07 October 2014

Followup on Hermits and Sunday Obligation

[[Sister Laurel, it was interesting to hear that the additional rights and obligations embraced by the c 603 hermit included the right to skip one's Sunday obligation sometimes in the name of the silence of solitude or stricter separation. [cf.,On Hermits and Sunday Obligation] What was even more interesting to me was the dynamic way the competing values of the solitary eremitical life and a baptized ecclesial life are worked out. There is a great deal of discernment and collaboration involved, isn't there? I have read what you have written about canonical standing and the creation of stable relationships but I don't think I really understood how important these would be in a hermit's life. They seemed a kind of legal formality to me before but now I see that they are critically important in living your life intelligently and faithfully. Thank you for clarifying this for me. ]]

Bp Remi De Roo, Bishop
Protector of c 603 forerunners
Thanks for your comments. Throughout the history of eremitical life the tension between solitude and community has been very real and often acute. Similarly, the danger of the solitary eremitical life has been spoken of with some passion throughout this same history. Sometimes this was because people understood the Biblical injunction one person cited here recently, "It is not good for mankind to be alone" --- especially when isolation bred psychosis or contributed to other forms of mental illness. Sometimes it was because they understood that long-term physical solitude was a very uncommon way to wholeness and holiness and thus, unlikely to be the divine vocation of the misanthrope.

Sometimes it was because a somewhat false dichotomy was simplistically drawn between the world of God's good creation and the world of the monastery or hermitage. (The dichotomy between "the world" (which is not simply everything outside the hermitage door!) and the Kingdom of God is much more nuanced than this.) Occasionally it was because folks claiming to have heard the will of God had heard nothing more than their own ego and psychological projections --- a way which led to destruction. Often it was because they understood that to be part of Christ's body meant some interaction with other members of his body and always it tended to involve the recognition that to claim to love God in any substantial way ALSO meant to love real people in real circumstances or, at least potentially, to be unmasked as a hypocrite (hence the typical eremitical emphasis on hospitality and later, on evangelization). As I have noted before some Church Fathers rejected eremitical life altogether because there was no way, in living it as it was then understood, to truly "wash the feet" of one's brothers and sisters in Christ.

Camaldolese eremitical life for instance has, historically, been a significant way of meeting the challenge of those Fathers' evaluations and concerns by embodying the various competing values and obligations involved in ecclesial eremitical life. Built on the threefold good: solitude, community, and evangelization it provides a dynamic vision and polar "structure" for embracing and honoring these realities and the tensions between them. Both Peter Damian and Paul Giustiniani reformed eremitical life in light of the precepts of the Church and shifting theologies of the importance of ecclesial participation while maintaining the heart of the eremitical vocation to the silence of solitude.

The diocesan hermit today must do something similar in combining diocesan/parish life, eremitical solitude, and service or evangelization. Negotiating the tension between a call to union with God in solitude and stricter separation from the world and a healthy Sacramental and church life in a diocese and parish is a piece of this overall task. Because of these examples and others, because hermits take on the challenge of negotiating (prioritizing and living all) the "competing values" (or competing obligations) present in their lives, the eremitical life is alive and well in today's Church. But it will not stay that way or be particularly edifying to Christians if individuals choose to embrace and espouse isolation rather than true eremitical solitude lived in an ecclesial context, or otherwise shun the challenge of belonging integrally to a pilgrim people with an essential and vibrant sacramental life.

By the way, while for the diocesan hermit there is always the opportunity for collaboration in matters of discernment, and while many people in the hermit's life contribute to her discernment in one way and another, I think we need to understand that most often it is the degree of  ecclesial accountability which is built into the hermit's life through stable canonical relationships rather than actual collaboration which makes the difference and enables discernment. You are, however, completely correct that these relationships (and those of some friends) are critically important in being able to live my life intelligently and faithfully. While some na├»vely demean the importance of canonical standing as mere legalism or as something that actually stands as an obstacle between God and the hermit, and while others have truly discerned they do not need canonical standing to live an eremitical life, every true hermit has to build elements like those involved in canonical standing into their lives if they are to have a chance of avoiding the pitfalls, dangers, and distortions that befall the credulous, ill, or willful specifically, or solitary eremitical life more generally.

Also, I don't feel entirely comfortable speaking of the 'right' to skip my Sunday obligation as though that was one of the rights granted me in profession. It was not. What is more comfortable to me is speaking in terms of competing obligations and even competing legitimate obligations. I (as is the case for any diocesan hermit) am (canonically) obligated by profession, consecration, and Rule to live a life of the evangelical counsels, the silence of solitude, assiduous prayer and penance, and stricter separation from the world under the supervision of my bishop (and delegate); at the same time I am obligated in the ways my baptismal commitment binds every Christian. The challenge is to meet all of these legitimate obligations, some of which are competing, in the best way I can. The rights that came with canonical standing include the right to call myself a Catholic and/or Diocesan Hermit, the right to wear a habit and cowl (both right and obligation attached to perpetual profession), and the right to style myself as Sister. In other words, I was given and assumed the right to live this life and serve my brothers and sisters in this way in the name of the Church.

Again, thanks for your comments.