31 July 2019

Why Canon 603?

[[ Dear Sister, is it true that Canon 603 was formulated or published in order to prevent abuses of eremitical life by hermits? Is Canon 603 important for other reasons than this? Also, has there been a history of problems with hermits and if so, why would the Church institutionalize such a vocation?]]

Thanks for your questions. I have answered these in the past so let me refer you to past answers. One article you might find helpful in this regard is Fraudulent Hermits Throughout History from November 2015. This article notes there is a history in the Church of dealing with fraudulent hermits (though more fundamentally these were attempts to create norms for authentic eremitical life) and also outlines how canon 603 differs from these attempts, not only in scope but in nature and origin. There are earlier articles on the origin and history of canon 603 (cf label Canon 603 - history), most particularly which outline the positive reasons Bp Remi De Roo intervened at Vatican II in order to get the Church Fathers to recognize eremitical life as a "state of perfection" (a vocation to the consecrated state of life). (See especially, Followup on Visibility and Betrayal of Canon 603 for the first article I wrote here in which I remember listing the positive reasons given by Bishop De Roo.)

To answer your questions very briefly here, canon 603 was created because Bp Remi de Roo had experienced eremitical life as Bishop Protector of about a dozen hermits who had come together after leaving their solemn vows as monks. Their monasteries did not allow for eremitical life in their proper law so these monks had to leave their monasteries, their vows, and be secularized in order to pursue life as hermits. It was a big sacrifice but eventually they founded a laura and did so under Bp De Roo. He saw the significant contributions to the Church these vocations represented and wrote an intervention as Vatican II to support making this vocation part of those allowing for public profession and consecration. Almost 20 years later canon 603 was the result. Thirty-six years later c 603 is still a relatively unknown and less understood vocation.

I would argue the vocation is important for all the reasons Bp De Roo enumerated, but above all I would argue the vocation is important because it establishes solitude as antithetical to isolation or a selfish individualism; it also, therefore, gives an important example to isolated elderly and the chronically ill and disabled regarding the completion that is possible in God alone and so too, to the meaningfulness of any life rooted in God. Bp De Roo listed at least a half dozen positive reasons for the recognition of this vocation by the Church. Abuses, though sometimes problematical throughout the history of the vocation, were not listed as part of the origin of canon 603. The Church is not unaware of the problems with hermits in her history, but what is more compelling are the prophetic and witness values of this vocation. Hermits proclaim the Gospel of Christ with a peculiar vividness. As noted recently, in the lives of hermits we hear of (and see) a God whose power is perfected in weakness, who alone completes us in our authentic humanity, who loves us with an everlasting love, and who calls us to a radically countercultural life as Christians.

While we can't avoid speaking of the stereotypes, fraudulent versions, and distortions of eremitical life, the positive reasons for institutionalizing the vocation are much more important. At bottom the Church recognizes this life as a gift of God given/entrusted to the Church for her own life and edification.

28 July 2019

Followup Question on Lay Hermits and Their Potential Capacity to Speak Better to the Laity

[[Hi Sister, I remember where you once said you were surprised to find that in some ways being a lay hermit might have been able to speak better to laity than being a consecrated hermit under c 603. I wondered if you could explain how it is this might be so.]]

Good question and not one I can recall following up on before this. Thanks for asking. One of the problems we still deal with despite Vatican II is the sense many of the laity (in the vocational sense of that word) still seem to have is that a call to deep prayer lives and exhaustive holiness is somehow the purview of religious. That said it seems at least equally true that living such a life (of exhaustive holiness) but as a hermit, when it is considered at all, is considered the purview of religious. While many lay persons feel called to live lives of solitude and consider themselves to be hermits, the call to a life of "assiduous prayer and penance", stricter separation from the world, and "the silence of solitude" --- which is far more than a life of silence and solitude, still most often seems to be considered the purview of religious. A too-distinct line is drawn between the life of the religious and that of the lay person (using lay here in the vocational rather than hierarchical sense).


Eremitical life, as it is defined in c 603, then, is rightly seen as giving us a vocation which is vastly different than simply going off and living in silence and solitude, or even of loving solitude. Part 2 of the canon makes clear that a consecrated form of this life is lived by making a public commitment in the hands of one's local bishop. However, part 1 of the canon simply defines the nature of eremitical life per se as this is understood in the Roman Catholic Church. The problem is that very few lay persons I have read or spoken to seem to think Part 1 of canon 603 can describe a vocation suited to lay persons, because it specifically defines a desert vocation. Sometimes this becomes clearer as lay persons express comfort calling themselves solitaries or "lovers of solitude" but eschew the description hermit because they cannot see themselves embracing a desert spirituality; I have seen this reflected even in popular publications like Raven's Bread, a newsletter for hermits and other lovers of solitude.

A desert vocation is profoundly dependent upon God in the silence of solitude for one's completion as a human being; it is relatively and even absolutely rare for a person to be called to human wholeness in this way. As a result many lay persons embrace a less demanding form of life where some degree of prayer, silence, and solitude matches their temperaments, perhaps, but risking everything on the fulfillment which comes from a solitary relationship with God is simply not their desire or their actual vocation. The Episcopal Church recognizes solitaries who are not hermits --- vowed religious who are neither members of congregations or institutes of consecrated life nor who embrace a true desert vocation. Their lives, though of undoubted value, do not speak to others in the same way a hermit's might, nor do these people necessarily desire to live that same witness. Neither do those who choose to live a kind of "part-time" eremitism where solitude is a kind of luxury and assiduous prayer and penance are less ways of life than they are significant additions to one's way of life. (More about this another time, I think.)

And yet, it is my opinion that lay persons who do embrace all the elements of canon 603 apart from its Section 2 (the provision for public vows under the supervision of the diocesan bishop), and do live as hermits, also have the capacity to say to every person that we are called, without exception, to live the values of assiduous prayer lives with some degree of silence and solitude and an essential separation from the world (that is from that which is contrary to God or promises fulfillment apart from God). Moreover, these hermits can say to isolated elderly, and the chronically ill, that eremitical life itself (as described in canon 603) can be a perfect means of contextualizing their lives and serving others in an incredibly meaningful way, whether or not these persons experience a call to consecration under canon 603 --- and (perhaps especially) even if they do not precisely because they are less well recognized by the Church than are consecrated vocations. Again, the Church must do better in encouraging and recognizing lay vocations generally, but lay eremitical vocations specifically.

