Spiritual Direction and Protections for Discerners

by Therese Ivers, JCL

Over the years, I have received questions regarding spiritual direction. Some of them I have answered in previous posts on this site. I am going to underline a few things about spiritual direction that is important to know and resources for learning more in this post.

1. Who should be a spiritual director?
Someone who is “learned” who knows their moral, dogmatic, ascetic, and mystical theology. The saints have consistently said that knowing what the Church teaches about the spiritual life is far more important than a director’s personally experiencing them. Spiritual direction is somewhat of a science (knowledge) and an art (prudence in how to apply the knowledge to a specific person’s situation). It doesn’t matter whether the director is male or female, ordained or lay, the MOST important characteristic is knowledge and fidelity to the Church’s teachings. I consider this book the BEST book for figuring out what to look for in a spiritual director:

2. What do I need to know about the spiritual life?
It is good to gradually learn the main points of spirituality so you know where you are in your own spiritual life and know the potential pitfalls and possible graces. This book is one of THE BEST for understanding what you need to know about the spiritual life. Hint: I ask my directees to read parts of this book so they understand what is happening in their spiritual life. This is a treasure!

3. What rights do I have for protecting my spiritual direction sessions in the Catholic Church?
Continue reading

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Imagine if an Altar Server/Acolyte…

Altar Server
Altar Server

by Therese Ivers, JCL

…were treated like some sacred virgins are treated during the Mass of their consecration.   Picture this.  The altar server goes up in procession before the Mass.  He then makes a sign of reverence and goes to his front pew (or seat right in front of the congregation’s first pew).  When it is time for the washing of hands and handing the water and wine he exits his pew, ascends to the sanctuary, hands the priest the water, the towel, and the water/wine.   Once he finishes handing these items, he exits the sanctuary and returns to his first pew or seat just in front of the first pew.  Ditto for holding the books. He can handle ringing bells from the pews.  He then renters the sanctuary to help with Communion distribution.  Once that is over he returns to the first pew.  What is wrong with this picture?

We are so USED to altar servers actually sitting in, ahem, the sanctuary, we don’t give it a second thought.  We know that this is where they are to be seated, so we don’t insist that they stay in the pews except for the few bouts of “serving” they do near the altar.  In fact, they are considered to be among the “ministers” that belong in the sanctuary, along with deacons and priests.  Altar servers (even duly instituted acolytes) are fairly minor functionaries, and yet they sit in the sanctuary.

Altar servers, like other ministers follow liturgical rules.The normal rules for Masses are specified in the Roman Ritual.  This is a liturgical book that has rules for how priests do Mass.  The rules for Masses primarily celebrated by the Bishop (and some can only be done by the bishop) are contained in a book called the Roman Pontifical.   It is the Roman Pontifical that contains the Mass for the Consecration of Virgins that only a bishop can celebrate.  Often, for a special Mass, there are special rules that apply only to that particular Mass, especially when it is a solemn “pontifical” Mass celebrated by the bishop.  The rules are very clear in English (and somewhat clearer in Latin) as to where the virgin candidates and then the newly consecrated virgins are placed in the Mass.  In a highly symbolic movement, the Bishop calls the virgins from the nave/pews to the sanctuary.  This is specified in paragraphs 14 and 52 of the Rite.

Why the call?  The bishop is calling the women to assume the dignity and position of the bride of the Son of God.  The women go from amongst the congregation and ascend to the sanctuary.  This is not merely a matter of providing a “stage setting” for the “audience” or congregation if you will, so that the people can see what is going on.  No, the movement is far more symbolic.  The bishop is leading the virgins to a closer union with Jesus Christ.  Once called, they leave the sanctuary only once; to retrieve the offertory gifts and physically deposit them on the altar (again without the typical interaction of bringing the gifts to an intermediary deacon or priest specified for most Masses).

