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Thought of Saint Augustine
O God, ever the same, may I know myself, may I know you.
(Soliloquia II, 1, 1)
Habits support the intelligence just as a way of living leads to a way of life.
(In Io. Ev. XVIII, 7)
If you seek the Truth, follow the Path, for the Path is also the Truth. Go that way, you must go that way. It is through Christ that you come to Christ.
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Part Three

Sharing the Search for God in Community

The subject matter for this month's study and reflection is entitled "Sharing the Search for God in Community". This topic is one of three sections in Part II of the Ratio, which in its entirety examines the fundamental elements of Augustinian Formation. The first section, a portion of which we treated last month, was concerned with "Sharing Life in Community". Next month we will examine the third of these fundamental elements under the title, "Sharing the Apostolate in Community". Clearly, each of the three elements looks at growth and development in our candidates not simply as the work of individuals but, in light of Augustinian spiritual principles, as the task of individuals in their relationship with others, especially with other members of the community. Thus, the search for God, which we will consider here, is concerned with a candidate's formation in his ongoing relationship with God, but within a community setting.

Chapter IX of the Constitutions of the Order, which treats of 'Aspects of Formation' remind us, "Of special importance is one's ability to relate to others, a truly essential element for the common life of Augustinians who are called to be men of communion and co-responsible in community" (n. 196). The capacity to enter into life-giving relationships which make possible the sharing of faith, the accomplishment of common projects, and the enjoyment of life itself, is fundamental for us, for "community is the axis around which Augustinian life turns: a community of brothers who live harmoniously in their house, united by a single soul and a single heart, seeking God together and open to the service of the Church" (Const. n. 26). Further, the means to achievement of such life together is suggested to us in what follows, "In order to promote deep communion of mind and heart among the friars in community, we should be mindful that our personal relationships require the same qualities that are needed in all genuine human relationships. Sincere communication is an essential human factor that can strengthen fraternal life in community..." (Const. n. 110).

As we examine this section, therefore, let us give attention to this double focus: [1] personal growth in one's search for and relationship with God, [2] in the company of others.

PLEASE READ THE PLAN OF AUGUSTINIAN FORMATION, Part II: "Sharing the Search for God in Community".

1. A JOURNEY OF FAITH

Accented in this introductory paragraph of The Plan is the need for ongoing conversion as an essential element of the faith journey. As Augustinians we surely recognize in the example and teaching of Saint Augustine the urgent reminder to be always responsive to the Spirit's call to be renewed at every stage of our life, to be open to change within ourselves, to recognize both the virtue and sin of which we are capable. Each day of our lives we take up the journey again, assisted by God's grace, and recommitted to the ideals of our baptism and religious profession.

From the Constitutions of the Order:

  • All Christians, by reason of our baptism, are called to holiness (see 1 Thes 4:3), of which Christ is the author and goal. However, the pathways that lead to the fullness of the Christian life and perfect charity are diverse because charisms are different. Certain Christians have responded to the call of the Father and the inspiration of the Spirit by the practice of the evangelical counsels in order to follow Christ with greater freedom and imitate him more closely. [1]
  • The fundamental norm of religious life is the following of Christ, set out in the Gospel, that motivates us to live in love according to our particular consecration. So above all, we must have love for God and for our neighbor (Mt 22,40), as the supreme norm of the Gospel and the mandate of Jesus to his disciples, after the model of the early community of the Church in Jerusalem, established under the holy apostles (see Acts 2:42-47). [17]
  • The following of Christ is the true and genuine meaning of religious life, and therefore constitutes its fundamental norm. However, since the faithful imitation of Christ demands a deep spiritual life, we must especially accompany him along the path of humility, even to the complete emptying of ourselves: “This is the way: walk in humility that you may reach eternity.” [56]

From the Ordinary General Chapter 2007, 1.1

  • Following Jesus is a norm for all Christians and those who have consecrated their life are called to “an abiding reenactment in the Church of the form of life which the Son of God made his own when he came into this world to do the will of his Father and which he propounded to the disciples who followed him” (LG 44). This radical following of Jesus constitutes the very identity of consecrated life and implies not only the practice of the evangelical counsels but also the ensuing acceptance of the options prioritized by Christ himself:
    - The beloved Father (cf Mt 11:25; Mk 14:36; Jn 8:29);
    - The Reign of God and his justice above all else (see Mk 1:15; Lk 12:31; Mt 13:44.)
    - The poor, the little ones and the excluded as the first and privileged recipients of the Good News (Lk 6:20 and 7:22; Mt 25:31).

Consult for further reading: "Search for God Together", by Larry Mooney, OSA in Our Journey Back to God, Reflections on Augustinian Spirituality, Publ. Agostiniane, Curia Generalizia, Roma 2006, pp. 106-111. ENG, SPA

+ Questions for Reflection: How has your own 'following of Christ' served you in "the search for God"? In your own experience, how has the 'following of Christ' with others in community occurred? For you, how does the search for God become a common search?

2. FORMATION TO ENCOUNTER WITH GOD

This section focuses on the encounter with God made through the agency of other individuals, and must be read in union with the remaining two sections concerning encounter with God through prayer and within oneself. While it is not uniquely characteristic of Augustinian spirituality to recognize the importance of meeting God in others, it is nonetheless, a basic and distinguishing feature of Saint Augustine's life experience and teaching.

