18 May 2017

Questions When a Diocese Does not Respond as one Feels is Appropriate

[[Dear Sister, I have discerned a vocation to be a hermit. I want to be a diocesan hermit and I think that is what God is calling me to. The diocese doesn't seem willing to believe me or my discernment. They are putting me off. The Vicar has said it will be at least two years and maybe even five years before the diocese would let me make vows. Even then it would be temporary vows. Why won't the diocese trust me in this? They act as though the discernment I have done is not worth anything at all! I asked if I could be publicly recognized as a candidate to c 603 hermit life and they said no they don't do that. What does it take to convince them? Could you write them about this?]]

Thanks for your questions. I know personally that it is difficult to hear one has to wait, and more to wait for some years, before a diocese decides they will profess one as a diocesan hermit. Even then profession is not certain and a diocese can refuse for various good and legitimate reasons including coming to the conclusion that one is not suited to this vocation or even to eremitical silence and solitude lived in the name of the Church. It is important to remember two things:1) if you are called to this the process, so long as it is honest on all sides and not overly protracted**, will not do anything but assist your growth in this vocation. 2) Remember too that what you are seeking from the diocese is the right to represent the eremitical life as it is lived in the Church's name. You are seeking permission to live an ecclesial vocation, not just any form of hermit life (for there are many!), but hermit life as the church understands, defines, and puts it forth as a unique and very rare witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Church is therefore responsible for the eremitical vocation itself; it belongs to her and that means she must be as sure as she can be that the candidate is called by God to do this and more, that the hermit can, does, and will continue live this life for the rest of her days.

In the same way then, the solitary hermit must show that she  too is seeking to live eremitical life in a way which witnesses to it as an ecclesial reality. She must be seeking to live eremitical life as the Church understands, defines, and commissions people to live it; she must also show that she CAN do these things in a way which convinces others she does so by the power of the Holy Spirit. Her life must witness to the victory of God in Christ over the powers of the world --- not because she can speak piously or mouth "Lord, Lord," but because in Christ she has become someone who knows and lives "the silence of solitude" for the sake of God's Church and World. This witness, which itself is a gift to the Church, has some very specific qualities or characteristics. These are spelled out in canon 603 and are expressed as well as in the Church's own eremitical tradition and other canon law. The hermit cannot simply "go it alone" in proposing that the church profess and consecrate her; this is so because the hermit is claiming to be a gift of God living eremitical life, which is itself a gift to the church. For this reason the Church has the right, obligation. and need to examine everything. She has a right and obligation to determine the nature and quality of the vocation which sits in front of her and does so with the candidate in a process of mutual discernment.

** overly protracted: a reasonable period of preparation for temporary profession is probably anywhere up to 7 years or so, depending on the situation. It does not take a diocese this long to get up to speed on the vocation but the nature of the vocation and the candidate's situation --- so long as the candidate wishes to proceed -- may necessitate extended discernment. Beyond this the diocese needs to make a decision regarding admission to temporary vows or termination of the process of discernment.

Temporary Profession:

All of this points to a learning process. The Church (in the persons in charge of vocations, the Vicar for Religious, and finally, the Bishop) is now obligated to learning about eremitical life and what canon 603 life looks like today. Beyond that they have to discern the candidate's experience of and ability to live an eremitism which embodies the same values and qualities. This takes time, especially if the diocese is like most and have never professed, consecrated, or supervised a canon 603 vocation. But it also means the candidate has some learning to do. That is especially true if she has no background in religious life! The learning process usually occurs over time and once the Church determines the person is ready to make profession (public vows) it is usually prudent to require temporary profession several years (3-5 yrs is usual) before perpetual or solemn profession.

The vows, whether temporary or perpetual, require the candidate to give her entire self. One doesn't hold anything back because vows are temporary. At the same time even temporary profession changes the hermit's life in significant ways. Sometimes for instance, for the first time ever the life of the evangelical counsels is lived under the supervision of a legitimate superior. For the first time everything is seen and done within the lens of these counsels because the hermits is bound morally and legally to do so. For the first time the hermit takes on the Church's own eremitical tradition as her own; she assumes a place in this living stream in a conscious way because she is commissioned to do so by the Church.

