25 October 2009

Question on Horarium and the Divine Office

[[Dear Sister, I see from your horarium that you do not pray the minor or little hours of the Office. Why is that? Aren't you obligated to say the whole Office?]]

Good questions. I pray (usually singing) four of the Hours of the Divine Office, Lauds, Vespers and Compline and Vigils. (Vigils may be done in the middle of the night or a little before Lauds.) Between those periods I either work, study, or pray in other ways (including Mass or Communion services, lectio divina, and contemplative prayer). I will also run errands, take meals, or rest during some of those times. For me personally, I find that pausing to do the little hours fragments the day rather than helping me to pray better or make a prayer of my life. I tend to work better (especially if I am writing (including journaling) or studying) if I have a couple to several hours of dedicated time. Except for the work I do on computer this all occurs in cell so it is done in the presence of the Eucharist. That presence becomes a touchstone at those times especially. For that reason too I don't feel the need to pause to do the little hours, and my horarium is divided into blocks of time which are punctuated by the four main hours of the the Office.

As to what I am obligated to, the short answer is no, I am not obligated to say the whole Office. My Rule of Life includes the four hours I mentioned above. However, if I am away from the hermitage for some time (errands, trips to the City, etc) I will sometimes pray the minor hours while on the train. (Sometimes I will simply use a small bracelet of prayer beads I wear and pray the Jesus prayer as I look briefly at each person on the train with me and pray for them.) At those times the little hours do indeed help me to maintain a sense of quiet and continuity with the hermitage cell, but again, I do it because it functions for me in this way, not because I am obligated to do so.

Hope this is helpful.

On Lemons and Lemonade Revisited

[[Sister Laurel, Your posts on the time frame for becoming a hermit (On Lemons and Lemonade, etc) seem to be saying that young candidates for eremitical profession and consecration need not apply. Is that true? Canon 603 doesn't say anything about age, does it? Are there age requirements with regard to profession under Canon 603? How old were you when you considered you had such a vocation?]]

No, I am not saying that exactly, but there is no doubt that I believe it will be a rare young person from an exceptional life situation that would discover such a vocation at their own relatively young age. It tends to be recognized that eremitical vocations are associated with the second half of life. However, some of the things that affect us in the second half of life and suit us for eremitical solitude, or suggest that the door of solitude has indeed been opened to us as an invitation to enter do happen to young adults. When this is the case a young person might well find themselves called to eremitical life. In such a case, eremitical life in community (Camaldolese, Carthusian, etc) may NOT be open to the person, and solitary or diocesan eremitism might well be the avenue they should pursue.

Canon 603 per se does not mention age at all, however other canons do deal with age requirements (how old MUST one be at least --- there is no maximum age limit) for admission to vows and these would apply to the case of someone approaching a diocese for admission to vows under Canon 603. The point at issue is not chronological age really, but life experience and circumstances sufficient to nurture a vocation to genuine eremitical life. One should be an adult and capable of sustained self-discipline. One should have acquired sufficient education and religious formation to be able to educate themselves further in whatever way they need as well as to sustain them in the day to day tedium of solitude. One should be self-motivated and independent, and I think, one should not be in the blush of "first" conversion to Christ. Faith should be mature, a way of life for the person --- growing and developing still of course but --- not a new experience and especially not untested by the exigencies of life.

When I first considered that perhaps God was calling me in this way I was @34 years old. I had done most of my academic theological work and had been finally professed in Community for 8 years. I had lived with intractable chronic illness which was medically and surgically uncontrolled and chronic pain for at least 16 years, and I had worked in various ministries including hospital chaplaincy as well as in clinical lab and neurosciences. Getting all this to fit together neatly was not easy and was mostly a struggle. In 1983 the Revised Code of Canon Law came out with Canon 603. For various reasons it intrigued me, but I knew very little of eremitical life and frankly esteemed it even less. I began reading about it though and one of the first books I read was Dom Jean LeClercq's Alone With God. It was helpful in convincing me that eremitical life was something valid and even quite special --- even in the contemporary world. It also kept me reading. I then read Merton's Contemplation in a World of Action and was electrified by it and his vision of eremitical life. I began to live consciously as a hermit as a result, read and learned more about it, wrote about it, continued growing in it, and 24 years later was perpetually professed as a diocesan hermit under Canon 603. I celebrated my 58th birthday the day before that profession.

