26 April 2010

More Solitude than the Carthusians

‘The desert experience is something everyone can know and, in fact, must have, to one degree or another. It is not desertion. The irony is that people who are surrounded by noise and constantly active are the ones who feel deserted. It is in solitude that the soul can listen and be alone with God. It is in solitude that we are least alone. The Church has always known that the desert experience, inner peace, quiet prayer, silence, contemplation are essential components of a devout Christian’s spiritual life. They are needed though unfortunately too often neglected in our Liturgies. They are essential in our private prayer. And they are the principal features of the contemplative life’.

These words were written on the Feast of the Assumption in the year 1977 by His Excellency Frank J. Rodimer, the now Bishop Emeritus of Paterson, New Jersey. Bishop Rodimer in that same year on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary canonically erected the Hermits of Bethlehem in Chester, New Jersey in the diocese of Paterson as a Laura of Consecrated Hermits of Diocesan Right.

The Founder of the Hermits of Bethlehem is Father Eugene L. Romano. Father Romano was ordained a priest in 1957 in the Diocese of Paterson. In the Code of Canon Law, Code 603 states that in the life of a hermit, he/she is ‘devoted to the praise of God and the salvation of the world’. The Ratio Vivendi for the Hermits of Bethlehem is to live ‘with the Trinity in the Heart of Jesus’. Into the silence and solitude of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the hermit enters to quiet himself/herself and ‘to learn what it is to be loved and cherished by God’.

Father Romano closes the Preface of The Plan of Life of the Hermits of Bethlehem with these words: ‘The hermit looks to Mary, Queen of the Desert and Mother of the Incarnate Word, to guide him in the journey of the Spirit in a continued Magnificat of praise of the Triune God, that together with her, he will participate in the wedding feast of the Risen Lamb. Through Mary’s Immaculate Heart and her example of selfless love the hermit seeks to live and share Christ’s infinitely deep desire for the salvation of all’.

In a way of life that has more solitude than the Carthusian Order, the Hermits of Bethlehem gather as a community only for:

~ Daily Eucharist
~ Solemn Vespers on Saturday Evening
~ Solemn Vespers on the Vigil of Solemnities
~ Lauds on Sundays and Solemnities
~ A common meal on Sundays and Solemnities

All other forms of prayer, meals and labour are done in solitude. Their daily Horarium looks like this:

Pre-dawn: Office of Readings from the Liturgy of the Hours, One hour of Eucharistic Adoration

Dawn: Lectio Divina (prayerful reading of Sacred Scripture)

Morning: Angelus, Lauds (Morning Prayer) from the Liturgy of the Hours, Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (20 minutes of silent prayer after Holy Communion), Breakfast

Midday: Angelus, Dinner, Leisure, Daytime Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours, Twenty minutes of contemplative prayer

Afternoon: Solitary work

Evening: One hour of Eucharistic Adoration, Vespers (Evening Prayer) from the Liturgy of the Hours, Salve Regina is chanted, Angelus, Optional light collation, Leisure time in solitude, Lectio Divina

Night: Examination of conscience, Compline (Night Prayer) from the Liturgy of the Hours, Salve Regina is chanted, Nightly silence

For each hermit there is also a weekly Day of Reclusion which begins after the final blessing of Mass and the hermit is given some blessed bread, is anointed with oil, and then begins a day of fasting and complete solitude. The hermit is exempt from all labour on this day and spends his/her time in prayer and sacred reading.