Words Can Lose Their Meaning


We all know the story of the boy who cried “Wolf!” Eventually the word became meaningless and the wolf consumed him. The same thing seems to be happening with the words “scandal” and “Modernism” among some Catholics. Suddenly, everything is a scandal and anything that is not right is Modernism. What’s unfortunate and we have to beware is that most of the people who use the term “Modernism” have never read a history book on Modernism. They don’t know the full scope of what it means and what is not included under Modernism. But they sound very intelligent. It’s like the kid in school who can use big words. Everyone thinks he’s very smart. The truth is that he doesn’t know what these words mean either.

Is there ever such a thing as scandal? Of course there is. Is there such a thing as Modernism? Yes there is. There is also such a thing as McCarthyism. Very often those who scream “Scandal!” are the ones who cause the scandal. They attract attention to things that most people would not otherwise notice and they inflate the issue with such passion and rhetoric that people become horrified without sufficient reason. If others are scandalized, we can thank the people who make huge and very public those incidents that most people know nothing about and don’t need to know.

Whenever you hear “scandal” or “Modernism” verify before you buy into it. Ask yourself some intelligent questions.

1. Would this be a scandal if the person had not spread it around?

2. Is it a true scandal or is it just something that someone does not like?

3. At what point does the term “scandal” lose objectivity and becomes a very subjective judgment?

4. When something is called Modernism or someone is called a Modernist, does the subject fit under the definition of Modernism or Modernist?

5. Do I really understand what Modernism and Modernist means?

6. If I don’t understand, why am I getting my education from a blog or a an online forum?

There are distance universities that offer online courses, but blogs and forums are not cyber classrooms. Read with caution.  Remember, excessive use of an important term or word can render it useless when it’s overused.

Published in: on May 27, 2014 at 10:52 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Our Hearts Will Not Rest


augustineI’ve been reading The Restless Flame by Louis de Wohl, a novel about St. Augustine of Hippo.  WOW!  It could well be the story of my own journey.  I strongly recommend it to anyone.  Yes, it’s a novel, but it’s historically very accurate.  De Whol sticks very closely to the real life story of Augustine.  The best part of the book is that he captures Augustine’s search for meaning.  This is the part that for me is autobiographical.  The events in my life may have been different, but the struggle and the questions were the same.

We are all familiar with Augustine’s later work as a priest, bishop and theologian.  He tells us quite a bit about his journey toward conversion in Confessions.  But Wohl gives a voice to Augustine’s anguished search for meaning and ultimately for God.  You can hear it.

Why is a Franciscan of Life pushing this book?  I’m not exactly pushing a novel as much as I am pushing a reality.  For many of us, Augustine’s journey is not a foreign experience.  Many of us have struggled trying to find what we believed to be evasive truth.  We go from one thing to another in life, always believing that we will find happiness and the fulfillment of every desire.  This can be a maddening search.  We jump from relationship to relationship, from job to job, from one city to another, from parish to parish and often from one religious tradition to the next.  Each one promises to be the landing pad for which we search.  This was also Augustine’s journey.

What is equally compelling about this work is that it presents to us an Augustine who is very human and a good man at the deepest level of his being.  We tend to look on Augustine’s life before he became a Christian as one of dissipation and promiscuity.  It’s too easy to condemn a man whom one does not understand.  It’s too easy to sit on the chair of moral judgment and look down upon a person without knowing the struggles and deep anguish of the human soul.  It’s also too easy to condemn a man’s journey, because we can’t see Grace gradually reeling him in, like a fish who struggles to get off the hook and back into the water; but God’s love is more powerful than the fish.  At the end of the day, the fish will relax and yield to Christ the Eternal Fisherman.

The story of Augustine’s conversion is a story of hope for those of us who have not yet arrived, for those of us who struggle with sin, questions, failures, human weakness, and moments of darkness dispersed among the moments of light.  Augustine’s story should be a source of hope for those of us whose hearts are restless and who will not rest until they rest in God.  Augustine’s story is about the power of God’s love and a man’s refusal to give up his search for Truth.

