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.
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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