The Augustinian communities in which I have lived for the past two years have a practice of closing Morning and Evening Prayer with the petition, “through the cross you brought joy to the world.” This is a wonderful way to close each of our communal prayers, bringing to mind what Pope Francis has reminded us of so clearly, that “with Christ joy is constantly born anew.” For a long time my meditations on this phrase lingered on what Jesus had accomplished on the cross: our reconciliation, our being brought into an “Our Father,” relationship with a loving God. This deep grace provided me with comfort and a safe place. But a few months ago my reflection on this petition, “through the cross you brought joy to the world,” began to unravel. Something was missing. My safe place felt cold. There was comfort, but no life, no spark of the Gospel. What I thought had been joy was simply spiritual complacency.
In the Novitiate, we are blessed to have a great many Augustinians visit us to teach classes and lead discussions. In one of these conferences, a reference was made to a statement by St. Augustine that “without [Christ] we are nothing, but in him we are both Christ and ourselves.” This was the gift that led me out of the spiritual maze in which I was lost. My prayer shifted from reflection on what Jesus had accomplished for us on the cross to what we enter into as we accompany him on the cross. We are both Christ and ourselves. Through the cross, we bring joy. Our greatest personal tragedies become the well-spring for a life-giving engagement with creation and in that Spirit-filled process both the world and myself are redeemed. Entering into our brokenness reveals a gift that when nurtured and shared with the world enlivens the Kingdom of God, causing creation to sing, and joy abound.
What does this have to do with my vocation journey? My call to the Augustinians issued out of my life's greatest tragedy: the divorce and subsequent annulment of my marriage of eighteen years. That the darkness created by an honest encounter with the pain I caused in my marriage can be changed into light is, so far in my life, the most intimate touch of God's mercy, a touch that began by asking and being motivated by the question, “Lord, where is the grace in this painful process?” The grace began to flow with an urge to live in community. I investigated some secular agricultural communities and, then, a close group of friends and myself explored the idea of forming our own commune. Neither of these explorations were fruitful. Thanks be to God that it eventually occurred to me that I should include faith-based communities in my search! I was looking for a group that focused on the redemptive power of simply living community life well. Through online research, I narrowed the search to the Augustinians and contacted Fr. Tom McCarthy, O.S.A., and Sr. Ardis Cloutier, O.S.F., in the Vocations Office. Their prayers, words of wisdom, kindness, and professionalism in the service of Christ, provided the solid ground that enabled me to continue walking out of the darkness of divorce into the light-filled joy of being an Augustinian.