13 August 2019

Discerning an Eremitical Vocation

[[ Dear Sister,  I’m writing to ask you specifically how one discerns a call to the eremitic life? Are there things one discerns alone and others one discerns with someone from the diocese?]]

Thanks for your questions. Let me be more general before getting truly specific. One discerns an eremitical life in the same way one discerns any other vocational path: one evaluates what is happening inside one which seems to call him/her for this particular pathway to 1) contemplative prayer, 2) then to contemplative life itself, 3) and then then to a life of even greater silence, solitude and stricter separation from the world we know as the eremitical life. Beyond this, if one decides one is called to the eremitical life described generally in step three, one will discern which type of eremitical life to which one is called. At every step of these three basic stages one discerns whether or not one is living one's own truth more fully and fruitfully. Is one more whole and holy or is one's life (and especially one's inner life) becoming narrower or constricted in ways one would call "disedifying" (they do not build up the body of Christ), more limited or less fully alive, and therefore is one becoming less human, less loving, less fruitful and less Christian? Also at every step along the way I assume the need for working with a qualified spiritual director. (This is really a sine qua non for any adequate discernment in the eremitical life.)

When one reaches the final stage mentioned above  (what form of eremitical life?) one may understand oneself as a hermit in an essential sense but not necessarily in a formal sense; one needs to determine the more "formal" context required to be the hermit one is called by God to be. For instance, one will need to discern if one will do this in the lay state or the consecrated state of life. If one feels one might be called to the latter s/he will need to explore profession under canon 603 or life in an eremitical or semi-eremitical community or "institute of consecrated life". It is at this point, whether with a diocese or in the community, that one will need to engage in a mutual discernment process. If one does not wish to explore canonical (that is, a publicly committed or consecrated) life as a hermit, then there is no reason to consult with one's diocese. If one determines one is called to live eremitical life in the lay state (i.e., as a lay person acting in and from the rights and obligations of baptism alone), then one can freely do that without any further permission, admission by the Church to profession or consecration, etc. If, however, one believes one's vocation will be fulfilled as an ecclesial vocation or, that is, that one is called to live as a hermit in the consecrated state, then one must engage in this process of mutual discernment.

Clearly this process takes time. It takes time (usually at least a couple of years) to move from a more typical prayer life to contemplative prayer as a regular practice and then from contemplative prayer itself to a truly contemplative life (again, several years is typically required for this transition). It takes time living this and building in the degree of silence and solitude needed for it before one determines a genuine need for greater silence and solitude; and it takes time (once again, several years is typical here) before one can evaluate all of this and determine one is being called to what the Church recognizes as appropriate to and characteristic of eremitical silence and solitude or, as I have often written here, to a life where the silence of solitude is not only the environment in which one's life in wholeness best grows, but is also the goal of one's life and the gift quality (charism) one will bring to the Church and world with or through one's life.

Generally speaking, one's spiritual director can assist one in all of the steps or stages mentioned here. This is true especially with the specific pieces of adaptation and discernment involved in each step/stage. A director would be able to help the directee or client explore how the various elements of eremitical life "fit" with his/her call to human wholeness and holiness. In the third stage a director can help the person to explore the nature of and reasons for their needs for increased silence and solitude. Not all needs or reasons for these indicate a call to eremitical life and some can be unhealthy or at least unworthy of being chosen; these indicate the need for other kinds of adaptations or changes. When this is the case needs for greater silence or solitude are very unlikely to be indicators of a call to eremitical life. Meanwhile, if you want to bring additional questions, especially given how general I have been here, I will always be happy to answer them