In the photo, Agnes Long looks drop-dead gorgeous. She’s on vacation at the Jersey shore with her husband. He is tall, tan and trim; she wears a zebra-stripe bikini, a floppy hat and sunglasses. The sea breeze has blown her platinum hair across her face and she is smiling. The picture says it all. In the mid-1970s, Agnes Long was a happily married, affluent, middle-aged woman with three children and a weakness for expensive clothes.
Today, Agnes Long is a Roman Catholic hermit. She lives alone in a thickly wooded section of Madeline Island, in northern Wisconsin. Her beloved husband is dead; she hasn’t seen her children in years. She wakes before dawn, prays throughout the day, eats small meals, works outside, makes religious paintings, and rises in the middle of the night to pray. Although she sees people when she drives her little truck to the grocery store or to mass, she has no one you might call a friend. And though she answers her phone when it rings, she doesn’t often engage in what you would call conversation. "I feel that my whole life has been in preparation for where God has me now," she says, as she slips the old photo back into the pages of her prayer book. "When you go into solitude, you find out who you really are."
Long’s life may look radical, but she is following an ancient path. Christianity has a long tradition of hermits, dating back to the third and fourth centuries, when Saint Anthony and thousands like him fled the hardships of the cities for the desolation of the Middle Eastern desert. There they fasted and prayed with the sole intent of getting closer to God. They believed stringent solitude would help them glimpse heaven; the pilgrims who visited them said they looked like angels. These ascetics are known as the Desert Fathers, and there is not a contemplative monk or nun in the world who does not treasure their legacy.
In recent decades, the word "hermit" has come to mean anyone who lives off the grid, from Emily Dickinson to the Unabomber, and the hermits following the ancient Christian tradition have been found mostly living on monastery grounds. Now a tiny but growing number of Catholics—regular people like Long, with children, marriages and careers in their pasts—are embracing the hermit life as it was conceived in the desert 16 centuries ago. They are choosing solitude, celibacy and asceticism in order to focus full time on God.
To accommodate their life choices, some dioceses have recently developed guidelines where would-be hermits go through a rigorous process that involves interviews, psychological testing and counseling. In the end, after taking vows similar to those of a priest or a nun, the hermit lives in isolation but maintains an official connection with a bishop. The number of these hermits is probably in the double digits, but that’s not the only route. Nine hundred people subscribe to Raven’s Bread, a newsletter for people interested in the hermit life, up from 700 last year, and many of them are leading some kind of ascetic exist-ence, says Karen Fredette, who coedits the newsletter with her husband. Most subscribers are Catholic, but some are Protestant and others are Hindu, Sufi and Buddhist.
…But things haven’t turned out exactly as planned. Agnes Long eats more meat than she intended, because her neighbors shoot deer and give her venison. She hasn’t been East in years; she speaks to two of her three children infrequently. She still lives on her Social Security check, and gets considerable help in the way of little favors from the people of Madeline Island who pitch in when she needs to use a fax machine. It’s a strange life. "The Desert Fathers say, ‘Go into your cell and it will teach you everything’," she says. And for her, that everything is profound, indeed. A decade of solitude has taught her, she says, that she is as broken as anybody and that God’s love is unconditional. [Source]
Pretty good article considering it is coming from Newsweek. No negative connotations about those becoming hermits. In my own diocese we have a mendicant brother who goes by the name Francis and I believe lives the life of a hermit. I often see him at Mass and I have heard from others that he will accept no money, only food. He wears a heavily patched habit made out of a rough material and he creates his sandals out of carpet fragments and carries a pack which probably contains a sleeping bag and a small tent. For me there is just something cool about seeing him at Mass or when I see him walking along the street when we are driving somewhere. A reminder of both the past and the present. A reminder also of those living a hidden life in contemplative prayer. Those that are intensely part of the Mystical Body of Christ that we don’t often see.