My point in the article you referred to was that, surprisingly, my very consecration separated me somewhat from those who neither seek nor are called to live as consecrated hermits and it may have made it harder for them to consider eremitical life as a vocation for lay persons. Given the importance of eremitical life as a particularly meaningful context and even a potential vocation which can assist isolated elderly and chronically ill (et al.) to appreciate the value of their lives when other standards (work, productivity, social activity, etc) fall away, I found this problematical. I wanted to witness to a way of life that allowed  the chronically ill and isolated elderly to discover a new and marked value to their lives, particularly as a privileged way to proclaim the gospel of the God whose power is perfected in weakness. To find my own vocation was mainly seen as only appropriate for religious and was not considered as defining a life appropriate for lay persons (in the vocational, not hierarchical sense) was surprising and disappointing to me.

27 July 2019

On denying Chronic Illness in Order to be Admitted to Profession under Canon 603

prodigal daughter2.jpg[[Dear Sister, have you heard of dioceses that refuse to profess hermits because they have a chronic illness? I am concerned my diocese will not agree to profess me because I am chronically ill so I am thinking about not telling them about this until after profession.. What do you think of this idea?]]

Thank you for writing. I have to say frankly that I think this specific idea is really terrible. While I understand the fear you are experiencing, it makes no sense to approach your diocese with a petition to admit you to eremitical profession while considering withholding important (in this case critical) personal information from them. Canonically I believe your diocese could determine your profession to be invalid in such circumstances but I would need to check that out. (Addendum: see the following passage regarding malice in the making of a vow, The emboldened portion does indicate that a lie in a matter of external forum of the kind you are envisioning would lead to the invalidity of vows: [[Malice (dolus) in the context of this canon is the deliberate act of lying or of concealing the truth in order to get another person to make a vow which he or she would not do if the truth were known, or in order for oneself to get permission to make a vow, which would not be permitted if the truth were known. For example, a novice conceals from her superiors some external forum fact that, if known, would result in her not being admitted to profession of vows. Such malice invalidates the profession of vows (cf. C. 656, 4)]] I think a diocese could decide that they would have professed you in any case and not act on c 656.4, but the possibility of invalidating your vows clearly exists.

Canonical matters aside please consider the wisdom and import of approaching public profession while withholding such a significant piece of personal information. Your chronic illness is not something peripheral to your life, whether as a hermit or not, but central to it and to the witness you are called to give to the Gospel. Is there a dimension of your life which is not touched by your illness and its requirements?  In light of this, how will you write a Rule of life that binds you in law if you do not include the fact of chronic illness? How will you be bound in obedience to legitimate superiors who do not know this important truth about you? (In this matter consider how they would exercise a ministry of authority --- which is a ministry of love --- if they know you so incompletely or partially and in such a significant matter.) Whom do you expect to be for others who suffer from chronic illness or various forms of isolation? (I know you said you would let folks know the truth after profession, but consider if this is really the model of dealing with chronic illness you want to set for others in their own lives?) What is your relationship with the God of truth whose power is made perfect in weakness?

Finally, please consider that many diocesan hermits have chronic illnesses while others are aging and becoming more or less disabled in this way. We are finding our way in this as in many things. In my experience dioceses do not usually refuse to profess a person simply because of a chronic illness if that person can live the central elements and spirit of eremitical life at the same time. Some illnesses will not allow this (nor will some vocations), but since a major part of eremitical solitude is its distinction from isolation, most of us find that chronic illness is something eremitical life can redeem in ways which allow illness to be a significant witness to the individual's true value even (and maybe especially) when eremitical life does not occasion healing from the illness itself. If one cannot risk being truthful in this matter it may suggest that one is simply not suited to the risk of eremitical life itself or the radical honesty it demands --- at least not at this point in time. On the other hand, if one's diocese is talking about making a blanket rejection of a chronically ill hermit, perhaps it is time for candidates to educate them, at least generally, re the place of chronically ill hermits in c 603 vocations.

To achieve such education, however, means living the truth in a transparent way, and doing so long and faithfully enough that you can articulate it clearly for your diocese. Eremitical life itself is edifying; the eremitical life of one who is chronically ill or disabled is meant to be doubly so. The basic question your own query raises and which one must answer convincingly will always be, which does one desire more, to live eremitical life and serve the merciful God of truth in this way or to be professed canonically? Canonical profession can and does serve our living out of eremitical life, especially as an ecclesial vocation, but it is a means to the journey of radical truthfulness, authentic selfhood and holiness; it is not the end in itself.

23 July 2019

On Writing a Rule as a Formative Process

[[Dear Sister Laurel, if I want to guide my own formation as a hermit --- I mean with the help of my spiritual director of course --- you suggest writing several Rules over a period of time. Will that work for me if I am self-guided? Should I include the elements of canon 603 in this Rule? Why would I need to write several? Do I write until I have one the diocese will accept? What if they never say yes to professing me? Thanks!]]

Good questions. I think that using the exercise of writing several Rules over a period of several years can work very well for you or anyone whether or not they are seeking to become a diocesan (solitary canonical) hermit. One of the things that is true about writing is it allows us not only to express what we know but also to learn as we write or to bring to conscious awareness insights which were unconscious and largely hidden from us. Writing a Rule is one of the most important formative experiences a hermit can have I believe. One consolidates what one has learned about living in the silence of solitude and what one has learned about the silence of solitude as a goal of human being. One learns as one writes about who one is with and in terms of God, how God has worked in one's life, how God is present in solitude, what kind of prayer one's  relationship with God necessitates, when and how one does this (or allows God to do this!), what work one needs to do, what study, lectio, recreation, rest, and community one must have to be a healthy hermit, and so forth. Until one puts these kinds of things in words, until one articulates how one lives and will protect or foster them, one is not fully aware of them.

