24 March 2015

March 25, Feast of the Annunciation (Reprise)

I wonder what the annunciation of Jesus' conception was really like factually, what the angel's message (that is, God's own mediated message) sounded like and how it came to Mary. I imagine the months that would have passed without Mary having a period and her anguish and anxiety about what might be wrong, followed by a subtle sign here, an ambiguous symptom there, and eventually the full realization of the inexplicable fact that she was pregnant! That would have been a shock, of course, but even then it would have taken some time for the bone deep fear to register: "I have not been intimate with a man! I can be killed for this!" Only over more time would come first the even deeper sense that God had overshadowed her, and then, the assurance that she need not be afraid. God was doing something completely new and would stand by Mary just as he promised when he revealed himself originally to Moses as: "I will be who I will be," --- and "I will be present to you, never leaving you bereft or barren."

In the work I do with people in spiritual direction, one of the tools I ask clients to use sometimes is dialogue. The idea is to externalize and make explicit in writing the disparate voices we carry within us: it may be a conversation between the voice of reason and the voice of fear, or the voice of stubbornness or that of impulsivity and our wiser, more flexible selves who speak to and with one another at these times so that this existence may have a future marked by wholeness, holiness, and new life. As individuals become adept at doing these dialogues, they may even discover themselves echoing or revealing at one moment the very voice of God which dwells in the deepest, most real, parts of their heart as they simultaneously bring their most profound needs and fears to the conversation. Almost invariably these kinds of dialogues bring strength and healing, integration and faith. When I hear today's Gospel story I hear it as this kind of internal dialogue between the frightened, bewildered Mary and the deepest, truest, part of herself which is God's own Word and Spirit (breath) calling her to a selfhood of wholeness and fruitfulness beyond all she has known before but in harmony with her people's covenant traditions and promise.

This is the way faith comes to most of us, the way we come to know and hear and respond to the voice of God in our lives. For most of us the Word of God dwells within us and only gradually steps out of the background in response to our fears, confusion, and needs as we ponder them in our hearts --- just as Mary did her entire life, but especially at times like this. In the midst of turmoil, of events which turn life plans on their heads and shatter dreams, there in our midst will be the God of Moses and Mary and Jesus reminding us, "I will overshadow you; depend on me, say yes to this, open yourself to my promise and perspective and we will bring life and meaning out of this; together we will make a gift of this tragedy (or whatever the event is) for you and for the whole world! We will bring to birth a Word the world needs so desperately to hear: Be not afraid for I am with you. Do not be afraid for you are precious to me."

Annunciations happen to us every day: small moments that signal the advent of a new opportunity to hear, embody Christ, and gift him to others. Perhaps many are missed and fewer are heeded as Mary heeded her own and gave her fiat to the change which would make something entirely new of her life, her tradition, and her world. But Mary's story is very much our own story as well, and the Feast of Christ's nativity is meant to refer to his being born of us as well. The world into which he will be brought will not love him really --- not if he is the Jesus our Scriptures and our creeds proclaim. (We bear this very much in mind during Lent and especially at the approach of Holy Week.) But our own fiat ("Here I am Lord, I come to do your will!") will be accompanied by the reassuring voice of God: "I will overshadow you and accompany you. Our stories are joined now, inextricably wed as I say yes to you and you say yes to me. Together we create the future. Salvation will be born from this union. Be not afraid!"

23 March 2015

What Specifically does the Church Hold you Responsible For?

[[Dear Sister Laurel, recently you wrote: [[Especially we do these persons no favors by encouraging them to embrace pretense in the name of the God of Truth. In the end to do that is to betray their deepest longings and treat them as though they are either too unimportant to God to be called to live a significant (meaningful) vocation, or simply too weak to bear the vocation God truly HAS extended to them. This is so because in the Church, standing in law ("status") is always associated with the gift and challenge of responsibility. We do not recognize a person's real dignity nor show genuine respect for them by extending  standing (much less allowing them to pretend to standing which is) without commensurate responsibility.]] I understand what you are saying here and I am beginning to understand why you are concerned about people who pretend to a status they don't actually have. What is hard to see clearly is what responsibility or responsibilities a hermit takes on. When you talk about [being a hermit] "in the Name of the Church" that refers to responsibility, I know that. But what specifically does the Church hold you responsible for? Is any of this based on the Bible or is it all about Canon Law?]]

Thank you for the questions.  Let me begin with the last one which I believe is critically important. I think there are very clear Scriptural precedents for the Church's insistence that standing is inevitably associated with commensurate responsibilities. One of the most vivid is the parable of the Prodigal Son/Merciful Father. Remember that when the younger Son demanded "the property that would be his at his Father's death" he very specifically does NOT ask to assume the responsibilities of inheritance. In fact he rejects these outright. Despite some English translations of the text, he asks for the "ousia", the very "substance" of the material or wealth portion of the patrimony that would come to him at his Father's death, but he does not use "kleronomia", the usual word for inheritance. This is significant because asking for the inheritance (kleronomia) necessarily includes acceptance of leadership for the family, their wealth, honor, and general well-being. In fact, it includes the pledge that one will give one's life for the family if need be.

Instead this son effectively wishes his Father was dead, separates himself from the family, sells off his portion of the property for cheap (he does not bargain as is typical in the Middle Eastern culture but liquidates things quickly for whatever he can get in the moment) thus leaving his family in reduced circumstances; he then squanders the proceeds of his impulsivity, greed, and lack of compassion in "riotous (exorbitant) living" among foreigners. He becomes rootless, a wanderer without value or responsible role, someone who has exchanged the lasting or eternal for the entirely ephemeral. (By the way, it should be noted that in Jesus' day calling someone rootless in this way was an unpardonable offense; making oneself rootless was incredibly degrading.) 

Meanwhile, skipping ahead in the story, when the younger son returns home in yet even greater disgrace he is restored to Sonship and will be honored by all the village as the Father's Son because of the robe, ring and shoes with which his Father has clothed him. In other words, he has been re-established as one with real responsibility within and for the family and the family's honor and wealth. With standing comes responsibility. To take what is due a Son and to do so while cutting all ties, betraying and sundering all relationships, and selfishly relinquishing all responsibility for one's family or the People of God is the very essence of sin in this NT parable. Despite some distorted approaches to spirituality, and the genuine limitations of life as a  hermit, I would argue one cannot do these things in the name of eremitical life either. That way lies the disedifying isolation of counterfeits and curmudgeons rather than the ecclesial solitude of the Christian hermit.

Canonical Standing and Responsibility:

 To accept canonical standing then (e.g., that which comes with public profession and//or consecration) is to accept the responsibility to act in whatever way one is commissioned by the Church to do in her name. The same is true with regard to Sacramental relationships and standing: Baptism (Sacraments of Initiation), Marriage, Ordination all come with specific responsibilities within the Church and for the very life OF the Church. In my own life the specific obligations include: 1) an ecclesial vocation lived as an integral part of the Church's own life and holiness governed by both universal and proper law, 2) an eremitical vocation whose nature is defined by canon 603 and other canons related to consecrated or religious life. It includes stricter separation from the world (those things contrary or even resistant to Christ as well as those things which promise what only God can promise), assiduous prayer and penance, the silence of solitude, the evangelical counsels and all those imply, life according to an approved Rule I write myself, and the supervision of the diocesan Bishop and those he delegates to act as legitimate superiors and/or delegates (quasi-superiors).

In all this I (and all diocesan hermits) are specifically responsible for living the eremitical life in the heart of the Church as a continuation of the prophetic life of the Desert Fathers, the pastorally significant lives of medieval anchor-ites, along with the hidden witness of so many other hermits, and for extending this rich tradition in ways which meet contemporary needs and speak to contemporary culture. 3) As a representative of these I am also part of a parish and diocese; I was called forth from their midst and professed and consecrated in their presence with them witnessing, supporting, and celebrating. As solitary as a hermit's vocation is it is ecclesial and so I live this life in my parish's midst and serve them and others as my eremitical life makes possible.

Bearing the parable of the Prodigal Son/Merciful Father in mind, as a Sister (that is, as a professed religious), I am responsible in various limited ways for dimensions of the life of this parish family. There is something similarly true with regard to the diocese as such though ordinarily this is expressed in my commitment to parish life, or, occasionally, in diocesan events and diocese-wide celebrations, funerals, etc. It always means the parish and diocese are kept in my heart and prayer, but it sometimes means speaking at other parishes in the diocese, doing an occasional presentation at Contemplative Outreach or similar groups in the area, regarding desert spirituality, eremitical life, contemplative prayer, etc. In any case I am responsible not merely to be a hermit, but to be a hermit in the heart of the Church and to appropriately allow the fruits of my own solitary contemplative life to nurture the life of the familiy I know as the local parish and diocesan Church.

