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Conference a ‘great honor’ for Augustinians

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SAN DIEGO — The local Augustinian community hosted an international gathering of their confreres — an event that is unlikely to ever happen again.

“It is a great honor for us,” said Augustinian Father Gary Sanders, prior provincial of the Province of St. Augustine in California. “I believe that we were chosen as the site because, this year, we are celebrating 100 years of Augustinians in California, specifically San Diego.”

The Order of St. Augustine held its Intermediate General Chapter, Sept. 11 to 23, at the Catamaran Hotel Resort and Spa in Mission Beach.

Augustinian superiors and representatives from around the world gather for a General Chapter every six years in Rome, during which they elect their international leaders and make decisions about the order’s future and where the Church is calling it to be. An Intermediate General Chapter is held at the halfway point between General Chapters and in a city other than Rome.

Father Sanders said this was the first time the gathering was held in California and only the second time in the United States.

With so many places in the world where Augustinians serve, he said, few cities will ever have the opportunity to host the Intermediate General Chapter, making it likely that “it will never happen in San Diego again.”

Among the highlights of the meeting, on Sept. 12, Cardinal Robert W. McElroy spoke to the Augustinians and presided over a Mass at the Catamaran Hotel.

Four days later, the visiting Augustinians attended a special Mass at St. Augustine High School that kicked off the school’s centennial year. The school unveiled an icon of Our Mother of Good Counsel — a title of Mary with special significance to the order — that now adorns one of the outer walls of the school’s Villanova Hall. The icon is the school’s gift to the Order of St. Augustine, given in appreciation of the 110 Augustinian friars who have ministered at the school.

Augustinian Father Max Villeneuve, who oversaw the logistics for the event, likens the Intermediate General Chapter to “a progress report,” explaining that it provides an opportunity for Augustinian provincials to discuss how their provinces are doing in implementing the agenda set at the most recent General Chapter.

He said the major topics addressed at the last General Chapter, held in 2019, included migration and care for creation. So, at the recent Intermediate General Chapter, provinces shared how they have assisted migrants and applied the principles of Pope Francis’ environmental-themed encyclical “Laudato Si” during the past three years.

The Augustinians’ prior general, Father Alejandro Moral Antón, and about 50 Augustinians from other provinces traveled to San Diego for the Intermediate General Chapter.

In his homily, Cardinal McElroy reflected on “The Tree of Life,” the 2011 film from director Terrence Malick, which he identified as “one of my favorite movies.”

The film begins with the juxtaposition of “the way of nature” and “the way of grace.”

Cardinal McElroy explained that the former is a harsh, demanding and self-seeking outlook on life, whereas the latter is marked by beauty, kindness and compassion.

“‘The Tree of Life’ is about the struggle between the order of nature and the order of grace, and I hesitate to talk about these themes in front of Augustinians, who know them better than I do,” he said. “But I just want to suggest that, in our lives of leadership, there are four temptations about the order of nature and the order of grace.”

The first is to become “enmeshed in the order of nature,” allowing oneself to get “sucked into … solving a problem” without “seeing the deeper realities at work.”

The second temptation is to “see (a problem) only as a problem” and fail to recognize where God’s grace is “already present in the situation.”

“In leadership,” said Cardinal McElroy, “we have to discern, ‘Where is the grace of God at work, even in this situation that may seem terrible?’”

The third temptation is the failure to realize that leaders themselves are called to bring grace into problematic situations, acting as “instruments of God’s grace.”

The fourth temptation is not to see that, ultimately, it is God who will heal the situation and, at a certain point, leaders must stand back, accept that God is in charge, and allow Him to take over.

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