To “listen” another’s soul
into a condition
of disclosure and discovery
may be almost the greatest
service that any human being
ever performs for another.
Stillsong Hermitage is a Diocesan (Canon 603) Hermitage in the Camaldolese Benedictine tradition. The name reflects the essential joy and wholeness that comes from a Christ-centered life of prayer in the silence of solitude, but also points to the fact that contemplative life -- even that of the hermit -- spills over into witness and proclamation. At the heart of the Church, in the stillness and joy of God's dynamic peace, resonates the song which IS the hermit.
Posted by Sr. Laurel M. O'Neal, Er. Dio. at 8:08 PM
Posted by Sr. Laurel M. O'Neal, Er. Dio. at 10:58 PM
Today is the feast of the Camaldolese Saint, Cardinal, and Doctor of the Church, St Peter Damian. Peter Damian is generally best known for his role in the Gregorian Reform. He fought Simony and worked tirelessly for the welfare of the church as a whole. Hermits know him best for a few of his letters, but especially #28, "Dominus Vobiscum". Written to Leo of Sitria, letter #28 explores the relation of the hermit to the whole church and speaks of a solitary as an ecclesiola, or little church. Damian had been asked if it was proper to recite lines like "The Lord Be With you" when the hermit was the only one present at liturgy. The result was this letter which explains how the church is wholly present in all of her members, both together and individually. He writes:
[[The Church of Christ is united in all her parts by the bond of love, so that she is both one in many members and mystically whole in each member. And so we see that the entire universal Church is correctly called the one and only bride of Christ, while each chosen soul, by virtue of the sacramental mysteries, is considered fully the Church. . . .From all the aforementioned it is clear that, because the whole Church can be found in one individual person and the Church itself is called a virgin, Holy Church is both one in all its members and complete in each of them. It is truly simple among many through the unity of faith and multiple in each individual through the bond of love and various charismatic gifts, because all are from one and all are one.]]
Because of this unity Damian notes that he sees no harm in a hermit alone in cell saying things which are said by the gathered Church. In this reflection Damian establishes the communal nature of the solitary vocation and forever condemns the notion that hermits are isolated or "lone" persons. His comments thus have much broader implications for the nature of eremitical life than the licitness of saying certain prayers or using communal phrases in liturgy per se. In the latter part of the letter Damian not only praises the eremitical life but writes an extended encomium on the nature of the eremitical cell. The images he uses are numerous and diverse; they clearly reflect extended time spent in solitude and his own awareness of all the ways the hermitage or cell have functioned in his own life and those of other hermits. Furnace, kiln, battlefield, storehouse, workshop, arena of spiritual combat, fort and defensive edifice, [place assisting the] death of vices and kindling of virtues, Jacob's ladder, golden road, etc --- all are touched on here. Peter Damian's rich collection of images serves to underscore the classic observation of the Desert Fathers and Mothers: "Dwell (or remain) within your cell and your cell will teach you everything."
Every violinist in this (or any) orchestra has played this double violin concerto (universally known simply as "the Bach Double") --- and usually more than once so one plays both first and second violin at some point. Usually it is one of the first concerti violinists learn once they have moved beyond first to third and fifth positions. We don't all get to play it with an orchestra but we all tend to get to play it with our teachers or a mentor or friend at some relatively early point in our violin careers. And yet, like all such things it is an incredibly demanding concerto, not technically perhaps, but emotionally and musically. When violinists return to it as adults (if they have played it as younger students) they find a "new" piece entirely. What is most striking is the way the voices are so incredibly balanced as well as how they echo, blend, intertwine, and hand off passages. The second movement in particular remains the most beautiful I know for two violins.
When I prepared this movement with my own teacher and after we had gotten all the fingerings and bowings down (for I had not played this as a younger student so it was all new) we moved onto the task of "making music" of the notes. The approach reminded me of some of the dimensions of spiritual direction and/or growth work. First we went through the entire movement deciding on what emotion we would like each passage or section to express, where it changed in intensity and how abruptly, what it changed to, where we were in tension with one another, and so forth. Though the musical term for much of this is "dynamics" our vocabulary was first of all that of feelings and nuances of feelings. Then we went through the music again and, as we stopped at the places we had noted emotions, each of us privately made a note about some memory which evoked those feelings for us. The memories remained private but the awe or tenderness or pain or whatever it was we poured into this music and expressed through it was communal and the intimacy of the experience hard to describe.
At every point we had to listen and listen profoundly in attempting to interpret this piece of music --- not only to be faithful to the truth Bach captured there in the manuscript itself, but to our own hearts and the hearts and voices of one another as we attempted to come together in a single unified performance. a single unified heart and voice. In the language of the Camaldolese we were "alone together" in this amazing process. This was one of the most transcendent experiences I have ever had apart from formal prayer periods --- and one of the most potent experiences of the paradox of solitude in community. In some ways I am sure my own sensitivity to the communal nature of eremitical solitude is formed or at least heightened by my experience of learning and playing this concerto.
