Fraternal Life in Community

[Translated from the original Spanish]

Rome, February 27, 2014

 

44. “Fraternal life in community” is one of the themes stirring greater interest among Legionaries in recent years, as attested to by the many contributions on the topic received by the Central Commission for the revision of the Constitutions or sent directly to the Chapter. Hence, the chapter fathers dedicated ample time to study and reflect upon this aspect of our life. This document presents some of our reflections on fraternal life, keeping in mind principally our communities of apostolate.

45. Fraternal life is essential to religious life1. Its foundation is the call of Christ, who has gathered us to form a family around him. As his disciples and apostles, he reveals to us the love he bears in his heart; he forms us and he sends us out to cooperate in establishing his Kingdom. This fraternal life, a gift of the Holy Spirit2 and a reflection of the communion of the Church3, finds its expression according to the nuances of each specific charism4.

1) Fraternal life in the Legion of Christ

46. We thank our Lord for the dedication and appreciation Legionaries have for fraternal life in community, which has normally been characterized by a climate of respect, kindness and esteem, by speaking well of others and by promoting harmony and peace. These are all gifts to be preserved and lived ever more authentically.

47. We value the abundant fruits of fraternal life. It favors holiness and the acquisition of a mature personality that includes a harmonious affective life. It fosters the spirit of joy that is so helpful in vocation ministry, and it offers a witness of unity and charity to a highly individualistic world.

48. We have noted that certain deficiencies in how we live fraternal life in community have become evident in recent years: a certain individualism and lack of interest in matters common to all; the tendency in communities of apostolate to get so engrossed in the ministry as to reduce participation in community life to the barest minimum, almost viewing it as an obstacle or rival to one’s personal mission 5; a certain reduction of common life to a mere disciplinary obligation or simply “being there” in particular community acts.

49. While the Legion does have its own family spirit, we saw that some members lack the ability to establish rapport as brothers and friends, to share what is theirs and take an interest in others. Among the reasons behind this deficiency we might mention: a mistaken understanding of universal charity that focuses on externals; a certain fear of falling into exclusive friendships; scarcity of the thoughtful gestures that make for warmer fraternal interaction; a misconstrued discretion and reserve that inhibits sharing personal or spiritual experiences; the idea that one should only open his heart to his superior.

50. Mutual trust between superiors and subjects is fundamental to a harmonious and serene community life. Lamentably, in recent years distrust in all levels of authority has entered into our life, causing confusion and suffering, independently of each individual’s function or service. We feel duty-bound to recognize the work of the superiors during these difficult years, even though at times there were errors in their exercise of authority. In this regard, we believe think that sometimes not trusting sufficiently in the subjects or inhibition in decision-making caused a certain vacuum of authority that gave rise to uncertainty and suspicion. As regards the subjects, we notice that in some cases their ability to view the superiors in a supernatural way has diminished, to the degree of challenging or even openly disrespecting them6.

51. Fraternal life in community is an expression of charity. Its root is not to be found in organizational needs. Neither is it a way to obtain everyone’s greater participation and cooperation through building consensus, or a means to be more effective in the mission. It is a gift of the Spirit that, transcending absolute uniformity enables us to live in unity amidst the diversity of persons, cultures, times and places. In this point, the distinction attributed to St. Augustine continues to be valid: “In essentials, unity; in matters of opinion, liberty; in everything, charity.”7

2) Some principles for the renewal of fraternal life in the Legion of Christ

A community centered on God

52. Our relationship with God is the heart of our community life. The Eucharist is therefore the community’s spiritual center (cf. CLC 52)8: there, Legionaries gather in his presence at the beginning and end of their day and at other significant times, and it is where they take their leave of him when they go out and greet him when they return. From him they draw the power to share their spiritual, intellectual, cultural and material benefits.

Forming a consecrated heart

53. All of the above turns the community into God’s family, living in an atmosphere of joy and serenity, where everyone feels “at home”9. In addition, each religious forms in this environment a filial, fraternal and paternal heart, which will be of such great help to him in his priestly ministry.

54. “Filial”, as a son, allowing himself be shaped by God’s action in his life through obedience and docility to the Holy Spirit.

55. “Fraternal”, as a brother, welcoming each one as he is, being concerned for all, taking an interest in knowing them (family, apostolate, health, etc.) and dealing with them cordially and not merely formally. He also strives to lighten his brothers’ crosses and avoids adding to them the weight of his own defects. Likewise, he avoids whatever might make others feel excluded, such as forming groups based on language, country, age or natural affinity. He feels like a living part of the community and so he wants to be there, pleased to take part in fellowship activities and community projects.

