Tag Archives: charity

Home for a Hermit: Announcing “Friends of Little Portion Hermitage”

I’m honored to announce that I’m now serving on the board of directors for a new charitable organization, Friends of Little Portion Hermitage or “FLPH” for short.  A few months ago, Kevin Lowry and Jon Marc Grodi from The Coming Home Network International approached me about setting up a non-profit, with the goal of establishing a permanent hermitage for Franciscan hermit Brother Rex Anthony Norris, and whoever eventually succeeds him in the eremitic life in the Diocese of Portland, Maine.  Brother Rex is a blogger and prayer warrior who may already be known to some of my readers; if you do not know of him yet, you soon will.

In his blog post below which you can also read on his site, Kevin lays out who Brother Rex is, what he does, and our goals for establishing a permanent hermitage.  There are also links at the end of the post to interviews with Brother Rex, so you can read some of his own words as he describes his spiritual journey, and why he chose to become a hermit.  I can say from personal experience that over the past few years, Brother Rex has been an outstanding source of inspiration and encouragement for me personally, through his prayers, his good humor, and his encouragement.

On Monday, April 7th, Brother Rex will appear as a guest on “The Journey Home” on EWTN, sharing his conversion story, why he chose to live the life of a hermit, and what his life as a hermit entails.  FLPH will follow up on this appearance through social media, beginning with an exciting collaborative project which will include a number of individuals likely well-known to those of you in the Catholic world.  In the meantime, please visit and bookmark our site, LittlePortionHermitage.org, both to see Brother Rex’ regular blog posts, and to keep up to date with what he and FLPH are up to.

I am honored and deeply humbled to have been asked to be a part of FLPH.  Anyone who loves Church history knows that down the centuries, it has been ordinary Christians like you and me who have looked after the very basic, temporal needs of those in the eremitic life.  We may not all be called to follow the exact path that Brother Rex is on, but everyone is called upon to draw into closer union with God, through prayer and self-denial.  The life of the hermit is a profound imitation of the life of Christ, and one which is worthy of our support.

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Home for a Hermit

March 17, 2014

by Kevin Lowry

Br Rex This is Brother Rex Anthony Norris, or Br. Rex for short. He’s a hermit.

Yes, a real, live hermit.

So what does a hermit do? Well, suffice it to say that what is referred to as the eremitic life is a vocation, and has to do with what the Church calls assiduous prayer.

He prays. A lot.

Br. Rex is something of a walking contradiction. You might reasonably think that a hermit experiences some level of solitude as part of his (or her) vocation (yes, there are women hermits too). And you would be correct.

What doesn’t show up on paper, though, is that the guy is a total crack up. He’s hysterically funny, with a tremendous sense of humor and thoroughly infectious laugh. Simultaneously, he’s a deeply committed prayer warrior, who spends countless hours in intercessory prayer and takes his vocation extremely seriously.

You definitely want to be on this guy’s prayer list.

In knowing Br. Rex for the past couple years, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve called when things were rough, knowing he would take my prayer requests to his daily Holy Hour and hold them before our Lord. In fact, my debt of gratitude became so great, that a couple friends (the esteemed Jon Marc Grodi and Billy Newton) and I started a non-profit organization called Friends of Little Portion Hermitage to “support the worship of God, the eremitic life, Christ-centered solitude, contemplative silence, intercessory prayer and the spiritual works of mercy.”

Br Rex 1

Our vision is very much in line with the above: “Through the generosity of our donors, Friends of Little Portion Hermitage seeks to provide for the temporal needs of Little Portion Hermitage and the hermit who resides there. We believe consecrated life to be essential to the spiritual well-being of the Body of Christ, most especially the witness of those in consecrated life whose lives give first place to prayer for the glory of God, the good of the Church and the salvation of the world.”

So here’s where you come in. Br. Rex was lamenting to me the other day that he hasn’t received many prayer requests through the website we set up, littleportionhermitage.org – and that’s an opportunity.

At the same time, Friends of Little Portion Hermitage would like to purchase a modest hermitage for Br. Rex and his successors. Thankfully, he lives in a part of Maine where land and buildings are inexpensive, but we still need at least $50,000 to make things livable – even for a hermit.

Would you help us? Please stop by littleportionhermitage.org and send Br. Rex your prayer requests. It will make him happy, and these intentions will be treated with the utmost respect and confidence.

