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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