31 October 2010

Were the Hermit Intercessors Religious?

[[Dearest Sr Laurel, The 56 didn't stay in a motel. They were in a Benedictine Retreat House. Now they were somewhere in Iowa [if i am not mistaken] and they'll be moving to Blair, NE, in a former campus dormitory. I feel that you're (sic) post lacks compassion for these former hermits. You seem to forget that they were in a religious community. You seem to attack even the obedient hermits {okay call them metaphorical hermits] by telling them they were never religious. This alone creates confusion. Some may even think they are deceiving people even from the start. Some may think they are fake brothers and sisters.

Now in your recent post, it seems that you discourage people to donate to the destitute former intercessors although you have clarified this at the end of your post. Yes they are part of the laity now, so they mustn't receive any support now? But they were in a religious community before, took vows of poverty and now they have nothing. Some of them are old now and have no family to return to. So, because they are laity they must be sent to charity homes for the aged? Some of them left their jobs because they entered "Religious life" so, they must be sent back to the world again because they are laity and we must not care for them now from now on? There's a great possibility that they'll be founding another community. Fr. Baxter has said that.

Thank you for the corrections regarding the motel, and the note on the dormitory. I have made the appropriate correction in the original post. I haven't seen where the former HIOL has published anything yet on this latter issue outside their request for money and their comment that it is difficult finding a place large enough for 50 plus people, so thank you for this information. I am sorry my last post seemed to lack compassion. There is no doubt the plea for longterm corporate assistance did not sit well with me. Because of that, and because they are pertinent, I should correct you on a couple of points. First, I do indeed discourage people from contributing to the support of the former HIOL as a group or "community", especially without demanding a good deal more transparency and clarity before doing so not only on the part of the former HIOL group of 56, but of the IOL, Inc. Secondly, and especially important, however, is the simple fact that the HIOL were never religious. I am not the source of confusion here, nor am I attacking anyone in clarifying their canonical status. Certainly there is nothing wrong with being a member of the laity (i.e., lay STATE in the vocational sense). Neither should it be seen to be an attack or somehow demeaning in pointing out that someone was a member of the lay state rather than the consecrated state.

So again, the HIOL were members of a Public Association of the Faithful. They did not have canonical (public) vows, were not members of an institute of consecrated life, and their vows, though made in good faith and a serious personal commitment, could be simply dispensed at any time by their pastor or bishop, and without the canonical process of public vows. It is not simply that they are NOW lay persons; they have been lay persons right along (and not merely in the hierarchical sense of that term which applies to non-clerics, but in the vocational sense which distinguishes between lay, ordained, and consecrated faithful). As I noted earlier, they were allowed the use of habits and titles AS THEY DISCERNED with the Church whether or not they would ever become an institute of consecrated life and be admitted to the consecrated state of life, but that eventuality was NEVER assured.

None of this means people should not contribute to them if they choose but simply that they should be clear the HIOL were not religious. Neither does this necessarily point to deception or pretense (although I personally find continuing references to "vowed members" as opposed to other lay members somewhat and perhaps purposely unclear (or maybe just confused) since ANY lay person may make private vows at any time which have the same gravity as those of any HIOL; further, they may do so do so on their own initiative without mutual discernment, permission from anyone, or anyone actually receiving those vows. The term vowed is ordinarily reserved for those with PUBLIC or canonical vows because they are initiated into the consecrated state by their profession and have their entire lives PUBLICLY defined in these terms, something that private vows do not do. Again what all this means is not that HIOL vows were insignificant (they were quite significant) but instead that the members of the HIOL were not religious, and need to be VERY clear in the future about their identity and category of canonical standing especially when they request assistance. Perhaps it will help if I quote rather extensively here from a canonist who specializes in consecrated life to back up what I am saying.

[[Reasons Why Knowing the Canonical Status of a Community is Important

1. Only members of Diocesan-right or Pontifical-Right Religious Institutes are religious and enjoy the rights of religious and the obligations of religious. Vowed members of such Religious Institutes are in the consecrated state. The Intercessors of the Lamb, contrary to popular opinion, were NEVER a religious institute and its members were not in the consecrated state. “Consecrated” or vowed Members had some of the trappings of religious life: a habit, vows, chapel, statutes, etc., but they were not recognized in the Church as true religious. Why? Because they were in the more risky (to discerners) stage of being a Public Association of the Faithful.

While they had the intention and hope of eventually following some kind of consecrated lifestyle in a form approved by the Church, the Intercessors of the Lamb had the same status as any other Public Association of the Faithful (think Legion of Mary, Worldwide Marriage Encounter, etc.). A good percentage of Public Associations of the Faithful who wish to become a Religious Institute or evolve into a Secular Institute or a Society of Apostolic Life simply fold, fizzle out, are suppressed, or disintegrate for a variety of reasons. Oftentimes, it is because there are unhealthy practices within the community, shady financial practices, personality struggles, etc. The bottom line is that even people with vows in a Public Association of the Faithful remain lay (if non-ordained) because they are not in a Religious Institute.]]
Therese Ivers, JCL, Diocese of Sioux Falls.

In fact, I believe that there has been some serious imprudence on the part of the lay board who was meant to govern the HIOL, and possibly on the part of the community's leadership as well. Any person who is discerning a vocation with an Association of the Faithful should realize that the position of the organization is tenuous as best. Even (and perhaps especially) in making private vows of poverty in such an organization there probably should be some sort of provision for members who must leave or who are left high and dry should the organization dissolve or be suppressed. I am not in the least suggesting the former HIOL were disobedient (nor, however, that obedience -- or cooperation with the Archbishop -- should be rewarded financially), but I think we must be clear on the nature of the group and ask some serious questions about the MORAL and possibly legal obligations of IOL, Inc, as well as the imprudence of being wholly unprepared to pick up the financial pieces in case of the group's failure --- especially if asking for assistance from the laity generally distracts from demanding IOL, Inc act responsibly and morally in their regard.

In saying this I am assuming that the HIOL were clear on the private nature of the vows they took, and clear on the risk attached to being part of a still-discerning Association of the Faithful. (If they were not the situation becomes even more serious and irregular.) And while I can understand they would ask for emergency assistance, I have been very surprised that they seriously appear to expect the laity to support them for an indefinite period, provide luxury items like cars, trucks, computers, printers, and the like, or that they have not considered that their current circumstances will seriously effect the way they have been able to live their lives --- just as it would when any Association of the Faithful fails for whatever reason. Thus, it is not that I don't want former HIOL's assisted financially per se --- especially as emergency assistance; what I want is the appropriate people doing that and in the most appropriate way (namely, individually not corporately) given the (now former) canonical status of the group.

Further, in pointing to what I consider a serious example of imprudence on the part of HIOL leadership or perhaps abdication of responsibility by the IOL,Inc (I don't know which is involved or if both are) I will refer to one warning sign put forth by another Canonist, Peter J Vere, JCL, MCL. It is taken from a list of warning signs used in evaluating new groups. Vere writes that discerners et al should be cautious regarding groups evidencing, [[5. [a premature] insistence on placing all goods in common: While the Church has a history of associations and religious orders in which members place all their goods in common, the decision to do so should come after a reasonable period of careful discernment. Placing one’s goods in common is not for everyone, and the consequences of such a decision are lifelong. Additionally, the potential for abuse by those who administer the common goods is great. Therefore, canonists frown upon any insistence by an association that its new or potential members place their goods in common.

Due to the fact that modern times see less stability in common life, with members sometimes opting to leave after a number of years, the most prudent handling of goods in common is to place them in trust until a member dies. That way, if the member leaves, the goods are available to meet his or her needs outside of the community.
]] (Emphasis added)

The link to the rest of this article will be found on Therese Ivers' site, "Do I Have a Vocation?" (More than this this point may be applicable so people should definitely take a look at it!) Ivers is also planning a series on the HIOL/IOL, Inc and people really should stay tuned. Strictly canonical questions can be directed to her as well.

As far as forming another community goes, everyone needs to be clear that this will continue to be a (Lay) Association of the Faithful, and possibly a private association before it becomes a public association in the beginning. It will have no different standing in law than any other Association, and vows made by members will remain private vows unless and until the Archbishop erects the group as an Institute of Consecrated Life and admits members to public vows where they actually assume the RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF CANONICAL VOWS. Remember that there are literally hundreds of such groups extant at this point. Most desire to be ICL's at some point and some are headed by persons who long to be "foundresses". Many have private vows but have not yet received permission to adopt the habit "on loan" against the day they are made ICL's -- nor will they ever.

