Any subject covered under the universal umbrella of the Catholic Church. I make no distinction between Latin and Eastern churches nor the various Rites, nor are Old Catholics or others that juridically use the name Catholic.
The Carthusians today would not have accepted St. Bruno as he was over 50 years old. Our limit is 45 years of age… Said the Prior
Crocuses stretch against the sun next to a shady piece of snow in the garden, birds chirping in every shrub. A toad on this first spring day has secured itself in the cold cloister of the Charterhouse, as one does, at a corner of the long corridor, frightened, cheeks puffed out. Normally no strangers ever come here. No manager is allowed to „dangle his soul“ in our silence. The Carthusians do not offer their „profound luck,“ as Goethe would call it, in any marketplace.
But even for ordinary fellow Christians there are no retreats or visits, nor can the priest monks be persuaded to help out a little with the pastoral care of the nearby village. „We have another task,“ says the Prior, „Representing the many who no longer have time for the living God, we stand before him for all of them.“
Our pastoral care is worldwide, to be honest! „For this they live in unconditional devotion, radically withdrawn.“
The Pope’s secretary, Georg Gänswein wanted to become a Carthusian before he was promoted to the Apostolic Palace and into one of the most unpredictable ways of life, where, however, he is not the master of his time any more than a Carthusian, who weave their minutes and seconds by day and by night to the rhythm of paradise. Completely renouncing television, radio and the Internet which they do without. The hard-drive of their memory and their networking with the world and with history are still extant and found in a large library. Night after night they rise at midnight for the first canticles of praise.
Early in the morning they return to the monastery church and celebrate the Eucharist together and again in the afternoon for Vespers. The rest of the time they pray, contemplate, read, study on their own – with a strict balance of handicrafts in their workshop or garden.
Are they archaic? Timeless? Certainly they embody an almost unbroken tradition like no one else. Every two years, its order is carefully adapted to the new challenges and requirements in the so-called General Chapters, but all major crises that have occurred have never been able to persuade the Carthusians to adapt to the zeitgeist. Worries about their growth in Germany they have none. Of course, they wear wristwatches under the long sleeves of their coarse white cowls, are well informed about the world outside of the walls, and have no fear of technological aids of any kind (where their use is required for certain jobs). But other than that, more or less everything has remained the same among them since the days of St. Bruno of Cologne, who founded his order in the 11th century. And thats why they have neither summer nor winter time, they only have pure time.
But the most precious substance of our lives is only a prelude to eternity. „Do you also celebrate the Tridentine Mass?“ We wanted to know from Brother Theodor. The porter smiles. „We have our own, we have the Carthusian liturgy. Which is 450 years older than the Tridentine Rite. The liturgical constitution of the last council have changed almost nothing at all.“
Brother Theodor is from North Holland. „Do not wait for those who slew St. Boniface,“ we ask, „the apostle of the Germans?“ Now he laughs loudly. „Yes, we were. That’s probably why I’m here too.“ Here, in the walled grounds of a huge forest, where the old tailor has been for over 30 years.
Yes, they are considered the strictest order within the Catholic Church. But merriment and humour are the first thing we want to write down – and the play of light in the shadows of the cloister, the open skies above, their gardens. Anyone who would like to, should come to Buxheim in the Allgäu, near Memmingen, where a former charterhouse was converted into a museum, whose architecture 200 years after the expulsion of the Carthusians still sheds light on their secret as though kept in amber. It is one of the brightest Rococo establishments in southern Germany.
In ta small nook of the cloister, Dominikus Zimmermann has created a „little meadow“, a tiny chapel where the Risen One moves over the altar as a child and victor on the bright golden ground of heaven. There is a single glow within this jewel – and a fabulous generosity, where every monk has at his disposal, not just a cell, but his own little house for his seclusion around the cloister: in it an anteroom with a picture or a statue of Mary (who is the real Mistress of the Order), a room with work and dining table, a prayer niche, next to a straw bed. Behind it a workshop, with the stored wood for winter, which every monk himself saws and chops, a workbench, and a walled garden for their own design – and all this for just one person! Anyone who wantsto shows up here, could also consider the Carthusians as the inventors of the detached home.
The food is handed to them at noon by Carthusian brothers, who follow another daily schedule, through a hatch next to the door into the little domain.
The partitioned rooms are almost mirrored in their structured time. Every Monday they walk together in the woods, in lively conversation.
On Sundays and other festivals, they eat together, there are even wooden spoons and forks, so that there is no clanging noise from the „Gamelles“, on which the food is served so that it does not disturb their listening to the table reading.
On the old portal of the refectory of Buxheim carvings show half the menu of yesteryear: bread, vegetables, fish and shellfish, no meat, but beer and wine. This has changed little. And a figure in the choir stalls shows us the Prostratio, the particular prayer position of the Carthusians, which they have retained since the Middle Ages: an angled thrown upon the floor type posture, as we often see on the sidewalks in Rome around the Vatican of the demeanour of a professional beggars who still know how to lie on the ground and supplicate correctly. Since the founding of the Order, the Prior tell us, they live „from air and from love“ (Above all, the love of our generous donors who have never abandoned us).
Plainly they are only beggars before God. So they lie one by one in front of the altar, as do all the Priors every two years before the General Chapter at the great Charterhouse in France, where he is asked: „What do you want?“ „Mercy!“„Stand up!“.Afterwards, he is either granted his request (or is asked to continue for another two years). It goes without saying that the monks always address each other with the formal „You“.
Even a certain form of nobility has been conserved within them as if encrusted in amber.
As an elite, the 300 Carthusian monks that exist worldwide would probably hardly be able to understand themselves. They are self-confident. Your probationary period lasts at least 7 years before a final commitment, and if the community thereafter refuses, in a secret ballot, to solemnly receive somebody, even the prior is powerless. In Marienau, not far from Buxheim, the monks of the only Charterhouse in Germany come from nine different nations, all religions, all professions.
Most priests were also academics before. The highest age for entry is 45 years. „They would not have taken Saint Bruno today,“ the Prior jokes, „he was already over fifty when he founded our Order.“
And today? Where do the new Carthusians come from? It has become difficult, he says, who once wanted to become a foreign correspondent before suddenly feeling „seduced and overwhelmed“ by God. „Because many already consider us as not being among the living. Many artisans, endowments, and even Carthusians, come through their wrongful life no longer able to fulfil the plan that God had with them before they were born, the God of life.“
The first monks from the Lower Rhine settled in Marienau in 1964, where the Old Motherhouse blocked the new runways at Düsseldorf Airport. The profit from the sale of the old parcels of land enabled the monks to acquire their clearing in the forest, during the years of the Council – and in a marriage of the ugliest architectural experiments – they built a new small monastic village, austere, classically beautiful, with a simple cemetery in the middle of the cloister.
They took their books with them, an old statue of St. Bruno from Cologne, the old Rule and the spirit of their foundation. What profit and divine enjoyment the loneliness and silence of the wasteland prepares for those who love it are known only to those who have experienced it,“ wrote Guigo of Chastel almost 70 years after the founding of the Order in 1130 in the Rule and also this: „The poor life in loneliness is difficult in the beginning, with time it becomes easier, andis heavenly in the end.“
Is that still true? Yes, says the Prior, but the trials are difficult. „Most go again. The order remains. Some leave us after hours, others after days, some only after 20 years.“ So late? How is it possible to break away? „As in a marriage,“says the monk, „if the dialogue withers and eventually stops.“The dialogue with the men of this Order of Silence? „No, no, the dialogue with God, of course.“ The life of a Carthusian makes sense only through this constant conversation with Him, even if we argue and fight, even if we desperately shout at Him in desperation. But it’s over when we start to tell him! This is the end.
We live a love story. How else could we endure the hardships and loneliness? „Every day and night we wait for nothing other than this: to one day to look into the eyes of the one who loves me.“
The monastery is a desert with as many dwellings as the number of elect that are called to remain in it. It is a populated desert, with a peculiar distribution of gifts and an organisation „its purpose is for the monks to be intimately united to Christ, because only in the intimate love of each one for the Lord Jesus can the peculiar gifts of the Eremitic vocation flourish.“
The dialogue with the Word has preceded us in everything. Without consulting our will and desire, it embodied our encouragement for consecration. And in the present continues to shape our future by diverse channels; the most ordinary of all, that of fraternal life. It is the place where Love is verified. In that school and in the school of the Word is where you learn what Love is.
The Prologue to the Rule of Saint Benedict begins with this exhortation: “Listen carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart.”
Benedict seems to say: that with the open “ear” one you will notice the abyss of their nothingness, where other will gird you and lift you upon the rungs of a ladder, to a new heaven which is yet to be explored. Guardini described Christian intimacy as a reality coming from the „Other“: the hidden Trinity, who is the one who creates it within man. To enable the monk to access this he must develop his sense of hearing more than any other. That is why he will be, is boundto silence more than anyone else: Silence, is considered one of the most peculiar values of Contemplative Orders; assures the monk of solitude within the community; favours the remembrance of God and fraternal communion; open their mind to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit; which stimulates the attention of the heart and solitary prayer with God alone.
Why else would St. Bernard have said in one of his letters that „he hadlearned more by working among the beeches of the forest than by reading many books“? Hard work, and silence for the contemplative, have always been, the „school“ of contemplation. Those who allow themselves to be instructed within that school, and allow themselves to be united with the Word, learn, above all, not to separate knowledge from surrender, and to make the most platitudinous „service of praise“.
St. Benedict in „Qualifications of the Monastery Cellarer“ch. 31 s. 14 of his Rule, reminds the cellarer of the monastery that „A kind word is better than the best gift (Cf. Sirach 18:17).“ When a brother who has asked for something „unreasonable“ is denied what he asks for, the kind word transforms a formal gesture of denial into a word of affirmation that exceeds our limited possibilities of good. In this way we cooperate with the „yes“ of Christ. He exceeds all measure of good.
All of us, to some extent have had experience of people away from everything „commonplace“ and self esteem, in extreme situations with no real apparent way out, yet have been a channel for hope. Neither was his donation born by a human calculation. To the one who in this way has been neighbour to his neighbours, a biblical psalm (Psalms 111:4) gives him the name of „merciful“ „compassionate“ and „just“. The righteous has been a risen „light“ in the midst of resistant darkness deserves the praise as „the righteous.“
In the school of Love, however, the „thorns of scandal“ are not lacking: Maintaining unity among the brothers depends on a mutual and sincere commitment to reconciliation so that the thorns of the scandals disappear from the community, the brothers will not hold any resentment, but will make peace as soon as possible with his brother in discord.
