30 May 2008
We have all heard the Christian term, "detachment," or at least, that is, we know the word and its common meaning. What does it actually mean in the context of monastic or eremitical life? What relation does it have to other values, to other demands of this or any Xtn life? Does it limit our ability to love others, for instance, or does it serve as the means to love more generously, more purely, more whole-heartedly? Does it demand an end to treasured relationships, or does it clarify and transform the way we participate in these? Does it somehow cause a lack of desire to participate in or nurture these relationships, or does it sharpen the delight we take in them and serve to allow the deepening of our commitment to the other? Is it marked by apathy (which is not the same as monastic apatheia!!) and a lack of feeling or energy for life, or does it help cultivate and condition a deeper sense of being alive and in love with life? And finally, does detachment entail a loss of self so complete that one can be said to be "nothing" or have no self (a la Bernadette Roberts, for instance), or is it a new way of possessing a self, a truer and fuller self which is more abundantly alive, and more profoundly related to reality?
As is probably obvious from the way I have phrased the questions, I believe genuine detachment does the latter in each case. It is possible to believe, using the common definition of the term, that detachment means an end to involvement, an end to relationships and to love, and even the loss of selfhood. It is possible, using this sense of the word, to set it in opposition to love and the involvement with others love demands, but in reality --- at least as I understand the term, and as the tradition of the desert Fathers and Mothers and other monastics and hermits I know understand it --- detachment is the means by which we are freed for authentic love; it is the matrix of Christian --- and so, eremitical --- love, not their antithesis. It is a mark and (partially) the means by which we claim TRUE selfhood, not the end or renunciation of it.
At the center of our understanding of the nature of detachment are a couple of truths: 1) we are called above all to love --- to love God and to love ourselves and others in, through and with God; this is the very nature of authentic selfhood, whether Divine or human selfhood, and 2) we cannot love God or others unless we have a self which is capable of this. Detachment, if it is a real value we pursue and cultivate must, like any other Christian value, contribute to these goals or it is worthless. More than worthless, it is destructive and even demonic --- that is, capable of distorting the persons we are and blocking the process of becoming God summons forth and grounds in us. But of course genuine detachment in the eremitical life, and in the Christian life more generally, is actually the basis for the freedom to be the selves we are called to be.
Detachment is the liberation exerienced by one who truly loves and is truly human. It is, like so many other things in Christian life and spirituality, a paradoxical reality. If it is not marked by a rich and full loving, an abundant life of love and liberated selfhood, then it is not Christian detachment. And yet, how easily it is to fail to understand this! How common the misunderstanding of the term, even in those who are focused on spirituality in some way!
Detachment and the Creation of the Self capable of Love:
I wrote recently that real love requires distance as well as closeness, and that enmeshment was destructive of authentic human love. It is that insight that is at the root of understanding the nature of Christian detachment. There is a second and related insight which is also at the root of things here, namely, that real love requires freedom from counterfeits and a liberation from the concerns of an ego self which measures selfhood in terms of what we do, what we have, or what others think of us. This latter liberation is important not only to see and accept (i.e., love!) ourselves for who we really are, but to see and accept or affirm others (i.e., love them!) similarly. The choice before us is really to see and accept ourselves as God sees us, or to see and accept ourselves as the world (and our ego-self) sees us. There is no other option really. Detachment describes the state (and process) of moving from the latter to the former. It is a matter of freeing ourselves (or rather, allowing ourselves to be freed) from the claims and enmeshments (i.e., attachments) of the false self and embracing the true self and all that constitutes that.
But this goal is not an end in itself. Detachment is not something to be pursued for its own sake. Detachment is at the service of something greater in the Christian life. It is at the service of the true self, yes, but above all that means it is at the service of the call to that self to love as Christ loves. Our own truest selves are hampered from becoming or being embodied in many ways, but one of the most destructive is by the attachments we make and have to all those values, structures, and realities which support the "ego-self, " that is, the self which is constantly judging and composing a portrait of "Me" which, again, is defined in terms of what I do, what I have, and what others think of me. Not only is the ego-self noisy and constantly rehearsing this portrait of self in order to maintain it so that it blocks our ability to hear the call of our own hearts, but, because it is constituted by attachments to these things, it detracts and distracts from the complete dependence upon God and God's summons (vocation) which is the necessary response to it and the One who grounds and authors it.
