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Order of Saint Augustine

"Anima una et cor unum in Deum!" (Regula)

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Thought of Saint Augustine
Necessity is the mother of all human actions.
(En. in ps. 83, 8)
Lord, those who are bowed down with burdens you lift up, and they do not fall because you are their support.
(Confessions 11,31)
God became a man so that by following a man, which you can do, you will reach God, which you could not do.
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Part Four

Sharing the Apostolate in Community

The study of this theme is based on the content found in numbers 56 to 67 of the Plan of Augustinian Formation (Ratio Institutionis Ordinis Sancti Augustini, Roma 1993).

I. Apostolic Awareness

Throughout the entire formation process, and even beyond, from the period of vocational promotion, it is important to encourage and strengthen the apostolic awareness of every believer, since all Christians, through baptism, are called to holiness (cf. 1Tes 4,3), of which Christ is the author and goal, and are to contribute to making the mystery and mission of the Church more evident and thereby renew human society (cf. Const. 1).

On entering the Order of Saint Augustine, this apostolic dimension takes on a special character, and to understand and make it one's own, it is necessary to know our origins, out of which come those basic elements which constitute our charism: our monastic legacy from the bishop of Hippo; our heremitical roots, the role of the Holy See and our nature as a Mendicant Order (cf. Const. 4-5. 9). From these elements our Order, as an institution and in each of its members, must feel called to the service of the Church.

The fundamental norm of our life is to be the following of Christ, loving the Church, which is his Body. In this regard, following in the footsteps of Saint Augustine, we are to be ready to respond to the needs of the Church, in accordance with our charism and open to the world, in solidarity with the human family, knowing that the more closely we are united to Christ, the more fruitful our apostolate will be (cf. Const. 35-39).

II. Evangelization and Apostolic Activity

The apostolate, by which we seek to proclaim to the world the Gospel of Christ and to make all people participants in his redemption, must touch our whole life, that is, our prayer, our study and our work, but in ways that are suited to the nature and spirit of the Order.

For our examination of this point, consider and comment on Chapter VIII of our Constitutions: nn. 144-185. On the basis of these numbers, and in accordance with the reality of each Circumscription, do an analysis of the different types of apostolate which are present, of the requirements and preparation needed, and consider what your Circumscription is doing, and might do, regarding 'new frontiers' in the achievement of our mission, always in light of our spirituality and charism.

Analyze and comment on what would be the principal aspects to consider in the formation process that will prepare one for the apostolate, especially in light of numbers 193-196 of the Constitutions.

Number 197 of the Constitutions reads: “Apostolic activity flows from Augustinian religious life. Thus candidates are to be initiated into pastoral activity and to participate gradually in carrying out ecclesial activities and social responsibilities, mindful always that formation for these things in the Order requires concern for the common life" (see Const. 149). In light of this:

  1. What kind of activities and pastoral experiences could be given to the candidates in each of the stages of formation?
  2. How might the pastoral experiences of those in formation be criteria for vocational discernment?
  3. How is it possible to evaluate the apostolic experiences of candidates as far as their formation process is concerned?

III. Augustinian Community and the Apostolate [1]

Number 197 of the Constitutions asks us always to be attentive to the communal dimension of the apostolate, and it would seem that often there is a conflict in balancing these two aspects of our life.

Beginning with Vatican II there has been a renewed interest in the charismatic quality of each religious institute, considered as the particular aspect of the Christian message which it seeks to emphasize, develop or highlight most directly (cf. Perf. Carit. 2 b). In our Order there has been serious reflection on the rediscovery of our identity and mission. Who are we? What are we being called to offer to the Church? How are we different from other religious Orders?

Starting with the renewal of our Constitutions, and especially as clearly expressed in those which were approved in the last Ordinary General Chapter (2007), the great insistence on genuine community life, the primary purpose of our Rule, is notable (it is interesting to study this point in the light of the work of Nello Cipriani, La Regola, introduzione e comento, testi di spiritualità agostiniana, Citta Nuova, Roma 2006), this being the singular goal of our having come together in community, which means being "one mind and one heart on the way to God". All the rest is but a consequence of having understood this.

