25 February 2020

Epilepsy and Ecstasy, It is All of a Piece (Reprise)

Yesterday's reading from Mark is always challenging for me. It is the story of the Father with the epileptic Son. Because of my own seizure disorder I have struggled my entire adult life with the situation described and the questions raised in Mark 9:14-29. I have struggled with injuries and memories of injuries or the sense of ever-present danger and threat Mark describes so well. For many years every day and even every hour was marked by terror because of this and I yearned to be able to embody Jesus' admonition to, "Be not afraid." I have reflected long and hard on the accusation of the age's faithlessness. Especially though I have struggled personally with the last exchange between the disciples and Jesus: [["Why could we not drive the spirit out?" He said to them, "This kind can only come out through prayer."]]

My own struggle to understand and accept my chronic illness and the things it has made both impossible and --- more importantly! --- possible in my life eventually found its summary and resolution in the words of Paul: "My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Cor 12:9) It underscored the importance of paradox in Christian life and especially the relationship of human poverty to Divine grace. So central was all of this to me that, as I have already noted here at other points, I used Paul's summary of the heart of an incarnational faith lived in and with Christ as the motto engraved on my perpetual (eremitical) profession ring.  I used the similar affirmation we find in the Gospel of John where Jesus responds to news of Lazareth's illness as a key text inspiring my life and therefore as a piece of the Scriptural underpinnings of my Rule, [[When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not to death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.]] But every once in a while someone captures this same dynamic and affirmation in words I have not heard before. Sometimes they do it in a way which speaks directly and powerfully to me and my own experience.

Yesterday at the end of Mass, my pastor read a brief passage from the book Unexpected News, Reading the Bible with Third World Eyes by Robert McAfee Brown. The passage was titled (not by Brown; it was part of a small anthology of reflections), "Down from the Mountaintop": [[ As soon as the 'religious experience' of the  transfiguration was over, Jesus goes down from the mountain to respond to human need, the healing of an epileptic boy. When the boy's distraught Father asks for help, Jesus does not respond, "Look, I 've just had a marvelous experience and I don't want to lose the glow." No, things are immediately earthy, human, even ugly --- for a person in an epileptic seizure is not a pretty sight. It is all of a piece --- ecstasy and epilepsy. This is what messiahship is all about: being in the midst of the poor, the sick, the helpless, those with frothing mouths. Messiahship --- just like Christian living --- is not just "mountaintop experiences" or "acts of concern for human welfare":  it is a necessary combination of the two.]]

 I am grateful to have been present for the reading of this brief reflection yesterday. It was a very powerful moment for me: affirming, shaking, a little tearful, challenging,  and consoling all at once.  Pentecost continues bestowing its unsettling and sustaining gifts of wind and fire. In the power of the Spirit and from the perspective of the Kingdom --- it is all of a piece:  Mountaintop experiences and years in the desert; a power made perfect in weakness; a  bit of human brokenness and poverty made a gift to others by the whole-making grace of God; mute isolation  transfigured into the rich communion and communicative silence of solitude; a life redeemed and enriched by love. It is all of a piece ---  epilepsy and ecstasy. I am grateful to have learned that. In fact, I am grateful to have needed and been called to learn that!

20 February 2020

Really? "Hermits" Find Joy and Peace in Excommunication? Really??

"Excommunicated Hermits -- and their Cats -- Finally Find Peace"!! Such was one of the headlines that greeted me Friday morning as I checked out NCR online.  The story was about three hermits in the Orkney Islands of Scotland who seem to represent a Tridentine Catholicism and, for what I can tell, a fairly reactionary approach to all of modernity including things like evolution, the nature of the "deep state" and a number of other positions. Most critically they condemned Pope Francis and had taken some condemnatory positions and actions which, despite attempts at reconciliation by the bishop of their diocese, led to their formal excommunication. A couple of people emailed wondering if I had seen it; my Director brought a copy to our appointment that afternoon which she had printed out for me; she also wondered if I had seen it yet. Because I had other commitments Friday morning (viz, a Communion Service, etc), I had not had time to really process the article, nor had I been able to follow up by checking out the hermits' blog, etc.

So, what was my own take on the article? My immediate response was to bracket off the hermits themselves from the presentation of eremitical life found in this article by NCR. Since I ordinarily respect NCR and the reporting it does, my disappointment was keen and surprising. To be honest, the reporter sounded completely ignorant of the nature or place of eremitical life in the contemporary Church and this meant the NCR had embraced (or at least reflected) a notion of eremitical life driven by stereotypes rooted in eccentrics and nutcases. For instance, [[De Kerdrel and his two companions. . .were not seeking to build bridges with the world. Instead the trio was trying to escape from it. Day after day, the world evolved further away from their beliefs, casting the three out to places that (despite their isolation), in today's interconnected reality filtered through sectarian news outlets, were never remote enough.]] or again, [[ For years, the hermits moved from one island to another, never being able to find a place where they were welcome or didn't get into trouble.]] Similarly, [[ The trio resisted numerous efforts by bishops to separate them. "People always wanted to break us up,"]] and this by De Kedrel himself, [[ When they are attacking you left, right, and center, we come through it, we are still going! We're still together and we haven't gone insane!]] Quite a low bar for what constitutes healthy eremitical life in the Church!

My questions to NCR: why are you calling these people hermits? Why are you using terms like hermit monks or hermit nuns? Why when, even before excommunication, they no longer (or never) had canonical standing in the Church, are we dignifying this kind of disedifying lifestyle with the designation hermit or hermit monk and hermit nun? After all, De Kerdrel was formerly a Capuchin. But the accent needs to be on FORMERLY despite his hanging onto the habit. When the bar is set so low (for instance, living together while failing to go insane), is this really the best the NCR  could do? The reason as to "Why?" (why are you calling these people hermits, etc?) is simple, and sad, namely, these so-called hermits reflect all the stereotypes still alive and common today. But it gets worse. Claire Giangrave writes, [[On Christmas Eve, the hermits got their wish [for excommunication]. . . . Excommunication so far has been a joy for the hermits.]] and then explains, the hermits had received mountains and mountains of correspondence along with financial aid. DeKerdrel exclaims, [[Blow me down! The money is pouring in. I can't believe what is happening,]] adding that they [[certainly need it]].

Readers of this blog know the kinds of things that tend to drive me a bit crazy when we are speaking of eremitical life: 1) settling for or perpetuating stereotypes, 2) mistaking isolation for eremitical solitude in authentic eremitical life, 3)  mistaking eccentricity and bizarreness for instances of healthy eremitical life, and 4) failing to understand or represent the Church's own position on what constitutes eremitical life today. Giangrave's article does all of these, I'm afraid, and it is simply needless. There is an attempt at balance. Giangrave refers to Benedictine Hermit Mario Aguilar and his take on eremitical life. Aguilar accents the flexibility and diversity of the life, and also the fact that this life is not a selfish one. It is all accurate, but one wonders what Giangrave omitted from their phone conversation in her article. Aguilar's corrective here certainly seems too little too late. Instead Giangrave pivots to compare the Orkney excommunicates with the Celtic monks who arrived on the island in the 4C bent on reform; she may take Aguilar's accent on diversity as approval of eremitical eccentricity, heterodoxy, and bizarre uncharitable behavior.

