18 October 2010

Hermit Intercessors of the Lamb and Profession under Canon 603

[[Sister, could the former members of the Hermit Intercessors become Canon 603 hermits? What would it take for this to happen?]]

This is a huge and complex question. In some ways though, it is a simple question as well. My own opinion is that a few of them, AS INDIVIDUALS, MIGHT, in time, discern a vocation to diocesan eremitical life, but given the situation at hand both they and the archdiocese (or their home dioceses if they return to those) must act with even greater caution than ordinarily. Canon 603 is not meant simply to provide a way to profess someone who has not been or cannot be professed any other way. It is not simply a fallback position when one vocational path fails -- for whatever reason. One must really discern a true vocation to eremitical life and beyond that, to consecrated eremitical life. Even more specifically, one must discern a call to diocesan (that is, SOLITARY) rather than religious eremitical life. From what I can see the "Hermits'" life is intensely and definitively communal, not to mention familial, and simply calling members "hermits" does not make them hermits especially in the sense Canon 603 uses the term. One may well be contemplative, for instance, without in the least being called to eremitical solitude. Beyond this, one may be called to religious eremitical life without being called to solitary eremitical life, whether lay or diocesan.

So, what would it take for this to happen? Former members interested in pursuing this option would need, again, to discern vocations to SOLITARY eremitical life (not merely contemplative life, and not life in community or even to religious eremitical life), and this would require at least several years AFTER transitioning out of the life of the Intercessors. They, like all potential aspirants for profession under canon 603 would need to discern whether they were called to live eremitical life as a lay person or with canonical vows and, if the latter, approach their own diocese with a petition to be admitted to profession and the beginning of a process of MUTUAL discernment. Sometime just before (or after) this they would need to write a Rule of Life based on their own lived experience of solitary eremitical life which they would submit for approval by canonists and the diocesan Bishop. And, as noted, they would need the diocese to discern the same vocation and admit them to canonical vows --- just as any other candidate or aspirant for Canon 603 profession must do.

Those who would be eligible to discern this would meet all the requirements diocesan hermits must ordinarily meet: they will be single (or if divorced, have received an anullment) and be otherwise unencumbered of minor or dependent children, etc. Note that I have heard of some diocesan hermits who work part time caring for elderly parents, for instance, but this is not universally accepted and the signs of eremitical vocation and readiness for canonical profession must be clear nonetheless, not simply for the individual and hierarchy mutually discerning the vocation before them, but for those to whom the hermit will witness and minister in and from the silence of solitude within the parish, diocese, etc.

In many ways then, the steps would be the same as for any other person, but the church hierarchy will be especially sure Canon 603 is not being seized on as a stopgap means of profession or a merely compensatory fallback position for someone who would much rather live in community, etc. In particular the Church would need to be sure that whatever individuals seek to live according to Canon 603 and who might THEREAFTER seek to come together in a Laura, have EACH discerned a vocation to solitary eremitical life and are not using Canon 603 merely to reconstitute a remnant of the Intercessors or find a merely alternative way back into habit and (finally, admission to public) vows!! The question which must be answered satisfactorily for everyone concerned (not least for diocesan hermits who HAVE discerned, are professed to, and live the life with integrity!) is "Why, if you truly feel called to this, did you not seek profession according to Canon 603 BEFORE the suppression of your group? Why now??"

Thus, the entire process of discernment from initial experimentation with the life through perpetual profession could well take the same time as it does for anyone else (from to 8-12 years or more) with no assurance that temporary, much less perpetual profession will actually occur until quite late in the process. Given the current situation especially, it would also probably be prudent -- if such permission was granted at all -- to allow such hermits to come together in a Laura for mutual support, etc, only AFTER perpetual profession under Canon 603. (I would argue this is necessary anyway for proper discernment and assurance regarding the solitary nature of the vocation, but that it is especially important in the former Intercessors' situation. After all, lauras fail far far more often than they succeed but the vocation and vows of the diocesan hermit remain nonetheless. Living the vocation without benefit of a laura, and without the formation of the laura must be possible for the individual hermit, but it is especially important for those whose whole experience of professed life is semi-eremitical at best, or for whom the term "hermit" was an ideal or metaphorical term only.)

Regular readers of this blog know that I have written in the past about the dangers of inappropriate use of Canon 603 to profess persons who have no real vocation to solitary eremitical life. I think your question is an important one because there will be a great temptation to "just profess" members under Canon 603 without appropriate discernment, or true understanding of the difference between solitary and communal or semi-eremitical life. This is a temptation former Intercessor members and hierarchy must take care to resist and avoid. Similarly the temptation to form a community and merely call it a laura to justify it (and get members professed) is equally problematical today, so the situation of the formerly privately professed members of the Intercessors of the Lamb raises this issue as well. There are very real differences between the two and sometimes canonists focus more on subtle technical or juridical elements to the exclusion of the substantive elements rooted in the nature (charism, mission) of the life itself. (I am thinking especially here of a dissertation on Canon 603 I read several months ago, and which I -- and some other diocesan hermits I know -- believe is especially flawed in this way. (It is helpful in others!) The dissertation argues for what is canonically possible in light of other canons but what is "possible" canonically is not always the same as what is prudent for or theologically and spiritually sound in terms of the solitary eremitical vocation itself.)

I hope this helps.