Benedict promptly encourages us to make peace with our brother in discord. This cannot always be achieved. When discord has sown wounds, such a situation can be metamorphosed into years of dissension. Although some rules of courtesy in the treatment of others are respected, the experience of isolation and emptiness leads to a partial death of the soul: what a contemporary author once called „the dark night of the cenobite.“ We have all gone through it. And, sometimes, we are not always left unharmed by the experience …
When violence overwhelms tenderness, the Word does not cease its unrelenting fervour for reconciliation. It always works. To those who fall into a spiral of criticism and bitter disappointment about the common life, grace will ask them to imitate the sentiments of St. Peter in the synagogue of Capernaum before the harsh language shift in the Bread of Life discourse: for Peter its a hard language as well, upalatable, but, unlike those who leave, he knows that “words of eternal life” sometimes hide behind a pitiful appearance. It is advantageous to meditate upon this: „It is better to keep silence and be [a Christian] than to talk and not to be“ (Benedict XVI writes from Vatican City on Robert Cardinal Sarah’s bookThe Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise).„In our Christian lives, our purpose is not about understanding what to do, but to be – to stay – to understand“;Cephas was one who chose to stay!
That is why a baptised person should never be easily removed from their path by any of their peers, even if the small „reasons“ that assist us confront us with that decision. Basically, deciding to stay in love – as William de Saint-Thierry says in a famous „Meditativae orationes“ [Meditations on Prayer], – is to have located the “place” at a specific time of the day and set up our tent there, just as Andrew and John the first disciples did: «Rabbi, where do you live?». „Come,“ said he, „and you will see.“ «Do not you think that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?». «We thank you, Lord, we have found your place: your place is the Father, and the place of your Father is you».
The hermits of Saint Bruno pray fervently that others young and old, may find that safe and secluded place which most seek. We will never stop thanking the Lord for the gift of the vocation that he given us „not to put anything before“ Christ, and that He may bring us all together to Eternal Life.
St. Jerome wrote, or at least translated from the Greek, a little biography of St. Paul the Hermit. Some speculate that he did so in order to establish St. Paul’s reputation as the “first hermit” and to let the world know that the great St. Anthony had a predecessor. Others regard the story as so full of fables that they treat Paul as a type of a third-to- fourth-century hermit rather than as a historical individual.
A Christian from his youth, Paul was orphaned at age 15. In 250 the persecution by Decius forced him into hiding, first at a friend’s house and then, fearing exposure, to a cave in the Egyptian desert. He had planned to return home after things quieted down, but the peaceful solitude of the desert seduced him to stay. A palm tree and a spring near his cave provided him food, clothing, and water until he turned 43. After that time, as it had happened for Elias, a raven brought him half a loaf of bread each day.
In Paul’s 90th year in the desert his presence was revealed to St. Anthony, who immediately went to find him. Anthony met Paul in his cave, and the two hermits became friends overnight. They shared a whole loaf of bread brought by the raven, discussed world events, and prayed. Anthony thought he had found a companion, but Paul knew that God had sent Anthony to help him die. The biography described their meeting:
Blessed Paul said to Anthony: “For a long time now, I have known that you dwelled in these regions. And for a long time God had promised you to me for a companion. Since my hour of eternal sleep has arrived, and because I have always desired ‘to be dissolved and to be with Christ’ (see Philippians 1:23), having ‘finished the course, . . . a crown of justice’ (see 2 Timothy 4:7–8)remains for me. You have been sent by God to bury my miserable body, rather to return earth to earth.”
Anthony listened to these words with tears and groans, begging Paul not to leave him behind, but to accept him as a companion on that journey. Paul answered: “You ought not seek your own interests but those of another. It is indeed profitable for you to cast off the burden of the flesh to follow the Lamb, but it is also profitable for the rest of your brethren that they may be the more instructed by your example. I beg of you, hasten, if is not too much to ask, and bring back the cloak which Athanasius the bishop gave you, to wrap about my wretched body.” Now, blessed Paul made this request, not because he cared at all whether or not his body decayed covered up or naked, since for a long time now he had been wearing garments woven from palm leaves, but because he wanted to spare Anthony the grief of witnessing his death.
Anthony went to get the cloak. When he returned he found Paul kneeling with arms outstretched, but already dead. Two lions dug Paul’s grave and Anthony buried him. But he kept Paul’s outer garment woven from palm leaves, which he treasured from that time and which he always wore on great feast days.
Paul was spared a lonely death because he found a friend in Anthony. His experience suggests that we become friends with the sick and elderly and provide them companionship in their last days. And that we make friends with younger people ourselves as insurance against loneliness in the autumn of our lives.
On the 14th of March 2017, a book entitled The Benedict Option was published in the United States, which then sparked a great debate . The book’s name refers to St. Benedict of Nursia (c. 480- † 547 A.D.). David Brooks of The New Yorker defined the book as “the most discussed and most important religious book of the decade” . The book basically attempts to advance a course of action for the Christian faithful and their communities not only in safeguarding their principles and their religious traditions, but also prosper within an extremely secularised society. It is therefore worthwhile taking the time to ponder over this book so as to get the measure of it.
The author of the book is Rod Dreher, a 51 year old American writer, editor and journalist for The American Conservative magazine, he also contributes to magazines and newspapers such as National Review and The Wall Street Journal. Dreher, in “The Benedict Option”, appears to suggest that Christians, within “local” and “small” communities, should prepare themselves to live in a post-Christian society, operating as a “parallel polis“, capable of “exercising the virtues” as a “counter-cultural” force within a world that is now noticeably and at times vehemently rejecting Christianity.
The author has the merit of analysing the problem of Christian life in the face of the challenges of growing world secularisation. Dreher is commendable, his intent on imagining a modern world which is non individualistic but a communal life is very commendable. Equally commendable is his desire to give a Christian witness. The “option” of Dreher is a kind of re-adaptation of the rule and the charism of St. Benedict in our time.
Inspired by After Virtue (1981) by Alasdair MacIntyre, Dreher bases the “Benedict Option” on a narrative that interprets the history of the past and our present time. The “dark ages” following the fall of the Roman Empire are put in parallel and our presumed post-Christian era. According to Dreher, in founding his monastic Order St Benedict “responded” to the “collapse of Roman civilisation“. That response consisted in the recreation of small communities of virtuous men, in which civilisation would be preserved to prosper in later times .
In this sense, the author maintains, with a certain stylistic finesse, that Christians in the West should “separate” from the “official order“, without however departing completely from society. This is not about building a “closed community“. Rather, Dreher insists on the construction of “common practices” and “institutions” that are able to “overthrow” the “isolation” experienced by the communities of faithful Christians today .
Even if the “Benedict Option” could be acceptable within contemporary American society, it certainly seems to be based on a very simplified and debatable narration of the Benedictine charism. According to Dreher, “Benedict’s political option starts with recognising that Western society is post-Christian” . And he bases this option in our time, not only by interpreting contemporary Western societies as the beginning of an “obscure post-Christian era“, but also by stating that the rule of St. Benedict is a response to paganism .
The risk of a “small group”
However, it must also be said that the father of Western monasticism, despite the original elements of his rule, has become part of a pre-existing tradition. Cenobitic monasticism appeared and flourished not primarily as a “response” to the fall of the Roman Empire in the dark barbarian age, but during the imperial Christian era, soon after the end of the persecution of the early Church.
In fact, just as before him, Pachomius and Basil, St. Benedict did not act in a reactive way, in response to the uncultivated pagans who were destroying the Empire , but in continuity with the so-called “tradition of white martyrdom” . The cenobite monks sought a way to offer their lives to God, in a later historical context different from that of the primitive Church of the martyrs.
The proponents of the “Benedict Option“, as already described, tend to see an analogy between the dark ages that followed the Roman era and our society. It is difficult to remain indifferent to the “apocalyptic” tone with which Dreher expounds his thesis. The “dark ages” of our time, the inevitability of becoming “poorer” and “more marginalized“, the need to learn from the opponents of the communist tyranny in Czechoslovakia, the use of terms such as “anti-political policies” or “parallel polis“», The prediction of losing “careers” due to subtle “persecutions“, the underlining of the damages of technology, of the internet and of sexual libertine practice … all these statements are made within the narration of a persecuted Church, analogous to what happened to the first martyrs.
If it is true that contemporary Christians can learn from the Benedictine rule and adapt it to current times, it is also true that exalting the reality of persecution could entail a risk: that of perceiving one’s “small group” as the true and better Church of the others. Ultimately, this is the risk of arrogance, connected to an ecclesial sin against unity and communion.
The Donatist temptation and the reaction of Augustine
This was precisely the temptation of the Donatist heresy. The “donatist’s” were a religious movement born in Africa, circa 311 A.D., from the ideas of the bishop of Numidia Donatus Magnus of Casae Nigrae. It was born in an age of persecution. Donato made a harsh criticism of those bishops who had not resisted the persecutions of Diocletian and who had handed over the sacred books to the Roman magistrates. According to the followers of Donato, the sacraments administered by these bishops would not have been valid. This position presupposed, therefore, that the sacraments did not work in themselves, but that their validity depended on the dignity of those who administered them.
As noted by the theologian Fr. Yves Marie-Joseph Congar O.P., the Donatists exalted the act of martyrdom, tended to rigidity and moral purity, and manifested a strong hostility towards secular authorities and institutions . For the Donatists, the persecution of the Church has been an important criterion for corroborating its belonging to the true Church of Christ. In fact, they were proud of being persecuted and felt connected to the Church of the martyrs. It should be added that this sentiment was entirely justified by the violent opposition that the imperial authorities had unleashed against them .
St. Augustine opposed their sacramental theology, citing Cyprian – the great martyr praised by the schismatics – in order to show that martyrdom and, in general, persecution are fruitful only when required by grace and lived in union with the Church. According to the bishop of Hippo, unity, charity and humility are intrinsically linked to each other. Therefore, those who are schismatic fall into an ecclesial sin, breaking unity (and, consequently, charity and humility) . For Augustine, the great sin of the schismatics would be that of pride or arrogance: the belief that one is right in opposition to all the others, thus destroying communion.
On the one hand, Augustine proposes a more articulate and cohesive theology of that of the Donatists, showing them that the only persecutions could not attest to their fidelity to the Church of Christ: charity and humility are indispensable for seeking unity. On the other hand, he seems to find a coherent way to praise the martyrdom of the early Church, while at the same time managing to adapt the Church’s practices and traditions to the new historical epoch.