Love will never give up on us while we live.  His grace will fight to conquer our hearts and minds, our bodies and souls.  If we lose it’s because we have given up the search for Truth.  We have settled for less than perfect love. God’s love for us and our determination to find absolute and living Truth is all we need to arrive at union with the Divine.  Love and the search for Truth is painful.  But, when the time is right, we will reach the summit of the mount and our lives will be transfigured by Him who is Truth itself.

St Augustine and St Monica, pray for us.

On Being A Franciscan, husband and dad


Brother Thomas More, FFV

Postulant ChrisSt. Francis conformed himself closely to Christ.  His deep prayer life, fidelity to the Church and detachment from the secular culture serves as an inspiring example for my own vocation as a husband and father.  As a husband, I am called to love my spouse unconditionally.  In doing this, I model Christ’s love and desire for the salvation of my wife’s soul as well as my own.  My Franciscan vocation deepens my commitment to this salvific mission of love by establishing a prayer life that is centered on communing with God Himself.  With a vibrant prayer life, God’s love and Spirit can blow across my everyday life as it is lived out along side of my wife.

I am blessed with four children, each reflecting the beauty and love of God.  Guarding my children’s spiritual and physical development requires the protective and providential embrace of a father.  Saint Francis became the spiritual father of many brothers and sisters by caring for their souls.  By embracing a poverty of spirit and a detachment from material possessions, Saint Francis serves as a constant reminder on how to detach from our own secular culture and to focus on providing for the spiritualcord life of our families.  My Franciscan journey, with its spirit of poverty that reaches upward and outward, mediates God’s grace and peace.  In letting go and emptying myself from selfish preoccupations and secular concerns, I’m discovering how to spread the joy and peace that St. Francis so beautifully exemplified as a spiritual father to the sons and daughters of the Church.

Charged with the Franciscan spirit, I hear a call to reach outward and to embrace the faith and mission of the Church.  The faith of the Church has helped me grow in holy attentiveness to God’s plan for me, my family and the wider community of God’s people.

Franciscans of Life Journey Back to their Marian-Franciscan Roots to Build on Tradition


This being the month of Mary, our weekly formation/meeting has been focusing on Mary.  We’ve been learning some Marian hymns that have been part of Franciscan tradition for centuries.  One of these older and more famous hymns is “Ultima In Mortis Hora”.  You can find it on YouTube.  The best rendition that I’ve found is sun by Franciscan Brother Benedict from the Custody of the Holy Land.  Check it out.

The Ultima, as it’s commonly known by Franciscans has an unknown origin.  But it tells us something very important about the Franciscan family.  From our very early days, before the Franciscan family grew and began to diversify into many branches of the first, second and third order, as well as other independent Franciscan congregations and societies, May’s role as the mother of the Church and the Franciscan family was well establish.  Franciscans counter on her to accompany us our last day on earth and to beg her son for peaceful and grace filled death.

Check out some of these quotes from early Franciscans, including Francis of Assisi himself.

Hail, holy Lady, most holy Queen, Mother of God, Mary who art ever Virgin, chosen from Heaven by the most Holy Father, whom He has consecrated with the most holy beloved Son and the Ghostly Paraclete, in whom was and is all the fulness of grace and all good. Hail thou His palace!
Hail thou His tabernacle!
Hail thou His house!
Hail thou His garment!
Hail thou His handmaid!
Hail thou His Mother and all ye holy virtues which by the grace and illumination of the Holy Ghost thou infusest in the heart of the faithful, that from infidels ye mayest make them faithful to God.

The Franciscans of Life have a very special attachment to the Gospel of John, because it was St. Francis’ favorite Gospel.  One of my favorite passages in this mystical gospel is Jn 2:5.

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.

Mary is the Queen Mother who intercedes before the King on behalf of his people and who speaks to his people with the authority of a quee.  She does not suggest that they do whatever he tells them.  She does not request or encourage them.  She COMMANDS them.  Grounded in revealed truth, the Franciscans of Life, venerate Mary and pay close attention to her as the Queen Mother of the King who is the redeemer of the human race, the second person of the Trinity, the Word of God who has become incarnate, the Risen Lord who left behind an empty tomb.  This is is his Queen Mother.

