24 September 2010

What is a Diocesan Hermit?

I wanted to answer the basic question, "What is a Diocesan Hermit?" I have posted this elsewhere but not here. Though I have spoken about all this many times before, I may not have ever just answered this question per se. I realized that was kind of silly, especially since this is a question people ask a lot in a variety of ways! Note that I might nuance some parts of this at this point (the section on charism, for instance) as this was written several years ago now. The basic answer stands, however.

[[A diocesan hermit is a canonically (i.e., publicly) professed and consecrated hermit living primarily under Canon 603 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law (other canons also apply but Canon 603 defines the fundamental vocation of the diocesan hermit). Accordingly s/he writes his/her own Rule of Life, has that approved by his/her Bishop, and lives his or her life according to that Rule and under the supervision of the diocesan Bishop who is the hermit's legitimate superior. (Bishops may also appoint or have the hermit select a delegate who may serve as a kind of superior for everyday matters, and who can assist in communications between the hermit and his/her Bishop.) Because his/her vows are public the hermit lives his/her life and exercises appropriate ministries in the name of the Church. Unlike lay hermits s/he may therefore wear a habit as a sign of both the rights and responsibilities which are part of eremitical consecration. For liturgical functions and prayer in the hermitage the cowl is more and more the typical prayer garment of the perpetually professed hermit. In either case (habit or cowl) the hermit adopts particular garb only with the approval or wishes of the diocesan Bishop.

Canon 603 defines the life as a vowed contemplative life of "the silence of solitude," assiduous prayer and penance, and stricter separation from the world --- all lived for the praise of God and the salvation of the world (this last element ensures the positive nature of the vocation and disallows misanthropy, or other self-centered or unworthy motives). Each term in this definition has an essential or non-negotiable meaning but the way each hermit embodies the life is unique. The Canon is both demanding and flexible. One who lives in accordance with it can live a life of complete reclusion (one end of the eremitical spectrum) or a life involving some very limited work and ministry outside the hermitage (the other end of the eremitical spectrum) as contemplative life spills over into this service as well. (Note well, this is still and must remain a contemplative, eremitical life; it is not active or apostolic and the hermit's primary work and ministry is that of prayer in the silence of solitude!) Despite its flexibility, some daily practices tend to be fairly universal, the praying of the Divine Office, Lectio Divina, Contemplative prayer, Eucharist (C 603 hermits are ordinarily allowed to reserve the Eucharist in their hermitages), manual and intellectual labor, etc.

The life of the diocesan hermit is the life of a solitary hermit, not one living in community, but some suggest that diocesan hermits may come together in lauras for mutual support and encouragement (this is not an explicit part of Canon 603 itself, however, and some disagree with its allowance). Because of the solitary eremitical nature of the C 603 vocation, the hermit's main community of support is primarily the parish and secondarily, the diocese. S/he will also live her contemplative solitude and the fruits of that solitude FOR these communities in a more specific and recognizable or formal way than would either a hermit living in community (a religious hermit) or a lay hermit, for instance.

While diocesan hermits may associate with, live from, and reflect any spiritual tradition (Carmelite, Camaldolese, Benedictine, Cistercian, Carthusian, Franciscan, Dominican, etc) their primary identity and charism (i.e., their gift-quality to the church and world) is linked to their identity as diocesan. That is, it is their presence within and commitment to the local church that is the basis for the unique charism of the diocesan hermit. For this reason some diocesan hermits in a number of countries have, with their Bishops' permissions, adopted the initials Erem Dio or Er Dio (Eremita Dioecesanus) rather than some other form of initials which can be mistaken for the post-nomial initials of a particular Order or congregation. The practice is not universal, but it reflects a recent development in the appreciation of the nature and importance of the diocesan hermit to the Church and World no matter what her/his basic spirituality or secondary affiliations. ]]