“Unity in charity” is the true heart of the Augustinian community and surely represents the fundamental sign value of our evangelical fraternity in the eyes of the world. When this unity becomes a reality, our communities become an open sign of the unity of the Church, a sign of the real possibility of true human brotherhood on earth, as well as a sign of the power of Christ's grace, which can completely overcome the obstacles that are contrary to unity.

At times, there appears to arise a conflict between the common life and the apostolate, the two essential elements of our life. The fact is that many structures, for historical reasons, have distanced us at times from our original purpose, to the detriment of our charism. Missionary activity, the lack of religious and priests, excessive work, the over accentuation on our priestly vocation, have caused our religious consecration to take a second place, putting our identity in serious danger. This can be seen in many places, beginning with the way in which we do vocational promotion, almost exclusively, in some places, in terms of priestly ministry, leaving aside the promotion of Augustinian religious life.

Since the renewal of our Constitutions there has been an insistence that the common life is the foundation of Augustinian life. Pope Paul VI, addressing the members of the General Chapter of 1971, said: "For you the common life is not one of many aids for conventual life, but like the goal towards which you must daily strive: it is, as it were, a school of charity, which is the bond of perfection."

The Ratio Institutionis insists that all aspects of Augustinian life must be seen in light of that which constitutes our charism and identity: communion of life. Therefore, the Augustinian community must also be understood as an apostolate. Before any other apostolate the building up of our own community must be our concern, since it is an apostolate of the first order, if it is established as an exemplary community, which tries to reflect the love of Christ through unity in charity and in friendship.

It is worth reflecting on the following quotations which Fr. Tack mentions in the above cited message:

“For St. Augustine, what the community is and represents is just as important as what it realizes. It is likewise an apostolate to instruct and help the other brothers to sanctify themselves". (A. Manrique, Teología agustiniana de la vida religiosa, El Escorial 1964, p. 219; cf. Ep. 85,1; Ep. 101,1) “No one can doubt that it is an apostolate of great merit to promote that living together and charity, behind which the invisible presence of the Lord and the action of the Holy Spirit continue to live” (ibid.).

“For Augustine, our first apostolate within the Church is making the community of love a living reality. And this is a real apostolate, in the sense that it is one of the interpretations of the message of Christ... Work which regards what is outside, a more external apostolate, can never oppose this fundamental inspiration. We have nothing to gain in searching for an alibi. The community does not necessarily have to borrow its meaning from something outside itself. It carries within itself its own meaning” (T, van Bavel, “La espiritualidad de la Regla de San Agustín”, en Augustinus 12 [1967], p.447).

This is the specific gift which we Augustinians can offer the Church, the way in which we can make an impact on the people of God, at whose service we are, showing that it is possible to do away with egotism, living in true fraternal communion, and giving evidence that our communities wish to be a living symbol of universal brotherhood, which can be not a mere utopia, but a reality in those who open themselves to the love of Christ and recognize that love in their brothers.

IV. The Individual and Community

In all aspects of common life there can be tension between the individual and the community, but it seems that this is especially so in the carrying out of apostolic work when the above perspective is lost.

All individualism means death for the community. The cost of unity is the death of individualism, but not at all of the individual, whose intrinsic dignity Augustine always has present, since it is precisely in the community that the person grows and matures, even though with the tensions of daily life. For this reason, as stated, the first and most important Augustinian apostolate is that of creating the community, which occurs day by day.

So, we can ask ourselves: What is the mission of the Augustinian community in relation to the external apostolate? And here it is important to stress Augustinian community, and not the individual Augustinian. Without ignoring the work of the individual, we must affirm that our impact on the Christian people will be much greater if they see us working as a community, if they can notice that we are a religious community, and not simply a group of priests who live under the same roof, but nothing more than that.

Thus, the Intermediate General Chapter of 1974 stated: “Since our ideal is concerned, not with any particular kind of work, but with a form of living, it follows that our works should be such as become an obstacle to community life (n. 72). Besides the fact that community life is a value in itself, it can also by its existential, incarnational affirmation, give witness to mankind that true community is possible. No other values, like those of financial advantages or work efficiency, should take precedence over this consideration." (ibid. N. 38)

Well known is the passage of our Father Saint Augustine: "No one should be so given to activity that he does not seek the contemplation of God... Nonetheless, if the burden of activity is placed upon us, we must accept it out of the necessity of charity. But not even in this case are we to abandon altogether the enjoyment of truth lest we lose a taste for it and the weight of obligation oppress us " (The City of God, 19,19).

