The Eremitical Life: A special vocation in the Church

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The following is the homily delivered by Bishop Rhoades at the Mass of the profession of perpetual vows of diocesan hermit, Sister Nancy Frentz, on July 11, 2016, the Memorial of Saint Benedict:

I remember many years ago as a seminarian visiting Subiaco, about an hour and a half drive from Rome. On the outskirts of the town, there is a large statue of Saint Benedict and a welcome sign that reads “Birthplace of Western Monasticism.” It was in Subiaco at the age of 17 that Benedict began his consecrated life and he began that life as a hermit. Later, many would follow him and he would found monasteries with communities of monks at Subiaco and later at Monte Cassino. But his consecrated life began as a hermit.

I remember visiting the monastery in Subiaco that was built around the original cave where Saint Benedict lived for three years as a hermit. Over the door of the entrance courtyard of the monastery is an inscription in Latin which translated reads:

“If you searched for the light, Benedict, why did you chose a dark cave? A cave doesn’t offer the light you desire. Why have you gone to darkness to seek radiant light?” The answer is inscribed: “Only in a profoundly dark night do the stars brightly shine.”
It was living in the solitude of that dark cave as a hermit that Saint Benedict was illumined by the light of Christ, enabling him to eventually go forth and to become the great Father of Western Monasticism. It was very special to me to spend some time of prayer and reflection in that original cave. There’s a white marble statue of a young Saint Benedict in the cave and also a fresco depicting a monk named Romanus who would bring food to Benedict each day, lowering a basket into the cave by a rope with a bell that alerted Benedict to its arrival.

It is good to recall Saint Benedict’s three years as a hermit today as Sister Nancy makes her perpetual profession of vows as a hermit. During those three years, Benedict was transformed through his prayer in solitude. He grew in wisdom and holiness through the Holy Spirit’s action in his soul. Sister Nancy does not live her eremitical life in a cold, damp cave and Sister Jane doesn’t lower a basket of food by a rope to provide her food. But Sister Nancy does, like Benedict’s original eremitical life, live most of her day in prayerful solitude to allow the Holy Spirit to act in her soul. We pray today that, like Saint Benedict, Sister Nancy will continue to grow in wisdom and holiness.

In the first reading today we heard a passage from the Book of Proverbs, one of the Wisdom books of the Old Testament. It speaks of searching for wisdom, knowledge, and understanding, like searching for a treasure. This search is important in our life, whatever our particular vocation. Yet, the hermit’s search is a witness to all of us where we will truly find wisdom since, as Proverbs teaches: “It is the Lord who gives wisdom. A person’s heart must be in the right place. The heart is the place of encounter, the pla