At the same time one will discover where one has no words at all for something which is central to eremitical life. Sometimes we assume we are living all the elements of canon 603 until we attempt to say how and why we live them. Then we may find we have not given sufficient time or thought to a given element. For instance, in my first Rule I completely omitted "stricter separation from the world" because I was really unsure of the validity of the term. I didn't fully understand it and I wasn't sure I could commit to living what I thought it meant! It took me some years to work through the meaning of this term and to formulate what I understood in a way I could commit canonically (publicly) to. Thus, I kept it in mind, read about it, prayed and thought about it, studied the way it might fit in terms of the Gospel and my own vocation and well-being, and generally worked out what I was committing myself to (and what I was NOT committing myself to since there are serious misunderstandings of this term associated with some monastic life). The difference between silence and solitude and "the silence of solitude" was also something it took me time to understand. Writing allows for consolidation of all of this while planning to eventually write allows one to ponder and pray over what one is being asked to write and commit oneself to. This is helpful not only in formation but discernment as well.

I believe it is imperative to use the elements of canon 603 to guide one's writing and one's life as a hermit even if one is going to be a lay or non-canonical hermit. These elements define the very nature of eremitical life as it is recognized in the Church. Of course if one desires to be professed by the Church and enter the consecrated state of life one clearly has to be living these elements; they are normative for the diocesan hermit. I think, though, that, with the exception of the vows of religious obedience and chastity in celibacy, they are important for the lay hermit living eremitical life in the Catholic Church as well. In all of this they are important points for reflection, study, discussion with others, and for prayer. Your director should be able to assist you in learning about each element and in building them into your life in a way which, more and more, defines that life as eremitical. Journaling or keeping a notebook about them will also be of assistance and help prepare you for writing your own Rule of life and one that is adequate for guiding you for years to come.

My suggestions for writing may differ depending upon whether you are trying to become a diocesan hermit or not (you ask about writing a Rule your diocese will accept but otherwise this is not clear). If you are participating in a mutual discernment process with your diocese you will need to share each version and discuss what growth (formation) each represents when contrasted with the last one and take into account what the Vicar for Religious has to say about the process and your own suitability for eremitical life; beyond this it can be used to help your diocese to gauge your own readiness for vows. Otherwise (if this is a private matter involving private vows or no vows at all) you will need to discuss matters with your SD (spiritual director) and evaluate your growth and possible focuses for the future. Generally I would suggest you begin by writing a summary of what prayer, recreation, study, work, and rest is important in your daily life with God in solitude. Write, for instance, how you maintain the silence of solitude and stricter separation from the world. Write how you serve others, whether in the silence of solitude or in other forms of ministry, what your prayer life looks like, how you understand the penance of eremitical life, religious poverty, etc.


You may not be including all of these elements at present and that's okay. Again, this first document is not so much a Rule as it is a summary of what you are currently living. Start then with this summary; use it as a guide for an eventual Rule and then, with the help of your director, discuss and build in the missing elements over time. At the same time and with an eye on canon 603, be aware of what you are not prepared to write about at all or what does not seem to be working well for you. Discuss these elements (e.g., not enough lectio or study time, silence is problematical somehow,  dealing with friends and family,  relating with your parish community, supporting yourself from work undertaken within a hermitage, etc) with your director and make adjustments with her assistance. (You can also contact hermits and ask for their input on various topics.) Make notes from time to time on the elements you have not yet included or are unready to write about, read about them, discuss them with any others you might know who do live them (other Religious and even other hermits).

At the end of a year or two during which you will have made changes with the aid of your director, consider whether you are ready to write a Rule which you could commit to live for a year or so. If you are working with a diocese and moving toward public profession this Rule should largely reflect the central elements of canon 603; again, have a discussion with the Vicar for Religious of what you are doing and why; writing in this way can provide your diocese with a significant and substantial means to discern your vocation with you. The Rule you write at this point would be your first draft of an actual Rule, so to speak, and it would be your first attempt to write a plan of eremitical living which meets your own needs and gifts. As you attempt to live it, again attend to what works and what does not, what changing circumstances need to be accommodated in some way, and what dimensions of canon 603 still seem to be beyond your vision of the life; with your director's aid make what changes are necessary. At the end of the year evaluate 1) how well your life and  Rule reflect the vision of eremitical life made normative in c 603, and 2) how ready are you to make vows of the evangelical counsels? Usually you will need at least another year or two to learn about and begin to consciously live the evangelical counsels. At the same time you may need to make more changes in your life to accommodate additional elements of c 603.

I believe it is only at the end of this time (so, several years) that you would you even be potentially ready to write a Rule which would be binding in law for profession under canon 603 and it might be wise to write another temporary Rule in the meantime as a means of reflection on and guide to continuing growth. If you are not going to be a candidate for canonical profession, then use the general process of writing a livable Rule every couple of years or so until you have something which really works for you and reflects all the ways you have grown as well as reflecting c 603 as an informal guide to eremitical life as understood by the Church. While I have said "Every couple of years or so" you are, of course, free to use the general process with whatever time units work for you. The basic idea is that writing is helpful in learning and growing to be truly attentive and aware. It also binds you in a conscious way to a way of living and being you desire to do well. If you are not preparing for profession (or if you have already been publicly professed in an institute of consecrated life) you may not need as many "drafts" or temporary Rules. The vows will be familiar to you --- though you will still need to adapt the vow of religious poverty since you will be self-supporting under c 603. Again, writing in this way is meant to provide a means of formation for someone who is self-directed in the way a hermit must be, and the way you indicate desiring to be.

