18 July 2008

Once again, On the Differences between Public and Private Profession and Consecration

Dear Sister some suggest canon 603 is the refinement of older canons. They also suggest public profession is merely the legal formalization of a private commitment. [[ And in 1983 these [norms] were refined further for those whose superiors desire them, or the hermit desires or is led by God, to a public profession. That formalizes the profession through Canon Law 603.]] So, my questions, 1) does canon 603 profession merely "formalize" a private consecration or profession? and 2) can a "superior desire a person to profess vows according to canon 603"? Also one person said, [[The Bishop really is the determining voice as to private or public profession in the consecrated life of any eremitic. There is no point in trying to do this or that to change the profession status, as the Lord sees through the eyes of His Bishop, and speaks through his voice.]] Is that the way aspirants to eremitical life see things?

Why Public Profession/Consecration?

Let me take the second question first because this has come up before. At that time it was apparently suggested one's Bishop could insist one make vows according to canon 603. The answer has a couple of points, 1) without a public vow of obedience one HAS NO superior. One may have a pastor, confessor, or Bishop (we all do, afterall) but without the vow of obedience the Bishop (for instance) is not a legitimate superior and ought not be called a superior in the way which confuses that issue. 2) No one may insist a person make public vows. The idea that a Bishop would say he wants (desires) a person to make such vows, especially if they do not feel called to do so and have not asked to be admitted to such profession, is simply nonsensical. One is admitted to public profession only after requesting this, and the request is the signal that one has discerned a Divine calling to such a thing. The admission to public profession signals that the church herself agrees and actually assumes a role in mediating God's own call to the person. Now, if one already has public vows, then one might well discern a call to eremitical life, but in such a case, one must deal with the current vows canonically before being admitted  to new ones (there are various options for doing this so one may live their vows until they make eremitic profession). In such a case it is the individual who must initiate the process by requesting admission to eremitical profession and consecration. It makes no sense to suggest someone's superior (one to whom one is bound in such a way in a legitimate relationship through public vows) would desire someone to make another public profession/consecration.

As for the first question, the answer is no. Canon 603 certainly formalizes the norms and characteristics of the eremitical life, but it does not formalize a private consecration and profession, nor is it the way to do so. (Private dedication -- is "formalized" by private vows, and here private does not mean simply done in relative secret or with a lack publicity! Here "private" means the vows do NOT change the judridical or canonical status of the person, nor do they acquire new public rights and obligations.) Canon 603 profession is a different kind of profession and consecration in which the person becomes a public person (in this case, a diocesan hermit) in the church, acts in her name, has legitimate rights and responsibilities she did not have before, and becomes a member of the consecrated state of life (which, as I have noted before, does not happen in private vows or the private consecration of the self to God).

In public profession and consecration then we are not dealing simply with the addition of more formalities as though this is the same reality as private profession/consecration but simply with more bells and whistles, and certainly, it is not the formalization of private vows. We are dealing with something that is qualitatively different than private profession and consecration (dedication of self), something where the person experiences both active and passive consecration in the name of the Church. (cf Augustine Roberts OCSO, Centered on Christ, A Guide to Monastic Profession) In private consecration there is active but not passive consecration, that is one consecrates oneself to God but is not herself raised to the consecrated state. It is significant that the Church has always seen public profession/consecration as a sacramental act, a kind of second baptism, and of course, though an extension and elaboration of baptismal consecration, a new and different consecration as well. This is simply not the case with private vows.

By the way, on one blog devoted to vocations, "Do I Have a vocation?" the author, Therese Ivers, JCL, writes that it is therefore wrong for the person making private vows to call themselves consecrated. I would tend to agree that we should reserve the term consecrated to those entering the consecrated state. Baptism involves the consecration of the person, however we would not ordinarily call a baptized Christian, a consecrated person in the church because they have not entered the consecrated state. If she lived as a hermit, we would not call her a consecrated hermit even though she has private vows. Normal ecclesial usage reserves the term consecrated for those who have entered the consecrated state. Ivers makes a similar point regarding those calling themselves Catholic hermits: [[ Since (s)he is not a member of the consecrated state, (S)he should refrain from speaking of (her)self as a Catholic hermit as that implies canonical status as such. Rather, (S)he should explain to those (s)he may encounter that (s)he is a lay person drawn to solitude with its implication of prayer and penance.]] Now these are not my opinions only, but the observations of a canonist.

The second comment was also problematical. [[The Bishop really is the determining voice as to private or public profession in the consecrated life of any eremitic. There is no point in trying to do this or that or that to change the profession status, as the Lord sees through the eyes of His Bishop, and speaks through his voice. ]] It raises the following questions: 1) do private vows need to be accepted by one's Bishop? 2) if the Bishop accepts them, do they have the same weight or character as public vows made in his hands? 3) Can the Bishop specify that a person makes private rather than public profession? and 4) Should a person seek to move from private to public profession and consecration if that is what they determine the Lord is calling them to or should they give up on such an idea because one Bishop refuses to admit to profession?