A note of the OCO performance: In the performance by The OCO and soloists Christina Owens and Thomas Chow you might note that Christina is playing in the Baroque style as violinists would have played Bach's music. She uses little or no vibrato creating a characteristic sound. Thomas tends to be using a more contemporary style with less vibrato but still using it in many instances. Both are also using modern violins and modern bows. Finally the orchestra is taking their cues by attending to the soloists; there is no conductor. I can't remember another time OCO has played a piece in this manner --- also pretty typical of the Baroque approach to string orchestras and soloists.
[[Hi Sister! In your last post on canonical obedience are you saying that those with canonical vows are no longer free in the sense other Christians are free? If canonical vows mean one is no longer called to Christian freedom then why should anyone desire to make canonical vows? I am sure I must've misunderstood you somehow!]]
Thanks for this latest question! I tried using the phrase, "qualified but undiminished" to indicate I was not speaking of Christian freedom versus something else. Instead I was trying to describe an expression of Christian freedom that differed from expressions linked to the baptismal state and bonds alone. Remember that Christian freedom is always the power to be the persons we are called to be and it is that in spite of and sometimes even through the constraints which limit our lives. That is true whether one lives one's life in terms of baptismal bonds alone or whether one embraces additional canonical bonds. The essential point is that those admitted to canonical vows, to the public rights and obligations of such vows, are called to the same authentic freedom as any other Christian. However, they have participated in a mutual process of discernment and been formally and publicly admitted to a profession and consecration which involves elements defined by canon and proper law which further specify their baptismal commitment and the shape of their freedom.
We might consider these elements to be constraints on the individual's authentic freedom but this is not so. Because the Church herself along with the candidate has mutually discerned the presence and nature of the call involved, both Church (hierarchy or congregational leadership) and the one petitioning to be admitted to public profession and consecration have determined as best they are able that such admission actually serves the candidate's authentic (Christian) freedom. While discernment processes may sometimes be mistaken it is critical that we understand the point of mutual discernment in ecclesial vocations is the determination of what is truly and Divinely ordained as a source of freedom for the candidate and a gift of the Holy Spirit to and for the whole Church. Private vows may be both or neither but this is not ascertained by the Church because such a dedication is an entirely private act. Even when such private vows are both a source of freedom for the person making the vows and a gift to and for the Church, the private nature of the act means this cannot be adequately discerned or celebrated --- much less extended to others in what must be a mutual act of discernment.
Posted by Sr. Laurel M. O'Neal, Er. Dio. at 9:09 PM
A friend returned from a trip to France (etc.) with about 32 other Dominicans from various congregations and brought me a picture of this statuary from Chartres Cathedral. It is a favorite of hers and is called God Creates Adam; it is a small piece, only about a foot and a half or two feet high and is located on a Northern portal to the cathedral.
While I had never seen it before, I loved it instantly. It recalls for me so many prayer times when I had the sense of having God's entire attention or of being held securely and loved into wholeness. It speaks to me of the place of God in each of our lives --- even when we fail to realize how inextricably wed our lives are with one another. There is an amazing combination of strength and gentleness, quiet joy and determination, as well as dependence and independence here. God looks completely sure of himself and quietly pleased. Adam --- who looks neither male nor female to me --- looks content and at peace.
I hear an invitation here: "Give yourself over to me; let me make you my very own creation, my very own image and counterpart! Let me truly make you what you are!" --- as God reminds me of the dignity and nature of my original creation and all the potential it holds. There have been times I have not known or remembered that God's creative presence was at work in me calling into existence, healing, molding, shaping, and summoning me into the absolute future of God's own life; there were times when I thought all potential had been spent or was lost forever. Yet I know very well now that this is an image of every day of my life as well as a picture of the covenant reality I am most truly meant to let myself become. For me it is a wonderful image!!
On this Memorial of St Scholastica I think it is timely to remind readers of the famous story of St Scholastica and her brother St Benedict. That is especially true given the conversation here on the gift of tears In the following account of this story the description of Scholastica's prayer when she is in need of profound consolation is particularly apt. In the meantime my very best wishes to all my Camaldolese, Cistercian, and Benedictine Sisters and Brothers on this feast!
|The final meeting between Ss Benedict and Scholastica, depicted in a 14th-century fresco in the Sacro Speco of Subiaco.|
|Jesus Meets His Mother**|
by Bro Mickey McGrath OSFS
The following thoughts were written several years ago but have clear resonances with recent posts and concerns published here. The nature of theology, the importance of it being rooted in out experience of God and empowered by the Holy Spirit, the notion that those who disavow the importance of the intellect are also doing some form of theology, etc. are all present here.
