31 May 2019

Feast of the Visitation and Spiritual Friendship (Reprise)

Jump for Joy  by Eisbacher

Today's Gospel is wonderfully joyfilled and encouraging: Mary travels in haste to visit her kinswoman Elizabeth and both women benefit from the meeting which culminates in John's leaping in his mother's womb and prophetic speech by both women. The first of these is Elizabeth's proclamation that Mary is the Mother of Elizabeth's Lord and the second is Mary's canticle, the Magnificat. Ordinarily homilists focus on Mary in this Gospel lection but I think the focus is at least as strongly on Elizabeth and also on the place the meeting of the two women has in allowing them both to negotiate the great mystery which has taken hold of their lives. Both are called on to offer God hospitality in unique ways; both are asked to participate in God's mysterious plan for his creation despite not wholly understanding this call and it is in their coming together that the trusting fiats they each made assume a greater clarity for them both.

Luke's two volumes (Luke-Acts) are actually full of instances where people come together and in their meeting or conversation with one another come to a fuller awareness of what God is doing in their lives. We see this on the road to Emmaus where disciples talk about the Scriptures in an attempt to come to terms with Jesus' scandalous death on a cross and the end of all their hopes. They are joined by another person who questions them about their conversation and grief. When they pause for a meal they recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread and their entire world is turned on its head. That which was senseless is on its way to making a profound sense which will ground the existence of the church. Peter is struggling with the issue of eating with the uncircumcised; he comes together with Cornelius, a Centurion with real faith in Christ. In this meeting Peter is confirmed in his sense that in light of Christ no foods are unclean and eating with Gentiles is Eucharistic. There are a number of other such meetings where partial perception and clarity are enhanced or expanded. Even the Council of Jerusalem is a more developed instance of the same phenomenon.

On Spiritual Friendship, both formal and informal:

I personally love Eisenbacher's picture above because it reminds me of one privileged expression of such spiritual friendship, namely that of spiritual direction. I can remember many meetings with my own director where there was immense surprise and joy at the sharing involved, but one time in particular stands out --- especially in light of today's Gospel. I had experienced a shift in my experience of celibacy. Where once it mainly spoke to me of dimensions of my life that would never be fulfilled (motherhood, marriage, etc), through a particular prayer experience it had come to be associated instead with espousal to Christ and my own sense of being completed and fulfilled as a woman. As I recall, when I met with my director to share about this experience, I spoke softly about it, carefully, a little bashfully --- especially at first; but I also gained strength and greater confidence in the sharing of it. (I was not uncertain as to the nature of what I had experienced, but sharing it allowed it to claim me more completely and let me claim a new sense of myself in light of it.) My director listened carefully, and only then noted that she had always prayed for such a grace for all her novices (she had been novice director for her congregation); she then excused herself and left briefly. When she returned she had a CD and CD player with her. Together we sat quietly, but joyfully and even a bit tearfully celebrating what God had done for us while we listened to John Michael Talbot's Canticle of the Bride.

This year (for that last story occurred about 36 years ago now) my director brought me a laminated, somewhat over-sized bookmark with the following poem entitled Visitation to mark another period of growth  in our work together in spiritual direction/inner work. I am sorry I don't know the author.

As Mary faced
        her unexpected future
And hastened to Elizabeth,
        who was similarly expecting,
and shared with her
        her hopes,
        her dreams,
        her concerns,
        her fears;
spoke frankly as sisters
        about their love of God,
        about their future,
        about  their commitment
        to God's mission,
so we two come together today,
        speaking the truth
        in love and faith,
and God is with us.

Elizabeth and Mary come together as women both touched in significant ways by the mystery of God. They have trusted God but are not yet completely clear regarding the greater mystery or how this experience fits into the larger story of Israel's redemption. They are both in need of one another and especially of the perception and wisdom the other can bring to the situation so that they can truly offer God and God's plan all the space and time these require. Hospitality, especially giving God hospitality, takes many forms, but one of the most important involves coming together to share how God is active in our lives in the hope of coming to a greater and more life giving perspective, faith, and commitment. It is in coming together in this way that we clarify, encourage, challenge and console one another. It is in coming together in this way that we become the prophetic presence in our world God calls us to be.  The gift of being able to "speak frankly" as sisters (and brothers) is an inestimable gift of God. Let us all be open to serving as friends to one another in this sense. It is an essential dimension of being Church and of the coming of the Kingdom of God.

29 May 2019

Jesus' Ascension and the Process of Jewish Marriage

So much of what Jesus or the Gospel writers say about the event we call "Ascension" is meant to remind us of the Jewish theology of marriage. It is meant to remind us that the Church, those called and sent in the name of Jesus, is the Bride of Christ --- both betrothed and awaiting the consummation of this marriage. This Friday's Gospel passage from 16 John prepares the disciples for Jesus' "leaving" and the Church wants us to hear it now in terms of the Ascension rather than the crucifixion. Thus, it focuses on the "in-between" time of grief-at-separation, waiting, and bittersweet joy.

