01 January 2016

Does a Rule Have to be Perfect before Submission to One's Diocese?

[[Dear Sister,  I am wondering if my Rule has to be perfect before turning it into my diocese? You wrote about writing several different Rules over a period of time. Was part of the reason so the Rule could be better after several drafts? Do dioceses expect a hermit to write several Rules over time or do they expect a person to be able to write one immediately? Did your own diocese ask you to write several versions?]]

The Reasons for Writing Several Versions:

In suggesting a candidate for eremitical profession write several versions of a Rule over time I had several things in mind: 1) Dioceses use the hermit's Rule to discern the quality of the vocation standing in front of them. While I was fortunate in having a Vicar follow me and meet regularly with me over a five year period at other times chancery personnel had to depend more on what I had written and how well it reflected my own knowledge and experience of this vocation. I think this is not uncommon in dioceses. 2) besides aiding in discernment Rules written over a period of five to seven years can assist the candidate, diocese, and delegate or director in gauging the way formation is going. It is not so much that a candidate will write a better Rule as opposed to draft versions --- as though this is a literary exercise; instead it is that the candidate's understanding of the vocation will change and grow as will her prayer life and experience of living the canon and all of its elements.

With the requirement that a candidate write an experi-mental Rule that allows her to grapple with these things, and then in a couple of years that she write another one which will be considered less experimental and more truly binding the diocese should be able to discern actual unsuitability for the vocation. If the candidate is allowed to continue the process discernment as she works on her own formation, then a couple of years later she may be ready for temporary profession. At that point I would expect the Rule she submits to need little change and be something she tweaks only as growth requires and as work with her director verifies. Finally, the hermit should write a Rule which becomes binding on the day of perpetual profession. Like the Rule submitted for temporary profession this one becomes binding in law but now perpetually. This is not to say it cannot be changed (one will continue to grow and mature in all of this) but besides discussion with one's director or delegate such changes would need to be approved by one's Bishop at this point.

3) the (proposed) "requirement" that one write several Rules over the first years of living the canon provides a kind of space where one can work out the ways each non-negotiable element of the canon is reflected in this particular life. For instance, most canon 603 hermits deal with silence and solitude in their early Rule but few that I have spoken to either did write about or were ready to write about  the silence OF solitude. As the vocation becomes more well known (though still not well-understood!) this situation will be exacerbated. Not only does one need to deal with the silence of solitude in a different way than one does external silence and physical solitude but the ability to do so is the result of eremitical experience one acquires only over a period of years. So, for instance, my original Rule wrote about the concrete practices assuring external silence and physical solitude but it took years before my Rule came to reflect my understanding of the silence of solitude as environment, goal, and finally, as unique gift or charism of solitary eremitical life lived under canon 603. It took time to come to understand the human person as a covenant reality and the silence of solitude as particularly antithetical to the individualism and isolationism which plagues contemporary society.

Similarly, when I first wrote a Rule I skipped over "stricter separation from the world." Not only did I not truly understand what was needed here but I also didn't trust the reality I thought this element of the canon demanded. I read "world" in a relatively unnuanced way and I read "separation" in terms of "turning one's back on" others. It took me several years --- in fact a number of years of prayer, reflection, and personal work before I came to understand how it is a hermit both lives FOR the world  God so loves even as she separates herself from and rejects significant dimensions of it. It took time to perceive what the vocation asked of me as a person and what that witnessed to; in other words it took me  a number of years to understand the unique generosity and hospitality of the eremitical vocation and how that contrasts with a dangerous enmeshment which is often seen as legitimate engagement. All of this impacts the way a Rule is formulated; it also will impact the way a diocese discerns this vocation and the authenticity of other vocations to solitary eremitical life.

This leads to a final reason for writing several Rules over time, namely 4) one is called to represent an ancient desert tradition present in Judaism and Christianity. (Obviously it is present in other faiths as well, but my concern here is with the specifically Judeo-Christian eremitical tradition.) This tradition is associated with the prophetic and counter cultural dimensions of both faiths and is consistently linked to the assumption of a new identity and maturity vis-a-vis God, God's People and God's future in and with regard to our world. While a Rule is meant to help one live one's own individual call it also is meant to reflect the continuity of one's life with the eremitical tradition. It takes time to appreciate this --- especially seeing the importance of modifying traditional expressions of eremitical life in the face of contemporary pastoral needs while maintaining significant continuity. Diocesan hermit Rules are approved with a Bishop's declaration of approval. This does not make them public documents but it does, I think, make them quasi public documents which can serve the Church, canonists, and other interested in canon 603 eremitical life. In other words, they have the potential to serve more than the individual hermit and her diocese.

