16 November 2010

Saturday (or Part-time) Hermits Once Again: What's the Big Deal??

[[ I agree that full-time work is incompatible with the EXPRESSION of the eremetic life. The only caveat is that many folks are called to it but just can't swing it financially. As for them, their options are a monastic expression or simply a 'non-canonical' (if I'm saying that correctly) expression of their vocation without worrying about whether they are recognized by the Diocese/Bishop or not. I really don't understand the hang up about this. If you are able to be a hermit on Saturday only, want to wear a habit--go for it! I don't understand all the angst. Why do we look to some imprimatur from Mother Church for our vocations? The church has room for all of us. Just go out and live your life and stop worrying whether you are fitting under a particular canon or not. Mon Dieu! Are we Pharisees? Go out and preach the gospel in whatever way you must---whether or not there is an example for it---and, of course, if you dig down far enough, there are always champions of the church that have faced the same circumstances and made it work. ]]

Thanks for your comments. Let me be clear that when I write about eremitical vocations I almost always clarify them with terms like "diocesan", "Lay", or "religious", and sometimes as semi-eremitical as well. In the post you are commenting about I referred to diocesan hermits but I need not have. In this case I can't agree with you about "If they are able to be a hermit on Saturdays only, want to wear a habit, then go for it" (etc). What you have just described is not a hermit of any expression. It is a person taking a day off and playing dress-up in the process.

Someone who says it is possible to be a hermit only on Saturdays and that such a person should just wear a habit, call themselves a hermit, and just generally "go for it," does not understand the idea of an ecclesial vocation generally nor the idea of what a hermit truly is specifically. (Another alternative is persons who speak this way are really poking fun at my posts, and I certainly don't think that is the case here.) It is possible I am simply misunderstanding the point which is that everyone needs silence and solitude in their lives and taking off time on Saturdays to devote to this is a good thing. If this is what you are saying, then I agree but I would point out you are not really speaking about a person being a hermit.)

But let me be completely honest about how I hear your comments: what you have said seems to me to be analogous to saying to a woman, "If you want to be a mother and can only take care of children on Saturdays, then by all means do that! Change out of your business clothes, babysit a child (even your own!) on Saturdays, and feel free to call yourself a mother." Or perhaps the analogy to marriage would work here: "You want to be married but can only manage to do that on Saturdays? Well, put on the ring, grab the guy, make life vows (or not) and "go for it." Hermits are people who live eremitical LIVES for the praise of God and the salvation of the world. Yes, there are different expressions of this, but they are expressions of something specifically meaningful and responsible in terms of a life commitment, not expressions of nothing (or just anything at all).

As for angst over whether the Church gives her approval or not, here the expression of eremitical life does matter. A person who wishes to live as a hermit without any of the specific rights or obligations of canonical standing can certainly do so in the lay or non-canonical senses. As I have written before, baptism itself gives such persons the right to do so and no further discernment or approval of the Church is required. This has certain limitations of course (including no right to publicly wear the habit, which is an ecclesial symbol), but it also has a different level of freedom with regard to others' legitimate expectations and so forth.

However, for diocesan, or religious eremitical life --- ecclesial vocations which the church herself is involved in nurturing, mediating, and governing --- then the Church's formal participation and approval is necessary at every point. This is because in these instances the hermit cannot discern such a vocation alone and lives her eremitical life in the name of the Church. She represents the eremitical vocation (and becomes responsible for personally continuing a long tradition) in a public and canonical (legal and normative) way. In none of these cases would a person just going off and "being a hermit on Saturdays ONLY" actually be a hermit. The only thing they would truly be doing as far as I can see is emptying the term of meaning and trivializing the lives of those who DO live full-time lives of assiduous prayer, penance, and stricter separation from the world in the the silence of solitude --- especially those who have been publicly entrusted with and assumed all the rights and obligations which are part of such an ecclesial vocation.

You see, it is not merely a matter of "fitting under" a canon or finding one I fit under. It is a matter of discovering a vocation to eremitical life and then allowing one's life to be molded into a complete response to that. Beyond this initial determination, one would then need to discern whether one is called to do so in the consecrated state or not. If not, then one lives as a lay hermit. If so, then one is speaking not of a merely individual vocation, but an ecclesial one, and one would prepare to embrace this fully. If one then discerns a vocation to diocesan eremitical life rather than religious eremitical life one seeks profession under Canon 603 and in doing so, is both invested with and assumes all the rights and obligations which attach to to such a life. No one is forced to do this, but if they do, if the Church decides they are genuinely called to this and if such persons are admitted to profession in this way, then yes indeed, the Canon does define and govern their lives (as do a number of other Canons as well). Living the life with integrity means respecting and exploring this every day in every way, as the saying goes.

