[[Dear Sister, when you write about the making of the hermit heart I begin to understand more why it is some people become hermits. I had not realized that a hermit was meant to witness to an experience of redemption. I agree with you that the formation of hermits really cannot be done by a diocese. A diocese cannot engineer such an experience of redemption! Yet you argue that significant discernment and formation is necessary. What does this really mean and how can someone make sure they get the formation they need? Does formation ensure an experience of redemption or how does that work?]]
Your question and observation are important because the hermit must bring something to the formation process beyond a desire to make vows or dedicate herself to God. What I mean by saying this is that a person might want to dedicate themselves to God very sincerely but the silence of solitude is neither the context, the content, nor the charism they are called to in making this dedication. It is simply not the way they experience God's redemptive grace in their life, nor, therefore, can it be the unique way they witness to God's redemption. And yet, a hermit must say with her life that silence and eremitical solitude (which implies a life of penance and prayer in communion with God) lead to that redemptive quies or hesychasm canon 603 refers to as the silence of solitude. Moreover, the hermit must be able to say with her life that the grace of God is sufficient for us. She must be recognizable as a loving, generous, humble person who has been made truly human and truly happy in her eremitical solitude.
What may not have been clear in what I have written until now is that formation and redemption overlap. To the degree one is formed in the silence of solitude (again, in the solitary quies of communion with God) as a hermit so too will the person experience conversion and thus, redemption. When I describe the kind of person the hermit must be and the witness she must live I am also describing who she becomes by the grace of God in the silence of solitude. That means I am describing the person who is formed in the conditions laid down in canon 603.
Dioceses that are discerning canon 603 vocations have a right to expect that over the period of five years or so a person will come not only to be comfortable in silence and solitude but that they will grow as persons of prayer in the same context. This means the person will thrive as a loving human being, a human being in whom the Incarnation is clearly imaged. Formation is an ongoing reality in the life of any hermit and/or religious; so is conversion of heart and redemption. We grow more and more deeply united with God in Christ throughout our lives. Still, several years of eremitical solitude will produce unmistakable signs of an experience which is healing and sanctifying or one will need to discern this is not the vocation to which they are called.
What Will Formation Entail?
That said, the responsibility for formation falls to the hermit in canon 603 vocations. These are vocations to solitary eremitical life and that means there is no community, no novitiate, no formation director, etc. (Hermits formed in lauras need to be clear that c 603 requires they live as solitary hermits should the laura fail or be suppressed; thus, formation for c 603 is generally entirely dependent on the hermit's own initiative in cooperation with the grace of God alone.) The spiritual director can be extremely helpful here but she does not assume the role of formation director or some sort of superior; the hermit herself must take the initiative. She must be sure she reads about eremitic life, especially contemporary eremitical life, but also the desert Fathers and Mothers, Urban anchorites in the Middle Ages and later, and communities of hermits like the Camaldolese and Carthusians.
This will allow her to begin to see what she is living that is consistent with the tradition and what she is not. (If something seems inconsistent with the tradition she will work to discern its place in her life and the life of the Church; she will discern whether such modifications can and should be made for herself personally, but she will also do so as part of determining whether or not this represents a legitimate adaptation of a tradition which is Divinely inspired and a gift to the Church. What is discerned to be necessary for her may not be a legitimate adaptation of eremitical life.) Knowledge of the eremitical tradition and the history and nature of canon 603 is indispensable because this is the vocation she must negotiate as a solitary hermit living her call in the name of the Church.
Writing a Livable Rule that one proposes to be both morally and legally (canonically) bound to observe is a demanding and complex project. It requires several steps because it has to combine experience in eremitical life (including several years of learning and trying various prayer forms, etc), experience of living the values of the vows, experience in working with one's director to truly reflect the eremitical tradition and to grow in one's life with God --- with the canonical or normative requirements of c 603 and one's diocese. Thus one will have 1) an initial Rule which allows for considered experimentation in cooperation with spiritual direction, 2) a Rule which is less experimental but which still allows for necessary changes as one builds in all the elements of eremitical life and comes to see what one needs personally (e.g., more sleep, more quiet prayer, less study, time outside the hermitage for walks, attendance at parish Mass, etc), 3) a Rule which include the vows and can bind one in a temporary commitment, and finally, 4) a Rule which fulfills the requirement of c 603, has been lived for a significant period of time (1 year or more) and which will bind one after perpetual profession.
I am not sure I have answered your questions. Most of these things I have written about before so please check the labels to see related articles. If I have missed answering something effectively please let me know and I will give it another shot.