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Community Living

Posted on: 1 Dec, 2014

Modified on: 1 Dec, 2014

By Fr. Telesphore Dang s.j.

Community Living
A talk to the Jesuits of Ranchi Zone on 28th July, 2005.
(Fr. Telesphore Dang s.j.)

Reverend Fr. Provincial, respected Rectors, Superiors and my dear fathers and brothers, as has been announced, the topic for the talk this evening is, “community Living”. Father Rector of Manresa House gave me all the freedom to determine the area, to select the theme and to formulate the topic for the talk this evening. When I say’ the community’ I mean the religious community, and specifically, in our context, the Jesuit Community.

For a day or two as I was trying to determine the area, select the theme and formulate the topic, all of a sudden, in one concentrated moment of intensity, I experienced something quite unexpected. I was gripped by a kind of overpowering experience of the Holy Spirit of God, which impressed a profound message in my heart and at the core of my entire being and person, that I should give a talk on community Living.

As I reflected and prayed on the theme it became quite clear that it was my own personal yearning from within for the community living.

Allow me to touch upon the life style of my recent past, in order to high light the yearning within. The yearning within seems to have sprung forth from the vacuum in the cave of heart. The vacuum within might have been the result of my life style in the recent past; in the recent past I lived as appendicitis attached to various Jesuit communities for 9 years, 5 months and 15 days. I lived in Mandar Parish for 5 years attached to Manresa House. Then I had an interval of 5 months in Patrachauli. After that while staying at Kripa Foundation Vasai, Mumbai, I was attached to Vinayalaya, Andheri, Mumbai for a year and a month of late I was at Friendship House Talapada in Kerala but attached to St. Aloysius College Community, Mangalore for 3 years.

Staying at Mandar was not all that bad since the (social surrounding) itself was homely and there was a Jesuit to live with all the time, and in my case they were Frs. Leo Bara and Paul Terrens. And also, in those days, Medical Mission Sisters of the Holy Family Hospital Commuity considered themselves part of the Manresa Community and vice versa, since at the at time they did not have the house of their own in the city. In patrachauli, I was well taken care of by Frs. Patick Tete and Xavier Kerketta. As I moved on to Mumbai Fr. Sylvanus Kerketta traced me out by the help of Archdiocesan telephone Directory and invited me to met him and other Province men at St. Xavier’s College Community in Mumbai. During the visitation, I met Fr. Provincial at St. Xavier’s and after that he came to see the place where I was staying, spent a night and met my local and immediate Superiors. His visit was much appreciated by them. Vinayalaya infirmary there was an elderly priest who had the vision problem from the very beginning o his priesthood and with this age he was almost blind. But whenever I went and greeted him, he would say, ‘oh Telesphore!’ Then the other priest would say, yes Telesphore, and that’s why I am coming with my old guitar.

In Mangalore I was attached to the college community. During the visit of Fr. General, Fr. Rector of the college introduced all the Jesuits of Mangalore zone to Fr. General, and to each other. Since then I enjoyed the solidarity of the Jesuits in and around Mangalore. The Bishop of Mangalore himself and other priests working in the Bishop’s House were welcoming, friendly and accommodating. One day as both of us were talking tea at 10 o’clock, the Bishop asked me if I knew his name. I said yes. But he said, no I am known as AP = Approachable. Approachable Bishop? I inquired. No simply Approachable. Wherever I moved I was appointed for the post on consultation with the Provincial, local authority and immediate superior. In the same way the financial matter too was settled. Every year I met the Provincial or the Provincial of the place or both of them for the manifestation of conscience. Went to the communities for confessions, recollections, feast day celebration, gatherings and annual retreats.

Thus, to a certain extent I was able to meet the ideals and objectives of the community life in the Society of Jesus. For example, I could experienced the bonds of union based on the union of minds and hearts in accordance with the union with God in Christ Jesus that flows into brotherly communion and obedience to the Superior, (Const. Nos. 655-676; GC 32, Decree 11, Nos. 2-15). More concretely, I was able to abide by the ideas and views commonly held by the Church and her authorized teachers that have been adopted by the Society (Const. No. 47). Also I was able to be one in thought and word in my sermons, public lectures, newsletters and leaflets. In accordance with the Constitutions, No. 273 which says, “union and harmony must be by all means be fostered, and the contrary disallowed, so that welded together by brotherly love, all may the more fruitfully spend themselves in god’s service and assistance to His people. I enjoyed encouraging brotherly love and solidarity in exploring my abilities, (Const. NO. 280) Const. No. 821 speaks of contributions, importance of brotherly love, uniformity, bond of obedience and dependency. This was partly fulfilled through e-mails, letters and Ranchi Bulletin.

