14 October 2019

Oakland Civic Orchestra: Schumann Symphony #4

Here is the second half of OCO's last concert (October 6th), Robert Schumann's 4th Symphony! I have never played this symphony, though it sounds like fun. Some of the themes are familiar but otherwise it's not a symphony I can even say I knew.

On Discerning a Call to Eremitical Life

[[Dear Sr. Laurel,  Would you be so kind as to write a bit about your experiences as a lay hermit? What does the process of discernment look like when a  lay hermit discerns canonical eremitism? As a layperson, how does one live a privately eremitical life while still presenting an open, engaged public life in society, parish and workplace? I'm thinking about the need for a lay-hermit to avoid falling into merely antisocial behavior and justifying such behavior as an expression of eremitic life.  

A few years ago, I changed some things in my daily structure to create space for more prayer and solitude--hardly enough to claim to be living as a hermit! Yet, my acquaintances/coworkers questioned me quite critically on my lifestyle (what exactly do you do on the weekends? Don't you have a social life? Why are you always busy but never say what you're doing? Don't you want to get married?--Time's running out! So what do you do for fun?--that doesn't sound like fun!). 

I guess what I want to know is: Am I being a wannabe/imposter/poser by even testing this mode of living as a lay hermit? Why does it arouse such opposition in others, but feel just right to me? Did you experience anything like this in your discernment?]]

Hi there, I think what you are experiencing is part of the reason some  hermits have discovered the importance of canonical standing with regard to their eremitical lives. Ecclesial vocations rooted in admission to canonical profession and consecration along with the rights and obligations of an established state of life provide a realm of freedom in which one can live eremitical life as fully and authentically as possible without having to be ultimately (i.e., beyond the period of initial and mutual discernment) concerned with one's motivations or the opinions of others. The Church's approval of one's vocation is especially helpful during those years when one is still working through the reasons one is choosing whether this God's call and how to respond to that. It helps a lot with questions of authenticity (is this doubt due my imperfection or am I just a poser, am I kidding myself in trying this, am I the real deal, how much of this is due to failure or selfishness?); it also provides a context which challenges and demands one live one's vocation in a whole-hearted, exhaustive way which witnesses to the Gospel.

 What I am saying is that your own experience and the things you are struggling with or worrying about may be indicators that you are dealing with exactly the kinds of dynamics one must negotiate in discerning such a call. None of us come to this vocation without a mix of existential successes and failures that make our discernment more complicated. When we add the impressions and opinions of others to the mix or measure our lives against the normative or ideal ways of living our society touts,  initial discernment can be difficult. Despite some vision-and-locution-riddled accounts of calls to eremitical life one can find online, God does not ordinarily simply say to a person, "I want you to be a hermit." Instead, God summons us to the silence of solitude in ways both clear and subtle, vivid and obscure, with movements of our hearts;  it is up to us to discern this call in the midst our own human complexity and then determine the very best context for living it out.

Also, please understand that few folks in our culture or society will understand a call to eremitical life. Even devout Catholics are unlikely to understand it because its witness value differs so profoundly from that of apostolic Religious life or ministerial life --- both lay and ordained. Despite the existence of canon 603 many bishops still don't understand or even accept eremitical life as something authentic. Those who truly love you will be able to see how fulfilling contemplative and/or eremitical life is for you. (More about this in the excursus below.) Others will never get it. If, down the line, the Church decides to profess you some folks will give you a break because of that; canonical standing will help you give yourself a break as well as you learn to trust your own motives. But if you are looking to get other folks to understand an eremitical vocation please know most never will. Eremitical life is counter-cultural even within the contemporary Church  and while our contemporary world knows and accepts things such as cocooning (an anti-social form of isolation) it does not accept lives lived for God and especially those that say "God alone is sufficient for us".

My Own Life as a Hermit:

I don't know if I can be of much help here regarding being a lay hermit. Remember I had a background in religious life, lived as part of a community when I began the process of becoming a diocesan hermit and was generally known as a Religious Sister in my neighborhood even after my diocese decided they were not going to profess anyone under c 603 due to some earlier situation which "left a bad taste in the bishop's mouth". At this point I had to decide whether I would continue living as a hermit whether in community or as a lay hermit. Eventually I decided I would continue living as a hermit no matter which state in which I did that --- that I could do nothing else because I clearly was thriving in this way.

However, because I was not a canonical hermit without the Church herself professing or consecrating me as a hermit, I can say I understand the difficulties of having people understand or support what I was doing and why. What I believe is true though is that to the degree I was comfortable with my own vocation people gave me the benefit of any doubt. They might not understand about hermits and what motivates them, but they trusted me and remained open to the idea of my being a hermit. I did lose a couple of friends but not with the degree of antipathy you seem to be describing. When friends needed something to hold onto that would make sense of my life and also made sense to them, they hung onto my identity as a woman Religious. For myself, it was clear to me that the Holy Spirit was working in my life in this specific way and while I hoped some day the Church would recognize this I could not do anything but continue on as a hermit while still being professed in community. However, it became very important to find connections which/who supported me in my journey, e.g., the Camaldolese, a good spiritual director, other Sisters, etc. I don't know if this helps but if you have other specific questions re my own life as a hermit, please get back to me with those.

Discernment and Your Questions about Balancing a Healthy Relationship With Parish and Eremitical Life:

You describe maintaining a healthy presence and an open, engaged public life in society, parish, and workplace while living a privately [vowed] eremitical life. I wonder most about your comment about workplace. If you must work outside your hermitage and it cannot be 1) in a solitary way or 2) part-time (less than 20 hours a week), I don't think you can think of yourself as a hermit. (By the way, this is true about canonical hermits as well; dioceses have occasionally made the mistake of professing those working in social jobs on a full-time basis -- the Archdiocese of Boston is, unfortunately, best known for this serious error -- but most bishops will not even consider professing a hermit who works outside the hermitage much less in a full time job.)  If you are transitioning to an eremitical life, and especially if you plan on seeking standing in law as a diocesan hermit, the ability to work only part time in a way which is consonant with eremitical life is one of the first pieces you will need to negotiate.

But before you are ready to do this you will need to work to 1) move to a genuinely contemplative life. This means growing in contemplative prayer but also in your approach to the whole of your life. I assume you are working regularly with a spiritual director who will aid you in your life as a contemplative. This is a sine qua non without which you cannot progress in your own growth in this way. Once this prayer and life is well-established you may find you have no real need to live as a hermit. On the other hand you may find you feel called to even greater solitude and feel an even more intense sense that eremitical life is the only context and content which makes sense of your entire life. This whole process until this point takes years. You will not be a hermit at this point, and may not ever feel called to being a hermit.

Once you have reached this point, however, if you feel a call to even greater solitude you will need to limit your participation in your parish and other external activities or venues. I would suggest you write a Rule of life describing what elements of prayer, lectio, study, and penance are essential for you right now. Similarly, describe the relationships you have which are genuinely life-giving and need to be honored no matter whether you are a hermit or not. Similarly, list the ways you engage in ministry which are life-giving to you and as you determine are important for your own prayer/spiritual life. For the present then (once you have reached this point), limit yourself to this degree of active participation in the parish and make clear to those who know you  why you are doing this in a matter of fact way: "I need more time for prayer, lectio, or study" or, ""My relationship with God is growing in this direction". You will continue to support your parish in prayer, attend liturgy there, do limited ministry, and maintain friendships (though this last might not be in quite the same way you have done until now).