Detachment is therefore the loosening and breaking of these bonds of attachment which are neither from nor of God, these definitions and images of self and others that hold us in their grip along with all that sustains and empowers them. It is a process and goal which again is at the service of a larger one, namely the making of authentic, obedient selves capable of loving others IN CHRIST. Communion is the fruit of detachment, and any supposedly "spiritual" process which does not lead to genuine communion should not be mistaken for detachment. The paradox involved here should be underscored: when we are truly detached we are capable of loving concrete human beings AS THEY ARE in our day-to-day dealings with them. Detachment does not issue in a merely abstract and superficial love of "the poor," "the homeless," "the unloved," or the like (Bondi, To Pray and to Love). It results instead in the capacity to see others --- real flesh-and-blood people with warts, body odor, lousy dispositions, contrary opinions, and the like --- and love them for who they REALLY are, namely, the images of God who confront us with his presence everyday and who need to love and be loved in all the ways that we ourselves do.
On Detachment and Apathy:
And this has implications for those who see detachment as a kind of apathy. As I noted in the beginning of this post, apathy is not the same thing the desert Fathers and Mothers called apatheia. Apatheia was understood to mean a kind of imperturbability or holy stillness which resulted when one was rooted in and lived from and for the love and mercy of God and was no longer enmeshed in the world. It was not only not incompatible with profound love for others, it called and prepared for it. Neither then is true detachment marked by apathy. Detachment and apatheia were intimately linked because both involved the freeing of the self from passions, that is from those distorting lenses formed by woundedness, neediness, insecurity, ambition, greed, etc, which caused one to relate to reality in ways which were less than authentically human. But detachment and apathy on the other hand are actually antithetical to one another because apathy is a form of self-centeredness and bondage resulting in psychological death, whereas detachment is a form of freedom from self which opens to life and love.
[By the way, please note well: the passions, in the sense this term is used by the desert Fathers and Mothers and those who have followed them, are not simply strong feelings; they may involve strong feelings but they are really distorting lenses through which we come to relate inappropriately or inadequately to God, ourselves, and others. For a very good treatment of the reality of the passions as understood by the early Church fathers and Mothers see Roberta Bondi's, To Pray and to Love. There she defines them as, "habits of seeing, feeling, thinking, and acting that characteristically blind us to who we ourselves, our neighbors, and God really are so that we are not able to respond appropriately, rationally, and lovingly." A longer treatment is found in her book, To Love as God Loves, also highly recommended.] Given this view of things what sometimes passes for detachment and is rightly described as apathy is actually what the desert Fathers and Mothers called a passion.
All of this leads back to the questions with which I opened the post. Detachment is a freeing process and state which allows us to love others more honestly and generously. It does not close us off from others --- even if we are hermits --- but instead allows us to see and cherish them with the eyes and heart of God. It allows us to delight in reality in a way which our ego-selves would censure and shut down, because the detached self, the true self, is unconcerned with what this reality can do for us, how it can be owned or possessed by us, or how it affirms us. Detachment makes us capable of delight in the thing itself simply because it is what it is. And, it allows us to hear and respond to the vocational call which sounds instant by instant deep in the core of our being. In other words, it serves authentic humanity; it serves the growth of the true self which loves God and claims as its own to cherish all that is cherished by Him. Further, while the eremitical life poses unique challenges in embodying this love, the FACT of it is no less real for the hermit than it is for any other Christian. For every Christian, including the hermit, detachment is the matrix out of which authentic love is birthed.
