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Asia Pacific Augistinian Conference

Fr Alejandro is Prior General of the Order of St Augustine, 2012-2018. What appears here is a slightly edited version of his letter to all members of the Order.

Dear Sisters and Brothers:

Pope Francis presided at the Mass for the opening of our General Chapter in August 2013 and he called us to celebrate next year, 2015, as the Year of Consecrated Life. The remembrance of this day gives me the opportunity to be in contact with the whole Order so that this event will resound again in each one of our sisters and brothers and in all of our communities. May this up-coming celebration be a time of grace as we mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, and, in particular, the fiftieth anniversary of the Council’s decree on the appropriate renewal of religious life, Perfectae caritatis, published in 1965.

In the words of Cardinal Braz de Aviz, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Societies of Apostolic Life, CIVCSVA, this year has three major objectives in mind: to remember with a grateful memory the recent past of history of religious life, to embrace the future with hope, and to live the present moment with passion: Thankfulness for the past, hope for the future and passion in the present. Three basic attitudes—gratitude, hope and passion—that constitute the moving force of life. In the Augustinian version of this, we can say: to give thanks to God who is the giver of all good things (Rule VIII, 49), to take on the future as people who are blessed and happy in hope (The City of God XIX, 4, 5) and to live the present time with passion and with openness to the Spirit, “holding on to love, loving truth, desiring unity” (Sermon 267, 4)

In this way, the YEAR OF CONSECRATED LIFE can contribute to the healing of our weaknesses, to the strengthening of our fraternity and to the promoting of a more resolved openness to the emerging scenarios such as the world of the youth, of the laity, of the family, of the care for the most fragile ones of the world (Evangelii gaudium 209), of the mission to the nations.

The book of the Acts of the Apostles presents a community in which “all were thinking and feeling the same thing: they were possessing all in common and no one was claiming anything as his own; rather everything was held in common” (Acts 4, 32). With this story in his mind and in his heart, Augustine “instituted the monastery and began to live with the servants of God according to the way and the rule established by the apostles, that is, without possessing anything as their own and everything being all in common in the monastery” (Possidius, Life of Saint Augustine, V).

Thus, Augustine sought to give shape to the dream of a community dedicated to study and to prayer. Why live together? To share the journey toward God (Rule, I, 3). On this basis, in which, even more than contemplation, silence, study and dialogue, the human relations of friendship, acceptance, compassion and mutuality are held in particular importance, Augustine lifts up community of life which is fundamentally a spiritual event. This is not a human construction, but rather the unity of charity that is the work of the Holy Spirit.

This initial project will soon receive diverse modifications due to the entrance of the priesthood and the episcopacy for some of the monks who were living in Augustinian monasteries. The needs of the Church do not suppose a collision with the central core of the community and apostolic life enters to form part of the same community project. The first missionary action, however, centers itself in that which the community is and in that which the community lives.

After centuries, the Augustinians are integrated into the monastic current, which was to be characterized by the prayerful encounter with the Word of God and the evangelizing witness in the world (Cf. L. MARÍN DE SAN MARTÍN,The Augustinians: Origins and Spirituality, Rome (2013) 194–198). The one and only mission of evangelizing by means of announcing the kingdom of God, which is made reality in Jesus Christ, goes along adjusting itself—in a permanent exercise of discernment—shaping itself to parochial ministry, to the nations/ad gentes, to educational ministry, prison ministry, health care ministry, to the means of social communication… different ways of immersing oneself in the Church and in the world in order to transmit the message of the gospel through distinct channels and forms of expression.

Saint Augustine coined a spirituality, which rests—in the judgment of specialists—on four pillars: interiority, community, poverty and ecclesiology: interiority is the path of access to the encounter with one’s self and with God; community, which is a theological reality, before it is an ascetical one, a grace before it is a merit a determination of those who make of their life a pilgrimage toward God; poverty which is expressed in work and made visible in the austerity of life, the sharing of goods among ourselves and with the weakest of the earth; ecclesiology which is availability for service to Mother Church and contributes to pastoral action—from our own charismatic identity—the essential evangelical values.
-Adaptation of our life and of our works to the new conditions of the times (mission). The Second Vatican Council notes that religious life does not pertain to the archaeology of past times, but rather it is a call to establish an evangelizing dialogue with the times, and in the terminology of Pope Francis, to a “pastoral conversion” (Evangelii gaudium, 25).

Pope Francis—in line with the Document of Aparecida—chooses for a pastoral approach that is decidedly missionary (Evangelii gaudium, 15) and which invites us “to be bold and creative in the task of rethinking the evangelizing objectives, structures, style and methods of our own communities” (Evangelii gaudium, 33).

Pastoral conversion asks us all to enter into a process of renewal which affects equally our lives, our activities and our structures in order to become appropriate channels of evangelization. There are two principles that we must always keep before us: the continuity of theological data and the historicity of the forms that permit us to speak about a “creative fidelity” in the current historical moment, as Saint Pope John Paul II suggests in his Magna Carta on the consecrated life (cf. Vita consecrata, 37).

The decree points out that the authenticity of the spiritual life is the foundation of every attempt at renewal. A spiritual life that, in our case, will be nourished by the inexhaustible source of Augustinian Spirituality and by the ecclesial communion so that we can perform the task that the Second Vatican Council recommends to us to live and to experience more and more with the Church and by consecrating ourselves totally to its mission (Perfectae caritatis, 6). As Augustinian religious men and women we can contribute decisively to “make the Church the home and the school of communion” (Novo millennio ineunte, 43). A communion which will be the gift of the Spirit of Jesus which is, at the same time, the driving force for conversion and for mission.

Consecrated life is the actualization of the first Pentecost. Much more so in this time of ours which is a time of fears and perplexities. Like the first disciples, the first temptation is to lock the doors, to think that the outside world is opposed and that our life is incomprehensible to most people. The Spirit is the soul of consecrated life which waters the land in drought, which looks at the loneliness and emptiness of humanity, which sends the light that illumines our path, which gives life to the dry and dispersed bones, which brings harmony to the different parts of the body, which makes us truly free, which opens out to the hope of the Kingdom, which remains with us until the Risen One returns.

A final word concerning the challenge of formation. The conciliar document shows a marked sensitivity for formation as the center of the whole process of renewal (Perfectae caritatis, 18). It is not treated as a pedagogical time but rather it represents a theological way of thinking about consecrated life itself which is, in itself, a process of conversion and of growth that never ends.

Sisters and brothers, may this YEAR OF CONSECRATED LIFE find a particular resonance in each one of us and in our communities. May it be an opportunity so that the fresh air that the pontificate of Pope Francis has brought—the message of the joy that is born from the Gospel and fills the heart—give breath to our life and blow through our community setting. Indoors we must search for the moment and the way to celebrate our vocation, and outdoors we must search for occasions to meet with the diocesan Church and with other religious institutes in order to show through the colors of the different charisms the great gift of the Spirit which is consecrated life for the Church and for the World.

Fr Alejandro Moral Antón, Prior General OSA
Rome, Curia Generalizia Agostiniana, 10 October 2014                                                               


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