First let me say that when one approaches a diocese requesting to be admitted to public profession under canon 603, it is the case that the diocese is the determining voice as to whether this will occur or not. If a Bishop REFUSES to admit one to public profession one can, even then, ALWAYS make private vows in the presence of one's director, pastor, or even the Bishop himself (though I have not heard of this happening). Of course a Bishop may also suggest that private profession might seem the way to go when he is unwilling to admit one to profession under canon 603. But again (per question #3), he cannot say, "I have determined God is calling you to private profession." No one can really do this, not confessor, spiritual director, or Bishop. They may suggest one consider it, but nothing more. (We are not speaking of calling a St Ambrose to the episcopacy afterall!) Further, private vows need not be accepted (and in fact they are not truly or formally "accepted" by anyone in the church). They are made in the presence of, that is they are witnessed by, someone significant, but that person does NOT accept the vows nor, more particularly, are they made in that person's hands. (The phrase "in one's hands" recalls the old feudal practice of the serf (or knight) putting his hands in those of the noble and entering into an act of fealty and a relationship of service; the Church adopted this symbol/form of public profession to signal the new relationship that comes to exist in the act of profession between the newly professed and their legitimate superior (or community/Order, etc)).

Thus, the second question does not make sense; it is an overstatement and misleading to say the Bishop "accepts" or even "receives" private vows. Even if we allowed a common usage of the term "accepts" (and I argue we should not), one has to then be clarify he especially does not do so in the name of the Church which again, sets up legitimate relationships, consequences, rights and obligations for all involved. In the case of private vows there is no difference between a Bishop, a parish priest, or a lay spiritual director witnessing such vows. One cannot inflate what has happened by referring to the Bishop in this case. Further, his merely being apprised that they have happened in his diocese or parish does not constitute acceptance or approval, much less reception. As for the next part of the question, No, when private profession is made the profession, despite similar content,does not have the character of public vows. Again, public profession/consecration is a qualitatively different reality than private vows/dedication.

Let me reiterate, this does not deny the seriousness or validity of private vows AS PRIVATE, but it remains the essential truth of the matter that in the first instance one is consecrated by God through and in the church, whereas in the second one consecrates oneself to God and there is no objective change in state.

As far as the fourth question goes, yes, if one sincerely discerns one is called to public profession and consecration, then one should PETITION FOR ADMISSION to this even if one already has a private commitment of some sort. Obviously, there is no guarantee the Bishop (or those who review and recommend the petition prior to the Bishop even seeing it) will agree in their own discernment, but one should initiate the process. Moreover, unless the diocese is very clear they believe one is simply not suited to this vocation, if one truly feels called one should continue to discern even if the petition is initially denied. This is true not only because one needs to come to humble (lovingly honest) terms with this denial, but also because sometimes the decision from the chancery will change in time. Sometimes the diocese is simply not ready to profess anyone as a diocesan hermit and the denial is not an indication that the diocese feels the person is unsuited (or lacking a call) to the vocation. (The diocese may indicate the provisional nature of the denial or not; that is entirely up to them.) Sometimes the individual herself is completely unready for public profession, but one may suspect she could have such a vocation, and so puts her off for a time with recommendations for personal work, therapy, formation in monastic or eremitical life, more regular and competent spiritual direction, etc before she is even seriously seen as a candidate for admission to first vows.

One always needs to take an official decision seriously as the will of God, but we need to determine in what sense that is the case; also the denial may or may not be the will of God for the person in the long term. The individual needs to continue the discernment process while living their life with integrity. In a situation where one is denied admission to public profession this COULD mean that one would need to continue living as they are and continue to discern seriously in the matter; one might re-present one's petition at another time if that seemed to be God's will. Of course, it could also be the will of God absolutely and for all time! In either case one must continue to discern on an ongoing basis.

As I have noted several times before, both public (canonical) profession and consecration and private (non-canonical) dedication are serious commitments. One cannot say one is "better" than the other, but one must recognize the essential distinction between the two and not confuse the issue by ignoring canon law or the theology of public profession and consecration in the process of affirming the seriousness and validity of private vows and non-canonical dedication. The Church recognizes that both are possible (valid) ways of pursuing the eremitical life. Non-canonical eremitism, as far as I can see, is an important lay vocation while canonical or diocesan eremitism is an instance of the consecrated state which, like private profession, is both an extension of the baptismal consecration all believers participate in, but different from this as well. It is my sincerest hope that non-canonical hermits will take the time and effort to explore and appreciate the differences in charism and character their eremitical lives have from diocesan hermits. We need the lives and witness of both, for, as I have said before, they are both unique gifts to the church, and I think they are, or at least should be, uniquely challenging and edifying to one another.