56. “Paternal”, as a father, learning to give, and not only receive. With a sense of shared responsibility, he builds up the community and feels accountable for the growth of his brother10. He is able to face the inevitable tensions and helps resolve them maturely11. Lastly, he acquires the heart of a father, mercifully welcoming those who have erred, and is able to ask forgiveness for his own faults.

A community built for mission

57. Bound to God and to each other as brothers, all aspire to form a community on fire for the mission. They are conscious of being a religious community evangelizing a locality through its witness and its apostolic action in Regnum Christi. The mission is not an individual task, but it belongs to all the members of the community, of the locality, of the territory and of the Movement. It is one mission and not simply a sum of apostolates or individual efforts. In this light, the various apostolates have to be considered part of the shared mission.

Mary, mother of the community

58. To the above, we must add the awareness of being sons of the same Mother, Mary. She gathers us as brothers, consoles us in our difficulties and accompanies us on the mission of being apostles of the Kingdom of her Son.

3) Some concrete elements of fraternal life in community

a) Fraternal life, friendship and individualism

59. We would like our communities to be living signs of fraternal charity. Despite these good desires, due to the changes in times and society some doubt and confusion has arisen regarding various aspects of the fraternal life in common proper to the religious state. Taking our lead from the guidelines of the Magisterium of the Church on consecrated life, we will now consider some of these in light of our own charism.

60. Our fraternal life is founded on God’s call to be a Legionary and to form part of a concrete community. This divine call has spiritual implications in our life:

a. Through our consecration, we give ourselves completely, definitively and exclusively to the one, supreme love of Christ. He is the friend of each religious and he is where every consecrated heart seeks consolation.

b. Through our celibacy, which expresses Christ’s spousal love for his Church, we participate in the love that Christ has for every individual—a love that goes out to each and every person.

c. Through the commandment of love, we are called to live universal charity after the example of Christ, who loves each one with a love so great that it brings him to give his life for his friend. Looking at him, nobody feels less loved. And it is his Spirit of Love that moves the consecrated person to open his heart to everyone.

61. In itself, friendship is a gift that arises naturally and spontaneously. In a community setting, there can be humanly speaking difficult relationships, which ought to be welcomed with “crucified love”. In other cases, however, a deeper, more gratifying relationship will evolve which, elevated by grace and supernatural charity, develops into the Christian friendship of a consecrated person. It is therefore possible to have companions we know better than others, with whom we get along better and consult more easily—without this relationship ever excluding anyone else.

62. You choose your friends, your brothers are God-given and welcomed with faith and love. Our challenge is to overcome contemporary individualism. It is not a question of having brothers on the one hand and friends on the other. Christ calls us to be better brothers and friends of all, especially the members of our own community.

63. Particular traits of fraternal life in the Legion:

a. Straightforward, friendly but respectful interaction among everyone, including those tasked with the service of authority. This is shown by using the titles “father” or “brother”, taking care to avoid nicknames and annoying jokes, using respectful forms of speech (“usted” in Spanish);

b. Joy as an expression of faith and universal charity even when our feelings are not so inclined or when we find it more difficult to bear the sufferings and weaknesses of others;

c. A spirit of creative and practical service, especially when you see that a companion or the community needs something;

d. Attentive listening, taking interest in what the other wants to communicate, while still being free to express your own opinion without imposing it;

e. Kindness in judgments and words, avoiding gossip and pessimism;

f. The openness and trust to be able to communicate what you feel, love or what worries you, and to simultaneously receive with respect and welcome what others share, overcoming the tendency to cut yourself off or form closed groups with those of a like mind;

g. The ability to ask for pardon and mutually forgive.

b) The role of the superior in fraternal life

64. “Those in authority promote the growth of fraternal life through the service of listening and dialogue, the creation of a favorable atmosphere for sharing and co-responsibility, the participation of everyone in the concerns of each service balanced between the individual and the community, discernment and the promotion of fraternal obedience.”12

65. The superior, like Christ the Good Shepherd, must know, trust, take an interest in, encourage and appreciate each religious and thus stimulate a climate of trust in the community. It is his task in particular to: remind the community of the principles of consecrated and Legionary life, and with kindness to see they are fulfilled; listen, speak and prudently handle whatever tensions and conflicts arise in his community; promote unity among the members both in the community and in the locality.

