One can only marvel at couples who successfully manage life in community alongside their own needs as spouses. Communities by definition place demands on their members which sometimes feel overwhelming. The daily give and take in the household, meals in common, regular prayers, chores and other responsibilities, financial discussions, weekly meetings, communal ministries, routine daily requests for time and attention, tensions, and personal problems within the group-all of these add up to what someone has described as the "constant pull" of community on the individual. Sometimes it feels as if there is absolutely no time for oneself.
Of course, precisely herein lies the success or failure of any given community-the willingness of its members to get pulled out of themselves into the common life. The community that survives will have several in its number who can do this in rather extraordinary ways on behalf of the collective. In fact, every successful community we know has at least one pivotal person who, without setting him/herself over or above the rest, serves as the "mother/father." (From time to time, it's important to acknowledge these selfless community members, because they are the glue that holds the whole project together.)
Enter the married couple with their admitted need for physical and psychological space-for time apart, for intimacy, where they can argue and resolve disagreements-where they work out the never-ending requirements of a growing, healthy marriage. Viewed from the outside you ask: How in the world could the constant demands of community possibly mesh with the constant demands of the married relationship?
Yet there are married couples who manage gracefully their lives together and in community. We have seen a number of them do it. Not only that, but community members who are married become treasured gifts in the group. Their example points to a giving of themselves which, as we know, builds community.
It must be pointed out here that living a married life in community is not for everyone, maybe not even for most. Many relationships simply cannot withstand the pressures that community places on them. Some couples we know have considered joining a community and backed away out of respect for their relationship. They knew it would suffer perhaps irreparable damage when faced with the relentless give and take of community demands.
ALL THE more reason to celebrate and focus on the couples who do live in community. They manifest remarkable maturity and confidence with regard to their mutual commitment. Almost universally they appear absolutely certain of each other's love and dedication to building their marriage. In addition, whatever differences occur between them remain there-between them-and do not seep into the common space of the community. Others in the group, therefore, do not find themselves pulled into a sort of collective marriage counseling.
It appears, too, that successful community-spouses have maintained a real sense of their individuality. The husband and the wife relate to the others in the group not so much as a married unit, but as individuated persons. This quality of self-awareness in the spouses lifts a burden from the rest of the community in dealing with the two, for one does not sense in the spouses any sort of unified front with regard to the group. To outward appearances the married folks are but two more members of the community.
Nevertheless, it is incumbent on the community to give the spouses the physical and psychological space they need. When husband and wife remove themselves from the community routine for an hour, an evening, or a few days, that has to be honored by the rest.
Finally and above all, the married couple in community points to a very important truth-that marriage is a social sacrament, a tight but open circle. Married love opens its circle most obviously through the procreation of children. Ideally, married love opens itself as well to a hurting world and serves those in need much better than either of the spouses could by themselves. In living a community life, the married couple give concrete evidence that they understand this open circle of their love. Unmarried community members should bless them for their unique and valuable witness.
JOE NANGLE, O.F.M., is executive director of Franciscan Mission Service and a member of Assisi Community in Washington, D.C.