29 May 2008
27 May 2008
My thanks to Sister Julie Viera, IHM,(of Monroe, MI) for including Notes From Stillsong and an online interview with me on her own blog. (The interview was done in installments and the first one is out now.) Sister Julie is doing some terrific stuff for vocations there and people need to check it out! One of the more interesting projects is the blog tour of Father Jim Martin, sj on June 3rd. His chapter on Merton's effect on his own vocation is great reading, and something I personally can identify deeply with because I trace my own eremitical vocation to Merton's influence --- though through his work, Contemplation in a World of Action, rather than Seven Story Mountain, as is true in Fr Martin's case. Please check out www.anunslife.org
Posted by Sr. Laurel M. O'Neal, Er. Dio. at 9:21 PM
I was particularly struck by the last lines of today's first reading from 1 Peter: [[Like obedient children, do not act in compliance with the desires of your former ignorance but as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, for it is written, Be holy as I am holy.]] Two things about this reading made me pause: 1) the linkage between obedience and holiness, and 2) just how difficult it usually is for us to think of having a vocation to holiness! It seems to be something imposed from outside us rather than something that is wholly natural to us.
It might seem that the call to holiness here in 1 Peter is somewhat demeaning or infantilizing: "Like obedient children, do not act in compliance. . .but as he who has called you. . .be holy. . ." We tend to bristle at being asked to act like children, much less obedient children. The words conjure up images of a demeaning docility and submission we simply resist identifying with as adults! But of course, the author of this "encyclical" (because it is truly more encyclical than epistle) does not intend his admonitions in this way. He is speaking to communities on the edge of serious persecution, and worn down by the constant lesser persecutions that precede the actual spilling of martyrs' blood; he intends that we learn to listen, to be attentive, and to respond with the courage, avidity and wholeheartedness of children because he knows how truly divided, defensive, and tentative we become on the way to adulthood.
And yet, God can and does summon us from this partial and halfhearted existence into genuine holiness --- not holiness as some esoteric existence most appropriate for plaster saints or those whose "spirituality" can't seem to get out of the 16th (or any other past --- mainly as idealized) century and into the real (that is, the contemporary) world while speaking more of a bloodless and "precious" piety than the Spirit of God --- but instead, a holiness which is at once loving and gentle, and so too, strong, courageous, and capable of confronting head on the evils and demonic structures of our time and space. Holiness is a matter of being called and responding with one's whole heart. It is a matter of being sent out as prophets and martyrs, and living this mission with every fibre of our being because the future of heaven and earth depend upon us doing so. It is therefore a matter of obedience in the New Testament sense of that word!
But holiness is also not something alien to us, something we are called to from outside ourselves --- though it may happen that that ALSO happens! Instead holiness is the most natural thing in the world for us, and the call comes from deep within. Holiness is a matter of wholeness. That characterization has become rather trite, a kind of cliche today. But holiness in the sense I described it above is hardly that. Instead holiness is the state of being TRULY human. It is the state of allowing God to define who we shall be and then embodying that with the grace he supplies and all the creativity and courage we can muster in his Name (that is, in and through his powerful and personal presence). It is the state of hearing our own unique Name which God sounds deep in the core of our being, and responsively becoming the incarnation of that Name, that identity. It is a state of communion, communion where God dwells within us in the fullness he wills --- a communion which is really our truest being and legitimate individuality. Holiness and integrity are intimately linked; in some ways, they are the same thing. Holiness and theonomy are also intimately linked and in some ways the same thing. That is, holiness is a matter of letting God be sovereign in our lives; it is a matter of being the Communion with him and all that he cherishes that he has called and makes us to be instead of remaining autonomous, and so, a solitary (and sinful) law unto ourselves.
We are called to be holy as he is holy because we are, in the deepest core of ourselves, from, with, and of him. We are called to be holy as he is holy because that is what is most natural and right for us. I think people have trouble today with both the idea of obedience and the notion of a call to holiness. (We are much more comfortable with a "vocation" to autonomy and respectability!) But authentic humanity and holiness are synonyms, and at some point as Christians we have to truly commit ourselves to this as our all-directing and all-consuming goal. At least that is what 1 Peter says to us today.
