Sixteen years ago last night, this pained-today consecrated Catholic hermit made private profession of eremitic vocation vows. It was a thickly snowy evening, Dec. 29. That day was chosen in honor of my confirmation name "saint": Sr. Josefa Menendez, a victim soul and closely God-connected in spirit and soul with me for many years.
The old spiritual da read some Scriptures, as did I. The ceremony was ambient with candles in the otherwise darkened, small yet ornately beautiful 1920's convent chapel. The ceremony was directly fashioned from that of an early anchoress whose writings are extant in what is titled The Ancrene Riwle [Rule].
No one was in attendance until a man and his toddler arrived, out of curiosity. He and his wife and I were spiritual friends and neighbors at the time, and I had made a mistake in sharing with them the ceremony which I emphasized was private. Yes, curiosity got the better of him, and he ventured out with the wee one on the wintry night. I had to calm myself by realizing that for whatever reason, the Lord allowed the extra witnesses to what has been a pivotal vocation, for life.
Father preached a short sermon exhorting me with guidance as to how to proceed and blessing me much with beautifully rich prayers and incensing the altar and my mortal frame. I know the incense is within me yet, to this day, as part of fiber of my temporal being as well as infusing my soul with the scent of what yet is to come some eternal day.
Father also gave a commemorative candle of the ceremony which he'd lit at the beginning. I have it yet, of course. The temporal sign of my vows, though, is the crucifix which I wear other than when in manual labor; when my late mother gave me one of her wedding rings and a ring of my father's, Father blessed again the crucifix with the rings, wedding me to the cross.
So yesterday I pondered my hermit vows and life to this point. I reminisced of the rich and meaningful ceremony of the profession of vows. I thought of Sr. Josefa Menendez who died in 1923 to the day--a young nun in a convent where she was hidden away from the others due to her being, yes, a mystic as well as one who suffered greatly. The Lord and the Blessed Mother favored her with dreams, visions, and locutions--thus the extreme measures of the mother superior and others to place her in virtual imprisonment within the convent.
Not only was she a young woman who had been sent first-off from her Spanish convent to a sister convent in France, she did not speak French--which added to her isolation. Yet always, as I find in much better personal circumstances even if with much suffering, the Lord provided for Josefa. But the suffering and sense of shunned persecution took a human toll; she died in her early 30's, I think it was.
And as for thinking, I wanted to retrieve the copy of my vows, signed and dated by the venerable priest and my increasingly pathetic self and renew them last night. But the darkness consumed this old hermitage in late afternoon; the winds rose and rain descended. Tired from being on a ladder for quite awhile, scraping painted 1912 newsprint and tacks from an upstairs plank ceiling, I did not push myself to go to the pole barn to locate my hermit vows.
But today, I did--just now, in fact--when I also brought in a stray hunk of drywall that I can utilize upstairs. Also in the file folder with the hermit vows, I noticed my vow of suffering, offered some 10 months prior and received also by my most holy and dear spiritual father back then. And that is when I noticed that the tiny outline of the heart with the drop of my blood on the vellum, was not on the hermit vows but instead is on the vow of suffering!
My inner laugh continues now at my forgetfulness, for awhile back I had written about my hermit vows and mentioned that drop of blood. And that mention evoked quite a consternation and horror-foddered reaction from another hermit out there in cyberspace. Now, as I see, my error in memory caused another quite a bit of upset and discussion which ends up being a waste of time, emotion, and energy on my hermit colleague's part.
At least I know that while my sufferings have risen, and my vices along with them, humanly I can say that my memory had slipped, at least in this detail of what anchors in well-intentioned symbolic sign, the bottom of one vow and not the other, as it turns out. Perhaps vows of suffering might cause consternation in some, though. We never know, do we, what flurries some--ourselves, perhaps, yet not others?
I admit that while I never ask for sufferings, I do indeed know that the Lord provides plenty; and all that He provides of suffering in my life is utilized to the last drop of my tangible and intangible blood, for His purposes--for souls, for the Church, for the world, for the praise and glory of God.
In this manner, then, both vows--that of hermit vocation and suffering--have much in common as integral prayer, praise, and penance.
I repeat and share now, publicly yet anonymously to you dear readers, my Private Vow of Consecration to the Eremitical Life.
"I, [full name including Confirmation name], offer and present myself to the goodness of God to serve in the order of a hermit [anchorite is the technical term used from Medieval Ancrene Riwle]; and according to the rule of that order I promise to remain henceforward in the service of God through the grace of God and the guidance of the Roman Catholic Church and to render canonical obedience to my spiritual fathers.
"I vow to devote my life to the praise of God and salvation of the world through a stricter separation of the world, in the silence of solitude, and assiduous prayer and penance.
"To the perfection of charity to which I am called as a faithful servant of my Lord Jesus Christ, I avow myself to the practice of chastity in celibacy, to poverty in body, mind, and spirit, and to obedience of my will to the Divine Will of God and His Church, in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit."
Beneath the printed vows, professed in the Jubilee year 2000, are mentioned the location and notice of the priest's and my signatures. I'm thankful to review these vows and rekindle within me the ceremony of which there is much more that could be described but best left within my soul.
I'm renewed in awe as to how these vows so simply yet profoundly set forth an hourly and life-long map: praise, prayer, penance, stricter separation from world, solitude, celibacy, poverty, obedience to the Divine Will of God and His Church. And there also we have it, just as in today's optional first Scripture reading: perfection of charity.
Incumbent in such few words, a life to be lived that is a good and purposeful Christian life, indeed.