06 September 2015

On Solitary Hermits, C 603, and Stable states of Life

[[Hi Sister Laurel, did you see the story about the hermit profession in the Fort Wayne-South Bend diocese? The story said two of these hermits live together. I wondered how that might work if the vocation is one of silence and solitude.]]

Yes, I did see the article. Several things about it surprised me. The first was that two of the women were living together; a second surprising thing was the specification of three canonical hermits in the diocese (if the number is correct it suggests a young woman professed several years ago may not have persevered). A third was that Bishop Kevin Rhoades has professed a relative "lot" of hermits in a fairly short amount of time (his tenure as Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend is only a few years and he has admitted four people to at least temporary profession under c 603).

Your question is a good one since c 603 is meant to govern solitary eremitical vocations. Lauras (colonies of no more than three) are permitted but these may not rise to the level of an actual community or institute of consecrated life. (cf Jean Beyer's work on this including his comments in Coriden'sThe Code of Canon Law, A Text and Commentary.) This means each hermit in such a colony should have her own Rule, her own bank account and source of income, her own horarium, spiritual director, diocesan delegate, etc. In lauras hermits may come together regularly (usually weekly) for walks or Sunday dinner, festal offices, and daily for Mass, but otherwise their lives are lived in cell. This ordinarily includes daily office, meals, recreation, study, lectio, etc. All of these "requirements" would certainly hold for two diocesan hermits living together in the same residence. If the two women really are solitary hermits (as they are supposed to be under c 603) and not a couple of Sisters living a communal life (no matter how contemplative or prayerful) while using canon 603 as a stopgap way to achieve canonical profession, then a few things will need to be true. First the residence must be large enough for each to have an entirely private and silent prayer space or cell where she prays, does lectio, says daily office, sleeps, eats, studies, and recreates. (A staggered schedule could allow each women to cook and eat in the kitchen/dining room separately from one another and a separate, dedicated library could allow for both to read or study in shared silence and solitude.)

Three women hermitsThe Sisters could, if mutually agreeable, come together occasionally for office and dinner on Sundays or significant feasts just as they might schedule significant time together for shared prayer, a walk, a shopping trip, etc once or twice a week perhaps. They could also travel together to daily Mass, but conversation, if any was necessary, would also need to minimal and each person's need for silence respected. Moreover, each one would need her own Rule and director along with absolute freedom and diocesan support in discerning the needs of her own solitary eremitical life; while accommodations would be required for the shared times and premises, the individual Rule would need to be sufficient for the Sister's own life as should her income, etc, should she be required to leave this residence. The possible reasons are several: the other Sister dies,  either one decides she needs to leave eremitical life, either person discerns she requires a more physically solitary situation, the rhythms and nature of the two calls to solitary eremitical life are simply too different from one another, and so forth. Another reason includes changes in health which are substantial enough to affect both members of the house. More about this below.

Without these things neither woman would be living an eremitical life and significantly, neither would be able to accommodate any divine call to greater reclusion --- which is an integral part of an eremitical call. (The need for greater reclusion can occur from time to time as well and this would have to be given priority over the already-scheduled times together.) Especially critical in a case of two older hermits is the provision for health care (including in home caregivers) affecting one of the two hermits. For instance, one hermit should not be automatically expected to provide these things for the other while the presence of in-home caregivers could also considerably impact the silence and solitude of the second hermit's life. In a religious institute like the Carthusians, brothers and sisters provide all the care an elderly hermit or nun requires, but this critical responsibility which no Carthusian would turn over to an outsider does not fall to a single person. The eremitical vocation to solitude of all the others in the Charterhouse is preserved while their communal commitment to being family for one another is also carefully maintained.

Likewise, in a laura of diocesan hermits the cells are sufficient distance from one another that visitors (caregivers, for instance) do not impact the others. Some lauras actually require a hermit needing full time medical or in-home care to move to a nursing facility or infirmary. This may seem heartless or lacking in charity but in point of fact it protects the vocations of the other solitary hermits. Remember these hermits are NOT professed as part of a community; their vocations are to solitary eremitical life. They neither have Sisters to care for them in this way nor are they necessarily called to do something similar for other members of the laura. The allowance of a laura for canon 603 hermits is something additional meant for mutual protection and support in solitude but it is not an essential part of the life defined by canon 603. It does not and must not change the nature of the vocation itself which is that of the solitary eremitical life. What I am saying here is the situation described in the diocese of Fort Wayne could certainly work for these two hermits but everyone must be clear about what each person's vocation really consists. Sufficient solitude and personal freedom to respond to God's call could be ensured but there are some significant caveats and also, some significant provisions for each Sister's vocation, both in the present and in case of future need, must be assured.