Most dissolve or are told they cannot continue by their local ordinary because of all kinds of irregularities and eccentricities. Do they have a right to expect the laity of the Church to support them as groups (or even members individually) nonetheless? Do they have the right to expect the laity to support them while they start out? I don't think so. Emergency help (counseling, social workers, financial aid, etc) especially for those who are too elderly to work should be made available, but I do personally think that those who are elderly and/or incapable of working should apply for government assistance (just as those who ARE publicly (canonically) professed sometimes need and are expected to do when they age or become infirm --- for neither dioceses nor laity support these persons). Those who are capable of working should do so of course, just as any other lay person is expected to do --- even if they believe they are called to contemplative lives or even to lives of eremitical solitude --- again, just as those with canonical vows (including diocesan hermits) are required to do --- and absolutely as every other person in the Church with private vows must usually do when in need.

It is possible that the Church will need to rethink the wisdom and prudence of the custom (for it is only custom) of allowing Public Associations of the Faithful who wish to become Institutes of Consecrated Life (etc) to adopt habits and titles prematurely (say, before it is sure that a Bishop WILL erect the group as an ICL, etc), or make vows which give up all property or the right to such, etc, as a result of this situation. Habits and titles are properly associated with the assumption of public rights and responsibilities, and generally too, with initiation into the consecrated state (exceptions, for instance, include novices who are allowed to wear the habit of the institute as they prepare for profession because they do indeed have some rights within the congregation which candidates do not have. They signal this to the rest of the Church along with the fact that they are indeed immediately preparing for public profession by adopting modified religious garb (e.g., white veil, no ring or community emblem associated with final profession). The confusion that is being generated in this case amongst average church members, and in fact, which is being insisted on as truth (as in your own email to me) in order to justify assistance and so forth is significant and a matter for concern I think.

30 October 2010

On the Question of Relief for Former Hermit Intercessors and the Fund for Retired Religious

Perhaps this should be two separate posts, but the first issue segues into the second and also helps explain my ambivalence or outright antipathy to the first question. For that reason, and for now at least, I will keep these together. Also, if my opinions on the first question (supporting the former Hermit Intercessors) changes, I will post that as soon as I can.

I admit to having felt torn on the issue of financially supporting those 50 some former Hermit Intercessors who are now staying at a retreat house. (Temporary assistance while they transitioned to ordinary lay life was not a problem at all, and I was pleased to see the Archdiocese of Omaha assisting in this. Ongoing support was the issue.) However, these former HIOL have published a letter now appealing for assistance and they put their needs at $25,000 per month to take care of rent (for a place large enough to house all 56 of them), utilities, food, basic living expenses, etc.

They also list things they will be needing "once they are settled" like computers, printers, furniture, cars, trucks, gift cards (to buy whatever they need), phone cards, etc. And I find my ambivalence changing to outright antipathy. I wonder, for instance, just why the rest of the laity (because after all, these are lay persons who are no longer in the same category as groups like the Knights of Columbus even) should be footing the bill for this? Further, there is no indication that this is a merely temporary situation, no notice that the members of this lay community will be working to support themselves or whether they will continue to need to live from the charity of others indefinitely, etc. Granted, the group claims a couple of thousand other laity who were Companions or Associates of the group and if they want to assist and are able to do so, then they should, but I honestly cannot get my head or my heart around the idea of the laity in general supporting a group of other lay people in this way who are not, never were, and may never be a religious congregation with public vows.

At the very least I personally would want a LOT more information about what went on to cause the breakup, how the HIOL have been supported in the past (because, God knows, their campus and nearby holdings hardly speak of poverty or fledgling communities to me), and what the Archdiocese itself is doing for them (and not just financially, but in terms of what could become a kind of fast-tracking them to public association status again and why. Again, this is my own ambivalence speaking). I would also want some answers about prudent provisions for the future and why they weren't made --- as is the case usually in any actual religious congregation for candidates, novices and anyone NOT perpetually professed in public (canonical) vows. (For instance, why has everything been turned over to the IOL, Inc before public vows were even allowed much less made? Why was nothing set aside (perhaps in some escrow account) in case a person should need to leave the group for some reason? Does the IOL, Inc have NO legal obligations to members who are now destitute? Do they plan to exercise any MORAL responsibility for helping their former members transition to ordinary lay life? And beyond this, why is this smaller group NOT planning to transition to ordinary lay life UNTIL they can find a way to regroup and support themselves? It would certainly be expected of any other lay group in the Church.)

So, at the risk of seeming more heartless than I already may let me remind readers of the ordinary circumstances of consecrated, publicly vowed religious men and women in the church (including contemplative nuns and monks). You already know that diocesan hermits are expected to support themselves in some way and can expect no financial assistance from their dioceses. We routinely sign a waiver of claim at perpetual profession which says clearly we 1) will maintain financial independence and 2) will not expect the diocese to be responsible for our actions or expenses. In fact, the ability to do this is a central piece of discerning a vocation to diocesan eremitism, and the inability to do so argues against the person having such a vocation at this point in time. But it is a widespread misunderstanding that religious congregations (institutes of consecrated life with public vows and obligations) are actually SUPPORTED by the Church. This is something I hear even today despite the number of times I have heard it addressed. Religious congregations generally live from the support of the working members, and as the median age of congregations has risen and the number of younger Sisters and Brothers has declined, it has become harder and harder to stretch these salaries to support the entire community and the ministry they do. It is estimated that by 2019 the number of religious above the age of 70 will outnumber those below it by 4:1. (By the way, this whole dynamic is one of the reasons communities are unable to accept disabled or otherwise unwell persons, and a piece of the reason older vocations are only cautiously accepted by some congregations.)

Some retired members receive social security (though it should be remembered that religious never paid into the system until around 1972 --- given the fact that they each earned on average far less than $75 per month, they simply were too poor and there were no provisions in law for those with public vows of poverty). Some receive Medicare or Medicaid for medical expenses, and some may be eligible for SSI, a supplemental payment of @$800 a month which, while usually available to the disabled, is meant to help the truly destitute live when they cannot draw ordinary social security benefits or the amount is VERY low. (In CA, for instance the current SSI payment for any disabled person is $840, a combined amount from State and Federal government, which is meant to pay for ALL needs the individual has each month: rent, utilities, food, transportation, clothes, insurance, etc.) In other words, it is their entire income except that those who can work a bit are allowed to earn $65. Beyond this every dollar must be returned to the State or Federal government because it is seen to indicate there is no real need for the SSI payment in such cases. I will tell you that ALL gifts of money, no matter how small, COUNT AGAINST this income, and religious congregations are assiduously honest in accounting for such gifts. So, if Sister needs a new sweater, for instance, friends are asked to give her a sweater rather than the money to buy one.

Some people believe that religious congregations in such circumstances deserve it. If they had really lived their vocations, really lived as religious and not "given up their habits, etc" they would have lots of younger members to support the older retired and infirm ones. But this is patent nonsense (not to mention a rather pagan way of looking at reality). These are congregations of religious men and women who have literally given their lives for the Church and World and are now struggling to continue their lives and work in that same Church and world. They receive no direct financial assistance from the Church in any way whatsoever and NEVER HAVE (except of course whatever the laity have given!!). Meanwhile, despite being the teachers, nurses, social workers, spiritual directors, pastoral ministers, etc etc etc, of most adults in the Church they are either forgotten or their real need (which includes the need of the congregation as a whole to live and minister on) remains largely disregarded. Once a year there is a collection in each parish benefiting a fund for relief of retired religious. Over the years they have collected money, which, when parcelled out averages a one time payment of about $640 for every religious man and woman.

So, I am not saying do not contribute to support the former HIOL, though I would certainly suggest you demand more answers and information before doing so. I am saying that there are thousands and thousands of retired men and women religious who have lived public vows of poverty, chastity and obedience for their entire adult lives and whose congregations now need assistance, not simply to support and care for these members BUT TO CONTINUE MINISTERING EFFECTIVELY TO THE CHURCH AND WORLD WHILE THEY DO SO. And this is the really crucial part of things. These retired religious do not want assistance for themselves, and their congregations are more than happy to provide for their own Brothers and Sisters. As in any family, it is a labor of love and familial responsibility. But doing so (not to mention the anxiety attached to doing so) can detract from the capacity of the congregation to minister and to thrive as a whole, and this is something we all have a responsibility to help prevent if possible.

The bottom line here? PLEASE consider supporting the Retirement Fund for Religious. It is not simply a worthy cause, but one which contributes to the health and vitality of every established religious congregation in the Church. Check out their website for important FAQ's and more detailed explanations and data than I can give!

