26 July 2009

Followup Question on Lay and Diocesan Eremitical Life

[[Dear Sister, you wrote awhile ago that someone preparing for consecration and profession as a diocesan hermit should live for some time as a lay hermit "in some essential way" before approaching the diocese to request admission to profession. But recently you also wrote that the call to be a diocesan hermit was a "new and different call" and a completion of the call the hermit felt in her heart. If that is the case then why should one wait to approach a diocese if one thinks one has such a call?]]

Dear poster,
your question is a good one, not least because it points up a place where I have apparently not been clear in what I have already written. Also, it points up one of the important aspects or dimensions of discerning a vocation to diocesan eremitsm, namely whether one is called to this or to life as a lay hermit. (These are the two forms of solitary eremitical life in the church today.) Dioceses often ask the candidate for Canon 603 profession why they are seeking admission to the consecrated state in this way (rather than religious life or consecrated virginity, for instance), but the question I think they need to ask, and the critical question a candidate needs to be able to answer is instead (or additionally). "Why are you not seeking to live the eremitical life as a lay hermit?"

One major point I made in past posts was that one cannot make vows (whether temporary or perpetual) without preparation. For that reason public eremitical vows require the preparation of eremitical life. Lay eremitical life ordinarily forms the context for one's study of, reflection on, and practical living out of the content or values associated with vows. (If one lived them in a different context they would look differently than they do in an eremitical context.) Since dioceses do not actually form hermits, but rather mainly discern the presence of a vocation and readiness for profession, one really needs to have this part of the process accomplished before one approaches a diocese or one risks being dismissed as a serious candidate for public eremitical profession and consecration.

A second point I made but did not really elaborate on was the more important one for the purposes of your question, namely, one needs to discern whether one is being called to lay eremitical life or life as a diocesan hermit. Because one feels called to the eremitical life does not mean one is called to the consecrated state or to the responsibilities and rights of public profession and consecration. In fact, as I have said before the majority of hermits are lay hermits and will likely always be lay hermits. Their vocations are especially significant in urban settings where so many people live in unnatural solitudes (Merton) and require lay prophets who remind them that such solitudes can be redeemed. One needs time and experience to explore this specific vocation because there is no doubt that God is calling people to this form of eremitical life. Our world needs it badly and one needs to have thought about it seriously BEFORE one petitions for admission to public profession and initiation into the consecrated state. Unless one has considered this calling, I suspect one's discernment of a vocation to diocesan eremitism is also incomplete and inadequate. For this reason a diocese considering someone as a candidate for Canon 603 profession will require (as well they should!) evidence of serious consideration of a vocation to lay eremitical life as well as alternate forms of consecrated life!

Now all of this is really foundational for answering your question, for the call to diocesan eremitism builds on this vocation, learns from it and from this initial discernment. What I wrote recently was that God's own call to life as a diocesan hermit did not come only in the privacy of one's heart (though it will first and continue to be heard there) but is itself mediated publicly and liturgically through the official actions of the Church. The Church not only discerns the reality of the vocation but she mediates what, in many ways, is a new and different call with new and different responsibilities, a new perspective on reality, a new context for living out one's call, etc.

While the vocation is new and different in many ways, it is anticipated in the call to lay eremitical life. Further it shares many of the same characteristics and sensitivities: stricter separation from the world, assiduous prayer and penance in the silence of solitude, a life of essential poverty of spirit, obedience to the Word of God and chaste (celibate) love. For this reason I said that the call to diocesan eremitical life was paradoxically (rather than absolutely) new and different despite all the elements it shares with lay eremitical life. I also noted that the call was new and different because of what such profession opens up to the diocesan hermit (something that happens even when the person has been living as a lay hermit for some time). Still, the simple fact is that unless the person is moving from vowed religious life to eremitical life, lay eremitism is the natural and necessary preparation for consecrated eremitical life. Lay eremitism is also a complete and significant vocation in itself and one which should be considered by both diocese and candidate before admitting to profession under Canon 603. After all, one cannot easily move in the opposite direction (from consecrated eremitical life to lay eremitical life) as this would require dispensation from vows. Such an arrangement would also be far from ideal because, while a person can relinquish the responsibilities, perspective, and commitment specific to diocesan hermits, a consecration cannot be undone.

I hope this helps. As always, if something is unclear or raises additional questions, please get back to me.