A short time ago, in the Maryland countryside, a priest the humble folk say bears a resemblance to Maximilian Kolbe turned on the ignition of his old silver pick-up and eased out of the parking lot of his St. Michael’s parish. He shifted into second gear and passed by a group of swollen-eyed parishioners standing by the Pennsylvania-fieldstone Marian grotto he had built for them a few weeks prior. The priest grinned behind his long, white beard, turned right, and drove past his neighbor’s strutting peacocks whose shrieks often interrupted his pre-dawn nocturns.
Fr. Martin Flum drove west until—poof—his high-mileage truck and faded MARY-land bumper sticker disappeared at a bend in the road.
He has vanished.
He will never be seen again. Those left standing in the parking lot—the same lot he repaved for them just a few days earlier, could finally cry. To most that day, it seemed a guillotine had split their soul—one half would hold memories, the other was left to mourn. The parishioners’ pinhole of consolation, though, was knowledge of Fr. Flum’s destination: their spiritual father, they knew, would soon begin to annihilate every level of comfort to spend the remainder of his life as a consecrated hermit, offering his life as a slave to Mary and her Fatima plea.
“No deep conviction is aroused in the incredulous until they see the scarred hands and the broken heart of the priest who is a victim with Christ,” Archbishop Fulton Sheen wrote. “The mortified priest, the priest who is detached from the world—these inspire, edify, and Christify souls.”
Fr. Flum is in a forest now, where he believes he may soon war with Satan; he will spend the remainder of his priesthood in the 11’ x 14’ cell he built on property owned by an order of cloistered nuns. The peal of monastery bells that marks his hours, marks his days of invisible union with God, can barely be heard through the thicket of tens of thousands of trees. He will spend the remainder of his days alone with God in silence.
For a long span in 2020-2021, the people of this town in Maryland—a town with no stop lights, where farmers plow fields and chop their own firewood, and night skies are choked with stars—felt they lived alongside a sacred heirloom; an old ghost in a faded cassock from more ordered days. Although Baden is scattered with hardy souls, townsfolk today still stop mid-sentence and stare into fixed points in space at the mention of Fr. Flum’s name. These humble Catholics know the uncalculated and unbroken care he gave them when bishops worldwide, startlingly, began to lock church doors when springtime flowers began to bud in 2020.
When Masses went dark, these startled country folk looked to their pastor, who they already regarded as a holy and uncommon priest. When the Catholic world caved, Fr. Flum smiled through that bushy white beard. The secret of his shepherding in those days will forever be buried in these country folks’ bloodstream, but one thing is clear: throughout the pandemic, they anchored themselves within the bosom of his fatherly care for them.
“He was a father to my soul when churches closed,” a former St. Michael’s parishioner said. “He began to take on what it seemed few other priests would. Without saying a thing, he led as a shepherd must. There seemed to be a holy intensity for his lonely flock.”
Fr. Flum’s spiritual work has become legendary because he didn’t allow the public denial of the sacraments to halt his work to sanctify the souls entrusted to his care. During the pandemic here, an alcoholic stopped drinking. A young man entered the seminary. A young lady began discerning religious life. An antagonized couple’s marriage was healed. A family was brought into the Church. The list runs on; all unfolding while church doors were locked.
It is true. Fr. Flum is gone now. In these bizarre days of canceled priests, he has, in a sense, canceled himself to abandon himself entirely to God. Many in the humble town, though, simply believe Fr. Flum has offered his life as a poured chalice of unceasing prayer and penance to help redirect a restless and suffering world. Although they agonize over his departure, they know why he made the decision: he felt a call within a call to offer himself as a holocaust to beg God’s mercy on His sin-stained Church and her lukewarm, and even fervent, clergy. An immovable icon of Fr. Flum now lives in his former parishioners. It is the image of a slaughtered lamb.
“[The priest] drags the whole of humanity to the altar, where he joins heaven and earth together,” Archbishop Sheen wrote. “It avails us not to be priests unless we are victims, for only those who die with Him will live with Him.”
Fr. Flum’s days begin beneath moonlight, usually at around 3 a.m. He makes the sign of the cross and recollects the passion of Christ to help him imitate the crucified Lord throughout the day. The first of his Liturgy of the Hours is much fuller, richer, and longer than the one prayed by almost all other clergy. The hermit is given more psalms and nocturns to pray and contemplate. His first office, if prayed with love, will unfold in an hour.
In an age when churches are emptying, Fr. Flum centered his priesthood on Our Lady of Fatima’s request for penances for poor sinners. His cell has no heat, plumbing, or electricity. A rain catcher captures his drinking water, a small garden provides his sustenance. Often, he’ll make all-night vigils until he curls his body for sleep before the monstrance. His entire “house” is a chapel no larger than your childhood bedroom.
Although the life of a consecrated hermit is largely lost from sight in the Catholic Church, Fr. Flum—like St. Dominic Loricatus, Pope Celestine V, St. Charbel, and others before him—believes that throughout Christendom, God has consistently cooperated with those willing to offer “invisible” acts of unceasing prayer, penance, and mortification.
“There is a description from a Church Father that there was a city caught up in sin—but it was left alone by demons, who instead attacked the monastery outside the city gates,” Fr. Flum said. “The demons knew they had to work harder to destroy the city by harassing and destroying the prayers of the monks who had offered themselves for that city.”