Recollection for June: COMMUNION IN CONSTRUCTION (Nehemiah 4:1-2, 10-12)

Rebuilding the Wall of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 3-4). Wood engraving, published in 1886.
Rebuilding the Wall of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 3-4). Wood engraving, published in 1886.

The communion in the community is being built day by day with the aid of God’s Grace. He builds his temple in the midst of the brothers who live in communion, but it requires collaboration. One indispensable task is to defend it against its enemies: egoism, individualism, hero-complex, indifference, comfort, etc. That is why, those who were rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem had one hand building and the other holding a weapon of defense, to protect them from the enemies. Let us grip the weapon of charity to build the communion in the community.

         I prepare my heart.

         I prepare myself to live the day of Recollection. I become conscious of the reality that surrounds me and of my interior reality. I take notice of the objects that are around me, I see them with attention and serenity; I simply perceive the sounds. I take note of how I am seated. I am conscious of physical sensations and my interior sentiments. I perceive the ideas and images found in my mind. Finally I become conscious that I am in the presence of God, together with my brothers. God is there disposed to have an encounter with me. With receptive attitude we ask the Holy Spirit the gift of prayer:

         Lector: Spirit Creator, mysterious artificer of the Kingdom, guide the Church with the power of your holy gifts to advance with bravery and bring the future generations to the light of the Word that saves.

         Spirit of Holiness, divine breath that moves the universe, come and renew the face of the earth. Let the desire for full unity sprout among Christians, to truly become in the world the sign and instrument of intimate union with God and the unity of human kind.

         All together: Come, Spirit of love and peace!

         Lector: Spirit of communion, soul and support of the Church, grant that the wealth of charisms and ministries contribute to the unity of the Body of Christ; and that the laity, the consecrated and the ordained ministers we may all together collaborate in the building up of the one kingdom of God.

         Spirit of Consolation, inexhaustible fountain of joy and peace, awaken solidarity with the needy, give to the sick the necessary relief, pour trust and hope in those who suffer, increase in all commitment towards a better world.

         All together: Come, Spirit of love and peace!

         Lector: Spirit of Wisdom, who illumines the mind and the heart: direct the path of science and technology to the service of life, of justice and of peace. Make the dialogue with the members of other religions fruitful, and let the diverse cultures be open to the values of the Gospel.

         Spirit of life, by whom the Word became flesh in the womb of the Virgin: Make us docile to the signs of your love; let us always be disposed to accept the signs of the times that you put in the course of history.

         All together: Come, Spirit of love and peace!

         To you, Spirit of love, together with the Father Almighty and the Only Begotten Son, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

I open my heart.

         With a heart well disposed, with serenity, I read slowly the following words, savoring them and allowing myself to be touched by them.

         When Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites heard that the restoration of the walls of Jerusalem was progressing –for the gaps were beginning to be closed up- they became extremely angry. Thereupon they all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and thus to throw us into confusion… From that time on, however, only half my able men took a hand in the work, while the other half, armed with spears, bucklers, bows, and breastplates, stood guard behind the whole house of Judah as they rebuilt the wall. The load carriers, too, were armed; each did his work with one hand and held a weapon with the other. Every builder, while he worked, had his sword girt at his side. Also, a trumpeter stood beside me (Neh 4:1-2, 10-12).

I return to my heart.

Biblical keys.

         The Liberation of Israel after the Babylonian exile and the authorization of Cyrus the Great to return and reconstruct Jerusalem, is an enterprise that is accomplished amidst much difficulty.

         About 445 B.C. Nehemiah came to know the strong opposition by some inhabitants of Jerusalem, many of those who came from other lands, against the project of reconstructing the walls and the temple. Thus, he asked authorization to go in order to carry out and personally direct the work.

         Nehemiah had to directly confront the rejection by the opposing group who also reacted violently and attacked the workers. For this reason, he had to resort to strategies that support and allow the work of reconstruction to be accomplished. He divides the workers into two groups. Some work and the others guard those who work, and even these had to protect themselves holding weapons at hand.

         In 52 days the walls and some parts of the city were restored (Neh. 6:15). The whole story can be read with greater attention in Neh. 3:33 -6:16.

         It is worth citing Neh. 6:16 which contains the theological conclusion of this event: “When all our enemies had heard of this, and all the nations round about had taken note of it, our enemies lost much face in the eyes of the nations, for they knew that it was with our God’s help that this work had been completed.”

         Making communion and reconstruction can have many difficulties and obstacles, but if it is the work of God, nothing can impede it. cf. Acts 5:38-39.

Augustinian Keys.

For St. Augustine the model of communion that must exist within the community is the Blessed Trinity. Yet, at the same time, he is fully conscious that the building up of communion within the bosom of the community is a labor that must be accomplished every day. And he knows that, despite all human efforts and divine assistance, it will never be perfectly achieved on earth.

FEDRO’s fable.

         Nevertheless, for no reason at all should anyone who desires the communion abandon the project of perfect brotherhood. On the contrary, whoever lives in community must see it as a space full of opportunities to grow spiritually.

         Charity should bring us to see not so much the defects of the brothers as their virtues and holiness.

