04 December 2016

Canon 603: Lauras vs Communities of Hermits

[[Sister, could individuals who wish to be religious be professed under Canon 603 and then come together in a laura? What is the difference between a community or religious institute and a laura? I ask because of a post I read recently here on using Canon 603 as a stopgap means to profession. (I don't mean it was a recent post, just that I read it recently.)]]

That's a good question. Canon 603 allows for lauras but of it does not do so explicitly; instead it does so implicitly within the context of support for the solitary eremitical vocation and CICLSAL has approved the idea of lauras. Commentators too have opined on the appropriateness of lauras so long as they do not rise to the level of a community. This means that a laura exists to support solitary hermits in their solitude, and that it does not change the thrust or the requirements of the Canon in other specifications. (The name, laura, is instructive here because as I noted before, it comes from the Latin word for paths which link individual hermitages with one another, and with the chapel and common areas. The emphasis remains on the solitary hermitages and the life within them.) So, how does this differ from a religious institute?

First, community is secondary rather than primary; it is meant to support solitary eremitical life not create communities of cenobites with significant solitude. While Mass may be celebrated daily, and while some of the Divine offices may be chanted or prayed in common, and while during a week a few meals may be taken in common, recreation shared, etc, the emphasis and primary reason for the laura is the solitary vocation. This means too that a hermit continues to be responsible for writing her own Rule (more about this below) --- even though some adaptations may be made so the Laura functions well and responsibility to one another is honored. (This is important not only for the formation of the individual hermit, but also should the laura cease to be sustainable at some point. More about this in a moment.)

Secondly, formation and profession would need in large part to be done apart from the laura itself. That is, one is formed as a hermit in a process which is largely independent and individual. Ongoing formation is provided for in the hermit's Rule. The laura would not responsible for determining what is necessary or for providing for this. Of course, members of the laura might serve other hermits as mentors or elders in the mode of the desert Fathers and Mothers, but such service will not rise to the level of formation director, etc as one would find in a community. Individual hermits might require some degree of socialization to the Laura life specifically, but generally their formation has a different purpose. They are to be formed as solitary diocesan hermits, that is as diocesan hermits whose vocations may take them outside the Laura for any number of reasons and at any time. Formation of new hermits or candidates is not the responsibility of laura members. Instead the laura is open to already professed diocesan hermits. Meanwhile, profession is made in the hands of the diocesan Bishop, not in the hands of community superiors.

Thus, if the laura should be disbanded at some point in the future or a hermit decide to leave (for instance because hermits leave, die, require full time care, decide to live a more completely solitary life with their parish as main community, etc) a remaining hermit (who is not a cenobite) cannot transfer to an eremitical community (like the Camaldolese or Carthusians); instead she remains professed as a diocesan hermit and responsible for her own vocation within the diocese. She must therefore be prepared to live as a solitary hermit like most others --- without the advantages afforded by a Laura and with a sensitivity to her place within the parish community and larger (diocesan and universal) church community.

Thirdly, a solitary hermit must be or have been able to write her own rule of life based on her lived experience and wisdom. I have read an argument that allows for a diocese to write guidelines and the Laura (meaning one person who serves as superior here) to write the Rule. While this might be canonically acceptable (I believe the canon indicates writing the Rule is the hermit's responsibility) it lacks real wisdom and prudence, I think, and it confuses the laura with a religious community. This arrangement cuts away one of the most significant elements assisting the hermit and the diocese in discerning the soundness of the eremitical vocation in front of them; more, it robs the hermit of one of the most integrative and growthful experiences she will have during her first years living this vocation in a truly conscious way. (Please see articles on writing the Rule for more on this topic).

Fourthly, just as the hermit writes her own Rule she must be able to keep her own accounts, determine her own work or limited ministry, and, for the most part (except for common prayer and meals), establish her own horarium (schedule) and choose her own delegate. Again, this is part of recognizing her vocation as a solitary hermit who remains a solitary hermit even should a laura dissolve be suppressed, or otherwise fail. Lauras can accommodate all of these requirements but life in community cannot. Poverty in community requires a common purse and a common interpretation and praxis of poverty; this is not true of solitary eremitical life. Similarly, life in a community requires common leadership --- a single superior; a delegate from outside the community is not workable. In a laura, while one person may serve as leader of the laura, each hermit's vocation is best served by their own delegate.

Fifthly, in a laura, except for worship where each hermit may wear a similar prayer garment, individual hermits wear the garb they have chosen and their bishop has approved according to their Rule of life. Something similar holds regarding access to internet, use of media and computers and other tools a hermit may need. Each of these and other individual needs will be worked out in the hermit's own Rule with the assistance of her delegate and/or spiritual director.