29 June 2019

Esteeming Petitionary Prayer as True Prayer of Praise!

I recently read a blog piece referring to the prayer of praise as a higher form of prayer than the prayer of petition. I have to say that first of all I don't much care for establishing some forms of prayer as "higher" than others. I know the whole practice has a long and regarded history in the area of spirituality but despite the fact that I can understand some of this ranking business, I just can't accept it as I once might have. But we are just finishing a Bible Study class on the Lord's Prayer (part of the series on the Sermon on the Mount) and the very first thing commentators ordinarily point out is that this prayer, this model and paradigm of what Jesus knew as prayer and desired to teach us is that it is ALL petitions. With the exception of the invocation itself (Abba, Pater! or Our Father, Who art in heaven) every line of Jesus' Prayer is composed of petitions --- and even then I think we must hear the invocation as also implicitly petitionary! To call upon God by Name is to (responsively) give God a place to stand in space and time, specifically in our own lives and this, after all, is what God has desired of us --- to become God's counterparts in God's own enterprise of Love.

Each line of the prayer is meant to assist us in opening our hearts, minds, and lives to the powerful presence of God who wills to work in and through each of us. So, if this is the case, and this Lord's Prayer is a model or paradigm of the very essence of prayer, the model or paradigm which represents "the mind of Christ" and the way we "put on the mind of Christ" then can we really argue there are "higher forms of prayer than petition"? To put it another way, isn't opening ourselves to another in love and trust the greatest praise one can offer another? And isn't petition, especially as Jesus articulates and orders these in any of the three or four versions we have, an invitation to genuine praise, namely, by putting God's needs first, and our needs/desires second? We are not, in other words, to being people who merely say, "Lord, Lord" (or "Praise God!"), but to BE (the) people who, petition by petition, give our whole selves over to God as the field from which God will bring forth the hidden treasure of God's Kingdom! In this way we are allowed to participate in God establishing God's very life on earth as it is in heaven. We are called, by every petition to open ourselves to the unremitting hallowing of God, to become, that is, living instances of  Divine Praise!

One of the theologians who most influenced me when I was a young theologian myself was Gerhard Ebeling. Ebeling wrote a lot about theological linguistics and about human beings as Word Events. Each of us is called to become language events. An event differs from a mere occurrence  in terms of meaning; an Event is something filled with meaning where a mere occurrence is relatively empty of significance. Like Jesus (though only in and through Jesus!!) we are to become incarnate Word of God --- meaningful Word Events created by and for God's Word, especially in the form of Proclamation. Most often I think of all of this in terms of becoming an articulate expression of the Gospel of God or becoming God's own prayer in our world. (Some theologians speak of Jesus as the Parable of God --- an identity that grounds and thus characterizes all he is and does, especially in preaching and teaching.) In light of what I have said about becoming a Word or Language Event, perhaps it would not be far off to suggest that we are to become articulate songs or hymns of Praise. As we pray the petitions of the Lord's Prayer, we open ourselves to the Presence, sovereignty, and will of God, don't we thus praise God in truth as well as in our words and become ourselves "Words of Divine Praise"? Could there possibly be a "higher" form of prayer?

I say this as a contemplative whose primary form of prayer is quiet prayer, but for whom other forms of prayer are meant to be equally contemplative, equally the work of the Spirit of Stillness or hesychasm. What I recognize is the dynamics of petitionary prayer and quiet prayer, for instance, are essentially the same: in each form of prayer we pose the question of (i.e., which is) our own incomplete lives  and open ourselves to God's dynamic presence so that God might act within us, to touch, heal, strengthen, sanctify and complete us. Prayer is always God's own work in us. Isn't it time to let go of the notion of higher and lower forms of prayer?

28 June 2019

Solemnity of the Sacred Heart (Reprise)

Today we celebrate a feast that may seem at first glance to be irrelevant to contemporary life. The Feast of the Sacred Heart developed in part as a response to pre-destinationist theologies which diminished the universality of the gratuitous love of God and consigned many to perdition. But the Church's own theology of grace and freedom point directly to the reality of the human heart -- that center of the human person where God freely speaks himself and human beings respond in ways which are salvific for them and for the rest of the world. It asks us to see all  persons as constituted in this way and called to life in and of God. Today's Feast of the Sacred Heart, then, despite the shift in context, asks us to reflect again on the nature of the human heart, to the greatest danger to spiritual or authentically human life the Scriptures identify, and too, on what a contemporary devotion to the Sacred Heart might mean for us.

As I have written here before, the heart is the symbol of the center of the human person. It is a theological term which points first of all to God and to God's activity deep within us. It is not so much that we have a heart and then God comes to dwell there; it is that where [and to the extent] God dwells within us and bears witness to himself, we have a heart. The human heart (not the cardiac muscle but the center of our personhood the Scriptures call heart) is a dialogical event where God speaks, calls, breathes, and sings us into existence and where, in one way and degree or another, we respond to become the people we are [and are called to  be]. It is therefore important that our hearts be open and flexible, that they be obedient to the Voice and love of God, and so that they be responsive in all the ways they are summoned to be.

Bearing this in mind it is no surprise that the Scriptures speak in many places about the very worst thing which could befall a human being and her spiritual life. We hear it in the following line from Ezekiel: [[If today you hear [God's] voice, harden not your hearts.]] Many things contribute to such a reaction. We know that love is risky and that it always hurts. Sometimes this hurt is akin to the mystical experience of being pierced by God's love and is a wonderful but difficult experience. Sometimes it is the pain of compassion or empathy or grief. These are often bittersweet experiences, but they are also life giving. Other times love wounds us in less fruitful ways: we are betrayed by friends or family, we reach out to another in love and are rejected, a billion smaller losses wound us in ways from which we cannot seem to recover.

In such cases our hearts are not only wounded but become scarred, indurated, less sensitive to pain (or pleasure), stiff and relatively inflexible. They, quite literally, become "hardened" and we may be fearful and unwilling or even unable to risk further injury. When the Scriptures speak of the "hardening" of our hearts they use the very words medicine uses to speak of the result of serious and prolonged wounding: induration, sclerosis, callousedness. Such hardening is self-protective but it also locks us into a world which makes us less capable of responding to love with all of its demands and riskiness. It makes us incapable of suffering well (patiently, fruitfully), or of real selflessness, generosity, or compassion.

It is here that the symbol of the Sacred Heart of Jesus' is instructive and where contemporary devotion to the Sacred Heart can assist us. The Sacred Heart is clearly the place where human and divine are united in a unique way. While we are not called to Daughterhood or to Sonship in the exact same sense of Jesus' (he is only "begotten" Son, we are adopted Sons --- and I use only Sons here because of the prophetic, countercultural sense that term had for women in the early Church along with its derivative nature --- whether male or female we are sharers in Jesus' own Sonship --- we are meant to be expressions of a similar unity and heritage; we are meant to have God as the well spring of life and love at the center of our existence.

Like the Sacred Heart our own hearts are meant to be "externalized" in a sense and (made) transparent to others. They are meant to be wounded by love and deeply touched by the pain of others but not scarred or indurated in that woundedness; they are meant to be compassionate hearts on fire with love and poured out for others --- hearts which are marked by the cross in all of its kenotic (self-emptying) dimensions and therefore too by the joy of ever-new life. The truly human heart is a reparative heart which heals the woundedness of others and empowers them to love as well. Such hearts are hearts which love as God loves, and therefore which do justice. I think that allowing our own hearts to be remade in this way represents an authentic devotion to Jesus' Sacred Heart. There is nothing lacking in relevance or contemporaneity in that!

