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Towards a prophetic community
07/04/2011 By Paolo Archiati, OMI, Vicar General

I would like to continue my thoughts on community, the first call to conversion from our last Chapter. Fraternal Life in Community, a document from the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life which appeared in 1994, addresses the topic of common life regarding the difficulties it has to face in our day, especially that of individualism. The religious community is defined as “the place where the daily and patient passage from ‘me’ to ‘us’ takes place, from my commitment to a commitment entrusted to the community, from seeking ‘my things’ to seeking ‘the things of Christ’. This patient passage is a daily task and it happens in a balance that is sometimes difficult to find and maintain, between respecting the person and the common good, between the demands and needs of individuals and those of community, between personal charism and the communal apostolic project.” The enemies of this balance are, on the one hand, fracturing individualism, and on the other, stifling communitarianism.

If this passage is done with balance, the religious community becomes “the place where we learn daily to take on that new mind which allows us to live in fraternal communion through the richness of diverse gifts and which, at the same time, fosters a convergence of these gifts towards fraternity and towards co-responsibility in the apostolic plan.”

We might note here that the community neither suppresses nor replaces the “me”: the “me’s” who form the community are the starting point: without individuals, there is no community; at the same time, the community goes beyond them, or better, it draws them to go beyond themselves so as to find themselves in another arena of action and mission -- the community itself.

This helps us to avoid what the document called “stifling communitarianism”, which suppresses freedom, initiative and individual talents; it is a question of a call received from Jesus who makes of those he has called a community with himself and invites everyone to go beyond self in order to arrive at a higher level, namely, that of community, of family. The mission is given, at the same time, to each individual and to the community. That the individual aspect not be overwhelmed by conversion to the community is well expressed in the first of the nine calls to conversion: That each Oblate reflect on the witness of his religious life, living the vows in a prophetic way so as to share these values with the world, as an invitation for others to join our Oblate family.” The subject of this invitation is “each Oblate.” The starting point is always each of us as a person; here we are asked to reflect on the testimony of our individual Oblate life and to live the commitments of the evangelical counsels in a prophetic way, so that the values which they represent might be communicated to the world and so that other persons, through this testimony, might receive the invitation coming from the very one who called us: to join our family.

A special invitation is addressed to each superior and each community: when we say “each community,” we imply that each community, within the whole of the Oblate Family, plays the same role that individuals play in the local community. That would be an interesting point to develop further.

When we consider the situation of our communities around the world today, it seems clear that internationality is one of its most obvious characteristics, a challenge that can determine the success of our mission and our life in years to come. Looking at things more closely and in view of communal conversion, the question that comes to mind is: Are our differences really something we treasure? We often say so, and we like to say it, but the question remains. The other, in his otherness, is he really a treasure for me? I would not answer too quickly in the affirmative, for we have a long way to go. I am convinced that we are only beginning, but it is certainly worthwhile to face this challenge of being open to the concrete reality of life in our communities and to pursue this goal. To love one another -- someone whom we perhaps too quickly call our confrere -- is not so obvious, if Jesus made it the second commandment, which completes the love of God and is summarized in the Law and the Prophets! Without realizing it, and often very subtly, we tend to liken the other to ourselves: what we like in the other is what we already find in ourselves; what spontaneously brings us together is what we notice in the other that resembles ourselves -- what we have in common. To love the other not only because he is the other, but also so that he might be the other, that he might be himself; to love him with his differences and his uniqueness: that is the challenge for conversion to a community that will truly be prophetic.