Sunday, May 25, 2014

Three Catholic Hermits' Reactions to Family

Reading the lives of various hermits provides excellent support and inspiration but also gives surprises!  Never are any two hermit lives the same.  That is the joy of it all, as well as heralds the freedom of God to guide each soul (hermit or not) in unique and beautiful adornments along the journey.

We can so easily come to our own thoughts on how a hermit ought to be, this way or that.  We could waste much soul time with God doing this, but it is very human to react.  For example, when I read the life of St. Seraphim the Sarov (Russian Orthodox hermit), and shared with a venerable, elderly priest how Seraphim reacted to a visit from his brothers, the priest exclaimed how harsh and overly strict it seemed to him, and uncharitable.  And, I could have thought likewise, although I tend not to jump to conclusions rapidly perhaps when I should--and too rapidly perhaps when I should not.  

My take on Seraphim's reaction to his brothers' wanting to see him after many years of Seraphim being a hermit, was that of a kind of admiration that he could be so detached.  I did remind the venerable priest that Jesus stood at the door of a house one fine day, as his mother and other close relatives were outside wishing to speak with him.  He denied them, and rather He asked the famous question and gave the famous answer.  "Who are My mother, brothers and sisters?  They who listen to the will of God and do it."

Regardless, St. Seraphim refused to see his brothers (and maybe there was a sister along, too).  They only wanted to see him one more time before they or he died. That is all.  Even his superior said it would be all right, as the superior had insisted Seraphim return from the woods to live in the monastery--something Seraphim did not at all want but was forced not only by obedience but also by injuries sustained when he was beaten in his hermitage hut by robbers.

I was likewise deeply moved yet not too surprised when I read the biography of St. Charbel Maklouf, a Catholic Maronite priest and hermit of Lebanon.  Not too many years after he left home to be a priest, and many years prior to his being given the privilege of the hermit vocation, his mother came to the monastery desiring to speak to him, to see him, to touch him one last time.  She begged at the door of his cell, to no avail.  She called him by his birth name, Yusef; she wept and promised it would be just this once that she desired to see him.  But no, he relented not to her pleading.

It seems to me that these men (and God!) knew what would unravel them, perhaps emotionally or physically and mentally from their journey to God and their spiritual desire for God above all things.  We just don't know what was going on within their souls to make any kind of judgments, no matter how harsh their reactions to family members.  The coldness can be stunningly so; or it can be marvelously so.  

Consider the courage it took amidst great longing at human levels of desire to see their family members.  They are humans seeking to enter union with the Divine, and that seeking for them, took precedence over the temporal attachments.  Perhaps earlier or later in their vocations, their responses may have been different, dependent upon their spiritual "experience."

Thus, I admit to being surprised when I read of St. Godric, the Roman Catholic hermit of England of earlier century than Seraphim and Charbel.  After years of separation and thinking he may be dead in a sea-faring journey, Godric's mother, brother and sister heard rumors that he was alive but in various locations.  The rumors started to coagulate around the vicinity of Durham; his family knew he had a great devotion to St. Cuthbert, hermit and abbot, so decided he likely might be in that area where Cuthbert is buried.

They set off in what would be an arduous journey in late 12th c. England.  Upon arrival in Durham, they were guided by villagers to the holy hermit who lived in a hut in the forest.  When Godric saw them coming toward him, he recognized them immediately and welcomed them with great joy!  In fact, he found lodging for them with those in the village who had come to appreciate and know the hermit, and there his mother and brother lived until their deaths.  

As for his sister, she was drawn to the hermit vocation, desiring to adore God and give her life to prayer and solitude.  Godric taught her from his own God-provided experience and learning (which would certainly include what the priests of Durham Abbey had taught him, too, of the spiritual life).  She had a hut not far from his in the same area of the forest, and there she remained until sickness required nursing; she was carried on a gurney to the abbey infirmary where she died not long after.  Godric knew he would never see her again after she was carried out of her hut, and he grieved humanly and deeply for his sister.

How marvelous are the rich and varied religious experiences of the human soul!  How glorious and varied are the spiritual and physical lives of each soul's journey to God, no matter how early the soul embarks more consciously seeking God nor how late in life.  

We must remember that between God and the soul, there is much communication on-going, and it is God Who forms and formulates the uniqueness of the experiences--trials and joys alike--no matter the umbrella of vocations.  Each soul has a vocation, whether specifically labeled beyond the universal soul vocation of knowing, loving and serving God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

[On a more personal note, how my heart sings with writing again!  On days like today, with increased physical suffering requiring more bed rest, to share thoughts of the soul, of God, of the variations of life along with photos of the unique and varied flora in God's immense creation--such a freedom He has gifted in beautiful expression!  I praise Him for all people who seek and love Him and for the myriad ways in which we are guided this way and that, under His loving and merciful tutelage!  And, as for a fourth Catholic hermit's reaction to family members, I love them and fit into their lives in what feasible activity while accessible in verbal communication.  Love is love.]


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