I was reflecting about tomorrow's first reading. It is the part of the Genesis account where Eve is seduced to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, where (perhaps at her urging and perhaps not) Adam does the same thing, and where "their eyes are opened" as a result. Of course this opening of their eyes is a form of self-consciousness which is rooted in only a partial truth about themselves, namely, that they are naked before God and each other. But it is a self-consciousness which blinds them to the greater truth of who they are with and through God, namely, persons of infinite worth with the very breath of God sustaining them at every instant --- even in their sinfulness.
From here my reflections moved in the direction of humility. I came to think that what passes too often for genuine humility is precisely the partial truth occasioned by alienation from God and the resulting self-consciousness that blinds us to the whole truth. What passes for humility is often nothing more than a self-centered view of our "nakedness" but without the broader perspective granted us by our relationship to and with God and the incredible worth that affirms. Without this other piece of the picture, we know only our own unworthiness, our own poverty and incapacity --- and we will rightly come to despise ourselves. Of course Adam and Eve fail at humility in other ways. They grasp at a knowledge they are not made for, they fail to trust a God who has given them no reason to fail in this, and they hide from him taking refuge in shrubbery and stuck-on fig leaves! But most fundamentally in all of this, I think, they only look at (or accept) part of the truth of who they are in relation to God and, for that very reason, fail in humility.
But my reflections also went in another direction (though I am pretty sure they link up at some point; it is just that my lectio has not gotten me to that point yet!). I was thinking about something Walter Brueggemann said about the hugely "over-interpreted" serpent in this narrative, namely, that he was not a symbol of Satan or evil, but a neutral character used to move the story along. This led me to think of the serpent as an externalization of what Eve comes to think in her heart --- a debate she has with herself, really: that God has somehow not told them the truth, that she knows what God is really like, that she knows what is best for her own life and is capable of determining what is good and what is not without reference to God!
Part of this sense that the serpent is the externalization of Eve's own thought processes were occasioned by something else Brueggemann said, viz, that the speech made by the serpent, indeed the whole conversation, is a matter of "theologizing" and that the serpent is the first "working theologian"!!! (I admit, I found this point really funny --- but because it was strikingly "right." It reminded me of the fear I felt regarding presuming to speak about God with any authority early in my years of studying theology. Somehow, doing "theology" seemed to be oxymoronic to me. Arrogant perhaps, probably presumptuous, and at least awfully risky. It is a fear which has never completely left me, and I mainly know it now as a kind of awe that I am a theologian.) Perhaps I need to recover some of that original "fear"! (Ah, can you sense these directions in my lectio beginning to link up?) At the same time then, it recalled the stress in Eastern Christianity on theology as an act of prayer, or at the very least, something which is never to be divorced from prayer.
But in tomorrow's reading, that is exactly what happens. As Brueggemann notes, no one is speaking to or with God in this section. They are speaking about him, and in doing so they even distort (or lie to themselves about) what they were told WHILE they were speaking with him and he them. How often this happens in our own lives! Whether we are professional or academic theologians or the armchair variety, how very often we speak about a God we really don't know or allow to know us all that well! How often our speech about God, our theologizing, has nothing whatsoever to do with prayer! It neither stems from prayer, adverts to prayer in gratitude or supplication, nor moves us to return to prayer! And how often it distorts, subtly or otherwise, the truth about God which he himself has revealed to us. Much of our religion is (or has been) built upon such distortions!!
It occurred to me that if we were speaking without reticence about science, or economics, or child-rearing, or any number of other things without first hand knowledge OF the thing being talked about, people would laugh us out of the room. And rightly so! Consider how truly stupid we would be and seem if we spoke about a person as though we knew them first hand and were instead required to confess to listeners that we had never actually met this person face to face! And yet, how often we characterize people, speak of their motives, etc without ever having met them! Why is it that with theology we don't get uneasy in attempting to speak about God and the other ultimately important dimensions of life which are tied to faith in him apart from a first-hand knowledge of God??? (Here I am thinking of suffering, death, illness, evil, and more --- and about all the really silly and even offensive things people say about them and about God when they wax on about such things.) Of course, it is true that the truly first rate theologians never lose perspective like this (or not for long!!) and that their theology is a function of their prayer lives. But for most of us, we rarely talk to or with God before we presume to talk about him, and as a result our theologizing is as blind, self-centered, and distorted as in today's first reading. . . .
Posted by Sr. Laurel M. O'Neal, Er. Dio. at 10:39 AM
[[I was informed that a hermit colleague has been blessed with a spiritual gift, a spiritual phenomenon. I am rejoicing over this news! This particular hermit has in the past has seemed more leaning to the laws of minds; thus I have been praying for some time for the Holy Spirit to reach into the hermit's soul and inflame it with a touch of God's law of love, of the supernatural realities which soften us and remind us that the temporal is passing but the realm of the Spirit is eternal. . .]] cf.,. . . Hermit Rejoices for entire post.
