|A message for the young men||To become Brother, it is needed a time of formation|
By: Br. Fernando Cob, FSF.
1. The most genuine of religious life and its loss
Lay religious life or religious life of Brother, as Vita Consecrata prefers to call it, is deeply rooted in the same gospel message: the fraternal charity. The deal of each other as brothers is the distinctive feature that qualifies the first Christians. Feeling sons of the same Father and brothers of Christ and being treated as such, must be the hallmarks of the one proud of being Christian.
Any other title denoting distinction or superiority is beyond what is required by Jesus: “You, however, do not let yourselves be called ‘Rabbi’, for one is your only Master, and you are all Brothers” (Mt 23:8-12).
This was understood, thus, by the early Christians, and therefore it is not surprising that the first forms of religious life were born on the lay level, without any added of ministerial kind or of authority. The idea was to stress and witness amid the world and its values the strength of fraternity, the testimony of the most genuine values of the gospel and the radically imitation of the historical way of life of the Master.
But the tendency to the sacredness of the various areas of church life and the consequent clericalism of the primitive monasticism and certain forms of religious life, weighed heavily on the history of religious life and the Church to underestimate, with the passage of time, this form of religious life and get to deface its identity and essence on many occasions.
No wonder that the first forms of religious life were born on the lay level,
without any added of ministerial kind or of authority.
The idea was to stress and witness amid the world and its values the strength of fraternity.
2. Recovery of the fraternity
They were, above all, St Francis of Assisi in the XIII century and later St John Baptist de la Salle, in the XVIII century, those who retrieved from different perspective the strength of the fraternity that the primitive religious life had. The Congregations of Brothers that arise in the XIX century will resume again this evangelical principle and will locate it as their seal of identity and centre of the organization of their communities.
The difficulties in understanding the religious life of Brother remain still in sectors of the Church and in the same Religious Life. Easy attempts to understand our life from the work and the profession or to define it from what is not –we are not priests,- are still present in large sections of the People of God.
The difficulties in understanding the religious life of Brother
remain still in sectors of the Church and in the same Religious Life
3. Venerable Brother Gabriel Taborin:
A Founder who lives and dies as a Brother
Venerable Brother Gabriel, Founder of the Brothers of the Holy Family, also discovered in his own history the vocation of Brother. He lived from his youth as a Brother in his first apostolic experiences when exercised in his hometown the functions of teacher and catechist and fought for the evangelical election of the fraternity as a way of life for him and for his Brothers, facing the pressure of clericalizing his vocational option.
He suffered, as many, the historical misunderstanding of the lay religious vocation, but also his condition of being a lay Founder led him to live this difficulty harder. His perseverance in founding the Congregation from his status as Brother brought him no little trouble and misunderstandings from social and ecclesial sectors. Out of the twenty Congregations of Brothers founded in France in the XIX century, the Brothers of the Holy Family is the only one in which his founder dies as a lay religious. All others are founded by priests, or lay people who later were ordained priests.
No doubt, being a priest would have paved the way for the foundation and much suffering would have been avoided. In the rigidly hierarchical society and in the strongly clericalized Church of the XIX century, it was not easy to break through with a project of life and starting a way of foundation being laity, but by fidelity to himself and to his convictions, he remained on his way of living and dying as a Brother.
Echoing this effort to maintain his lay status, he left this thought to his Brothers: “You are called Brothers, never allow anyone to call you anything else; titles inspire and command respect, but the name Brother speaks only of simplicity, kindness and charity” (Br. Gabriel, Guide, art. 112).
Brother Gabriel fought for the evangelical election of the fraternity
as a way of life for him and for his Brothers,
facing the pressure of clericalizing his vocational option
I TO BE BROTHER TODAY
Nowadays the vocation of Brother remains misunderstood for many. Perhaps one of the dimensions of this vocation, such as the professional work, has eclipsed the most essential and significant of the lay religious vocation. In Vita Consecrata, in a summarised way, it is presented the most charismatic of this form of consecrated life and its contribution to the Church: “These Religious are called to be brothers of Christ, deeply united with him, ‘the firstborn among many brothers’ (Rom 8:29); brothers to one another, in mutual love and working together in the Church in the same service of what is good; brothers to everyone, in their witness to Christ’s love for all, especially the lowliest, the neediest; brothers for a greater brotherhood in the Church” (VC 60).
The evangelical value of fraternity is, thus, the focus that clarifies the identity and mission of this vocation:
Being brothers of Christ,
Being brothers to one another, and
Being brothers to everyone.