In terms of the universal Church I really do feel the obligation to live a life which is truly an extension of the eremitical tradition which has been part of her life since the 4th Century and certainly was an element of Jesus' own life, that of John the Baptist, Elijah, etc. And even beyond the universal Church is the world-at-large --- also searching, hurting, and yearning. Every person comes to communion with God in an essential solitude and the hermit's life reminds them of this. At the same time some effectively marginalized persons especially need the example of the hermit's solitude to come to a sense that their own isolation, no matter the circumstances causing or exacerbating it, can be redeemed through such communion.

Canon 603 is very specific about the hermit living her life for the praise of God and the salvation of the world. Her own prayer --- intercessory and otherwise --- is very important here, but so is the entire solitary life she lives as a public person in the Church. The very hiddenness of the hermit's life is, paradoxically, actually part of her public identity and witness. After all, most of the struggle, love, work, and prayer we all do in our lives is hidden "from the eyes of men" and sometimes that can tempt us to abandon this for notoriety, etc. A hermit reminds everyone that this is unnnecessary and perhaps even illegitimate depending on what God wills in our lives. At the very least, the hermit's own life of essential hiddenness encourages patience and suggests a new way of seeing things. Especially it encourages us to see the dignity of our lives and the significance of whatever we do in and with God, no matter how ordinary or how hidden.

So I have a strong sense of responsibility in all of these ways. Moreover, as you very perceptively put the matter, the Church herself rightly holds me morally and legally responsible for living my life in these ways. Public profession and consecration establish a covenant between the individual professed and the Church more generally --- usually through an institute of consecrated life, but now with canon 603, through the hermit's diocese and local Bishop. The Church spells out some of this in the canon, but she fully (and rightly) expects the hermit who is publicly professed to concretize or make these obligations more specific in terms of her own prayer, study, reflection and response to the grace of God as it comes to her through the relationships that constitute her life. This is another reason it is very important that there be sufficient formation and mutual discernment before admitting someone to profession and (then) consecration under canon 603. Through canon 603 diocesan hermits give their lives to Christ and to those who belong to him in what is intended to be an irrevocable gift. Thus the Church that receives this gift needs to have the sense that the candidate has the necessary tools, sensibilities, maturity, and constitutive relationship with God and his Church to truly "flesh out" (or even incarnate) all of the potential which is profoundly embodied in this brief but richly pregnant canon.

Canonical or non-Canonical Hermits: Standing Comes with Responsibility, Rights with Obligations:

My own understanding of the Parable of the Merciful Father (aka Parable of the Prodigal Son) colors the way I see people who seek (or pretend to!) the status or standing of consecrated solitary hermits without accepting the responsibilities the Church associates with such standing. One's life in the Church always comes with commensurate responsibility. Standing as a publicly professed and/or consecrated person in the Church codifies such responsibilities in law. The Prodigal Son was given a robe, a ring, and sandals signifying his new standing in the family. It is not hard for the diocesan hermit to see or hear echoes of this story as the Bishop presents (or clothes her in) the prayer garment, eremitical tunic or scapular, and profession ring, or as he presents her a copy of his formal approval of her Rule which establishes it as binding on the hermit in law as well as morally.

Resonances of the Son's renewed acceptance of his place in protecting the patrimony of his family and People are not far from the hermit's heart when she makes her vows in the hands of the Bishop while resting them on the book of Gospels, or signs those same vows on the altar, or is congratulated and welcomed in her new standing by friends, family, and especially the whole parish community at the Eucharistic Feast. I would think the lay hermit who lives her eremitical life by virtue of her baptismal consecration alone might well perceive similar resonances with 1) her baptism which initiates her into the family of followers of Christ, 2) her anointing with chrism, 3) her clothing with the white baptismal garment, and 4) the giving of the baptismal candle which is accompanied with the commission to keep it burning brightly as a witness to others. In either case, and in all other instances of ecclesial commissioning, standing in the Church comes with responsibilities and rights are accompanied by obligations. The matter is both canonical and profoundly Scriptural but as I understand it, it is Scriptural long before it is canonical.

22 March 2015

What do you Like Best About Eremitical Life?

 [[Hi Sister Laurel, I wondered if you could explain what you like best about the eremitical life? Since you don't do a lot of active minis-try that would provide variety, I am assuming that is not a favorite part, so what is? Maybe this is not the best way to ask the question. I guess I am really wondering what part of your life is most enriching or what part you look forward to every day especially if every day is the same because of your schedule. I hope you can understand what I am asking here. Thank you.]]

Now that is a challenging question! It is not challenging because I don't know what I look forward to each day or really like, but because there is no one thing I like best. I guess saying that out loud gives me the key to answering your question then.  What I like best about eremitical life is the way I can relate to God and grow in, with, and through him in this vocation. This is also a way of saying I like the way this vocation allows me to serve the Church and world despite or even through the limitations I also experience. Each of the elements of my life helps in this and some days I like one thing more than another but still, that is because each one contributes to my encounter with God --- usually in the depths of my own heart --- in different ways, to different degrees, on different days.

So, on most days I love the silence and solitude and especially I love quiet prayer periods or more spontaneous times of contemplative prayer which intensify these and transform them into the silence of solitude --- where I simply rest in God's presence or, in the image I have used most recently, rest in God's gaze. It is here that I come to know myself as God knows me and thus am allowed to transcend the world's categories or judgments. Sometimes these periods are like the one prayer experience I have described here in the past. But whether or not this is true, these periods are ordinarily surprising, or at least never the same; they are transformative and re-creative even when it takes time to realize how this has been happening.

Another thing that I do each day which is usually something I really love is Scripture, whether as part of lectio or as a resource for study or writing. Engagement with Scripture is one of the "wildest rides" I can point to in my life. It is demanding, challenging, and often exhilarating. I have the sense that in hearing Jesus' parables, for instance, or other's stories about Jesus, or even the theological reflection of John and Paul, that I am being invited into a "living word" and enter a different world or Kingdom in this way. It always draws me in more deeply and even when I have heard a story or passage thousands of times before something speaks to me in a new way, leads to a new way of seeing or shows me something I had never seen before.

A third piece of this life I love and look forward to is the writing I do. Some of this is specifically theological and there is no doubt that my grappling with Scripture is important for driving at least some of my writing. Whether the writing is the journaling I do for personal growth work, the blogging I do which, in its better moments is an exploration of canon 603 and its importance, a reflection on Scriptures I have been spending time with, or the pieces which can be labeled "spirituality," they tend to be articulations of what happens in prayer and in my own engagement with Christ. One topic I spend time on, of course, is reflection on the place of eremitical life under canon 603 in the life of the Church herself. Since I am especially interested in the possibility of treating chronic illness as a vocation to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ with one's life with a special vividness, and since I have come to understand eremitical solitude as a communal or dialogical reality which is especially suited to the transfiguration of the isolation associated with chronic illness, etc, I write a lot about canon 603 and the solitary eremitical vocation.

A second area of theology I return to again and again is the theology of the Cross. I remember that when I first met with Archbishop (then Bishop) Allen Vigneron he asked me a conversation-starter kind of question about my favorite saint. I spoke about Saint Paul (wondering if perhaps I shouldn't have chosen someone who was not also an Apostle --- someone like St Benedict or St Romuald or St John of the Cross) and began to talk about his theology of the cross.  I explained that if I could spend the rest of my life trying to or coming to understand his theology of the cross I would be a happy camper. (I have always wondered what Archbishop Vigneron made of this unexpected answer!)

I saw incredible paradoxes and amazing beauty in the symmetries of the cross and I still discover dimensions I had not seen. Most recently one of these was the honor/shame dialectic and the paradox of the glory of God revealed in the deepest shame imaginable. I have written previously about God being found in the unexpected and even the unacceptable place. This paradox is a deepening of that insight. The Cross is the Event which reveals the source even as it functions as the criterion of all the theology we have that is truly capable of redeeming people's lives. It is the ultimate source of the recent theology I did on humility as being lifted up to be seen as God sees us beyond any notions of worthiness or unworthiness. My life as a hermit allows me to stay focused on the cross in innumerable ways, not only intellectually (reading and thinking about this theology), but personally, spiritually, and emotionally. That is an incredible gift which the Church --- via the person of Archbishop Vigneron --- has given me in professing and consecrating me as a diocesan hermit.

