10 April 2013

Eremitical Life: Ecclesiality vs Individualistic Devotional Acts

[[Dear Sister Laurel, in your post on reservation of Eucharist you used the term "ecclesial" with regard to an "ecclesial vocation" differently than I have heard you do in the past. You therefore also seemed to me to be saying that the reservation of Eucharist functioned ecclesially for canonical hermits and CV's and anti-ecclesially for anyone taking Eucharist home as part of an individualistic devotional act. Can you say more about these two aspects of your post? Thank you.]]

Really excellent points and question! I think you must be referring first of all to my comment that the Eucharist must never become detached or separated off from the communal event which gives it meaning and that CV's and canonical hermits are generally sufficiently cognizant of the "ecclesiality" of their vocation to be aware of this danger. Please see Reservation of Eucharist by Hermits. (In the rest of this post I will speak only of canonical hermits, not CV's.) I think you are correct that I have not spoken of "ecclesial vocations" in quite this sense before although I believe it has been implicit in what I have said in the past. It has also been more explicitly approached in posts on the increased institutionalization of the eremitical vocation, the theology of Peter Damian and the nature of the hermit as "ecclesiola", and so forth. It is probably St Peter Damian's theology that most influences me here. As I wrote before while quoting him:

[[. . . Hermits know him best for a few of his letters, but especially #28, "Dominus Vobiscum". Written to Leo of Sitria, letter #28 explores the relation of the hermit to the whole church and speaks of a solitary as an ecclesiola, or little church. Damian had been asked if it was proper to recite lines like "The Lord Be With you" when the hermit was the only one present at liturgy. The result was this letter which explains how the church is wholly present in all of her members, both together and individually. He writes:

The Church of Christ is united in all her parts by the bond of love, so that she is both one in many members and mystically whole in each member. And so we see that the entire universal Church is correctly called the one and only bride of Christ, while each chosen soul, by virtue of the sacramental mysteries, is considered fully the Church. . . .From all the aforementioned it is clear that, because the whole Church can be found in one individual person and the Church itself is called a virgin, Holy Church is both one in all its members and complete in each of them. It is truly simple among many through the unity of faith and multiple in each individual through the bond of love and various charismatic gifts, because all are from one and all are one.

 . . . Because of this unity Damian notes that he sees no harm in a hermit alone in cell saying things which are said by the gathered Church. In this reflection Damian establishes the communal nature of the solitary vocation and forever condemns the notion that hermits are isolated persons.. . .]]

What this leads to is the notion that the hermit's hermitage or cell is an extension of the gathered Church and that whatever the hermit does there is meant to be this as well whether that is prayer or penance or work or even recreation. Mealtimes are meant to be reminders of Eucharist and are eaten prayerfully and with God and all those grounded in God. Everything that one does is meant to be prayed and that means it is meant to be empowered by God and undertaken mindfully in God's presence and for God's purposes.

It is a very challenging vocation in this sense and this is one of the reasons I wrote that mediocrity is the greatest danger to the hermit. In this context mediocrity means more specifically compartmentalizing one's life so that SOME things are prayed and other things are not; some things are specifically ecclesial (extensions of the reality of the gathered church) and other things are not and sometimes are, regrettably, even meant to be a respite from ecclesiality.  When I think about my vocation in this sense, a sense that corresponds to "praying always" or "being God's own prayer" I am also aware of how short of this goal and call I routinely fall. When I wrote that mediocrity is the greatest danger to the hermit or spoke of that in the podcast I did for A Nun's Life I was approaching this idea but hadn't really arrived yet. What I knew deep down was there was an all or nothing quality about eremitical life and for that reason mediocrity or "half-heartedness" (and here I mean the giving of only part of myself and praying only parts of my life) was an ever-present danger.

 In any case I also wrote here once that Abp Vigneron commented during the homily for my perpetual eremitical profession that I was "giving my home over to" this call and that it was only later that I realized how exactly right that was. The hermitage is literally an extension of my parish and diocesan (and universal!) church, as Peter Damian would have put it, an ecclesiola or "little church." It is not a place to be individualistic (though it IS a place to be truly individual with and in God) and when individualism creeps into things both the hermitage and my life ceases to be what it is meant to be. For this reason the reservation of the Eucharist here is undertaken  as a commissioned and ecclesial act and it is one that symbolizes (and challenges me to realize in every action and moment) the difference between a private home and a hermitage. It calls for a constant meditation on what it means to live in the Eucharistic presence but especially NOT as an instance of privatistic or individualistic devotion.  For this reason also you are exactly right when you say that reservation of Eucharist here is an ecclesial act rather than an anti-ecclesial act where one takes Eucharist home with them without being commissioned or even permitted to do so.

I have only just begun to explore this sense of ecclesiality in a conscious way, but I can see that it defines my sense of ecclesial vocation in ways I had not even imagined.  I have written a lot here in the past about ecclesial vocations partly because my first experience of appreciation for that concept changed everything for me. It was one of those earth-shaking insights I finally "got". When I write about canonical rights and obligations, canonical standing, or the relationships which obtain from these, I am trying (and not entirely succeeding myself) to go beyond what some perceive as legalism and point to this deeper reality of "ecclesiality". This is so because canon law points to this deeper ecclesial reality and is meant to protect and nurture it. Probably this is also a piece of why I get so irritated when some lay hermits disparage the place of canonical standing or law as one of merely "formal approval," "technicalities",  or even outright "legalism". They seem not to have a clue how it is canons (which are related to the Latin regula or Rule and serve as norms or measures of actions) actually function here or the way canon law serves to foster ecclesiality. Given the tension between individuality and individualism in eremitical life today (and in society as a whole!) I am freshly convinced of the providential nature of canon 603 and the role of Bp Remi De Roo in intervening at Vatican II as he did.

I do hope that this response is sort of helpful. I suspect (not least because of all the tangents I have been tempted to pursue in answering your question) that I will be writing about this topic in one way and another for a long time to come.