30 September 2019

Followup on Provisions for Eucharist and Stable States of Life

 [[Dear sister, I wanted to thank you for your recent post on attending Mass vs the silence of solitude. You have spoken many times about the rights and obligations of canonical eremitical life as opposed to the private dedication of the lay hermit and I sort of remembered reading explanations of what these included, but the idea of missing Mass because of canonical obligations brought all of this into much sharper relief for me. The added paragraph referring to having a priest come to your hermitage to say Mass occasionally also helped me understand what you meant by being part of a stable state of life and eremitical life lived by private vows in the lay state. Just to be sure I understood you, am I correct in saying that regular public Mass is part of the stable state of life of the laity whereas  having a priest come into your hermitage if necessary is part of the stable state of canonical eremitism and the rights and obligations which are part of that life?]]

Thanks for this restatement and your comments. I can't add much to what you have written. Yes, the ability to have someone come into the hermitage and say Mass is part of the rights which are associated with canonical eremitism. It is also something which allows me to negotiate the needs of the silence of solitude and my obligations regarding a sound and vibrant sacramental life. Obviously it allows me to meet (in a flexible or less literal way) the requirement of Sunday Mass and the reasons for that. Lay hermits are part of the lay state and the Church is clear what rights and obligations accrue to that state which makes it a stable state of life. Sunday Mass attendance (which is also about participating in the life of the Church rather than just "getting Communion"!) is part of this life's stability then; it is part of what sustains a lay person and the life of the whole Church as well.

Were I to have a priest come in to say Mass it would need to enhance a strong ecclesial commitment which was also reflected in the need for extended and increased silence and solitude. It would also need to enhance the silence of solitude which itself is, paradoxically, a relational term. It would need to be truly edifying and thus, build up the Church herself; it could not be a selfish act or one which simply isolates. Hence the need for significant consultation and discernment in the decision to embrace greater reclusion (a word I have been avoiding up until now, I guess) -- just as would happen in any congregation discerning and deciding on allowing a period of reclusion for one of their members and how they do that so it will be healthy and edifying for all.

I may have been too vague in referring to "rights and obligations" in the past. Moreover, describing what constitutes a stable state of life is something I simply had not thought to do. When I look at the way the Church supports different stable states of life, especially in terms of provisions for Eucharist, it does bring clarity I think. Considering the different ways the Church provides for Eucharist for the lay (non-canonical) hermit and the canonical hermit underscores the  nature of these different stable states of life. Again, thanks for your questions and comments, they are very well articulated and I think will be helpful to other readers.

29 September 2019

On Sunday Mass Attendance: When and Why Can the Canonical Hermit Absent Herself in the Name of the Silence of Solitude?

 [[Dear Sister, why can consecrated hermits miss daily or even Sunday Mass? If I make private vows as a hermit can I miss Sunday Mass in the name of eremitical hiddenness or stricter separation from the world?]]

Thanks for your questions. There are several posts written about attendance at Mass so I would suggest you check out the labels to the right and locate the pertinent posts under "Eucharistic Spirituality and Solitude".  The answers are pretty straightforward. Consecrated  (canonical) solitary hermits may miss Sunday Mass sometimes if the requirements of the silence of solitude make this necessary. The silence of solitude to which they are publicly committed is not only a way of describing the environment in which the hermit lives her life, but it is also the goal of her life, a particular way of describing fullness of authentic humanity in communion/union with God lived for the sake of others. While it would be relatively rare for hermits to miss Sunday Mass the presence of the reserved Eucharist makes it possible for the hermit to maintain her link with the parish liturgy while also living into the silence of solitude in more profound ways. Still, missing Mass on Sundays is possible because the canonical hermit is legitimately committed (i.e., committed in law) to eremitical silence of solitude beyond her baptismal obligations.

As you can guess, this decision to miss Mass, especially when it extends several weeks or more because of the claims of the silence of solitude will be carefully discerned and discussed with one's Director/delegate and/or one's Bishop. Because the Eucharistic celebration is such a high value for the canonical hermit, to miss more than occasionally without really good and well-discerned reasons is ill-advised at best. On the other hand, missing daily Mass is more common and understandable; Religious are not required to attend Mass every day though they are required to make Eucharistic spirituality the heart of their lives. For canonical hermits daily Mass may truly interfere with the requirements of silence and solitude or the silence of solitude.

Privately vowed hermits are in a different position because their vows are an entirely private matter. Publicly such hermits are, of course, canonically bound to the same rights and obligations as any baptized Catholic; no public profession grants or binds with additional (and sometimes differing) rights and obligations as occurs in the life of the canonical hermit. This is why the Church makes clear a lay person who lives as a hermit with private vows alone (or none at all) are still lay persons --- persons baptized into the rights and obligations of the laity (laos =People). Neither would a hermit in the baptized state alone (private vows do not change this) have a legitimate (canonical) superior/delegate with whom such a matter could be discerned and by whom it might be permitted or even encouraged. (A good spiritual director can and will help with discernment in this case but does not have the authority to allow or give permission for such a thing.) Since you would not be publicly admitted to nor bound canonically (legally) by the silence of solitude (or the hiddenness which is derivative of this), or any of the other elements of canon 603 none of these can supersede your baptismal rights and obligations. Since baptism is associated with the public (legal) obligation to attend Mass every Sunday unless illness or some similar emergency intervenes, private commitments (which are of a different level than public commitments) cannot change these foundational rights or obligations.

Another piece of this answer is a consideration of the meaning of the phrase "the world" in "stricter separation from the world." "The world" does not mean the entirety of created reality outside the hermitage; instead it means that which is resistant to Christ or which promises fulfillment apart from Christ. In this sense "the world" cannot be said to include one's parish or (more especially) Sunday Mass! Only secondarily can it mean dimensions of God's good creation which are not resistant to Christ. In light of this we must point out that if one is taking it upon oneself to miss Mass in the name of entirely private commitments one may really be guilty of acting in a particularly selfish (individualistic) and thus, an entirely worldly way!! Finally, the idea of eremitical hiddenness is, as I have written recently, a derivative value which stems from the canonical elements of stricter separation and the silence of solitude. cf., Hiddenness as a derivative or Subordinate Value for the Hermit. Hermits do not make vows of hiddenness nor is this value even mentioned in canon 603. To privilege this vague term over one's public obligations is a seriously misguided practice; it seems individualistic to me, and therefore, "worldly." Meanwhile, since you are not canonically (legally) obligated to stricter separation from the world you cannot privilege this over the values and practices you are canonically obligated to by virtue of your baptism.

