01 December 2010

Questions, Lay Hermits and Canons 604 vs 603

[[I am a little confused by some of the things you have written on your blog. I remember [someone] talking . . .about living as a lay hermit and your response was " good, the world needs more lay hermits" but it seem at times on your blog that you are against lay hermits, that you look down on them, that they are not a true expression. On another note, can you explain the difference between code 603 and 604? I'm sure you've written about it before but if you could " dumb it down" for me. ]]

Thanks for the questions. I think it is probably important to read everything I have written about lay hermits, or at least to read about it apart from what I say about canonical or diocesan hermits. If one reads JUST what I say about diocesan hermits one could get the impression you have gotten. I am passionate and enthusiastic about my own vocation and I argue for its importance in a world which generally neither esteems nor understands it. Thus, I devote more energy and time to it than to the lay hermit vocation. If, however, you read what I say about the need for lay hermits, the dignity of the lay state, the need for all hermits to discern between calls to lay or diocesan eremitical life, I think the impression is more balanced and positive.

To restate briefly what I have said before on this, the two vocations are both valid expressions of the eremitical life. (Religious eremitical or semi-eremitical life is a third valid expression by the way.) Both are important and each may speak to different segments of the Church and world more effectively than the other. They have different rights and responsibilities within the church per se, though they overlap and may be identical in terms of the foundational elements of the life. Despite their hiddenness, one is a "public" vocation and one is not. The obligations of one flow directly from one's lay vocation and state, the obligations of the other do not but come from public profession and initiation into the consecrated state as well.

Yes, the world needs more lay hermits. It is my impression that in general lay hermits could speak to the problem of isolated people in unnatural solitudes better than canonical or diocesan hermits do (though I haven't seen or heard any lay hermits doing that, more's the pity)! They stand directly in the shadow and line of the desert Abbas and Ammas --- who were also lay hermits, and witness to a different kind of relationship with the local church than diocesan hermits do. They witness to the simplicity and freedom of the eremitical life in ways the diocesan hermit perhaps cannot do as easily or effectively (here some of the criticisms or concerns re institutionalization of the vocation may come into play --- at least in a cautionary sense). Lay hermits model the universal call to holiness, the universality of the call to contemplative prayer (which many people still believe is ONLY open to specialists), and the call to the silence of solitude (union with God) which every person is meant to embody in one way or to one degree and another; they can do all this better than the diocesan hermit who is perceived as a religious and, unfortunately, therefore somewhat distinct from the laity. I should note that lay hermits, precisely because they live without the benefits of habit, title, etc, also call diocesan hermits in a poignant way to live the life without becoming caught up in the approval/status game which is more typical of "the world" hermits and other Christians reject.

Regarding the distinctions between Canons 603 and 604, they are significant. Canon 604 is the canon governing the conse-cration of virgins living in the world (i.e., not religious or hermits). It establishes them as consecrated women and brides of Christ and is thus a renewal or revival of this ancient vocation in the Church. (Some cloistered nuns have historically used the Rite of Consecration of Virgins on the occasion of their solemn profession and continue to do so today. Canon 604 revives the practice of consecrating women living in the world to a vocation which both predated and stood side by side this practice until about 1200. Consecrated Virgins living in the world are thus not nuns or "quasi nuns.")

The life of a consecrated virgin under Canon 604 may be fairly contemplative or quite active. She is expected to serve the Church by her life in whatever way suits and may do appropriate ministry with her gifts. She does not make vows but instead makes a proposal to live a chaste life; like diocesan hermits she is consecrated by God through the act of the diocesan Bishop. (All religious enter the consecrated state because they are consecrated by God and so do consecrated virgins living in the world.) She therefore lives the evangelical counsels in a way which fits her secular state despite not making vows to do so and has what is described as a "special relationship" with her Bishop.

Canon 603 is the canon governing the life of diocesan hermits. Hermits do not live in the world but rather in stricter separation from it. Like consecrated virgins they are in the consecrated state. Besides "stricter separation from the world", their lives are characterized by "the silence of solitude," and "assiduous prayer and penance," all lived for the glory of God and the salvation of the world. They also live the evangelical counsels and are obligated to do so by vow or other sacred bond. Their legitimate superior is their Bishop who may appoint or ask the hermit to select someone to act as a diocesan delegate, a quasi superior who meets with the hermit regularly during the year and serves both the hermit and the diocese on the Bishop's behalf. Diocesan Hermits write their own Rule or Plan of Life which becomes a morally and legally binding Rule on the day of their Profession. The Rule is ordinarily approved by a Bishop's Decree on that day and becomes the equivalent of proper law at that time. All of these externals aside, the vocation itself is a call to live the silence of solitude in stricter separation from the world, and this is simply not generally true of the vocation to consecrated virginity which is secular (lived in the world). They really are different vocations despite the similarities that also exist.

Early in the history of these two canons (c.1984-90) we saw people being conse-crated under Canon 604 AND Canon 603, that is, they were consecrated under the second of these canons despite already being consecrated under one of them. (Usually 603 came second because it was not as easy to discern eremitical vocations and Bishops were less willing to profess individuals under it than to consecrate a virgin living in the world.) Those who wanted to be hermits accepted consecration under Canon 604 and were sometimes called "diocesan sisters" and only later were admitted to vows under Canon 603 (if this occurred at all). (Sometimes Bishops used Canon 603 to profess individuals but did not want to indicate these persons were diocesan hermits and also used the term "diocesan sister" to describe or designate them in the diocesan directory.)

However, this is no longer accepted or acceptable practice. The consecration of each of the two vocations is complete in itself and the vocations differ from one another (Cf Statutes of the Bishops of France on Eremitical life); each have their own dignity and character. One is secular, the other is religious. It is not acceptable to celebrate consecration under Canon 604 simply because a Bishop will not use Canon 603 in his diocese any more than it is acceptable for individuals in non-canonical or lay communities to use C.603 as a way to get canonically professed and consecrated. My point here is simply that one needs to truly discern to which vocation they are called (and the church needs to do this as well), for it cannot be both (the exception is when the CV later discerns a call to solitude and becomes a diocesan hermit under c 603; alternately, a hermit might find she is no longer called to solitude, be dispensed from her vows, and seek consecration as a Virgin living in the world).

I hope this is helpful. If it raises more questions please get back to me.