22 August 2018

Questions on Catholic Hermit Blog and Blogger

[[Dear Sister Laurel, I was reading Catholic Hermit: Time to Praise among other related posts on this blog, and I wondered how a diocese could allow a hermit to live in substandard living conditions for years at a time. I also wondered how they could let a consecrated Catholic hermit spend the majority of her time re-habbing an old farmhouse to use as a hermitage and then to just move on to somewhere else (she says in another post that place may have to be a shelter!) when the rehab is finished. What raised questions for me is this hermit's description of living an essentially unbalanced eremitical life of physical labor she is ill-equipped for and which increased her own chronic pain, led to or worsened unnecessary injuries and unanticipated expenses --- all without assistance or support of any kind from her diocese. Is this typical? It seems unconscionable that a diocese could treat a hermit this way --- without guidance or assistance in housing even to the point of allowing the hermit to write about maybe needing to go to a shelter lest they be "homeless" and out on the streets. How could a diocese allow this? It all reflects badly on them -- the Church I mean. What am I missing?]]

Introduction, Continuing Questions Regarding the Blog/Blogger Cited

Thank you for your questions. I will not pull punches here. I am more than a little frustrated by similar questions and by the situation which prompts them because again and again this particular blogger is responsible for confusing those who come to her blog after googling, "Catholic hermit". How ever good her reasons or motivations are, she is misrepresenting a significant vocation with her own eccentric way of living and inaccurate way of describing herself. 

However, also according to her own blogging  she is not a consecrated Catholic hermit when these terms are used in the way the Roman Catholic Church uses them. So, before I answer the questions you have asked about hermits and the responsibility of dioceses let me say once again, the author of the blog you cited is a Catholic laywoman and hermit with private vows. Her lay vocation is to be esteemed but she is responsible for her life in the way any other lay person is; the Church has not initiated her into the consecrated state and for this reason the local Church/bishop, et al, are not responsible for her in the limited way the church/bishop would be for a publicly professed/consecrated hermit.

The Real Question: The Church's Exercise of Responsibility in Regard to Those She Consecrates

Your questions, while triggered by this person's situation, are more about the Church's exercise of responsibility in regard to those she consecrates as hermits, so let me speak more specifically to these. My own sense is a Catholic (specifically a c 603) hermit's living circumstances are overseen by her bishop and delegate. (Hermits who belong to canonical institutes live their lives under the supervision of leadership in that institute.) My own delegate, for instance, understands her role as helping ensure that the life I live is a healthy one, one leading to human wholeness, holiness, and representing the best eremitical life calls for and calls forth from me for the sake of the Church and world. I keep her apprised of my spiritual life, of course, but it also means that generally speaking she is aware of my physical health and the way I live my life both in this hermitage and in my parish. She is similarly aware of my significant relationships (friendships and professional), work, intellectual pursuits, the things I do for recreation or creative outlets, and the contents of the Rule by which I live my life. (All of these concerns are my own responsibility but my delegate assists me as needed both for my own sake, and for the sake of the vocation to eremitical life itself. She does this on my behalf as well as on behalf of the local and universal Church.)

Temporary situations may cause a certain imbalance in a hermit's life. Medical situations may mean she needs assistance with personal care, trips to the doctor's, etc, for a period of several weeks or even a few months. However, living situations which are substandard as described on the "Catholic Hermit" blog and cannot be rectified in a reasonable time (several months) at an expense the hermit can truly afford would not be allowed, not least because both the hermit's health and vocation are threatened by them. 

While a diocese does not subsidize any hermitage a diocesan hermit buys, the diocese does have the right to expect the canonical hermit to make a prudent investments of time, money, and energy with the help of knowledgeable professionals (realtors, attorneys, bankers, etc).  Should the diocesan hermit make a bad financial investment and be caught in a situation like that described on the blog you cited (inadequate medical care, insufficient hygiene and access to personal necessities like toilets and showers, dangerous vermin-ridden living conditions, inadequate conditions for food preparation and storage, insufficient financial resources, etc.)  they would have the right to expect the hermit to find a way out of the situation within a reasonable period of time. If she needed assistance in this a diocese could be expected to try to find people (or help the hermit locate people) who can offer some assistance but the overall responsibility remains the hermit's own. However, let it be noted, a hermit's extended inability to live his/her Rule of life might well mean, for example, the diocese will eventually need to dispense the hermit's vows.

I don't believe any diocese would allow a publicly professed hermit to buy a house to fix up as a hermitage if that project was going to take more than five years of apparently full-time effort by the hermit herself; they would especially not allow it if the hermit was merely going to sell the property at the end of that time and had nowhere to go after this. (Dioceses of course can (and do) allow a hermit to build or remodel a hermitage, but they have a right and even an obligation to set limits in terms of finances, timeframes, living conditions, and so forth. The life is a contemplative one, after all; it is a healthy one and needs to be stably established. A diocese might also put off admittance to new stages of the life until a person is finished with the project and can truly live their eremitical life consistently and fully. If such a project was approved or allowed and was projected to take a year or two, a diocese might wait until its completion to admit one to perpetual profession and consecration, for instance.)

A fulltime long-term building situation would become even more objectionable if those five years involved insufficient professional assistance (skilled carpenters, licensed plumbers, electricians, etc) or skill which led to numerous injuries linked to accidents with power tools the hermit was incompetent to wield skillfully. After all, the prudential witness value of such a life is dubious; going it entirely alone when this leads to personal harm is not really typical of eremitical life nor does it witness to a stable state of life lived under a vow of religious poverty. Moreover, since it means the long-term suspension of the hermit's Rule for insufficient reasons, it lacks integrity. While dioceses allow hermits to choose and finance their own living arrangements according to what is allowed by religious poverty and their own budgets, and while manual labor is certainly permissible and even essential to the life, that hermit must be able to live her Rule in the midst of any building and re-habilitating. Some temporary adjustments in this can be made, just as may occur in times of illness or injury, of course, but these are worked out under the supervision of directors, delegates, and (sometimes) the hermit's bishop.

Most of your questions about the diocese's behavior presume the author of the blog you cited is really a Catholic hermit who is publicly admitted to the consecrated state of life and all the rights and obligations thereto. Most of them also dissolve once it is made clear this person is NOT publicly professed or consecrated and has not been entrusted with nor accepted the rights and obligations of living eremitical life in the name of the Church. Still, no, this situation is not typical! To reiterate, while it is required that hermits be self-supporting in some sense (this can include disability and similar aid)  and take on all the expenses associated with living this life, it is possible (though not required) for dioceses to assist the hermit temporarily should emergency medical or other expenses be necessary which are more than the hermit herself can manage. What is true for consecrated hermits is that when unexpected circumstances come up the hermit and those who assist her will generally work together to determine what solutions are possible which best preserves the hermit's commitments to the Rule she is morally and legally bound to live and to canon 603 under which she lives her Rule and which her Rule "unpacks". They will do this because they all have a commitment both to the hermit and to the solitary eremitical vocation itself which they will want to see protected, nurtured, and lived as the gift of God to the Church that it is.

I hope this is helpful.