When Fr. Vince reminded me of "The Philadelphia Hermit" and his urban eremitic life, my heart leaped in my chest, the way the fetal John the Baptist jumped for joy in Elizabeth's womb when her cousin Mary came to visit, bearing John's cousin, the Saviour, in her womb. Richard Withers, who was officially inducted with the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience in 2001 by Cardinal Bevilacqua, became the first hermit the Archdiocese has ever accepted. This was made possibly largely by revisions made to Canon 603 in 1983 which allowed for bishops to recognized hermits in their diocese (traditionally, hermits are members of an monastic Order and not under diocesan jurisdiction). Withers lives in the ghetto in a rowhome and works one day a week at a company that manufacturers scientific instruments to allow him to live his minimal eremitic life. (photo: Br. Stephen, Mt. Saviour Monastery's resident hermit. He's nice, and funny too!)
Fr. Vince told me about the Philadelphia Hermit in response to my complaints in spiritual direction of being stuck in "some kind of purgatory," feeling that neither marriage nor cenobitic life had the potential to satisfy my longing for God, or as Withers said, ''[that] almost unremitting desire to be alone with God.'' It is so palpable, and so unforgiving in its persistence. But the joy that comes from even considering the possibility of following Withers example is overwhelming. Maybe it was no accident that I was consumed with the need to devise a way to actualize the possibility of this life for myself through the construction of the Urban Hermitage. Like Noah's Ark, the hermitage becomes the vessel of salvation; when the world is in flames thanks to our steady destruction of it over the centuries (global warming), I will not be there to watch it burn, having cast off, taking refuge in the unquenchable ocean of God Consciousness. It is almost too unreal to think about for too long, like looking at the sun with the naked eye; the joy is too great.