28 October 2010

On Hell

The post I put up on whether religious vows are binding beyond death spoke of purgation as a way of bringing in the harvest of a life, and as a cleansing, or claiming --- where God's love summons all that is true and real and good in us and says "no" to or strips away whatever is distorted, unreal (merely potential), untrue or false. I also referred to a final or definitive choice we make at the moment of death when we says yes or no to God's own Self/Love. Ordinarily we have prepared for this final moment by every choice in our lives and so we affirm ourselves, our relationship with God and with the whole of creation, or we deny and reject these things --- this time finally and irrevocably. During our lives we have a chance to become truly human. To whatever extent we achieve this through the grace of God, that Self is welcomed into eternity. Purgation is a combination of the final choice we make for this, and the love of God which welcomes all that is real and true into his own heart while letting go of all that is unreal or merely potential, etc.

Because of this post I wanted to say something about hell. It is not a topic I usually write about or that fits in well here (I find the appearance of the article on this page absolutely jarring!) but a reader asked me to say something about it a while back and this is really the first sense I have had that it would link with other posts. So, what is hell in this whole understanding? First, many people consider that souls are immortal and that hell is simply the separation of the soul from God for all of eternity. This would make sense except that souls are only immortal insofar as God continues to breathe them forth. Souls (and of course we ourselves) are immortal because God's love for us is immortal and he will not forget us or leave us to decay! Because of this whether we are speaking about heaven or hell, so long as we are speaking of a form of existence, we must be speaking of the active and effective presence of God because God is the ground and source of all that is to whatever extent it is.

My own sense of hell then (and this is absolutely my own provisional sense, nothing more) is that it is a form of radically alienated existence where one is faced with a love one was but no longer is meant for and can never be human without, but which one has also rejected definitively. What is hellish then is the presence of God, the presence of love in conjunction with a fundamental untruth, emptiness, and even radical inhumanity of one's existence. Untruth and emptiness call for truth (or verification and making true) and fullness. Hell, I think is the state of existence of eternal and unfulfillable yearning (which now assumes the form of nagging regret and disappointment) coupled with the inchoate knowledge (guilt) that one has irrevocably rejected these things and the God who, even now loves and sustains one --- though wholly from without and in a way which says "No" to all the nothing one has chosen. The fire of God's love can be many things to us: consoling, awesome and even terrifying, empowering, painful, purifying, illuminating, blinding, warming, creative, destructive, and so on. We are made for this love and we experience it in all these ways as part of its power to unlock the potential of our lives, a bit like a forest fire unlocks the seed cones of a redwood and enables new life to spring forth. But what kind of experience is this fire when we have been emptied of true (realizable) potential and the fire cannot inspire awe, or console, or illuminate, or purify, or create??? This I think is the experience of hell.

24 October 2010

Archdiocese's treatment of Hermit Intercessor's of the Lambs

One person wrote me the following email which raises, among others, the question of how the church (namely, the Archdiocese of Omaha) has treated Nadine Brown, and by extension, members of the HIOL. One other question it raises which is significant is the notion of discerning a vocation and how that happens with ecclesial vocations --- those which are effectively mediated by and are lived in the name of the church.

[[. . .All of this scandal is a tragic end to the loving ministry of Mother and the intercessors. Where can she go now that the church has abandoned her? They stripped her of her cloths, her life's vocation; and suppressed her voice. She must feel that there is a scarlet letter on her forehead. Where can we go and to whom can we ask for prayers by email from someone who does not know who we are, who will respond immediately with gentle love and kindness? Many, many, blessings were received through IOL ministry. ]]

First let me say how very sorry I am that the members of the former HIOL have suffered the loss they have. It is always difficult when, for instance, a person is required to leave formation in religious life, or religious life itself, the ordained priesthood, etc. And of course the HIOL situation was both more abrupt and unexpected than these usually are. What is true though in all these cases is that whenever we attempt to discern ecclesial vocations, we are never sure that we have such a vocation unless and until the church herself agrees and calls us forth officially for consecration. This is because the discernment in such situations is always mutual. One cannot do so on one's own -- crucial as that part of the process is. God's own call in the heart of the person is incomplete until the Church herself clarifies, affirms, and even mediates that call as well. Beyond this, because ecclesial vocations are not simply identified by rights and responsibilities that come from baptism alone, one must be admitted to profession (public) or ordination, to acquire new rights and responsibilities and the church has every right to govern and supervise these vocations.

As an example of what I mean let me use my own vocation to eremitical life. At one point and because of something which had nothing to do with me personally, my diocese ceased considering professing anyone under Canon 603. In a sense that left me hanging, however it did not nullify my own discernment in the matter completely. I was called by God (directly or in an unmediated way) to eremitical life, but what I had to accept was that perhaps this was not a call to diocesan eremitical life. Thus, until and unless my diocese discerned the reality of this vocation and admitted me to perpetual public vows I could not actually say I had been called to C603 life. More, until the very liturgy of profession where I was called forth in the name of the diocese and my parish, was examined, allowed to make profession, and received consecration and commissioning at the hands of my Bishop, I would have to consider that the very vocation (the call of God) itself was incomplete and objectively "uncertain" no matter what I felt in my heart (subjectively). In part this is because during the profession liturgy the actions of church and individual are effective. That is, in the calling forth of the candidate, the speaking of the vows, the praying of the prayer of consecration, etc, something comes to be that was not the case before. This thing comes to be in the very act of speaking. All of these events together constitute the definitive mediation of God's own call to the individual via the Church.

None of this, I am sure, eases or mitigates the pain being felt either by Nadine Brown or those to whom she ministered and who rightly came to value her assistance and life so, but it does argue that the church has not deprived her of anything (especially a vocation) that was hers apart from the larger church's own discernment and mediation, and certainly I don't think they have abandoned her in any way. In the first place, Nadine Brown's vocation was not sure. Both she and the HIOL were discerning the nature of their call along with the Church in the form of the episcopacy. They were a public association of the faithful but they were NOT an institute of consecrated life. Thus the vows held by all of those professed were private or non-canonical vows which did not initiate them into the consecrated state. Whether that consecration would or even should ever happen was an as-yet unsettled question and discernment of the matter was not simply the responsibility of Brown or other HIOLs; it was something the Church herself was ALSO responsible for.We have to understand then that the actual mediation of such a call had not occurred though the steps taken in moving from private association to public one with the intention of perhaps moving to ICL gave serious reason to believe it COULD happen one day if all went well.

Nadine Brown (or any of the HIOLs) still has the option of making private vows at any time, though it is true she/they cannot do so as part of the HIOL. A world of certain possibilities has been foreclosed to them for the moment, but they all have rights as a result of their baptism. None of those has ceased, and while it is surely difficult to start over (or continue simply as a private association of the faithful) it can be done.

The Treatment of the Hermit Intercessors by Archbishop Lucas and the Archdiocese

Despite what I have read about a rush to judgment and your own language of abandonment, etc I think it is really important to see just how generous and compassionate the Archdiocese of Omaha is being with regard to the HIOL. To provide clothing, a place to stay, counseling and direction is simply not something that is usually done even with vowed religious. The idea that a diocese will work with members of a lay organization (in the same category as the Knights of Columbus) until they figure out what they are going to do next, and what sounds like the possibility of supporting the former HIOL's in reforming in some way is literally (and unfortunately) almost unheard of. Unless Nadine Brown has allied herself with the lay board which is said to be resisting the reforms the Archbishop required, she would be part of this group with whom the diocese is working. So, "abandonment" is certainly too strong a word here.

I will say that personally I don't see where any scandal need attach to Nadine Brown from the actions of the Archdiocese. They required the group to get new leadership and so Brown resigned her role at that point. There is nothing necessarily insulting or offensive in that. There are many stories of Saints throughout the centuries who were not the best Abbots, Abbesses, etc, or were not the best at a given point in time in the congregation's history! One of the signs of a community that is ready to become an institute of consecrated life is its ability to accept new leadership and to grow from that rather than simply being demoralized by and falling apart or becoming seriously polarized because of it. So, there is no reason simply because of the Archdiocese's actions to see Nadine Brown as having a large red letter painted on her forehead. Unless she has done something truly scandalous herself. . ..

Finally, I hope you will look for others who can serve in the way Nadine Brown and the HIOL did. In fact, there is no reason she herself cannot carry on a private ministry of the kind you believe you have lost, and no reason you cannot assist in this, though again privately or perhaps through a parish, for instance. She is a lay woman as she has been right along during her time with the IOL. She has gifts and you (plural) have needs. Help each other continue to bring those together for the good of the whole Church and the world. Nadine Brown is part of the Body of Christ. That has not changed. The immediate context for her ministry has changed, but the ministry itself need not.