Excursus: The rule of thumb I think you should hold onto is "when in the parish or other social situation be available to others in a normal way; do not hold yourself aloof but let yourself be truly present! Especially, do not insist on only speaking about "Holy things" or only talking about God!!" If you need greater solitude, build it into your life but in all things, be yourself and when you are at your parish, etc., be there with and for others! You may (or may not) lose a few friends but it will not be due to some kind of pretence on your part. Meanwhile, you may also gain some new ones with whom you can share yourself truly. While your life may not seem like fun to others the more relevant question is whether or not you are happy. Folks know that I am supremely happy and even excited when I am reading Scripture or studying theology. This is not their idea of a good time maybe, but neither do I insist it should be. When I am happy that comes across in my ability to be present to/with others and it is here that the importance of what I do for recreation or with my time alone becomes a witness for others. End excursus.

As I think you can see from the above description, writing a Rule is first of all an exercise in discernment. Meet regularly with your spiritual director during this process. Don't be surprised if it takes some time before you have a Rule which meets your own needs and challenges you to grow even as it reflects the nature of your life now. When you are satisfied this Rule can assist you for the next couple of years, commit to living it. During this time director can assist you in keeping what works and editing those which do not. Revise your Rule in ways which allow it to work better for you in terms of relationships and ministry (including hospitality to God and others) while respecting your sense of being called to greater silence and solitude.

If this particular Rule  should work out for a space of time after revisions (say 1 to 2 years), and you see yourself called to eremitical life rather than merely to contemplative life with significant silence and solitude, it will be time to begin considering what context best allows you to live this. Will it be as a non-canonical or lay hermit or will it be as a canonical hermit under canon 603? (The idea of joining a congregation of hermits is a completely different question and I am not addressing that in this post.) Throughout all of this time you will also pay attention to the evangelical counsels -- the values of poverty, chastity, and obedience (the values that define the way you relate to wealth, relationships, and matters of power or autonomy).

Private vows here are not essential, but they can make sense and help you prepare for canonical profession if that is a direction you believe you might go. For instance, while you will not have a legitimate superior (your spiritual director should not expect or be expected to act as one!), a private vow of obedience can make sense in terms of committing to allowing God to be sovereign in your life and in being attentive and open to God's presence and will. Similarly you will live simply and take care of any wealth you might have just as you will love well and maintain the relationships which lead to wholeness and holiness. As you do this you may or may not find that God is calling you to the freedom (and responsibility) of the consecrated state of life where you will live eremitical life in the Church's  name (i.e., as a Catholic hermit). If so, you will likely petition your diocese for admission to profession and eventual consecration under canon 603). I would suggest you will have needed to live as a hermit per se for at least two or three years in order to be clear you feel called in this way.

Throughout all of this you will be discerning. There will be questions like the following running all through everything you are and do --- something which will be true whether or not you are discerning a canonical or non-canonical vocation: What does God call me to? How am I truly happiest, truly free? What makes me most whole and generous as a human being? Am I merely indulging my own tendencies to selfishness or being individualistic (which is not the same as truly being an individual)? Am I being false or engaging in pretence in this? How and how not? Is my need to be by myself  (or live in solitude) motivated by woundedness or by wholeness? (It is likely to be both and with your director's help you will need to learn to work through/heal the woundedness and enhance your own wholeness so your discernment can continue.)  How do I love best? How will my life witness most fully to the Gospel of God in Christ? Who am I really and who does God call me to be?

I hope this is helpful. Again, if I have missed the mark for you or raised more questions, please feel free to get back to me with further comments and questions. In the meantime, all my best.

12 October 2019

A Little bit of Lectio: Wholehearted Discipleship and Acting as the Finger of God

I did a Communion service yesterday morning. The readings were familiar ones, the first from Joel and the Gospel lection from Luke 11:15-21 and I had done homilies on them before, especially on Luke. Given the power outage, etc., though I had read the commentaries and spent time praying with the texts, I really had no ideas about what to say about these readings. The last time I spoke about Luke I pointed out that the room swept clean of demons is a metaphor for the human heart cleansed or purified, but also the heart hungry for commitment and yearning to give itself over entirely to something or someone who is worthy of this self gift. Commentators note that the purification of our hearts is not enough; we are made to love something/someone other than ourselves who will complete us, and if we don't give ourselves over exhaustively to God and those whom God loves, we will give our hearts over to some alien love which is unworthy of us and will leave us empty and incomplete. I reminded folks of this piece of things.

As I was preparing, I cast about for additional ideas and focused on the metaphor "the finger of God". I was struck by the paucity of uses of this image in both OT and NT. That made the image stand out for me in a way it has not done before. For instance, it is by the finger of God that plagues are sent against Israel and her enemies; it is by the finger of God that God writes the ten commandments on the stone tablets. It is by the finger of God that Jesus casts out demons in yesterday's Gospel lection and, in a passage which might want us to think of Jesus acting "by the finger of God". we have Jesus kneeling to write in the dust (a new law of justice done in mercy?) when the adulterous woman is brought before him. To act "by the finger of God" is to participate in or experience some dimension of God acting powerfully, " with mighty hand and outstretched arm! And yet, there is a gentleness and restraint associated with revelatory acts done "by the finger of God." It was this that was the second piece of yesterday's reflection.

The third piece of my thought yesterday came from something I read which affirmed the human soul as that aspect of our Selves which clearly defines us in terms of our relatedness to God. I have mentioned here and in my parish that Dom Robert Hale used to say "God sustains us like a singer sustains a note", and I have used that quote to indicate the dynamic, constant giving of our souls to us by God; our souls are the eternal breath of God breathed into us moment by moment. This ongoing giving of this profoundly integral and dynamic "part" or dimension of ourselves marks us not as merely related to God but as relationship with God.We do not merely have a relationship with God, we are relationship with God. That is our very nature. (By the way, as a bit of a tangent, this is part of the reason eremitical solitude is a communal reality.)

Finally, I combined these three pieces of thought and reflected that we are each called to give ourselves over wholeheartedly to this relationship, to commit to truly being this relationship and growing in the holiness which marks and measures authentic humanity. We are called to allow our hearts to be committed exhaustively, without division or resistance, to God and the things of God.  More we are called to be disciples of the living God through whom he works with power. Now, to be honest, I find it difficult to imagine God acting through me with "mighty hand and outstretched arm". I am very much moved by and relate more easily to the image of God's power being perfected in weakness instead! But, perhaps I can think of myself acting "by the finger of God"! Perhaps I can even see myself as the littlest finger of God through whom he acts with mercy and restraint to touch and heal others.

 Yesterday that is the message and call I suggested God was extending to each of us. Can we imagine ourselves as, perhaps, the littlest "finger of God" bringing God's powerful love to others with the gentleness and empathy of Jesus? Can we see ourselves acting thoughtfully and compassionately in a wholehearted way with and in him; can we imagine ourselves writing in the shifting sand of our own time and in the lives of those we touch, a message of Divine justice accomplished in mercy? I think this is part of what yesterday's Mass readings ask of us.

11 October 2019

Oakland Civic Orchestra

In OCO's most recent concert Cellist Tim Erickson orchestrated and conducted Two Romances by Clara Schumann. Tim is also part of a quintet I play with (when my wrist is healthy) on Saturday mornings. So, besides all his other talents Tim (a physicist and mathematician) makes some pretty great pancakes --- often with a mystery ingredient we get to guess (and devour) before we get to playing music! I really like both of these Romances, but I love the first one all done with pizzicato!!