I always gratefully accept prayer on my behalf and thus count on others to hold me in prayer. Beyond that it is always good to hear that my life has brightened someone's day in some small way. Still I admit I am stunned when someone presumes to pronounce on the state of my soul and though this occurs much less rarely, I am surprised when anyone's spirituality involves anti-intellectualism. When they misinterpret my own definite intellectual bent as being somehow opposed to a vital spiritual life which is relatively untouched by God's "law of love" even as they try to justify these errors in religious terms my surprise is compounded. What I sincerely hope readers recognize is that such anti-intellectualism is incapable of dealing adequately with reality. This is so precisely because it is incapable of loving in the "shrewd but gentle" and compassionate way the Gospel calls for! That is especially true when St Paul is misread in the process -- as the above post does and as its author has consistently done in the past when commenting on Paul's "law of the mind" or his teaching on law and Gospel.
What is the Law of the Mind according to Paul?
Paul refers to the law of the mind in Romans, but we must be very clear that it is 1) in the singular (it is not "laws of the mind" or laws made up by human minds!) and 2) that it is not something Paul criticizes. It is, in fact, an enemy of the law of sin: [[For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.]] (Romans 7:22-23) The law of the mind which Paul refers to is that deepest and truest reality within us that says we are made for God. It is the truest inner moral compass and drive which contends with the more superficial law of sin dwelling in our members. Together with the will it is that dimension of our existence deep within us that is linked to our natural impulse to love God. As Paul says above, it is the "law of the mind" that actually delights in the law of God because, of course, it delights in truth and meaning and beauty! It is this fascination by and delight in truth, beauty, and meaning which opens each of us to fuller expressions of the law of God, the law of Love.
It used to be kind of faddish in spirituality to encourage people to "get out of (their) heads and into (their) hearts." (Let me be clear: there were and are excellent reasons for this too, but it was sometimes encouraged by directors whose strongest function was not their intellect and who may even have distrusted it to some extent.) Because my own intellect is an especially intensely pivotal dimension of the way I relate to God and his entire created reality I am very fortunate to have a director who understands the importance of a strong intellectual life and knows full well what it means to have God reveal Godself via a person's intellectual life.
Consequently, one of the most important truths I have had reaffirmed throughout the inner work I have done over the past 8 months or so (I am in the 9th month of that work) is the fact that my intellect is a precious gift of God and the faculty through which God most often graces and has graced me with his self-revelation. Does my mind require the love of God to truly function well? Of course! It is MADE FOR the love of God! It is empowered to function rightly through the grace of God! So of course my intellect and the law of the mind is God's good gift to me (indeed, to all of us) and it has been a source of awesome nourishment to me --- and to those I minister to.
Trusting the Process and Doing Theology:
That said I should also emphasize that of course our intellects are not the whole of the way we relate to God or receive God's revelation of Godself. The law of love is imprinted on intellect, will, spirit and sensibility --- all of them. And all of them are meant to function together accordingly in what constitutes what the NT calls a purity or singleness of heart. I have reported here that quite often in these last months my director has encouraged me to "trust the process". Trusting the process did not mean the intellectual pieces of things could be demeaned or ignored -- nor did this ever happen ---but that in some things it takes the intellect time to catch up with the other pivotal centers of human functioning and that can be challenging for me. More, the intellect needs to build on human experience and be grounded in it while human experience needs to be rendered articulate in the various ways this occurs and to the extent this is possible, through the work of the intellect. While all this can be challenging for one who depends on a strong intellect anti-intellectualism is ruled out of court.
The bottom line here is that far from being something that draws me away from God it is and has always been the activity of "doing theology" --- and here I mainly mean academic and systematic theology --- which most often brings these three dimensions of my being together; it is thus the "place" where I am most profoundly touched by the Word of God or the presence the God who speaks to my heart from within. Many people fail to understand that doing theology in a serious way is never merely an intellectual exercise. That is true because doing theology means being a person of prayer as well as of study, a person of compassion as well as of the capacity for intellectual insight and systematization, a person of heart as well as mind. It means being a person who loves God and the mystery of God's creation, being fascinated with these realities, concerned for them and in fact responsible for the struggle to understand and to articulate their truth for those who need it. It also means knowing from the very first day one walks into a theology class (and possibly before one even does this) that one's efforts will always fall short and quite often fail very badly.
On the Holocaust and Doing Theology:
This was brought home to me in my first introductory course in theology. Not only were we faced with the rock bottom theological datum of a literally incomprehensible and ineffable God (the infinitely fascinating and awesome Mystery around whom we literally cannot get our minds and hearts) but our professor pointed out emphatically that anyone wishing to do serious theology needed their work to be capable of doing justice to the tremendum we call the Holocaust or their theology was, at best, unworthy of the name. In this latter case we cannot do this unless theology engages and depends on one working with their whole self! Moreover it will not happen unless our theology is profoundly historical and critical, not only in our reading of Scripture but in our approaches to doctrine, law, and anthropology as well. Again, our approach to theological and spiritual realities must be informed by both our hearts and our intellects. Jesus, of course, said the same thing when he counseled us to be gentle as doves and shrewd as serpents. And yet again, we know that our efforts will ultimately fail because of the incomprehensible Mystery which is the focus of our efforts and the finite nature of our own minds and hearts. This does not mean we are relieved of the necessity of doing theology; instead it spurs theologians to humility in an enterprise they are summoned and even impelled by God himself to undertake for the sake of his People but also for the sake of his entire Creation.