Particularly appalling is the treatment of gays and lesbians by Kelly, one of the trio. He is said to have come up to a lesbian couple and remarked: "[the Catholic Church] used to burn people like you," --- apparently with approval. It was not an exceptional moment. Over the years, as a result of his aggressive posture towards same-sex couples, Kelly has been arrested 13 times, convicted 5, and spent @ 150 hours in prison. De Kerdrel also shared a similar attitude toward such couples. Eventually the bishop of the Diocese of Northampton asked the trio of hermits to leave the diocese. But this notion of being asked to leave what was really community after community because of offensive and disedifying behavior, and diocese after diocese is simply not the way eremitical life works in the Church. Neither is it remotely what eremitical life looks like.

It is stories like this which make me grateful for c 603 and the courage of the Church Fathers who worked toward it. However,  this canon has been extant now for 37 years and we still find parishes, priests, Catholic periodicals, etc with no idea that besides groups like the Camaldolese and Carthusians the Church has a strong and healthy vision of solitary eremitical life which is well-governed and edifying for those who know such hermits. Yes, there are still counterfeits and frauds who give the lie to what the rest of us are called to live, but eremitical life has shown itself to be an important ecclesial vocation with the capacity to speak powerfully to those whom life has isolated in various ways and to summon them to the redemption of such isolation in the experience we hermits known as solitude. I am hoping the NCR catches up a bit with history and eschews such bizarre portraits of eremitical life from now on. Especially I hope they find ways to report on a way of life that is not escapist but profoundly loving and engaged on behalf of others, a vocation which is lived in the heart of the Church and even as the very heart of an ecclesia of love and hope.

17 February 2020

All Hermits are God's Hermits, All Vows are Made to God

[[Sister Laurel, to whom does a C 603 hermit make her vows? Do you make them to the Church or to God? Or is it to the Church on behalf of God? ]]

Thanks for the question. I know some people refer to making one's vows to the bishop, but the answer is very simple and such a characterization is incorrect. Every vow is made to God. Every vow is motivated by God first and last. Those making canonical profession make their vows "in the hands of" the local bishop which means he becomes their legitimate superior, but even so, the vows are made to God --- not to the bishop, the church, or any other created  or temporal reality. The Church mutually discerns and mediates the profession and the consecration. The hermit dedicates herself to God and the service of God's Church via vow or other sacred bond and the Church is mediator of this dedication/avowal. The bishop receives the vows and mediates God's consecration of the hermit. Again, the Church is mediator of all of this but God is the one acting to consecrate.

What God does in all of this has temporal implications and the church is the one who governs all that happens and the implications thereof. Canon Law (Universal Church Law) is meant to be sure the historical (temporal) implications are spelled out and made clear to all involved. For those whose vows are private. these vows too are made to God. The difference is that they do not have public ramifications (rights and obligations) which need to be spelled out in law (canonically). They are private commitments, but made to God no less than canonical vows are made to God. So, canonical hermits (C 603 and those who  make vows as part of their commitment in an institute of consecrated life) make vows to God on behalf of the Church and of all that is precious to God beyond the Church. Non-canonical or lay hermits make vows (or their dedication in whatever form it takes) to God on behalf of others (we hope!). One avowal is part of a public profession the other is a private act of dedication.

[[Why would someone explain they are "God's hermit" and cite Sunday's reading from 1 Corinthians on wisdom and maturity in explaining their vows as willed by God? Sounds like they were saying canonical hermits do not put God first but instead put the Church in a position of priority]]

Ah, okay, you are writing about a recent post put up by "JH". I don't know why she cited 1 Corinthians in this context. Let me suggest that perhaps she was saying she had come to greater maturity and wisdom in dropping the qualifier "illegal" from her hermit designation. Perhaps the Sunday reading had spurred her on to make what I personally believe is a wise change in what had been an ill-considered usage. However, your own take on this also has merit I think --- especially given the history of her posts about canonical standing and c 603 vocations. The bottomline here is that unless she says specifically why she used the citation she did, it will always remain unclear and uncertain as to why she added that to her post. I choose to believe she is recognizing that any making of vows, private or public, is a matter of becoming God's own hermit -- a very positive and edifying insight and motivation.

13 February 2020

Ephphatha! The Command Which Makes us Truly Human (reprised with tweaks)

In tomorrow's Gospel, (Mark 7:31-37) A man who is deaf and also has a resultant speech impediment is brought by friends to Jesus; Jesus is begged to heal him. We are moved by the act of such good friends and watch as, in what is an unusual process  in its crude physicality for Mark (or for any of the Gospel writers), Jesus puts his fingers in the man's ears, and then, spitting on his fingers, touches the man's tongue. He looks up to heaven, groans, and says in Aramaic, "ephphatha!" (that is, "Be opened!"). Immediately the man is healed and "speaks plainly." Those who brought him to Jesus are astonished, joyful, and could not contain their need to proclaim Jesus and what he had done: "He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak," a  clear sign he brings the Kingdom.


I am convinced that the deaf and "mute" man (for he is not really mute, but impeded from clear speech by his inability to hear) is a type of each of us, a symbol for the persons we are and for the vocation we are each called to. Theologians call human beings language events. We are called to be by God, conceived from and an embodied expression of the love of two people for one another, named so that we have the capacity for personal presence in the world and may be personally addressed by others, and we are shaped for good or ill, for wholeness or woundedness, by every word which is addressed to us; we do the same for others by the words we address to them. Language is the means and symbol of our capacity for relationship and transcendence, for creativity and communion`.

One Lutheran theologian (Gerhard Ebeling), in fact, notes that the most truly human thing about us is our addressability and our ability to address others. Addressability includes and empowers responsiveness; that is, it has both receptive and expressive dimensions. It is the characteristically human form of language which creates community. It marks us as those whose coming to be is dependent upon the dynamic of obedience --- but also on the generosity of those who would address us and give us a place to stand as persons which we cannot assume on our own. We spend our lives responsively -- coming (and often struggling) to attend to and embody or express more fully the deepest potentials within us to be icons of God; we do this in myriad ways and means. Karl Rahner, a 20C Jesuit theologian thus describes us similarly as "Hearers of the Word."