Posted by Sr. Laurel M. O'Neal, Er. Dio. at 5:56 AM
More questions arrived in my email box, and I am glad people are making use of that, especially since I do not have comments in this blog. The question is pretty typical and I hear it from others occasionally so it is a good one, especially because it also gives me a chance to think a little more about the unique charism of the diocesan hermit. I have spoken of this before in terms of expectations (that is, people necessarily have a right to certain expectations of a canonical hermit), but I might well have reflected more directly on the idea of unique charism in terms of relationships. The following question allowed me to do a little of that:
[[Do you attend daily Mass? Weekly Mass? If so, do you communicate with people while you are there? Are you allowed to speak to others? Is the hiddenness of your life disrupted by these encounters with people?]]
Yes, I generally attend daily Mass (though I also have Eucharist reserved in the hermitage for a Communion service when that is not possible, along with doing daily adoration, etc), and usually I attend the Sunday vigil Mass and one Mass on Sunday mornings as well. Recently the Bishop came to our parish to confirm 50 young adults and I attended that too; I was present early enough to casually assist the emcee and others in small ways (the same emcee who helped orchestrate my perpetual profession in September) and served as EEM as well.(It was good to have a chance to meet Deacon Bothe again since I was hardly aware of all he did during the profession rite; we shared a big hug and some laughs, so that was all very nice and vastly different from the formality of the profession rite.) The point is, of course, I choose which events I will participate in in the parish, but yes, I am active there and communicate variously on a number of different levels!
I have to laugh about the questions regarding being allowed to speak to people, etc. The question that raises for me is, "How in the world could I be said to be loving or engaging in genuine liturgy if I refused to do so?" Yes, I am a hermit, but when I am in a communal setting I act as part of the community --- that is also part of who I am, and part of the witness to the fruit of solitude. (Can you imagine a grumpy or distant hermit who comes to Mass but refuses to speak to anyone because s/he is too taken up "in Christ"? Chances are more likely s/he is missing the Christ who stands in front of him/her needing to talk or calling for a normal greeting!) But no, I do not have a vow of silence. I am vowed to celibate love, and for me at least, love in this situation means (or, rather, includes!) active, attentive, and compassionate participation in the community.
Now, I do a few things to be sure that time is bracketed by silence and solitude. Office (Vigils and Lauds) and silent prayer precede Mass, and at daily Mass I generally serve as sacristan and I find that puttering around getting everything ready before anyone arrives is a wonderful way to prepare myself AND the chapel while maintaining silence and solitude. Also, I tend to be early enough many mornings to be able to sing Lauds there rather than at home. And, if I am praying quietly and am wishing for a few more minutes of solitude, I will have my hood up and people know not to interrupt me at those times --- though they can certainly visit with one another still! (As soon as the hood is down things change completely and it is time for catching up on the news, finding out who needs prayers, sharing my own needs, etc).
I also serve as EEM sometimes, and have even served Mass --- though I am just learning how to do this. After Sunday Mass the parish has either doughnuts and coffee or (once a month) a pancake breakfast and I participate in these events and times. Having breakfast or coffee with people I would not otherwise see, catching up on their news, family, concerns (to a limited extent at these times), activities, etc is important to me and to who I am as a diocesan hermit. What I mean by that is that my profession as a diocesan hermit sets up particular relationships which partly define who I am to be. During profession I was called forth in the name of the local church of the Diocese of Oakland AND the faith community of St Perpetua. My vocation is a call by God, yes, but it is mediated to me by these communities, and my response, though a response to God, is also a response to and for these communities --- these people. So, while my response is most often the prayer and love that happens in silence and solitude, it is nourished and renewed as I come to know and love the people who make up this community, just as through my presence it nourishes and renews them too.
So, far from disrupting my solitude then, these contacts GENERALLY serve to enrich and invigorate it. Silence and solitude is lived for them to some extent and these are always conditioned by them. That is, they are always present in my heart and held before God even when prayer seems to be a matter of "just me and God." But your question is a very good one and I absolutely have to take care with the things I do outside the hermitage --- and I do. My point is first, that these things may enrich as easily as distract, and secondly, that these things may be demanded by the vocation itself --- so in all things one must pay attention to not only to one's Rule of Life, or to the eremitic tradition as lived throughout the centuries, but to the state of one's heart and mind where God's will is also heard --- and of course, act accordingly!
