Where is Religious Life at This Time in our History as an Order?As we begin this Course for Formators and their communities, it seems important to define where religious life is within the context of our Order, our society and our Church. It is important for us as Formators to be rooted in the reality of our times and in the reality of the different regions where we serve. It is also essential for us to have knowledge of the different documents of our Order and our Church that give us some sense of direction in our ministry as we accompany friars in initial formation. We hope this topic will help us, as formators and the local community where we minister, to critically look at the reality of religious life and how this reality affects us as Augustinians. We also hope that this topic will only be the beginning of a dialogue where we can see the many blessings and challenges we face as Augustinians and as baptized people on the way to God.
A REALITY OF RELIGIOUS LIFE AS AUGUSTINIANS
We read in the Constitutions of the Order that “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” (#6). As formators, this is one of the most important principles we need to share with our friars in initial formation, but we all know that it is not easy to live it out, especially in some of the countries where the Order is present. We are living in a society and in a world that is in crisis and for many of us, in a Church that is also in crisis. Religious life does not stand apart or in isolation from society, the world and the Church. During the past years we have realized that religious life in many parts of the world is also in crisis. We have come to see humanity in a different way. Our society, the world, the Church and the religious life we knew has changed and it is our call as formators and as ministers to search for new ways of looking at and understanding these realities. At times we might become frustrated and discouraged and possibly overwhelmed, but there are other ways of seeing these changes.
It seems that at this time in the history of our Order and in the history of our Church we are invited to begin anew. The need for creativity is essential in our lives and in our ministries. This is not a creativity that is free of all tradition for we do not live in a vacuum, but a creativity that is based in a strong tradition that, at the same time, needs to be looked at with a critical mind. This must occur in a dialogue: with God in prayer, with ourselves, with the people we serve, with tradition and with one another. Tarcisius van Bavel, OSA wrote in his book, The Basic Inspiration of Religious Life, that “religious life always means stepping into a tradition. It is therefore necessary to know this tradition well and to ask questions.” 
We read in the Constitutions that in our Order our spirituality “developed over time, and enriched by the example and teachings of our forebears, ought to be lived according to the circumstances of time, place, and culture and in harmony with our charism.”  Van Bavel recognizes that in this humanity-in-crisis there is a need to have an openness for the future and he asserts that “many views of the religious life underestimate the importance of being future-oriented.  In our ministry as formators we are invited to know and pass on the tradition of the Order and the Church and at the same time encourage and promote creativity.
From the theological point of view, this creativity might be described as “Christian imagination,” i.e., the imagination that moves us to a deeper transformation and conversion. To use our Catholic imagination is not to live in a world of fantasy. It is by the exercise of our Christian-religious-Catholic imagination that we will be able to create a community of brothers who live in harmony in our house, united in one mind and heart, seeking God together and open to the service of the Church.  Walter Brueggemann writes in his book, The Prophetic Imagination, that “It is the task of prophetic ministry to bring the claims of the tradition and the situation of enculturation into an effective interface. That is, the prophet is called to be a child of the tradition.”  Then he asserts, “The task of the prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us.”  In our ministry as formators, we are called to be prophets: to nurture, nourish and help our friars evoke that consciousness. By “forming” others and by “forming” ourselves along these lines, each of us, individually and as integral members of the Order, will achieve a clearer Augustinian identity. 
At the center of this identity is the anima una —“one heart and one soul toward God.” In a contemporary society where loneliness, individualism, and alienation is so prevalent and has touched so much religious life, a spirituality of common-union in God with one another is very appealing not only to older people, but especially to the young. This common union “is the fruit of charity and is expressed in friendship, which brings forth and nourishes loyalty, trust, sincerity and mutual understanding.” 
All this requires that Augustinian formation takes place in an integral way giving attention to all different dimensions of our lives, i.e., as human beings, as Christians, as Augustinians and as ministers  , and in an environment which is both inviting and challenging with a strong community prayer life centered on the celebration of Eucharist, study, dialogue and the sharing of our faith and of our ministries.  As believers in God, we do not turn against the world, but we open ourselves to a greater, higher, and deeper perspective.  In other words, we use a set of different lenses to see the world we live in and to see our Order as we accompany our friars in initial formation. This set of lenses must bring us hope, a hope that will be transmitted to our students.
HOPE IN RELIGIOUS LIFE
This sense of hope is essential for us as religious and as Augustinian formators. To give is not sufficient. Something more is needed. We need to live life in hope. Hope is focused not necessarily in external realities but in God and in God’s justice and in God’s fidelity to God’s holy people.
Paraphrasing Gustavo Gutierrez, Anthony Gittins tells us that there are two types of people: Those who go into a situation and carefully assess the evidence, on the basis of which they declare whether or not there is any hope; and there are Christians! Christians are different because they do not look for or conclude that there is any hope: they themselves are bearers of hope. Therefore, wherever there is a Christian, there is hope. And when a Christian encounters a situation without hope, his or her very presence transforms the situation into a situation of hope. Faith is here and now, hope is there is the future for ever.  In our religious life as Augustinian formators, hope must be seeing as entering an intimacy with God in which we imagine different things with the mind of God and in God’s own time. To hope is to enter into the beauty of God and of God’s creation, it is to run to God in a love that will move us to serve and love the people we serve. Augustine tells us,
and then he says:
As we see the reality of religious life in our societies and in our world, wherever we might be, may we always recognize that as formators and as Augustinians we are called to always live “in a spirit of charity as lovers of spiritual beauty, giving forth the good odor of Christ in the holiness of [our] lives: not as slaves living under the law but as free men living in freedom under grace.” 
This reflection has been prepared precisely to be that: a reflection that can stir up conversation among the members of the formation team and among members of our local communities. We might need to ask ourselves as formators and as Augustinians the following:
Plan for Augustinian Formation
Rule and Constitutions
Clark, M. “Augustinian Spirituality.” Augustinian Studies 15 (1984): 83-92.
Crosby, Michael H. Can Religious Life be Prophetic? New York: The Crossroad Publishing Co., 2005.
De Margerie, B. “La doctrine de saint Augustin sur l’Espirit Saint comme communion et source de communion. Augustinianum 12 (1972): 109-119.
Dixon, S. Augustine: The Scattered and Gathered Self. St. Louis: Chalice, 1999. Gittins, Anthony. “A Moment of Hope: The Future of Religious Life” in InFormation. Volume 14, Number 2. April/May 2006.
Martin de la Mata, M.P. Valores Agustinianos. Pensando en la educación. F.A.E. Madrid: Grafinat, S.A., 1994.
Uña Juarez, A. “San Agustín: la interioridad bella,” Pensamiento, 53/205 (1997): 135-142.
van Bavel, Tarcisius. The Basic Inspiration of Religious Life. Translated by Henry Jackson. Edited by John E. Rotelle, OSA. Pennsylvania: Augustinian Press, 1996.
 The Basic Inspiration of Religious Life by Tarcisius van Bavel, OSA. Trans. by Henry Jackson. Villanova, PA: Augustinian Press, 1996, 21.