At the end of this controversy, the Church chose to reintegrate these traditores, after some penance, rather than drive them away .
When rigidity is at the cost of unity and peace
Without, of course, falling into heresy, in Dreher we can see the echoes of Donato’s voice: “If today’s Churches want to survive the new dark age, they must stop ‘being normal’. We will need to engage more deeply in our faith, and we will need to do it in ways that appear strange to contemporary eyes. If we rediscover the past, if we recover liturgical worship and asceticism, if we focus our lives on the ecclesial community and if we strengthen the discipline of the Church, we will succeed, with God’s grace, to return that special people we should always have been. This focus on Christian formation will not only result in stronger Christians, but also a new evangelisation, because salt will regain its taste.” .
In their desire to identify themselves with the primitive Church of the persecuted martyrs, the Donatists did not accept a different way of living and practicing faith. Even in the new historical context, in which the persecution was over, they felt that their persecuted being gave confirmation of their being true and good Christians. In doing so, those schismatic Christians constituted a small party of “pure people“. By contrasting integer to profanus as the main difference between those ‘who did‘ and those ‘who did not‘ belong to the Church, the Donatists tended to admit only irreproachable members.
A firm reply from Augustine
To their rigidity and to the emphasis on asceticism, Augustine gave some answers that can be very useful to reread today. The Bishop of Hippo makes two distinctions, which the Donatists were not able to do. In the first place, it distinguishes between the present historical Church and the future eschatological Church. The pure Church, made up only of irreprehensible men, comes true at the end of time in the ecclesia qualis future est. Now, in the present age, God is patient and allows different kinds of men and women to participate in the ecclesia talis nunc est. The present Church is pro mixta societas, or a society mixed with good and bad people. A Church is made up of the best and worst (or the not so virtuous) believers. 
While Dreher’s “Benedict Option” seeks to build communities in which discipline is “strengthened“, in order to ensure a Christianity that is supposed to be truer and healthier, Augustine’s writings addressed to the Donatists underline other aspects such as example, patience towards sinners, also in consideration of the value of maintaining communion.
Augustine notes the arrogance of those who want to separate the good from the bad, the “right” from the “unjust” before the opportune time. In this context he asks for “humility“, “patience” and “tolerance“. Humility appears to be a fundamental Christian virtue, without which unity and communion are not possible within the mystical body of Christ. The Bishop of Hippo relies heavily on the authority of Cyprian, and shows how this martyr attempted to accept different opinions in order to maintain the unity of the Church. 
The “Benedict Option” does not automatically imply the arrogance that Augustine perceived in the attitude of the Donatists. However, the appeal for a “strengthening of discipline in the Church” echoes the Donatist moral rigidity. Moreover, the desire to build small communities of “strong Christians” could erase the importance of Christian virtues such as humility, patience and tolerance – which stand out in Augustine’s writings -, compromising the communion among believers and the formation of peace relations in the world.
The emphasis on “purity” and the hostility toward secular institutions
A further characteristic of the Donatist attitude that greatly struck the Dominican theologian Fr. Yves Marie-Joseph Congar O.P., concerns the hostility towards secular institutions. The Donatists tended to refuse to collaborate with the authorities of the Empire, which represented pagan powers for them. In their theological perspective, the purity of a Christian practice implied the refusal to participate, collaborate or engage with the pagans in their non-Christian institutions.
In this sense, the Donatists were indeed a “parallel polis“. On the contrary, Catholics like Augustine remained linked to some imperial institutions and felt compelled to consider the Donatists as schismatic Christians.
This emphasis on purity, as a precaution against any contamination from any element external to the Christian environment, is connected to the interpretation that the donatists gave the theological concept of “catholicity“. According to them, “Catholic” indicated perfection and sacramental fullness. In this sense, the Donatists believed that “true Catholicism” was limited only to their small local Church in North Africa.
Following Otto’s theology, Augustine proposed another interpretation of “catholicity“, highlighting universality as the unity of the whole Church as the mystical body of Christ . He insisted that local Churches throughout the world should be in communion in order to realise Bible prophecies regarding the effectiveness of the proclamation of Christ’s Resurrection. 
All in all, Augustine’s argument sought to show that the Donatists, even if they had been more virtuous than all the other Christian faithful, could never have had the exclusive of the true Church. He wanted to make it clear that isolating himself from other Christians and from society in general was not a positive sign.
Although Dreher does not advocate the isolation of Christian communities, his “Benedict option” requires “separation” from political powers and secular institutions, to the point of developing life as much as possible within Christian institutions, in which Christian entrepreneurs they mainly employ workers belonging to their own Churches . Furthermore, the emphasis placed on the negative aspects of technology and the internet can be understood as a warning not to be contaminated by pagan culture. Thus, this option could “close” the Christian communities.
In this sense, for Dreher, the principle of defence of religious freedom serves to establish the possibility of existing and acting for institutions that conform to the “Benedict Option“. Dreher is not interested in establishing a real dialogue with those who have a different cultural and religious background and follow different lifestyles. It is difficult even to imagine a possibility of collaboration with people of different options.
Consequently, a pessimistic view of contemporary society weighs on the “Benedict Option“. Although the affirmation of religious freedom is essential, if Christians are to be able to practice their faith, Dreher does not seem interested in showing the importance of true dialogue, which springs from the human dignity from which all liberties derive. Although the Internet may be “the most radical, destructive and revolutionary technology” that a Christian must avoid and limit, especially for children , Dreher’s option does not propose a way of life within this new “place” and to evangelise it.
Looking at the Donatist controversy, it is clear that the option of Augustine, in particular, and the Catholic Church, in general, are not designed to establish distinctions between being a good citizen and being a good Christian. Naturally, as Christians, we must be cautious in collaborating with people and with secular institutions. We can refer to Dreher’s metaphor: Christians should not “burn incense to Caesar” . However, finding ways that “do not compromise” our Christian “consciences“, in the context of the “Benedict option“, risks preventing the development of healthy relations with all men of good will and social commitment together with them. Proper attention to the devotions of popular religiosity and a propensity for open dialogue outside the Church seem to justify, at least, options other than Dreher’s.
And what about social injustices?
The “Benedict Option” also runs the risk of “establishing” (or “re-establishing“) strong Christian communities and practices at the expense of organised social assistance. Obviously, Christian practices and institutions should not be reduced to “NGO” style social activities. However, this does not mean that Christian practices and institutions can remain indifferent to the poor and the most marginalised in Western society and, indeed, throughout the world.
According to Yves Congar, the Donatists did not care much about social injustice . Dreher’s book seems to find a way to safeguard, animate and activate Christian practices, but it is not easy to see how such practices can take into account the “preferential option for the poor“.
In the context of increasing globalisation, Christian faithful could opt for the expansion of their relations with other communities, even outside their Churches, in order to increase synergies for the construction of peace and justice. This could also be a way to live, practice and witness Christian virtues and true faith.
The importance of humility and mercy
Dreher states that “the Benedict option must ultimately be a matter of love” . No one who recognises himself in the Christian tradition could disagree with this statement. And yet the “Benedict Option” is not immune to the recurring risks inherent in moral rigidity and countercultural forces. The main risk of such attitudes concerns the lack of communion, unity and peace within the Church and with the society in which we live.
For Pope Francis’, mercy is “the message of Jesus“, “it is the strongest message of the Lord” . If Augustine disapproved of the rigidity that the Donatists adopted at the expense of the Church’s unity, even today Pope Francis is working to introduce more merciful practices to the wounds and difficulties that contemporary men and women experience. This spiritual attitude can not be reduced to a political strategy: it has a biblical and theological foundation.
Answering to Peter that asks him how many times the disciple should forgive, Jesus says: «I say not to thee, till seven times; but till seventy times seven times.» (Matthew 18:22). After having said this, Jesus recounts the parable of the “ruthless servant“, who, despite having received the forgiveness of his master, is unable to forgive his neighbour. In the end, he is condemned by his master (cf. Matthew 18:23-35).
For the Pope, “the parable contains a profound teaching for each of us. Jesus affirms that mercy is not only the action of the Father, but becomes the criterion for understanding who his true sons are“.  Perhaps, in the effort to re-establish “small” communities in which members are “strong” Christians and act as a sort of “parallel society“, believers may deviate from this criterion. Faced with God and the whole world, Christians must be credible in witnessing to God’s merciful nature, making it possible to experience it within Christian institutions.
There is no doubt that secularism is a great challenge and in some cases even a threat for Christian communities today. Pope Francis seems to be responding to the secularisation of the modern world with a perceivably humble attitude, with dialogue followed by gestures of goodness and greater understanding towards all [well nearly all as there are still many marginalised religious groups today]: perhaps this is one evangelical “option” open to today’s Christians.
“We learn humility through accepting humiliations cheerfully.” ― Mother Teresa
We reflect on the nature of what it means to be a Christian, saying that an authentic follower of Christ is able to endure difficulties with a positive attitude, i cannot stress enough the importance and need of sacrifice in the life of faith of all Christian’s.
As we reflect on the Gospel reading from St. Matthew where Jesus asks his disciples who they think He is.
And Jesus came into the quarters of Caesarea Philippi: and he asked his disciples, saying: Whom do men say that the Son of man is? But they said: Some John the Baptist, and other some Elias, and others Jeremias, or one of the prophets. Jesus saith to them: But whom do you say that I am? Simon Peter answered and said: Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answering, said to him: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven.And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven. Then he commanded his disciples, that they should tell no one that he was Jesus the Christ.
It was after this question that Peter replies with his declaration that Jesus is the Christ, but that once Jesus warns of his upcoming passion and death, “Peter was frightened and scandalised.”
This attitude, is “just like many Christians” who declare that “this will never happen to you, I will follow you only up to this point.” “This is a temptation to our spiritual wellbeing.” To us, being humiliated is what breaks the illusion of perfection that we all want for ourselves.
Just like the rich young man from the gospel, who wanted to follow Jesus but only up to a certain point, the scandal of the Cross continues to block many Christians who complain about the wrongdoings and insults they suffer, rather than following the way of the cross.
“The proof of a true Christian is in their ability to endure humiliations with joy and patience.”
It is nevertheless our own choice “whether to be a Christian in name only or a Christian close to Jesus, who walks with him along the path of the cross”.
