21 August 2017

On Diocese Shopping and the Significance of Hermit Designations

[[Sister Laurel, you tend to discourage people wanting to become diocesan hermits to move from diocese to diocese shopping for one which would profess them under canon 603, right? Why do you do that? Is it like those TV shows where one wants to test the candidate's perseverance and so leaves them standing outside the monastery in the cold and snow for days and days? But people do it, see the following excerpt from another blog. Do bishops accept hermit "transplants"? Also,  did you make up the label "lay hermit"? Is the blogger I quoted referring to you? Are these kinds of designations helpful? Don't they tend to needlessly complicate things like this hermit says?]]

[[So I was struck yet again when a dear hermit wrote and mentioned he might be relocating to a different diocese because the diocese bishop designated him as an Independent Hermit rather than "bestowing" Canon Law 603. 
[Yet another example of designations and labels for hermits being creatively invented by individuals, this time a bishop making up "Independent Hermit"  That's a new one. Heard of another hermit who decided to create the label--"Lay Hermit"! Lord, have mercy on us label-making mortals!  We are silly and presumptuous.  Why complicate a beautifully simple vocation with making up additional labels and designations?  But, enough on all that.  I'm sure Jesus knows who we are and calls us as He wills and what He wills, if anything other than "child."] Returning to the thoughts of simplicity of love and simple love of Christ.  I consider once again that Christ is the end of the law.  Why complicate matters?  Why seek after others to bestow what we might want to think is our due, or a type of justice in the context of hermit life?  Seek Christ to bestow whatever upon us.  Christ is our all.  He is the end of the law.]]

Thanks for your questions. I'll try to take them in order but I do suggest you check the labels for these topics to check what I have already written. People do move from diocese to diocese to try and get professed under c.603, but it is usually an entirely futile exercise. There are a couple of exceptions: 1) the person is moving from a diocese which has determined not to implement c 603 at all; in such cases it can be unjust to make a person live as a lay hermit (a hermit in the lay state of life) without access to a genuine and mutual process of discernment, especially if this seems likely to (or even has a fair chance of) eventually lead(ing) to public profession and consecration. I would also suggest it can be unjust in this way especially if the person has begun to show a genuine awareness of the ecclesial nature of their vocation. In such circumstances simply refusing access to profession because the diocese refuses to implement c 603 for anyone at all is especially problematical and moving to another diocese may be the only solution. In such a case one might contact the new or proposed diocese (first the Vicar for Religious and then, if the Vicar supports one, the Bishop) before one moves and ask them if they will consider discerning a c 603 vocation with one in light of the situation in the home diocese. One would need to be prepared to demonstrate a strong history living this vocation and being formed in it to get the hearing one desires in these circumstances.

           Another exception might occur when 2) the person is willing to spend the time establishing themselves in the new diocese, a new parish, with a new spiritual director, etc. before seeking admission to a process of discernment and admission to profession. This could take several years and the discernment process several more with NO PROMISES it will lead to profession. One cannot effectively contact the proposed diocese for some kind of pre-approval (not even the assurance one will be given a hearing) in the absence of exception #1 above. Personally I think it is better to stay in one's own (i.e., the original) diocese and attempt to demonstrate the authenticity of one's vocation over time; however, if one is willing to re-establish themselves in another diocese completely before seeking admission to profession it suggests to me that perhaps the vocation really comes first for this person, not the quest for profession and some kind of social status.

My own concern is that the person show a commitment to living as a hermit first and foremost. My personal hope and even expectation is that they demonstrate they are not merely after the "perks" attached to being a religious while avoiding the difficulties and challenges of living in community for instance. Similarly I look for someone who feels compelled to live an eremitical life because it is the way to human wholeness and holiness for them. Dioceses that refuse to profess someone right off may be working from the understanding that the individual being considered must get the substantial formation they need before being professed and must not be mistaking being a lone individual with being a hermit. As I have written here a number of times these two realities are different; because they are a diocese must be able to see a hermit standing before them petitioning for admission to vows under c 603, not merely a lone individual seeking to validate their aloneness.

           Dioceses will certainly be sensitive to the fact that some who approach them in regard to c 603 like the idea of wearing a habit or assuming a title (Brother or Sister) or even being able to beg for money in some legitimate way even though they are not remotely hermits. They will also likely be aware that ordinarily there is very little direct oversight or supervision of these vocations and for this reason the motivations, personal discipline, and reality of a divine call which results in human wholeness and holiness must be well-established before allowing the person to live this vocation in the name of the Church. All my concerns regarding diocese shopping are concerns that the person proposing to do this shows a concern with the authenticity of the vocation and with living it as fully as one can no matter the conditions or situation. As part of distinguishing the authentic hermit I am additionally concerned that one demonstrates a strong sense of and commitment to the ecclesial nature of the vocation; moreover I am concerned that candidates for profession demonstrate the perseverance in their vocation and the patience required to allow one's diocese to come to greater openness to c 603 vocations --- something that only occurs over time. This perseverance and patience is a gift to the Church and a witness to the eremitical vocation lived in her name.

