23 July 2009

Once again TCW vs MCW and Eremitical Life: A Question on the Division into Temporal and Mystical Catholic Worlds

Sister, I read the following recently and wonder if you would comment on it? To be frank, I am bothered by this division of the hermit life into two different worlds with one called mystical and the other temporal. I think it is especially wrong to insist that one interfaces with the temporal world and the other does not, or that one is devoted to contemplation and a total love of God while the other is not. That is even more true when the so-called "TCW" [the Temporal Catholic World] is linked to canonical status while the other, the "MCW" [the Mystical Catholic World] hermit is approved by God and that this is said to be an approval which is unknown to the "TCW hermit."

[[So what hermits ought consider in discerning their vocation, is if he or she is called by God to be a temporal Catholic world hermit or a mystical Catholic world hermit. The former would lend itself better in governance of temporal Catholic world matters, inclusive of canonical approvals, regulations and observance to prevent vocation abuses, and active involvement in such world venues as the internet, public speaking, published writings, known identity, and temporal Catholic world church work.

The latter, the mystical Catholic world hermit, would lend itself better, solely to attendance upon God (the Most Holy Trinity). This would involve an increasing affinity to contemplation and worship of the divine, with accompanying self-annihilation to less and less...to nothing. The approval for and of the mystical Catholic world hermit is nothing known to the TCW; it is a credibility and approval of a mystical nature, and thus is nothing necessary at all. What is necessary for the MCW hermit is to be in full attendance upon God, spiraling by degrees in servitude, knowledge and love of God.

While each hermit is called by God to his or her vocation, there is also a choosing that occurs--TCW or MCW hermit. God chooses, and the hermit chooses what God chooses. It takes some prayer and discernment, with the help of the hermit's confessor and spiritual director, the hermit's bishop, also--to know for sure, what God wills. Then the hermit must make necessary choices in response.]]

Dear poster,
I have written about a piece of this passage before and with regard to a question that was a lot like yours as I recall, so let me first refer you to that post. It is dated February 6, 2009 and the second half of the title and the article refer to this division between temporal and mystical Catholic Worlds. For that reason I will try not to repeat everything I said there, but also to expand on it somewhat in a couple of places. In fact, as I think about it, I may have written more than one post regarding this matter in the same approximate time frame, so please check through the posts from at least a week before and a week after Feb 6, 2009 as well. First though, I have read the post you refer to and I also find the division you refer to problematical in the extreme. Eremitical life is ALWAYS 1) temporal, 2) oriented towards God alone, and 3) simultaneously and paradoxically communal or ecclesial. Let me try to say more about the paradox involved here because I don't believe I said much about that in my earlier posts.

If one is genuinely contemplative, and even if one is and/or calls oneself a mystic, the eremitical life is defined as one whose raison d'etre is in part the praise or glorification of God and in part the salvation of the world. For this reason, in one way and another it involves engagement with and on behalf of the temporal world. That engagement may "merely" be the contemplative prayer itself --- but such prayer is never a "just me and God" matter even though it involves experiences which highlight that dimension of reality, and even though no one else is bodily present in the cell or even consciously in the hermit's awareness. There is, this side of death, probably no purer experience of "God alone" or "God and me alone" as occurs in some contemplative prayer and the eremitical cell, but in my experience such prayer ALWAYS ALSO involves an awareness that while one dances with God (or whatever other images or experiences may be involved --- if any!), he is loving everyone else as completely and holding them as securely as he is oneself at that moment -- and one is glad, even delighted that that is the case! Further, one is aware that one is loved for oneself, of course, but that that love is meant to be shared with the world in whatever way the hermit feels called to do.

Even if one is a complete recluse one KNOWS that the transformation of oneself that occurs in prayer works as leaven in the world and transforms it as well. One knows that one's prayer is a doorway through which God is allowed to enter and become personally present in a way which transcends just this moment or just this small space. One knows that one is part of the Body of Christ and that, as it says in Ephesians, it is in the perfection of this Body that (we become) Christ come to full stature. Even when one prays "alone" in her cell, Church, world and God meet there within one and through one. This ceases to be mere abstraction when we consider the specific people we each carry within our hearts each time we pray. We are never without them, for in part they make us who we are. Consider all the people who have called us in one way and another to be, who have loved us, or in fact who have not; we carry them all within us in our memories and oftentimes deeper even than that; they are part of us. Beyond this group of people, ALL are grounded in God, and ALL are present in Him as well. To be truly in Communion with God, truly oriented towards him alone, is to be oriented towards and with all he cherishes and sustains as well. It is to be related to and concerned with the entire Communion of Saints and all those called to join this Communion. We are never less alone than when we are at prayer, and this is at least as true of contemplative or mystical prayer as it is of liturgical and other forms of prayer.

As far as divisions and approvals go, it is important to remember the Catholic theology of vocation. In Baptism we are each called to the lay state and within that state there are many significant vocations or callings. They have in common that they are callings to the lay life, but they may vary considerably otherwise. One vocation the Church recognizes today is that of lay hermit. The characteristics of the lay hermit are, in most ways, the same as those of the diocesan or religious hermit: it is a call to a life of assiduous prayer and penance, the silence of solitude, and stricter separation from the world. One may be a mystic and one WILL be a contemplative, but one will be these things as a member of the lay state. Because of this, one's eremitism will speak most clearly (but not only!) to others in the lay state. Beyond this (different but not better!) one may discover one is called to the consecrated state or to the ordained state. In either of these one may also be called to eremitical life. If one is called to the consecrated eremitical state one will make public profession and be consecrated publicly as well. One will assume a different set of responsibilities and rights in so doing, including public responsibility for the vowed eremitical life. One becomes a public representative of the whole long history of this form of response to the Gospel, and also, for working out and living publicly (even in hiddenness!) the significance and appropriate expressions of this form of life in the 21st (etc) Century.