Consider how it is that language and vocabulary of all sorts opens various worlds to us and makes the whole of the cosmos our own to understand, wonder at, and render more or less articulate; consider how a lack of vocabulary whether affective, theological, scientific, mathematical, musical, psychological, etc, can cripple us and distance us from effectively relating to various dimensions of human life including our own heart. Note, for instance that physicians have found that in any form of mental illness there is a corresponding dimension of difficulty with or dysfunction of language. Consider the very young child's wonderful (and often really annoying!) incessant questioning. There, with every single question and answer, every expression of openness and corresponding response, language mediates transcendence (a veritable explosion of transcendence in fact!) and initiates the child further and further into the world of human community, knowledge, understanding, reflection, celebration, and commitment. Language marks us as essentially communal, fundamentally dependent upon others to call us beyond ourselves, essentially temporal (time-bound) AND transcendent, and, by virtue of our being the image of God and called to be the image of Christ, responsive and responsible (obedient) at the core of our existence.

But a lot can hinder this most foundational vocational accomplishment. Sometimes our own woundedness prevents the achievement of this goal to greater degrees. Sometimes we are not given the tools or education we need to develop this capacity. Sometimes, we are badly or ineffectually loved and rendered relatively deaf and "mute" in the process. Oftentimes we muddle the clarity of that expression through cowardice, ignorance, or even willful disregard. And sometimes our friends are not courageous or perhaps moved by faith sufficiently to literally "bring us to Christ". Our hearts, as I have noted here before, are dialogical realities. That is, they are the place where God bears witness to himself, the event marked in a defining way by God's continuing and creative address and our own embodied response. In every way our lives are either an expression of the Word or logos of God which glorifies (him), or they are, to whatever extent, a dishonoring lie and an evasion.

And so, faced with a man who is crippled in so many fundamental ways --- one, that is, for whom the world of community, knowledge, and celebration is largely closed by disability, Jesus prays to God, touches, and addresses the man directly, "Ephphatha!" ---Be thou opened!" It is the essence of what Christians refer to as salvation, the event in which a word of command and power heals the brokennesses which cripple and isolate, and which, by empowering obedience (the capacity to hearken) reconciles the man to himself, his God, his people and world. As a result of Jesus' Word, and in response, the man speaks plainly --- for the first time (potentially) transparent to himself and to those who know him; he is more truly a revelatory or language event, authentically human and capable through the grace of God of bringing others to the same humanity through direct response and address.

Our own coming to wholeness, to a full and clear articulation of our truest selves is a communal achievement. Even (or perhaps especially) in the lives of hermits this has always been true insofar as solitude is NOT isolation, but is instead a form of communion whose silence is marked by profound dependence on the Word of God and lived specifically for the salvation of others. In today's gospel friends bring the man to Jesus, Jesus prays to God before acting to heal him. The presence of friends is another sign not only of the man's nature as made-for-communion and the fact that none of us come to language (or, that is, to the essentially human capacity for responsiveness or obedience) alone, but similarly, of the deaf man's total inability to approach Jesus on his own. At the same time, Jesus takes the man aside and what happens to him in this encounter is thus signaled to be profoundly personal, intimate, and beyond the merely evident. Friends are necessary, but at bottom, the ultimate healing and humanizing encounter can only happen between the deaf man and Christ.

In each of our lives there is deafness and "muteness" or inarticulateness. So many things are unheard by us, fail to touch or resonate in our hearts. So many things call forth embittered and cynical reactions which wound and isolate when what is needed is a response of genuine compassion and welcoming. Similarly, so many things render us speechless: bereavement, illness, ignorance, personal woundedness, etc. As a result,  and to the extent this is true,  we live our commitments half-heartedly, our loves guardedly, our joys tentatively, our pains self-consciously and noisily --- but helplessly and without meaning in ways which do not edify --- and in all these ways therefore, we are less human, less articulate, less the obedient or responsive language event or "Hearer of the Word," we are called to be. Jesus sighs in compassion and desire, unites himself with his Father in the power of the Holy Spirit, and touches us with his own hands and spittle. To each of us, then, and in whatever way or degree we need, Jesus says, "EPHPHATHA!" "Be thou opened!" and makes us his own "language events, his own "Hearers of the Word."

My prayer today is that we may each allow ourselves to be brought to Jesus for healing. May we be broken open and rendered responsive and transparent by his powerful Word of command and authority. Especially, may we each become the clear gospel-founded words of joy and hope in a world marked extensively and profoundly by deafness and the helplessness and despair of noisy and isolating inarticulateness. So too, may we be the ones who courageously and faith-fully bring one another to Christ for similar healing.

12 February 2020

On Accompanying a Cloistered Nun Discerning a Call to Eremitical Life

[[Hi Sister Laurel, I'm not a nun, I'm not considering becoming a nun or living as a hermit of any sort. But I read your blog fairly often because I think living as a hermit is an intriguing thing to do. I missed some of the vocabulary in this morning's post [a week ago now] on transferring to c 603 life (like exclaustration and indult of departure), but one thing struck me like a bolt of lightning. The idea of leaving a vocation one has been "solemnly professed" in for many years, in order to embrace eremitical life without even knowing what form of that will really be best for one or is God's will --- and without even knowing if a bishop will allow the use of canon 603 in his diocese --- finally sunk in for me. You said recently that it was important to understand how much the monks who left their monasteries and were "secularized" so they could live as hermits had sacrificed. I am beginning to really see what you meant.

Anyhow, this triggered some questions for me. Like when you wrote that the nun would need to figure out which form of eremitical life she was called to after leaving her monastery and everything I wondered how someone does such a thing? I mean does she go around the country trying to live in different eremitical settings? And how does one even know which one is right for them? Who helps with something like this?  Did you have to deal with questions like this when you "accompanied" someone? (And what does that mean anyway??) How would you know if someone should be a canon 603 hermit or should join a laura or a "smaller monastery" or something? I need to think about all this more but that's the one question I could put into words right away.]]

Thanks for your comments, the time you have spent pondering, and for the huge "one question" you put into words. I'll try to answer some of it here.  Here is where the idea of exclaustration can help some. The word literally means  "the state of being outside the cloister." Nuns who wish to discern another form of consecrated life, for instance, can, after some mutual discernment with their congregations, request to be admitted to exclaustration. With this status (specific standing in law) they can continue to discern new/differing forms of life free from most of the obligations of life in their monastery but without leaving their vows. It is a supervised period of exploration, experimentation, and discernment.

So, for instance, if she is considering becoming a c 603 hermit should the bishop agree she is so called, she can set up a small hermitage (e.g., rent an apartment or other residence) in the diocese in which she proposes to petition to be admitted to profession and take up life as a solitary hermit. Her community is responsible for her living expenses at this time, but during this same time she will also make sure that when this period of exclaustration is ended she is capable of supporting herself. Exclaustration is meant to allow for appropriate discernment, for testing how one does in differing contexts. It provides a structured space of relative security and freedom to discern, and to prepare for a new vocation and the assumption of new rights and obligations. It is an important piece of the Church's esteem for ecclesial vocations and the importance of mutual discernment in making such weighty decisions regarding how God is calling us.