Why All the Angst?? The Pastoral Import of Canonical Standing

But, as you ask, why all the angst? I've written about this before under the idea of necessary expec-tations and charism, but let me draw out a picture of "why the angst?!" Let's take the two examples of eremitical life outlined in your own email and mine: 1) a person takes off on Saturdays for some prayer time, dons a habit, and calls himself a hermit even adopting the title "Brother." (What he does the rest of the week, exemplary or apostolic as it may be, I have no clue, nor does anyone else.) He then goes forth to proclaim the Gospel as he can. 2) a person lives the silence of solitude (and the rest of the elements of Canon 603) on a full time basis. She publicly vows her entire life to God (and so, to all those he cherishes) and is consecrated in a way which signals the grace to live this life. She is invested with the habit and given the right to the title Sister by the Church who recognizes the meaningfulness and import of these things. She then goes out to proclaim the Gospel within this context. Both persons identify themselves as hermits, one is a lay person and one is consecrated. One does so according to his own understanding of the term, the other according to the Church's understanding and traditional meaning of the term.

Meanwhile, their parishes have a large number of chronically ill and frail elderly on fixed incomes, most of whom are isolated from the parish as a whole or the surrounding communities in significant ways: none of them can work, few of them can drive or get away from their situations on a weekend, and none of them can take a day (or even an hour) off from their state of chronic illness or frail elderliness. What they do know is that they might be called to lives of prayer and solitude, lives which represent a kind of counter-cultural witness even. They are looking for someone who can proclaim the Gospel to them in a way which is specifically helpful in their situations. They think (and their pastor agrees),  that surely a hermit will be able to witness in a way which helps us makes sense of lives of poverty and isolation, whose witness will assist in negotiating the transition from isolation to solitude, who can reminds them that a life of physical, financial, and personal poverty can still be rich in God alone and all God makes possible.

So which hermit should the pastor call on to assist these parishioners in this? Which hermit should he call on as a true representative of desert spirituality? Which hermit has accepted freely and fully all the dimensions of the eremitical life which allows him/her to witness truthfully and EFFECTIVELY to these poeple? Which hermit knows intimately the struggles of full-time solitude or silence? Which one has dealt with these and does so day in and day out along with all the other demons which attack the solitary person from within our own hearts or from the surrounding competitive, workaholic, productive and consumerist world? Which one will be able to effectively proclaim the Gospel to these people? (And NB, I could have contrasted the Saturday-only hermit with any full-time lay hermit and most of the points would have been the same here.)

You see, going out and preaching the Gospel is not merely a matter of proclaiming a canned text or message to people one does not know. It is not a matter of proclaiming the unconditional love of God without applying that in the way one knows it intimately oneself AND in the way people NEED to hear it. Instead proclaiming the Gospel means proclaiming with one's life the TRUTH of the way God has worked and is working in it so that others might find hope and meaning in that. As St Francis of Assisi once said, "Preach the Gospel; use words if necessary." Proclaiming the Gospel, I would suggest, also does not allow for pretense and the "hermit" in the situation you described appears to be all about pretense --- at least with regard to calling himself a hermit, donning a habit, etc. He cannot relate particularly to the situation these people are in or the good news they really need to hear. He does not live full-time solitude nor has he assumed any of the rights or responsibilities of such a life (the habit in the scenario you described is little more than a costume he takes up to play a role on weekends.) And yet, the habit and titles (Brother as well as hermit) give these people the right to expect he WILL BE ABLE to speak to their situation in a helpful way from his own life experience. They have the right to expect these things to mean something --- not least a counter-cultural life of total dependence on God lived on the margins of society in the silence of solitude.

This is why all the angst over Canonical standing. Such standing generally indicates the acceptance of rights and obligations by those who are discerned to have such a call, etc. It is not because we are Pharisees, but because law often serves love. It does so in this case. By the way, I would personally disagree that many people are called to diocesan eremitical life but just can't swing it financially. I do agree that those who are able-bodied and need to work full time are not called to diocesan eremitical life at this point in time, but then, as you say, they can enter a religious eremitical community --- something which is NOT ordinarily open to those who are disabled or chronically ill. Regarding the other points you bring up, benefactors, etc, I will hold those for another time.

All my best.