How we live, build, and strengthen community
To explain a way of life is never simple. The following is one attempt to detail Augustinian community living.
An Augustinian community is basically a Christian community, living, reflecting on and proclaiming the message of Jesus. The life of the community is characterised by reflection, prayer and mission. The spirituality (spiritual tradition - in Italian, spiritualità) of Saint Augustine offers some attitudes for this life: a spirit characterised by friendship, interiority, the search for truth, community experience, sensitivity towards the disadvantaged, valuing and respecting the dignity of all human beings and loving service. The interior self was one of the most important discoveries of Augustine for his own benefit.
He chose the way of interiority in order to know God, know himself and contemplate reality. What is here called interiority in English is interioridad in Spanish, and interiorita in Italian. Augustine found that we meet God at the center of our beings, and in that encounter we come to know ourselves also. It had never occurred to him to begin and end with the inner self in order to be happy, and in this way, to achieve a satisfaction based on spiritual realities more than on realities of this earth.
Augustine emphasized the importance of the interior disposition. He said, 'When you pray to God in psalms and songs, the words spoken by your lips should be alive in your hearts.' Augustinian Spirituality (spiritual tradition) encourages the individual to search for God inside of the self, to 'separate ourselves from ourselves' and from excess things of this world, to question oneself, and by so doing, to discover oneself and be renewed in the spiritual life. And in finding oneself, to find God, the Maker of all.
The Augustinian idea of community is assisted by charity, friendship, prayer in common, and humility. Charity will nourish trust, sincerity and mutual understanding. It unites persons with Christ through the Holy Spirit, helping them to recognise the examples of the love of God in the events and circumstances of life. Thus, united in charity, Augustinians are called to show to others the gifts they receive from God, and to share them with others. The Augustinian community appreciates what is of value and offers it to Christ, from whom all good things come and in whom all things are brought together.
Friendship in Christ not only assists the development of each member of the community but also increases freedom in the community itself. Openness of mind in community enhances dialogue and permits the enjoyment of the necessary autonomy for the better service of God. Humility (humilitas) and poverty are the base and sign of community life. They are so closely linked such that Augustine declared that nobody could be called "a poor person in God" without also being a humble person.
By means of poverty and humility a person in Augustinian religious life deems that all he or she possesses, whether spiritual or material, belongs to all because he or she has been gifted with these possessions only for administering them for the benefit of others. Augustinian religious primarily manifest their offering of themselves to God by the practice of the vows, which in the canon law of the church are identified as poverty, chastity and obedience. (in Latin povertas, castitas, obedencia)
It is the mark of love that gives the Augustinian observance of vows its special identity. This spiritual identity of the Order had two foundations. The first was the person of Saint Augustine from whom it received its concept of religious life, in particular the importance of the interior search for God and life in community. The second was the mendicant movement by which the Order of Saint Augustine became an apostolic fraternity.
The communion of life desired by Augustinians while on earth is a foretaste of the full union in God that will only be experienced in heaven, and is a path that leads to this eternal goal. By the intention of Augustine, the communion of life resembles in its spirit that of the apostolic community described in the Bible in the Acts of the Apostles 2:42-48. This Scriptural passage is virtually paraphrased in Chapter 1 of the Rule of Augustine, where it says, "First of all, since for this reason you have come together in community, live in the house in harmony and have one mind and one heart intent on God."
"And do not possess anything as your own, but have all things in common, and let things be distributed to you… according as each has need." Writing in his Life of the Brethren, the Dominican scholar Jordan of Saxony (1190 - 1237, and not to be confused with an Augustinian of the same name) reflected on the thought and intention of Augustine, "We see that he based all his religion on the community, or, better still, on communion."
This Augustinian Christian communion is fourfold:
a) of living together under one roof,
b) of spiritual union,
c) of common possession of earthly goods, and
d) of proportional distribution of goods.
Among these four, priority must be given to spiritual communion, or otherwise living together would avail nothing. Augustine stated, "Many bodies, but not many spirits; many bodies, but not many hearts." (Ennar. In Ps 132,6), and "Our souls should not be many souls, but one soul, the one soul of Christ." (Letter 243, 4)
The spiritual identity of the Order had two foundations. The first was the person of Saint Augustine from whom it received its concept of religious life, in particular the importance of the interior search for God and community life. The second was the mendicant movement by which the Order of Saint Augustine became an apostolic fraternity.
The way the Augustinian Order came into existence caused it to receive certain essential elements thereby. The living out of these four elements strongly indicates to the specific essence and nature of the Augustinian Order. These four contributing factors were:
(1) the principles of the particular monastic ideal of Saint Augustine of Hippo,
(2) the formal foundation of the Order by various decrees of Pope Innocent IV in 1244 and Pope Alexander IV in 1256
(3) its status as a mendicant order
(4) The style of life for a community as proposed by Augustine both in his Rule and by his personal example emphasised the renunciation of inequalities because of privileges that an individual may have received before joining.
All members are able to develop whatever talents given by the Lord.
(1) Community is not limited to the geographical locality to which a member is assigned, but by the intention of the papal contribution to the beginning of the Order, and is able to be lived at any point where the universal church has a need for Augustinian communities to serve.
To learn more about how the formation of the Order fulfilled the desire of the Church in addressing the needs of the thirteenth century, click here.
(2) The charism of being mendicants allows the order to move around without geographical or economic limitations, paying attention to the needs of the People of God.
The order is at the service of every society, living within it and placing before it the example of its Augustinian kind of community.
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