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Continuing Our Journey: The OSA Intermediate Chapter

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A few days ago (September 30, 2010), delegates to the Augustinian Order’s Intermediate Chapter (2010) celebrated the closing Mass for the event. The Intermediate Chapter is a “Chapter” that is celebrated between two General Chapters. A “General Chapter” is a solemn assembly of the Order where the representative friars coming from the different circumscriptions make decisions regarding its life and mission. One of the important matters made during a General Chapter is the election of the Prior General who will lead the Order in carrying out the decisions it has made. General Chapters are held every six years. The Intermediate Chapter held three years after the General Chapter is a monitoring mechanism. It helps the Order see the extent to which it has carried out the decisions made during the General Chapter. It is also preparatory in character in that it helps the friars focus on particular matters that can be discussed during the next General Chapter.

The 2010 Intermediate Chapter was held in Barasoain, Bulacan. The La Consolacion Sisters provided the venue. I was not an insider in the Chapter so I wouldn’t know what actually transpired. I, like most friars, will have to wait for the official documents. The thing about documents is that these filter out the drama that goes on during the actual Chapter. I know because I served as a maintenance helper during one of our General Chapters held in Rome back in the late 1980s. The “drama” is not all that important though. There is “drama” because no one involved in a historical event really and fully understands what is going on. A historical event is never understood by those contemporaneous to it; it is only by retrospect that it is fully understood. The “drama” in a General or Intermediate Chapter is due to fact that the men involved in it remember the past differently and anticipate the future differently. We are all caught up between memory and anticipation, after all.

During the Mass, the Prior General gave the homily. It was providential that the closing Mass was celebrated during the feast of St. Jerome. St. Jerome is known for the Vulgate translation of the Scriptures, the “Popular Version” of the Bible during his time. He was a priest from Rome who went to the Holy Land and lived as a hermit in a cave, dedicating himself to the Scriptures. He also exchanged a few letters with St. Augustine, some of which are on the the way he was translating the Old Testament from the Hebrew (Augustine was partial to the Septuagint and because of this was not always happy with what Jerome is doing). During the homily, the General referred to St. Jerome when he reminded the friars of the Intellectual-Cultural dimension of our life. This reference to St. Jerome, one of the Fathers of the Church, is not occassional. After all, the axiom “Vita fratrum vita patrum formatur” (“The life of the brothers is formed from the life of the Fathers”) is as Augustinian as the Bread of St. Nicholas.

The gospel for the day was the Lucan account of the sending of the Seventy-Two (Luke 10:1-12). The General noted that the disciples sent numbered seventy-two, the same number of friars involved in the Intermediate Chapter. This provided him an occassion to remind the Chapter members of the challenges the Order is to face in the coming years. Mention was made of the challenges involving the number of friars, increasing in Asia-Pacific and Africa, dwindling in Europe and the Americas. More and more friars desire the handing on of the tradition and heritage of the Order, while at the same time, friars capable of maintaining the institutions that are capable of handing these traditions down are diminishing in number. The Order of St. Augustine is a European phenomenon: it was formed from a core of Italian hermit communities united under the Rule of St. Augustine in 1244 to which other more established communities within and without Italy were added in 1256. The Order is special in the history of religious congregations because it did not grow in numbers gradually as in the case of other religious congregations. It grew in numbers by addition of groups, not by individuals. It is for this reason that a little over ten years after its founding, it already became an “international” Order. Saak noted in his book (described here) that one of the problems the Order had to face since its beginnings was the fact that it was spread far apart with a relatively few number of friars. (He does not agree with the computations of David Guttierez, OSA, of course, whose calculations about the number of the friars he judged to be “generous”.) It was due to this, he writes, that the Order’s agenda has always been the reform of the life of the friars.

