A Reflection from Fr. Peter
St. Francis is often considered a patron saint of animals and the environment. While that is true, he did love all of creation, his life is much more than just about animals and nature. St. Francis was a person of very deep prayer. He often spent months secluded away in prayer. He was so dedicated to taking time away to pray that he even wrote directions on how to live in a secluded way. Around 1220 (800 years ago) Francis of Assisi wrote “A Rule for Hermitages”. I believe that this Rule for Hermitages can offer us some important wisdom for these times of quarantine and social distancing. Let’s face it, in some way each of us is at home living like a hermit.
Francis said that those living in hermitage should be about three or four. These hermits should then take turns being for one another “the mother”. The mother should keep the life of Martha and “the children” should keep the life of Mary (from Luke 10:38-42). When it seems necessary the “mothers” can go out to gather food. Francis instructed that while in a hermitage the hermits may periodically switch roles from being “the mother” or caretaker of the others to being one who is focus on prayer alone. He also tells us that the hermits ought to “strive to observe conscientiously and eagerly” the needs of the other hermits.
St. Francis also says, “And they may not permit anyone to enter [their hermitage]… [let the hermits] strive to stay far from everyone because of obedience to their leaders.” This sounds a whole lot like social distancing to me. While this reflection is meant to be somewhat lighthearted I do think there is some deep wisdom here. As many of our are experiencing so much more time at home with our families the idea of taking turns to look after the needs of each other is essential. We are discovering that it takes a lot of work to live in a hermitage. This can be a very stressful experience. We all love our families but too much of a good thing can be very hard.
The point is this; our homes have been turned into hermitages and we are [almost] all hermits now. Living like a hermit and caring from one another is a real and concrete thing. If we are going to live peacefully in our “social distancing hermitages” we have to be deliberate about taking turns in caring for each other and looking after each other’s needs. If in our home/hermitages we share the work of caring then we each will have the ability and time to focus on whatever else takes up our attention at this moment.
I know that this doesn’t apply to the many essential workers who are keeping our society going. This especially doesn’t apply to the medical professionals who are heroically caring for those stricken by this pandemic. But if it does apply to you then you might consider part of your job as a social-distancing-hermit to pray for those who are in harms way serving the rest of us.
Father Peter Tremblay has been the Associate Chaplain for Catholic Life since 2016. He is a member of the Franciscan religious community and was ordained a Catholic Priest in 2012. Peter served as an associate pastor at St. Paul Church in Kensington, CT as well as a theology and philosophy teacher at Archbishop Curley High School in Baltimore, MD.
Peter earned a Masters of Divinity degree from the Washington Theological Union in 2011. He works hard to advance the multifaith work of the Truitt Center especially Jewish and Catholic interfaith activities.