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The blog of the Dominican student brothers at Blackfriars, Oxford.

Built on the four pillars of our Dominican life – preaching, prayer, study, and community – Godzdogz offers many resources for exploring the Catholic Faith today.
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Dominican Life: Community life.

Friday, March 08, 2019

Community Life is one of the most important aspects of Dominican Life and a distinguishing feature between the religious life and the life of the diocesan clergy. In the rule of St. Augustine, which we as Dominicans have as our rule, St. Augustine writes that above everything else the purpose of living together is to live in harmony. 

To be of one heart and one mind. However, this is not to be understood solely in terms of the priory to which one is assigned but as our constitutions say ‘this unity finds its full dimension beyond the convent, in the province and the entire order’. Nor does our community consist solely with those who are living, but we have a special care for our brethren who have ‘gone before us’ to celebrate their achievements, to reflect upon what they taught and above all to pray for them. Our constitutions make clear, the unity we have is derived from obedience in love to God. Community life is at its heart concerned with charity.

Brothers receive strength and encouragement from each other. Community life, at its best, helps us to grow in holiness and gives opportunities for service. Not only do brothers willingly share in the work assigned to them but also share the work of brothers who are overburdened for the common good. We have a particular care for those who are struggling and those who are sick. ‘Charity must not remain hidden at the bottom of our hearts, for ‘No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar, but on the lampstand so that those who enter may see the light.’’ – St. Therese of Lisieux

Community life is both, a purgatorial fire where each brother becomes more acutely aware of their vices so they can be rooted out, and the soothing ointment that heals scars. It is in the context of community life that what we seek in profession ‘God’s Mercy and Yours’ becomes a tangible reality. Br. Timothy Radcliffe points out ‘how can we preach that all the world will be gathered together in Christ if we cannot be one with each other?’. We are then called to be a witness to the Kingdom by our community living, even when no one sees but our heavenly father who sees all. Sometimes this mercy comes in the form of a smile or kind word as St. Therese of Lisieux points out in A Story of a Soul, ‘A word or a smile is often enough to put fresh life in a despondent soul’.

St. Therese was struck by Jesus in the Gospel of John when Jesus says ‘I call you friends’ combining this with Jesus’s command ‘love one another as I have loved you’. St. Therese writes how she set out to find how Jesus had loved his disciples, how he loved her in particular and from this how she is to love her sisters. St. Therese says ‘it was not for their natural qualities, for they were ignorant and taken up with earthly things’. St Therese realises ‘I did not really love them as Jesus loves them’ because she sought out the company of sisters she was fond of; the company which she enjoyed.

St. Therese writes of her friendship with a sister that it was not a ‘spiritual friendship’. She was initially attracted by her virtue and they sought each other out. Therese writes ‘we became intimate friends and were allowed to talk together about spiritual matters, to develop an affection which showed signs of helping us in the practice of virtue. I was charmed by her innocence; she was so frank and open…’. For St. Therese this was an exclusive type of friendship which she believed she was called to sacrifice if she was to love as Christ loves. The friendship had been, for Therese, a form of self-indulgence rather than true friendship. The two sisters promised to point out each other’s faults to support each other in their growth of virtue. St. Therese believed she had been seeking comfort rather than Christ. St. Therese goes on to say ‘You know very well, Mother, that I had no intention of turning her away from you, only of making it clear that true love feeds on sacrifice and becomes more pure and strong the more our natural satisfaction is denied… what do I conclude from this? That I must seek out the company of the Sisters who, naturally speaking, repel me, and be their Good Samaritan’. St. Therese connects this to Luke 14:12-14, we do not give only to those who will repay us, we are blessed when people cannot repay us. This form of friendship, is then, perhaps, distinctively Christian and broadens the horizons of friendship giving it a transcendental character. 

There is a debate to be had surrounding the natural affinity Jesus has or does not have for his disciples. A natural affinity is a natural thing, but we should not fall into factionalism or love others with anything less than the love with which Christ loved them – which is the supreme love. The disciples felt the love Jesus had for them in a tangible sense, hence ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’. I find it telling that after Therese died, a sister whom she had found particularly difficult burst into tears saying she knew Therese had loved her the most.

You are formed in community, by the community. It is precisely because the community is a school of Charity that the community teaches you about yourself; your ability to listen, to understand, to forgive, to take the benign interpretation, to be generous, to be kind, and to love. The community loves each individual member and seeks to express that love. 

When we lay on the floor at profession, prostrate, we are laying down our lives for our brethren, essentially dying to our self. This death is lived in community and by which we taste the resurrection. This being with others should both purify our heart rather than harden it, and give us a foretaste of that freedom, glory and love to which we are called.

‘Greater love has no man than this, than to lay down his life for his brethren’ - John 15:13.


Br Thomas Mannion O.P.

Br Thomas Thérèse Mannion O.P.



Comments

Szymon commented on 11-Mar-2019 02:59 PM
I was just waiting for a reference to St Thérèse! ;)

Very beautiful, but difficult. It's not immediately obvious how we can honestly love those we do not particularly like.

Also, I struggle a bit with St Thérèse abandoning her intimate friendship. Isn't it good to rejoice in the internal beauty and goodness of another? Was the problem that her friendship wasn't really disinterested even though she was seeking to use it to grow in virtue? Could she not keep it?

Another thing, what does this mean for us, who are building the kingdom of God while living in the secular world as opposed to in a religious community - shall we revisit what intentions hide behind our friendships and be ready to let some of them go? It seems particularly difficult for those living the single life vocation, whose life is hooked on intimate friendships.
Anonymous commented on 03-May-2019 10:40 PM
Really it may seem quite difficult for this way of life, but it is an interesting and integral part of our life as Dominicans I cherish the most. The major burdens (in relation to common life) I have been able to discover since my journey to God through the Order and with the brothers are the burdens of misunderstanding and the vast difference in our personalities.
I may be one who loves to be who I am, while at the same time trying to satisfy the needs of the brothers by availing myself, I discover that my contributions are either accepted or declined by some, who would have wanted me to be themselves living in myself. and here comes the difficulty. If all the friars in the convent is able to realize that everyone is a tangible and valuable one, whose living is a melodious experience of the beauty of God which rings out to the ends of the earth, then the crises brought about by personality difference will be resolved
I never felt the beauty of common life, especially the aspect that requires subduing one's interest to the need and interest of the community, until the time I fell ill. I became one who attracted the attention and affection of the brothers, and it made me more aware of the fact that the community is healthy only when all are in good health, and alive only when the joys of others are restored to life.
YES THE COMMON LIFE HAS MADE US ALL COMMON AND UNITED, WHOLLY AND HOLY, MORE FAITHFUL AND FAITH-FILLED.

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