“We learn humility through accepting humiliations cheerfully.” ― Mother Teresa
“Many of those who are humiliated are not humble. Some react to humiliation with anger, others with patience, and others with freedom. The first are culpable, the next harmless, the last just.” ― Bernard of Clairvaux, On the Song of Songs 1
“Humiliation is the only ladder to honouring God’s Kingdom.” ― Andrew Murray
John Justus of Landsberg or Lanspergius (+ August 10, 1539) in his Enchiridion militiae
christianae tells us “therefore, you must say: “I have come here to be rebuked, despised, separated from one place to another; to serve all, to submit myself to all, not to contradict anyone, to be the last and the most despicable of slaves in the service of princes. Whenever I find that, a thought or deed, are contrary to my ordinal purpose, I will not permit it, but, acting as though I had apostatised, I will return to my original purpose.”
A ragged slave, vile and poor, among nobles, is despised, mocked and beaten, but does not open his mouth; In fact, he is glad he has not been totally excluded. So must you also, when you are among brothers or in the company of men, whenever you feel the object of an offence, say the following to yourself: “I will willingly keep silent and endure, so that I deserve to be supported and not be excluded from all the company of my masters ». And also: “How good I am, how happy I am: the brothers support my being a disgusting leper and a beggar.
Propose within your heart to live as a guest and foreigner among your brothers, without any rights over any property of the house, so that, without confusion, you can serenely contemplate the losses and the profits, the joys and the sorrows.
Be humiliate as much as you can. As much as you have humiliated yourself, you are still superb. Therefore, embrace all licit modes of humiliation so that, in the end, humility itself becomes a natural inclination. – [Lanspergius: Enchiridion militiae christianae.]
It should be remembered that until now the Church has always encouraged contemplative life for religious men and women. The separation from the world to religious life constitutes a state of perfect life and is necessary for the Mystici corporis Christi (The Mystical Body of Christ) as a manifestation of one’s holiness and as a permanent source of grace.
The sanctuary of the cloisters of female contemplative life has been violated by the latest stipulations issued by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. The Apostolic Constitution Vultum Dei Quaerere on womens contemplative life [June 29, 2016], and Cor Orans [April 1, 2018] the “Implementing Instruction of the Apostolic Constitution for “Vultum Dei” on Women’s Contemplative Life, as was explained in an Italian article by Veronica Rasponi “La distruzione dei Monasteri femminili”[The Destruction of Women’s Monasteries – our translation can be read here], published in «Corrispondenza Romana» on October 10th last, states that the sole purpose of the Apostolic Constitution was to cause harm to the founding principles of cloistered monasteries, and to the juridical autonomy (sui iuris) of each monastery.Corrispondenza Romana call’s it the ‘Sovietisation’ of the monasteries.
It should be remembered that until now the Church has always encouraged contemplative life for religious men and women. The separation from the world to religious life constitutes a state of perfect life and is necessary for the Mystici corporis Christi(The Mystical Body of Christ) as a manifestation of one’s holiness and as a permanent source of grace.
However, the enclosure regime means a separation from the world, and not from the society that the nuns support with their prayer and penance. Pius XII in the encyclical Sacra Virginitas of March 25, 1954, explains that the renunciation of the world by nuns, protected by enclosure, is not the equivalent of social desertion, but rather allows a wider service to be given to the Church and society.
The same Pius XII, in his Apostolic Constitution Sponsa Christi of 21 November 1950, foresaw a birth of the federations of monasteries, as an instrument to help revitalisethe life of some monastic communities which, following the war, had found themselves isolated and in difficulties. The experience did not turn out to be a happy one and should have imposed an abandonment of these forms of structures, by contrast under the pontificate of Pope Bergoglio it has increase exponentially, delivering a mortal blow to the institutions of female monasteries.
The word “monastery” enters into the Italian language during the first half of the XIII century, from the late Latin monastērĭum, from the Greek word μοναστήριον, of μοναστήριος – monasterios from μονάζειν – monazein “to live alone” from the root μόνος – monos “alone” (all Christian monks were originally hermits); the suffix “-terion” indicates a “place for doing something”. The earliest extant use of the term monastērion is by the Alexandrian philosopher Judaeus Philo On The Contemplative Life, ch. III.
The monastery, therefore, by its very nature, must be a place of solitude (separation from the profane world), of silence (care of the intimacy of the soul with the divine realities), of prayer (communication of the soul with the Most Holy Trinity and the Virgin Mary), these persona’s, have always been the pillars upon which the very fabric of the claustral life was founded on.
But it is evident that the emergence of the “Federation of monasteries”, “Association of monasteries” and the “Confederation of monasteries” is a calculated obtrusion inflicted by the Vatican, which inevitably, undermine with the addition of an irregular hybridisation of external influences that are now present in every single cloisters – it is being perceived by many religious as a sort of “globalisation” connecting different monastic charisms (in this manner they become less and less monastic and are steadily absorbed by the diktats that are foreign to the abbey’s), furthermore the disperse and confusing “refresher courses” – eventuate the suffocation and repression of the sacred independence that the Church, in its wisdom, had until now defended the custody and protection of every single consecrated soul.
The life of the cloister is a self-giving to the Bridegroom Jesus, which implies transcending the world to set out on a privileged path of greater communion with God and, precisely by virtue of this communion, the nun, bride of Christ, intercedes for the people who live in society and for the redemption of souls. A mission, that is irreplaceable.
The Cor Orans document concerns all monasteries and its application was immediate from the moment of its publication (April 1, 2018). “The provisions of the Apostolic Constitution Vultum Dei quaerere for all the monasteries concerning their obligation to enter a Federation of monasteries also apply to other structures of communion such as the Association of monasteries or the Conference of monasteries;” “This obligation also applies to monasteries associated with a male institute or gathered as an autonomous monastic congregation;” “Individual monasteries must comply with this within one year of the publication of these Instructions, unless they have been legitimately dispensed;” «Once this period has elapsed, this Dicastery will assign monasteries to one of the Federations or to other existing structures of communion».
In the course of the history of the Church, when the places of contemplation have dwindled, the saints have reacted with force and determination to restore the reality that in the world represents a more perfect connection between heaven and earth, respecting the chronological order, of the teachings of three saints who made the contemplative life the sole reason for their existence, acting and reforming what did not work and thus becoming an exemplar prototype and teacher for the Church: Saint Hildegard of Bingen, Saint Clare of Assisi, Saint Teresa of Avila.
St. Hildegard of Bingen
St. Clare of Assisi
St. Teresa of Avila
Doctor of the Church Hildegard von Bingen O.S.B. (1098- † 17 Sept., 1179), a Benedictine nun and abbess, was unyielding in bringing back prelates onto the right path, monks and nuns who transgressed the dictates of Tradition. A spokesperson of God, who admonished and taught by divine command. With regard to Hermann I von Arbon, O.S.B. († 20 Nov. 1165), Bishop of Konstanz [Constance], his cry of solicitous conversion is
manifest in order to be saved and to guide others to salvation: “Many workers [in the building of the Church] come to you and seek the narrow and narrow path. But you – according to the disposition of your heart – speak with magniloquent presumption and arouse indignation in their hearts. Turn from the darkness to the right way and enlighten the spirit of your heart so that the Father of everything does not turn to you saying: «You, mad, why do you go up on a support that you have not built?». For the day will throw in the darkness that man whose work does not follow the right path” (Gronau, E., 1991. Hildegard von Bingen, Stein am Rhein: Christiana Verl. p. 398).
Hildegard’s peregrination from one monastery to another, giving life and realism to the tired, dejected and demotivated in the face of arrogance of those with civil or ecclesiastical authority, who kept them in check using power and money. But in spite of the distortions and sins of men in the beloved Church, Hildegard did not lose her hope or her conviction. She not only took care of the great sinners in the Church, she also gave life to those who, for example, the abbess Sofia of the Benedictine monastery of Kitzingen, who felt tired and had wanted to abdicate her office.
This prophetess of the Church, therefore, helped individual children to rediscover, their own responsibility be they little or great, the vigour’s of the Faith and the beauty of working for the Kingdom of God. The echo’s of this teacher, who brought a new and healthy ferment, salt and flavour to the different ecclesiastical realities, which then spread throughout Europe.
She urged the strengthening of the soul and bear the burden’s of work and of one’s duties; she called them to combat, inviting them to go against the will of the ecclesiastical and/or the civil authorities who argued against contemplative life according to the will of God. Se wrote to the abbess Sophia: “Accept these words by virtue of the true vision of the divine mysteries! O daughter, born of the man’s rib when God created man! Why do you incessantly suffer pain, so that your spirit is like the variable clouds carried by the storm, now it is clear how the light then suddenly darkens? This is your spirit because of the scandalous customs of those who do not shine before God. But you say: ‘I want a little peace, I want to make myself a place where the heart can find refuge, where the soul is at peace’. O daughter, it is not a merit before God to throw away the burden and abandon the flock, for your heart does not shine in that weakness which causes you so much pain because of the innocence of earthly life. You, on the other hand, must live because God’s grace wants it. So watch yourself from getting away from it and letting your spirit wander. May God help you, so that you may be alert in pure knowledge!”(Gronau, E., 1991. Hildegard von Bingen, Stein am Rhein: Christiana Verl., p.p. 383-384).
She sustained the weak and the wavering, at the same time she responded to the heretics, particularly the Cathars, and solved detailed and difficult theological questions that bishops, abbots and monks had placed on them. She submitted to the Lord the questions that were asked of her and the Light, which had from her childhood always accompanied her, presented her with the visions in which she received the answers. From Paris they wrote to have explanations, as did the Magister Odo of Cheriton († c. 1246), who at the Synod of Trier had heard Pope Eugene III read aloud the pages of the work of Edward Scivias, and for this reason wanted to get in touch with the author, at the end of solving the theological diatribe of those who denied that God is fatherhood and divinity together.
Hillin de Falemagne., Abp. of Trier (1152-†1169)
St. Matthias Abbey & Basilica minor, Trier.
Arnold I of Vaucourt., Abp. of Trier (1169-†1183)
St. Hildegard’s relations with the Bishops of Trier were excellent, both with Bishop Hillin de Falemagne († October 23, 1169) and with Arnaut I de Vaucourt († May 25, 1183). There was a special bond that linked them to the Benedictine monastery of St. Eucharius [St. Matthias Abbeyin Trier], the oldest in Germany. The life of the bishop-princes were extremely complex, their power divided between the temporal and the spiritual; the prince-bishop being both a bishop and civil ruler of a secular principality and suzerainty.
