Community and Spirituality: A Letter from Brother Edward Driscoll

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*This letter was emailed to Brothers on October 1, 2014

Dear Brothers:

I hope this letter finds you well.  As you may recall, the General Council is asking the Congregation to reflect on and respond to the General Chapter’s Directive onCommunity and Spirituality as part of our ongoing renewal as religious Brothers.   As we begin this process of prayerful reflection and discernment for the present and future life of our Congregation, I ask that we be willing to share with each other our lived experiences, our personal thoughts and feelings about these essential aspects of our way of living as Xaverian Brothers.

I am also quite aware that addressing the issue of community may be very emotional and could polarize us.  Indeed many of us live in a community while others live alone.  The purpose of our congregational reflection, however, is to help us renew what both community and spirituality mean in our shared lives as Xaverian Brothers.  So I ask that we approach the topics with a sense of reverence for each other’s experiences and the willingness to listen to each other.  Over the course of the next year or so, I will be inviting Brothers to share their reflection on the renewal of community life and spirituality for our reflection.

My hope is that we spend adequate time reflecting on a number of experiences that unite us:  our shared fraternity and the physical and human environment in which we live.  Both are essential for the growth of our Xaverian way if I may offer a few words about these two aspects.

Shared fraternity:  when have I (do I) experience the sense of brotherhood with other Xaverians?  How do those experiences shape my life as a Xaverian?  Do I see myself as one of “the band of Brothers” reflected in the vision of our Founder for the Congregation?  What experiences promote our shared fraternity?  What do you suggest to promote a deeper sense of shared fraternity?

The physical and human environment:  how does the physical environment in which I live afford me the space and atmosphere for needed silence, prayer, reflection and sharing fraternity?  Is the physical environment safe, clean and pleasant?  How does the human environment in which I live foster brotherhood, our interdependence and mutual sharing.

In preparing for this very important work, I have been doing good amount of prayer and reading.  I would like to share some thoughts of Father Michael Buckley, SJ who wrote a number of reflections some years back for his Jesuit confrères on the same issues of renewal to which our Chapter Directives are calling us to respond.   Rather than concentrate on community, Fr. Buckley chose to focus his reflection on an Ignatian term, communion or unio animorum (the union of minds and hearts) This union of minds and hearts requires communication among the members. Fr. Buckley feels that communication is the unifying force of all communion.  Doesn’t concordia res parvae crescent also call us to be of one mind and one heart?

Fr. Buckley presents a number of challenging thoughts.  In talking about religious communities, Fr. Buckley makes the following points.  First a community is only religious, if the communication among its member is religious.  His second point is similar.  A community is only Christian if what we communicate to one another is of the Spirit of Christ. Thirdly, a community is Xaverian (did not use the word Xaverian!) if what is shared is the congregation’s values and practices through which Christ’s Spirit is present to us.

Fr. Buckley makes a strong point that the question of community is only partially answered by our traditional symbols, physical presence, common consecration, history and traditions. Some examples of traditional symbols are the CFX lapel pin, the Congregational seal, the chaplet medal, etc.

Then Fr. Buckley goes on to say that the real answer to the question of what is community lies in the communication that is shared among the members.  So for Fr. Buckley the fundamental issue of community is not whether men will live together, but rather how they will live together? He continues.  Community, then, is not whether the members have made some common commitments, but whether they regularly share with one another what those commitments mean to them and to the congregation.

There are examples of what Fr. Buckley encourages in our own Xaverian experience. For example, some communities do faith sharing twice a month with voluntary participation.  Others regularly share insights to their ministry or prayer life in light of a scripture passage.  Personal updates have been a part of the intentional groups.

Fr. Buckley goes on and poses a very thought provoking observation and question that may benefit our present work of renewal.  He says that it does not matter if a Jesuit’s mission takes him away or if he lives in the same residence with others.  The critical question for both is:  What is the level and intensity of fraternal communion in their life?

What caught my attention is what Fr. Buckley sees as the source of fraternal communion–solitude and solidarity. Our ability to share life with our Brothers emerges out of solitary private prayer and contemplation which allows for the detachment needed to be available to each other and for the apostolic mission. In Buckley’s view, the health of a community is related to the communion shared with each other.  The question becomes, “How much of the depth of their lives and of the commitment to Christ do they share with one another.”

In Fr. Buckley’s view, what is at the heart of community is the quality of interpersonal communication, the sharing of one another’s lives.  It is precisely because our mission demands of each of us deep qualities of prayer, reflection, solitude, study, hard work and companionship that there must be a mutual sharing of what is happening to each of us.

As we prepare to begin our  personal and communal response to the Chapter Directive, I wanted to share the above reflection of Fr. Buckley hoping it gives us a fresh insight to what our Founder envisioned for us, what our Fundamental Principles and Charism statement exhort us to be and do together.

In Christ,

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Brother Edward Driscoll, C.F.X.

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