What is Intentional Community?

An intentional community (IntComm) is a community which is planned around the common good from its beginning.

Such communities have always been essential to the Holy Church. The Apostolic Communes mentioned in Acts 2:42-47 and Acts 4:32-37 serve as the inspiration for the many Christian communities which followed. Christian IntComms include the many monastic movements of the Church—the Antonians, Basilians, Benedictines, Brigettines, Cistercians, Domincians, Trappists, etc—as well as various other communities such as the Basiliad, the Beguines and Beghards, the Jesuit reducciones, the Catholic Worker Movement, and the Focolare. Some radical protestant movements have also formed admirable communities, such as the Jesus Family in China. The anabaptist tradition has produced both the Amish and the Bruderhof, both of which have been successful in maintaining a strong Christian culture. 

It can be hard to imagine a radically different lifestyle. And it is true that the vast majority of IntComms fail. Why is this? 

First, living a life in contradiction to the economics and culture of modernity is not easy. In premodern society, the “creative destruction” of capitalism, in which market forces tear apart communities and families, did not exist. Culturally, people did not hold the modern ideal of individual freedom, but recognized the true freedom of virtue and the common good. While no utopia, the status quo of the medieval village was supportive of family values and traditional life. Today, however, the status quo of society is actively harmful to anybody who wants to live a good and holy life.

Second, many secular movements fail to recognize what makes an IntComm work. God must be at the center of any community which seeks the common good. The counsels of perfection—chastity, poverty, and obedience—serve an important role in binding IntComms together. Celibacy or lifelong marriage, the partial or complete sharing of goods, and rules which dictate decision-making and hierarchy can be observed in all long-lived IntComms. 

However difficult IntComm may seem, Catholics cannot afford to accept the depravity of the modern world, even if this means putting our “comfortable” lives at risk. Our Lord commands us to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides” (Matthew 6:33). 

An IntComm is a place to raise families of saints. For those who despair about the future, it could easily become a castle in which to hide and wait for the end times. But for the integralist, it is a bivouac—a war camp—which sustains and strengthens those who do battle with the world. The economic support network, the traditions and moral customs, and the relationships centered around God create a small society which leads people to virtue. A successful IntComm can become a hub for building up parishes, evangelization, and the struggle for social justice. 

An intentional community is integralism on a small scale. It is not a retreat from political engagement, but a springboard for holy men and women as they work together in building a better world.