Also, if you can afford to make a donation towards the home for a hermit project, we would appreciate it ever so much. Let’s keep Br. Rex in prayer – and facilitate his prayers for us. Thank you for your support!

Special note: We’re happy to announce that Br. Rex will be appearing on EWTN’s The Journey Home program on Monday, April 7 at 8:00 p.m. EST. Hear the story of Br. Rex’s conversion to Christ and His Church!

For more information on Br. Rex, please see:

http://chnetwork.org/2014/02/interview-with-brother-rex/ and

http://gratefulconvert.com/hangin-with-a-hermit/

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The Man Behind the Avatar

Recently I have been thinking a great deal about those engaged in social media, particularly those who feel hurt or isolated in some way.  Some of these people turn to social media for an outlet, to make connections to help them with their troubles, and some turn that hurt into motivations to attack others.  So yesterday I posted a question to my Twitter followers, asking whether they would follow or befriend someone on social media out of a sense of charity.  I was surprised to receive a huge range of responses, and these generally fell into two camps.

The overwhelming majority of those who responded said they would not connect with someone, such as following them on Twitter or befriending them on Facebook, simply because they seemed a bit out of place and had few connections.  To do so was described, among other things, as potentially patronizing, or encouraging stalker behavior, particularly because the more active one becomes in social media, the more often one does not actually know all of the people with whom one interacts online in real life.  These respondents indicated that while they might be willing to interact with someone who appears to be alone or friendless, a feeling of empathy alone was viewed as too transitory a basis for creating a relationship that in the end could not hope to be real.

The other, much smaller group of respondents, suggested that connecting with someone who seemed shy, lonely, or non-adept when it came to using social media, was a good thing, but needed to be considered on a case-by-case basis.  Pity was not seen as a legitimate reason to establish an online relationship with someone else, in this view, but it was however legitimate to consider whether a great deal of good could be done to encourage someone else by making such a connection, provided there were other commonalities.  Apart from celebrities, of course, most people get their start on social media platforms with few connections, and so as was rightly pointed out, everyone has to start somewhere.

In the end though the single best response I received was one which does not answer the question I began with, but which goes to the heart of the matter: we have to remember that each of these accounts is run by a human being.  Whether the person is famous and has thousands of friends or followers, or whether they have no friends or followers at all, or even if they are a troll, i.e. someone attacking others online for whatever reason, these are all our brethren, with souls and consciences, thoughts and feelings, needs and wants.  After a fashion, this even includes the infamous Twitter spambots, i.e. those accounts set up to automatically send links to how one can get a cheap mortgage from some bank in Vietnam or how one can purchase a bride from Russia.  Even if those spam-sending accounts are automated, they were of course set up by human beings.

Unless one feels a compelling need to go out and minister online to those who are lonely, in sorrow, and so on – and I know some who in fact do this – most of us are not called upon to befriend, follow, or connect with everyone online who happens to reach out and connect with us in some way.  That would be decidedly odd, and ultimately unsustainable.  However it is also decidedly too easy, through the anonymity of the internet, to treat each other as though we were androids.

None of us are going to achieve perfection on social media – whatever that might look like – any more than we are in real life.  We do not have to always accept social media connections out of charity, any more than we always have to sit idly by and allow someone to spout untruths or insults at us without responding to them.  Whatever your problem is, if you bring it to me online in social media, the way that you bring it to me is going to determine, at least to some extent, how I respond to you.  Hopefully I do so with charity, or where necessary with some aspect of restraint, but let’s face it: both of those can be difficult, at times.

That being said, recalling the fact that behind each of these accounts is an individual, ought to give us at least a moment’s pause.  We ought all, this scrivener included, to take a bit more time for the sake of civility to try to think of a measured response, whether we are expressing support or criticism.  This is not a responsibility to be taken lightly, because if each of us active on social media is, in effect, a creative contributor, then we ought equally to be aware that what we put out into the world has consequences.  Sometimes the consequences can include drawing people to do us, and sometimes the exact opposite.

Being aware of this fact, then we must also be aware that if the medium drags down the culture, because it is not being well-used by ourselves and others, then surely it is our job to try to pull it back up again.  Perhaps a kind word to the fellow with 5 followers, or a restrained word to the fellow with 10,000 who is spouting garbage, may be a far better response than either ignoring or simply blindly attacking. These are not simply avatars who type, but human beings just like ourselves.