WOO HOO! Power is back on at Stillsong!

Well, the power is back on here at Stillsong! I can't say I entirely understand why PG and E opted to handle the situation in the way they did, however, the "weather event" (gusting winds and low humidity leading to a high fire danger period) has passed, the electricity is back on sooner than I expected, and all is well. I am not the only one who came away feeling grateful for some everyday amenities we might sometimes tend to take for granted!

So, thanks for your prayers and good wishes. Some of these I only saw or heard about after the power came back on but they meant a lot and nonetheless I felt supported by your prayer throughout the shutdown. I have received several questions and had a couple I have been working on for a while already. Thanks for your patience; I'll get to them as soon as I can.

08 October 2019

Update on the next few days at Stillsong

  Well, things are interesting here in Northern California. Beginning at midnight tonight we will lose power for at least a day and a half in order to be proactive re fire danger. (Gusting winds beginning tonight and very low humidity makes this necessary.) Local news though, has asked us to be prepared to be without power for up to seven days. So, I am charging devices, buying batteries, shopping for canned food, making sure my prescriptions (especially for pain and seizure) are filled or sufficient, and just generally getting ready for this planned power shutdown. Amazon is delivering food for my pantry and I will pick up some stuff today to be sure I have enough for several days. I have a case of V8 juice to substitute for fresh vegetables (all stores will also be closed beginning at midnight tonight and my refrigerator is probably too small to keep perishables cold for long), a couple of thermos bottles for a day's worth of hot beverages, and am prepared to be drinking water instead of tea or a morning coffee so (despite some sleepiness in the early am) I think all will be well here at Stillsong.

I will not be able to post or pick up emails --- no router, of course (just realized that!) --- though I may be able to take a train into the City and do some writing there (I may also want a hot meal if the outage goes on a bit!). Otherwise it will just be relatively quiet (i.e., normal) days at Stillsong. I'm not yet sure about the parish Bible classes on Thursday and will miss those if they can't be held. The morning class might be able to be held but if the outage  goes on longer than  first suggested will be the case, there will be no way to hold the evening class. We are just moving into the heart of Paul's letter to the Galatians --- the section on justification, faith, and freedom and the ways these are rooted in the faithfulness of God and his Crucified Christ so I am particularly excited to start that. I am preparing material on justification, the way the cross works, our New Covenant identity "in Christ" (which Christians are invited to adopt as we have been adopted by God!!), and, of course, the nature of Christian Freedom.

We have all of October and most of November left to us to finish Galatians so we will be fine even if we need to lose one class. The class itself is wonderful! We have folks from all age groups (College onwards) and backgrounds (from college students to homemakers, to teachers (including theology!), to psychiatrists); they ask such good questions, make really excellent observations, and care deeply about their faith; they inspire me and I am energized by working with them in this way. It continues to amaze me how well this ministry works as an integral piece of eremitical life and allows the development and use of my own discrete talents in this regard. My director and I were discussing this a few weeks ago and I commented on how much reading and work I had to do for it (both in general and at that point in time). She observed wryly, ""Yes, like that is something you really hate!" (paraphrase) I laughed and agreed it was not exactly a hardship for me!! So, power outages are a nuisance but, for me at least, a small matter when there is this kind of energy flowing! Thanks be to God!

07 October 2019

A Contemplative Moment: Dancing in the Mystery of God

Dancing in the Mystery of God

by Joy Conley

My soul sings in gratitude.
I'm dancing in the mystery of God.
The light of the Holy One is within me
And I am blessed, so truly blessed.
This goes deeper than human thinking.
I am filled with awe
At love whose only condition is
to be received.
The gift is not for the proud,
For they have no room for it.
The strong and self-sufficient ones
Don't have this awareness.
But those who know their emptiness
Can rejoice in Love's fullness.
It's the love that we are made for,
The reason for our being.
It fills our inmost heart space and
Brings to birth in us, the Holy One.

06 October 2019

Prayers Requested for Brother Jerry Cronkhite, Er Dio.

I am asking for readers' prayers. I heard this morning from Brother Jerry Cronkhite, Er Dio, a Diocesan Hermit for the Archdiocese of Seattle. Jerry's new hermitage for the time being is an ICU. He has had several heart attacks this past week and is hospitalized after multiple surgeries preparing for dialysis and waiting for heart and kidney transplants.

Jerry has been a diocesan hermit for the Archdiocese of Seattle since 2012. I believe he is the only consecrated solitary hermit in the diocese. Jerry continues his own ministry and mission of prayer in his new "cell" so I hope you will respond with similar love for him and hold him in your hearts and prayer. As I hear more I will post updates to this blog post. My sincerest thanks.

05 October 2019

On Catechisms, Lay hermit Life and the Reasons for Canon 603

[[Sister Laurel, I get the impression that you are "allergic" to people who live eremitical life for selfish reasons. As I continue to read your blog I am beginning to get a sense of why you emphasize the character of ecclesial vocations. I know you insist the consecrated and lay hermit vocations are different from one another but not that one is better than the other. Isn't it the case though, that as soon as one of these is defined as an ecclesial vocation, it becomes a calling which avoids selfishness and some of the other stereotypes associated with eremitical life? Is it really possible to live as a lay hermit and avoid these things? Could it be impossible and if so, maybe this is the reason the Church really doesn't do a lot to speak of hermits in the lay state. Maybe that's part of the reason the CCC  doesn't actually refer to lay hermits but chooses instead to speak of consecrated hermits.]]

What an intriguing analysis!!! Thank you for the thought you have given this. I think you have sharpened or underscored the importance of ecclesial standing in regard to eremitical life. Ecclesial vocations, as I have said many times, "belong" to the Church and are lived on her behalf for the sake of her Gospel and  those to whom she would proclaim that Gospel. Such vocations truly are allergic to selfishness --- except in the sense that any vocation serves the wholeness and holiness of the one called and then everyone else. Even so, and despite the fact that this helps protect the eremitical vocation from the stereotypes of individualism, misanthropy, isolationism, and so forth, I don't think it means that lay eremitical lives cannot be lived in a similarly exemplary way. Or, to put things more positively, I believe both consecrated and lay eremitical vocations can be the result of a Divine call and stand in opposition to the stereotypes and perversions of authentic hermit life we have seen through the centuries. Consecrated and Lay eremitical vocations are different in their rights and obligations but at the core of each is a call to the silence of solitude which itself is the eremitical vocation's great gift (charism) to the Church.

Remember the Desert Fathers and Mothers were lay hermits and their vocations were profoundly prophetic; they challenged the worldliness of the Church and called her back to a life of authentic holiness. They typified a true desert spirituality which could serve any person in days of deprivation, suffering, want, fragility, and threat with its foundational message that God alone is sufficient for us and has promised to be there for us eternally in the unexpected and even the unacceptable place. Now, in a sense, these Desert Abbas and Ammas were Church for one another as well as for those to whom they witnessed from beyond the desert borders. Also in a sense these hermits saw their vocations as serving the whole Church. These were not ecclesial vocations in the sense we use that term today, but they were profoundly linked to and meant for the health and holiness of the Church.