With that in mind I can try to answer your questions about accompanying someone in this kind of process, supporting them in (for instance) their discerning the form of eremitical life that is right (if any of them are!), etc. First, in my experience, the Sister considering eremitical life will do research before she ever gets near requesting exclaustration. Such a step by itself is so huge that it does not happen without significant mutual discernment. She will ask her superiors and congregation for whatever accommodations seem important and reasonable both to live the vocation she is committed to and for solid discernment (for instance, freedom for greater silence and solitude at times during the week, dispensation from certain charges or work assignments, freedom from certain forms of  mandatory devotion in order to embrace other forms of prayer, etc).

Only over time will she come to know more clearly whether she feels she is being called to eremitical life at all. If these accommodations tend to whet the Sister's appetite for contemplative prayer, contemplative life, and greater silence of solitude and, if, in terms of personal growth and integrity, it nurtures her life with God and her authentic humanity, one may be seeing the grounds for allowing, 1) periods of extended time in the silence of solitude, 2) an extended directed retreat, or even 3) exclaustration. Depending on what seems right at this time, the Sister could, and perhaps should, speak with her bishop re his willingness to consider using c 603 to profess/consecrate her if her discernment continues moving in the same direction over the next years (toward, including, and even during exclaustration, for instance).

Assuming the bishop is open to using c 603 if an authentic vocation is discerned (such usage is not automatic), and if the Sister has discerned that it is time to request exclaustration, she will take the steps necessary to begin living eremitical life outside of the monastery. Accompanying someone in something like this is really a matter of supporting them, trying to give them ways to explore the different dimensions of this vocation and share what that person has discovered herself about these over time. One accompanies such a Sister as a friend and Sister who has more experience in eremitical life (and maybe a good deal less in religious life generally!) and who hopes that experience can be of benefit to her.  When the one on exclaustration has such a vocation, accompanying her will mean watching as she truly grows into a solitary hermit who is comfortable in a different, and more original, stream of monastic tradition --- and as she matures to a point where she is truly prepared to accept her own place in it. Generally speaking then, accompanying someone like this means listening, watching, and encouraging, while drawing on one's own experience and understanding of solitary consecrated eremitical life, especially its inner heart.



As you have already noted, the Sister herself is the one taking the risk and doing the real and deep work in all of this. She is the one taking on an entirely new way of Religious life and living the vows --- sometimes after decades of solemn profession in a very different tradition. She is the one facing herself honestly, continually assessing her weaknesses and strengths, attending to her own deepest yearnings, needs, and potentialities, and living in God's presence in a new way. She is the one who has consented to a process of real conversion, the one who knows and humbly shares what God is doing in her life and whether, as a result, she loves more fully in this form of life, as well as whether she is more profoundly happy, more authentically free, and even more whole and holy.

She is the one learning to live with God alone for the sake of others and who is transparent to how faithfully she does so with whatever difficulties and what ease and joy this entails or implies. She is the one who will begin establishing relationships with others in her parish even as she also explores the deep meaning of c 603 and negotiates the tensions in (or paradox of) an ecclesial vocation to the silence of solitude. She, especially because of her canonical situation and identity as a Religious, is likely to also work with the Bishop himself as well as with appropriate chancery personnel during a period that will take several years of careful supervision. In sum, all of this is part of a demanding process of discernment and personal growth; accompanying someone in this means walking with this person because one wants the best for her and for the solitary eremitical vocation itself.

During this time it may, for example, appear that this Sister would be happier in a laura, or even that the yearning for solitude was not related to a call to eremitical life at all but to something else. If the call to c 603 is genuine it might also become apparent that while she has this new "base of operations" and the support of a number of experienced people, she might want to explore life in a laura, for instance. My own opinion is that it is easier to do this after moving to solitary eremitical life as defined in c 603 than it is while one is still living in a monastery. This is so, I think, because once one becomes capable of living as a solitary hermit and becomes confident that eremitical solitude itself has indeed, "opened its door" to her, such a Sister can also consider eventually establishing (or perhaps moving to) a laura with other c 603 hermits at some point in the future. If, the laura doesn't last, or never gets off the ground (or if the Sister cannot find one she feels called to move to), solitary eremitical life remains as an option she has been prepared for, assured of being called to in being admitted to profession, and one she knows how to live without the support of a laura. Moving to a laura directly from a monastery, and before one has truly discerned a call to solitary eremitical life, might merely indicate a need for changes in one's monastic context, not a genuine call to eremitical life.
       
Still, if the Sister discerns she should explore living in a laura, yes, she will spend some time in one, work with others to evaluate the experience, and decide what to do in light of this. It is the same with other options during exclaustration. The point in all of this is that accompanying a Sister in this way means participating in a dynamic, demanding, and (I personally find) incredibly gratifying process of accompaniment in order to assist, support, and celebrate her journey with and in God. Occasionally, the process eventuates in a perpetual profession and consecration as a person embraces a call to live solitary eremitical life in the name of the Church.

When this is so, accompaniment is apt to continue (it usually lasts longer when the one being accompanied has an eremitical vocation than when she finds she is not called to eremitical and/or c 603 life) but now in a new key. It is still a matter of listening, sharing, encouraging, supporting, and celebrating the way God has worked, and continues working, below, in, and through all the moments of doubt, risk, uncertainty, and hopefulness --- but also right on through the joy-filled time of new certainties and commitments, and into the demands and relationships of mature canonical eremitical existence which both Sisters love, and strive to embody, with their whole selves. At this point one is probably not the new hermit's spiritual director; as accompanist one is simply a bit more experienced in living the vocation and so, is available to share as the new c 603 hermit negotiates next steps and the various possibilities and dimensions of this vocation. In time this relationship can grow into a profound friendship rooted in the silence of solitude and the grace of God, but also in the joy, humor, and other experience shared in Christ through the years.

I hope this is helpful. I will get to the rest of your question(s) in another day or so. Thanks again. This was a pleasure to write!

11 February 2020

Response to Joyful Hermit's Post


[[It does seem that I should either be a legal hermit or remain an illegal hermit, and if that, to very much acknowledge that I am an illegal hermit, even if God chose me for the hermit life.  Even if Scripture states in various ways and verses of books in the Bible, that God's law is superior to man's law.  St. Paul is reminding of that reality, in that he was not sent by man or men, but was sent by God as an apostle. Illegal Catholic Hermit?]]