So, while I thought of myself as young at 34 yrs, I suppose I was not really so young. I do believe that solitary eremitical life is not generally a vocation for young persons. Circumstances can make for exceptions, of course, but by definition such a vocation would then be "exceptional". One should note that I have referred throughout here to the solitary eremitical vocation. The vocation of the religious hermit, that is the hermit who lives and is formed in community, is a different matter and probably admits of more young vocations than diocesan eremitism. I hope this helps.

23 October 2009

Anachoresis vs unhealthy Withdrawal

[[Dear Sister, could you say more about the terms "reactive withdrawal" and "responsive anachoresis" in your last post? I get the idea one is positive and the other negative, but why is one reactive and the other responsive?]]

Hi. I have written in the past about withdrawal as a negative reality and in those posts I offset this against the Greek term, anachoresis the state or act of retiring or withdrawing. Anachoresis is the form of withdrawal associated with monastics and hermits. From it we get the term anchorites: those who are connected to a local church or convent and practice an intense stability of place (living in a single room there off the altar, etc) while still remaining accessible to others in limited ways and degrees via use of a window or grill, etc. By extension anachoresis refers to the withdrawal of hermits and recluses, and not just to anchorites. As I understand this act of withdrawal it is a positive thing which is meant to serve communion with God and with others. Because of this, and particularly because it is a withdrawal which is done in obedience to the call of God in our lives, I have spoken of it as "responsive" rather than reactive.

Reactions and responses are different things after all! We react to stimuli in an immediate, relatively unmediated, and even unthinking or instinctive way. When we are acting up to our potential as human beings we respond to others in a thoughtful, loving, reasoned and generous way with not just some part of our nervous or limbic system dominating, but with our whole selves. Responsiveness can allow us to overcome merely self-protective or selfish impulses and lead to kenosis (self-emptying) and a life lived for others no matter the cost. Reactive "mechanisms" in our lives are more defensive and do not tend to involve the greater awareness of the needs of others (or sometimes the greater needs of our own selves) as human beings; they are, I think, more primitive --- a matter of the preservation of the organism we are and less a matter of attending to the demands of our humanity per se than genuine responses.

Because I recognize and appreciate this difference, I refer to "reactive withdrawal" as the kind of withdrawal from the environment which is defensive or the way we respond to the world when we are clinically depressed or perhaps ridden with anxiety and excessive fears (phobias) for instance. It is a reaction to stimuli, not a response of the whole person to the address and needs of God, another person or even our truest selves. Important as it can be in certain danger situations, apart from these it is less than worthy of the human person than is an obedient response, and this is especially true in the contemplative or the hermit. I distinguish the two this way precisely because while they can look the same superficially (they both involve withdrawal and physical solitude) they are radically different acts (that is, they differ at their very roots). What is difficult is the way they overlap in the lives of sinful human beings. Because they do, those who would be hermits have to learn to discern the difference and be sure their eremitical lives are governed by the responsiveness of a relatively mature and edifying anachoresis, not the reactivity of a more primitive and defensive withdrawal which is disedifying.

I hope this helps!

Mental Illness and the Vocation to Eremitical Life

[[Dear Sister, when you have referred in the past to "nut cases" wanting to be hermits, are you speaking about the mentally ill? Could and should the mentally ill (a form of chronic illness, after all) be hermits?"]]

This is a great question and points to a place I should be more careful with my language. Thanks for implicitly pointing that out! In fact, no, I am not speaking primarily about the mentally ill, at least not in any generally diagnosable way. In referring to "nut cases" I have generally been speaking about people who want to be hermits because it validates a kind of strangeness and anti-social bent in them. Sometimes this phrase simply means these people are bizarre and feel that eremitical life is the same and thus gives them permission to remain as bizarre as they wish. They are not so much concerned with discerning a vocation which is divine in origin or edifying to others as they are seeking a way to enshrine and institutionalize their own personal mental and emotional idiosyncracies and eccentricities. Especially they are often seeking a way to validate their own misanthropy, excessive or distorted individualism, and sometimes even a kind of selfishness and narcissism rather than looking for a way to love God and others effectively. When their motives are more positive and valid, it is sometimes the case that eremitical life will witness to the wrong things in this particular life, and so, not be edifying --- that is, it will not build up the Body of Christ or be sufficiently prophetic in the contemporary world. Now, let me be clear. Sometimes such persons may well ALSO be mentally ill, but this is not the main concern I was expressing when I have referred in the past to "nut cases."