Please check other posts on this idea of using the writing of a Rule as a formative process. They may be clearer in some ways or add points I have omitted here. Regarding your last two questions, if you write a Rule which is 1) livable, 2) adequate in terms of experience and knowledge of c 603 and solitary eremitical life, and 3) clearly reflects who you are, your commitment to the Gospel, and how you live that out, there is no reason for a diocese to withhold permission for profession or make you write another Rule at this point. However, yes, you need to work at it until your Rule meets these requirements until and unless the diocese indicates they do not believe there is sufficient reason for you to continue in this way. If your diocese ultimately refuses to profess you at some point along the way, the process of formation which writing this Rule has helped shape (and which has helped shape you!!) will still stand you in good stead. I don't think you will fail to realize and appreciate that. In that case you will be able to live your commitment as a lay hermit with or without private vows and with a Rule which can guide your vocation well even if you need to amend or redact it every few years or so. (Occasional amendment or redaction is ordinarily necessary for diocesan hermits as well. I have rewritten my own Rule once since perpetual profession in 2007. I may do so again this year because of significant changes in the way I serve my parish, and the place of increased personal growth work, for instance.)

I wish you well in your project. Feel free to write again if I can be of assistance.

19 July 2019

Prayers Requested

I write a lot here about the distinction between public profession and private commitments/vows because of my desire that folks not be mislead by erroneous notions of what is involved in becoming a consecrated hermit. Sometimes I have specifically referred to a hermit with private vows in this regard. All that aside for the moment I wanted to request prayers from readers here for Joyful Hermit who will be undergoing a fairly serious and complicated surgery to deal with some spinal problems. I don't know the date (or any other details really) but given what she recently posted I would say it is to occur within the next week or so. Would you please join me in praying for Joyful, her surgeon and surgical team, her family and others who are concerned for and minister to her; I ask for your prayers, not only for the success of the surgery, but to sustain her during the long recuperation the surgery will apparently entail. May our God of mercy especially hold Joyful in His love and strengthen her with his Spirit of Life, Comfort, and Consolation.

12 July 2019

Followup Questions on Accountability and the Diocesan Hermit

[[Dear Sister O'Neal, thank you for answering my question on diocesan v universal church representation by hermits. If someone argues that they are not subject to a local bishop in the way canon 603 hermits are because they are not diocesan but instead are hermits in the whole Church then how is it they are responsible to the Church for their vocation? Is their pastor the one they are answerable to? Is Joyful Hermit insinuating she is responsible in a less local way  to someone other than her local bishop? It just seems to me that if she explains that she can move from place to place without requiring acceptance by the local bishop  she must be "suggesting" she is answerable in a different way --- or maybe not at all. How would a bishop feel about having some hermits who were accountable to him and others who are not accountable at all? I can't imagine that sitting well with most bishops, not mine anyway! Lastly, I was wondering about your own statement about your vocation. You say you live your vocation with God in the silence of solitude for the sake of others. Do you mean merely that you pray for others? Are you accountable to others besides your bishop and delegate?]]

 You are most welcome. You have also put your finger on the really important issue of accountability. The Church does not ordain or profess and/or consecrate anyone in an ecclesial vocation (priesthood, religious or monastic life, canonical eremitical life, consecrated virginity) without assuring adequate structures or relationships for accountability. In a vocation with the history and heritage of stereotypes common to eremitical life as well as its rarity (it is not the usual way most people come to human wholeness!), the need to assure supervision and accountability becomes particularly important. In any case whether one belongs to a religious congregation, is a consecrated hermit or a consecrated virgin, one is responsible to people on the local level more immediately than to others on less local levels. Again, we use the principle of "subsidiarity" to be sure accountability is exercised at a level which is most helpful to the consecrated person and the congregation or local church in which the person ministers and lives her life.

Recently I wrote that legitimate superiors exercise what is known as the ministry of authority. I also wrote it is a ministry of love and service. For this to be true, authority must be exercised at a level closest to the one being ministered to. Accountability must be similarly exercised or the entire dynamic of loving service will be short-circuited or made empty. By the way, though a pastor is closest to a consecrated hermit in terms of church attendance, reception of sacraments, and pastoral care, etc, pastors of parishes are not legitimate superiors in the sense required by law. They may witness (but not receive) private vows but in so doing they do not become responsible for an eremitical vocation in the ways a bishop does. Neither would a hermit's Spiritual Director. The ministry of authority requires both persons in the relationship accept the rights and obligations which are part of the exercise of legitimate authority. This means they must also be able to do so and this requires commissioning by a greater legitimate authority.  Bishops acquire their authority with regard to consecrated hermits from canon 603 and from Rome who appoints them bishops in the first place. Parish pastors or parochial administrators have not been given the authority to act in this way with regard to a consecrated hermits --- though, of course, a bishop could delegate a hermit's pastor to take on such a responsibility and authority as he delegates this to any delegate/Director.

Regarding subsidiarity with regard to religious institutes, while these have General superiors (Presidents, etc) there are also a network of superiors exercising authority at more and more local levels (provincials, priors and prioresses, regional superiors,  novice or juniorate directors, etc., to the level of house superiors). Solitary consecrated hermits (c 603 hermits) don't have such a network of those in authority because they do not belong to institutes of consecrated life. Instead they make their vows in the hands of the local bishop who is thus their legitimate superior and he assigns or accepts the hermit's choice for a delegate or Director who serves as a kind of superior for the hermit by exercising the ministry of authority on behalf of the bishop/diocese for the benefit of the hermit's life and vocation. However, no one who is professed and consecrated is without the relationships required for the exercise of their obligation to accountability, and this at the lowest (i.e., the most local)  possible level of responsibility according to the principle of subsidiarity.

To suggest one is not accountable in this way while claiming the title "consecrated hermit" or to affirm that one can move from place to place because they are responsible to the "universal church" is simply to indicate one does not know (or perhaps care) how such things actually work in the Roman Catholic Church; it is to express an actual untruth. This is of a piece with saying Canon 603 doesn't mention legitimate superiors when it clearly refers to making one's profession "in the hands of" the Local bishop; profession is always made in the hands of the one serving as legitimate superior. Doing so is derived from an act of fealty once made to Kings, princes and other Lords. There are many words which canon 603 doesn't use directly but they are presupposed by the Canon. Because a word is missing does not mean the concept is not present nor part of the Church's larger theology of consecrated life.

