10 May 2010

Do Dioceses Support Diocesan Hermits?

[[Sister Laurel, does the diocese of the Canon 603 hermit support them in any way? What do you think about this? How about other diocesan hermits?]]

Really great questions, and ones which lots of people wonder about. I may have answered something similar before so please look for that as well; also some of what I say here will echo what I wrote about in regard to mediocrity as a danger to authentic eremitical life. The simple answer is no, diocesan hermits generally receive nothing from their dioceses in terms of stipends, transportation, living expenses or accommodations (place to set up a hermitage, etc), medical or other insurance, educational expenses, money for yearly or bi-yearly retreat, religious goods, books, etc. Remember that while diocesan clergy receive stipends for their service to the diocese, religious women and men usually do not unless they are contracted and work for the diocese itself. They support themselves and their congregations --- particularly their retired members and those in formation. (The idea that religious support their communities, and not vice versa is not well enough understood today.) Diocesan hermits differ from, but fall into this latter category. In fact, diocesan hermits ordinarily sign a waiver of liability (or claim) at their perpetual profession which says the diocese is not responsible for them in material or financial ways.

So, how do I feel about this? I think it is a wise policy for a number of reasons. Diocesan eremitical life does not have the kind of built in safeguards (for discernment or supervision of the motives behind and the quality of living) that life in community has. Discernment of an eremitical vocation takes time and the solitary (diocesan) eremitical vocation may require even more time. Because individuals embrace solitude for all kinds of reasons it often takes a number of years to clarify why they seek to make profession as a diocesan hermit. Unfortunately, it must be crystal clear that among these motivations the need to be cared for is not present. The tendency to run from responsibility and from the ordinary demands of life in society also must not be present. Eremitical life is a responsible life and one embraces it to give oneself in devotion and service to God, his Church, and world. Further, because the eremitical vocation is so independent, the individual and the diocese need to see signs that the hermit candidate is acting and living independently: providing for and securing education, caring for the normal needs of a deep spiritual life, independent work, taking initiative for education, etc -- all are a significant part of the eremitical life. It is simply right that a diocese expects hermits to care for these him/herself.

However, I have heard some hermits suggest that the church does not esteem the vocation highly enough and contributing in basic ways to the upkeep of the hermit would help do this. Additionally, because of the failure to provide in this way it happens that some persons who might have genuine calls to diocesan eremitical life, but who cannot find a way to support themselves which is consistent with a contemplative life, and who certainly cannot quit working their usual jobs, simply cannot be accepted for consecration under Canon 603. Also, because of this policy, hermits who have been consecrated for some time but who can no longer work, who have increasing health problems, and must provide for future burial expenses, etc, find themselves in difficulty and a dilemma. They have faithfully lived eremitical life and vowed poverty independently for years and maintained themselves in this way, but now the situation is changing. They must find a way to continue living eremitical silence, solitude, etc, because they are vowed to this (one does not simply retire from such a commitment or life), but they also may need more health care, assisted living, etc. These situations are more complex than I can discuss at this point, but they are important and give some import to the comment about the church's need to esteem this vocation in concrete and material ways.

Is there a satisfactory solution? Not at present. One possibility is that dioceses of aging hermits might provide some assistance after these hermits have lived perpetual profession for a number of years (say ten to fifteen or so (depending upon when the hermit is perpetually professed, or if extraordinary circumstances intervene otherwise). Such hermits might be included on diocesan insurance (we hear of this occasionally), be allowed to live on diocesan property without (or with nominal) rent, or be included on diocesan burial policies. However, whatever the solution for hermits in later life or which minimizes the risk that some few vocations are missed because of an inability to meet diocesan requirements, the policy dioceses have generally adopted is mainly a good one and I agree with it. Hermits themselves need to know that they are seeking profession without any ulterior motives, and they must be confident that they are able to live independently and responsibly without being cared for by the diocese before they are professed. Similarly dioceses need to know that those approaching them with petitions for admittance to profession are mature, responsible, self-sufficient, generous, and independent. They need to know these persons are not looking for a sinecure. It is simply part of discerning (and living!) an authentic eremitical vocation.

Hope this helps. As always, if it does not answer your questions, is unclear, or raises more questions, please get back to me.