The next questions are also quite good and more difficult to answer. Mental illness comes in many different forms and degrees of control and stabilization. My general answer to the first part of your question is yes, some mentally ill persons COULD be hermits, but not all and not most. Regarding the second portion of the question, those that COULD be hermits are those whose illness is well-controlled with medication and whose physical solitude definitely contributes to their vocations to wholeness and emotional/mental well-being. There should be no doubt about this, and it should be clear to all who meet them. It should assist them in loving themselves, God, and others rather than detracting from this basic responsibility. In other words, solitude should be the context for these persons becoming more authentically human and maturing in that fundamental or foundational vocation for the whole of their lives. With this in mind I am thinking too that some forms of mental illness do not lend themselves to eremitical vocations: illnesses with thought disorders, delusions, hallucinations, fanatical or distorted religious ideation, and the like are probably not amenable to life as a hermit.

On the other hand, some forms of mental illness would (or rather, could) do quite well in an eremitical setting so long as the anachoresis (that is, the healthy withdrawal) required by the vocation is clearly different from that caused by the illness and does not contribute to it but instead even serves to heal it. Certain mood disorders, for instance, cause a defensive or reactive and unhealthy withdrawal, but it is not the same as the responsive anachoresis of the hermit. The person suffering from clinical depression who also wishes to be a hermit should be able to discern the difference between these two things and this requires a lot of insight and personal work. However, if a person suffers from clinical depression (or has done in the past) I would say it should be pretty well-controlled medically, and no longer debilitating or disabling before the person is allowed to make even temporary profession as a diocesan hermit. At the same time, provisions for adequate ongoing and emergent care and treatment should be written into this hermit's Rule of Life.

In any case, I think the decision to become a hermit when mental illness is a factor is something which requires the candidate and her spiritual director, psychiatrist or psychologist, and the diocesan staff to work together to discern the wisdom of. Mental illness per se should not always automatically preclude this vocational option, but there is no doubt that eremitical silence, solitude, prayer and penance can exacerbate rather than help with some forms of mental illness. Even in the completely healthy person eremitical solitude can lead to mental problems. Ordinarily we are made for a more normal type of communion or social interaction with others, and this is a particularly significant area for caution when dealing with mental illness. This is another place where some years spent as a lay hermit, especially under direction and regular and effective medical care, are especially helpful in discerning a vocation to eremitical life -- if initial permission to pursue such a thing is deemed wise at all. So, once again, thanks for your questions. They are quite good and, among other things, remind me to take greater care with language.

19 October 2009

Question on Chronic Illness and Urban Eremitical Vocations

[[I have degenerative disc disease, diabetes and asthma. I spend most of my time at home (alone) and use a wheelchair when I go out. Could you please elaborate on the relationship between chronic illness and the life of an urban hermit?]]

Thanks for the question. Please do look up earlier posts on this topic, especially the original article published in Review For Religious. I think those will really help you. You can do that by looking at the labels listed in the upper right sidebar and clicking on the appropriate links. Those posts will flesh out the brief response below.

For most people chronic illness results in some degree of dislocation and isolation. Sometimes this is extreme, sometimes not, but the basic root of the problem is the same in any case: the rest of the world simply does not move to the same tempo or rhythm nor do they share the same concerns or limitations. Further we live in a world in which worth is measured by productivity, what we do, what we earn, how successful in these terms we are, how educated, how active in civic and church affairs, et cetera. Because a person with chronic illness often simply cannot measure her life in these terms (or does so and comes up only with "failure" as the mark received) this also is especially isolating.

Now, isolation is not the same as solitude but it does call for redemption. It is meant to be transformed (at least in many cases and in the life of the hermit) into solitude. What I mean by this is that one central reality that remains to all of us when life robs us of other values, abilities, activities, relationships, and so forth is our God and the possibility of a relationship with him. That relationship is capable of redeeming all other loss and completing us as human beings; it is, afterall what we are made for. If we enter into that relationship wholeheartedly what was isolation becomes transfigured into solitude. Solitude is an expression of communion with God and eremitical solitude (a solitude which is more radical and extensive) is something that chronic illness can predispose us to embracing.

