Vocations and Relativity: The Entitlement Attitude

by Therese Ivers, JCL

“I think someone fell and broke their arm,” I was told.  A few hours later practically the whole campus squeezed into the chapel to pray for the girl who fell 70′ when hiking.  Despite heroic efforts, she did not survive surgery, and the bell tolled.  People prayed the rosary in the chapel.  It was said very slowly – each 5 decades took about an hour.  That was an appropriate tempo for the emotional state people were in.  You could see it in their eyes.  Numbed from shock that one of our own had died.  A young, pretty sophomore.

Years passed, and I helping to direct a Catholic youth camp.  Another young pretty 20 something came to me.  She was distraught because she felt we were irreverently rushing through Vespers.  Yes, we were “rushing” at about 35-40 minutes for a prayer that normally takes 15-20 minutes when recited and 25 when sung.  Not content with our pauses between each line, she wanted to slow the pace to the point of a drawl.

It didn’t matter that the priest chaplain’s experience in praying the Office in the seminary and mine as a sacred virgin who has lived in convents and visited numerous ones probably totaled more years than the girl had been alive- she could not, would not accept a mere 40 minute recited Vespers.  Why?  Because she knew that for all of the 1500 or so years since the monks invented the Divine Office they were wrong in their tempo.  Obviously slower is better.  The slower you say it, the more holy and devout you are.  I watched her go away with a disappointed slump after trying several different explanations for my decision to keep the pace as it was.  Nothing I could do or say would change this girl’s mind because she knew it all already.  She was the expert when it came to liturgical prayer prayed in common.  In fact, she is a prime example of what many people are today- pseudo experts in things they know very little about who pontificate and believe that their opinions must be respected because they “feel” they are right or “feel” that X, Y, or Z is “holy” or the “holier thing to do” without the knowledge or experience to back up their feelings.

Unfortunately, our society in which relativism is rampant, encourages this juvenile attitude of believing things because of the belief that because one believes them or “feels” a certain “feeling”, it must be right regardless of the actual truth.  This spills over into the vocations area frequently.  Why else do people think that women should become priests, two people of the same sex should marry, full time carers can become hermits, or women who are not virgins become sacred virgins?  Because the “feeling” of holiness or appropriateness is what counts in their minds and everyone has the right to be whatever they want and do whatever they want as long as they can convince themselves it has good feelings attached.

Yes, along with relativism comes a strongly entrenched attitude of entitlement.  Women have the right to become priests because God’s viewpoint is irrelevant.  Contraception is totally okay because people are entitled to have unfettered pleasure.  Hermits can be Walmart greeters because the only solitude necessary is the “inner space”.  Virgins can have small private ceremonies because we’d prefer to think of them as a private function rather than the important event it is for the diocesan Church…

It is very common to see people feel entitled to self-define what an ecclesiastical vocation is when it pertains to the lesser known vocations of canonical hermits, sacred virgins, and consecrated laity/clerics of secular institutes.  This entitlement stems from a profound misunderstanding of the nature of consecrated life and its role in the heart and mystery of the Church.  Further, it frequently comes from an ego centric desire to “have status” in the Church in the mistaken belief that consecration is the religious equivalent of a political endorsement and hence one must be able to achieve such status by right.  Today, I am going to address three misconceptions about consecrated life.  Later, I’ll take a look at some contemporary examples of how people like to self-define elements of ecclesiastical vocations.

Myth 1: A person can self-consecrate.

Starting from the Annunciation, when the Holy Spirit founded the Order of Virgins through the message of an angel, God established that consecration in the consecrated life occurs only via mediation of another individual with the requisite authority.  In apostolic times, the Bishops consecrated and veiled virgins -velatio virginum-  and priests veiled widows.

What about private promises or vows?  By definition, an individual’s self-dedication via private promises, vows, or resolutions does not involve any other individual with the authority to mediate the spiritual anointing of consecration.  Neither a bishop nor a priest nor consecrated persons or laypersons have the authority to “receive” vows in the name of the Church outside of approved structures named in canon law.

Myth 2: Consecration is the Church’s “recognition” of a grace already given to a person.

Consecration of consecrated life is like the Sacrament of Confirmation – it isn’t there before the ecclesiastical authority mediates it to the individual receiving it.  One simply doesn’t go through the Mass for Confirmation candidates and then say that the bishop’s actions merely acknowledge what is already the case: a confirmed Catholic.  Why?  Because it is the Bishop who mediates the sacrament of Confirmation to the candidate and what wasn’t there is now all of a sudden there through the power of Christ working in the Sacrament.  Similarly, consecration of consecrated life, like the sacraments of Orders and Confirmation, occurs through the mediation of the proper ecclesiastical authority; not by the person receiving it.  As with Confirmation and Ordination, a person can say all kinds of vows and promises in front of the Pope himself, but that makes him no more ordained or confirmed without the other elements required for a true sacramental consecration.