Bishops and Transplants to the Diocese

     Yes, bishops do accept "transplants" in two senses. First, they will accept hermits who have been publicly professed under canon 603 and need or desire to transfer to this new diocese for some good reason. The hermit must be in good standing with her home diocese (something the home bishop may affirm with some form of affidavit) and the new bishop must accept the responsibilities associated with receiving and supervising the hermit and her vows. Second, some bishops will accept people who have moved while seeking admittance to profession (public vows) under c 603. It is not easy to find such bishops in the latter case and the care they take in admitting a candidate to profession is usually significant.

One really cannot simply hop from diocese to diocese shopping for a chancery that will simply profess one immediately. If any such dioceses exist they would be exceedingly rare and thank God for that! I discourage diocese shopping because I believe this vocation is a significant (that is, an important and meaningful) one and because I recognize it requires significant formation, perseverance, motivation, theological understanding of what eremitism is all about, am established contemplative prayer life, a personal appreciation of monastic stability, and a commitment to living this life as an ecclesial vocation. Diocese shopping most often militates against at least some of these defining vocational elements.

On the Designation "Lay Hermit" (Yet Again!)

Your question about whether the blog author is referring to me in regard to the designation "lay hermit" is not something I can answer. Certainly I did not make up the term. It is common in the Church and is well-understood. Remember, a lay hermit is a lay person (a baptized Catholic) living eremitical life without added benefit of public profession and consecration (something mediated by the Church in a public act). In other words, they are hermits in the lay state --- that state of life lived by virtue of baptism alone. One might also live as a hermit in the clerical state if one is ordained a priest or in the consecrated state (C 603 and those publicly professed in religious institutes). None of that is complicated or difficult. We look at the person's (vocational) state of life (lay, ordained, or consecrated) and add that to the fact that they are living eremitical life. Thus, as I have said many times here, they are lay, ordained, or consecrated hermits --- each with different ecclesial rights and obligations which shape the eremitism they live. The purpose of such labeling is meant to indicate these different ecclesial rights and obligations and the commitment they define, nothing more, less, or other.

The person you are citing regularly confuses the nature of the consecrated state of life and shows a mistaken notion of how this vocational and ecclesial state of life is entered. She tends to believe and assert that an individual may "consecrate" her/himself and enter the consecrated state of life with private vows, that is, with a private act of dedication or "consecration" that is not also and publicly received or mediated by the Church. She regularly seems at least implicitly to denigrate lay vocations including vocations to eremitical life lived in the lay state by denying they even exist. She argues that as soon as one make private vows or some form of private "consecration" (dedication!) one leaves the lay state, and she affirms this despite the fact that 1) no additional canonical rights or obligations (including no ecclesial supervision or responsibility) are linked to this act, and 2) the Church herself disputes this position in her own teaching on the consecrated state of life. The result of this blogger's position purportedly leaves us without lay hermits because, she mistakenly claims, the moment anyone makes a private commitment that person ceases to be a lay person with a lay eremitical vocation.

Needless Complications?

Is this all a matter of needless complication? Isn't a hermit a hermit like any other hermit? No. When we consider all the ways eremitical life can be distorted, all of the stereotypes which still dominate the minds of folks and are evoked just hearing the word "hermit", or the extreme individualism the term "hermit" is sometimes used to justify, when we think of people like Tom Leppard (cf posts labeled with his name), the unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, the mentally ill recluse, Howard Hughes, the Maine thief who violated peoples' homes and lives repeatedly, etc, we know (or hope!) there is a significant difference between them and those persons the Church consecrates to live eremitical life in her name. When we consider that lay (non-canonical) hermits continue the prophetic vocations of the desert Fathers and Mothers in a way which differs some from canonical hermits, or when we consider the importance (and sometimes the apparent problem) of the additional rights and obligations assumed by those the Church commissions to live them as opposed to hermits who eschew such things, we come to understand the distinctions we draw are important to understand and consider.

Not every hermit has to spend time on this, nor are they called to articulate these matters or analyze the theological implications, but it seems to me that every hermit must have at least an implicit appreciation of the significance of their unique eremitical call for the entire People of God and for the world at large. That means if they are hermits in the lay state rather than in the consecrated state, for instance, they understand and have embraced wholeheartedly the uniquely prophetic nature of this vocation as well as understanding, again at least implicitly, the ecclesial nature of the consecrated eremitical life --- especially when one has rejected this option for one's own eremitical life.

More generally people need to know that the vocation the Church has chosen to reprise, honor, and celebrate in universal law  with c 603 is nothing like what often passes for eremitical life or the "hermiting" done by lone individuals asserting their misanthropy, individualism, selfishness, and brokenness with the "hermit" label. It is the fact that the term "hermit" itself is not merely little understood but widely misunderstood as well as significantly distorted that makes the qualifiers we add even more important. The terms canonical hermit, diocesan hermit, c 603 hermit, and Catholic hermit indicate that these vocations have canonical standards which are inherent to the vocation itself, while the hermit has legally and morally binding bonds made to assist her in living her call, as well as the fact that these vocations are formally received and supervised by the Church. In other words, labels or modifiers are helpful in helping everyone come to understand and honor authentic hermits, whether non-canonical or canonical as significant prophetic vocations in a world which needs them acutely even as it misunderstands them significantly.