I hope this answers your questions. Thanks for sending them! Please feel free to get back to me if something is unclear or needs elaboration.
22 May 2008
As part of a pres-entation on the eremitic vocation yesterday for the WINGS group at St Raymond Parish in Dublin, CA, I answered questions on my life and the life of the hermit generally. One question was particularly good because it asked how I "stayed on track" or "how do you know you are staying on track"? That is, the questioner explained, how is it you keep from being distracted by having to go out of the hermitage on errands, or because of participation in the life of the parish, etc? I thought the question was good not only because it applies particularly well to an urban hermit, but to anyone who must travel out to shop, or go to doctor's appointments, not to mention carpooling, kids' soccer matches, piano lessons, and the like, and finds the whole experience difficult, overly frenetic, or distracting and even anxiety producing.
Behind the question was an assumption, I think, that what is inside the hermitage is good and of God: a life of silence, solitude, prayer and penance, and that what is outside the hermitage can only detract or distract from life within it. It is the assumption which draws a line in the sand between sacred and profane and locates the hermitage on one side, and the "world" on the other. To a certain extent one can say this is true of the hermitage itself (that is, what is inside is good and of God), but what one cannot say is that what is outside the hermitage will necessarily detract or distract from life within it. (I make this statement with caveats which I will spell out below; I do not mean one can leave the hermitage at any time without jeopardy to one's own solitude!) So, back to the question itself, "how does one keep on track (or know that one is doing so)?"
The first part of the answer is that when I return to the hermitage I am able to settle back into the silence and solitude of the place without difficulty, and that I am careful to do so immediately. If this proves difficult then I need to do some work on whatever has distracted me, and I certainly need to reevaluate the wisdom of the errands or event involved. Related to this of course is the caveat that the errands or events attended are necessary and relatively infrequent. If they are completely optional (and some are), then I need to be very clear why I am making the choice I am, and how it is it benefits my life of silence and solitude: is it a prayerful choice rooted in love of God, self, and others, or is it simply self-indulgent and contrary to my own privileged path of loving others?
The second part of the answer has to do with the cultivation of an inner solitude which one must do whether in the hermitage or out. The times I have found myself "distracted" and returning and settling at home somewhat problematical tend to be the times I left the hermitage ALREADY DISTRACTED and thinking, "I wish I didn't have to do this or that," or, "I bet it will be noisy (or overly secular, or whatever prejudicial or divisive label comes to mind)! The simple fact is, if I fail to be fully present to the situation at hand, and instead am wishing I was back in the hermitage, it is not the fault of the situation --- or at least not usually. It is my own failure in attitude and heart that is to blame!
The rules of all contemplative (and in fact all Christian) living come into play here: be aware, be attentive, be loving, patient, and grateful. Look for God in this place (for there is no doubt he is here!). Listen to your own heart (both you and God reside there!), and be sure and take delight in whatever is at hand, the people, the noise (life!), the surroundings. ABOVE ALL BE PRESENT, and accept everything, as far as possible, as a gift of God for your own edification, challenge, nourishment, and inspiration. I have found that when I manage to do this, distraction from solitude and silence is minimized, and my life in the hermitage is enriched. It is more as if the boundaries of the hermitage have been enlarged because, in fact, the boundaries of my own heart have been.
Now, sometimes returning to the hermitage is difficult in the sense that I am not quiet within, not feeling either patient or grateful --- not to mention feeling frustrated, angry, disappointed, or resentful! At those times I have work to do in cell! That may mean writing, certain forms of personal analysis and introspection, a close look at my own failures and attitudes, etc. It will surely involve prayer. If adjustments need to be made they will be; this is true whether those adjustments are internal or external. Perhaps I will need to ask someone else to run some of my errands some of the time; perhaps I just need to reschedule them, or even omit them altogether. But perhaps I am simply failing to love adequately, or to be sufficiently present to the situation at hand! Both inner and outer worlds must be attended to, and in all things God truly sought!
