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One of the funny accusations against me is that I’m not a good hermit precisely because I’m teaching people online or doing street evangelization (or, for example, today I am the roll of sub-deacon at a wedding.). As I have written before, a hermit in the tradition of the Church is simply one who lives-alone. It does not mean he refrains from talking to people or refrains from ministry. A cursory read of the life of my middle-name’s saint, St. Jerome, will tell the story of a cave-dwelling hermit who was critcized even by St. Augustine for talking to too many people. (St. Jerome had no problem rebuking him right back!)
Recently, I came across this quote in the book Saints are Not Sad, by Frank Sheed, describing the early Irish monks: “Unlike the homes of St. Benedict, an Irish monastery was never a mere asylum from the tumult of the world. Rather it was a citadel, “a base of operations,” from which the soldier of Christ could conduct his campaign in the surrounding territory.”—”St. Columcille,” by Raymond O’Flynn. This was from a chapter on St. Columcille, describing the Irish monks of the 6th and 7th centuries. Unlike the monks of Egypt or Italy, the monks and hermits of Ireland saw their contemplative ventures as a life to overflow into the missions of evangelization. Bands of Irish monks with white woolen habits, tonsures from “ear-to-ear” (and even Braveheart-like blue-paint on their eyelids!) would go as soldiers of Christ into mainland Europe, whipping the lax Catholics of places like Milan into something closer to the zealous Celtic version of Catholicism.
An Irish monk of the 7th century saw his contemplative little huts as, again, what Mr. O’Flynn described: “a base of operations from which the solder of Christ could conduct his campaign in the surrounding territory.” So, while I understand that my enemies online don’t like what I say in my fight for Church reform, they have little basis in tradition to stop a hermit from the fact that he is saying things. Then again, my enemies care not for full real tradition of the Catholic Church at all. But I am writing this so that you, my friends, may know that the Catholic Church—in her past—had many loud-mouthed monks and hermits.
Although my interior life comes nothing to the ascetical giants of my fellow Irish celibates of the 7th century, I am enthralled with the fact that everything on that Eire Island of Saints revolved around Christ and the total mystery of human life, as found in Raymond O’Flynn’s continued description of the monk “St. Columcille” leaving Ireland for missions in France and eventually Italy:
Whatever be the truth of the matter, some crisis occurred, when he was at the height of his success, to induce him to quit the land he loved. Adamnan suggests that his venture was a voluntary peregrinatio pro Christo. And we can well believe that the spirit of high adventure which sped his victorious ancestor Niall through Britain to the Loire, and in pursuit of which King Dathi died at the foot of the Alps, was urgent in the blood of the Christian priest. At any rate, in company of twelve others (the Irish, as a rule, conformed to the Apostolic pattern) he directed his course to “Alba of the ravens”—the leader of that intrepid army of peregrini who, with staff and satchel of books, clad in white woolen tunic, and having strange frontal tonsure from ear to ear, and eyelids tinted blue, were to make Europe resound for five centuries to the militiae Christi—the warfare of Christ…
For in no other people has the fusion of blood and religion been so natural or so complete. Some close affinities must have existed between the old Gaedhlic stock and the Gospel engrafted on it, when it burgeoned spontaneously into such luxuriant holiness. Already in the lifetime of their National Apostle [St. Patrick] “the sons and daughters of the Scots were becoming monks and virgins of Christ” in numbers unprecedented. That vivid Celtic imagination, which had peopled the countryside with preternatural agencies enabled them all but to visualize the unseen things of Faith. That dissatisfaction of soul which betrayed itself in wistful yearnings for the Land of the Ever-Young was readily transformed into Christian unworldliness. That ardent temperament—the perfervidum ingenium Scotorum, as it came to be called—speedily generated an army of intrepid apostles. That strange, almost mysterious influence, which made all who came into contact with them “more Irish than the Irish themselves”, bade fair to fill Europe with their spirit. And generally the work of grace in them looked less like a new creation than a new direction.