There are other things I love about eremitical life (not least the limited but still significant (meaningful) presence and ministry in my parish it makes possible or my spiritual direction ministry); these are also related in one way and another to the person I am in light of living contemplatively within the Divine dialogue I know as the silence of solitude. One of the things which is especially important to me is the freedom I have to live my life as I discern God wills.

Whether I am sick or well, able to keep strictly to a schedule or not, I have the sense that I live this life by the grace of God and that God is present with me in all of the day's moments and moods. It doesn't matter so much if writing goes well or ill, if prayer seems profound or not, if the day is tedious or exciting, all of it is inspired, all of it is what I am called to and I am not alone in it. This means that it is meaningful and even that it glorifies God. I try to live it well, of course, and I both fail and succeed in that, but I suppose what I love best is that it is indeed what I am called to live in and through Christ. It is the way of life that allows me to most be myself in spite of the things that militate against that; moreover it is the thing which allows me to speak of my life in terms of a sense of mission.  The difficulty in pointing to any one thing I most like about eremitical life is that, even if in the short term they cause difficulty, struggle, tedium, etc., all of the things that constitute it make me profoundly happy and at peace. I think God is genuinely praised and glorified when this is true.

I hope this gives you something of an answer to your question. I have kind of worked my way through to an actual answer --- from the individual pieces of the life that are most life giving to me to the reasons this life as a whole is something I love. One thing I hope I have managed to convey is that even when the schedule is the same day to day, the content is never really the same because at the heart of it is a relationship with the living and inexhaustible God. Your question focuses on the absence of variety and in some ways, the absence of novelty (neos). But really there is always newness rooted in the deeper newness (kainotes) of God.

Imagine plunging into the ocean at different points within a large circle. The surface looks the same from point to point but the world one enters in each dive is vastly different and differently compelling from place to place. So, following the same daily horarium, I sit in the same chair (or use the same prayer bench) to pray; I work at the same desk day in and day out. I open the same book of Scriptures and often read the same stories again and again or pray the same psalms, and so forth. I rise at the same hour each day, pray at the same times, eat the same meals at the same hours, wear the same habit and prayer garment, make the same gestures and generally do the same things day after day. There is variation when I am ill or need to leave the hermitage, but in the main it is a life of routine and sometimes even tedium. But the eremitical life is really about what happens below the surface as one opens oneself to God. It is the reason the classic admonition of the Desert Fathers, "Dwell (remain) in your cell and your cell will teach you everything" can be true, the only reason "custody of the cell" is such a high value in eremitical life or stability of place such a similarly high value in monasticism.

21 March 2015

Some Reflections on Why Canon Law is Important to the Diocesan Hermit

[[Hi Sister, have you always been interested in Canon Law? Do diocesan hermits have to have this kind of interest or knowledge? (Suppose I couldn't care less about this kind of stuff, could I still be a hermit?) One friend said that hermits usually don't care about laws, their freedom is contrary to that and everything I have read about hermits stress their freedom. Is there some way in which he is right or are consecrated hermits kind of "law and order types"? Are those hermits who do their own thing misrepresenting this vocation?]]

Have I always been interested in Canon Law? Nope, definitely not. My own interest is very limited and circumscribed, namely, it is confined to canon 603 and to the life defined there. In a broader sense that and my own history means being interested in the canons or religious life as well; after all many of those apply to the professed c 603 hermit, but I can't say canon law per se holds much interest for me apart from the life I have been commissioned to live in the name of the Church. Theology is a much more compelling and pervasive interest for me and my interest in this canon specifically often has to do with the theology it seeks to express and protect. Often this theology involves ecclesiology (theology of the Church) and the way individuals are made responsible for embodying theological truth.

Thus, my interest has also grown over time. It has been spurred by several ideas which are integral to canon 603, not least, 1) the ecclesial nature of the vocation, 2) the amazingly beautiful combination of non-negotiable elements and individual flexibility it codifies, 3) the responsiveness of this canon to history and its capacity to reflect and protect the solitary eremitical tradition as part of the Church's own patrimony, and 4) the lesson that canon law follows life and law serves love. I don't think we necessarily always see these things clearly in canon law (or any law for that matter) but we do see it in the case of canon 603. Especially important here and with regard to #1 above is the way the canon (and canonical standing more generally) creates stable relationships which are essential for ecclesial vocations. The idea that the canon legislates, establishes, and protects those relationships necessary to live this life well and in a prophetic way was tremendously surprising and impressive to me.

While canonical hermits do not usually need much of this kind of knowledge (we have canonists and Vicars who handle canonical details with regard to vows and other things), some, like myself, are interested to the degree that c 603 is new and codifies in universal law a new form of consecrated life. Thus, we tend to be interested in this canon, how it came to be, why it exists, and so forth, and some few of us reflect on the way the canon works in our own lives and the vocation more generally; as noted above we are interested in the relationships it establishes in law, the purpose of these, what we would be living apart from the canon and how it differs because of the canon and things like this. Because as hermits our need for legal recourse or canonical consultation is rare at best once we have been admitted to perpetual profession we are ordinarily otherwise completely free to follow our own Rule of Life without worrying about canonical matters. On the other hand, most of us do have an interest in the canon and its normative character when this is being denied or contravened publicly by folks pretending to represent consecrated eremitical life. In any case at least one diocesan hermit here in the US is a canonist working for a diocese so an interest in canon law is at least not antithetical to the eremitical life!

Am I a Law and Order Type?

I don't think I am particularly a "law and order" type, nor are most of the hermits I know. Of course we respect law and see its importance in society and the life of the Church. We are not antinomialists or anarchists. Rather, we recognize that c 603 is an historic canon and those I know do feel both honored and obligated to live our lives with a real cognizance of what is finally possible in universal law because of it. There is something really startling and humbling when one realizes one is part of a long-awaited and fought for extension of an ancient tradition into a contemporary situation, and therefore, that one is part of a relative handful of hermits now living a new ecclesial vocation in the name of the Church. Personally, I believe the eremitical vocation has the capacity to redeem (heal and give meaning to) the lives of many people who are isolated by life's circumstances and I feel proprietary about the significance of the canon for this reason as well.

Sister Ann Marie OCSO signs Solemn Vow Formula
Especially clear to me is that if the canon is to be used in this way however, it needs to be mediated by the Church and cannot simply be one more occasion of the divisive, individualist, "do your own thing" tendency of our modern world. As far as I can see, that tendency only leads to greater isolation and greater need for redemption. We all know how empty a life of merely "doing your own thing" can be. Imagine how that is exacerbated when one is already searching for meaning, or already feels isolated or as though they do not fit in! My own experience of this vocation says that whether lived canonically in the consecrated state or non-canonically as a hermit in the lay state, for instance, the eremitical life lived in the heart of the Church witnesses to a solitude which is dialogical and contrary to any individualistic isolation. Canon 603 recognizes this clearly when she defines the life as one "lived for the praise of God and the salvation of the world." If the eremitical vocation is allowed to be degraded into another instance of "do your own thing" or "don't give a damn about the Church's laws or decrees", etc, then we will have lost one of the really unique gifts of the Holy Spirit!

Misrepresenting Facts to the Vulnerable, A serious Pastoral Matter

Thus, when a person who neither understands canon 603 nor lives under it or in an institute of consecrated life, but still falsely claims to be a "professed religious" and "consecrated Catholic Hermit" while writing, [[Perhaps it is best for all of us, and maybe especially us consecrated Catholic hermits, to not get too caught up in the ins-and-outs of the temporal Catholic rules and laws and the raft of interpretations of those rules and laws]] it strikes me as particularly self-serving and pastorally insensitive. (Neither is it particularly accurate; a single  two paragraph canon is hardly a raft of laws nor is c 603 exactly a hotbed of interpretive controversy.) It especially says to me this person has not really understood the reason the Church takes care whom she consecrates and how, whom she professes in this or that vocation and why. In my experience people searching for a way to belong, a way to redeem their own isolation, a way to ensure the meaningfulness of their lives are legion in our world --- and perhaps especially in our culture. They are also more vulnerable to people offering a less difficult or at least more individualistic way to embrace religious life.

