Open community, organized community
Constitutions are, for us, a source of spirituality… When a body rotates, two forces come into play: a centrifugal force that aims outwards; and a centripetal force, that aims at the centre. But experts say that it is the very same force experimented from different points of view.
So, this comparison is useful to say that, in the redemptorist community, there is a force that keeps us anchored to the gravity centre, which is Christ the Redeemer; He is the force that generates a life of prayer, a sacramental life, and all the manifestations of our spirituality… The other force pushes us outwards, that is, to ministry, to witness, because the Congregation does not exist for itself, but the mission. The redemptorist community aims at these two directions: ad intra and ad extra. But it is the apostolic life, that is, living with Jesus as the apostles did, what gives unity to those forces, and to all the elements of the redemptorist life.
Constitution 43 states that “for the members, the religious community is their first and basic community.” And this basic community, as every Christian community, is anchored in the Holy Trinity, and from there comes its identity and being; It is its centre of attraction. Saint Alphonsus stated that “all holiness and perfection of the soul lies in our love for Jesus Christ, our God, our supreme good, our Redeemer.” That is the centripetal force that anchors us, as a community of individuals, to our gravity centre. He is love himself, and, as our founder explains it, it was an excessive love that led the father to send us his beloved Son to restore the life we had lost because of sin (Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ). He is the force that gives us the reason for our being, the one who generates our identity as a community, as believers. As Saint Alphonsus used to say, that centripetal force leads us to “conform our will to the Father’s will.”
At the same time, as this centre of attraction attracts the community, it is also moved by another force that does not go towards the centre, but “outwards”; that’s the centrifugal force. If the centripetal force explains and gives a reason for our being, the centrifugal force is the one that teaches and provides a cause of our work. The centrifugal influence is our sense of mission, and it is also what generates our mission. That is why constitution 43 refers to the religious community as an open community. “This does not mean that they withdraw from their religious community, but that they share with all the joy the Gospel has brought into their lives. Thus they become like a leaven in the world and are a living witness of hope”.
Commenting const. 43, Fr. Raponi says that this number wants to “keep our eyes open to the temptation for the community to withdraw into itself and get stuck in its autonomy, running the subsequent risk of justifying its comforts and inertia.” Let us remember Saint Alphonsus’ intention of placing the first houses in the middle of the rural dioceses. The reason was not protecting their intimacy, but being in the centre of the ministry dynamic. Today we interpret this strategy better in terms of solidarity, opening to the poor, insertion.
However, these two forces must be well-balanced. Regarding the community, this means that it (the community) needs kind of a “regulator.” That is why constitution 44 says that “Each community needs suitable organization and a way of life in common determined by certain norms.” Among the plans and programs that rule community life, there is a time dedicated to common prayer, retreats, and even personal time for silence: we could say that we can see here the “Carthusian” dimension of the redemptorist community. But the community should also determine its ministry and missionary projection, which is generated by that “centrifugal force”; if not, it tends to activisms, and step by step, it loses its raison d’être. Sometimes it is not easy to find that harmony, but this is precisely what an organized community tries to pursue. An organized community pays attention to these two forces and regulates them. If it does not, it may tend to activism without spirituality, or a kind of spiritualism or intimacy without any missionary projection, or incarnation of its beliefs.
Our constitutions, statutes, and community life plans aim to balance those two forces. But norms cannot be kind of a third force that cancels or darkens the other two; on the contrary, norms should promote these two movements. Concerning const. 44-45, fr. Raponi states that the organization of the community, provided by these constitutions, aims to find an intermediate point between two extremes: the anarchic individualism and the legalism that everything determines and uniforms. Missionary dynamism and authentic community life are two indissoluble faces of apostolic life. That is why the organization, which these constitutions talk about, “cannot be translated into absolute and fixed forms, with a purpose in themselves, but inflexible forms, that reveal a true humanism.” “Flexible and decentralized. But compulsory as well. However, at least it is the conscience of belonging to a missionary community which has to lead us to assume this organization as a guarantee of personal development and apostolic fruitfulness, and not as a limitation”, says Fr. Raponi.
That is why rules should be accommodated to the circumstances and contexts. Constitution 45 says it in this way: “These norms … must of their nature be adaptable to the requirements of the missionary work. They should be capable of being modified, too, according to what the Church, circumstances of time and place, and the particular culture and character of a nation require”.
These three constitutions appropriately stress each of these forces and generate an adequate balance among the different dynamics in community life.
We have used a metaphor to approach to constitutions 43, 44, and 45. Of course, metaphors are not precise, and they are just a language resource to help us understand a concept. When we talk about an organized community that follows its norms and adjusts itself to the circumstances, we don’t want to mention that the success of a harmonized community depends on its plans and norms, of course not! We know very well that, at least, the harmony between these forces also relies on the docility of the community to the Holy Spirit, as it is Him who moves us to follow the Redeemer and impulse us to live our apostolic life, as he also keeps us anchored to our centre, who is Christ the Redeemer.
Author: Cristian Bueno, CSsR
Translation: Carlos A. Diego Gutiérrez, CSsR