2. The Community “Oikos”

“Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common” – Acts 4:32.

“As we have all embraced a common calling, so our Congregation embraces all its members communities. In turn, each of us, while having the readiness of will which befits the universal outreach of our Congregation, shared family life and ministry with his brothers in a local community” – Constitutions, 11.


The mission shapes our community as a community of witnesses and messengers. The four numbers (69-72), which MS dedicates to the community, not only speak of the community as such, but also integrate what – in previous Chapter Documents – formed other sections: government and economics. Now, however, everything is integrated into the community, or better into the oikós[1]: the community-oikos, the oiko-nomía (economy) and the leadership or government of the house- family.

This approach is in line with Pope Francis’ call for the “ecological conversion” or “oikological” in the encyclical “Laudato Si” to which the Congregation wants to respond.

Our communities are “mission-houses” within the great house of the Congregation, or as MS, 70 depicts it, “house and school of communion.” This is a home within the great House of the Church; and the Church within the house of our planet, viz., “common house.”

When a religious community is formed, what are your initial thoughts in terms of the “what”, the “how” or the “why” of your community? As Simon Sinek says, the most important, the most charismatic thing is to start with the “why.” We will therefore divide this reflection into five parts: 1-3) The three reasons that provide us the raison for being our community: 4) Being “oikos:” the house-family: 5) Community “oikos,” “missionary presence.”[2]

1. The first “why” of the Community: To be part of the great “biocenosis”

The first reason leads us to think that our planet is the habitat of millions and millions of communities. Wherever humans go, we create communities. Communities give us identity, define us: my tribe, my family, my city, my work, the club to which I belong, my school, my church, my temple… my “online” community. There are also other communities of living beings. Ecology speaks to us of “biocenosis” – living communities – and “biotopes” – habitat in which a particular group of animal and plant species live. The semantic field of the word “community” extends in our time and applied very often to the world of business, politics, university, art, and new technologies.

In Consecrated Life we live ordinarily in community. In the beginning we talked about “ceno-bios,” which is the same word as “bio-cenosis.” The levels of satisfaction on the part of those of us who form them, however, is not ordinarily very high today. Despite the extraordinary efforts of the institutional community, the degree of enjoyment and belongingness is not – however – too high. St John Berchmans (1599-1621) is credited with that phrase “mea maxima poenitentia vita communis (my maximum penance is the common life).” Should it be like this? Does it continue to be like this?

Our local and provincial communities need to enter a new phase of internal re-organization of genuine refoundation so as not to make things more difficult. An “innovation” always facilitates, makes everything simpler and more accessible, and enables what, in various circumstances, seems impossible. And once again we can ask ourselves: what is the authentic “why” of a community of Consecrated Life?

2. The second “why” of the Community: Dwelling-House of the Trinity

Trinidad Sao“If you love me, you will keep my word, and my Father will love you, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”[3]

The second “why” of a community is its vocation to be the house of God, temple of the Holy Spirit, a dwelling place of the Trinity.

God is a Trinitarian community, and a community in relentless and mysterious correlation, which the Fathers of the Church expressed with the word “perichóresis.” This word speaks to us of a permanent “mutual relationship,” of the divine dance in which each person responds to the other and defines himself by giving and receiving. In the Consecrated Life, the community aspires to be “Imago Trinitatis,” like the Church. It is a community chosen by God (vocational events!), not born of flesh and blood, but of the Spirit. It is held together by the fact that its members share the same charism with which they have been graced and from its mission shared with the Holy Trinity.[4]

To be an “ad instar Trinitatis” community[5] is both a grace and an art. It is a gift, which is only appreciated when it is cultivated and one is willing to let oneself be penetrated and transformed by it. The following why will help us better understand this mysterious perspective. The three persons of the Trinity share the three great causes in favour of the human being and the cosmos: creation, redemption, sanctification: the three beautiful and fantastic “divine causes” that we confess in the “Creed”.

The community “according to the Trinitarian model” is a community of diversity in correlation. It is a community “in dance,” that is, in which open spaces are created for interactions and learning from cultural and generational diversity.[6]

What builds a community, or generates it, is not a well-programmed group – although this is important – but, above all, the interactions within it. The Spirit of charismatic diversity and communion is welcomed in every authentic Christian community.[7]

3. The third “why” of the Community: sharing with all and everyone a great “ethical cause” (Ethos)

The third why lies in what we can call a “shared ethos.” And in speaking this way, we mean an ethical cause for which it is worth laying down one’s life, sharing it with one another, become passionate about it. It is that cause worth fighting for and in which all of us who form the community are implicated. Some, for example, join with others for the cause of children (“save the children”); there are those who fight for the cause of hospitality (“save hospitality”). And it is here that each community must ask itself about the missionary cause that brings it together and shapes it. It is our charismatic “reason to be” the Claretian missionary charism, because our spirit is for all the world.