We do these persons no favors when we tell them to do whatever they wish, call themselves whatever they wish and never mind about the "temporal laws" of the Church. We do them no favors when we misrepresent facts, misread texts, or treat Canon Law as though it is an option we can ignore while arrogantly calling ourselves "consecrated Catholic hermits" and thus claiming under our own authority a designation only the Church herself can permit us to use. Especially we do these persons no favors by encouraging them to embrace pretense in the name of the God of Truth. In the end to do that is to betray their deepest longings and treat them as though they are either too unimportant to God to be called to live a significant (meaningful) vocation, or simply too weak to bear the vocation God truly HAS extended to them. This is so because in the Church, standing in law ("status") is always associated with the gift and challenge of responsibility. We do not recognize a person's real dignity nor show genuine respect for them by extending standing (much less allowing them to pretend to standing which is) without commensurate responsibility. In any case, while the institutional Church is not perfect, generally speaking she uses canon law to order and protect her charismatic life, not to stifle it. She uses law to make certain that freedom is not degraded into an irresponsible license. The diocesan hermit does something similar with her Rule and, of course, Canon law, legitimate superiors, and the other mediatory structures and relationships of the Church. These things ordinarily help INSURE the freedom of the hermit, they do not hinder it.

Authentic Freedom:

You see, authentic freedom is the power to be the persons we are called to be in spite of limitations and constraints. In the diocesan hermit vocation, or any vocation to the consecrated state in the Church God calls the person and that call is mediated through the structures of the Church. The charismatic dimension of the Church is always mediated in this way. Catholic hermits are not folks who simply do whatever they want (your friend's more commonly held sense of what it means to be a hermit sounds like more of a stereotype to me); they are persons who do what God wills; Catholic hermits are those who live an eremitical freedom (the will of God) as that is mediated not only in solitude, but in and through the structures of the institutional Church.

In my own experience the Church's canon law here provides some of the necessary structure permitting a person to concern themselves wholeheartedly with prayer, the silence of solitude, and the rest of the eremitical life without concern for whatever the world says, believes, values, etc. Moreover, they do so within the very heart of the Church. That is true whether they do so as canonical (consecrated) or non-canonical (lay).  In fact, that is true even when they are fighting for a new way while accepting the current truth of their situation. (The monks who accepted secularization while struggling for something like Canon 603 and living under the protection of Bishop Remi De Roo are exemplars of this kind of creative and risky freedom.) Freedom involves constraints. License is a different matter.

Doing your own thing may pass for freedom, at least for a time, but such persons tend to find they are marginalizing themselves and exacerbating their own sense of unfreedom and meaninglessness. In theological terms they are opting not for the way of the Kingdom and the Life of the Spirit but instead for the way and spirit of the world. The irony is that therefore such persons are more apt than those living fully within the Church's constraints and structures (canonical, liturgical, theological, etc) to be in a destructive bondage, whether that is to insecurity, shame, their own personal failures in life, a fear of meaninglessness, loss, grief, illness, or whatever drives a need to define themselves; whatever creates and grounds this kind of arrogance is not a symptom of freedom but of slavery.

Living Eremitical life inside and Outside the Church:

But let me be clear. A person who truly lives the hermit life without doing so under canon 603 is still a hermit and can live the life in a completely exemplary way for others --- whether those folks are hermits or not. In this these hermits would be in line with the Desert Abbas and Ammas who actually lived their lives in protest to the worldliness of the Church that had allied itself with the State after Constantine's Edict of Milan. If one has not been consecrated through the mediation of the Church as part of an Institute of Consecrated Life or under c 603, one can certainly still live eremitical life as a lay hermit, a hermit in the lay state of life (or, if one is a priest, in the clerical state of life).

One could also leave the Church and pursue an eremitical life in open protest to what one might see as the Church's compromises with worldliness. I personally think this is unnecessary and misguided; I would not understand it but it is a choice I would respect at the same time. What is not okay, what I personally cannot respect, is thumbing one's nose at the Church's clear understanding, law, and sacramental structures while fraudulently calling oneself a "Catholic Hermit" and thus, claiming one is living this life in the very name of the Church. I do think that is a clear misrepresentation of this vocation. Of course, if any person doing this is also not really living an exemplary eremitical life but instead is merely trying to validate personal isolation and failure, that, it seems to me, would also be a serious misrepresentation of what the Church understands as the eremitical vocation.

19 March 2015

If You do not Know Me You do not Know the Real God (reprise)

Tomorrow's  Gospel has given me a lot to think about. In particular it makes me recall one of the most surprising (stunning!) moments of my theological education. It came during one of the first classes I ever had with Prof John Dwyer when he asked us generally, "Who is Jesus?" We gave a number of answers but the best one we thought was, "Jesus is the Son of God!" We thought it said the most that could be said. John followed up with another question, an extremely logical question: "And who, then, is God?" We were stunned to silence. John went on to explain, "You see, you thought that calling Jesus the Son of God was the best thing you could say about him, the most meaningful, the greatest content, etc; but really it says nothing at all about Jesus because apart from Jesus, we do not know God; Jesus is the One who reveals the real God to us. It is important to say that Jesus is God's Son, but first of all, we must recognize that he is the One who fully reveals God to us; he is the One who makes God real in space and time." Everything in the rest of the course had to do with Jesus and the One he makes known and real to us in space and time (the two main meanings of the term "reveal").

Everything about that moment when I realized that doing theology with Jesus at the center of things would turn everything I thought and believed and understood on their head came back to me as I was praying with tomorrow's Gospel. I could well imagine how the folks in Jerusalem would have felt about Jesus' confrontation with them when he says essentially, "It is not that you know God and simply can't make up your mind about me and whether I am from him or not; it is really that you do NOT know God!!" If I were looking for reasons Jesus was crucified, that would certainly be a very large nail in his Cross! But, let's look at the Gospel reading tomorrow and see how it moves us closer to Holy Week and the way the Cross saves as well.

Brothers, Leadership, Romans, Disciples --- No one really gets Jesus

It is Autumn and time for the Feast of Booths or Taber-nacles, one of three Feasts of Pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  The booths are the place where Jews meet God and offer sacrifice. Jesus' brothers are encouraging him to come with them so that he can work more miracles and become famous and influential. "No one becomes famous if they do their work in secret!", they remind him. Of course, we all know that the REAL work will be done in secret --- in the secret darkness of the sin and death and hell Jesus takes on. But Jesus' brothers do not get what he is about yet. They may entertain the idea of his messiahship, but it is one marked by wonder working and, as appropriate to the Feast of Booths, to freeing Israel from the oppression of Rome. It is not marked by failure, ignominy, shame or a power made perfect in weakness. No, this Feast is not the One Jesus will "celebrate"; his comes later, in the Spring. He will go openly to Jerusalem for the Passover where the real sacrifice will be celebrated and the real victory over oppression will be won.

And of course Jesus' brothers aren't alone in their doubt about Jesus. The Jerusalem leaders are out to kill Jesus --- though they are very clear about the threat he poses to the Temple system with his preferential option for the poor and marginalized, his freely given forgiveness and notions of repentance which bypass the Temple sacrificial system. They don't know who he is but they do understand him better than Jesus' disciples! The disciples who are in Jerusalem waiting for more powerful works also don't ever quite get it nor do the the pilgrims to Jerusalem --- some of whom think he is a good man, some of whom think he is deluding the people, and some of whom  just don't know. All of these folks are in the City to celebrate the God they know as Creator and Law Giver and the One who brought them out of Egypt. Imagine how they must have felt when Jesus says, [[You know who I am and where I am from; but the One who sent me is true and you do NOT know him!]] In other words, [[It is not that you know God and merely cannot decide if I am from him; rather, you do NOT know God and so, naturally you do not associate me with him.]] Like some of us in that theology class, I would guess they were stunned, and angered too. I am sure they knew why the Jewish leadership (and especially the priestly aristocracy) wanted to put Jesus to death!

A Key to How the Cross Saves:

The most difficult piece of Christian Theology is the question of how the cross works. I wrote [a while back] about Christ entering into the godless depths of human existence and, through his openness and responsiveness, his dependence upon God to bring life out of death and meaning out of senselessness, he was able to implicate God into not only the unanticipated places, but the unacceptable ones as well. A related piece needed to clarify how the Cross saves is pointed to by Jesus' assertion that no one questioning or persecuting him knows God.