No matter how Protestants and other denominations cut it, there is not denying that she is truly the Queen mother,  not simply the mother of a King.  This is a woman who intercedes for her people and commands her people to do whatever her son tells them.

I want to close this blog entry with a few statements from some of our more illustrious Franciscans throughout history.

St. Anthony of Padua

vision-of-st-anthony-of-padua-1662.jpg!BlogNow the Lord has established a refuge of mercy, Mary, even for those who deliberately commit evil. Mary provides shelter and strength for the sinner.”

St. Bonaventure: StBonaventure

Men do not fear a powerful hostile army as the powers of hell fear the name and protection of Mary.

Bl. John Duns Scotus

SDuns_Scotus1he becomes the embodiment of all perfection in creation, freed from sin and from its effects through the saving power of Jesus Christ, the universal Mediator between God and humankind.  It was fitting that God would choose a Mother for His Son, who would be totally free from any stain of original and actual sin, in order to become a channel of grace to us all. 

St. Pius X (Secular Franciscan)Saint Pius X

If we trust as we should in Mary, we shall recognize in her, the Virgin Most Powerful ‘who with virginal foot did crush the head of the serpent’.

St. Maximilian KolbePROTESTANTS:  Pay attention!

St. Max

Never be afraid of loving the Blessed Virgin too much. You can never love her more than Jesus did.

 

pio and marySt. Padre Pio

Always stay close to this Heavenly Mother, because she is the sea to be crossed to reach the shores of Eternal Splendour.”

So there is is folks.  Eight-hundred years of Marian-Franciscan history.

In our effort to return to Tradition, the Franciscans of Life are recovering our Marian roots in song, prayer, cultus and most of all imitation of the Immaculate Mother of God and Queen of the Franciscan family.

Come and see . . .

 

 

 

 

 

Published in: on May 21, 2014 at 12:11 PM  Leave a Comment  

Unity In Diversity


It seems that the Holy Spirit has plans for us.  I’m never sure what they are; so I just go along.  Not long ago I said that God never ceases to surprise us.  I was certainly surprised this week.

What’s fraternity without a birthday?

We normally have our community meeting, formation and fraternity night on Mondays.  It’s a long evening that begins with Vespers followed by learning sacred music, then a lesson in theology.  After our theology lesson we usually engage in some learning activity about Franciscan life, usually in the form of a game.  This helps us stay awake and engaged with each other.  Boy are our brothers competitive.  There is always a snack to share and a lot of  poking and roasting.  Of course, there is housekeeping stuff that every group has.  Our community meeting is open to any man, married or single, who is curious about Franciscans of Life.

Postulant, Jose, enjoys his birthday cake and ice cream

Postulant, Jose, enjoys his birthday cake and ice cream

This past week we had another inquirer, which brought the number of inquirers up to three.  However, one of the inquirer’s approached me to talk about joining our community.  Not only that, but I received a beautiful letter from a young man who is in high school and is quite curious about us.  I’m looking forward to meeting him probably this  coming week.  The age range of our men, between inquirers and professed is from age 15 to 67.  That makes our average age 39-years old.  This is younger than most religious communities, secular orders, dioceses or secular institutes.  The great thing is to see these men interact very comfortably despite the difference in ages.

Jerry and Eduardo are received as postulants

Not only has the Holy Spirit sent us men from a wide range of ages, but also from different cultures and language groups.  We are Virginian, Bostonian, Floridian, Jamaican, Mexican, Peruvian, Colombian, Ethiopian, and Cuban.  We are single men who are consecrated to a life of celibacy, single men called to the married life, but are not yet married and married men who are fathers.  In a tiny community there is unity in diversity.  I  believe that we’re a microcosm of the Church.

Any man interested in spending an evening with this interesting little group of men, is always welcome on any Monday night, beginning at 7:30 PM.  Simply contact me via telephone or email.

We never know God’s plans for us until we take a risk with love.

 

“Daddy, tell me more about the Trinity”


trinityThis article is a response to a request from my princess who asked me to write about the Trinity for her.  She remembered that I had taught her and her brother about the Most Holy Trinity and asked that I write about it for her.