Addendum: 27.October.2010: Please note that the Archdiocese of Omaha has published a statement clarifying a distinction between the Association of Hermit Intercessors of the Lamb and an allied group known as the Intercessors of the Lamb. Thus, I am changing most of the IOL references in my posts to HIOL because they refer to the once canonically approved public association, not the secondary group which was never canonically approved. This can also have an effect on my comments regarding Companions of the IOL. If the Companions are simply a lay group associated with the IOL, Inc and not the HIOL, then as I have now noted above, they might well be able to continue --- though in my opinion maintaining the name Companions of Intercessors of the Lamb seems imprudent at best, and will likely be confusing, counterproductive, and possibly disedifying to the rest of the Church.

23 October 2010

Followup on Visibility, and Betrayal of the C603 Vocation

I received a response (well, really more of a reaction) to my post on the visibility of hermits, canonical standing and their supposed betrayal of the clear meaning of the Catechism, and Canon 603. It was sent by email the day before yesterday morning by someone who reads blogs on eremitical life, but included no specific question --- and in fact no comment at all. I suspect she felt the post rather spoke for itself and left her a bit speechless as it did me as well. It begins with a quote from the CCC (Catechism of the Catholic Church), paragraph 921 and raises questions of fact, competency, and character, among others. I will mainly respond to the questions of fact in this post, and have omitted some of the venom and most of the language of personal attack.

[["...HIDDEN from the eyes of men, the life of the hermit is a silent preaching of the Lord, to whom he has surrendered his life simply because HE [Christ] is everything to him. Here is a particular call to find in the desert, in the thick of spiritual battle, the glory of the Crucified One" (emphases added).

I do not know what is so difficult to comprehend in the fact that hermits are called to be HIDDEN from the EYES of MEN. This surely means among other externals, not to be displaying oneself either in signature religious garb or other visibilities (the outer does not the inner make), promoting oneself, placing oneself as authority and expert above others, self-identifying with inventive order initials (hermits are not order religious), nor to seemingly fixate upon being the vociferous solo voice of hermit vocation and life. Why not benefit self or others by writing about a hermit's spiritual life: the spiritual battle, the glory of Christ, the silence of solitude, assiduous prayer and penance, the praise of God and salvation of the world to which hermits are supposed to devote their lives?

It is not about labels, identifying garb, temporal technicalities squeezed from scouring the canon laws, attempts to create yet one more exclusive group, politicizing or institutionalizing a vocation not ever intended to be anything other than what the Catechism and the actual Canon Law 603 states. This law of 1983 was revised to clarify and guide, perhaps in some instances those who had vocation confusion or over-stepped ego decorum. Just because a person or group is canonically approved by one Bishop, the viability and voracity (sic) of a hermit's actual living the vocation may stray into questionable practices.

The Preliminaries: The Catechism and the Code of Canon Law

In responding to these comments it is probably important to note that the Code of Canon Law and the Catechism function very differently from one another in the life of the diocesan hermit (and for that matter, in the life of the Church). For instance the diocesan hermit is professed under Canon 603, and legally obligated to embody (respect and fulfill) its specific terms with her life. As I have said a number of times the Canon lists essential and non-negotiable elements which MUST be honored by hermits, and for that matter, by Bishops as well in discerning, professing, and supervising such vocations. The Catechism on the other hand is a summary statement of the general nature of eremitical life (religious, lay, and diocesan) as it is found in the church and though somewhat useful in teaching, in the main it is far less helpful to hermits living into their vocations than it is to those generally unfamiliar with the vocation. For them it is cursorily descriptive but not prescriptive. In the CCC, paragraphs 920-921 do in fact describe an essentially hidden and even mostly unknown vocation, and the description should certainly be attended to and not disregarded, but they do NOT have the force of law for the diocesan hermit that Canon 603 does.

Also, despite the fact that I write mostly about Canon 603, it is NOT the only canon which is applicable or binding in the diocesan hermit's life. For instance, while all of the canons I will mention here apply to those professed in institutes of consecrated life, CC 662-664 (obligation to follow Christ as highest rule of life, ongoing conversion of heart, etc) clearly apply to anyone living a consecrated life. The same is true of others: in some dioceses, c. 668 (cession of administration of goods) is held to apply to hermits making vows of poverty, as c 669 often is (wearing of the habit). Canon 673 (the responsibility to witness to consecrated life) is held to bind the diocesan hermit, and so does c 674 (requirements pertaining to contemplative life) especially. C 678 (authority of Bishop) binds the diocesan hermit of course (though seeming superfluous perhaps), as do a number of other canons.

Because of this diocesan hermits have obligations which are not described in the Catechism paragraphs cited, nor delineated in C 603. These affect the way "hiddenness" is understood and lived out, for instance. One who is charged with the responsibility of witnessing to consecrated life, or who is invested with the habit will live out this hiddenness a little differently than a lay hermit with none of these legal obligations. The point is simply that one cannot read C 603 in a vacuum whether that vacuum be linguistic, canonical, theological, spiritual, philosophical, etc etc. Diocesan hermits especially cannot and do NOT do so, and to accuse them (or any one of them) of scouring canon laws for technicalities and squeezing meaning or justifications from them because of some legalistic bent, or somehow betraying the simplicity and humility of their vocations because they actually attend to and reflect on ALL the canon law which governs their lives is completely off-base, naive, and uncalled for.

While the blogger is free to hold an opinion on what hiddenness actually looks like and what it allows or disallows, it would be more helpful in an actual discussion to provide reasoned arguments rooted in genuine expertise rather than simple ungrounded assertions. After all,"It (hiddenness) SURELY means this because I say it means this" is not very compelling. Neither is, "the Canon was intended to mean this because I say it was." When the facts are wrong (see below) and these ungrounded assertions essentially conflict with the way Bishops, Vicars, Canonists and even the Sacred Congregation generally understand the vocation or Canon and what these may and may not allow, then there are good reasons to doubt the cogency of that opinion. With regard to all of the material externals decried by this poster, NONE OF THEM are simply appropriated without at least one's own Bishop's approval.

For instance habits and cowls, post-nomial initials all are assumed only with one's Bishop's permission and sometimes at his request. They are not "self-assumed." Nor is the designation, "Catholic hermit." Not every diocesan hermit wears a habit or a cowl, for instance, but the simple fact is most do at least the former and in every case the practice was permitted or even requested by the local ordinary. Not every hermit uses post-nomial initials, but most do of one sort or another. In my case, and that of a number of others, we use Er Dio or Erem Dio (or even just ED) which stands for Eremita Dioecesanus (diocesan hermit). It is very specifically meant as an alternative to initials which might seem to indicate that one is part of a religious order (Franciscan, Carmelite, etc) even while it points to public consecration. In any case it was approved initially by Archbishop Vigneron in 2008 after serious consideration and consultation and has since been allowed by a number of other Bishops in several countries. None of these things is adopted carelessly or unthinkingly, and the motives for doing so (or desiring to do so) are scrutinized by all involved.

The Heart of the Matter: The Reasons Canon 603 was Promulgated

Finally, a relevant correction in the supposed "facts" set forth in this blogger's post: Canon 603 is not a revision of anything. It is a completely new Canon with no true precedent in universal law. It was not included in the Code to correct abuses ("over-stepped ego decorum"??), but rather because Bishops who had firsthand experience of hermits in their dioceses and this vocation's lack of inclusion in the earlier Code or church documents, BEGGED Vatican II to address this lack in its own Council documents. They also pleaded for its inclusion in what would become the Revised Code of 1983. Even in Perfectae Caritatis the early drafts included no mention of the anchoritic/eremitical life. When this plea was first made by Bishop De Roo it happened that monks and nuns who discovered a valid call to solitude later in their religious lives were required, if their communities made no provision for eremitical life in proper law, to leave their vows and consecration behind and pursue the eremitical vocation outside religious or consecrated life. In other words, despite being called to an intensification of solitude which grew within and could be considered a deepening or development of their consecrated state, hermits could only pursue this vocation by leaving their communities and accepting secularization. This has absolutely NOTHING to do with "vocation confusion" as the blogger above rather offensively puts it. It is actually the esteemed way to eremitical life St Benedict describes in the Rule of Benedict.