Their divided consciences were petitioned by the prophetic voice of the “Holy Mother” as it was called, to which Archbishop Hillin of Falmagne († October 23, 1169) pleading, as a “sinner”, to have some droplets of her words as spiritual comfort for his soul.Hillin had engaged in correspondence with Hildegard, having approached her for advice and under his auspices had visited Trier, to preached a stern sermon to the clergy and people thereof.
Mother Hildegard did not allow herself to procrastinate: «So wisdom resounds and says: this is the lukewarm weather of the donnicciole […]. [ed. donnicciola: a fishwife, or woman of humble condition, or mean, ignorant: gossip; a sissy or a man with weak fearful disposition]. But now listen, o shepherd: divine justice holds you firmly because the grace of God has not penetrated you in vain. However, when you undertake a good work, you tire quickly. Even when, summoned to the festive Mass, leading in prayer, you soon tire [ed. that is, during the Mass his mind wandered and his temporal thoughts intruded.]. […]. The tower is assigned to you [ed. the diocese]. Protect the tower and cause the whole city not to be ruined and destroyed. So watch out, keep the discipline with an iron sceptre and educate yourself. Grease the wounds of those who have entrusted themselves to you». Hildegard spoke of the negligence, corruption and misuse of power by the clergymen; her words regarding the hierarchy of the Church were anything but reassuring: she unrelentingly denounced the evils present in the church and her words reverberate like thunder within it.
So corrupt was the situation, both from a doctrinal and moral point of view, of the dioceses and monasteries in Germany, that the Lord allowed her to leave the cloister to reproach those who did not do their duty. On her first long journey, which she achieved when she was almost sixty years old, she had crossed the entire region of the Main River to Bamberg and Steigerwald (1158-1159). In 1160, during an illness that lasted three years, he reached the mountainous region of Hunsrück towards Trier, descending the Moselle to Metz, in the Lotaringia towards Krauftal, near Saverne.
The third journey (1161-1163) led her to travel the Rhine in the direction of Cologne; then she reached Werden on the Rurh and, probably, Liege. Later she was seized by another disease that lasted three years, forcing her to bed and between 1170 and 1171 undertook the last journey of her life, in Swabia, above Maulbronn, Hirsau, Kircheim, up to Zwiefalten. It took a lot of physical and mental effort to scold monks and nuns, abbots and abbesses in an attempt to re-establish monastic discipline and order. Alas, it was not enough, she publicly preached conversion and penance, she did it on the road she travelled, in the marketplaces of the cities she visited, or in the great churches, in front of the clergy and the faithful.
This is what the Lord requires and this she willingly gives, remaining a cloistered nun, despite serving an itinerant apostolate, aimed at healing, with rigour, those who have been gravely and dramatically led astray. And her labours produced the prodigious fruits of a return to the spiritual and ecclesiastical order for the good of the Church and of civilisation, according to what is due to our Creator.
(by Veronica Rasponi) The destruction of the female Monasteries is under way. Ever since the constitution on the contemplative life Vultum Dei quaerere appeared on 29 June 2016, The Corrispondenza Romana has denounced the program of the “sovietisation” of the Monasteries.
Now a further step have been taken by the Cor Orans instruction on the contemplative life of women, on April 1, 2018, which constitutes an application of the previous document. Few, with the exception of Vatican expert Aldo Maria Valli, who has dedicated three articles to this topic on his blog, have been aware of the gravity of the danger.
It should be remembered that the Church has always encouraged the contemplative life of religious men and women. The separation from the world of religious life constitutes a state of perfect life and is necessary for the Mystical Body of Christ as a manifestation of one’s holiness and as a permanent source of grace.
One of the main characteristics of the monastic communities was their legal configuration. According to the Church’s tradition, female monasteries are sui juris, i.e., autonomous and independent houses in relation to their internal regime.
The only form of dependency that they have is that from the bishop or, in some cases, from the superior of the male branch of the same order. This configuration reflects the proprium of each monastery, which is the separation from profane society. Monaco (monk) means “only”: solitude, and prayer are the pillars on which every monastery lives.
However, the enclosure regime means a separation from the world, not from the society that the nuns support with their prayer and penance. Thus Pius XII in the encyclical Sacra Virginitas of March 25, 1954, explains that the renunciation of the world of nuns, protected by enclosure, is not equivalent to social desertion, but rather allows a wider service given to the Church and society.
The same Pius XII, with the Apostolic Constitution Sponsa Christi of 21 November 1950, foresaw the birth of federations of monasteries, as an instrument to help the life of some monastic communities which, following the war, had found themselves isolated and in material difficulties. The experience did not turn out to be happy and would have suggested the abandonment of these structures, which instead under the pontificate of Pope Francis have multiplied, affecting a mortal blow to the female monasteries.
The new discipline envisaged by Cor Orans wants to suppress any form of legal autonomy, to create macro-communities presented as “structures of communion”. A series of bureaucratic and cumbersome organizations are born, which the Pontifical Instruction punctiliously lists.
We have the Federation of monasteries, because “in the sharing of the same charism the federated monasteries overcome isolation and promote regular observance and contemplative life” (n.7); the Association of monasteries, because “in sharing the same charism, the associated monasteries collaborate with each other” (No. 8); the Conference of monasteries, “in order to promote contemplative life and to foster collaboration among monasteries in particular geographical or linguistic contexts” (No. 9): the Confederation, as a “connecting structure between federations of monasteries for the study of topics related to the contemplative life in relation to the same charism, to give a unitary direction and a certain coordination to the activity of the single Federations »(n.10); the International Commission, as a “centralized body of service and study for the benefit of the nuns of the same Institute, for the study of themes relating to the contemplative life in relation to the same charism” (No. 11). Finally, we have the monastic Congregation, which is a “structure of government among several autonomous monasteries of the same Institute, under the authority of a President who is Superior Superior and of a general chapter which is the highest authority in the monastic Congregation” (No. 12). Missing only the Federal Assembly. Recites n. 133: “The communion that exists between the monasteries becomes visible in the Federal Assembly, a sign of unity in charity that has the primary task of protecting the charismatic patrimony of the Institute among the federated monasteries and promoting an adequate renewal that harmonizes with it. except that no Federation of monasteries of nuns or Confederation of federations represents the entire Institute “.
Membership of these bureaucratic bodies is mandatory. In the final provisions of Cor Orans it is specified that “what is laid down in the Apostolic Constitution Vultum Dei quaerere for all the monasteries about the obligation to enter a Federation of monasteries also applies to another structure of communion such as the Association of monasteries or the Conference of monasteries”.
With the obligation of having to belong to these structures the monasteries lose, de facto even if not de iure, their autonomy to flow into an anonymous mass of macro-communities within which they organise training courses, debates, refresher meetings, moments of comparison that will see the nuns enter and leave the monasteries to live in a situation of perennial psychological and material instability.
Each community is called to develop a systematic and integral permanent formation program that embraces the whole person’s existence. The sisters need this “ongoing formation” to cultivate “the spiritual, doctrinal and professional capacity, the updating and maturation of the contemplative, so that it can carry out its service to the monastery, to the Church and to the world in an increasingly adequate manner.” (No. 236).
Every nun “is encouraged to take responsibility for her own human, Christian and charismatic growth, through the project of personal life, dialogue with the sisters of the monastic community and in particular with her major Superior” (No. 237).
The responsibility of formation belongs to the Major Superior, “who promotes the ongoing formation of the community through the Conventual Chapter, the days of retreat, the annual spiritual exercises, the sharing of the word of God, periodic revisions of life, recreations in common, days of study, personal dialogue with the sisters, fraternal meetings” (No. 238).
In order to guarantee this formation, the same papal enclosure is in fact abolished, because it also gives permission to enter the monastery to those whose skills are necessary for formation (No. 203), or to create chaos within the community.
The key words are “overcoming isolation” (n.7), “dynamic fidelity to one’s own charism” (n.70), the “undeniable value of communion” (n.86). Where these elements are missing, the monasteries can be suppressed. In those who survive, the atmosphere of peace, recollection and order that has reigned there has to be destroyed. Those who live in monasteries and those who aspire to enter it you have been warned.
At one time the nuns longed for diocesan canonical recognition and then for the pontifical recognition as the supreme guarantee of the stability of their life in common. Today, those who aspire to contemplative life and do not want to lose their vocation will be better oriented towards the establishment of de facto religious associations, independent of ecclesiastical authority, taking care not to ask for that canonical recognition that would mark the end of their spiritual life. (Veronica Rasponi)
Historically the Vatican has already caused its own version of the protestant led dissolution of monasteries. The Sisters of Auerbach in Germany, the contemplative sisters of Saint John a French Catholic community founded by Fr Marie-Dominique Philippe at Fribourg in Switzerland, and the 15 dissolved cloisters of the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate in Italy. With a Rescriptum ex Audientia: prior consultation with the Holy See for the erection of diocesan institutes, 20.05.2016, which was made public only last May 11th, Pope Francis has revoked the previously sui iuris in church history of the right of a diocesan bishops to recognise a new religious community. The approval of the Holy See was given on June 1. With this Rescript, Francis noted that the establishment of an order by a diocesan bishop without the prior consent of Rome will be considered as null and void. [Editor]
Below you will find the complete text of the homily of Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and Special Envoy of the Holy Father, as pronounced during the celebration of the beatification of the 19 martyrs of Algeria at the Shrine of Our Lady of Santa Cruz d’Oran:
Dear brothers and sisters !
The passage of Apocalypse (Rev. 7:9-17), proclaimed in the second reading, introduces us to the “immense crowd” (v.9) of those who have already reached the goal of eternal salvation towards which we are all on the road: the kingdom of hope, the kingdom of those who see God as He is. The Apostle John in his vision rich in symbols sees them standing in front of the throne of God, “dressed in white robes”, the colour of divine light and paschal glory. But the whiteness of the robes is obtained by plunging them into the red blood of Christ: these elect have experienced the “great trial; they have washed their robes, they have whitened them with the blood of the Lamb “(v.14). The splendour is reached through the crucible of suffering, of self-giving, of the cross. By participating in the passion and death of Jesus, the king of martyrs, we reach the light: per crucem ad lucem (by the cross to the light) says the ancient Christian saying. In this way “what remains to suffer from the trials of Christ in my own flesh, I fulfil it for his body which is the Church” (Col 1:24) underlines St. Paul.
Those saved hold in their hands a palm, which in the Old Testament is the sign of triumph and acclamation; the suffering, the rigorous engagement of the testimony, the renunciation of oneself do not lead to death but introduce into the glory; they do not produce failure but life and happiness. The scene of the Apocalypse then shows the mighty chorus of saints singing with a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and the Lamb” (Rev 7:10).
