As I begin, I wish to underscore the issue of the lack of understanding of the vocation of the Religious Brother and his identity both within the Church and in the world at large. While there is clear understanding of Priests and Priesthood, and that of Religious Sisters, Brotherhood seems to fall into a grey area of confusion for many. While Priests and Brothers share in the common Call to follow Christ in a radical way, As Brothers and by virtue of our vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience, we seek to live out our Call and our Brotherhood in a unique way through our Charism, our unique Call to Gospel service among all God’s people.
I do believe that the Call to Brotherhood as oppose to the ordained Priesthood, gives a special and distinctive witness and identity of the Religious Brother in the church and in the world today. One that I believe is centered and modelled on the person of Christ. I wish, however, not to undermine the equal importance of the witness given by Priests. The Brother responds wholeheartedly to Jesus’ call to ‘come follow me’ and ‘go I am sending you.’
The bonds of communion of the Religious Brother extend beyond the boundaries of the Church, because he is driven by the same “universal character that distinguishes the People of God”, (LG). The vocation of the Brother is part of the answer that God gives to the absence of brotherhood which is wounding the world today. At the root of a Brother’s vocation lies a profound experience of solidarity that essentially matches that of Moses before the burning bush: he discovers himself as the eyes, ears and heart of God, the God who sees the oppression of his people, who hears their cry, feels their anguish and comes down to liberate them. In this intimate experience, the Brother hears the call: “Come, I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people out of Egypt.” (cf. Ex 3:7-10).[i]
The document, “Identity and Mission of the Religious Brother in the Church,” presents the essence of what can ‘wet our appetite’ in discovering the identity of the Brother and help us reflect deeply on the question ‘who am I as a Religious Brother in the Church and world today? Knowing well that the vocation of the Brother is “not always well understood within the Church,” the Vatican brought this document to birth. While this document may not be the ‘be-all and end-all’, it does however, gives the basis from which one can further reflect on the gift of Religious Brotherhood in the Church and world today, “… … it serves as a framework for our specific reflection on the Religious Brother.”[ii]
Jesus the Brother
I firmly believe that any reflection on the identity of the Religious Brother would have to begin with the person of Jesus Christ. Having a personal and deep relationship with the person of Jesus is key to both a personal and corporate identity as Brothers. It is about embracing an authentic discipleship and actively living out the Gospel values in one’s daily life. Fr. K.J. Louis, SDB, in his article titled, “Making Christ the Brother Visible”, issued in the Magnet magazine, June 2017, published by the Conference of Religious India, says that Brother, “is the title Jesus gives to his disciples after his resurrection (Jn 20:17). This title represents a significant way of being the prophetic memory of “Jesus the Brother”, who told his followers, “You are all Brothers” (Mt 23:8). The Brother, therefore, reflects the face of “Christ the Brother”: simple, good, close to people, welcoming, generous, humble, and serving.
As a Presentation Brother, we are known as ‘Brothers of the Presentation’ after the Blessed Virgin Mary’s presentation in the Temple, from where we get much inspiration. However, first and foremost, we are called to be “brothers of Christ”, the firstborn among many brothers (Rm 8:29), brothers to one another in mutual love and working together, brothers to everyone in their witness to Christ’s love for all, especially the lowliest, the neediest, the marginalised and brothers for a greater Brotherhood in the Church.
We, therefore, can express our identity in the world today by “reminding people of the fundamental values of the Gospel” and to “respond with holiness of life to the love of God poured into their hearts”.[iii] In other words, they are called to be “signs” – the ‘visible Christ’. They are also called to be a leaven in the dough, and considering the context of today’s Church and world, the dough is tough. All this is feasible only when Christ is at the heart of our lives personally and as community or Church.
A Gift Received and Shared
As we explore our Identity and mission today, the Religious Brother sees his calling and his response to that call as a wonderful gift received, and is so bountiful and overwhelming that he shares it with joy – a joy that Pope Francis so often speaks about in Evangelii Gaudium, “Joy of the Gospel”.