So writes Joyful Hermit yesterday in her current blog. There is, it seems, a sad and apparently painful dimension to things for her and I wanted to address it directly and apart from the questions that have already begun to come in. I know I once answered a question about so-called, "illegal hermits" before but I don't remember how long ago, why it was posted or if it is relevant. Perhaps I need to reprise it. In any case it is a mistake to use the term "illegal" of what is a significant vocation in the Church many have embraced, and for that reason, it sounds to me to be a somewhat self-pitying or just intransigent choice of self-designation when there are two perfectly good and more accurate choices from usual Catholic usage, neither of which are in the least denigrating or derogatory.

The first is non-canonical. Some way of living or some enterprise not yet granted a particular canonical standing beyond baptism, or those who live a particular way (as a hermit, for instance) but do not choose to be canonical when there is such an option are simply described as being non-canonical: they choose not to live according to the canonical form of the life. A second alternative --- as Joyful looks for a way to describe her state and the state in which her form of eremitical life is lived is --- lay hermit. I did not make these terms up. She is a baptized person living in the lay state; she is a Catholic living privately vowed hermit life from impulse of that baptism in the lay or baptized state. Most hermits in the Church have always been and will always be lay hermits without benefit of a "second consecration" and its initiation into the consecrated state of life because either it did not exist as an option, they thereafter chose not to, were somehow discerned to be unsuited to it, were not canonically free to do so, and so forth. Still they lived and do live eremitical life within the Church. We therefore do not call them illegal hermits or illicit hermits, nor any other derogatory term. They are in the baptized state and live from the inspiration of God which is funda
mental to that state of life.


In fact we are trying to find ways to appropriately encourage and honor these hermits in the lay state, to recognize them and write about it so that is becomes a fully known and esteemed vocation. This is one of the reasons I put up the post on Felicity Kreger, OblSB recently. I have said many times that I believe in vocations to chronic illness and the potentially eremitical life some of these as well as among isolated elderly might have. I have also written about the way my own canonically consecrated life might make it harder for me to witness to such people. After all, they will likely never be canonical hermits (and most have no desire for this) but they might well be called to live as lay hermits, hermits in the baptized state. So, how wonderful it could be if Joyful Hermit worked through her difficulties in all of this and accepted ordinary Catholic usage (non-canonical or lay hermit) and the wonderful gift such a life could be for the whole church! How incredible it could be if she became not a paean of pain but a significant example of edifying Lay eremitical life!!

Early on I was concerned for Joyful's own well-being when she posted the following dialogue ("the hermit" refers to the blogger herself, not to hermits in general): [[The hermit still did not have a PLACE. But the hermit is part of the laity--that is the place for the hermit. No, the hermit is not really part of the laity. The hermit is irregular. The hermit blurted out, finally, that there is no room for a mystic in the Catholic Church. But the confessor said of course there was and has been through out the history of the Church. Well, this hermit, this mystic hermit, has no place.]] The Complete Hermit, September, 30, 2007

I felt concern. This sense of being nothing and having no place is a terrible sense of unfreedom, of not belonging, of being ineffective and entirely disregarded. Joyful, according to her blog. was trying for consecration under canon 603 and apparently that was not going to happen. Though fairly newly baptized (a few years) as a Catholic, she apparently had not come to sufficiently appreciate that being laity definitely gives one a place and private vows in that same state were still tremendously significant. And so I wrote about the importance of the lay state and the reality of lay hermits. Earlier in response to her questions (she wrote me prior to my perpetual profession), I responded directly to Joyful thinking about herself as a hermit and about private vows. And I blogged. I couldn't see another way to assist her in my writing. But of course it has to do with more than Joyful's own feelings and needs, important as her own healing is. To see the Lay Vocation as bereft of significance in the church is to fail to understand the nature and dignity of baptism as foundational of the Church, the lay state grounds every other state in the Church. Occasionally I hear from others who feel as Joyful does. This has to be countered; it certainly mustn't be worsened with terms like "illegal", "illicit", or "undocumented," on a public blog.

Joyful also writes [[A legal Catholic hermit who also writes blog posts, has written eloquently of why CL603 makes a hermit "free." While I do not want to seem ubiquitously irritating, I immediately ask the question, "Were not any or all of the holy, even canonized saint Catholic hermits prior to 1983, then, free? It would seem not. Definitely in today's Church, they would not be legal hermits, and not recognized by the Church as hermits. Was John the Baptist not free? Were not St. Paul the First Hermit, St. Antony of the Desert, St. Mary of Egypt, St. Sarah of the Desert, St. Benedict (the three years he was a hermit), St. Bruno, St. Romuald, St.Godric, St. Nicholas of Flue, St. Seraphim, St. Charbel--and so many more--not free?]]

Actually I wrote very specifically that for those called to it (and therefore, to the state it constitutes) canon 603 provides a realm of freedom --- but it is not the only state in the Church, and not the only way to live as a hermit. It would not provide a realm of freedom for one not called to it any more than I would be able to find the same freedom in the clerical or married states. I am called to neither. I lived as a lay hermit for a while when my diocese determined they would not profess anyone under canon 603. During that time I continued to grow in my eremitical life and in time I learned I had something unique or at least significant to bring to the Church as a hermit and I sought again to be admitted to canonical standing under c 603; this seemed the responsible way forward for me to live my life in Christ to its fullest ecclesial potential. Though I lived freely as a non-canonical hermit, nonetheless I truly felt called to eremitical life in the consecrated state. A number of persons discerned that with me, and though it took time, we were correct. I experience greater freedom as diocesan hermit than I did even as a hermit in the lay state. In some ways c 603 represents the norm defining a realm where the associated constraints become freeing; some don't understand this paradox. That's okay; they aren't called to this. One wrote recently he didn't see the benefit in consecration; that's okay, apparently he's not called to it at this point. Their freedom apparently lies elsewhere within the lay state.

One can and many do experience freedom in living as lay hermits. Think of all the norms which help define the lay state, all the rights and obligations associated with it when these are taken seriously. None of the people Ms McClure listed who were actually Christians felt (I truly believe) unfree because they took their lay prophetic vocations very seriously. (There was no canonical option here.) John the Baptist did it in a Jewish prophetic context. The Desert Abbas and Ammas lived the gospel as fully as they could in the desert and did so in direct contrast to a post Constantinian Church. They lived from the Spirit and Word of God within the Church they helped constitute, but also against its tendency to accommodate itself too freely to the world of power and privilege. They were lay hermits in the main. Others like St Romuald lived under the Benedictine Rule, travelled to bring others (those hermits who were lone, unaffiliated and sometimes, simply lost) under the Rule of Benedict as well, It provided order, inspiration, and a way of seeing one's solitary eremitical life as integral to the life of the Church. Benedictinism is a living thing represented by those who live his Rule in faithful and intelligent ways.

