29 Mar Listen and You will Live: Guidelines for the Establishment of a Hermitage or House of Prayer
“Listen, and you will live.” “Incline the ear of your heart.” The words of St. Francis of Assisi in his Letter to the Entire Order are an invitation to listen to Christ, “true Wisdom of the Father” (2LtF 67), whom the Friars Minor follow more closely through Religious Profession (CCGG 1§1). The invitation to listen is the way of salvation, the Word calling us both to physical listening and to obedient interior listening — the journey of the disciple called to incline the ear of the heart. This way, when undertaken by each Friar and Fraternity, leads us to live the Gospel, praising God and witnessing to him in word and deed.
It is against this background that the General Definitory, working with the Order’s “Commission on Prayer and Devotion” and with the help of various Friars, has prepared Guidelines for the Establishment of a Hermitage Fraternity or a House of Prayer, in accordance with Decision 7 of the 2015 General Chapter. This resource material does not claim to be a comprehensive and definitive work on the subject of hermitages and houses of prayer, or on Christian and Franciscan approaches to prayer and contemplation. It does not offer directives regarding methodology, or give an historical study of hermitages in the Order, nor does it attempt to meet all the needs of the Entities in this area. Instead, it is a first approach to the topic, with the intent of starting a discussion, in individual Entities or at Conference level, which might lead to the establishment of a fraternity that gives first place to prayer.
Aware that the Order is a fraternity and in it, “the friars, as followers of St. Francis, are bound to lead a radically evangelical life, namely: to live in a spirit of prayer and devotion…” (CCGG 1§2), the content of the Guidelines tries to:
- provide a resource that will stimulate a deepening of the priority of prayer, so that “the spirit of holy prayer and devotion to which all temporal things must contribute” (LR 5: 2) might be more evident in the lives of the Friars Minor;
- find concrete ways so that, in accordance with the legislation of the Order (cf. SSGG 15§1), a Hermitage Fraternity or a House of Prayer might be established. For this reason, some worthwhile elements from the Rule for Hermitages are provided, which have the potential to enrich the prayer life of every Friar and Fraternity.
While, in harmony with the faith of the Church, we believe that “in His goodness and wisdom, God chose to reveal Himself”, and that “out of the abundance of His love, He speaks to men and women as friends and lives among them, so that He may invite them and take them into fellowship with Himself” (DV 2), nevertheless, as well as in words, God is also revealed in silence. Scripture attests to this in the passages concerning Elijah the prophet (cf. 1 Kgs 19:11-13) — God is revealed to the prophet in a voice of silence, not in the wind, nor in the earthquake, nor in the fire, but in the silence, in the “whisper of a gentle breeze”. Thus, the prophet Elijah learns that the living God is also the God of silence and hiddenness.
In short, word, silence and solitude are essential for Religious Life in Hermitages, just as it was for Francis of Assisi and throughout the fertile history of the Order. Today, too, we need to ensure that priority is given to these qualities in the life of the Friars Minor, wherever it is lived. For this reason, these Guidelines are addressed to all the friars of the Order. In fact, it is essential to “maintain silence” (RH 3) in order to enter into a place of communication and communion with God. It is only by means of outward and inner silence, both of which require times and places of solitude, that we can listen and receive not only the Word, but also the presence of the One who speaks, so we may obey the voice of the Son of God and bear witness to all people that “there is no one who is all-powerful except Him” (cf. LtOrd 7-11).
Preliminaries and Methodology
These Guidelines seek to help the universal fraternity deepen “the spirit of prayer and devotion”, so that each entity may arrive at concrete recommendations leading to the establishment of a Hermitage Fraternity or House of Prayer. In addition, we hope that this resource can be a general guide, stimulating in all the friars a rediscovery of the beauty of prayer which is a fundamental dimension of our Order.
Decision 7 of the 2015 General Chapter specifies the content of this resource material:
“By means of the publication of Guidelines and an indication of concrete steps to be followed, the General Definitorium is to encourage each Entity, or at least each Conference, to set up a community as a hermitage or a house of prayer (cf. SSGG 15, §1), particularly devoted to the life of prayer and devotion. The Friars are to be given permission to dedicate time and formation to a style of Franciscan prayer that may also be of assistance to other fraternities.”
The work required is not easy; in fact, difficulties immediately present themselves in regard to understanding, diversity, and plurality. These aspects influence our lives, the Gospel, and the experience of living our charism, expressed in different ways and informed by individual culture and personal formation.