07 April 2015

On Full-time Work and Terminology for Hermits


Dear Sister, I have included two quotes from Therese Iver's article on full time work for hermits in Full time Work for Hermits? In the first one I wondered if she means vows become invalid if a person starts working full time in case of need or if this only applies if the person is working full time when professed? Have there ever been cases where such vows were considered invalid? [[It is actually an abuse of the canon to profess individuals with employment outside the hermitage that isn’t done in solitude.   Further, because the canon must be followed in its entirety for a person to be a canonical hermit, either the vows are invalid in the case of a full-time worker in a normal job that isn’t done in strict solitude or the vow of obedience is being violated.]]

I have not spoken to Therese in regard to the article you cited but it seems clear she means that vows would be invalid if made while a person was working full time outside the hermitage and doing so in a non-solitary job. Validity is a matter of the patency of vows when made. Otherwise, as Therese says, the vows would be valid but, should circumstances change and the person begin working full time in a highly social job, she would then be violating her Rule (assuming it is adequately detailed in this regard) and her vow of obedience. I don't know if there have been cases where vows were determined to be invalid but there have definitely been cases where individuals working full time in highly social jobs at the time of  their profession were still professed under canon 60.

Those vows, I sincerely believe, should have been determined to be invalid. (I say that because it seems obvious to me that they should never have been allowed to have been made in the first place given the work situations and the lack of true eremitical experience that existed. Dioceses do not generally allow persons to make invalid vows, (or eremitical vows in these circum- stances) nor should they.) Exceptions have occurred and they have raised serious questions among dioceses, diocesan hermits and those who are interested in canon 603 vocations. Two of these are from the Archdiocese of Boston; another involves a hermit working full time as a social worker while a fourth involves a hermit canonist working for her diocese. The usual question is "How can one live an eremitical life and also work fulltime outside the hermitage?" Corollaries include, "How well-conceived is canon 603?" "Isn't it merely created for stopgap or fall back vocations to religious life?" and "What kinds of formation are required when a person can work full time and treat a contemplative prayer life in the silence of solitude as secondary?"

Since I believe c 603 is well-conceived --- though demanding in what it expects of candidates' and chanceries' knowledge of desert spirituality --- and since I believe there are real eremitical vocations out there, I also believe it is critical that dioceses do not settle in professing those who treat eremitical life as a "metaphor" or as analogous to the Anglican canon 14.3 on "solitary religious" and treat hermits as though they are individuals who simply live alone and take a desert day once a week or so! In one of the cases noted it is unclear whether the person's vows were ever declared invalid but both she and her Archdiocese still refer to her eremitical profession (referred to by date) as the basis for her communal life (she has begun a new community) while dropping any mention of canon 603. In any case, significant questions regarding this apparent bit of legal or linguistic sleight of hand are thus also cropping up amongst hermits and canonists. Since this person no longer lives an eremitical life under the Rule she submitted for perpetual profession, it seems her vows have ceased to be valid or binding on the basis of a significant material change in the circumstances involved.

Appropriate Accommodations for Emergency Circumstances?

What does sometimes happen is that a hermit will need to work temporarily while waiting for some kind of assistance to be settled on (like SSI  or disability for instance). This will usually be part-time work at best because the hermit cannot do more than this (after all, a life of assiduous prayer and penance and the silence of solitude is a full time work in and of itself; add to this the fact of disability and one ordinarily is simply unable to work full time). In cases, however, where the hermit works outside the hermitage full time this must truly be an entirely temporary situation  and she must be working with her superiors to be sure she maintains her Rule as best she can. This is still embraced in profession as the defining and governing document of her life; it expresses the shape of her commitment to canon 603 in particular. I would argue there are better ways to deal with such a situation and that, at the very least, a diocese should set a time limit on the period involved. If, in the case of a hermit waiting for SSI or something similar, the assistance is truly expected to come eventually, then perhaps the diocese DOES need to consider helping the hermit out financially until this occurs. Whether the hermit pays the diocese back or not once the award is granted is a separate question. In any case, a time limit would be important in signaling that this situation is contrary to the life of canon 603 and neither can nor will be allowed to continue indefinitely.

If a hermit needs to change from working within the hermitage (as noted above, this cannot be full time work since the life itself would not allow it) to working full time outside it (especially in a highly social job) on something other than a clearly temporary basis, then the diocese should seriously consider whether it needs to dispense this hermit's vows or grant a decree of exclaustration or something similar for a period of time. After all, such a hermit would no longer be living the terms of the canon or her own Rule; she would be violating her profession commitment if not the vows themselves (remember profession is the commitment of the whole person within a state of life; vows are the ordinary way this is expressed). In such a situation something like exclaustration (a good temporary solution I think) or dispensation might well be the only prudent and honest solution open to the diocese.

