22 January 2013

If secularity is good for CV's, perhaps Diocesan Hermits Should Live Secular Lives

Dear Sister, one CV pointed out the following; [[I personally think Diocesan hermits who are not confined to Solitary life due to Illness , would be a gift to the Church and world by considering how to live the Silence of Solitude in the deserts of the world , by striving to be the only Christian Presence in atheistic or post-christian environments. IN FACT THE CHURCH AND THE DESERTS OF THE WORLD 'NEED' THE PRESENCE OF CHRISTIAN SOLITARIES AND DIOCESAN HERMITS. If CV who are an Image of the Entire Church who is the bride of Christ , ought to wholeheartedly embrace their secularity in the spirit of Vatican Council II , I'm sure that religious and hermits are also called to embrace a different form of separation from the world of power , economics etc. by living really among the poor of the world , incarnating themselves among the powerless and oppressed of the world.]] I am sure her point was that just serving others in the secular world does not mean CV's are secular themselves but I thought the post a bit snarky. Will you respond to it?

Thanks for emailing this to me. I don't know if the intention was to be snarky; I thought she could have been presenting an unnuanced or non-paradoxical version of the theology of eremitical life I have already laid out here many times in reference to Merton's talk of  redeeming the "unnatural solitudes" of modern slums, for instance. However, I have already responded to it. Here is the post I put up on Phatmass.

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Your post points to a perennial temptation for hermits: the desire to exchange eremitical solitude for a kind of ministry folks recognize as fruitful when they fail to see the pastoral fruitfulness or ministerial capacity of solitude itself. The desert Fathers and Mothers have several stories about this temptation. It is always hard to discern between two goods --- in this case the need to leave one's solitude and minister to atheists more directly or publicly (here meaning out in the open) -- or to do this with anyone else, really --- vs the need to maintain custody of the cell, for instance. This temptation can be even more keen if one came to eremitical solitude by way of chronic illness or has education and training the world seems badly in need of. However, because something is beneficial does not mean it is beneficial in the way God wills nor is it the only way we determine a vocation's charism. At the same time, if we are trying to determine if and in what way a vocation is a gift to Church and World, we must look at the benefits it represents pastorally. This is certainly part of the equation  --- but only part. My own sense (and the sense of the Church) is that eremitical solitude is profoundly ministerial all by itself and the need for this ministry (which is NOT usually exercised directly, person to person) is at crisis proportions in today's world.

Inner AND Outer solitude:

Unfortunately, the call to the silence of solitude (eremitical solitude) requires not just an inner solitude of the heart, but an external one as well. In any case, most diocesan hermits ARE already living their vocations in what Merton called the "unnatural solitudes" of urban settings, etc. We are present in our separation and embrace both dimensions (separation and a paradoxical presence) so that separation might be redeemed not only in our own lives but especially in those of persons isolated for any reason whatever. Our lives say that authentic solitude is not mere isolation; they witness instead to the transfiguration and redemption of isolation through participation in God's love. For a multitude of people (the chronically ill, isolated elderly, bereaved, prisoners, etc) especially need the witness hermits provide by the redemption of physical separation and its transformation into inner solitude and presence precisely in one's separation. In other words hermits ARE profoundly present and related to others but it is a paradoxical presence and relatedness achieved in separation and symbolized by prayer. THAT is the primary way hermits are called to minister in the Church.

When I wrote earlier that no matter how good making the eremitical vocation a secular one might seem, it is still contrary to the essential nature of the life and cannot be embraced without betraying the very nature of the vocation, this is what I was referring to. My own vocation speaks to everyone about the need for authentic solitude (a unique form of dialogue or communion) in a balanced life but it speaks especially vividly to those who are physically and often psychologically isolated and need to know their situations can be redeemed and made meaningful --- even if the physical separation of those lives cannot be changed. What makes my own life ministerial is its separation --- but only as a transfigured separation which witnesses not only to the truth that God alone is enough for us, but to my own profound paradoxical relatedness to everything in God. Thus my life does not minister to the world in the way many others do, but it ministers profoundly and uniquely in its "silence of solitude". It speaks to the fear of solitude which is rampant today, to contemporary isolation, to our phobia for silence and our inability to find life meaningful unless it is productive in all the ways the world demands (including a kind of ministerial activism which many cannot participate in), and especially to the human fulfillment and relatedness to all of creation each person can only find in God.

The Church Defines Eremitical Life as non-secular and CV's living in the world as secular vocations

The point you are missing is that the Church very clearly defines the eremitical vocation as non-secular (and this is true whether we are speaking of lay or consecrated hermits) because this is its very nature. Not only does canon 603 state that non-negotiable foundational elements of the life include "stricter separation from the world" and "the silence of solitude," but in the Rite of Profession this is underscored by the Bishop's questions about readiness to embrace not merely an inner solitude but an external one as well. It is underscored by the vow formula which includes a statement that one earnestly desires to accept and live the grace of solitary eremitical life and it is underscored by clothing the hermit with the cowl besides the habit as a prayer garment which sets apart. It is framed by public vows which separate from the world of power, prestige, economics, and relationships along with a Rule of life which spells out the way this intense non-secularity is lived daily.

 It is underscored by an essential "hidden(ness) (CCC) from the eyes of men" and a process of discernment and personal formation which MUST include the transition from living merely as an isolated person to being a hermit living the silence of solitude itself BEFORE one is admitted to vows of any sort. Meanwhile CV's consecrated under canon 604 are women "living in the world", that is women living secular lives. This form of consecrated life eschews all the things which set such a woman apart from others also living secular lives except consecration which radically transfigures her secularity even as it calls for it. CV's living in the world are thus called to be apostles to the world in the things of the Spirit and the things of the world. Just as I cannot alter the nature of a vocation in which God makes my separation fruitful or calls hermits to live such a fruitful separation, CV's living in the world cannot change the way God makes their secularity distinctly fruitful or calls them to allow him to do so --- at least not without betraying the very call God has mediated to them via the Church.

No Hermit is "confined to solitude due to illness"

By the way, no diocesan hermit is "confined to solitude due to illness". That puts the cart before the horse and mistakes the defining element of the life as the isolation of illness rather than the relatedness of solitude. Chronic illness may be one of the reasons some of us find ourselves isolated from and out of sync with the world around us, but actual solitude is a good deal more than this and it is freely chosen. It is solitude which defines our lives, not illness, as you at least imply in this passage. Solitude is a living reality witnessing to the love of God made fruitful in isolation and to isolation transfigured and made fruitful in the love of God and of others. We may begin to consider that we are called to a life of eremitical solitude in part because of chronic illness (as I myself did), but that is only the very first part of discerning an actual call; a call to eremitical solitude is never merely the result of one's illness any more than living a relatively pious life alone is automatically the same as "the silence of solitude" or being a hermit.