07 October 2012

On the Significance of the Lay Eremitical Vocation --- Revisiting the Question

[[Dear Sister Laurel, I have returned to thinking I am a lay hermit, and nothing more, and though God can work miracles in our lives and does marvelous things we could not foresee, at this moment I don't see anything so grandiose [as being admitted to profession as a canon 603 hermit] happening in my life. My life is marvelous in itself, and I try in all humility to bury myself in His will, not thinking anything of myself as being in the least special at all. I feel that God has consecrated me, but any consecration the Church would do would have to be as a consecrated lay man, and I still don’t see any provision in Canon Law for such a state; perhaps you can clarify what other options may exist of which I am unaware.]]

Hi there,
      By way of introduction and since you have read this blog for a while let me suggest you and newer visitors reread some of the pieces on the importance and nature of the lay vocation and the lay eremitical vocation. I don't want to repeat everything I have said in those but I feel a need to reiterate some of it as in a partial response. 

First though,  let me say that I understand the pain you feel at desiring eremitical consecration and the difficulties of waiting on a diocese to respond to your request. You are new at living eremitical life (just two years or less) with no background in religious life; it ordinarily takes much more time to discern this vocation, much less to be allowed to live it in the name of the church. I also went through the hassle of long waiting periods,a sometimes unresponsive diocese, occasional fearful and controlling chancery personnel, lost files, mislaid letters, and so forth. It was not always easy and I almost found other ways to live my gifts from time to time, but in patient prayer and reflection I also came to see that lay eremitical life was an immensely valuable vocation and if that was what God was calling me to, then perhaps I was meant to learn to appreciate this more than I had come to already.

I will take issue with some of what you said and applaud some other things. First, any sentences referring to being a lay hermit and using words like "just" or "only" or "nothing more" to describe this are dead wrong and may well indicate you have not yet come to completely see how truly wonderful is the vocation to be a lay hermit or the way in which your life can speak to those right around you and the Church as a whole. You ARE consecrated. That happened for you at Baptism. I think you need to consider that part of what you are feeling is the reality of your baptismal CONSECRATION. There is no need for a separate vocation to be a "consecrated lay person" since lay persons ARE, by definition, consecrated or they would not be part of the laos, the laity, or People of God. I strongly suggest that part of what God may be calling you to is a stronger, clearer sense of the dignity and significance of an eremitical vocation lived in the lay state.

It is true this is not the same as being called to the consecrated state of life, but because there is nothing higher or more sacred than baptism which makes of us a new creation and calls us to an exhaustive holiness, neither therefore can we say that the consecrated state of life is a higher calling nor that the lay state is some sort of merely entrance-level vocation. As I have said many times here, these two states of life are different in their canonical rights and obligations, but neither is higher than the other. The language of objective superiority which Aquinas used does NOT translate in this way and Aquinas seemed to assiduously avoid implications of vocational inferiority or a lower vocation. I would urge you to drop any qualifying language which diminishes the dignity of the lay state or the significance of lay eremitical life. Whether or not this stage of your life leads to diocesan eremitical life it is an infinitely significant vocation and the model you are currently given to live out for all those persons living around you, many of whom are isolated elderly or chronically ill, etc, and need to be reassured of the significant value of their lives.

This week we begin the 50 year anniversary of the beginning of Vatican II and one of the most important pieces of theology it fostered was on the dignity of the lay vocation and the universal call to holiness. One of the challenges the Church still must accomplish is a move to implement this dimension of the Second Vatican Council consistently, completely. Ironically, that achievement falls MAINLY to lay persons to claim and make real! You can do this right now, without waiting for the Church to admit you to profession under canon 603. You write: [[Nor can I really speak with any authority, never having been a novice, professed monk, or anything more than just a layman. I do not want to be an "outlaw" or rebel of any kind, but the existence of people like myself means God is anything but done with moving among men to bring redemption to them by any means possible.]]

But the truth is while you do not have the training provided by religious life you do have authority. You are a baptized lay person living (and learning to live) an eremitical life and coming more and more to understand what doing so means for those living in the world you inhabit all the time. You can speak to THIS vocation and this world with a particular authority and credibility I might myself have relinquished in accepting canonical standing. What I mean by this is that my own life is separated from those around me, not merely by eremitical life, but by my canonical standing. While I am very keen on witnessing to isolated elderly, chronically ill persons who are isolated by their illness, and others who may discover that eremitical life could redeem their isolation, In the past few years I have come to realize that lay hermits might well be able to speak with greater credibility to these people than someone with different standing in canon law. I suspect this may be a special charism which lay hermits have especially; that is, I think this may be a gift of the Holy Spirit which lay hermits bring to both the Church and the world in ways canonical hermits may not be as effective in bringing.

But doing this means taking the fact and dignity of one's baptismal consecration with complete seriousness. Of course God is not done bringing people to redemption in Christ by any means possible; you are absolutely correct in this, but the primary, essential, or foundational way God does this is through baptism. Bringing the charism mentioned above  to the Church and world also means reflecting on the place eremitical solitude occupies in your own life. When you can speak clearly to yourself about what these mean you will come to appreciate what they mean or could mean in the lives of others around you. You could begin blogging about this perhaps, or finding ways at your own parish to speak about it. You have begun this process already. In what you wrote above you said, [[My life is marvelous in itself, and I try in all humility to bury myself in His will, not thinking anything of myself as being in the least special at all.]] I applaud the first part of this sentence  --- for your life is indeed marvelous in itself. But you are entirely special and so is your call. All of us, by virtue of our birth and then again by virtue of our baptism and rebirth in Christ are infinitely significant and ultimately special. Genuine humility actually recognizes this and genuine spirituality is a grateful response to it. 

I ask that you try to imagine how many people who were once catechized and inculturated to believe that vocations to the lay state were second or third class vocations and yearn to really serve God in a "special" way would welcome hearing from a lay hermit that they simply have to recognize the truth of their lives as they stand right now! During this year of Faith where we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Vatican II and renew our commitments to its achievements this could be quite a gift for you to bring to the Church and world in your own unique way! In fact, in a Church where we once again have a growing clericalism and similar forms of hardening elitism it may be a critical mission God has given you. At this point in time you are a lay hermit and nothing less!! It is a crucial vocation. Whatever the future holds for you in regard to canon 603, the only thing which can diminish this lay eremitical vocation is appreciating it inadequately and living it badly. I urge you to embrace it as an infinitely significant vocation and really make it your own.

I will respond to other parts of your email as time allows, especially to those parts which make observations based on the situation outlined in my post on the diocesan hermit in the Archdiocese of Boston. In the meantime I ask that you look again at earlier posts reiterating the significance of baptismal consecration.