Thus too, especially with its imagery of labor and childbirth, it affirms that though Jesus must leave to prepare a place for us, the grief of his "leaving" (really a new kind of presence) will one day turn to unalloyed joy because with and in Christ something new is being brought to birth both in our own lives and in the very life of God. It is an unprecedented reality, an entirely New Life and too, a source of a joy which no one can take from us. Just as the bridegroom remains a real but bittersweet presence and promise in the life of his betrothed, so Jesus' presence in our own lives is a source of now-alloyed and bittersweet joy, both real and unmistakable but also not what it will be when the whole of creation reaches its fulfillment and the marriage between Christ and his Bride is consummated. The union of this consummation is thus the cosmic union of God-made all in all.

The following post reflects on another Johannine text, also preparing us for the Ascension. I wanted to reprise it here because the Gospel texts this week all seek to remind us of the unadulterated joy of Easter and the Parousia (the second-coming and fulfillment) as they prepare us for the bittersweet joy of the in-between time of Ascension and especially because they do so using the imagery of Jewish marriage. This Friday's childbirth imagery in John 16 presupposes and requires this be fresh in our minds.

The Two Stages of Jewish Marriage

The central image Jesus uses in [speaking of his leaving and eventual return] is that of marriage. His disciples are supposed to hear him speaking of the entire process of man and wife becoming one, of a union which represents that between God and mankind (and indeed, all of creation) which is so close that the two cannot be prised apart or even seen as entirely distinguishable realities. Remember that in Jewish marriages there were two steps: 1) the betrothal which was really marriage and which could only be ended by a divorce, and 2) the taking home and consummation stage in this marriage. After the bridegroom travels to his bride's home and the two are betrothed, the bridegroom returns home to build a place for his new bride in his family's home. It is always meant to be a better place than she had before. When this is finished (about a year later) the bridegroom travels back to his bride and with great ceremony (lighted lamps, accompanying friends, etc) brings her back to her new home where the marriage is consummated.

Descent and the Mediation of God's Reconciling Love:

This image of the dual stages in Jewish marriage is an appropriate metaphor of what is accomplished in the two "stages" in salvation history referred to as descent and ascent. When we think of Jesus as mediator or revealer --- or even as Bridegroom --- we are looking at a theology of salvation (soteriology)  in which God first goes out of himself in search of a counterpart. This God  'empties himself' of divine prerogatives --- not least that of remaining in solitary omnipotent splendor --- and in a continuing act of self-emptying creates the cosmos still in search of that counterpart. For this reason the entire process is known as one of descent or kenosis. Over eons of time and through many intermediaries (including prophets, the Law, and several covenants) he continues to go out of himself to summon the "other" into existence, and eventually chooses a People who will reveal  him (that is, make him known and real) to the nations. Finally and definitively in Jesus he is enabled to turn a human face to his chosen People. As God has done in partial and fragmentary ways before, in Christ as Mediator he reveals himself definitively as a jealous and fierce lover, one who will allow nothing, not even sin and godless death (which he actually takes into himself!)** to separate him from his beloved or prevent him from bringing her home with him when the time comes.

Ascension and the Mediation of God's Reconciling Love:

With Jesus' ascension we are confronted with another dimension of Christ's role as mediator; we celebrate the return of the Bridegroom to his father's house --- that is to the very life of God. He goes there to prepare a place for us. As in the Jewish marriage practice, that Divine "household" (that Divine life) will change in a definitive way with the return of the Son (who has also changed and is now an embodied human being who has experienced death, etc.) just as the Son's coming into the world changed it in a definitive way. God is not yet all in all (that comes later) but in Christ humanity has both assumed and been promised a place in God's own life. As my major theology professor used to say to us, "God has taken death into himself and has not been destroyed by it." That is what heaven is all about, active participation and sharing by that which is other than God in the very life of God. Heaven is not like a huge sports arena where everyone who manages to get a ticket stares at the Jumbo Tron (God) and possibly play harps or sing psalms to keep from getting too bored. With the Christ Event God changes the world and reconciles it to himself, but with that same event the very life of God himself is changed as well. The ascension signals this significant change as embodied humanity and all of human experience becomes a part of the life of the transcendent God who is eternal and incorporeal. Some "gods" would be destroyed by this, but not the God of Jesus Christ!


