04 June 2014

Dimensions of the Ecclesial Nature of the C 603 Vocation

[[Dear Sister, I too am grateful for what you have written recently about the ecclesial and normative nature of the vocation of diocesan hermits. I was one of those who thought the emphasis on law was sort of pharisaical and I wondered why it was really necessary. Like the person who thought the Holy Spirit could just "raise up" such vocations and that canon law was unnecessary, I thought the same thing. After all you have said yourself that some dioceses tell those interested in pursuing profession under canon 603 to "just go live in solitude; it is all one needs." I guess even the institutional church can think this way! I wonder if some dioceses really believe canon 603 adds nothing at all to this vocation or is unnecessary? Aren't most of the people dealing with vocations canonists?? 

This leads me to two questions. First, do all dioceses recognize the importance of the ecclesial nature of this vocation? And second, when you speak of the ecclesial nature of the c. 603 vocation it seems to mean several different things. For sure it means more than just "of the church', right? I understand it means that the vocation is discerned by both the Church and the hermit. I also understand it means the vocation is normative. Can you describe all the things you mean by the term ecclesial?]]

Yes, sure. Let me start with the second question first. Over the course of the last few years I have described the ecclesial nature of the vocation to diocesan eremitical life in the following ways including those two primary ones you mentioned. All of them have to do, as you say, with the profound ways the vocation is "of (and for) the Church":

Dimensions of the Ecclesial Nature of the C 603 Vocation:

1) The vocation is formally and legitimately established and lived in the name of the Church. Hermits who are publicly professed and consecrated are Catholic hermits in the proper sense of that term. We also call them diocesan hermits, c 603 hermits, canonical hermits, etc. While the hermit does not "speak" on behalf of the Church she is commissioned to live her own eremitical life in the name of the Church.

2) The vocation is mutually discerned. A person does not assume it on her own nor the rights and obligations associated with it. It, along with these rights and obligations, is entrusted to her by the Church on behalf of the Church's very life as well as on behalf of the living eremitical tradition; she embraces this ecclesial trust as a part of what it means to respond to God's own call.

3) This call is mediated by the Church. Both the individual’s profession and their consecration by God are mediated by the Church through c 603 in the hands of the diocesan Bishop. Moreover through legitimate superiors this call continues to be mediated to the hermit by the Church just as the hermit's response to this call is a continuing reality mediated to and through canonical relationships and structures.

4) Canon 603 is normative for eremitical life in the Church. While not all hermits are canonical, c 603.1 describes the essence of the eremitical life as the Church herself understands and esteems it. What is generally true is that all hermits in the church measure and mature in their lives according to the central elements of this canon whether they are established in law or not. In other words the first part of the canon especially is the norm by which both canonical and non-canonical hermits shape their lives according to an ecclesial vision of eremitical life. The c 603 hermit, however, is bound publicly and legally to live a life which is consistent with this ecclesially normative vision of the solitary eremitical life "for the praise of God and the salvation of the world".

5) C 603 life constitutes a dimension of the Church’s own holiness.

6) The c 603 vocation is a public one with public rights and obligations. It implies necessary expectations on the part of the whole Church for the one professed accordingly.

7) The vocation is charismatic in the truest sense; it is a gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church and world mediated as already noted.

8) The hermitage itself represents, as the hermit herself does, an “ecclesiola” in the language of St Peter Damian. It is an extension of the Church in prayer or worship and an expression of the same. Elements supporting this understanding include allowing the reserved Eucharist which is an ecclesial act commissioned by the Church. Communion services are extensions of the Church’s public worship as is the Liturgy of the Hours.

9) The canon 603 hermit and the Church in the person of the local Bishop are charged with protecting and nurturing not only the hermit’s individual vocation but the solitary eremitical vocation itself. Public commitment establishes and expresses this mutual responsibility. Both bishop and hermit are responsible for a living eremitical tradition whose roots began in the OT, was epitomized in Jesus' own life of kenosis (of which his 40 days in the desert is a paradigm), and continued with the Desert Fathers and Mothers, medieval anchorites, and others.

10) The lives of canon 603 hermits are themselves a ministry of the Church. While hermits pray, more importantly they ARE embodiments of prayer, and in this way represent a significant incarnation of the Church’s own faith. It is no overstatement to say that hermits exist at the heart of the Church; within the silent life of God where faith is the lifeblood and prayer the very heartbeat of the Church, hermits represent a significant instance of the Church at prayer.

11) This vocation represents a stable ecclesial and consecrated state of life. It participates in and depends upon those governing and supporting relationships established publicly in law through profession and consecration.

Do all dioceses recognize and appreciate the nature and significance of this vocation as ecclesial?

I think the answer, unfortunately, has to be no, they don't seem to. It seems to me that to say a vocation is both ecclesial and normative is to ascribe a very significant and particular kind of value to it. But some dioceses, or at least some personnel within these dioceses, seem not to esteem eremitical life at all. Partly this is a function of not understanding it or the gift it is; sometimes this stems, understandably,  from associating it with stereotypes based on kernels of truth found throughout the history of eremitical life. Here, conceiving of the vocation in terms of eccentricity, individualism, misanthropy or anti-social tendencies, a desire to go one's own way in the Church (whether as a progressive or as a traditionalist) prevent these folks from esteeming the vocation appropriately.  Partly too, I think, for some this has to do with esteeming active ministry over the contemplative life.

In all these cases, to  1) move beyond misconceptions, biases, or over-generalizations and 2) take the added step of esteeming the vocation as an ecclesial one which is a gift of the Holy Spirit mediated in and by the Church is just too big for these dioceses to accomplish. Still, it is necessary if canon 603 is to truly function as it is meant to within the Church. One of the most significant reasons for writing about the ecclesial nature of the vocation is because it is critical that dioceses (and those seeking admission to profession!) understand this vocation as a gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church and world. One of the reasons for treating c 603 as an essential piece of legislation and writing about its normative character from within the vocation itself is precisely so dioceses and the people that constitute them can come to recognize a vocation which is not only charismatic but contrasts sharply in every way with the common stereotypes and distortions of authentic eremitical life.