07 November 2015

On Discerning a C 603 Vocation and Thinking About the Graces Attached

[[Hi Sister, you recently said that if a person is called to be a hermit their life will be more about the journey than the destination. What you said was: [[If you believe you have a vocation then give yourself over wholeheartedly to a genuine discernment and formation process and be patient with however long it takes. If you are called to be a hermit your life will be more about the journey than a particular destination (e.g., consecration) anyway. Trust God; trust the process or journey; trust the Church, and look to what is most loving and edifying for everyone involved.]] I am trying to discern a vocation to hermit life and I feel that I am called to be consecrated under canon 603. If this is God's will for me won't it be a mistake to wait for a long process of discernment? If there are certain graces attached to consecration and this is God's will, then wouldn't waiting deprive me of the graces necessary to live my vocation? I don't mean to be nasty but since you are consecrated isn't it easier for you to argue someone looking to be consecrated shouldn't be too focused on the "destination" where that is consecration?]]

Where I am Coming From:

I can understand why you might think the way I am arguing is easier because I am consecrated. I guess it can sound a little like someone who has already crossed some putative "finish line" to say to other racers that the real task is to take care to look at the countryside as they run along. But profession and even consecration, as critical these are, is not a finish line nor are they the goal of any hermit's life (cf., Profession is Not Graduation). Let me remind you a little of my own background with canon 603. From the time I first approached my diocese with a request to be professed under canon 603 to the day I was perpetually professed took about 23 years. During the majority of those years the diocese had decided not to profess anyone under canon 603 due to some unidentified problem with their use of the canon once before. The Vicar who had worked with me for five years in discernment and preparation for profession was unaware of the decision and both of us had to come to terms with it. (She also had the unenviable job of informing me of the diocesan (Bishop's) position.)

My own seemingly inevitable decision at this point was to continue living as a hermit and though I wanted to be consecrated one of the things I had to come to terms with was the fact that that might not be possible in this particular diocese -- at least not in the foreseeable future. I mainly did that in two ways: 1) I came in time to realize that I might well be living eremitical life as a lay hermit and if that was God's will then well and good; my life was a gift of God in whatever state of life eremitism was lived. I needed to really internalize this. 2) I came to realize that my focus on definitive profession and consecration (either as goal or as disappointment) was leading me away from living my life in the way God was truly calling me to no matter what lay in the future, namely, eremitical life's contemplative focus on the present moment while resting securely in Him. Should a decision to seek consecration again be made down the line it could only be as a fresh discernment rooted in a new sense of the present work of the Holy Spirit in my life.

Why do We Seek Consecration?

In time my life as a hermit came to a kind of fruitfulness which compelled me to seek admission to profession and consecration once again (this was about 15 years after my diocese decided not to profess anyone under c 603). What was different, vastly different in fact, were the reasons I was pursuing this. I had become a hermit with something significant (i.e., meaningful) to offer the Church. I was now looking for a way to do that rather than looking for the Church to make me into something I had not yet become. While admission to perpetual profession and consecration was certainly a gift to me, I sought this in order to share the way the Holy Spirit was working in my life and, I sincerely believed, might be seeking to work or actually be working in the lives of many others as well.

As I look back on all those years I cannot regret the time spent in the journey itself. These years taught me the fundamental lesson that the journey with God IS the essence of the vocation. Moreover these years had definite discrete graces which are still important as part of my eremitical identity. One of these was the lesson that with God nothing is lost or wasted. To be able to say that with my life was and is as tremendous a gift as are any number of other things I do the same with. For instance, that chronic illness can serve as a vocation to proclaim the Gospel with incredible vividness, that God's power is perfected in weakness and kenosis (self-emptying), both human and divine, that lay eremitical life is a significant instance of the eremitical vocation and that consecrated eremitical life is not a "higher" form of vocation, or again, that simply living a relatively pious life alone does not necessarily constitute eremitical life, etc --- all of these are gifts of the eremitical journey with God.

Graces are attached to living an eremitical life with fidelity and attentiveness no matter the state of life involved. Had I continued to focus on either my hope for consecration or my disappointment over the diocese's decision regarding c 603 generally, I would not have been able to embrace the grace being offered to me each and every day. Moreover, had I not done that to the degree I did (which is imperfectly but really!), I would have been in no position to petition my diocese once again for admission to profession and consecration. Again, I would not have become either a contemplative or a hermit during those intervening years. I would not have learned the essential rhythm and perspective of the eremitical life. I would not have grown in necessary detachment nor in the kind of selflessness that is needed by any hermit, consecrated or not, to live even a single day faithfully. I would not have grown sufficiently in faith or my capacity for obedience because I would have failed to trust God's daily sufficiency or his  ability to bring all things to a meaningful conclusion for those who do trust in him. Similarly, my own capacity for stability in the monastic sense, for patience with and trust in superiors (in a general sense), and for reliance on my own initiative would not have developed in the way they did during the long intervening period.

  One thing implied here that was really important is that these years prepared me for life AFTER consecration. They prepared me for the relative obscurity of eremitical life, even (and maybe especially) when it is lived in the name of the Church. You see, after the profession ceremony, after consecration, after the articles in the diocesan and local papers, one mainly retires back into the obscurity of the hermitage. These years demanded I live this life in the way it would need to be lived no matter the state involved. It is true that I am aware of being commissioned to live this life in the Church's name and that I am grateful every day (and sometimes a little awed) that this is the case, but the bottom line is that in those years I learned to trust the Holy Spirit and the gift God makes of my life whether I am ecclesially commissioned in this specific way or not. It was and is a critical lesson.

On the Notion of Missing Graces:

If you are called to be consecrated under canon 603 I truly believe your diocese will eventually discern this. If they are not open to professing anyone under c 603 for reasons that have nothing to do with you, then you may one day decide to leave your diocese. However, I would argue that if you stay and live as a hermit in an exemplary way you will be able to help your diocese to move forward in their own approach to the canon. You will also be demonstrating precisely the kind of hermit you have become. In any case, the fact is you are missing no graces except those you do not embrace because your head and heart are too full of your own determinations. We sometimes think of graces as discrete realities which are other than Godself. But this is not so. God does not have some kind of storage locker with large packages of graces labelled, "for those consecrated by the Church" or smaller ones labelled "for those who live eremitical life in the lay state". Instead grace is the powerful and living presence of God in whatever way God shares Godself.

You see, God gives us himself in the very ways we need him to give himself to us day by day and in fact, in ways that are always marked with a prodigality which is wondrous. We have to trust that. It is the essence of faith. If one day you are called forth from the assembly in the presence of the entire Communion of Saints to be professed and consecrated under canon 603 then you will embrace the rights and obligations of that state of life and God will continue not only to call you but to give himself to you in the ways you need in order to honor and fulfill this call. This is another of the lessons I learned during those years my diocese was professing no one. The question is really what do you want? Do you want some kind of "package" filled with abstract, hypostatized "graces" --- a "package" which is supposedly bigger and glitzier because you are consecrated --- or do you want God in the ways God chooses to give himself to you because he is intimately familiar with what you need but also what his People need?