Along with the desire to preach the Gospel, to embrace wholeheartedly the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience, to study holy truth, and to celebrate the liturgy with due sobriety, there is another desire that animates men to seek and join our order.
It is the desire to live in common.
In St. Augustine’s Rule, which we have taken as our own, the Doctor of Grace declares: “The chief motivation for your sharing life together is to live harmoniously in the house and to have one heart and one soul in seeking God” (see Acts 4.32). Indeed, the first subject that our order’s Constitutions takes up, under the heading of Religious Consecration, is “Common Life.”
There is a particular evangelical need today for the common life, for the sake of personal experience as well as social witness. Among other reasons, this evangelical need for the common life is due to the varied but intense and subtle attacks that have been waged upon the institution of the family – that fundamental cell of personal commonality (and therefore, personal development).
Of course, the common life of a religious order is constituted by concerns largely different than that of a family. Nevertheless, the common life represents the basic forum in which Christ works his reconciling grace upon the soul of each individual in need of natural healing and supernatural uplifting. As our Holy Father taught in his second encyclical, Spe Salvi: “salvation has always been considered a ‘social’ reality. Indeed, the Letter to the Hebrews speaks of a ‘city’ (cf. 11.10, 16; 12.22; 13.14) and therefore of communal salvation. Consistently with this view, sin is understood by the Fathers as the destruction of the unity of the human race, as fragmentation and division. Babel, the place where languages were confused, the place of separation, is seen to be an expression of what sin fundamentally is. Hence ‘redemption’ appears as the reestablishment of unity, in which we come together once more in a union that begins to take shape in the community of believers.”
It stands to reason, then, that one of the primary realities that the Christian family is called to evangelize is itself!
Hopefully, we friars manifest the joy and peace –challenges notwithstanding!– that issues from a life that bears one another’s burdens in faith (cf. Gal 6.2). Certainly, many of us are inspired by the self-sacrificial and happy commitments of so many families that it is our privilege to know. Not incidentally, one of the places where a healthy relationship between friars and families develops is around the dinner table!
Currently, there is being promoted a national initiative called, “Family Day.” Our Archbishop here in New York City has heartily encouraged involvement. In his recent column, Lord, To Whom Shall We Go? he reflected on the significance of the family meal in his personal life as well as for the Church: “Most of us 50 and over can recall that supper together as a family was rather routine and taken for granted, with Sunday dinner the most significant. We know as well that the Sunday meal—the Mass—of our supernatural family, the Church, is indispensable for our fidelity to Jesus and His Church. We Catholics also belong to cherished ethnic backgrounds, which celebrated every Sunday, holiday, holyday and important life event—baptisms, first Communions, birthdays, marriages, even deaths—with family meals.”
Not unlike any other day, this Monday is “A Day to Eat Dinner with Your Children.” And, even for the many families who already make such a commitment, other families with whom we have contact — Christian or not — might be encouraged to do the same.
In this way, we won’t simply be “saying” grace.