02 April 2015

On the Deadly Sin of Individualism in the Eremitical Life

[[Dear Sister Laurel, are you aware of a "Catholic Hermit" who has recently written the following: [[No one else [besides the hermit, the SD, and God] really knows the whys or wherefores of how a consecrated Catholic hermit is or should be or has to be living his or her life. In fact, no one should be declaring a Catholic hermit consecrated or not consecrated in the Catholic Church, based upon his or her own interpretations of what is specified in Church documents, or presuming someone has an impediment to being in the Consecrated Life of the Church. A Catholic hermit's bishop and/or spiritual director or other Church authority can make that determination when it comes down to validity, if that designation even matters ultimately, eternally (and not the least) to His Real Presence!]]

And also, [[But it is not to judge them, or decide they are not living their lives "according to Hoyle" (according to some other Catholic hermit or non-hermit, or through the eyes of various individual priests or bishops or lay persons who have their own notions but not necessarily God's omniscience for each consecrated Catholic hermit living or dead.]] How can a Catholic hermit argue that an individual Bishop cannot be considered authoritative because he doesn't have God's omniscience? How can she argue that a Bishop's determination that someone's consecration is invalid (or valid I guess) might not even matter ultimately or eternally? It all sounds like a very Protestant approach to vocations and authority, but not very Catholic.]]

Thanks for the questions. Yes I am very aware of the post this all came from. I read it two or three days ago. It is a followup to a post this lay hermit already put up which asked the question, "Who do they think they are?" It seems that a "young canonist" (and member of another consecrated vocation) wrote something upsetting about hermits working full time and opined that vows would be invalid in certain circumstances. If I am correct in this, the offending posts (these were the only pertinent ones I could find that were at all recent) were on the blog, "Do I Have a Vocation?" which is written by Therese Ivers, JCL, a canonist and Consecrated Virgin I consider a friend. Beyond this she specializes in the law of consecrated life and is working on a doctorate in canon law focusing on Canon 603 so she certainly knows what she is talking about. (By the way, though written the 1st of February I only saw this article for the first time about a week ago; I was very gratified by Therese's referral to my blog.)

Now Therese and I don't always agree on everything (who does?), and sometimes we even disagree on relatively small details in regard to canon 603, but her posts on whether or not a hermit should work full time and on private vows were spot on. cf: Can Diocesan Hermits Have Full Time Jobs?, etc. Most importantly she dealt with abuses of canon 603 which have happened because dioceses have used the canon as a stopgap solution to profess non hermits who worked full time in highly social jobs. While you did not quote this portion of the post,  you can hear I hope, the incredible irony of a blogger who is herself a privately dedicated hermit dismissing Therese's expertise in Canon 603 on the grounds that she, though a canonist and consecrated virgin, is not a consecrated hermit.

The Church is very clear on who is considered a member of the consecrated state of life and who is not. There is one sentence in the Catechism of the Catholic Church which has caused some confusion because of its location in paragraphs on eremitical life under the heading "The Consecrated Life", but this is really a minor problem since the catechism's own glossary and other paragraphs make it very clear that (except for consecrated virgins living in the world) entrance into the consecrated state always comes to be through profession made in the hands of a legitimate superior with both the authority and the intention of doing this. The sentence refers to hermits who do not make vows publicly but canon 603 allows for sacred bonds other than vows so the sentence could be an awkward reference to this or an attempt to speak to lay hermits without duplicating the paragraphs in another section of the CCC. The c 603 profession itself, however, (whatever form it takes) is always public. In any case, when confusion exists it is up to canonists to make clear the requirements and Therese Ivers is certainly capable of authoritatively doing this --- and does do so for dioceses seeking clarification.

Also, the Church is very clear what constitutes an eremitical life lived in her name. Canon 603 says it is a life of the silence of solitude (not just silence and solitude), stricter separation from the world (that is, from all that is resistant to Christ or promises fulfillment in the way the God of Jesus Christ does), assiduous prayer and penance,  profession of the evangelical counsels, all lived according to a Rule or Plan of Life the hermit writes herself and lives under the supervision of the local Bishop. For this reason, the Church has every right through canonists, Bishops, theologians, and others to say what the terms of this canon and all it requires actually means, both explicitly and implicitly. This is especially true when the Church seeks to understand this canon in conjunction with the history of the eremitical life generally and this canon's history specifically.

