COMMUNITY: ADVICE FROM POPE FRANCIS
Paolo Archiati, OMI, Vicar General
Continuing our reflection on the Oblate community, I would like to reflect today on a text of Pope Francis that a faithful reader of this bulletin pointed out to me. On 22 May, the Pope met with rectors and students of the Pontifical Roman Colleges in the Paul VI Audience Hall. Chatting with them in a familiar and rather informal manner, the Pope answered some questions of the seminarians. One of them was about community.
A Chinese seminarian asked the Pope for some advice on how to live in community with other seminarians, in order to make the community a place of human and spiritual growth and the practice of priestly charity. In response to this question, Pope Francis stressed the importance of the community in formation, ever aware of the problems and difficulties that seminarians might encounter in this journey, as well as of the advantages community life offers to those who are committed to living it. He then focused on two specific and very concrete aspects that I thought opportune to repeat in this short article because they are also important for a religious and Oblate community. The value of these two directions goes well beyond the years of initial formation. There are two “words of advice” that Pope Francis could offer to us Oblates too.
The first is very simple and may seem trivial, but I think it is the starting point for building community. It is an explicit invitation to never speak ill of others, especially in their absence. Pope Francis shares here an experience from when he was a young bishop in Buenos Aires: his secretary, who was also young, had spoken to him very strongly about a decision that had had negative consequences. The frankness and courage with which his secretary had spoken to him had led Francis to think to himself: “This is a real brother; I’ll never take away his job as secretary.” “Gossip,” continued Pope Francis, “is the plague of a community.… If you do not have the courage to say something to his face, then speak with the superior or the director and he will help you. But do not go to the rooms of your companions to badmouth.”
I can share a personal experience: at the beginning of Lent in recent years, I have tried making the resolution to not speak ill of my confreres, to not “badmouth,” to not encourage whoever might start speaking ill of confreres, etc. Well, I never knew it would be so difficult and how often it happens…that I would need a special help from the Holy Spirit to “not fall into temptation.”
The second aspect emphasized by Pope Francis, in a more positive tone, regards the fraternal support that we are called to offer each other within the community, through the common search for truth and through communion. Here Pope Francis stresses the importance of prayer that we can address to our common father for our confreres, especially for those with whom we have difficulties. Referring again to his personal experience, he said that one day he went to meet with his spiritual director to share a problem he was having with one of his brothers. After having allowed him to vent, after having allowed him to express his anger against this brother, the spiritual director asked him: “Tell me, have you prayed for him?” That was enough to help him understand how important it is to build community, to bear one another in prayer and especially to lift up those with whom we have difficulties or problems, those whom we do not love.
We too can ask ourselves if we have ever prayed, simply and sincerely, for our “enemy” confreres. The “enemy” that Jesus, in the Gospel, asks us to love is not the one who comes to us saying: “Good morning, I am your enemy!” At times they are the confreres with whom dialogue is difficult, those who think differently than we do, who have other opinions … The first step in building community with them too can actually be praying for them!
And now a point taken from our own tradition. Preparing a talk for an ongoing formation session, I picked up a “Guide for Oblate Animation”, prepared 20 years ago by Fathers Sullivan and Elizondo. The theme of the first chapter of this guide is the Oblate charism. I found a particularly strong passage on community that I thought I’d share. “There is not, nor can there exist, community,” writes Father Sullivan, “if there is no communion. This communion consists, in a way, in living a certain vision of the Gospel and in performing a given task, the mission: this is the charism of the group. The Congregation, and therefore the community, is the incarnation – in time and space – of the gift of the Holy Spirit – the charism! That’s why the members of the Society have come together and continue to live together despite everything. The charism is the set of core values ??that the group has in common; it is the goal that unites them.”
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