Baucis

“Baucis’ Landscape” by René Magritte (1966)
Menil Collection, Houston

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I’m Auctioning Off My 100,000th Tweet for Charity

If you follow me on Twitter, then you may be aware that after several years on said social media site I am rapidly approaching my 100,000th tweet.  Normally this would be an achievement of dubious distinction – though I am friendly with people who have had two and three times as many tweets.  However I have decided to put this opportunity to good use.

Thanks to a suggestion from my good friend, the redoubtable American Papist, I am going to auction off my 100,00th tweet for charity.

Here are the rules:

1.  I will reserve my 100,00th tweet for the auction winner, and will post whatever tweet you want.  Your only restrictions are to please keep it clean, unoffensive, and under 140 characters.

2.  Think creatively! For example, you might want me to wish someone a happy birthday or anniversary; promote your business or blog, or just have me say something amusing and unexpected.  You are only limited by your imagination and by generally accepted standards of good taste.  The resulting tweet will reach not only my Twitter followers, but also readers of my blogs, and listeners to the Catholic Weekend show.

3.  Bids are in $5.00 increments.

4.  To bid, please tweet to me at @wbdnewton using the hashtag #100KBilly.  If you are not on Twitter, get someone who is to bid on your behalf.  You will then be able to do a search for that hashtag or look on my timeline to see what the current high bid is.

5.  For the sake of clarity, I will also periodically announce the highest current bid both on Twitter and via updates on this blog post.

6.  The auction will end at 12:01 AM Eastern on this coming Saturday, February 9, 2013.

7.  The winner will be announced on the “Catholic Weekend” show at 10:00 AM Eastern on Saturday, February 9, 2013, as well as on Twitter and this blog.

8.  The charity to benefit must be one which we can both agree to.  Ideally I would like to help a Catholic charitable organization, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, who have homes for the elderly poor in cities around the U.S. and all over the world.

Even if in the end my tweets are only worth two or three bids, I will be beyond happy.  To have the opportunity to help out a worthy cause in a creative way, rather than just let this moment pass by, is a great privilege.  Thank you in advance both for your readership, and for your generosity to those in need.

LSotP

The Little Sisters of the Poor care for the impoverished and elderly
in many cities across the U.S. and around the world

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AUCTION UPDATE: 2/7/13 6:30 pm Eastern

Current Leader: https://twitter.com/albertagooner/status/299633028207087617

Current High Bid: $150.00

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AUCTION UPDATE: 2/7/13 4:00 pm Eastern

Current Leader: https://twitter.com/PatGohn/status/299620996636356608

Current High Bid: $100.00

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AUCTION UPDATE: 2/6/13 6:30 pm Eastern

Current Leader: https://twitter.com/annie3592/status/299278232870592512

Current High Bid: $75.00

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AUCTION UPDATE: 2/6/13 5:00 pm Eastern

Current Leader: https://twitter.com/mariannasipod/status/299260614692438016

Current High Bid: $60.00

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AUCTION UPDATE: 2/6/13 1:30 pm Eastern

Current Leader: https://twitter.com/mariannasipod/status/299212743507050497

Current High Bid: $50.00

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AUCTION UPDATE: 2/6/13 12:00 pm Eastern

Current Leader: https://twitter.com/bymags/status/299182762664005632

Current High Bid:  $25.00

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The Throwaway Bread

Since we’ve been having such nice weather recently, the other day I went to a local cafe for lunch, so that I could sit outside and enjoy the sunshine.  I ordered a large bowl of potato and leek soup, which came with a very lovely bread roll.  This was not the sort of hard, inedible thing you get at a wedding reception or charity dinner, but rather a beautifully shaped, crusty, oblong bread, something like a miniature baguette.

I had just sat down to eat my soup outside at one of the cafe tables, when a woman came up to me off the street.  “Can you buy me something to eat?”, she asked.  Not having any money to hand, I offered, “Well, I could give you my bread,” since I had not even touched the beautiful little loaf yet.  The woman then picked up the bread, looked at me with something which I can best describe as disdain, turned around and threw the bread in the street.

Chances are, as you read the forgoing, your first reaction was to criticize this woman for a lack of gratitude.  Or perhaps your reaction was that I should have ignored her altogether.  Or perhaps you think it would have been better not to offer her anything at all, if I didn’t have any money I could give her so that she could go decide for herself what she wanted to eat.  Or you might have reached the conclusion that this poor woman was simply not right in the head, for if she was mentally “all there” and hungry, she would not have thrown away perfectly good food.