In the history of the Church lay hermits have, for instance, served as anchorites connected intimately to the life of the local church. Not only did they attend liturgy via a window looking out on the altar, but they had windows on the life of the community via the village square which allowed folks to come to them, talk, ask for prayers, receive spiritual direction, and just generally find a listening ear and heart. These were, in the main, lay hermits -- though quite often they were under the supervision of the local bishop and may have made vows in his hands as part of some kind of  "diocesan" standing. Other hermits served as ferry captains, toll collectors, gamekeepers, foresters, etc; in these cases their lives were lives of service even as they were lives of profound solitude. For all of these reasons I have to disagree that lay hermits are somehow essentially selfish or incapable of a generous service of the Church and/or others. The Church herself is aware of this history; I don't expect her lack of mention of hermits in the lay state (as opposed to those in the consecrated state) is motivated by any sense that such hermits are selfish, individualistic, misanthropic, or anything similar.

While it is true that stereotypes developed out of the world's long experience with lay hermits and while some of these hermits were undoubtedly guilty of selfishness, individualism, and so forth it is the essential truth lay hermits have borne witness to that lives on and has now been codified in canon 603. Bishop Remi de Roo recognized this and asked for eremitical life to be made a state of perfection (in our contemporary language, an instance of the consecrated state oriented to perfection). This request was eventually codified in canon 603 in 1983 when it then became possible for a lay hermit to be admitted to the consecrated state by one's local bishop. The mechanism for this admission involves 1) mutual discernment of the vocation by hermit and diocese, 2) public profession of the evangelical counsels (603.2), and 3) ongoing supervision of such vocations by one's local bishop.

Canon 603 does two things then: 1) it allows eremitical life to be lived as a form of consecrated life, and thus too, as a form of prophetic existence within a stable state of life governed by the Church, and 2) it allows  the life to be protected from abuse, disedifying stereotypes, individualism, selfishness, and so forth. Lay hermits today may not fall prey to the dangers and distortions associated with hermits throughout the centuries, but I think it is important that they realize the significance of an ecclesial/canonical vocation which publicly proclaims the significance of eremitism and helps protect it from so much that detracts from its dignity and witness potential. Most importantly to my mind, canon 603 indicates that this vocation "belongs" to the Church, that, as solitary as it is, eremitical life is a form of life in community and that it is a similarly responsible vocation. Individual lay hermits may actually live their vocations with the same spirit and motivations (I know some who certainly do; their lives are inspiring), but as I experience it, it is the canonical nature of consecrated solitary eremitism, its existence as a stable state of consecrated life, that really ensures the hermit never forgets what eremitical life is essentially and who she is in light of her profession, consecration, and commissioning.

Regarding the reason the CCC did not really speak to eremitical life, I am not so cynical as you. The Catechism refers to consecrated life and describes eremitical life in that state. I believe the authors of the Catechism were well aware that their descriptions of this new form of consecrated life was one which could well inspire those whom the circumstances of life has left isolated for one reason and another and who seek the redemption rather than the validation (!) of their isolation). Some would do this in the lay state. Lay persons are entirely free to live as hermits; they are also free (generally speaking) to seek admission to profession and consecration as a member of a congregation of hermits or as a solitary hermit under c 603.

The CCC does not list every way of life a lay person may live as a lay person; it lists different (and normative) vocations in terms of specific states of life. Because the lay hermit, despite the prayer and solitude of her life, is still living this in the lay state; everything s/he does (including living as a hermit) is an expression of his/her lay state, until and unless s/he is admitted to public vows and consecration. There is really no necessary reason for the CCC to specify lay persons in its treatment of consecrated eremitical life. Canon 603 is both new and normative of solitary eremitical life in the consecrated state which the Catechism references and from which it derives its more general description of eremitical life. While referring to consecrated life per se I think the authors of the CCC believed lay persons should be able (as they clearly are) to be inspired by this description. I suspect there was nothing more than this involved in the way the CCC handled eremitical life as a vocation to consecrated life without specific reference to lay hermits. We can wish the CCC gave some space to lay eremitical life, especially in light of exemplary eremitical lives like those of the Desert Abbas and Ammas, but the work's limitations (both of space and intent) made this apparently unnecessary or impossible.

04 October 2019

Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi (Reprise)

My God and My All! Deus Meus et Omnia! All good wishes to my Franciscan Sisters and Brothers on this patronal feast! I hope it is a day filled with Franciscan joy and simplicity and that this ancient Franciscan motto echoes in your hearts. In today's world we need more than ever a commitment to Franciscan values, not least a commitment to treasure God's creation in a way which fosters ecological health. Genesis tells us we are stewards of this creation and it is a role we need to take seriously. Francis reminds us of this commission of ours, not least by putting God first in everything. (It is difficult to exploit the earth in the name of consumerism when we put God first, and in fact, allow him to be our God and our All!)

Another theme of Francis's was the rebuilding of the Church and he came to know that it was only as each of us embraced a life of genuine holiness that the Church would be the living temple of God it was meant to be. Having just come from the dedication of our new cathedral and then reading a series of comments by those who denounce everything about it as "protestantized", ugly, etc ad nauseam --- all without ever seeing the place --- I know that the church needs rebuilding. We are a divided household, so it is appropriate that we begin lections on Monday from Paul's letter to the church in Galatia where he takes on those who try to substitute a law-laced Gospel which require Gentile Christians to become practicing Jews as though baptism needs be supplemented by circumcision and the church is to be composed of two classes of Christians, the traditional (circumcized) remnant and the gentiles who lack in externals what the law requires --- nevermind the state of their heart or the truth of their adoption by God. As Paul knew, THIS was the true blasphemy.

But both Paul and Francis knew that if they truly put God and his Christ first what would be built up was a new family, a new creation, undivided and of a single heart. So, in a broken world, and an ailing church, let us learn from these two "fools for Christ" and rebuild in Christ a living temple of unity and love. Again, all good wishes to my Franciscan Sisters and Brothers! I am off to read Chesterton's biography of St Francis, I think.

03 October 2019

On Limited Active Ministry and its Expansion to Fulltime Ministry

[[Hi Sister, you do limited ministry at your parish and out of your hermitage. Is there a chance that your ministry could expand and be more full time? I was wondering what happens to a hermit when something like that occurs. Can they remain hermits and work full time in ministry?]]

Great questions. Yes, I do limited ministry at my parish and I work as a spiritual director out of my hermitage. I cannot see any of that growing or expanding much -- though perhaps a bit -- but especially not to full time. Because of my commitment as a hermit I could not allow, much less pursue the expansion of my ministry to such a degree; this means I can't let things creep up in the way some might imagine. I am responsible for living my Rule of life and that Rule is very clear re what the primary values of my life are. Ministry is possible but it must be limited because the life is contemplative, and even more, it is eremitical.

I think part of what you are wondering about is what happens if a person decides they are really called to full time ministry despite being a hermit. In such a case the hermit (if they are publicly professed)  would have to consider petitioning her bishop for a dispensation from her vows as a hermit. If a hermit allowed ministry to grow to a level which impairs her commitment to prayer, contemplative, and eremitical life -- no matter how important that ministry is -- her diocese (bishop, delegate, et al) would need to act to, 1) bring things back in line with her canon 603 commitment, or (if attempts to do this fail) to,  2) dispense the hermit's vows.

