A few months ago the Sisters of the Apostles of the Interior Life established a new apostolic house in Rome, Italy. For years the women in formation and the older Sisters, dedicated specifically to the apostolate, were living side by side in two apartments hidden within the “Eternal City”. The amount of space had become limited with the increase in Vocations and time was ripe for an opening of a new apostolic house. Within a short month the walls had a fresh coat of paint, curtains were put up, the Sisters moved in, and the furniture was in place. All of these preparations took place in order to make the house more welcoming and homey where the Sisters could live their community life.
It is interesting to note that this house, like the houses the community has in Texas and Kansas, is called an “apostolic house”. Someone from the outside might think that within the house people do apostolate and give Christian formation to others who come in or think it is simply a place where the Sisters, who do apostolate during the day, live and sleep. Both of these notions are true, however the two words combined “apostolic” and “house” can remind one of a deeper reality. Sr. Tiziana once said to the women in formation, “The first apostolate of every Apostle of the Interior Life is within the community so that the community can be a sign of unity and love of God and neighbor.” This flips the notion of why some may think they are being formed to become Apostles of the Interior Life. It is not primarily that one learns to go out to bring others closer to Christ, but the formation one receives is to be lived first and foremost among the ones with whom one lives.
It is tempting to think that the home, in general, is the strongest comfort zone one has. At home there is the private space of the bedroom, television, books, kitchen, porch and back yard. All of this brings images of rest and relaxation, and a place where no longer one is among the non-catholic co-workers, friends at the public high school, or at the parish pushing along evangelization activities. The typical idea might be that one comes home to recharge in order to go forth. It is specifically this going forth that Pope Francis encouraged as he said, “All of us are asked to obey the Lord’s call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the “peripheries” in need of the light of the Gospel” (Evangelii Gadium, #20). However, looking closely and engaging oneself completely in the family and community life, one quickly notes that the home is exactly the place where the light of the Gospel is needed. The work of apostolate that is direly needed is for each member to grow and “to go out from themselves” since within the home there may be strong temptations towards individualism, jealousy, impatience, judgment, and lack of communication. Moreover, a spirit of sacrifice must be present.
A poignant image for community and family life may be a light bulb. A good light bulb illuminates a dark room and people are drawn towards that light. However, where there is a light shining there is always a burning that is taking place within the light bulb. Without that burning, there is no light. So, too, a community may have times where the members sense a deeper purification, that is a “burning” or dying to oneself, but this is necessary in order for the community to be a true light for others.
Of being this light for others Pope Francis commented,
“I especially ask Christians in communities throughout the world to offer a radiant and attractive witness of fraternal communion. Let everyone admire how you care for one another, and how you encourage and accompany one another: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35). This was Jesus’ heartfelt prayer to the Father: “That they may all be one… in us… so that the world may believe” (Jn 17:21).” (#99)
Some of the most beautiful signs of a healthy and radiant community include when the members greet one another in the morning with a “good morning” that expresses gratitude to be living in each other’s midst, when they express interest about hearing how the day went for the other members, when they “waste time” at the dinner table to spend more time together, when they are flexible with ideas and projects, wanting to put unity of the group before anything else. Yet, one of the most striking signs is when they esteem the others in community. It is those who are nearest to us who see our defects up close and personal, yet cultivate a love that goes beyond our flaws, so as to look at the other and speak of them with admiration in quite a radical and inspiring way.
“Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of the ideal of fraternal love!”, the Pope cries out (#101). It is a place of apostolate and therefore a place of going out of ourselves. It generates a light for others to see and by their witnessing of it, becomes a source of evangelization. There will be fruits, not only for others but also for the members themselves, as the Word of God promises. “How good and pleasant it is, when brothers dwell together as one… It is there the Lord has decreed a blessing, life for evermore!” (Psalm 132).
How do I live my family/community life? Do I see it primarily as a comfort zone or a place where I am called to go out of myself?
What, in particular, strikes me about a radiant community/family that I have witnessed?
Where am I being called to “burn” within my community/family so that the light of Christ’s love may be transmitted to others?