Examples- A lay hermit cannot say that he is “consecrated” if he is under private vows and that he has the same consecration as the canonical hermit because his bishop has not mediated the spiritual anointing of consecration to said individual Catholic.  A female physical virgin cannot claim that she is a “bride of Christ” the way the Church is if she has not received the consecration of her person in the Rite of Consecration of Virgins.  She can make all the private vows and promises she likes but they do not a sacred person make.

Myth 3: The Church doesn’t value the private vow of chastity if the people who make it don’t receive an authentic consecration.

All the baptized are called to holiness.  Some choose to live “lifestyles” that “imitate” consecrated life forms, yet they remained in their lay (or clerical) state without the consecration of the state of perfection.  Here are some examples of people whom the Church highly esteems who remained in the lay state who were dedicated by perpetual private resolution or vow:

St. Catherine of Sienna, Doctor of the Church  (private vow of chastity)

St. Rose of Lima, Virgin (private vow of chastity)

St. Anthony of the Desert, Hermit (lifestyle of chastity)

St. Catherine of Sienna is an illustrious example of the sufficiency of following the graces given to baptized persons with great generosity.  People who don’t think holiness is possible without being consecrated should rethink their position.  That’s it for today.   Keep on the lookout for a word on self-defined vocations in the near future!

Also coming soon- a forum where you can discuss vocations.

(c) by Therese Ivers, JCL

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Can a Person With a Full Time Job be a Diocesan Hermit?

by Therese Ivers, JCL

In researching for my dissertation on hermits, I have come across a handful of times anJEANNE LEBER individual has professed vows under the provisions of canon 603 in the hands of his/her bishop but has a full time or very active part time job.  While I understand the desire of pious laypersons to become consecrated persons, the canon on hermits is not intended to accomplish this for people with substantial interaction with others.  It is actually an abuse of the canon to profess individuals with employment outside the hermitage that isn’t done in solitude.   Further, because the canon must be followed in its entirety for a person to be a canonical hermit, either the vows are invalid in the case of a full-time worker in a normal job that isn’t done in strict solitude or the vow of obedience is being violated.

Why would the vows of someone with active employment be invalid?  The reason is that the canon calls for the “silence of solitude”.  This does not mean that an individual living alone in his apartment but who goes out to work every day qualifies as a hermit-candidate.  It is not a sneaky loophole for letting someone who doesn’t join an institute of consecrated life to be “recognized by the Church” for a person with an active apostolate in the Church.  Rather, the “silence of solitude” is a term rich in meaning and history.  It is a term that indicates – among other things – that the individual lives a life with very limited interaction with others in order to spend most of his life alone with God in prayer, penance, and every day living in solitude.  If you were to compare a hermit’s solitude to forms of religious life, it would squarely land on the cloistered, contemplative end of the spectrum as opposed to the religious forms of life that are heavily apostolic with a lot of interaction with people.

For a person to be truly consecrated as a canonical hermit, there are certain non-negotiable elements.  One is the “silence of solitude”.  If it is missing from the lifestyle and rule of the individual in question, it would negate any vows made because it is a non-negotiable part of what the Church has established of her expectations for the profession of hermits and consecration by God mediated by Her.

Although full time work as a social worker or in an office as a receptionist or as a bagger in the local grocery store clearly invalidate any vows, there are plenty of other situations where one is not living in the “silence of solitude” and therefore is not a viable candidate for the profession.  One example is taking care of a relative living under the same roof.  The carer cannot impose his desire for solitude upon such a relative in charity.  Another example is raising children or living with one’s spouse.  Living with one’s spouse automatically eliminates the possibility of being a hermit because the spousal support, affection, and shared communion of the whole of life is there even if there is no conjugal activity.  It is that intimacy of life that the hermit rejects by definition.  Likewise, there is no such thing as a “part time” hermit in the Church’s vocabulary.

The person running an apostolate or the individual with a spouse or children may be very good Catholics and they may indeed spend weekends or nights in prayer.  They just aren’t hermits.  Silence and quiet time for prayer is essential for the spiritual well being of humans, but the canonical hermit has radically dedicated his/her life to living in it on a more than full time basis.  Although the lifestyle indicated by the Church is like cloistered life for strictly enclosed monks and nuns, there is no laws of cloister.  The hermit obviously will leave the hermitage for necessities like groceries, the Sacraments, and occasional excursions or retreats.

