Collage of the life of the Little Brothers of Francis
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Franciscan Hermitages

 

From the very early days of the Church, there were both cenobites and hermits among the various groups of religious. The cenobites lived as monks in community life. The hermits lived in retirement to pray and meditate alone. So too, from the early days of the Franciscan Order, there were small hermitages where the Brothers could retire to give themselves more completely to a life of prayer and meditation.

Francis himself always felt drawn to remote places. Even as a young man, he liked to go with an unnamed companion to a grotto or cave near Assisi where they could talk undisturbed and where St Francis could pour out his heart to God. After he renounced the world at the court of the Bishop of Assisi, he spent the next several years living as a hermit and wearing the garment of a hermit.

When Francis and his eleven companions returned to the Spoleto Valley from Rome after their Rule had been approved in 1209, they first discussed among themselves whether they should live strictly as hermits or live a mixed life of prayer and preaching the Gospel. But even while they chose the mixed life of prayer and apostolate, Francis still wanted a number of places of retirement, called hermitages, where some at least of the friars could lead a life of seclusion and to which others could retire at least occasionally.

Thomas of Celano makes mention of such places a number of times, sometimes without giving their location, at other times speaking more precisely of the hermitages of St Urban, Sarteano, Rieti, Poggio Bustone, Greccio, La Verna and one even in Spain.

 
Brother Howard's hermitage
Brother Wayne's hermitage

Brother Howard's Hermitage

Brother Wayne's Hermitage

   

The Quest for Solitude

There are two sides to seeking solitude. There are those who are running away from something; and there are those who are running after something. The first are those who seek solitude as a relief from their frenetic and busy lifestyles in the city with its crowds, noise, the stress of the workplace and hectic social life. They seek times and places of solitude for rest and renewal. For them solitude is an end in itself.

Then there are those who seek solitude because they are running after something. Monks, nuns and hermits seek solitude in order to find someone.

My soul is athirst for God, athirst for the living God. (Psalm 42:2)

Dry as a thirsty land, I reach out to you. (Psalm 143:6)

We all know that, for concentration upon a given matter, a certain detachment from competing interests is necessary, both externally and internally. So solitude provides that environment for this to happen in our desire for a more intimate relationship with God.

Sometimes, when we approach a person and wish to speak with them personally, we will ask them "Are you busy?" or we will knock on the door of the office and ask "Are you alone?" meaning "Are you free and disengaged?". This is what is being sought in solitude.

The privacy of the room, to which our Lord bids us to go, and to shut the door to seek God's face in prayer has a depth beyond a warning against spiritual pride. The room, like solitude, is a necessary place of separation conducive to being attentive and focussed on Him speaking to us.

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