What is it like to choose the life of a hermit?
Our authors live all over the world and have all kinds of occupations. Some, like Fr Paulinus, are priests, others are lawyers, religious sisters, professors and more besides. Some belong to monasteries, while others have families.
When we heard that Fr Paulinus was a hermit, we couldn’t help but ask him what that was like.
Here is his answer.
That calls to mind the exam paper which began:
- Is this a question or a statement?
- You have 20 minutes to write a history of the universe.
- Give two other examples.
The hermit life is a mystery of the Faith.
Not as deep as the Trinity.
Not as important as the Real Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
But, like all mysteries, it contains paradoxes.
Many have attempted to choose the hermit life. They have been found not to have had a true vocation. Why? Because Jesus said
‘You did not choose me. I chose you.’
A true vocation arises from a willing response to the judgement of the appropriate Church authorities.
St Clement, St Basil, Tertullian, Origen and other theologians wrote that the hermit life is a living martyrdom.
How’s that for a paradox?!
St Bruno calls it a busy leisure.
It is a tale of two cities. It is the best of lives and the worst of lives. A life of wisdom and foolishness is wiser than man’s wisdom. A life of love and hate.
Love of God, Jesus, his Church, and his Mother. A hatred of sin. It depends on faith, yet is incredulous.
Without a vocation it would be dim, dark, and ugly. With a true vocation it is light, bright, and beautiful.
Those two cities are not the ones of Charles Dickens. They are what St Augustine calls the city of the world and the City of God. A hermit’s task is to draw the one ever closer to the Other.
There are several ways of living as a hermit. But now I refer only to those mentioned in Canon 603. Paragraph 2 says:
Hermits are recognised by law as dedicated to God in consecrated life if, in the hands 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 Bishop.
The Holy Spirit opened a packet of seeds marked, “A Call to the Hermit Life”. The earth spins around and those seeds are falling on every part of the globe. Like roses, of which there are more than 250 species and countless varieties.
Every hermit under Canon 603 is unique. We each have our own Rule of Life suitable for our particular character, history and status in the Church. Some of these Rules of Life are quite long. Others are short – no more than a brief horarium.
Paragraph 1 of Canon 603 begins:
‘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…’
We have a stricter withdrawal from the world but devote our lives to its salvation. Another paradox! Simultaneously we devote our lives to the praise of God.
The Canon lists three means or tools which hermits use in their apostolate. ‘… the silence of solitude, constant prayer and penance.’
This is not the usual phrase ‘silence and solitude’. But, ‘the silence of solitude.’ In Latin, ‘solitudinis silentio’. ‘Solitude’s silence’, ‘the silence of solitude’. Another mystery? Another paradox!
Who would have thought that Canon Law could be so poetic and lyrical?! Is that a question of a statement?
The treasure chest containing a hermit’s riches of contemplation may be opened some other day. If I can find the key.
Fr Paulinus Redmond is author of CTS book Louis and Zelie Martin, Parents of St Therese of Lisieux.
To learn more on hermits, there is an interesting Catholic online article to read: Hermits