Hermits for a Season

Rejoice while you have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor. (I Peter 1:6-7)

St. Peter’s words to us. Rejoice in your trials, because they test your faith, like fire tests the purity of gold. [Spanish]

thomas mertonDoes everyone know that the Church of Christ has a “vanishing center?” A mysterious, invisible heart. Who lives there? Christian hermits.

In the 20th century, Father Thomas Merton gained fame among Catholics by seeking this total solitude. And many of us love St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. John of the Cross, for the same reason.

A Christian hermit devotes his or her entire life to praising God and fostering the world’s salvation. How? By separating him or herself from human society, in order to live a life of pure prayer and penance.

Christian hermits manifest the interior aspect of the mystery of salvation. Personal intimacy with Christ. A hermit lives hidden from other human eyes and preaches the Gospel silently. By surrendering absolutely everything to God in the desert of silence, the hermit finds the glory of Christ crucified.

All this comes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 920 and 921. Maybe it sounds all too familiar right now. We could re-word the Catechism sentences like this:

Living as a Catholic during the coronavirus epidemic manifests the interior aspect of the mystery of salvation. Maintaining a spiritual life during isolation involves personal intimacy with Christ. The Christian staying at home on Sunday morning for the sake of public health finds in the desert of silence the glory of Christ crucified.’

st_therese_of_lisieuxMay God give us strength and insight. By His invisible power and grace, these weeks can deepen and intensify our spiritual lives.

May we co-operate with His grace! May we find the discipline we need. The real hermits will be the first to tell us: when your home and your church are the same little building, and you never leave, you either get holier. Or you lose it altogether.

On the other hand… We read something else in Sunday’s readings at Mass: They devoted themselves to the communal life. All who believed were together. (Acts 2:42, 44)

The Lord has not called us all to live as Christian hermits forever. By no means.

What should we be doing as a parish right now? We should be having First Communions, with the kids in their white suits and dresses. And big Quinceañeras. Cakes after Mass. Weddings with string quartets and trombones. Processions to the Virgin’s grotto. Mexican dances with tambourines and somersaults. Candles, chants, incense.

After all, Catholicism doesn’t mean just, “here come the hermits.” Catholicism means: “Here comes everybody.”

Now, you know me as a man of stone-like stoicism. I find my own personal emotions so uninteresting that I consistently ignore them–so that they will leave me alone.

But you will see me cry. When we come together again in church. Before I can even make the sign of the cross to begin Mass, I guarantee you: I will be crying for joy like a daggone baby.

4 thoughts on “Hermits for a Season

  1. Father Mark, I was surprised to here about all this from my local Roanoke news radio station, but wow, I’m proud of you for standing by your convictions! Fight the good fight. I will keep you in my prayers.

  2. Hi Mark. I’m not Catholic, or even Christian any more, following my run-in an abusive Episcopal priest. And we probably wouldn’t agree on a number of points. But I greatly appreciate your blog and your efforts and hope you will continue to tell the truth. And as a fellow blogger who has been excoriated for telling the truth, I might know some of what you are going through.

    Thanks again!

  3. Thank you for this Father. Extremely enlightening!
    Know that I am and always praying for you. Stay strong and keep up the good right.
    Scott Morris
    A Church Militant

  4. Fr. White: I applaud your for your courage in your present predicament. However, it is problematic to list “Thomas Merton” alongside a trustworthy Doctor of the Church such as St. Therese of Liseux. Please post a disclaimer about this man–Thomas Merton–if you are going to suggest that he is somehow analogous to a canonized saint. It might even be good to remove his name altogether from your post and reevaluate your own estimation of his work insofar as he is upheld [by men like James martin S.J.] as a “spiritual guide.” Did you know that in the last years of his life, Thomas Merton left the solitude of his Trappist monastery and traveled the world preaching Marxist, Zen/Hinduism Hippie nonsense? This is a fact easily verified by public data. For example, here is a video of Merton’s last conference only hours before his death. In the clip, Merton explicitly opines that Karl Marx and the Dalai Lama strive for the same goal as Monastic Life. He goes so far as to suggest that “Budhism, Hindism, these great Asian traditions” have gone deeper, “naturally speaking” than Catholics in understanding human persons: https://youtu.be/ywE6bhApcSk

    Did you know that Merton was found dead in a motel hours after this talk–partially clothed face down on a bed–with a bloody wound on the back of his head? Notwithstanding his suspicious death, his bibliography [partially listed below] is certainly not a trustworthy guide to the Faith!! If your purpose is to oppose the moral decadence that wreaks havoc in the Catholic Church today, it is very ironic. Theologically conflicted men like Thomas Merton [[and his disciple, James Martin S.J.]] are very much part of our problem today!

    Mystics and Zen Masters, 1967
    This is Merton’s first plunge into Eastern thought and religion. Its strength is its mostly cogent description of Chinese Daoism and Zen Buddhism, but one begins to discern Merton’s attitude shifting toward his later developed notion that Eastern religion is a necessary supplement to Catholicism.

    Zen and the Birds of Appetite, 1968
    By now Merton is swimming in Zen—this work is a comparative consideration of Buddhism and Christianity. Beautifully expressed, but his overall goal is to erase the lines between two very distinct religious beliefs.

    The Way of Chuang Tzu, 1969
    This is one of Merton’s most problematic works: It valorizes the relativistic teachings of Zhuangzi, the Zhou dynasty Daoist. Here is Merton’s final interweaving of Eastern and Western thought.

    The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton, 1973
    Here we find his final writings, and they are full of cathartic angst. At the end of this journal one senses that Merton has knowingly wandered from clear Church teaching. While in Bankok, a Dutch abbot asked him to appear in a television interview, for “the good of the Church.” But Merton writes that, “It would be much ‘better for the Church’ if I refrained.”

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