10 June 2019

Once Again on Bloggers Misconstruing the Church's Position on Vocations to the Consecrated State

[[Sister Laurel, have you seen the following from The Catholic Hermit blog? I would have copied more but here is the link: Synonymous With Prayer. I don't understand how the kind of misinformation she continues to post can be left unaddressed by the Church.

[[There is the aspect of those who would have it that only the hermit vocation is consecrated if publicly professed via canon law; yet the hermit vocation overflows in both a recently written Church law as well as the true call of God to the individual soul.  The eremitic call and the soul's acceptance has been validated through the centuries even back in the ancient lives of hermit prophets--that call and even silently professed avowal which permeates the conscious and unconscious and is.  This form of hermit, traditional, is in the Church's earliest history, made valid and real by God's law, and has always been recognized by the Church and her ordained priests and laity innately, mystically, by means of call and acceptance and vocation lived and as if breathed, consciously and unconsciously--as is prayer.]]

Yes, I have seen it. I will respond paragraph by paragraph (I have also copied a couple of paragraphs you did not since you provided the link to do so). Prescinding from what she seems to be saying about prayer and the hermit life being synonymous, I think it is unfortunate that Joyful Hermit  cannot simply accept the truth involved in Canon 603, namely, that the Church herself teaches that the consecrated state of life is entered by public profession. (cf par 944 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: The life consecrated to God is characterized by the public profession of the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience, in a stable state of life recognized by the Church.) As I have said many times, vocations to the consecrated state of life are ecclesial vocations which "belong" to the Church herself;  the Church values, protects, and governs these vocations with mutual discernment and everything that flows from public profession. Public profession (a broader term than the making of vows) results in publicly binding obligations, rights, and structures which allow the Church to act as she herself is called by God to do with these vocations --- and to make sure the hermits do the same.

Clearly this is not my own individual "take" on things.  CCC par 944 is unambiguous in what it says; it is true of cenobitical religious vocations, consecrated eremitical vocations, and vocations to consecrated virginity. Canon 603 itself is very clear that a hermit is recognized in law (something necessary to all consecrated states of life in the Church) as a consecrated/Catholic hermit if the local bishop professes her according to Canon 603. This canonical form of life is a significant expression of eremitical life today. In fact, despite the way Ms McClure (Joyful Hermit) uses the term traditional for historically common or usual, it is now an explicitly traditional (that is, a normative) expression of solitary eremitical life today; cenobitical or semi-eremitical life is the other normative expression. Canon 603 has become part of the Church's patrimony which she will hand on (tradere) to further generations. In composing and promulgating it she did the best she could to recognize the central elements of eremitical life revealed through the centuries and codify these. Thus, even if one is not going to become a canonical hermit, canon 603 presents the church's normative vision of eremitical life, no matter the expression one embraces.

Even so, eremitical life itself falls into both canonical (consecrated) and non-canonical categories. Many have no desire to associate themselves with the requirements of Canon 603 or other canonical forms of eremitical life; they prefer either to make private vows or no vows at all. This is more than fine, especially when the reasons for doing so are cogent and well-discerned. The history of the eremitical vocation began as a movement of lay hermits (hermits living in the lay state of life) with the Desert Fathers and Mothers and, though quite often in the Middle Ages and sometimes later as well, hermits were approved by their bishops according to diocesan statutes in order to prevent some of the eccentricities associated with some who called themselves hermits as well as to protect and validate genuine vocations, generally speaking, in the Western Church eremitical life died out except in canonically-founded congregations like the Camaldolese and Carthusians. Today, there has been a resurgence of interest in eremitical life. Some few will be consecrated under canon 603 in a Rite mediated by the Church in the person of the hermit's bishop. Many others will remain in their lay state and make private vows (or, again, no vows at all). What is important is that the person lives an authentic eremitical life in the integrity of whichever state they exist. I don't know any hermit, whether canonical or non-canonical who would dispute this.

