Religious communities have long practiced some sort of Community Review, in which community members publicly seek pardon for their faults. As Sister Lisa Laguna D.C. shares, she’s had great success trying this practice with her middle school students for years. Could it work for your family?
by Jerry Windley-Daoust
At the recent Theology of the Body Congress, I had the pleasure of running into Sister Lisa Laguna, vocations director for the Daughters of Charity (Province of the West). We got talking about how perfect life in a religious community is compared to life in families (tongue firmly planted in cheek), which led to a conversation about how her community manages conflict; and that led her to bring up their practice of the community review.
Tiger Catholics may be more familiar with the community review in its more traditional form, the Chapter of Faults. Once upon a time, religious communities would regularly gather to publicly admit their faults—and point out the faults of others. The setting was one of prayerful silence; this wasn’t a meeting to hash out conflicts, so community members listened to one another’s faults without responding. As Sister Lisa and others observe, having one’s faults pointed out in public by others could have a disastrous effect on community relations, unless the community was filled with exceptionally spiritually mature people.
These days, the Chapter of Faults has evolved into a “Community Review.” As Sister Lisa explained, during the Community Review, the community gathers, and members make an act of humility by sharing ways that they have hurt members of the community. A sister might admit to gossiping, or saying hurtful words, or being passive aggressive. Sometimes the act of humility regards offenses against the whole community, but other times, a sister might direct her admission of fault to a specific person.
“Sometimes sisters are feeling that we’re doing [what we admit to], and they don’t realize we’re aware we’re doing that until we come together and share about it,” Sister Lisa says. “We find it to be a really healing experience, and certainly a very sacramental time.”
Importantly, the form of the act of humility includes not only an admission of fault, but a positive affirmation that the person really wants to do better, and a request for prayers and practical assistance. Sister Lisa offers this example: “A sister might say, ‘I’m sorry for the impatience that I’ve exhibited toward you. I’m going through a really hard time right now and I know I’ve been impatient; you’ve been trying to share stories with me and I’ve been cutting you off. I don’t mean to do that. I really want to listen to you. I ask your pardon and I ask your prayers so that I can stop doing this because I don’t want to hurt you this way, and I want to recognize Jesus in you, so I want you to help me out.”
The other community members don’t respond to these statements, but maintain a state of quiet prayer for the person speaking.
Using the Community Review with Kids
But will the Community Review work with kids? Sister Lisa’s experience suggests it’s worth a try, at least with older children and teens. She has had her middle school students do a Community Review twice a year for fifteen years, and has always had a positive experience.
“I’m always amazed at how honest they are, how they know the things that have affected each other. They always come through,” Sister Lisa says. “Always the things that I would pray for to surface get brought up.”
While we have yet to try this out with our family, it sounds like it could be worth trying. If you try this out in your family, here are some ideas for what to do.
What to Do
- Gather in your prayer space. Consider setting the mood by lighting a candle or practicing thirty seconds of silence.
- You may want to explain the background of the practice first—maybe even a day or two in advance. Explain the historic origins of the practice, and why religious communities continue to use it today. Talk about the virtues this practice might strengthen, such as humility, courage, self-awareness, wisdom, and love.
- Offer general examples of acts of humility. Sister Lisa’s list includes bullying, gossiping, singling people out, and being exclusive.
- Some good ground rules: acts of humility (also called “accusations of self”) should be specific and relevant to the life of the community (family). Also, no sideways accusations of other family members, e.g., “Jeremy, I’m sorry I yelled at you when you took my iPad without asking . . . again.”
- Sister Lisa’s community begins their Community Review with the Come, Holy Spirit prayer. You could substitute your own prayers or even song.
- Parents should make acts of humility first—to model the form, but also to show that this is a good spiritual practice for people of all ages, not just kids.
- Don’t be afraid of silence. Set a minimum amount of time for the Community Review–say, five minutes. If your kids are silent for most of this time, don’t worry; make it a time of silent prayer instead. Admitting your own faults—even in a family setting—can be scary, and requires a certain amount of courage!
- After the Community Review is over, offer a blessing, and encourage spontaneous acts of love and reconciliation by leading the way: Give your kids a hug!
For more historical background on the Chapter of Faults, plus a proposal for adapting it for modern use in religious communities, see Strengthening One Another, a paper presented by Evan B. Howard at SpiritualityShoppe.org. I haven’t checked out the provenance of either Mr. Howard or the website, but you might find good ideas in his proposal that you can adapt to your own situation. For instance, he proposes adding affirmations of one another into the mix.
For my full interview with Sister Lisa, check out the video below.