27 July 2019

On denying Chronic Illness in Order to be Admitted to Profession under Canon 603

prodigal daughter2.jpg[[Dear Sister, have you heard of dioceses that refuse to profess hermits because they have a chronic illness? I am concerned my diocese will not agree to profess me because I am chronically ill so I am thinking about not telling them about this until after profession.. What do you think of this idea?]]

Thank you for writing. I have to say frankly that I think this specific idea is really terrible. While I understand the fear you are experiencing, it makes no sense to approach your diocese with a petition to admit you to eremitical profession while considering withholding important (in this case critical) personal information from them. Canonically I believe your diocese could determine your profession to be invalid in such circumstances but I would need to check that out. (Addendum: see the following passage regarding malice in the making of a vow, The emboldened portion does indicate that a lie in a matter of external forum of the kind you are envisioning would lead to the invalidity of vows: [[Malice (dolus) in the context of this canon is the deliberate act of lying or of concealing the truth in order to get another person to make a vow which he or she would not do if the truth were known, or in order for oneself to get permission to make a vow, which would not be permitted if the truth were known. For example, a novice conceals from her superiors some external forum fact that, if known, would result in her not being admitted to profession of vows. Such malice invalidates the profession of vows (cf. C. 656, 4)]] I think a diocese could decide that they would have professed you in any case and not act on c 656.4, but the possibility of invalidating your vows clearly exists.

Canonical matters aside please consider the wisdom and import of approaching public profession while withholding such a significant piece of personal information. Your chronic illness is not something peripheral to your life, whether as a hermit or not, but central to it and to the witness you are called to give to the Gospel. Is there a dimension of your life which is not touched by your illness and its requirements?  In light of this, how will you write a Rule of life that binds you in law if you do not include the fact of chronic illness? How will you be bound in obedience to legitimate superiors who do not know this important truth about you? (In this matter consider how they would exercise a ministry of authority --- which is a ministry of love --- if they know you so incompletely or partially and in such a significant matter.) Whom do you expect to be for others who suffer from chronic illness or various forms of isolation? (I know you said you would let folks know the truth after profession, but consider if this is really the model of dealing with chronic illness you want to set for others in their own lives?) What is your relationship with the God of truth whose power is made perfect in weakness?

Finally, please consider that many diocesan hermits have chronic illnesses while others are aging and becoming more or less disabled in this way. We are finding our way in this as in many things. In my experience dioceses do not usually refuse to profess a person simply because of a chronic illness if that person can live the central elements and spirit of eremitical life at the same time. Some illnesses will not allow this (nor will some vocations), but since a major part of eremitical solitude is its distinction from isolation, most of us find that chronic illness is something eremitical life can redeem in ways which allow illness to be a significant witness to the individual's true value even (and maybe especially) when eremitical life does not occasion healing from the illness itself. If one cannot risk being truthful in this matter it may suggest that one is simply not suited to the risk of eremitical life itself or the radical honesty it demands --- at least not at this point in time. On the other hand, if one's diocese is talking about making a blanket rejection of a chronically ill hermit, perhaps it is time for candidates to educate them, at least generally, re the place of chronically ill hermits in c 603 vocations.

To achieve such education, however, means living the truth in a transparent way, and doing so long and faithfully enough that you can articulate it clearly for your diocese. Eremitical life itself is edifying; the eremitical life of one who is chronically ill or disabled is meant to be doubly so. The basic question your own query raises and which one must answer convincingly will always be, which does one desire more, to live eremitical life and serve the merciful God of truth in this way or to be professed canonically? Canonical profession can and does serve our living out of eremitical life, especially as an ecclesial vocation, but it is a means to the journey of radical truthfulness, authentic selfhood and holiness; it is not the end in itself.