Diocesan Expectations:

My own diocese did not expect me to write several versions of a Rule over time. They simply expected a Rule which was then submitted to canonists and the Bishop for approval. However, when I reapproached the diocese in @ 2003-2004, the first Rule I submitted was written around 1983-4 and, though approved by canonists, was no longer sufficient to reflect either the way I lived this vocation nor my growth in understanding and embracing it. A newer Rule written at this time was approved by my diocese and became my own proper law on the day of my perpetual profession. In 2010-11 I revised it and I suppose in time I may do so again as my own prayer life develops and other priorities change or shift around a bit.

I do hope that dioceses will see the potential of using the Rules individuals write to aid the processes of discernment and supervising of formation along with determining readiness for temporary or perpetual profession, but I don't know if any have adopted this approach. One diocesan Bishop gave a hermit candidate in his diocese a Rule which I am told she was then free to revise and modify under supervision. I suspect we are on the same track here --- so long as the Bishop's version really was a starting point the hermit was free to work with and revise over time. I believe that to the extent a diocese really understands what it takes to write a livable Rule which reflects a healthy and meaningful eremitical life they will not expect a candidate to be able to write one straight away nor will they dismiss a candidate simply because they are initially unable.

However, it is also the case that dioceses and curial staff do not have experience with writing Rules. Since it is the one tangible element of the canon they might well ask the candidate to write one prematurely or fail to understand the reasons it may take several attempts to write an adequate one. Both the candidate and the diocesan staff need to understand that to some extent one writes to learn and grow. The diocese that does approach the requirement that the hermit write her own Rule in this positive and dynamic way is apt to have good experiences with hermits eventually making perpetual profession and consecration. You yourself can assist a diocese in coming to see the importance of the Rule and of several different versions over time.

Rule as Law and Gospel Vision:

The hermit's Rule will be her own proper law, similar to the Constitutions and Statutes for religious living in community, and this is certainly an important function all by itself. However, historically Rules have had more than this function. They have often served to provide a vision of the life being lived and enough of a sense of the values being embodied to inspire the person to live the Rule as law. In other words a Rule can be a specific picture of Gospel living which captures one's imagination and reflects what it means to live as Christ in this specific context.

Most Rules regarding canon 603 begin with the terms of the canon and outline concrete ways in which those essential elements are to be lived out. At some point, however, hermits tend to find a list of do's and don't's, shall's and shall not's is simply insufficient to help them live eremitical life with real integrity. Either they will construct another document which serves to summarize the theology they live out and that helps inspire them to do so, or they will write their Rule or Plan of Life with this focus and include the concrete practices which are part and parcel of honoring such a vision. In either case the hermit will typically rewrite her Rule at various points along the course of her life. In the period sometimes referred to as "initial formation" this practice is a major help to the hermit and those discerning and supervising her vocation.

Your own Rule does not need to be perfect --- though to be honest,  I am not sure I even know what that means! It needs to reflect the life you are living and convey something of your vision of eremitical life and reasons for embracing it. It should include your current understanding of the central elements of the canon, the vows, and the significance of this life in the life of the Church. Eventually you will come to see, understand, and feel responsible for these things even more profoundly and extensively than you do currently and at that point you may need to rewrite your Rule. For instance, I came to understand the silence of solitude as the charism of solitary eremitical life which the hermit brings both our Church and world. It is a gift of the Holy Spirit our world in particular cries out for just as it is something the Church's own kerygma (proclamation) reflects and the eremitical life mediates in an especially vivid way. None of this was present in my first (1985) Rule but I could not live the life without it today. It gives coherence and significance to external practices in the hermit's life and anchors them deeply in both eremitical tradition and contemporary pastoral necessity. It is the central transfiguring reality which allows me to be a hermit rather than merely an isolated and relatively pious person.