By the way, I want to reiterate something I wrote almost exactly 5 years ago in case I have been unclear, namely, [[. . . I don't feel entirely comfortable speaking of the 'right' to skip my Sunday obligation as though that was one of the rights granted me in profession. It was not. What is more comfortable to me is speaking in terms of competing obligations and even competing legitimate obligations. I (as is the case for any diocesan hermit) am (canonically) obligated by profession, consecration, and Rule to live a life of the evangelical counsels, the silence of solitude, assiduous prayer and penance, and stricter separation from the world under the supervision of my bishop (and delegate); at the same time I am obligated in the ways my baptismal commitment binds every Christian. The challenge is to meet all of these legitimate obligations, some of which are competing, in the best way I can.

(Quote continues:) The rights that came with canonical standing include the right to call myself a Catholic and/or Diocesan Hermit, the right to wear a habit and cowl (both right and obligation attached to perpetual profession), and the right to style myself as Sister. In other words, I was given and assumed the right to live this life and serve my brothers and sisters in this way in the name of the Church. ]] cf., Followup on Hermits and Sunday Mass Attendance In instances where I need to absent myself from public Eucharist for a more extended period, I might then need to have a priest come into the hermitage to say Mass periodically. This would also be something (a right or obligation) canon law speaks to and my bishop or delegate could require and/or permit.

27 September 2019

Followup on Vocations and the Will of God

[[Dear Sister Laurel, many thanks for answering my questions on canon 603 and vocations generally. Did you mean that your sense of a deeper call (to authentic humanity) made it easier to handle the loss of concrete pathways? For example, what happens to women who feel called to preach or minister as an ordained priest but have to settle for something else? Would the theology you outlined in your last post ease their pain at being barred from the priesthood?]]

Great questions, thank you again! Yes, my sense that vocation first of all means a call to authentic humanity does make it possible to deal well with the loss of specific pathways. However, that does not mean it does away with the pain of loss, and especially not with the pain of being deprived of a vocational pathway that one desired deeply even to the point of knowing it as a call from God. It is more the case, at least in my own experience, that deep joy combines with pain; the pain adds a kind of poignancy to the joy one feels and the awe that comes from the sense of God's will being done in spite of difficulties and obstacles.

I suppose this is one of the places I am caused to reflect on the passion narratives and Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane; it is also one of the places this narrative is most consoling to me. I hear Jesus praying that he wishes the will of God could be realized in some other way, that surely it could shape itself differently than the events that stand in front of him now, and even (perhaps) that the events overtaking him are unjust and ensure the failure of his ministry as well as causing terrible pain to those who love him. Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom with his life and he did that unceasingly. During the years of active ministry he had to reappropriate Israel's sense of who God's Messiah would be, how that messiahship would be shaped and what it would look like in the face of historical circumstances and oppression. Again and again the reshaping, both in Jesus' understanding and as he embodied this call himself, took the form of weakness and self-emptying; now in these final hours this weakness and self-emptying would reach its climax in abject helplessness, pain, shame, and an even deeper degree of openness to God's will.

Specifically, with regard to reflections on vocation what strikes me most about the Gethsemane situation and prayer is the profoundness of the apparent conflict between what Jesus dreamt of and deeply desired and what he commits himself to in spite of not seeing clearly what God is doing in it all. I wonder that Jesus did not see historical circumstances preventing God's will from being done -- but clearly he did not see things that way. I wonder that Jesus did not say, "Abba, how can any of this be your will??!!" but again, he did not say this. Instead, he placed himself in God's hands and walked resolutely into the future trusting that ultimately even abandonment by God and godless death could, in fact, be (or at least serve) the will of God and the way God does justice. For me one lesson of all this is God works at levels deeper, more profound than what we can ordinarily see. Moreover God reveals Godself in the unexpected and even the "unacceptable" place -- something we all should hold fast to when we see our lives going "askew" in this way and that.

Regarding women who feel a call to the priesthood, for instance, but are frustrated in this for the whole of their lives, no I don't think this theology takes away the pain of this; it may even sharpen it in some ways. However, I do think it provides the means to move forward with real hope in spite of the fact that historical circumstances can actually thwart God's will in some ways while we hold onto the fact that simultaneously God can and does operate in even more profound ways to achieve his will. As I was reminded last night during a class on Galatians, that freedom can be expressed in negative and in positive terms: we can be free from things and free for them. Sometimes these two forms of freedom co-exist on the same level: we must be free from certain things if we are to be free for other things. But sometimes they exist on different levels so that despite certain unfreedoms we can yet be free for deeper and more fundamental freedoms.

Here too I am reminded of the Bonhoeffer quote I have used here a number of times: [[ Not everything that happens is the will of God, but inevitably nothing that occurs happens outside the will of God.]] This may not ease pain, but it does create hope and opens us to experiences of fulfillment,  joy, and awe which can co-exist with and even contextualize the pain.

26 September 2019

Requirements for c 603 Vocations; Vocations vs Vocational Pathways

 [[Sister Laurel, does Canon Law say a hermit has to be at least 30 years old? I saw that on a video along with the idea that a hermit doesn't need to have a Mass for profession; they can have a service and use some kind of sign (like a crucifix) or something. I couldn't find these in Canon Law (or the Catechism) but I am not a canonist. Are there other requirements for eremitical life in canon law?. . . Also, I wondered about the idea that God gives a vocation to every person. Are you saying when you write about ecclesial vocations, that sometimes vocations are not simply given by God directly to the person?

I am asking because if the Church says someone is not called to be a consecrated hermit does this mean God has not given the person a vocation at all? I believe that God calls every person and I think I understand what you mean when you say the discernment must be mutual but when the Church discerns a person does not have a given vocation don't these two things conflict? What I mean here is how can God call us to one thing if it depends on the Church saying yes, they agree we are called to this? When the Church makes a mistake and says, "no, we disagree" do we still have our vocation or do we need to accept we have no vocation? Thanks!!]]

