Dear Sister Laurel, thank you for your response to my question about elderly and infirm hermits. I am the one who asked whether their vows would be dispensed. I am glad you also thought the blogger mentioned made some good points. She mentioned two other situations. One of them which dealt with full time work you have already responded to indirectly in a separate question. The blogger asked: [[ What if a hermit's financial circumstances are such that a change has occurred, and he or she needs to work part time or full time and the job available or to of which the hermit is capable is among many people or in highly interactive and noisy environment? Do they then need to be removed as hermits? Do they cease being part of the Consecrated Life of the Catholic Church? Would any charitable or wise spiritual director (bishop or not) demand the hermit's withdrawal, or negate the consecrated vocation? Would church law no longer recognize those who are CL603 hermits--with the bishop making a public statement to that effect?]]
The second one has to do with wearing a habit. She wrote the following: [[What if a hermit goes along wearing a habit for awhile, approved by spiritual director (or a bishop), and then realizes it prohibits the degree of passing unnoticed or being hidden from the eyes of men--that the hermit and his or her director have determined to be best for that particular hermit? What if the hermit decides to dress so as to blend in and not be noticed as different or be mistaken as a consecrated religious if not in the religious life? And is it wrong for a hermit to wear a habit if and when no longer a part of the consecrated life of the church as a religious? These aspects are determined by the hermit and his or her director, for there are always personal, individualized, and unique considerations to be made. Not up to others to judge.]]
So here are my questions. Can [a] person's spiritual director determine these kinds of things? Can Bishops demand something other than the person's SD and the person discern are best for him. Should someone continue wearing a habit if they have left the consecrated state?
Thanks for writing again. Regarding the place and role of a spiritual director in such matters, the spiritual director will work with a person to help her discern what is best for herself and her vocation at any given point in time but cannot decide this unilaterally and sometimes may not agree with the decision at all. It is not her decision. Ever. She is not a legitimate superior but one who assists a client be attentive and responsive to the voice and movement of God in her life. Similarly if a directee working together with her SD discerns something seems to be the best decision or course of action, etc. this absolutely does not mean a Bishop must automatically agree with this discernment if he is the person's legitimate superior. (By this I mean if he is more than her Bishop but has assumed the place of legitimate superior in the rite of perpetual profession made in his hands.)
The Bishop will certainly consult with the person in this matter and she will share her discernment with him; he may also ask the SD to contact him with her opinion in the matter, but, so long as there is also a delegate in the picture, this is unnecessary and unlikely due to the confidential nature of the spiritual direction relationship. On the other hand he will speak with the hermit's delegate since she serves in precisely this role for both the hermit and the larger Church. Remember that the Bishop has other concerns and perhaps a wider vision of the matter at issue which must be accommodated as well as this specific discernment by the hermit. For instance, in the case of a consecrated solitary (diocesan) hermit let's suppose she determines (with her director's assistance) that it would be best for the hermit to work full time in a highly social job and that she believes the hermit can do this for a period of months without it adversely affecting her vocation. However, let's suppose the Bishop says no to this because as he understands things, 1) the canon does not allow this, 2) the witness it gives to the local and possibly the universal Church is disedifying, and 3) he is not entirely convinced the discernment is really cogent for someone with a genuine eremitical vocation.
In such a case the Bishop will make a decision which contradicts the hermit's own discernment and he is entirely within his rights and obligations as Bishop to do so. If a hermit cannot live with this, then she will have to decide what happens next. Will she obey or not? Will she seek dispensation from her eremitical profession or not? Again, the Bishop has concerns which overlap those of the hermit (both are concerned with her vocation specifically and the eremitical tradition generally) but he is responsible canonically to protect c 603 and the consecrated eremitical life it expresses. Sometimes what seems best for the individual hermit is not also what is best for the Church or for the vocation more generally.