Paul's "law of the mind," again, is that deep and dynamic reality which delights in and is profoundly fascinated by the law of God. It does not in the least allow the kind of anti-intellectualism present in the post cited above. Faith requires both our heads and our hearts together; it cannot exist otherwise precisely because as Paul Tillich insightfully characterized it, it is a centered act of the whole person and a state of being grasped by an ultimate concern. Such a state of being grasped means being taken hold of in our entire being so that every locus and focus of human functioning (intellect, will, spirit and sensibility) is empowered by and responsive to the God who demands our whole self and promises us everything we need for the completion we and our world are made for.
N.B., The painting (print) above is one I got for Christmas this year. It is Brother Mickey McGrath's, Madonna of the Holocaust and is something that moved me profoundly not only because of conversations I had with Brother Mickey on the Theology of the Cross while he was here on sabbatical in November, but because of the story I told above about my intro to NT course and the challenges of doing serious theology. I think it is an awesome symbol of an historical-critical theology which is a matter of both heart and mind.
You wrote recently about some experiences of crying in ways you had not done before. Were you saying you had received what is sometimes called "the gift of tears"? Is this a real thing?]]
Thanks for your questions. I was kind of hoping no one would ask these very questions because these are questions I had not answered for myself until recently --- and then, only very provisionally. But here they are! So let me first give you an extended introduction to my answer::
This last Thursday I met for spiritual direction and/or accompaniment with my director and of course my experience over the previous two weeks was at the center of our work together. As a result we had one of the most profoundly holy conversations we have ever had --- and I say that recognizing that much of what we deal with regularly is profoundly holy.. We talked about things which were directly of and from God and at the same time, while perhaps rare, may simply be so deeply personal that folks do not speak of them outside the SD relationship. "The gift of tears" per se was a central piece and even the core of our conversation. Since Sister Marietta is much more experienced in all of this than I am and in so many ways (not least because of the breadth of her work in spiritual direction, her experience of doing deep inner work with others, or her academic specialization in applied spirituality) and because she was looking at the forest while I was still bumping my nose into various trees from within that forest, I asked her about her own knowledge and understanding of the gift of tears.
Today's reading from the Acts of the Apostles tells us of the conversion of Paul. There is no doubt this is one of the most important events in the history of the Church and certainly one of the most dramatic. Luke tells us of this event three times in this single work so it is hard to overestimate its importance. A couple of things in particular strike me about this reading this time around.
The first, and the one I will focus on in this blog post, is how radical the changes needed to be in Paul's life to really do justice to his experience of the risen Christ whom he had been persecuting, but also how conservative in the very best sense that experience also was. Tom Wright describes this dual dynamic or dialectic when he says, [[ But this seeing . . .confirmed everything Saul had been taught; it overturned everything he had been taught. The law and the prophets had come true; the law and the prophets had been torn to pieces and put back together in a totally new way. It was a new world; it was the old world made explicit. . . .it showed him that the God he had been right to serve, right to study, right to seek in prayer, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, had done what he always said he would, but done it in a shocking, scandalous, horrifying way. The God who had promised to come and rescue his people had done so in person. In the person of Jesus.]]
So often I am emailed by people who would like to be hermits or who, similarly, would like to put up a sign calling their home "____ hermitage" so people "realize this is not a normal home any more," but who have not made the necessary transition to an essentially eremitical life. As I have noted before, they may or may not live alone, but they add in a little prayer, a bit of silence, a little lectio, and then continue living essentially the same lives they have always lived --- just tweaked a bit. After a day's work outside the hermitage they refer to their time at home alone in the evenings as "their eremitical time" and wonder why I or others -- including their chancery personnel -- reject the idea that they are yet really hermits.
Many people live the same kind of "Christian" lives. Their spirituality is compartmentalized and in the main their lives are untouched by the reality of the risen Christ. They pray and worship on Sundays, they say grace before meals, and perhaps before bed or on arising, but on the whole, their lives are mainly unchanged and perhaps untouched by the completely world shaking reality of the risen Christ. Sometimes we have the sense that elements of the institutional church suffer in somewhat the same way. Parts of their lives, parts of their interpretation of the Tradition they rightly hold precious have not been touched by an experience of the risen Christ and the result is an unfortunate compartmentalization in their approach to reality and a narrowness of vision with all that entails. But given the example we have from St Paul and the Acts of the Apostles, this will not do --- not for anyone claiming the name "Christian".
