01 August 2010

Questions on Becoming a Diocesan Hermit

Hi Sister Laurel! I am . . .from the Philippines. I am a reader of your blog, and I am just amazed with your life. . . . So, my questions are, 1. how does one start the process of becoming a diocesan hermit, let say after living a eremitic life after some years. How does he approach the bishop? And what if the bishop is not supportive, should he give up his vocation. 2. I understand that there are hermits who live in the urban area. What could be the best explanation if someone asks why he's not in the desert or in the forest? 3.How does one support himself? Is he allowed to work? What kinds of work? . . .]]

Hi there!
Assuming one has lived an eremitical life for some time (a few years as you say and under the direction of a competent spiritual director), one would contact the chancery and ask to speak to the Vicar for Religious or the Vicar for Consecrated Life. Sometimes the Vocation Director will be the person one will first speak to. In my experience one does not speak to the Bishop immediately. This can differ from diocese to diocese, but in my own diocese it is only once the Vicar(s) are prepared to recommend a person for profession that the Bishop actually enters the picture. At that point discernment continues and the Bishop will meet with the person several times usually, read their Rule and anything else that is pertinent, and make a decision.

At this point a person may be admitted to temporary profession or not. Further, the decision can take some time (including time working with Vicars, etc). Several years is not unusual. Even once the Bishop has received the recommendation the process may take a couple to several years more. If the Bishop is not supportive one should not give up "on his vocation." If one is clear that one is called to live an eremitical life then one can continue to do so as a lay hermit, for instance. The Church badly needs the witness of lay men and women who live authentic solitude in a world that militates against it in every possible way. In time the Bishop's position may change, sometimes because the Church's experience of diocesan hermits is increasing and because other Bishops have found the vocation significant in their own dioceses, sometimes because the lay hermit's persistence is edifying and helps clarify doubts or concerns. In time too, the aspirant's experience may lead him away from solitude. What is important is that one follow one's heart (and that means the call of God to be yourself) as well as one is able.

Bearing in mind that there have been urban hermits ("urbani" (etc) as well as anchorites who lived in the midst of towns) at a number of points in Church history, my own explanation for living in an urban area is that this is what Thomas Merton might have called an unnatural solitude which needs hermits to witness to the redemption that is possible there when isolation is transformed into genuine solitude by the grace of God. However, my own answer is not your answer and only you can explain why you have CHOSEN to live where you do. Only you can explain why it is possible to live an authentic eremitical life in an urban setting --- if indeed you believe it is. Like all other things this is a conclusion you come to with experience, study, reflection and prayer. Thus, how you answer the question is something which is truth, but it is your truth and, if you become a hermit, it will be one of the ways you become responsible for the living tradition of eremitical life.

Regarding support of oneself, one must usually work to do that, and ordinarily Bishops look for hermits who can support themselves in ways completely consonant with a contemplative life. It is generally solitary work whether done in or out of the hermitage and there are many possibilities here: writing, art, spiritual direction, cleaning (some clean buildings at night or after hours, for instance), beekeeping, writing icons, editing copy, woodworking, pottery, medical billing, etc, etc. The ways of doing this are only limited by one's imagination (and location --- though with the internet even that has changed somewhat). You would need to work this out over time and eventually (if admitted to a process of discernment for profession as a diocesan hermit) with your Bishop, delegate, etc to determine what works best and most contributes to your eremitical life.

I hope this helps. As always, if it raises more questions or requires clarification, please get back to me.