It would be dishonest for a consecrated (that is, a publicly professed and consecrated) hermit to live under public vows thus committing to eremitical life publicly, and then to betray that commitment by allowing active ministry to take over her life. It would also indicate the need to work with her director and/or delegate to discern her actual vocation. I think it is obvious that such work would begin to take place before active ministry became full time. For instance, in my own life I have ordinarily brought up possibilities that arise for ministry to my Director. She listens to what I have discerned , encourages my work, discusses any areas where  I am unclear, and then I continue the process of discernment or act on my judgment.  The decision is mine but it will not be made without consideration of who I am committed to be and questions re how this works in terms of my Rule, vows, contemplative commitments, truest self, etc.

If I made some major changes in my ministry or Rule which led me along the road toward full time active ministry,  I suppose both my director/delegate and the bishop/diocese would allow some time for me to explore any decision I made in case of mistake and to further discernment. I also trust my own call and ability to discern well enough to believe I would discover a mistake sooner rather than later. Even so, were I to persist in a course of action which was inconsistent with my eremitical life, both my delegate and the diocese would need to take some action which would get me back on track or allow me to move on from my eremitical life. Dispensation of vows is a very big step whether or not I request it myself; it would not happen without some serious interviews and discussions between myself, my director/delegates, the bishop and/or Vicar for Religious and probably my pastor as well. Because we all want two things, 1) what is best for me, and 2) what is best for the solitary eremitical vocation, along with 3) what is best for the parish and Church more generally, we would work to achieve the best decisions possible. I think, generally speaking, this is the way it would work for any canonical solitary hermit. For those in community a similar process would occur within the congregation in conjunction with the hermit's bishop.

By the time someone makes perpetual profession as a canonical hermit everyone involved has a right to expect the hermit has rightly determined and lived a contemplative vocation for some time with limited active ministry. A diocese will have determined the person is happy and personally thriving (i.e., is abundantly alive and growing in that all the time) in this way of life, has made a series of mature decisions supporting this lifestyle, and is comfortable with the sacrifices it and eremitical life more specifically require. The hermit's Rule will express: 1) her understanding of eremitism as essentially ministerial of itself, 2) the hermit's own 'justification' of the life and 3) the sense she makes of the central elements of canon 603 (stricter separation from the world, assiduous prayer and penance, the silence of solitude, the evangelical counsels --- all lived for the sake of God's glory (revelation and honor) and the salvation of others). It should be clear from the hermit's Rule (or at least from related conversations with "formation" personnel" **) that she both believes profoundly in the importance of the eremitical life as a rare but vital proclamation of the Gospel, and also that she has experienced God's saving presence/love in this specific lifestyle.

 All of this makes it very unlikely a hermit will find herself in a situation like the one you outline where active ministry could expand to the degree you describe. The tension between life in solitude and the desire and even the very real and legitimate need for active ministry is something I have found to be a constant presence --- as I think I mentioned in an earlier post. As I grow in my own capacity for love, in my communion with God in solitary prayer, and in my own sense of belonging more integrally to my parish faith community, the tension between these two is sharpened -- though so too is my deep comfort with my eremitical call. It is a strange paradox. What is true for me at least is that I can only do active ministry to the extent it flows from my eremitical life and leads me back to my hermitage cell. Should that change for some reason it will be time for consultation with others.

** Here I am thinking of ongoing formation and those people who assist me in this, namely my Director/delegate, spiritual director, bishop, and perhaps too, my pastor. Prayer, journaling, and other work goes without saying, I think.

01 October 2019

On Unfairness With Regard to Differing Rights and Obligations With Canonical and Non-canonical Eremitical Life

[[Dear Sister, doesn't it seem unfair to you that you have different rights or "perks" because you are a canonical rather than a non-canonical hermit? What you wrote about the right to have a priest come to your hermitage and say Mass isn't something a non-canonical hermit can do. Also, a non-canonical hermit does not have the aid of a delegate to discern things or the bishop to give permission or ask priests to assist you in this way. I wonder if this is really fair.]]

Thanks for your questions. I agree there is a real and substantial difference between the rights and obligations between a canonical and a non-canonical hermit, but that is precisely the distinction which exists between a public vocation with public commitment and a commitment which is private. Hermits who have private vows and do not, therefore, enter the consecrated state retain the freedoms associated with the lay (baptized state) itself. The Church does not extend additional rights or obligations to such hermits nor do the People of God (whether parish or diocese) have additional expectations of them. But such obligations and expectations do accrue to the publicly professed and consecrated hermit.

I don't know that fairness enters into things here, but in any case, I don't think the differing rights and obligations are unfair. Different, yes, but not unfair. Generally speaking, if a lay hermit wishes to take on the rights and obligations of the public vocation, they can seek admittance to public profession. Because we are talking about an ecclesial vocation, this will require the Church's own discernment and admission to profession because only the Church can extend certain rights and obligations to the hermit in such a case, but that said, a lay hermit is certainly free to seek admission to profession and eventual consecration as a solitary canonical hermit.

Many hermits do not desire to "jump through the hoops" associated with canonical standing; they do not want to participate in a process of mutual discernment or to give themselves over to the kinds of relationships and requirements which are part and parcel of a public vocation. Some believe these additional canonical requirements are destructive of the freedom of eremitical life itself. Others believe c 603 sets up an essentially legalistic approach to eremitical life. I strenuously disagree with the accuracy of these last perceptions but I also understand them. The bottom line here is that if one wants the rights attending canonical eremitical life, one also needs to accept the canonical state and obligations which contextualize these rights.

One of the reasons I wrote about what establishes a "stable state of life" was precisely to indicate the existence of differing rights and obligations associated with these. The question of Eucharistic spirituality and Sunday Mass attendance is one of the ways the lay state can differ from the consecrated state -- though it need not. The existence of a public vow of obedience and the relationships which make such a vow meaningful is another way consecrated eremitical life differs from lay eremitical life. The various differences in the way consecrated hermits  may style themselves (titles, habits, cowl or other prayer garment) are further ways they differ from non-canonical or privately vowed hermits. Public obligations to religious poverty and the central or constitutive elements of canon 603 all constitute dimensions of the stable state of life associated with the consecrated state of life.  (Note well that this is not the same as some vaguely defined "consecrated life of the Church" -- it is very specifically a reference to a precisely defined and constituted  state of life.

The lay state itself is a canonically defined state of life with its own rights and obligations but again, the elements constituting such a state of life differ from those of the consecrated state. If a person would like the rights associated with the consecrated state (including the right to call themselves a Catholic Hermit) they need to embrace the publicly granted obligations which are also associated with such a state. As I said some posts back, one cannot have one's cake and eat it too if by this we mean one can personally assume the rights of the consecrated state without also embracing the public obligations and graces of that state; this is why private vows do not admit one to the consecrated state of life.

Similarly, neither can we claim the kinds of freedom associated with the lay state (including the freedom to separate oneself from a diocese, the ability to move wherever and whenever one wishes, freedom from the supervision of legitimate superiors -- though this is not onerous -- etc) and at the same time claim the perks or rights of the consecrated state (title, garb, public recognition, the assistance of legitimate superiors, supervised ongoing formation for the whole of one's life, etc). One needs to make a choice as to which state one truly feels called to and, depending upon what the church decides, embrace the obligations associated with that state.

