February 2021 Recollection Materials: HE EMPTIED HIMSELF
Translated by Fray Dunstan Huberto Decena, OAR
The 4th chapter of the document To live out Poverty: Grace and Challenge of the Prior General, is entitled “Our Poverty: Grace and Hope.” From this we can say that it is a reflection on the elemental dispositions that should be in our lives in order that consecrated poverty may have meaning. On this regard it would be fitting to call to mind St. Augustine who used to discern between true asceticism and false privations, for which he used to start from the motives that bring about their practices. For him, any practice or action must be discerned with the light of the Word of God and the motivations that make us do them, and without doubt this is important when dealing with our form of living out poverty.
Since this 4th chapter is rather long, the material we present for our monthly recollection does not intend to repeat it, rather to stimulate a re-reading and, above all, create an adequate disposition to pray alone, as well as with the brothers in community. Therefore, we shall underline some points that Fr. General suggests, and then we shall point out some questions that lead us to reflection and prayer.
Come Holy Spirit.
Our weakness needs the assistance of the Sweet Guest of the soul, the Holy Spirit, consoler and father of the poor. We beg him for his gifts and the realization of his fruits in us.
Holy Spirit, come, illumine my dulled mind, clarify my perspectives, open my ears to the word of Jesus an make fruitful in us love, peace, patience, kindness, faith, meekness and temperance (Gal. 5:22). That the poverty of a God who gives himself completely, be our greatest wealth. Amen.
Free my heart.
The first section of the chapter speaks to us of the capacity to set free, that authentic poverty has. Christian anthropology sees man from the perspective of the history of salvation as a being called to freedom, but that freedom, after the original sin, needs to be freed. Poverty, in the Gospel meaning of the word, is a means to free the freedom and avoid the many slaveries that ensnare the human heart. The liberating poverty changes the perspective of a religious and, in this way, the riches are not the things but the persons:
“Our great patrimony as an Order is not the money we can possess, our wealth are the religious, their unconditional surrender to Christ and their humble and simple service to others. Let us open our eyes, let us see with the spirit of faith our elders and the sick who dedicated their life with fidelity and joy, working much and saving as much as possible yet always generous to others. Let us admire the young who leave behind their job, and human dreams and securities, to become Augustinian Recollects. Let us remember the dedication of the brothers who day after day are with the poor in the missions and in ministries of human and spiritual poverty. Let us appreciate the religious who, with self-denial and sacrifice, work full of the illusion to continue serving in zones of mission, parishes, centers of education and houses of formation” (4.1).
Well then, it is not easy to arrive at this vision of things. To arrive at contemplating in this way the reality that surround us, there is need for a whole series of attitudes, underlined in the second section:
- Reconfigure our desires with the light of the Word of God.
- Consider personal and communitarian process of growth in poverty as the work of grace and a result of a humble life in the most profound meaning of the word.
- Not to lose sight of the need for a permanent discernment and a desire to live this way in communion.
- To wager for virtues that precisely are not in fashion: simplicity, sobriety, frugality, and austerity.
Help me to share more.
The third section situates us before realities closely related to our daily life: community of goods, work and solidarity. They seem to be three interdependent realities. Without community of goods what type of work can we offer? What kind of work can really give me solidarity with the others? We must revise our idea about community of goods from the perspective of the Prior General’s words, inspired by St. Augustine: For him, it is “a way of constructing new relationships of equality and unity in the bosom of the community.”
Lord, that I may learn from the choices made by so many religious.
Some affirmations of popes like St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis, permit the Prior General to remind us that the option for the poor is not something ideological or cultural, nor can it be put aside; rather it is above all theological, Christological, essential to the Christian faith. In fact, the Order and many religious have made such choice very seriously, that it leaves us with a question and a challenge for the present:
“In all the stages of the history of the Order there had been communities that were characterized by responding with their prayers, creativity, efforts and generosity to the human and social needs of the poor and the indigent. The general government, each province, each community and each one of us, ought to feel summoned and committed, whatever may be the situation, age, ministry or office is occupied. It is about an evangelical option that is personal and of the whole Order to change us and try to change our community structures, those of society and those of the culture that impede it” (4.4).
If it were necessary, to revise the criteria of evaluation.
