August 18, 2020

Three consonants, two vowels, and two numbers have caused monumental changes in our faith life and worship. This is obviously COVID-19.

The virtual attendance of the Sunday Liturgy, the staying at home for months on end and the unavoidable self-awareness have caused some to consider if we are living like hermits.

The short answer for most is “no” because we are far from the self-imposed desert state of life as some of the early desert fathers like the great Antony of Egypt.

The life of the hermit was to live for God and only for God in solitude. It seems that our experience of “solitude” is challenged by doing the opposite of the heremitic life. With unfettered access to technology, we are plagued by reading social media. We might read comments that enrage us or search for opinions that match our own to validate and live for our personal, worldly beliefs. We forget to live for God and only for God.

A hermit like Antony would never partake in such a process void of hospitality. Antony would need to be sure that it was avoiding sin and loving neighbor, as he stated, “For he who loves his neighbor, loves God and loves his own soul.” Embracing the eremitic way of life would necessarily imply that God is at the forefront of all we do and say.

This embrace would give our Lord authentic witness, as Thomas Merton reminds us that “hermits, like martyrs, are the most eloquent witness of the Risen Christ.”

If we desire to label our homes as hermitages, then there are consequences to everything that we do when we are inside the home. Whether that be cleaning, cooking, teaching our family, gaming, or posting on social media, we are doing it for God and God alone. A tall order to be sure but at the same time, an incredible goal to try to achieve.

We would live without intentionally divisive rhetoric, trolling and venomously combatting responses that don’t align with our own opinions.
We would learn to love our own soul in the same way that God loves our innermost person. Then the more significant challenge is moving that response to outside the home.

Antony was called out (some say dragged out) of the hermit way of life. He then became a great teacher, and people would seek his advice and wisdom. Antony enjoyed his life with others but was able to keep an inner solitude that continued his ever-present awareness of the command to love that Jesus so often displayed. Antony’s home was indeed his hermitage, but that home moved with him wherever he went.

Have you considered that you can embrace the tenets of the hermit life during COVID-19? Perhaps God is calling you to contemplate what it means to “love your own soul,” which, of course, is preceded by loving God first before all else.

Father Ray Cook, O.M.I., is director and chaplain at the Rice Catholic Student Center.