Saint Thekla, Hermitess
There are a bunch of monastic wannabes parading around the internet claiming to be "hermits." One of them calls herself "The Anchoress," yet she is married and lives with husband and children. Another has done herself up in a nun's habit of sorts and has published a "rule of life," yet she also is married and living at home. I do not pretend to know why these people are doing this, but one thing is obvious: They aspire to some state of life for which they do not possess even the basic requirements. It confuses the uninitiated and gives the wrong idea about monastic life in general.
If you are married, marriage is your vocation, and being the best wife and mother is your holy occupation. You've chosen that life and it is up to you to throw yourself into it with all your heart and soul, for the sake of the Lord and the kingdom. Your family will work together for the salvation of all, and it is beautiful. There is no higher status elsewhere.
What is a monastic? "Monastic" comes from the word "mono" or singular, alone. Monastics have chosen to remain unmarried and unattached (or it has chosen them) so that their lives are given completely to the Lord in a singular way. Monastic life is generally centered around prayer at regular intervals throughout the day. Sometimes it is contemplative and sometimes not.
Saint Paula and her daughter Eustochium,
with Saint Jerome
Whereas today, "monastic life" is typically understood to be part of a recognized religious order, the early days of Christianity saw a number of independent people relocating to the desert, mostly the Scetes desert of Egypt, but also in Syria and Palestine, where they lived ascetic lives of prayer and penance. Palladius of Galatia tells us that there were almost 3,000 women living in the desert as religious hermitesses or as a part of a loosely organized community of believers by the year 419-420
Hermit caves in Syria
These were Christianity's first monastics and I guarantee you that the desert fathers and desert mothers did not haul spouses and children out to the desert to live with them en famille, with the exception of desert mothers such as Saint Paula, whose daughter Eustochium, ALSO took up the religious life. (Saint Paula had been widowed prior to this.) The monastic life is a vocation of single people, not married ladies living with husband and children, with a job in town, Wednesday pizza night and family vacations to the beach every year.
Sometimes a particularly holy hermit would attract followers. Very quickly, the cenobitic life, a life lived in common, became the norm. Monastics still do not marry, but they are "together, alone." The hermit's cave became the monastic "cell."
Saint Theresa of Avila's cell
There are many different monastic orders in the United States. If you have leanings toward a monastic life that is contemplative in nature, rather than try to live as a monastic or hermit on your own, I highly recommend that, if you meet the criteria,you go directly to a cloistered convent, do not pass go and do not collect $200. Nuns who have LEFT the convents, thinking they can maintain their contemplative life and schedule "on the outside" routinely complain that keeping anything close to the convent's prayer schedule is nearly impossible. There are torments, hassles and disagreeable people in some convents, perhaps in most convents, but the trial of living with these is worth the rewards. Go to a cloistered convent and try it out. Some of them will take older people.
The active orders are something else. They live for God, but their focus is outward and is more service oriented. There are teaching orders, nursing orders, all kinds of orders. I don't recommend these for the quiet contemplative who years for mystical union with God. In another post, I will write about some of the contemplative orders, such as my favorites, "the pink nuns" who maintain continual adoration before the Divine Eucharist 24 hours a day.
The primary obstacle is often the HEALTH of a person. If you do not have good health, then you are in my boat, and I will go on to discuss how to manage a monastic life at home in later posts. Convent life is a very physical life, with lots of hard work. There is plenty of manual labor to go around. Also, you are never "off the clock," in that you are a nun 24/7 and it can be a strain for some. If you have PTSD, as I do, or depression or some other mental problem, it can be particularly difficult. Religious orders usually insist that prospective members be physically and mentally healthy.
A simplified type of monastic life can be lived at home, though it is very difficult to maintain a rigorous schedule for most of us who are elderly and/or physically compromised. But we are the ones who have the time and the circumstances to live a version of monastic life at home, however, and it is a shame to waste our golden years playing computer games, when we can grow closer to God in an intentional and intense way. I intend to help us all explore that and to provide information that will be helpful.
Saint Rose of Lima
A Third Order Dominican who lived at home
and served the poor
I will write a few more blogs addressing the needs and aspirations of the 11th hour monastics and offer some solutions at a later date. I will also be researching avenues of emotional and spiritual support, such as third order possibilities, and I will report on that later. I do know that individuals may be allowed to take some sort of personal vows, with the permission of the local bishop, but this may be reserved for perpetual virgins. I will have to check my facts on that score and get back to you with that information as well.
In addition, I will be supplying lists of resources, blogs and books that are helpful to the contemplative life in general, so look for those in future blog posts. I also plan to write some blog posts highlighting the lives of some of our saints who were mystics that gained great consolations from contemplative prayer or those who either lived at home, in hermitage, or as an independent third order monastic. Anything that I feel will be helpful and supportive to contemplative life and to the independent monastic will be included.
Everyone can benefit from contemplative prayer. The fact that you enjoy the mystical union that is the reward of such prayer does not mean you are a monastic, however, and I think that is where some of the pseudo-hermits have gone off the rails. Contemplative prayer is a religious practice. Monasticism is a religious vocation. Often, the two will intersect, but they shouldn't be confused with one another.
The thing to remember, most of all, is that each person is born in the likeness and image of God and we are equally loved by the creator who made us, no matter what our vocation. Remember, we are human BEINGS and not human DOINGS. In the long run, it doesn't matter what vocation we choose, only that we turn it to God as much as possible and rely upon His guidance within our circumstances.
God bless you. Please pray for me as I pray for you.
Silver Rose Parnell