The Cost of Living Comm-"unity"
If you were to ask each sister what the greatest grace of religious life is for her, you would probably get an almost unanimous answer -- living in community. It is such a you to share life with other women who have willingly given up everything to live for Jesus. We share each other's joys, and we help carry each other's burdens. It really is a gift to life in community.
However, if you were to ask each sister what is her greatest challenge in religious life, you again would get a unanimous response -- living in community. It is not easy living in the same house with sometimes up to 20 other women. We all come from different backgrounds and family experiences. St. John of the Cross likened living in community as the "sand paper treatment." Rubbing against one another removes all the rough, unconverted spots.
It takes work to live in true communion with one another. As a sisterhood, we can never take for granted the gift that God has given us in each other. This is true for any type of community - whether it be a family, small faith sharing group, or a parish. Living in community costs! Since this issue of our newsletter celebrates our life as sisters, I am offering some reflections on ways we can grow in living unity and communion.
One of the essential things that we do as a Community to safeguard our communion is we are committed to being reconciled with each other. This doesn't mean we always agree or like what another does, but it does mean that at the end of the day if we have sinned against another, we take action to reconcile. This takes the willingness to humbly recognize our faults and to ask another to forgive us. I remember hearing a very challenging talk a few years ago where, using the Gospel of Matthew, the speaker made clear that the responsibility of seeking forgiveness and unity lies with each of us. In Matthew 18:15 it says that if someone sins against us we are to go to him/her to seek reconciliation. In Matthew 5:23 it states that if we have sinned against someone, we are to go to him/her and seek reconciliation. In both cases, the burden of reconciliation is on us! If we sin, we go! If someone sins against us, we go! The direction is clear; the reality is tough to live.
Something I have learned over the years is that living in communion means a lot more than just not openly sinning against another. The communion that Jesus asks for is a union of hearts, a willingness to embrace the other as brother or sister in Christ. This concept became tangible to me while reading a book by Cardinal Francis Xavier Van Thuan who spent 13 years in a Vietnam prison because of his belief in Christ and the Church. Even amidst imprisonment and mistreatment he wrote the following about living in communion:
Communion is a battle of every instant
Even one moment of neglect can shatter it; a trifle is enough;
A single thought against charity, an obstinately held judgment,
A mistaken premise, ambition or personal interest,
An action done for self and not for the Lord . . .
The communion that God has called us to share with our brothers and sisters begins with the attitude of the heart. It requires that we guard our heart from negative thoughts or judgments that are the beginning of a break in unity. Pope John Paul II spoke of the spirituality of communion in his encyclical letter Novo Millennio Inuente: "A spirituality of communion indicates above all the heart's contemplation of the mystery of the Trinity dwelling in us, and whose light we must also be able to see shining on the face of the brothers and sisters around us..." The spirituality of communion means that we are aware of God dwelling within us and within all our brothers and sisters. A break in communion is a break with the living Body of Christ.
I remember a few years ago spending a week at Gethsemane Abbey. One of the brothers I met shared with me his secret to living religious life faithfully for so many years: it was only he and Jesus living in the monastery. I had heard of this concept years ago, but my understanding of the saying was one of exclusivity, that it was me and Jesus, amidst all the others. The brother shared with me that the meaning goes much, much deeper; that if I look with faith and with a heart open to love, I will find Jesus present in each one of my sisters. This is at the heart of all true communion. Union with one another is ultimately union with Christ, which is what our hearts are created for!
One final thought... the foundation of the communion that I speak of is a deep trust and acknowledgement that every moment of every day is a meeting with God, who loves us. Also, everything that we experience is linked to the love of God, and to his desire for our good. With this as the foundation, the daily challenges of community living, the irritations and limitations we are bound to experience in others and in ourselves, do not disturb the true communion to which we are called. Every moment is an expression of God's tender, unconditional love for us. Everything rests in God's loving providence. As St. Therese said (actually many of the great saints have said): "All is grace!"