24 June 2019

Followup on Suffering Well: Suffering and the Will of God

[Dear Sister Laurel, I wanted to thank you for the article you wrote on suffering well. I am surprised by part of it. You say that you do not believe that God wills you to be ill and I guess that means you don't believe that God wills you to suffer, but don't we pray to accept our suffering when we pray "Thy will be done" in the Lord's prayer? Wasn't Jesus praying to accept his suffering when he prayed this in Gethsemane? Do you really not believe that we are praying to accept our suffering when we pray this way? Aren't we to embrace sufferings as the cross of Christ?]]

Thanks for your comment and questions. I think you have put your finger on a really neuralgic place in the Lord's Prayer, Gethsemane, and our own approach to God's will. (And no pun intended with the term "neuralgic".) It is very common to think of the will of God somehow being related to suffering. We get a difficult diagnosis and say, "Well, it must be the will of God!" Or, some terrible tragedy happens and we (unfortunately often carelessly and blithely) say, "We must accept the will of God!" --- as though God wills the tragedy. Isn't it "funny" (peculiar, strange, uncritical, unreasonable, etc.) the way we 1) associate the will of God with suffering, and 2) assume we know what the will of God is in these and similar cases? In fact, when the Lord's Prayer speaks of the will of God being done on earth as it is in heaven, it is talking about something very much different than suffering. It is the coming of the Kingdom of God, the realm of justice, peace, meaning, hope, and authentic humanity here on earth that is the will of God in the Lord's Prayer. The petition for the will of God is the third "Thou" petition, that is, third petition that refers to God's being God for us. All three  "Thou" petitions refer to God as verb, God as actor and initiator, God as the One who brings creation into being and to fulfillment of being. All three petitions are ways of opening ourselves to dimensions of what it means to allow God to be God.

I believe something very similar is happening as Jesus says, "Not my will, but Thy will be done", when he is struggling in Gethsemane. Jesus struggled with temptation to use his identity as Son of God to do works of power when he was driven in to the desert by the Holy Spirit after his baptism. He very definitively chose the way of weakness even though the temptations he experienced would have involved the use of his power for good things in and of themselves. (There is nothing wrong with getting food when one is starving or to accept leadership of kingdoms when one would be a wonderful leader, etc.) I think this was a choice he made many times during his public ministry. Now, at the end of the story Jesus must choose again in a final and exhaustive way; he must commit himself to a way of seeing God's purposes and plans that depend on Jesus' own weakness, his own helplessness, and his total dependence on God to bring meaning out of the senselessness people will commit against him and the mission of God, not only unto death "but (unto) death on a cross". I think of this choice as both qualitatively the same and distinct in terms of intensity and difficulty as the decisions Jesus has made right along through his public ministry. He continues to choose "left-handed power" (God's power being perfected in weakness). But now he will have to journey to that far place the NT calls sinful or godless death without any precedent for understanding this in terms of either Judaism or the Greco-Roman world. He will have to trust and depend entirely on God even when he cannot feel God's presence (in fact, when he feels God's absence and abandonment by God).

I think this is what Jesus is saying yes to; this is the will of God he is committing to, despite not being able to see it, imagine it,  understand it, etc.  But I also think if we were to ask Jesus if his Abba willed his suffering, he would look at us as if we had gone off the rails completely, and I think he would exclaim, "Of course not! How could you suggest that?? That's not the One I have been revealing (making real) to you all this time!!" And yet, God wills to enter into sinful death and transform it with his presence. He  wills that Jesus choose the way of weakness. He knows what we human beings will do to Jesus. What we will do (and, it often seems, what we almost inevitably do to holiness or true humanity when confronted with these) is NOT the will of God. That is something the Cross shows us without doubt. The cruelty, treachery, cowardice, duplicity, betrayal, human abandonment, etc hardly argue this (trial and crucifixion) is the will of God. But a God who reveals himself in weakness, a God whose grace is sufficient for us, a God who can and will bring meaning out of absurdity, wholeness out of brokenness, righteousness out of sin, and fulfillment out of emptiness --- these things ARE the will of God. Our God reveals himself as the One from whose love nothing whatsoever can separate us; this is the lesson of the Cross. Not that God wills suffering, but that God wills an end to anything that can cause suffering due to separation or alienation from God.

Your question about Jesus accepting his suffering is a different question though than the question of whether or not God wills Jesus' suffering.  It is one thing to determine suffering is somehow inevitable and something else to believe God wills that suffering. It is one thing to consent to journey wherever one's life takes one and to commit to doing so with God; it is another to assert that every step, no matter how skewed or painful was actually willed by God. God can certainly use Jesus' suffering; God can and does bring an almost infinite good out of it (this, after all, is part of the Good News we Christians proclaim); but this does not mean God wills the suffering per se, nor the degradation, torture, and inhumanity human beings take on in their reaction to Jesus!! Surely we cannot say the religious and civil leadership and crowds in Jesus' passion were cooperating with the will of God!!! But Paul faced the same paradox. He wrote, "Where sin abounded grace abounded all the more. What should we say, sin more so that grace may abound even more? God forbid!!!" Our God does not will our suffering any more than he does Jesus' --- but at the same time we should be consoled that where suffering abounds grace will abound all the more!!! Nothing can separate us from the Love of God.

Thus, my answer to your final question re accepting our own sufferings as a share in the Cross of Christ lies in line with all of this. Do what we can to remain open to the God whose power is revealed in weakness. Do not believe that God wills one's suffering per se, at least not when we are speaking of things like illness, tragedy, sinfulness, and death, but believe they will never have the final word or the last silence. Do what Jesus did when he accepted his own cross (the weight of his own authentic humanity), namely accept a humanity that makes God known (or at least CAN make God known) even in those realities which seem antithetical to Divinity and Holiness. Trust this. We do what we can reasonably do medically, etc to relieve suffering, but when there really is nothing that can be done, we trust that our God will be there for us in this way; God has revealed in the cross of Christ that he will be present with and for us in the unexpected and even the unacceptable place. This is the Good News we must cling to in the midst of any suffering.

21 June 2019

Oakland Civic Orchestra Mendelssohn Symphony 5, mvts 2, 3 and 4

One of my favorite movements of any Symphony!!

I love the fugue in the third movement, but I also love the Lutheran hymns, etc, throughout. After all there's a reason it is called "Reformation"! Remember these are all amateur players with day jobs. Marty (conductor) teaches High School Music and through her work with us over the last @twenty-three years we have grown into a fairly competent orchestra!! What is very cool is how much each player loves what they are doing. The ability to make music is truly a grace of God.

20 June 2019

Question On Suffering Well

[[Hi Sister Laurel, I am trying to learn what it means to suffer well. I just was diagnosed with a neurological disorder and my pastor said something about learning to suffer well. I have read several of your articles on suffering and on chronic illness as vocation. I found where you wrote: [[As in Christ's life, of itself suffering is not redemptive; it is our dependence upon God, our remaining open to God's grace (God's living self) in spite of and within that suffering that is redemptive, for it implicates God into the places or realms from which he would otherwise be excluded. (Realms like sin and death are also personal realms, and God cannot simply force his way into them, or overcome them by fiat; they imply human decisions to live --- and therefore to die --- without God, and thus they come to be embodied realities which are deeply personal. ]] Could you say more about what you think it means to suffer well? You don't talk much about your own suffering. I am wondering, do you think you know how to suffer well? I think doing that must be different than I think it is because I am getting nowhere except maybe more depressed.]]

