25 November 2010

My Own Credibility in Speaking of Valuing the Lay State (Reprised with Additional Explanation)

Originally posted in November, 2008 (Heading for the additional section is marked in bold below)

[[Doesn't your own canonical status undercut your ability to speak to the importance and witness of the non-canonical or lay hermit? Doesn't it make what you say even a bit hypocritical? You have written any number of times about the importance of canonical status/standing so how believeable are your opinions on the lay eremitical vocation? Why didn't you become/remain a lay hermit instead of seeking profession and consecration according to Canon 603 if you believed as you say you do in this?]]

These questions were not raised by a hostile reader, but in my own prayer and reflection on the matter. However, I suspect that they are questions which my own status and comments might well occasion in others, so I am including them here. First. let me say that there is truth in each question: to each, except, I think, for the one about hypocrisy and the last one which asks "Why didn't you become/remain. . .", I have to answer "Yes" before I qualify or nuance my responses. With regard to the last question ["Why didn't I become/remain. . .?], let me say right up front that I do not have a complete answer at this time, but only large parts of one, and that those parts involve both positive and negative elements.

In my previous post on the importance of lay hermits I noted that I had not realized how effectively I was cutting myself off from witnessing to particular segments of our church and world. My life as a canonical hermit still speaks to these people, I know that full well, but I suspect not nearly as powerfully as had I eschewed profession and consecration under Canon 603 and embraced a vocation as a lay hermit. I would have needed to find ways to do this, but those avenues are open to anyone really. This blog is an example. On the other hand, I have experienced both sides of the fence here and am aware of the shift (in witnessing) which has occured. Thus, I think I am able to speak effectively to the importance of both lay and consecrated eremitical vocations. The point of course is that a person who is consciously and voluntarily lay and eremitical can, in some ways. do so better than I can ever do.

So what about possible hypocrisy? Well, it is true that I am unabashedly excited by and enthusiastic about the eremitical vocation which is canonical, and that personally I see a lot of reasons to seek canonical standing, especially as a diocesan hermit with its unique charism. It is also true that on this blog I have posted a lot in order to combat misconceptions about canonical status, etc. In my Rule I wrote (several years ago now) that I felt that canonical status was imperative except in the early stages of a vocation or foundation --- though my views on this have changed considerably in the meantime. Is it possible to be enthusiastic about the graces and benefits of one way of living an eremitical life without denigrating another? I sincerely hope and believe so, otherwise there is no way to be honest about the gifts of the Holy Spirit in one vocation without denigrating them in another. And despite seeing this happen often in the history of mankind with regard to different religions, etc, surely none of us believe that is necessarily the case [with different vocations]!

With the issue of canonical and non-canonical hermits I believe the Holy Spirit is working in both ways in our church and world, speaking to different segments and calling them to different responsibilities, emphases and witness. So long as the eremitical life is being led with faithfulness these differing emphases, commissions and witnesses will emerge and reveal themselves clearly. That said, I must also say that I don't believe just anyone should call themselves a hermit, and I especially don't believe that someone who simply has a bent for some degree of solitude part of the time should do so, or be allowed to do so. (Here is one of the real benefits of canonical standing and oversight: one knows, at least generally, that the term is being used accurately and that the witness being given is genuine.) Still, if someone is living a fulltime life of prayer and penance, a life centered on God in silence and solitude --- not reclusively necessarily, but really --- then they have every right to call themselves a hermit and should do so, for this too is the work and gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church and world.

Again, it is not that canonical hermits are "real" hermits while non-canonical hermits are "pseudo" or "wannabe" hermits. While it is true that sometimes people use the term hermit too casually (for an active life with chunks of solitude, a part-time semi-solitary existence, for instance, as in a married life where the days are spent in prayer and work while children and husband are off to school and work!) or for the wrong reasons (social awkwardness or misanthopy, the need for self-indulgent introversion or simply for creative time and space are among these) -- these folks ARE pseudo hermits or wannabe's --- when the term really applies (that is, to a LIFE OF fulltime and genuine solitude lived for and in God) it signals the "realness" or inspired nature of the vocation, and whether this is a call to eremitism of the consecrated or lay states does not matter.

And regarding the last question, "why didn't I become and remain a lay hermit?" well, I am going to [mainly] leave that for another time and more thought. The simple answer is that initially and eventually I determined I was not called to this as did the Church, but that can be evasive as well as being true. Part of the answer is that it was this context which made sense of the whole spectrum of my life and the kind of freedom needed to live this call fully and faithfully, but that too needs some explaining --- which again requires both more thought and time to write. Still, the question is important, not only for me personally, but because it is really the question every hermit must answer in some form in discerning and embracing the call not only to eremitical life, but to lay or consecrated states as the critical context for their own charism, witness, and mission. At this point I wish to say merely that whichever choice one discerns and makes, the eremitical life they are discerning and choosing is a real and significant vocation and that we must learn to esteem not only the similarities they share with their counterpart (lay or consecrated), but especially their unique gift quality and capacity to speak variously to different segments of the church and world.

Addition to the Original Post:

Why did I not become or remain a lay hermit? Why pursue a call to the consecrated state if I truly value the lay vocation? I have thought about these questions more since I posed these queries to myself and here are the elements of my answer: 1) I felt called to an ecclesial vocation, one which the Church also discerned, 2) I did so because I became aware of a particular gift or charism this vocation was to the Church and world with regard to those who were marginalized in both church and world by chronic illness, old-age, and other isolating factors. Eremitical life spoke directly to these situations and their redemption whether or not any of the persons were called to eremitical life (though I supposed some would be and wished to assist them in knowing about and even hearing this call). 3) There was a certain unfreedom I experienced personally with regard to representing this charism fully as a lay hermit despite the fact that I published about it and had come to terms with the diocese's unwillingness to profess anyone under Canon 603 for the time being. I concluded (after another @20 years) that I still needed canonical standing to put an end to this "unfreedom".

(The solution to unfreedom of this type is often the assumption of new responsibilities. So it was for me. The assumption of the rights and responsibilities associated with canonical or consecrated eremitical life freed me to live the life (and my own life of course) as fully as I felt called to do. For some, as for instance the person who writes about the taint of increased institutionalization and the constraints of that preventing her living fully in the present moment, this would not be true. The same is the case for the person who wrote most recently with regard to, "what's the big deal?" or who desires to push the meaning of words in whatever way he personally likes. It would also be true for those who (more positively I think) just want to live in solitude without more ecclesial rights and responsibilities, or who wish to imitate the lay status of the desert Abbas and Ammas.)

4) I was living the final vows I had made in 1978 and desired to do this within the context of Canon 603 in a specifically eremitical framework and with the guidance, supervision, and assistance of the Church rather than privately in a way which did not allow others to have necessary expectations with regard to these vows. It also meant being present in a way which allowed others (lay, consecrated, and clerics) to appreciate the way the Holy Spirit was working in their midst with regard to both chronic illness and eremitical life, and 5) I had become more knowledgeable about the nature and history of eremitical life as a still-vital tradition and I wanted to assume what I discerned to be my own place in that tradition in ways which were both faithful to it and yet enlarged or added to it in contemporary terms. This included wishing to bring the diocesan hermit dimension more strongly into the Camaldolese charism while allowing the Camaldolese charism to be more explicitly present in diocesan eremitical life. In both of these I had the sense of being called to be part of a tradition, creatively, in faithful dialog with it, not in unthinking or careless rejection of it as I simply "did my own thing".