How Would a Bishop Feel?

How would a bishop feel if they have canonical hermits who are accountable to the bishop and others who come and go without being accountable? I suspect the situation would be problematical (unworkable) and at least frustrating for such a bishop. Imagine then that such a person blogged in ways which were disedifying about the eremitical vocation. Imagine they had their own take on private vows and consecration based upon a misinterpretation of  two ambiguously or even mistakenly translated paragraphs in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Imagine this same lay hermit insisted on remaining anonymous and without specific location in the putative name of "eremitical hiddenness" all while claiming to be a "consecrated religious" or a "consecrated Catholic Hermit" while writing disedifying things about consecrated life or misrepresenting eremitical life and the Church's role in governing such vocations! But of course, the Church does not have a dual track in the way it governs consecrated life. It does not allow for accountability of those in one track and complete unaccountability of those in another. Instead it recognizes and states clearly that the consecrated state of life is a "stable state of life" lived for the edification of the Church and the glory of God and it provides (and requires) what is necessary to establish and maintain that stability including structures and relationships ensuring  responsibility and accountability.

I once thought canon 603 referred to both lay and consecrated solitary hermits. Over time I came to change my mind on that. Similarly I tried several ways to make sense of the ambiguity of pars 920-921 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church when it speaks of "without always making vows publicly". In time I checked the original Latin which clarified the canon could not be referring to the possibility of private vows or to lay hermit life as well as consecrated life. I concluded the badly-written English version was trying to point to the only alternative to public vows c 603 allows, namely the use of other sacred bonds. In either case, though, the person's profession is and must be a public one and other sections of the CCC (cf par 944) make that absolutely clear. One of my sincerest hopes is that when the CCC is revised they will clarify the matter and add a paragraph on the importance of the lay hermit, the non-canonical hermit who embraces eremitical life within the baptized state without benefit of additional canons or institutional accountability. As it stands the CCC is particularly problematical because of those who would like to exploit its misleading ambiguities and portray themselves as consecrated hermits without being admitted by public profession to the graces, rights, or obligations of that vocation..

Questions about Joyful Hermit Specifically:

You ask several questions about Joyful Hermit specifically.  While I will answer these generally with regard to Joyful, I believe they fit anyone claiming/pretending --- for whatever reason --- to being a Consecrated Religious or hermits living eremitical life in the name of the Church. I think the bottom line is that beyond her baptism Joyful (and others) has not been initiated into any canonical (public, legal) relationships within the Church or with her leadership or hierarchy, no canonical standing that would allow her to claim to be obligated or accountable in the way someone with an ecclesial vocation as a "consecrated hermit" would necessarily be obligated and accountable. Another way of saying this is to note that Joyful and persons like her have not been initiated into the stable state of life associated with profession and/or consecration.

What you cited earlier did sound like an attempt by Joyful to avoid the entire issue of ecclesial accountability with vague references to the Universal Church and mistaken interpretations of what it means to be a diocesan hermit. That said, Joyful remains a laywoman who has embraced eremitical life without benefit of canonical standing or consecration beyond her baptism. This does not detract from the fact that her own vocation is important. In fact it accents its importance. Her private vows are of real value, both personally and in the Church. As a result of her baptism she has the very significant freedom of a lay person to live eremitical life as she deems necessary in response to God's call. She is free to move about as a hermit without direct accountability to anyone except God and her own conscience precisely because she is a lay hermit and not one in the consecrated state of life. What is interesting to me is that she lives precisely this kind of freedom even as she insists she is a "consecrated Catholic Hermit".

It is important (and quite challenging) that people like Joyful accept their vocations, that they respond to God's call in the lay state and find ways to live eremitical life with authenticity. The history of eremitical life has been carried forward in the Western Church by such people -- not least the Desert Fathers and Mothers or the anchorites prevalent in the Middle Ages. As I have noted a number of times here the majority of hermits have been and will always be lay hermits --- those who embrace a call to eremitical life in their baptized state without benefit of canonical profession or consecration. But one does not do this by refusing to accept the simple fact that a private commitment by a lay person means one remains a person in the lay state. In this matter one cannot have one's cake and eat it too. Joyful (or anyone in a similar situation) cannot seek the benefit of calling herself and being regarded as a "consecrated Catholic Hermit" while insisting on the unique freedom which is pertinent to lay (or non canonical) eremitical life. She (nor any other person acting similarly) cannot honestly claim an ecclesial vocation without concrete accountability to legitimate superiors or the other elements which constitute a stable consecrated state of life in the Roman Catholic Church.

Commissioned to Live Eremitical Life in the Name of the Church:

Paul Tillich1.jpgI am reminded that the Church has sent me and other canonical hermits into our hermitages to live the silence of solitude in communion with God for the sake of others; that sending obligates me to accountability not only to eremitical life generally, but to solitary eremitical life as the Church has codified this in c 603. Because Joyful is privately vowed, her own missioning is as a lay person and her correlative accountability thus takes a very different form than someone in the consecrated state; again, as a result she is entirely free to live her lay vocation in whatever way she chooses without direct accountability to the Church for the form of life she chooses for herself --- but also without the title appropriate to those living consecrated (canonical) vocations. Similarly one cannot speak and write about canon 603 as a kind of distortion of eremitical life, as Joyful has certainly done from time to time throughout the years, and at the same time ask folks to treat her as though she has the kind of standing in law canon 603 establishes.

This is not a matter of legalism; it is simply a recognition that the rights attending consecrated life are matched by obligations a person is called by God through God's Church to embrace. The Church's own approach to consecrated eremitical life is entirely consistent. Those who live eremitical life in the name of the Church are commissioned to live an accountability to God's People in the hands of legitimate superiors. They accept this accountability as a unique form of responsible eremitical freedom. not everyone is called or even desires to be called in this way. For those who are not (or who do not desire to be)  called in  this way, the route of lay eremitical life is available to them, a route which has been of inestimable value and significance to eremitical life in the Church. But again, one cannot have one's cake and eat it too. To believe otherwise is childish and unthinking; moreover it denigrates or at least disregards the kind of commitments and sacrifices made by those who have freely embraced the consecrated state of life and the direct accountability it requires.