Jesus reveals God to us. Not only does he show us who God is but he makes God present in space and time, and we learn that he is the One Paul extols in Romans 8. The One Jesus allows to be exhaustively present is the God who allows neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depths, nor anything else in all creation to separate us from his love. [[No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.]] Through obedience unto death, and more, to (shameful, godless) death on a cross, Jesus opens every moment and mood of creation to the one he calls Abba, and nothing will ever be the same again.

But Jesus' death and resurrection reveals (makes known and real in history) one more thing that has been missing from the fallen creation: viz, authentic humanity. The portraits of inauthentic humanity abound during Holy Week and especially on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. The arrogant, frightened, self-assertive, cowardly, betrayers and abandoners, liars, torturers, thieves, self-absorbed and merely duty-bound are ever-present. But Jesus is truly human and shows us the depths of what this means. He loves God with his whole heart and mind and soul and depends on him even when he feels abandoned. He loves himself, and acts with integrity, even when he is terrified, shamed beyond belief, and tortured beyond all physical limits and incapable of any action whatever in hell. He remains open  and responsive to God in trust that even though he does not see how, God will bring his Reign out of even the depths of sinful death and hell. He gives his entire life for others and shows them his own love for them in the process.

We call Jesus Emmanuel, God with us, for apart from him we truly do not know God. Oh, we can reason to a Creator God, and we can do the same with a Lawgiver God. We can reason to One who is the ground of being and meaning and truth and beauty and mystery and one who hates sin and will judge us for that; but we cannot reason to a God who loves us as unreservedly as is revealed on the cross. We cannot reason to a God who allows absolutely nothing to stand between us and his love. Neither can we reason to an authentic humanity. That is something that can only be revealed and which we need to be initiated into as we are in Baptism. Thus, the cross saves by 1) making God present in even the godless places of our lives and destroying those by transforming them with his presence; 2) by making truly human existence possible for the first time in Christ and initiating us into it through our baptism into his death; 3) by reconciling the entire creation to himself in a preparation for the day when God will be all in all.

18 March 2015

Will Canon 603 Become the Norm for All Consecrated Hermits?

[[ Is canon 603 a kind of experiment? Is it only used for some consecrated hermits? The poster at [link omitted] says that: "In today's Church, this is no small matter, and it seems that bishops and future hermits will desire this proviso. In time, it may become the norm for consecrated Catholic hermit profession."]]

Let me  first say (repeat) that today there are two routes to profession as a consecrated (canonical) Hermit. The first is as part of a congregation or community (an institute) of hermits like the Camaldolese or Carthusians. In such a case these religious, monks, and nuns live their consecrated lives under both Canon Law (universal law) and the congregation's own law (proper law) --- their Rule, Constitutions, and Statutes. In such cases while Canon Law already applies juridically to their lives in many ways, canon 603 does not. Sometimes institutes of consecrated life will allow an individual to live as a hermit. If they do, this will be because the institute's proper law (the law which is proper to this congregation itself only) allows this but the person is not professed as a hermit. The second route to canonical profession and consecration is as a solitary hermit under Canon 603. Other canons which are part of the Church's universal law of religious life will also apply to this individual but Canon 603 is the defining canon which provides for the hermit's legitimate superior and defines the hermit's proper law as a Rule or Plan of Life she herself writes.

Canon 603 is not an experiment although it is a relatively new canon governing a new (since 1983) and rare form of consecrated life, namely the solitary eremitical life lived outside or without membership in a community or institute of consecrated life. Despite the fact that those of us living it or those administering it are still finding our way with it together, it is not going to become the norm for consecrated Catholic hermits more generally. Those belonging to communities (institutes of consecrated life) already are bound to legitimate superiors and have proper as well as canon law to which they are bound through their vows. If someone in one of these groups wants to become a solitary hermit, they will need to pursue Canon 603 itself along with exclaustration and/or an indult of departure. Neither is it, then, a "proviso" one might or might not use and still be a solitary  consecrated hermit. Canon 603 is already the norm for solitary Catholic hermits. Solitary eremitical life is the new form of consecrated life that Canon 603 establishes in universal law. It is the very purpose of the Canon, nothing more or less, and nothing other. For further information, please see posts on Canon 603 -- history.

Meanwhile, privately vowed or dedicated individuals wishing to become solitary consecrated hermits (solitary canonical hermits) can see their chancery personnel for assistance in entering or petitioning to enter a mutual process of discernment and pursuing this under Canon 603. Chancery personnel may well explain to these individuals that they are lay persons and not considered consecrated hermits or professed religious; they will also explain the scope and purpose of canon 603 to be clear about what the person is petitioning to begin a discernment process in regard to. However, there is a chance that if a person shows up on the chancery doorstep insisting they are a consecrated hermit already, despite not being canonically professed, they will not be seen as a good candidate for discernment --- at least not at that point in time.

The Fate of Christians in the Middle East



I think one of the most horrendous dimensions of stories of ISIS kidnappings and threats is the fact that these actions are taken against children. One of the elements that made the Vincentian story last week and the week before so very unbelievable was the threat that innocent children would be burned to death in cages. In the story chronicled above in the second third of the video or so, Canon Andrew White tells of three young girls, all under fourteen who are asked to renounce their faith. They respond, "But we love Yeshua," "We have always followed Yeshua" and similar things. They were beheaded. Canon White, asked, "How does one respond to that?" and then, in tears, "We can only cry."

Here at Stillsong I pray for all Christians in the Middle East but in particular I continue praying for the Dominican Sisters of St Catherine of Sienna. They are spending themselves daily for their brothers and sisters and do so in the highly visible and vunerability-increasing Dominican Habit. (Sometimes wearing a habit is dangerous; it is not about perks or protection.) Updates have been included over the past months but I haven't received any in the past couple of months. In January a group of Dominican Sisters from several congregations travelled there to visit and Fr Tim Radcliff, OP accompanied them in Iraq. They travelled under the heading "We have Family in Iraq". Reports of the Sisters in Iraq's courage, ministry, living conditions, etc.,  were sent back to the US and Great Britain (Timothy Radcliff's Dominicans are there). Each of us, like hermits living in the silence of solitude, are called to be able to hear the anguished cry of the world. We Christians, after all, have family in the Middle East and they are suffering and giving their lives for their faith. Let us do whatever we can do. Perhaps what begins or is sown in tears will be reaped in great rejoicing through Christ.

17 March 2015

Consequences of Unfaithfulness: Canonical vs Non-Canonical Hermits

[[Dear Sister, I wonder if the blogger from [link omitted] is even really listening to you or reading your posts in a thoughtful way. She really doesn't seem to understand anything about religious or consecrated life, much less about canon 603. I don't think you are going to change her mind or educate her. The heart of her difficulties seems to be treating the paragraphs from the Catechism as equivalent or even superior to Canon Law. She believes what she wants to believe and uses words like she wants to use words. Who cares if the Church doesn't use them the way she does? Not her! I would encourage you not to waste your time trying to explain!

But other than all that, I have enjoyed your recent posts and learned some things too. The posts about bonds and the explanation about how bonds come to be or the freedom needed to enter the consecrated state were very interesting to me. You have stressed a number of times here that the canonical requirements are meant to establish and protect relationships. I heard that again in what you said about these things and it was even clearer to me. Impediments mean things that get in the way of the relationships that need to be foundational. Right? While I know you regard the lay eremitical vocation what do you really think about private vows? There is such a difference between making a private commitment and a public one but you reject the idea that one vocation is "higher" than the other. How can you do that? One question you haven't answered yet is what happens if a publicly professed hermit fails to live her Rule or her vows vs what happens if a privately dedicated hermit fails to do so. Since the consequences are very different doesn't it argue that one vocation is higher than the other?. . .]]

Thanks for your questions and comments. I am going to respond to some of what you have written. I had never thought of impediments in quite that way before but I think you are right that impediments are those things which will prevent the necessary foundational relationships from being formed or which prevent the relationships from achieving maturity and appropriate fruitfulness. We are more used to thinking of impediments with regard to marriage but in consecrated life we find them too. Insufficient age, affective immaturity, co-dependence, the presence of another exclusive bond, ignorance of what the commitment requires, the inability to enter whole-heartedly into formation, etc are impediments to profession --- though only some of these are noted in canon law.

What Happens to Canonical vs Non-canonical Hermits Who Fail to live their Commitments?

