A special thank you to our dear friend, Brother James Curran, L.B.S.F., of Boston, Mass. for the following excerpts from his article, “Brothers: A Forgotten Vocation?”
Today’s emphasis on apostolate and its often erroneous identification with priesthood alone leads many Catholics to view the brother’s vocation as something less than complete. Some appear to think that brothers do not become priests because they lack something of the physical, mental or moral fitness for priesthood… People often fail to recognize that brothers are first of all men called by Jesus. He calls some to be priests alone, some to be brothers (friars or monastics) alone and some to be priest-brothers. Each is a distinct vocation in itself—the priesthood and the brotherhood. In the case of Religious priests, the two vocations come together to form one call to apostolate.
It is well to note, also, that while Christ ordained His first twelve followers priests, He called them together first to form a brotherhood. The brothers’ vocation has given hundreds of Saints to the Church. In speaking of the vocation of Religious brothers (and sisters), the Vatican II document on religious life, Perfectae Caritatis, says: “The religious life, undertaken by lay people, either men or women, is a state for the profession of the evangelical counsels (the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience) which is complete in itself” (P.C. 10).
A Special Call
“The call to religious life comes from Jesus Christ Himself. ‘If you want to be perfect, go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven; then come and follow Me…and, everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for My sake, will receive a hundred times more and will be given eternal life” (Mt. 19:21,27-30). With these words to the rich young man in St Matthew’s gospel, Jesus extended a remarkable invitation to those few who are chosen to go a step beyond the commandments and the precepts and to voluntarily embrace the evangelical counsels. The importance of this invitation to those who heard Him is indicated by the fact that the episode of the rich young man and his vocation is given to us in each of the Synoptic Gospels. And, history has shown that from the very beginning of Christ’s Church, generous souls have accepted this invitation and embarked upon the ascetical path of poverty, chastity and obedience to God’s will. As Fr. Thomas J. McDonnell suggests in his book, Listening to the Lord in Literature: “The final proof that one is a disciple of the Kingdom is that he sells all, gives to the poor and follows Jesus completely with an undivided heart.”
Origins of Religious Life
“The Christian ideal is frankly an ascetic one and religious life is simply the endeavor to effect a material realization of that ideal. Before the fourth century, great religious founders such as St Antony of Egypt, St Basil the Great and St Pachomius built upon traditional Jewish and early Christian asceticism” and formulated the first communal or eremitical forms of religious life. Desiring to live gospel perfection “by observing the evangelical counsels, and horrified by the vice and disorder that prevailed in a pagan age, the early men and women religious renounced the materialism of their age and often fled to the desert in imitation of Christ and His apostles, supporting one another in Christian community (koinonia) while pursuing an ascetic and penitential life. For the first 1,300 years of the Church’s life, practically all these religious orders were comprised of brothers or sisters. Certainly, founders such as St Benedict and St Francis saw their followers as brothers, a few of whom were ordained for the sacramental needs of the members of the brotherhood. Diocesan or secular clergy served the sacramental needs of the Christian community at large. During that period, there was no anxiety among religious about what today is often apologetically described as the apostolate. In fact, up until the twelfth century, the word apostolic carried no connotation of formal preaching of the gospel or discharging of pastoral or social duties.
The following of Christ and His Apostles, or discipleship, was considered well within the format of their religious, contemplative or even eremitical way of life. Thus, the aim of the penitential and ascetical communities was to imitate the life of the apostolic community in Jerusalem, in poverty, simplicity and mutual charity. Only in later years in the West, as a result of a series of gradual ecclesiastical and social changes, were the majority of men religious ordained priests becoming involved in the so-called active apostolate. After the fifteenth century, many orders were founded specifically to engage in specialized apostolates and were comprised mostly of priests—with only a few brothers to serve in a subordinate role as helpers. Because of the demands of these specialized ministries, the later institutes grew further away from the original way of life of the Desert Fathers and ascetic tradition, developing a less time-consuming spirituality, more varied activities and considerably obscuring the vocation to brotherhood.” Although we do have a provision in our Statutes (our specific rule) which allows for the ordination of a Brother to serve the sacramental needs of our community and which would prevent him from being assigned to serve in a diocesan parish, we envision this as being the rare exception, to preserve the fundamental nature of our community as a brotherhood.