All of these things are possible ways to look at this incident.  However I don’t want the reader to spend too much time thinking about the motivations of this particular woman or of this particular scrivener.  Instead, I’d like you to think about a more important lesson that we might be able to draw from this experience.

When we think about it a little more deeply, isn’t what took place a rather striking example of what sin is like?  Throughout our lives, God always offers us what we need.  Too often, if what He offers us doesn’t conform to what we want, what do we do with it?  We simply throw His gift away, and move on thinking we will get something better from some other source.

Now before you or I or anyone else starts thinking, “I would never do something like that,” I would suggest that it is time for all of us to swallow a big dose of humility.  Go read about King David or St. Peter, and ask yourself: do I really think so highly of myself, that I am better than they?  If the answer is, “Yes,” then frankly you have some rather significant problems to work out in your little gray cells. For I assure you, far better men than you or I have simply thrown away God’s gifts many times, and indeed you and I are doing so far more often than we might care to think.  While this incident with the throwaway bread was an isolated one, I hope that what we can take away from it may be beneficial to many of us.

As a matter of fact, this story has a terrific application for the immediate future.  Over the next few weeks, we are going to spend a great deal of time asking and answering the question, “What do you want?”, as we go about buying things for one other.  Yet how many of the things we say we want, are also things that we actually need? This something all of us should be thinking about, not just during the materialist nightmare known as the “Holiday Season”, with all of its meaningless excess, but more importantly as we consider the meaning of the spiritual nature of this time of year, which is of far greater importance than anything we may give or receive.

pan
“Basket of Bread” by Salvador Dalí (1926)
Salvador Dalí Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida

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Bring Warmth to Someone

It is difficult to say exactly what it is about the autumn that makes many of us go into a kind of social hibernation.  It may be the angle of the sun as it skims lower along the horizon which reminds us of time flying past, or the curl of the leaves as they turn brown and rustle off the trees to the ground.  With less sunlight, shorter days, and colder temperatures, you would think that, logically, human beings would seek to come closer together to share warmth and solace.  Only nowadays we don’t tend to do this: we bundle up and go off to our respective hobbit holes, which may be nice and snug, but they are not very communal.

If you happen to have more than one pet, or have observed how animals on a farm behave, they tend to stick together, particularly when it is cold and dark, for warmth and companionship.  Yet for all the time we humans spend together outdoors in summer, as soon as the season turns we begin retreating indoors and into ourselves.  Were it not for holidays, many of us would have little in the way of non-work-related interaction at all: and some of us will not have any even then.

It has long been said that one reason the Scandinavians were such early pioneers in mobile phone technology was because they were so isolated from one another during the long winters that ravage their region.  We can all associate in our minds the concept of Scandinavian people wanting to be by themselves, even in harsh weather.  Yet as it turns out this is not really much good for the descendants of the vikings, or indeed for any of us.

The world of cinema is a good way to see this.  The legendary Swedish-American film star Greta Garbo did not actually want to be alone, as it turned out, she wanted to be left alone – but in her case, the reputation established about her ended up isolating her, making a Garbo sighting in New York something like seeing a fluke of nature rather than a human being.  In the wonderful Danish film “Babette’s Feast”, we see how the villagers’ cottages are all huddled together for practical protection, but they are generally such reserved and quiet people that they make no connection with one another outside of church, until the charity of a French cook brings them all, at least for an evening, together into warmth and love, despite the cold.  And in the Norwegian film “Kitchen Stories”, men in an isolated farming community in Norway are so desperate for basic human affection and companionship, that for much of the film they cannot even bring themselves to say so.

Autumn and winter holidays are all very well, but they are one day affairs, and the nights are now going to be long and cold for quite a few months up here in the Northern Hemisphere.  Perhaps as this season proceeds you will consider ways that you can reach out to others in unexpected ways, by offering to drop by or asking them to come over, or even just picking up that mobile device as intended, to make the darker hours pass more easily.  Those with families can bring those without into their circle, for example, or three or four individuals can make an effort of getting those individuals together to share some time in both talking and listening.

In serving others in this way, not only will you be doing good for someone else, in making the dark time of year seem a bit less dark, but you may also be doing yourself a very good service in turn.


Couple Having a Meal Before a Fireplace
by Quiringh van Brekelenkam (c. 1650)
Private Collection

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