We seek to build the Kingdom of God through concern for the common good above our own personal interest.
“For charity, as it is written, is not self seeking (1 Cor. 13:5) meaning that it places the common good before its own, not its own before the common good. So whenever you show greater concern for the common good than for your own, you may know that you are growing in charity.” (The Rule V, 31).
Augustine’s ideal for community was heavily emphasized by the early Christian community found in Acts 4:32-35, “… no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common … there was no needy person among them.” Augustine’s ideal was that every member of the community would prioritize the common good of all members such that no one would go without. Yet, it can be difficult to transcend our own human inclination towards possessiveness and thirst for power over others. In fact, the early Christian community discovered this when Ananias sold a piece of property and chose to retain the proceeds for himself rather than contribute it to the common good (Acts 5).
This inclination can even be devious. Augustine warns that pride can lurk in even good works and harm the common good (The Rule I, 8). For example, we can be willing to help people, but only willing to do so in a way that we want to or in a way that most benefits us rather than the person we are helping or the common good (e.g., performing only those deeds that will win us the most accolades while allowing other things to not get done or along some in the community to continue to go without).
It can be easy to close our eyes to the needs of particular people or groups of people in a community, and it often happens without our awareness. Augustine therefore urges us to train our eyes to continually discern what is for the “common good.” What is good for the entire family, the entire parish, the entire neighborhood, the entire workforce, the entire nation, rather than what is good for only myself or a particular group of people I identify with? What is good for both my neighborhood and the poorer neighborhood down the road? What is good for both my culture and the other cultures in the United States?
When we dialogue and search for what is for the good of all of us, we are less apt to close our eyes to the needs of others and less apt to find conflict in our quest to have our own needs met.
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Reflection written by Jeremy Hiers, O.S.A.
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