From the Constitutions of the Order:

  • The foundation of Augustinian life is life in common, in which all the brothers by sharing themselves, construct a path directed to God in service to others, and in the communion of all their goods, perfecting themselves through the gift of divine grace. Thus in their life, they reflect the mystery of the Trinity and of the Church, anticipating now on earth the reality they hope for in the future in the Father’s house. [6]
  • We must foster diligent communication with God by prayer and the liturgical life. Our faithful adherence to the One who is “deeper within us than our interior being,” demands faithfulness to the times of prayer, both personal and communal. Since the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed and at the same time the source from which all its strength flows, it must be also the summit and principal source of our entire spiritual and apostolic life. [82]

Consult: "Friendship in St. Augustine", by Teófilo Viñas, OSA in Elements of An Augustinian Formation, Publ. Agostiniane, Curia Generalizia, Roma, 2001, 265-285 ENG, SPA, ITA

+ Questions for Reflection: What are your expectations for the fostering of friendship in an Augustinian community? What values are necessary to assist candidates in forming healthy relationships both within and outside of community?

3. FORMATION TO PRAYER

The Augustinian approach often views prayer in company with another value or in its various expressions: prayer-action; communal-personal; vocal-silent, discursive-contemplative. While there is much interest in prayer in many places today, there is always a need precisely for formation, as well, in the practice and the forms of prayer as an essential element in the life-long journey of faith in religious life, as individuals and as members of a vibrant faith community.

From the Constitutions of the Order:

  • To preserve and increase unity among the friars prayer should never be lacking, for nothing other than common prayer is better or more suited to express and promote unity in charity. Consequently, common prayer should flow from a generous and intimate sharing among the friars, such that we can reflect upon the prayer which flows from our heart, know how far we have advanced in it, and be moved to even greater growth. "Our whole life is a prayer if it is directed to God alone, and not to anything else.” [31]
  • Prayer, often described by Augustine as a “desire” or "the crying out of the heart," is the consistent expression of our life of faith, hope, and charity. As a consequence, we should preserve an harmonious balance between prayer and the whole of life. Prayer is manifested in life and life becomes prayer: "Praise God with your whole self, that is, not only with your tongue and voice but with your conscience, with your life and your works." [84]
  • Living the common life in an Augustinian community requires that places and times be set aside for sharing faith, because common life without common prayer would not be common life. Therefore, all friars are to dedicate at least a half hour to personal prayer (meditation, contemplation...) and in addition, communities are to see to it that the friars have sufficient time to devote to common prayer according to various preferences and cultural styles (Lectio divina, meditation in common, spiritual dialogue, common reading of the Word of God, etc.). Also, since the value of prayer in common springs from the sense of church that Saint Augustine wished to imprint on his communities, it is recommended that we share our community prayer with the laity who participate in our spirituality and celebrate their faith together with us. [86]

Consult: "A Cry From the Heart", by Martin Nolan, OSA in Living in Freedom Under Grace, Vol. II pp. 236-254 ENG, SPA, ITA

+Questions for reflection: How do you evaluate the balance between 'prayer and the whole of life' in your own experience? How can you communicate this to those under your care?

4. FORMATION TO INTERIORITY

Knowledge of self is the beginning of wisdom, and in the Augustinian experience, knowledge of self is closely linked with knowledge of God (Let me know myself, let me know You). Perhaps the challenge of interiority is increasingly great in the present day due to the many stimuli continually present to distract us. Formation to interiority is not only essential for one's own spiritual life and growth, but is also a gift for religious to share with others.

From the Constitutions of the Order:

  • We tend towards God continually and insatiably, consciously and unconsciously, in order to enjoy the infinite good that fulfils our desire for happiness, because God has made us for himself and our hearts are restless until they rest in him.” For that reason, our common dedication is to seek without limits Him who should be loved without limits. But we cannot seek God together, except in Christ Jesus, the Word made flesh for us. He is for us the way, the truth and the life, such that starting from the visible flesh we arrive at the invisible God. For this reason, personal and community prayer, study and the cultivation of knowledge, reflection on the realities of our time and apostolic activity, are indispensable factors in our search, which lead us to the things which are the concerns of society. For nothing human is foreign to us, but rather involves us more in the world, the ambit of God's love (see Jn 3:16) and of encounter with him. [22]
  • As Augustine found inspiration for his style of life in Scripture, we too must listen attentively to the voice of God in the inspired text, and allow his Word to transform our hearts, that we might be converted to a new life. For this reason, it is recommended that all the friars frequently practice reading and meditation on the Word of God which frees us from slavery, points out our weaknesses, and shows us the love of God: "You had wounded our heart with the arrows of your love and we bore your words fixed in our innermost recesses." [91]

Consult: "Augustinian Interiority", by Francisco Galende, OSA in Our Journey Back to God, pp 273-306 (Available on the Order's web page.) ENG, SPA
Consult: "Starting Afresh From Christ", Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, @ www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/ccscrlife/index.htm

Questions for reflection: In your experience, how does 'spiritual dialogue' or 'faith sharing' become possible in communities? What effective means have you found for guiding formandi in contemplative prayer?

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