The text of the Apocalypse has thus traced to us the portrait of the blessed and the saint: it belongs only to God, it appears in every point of the earth and at every period of history, it lives with fidelity even in the ordeal In traversing the way of the cross, he reaches the glorious goal of eternity, where he will live forever in joy, in song, in glory, in that infinite whirlwind of light and peace, which is God.
In the immense crowd of those who have reached a fate of glory, the Church wants to call today by name 19 new Blessed, killed between 1994 and 1996 in different places and times but in the same restless context. On this earth, here in Algeria, they announced the Lord’s unconditional love for the poor and the outcast, testifying to their belonging to Christ and the Church to the point of martyrdom. It is beautiful to think now that they are among those who have gone through “the great trial and have washed their robes and have bleached them with the blood of the Lamb” (verse 14). Coming from eight different Institutes, our brothers and sisters lived in this country where they performed various missions; they were strong and persevering in their service of the Gospel and the people, despite the threatening climate of violence and oppression that surrounded them. Reading their biographies we are struck by the fact that everyone, well aware of the risk they run, courageously decided to stay on the spot until the end; in them has developed a strong spirituality of martyrdom rooted in the prospect of sacrificing themselves and offering their lives for a society of reconciliation and peace.
Blessed Pierre Claverie and his 18 companions and companions martyrs carry on them the salvific seal of the Redemption of Christ. By inscribing their names in the book of the saved and blessed, the Church wishes to recognise the exemplarity of their virtuous life, the heroism of the death of these extraordinary peacemakers and witnesses of fraternity, and at the same time , to pay the highest homage to Jesus, Redeemer of man. In Christ, the Church desires to worship the living God: since the glory of God is the man who receives from him the fullness of life.
This fullness of life, the Virgin Mary – whose Immaculate Conception we are celebrating today – has experienced it in an incomparable way, when the Archangel Gabriel announced to her that she had found favour with God and that by the action of the Holy Spirit she would conceive of Jesus, the Son of the Most High. “Rejoice, full of grace: the Lord is with you” (Lk 1:28). We too, today, contemplating these new Blessed, are invited to overcome all narrow-mindedness and to rejoice, because in them we see the mystery of the eternal sanctity of God shine forth; holiness which is offered to us through a new actualisation of the Gospel by our martyrs who witnessed it until the shedding of blood. We remember them as faithful followers of Christ who loved poverty, who were sensitive to suffering and caring for the abandoned, who took part in the anguish and affliction of their brethren. These heroic witnesses to the love of Jesus have gone to the very root of the experience that man has of his own limits: humiliation, tears, persecution.
They fully complied with the sacrifice of Christ who, according to the prophet Isaiah, identified himself with the suffering Servant of the Lord; he who, as we have heard in the first reading, offering himself “as a sacrifice of reparation, […] as a result of his torments, will see the light and justify the multitudes” (Is 53:10b.-11). This happens precisely by the Cross, since in the death of Jesus God has definitely become close to humanity and man has become fully conscious of his dignity and elevation. By their death as martyrs, the new Blessed also entered into the light of God, and from above they watch over the persons whom they have served and loved, praying unceasingly for all, even for those who have them. struck. They continue this prophetic mission of mercy and forgiveness, which they have witnessed during their earthly life. May their example inspire in all the desire to promote what Pope Francis has defined as “the culture of mercy that gives birth to a true revolution” (Apostolic Letter Misericordia et misera, 20 Nov. 2016). By welcoming the dynamic of forgiveness, admirably experienced by the new Blessed, we hope that Algeria can definitely overcome this terrible period of violence and misery and we pray for it!
The tragic death of Blessed Peter Claverie and his 18 companions and companions martyrs is a seed fallen in the ground in difficult times, fertilised by suffering that will bring fruits of reconciliation and justice. This is our mission as Christians: to sow every day the seeds of evangelical peace, to enjoy the fruits of justice. By this beatification we would say to Algeria as a whole only this: the Church wants nothing more than to serve the Algerian people, testifying to her love for all.
In all parts of the world, Christians are motivated by the desire to contribute concretely to build a bright future of hope through the wisdom of peace, to build a society based on mutual respect, collaboration, and love. Such a society can be fully realised if everyone strives to develop the pedagogy of forgiveness, if necessary also in this country.
The Christian community in this country is spreading small but significant seeds of peace. Through this Beatification, she can feel comforted in her presence in Algeria; by these 19 martyrs, strengthen her belief that her precious presence near this people is justified by the desire to be a light and sign of the love of God for the whole population.
The luminous witness of these Blessed is a living and close example for all. Their life and their death is a direct call to all of us Christians, and especially to you, brothers or sisters in religious life, to be faithful at all costs to your own vocation, serving the Gospel and the Church in a lifetime. true fraternity, perseverance and witness to the radical choice of God.
I can not end without expressing deep gratitude to the religious congregations to which our brothers belonged as well as to their natural families who have suffered so much from their loss, but who now can rejoice with the whole Church to know them blessed in heaven. We are all comforted by the certainty that our martyred brothers and sisters, by their sacrifice, by their constant intercession and by their protection, will produce on this earth abundant fruits of goodness and fraternal sharing.
For this we address them and say: Blessed Peter Claverie and his companions and companions martyrs, pray for us!
“Now is the time to answer your summons and live your vocation! It is now that you must donate yourself to God and to God alone! You have to become patient as God has no concept of time; You must listen carefully to the guidance of the Holy Spirit;You must love! You must forgive, you must fast and you must praise and thank God for your opportunity to love and pray without ceasing! No one said it would be easy, the best things in life never are.”
Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, jealousy is cruel as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a most vehement flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house,it would be utterly scorned. Song of Solomon 8:6-7
Your profession is what you prepared for, but your vocation and what you were born for.
Your profession is your career, but your vocation and mission are tasks for your whole life.
Your profession is your skill, but your vocation is a gift.
Your profession does not only depend on you, yet your vocation does not depend on men.
Your profession can be linked to a business, your vocation is not tied to business, homes or offices.
You can be dismissed and lose your appointment, yet you can never be dismissed from your vocation.
You can withdraw from your employment and retire, yet you can never withdraw and retire from your vocation.
A profession is temporary. Your vocation is permanent.
Open your heart to Christ and follow his call. Live your vocation!
Donated yourself to the sacred and united hearts of Jesus and Mary Most Holy.
When St. Basil wanted to confirm the monastic ideal in his friend Gregory, he refers to the fact that “He who loves God abandons everything and retires into solitude with God.” (basilio, Ep. 2, 4; teodoreto, Φιλοΰεος ιστορια (PG 82), cfr. u. ranke-heinemann, op. cit. 18-25)
“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide for the way is wide and easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14) is a difficult recommendation within the Scriptures, it becomes our project for life!
Jesus says that narrow gate leads to a “hard” road, one that will take us through hardships and difficult decisions. Following Jesus requires the crucifixion of our flesh (Galatians 2:20; 5:24; Romans 6:2), living by faith (Romans 1:17; 2 Corinthians 5:7; Hebrews 10:38), enduring trials with Christlike patience (James 1:2–3, 12; 1 Peter 1:6), and living a lifestyle separate from the world (James 1:27; Romans 12:1–2). When faced with the choice between a narrow, bumpy road and a wide, paved highway, most of us choose the easier road. Human nature gravitates toward comfort and pleasure. When faced with the reality of denying themselves to follow Jesus, most people turn away (John 6:66). Jesus never sweetened the truth, and the truth is that not many people are willing to pay the price to follow Him.
“First and foremost, the monk should own nothing in this world, but he should have as his possessions solitude of the body, modesty of bearing, a modulated tone of voice, and a well-ordered manner of speech. He should be without anxiety as to his food and drink, and should eat in silence.” St. Basil.
We therefore have to persevere in our hope, and the earnest of our righteousness, which is Jesus Christ, “who bore our sins in His own body on the tree,” “who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth,” yet He endured all things for us, that we might live in Him. That being the case, we must be emulators of His patience; and if we suffer for His name’s sake, let us glorify Him. For He has set us this example Himself, and we believe that such is the case.
WHY GO INTO THE DESERT?
We must go through the desert and dwell there, to receive the grace of God; it is there that one empties oneself, that one drives away from us all that is not God and that this little house of our soul is completely emptied so as to leave all the space to God alone … The Israelites passed through the desert; Moses lived there before receiving his mission; St. Paul, who came out of Damascus, went to spend three years in Arabia; Saint Jerome and Saint John Chrysostom were prepared in the desert … It is indispensable. And a time of grace. It is a period through which every soul that wants to bear fruit must necessarily pass. You need this silence, this recollection, this oblivion of all creation in the midst of which God puts in it his kingdom and forms in it the inner spirit … The intimate life with God … The conversation of the soul with God in faith, in hope and in charity … Later, the soul will produce fruits exactly to the extent that the inner man will be formed in it. [Thoughts taken from an anthology of the writings of Bl. Fr. Charles Eugène de Foucauld o.c.s.o.]
Sometimes a man of the century offended by and weary of society, which is ordinarily unfaithful, will long for loneliness, and imagines the hermitage as a panacea for his embittered heart, pretending that the desert is a land for the pursuit of leisure for his mind which has been downtrodden by societal expectations. Yet such convictions do not compare with the authentic conditions of solitude, in which the divine anchorites enclosed themselves, nor did these convictions lead them into the desert. [Rho, F.G., 1821. Su costumi degli anacoreti egiziani e siriaci: operetta, Brescia: Foresti e Cristiani.]
There are different situations and experiences that can lead one to embrace an eremitic or anchoritic life. There are priests, monks, nuns and even lay people, who, not finding the right community of spirit, prayer and penance, or not wanting to compromise their faith, and with a desire to serve God in solitude, have gone to the desert and did Father Charles de Foucould and Bro. Carlo Carretto, who wanted to answer the call to fight their imperfections and do penance, it took God three times to call Bro. Carlo who nearly got married. There are others who retired from the world in old age. People who at a young age had not thought about consecrating themselves to God but in old age, remembered His call and the desire within their soul, that the world and its distractions, with all its sin, buried under so much ash and dust. It is never too late to embrace the anchoritic and eremitic life, it is never too late to become a bride of Jesus Christ. It is never too late to better yourself not only physically but spiritually.God never withdraws His call! Even when man betrays God, God will always remain faithful!
Hasten, dear soul, you still have time, it is not too late to give God’s call a generous YES, and to give yourself completely over to Jesus!
