For a couple of weeks now, after my post, “These eyes will behold…” I have continued reflecting on custody of the eyes, tongue, ears, etc. To be watchful is to guard your senses. Then I decided to do some research and prayerful thinking about hermits and anchorites. Of course, everyone knows what a hermit is, but I mean a hermit of the Lord, one who withdraws from social interaction in some solitary place, someone who keeps to himself in silence in order to live more completely in the presence of God. As in the Middle Ages, a resurgence of this vocation is springing up and flourishing throughout Christendom, including in the Catholic Church. Many vow poverty, chastity, and obedience to their bishop, to a simple rule which they themselves write, and which the bishop approves.
Less familiar is the anchorite or anchoress. In the Middle Ages, such a person attached himself or herself to a church, chapel, or monastery, even to go so far as to construct the anchorage or cell to the outside of the church itself with one window opening to the interior of the church and one window opening to the outside, to the street. Not entirely silent, the anchorite—usually an anchoress or woman—lived close to the Eucharistic Presence and attended Mass through the interior window, but was able to respond to people who might come for assistance in prayer or counsel through the exterior window. The anchorite/anchoress was believed to be a true anchor of prayer for the church or monastery, and as such was welcomed by the priest, bishop, or community.
What both the hermit and anchorite have in common is a more intense withdrawal from the world in order to devote their life to God. “The word anchoress comes from the Greek anachoreo meaning to withdraw.”
The times being what they are, I have come to the conclusion that I myself need to intensify my prayer life, to withdraw more completely from the world. To severely reduce television time, secular reading, etc., to practice better custody of the eyes, ears, tongue in order to have more solitude of silence and a deeper prayer life.
On Jan. 30, I reflected on the word withdraw during Adoration. I visualized someone (like me) on the verge of exiting a building, a little house—but stopping, backing up, watching what is before her, stepping backwards, drawing herself within her house, refusing to exit her home, seeing what is out there, refusing to participate in it. This is, of course, a crude image, but it states a truth, nevertheless. Watchfulness is certainly a part of the process, a discerning look at what is about, what is before me and around me. Custody of the eyes, the ears, the tongue constitutes the heart of this watchfulness, not to let the world in, people, yes, but not the world, not sin, not sinful inclinations. Not the territory, the atmosphere, the flavor, the fascination, the seductive draw of the world, the flesh, and the devil. To avoid anything that may be the least bit tainted.
It will take me the rest of my life to learn this life of withdrawal. What I withdraw from is what is outside, what the anchoress perceives through her exterior window, if you will.
I am fully aware, also, of the role that memory will play in all of this. The reality of the world has fastened itself in great, colorful detail to my soul through my memory, and it is probably this internal construct of the world that will give me the greatest struggle. I can withdraw from the world, but will the world leave me if it lives within me? It will require constant renunciation, vigilance, surrender to the Holy Spirit and Abandonment to Christ.
Then we have the other half—or more—of the equation. If I am withdrawing [drawing myself within], to what inside am I drawn? Here it is the interior window which is all important—the opening to the Eucharistic Christ. To the extent I withdraw from, I must be equally drawn to: To be crucified with Him and to be hidden with Christ in God—to be drawn, to be present to the indwelling Trinity. This is the within.
To be an anchoress is not only to withdraw, but more significantly, to dwell within, to indwell. Physical separation and solitude give the walls. Vigilance and discernment give the cloister. Interior silence gives the substance.
Today, I was reading St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, remembering her three levels of silence: the silence of the walls of Carmel [exterior silence], the interior silence of her inner cloister, and the silence for which she most longed: the great silence of God [the indwelling Trinity in the sanctuary of the heart].
The whole purpose of the life of anchoress is to live in all three levels of silence, especially in the silence of the indwelling Trinity. One thing that I have learned by reading online, is that today this vocation can take many shapes, enabling those called to an eremitical lifestyle to fashion it in ways appropriate to their abilities and resources. This includes private consecrations or public witness of consecration according to Canon 603.
As we enter Lent, let us withdraw to the sanctuary of our hearts, to be watchful in prayer, to wait on the Lord. What else can we do in the silence, in the separation, in the long hours of day or night, except to repulse every influence that is not from God? To turn always, to be drawn to the Blessed Trinity who dwells in our heart. It is enough that we are present and not distracted more than we have to be. Let us practice being attentive to the burning Hearth and Fire in the center of our being.
Embracing the Eremitical Life
How I Became a Medieval Style Anchorite
Hermits in Diocesan Life–The Anchorite
Hermits and the Roman Catholic Church
How to become a Catholic Hermit