St Bruno established what would become a canonical congregation beginning slowly with a group of friends living lay (or possibly clerical) eremitical life together and ending with a canonical congregation that has been (and remains) paradigmatic of a form of consecrated semi-eremitical life. They lived God's will as the Church context made possible (and sometimes necessary). Their lives were creative and pushed at boundaries. But yes, at the same time there were lone individuals calling themselves or being called hermits, validating failure by being "hermits", giving scandal and otherwise denigrating the very term "hermit,"  with their lives. The church had no canonical definition of the term for solitary hermits, but these were not John the Baptists or St Romualds. They were eccentrics, and the desert/wilderness was not profoundly humanizing for them. St Romuald's efforts to bring together the hermits scattered throughout Italy was not entirely successful and the disordered and disedifying "hermits" continued to exist as lone individuals and often nothing more than misanthropes, the badly wounded, individualists, etc. Were these individuals free? Not insofar as they were not driven and empowered by the Gospel to do what they were doing. Not insofar as they lived this terrible solitude in the name of woundedness, illness, alienation, or bitterness and not in the name/power of the God of wholeness and freedom. They were not free nor were they hermits --- at least not in the way the Church now defines that and actually, has always understood it through orders and lauras and anchorites who were under their bishop's protection and supervision.

What the Church has never truly esteemed or recognized --- and never adequately assisted us to even understand enough before 1983 --- is the solitary eremitical life lived in the heart of the Church. This vocation comprises both those in the Lay and the Consecrated states (it includes --- though very rarely --- those in the Clerical state as well). Canon 603 is used to consecrate those called to live solitary eremitical life in the name of the Church. At the same time it outlines the essential elements which define a solitary eremitical life -- no matter one's state of life. By professing and consecrating solitary hermits with clearly discerned vocations, it recognizes solitary eremitical life in law for the first time in the Church's life. But it is important to realize this works paradigmatically, not exclusively. What I mean is it establishes a call to a relatively small number of hermits who will live this life so that the whole Church can begin to accept the solitary hermit life in whatever state eremitism is lived as positively significant. Before this happened in the Western Church, solitary hermit life had died out and semi-eremitical life continued; it was accepted but remained a bit of a curiosity. Canon 603 establishes solitary eremitical life as viable, contemporary, important example of  spiritually of wholeness in the silence of solitude; it establishes this life for the witness it represents, and (despite what folks might have thought) shows it is still a vital form of life  present in some few responding to the Holy Spirit.

I am truly glad to hear Joyful Hermit struggling in the way she is to accept and embrace the truth. I am especially glad she has people to work with whom she trusts in this process. What she is doing is not easy and takes courage, but if she persists it can be incredibly lifegiving. I accept gratefully the kind words she has written recently about my blog. I sincerely hope she hears what her once-diocesan-Bishop and parish Rector and others (including myself in our brief email correspondence) were trying to explain about living as a lay hermit according to her baptismal consecration, or about not needing a declaration of nullity if she lives eremitical life in this state. I am sorry she was misled or left uncorrected on the use of the designation Catholic Hermit, though I am very glad that in those early years she had and blogged about a canonist who told her several times about the link between canon 603 and "living as a hermit in the name of the Church." One sincere hope I have is that she can accept the language of "lay state" and "non-canonical" to distinguish her eremitical life from those in the consecrated state if that is ever necessary. There is no need to denigrate such a calling with labels like illegal, illicit, or undocumented.

Joyful and many others besides her are "documented"; she (and they) are Catholics and have a baptismal certificate and likely one for confirmation and other Sacraments of initiation as well! Again, except for a few centuries of monastic ascendency, lay eremitical life has always been the most prevalent and possibly the most prophetic way of living the eremitic vocation in the Western Church. That has not changed with canon 603. Perhaps what has changed with canon 603 is the possibility for all hermits, of whatever state of life, to live edifying eremitical lives that will build the church with its witness to the gospel and be recognized for their place in that. I sincerely hope so!

09 February 2020

On Freedom within Constraints: Taking another Shot at this!

[[Dear Sister, your post on freedom (On Questions of Freedom vs License)  on freedom was interesting, but I still don't see how having constraints can be a source of freedom. First off I didn't get the illustration on playing violin. I don't play an instrument so I couldn't relate. Can you give me another example? I mean it just seems weird that someone would want to take on legal requirements so they can be "free". I am thinking of all the things you can't do because of your vows. You know, like marriage or having kids, or just hanging with friends or having money. So you know, I just don't see what you mean when you say you can be yourself. It looks to me like when a person makes vows they are making sure they cannot be themselves but what someone else thinks is right.]]

Thanks for giving the original post a try. Yes, I can at least attempt to give another example and maybe clarify. You didn't say whether the sports example was helpful so I am hoping it assisted a little.  What I was trying to point out was how constraints can allow the potential someone has to be fully realized whereas the lack of constraints associated with license (the ability to do anything at any time whenever one wanted) actually prevents the realization of one's potential. Think of learning to write cursive or "longhand". You practice stroke after stroke for hours and days and months. There are constraints in the ways you can form letters and words, constraints on your physical capacities, constraints which stem from your teacher's expectations and talent in teaching handwriting, or her lack thereof, and so forth. Over time however, your observation or respect of these constraints begins to translate into the ability to write freely, legibly, with facility and personal expression or "flair" (because you will find ways to do that even within the constraints imposed). The limitations imposed also created a realm of freedom and fruitfulness.

Without those constraints, those limits and definitions, those patterns and shapes and all the time it took to practice and master them, you could have used your pencil or pen to explore and create infinite numbers of shapes, patterns, lines, spaces. etc; at the same time you might have found you only drew a few over and over because of limited imagination and coordination. You could have scribbled in deep pain, gouged the paper in anger, and in time you  might have developed an actual consistent schema to express yourself. But no one else would be able to read it -- or hear you clearly.

The time you spent would ultimately be mostly a waste of time and effort for you would still lack the freedom to write and understand the cursive writing of others. You would be lacking written language and all of the capacities written language helps to develop.  In time, as you develop these abilities (and do so within the new but freeing constraints of grammar and syntax) you may well come to write compellingly of the nature and psychology of anger or write a novel exploring the deep pain you once could only scribble about --- precisely because constraints and the discipline and creativity they encourage have created a realm of genuine freedom for you to explore. They linked letters to one another and formed words; words linked to one another and to your own inner experience and created the power of expression. And over time you made these your own. You became a writer,

An even simpler example maybe: think of a child's room, full of toys including crayons, paints, chalks, etc. The parents want their child to develop her creativity and capacities for art. When she draws surreptitiously on the wall next to her bed, they add a black board and an easel along with the rule, "No more drawing or coloring on the wall or floor." (No more need to face Mom's anger.) "No more need to draw or color in hiding or secrecy. Draw and color all you want, but you must use the easel and the chalk board!" Constraints. Limitations. Physical challenges. But they also create a space of freedom where one can (learn to) paint or draw with chalk openly to one's heart's content. Law is a lot like this. Traffic laws create a realm of freedom where one may travel the streets without fear in relative safety; they create the freedom to go wherever one needs or desires to go without worrying about folks running red lights, driving on sidewalks and operating potentiality deadly machines entirely without constraints.


