“That’s Community!” one Sister happily exclaimed as she watched the crew hoisting the trusses for the new carport up and into place. One person operated the crane, another person was standing near the stack of trusses on the ground, attaching them to the crane’s cable one-by-one. A third person guided the end of each truss with a rope to keep it from swinging wildly as the crane operator hoisted it into place. A couple of other workers feverishly secured each truss once it was set in place, anticipating the quick arrival of the next one. And, so the crew worked for all 90+ trusses for the new carport.
That is community indeed. “Living together as one,” which is what community is, doesn’t happen by accident. It requires the concentrated effort of each member doing her part for the support and development of the whole. The Rule of St. Benedict states that the “strong kind” of monk is the monk who chooses to live in community (RB 1.13). Why is this so? It is because the individual is frequently tested and tried by the difficulties that come with bending one’s own will toward what is better for another rather than to live simply for oneself.
Cenobites, that is, monastic men and women who live in community, belong to a monastery “where they serve under a rule” and under the authority of an abbot or prioress, who by their office holds the place of Christ in the monastery (1.2; 2.2). Note that St. Benedict describes the life of a monk in terms of service (in Latin, militans). Making note of the Latin origin of the term service, we can make the connection with all forms of military and civil service in which the work of the individual is to protect, uphold, and contribute to the whole community. Life in a monastic community necessitates that each member directs her gifts, talents, prayers, and energy for the betterment of the whole group. There is no place for self-reliance or selfish ambition. All serve under the authority of the Rule and the community’s chosen leadership.
Contrary to popular stereotypes of monastic men and women, individual members of a community are quite diverse in their personalities, abilities, preferences, needs, and interests. This diversity adds richness to the community, but it can cause unpleasant friction and unwanted conflict at times. Prayer, humility, patience, discipline, and love are all required to help monastic communities to overcome the difficulties and challenges that arise. Acknowledging one’s own weaknesses and limitations is an important first step in addressing problems. Relying on the grace of God is an imperative. Trusting in one another’s good will is helpful. And, remembering that we are all in this endeavor together for the long-haul is a basis for hope.
If anything is needed in our world today it is genuine community—having a shared vision for the common good of all members of our global society. Having a charitable concern for all the inhabitants of this planet ought to be the guiding vision that influences even the smallest of decisions and actions. The current global pandemic has illustrated just how interconnected our lives really are. St. Benedict’s vision of what is necessary for true community to develop and endure is an example of what we as individuals can do to help move humanity toward its greater good. One world. One humanity. That’s community!
By Sister Therese Haydel, OSB