Mediation (or revelation) occurs in two directions in Christ. Christ IS the gateway between heaven and earth, the "place" where these two realities meet and kiss, the new Temple where sacred and profane come together and are transfigured into a single reality. Jesus as mediator implicates God into our world and all of its moments and moods up to and including sin and godless death. But Jesus as mediator also allows human life, and eventually all of creation to be implicated in and assume a place in God's own life. When this double movement comes to its conclusion, when it is accomplished in fullness and Jesus' commission to reconciliation is entirely accomplished, when, that is, the Bridegroom comes forth once again to finally bring his bride home for the consummation of their marriage, there will be a new heaven and earth where God is all in all; in this parousia both God and creation achieve the will of God together as it was always meant to be.
** Note: the Scriptures recognize two forms of death. The first is a kind of natural perishing. The second is linked to sin and to the idea that if we choose to live without God we choose to die without him. It is the consequence of sin. This second kind is called variously, sinful death, godless death, eternal death or the second death. This is the death Jesus "takes on" in taking on the reality and consequences of human sinfulness; it is the death he dies while (in his own sinlessness) remaining entirely vulnerable and open to God. It is the death his obedience (openness to and decision for God) allows God to penetrate and transform with his presence. Because of this transformation we each will meet God in death and give our own final, definitive, exhaustive yes to God --- or not. Christ made that possible with his own obedience unto death, death on a cross, something which was not true before Christ.

The resurrection is the event symbolizing the defeat of this death and the first sign that all death will one day fall to the life and love of God. Ascension is the event symbolizing God taking humanity into his own "house", his own life in/through doing this with Christ. We live in hope for the day the promise of Ascension will be true for the whole of God's creation, the day when God will be all in all.

23 May 2019

Congratulations, Sister Grace Ford, Er. Dio.!!!

I received the following "Thank you" note this afternoon from Sister Grace Ford, Er Dio, who was just professed (temporary vows) as a diocesan hermit for the Diocese of St Augustine. What  a terrific surprise!! Sister Grace is (or has been) a teacher, a professor of psychology, and a  psychother-apist specializing in child psychology, trauma, depression, and family systems; she has chosen to live eremitical life and will now do so as a consecrated hermit of the Diocese of St Augustine. As I told Sister Grace, I am profoundly gratified to hear this blog was helpful to her and believe sharing this small portion of her story will be helpful to others discerning or considering discerning this vocation with their dioceses. How good God is!!!

Dear Sr. Laurel,  I’d like to thank you for your openness on your blog.  I have been in discernment these past 15 years and yesterday I made my first vows as a Diocesan Hermit in the Diocese of Saint Augustine Florida.  I have been quietly learning from your experience for some time and wanted to reach out and thank you for your willingness to be vulnerable and share your wisdom on our little understood vocation.  With the blessing of my Spiritual Director and Bishop, I made vows yesterday after spending six years with the Sisters of Saint Joseph.  I am grateful for the opportunity to live more fully into the eremitic life now that I am publicly professed.  You have been an instrument of peace in my life as I have journeyed on this path.  I really just wanted to thank you! Please be assured of my prayers for you.

In the Silence of Solitude,
Sister Grace Ford, Er. Dio

09 May 2019

On Legalism and the Place of C 603 in Eremitical Life

[[Dear Sister, thanks for explaining your position on pursuing consecration and using Canon law for that. I had always thought that people who supported canon law like you do were legalists. Also, I was convinced that this law was contrary to the Gospel because of the way I read Paul and his writings on law and Gospel. But you make good points on the importance of law serving love and that's new to me. I never heard that idea before. I also thought about your story about the non-canonical community you knew and how law was necessary to help their idealism. This was also not something I had thought about. But what do you do with Paul's teaching of Christ as the end of the law? How does someone living a Gospel life need law? Doesn't this lead to idolatry? Isn't one's heart divided as idolatry divides our hearts? I am not Catholic so maybe there is something in your Catholic faith that makes this okay --- not idolatry I don't mean, but you know, some kind of peaceful coexistence of law and Gospel.]]

Thank you very much for your comments and questions. This seems to be the week for comments on legalism. If my thanks seems a bit effusive it is because those comments contrasted significantly with the following assertions I also got by email this week. They are posted here just as they were received; nothing is left out: [[Your responses in your blog are as legalistic as those of the clergy! “Love God and do what you will.”]] followed by my response, [[Dear ___, I am sorry you think so. Could you give examples of what you mean? Do you think all recourse to law is "legalistic?]] and then, [[All !!! You quote Canon Law very very frequently. Did the Hermits of old quote Canon Law.]] There were a couple more emails after this but you get the idea. I didn't post my last post because of this email exchange (it preceded the exchange slightly) but it was very timely. In any case, your questions and your comment were and are very welcome.