Contemplating the charism from a secular perspective, it is like an “authentic ethical cause” for which every Institute of Consecrated Life is committed and struggles. Shared ethos generates open communities that are integrated within one network, or transformative action networks. Every authentic charism contains a “magic” element that is not easily describable and that makes you fall in love, amazes, polarizes, makes you dream and mobilizes you to make your dreams come true. What expands and catches fire is not a theory about charism, but its mysterious magic, which excites. What constitutes a community is not the work it does, but what it magically brings together so that its members walk together, side by side, towards a common goal.

Those of us who share the same “ethos,” the charism, are individuals who are different, unique, free, and unpredictable. The complexity of our freedom is such that we cannot expect definite results. The art of creating communities does not generate certainties. A community is a web of freedoms, which introduces us to the world of unpredictable complexity. We’re not a group of programmable robots. That is why the art of forming a community goes beyond mere programming and its results are always unpredictable.

What builds a community or generates it is not the well-programmed group – although this is important– but rather the interactions within it. The Spirit of charismatic diversity and communion is welcomed in every authentic Christian community.

God is active and living in the world, in the Congregations, and in the people themselves.

4. Being “Oikos”: the house-family

Our last General Chapter tells us that:

“being a community is a verb and not just a noun. It’s action, it’s process. It is a grace that must be pleading, caring for and allowing to grow, not just a conquest of our effort.”[8]

We will enter into the “Processes of Transformation” as a community and living as authentic brothers, “as Sons of the heart,” when we accept the presence of the Father and May our Mother, who make us brothers, with the only Master who makes us disciples and brings us joy with his Presence and the love of the Spirit which is poured into our hearts. we rejoices in his Presence and the love of the Spirit that pours into our hearts” (MS, 69). For this reason, the General Chapter finally integrated the section of the community, also the economy (oikos) and understood leadership as the governance of the family home.

“Oikos” is the Greek word for the extended family that works with a common goal (purpose). In the early Church, discipleship and mission always revolved around the flowering of the “oikos.” She was the vehicle that facilitated the dynamics of relations and enabled the Church to survive amid persecution and hardship for hundreds of years. The “oikos” was a true center of mission for the New Testament communities.[9]

The “oikos” was also the liturgical center: the extended family gathered around the Table for “thanksgiving,” to celebrate the Eucharist. It was the place and time of the community reunion of those who gathered; but it was also the missionary launching pad.

Our parishes (par-oikia) also apply the same vision: the family home that gathers, prays, shares, and then projects itself on mission. When the local Church house is authentic, “Oikos” survives in the face of threats and overcomes any kind of persecution or difficulty.

Western societies have been losing the sense of extended family over the last hundred years. The home is more of a “nuclear family” and more frequently a “single-parent house” because of so many divorces. And as a result, there’s loneliness, depression, stress and super-occupation. Many people feel that they survive submerged in the sea of immense tasks with their heads emerging from the drowning and eagerly looking for ways to make sense of their life. Creating “extended families” is behind the dream and project of the “great common house” and the “ecumenical,” “ecological” and “economic” movements: these tell us about the “house” project (oikos). Why don’t we start this dream in our home communities?

5. Community-oikos, “missionary presence”

To speak of the community as a “missionary presence” is to refer, above all, to the Church-oikos, as an extended family “on mission”: each of its members contributes to the mission and each is sustained and supported by the community. Those of us who follow Jesus have the opportunity to rebuild society through extended families, that is, communities based not on flesh or blood, but on Jesus.[10]

Being a Church “oikos” is something to be learned: to be families that work together in mission with God. Community as “oikos” is the proposal of the Spirit of God for our time, for Consecrated Life, for God’s mission in our time that seeks to restore the church’s ability to bear much fruit.

The objective is not to run a program called a “missionary community,” but to learn how to function as a family extended in the mission.[11] It’s something anyone can learn. The “oikos” is the vehicle that takes us. But you need to know “where to” and “how to guide and lead it”. Let us never forget that a small group of seriously committed people can change the world!

The authentic why is not what the community does for God, but what God does for the community, with it and through it. God has a providential plan about every community. This plan must be discerned, welcomed and then projected as a missionary presence in every context in which the community is situated: taking into account its culture, society, towns, cities, neighborhoods, roads, networks and communications.

We ask ourselves: but what type of presence? And the answer is: “missionary.” The adjective “missionary” receives various meanings: for some, it refers to “missions” as they have traditionally been understood; missionary refers to what the Church does for non-Christians, for the marginalized and the poor; for others, “missionary” is simply the latest means invented to enable the Church to grow (within some Churches of the Reformation); finally, the term “missionary” refers to something basic and profound: to what the Church is in her most intimate being. And only, from there, one can understand the meaning of what the Church does.