Several other reasons were given by Bishop De Roo for including hermits in the Revised Code of Canon Law in order to rectify their omission from the 1917 Code. These included: 1) The fact of growing renewal of the life, 2) the sanctifying value of the hermit's life, 3) the hermit's contribution to the life of the church. This would include the hermit's prophetic role, a modeling of the Church's call to contemplation and the centrality of prayer, being a paradigm of the way we are each called to confront evil within our own lives and world, or allow heaven (God's own life shared with others) to interpenetrate our reality, etc 4) the ecumenical value of the hermit's life (especially re dialogue between Eastern and Western Christianity) 5) a correction of the impression that the evangelical counsels is limited to institutionalized community life known as religious life. (This is something post-nomial initials help do, by the way, as does the habit, etc.) Remi De Roo was the Bishop protector of a colony of 10 -12 hermits. He wrote about these benefits and needs on the basis of the lives lived by these hermits and others and "earnestly request(ed)" the Council "officially recognize the eremitical life as a state of perfection in the Church." (taken from Vita Eremitica Iuxta Can 603, p 137 reporting on Acta Synodalia Sacrosancti Concilii Oecumenici Vaticani II, vol iii, pars vii, pp 608-609)

If we look at all the reasons Bishop de Roo gave for the inclusion of something like Canon 603 in what would become the current (1983) revised Code, two things stand out in light of the complaints made by the above poster: 1) a needed law to correct abuses is not mentioned; abuses are not mentioned at all in fact, and 2) each of the reasons have something to do with hermits witnessing to or representing something important of which the Church and world needed to be aware. There is absolutely an essential hiddenness about this vocation, but at the same time (as has always been true really) the vocation is lived in dialogue with the Church and world as a whole. Further, institutionalization of the vocation was a way of correcting injustices (for instance, the kind of required secularization in order to follow this call already mentioned) and allowing in Law for a vocation which was in a state of growth and renewal. It was therefore a dynamic vocation which Bishop de Roo described, one which was even an evolving one as hermits explored the very traditional life of the desert Fathers and Mothers (et al) and --- as was mainly true of the desert Abbas and Ammas --- doing so in a way which was prophetic, contemplative, ecumenical, and eschatological (as hermits battled evil) in terms of the contemporary world and its needs.

Thus, Canon 603, when it was finally promulgated had all this history at its back, as well as the history of the eremitical vocation more generally. While the Canon could certainly be used to correct abuses if necessary this was not the reason for its inclusion in the Revised Code. Thus too, Canon 603 did not merely spell out non-negotiable elements which would look the same in every eremitical life. Instead it combined these with the requirement of the hermit's OWN Rule (or Plan) of Life and the relationship with the diocesan Bishop which generally insured not only the fidelity of the life, but its vitality, flexibility, and creativity as well.

In What Regards is this Blogger Correct?

Of course, the poster is absolutely correct when she says the following: [[It is not about labels, identifying garb, temporal technicalities squeezed from scouring the canon laws, attempts to create yet one more exclusive group, politicizing or institutionalizing a vocation not ever intended to be anything other than what the Catechism and the actual Canon Law 603 states.]] Diocesan eremitical life is not about any of these things. Nor is Canon 603. However the diocesan hermit is bound to consider the place in her life of Canon Law, identifying garb, networks of other diocesan hermits which may help address problems or concerns lay hermits do not share, and so forth. She is bound to explore the parameters of ALL the Canons which apply to her life even if she is not called to share this exploration publicly. She is obligated to do whatever she can to live this life with integrity not only in its essential hiddenness, but in in its prophetic and public aspects as well. As I have noted before this vocation is a paradoxical one. It is also diverse in its expressions and only the hermit living the life from within the grace and challenge of the consecrated state and with the assistance of her director, delegate, diocesan Bishop, pastor, etc can determine what shape this must take in HER own call and response.

Further, she is correct in suggesting that one may start out fine and go off track. Negotiating the tensions implied in Canon 603 is not always easy: the problem of supporting oneself while living a full-time eremitical life of the silence of solitude, maintaining an essential hiddenness while also witnessing to the consecrated life (habit, cowl, blog, etc) can lead to real errors. Each hermit works these things out with her Bishop, director, and delegate. And again, this is one of the reasons for something like the Network of Diocesan Hermits which allows for dialogue between hermits, candidates for profession, and even between hermits and dioceses. We sincerely want to minimize errors and live this life with the greatest integrity possible, but that also means with the diversity which is truly allowed us by the Canon(s) and called for by the Holy Spirit! Followup on the Visibility of the c 603 Vocation

21 October 2010

Followup Question: Hermit Intercessors of the Lamb and Profession under Canon 603

[[ Sister Laurel, in one post on the Hermit Intercessors of the Lamb you referred to persons who use the term "hermit" in metaphorical ways. Are you saying you believe they were not real hermits? Maybe it is more that they are examples of the term hermit being enlarged rather than "emptied of meaning." Have you considered this?]]

With regard to the Intercessors I have to first say I do not know enough about the way the members lived to draw a conclusion one way or another. The two things I do know about them suggest that perhaps the term "hermit" is meant to indicate a dedication to some form of desert spirituality and a life with some added degree of solitude (aloneness) and silence, but not in the same sense that Canon 603 requires. Similarly, I have heard or read that the "hermits" lived active and fairly social lives most of the week but set aside Saturdays for solitude, silence, and contemplative prayer. IF this is the case, then I would suggest this is neither eremitical life as I personally understand it, nor certainly as the paradigmatic canon 603 defines it. However, my concern in referring to a metaphorical usage was less with "realness" of the eremitical lives of the Intercessors per se as with the possibility of the situation they are now in contributing to a problem which crops up with regard to Canon 603 occasionally --- namely, the profession of those whose lives bear little or no resemblance at all to the life defined therein.

Misuse of Canon 603 in Professions:

Let me explain. While I believe the usage of the term "hermits" in the title of the former intercessors' community was metaphorical (they were not literally hermits as the church understands and codifies this vocation), it remains likely that despite being equivocal and somewhat confusing, the usage can still be of value in pointing to the place of silence and solitude in every life, and especially in ministerial or apostolic lives. Every life can benefit from desert spirituality, no matter how active that life because every life will experience times which especially bring home the fact that nothing but dependence on God will truly sustain or nourish authentically human life. However, with regard to those who wish to be professed under C 603 such equivocal usage and confusion would be contrary to the canon and detrimental to the vocation itself. Canon 603 does NOT define hermit in a metaphorical sense, nor does it do so in terms of silence AND solitude which merely need to be quantified in this or that way. It does not allow for vocations which are merely expressions of a metaphorical eremitism and loosely inspired by the early desert Abbas and Ammas, nor lives which are simply more alone or quiet than most people's. (Please cf the text of the Canon at the foot of this post for the defining or normative terms used in the Code.)

Instead, those professed under this canon must be hermits in a literal sense and as defined herein, thus spending their entire lives embodying more completely the vocation to solitary eremitical life and the charism C 603 describes as "the silence OF solitude." And yet occasionally we hear stories of people being professed under Canon 603 whose lives truly bear no resemblance to the life outlined there, often because C 603 is the only canon allowing for the profession of an individual and can seem to provide an opportunity for making vows when no other way is open to a person. Thus, for instance, in one diocese several years ago a woman was professed despite the fact that she is in every way living an active apostolic life. She works full time five days a week, sets Saturdays aside for silence, solitude, and contemplative prayer and frankly describes the term "hermit" as a metaphor for her life.

In regard to this specific case, let me say clearly and emphatically that this Sister sounds like a completely amazing person and is someone I would personally like to know. She is praised highly by those who know her and apparently works to the limits of her ability in giving her life for others in Christ. However, all of this notwithstanding, she is NO hermit and the life she lives cannot, even remotely, be considered a life of "the silence OF solitude," "assiduous prayer and penance," and "stricter separation from the world" which is part of the strictly non-negotiable nature of solitary or diocesan eremitical life. In her case (and precisely because she is remarkable) I truly believe Canon 603 was used as a stopgap way of professing her because nothing else was available --- which indicates possibly exemplary motives on the part of the diocese --- but I also believe it represented a serious and imprudent misuse of the Canon which actually endangers the very vocation it is meant to nurture, protect, and govern.

