20 May 2014

Seeking Eremitical Consecration When one's Director Disagrees

[[Dear Sister, I am a lay person and would like to become canonically approved as a diocesan hermit but I am not sure my spiritual director thinks it is something I should go ahead with. I wouldn't want to go against his wishes in this. Do you have an opinion?]]

Thanks for your question and for waiting the past several days for an answer. First of all, petitioning for canonical standing (standing in law) means asking the Church to admit you to public profession and allow you to accept the public rights and obligations associated with the consecrated (and in this case, the eremitical) state of life. It means petitioning to be allowed to live eremitical life in the name of the Church and so, being publicly responsible not just for your own vocation, but for the living eremitical tradition as well.

If you are accepted and admitted finally to solemn (perpetual) profession and consecration as a diocesan (c 603) hermit, you become responsible for continuing this stream of the tradition in a normative way which allows an ancient vocation to be lived in inspired and fruitful dialogue with the contemporary situation;  again, you do so in the name of the Church. It is a significant public responsibility and while there is some degree of "approval" more fundamentally canonical standing is about being given a place of trust in the public (and the hidden) life of the Church. (By the way, this is also why only publicly professed hermits, whether those that live in community or those professed under c 603, are called Catholic hermits. The use of the term Catholic here points to the public, normative (canonical), and ecclesial nature of the vocation one has both been admitted to and assumed, not to the individual's membership in the RC Church.)

The language of "approval" as in "(a) canonical or bishop's (stamp of) approval" is therefore misleading and superficial in this regard and I would suggest you mainly avoid it. I have really only heard one other person use this language routinely and she did it mainly to trivialize the vocation and to criticize hermits who desire "status" and "approval" --- as though seeking canonical standing (standing in law) was merely (or mainly) a matter of personal aggrandizement or pride. A consistent theme in her posts and videos was a downplaying of the ecclesial nature and responsibility of the vocation in order to focus on more superficial notions of "status" (as prestige) and approval. Your own language reminds me of these posts in which the nature of canonical standing was so badly misrepresented so I want to address this issue as well as those you asked about specifically. In general this language represents a perspective which actually prevents one from understanding the nature and significance of this vocation as ecclesial or the real nature of standing in law.

Similarly, your post reminds me of this person's posts and videos in the way you speak of your spiritual director. In my experience competent contemporary directors do not assume the kind of responsibility you are describing. I know I do not, nor does my own director (as director) or any of those with whom I am familiar. I am not my clients' legitimate superior nor do I tell them what I think their vocation is. I may certainly have opinions about a person's readiness or lack of readiness to pursue a particular vocation but I do not tell them to either pursue or not pursue it. That is beyond my purview as a director and the directors I know feel the same way about this. More importantly, however, the fact that you are considering not exploring something you apparently feel called to because your SD may disagree with you about it may actually suggest that you are really not ready to pursue consecrated life generally or consecrated eremitical life specifically.

You see, this life is a mature and independent one where every day one is called on to listen to and follow the voice of God in one's heart of hearts. A director can accompany you in this and assist you in learning to hear and respond appropriately to this voice of God --- which is why you of course should listen carefully to what she has to say in this regard and pray seriously over her concerns --- but s/he cannot (and really should not) replace this entire dynamic by telling you what you should do. That way encourages a juvenile approach to life and discernment, not authentic or mature obedience. By the way, the relationship between a legitimate superior and one bound by a public vow of obedience is more complex than (on the subject's part) simply doing as one is told or (on the superior's part) simply telling someone to do things. Instead both parties are bound to listen closely to God's will in this person's life as well as in the life of the community, diocese, eremitical tradition, etc, and for that reason the vow means careful work together motivated by love in Christ. It is actually relatively rare today for a legitimate superior to simply tell a person bound by a public vow "what to do."

In any case bear in mind that simply petitioning to be admitted to canonical profession and eventual conse-cration does not mean this will happen. It means that you are seeking to enter into a process of mutual discernment with members of your local chancery, first Vicars and/or vocation personnel and then, if that goes well, the Bishop. (They will, of course, request a reference from your director and they might possibly seek her recommendation or at least listen to concerns she might have.) Because canon 603 life is an ecclesial vocation it is not one you can embrace all by yourself; neither does your own sense of call ensure a call exists nor therefore, that the diocese will agree in this matter. The discernment MUST be mutual and your diocese may decide to allow you to enter into such a process or they may determine that you are not ready to do this. They may even determine you are not suited to the vocation or they may actually be unwilling to profess anyone at this point in time. If you are admitted to a process of discernment which eventuates in profession and consecration, actual admission to even temporary vows is likely several years in the future -- so be prepared for that.

By the way, if your director is pretending to bind you in obedience or expects you to simply do as s/he says in the way you have described (since you are not a religious and since this person has no legitimate authority over you this can only be pretense) I would personally suggest you look for another director or, at the very least, see if the relationship cannot be significantly modified in this regard. I have never heard of competent contemporary directors relating to lay clients this way but I have sometimes heard directees speaking of their directors in these terms when those same directors really do not encourage it or relate to them in this way. While I am not saying you are doing this (I honestly don't know of course) it is important if you ever want to be a diocesan hermit that you have internalized a truly adult model of obedience and ways of relating to authority in your life --- legitimate and otherwise. Because diocesan hermits' legitimate superiors are their Bishops it is really unusual for them to meet with one another more than twice a year at most. Once a year is much more typical so one can hardly "wait for permission," or "wait to hear what he thinks" until one sees her Bishop. To assist in this situation diocesan hermits tend to have diocesan delegates with whom we meet more frequently (four to six times a year or so as possible); these persons serve as quasi-superiors but they also tend not to encourage the hermit to turn to them for permissions or approval, for instance, except in very occasional and significant matters.