1. Brothers of Christ
All Christian vocation refers to the fraternal relationship with Christ. Religious Life, by opting for a radical following of Christ and by imitating his historical form of life, makes clearer the visibility of this Christian aspect, and still more in the religious life of Brother. The religious Brother becomes Brother in Christ and becomes part of the family of Jesus, simply by “listening the message of Jesus and put it into practice” (cf. Lk 8:21; Mt 12:48-50). There is no risk in which the titles of “Rabbi”, “Master” or “Director” hide the most original of this fraternal relationship with Jesus and the membership in his family.
For the Brother of the Holy Family, as it could not be otherwise, Christ is also the Elder Brother, to whom joins, follows and configures himself with Him: “The Brother… conforms his life to the life of Christ chaste, poor and obedient as he lived in his public life and, above all, at Nazareth with Mary and Joseph” (Constitutions, no. 20). The Brother, with his life of prayer and relationship with the Father, tries that the serious recrimination of the gospel does not fall upon him: “He (the Word) came to his house, and his own receive him not”. The Brother is convinced of the greatness he achieves, of what he can become from his baptismal and religious consecration: son of God and brother of Christ: “But to all who received him, he gave them power to become God’s children, to those who believe in his name” (Jn 1:11-13).
2. Brothers to one another
Jesus calls brothers to those who belong to his family, those who believe in him and follow him: “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; they will see me there” (Mt 28:10). So it is not surprising that the first Christians related to each other using this title and appears in the New Testament on several occasions to express the relationships between Christians and these with Jesus.
The word Brother, expresses the deep experience of grace, by which new relationships between people who follow Jesus are created: It is the relationship of the fraternity, based on love: “Love one another wholeheartedly and intensely, as Brothers, for you have been born again” (1 Pet 1:22).
Religious Life, from the beginning, felt heir and continuator of this experience and presented is as one of the distinctive features of this peculiar form of Christian life. Community life around Christ as a testimony of the fraternal communion of the Church has always been one of the constituent elements of Religious Life and a model of the particular choice of the Lord to live with Him and share in his fate, along with other followers.
In lay religious life of Brothers, community life is of vital importance. It is not a way of organizing to live or a way to ensure the effectiveness in ministry. No; it is a revelation of these new relationships that the Word has created, it is a prophetic manifestation of the Kingdom which is already here below, among men, overcoming the differences that men created by ideologies, characters or social and economic status.
It is a unique way to express visibly the common dignity of the members of the Church, their fundamental equality of children of God.
Brother Gabriel described these relationships among Brothers, founded on fraternity, as “the spirit of body and the spirit of family”. While watching the bonds, “vital bonds”, which united the Holy Family at Nazareth, he wanted his Brothers to reproduce in the various aspects of life this fraternal communion; to discover the meaning of Jesus, Mary and Joseph as a family.
The Brother of the Holy Family builds up fraternity, especially, in the personal and community prayer. It is here where the source of fraternity is found and where it is fed to grow. Rather than being Brother at a certain time, one becomes it every day when the community is built up, when together with each Brother it is shared the same path, when it is accepted each member of the community, when dialoguing with him, when we grow together, recognizing the strengths and overcoming the weaknesses of the Brothers, when “undertaking their apostolic work mainly as Community” (Constitutions, no. 117).
The Prologue of the Constitutions of the Brothers has beautiful words to express the attitudes that should manifest the Brothers in their relationships:
Your religious life is not simply house-sharing,
but a communion of persons.
Your Brothers are the Father’s gift:
Take care of them.
They also look on you as gift from the Father.
In the presence of God,
you are responsible for your Brothers.
Let your joy be their joy.
Share their troubles, ideals and efforts.
Do not lead them into evil.
Be a continuous presence of peace among them.
Open yourself to them
and they will open themselves to you.
In the melting pot of dialogue,
the values of the past, the present and the future
will take a familiar and attractive appearance.
3. Brothers to everyone
Being brothers of Christ and brothers to one another, inevitably leads to be brothers to the people that the Lord puts in our way. Being a child of God and brother of Jesus, leads to consider every man as a brother and to worry about him, especially if poor, weak and needy.
When Jesus calls his disciples not only he calls them to listen to him, but to share his life; and as we know the life of Jesus, he was in the service of man. In other words: the call to be with Jesus carries including the mission among men: “He went up to the mountain and called those he wanted; and they came to him. He appointed twelve to be with him and to send them to preach and to have authority to cast out demons” (Mk 3:13-15).
Especially for those who follow “closely” Jesus, such as the religious, the mandate to evangelize is more urgent and radical to carry it out. The mandate to extend the Kingdom that each religious has for the condition of being Christian, rooted in his Baptism and Confirmation, becomes more demanding and strong because of his religious consecration.
For the Religious Brother, for the Brother of the Holy Family, his apostolate at the service of the person exceeds the consideration of a mere work, or a simple pastoral support, in order to become an authentic ecclesial ministry (cf. VC 60). He receives a specific mandate and a concrete sending to serve the Christian community.
