25 October 2009

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.