18 April 2018

Diocesan Hermits and Hospital EEM Ministry

[[Dear Sister, is there any reason a diocesan hermit cannot act as an EEM to hospital patients?]]

Good question. First, there is no reason a hermit could not do so simply because they are a hermit. Generally diocesan hermits are allowed to reserve Eucharist in their hermitages and this means that while the oratory itself is NOT open to others, the hermit may be allowed to act as an EEM in limited situations and either draw on or reserve extra hosts in the hermitage tabernacle. For instance, because I live here myself I will bring communion to residents of our local Senior housing complex and will do so every Sunday as an extension of the Sunday liturgy (!) or more frequently in emergent or less usual situations (instances of serious illnesses, for example). I also have my pastor's approval to do communion services for this specific residence if folks want such a thing. Occasionally I have been asked to do a communion service at a local nursing home (the usual minister could not do it and required a substitute), but since I don't drive and therefore depend on parishioners providing transportation, it is impossible to serve in this way more than very occasionally. Similarly, I have visited residents when they have been hospitalized and requested my presence specifically. In such a situation I will go to one of the local hospitals and bring communion (in case it is desired) as part of a more extended pastoral visit.

However, there are a number of good reasons I or another hermit might not be allowed to serve in this capacity. Some have to do with the framework for pastoral care in the region and some have to do with my life as a hermit itself. In my area local parishes serve to provide EEM's for Catholic patients while the hospitals call in priests to serve these patients for other Sacramental needs. They also have trained and certified chaplains who visit in the meantime and care for more general pastoral needs. This means that Catholic patients, including those from my own parish are well taken care of pastorally. They don't need me coming in to give Catholic patients communion. Moreover it is unlikely given privacy issues that I would be allowed to do so; I would and should not be given access to the census of Catholic patients so unless a patient specifically requested to speak to me via the hospital's pastoral staff or the parish's staff, I would have no reason to bring communion to anyone in the hospital.

Now, these considerations also suppose that bringing communion to neighbors or to do so regularly to patients in a hospital setting are things my Rule and life as a hermit allows. It is important to remember that I am not (as in the Episcopal Church)  a solitary (Catholic) nun --- that is, an unaffiliated nun living alone; I am a hermit and the canon under which I have been professed defines a specifically eremitical life of the silence of solitude, stricter separation from the world, assiduous prayer and penance, etc. It may be that I discern part of living my vocation requires limited active ministry outside the hermitage but if this is the case my bishop and/or delegate (director) will approve of this and too, it will be written into my Rule --- something which is formally approved by my bishop and which I am obligated both morally and legally to live. If my bishop was to determine that bringing communion to hospital patients on a regular and frequent (daily?) basis was not appropriate for a hermit generally or for my Rule specifically, I would need to accommodate that decision.

Additionally, if a diocesan hermit wanted to do limited work bringing Communion to hospital patients she would need to work this out 1) with her diocese (including her director/delegate), 2) with her parish pastoral staff, and 3) with the pastoral staff of the hospital itself. There would need to be limits and specifications on what was appropriate during visits and what was not. There might need to be training and some level of certification and identification for the hospital itself --- especially if the hermit desires or is to be given access to the Catholic census. (Some hermits are already trained as chaplains and others are priests as well; these folks would still need some orientation re the hospital's pastoral care program, especially if they have not done much hospital ministry recently.)

It is true, I think, that hermits could serve very well in such a capacity and that such ministry could be  undertaken without detriment to an eremitical call. Such a ministry could certainly deepen the hermit's spirituality and personal growth; but it is also true that to some extent the hermit would need to work with others and eschew acting as an isolated or solitary religious without accountability to, or place within, an established program of pastoral care. Acting once a week as a minister to the sick to bring communion from the Sunday Mass if the parish is responsible for the hospital in the area would, it seems, to me, to be well within the diocesan hermit's vocation. Anything beyond this would need to be worked out collaboratively as well as in some conjunction with the hermit's Rule and those who supervise her living of this.