02 September 2018

On Law as Unnecessarily Burdensome for the Hermit Life

Dear Sister, when hermits write about the law being a burden imposed on them by others and imposed in a way which prevents them from living eremitical life in simplicity and freedom what are they talking about? I am thinking about the following passages and others from the same post, [[People who augment laws and make them into millstones of detrimental outcome surely do so without realizing they themselves are causing the interference with spiritual progression and the freedom to follow Jesus in truth, beauty, and goodness.]] or [[The laws become so important to them, yet they increasingly are hindered by their own interpretation of laws in attempts to justify their positions and superiority they may claim as a result of the overly or misinterpreted laws. This can lead to their in essence interfering (or being tempted to interfere) with the simplicity and freedom that Jesus desires for others to follow Him in the truth, beauty, and goodness of the mystery of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.]] Does Canon 603 function in this way as a burden imposed without need and leading to a "detrimental outcome"? Do you think your own writing about the canon functions this way for some? Why would someone think this?]]

Thanks for your questions. I couldn't locate the source of this citation to check out the context (not your fault of course!) but I wish I understood what is really being argued in such passages as the ones you quote. I can understand one source of your own questions. After all, the comments are so vague and overly general that it is simply difficult to understand whether they are cogent and for whom, in what way, or to what extent. Does every person interpreting or explaining a law or canon fall under this condemnation or is the person speaking of someone in particular? If someone's explanation of the law or canon means that some will discover they have misunderstood and misapplied either the law/canon or some of its central terms, does this mean the one doing the explaining has interfered with the others' freedom? If technical terms are explained in such a process so that some find they had a mistaken sense of what was really being said, is the one explaining the proper usage then guilty of interfering with the person's discipleship of Jesus? Since you say the person writing this is a hermit I can suppose s/he is speaking of c 603 and those who write about it, but unless s/he is speaking of somehow "making things difficult" for those already professed under this canon his/her comments make little sense. Here's why.

Canon 603 applies in a legally and morally binding way only to those who have freely chosen and been chosen to be professed under it. It applies only when this person and her diocese have engaged in a serious process of mutual discernment and agreed to move forward with the profession and (in the case of perpetual vows) the consecration in the Bishop's hands under this canon. The canon is well-understood by all involved and canonists are available to explain the exigencies to both the hermit and her Bishop before any legal commitments are made. (They will also listen to the hermit who demonstrates on the basis of her own experience how terms in the canon should be nuanced and understood! The vocation is mutually discerned and in some ways, explored. The parties involved listen to one another to discern the will of God.)

NO SOLITARY HERMIT who did not experience canon 603 creating an extraordinary realm of freedom in which one can live the eremitical vocation or who felt that canon 603 functioned as a millstone preventing her from living her vocation in freedom and simplicity would ever seek or be admitted to such profession; moreover, if this situation was discovered after admission to first vows for instance, she would never seek or be allowed to be admitted to further profession or to consecration. If the Church changed the terms of the canon and a hermit found this burdensome in the way described,  then such a hermit might need to pursue dispensation. Nor is this a problem since one does not need to be professed canonically to be a hermit within the Church. If one wishes to represent eremitical life in the name of the Church, if one wishes to serve the Church in this way and feels called by God to do so, then I wonder how the Church's own norm governing such a life could be considered unnecessarily burdensome.

As has been noted here a number of times canon 603 defines one particular eremitical vocation. There are other ways to live eremitical life so if canon 603 served to truly curtail one's freedom (not merely one's many liberties!) or seemed to complicate one's life in detrimental ways, it seems pretty clear that for such a person, this is not the avenue they should use to pursue living eremitical life. In other words they are not called to this specific vocation or to the specific rights and obligations associated with it and need not be troubled by the canon nor by those who comment on or interpret it. For that matter if the person commenting on or interpreting c 603 knows nothing about the canon or really seems to be speaking or writing in ways detrimental to the vocation itself and to hermits canonically professed under it, then again, why would anyone listen to them longer than it takes to check out their findings with other hermits and professional canonists who are recognized for being knowledgeable in regard to this canon?

