The renewal of community life is crucial for any religious congregation, especially today when religious life is passing through a difficult challenge of its identity. The renewal of community life is called for also by the nature of our different religious congregations. Study reveals that most of the missionary congregations founded during the and after great missionary movement of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were organized in such a way that the missionaries who, for most of the time lived in mission land, among people whose ways of life are different from their own, would find support and encouragement from members of their religious communities. Most founders expressed in their Rule of Life the members the wanted to found would live a strict community life, supporting one another in their common effort to grow in sanctity.
According to the Rule of Life, the missionaries would live in their own communities, under the leadership of local superiors. They would share daily prayers, meals and recreation. No one was supposed to move out of the community or sleep out of the religious house for more than three days without the permission of the superior. I do admit that, because of the pastoral needs or the nature of the apostolate the religious carry out today it may not be possible to adhere to this rule as strictly as possible. For example, today a number of religious, both young and old, live with other people in universities or colleges where they are either lecturing or studying, and in hospitals where they are serving either as chaplains or medical personnel. There are also some members who, because of special arrangements between the congregation and respective dioceses, are staying outside their communities as they carry out some special services to the respective dioceses.
The new development exposes the affected members to loneliness, isolation and sense of disaffiliation from the congregation. As Sandra M. Schneiders observes, if it is not rectified in time, this isolation can lead to the formation of other primary relationships, which can eventually take priority over congregational membership. (Sandra M. Schneiders, Religious Life in a New Millennium vol. Two, New York: Paulist Press, 2001, 315.) In order to avoid such a danger, I would suggest that every religious should be assigned to a community. Those members who, because of the nature of their work, cannot reside in their own communities should visit their communities regularly to share some moments with the other members. I would also suggest that, where possible, they should be involved in the affairs of the community in order to enable them to feel part of it.
The renewal of community life called for today is not merely a return to a strict following of common life or observance of rules governing community life, but fostering real ties in faith and improving personal relationships among community members. As Albert Dilanni explains, community life is not a mere formal structure but real ties in faith and interpersonal sharing that impacts on one’s life with God and witnesses to the society that love and trust are possible. (Albert Dilanni, Religious Life as Adventure, New York: Alba House, 1994, 89). The renewal should aim at enabling Apostles of Jesus to experience one another as companions in the common journey of faith and to live together as brothers, "giving pride of place to one another in esteem (cf Rom. 6:15) and carrying one another’s burdens (cf. Gal. 6:12)." (Perfectae Caritatis No. 15).
The bond of unity should reflect in their interpersonal relationships. As people who have gathered together in the Lord’s name and are held together by a strong bond of religious brotherhood, religious should commit themselves to one another in trust and confidence. Their trust for one another should be the extension of their trust in the Lord’s personal call to them and in his activity in their lives. This trust should enable them to believe that they are in the right place and with the right people. They should not look for another community elsewhere, but try to love those the Lord has put beside them and see them as primary symbols of God’s love for them. Those among them who have remained psychologically at the periphery of the community because of the effects of the ethnic tension which their congregation suffered, should move back to its center, regain trust in the congregation and join the rest of the members to build their congregation into a true religious family. They should forgive the past failures, overlook each other’s shortcomings, put aside their own prejudices and entrust themselves to the community, believing that God has called them together in Christ and intended them to be brothers in the same religious family.
As people linked together in trust, religious should see themselves as interdependent and collaborative persons, called upon to journey together in a common venture. They should communicate with each other about their works, seeking advice from one other and helping each other to succeed in their tasks. Their mutual trust should also be reflected in their relationship with their superiors whom they should see as "the chief discerners in the community’s continual search for God’s will." (L. Patrick Carroll. To Love To Share To Serve: Challenges to a Religious. Bandra-Bombay: St Paul Publications; 1984, 36). They should subject themselves to their leadership, collaborating with them in their effort to guide them towards a common goal. On their part, the superiors should see themselves as called upon to foster unity among their community members, encourage loyalty to the core values of religious life and promote creative fidelity to their respective spirituality and charism. They should involve every member of the community in decision-making, dialogue with them before assigning them any responsibility and listen to their needs and aspirations.