29 September 2014

On Professing Someone who does not Desire it

[[Hi Sister Laurel. Did your Bishop desire you to become a diocesan hermit? Is it possible that a Bishop would ASK someone to petition to be accepted as a diocesan hermit? I have read that a Bishop might desire this for the diocese and could do so even if the individual is not interested in becoming a diocesan hermit. Does this happen? A lot?]]

I think that I have been asked something similar before. If so this answer may repeat some of my earlier answer. Please check through the labels (below and to the right) so see if other posts also speak to these questions. (Actually I am now fairly certain I have done so some time last year or so; I would suggest looking under the labels authentic and inauthentic eremitism and/or abuses of canon 603 to find related posts.)

The idea of someone becoming a diocesan hermit simply because a bishop personally desires it is VERY unlikely! Moreover, the notion that a bishop would desire someone to do this even if they do NOT feel called to it themselves is even more completely unlikely --- not least because it is a silly and at least potentially, a seriously destructive way to proceed with regard to this specific vocation. (Actually, it's not a particularly desirable or edifying way to proceed with any vocation (consider marriage undertaken in this way for a great sense of SOME of the problems involved), but I would argue it is especially undesirable and disedifying with eremitical life!) Bishops, while they might say to someone, "Have you ever considered becoming a priest or religious (including a diocesan hermit), etc?" do not tend to ask someone out of the blue to consider becoming a diocesan hermit; it is altogether too rare, too significant, and too different from the way most folks are brought to wholeness and holiness --- which really means too different from the way human beings ordinarily learn to love and achieve genuine integration and individuation.

A candidate for profession and consecration really MUST have the sense that God is calling them to this and they must be able to make a convincing case of that for the diocese and bishop before being admitted to profession. More, I think the individual MUST take the initiative in this. It cannot be the decision of a director, et al to discern or seek this on behalf of another, nor can a person legitimately or validly approach profession while saying, "I am doing this because my Bishop desires it!" Thus I would have to say the most a Bishop can do (if he even has the opportunity, which is hard to imagine) is to say, "Your life strikes me as implicitly eremitical; why don't you pray and do some studying about the matter of vocation as a diocesan hermit? I will do the same."

I am not sure I understand the part of the question about desiring this for the diocese, or at least, it seems a little "off" to me. I suppose it reminds me of the practice once common in old English gardens; on large estates, no estate garden was complete without its ornamental "hermit". Of course I believe that a diocesan hermit is a gift to her parish and diocese and that that indicates that God has graced the life of these with an eremitical vocation, but it is not as though one can say, "Hmmm, I want some of THESE graces for the diocese so I will ask so-and-so to become a diocesan hermit!" Graces are shared manifestations of God's very self, not bits of "stuff" that can be separated off from the living God and stored up or parceled out or anything similar. The Holy Spirit works in individual lives in all kinds of ways and it is this active presence we call grace; when a diocese recognizes and affirms an eremitical vocation of course I think that is wonderful, but one cannot simply make someone a hermit (or ask them to become one!) because one would like "the graces associated with this" or something. That smacks more of the shopping network than (attention to) the work of the Holy Spirit.

Having said that though, let me also say I wish dioceses were more knowledgeable about and more open to the eremitical vocations in their midst. For instance, where I live there are any number of elderly people who live physically solitary and intensely prayerful lives who might well have eremitical vocations that could serve both the parish and the diocese as a whole as lives of real marginality, chronic illness, poverty, etc are radically transformed, consecrated in a public way, and set before the faith community as paradigms of the truth that God alone suffices. While such lives are (and would remain) marginal in the ways the world measures things they would assume a public place and role right in the very heart of the Church and be a resource even these individuals themselves never imagined. Their illnesses don't need to be healed, their poverty relieved, or their marginality eased as part of this radical transformation. Instead these things would be redeemed by God's consecration of them and made infinitely meaningful pointers to (sacramentals of) a joy and significance which goes beyond anything our world ordinarily imagines them to be or mediate. But, let me be clear, I do not mean that every elderly or chronically ill person should do this as a hermit much less as a diocesan hermit; still, I believe that dioceses have greater numbers of potential hermits living within them than they might realize --- genuine eremitical vocations which are already an unrecognized grace to parishes and dioceses but whose potential meaningfulness and fruitfulness is yet unknown to the local (or the universal) Church.

