31 December 2013

God directs the Course

Dear Sister, would you agree with what this lay hermit says about eremitical life? [[. . .  Hermit life is more than what one can describe or formulate. God directs the course, not the hermit nor any other. Some may remain in the mode of judging and criticizing, or setting forth how a hermit is, ought, should be or not. Only God knows; only God does. . . . .]]

Of course. In general I find the first statement to be true of any vocation. What the Church and theologians or those living various vocations describe are the general rudiments of something that is authentic and that the Church recognizes as such because it is modeled by many in her own tradition --- not least, in regard to the eremitical vocation, by John the Baptist and Jesus. I think it is always implicit (if not stated explicitly at many points along the way) that there is always an inner depth and breadth in every vocation which, because it is of God, cannot be completely comprehended by finite man nor adequately described. When we are speaking of contemplative vocations and especially of an eremitical vocation where the heart of the call is the life of one person with God alone I think this is even truer. There is a core which can never be completely charted or described, even, perhaps especially, by the hermit herself.

However, this does not mean that the rudiments cannot be described, nor the authenticity of the vocation determined by those who are knowledgeable and discerning. Today the Church deals with a number of aspirants to canon 603 life. Very few reach the point of being accepted for profession; the reasons for this are, in the main, good ones having to do with lack of formation or other preparation (by far the biggest issue), inadequate motivation, selfishness and individualism, unhealthy withdrawal from others, or other signs that the person does not grow in human wholeness or authentic holiness in a life of eremitical solitude. In other words, the inner core of the life leads to overt and unmistakable signs that the vocation is authentic and without these signs one can only conclude there is no vocation. Most of the time the Church requires that one live as a lay hermit for some years so that she may determine whether the person is progressing in her life with God in solitude. She is watching for the signs of growth in authentic love and holiness and generally she is mindful of the time this takes to become evident or discernible. The Church is charged by God with the mission of overseeing this vocation and keeping her finger on its pulse of both lay and consecrated hermits. Both can instruct the Church in this even as they must allow themselves to be instructed by the Church.

If the final comments you have cited mean that the vocation is between the hermit and God alone and no one else can judge or better, discern, the authenticity of the vocation, or if it means that one can live any isolated way at all and call that eremitical solitude, then I would disagree. Within the Church no vocation is between the person and God alone --- though ultimately they are between God and the person, of course. Every life lived in the Church, however, affects the Body of Christ itself and witnesses to others regarding the Gospel of God in Christ. Every life lived within the Church is lived for others and is shaped by an awareness of others and their needs --- something which is critically true of the hermit. No authentic eremitical vocation can ever forget that it is lived in and from and for the community of faith. This is especially true of ecclesial vocations but not only of them.

Throughout the history of eremitical life hermits desiring to do justice to God's own will and working in this matter have established criteria for discerning authentic expressions of the vocation. When the Church changed her requirements (and her theology) regarding frequency of reception of the Sacraments hermits like Paul Giustiniani decided solitary hermits living apart from the Church and her Sacraments were no longer legitimate expressions of the life. (Giustiniani decided lauras were by far the best solution for those desiring to live as hermits. St Francis came up with a different solution.) They did this as a matter of discernment, not arbitrary rule-making. Individual hermits back as far as the Desert Fathers and Mothers have been granted or deprived of the habit on the basis of the ways they are discerned to live their lives. Canon 603 today allows for solitary hermits once again and demonstrates a remarkable balance between non-negotiable elements and individual freedom; meanwhile dioceses work to discern authentic vocations which distinguish eremitical solitude from the many forms of life in isolation or physical solitude so common today.

It has really always been necessary to do this; the alternative is to carelessly allow anything at all to be called eremitical and completely empty the term of meaning. That would actually be a betrayal of the gift the Holy Spirit is bestowing on the Church and world in this vocation. It would, in other words, be a way of refusing to let God "direct the course" as the writer you cited put the matter precisely because it had ceased to be discerning.