03 July 2015

On Dealing With Dioceses and With Rejection in Regard to Canon 603

 [[Dear Sr Laurel, Several people you have responded to have been rejected by their dioceses for admission to vows and consecration as a diocesan hermit. One of the things that is very clear is how difficult such a decision is for them. One of the things I have appreciated in your posts is that although you point out the differences between lay hermits and canonically professed hermits, or between consecration of self (dedication of self) and consecration by God mediated by the Church, you do really seem to esteem these vocations similarly. Another thing that has struck me is how little help the Church actually offers in assisting people to come to terms with such a rejection. My impression is once a diocese (or Order) says "no" to a person in this way that's all the contact there is. Am I wrong in this? Also, if a diocese says no, is the person free to come back and request another hearing or is the door closed forever? Are dioceses honest in all of this? Charitable?]]

Thanks for your comments and questions. I am gratified that you have recognized one of the reasons I have written a lot about all this and answered questions which had already been asked a number of times. I know sometimes it can be really tiring to do this and likely it is tiresome to readers as well. Still, in light of Vatican II --- a Council that is still being received by the Church --- the laity's call to an exhaustive holiness has been made exceedingly clear. The challenge is to get folks to truly understand that and internalize the sense that the lay vocation, whether eremitical or not, is precious to God and to the Church. It is not an entrance level vocation nor is it less worthy of esteem than other vocations in the Church.

I believe that much of what was written at Vatican II was designed to counter the notion of higher and lower vocations. We still have a long way to go in this and in truly understanding what Thomas Aquinas was referring to when he spoke of the "objective superiority" of a particular vocation or state of life. Moreover, to the extent that Aquinas' mindset was actually incompatible with the upside-down values of Jesus' Kingdom teaching, we still have some ways to go to distance ourselves from that mindset as well. The simple fact is this. Vatican II recognized that ALL are called to an exhaustive holiness; there is no hierarchy involved in this. Paul meanwhile recognized that ALL are significant members of Christ's body, differently as each function. But each is essential to the functioning of the others. Imagine a person who can see, but is unable to speak of what she sees, or who is unable to analyze what she sees or act on what she analyzes. The eyes need the mouth and the brain; the hands and legs need the others as well. Nothing can be done in isolation and no member is unimportant.

You are generally correct that when a diocesan chancery staff person says no to admission to profession as a consecrated hermit, for instance, there is little further contact between the petitioner and the diocese per se. The task of coming to terms with a rejection of this sort is something one is generally expected to work out with one's usual support system.  This would mean one's friends, family, spiritual director (especially!), perhaps one's pastor, et al. Discernment does not cease with the diocese's decision but instead enters into a more intense or demanding period. In some cases dioceses will essentially say to a person, "We do not believe you are suited to this vocation and will not profess you in this. We do not believe this is a matter of time alone." In such a case it would take a significant change in one's life to change this discernment  or even to get a serious hearing which might reopen or begin another discernment process.

But sometimes the diocese says instead, "Go off and live in solitude for a time." What may also be either implied (more likely) or stated explicitly (less likely) is, "When you have actually done that for at least a couple of years, and if you still feel you are called to consecration as a diocesan hermit then make an appointment with the Vicar For Religious or the Director of Vocations and we will look at the possibility once again." Both of these answers are entirely honest and create a way forward for the one still discerning. Decisions are made on a case by case basis so whether the door is closed or will open again in the future depends on many things. It really is up to the person discerning to deal with the diocese's own discernment and decisions and to find the forms of support s/he can to move on with integrity. I think in the main dioceses are honest in their discernment and charitable in the way they deal with candidates and former candidates.

Moreover, unless the diocese says they have determined one is unsuited to this vocation (and this is likely to have specific grounds), most folks always have the right to come back at another time and try again --- that's especially so when a diocese simply has refused to profess anyone at all under canon 603 or has refused to identify one so professed as a diocesan hermit. (My own diocese once called such a person a "diocesan Sister," but not a diocesan hermit; they then decided they were not going to use canon 603 for the foreseeable future. At that point I had worked with the Vicar for Religious for five years and we were both anticipating my admission to profession. The Bishop's decision surprised us both and left my own discernment at a new and painful place.) Later I renewed my petition, and was, in time, perpetually professed as a diocesan hermit in 2007. (However, I lived as a hermit through the intervening years, reflected on canon 603, on the alternative lay hermit vocation, and determined I needed to approach the diocese once again. My sense today is that the Diocese of Oakland is glad I am professed as a Catholic Hermit in their jurisdiction and that I persevered in petitioning the diocese to mutually discern this vocation.

The bottom line is that most dioceses will reconsider earlier decisions, especially if there is  a truly experienced and suitable candidate. While the waiting period in my own situation was unnecessarily prolonged, at the same time it was an important period of growth. None of that is lost in my life today. Each day something more from the solitude I experienced and the discernment process I engaged in becomes freshly fruitful. Eremitical life is always more about the journey than the destination so what I am saying is that my journey would have been meaningful no matter whether I was ever admitted to perpetual profession and consecration under canon 603 or not.

Any hermit has to trust this truth about the solitary journey with and in God because it is really not easy to get a diocese to accept one for profession under canon 603 --- nor should it be! After all, a diocese has to have the sense that this truth about the journey's importance is true of this candidate! One has to demonstrate over the long haul the ability to live the solitary life on one's own initiative. One must establish links and meaningful relationships with parishes; they must get education and training, establish regular spiritual direction, find work suitable for an authentic hermit living the silence of solitude, and determine how one will keep oneself throughout one's life --- all while living an exemplary eremitical life --- even if profession and consecration is apparently not in one's future. This can all take time but it is my sense that when one has done this a diocese is apt to listen to where one has come to from the time of their initial rejection or temporizing decision in this person's regard.