Not everyone is called to this State of Life, and so it is gifted to the one receiving the Call to this way of life. As part and parcel of receiving this gift, is an outpouring of self in absolute generosity to all. The Vows the Brother professes enables and frees him to fulfil God’s Call and witness to Christ in the world, through the dynamics of receiving and giving. A whole new dimension can be explored in the gifts we received by our vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience and how we are called to share these with the world. The Brother develops his “ability to read deeply the ‘signs of the times’, to understand in them God’s call to work according to His plan, to discover the presence of God in people, especially among the poor”.[iv]
Living out our Brotherhood
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers . . . . All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as each had needed.” (Acts 2: 42; 44-45).
One question that many asks is, what do Brothers do? Each community or Congregation of Brothers receives the gift of its Charism at its founding. This Charism evolves and finds expression in the daily lives of the community as part of its mission and ministry within the wider mission of the Church. Charisms are gifts of the Holy Spirit to the religious Congregation, and these gifts are put at the service of the church and all of God’s people. No one community holds the fullness of God’s mission but responds to one area of need within the whole and with this variation, together we offer to our world a glimpse of the glory of God. For the Presentation Brothers we see our Charism as one of Christian formation, primarily of youth and may be expressed in a variety of ways.
Traditionally, the Presentation Brothers main ministry has been teaching. While this is not the reality in Ireland anymore, the tradition continues today in other parts of the world, with Brothers teaching in and running many schools and educational projects around the world. Additionally, the Brothers have worked in many other ministries and apostolates to present. These include: School Chaplaincy, Youth Work, young adult leadership formation Projects, Homelessness, Working with immigrants, advocacy, Justice and Evangelisation. Part of discerning the call to a particular charism or Congregation, is an honest assessment of one’s own personal gifts, and, of course, listening for the gentle voice of God in one’s heart.
An important aspect of our lives as Brothers and as Religious in general, is living as community. Our community living serves as a well-spring by which we witness to the communion of God with us as humans and all of creation. Communion affirms that God comes to us in love and that we respond joyfully to the beauty of his perfections and the offer of his fellowship with others.
“Community is a place where we can experience the sacrament of healing like no other. If you fail, your mistakes can be redeemed. If you’re wounded by life, your sisters and brothers can be there for you. These are extremely reassuring thoughts in an uncertain world.” – Friar Douglas-Adam Greer, OP.
While community has taken on new forms in the quest to continue to make it relevant, the essence remains; making sure our lives remain in communion. It is particularly important to us that the way we live our lives is meaningful, prayerful, and joyful. We offer companionship to each other, we break open the word to each other in prayer, we break bread together in love and friendship, and be present to each other at the end of the day sharing our experiences. Community life is one of our greatest supports. Our communities are places where we experience encouragement and love. We have our religious commitment in common as we try our best to serve the Lord.
This short reflection is only meant to ignite a spark to reflect and search further about what it is to be a Brother today. I have by no means done justice to the topic of who is a Brother today – the Identity of the Religious Brother in the Church and world today. Nevertheless, its where one can start the journey of reflecting and understanding the role of the Brother.
As I have referred so much to the document, “Identity and Mission of the Religious Brother in the Church”, I believe it is the best we have at hand that will spark a deeper and authentic reflection and conversation on the Identity of Religious Brotherhood in the world today. A starting point to discovering our identity as Brother, is a deep personal relationship with Christ and a life centered in Him. We live out our identity in the generosity we show in our mission and ministry, what we received in abundance we share generously with those who are poor and marginalised. We can walk this journey by engaging in both personal and communal contemplation so that our individual and corporate Identity finds expression in our Church and in our world. I recall someone saying that, with all the chaos in the church and society, this is a great time to be a Brother and Consecrated person. While that might seem daunting, there might be some truth to this challenge.
“Today, more than ever, the world needs consecrated persons who form the heart of secular realities and of human life itself.[v] In this way, the Religious Brother seeks to make God’s presence and love felt and experienced in the Church and in the secular realities of today.
[i] Identity and Mission of the Religious Brother in the Church, #6
[ii] Identity and Mission of the Religious Brother in the Church, #3
[iii] Identity and Mission of the Religious Brother in the Church, #7
[iv] Identity and Mission of the Religious Brother in the Church, #19
[v] Identity and Mission of the Religious Brother in the Church, #31
Vocations to the Religious Life and Brotherhood:
Is God Calling You?
If you are interested in knowing more about becoming a Brother, Please contact:
Br Barry Noel
Co. Dublin, A96 FH67
Mobile: 087 7519794