06 September 2010

On the title "Catholic Hermit" (Response to Question)

[[Dear Sister, I am a lay hermit. I have read blogs by other lay (privately professed and consecrated) hermits who call themselves Catholic Hermits and also online comments by a canonist saying this is improper. I am Catholic and a hermit. Why aren't I a "Catholic Hermit"?]]

Hi there,
I have written about this before so please check for these under the labels in the right hand column, but the bottom line answer (and something I did not originally mention in the pertinent post) is that the importance of being officially commissioned to live, act, or minister in the name of the Church is addressed in canon law. One is prohibited from calling oneself a Catholic hermit, religious, etc, unless specifically authorized to do so. Let me begin there and then explain the reasoning for this.

Canon 216 states that any person may adopt apostolic activity through their own undertaking as appropriate to their own state and condition in life, but no such undertaking will adopt the name Catholic without the express consent of the competent ecclesiastical authority. What this means for you is that you may indeed live as a lay hermit without further permission; your baptism gives you this right and responsibility if you discern God is calling you to this. But you do this in your own name, not in the name of the Church for the Church has not been involved in the discernment or the mediation of such a vocation. Similarly then, you do not publicly represent the eremitical vocation on behalf of the Church, for the Church has not publicly accepted your commitment and commissioned you to do so. In other words you have not been commissioned to live eremitical life in the name of the Church. You DO represent the lay vocation on behalf of the Church and your own eremitical vocation is a part or expression of this.

Canon 216 may have been formulated to deal with new groups wishing to become religious institutes (though this is handled by C 300 which also limits the use of the term Catholic), but it works as well for hermits too. (By the way, it also works for theologians. Some of us are theologians while others with a specific commission from the Church have a right to the title "Catholic Theologian." Such a "missio" can be withdrawn and the person no longer has the right to call him or herself a Catholic theologian. One cannot, on one's own initiative, then, call oneself a Catholic Theologian simply because one is a theologian and a Catholic, for instance.) The reasoning, I think, is sound even if one is doing Catholic theology without a missio: One must be doing what one does in the sense the Church uses the term and with her formal approbation. We must be acting in her name when we use the qualifier "Catholic". Otherwise almost anyone could call themselves a Catholic theologian, or a Catholic Community/Congregation, etc and, unless they were working in academia, there would be no oversight at all --- and the meaning of the terms could be lost in the process. (Note well though:  because one has not been given the right to call herself a Catholic theologian in no way indicates the person is anything other than profoundly Catholic IN her theology. It simply means she is not doing theology in the name of the Church with an actual formal commission or mandatum and all these entail or require.)

With regard to hermits, I think this reasoning is especially sound. We have people experimenting with all different degrees and expressions of solitary life. Only some are authentic life vocations. Some are transitional paths which are primarily therapeutic, for instance; others are attempts to build appropriate degrees of solitude into an active or apostolically oriented life, but are not really essentially eremitical. Some experiments are done by married people, some by those who really desire to live in community but have not been able to make that happen, and some are merely the choice of isolation (not eremitical solitude) by those who have been unable to succeed at life and whose motivations and lives are far from those the Church necessarily associates with Catholic hermits. Some bear no real resemblance to eremitical life at all, and only some are inspired by the Holy Spirit in a way which gives them lasting value. Only a few, therefore, fulfill all the requirements the church affirms should be absolutely characteristic of eremitical life in the Church --- and this includes the significant mutual discernment and mediation of the vocation which includes a public calling, consecration, and commissioning by ecclesiastical authorities and the acceptance of this by the hermit herself in a corresponding public act of dedication (profession).

The vocation of the Catholic Hermit therefore also includes embracing all the rights and obligations of such a commitment because this life is understood to be a gift to the Church and world given by the Holy Spirit, and one must consciously and publicly undertake the commitment to live out this charism (gift) as gift with integrity. (I think there is a huge difference between living a life because it works for me, and living a life because it is itself a gift of the Holy Spirit to Church and world. In my own eremitical commitment, for instance, a significant focus for reflection is on precisely the way this specific life is charismatic and meant to be lived for the good of church and world, and not simply on "what works for me". It continues to challenge and console me every single day, but it is NOT something I appreciated clearly before perpetual profession under Canon 603. I think this gift of appreciation is a piece of the grace that comes with profession. The reflection is certainly part of the commission of the diocesan hermit. My Bishop indicated this in his homily during the profession Mass when he noted for the assembly that I would be exploring what contemporary hermit-life meant and should look like.) For all these reasons then, it is these rare instances that the Church affirms with consecration by allowing public profession under Canon 603 (or under Canons governing religious eremitical life) and signals with the descriptive term "Catholic Hermit."

As noted in my prior post then, the term Catholic Hermit is applied to those who are canonically constituted and consecrated as hermits. It is applied to religious hermits as well as to those who have entered the consecrated state via Canon 603 and are examples of consecrated solitary eremitical life in the Church. These latter are persons whose entire life is publicly defined in terms of the central elements of the Canon, and the way they live these elements out is supervised by ecclesiastical authorities. As also noted in the earlier post then, parishioners and members of the dioceses where these persons live and are professed are allowed, necessarily, to have certain expectations of them which they are not necessarily allowed to have with regard to the lay hermit living some form of solitude in her own name (that is, privately). The key word in all of this is 'necessarily,' because public profession is linked to legal rights and responsibilities which are publicly assumed. It absolutely does NOT mean the diocesan hermit is a better hermit than the lay hermit, but merely that they each have assumed different rights and obligations; some (the lay or non-canonical hermits) have assumed those that come with and from baptism alone, while others (canonical hermits) assume rights and obligations that come from both baptism and public (canonical) profession and consecration.

I hope this helps. As always, if it raises more questions or is unclear, please get back to me. Also do check the labels below for related posts. Some will be repetitive and some will approach from a different perspective. They also may raise more questions.