By the way, I should add here as a kind of postscript that in the case of a serious illness a solitary hermit living with another Sister might, with the assistance of her Bishop and SD, discern that for the space of a few weeks or months it is important for her to assist the ill Sister to the best of her ability or tolerate others coming into the hermitage to care for her. Charity, it might be determined, required this. This might well necessitate a temporary suspension of parts of the Sister's Rule, for instance, which the Bishop may grant. However, it is also the case that as with work outside the hermitage, everyone should continue discerning the impact of this arrangement on the Sister's own health and vocation. Should either of these begin to suffer, or should the situation become more extensive in its demands of time and personal commitment, the Sister who is not ill should be free to say she cannot continue to assist in this way or even accommodate further intrusions in the hermitage's privacy or functional "cloister". A suitable resolution for both Sisters would need to be found, and the diocese which approved or even encouraged the common living arrangement would absolutely need to assist in this. Of course this would be very difficult on a number of levels for all involved but this is one of the problems which could well be encountered by c 603 ("solitary") hermits who choose or are encouraged to live together.

[[My second question is why would the Church allow some consecrated Catholic hermits with private vows to live without legitimate superiors, move wherever they wanted and at the same time require other consecrated hermits with public vows to live in the same diocese where they were professed? Don't all consecrated persons have to be accountable to superiors and live where they are permitted? Anyway, it hardly seem fair that some consecrated hermits could live anywhere and others would be tied to a [specific] diocese. Joyful hermit at the blog A Catholic Hermit wrote that this is the way things are though.]]

First, let's be clear: hermits with private vows (unless they are ordained) are dedicated lay hermits. They are not consecrated hermits and have no right to call themselves Catholic hermits because they have neither been extended nor accepted the legal (canonical) rights and obligations associated with living the eremitical life in the name of the Church. Hermits who are publicly professed and consecrated by God through the mediation of the Church have been extended and accepted the public (canonical) rights, and obligations as well as the implicit expectations of every member of the Church who rightly sees her profession as a public matter. (N.B., priests who live as hermits without public vows either under c. 603 or as a member of a religious institute, are ALSO not consecrated hermits; they are ordained and hermits (hermits in the ordained state of life) but they are not members of the consecrated state of life.)

Moreover, as I have also written here a number of times, public profession initiates one into a stable state of life. This means a number of things but mainly it means a series of legitimate relationships which are absolutely necessary for the  accountable and authentic living of her commitment which are essential to the life itself. Part of this means such persons are not footloose and fancy free. They are not and cannot be the equivalent of gyrovagues or Sarabaites so critically viewed in the Rule of St Benedict simply moving wherever the "spirit" moves them. They are tied to place and to superiors in some substantial way. With religious communities (institutes), for instance, the erection and suppression of houses associated with the institute are established according to canon and proper law. Such houses are approved by the institute's superiors and either the local Bishop or the Apostolic See and members live in these houses or, with proper consideration and permission, in the same area or diocese. (cf cc 606-616)

Somewhat similarly, secular or diocesan priests are incardinated into a diocese --- another instance of the Church's concern for stable relationships and accountability. They cannot simply move from diocese to diocese as they please while acting as a Catholic priest. Diocesan hermits are responsible to the local bishop who is their legitimate superiors. As I have noted here several times, in a kind of excardination and incardination, she may move to another diocese and remain a diocesan hermit if the Bishop there agrees to receive her as a diocesan hermit and act as her legitimate superior. Otherwise such a move would find her vows either dispensed or rendered "invalid" (no longer binding) by the substantial change in her circumstances.

