What is a “charism”? According to encyclopedia.com, “a charism is a spiritual gift or talent granted by God to the recipient not primarily for [their] own sake but for the benefit of others ‘in order to perfect the saints for a work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,'” (Eph. 4:12; see also 1 Cor. 14:26). Most religious institutes will use charism to refer to their specific form of spirituality that they wish to emphasize for the building up of the Church. This is the general sense in which we Companions refer to our charism of discipleship.
It might sound strange to refer to discipleship as a spirituality since discipleship is the call for all Christians, but the Companions of The Way incorporate a monastic inspired “rule of life” as our structure and vehicle for a life of discipleship. Our rule of life gives discipleship a specific form and function within the Church. Since the 6th century, Benedictine monasticism emphasized three religious vows: obedience (submitting to the direction of the abbot/abbess or prior/prioress), stability (committing oneself to a particular monastery for life), and “conversion of life” (no private ownership of property and celibate chastity). St. Benedict wrote a Rule for his monks to follow in the community, and Benedictine communities have followed it eversince.
The Companions of The Way live out a “new” monastic spirituality of discipleship, which means that we draw upon the spirit and some practices of traditional monasticism, but we are not restricted to living cloistered in a monastery under religious vows. Instead of religious vows, confraternity members reaffirm and uphold their baptismal vows while committing their lives to discipleship of our Lord Jesus Christ and the discipling of others. Our charism of discipleship and our rule of life flows out of our baptismal vows because discipleship is the universal call of all baptized Christians.
Our spirituality also emphasizes the sacramental nature of authentic Catholic discipleship. A life devoted to our Lord really does communicate His graces in our lives. In modern society, we see a lot of uneasiness and uncertainty about life. There has never been a time in human history where people are more materially prosperous, yet anxiety, depression, and deep longing pervades the culture. The perennial wisdom of the saints who have gone before us is that in order to gain your identity and life you have to lose them in Christ. St. Paul said that the cross is foolishness to a dying world (1 Cor. 1:18).
Full surrender to Jesus in order to be “successful” in life seems counter-intuitive to the natural mind, but Christ says that the way up is the way down: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?” (Matt. 16:24-26 RSVCE). Surrender through discipleship will change and transform one’s life forever because the gift of eternal life ultimately flows from the inexhaustible love of God.
In chapter ten of the Gospel of John, our Lord proclaims, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). The Greek word for “abundantly” here means: more than; beyond what is anticipated; exceeding expectation; going past the expected limit. Jesus does not withhold Himself; He does not only give in part. Jesus lavishes gifts on His beloved. The life of the Word-made-flesh (John 1:14) gives over-abundantly. The image is one of a pot at the bottom of a waterfall, which continually spills over from the never-ending flow from the river above. Through surrender to Christ we paradoxically gain more than everything.
Our particular charism of discipleship stems from a distinctly “English” spirituality, meaning the Catholic faith as lived out in the British isles prior to the English Reformation plus the Anglican liturgical and Prayer Book patrimony after the Reformation. The Anglican tradition in English-speaking countries around the world inherited and incorporated the Benedictine spirituality of corporate daily prayer (as found in the Divine Office in the Book of Common Prayer), the reading and study of Holy Scripture, and love of one’s neighbor through hospitality and service. So our charism of discipleship rooted in the spirituality of English Christianity holistically melds together devotion, sacramental living, corporate prayer and worship, Scripture study, and acts of service.
The mission of the Companions has a local parish focus to directly engage Christian brothers and sisters in a life of discipleship and holiness. Transformation in the Church will be more potent if hearts and minds are touched on the interpersonal level. A key part of the New Evangelization is the evangelization of the Church herself. As Pope Paul VI says in Evangelii Nuntiandi, the Church is “the community of believers, the community of hope lived and communicated, the community of brotherly love, and she needs to listen unceasingly to what she must believe, to her reasons for hoping, to the new commandment of love. She is the People of God immersed in the world and often tempted by idols, and she always needs to hear the proclamation of the ‘mighty works of God’, which converted her to the Lord; she always needs to be called together afresh by him and reunited. In brief, this means that she has a constant need of being evangelized if she wishes to retain freshness, vigour and strength in order to proclaim the Gospel.”
Our community’s motto is “discipuli facientes discipuli,” or “disciples making disciples.” Therefore, our community’s charism of discipleship also has an outward-facing mission. We have four key steps in our mission to evangelize the Church: (1) cultivate mature disciples of Jesus Christ in our Companions through our charism and rule of life; (2) to model that growth to fellow Christians; (3) to love and support our fellow Christians in their own growth in discipleship; and (4) to seek reconciliation of the body of Christ through a mutual commitment to discipleship of Jesus Christ.