Anyway, on to your other questions and comments. My own regard for the lay vocation I hope has been clear throughout many posts, but it is very true that the questions the other poster put up about the consequences for infidelity to one's commitments have very different answers for the lay hermit and for the consecrated hermit (or, in other words, for the non-canonical hermit and for the canonical hermit). If I am unfaithful to or cannot live my commitment a number of things will happen on several levels, personal, parish, diocesan and perhaps even beyond that if that seems like it is necessary or could be helpful. On the other hand, with an entirely private commitment the resolution would come on the personal level with the help (perhaps) of one's confessor and/or pastor. Nothing more. If we contrast what happens in either case it looks like this: 

Diocesan Hermits:

 If the diocesan hermit  is perpetually professed and consecrated and she fails to live her life as she is responsible for doing, then attempts are made to work with her so that she can again live her Rule. This will involve consultation with her director and /or her delegate as well as the Bishop. It may also involve consultations with physicians or therapists if the situation is due to some extraordinary change in health or stress levels. It is likely to include consultation with the hermit's pastor as well if he knows her well. If the hermit's Rule needs to be changed to accommodate changing circumstances so that the elements of the canon are appropriately expressed in new ways she will do that. Apart from this, however, the diocese and hermit might be able to work out an extended period in a monastery or other religious house where the hermit could experience the support of others living lives of prayer, solitude and penance similar to the one she is committed to.

After some time here the solitary hermit might feel ready to live her commitments again in the rigors (and the temptations!) of her urban hermitage, for instance. Or she might decide she needs to live the same vocation in another context. There are many possibilities here and they will be explored or even tried until and unless the hermit discerns she needs to request a dispensation from her vows. If the hermit's inability or failure is occurring due to illness, then a diocese could conceivably find a way to temporarily suspend her obligations or even grant something akin to an indult of exclaustration which frees the person of her obligations and often the rights that came with canonical standing. Such an indult would be given for a period of time (up to 3 years though there is some provision for an extension) and give time for the hermit to get well while her obligations as a hermit have been lifted. The hermit herself would need to request some such action be taken. In cases of illness occurring after one has made perpetual profession I don't believe the diocese can act against the hermit's will to dispense her vows, but I would need to check on that.

Permanent Canonical Solutions:
 
However, if illness is not the problem it is an even more serious matter and more permanent canonical steps may also be taken. If the person fails or refuses to live her profession faithfully in such a case and she cannot or will not work out a resolution she will be given a canonical warning to which she has the right of response or defense. A second warning can be given if she does not respond which advises that she will be dismissed from the consecrated eremitical state and her vows dispensed. Her right of defense remains. If there is no change forthcoming and all avenues toward this have been exhausted, then her vows will be dispensed. In such a case she does not cease to be consecrated (that was the action of God and cannot be undone) but she is released (or dismissed) from the consecrated state of life, meaning that her standing in law reverts to that of the lay state (vocationally speaking) and she is no longer bound by (or entrusted with) the canonical rights or obligations of the consecrated state of life.

Non-canonical or privately dedicated hermits:

In contrast, what happens to a privately vowed hermit who does not live her Rule? Nothing. No more than happens to any lay Catholic committing a private sin or habitual fault. Conceivably she will confess her sin, repent and reform her life, but if she continues to fail in this matter there are no other consequences really because her commitment was an entirely private matter. I would think a confessor could strongly encourage her to accept the dispensation of her vows in serious situations (any pastor can do this), but even if she were to do that, she could also remake these vows as easily --- and perhaps as imprudently --- as she made them in the first place if she could find a priest or other person to witness them.

In any case, no one but God, the hermit, and her confessor would even know she has failed to live her commitment. Again, her's is a private dedication with no public rights or obligations and no specific expectations on anyone's part but the hermit and God. This does not make such vows unimportant, much less invalid, but it does underscore their private nature. (In general the Church expects anyone making a private vow to live it with fidelity and integrity; she esteems the commitment but doing that is up to the individual with the vow(s) and no one else. Again, in canonical commitments relationships are established in law and several people have obligations in such a situation. Not so with private dedications or vows. Certainly in the normal course of such things a Bishop is not going to be concerned except as he is generally concerned with the well-being of all his faithful. Think subsidiarity here. Such matters are handled at the lowest appropriate level. No diocesan or canonical involvement is necessary because none have been involved to this point.

My Own Feelings About Private Vows:

I think private vows can be very helpful in a person's commitment to spiritual growth, especially in areas or regions where there are few people who understand the commitment the person wants to undertake. However, I don't think lay persons generally need vows of the evangelical counsels, for instance, because they are committed by Baptismal promises to these though in unspecified ways. My own preference is that a person look at the things we all promise when we renew our baptismal commitments and then specify for themselves what that means in concrete terms in their own life today.

l would encourage someone to write themselves a Rule of life which includes the values one wishes to live in a methodical way and add a commitment to live this Rule in a faithful way. Such a plan can include reading Scripture or other lectio, provisions for prayer and penance, allowances for recreation which control one's exposure to TV, computer games, media of all sorts, etc. It can also help one include physical exercise, intellectual projects, etc. It might also include a budget and savings plans which help control spending, cut back on shopping trips or online shopping for those for whom these are problematical, and ensure resources for emergencies. With such a Rule a vow of obedience would not be necessary because the attentiveness and listening one wanted to commit to is included. One does not need a vow of obedience unless one is making a vow of religious obedience which binds to God through legitimate structures and superiors. The same with poverty. In religious poverty there is ordinarily a communal dimension involved, a "we are in this together" sense where all are similarly committed and sacrifice for one another and the sake of witness and ministry to those outside the institute. Chastity is something one in the unmarried state is already obliged to so there is no need for this sort of vow either.(We don't make vows for things we are already obligated to!)

Some lay people write about having a vow of obedience to their spiritual director but to be honest, I would never want a client to do that nor would I relate to them as a legitimate superior. This would be dishonest and in my understanding of spiritual direction infantilizing. Legitimate superiors know obedience because they have lived it themselves. They know what it means and does not mean, what it should and should not be in a "subject's" life. Moreover they know the person bound in a vow of obedience is properly prepared and deemed ready for such a vow. A demand that one obey by virtue of their vow is exercised rarely and with discretion these days. The situation is very different when people assume that they will owe their director obedience as they might a legitimate superior and neither one is in a legitimate (bound in law or "lawful") relationship!

Spiritual directors build a relationship of trust and a unique intimacy with their directees. In mature direction relationships between religious (which are usually long-standing), one of these persons (if in the same institute or congregation) may actually be given and assume the role of the legitimate superior to the other --- though not in her role as director per se; in such a case a vow of obedience is unlikely to be problematical. Its use will be rare and generally limited to matters of the external forum --- matters which are externally verifiable and sometimes visible to everyone, matters that do nor depend on the confidential disclosures that occur in spiritual direction. Such vows of obedience will, according to c 601, also be governed and limited by the religious' "proper constitutions", those constitutions "proper" to their congregation.

In any case I support the use of private vows in limited situations, but not of the evangelical counsels. If someone wants to live these values within a secular context I hope they will find a way (baptism calls and commissions them to do so), but I don't want anyone pretending they are something they are not or embracing values which may actually conflict with the ways they are called to be responsible in terms of money, power, and relationships. That is why I prefer they write a Rule which includes these values worked out in an integral way.

Higher Vocations?

I have said a number of times that every vocation is a call to exhaustive holiness. Given that fact there is no way to speak of one being higher than another. Similarly the Church is clear that members of the consecrated and religious states of life may be drawn from laity or clergy but that this state of life is not part of the Church's hierarchical structure as a third class or level. In that sense too then we must conclude that the canonical eremitical life is not a higher vocation than the non-canonical. What does differ in these vocations are the rights and obligations and the canonical relationships and structure which apply to consecrated (canonical) eremitical life but not to non-canonical (lay) eremitical life. In a sense, Thomas Aquinas' language of "objective superiority" certainly applies here --- but not as that term came to be translated subsequently. We tend to think "objective superiority" logically means "higher" or "above" but that is not the case here and never in the calculus of the Kingdom.