To Whom Else am I Responsible?

Your last question is good. Thank you for asking this. While I do regularly pray for others I do not understand the heart of my accountability to others as that. Instead I understand that first of all I am called to witness to the Gospel that says God completes us, God alone is sufficient for us, God loves and delights in us in spite of our sinfulness or isolation. In today's world (and this is especially clear where I live) we see elderly people and others who are isolated from their churches, from families, through bereavement from their spouses, and so forth. We see people who are isolated by disability and the rhythm of whose lives are marked by illness and even impending death. I believe my life is meant to speak to these people in particular. Yes, of course I pray for them, but even more I hope to witness to them that the way to wholeness, holiness, and completeness is still open to them in God embraced in solitude. I hope that my life says that eremitical solitude is not the same as isolation and that while my life is marked by several things which isolate, this isolation can be redeemed by God and transfigured into a solitude which is filled with life, love, meaning, and hope.

I believe I am called by God through the mediation of God's Church to witness in this way to these and similar people. In a very real way I am responsible to them --- not in the sense I am accountable to the Church through legitimate superiors, but no less really nonetheless. I don't believe the Church professes and consecrates anyone to eremitical solitude simply to make of them some sort of "prayer warrior" (as important as prayer is!!), much less to institutionalize selfishness and individualism. Canonical Hermits are called, like any other Religious is called, to witness to the God who comes to us in the unexpected and unacceptable place, who makes of the deserts of our lives fields which flourish with new life and growth, who allows the dry and barren places to run with living water and the sweetness of milk and wild honey, who transforms  screams of suffering and the anguish of muteness into Magnificats of praise and articulate proclamations of the Good News.

The role of my bishop and delegate is to be sure I live, and have secured (or am able to secure) the necessary means to live the commission to this vocation which the Church has entrusted to me. (This is similarly true for any diocesan hermit with regard to their bishops and delegates.) The personal formation work I do with my Director is meant to be sure I live fully the truth of myself with God. I, as is true of any diocesan hermit, am morally, and legally accountable to the Church in a direct and concrete way for doing whatever it takes within the context of Canon 603 and the eremitical tradition, to become God's own prayer in our world and to witness to the completion that is possible for each one of us with and in God, no matter the circumstances of our lives. I, as again is true for any diocesan hermit, am directly and concretely accountable to the Church Universal to witness to the adequacy and beauty of Canon 603; this canon spells out in normative fashion (thus the term "canon") what a solitary hermit is all about. I, like any diocesan hermit am accountable to my parish and diocese (the local Church) to bring what gifts I can to them in order to witness to the life that God offers and invites us each to. I am accountable to them to be the hermit I am called to be --- not as an isolated individualist, but as someone who recognizes that eremitical solitude is a unique form of community which itself can help build community in powerful ways. In these and any number of complementary ways I am accountable to the Church on both universal and local levels. Again, this is true for anyone claiming a vocation to consecrated life in the Church. 

07 July 2019

For What it's Worth: General News and Plans for the Summer

Well, things around Stillsong are coming along! I hadn't mentioned, I don't think, (or did I?) that they are renovating the complex. This last week they put double-paned windows and doors in my place and they are wonderful!! I finally got my bed put back together (it sits in front of the bedroom window so needed to be taken apart to allow access) and was able to sleep in my own bed last night. AHHH!! There's still a lot to get taken care of before I can live comfortably in my own hermitage (I am getting rid of boxes and boxes of books and other things as well!), but it is looking like it will happen. My prayer mat and zafu is still in another apartment where I have been staying as needed because of sound triggering seizures. So are my computer and books for the work I have been doing. I am loving this second apartment because it is located in the midst of redwoods next to a creek and is generally quieter and more secluded. When the work is completed in the entire complex I could move here -- especially if it eases some of the medical difficulties due to sound. We'll see!

Last Wednesday we finished the second series I have done for Bible Study at my parish. We started with Jesus' parables for the first 8 week series and this one was the Sermon on the Mount --- though we focused mainly on the Beatitudes and the Lord's Prayer. We were actually to finish last week, but when I announced it was our last meeting there was a bit of a reaction and one of the participants said, "Why?" So we did one more session in order to clarify, expand on, and bring things to some closure before stopping for the Summer. Starting the Thursday after Labor Day the group wants to begin a semester long series. I'm game. Right now I am planning to do Galatians though some suggestions for something else may still come in. So far the series have built on one another in terms of content. Doing Galatians would be a good introduction to the situation in the Church vis-a-vis Judaism and to Paul's theologies of freedom and the problem of Gospel vs Law. Because we introduced the idea of virtue ethics with the Beatitudes it might be possible to continue Paul's own virtue ethics in order to deepen an approach to moral theology in these terms. We have very fine preaching at our parish but the chance to really go deeper into the texts and to see the depth of the theology involved is exciting.

We may need to move to a larger space for the morning group --- though I have really liked and hope to keep the seminar style around a large conference table. The evening session will likely continue in the same place but the morning group has grown and that is likely to continue over time; moving would allow more space and access to some of the things our new parish center makes possible (use of power point, etc). One of the things I have especially loved watch developing is a sense of community with regard to this specific group. Another is the sense that gathering around Scripture allows for real growth in discipleship and personal formation --- always important in a world where the Gospel is so very countercultural, but not always easy to nurture or provide for. Yet people are hungry for both Scripture and for the theology that is rooted in it.

So this Summer I am going to prepare two Bible series. As noted above, the first, which would take us through Thanksgiving, will be Galatians and I am not sure yet what the second will be. I have several ideas including the Passion Narratives (a comparison of a couple of them maybe, or a comparison of the theology of the Cross of Mark vs that of Paul), Women in the New Testament --- perhaps with regard to their role in establishing the early Church, a second Pauline epistle (maybe 1 Thessalonians or 2 Corinthians) --- one of the shorter ones anyway. There are lots of possibilities. I am not ready to branch out into the Old Testament yet (in no way am I an OT scholar) though Galatians will need significant OT background and preparation I think. It sounds like a lot of work, but teaching these last two series has been incredibly life-giving to me and paradoxically, a strong confirmation of my eremitical vocation!