We must have a clear awareness of our responsibilities regarding the needs of the Church and be willing to offer our service, but never at the cost of our own charism, by which the external apostolate must be the fruit of a deep interior life, which allows us to transmit to others the riches which are experienced in the community.

Augustinian apostolate is personal and at the same time communal. For this reason the individual cannot become a hermit and protective of his apostolic activity, perhaps out of fear of interference, and all the other members of the community, for their part, are to assist and support the individual to the measure that their strength and circumstances allow. Apostolic work, though entrusted to individuals, is to be a true commitment of the community as such, avoiding the danger of destructive individualism, where "each one does his own thing", without a concern for the wider needs of the community.

V. Diversity of Apostolates.

Our Order is not characterized as having a specific apostolate, rather it is open to the needs of the Church. Augustine never gave a concrete apostolate to his monks, instead they were to assume the responsibility of pastoral life only if they were obliged to do so by reason of circumstances. The lack of precision in the expression "needs of the Church" can be both a disadvantage and an advantage. It is the former because as Augustinians we cannot base our identity on our apostolic activity; it is advantageous in that it allows us to assume various new paths in apostolic work. (cf. Ratio Institutionis, n. 60).

It is very important to keep in mind what number 67 of the Ratio Institutionis says: “To be sure, there is a great variety of apostolic activities. They will differ from one continent to another, from one country to another. Even in one house people will assume different tasks in a variety of areas. The needs of others will determine the forms of our apostolate. In order to make the right choice we should study the topical situation of the world around us, as well as the situation of the Church in the different parts of today's world. To give only one very general example, we can call attention to the phenomenon which has been called "quiet, noiseless, or cheap atheism", that is, ignorance and indifference with regard to religion and religious values. But the main problem in other parts of the world consists primarily in the gulf between rich and poor, and how to stop social injustice. The apostolate in these parts will be directed in the first place to overcoming any form of injustice. Whatever the situation may be, the Augustinian apostolate should be performed expertly, with understanding and respect for each one's work, and with the support and encouragement of the whole community."

For this reason, it is understood that in each of the Circumscriptions of the Order there is the need to prepare those being formed, at every stage, to take on the apostolic activities which are carried out in the Circumscription. During the formation process it is important to have the students know, and as far as possible, experience the various pastoral activities, so that they might demonstrate their abilities and preferences. Likewise, there must be an openness to new initiatives for the planning of new frontiers in the apostolate, when they are consistent with our spirituality and in no way a detriment to our life in common.

In all the stages of formation it is always important to see our roots, in the teaching and spirituality of our father, Saint Augustine, as well as in our history as a Mendicant Order, and in the field of the apostolate it seems that this takes on a special importance.

  • Therefore, it is good to reflect and comment in the formation community, and with those in formation themselves, on the following points, and on others which can arise in the conversation and out of the experience of the students. Also, in considering these things, it might be helpful to share them with some friars who are working in one of the apostolates in the Circumscription (a parish, school or the missions, etc.)...

    1. How the thinking of Augustine developed in relation to his communities, from that of Tagaste until the later monastic communities which he founded as bishop.
    2. How are we to understand and match up religious life with the demand for apostolic service in the Church.
    3. The apostolate as service and "burden"
    4. At the Grand Union, as a Mendicant Order, how was our existence and mission in the Church and in the world understood.
    5. In this light, how might we understand today, in the places where the Order is present, our identity and the way of accomplishing our mission, since we are not dedicated to a specific work.
    6. What difficulties might be encountered between community life and the exercise of the apostolate.
    7. What kind of apostolic activities might be entrusted to those in formation, according to their level of formation, in order to respond to what our Constitutions ask for: “...candidates are to be initiated into pastoral activity and to participate gradually in carrying out ecclesial activities and social responsibilities, mindful always that formation for these things in the Order requires a concern for the common life" (Const. 197; cf. 149).
    8. What qualities and skills are to be developed in formation students so that they can respond adequately to pastoral works in a truly Augustinian way.
1. For the study of this topic, Augustinian Community and the Apostolate, the message of Prior General Theodore V. Tack to the Order, in Living in Freedom Under Grace, Curia Generalizia Agostiniana, Roma, 1979, pp. 148-157 would be very useful.

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