15 April 2014

Can Dispensations From Eremitical Life be Avoided?

[[Dear Sister O'Neal, thank you for answering my question about dispensating (sic) a hermit's vows. Why would a hermit seek to have their vows dispensated (sic)? Is this something that can be avoided?]]

The main reason for seeking to have one's vows dispensed would be that the person has discerned that they are either not really or are no longer called to this vocation. I said in my earlier answer that many people don't understand the difference between being a lone pious person and living eremitical solitude. That, as I have written here before, is sometimes true of dioceses as well and this will mean that some of the professions they allow will not be sound. When this is true, when the person is not called to eremitical solitude but is a lone pious person, or when a person otherwise desires to be a religious but has been unable to make it in community and seeks to use canon 603 as a stopgap way to make vows, the incidence of needing to ask for an indult of dispensation will be higher --- at least if the person is honest about their discernment that they are not really living as a hermit.

Similarly, a person might be called to solitude as a transitional environment or reality. This means that they might believe they are called to be a hermit for the rest of their lives when in fact this is not the case. Dioceses that jump immediately to perpetual profession under canon 603 (something that was more common in the early years of the canon than it is today) may be setting the stage to find a person will need to have their vows dispensed in a few years. They may find the hermit living eremitical solitude less and less well as time goes by and when the situation is examined they will find the person feels increasingly called to more active ministry, greater frustration in solitude,  a slowing of personal growth in this vocation, etc. In such cases it may be hard for the hermit to admit she is really called to something else, to request a dispensation, and to leave the rights and obligations of the consecrated state. When this is the case the diocese and the hermit will need to work together to discern and make the best next step.

My sense is that some dioceses have not been careful enough in professing canon 603 hermits. They may not understand the history of the canon, they may not realize that eremitical solitude is not the same as simply living alone; others simply do not esteem the eremitical vocation and seek to use the canon to profess individuals who are not able (or are unwilling) to live religious life in community; they do this and allow a full-time active ministry to supplant eremitical solitude. Beyond this canon 603 does not specify a formation program, nor can it really do so since the formation of a hermit occurs in solitude and is individualized. Still, significant formation is necessary as is ongoing formation. The experience of successful hermits today will be able to assist dioceses in resolving the need for sound approaches to discernment,  formation, and readiness for vows. So will the experience of congregations who ordinarily require psychological assessments and sufficient recommendations to make sure the person is able to live eremitical solitude in the name of the Church.

Some of these situations can be avoided simply by understanding and truly esteeming the vocation itself. The eremitical life is a gift of the Holy Spirit, especially to the isolated who are reminded that the silence of solitude is possible as the redemption of isolation. When the vocation is esteemed and its charism understood, a diocese will take care to admit to profession only those persons whose vocation is clear. Dioceses will know that spending time in discernment will not hurt the vocation. The same is true of formation. When the vocation is genuine it will not hurt the candidate to spend time in formation and have profession located some years down the road. As I have noted here before, the diocese must be honest with the candidate and not merely stringing them along, but so long as everyone is honest with one another and are committed to the integrity of an eremitical vocation future dispensations can certainly be avoided as mature vocations are fostered. In other cases dispensations can be avoided by treating the solitary eremitical vocation as a second half of life vocation and asking young persons to pursue eremitical life in community. Similarly they can be avoided by making good choices regarding delegates, spiritual directors, by requiring regular meetings with these persons, and  the Bishop who has taken the time to get to know the hermit, as well as by providing resources for the hermit's growth in the vocation.