02 January 2016

Followup on Does a Rule Need to be Perfect: More on Writing several Rules over Time

[[Dear Sister, thanks for your reply to my question. What happens if I don't want to write more than one Rule and my diocese doesn't ask me to? What I have written so far seems fine to me and I can't see revising it. Besides I am not much of a writer.]]

Good questions and similar to others I have been asked (another person said they weren't much of a writer I think). The purpose of the suggestion of writing and using several different Rules over time is first of all to assist both the candidate and the diocese in maintaining a discernment process that is both long enough but not onerous to either relevant diocesan personnel or the candidate herself.

Sometimes it takes a while for the quality of the vocation to become clear to the diocesan staff working with the candidate. Indications of growth can be more clearly seen in the quality of the Rule being submitted --- especially since the hermit's life is lived in solitude and not in a house of formation with intense oversight and more constant evaluation. Moreover, dioceses are not responsible for the formation of a hermit; that occurs in solitude itself. Even so dioceses must evaluate the way the individual's formation in eremitical solitude is proceeding and they may be helpful in making concrete suggestions or supplying access to resources from which the candidate might benefit. Several different Rules written over a period of years will uncover areas of strength,  weakness, and even deficiency and allow the diocese to respond both knowledgeably and appropriately.

What tends to happen when a diocese does not have such a tool to use is either the relatively immediate acceptance of candidates as suitable for discernment or a more or less immediate dismissal as unsuitable. Dioceses cannot usually follow the hermit's progress sufficiently closely otherwise and without such a tool they may have neither the time, the expertise, nor the patience to extend the discernment period sufficiently. Likewise they may not have the basis for helpful conversations with the candidate that such Rules can provide. I have always felt fortunate to have had a Sister work with me over a period of five years and during those years to actually meet with me at my hermitage. She listened carefully, consulted experts in the eremitical life and its formation and discernment, and generally did what she could in my regard; still, I believe the tool being discussed here would have assisted her and the diocese more generally. It would have helped me as well.

Of course, you are free to write one Rule and trust that that is sufficient in providing insight into your vocation for your diocese. Perhaps it will be sufficient to govern your eremitical life for some time as well. If you have a background in religious life and are familiar with the way Rules are written and function that is much more likely. Similarly, of course, your diocese is free to adopt whatever approach works best for them as well. I personally suggest the use of several Rules written over several years so that dioceses have 1) sufficient resources (including time) for discernment, so 2) the process of discernment and formation will not be curtailed prematurely or stretched endlessly and fruitlessly. I also suggest it so that 3) the candidate herself has a kind of structure which allows what happens in the freedom of solitude to be made clear to her diocese while assuring sufficient time for that to mature. (It is important to remember that the process of writing is a very significantly formative experience itself and contributes to one's own discernment as well.)

Ordinary time frames (for candidacy, novitiate, juniorate, and perpetual profession) do not really work for solitary hermits because the hermit's time in solitude is not so closely observed; neither does it have the degree of social interaction which is a normal element of growth in religious life. Beyond these there is a rhythm to life in eremitical solitude which will include both "tearing down" and building up and which occurs according to God's own time, not to a more or less arbitrary or even more usual temporal schema. Something must replace or at least approximate some of the functions the more usual elements of life in community serve but do so instead in terms of the diocese's relation with the candidate. It must allow and assist both candidate and diocese to have patience with this unique and sometimes counterintuitive process of formation. Moreover, both hermit candidate and diocese must recognize that the eremitical life is about the quality of the journey with God itself and not become too focused on destination points per se (postulancy, novitiate, juniorate, etc).

To summarize then, the use of several Rules written to reflect stages or degrees of growth as the candidate herself is ready to do this helps ensure both individual flexibility from candidate to candidate as well as sufficient length of time and patience on everyone's part to assure adequate growth and discernment. It is merely a tool, though I believe it could be a very effective one in assuring authentic vocations are recognized and fostered.