I know that some have been upset to find 1) that they cannot live as a consecrated solitary hermit except under canon 603, or sometimes 2) that their dioceses refused them admission to profession under canon 603 (never an easy decision for the one being refused admission to profession!), or even 3) that their private vows do not initiate into the consecrated state but leaves them in the stable state of life they already found themselves in (whether lay or ordained). Others have been upset to find that c 603 was meant for solitary hermits (including those coming together for mutual support in a laura), and not for those seeking to form a community of "hermits" or as a way to be professed canonically so one can begin a religious institute. But in each of these cases those explaining these issues are merely explaining facts already known to the authors of the canon or the findings of expert commentators on the canon --- facts which need to be disseminated.

With different issues (e.g., what constitutes a laura, how does the silence of solitude differ from silence and solitude, what is the charism of the vocation, how important is spiritual direction or a diocesan delegate, what should formation look like and how long should it take, the place of temporary profession, the role of the Bishop, etc) we are dealing with elements of the canon where the lived experience of hermits can be especially helpful --- more helpful sometimes than the input of canonists, bishops, et al who have not lived the canon. To write about these is not to create law or to add onerous requirements; it is, in fact, to write about ways of ensuring the life is lived with integrity in true freedom when the canon itself is unclear or silent on the matter, or when time frames and other things which are applicable to life in community and established in canon law just don't work for solitary eremitical life.

Bishops, of course can take such comments and opinions for what they are worth. If they have a strong candidate for profession under canon 603 they are apt to listen to that candidate if something suggested really doesn't work for them. Still, if suggestions seem prudent to dioceses professing hermits under canon 603 dioceses have the right and even some responsibility to adopt these. Canon 603 is an ecclesial vocation so it is up to more than the individual desiring profession to determine what most seems to serve both the Church's eremitical tradition and her contemporary witness to the Gospel.

You ask about my writing. I am sure my own writing has served as a source of irritation and disappointment to some --- most especially those who mistakenly believed (or persist in the argument) that private vows are the normal way to become a consecrated hermit, or who treat can 603 as an entirely optional way to solitary consecrated eremitical life. I'm pretty sure my writing has been a source of difficulty for those who are looking to use c 603 as a stopgap way to become consecrated as a lone person but not as a solitary hermit. But many more have found my writing helpful in explaining terms which those without a background in religious life might misunderstand and in addressing abuses that many have encountered over time. Fortunately, even more have found some of my posts on the spirituality and charism of canon 603 especially helpful. Because what I have written about canon 603 is rooted in my own experience, research, and education, and because I seek to convey truth which is not directly available to those standing outside this vocation, I don't believe it can serve as a burden unless one is not called to this same vocation but is instead seeking to misuse the canon as a stopgap for inappropriate motives. Other solitary (c.603) hermits will (and do!) mainly verify the essential truth of what I have written on the basis of their own experience.

As I have said a number of times here canon 603 is a truly beautiful balance of non-negotiable elements and personal flexibility which produces a sacred "space" where one can pursue solitary eremitical life with God in authentic and ever-deepening freedom. It is a timely canon which allows for a contemporary vocation our world and various cultures are truly hungry for --- without understanding what that actually is. Exploring it has been and continues to be a joy for me because it has served as I believe the canon is supposed to serve in the life of the solitary consecrated hermit, viz, it has deepened my understanding of the life, of its importance, of how God is using my life circumstances to witness to the Gospel and why that is significant for the Church and others. And of course it has served to structure and govern my life as it provides a stable context for focused growth as a solitary hermit in the Christian Tradition. This vocation is unquestionably a gift of the Holy Spirit and simply out of gratitude it deserves the best hermits', theologians', and canonists' experience, talents, and training or education can give it --- my own included.