Likewise, the gospel gives us a set of values which are countercultural. Not only does Scripture teach us that we are precious to God no matter our success or failure in worldly terms, but discipleship is marked by "the great reversal" --- that is, what the world values is not the same as what is valued in the Kingdom of God. Success in the Reign of God is measured differently and not in terms of productivity, earnings, power, prestige, etc, as it is meaured instead in terms of self-emptying and one's faithfulness to God's call. Even more it is measured in terms of God's grace, freely given and received. The first shall be last, the last first. Those who allow themselves to be gifted by God will be first and richer than those reject God's gifts and attempt instead to wrest things from God's hands by the measure and tools of the world's judgment and success. Few people are in a better position to give the countercultural witness of the disciple of Christ than the chronically ill are.

What I am talking about here is not eremitical life, however. It is a vocation to be chronically ill within the church and world, a prophetic witness that human beings are precious for who they are, not for what they do, how much money they make, how much power they accumulate or exercise, etc. I believe that all chronically ill are called upon to give this kind of witness and that they can do it with a vividness and depth which few others can match. However, of these people who are chronically ill, SOME will also be called to eremitical life. These persons will, in their relationship with God, allow isolation to be transfigured and transformed into genuine solitude and the silence of solitude which serve as the context, goal, and charism of their lives. They will witness to all the things any person with a vocation to chronic illness with witness to and additionally they will say with their lives that "God alone is enough for us." They will witness to the essential wholeness and abundant life that comes from communion with God in Christ, and they will remind the rest of the church and world with a special clarity and power that we are all on a journey towards something far more lasting and fulfilling than this world with all its seductions and false promises --- and also, of course, that this reality is present and accessible to some extent right now interpenetrating our world with its presence.

Chronic illness is not ordinarily part of the eremitical life per se but for a relative few I believe that chronic illness will point to and predispose a person to embrace an eremitical call. In terms of urban eremitism this will specifically be a call to witness to the redemption of those unnatural solitudes which so characterize life in cities, the life of illness, bereavement, and old age marked by separation and lack of connectedness. Urban hermits (whether lay or consecrated) will witness to the redemption of such unnatural solitudes generally, but the hermit who is also chronically ill will do so, again, with a greater vividness and depth.

I apologize for the brevity for this response. It is more an introduction than anything else. Still, I hope it does help and even that it will raise more questions for you!

09 October 2009

Some Common and Pointed Questions re: Diocesan Hermits and Canonical Standing

The following is a compilation or aggregation of a number of fairly antagonistic questions or objections raised recently. They are important for any understanding of the importance of Canonical standing in the vocation of the diocesan hermit, and I think they are important in revealing the antipathy which exists in regard to canonical status. Because they are related I have combined them for the purposes of simplifying the process of responding in this blog.

[[Dear Sister, I just don't get why you stress the importance of canonical standing or why you see it as a positive thing. The earliest hermits were lay persons and lived a simple eremitical life which did not depend on egotistical statements of power or status. They were critical of the institutional church, not sellouts to its hierarchy or power structure! What has concern with law got to do with the love the hermit is supposed to represent? We all know what Jesus said about those who were more concerned with rules than with loving others. What has the hiddenness or spirituality of the eremitical life got to do with public vocations and canonical vows, titles, and habits? Isn't your proccupation with these things merely a sign of self-absorption and self-aggrandizement? Doesn't it indicate you do not respect or value the lay eremitical vocation?]]

Canon 603 (the Canon governing the life of diocesan or publicly professed solitary hermits) is only 27 years old. Prior to Canon 603 and since the time of Paul Giustiniani in the 16th century, the existence of solitary hermits, that is hermits who do not belong to a religious congregation which allows for their eremitical lives, was simply not supported by the Church in any substantial much less official way. Paul Giustiniani lived during a time when the Church recognized the importance of the faithful, and particularly religious men and women, receiving the Sacraments regularly and this recognition was codified in law (decretals, etc). Despite Giustiniani's esteem for solitary eremitical life, he was forced to conclude that it was no longer a valid way of living the eremitical life because it essentially cut one off from the life of the Sacraments, and so too, to some extent, from the life of the church.

