Living Community Life as a Capuchin

One of the greatest differences between a religious and diocesan vocation is the community. I've mentioned before how many diocesans, due to shrinking numbers, spend time alone (or separated from other clergy) while religious priests have a commitment to an Order, physical or otherwise. Check out my columns on What is Religious Life? for more info. For me I've found this to be a great benefit as well as a great joy to experience.

...but every now and then, community life gets a little frustrating.



Francis wrote in his final Testament: "And the Lord gave me brothers, and I knew not what I ought do." This has become my mantra in times of frustration, knowing that Francis surely had the same issues. Sometimes I wonder how I'm supposed to live with these crazy guys for another 9 months!

Community is an aspect of religious life that can scare people away. Looking only at the surface, it's an extraordinary situation: you're agreeing to live in a Christian community with people you've never met before, who have different cultural  backgrounds, with different habits, quirks, compulsions, and ideas on how we should be living. I've met diocesan priests who've said they would never join a religious order when they were discerning their vocation, simply because of this  negative aspects of community.


To some extent those people have a point. Community life can be a strain for people. While there are many joys and benefits to living in a community (aside from living a model of community set forth by people like Francis of Assisi, Benedict, Dorothy Day, and others), it requires special gifts from God that not everyone has. Much like living with a spouse, it is a decision that should not be made flippantly or with the concept that one can "change another."

I've lived in community for well over a year now: 9 months in a smaller community in Milwaukee and over 5 months with the large group of guys here in Pittsburgh, PA. While different communities present different challenges, I've recognized three main things that a person needs if they really want to live fruitfully in a community. It should be noted that above all, fraternal love is needed. While I'm sure there are more tricks and tips, my experience has shown me these few gifts that are important to community life...especially if someone is discerning living in a community.

Patience- When I chose to live a Capuchin life, I chose to accept these guys as my brothers, not simply my co-workers or my classmates. Their level of productivity, their educational background, their ability to pay attention in class without making fart noises, etc. is not the yardstick I should use to measure my brothers by. By living the community model of Francis, my goal is: "that when they go out into the world they shall not be quarrelsome or contentious, nor judge others." -Rule of St. Francis

To be present to my brothers requires a certain kind of patience. Not a patience that is condescending or pretentious, rather a philial patience. Even if my brothers don't know how to cook, if they forget to put their empty glasses in the dishwasher, or they leave DVD's out and don't put them in the case... I can respond with love, assistance, and good intention rather than resentment or passive aggressive behavior. It is patience that recognizes our collective short-comings as human beings, and focuses on our strengths rather than our weaknesses.

Presence - Anyone who's lived in community will tell you that there are those who can live with a community, but can be cut off from the group. With different personalities, hobbies, and interests, it's easy for community memebers to slip into a clique mentality. Just like any other social group, people of similar backgrounds and interests tend to stick together. Left unchecked, we can belittle and tease each other.



The challenge of presence in community life is to go beyond the barriers of a clique mentality so we can interact with everyone in the community.  In doing this, we extend passed our Capuchin lives in an attempt to be universally present to all. Religious life is not a boys or girls club, a corporate ladder, or institution of learning. Religious life is a commitment to live together, even when we tend to fall back into traditional social roles.

Honesty - While it makes sense that a Christian community require honesty as a requirement, what I am referring to is much more than "not lying."

First of all, I live with an open sense of transparency in my community. Just as if I were living with a spouse, my life needs to be proportionally open to the other members of my community. To be unusually secretive (especially in areas where others have eagerly shared) can create distrust, suspicion, and even resentment.

Secondly, as a member of a community I have a responsibility to the community as well as to those things we hold in common. To misuse money, to wreck a car, to fail in my committments is to be dishonest in my intentions to live communaly. By agreeing to be a Capuchin, I am putting the needs of the community on par with my needs.

Thirdly, being part of a community means that there are different levels of communication and trust. Some discussions are considered external forum while others can be considered internal forum. If a brother Novice tells me about a troubling moment in his life, a story between the two of us, it is understood that his story remains between the two of us until he chooses otherwise. Wrecklessly divulging information about community members is the easiest way to create havoc while simultaneously destroying all levels of trust.


Lastly, and definately not least, is the ability to be honest about issues in need of discussion. If one of my brothers is doing something that is completely unnerving, it's my responsibility to talk to him and be honest about what I am feeling. If someone is doing something that has a negative effect on me, it is important that I bring that issue up in discussion. If I bottle it up inside, I become resentful, annoyed at everyone, and want to lash out in unhealthy and destructive ways: a state of mind that is no good for any kind of relationship.

Don't let me fool you: just because I've written these three things doesn't mean I've mastered the art of community life! (Not by a longshot!) There are days that I require my solitude, where one or more of my brothers gets on my nerves. It's not a sign of a failing vocation. Spouses that love each other have the same feelings, parents feel the same about their children at times (although they would tell you it's the other way around). The part where love becomes important is when you let those petty things get in the way of the greater joy that exists.

Thanks to my brothers for the visual aids for this blog!

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4 Response to Living Community Life as a Capuchin

October 21, 2009 at 7:18 AM

No, No! You don't add Clorox in colored clothes.
Methinks the brothers need their Mommas.

October 21, 2009 at 8:11 AM

Haha!

When Rich feels angry with people in the community he thoughtfully adds bleach to their laundry.

In each of the pictures I took, they all asked: "Can I really do this?"

"[I asked God if he ever got annoyed with us,] and the Lord gave me brothers..." -Francis of Assisi (unverified source)

Music Master
October 25, 2009 at 4:03 PM

The full quote is : "I asked for a Mercedes Benz...and the Lord gave me brothers".

October 25, 2009 at 4:22 PM

That quote is only found in the Janis Jopline tradition of Francis. =p