The only general situation I can think of with regard to canon 603 which results in actual unfairness occurs when a diocese refuses to profess anyone at all under this norm or, similarly, when dioceses fail to do genuine processes of mutual discernment with persons who are seeking admission to profession and consecration. In such cases persons who should have at least a chance enter into a process of mutual discernment are prevented from doing so and will need to live their eremitical lives in the lay or ordained states rather than the consecrated state. This will mean persons who must go through their diocese for profession and consecration if they are to enter the consecrated state of life, are deprived of the specific kind of freedom and assistance associated with this form of eremitical life; they will also be deprived of elements associated with a truly stable (permanent) state of life they actually might most benefit from for their life as a hermit --- a stable form which might also be most edifying to the Church as a whole. The refusal to honestly even discern such vocations might be thought to be a rejection of the Holy Spirit who works in ways which challenge our imaginations and biases. It seems to me to be a rejection of canon 605 as well as canon 603.

30 September 2019

Followup on Provisions for Eucharist and Stable States of Life

 [[Dear sister, I wanted to thank you for your recent post on attending Mass vs the silence of solitude. You have spoken many times about the rights and obligations of canonical eremitical life as opposed to the private dedication of the lay hermit and I sort of remembered reading explanations of what these included, but the idea of missing Mass because of canonical obligations brought all of this into much sharper relief for me. The added paragraph referring to having a priest come to your hermitage to say Mass occasionally also helped me understand what you meant by being part of a stable state of life and eremitical life lived by private vows in the lay state. Just to be sure I understood you, am I correct in saying that regular public Mass is part of the stable state of life of the laity whereas  having a priest come into your hermitage if necessary is part of the stable state of canonical eremitism and the rights and obligations which are part of that life?]]

Thanks for this restatement and your comments. I can't add much to what you have written. Yes, the ability to have someone come into the hermitage and say Mass is part of the rights which are associated with canonical eremitism. It is also something which allows me to negotiate the needs of the silence of solitude and my obligations regarding a sound and vibrant sacramental life. Obviously it allows me to meet (in a flexible or less literal way) the requirement of Sunday Mass and the reasons for that. Lay hermits are part of the lay state and the Church is clear what rights and obligations accrue to that state which makes it a stable state of life. Sunday Mass attendance (which is also about participating in the life of the Church rather than just "getting Communion"!) is part of this life's stability then; it is part of what sustains a lay person and the life of the whole Church as well.

Were I to have a priest come in to say Mass it would need to enhance a strong ecclesial commitment which was also reflected in the need for extended and increased silence and solitude. It would also need to enhance the silence of solitude which itself is, paradoxically, a relational term. It would need to be truly edifying and thus, build up the Church herself; it could not be a selfish act or one which simply isolates. Hence the need for significant consultation and discernment in the decision to embrace greater reclusion (a word I have been avoiding up until now, I guess) -- just as would happen in any congregation discerning and deciding on allowing a period of reclusion for one of their members and how they do that so it will be healthy and edifying for all.

I may have been too vague in referring to "rights and obligations" in the past. Moreover, describing what constitutes a stable state of life is something I simply had not thought to do. When I look at the way the Church supports different stable states of life, especially in terms of provisions for Eucharist, it does bring clarity I think. Considering the different ways the Church provides for Eucharist for the lay (non-canonical) hermit and the canonical hermit underscores the  nature of these different stable states of life. Again, thanks for your questions and comments, they are very well articulated and I think will be helpful to other readers.

29 September 2019

On Sunday Mass Attendance: When and Why Can the Canonical Hermit Absent Herself in the Name of the Silence of Solitude?

 [[Dear Sister, why can consecrated hermits miss daily or even Sunday Mass? If I make private vows as a hermit can I miss Sunday Mass in the name of eremitical hiddenness or stricter separation from the world?]]

Thanks for your questions. There are several posts written about attendance at Mass so I would suggest you check out the labels to the right and locate the pertinent posts under "Eucharistic Spirituality and Solitude".  The answers are pretty straightforward. Consecrated  (canonical) solitary hermits may miss Sunday Mass sometimes if the requirements of the silence of solitude make this necessary. The silence of solitude to which they are publicly committed is not only a way of describing the environment in which the hermit lives her life, but it is also the goal of her life, a particular way of describing fullness of authentic humanity in communion/union with God lived for the sake of others. While it would be relatively rare for hermits to miss Sunday Mass the presence of the reserved Eucharist makes it possible for the hermit to maintain her link with the parish liturgy while also living into the silence of solitude in more profound ways. Still, missing Mass on Sundays is possible because the canonical hermit is legitimately committed (i.e., committed in law) to eremitical silence of solitude beyond her baptismal obligations.

As you can guess, this decision to miss Mass, especially when it extends several weeks or more because of the claims of the silence of solitude will be carefully discerned and discussed with one's Director/delegate and/or one's Bishop. Because the Eucharistic celebration is such a high value for the canonical hermit, to miss more than occasionally without really good and well-discerned reasons is ill-advised at best. On the other hand, missing daily Mass is more common and understandable; Religious are not required to attend Mass every day though they are required to make Eucharistic spirituality the heart of their lives. For canonical hermits daily Mass may truly interfere with the requirements of silence and solitude or the silence of solitude.

Privately vowed hermits are in a different position because their vows are an entirely private matter. Publicly such hermits are, of course, canonically bound to the same rights and obligations as any baptized Catholic; no public profession grants or binds with additional (and sometimes differing) rights and obligations as occurs in the life of the canonical hermit. This is why the Church makes clear a lay person who lives as a hermit with private vows alone (or none at all) are still lay persons --- persons baptized into the rights and obligations of the laity (laos =People). Neither would a hermit in the baptized state alone (private vows do not change this) have a legitimate (canonical) superior/delegate with whom such a matter could be discerned and by whom it might be permitted or even encouraged. (A good spiritual director can and will help with discernment in this case but does not have the authority to allow or give permission for such a thing.) Since you would not be publicly admitted to nor bound canonically (legally) by the silence of solitude (or the hiddenness which is derivative of this), or any of the other elements of canon 603 none of these can supersede your baptismal rights and obligations. Since baptism is associated with the public (legal) obligation to attend Mass every Sunday unless illness or some similar emergency intervenes, private commitments (which are of a different level than public commitments) cannot change these foundational rights or obligations.

Another piece of this answer is a consideration of the meaning of the phrase "the world" in "stricter separation from the world." "The world" does not mean the entirety of created reality outside the hermitage; instead it means that which is resistant to Christ or which promises fulfillment apart from Christ. In this sense "the world" cannot be said to include one's parish or (more especially) Sunday Mass! Only secondarily can it mean dimensions of God's good creation which are not resistant to Christ. In light of this we must point out that if one is taking it upon oneself to miss Mass in the name of entirely private commitments one may really be guilty of acting in a particularly selfish (individualistic) and thus, an entirely worldly way!! Finally, the idea of eremitical hiddenness is, as I have written recently, a derivative value which stems from the canonical elements of stricter separation and the silence of solitude. cf., Hiddenness as a derivative or Subordinate Value for the Hermit. Hermits do not make vows of hiddenness nor is this value even mentioned in canon 603. To privilege this vague term over one's public obligations is a seriously misguided practice; it seems individualistic to me, and therefore, "worldly." Meanwhile, since you are not canonically (legally) obligated to stricter separation from the world you cannot privilege this over the values and practices you are canonically obligated to by virtue of your baptism.

