08 January 2013

Radical Secularity?

[[Dear Sister O'Neal, you disagree that CV's wearing veils, embracing lives which are more like those of religious than not, etc is a more radical form of the CV life for women living in the world. How can secularity be a radical call? Why wouldn't those things indicate a more radical discipleship than secularity?]]

 I am posting a copy of a piece I already wrote, and which you may have seen (it's one of the pieces which was criticized for nitpicking and hairsplitting). The basic idea is that we ALL live a radical discipleship wherever we are called to do that. Radical means at the root; the location is far less important in determining radicality than wholeheartedness or thoroughgoingness. CV's living in the world and called to be apostles in the things of both spirit and world are called to live this radicality in the world, the saeculum. Here is the piece; if it is what raised your questions and so, actually leaves them unanswered, then please get back to me:

Personally, I don't think what is being suggested by those who seek to make c 604 into a quasi-religious vocation is a more radical way of living out consecrated virginity in the world, but instead, a less radical way. Distinctive garb and religious vows for the CV called to secularity are ways of separating oneself from the everyday world in which one is called to live out one's vocation. This is especially true of  religious obedience which frames one's freedom in ways which restrict or mitigate one's secularity, but it is true of religious poverty as well. What seems far more radical to me is living a completely secular life but as a consecrated person; in other words, it is a sacred secularity which one is called to live radically, not a vocation which is neither wholly secular nor wholly religious.

While consecration under c 604 sets one apart FOR and to God, it does NOT set one apart FROM the world. One is not meant to be OF the world in the sense 1 John uses the term so often, of course; instead one is of God and set apart FOR God, but one is absolutely called to live this vocation IN the world and in the things of the world, not in stricter separation from it as religious and hermits are called to. A passage from the homily of the Rite of Consecration of Virgins Living in the World reads: [[Never forget that you are given over entirely to the service of the Church and of all your brothers and sisters. You are apostles in the Church and in the world, in the things of the Spirit and in the things of the world.]] (emphasis added). As I have noted in the past, NO religious has ever been told they are apostles "in the things of the world"!

Vatican II worked very hard to be sure that lay persons understood theirs was not an entry level vocation, not second class, and similarly that the secular world was not to be despised but embraced for its truest potential and transformed into (or allowed to be) the sacrament of God it was made to be. While secularism is not a good thing (this essentially asserts the secular is the ultimate value and reality), the secular itself and thus the ordinary life we call secular, as God reminds us in Genesis, are essentially VERY good and holy indeed. Consecrated virgins living in the world are called upon to live out this truth as exhaustively as possible and summon lay persons to do the same in their own state of life.

I personally can't think of a calling which is more challenging than a radical living out of one's secular vocation in a way which allows the secular to be every bit as sacred as it is meant to be. Religious are separated from aspects of secular life by their vows, and in many cases, by distinctive garb. (The vow of poverty separates them from the economic dimensions of the secular world in some ways, obedience separates them from the world of secular power and influence and, as noted above, asks them to exercise freedom differently, while consecrated celibacy separates them from many of the relationships and social obligations which are part and parcel of secular life.) They are actually prohibited from taking a full part in secular life canonically. CV's consecrated under canon 604 are not only called to take a full part in secular life, but to do so in a way which calls it to become completely and exhaustively the realm of the sovereign God. Theirs is a witness  which is at once radically holy and radically secular. I would argue anything which mitigates or compromises the sharpness of this paradox is actually less radical than the vocation calls for.

[Regarding flexibility vs making of canon 604 something it is not because there are supposed lacunae in the canon itself]: In my own life I am certainly free to discover the shape of contemporary eremitical life as our Church and world needs it. The canon that governs my life itself gives me that right and obligation by demanding a specific combination of non-negotiable elements and the Rule which the hermit herself writes. The Fathers who created this canon allowed for that freedom and flexibility, of course. However, they did not allow me to neglect or compromise the essential nature of either the eremitical or the solitary eremitical vocation in doing so. I am responsible not only for my own vocation, but for the eremitical vocation itself (and more specifically, the solitary eremitical vocation).

Thus, when the Church defines it as one of "stricter separation from the world" and (sometimes) marks that with distinctive garb and a prayer garment (cowl, etc), frames and structures it with vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, defines it more clearly with a prohibition of community life (lauras are different than cenobitical life), and with functional cloister and diocesan stability (diocesan hermits cannot move to another diocese without the permission of both current and receiving Bishops), I cannot simply relinquish all of these and turn it into a secular vocation because I might personally feel called to this in some way or because (rightfully) either a secular or cenobitical religious vocation too seem very good to me. My experimentation and discernment have definite limits because of the solitary eremitical NATURE of my vocation, no matter what the Fathers failed to say in their deliberations on establishing this vocation in the 20th Century. I suggest the same is true of canon 604.