Requirements for Consecrated (canonical) Eremitical Life:

Well, I am not a canonist either but I can say that neither of these things is located in canon law in relation to eremitical life (c 603). Public professions (especially final or solemn professions) are rightly celebrated at Mass according to the Rite of Profession for Religious. The Church considers Mass the exactly right place for such an important celebration of life commitments. She doesn't specify this with regard to eremitical life per se because it is well known and understood as a general principle in a Church whose highest spiritual aspirations are most clearly embodied and celebrated in the Eucharist. As for the age requirement canon law says nothing about this except that those being accepted by religious congregations for entrance must have completed their 17th year. I assume this is the legal requirement for c 603 as well; however, at the same time it is pretty well understood that eremitical life is a second half of life vocation. Thus, while canon law does not provide age requirements for c 603, a young person seeking to become a hermit would do better to join an eremitical or semi-eremitical community where they can get the assistance, and direct supervision, modeling, mentoring, etc any neophyte to religious life requires. Dioceses are apt to reflect this insight in their own praxis.

Neither does canon law or the Catechism for that matter say what garb or symbols can be used. With profession the hermit may receive a Breviary, habit, prayer garment (cowl for perpetual profession), ring, crucifix, scapular, or some other symbol of the life. Any of these might well be received at Mass. Some are appropriately given at temporary profession while some symbols (the cowl or ring, for instance)  are appropriate only with perpetual or solemn profession. By the way, because c 603 hermits are diocesan and solitary rather than members of a congregation, it is entirely inappropriate for a hermit under canon 603 to assume the name Carmelite, Franciscan, Dominican or other canonical Order or the initials associated with these, or to use a proprietary habit for a recognized canonical Order or congregation. Bishops cannot grant such proprietary habits to the hermit nor can they allow them to be assumed by a hermit in the diocese.

Excursus on the Right to Wear Proprietary Habits:

Excursus: The right to wear proprietary habits, which are associated with the specific congregation's charism, founder, etc. can only be granted by the Order/congregation themselves. Since they have the right (and obligation) to discern who is truly called to their community and who, with formation and "testing", can identify themselves as Franciscan, Carmelite, Camaldolese, etc (which means they act in the name of the Church  and the Franciscan, Carmelite, Camaldolese Order/congregation, etc.,) so too do they have the sole right to determine who will be garbed in their habit. It is deeply arrogant (and perhaps equally ignorant since those who do this generally do so out of naiveté) for a hermit who is unformed in a particular charism and spiritual tradition and not clothed by the Church (the Order itself) in a proprietary habit to assume the habit associated with that tradition. End Excursus.

Other Requirements for Admission to Consecrated Life:

The other requirements for admission to consecrated life (including eremitical life) include: one "not be bound by vows of matrimony [this would include vows followed by civil divorce but without a decree of nullity], not already be a member of another institute of consecrated life or society of apostolic life and not be under the influence of force, grave fear, or malice." (As noted in another post, "malice" may include lying about some aspect of one's life which is critical to living an eremitical life.) Dioceses can probably set guidelines for their hermits, especially for what regular program of discernment, and formation they will follow along with the assistance of diocesan personnel. Certainly there will be things needed to find a person suitable to even pursue a process of discernment and formation as a diocesan hermit; these can be determined on a case by case basis simply because certain things may look different given differing contexts in each life.

For instance, a serious chronic illness may be a sign that God has called a person to the silence of solitude of eremitical life; for another person the very same chronic illness might be a sign (when seen within the context of their entire life) that eremitical life is escapist, isolationist, and/or otherwise imprudent for that person. The diocese has the right to make the best discernment they can make in each case even when these requirements are not canonical.

When our own Discernment and the Church's Discernment Conflict:

Your last comments and questions about vocation are very fine. And yes, I think you do understand the very difficult notion of mutual discernment and the mediation of a vocation by the Church herself.  If God gives every person a vocation and if some vocations are ecclesial, how are we to understand the experience of feeling called to a particular vocation when the Church says no? There are only a couple of possibilities: 1) the person's sense of call is somehow mistaken, or 2) the Church is mistaken in her judgment that someone is not called to a specific ecclesial vocation. As you identify with your questions it is the implications of these mistakes a theology of vocation must address. For instance, if a person or the church is mistaken in their discernment and judgment can the person "miss" or even lose her vocation? Is she condemned to forever feeling she cannot be what/who God calls her to be? While I completely understand the tremendous pain of having the Church decide one is not called to an ecclesial vocation I think it is important we remember that, 3) our truest or deepest vocations are even more profound and more lasting than the concrete paths which lead to the fulfillment of these vocations -- including the paths constituted by ecclesial vocations.

I recently had occasion to say to someone that 1) it was possible to be prevented from embracing a vocation one felt called to because the Church does not concur that one is, or even can be, truly called to it, but that, 2) at the same time God's will can still be done. How can this be? This paradox is true because God does not, first of all, call us only to one vocational path but to something much more fundamental and transcendent, namely, authentic humanity. If pathways are closed to us for some reason does this mean we cannot achieve authentic humanity? No, of course not, because God continues to call us --- not necessarily to the pathway that is closed to us but to humanity nonetheless. Our own faithful and creative response to God's continued creative summoning results in new pathways opening to us in which our deepest or truest vocation may be fulfilled. At every moment we are meant to discover the ways open to us through which we may become truly human. What I know from my own experience is that there have been any number of pathways to this which were closed to me for one reason and another. When I look back at each of them I know that each could have been a way I could have achieved the fullness of authentic humanity and I desired them profoundly --- even as they closed to me; at the same time I know that other pathways opened up to me as I responded to God's summons in spite of these closing pathways.

Eventually eremitical life opened as an undreamt of possibility to me and then --- with some long-term obstacles or difficulties conditioning my response -- consecrated eremitical life. At each point in my journey I had to let go of some pathways I had thought were definitive of who I was called to be. Sometimes these pathways were linked to elements in my life which were then relativized; these elements remained dimensions of my life but no longer were (or could be) the focus or the main way to fulfillment as other dimensions of my life assumed greater (or at least clearer) importance. Through it all, the times of loss, rediscovery, new discoveries and new creation by God, the call to be myself in the Gospel of Jesus Christ remained. I learned to respond to that call with the best pathway open to me at the time.