There are, therefore, two forms of Christian and religious presence: (a) one, which is characterized by the presence of the Church and responds to what the Church “does”: this form of presence is the most frequent. Society recognizes us as church people, people of religion for what we do. b) There is another type of presence that is “missionary”: I don’t say missionary to distinguish it from the “missionary” presence in the most classic sense! “Missionary” refers to the presence of the Church that makes transparent the “Mission of God”, what God is doing and how He is doing it; it is the community that witnesses to the action of the Spirit of God.

The first model of presence is ecclesio-centric. The second is theo-centric and Trinitarian. In the ecclesio-centric paradigm the community is shaped by its own actions, services, projects in favor of God and his Kingdom. In the theo-centric paradigm the community is set up by the “missio Dei”, or “missio Spiritus”: its goal is to “let God be God” in the midst of our world and collaborate with Him to the extent that God asks. This way of presence of a Christian or religious community is a great resource of our God for the evangelization of society.

It is the “Missio Dei” – a mission that has our God-Trinity as the great protagonist – that shapes and offers the reason for being the community. The divine mission flourishes as the “kingdom of God,” already present in the world. But it is not that God does everything. The Church is called to be an “aide,” an “agent,” collaborator of the “Missio Dei” and not the main actress. The mission is not carried out simply by building churches, creating ecclesial communities, founding religious communities in certain places. It is not about communities that “do”, that are protagonists of the mission; but about communities moved by and committed to the Mission that the Spirit is carrying out everywhere. David Bosch recognized, quoting Jürgen Moltmann, that an ecumenical and missionary paradigm is emerging”.

“Today one of the strongest impulses for the renewal of the theological concept of Church comes from the theology of mission.”[12]

“There is unity of mission and plurality of ministries in the Church.” Therefore, in a community there are not multiple missions, but one. There are, nonetheless, various ministries. Education and healing are not two distinct missions, but two ministries serving the single mission. Therefore, a mission-configured community may be made up of people who carry out their mission in various ministries. The unifying element of the community is the “one mission.”

A missionary community is not to be confused with the group of those entrusted with a task, a ministry. The specificity of a community of disciples and missionaries is that everyone, without the slightest exception, knows, feels, and are collaborators and aides of the mission of the Spirit. It is therefore very important to recognize in each community the ministerial groups.

For personal and community reflection

  1. Are we aware of the “why” we form this community? It is not enough to answer the “what”: those who form the community. It is not enough to answer the “how”: our community characteristics. It is necessary to respond to the most mysterious “why”, which finds its root in our God.
  2. Do we sometimes experience that we are God’s dwelling, temple of the Spirit? Is it true that we feel that where two or three of us are gathered in His name the Lord is in our midst? How do you express it in concrete terms?
  3. Can we say that our community is a family of God that renders itself present in the context in which it is located? Do we see and experience of those around us as “present” or “absent”? How can we make them present in the oikos-community of the people of God?


[1] Oikos is the Greek word for family, home or household, the smallest unity of the social system.

[2] Cf. Simon Sinek, Start woth Why. How great leaders inspire everyone to take action, Penguin, 2011.

[3] Jn 14, 23.

[4] Cf. Richard Rohr, Divine dance. The Trinity and your transformation, Whitaker House, 2017.

[5] Community configured to the Trinity.

[6] See Alessio Surian (ed), Open spaces for interactions and learning Diversities, Sense Publishers, Rotterdam, 2016. C. Otto Scharmer, New New 901, Theory U: lead from the future as it emerges, Elefthería, Madrid 2017.

[7] For Newbigin, the Church must be understood as “creation of the Holy Spirit.” She exists in the world as a sign of God’s creative and redeeming kingdom, which is present in the world. The Church acts as an anticipatory sign of God’s eschatological future and the redeeming Kingdom that has already begun. At the same time, the Church acts as an instrument of the leadership of the Spirit to bring about the Redeeming Reign in all dimensions of life: J. E. L. Newbigin, The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission, B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1995; cf. Craig van Funds, The essence of the Church: A Community created by the Spirit, Baker, Grand Rapids, 2000.

[8] MS 69.

[9] The family home was the space of father, mother, children, slaves, workers, businesses, associates. The “Church of the House” (Philem., 1 Cor 16:19; Rom. 16:6; Phil. 2). One difficulty was that the “oikós” were also separated from each other and economically, hence the word “oikonomía.” If– it was thought – sharing resources could ruin the house itself, the New Testament advocated another model: sharing resources, teachings, koinonia. And all things under the only one Father Families who resurrected Jesus from the dead. Cf. Mike Breen Leading Missionary Communities: rediscovering the power of living in mission together, Pete Berg, 2013.

[10] Craig van Gelder, The Ministry of the Missional Church: A community led by the Spirit, Baker, Grand Rapids, 2007.

[11] Cf. Mike Breen, Leading Missional Communities: Rediscovering the power of living in mission together, Pawleys Island, 3 Dimension Ministries, 2013.

[12] J. Moltmann, The Church in the power of the Spirit, London, SCM Press, 1977, p. 7.