Aspiring hermits should note that it is difficult in this world to support oneself while living in solitude.  This is one acid test of the genuineness of the call to hermit life under the provisions of canon 603.  Can a person live in solitude without abandoning responsibilities (child care, marital vows, parental care, financial self-support) and survive?

Let’s also look at the concept of the silence of solitude from another angle, namely, the difference between eremitic life and coenobitic.  The Carthusians are a religious Order.  They are considered coenobitic with a primary emphasis on the eremitic life.  Why are they coenobitic (communal?) and not considered hermits?  The hermit monks and nuns stay in their hermitages and small gardens and pray, work, and eat in them individually.  They only go to the chapel for Mass and Matins.  Once a week they get together for a walk for a few hours and talk.  The conversae (“lay” brothers and sisters”) also live in the charterhouse and they provide manual labor and can have a simplified prayer routine.  It is the conversae who brings the food into the food slot for the individual hermitages, etc.

What can we learn about the “silence of solitude” when analyzing the lives of the Carthusians?  That if they consider themselves semi-hermits because they get together daily once or twice for prayer/Mass and have recreation together once a week, how does a person with a full time job as a parish finance manager or a social worker fit the description of living as a hermit?   This is part of what the Carthusians have to say about solitude:


The cloister and cell only assure an external solitude. It is only the first step whose goal is to encourage interior solitude, or purity of heart: to keep one’s soul away from any and all things not of God or which do not lead to God. It is at this level that the Carthusian meets the sudden impulses of his thought and the changes of his feelings. As long as the monk discusses with his “self”, his sensibilities, his worthless thoughts, unreal desires, he is not centered on God. It is here that he experiences his weakness and the power of the Spirit which he learns bit by bit « …the habit of the tranquil listening of the heart which allows God to enter by all path and access. » (Statutes 4.2)

To read more about solitude and the different degrees of solitude, you can go to their website here which I encourage you to explore for a better understanding of the solitude canon 603 is talking about.

Also, for solid information on the vocation to hermit life, I recommend Sr Laurel’s blog, Stillsong Hermitage.  Sr. Laurel is a theologian, knowledgeable about her vocation as a hermit, and has a wealth of wisdom to share on the subject.  She is an authority on the eremitic vocation whom I respect and hold in high regard.

(c) 2015 by Therese Ivers, JCL  All Rights Reserved.

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May We Hope for a Vatican Document on Religious Brothers?

friarby Therese Ivers, JCL

Four years ago, Cardinal Rodé announced plans for publishing a document on religious brothers.  I think that such a document, if it is still in the works, would be perfect for this Year of Consecrated Life.  Here are four reasons why I hope the Church will come out with a document on brothers:


1)  Numbers are diminishing.  In mixed orders of non-ordained brothers and priest-brothers, many of them are getting less vocations to the non-ordained brotherhood as many men want to be on the priest-religious track.  A spotlight on male religious may help bring more vocations to this vocation.

2)  Monasticism in the east and the west was originally founded and maintained mostly by brothers, with only a select number of brothers going on to ordination to provide for the sacramental needs of the community.

3)  The vocation of religious non-ordained brothers has not been given much direct attention in recent documents on religious life.  It would be good to have something that discusses the theology of the professed male religious in terms of their role in imaging the bridehood of the Church in consecrated life.

4)  A document on the vocation of male religious would probably highlight why it is an excellent vocation in its own right, and why male religious are not seminary rejects.  It might help give men the impetus they need to carefully discern religious life instead of focusing only on the priesthood and marriage.

While I won’t hold my breath that such a document will actually be issued this Year of Consecrated Life, I’d be delighted if it did because we need more brothers to imitate the nature of the Church as a man of prayer.



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Re: Vatican Workshops (Symposium) to Close the End of the Year of Consecrated Life

Tlogo-anno-vita-consacrata_enhe Vatican is doing an International Symposium (gathering/workshops/events) for Religious, Secular Institutes, and Consecrated Virgins and at the end of the Year for Consecrated Life in Rome!

