It was 25 years ago today that I stood up in the St. Mary’s chapel and, along with my seven classmates, promised to live in ‘poverty, chastity, and obedience, according to the Madonna House spirit and mandate.’
While the MH community will celebrate our jubilee later in the summer (today’s focus being those making their promises now), this is the actual anniversary of my commitment to this community and spirit.
And it was nearly five years ago that I began this blog, first as a vehicle to bring the writings of Pope Benedict to a larger audience, later taking other forms.
Today’s blog post is my final one, due in an indirect way to the promise of obedience that I made 25 years ago. I have not been put under obedience to stop blogging, but I have been given a new assignment in MH that will require me to stop this particular apostolate for the sake of what I am being asked to do now.
The day after tomorrow, I will be moving from the priest staff house where I have lived off and on for the past 15 years, into the poustinia of Our Lady of Combermere on Carmel Hill. (For those reading this who know MH well, this is the poustinia built for and occupied for many years by Fr. Patrick McNulty.) I am going to be a poustinik, and this, simply, changes everything.
What is a poustinik, some may ask? The Russian word ‘poustinia’ literally means ‘desert’; a poustinik is a ‘desert-dweller’. A Russian style poustinia is a simple one-room house, sparsely furnished and minimally adorned, where one goes to pray and be fast and be silent before the Lord.
Many MH members make a weekly poustinia; some are called to live in poustinia and dedicate themselves to this way of prayer and silence more completely.
Practically, this means I will be completely in prayer and solitude three days each week. The remaining four days of the week will begin and end in poustinia (I will be living there full-time, in other words) but be otherwise spent out in the community doing my usual priestly ministry—spiritual direction, celebrating Mass, preparing talks, and the like.
When I was given this new assignment, which factually is an entirely new way of life for me, it was immediately clear that I could not enter into the kind of silence and prayer I am being asked to do and still be writing and interacting in the public sphere of social media as I have been. So in addition to my blog ending, I will also shortly be deactivating Facebook and Twitter and essentially leaving all of that behind.
As someone pointed out to me, the author of the book I-Choice on the perils and challenges of technology is now, well, choosing! I have come to believe for some time that the real and necessary work of our times with all their challenges and anguish is to be fundamentally spent on our knees before the Lord, and not before a computer monitor. Now I am being asked to act on that conviction.
I realize that there are many who will miss this blog sorely—I have been told as much by the few people I have mentioned all of this to. Well, I am sorry about that, and I am very grateful that my writings have been of some help to some people. But, ya gotta go where the Lord sends ya, and do whatever He tells ya, right? And I have absolutely no doubt that this is God’s will for me right now.
I am very happy and excited about this move into poustinia—it has been my heart’s desire for some years, but in all honesty I did not expect it to happen for many years yet to come. When my director general told me that this was his assignment for me, it came as an absolute shock… and a great joy.
What is on my deepest heart about all of this can be best expressed in verses from the mystical poetry of St. John of the Cross that I have always cherished, that probably, when I first read them many years ago, planted the seeds of this new life in my heart. I do not claim the lofty heights of these lines for myself—I am no John of the Cross. I am a lot closer to being a mistake than a mystic!
Nor do these lines entirely apply to me—I will still have flocks and work, for example, still have priestly ministry and directees and such. But these verses are nonetheless the deepest aspiration of my heart. They capture for me the scope, the ambit, the goal of what I am being called to in becoming a poustinik priest in Madonna House. Here they are:
Forever at his door
I gave my heart and soul. My fortune too.
I've no flock any more,
No other work in view.
My occupation: love. It's all I do.
If I'm not seen again
In the old places, on the village ground,
Say of me: lost to men.
Say I'm adventure-bound
For love's sake, on purpose, to be found.
And so, as I am (please God) found at last by Love in the silence of God in the poustinia, I pray that I will find all of you there, too, in the mysterious communion of the Mystical Body of Christ. Please know that I will be praying for all of you, and for the whole world, and offering my life daily there for that intention.