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What St Augustine meant when he wrote about religious common life


religious life

Real focus: “There is a reason we all face the large crucifix during prayer in the chapel.”

“The chief motivation for your sharing life together is to live harmoniously in the house and to have one heart and soul seeking God.”

THAT excerpt from the Rule of St Augustine – chosen by St Dominic as the rule for the Order of Preachers in 1216 – is without a doubt one of the most poetically beautiful expressions of the underlying impetus behind religious common life.

It is, of course, equally without doubt easier said (or written) than done.

Not that this latter sentiment should be cause for despair; there ever remains a separation between the ideal and reality and that is not necessarily a bad thing – it gives us something to work towards.

Our novitiate class here in Hong Kong is striving in its own particular way to be “one” in seeking God, an effort made all the more interesting by the fact that our class of 13 novices consists of three brothers from Myanmar, four from mainland China, three from East Timor, one from South Korea and two from Australia (including yours truly).

Moreover, we are being taught by Spanish friars and the language used within the house is English.

Add to that the ladies from the Philippines who undertake the majority of the cooking and it is easy to see that we are a “Catholic” community in more than one sense of the word.

And yet I cannot help but be struck by the speed with which we have become a discernibly unified group; undoubtedly praying in common multiple times a day, eating in common and attending classes together has expedited a process that would otherwise have taken much longer.

Well, those things and scrubbing the floors.

Nothing unifies the members of a group like them being obliged to spend their Saturday mornings mopping hallways together.

Woe betide he who walketh upon the damp floor – the emphatic hand gestures of his brethren will quickly enlighten him as to the error of his ways.

Antoine Saint-Exupéry once wrote that we only truly draw breath when we are “bound to our brothers in a common purpose extrinsic to ourselves”.

With Jesus Christ as our focus and the salvation of souls as our aim, it is easy to comprehend the full import of the remainder of the quotation: “this experience shows us that to love does not mean simply to gaze at one another, but to look together in the same direction”.

There is a reason we all face the large crucifix during prayer in the chapel.

The other major, unifying force amongst us is – of course – football.

Or “soccer” if you are so inclined.

On the timetable, prescribed for the hours of 5-6pm each day, there stands the word “sport”, read with reverential eyes.

You have not truly weighed the value of every minute in an hour until you have seen 13 young men from five different countries race outside the moment the clock strikes the hallowed hour of 5pm.

We run, helter-skelter around the field until (exactly) 6pm and then return – at a somewhat more languorous pace – to the novice house on the sixth floor, in time for Rosary and Vespers at 6.25pm.

The link between our exertions on the football field and prayer is not as tenuous as you might think – I have noticed that my teammates often raise their eyes to heaven the moment I am passed the ball.

By Br Sebastian Condon

Br Sebastian Condon is from Brisbane. He is undertaking a novitiate with the Dominican order in Hong Kong.

Written by: Emilie Ng
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