[[ It is as if the one form, as if needing validation by visible production of vows, publicly noted, requiring a bishop to approve and receive and announce, is that of production and profit.  And, like prayer, the hermit vocation that is not visible, not noted by external garment, title, and public avowal and reception by a bishop, seems not productive, licit, nor consecrated in these current times. Then one considers that those who overly prize the public profession of vows, may consider the privately, hidden profession of vows to be, even if declare not so, deep down hold fast to demeaning the traditional hermits, privately professed, as not consecrated in the life of the church, and as like the hidden mystery of prayer, not visibly valid or en par with the visible.]]

 There is a hiddenness about the eremitical vocation, yes, but to call a vocation "public" as the Church uses the term does not mean visible per se. Neither does a public vocation mean the vocation ceases to be essentially hidden. Instead it means publicly responsible, canonically (legally) responsible in and for the people and life of the Church --- and in greater society as well. It means as noted above, that one is initiated into a state of life with legal rights and obligations beyond that of baptism and the lay state itself. (This simply means there are legal (canonical) and moral rights and obligations which do not stem from baptism alone. A hermit embraces and is admitted to these by the Church through public profession.) It means the person lives this vocation in the name of the Church via her discernment, permission, profession, consecration, and commissioning. This is not about "production and profit" --- whatever that actually means with regard to Canon 603 life!  One does not merely say, "I made private vows and so now I am a Catholic Hermit." Both call and response are mediated in the Rite of Profession. Even so, the eremitical vocation remains an essentially hidden one just as the public and canonical vocations of contemplative nuns and monks whose vows are essentially hidden even when the monastery receives guests. In any case, canon 603 vocations are public vocations in this sense; in some limited ways are also visible because they are known and lived "in the name of the Church".

I will say that personally I don't know any canonical hermits who demean those who are non-canonical. The vocations differ from one another, yes, but one is not of itself better than or superior to the other. Most solitary canonical hermits today spent at least some time as non-canonical hermits while we discerned with the Church whether or not we were called to consecrated eremitical lives; we certainly esteem non-canonical vocations and those who live them often because we lived such a vocation ourselves --- usually for some years. The problem comes only when what is being lived is not particularly authentic or honest --- and this is true whether the so-called hermit in question is canonical or non-canonical. (And let's be clear that the eremitical life has always been troubled by such hypocrisy and inauthenticity. It is one of the reasons canon 603 is so very important for the quality of all solitary eremitical vocations.)

[[This comparison is not true of all hermits who choose the public profession route.  But it is amazing to realize that the hermit vocation, like prayer, can slip into the division and misconceptions that many hold of prayer--that the visible product, the external approval is in effect, consecrated in the Church, whereas like prayer, the actuality and beauty of the hermit vocation, a human hermit's very life has always been poured out through living holy vows professed to God through the centuries through the very Sacred Heart of Christ.]]

All canonical (consecrated) hermits value their vocations and the importance of its public nature. It would be surprising (and intolerable) if they did not. Some of us will write about the nature and significance of this specific call because the Church recognizes the need for us to do so and appreciates our efforts in this regard. At the same time we value the hiddenness of our lives as derived from the central values embodied and codified in Canon 603 (e.g., stricter separation from the world, and assiduous prayer and penance); we value the important ways eremitical life is antithetical to the individualism so rampant in today's world, and of course, as just noted, we all value non-canonical eremitical vocations (and semi-eremitical lives) as well. Specifically, we value the way the Holy Spirit works to call people to eremitical solitude in whatever state of life this should occur --- lay, consecrated, or clerical. I personally believe it is more difficult to live eremitical life authentically without canonical standing. This is true, I think, for a couple of reasons: first, because the world-at-large militates against the values central to eremitical life, and secondly, because one needs a strong sense of the value and importance of what one is living within the Church. The Church gives us both of these by assuring stable forms of eremitical life with both Canon 603 and the canons governing congregations dedicated to eremitical life.