And yet, solitary eremitical life continued to exist, sometimes more tenuously, sometime less, but without universal ecclesial support or approval, and so too then, without the encouragement or safeguards which could nurture such vocations. (Such vocations will always be rare, but their eccentricity should be a function of their prophetic quality --- the fact that they are out of the center or the commonplace --- not a matter of personal quirkiness or indiosyncracy. Ecclesial contextualization and canonical standing helps ensure this.) The first thing one should notice about the role of law in all this, especially with regard to Bl Paul's conclusions which are framed in terms of legalities and therefore could be mistaken as legalism rather than a more substantive concern, is that law is meant to protect both the integrity of the eremitical life (which is profoundly ecclesial) and encourage strong Sacramental lives in those modelling a particularly "heroic" spirituality for others. It reflects pastoral concerns and sensitivity, not an overweaning concern with rules for the sake of rules.

In 1983 Canon 603 was included in the Revised Code of Canon Law along with two other canons (cc 604 and 605) regarding "new" forms of consecrated life. For the first time ever solitary eremitical life was a possibility according to universal law. It was recognized officially as a gift of God to the Church and provision was made to allow individuals to pursue eremitical life as a specifically ecclesial vocation under the supervision of their local Bishop. The canon included a listing of essential or defining elements which characterized authentic eremitical life (silence of solitude, assiduous prayer, penance, and stricter separation from the world, for the praise of God and the salvation of the world), and set forth requirements to guide the stable and integral living of this life (for instance, a written Rule of Life which the hermit's Bishop approves, and public (canonical) vows of the evangelical counsels which establish the person in a public vocation within the church).

Again, what one should notice about Canon 603 is its deeply pastoral character and concerns, not only for the hermit herself, but for the eremitical vocation generally as a reflection of the work of the Spirit within the Church, and for the local and universal church and world in and for whom this vocation is lived. After all, such a calling serves these when it is lived well and with integrity, and it wounds and scandalizes them when it is not. Profession according to this canon establishes the hermit in a stable form of life which is associated with correlative and public rights and responsibilities which serve the Body of Christ and the World. In other words, the provisions of Canon 603 are part of the actual commission of the hermit to live her life for the salvation of the world and they assist her in carrying out that mission. It is simply a case that in regard to Canon 603 (my main concern in this answer) law (and therefore legal or canonical standing and reflection on the significance of these) serves love; it does not contradict or conflict with such a vocation or mission but expresses and enhances it.

For instance recently someone asserted that physical solitude had literally "nothing to do with the hermit vocation." What was important this person contended (the only thing necessary in fact), was the inner solitude of the "cell of the heart." However, Canon 603 specifies "stricter separation from the world" --- a specification which covers BOTH inner and outer solitude and recognizes BOTH as essential. One of the witnesses a hermit gives to our contemporary world is that the unnatural solitudes and various forms of isolation which life in our world fosters (the isolation of urban life, bereavement, chronic illness, old age, failure of life commitments, etc) can be redeemed. But how would my life as a hermit speak of that specific hope and promise to people who have become isolated physically as well as emotionally and spiritually if I do not live a very real physical solitude which is completely redeemed with God's presence? I could not, and this is especially true with regard to those persons who cannot simply choose to end their physical isolation. Thus, Canon 603 includes this, not merely because it is essential to my own life as a hermit, or to the vocation generally, but because it is one aspect of living this vocation "for the salvation of the world." By including this element in the Canon the church ensures not only that it is a normative part of the eremitical life and that one cannot redefine eremitical life in terms merely of an inner solitude of the heart (important as that is!), but that the diocesan hermit will reflect on and live out this dimension more and more fully and diversely for the sake of others!

