26 June 2015

Private Dedication: The Significance of the Lay Eremitical Vocation (Once Again)

[[Hi Sister, I am trying to live as a hermit and am discerning whether to go to my Bishop and ask him to profess me as a diocesan hermit. I have consecrated my life to Christ and I believe he has consecrated me to himself as well. I celebrated this with my spiritual director who is a priest and the ceremony we used was really lovely. I think you wrote that consecrations are not supposed to be piled on top of each other. If that is so then is it necessary to go to the Bishop to become a consecrated hermit? Can't he simply recognize that?]]

Hi there yourself and thanks for your questions. I don't remember saying that consecrations are not meant to be piled on top of one another. I once wrote that Bishops in France had determined that the consecration of virgins and that of hermits were not meant to be added to one another, that each of these was complete in themselves. Neither, then, were they to be substituted for one another. Perhaps this is what you are remembering. This was because early on some hermits were offered the consecration of virgins before their dioceses were ready to allow the consecration of diocesan hermits. Later the eremitical consecration was sometimes done when the diocese was ready to consecrate hermits. Instead the character of each vocation should have been discerned and appropriately celebrated by the diocese.

Similarly, the addition of one consecration to the other has sometimes happened in occasional dioceses when a consecrated hermit might desire to add the consecration of virgins because of the nuptial quality of her relationship with Christ. My sense is it is really not meaningful or consistent with the eremitical vocation because the rite of consecration of virgins for women living in the world (canon 604) signifies a form of consecrated or sacred secularity. Secularity, sacred or otherwise, is actually incompatible with the hermit calling which is explicitly marked by stricter separation from the world. (The use of the consecration of virgins which is celebrated after solemn profession of cloistered nuns, and might be proposed for usage after solemn profession and the consecration of hermits seems to me --- and seemed to the French Bishops --- to be equally unnecessary.)

Your own question is an interesting one. You have had an experience of Christ sanctifying you in a way which fits you for particular mission. It was and is for you a signifcant experience which you may not or even probably do not desire to "diminish" by adding other kinds of dedications or consecrations. The difficulty here is that this was a private experience; it was not mediated by the Church (this requires a Bishop or someone acting for him with the specific intention of consecrating you in the name of the Church) and therefore, does not represent the mediation of a public ecclesial vocation in the Church. It was undoubtedly a remarkable experience which I hope you will esteem for the rest of your life, but it did not function as an ecclesial profession and consecration under canon 603 functions nor can it therefore be used to substitute for these.

In other words, your Bishop cannot merely recognize this experience in order to make you a diocesan hermit. That requires a mutual discernment, followed by ecclesial mediation of the call, response (profession), and consecration. Or again, it requires a canonical or juridical act on the part of the Church which initiates you into the consecrated state of life, a state of life marked by specific graces, as well as canonical rights and obligations. These are taken on and extended to the person in the rite of profession and consecration. They cannot be given in any other way. You see, something happens to the person in these acts. These acts are language events, specifically, they are performative language events where one embraces the rights and obligations in the very act of profession. (A judge's verdict or an umpire's call are also examples of performative language as are vows of all sorts.) The Church calls the person forward, symbolically examines her on her readiness to accept these specific rights and obligations, prays the litany of the Saints over (and with) her as she lays prostrate and prepares to give her entire life to be made a consecrated person and eremite, and then admits her to profession (by definition a public human act) and consecration (by definition a mediated divine act) where she takes on a new and public state of consecrated life.

Let me try to be very clear. Your own experience of being sanctified by Christ was real and meaningful but because it was not mediated by the Church or intended as an act done specifically or explicitly in her name, it was not the consecration needed to become a diocesan hermit or to enter the consecrated state of life in the Church. I would suggest it adds something to your baptismal consecration which you should explore and articulate for yourself, and I sincerely hope it inspires you to live as a lay hermit or in whatever other way you decide the Lord is calling you to at the present time. It was a special gift given to you and to the Church at a time when she is trying to do greater justice to the nature and importance of the lay vocation. Though it differs in nature, it is not in competition with the consecrated vocation but instead complements such a vocation. The Church needs both and certainly the laity needs the witness of lay hermits which challenges them in ways my own vocation really may not do as effectively.

If you should decide you wish to (seek to) be consecrated as a diocesan hermit with a public ecclesial vocation, there is no way such an act will diminish the sanctifying experience you have already had or the dedication you have already made. It will specify it (and more importantly, specify the consecration of your baptism) in significant ways; it will also change your status in law and grace to that of the consecrated state, but the experience you describe will be integrated into the hermit you eventually become and may stand at the very heart of your identity. With God nothing is ever lost.