The hermit has to try and get her mind and heart around this fact and either embrace the sacrifice it requires --- if this is possible without compromising her own conscience --- or she will need to find another good-conscience resolution which protects not only her own vocation but the solitary eremitical vocation more generally. However, in such a significant matter -- a matter which weighs directly on the integrity and meaning of the canon --- if she cannot do this and the Bishop is unable to assist her to achieve a workable resolution while standing by his own prudential decision on the matter, then yes, the hermit's vows will very likely need to be dispensed and the hermit will cease to be a consecrated hermit in the Roman Catholic Church. You see, the Bishop, as the hermit's legitimate superior can certainly demand something the hermit does not feel is the best thing for her. This will usually not be done facilely and not without consultation, but it can happen. The judgment is NOT the individual hermit's alone precisely because her vocation is an ecclesial one; others (the church at large, other diocesan hermits or candidates, their own Bishops, etc.) have a stake in the decision being made and the local Bishop and to a lesser degree, the diocesan hermit's delegate, have responsibilities for making binding judgments in these cases.
On Wearing a Habit if One has left the Consecrated (religious) State?
Should someone continue wearing a habit if they leave the consecrated state? No. While I understand the allure of such a decision and the difficulty of letting the habit go, the fact is that habits are symbols of public vocations. They are ecclesial symbols and the individual does not have the right to adopt these without the Church's permission and supervision. (A spiritual director, by the way, would not of him or herself have the right to grant this permission.) I wrote recently that symbols are living things, that they are born and can die but they cannot simply be created by fiat (cf, On Symbols and Ongoing Mediation or, On the Significance of the Designation Er Dio). When we are clothed with the habit and/or prayer garment (something the Church does, usually through the mediation of an institute of consecrated life, but also in the profession of hermits) we accept this symbol as our own; we step into a stream of living tradition and witness to it with our lives.
One of the reasons diocesan hermits do not adopt the habits of specific congregations (Dominican, Franciscan, Carthusian, Camaldolese) for instance is because they are not professed as part of this tradition. Their lives are neither canonically committed to nor shaped by members of these congregations who teach and model for them what this habit means in the history of the Church and the life of a religious of this specific spiritual tradition. In any case, the bottom line is that the wearing of a habit is an ecclesial act, an act of witness which the Church commissions and supervises. It is part of the rights and obligations associated with consecrated life. If one leaves the state she leaves these rights and obligations as well. Again, with rights come obligations and both rights and obligations are mediated by the Church, not by the individual.
I have written recently about the profound characteristics shared by diocesan hermits in spite of their uniqueness here: Significance of Er Dio as post-nomial initials. I don't want to repeat that since it is quite recent but I do suggest you take a look at it if you missed it or perhaps simply to refresh your memory. It is true that every consecrated hermit differs from every other hermit just as individual fingerprints differ. But all fingerprints have shared characteristics or overarching patterns of whorls, arches, loops and their subsets. Eremitical life also has such patterns and basic characteristics. Canon 603 lists these and the hermit uses them to define her life with her own necessary flexibility as she codifies these in her Rule or Plan of Life. Any individualism is at least muted and (one hopes) transformed by this process of configuration and the conversion it empowers. Hermits differ one to another, yes, but to the extent they are authentic hermits their differences represent a variation on a more important shared theme and charism, namely, the silence of solitude they are each and all called to live in the name of Christ and (for those who are ecclesially professed and consecrated) in the name of his Church. I believe that canon law is important for protecting a rare and fragile though vital ecclesial vocation; I have written about that here several times so please check out past posts on this. My opinion has not changed.
Postscript: there has been some confusion, I believe, because in Canon 603 the hermit is said to live her life "under the direction of the local Bishop". This has caused some to write "under their director's authority (whether bishop or not)" [paraphrase] and similar things. However, "direction" in canon 603 does not refer to a bishop doing or serving as spiritual director nor does it elevate the ordinary spiritual director to the same role as the Bishop here; such levelling and confusion of roles is a serious misunderstanding of the language being employed here. Instead, the term "direction" (and thus, the director) refers to the general current usage in religious life where a director is a superior under whose legitimate supervision one lives one's life --- as in the case of a novice director or director of candidates, etc. Thus, to avoid confusion when speaking of canon 603, I tend to speak of "director" for spiritual director and of "legitimate superior" under whose supervision (rather than direction) one lives as a canonical hermit to refer to the local bishop.