It's a great series of questions! I am genuinely sorry for your diagnosis. Please be assured of my ongoing prayers. As you may know, I have lived my entire adult life with a medically and surgically intractable seizure disorder and a form of complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS formerly called RSD) all coupled with PTSS. Through the years I have been to the OR about 14 times and have been on any number of med trials, stellate ganglion blocks, electrical nerve stimulation, depth electrodes, opioids, and innumerable lab trips and doctors' appointments, tests, treatments, therapy, etc., to control either seizures or chronic pain or deal with the psychological ramifications of these. (Never mind the broken wrist, severed ulnar tendon, frozen shoulders, etc!) Some of these were helpful and I am grateful to God for them and especially for several of my doctors, but more important than all of these in learning to "suffer well" (I dislike this term and will say why in just a moment) has been my work in spiritual direction and personal formation. By the way, listing all these things makes me feel a little like I am doing an insane thing, and speaking in a crazy way like Paul does in Friday's first reading from 2 Cor 1:18, 21-30. But Paul does it to focus on his own weakness as the counterpart of the Grace and power of God in his life and I truly would like to do the same! Except to suggest that perhaps I can empathize some with your situation, there is no real reason otherwise to make such a list!

It is important that seizures and pain be controlled as well as possible, of course. I and anyone with disabling conditions need to function as best we can. Getting appropriate medical care is simply necessary --- morally as well as medically. These days I have found a fair combination of meds and other treatments that help with control, especially with pain, but both conditions are still uncontrolled. The real key, however, to living with these (or any!!) kinds of debilitating conditions is not to learn precisely to "suffer well" where the focus is on our suffering, but instead, to learn to live well with and within one's limitations. The focus must be on living. We are each of us so much more than our medical conditions and that is especially true when we view reality from the perspective of the grace and presence of God! Moreover, I am personally convinced that so long as our focus is on our suffering and not on our living with and in Christ, so long as our work in spiritual direction (or inner growth work) and prayer is not geared toward becoming and being essentially well, whole and/or holy in spite of our medical conditions, we make no real progress. Neither will we be able to witness effectively to others if our suffering is more than a momentary focus here or there!

Now let me be clear. I don't mean to say that we are not to speak directly of our suffering with our directors or close friends, pastor, etc. We will and must do that, of course, and we will also struggle to pray and do our own inner work in spite of the suffering that accompanies it (as it will in any deep healing or inner work --- for yes, of course all that will be involved). We cannot simply stuff our feelings or deny our pain; to do so is to deny our humanity and close ourselves off to the grace of God which can come in the midst of suffering. Still, the focus of one's life and of one's work --- especially in spiritual direction --- will be on learning to live well, coming to an essential wholeness in spite of our medical conditions. This is the very nature of any vocation. Some kinds of personal work will occasion intense suffering of itself, but this is always done so that one may live fully the abundant life God wills for and offers each of us. In Friday's lection, Paul lists all the tribulations he has dealt with, all the weaknesses he has experienced and had revealed to others through the persecutions he endured, but he does so only in order to witness to life-in-spite-of his weakness and a God whose power is perfected in weakness (both God's own kenosis and our own weakness). In this way Paul never sounds like a victim; instead he is someone whose weaknesses serve to glorify God.

To What Will we Witness?

I never feel called to witness to suffering per se. Suffering is associated with sin, the state of brokenness and estrangement, alienation and self- centeredness. It stems from our separation from the God of life and wholeness --- to whatever extent that is true for God's creation in general. (I am not speaking here of personal sin, by the way; please be very clear about that when you read me here! I am referring here to an existential state we are born into, not something we cause with our own personal sin.) What I do feel called to witness to, therefore, is the life God gives me, the hope and sense of futurity that is the result of God's grace, God's presence and "time" in my time.  When I talk this way I am talking about the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God, the inbreaking of God's time, of eternity into space and time. When this happens time takes on a new character. We find it is measured in terms of hope and also of love. One of the real problems of pain and suffering is that they make of time an endless succession of empty,  meaningless, or hopeless moments with no end and no real future in sight. When God breaks into our world of space and time our perspective shifts and time --- because of love --- is transformed and, in fact, is measured by the presence of hope.

This is what I want to witness to when I am suffering, not the pain per se. This, I think is what I am called to find and witness to when I am suffering (just as usually it is what Paul witnesses to in spite of all he has suffered for the sake of the Gospel). Not all suffering is meaningful of course, but despite the senseless suffering we may experience, the real question posed is can one find the meaning in one's life and live for and from that? Hope is a function of meaningfulness (or perhaps it is vice versa!). For those of us who are people of faith (people who trust in God), we believe (we come more and more to know)  that we are loved with an everlasting love; we know that we are important to God, that our lives are meaningful in light of God's life and that we are called upon to witness to this. Whether we suffer or are feeling joy we witness to the life that is ours in spite of our own limits and pain. After all, suffering, though real and sometimes truly awful, is not the whole of our world even when it feels like it is. We must find a way to regain the perspective we have in and through Christ before our view is filled with pain --- the eschatological or Kingdom perspective we had before pain threatened to rob our lives of meaning and hope.

Maintaining a Human Perspective:

One of the quotes I have used here before is by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I think it is very helpful in maintaining the kind of perspective needed to deal creatively or fruitfully with suffering. Bonhoeffer said, [[Not everything that happens is the will of God, but inevitably, of all that does happen, nothing happens outside the will of God,]] In other words, God does not will illness or pain; he certainly does not will lives of disability and torment; however, when these things happen we will find they can be touched and transformed by the grace of God. Paul speaks of God bringing good out of all things for those who love God, and this is the same idea. We cannot blame God for our sufferering. I don't for a minute believe God wills my illness or disability, but I have seen time and again that God will bring amazing fruit out of my suffering. It doesn't stop the seizures or the pain, but in the midst of all of that I have hope and my life is meaningful. Sometimes, because of my own resulting vulnerability, God is able to speak to me in new and more profound ways; when days are filled with pain I must remember this larger, more truly human perspective.

Again, I believe that suffering well means living well, living from and for the love  of God in a way which witnesses to hope and meaning. There's nothing easy in learning to live this way, but I am convinced it is the only way to deal with suffering effectively. Cultivating the Theological virtues (Faith, Hope, Charity or Love)  in a life characterized by suffering is critical! We have to remember that when we ourselves are mainly or even only screams of anguish,  God wills that we become instead, articulate language events which speak convincingly of God's faithfulness, love, and presence. This is what every human being is called to be, an incarnation of God's Word and Wisdom, God's love and life in Christ. If we can only be a scream of anguish, if our pain is our only discussion topic, the only thing we can talk about or focus on, we have lost perspective and need to recover it. Friends, family, therapists, spiritual directors and others can assist with this. For those with serious illnesses and disability, such persons are indispensable in helping us to maintain a truly human (and Divine) perspective --- that is, a Kingdom perspective where time is measured by hope and life by the meaning God's love gives us.

By the way, Paul only listed his litany of beatings, shipwrecks, imprisonments, etc once in all of his writing. No one ever forgets it but in the main his writing is about the Grace of God and readers have no sense at all of Paul's life being a scream of anguish. Instead he is an incarnation of the Gospel --- a powerful proclamation of the power of God perfected in weakness (2 Cor 12:9). Those who suffer should aim at being the same!

I hope this is helpful. Please feel free to write again whenever you need.

