Part Two C
SHARING LIFE IN COMMUNITY
In Augustine friendship and community are closely linked. Both express the value of relationships and the ‘other’ as a place of encounter with God. Both demand a movement away from self and an honoring of the other. The role of friendship in his life shines through every phase of that life and he expresses eloquently his esteem for friendship with a deep fascination for that theme. “In all situations, in every place and time, one should have friends and seek them out” (De Ordine II, 8, 25). In fact, the aspects of friendship for Augustine are values needed in community, as well: agreement and accord, benevolence and mutual love.
In Confessions the role of friendship in the life of Augustine is evident. There we see a gradual maturing of his sense of friendship from what may be described as a hunger, somewhat self-serving in Book II, to a much more profound understanding in Book IV when he speaks of true friendship which “… is genuine only when you bind fast together people who cleave to you through the charity poured abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit given to us” (IV, 4,7). Here he recounts the warm friendship in Thagaste which turns to a ‘black grief’ when that friend dies. Fr. van Bavel points out an interesting facet of this progression in Augustine’s thought. In his early writings as a Christian his focus is first on seeking Truth in itself in which life, tranquility and friendship are only needed for discovering wisdom (Sililoquies I, 13,22). However, as a man of 47 years his tone conviction is slightly modified: “among the goods which God grants us, some are enticing in themselves, such as wisdom, health and friendship” (The Good of Marriage 9, 9; see Van Bavel, Carisma: Comunidad, p. 61).
This last insight of our holy father leads us to a provocative link in his thoughts on both friendship and community. We saw above how for Augustine we are called to community not so that we can do things better, but because community has a value in itself. We also saw this concept eloquently expressed by Fr. Theodore Tack in the article cited above. For Augustine friendship is the same. That is, “friendship is something precious in itself and for itself, because it is a form of love among human persons and it actualizes a component of the double commandment of love … love of God and love of neighbor” (Van Bavel, Ibid. p. 61). Friends are those who stand by you. Fidelity and loyalty are critically important. This was Augustine’s hope for community life, as well. We know that Augustine knew the challenge of this link between friendship and community. While his first communities were in large part a gathering of friends of relatively long-standing, the establishment of the first monastery in Hippo brought together persons who had not previously known one another. And yet, that experience did not alter Augustine’s perspective on the common life and friendship. Consequently, we have been handed the challenge of doing the same, that is discovering the beauty of that linking – community and friendship – lived well. In both instances, we are required to make a ‘decision’ to love, that is, to choose friendship and the common life, consciously, each day.
Fr. Teofilo Viñas, OSA, in his article “Friendship in Augustine” (see below), develops this theme in depth. You will see how for Fr. Viñas, ‘perfect friendship’ describes what communion of goods meant for our holy father. He then goes on to remind us of the first paragraph of the Rule:
Viñas calls this the most splendid definition of “true friendship” and goes on to explain that “the allusion to the Acts of the Apostles, provided him (Augustine) with a firm biblical and Christian support for his old beliefs regarding friendship” (pp. 282-3). The Ratio puts it this way: It would be quite an achievement if every Augustinian community possessed a loving and inviting atmosphere, and put into practice what Augustine sees as the heart of all love: the desire for the well-being of the other (amor benevolentiae) (27).
The Constitutions themselves embody the esteem for and the value of friendship so transparent in Augustine’s writings. They also link three dimensions of the Augustinian life which we are considering in this section of the Ratio: community, friendship and dialogue.
So much of what we have discussed above lays a strong foundation for and presupposes a spirit of communication and dialogue among the brothers. In some of our cultures, our socialization as men does not always promote an expansiveness and openness which fosters open communication. The Gospel and our Augustinian consecration call us to face the challenge. Fr. van Bavel, emphasizes the importance of communication: a group in which there is little communication causes frustrations to grow and provokes a feeling of being victims of others Carisma: Comunidad p. 139).
Healthy and open communication begins with each brother’s commitment to spending time with his community, valuing table conversation, spending moments of relaxation together and being attentive to other’s needs. Additionally, though, communication and dialogue is enhanced with structured activities. For example, some communities have found it helpful to dedicate a portion of their local chapters to a discussion on an article on an Augustinian theme. Some have also incorporated this into their days of recollection. For all of us, creativity is also necessary in order to foster this dimension of our life together.
