Doing Good in Silence

“During the First World War, on 1 December 1916, Senussi raided the Saharan hermitage of the Roman Catholic hermit-priest Charles de Foucauld. He refused to renounce Christ, kneel and confess the Shahada, the creed that is recited on conversion to Islam. A teenager shot him in the head.
Charles de Foucauld 1
A French army officer, playboy and North African explorer, de Foucauld (1858–1916) had become a solitary for Jesus. ‘As soon as I believed that there was a God, I understood that I could do nothing else than live for Him exclusively.’
His life’s desire was that others would come to live the Christian solitary way, ‘doing good in silence’. He was possibly the first Western solitary hermit monk of the twentieth century (hermit, eremitism from eremos, desert and monachos, alone).
Inspired by his writings, the Little Sisters of Jesus and then the Little Brothers of Jesus were born, followed by another seventeen communities and associations. Catholic hermit priests, then religious and lay solitary hermits, spread slowly up until the mid-twentieth century; then, the resurgence of the solitary vocation gathered speed. On 13 November 2005, the hermit martyr Charles de Foucauld was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI.
The way of life of Charles de Foucauld emulated that pioneered by St Antony the Great of Egypt (c. 250–356).
Antony the great
The Antonian eremitic tradition, based on the gospel imperative of love through ‘doing good in silence’, has survived for 1,700 years as a persistent vocational presence in the Oriental, Eastern and Western Christian ecclesial communions…
It is said that hermit monks and nuns were always present in the Oriental and Eastern communions from the fourth century on, but in the West they nearly disappeared. As the Benedictine scholar Jeremy Hall observes, ‘In the Catholic Church the hermit has been in a kind of limbo since about the sixteenth century …. Monastic communities … held the hermit life in suspicion.’
Like St Antony the Great, people called to a life of Antonian tradition eremitism incarnate the gospel command to go, sell, give, come and follow (Luke 18: 18–23). It becomes imperative for these people as a way of living into the great commands of Jesus to love God, self and other—and, most importantly, to love and pray for their enemies (Matthew 5: 43–48).
It is a source of wonder how the Antonian themes are repeated through the centuries. Antonian tradition eremitism has been modified in different times and places—by culture, language, and ecclesial and organizational practices. Comprehending how to live it today has become a challenge for many scholars and hermits. They need to identify the original imperatives that lead to the different forms of the eremitic life.
As in past centuries, there remain people around the world who live solitary lives of prayer, prayerful work and its fruits of peace. They watch and pray, learning to persevere in God and ‘to live at the point of intersection where the Love of God and the tensions and suffering we inflict on one another meet, and are held to God’s transforming
Love’.
Charles de Foucauld 2
Do these hermits contribute to the peace of the world, given that, as Thomas Merton asserted, the Christian life demands there be hermits? In the body of Christ and the body of humanity it is important that there are doctors and health workers, teachers in schools, long-distance lorry drivers, farmers on tractors, mothers walking fractious babies in the night, activists who welcome refugees and asylum seekers.
But those living the revived Antonian traditions, in their pointing to the Kingdom, their love of all of creation and their seeking of peace with enemies within and without, local and global, believe they are laying down their lives (de Foucauld’s ‘doing good through silence’), for the grave concerns of today’s world.”

From: Carol McDonough “Christian and Solitaries: Tracing the Antonian Hermit Traditions” “The Way Spirituality Journal” January 2015
Full text available on-line at: http://www.theway.org.uk/back/541McDonough.pdf

Carol McDonough is a rural solitary, who has read reflectively about hermits for decades.
She is undertaking scholarly research at the University of Divinity, Australia.

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