Similarly, reflecting on the unique charism of diocesan eremitism which flows directly from the rights and responsibilites implied by canonical standing has more to do with understanding what expectations others may necessarily have of the Canon 603 hermit than it has to do with legalism or concern with canonical standing for its own sake. By reflecting on the gift which Canon 603 represents to the church and world, the diocesan hermit begins to penetrate her own vocation more and more deeply. She will come to understand its implications more profoundly, and she will be challenged to live that vocation with greater depth and integrity. Especially she will be challenged and supported in her growing appreciation of the concrete ways in which this vocation is lived for the sake of others. In part, such a realization stems directly from the contemplative life she lives, but in part it comes from reflection on the fact that in professing/consecrating her publicly the Church has extended to her specific canonical rights and responsibilities. It has not done so to contribute to the hermit's self-aggrandizement or because she has "sold out" to the institutional or hierarchical power structure and is now to be included in the "old boy's club of the church," but instead to humble and challenge her with a continuing ecclesially-mediated call of God (and help equip her with the wherewithal) to respond fully in a way which serves others with her life.

Thus my own preoccupation with these things comes from several places: 1) a kind of awe that God has worked in my life in the way he has and has called me to this vocation not only for my own sake but especially for the sake of others, 2) a greater sense of the importance of the diocesan hermit vocation with the unique charism which characterizes it and flows directly from the fact that the vocation is canonical; I have written before about this and, as noted above, defined this charism in terms of the necessary expectations others are allowed to have of such a publicly professed person. 3) a growing awareness that canonical standing both defines and protects the integrity of the vocation even while it challenges hermits (including lay hermits) to live up to the essential elements of that vocation, and 4) a sense that hermit life is profoundly ecclesial and therefore is never a matter of exaggerated individualism (nothing characterized by isolation or simple individualism or merely personal eccentricity should be called eremitism). A theology of eremitical life is profoundly related to the theology of consecrated life and a theology of church. So is the life itself. Please note that all of these aspects of my "pre-occupation" with the importance and place of canonical standing for THIS vocation have to do with a sense that the vocation is meant for the sake of others. None of it has to do with personal aggrandizement or ego (and the commitment to make sure that these do not become problematical is part and parcel of the canonical commitment itself; canonical commitment and standing obliges to greater humility, not less).

Some false antitheses:

Within the questions put to me and the objections against canonical standing which were raised there are, both implicitly and explicitly, a number of false antitheses. Law vs Love is the central one which has been implicit in everything I have said thus far. However there is a related tendency to characterize a concern with Canon law as a concern for non-essentials, with things which are marginal to the heart of the vocation itself or is merely phariseeism. Drawing this dichotomy simply fails to appreciate how Canon 603 serves the vocation, and how reflection on what it defines and codifies can be profoundly spiritual and relates to the very essence of the calling. A second false dichotomy includes linking canonical standing with valid vocations to eremitical life and non-canonical standing with invalidity -- as though only the canonical vocation is valid and significant while lay eremitical life is not. Nothing could be further from the truth, nor from what the Church holds to be the case. What I have said here many times is that both lay and consecrated expressions of the solitary eremitical vocation are valid and significant; in fact they are profoundly complementary and mutually illustrative and reinforcing, but for those very reasons they differ in significant ways as well.

A third false antithesis (which was raised along with the questions above) is that of intellectual vs spiritual --- as though being a theologian and/or a scholar of the eremitical or monastic life, or intellectual in one's approach to their fundamentals implies a failure to be sufficiently spiritual. This stereotype is not uncommon nor is it new. Anti-intellectualism is (disappointingly) alive and well today, but in regard to this antithesis, we must remember that the notion of a theologian with strong intellectual gifts and no real spirituality is often a caricature. The Holy Spirit works on and through the intellect just as She works on and through the heart. In fact, the dichotomy which is sometimes mistakenly absolutized between mind and heart fails to regard the completely complementary nature of these realities which are at the service of one another in all genuine spirituality.

A fourth false antithesis is that of setting off the public vocation of diocesan hermit against the hiddenness of eremitical life. I have written about this before so for now let me point out that to embrace a public vocation means to embrace publicly and canonically (the two terms are synonymous here) the rights and responsibilities of a vocation in a way which allows others to have necessary expectations of the one so committed. Public does not indicate notoriety in this context. Thus, a hermit becomes responsible to the larger church and world to live out the essential hiddenness of her vocation. Others may necessarily expect that she does this with integrity and in a way which serves others. They may indeed hold her accountable in ways they may not do with a lay hermit who has not accepted the public responsibilities of Canon 603, for instance. All of this ties in closely with the charism of the diocesan hermit and its expression in terms of necessary expectations which others may have of her. The point here though is that the public character of the vocation does not conflict with the hiddenness of the vocation. Instead it protects and nurtures it.

