30 August 2017

On Renewing a Perpetual Commitment

[[Hi Sister Laurel, I wondered about something because of a post you made maybe a year ago. You said you had renewed your commitment as a diocesan hermit, but aren't your vows perpetual or solemn? I wondered why someone would renew vows that are not temporary. Thanks.]]

Thanks for your questions! While it is true that my vows are not temporary, that is, while they do not expire after a year or three years, for instance, it is important to regularly renew my own personal commitment to living those vows I think. To renew my commitment is not to remake vows (i.e., make vows again); with temporary vows the situation is a bit different.  In that case the person remakes vows and does so either for another finite period of time or as perpetual/solemn vows. It is fine to say, "I renew my profession (or my vows . . .) for another year", (or whatever period of time it is) but in such a case the renewal represents a material change in the original vows themselves --- namely, the period of profession is extended and new vows are received as binding for another several years, etc by those who have discerned the person is called by God to this and is therefore to be allowed to do so. The Church as well as the individual making profession are both involved in this new act of profession. Essentially, in such a situation one remakes vows (that is, one makes them again). In the case of perpetual or solemn profession, one needs to renew one's personal commitment even though the vows themselves remain canonically binding. Maybe it is even more accurate to say one needs to renew one's commitment especially because the vows remain canonically binding.

To look at one's commitment, the content of one's Rule and vows, to consider how one has grown over the past year or two --- or perhaps even where one seems to have made no headway, and then, to recommit to continue growing and living in this vowed way as well as to specify for oneself some of the avenues one needs to embrace to continue on this path with fidelity are all important dimensions of living one's life with integrity. The more serious and sustained the commitment, the greater the need to renew it. This year (02.Sept) I will celebrate my 10th anniversary of perpetual eremitical profession (perpetual profession as a c 603 hermit); given the significant personal formation I have undertaken over the past 15 months --- and the changes in my Rule (the changes in kind and amount of writing, parish participation, and in my horarium that personal formation has sometimes necessitated --- as well as the greater awareness of how God created a hermit heart within me that came with this work --- renewal of this commitment seems something I particularly need to do this year.

It is not simply that one's commitment can become less vital or even something one more or less takes for granted, it is also because one comes to know oneself better and to understand one's vocation even better too that renewal of commitment becomes essential. A few months ago someone asked me if I had considered seeking dispensation of my vows (cf., On Woundedness, Healing, and Vocation to Eremitical Life). I found the question surprising in some ways, but it was a very good question given the context (an intense process of personal work) in which I had been engaged. At that point I had come to the realization that God had been acting in my life since the time I was very small to create the heart of a hermit.

Circumstances made my life a solitary one in the sense of being both marked and marred by significant aloneness; what God did and does with that aloneness is the defining quality of eremitical life, the reason any person, but especially hermits can say that "God alone is enough" for us. Now, 15 months into this specific process of personal healing and growth (personal formation), it is even clearer to me that along with the fact that "the silence of solitude" is the redemption of both the muteness of isolation and the sterility of individualism, these truths are existential realities that c 603 and my own life are meant to reveal or witness to in their own way. When something like coming to greater clarity and conviction on something so fundamental happens, it should not surprise us that one needs to renew their commitment to eremitical life even when their vows are already perpetual.

As a kind of postscript let me say I don't know what other diocesan hermits do, but most religious in communities renew their vows together on the occasion of Jubilees, etc. You may remember I attended a 50 yr jubilee earlier this Summer; at that celebration there was the renewal of vows despite the fact that Sisters had lived these vows 40, 50, 60 and more years. They did so because Profession shapes our lives in innumerable ways; we commit to allowing it to continue doing that by giving ourselves in a freshly dedicated way to God in this vocation and to the mission to which God's love summons and sends us. In the same way then, we consent to witness to the gift consecrated life is to the Church and world in all the new ways that gift has been revealed to us --- something that is especially important in this day when the very possibility of life commitments have become doubtful and religious life is sometimes seen as a dying reality.

I hope this is helpful.