The Implications of Misuse of the Canon

Obviously this is a rather "gnarly" problem and one with which the Church will have to deal. Every individual profession sets or continues a precedent and in this particular case it sets a precedent which can easily and eventually empty the terms of Canon 603 of meaning. Further, if the precedent is repeated, if others with similar lives are professed, this could actually lead 1) to increased reluctance by Bishops to profess ANYONE under this canon --- something we actually do see today, 2) to increased interventions by the hierarchy imposing more and more rules, guidelines, etc, and 3) (when all else fails) to the actual suppression of the solitary eremitical life altogether. The latter has certainly happened in the past. Besides outright suppression, what we have seen at various points in the Church's life more generally is that either solitary hermits and their vocations are smothered in rules or swallowed up into communities as the church tries to regulate their lives, or the term "hermit" comes to be used merely metaphorically for any life of greater aloneness or relative silence and even as a synonym for isolated do-your-own-thing life, life characterized simply by misanthropy, selfishness, bizarreness, etc, etc.

In the first situation hermits may come or be brought together by bishops in what may initially be authentic lauras (which are colonies more than they are juridical communities) and then find that over time increased rules, structure, etc, invariably transforms the laura into a religious community. In this way the solitary eremitical life is thus lost and replaced by cenobitical life. In the second situation every element outlined in Canon 603 is perverted or otherwise rendered null or empty. What replaces eremitical life is an antisocial, eccentric life constituted less by Christian freedom than by some merely humanistic liberty, and the term "hermit" ceases to have real meaning for most people apart from this notion. (This allows for situations like the one I wrote about recently where "Tom Leppard" was identified by a reporter as a hermit, situations which do nothing more than reinforce stereotypes and makes the actual vocation unbelieveable and ridiculous.) When this happens the church can (and has) suppressed the vocation because it has come to represent abuse, misuse, distortion and a libertinism which is disedifying and even contrary to Christian discipleship.

The Importance of Canon 603 in protecting the solitary eremitical vocation

Thus, Canon 603 is significant because it allows in Law for the solitary eremitical vocation particularly. The entire stress in the Canon is on this, and this is really the first time in the history of the Church that this has occurred on a universal level. Given the very fragile nature of the vocation and the two major ways it has been imperiled in the history of the Church noted above (1) increased institutionalization and excessive oversight and 2) inadequate or lacking institutionalization and insufficient oversight which thus allows an "anything goes" kind of life), Canon 603 defines the life in terms of BOTH non-negotiable and universal elements AND individual flexibility ( via the individual Rule of Life written by the hermit herself and based on her experience of how God calls her uniquely). It is thus clearly defined, but also can have quite diverse and relatively flexible expressions.

I think the Canon is therefore masterfully written in a way which allows for fidelity to the traditional understanding of this life AND to the freedom and creativity in the specific living out of this which each hermit is also called. Canon 603 is an incredibly wise and prudent attempt to protect one of the most delicate vocations in the church. If it is misused though, if its essential elements are misdefined, disregarded, or treated as negotiable and a life professed under the canon in not truly defined by them and so, ceases to be a literal expression of these elements, the term hermit may become a mere metaphor, which, as important as that may be to some, is not at all what Canon 603 is meant for. In such a case it would not be a matter of the term hermit being enlarged so much as it would represent a genuine emptying of the term of meaning. It would also render the Canon ineffective in doing what it was truly meant to do, namely (again), to nurture, protect, and govern a very rare and fragile vocation which is a gift of the Holy Spirit to Church and world.

Hence, my concern with metaphorical vs literal, and solitary vs communal or cenobitical in my post on the possibility of professing former Intercessors under Canon 603. In responding to the question I was not concerned so much with the nature of the HIOL's use of the term hermit (though I admit I don't like usage which confuses the issue of what is or isn't a hermit), but rather with whether this was a life which the church could somehow "automatically" profess under Canon 603 without separate and serious discernment or caution --- especially given the communal nature of the HIOL vocation. The question posed by the reader raised all kinds of caution flags in my mind, not regarding the HIOL themselves, but with regard to maintaining the vitality, meaning, and purpose of Canon 603 per se.

Text of Canon 603, Revised Code of Canon Law

Sec 1: Besides institutes of consecrated life, the Church recognizes the eremitic or anchoritic life by which the Christian faithful devote their life to the praise of God and the salvation of the world through a stricter separation from the world, the silence of solitude and assiduous prayer and penance.

Sec 2: A hermit is recognized in the law as one dedicated to God in a consecrated life if he or she publicly professes the three evangelical counsels, confirmed by vow or other sacred bond, in the hands of the diocesan bishop and observes his or her own plan of life under his direction.

19 October 2010

Companions to Hermit Intercessors: Future?

I received the following email and will post most of it here and then answer what I can. Since I am not a canonist some of this needs to be answered more expertly, but I do offer my take on things with this appropriate caution. (Please note too that I am better able to answer questions which are essentially theological or about eremitical life itself.)

[[ I am a lay person, part of a formation group known as companions to Intercesssors of the Lamb. I read your reply to the question about the hermits of IOL and Canon 603, but can you speak to those of us who have lay vocations and want simply to advance in contemplative prayer, etc. as led by Mother Nadine and IOL? Do hermits or Catholic public affiliations (hermits, sisters, priests, lay people) usually mentor others in the spiritual life to intercede? (I know third orders are laity mentored in their spirituality by establshed religious orders.)

I guess I'm wanting to understand if we need to dissolve our group as well, or whether we may continue to meet as before. IOL is being suppressed, is my impression, because the archbishop has concerns that the Omaha community has problems not connected with heresy, etc. (organizational, stubborness with a civil board, etc.) Maybe my question boils down to this: can a formation group not directly under the authority of a bishop in another diocese be bound by what he does?

First in answer to any general question about associates or companions with regard to the suppression, once the larger group is suppressed there are no associates OR companions. By definition they are associates or companions OF the suppressed group. If there is no group, there are no companions or associates. At the same time there is no MOTHER Nadine at this point. Nadine Brown may act as a lay person with perfect freedom and lay persons who wish to work with her in some way may do so but not with the sense that they in any way belong to HIOL or are part of a Catholic organization. In other words, you are free to associate with one another but not to follow Mother Nadine Brown or the HIOL. When the Hermit Intercessors was suppressed, so were any associates AS associates, or companions AS companions. Archbishop Lucas' statement on the matter stated this clearly. However, if the Companions are simply some extension of Intercessors of the Lamb, INC, and not of the HIOL, then they could well continue, but they would need to make it very clear they are not in any way a Catholic organization, but instead are allied with a civil non-profit corporation whose existence has absolutely NO approbation from any diocese and which has acted contrary to the governance of the Archbishop where it is headquartered.

Former companions who wish to do so may contact their own Bishops about becoming or beginning a private association of the faithful (which in some years might also become a public association of the faithful), though of course any Bishop will be cautious in agreeing to this at this point. (Strictly speaking no permission is needed to become a private association of the faithful so long as that group does not intend to teach doctrine, but if one desires to do more than this permission IS necessary and permission in the beginning is simply prudent.) Thus, they may also simply establish themselves as a lay group under a new name, just as any other group of lay persons may do under Canon Law (C.299). But of course this would not be a "formation group" of any larger canonical (i.e., Catholic) organization --- it would be a group of lay people who meet for a particular purpose (contemplative prayer, lectures or workshops in spirituality or something else), but without any of the rights or responsibilities of affiliation with HIOL or of a public association of the faithful. So, the answer to your question about what one Bishop does in one diocese binding others in other dioceses in this specific case is yes, you ARE bound, though certain freedoms remain to you by virtue of your baptism and Canon Law.

I am not entirely sure what you mean by mentoring people to intercede. My own familiarity with this language comes from acquaintance with contemporary Protestant evangelical and "spiritual warfare" initiatives. Perhaps those in the charismatic movement do some of this, but in general, no I wouldn't say it is typical of most hermits, priests, religious, spiritual directors, etc --- at least not in terms of this language. In general religious and priests teach, encourage, minister towards and model prayerful lives in which heaven is allowed more and more to interpenetrate our world and Christ's victory over death and sin is extended wherever we go. We work for justice and embody it in our own lives. We live lives of prayer in which the love of God is foremost and sustains us and we pray for one another and the specific needs of church, society, friends, family, etc. We direct others in living deeply authentic spiritual lives where the Holy Spirit is allowed to act freely and fruitfully in whatever way the Holy Spirit wills to do and where all forms of prayer are honored. If any or all of this is included in your use of the term "intercede" then yes, we assist people in this.

[[I find the spirituality coming out of IOL to be quite orthodox. We read scripture, keep a prayer journal, try to root out vices to become more like Jesus, and intercede for our priests and others. IOL stresses the "pillars" of silence, solitude, penance, etc., nothing that could be considered cultish or weird. In fact, Mother Nadine's books use St. Ignateus Spiritual Retreat and the example of St. Theresa of Avila as guides.]]

