Recollection Material – March 2023 TOGETHER IN FRATERNITY

Fraternity (1)

PHIL. 2:1-5

One of the first writers  of the Augustinian family, Jordan of Saxony, commented in his work Vitasfratrum (Lives of the Brothers) that St. Augustine had founded his religious Order following the idea of the community, or rather, the same author points out, on the idea of communion. In fact we, the Augustinian Recollects want to make a reality the Augustinian ideal of living with only one soul and only one heart directed towards God. St. Augustine saw in the text of the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 4:32) the ideal to which his communities must aspire because the brothers like pilgrims to the City of God must journey in unanimity and concord by the pathways of the Lord to arrive at the City of God. In a strongly individualistic culture like ours, the Augustinian ideal can seem utopic or impossible to attain, like a dream impossible to make a reality; nevertheless, there is need to take into account that to be able to live in community with unanimity and concord is a gift that God grants to brothers who put in everything on their part to attain it. Possibly in community life and in the testimony of a community that lives united by the power of love is where the evangelical and Augustinian ideal best reflected and given witness to. In fact the point of departure of the motto corresponding to this year’s “Together”, is the unity of community life, where the religious become aware that they do not live ‘alone’, nor so alone juxtaposed one with the other in one same house or space, but that they share their lives with other brothers who journey together with them towards God, united by the power of charity. Thus in this month’s recollection let us meditate on the importance of living in unity and concord in the community.

Return to yourself.

          We dispose ourselves to live this day of recollection returning to our hearts, putting aside the distractions, the dispersion, the noise. We make our spirit serene and we reflect on the following text of St. Augustine.

          But with what fruit do they desire this? Do they want to congratulate themselves with me on hearing how close to you I have come by your grace and pray for me on hearing how much I have delayed by my own weight? I will reveal myself to such people, because it is not a small fruit, Lord my God, that there be many who give you thanks because of me and you be prayed to by many because of me. Let him love in me the fraternal spirit that you teach should be loved, let him mourn in me what you teach should be mourned for. Let the fraternal spirit do this, not the stranger, not the spirit of alien sons, whose mouth speaks of vanity and whose right hand is the hand of iniquity, but the fraternal, who rejoices when he approves something in me and who is saddened when he sees something bad in me, because when he reproves or approves, he loves me (conf. 10, 5).

Your voice is my joy.

          Let us open the ears of the heart to receive like a good soil the word of God that enlightens us during this day and invites us to unanimity, concord, to identification with the sentiments of Christ.

           1 If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. 3 Do nothing out of selfishness or of vainglory, rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, 4 each looking out not for his own interests, but [also] everyone for those of others. 5 Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus. +

The Firmament of the Scriptures.

Biblical Keys.

          The first part of chapter 2 (vv. 1-11) consists of one exhortative part and of the hymn on the humility of Christ. Our text today limits itself to the exhortation (vv. 1-5) even though it cannot be understood in its totality without the hymnal part that develops the meaning of the expression “possess the sentiments of Christ” (v.5), which is the center of our reflection.

          Chapter 2 begins with the call of the Apostle to be heard. The message that in continuation he was to deliver is the center of his preaching, and his struggles for it. Paul asks the Philippians for positive attitude towards him: consolation of love, communion of Spirit, affectionate care, mercy, “complete my joy, feeling the same” (v.12). All these conditions are necessary to be able to share, to be in communion, to have the same sentiment: “complete my happiness with the same sentiment, the same love, the same spirit and all seeking the same.” (v. 2). The exhortation of Paul includes actions that must be avoided” “do nothing for ambition, nor for vainglory.” Later he offers a series of virtues to be cultivated: “do things for humility, considering others as better than you are” (v.3), not seeking “one’s own interest, but those of others” (v.4). Finally, comes the defining exhortation: “have the same sentiments as Christ” (v.5).

          Having the same sentiments as Christ means imitating him on the road of communion and humility. The verses 2 to 4 give various keys of these two attitudes: to have the same sentiments, one same love, one same spirit and objective, i.e., to be in communion. To do nothing for ambition or vainglory, but for humility, considering the others as better than oneself, i.e., avoiding all pride and arrogance. The insistence in not seeking one’s own interest, but that of the others, is related to the ideal of the primitive community, as regards the communion of material and spiritual goods (cf. Heb. 2:44-45; 4:32-34). One is asked to acknowledge only one same dignity and equality. No one is better than the others, not even the Apostles, because their ministry is a service in favor of the community (cf. Eph. 4:11-16). Despite this, over and above the community, is the only true Priest, the Lord Jesus (cf. Heb. 4:14-16).

          The absolute authority pertains to Christ, that is why he and no one else, is the model for the whole community and for each one of the believers (cf. Eph. 5:1). The hymn that is developed from vv. 6-11 is a praise of Christ who humbles himself for the salvation of men, and who is exalted by the Father, conferring on him the Lordship over all humanity: “and every tongue proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord for the glory of God the Father” (v.11). The Servant Jesus, the New Adam, is also Lord.

          The servant Jesus is the example for every believer, that is why the invitation of the Apostle is to know him and imitate him, but not only in the individual level but of community. Paul does not conceive salvation as merely a personal work but as a fruit of community life. The community is the venue where salvation becomes a reality. Each community must seek this communion and strive to maintain it; that is why humility is necessary as a measure of communion: the interest for what is common, the respect for the other, avoiding ambitions and the particular kinds of avarice.

Augustinian Keys.