An example of this creativity can be found in one of the recommendations of the Intermediate General Chapter of Dublin (1974). Number 123 reads: The local chapter and the chapter of renewal should be held regularly. They should be community events, suitable for communication and interrelation, and the forming of authentic community life. Besides these chapters, an annual program of meetings should be organized on topics of common interest, to be discussed and studied by the community. See also numbers 66 and 68.
One of our brothers wrote more extensively and practically about dialogue in community:
In fact, this publication of the Order is a rich source of material for our work in formation.
The last part of this section of the Ratio takes ‘harmony’ as its theme. However, it invites us, as well, to consider the challenge of our human limitations in our striving for communion. We are counseled to see community as a school of realism (29). We know well these challenges.
As we struggle to live the demands of our vocation, we are most aware of our limits and our inadequacies. However, at these moments another reality must be brought before our hearts: we are a new creation in Christ. The ‘old man’ desires community and unity, but is not willing to always pay the price and he then closes himself in on himself. The ‘new man’ gives of himself to others, but the road is long and tiring. As a new creation the love of Christ spurs us on to love our brothers and sisters even taking on their weaknesses, and we remember that “When we lose ourselves for our brothers and sisters, then we find ourselves” (Fraternal Life in Community, 24). This is at the root of the joy we can possess in true fraternal life, and it becomes a sign of the reign of God. It is what St. Paul speaks of in his letter to the Ephesians, “to live a life worthy of the calling you have received, with perfect humility, meekness and patience, bearing with one another lovingly. Make every effort to preserve the unity which has the Spirit as its binding force” (Eph. 4, 1-3).
It is this “bearing with one another lovingly” which requires patience when we find ourselves distant from the figure of the brother or sister we truly wish to be. Augustine uses the image of the crucible or the kiln (admittedly this is not a common image, today). Van Bavel writes that here we realize that community life is not a romantic dream, but a school or realism. In other words, it is a process of purification of our selfishness and of our tendency to pride. There have been many who promised themselves that they would faithfully live a holy life, in which all things would be common to all, and no one claim anything as his own, in a community where there would be one soul and one heart directed to God; yet when such aspirants were put into the kiln, they cracked. How then do you assess someone who is still an unknown quantity even to himself? (Carisma: Comunidad, p. 118 / Commentary on the psalms, 99/100, 11).
In this way, the image of the kiln applied to community is more than a warning against a romanticized notion of common life. It carries as well the sense of a process of purification. We are humanized through our contact with others, who become part of our call to grace. I cannot move beyond my ‘ego’ alone; my humanity grows through my encounter with others. My responsibility for others helps me to transcend my limits and overcome selfishness. This, then, leads us to the concluding words of this section of the Ratio: “True formation for Augustinian religious life must first of all prepare for living in a community” (30).
READING FOR ENRICHMENT
Plan of Augustinian Formation #’s 23 – 30;
Constitutions OSA #’s 29 - 34
“Intermediate General Chapter 1974, Dublin in Living in Freedom under Grace Vol. II, Curia Generalizia Agostiniana, 1999 pp. 34-38; 65-70.
“Friendship in Augustine” by Fr. Teofilo Viñas, OSA. Elements of an Augustinian Formation, Curia Generalizia Agostiniana 2001.
“Communion of Life” by the Continental Animation Team of Project Hippo in On the Way back to God: Outlines for an Augustinian Spirituality, Curia Generalizia Agostiniana 2001.
Has the meaning and place of friendship in your life evolved over the years? How would you describe it, today?
How could you help your younger brothers in formation to appreciate the value of friendship in community? What conditions help to promote friendship and what are the obstacles?
What two or three suggestions could you make to promote greater dialogue and communication in your present community?
What limitations or obstacles to friendship and brotherhood might be purified through the “crucible” or ‘fiery test’ of living together? Which of these may be particular to your community’s cultural background?
FOR FURTHER REFLECTION AND DIALOGUE (optional)
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 Chapter 2 (Spanish)