66. The subjects, for their part, need to be sincere and forthright and allow their superior help them in their life, especially through personal dialogue. They should uphold him with the free gift of their esteem and trust, and in a constructive attitude, offer the service of their gospel obedience.

67. Everyone, both superiors and subjects, must hold in high esteem the religious discipline that supports fraternal life and “makes it so that the religious house is not merely a place of residence, a collection of individuals each living his own life, but a ‘fraternal community in Christ.’”13 To achieve this, it will be necessary to internalize the disciplinary norms in faith and love.

68. The superior, after consulting his council, may adapt the frequency and modality of community activities to the particular needs of his own community and locality.

69. It is necessary for major superiors to accompany and help local superiors so that they will be able to exercise the authority that the congregation has entrusted to them with the heart of a father and shepherd, especially in the areas of helping their subjects, creating communion and promoting the apostolate. For their part, the religious should address concrete issues first with their immediate superior and in their community, without reducing their cordial and close contact also with their major superiors.

c) Shared responsibility in fraternal life

70. How are we to combine and live the irreplaceable role of the superior and the co-responsibility of all the members? The document on The Service of Authority and Obedience, of 2008, is the magisterial source that clearly offers us the way.14

71. The principle that frames shared responsibility is the following: “In community life animated by the Holy Spirit, each individual engages in a fruitful dialogue with the others in order to discover the Father’s will. At the same time, together they recognize in the one who models an expression of the fatherhood of God and the exercise of authority received from God, at the service of discernment and communion.”15

72. The superior should take each one of the members into account in the decisions that affect all, and meet with them occasionally to discern what is best. But the final decision is always his to take.16 We encourage everyone to participate in these meetings with a sense of responsibility, keeping the following attitudes in mind: “seek nothing other than the divine will […]; recognize in each one the ability to discover the truth […]; attention to the signs of the times […]; freedom from prejudice, from excessive attachment to one’s own ideas […]; courage to state the reasons behind one’s own ideas and at the same to open oneself to new perspectives […]; firm proposal to maintain unity always […].”17

73. The spiritual directors should also contribute to the union and peace of the community: they can help those who consult them to humbly recognize the gifts that they can contribute and the personal limitations they need to overcome; help them to take a supernatural stance when looking at the other members of the community, and to exercise virtue in confronting the difficulties that arise in their dealings with others or in their exercise of obedience.

d) The community project

74. We strongly recommend that each community have its own program or community project, which comes from listening to the will of God for the community and mutual dialogue coordinated by the superior. The project will take into account the type of center and the personal, community and apostolic needs of the community, the locality and the territory. All the members, therefore, should participate in drafting it, applying to their local situation the general regulations for communities and the directives of the general and territorial directors.

75. As a suggestion, we recall here some of the elements of this project: life of prayer and union with God, promoting charity among the members, commitment to the mission of the community and the locality, on-going formation, appropriate rest for all, the economic situation of the house and the congregation, and cooperation in equipping the house, maintaining it, keeping it distinguished and clean.

76. In particular, all should feel responsible for their own rest and helping the others to rest. Though it is not always easy to arrange it, they should be mindful of the fact that the community needs their presence in the activities of fellowship and relaxation (Sunday as the “day of the Lord”,18 the community day of rest, weekend getaways, vacations, playing together, etc.). Likewise, if they need to, they should look for some personal rest, overcoming possible individualistic attitudes and checking with their superior how they go about it.

e) Fraternal Correction

77. Fraternal correction is a duty of charity and a spiritual good. In the congregation, it ordinarily takes the following forms:

a. Sessions of directives lead by the superior to orient the community and correct what needs to be corrected;

b. Regular meetings among the members to point out to each other in an atmosphere of charity, acceptance and trust whatever could be of help in their religious life or apostolate,;

c. If circumstances warrant it, they may correct their brothers one-on-one, in word or in writing, with charity and prudence, especially if there is danger of scandal. For those still in formation, such corrections should ordinarily be made after consulting the superior.

78. In the various forms mentioned above, the one correcting should proceed with genuine charity, prudence, purity of intention and sensitivity. In this way, he will express only those external aspects that the other can assimilate and change; he will not omit what in conscience he needs to mention, and he will avoid causing hurt or humiliation. The one receiving the correction, for his part, should graciously accept the assistance given and ponder its truth, with the desire of growing in his personal life, humbly and with a grateful heart.19

4) Formation for fraternal life

79. Fraternal life in common requires continual formation. This formation has to be gradual, and the process of learning it entails ascetical effort and progressive affective maturation. We therefore invite all formators and religious in formation to work toward acquiring this dimension of their personality, which is essential for their consecration and of great help for their final perseverance.

