Each in his hidden sphere of bliss or woe Our hermit spirits dwell.
(Bl. John Newman – Loss and Gain)
The Silence of Solitude
The hermit/priest Prayer Crusader under the patronage of St Thérèse of Lisieux has written on the ermitical life and how we too can practise a little of this spirituality of the Desert in our busy modern media filled lives.
A fellow Prayer Crusader has asked me if I could write a little spiritual article on the life of a hermit and how it could apply to people living in ordinary jobs and in family situations.
Some of the people in the Old Testament lived a hermit life at least for part of the time, such as Elijah and John the Baptist. Our Lord himself spent weeks at a time in prayer in the desert, and used to go up a mountain to pray alone.
The first hermits after Our Lord’s time were Anthony of Egypt and Paul of Thebes. They each independently felt called to a life of prayer and did not meet or even know of each other’s existence until shortly before St Paul’s death. They both lived in Egypt and found the solitude and silence of the desert was conducive to a life of prayer. They and others who soon followed their example, are now known as the Desert Fathers.
A man called Pachomius was also one of the early ‘Desert fathers’. He offered help to small groups of people who wished to try this form of life. So there began two systems – individual hermits, and those living in small groups. As the years went by the small groups of hermits developed into what we now call monks living in monasteries.
Several hundred years later when, sadly, the Church divided into East and West, these two systems still continued in both wings of the Church. In the Eastern Church the hermit life continued right up the present. However at the time of the so-called Reformation when many monasteries were destroyed, all individual hermits in the Western church were either killed or died. Although the monastic life eventually revived, no one lived as an individual hermit as Anthony and Paul and others had done for hundreds of years.
In 1917 the Code of Canon Law was promulgated. No mention of Hermits! Why should there be? They did not exist! When Pope John XXIII thought of having a Vatican Council he also set up a special commission to make a complete overhaul of Canon Law. This was a complicated task and was not completed until 1983 when Pope John-Paul II had the new Code of Canon Law promulgated. This entirely abrogated (cancelled) the old Canon Law of 1917. Somewhere along the line the Holy Spirit must have inspired someone to re-introduce the idea of individual Hermits.
Canon Law can be boring and dry and dull, but Canon 603 of the new Code is fascinating, amazingly deep, and even poetic, at least in the first Part:
603 part 1. Besides institutes of consecrated life, the church recognises the life of hermits or anchorites, in which Christ’s faithful withdraw further from the world and devote their lives to the praise of God and the salvation of the world through the silence of solitude and through constant prayer and penance.
Part 2. Hermits are recognised by law as dedicated to God in consecrated life if, in the hand of the diocesan Bishop, they publicly profess, by a vow or some other sacred bond, the three evangelical counsels, and then lead their particular form of life under the guidance of the diocesan Bishop.
It would take far more than a little article even to begin to demonstrate the depths of this Canon. It is rather like trying to explain the mystery of the Trinity, or indeed any of the mysteries in our Church; there arise many questions. And each answer raises more questions. For example, how are we to be involved in the salvation of the world whilst being withdrawn more from the world? Withdrawn more? How much more?
Some people might be able to devote their life to the praise of God. Others devote their life to the salvation of the world. What does a hermit do to combine both of these tasks?
Most people would have some notion of the meaning of ‘silence’ and also of ‘solitude’. But what does ‘the silence of solitude’ mean? It is quite clear from the Latin that the phrase used in Canon 603 is not ‘silence AND solitude’ but ‘silence OF solitude’. It is genitive! Solitudinis silentio. Solitude’s silence. Is that not poetic?
The ultimate rule for all those in the consecrated life, whether they are Hermits, Monks, Nuns, or members of any Order, is to follow Christ as he is presented to us in the gospel. Canon 662 says: Religious are to find their supreme rule of life in the following of Christ as proposed in the Gospel and as expressed in the constitution of their own institutes.
Canon 573 tells us that for all those who take vows the action of the Holy Spirit is necessary, as also is the love of God. It says: Life consecrated through profession of the evangelical counsels is a stable form of living, in which the faithful follow Christ more closely under the action of the Holy Spirit, and are totally dedicated to God, who is supremely loved.
Canon 577 points out that there are many different ways of following Christ. It says: In the Church there are many institutes of consecrated life, with gifts that differ according to the graces given them: they more closely follow Christ praying; or Christ proclaiming the Kingdom of God; or Christ doing good to people; or Christ in dialogue with the people of this world; but always Christ doing the will of the Father.
Hermits in particular follow Christ in his prayer life especially when he was alone. Although he often prayed in the presence of other people his more intense and prolonged prayer was when he went out of his way to be alone with God the Father. Going into the desert for several weeks. Sending all the people and the apostles away after feeding the 5,000 and staying alone on the shore and then going up a mountain to pray. Rising early often to pray alone up a mountain. Even in Gethsemane when he asked Peter, James and John to watch with him for an hour he still went ‘a stone’s throw away’ from them to pray alone.
Of course Jesus taught us to pray not only individually but also together. In the Lord’s prayer and the Hail Mary we say ‘Our Father’, ‘forgive us’, ‘pray for us sinners’. Not my Father forgive me, pray for me. “Where two or three are gathered together in my name there I am with them.”
Nevertheless hermits follow Christ by accompanying him into that desert; walking by his side up those mountains, and watching with him in that garden.
The hermit life of prayer as it is understood by the Church, could be described as a voluntary solitary confinement. As such it should not be recommended or attempted unless one has a true vocation.
