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Building a More Just and Peaceful Society

What can the Rule of Augustine teach us today about how to build a more just society?

Poverty, war, oppression, inequality, mass incarceration, and discrimination are some of the many social justice issues that were as present in the time of Saint Augustine as they are today. Saint Augustine almost always included within his sermons an exhortation to not reject the poor (e.g., Sermon 41:6, Sermon 25:8, Sermon 122:6) and is even known for having sold off sacred vessels in order to raise money to help the poor.

Augustine’s commitment to the poor is clear. The ancient wisdom of Saint Augustine can still guide Christians today in building a more just and peaceful world by following the command of Christ to love God and neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40) and Church teaching.

He begins the Rule he wrote for those who chose to follow his way of life with an exhortation referencing Matthew 22:36-40: “Before all else, dear brothers, love God and then your neighbor, because these are the chief commandments given to us.” (The Rule I, 1). We can derive 12 principles from the Rule which gives us room for reflection for how Augustine’s synthesis of the Gospel invites us to action.

Let all of you then live together in oneness of mind and heart, mutually honoring God in yourselves, whose temples you have become.

The Rule I, 9

In the face of the many differences that are inherent among people in any community, do we seek unity and harmony as a primary goal? Do we seek unity and harmony through respect for differences in needs, gifts, talents, personality, culture, skin color, socioeconomic background, etc? Reflect more here.

“Call nothing your own, but let everything be yours in common.”d in yourselves, whose temples you have become.

The Rule I, 4

Do we have a willingness to generously share our time, our talents, and our treasures as if those things belonged to everybody rather than ourselves for the sake of ensuring that nobody goes without? Reflect more here.

“Each person should be given what he personally needs.”

The Rule, I, 4

Are we truly willing to hear and respond to the needs of others? It is easy to identify with those who have backgrounds and needs similar to our own, but what about those who are different than us and may have needs that we cannot completely understand? What about those with different political, educational, socioeconomic, and cultural backgrounds than our own? It is often tempting to help people only in the way we want to help and/or to minimize the complaints or stated needs of others who are different than us. Reflect more here.

“When you pray to God in psalms and hymns, think over in your hearts the words that come from your lips.”

The Rule II, 12

In our prayer and worship, are our hearts and minds along with our motivations and actions aligned with the God who shows love and concern for even the most vulnerable and impoverished of people (Matthew 25:40)? Reflect more here.

“As far as your health allows, keep your bodily appetites in check by fasting and abstinence from food and drink.”

The Rule III, 14

Do we keep our appetites in check in such a way that we are free to give from our surplus to help those who go without? While Augustine writes here of food, the principle applies to all areas of life, especially those areas where we tend to become so attached that we neglect attention and care for those who are vulnerable and poor. Such areas can include careerism, consumerism, biases, hobbies, the desire for accolades and recognition, etc. Read more here.

And let them not hold their heads high, because they associate with people whom they did not dare to approach in the world, but let them rather lift up their hearts and not seek after what is vain and earthly. Otherwise, monasteries will come to serve a useful purpose for the rich and not the poor, if the rich are made humble there and the poor are puffed up with pride.

The Rule I, 7

Do we truly see ourselves as one human family regardless of our national, racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological differences? We are our brothers and sisters keepers, wherever they may be. Loving our neighbor has global dimensions in a shrinking world. At the core of the virtue of solidarity is the pursuit of justice and peace. Pope Paul VI taught that if you want peace, work for justice.1 The Gospel calls us to be peacemakers. Our love for all our sisters and brothers demands that we promote peace in a world surrounded by violence and conflict. Reflect more here

“In your walking, standing, and every movement, let nothing occur to give offense to anyone who sees you, but only what becomes your holy state of life.”

The Rule IV, 21

Do we model Jesus’ concern for the “least among us” (Matthew 25:40) only in private, or do we actively seek opportunities to invite others to join us in the search for opportunities to work for the common good and help those in need? Are we apathetic or silent on the injustices we see in the world around us? Or do we challenge individuals, institutions, governments, and leaders to work for the common good? Are we open to change when others challenge us in this way? Reflect more here.

“… let them rather lift up their hearts and not seek after what is vain and earthly”

The Rule I, 7

In our works for justice, are we trying to replace God with ourselves? Are we only willing to help others in the way we want to help them rather than in the way they actually need? Do we sometimes refuse to help some people because they are different than us or their need falls outside an area of social justice that we are not as concerned with? Are we willing to only help others who are similar to us or are we open if God were to invite us to share our gifts in other ways? Read more here.

“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

In what areas of our life are we looking more towards promotion or protection only of ourselves or our families or group of friends rather than the common good of all? How might this blind us to the needs of the least among us (Matthew 25:40)? Reflect more here.

Whoever has injured another by open insult, or by abusive or even incriminating language, must remember to repair the injury as quickly as possible by an apology, and he who suffered the injury must also forgive, without further wrangling.

The Rule VI, 42

Have we acknowledged our own complicity in the social justice issues of our day? Social justice issues are often controversial issues (e.g., the issue of Racism or the Environment) with varying viewpoints across society about the extent of the issue and how to address it. As we express our own beliefs and/or work for justice in the way that we feel is the right way, it is often easy to offend others through our words and actions (or inactions). No issue can be solved by any one individual. Unity in purpose and action is paramount to solving the issues of our day. Without reconciliation with those whom we offend (or are offended by), we cannot achieve unity, we cannot love God and neighbor (Matthew 5:23), and therefore will not be able to focus on the common good. Reflect more here.

“The superior, for his part, must not think himself fortunate in his exercise of authority but in his role as one serving you in love.”

The Rule VII, 46

Are we in our words and actions modeling the heart and mind of Christ towards the issues of our day? By virtue of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) all Christians are called to leadership in one way or another by living in word and deed the Gospel values that Christ calls us to as a way to model and influence the world around us to adopt those values. Servant leadership is the model that Christ gave us and invites us to adopt ourselves. Are we inviting others to join us in working for a more just and peaceful world through our words and our example? Reflect more here.

And that you may see yourselves in this little book, as in a mirror, have it read to you once a week so as to neglect no point through forgetfulness. When you find that you are doing all that has been written, give thanks to the Lord, the Giver of every good. But when one of you finds that he has failed on any point, let him be sorry for the past, be on his guard for the future, praying that he will be forgiven his fault and not be led into temptation.

The Rule VIII, 49

Are we open to discern promptings we feel from the Spirit to get involved in an issue we are presently not involved in, even if it means stepping outside of our comfort zone? As stated before, the issues of our day are complex and the answers are not always clear, especially when it comes to developing (let alone achieving) unity around concrete solutions. Do we give up or turn apathetic towards the issues that are not easy? Do we persist in working towards solutions? Are we open to admitting that we may need to learn more about certain issues and hear the perspectives of the people impacted by those issues before developing and communicating an opinion? Reflect more here.

“In your walk, deportment, and in all actions, let nothing occur to give offense to anyone who sees you, but only what becomes your holy state of life.”

The Rule IV, 21

The Rule of Augustine, from which these principles emerge, guides and governs the way of life of Augustinian Friars today, to include our ministries and the life we share by living together. We believe the Rule provides a way of life for all vocations: lay, religious, and ordained alike.

We therefore invite all people to join us in examining the Rule, our lifestyles, and the structures of our society with a special eye towards the poor and vulnerable. In this way, we can discern together how we can work together to create create a more just and peaceful world for all people.

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