I’m very proud that my daughter is meditating on the Trinity. Before proceeding, I’d like to explain that that I do have a daughter and a son.  Some may find it strange that a consecrated brother has children, but it’s not that strange at all.  It’s just not that common.

Let’s see . . . St. Augustine had a son.  Elizabeth Ann Seton had five children.  Louise de Marillac also had a son.  Jane Frances de Chantal was the mother of four.  St. Maximilian Kolbe’s mother became a Franciscan sister.  There have been widowed men who are fathers and have consecrated their lives to the service of the Church, but widowers are a smaller number than widows.  I’m not sure what that says about men and women.  Do women outlive men because they need to remain here to do more penance or do men die before women because they don’t have the stamina to deal with life’s challenges?  I guess we’ll find out in heaven.  But I’m very happy to be among these great men and women who have been parents and consecrated sons and daughters of God and the Church.  Having said all of this, let’s get back to the Trinity.

Writing about the Trinity can be a task as daunting as rewriting the Summa Theologica.  An old legend tells us of St. Augustine who pondered the mystery of the Trinity.  While doing so he encountered a child on a beach who was trying to pour the ocean into a hole that he had dug in the sand.    When Augustine told that child that it was impossible to pour the entire ocean into a small hole in the sand, the child told him that it was far easier to do that tan to fully comprehend the Trinity.

Anything that we can say about the Most Holy Trinity is based on what God has chosen to reveal to us about Him.  There is much more to come, but we won’t see it until eternity.  All I can do here,  Princess, is to “paint a picture of the Trinity” with very broad strokes.  I may have to do this in parts so as not to make it too long and boring. Let’s begin with what the Trinity is not.

When we speak about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we’re not speaking about part of God.  God does not have parts, because he’s not created.  Only created things have parts.  Nor is God some existential composite.  We cannot speak about parts of God. When speaking of the Trinity, we’re not speaking about parts of God.  We’re speaking about persons in God. We must make a distinction between person and people.  People are human and created.  Personhood describes the nature of a being.  Peoplehood describes the being as part of a collective.  God is not part of a collective as are human beings.  Therefore, we are both persons and people.  God is three persons, not three people; because there is no collective.

St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that God is simple. It is also important to understand that God is fully actualized.  There is nothing missing in him.  There cannot be an absence of love in God.  However, love is oriented toward the other.   It is not self-centered.  Love exists in communion with the other (the beloved).

In God there is otherness in oneness.  This otherness is three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God.  In these three persons, there is perfect love.  There has to be love.  If there were not love in God; IT would be something else, but not God. Where there is love, there is also communion.  Communion only exists when there is otherness.

This otherness in God has revealed itself to us as three persons who are one God:  Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They do not share a common divinity.  Each person is fully divine, fully God and to see one is to see the other.  Remember that we said that God is simple.  Where you share something, you’re dividing it.  It ceases to be simple and becomes multiple.  It also loses something.

Analogies don’t always work perfectly, but they help.  If I have a pizza and I slice it, I no longer have a pizza.  I have pizza.  There is a difference between having pizza and A pizza.  The former are parts of the latter.  But do you see how complicated this became when we started dividing and sharing?  Throw away any notion that Father, Son and Holy Spirit, divide and share divinity, godliness, power, authority or whatever.  Each is the same, but each is a distinct person.  It’s incredible how fascinating God is in his simplicity and his eternal communion of love.

“According to Aristotle, a good is something desired. Now is there anything more desirable than God—He is the greatest good,” (Taylor Marshall, 2014).  Imagine if God had to go beyond himself to love and be loved, to find community and experience family.  Would he then be the greatest good?  No, because he would have an unmet desire.  He would be missing something in himself, something that he has to go find outside of himself.  What kind of God is that?  The opposite thought would be to believe that God does not wish to love, does not wish community and family.  Would this be the perfect God?  No.  Community, family and love are natural to God.  Hence, when we are created in God’s image and likeness, guess what?  We are created for community, family and love.  There is more that can be said about the creation of man, but that’s another essay.

