[[Dear Sister Laurel, how do I make private vows to become a consecrated religious hermit without joining a community?]]
Hi there. Thanks for writing. I think there is some confusion in your question. To become a conse-crated religious hermit (that is, a hermit in the conse-crated state of life), you cannot do so with private vows. You see because this is an ecclesial vocation you must do so through the formal (and canonical) mediation of the Church. You can only do this via a public profession.This requires 1) a petition to your diocese followed by 2) a mutual discernment process if your diocese sees you as a good candidate; then, if admitted to profession by your Bishop it will mean 3) your own making of public vows and solemn consecration by God all of which is mediated by the Church. The key here is public profession and consecration (which only comes with perpetual public vows) made in the hands of the local Bishop. The consecrated hermit is publicly commissioned by the Church in the person of the local Bishop to live her life in the name of the Church. She is literally then a Catholic hermit (not simply a Catholic AND a Hermit) and (after perpetual vows) a consecrated religious. Thus it always involves a public commitment and solemn consecration. You might consider this after living as a lay hermit for some time, especially if you live private vows for some time and work out a workable Rule of Life.
If you wish, on the other hand, simply to live as a lay hermit (not publicly professed and consecrated) and eventually make private vows you are free to do that by virtue of your baptism, but there is no formal procedure for doing so. Remember this would be an entirely private commitment. To make such a commitment in a meaningful way your life as a hermit really requires regular spiritual direction and you need to have lived as a lay hermit for some time (at least a couple of years would not be unreasonable to expect) before even considering making private vows. Until you and your director believe you both need are really ready for these you should consider what your baptismal commitment requires of you in more specific terms.
Renewing and Specifying one's Baptismal Commitment as Either an Alternative or Preparatory Step to Private vows:
At the same time you would model the lesson that we need to think about and make concrete the kinds of demands our Baptismal vows require of each of us. That is rarely done I think and it is important; often we do not need additional vows but we do need to specify and commit to the ways our baptismal promises are meant to be lived here and now. In preparing for this step what you will actually be doing is constructing an informal Rule of Life which covers prayer, penance, evangelical counsels, silence, solitude, lectio, and other essentials in the hermit's life. Over time you will probably want to rework or even rewrite this. Though it may take you some time to do this, and especially to do it while truly living as a hermit with the aid of your director, working in this way can prepare you for meaningful private vows as well as strengthening your baptismal commitment itself.
If You Decide to Make Private Vows
Because private vows are undertaken as a private commitment, they do not lead to any additional rights or obligations not already associated with Baptism. For the same reason they take place apart from Mass. (If your pastor agrees, for instance, you might make them after Mass which would allow some friends and family to attend and witness this dedication.) At the end of the duration of these vows (three years or whatever you have chosen) you will need to discern whether or not you are being called to make this commitment a perpetual one or perhaps approach your diocese with a petition to become a consecrated Catholic or diocesan hermit. (Private vows can still be dispensed at any time by your pastor and others as well without any formal paperwork; if you were admitted to public profession private vows would also cease to be binding as soon as you made public vows.)
Getting Ahead of Ourselves:
But this is getting a bit ahead of things. Again, you will need to live as a hermit in a focused and conscious way while under regular spiritual direction for at least a couple of years before you can really meaningfully consider such a private dedication. (This might differ if you have already lived as a religious and been through formation with a canonical group.) Remember that even if you have been living alone for a while this is not necessarily the same as living an eremitical life. When you understand the difference on the basis of your own experience and can articulate this for your director you may be close to readiness for private vows. In this I recommend you listen carefully to your director and her reservations or concerns; then discern what that means for you and work on whatever it requires. The same for your pastor if you desire him to witness such a dedication.
The Problem of Language:
There has been a lot of confusing use of language by some lay hermits today. Your own question conveyed some confusion about terminology which you may have gotten from some of these persons, a couple of whom have several blogs. While you may not be interested in this particularly, your question is an opportunity to address this problem. Especially, it is time to remind about how the Church uses various terms. After all, when a person calls herself a Catholic Hermit, but is not using that term in the way the Catholic Church does it is at least incoherent and sort of an absurd practice. The basic principle is simple: we enter states of life through the Sacraments (Baptism, Marriage, and Orders) and through public profession and/or consecration Religious life and Consecrated Virginity). There is no other way. Each initiation into a new state of life is mediated to us by the Church in a public and graced juridical act. Private vows never initiate us into a new state of life. Neither does any consecration of self. Only consecration by God received in a public action mediated by the Church does this. This is part of the reason we call them ecclesial vocations.
For instance, a conse-crated person is one who is in the conse-crated state of life. She has been conse-crated by God through the mediation of the Church and except in the case of conse-crated virgins, made public vows which involves additional canonical rights and obligations as well as the formal and legal relationships required to fulfill these. Thus people who have entered the religious state of life have legitimate superiors and public vows of obedience. The same is true of the term consecrated religious or just religious; the church uses this term to refer to a publicly professed and solemnly consecrated person who exists in the consecrated and religious states of life. Consecrated life always implies the public assumption of additional (legitimate)ī canonical rights and obligations besides those which come with baptism.
Consecrating oneself to God is not the same as being consecrated BY God through the mediation of the church. When one consecrates (dedicates is the preferred word) oneself to God one does not enter the consecrated state of life. The Church does not call consecrating oneself "consecrated life". A hermit who consecrates herself to God is not a consecrated hermit; she remains a lay hermit who is privately dedicated. Not every Catholic living as a hermit is a Catholic hermit. If one is living the life and is commissioned to do so in the name of the Church under a legitimate superior, then and only then is one considered a Catholic hermit. For a lay Catholic living as a hermit under private vows, she is called a lay hermit because she lives her eremitical life under or according to the canonical rights and obligations which came with baptism and the lay state.