28 January 2013

On Hermits and Secular Vocations once again

[[Hi Sister Laurel, I like the idea of hermits living in the desert of the world and ministering to it fulltime. Think of all the hermits we would have if everyone living alone and ministering in the world were hermits! I don't see the conflict between  secularity and hermits. It just seems like a wide open field of mission for hermits.]]

Sorry, but your post made me laugh -- both because of your enthusiasm and because of your reference to the "wide open field" for secularity and mission. Generally hermits are not hunting for ministerial or mission opportunities; their hermitage and the silence of solitude they live within it represents both a significant ministry and mission already. Please take the time to read my earlier post on this (cf. Should Hermits Live Secular Lives?)  I don't want to repeat what I said there but I would like to build on it.

Of course there is no doubt that hermits are all capable of doing many forms of ministry.  For instance, I could be working full time in a parish or parish school, teaching theology in a college or graduate school, doing full time spiritual direction, working as a chaplain in a hospital or hospice, writing full time, besides varied part time ministries wherever needed to supplement these. (I should note that I would be VERY happy to be doing any of these things were I called to that.) Similarly, there is no doubt all these and many many more are worthy and necessary ministries. The problem is that hermits by definition are not called on to be involved in the world to anywhere near this extent nor is this kind of ministry the primary gift they are empowered by the Holy Spirit to bring to the world. You can therefore have people doing full time ministry in the way you envision it, or you can have those same persons (hermits) living the silence of solitude with all that entails, but not both. In other words as soon as a hermit leaves the hermitage/cell in the way you describe, they cease being hermits.

Similarly, a call to desert solitude means significant withdrawal from the world in all of its dimensions. Vows of Religious poverty, religious obedience, and consecrated celibacy significantly marginalize the hermit in terms of the world just as they do every other Religious, but additionally, the hermit is called to stricter separation from the world because she is called to the silence of solitude in a desert vocation. A desert vocation means a call in which one is dependent upon God alone (as far as that is possible today!). In such a vocation one faces the poverty of one's own self apart from God as well as the richness of life when God is allowed to be one's sole source of meaning and validation. Thus, one does not build oneself into the various dimensions the world offers as avenues of productivity, meaning, service, value, and security but instead trusts in God and witnesses to the wisdom of such trust in stricter separation from the world and the silence of solitude. This is the essence of the life; it is not optional nor accidental to it.

Obviously every vocation is lived on this planet and is, to some extent, in contact with and influenced by what happens there. However, simply being on the planet, or even in the neighborhood does not make a life or vocation secular in character. The Church does not use the term secular in this way in describing such a vocation. Thus, a monastery situated in an urban setting remains monastic and Religious rather than secular --- even when the neighborhood is invited in for prayer occasionally. A hermitage or hermit's cell located in an apartment complex in the midst of San Francisco does not make the vocation a secular one either.  Secularity is not merely a function of  one's street address. A cloistered nun may speak to the world powerfully precisely in her life of separation and prayer, silence, solitude, stability, and community. There is, of course an aspect of ministry to such a life and also a prophetic quality. Still, the life is not essentially ministerial in the way we usually use that term, nor is it secular or, thus, called secular by the Church. Were a cloistered nun to leave her monastery in order to engage in what is becoming known as a ministerial religious life (and even mobile ministerial life), she would simply cease being a cloistered nun in the process. In order to remain one thing and embrace the freedom which is pertinent to that thing, the nun gives up the freedom to be or do another thing. So too with the hermit.

Similarly, a person who is free to buy into and build themselves and their faith lives into all the dimensions of the world (economy, political realm, family, business or industry, etc etc) does not cease having a secular vocation because they choose to live simply or according to Kingdom values and the love of God. It is the person's essential freedom in these matters which mark them as secular. You, for instance, as a baptized Catholic (I am assuming this, I admit) are free to live a secular vocation in whatever way you desire. You can live simply or you can acquire and amass wealth in order to spend it on the needy, influence the way decisions are made in industry, politics, etc (or use it for any other worthy thing you choose); you can work for causes, travel to the four corners of the world spreading Gospel values, run for political office, help build industries that are, for instance, eco friendly and contribute to responsible stewardship of the world and generally put your life and your resources to whatever use you should choose according to the values that govern your life. In other words, precisely because you are called by God to a life which is NOT constrained by the kinds of limits and relationships implied in public vows/Religious life, you are secular and free to exercise your Baptismal consecration in almost unlimited ways by virtue and in terms of the saeculum (the world and things pertaining to the world).

A hermit is simply NOT free in any of those ways. Instead, she is profoundly free to explore the relationship of the human being with God. She is free to plumb the depths of this relationship in a way few others are.  In fact, she is called and commissioned to do so. Her public vows create significant constraints and marginalize her from secularity, but so do her Rule of Life, her relationships to legitimate superiors, the requirements of canon law, and her commitment to the silence of solitude. Friendships, time or contact with family, ability to travel, ministerial options, and many other things mentioned just above are significantly limited or even curtailed for the hermit.  Her vocation is not only NOT a secular one, it is more strictly separated from the world (or "the things of the world") than the vocations of most Religious men and women. Thus, the Church is clear this is NOT a secular vocation --- even in the case of a lay hermit. Of course this is not to say that it is superior to a secular vocation; it is not. It is what it is and that is Religious and eremitical rather than secular.

I sincerely hope this helps.