However, the fact remains that I did not live in the Jesuit community, and not even in the Province. This meant, for example, concerning ‘the interior need for familiarity with God’ (GC 32. Decree 11, No 36), except the personal prayer (ibid. No. 8), that is, daily concelebrated Eucharist, reading of the Breviary in the morning and in the evening and occasional recitation of the Rosary, I was deprived of community prayer (GC 31, Decree 19, No 7 and Decree 14, No. 15; GC 32, Decree 11, No.41) Similarly, I could not participate in the communitarian discernment, community life, community dialogues, community meetings and community consultation, (GC 32, Decree 11, Nos. 21-25). I could not contribute towards the building up of the community, (GC 32. Decree 11, No 16). I escaped the conflicts and common struggles of the community life, (Ibid Nos. 16&17). Since I was out of the common apostolate of the Province I don’t know the youngsters of the Province, as there was no interpersonal relationship or any direct association (ibid No. 15).

I suppose, the point of reference I made in the beginning of the talk, and that is , the ‘yearning within for the community living’ should be clear by now. This yearning also led me to read with great interest on the community life during my annual retreat this time at Fatima Retreat House, Mangalore. I was specially impressed by a booklet, “Religious Life: A Profile of the Future” by Finbarr B. Connolly, C. SS. R. I would like to share some of the outstanding features of community life from the booklet. While dealing with ‘ an internal affinity with life in a community’, sees the pattern of community life in the pattern of the Trinity. He writes, “For most of us the Blessed Trinity is a mystery to be worshipped at a distance in reverent silence. We associate the mystery of the Trinity with the inner life of the divinity. God is only one God, yet he is three persons. We have accepted this as a fact but we have neither understood it nor seen any relevance to life in it. It is part of God’s mysteriousness, but it has not touched our lives. In present day spirituality, the mystery of the Trinity holds a central and very relevant place in life. It is no way a mystery of divine secrets only. It is the mystery that speaks most eloquently to us about the meaning of life. It shows us the pattern along which life is arranged and lived.

In God there are three persons; each different from the other and yet all three marvelously one God. That divine pattern is the pattern of all life. Life is put together on a pattern of difference and unity- a pattern that extends from stones to the stars. Each being is its own self and is in its own placed and yet each is part of a unity.

Our human life follows this pattern too. Each one of us is distinct and unique and yet we are made to be part of the unity. Growing; coming to completeness, involves two things for us: becoming one’s true self and taking one’s place in the group. Distinctness and togetherness outline the pattern of human development. Christian life is the pouring forth into us of the very life of the Blessed Trinity. The spirit we have received an by whose breath we live, is a Spirit of distinctness and of unity. To be oneself within a loving group is the Christian ideal ‘ ‘Being together’ has a value in itself. It expresses a mystery that extends beyond the benefits that people draw from being in a community. A Christian community reflects and shares the pattern of life in the Blessed Trinity. It is a good thing for the members of a community to come together and to reflect on this mystery that is present among them. We are so action oriented th6 when we do come together, we feel we have to work at some think or decide something, to justify our being together. The element of mystery in community life is passed over lightly; Basically living is growing. Externally, community is togetherness. Religious live together, they share meals, they work as a team, they pray together and they share their incomes. They have certain values or live by, which help efficiency and stability, they can achieve their ideal with much greater assurance, in serving the Church and people they can work better. It is helpful as it can provide the emotional support we need. It is also challenging - a challenge that is good for people living together as a group.

However. We need to look beyond these evident values. We need to know it is a mystery. We need to realize that the living together of Christians has a value in itself, over and above the good that it can bring to each one of us. Christian togetherness expressed as far deeper reality is in the Trinity, than we perhaps been aware of.

However, in reality, what is a religious community? Citing the parable of the wheat and the weeds, Finbarr reminds us that a wheat field is a mixture of green wheat stalks and yellow weeds. Jesus compares the kingdom of god with a field of wheat, with weeds growing up through it.



A religious community is also a mixture. Any comprehensive work for community growth must start from that reality. A religious community is not a perfect, and should not be treated as a prefect entity. Life in any community is a mixture of things done well and of things done badly; of things that we like and a whole lot that we do not like and would love to get rid of. It is a mixture of magnificent intentions and of poor results. Every community is made up of great human goodness and much human failure. In fact, each single one of us bears the same stamp- we are mixtures. What we are called on to believe is that God is present in the whole mixture. And it is on this very point that our faith is faulty. We may think that God is smilingly present in the whole of life, even in what is wrong. He took up the wrongness of Calvary and turned it into resurrection. The core of our faith is that God was victoriously present in the ‘mess’ of Calvary. God is also present in the ‘mess’ of community life; in the mixture that is community.

