Part Two A
SHARING LIFE IN COMMUNITY
COMMUNITY: THE PLACE WHERE WE BECOME BROTHERS
SECTION 1 - Overview:
‘Community’ is the theme that holds together the whole of the Plan of Augustinian Formation and this first section, SHARING LIFE IN COMMUNITY introduces the Augustinian vision of life together. As we explore this section, our principle guide and mentor is Fr. Tarcisius van Bavel, OSA. In his book Carisma: Comunidad (Charism: Community) he writes “Each man and woman has a vocation to community…. But not all are called to the same type of community.” He goes on to explain that we Augustinians are among those who “choose as charism the construction of a well-lived community and who desire to invest all their energy in that charism”. As a charism, community is first a gift given by God. Van Bavel goes on to explain that there are a multitude of gifts and charisms that can be compared to the organs of the human body. “The spirituality of the Gospel is too broad and rich for one person or group to be able to experience it in its fullness”. The conclusion is not difficult to anticipate: we Augustinians are among those groups of Christians who are called to offer to the Church and world, a witness to this particular charism of community. Van Bavel’s work will help fill out the sections of the Ratio we will look at. Unfortunately, it has been so far published only in German and Spanish, so we will over other sources as well.
As we return to the Ratio, it should not surprise us that the over-arching context is a ‘Life of Relationships’ nor that the key elements are love, humility, friendship, communication and harmony. All this prepares us to move into the wider evangelical context of Consecrated Life and a reflection on the vows which follows this section. Another guide for our study is the document from the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, Fraternal Life in Community. It is particularly suited to the Augustinian vision of life together. Fortunately, this document is available in at least six languages and can be downloaded from the Holy See website:... goto website of the Holy See
This document, in fact, can help us begin by providing a context for our study. We saw that the Ratio speaks of Formation for a life of relationships we also know how valuable and significant the gift of friendship was in Augustine’s life. We will look at this, but Fraternal life in Community offers an image I think is very helpful; that is, a fresh way to look at ‘brotherhood’.
Like many of you, my years in formation ministry has taught me much. One thing I’ve learned is that it’s best not to begin a session of dialogue by saying: let’s talk about community. Often when we do, the look in our younger brothers’ eyes becomes a glassy stare and there is a bit of discomfort in the room. Such conversations can often seem abstract or even judgmental or can end up as a monologue by the formator! As an alternative to that, the question can become: In what ways can we become ‘brothers’ to one another? What does it mean, what does it look like to be brothers to one another?
The word ‘community is so rich, and yet it needs to be translated into an every-day reality; it needs to become concrete. It was a pleasant surprise when I re-read this document and found the section entitled: Religious community as place for becoming brothers and sisters. In the words of the document:
Religious community is a privileged place where we discover the roads that lead us to God. This brings immediately to mind the words of van Bavel: Community is a place for the Lord. Walking side by side on the way, how can I not be interested in and attentive to my brother and, even more, make the effort to find time for him. The Church sees us, religious men and women, as a living sign of the primacy of the love of God who works wonders, and of the love for God and for one’s brothers and sisters as manifested and practiced by Jesus Christ(1). The challenge is clear: how can we translate this vocation to fraternal love into concrete actions and behavior.
This brings us to Augustine’s beginning: Before all else, dear brothers, love God and then your neighbor, because these are the chief commandments given to us. Here is how the section on SHARING LIFE IN COMMUNITY in the Ratio begins:
16. Within our tradition community life is normative. It is here that Augustine placed a very special emphasis on the following of Christ. Building a good community implies nothing more than putting into practice the command of love of God and love of neighbor. Community life consists in the cultivation of interpersonal relationships...
READING FOR ENRICHMENT
Plan of Augustinian Formation nn. 16 - 18.
Constitutions OSA nn. 2 - 7; 108 - 110.
Fraternal Life in Community - Introduction and Part II, nn. 11 - 38.
"The Augustinian Community: Between the Ideal and the Real" in Living under Grace Vol.III, pp. 30 - 39, Curia Generalizia Agostiniana, 2001.
Personal: Reflect on your reading with a brief written response (1-2 pages) using these three questions, if you find them helpful.
Communal: Read and discuss some of these selections with your students in formation.
Carisma: Comunidad by T. Van Bavel; preface and Chapter 1. (Spanish).