And  eventually I also discovered that throughout this long journey of loss, rediscovery, and reappropriation, that nothing at all was truly lost, that each pathway (no matter how far it took me or in whatever way it stayed with me or was left behind) carried me further towards authentic humanity. It is as though my life was composed of a number of major pieces (music, violin, theology, love of language, prayer, Jesus Christ, teaching, chronic illness, the desire to serve, the felt desire for religious life, etc) which could be combined in innumerable ways but the framework of the "puzzle picture" was the call to authentic humanity. At one point in my life violin dominated and controlled the way the puzzle pieces came together, at another teaching, at another apostolic religious life (with a view toward teaching!); theology became a pedal tone underlying everything when it wasn't the dominant focus or melody itself, and throughout the whole of my adult life chronic illness was either a dominant tone or a piece of everything, etc. Now, 50 years after I first entered religious life, though chronic illness remained a defining element, and though my life came to look nothing like I had pictured it through the decades, I recognize my deepest self in this eremitical call and see clearly how each of the central elements of all those various pictures is still present and has shaped my response to God and the call to be myself!!  God is faithful and calls us to ourselves no matter the apparent obstacles. All things work for good for those who love God.

Summary on Vocation versus vocational pathways:

Again, my answer is that no, we do not ever lose our most fundamental vocation. We can resist it, lose sight of it, even reject it, but nonetheless God continues to call us and this call is creative. If we are faithful to this call even as various pathways don't work out or are closed to us, God's will can and will still be done. But it is important to remember that God is primarily concerned with us as persons and not with abstract vocations.  Each of those possible pathways may have felt like they were also God's one and only will for us, but God's will is both deeper and beyond the conditioning circumstances that shape our lives. We cannot continue to focus on a particular pathway (a specific puzzle piece) while missing the deeper call --- though we can hold the pathway as a possibility which may open to us in the future as we pursue our deepest calling to authentic humanity. We can miss a pathway; we can be deprived of a pathway by circumstances (including mistakes made by the church); but the vocation is held by God beyond all historical circumstances and is something that can be fulfilled in history so long as we too are obedient (attentive) to it and faithful to the creative love/summons of God.

Today I can say God worked my whole life to produce the heart of a hermit. I was amazed to discover that within the past three years. Every twist and turn in my life has been important in the graced formation of this heart. But to be honest I have to say it is also the heart of a teacher and (perhaps) a professional violinist; it is the heart of a contemplative and an apostolic religious, a hospital chaplain, spiritual director, theologian, and so forth. Some of those pathways were closed to me, but the love of music, learning and teaching, theology, Scripture, prayer and life with and in Christ lived for the sake of God and others, are the puzzle pieces which combine today to create my own unique eremitical life.

I know this response was long, but your questions are significant. I hope it is helpful.

24 September 2019

Do Catholic Hermits Seal Their Vows With Blood? (Reprise)

[[Sister Laurel, the author of Catholic Hermit blog wrote she had sealed or signed her vow of suffering with blood. I think that sounds gross. She wrote about this in Hermit Vow of Consecration of Suffering. Does the Church allow this kind of thing does she? Does she encourage it?. . . ]]

 Joyful Hermit (screen name associated with blog) has written about this kind of thing before but at that point she was describing private vows she had made in a chapel before an altar, all witnessed by her spiritual director. I wrote about that here before  knowing whom the question was about. I am reprising that post here since I think it answers your question:

[[Sister Laurel, do Catholic Hermits seal their vows with blood? I've heard of blood vows (something about the Mafia) and blood oaths but before today I never heard of a Catholic hermit sealing his or her vows with blood or a Catholic priest allowing it. Is this part of canon 603 or the ritual of consecration?]]

Assuming this is a question prompted by an actual situation and not by an old (or new!) Sister Fidelma mystery, I should say that the entire situation you describe completely creeps me out. However it also raises the serious question of the use of normative rites for profession and the relation of liturgy and belief.

One of the things I don't think I have written much about here is the idea that public professions and consecrations are done according to approved rites and liturgies. This, I think, is part of the truth of the traditional saying "as we pray, so we believe" ("Lex orandi, lex credendi"). Let me also say that it goes almost without saying that the approved rites for religious profession in the Roman Catholic Church (including the profession and consecration of the c 603 hermit) or the consecration of Virgins do not EVER use blood to seal the commitment.

The idea of doing so smacks of pagan sacrificial or esoteric rites which attribute mystical powers to blood or think in terms of a kind of crude physicalism and magic. (This is the kind of mistaken and unsound physicalism that talks about hosts spurting blood or speaks of munching on Jesus' bones or fingernails when one is consuming the Eucharist! Too often have Catholics been accused of believing such nonsense. Too often have theologically or spiritually naive Catholics contributed to this judgment --- something which has needlessly inflamed anti-Catholic sentiment over the centuries.) In any case, this notion of sealing vows in blood certainly ignores the fact that Jesus' death and resurrection, something celebrated anew in the Mass that contextualizes a public profession, has done away with such things forever.

Contrary to what you describe or at least imply has occurred, I honestly can't imagine a
Catholic priest allowing such a thing either --- and of course in the profession and consecration of diocesan hermits we are also dealing with diocesan bishops and canonists who absolutely would never allow such a thing to happen. As alluded to above, hermits in such situations are ordinarily professed using either the established Rite of Religious Profession approved by the Vatican or a version of profession for anchorites which is vetted by the hermit's Diocese beforehand. Whichever is used, the insigniae given, the vow formula and forms to be signed and witnessed, and the liturgy more generally are all approved beforehand. (Any individual accommodations are prepared and submitted to the diocese prior to the day of celebration.) The necessary forms are embossed or stamped with the diocesan seal and signed by the Bishop, the Ecclesiastical notary and/or Vicar for Religious, the one professed, and witnesses (pastor, delegate, etc). Barring an inadvertent paper cut or something similar, blood plays no part at all.

While all of this may seem to be legalistic and insensitive to the sentimentality of the one making the vows it really does serve the foundational truth of "Lex orandi, lex credendi." ("As we pray so do we believe"). We Catholics do not make blood oaths and no Catholic Hermit professed by the Church to live eremitical life in her name uses such a gesture with her vow formula because it does not comport with our faith. Could you please let me know where you heard of or read about such a thing? I am actually feeling a bit stunned or off-footed by the question; the notion that anyone might do such a thing, especially a Catholic hermit in a Roman Catholic liturgy is offensive.