Catholic dogma tells us, “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life.  It is the mystery of God in himself,” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 234).

Let’s start wrapping up by saying that this mystery is uniquely Christian in that God has revealed it to the world through Jesus Christ and no one else. God tells us about himself in this mystery.  He tells us that he is one, that he exists in a community of love and that he is beyond anything that we can imagine.  He invites us to engage with him as Father, Son and Holy Spirit and to come to know him in his fullness when we get to heaven.

Let us remember what he said to the Apostles.  “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,” (Mt 28:19).  Observe, the he commissions the Apostles to baptize in “the name” not “the names”.  Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one and three.  On another day “Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”(Jn 14:9).  If you have seen Christ, you have seen the Father.  It is the Holy Spirit who opens the eyes of faith to find the Father through Christ the Son.

My Princess

My Princess

Princess, if you have found Christ, then you have found the Father, because she who sees him sees the one who sent him.  This vision of faith is given to you by the Holy Spirit.

Stay tuned Princess . . . more to come on the Trinity.

Daddy 🙂

 

Published in: on May 4, 2014 at 10:10 PM  Leave a Comment  
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New Brothers Join the Franciscans of LIfe At a Historic Time in the History of the Church


This is a very special morning.  We have just received two new brothers into our community at a very special moment in the history of the Church.  Never before in the history of the Church have we seen two pontiffs canonized in one ritual.  In addition to that, their entrance into postulancy comes during the Easter Season, when the Church celebrates the glorified Christ who conquered death and restored us to life.  Let’s not forget that this week we celebrate Mercy Sunday, which was decreed by St. John Paul II.  

As I said in my homily during the Liturgy of the Hours, St. John Paul did not pull Evangelium Vitae (Gospel of Life) out of his sleeve.  On the contrary, throughout the Gospels we see Christ healing the sick, protecting the innocent, crying for Lazarus and restoring him to life.  We hear Christ offering himself up as “life giving water” and “bread of life”.  Christ offers himself up as the Gospel of Life, as Evangelium Vitae.  He promised that all who believed him would have life in this world and the next. 

Our Holy Father St. Francis heard these words and took them to heart.  He embraced the Trinity with every fiber of his being and he became the great brother of all that is alive.  Brother was not just an ecclesial title for Brother Francis of Assisi.  Brother described what he was in relation to all created things, be they water, animals or people.  Francis realized that we are sons of the one Father.  We flow from the same source of life; therefore, we share one inherent dignity, the dignity of the sons of God, of whom Christ is the firstborn.

These new brothers have been called to discern the voice of God, to listen to his will for their lives.  God does not call us to do anything in particular.  He calls us to be what he created us to be, brothers to all men, from the richest to the poorest, the healthiest to the terminally ill, the neighbor to the foreigner, the preborn child to the elderly.  God calls us to hear his voice, to learn how to follow suit, in line with men like St. Francis of Assisi, St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe, St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II and women like St. Giana Molla, Bl. Teresa of Calcutta and St. Edith Stine.  This is quite a crowd.  Each of these men and women spent his and her life in service to the voiceless.  In his or her own way, each laid down his or her life as a testimony to the sanctity of human life.  These new Franciscans of Life have been called to walk along with these men and women, to be brothers to all men and to do whatever is needed to make known to the world that life is a sacred gift to be protected and to be venerated.  When we venerate life, we render unto God an act of worship and thanksgiving.  To celebrate the Easter Season while ignoring the sanctity of life is meaningless.  What is Easter if it’s not about life?

These new brothers have requested that we admit them to our fraternity druing Easter, the day after Mercy Sunday in which Christ promises eternal life to anyone who begs for his mercy, one day after the Church has solemnly and infallibly defined and declared that John Paul II, who was the pope of the family and the pope of life is a saint.  We have welcomed them one day after the canonization of St. John XXIII, a bishop who was responsible for saving the lives of thousands of Jews during the Holocaust and who rescued a ship with 500 Jewish children whom no one wanted.    These men are walking in the footsteps of greatness.  It is an indicator that God has great plans for them, for all of us. 

