In the thirteenth century, seven prominent businessmen in Florence, Italy became appalled at the excessive materialism and immorality of the city. They decided to take a counter-cultural stand against the excesses of their culture. After receiving a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary who told them to leave the city, they left all behind and dedicated themselves to a life of poverty, prayer, and penance, calling themselves the Servants of Mary. From the beginning these seven and the men and women who followed their lead as the Servite Order, were an example of how God forms communities in order to better witness to charity in a world that often places possessions before people. As our hearts reach out in charity to our brothers and sisters, especially those without access to water and to health workers in poor countries, let us reflect on the Servite Prior General’s letter to his order in 2004, the seventh centenary of their foundation.
Nowadays, we are convinced that the quality of our community life has to be improved. … How sad it is to have to listen to the complaints of communities that are unhappy and full of tittle-tattle, or comfortably resigned and settled in their ways. We could say they have lost their reason to exist, their prophetic life force, their real Marian dimension that is based on a "yes", a fiat that is, above all, openness and docility to the will of God.
There are obstacles in the path of community life, and they have to be fought against. For example, that sort of "gossip" that creates bewilderment and prejudices, that extinguishes trust, that does not "speak well" (bene dicere) about others. Before speaking or criticizing, we must ask ourselves about the basis, the usefulness and worth of our words. All murmuring, all harmful speech must be avoided. We have to insist on what unites us, on the work of our group, on our aims, on mutual trust. …The glory of the Lord is not just the man who is alive, but the community that is alive, the community faithfully loved in times of joy and in times of sorrow. It is in community that we live united, of one heart and mind, in prayer, in listening to the Word of God, in the breaking of the bread of the Eucharist and the bread earned by our work.