Postscript: Perhaps I should rewrite this whole post instead of writing a postscript but I have now seen what brought this issue up for you yesterday. It was a post by  "joyful hermit" on the A Catholic Hermit blog. The author writes:

I admit the profession ceremony was intimately holy, beyond anything I could ever have dreamt nor asked for. God provides! I yet have the vows written, signed by the priest and myself, my blood spread inside a small heart drawn at the bottom--a seal that only my spiritual father has seen. (cf.,Major Occurrence)

Please remember that according to her blogs the author of this description is a baptized Catholic and lives as a dedicated lay hermit. Her vows are a private matter between herself and God; they are not public and have not been received by the Church --- an act which allows and in fact, commissions one to live vows in the name of the Church. (In this situation it is particularly important that we understand this lay hermit was not making a public (canonical) commitment in the name of the Church! To do so in this specific instance could actually give scandal.) Because Joyful Hermit does not say whether the blood-filled heart on the vow formula was added during or after the ceremony  anyone reading about this should remember that whenever it happened it did not occur at a public liturgy nor does this action reflect Catholic theology, belief, or normal praxis. (I personally expect the blood had to have been added afterwards in an entirely personal and sentimental gesture because again, I don't believe the priest witnessing the vows would ever have approved or allowed it himself. )

I do think this action illustrates one reason it is sometimes especially important to distinguish those persons who make and live their professions in the name of the Church  from those who make dedications which are not --- why it is sometimes critical to distinguish between Catholic hermits who live a public profession and Catholics who may live as hermits as part of a private commitment. It also helps illustrate my concern with individualism and sufficient formation in eremitical life with commensurate catechesis prior to any formal commitment.

While to some extent I can understand the sentiment behind the act, I believe and sincerely hope it is very rare for those making private vows and dedications to err in this way; I also see even more clearly why the Church does indeed supervise the professions and lives of those living eremitical life in her name. Namely, she does so in order to help make sure that these persons reflect the Faith and are edifying in all the ways they are called to be by God through the ministry of the Church. This would  include ensuring that profession liturgies celebrated as instances of Catholic worship truly are authentically Catholic in every sense. Again, lex orandi, lex credendi!! As we pray so do we believe!!

22 September 2019

On Discernment and Extraordinary Experiences in Prayer

[[Sister Laurel, in your last post you wrote that you discern what is best for your vocation and sometimes it is not the same as what you might discern is best for you yourself. Does this happen often? I would think it would be hard to tease these two apart. I also think it would be hard to live a vocation where these two conflicted.]]

Really great question and observations! It is rare for me to discern one thing that seems best for me but not for my vocation or vice versa. My point was that consecrated hermits need to discern what's best for the vocation itself, that they are responsible for this specific "bigger picture" in discernment. Sometimes there can be an immediate sense that what is good for me is evident. That evident thing may serve my own growth or developing gifts, etc. It may allow a clear use of gifts which are the result of God's grace, but at the same time  it really may not serve the eremitical vocation itself. For instance, I could teach Scripture at my parish and do so in a way which allowed classes to be open to many parishioners and others. That would tap into my own gifts for teaching and my own education in Scripture and Theology. Moreover that is something I would really like to do even as it energizes and allows me to grow further in some ways! It is a good thing and might be very good for the parish, for my own intellectual and spiritual growth, etc., but the fundamental question I would need to answer before doing this is, would it be good for eremitical life itself? (And of course this is only one possibility for work I can do and am drawn to do.)

Remember, I have written before that sometimes hermits must give up using or developing discrete gifts in order to allow their life in the silence of solitude to be the gift. We have sometimes thought that hermits are those who have failed at life, or that they simply had little to offer the church and world in terms of active ministry. That is nonsense of course; what is the case is that hermits make an even more fundamental choice than that of active ministry. Prayer and one's relationship with God is at the heart of every form of ministry but hermits say with their lives that prayer and one's relationship with God IS the beating heart of authentic humanity. Hermits reveal the naked beating heart that empowers every form of truly effective ministry. Even our essential hiddenness is a reminder of something that has absolutely foundational importance and is often given short shrift by ministers because of so many things that seem more urgent. Of course, when we think about it we know that to neglect the heart is fatal just as we know that it is the heart, the very center of our lives and faith, that we give to others in ministry. To try to do ministry without attending to one's heart is like giving people sawdust to eat. Hermits call everyone to recognize who we each are and why we have anything to give at all.

My point in all of this is that there is (or can be) in each of us, hermit or not, a tension between the short term demands of the apostolate and the long term demands of our truest vocation. I try, especially now that I am very secure in who I am as a hermit, and too, in my growth and healing, to accommodate some demands for ministry in my parish and beyond. I am not sure whether this is all I will do or not. I am considering doing one other Bible (or maybe catechism) class down the line. For right now, I am at my limit and need all my extra time for reading, studying and prayer. Currently ministry is the natural outflow and revelation of my hermit vocation; it comes from there and it constantly calls me back to my cell for prayer and study. As long as this is true I am discerning that active ministry is intrinsic to my contemplative and eremitical lives; it is not in conflict with these. But what happens if or when it seems that perhaps I am called to do yet more active ministry?

I think you can see that discernment is something that doesn't cease with my decision to do Bible Study in some way for my parish. I have to keep my finger on the pulse of my own spiritual life, my physical health, the nature and witness value of eremitical life, the content of my vows and Rule, the needs of my parish and my own intellectual, emotional, social, and spiritual needs. God's will works through all of these and calls to me through each and all of them. In the end it might be that doing one more Bible (or catechism) class would be good for me in several ways and good for my parish, but it might also be true that this would be contrary to my commitment and witness to eremitical life. Sometimes there is conflict but so far my experience of this has been that it usually involves a conflict between goods, between something good and something better. A dozen years ago I found this specific discernment very difficult but now I expect it and am open to watching God bring life out of which ever choice I make. All I can do is be as faithful as possible to my own identity, to the call the Church has extended to me and entrusted me with,  and to the God who empowers me to love in whatever I do.

My Director has said to (an impatient) me what seems like a gazillion times at least, "Trust the process!!" This is in regard to healing and growth work in PRH which does indeed demand we work according to a certain "process" or methodology. But at root the phrase also means (not necessarily in this order!): "Trust me and my expertise, trust your deepest self, trust God who is at work in both of us!" God is at work in all things to bring wholeness and holiness forth. Trust Him! Trust the Process!" The "process" is also one of discernment. Discernment doesn't occur just once in awhile in our lives any more than a vow of obedience binds us to simply "do what we're told" when and if a superior requires it. Obedience is a way of living; it is an attentive, open-hearted way of being present to God and the whole of reality. So too is discernment a way of living --- an attentive and open-hearted approach to reality. There are times when this way of living will require assistance, clarification and consultation, and sometimes even the guidance of directors and superiors, but on the whole it is really all about "trusting the process" and especially the God who authors us. When this trusting (of) God is at the heart of all discernment even serious conflicts are easier to handle.

