17 March 2015

Consequences of Unfaithfulness: Canonical vs Non-Canonical Hermits

[[Dear Sister, I wonder if the blogger from [link omitted] is even really listening to you or reading your posts in a thoughtful way. She really doesn't seem to understand anything about religious or consecrated life, much less about canon 603. I don't think you are going to change her mind or educate her. The heart of her difficulties seems to be treating the paragraphs from the Catechism as equivalent or even superior to Canon Law. She believes what she wants to believe and uses words like she wants to use words. Who cares if the Church doesn't use them the way she does? Not her! I would encourage you not to waste your time trying to explain!

But other than all that, I have enjoyed your recent posts and learned some things too. The posts about bonds and the explanation about how bonds come to be or the freedom needed to enter the consecrated state were very interesting to me. You have stressed a number of times here that the canonical requirements are meant to establish and protect relationships. I heard that again in what you said about these things and it was even clearer to me. Impediments mean things that get in the way of the relationships that need to be foundational. Right? While I know you regard the lay eremitical vocation what do you really think about private vows? There is such a difference between making a private commitment and a public one but you reject the idea that one vocation is "higher" than the other. How can you do that? One question you haven't answered yet is what happens if a publicly professed hermit fails to live her Rule or her vows vs what happens if a privately dedicated hermit fails to do so. Since the consequences are very different doesn't it argue that one vocation is higher than the other?. . .]]

Thanks for your questions and comments. I am going to respond to some of what you have written. I had never thought of impediments in quite that way before but I think you are right that impediments are those things which will prevent the necessary foundational relationships from being formed or which prevent the relationships from achieving maturity and appropriate fruitfulness. We are more used to thinking of impediments with regard to marriage but in consecrated life we find them too. Insufficient age, affective immaturity, co-dependence, the presence of another exclusive bond, ignorance of what the commitment requires, the inability to enter whole-heartedly into formation, etc are impediments to profession --- though only some of these are noted in canon law.

What Happens to Canonical vs Non-canonical Hermits Who Fail to live their Commitments?

Anyway, on to your other questions and comments. My own regard for the lay vocation I hope has been clear throughout many posts, but it is very true that the questions the other poster put up about the consequences for infidelity to one's commitments have very different answers for the lay hermit and for the consecrated hermit (or, in other words, for the non-canonical hermit and for the canonical hermit). If I am unfaithful to or cannot live my commitment a number of things will happen on several levels, personal, parish, diocesan and perhaps even beyond that if that seems like it is necessary or could be helpful. On the other hand, with an entirely private commitment the resolution would come on the personal level with the help (perhaps) of one's confessor and/or pastor. Nothing more. If we contrast what happens in either case it looks like this: 

Diocesan Hermits:

 If the diocesan hermit  is perpetually professed and consecrated and she fails to live her life as she is responsible for doing, then attempts are made to work with her so that she can again live her Rule. This will involve consultation with her director and /or her delegate as well as the Bishop. It may also involve consultations with physicians or therapists if the situation is due to some extraordinary change in health or stress levels. It is likely to include consultation with the hermit's pastor as well if he knows her well. If the hermit's Rule needs to be changed to accommodate changing circumstances so that the elements of the canon are appropriately expressed in new ways she will do that. Apart from this, however, the diocese and hermit might be able to work out an extended period in a monastery or other religious house where the hermit could experience the support of others living lives of prayer, solitude and penance similar to the one she is committed to.

After some time here the solitary hermit might feel ready to live her commitments again in the rigors (and the temptations!) of her urban hermitage, for instance. Or she might decide she needs to live the same vocation in another context. There are many possibilities here and they will be explored or even tried until and unless the hermit discerns she needs to request a dispensation from her vows. If the hermit's inability or failure is occurring due to illness, then a diocese could conceivably find a way to temporarily suspend her obligations or even grant something akin to an indult of exclaustration which frees the person of her obligations and often the rights that came with canonical standing. Such an indult would be given for a period of time (up to 3 years though there is some provision for an extension) and give time for the hermit to get well while her obligations as a hermit have been lifted. The hermit herself would need to request some such action be taken. In cases of illness occurring after one has made perpetual profession I don't believe the diocese can act against the hermit's will to dispense her vows, but I would need to check on that.

Permanent Canonical Solutions:
However, if illness is not the problem it is an even more serious matter and more permanent canonical steps may also be taken. If the person fails or refuses to live her profession faithfully in such a case and she cannot or will not work out a resolution she will be given a canonical warning to which she has the right of response or defense. A second warning can be given if she does not respond which advises that she will be dismissed from the consecrated eremitical state and her vows dispensed. Her right of defense remains. If there is no change forthcoming and all avenues toward this have been exhausted, then her vows will be dispensed. In such a case she does not cease to be consecrated (that was the action of God and cannot be undone) but she is released (or dismissed) from the consecrated state of life, meaning that her standing in law reverts to that of the lay state (vocationally speaking) and she is no longer bound by (or entrusted with) the canonical rights or obligations of the consecrated state of life.

Non-canonical or privately dedicated hermits:

In contrast, what happens to a privately vowed hermit who does not live her Rule? Nothing. No more than happens to any lay Catholic committing a private sin or habitual fault. Conceivably she will confess her sin, repent and reform her life, but if she continues to fail in this matter there are no other consequences really because her commitment was an entirely private matter. I would think a confessor could strongly encourage her to accept the dispensation of her vows in serious situations (any pastor can do this), but even if she were to do that, she could also remake these vows as easily --- and perhaps as imprudently --- as she made them in the first place if she could find a priest or other person to witness them.

