06 March 2011

Sharing Life

I want to take the time to share what I understand about the need and desire for common life. At this moment, I think that what is needed here at Vanderbilt is the experience of communio, a sharing in the shared life of the Holy Trinity. In the natural order, God imprinted this experience of communion within marriage and family. In the order of grace, He formed the Church as a holy communion. Both of these realities are to be models of the loving communion of persons which is the Holy Trinity. Families should be schools of love, and the Church the embodiment of the family of God. We express the loving Fatherhood of God when we live as brothers and sisters. I have a funny idea that we become better signs of the love of God, of charity, when we live in loving communion.

I am tempted to go on to show why this is so needed particularly now. I am tempted to show the many countersigns of communion that undermine both the family and the Church today. Let it suffice for me to point to the practice of cohabitation before marriage. Couples want to "practice" marriage by cohabitation or by the practical equivalent of cohabitation of being completely emotionally and physically bonded before marriage. I think that practicing marriage is a good idea, but that should have been done by growing up in a loving home and then perhaps by a common life with others after leaving home. College students and young adults find themselves with out communion in daily living. Cohabitation seeks to ease the alienation of the prolonged "bachelorhood" of contemporary young adult living by playing at marriage. Rather than playing at marriage, why don't we try actually living as brothers and sisters, which is what we are? What I am proposing (or perhaps just musing about) are the possibilities for this common family life within the family of God.

Those of you who know me know how lazy I am. Why do the hard work of making something, if it already exists? That's my motto. Never come up with an original thought if there is one to steal! So here I go again. This time I am stealing from St. Philip Neri and his idea of Oratory. More than anything else, the Oratory is a family at prayer. I grew up in a devout family, a praying family; but somehow I missed out on the experience of praying as family. I grew up in the Episcopal Church with its Book of Common Prayer. Again, somehow I never experienced that form of prayer as common prayer. It was beautiful, but I did not have the sense of praying with anyone else -- other than getting really good at knowing the mechanics of that form of prayer so much so that I became a great critic of how other people were praying. (Screwtape, take note!) I firmly believe that we need form but we also need the freedom found within loving communion. I believe that the Oratory provides this -- certainly not exclusively, but effectively.

St. Philip proposed the idea of the faithful gathering, indeed with a father but as a family, to pray. This prayer included meditation, sacred reading, commentary by all present, intercessory and other prayer in common, as well as reflection on the saints and the Church, and singing -- and, of course, invocation of Our Blessed Mother. Works of charity were also supremely important as were opportunities for common recreation, like the walk to the seven churches. Eventually, the Congregation of the Oratory came into existence which established common living, not under the rule of vows like religious life but under the rule of charity alone.

Of course, this ideal has proven at times not to be wildly practical -- like St. Philip himself. And yet it speaks to me of the spirit of the early Church. Indeed, one of St. Philip's favorite places was the catacombs. This ideal also seems to speak to our times.

A few brothers have begun to meet on Wednesday night late to pray in this Oratorian fashion. It has immediately become one of the high points of my week. I am trying to promote such practices more widely within Vandy Catholic. I also think that there are more opportunities to live as brothers and sisters. Last night, I was trying to explain what I meant by "common life" to some young gentlemen who have already experience the joy of living with friends. But I was proposing something further, and the best I could do to explain it was to propose living as family. It is not the same thing. There is more commitment to family, even though the commitment might not be easy to spell out in a rule. The best example that I could come up with was laundry. I don't think that friends do laundry for each other much but family do -- well, you know what I mean, I hope!

This may not make much sense to you, but it has helped me to clarify my vision. This post is not at all about "nuts and bolts" but about the why. I think that we should live as brothers and sisters because we are. We become a better sign of the fundamental reality of our lives that we are children of God.


Anonymous said...

This is a beautiful idea. You began
by speaking of the Holy Trinity, the
family life of God. This is where
your idea of communio differs from
those who speak of building
community. It seems to me to be
more grounded, starting with the
horizontal relationship to God and
having it overflow in love of
neighbor. It would seem to require
a great emphasis on regular
confessions not in order to dwell on
one's imperfections but in order to
receive the graces, the very life
of the Holy Trinity, to be sensitive to other's needs--to
even anticipate needs. It is so
often the seemingly little things
that drive us apart.

Anonymous said...

"I grew up in a devout family, a praying family; but somehow I missed out on the experience of praying as family...I firmly believe that we need form but we also need the freedom [of prayerful relationships] found within loving communion." Substance and form; mystery, manners, and stoicism; "Jesus Love"; "Live Jesus". St. Francis de Sales knew the same formality until his second conversion. It seems as if St. Catherine of Siena loved the heart of the matter in "What is the matter?" It takes so much time and effort to be real. You're not lazy, Father. You are working heroically to be real and not a Southern stoic. Couragio!

Diezba said...

Your vision of this family-lifestyle is much clearer to me, now, thanks to the concrete example of laundry.

If it meant that I could sing the Office with my roommates every day, I would happily agree to a laundry rotation. Not to mention dishwashing!