1. Introduction.

          For St. Augustine, the central element in the community is the communion among brothers. Let everyone recognize themselves as intimately united in the communion of the Body of Christ that daily expresses and strengthens itself in the communion with the Body and Blood of Christ himself.

          The communion with Christ the Head implies, as St. Paul reminds us in the text that today we meditate, a profound identification with the sentiments of Christ, especially three sentiments.

          In the first place the star sentiment of the New Testament that is MERCY. In a world where there is no mercy since indifference has become globalized, the communities should be spaces to live and exercise mercy, through mutual forgiveness, the service of the most needy brothers, or the patience with those who as yet have not achieved to live that which God asks of them. Concretely, they would need to be “samaritan” communities where the brothers are open to receive and to help the brothers, to lift them up when they become wounded – in body, in mind and in spirit -. And like the Good Samaritan, who for St. Augustine is Christ (en. Ps.125, 15), be capable of carrying them to the space of healing, that is the Church itself, praying for them and exhorting  to the reading and meditation of the Word of God – possibly through the communitarian Lectio Divina- , who for St. Augustine the innkeeper represents. But above all, we make of our communities a space of mercy when we exchange among ourselves, as St. Augustine points the denarii are, the love of God and neighbor.

(…) and he handed him two denarii to cure us, i.e., the love of God and of neighbor since the Law and the Prophets are enclosed in these two commandments, and he said to the innkeeper: If you should spendmore, I will repay you on my return. (…) If we have fallen and are wounded, let us get up, let us sing and move forward to arrive (en. Ps. 125, 15).

To live together in Samaritan communities.

          Secondly, we have the sentiments of Christ when we have the sentiment of sonship, when we truly feel and live coherently as sons of God, discovering God as our Father and those around us –especially in our communities- as our brothers. To learn to accompany and to be close to those with whom we share our lives. To avoid the “Cain-like” attitude of unconcern for others. (‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ Gn. 4:9), and the individualistic egoism that limits his talents for his own personal use. To live like brothers, because in a civilization where instruments and means of communication overflow, we surpass the non-communication in which we live in most of our communities. Indeed, the dialogue and communication  are instruments of fraternal love, wherein we make others sharers of our own lives and of the events of the community. In this way no one feels left out or ostracized from the community. That the “what’s up?” does not substitute the encounter or the fraternal dialogue. To be capable of keeping Christ in the heart to build fraternal, and not “Cain-like”, communities, as St. Augustine tells us.

          If they had wanted to accept and to keep the Christian faith, they would have been in a certain sense, guardians of Christ. Because whoever keeps Christ in his heart, does not speak as Cain: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (c. Faust. 12, 10).

Therefore, to live together in truly fraternal communities.

          A third sentiment with which we must identify ourselves with Christ, among many others, would be the desire to proclaim the Gospel. For Christ, the urgency and the desire to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom would have impelled him. It would be important that our communities do not live a centripetal life, centered in themselves, self-centered, but must be projected and sent out into the world         in which it exists. To be capable of working in teams, avoiding protagonists that marginalize the brothers, just like pride that despises others. That each member of the community, with the gift he has received, serve the brothers, inside and outside the community, with the simplicity of a servant who knows that it is not his gift, but that he has received it from the Lord, and that he does not seek applause or recognition, but find his recompense in God’s love itself. Thus, the Augustinian desire will be made real:

          The end result will be that we all find joy on only one charity. But where charity is there is peace, and where there is humility there is charity (ep. Io. tr. Prol.).

Therefore, to live together in communities evangelizing from love.

          And since communion is built, is understood and is strengthened in the daily pious participation of the Eucharist, it is necessary that to take care of the Eucharistic celebration, in such a way that it becomes an act that nourishes not only the people of God, but also the celebrant himself, who gives nothing of himself but simply is an administrator of the gifts of God for the brothers; to be capable of recognizing ourselves as members of the Body of Christ with the duty to build the unity with the chain of charity and of peace, and the commitment of living the holiness, because the Body of Christ is holy.

          Understand and cherish: unity, truth, piety, charity. One Bread only: Who is

          this One Bread? Being many we are only One Body. Keep in mind that the

          Bread is made not only of one grain, but of many (s. 272).

To live together in concentrated communities nourished by the Eucharist.

Five urgent texts from the Constitutions: Together in fraternity.

1. “(…) our communities can and must be centers of prayer, recollection, and of personal and communitarian dialogue with God, generously offering initiatives and specific services in that which concerns contemplation and community” (n. 279).

          2. “The members of the community, encouraged by the prior, are to unite their efforts in their common task. The brothers are to help one another in constant dialogue, and they are to place their work, their joys and their sorrows at the service of all” (n. 280).

3. “Superiors are to strive to promote the common life. They are to foster peace in the communities, creating a climate of understanding which encourages co-operation among the brothers for the common good” (n. 325).

4. “Chapters and councils are to faithfully fulfill the function of government that has been entrusted to them. Each one is to express in its particular way the participation of all the brothers and its concern for the well-being of the community” (n. 327).

5. “Each house should have at least an oratory, in which the Eucharist may be celebrated and in which the Blessed Sacrament may be reserved, so that it is truly the heart of the community” (n. 432).

From word to action.

What wealth and blessings do you see in community life?

What challenges does the community face in these moments in time?

How could you best live the community life?

Final Prayer. Indeed, we are all and everyone in particular his temples, because he has deigned to dwell in the harmony of all and in each one in particular (city 10, 3, 2). +

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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.