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Ongoing Conversion and Renewal

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This site’s automatic blog promoter has just reposted an article I wrote on October 7 of last year. It was on the closing ceremony of the Order of St. Augustine’s Intermediate Chapter held in the parish church of Santo Niño de Cebu in Biñan, Laguna. The closing Mass led me to think about the Order’s program of "Ongoing Conversion" — a program that has characterized it since its beginnings in the Great Union (1256) when it practically became an "international" order. The Great Union occurred just twelve years after the Pope ordered some Italian hermitages to form the nucleus of an Order that would take the name "Hermits of the Order of St. Augustine." It was then — according to Saak (See "An Augustinian Platform in the Middle Ages?") — that the Order of St. Augustine took on a quality that it will always have in its seven hundred years of existence: small in number but spread out and away from its central governing authority. This fact — that there was disproportion between the number of friars and the distance these were located relative to their Prior General — motivated the institution of a continuing program of reform in its life. The historian Saak tells us that it was this continuing program of reform that produced Martin Luther and ultimately this latter’s movement of reformation that caused the Western Schism between the Roman and Germanic Christianity in the 1600s.

The Order is currently carrying out a program of renewal in the Asia-Pacific region that is modelled after the one made in Latin America some years ago. But while it is tempting to think that this is the Order’s response to the problem of secularization and its dwindling numbers, it must be remembered that such a project should be understood within the context of the Order’s program of ongoing conversion — a program it has been pursuing since its beginnings. In other words, it is in consonance with its charism that it should mobilize the friars into making ongoing conversion as a given in the life they lead. The Rule of the Apostles that Augustine imposed on his monks — to be one in mind and hearts on the way to God — has been read by the Order as its identity and charism. Oneness "in mind and heart", however, refers to the unity of the baptized in the Total Christ — Christ and the Church. In other words, a community of friars that seeks to incarnate the Order’s charism will always be like the first community in Jerusalem in "being Church". The phrase "in Deum" highlights the historical and dynamic aspect of "being Church". We move "not by feet, but by our affections" writes Augustine; and by "affection" he means one that has been formed according to that order of love by which God alone is enjoyed while all others are either loved in relation to God (diligere in Deo) or "used" (frui) (See De doctrina christiana I). The direction is always towards "our true homeland", God, where the heart will finally be "at home." And because of this directionality, on-going conversion will always be integral to living that charism.

This program of renewal will never succeed however unless it is based on principles of religious life as espoused by the Church. A better and harmonious relationship with the brothers in the community or a transformed relationship in regards to material things cannot, for example, do away with the Church’s understanding of the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

In 1994, an article appeared in "Religious Life" (November 1994) authored by a Bishop who, during a Synod in Rome, spoke about the post-Vatican II dialogues and experimentations on religious life. It is entitled We Have Dialogued Enough! We Have Experimented Enough!". Towards the end of the article, the Bishop writes

(T)here are three possible outcomes of all that is going on in Religious life today: 1) extinction; 2) minimal survival; 3) re-founding and transformation.

I do not think there is any question but that many institutes will become extinct in the near future unless there is a radical change of course. And who wants to survive minimally? This is not much better than extinction.

Indeed, the only hope we have for Consecrated life is a transformation, a re-founding firmly based on Gospel values and the particular charism of the founder or foundress as approved and fostered by the Holy See.

Back to the basics. The ongoing renewal of religious life has to be rooted in the life of the Church. Otherwise, such a project will just contribute to further confusion and disappointment.

Originally posted 2011-07-29 03:53:05. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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