25 June 2018

On Ecclesial Vocations

[[Dear Sister, you stress the importance of consecrated eremitical life. What I just don't get is how I can say to my diocese's Vicar for Religious that I have discerned a vocation to c 603 eremitical life and then have the Vicar tell me that she and others in the diocese have to discern the same thing in order to profess me. If they don't discern the same thing it says I have been wrong. I just don't understand how they can do this to me or to anyone else. How can they diss my discernment like this?]]

I really "get" your questions. They are excellent and are questions I once asked myself. In fact, I think they represent some of the last bits of what needed to be resolved as I came to understand ecclesiality and ecclesial vocations in particular. While all vocations have a personal dimension and are lived out within the church, some vocations are defined as personal and some are ecclesial by definition. A personal vocation only requires personal discernment. Ecclesial vocations too require personal discernment and this is taken absolutely seriously. But for ecclesial vocations, vocations which belong to the very life and holiness of the church, unlike with personal vocations, the Church too must discern the reality of the vocation. More, the church must govern or supervise such vocations and, in fact, will publicly mediate both God's own call and the person's response.

It is because ecclesial vocations actually belong primarily to the church herself rather than to the individual that we call them ecclesial. This is true of vocations to the consecrated state. A person who believes they are called to religious life or c 603 eremitical life or c 604 (consecrated virginity), for instance, must enter into a situation where the church herself can discern the nature and quality of the vocation along with the individual's discernment. When I speak of ecclesial vocations needing to be mutually discerned this is what I mean. A religious, for instance, enters a long process of mutual discernment, first as a candidate, next as a novice, then as a temporary professed religious, and finally, after up to nine years in community, as a perpetually professed religious.

Canon 603 hermits also go through a longer rather than a shorter period of mutual discernment though there is no formal candidacy or novitiate. Ordinarily c 603 hermits have been professed in community and grown in their relation to solitude. Those who have not been religious will usually spend at least 5 years under the supervision of their dioceses before admission to profession. In time they may be admitted to perpetual profession and consecration. Those who have been religious will still spend at least a couple of years in discernment and formation of a c 603 vocation. Again, these vocations belong to the Church first of all; it is therefore up to the Church to discern such vocations and extend or refuse to extend the rights and obligations associated with them to an individual whose own discernment causes her to petition for admission to profession and consecration.

I don't think this discussion can be cast in terms of a simple right vs wrong --- at least not for those discerning vocations as hermits. If the church (a diocese or local church acting on behalf of the church Universal) decides she will not admit a person to public vows (profession) and consecration as a diocesan hermit the person may still live eremitical life in the lay state. If one lives eremitical in this way for some time and is clear she wishes to do so in the consecrated state, she may generally re-approach her diocese after several years and petition once again. If one's diocese has decided not to use c 603 at all, one may then decide to move to another diocese and petition. In regard to c 603, it is or can be much more complicated than simply being right or wrong about whether one has a vocation to live consecrated eremitical life.

There is one more thing I think is not well enough understood by those who speak of "discerning a religious vocation". Most of the people I have spoken to say they are discerning a vocation to religious life before they have ever entered a convent or monastery. In fact, these folks are discerning whether they will perhaps enter to mutually discern a religious vocation. One does not discern such a vocation before one enters and begins the process of mutual discernment. (It is true that one may not do well enough on the psychological testing or pre-entrance interviews to be allowed to enter and one will have to consider what this means but strictly speaking, beyond the most initial determination of interest and decision to "try" one's vocation, one only discerns a religious vocation after one enters a religious institute.