Venerable Br. Gabriel Taborin so sensed it and lived it from the years of his youth, in the tasks of teacher, catechist and liturgical animator in his native community and so he wanted to bequeath it to his Brothers. The Founder of the Brothers interpreted the mission of the Brothers in the schools or parishes, not only as collaboration, but as a true apostolate, formed by several ministries of animation, to strengthen the Christian identity of the community and to make it grow and mature in the Gospel values.
The fraternal communion, central point of the community life of the Brothers of the Holy Family, is not converted into a fold on itself but openness towards men and their needs and a greater availability for the mission: “Within the Community and through it, the apostolic impulse, formation and action find their vigour and support” (Constitutions, no. 117).
Being a child of God and brother of Jesus, leads to consider every man as a brother
and to worry about him, especially if poor, weak and needy.
II THE APOSTOLATE:
Feeling with the universal Church,
Evangelizing in the local church,
Encouraging the local Christian community.
1. Brothers in misión
Although the essence of the identity of the Brother, as of the Religious Life, must be considered in what it is: in its consecration and in the testimony of the values of the Kingdom, the apostolic mission in what has as personal testimony, humanizing activity and generous self-giving, it cannot be separated from the identity of the Brother and of his consecration; it is part of it. The Brothers of the Holy Family are very aware that for us, as Religious Brothers, “the apostolic activity is an essential dimension of our consecration to God and to the Kingdom, and an expression of our love of neighbour” (Constitutions, no. 115).
The Brothers, sharing the charism of the Founder, Br. Gabriel Taborin, we have been called to evangelize in the local Church, especially by the three ways that our Founder so loved and lived:
- the Christian education,
- the catechesis,
- and the liturgical animation.
Each Community of Brothers is sent to a particular church and therein it evangelizes with its testimony of life and its apostolic activity. As Br. Gabriel, who always loved the Church where he exercised his apostolate and his pastors, we, the Brothers, are active and living members of the particular Church where the Lord sends us. The local Church with its peculiar religious and cultural characteristics constitutes the geographical and human space in which we live our vocation and carry out our mission.
The evolution of society, the development of the same Church, the progressive incorporation of the laity into the life of the Church aware of the implications of his baptism, the disappearance of some social lacks and the emergence of others, the cultural, economic, social and religious context of the different countries in which the Brothers are, has made that the charism and the apostolate of the Brother be incarnated heterogeneously in each place, without losing the primordial intuition of Br. Gabriel.
The person, who currently visits all the Communities of the Brothers in the world, would observe a wide range of options and services in the apostolate and in the way to carry them out. He could find Brothers educating in schools and colleges, directing or collaborating in schools of catechists and pastoral; Brothers imparting catechesis in parishes, schools or youth groups; Brothers in professional workshops. He would find Brothers in churches and shrines animating the liturgy or accompanying and training youth in formation houses of welcoming homes.
2. With Nazarene style
“The family spirit marks their style of action, guides them in their mission among men, characterizes their educational work and strengthens the bonds of human solidarity wherever they are sent” (Constitutions, no. 14).
Jesus, Mary and Joseph are “the inspiration and the support” of each initiative that the Brothers display for the development of man. The fraternity and familiarity, fruit or our family spirit, mark our style in the relationships with people with whom we work.
Let us now consider the main fields of apostolate that the Brothers carry out in our Religious Province. Inspired by the action of the Father who “chose the Holy Family to give Christ to men” (Constitutions, no. 116), the Brothers have stamped their Nazarene mark on the diverse initiatives since they began their work in Spain.
The challenge of evangelizing the culture
The Brothers devote themselves chiefly to Christian education… They direct the values of culture towards the announcement of Salvation, in order to help their students bring about in themselves a living unity between culture and faith” (Constitutions, no. 124).
In the Congregation, and especially, in the Spanish Province, the education has always been present as a privileged expression of our charism and legacy of Br. Gabriel, who performed with great zeal and pedagogy, his vocation of Christian educator. From the first rural schools that were opened to the creation of today’s schools, the Christian education has shaped the history and organization of the Brothers.
The Brother is convinced that education, based on the gospel values, is a privileged means to create the new man, the evangelical man. This is one of the modern Areopagus where the future of society is at stake. The educator Brother unites the instrumental and functional aspect of the knowledge with the values and virtues, the formation of the mind with the awareness. The task of education was always exciting but difficult; the “educational emergency” that we live now in society, makes it more complex and difficult. But, precisely for that, it is nowadays more necessary.
The educator Brother is convinced of the “effectiveness of the family spirit” as an educational method, spirit that favours the relationship between the various sectors of education: teachers, parents and students.