Beyond this, the actual living out of this vocation in the contemporary world means that Catholic Hermits who deal daily with the tension that exists between the canon's pure or ideal expression (if there even is such a thing!) and the hermit's necessary existence in time and space means the Church will also pay attention to the input of those who are publicly professed and canonically obligated to live the canons governing their life. To state that only the hermit, the SD, and God [[really know the whys or wherefores of how a consecrated Catholic hermit is or should be or has to be living his or her life]] flies in the face of canon 603's explicit and implicit requirements. The Diocesan Bishop and/or Vicars for Religious as well (especially I would argue) as the hermit's delegate (and to a lesser degree or in a different way, the hermit's Pastor) are required to know "the whys and wherefores" of the hermit's life if they are to meet their own ecclesial obligations in her regard.

I can't overstate the importance of understanding vocations to the consecrated state as ecclesial vocations. They are gifts of the Holy Spirit TO the Church, yes, but they are also entrusted to the Church to discern, protect, nurture and govern. That means that they are given to the WHOLE Church and are up to the WHOLE Church to receive and protect -- even when this mainly occurs through legitimate superiors acting in the name of the Church. They are vocations belonging to the Church and she legislates then way they are to be understood and lived. While this does not mean that everyone has an equal voice in the matter, it does mean that folks knowledgeable in the history of the life 'called "consecrated", or those who have lived such lives, do have the right, and often the obligation, to make their opinions known. At the end of the day it is the institutional  Church herself who will clarify what is acceptable or not but until that happens, folks with knowledgeable  or authoritative opinions will discuss matters and give their opinions when asked. What having an ecclesial vocation does NOT mean is that one can do whatever one wants and then conclude "it's up to me and my director and the omniscience of God" just because they belong to the Church that is entrusted with the vocation. This is simply untrue.

No competent director I know would declare a person "consecrated", that is, a member of the consecrated state because he witnessed their private vows. Neither would any competent director suggest one need not listen to what canonists, theologians, or Bishops say about such vocations. None would suggest that a person could assert she knows God's will better than the entire Church and then approve of her living her vocation "in the name of the Church" with out ever being legitimately commissioned to do so. There is a loose usage common regarding the verb "to consecrate" and I hope it ceases sooner rather than later, but even if a spiritual director did mistakenly encourage a directee to declare herself a consecrated hermit or professed religious because she had dedicated herself to God as a hermit, this does not change what the Church herself authoritatively says about initiation into the consecrated state of life.

Let me close this with a quote or two from Pope Francis speaking about vocations to the conse-crated state. It can be found in Keep Watch! A Letter to Consecrated Men and Women Journeying in the Footsteps of God. Francis says, [[ When the Lord wants to give us a mission, he wants to give us a task, he prepares us to do it well, just like he prepared Elijah. The important thing is not that you've encountered the Lord but the whole journey to accomplish the mission that the Lord entrusted to you. And this is precisely the difference between the apostolic mission that the Lord gives us and a good, honest, human task. Thus, when the Lord bestows a mission, he always employs a process of purification, a process of perception, a process of obedience, a process of prayer.]]

And then there is the following one, which, while written with cenobites in mind applies equally well to hermits with ecclesial vocations. That is especially true bearing in mind  St Peter Damian's characterization of solitary hermits as "ecclesiola" or "little churches": [[Thanks be to God you do not live or work as isolated individuals but in community: and thank God for this! The community [local Church] supports the whole of the apostolate. At times religious communities are fraught with tensions, and risk becoming individualistic and scattered, whereas the need is deep communication and authentic relationships. The humanizing power of the Gospel is witnessed to in fraternity lived in community [the local parish and diocese, etc] and is created through welcome, respect, mutual help, understanding, kindness, forgiveness and joy.]]

I have written many times here that the really deadly sin of the solitary hermit is  individualism. This is the real route of destruction for an ecclesial vocation and  a  destructive caricature of eremitical solitude. No one who prays regularly much less assiduously can separate themselves from the community of the Church. No one living a vocation in the name of the Church can eschew the opinions of those who knowledgeably comment on the requirements of the canons governing their own vocations. They certainly cannot suggest that no matter what the Church says, they don't need to listen to anyone's opinion but those of their spiritual director and God and (if they have even been given this right) still legitimately call themselves a Catholic Hermit. For those who are lay hermits but not living their eremitical lives in the name of the Church I think they must still be concerned with what the Church says about the eremitical vocation; they can make their own opinions heard in this matter and are relatively free to live as they feel called, but they should take care not to exchange individualism for eremitical freedom.