When I think about how it is I "know" I am staying on track, I have to say that at those times I am able to be present, quiet, peace-filled, and comfortable wherever I am (meaning comfortable with myself and that I am in this place where God wills me to be even if it is a personally "challenging" or "dysphoric" experience). The transition between hermitage and world outside it becomes relatively seamless when I am on track eventhough the difference is also palpable. The hermitage is not the place where the world outside is "shut out" precisely, but instead the place where it is carried within to be especially celebrated and loved from a new perspective. Still, the hermitage is my desert place, and as such --- like all desert spaces -- it does distance me from a good deal. I am always happy to get back to it, sometimes with relief, but as much to celebrate with special intimacy what the time outside was like, and to express gratitude for all that is of and from God! I suspect every person's home is meant to function like this. I pray they really can!
Posted by Sr. Laurel M. O'Neal, Er. Dio. at 9:50 AM
18 May 2008
I received a couple of related questions from someone confused by something they read from a non-canonical hermit online. Because I have already dealt with these issues generally (Canonical consecration vs non-canonical dedication) elsewhere in some depth, I am sharing the things that concerned the reader and answering them again, though I think in less depth; still, I apologize for any redundancy here. One question in particular, however, was completely new and somewhat disturbing in its implications, so readers will find this covers new ground. The questions were as follows:
[[I read in another hermit's blog that the church considers a hermit with private vows part of the consecrated state, and that the Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly and simply says this. The blogger indicated there was no real distinction between private and public consecration. Because of this he also claimed that Canon 603 was optional and that he could make vows in the hands of his Bishop without it. Are these things true? I ask because you have written about differences in the past. Also, there was a reference to the person's Bishop insisting that the blogger make vows under canon 603, though he was resisting the idea and had told him he was clear he was called to remain other than a canon 603 hermit. Is it possible for a Bishop to do this?}}
Assuming you have quoted accurately, the first statement is not strictly true. While it is true a person may privately consecrate (or better, dedicate) themselves to God and thus live a life which is privately set apart for God as a hermit, they do not become part of the consecrated state in so doing; they remain in the lay state. That is, the Church does not "raise" the person (sorry, but as I have said before, that's the verb used most often) to the consecrated state as is done in perpetual public vows. As I have noted before, what both the Catechism of the Catholic Church states and the revised Code of Canon Law makes very clear is that admission to the consecrated state requires public profession of vows. However, the paragraph from the Catechism being referred to in your question is somewhat ambiguous because it is listed under the heading "the Consecrated Life." Still, the entire section begins by pointing out that admission to the consecrated state is by public vow (CCC 915b refers to admission by vow to a permanent state of life; cf Code of Canon Law below).
What I think the authors of the catechism also wished to indicate in the paragraphs your question referred to (probably CCC 920-921), is that a serious eremitical life dedicated to God as a specification of one's baptismal consecration, can be lived whether one enters the consecrated state or not. That is part of the reason for saying, "while not always making public profession of the evangelical counsels. . ." (Another reason, however, is that diocesan hermits MAY publicly make other than vows per se.) Any ambiguities are largely cleared up if one reads these paragraphs in context, and also if one reads the Code of Canon Law on the matter. That is especially true of Canon 603 sec 2 " A hermit is recognized in law as one dedicated to God if he or she publicly professes the three evangelical counsels confirmed by vow or other sacred bond, in the hands of the diocesan Bishop and observes his or her plan of life under his direction."