Again, this is a difficult situation because customarily dioceses do not support hermits in any material way while the canon obliges to religious poverty; even so they have every right to expect a hermit to be living the terms of the Canon and to be doing so in ways which are clear to others looking on. One thing Therese Ivers suggests is that the ability to support oneself is a kind of acid test today for the presence of a c 603 vocation. Personally I would not go quite that far because I think in the later years of a hermit's life dioceses may need to consider assisting them in material ways simply so they can remain in situations of some clear solitude. Still, for admission to perpetual profession and for the foreseeable future of a hermit's life, I think the capacity to support oneself in some way is an absolute requirement of canon 603 vocations.

On the Terminology Semi-Eremitical:

[[My second question has to do with Carthusians as semi-hermits. Ms Ivers writes:  [[What can we learn about the “silence of solitude” when analyzing the lives of the Carthusians?  That if they consider themselves semi-hermits because they get together daily once or twice for prayer/Mass and have recreation together once a week, how does a person with a full time job as a parish finance manager or a social worker fit the description of living as a hermit?]] I have never heard them referred to in this way. Are they really only "semi-hermits"? Does the Church use the language of "full hermits" and "half hermits"?]]

Personally, though I completely agree with Therese's point about the importance of "the silence of solitude" in c 603 life and understand why she underscored it in this way, I think this "semi-hermit" usage is an overstatement and possibly a too-literal misrepresentation of the real meaning of the term semi-eremitical. Carthusian monks are hermits in the fullest sense of the word. They are not monks who also highly value solitude, but hermits who also value and need community because of their commitment to eremitical solitude. As I understand it, the term semi-eremite refers more to the context in which a hermit lives his or her solitary life, that is, within a community than it does to the hermit him/herself.

The communal context protects the hermit's solitude, provides for the hermit's sustenance, clothing, medical care, etc,  allows for communal liturgy which also protects the hermits' stricter separation and silence of solitude, and ensures his clear ecclesial identity and sensibilities. Thus the context is semi-eremitical but the life is fully eremitical. Canon 603 hermits, on the other hand, are solitary hermits. Both terms are important; neither is redundant. Canon 603 hermits too are fully hermits but the context for their lives is solitary. They do not belong to an institute of consecrated life, they are self-supporting and must shop for themselves, maintain their own physical solitude in all the ways that is required, and do so without the support of "lay" sisters or "conversae" as the Carthusians have. They live out their ecclesial commitment within the context of a diocese and parish but despite the stability this provides (and I am not speaking here of monastic stability per se) it does not rise to the level of stability provided in a religious community or monastery.

While it is true that Carthusian hermits attend Office and Mass together daily and c 603 hermits attend Mass perhaps once a day in their parish and generally pray Office alone, it would be a mistake. I think, to refer c 603 hermits as (full) "hermits" and Carthusians as semi or "half-hermits". Similarly it would be a mistake to think of solitary hermits under c 603 as "semi-hermits" because they attend parish liturgies while reserving the term hermit or "full-hermit" for those who, for instance, live more isolated lives --- sometimes as self-dedicated but living without real ecclesial identity or involvement. Therese Ivers was rightly underscoring the importance of the silence of solitude for canon 603 hermits. The term "the silence of solitude" is a Carthusian term so the connection to this tradition for c 603 hermits is a significant one. Even so, semi-eremite generally refers to a hermit who depends on professed membership in a community to protect his/her solitude and allow for a truly contemplative life while solitary hermit generally refers to a hermit who is entirely self-supporting and lives a desert existence alone.

Eremitical life occurs along a spectrum of involvement in ecclesial life. Generally today there are three main points along this continuum: solitary eremitical life, semi-eremitical life or eremitical life lived within a community context, and reclusion (which always requires communal support of some sort but is bereft of direct social or communal involvement). What differs in each of these is the degree of separation from others, the degree of physical solitude involved. Still,  all of these folks are hermits in the fullest sense of the word. The Church does not use terms like full-hermits or half-hermits. One is a hermit or one is not. There are no part time hermits, no married hermits, and no dilettantes. How one negotiates the necessary and intrinsic ecclesial dimension of the vocation and protects one's call to prayer in solitude may differ one from another but all of these vocations are eremitical in the fullest sense of the term so long as they live out the non-negotiable elements which define all authentic eremitical life.