By the way, I want to reiterate something I wrote almost exactly 5 years ago in case I have been unclear, namely, [[. . . I don't feel entirely comfortable speaking of the 'right' to skip my Sunday obligation as though that was one of the rights granted me in profession. It was not. What is more comfortable to me is speaking in terms of competing obligations and even competing legitimate obligations. I (as is the case for any diocesan hermit) am (canonically) obligated by profession, consecration, and Rule to live a life of the evangelical counsels, the silence of solitude, assiduous prayer and penance, and stricter separation from the world under the supervision of my bishop (and delegate); at the same time I am obligated in the ways my baptismal commitment binds every Christian. The challenge is to meet all of these legitimate obligations, some of which are competing, in the best way I can.

(Quote continues:) The rights that came with canonical standing include the right to call myself a Catholic and/or Diocesan Hermit, the right to wear a habit and cowl (both right and obligation attached to perpetual profession), and the right to style myself as Sister. In other words, I was given and assumed the right to live this life and serve my brothers and sisters in this way in the name of the Church. ]] cf., Followup on Hermits and Sunday Mass Attendance In instances where I need to absent myself from public Eucharist for a more extended period, I might then need to have a priest come into the hermitage to say Mass periodically. This would also be something (a right or obligation) canon law speaks to and my bishop or delegate could require and/or permit.

27 September 2019

Followup on Vocations and the Will of God

[[Dear Sister Laurel, many thanks for answering my questions on canon 603 and vocations generally. Did you mean that your sense of a deeper call (to authentic humanity) made it easier to handle the loss of concrete pathways? For example, what happens to women who feel called to preach or minister as an ordained priest but have to settle for something else? Would the theology you outlined in your last post ease their pain at being barred from the priesthood?]]

Great questions, thank you again! Yes, my sense that vocation first of all means a call to authentic humanity does make it possible to deal well with the loss of specific pathways. However, that does not mean it does away with the pain of loss, and especially not with the pain of being deprived of a vocational pathway that one desired deeply even to the point of knowing it as a call from God. It is more the case, at least in my own experience, that deep joy combines with pain; the pain adds a kind of poignancy to the joy one feels and the awe that comes from the sense of God's will being done in spite of difficulties and obstacles.

I suppose this is one of the places I am caused to reflect on the passion narratives and Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane; it is also one of the places this narrative is most consoling to me. I hear Jesus praying that he wishes the will of God could be realized in some other way, that surely it could shape itself differently than the events that stand in front of him now, and even (perhaps) that the events overtaking him are unjust and ensure the failure of his ministry as well as causing terrible pain to those who love him. Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom with his life and he did that unceasingly. During the years of active ministry he had to reappropriate Israel's sense of who God's Messiah would be, how that messiahship would be shaped and what it would look like in the face of historical circumstances and oppression. Again and again the reshaping, both in Jesus' understanding and as he embodied this call himself, took the form of weakness and self-emptying; now in these final hours this weakness and self-emptying would reach its climax in abject helplessness, pain, shame, and an even deeper degree of openness to God's will.

Specifically, with regard to reflections on vocation what strikes me most about the Gethsemane situation and prayer is the profoundness of the apparent conflict between what Jesus dreamt of and deeply desired and what he commits himself to in spite of not seeing clearly what God is doing in it all. I wonder that Jesus did not see historical circumstances preventing God's will from being done -- but clearly he did not see things that way. I wonder that Jesus did not say, "Abba, how can any of this be your will??!!" but again, he did not say this. Instead, he placed himself in God's hands and walked resolutely into the future trusting that ultimately even abandonment by God and godless death could, in fact, be (or at least serve) the will of God and the way God does justice. For me one lesson of all this is God works at levels deeper, more profound than what we can ordinarily see. Moreover God reveals Godself in the unexpected and even the "unacceptable" place -- something we all should hold fast to when we see our lives going "askew" in this way and that.

Regarding women who feel a call to the priesthood, for instance, but are frustrated in this for the whole of their lives, no I don't think this theology takes away the pain of this; it may even sharpen it in some ways. However, I do think it provides the means to move forward with real hope in spite of the fact that historical circumstances can actually thwart God's will in some ways while we hold onto the fact that simultaneously God can and does operate in even more profound ways to achieve his will. As I was reminded last night during a class on Galatians, that freedom can be expressed in negative and in positive terms: we can be free from things and free for them. Sometimes these two forms of freedom co-exist on the same level: we must be free from certain things if we are to be free for other things. But sometimes they exist on different levels so that despite certain unfreedoms we can yet be free for deeper and more fundamental freedoms.

Here too I am reminded of the Bonhoeffer quote I have used here a number of times: [[ Not everything that happens is the will of God, but inevitably nothing that occurs happens outside the will of God.]] This may not ease pain, but it does create hope and opens us to experiences of fulfillment,  joy, and awe which can co-exist with and even contextualize the pain.

26 September 2019

Requirements for c 603 Vocations; Vocations vs Vocational Pathways

 [[Sister Laurel, does Canon Law say a hermit has to be at least 30 years old? I saw that on a video along with the idea that a hermit doesn't need to have a Mass for profession; they can have a service and use some kind of sign (like a crucifix) or something. I couldn't find these in Canon Law (or the Catechism) but I am not a canonist. Are there other requirements for eremitical life in canon law?. . . Also, I wondered about the idea that God gives a vocation to every person. Are you saying when you write about ecclesial vocations, that sometimes vocations are not simply given by God directly to the person?

I am asking because if the Church says someone is not called to be a consecrated hermit does this mean God has not given the person a vocation at all? I believe that God calls every person and I think I understand what you mean when you say the discernment must be mutual but when the Church discerns a person does not have a given vocation don't these two things conflict? What I mean here is how can God call us to one thing if it depends on the Church saying yes, they agree we are called to this? When the Church makes a mistake and says, "no, we disagree" do we still have our vocation or do we need to accept we have no vocation? Thanks!!]]

Requirements for Consecrated (canonical) Eremitical Life:

Well, I am not a canonist either but I can say that neither of these things is located in canon law in relation to eremitical life (c 603). Public professions (especially final or solemn professions) are rightly celebrated at Mass according to the Rite of Profession for Religious. The Church considers Mass the exactly right place for such an important celebration of life commitments. She doesn't specify this with regard to eremitical life per se because it is well known and understood as a general principle in a Church whose highest spiritual aspirations are most clearly embodied and celebrated in the Eucharist. As for the age requirement canon law says nothing about this except that those being accepted by religious congregations for entrance must have completed their 17th year. I assume this is the legal requirement for c 603 as well; however, at the same time it is pretty well understood that eremitical life is a second half of life vocation. Thus, while canon law does not provide age requirements for c 603, a young person seeking to become a hermit would do better to join an eremitical or semi-eremitical community where they can get the assistance, and direct supervision, modeling, mentoring, etc any neophyte to religious life requires. Dioceses are apt to reflect this insight in their own praxis.

Neither does canon law or the Catechism for that matter say what garb or symbols can be used. With profession the hermit may receive a Breviary, habit, prayer garment (cowl for perpetual profession), ring, crucifix, scapular, or some other symbol of the life. Any of these might well be received at Mass. Some are appropriately given at temporary profession while some symbols (the cowl or ring, for instance)  are appropriate only with perpetual or solemn profession. By the way, because c 603 hermits are diocesan and solitary rather than members of a congregation, it is entirely inappropriate for a hermit under canon 603 to assume the name Carmelite, Franciscan, Dominican or other canonical Order or the initials associated with these, or to use a proprietary habit for a recognized canonical Order or congregation. Bishops cannot grant such proprietary habits to the hermit nor can they allow them to be assumed by a hermit in the diocese.