The seating in the sanctuary for the newly consecrated virgins is there for a purpose.  The virgins do very little once they are consecrated- they bring the offertory gifts to the altar, they exchange the sign of peace with the bishop, and they receive Communion at the altar itself directly after the bishop.  Technically, for so little “action” the rubrics could have specified that they return to the pews immediately after their consecration (which takes place between the Gospel and the Offertory).  But the Church esteems the women who share with her the title of Spouse of Christ, Virgin, Bride, and Mother.  The Church is the Bride of Christ and at the wedding of Christ to his new Spouse, the spouse, the woman who is now a sacred person by virtue of the spiritual anointing given to her at the consecration by the bishop is to be recognized as a spouse of God and image of the Church Herself in a manner commensurate with her new dignity.  Hence keeping the newly sacred woman in the sanctuary.

What is really puzzling is that despite the fact that the Rite of Consecration is contained in the Bishop’s special book, people manage to dishonor the new spouses of Christ by sending them back to the nave (pews) even though they are supposed to be in the sanctuary.  Or worse, “segregate” them by putting them on the steps to the sanctuary away from the sanctuary proper.  Why is it that people keep misreading “sanctuary” as “pews” or “nave” for virgins during their solemn Rite of Consecration?  I just don’t get it.  The word is clear.  It is “sanctuary” in English, “presbiterium” in Latin.  The Rite specifies that after being formally called by the bishop, the virgins [leave the nave/pews area and] ascend to their places in the sanctuary, where special places are prepared for them.  Is it a reading comprehension error?  Could it be discrimination and an arrogant assumption that this is not the solemn celebration it is?  I honestly don’t know what is motivating people to place the virgins back in the pew but it is certainly a mystery as to why there is no problem in keeping minor functionaries like altar servers in the sanctuary but there is a problem in keeping the sacred spouse of Jesus Christ the Son of God in the same sanctuary on her wedding day.

It should be noted that the Church deeply honors and respects those who share with Her the title of Bride of Christ and Virgin, Bride, and Mother.  The mystery of the union of Christ and the Church is reflected most perfectly in the sacred virgin’s union with Christ.  In fact, one could posit that even if women were made cardinals, consecrated virgins would by their nature outrank them because sacred virgins share the Church’s own relationship Christ and cardinals are simply papal voters and counselors.  The Blessed Virgin Mary was the first consecrated virgin (consecrated at the Annunciation).  Sacred virgins are the image of the Church and Mary.

Respect for the Church entails respect for the sacred virgin who embodies and shares in the Church’s own mysterious spousal bond with Christ.  Properly understood, sacred virginity is not a challenge to become priests- the virgin’s highest dignity lies in that she is the legal and spiritual spouse of the High Priest.  Spouses share dignity.  The dignity is complementary.  Bishops with their fullness of the priesthood representing Christ and sacred virgins with their fullness of being Bride of Christ, embodying a representation of the Church as Virgin, Bride, and Mother.  This is why sacred virgins have no need to seek ordination- spouses share dignity.  Jesus Christ offered His life for His Spouse.  The priesthood exists for the service for the salvation of the Church that Christ loves so much.  In her capacity as spouse, the virgin like the Blessed Virgin, is a true mother to the faithful.  It takes two to tango.  Paternity and maternity are complementary roles.  Both are needed to bring life to the children of God in the Church.  As St. John Paul II so eloquently put it,

This means that the consecrated life, present in the Church from the beginning, can never fail to be one of her essential and characteristic elements, for it expresses her very nature… The idea of a Church made up only of sacred ministers and lay people does not therefore conform to the intentions of her divine Founder, as revealed to us by the Gospels and the other writings of the New Testament. 
– VC #29 (emphasis mine)

Yes, consecrated life, but in particular sacred virginity expresses the very nature of the Church.  That’s pretty powerful.  And St. John Paul goes even further by saying it is essential to the Church’s nature and that it is not a man-made device but established by God Himself.  It’s a discussion for another time, but although different forms of consecrated life can come and go, sacred virginity is the only vocation that fully expresses the nature of the Church herself as Virgin-Bride.  I would go so far as to say that it is probably THE only form of consecrated life that would always be essential to the Church because of its nature.  Further, historically, consecrated virginity has always existed in the Church, starting with the Blessed Virgin Mary and each century has seen women elevated to the Order of Virgins.  [While I’m at it, I’ll throw in another tidbit.  The Order of Virgins counts among its members a Doctor of the Church.  That’s pretty neat :)]

I’m still working on the follow up post I promised on more myths about consecrated life so keep your eyes peeled.