[[Also, I wanted to add a question about your experience of God if I can. Do you hear God speak to you or see visions? I wondered if this is common to hermits since one blog I read seems to have the hermit hearing and seeing visions of [or hearing] "locutions" all the time. Would this be a sign someone is called to eremitical life?]]

Thanks for your last question as well. Let me give you a brief answer now and perhaps enlarge on it at another time. Yes, sometimes I have seen Christ or a representation of the Trinity during prayer.  And yes, I sometimes hear Christ or the Father speak to me. Usually it is a couple of words or a single sentence or two. Never more than that --- no long soliloquies. It can be months or even years between such experiences, and that is entirely fine because one sentence is ordinarily enough to nourish, comfort, and empower me for years. The truth is, however, that these kinds of prayer experiences are infinitely rich and can be touched into again and again over time. One extended prayer experience I had while my director was present assisting me was now about 34 years ago and I still am finding things in it which at the time I missed or simply wasn't ready to appreciate fully.

To be blunt, I do not believe people who claim to have many, many such experiences or who need or depend upon such experiences in order to pray, to discern the will of God, or to live eremitical lives. I believe such a pattern is unhealthy and such "spirituality" both spiritually and psychologically aberrant and suspect. Though I have Sister friends who have genuine experiences like this more frequently than I do, and though I am completely convinced of their genuineness, ordinarily I do not believe patterns of experiences such as you describe to be of God. Accounts I have read by "hermits" who claim numerous such experiences as the basic pattern of their prayer seem analogous to me of someone going to a posh restaurant three times a day, day in and day out and ordering a rich meal each time only to take a single bite of the dessert and throw the rest away. Such a person goes away unnourished and ungrateful. They may also come away consumed by a sense of their own specialness --- a specialness which, unfortunately, does not edify but instead alienates. I don't believe God comes to us in these significant ways if we don't actually benefit from them in the way they can empower.

The truth, however, is other than this, namely, such extraordinary experiences of God are profoundly nourishing for a very long time --- perhaps for the whole of our lives. They are like a parable of Jesus to which one can return again and again and be inspired anew at every turn. So, no, I don't think this is a sign someone is called to eremitical life. It seems more likely to me to be a sign that they need medical assistance, a good therapist, and a really good spiritual director to help them grow to a spiritual maturity capable of finding and hearing or seeing God in the ordinary things of life. Sorry to be so blunt. I understand if this raises more questions for you than it answers but hermits live profound prayer lives which call us all to do something similar. There is nothing either more ordinary nor more extraordinary than their prayer lives. This is not because of extraordinary experiences in prayer but rather because the hermit's own ordinariness and the mundanity of her daily routine is touched and embraced every day by the extraordinary presence of an Incarnate God --- even when the hermit is entirely unaware of it in some sensible (able to be sensed) way.

21 September 2019

The Silence of Solitude, Yes. But No, I am Never in this Alone!

[[Sister Laurel, because your vocation is an ecclesial one this means you are not in this alone doesn't it? I mean I know you are in this with God and say with your life that God alone is sufficient for you (or anyone) but I also mean that when you make decisions or do discernment you are not in this alone. You have people you are responsible to and who are responsible for you, isn't this so? I was wondering how that works; how do you get permission for things and how often do you do this? What would happen to you if you didn't seek permission and your bishop disagreed with something you did? Can you just get up and do things on your own? I mean can you do big things in this way: can you move, or buy a car or home (hermitage I guess) or something else which is really serious without permission?]]

Thanks for your questions. I especially like the observation you began with. Yes, you are right, neither I nor any other consecrated hermit is "in this" alone. And yes, first of all that means God is with and in me and I am in, with, and from God. But you are also correct when you describe others being responsible for me (and in some ways, more especially they are there for the sake of eremitical life itself) and I am responsible to God through my obedience (attentiveness) to them. God's presence, power, and will are most often mediated realities. We understand this readily enough when we think of Christianity being mediated to us in sacraments, preaching, the Scriptures, and so forth. This occurs in and through people as well: for hermits our pastor, spiritual director, Director/delegate and bishop are also privileged mediators of God to and for us, and just like for anyone else others may also serve in this way, especially friends and mentors. The bottom line here is that while God touches us directly in prayer more ordinarily he does so only through others in a mediated way.

No, I am not alone. I pray, write (journal), and discern things as best I can and I do so in solitude; my decisions are my own of course, but at the same time, I certainly run things by my director. In matters of serious change or ministry we will talk about things both before my decision and afterwards to see how it is working out --- sometimes just to share and celebrate things. I rarely if ever ask for permission for something. (I can't remember the last time I actually asked for permission -- it may have been while I was in community -- and, as I have noted before here, my director rarely acts/speaks in a way that could be construed as a command/requirement. She trusts me to work things out, to make good decisions consonant with my call and commissioning by the Church, and will assist me in this in whatever way is best for me and for my vocation. It is important to realize, I think, that a hermit's Director/delegate is concerned not only with what the hermit may need but with what is best for the eremitical vocation she is living. Thus, it might seem that doing more active ministry, for instance, is good for me, but at the same time it might seem to conflict with eremitism itself. In such a case the decision made and encouraged is that which best serves the vocation --- which is what I am professed and commissioned to live. In this I would trust that God's will for my vocation is also best for me even when, how, or why that is, is not entirely apparent. Similarly though, to reiterate, most of the time what is best for me seems to be what is best for my vocation as well.

I don't know what would happen if I were to make a decision (or, more likely, a series of smaller decisions constituting a pattern of behavior) and then have my bishop disagree with it although there are several possibilities. He could request or even require I go back behind the decision, but I am fairly certain this would not happen without his asking to hear how and why I discerned and made the decision I did. In such a case he would likely request I come into the chancery for a conversation. If he really felt he needed more information he could ask my Director/delegate to come in to discuss the decision. If he continued to question the rightness or soundness of the decision my sense is he would explain his reservations to me and require I reconsider my decision. If I could not do that and  my bishop believed my decision conflicted with eremitical life, he could eventually determine my vows would be dispensed. If things reached this level I am pretty sure I would revise my initial decision. I only know of one situation involving a diocesan hermit which fits some of these conditions. A bishop decided something a hermit was involved in was contrary to her commitment as a canon 603 hermit; he said (essentially), if you choose to continue in this I cannot consider you are living eremitical life and will need to dispense your vows. In that case the hermit revised her course of action.

