18 April 2015

Followup Questions on Discerning With One's Bishop

[[Hi Sister Laurel, your posts about legal standing and what happens if a diocesan hermit disagrees with a Bishop give the impression that the relationship between hermit and legitimate superiors is oppressive. Am I mistaken? I admit I don't really care for the way the Church seems to want to be in charge of our lives or make moral decisions for us. Have you ever had a disagreement with your Bishop where you needed to rethink things and come to a different conclusion on them about the way you live your life?]]

Well, I am more than a little sorry if that is the impression I have given. It was certainly not my intention nor does it correspond to my experience. In my own experience the place of law and legitimate superiors do not ordinarily interfere with my freedom or my choices at all. When I think or write about the freedom of this life I have tried to make clear that there are constraints, as in any life, but that these qualify and focus my life in ways which serve my ability to explore the depths of eremitical solitude in the name of the Church. That is the fundamental thing I have been called to, the fundamental thing I have committed to doing, and it is the thing which my superiors and law itself are responsible for assisting me to do with integrity. Let me be clear that no one is heavy handed in this matter. Neither my Bishops (there have been several) nor my delegate simply tell me what to do. The point of my post regarding a disagreement with one's Bishop was that when there were differing conclusions with discernment in a genuinely serious matter (and whether or not hermits may work full time, especially in highly social situations, is one of these) a hermit may be asked to resolve the situation differently than her original discernment led her to do. This was because her vocation is an ecclesial one which is responsible for and affects more than her own life alone.

Unfortunately, the hermit may not see this as clearly as her Bishop or delegate (though she might also see things more clearly, as might other diocesan hermits who live the life and are knowledgeable about the tradition); in such cases it is important that all parties share their own discernment in the process of seeking a resolution to the problem at hand. It remains true that if the Bishop should decide that whatever the best solution to the hermit's need for financial support, it is not (and can never be) full time work, she will not be allowed to do (or continue in) this. Hopefully, both Bishop, hermit, and the delegate will work together to seek a better solution which ensures the hermit's ongoing wellbeing but also protects her witness to the solitary eremitical life and the integrity of the eremitical tradition itself. Part of the reality of any vocation is ongoing discernment of the ways God is calling us and our continuing responses to that. A vocation is less something we "have" than it is something we receive and respond to freshly day by day.

One of the important pieces of standing in law is that one is, for the most part,  protected against arbitrary actions by others which might interfere with this ongoing responsiveness. If you have ever lived in a community or situation in which "power figures" inappropriately dictated what members might or might not do in the name of "governance", you will know what I mean when I say that standing in law can prevent and protect one from such vagaries of personality and agenda. Experiments in the governance of religious life have sometimes left openings into which stepped those whose (perhaps unconscious) desire was more for power than service. When I write about the relationships which are essential to the canonical eremitical vocation I am speaking about relationships that allow a hermit to live freely in the heart of the Church and devote herself to the silence of solitude while these others provide feedback and a sense of the needs of the Church more generally. It is, in my own experience, a true dialogue in which people cooperate for the good of the Church, her proclamation, and the eremitical life entrusted to her by the Spirit and is not at all oppressive.

I have not had had any situations in which the way I live or propose to live my life have conflicted with the way a Bishop, Vicar, or others discern is appropriate. I have, on the other hand, certainly had conversations with my delegate which have caused me to rethink things and modify the way I live. Similarly we have had conversation which have furthered or clarified my own discernment in matters and occasionally we have had conversations where my own failure to adequately discern a course of action was "unmasked". (Actually, it was only unmasked to me, not to anyone else. As I once recounted here, my delegate once said, "I will be interested to hear your discernment [in this matter]" and my immediate thought was, "Busted!" because I knew at the moment she made the comment that I had not really done a thoughtful discernment.) It was pretty funny really. Certainly the demand that one discern seriously and discuss the process with superiors is not oppressive because in all cases my decisions are my own! Sometimes they simply aren't made alone. In my experience this ("I really am interested in hearing your discernment"--- whether stated implicitly or explicitly) is more typical of the way conversations go between myself and any superiors than simply being dictated to.