02 September 2008

New Initials for the Diocesan Hermit: Erem. Dio. or Er Dio (Diocesan Hermit)

Awhile ago I requested permission from my Bishop to adopt the use of certain initials to indicate my status as a diocesan hermit. The initials suggested were Erem Dio, or Er Dio standing for the Latin version of diocesan hermit (eremita dioecesanus). It was understood that this would be precedent setting, and could well be adopted by other diocesan hermits (hermits professed under Canon 603 and responsible to their local Ordinaries for the general living out of their profession and Rule). Up until this point individual c. 603 hermits have adopted initials which indicated their personal spirituality (Franciscan, Benedictine, Carmelite, etc) but have had to take care not to use the initials of a particular community or congregation since they are not professed as part of said community. Unfortunately, this was really inadequate as it missed completely their status and charism as diocesan. There has been no standardized designation for diocesan hermits, and there has been a felt need for several different reasons:

First of all, the diocesan hermit who is a solitary hermit shares a unique relationship with Bishop and Diocese. She has a unique charism and place in the life of the Church which, so far as I can tell, is not matched by non-canonical hermits or by those canonical hermits living in community. Whether the diocesan hermit's spirituality is essentially Benedictine, Franciscan, Carmelite, Augustinian, Cistercian, Carthusian, etc. what is more important is the fact that they are professed and find their most fundamental identity in their solitary and diocesan status, responsibilities, and affiliation. This fundamental identity translates into a unique charism (gift quality) and mission; the hermit is a gift to church and world, but this is particularly worked out on the diocesan level in terms of her own parish and in obedience to her own Bishop. Thus, while I am Camaldolese Benedictine (I am not A Camaldolese Benedictine because I am not professed as one!) and while I highly esteem and honor this tradition, first and foremost I am A diocesan hermit who happens to also be Camaldolese Benedictine in spirituality and as an oblate.

Secondly, it has become somewhat common (though illegitimate) for some hermits who are non-canonical (and not in the process of becoming canonical per C. 603) to use the title Sister and even adopt initials after their names despite not being publicly professed. One person I corresponded a while back with used HS (apparently for Hermit Sister) followed immediately by a lower case "p" (HSp) for private vows. Since only those publicly professed (or preparing for this) have assumed (or are preparing to assume) the juridical rights and responsibilities associated with either the title or such initials, this was confusing and, as far as I could tell, contradictory and misleading. (Why use what indicates a public vocation and juridical status --Sister, HS --- and then add a letter that proclaims one as privately professed??)

Several diocesan hermits liked the idea of identifying themselves as a hermit sister (or brother), but we came to see that it was our status as solitary and diocesan (Canon 603) which really distinguished us so that HS, HB, Er or Erem were really inadequate unless, for instance, Rome decided only Canon 603 hermits could use such initials. That was unlikely to happen for some time, if ever. Thus, adding Dio (for diocesan, dioecesanus) became a significant clarification of canonical standing as well as pointing to the Canon 603 hermit's unique charism.

Thirdly, it has happened that individuals with no sense of a diocesan eremitical vocation have begun unofficially to embrace Canon 603 as a possible way to circumvent the lengthy and somewhat difficult process of canonically establishing a community. (A semi-eremitical or eremitical community living under a single Rule is not the same as a Laura of diocesan hermits who come together but retain their own individual Rules. Canon 603 (it is suggested implicitly, though not explicitly) allows for the latter; according to canonists it is not meant to be the means to the former, nor should it be used by those looking for a canonical loophole to get themselves professed as a hermit who is really part of a community or would-be community.)

Again, there needed to be a way of designating the hermit whose immediate LEGITIMATE superior was her Bishop per Canon 603, and who, as perpetually professed as a SOLITARY hermit was not on the way to becoming a member of a community of hermits under another superior and single Rule. Erem Dio (or Er Dio) seemed to do this. The same was true with regard to non-canonical (lay) hermits who use the language of Canon 603 without ever being consecrated by the Church under this canon. They are significant and important instances of the lay (and eremitical) vocation, but despite similarities in life (silence of solitude, prayer, penance, etc.) do not share in the charism of the diocesan hermit nor in a public vocation to the consecrated state. The public has a right to a clear distinction between these two vocations because the rights, obligations, and expectations of one differs from that of the other. (Please see other blog articles on this topic.)

Fourthly, at least in the USA, it is common for religious men and women who publish to use their first and last names along with congregational initials while dropping Brother or Sister or Father. (Actually this is common in many contemporary contexts.) Thus in Review For Religious and other journals, for instance, my name would show up as Laurel M O'Neal, but with no real indication that I was consecrated (or in what way) because (except for those associated with oblature: (OblSB Cam, or Oblate, OSB Cam --- which are usually not used publicly) I have no congregational initials. (Review For Religious usually adds a small statement referring to the person as Sister or Brother, etc, but this is not really enough to immediately indicate one's state of life as a consecrated hermit. For this reason too we looked for a way of adopting US usage while clearly indicating consecrated standing. Laurel M O'Neal Er Dio, or Laurel M O'Neal, Erem Dio seemed to fit the bill.

Today, on the anniversary of my perpetual profession I heard from my Bishop on this matter. He gave permission for the adoption of the initials mentioned above, (Erem Dio, Er Dio). It was, I think, a thoughtful decision which involved discussion on several levels and comes at a perfect time. Thus, we have a new designation in the Church (my Bp was clearly aware this was precedent setting), and one which, it is hoped, other diocesan hermits may adopt and find helpful in a number of ways --- not least in spurring them to further reflection on, definition and claiming of their identities and charism as diocesan -- that is, as solitary hermits who are publicly consecrated..