15 October 2012

Rejecting Eremitical Vocations vs Creating Readiness for Eremitical Vocations

[[Dear Sister Laurel,
      it seems to me that if Dioceses don't agree that Diocesan Hermit candidates have adequate formation then they should just not profess them until they HAVE adequate formation.  I mean that doesn't seem like rocket science to me! Also how can they simply make a blanket judgment against the vocation itself? So what is the diocesan responsibility in forming diocesan hermits? Is it really possible for solitary hermits to get sufficient formation themselves with a bit of help from a spiritual director? Thank you.]]

Well, I think you have hit the nail on the head here. Reaching the conclusion you have is not rocket science, is it? First, a diocese is not actually responsible for forming a hermit; they are primarily about discerning the nature and quality of the vocation present before them. However, if a diocese believes the person requires more formation before being admitted to profession, they do need to work with resources available to the hermit to help her determine a plan so that she can get this formation. Thus, a diocese needs to be specific with the individual involved with regard to what areas in which she is deficient , what kinds of things would help with these, and so forth. The reference to needed formation cannot be vague nor can it replace actual discernment on the reality of the vocation itself. For instance, it is not okay to make an aspirant for profession jump through a number of formative hoops if the diocese has already determined she is not called to be a diocesan hermit and will not be admitted to profession. The only way this could work is if the diocese is honest with the person, says they are truly open to seeing things in a new way once the formation issues are taken care of, and then follows through with that.

It is true that sometimes elements in formation can clarify areas of the candidate's life which have caused questions about the reality or nature of a vocation, but in such cases the candidate must know that admission to profession is in serious doubt and that while further formation may assist in clarifying matters and even help take care of areas which lead to doubt, at the same time they may not change the doubtfulness. Honesty and good faith communication is imperative in such instances. Dioceses have not always been good at achieving this kind of openness in communication.  A candidate must agree to get the formation they need --- especially since they bear the brunt of any expense or time commitment required.

How can dioceses make such blanket judgments against vocations per se? Excellent question but not one for which there is a single answer. Some Vicars for Religious (few I hope!), for instance, do not value the contemplative life; if this is so, eremitical life will seem even less valuable. Some Vicars and even Bishops may have seen abuses of canon 603 and have been put off by these. Some dioceses realize that, despite the fact that dioceses do not form hermits, working with hermit candidates involves a long-term commitment to the person as well as a kind of patience and expertise their usual work may not require. They may not be up to that for a single vocation which is rare and seemingly not very fruitful or contemporary. Also, the process of discernment here involves a life with which few Vicars or even Bishops are really familiar in any meaningful sense at all. It is not uncommon for the same stereotypes which plague the world at large in regard to hermits to also plague chancery staff. Some dioceses may indeed have had several poor candidates show up at the chancery door looking for a sinecure, or may even have professed someone and had it turn into a nightmare for everyone involved. Communities have ways of socializing (forming) and supervising members at least partly simply by living with them and also may ask them to leave before perpetual vows. With hermits and consecrated virgins the same safeguards do not exist so the diocese itself needs to be patient and careful over a longer period of discernment.

If a hermit is admitted too soon to perpetual or even temporary profession, especially if the diocese doing so has not confirmed the adequacy of formation (or don't even know how to do so), if the diocese has insufficient knowledge of the eremitical tradition and life,  or if they are unwilling to invest (and demand) the appropriate time for the formation of a solitary eremitical vocation (which the hermit herself must secure), then the eremitical vocation itself is endangered. In such cases I would say better there be NO professions than bad ones. Even so, a blanket refusal to profess anyone is obviously not optimal or even acceptable in the face of canon 605 (which requires Bishops be attentive to new forms of consecrated life) and the movement of the Holy Spirit with regard to true vocations. There are sound solitary eremitical vocations in a number of countries; dioceses must become aware of that and learn from them. Meanwhile, solitary hermits have gotten the formation they have needed to live this life --- and most have done it "on their own" with assistance and mentoring they themselves have acted to include in their lives. Most of the time diocesan hermits are partly formed in religious life and only late discovered a call to solitary life. Still, while it is a longer and more difficult process for those who have no background in religious life, it is generally possible for individuals to come to all that is necessary to live this life by themselves with the assistance of a director and an openness to doing what is necessary to learn and grow theologically, spiritually, and humanly.

What is at least equally essential however, is that dioceses themselves become educated in regard to the eremitical life (especially the solitary eremitical life). They must, for instance, know the difference between a hermit and a pious person who lives alone; they must have done some work in jettisoning the common stereotypes associated with the term "hermit" --- but also be proficient in spotting those same stereotypes when they show up in a candidate who has just arrived on the chancery doorstep. They must have a sense that hermits are created by time as well as by and for  the  silence of solitude and be able to allow those to do their work in a candidate's life. They must have a sense of the normally extended time frame for moving through a discernment process and not be tempted to ignore it --- an act which disrespects the vocation and fails to act with charity towards the candidate. Finally they must understand the central elements of Canon 603, especially the silence of solitude and its function as charism of the eremitical life. As already noted, bishops are called and canonically required to be aware of and foster new forms of consecrated life. While it is a serious commitment in time given the rarity of these vocations, chancery personnel (Bishops, Vicars for Religious or Consecrated Life, Vocations directors, etc) must foster a readiness to patiently discern and assist such vocations instead of simply rejecting their possibility out of hand.