A parent thanked Sister Anicia for teaching her kindergartener. Little Sheryl had offered to set the table, helped Mom clean the kitchen, and brought Dad's slippers. When Mom tucked her to bed, she thanked Sheryl for being extra helpful.
Sheryl told her, "I wanted to do what Sister Anicia told us today: to make sure we do a loving act for our mom and dad each day."
What a good lesson for community living! For religious men and women who are unhappy in their communities, maybe this training to do a daily loving act for each other has been missing.
Meaningful and joyful community living does not happen automatically. Like any relationship, it needs to be nurtured and intentionally cared for and requires commitment. I attended a formation class for novices where the lecturer commented on forms we fill in with boxes for our civil status: single, married, separated, divorced, widowed.
"We tick off 'single,' but in fact, that is not what we are. The truth is we are community. Just too bad that there is no such category in those forms."
If we think our capacity for community living is innate, we take it for granted, thinking it automatically happens when people live together. We can't leave intentionality and commitment to chance.
In a Worldwide Marriage Encounter weekend, the couple speaking referred to "married singles" (married people who live as if they were single: committed to no one, responsible for no one and accountable to no one). There can also be "religious singles" who have not committed themselves to their brothers and sisters in community and therefore do not find the joy that comes from it.
A line in our Rule of Life talks of community as "a school of love." Just as married couples find the holiness of perfect love in living out their family lives, so do we religious in community. There, we find the joy that comes from learning how to love and be loved. This joy in community living proclaims: See how they love one another.
As a college student, I saw the sisters take evening walks, chatting animatedly and laughing together. I felt an almost physical pain in my heart to join them, such a longing to become part of their joy at being together.
Today, I see religious men and women who are happy and committed community members, and I see others who have not made the choice and commitment to belong to their brothers and sisters. They have not learned the lessons in the "school of love." Community is mission and for mission, or, as Pope Francis says, "a communion that evangelizes."
Vicenta Javier, a member of the Religious of the Assumption, is from the Philippines. After eight years of missionary work in Vietnam, she is now in her 11th year of missionary work in East Africa. She is an educator but has also been a formator of young sisters in the Philippines, Vietnam, Tanzania and Kenya. Currently, she teaches part time at the Center for Leadership and Management at Tangaza University College in Nairobi, Kenya.
Photo: Members of several provinces of the Religious of the Assumption at their Motherhouse in Paris, collaborating in a preparation program for their final vows. (Courtesy of Vicenta Javier.)