27 May 2018

Questions on Writing a Rule of Life

[[Hi Sister Laurel,
       When you wrote your Rule how did you learn how to do it? I read where you suggest a candidate for profession under canon  603 writes several different Rules over a period of time. Once one is solemnly or perpetually professed does the hermit continue to do this or can they just let the last Rule last for the rest of their lives? I am trying to write a personal Rule. Sometimes it feels like a good idea and other times I wonder why I am doing it? Did you ever have this kind of confusion? Do you have any advice for me?]]

Hi there yourself! I wrote my Rule over some period of time and learned only gradually as I did that. I learned especially as I reflected on how I lived, what can 603 called for (this took significant unpacking), and what I needed in order to live life fully and faithfully. I had some experience of what a Religious congregation's Constitutions or foundational documents might look like and what the Rule of Benedict consists in. Eventually (when I was considering rewriting my Rule sometime after final profession), my delegate also shared her own congregation's Constitutions and Statutes with me though I did not use these as models and I took time to study the Carthusian and the Camaldolese constitutions and statutes as well.

The first Rule I wrote was in @1985 and that was approved by canonists though I never used it for profession. I reworked it almost entirely in 2005 and that was approved both by canonists and by Archbishop Allen Vigneron in 2007; it was given a Bishop's Decree of Approval on September 2, the day of my perpetual profession under canon 603. In the last 11 years I have rewritten portions of this Rule and added a couple of sections which should have been included in the 2007 version but were omitted because my understanding of these canonical elements needed to mature. The last time I worked on my Rule in any formal way was around 2013 but of course I reflect fairly regularly on how I live it and need to live it. Because of the personal work I have undertaken over the last two years, the way I deal with the question of ongoing formation, for instance, needs to be looked at again. So does the section on the role of my delegate(s) or director(s). Clearly I don't think perpetual profession is the point at which a hermit ceases to rewrite her Rule --- though in my experience the need does become less pressing barring significant life changes.

In all of this I have been reflecting on what it means and takes to write a Rule. I have also been learning how it can and must function in my eremitical life and, by extension in the life of the Church's approach to canon 603 vocations. Because dioceses commonly use the Rule a hermit or candidate for profession writes as one very important basis for discernment of the vocation, I believe that a candidate/hermit seeking canonical standing under c 603 will need to write several Rules based on her maturing understanding of canon 603 specifically and eremitical life more generally. Similarly there will have to be a process of formation for an individual seeking canonical standing as someone living eremitical life in the Church's name. I have written before and remain convinced that for most candidates, writing several Rules which can provide dioceses and delegates/directors the basis for discerning the nature and quality of the vocation, a candidate's (or hermit's) needs in this regard, and the means for tailoring the diocese's input into the hermit's initial and ongoing formation, is a necessity for both hermit and diocese.

Personal Confusion and Ambivalence:

Your candor on how it feels to try and write a Rule is not surprising though the way you feel is not entirely familiar to me personally because I must have a Rule which I write and which functions appropriately for me in light of the Code of Canon Law. It is a requirement of canon 603 for any diocesan hermit. Moreover, it is difficult to see how one can live such a life without a Rule --- even or especially as one grows in the vocation --- so I have always had a clear reason for writing or rewriting a Rule. I don't suppose that helps you much of course but I do struggle with writing and empathize with what you say. I am sure you have a good reason you are composing a personal Rule. I would suggest you spend time getting in touch with that; first ask yourself why generally you are doing this and maybe write a paragraph or two about that and what purpose you hope the Rule will serve. Keep what you write with your notes on the Rule itself. It may help to inspire you when writing is difficult and shape what you write when it is not as difficult.

A second suggestion I have is to ask yourself why you are writing whatever specific section that is giving you trouble. Ask yourself if this is rooted in your own experience of need and your deep belief that you are called to this specific practice because it is life giving to you, or if instead for instance, you are writing about doing something or adopting a particular praxis because someone else does it or believes you should do it. Reflecting on and clarifying why you are proposing a specific spiritual practice, form of penance, prayer period or prayer form, etc. may help you resolve the difficulty you are having in writing.

The bottom line here is we include things in our Rules we feel deeply called to, not simply things we think others do or will approve of, and so on. Unless you are writing a Rule which must include the central elements of c 603 or an Episcopal Third Order, for instance, you are free to explore and create almost the entire shape of what you will live and thus, what your Rule will look like. (Even with c 603 there is tremendous freedom in shaping the way one lives the central elements of the canon and life as well as the Rule itself!) And of course even if you are writing your Rule because it is a requirement as noted above it should still reflect those things which are deeply life giving to you. Meanwhile, identifying other reasons for your ambivalence can also help you to proceed.