You ask if a Bishop can profess (and eventually consecrate) someone who does not wish this. The answer is simply NO --- at least not if he is acting responsibly and in a truly pastoral way (I am assuming he is!). As noted above, I wonder if such a profession is even canonically valid in such a case. As I have written many times here, ecclesial vocations are mutually discerned. One cannot proclaim oneself a religious or a consecrated person via a private dedication (that way lies self-delusion and pretense) nor can the Church profess and consecrate someone either against their will nor unless that person is also genuinely convinced this is the will and call of God for them. To attempt to do so is to sin against conscience and possibly involves one in a kind of sacrilege as one demeans not only a particular vocation but the entire rite of profession/consecration.

There is a strain in hagiographical writing which focuses on the unwillingness of individuals to embrace vocations to religious life and/or priesthood. It has sometimes tended to validate discernment of vocations --- a kind of psychologically and spiritually naive, "Well I know I didn't want this so it must be God's will" kind of thing. (It can sometimes be used to underscore a skewed notion of obedience and quasi-humility in a kind of martyred, "Well, the idea really is unpleasant for me but if my Bishop desires it, then I'll do it!" But in point of fact, we know that this is really not the way vocations generally work; radical conversion, perhaps to an extent --- at least in the beginning --- but vocations? Not really. The deeper and more compelling dynamic in vocations is always a deep attraction or yearning.  (By the way, I understand it is a bit false and impossible to tease vocation and conversion apart from one another in this way, but it is necessary in this context.) With the eremitical vocation, if one does not truly have the sense it is the way to human wholeness and holiness for them, if, that is, one does not really believe God is calling one to this as an amazing grace which redeems their lives and is a way of being there for others, and especially if one says, "No! This is NOT for me; I don't want this, it is even a bit repugnant to me!" then it is NOT their vocation!

Vocations are not a way we simply come to terms with God's will, especially with a grudging, foot-dragging, half-hearted,"Oh-all-right-I'll-go-along-with-this" acquiescence. Vocations are the deeply joy-filled ways we cooperate with God's life within us and our world. They make us profoundly happy and fulfilled in a way which sustains us in even the most painful situations which still befall us. This profound happiness or joy shines through even in the darkness; more it (and the call it stems from) is the ground which sustains one at these times. There is a great difference between someone who bitches and moans about how awful their life is, how difficult or arduous their vocation, how much pain they are in, how routinely rejected they are, or how endlessly God tests them --- who then ends this grim disquisition with the postscript, "God is love; how I love to do God's will!" and the person whose main life-theme is a deep joy while very real pain, difficulty, or rejection experienced are merely subtexts! Vocations are demanding realities, but they are not difficult in themselves. What I mean is that they present us with difficulties and may trouble us at times in heart and mind, but of themselves, they are a joy and gift which makes all the rest shine with the radiance of God.

The notion that a vocation (meaning here a vocational path like religious life) can be used to hide profound human unhappiness and dysfunction is something we are all the more sensitive to today. We know more clearly than we have ever known that this must NEVER be the case. After all, every vocation is a call to authentic, exhaustively loving and generous humanity. A vocational path must surely be a means to this. In referring to hiding profound unhappiness or dysfunction then, I am not speaking about dealing appropriately (and privately) with the more normal times of depression, mental illness, etc which can afflict every human life. I am speaking about covering profound unhappiness and personal dysfunction with the trappings of a vocation. That strain of hagiographical writing I spoke of earlier has provided some with the grounds for this misguided approach. So has the notion of higher vocations and a tendency to absolutely separate the supernatural from the natural, the eternal from the temporal, or the divine from the human. In eremitical life this tendency becomes even more acutely dangerous because for most people living in solitude is itself dysfunctional and can be used to escape or run from the demons which inhabit every human heart. It can be used to make of the hermitage an escape from the whole of God's good creation and the requirements of a heart which is only purified in loving and being loved by God and others. To profess and consecrate someone who is really profoundly unhappy and may be even MORE profoundly unhappy (and increasingly dysfunctional) in solitude is a serious failure in charity.

Postscript: (I forgot to answer this part of your question)

About whether or not my Bishop desired me to become a diocesan hermit I have to say I don't really know. Certainly I believe he had discerned this was what God was calling me to. Similarly I believe he discerned it was a gift to my parish, the diocese, and even to the wider Church. Finally I don't think he did something he did not desire to do in this, but at the same time, I don't usually think in terms of what Archbishop Vigneron desired or did not desire. This is important because if my eremitical life is a matter of discernment then many niggling questions and problems melt away with profession and consecration. If it had merely been something my Bishop (and I!) desired, then it actually raises questions, creates difficulties, and certainly it would heighten the niggling questions that would have remained on the day of profession. Let me know if you want me to say more about this.