The diocesan hermit's vocation is canonically defined, protected, and supported. She makes her commitment in law and lives her life in the name of the Church. She has legitimate superiors (Bishop, delegate, Vicars if needed during a Bishop's illness or the interim between successors) and her life of solitude is esteemed even if it is not always understood. She is entrusted with the right to wear religious garb, use the title Sister (etc.), and to live a public vocation in the heart of the Church. She has what she needs to live a life of holiness and to grow in that (time for prayer, silence, solitude, Scripture, access to the Sacraments, --- often including reserved Eucharist, etc). These are the sorts of things Aquinas was referring to when he spoke of "objective superiority". Some vocations have "built into them" access to so much that is necessary for growth in holiness. But this does not translate to the word higher! She has greater responsibility for the eremitical vocation in some ways than the non-canonical hermit, but also greater help, greater freedom, and fewer obstacles to live it. The bottom line here is that in the Church legal constraints lead to greater freedom from the expectations of the world around us. Similarly, greater responsibility in certain areas is granted only so that one may serve or minister to others more effectively than one might be able to otherwise. I don't think we can therefore use the term "higher" for such a vocation.

Saint Patrick's Day at St Perpetua's

So, to all readers, happy St Paddy's Day! Our parish celebrated on Saturday this year with corned beef, cabbage, carrots and other things (not least a Klondike ice cream for desert). (Yay Knights of Columbus! You always do this dinner up right!!) I had searched through my closet and drawers for a bit of green to wear (my hope was finding a green turtle neck to replace the usual white one), but it was no where to be found! So, when I got to the party I looked around for a bit of green and found the following:

As you might be able to tell, this miter has a green beard attached --- and there are a few pictures of the bearded version of me floating around the parish (and probably the internet) this week. It made a hit at the party, and a number of folks used their cameras to capture one of my less "serious" moments. My cohort in crime is Myrna Hennesy --- one of the sources irrepressible of joy and boundless enthusiasm in our parish. It's an honor (and really a joy) to call her and her husband Pat, "friends." I was a bit surprised, however, to find that when I returned home from the dinner there were emails from friends I had gone to high school with who had emailed me about this picture!! What goes on in St P's surely does NOT STAY in St P's so I am adding to the tradition myself I guess!

This morning after Mass the Sheehans had put together a breakfast feast of homemade soda bread, marmalade, and then coffee (Fr John supplied the Irish whiskey and some cream or half and half) and tea. Fr John also read a letter of greeting from Brendan, one of the Irish Spiritan priests who has filled in at our parish during Summers when John returns to his community and then takes vacation. We have been so fortunate to have made this connection in our parish! I (and others) have a standing invitation to come to Ireland and be shown the same kind of hospitality we have shown the Spiritans when they visit us! I haven't thought enough about this but it would be a wonderful opportunity; perhaps I will do some real planning and take advantage of it. It would be wonderful to see the guys who have ministered here several Summers now, not least Frs Brendan and Marc (Whelan), and to check out how their plans for certain pastoral projects have come along.

But, regarding the Feastday and St Patrick, we remember Patrick as a great preacher (and Bishop), a great evangelizer for whom Christ was central. In honor of Patrick I am praying that all of us, whether Irish or not, claim especially the commission that is ours by baptism, namely the commission to proclaim the Good News with our lives. Wearing Green is fun on this day, the parades and celebrations are fun but St Patrick was a serious guy too because his mission was a serious one in a world that needed it. That is no less true for us and if we cannot or do not proclaim the Gospel with our lives, then why proclaim it at all?

In my parish we hear good preaching --- and we hear or see the gospel proclaimed powerfully in many different ways. I think that's why our parties (though especially St Patrick's Dinner) are really fun. We are a Catholic faith community of diverse members held together with bonds of love; we are family, united in Christ --- and today at least --- by fifty shades of green! Our commission is to make sure that what goes on in St P's definitely does NOT stay in St P's so that others may also know the JOY we share which is rooted in the Gospel of God in Christ!

15 March 2015

More on Bonds, Impediments to New Bonds, and the Catechism vs Canon Law

 [[Dear Sister, you haven't said much about impediments to consecrated life, but it seems to me that private vows, which can be taken by anyone at any time cannot initiate the person into consecrated life automatically. What would happen if a person had been married, divorced, and never granted an anullment but then made private vows as a hermit? They would not be allowed to make a canonical profession because of the prior marriage; it would stand as an impediment wouldn't it?]]

Yes, if the marriage was valid and occurred between two baptized Christians, then you are right; you make a really good point which, as you say, I have not discussed much. Namely, admission to the consecrated state of life requires a certain freedom from other obligations or bonds. For instance c 645.1  notes that, "Before they are admitted to the novitiate, candidates [in an institute of consecrated life] must show proof of baptism, confirmation, and free status." Thus, ipso facto, it is true that one needs such proof prior to actual profession despite the fact this is not listed in the requirements for profession. While candidates for c 603 profession may have been married and divorced they must still fulfill the requirement of proof of free status before being admitted to profession, whether temporary or perpetual. This is in accordance with c 645.1 despite the fact the hermit is not entering an institute of consecrated life.

One of the reasons the Church does her own due diligence in this matter and secures baptismal certificates, etc, is not only to make sure a person is truly a Catholic, but to make sure there are no bonds which would constitute impediments to the establishment of the bonds of consecrated life or the related assumption of canonical rights and obligations. You see, when one is baptized, other sacraments of initiation, sacramental marriages, professions, consecrations, dispensations from public commitments, ordinations, divorce decrees and decrees of nullity, etc are added to the same register. (A record of these is sent to one's baptismal Church and these are added to one's baptismal record. They are also recorded on the back of any copies of certificates which are later sent to authorities requesting these, say prior to profession, etc. --- or to the individual requesting one).

But if one has been validly married, divorced, and never been granted a decree of nullity, for instance, they are not considered free to enter the consecrated state of life any more than they are considered free to marry again. The marriage bond between two baptized Christians serves as an impediment because, despite civil divorce, in terms of the Church's theology, the marital bond established in the exchange of vows still exists unless a decree of nullity establishes this is not the case. (c.1085) It makes no sense for the Church to teach that her own theology, canonical structures, procedures, and safeguards regarding public states of life in the Church can be circumvented merely by the making of an entirely private vow or vows. Thus, while one blogger insists that paragraph 920-921's location in the Catechism of the Catholic Church under the major heading "The Consecrated Life" allows her to argue that she is a consecrated hermit despite her lack of canonical standing as such, you can see that, hypothetically speaking, had she been married and divorced without benefit of a decree of nullity, for instance, she would actually not even be free to enter the consecrated state of life. If she then made private vows despite a lack of decree of nullity (which she is free to do),  they would be entirely valid but they would not initiate her into consecrated life --- even if they were capable of doing so otherwise (which they are not).  

I am not particularly knowledgeable about other impediments to consecration under c 603 besides insufficient age, except that one cannot have been professed in an institute of consecrated/religious life without also having those vows either expired if temporary or dispensed in any case. (Some religious become c 603 hermits after obtaining an indult of exclaustration and then of departure which end (or take effect) on the day of their profession under c 603. (They cannot ALSO profess under canon 603 because they are already bound in law to other legitimate superiors, other proper law than their own Rule, etc.) They are thus freed of one bond while another is created simultaneously.) This would not have been possible prior to canon 603 which is why the dozen monks who came under the protection of Bishop Remit de Root were required to be laicized and secularized.

In any case, any person at any time can make private vows of many sorts including those of poverty, chastity, and obedience, but one can never argue these initiate the person into the consecrated state. The Church insists that initiation into the consecrated state involves the assumption of canonical standing which therefore requires the candidate be 'vetted' so to speak; this is meant to ensure one is truly free to enter the consecrated (state of) life as well as allowing a subsequent process of discernment concluding that one is truly called to do so. If one is not, then the bond supposedly being established in profession and consecration as well as the grace necessary for living the life will never be realized or received. The profession and consecration would be invalid. In any case one claiming to be consecrated while still bound  in some way by the former definitive commitment of marriage would be living a life of pretense --- hardly edifying for the People of God!

Perhaps if I tweaked the other poster's argument a bit or turned it around it would make things clearer. Let's say a person is happily married and desires to make private vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience (all baptised persons are to live some version of these evangelical counsels though most do so without additional vows) --- something, as you also note, they are free to do at any time. When they do this, would they also become initiated into consecrated life? Why not? Not a great example maybe (sorry, I couldn't think of a better one), but similarly, what if a person is a consecrated religious and makes a private vow misguidedly thinking she is binding herself in marriage to another person (and they try to bind themselves similarly); would she cease being a religious and become a married person --- would she thus leave the religious state and enter the married state? Of course not (at least not on the grounds that she has entered the married state!). [Let me note that attempting a marriage while in the consecrated state would be grounds for dismissal from the institute.] Already established canonical bonds don't allow it; the attempt would be invalid in any case. Moreover though, private vows certainly do not work this way. Private vows (that is, any vow not received by or "in the hands" of a legitimate superior in the name of the Church)  neither initiate one into the consecrated state of life nor do they cause a person to leave it or any other state of life.