What then does growth involve in a community? This was the kind of question that the parable had asked their master- ‘Somebody has gone and sown weeds in your wheat field, should we go and pull them up, They thought that the best thing to do for the healthy growth of the wheat was to pull up the weeds at once. But their master told them not to. ‘wait until the harvest. Let the wheat and the weeds grow together side by side and we shall separate the two at the time of harvesting,’ he said.

We are concerned with community growth. So how do we go about it? Working for growth is not primarily a matter of truing to root out all mistakes and faults from the members of the community. It is rather, a matter of combining two distinct attitudes: of allowing the good and the bad to exist side by side and waiting and waiting for ‘God’s moment, (the moment of harvest) in which to remove the bad; - it is a matter of patience and understanding an and waiting for the correct opportunity of healing. Adopting one without the other harms true community growth. Every moment is not the right moment of challenging and healing. Neither is a community to become a place of limitless tolerance.

The balance between patience and concern is one that we do not achieve with ease. We consistently forget the presence of the healing and creative spirit of God in our midst. We forget that the building of community is predominantly His work, not ours. The spirit has His own way and his own time to work things out. We must leave him his way and be alert for his time.

We can draw great self- satisfaction from launching a vigorous attack on ‘weeds’. There is a sense of achievement in pulling them up, but in doing so we can often pull up a whole lot of wheat as well. We can correct faults but at the same time we can also crush the spirit of an individual who has committed them. A community needs to reflect on the fact that God is present in the mixture, which is God is in the wrongness as much as in the rightness; if we are both tolerant and alert, he will lead us to the moment of healing.

Reflection on the parable of the wheat and the weeds should change our attitude to community growth. We are not communities of perfection. Each one of us is in some way wounded. There are dark corners in our lives that stand in the way of our being our true selves in the group. Yet each one should be made to feel that the community is a good place for a wounded person to be in; that it is a place of healing where each one will be accepted as he is and yet be challenged to be better, at the right the main work of the community is to nourish the growth of the wheat; to lead each one gently forward towards God’s moment. This is something, which demands great self-denial of us. It is not very difficult to work and to achieve. What is difficult is to let go’ of something that we would like to do. Real asceticism is found in waiting for the love we believe in, to work.

Love we believe in, works in unity. Christian holiness is to be discovered in unity. The great prayer of Jesus for all of us was: “ that they may be one, as you Father are in me and I in you; may they be one in us.” Jesus had often spoken of love; of its necessity and its practical demands. But in these words of St. John’s Gospel, the accent is not so much on love, as on unity in love.

Unity adds something to love. It draws the bonds of love together in such a way that love is obvious. We remain individuals and love makes us grow, - but our final perfection is a communion where the richness of each person is shared in love by all. The love we live by is the love of Jesus shared with us. St. Paul speaks of it as “ poured forth” in us. The love that possessed Jesus was a special kind of love, a love ‘ shared’. It was the shared love of the Trinity that possessed him. So we are not satisfied by a power of virtue, but by a shared love. In the Christian scheme of things- To SHARE IS AS IMPORTANT AS TO LOVE.

There is a passage in Ephesians 4: 15-16 which constitutes a CHARTER for community growth. “ …by speaking the truth in a spirit of love, we must grow up in every way to Christ, who is the head. Under his control all the different parts of the body fit together, and the whole body is held together by every joint with which it is provided. so when each separate part works as it should, the whole body grows and builds itself up through love.” The objective of community growth is clearly stated: “… we must grow in every way to Christ, who is the head.” A Growing up into Christ

The means of community growth are indicated simply, - “ …live by the truth in the spirit of love.” The power which lies within a community will only be released when people live with each other by the truth in the spirit of love.

The manner of our growing also is indicated, “ …the whole body is held together by every joint with which it is provided. So when each separate part works as it should, the whole body grows and builds itself up through love.”

A community grows ‘ building it self up in love’. It grows through the proper growth of each person in it. The power of growth is within a community. It has to come together and listen to its own heart- beat. It is has to reflect on the mystery that is ITSELF.

In our coming together, living together, reflecting together, working together, the truth in the spirit of love within us is waiting to be RELEASED and be EFFECTIVE in our COMMUNITY LIVING AMEN.