(c) 2015 by Therese Ivers, JCL.  All Rights Reserved.


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Vocations and Relativity: The Entitlement Attitude

by Therese Ivers, JCL

“I think someone fell and broke their arm,” I was told.  A few hours later practically the whole campus squeezed into the chapel to pray for the girl who fell 70′ when hiking.  Despite heroic efforts, she did not survive surgery, and the bell tolled.  People prayed the rosary in the chapel.  It was said very slowly – each 5 decades took about an hour.  That was an appropriate tempo for the emotional state people were in.  You could see it in their eyes.  Numbed from shock that one of our own had died.  A young, pretty sophomore.

Years passed, and I helping to direct a Catholic youth camp.  Another young pretty 20 something came to me.  She was distraught because she felt we were irreverently rushing through Vespers.  Yes, we were “rushing” at about 35-40 minutes for a prayer that normally takes 15-20 minutes when recited and 25 when sung.  Not content with our pauses between each line, she wanted to slow the pace to the point of a drawl.

It didn’t matter that the priest chaplain’s experience in praying the Office in the seminary and mine as a sacred virgin who has lived in convents and visited numerous ones probably totaled more years than the girl had been alive- she could not, would not accept a mere 40 minute recited Vespers.  Why?  Because she knew that for all of the 1500 or so years since the monks invented the Divine Office they were wrong in their tempo.  Obviously slower is better.  The slower you say it, the more holy and devout you are.  I watched her go away with a disappointed slump after trying several different explanations for my decision to keep the pace as it was.  Nothing I could do or say would change this girl’s mind because she knew it all already.  She was the expert when it came to liturgical prayer prayed in common.  In fact, she is a prime example of what many people are today- pseudo experts in things they know very little about who pontificate and believe that their opinions must be respected because they “feel” they are right or “feel” that X, Y, or Z is “holy” or the “holier thing to do” without the knowledge or experience to back up their feelings.

Unfortunately, our society in which relativism is rampant, encourages this juvenile attitude of believing things because of the belief that because one believes them or “feels” a certain “feeling”, it must be right regardless of the actual truth.  This spills over into the vocations area frequently.  Why else do people think that women should become priests, two people of the same sex should marry, full time carers can become hermits, or women who are not virgins become sacred virgins?  Because the “feeling” of holiness or appropriateness is what counts in their minds and everyone has the right to be whatever they want and do whatever they want as long as they can convince themselves it has good feelings attached.

Yes, along with relativism comes a strongly entrenched attitude of entitlement.  Women have the right to become priests because God’s viewpoint is irrelevant.  Contraception is totally okay because people are entitled to have unfettered pleasure.  Hermits can be Walmart greeters because the only solitude necessary is the “inner space”.  Virgins can have small private ceremonies because we’d prefer to think of them as a private function rather than the important event it is for the diocesan Church…

It is very common to see people feel entitled to self-define what an ecclesiastical vocation is when it pertains to the lesser known vocations of canonical hermits, sacred virgins, and consecrated laity/clerics of secular institutes.  This entitlement stems from a profound misunderstanding of the nature of consecrated life and its role in the heart and mystery of the Church.  Further, it frequently comes from an ego centric desire to “have status” in the Church in the mistaken belief that consecration is the religious equivalent of a political endorsement and hence one must be able to achieve such status by right.  Today, I am going to address three misconceptions about consecrated life.  Later, I’ll take a look at some contemporary examples of how people like to self-define elements of ecclesiastical vocations.

Myth 1: A person can self-consecrate.

Starting from the Annunciation, when the Holy Spirit founded the Order of Virgins through the message of an angel, God established that consecration in the consecrated life occurs only via mediation of another individual with the requisite authority.  In apostolic times, the Bishops consecrated and veiled virgins –velatio virginum-  and priests veiled widows.