At the same time, valuing all such vocations does not obviate the differences that exist between canonical (consecrated) and non-canonical callings. Neither does it allow us to pretend that the Church's own theology of consecrated life and her responsibility for such vocations codified in canon law simply don't exist or can be individually interpreted by someone without important theological or eremitical formation. I would say quite frankly, if anyone I know demeans non-canonical (lay) eremitical vocations, it is the author of the blog you are citing. She actually believes lay people cannot live dedicated hermit lives because, contrary to the Church's own doctrine and theology of consecrated life, she holds that private vows (acts of private dedication) initiate one into the consecrated (public canonical) state. The upshot of this erroneous and individualistic view of things is that anyone in the lay state making a private vow or vows as a hermit would supposedly cease to be a lay person --- despite what the Church, her bishops, or her canon law says in the matter.

[[This is not to say that a hermit in this century who now may choose to have a bishop be the mediator, of sorts, receiving the vows the hermit professes and whose intentions are to live the vocation as vows in essence poured out to God.   Yet there has always been the consecration by Christ, and Christ as Head of the Body, His Church, available to any soul who avows him- or herself in various ways, means, and vocations, to invisibly live out as a prayer, "the love of beauty--caught up in the glory of the living and true God."]]

I do agree with Joyful on some things. Of course Christ is the head of the Body of the Church and yes, of course ALL vows, whether private or public are made to God who accepts them with delight and gratitude. I don't dispute any of that nor does the Church. The fundamental point, however, which must be maintained is that while God consecrates individuals, God only does so through the normative and authoritative mediation of the Church in the person (in case of initiation into the consecrated eremitical state) of the local bishop. God entrusts certain vocations not to individuals alone, but to the Church herself and then to those she admits to profession  and consecration. It is not merely that an individual chooses to be professed this way. The desire to be professed in this way is only the first step of an usually-long process of mutual discernment.  Again, these vocations are specifically recognized as ecclesial and are undertaken in the name (and thus, only through the authority) of (entrusted by God to) the Church.

Bishop de Roo desired this standing in law be extended to eremitical vocations because he saw great value in the vocation and it is this request ("intervention") he made at Vatican II. This is what canon 603 recognizes and establishes for the first time in universal law. It is what the Church codifies in that same canon. We can certainly say we wish the Western Church had better esteemed authentic eremitical life throughout the centuries as well as the Eastern Church always has, but at least she does so now! One may wish reality were different than this, but so long as one is a Catholic, one is bound to recognize that initiation into the consecrated state of life always happens through public mediation in the hands of a legitimate superior. In the case of consecrated hermits it occurs through the Rite of Profession which is larger than the making of vows per se and can include solemn Consecration (occurring during the Rite of perpetual or solemn profession). Facts are facts. Refusing to accept them, twisting them into some sort of pseudo theological pretzel to support one's own inability to accept reality (something which seems to me to be especially antithetical to any eremitical vocation!) doesn't help anyone --- especially those who are genuinely discerning vocations to some expression of eremitical life.

By the way, any person seriously seeking information on becoming a Catholic Hermit can and should speak to chancery personnel, especially if they have questions beyond those I or others like me can answer. I am not personally concerned that the Church has not noticed Joyful's most recent blog (she has had a number of them as well as what looks to be nearly 100 video blogs over the past 7-8 years or so) --- though Rome is concerned by the incidence of fraudulent eremitical "vocations" -- something Joyful's blog can, unfortunately, encourage --- even if this is entirely inadvertent. I am concerned that some folks have actually trusted what she writes about consecrated eremitical life only to discover (sometimes quite painfully) that they have been significantly misled. One who wrote me had represented herself to her parish as a "consecrated Catholic Hermit" on the strength of what Joyful writes in her blog and someone was less than tactful in explaining the truth to her. Another went to her diocese representing herself in the same way because she wished to be granted permission to wear either a cowl or a habit (not sure which or if both) and represent Catholic eremitical life in her parish. The chancery explained the process of becoming a consecrated hermit under c 603 and the requirements for being granted permission for wearing a cowl/habit. She too was embarrassed but grateful they handled it well.