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.