09 October 2012

The Importance of the Lay Eremitical Vocation, Followup Questions

[[Sister Laurel, 
      is there some way to live as a lay hermit and ALSO do so, as you put it, 'in the name of the Church'? One of the problems I have is that the Church does not seem to know lay hermits exist. I don't think it is a vocation that is regarded by the Church. I guess I am asking if there is a way to avoid all the institutional red tape and requirements of canon 603 and also have the Church really CARE about lay hermits! It seems to me if the Church  herself really esteemed lay hermits it would be a lot easier for people to accept that maybe this is what they are called to.]]

I think these are really excellent questions! My response to the first one is, unfortunately, no, I don't think there is any way to live this "in the name of the Church" in the sense of a special commissioning and consecration. But one still lives it by virtue of one's baptism and that particular commissioning  ---  that is, one lives it in light of the rights and obligations granted by baptism and so, one will be a part of exploring a contemporary form of life in the tradition of the desert Fathers and Mothers. 

If one really wants to live the eremitical vocation per se "in the name of the Church" then one should pursue Canon 603 profession and consecration. I personally chose to do so especially because I thought the way God had worked in my own life added something special to the witness to the silence of solitude, namely, the redemption of the isolation related to chronic illness, and other similar situations. This was something I felt needed to be witnessed to in the Church in a more official way. Without public vows I felt somewhat "unfree" in this regard. I also chose to do so because I had lived vowed life and desired to continue living vows I had come to love but to do so now in a solitary
eremitical context. Without these two reasons I could have lived as a lay hermit without any substantive difference between that life and the one I live now. The presence of these two particular reasons suggested to me that God was calling me to pursue Canon 603 profession and consecration for  reasons that had nothing to do with status nor with believing it was a "higher vocation," or something similar.

Your desire to avoid all the red tape of Canon 603 is understandable. Many lay hermits object to the various requirements, time frames, discernment processes, supervision, and other things that seem to them to constrict the degree of freedom they need within their lives. Although I don't agree with them in this I can understand their point of view. What seems to be important in your questions and desires is for the Church to really esteem the lay eremitical vocation. The question is how does one achieve this? The problem is that there is a bit of a vicious circle here, namely, lay persons won't generally embrace eremitical life unless the Church esteems it and at the same time the Church will not esteem it in more than principle if folks are not living it in exemplary ways. So who breaks the stalemate? It has to be lay hermits --- just as was the case for those desiring the eventual promulgation of canon 603. After all, the Church officially esteems both lay life and the eremitical life; she stresses the freedom and responsibility of lay persons to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit in living out their vocations. She is open to seeing how lay vocational experiments really work and has learned important lessons from the desert Fathers and Mothers, so what more encouragement do lay hermits need?

A lay hermit could well live an eremitical life in the midst of her parish. She could reflect on the life, its significance, nature, etc and write about that. She could contribute on the parish or diocesan levels or she could begin a blog and write about the eremitical life, the importance of its counter-cultural witness and the ways she personally lives it out. And of course, she could be an encouraging and even inspiring presence to those in their parishes that had to live some forms of isolated existence due to illness, age, or other problematical circumstances. This could include modeling significant ways to live the evangelical counsels as all baptized are called to do even though the person does not have public vows and it might even include demonstrating the importance of a Rule of Life for any person attempting to live a truly Gospel life. All of this and more could be done better than a canonical hermit might well be able to do because the diocesan hermit is (or is often perceived to be) distanced to some extent by virtue of her canonical standing. What is important is that this be a true lay life lived from the graces of baptism in ways which speak profoundly and powerfully to every segment of the Church. it would be a vocation which had listened attentively to Vatican II's teaching on the laity (Apostolicam Actuositatem) and on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes) and addressed the necessary contemplative dimension of implementing these documents in the contemporary church and world.

If persons in the lay state of life could do this and effectively accent the generosity and love which compelled them to live this vocation, they would also go a long way to free the notion of eremitical life from stereotypes and distortions. Their lives would also underscore the notion that religious are not called to a higher form of holiness than the laity, and that contemplative life and some degree of the silence of solitude is important, indeed, foundational to all states of Christian life. Finally, if lay persons could do this they would go a long way towards assisting the whole Church to realize the goals and values of Vatican II. The hierarchy would come to appreciate the vocation and, more to the point perhaps, pastors would begin encouraging the (at least experimental) living of it in those they felt or even suspected were called to it.