Paul's Notion of τελος:

I think some who read Paul's phrase about Christ being the "end of the law" read it just as you have done, but the simple fact is the word translated as "end" is the Greek, τέλος  or telos, which means goal, fulfillment, and in this sense, end. Jesus is the human embodiment of the Law of God, the fulfillment of the Torah, the fullness of the Law and the Prophets. He is the incarnation of the Wisdom of God, the One who "shows us who God is, who we are, and what God wants us to be about" -- as one of the Communion service' texts I use reminds us. As my interlocutor above said quoting Augustine, "Love and do what you will" --- but the meaning of the term "love" is no more obvious than the meaning of the term God. We need someone to show us Who God is, and who we are. We need someone to show us what love is and to empower us to live it besides. Jesus is the one who does all these things; he is the one in whom we learn what it means to "Love and do what you will" because he is the One who loves God and does the will of God rather than his own will. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law, the One is whom the Law, a very great gift of God which Paul also affirms, is allowed to be translated into loving, healing, lifegiving and empowering Presence.

In a sense what Christ reveals to us is our own vocation to become the fulfillment of Law. He empowers us to become imago Christi, the image of the Christ in whom the whole law and prophets are completed and made incarnate. When I think of things this way I understand my vocation in terms of becoming a fulfillment, an expression of the goal and a living embodiment of canon 603. If and to the extent I succeed in this with the grace of God, my life allows canon 603 to achieve the very goal of its being. But I think this is as far from legalism as one could possibly be or get. Not all laws work this same way of course, but Canon 603, by it's very nature and purpose does. It provides the lineaments of a divine and living vocation, sets this vocation off from other vocations, and even from other worlds, and when one is consecrated by the Church's mediation of God hallowing blessing and commissioned to live this way both from and on behalf of the Church, she is called and commissioned to breathe her own unique life into these lineaments and allow them to assume a human face, a human heart and soul. Legalism? No. Transfiguration? Yes.

The Ongoing Need for Law:

All of us fall short of the fullness of humanity revealed and empowered in Christ. To the extent we are imperfect and fail to love as God loves we need guidelines, reminders, boundaries, limits, and pathways. Law serves all of these roles. I have written here before that the hermit's Rule serves like a trellis which supports growth in youth and weakness, or holds a plant relatively safely in times of heavy weather or storm. I have also described it as analogous to a stair railing which  supports us when the climb is difficult and keeps us from hurtling off the stairs entirely when the descent picks up speed.  Imagine someone trying to learn to live a disciplined but also genuinely free (not libertine!) life without any law at all. Imagine trying to commute from Oakland to North Beach in San Francisco without traffic laws helping every motorist to be safe. Imagine having a physician who follows no rules, instead of acting freely within the guidelines and procedures governing an ethical and professional medical practice. Imagine trying to teach a classroom of children who have been told, "Love and do what you will!" (Even worse, imagine trying to parent a couple of teenagers who have been told the one Rule of the house is the very same thing!) Or imagine trying to play a Bach unaccompanied sonata or partita on violin if rules, technique, and exacting long-practiced discipline hadn't been applied so consistently that now the player is paradoxically freed to be able to transcend the notes on the page and, in a unique communion with J.S. Bach, play music which springs from the depths of the performer's heart and mind!!!

No one truly lives without law. Law serves a number of purposes but in most of these it serves love and allows life in community. Whether I am talking about the children in the classroom, the teenagers in the family, the drivers trying to commute from point a to point b, law serves love --- love for ourselves, for our brothers and sisters whom we know -- and those whom we do not, love for those who are weak or ill and need the support, guidance, and structure of law to help them with (and, sometimes unfortunately, protect others from) things like addictions, immaturity, foolishness and lack of judgment. The proper use of law does not imply worship of law. It does not make an idol of law. It simply recognizes a gift of God which provides space and structure for genuine freedom. (We are free to learn in a well-ordered classroom, free to enjoy a drive or road trip when traffic laws lead to safe roads, free to be ourselves and stand strong in the face of peer pressure where rules hold sway, and free to play Bach (or whatever!) because we have been subject to the constraints or norms and discipline of the art of music-making.) And for the Christian, we are free to fail and repent, and to learn more and more what it means to "love and do what you will" when our ability to love and our wills are formed with the assistance of the Ten commandments, the laws of the Church, and what we come to know of the natural and divine law.

Divided Hearts?

 My heart is not divided by Law, not canon law or any other code of norms. I am clear that I love God, that God comes first and that law must serve this love or be jettisoned. Still, I recognize that law is a gift of God to those of us (all of us!) who need help with Augustine's dictum. Christ shows us what it means to be truly human while law tends to remind us of the ways we fall short of that. Both are necessary; law serves us especially in our immaturity, weakness, uncertainty, and navigation of complex situations with others. But it serves us as do signposts on a long journey or stair rails on steep bits of the path. Again, there is no legalism here and certainly no idolatry -- just appreciation for all the ways God is present to and for us and a clear awareness of our own sinfulness and very great potential.

I hope this is helpful. All good wishes during this Easter Season.