However, like all good things, it can be beneficial to everyone if taken in small doses. So instead of asking questions about the life of a hermit, try asking yourself some questions.
I know I should love my wife or my husband, children, family and indeed everyone, but do I love God more than all of these?
Must I fill every minute with noise? Does silence frighten me?
Do I love God, or am I simply scared stiff of Him?
Have I ever told God that I love Him?
There are four ways to pray. Praise of God. Thanksgiving. Sorrow for sin. Prayer of Petition. If I worked out what proportion of these I use would it be 25% for each. Or more like 2% 2% 5% 91%?
God is everywhere, absolutely everywhere. If I really cannot go up a mountain, into a desert, or into a garden, can I really not find a minute here, a minute there to be alone with Him wherever He is?
Have I asked God to provide me with such times and such places?
What is my relationship with our Blessed Lady, St Joseph, and all other Saints and Angels especially my Guardian angel? (Incidentally; although Hermits seem to be alone, they are closely surrounded by all these other people. Personally I am thankful that they are present in spirit and not in body. Otherwise I would not have enough seats for all of them, or indeed not enough room for all of them to stand).
One last question. Some day I will come face to face with Jesus Christ alone: will it be the meeting of two strangers, or like the meeting of two old friends?
The Crusade of Prayer
In our work in studying and reporting on the television, the media and the cult of celebrity one practice has been of utmost importance to our cause – prayer. For in keeping our eyes firmly fixed on our goal – Jesus Christ, we will succeed. We pray for people engaged in media production and also the effect they may have on society, even Christians. We pray for celebrities for their well-being and that they may turn to Christ; or at the very least they will not lead people away from Christ and His Church. It is for this reason that we formed the Crusade of Prayer, our prayer wing for not all the members of CUT are in the position to give up the TV. There are various reasons for this, some because their spouses do not want to give it up, another reason being some people on their own feel lonely. However, through the power of prayer Catholics can banish this subversive box of tricks. If you have a spouse or a family that are telly addicts you will know how difficult it is to persuade your family to give it up. This can cause great distress when you can see in front of your very eyes the damage the TV is doing. Do not be confrontational over the TV this will only lead to serious quarrels within your family, don’t go down that route. When confronted by such a materialistic secular society as we have today, prayer is the most charitable response. Ask your saint, Our Lady, your guardian angle to help.
In today’s aggressively secular culture backed up by a sceptical media whose only truth appears to be “what is truth?” Prayer is our most powerful response when faced by the atheistic horrors of our age. One could even argue that today’s age is the creation of the media – of films, the TV, the press, and the new media used with such awful effect by the rioters last summer. It is therefore tempting to withdraw from the battle and let the rest go hang but Jesus said ‘Go therefore teach ye all nations’ (St Matthew 28:19).We can see this wonderful witness in the prayers of Pro-Lifers outside abortion clinics. It’s very unlikely that any Catholic worth their salt would be having an abortion. Therefore, this is a true witness for goodness and love of those who pray in such places are heroes. There are other places where Prayer Crusaders could pray as well. Outside Media City in Salford Manchester where the BBC have moved. Or as you pass your local newspaper, radio station or other media outlets, say a prayer. Or to join Daphne McLeod outside the Gay Mass in Soho.
The hermit/priest under the patronage of St Theresa of Lisieux shows us in his article The Silence of Solitude that we can develop an inward hermitage of prayer in our every day life in the world of family and work. A hermitage that is full of the presence of God, His angels and His saints.
When engaged in spiritual combat prayer to counter the influence of Satan, it is important that like any Crusader of the past or indeed soldiers of today you should know your weapons. Our weapons, if that is the right term, are prayers, and are used in peace and charity.
Know your enemy
Many people in the media have issues with Catholic teaching; they may have had an abortion or a man may have forced his girlfriend or wife to have one. They may be homosexual or they may have had a divorce and are remarried (without an annulment) or use contraceptives. It is quite possible that these issues resonate with some of today’s Catholics. Even if you have not managed to give up the TV and come across programmes that trouble you, pray about them. Especially if you come across blasphemy, which in the media can happen at any time and anywhere.
“Seven times a day I have given praise to thee, for the judgment of thy justice.” Psalm 118:164. Praying seven times a day has down the centuries been a Catholic practice particularly in the monasteries. St Paul encourages us to “Pray without ceasing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:17
It may be difficult to do this in our busy modern lives so here are a few suggestions on how you can put prayer at the forefront of your life. Remember God sees all things; He is always present. Therefore live your life as if Jesus is standing right beside you. How would you act if you could see him visually? Besides His presence being a wonderful experience you would also be extremely happy but also very good you would want to talk to him which we can actually do in prayer. However, we are weak and easily distracted, so in order to help us develop our sevenfold prayer put aside special times to pray throughout the day. This should not be seen as a mechanical clock watching prayer and if you miss the time of prayer catch up later. Nevertheless you should try very hard to be disciplined and stick to your allotted time for you will find it easer to say all your prayers. If you simply cannot fit all your prayers in say a quick Glory be (as an act of worship) or a Most Sacred Heart of Jesus have Mercy on me (if you are troubled or believe you have fallen short of the mark).
Although many of you already have your own daily prayer structure over the page are some suggestions if you have not your own daily prayer cycle or wish to add to them:
The TV and Children
The TV and the Culture of Death
Other sites of InterestLinks