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!