04 May 2019

On My Own Decision to Pursue Consecration Under Canon 603

[[Dear Sister Laurel, you discerned whether to live your eremitical vocation as a lay hermit or as a canon 603 hermit didn't you? What made you decide to go for canon 603 or to not settle for lay eremitical life when that was looking like what you would need to do because of your diocese's hesitance to profess anyone under c 603? I know you say both vocations are valuable so I wondered why you chose to jump through the hoops it took to get canonical standing, especially given the long wait this entailed.]]

This is a great question (thanks for reading up in this blog; it shows in your question!). While I haven't talked about this for some time I have posted on it in indirect ways so I hope you'll look for those posts. It was natural for me to look to canon 603 profession and canonical standing as the way to establish one in an ecclesial vocation, not only because of my background in religious life, but because of my background in theology. I also had some experience of  non-canonical religious life which ostensibly used regional service roles as the means to governance but lacked any authoritative structures to deal with problems with community-wide implications. I saw several times where people without leadership (service) roles, but who were very much "power people" in their local communities and thus, in the community as a  whole, took advantage of situations to exploit or otherwise act unjustly toward those they disagreed with or perhaps didn't like.

These exploited or badly-treated persons had no canonical protections in such situations nor did they have any meaningful recourse to leadership or governance structures. There was an attractive but naïve idealism in this community, but idealism alone can't always deal with concrete situations; as a result there were some significant failures in justice. This was one of the first times I clearly saw that law could serve love -- particularly when idealism was inadequate to deal with human sinfulness and will-to-power. When the community shifted from a relatively neutral non-canonical to an anti-canonical stance things were exacerbated and my insight into the positive and complementary role of law made me consider the role and importance of canon law more than I had up until this point. Thus, when I began reading in canon law (1983) the New Code had just come out. I discovered both canons 603 and 604 on eremites/anchorites and consecrated virgins, as well as canon 605 which is addressed to bishops encouraging openness to new forms of consecrated life. Already a contemplative and still in community, I began thinking and reading about eremitical life then and it captured my imagination. A year or so later contacted my diocese for the first time about professing me as a hermit. Then began a long process of meeting with a Vicar in the Archdiocese of San Francisco who understood c 603 and then regular meetings for 5 years with Sister Susan Blomstad, OSF who became the Vicar for Religious and Vocations director for the Diocese of Oakland.

Eventually (during these five years) the diocese decided it would profess no one under c 603 for the foreseeable future --- a shock to Sister Susan and to myself --- because neither of us were informed of the decision in a timely way. By the time we were both informed, I was established as a hermit and it suited me well. Whether in community, as a c 603 hermit, or as a lay hermit I knew I would continue living eremitical life. I remember telling my director that I wished the Church would recognize how the Holy Spirit was working in my life (structured according to c 603) but if she would or could not I would continue living as I was. And so I did. Lay eremitical life would have been fine, had it seemed God was calling me to that --- but I eventually decided I needed to approach Bp John Cummins again before he retired and try to get my situation "regularized". I had learned I personally needed the structure of canonical standing and profession to live eremitical life in the heart of the church and continued to be struck by what it meant to be part of an ecclesial vocation and all that meant. That whole process took some time (lost letters, lost files, misfiled missives) and John Cummins had left office before the Chancellor contacted me to apologize and put in a word with the new Vicars for Religious. It took 23 years from the time I first knocked on the chancery door (so to speak) to the day I was perpetually professed as a diocesan hermit in 2007.

So why go through all the hassle? Why not live as a lay hermit? I was very clear about how God was working in my life with a call to eremitical life and that clarity deepened over the years. It was especially clear given my celibate experience, flourishing in silence and solitude, and what I experienced as a nuptial relationship with Christ. Moreover, I knew that if this vocation could function as a context for growth and real freedom for me it might well do that for others --- but only if dioceses were not afraid to use the canon and if they could see that eremitical life was a true vocation. You see, the world in which we live is tremendously individualistic, consumerist, and marked by isolation. Eremitical life is a paradoxical expression of life in prophetic witness against these things --- but the demands on dioceses for determining the distinction between these is significant. Yet, without its specifically ecclesial context this prophetic quality of authentic eremitical life cannot, it seems to me, be made as clear  as the hermit needs to do.

The freedom of the hermit requires a framework which establishes this both in the church and vis-a-vis society and the larger world. Canon 603 provides such a context. It represents a protective and challenging structure which defines eremitical life and the freedom thereof in contrast to a dehumanizing individualism, and contra the isolation and consumerism of so much contemporary life. Consecration under c 603 gives  one permission to explore the freedom of the Gospel lived in and towards the silence of solitude in the very heart of the church. This is a very great gift to the hermit and to the world. I felt called to live this this gift of God and its paradoxical witness not only so others could see what the Holy Spirit was doing in the church generally with this vocation, but in my own life as well.

