The Prior General encourages to take St. Ezekiel Moreno, St. Monica and St. Augustine as models to face the main challenges of the Order.
On the eve of the celebration of St. Augustine and his mother St. Monica, together with the recent feast of St. Ezekiel Moreno, the Prior General, Miguel Angel Hernandez, has sent a message to the religious in which he encourages them to take the three Augustinian saints as models that illuminate the accompaniment, openness to the laity or the recovery of the missionary spirit, among other issues. He dedicated a brief reflection on each of them, focusing on aspects of these saints that continue to be relevant today.
St. Ezekiel Moreno, a model missionary as a friar and as a bishop
A missionary in the Philippines, a formator of missionaries in Spain, and a restorer of religious life and missions in Colombia, Ezekiel greatly concerned himself with the missionaries and how they could live in community in order to avoid loneliness and the lack of fraternal communication, and thus facilitate the experience of religious life.
His love for the Lord, his refuge and strength – as his episcopal coat of arms proclaims – and his profound conviction that God calls him to be an apostle, are the pillars that sustain his missionary calling. Fray Ezekiel’s zeal knows no limit: he preaches, teaches, builds chapels, administers the sacraments, takes care of the poor… Fr. Ángel Martínez Cuesta would say that “the thorn of the missions was stuck in his heart and it would never leave him again”.
While in Monteagudo, his great love for the poor, which many considered to be exaggerated, led him to distribute up to five hundred rations of food twice a day, thanks in great measure to the sacrifices of the friars.
As head of the Vicariate of Casanare in Colombia, he would say, “Who would give me the power to say when I breathe my last in a bad hut, or on a sandy beach, or at the foot of a tree: there are no more unbelievers in Casanare!”
The Order does not lack examples from brothers who also give their lives in missions, in a generous gift of their own life that knows no limits. Unfortunately, there are also signs that the missionary spirit of the Order is in clear decline, at least in some of the Provinces: it is not easy to find volunteers for the missions, and many of our young religious prefer life behind the desk that does not demand sacrifices or renunciation. There are not few religious who are reluctant to leave their country of origin and in many of our parishes, we also lack that evangelizing impulse and the apostolic zeal of Ezekiel Moreno; we need to go out to encounter those who are from afar, those who are in the peripheries and put ourselves at the service of the poorest.
The Order is aware of all these difficulties and, therefore, asks us in the MVP that, in organizing the mission communities in the Provinces, there should be at least four religious in every community; it also asks us to update the missionary action plan, to organize a meeting of missionaries with the purpose of sharing and enlivening the evangelizing endeavor in the missions and to prioritize and promote our evangelizing commitment among the most impoverished and vulnerable, to respond to the realities of migration, hunger, the human suffering that today are presented to the Church and the world. Not to mention the importance that the Order is giving to ARCORES as the image of solidarity of the Augustinian Recollects.
St. Monica, model of a “companion”
Already in the 4th century and without having participated in courses and workshops, this woman, Monica, understood how important it was to accompany the lives of those whom God had entrusted to her. God, to whom she entrusted herself and to whose hands she placed her whole life, inspired Monica to speak and act in order to accompany both her husband and her children: “Such was she, because you, her intimate teacher, instructed her in the school of her heart (Conf. 9:21)”.
Concerning Patricius, Augustine tells us in the Confessions that his mother made it her business to win him for you by preaching you to him through her way of life (Conf. 9:19). Essential in the accompaniment is the testimony of life/witnessing. We must be credible witnesses who practice what we preach and proclaim the kind of life we follow. If we are not reliable, who will trust us? If our life does not point to God, who will want to listen to us, let alone follow us? Monica knew how to wait for the opportune moments to exhort and correct: but she learned to offer him no resistance, by deed or even by word, when he was angry; she would wait for a favorable moment, when she saw that his mood had changed and he was calm again, and then explain her action, in case he had given to wrath without due consideration (Conf. 9:19).
Monica accompanied her family with example and prayer. We can say that Monica literally sought Augustine with prayer, like a hunter pursuing his prey; she enveloped him with her intercession until he surrendered himself at the feet of the Lord. My mother did not cease day and night to offer you in sacrifice for me the blood of her heart that flowed through her tears (Conf. 5:13). Augustine will also say of his mother that she nourished her children, begetting them as often as she saw them straying away from you (Conf. 9:22). In other words, this is what spiritual accompaniment consists of: in configuring Christ in the heart of the person being accompanied, in giving birth to a new creature, a new being capable of realizing in him, through a personal decision, the feelings, thoughts, and attitudes of Christ.
Monica also understood that in order to accompany others, we must allow ourselves to be accompanied because we do not know everything, because only with humility and meekness can we illuminate the path of those we accompany, and for this reason, she turns to the leader and shepherd of Milan, St. Ambrose, for guidance and advice: it is not possible that a child of so many tears should be lost (Conf. 3,21).
The art of accompaniment will be one of the aspects we will heavily insist on in the Order as requested by our own Life and Mission Project elaborated by the General Chapter.
St. Augustine and his charism, in the hands of the laity
Augustine retired to Casiciaco in the autumn of 386, when he had already decided to become a Christian, with a group of friends and family, among them, Alypius, his brother Navigius, his mother Monica, and his son Adeodatus. There they shared bread, dialogue, prayer, and farm chores. Their meetings were recorded in the so-called “Dialogues of Casiciaco”. Augustine was very happy in this place because here he was able to realize the ideal life he had always dreamed of.
I believe that the image of Casiciaco reflects very well the spirit of what we want to say and what the Holy Father asks of us when we speak of putting the charism in the hands of the laity. As Augustine himself says, in the school of the Lord we are all fellow disciples and each one contributes with the best of himself to the common good, always inspired by the light of the Sacred Scriptures and shared prayer. Together, we build the community; together, we seek the truth; and together, we reach God. The interesting thing about this experience is that Casiciaco is made and built by all. It is not Augustine who decides and the others just approve. This is how our journey with the laity should be: side by side, together in reflection, together in prayer and discernment, together in planning, together in decision making, together in the execution of what is decided, together in sharing the life and the mission of the Order.
Augustine says that to celebrate the saints and not imitate their virtues is to celebrate with a lie. May these three saints that we will celebrate in the coming days inspire and enlighten our action and mission in these times in which we live.