Now begins the work of formation.  During the next few months, they will engage in a deeper study of our Holy Father St. Francis.  The study of Evangelium Vitae will become paramount.  We will try to lead them through a prayerful examination of our Catholic faith.  Prior to moving on to novitiate, we must make certain that their faith is grounded in the solemn truths of the Church, free of distortion.  It is important that they become familiar with Francis of Assisi, our teacher.

More importantly, now begins the period of silence.  This must be a period during which they make time to listen to God.  Not a day should go by when they do not invite the Lord to speak for his servant is listening, because he who is the Lord of Life has the words of eternal life.  But we must ask the God of Life to open our ears that we may hear.

During this time of postulancy the new brother does not take his eyes off the voiceless of this world.  Christ spoke to Francis through a leper.  He will speak to each of us through the voiceless as well.  When we run into a person who is voiceless, we do not pass without stopping.  God is trying to speak to us.  We listen with patience and love.  We must never pass by a voiceless person without smiling.  A smile is an invitation to the other person.  It invites the other person to engage with us.  To be true brothers of life, we must invite all men to engage with life.  This is not something that we do with simple words, but with the power of a smile and an act of reverence for human dignity.

I invite the new brothers and all of our friends to look to those men and women that I mentioned above.  Learn from them how to bring the Gospel of Life to all people.  Become their students and their friends.  

We welcome these new brothers to our fraternity.  May the God of Mercy fill them with peace and with joy.   

 

Published in: on May 2, 2014 at 1:33 AM  Leave a Comment  

God never ceases to amaze


OK . . . so April 30th was my last CCD class.  I teach Old Testament Christology to grade five.  I put up a web with all of the names that we have covered in the OT:  Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and David, also the covenants, the books of the Torah and the Decalogue.  In the center, I placed the name of Jesus.  Flowing out of the name of Jesus we have the word, LOGOS.  Then an arrow away from “essential” and toward “personal”.

Now I ask the kids to explain what we learned this year.  Each student contributes a piece.  The OT foreshadows Jesus.  Every event and person in the OT points to the LOGOS.  But the LOGOS or WORD is personal, because he is a real person.  Jesus is not a word.  The WORD is not essential.  Jesus is the second person in the Godhead.  Then they proceed to explain what each of the main characters, events, books and the law of the Decalogue tells us who Jesus is.  They conclude that all was created through the LOGOS, for the LOGOS and that the LOGOS existed before dinosaurs and other creatures.  You have to remember that these are 11-year old kids.  Dinosaurs are important to them.

So I ask them, “If you had to say, in one sentence, what the OT is about, what would you say?”  The kids all jump in and each adds a piece.  “The OT tells us that Jesus is the fulfillment of every covenant that God made with Israel.”

Then I ask the kids, “How do the OT writers tell us this?”  They put their heads together again.  “The OT writers show us how everything foreshadows the new covenant.”

“And was the old covenant ever revoked?”  The kids respond, “No. God never goes back on his promises.  He fulfills them.  The Old Covenant was never canceled.  To cancel and to fulfill is not the same thing.”

By this point the Director of Religious Education is practically standing on her chair cheering the kids.  They did this entire course using just the bible and my notes from the seminary.  I don’t like the book.  It may as well have been written by Disney.  It has all of the fantastic stories of the OT with none of the Christology.  She tells them that they are ready to move on to the next level which is a course on the Gospels.  I don’t teach that course.  The kids are all excited.

Here is the grabber.  We’re cleaning up.  I’m sitting down, because I just came out of the hospital after suffering a TIA.  I wanted to get out to teach this last class.  It’s important, because it wraps up the entire course.  I’m not really paying much attention to what’s happening behind me.  Suddenly, someone comes up behind me, hugs me and whispers in my ear, “Brother, I love you, because now I understand.”

I turned to look.  It was a little boy, age 11.  He has been the quietest kid in the class.  I never would have expected any sign of affection from him, not because he’s a bad kid, but because I thought him to be reserved.  When I realized who it was I asked him, “What did you say?”  He repeated himself.  I, like an old lady, started to cry.  If I died tonight, I would feel that I have done at least one worthwhile thing in this life.  God is truly a God of mercy and awe.