Excursus on the Right to Wear Proprietary Habits:

Excursus: The right to wear proprietary habits, which are associated with the specific congregation's charism, founder, etc. can only be granted by the Order/congregation themselves. Since they have the right (and obligation) to discern who is truly called to their community and who, with formation and "testing", can identify themselves as Franciscan, Carmelite, Camaldolese, etc (which means they act in the name of the Church  and the Franciscan, Carmelite, Camaldolese Order/congregation, etc.,) so too do they have the sole right to determine who will be garbed in their habit. It is deeply arrogant (and perhaps equally ignorant since those who do this generally do so out of naiveté) for a hermit who is unformed in a particular charism and spiritual tradition and not clothed by the Church (the Order itself) in a proprietary habit to assume the habit associated with that tradition. End Excursus.

Other Requirements for Admission to Consecrated Life:

The other requirements for admission to consecrated life (including eremitical life) include: one "not be bound by vows of matrimony [this would include vows followed by civil divorce but without a decree of nullity], not already be a member of another institute of consecrated life or society of apostolic life and not be under the influence of force, grave fear, or malice." (As noted in another post, "malice" may include lying about some aspect of one's life which is critical to living an eremitical life.) Dioceses can probably set guidelines for their hermits, especially for what regular program of discernment, and formation they will follow along with the assistance of diocesan personnel. Certainly there will be things needed to find a person suitable to even pursue a process of discernment and formation as a diocesan hermit; these can be determined on a case by case basis simply because certain things may look different given differing contexts in each life.

For instance, a serious chronic illness may be a sign that God has called a person to the silence of solitude of eremitical life; for another person the very same chronic illness might be a sign (when seen within the context of their entire life) that eremitical life is escapist, isolationist, and/or otherwise imprudent for that person. The diocese has the right to make the best discernment they can make in each case even when these requirements are not canonical.

When our own Discernment and the Church's Discernment Conflict:

Your last comments and questions about vocation are very fine. And yes, I think you do understand the very difficult notion of mutual discernment and the mediation of a vocation by the Church herself.  If God gives every person a vocation and if some vocations are ecclesial, how are we to understand the experience of feeling called to a particular vocation when the Church says no? There are only a couple of possibilities: 1) the person's sense of call is somehow mistaken, or 2) the Church is mistaken in her judgment that someone is not called to a specific ecclesial vocation. As you identify with your questions it is the implications of these mistakes a theology of vocation must address. For instance, if a person or the church is mistaken in their discernment and judgment can the person "miss" or even lose her vocation? Is she condemned to forever feeling she cannot be what/who God calls her to be? While I completely understand the tremendous pain of having the Church decide one is not called to an ecclesial vocation I think it is important we remember that, 3) our truest or deepest vocations are even more profound and more lasting than the concrete paths which lead to the fulfillment of these vocations -- including the paths constituted by ecclesial vocations.

I recently had occasion to say to someone that 1) it was possible to be prevented from embracing a vocation one felt called to because the Church does not concur that one is, or even can be, truly called to it, but that, 2) at the same time God's will can still be done. How can this be? This paradox is true because God does not, first of all, call us only to one vocational path but to something much more fundamental and transcendent, namely, authentic humanity. If pathways are closed to us for some reason does this mean we cannot achieve authentic humanity? No, of course not, because God continues to call us --- not necessarily to the pathway that is closed to us but to humanity nonetheless. Our own faithful and creative response to God's continued creative summoning results in new pathways opening to us in which our deepest or truest vocation may be fulfilled. At every moment we are meant to discover the ways open to us through which we may become truly human. What I know from my own experience is that there have been any number of pathways to this which were closed to me for one reason and another. When I look back at each of them I know that each could have been a way I could have achieved the fullness of authentic humanity and I desired them profoundly --- even as they closed to me; at the same time I know that other pathways opened up to me as I responded to God's summons in spite of these closing pathways.

Eventually eremitical life opened as an undreamt of possibility to me and then --- with some long-term obstacles or difficulties conditioning my response -- consecrated eremitical life. At each point in my journey I had to let go of some pathways I had thought were definitive of who I was called to be. Sometimes these pathways were linked to elements in my life which were then relativized; these elements remained dimensions of my life but no longer were (or could be) the focus or the main way to fulfillment as other dimensions of my life assumed greater (or at least clearer) importance. Through it all, the times of loss, rediscovery, new discoveries and new creation by God, the call to be myself in the Gospel of Jesus Christ remained. I learned to respond to that call with the best pathway open to me at the time.

And  eventually I also discovered that throughout this long journey of loss, rediscovery, and reappropriation, that nothing at all was truly lost, that each pathway (no matter how far it took me or in whatever way it stayed with me or was left behind) carried me further towards authentic humanity. It is as though my life was composed of a number of major pieces (music, violin, theology, love of language, prayer, Jesus Christ, teaching, chronic illness, the desire to serve, the felt desire for religious life, etc) which could be combined in innumerable ways but the framework of the "puzzle picture" was the call to authentic humanity. At one point in my life violin dominated and controlled the way the puzzle pieces came together, at another teaching, at another apostolic religious life (with a view toward teaching!); theology became a pedal tone underlying everything when it wasn't the dominant focus or melody itself, and throughout the whole of my adult life chronic illness was either a dominant tone or a piece of everything, etc. Now, 50 years after I first entered religious life, though chronic illness remained a defining element, and though my life came to look nothing like I had pictured it through the decades, I recognize my deepest self in this eremitical call and see clearly how each of the central elements of all those various pictures is still present and has shaped my response to God and the call to be myself!!  God is faithful and calls us to ourselves no matter the apparent obstacles. All things work for good for those who love God.

Summary on Vocation versus vocational pathways:

Again, my answer is that no, we do not ever lose our most fundamental vocation. We can resist it, lose sight of it, even reject it, but nonetheless God continues to call us and this call is creative. If we are faithful to this call even as various pathways don't work out or are closed to us, God's will can and will still be done. But it is important to remember that God is primarily concerned with us as persons and not with abstract vocations.  Each of those possible pathways may have felt like they were also God's one and only will for us, but God's will is both deeper and beyond the conditioning circumstances that shape our lives. We cannot continue to focus on a particular pathway (a specific puzzle piece) while missing the deeper call --- though we can hold the pathway as a possibility which may open to us in the future as we pursue our deepest calling to authentic humanity. We can miss a pathway; we can be deprived of a pathway by circumstances (including mistakes made by the church); but the vocation is held by God beyond all historical circumstances and is something that can be fulfilled in history so long as we too are obedient (attentive) to it and faithful to the creative love/summons of God.

Today I can say God worked my whole life to produce the heart of a hermit. I was amazed to discover that within the past three years. Every twist and turn in my life has been important in the graced formation of this heart. But to be honest I have to say it is also the heart of a teacher and (perhaps) a professional violinist; it is the heart of a contemplative and an apostolic religious, a hospital chaplain, spiritual director, theologian, and so forth. Some of those pathways were closed to me, but the love of music, learning and teaching, theology, Scripture, prayer and life with and in Christ lived for the sake of God and others, are the puzzle pieces which combine today to create my own unique eremitical life.

I know this response was long, but your questions are significant. I hope it is helpful.