I have read nothing at this point about heresy in regard to the Intercessors. Remember that heresy has to do with doctrine and dogma, not discipline, organizational or leadership problems generally, recalcitrant or stubborn lay boards, etc. There are serious cautions about the contents of Nadine Brown's work to the effect that none of this has any approval by Archbishop Lucas or his predecessors, but heresy is not a word that has been used.

[[I hate to see our group disband after years of 'growth'. I have to wonder if this whole suppression is a testing or if it's something more. My guess is that you will tell us to simply keep meeting as a prayer group, but I guess I am holding out hope that IOL will somehow appeal the suppression to the Vatican and be restored to what it was--if necessary, a public affiliation of Catholic faithful. After all, Archbishop Lucas's two predecessors each approved of IOL, and I can't understand the rush to judgment. It was Mother Nadine herself who requested consideration as a canonical group, and now six months later the visitation to explore that has resulted, instead, in this suppression.]]

I give you no advice whatsoever regarding what you do at this point beyond making sure those of you who want sincerely to grow in prayer and your lay vocations consider the need to work with good spiritual directors. What you do as a group of lay people who have been through a traumatic loss, and are just beginning to deal with it will require the assistance of good direction, and possibly therapy or counseling as well. But as to carrying on as a group, and in what way, I wouldn't and couldn't even begin to advise you. (However, I can say that considering speaking with a canonist might be a very good next step so that you can become clear on what is and is not possible and prudent.)

I will tell you that I think the chances of the Vatican overturning the decision of the Archbishop in this matter stand somewhere between infinitesimally slim and none at all. The Archbishop has acted within his rights and responsibility as pastor of his see. Rather than there being a rush to judgment there simply may have been an action taken that was really long overdue. I understand that Bishops approved the HIOL's as first a private association of the faithful, and then as a public association of the faithful. However, in organizations which wish to become institutes of consecrated life such approval is given for the purposes of continuing experimentation and mutual discernment. At no point is it certain the next approval will be given. Further, A bishop may suppress the group at any time especially in cases of scandal, etc, or he may continue to try to work with the leadership to reform things which require it, and he may --- when everything goes well and the group desires it --- choose to erect the association as an institute of consecrated life (ICL). These possibilities have always been part of the life of any association of the faithful.

Since I don't know the situation I can only point out that former Bishops may have chosen to monitor the Intercessors some time ago and only now are the consequences of (what either were or seemed to be) small irregularities becoming evident. They may also have not done a visitation in recent memory and so, not been personally aware of problems really requiring intervention. Too, something critical may have changed recently and only just now become known to the Archdiocese. Archbishop Lucas, as I understand it, was simply trying to get to know who the Intecessors really were in responding to Brown's request to negotiate the last step of the Canonical process of becoming an ICL. The crisis occasioned by Nadine Brown's resignation suggests, however, there was stuff going on which was new or something that the former Bishops had not fully sensed or appreciated --- or simply failed to act on in a timely manner and left to Abp Lucas. Again, since neither I nor you know this part of the situation we must at least consider that perhaps there was no rush to judgment whatsoever.

Addendum: 27.October.2010: Please note that the Archdiocese of Omaha has published a statement clarifying a distinction between the Association of Hermit Intercessors of the Lamb and an allied group known as the Intercessors of the Lamb. Thus, I am changing most of the IOL references in my posts to HIOL because they refer to the once canonically approved public association, not the secondary group which was never canonically approved. This can also have an effect on my comments regarding Companions of the IOL. If the Companions are simply a lay group associated with the IOL, Inc and not the HIOL, then as I have now noted above, they might well be able to continue --- though in my opinion maintaining the name Companions of Intercessors of the Lamb seems imprudent at best, and will likely be confusing, counterproductive, and possibly disedifying to the rest of the Church.

Question on the Hermit Intercessors of the Lamb and Trivialization of the Habit

[[Dear Sister Laurel, I don't usually read your blog. I read it because of the post on the Hermit Intercessors of the Lamb. I am pleased you admitted you did not have an opinion on the suppression. I wonder though why you were critical of the fact that children were wearing the habit of the community. They are part of the community after all. I thought the picture was kind of cute and pointed to the fact that the IOTL was fostering vocations among the very young. Why would you call this practice "trivialization" of the habit? Seems a bit harsh to me. Also, why would this picture raise questions about the IOTL's membership in the Congregation of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR) or the organization itself?]]

Welcome to this blog then, and thanks for your questions. I have written in the past about habits having meaning. They are symbolic and ecclesial garb with which the church vests a person because of mutual discernment of a God-given vocation and the assumption of life commitments mediated by the Church. (Sometimes "Church" means congregations and their representatives which are officially recognized, sometimes it means a Bishop (as in the case of diocesan hermits, for instance). The point is the garb has meaning in this context and one needs to be authorized to wear it if they are publicly representing a vocation. A habit represents the achievement of various degrees of discernment and correlative commitment to an ecclesially mediated call. Thus, it is not unusual to see the stages of such commitments mirrored in aspects of the habit (for instance novices may wear a white veil while professed wear some color or a black one), or to see various pieces of clothing given to a person as they move from postulancy to novitiate to temporary profession and then to perpetual profession (for instance the monastic cowl is given at solemn or perpetual profession for monks and some hermits while rings, medals, crosses etc are given at various points as well in many congregations).

There are various ways the habit (or even religious insignias like rings and medals) can be emptied of meaning or, as I said in my other post, trivialized, and even rendered incredible and untrustworthy. Sometimes people adopt garb on their own rather than accepting that the Church through appropriate authority invests a person not only with the garb, but with the commensurate rights and obligations of the vocation represented to others via the vesture. They have therefore neither been given nor accepted these in a meaningful (or authoritative) way and no one they minister to really knows whether they have or are prepared for living out this vocation --- though on seeing the vesture they will assume they may necessarily turn to this person with various expectations (not least that the person has been confirmed in this vocation by the church and acts in her name and with her authority and supervision) and that they may therefore do so safely and meaningfully. The habit gives THEM this right just as it gives the religious who wears it certain rights and obligations as consecrated persons in the Church. Formation, education, supervision, competence, maturity, commitment, and faithfulness to the life of the evangelical counsels are a few of the expectations that NECESSARILY come with the wearing of the habit. They are expectations any Catholic (or non-Catholic for that matter) has a complete right to hold in regard to those wearing such garb publicly.

In my own experience veils and some other pieces of religious garb are treated as sacred; they are as consecrated objects reserved for those who are consecrated or preparing for consecration. Often in the past, and sometimes still religious pray as they put each piece on. Whatever the custom in this regard, they are not costumes, not meant for "dressup" or "pretend." In recent years most religious have gone through sometimes-harrowing and at least difficult processes to discern whether God has called them to either retain or give up the habit. Sometimes these decisions are made in the face of peers who discern the precisely opposite thing, and have done so honestly and in good faith. The bottom line here is that whether we retain or forego the wearing of the habit we treat habits as meaningful garments and we respect that significance. Thus, we do not lend friends extra veils to use for halloween costumes; we do not allow children to wear them to feel like their aunt the nun (for instance) or to dress like this or that saint during school pageants. In those instances we use costumes that are clearly that --- not the real deal. This reminds the kids both of what is true, and what may to be aspired to. To do otherwise is to trivialize and misuse something the Church treats with great respect and significance. To trivialize something in this way, I believe, empties it of meaning. To empty something of meaning may be the essence of sacrilege.

You see, I don't believe there is anything cute about the picture because I don't think it indicates a single unique instance of this practice. The picture was submitted to the CMSWR for their website as representative of the life of the community. It affects me somewhat the same way seeing the "Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence" wearing habits does (though at least their's are clearly costumes and meant to be a parody)! Yes, the child is part of the "community" (though I wonder if she and the others SHOULD be), but she is a child -- not professed, not a nun, not someone who has been through all the discernment and formation for such a life and assumed the completely ADULT rights and obligations associated with the commitment of vows. Who else in the community wears a habit for inadequate or casually justified reasons --- whether or not they have a vocation to consecrated life or have completed the appropriate formation or met the normal canonical requirements (which do not ordinarily include marriage and minor or dependent children)? When I see an adult in the habit of the community and veil of the professed, especially if she is walking along with habited children in tow, can I truly assume that she is someone who truly IS what the habit represents? I doubt it now because I really cannot trust the habit means the same thing to the Hermit Intercessors that it means to the Church or to religious women and men.