         St. Augustine takes the known fable of Fedro that narrates how Zeus made the man to carry in his front the defects of others, and at his back his own weaknesses. Conversion, says St. Augustine, should be to remove from our sight the defects and faults of our brothers, and to put before our interior eyes our own faults and limitations. It is his own experience, as he points out in the Confessions, where he says that he carried his reality at his back and God changed its place, putting it in front before his very eyes that he might see how he was and be converted.

         You, O Lord, disturbed me, you took me from my back where I had placed myself in order not to see myself, and placed me in front so that I might see how ugly I was, how deformed and dirty, stained and wounded I was (Conf. 8, 16).

To see goodness, we must be good.

         On many occasions, we believe that in our communities sin abound and that there are few signs of authentic communion. And without doubt we are mistaken. St. Augustine would invite us to open the eyes of our heart and see that yes there is. Yes: to perceive holiness, he puts as essential condition that one be himself holy. One must have eyes of charity to see the goodness inside the community. Thus says the text of the Letter to Titus that St. Augustine repeats in diverse places of his work; To the clean all things are clean (Ti. 1:15).

         We cannot deny that there are many bad persons, so much so that the good ones are not distinguished among them, just like the grain of wheat in the threshing floor cannot be seen among the husk…. But what is there is the heap that must be winnowed. Then the pile of wheat that was hidden among much husk will appear. Do you want to find the good ones? Be good yourself, and you will find them (en. Ps. 47:9).

         In this sense, the community becomes a school of love (schola amoris), in which some must learn from the others, and thus all together we can grow and “walk the path of charity” (trin. 1, 3, 5) towards the City of God.

         The apprenticeship is found principally in two dimension: the exemplary dimension, by appreciating the virtues we perceive in our brothers; and also the passive dimension, that corresponds to the patience with which we must bear the limitations and defects of the brothers.

The building up of the communion.

         The world in which we live presents serious challenges to our communities, and in many occasions can arrive at prohibiting the communion that must exist among brothers, especially when the community is itself split by individualism, activism, disinterest or routine. That is why we must be conscious that God has called us to live in community not that we may be gathered together, juxtaposed, but that we live truly united in communion of souls and hearts directed towards God (Acts 4:32).It is necessary that we pray and strive to build the communion within the community.

         And, if it is certain that communion is a gift and a grace, we collaborate as fellow workers in the construction that God does. He is the architect of communion in the community (Ps. 127), One form of cooperation with God is faithfulness to the community itself, when the brothers do not seek reasons to absent themselves from community acts, rather they make all effort to be there, sharing and conversing with the brothers. They cooperate who overcome the temptation to appraise community acts as “time wasted” and do not use the community as a “mere service station” or hotel to meet one’s necessities. Thus, St. Augustine clearly concludes after reading the text of Acts 4:32:

         You have heard what we want [to have one soul and one heart directed towards God]. Pray that we be able to achieve it (s. 356, 2).

Souls melted to form only one.

         We build the community when we participate in the activities of the community, and we feel co-responsible for the work the community undertakes, as pertaining to each one of the brothers, because as St. Augustine indicates: “Do not think that you are innocent if, by keeping silent, you permit that your brother perish, whom you could have corrected warning him on time” (reg. 3. 4, 25).

We build together with God the communion in the community when we participate with faithfulness and punctuality in the prayer of the community and at the same time we elevate our prayers for the brothers, and we ask God for the grace necessary that the communion in the community does not become an objective, a slogan, a motto, but that it become a reality.

Communion in the community is built when we are capable together to enjoy as brothers our recreations and communitarian outings and, above all, when we are capable of recognizing in the brother the presence of Christ, and we love him in Christ and for Christ. We build up communion when we are capable to:

….converse, laugh, serve each other cheerfully, read in common healthy books, joke with each other and be amused in company; discuss sometimes but without animadversion, as when one dissents with himself, and with such sporadic dissensions to season the many conformities; to teach one another something, to yearn with pain for those absent, and welcome with joy those who arrive. With these signs and others like these … our souls are melted and, from the many, one soul is made… (conf. 4, 13).

In this life there are no perfect communities, but grace urges us to collaborate in the construction of the communion certainly imperfect, but encouraged and strengthened by the grace of God.

Questions for Community dialogue.

To build the communion means to learn to see with new eyes our communities. What do you think of this statement of St. Augustine: “Be good and you will find the good persons?” (en. Ps. 47:9).

To be able to build the communion is a gift and a challenge. What elements in your community are a gift for you? What are the principal challenges that you have to face in your community? Mention three.

Trial and difficult moments help us grow interiorly. How do you face difficult moments within your community?

Building the communion in the community implies a great faithfulness to the community and to the brothers. How do you live the different moments of community encounters? What can you do so that these moments may truly help to build communion, and progress some more beyond mere routine?

I lift up my heart.

         We thank God for the graces, the strength and the enlightenment he has granted us during this day of recollection. For this the following words of St. Augustine can help us:

There is no one who cannot praise when the brothers are in accord. And what is the cause that concord be very difficult among them? Because they discuss about earthly things, because they want to be earth (s. 359, 1). The happiness that good brothers feel for a good brother is good happiness; and the sadness they feel for love of the bad brother, does not become bad for them because with it they please God (qu. 8)

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Fray Dunstan Huberto Decena, OAR

Fray Hubert Dunstan Decena, OAR

Priest/Religious/Bible Professor of the Order of Augustinian Recollects in the Province of St. Ezekiel Moreno.