Canon law and standing in law does something very similar for the consecrated hermit. For one called to this it gives us a sacred space to be a hermit no matter what in the world around us militates against that, or what doubts inside us may come up from time to time; we have discerned our vocations with others and have been admitted to profession after a time of careful evaluation. Standing under canon law is a reminder of who the church has perceived and charges us to be. That is truly freeing. But it comes with constraints: it comes, as I say so often, with rights and obligations, as well as with legitimate expectation on the part of others. It limits what I may and may not do, who I may be and may not be; evenso, because I am called to this by God through these limitations and related freedoms, I learn that constraints of this sort can free me (and allow God to empower me) to be my best self in the silence of solitude.

Celibacy in Christ, for instance, a clear constraint frees me to be a complete woman and makes me free to relate to males generally comfortably and freely, of course, but I am also free to relate to male contemplatives especially, in a profoundly deep way without anxiety or ever feeling the slightest danger of impropriety. It's a paradox where specific limitations create realms of deep freedom in which one may truly grow in genuine wholeness and holiness as the man or woman they are. My vows and the requirements (more, the vision articulated in) my Rule give me the space and time to spend in prayer and with Scripture in study and lectio. The constraints of my Rule create a realm of freedom, excitement, and personal growth. Silence (a constraint on noise, music, TV, and unnecessarily disturbing things as well  --- unless there is an important reason for them) creates a realm of freedom in which all kind of things (some quite difficult) can occur for and within the hermit's inner life. In the space created by constraints, God is powerfully present and dwells with and in me. In this way, the limits of my hermitage are also the ways in which this small place and my own life open to eternity.

So, that was some of what I was trying to say.in my earlier post. I hope this helps a little more, but if not, get back to me again and let me know what remains unclear.

07 February 2020

Cloistered Nun: May She Transfer Her Solemn Vows to Canon 603 Life?

[[Dear Sister O'Neal,  is it possible for a cloistered nun to transfer her solemn profession and consecration to canon 603? It would be to a different diocese than the monastery [she is currently in]. Does that make a difference?]]

Thanks for your question. The quick answer is no, there is no way to transfer solemn monastic profession to canon 603 no matter the diocese(s) involved in such a significant step. Because I either have previously or am currently accompanying a Sister involved in the process you asked about, I am familiar with the outline of the elements required (though not in detail). You will find it involves at least the following elements: 1) exclaustration and establishment of your life as a hermit in (though not yet of) the receiving diocese, 2) working with the local ordinary as you actually discern whether or not you are called to be a diocesan hermit. (Remember that besides the possibility of living as a non-canonical hermit in the lay state, there are two other canonical options you might find preferable to c 603; At least one of these would allow for transfer of one's vows: a) life in a laura, and b) life in a canonical semi-eremitical congregation). Another necessary "element" such a change involves is, 3) the assistance of canonists and the General Superior or Prioress of your congregation who, among many other 4hings, will eventually submit all necessary paperwork to Rome. These three elements break down into many necessary steps and I do not know the specific order in which all these steps needs to be accomplished, but in even considering profession under c 603, a first conversation with the bishop in the "new" diocese regarding what you are considering seems to have priority.

Because canon 603 is not about another Order or Congregation, transfer of vows is not possible. Really it is a different vocation than some form of cenobitical life. Instead, exclaustration will be necessary as you establish yourself in a diocese (I assume you already know the bishop will seriously consider professing you under c 603 if that's the way your mutual discernment truly leads; if you have not ascertained this, please set up an appointment with him to discuss matters before taking any steps toward exclaustration; I am also assuming for purposes of this response, that your question pertained to yourself.) If you know the new (or alternate) diocese's bishop will definitely consider professing you under c 603, you are in a secure position to move towards exclaustration. Know that before a bishop will profess you he must not only be sure you have a solitary eremitical vocation, but he must be sure you will be able to support yourself, pay your own expenses (insurance, medical care, rent, food, utilities, library, spiritual direction, transportation, retreat, etc, etc). One thing that might be very helpful, especially as the details of exclaustration and definitive separation from your monastic family begin to take shape, is a canon lawyer who works for you and not for the diocese or your  monastic community.

The situation is complex (much more so than a transfer), requires lots of coordinating on the part of everyone involved. One thing that, as a matter of prudence, calls for your own canon lawyer  is the matter of patrimony. While you are on exclaustration and establishing yourself in a hermitage of some sort, your community is responsible for your expenses and upkeep (you are still an OSB, OCSO, or something similar, but once you receive an indult of departure, once your vows are dispensed and perhaps even before you are subsequently professed under canon 603, that changes, of course. (Canonists will assist you and your congregation to work out things in the way departing religious typically do today after x or y  or z years of solemn profession;  here it is both prudent and charitable to have a canonist working for you and looking out for your own concerns and future needs specifically.)

A serious question you will need to answer for yourself in time is, "if I am called to consecrated eremitical life, where is the best place for me to live that out? Is solitary eremitical life best for you, or should you consider transferring somewhere like the Sisters of Bethlehem, for instance? There are also small monastic houses which can allow for greater solitary than your own might. The Benedictine Sisters of Transfiguration Monastery in Windsor, NY  are one such I know of (I am an oblate with them since they were formerly Camaldolese.) but I am sure there are others. Are you being called to a greater degree of solitude but in community? What you are proposing is certainly doable, but again, it is complex even without the "complication" of actually discerning eremitical life and the form this should take. I hope this is a little helpful and wish you the best on your journey. If you are called to this it will be a really wonderful adventure! Meanwhile, please keep in contact if you think I can be of assistance in the future, especially as you embrace the eremitical life.

06 February 2020

On Prayer: Holding the World in our Hearts (Reprise)



Just sharing (once again) a wonderful image my delegate sent to me several years ago. As I have written before, it is so important that the hermit's "stricter separation from the world" be about freedom FROM enmeshment which allows a very real freedom FOR compassion and genuine regard. We do not "wash our hands" of the world, nor are we called to leave it behind entirely. Rather, empowered by God's love for us experienced in solitude we love and embrace it in a new, creative, and prophetic way.