In all of these cases consecrated and ordained life requires stable relationships and ways of assuring accountability to the local and universal Church in whose name these persons live their lives. The reason a person with private vows can move wherever and whenever without reference to law or legitimate superiors is precisely because her commitment is a private one rather than a public one.  Such a person is not publicly accountable for the eremitical life or tradition and has not been initiated into a stable state of life which would specifically allow for that. Lay hermits live their lives in the stable state into which they are initiated with baptism, confirmation and Eucharist. But to live as a consecrated Catholic hermit requires other stable relationships commensurate with a new stable state of life marked by additional rights and obligations.

Because hermits in the lay state have neither been extended nor accepted additional rights or obligations beyond those of baptism this also means such a person has no right to style him/herself as a consecrated religious, a Catholic hermit, a professed religious (the term profession itself, by the way implies public commitments and initiation into a stable state of life) or anything similar. What you describe would indeed be unfair. It would be inconsistent, and disedifying. Frankly, it would be hard to understand why any hermit would seek profession under canon 603 if the biggest difference between her vocation and that of a lay hermit with private vows is the fact that a lay hermit is free to do anything she wants whenever and wherever she wants without legitimate accountability while the publicly professed hermit is constrained by legal relationships and canons. In any case, don't be concerned about apparent unfairness; the situation you described or cited is simply not rooted in fact.

Once again it is important to remember the Church values and is directly responsible for vocations to the consecrated state in very specific ways. She is careful about anyone using the term Catholic to designate a vocation, enterprise, or institution without ecclesial authorization to the point of creating canons which prohibit this. Again a Catholic hermit, Catholic theologian, Catholic priest or religious, etc, must ALL have been granted the right to refer to themselves in this way. Baptism gives a person the right (and obligation) to call themselves and live as a Catholic. The other specifications (Catholic hermit, Catholic nun, Catholic priest, Catholic friar, etc.) require the admission to and acceptance of further legal (canonical) rights and obligations because these terms don't simply mean "a Catholic who is also a priest, nun, hermit, etc". Again, the use of the term Catholic in these examples and many others means someone who lives this vocation in the name of the Church and as an official representative of this very vocation. Such persons are directly accountable every day of their lives for the ecclesial commission the Church has extended to them. Not so with those whose commitments beyond their baptismal consecration are private rather than public.

P.S., I have added one final question from another person to this post since I don't really want to write about it separately. I hope you don't mind; it deals with the same post you asked about so it fits very well here.

[[Sister Laurel,  is it true that first and final vows are not documented in the Church's institutes on eremitical life? I read this online and thought I would ask, [[However, this is yet one example again, of how bishops vary in attitude and norm for those they canonically approve or receive what they might call "first vows" (first or second or third or final vows are not actually required nor documented in the Church institutes on eremitic life).]]

First of all as I have noted in the past, the Church speaks of canons, norms, universal (canon) and proper (particular) law to refer to what this poster calls "institutes". The Roman Catholic Church does not use institutes in the way this poster does. Instead, in canon 603, for instance, when the Church says, "besides institutes of consecrated life", she means "besides canonical congregations, communities and orders". The term "institutes" means societies, in this case, those of consecrated life.

The use of institutes in the poster's sense has it's roots in a misreading she once did of canon 603 when she inserted the definite article "the" in the phrase already cited: "Besides the institutes of consecrated life. . ." This allowed her to mistakenly think of institutes as statutes and argue that c 603 was only a proviso which applied to some solitary consecrated hermits but not to others. Again, c. 603 is the norm for ALL solitary consecrated hermits in the universal Church. There are no solitary consecrated hermits (solitary hermits in the consecrated state) apart from c 603 hermits.

Secondly, and to answer your direct question, while canon 603 does not mention first vows but merely profession using vows or other sacred bonds, other canons in the New Code dealing with religious life DO refer specifically to temporary profession and perpetual profession. C 603 hermits are not bound by only one canon, but by those binding religious in the Roman Catholic Church more generally. Meanwhile conferences of Bishops rightly hold that the eremitical life requires long testing and discernment which makes temporary profession at least prudent if not absolutely necessary. Hermits themselves know that admission to perpetual profession without long preparation is imprudent; temporary profession, though not strictly necessary with canon 603, is the usual way to become knowledgeable about what living the vows really means. Moreover, a profession by its very nature must be temporary or perpetual and canon 603 clearly requires a public profession. It is a mistake to say that such a practice including final, perpetual profession of vows or other sacred bonds and the necessary preparation for these are not actually required nor documented.