04 April 2013

Difficult Questions When Dioceses Decline to Profess

[[Sister Laurel, I desire with all my heart to give my life and love to God and God's Church as a diocesan hermit, but my diocese will not agree to profess me. I am certain being a canonical hermit is the will of God but the diocese doesn't want me. Why would they reject me and my desire this way? It wouldn't really hurt anyone or anything to let me make vows and live alone in my hermitage. I am so devastated and confused!!]] (Used by specific request.)

Hi there,
I know, to some extent, how badly you may desire this, and I also know (again to some limited extent) how it feels to be told that there will be no profession. I cannot presume to know the specific reasons your diocese decided not to admit you to profession and consecration as a diocesan hermit, but the general reason presumably has to do with their discernment that you do not have this particular vocation, at least not at this time. I do not know what you were told specifically, but if questions remain regarding the reasons for this decision, I would certainly suggest you ask whomever you dealt with at your chancery for details of their determination. This can help you come to terms with the decision and the meaning it has for you personally. Despite what I just said about their decision's presumable reason, some reasons will reflect on you personally or your vocation itself, while others may not do so at all.

For instance, if your diocese does not have diocesan hermits, it may be they are not open to professing anyone at this point. The same could be true if they have professed individuals in the past and run into problems with those hermits. Such reasons would not reflect on you particularly and might not really challenge your own discernment in this matter. On the other hand, and also not reflecting too much on your own discernment here, it may be that there is something lacking in your formation or preparation which you can remedy. For instance, perhaps you need more time living as a lay hermit as a period of discernment, or greater grounding in the vows, theology of eremitical life, etc. Perhaps you have not worked regularly with a competent spiritual director long enough or need other initially formative experience still (formation is life-long but there is a degree which must be achieved before one's diocese will be able to see you as someone truly called to a life of the silence of solitude, much less a good candidate for profession). All of these kinds of things are remediable; they are also essential elements of the life itself so going about taking care of them is important to living an eremitical life --- whether you are to eventually be professed or not.

Some decisions are more personally oriented but are still not rejections of you yourself. For instance, the diocese might want to see you doing personal or inner work they feel is necessary before you or anyone can be publicly professed. And too, there is the very real possibility that your diocese simply has determined you yourself are not truly called in this way by God for any number of reasons, despite your own conviction otherwise. Such a determination would require you to try to get your own mind and heart around the decision and move on in whatever way you can do that. If you should decide to request an explanation, you should be sure you are prepared to hear the true basis for the decision, but knowing the reasons for the decision can assist you in further discernment regarding precisely where and to what God is calling you.

I strongly encourage you to NOT see this decision as a personal rejection of your life and your love, as you put it. The diocese has not rejected you, but instead they have determined this particular vocational path is not where God is calling you at this point in time. In ecclesial vocations an individual alone CANNOT discern such a vocation with certainty. We can feel very sure ourselves, but until and unless the Church mediates this call to us, we cannot say with any certainty that we have this calling. This is different from a call to marriage, for instance, which is up to the individual persons to discern, or from other lay vocations where the individual does the same. An ecclesial vocation gives the person the right and responsibility to live this out in the name of the Church. It is a public vocation with mutual rights and responsibilities, not a private one which the Church simply recognizes in some way but then leaves completely alone as a private undertaking.

Another part of this that is not too well understood by most Catholics, then, is that the Church is responsible for protecting and nurturing the eremitical vocation itself, not just the individual's call. The vocation itself is entrusted to her, and not only to an individual. Related to this is the fact that hermits do not live their lives for themselves alone. Even in their essential hiddenness the hermit's life impacts others, is meant for the salvation of others and the praise of God. For these reasons too the Church has to be sure that the persons they admit to public profession are truly called to this by God. In fact, everyone in the Church has a right to certain expectations of those who are publicly professed and/or consecrated.

This is especially true of the hermit's parish and diocese by the way -- even though the vocation is an essentially hidden one. After all, it is still one where the person must proclaim the Gospel with her life. (Hermits do interact with their parishes and dioceses, but I suspect that even if the only time fellow parishioners see us is at Sunday Mass, they will be able to tell whether we live and love our vocations and the God who is their source.) We cannot live out vocations we are not called to, and we certainly cannot do so whole-heartedly or joyfully --- much as we might desire to do so --- for living them out well and joyfully is a function of grace, not simply a matter of our own will and effort. For all these reasons the Church must be convinced the person has such a call and shows the capacity to live it out with integrity and faithfulness in a way which gives evidence that God is clearly at work in her, making whole and sanctifying.

Perhaps God is calling you to lay eremitical life. It is and has been a significant vocation now and through history -- and is in every way a gift to the Church and world. The desert Abbas and Ammas are the lay forerunners of most of the hermits that have ever lived in the Church. (Religious hermits are a clear minority in this history, and diocesan hermits are hardly 30 years old.) Another possibility is that perhaps God desires you to use this period of solitude as a transitional one in which you can do some of the personal work we all ordinarily have trouble finding time and space for. Moving through an extended period of solitude to greater wholeness and apostolic activity is a quite usual and significant part of desert spirituality; it would not be surprising for this to be the case and it could be truly edifying for the Church as a whole. What is without doubt is that God is calling you to follow him. He does not reject us or our love. He does not spurn any offer to give ourselves to and for him. Even when the Church makes mistakes in her own discernment (though I am not suggesting this either is or is not the case here), God continues to call us to greater generosity and faithfulness, and also greater creativity and perseverance. Vocational paths change, the call to full and authentic humanity in union with God does not.

I hope some of this helps more than it adds to your pain. I wish you the best in coming to terms with this decision and what it means for you in the future. I also hope your continuing work with your spiritual director supports and assists you in this whole process of transition and continuing discernment.