12 February 2017

Followup Question on "Canonical Obedience"

[[Hi Sister! In your last post on canonical obedience are you saying that those with canonical vows are no longer free in the sense other Christians are free? If canonical vows mean one is no longer called to Christian freedom then why should anyone desire to make canonical vows? I am sure I must've misunderstood you somehow!]]

Thanks for this latest question! I tried using the phrase, "qualified but undiminished" to indicate I was not speaking of Christian freedom versus something else. Instead I was trying to describe an expression of Christian freedom that differed from expressions linked to the baptismal state and bonds alone. Remember that Christian freedom is always the power to be the persons we are called to be and it is that in spite of and sometimes even through the constraints which limit our lives. That is true whether one lives one's life in terms of baptismal bonds alone or whether one embraces additional canonical bonds. The essential point is that those admitted to canonical vows, to the public rights and obligations of such vows, are called to the same authentic freedom as any other Christian. However, they have participated in a mutual process of discernment and been formally and publicly admitted to a profession and consecration which involves elements defined by canon and proper law which further specify their baptismal commitment and the shape of their freedom.

We might consider these elements to be constraints on the individual's authentic freedom but this is not so. Because the Church herself along with the candidate has mutually discerned  the presence and nature of the call involved, both Church (hierarchy or congregational leadership) and the one petitioning to be admitted to public profession and consecration have determined as best they are able that such admission actually serves the candidate's authentic (Christian) freedom. While discernment processes may sometimes be mistaken it is critical that we understand the point of mutual discernment in ecclesial vocations is the determination of what is truly and Divinely ordained as a source of freedom for the candidate and a gift of the Holy Spirit to and for the whole Church. Private vows may be both or neither but this is not ascertained by the Church because such a dedication is an entirely private act. Even when such private vows are both a source of freedom for the person making the vows and a gift to and for the Church, the private nature of the act means this cannot be adequately discerned or celebrated --- much less extended to others in what must be a mutual act of discernment.

For some the constraints of public profession, canonical structures like vows, a Rule and constitutions, canonical relationships like legitimate superiors and congregations or communities along with the public expectations associated with these will really constitute an impediment to authentic freedom. For the one called to these things they will instead help to create the space for the perfection of authentic freedom and true selfhood. My own life, for instance, is constrained in many significant ways by the requirements of canon 603 (the silence of solitude, stricter separation from the world, etc.) and my public profession and consecration; at the same time these constraints generally create the circumstances necessary to empower me to be the person God calls me to be. Should I have moments when I doubt this is true I can fall back to some extent on the discernment of the Church and my relationships with legitimate superiors for reassurance or encouragement. This also means, however, that should I begin to seriously question if I am insufficiently free in this way or that, I will need to discern whether I am perhaps mistaking license for authentic freedom in the given instance and what I need to do at this point in order to embrace authentic freedom.