solitude and all that implies). Again, this means serious struggle and discernment; it will also mean significant sacrifice in service of human wholeness and the glory of God.

When a person approaches a diocese, for instance, and petitions for admittance to profession under canon 603, they may be dismayed that they are not simply approved for this admission and instead are told that the discernment process is a long and mutual one. But whether one comes never even having lived alone, or never having lived significant silence and solitude much less eremitical "silence of solitude", or whether one comes to the diocese as one who has experienced these things, the discernment will still need to indicate one has negotiated all those stages noted above -- and more besides -- if one is ever to be admitted to profession under canon 603. In some cases a person may have enough experience, personal formation, and discernment to allow them to be considered for temporary profession, but before perpetual profession one will have negotiated all of the stages noted above and will have discerned a genuine calling with their own director and diocesan personnel as well.

I wanted to thank you again for your question.  I wish I could leave out the step of moving from being a "lone individual" from the discussion, but because canon 603 is open to those who have never lived community as Religious cenobites and because our culture is profoundly individualistic --- this category has to be considered as a kind of critical differential diagnosis which must be accomplished by those concerned with discerning truly solitary eremitical vocations on behalf of the Church. Again, thanks for raising the question of shifts in prayer. It allowed me to think freshly about the process of discerning and being formed in an eremitical vocation and I very much appreciate that!

03 April 2019

Cyprian Consiglio, New Evangelization: The Camaldolese Response

I heard this a year or so ago and never shared it. Since it shares the Camaldolese values I also honor in my own eremitical life --- especially on the ecclesial nature of contemplative life and prayer I thought it was a good time to post it here.