The dates specified by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life for the gathering of Consecrated Persons are as follows:

  • Symposium for Secular Institutes, and Ordo Virginum 29 Jan 2016 – 31 Jan 2016
  • (Symposium for Religious 28-30 Jan)
  • Vigil at St Peter’s Basilica 30 Jan 2016 at 8 p.m.
  • Audience with Holy Father 1 Feb 2016
  • Mass to conclude the Year of Consecrated Life with the Holy Father 2 Feb 2016

The ORP/Kairos which acts as the pilgrimage organizer for the Vicariate of Rome (Diocese of Rome) has arranged for a pilgrimage package for Consecrated Virgins, Religious, and Secular Institute members interested in participating in this International Symposium for Consecrated Persons in Rome with an optional extension to the Holy Land for those interested in seeing where hermits, religious, and the Ordo Virginum began (Following the Gospel). This pilgrimage package is available so that consecrated persons can attend the International Symposium, with lodgings, meals, transportation and other major details being arranged by the Vatican’s office of pilgrimage. Consecrated persons can relax, attend the Symposium, enjoy each other’s company, and prayerfully visit some of the sights in Rome and Italy that are of special significance to consecrated life.

A religious priest-chaplain is being provided who is familiar with the different forms of consecrated life. Guides to the sacred sites will be available in English, Spanish, French, and Italian, and the pilgrimage is open to religious, secular institute members, and consecrated virgins of all nationalities. If enough people from any country want a guide in their language sign up, they will receive a guide speaking their language. This is an international pilgrimage package for the symposium organized by Rome.

Because this is a pilgrimage designed for consecrated persons, we will be lodging as much as possible in places run by religious orders and this is not meant to be a 5* luxury level pilgrimage. Because we realize many consecrated persons are poor, we are working towards getting donations and sponsors for people who cannot otherwise afford to attend, particularly for secular institute members and sacred virgins in the USA, South America, Africa, and Australia. If you are interested in attending and are a sacred virgin (Ordo Virignum) or a consecrated member of a Secular Institute but need a partial or complete scholarship, please contact Patrizia.

Program for Year of CL 2015

Symposium for Consecrated Virgins and Pilgrimage Poster
Symposium for Secular Institute Members and Pilgrimage Poster
Symposium for Religious Men and Women and Pilgrimage Poster

Please note that when the posters/brochures are finalized for the program organized by the ORP/Kairos to help consecrated persons attend this International Symposium, they will also be available in French, Spanish, and Italian. Although the information is not completely on their website yet (click the photo to enter the site), the Kairos/ORP website link is here.

FYI- a word about ORP/Kairos. Kairos Pilgrimages is the North American office for the Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi (ORP; roughly translated, The Work of Roman Pilgrimages). The ORP was established by Pope Pius XI to assist with the spiritual and logistical needs of pilgrims to Rome, and is an activity of the Vicariate of Rome (Diocese of Rome) under the leadership of Cardinal Agostino Vallini, the Vicar General of the Holy Father. The ORP organizes pilgrimages and provides logistics for events in Rome and other locations of Christian pilgrimage as a form of the New Evangelization. Recently, it coordinated the logistics for thousands of members of the Order of Malta for a major meeting in Rome.

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3 Things You Need to Know About the Year of Consecrated Life!

by Therese Ivers, JCL

The proclamation of the Year of Consecrated Life is exciting since it is the first of its kind. Because consecrated life is so misunderstood, it is important to debunk some myths floating about in the Church.

1) This is not about the diocesan diaconate or priesthood. The consecration of the sacrament of orders is NOT the consecration of persons referred to for Consecrated Life! The consecration of persons in the consecrated state is separate and different from the consecrations of baptism, confirmation, and holy orders. It conforms a person more closely to the Church, the Bride of Christ. The sacrament of Orders conforms a man more closely to Christ the Bridegroom and Priest. Let’s be fair. We have already had a Year for Priests. Let consecrated life have its own chance for promotion this year, please.

2) This is not ONLY about religious life. Already, dioceses, vocation groups, and others are making a fundamental and unjust mistake in promoting this year as the year for Religious Life. No, no, no! This is a year for Consecrated Life. The Consecrated Life has many more forms in it than just religious life. The consecrated state has two forms that are older than religious life: hermits and sacred (consecrated) virgins! The consecrated form of life also has other ways of life that do not change one’s canonical state: secular institutes (they have a true consecration), societies of apostolic life (no consecration but an organized form of life that mimics religious life), and so on.

3) Consecrated life is not a “mere” devotional lifestyle. From the deafening silence in some diocesan vocation offices, it would appear that only marriage and the priesthood are valued enough to foster and promote. Consecrated life is ESSENTIAL to the life of the Church! It embodies the Church’s own bridal stance towards Christ! As St. John Paul II put it so well,

The idea of a Church made up only of sacred ministers and lay people does not therefore conform to the intentions of her divine Founder, as revealed to us by the Gospels and the other writings of the New Testament. -VC n. 29.

Coming next: What you can do for the Year of Consecrated Life

(c) 2014 by Therese Ivers, JCL All rights reserved.

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