14 June 2019

On Authentic and Inauthentic C 603 Vocations

[[Dear Sister, As you know, I’ve been a reader of your blog for many years. I think you should be commended for bringing a better understanding of the hermit vocation to the public; in particular you’ve done a profound service by explaining what canon 603 means and how it is to be properly understood. Thank you! I too agree that being a canon 603 hermit is a profound vocation that must be discerned by both the individual hermit and the Church (in the person of the local bishop). It is an important vocation, but one that I think is actually rare. 
It seems to me though that you have many people writing you with all sorts of ways, and even schemes, to being declared a 603 hermit (and being able to wear a habit etc.). It seems to me that this obsession with being declared a 603 hermit by some might a symptom of the “clericalization” of the laity we’ve seen since the Council. It seems many people don’t feel like they are fully committed as Catholics if the aren’t doing “churchy” things in a really obvious and public way. It seems odd to me that so many people are obsessed with receiving canon 603 status. Why doesn’t it occur to them that they can live a quiet life of prayer and contemplation as a consequence of their baptismal vows? One does not need the bishop’s approval to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, do Lectio, go to daily Mass etc. and perhaps have a small quiet apostolate. 
This might sound harsh, but I think for some the desire to be declared a 603 hermit flows from ego and status seeking rather than a genuine vocation. Sometimes when I read these handwringing letters about the struggle of being received as an official 603 hermit, I think: “Gee whiz pal...there is nothing stopping you from living as a hermit right now! Just do it!” It seems many want to do what Thomas Merton’s therapist accused him of wanting to do which was live as a hermit with a huge flashing sign over the hermitage that said “hermit lives here”.  Perhaps we need to rediscover the power and beauty of living the lay vocation in a spirit of holiness, prayer and service in the midst of our ordinary lives. Perhaps we are underestimating what it means to simply live our baptism with integrity and purpose (which for some might look exactly like that of a professed hermit). 
This in no way is meant to denigrate those who are legitimately called to profess vows as a canon 603 hermit, but I think this call grows out of years of living that naturally on one’s own (with a spiritual director to keep one balanced). What do you think of this near obsession on the part of some to be officially declared a canon 603 hermit? Do you think it’s an expression of a type of “clericalism”? Is it an expression of ego? Finally, in St. Benedict's Rule it says that the solitary life should only be undertaken after years of testing in the monastery. Are you concerned that so many people would like to be canon 603 hermits without the proper formation (which may or may not include living in a monastic community)? I would welcome your thoughts on this. Please feel free to post this on-line if you feel it might be helpful.]]
Thanks for your comments and questions. I have written a lot here over the past decade and more on the importance of lay life, the possibility and significance for the church of folks living as lay hermits (hermits in the lay state), the need to look at our baptismal commitments and to renew them in light of adult lives and commitments, and the need to embrace fully the theology of the laity made so clear and prominent at Vatican II. Similarly almost every time I have written about the significance of the Canon 603 vocation I have either written a separate post about lay eremitical life or included caveats about failures to esteem the lay eremitical vocation. I have also written about the lay hermit life as necessary preparation for most people considering petitioning for profession under c 603.  I won't repeat all of this here. Long term formation is necessary to become a canonical hermit and living as a lay hermit under a good spiritual director is the usual way these days to receive that formation. In other words, I mainly agree with what you have written above.
This morning I revisited some comments I had written on an online forum several years ago. I reread comments I hadn't remembered --- among them, one that complained that a newspaper reporter who had interviewed me wrote I often wore jeans (I don't, though I do wear pants or jeans and a work tunic at times). The person commenting said he didn't think my life was credible if I wore jeans. Another person noted a lot of people on a monastic forum wore habits despite not being professed monastics and despite not having been given the right to style themselves in this way by any legitimate authority. The hang up regarding playacting, dress-up, costumes, etc and trivialization of the religious habit (or the title, "Religious") by those with no right to wear/use them is something that continues to be a problem and I guess that really surprises me. It carries over to those seeking to be professed under canon 603. There is no doubt the majority of people seeking to be professed are turned away as unsuitable, or, after a period of discernment, because they are found to have no eremitical vocation. And yet, over and over, people who have never lived as hermits of any kind, who may not even live alone, decide they want to wear a habit and/or "be a religious" in others' eyes.
This does seem to go hand in hand with the increased establishment of new groups of people desiring to become religious, congregations of consecrated life, etc. Unfortunately, these rarely seem to me to be developed because of recognized  unmet needs as was the case in the past. (For instance, Sisters found families with young children needed various kinds of assistance and congregations were established or diversified to meet these needs, schools were needed for low income children and communities were formed or diversified to meet these needs, etc.) What is different from many groups being formed today is that these older congregations were not formed merely so people could be religious or wear habits or have some kind of privileged status as does seem so often to be the case today.  I don't know if I would call all of this kind of thing "clericalization" exactly but I know what you are describing;  it does represent a need to "be someone", and to be recognizable and with some kind of status or standing in the Church beyond that they associate with lay life.

Let me underscore the difference in motivations alluded to in the last paragraph. Some accept religious vocations and the things associated with those vocations because they (and the institutional church entrusted with these vocations) are convinced they are being called by the Holy Spirit, not because they want to "be someone" or have some "privileged status", etc. They are true religious and experienced in their call a societal and ecclesial need their love of God and their neighbors require they help address. Depending on many factors they may or may not wear a habit; it depends on what, in their discernment serves the specific vocation and its mission. Supporting the wearing of a habit per se does not rise to this level of vocation. Feeling called but failing to secure the agreement and necessary support of the institutional church (congregations, bishops, etc) in what are specifically defined as ecclesial vocations does not rise to this level of vocation. Dressing up in a habit without being given the right to do so because one feels habits should be honored fails to recognize the farcical nature of what one is doing or the way it renders the habit incredible as a meaningful symbol of ecclesial vocations.

It has seemed to me that many people seeking canonical standing under canon 603 are often trying to find a way to validate their own isolation and sometimes their  inability to pursue a religious vocation in community. Some have been required to leave community during various stages of formation and they latch onto c 603 thereafter. A relative few (very few!) of these and others will discover that eremitical solitude is a unique form of community in the Body of Christ and truly discover that the Holy Spirit is calling them to this rather than to isolation. Many who seek canon 603 standing will do so as a way of avoiding formation or the oversight of superiors; they believe it will allow a degree of individualism with minimal formation and responsibility, a bit of prayer, a little added silence, but not really much more than this. Part of the reason for these non-vocations is an inadequate understanding regarding what the life is about, what it looks like, how truly countercultural and even prophetic it is and in what ways it is truly important for the Church and a world in which individualism is rampant and the isolated elderly, for instance, live the final years of their lives without real hope or sense of meaning. Authentic hermits speak to these folks especially vividly I think. Fraudulent or inauthentic hermits are guilty of a hypocrisy which actually ridicules and trivializes these peoples' lives and concerns.

One can only draw some broad conclusions about the possible use of canon 603 by those without eremitical vocations: ignorance of the nature of consecrated vocations, inadequate or even selfish motivations, misunderstanding the vocation as individualistic and without a true witness value or mission. The commissioning of the canonical hermit is a great grace for the hermit herself, but it is still mainly done for the sake of others --- not merely to pray for others, but to live for them in a way which shows them how meaningful their lives may be apart from status, wealth, marriage, career, etc., when we each discover God alone is sufficient for us. Eremitical solitude is opposed to individualism; the significance of the eremitical life is eviscerated when consecrated hermits live their vocations badly, when dioceses mistake being a lone individual for being a hermit, or, of course, when people pretend to eremitical vocations despite inadequate discernment or ecclesial support of their choice. In any case, you are right on when you say a person wanting to be a hermit should just get on with it. One does not need c 603 to do this, and in fact, one cannot embrace canon 603 except to the extent one has "just gotten on with it" without any promise of canon 603 profession!!

Sorry, this took so long. I hope it is at least a little helpful!!

On the Importance of Language When Thinking or Speaking About Eremitical Vocations

[[ Hi Sister, it sure seems that language is important. I am still reading in the blog I have written you about earlier and I am seeing that the author uses certain terms very differently than you do. One of the terms I am not sure of, however is "hierarchy". Is it the case that the Church is divided into three classes or groups: laity, consecrated or religious, and hierarchy? One of the points being made is that we don't speak of hierarchy hermits or laity hermits but I am thinking hierarchy is different than this. Also, I know you said this in your last response to me but Joyful Hermit does believe that a hermit making vows of the evangelical counsels ceases to be a lay person --- "precludes them" being a lay person is the way she says it. I thought though that most hermits through history have been lay hermits. You have said she holds this yourself. And lastly -- for now because Joyful says a lot of things I think are just plain wrong -- she says that married people can become hermits but that they give up their marriage rights in doing so; she also said something about "fulfilling their marriage vows" and so now being able to become hermits. That can't be right!! Can it??]]