80. A large community of formation may render interpersonal relationships somewhat more difficult and provoke a certain sense of loneliness. Especially in these cases they should remember that genuine human relationships depend principally on one’s desire and effort to form a priestly heart that is open to others, rather than on the number of persons with whom one deals. They should take advantage of the possibility that the teams and groups in their communities offer to build fraternal relations that will be of so much benefit in their own life and in the exercise of their priestly ministry.

81. If charity, harmony and peace reign in our communities, it will allow us to learn to live these attitudes also in our relationships within the locality, the territory, in all of Regnum Christi and, finally, within the wide range of charismatic realities in the Church.

82. The chapter fathers suggest to all Legionaries, superiors and subjects, that as individuals and in community they study and reflect upon the documents of the Magisterium on consecrated life, especially:

a. CICLSAL, Fraternal life in community, February 2, 1994;

b. JOHN PAUL II, Vita consecrata, May 25, 1996;

c. CICLSAL, Starting afresh from Christ, May 19, 2002;

d. CICLSAL, Service of authority and obedience, May 11, 2008.

 

1 Fraternal life is not only an essential element of religious life, it permeates the triad consecration-communion-mission which is proper to consecrated life (see the table of contents of John Paul II’s Vita Consecrata.):
· Consecration, as a welcoming of and response to the gift of Trinitarian love, becomes visible through the practice of the evangelical counsels, lived in a personal way, and at the same time, in a deep relationship with others.
· Communion, because fraternal life and common life are inspired concretely in the Holy Family, the community of disciples around Jesus and the first Christian communities.
· Called to communion for the mission, we are all evangelized and we form a community that is at the same time, evangelizing. All Legionaries are destined to the mission and available for it
2 “Religious community is a gift of the Spirit. It is the love of God, poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, from which religious community takes its origin and is built as a true family gathered together in the Lord’s name.” Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life CICLSAL, Fraternal life in community, 8.
3 “The fraternal life […] is an eloquent sign of ecclesial communion.” JOHN PAUL II, Vita consecrata, 42.
4 “The members of a religious community are seen to be bound by a common calling from God in continuity with the foundational charism.” CICLSAL, Fraternal life in community, n. 2c. (emphasis in original)
5 Cf. CICLSAL, Fraternal life in community, 59c.
6 The superior is a “means of mediating the will of the Lord: human mediation, true, but still authoritative, imperfect yet at the same time binding; the starting point from which each day begins, and also for moving forward in a generous and creative impulse towards the holiness that God ‘wills’ for every consecrated person.” CICLSAL, Service of authority and obedience, 9.
7 “In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas.”
8 Translator’s note: The abbreviation “CLC” refers to the constitutional text which was approved by the Holy See on October 16th, 2014
9 Cf. CICLSAL, Fraternal life in community, 50.
10 Cf. CICLSAL, Service of authority and obedience, 13g.
11 “We must never act like managers when faced with a brother’s conflict: conflict instead must be caressed.” POPE FRANCIS, To the meeting with the superiors general, November 29, 2013.
12 CICLSAL, Service of Authority and Obedience, 20.
13 CICLSAL, Fraternal life in community, 50; in idem, Service of authority and obedience, 20e.
14 The whole document does so, especially number 20.
15 JOHN PAUL II, Vita consecrata, 92.
16 The “spirit of discernment” is to be distinguished from “community discernment”. The former is the superior’s interior attitude when determining what is best for the community: “The spirit of discernment ought to characterize every decision-making process that regards the community.” The latter, on the other hand, is a means available to the superior to use on occasion: “Sometimes, when foreseen by the institute’s code or the importance of the decision to be taken demands it, the search for an adequate response is entrusted to community discernment.” It is clear that “Community discernment is not a substitute for the nature and function of persons in authority, who alone can take the final decision.” CICLSAL, Service of authority and obedience, n. 20e.
17 CICLSAL, Service of authority and obedience, n. 20e.
18 Cf. JOHN PAUL II, Dies Domini, 7.
19 “Whoever deems it necessary to correct another should proceed with genuine charity and purity of intention. The one who is corrected should humbly and gratefully accept the corrections.” CLC, 42.