Approval here, or rather admission to public profession and consecration, as I have written a number of times already, means admission to an ecclesial vocation. That is, it means that vocation is not discerned by the individual alone, nor is the vocation per se (the call by God) itself something extended to the individual ONLY in the privacy of her own heart --- though it will be heard there first and continually. By no means, as was at least implied by the passage you questioned, is canonical standing a merely a matter of preventing abuses in the vocation, nor does one require (much less will she be admitted to) canonical standing merely as a matter of living the vocation "safely"! Instead, God's own call is mediated fully to the person through the official Church. Responsibility for this expression of eremitical life is an ecclesial and public matter and because of this the call MUST come as something which, while a further specification of a Baptismal commitment, approaches the quality of "second baptism" and is extended publicly to the individual through the Church in a formal and official way so as to achive a stable state of life. One cannot be said to HAVE such a vocation unless and until the Church admits to profession and mediates God's own consecration of the person in a public liturgical act. One may be moving towards it, and one may even yearn for it in some way because of the anticipatory nature of the call one has truly already heard, but one cannot be said to "have" it fully apart from the Church's own mediation of it.

This is one of the reasons profession and consecration are such watershed moments for the diocesan hermit (or, for that matter, for religious or consecrated virgins). The vocation the diocesan hermit hears THROUGH and AFTER these events continues to be heard and it continues to be the same call in many ways, but now with different overtones and nuances she never expected prior to perpetual profession and consecration. She is a different person responsible for what is in many ways a DIFFERENT call she may have sensed vestigially as the incompleteness of the baptismal call she had heard in her heart and already answered with her life. Only now she begins to move from chaffing at incompleteness, or struggling to articulate some degree of dissatisfaction and unfreedom, to exploring the depths and implications of her new state and her new vocation. She is still a hermit and no more nor less a real hermit than the lay hermit, but now she is diocesan with all that entails and implies. Her experience of her call and her response to that call is PERSONALLY fuller because the call itself is different and SUBJECTIVELY fuller despite being anticipated in many ways during her life as a lay hermit.

God ALSO calls the Lay hermit, but not in the same way because the rights and responsibilities associated with that call are not the same as those associated with consecrated eremitical life. Thus, canonical standing does not represent merely the human approval of a vocation, nor does the diocesan hermit seek canonical standing because she yearns for human ("Temporal Catholic World") approval. It especially does not represent an individual's vain desire to be distinguished by title or garb! Instead title and garb represent/symbolize the rights and responsibilities assumed by THIS hermit via the mediation of Church authority and Divine Call. What the diocesan hermit yearns for is an eremitical vocation that is not the same as that of the lay or the religious hermit. She personally requires canonical standing because she simply is not called to this vocation apart from the Church's own mediation of the call, and because she finds after living lay eremitical life for some time, that she is simply not free to live out the vocation experienced in her heart as fully as she senses she might without what is mediated to her by the Church --- not because lay eremitical life lacks OBJECTIVE fullness (it does not), but, despite the essential similarities, because again it is actually different than consecrated eremitical life with different expectations and responsibilities. (Again, I have written about this before so please find posts referring to either the unique charism of the diocesan hermit or to those which refer to the expectations people have a necessary right to in regard to the diocesan hermit.)

The Church's own divisions and theology is far more adequate than the division into TCW and MCW. That is especially true when all eremitical vocations, no matter how mystical are temporal, and when all temporal vocations are meant to be touched by some degree of mystical prayer as well. Certainly the incarnation does not suggest that temporal involvement is to be separated from mystical orientation or experience. Nor do the Gospels. Luke's version could not be clearer that Jesus was both mystic and minister, and further than his ministry flowed from and was supported at every turn by his mysticism. The same is true of Paul who was indefatigable in his ministry on behalf of the Gospel, but who was known for his mystical experiences and prayer life. To divvy reality up into the mystical and the temporal Catholic Worlds and to associate canonical standing and consecration with the Temporal World is to dishonor the truth of the incarnation, as well as to repudiate the Church's own theology of ecclesial vocations. It (at least in the passage you quoted) also suggests therefore that those who seek admission to public profession and the consecrated state are not real contemplatives or mystics, do not love God sufficiently or seek to grow in that love, desire human approval and esteem and are dissatisfied with God's, and do not seek admission to profession and consecration because their very vocations as hermits demand it. Unfortunately, to cast the quest for canonical standing in these terms is either extremely and unfairly cynical, or it is simply ignorant of what motivates most diocesan hermits in what is often quite a long and difficult process.

I probably went on a bit more than you desired with your comments. I hope at least I was clear and addressed your concerns. However, if I did not, or if my comments raised further questions, I hope you will get back to me. Again, please read other posts on the topic of unique charism, etc and see if I have not already answered those questions or made things clearer though.