I have already written about this a few weeks ago, but it continues to be true. Eremitical life demands that I go into the Scriptures and the related theology in order to live from these, but it also frees me to do this in ways I had not expected; at the same time the Scriptures (of course!!) throw me back into the silence of solitude and beg that I allow Christ to teach, nourish, and form me as a hermit in ever more profound ways. Simultaneously (and paradoxically), fostering community through Scripture study is clearly a function of my eremitical life as well. It is gratifying to discover that eremitical solitude can be the source of both growth in community and personal formation for some in a parish community. So far, what I have shared, both Scripturally and theologically are those things which have most clearly been a source of inspiration and sense-making (meaning and hope!) for me throughout my life. I am not surprised to find these things are affecting others in some of the same ways.

At the end of Wednesday's session the group gave me a card with a stylized picture of the burning bush on the front of it. One of the members read a poem which said something of what the studies had meant to them: [[Days pass, and the years vanish, and we walk sightless among miracles. Fill our eyes with seeing and our minds with knowing. Let there be moments when your Presence, like lightning, illumines the darkness in which we walk. Help us to see, wherever we gaze, that the bush burns, unconsumed. And we, clay touched by God, will reach out for holiness and exclaim in wonder, “How filled with awe is this place . . . by Rachel Naomi Remen]] It was a wonderful celebration of the grace of God as it came to each of us through both the parables and the Sermon on the Mount --- but I think that was especially true as we explored some of the depths of the Lord's Prayer, the Kingdom present here amongst us, and our own identities as adopted Daughters and Sons in and through Jesus, the only-begotten Son of God.

My other plans for the Summer include more writing, namely on Canon 603, the charism of the vocation, and the way this defines how dioceses approach candidates for profession and consecration. As I noted a few months ago, Rome is concerned with the incidence of fraudulent hermits so it becomes important to make this vocation better known and also better understood, especially by chanceries and pastors. I remain convinced that a failure to understand the charism of the vocation causes chanceries to profess those who will fail to live the vocation well or, alternately, to refuse to profess anyone at all! The problem of mistaking lone individuals for solitary hermits remains significant at all levels; so does mistaking "the silence of solitude" for "silence and solitude". Unless these points are clarified I believe dioceses will continue to have problems discerning good candidates. At the same time the question of formation is no less pressing now than when I first began to think about it myself so I think it is time to get back to that in order (I would sincerely hope) to assist dioceses and candidates for eremitical profession under c 603 as I can.

There are still some decisions to be made about my left wrist. There will likely be some more cortisone injections (only 1 or 2) because of problems with the tendons of my thumb due to a secondary injury; after that we will need to see if surgery to shorten the ulna is necessary because of pressure on and tearing of the triangular ligament joining ulna and radius due to the way the bones healed. I would like to play violin again (understatement of the century!) --- it has always been important to my prayer life as well as to my intellectual and psychological well-being. I miss it --- though I have certainly kept busy enough otherwise and will continue to do so! For the most part those are my plans for the Summer. I will probably not go away on retreat this Summer but I may use this second apartment for that while construction goes on on my own building. It is quiet enough and feels like a guest room at a monastery or retreat house. Meanwhile, an added benefit is that my own director is available to me should I make retreat here.

I wish readers a good and Holy Summer! I hope you have plans for a fruitful time of prayer, maybe for some silence and solitude, and for family and community time as well as for work and recreation! If you travel be safe!!!

Diocesan Hermits are Hermits of and for the Universal Church

[[Dear Sister O'Neal, I watched a video where Joyful Hermit said those professed "under canon 603 belong to dioceses and those who are privately professed belong per se to the universal Church". Is that right? If I got her right she also says that privately professed hermits have always been the way the Church consecrated hermits. I think she meant that canon 603 is a new way of doing this with some extra requirements that she seems to think represents a kind of legalism. Is this correct?]]

Well, I suppose it depends on what else Joyful has said in this specific regard, but generally speaking, with the quote you have provided it sounds as though Joyful Hermit is saying non-canonical hermits are recognized as hermits by and for the universal Church, but canon 603 hermits are recognized only within a diocese. If so, she is incorrect. Canon 603 hermits are diocesan in the sense that they are bound in authority at the diocesan level. They are hermits of a specific diocese (a local Church) which, in the hands of the local ordinary, professes and consecrates them on behalf of the Universal Church. Their vocations are ecclesial in a Catholic or universal sense, but they must be responsible at the diocesan level or their vocations could not be effectively governed nor could the hermits be genuinely responsible or accountable to the whole Church. The Roman Catholic Church relies on the principle of subsidiarity. Governance in this case proceeds from the lowest or most local level upward precisely to facilitate genuine governance and accountability.

Thus, as a "hermit of the Diocese of Oakland" (Bishop's Decree of Approval. . .) I would need to have another bishop accept responsibility for my vocation if I were to decide to move to another diocese (and I would need my current bishop to verify I am a hermit is good standing in order to begin such a move and remain a diocesan hermit), but the fact that I can move from one diocese to another, marks my vocation as valid in and for the universal Church. Similarly, since canon 603 is the universal norm/canon for solitary eremitical life in the entire Church, and since diocesan hermits are governed by and responsible for the vocation defined in this universal norm, we can affirm their vocations are universal vocations -- callings in and for the universal Church. Again, this vocation is supervised and "created" (discerned, professed, consecrated, and governed) at the diocesan level (at the level of the local Church) but this is the way governance generally takes place in and on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church.