What about private promises or vows?  By definition, an individual’s self-dedication via private promises, vows, or resolutions does not involve any other individual with the authority to mediate the spiritual anointing of consecration.  Neither a bishop nor a priest nor consecrated persons or laypersons have the authority to “receive” vows in the name of the Church outside of approved structures named in canon law.

Myth 2: Consecration is the Church’s “recognition” of a grace already given to a person.

Consecration of consecrated life is like the Sacrament of Confirmation – it isn’t there before the ecclesiastical authority mediates it to the individual receiving it.  One simply doesn’t go through the Mass for Confirmation candidates and then say that the bishop’s actions merely acknowledge what is already the case: a confirmed Catholic.  Why?  Because it is the Bishop who mediates the sacrament of Confirmation to the candidate and what wasn’t there is now all of a sudden there through the power of Christ working in the Sacrament.  Similarly, consecration of consecrated life, like the sacraments of Orders and Confirmation, occurs through the mediation of the proper ecclesiastical authority; not by the person receiving it.  As with Confirmation and Ordination, a person can say all kinds of vows and promises in front of the Pope himself, but that makes him no more ordained or confirmed without the other elements required for a true sacramental consecration.

Examples- A lay hermit cannot say that he is “consecrated” if he is under private vows and that he has the same consecration as the canonical hermit because his bishop has not mediated the spiritual anointing of consecration to said individual Catholic.  A female physical virgin cannot claim that she is a “bride of Christ” the way the Church is if she has not received the consecration of her person in the Rite of Consecration of Virgins.  She can make all the private vows and promises she likes but they do not a sacred person make.

Myth 3: The Church doesn’t value the private vow of chastity if the people who make it don’t receive an authentic consecration.

All the baptized are called to holiness.  Some choose to live “lifestyles” that “imitate” consecrated life forms, yet they remained in their lay (or clerical) state without the consecration of the state of perfection.  Here are some examples of people whom the Church highly esteems who remained in the lay state who were dedicated by perpetual private resolution or vow:

St. Catherine of Sienna, Doctor of the Church  (private vow of chastity)

St. Rose of Lima, Virgin (private vow of chastity)

St. Anthony of the Desert, Hermit (lifestyle of chastity)

St. Catherine of Sienna is an illustrious example of the sufficiency of following the graces given to baptized persons with great generosity.  People who don’t think holiness is possible without being consecrated should rethink their position.  That’s it for today.   Keep on the lookout for a word on self-defined vocations in the near future!

Also coming soon- a forum where you can discuss vocations.

(c) by Therese Ivers, JCL

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Can a Person With a Full Time Job be a Diocesan Hermit?

by Therese Ivers, JCL

In researching for my dissertation on hermits, I have come across a handful of times anJEANNE LEBER individual has professed vows under the provisions of canon 603 in the hands of his/her bishop but has a full time or very active part time job.  While I understand the desire of pious laypersons to become consecrated persons, the canon on hermits is not intended to accomplish this for people with substantial interaction with others.  It is actually an abuse of the canon to profess individuals with employment outside the hermitage that isn’t done in solitude.   Further, because the canon must be followed in its entirety for a person to be a canonical hermit, either the vows are invalid in the case of a full-time worker in a normal job that isn’t done in strict solitude or the vow of obedience is being violated.

Why would the vows of someone with active employment be invalid?  The reason is that the canon calls for the “silence of solitude”.  This does not mean that an individual living alone in his apartment but who goes out to work every day qualifies as a hermit-candidate.  It is not a sneaky loophole for letting someone who doesn’t join an institute of consecrated life to be “recognized by the Church” for a person with an active apostolate in the Church.  Rather, the “silence of solitude” is a term rich in meaning and history.  It is a term that indicates – among other things – that the individual lives a life with very limited interaction with others in order to spend most of his life alone with God in prayer, penance, and every day living in solitude.  If you were to compare a hermit’s solitude to forms of religious life, it would squarely land on the cloistered, contemplative end of the spectrum as opposed to the religious forms of life that are heavily apostolic with a lot of interaction with people.