The Catechism of the Catholic Church does speak of hierarchy, laity and, those in religious life and then says the laity is composed of all those who are not ordained or part of the religious state of life. I am not sure why this choice was made but it is more problematical than helpful for several reasons, not least that it seems to contradict the fact that canon law says very clearly that religious life, while part of the perfection of the Church, is not a third and intermediate state between clergy and laity. The CCC seems to indicate otherwise in the section now being referred to. A second part of the problem is hierarchy of the Church seems to refer to all those who are ordained clergy even though it also says the whole Church is hierarchical. Moreover common usage treats Bishops and Cardinals as hierarchy whereas priests are not commonly thought of as part of the hierarchy per se.

To do this while leaving the laity and priesthood of all believers out of the notion of hierarchy seems to contribute to the problem of clericalism in the Church --- something the Church has been trying to deal with. Finally, the Church may have been trying to deal with the term laity in the vocational sense (see below) and conflated it with laity in the hierarchical sense of the term. They might also have been trying to put religious/consecrated persons back between clergy and laity where older prayers had placed them and the Church had regarded them until; VII. At Vatican II the Church fathers worked out the following schema: 1) the hierarchical Church is divided into two main groups: 1) laity and 2) ordained clergy. The clergy are then divided further (and hierarchically) into deacons, priests, and bishops (which, in spite of common understanding, does make everyone in Orders "hierarchy!). Anyone who is not clergy is laity. This is what the term laity means when used in the "hierarchical sense". Thus, any religious, canonical hermit, (or consecrated virgin), who is not also clergy is laity in this hierarchical sense.

However, as alluded to above, the term laity has a second and vocational sense. When used in this second sense laity refers to all of those people of God who exist in the baptized state without added canonical or Sacramental conditions (so, without canonical profession or Orders which change their lay state). Those who have entered the consecrated state through public profession cease to be lay persons in this vocational sense. Hermits can come from any of the three categories of people: clergy or priests, consecrated persons, or the laity. If one makes private vows as a hermit one does not enter a new state of life. This happens only through public profession (including the "promito" made by CV's and the consecration which follows that) If a cleric makes private vows as a hermit he remains a cleric and does not enter the consecrated state. Again this happens only through public profession. If a professed/consecrated person makes private vows to live as a hermit, they remain in the consecrated state but they are NOT consecrated hermits per se nor are they hermits who live eremitical life in the name of the Church. (They do live religious vocations in the name of the Church but not eremitical life itself.) To be either of these things (a consecrated hermit per se, or one who lives the hermit vocation in the name of the Church) requires public profession and consecration as a hermit under canon 603 (or as a member of an eremitical institute of consecrated life).

 Consecrated hermits can be drawn from any of the three categories of persons, lay, consecrated or, clerical and while it is true we do not call hermits "laity hermits" or "hierarchical hermits" (at least in regard to this absurd usage "Joyful" is correct), the Church certainly does indicate the state of life in which one lives eremitical life per se, namely: lay hermits, consecrated hermits, and priest hermits.  Alternately we can say a person is a lay person and a hermit, a consecrated person and a hermit, or a priest and a hermit. The idea that because one make vows of the evangelical councils one ceases to be a lay person is simply nonsense. Lots of lay persons make these vows and have done all through the centuries, often as private specifications of their baptismal commitments. They don't cease being lay persons unless they are professed (which means publicly making vows (etc) in the hands of a legitimate superior with the authority to accept such a commitment; the making of private vows does not truly acquire the name "profession" since profession includes not just vows, etc, but the initiation into a new state of life), or unless they  receive the Sacrament of Orders.

Hermits and marriage. Such a fraught topic!! One wonders why that still is! Once upon a time the Church allowed married folks to become hermits. But no longer!! The Church today more appropriately esteems  marriage and recognizes that married love (which includes but is much more than having sexual intercourse) is a very high value which cannot be set aside for some supposedly "higher vocation" --- a notion Vatican II also distanced itself from. The idea that someone can "fulfill" their marriage duties (which, given the narrowness of the idea being put forward here, I assume means having sex and bearing children) and then somehow move beyond the witness of married love either because they are no longer of child-bearing age/ability or because they no longer have intercourse is even greater nonsense than the idea mentioned above I also called nonsense! In the Sacrament of marriage two people become "one flesh" until death and the commitment to married love remains even if this means they no longer have sex or produce children!  The faithfulness required by marriage is always of significant witness value to the Church --- and to those who belong to the consecrated state of life in the Church. Married folks do not "outgrow this" in some way. The "witness value to love" of such a "hermit"  makes me think of the Peanuts cartoon re loving mankind but hating people when s/he chooses to leave a marriage in order to embrace eremitical life. They want to love humanity but can't give their whole hearts to God through love of a spouse --- the very purpose of the couple's marriage commitment to one another!!

Thus, giving up one's marriage in this way in order to enter eremitical solitude is no longer acceptable in the Church given our understanding of the nature and value of marriage per se. Similarly, no one today would allow  two people to become hermits together (this is not eremitical solitude nor can one assume both have eremitical vocations), nor to leave a spouse behind in the name of consecrated life. This would be a betrayal of eremitical solitude and the vocation to marriage because at the heart of either situation is a refusal to love in the way one has been called to love for the whole of one's life. Beyond this I should mention that if one has been married and divorced without benefit of a declaration of nullity, the Church considers the bond of marriage to continue to exist and to stand as an impediment to receiving consecration and entering the consecrated state of life. As part of discerning a vocations, a candidate's freedom to contract a public life commitment is established by the Church before admitting her to profession and/or consecration. (When marriage is contracted, for instance, or when one is baptized after marriage, the Church administering the Sacrament sends a note to the person's baptismal church and a note is made in the registry of Sacraments. This follows a person and is called up whenever public profession is anticipated or marriage or ordinations are planned so that one's freedom to undertake such a vocation is established.)

Regarding the notion that most hermits throughout history have been lay hermits, the fact is that yes, unless a person entered an institute of consecrated life at some point and was publicly professed, if they were a hermit they were a lay hermit. This only changed in 1983 with canon 603. Remember that Bp Remi de Roo made an intervention at Vatican II seeking to allow the hermit vocation to be part of consecrated life or, what was once called " a state of perfection". While bishops watched out for hermits eremitical life was not a form of consecrated life until c 603. Only then were solitary hermits professed in universal law and thus too, only then did they become members of the consecrated or religious state). Even so, the majority of hermits today are, and I think they will always be, lay hermits --- hermits in the lay state of life. The canonical mechanism for consecration in a public (and a solitary) eremitical vocation now exists (canonical standing as part of an institute of Consecrated life has been possible since at least  the 11th century), but canon 603 is (rightfully I believe) relatively rarely used by bishops and often its requirements (rights and obligations) are onerous to those who merely desire to "go off and live in solitude" as lay persons. These latter are apt to make private vows of some sort, but they need not do so; instead they can simply determine their baptismal commitments require an eremitical response to God from them now. Since poverty, chastity and obedience proper to one's state in life is required of every Christian, these hermits can work out the shape of these commitments as specifications of their baptismal commitment. And, since they are required of every Christian they can be vowed in every state of life --- privately in lay and some clerical life, publicly in professed and consecrated life. To suggest they cannot be misunderstands the NT Gospel counsels are meant for all even though the form and nature of the commitment will change from state to state.