Eremitical life is salvific for some of us. It has been salvific for me --- especially in its power to transform various forms and degrees of isolation into eremitical solitude. I believe others could benefit from this, both from the example of what canonical hermits live and from my own story. Some very few might find vocations to eremitical life while others might see a prophetic witness to the power of the Gospel in their own state of life. I don't live eremitical life because I wanted to do this or because it validates isolation or some misguided individualism. I did not choose canonical standing because I like canon law (though I think canon 603 is a thing of real beauty). I do it because via eremitical life God has been at work redeeming and transfiguring my life and I must honor and witness to that --- and I must do that in a way which says law serves love, reasonable structure protects real freedom, and living all of this in the heart of the Church through her People and institutions (including canon law, legitimate superiors, etc) can give witness and serve as challenging to the Church as well. Not everyone has my background or needs canon law to do all of this. I did and do; for this reason I chose to jump through all the hoops associated with becoming a consecrated Catholic Hermit, that is, a canon 603 hermit who lives an ecclesial eremitical life in the heart, name, and on behalf of the Church.

03 May 2019

Reader's Pastor Asked To Receive Private Vows as Hermit; Pastor Declines

[[Dear Sister Laurel, I asked my pastor to receive my private vows as a consecrated hermit and he said he could not. I told him I read online that according to paragraphs in the Catechism that I could become a consecrated Catholic Hermit and I only need for my pastor or spiritual father to receive my vows. He said he thought I must be mistaken. I showed him the section of the Catechism that I had read with its heading "The Consecrated Life" and the paragraphs on hermits. He could see where it referred to public vows and something other than public vows but he disagreed that the opposite of these are private vows. Because he's an Order priest he told me about the nature of consecrated life and quoted par 944 and pointed out par 914 as well, but he wasn't sure if hermits were something different in the Catechism because they are something new. I asked him to look at the website I had read all this in: Catholic Hermit: How to Become a Catholic Hermit. So what do I do if my pastor won't agree with this or accept my vows? I don't have a spiritual director who might do that.  I wondered if you would write him to explain how it works? The website I linked you to above doesn't have a way to contact her.]]

Thanks for your email and questions. Thank you also for a link to Joyful Hermit's blog. I checked it out but found I was familiar with the post already. I suspect you haven't read my blog much before this because I have corrected misconceptions like those provided in that blog a number of times. Your pastor is correct: 1) he cannot receive private vows which would make you a consecrated hermit not only because he does not have the authority to receive such vows (or any leading to the consecrated state), but also because private vows don't admit or initiate one into the consecrated state. 2) Profession as a Consecrated Catholic Hermit requires public profession (as par 944 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church indicates). While c 603 says one may use sacred bonds other than vows (so, "not always making public vows") one always enters the consecrated state as a hermit through public profession. Period. Were I to write your pastor I would tell him this and characterize the blog you showed him as significantly misleading in this area and in the author's contention that she is a consecrated religious or a consecrated Catholic Hermit.

I will make one suggestion in trusting what you read online in such important matters. If the person is not clear about when and where they were professed, who their legitimate superior (Bishop) is, if they don't provide some basic contact information for questions, and identify what diocese they are presently living in (it should be the same diocese their legitimate superior is ordinary of), please don't trust what they say unless someone in authority verifies it for you. If you have a vocation as a consecrated hermit the church herself needs to discern this with you and admit you to profession and consecration. The vocation of consecrated Catholic Hermit belongs to the Church and only bishops may admit persons to it.

Moreover, becoming a consecrated (or Catholic) Hermit is a long process with significant periods of mutual discernment (the candidate and the diocese); it requires a long period of living under the direction of a good spiritual director who understands contemplative prayer and life and who will accompany the candidate through the required process of discernment. One cannot simply decide one wants to make private vows and expect the Church to recognize one has an eremitical vocation, nor can these be witnessed by someone responsibly without some period of discernment and evaluation. If, on the other hand, you should eventually discern you are called to be a hermit in your current (lay) state of life as a specification of your baptism, your pastor can indeed witness (but not receive) your private vows.

Meanwhile, there are a number of articles in this blog that will refer you to the paragraphs in the Catechism you referred to, to the distinction between private vows and public profession, or to  Joyful Hermit and the website you cited, formation, times frames leading to profession or private vows, etc. Please give these a look (cf the labels to the right). If you have continuing questions I would suggest you either write me again and/or discuss things again with your pastor and then, if necessary, with the Vicar for Religious in your diocese. If you prefer to discuss matters with a canonist whom you can reach online I recommend Therese Ivers of the blog  Do I Have a Vocation? Just google that, contact her by email, and she will get back to you. In the meantime she has some blog articles on eremitical life which might be helpful.