As far as your second question then, Canon 603 is not optional if one wishes to be canonically or publicly professed and consecrated as a hermit by the Church and become a member of the consecrated state of life. Neither is it one option among others if one is going therefore to publicly assume the rights and responsibilities of such a state or live the eremitical life in the name of the Church. If one makes private vows in the presence of a Bishop (which is NOT the same as doing so "in the hands" of one's Bishop) that is similar to making private vows in the presence of any other priest or one's spiritual director. What makes the vows PUBLIC is the fact that the Bishop legally/canonically admits the person to such profession, and accepts these vows as public in the name of the Church. In the rite of (religious) profession in such an instance he also affirms the hermit in this specific charism, chooses her for this consecration and, after receiving her vows prays the prayer of consecration over her, again all in the name of the Church. Because one makes such vows in his hands, he (and his successors and designees) become the hermit's legitimate superiors (or superiors in law). In this way a mutual relationship is set up in law between hermit and Bishop and this is indicated by the phrase "in his hands." The hermit acquires a new standing in law which is not done in private vows. All this pomp and ceremony is thus not merely a way of celebrating the same thing as private dedication and vows --- only just more elaborately. Instead it says that something different is happening here than happens when a private person (even a Bishop!) receives private vows or witnesses someone making a private dedication of self to God.
If one is a complete neophyte hermit, or contemplating becoming one, and is still considering how to live out one's baptismal consecration then in this very limited sense one can say canon 603 is an option (or, more accurately, a potential one since others must also discern such a vocation for canon 603 to actually come into play). Also, if one has lived as a non-canonical hermit for some period of time one might discern one is called to canonical consecration (or at least that one thinks one is, since again mutual discernment is involved in this); in such a case canon 603 remains an option which could be pursued. Perhaps this is what your blogger meant. But if he stated or implied that private vows and public vows are completely equal options, both functioning in precisely the same way in admitting to the consecrated state, then no, he was in error.
I suppose it is easy to make mistakes on these differences (especially given the ambiguity of the Catechism when taken out of context, and given the two distinct meanings of the term "consecrated life"). That is especially true if one ignores the glossary to the CCC (cf "consecrated life"), or the more specific Code of Canon Law on the necessary relation between public vows and the consecrated state. Your last question, however, refers to a much more serious and misleading matter which is not subject to linguistic ambiguity or confusion. Let me be clear: NO ONE IN THE CHURCH MAY INSIST THAT A PERSON MAKE VOWS under canon 603, or any other canon or set of canons. The idea that a Bishop would "insist" when, as you say, the individual claimed to not want or feel called to such profession or consecration is nonsensical, and of course, any vows made in such a case would be invalid (cc 573.2), not to mention a travesty. Vows are not thrust upon a person, nor can one be obliged in obedience to make vows. The entire idea misunderstands the theology of vocation and profession underlying them which requires the individual call be freely (not to mention clearly) heard, freely mediated by the Church, and freely accepted and embraced in a sense of certainty by ALL PARTIES INVOLVED that this is where and HOW God himself is calling the one concerned .
I admit to feeling pretty strongly about this matter because I occasionally hear stories from hermits who, despite being clear that they ARE CALLED TO THIS SPECIFIC CONSECRATION, are denied or postponed admission to Canon 603 profession simply because it is still relatively new, the diocese does not want responsibility for such an arrangement, or because they don't see the need for canonical profession or question the validity of the eremitical life more generally. (I am not referring to those not admitted because the diocese involved decides they are not actually called or have other substantive valid reasons.) Thus, to hear in light of this, that someone has suggested that their Bishop might INSIST they be professed under Canon 603 when they claim to have a different (e.g, a non-canonical eremitical) vocation and not want this for themselves is really problematical and disturbing. This is especially true when the charism of the diocesan hermit may differ in some ways from that of the non-canonical hermit. Were it true that someone was professed because their Bishop wanted it when they really did not, it would also be scandalous to those witnessing the vows. However, I don't believe for a moment any competent Bishop would do such a thing. Instead, (and again I am assuming the questioner has cited the person accurately), it would seem to me that whoever stated this has either misunderstood the situation vis a vis his Bishop, or, for some other subjective reason has seriously misspoken and mischaracterized the objective situation.