13 June 2019

On Canonical Hermits and the Ministry of Authority

Mary Southard, CSJ
[[Dear Sister Laurel, I was impressed with what you said about your Directors exercising the ministry of authority as  a matter of love. I am also a Religious Sister (Saint Francis) and I don't think most people understand the requirements of religious obedience in this way. What was especially striking to me was the way you explained that your change in state of life affected others and called for this new form of love from them. When you write about ecclesial vocations or "stable states of life" the way others are implicated in your profession and consecration is what you have in mind, isn't it? I had not seen it as clearly until you explained about requiring obedience as an act of love on your Director's part. The way you described how intently and well your Director must truly listen to and know you in order to require religious obedience from you by virtue of your vow also made this much clearer to me. Thank you! Oh, sorry, I forgot to ask a question! Can you say more about this? I think I have understood you, haven't I?]]

Wow! really terrific comments and questions! Thanks!! Yes, you have it exactly right and I don't think I could have said it better. When we speak of a change in one's state of life or ones initiation into a stable state of life, or when I use the term ecclesial vocations or speak of the rights and responsibilities associated with the canonical state of consecrated life, I am trying to at least point to the way an entire constellation of relationships are affected; new relationships and roles are established and new ways of loving and being loved are effected and called for. This constellation of relationships actually are a piece of what makes living one's vocation possible. The example of religious obedience is an important one because to require obedience of another because one has been entrusted with "the ministry of authority" in her life and by the Church is first of all to commit to being profoundly obedient oneself. To listen profoundly to another in a way which allows them to come to the fullness of life God calls them to, especially in an exercise of legitimate authority, is to engage in a clearly and deeply loving, creative, act.

Because this specific way of exercising authority (that is, in requiring obedience of someone by virtue of their canonical vow) is so rare for my Director (et al) I only truly discovered how loving for me and demanding for her this specific ministry can be in the last several years. I made vow(s) several times over the years, most recently in my solemn/perpetual eremitical profession under canon 603, but only in the past three years have I experienced how profoundly implicated others are in the Church's decision to admit me to public profession and her reception of my commitment . I have long appreciated that others in the Church have a right to certain expectations in my regard by virtue of public profession, but the unique demands of the vow of obedience in this matter were not clear to me until I found myself truly loved and cared for by virtue of my Director exercising this ministry in my regard. Vows certainly help to create stability in a state of live, but above all, and especially in an ecclesial vocation, it is one's relationships with others and especially with those who exercise the ministry of authority in one's regard that stability is established and protected. (By the way, my Director exercises the ministry of authority in ways other than the narrow action I have spoken of in this paragraph; all of it is loving and creative; all of it is rooted in a profound obedience on my Director's part, both to God and to my own being! As you well know, one shouldn't think requiring obedience in this specific way is all there is to the ministry of authority!)

I write here a lot about the besetting sin of our times (or at least one of these), namely, individualism. When I am asked about hermits whose vows are private or those who do not seek canonical standing I often comment on how difficult it must be to live this way. In part in making this observation I am recognizing that such vocations may well be inherently unstable; as I have noted before the world militates against such vocations but in part I am also recognizing that such vocations may well be inherently unstable because they are also unrelated to others in an institutional or structural way and, unfortunately are poorly linked to the reality we call (legitimate or ecclesial) authority. If so, then they also lack the stability associated with the canonical hermit's consecrated state of life. (This is not to say that such hermits cannot build in the kinds of relationships which will provide greater stability and protect eremitical solitude from becoming skewed in the direction of individualism, but the vow of religious obedience implicates others who make a binding commitment to the hermit and the ministry of authority her vocation requires. What I think is often not recognized sufficiently --- not least because it is too rarely experienced, even indirectly, by those outside religious or consecrated life -- is that the legitimate exercise of authority which is part and parcel of empowering another to live their vocations in the name of the Church, is (or is meant to be) acts of love which empower and set free.

Stereotypes of hermits abound, but so do stereotypes of those called to exercise the ministry of authority in our lives. One blogger I can think of regularly writes about how it is that some seek canonical standing because of pride or the need for some kind of prestige, a penchant for legalism, etc. Unfortunately, she writes from outside the canonical vocation as do others who also automatically associate canon law or the embrace of canonical standing with legalism or some unusual love for canon law, etc.. But as I have said here a number of times, "law (can and often does) serve(s) love"! Those who agree to serve in the exercise of legitimate authority in our lives have assumed an awesome responsibility, not because they are into power or pride (most are very far from these!!), but because they have accepted a call to assist God in loving us into wholeness; they have accepted the sometimes difficult call to assist one to achieve and live a disciplined, ordered, and personally integral vocational stability in their state of life.

We recognize relatively easily that someone accepting a role in congregational leadership is accepting a call to love in a unique and challenging way. But what is more generally true is that in the life of anyone entering a new state of life, people must step up and take on a similar role or that person's life will lack some of the stability it is meant to be marked by for the sake God's life in that person, her vocation, and the life of the Church. This is one of the reasons initiation into new states of life involve public commitments, not private ones. Canonical hermits live a life of the silence of solitude but, again, they do so within a constellation of relationships, some of which are directly implicated in making sure the hermit can and does live her vocation with the integrity she and the Church as such feels she is called to do, but also as the Church has allowed her to publicly commit to doing. This is the heart of what it means to be admitted to an ecclesial vocation. Again eremitical life is about a solitude lived with God for the sake of others. I should underscore that this solitude, which is never to be confused with isolation, is also empowered by the love of others for the hermit (and the hermit's love for them!); those exercising the ministry of authority in her regard are primary among these.

On Obedience versus Religious Obedience

[[Hi Sister Laurel, I wondered if you owe your spiritual director obedience? Did you come to owe her obedience in a different way after your profession? My current director doesn't seem very keen on me owing her "obedience" and I was wondering if it is a matter of style or something -- if you know what I mean!]]

Thanks for your questions: they are good ones! Most contemporary spiritual directors will not accept obedience from their directees if by this we mean religious obedience of the type owed a legitimate superior because of public profession in religious/consecrated life. After all, spiritual directors are not ordinarily the person's legitimate superior (there are very good reasons for this) and are not authorized to request or accept this kind of obedience. It is simply not responsible. Neither is it truthful. This means I am not surprised your spiritual director is not too keen on the whole idea! I do not encourage my own directees to look to me for "commands" or "directives" on what they are to do or not do. I often give suggestions on journaling topics, Scripture passages to meditate on, etc, but these are not commands. The client (or directee) must decide for themselves what is most important or helpful in these suggestions and undertake them in that light --- not because I have said to "Do this". At the same time, I do expect my clients to practice a more general kind of obedience than that undertaken in consecrated life by virtue of a vow. That is, I expect a foundational attentiveness to the client's own heart, to our conversations, to the presence of God in their lives, in the Word of God and so forth. But a spiritual director as SD is not one's legitimate superior and is not owed the kind of obedience one embraces and owes by virtue of a vow of (religious) obedience.

All that said then, the answer to your first question is no, I do not owe my SD obedience in the sense defined by vow -- at least not insofar as she is my spiritual director. However, my SD is also a delegate serving the bishop and me for the sake of this eremitical vocation (we take care with questions of internal and external forums --- the usual area of difficulty in having an SD serve as delegate); that means that I see her regularly in place of my bishop who, after all, cannot meet with me nearly as frequently as I might need and does not know me nearly as well. Because she is my delegate (we --- meaning Sister Marietta and myself, but also Sister Susan, a co-delegate --- also use the term Director for this role --- much as we might call a Mistress of Novices or Juniors a Director of either of these today. Insofar as either Marietta or Susan are also my Directors in this sense, yes, beyond obedience in a more general sense, I owe them religious obedience by virtue of the public vow I made in the hands of my bishop.

