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.