13 January 2016

On Hermits and the Sacrament of Reconciliation

[[Hi Sister, how do hermits receive the sacraments if they are alone in a hermitage? One hermit wrote about just confes-sing to Jesus directly in the hermitage if she sins. It sounds like a Protestant-like rejection of confession to me. Are you (Catholic hermits) dispensed from the Sacrament of Reconciliation because you are a hermit?  If not, does a priest come to you? What about Mass?]] (This question represents a combination of several questions from several posters

Hi, and thanks for the questions. In the main I receive or celebrate Sacraments the same way anyone else in the Church does, namely I go to my parish and receive them. There are some exceptions some of the time. As I have written here before, many days I receive Communion at the hermitage during a Communion service and I reserve Eucharist here. (This also allows me to act as an EEM to others living nearby when I can't get to the parish to pick up Eucharist or am asked to bring Communion on unscheduled days and times.) I ordinarily receive the Sacrament of the Sick at the parish once or twice a year as well --- though in certain circumstances I would certainly ask my pastor to come here to anoint me. There is ordinarily no real reason to ask a priest to come and say Mass here since I take Communion from frequent Masses at my parish and celebrate Communion services as extensions of these as well as in union with the Mass the parish community is celebrating on that particular day. However were I to spend longer periods in actual reclusion and thus not get to the parish for several weeks or more it would be important to have Mass said here occasionally.

Ways of Dealing with Sin in the Church:

In the Church less serious sins are taken care of in many different ways. Every day I and most other Catholics, especially those who are Religious, deal with less serious sins during Office, examen, Mass or Communion services, and personal prayer --- just as the hermit you are referring to seems to do. (There need not be an actual rejection of the Sacrament of Reconciliation involved.) Lesser sins and the process of conversion these require are also dealt with, to some extent, in spiritual direction --- though in this relationship the focus is not so much on sins per se as on patterns of behavior which are unworthy of the person God has made and is calling me to be. (Serious sin is also dealt with in a limited way during spiritual direction with the same focus; usually whatever leads to serious sin needs more work and healing than lesser sins so working with one's director here is particularly important. It does not lead to absolution, however, unless one's director is also one's confessor.)

For the Sacrament of Reconciliation I have several possibilities --- as is true of any diocesan hermit or any Catholic, for that matter. First, as already mentioned there is the parish. I can arrange for the Sacrament anytime I need to do that. Until recently I had a regular confessor  who was not from my diocese; thus, I did not ordinarily go to my pastor or priests coming to fill in at the parish but that option was always open to me nonetheless and may be something I choose to do in the future. Priests have sometimes come here but ordinarily I have gone to them for reconciliation. Neither I nor any hermit is dispensed from the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In some ways it is more important for us, not only because we are consecrated and vowed, but because of the temptation to "go it alone" in solitude or to minimize the degree of our transgressions. (It is sometimes too easy to say, "What happens here is small potatoes compared to what goes on in the world around the hermitage.")

Choosing to avail oneself of the Sacrament when sin is, relatively speaking, not particularly serious, much less grievous, is not necessarily a matter of scrupulosity; rather, receiving the Sacrament of reconciliation is one of the ways hermits recognize and proclaim most clearly, 1) that smaller transgressions are still significant and more easily grow into larger aberrations in solitude than in community, and 2), that our vocation to solitude is ecclesial as opposed to a individualistic approach to eremitism. Sin is never merely an individual matter and the Sacrament where we confess to God and receive forgiveness through the mediation of another human being representing the Church is clearly an ecclesial reality.

More on the Nature of the Sacrament of Reconciliation:

While you didn't ask about the nature of the Sacrament of reconciliation it is important to remember this social and specifically ecclesial dimension.  Forgiveness is always a matter of personal encounter with social implications. While we can meet God in the intimacy of our own hearts, as human beings we need to admit who we are to another; we need to hear the word of forgiveness spoken to us through the reading of Scriptures selected for or by us for this Sacrament or made real in the prayer of absolution. These moments in the Sacrament are moments of Proclamation, moments when the Gospel is enacted not only in our own lives, but in the life of the Church. We need for someone to ask us about the circumstances which may have contributed to our sinning so we can truly speak them and claim the entire situation. We need to speak our own transgressions, not as a simple admission (though that is critical), but because in the context of the Sacrament we see clearly that we are part of a community of faith and are called to be more than we have been. Admitting our transgressions to God through the mediation of another acting in the name of the Church is part of claiming an identity and vocation within the Church which actually allows the Church to BE Church.