Note well that I have merely focused on the fact of the child wearing the habit as a form of trivialization. The picture at issue appears to show us a family ALL in habit however, and if this is true, then this underscores the question of whether the habit means for this group what it means for the rest of the Church. Do ANY of these people have vows of consecrated celibacy or chastity, for instance? And if so, what of their marriage vows? What does the habit still MEAN in such a case? Also please note that although your question (and so, my answer) has to do with a comment I made on the trivialization of the habit, the questions of the welfare of the children in this situation --- children who presumably go to school and play with other children in the community --- and of the real nature of this mixed community are also raised front and center with this picture. For me personally it is a snapshot which raises questions about misplaced priorities (marriage vs religious life, for instance) and inadequate boundaries (I would want to understand how families, and celibates actually live in this situation) and, despite recognizing that snapshots can be notoriously misleading, I can understand simply from this small fragment of the community portrait why some might wonder whether or not the group is more cult-like than representative of an Association of the Faithful on the way perhaps to becoming an Institute of Consecrated Life.

Children in Veils, CMSWR, and Former Membership of the Intercessors.

As for why this practice raises questions with regard to CMSWR and membership within it consider that the CMSWR is very conservative and inflexible on the issue of member communities wearing habits. Sometimes they have given the impression that members of communities who do not wear habits are not "real religious" so I wonder if they care that a member community is dressing children in religious garb associated with canonical consecration. I would wager they will be a tad chagrined at this photo for, for me at least, it calls to mind the old in-joke among Sisters (which was more true than some liked) that in Catholic schools the quality of teacher education and aptitude was so low one could put a habit on a broom, set the broom inside the classroom and get as gifted a teacher as some sisters already there. The jibe was that in many cases no one would notice the difference! After all, so long as there was a habit present in the classroom, what else was really necessary?

For that reason, the fact that CMSWR requires the wearing of habits, but may not be judicious enough to notice when pictures of a member group (a LAY group, by the way) on their very website includes habited children while they consider canonically vowed women religious who have given their entire lives to Christ and his Church to be "pseudo sisters" simply because they don't wear habits seems ridiculous to me, and surely must be embarrassing to the CMSWR. We (LCWR, CMSWR, diocesan hermits, etc) ALL argue that the habit does not make the Sister but it seems that perhaps in this case the CMSWR (and certainly the Intercessors of the Lamb) have forgotten this piece of wisdom. At least as I say, it raises serious questions for me.

Provisions for Old-Age and Incapacity for Diocesan Hermits?

[[Sr. Laurel, I have often wondered what provisions hermits, diocesan or otherwise, make for care in their old age. I understand a hermit is expected to be self-supporting and that normally the diocese does not provide any sort of financial asisstance. If a hermit becomes incapacitated and can no longer live alone, or needs some sort of assisted living or nursing care, does the hermit have to make arrangements for such care without any help? Could the hermit be admitted to a nursing home managed by a religious order?]]

This is a really important question and I have written about it briefly once before where I noted that there was no universal or adequate solution to the problem yet. Here I will focus on diocesan hermits. Your question also points to a reason for organizations such as the Network of Diocesan Hermits which enables diocesan hermits to share their own lived experience, problems, possible solutions, etc, with one another and the hierarchical church, and generally support one another in our living out of this vocation even in our later years. After all, we don't cease being vowed and diocesan hermits simply because we are old, ill, or incapacitated. (I should note that the NDH is not meant to be a lobbying organization, but there is no doubt that we will try to keep our fingers on the pulse of diocesan hermit life in some casual ways and seek to suggest solutions to problems diocesan hermits face increasingly. Part of this may simply be to find ways of making the Church at large aware of the needs of diocesan hermits, whether that means Bishops' Conferences, or the Sacred Congregation, etc.) Again, this is an evolving vocation, and a very young one. Both problems and solutions may occur in time that the Canon never foresaw or provided for with clarity and those you mention are certainly among these.

As for your questions themselves, yes, hermits are responsible for their own support and care. This includes arranging matters for old age, assisted living, in-home care, etc. Last year my delegate with the diocese (who works in leadership in her own congregation and is very much in touch with the problems of aging religious and their needs) asked me what I planned to do in the future should I become incapacitated or something similar. I did not have an answer for her, but I think her question was meant to assist me to begin thinking about the matter, not to elicit a detailed answer. I tell the story merely to point out that the responsibility for arrangements fall squarely on my own shoulders --- and also to point out the place a diocesan hermit's delegate may assume here. Whether she will ever ALSO speak to my Bishop about the matter is unclear (she may never need to of course), but she will encourage me in speaking to him, or to whomever else might assist me in such a situation.

As for what is possible more concretely, yes a hermit could well arrange to eventually live in a nursing home managed by a religious community. Alternately I suppose there MIGHT be congregational infirmaries or Motherhouses which would have room and allow a diocesan hermit to board there so long as the hermit was capable of paying room and board and had medical insurance. The same possibility may exist with some monastic houses but each hermit will need to ferret out the possibilities (or get help doing so) herself. Precisely because we do not cease to be vowed or hermits, a religious house of some sort would be far more ideal than an ordinary nursing home, etc. My own Bishop is solicitous of the adequacy of my financial and other resources and I suspect any Bishop who has assumed responsibility for a diocesan hermit in his see would be similarly solicitous. I believe that the diocese would assist me finding solutions and in making necessary arrangements regarding skilled nursing facilities should that situation arise, even though they are, of course, not responsible for providing actual financial assistance.

At the same time I am fairly certain that many parishes would assist in finding ways to meet ongoing needs for diocesan hermits who have lived and freely ministered within that faith community for some years. Again this does not mean they would support the hermit financially but in fact, for many of us our parishes are our primary communities and in some cases they accept that they are this as well. So, while the hermit really is completely responsible for these arrangements, she well may find assistance in making them. Regarding money, insurance, etc, hermits will mainly be surviving on medicare/medicaid and social security --- like any other older person in our society. In-home care may be available even for those on Medicaid so in general what hermits will do is precisely the same as what any poor person in our society will do. Ordinarily hermits are not included on diocesan medical or other insurance --- though occasionally we hear of cases where that has been done. Neither are they automatically included in diocesan clergy burial policies, though again, individual dioceses may rule that they may be.

So, there are a few answers to your questions, and much greater uncertainty in many ways. I hope this response is helpful nonetheless. As always, should it be unclear or raise more questions, please get back to me.

18 October 2010

Perpetual Vows, Binding beyond Death?

[[Dear Sister Laurel, Are the perpetual vows of religious considered to be eternally binding, i.e. binding after death? Thank you very much for the ministry of your life & writing, so meaningful to me both as a discerner of religious life and as a person living with chronic illness. ]]

This is a great question but the short answer is no, perpetual vows are not binding beyond death (which may be a reason they are also called final or definitive --- or in some cases, solemn vows --- instead). Consider vows of poverty or obedience, for instance. They wouldn't make much sense on the other side of death where we exist in perfect union with God. (Can you imagine disobedience, the need for superiors, or struggling with self-denial and material goods after death?) Monastics make a vow of conversatio morum, or conversion of life as well as one of stability to a monastery. Those would be meaningless on the other side of death. Chastity too for that matter. Chastity or consecrated celibacy commits us to love in a non-exclusive eschatological way (the way of the Kingdom of God in fullness). After death this love is natural for everyone and no one needs a vow (or a special call) to accomplish it.

Through our faithfulness to vows (whether we mean baptismal, marriage, or religious vows) we become who we are called to be and in the moment of death we finally and irrevocably confirm or deny all those choices by choosing God or rejecting him for eternity. If we choose God and affirm all the choices for life we have made through our lives we undergo purgation through the love of God. That is, through the power of God's love we are affirmed as and remain the person we have become but stripped of imperfections, distortions, and mere potentiality, so there is no longer a need for vows or similar commitments. If we have chosen this throughout our life and also at the moment of death, we are united with God and nothing can change that either to detract from it or to add to it. (Again, purgation refers to the final work of God's creative and welcoming love where stripping of imperfections, etc is finally accomplished; we remain the person we have become in life in this process, but now without distortion or diminution.)

Postscript: I should note that the question as to whether the person remains a consecrated person after death is not the same as whether one remains a vowed person, or whether vows continue to be binding. The person does indeed continue to be one who has been consecrated and lived into her consecration more and more throughout her life. When I speak of becoming the person we are called to be with every choice we make that includes becoming the one who realizes the potential of her consecration.

I hope this is helpful!

Post postscript: Anyone interested in reading an interpretation of purgatory that is like the one provided here (but which is much richer as well) should look at Benedict XVI's book Eschatology. It is part of a series on Dogmatic Theology published under the name Joseph Ratzinger and may surprise people who find my view to be completely unorthodox.