Paragraphs 920-921 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

The placement of cc 920-921 under the major heading "The Consecrated Life" in the Catechism of the Catholic Church is and remains problematical unless we 1) realize the CCC is not binding in legislative ways (it is not a code of laws though it may describe these) and does not circumvent nor have priority over canon law in such matters; any confusion is clarified by Canon Law which DOES have the authoritative say in these matters, 2) unless we begin to treat these paragraphs as though they don't apply to hermits in the lay state at all (which would be something of a pity), and 3) unless we understand that these paragraphs do not fit precisely ONLY under the major heading "The Consecrated Life" and thus suffer from some of the ambiguities which affect the rest of this section of the CCC as outlined by JMR Tillard, OP, in his chapter on this in the Commentary on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "The Church".

It actually would not have made editorial sense for the CCC to place the identical summary paragraphs on the characteristics of eremitical life in both a section on the laity or lay vocation and one on the consecrated life, much less once again in a section on clergy. Yet canon 603 was new and groundbreaking introducing a new form of consecrated life; it thus made sense to locate these paragraphs under the heading "The Consecrated Life" while allowing them to be edifying to hermits in any appropriate state of life. Again, what remains the case is that who belongs to consecrated life and how they are initiated into it are  matters for Canon Law to clarify since it has the legislative priority over the CCC's pedagogical role. When a legal argument is put forward based on a reading of the Catechism but that argument flies in the face of canonical distinctions and requirements in this matter, that argument must fall. As I have noted here before, and recently as well, for the hermit in the consecrated state (a legal or canonical as well as Divinely instituted  and ecclesially mediated state of life!) the Catechism's paragraphs on the eremitical life are descriptive and edifying. They are not unimportant but again, they are not prescriptive or legislative in the way Canon Law is.

Postscript: A reminder on how decrees of nullity work and do not work.  Recently I heard someone remark something about whether or not her "divorce [had been] nullified by the Church". But this is not the way a decree of nullity works. Decrees of nullity declare publicly and officially that there was no true marriage bond established in the first place. They do not nullify precisely, particularly not a divorce, so much as they decree that the bond was found to be null or void and therefore, that one is free to enter into other definitive commitments --- like those of religious profession and initiation into the consecrated state, ordination, or marriage itself. When one applies for a decree of nullity (far from being nullified a civil divorce is first required) the Church through a marriage tribunal weighs all the evidence submitted; one canon lawyer works as "defender of the bond" and thus presents all of the reasons a true bond can be said to have existed (if the marriage between two Christians is valid the bond is presumed to have existed and still exist). The other side is also presented and the tribunal comes to a conclusion. In some cases a decree of nullity is granted and others one is not.

13 March 2015

The Meaning of "Other Sacred Bonds" in Canon 603

[[Dear Sister Laurel, What sort of "other sacred bonds" are there - other than vows - to express a "definitive dedication of self." I don't remember you ever using this phrase before, and I think others might also be interested in hearing you elaborate upon that.]]

LOL! A good reason I haven't said much about this sort of obscure part of canon 603 is that I haven't been able to find out much about it myself! I have only heard of one diocese using this option or at least inquiring about it from a canonist I know, and unfortunately, she didn't go into detail on that (we were discussing something else really). What I do understand it to mean, however, is that in some way one dedicates oneself definitively to live an eremitical life according to c 603, and thus to do so in a publicly (legally) responsible way ("in the name of the Church"), and this dedication is accepted in the name of the Church by the local ordinary. Once this occurs a bond exists, in fact, a sacred bond which is public in character --- just as when two persons consent to marriage during a marriage rite a bond is established then and there.

In the Catholic theology of marriage the existence of this bond does not depend upon the quality of the relationship; it is the result of the exchange of consent to marry (I take you, etc); it is an example of what is called "performative language where something, in this case a bond, comes to be in the very speaking of the words. Thus, in regard to c 603, it seems to me that one might promise to live one's Rule with fidelity and integrity, for instance, and to do so under the direction of legitimate superiors for the rest of one's life. If such a promise is made in the hands of a legitimate superior a sacred bond then exists. Some sort of oath ("I swear here before all. . . that I . . .") may be acceptable here too. (In the case of a c. 603 commitment to live a Rule with fidelity and integrity, the hermit and diocese would need to be very clear the constitutive elements of the canon were adequately understood and reflected in the text of the Rule itself. Thus, the evangelical counsels and what they call for in concrete terms would need to be clearly articulated.) In either of these cases, the person is not making vows of the evangelical counsels to God, but they are giving themselves entirely to God in the eremitical life in the name of the Church, and they are being initiated into the consecrated state of life --- which means this is a profession in the canonical sense.

This is part of the reason Sandra Schneiders, IHM, as you may well know, distinguishes between profession and vows per se.(cf., Schneiders, Selling All,  "Commitment and Profession" pp. 78-116). It is also one of the reasons I focus on the canonical relationships that obtain in profession. Profession of any sort creates new bonds and/or new relationships in law. It is also the reason I ordinarily distinguish between the meanings of "witnessing vows" and "receiving vows". The first creates no real bond between the one making the vows and the one witnessing them (assuming s/he is only witnessing); the second creates a true, and even sacred bond between these persons (say, a hermit and her Bishop/diocese and the larger Church, for instance) and those others the person receiving the vows represents (the Universal Church, the diocese, and the Bishop's successors in this case). When we speak of profession leading to initiation into a "stable state of life" we are speaking, at least partly, of these significant and enduring bonds and relationships and the structure and law that regulates, governs, and supports them.

As you also well know, in associateship with the IHM's or congregations like the Sisters of the Holy Family associate members promise or covenant certain things and the congregation receives and adds their own consent to this covenant. Vows are not made here, nor is there initiation into a new state of life (profession), but the bonds are undoubtedly sacred. In oblature with the Benedictines or Camaldolese, etc, there is an exchange of promises or consent. In this case these are not vows to God either, nor do they constitute profession in the canonical sense, but they are sacred bonds nonetheless. My own diocese  (Oakland) simply decided we would be using vows and I was honestly not prepared for --- nor would I have really desired --- using anything else. But given the fact that my Rule was given a Bishop's Declaration of Approval with the explicit hope that this would prove beneficial for the living of the eremitical life as part of all of this (this Rule became legally (i.e., canonically) as well as morally binding on me on the day of my profession), I can see now where I might instead have made my commitment in terms of "living this Rule" and dedicating my entire self to God in this way. In any case, perhaps any canonist reading here will contact me and correct any errors I have made in this but I think this is  the gist of what the authors of canon 603 were expressing when they referred to vows or "other sacred bonds."

By the way, thanks very much for the question. It has been exciting for me to put into words what I do understand in regard to all this. The paragraph on the distinction Sister Sandra draws in Selling All and the place of the establishment of enduring or stable bonds and relationships in a state of life may be a bit tangential to your question itself but it helped pull some old threads together for me in a new way. I might not have done this if you had not pushed me to reflect on the meaning of "other sacred bonds" in canon 603. Again, thanks for the question.

Postscript: I heard from a canon lawyer and permanent deacon who studied Canon Law at Catholic University with a canonist in my own diocese; he reads what I write on Canon 603. While he was not clear how the phrase "other sacred bonds" applies to hermits (something I found reassuring given how little I have found written on it), he did write the following: [[. . .Your commentaries on canonical issues are always good to read. . . . This language is used in the 83 code to describe what members of secular institutes or societies of apostolic life make in lieu of the vows taken in a religious institute. How it applies to a hermit I am clueless!]] He also suggested I check canons 711 and 731 which do use this language while noting the language [[was the subject of a number of research projects/dissertations at various canon law faculties over the years.  Gerry Quinn, JCL, St Louis, MO]] (Since I am emphatically NOT a canonist by either education or training, I am assuming (I hope accurately) that Deacon Quinn was not saying reading my blog on canonical issues [with c 603] was good for the comic relief it might sometimes provide him! In any case, I am really pleased he chose to add to this conversation and pleased as well to be able to consult him, et al. on other questions!)