In the main I have all the freedom I need to make decisions and to act as I understand is best for me and for consecrated solitary eremitical life. I continue to read about it, learn its history, reflect on its essential elements, write about it, grow in the vows and my relationship with God, and assume my place in this living tradition. My Director helps me to do all of these things and to attend to the Holy Spirit in ways which assure my personal growth and maturity in Christ. She also works with me to achieve wholeness, something which means healing from woundedness or anything which can be an obstacle to wholeness. In the midst of all of this there are some major decisions to be made --- usually medical, some regarding elective or experimental surgery, provisions for future care and living situations, and on a less serious level, there are sometimes decisions to be made regarding ministry at the parish or other time spent outside the hermitage (speaking, playing violin, etc). I am not in this alone nor is it for my own sake, and that is important because the life I live is essentially ecclesial.

I and those who accompany me in his vocation assist me (and the church herself) to be sure I am faithful to what has been entrusted to me. There is nothing heavy-handed in this kind of accompaniment. Though I make my own decisions, I do not ever go off on my own simply because I am not on my own. This means I do not move or make really major purchases without some communication and even consultation. Again, I don't necessarily need permission for such things --- though if I were to move dioceses that would require the permission of the new bishop and the assurance of my old bishop that I was a hermit in good standing if the new bishop was also to accept my vows under canon 603. 

No religious, no consecrated hermit, no consecrated virgin, no one admitted to the consecrated state of life can simply get up and do things entirely on their own --- if by this we mean taking major actions like moves, extended trips, really major purchases, and so forth without some consultation or oversight. That oversight might simply mean turning our yearly budget over to the diocese or our congregation once a year, for instance. It might mean providing details of our discernment to our superiors or delegates after our decision has been made, and in other instances it may mean consulting someone beforehand. The bottom line here is the same: because of public vows (and/or life in community) we do not have the same kind of freedom lay persons have in such matters (though, I would point out, our freedom is profound and in many ways little more limited than someone with and responsible for a family, etc.).

Hermits live significant silence and solitude with God for the sake of others, but no, we do not enter into this silence of solitude in a way which isolates us from the Church or the guidance she provides. So eremitical solitude, yes, but no, we are not in this alone nor merely for our own sakes, not even merely for the sake of our own holiness. Ironically, this paradox has always been a major grace of eremitical life lived as an ecclesial vocation; it's opposite (isolation undertaken for one's own sake, no matter how outwardly pious one might be) is at the heart of most of the perversions and stereotypes of eremitical life I can think of.

16 September 2019

Canon 603: Living for the Praise of God

[[Dear Sister, if you are a hermit (sorry, I mean because you are a hermit) how do you live a life in praise of God? You write this blog, which I need to thank you for, but how can you praise God if you live alone? Is your blog meant to carry out the idea of praising God? I know you say prayers which praise God but don't people need to hear your praise? Do you do more than this? You have written that canon 603 has certain central elements and one of these is "a life lived for the praise of God". Does this mean all your prayer is praise or all your life is or am I even close? Thank you.]]

You know, these are great questions, especially as you put matters at the end. You seem mainly to be thinking of praise of God as a matter of saying certain things including certain prayers or kinds of prayers, but at the end you broaden things. I think that's very insightful. I do agree that my whole life is meant to praise God; I think that's what the canon calls for so let me say more about what I think that actually means.

Praise is a form of evaluation, commendation, and even glorification (a term that also needs defining; cf below). When we praise someone we find them laudatory and commend them to others. If that person is a teacher, we commend their teaching by learning from them, by becoming wise in what we learn, and too we will share that learning with others. If the person is a realtor we let folks know they can trust that person to serve them in finding appropriate housing and related financing; we recommend them because they will do their best for those we send their way just as they did for us. When we praise a musician to friends, for instance, we do so in order that others may experience the musician's art; we do it so our friends' hearts and minds may be touched and shaped by an experience of skill, talent, and beauty; if we ourselves are musicians we may copy the musician's technique and allow their aesthetics to shape our own so that our own music-making is deepened and even wider audiences can be reached. This is praise. In even more serious matters we may commend or praise our physicians and recommend friends turn to them in their own medical needs. To sing someone's praises is to express gratitude for (and often to) them; it is to exhort others to let their lives be shaped by these persons, by their work and giftedness, as well as by the same kind of gratitude we have come to know.

Sometimes praise is more pro forma (as when we praise a six year old playing their very first notes on an out of tune violin!) -- though in such a case praise is critical for the child and heartfelt on some levels! But more often praise indicates the profound ways in which our lives are shaped for the better by the one being praised. This is, above all, the case with praise of God and especially with canon 603's requirement that the hermit's life be a life of praise for God. God creates us on an ongoing basis. At every moment he calls us into being and continues to call us into a covenantal existence lived with and in Him; God shapes us and makes us authentically human with his love. He forgives and brings us back to himself when we have fallen away from that love -- and he has done this again and again at great cost. When we allow God to create and recreate us, when we live from his love, tell others his story, stand strong in his truth, we praise God. More, we glorify or reveal him to others.

Hermits say with their lives that God alone is sufficient for us. God alone can complete us and bring us to fullness of life. We praise him by allowing these things to be true, by allowing them to be realized in space and time in our modest hermitages. To commit to this growth in wholeness and holiness is to praise God. Everything in the hermitage  and the hermit's life is meant to foster this goal, this purpose. Assiduous prayer and penance (including the inner work we commit to in spiritual direction, etc.), stricter separation from all that is resistant to Christ or promises fulfillment apart from him (i.e., from "the world"), the silence of solitude, the evangelical counsels, and the limited ministry we might do outside the hermitage,  all work together to make that praise concrete and pervasive.

I have written before here about human beings as "language events". We are created and shaped by the words spoken to us and we come to be articulations of their truth and power. I have also said that Christians are meant to become God's own prayers in our world; we are not merely to reflect God's Word or to pray occasionally or even frequently, but always. We are called to be prayer, and most profoundly -- to be God's own prayer in the world. Similarly then, we are to praise God with our lives. We are meant to live those lives in light of God and reveal (glorify) that same light in all we say and do precisely so that in some way, at some time, others may come to know that same God and the humanity he makes possible. Again, this is praise.