Following his experience on the road to Damascus, Paul took the next few years, withdrew to a desert region, and began completely reframing the tradition he deeply loved in light of his experience of the risen Christ. He completed this reframing as he engaged each of the churches he founded or preached to in their own unique pastoral circumstances and with regard to their own unique problems. In other words, an experience of world-shattering revelation through prayer, reflection, and genuinely pastoral presence and ministry became an experience of radical conversion. It was, in some ways what happens when a vat of dough is affected by yeast. No part of the dough is or can be left untouched. Similarly it is rather like what happens when one puts a picture together from all the puzzle pieces one has at hand --- but finds some have been left out. Each time a new piece is discovered and added the picture must be reformed and the place of each and all the pieces must be adjusted and reconsidered. (This is especially true with puzzles whose pieces are all the same shape and can be combined in a myriad of ways --- each of these creating a different picture as a whole.)
In such a process none of the older pieces are rendered obsolete or superfluous, but neither can they be seen any longer in their old light or from an older perspective. When one meets the risen Christ, all of the old pieces of the Tradition must be regarded from this new perspective and for Paul that required a rethinking of issues like Law, the nature of resurrection specifically and salvation more generally, the relation of Israel and the Church, Creation and Covenant and what God is attempting to effect by these, the nature of election and who God has called to this and why, the relationship of evil and grace and how ministry is truly effected --- whether by separation and ritual purity or immersion and a holiness which is contagious, the nature of the Messiah, and so forth. In other words, the old doctrinal statements and understandings are not simply swept aside as unimportant, but neither are they left unaffected nor can they be treated adequately apart from the charismatic experience of the risen Christ. Neither are the changes called for merely cosmetic then; they are radical --- reaching right to the roots. We are not merely to be thrown from whatever hobby-horse we have been riding for so long --- no matter how worthwhile. Instead there must also be a soul-deep healing or reconciliation, a bone-deep re-envisioning of all the old certainties after an experience of dazzling illumination or revelation. We, our faith, and lives which reflect and incarnate that faith must be wholly remade from the roots. Nothing else will do.
Paul is the Apostle we must look to here, the one with the courage to change everything without losing anything essential, the one whose experience of the scandalously crucified and risen Christ shaped entirely the way he would honor and represent the Tradition handed onto him, the one who refused to compartmentalize his faith and experience but instead allowed everything to become a new creation in Christ. The simple fact is that should our church fail in this it will cease to truly be the Church Christ called into being. Like Paul's own conversion, the RADICAL integration of our EXPERIENCE of the risen Christ at this point in time with the Tradition and with the concrete needs and yearnings of our time --- or our failure to do so --- will be one of the most significant events in the history of the church. We will either return to largely being the religion/institution of the Pharisees or become the gospel reality, the Kingdom Jesus meant us and our world to be. Every group, every individual must play a part; none is unimportant or can be allowed to remain voiceless (much less be silenced!!) or the Gospel of Jesus Christ will fail to be proclaimed and the coming of the Kingdom which is the thoroughgoing interpenetration of heaven and earth will be hampered yet again.
Karim Sulayman - I trust you from Meredith Kaufman Younger on Vimeo.
In the midst of our country's and our world's insanity this was a wonderfully touching and important lesson. It only takes one person to break through the barriers of embarrassment, suspicion, and fear. Each of us is called to be that person wherever we are and go! Don't forget to enlarge to full screen!
Posted by Sr. Laurel M. O'Neal, Er. Dio. at 1:48 AM
Well, my apologies for not getting a post up for this video. It took me places I hadn't planned on and I am still processing it ("Will you go where you don't know and never be the same?" was certainly an apt line in this song!). That was especially true regarding my prayer over the past week and a half or so. I have been living with a "new" definition of prayer I came to because of a Communion service I did for our daily Mass community during a time when our pastor had to be away. That service included our sixth grade class from St Perpetua's school. The Gospel was from Luke and the pericope involved both began and ended with Jesus' prayer; whether referring to Jesus coming from the synagogue or going off aone to pray at the end of a day of active ministry, both implicitly and explicitly Luke portrays Jesus as a man of prayer. Moreover, according to Luke Jesus' ministry, his active and effective love for others focused on in the middle portion of the text was empowered by prayer and leads to prayer. Allowing God (Love-in-act) to be God in us invariably gives birth to, empowers, and shapes an impulse to go out to others. Because of this I came to think of prayer as a matter of "allowing ourselves to be loved from the inside out"!
