23 May 2014

Thanks for Explaining the Pastoral reasons for Canonical Standing

[[Dear Sister O'Neal, thank you for explaining the PASTORAL reasons for canonical standing. Does keeping the seriousness of all this in mind help you to live your vocation? I would think it must. Is it your position that canonical standing is necessary to live a good eremitical life? You mention lay hermits but since you emphasize the pastoral importance of canonical standing I wonder if you believe it is really possible to live as a lay hermit.]]

Yes, keeping the public and especially the ecclesial nature of this vocation in mind (two dimensions of its serious-ness) is a great help to me in persevering in this vocation. Don't get me wrong, I love this call and every day I thank God for gifting me with it but it is not always an easy thing to be faithful to. For instance, as I have written before it is not always easy to discern what expressions of ministry are appropriate. Sometimes I would like to withdraw in more selfish ways than might be healthy or called for by eremitical anachoresis itself but the ecclesial nature of my vocation and the canonical nature of my commitment help me to recognize and resist this temptation. Other times I might desire to minister in some active way which might not be what is best for the vocation more generally or I might be inclined to spend time outside the hermitage in ways which draw me out of the silence of solitude; again, the ecclesial and canonical nature of my commitment assists me to be true to both myself and my call. Because I am not in this alone, because I am responsible in a public way for this vocation, because I have legitimate superiors (or quasi superiors!) and others (parishioners, pastor, friends, Sisters) who are also responsible in varying ways and degrees and to whom I can turn for assistance and support, living this vocation is both richer and easier than it would be otherwise.

However, it is absolutely not my position that canonical standing is necessary to live a good eremitical life. Lay hermits do it all the time and they do it in a way which may minister and be more accessible to those who will never seek nor desire to seek canonical standing in their own lives.  I would suggest you read some of the posts I have put up on the lay eremitical vocation specifically to understand my thought here; I believe I have been pretty clear regarding how much I believe in this (the lay eremitical) vocation and in its possibility and importance today. When I say the public rights and obligations associated with canonical standing cause my own vocation to differ from the lay eremitical vocation but that the absence of these public dimensions does not constitute a deficiency in the lay hermit vocation I am both quite serious and entirely sincere.

In fact one of the things which makes me saddest is the fact that lay hermits seem generally not to take their own vocations as seriously in terms of its significance to the Church and world as they do the canonical version. Few that I can find write about it, reflect on its charismatic nature, or recommend it to others. Few offer to talk occasionally to their parishes or diocese about it, etc. While I know lay hermits who do not, many seem instead  to continue to subtly elevate the eremitical vocations connected with canonical standing (semi-eremitical and solitary eremitical life) when these are not accessible to them for a variety of reasons. Some do this by resisting  and never using the actual designation "lay hermit" while others make it their business to disparage canonical standing and those who seek and receive it, but the bottom line is that many lay hermits seem to treat lay eremitical life as a second class form of eremitism. Still, the specifically eremitical elements and dimensions of these two (or three!) vocations are identical --- especially if the lay hermit lives some form of the evangelical counsels, as all Christians really are meant to do.

Again, thanks for your comments. I am glad I was able to convey to you some of the pastoral reasons for canonical standing and canon 603. Others may be found in posts on the relationship of freedom and obedience, for instance, or the relational nature of standing in law (cf., labels below). As I said in the post you referred to, the critical question is really this one: if this vocation were NOT a gift of the Holy Spirit then why would we care about canonical standing? What the Church sees clearly is that  canonical standing and the activity of the Holy Spirit are not in conflict with one another nor  (as one person I spoke with recently commented) does the Holy Spirit's action makes the canon unnecessary. What is true is the canon exists precisely as one significant way the Holy Spirit nurtures, protects, and governs the contemporary solitary eremitical vocation in a world which militates against it in every way including especially: 1) its allergy to silence, 2) its isolationist and marginalizing tendencies, and 3) its heightened individualism --- all of which are antithetical to and cry out for genuine eremitical solitude.  All good wishes.