Of course it is always God who forgives sins; we can always turn to God privately or in solitude. Even so, in my experience, those confessions, especially when the sin is serious, may well be lacking something which is present when one confesses to God through the mediation of another human being. It is not merely that doing so is humbling in a way private admission to God usually is not -- though certainly this is an important dimension of the Sacrament. That is something we can appreciate as we consider the difference between praying to God in our own rooms, and speaking to God through the agency of another. We can feel the difference. However, this difference also has to do with the fact that in the Sacrament of Reconciliation we entrust ourselves  in our brokenness to the One whose love and mercy was revealed fully and definitively to us in the risen Christ present in the Church. In other words, we do so because God's love and mercy comes to us through the mediation of the Church, especially through those who act in Christ's name in this specific way.

The ministry of reconciliation is given to all of us, priests and laity alike, but it is given in a paradigmatic way to the priest who celebrates the sacrament as a special gift to all of us. The faith, understanding, acceptance, challenge, and encouragement of one's confessor are a significant part of hearing the Good News of Christ within this sacrament. At the same time our reception of the Sacrament is part of the priest's own hearing the Good News of Christ. Together we are actively Church in this mutual celebration of Divine mercy and love. It is a profound and life-giving form of sharing in Christ in which each person experiences the mercy and call of God through the mediation of the Sacrament --- though in differing ways and to differing degrees. Still, this encounter with Christ through the agency of another is absolutely critical to truly receiving Divine forgiveness in the Sacrament and to the ministry of reconciliation as a whole.

Hermits and the Sacrament of Reconciliation:

Again, all of this is as true of the hermit as it is of anyone else in the Church. As already noted, hermits require the Sacrament of Reconciliation as much as any other member of the People of God. I especially like to use the Sacrament to celebrate periods where some clear growth has occurred. At those times it is also important to look at the ways I do not measure up to that growth --- because, after all, whenever we come to new senses of God's presence in our lives or new senses of who we are called to be, there will be ways in which we fall short of those realities. Sometimes that means a serious set of obstacles exist within us that should be recognized and worked through or a serious lack of virtue in this way or that. It really depends on how we measure sin and look at the Sacrament. It would be relatively easy for me, for instance, to say, I have only committed lesser sins --- because in fact I do not tend to sin grievously. However, because I am growing in my vocation and presumably in wholeness and holiness, it also makes the ways I fail or fall short of the love or grace of God stand out in significance.

Thus, I meet with my director regularly and every so often there will be a significant moment of growth or insight or integration. Direction may occasion them or allow me to recognize them clearly. At these times celebrating the Sacrament of reconciliation can allow me to celebrate all of this Sacramentally and therefore, with the larger Church through the mediation of the priest. When I do that both the growth which is a result of God's grace and the ways I still resist or fail to reflect that grace are really brought to the larger faith community both for healing and as a proclamation of hope. Thus the Sacrament allows me to celebrate the grace of God in both the way it bears fruit within me and in the ways I still need it to bear fruit. More, it allows me to recommit to my vocation and honor its ecclesial nature --- something that is important for me especially because it might otherwise be easy to fall into an attitude of individualism or outright complacency.

Like most Catholics today, I suspect I don't always make adequate use of the Sacrament, but again, that is not because I have somehow been dispensed or have less need than other members of the Church. It is certainly not because everything can be adequately dealt with by just confessing to Jesus in the solitude of the cell --- critical and healing as that is. For me, the knowledge that I can confess to Christ in the privacy of the hermitage can sometimes be as much temptation as it is consoling truth. I think that is generally true for Catholics in every state of life. Since the Sacrament is a great gift which is seriously underutilized today and since individualist approaches to faith and spirituality are a significant problem today, it seems to me that it is particularly important that hermits not encourage even greater failure to turn to this gift of God. To put that more positively, it seems important to me that Catholic hermits encourage an appreciation of the significance, gift-quality, and ecclesial nature of even such a relatively private sacrament.