Hermits in Little Rock
“Hermits are men and women who publicly profess the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience and devote their lives to the praise of God and the salvation of the world through a strict separation from the world. They live a life of solitude, penance and prayer, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Some live in designated groups, such as the Bethlehem Hermits of the Diocese of Paterson, New Jersey. Others live on their own, such as Judith Weaver, a hermit consecrated last year by Little Rock, Arkansas, Bishop Anthony Taylor.
Weaver, 73, shares her home with a dog and bird and goes to a local parish for Mass and Eucharistic adoration. She offers morning and evening prayer according to the Liturgy of the Hours every day and meets with the three other diocesan hermits several times a week for prayer, and one of them downloads Pope Francis’ homilies for the hermits to study. Weaver herself does not have a television or Internet access, but she does have a phone and listens to the news on National Public Radio.
“I’m free to be enveloped in prayer,” she said.
Weaver, who had lived as a hermit for about a decade before being formally consecrated, was in religious life for a time but found that community life was not her vocation. She also worked as a writer and a hospital chaplain before finding that she was able to live simply on her retirement income and withdraw to a life of prayer and penance.
All four of the diocesan hermits in Little Rock had some exposure to religious life, she said.
“I think religious life is helpful in the hermit life because of the formation experience, and it develops discipline,” Weaver said.”
“Catholic men and women 30 years and older can become diocesan hermits, but this way of life is often unknown or misunderstood.
To be a hermit one has to have developed a plan of life, which includes how he or she will live in prayer, penance and work. The four hermits currently in the diocese [of Little Rock] are retired and live on Social Security and other funds. A potential hermit who was younger would have to have his or her own income through outside employment or freelance work, but the work must be “contemplative.”
The hermits must find and pay for their own “simple” housing. They leave their hermitage on a limited basis to go to church, get groceries and for appointments.
“Their dwelling should be simple with the basic necessities, where silence in solitude is possible, away from the noise and confusion of city life,” the policy also states.
Hermits take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, similar to a religious order brother or sister. They are encouraged to be faithful to Mass, adoration, reconciliation, Scripture reading, personal prayer and spiritual direction. Reading the Liturgy of the Hours daily is not required.
The diocese also developed a similar policy for consecrated virgins. Those who have had perpetual virginity can seek the approval of the diocese to be consecrated virgins, taking a vow of chastity before the bishop. They are recommended to go to Mass and recite Liturgy of the Hours, but they cannot wear a habit or veil.
Both Weaver and Menkhoff chose to wear a habit, which was blessed by the bishop during the Sept. 10 Mass, but it is not required. Menkhoff wears a full-length gray scapular when he attends Mass. Weaver will wear a brown or white tunic and full-length brown skirt and Tau cross around her neck.
“Being my age, I like a sign of the commitment for me,” Weaver said of her habit.”