To rethink a reality or situation necessarily implies to recognize that we are moving towards a series of criteria, whatever they may be. What are the criteria that we find in our Order to make a judgment of value concerning our presences and social works? How do I pursue this process of evaluation? The Church and the General invite us to an in-depth discernment, that perhaps should raise up changes of sensibility and mentality.
“The apostolic works and institutions belonging to the Order (education centers, churches, buildings, houses of formation) are not only a means to secure the sustainability of our own institute, but also belong to the fruitfulness of the charism. This implies questioning ourselves if our works manifest or not the charism we have professed, if they fulfill or not the mission entrusted to us be the Church. The principal criterion of evaluation of the works is not its income, but if it corresponds to the charism and the mission that the Order is called to fulfill” (4.5).
Let us take care of our house…
The prophetic words of Pope Francis in the encyclical Laudato si today acquire its full meaning. Only the fool would not notice it. Well then, what can be the meaning and what are the implications of personal and communitarian living out of integral ecology? Certainly there are no prescriptions and clear and distinct answers to this question. We have a long history, since 1588, but until now we had not been especially preoccupied about the ecological question, at least not in the actual terms nor had we been confronted with a problem with such magnitude. Where can we, the Augustinian Recollects, make a start? Something is sure:
“We, the Augustinian Recollects, cannot remain enclosed in our small world and not have a global vision of the reality in order to assume our responsibility and declare ourselves in defense of the poor, the weak and vulnerable, in a debate often dominated by the interests of the more powerful” (4,6).
Let the names and the facts of our history speak to me.
Upon reading the last point of the chapter that inspires our recollection, we cannot stop admiring: being so fragile and considering such limitations both personal and institutional, we have accomplished so much. The history, with so many names and places, tell us that it is possible to walk those paths of believer’s social commitments, perhaps with new procedures, but with the same passion. We will have to re-read and pray over this point of the chapter in thanksgiving…
A biblical text for prayer.
One of the texts cited at the beginning of chapter four of our document is Phil 2:8. Perhaps we can use this quote as an invitation to once again scrutinize the complete Christological hymn. Furthermore, it is perhaps convenient that we take as our point of departure the exhortation that Paul gives to the Philippians to make his joy complete, coming to live in unanimity and in consonance with the example of Christ. Let us take time in our recollection to make a meditative and prayerful reading of this text and let us take note of the motions of the Holy Spirit in each of us:
Complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory, rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also everyone for those of others. Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness, and found human in appearance. He humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on the cross” (Phil. 2:2-8).
Quotes from St. Augustine for meditation and prayer.
The saints acquire a particular capacity to call things by name: they know what is “wealth” and what is “poverty.” Well then, let us think in the experience of poverty and wealth what is hidden behind the following words and let us see what they say to the heart:
“Only one thing I know: it is bad for me to be far from you, Lord, and not only outside of me, but including within myself; and all wealth that is not my God, is poverty “ (conf. 13, 8,9).
“I have learnt to be content with what I have. I know how to walk with lack, as well as in abundance. I am ready for anything and in everything: for satiety or for hunger, for abundance or for privation. I can do all things in him who comforts me (Phil. 11:13). Comfort me again that I may be capable for it. Give what you command and command what you will” (conf. 10, 31, 45).
Extracts for reflection and sharing in community.
“The humble can see without fear his own reality, without perfectionism nor pessimism, and because he is capable to tell the truth to himself and of recognizing the dignity and the relational character of every human person, he can be in solidarity with the others. If we are humble, we feel poor, we accept our imperfection, at the same time we are called to overcome our deficiencies with simplicity and confidence” (4.2.1).
1. According to these words, What is the relation between humility and poverty?
2. Is something said in this text reflected in your dealings with others?
“Living out poverty should imply for us the care for the whole of Creation and motivate a permanent formation on integral ecology, to understand that the environment is a gift from God and a common inheritance that must be cared for, not destroyed. Integral ecology can be a road to feel poor and grateful before God” (4.6).
1. Do you feel that you have the instruments to live a permanent formation as what is suggested above? Would you like that more work be done in this direction?
2. What do you believe can be done to care with greater attention for the environment that surrounds you?
Lord Jesus, transparency of the poor and rich life before the eyes of the Father, you who were and are truly free, meek and humble of heart, guard us from the temptation to leave aside the evangelical poverty and the poor. Let the weight of our love move us by your Spirit, to find the energies of simple work of everyday in the wealth of your heart. Amen.