Neither of these Sisters nor my bishop are much into requiring this more specifically defined religious obedience from me, but occasionally one of them will do so. I am often encouraged to do x or y, but rarely is there a specific directive to limit x, do y, or refrain from z! I am ordinarily surprised when I receive an actual directive (it is both unusual and ordinarily unnecessary) but it always helps me in whatever circumstances I find myself; what is most striking to me is how it reveals just how profoundly obedient to what is happening within me my Director has been herself! Still, the ordinary obedience (attentiveness and care) I give to communications with my delegate is usually sufficient to affect the kind of fruit desired. My sense is that this is generally true of this kind of relation in the lives of religious today. It is a good deal more than style because it is spiritually and psychologically demanding and more appropriate to mature religious, but I definitely know what you mean.

It is important and probably should go without saying that religious obedience should never be infantilizing. It is also important that religious obedience help us to be truly obedient to God who rarely if ever simply tells us what to do. We must learn to listen, not only to our directors but to the Spirit of God alive in our own hearts, minds, sensibilities, and even in our own bodies and to discern what it calls for from us. Simply being told what to do and doing what we are told does not foster this kind of discernment or growth. It used to be taught that we are to give up our own will and do the will of God (where the command of a superior represented the will of God). Today we focus more on the shaping and conforming of our wills to the will of God in a way which allows us to mature as discerning human beings. A superior is to assist in this growth and this means s/he will do a lot of intent listening to God, to his/her own heart and to us as well (including our psychological, physical, and spiritual states, needs and potentialities. It is a very much more demanding expression of obedience than the simple "Do as you are told" or "Command what you will even if you don't know well the subject's circumstances" kind of obedience.

        By the way,  regarding your last question, yes, the quality and nature of the obedience I owed my Director/delegate changed in light of my vow. It is true that Marietta consented to being my Director in this sense prior to profession and in some ways that would have affected a change but strictly speaking, until I was publicly professed in the hands of the bishop (meaning until he became my legitimate superior because that is who "in the hands of" indicates he is), neither was Marietta my Director/delegate. This is because until the moment of the profession (meaning until the making and reception of one's life commitment and consecration by God through the mediation of the diocesan Church) I became subject to the authority of the Church in a new way. I might have pretended or even desired to be bound to someone in this sense prior to profession (this is especially true when I was younger and this kind of accountability meant a new and somehow intriguing way of  "belonging" in community***) but it is the public act of profession which establishes one in a new state of life with attendant rights and obligations. Religious obedience is one of these.

***It is interesting the way we sometimes "like" the idea of being bound in obedience to another. I know that directees sometimes like to think they are bound to me (or to other directors) in this way. Apparently there is an attendant sense that one is truly cared for by another in this way. I experienced this as a young religious, but in my recent experience, as I have noted above, those requiring obedience from me in the sense of my vow ordinarily demonstrate in what they have required a profound sense of my own needs, well-being, potentialities, etc. It is (or at least has been for me) a profoundly loving thing for legitimate superiors to exercise the ministry of authority over another in this way. (Of course this can and has been both misused and abused in the past; at times it has been exercised in terms of power and pettiness and not in terms of love. When exercised in love, however, the ministry of authority is both freeing and empowering of the true self. I have been delighted to discover that in recent years.

12 June 2019

Oakland Civic Orchestra: Mendelssohn's 5th Symphony (the "Reformation")

This is, hands down, one of my favorite symphonies and I have played it before with the Oakland Civic Orchestra (which makes the bittersweetness of this performance a bit less bitter and a little sweeter for me). This is only the first movement but I will add videos of further movements as I receive them. Enjoy this amateur community orchestra! We have always played good repertoire without abbreviations or adaptations, and (with the grace of God I am sure) always managed to "come through" and make music with Marty Stoddard's leadership.

10 June 2019

Once Again on Bloggers Misconstruing the Church's Position on Vocations to the Consecrated State

[[Sister Laurel, have you seen the following from The Catholic Hermit blog? I would have copied more but here is the link: Synonymous With Prayer. I don't understand how the kind of misinformation she continues to post can be left unaddressed by the Church.

[[There is the aspect of those who would have it that only the hermit vocation is consecrated if publicly professed via canon law; yet the hermit vocation overflows in both a recently written Church law as well as the true call of God to the individual soul.  The eremitic call and the soul's acceptance has been validated through the centuries even back in the ancient lives of hermit prophets--that call and even silently professed avowal which permeates the conscious and unconscious and is.  This form of hermit, traditional, is in the Church's earliest history, made valid and real by God's law, and has always been recognized by the Church and her ordained priests and laity innately, mystically, by means of call and acceptance and vocation lived and as if breathed, consciously and unconsciously--as is prayer.]]

Yes, I have seen it. I will respond paragraph by paragraph (I have also copied a couple of paragraphs you did not since you provided the link to do so). Prescinding from what she seems to be saying about prayer and the hermit life being synonymous, I think it is unfortunate that Joyful Hermit  cannot simply accept the truth involved in Canon 603, namely, that the Church herself teaches that the consecrated state of life is entered by public profession. (cf par 944 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: The life consecrated to God is characterized by the public profession of the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience, in a stable state of life recognized by the Church.) As I have said many times, vocations to the consecrated state of life are ecclesial vocations which "belong" to the Church herself;  the Church values, protects, and governs these vocations with mutual discernment and everything that flows from public profession. Public profession (a broader term than the making of vows) results in publicly binding obligations, rights, and structures which allow the Church to act as she herself is called by God to do with these vocations --- and to make sure the hermits do the same.

Clearly this is not my own individual "take" on things.  CCC par 944 is unambiguous in what it says; it is true of cenobitical religious vocations, consecrated eremitical vocations, and vocations to consecrated virginity. Canon 603 itself is very clear that a hermit is recognized in law (something necessary to all consecrated states of life in the Church) as a consecrated/Catholic hermit if the local bishop professes her according to Canon 603. This canonical form of life is a significant expression of eremitical life today. In fact, despite the way Ms McClure (Joyful Hermit) uses the term traditional for historically common or usual, it is now an explicitly traditional (that is, a normative) expression of solitary eremitical life today; cenobitical or semi-eremitical life is the other normative expression. Canon 603 has become part of the Church's patrimony which she will hand on (tradere) to further generations. In composing and promulgating it she did the best she could to recognize the central elements of eremitical life revealed through the centuries and codify these. Thus, even if one is not going to become a canonical hermit, canon 603 presents the church's normative vision of eremitical life, no matter the expression one embraces.

Even so, eremitical life itself falls into both canonical (consecrated) and non-canonical categories. Many have no desire to associate themselves with the requirements of Canon 603 or other canonical forms of eremitical life; they prefer either to make private vows or no vows at all. This is more than fine, especially when the reasons for doing so are cogent and well-discerned. The history of the eremitical vocation began as a movement of lay hermits (hermits living in the lay state of life) with the Desert Fathers and Mothers and, though quite often in the Middle Ages and sometimes later as well, hermits were approved by their bishops according to diocesan statutes in order to prevent some of the eccentricities associated with some who called themselves hermits as well as to protect and validate genuine vocations, generally speaking, in the Western Church eremitical life died out except in canonically-founded congregations like the Camaldolese and Carthusians. Today, there has been a resurgence of interest in eremitical life. Some few will be consecrated under canon 603 in a Rite mediated by the Church in the person of the hermit's bishop. Many others will remain in their lay state and make private vows (or, again, no vows at all). What is important is that the person lives an authentic eremitical life in the integrity of whichever state they exist. I don't know any hermit, whether canonical or non-canonical who would dispute this.

