From a conversation with Br. Jonathan Maury, SSJE
Community is so important because it reflects the nature of God. Often, the image of God we inherit from the popular culture is of an old man seated on a throne, benevolent at times and angry at other times. But the Church expresses this mystery of God as a community of persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – who “are One in reciprocal self-giving and love.” We bear the image of this triune God. Because of this, as the SSJE Rule expresses it, “all of us are called by God to belong to communities of personal cooperation and interdependence which strive to nurture and use the gifts of each and to see that our basic needs are met.”
That’s the way we visualize our monastic community. We are called to be a community of love, whose life together can be likened to a circle dance in which each one defers to and accepts the others with gentleness and a spirit of self-offering. This is the love we see in God, expressed most completely in Jesus on the cross: God choosing to die rather than to live without us, and through this self-sacrificial act, drawing us into union with Godself, and with one another.
Community is God’s way of acting in us and through us. God draws us into community for our own well-being, because in community our rough edges begin to rub up against those of others, and we are gradually transformed. Community is the place where we come to understand more deeply our need for God – how much we need God and others – to become the persons that God dreamed us to be in the first place. We can’t do that alone; it’s always with others. And it comes through the friction, and the intimacy, that we experience in community.
I had a college chaplain who was fond of saying that there are no “solo” Christians – and he was absolutely right! As time went on, I realized how necessary a community of intention such as the one I belong to now was to my ongoing conversion and growth. I think I’ve only really discovered why God called me to this community since I became a member. I felt drawn to community life, but I also had a lot of resistance and fear which had to be overcome.
In community, there is a sense of submission, a willingness to let go of the dreams and plans I have for myself in order to realize a greater good; but there is also a sense of discovery, as I continue to explore my gifts and gradually become more and more the loving person I was created to be. Community is a place where I am known and accepted, and where I come to know and accept others. Together we grow.