29 July 2016

Clarifications, Part II: Verifying the Identity and Standing of Consecrated Catholic Hermits

[[What the author seems to be saying is that any Catholic can become a consecrated Catholic hermit merely by making private vows. She DOES seem to be saying canon 603 is merely an option for solitary consecrated hermits that Bishops may or may not use --- whatever they prefer. So here are my questions: if any of this is true what prevents a completely mad person who is out of touch with reality, simply can't get along with others, and has crazy ideas of God and religion from making these private vows and then calling themselves a Catholic Hermit? What prevents them from pretending to represent the Catholic Church's understanding of eremitical life? Do pastors check out people introducing themselves as "consecrated Catholic Hermits?? And where does their supposed "consecration" come from? It doesn't seem to be from God or the Church. Does the Catechism really support [corrected typo] this the way Ms McClure says it does? You haven't explained how Ms McClure goes wrong there yet have you?]]

Now that all the vocabulary and the text of the CCC is out of the way (and has established the meaning of Consecrated Life in the section Ms McClure referred to) I can answer your other questions.

One of the reasons the Church is so careful about vocations which are mediated and celebrated with public (canonical)  professions and all that goes with those is precisely to prevent the problems you envisioned and others as well. Public vocations are carefully discerned and recognized as literal gifts of the Holy Spirit to the Church and World. Canonically consecrated hermits represent God's own vocational "creation" and image the Church's vision of eremitical life; thus they are responsible for continuing the desert tradition in a divinely empowered, humanly attentive, mindful and dedicated way. Moreover, they do this in the name of the Church who has discerned the vocation with them, admitted them to profession and mediated and marked their consecration by God as an act and continuing reality in which the Church shares publicly. In this way God in Christ entrusts them with this sacred and ecclesially responsible identity, charism, and mission on behalf of God and all those God holds as precious.

There are fraudulent "Catholic Hermits" out there. That's a sad but real fact. Sometimes they are just as you have described them, at least somewhat mad and out of touch with reality with crazy ideas of God, spirituality, etc. Sometimes they are entirely sane with a sound theology and spirituality but have not been able to be admitted to profession or consecration. For these persons it may simply be difficult to accept the fact that they cannot be consecrated and are asked to remain lay hermits (hermits living eremitical lives in the lay or baptismal state alone). These latter may not understand why they are not "Catholic hermits" since they are Catholic AND hermits; more, they may be WONDERFUL hermits and a gift to the Church in every way, but the truth remains --- they have not been consecrated or commissioned to live this life in the name of the Church. Unless and until they have been given and accepted this constellation of rights (and obligations) in a public (canonical) rite of profession and consecration they are not Catholic Hermits.

These latter vocations may be from God as much as any consecrated  hermit's vocation is from God. The difficulty is in knowing whether that is the case or not. Similarly these vocations may be exemplary in ways we would expect either any dedicated or consecrated vocation to be, but again, there is simply no way of knowing. The Church has had no place in discerning, forming, receiving the individual's dedication, and has no role in supervising the vocation or assuring ongoing formation. For someone to live eremitical life in the name of the Church these are just some of the things which must be squared away or provided for. There is nothing excessive in these requirements; they protect people and they protect the vocation itself. In a society and culture whose driving pulse seems to be individualism and where it would be so easy for a consummate individualist to call themselves a hermit --- and even a "Catholic Hermit" at that, precautions must be taken. Because canonical hermits represent the Church in ways a lay hermit does not one must be able to trust they are who they say they are. Otherwise people can be hurt.

Generally pastors do check on the credentials of a consecrated person showing up in their parish unless, of course, the person is already well-known and established. But yes, in the case of a consecrated solitary hermit the pastor would either ask around (other pastors, et al) or contact the diocese and be sure the hermit 1) is professed and consecrated under canon 603, and 2) is in good standing with the diocese or chancery. Diocesan hermits, as I have noted before have a certain stability of place and cannot move from the jurisdiction of their legitimate superior (local ordinary) unless the bishop of a new diocese agrees to become responsible for her and for her vows.

Most diocesan hermits possess a sealed (meaning embossed or stamped with the diocesan seal) and notarized affidavit issued at profession testifying to their canonical standing and providing the date and place of profession and consecration. (This is akin to a baptismal or other sacramental certificate and a copy is kept in the person's file at the chancery.) A pastor could easily ask to see such a document (or a hermit could simply present it as a courtesy); in its absence he might ask who the hermit's legitimate superior is --- expecting the response to be the local bishop and probably an assigned or chosen delegate. If the hermit is a member of an institute of consecrated life and is in the parish while on exclaustration, for instance, then she would again have the proper paper work to establish her bona fides for the pastor. When this is all squared away the way is open for introducing the hermit to the larger parish membership in a way which establishes the authenticity of the hermit's ecclesial identity and place in the life of the faith community. (None of this need detract from the significant role lay hermits play in the life of a faith community by the way, and they too can be identified as the lay hermits they are.)