Looking at the public dimension of the vocation

As for habit, title, etc. they are simply a natural part of the public (and monastic!) aspect of the vocation. They indicate the acceptance of a public ecclesial identity with commmensurate rights and responsibilities in relation to the Church's own commission of the person. While they can become problematical in terms of ego, etc, ordinarily they serve to challenge to humility and to recalling that the whole of one's life is given to and for others. Again though, they are not automatically (or even ordinarily) indicators of self-aggrandizement, but rather a visible sign of the way the Holy Spririt is working in the Church and world through this individual life and vocation. Personally I would probably never mention them except for those who adopt them on their own authority and pretend to the vocations they symbolize. While these persons may be very well-intentioned and seek to serve others in this way, the act is still a fraudulent one and I think demonstrates a failure to esteem the lay vocation the person is actually called to at this point in their lives. Both are in serious conflict with a Christian vocation.

It is sometimes argued that once people were more commonly able simply to adopt a religious or eremitical habit and go off to live the life. However, that is certainly not true today, and in fact it was not the case in the days of the desert Fathers and Mothers either. In those earliest days the habit was given to a young monk by an elder, and if the monk proved unworthy the habit was taken back again. Later the habit was given by a priest and it was again taken back from those expelled from the desert. From this point on the giving of the habit became a solemn rite. (Regnault, The Day-to-Day Life of the Desert Fathers in Fourth Century Egypt) There are even apothegms in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers denouncing the imprudence of young monks adopting the habit on their own and declaring themselves anchorites.

Today, the prudence shown in the desert is duplicated and developed in the contemporary Church. She is careful in mediating God's own call or extending the rights and responsibilities of ecclesial vocations precisely because 1) they are ecclesial and not discerned or lived privately, 2) they come with correlative rights and responsibilities which are a part of being commissioned by the Church. For this reason clothing with the habit occurs in liturgical contexts which mark the assumption of these under authority, and celebrate the actual commissioning involved. Self-assumption of the habit is empty of all of this meaning and actually conflicts with it. In many ways I personally find such a practice ignorant (not least of the theology of commission, but also of the linking of responsibilities with rights and the theology of consecration), thoughtless (of the needs and expectations of others and their rights to have these met in someone wearing a habit or using a title), self-absorbed, and so too, a matter of ego and literal arrogance (where one arrogates or takes to themselves something they need to be commmissioned to take on). This is simply the normative practice of the Church, and it makes profound sense, so the argument that because once upon a time it was possible to simply take the habit and live a religious or eremitical life so we should be able to do so today is simply not cogent.

It may be surprising that such questions are common, and astonishing that they are posed with real animosity, but again, I believe it is a natural consequence of the church's having treated the lay vocation as second class for so very long, and often treating it as no vocation at all (for instance, by meaning only religious or priestly vocations when one spoke of "having a vocation" or "praying for vocations"). We must certainly put the lie to such positions and work to heal the injury done to those whose vocations (and lives) were invalidated by such positions. Evenso we cannot jettison important theological distinctions or lay all the blame at the door of Canon Law or those who have vocations to the consecrated state and who therefore fall under the Canons related to these in the process.

Neither, by the way, can we forget that the church uses lay and clergy as the hierarchical division which is fundamental to church life, but that this is NOT the same as the non-hierarchical distinction between lay, consecrated, and clerical states of life --- also very real in the life of the church and recognized in Canon Law by its codification of rights and responsibilities which are linked to each! (Briefly, I am saying that diocesan hermits, et al, have rights and responsibilities which flow from neither the lay state itself, nor from the clerical state. These are codified in Canon Law and so, are both implicitly and explicitly recognized in Law as differing from the lay state. They are specifically noted in the CIC to be non-hierarchical. Additionally, Canon 588 distinguishes between states of life (identified as lay, consecrated, and clerical in sec 1), and institutes (which are either clerical or lay in sec 2 and 3.) For this reason people who write about the rights and responsibilities of the consecrated state do not generally do so to Lord this state over the lay state. When I personally write to stress the non-hierarchical nature of such states of life for instance, I do so precisely to disarm such a superior-inferior approach or attitude.