I don't need other people to hear what I say or see what I do for this praise to be real, though of course it does bring things full circle when I share with others the fruits of eremitical life. (This answers your question about this blog; yes, blogging is a chance to "praise God" sometimes, as we all ordinarily understand that action, but also by sharing the nature of ecclesial eremitical vocations with readers. In this vocation God is understood to be doing both something ancient and something very new. To represent this clearly is praising God by pointing to the way God is working in our World and Church.) At the same time, simply to live an integral life in the power of the Spirit of God is to live a life of praise. After all, my life in and of itself witnesses to the sufficiency of God for each of us; to do that then is to praise and glorify God.

I hope this helps.

15 September 2019

Discernment and Formation go Hand in Hand

[[Sister Laurel, you wrote: "Given the nature of these vocations (rare, difficult to distinguish from individualism without significant discernment and formation) and the Church's esteem for them. . .." Did you mean that formation is also a period of discernment? How does formation change what others distinguish?]]

Hi there! Yes, I do mean that discernment occurs during formation. While we usually refer to these two things separately (x and y) the fact is that significant discernment occurs during formation. If a person negotiates the kinds of formation required by hermits (e.g., to silence, solitude, a regular life of prayer and penance, work/ministry and the relationships essential for well-being even in a solitary hermit) or to religious life, they are being supervised during the process. How well candidates negotiate the challenges and opportunities of formation will yield information which can be used for discernment.

Formation is a focused and usually structured program in which an individual is initiated into the vocation they wish to be professed in. In religious life generally there are three main (and somewhat overlapping) periods of formation: initial formation (candidacy and novitiate) which can take from three to three and a half years, juniorate (temporary profession to perpetual profession) which can take up to six or seven years, and ongoing formation which applies not only to juniorate but to all formation that occurs once perpetual vows have been made. In solitary canonical eremitical life there is neither candidacy nor novitiate (this is true no matter the diocese in which one resides); a person is worked with/followed by the diocese for several years (3-5 is typical and minimal) and if their director, the Vicar for Religious/Consecrated Life and others recommend it, a bishop may agree and admit the hermit to canonical profession under canon 603. This can be solemn (perpetual) profession in certain cases, but temporary profession (3-5 years) is a prudent step prior to this in most cases. This will allow more discernment as well.

Because in cenobitical religious life the supervision is pretty constant, and because it is well-understood and involves not just education and training but socialization in the ethos and charism of the community, canon law is specific on the degree of formation required, and the time frames it takes. The situation is different with hermits. Supervision of a direct kind is sparing and each vocation is discerned individually and without reference to others. All the Director/delegate (who does not live in the same house) can do, is to meet regularly with the hermit, listen to what she tells her, ask good questions and gauge the degree of personal growth and fidelity in keeping whatever Rule the hermit has written at any given point.

There are a number of areas Directors/delegates routinely pay attention to: 1) personal wellness. This involves emotional and psychological health in silence and solitude, 2) knowledge of the vocation. This involves not only education in the eremitical life itself, it's history, characteristics, and graces, but its importance in the life of the Church, its charism --- something the hermit must come to recognize herself I think, 3) prayer and lectio. This includes the way the hermit lives a contemplative life of prayer and lectio divina, the choices she makes in these, her ability to respond obediently in varying circumstances along with her flexibility and fidelity to God in all things, 4) growth in the vows. This includes the way the hermit handles her finances, the choices she makes for simplicity, the relationships she cultivates (because in an ecclesial vocation there must be meaningful relationships which actually contribute to the hermit's solitude) and the healthiness of her capacity for love. It can include the way she responds to authority, the degree of trust she is capable of, along with her capacity for independence from legitimate superiors (even as she entrusts herself to their experience, wisdom, and authority), and the love and commitment she demonstrates to the life of her parish faith community even in the silence of solitude.

Above all the Director/delegate will pay attention to the hermit's genuine happiness and wellness in this vocation, the degree to which she is marked and measured by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the ways the hermit grows as a human being in light of the vocation itself, and the ways in which God brings life out of every circumstance the hermit may experience. She will gauge the authenticity of the piety shown and be cognizant of superficialities or exaggerated reliance on "mystical" (or pseudo-mystical) experiences or notions of God (and/or Satan!) which infantilize and rob the hermit of mature accountability and the capacity for true discernment.

In other words, a Director/delegate will look at the developing quality of the hermit's heart and discern whether Christ has invited this candidate into solitude to grow in maturity, unity and, eventually, union with Him. What I have found in persons I have accompanied in this way is a definite pattern of growth in insight into the life, a tendency to make the vocation one's own (the development of a kind of proprietariness with regard to the vocation) over time as well as to add one's own gifts/specific insights in an organic way to the eremitical tradition of c 603 vocations themselves, and a constantly renewed sense of amazement and awe because of their deepening sense that the vocation is a grace; I have also found in myself and those I have accompanied, growth in personal freedom and authentic independence under ecclesiastical authority. This makes of such accompaniment more a matter of celebration and sharing than of difficult meetings to discuss permissions, inadequacies, etc. I believe my own Director(s) would say the same.

One of the ways I think dioceses and solitary hermits moving towards profession can structure meetings re discernment and formational stages and needs is through the writing of the Rule. This process takes several drafts and correlative attempts at living what one has written; even (sometimes especially!) in persons who have lived religious life before this, the changes from the original version to the one the hermit will eventually submit to her diocese for canonical and bishop's approval are substantial. (I am quite sure I have at least one reader here rolling her eyes and laughing while saying, "Oh, Sister, are you ever right about that one !!) It takes time to make the eremitical tradition one's own, to inculcate the values and sensibilities of the vocation so that one represents eremitical life authentically in a way which is not only consonant with history but relevant and edifying to the contemporary Church and world. In other words, it takes time and a real commitment to growth (as well as a Divine call!) to become the kind of person envisioned in canon 603, one who, inspired by God in Christ, the Desert Abbas and Ammas and hermits throughout the centuries, represents the Church's canonical appropriation and embodiment of the solitary eremitical tradition in the 20-21st C. If one comes to eremitical life from a religious or monastic community one must learn to let go of a lot of very good stuff  (including how one lived religious poverty and obedience) while embracing these same values in a way which is appropriate to the solitary canonical hermit.

The hermit's deficiencies, strengths, growth, and other changes are reflected in the Rules she writes over a several year period; additionally the Rules themselves give the hermit and her superiors/guides something to explore and discuss at meetings as well as a way to set goals or decide about necessary resources which might be needed for continuing personal and vocational growth. They are a key to both discernment and formation for everyone involved in the processes. In any case discernment and formation go on at the same time. That, I think, is the nature of a divine vocation; more, it is the nature of a well-lived life.