Now of itself that experience was not new to me of course. It is the reason I (or most anyone I know) sit in quiet prayer and give myself to God. I know that God desires to love me, God desires to be God for and with me, and I desire to allow God to do that and to be and do whatever flows from that.. But this last week the description, "Letting God love us from the inside out" as a definition for prayer was new, a more succinct way of thinking about the dynamic of prayer and ministry together, especially as prayer empowers ministry. Then on Sunday we sang "The Summons" which touched me and pulled everything together. While using this song both for meditation and in my usual practice of quiet prayer I became far more vividly aware of God loving me from the inside out throughout the whole of my life. We sometimes hear that when a person faces death their entire life flashes before them. Well, the combination of contemplative prayer, meditation on "The Summons", and personal work for direction led me to experience something similar. For the first time, in series of images drawn from my entire life during each prayer period, I saw clearly how God had worked through my WHOLE life to create the heart of a hermit. The experience was repeated at each prayer period over a number of days; it was an amazing time of healing and integration empowering a fresh sense of my vocation.
Ordinarily I sit in quiet prayer for about an hour or so at a time a couple of times a day --- once at 4:00 am and again in the early evening. But last week the work I had been doing with my director coupled with my response to the song at Mass triggered an urgent hunger for quiet prayer in the mid-afternoon. I responded by sitting for about two hours and then, after a brief stretch and cup of tea, etc., I sat again for meditation using lines from and sometimes using headphones playing "The Summons" in a repeating loop for about another hour and a half. (In using the headphones I would really only "hear" and be moved by one or two lines at a time while the rest of the song either went mainly "unheard." or I stopped the playback). Each line that struck me with fresh application and emotion during these times reminded me of various events in my life from very young childhood onwards in the aforementioned series of images. In response I began to cry both long, freely, and deeply --- sometimes in some sadness and grief, but mainly in joy and profound gratitude for the way I saw that God had been working in my life. And so it continued over a period of several days through a number of longer-than-usual prayer periods. It was far and away one of the most powerful and graced experiences I have ever had.
What I experienced in all of this and eventually came to see clearly was indication after indication that throughout the whole of my life God not only has called me by name to be but that he called me to be a hermit (or maybe I should say that at each point God prepared me in very specific and clearly identifiable ways to receive and live this call). He has created possibilities for me to follow him in Christ even when I was unaware there were such possibilities --- and even when I was consciously unaware of the God who was their source and ground! He has called me to allow myself to be loved unceasingly and without limit so that I could serve him and his people as one who truly knew (solitary) love --- even, and perhaps especially when it came to me in profound physical solitude and emotional isolation. As God does with each of us, He loved me from the inside out and fitted me for discipleship and ministry --- though, of course, in my case he fitted me for the very unlikely and unusual discipleship and ministry of a diocesan hermit. From a tangle of many beautiful but also sometimes seemingly inapt threads, ugly snags, and tightly formed and apparently fruitless knots, God has constantly and lovingly woven a grace-filled tapestry celebrating the solitary vocation to life and love --- and God continues to do so, if only I will continue to consent and commit myself in faith.
The summons John Ball wrote about in his song comes to us each and all in many ways but primarily it is an inner reality, something that calls us from our deepest core and, as we make innumerable choices for life, forms us into God's very own "members" who will love, touch and serve others: Will we "come and follow him"? Will we "go where we do not know and never be the same"? Will we "let his love be shown and his name (i.e., his powerful presence) be known"? Will we "let his life be grown in us and we in him"? This summons and these questions are what concerned Jesus, a man (as Hebrews affirms so clearly) like us in all things, a man of prayer who (as the author of Luke-Acts affirmed) grew in grace and stature. It is what empowered him to respond so exhaustively to the One he called "Abba" in an entirely unique way; it is what allowed him to become the unique mediator and Minister of God's love so that when people looked at Jesus they saw not only the face of authentic humanity but the very face of God and when they were touched by Jesus' humanity they were touched by the very hands and breath of God.
This summons, these questions must be what concern and empower us as well. They must shake and console, challenge and transform us so that we are able to love beyond what we believed was even remotely possible. This is what we are called to; it is the long, joyful, tear-stained and life-forming process we must embrace and let embrace us. Whether we are thinking of Luke or of Hebrews, this is what it means to be people of prayer, people who are loved from the inside out, people who are truly imago Christi as Christ is singularly imago Dei.
Posted by Sr. Laurel M. O'Neal, Er. Dio. at 4:29 PM
Dear Sister, I was reading about diocesan hermits and came across an online discussion on the difficulty of becoming a diocesan or Catholic Hermit. One person spoke about her diocese not allowing diocesan hermits or consecrated virgins because of the rarity of the vocation and the fact that it is supervised by the bishop. I guess it was thought that discernment and supervision would be too much of a problem. One person then responded: [[I think it makes sense that it's a rare vocation, and not one to be taken on lightly. Without the direction of a community and superior, those living in solitude can easily stray from the path or become quite eccentric. It's important, even in the solitary vocations, to have a good SD. It might be even better to live with a community for a while, to receive good formation in the religious life, and only then to step out on one's own (with God, of course!). There are quite a few communities of hermits in the US where you could inquire about being formed with the intent of eventually becoming a diocesan hermit.]] Is this a good idea? Do you know anyone who would take me on if I wanted to do this?]]
