Today is the feast of St. Augustine, the great Doctor of the Church and the Father of a monastic way of life that is used by many Orders including our own. While the Rule is short, in pondering it one mines the riches of his thought and desire for unity in Charity. We are blessed and grateful to have this Rule to guide us.
Following is a Chapter Talk given by Sr. Mary Catharine to the novitiate on the section of the Rule on the common good. We thought it might be of benefit to you, also.
By this shall all men know that you are my disciples; if you have love for one another. (Jn 13:34-35)
My Dear Sisters,
Today I would like to speak to you about how we give expression to our love for God and for each other—our life of discipleship. As you know, the opening paragraph of both the Rule and our Constitutions reminds of the goal of our striving: “the first reason for which we are gathered together in community is to live in harmony, having one mind and heart in God.” Really, our constitutions are nothing more than showing us how to express this desire of unity and harmony in God. Each of you has been here long enough to know that while the goal may be beautiful the journey isn’t easy. It’s a life-long project demanding nothing less than a complete gift of ourselves.
St. Augustine saw the monastic community as what Adollar Zumkeller, OSA calls “the field of action for Christian love.” If this is the case, and it is, than the community must become for each of us that place where our participation in the incomprehensible love of God Himself is the visible expression of the sign of this Divine Indwelling. An indwelling not just in each Sister because of sanctifying grace, but in our community precisely because the community is an archetype of the love of the Triune God.
“Make sure that no one is working for his own benefit, but that everything you do is for the common good, with more zeal and greater promptness than if each of you were working for himself.” (RA 5. 2)
Exactly because the community is the locus of the exchange of love between God and his creatures, St. Augustine is convinced that it is the daily monastic routine that must be marked by a caritas serviens—a loving service.
As you know, putting this common good before one’s own interests and desires is often not only NOT easy, but can at times require the grace of a heroic charity. Isn’t that the message St. Therese tells us with her life? I’m sure you’ve already experienced that exercising this desire for the common good can provoke a rebelliousness deep inside one’s soul that you might not have been aware of before. Our true motives in our acts of charity and generosity become severely tested and purified.
Yet the Rule continues on to tell us that it is only by a love that is not self-seeking that we can make progress in holiness and in virtue. “Therefore, the more trouble you take over what you all have in common, and not over what is your own, the more progress people will see you are making.” (RA 5.2) Even if NO ONE sees the progress, and because we live so closely together most of the time no one will, God not only sees it but makes our acts of love increase to overflowing. In this regard He shows Himself the playful, and even at times a competitive Lover. He won’t be outdone in Love!
To act from the conviction that the common good is of such importance in monastic life can be one of the most difficult struggles, even more so than obedience. But I assure you that nothing brings greater joy and more freedom and the gift of the experience of God’s loving presence than the exercise of this self giving.
Because, ultimately it’s about the possession of God! If we becomes dispossessed of ourselves, our self interests and projects, than He fills up that space with Himself. That is our goal both as individuals and as a community. In a sermon St. Augustine once said, “We ought to have in common that great and richest possession which is God Himself.” (Ser. 355) Yesterday’s Gospel of the rich young man who did everything he ought but was unable to give up his possessions and the ultimate possession of himself should speak to us every time we hear this Gospel—not just on our Entrance or Clothing Day.
So, I encourage each of you to spend some time reflecting on the ways you can grow in a way of thinking and being that places the common good before your own. Remember, this isn’t about altruism but about our participating more deeply in God’s love. There is no “seventy times seven” when we are at the service of Love. There is no little book in which we can check off our good works and then say, “I did my share.” Love is not like that as we were told yesterday in the reading from St. Bernard for yesterday’s Office. Love always calls for a greater response of love no matter if ours is like a trickling stream as compared to the overflowing fountain that is God! He assures us, “…if she loves with her whole being, nothing is lacking where everything is given.”