28 October 2018

Once Again on the Requirements of Age and Self-Support for the Diocesan Hermit

[[ Dear Sister, your post on c 603 and bankruptcy brings up the question of hermits who seem unable to provide adequately for themselves, whether that has to do with housing, medical care, or other needs. I wonder what you would say about a hermit who lives in abject poverty, housing which is not sanitary or habitable, or who has inadequate medical insurance. Catholic Hermit  writes all the time about her living conditions and now has gone to live with family, at least temporarily; she also writes about not having adequate medical insurance. How can her diocese allow her to represent a public vocation as you say, "in the name of the Church," and yet seemingly have none of her real needs taken care of or even live in eremitical solitude?]]

I have written fairly recently in response to a similar series of questions. Here is the link to that post: Questions on Catholic Hermit blog and Hermit.  I have not written recently about the need to live in eremitical solitude rather than with one's family, for instance, so perhaps I can say a bit more about that here; the question affects anyone aspiring to be professed as a solitary hermit so it might be important to discuss at this point. Otherwise, please check the link provided and get back to me if you don't find it answers your specific questions.

Some very few dioceses have broken with received wisdom and professed young hermits (in their 20's or early 30's, for instance) who may then live with their families. I think this is a mistake for several reasons. First, the eremitical vocation, but especially the solitary eremitical vocation is generally understood as a second half of life vocation. It requires individuals to have lived a rich and independent life before giving over everything to a life of such unusual community ("living together alone"), depth, and intensity. It takes time to negotiate all the ways God calls us to fullness of life, to achieve true individuation, develop an essentially contemplative prayer life, and then move to the kind of depth of listening contemplative life requires.

We will try many avenues to develop our personal capacities and serve others and usually, only along these various intellectual, psychological, social, professional, and other avenues will we learn to hearken to the deep inner reality which is at the heart of contemplative life. Secondly, eremitical life under c 603 means one lives alone and deals with all the exigencies of solitary (not isolated) life. It is not ordinarily lived in the midst of one's family, and certainly not by someone who has not achieved true adulthood apart from their families. Again, it takes time to learn to live one's faith in community with the kind of maturity, depth, and intensity necessary before one embraces a solitary vocation which is truly sensitive to and responsible for an ecclesial identity.

As I have noted before, Karl Jung once wrote that solitude could be lived by those with significant early experiences that suited them to solitude, but at the same time, these are rare individuals since the experiences we are speaking of wound and are more likely to make the person uniquely unsuited for eremitical solitude (it can isolate and make isolation relatively comfortable, but this is not the same as eremitical solitude). In either case, the person will need to work through the woundedness that leads to various dimensions of isolation and allow the love of God and others to transform these into the conditions for authentic eremitical solitude.

In the main this will happen before one can discover a genuine call to eremitical life; in some cases one will need to continue this work at deeper levels of healing and transformation once she is professed. (Because one commits to  live eremitical solitude or "the silence of solitude" in the name of the Church, diocesan hermits are obligated to undertake the healing work necessary to be sure isolation is transfigured and transformed into eremitical solitude and the quies, or stillness of hesychastic silence.) In any case, those who continue to live at home with their families have not yet lived eremitical solitude, and in my opinion, have not yet discerned nor been sufficiently formed to live eremitical solitude.

Even diocesan hermits can run into situations which make temporary living arrangements with family, friends, convents and monastic communities necessary. These need to be discerned and embraced as truly temporary. If they are made necessary by health problems or finances, a diocese will need to discern with the hermit whether or not she will be able to once again live as a solitary hermit. (Living on the grounds of a monastery is not the same situation; in such communities it is typical that the diocesan hermit lives a significant solitude while being a significant part of the monastic and parish or diocesan community.) After years of living as a solitary hermit it may well be one will need caregivers or be required to live in a care facility (especially where one where other religious and priests retire!) and some degree of healthy solitude can be maintained. In such instances no diocese will dispense the hermit's vows; however, if the hermit is relatively young, has many years before her and is simply incapable of living alone or of supporting herself adequately as a solitary hermit, a diocese may well decide her vows should be dispensed (or never allowed or received in the first place) --- and rightly so I think.

Whether the Church is right in her stance on the self-support of diocesan hermits or not (and in general, I believe she is), those who developed c 603, write about it in an expert and canonical capacity, and who live it in season and out,  understand that living with one's family and being generally incapable of living solitary eremitical life as self-supporting does not allow one to witness to the essence of the eremitical vocation, namely, that God alone is sufficient for us. Only very rarely have bishops departed from received wisdom in this matter and professed the too-young or yet-too-dependent. My sense from these professions is that c 603 is still insufficiently understood or appreciated and esteemed even by some among the hierarchy; as we have greater experience of diocesan eremitical life and through the wisdom gleaned from this experience, educate the Church and others on the nature of this vocation, I believe the situation will change.