I would only change one thing about this image; For hermits and other contemplatives especially I would either add or replace the original text with [[Be Prayer for the world!!]] I say that because of Pope Francis' new (2016) Apostolic Constitution,   Vultum dei Quarare (Seeking the Face of God) On Women's Contemplative Life. There he reminds us that contemplatives are set in the heart of the Church and the world and, in their contemplative lives, are a "sign and witness of the prophecy of the Church, virgin, spouse, and mother,"  or here, [[And how great is the joy and prophecy proclaimed to the world by the silence of the cloister!]]

or yet again, [[It is not easy for the world, or at least for a large part of it, dominated by the mindset of power, wealth, and consumerism, to understand your particular vocation and your hidden mission; and yet it needs them immensely. The world needs you every bit as much as a sailor on the high seas needs a beacon to guide him to a safe haven. Be beacons to those near you to you and, above all, to those far away. Be torches to guide men and women along their journey through the dark night of time. Be sentinels of the morning (cf. Is 21:11-12) heralding the dawn (cf. Lk 1:78). By your transfigured life, and with simple words pondered in silence, show us the One who is the way, and the truth and the life (cf Jn 14:6), the Lord who alone brings us fulfillment and bestows life in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10). Cry out to us, as Andrew did to Simon: "We have found the Lord" (Jn 1:40). Like Mary Magdalene on Easter morning, announce to us: "I have seen the Lord!" (Jn 20:18). Cherish the prophetic value of your lives of self-sacriifice. Do not be afraid to live fully the joy of evangelical life, in accordance with your charism.]]

P.S., One of the most wonderful things about this document was that on the front page, below the indication this was from the Holy See Press Office or the Symbol of the Papacy and the large note that this was embargoed until the Feast of Mary Magdalene, below all of this official hoopla stood a single word: Francis --- followed by the title of his document. Not Pope Francis, or even Francis, Bishop of Rome, and certainly not His Holiness or Vicar of Christ, etc, but simply "Francis" --- a Brother religious writing to fellow religious and Sisters in Christ --- not forgetting his role of course, but setting a tone via which the text itself could be heard. I was quite touched by this.

The Lay Vocation: Living as part of the People of God in the Name of the Church

[[Sister O'Neal, I am trying to get my head around this idea of "living a state of life or a vocation in the name of the Church." Does this only work for people in the consecrated or clerical states? Is it also true for lay people? If it is true of us then what are my rights and obligations? I don't think you have ever said anything about this.]]

Terrific question! And no, I may not have written directly about this. Yes, it applies to folks living in the lay state and/or lay vocations. Remember these are people who have been initiated through baptism (and other Sacraments of initiation) into membership in the People of God and thus, it also means people with all the rights and obligations of lay persons in the Church. You and any other lay person lives your vocation in the name of the Church: you are a Catholic lay person and the right to call yourself this is a significant right all by itself. It also comes with obligations.

(Assuming you are a baptized Catholic) everything you are and do is meant to be done in the name of your Catholic identity. You may teach or nurse or do medicine, you may be a business leader, a CEO, a housewife, or shipbuilder, student, caregiver, etc. As a Catholic lay person (or "just" as a Catholic) you are entirely free to live your faith and thus be a Catholic lay person in an infinite number of ways. You never stop being a person who lives your Christian faith in the name of the Church --- unless of course you reject  and walk away from this identity in some material way. Not everything you do may reflect well on your calling or on the Name in which you are called to live your life but the call is still yours. By the way, one tricky piece here is that you are not a Catholic shipbuilder, or a Catholic CEO. The Church has not commissioned you to do or be these specific things in her name. Even so, you are a Catholic Lay Person and CEO, or Catholic and shipbuilder, etc. You are free to make as much money as you can (though the evangelical counsel of poverty is also an obligation which is part of your Catholic vocation), free to marry, to raise a family, to move wherever you like, study whatever you want, and so forth (though in all of this the evangelical counsels of obedience and chastity also bind you --- though not religious obedience or religious chastity in celibacy).

You have the right (and sometimes the obligation!) to receive the sacraments regularly, to keep the precepts of the Church, to participate in a parish or other faith community, to participate as you feel called in all of the forms of lay ministry the church opens to you. If you are trained and commissioned as an EEM you do this in the name of the church. You are a Catholic EEM. You have the obligation to be knowledgeable about your faith, to inculcate the theological and cardinal virtues (etc.), to live the law of the Church and of God's Law of Love, to become  a person of prayer (the very prayer of God), to raise your children in a similar way, to create a home which is genuinely Catholic and reflects Catholic faith and values. You are free to associate with others and create associations of the lay faithful. In serious or emergency situations you are even free to baptize! These are also rights which are yours as a person in the lay state. Moreover, you have the right and obligation to discern the shape of God's call in your life and to live this out the best you can. This vocation is the foundation of every other in the Church.  At every moment and mood of your life you have the right and obligation to hear and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a Catholic in the Lay state.

When people say "I am a Catholic" all of this and more is implied --- or at least is meant to be implied. Above all, I think, to say, "I am a Catholic" is to recognize and embrace a call to holiness in Christ, to recognize and embrace a call to be God's embodied Word as you image Christ in this unique and foundational state of life. Because you are baptized, confirmed, and nourished with  the Eucharist and the Word of God, strengthened as needed with the Sacrament of the Sick, healed and reconciled with the Sacrament of reconciliation, you are called and commissioned to live this state of life in an inspired and edifying way. Here rights and obligations become hard or impossible to tease apart but they are all part of your unique vocation as a Catholic and as Catholic Laity.

Are there limitations on your rights and obligations? Yes, of course. What I mentioned as "tricky" earlier points to some of these limitations. If, like I have done, you study Theology and become a theologian by training, expertise, and even passion, unless the Church specifically charges you with this right and obligation you cannot identify yourself as a Catholic theologian because you do not do or teach theology in the name of the Church. This requires a special Mandatum which can be granted or taken away. This does not mean the theology you do or teach is anything other than Catholic or profoundly orthodox, but unless the Church herself has granted you this Mandatum, you, like I, cannot call yourself a Catholic Theologian.

Similarly, you may be a gifted preacher, knowledgeable in the Word of God and human psychology, but unless and until the Church grants you the right (and charges you with the associated obligations), you cannot call yourself a Catholic preacher. (You would be a Catholic and a preacher, but you do not preach in the name of the Church; she has not granted this ecclesial calling, rights, and commensurate obligations to you). You may pray and live in all the ways a Catholic Religious prays, but you do so in the lay state (and why not?!); you are not a Catholic religious unless and until you are initiated by competent authorities into this state of life. Such rights and obligations belong to the Church (we call these callings, "ecclesial vocations") and they are hers alone to confer; they are never self-assumed.

But the more pertinent point in light of your question is the truth that by the very fact of your Baptism you live lay life in the name of the Church. The Church recognizes you as part of the People of God, the (Gk.,λαος laos,laity, or People), and that is a very significant vocation wherever and how ever you live it out or express it; for wherever and how ever you do this, you are called to be Church. You are (a) Catholic; your selfhood is lived in the name of God and the name of the Church. The challenge, of course, is always to live this vocation worthily in a way which builds up the People, to understand that with baptism you did not simply join a religious group but were gifted with and embraced a Catholic vocation marked by its undeniable call to an exhaustive (if difficult!) holiness-in-community, and very unique (and challenging!) freedom.