Is Christ calling you?
Is it the desire to stay away from people or is it the simplicity of lifestyle that attracts you? Do you think it may be a passing phase or is it something you’ve been reflecting on for years? Is it a symptom of some problem? Or is it the only possible solution?
It is important to discern and to find out why you would like to withdraw and live as a hermit or an anchorite, which is called living in the desert. In this vocation, it is not a matter of going to the desert of a hermitage to escape from problems and painful situations or to live alone without being disturbed and without rules, because without faith in Christ and without prayer you will not succeed.
It is also essential that you have a spiritual guide with whom to observe and advise you on the aspiration that you feel in your heart.Even if your vocation is a personal thing, you are well advised to consult a good spiritual guide who knows the value of a life of prayer, penance, solitude, silence and adoration. God calls his beloved souls into the desert, and if he does and wants you to be a hermit, he places the longing in your heart to withdraw from the crowd, from the world and all of its noises. Do not withdraw so as to escape, nor because you are afraid of the world, not to abandon the world (its souls) but to help the world (the souls) through prayer, recollection, penance, fasting, giving oneself to God as a sacrifice, as spouses of Christ, and a soul of prayer. This is a method of being of service to the world, of serving our Lord and the Church. The life of a person who embraces this form of life becomes in itself a praise to God. It becomes a psalm that is sung before his throne!
But it does not mean that you remain immobile and kneeling all day just to pray. Day andnight become prayer, especially by performing penance, mortification and completing your daily work. Ora et labora means to pray and work. You will have hear many religious orders using the motto Ora et labora (“Pray and work”), daily life in a Benedictine monastery consists of three elements: liturgical prayer, manual labor and Lectio Divina, a quiet prayerful reading of the Bible.St. Benedict said: “Idleness is the enemy of the soul. Therefore the brethren should have specified periods of manual labor as well as for prayerful reading [lectio divina].”
The Anchorite and Hermit has times where they devote themselves to work, not only for spiritual reading (formation) but also to manual work such as in the vegetable garden, cleaning the hermitage, the cell, sewing etc. Then there is intellectual work: no physical effort is made in intellectual work, it focuses on our use of reasoning. Correspondence and administration is completed; or you accompany souls on their journey, or translate books and spiritual writings so as to guide others in their discernment or spiritual journeys.
THE SENSE OF LIVING IN THE DESERT IS IN MORTIFYING ONESELF, IN DOING PENANCE ...
“The sense of living in the desert lies in mortifying oneself, in doing penance, in humility, in the whole detachment from material goods, from honours, resisting pleasures, in forgiveness of your enemies, in the sincere love of your neighbours.This is admired in the solitary Saints; The miser, the arrogant, the shameless, the greedy, the negligent and the vindictive will clearly discover the deformity of their own condition, which by continuing with the thinking of current societal praxis are extremely difficult to detect in oneself.Sometimes the man of our times offended and weary of Society, ordinarily unfaithful, longs for loneliness, and imagines the hermitage as a balm for his embittered heart, pretending the desert is a distraction to his mind oppressed by social ideals. But the circumstance of solitude are not in harmony with such delusions, in which the divine anchorites were enclosed, nor did such circumstances conduct them to the desert.They did not hide in the hermitages because they were tired of worldly pleasures, but to deprive themselves of all mundane and useless pleasures!The solitudes, which welcomed the anchoritic saints into its womb, were already great tracts in a land abandoned by men as too unsustainable for the survival of humankind, in many places the desert is considered more effective as a destroyer of its inhabitants than in sustaining them.”
“Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth” is a declaration of complete availability, of surrendering to his will, it is the decision to abandon oneself into the arms of God, promising Him not only that you willalways listen and be attentive to his direction, but also ofyour absolute obedience to Him.
… God calls us because he loves us, because his invitation is in view of a duty to be carried out, a mission to be undertaken for the salvation and joy of many.
Consider where God calls you, if he calls you to be active or more contemplative, a pilgrim hermit (who is always on pilgrimage, thus giving the whole world a testimony that on earth we are pilgrims and we are only passing through), a hermit with a permanent home “stabilitas” (who lives in a place, in a field, an actual hermitage or with a community), a hermit with a special apostolate, or one who remains alone in recollection and solitude with Christ. Being a hermit does not necessarily mean staying locked up indoors. You can maintain contact with the outside world, if God so wishes it for you. Over half of the hermits live in urban areas. There are a wide variety of eremitic orders, to which do you feel drawn to? What is your heart telling you? What do you feel you are called to?
Or do you feel called to live a completely solitary life, out of sight from cities and people, not communicating with people outside of your hermitage, yet live an austere contemplative life? Do you want to live in a cell? By what means are you able to undertake this kind of life? With vocation and by the will and support of God. What matters is to remain in His intention, to listen to Him and do His will. To be guided by God and by His holy providence, which is our blessing. Feel what God tells you and what your spiritual advisor guides you towards. If you do not want to live alone and separated from your spiritual brothers and sisters, from other Hermits and Anchorites, you could see if God wants you to live close to others and therefore live within a monastic community, although each of you remains faithful to your individual and unique vocation. You could live attached to an Order, which gives you the solitary life you seek, the silence and the solitude necessary, to follow the rule for which you have decided or made a vow to live by doing penance. Some want to live in a Charterhouse, be withdrawn and always in silence, yet in communities like the Carthusians. But most important is what God wants from you. If you do not feel called to live in a Charterhouse, and you do not know where to go, stay where you are until God shows you, it may be subtle or very obvious. Increase your prayer and know that what matters is to remain in the divine will, which also means: remaining in a state of grace and then listening to what Jesus tells you in your heart. This is what matters most and it is the only way to become saints.
If you have not yet found the right place where you can serve God and where you can become a saint, live daily in the union with God through the Sacraments, through prayer, penance and the mortification. You must mortify yourself, you must do penance and ask God for His graces and blessings. Every day we must work toward our sanctification. This work cannot and must not be postponed, it requires: mortification, penances, prayers, vigils and fasting cannot without ceasing. You cannot delay using the excuse of hot yet having found the hermitage in the desert which is the right place “for you”, so get to work. God calls you, so do not make him wait. Give God your FIAT [an authoritative command or order to do something; an effectual decree] with words and deeds! Now we have to work for the kingdom of God, we must work toward our own sanctification now. If you wait for another occasion, another circumstance, another hermitage or another day to become saints, you will never achieve your vocation and become one.
“Now is the time to answer your summons and live your vocation! It is now that you must donate yourself to God and to God alone! You have to become patient as God has no concept of time; You must listen carefully to the guidance of the Holy Spirit;You must love! You must forgive, you must fast and you must praise and thank God for your opportunity to love and pray without ceasing!No one said it would be easy, the best things in life never are.”
Do you really feel you have to work for God? Not only to pray (to pray is to work: it is to serve God for the salvation of souls) yet also to be engaged for the greater glory of God? [Ad maiorem Dei gloriam] You could collaborate with the founding of a hermitage, in the village where you will live with God, this is how St. Mary’s Hermitage was founded. It would be a place where hermits and solitaries live withdrawn from each other yet are united spiritually. Initially the cells of the solitaries and hermits were never far from each other. When the desert Fathers built a hermitage never far from a well where they would draw0 the water needed to live. This water well is necessary as the water of life and for us in the same manner that the Sacraments and Daily Mass are necessary for us to live in the full grace of God. Ideal for a Hermit of our times, the hermitage would not be far from a church, in order to attend Mass. But those who have no possibility of attending Mass do not be discouraged. Faith helps you. Many fathers and mothers of the desert had to endure long periods without the Sacraments. We remember that St. Benedict, as a hermit in his cave, did not have Mass daily. We recall St. Francis of Assisi and his brothers received Holy Communion only once a year. Think of the Venerable Mary of Egypt patron of penitents, who endured more than twenty years without attending Mass. Of course, it is not ideal and can be dangerous, it is also a very heavy and painful cross to bare. As monastics we must ensure that we attend Mass daily or as often as possible.
The teachings of the Church tell us that if the next Church where Mass is held is more than one hour away (even on foot, if one does not have the car to get there), one does not sin if Sunday does not you can get there. If we have the opportunity to have Holy Mass often in our desert, in our hermitage, we rejoice, consider it, appreciate it and thank God! But if it does not, we rejoice all the same, and we offer everything. God trusts us, and since Bothe the sweet and the bitter comes from Him, it means, if He were to send it to us, that we are able to endure this Cross too. We have to sacrifice everything! Those who have an Internet connection can follow Holy Mass at Glenstal Benedictine Abbey, in Murrow County Limerick, Éire, online (click here) and make spiritual communion see below, you may also worship God in Eucharistic adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at the altar in a live broadcast from The Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Kraków(click here).
Pray and hear Mass at Glenstal Abbey (Benedictine Monks) Murroe, Co. Limerick, Eire
The Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament at The Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Kraków
St Thomas Aquinas defined Spiritual Communion is an ardent desire to receive Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament and in lovingly embracing Him as if we had actually received Him”but circumstances have impeded them from receiving actual Holy Communion. The impeding circumstances might be a number of things: the person could already have received holy Communion twice that day; or the person could be in detention and unable to attend Mass; or the person might be elderly and housebound watching Mass on the television or listening to it on the radio; whatever the circumstance your intention must be that you wish to be more deeply united to Jesus Christ at that moment.One of the prayer said at Spiritual Communion is “†At Thy feet, O my Jesus, I prostrate myself and I offer Thee repentance of my contrite heart, which is humbled in its nothingness and in Thy holy presence. I adore Thee in the Sacrament of Thy love, the ineffable Eucharist. I desire to receive Thee into the poor dwelling that my heart offers Thee. While waiting for the happiness of sacramental communion, I wish to possess Thee in spirit. Come to me, O my Jesus, since I, for my part, am coming to Thee! May Thy love embrace my whole being in life and in death. I believe in Thee, I hope in Thee, I love Thee. Amen.†”
God loves us so much and appreciates all of our sacrifices. It is He who gives us the gift of suffering with love. We offer all our suffering to save souls. And we offer to God with the suffrages, the most precious Blood of Jesus Christ, in expiation of our sins, in suffrage of the Holy Souls of purgatory, for the priests and needs of the holy Church.
OR DO YOU FEEL CALLED TO LIVE AS A RECLUSE?