The Second Vatican Council reminded the world that “The future of humanity is in the hands of those who are able to provide to the coming generations reasons for living and reasons for hoping” (GS 31). And definitely the educational work done from the Christian values has this aim: to give reasons to today’s youth, so often misplaced, reasons to live and reasons to hope and build up a better world, more humane and more dignified.
The beauty of announcing the Good News
“Following the example of their Founder, the Brothers give to catechesis the first place in their apostolic work. In the name of Christ they proclaim the message of salvation and the call to conversion” (Constitutions, no. 122).
Br. Gabriel Taborin always showed great appreciation for this task. Since he was young, he exercised as a catechist in many parishes and on occasions, from 1824 to 1829, as an itinerant catechist. He wrote to the Brothers saying to them that “there is not more beautiful activity, not more honourable and meritorious one, than to be a catechist, if exercised in faith… because the Brothers teach the same that Jesus Christ came to teach on earth” (Br. Gabriel Taborin, New Guide, no. 896). He deserved very well the title of “Apostolic Catechist” granted by Pope Gregory XVI.
The Brothers have remained faithful to this precious inheritance from his Father. Catechesis understood as the explicit proclamation of the Gospel message has always been present in their apostolate. No doubt, the Brother, by being lay and consecrated, is highly trained for this ecclesial responsibility to initiate in faith and to qualify for the Christian life. Bringing hearts to God so that they may receive from within the person and the message of Jesus, is a beautiful task and a key ministry in the evangelization that honours the Brother who performs it.
The Brothers, currently, exercise this ministry mainly from the educational works. The Religion lessons, the deepening of faith in the Christian Communities and groups, the strong moments of faith and life experiences as Easter, Camps, Vocational Festivals and the educational environment permeated of Christian culture, are the main means available to us.
In the learning environment of our works, the Pastoral Department has an important role to ensure and encourage this task of the school catechesis.
Also the parishes in which there are communities inserted, there have been traditionally spaces where the Brothers have taught catechism.
The invitation to worship God in “spirit and truth”
“Heirs of the burning zeal of the Founder, the Brothers devote themselves to promoting liturgical life of which they are active participants and animators” (Constitutions, no. 123).
The whole life of Br. Gabriel was marked by the experience of the liturgy. On the one hand, he encouraged the faithful to participate in the liturgical ceremonies and to appreciate them and, in the other hand, he exercised activities related to them, that in the time in which he lived they were significant, such as sacristan, cantor, caretaker of the temples…
In the various versions of his Rules, describing the apostolic mission of the Institute, he dedicates always an important part to guiding the Brothers on how to live out the Liturgy and how to encourage it. He strongly recommends to exercise “so honourable and holy functions… with great faith, with zeal for the glory of God, with edification for the people, meritoriously for their soul and honour for the Corporation” (NG 844).Nowadays, the increased awareness of the mission of the laity to participate in the life of the Church, in her structures and services and the loss of value of some functions that once were considered important in the life of the parishes, has led that some of these tasks are no longer performed or that can be carried out by any faithful in virtue of their baptism and confirmation.
The term “liturgical animation”, including in our Constitutions, is translating, on the one hand, the participation that, as baptized and consecrated, the Brother must live the experience of the Christian mystery and in the life of the Church, and on the other hand, the various tasks that the Brother can perform from the animation.
However, from his condition of lay and consecrated, for the Brother, to animate and encourage the youth and adults in our educational works and parishes to give worship to God in “truth and sprit” and to invite them to participate and animate the life of faith of their local Church and to be inserted in her, will always be present and necessary tasks.
6. The rainbow of the animation of the Christian community
As already mentioned, Br. Gabriel always understood his vocation in key of animator of the Christian community comprising the three manifestations of the charism. More than the specific activities that he performed, he cared about the building up of the Community, of the parish, that the atmosphere in the villages were as much Christian as possible. From this conviction, they were born the different services that he performed and transmitted to his followers. Being a teacher, catechist, sacristan, cantor or administrator of a parish; directing a school or an orphanage… they were different samples of a single goal: to encourage the local Christian community, to make it grow, to keep it in the faith.
He always joined inseparably the school and the temple, the altar and the desk, the Christian education, the catechesis and the liturgical animation, the “secular” word uttered in the school and the “sacred” word proclaimed in the Church.
The apostolate of the Brothers displayed in several services is like a ray of light broken into a thousand colours. The specific circumstances in which the Brother lives, force him in practice to give priority to one aspect of the charism over another, but always he will have the obligation to hear contemporary man’s voice with whom he lives, to listen to the Word of God which give meaning to his life and to unite them.
Brother Gabriel always understood his vocation in key of animator of the Christian community.
More than the specific activities that he performed, he cared about building up community, parish