One final comment. As I have written here before, Hermits may clearly be non-canonical or canonical and whichever form of the life one is actually called to is meant to be a blessing to the church in its own way. One hopes anyone would be able to come to terms with the unique way God is calling him or her. Both forms of eremitism are significant vocations and should be esteemed. However, one does not do this by blurring the distinctions which do exist between the two. For instance, private consecration allows the non-canonical hermit to remain solidly amidst the laity and signals clearly how silence, solitude, prayer, and penance are important in the life of every person in the church. It also witnesses to the need for any adult to make more specific their own baptismal commitment and consecration. Public consecration as a diocesan hermit can and should witness in this way too (afterall, it is a public vocation despite its hiddenness), but it is also apt to speak more clearly to monastics and religious of these things, and call others to consider the consecrated state as a possible vocation. Both forms however, are characterized by greater separation from the world, the silence of solitude, and assiduous prayer and penance for the glory of God and the salvation of souls, and thus are similar gifts to the church.
10 May 2008
Pentecost is upon us and we celebrate with the ancient prayer, "Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of your love!" So many of the images that precede this feast use references to a Christ who leaves us behind while we are left looking forward to him returning "in glory," we are apt to miss just whose Spirit it is we celebrate is being poured out into our hearts and how it is Christ is still present. We are also apt to miss the import of the pouring out of this Spirit or what it is that it is in the process of creating. A Church, yes. The Body of Christ, yes. Perhaps even, a New heaven and a new earth," But how often do we hear these as bits of poetry, mere metaphors we hardly take seriously?
Last week though during vigils (actually it was on the feast of the Ascension) one of the readings struck me with a force that was visceral. The reading was from the letter to the Ephesians, and the passage went as follows: [[It is he who gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers in roles of service for the faithful to build up the body of Christ, till we become one in faith and in the knowledge of God's Son, AND FORM THE PERFECT MAN WHO IS CHRIST COME TO FULL STATURE.]]
Now, isn't that an awesome thought? We as church are to become "the perfect man who is Christ come to full stature"! Poetry? Assuredly, but also a poetry we are to take with a literalness and deadly seriousness that will transform the way we see ourselves, our notion of Church, and the responsibility we have to BE Christ with and for others. Apparently the Christ Event is "not finished," --- even with the resurrection and Ascension --- nor did the Ascension spell the movement of Christ to some remote heaven. Instead, it signalled a new kind of presence, a presence marked by the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Father and Son, the Spirit of Love, with a new power into our midst. Heaven and Earth interpenetrate one another in a new way --- if only we could learn to see it --- and, as Christ's own Body we are now an integral part of the Christ coming to full stature in what will truly be a single reality the Scriptures call "a new heaven and a new earth"!!
The reading continued, [[Let us be children no longer. . . let us profess the truth in love and grow to the full maturity of Christ the head. Through him the whole body grows, and with the proper functioning of the members joined firmly together by each supporting ligament, builds itself up in love.]]
To love we must first be loved; to profess the truth effectively and with integrity we must first be made true; to speak and live with the integrity and maturity of real adults (Daughters and Sons rather than children) our hearts must be transformed in the power of the Holy Spirit that does indeed enkindle within us the passionate and powerful fire of Divine love. The really privileged places we encounter such a love and open ourselves to the Spirit of Christ are in the Scriptures we contend with daily, and the Eucharist we receive similarly. As we move forward from this Easter Season in the power of Pentecost, let our hearts truly become those places where the Word of God is enthroned a living and sovereign reality, where the Fire of the Spirit burns with a passion the world both needs desperately and cannot deny, and, wholly transparent to the light of heaven, transform our world with the presence of Christ "come to full stature" into that place of true peace and justice where God is "all in all."
(Pictures from Sky Farm Hermitage, Sonoma, CA) These pictures of a hermitage chapel (one of the most beautiful and powerful I have ever seen) convey very well what our hearts (and selves) are to become in the power of the Holy Spirit. Beautiful, solitary -- though communal -- enflamed with love and steeped in the Word of God. A "place" where others are always welcome and find a peace and freedom they hunger and thirst for. "Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of your love! Make us together into the perfect One who is Christ come to full stature!"