I hope this has been of assistance and not too disappointing. Unfortunately, what you want to do is not so simple as http://CatholicHermit.blogspot.com makes it out to be. As noted above, especially misleading is the way Joyful Hermit reads paragraphs 920-921 apart  from the Latin original or other paragraphs in the catechism on entering the consecrated state of life. This proof-texting approach to matters underscores why the Catechism was written for bishops who had a background in the matters being discussed. One knowledgeable about the church's theology of consecrated life would read its summary texts differently than one without such a background. All good wishes for this Easter Season!

01 May 2019

Feast of St Joseph the Worker, Iconic Seeker of Justice

Today's feast is the Feast of St Joseph (the Worker). One of the lessons we take from Joseph's story is the importance of faithfulness to our daily work, to our commitments no matter how small or apparently insignificant because such faithfulness can allow momentous things to happen and it is through such faithfulness in small, everyday things, that the will of the infinite God to set all things to rights (that is, the will to do justice) is ultimately done. We don't know lots of stories about Joseph but we do know that he struggled to discern and do the will of God, that he committed himself to what God was doing through Mary, and that he supported and expressed this by his daily faithfulness and work, both as an artisan and as husband and Father.

Especially poignant is the Matthean story of Joseph as the icon of one who struggles to allow God's own justice to be brought to birth as fully as possible. It is, in its own way, a companion story to Luke's account of Mary's annunciation and fiat. Both Mary (we are told explicitly) and Joseph (we are told implicitly) ponder things in their hearts, both are mystified and shaken by the great mystery which has taken hold of them and in which they have become pivotal characters. Both allow God's own power and presence to overshadow them so that God might do something absolutely new in their world. But  it is Joseph's more extended, profound, and profoundly faithful struggle to truly do justice in mercy, and to be a righteous man who reveals God's own justice in love, God's salvation, that is at the heart of those few stories we have about Joseph. In light of this I want to reprise what we hear about Joseph during Advent.

The Struggle to Do Justice, the Situation (Reprise):

I am a little ashamed to say I have never spent much time considering Joseph's predicament or the context of that predicament until this week. Instead I have always thought of him as a good man who chose the merciful legal solution rather than opting for the stricter one. I never saw him making any other choice nor did I understand the various ways he was pushed and pulled by his own faith and love. But Joseph's situation was far more demanding and frustrating than I had ever appreciated! Consider the background which weighed heavy on Joseph's heart. First, he is identified as a just or righteous man, a man faithful to God, to the Covenant, a keeper of the Law or Torah, an observant Jew who was well aware of Jeremiah's promise and the sometimes bitter history of his own Davidic line. All of this and more is implied here by the term "righteous man". In any case, this represents his most foundational and essential identity. Secondly, he was betrothed to Mary, wed (not just engaged!) to her though he had not yet taken her to his family home and would not for about a year. That marriage was a symbol of the covenant between God and his People Israel. Together he and Mary symbolized the Covenant; to betray or dishonor this relationship was to betray and profane the Covenant itself. This too was uppermost in Joseph's mind precisely because he was a righteous man.

Thirdly, he loved Mary and was entirely mystified by her pregnancy. Nothing in his tradition prepared him for a virgin birth. Mary could only have gotten pregnant through intercourse with another man so far as Joseph could have known --- and this despite Mary's protestations of innocence. (The OT passage referring to a virgin is more originally translated as "young woman". Only later as "almah" was translated into the Greek "parthenos" and even later was seen by Christians in light of Mary and Jesus' nativity did "young woman" firmly become "a virgin".) The history of Israel was fraught with all-too-human failures which betrayed the covenant and profaned Israel's high calling. While Joseph was open to God doing something new in history it is more than a little likely that he was torn between which of these possibilities was actually occurring here, just as he was torn between believing Mary and continuing the marriage and divorcing her and casting her and the child aside.

What Were Joseph's Options?

Under the Law Joseph had two options. The first involved a very public divorce. Joseph would bring the situation to the attention of the authorities, involve witnesses, repudiate the marriage and patrimony for the child and cast Mary aside. This would establish Joseph as a wronged man and allow him to continue to be seen as righteous or just. But Mary could have been stoned and the baby would also have died as a result. The second option was more private but also meant bringing his case to the authorities. In this solution Joseph would again have repudiated the marriage and patrimony but the whole matter would not have become public and Mary's life or that of the child would not have been put in immediate jeopardy. Still, in either instance Mary's shame and apparent transgressions would have become known and in either case the result would have been ostracization and eventual death. Under the law Joseph would have been called a righteous man but how would he have felt about himself in his heart of hearts? Would he have wondered if he was just under the Law but at the same time had refused to hear the message of an angel of God, refused to allow God to do something new and even greater than the Law?