Privately vowed hermits (we don't use the term professed here because that implies a public rite involving a change in state of life!) have been the usual way of living eremitical life in the Roman Catholic Church throughout the centuries but this was not recognized as "consecrated life" or defined as part of the "consecrated state of life". In fact, the Church never understood eremitical life as part of the consecrated life unless hermits were members of religious congregations (Camaldolese, Carthusian, Carmelite, etc). Some anchorites came under the auspices of local Bishops, especially during medieval times. Even so, I don't believe these anchorites were considered to be consecrated though, rightly, they were highly regarded by their communities (villages). In @ 1963 in an intervention at Vatican II, Bishop Remi de Roo sought to get eremitical life included in Canon Law as a "state of perfection" -- what today we call "a consecrated state" of life. Only a long 20 years later when the Revised Code of Canon Law was published in October 1983 and included c 603, was eremitical life included in universal Law at all. If, as Joyful Hermit claims, hermits were always consecrated using private vows and always considered to exist in the "consecrated state" of life,  Bishop Remi De Roo would not have needed, much less ventured, such an intervention in the language ("state of perfection") he did. Neither would the dozen or so hermits he came to oversee as "Bishop Protector" have been understood to have relinquished their consecrated state of life in order to become hermits after leaving their monasteries.

As I have noted in the past, Canon 603 is now the universal norm in the Roman Catholic Church for establishing a solitary hermit in the consecrated state of life. There are no other norms, laws, "institutes," rules, statutes, etc for establishing a solitary hermit in law, and thus, as a consecrated hermit unless one is a member of a canonical congregation dedicated to eremitical life or at least allowing for it in their proper law. The Roman Catholic Church simply had not honored the solitary eremitical life in this way for almost 1600 years. (Eastern Catholic Churches have always honored it.) The Desert fathers and Mothers were lay hermits, not consecrated hermits; their prophetic lives were significant and they remain a model for all hermits, both non-canonical (lay, non-consecrated) or canonical (consecrated). About one thousand years later, when Bishops took anchorites under their auspices it was done to make sure these individuals were acting in an edifying manner and living genuinely eremitical lives. (Too often individuals tried to validate all kinds of insanity and wackiness with the name "hermit". The Church needed to attempt some governance over such cases. Additionally, it is possible the Church regarded such vocations with some trepidation insofar as they represented truly prophetic vocations -- as had the Desert Fathers and Mothers.)

In my experience, canon 603 was formulated and promulgated for the significantly positive reasons Bishop de Roo put forth at Vatican II (cf The Heart of the Matter: Reasons for including Eremitical Life as a "State of Perfection"); moreover, it is carefully implemented by most dioceses for these reasons as well as to limit the kinds of wackiness and nutcases often associated with eremitical "vocations". Law in c 603 serves to allow sound vocations which are well-supervised and edifying to the universal Church. In particular, it does not allow the kind of individualism represented by autocephalic (or acephalous!!) vocations like that of the person you cite.

The ability to move from place to place without supervision or genuine accountability is not a sign of serving the whole Church; instead it does not tend to serve either the eremitical vocation or the Church well. St Benedict saw this clearly when he referred critically to monks who moved from monastery to monastery without accountability as "gyrovagues" (cf the introduction to his Rule).  The Church, in requiring that one entering the consecrated life be professed in a recognized and "stable state of life", is clear that all ecclesial vocations must be adequately discerned, mediated, and supervised. They are simply too precious, too valuable, and too responsible to allow them to languish in a headless, unstable and individualistic context, or to let them become skewed due to an individual's unguided and eccentric readings of Church documents and theology.

We don't tolerate folks identifying themselves as Catholic Religious (or as consecrated) who (on a relative whim) may don a religious habit (or not), and make some sort of private commitment without vetting or real preparation -- even if they do so in the presence of the Tabernacle or a parish priest. We call these folks "lay persons" because of the dignity of their baptism and "lay hermits" to honor any genuine dedication to eremitical life lived in the lay (baptismal) state without benefit of canonical profession or consecration. (It should be underscored that some lay hermits live genuine, even exemplary, vocations with preparation and serious discernment of course --- but many, because of ignorance, eccentricity, or simple inability do not.) If, however, lay hermits insist on calling themselves "Catholic religious" or "consecrated hermits",  the Church will note they are  ignorant of the Catholic theology of consecrated life, possibly deluded, or even outright frauds --- and rightly so.

The Church has been entrusted with vocations to the consecrated state. She does not (and cannot) hand authority for these over to the individual. These vocations "belong" to the Church herself; they are ecclesial vocations. Such vocations are vetted (discerned and evaluated in an ongoing way), mediated, and governed by the Church herself in the hands of legitimate authorities precisely because they are gifts of the Holy Spirit which are the responsibility of and fruitful for the entire Church. Unfortunately, as you can tell from the questions I get re: these, videos and blogs like those you and others have sometimes cited are a good example of the negative reasons the Church requires ecclesiastical discernment, profession, and supervision for something as potentially individualistic and disedifying as an eremitical vocation.

03 July 2019

Thomas called Didymus: What's His Doubt About?



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

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

What Thomas, I think, wants to make very clear is that we Christians believe in a crucified Christ, and that the resurrection was God's act of validation of Jesus as scandalously and ignominiously Crucified. I think Thomas knows on some level anyway, that insofar as the resurrection really occured, it does not nullify what was achieved on the cross. Instead it renders permanently valid what was revealed (made manifest and made real) there. In other words, Thomas knows if the resurrection is really God's validation of Jesus' life and establishes him as God's Christ, the Lord he will meet is the one permanently established and marked as the crucified One. The crucifixion was not some great misunderstanding which could be wiped away by resurrection. Instead it was an integral part of the revelation of the nature of truly human and truly divine existence. Whether it is the Divine life, authentic human existence, or sinful human life --- all are marked and revealed in one way or another by the signs of Jesus' cross. For instance, ours is a God who has journeyed to the very darkest, godless places or realms human sin produces, and has become Lord of even those places. He does not disdain them even now but is marked by them and will journey with us there --- whether we are open to him doing so or not --- because Jesus has implicated God there and marked him with the wounds of an exhaustive kenosis.

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

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

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

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

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