12 August 2013

What if a Diocese is Unwilling to "Help With Formation"?

[[Sister Laurel, I think your idea about formation as a process worked out with one's diocese sounds good. It gives me a way to think about structuring my own approach to personal formation, but I really don't think my own diocese would do this. I have heard stories that people who would like to become c 603 hermits can't even get appointments to talk about the matter with the Bishop. One person said they were told to just go off and live in solitude, it was all he needed. How would a candidate, assuming one can even become one, say to diocesan personnel, "I would like formation as a hermit?"]]

Thanks for your questions. I have heard similar stories and talked about the "just go and live in solitude. . ." comment before. (Given the frequency it is referred to, it seems to actually be becoming something of an urban legend today which people use to suggest dioceses are unwilling to profess anyone under canon 603 more than something actually occurring in many different dioceses.) Even so, which ever the case, depending on the candidate and the motivation of the person making the comment, it can be either disingenuous and evasive or the wisest most prudent piece of advice one can hear.  For most inquirers who may have lived alone, but never lived any time in real solitude, this is precisely what they need to be told. It is the contemporary version of the desert Fathers': " remain in your cell and your cell will teach you everything." Thus, one needs more information before one can conclude, for example, that a diocese is simply unwilling to deal with possible vocations to canon 603 life.

Regarding getting an appointment with the Bishop, what is generally true, at least in larger dioceses, is that an inquirer regarding canon 603 is not apt to speak to the Bishop until the Vicar for Religious or Consecrated Life actually reaches a place where they will recommend the person for profession. This usually takes several years at least and a Rule which passes canonical and spiritual muster. Then things move to the Bishop and he will meet with the candidate, get to know her, read what she has written, and consider whether, at this point in time, this is a good thing for the diocese. I think that too often inquirers reading "under the supervision of the diocesan Bishop" expect, unrealistically, that he will be intimately involved with them right from the beginning. As in many things with regard to this canon, this is not at all likely.

Another unreasonable expectation is that a diocese will "form one" as a hermit. Because that expectation is repeated all the time, and because I have been asked about it myself a number of times, let me make one point really clear: the formation I have spoken of here is primarily up to the hermit's initiative and occurs mainly in the silence of solitude. I have not talked about a formation "program" a diocese administers because I don't think it is feasible with this vocation. It is also usually not possible for diocesan personnel even when they have expertise in formation to religious life. Presuming the person may even have had no formation in religious life (the majority of folks approaching dioceses today fall into this category), what I have tried to outline is an approach to a process of necessary growth and maturation in the eremitical life which builds on the actual canonical requirement that a hermit writes a Rule prior to profession, and (implicitly) that this is necessarily a livable Rule based on eremitical experience and growth. At every point the responsibility for growth (continued formation) is the hermit candidate's. She will work out what is needed with the help of her director and with occasional assessments by diocesan personnel. What she will not do, especially if she understands the vocation, is approach a diocese telling them she would like "formation as a hermit."

Bear in mind that there are a number of reasons dioceses don't have c 603 hermits. These include unsuitable inquirers, unfamiliarity with the vocation (on the part of both diocesan personnel and inquirers) or a similar failure to esteem it (for instance, some dioceses consider it refers to something other than a true vocation, while some do not esteem even contemplative life adequately), as well as uncertainty as to how to effectively implement the canon --- including uncertainty as to how one can work with a person over an extended period of time to assist her growth and to discern the possibility of an eremitical vocation without  on the one hand promising or implying that the person will be professed and on the other hand without simply "stringing her along" fruitlessly.

One of the primary legitimate reasons dioceses tell inquirers to just go off and live in solitude is precisely because folks interested in canon 603 may be interested in becoming a "religious" but are seeking to use canon 603 as a stopgap to that when other avenues are not open to them or when they are merely using canon 603 to escape the demands of life in community. These folks tend not to have EVER lived in genuine solitude and believe that simply being alone in a dwelling is eremitical solitude. It is not. Another reason some inquirers hear this is because diocesan staff know that solitude (which implies life with God alone) is the primary formator in the hermit's life. A third reason is because they feel wholly unable to deal with this canon or to recognize a good candidate for solitary eremitical life. (One may be a good candidate for religious life, but not for eremitical life; similarly, simply because one cannot join a community does NOT mean they are called to eremitical life.)

What I am getting to in this abbreviated listing is that the kind of process I have outlined in the past several posts can help a diocese learn about the eremitical vocation firsthand and provides for an intelligent and truly mutual discernment process. At the same time it can assist an individual negotiate all the tensions, growth, and transitions necessary if they are EVER to be someone who lives in, out of, and toward the silence of solitude --- and then, if this is where discernment leads, if she is to be professed for life as a diocesan hermit. It provides structure geared towards to hermit's growth which will not be onerous to the diocese, and it provides a means to protect and nurture the responsible, attentive, freedom and discipline eremitical life demands.

Finally, the "process" I have outlined is specifically keyed to the requirements and presuppositions implied by the origins of canon 603; it allows one to become a person whose life is truly defined by the terms of that canon. Whether one proceeds to public profession under canon 603.2 or remains a lay hermit living the essential elements of 603.1 this process should be helpful with both discernment and formation. Because canon 603 cannot be implemented the way formation in religious life is usually implemented (one cannot simply become a postulant, a novice, and in a year or two, become temporary professed), and because dioceses do not always have a "process" or "protocol" to follow in dealing with inquirers seeking to DISCERN a vocation to canon 603 life with the diocese itself, were you to outline and suggest such a process to them, you might in fact, find they are receptive.