Of course, Joseph might have simply done nothing at all and continued with the plans for the marriage's future. But in such a case many problems would have arisen. According to the Law he would have been falsely claiming paternity of the child --- a transgression of the Law and thus, the covenant. Had the real father shown up in the future and claimed paternity Joseph would then have been guilty of "conniving with Mary's own sin" (as Harold Buetow describes the matter). Again Law and covenant would have been transgressed and profaned. In his heart of hearts he might have believed this was the just thing to do but in terms of his People and their Covenant and Law he would have acted unjustly and offended the all-just God. Had he brought Mary to his family home he would have rendered them and their abode unclean as well. If Mary was guilty of adultery she would have been unclean --- hence the need for ostracizing her or even killing her!

Entering the Liminal Place Where God May Speak to Us:

All of this and so much more was roiling around in Joseph's heart and mind! In one of the most difficult situations we might imagine, Joseph struggled to discern what was just and what it would mean for him to do justice in our world! Every option was torturous; each was inadequate for a genuinely righteous man. Eventually he came to a conclusion which may have seemed the least problematical even if it was not wholly satisfactory, namely to put Mary away "quietly", to divorce her in a more private way and walk away from her. And at this moment, when Joseph's struggle to discern and do justice has reached it's most neuralgic point, at a place of terrible liminality symbolized in so much Scriptural literature by dreaming, God reveals to Joseph the same truth Mary has herself accepted: God is doing something unimaginably new here. He is giving the greatest gift yet. The Holy Spirit has overshadowed Mary and resulted in the conception of One who will be the very embodiment of God's justice in our world. Not only has a young woman come to be pregnant but a virgin will bear a child! The Law will be fulfilled in Him and true justice will have a human face as God comes to be Emmanuel in this new and definitive way.

Joseph's faith response to God's revelation has several parts or dimensions. He decides to consummate the marriage with Mary by bringing her to his family home but not as an act of doing nothing at all and certainly not as some kind of sentimental or cowardly evasion of real justice. Instead it is a way of embracing the whole truth and truly doing justice. He affirms the marriage and adopts the child as his own. He establishes him in the line of David even as he proclaims the child's true paternity. He does this by announcing this new Son's name to be Jesus, God saves.  Thus Joseph proclaims to the world that God has acted in this Son's birth in a new and way which transcends and relativizes the Law even as it completely respects it. He honors the Covenant with a faithfulness that leads to that covenant's perfection in the Christ Event. In all of this Joseph continues to show himself to be a just or righteous  man, a man whose humanity and honor we ourselves should regard profoundly.

Justice is the way to Genuine Future:

Besides being moved by Joseph's genuine righteousness, I am struck by a couple of things in light of all of this. First, discerning and doing justice is not easy. There are all kinds of solutions which are partial and somewhat satisfactory, but real justice takes work and, in the end, must be inspired by the love and wisdom of God. Secondly, Law per se can never really mediate justice. Instead, the doing of justice takes a human being who honors the Law, feels compassion, knows mercy, struggles in fear and trepidation with discerning what is right, and ultimately is open to allowing God to do something new and creative in the situation. Justice is never a system of laws, though it will include these. It is always a personal act of courage and even of worship, the act of one who struggles to mediate God's own plan and will for all those and that involved. Finally, I am struck by the fact that justice opens reality to a true future. Injustice closes off the future. In all of the partial and unsatisfactory solutions Joseph entertained and wrestled with, each brought some justice and some injustice. Future of some sort was assured for some and foreclosed to others; often both came together in what was merely a sad and tragic approximation of a "real future". Only God's own will and plan assures a genuine future for the whole of his creation. That too is something yesterday's Gospel witnessed to.

Another Look at Joseph:

Joseph is a real star in Matt's account of protecting Jesus' nativity; he points to God and the justice only God can do. It is important, I think, to see all that he represents as Mary's counterpart in the nativity of Jesus (Son of David) who is Emmanuel (Son of the One who, especially in Jesus, is God With Us). Mary's fiat seems easy, graceful in more than one sense of that term. Joseph's fiat is hard-won but also graced or graceful. For Joseph, as for Mary, there is real labor involved as the categories of divinity and justice, law and covenant are burst asunder to bring the life and future of heaven to birth in our world. But Joseph with Mary also both lived essentially hidden lives which were faith in all the little and big moments of being spouses and parents --- the vocations which allowed God's will to justice too be accomplished in their Son, Jesus.

May we each be committed to mediating God's own justice and bringing God's future into being especially in this Easter season. This is the time when we especially look ahead to the coming of the Kingdom of God and to the time when God will be all in all. May we never take refuge in partial and inadequate solutions to our world's problems and need for justice, especially out of shortsightedness, sentimentality, cowardice, evasion, or fear for our own reputations. And may we allow Joseph to be the model of discernment, humility, faithfulness and courage in mediating the powerful presence and future of God we recognize as justice and so yearn for in this 21st Century.