[[ It is as if the one form, as if needing validation by visible production of vows, publicly noted, requiring a bishop to approve and receive and announce, is that of production and profit.  And, like prayer, the hermit vocation that is not visible, not noted by external garment, title, and public avowal and reception by a bishop, seems not productive, licit, nor consecrated in these current times. Then one considers that those who overly prize the public profession of vows, may consider the privately, hidden profession of vows to be, even if declare not so, deep down hold fast to demeaning the traditional hermits, privately professed, as not consecrated in the life of the church, and as like the hidden mystery of prayer, not visibly valid or en par with the visible.]]

 There is a hiddenness about the eremitical vocation, yes, but to call a vocation "public" as the Church uses the term does not mean visible per se. Neither does a public vocation mean the vocation ceases to be essentially hidden. Instead it means publicly responsible, canonically (legally) responsible in and for the people and life of the Church --- and in greater society as well. It means as noted above, that one is initiated into a state of life with legal rights and obligations beyond that of baptism and the lay state itself. (This simply means there are legal (canonical) and moral rights and obligations which do not stem from baptism alone. A hermit embraces and is admitted to these by the Church through public profession.) It means the person lives this vocation in the name of the Church via her discernment, permission, profession, consecration, and commissioning. This is not about "production and profit" --- whatever that actually means with regard to Canon 603 life!  One does not merely say, "I made private vows and so now I am a Catholic Hermit." Both call and response are mediated in the Rite of Profession. Even so, the eremitical vocation remains an essentially hidden one just as the public and canonical vocations of contemplative nuns and monks whose vows are essentially hidden even when the monastery receives guests. In any case, canon 603 vocations are public vocations in this sense; in some limited ways are also visible because they are known and lived "in the name of the Church".

I will say that personally I don't know any canonical hermits who demean those who are non-canonical. The vocations differ from one another, yes, but one is not of itself better than or superior to the other. Most solitary canonical hermits today spent at least some time as non-canonical hermits while we discerned with the Church whether or not we were called to consecrated eremitical lives; we certainly esteem non-canonical vocations and those who live them often because we lived such a vocation ourselves --- usually for some years. The problem comes only when what is being lived is not particularly authentic or honest --- and this is true whether the so-called hermit in question is canonical or non-canonical. (And let's be clear that the eremitical life has always been troubled by such hypocrisy and inauthenticity. It is one of the reasons canon 603 is so very important for the quality of all solitary eremitical vocations.)

[[This comparison is not true of all hermits who choose the public profession route.  But it is amazing to realize that the hermit vocation, like prayer, can slip into the division and misconceptions that many hold of prayer--that the visible product, the external approval is in effect, consecrated in the Church, whereas like prayer, the actuality and beauty of the hermit vocation, a human hermit's very life has always been poured out through living holy vows professed to God through the centuries through the very Sacred Heart of Christ.]]

All canonical (consecrated) hermits value their vocations and the importance of its public nature. It would be surprising (and intolerable) if they did not. Some of us will write about the nature and significance of this specific call because the Church recognizes the need for us to do so and appreciates our efforts in this regard. At the same time we value the hiddenness of our lives as derived from the central values embodied and codified in Canon 603 (e.g., stricter separation from the world, and assiduous prayer and penance); we value the important ways eremitical life is antithetical to the individualism so rampant in today's world, and of course, as just noted, we all value non-canonical eremitical vocations (and semi-eremitical lives) as well. Specifically, we value the way the Holy Spirit works to call people to eremitical solitude in whatever state of life this should occur --- lay, consecrated, or clerical. I personally believe it is more difficult to live eremitical life authentically without canonical standing. This is true, I think, for a couple of reasons: first, because the world-at-large militates against the values central to eremitical life, and secondly, because one needs a strong sense of the value and importance of what one is living within the Church. The Church gives us both of these by assuring stable forms of eremitical life with both Canon 603 and the canons governing congregations dedicated to eremitical life.

At the same time, valuing all such vocations does not obviate the differences that exist between canonical (consecrated) and non-canonical callings. Neither does it allow us to pretend that the Church's own theology of consecrated life and her responsibility for such vocations codified in canon law simply don't exist or can be individually interpreted by someone without important theological or eremitical formation. I would say quite frankly, if anyone I know demeans non-canonical (lay) eremitical vocations, it is the author of the blog you are citing. She actually believes lay people cannot live dedicated hermit lives because, contrary to the Church's own doctrine and theology of consecrated life, she holds that private vows (acts of private dedication) initiate one into the consecrated (public canonical) state. The upshot of this erroneous and individualistic view of things is that anyone in the lay state making a private vow or vows as a hermit would supposedly cease to be a lay person --- despite what the Church, her bishops, or her canon law says in the matter.

[[This is not to say that a hermit in this century who now may choose to have a bishop be the mediator, of sorts, receiving the vows the hermit professes and whose intentions are to live the vocation as vows in essence poured out to God.   Yet there has always been the consecration by Christ, and Christ as Head of the Body, His Church, available to any soul who avows him- or herself in various ways, means, and vocations, to invisibly live out as a prayer, "the love of beauty--caught up in the glory of the living and true God."]]

I do agree with Joyful on some things. Of course Christ is the head of the Body of the Church and yes, of course ALL vows, whether private or public are made to God who accepts them with delight and gratitude. I don't dispute any of that nor does the Church. The fundamental point, however, which must be maintained is that while God consecrates individuals, God only does so through the normative and authoritative mediation of the Church in the person (in case of initiation into the consecrated eremitical state) of the local bishop. God entrusts certain vocations not to individuals alone, but to the Church herself and then to those she admits to profession  and consecration. It is not merely that an individual chooses to be professed this way. The desire to be professed in this way is only the first step of an usually-long process of mutual discernment.  Again, these vocations are specifically recognized as ecclesial and are undertaken in the name (and thus, only through the authority) of (entrusted by God to) the Church.

Bishop de Roo desired this standing in law be extended to eremitical vocations because he saw great value in the vocation and it is this request ("intervention") he made at Vatican II. This is what canon 603 recognizes and establishes for the first time in universal law. It is what the Church codifies in that same canon. We can certainly say we wish the Western Church had better esteemed authentic eremitical life throughout the centuries as well as the Eastern Church always has, but at least she does so now! One may wish reality were different than this, but so long as one is a Catholic, one is bound to recognize that initiation into the consecrated state of life always happens through public mediation in the hands of a legitimate superior. In the case of consecrated hermits it occurs through the Rite of Profession which is larger than the making of vows per se and can include solemn Consecration (occurring during the Rite of perpetual or solemn profession). Facts are facts. Refusing to accept them, twisting them into some sort of pseudo theological pretzel to support one's own inability to accept reality (something which seems to me to be especially antithetical to any eremitical vocation!) doesn't help anyone --- especially those who are genuinely discerning vocations to some expression of eremitical life.

By the way, any person seriously seeking information on becoming a Catholic Hermit can and should speak to chancery personnel, especially if they have questions beyond those I or others like me can answer. I am not personally concerned that the Church has not noticed Joyful's most recent blog (she has had a number of them as well as what looks to be nearly 100 video blogs over the past 7-8 years or so) --- though Rome is concerned by the incidence of fraudulent eremitical "vocations" -- something Joyful's blog can, unfortunately, encourage --- even if this is entirely inadvertent. I am concerned that some folks have actually trusted what she writes about consecrated eremitical life only to discover (sometimes quite painfully) that they have been significantly misled. One who wrote me had represented herself to her parish as a "consecrated Catholic Hermit" on the strength of what Joyful writes in her blog and someone was less than tactful in explaining the truth to her. Another went to her diocese representing herself in the same way because she wished to be granted permission to wear either a cowl or a habit (not sure which or if both) and represent Catholic eremitical life in her parish. The chancery explained the process of becoming a consecrated hermit under c 603 and the requirements for being granted permission for wearing a cowl/habit. She too was embarrassed but grateful they handled it well.