With profession, and especially perpetual profession and consecration, she becomes a hermit OF the Diocese of (Name) rather than simply being a privately committed hermit living in that diocese. Invariably the professed hermit is challenged to integrate the new facts of her life and to assume a new way of seeing herself in light of a new and ecclesial identity. Living eremitical life in one's own name is a very different experience than it is to live that life in the name of  the Church as a Catholic hermit representing a place in the Church's eremitical tradition by virtue of moral and legal bonds. Despite strong similarities in eremitical praxis, an ecclesial vocation is not the same as one which is not ecclesial. One can live as a hermit for years without also having a vocation to c 603 eremitical life and without being prepared to live eremitism as an ecclesial vocation. Similarly one can also do so nominally without ever truly making the transition from lone person to hermit or without genuinely taking on the bonds and relationships that move one from hermit to canonical hermit.

The period of temporary vows allows one to grow in one's understanding of this vocation from the inside; one comes to embody it and as this commission is embraced, to discern whether one is called to live it for the rest of one's life. In almost every ecclesial vocation within the Church temporary commitments are understood as prudent and ordinarily, as essential. While they allow the Church to discern further re the vocation in front of them, they also allow the individual to grow and mature in what is a new reality, a new identity for them. In short, temporary vows are a good idea and an opportunity for all involved to grow in their understanding of this vocation in preparation for a definitive profession. Not least these periods of temporary profession allow the hermit to prepare to write a Rule of life which is ready for perpetual profession. It will be a Rule which appreciates the nature and importance of this new state of life, the relationships which are central to it, the evangelical counsels, the place of canon law in its regard, its ecclesial dimension and public responsibility. One cannot write a Rule which adequately treats these realities until one has lived them. Temporary profession is ordinarily the time one gets this specific experience.

If one decides during this time that one does not have this vocation or if the diocese decides this is the case, the person can still live eremitical life. They can continue to do so in the lay state with private vows or with no vows at all. Again, an eremitical vocation may not also be a call to live this life in the name of the Church in the consecrated state; even so,  these various forms of eremitism are all significant, all of similar value.

Public Recognition as a Candidate:

I believe I have written about this once before several years ago. In 2011 this question was posed in Questions on When to Approach One's Diocese. What I pointed out there was that neither Canon 603 nor things like The Guidebook to this vocation put out by the Diocese of La Crosse specify a formal period of candidature. Since each vocation is unique and develops according to a unique timetable it makes sense that this is so. These vocations also develop in hiddenness. Until one is admitted to public profession, whether to temporary or perpetual vows, one has made no commitment, accepted no additional ecclesial or canonical responsibilities or obligations, etc. This informal period I have referred to as candidature can end tomorrow or extend for a number of years. Because it is essentially undefined and entirely individual and because one has no additional rights in law during this time identifying it with public recognition makes little sense.

Writing your Diocese on your Behalf:

This is the third or fourth time I have been asked to write someone's diocese on their behalf. In a couple of those I was being asked to write to provide information on the c 603 vocation. What you and others may be unaware of is that dioceses reading about this vocation sometimes contact me if they desire assistance in some way. Sometimes that involves conversations on how the vocation is lived, what eremitical life is and is not, the content of Canon 603, how to approach the process of discernment and determining if an individual seems suitable as a candidate, major reservations in that regard, etc. I respond as asked and if I am asked to speak with a candidate, whether or not in an evaluative sense, I will do that. I will also do what I can when asked for assistance by someone who wishes to become a c 603 hermit. But I do not write dioceses without their first contacting me nor do I write letters of recommendation unless I know the person well and can do this in good conscience.

Please remember that the discernment your diocese must do takes time -- sometimes a long time. If you are called to this vocation then you are called to live eremitical life anyway --- no matter how long the diocesan process takes. Use the time to read and study and pray. Become knowledgeable about the history of eremitical life, the nature of the vows you propose to be allowed to make, the nature of consecrated life in the Church and so forth. Work regularly with your spiritual director and focus on growing as a human being and as a hermit. If you can do all these things while continuing to discern your vocation, the time it all takes will not be problematical; instead it will serve you and your diocese itself well by providing an example of the patience and perseverance of one called and committed to God and God's own in the silence of solitude. It will also serve c 603 well should you be admitted to public profession and consecration and perhaps even if you are not.

I hope this is helpful.