Published in: on May 2, 2014 at 1:21 AM  Leave a Comment  

What’s a brother? Do we really need them?


Very often I’m asked, “What is a brother?”  Most Catholics don’t have a clue, because most Catholics have not been well educated on the religious life.   Most of our parishes and schools are staffed by diocesan priests (secular priests) and religious sisters.  Neither received a good formation on the religious life.  Both were trained to think in a rather narrow paradigm.  Men become priests and women become nuns, who are not really nuns, but sisters.  A nun is a cloistered woman religious.  Even there, most priests and sisters were not well formed on the different vocations.  How could they pass this knowledge on to the lay faithful?

I have a several good friends who are diocesan priests.  I cringe when they try to explain what a brother is.  They often explain us in terms of what we’re not.  They’ll say something like, “Brothers don’t say mass or hear confessions.”  Imagine a creature from another planet that does not speak our language and asks, “What’s a father?”  You answer, “Fathers don’t bear young?”  That bit of information was as useful as a GPA that doesn’t speak your language.

Then there are those who try to explain what a brother is by describing what brothers do.  That’s not quite helpful either.  You’ll often hear people say, “Brothers teach, nurse, do social work, cook, and open doors, run schools, serve priests, are monks, are friars, run soup kitchens, and so forth.” All of those enterprises can be done by anyone.  One need not be a consecrated religious to do these good works.  The difference is how the brother does these things, not that he does them.  A brother comes to every task with the same worldview as Christ and the Church.  His vision and mission are defined by the charism of his religious community.  A Franciscan brother and a De La Salle brother can both teach and do so very differently.  While they see their students as Christ sees them, there ends the similarity.  The Franciscan brother approaches his students guided by the vision of St. Francis and the De La Salle brother is guided by the vision of St. John Baptist de La Salle.  The same applies to every ministry.  A lay secretary and a brother secretary do the same work, but bring very different approaches to the task and do the same task for different reasons.

Vatican II and Canon Law define brothers in a decisive way.  A brother is one called to the state of religious life . . .  a state for the profession and perfection of the evangelical counsels (obedience, poverty and chastity), which is complete in itself (Decree Perfectae Caritatis, n. 10).  Commitment to the priestly ministry is not required by the consecration which is proper to the religious state, and therefore even without priestly ordination a religious may live his consecration to the FULL.

In other words, it is a different call that Christ’s makes to a man to live only for him by consecrating his life to him through the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience.  He lives out this consecration through a life of prayer, penance, fraternity, work, silence, solitude, in imitation of Our Lady who always pointed all men to Jesus. Everything he does points to Christ who is the firstborn among many brothers. A brother is like John the Baptist who proclaims, “Behold him . . .

In looking at the historical development of consecrated life in the Church, a significant fact is clear: the members of the first religious communities were called “brothers” without distinction.  The most famous of them is St. Benedict.  The great majority of them did not receive priestly ordination. A priest could join these communities but could not claim privileges because of Holy Orders. When priests were needed, one of the “brothers” was ordained in order to meet the community’s sacramental needs.

The ideal of a consecrated life without the priesthood lives on in St. Francis of Assisi, who did not feel personally called to the priestly ministry. Francis can be considered an example of the holiness of religious life. His witness demonstrates the perfection that can be reached by this way of life.

This fall the Church will begin the Year of Consecrated Life.  She has asked that religious, bishops and the different dicastries in the Vatican put together information on the consecrated life, especially on brothers.   The Church acknowledges the decreased number of vocations to the brotherhood.   St. John Paul II said “a new effort must be made to foster these important and noble vocations so they may thrive anew: a fresh effort to promote vocations, with a new commitment to prayer. The possibility of a consecrated life (without ordination) must also be presented as a way of true religious perfection in both the old and new male institutes.”

Cardinal Timothy Dolan once said, “The brotherhood is the forgotten vocation.  Brothers are those men whom most of us have disregarded as unimportant, because we do not understand that the consecrated life is essential to the Church’s Catholic identity.”

Published in: on May 2, 2014 at 1:17 AM  Leave a Comment  
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