One thing that the experience of community life has taught me is that some people drive you nuts all of the time, but all people can drive you nuts some of the time. I challenge you to live with anybody who you think would provide an exception to that rule.
This is by no means a complaint, but rather the recognition of a holy mystery. After all, by implication am I not also at some point irritating to anybody who spends enough time with me? Yet people are still willing to befriend and even share a roof with me.
Sometimes, love simply means putting up with each other. I think that’s a lot more inspirational that it sounds. There can be a lot that is challenging to tolerate in one individual person. What then if one lives with several people?
In religious community, we come from different family and cultural backgrounds and different generations. We possess different gifts and limitations. Our conflicts are less often about objective issues of right and wrong than they are about differing preferences, opinions, customs, and styles. Do we keep the butter in the refrigerator or leave it out? It turns out that truly sharing life requires much negotiation. Remaining healthy in this context requires a sense of humor and a willingness to not take oneself overly seriously.
We often refer to five hallmarks of our Marist spirituality that we call “pillars”. They are simplicity, presence, family spirit, and love of work, all of which we live out in the way of Mary. I think our simplicity is what generally keeps us humble, authentic, and straightforward. As our common wisdom has it, there is no such thing as a perfect community—even if there were, it would cease being so if I entered. Although it may be easier to notice others’ faults than my own, the process of gradually recognizing more of my many flaws helps me to more gracefully embrace people that I encounter, whether in community or on the street.
As my broken self is also met with compassion, I learn over time that my sins and flaws that I may desperately wish to hide have no power over me after all. I am loved regardless, both by God and by human beings. My shortcomings need not threaten me once I learn both that they exist and that they neither define me nor make me unlovable. I know I test the patience of my brothers, and each can test mine as well. We challenge any truly problematic behavior in each other, but when I am simply difficult? Somehow, people find a way to put up with me.
I have advised those people considering religious life to only enter community if they are not afraid of being told who they are. If you want to keep your illusions about yourself, it is better to live alone or with somebody who actually cares about impressing you.
Nevertheless, people are still drawn to us.
This past weekend, we welcomed Bro. Luis Ramos as he, for the first time, professed vows as a Marist Brother. This initial commitment is temporary—over the next year, he will continue to discern whether he is called to make another temporary commitment and so forth until the time comes to decide on a life-long commitment.
As vocation minister, I walk with men who are asking themselves whether they also have the calling to take a place among us. Some will discern yes, and others no. In the meanwhile, I find great affirmation in just the fact that they wish to explore this question.
Many people feel a yearning to strip away the illusions of life and approach the core of reality. Encountering our own personal limits is a crucial part of such an experience. Some people climb mountains—I live in community. We may be crazy at times, but there is something about being crazy together.
I cheated a bit with this week’s “ear candy” and “brain food”. Wherever You Go was the theme song of the recent retreat that the Marist Brothers of the USA had about a month ago in New Jersey. Its lyrics provided a touching reminder of the lives that we have chosen to live with each other. For those who have never read a complete book of the Bible, Ruth is an easy place to start: At four chapters long, it is among the shortest books of the Hebrew Scriptures (also known to Christians as the Old Testament). The passage that gives this week’s song its lyrics is a common choice for weddings, but it is worth noting here that the love being expressed is not romance, but rather a deep and abiding commitment, more durable than passing feelings.
Ear Candy: “Wherever You Go” by Gregory Norbert, Weston Priory
Brain Food: “Ruth 1” from the Hebrew Scriptures
Come back next Saturday for a new post!