In any case, no one but God, the hermit, and her confessor would even know she has failed to live her commitment. Again, her's is a private dedication with no public rights or obligations and no specific expectations on anyone's part but the hermit and God. This does not make such vows unimportant, much less invalid, but it does underscore their private nature. (In general the Church expects anyone making a private vow to live it with fidelity and integrity; she esteems the commitment but doing that is up to the individual with the vow(s) and no one else. Again, in canonical commitments relationships are established in law and several people have obligations in such a situation. Not so with private dedications or vows. Certainly in the normal course of such things a Bishop is not going to be concerned except as he is generally concerned with the well-being of all his faithful. Think subsidiarity here. Such matters are handled at the lowest appropriate level. No diocesan or canonical involvement is necessary because none have been involved to this point.

My Own Feelings About Private Vows:

I think private vows can be very helpful in a person's commitment to spiritual growth, especially in areas or regions where there are few people who understand the commitment the person wants to undertake. However, I don't think lay persons generally need vows of the evangelical counsels, for instance, because they are committed by Baptismal promises to these though in unspecified ways. My own preference is that a person look at the things we all promise when we renew our baptismal commitments and then specify for themselves what that means in concrete terms in their own life today.

l would encourage someone to write themselves a Rule of life which includes the values one wishes to live in a methodical way and add a commitment to live this Rule in a faithful way. Such a plan can include reading Scripture or other lectio, provisions for prayer and penance, allowances for recreation which control one's exposure to TV, computer games, media of all sorts, etc. It can also help one include physical exercise, intellectual projects, etc. It might also include a budget and savings plans which help control spending, cut back on shopping trips or online shopping for those for whom these are problematical, and ensure resources for emergencies. With such a Rule a vow of obedience would not be necessary because the attentiveness and listening one wanted to commit to is included. One does not need a vow of obedience unless one is making a vow of religious obedience which binds to God through legitimate structures and superiors. The same with poverty. In religious poverty there is ordinarily a communal dimension involved, a "we are in this together" sense where all are similarly committed and sacrifice for one another and the sake of witness and ministry to those outside the institute. Chastity is something one in the unmarried state is already obliged to so there is no need for this sort of vow either.(We don't make vows for things we are already obligated to!)

Some lay people write about having a vow of obedience to their spiritual director but to be honest, I would never want a client to do that nor would I relate to them as a legitimate superior. This would be dishonest and in my understanding of spiritual direction infantilizing. Legitimate superiors know obedience because they have lived it themselves. They know what it means and does not mean, what it should and should not be in a "subject's" life. Moreover they know the person bound in a vow of obedience is properly prepared and deemed ready for such a vow. A demand that one obey by virtue of their vow is exercised rarely and with discretion these days. The situation is very different when people assume that they will owe their director obedience as they might a legitimate superior and neither one is in a legitimate (bound in law or "lawful") relationship!

Spiritual directors build a relationship of trust and a unique intimacy with their directees. In mature direction relationships between religious (which are usually long-standing), one of these persons (if in the same institute or congregation) may actually be given and assume the role of the legitimate superior to the other --- though not in her role as director per se; in such a case a vow of obedience is unlikely to be problematical. Its use will be rare and generally limited to matters of the external forum --- matters which are externally verifiable and sometimes visible to everyone, matters that do nor depend on the confidential disclosures that occur in spiritual direction. Such vows of obedience will, according to c 601, also be governed and limited by the religious' "proper constitutions", those constitutions "proper" to their congregation.

In any case I support the use of private vows in limited situations, but not of the evangelical counsels. If someone wants to live these values within a secular context I hope they will find a way (baptism calls and commissions them to do so), but I don't want anyone pretending they are something they are not or embracing values which may actually conflict with the ways they are called to be responsible in terms of money, power, and relationships. That is why I prefer they write a Rule which includes these values worked out in an integral way.

Higher Vocations?

I have said a number of times that every vocation is a call to exhaustive holiness. Given that fact there is no way to speak of one being higher than another. Similarly the Church is clear that members of the consecrated and religious states of life may be drawn from laity or clergy but that this state of life is not part of the Church's hierarchical structure as a third class or level. In that sense too then we must conclude that the canonical eremitical life is not a higher vocation than the non-canonical. What does differ in these vocations are the rights and obligations and the canonical relationships and structure which apply to consecrated (canonical) eremitical life but not to non-canonical (lay) eremitical life. In a sense, Thomas Aquinas' language of "objective superiority" certainly applies here --- but not as that term came to be translated subsequently. We tend to think "objective superiority" logically means "higher" or "above" but that is not the case here and never in the calculus of the Kingdom.

The diocesan hermit's vocation is canonically defined, protected, and supported. She makes her commitment in law and lives her life in the name of the Church. She has legitimate superiors (Bishop, delegate, Vicars if needed during a Bishop's illness or the interim between successors) and her life of solitude is esteemed even if it is not always understood. She is entrusted with the right to wear religious garb, use the title Sister (etc.), and to live a public vocation in the heart of the Church. She has what she needs to live a life of holiness and to grow in that (time for prayer, silence, solitude, Scripture, access to the Sacraments, --- often including reserved Eucharist, etc). These are the sorts of things Aquinas was referring to when he spoke of "objective superiority". Some vocations have "built into them" access to so much that is necessary for growth in holiness. But this does not translate to the word higher! She has greater responsibility for the eremitical vocation in some ways than the non-canonical hermit, but also greater help, greater freedom, and fewer obstacles to live it. The bottom line here is that in the Church legal constraints lead to greater freedom from the expectations of the world around us. Similarly, greater responsibility in certain areas is granted only so that one may serve or minister to others more effectively than one might be able to otherwise. I don't think we can therefore use the term "higher" for such a vocation.