We don’t call it “reform” now, because of the “Lutheran” connotations of the word. Today and in the recent past, we’ve called this “the ongoing renewal of Augustinian life”. And this — according to Saak — is a characteristic of the Order’s life long before Vatican II. Augustine himself planted the seed for this. The ascent to the New Jerusalem should be continuous, not stopping until the goal of the pilgrimage is reached. And because the pilgrimage can be tiring, the pilgrims should be like deers in taking turns to help one another continue onwards. (I do not remember the references to these, but the friars reading this would know, I hope.)

When the Prior General reminded the Chapter members of the challenges that the Order had to face, he mentioned this continuing renewal of our lives. Right now, the Asia-Pacific Augustinians are undergoing a project of renewal. Our 2010 Provincial Retreat is but an initial instance of this project. A few years back, a team of friars from the General Curia directed our retreat. Their aim was to help us focus on our identity as members of the Mendicant Order founded in 1244 and 1256. This was followed up in 2008 by Fr. Dueweke, OSA by a retreat that reintroduced us to the heritage of the Order: its life, its convictions, and its work. In 2009, our retreat was on a re-reading of the Rule of St. Augustine in the light of current concerns. During our recent retreat, we focused on “The Sharing of Goods” which is like a prism that sheds light on the whole Rule and on the different aspects of our life as friars. It also helped us focus on the New Jerusalem ideal of Augustine, what the bishop of Hippo referred to as “the rule of the apostles”:

And do not call anything your own, but let everything be yours as “things held in common”, and let food and clothing be distributed to each one not egually to all — because you are all unequal with respect to health — but rather to each one according to one’s needs. You read about this in the Acts of the Apostles, that “all things were common to all of them and distribution was made to each one according to each one’s needs” (Acts 4, 32.35) — Rule 4

The theme of renewal is stated in the document of the General Chapter 2007 thus:

We need to be aware that what is truly important is the renewal of our life together … This requires a process of change and conversion: an authentic inner renwal, which goes together with a change in structures and necessarily involves a renewal in our formation with repercussions in our mission as well.

A continual effort for an authentic renewal is always necessary … and perhaps today more than ever (faced with the accelerated change of culture, society and the Church itself, and without forgetting the challenges of the multiplicity of cultures and the challenge of inculturation). Although difficult, it is possible (we have a rich human and spiritual heritage that enables us to address the challenge). Conscious of that and without forgetting the achievements of recent history … we need to continue moving forward, allowing ourselves to be challenged by the words of Augustine:

“We are complete and incomplete at the same time. Complete in our condition as travellers, incomplete because we have not yet arrived at our goal… Make progress,my brothers, examine yourselves honestly again and again. Put yourselves to the test. Do not be content with what you are, if you want to become what you are not yet. For where you have grown pleased with yourself, there you will remain. But if you say, ‘that’s enough’, then you are finished. Always add something more, keep moving forward, always make progress” (Sermon 169, 15.18)

Note the clauses in parenthesis and the quote from Augustine. Our more than seven hundred years of existence as an Order provide us with a lot of memory and accumulated resources both human and spiritual to look forward and beyond the changing horizons of our days towards the New Jerusalem, the goal of our pilgrimage. But until we arrive, we will have to make changes where necessary, to continue dying to ourselves so that we can live on, moving forward and making progress so that we can finally reach our destination, carrying the weary on our backs if necessary so that when refreshed, they too can carry us when our tired limbs give way, supporting one another like deers crossing a stream, so that we can arrive together in our true homeland. I think that Chapters are condensed versions of the life of the Order, and this recently concluded Intermediate Chapter is no different. It is an event with human drama, but it is also a moment of grace. The grace-part we also experienced during the closing Mass. In the coming days, as the decisions and resolutions of this Intermediate Chapter are interiorized by the members of the Order, we expect a lot of human drama too. But as I said above, that will be because we do not fully understand the events we are contemporaneous to. Let the historians of the future evaluate and judge this Intermediate Chapter. For now, the journey must go on…

Photos from the closing Mass of the Intermediate Chapter 2010 are available at the AgustinongPinoy Gallery.

Originally posted 2010-10-07 00:51:26. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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