Thanks for your questions. Some parts of this response are very fine I think. In fact I would say everything up to the last sentence is right on. However, the last sentence and the idea of going to a community with the idea of being formed by them and one day leaving to become a diocesan hermit seems unworkable and potentially seriously problematical to me. I do believe that a solitary hermit who seeks to be canonically professed and consecrated as a diocesan hermit should have some background in religious life (or its equivalent) and access to a monastery where she may spend time -- including extended periods occasionally if that is possible. However, no community will take on a person in order to form them if the person does not intend to stay in the community. Nor should they.
Formation is done in the particular charism and mission of the institute in question. The purpose is not simply to make a religious, monastic, or hermit but to form someone into a Benedictine, Carthusian, Camaldolese, Franciscan or Carmelite hermit, etc. One enters a community with the explicit sense of discerning and being formed in a vocation with this particular community for the rest of one's life. One learns to live with and love one's Sisters in this community, to be a Sister to them and to throw one's lot in with this group of people come what may. In such a community there is shared solitude which is every bit as communal as any other dimension of the life here. I think that some very rare communities might be willing to allow a person to undertake formation with them while knowing the person desires to become a diocesan hermit down the line but I suspect the successful candidate would be a rare and exceptional person as well. If it were the case that one could become a hermit in six months to a year, perhaps one could arrange to be a guest somewhere for that period of time, but one cannot be formed as a hermit in such a short period -- much less be prepared for vows and consecration.
Absolutely one could learn to pray the Office, develop some sound habits of work, prayer, recreation, and rest which would serve one when one began one's formation as a solitary diocesan hermit; similarly, one could get a good sense of the nature of monastic and eremitic silence and solitude and see how one does in such a context, but formation as a hermit? No, not in such a time frame. Besides, one is to be formed as a solitary hermit and this takes time on one's own; it also requires that one (learn to) take care of everything one needs to live on one's own without the benefits of community life. This includes writing one's own Rule and this in itself requires experience as a solitary hermit and attention to what actually works for oneself during different seasons and during wellness and illness as well.
Finally, I have to say that the discernment and formation process of a diocesan hermit must be diocesan and involve diocesan personnel, the person's home parish, and so forth. This, I think, must be primary even if it is supplemented by periods at a monastery or hermitage one knows and even if it is preceded by a time as a religious in community. Only when this is the case will one know whether one can truly live an eremitical life outside a community of hermits; only in such a case will one be able to discern properly or provide appropriately for both initial and ongoing formation. Moreover, only in such a case can one know whether one's diocese is truly open to admitting hermits to profession and consecration under c 603. A diocese cannot promise to profess one IF one spends an extended time in a monastery or hermitage, nor can one expect a diocese to profess one simply because one HAS spent such time in such a context. Again, while such formation is apt to be beneficial, the solitary eremitical vocation is not the same as eremitical life in community; it must be lived and reflected upon on its own terms.
What I would suggest to you if you are interested in becoming a diocesan hermit (or really to anyone who is so interested) and you (or they) have no background in religious life is the following: 1) find yourself a good spiritual director, preferably a religious with experience in formation and one who lives contemplatively (even if an apostolic religious); 2) establish a relationship with them over some time, 3) begin living as a solitary hermit if that is your decision (use c 603 as the guide for your life), 4) read everything you can about it as you meet regularly with your director. If you can live this way for two or three years, and if you really thrive in the silence of solitude, then try your hand at writing a Rule. Once you have managed this task (something which is likely to take you several months) you are probably ready to contact your diocese with a request that they consider admitting you to profession under c 603. If they are open to admitting ANY suitable person then at this point you will likely begin a discernment process with the diocese itself.
I do think that candidates for consecration under c 603 and those already professed and consecrated can benefit from regular time away in a disciplined, regular monastic context so I suggest looking into options for that. I believe this is ordinarily necessary in order to understand what a Rule and the life itself should include and also to have an experience which challenges one to faithfulness even when one is far from the monastic community. In this way I think I am in essential agreement with the perceptions of the person you cited in your question even I am not in agreement with her specific suggestion re joining a religious or monastic community. I believe that all dioceses that demonstrate caution in approaching the eremitical vocation lived in the name of the Church, who recognize the relative and even the absolute rarity of this vocation, and who understand the absolute need for sufficient formation --- both initial and ongoing --- serve this vocation even when they mainly refuse to profess individuals. Especially dioceses who recognize that a lone individual is not necessarily a hermit, that isolation (physical, emotional or psychological, etc) does not constitute eremitical solitude and who insist on communal or ecclesial sensibilities in their candidates serve this vocation. Whatever assists an individual candidate to live a life embodying authentic eremitical solitude needs to be considered and honored; extended or regular times with a community certainly aids in this.