09 February 2011

On Writing a Rule of Life: Protecting the Eremitical Vocation Itself

[[Dear Sister, You wrote that a Rule of life protects and nurtures the eremitical vocation itself and not only the individual hermit's vocation. It seems hard enough to write one's own Rule of life, much less a Rule that does this as well. Doesn't this make the project of writing a Rule less personal and less possible? I thought the hermit life was one of freedom. Why is all this necessary? It sounds like more of the "increased institutionalization" one person complained about!]]

Well, I see it as a necessary approach because it is all a piece of the diocesan hermit's vocation being a public and ecclesial vocation lived specifically FOR others. The idea here is that Canon 603 vocations represent eremitical life which is consciously lived in the heart (and name) of the Church and especially, in a way which reflects the Church's own eremitical tradition, life and needs, as well as those of the world in general. In other words, diocesan eremitism is a gift to the Church and the world which perpetuates in its own way the eremitical tradition and the hermit is responsible for appreciating that in a way which lets her live it out with integrity.

I don't know that doing this makes a Rule or Plan of Life harder to write. In some ways I think it makes doing so easier, but of course it is also more demanding than simply writing up a version of how one lives one's life, and how one proposes to continue doing so. It is easier, however, because it gives one a perspective from which to view one's own life, evaluate it, grow in it, make informed choices as to changes one needs (or changes one must not make!), etc. When one considers that one's Rule is an instance of a much greater reality than one's own individual way of living and writes it to reflect this, the Rule serves one better as well. One can sense this when one constructs such a Rule and for that reason the writing of it is both more challenging and also more exciting. It is a way of accepting that one's life is of greater moment than one might have guessed otherwise, and so, writing a Rule from this perspective assists one in reflecting on and spelling out what is essential and letting go of that which is not. Instead, then, of writing a Rule which is a morass of minutiae, one sketches in broader strokes. Yes, one includes necessary detail, but because one really has the big picture, one need not agonize over relative trivialities in writing the Rule.

What I am trying to say is that if one truly knows something of the nature and history of eremitical life, appreciates it as a living tradition, and realizes that one's own life and Rule represent a small but real piece of that tradition's present and future, one will likely also be less inclined to be overly concerned with writing a Rule which mimics a more superficial notion of what a hermit SHOULD do and be in every detail, or which cannot distinguish the essential from the merely culturally conditioned and inessential. Of course one will write a Rule which reflects the essentials of such a life and is in continuity with the tradition, but one will also adapt these essentials to the needs and possibilities of the modern Church and world.

This, I think, allows the Rule to be quite personal without being idiosyncratic. It is another aspect of balancing the essential elements of eremitical life with one's own individual way of living these out. It is an approach which allows for a perspective which is broader, and thus more helpful to others and to oneself, than a narrow navel-gazing approach. With regard to oneself, this kind of Rule will be more inspiring and foster consciousness of the significance of the vocation. It will be a livable Rule which one grows with. It is true that what I have called necessary will not allow one to write a Rule without living the life for some time while reflecting on it and the gift it is to church and world, but if one has done that then I have personally found that this approach makes writing the Rule more possible not less.

Regarding the freedom of a hermit, as I have written before, I think it is important that we define freedom in the Christian sense, namely, as the power to become and be the persons we are called to be. It is the power to love --- wholly, authentically, and selflessly --- to love God, others, and oneself with one's whole being. This kind of freedom is not idiosyncratic and not individualistic even while it allows for individual expression and response to the movement of the Holy Spirit.