In the year 2022, why would anyone want to enter religious life? Why would anyone take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience when there are so many other paths to take in life? Below I reflect on how I have personally received so much more than I ever had to give up to become an Augustinian and the reasons I truly feel grateful to have been called to this way of life.
#1: Saint Augustine is relatable.
The Order of Saint Augustine, to which I belong, follows the life and teachings of Saint Augustine. While Saint Augustine may have lived over 1,600 years ago, his life and the circumstances under which he was called to live his faith were not that much different than ours. His world faced increasing secualism, a society that was skeptical of the Church, and social issues such as poverty and inequality and immigration among others.
I was 33 years old and 13 years into my career with the U.S. Army when I felt the call to religious life. I was introduced to the Order when I read a short autobiography of Saint Augustine (Augustine of Hippo by Fr. Ben O’Rourke, OSA). In this book I discovered how Augustine was someone who also had a career with responsibilities; yet Augustine felt a sense of restlessness to give more of himself. Fr. O’Rourke’s articulation of Augustine’s experience resonated with mine. I also discovered how Augustine was passionate about many of the same issues we face in our time: poverty and mass incarceration among many other issues. These facts alone led me to contact the Augustinians.
#2: The Augustinians are having a positive impact on the world.
During our most recent Vocation Awareness Week, the Provinces of North America put together a series of short videos where the laity talk about the impact we are having on their lives. Below is a short sampling, please visit BeAFriar.org to view all of them.
I believe the videos speak for themselves on why I am so grateful to be an Augustinian.
When I was tasked two years ago to use my gifts to put together a website highlighting all the many ways we work to build a more just and peaceful world in the spirit of Saint Augustine (http://www.augustinianjp.org), I couldn’t be more proud of the work we are doing through our community charism to build a more just and peaceful society. We work to defend the rights of the poor, alleviate suffering caused by systemic poverty, support those impacted by immigration, and advocate for more restorative forms of criminal justice in the same way that Augustine did in his own time 1,600 years ago.
#3: I am invited to share my gifts
One of the primary reasons I believe Augustinians are able to have such a great impact is that the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience free us to give more generously of our time and talents. When I was in the working world, I absolutely loved and gave as much of myself as possible to the work and the mission of the U.S. Army that was entrusted to me. However I had to balance my passion with the responsibilities of caring for a house, car, shopping, paying the bills, etc. As Augustinians who are called to live in community, we share these responsibilities with each other, reducing the burden on any one of us, and giving us more time and energy to build the Kingdom of God through our ministries and way of life.
#4: My brothers complement me.
While God has given me gifts like anyone else, I certainly have my share of weaknesses. For example, I’m certainly not a singer or an artist. I love that the Order to which I have been called is filled with a diversity of gifts that complement my own. Fr. Joe Narog, OSA, our vocation director for the Province of St. Thomas of Villanova often says, “if you have met one Augustinian, you have met one Augustinian.” He couldn’t be more right. Our strength is in our diversity and our charism calls us in the midst of that diversity to unity & harmony so that together we are invited to share our gifts to become “more than the sum of our parts” in a world that could certainly use more unity & harmony.
#5: We have a strong partnership with the laity
The Church relies on the gifts of Augustinians as well as the gifts of the laity. In 1965, the Second Vatican Council affirmed that the laity share in the apostolate of the Church and called for a “broadening and intensification” of the lay apostolate (Apostolicam Actuositatem, paragraph no. 2). Yet, nearly 50 years later Pope Francis observes that the role and function of the laity are still not understood or (Evangelii Gaudium, paragraph no. 102). From the time of the Decree on the Lay Apostolate (Apostolicam Actuositatem) in 1965 and the issuance of Evangelii Gaudium in 2013, the Church recognizes there is much work left to be done to recognize and promote the role of the laity in the mission of the Church.
The Augustinians directly engage in this work of building up the lay apostolate. Laypersons presently lead three of our major non-profits: the Augustinian Defenders of the Rights of the Poor, the National Shrine of Saint Rita, and the Augustinian Volunteers. Further, these organizations alone provide powerful avenues through which we collaborate with the laity in our parochial, educational, shrine, and other ministries.
My ministries as well as my own growth as a Friar, Priest, and human being have been greatly enhanced through the way these lay leaders have been invited to contribute their gifts to our Augustinian ministries.
The enabler of all the above is rooted in our community charism. There are many ways to describe how I have experienced community living. Perhaps my experience can best be articulated through the way Augustine described his own experience of community:
“We joked, we went deep into our conversations. If we sometimes disagreed, it was without malice, as someone might disagree with himself. Our rare disputes helped remind us of our usual harmony. Each had something to learn from the others, and something to teach in return. If any were absent, we would look forward to their return. We would be glad to see them back. Such were the signs of friendship, springing from hearts that loved and knew that they were loved, signs to be read in smiles, in glances, in words, and in countless gestures of friendship. So our hearts were set alight by the flame of friendship. And many minds were united as one.”Saint Augustine (Confessions, 4, 4, 5-6)
Augustinian community life is not always easy (name a way of life that is), however laughter, meaningful conversations, mutual support, harmony, friendship, opportunities to learn from another brother, and the motivation to continue to grow as a person and to grow closer to God have been a continual part of my near eight year journey of an Augustinian so far. I doubt that will change in the years ahead. That is why I am here.