Yesterday, nothing Catholic hermit read about the bishop Nonnus and a woman named Pelagia. They lived early in the first centuries of Christianity; and Pelagia follows the course of others who had a conversion experience and turned from their ways in the world.
Pelagia was an actress, and she played her parts and lived her life to the fullest extent and expectation of any theatrical star of today's Hollywood. She lived high on the hog, as is said, and adorned herself with jewels and finery, and did all she could to enhance her natural beauty to become head-turning gorgeous.
Nonnus was with an assembly of bishops, when Pelagia and her fans and servants passed by. All the bishops but Nonnus closed their eyes and dropped their heads. Nonnus watched the beautiful woman, taken by the exquisiteness of her "wow factor." He did not notice the other bishops and later asked if they did not also appreciate how beautiful was Pelagia?
They had not looked due to fear of lust. But Nonnus looked due to appreciation of sheer beauty...and also because he recognized in Pelagia someone who gave her all to her vocation, and lived her theatrical life to the fullest extent of an actress. He realized his own lack of zeal, in comparison, to his own vocation as a bishop.
This aspect of the story of Pelagia brought this nothing Catholic hermit to the good question: Is this hermit, this child of God, this suffering servant, this mother and grandmother, living its vocations with zeal and fullness of life given by His Real Presence?
And the order of vocations are such because its marriage is to Jesus, and its vocation is dual as hermit and victim soul of love. Being a mother and grandmother are mostly now in prayerful love and support of the adult children and grandchildren and much depends upon if the adult children answer the phone, visit or ask for a visit, or initiate contact, themselves, too. The zeal and focus in our vocations involving others can shift as others shift, our lives and locations shift.
Some times doubts creep in. When finishing the account of Nonnus and Pelagia, one learns that she one day heard Nonnus preach the Gospel. She was so stirred to conversion that she gave up her finery and her theatrical work and lifestyle, wore a simple tunic that had belonged to Bishop Nonnus, and departed for a distant place, in the desert, where she lived out her life in prayer as an anchorite and disguised as a man. No doubt she played the part well, given her theatrical background; but she also did so for practical and safety reasons, being a female on her own.
Word spread in the area and abroad, and over time, of the "monk Pelagius"--the holy hermit who lived in a cell, enclosed on four sides with but one opening--a window. Only in death did the people of the area learn that the holy hermit was female, not male. That fact enhanced their admiration all the more, to think that a woman would be able to live such a humble and austere life.
Today some doubts crept into this nothing Catholic hermit's mind. Perhaps it has to do with the Christmas celebration coming soon, and thoughts of life when the children were young, or even before accident and divorce, when yet married and with work and social contacts. Advent seemed delightfully distracting, filled with preparations of food, house, decor, gifts, children's delights of a Christmas tree and Christmas storybooks, and cookie-baking, and music. There were gift exchange parties at work, and hostessing gatherings of family and friends. And usually this hermit (back when not a hermit) would become ill or worn out, too, with the late night sewing and various preparations, and some stresses after, from finances gone awry and unhealthy foods ingested.
All this Advent and Christmas flurry became very difficult when the body was broken and left carrying the cross of constant pain. Then there were fewer festivities outside the home due to being single and rather maimed, other than those that involved the children and their friends. Gingerbread house baking and decorating became a fun tradition, with the children's friends included around our kitchen table.
But life changes as we grow in years, and situations vary. A deeper conversion and that to Catholicism brought a change in this soul, and that affected the focus, and there was more outreach and a pruning from more of the externals. When the children left home for college and work and marriage, the hermit vocation came to conscious fruition--from messages and clues, one can say, from a guardian angel and from God.
But again, doubts can creep in, as they did today, earlier.
Does God really desire or want people such as Mary of Egypt and Pelagia, and others, such as cloistered Carmelite nuns and monks, to have such radical and austere lives? Does it become too extreme? And then the thoughts turn to Mary and Joseph, in their trek to Bethlehem to be enrolled in the census, and we know the history of what occurred one night when they found no room in the inns. Jesus was born in a stable--not all that comfortable, not whatsoever. And no one physically around but Joseph and animals, until angels and shepherds came to rejoice, and wise men, and now all of us who believe.
We come each year and wait and ponder and then celebrate--but to what extent? Are the externals so necessary? Thoughts, meaningful time with those who desire it--love, hope, faith, and delight in shared love of God--and yes, it can seem extreme, and for some it is extreme, the conversion, and radical. For most of us hermits and any Christian aspiring to union with God, the pruning is gradual, the process flexible, but with the reminder, always, that Jesus said to come, follow Him.
Where does He go? How does He live? What does He do? Why does He celebrate, and what?
Perhaps this Advent and Christmas are all the more true to the first Christmas. And there is nothing at all wrong with that, and everything right.
The daughter called, and we discussed this aspect. So much of what is going on Christmas-wise in the world, has been seen or done, or too costly or too crowded, or too tiring, and all of it unnecessary.
We will do best in what Jesus did and does: Love.