The vocation to the eremitic life is an ancient one, recently revived and recognized within the Church as a way of living out consecrated life as a solitary. The words “hermits, anchorites, and recluses” describe persons who are called to live the essence of this life, that is, life lived in stricter separation from the world. Stricter separation is the defining characteristic of this vocation, and both supports and is supported by the hermit’s assiduous prayer and penance.
What is a diocesan hermit? “A hermit is one … dedicated to God in consecrated life if he or she publicly professes in the hands of the diocesan bishop the three evangelical counsels, confirmed by vow or other sacred bond, and observes a proper program of living under his direction.” – Canon 603
At the present time, there are no diocesan hermits living in the Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls and we are not accepting candidates.
Q. What is the preparation process like?
A. For the diocesan hermit, the process is long and involved because it is a vocation lived out according to a rule of life created by the hermit that is approved by the bishop. A hermit typically begins by living a life of solitude under the direction of his spiritual director. The hermit then needs to begin to discern whether he is called to this way of life, and if so, whether he will live privately as a hermit or will seek canonical status as one.
Over the course of a few years, it is recommended that he write out a rule of life. This rule of life is something which must be worked out by lived experience and specify exactly how the vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and a life of solitude and penance are to be observed by the individual hermit. No two rules are identical as the circumstances of each hermit differ. In addition, details must be ironed out pertaining to practical matters such as health insurance, financial support of the hermit (the diocese is not obligated to provide financial support and so hermits typically should have a source of income compatible with their eremitic vocation), and other matters.
After living his rule of life with the tweaks that come from lived experience, the hermit who feels he is called to become a diocesan hermit may petition the bishop to become a canon 603 hermit by turning in the necessary paperwork. Typically, there is a period of mutual discernment between the hermit and his bishop if his bishop is open to the vocation. The bishop may decide to allow the hermit to make temporary profession (for at least 3 years), and may eventually admit him to final profession if it is apparent that the candidate has a genuine vocation to the eremitic life.
Q. How long is the process for becoming a diocesan hermit?
A. Usually a hermit has lived in stricter separation from the world for a few years before approaching the bishop about becoming a diocesan hermit. Creating and then adapting a rule of life based on the individual hermit's lived experience is an essential component of this process and can take years to develop. Because the bishop is the hermit’s superior, not all bishops are ready to take on the responsibility of having a diocesan hermit in his diocese. While there is no typical time frame for a hermit to finally arrive at profession, many bishops would probably call for a minimum of at least 3-5 years of discernment. Many hermits have waited much longer than that for profession.
Q. Is there any book I can read on this vocation?
A. We recommend the book, The Vocation to the Eremitic Life, by Sr. Marlene Weisenbeck, FSPA. A copy of this book is available for people within the Diocese to borrow from the Vocations Office. This is a hard to find book, but some have reported success in purchasing it directly from the FSPA community in LaCrosse, WI.
Q. Can a diocesan priest become a hermit?
A. With the bishop’s permission. It is extremely rare for a diocesan priest to receive this permission to live out this particular vocation. The life of the hermit is contemplative and should not involve much clerical ministry because essentially it is very similar to the life of the contemplative religious who observe enclosure. (Strict enclosure is not required of hermits, merely “stricter separation from the world”.)
Q. Is a diocesan hermit a lay person?
A. If a diocesan hermit is a priest, he is would be both a member of the ordained state and a member of the consecrated state. If the diocesan hermit is a non-ordained man or a woman, the hermit would be in the consecrated state upon profession in the hands of his or her bishop (or delegate) according to the norms of canon 603.
Q. If I become a hermit, will I be able to attend Mass daily?
A. Some hermits are called to intense solitude or their circumstances are such that daily Mass attendance is impossible due to distance or other factors. It is customary for diocesan hermits who have the permission of their bishop to reserve the Holy Eucharist in their hermitages.
Q. Do diocesan hermits wear a habit?
A. It depends entirely on the hermit, his/her rule of life, and his/her bishop. Some find it helpful to wear a habit in the hermitage but when they go grocery shopping or run other errands, to wear normal attire. Others find it better to wear appropriate lay (or clerical) clothing all the time. The cowl can be a meaningful symbol of the hermit, but its usage will depend on whether it is implemented by the hermit after consultation with his/her bishop.
Q. Must I be a diocesan hermit to live the life of a hermit?
A. A lay person (or priest or religious with permission) may live out the life of a hermit without seeking canonical recognition. Such a person may choose to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit in leading a life of stricter seclusion. This is admirable when done in a healthy, balanced way, and preferably under the guidance of a prudent spiritual director. In such a case, the hermit is not recognized in law as being a diocesan/canonical hermit, and should not present himself/herself as a Catholic hermit.