A monk or nun are defined as a recluse when they adopt an extreme form of penitential life, which consists in locking himself up in solitude within a restricted space, either for a limited period of their life or forever (immured). These cells are normally found in a monastery or church, which is why this form of life should not be confused with that of a hermit. Having the “desire” to withdraw and immure oneself as a recluse does not mean vocation. One should be very prudent and carefully discern whether this form of life is the will of God for you. I would strongly recommend, initially discussing the matter with your parish priest or to find a religious order that can help you discern and realise your call, but it will not be easy, because it is an extremely radical life, equally because a call to such a form of life, should be observed for years, and only accepted after a mature age, time of trial and true discernment. To decide to be immured we need a good Spiritual Father to accompany you with great prudence and possibly a Bishop who supports and blesses you to take this step.
WHAT FORM OF EREMITICAL LIFE DO YOU FEEL YOU ARE CALLED TO LIVE?
Choose a holy rule endorsed by the Catholic Church, which will guide you and you will not be alone! The holy rules that have already been approved by the Catholic Church guarantee us of a sure way to reach heaven. You already have a father with you, the Saint who wrote the holy Rule. This Rule can be adapted together with your spiritual guide and approved by your bishop, if he finds that it conforms, you will adapt your rule or your own customs for everyday life in your desert.
If today you took the decision to obey God’s call for you to a life in the desert, one that calls you to an eremitic or anchoritic life, you will begin to live this celestial life now. You can begin to live it now and where you are. God will then guide you to a hermitage suitable for you. Most importantly and what matters most is that you leave everything behind, to shed off your past life and give everything to God. St. Luke the Evangelist tells us that we must decide if we can follow God “Many people were traveling with Jesus. He said to them,“If you come to me but will not leave your family, you cannot be my follower. You must love me more than your father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters—even more than your own life! Whoever will not carry the cross that is given to them when they follow me cannot be my follower.” Luke 14:25-27So my advice would be not to procrastinate – get on with it. You will therefore begin to live your celestial vocation today, which is important and will prepare you for the road ahead. What’s more, if you follow God it actually becomes a great adventure. And if you have to move often? Take as an example St. Benedict and his life or even of St. Romuald the founder of the Camaldolese Order, although both had to move often and had not received the full plan that God had in mind for them, they lived humbly every day and with every single breath they lived FIAT (from Latin, ‘Thy will be done’) given to God.
DE CONTEMPTU MUNDI
Disciple: Master, how can man completely detach himself from the world?
Master: The soul that loves God [finds] its rest in God only. First detach from thyself the outward bonds, then strive to bind thy heart to God. To be detached from matter is prior to being bound to God.When a child has been weaned, bread is given him as food. And a man who wishes to become excellent in God, has first to wean himself from the world, as a child is weaned from his mother’s breasts. Bodily labours are prior to psychic service, as the creation of the body takes place before that of the soul. For he who does not perform bodily labour, does not perform physical labours either. For the latter are born out of the former as the ears from mere grains. And he who does not perform physical service, is also devoid of spiritual gifts.
Temporary suffering for the sake of the truth is not to be compared with the delight preserved for those who perform labours of excellence. As the weeping of the time of sowing is followed by the joys of harvest followed by joy.So are the labours for the sake of God, the bread earned with sweat, delights the workman; labours for the sake of righteousness, the heart that has received the knowledge of Christ.Suffer contempt and humiliation in the thought of excellence, for the: sake of the heart’s familiarity of speech with God. Every time a man suffers a hard word with discernment, save only when it is caused by his own fault, he receives a crown of thorns on his head for the sake of Christ; blessed is he! At other times he is crowned and knows it not.
He who flees from the fame [that rests] on knowledge, will perceive in himself the hope of the world to come.He who promises to leave the world, yet quarrels with men concerning [worldly things because he is not willing to give up anything of what is agreeable unto him, he is perfectly blind, because he has given up the whole world voluntarily, yet quarrels about a part of it. If anyone flees from what is agreeable [unto him] in this world, his mind will behold the world to come.He who is master of possessions, is the slave of passions. Do not estimate gold and silver only as possessions, but all things thou possessest for the sake of the desire of thy will.He who cuts off impediments from fear of affections, he is a wise man indeed.Without the constant service of excellence true knowledge cannot be found. Not by bodily works alone is the knowledge of life acquired, but by directing our efforts to the cutting off of mental affections.
He who labours without discernment will easily become the victim of the causes of sin when they present themselves to him. Never praise him who labours with his body, but concerning his senses is lax and without constraint, to put it another way, whose ears and mouth are open and whose eyes are prone to wander.(St. Isaac of Nineveh)
HOW CAN I LIVE THIS FORM OF CONTEMPLATIVE LIFE ON MY OWN?
In today’s world, it is difficult to be completely self-sufficient, but with the grace of God one has all the help that is needed to survive, without having to work in the world.
If God wants otherwise, then it is He who wants and allows us to do some work outside of the hermitage. Hermits and Anchorites are in the sure hands of God. Living by God’s providence, and if one embraces the Benedictine Rule, as a necessity to maintain oneself, even by the work of their own hands.
Do you want to be a hermit in your home, cultivate your own food, and manage your life yourself?Or do you feel you have to stay in a rented apartment in the city and go to work to support yourself? Both can be modern hermit lifestyles, but this form of life: living in the city and working in the world is not as ideal as it may seem and can cause difficulties for the Hermit.
Personally I would advise people to search for a desert far from urban areas and cities,after having tried eremitic life in London, the distractions were constant, the noise, advertising, fights in the streets, drunk people, traffic and on one or two occasions people being lewd in view of everyone.I also endured an unprovoked attack which hospitalised me for a couple of weeks.Yet God may as it happens call some soul to live in the desert of the city, as he did with Brother Carlo Carretto of the Little Brothers of the Gospel (link).
In prayer, try to discern what God puts in your heart and what you feel is the right thing to do, always remaining faithful to Jesus. Listen to Jesus who speaks to you in your heart and calls you to live a life that is totally surrendered to him.
The ideal form of life for an anchorite is to live alone. To have his refuge, his cell, his cave. This is the blessed hermitage: the house in the desert is the embrace of Christ. Being away from the noise of the city and of the world with all of its distractions and vanities.
With your spiritual guide see if it would be better to live this call with private vows or if it is not appropriate to make your vowsunder an Abbot or a Bishop.It would be exceptional to find a Bishop who guides you according to your vocation and who consecrates you to God!Keep in mid though that there are Bishops who do not accept vocations to the eremitic life and some even look upon them with an element of suspicion.Do your research, has the diocese admitted other hermits, solitaries or anchorites?
Occasionally it occurs that the soul who want to follow the call of God yet they cannot find an amenable bishop, or a hermitage or a suitable convent, and it will make them wonder why God is calling them if there is no established opportunity to live out this call. It took me three years before I found the correct combination of diocese and location for my vocation.One person informed me that he had heard that in this day and age God does not call anyone, since there are no tangible prospect for realising this vocation and mission. Recalling the past of the DissolutionoftheMonasteries, which took place in England between 1536 and 1541 by which Henry VIII the Tudor King of England using his First Act of Supremacy in 1534 allowing the crown to confiscate and disbanded monasteries, priories, convents and friaries in England and Wales and Ireland, misappropriating their income, dispose of their assets. The policy was made to increase the regular income of the Crown, former monastic property were sold off to fund Henry’s military campaigns. For hundreds of years men and women in consecrated life underwent severe persecutions, torture and martyrdom. England was not alone in this form or persecution In the countries of the Habsburg monarchy, under the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II and self proclaimed guardian of Catholicism, struck viciously at the Church and attempted to make the Church a tool of the state, independent of Rome. Religious were deprived of the tithes, ordered to study in government seminaries, bishops had to make a formal oath of loyalty to the crown. He considered himself a man of the Enlightenment and ridiculed the contemplative monastic orders, which he considered useless, frivolous and unproductive. He therefore suppressed over 700 monasteries and reduced the number of monks and nuns from 65,000 to 27,000. He completely prohibited and eliminated eremitic life within his kingdoms.
It did not mean that God stopped calling anyone to to a vocation! It did not mean that there were no souls being called to serve him in adoration and prayer or as brides of Christ. On the contrary, it was exactly during these times of persecution that God gave so many penitent souls, hermits, anchorites, and solitaries. Whenever there are attacks against faith, against vocations, against consecrated life, against the adoration of the One Triune God, many vocations are awakened.Before you were born, God had already chosen you in the womb, and called you by name. He gives one a specific and unique mission. The Holy Spirit breathed into the hearts of many souls the desire to consecrate their lives to God. These souls, precisely because they could not find a faithful or fervent community, because the convents had been closed or destroyed, or because they wanted to live a completely solitary life, they never gave up, the persevered and had already began to live their vocation daily, without waiting for the day “that they would be given their own cell, or hermitage, or theappurtenant silence”. They naturally continued to search for a suitable place where they could live out their vocation in tranquility. They went to the desert. They withdrew. In times of great persecution there were so many souls who ran into the desert to worship God, in peace and quiet. Yet even during times of no persecutions, when the Catholic religion was accepted and left in peace, as it had been from the time of Constantine the Great, many souls fled to the desert, to do penance because knowing themselves as Christians too much appreciated by the world, they knew that this was not a good portent, since Christ tells us that those who follow him will be despised and persecuted! For sins and the worldliness of many, Christians began to ask God for forgiveness. Instead they chose what we call the “white martyrdom” for Christ, which is penance, solitary and ascetic life in the desert, a life as a hermit or an anchorite.
SOUL OF ADORATION
When society forgets about God and they stop praising Him, let us gather around God present in the cell of our heart and in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar to adore Him. Our donation, prayer and adoration, are the incense on the altar of God and the hymns of Praise. You can live the call of a hermit or an anchor, spending several hours a day in front of Jesus in adoration of the Eucharist. If you cannot physically place yourself in front of the most holy, worship Him wherever you are, in Spirit and Truth. Some are blessed with having a little chapel where the Blessed Sacrament is exposed or they live near a church that they canenter at any time to adore the most Holy Trinity in the Blessed Sacrament at the altar, ever present in the tabernacle of a Catholic Church. This would be the idyll.
Those who cannot go before the Blessed Sacrament, can do so spiritually and remain heart to heart with our Lord in front of the Eucharist. Jesus loves you and is happy to see you before Him in the Blessed Sacrament and since He knows that many souls are unable to attend Church for various reasons, He has inspired people to film Him perpetually exposed in a chapel that you can visit online.Believe me, Christ sees you and hears your adoration. You are locked heart to heart with Him the King of hearts!
Know that we pray for your vocational discernment daily. May our Lord walk at your side always. Pax