For a person to be truly consecrated as a canonical hermit, there are certain non-negotiable elements.  One is the “silence of solitude”.  If it is missing from the lifestyle and rule of the individual in question, it would negate any vows made because it is a non-negotiable part of what the Church has established of her expectations for the profession of hermits and consecration by God mediated by Her.

Although full time work as a social worker or in an office as a receptionist or as a bagger in the local grocery store clearly invalidate any vows, there are plenty of other situations where one is not living in the “silence of solitude” and therefore is not a viable candidate for the profession.  One example is taking care of a relative living under the same roof.  The carer cannot impose his desire for solitude upon such a relative in charity.  Another example is raising children or living with one’s spouse.  Living with one’s spouse automatically eliminates the possibility of being a hermit because the spousal support, affection, and shared communion of the whole of life is there even if there is no conjugal activity.  It is that intimacy of life that the hermit rejects by definition.  Likewise, there is no such thing as a “part time” hermit in the Church’s vocabulary.

The person running an apostolate or the individual with a spouse or children may be very good Catholics and they may indeed spend weekends or nights in prayer.  They just aren’t hermits.  Silence and quiet time for prayer is essential for the spiritual well being of humans, but the canonical hermit has radically dedicated his/her life to living in it on a more than full time basis.  Although the lifestyle indicated by the Church is like cloistered life for strictly enclosed monks and nuns, there is no laws of cloister.  The hermit obviously will leave the hermitage for necessities like groceries, the Sacraments, and occasional excursions or retreats.

Aspiring hermits should note that it is difficult in this world to support oneself while living in solitude.  This is one acid test of the genuineness of the call to hermit life under the provisions of canon 603.  Can a person live in solitude without abandoning responsibilities (child care, marital vows, parental care, financial self-support) and survive?

Let’s also look at the concept of the silence of solitude from another angle, namely, the difference between eremitic life and coenobitic.  The Carthusians are a religious Order.  They are considered coenobitic with a primary emphasis on the eremitic life.  Why are they coenobitic (communal?) and not considered hermits?  The hermit monks and nuns stay in their hermitages and small gardens and pray, work, and eat in them individually.  They only go to the chapel for Mass and Matins.  Once a week they get together for a walk for a few hours and talk.  The conversae (“lay” brothers and sisters”) also live in the charterhouse and they provide manual labor and can have a simplified prayer routine.  It is the conversae who brings the food into the food slot for the individual hermitages, etc.

What can we learn about the “silence of solitude” when analyzing the lives of the Carthusians?  That if they consider themselves semi-hermits because they get together daily once or twice for prayer/Mass and have recreation together once a week, how does a person with a full time job as a parish finance manager or a social worker fit the description of living as a hermit?   This is part of what the Carthusians have to say about solitude:


The cloister and cell only assure an external solitude. It is only the first step whose goal is to encourage interior solitude, or purity of heart: to keep one’s soul away from any and all things not of God or which do not lead to God. It is at this level that the Carthusian meets the sudden impulses of his thought and the changes of his feelings. As long as the monk discusses with his “self”, his sensibilities, his worthless thoughts, unreal desires, he is not centered on God. It is here that he experiences his weakness and the power of the Spirit which he learns bit by bit « …the habit of the tranquil listening of the heart which allows God to enter by all path and access. » (Statutes 4.2)

To read more about solitude and the different degrees of solitude, you can go to their website here which I encourage you to explore for a better understanding of the solitude canon 603 is talking about.

Also, for solid information on the vocation to hermit life, I recommend Sr Laurel’s blog, Stillsong Hermitage.  Sr. Laurel is a theologian, knowledgeable about her vocation as a hermit, and has a wealth of wisdom to share on the subject.  She is an authority on the eremitic vocation whom I respect and hold in high regard.

(c) 2015 by Therese Ivers, JCL  All Rights Reserved.

Posted in Celibacy, Hermits, Marriage | 1 Comment